Monday, October 5, 2009

Jue's last blog

There’s now less than 24 hours til we jet out from our base camp in Hawaii and head for the summit up Canberra way. It’s great to see that its bloody cold there – good times – but at least there’s been some rain.

So seeing as this is the last blog, the last hurrah, the final cut then I suppose it’s time for a bit of reminiscing –and that’s just what Lib and I have been doing. One good game we play towards the end of any holiday we’ve been on is to play “TOP FIVE!”... where the aim is to name as quickly the first five favourite things from the trip on any given topic like:


1. Glacier

2. Zion

3. Arches

4. Crater Lake

5. Grand Canyon

Or something unexpected like:


1. Seattle

2. Monterey

3. Los Angeles

4. Ouray

5. Cabo San Lucas

Its gets a little difficult when you get to things like restaurants, as we tend to forget the names, but MEALS WE’VE EATEN stand out:

1. Szechuan eggplant with beef in San Francisco

2. 2 dollar soft tacos in Cambria

3. Bakery breakfast in the market in Seattle

4. Sandwiches by a stream in the heart of the desert country in southern Utah

5. Instant porridge under the redwoods in Humbolt State Park

Or SONGS that have had an impact while travelling:

1. Music (was my first love) by John Miles. The girls loved having their dolls do CrAZy dancing along with this one. I don’t even know WHERE I got this song from...

2. Your Love by the Outfield – the girls love to sing along, constatntly asking what the lyrics mean... I DON’T KNOW!

3. Shock the monkey by Peter Gabriel – the girls loved this one too... “Why does he shock the monkey?”

4. Slave to love by Bryan Ferry, for some reason we drove around a whole day in Monterey just listening to this. Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmore adds a lot to this song.

5. Flesh for Fantasy by Billy Idol... it was ALWAYS on the 80’s channels.

Sometimes you can’t even make it to five, like FAVOURITE FAST FOOD JOINTS YOU CAN’T FIND IN AUSTRALIA:

1. Jack in the Box

2. Arby’s

3. ...ummm... Cinnabon?

Or of you choose more than five it would seem self indulgent, like BLOGS:

1. Canon City Storms

2. Something more sinister

3. Dekka’s Long awaited Disneyland post

4. Comments... and on the road

5. Ricky Ponting you bloody RIPPA

6. Crunchy Granola

Oops – see – self indulgent...

But what this trip has really been about is memories, and the fact Lib and I now have this wonderful stack of memories of the girls at this age... they’ve been wonderful to travel with, great troopers all the way, and have helped us to really appreciate what we’re seeing in this amazing country. We can’t wait to come back – it really is that good...

And let’s not forget you guys dear readers. Those of you who’ve dropped by. We appreciate the fact you’ve checked up on us, and have read our little bits of prose more than you can imagine. A special HUGE thanks to those of you who have encouraged us by leaving comments and observations, it’s so nice to know that at least SOME people are out there reading up on us (though of course being the artists that we are we don’t blog for that reason – we’re artists dammit!).

On that note we’d like to say thanks. Thanks so much for putting up with us, reading along with us, chiming in to let us know you’re there. We’re looking forward to getting home and catching up with you all again.

So until we see you all again in the flesh, farewell, and thanks for tagging along with us, it’s meant the world to us... well... maybe thats overstating it... it’s meant the United States to us.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

We will find you acting on your best behaviour...

It’s not like we didn’t know it was coming... it’s not like it snuck up on us in the night or just dropped out of the blue. Still, it’s strange how you suddenly find yourself at the airport, bags in hand, shoes on the floor from the security scan, boarding passes lost, hopefully somewhere in a pocket or bag or kids shoe. Its madness, its chaotic, it’s just a terrible way to punctuate the end of era – it’d be so much nicer if you could just do it twice at the beginning of a holiday and then never do it again – just mosey on home as easy as you please with no stress, just pleasant memories...

Still, it IS an adventure, it’s exciting in a way I suppose, in an “I hope I don’t say something stupid and get hauled off to Guantanamo“ kind of way. It’s strange how the only time you REALLY think about saying something totally inappropriate is when it’ll get you in BIG trouble, like at a wedding, a funeral, a birth, or worse... when there’s the possibility of a rectal exam involved...

I thought our last few days in the continental US would be spent like a man raging against the end of the day, flailing about in an energetic frenzy trying to cram as much in as possible... thankfully San Francisco is such an easy place to wind down in that we didn’t need to... it’s relaxing and rewarding and invigorating all at once... We took tea and dim sum in Chinatown... we tried shopping again in Union Square – but we’re still hopeless shoppers. We did the Alcatraz thing and visited the island. I thought it would be hopelessly touristy – but it’s a great visit... and the Audio tour as you walk through the old cell block is amazing; informative, moving, nostalgic, exciting and violent (shrapnel marks in the concrete from grenades used by Marines in the Battle of Alcatraz...)all in the right doses... The sun was out, the air crisp, the breeze light and refreshing.

On our last day we biked along the north shore towards the bridge and watched kites and windsurfers on the Bay. As evening fell we rode the cable car up the hill, past closed bakeries waiting for the early morning rush, past cozy front rooms, inviting lobbies, past corner groceries and small parks to a little pizza joint called Za and the BEST pizza we’d had in the states. I should have called this 'The Pizza Blog' as I’ve realized there’s more variety in pizza styles than hot dog styles and I actually enjoy pizza more – for shame!

After a great meal, we rode the cable car back down the hill, past views of distant lights, the fairly light strings of the bay bridge spanning the still quiet bay, views of lovely Coit tower and, with the wonderful smell of the smoking wooden brakes of the trolley... and that's it. And as they say in Madeline - There isn’t any more. Three months on the mainland was over just like that... except for the wonderful thrill of the airport run early the next morning.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Libby's last blog...

After leaving our ‘Home Sweet Home’ in the hills of the gold country we wind our way down towards the place where our 12 week, 10500 mile loop will be completed. Before we get there though, we have two days for a final Californian adventure. We explore sunny Sacramento where the highlight is paddling at a popular beach on the river hoping not to be an eye witness to some horrible accident. It is noisy, crazy and exciting. I guess being a 105F Saturday afternoon everyone and their dog/boat/jetski/beer/recklessness is drawn to the water. The best part of the city for the girls however was Fairytale Town.

We then zoomed our way to the coast, yet again, to peaceful Point Reyes. Here we were able to walk our way over the headland to a lighthouse which boasts its original ‘first order’ Fresnel lens. John Carpenter’s ‘The Fog’, one of the first scary movies I watched when I was younger, features this same lighthouse. Being here was far removed from seeing those dark images with the fresh sea air, sound of seals playing and the sea sparkling delighting our senses. I tried to contemplate what it must have been like in the past for those lighthouse keepers coping with such isolation and monotony...I couldn’t... so I just joined Lucy singing with the amazing acoustics in the solid buildings.

From there we made for our final chance to use our National Parks Access Pass. We wanted to hug the majestic Californian Redwoods one last time. At Muir Woods we sucked it all in, that longed for atmosphere we came from the other side of the world for. I was slow to walk out, dragging my hands along the thick ripples of bark on the trunks, keeping my eyes off the path for a possible last sighting of American wildlife.

Not long after, we approached Golden Gate Bridge. Our loop was completed. I thought about my past self and was briefly jealous. The last time I was here I had it all before me and now it is over – I could do it all again. I don’t want to replace the last few months of my life though. I’ve had an incredibly special time that I will have the memories of for the rest of my life. What bliss!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Hi there!

Things are starting to wind down here... In the last few days it’s become apparent that, while we came here for Summer, Summer doesn’t last forever.

The sun hangs in the sky with none of the menace it showed during those dog days when we would swelter our way across the deserts, watching the car’s thermometer show 110 on the clock... like the true artist she is Autumn is starting to weave her magic. Its still warm but the evenings grow cooler, there’s a chill in the morning and the unmistakable scent of fallen leaves and cut grass fills the air, flowing down from the wooded hills like water, pooling in the cool shadows. Its beautiful, but a reminder that we’re almost into the winter of our holiday too... we can count the days until we leave easily now, unlike when we started and they were just uncountable and it was unimaginable that we’d ever actually return home!

Yosemite was our last National Park – and while not my favourite – it was an amazing reminder of just how bloody grand this country can be, just what a show it can put on when it wants to. From the exit at about 10000 feet we slide back down the eastern slopes of the sierras, we can see the deserts again in the distance. Its much drier over this side of the mountains, and sagebrush creeps across the rolling hills to the horizon. As the sun begins to set we pass the old ghost town of Bodie, lonesome in the glow of magic hour, the wind whistling through its empty streets and the tall grass and abandoned mines...

We stop for the night in a small town called Bridgeport – theres not much to it – but the motel is nice, the girls play on the grass amongst the fallen leaves and in the morning we find an excellent park to play in. The girls play hide and seek with us and then Lib and I try the local breakfast burrito with salsa verde (lovely!) and a cup of great coffee. We cross back into Nevada and explore the state capitol of Carson City – Mark twain worked here for a time, and in nearby Virginia city – honing his writing skills, its a nice stop, and I pretended to filibuster with the girls in the old assembly rooms of the Capitol building.

Lake Tahoe is next and a strange hotel RIGHT on the boarder with California – so of course its a casino – but a great big bustling one in the middle of, well, not much else... and mid-week it was as dead as a doornail – gambling is in NO WAY glamorous... the only people here were haggard looking stained t-shirt wearing slot jockeys hoping for that big break that will never come as they suck on a death stick and drink watered down beer... talk about glamorous... Lake Tahoe itself is BEAUTIFUL... the most amazing clear waters, bright sunshine, interesting nooks and crannies along its coastline, great walks and wonderful beaches... and its all inland! We hire a paddle boat with a top speed of about .2 knots and chug out onto the water – we can see down a long way... and it gets even deeper (abd colder) the further out you go... its so cold they occasionally bring up perfectly preserved cowboys who met misfortune over a century ago... poor buggers. We have a lovely paddle along the shore and then head north into the gold country for one of our last stops...

Downieville and Sierra City are two tiny little towns strung out 12 miles apart on a VERY quiet highway both with a population of about 300. Its like being in another world, we’re bunked down in a small cabin about half way between the two – surrounded by pines, steep hills, glacial lakes and the sound of the river running by outside... its wonderful... The girls and I play in the river all day building stepping stone bridges, playing with dolls and making up stories... we hire a rowboat and spin hopelessly on a small lake, watching bald eagles fly overhead, and fish hide in the shadows below us. The deli in Sierra makes AMAZING sandwiches (roast beef, pickles, Swiss cheese, crispy lettuce, red onion, mayo and mustard on a sourdough roll) and we eat them on the rocks below the cabin in the sun, sipping on orange juice or lemonade while the girls eat ice cream. Its quiet and relaxing – and I can see the trees across the river dropping yellowed leaves in the afternoon breeze... they twist and turn downstream, out of sight, towards the sea...

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite...Yosemite...Is it worth all the hype Jue wonders. It certainly wasn’t back mid-year ’88 when there was so much hype and overcrowding that my parents and I were turned away at the gate. “How on earth can that happen? How can people who have travelled across the globe be turned away from a national park? Can’t we just have a peek?” Thankfully in recent years Mum and Dad finally returned and were welcomed in with such open arms that they now have a mug, a very often used and loved mug, to remember the joyful occasion. Now it is my turn. A turn only granted to me by the sheer dedication of my beloved Scarlett Johansson loving husband. It was midnight when he was sitting at the computer with sweaty palms, not for the above reason....hopefully, but for the 5 month advance release of Yosemite Valley campsites. His computer gamer quick hands made their deadly moves knocking out other contenders for North Pines... NO! Booked, booked, ALL BOOKED! “QUICK GO FOR LOWER PINES.” “NOOOOOOOOO!!!! ALL BOOKED!!!!! “GO FOR UPPER PINES! HURRY, HURRY.” Finally a massive release of tense breath. Site 67 Upper Pines campground was ours. He did it. He got me in.

Yosemite was worth all that hype. And it is for others too. This is a place where people come to get engaged, married and bring back their families year after year and spend several days rock climbing the SAME wall. I stood at the edge of Glacier Viewpoint and smiled. After everything we had already seen, not just here in the States but in all our travels, this was new. Like I did at all the great vistas we’d been to in the past months, I thought of those millions of years that took to make such a place, marvelled at its creation, and swelled with pride that its creator knows and loves me.

Yosemite was the grand finale of our time camping and visiting USA National Parks. As we packed up our lovely tent/home, carefully to avoid problems with customs, we thought of the places it had been and dreamed of the places it was yet to go. Jue drove out of the park entrance and I stared at the little wooden hut where the rangers guard the road. I couldn’t take my eyes off it, like the way you might not take your eye off a plane your loved one is leaving in. I kept looking at it till I could see it no more. Then I cried.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Almost not safe for work! LOLZ!! OMG!!!

I can feel the ship rolling on the great swell of the Pacific ocean... rising and falling with the work of the wind across the open miles and the pull of the moon. It should be comforting but its not – the problem is I’m at 8000 feet, in a tent, in the high sierras and hundreds of miles from the coast...

In the dark of the tent its fairly disorienting to still feel my bed rhythmically moving up and down and left to right... The roll of the ship stays with you long after you step ashore... I must look strange standing in the restroom at the urinal slowly swaying from side to side like some drunk... well, then again maybe I just look drunk...

Its bloody cold outside too – almost freezing in the dead of night, and a far cry from the heat and madness of Mexico... its dead quiet and we’re surrounded by a sea of huge trees rather than a sea of... ummm...sea? We’ve visited General Sherman himself, the largest living thing on earth, though to me not as impressive as the coastal redwoods of the start of our trip. Ol’ Sherms might be BIG but he’s not as tall as his cousins along the coast. The landscape is stunning up here in the sierras though, huge domes of granite and severe drops at every turn... this is where Patty Hearst's kidnappers came to hide out and “liberate” the poor of San Francisco...

Ironically enough we actually descend from Sequoia National Park the next day, via the most twisty bloody turney road I’ve ever driven, through mist and dense cloud and across the San Joaquin valley and its lush orchards and vegetable plots and water piped from the north by huge canals the Romans would drool over to the west coast again... San Simeon... the start of a great marine reserve, the start of the best part of Highyway One and also the old home of Patty’s grandfather, good old boy Randolph Hearst, Citizen Kane himself...

Its an amazing home to pass through, full of incredible pieces from across every historical period and place on earth it seems... in other words its a grand mess. A rich mans ongoing and incredible vain desire I believe to outdo and impress everyone around him. Its big, its beautiful (taken a VERY small chunk at a time) but in the end a reminder that money doesn’t buy you taste or sense... Living here would be like the episode of the Simpsons where the family have to look after Mr. Burns Mansion... spending every dinnertime proclaiming “LOOK HOW LOAD I HAVE TO YELL!” Its not a place I might desire to live in, it does have a nice swimming pool though...

From there we’re onto the Big Sur drive, winding north along the coast, clinging to cliffs and hang over the waves to Big Sur and Monterey. When we spoke to people about going to the US they invariably asked three things “Are you doing Disneyland?“ (yes, and we loved it) and “Are you doing the drive to San Fran along the coast? (yes – we just did it).

After such a buildup from people who know it, have driven it, seen it in movies or written about it in guide books I was expecting an out of this world experience. The road paved with rubies that looked like Scarlet Johansson’s lips, guardrails that looked like... umm... Scarlett Johansson’s arms, highway signage that glittered like Scarlett Johanssons ...?... That and vistas that made your jaw drop and angels with complimentary shots of Cabo Wabo at every turn and a White Castle in every town (I really want to try White Castle, but they’re only on the east coast).

Needless to say Scarlett Johansson is sorely missing. Its a wonderful drive, and it was a beautiful day, the sun glimmering on the sea, the fog keeping its distance, the gulls swirling and spinning in a blue sky... but the food is HORRIBLY expensive along the way, and the local towns have a grossly over-inflated sense of “cool” and self worth. You’re also just in the car most of the time, there’s a few walks and so on and a few lookouts, but mostly its just driving...It is, as I said, a wonderful drive, but don’t come 16000 miles for it or expect the best drive ever... New Zealand is much closer and puts up some mighty fine contenders for a better drive. No sour grapes, just a wake up call that not everything is the best in the world over here.

Monterey though IS pretty damn cool. Here is one town I would live in in a split second. Its not overbearing or pretentious unlike nearby Carmel), there’s some nice food, some GREAT parks, and a relaxed and down to earth feel like we’ve only experienced in a few places over here. Its easy to get around, its beautiful, and it has everything you need, including a local council that obviously places a high value on local greenery and parks – kudos to Monterey for being such a great town to relax in.

We stay on the motel strip out of town proper and use a local Jiffy Lube to change the oil in the car (I thought 10000 miles was pushing it) and had pizza from the local cafe. The US feels very familiar now, we’re used to most of the inns and outs... we feel at home here, and slip easily into the groove of local shopping, gas etc... its a far cry from arriving in Honolulu and being amazed by all the new brands, all the quirky differences... they’re all second nature and we even have out favourite brands for ham, hot dogs, breakfast cereal, milk, bread, candy, butter and cheese... it will be weird, and exciting to go back to Australia and get reacquainted with all our old favourites there.

But there’s still a few things to do before we head back we buy some of our favourite brands, pack them into our food box and esky, and prepare to head out to our last national park, the big one, the one that is the third question everyone asked us... “Are you going to Yosemite?” Yes... we are... and we’re just about to find out if it was worth all the hype...

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Blue Sky Mining...

With no driving, no GPS, no fingers crossed for correct hotel reservations, no crappy Motel 6 service and with no roads travelled we wake in a different town... Machine gun toting army joes in green fatigues swagger and smoke in front of rusting shipping containers out our window, behind and above them rise billboards for cheap diamonds, Pacifico beer and behind that a wild array of radio towers sprouting like wild hair from a lush rocky hill... this is Mazatlan in Mexico – really a world away from the towns and ways of the America we’ve known for the last 2 months...

On one side of the ship lie the port and the city, spreading away to the golden sands of the bay and the hazy distant towers of the “Golden Zone” – a mashup of foreign investment and local funseekers. On the other side of the ship lies the dingy river mouth and a tumble down shanty town fighting back the ravenous jungle. Birds soar in crazy circles and a huge black helicopter judders its way through the smog of a belching factory, back into the pale blue sky and across the city.

Today is hotter than the last if possible, and I break into a sweat just thinking about going outside... thankfully its much worse than I anticipate... within seconds leaving the ship we’re waving away a barrage of taxi offers and walking towards downtown... A few seconds more we’re begging for a taxi and a fresh towel to dry the profuse sweat that’s carving a canyon down my back and pooling on the cracked sidewalk. We slug into town in a converted VW beetle and soak it all in. Its busy and relaxed at the same time, so much going on, banners and flags and stall holders at the market vying for attention, the spires of the cathedral flashing in the hot sun and the cool shade of the trees in the plaza providing respite before I urge us ON! ON! There’s too much to see – we buzz on in another taxi to the golden zone – sounding like something from a John le Carre novel or a Bond movie – its nowhere near as exciting. A bunch of jazzed up shops catering to tourists need for a bargain (though in no means providing one) and tropic frayed hotels teetering over a too thin beach... we spend an age trying to find a good place to swim – there really isn’t one here – it all “looks” good but the swimming is... underwhelming. So we fake our way into the restricted area of a very up-market resort and spend some time using their pool and facilities... Thanks El Cid! Not only did we have a better swim, but my inner cheapskate was well pleased...

The next port though, Cabo San Lucas was stunning. Even though we were awakened in our cheap cabin by the clanking and goings on of the ship preparing to send us ashore by tender it was worth it. A stunningly beautiful day dawned out the window over the desert town of Cabo, perched at the end of the Baja peninsula and surrounded by water so clear that I could almost see the bottom from my cabin window.

The tender drops us in the heart of the marina and I feel a sense of déjà vu – the lighthouse across the bay looks somewhat familiar... then it strikes me... Cabo... CABO! That bloody tequila I trapesed across the whole of west LA looking for, for Chris, the famed Cabo Wabo – came from here – DUH! They’re practically giving it away on the wharf, sales ladies ask me if I need a free six-pack of the stuff – the locals use it for cleaning the dishes with and watering the window gardens they have! Actually though, and much to my inner cheapskates eternal thanks I got it for the same price in LA that they sell it here for – with NO duty troubles...

Like Mazatlan the taxi drivers swarm us – but here they all drive glass bottomed boats instead of cut down Vee-dubs. We shug out to Lovers Beach and spend our time in the clearest water I think I’ve ever seen... its beautiful, and we watch our ship float majestically in front of us and I drink Pacifico beer play with the girls in the surf and watch the waves and the birds and the buzzing town a few miles away which we haven’t even entered and life is good until I get a stupidly blazing dose of sunburn – oh the irony –I’d been happily pointing out all the burnt idiots on board and laughing maliciously... until now – ouch. Stupid beer.

I walk across a spit of sand to the western edge of Baja and look out. The Pacific is my favourite ocean, the bright blue sky and deep blue powerful swell remind me not to mess with it, and I don’t jump in. With the hot sand burning my feet I turn my back and walk through the bright sun past the white rocks to the clear bay and our playing children and the jumping fish, and our little glass bottom boat comes to take us back to the Marina, and our tender to our ship. We set sail, round the southern tip of Baja, then full speed back to Long Beach and the United States of not Mexico...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Bryan Ferry would approve

It’s called "dead air" and that’s what we were for the last week... a gaping hole in the blogosphere, static down the wire...

What the hell where we up to? Where did we disappear to? What kind of magic removes a man who needs the internet like the tide needs the moon (or Ponting needs a whinge when not winning) from his world wide security blanket the internet... More interestingly... what on earth could make a man who talks underwater in his sleep stop blogging for such a period?

After raging our way across the dusty innards of America, poring over the geologic entrails of dead seas, the dry scars of dead rivers and climbing the bones of giants its quite simple - we felt the call of the seas... to be more exact that curse of the Emerson-Elliott family, that of salt water blood without being able to sail for nuts set in - we hit the high seas... We - the cheapest and skimpiest of families who camp rather than take discount hotels, who eat chili from a tin rather than takeout succumbed to excess took all the money we'd saved during these last few months and blew it on a dammed cruise. Not just any cruise though - oh no! Not for us - for us it’s only the best! And by best I mean the only one that fit in with our itinerary. We were to be flung across the raging (placid) seas to far flung (not that far) exotic (strongly familiar) Mekk-heeeeee-CO (Mexico)!(.)

The ship loomed like a damn intergalactic cruiser as we approach it on the freeway... wait we can see it from the freeway?! Damn strait Mr. Rhetorical question we can - from like 5 miles away this monster of a ship towered over EVERYTHING. Even the building which used to house the world’s largest plane is now used merely as a sitting room you pass through on the way to boarding the Carnival Splendor. 450 Bajillion metric tonnes*, 45 decks*, 27 bars*, a full size replica of Laguna Seca raceway*, two zero gravity bowling alleys*, 4 planetariums*, 6 cirque de so lei shows* and close to of one of the biggest ships to be cruising the Mexican east coast out of Long Beach on a Sunday with this particular name. If not the biggest...

It’s pretty exciting being herded on board, in that it was pleasant - my only other experience of cruising was just after the iron curtain fell and some nuclear powered ex-Russian navy "cruise" ships plied the Australian route back in the early 90's and you were ushered on board with complimentary borscht and vodka - and that was for the kids!

The decor is a bit disorienting at first - orange carpet and a proliferation of pink vomit on the walls and blue lights to discourage shooting up in public (I imagine?). Though try as I might I couldn't help but slowly start to fall in love with the ship.

There’s something about being at sea, pulling away from the wharf and knowing you're on your own, nothing in any direction but miles of sea... feeling the slow and comforting rock of the ship as she rides the swell, the distant but constant hum of the engines and the quiet whoosh of the bow waves as they break outside your cheap cabin... Which though, yes, cheap, was VERY nice, a great bed, and exciting for the girls to have fold down bunks and a fun little light to play with each. It’s cozy yet spacious and on our first night Lib and I stood mesmerized watching the sea and all its mysteries play out before us as we glided down the Baja peninsula - and not a hint of pink vomit in sight...

Cruise life would send a guy like me mad - just sitting around on deck trying to look cool/pretty/hip/tanned/intelligent... thankfully there’s a lot more to it than that - and the entertainment staff kept us well... entertained with trivia, karaoke (yes really - admit it - you play sing-star, and you LOVE it - it’s just like that but worse)...

Just as we’re getting into the swing of things (much like Bryan Ferry would!) we arrive in bloody Mexico – talk about bad timing – now we have to go out and explore a new and exciting town deep in the tropic west coast of (for me) this unexplored land. And, true to form we fit right in, and within 20 minutes I’ve found us a lovely gay beach with some wonderful waiters and exciting new friends... at least Lib feels at home (not gay, she just knows she not on show here like some other beaches...)

We buy a few drinks, swim in the bath warm seas and watch as alien birds circle in an alien sky with the towering office blocks and relentless jungle spilling up and over us like some Ralph Steadman landscape. I then reacquaint myself with how BLOODY hot and sweaty it is carrying a child on your shoulders up hill in the tropics as we wind through back streets in search of a taxi back to the ship. Its different here, I’ve felt this type of country before – its like being in S.E. Asia again but with Mexican food, Mexican shops and Mexican “bargains” you just HAVE to be told about around every corner...

We fall back into the arms of the ship as she pulls away again into the night... to sleep... to dream... to awaken, like magic at our next port and our next adventure – we love it...

Monday, September 14, 2009


Like an electric shock the freeways of L.A. jolt us back into real life. Disneyland disappears as we float over concrete and palm covered suburbs and workshops, billboards for weight loss, past the towering monoliths of downtown, under the LA metro lines to the glittering sea again. I keep getting "Disney artifacts" in my vision and thinking though... I keep thinking the car runs on rails or the jack-knifing gas-tanker in front of me is a good 3d effect... I'm pretty sure some of the people serving at the hotel are animatronic, I'm sure I see fireworks out of the corner of my eye but when I look its always just some gang related shooting going on...

Santa Monica beach sweeps gracefully along the pacific coast mere miles from Hollywood and its myriad of adult shops and visitors hoping for a glimpse of something more meaningful. Its most likely not there - and it may not be in Santa Monica either - but this is a far nicer place to pass the time.

The beach is wide and inviting, the pier flexing its muscles out over the water with a multitude of overly expensive attractions encrusted on it like salty barnacles. Mexican restaurants line the alleys that run back from the sand offering cool water and shady respite from the heat and every second pedestrian zooms by on funky roller-skates. Its not as inviting a beach as Laguna was, but its more exciting, there're lights, sound action everywhere... even musclemen working out on muscle beach and moaning about how tired their arms are just so you'll stop and watch them (they must love that). I studiously keep my eyes averted, its not like I stand around in public with my donkey kong handheld moaning about how tiring it is to get a high score...

Back from the beach lie avenues of wonderful shops just waiting to be explored, if only we cared a hoot about shopping, but we dont, so we wander past them and think how double-edged a sword it would be to enjoy shopping: more fun in a place like this but a huge cost... I'm actually glad we dont like shopping, our purchases so far consist of some dresses and shoes for the girls and some camping equipment. That actually changes in Santa Monica as I pass a video game shop and drop in for some bargains... sheesh...

Our jaunt into Mexico is coming up - so we do our best to do some laundry while avoiding getting involved in wonderful dispute at the 7-11 next door as some large lady screams about her "damn soda cup" which is "just behind the damn counter - I paid for it! Dont make me call the cops!" Thankfully we get out of there before the cops or the inevitable drive by shooting attempt happen. We find a liquor shop and grab a bottle of Cabo Wabo for Chris back in Australia. Its a very old bottle, the cashier literally has to go out the back to wipe all the dust, grease and blood off - I hope it ages well.

I take a walk out before we leave, into the heat and the back streets of the suburb, Bryan Ferry (who I had grievously under-rated in my youth) on the headphones (and what a lovely twist in that video too - quite moving)... The fires bloom into the sky, their huge mass creating striking white plumes of pyrocumulous. Apart from that its much like any suburb. Buzzing insects, trees, letterboxes and crisscrossed wires... As I stroll down one road, mechanics and beauty salons on one side, a lush and manicured cemetery on the other I bump into a wonderful surprise...

Its like my guardian angel, here on this hot day, pushing along a small hand painted cart with jingle-jangle bells tinkling is an ice-cream man... I can't see a house for miles and its a quiet Saturday... I wonder where he came from. He charges me a dollar for a frozen fruit bar and then jingle-jangles off into the semi-suburban maze again, leaving me with my dripping but very much appreciated frozen ice treat and the muted sound of the freeway and cicadas in the trees... L.A. is a pretty cool place like that...

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Dekka's long awaited Disneyland post

As far as I'm concerned there are two types of adults who go to amusement parks. Those who have a deep sense of self preservation and those who don't. Jue and I fall separately into each category. I was quite young and at the Canberry Fair when I first found out I was a wuss. Over the years I've tried to conquer my motion sickness by going on rides such as the corkscrew roller-coaster at Sea World and Wipe Out at Dream World - still tame by many peoples' standard. It frustrates me that some part of my brain kicks in...or doesn't... when I'm on thrill seeking rides and I panic. Jue on the other hand is a Goody - he'll do anything, anytime, anywhere. Disneyland is for everyone. It gives both types the time of their life and provides an amazing range of experiences no matter what your "in to". Of course the girls loved it too, how could they not? They had been counting down the days and knew from You Tubing before we left Australia, that they would be meeting real princesses.

Jue's childhood dream to go on Space Mountain began back in the 70's when he saw a map of Disneyland on the back of a Disney Annual. It was awesome to see him grinning from ear to ear after coming back. "You have to go on it. It's great!" And then it started. That churning feeling down in the lower half of my stomach. I'm trapped. I could refuse but then know that curiosity will chew at me and tease me that this ride just might change who I am and take me to the other side. I remember that it is a roller-coaster in complete darkness with sprinkles of star-like dots of light. Dad had gone on it back in '88 and it definitely wasn't on my agenda then. A day had passed when I realised that it was now or never. I went to the toilet. My eyes scanned the photos of people faces taken during the ride. I went to the toilet. Walking quickly through the space where lines of people would be waiting in the peak of summer I'm able to avoid time dwelling on what I was going to put myself through. With barely a pause I'm directed to my seat and I'm comforted that a woman 30 years older than me sits in front. The ride starts. It's not so bad. I can do this. It takes about 5 seconds for my confidence to be wiped flat. I begin to groan. The lady in front will just have to deal with it. When the ride is over I apologise and make my way back to the sunshine.

For me and my type, Disneyland is about fun adventure, spectacular shows, enchanting animatronics, tear jerking sound-tracked fireworks and lovely rides such as spinning tea cups, it's a small world, flying dumbos, rockets and yoghurt containers and Lucy's favourite, 'Heimlich's Chew Chew Train'. The fat caterpillar takes passengers through a giant dripping watermelon and a cookie box blowing the warm, sweet smell of freshly baked cookies. In three days and thanks to quiet Wednesday, we were able to pretty much cover everything including California Adventure park - a new addition since my first visit. It was here on 'Soarin' Over California' that I had the most beautiful, wonderful and emotional experience of any fun place in my life. People clap at the end of it.

This is definitely a place for everyone's life to do list. It is a dream theme park. I agree with Walt Disney who once said, "Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past, and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future."

Screenwriter's Blues

I'll admit that I hadn't really been looking forward to L.A... Its a big city. We've been in the wilds for so long... I was worried that it might not live up to the wonders we'd seen before - be a bit of a step back as it were. I imagined it was full of valley girls, washed out wannabes, freeways, smog and broken dreams. I couldn't have been further from the truth.

Its a great town, all 20 something million souls of it, all umpteen billion miles of freeway of it, all "a palm tree on every corner" of it. Its energetic, its both industrial and imaginetic at the same time, spinning you along past strip malls, freeways, tangled spaghetti junctions, billboards, the ocean glistening like a bed of jewels, unimaginable wealth and those who got left behind. It infuses you with a sense of the possible and an understanding of why the dreamers and pragmatists come here to work together.

And its not movies I'm talking about either (Hollywood was a dreary couple of streets we passed through, and didn't stop at, on the way to the architectural triumph and treasure-house that is the Getty Centre, perched high on the brown wooded hills above Bel Air with a glorious view of the huge city sprawling below and the large station fire to the east) its not movies at all. I'm sure they're made here but the 20 million people dont work in movies. Its school after school, mall after mall, workshop after workshop, factory after factory, foot by foot of concrete, canals, playing fields... suburb after suburb of either Brady Bunch type bungalows to Pulp Fiction like apartment blocks and everything in between...

It doesn't matter which, they're all part of the tapestry that is LA. I'm not sure what it is, but the mix of it all is intoxicating. This is a real city, big beyond what a small Canberra boy can probably grasp, you can feel its pulse as you travel the freeways, it grips you, I even find myself not worried by the snarled traffic, thats just how it is here - you live with it. You go along to get along. If I had to pick a town to live in over here, to experience for a long time, it'd be here (or Seattle, but thats a different beast). You can feel in the air theres just so much here to be done, seen, felt, its real. I'm most likely being a naive tourist in that regard! But if you are over this way - dont turn your nose up at LA - its a great town, well worth the visit... I'm glad we're not done with it yet.

We also explored the southern beaches of Orange County... its like the Northern Beaches of Sydney but with worse traffic (if possible) and less snooty residents. Fishing fleets ride the swell in the bay meters from art galleries, gas stations, charity shops and haut coture shops, a mix you dont really get in Palm Beach, thats what it feels like here. The beaches are almost as good too - we had our first real swim in the ocean at Crescent beach in Laguna, it was great to get back in and get smashed by some waves then float, back down, toes cooling in the breeze, bobbing up and down beyond the breakers looking back at the city. Rivers and pools are all well and good but the beach still provides the most refreshing way to take a dip.

The girls make 5 minute friends and build sand castles on the beach together, we chat with the locals who range from the retired to tradesmen to day traders to unemployed... the beach is the great leveller, no matter who you are you can come to the beach, the houses above it might cost several million but hey - for the day you're closer to the ocean than them - and it didn't cost a cent.

After exploring the beaches we retire to our hotel and the girls discover the game of shuffleboard. None of us know the rules - but that just adds to the fun. Theres some tension in the air as the girls head off to sleep though - Disneyland is up next, and the hopes and dreams for two little girls (not to mention Lib and I!) will be realised beyond imagining or dashed come the morning...

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Now you've done it...

So there I am, late at night by the window in our Vegas motel... laptop glowing, searching the internet in vain for an exciting family outing in the Vegas area that does not involve gambling, hookers, drugs, the mafia, Liberace, hamburgers or humvees... I was getting kind of desperate.

"Okay.." I thinks to myself, "its a big town, theres bound to be lots of things that normal people here do..." Apparently normal people in Vegas if they don like gambling, hookers, drugs, the mafia, Liberace, hamburgers or humvees, they ah... they must play golf? There's more golf courses here in the waterless desert than there are social services I'd wager. BUT, finally, at last, like a bolt from the blue came the answer.

One word. One quarter. Two flippers. Hours of entertainment...


Las Vegas hosts the International Pinball Hall of Fame... not so much a tribute to those who can play well - but to those who LOVE to play. In an out of the way location, miles off the strip, in a plain shopfront with no great fanfare lies the greatest indoor fun I've yet had in the states... row after row of pinball history... from baseball simulators that ran on magnets from the 40's to childrens amusements of the 50's to fantastic and innovative pinballs of the 60's and 70's to (what I consider to be the pinnacle of Pinball Games) the best selling pinball machine of all time The Addams Family and beyond, right up to new machines like CSI and Batman. EVERYONE in the family had a fantastic (and cheap - even better!) time. Jammy played her first pinball, Mario World - how awesome is that! The best of both worlds Mario AND pinball!!! Lucy played her first game - too! We spent a few hours here just soaking up the fun, quarter by quarter...

Theres some fine machines out there - I have no doubt now that in my family room of the future there's going to be a pinball machine - an Addams Family if I can get one. I say to you now, the unconverted, those who have not played pinball in years, or worse, their life - GO - find a machine, play it, enjoy it! Its simple, its honest, its fun and has a certain magic that even at ages 3 and 6 my little girls could relate to.

It was great to leave an attraction in Vegas, not because we'd run out of money - but because we'd had enough fun - it was the highligh of our stay in town, I could have gone back happily for a few more hours the next day but it wouldn't have made it any better... it was just perfect. If you're in Vegas you must visit. If you're not in Vegas you must visit Vegas so you can take this in.

To finish our stay in Vegas off we decided to spend an evening off the strip and get OLD SKOOL.. we headed downtown, were Vegas used to live (and technically still does as the strip is outside the actual boundaries of the city of Las Vegas).

The casinos here are older, dinosaurs, lovable dinosaurs compared to the sleek gambling mega-complexes of the strip, but endearing in a way an old safe cracker is as opposed to a white collar fraudster... still, endearing only gets you so far - the place was dying - so a few years ago they closed the main street and put a huge canopy over it making a mall, not just any mall though -that canopy overhead they turned into the worlds largest damn video screen - and whoo boy - what I thought was a gimmick was actually pretty cool to see in action... its about 200m long, 30 or 40 wide and every hour they present amazing footage overhead. The video we saw for Don McLeans American Pie was by far the most interesting take on the song I've ever seen put together, from casting Altamont as the 'day the music died' with Mick Jagger as the devil, to Janis Joplin as the girl who sang the blues, with Bobby and John Kenndy and Martin Luther King as "the three men I admire the most - the father son and holy ghost" ... the rest you'll have to see for yourself if you get over here.

The next morning we packed up, said goodbye to Vegas and headed off for the west coast. The real west coast, the ocean. We were headed to the OC, Orange County... centre of all things consumerist and I was prepared for the worst...

Monday, August 31, 2009

They used to test bombs out here...

...visitors would flock to Las Vegas and crowd the cheap motel rooftops and fancy hotel bars to witness the distant glowing fireballs rising up above the black rock Nevada horizon. Drinking chilled beer in the desert sun, burning themselves lobster red and then moving indoors to gamble their cash away and fund the growing city.
Its not really that exciting anymore, the horizon now consists of endless lofty hotels and apartments, dull and awash with the desert dust during the day but bursting into an amazing array of lit wonders, spires, rollercoasters, billboards, flashing signs, neons, sweeping spotlights and glitter during the night.

We're staying on "the strip" the most expensive couple of miles of real estate this side of manhatten island, and everyone is trying to get your attention, or to get you to stay in a different manner - from the faux Camelot of "Excalibur" and its ye olde carnival themed cheap all you can eat buffet under flourescent lights, to the MGM grand with its lurid green yet alluring outer walls visible probably from Mars the place is so big, to the lush and flower filled Italian stylings of the very welcoming Belagio and its amazing water fountains set to lights and music... all the way down to the glittering McDonalds sign in a very Vegas style and the hundrens of "card men" on the street who hand out the business cards of working girls (photos included!) with a flick and a wink and a "she can be with you in 20 minutes"... the cards litter the street in the morning, the "tastefully" positioned stars on the nude models doing little to allay our worring about what the girls might ask if they see them - thankfully they remain oblivios, and I, holding Lucy's or Jammy hand dont have to fend them off like some single men I see do... Then theres M and M world, "Coke World", their cousins out the alley in back "coke world" and THOUSANDS of other two bit attractions with signs bigger than than my house.

Its a fun town though, theres not a lot to do but gamble, swim, take in a show, avoid the pimps or eat... we didn't take in any shows or gamble and the pimps avoided us thankfully - we did a lot of swimming and eating though! The buffets here are amazing value - with great and innovative food in many of them - it was our daily treat for lunch (being about 50% cheaper than dinner).

We tried five such buffets, and ranked them thusly:

1. Wynns Buffet - lots of small portions of some very classy foods, salmon, smoked trout, rare beef with caramelised onions and caper, cream and aniseed sauce (or something like that - it sounded better). STUNNING desserts...
2. Paris Village Buffet - every cliched type of French food the Americans could think of and then more... and actually very nice creme brulees
3. The Luxor Buffet - lots for the kids, wonderful piles of fresh fruit, and the locals must have loved it with heaps of pizza and burgers... why not just but them on the street though - oh thats right - because here you can eat like TWENTY!
4. The Tropicana - cheap and cheerful with tough carpet, flouro lights, a sizzler like salad bar but a certain "Canberra Club" faded glory style...
5. The Main Street Station Buffet... lots of steak... not much else... oh collard greens. And no, collard greens aren't worth trying...

The girls had a great lifestyle, eating fruit at the buffet and swimming the rest of the time... as there really wasn't much else to do - we did however -with one day to go discover THE absolute best way to spend your quarters in Vegas - my dream attraction, a real highlight of my holiday, a place I'll be working VERY hard to get back to - or find a similar place in Australia -it was truely wonderful - and I'll tell you about it later...

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The 5 percenters...

Still gasping for breath from the wonders of Antelope Canyon we drift back to our lodgings and head out for a swim in the warm waters of Lake Powell, a huge man made aquatic wonderland in the middle of the desert. I float in the warm water looking out at the parched rocks changing hues with the setting sun and think about the lost wonders fathoms under my feet in drowned canyons and rock formations.

The kids love splashing here though, and the air is warm and the water soothing so I don't think too much! It is good to be swimming again, stretching out, splashing in the mud and sand and watching the girls laugh and the water droplets light up against the blue sky and red earth.

From here we head to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon - but being the sadist that I am I can't just take the quickest path there... I've seen two National Monuments that look like fun outside of Flagstaff Arizona... Route 66 country. Painted Desert Country. Fossilised Forrest country. Its too attractive to pass up so we head briefly out of our way to to visit abandoned adobe castles in the high desert and a volcano that only a thousand years ago spewed forth the ash that allowed these desert castles to bloom like flowers for a short time. Now the volcano is dead, cold, quiet jagged lava flows and eddies of ash and pumice in the wind. The soil it fed has long been drained of nutrients and the people it fed long move don. Their homes sit now at the end of quiet box canyons and atop strategic hills waiting for their return but only we are there to see them today, stuck between the grand canyon, the city of Flagstaff to the west and the brilliantly coloured painted desert to the east. I'm not game to drag the family out into that (on this trip...)

After some lunch Flagstaff falls behind us and we wind through pine forests towards the south rim. I've heard its much more crowded, much more touristy than the north rim. And with good reason too. Its better.

The views are, well, like I expected of the Grand Canyon, and I expected a lot. You really can see forever here... and forever is *chock full* to the horizon with twists, turns, peaks piled on peaks, collapsed towers, flashes of green from hidden springs and space... ohhhh so much space! The sense of distance is palpable - its so damn BIG. We join the elite 5% club - those who venture beneath the rim. We hick switchback after switchback down the South Kaibab Pass (the Northern end is at the North Rim - 28 miles and 3 days hike away - thats why we didn't take the hike there!) After an hour of steep descent we reach "ooh-aaah point" and boy did we ooh-and-aaah! Its BIG down here, thousands of feet below us we can still see the path winding down, thousands of feet below that we can see the Colorado, green and slow and welcoming from this altitude (but a raging torrent down there with 3 of the worlds top ten rapids in its winding trail). Eagles swoop by - some two thousand feet below, hunting prey on the slopes. People just stop and stare, quietly taking it all in, only stopping to ask again and again for poor Lib to take their photo please... Its only after we get back and see our path winding down the side of the canyon from another viewpoint that we realise just how little we've scratched the surface of this place... what we thought was a mighty descent into the maw of the canyon was a minor toe-dipping excersice down the mile deep behemoth...

As evening approaches we race a coming summer storm eastwards to try and catch the sunset. We don't, but the power of the storm is immense and invigorating in sunsets place. It laces the sky with lightning and lashes the canyon rim with a deluge of cold rain... leaving the air cool and clear (but cloudy) after its passing.

For fun (and to avoid our damp campsite) we head into town and introduce the girls to the all American pastime of 10 pin bowling. They absolutely love it. What they dont love is the concept of it ending... tears aplenty - but pizza and ice-cream allay them for now... Next we head for Las Vegas, I'm a little sad to be seeing the last of the desert wilderness, from here on we leave the tent behind for a few weeks, I might miss it a bit, but we're all looking forward to having proper showers again and for the girls, the promise of a pool is all they need to drive them on...

Totally Radically Awesomely Toastally Gnarly

This wonderful phase has had limited use since I first heard it as a young teenage girl. Today I am able to say it once again as what we did in the Lake Powell area was TOTALLY RADICALLY AWESOMELY TOASTALLY GNARLY!!!!!! I'm not talking about the Rainbow Bridge national monument - we didn't get there (Mum and Dad we we were lucky to see that when we did as it now costs families hundreds of dollars to tour there). I'm not referring to exploring the 658 square kilometers of reservoir either (I'll leave that to Phil and his jetski). I'm talking about this..

Antelope Canyon

This is most amazing place I think I've ever been. A sandstone slot canyon formed gracefully by the elements. The girls walked through bare footed on the sandy floor stretching out their arms to try and touch both sides. Our eyes constantly darted around taking in all the different ways the sunlight played through crevices and on the curves of the rock. My mind went wild, it was so totally, radically, awesomely, toastally, gnarly in there.