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Sydney, Australia.

Well, I am very happy to report that both Casey and I like Sydney a lot better than the rest of Australia. It’s cleaner, has more distinctive neighborhoods, and has fantastic public transportation. (The subway system reminds me a lot of the London Underground; there are stations everywhere so it’s really convenient just to hop on a train and get to where you want to go.)Yesterday we took a 30 minute ferry ride over to Manly (a beach suburb) and went to Oceanworld and saw the “most poisonous creatures” in Australia. There were both full-grown and baby sharks, poisonous snakes, spiders–of course!, info on the different types of jellyfish that swim in the Au waters, and some serious-looking stone fish. We watched a live show about some of the aforementioned animals (reptiles, etc…) and even got to pet a tiny salt water crocodile whose skin felt like soft rubber (“Don’t stand near the edge of rivers and don’t go swimming. If you go fishing in one spot one day, make sure you change areas the next because the crocs will watch you and know that you’ve been there , and they will come back the next day in the hopes that you will return and make them some dinner!” Crikey!! Scheming crocs?). Some more advice: Check your shoes before you put them on (the Sydney funnel web spider), don’t go swimming at all off the shores of Australia (jellyfish), when bushwalking wear heavy pants and socks and lace-up shoes (snakes). We also learned that about 97% of the people who do get bitten by snakes are young males; apparently if they see a snake when they’re drunk they (rather than run like hell) charge after it with a shovel or something. Surprisingly, a snake is much faster and has much better aim than someone who’s sloshed out of his mind.

Tomorrow we head for Katoomba (which is located in the Blue Mountains). We can take the city train for $AU 11.00 (about $US 6.00) and it takes just about two hours. We’ll be spending our New Year’s Eve there; we’ve heard that Sydney gets crazy on that night and rather than search for a place to stay (almost imposssible) and walk the streets with a bunch of rowdy, uncontrollable hooligans (Ha ha!! It could be us!!) we will be breathing in the cool eucalyptus air of the mountains. At least, that is how I envision it!

Note: Casey is putting the New Zealand pictures on the website right now. Check them out–if you dare!

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San Mateo, CA

My mom was released from the hospital at the end of February. This hospital stay was a lot harder for her than the previous one; it was quite an ugly shock to be back “in the joint” once she had been freed. Although the antibiotic’s physical side effects were not as bad, the emotional toll of being once more away from home (and without privacy) was even more difficult this time around. Mam felt as if she had spent those first two weeks in the hospital for nothing; she took a step forward only to take two back. All in all, her re-admittance was frustrating, depressing, and scary.

She is still being administered the Nafcillin but, thank God, the doctors and the insurance company arranged for Mam to get her dosages while at home. She has a PICC-line installed in her arm (it’s like a long-term IV connection that enters through the crook of your elbow, runs through your veins, and then stops right near your heart. PICC lines tend to last about a month before they have to be taken out and re-installed; normal IV lines last up to three days) and is hooked up to a small machine that works like a mini IV. Her medicine bag attaches to a small stretch of tubing that runs through the machine and out again, and then hooks onto her PICC line. My sister and I change the medicine once a day, and Mam carries the bag and machine in a small fanny pack.

My mom still has back pain and only recently regained her appetite. Dr. Lindquist (the infectious disease doctor) wants to keep Mam on the Nafcillin two more weeks (total: 6 weeks–not counting her first hospital stay). Everyone feels that it’s better to err on the side of caution; Dr. Lindquist could have taken Mam off the medicine at 4 weeks (which would have been March 11th), but there was a slight chance that the staph wouldn’t be completely gone and then Mam would have to repeat the entire process. Since my mom hates the idea of going back to the hospital, she was more than happy to extend the treatment by two weeks.

As for the trip…well, we have decided not to continue. We weighed all the pros and cons and came up with more cons than pros (is there a jail theme to this entry?). Mainly: we are tired of the nomadic life; we hate the idea of even one more 13-hour plane ride; we want to begin looking for jobs/schools and get that aspect of our lives in gear; we really want to start our home and find a little apartment and get settled; and, although far down on the list, the threat of war with Iraq (not to mention the North Korea trouble) leaves me (if not Casey) with an underlying anxiety about our nation’s “homeland” security and American security abroad. I don’t know if it’s my mom’s illness that makes me feel vulnerable or the belated realization that there are so many greedy and immoral people in power, but lately I have been more aware of the fragility of our lives and lifestyle. All it takes to change your life forever is a simple fall down the stairs, or fiddling with the radio while driving, or eating in the wrong restaurant at the wrong time, or a crazy man with a bomb …I know that that idea was driven home for a lot of people with the September 11th tragedy, but it’s coming back for me in a more subtle way.

So, Casey and I will fly out to New Jersey sometime next week . We have begun to say our goodbyes and organize what little belongings we have here on the West Coast. We still plan to visit Thailand and Vietnam and a long list of other countries, but first we have to take care of our lives at home.

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San Mateo, California, USA

I’m very sorry that we have been MIA for a few weeks BUT you will be relieved to know that we have been (merely) holed up in my native hood.

My mom was admitted to the hospital on the 19th of January with a staph infection. I don’t know a lot about staph but I do know that it’s a potentially dangerous bacteria that a lot of people carry around with them; sometimes it gets out of control when your immune system is weak. In my mom’s case, she had come down with the flu the day after Christmas and couldn’t hold down her rheumatoid arthritis meds. A few days later, she started to feel better but then her left ankle became extremely swollen and painful. Her doctor upped her med dosages in an attempt to ease the swelling; an X-ray revealed that she had multiple hairline fractures throughout her foot. (She doesn’t know exactly how she got these fractures but has recently remembered that while she was sick with the flu she had turned her ankle a few times in her new, fluffy slippers. Her ankle has so much damage in it from the rheumatoid arthritis that it was easy for the bones the break.) Her podiatrist ordered a “boot” for her to wear on her injured foot; it gave support so that she could get around and go back to work. Well, she returned to work and the next day woke up with excruciating pain in her back. (My mom thinks that the boot may have been too heavy for her to move easily and also made her walk unevenly, and that this is what caused her back problem.) She could barely move and her G.P. ordered a synthetic-morphine patch (as well as bed rest). A few days later, my sister Michele came to visit my parents and found my mom almost delirious with a 105 F degree temperature. Mam couldn’t remember simple facts (like, where she keeps her medications) and Michele decided to call the doctor. He told her to get Mam to the hospital as soon as possible and, because my mom could barely move, Michele called the ambulance.

After many hours and a full day of tests the doctors figured out that Mam had a staph infection (as well as a bulging disk in her back). She was immediately put on strong antibiotics and had them administered every six hours through an IV. She had an infectious disease specialist (Dr. Lindquist) as well as a neurosurgeon (Dr. Base) as well as her regular doctor (Dr. Steyer). (I will leave out her rheumatologist and podiatrist…).

Meanwhile, halfway across the world, I was freaking out and worrying about what was happening with my mom. After much discussion, Casey and I decided to use my dad’s travel companion passes and catch a plane from Singapore to San Francisco. My mom was admitted to the hospital early Sunday morning and Casey and I flew out a two days later. At this point we were unsure as to how far the infection had spread; the danger was that it had entered her heart. If it had, she would need four to six weeks of antiobiotics. If not, and it was just in her blood stream, a two week course would clear it up.

The first time I saw my mom, she was so pale and weak and barely there. What I mean is, the antibiotics had taken away her spark and her personality; the only bit that remained was the soft, helpless side. She was doped up and wiped out.

After sixteen days of hospital care, my mom was a free woman. I won’t go into details of those days…anyone who has had a parent in the hospital knows what it is like. The dynamics of the relationship change and the person who used to be the caregiver becomes the taker (and, if they are like my mom, they are not happy about it). But, for me, it was a chance to show my love for my beautiful mother and to give back to her some of the care and patience she has shown me throughout my life.

Now Mam is home. She is using a walker until her back gets stronger and her body recuperates from the infection. She is making good progress (she can sit up longer–an hour at a time–before the pain becomes too intense) but sometimes she wants to do more than she should. I keep reminding her that she needs to take it slowly or else her body will react and she’ll be back where she started. She is taking lots of pain medication as well as the usual meds for her diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis; I had to write them all down so that I could help her to keep track of them.

Casey and I will stay in the Bay Area until the end of February; we are due to meet our friends Gary, John and Ooi in Thailand around that time. Hopefully Mam will be a lot better by then and my dad will be able to help her with the things that she needs. Right now she needs help getting dressed and washed and help when she goes to bed (or even gets up to use the bathroom or eat at the table). But, today she put on her pants by herself and yesterday she walked outside (with the help of the walker) for about five minutes. Each step is small but significant. She has been through a lot in her life and I already knew that she’s a strong woman who’s not afraid of pain. When I think of all the physical discomfort she has had to put up with in the past few weeks (an echogram procedure in which they put a tube down your throat and run it to your heart; a picc line inserted; and, when Michele and I couldn’t be there to do it, a stranger washing your body and taking care of humiliating, personal matters) as well as the intense pain that she still deals with today, I feel even prouder of my mom than I have ever felt before.

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Melaka, Malaysia

We are in the lovely, very old-fasioned Chinatown of this, Malaysia’s oldest city. The town was founded in the 14th century and was subsequently held by Arab traders, Dutch, Portugese, and British colonists. It holds a certain charm and still has many of the buildings built by the Dutch and British. There are many elements of Portugese in the local cuisine.

On the way into the city we saw a goat with elephantiasis of the penis. It (not the goat) was about the size of a Wonder Bread XL loaf. It was truly one of the highlights of the trip, but unfortunately we could not get a picture as we were on the bus. We will just have to leave to imagine in your mind just exactly what that looks like.

We have made many sightings of that elusive and increasingly endangered species: the Mullet. The local variety is known as a “Mayllut” and is surprisingly abundant here. We have made at least 20 confirmed sightings. They are most common around bus stations and on souped-up motorbikes. They are also much less aggressive than their American counterparts.

Melaka is definitely the friendliest city we have been to in Malaysia, especially in the old Chinatown. People here ask about you out of genuine concern, not just to get you to buy something. It is very refreshing.

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Port Dickson, Malaysia

We are staying for 2 nights in this seaside resort for Kuala Lumpur residents. Since most of the hotels are empty during the week (the vacationers come on the weekend), the room rates are half what they on the weekend. The resort is a very nice, large place with an artificial lagoon and giant pool. Best of all there is no one there except for a few Dutch and Germans on package tours. Unfortunately, the remote location of the resort allows them to soak everyone staying there, which is why we are now at a nearby shopping mall picking up supplies like water and beer and candy. I am ever the cheap bastard…

Our bus ride here was quite comfortable as the coach was almost completely empty. And cheap too at $1.25 for the 2 hour trip. Tomorrow we ride on to Malaka (the Dutch and Portugese colonial capital) and then Singapore.

The people we have met outside the city have been quite nice and friendly. Everyone has gone out of their way to make our trip easy and pleasant.

The bus station at Kuala Lumpur has two main aisles where you buy tickets. On each aisle are DOZENS of bus companies. Since many of the bus companies compete with each other, they shout out their destinations as you walk buy, while others shout “sir” or “hello, sir”. As you reach the end of this narrow hallway, the whole room is full of a cacophany of competing Malay place names shouted at you. It was quite an experience. I was certainly glad that the hotel concierge in KL had written out the name of the bus company we needed for Port Dickson.

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Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Hmm, it wasn’t really Bali that I disliked but our hotel room. Our flight got in at 10:30pm, we tucked ourselves into our silk liners (you know what that means) at 12:00am, and we left for the airport at 10:30am. So, we didn’t really see Bali at all; instead we saw the inside of a run-down “beach cottage” hotel complex and got to sweat it out in a room with a half-assed airconditioner.

The room had seen better days. The sheets looked dirty (suspicious crinkly white patches), the bathroom was crumbly around the edges, and the whole place smelled of moth balls. (When I complained to Casey about the horrible, headache-inducing smell he pointed out that they probably used them to keep away the bugs. “Probably had too many tourists wake them up in the middle of the night screaming about the cockroach in their room.” So I shut my trap pronto.) The first room we were in had a hole in the ceiling (yikes!) so I was happy when they had to move us because the a-c didn’t work. The next room was better; it seemed cleaner and didn’t have any holes in plain view (but of course still had the moth balls and dirty sheets). We were such sticklers about the a-c since it was 88 degrees outside at 11pm! The windows couldn’t be opened (they had them bolted shut for some reason) so therefore it was either have a working air conditioner or sleep outside. The “working” one still wasn’t very effective and made the inside just bearable. (The one we have now gets the room icy-cold in about ten minutes. That’s the way a-c should be!)

We both didn’t sleep very well. The hotel was under the airport’s flight path and the roaring of the engines woke Casey a few times. A rooster crowing at 4am (and every 20 minutes thereafter) seemed like a flasback to the Cook Islands. One of the little emaciated dogs that roam the streets started barking sometime after I had gotten up and kept waking Casey from his attempt to sleep in a little bit. That was yesterday morning; this morning I slept in until 9:30 am.

We had a fun time last night eating hawker food and enjoying our nice little hotel room. As Casey pointed out, we have a great view of the city and at night we can see tons of sparkling lights. After we ate, we went to the 7-Eleven (which they also have in Australia) and stocked up on beer and water and peanut M&Ms (our staples). When we got back to our room we cranked up the a-c, turned on Discovery Channel (yes, we are hopelessly Western but it is nice to watch TV in a language that you can understand) and planned our next travel move.

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Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Having survived the night we shall call, “One Night in Bali” (Cheryl will have to explain), we are now happily situated in Kuala Lumpur. We arrived at the clean, modern, brand-new airport yesterday at around 3.30 PM on a half-empty Malaysia Airlines flight. The taxi from the airport was rather long at just under an hour, but rather pleasant as the driver pointed out the sites like the miles of palm trees grown for palm oil. The taxi was a Proton, which is one of the two Malaysian car companies. And the ride was quite reasonable at $18.00.

We arrived at our hotel, the Alison Genesis (with a name like that it has to be good, right?) which is a pleasant new room with arctic air-conditioning and a view of the KL Tower (the communications tower that looks like a child’s rattle). The hotel is quite a bargain at $23.00/night.

After a brief rest we decided to taste what KL has to offer. Outside the hotel there are a few restaurant/hawker stands (the two kind of blend together); as we walked down the street, there were a few more, then a few more, then around the corner, and BAM, a whole street with hundreds of food stand/restaurants selling every variety of Asian food you can think of. Everything from deep fried chili frogs to meat floss (?). Deciding against the meat floss for the first night, we walked down the street trying to decide until one of the vendors grabbed us and sat us down, making the choice easier. We enjoyed a delicious meal of squid sambal, fried rice, and Tom Yum soup for just $6.40. With two beers that came to less than $10! It started to dawn on us that you could probably spend a lifetime eating in every restaurant here and probably never get leave your own neighborhood. Lunch today was in a sit-down restaurant in a mall, but equally good and cheap.

Kuala Lumpur is a strange mix of the future and the past. On the same street you see old Hong Kong style tenements and gleaming office towers; Motorbikes and luxury cars; street hawkers and Mega malls.

Although I am 6’5″-6’6″, I’ve never felt particularly tall–until now. Fighting my way through the traffic here, I feel like Kareem Abdul Jabaar fighting Bruce Lee in Game of Death.

We are going on a tour of the city tomorrow and then we will head to Port Dickson and points south as we make toward Singapore.

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Brisbane, Australia

The last 4 days here have been very relaxing, quite like a vacation from travelling. And there was no particular reason why they should have been so. We stayed in a very small and cramped hotel room in this clean, laid-back (slightly uninteresting) city. We never even ventured more than 5 blocks outside of our “comfort zone” (the area around the hotel). For some unexplained reason it felt very much like home. In a strange way I will be slightly sad about leaving Brisbane and Australia, even after the bitching I did about it.

Tomorrow we leave for Bali (one day) and Malaysia (one week). We have spent the past few days getting ready (a visit to the extremely disorganized traveller’s Medical Clinic) who gave us a different malaria prescription (apparently the one that Kaiser gives is not particularly effective, but cheaper). We also saw some movies: Lord of the Rings II (OK, a little long though and that Gollum was a little Ewokish), Bowling for Columbine (very good, very powerful and especially interesting to see outside the U.S.), and Catch Me if You Can (excellent, very tight movie). Bowling for Columbine made me especially think about what makes America a great and also a not-so great place: it seems that the military, economic and media power that keeps so many potentially disparate people together over such a great land mass also has a powerful influence on the rest of the world. Countries that are equally large and populous (Russia, Indonesia, China) are either not strong enough to keep regions of their landmass from breaking away (Russia and Indonesia) or must rule their people with an iron fist (China). The movie makes the point that the U.S. seems to have a unique way of keeping its people cooperative with military, economic, and media power that work somewhat together, unintentionally. Whether you agree or not, it is a powerful movie and it is funny to see Michael Moore on a big screen, the unlikeliest movie star in the world.

Anyway we are leaving the fat belly of the developed world to experience the leaner luxuries of Southeast Asia. By the way I have lost 12 lbs.! We’ll see what happens in the next few months.

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Coff’s Harbour, Australia.

We are getting ready to leave Coff’s Harbour to head about 2 hours North to the small town of Ballina. We tried to find a place to stay in Byron Bay, but we could find NOTHING after calling 20 hotels/hostels/campgrounds! Apparently ever Australian and his Greek brother is on vacation right now. By the way, what is the shortest book in the world? “The Australian Book of Etiquette and Social Graces”

Coff’s Harbour is a very laid back resort town full of vacationing Australians. The town is full of small, mom-and-pop motels, where families stay for a few weeks. While we were reasonable lucky in finding a nice place to stay (there are no nice places that are also cheap, though), the food situation here is deplorable. While I don’t mind spending good money for a nice place, I deeply resent spending good money for crap food. The second best meal here in 4 days has been Domino’s Pizza!

We went to a Thai restaurant called River Kwai that was probably the worst meal I’ve had on this trip. We should have known from the sign–dirty. Anyway, it all started when the surly (angry) waitress came to take our order. Cheryl ordered first, her appetizer (which they inexplicably call here an “entree”) and then her meal. The lady got very upset because we were going to be ordering “out of order” and could we please order “entrees first, then mains”. Oh, OK, whatever. I’m sorry I din’t realize we were in the army now.

Appetizers arrived first, Curry Puffs, straight from a box in the freezer to the oven to the plate. And they weren’t even frozen apps. Then arrived our meals: My Penang curry and Cheryl’s Massaman curry had the same sauce. Although they were 2 totally different orders with different ingredients, they had the same sauce and ingredients. The only difference was that Cheryl’s had one small piece of potato. The people at the table next to us find a giant dead cockroach floating in their curry. After that we both lost our appetite, and enjoyed a lovely dessert of toast and box wine.

Incidently, they have a lovely selection of box wines in Australia. Not just crap Franzia, but really good ones. What a luxury it is to walk up to the fridge and press the red button to enjoy a delicious box wine! BOX WINE DREAMS!

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Katoomba, New South Wales, Australia

Happy New Year! New Year reached us about 37 minutes ago. We celebrated with a bottle of French bubbly (Oyster Bay’s and Sundries finest–“You can get a whole bunch of Mumm’s”). We are in the Blue Mountains about 2 hours outside of Sydney. We had a lovely dinner of Chinese food and are now getting ready to go to bed as we have another overnight bus ride to Port Macqauarie, a resort town about 8 hours north of Sydney in NSW. Unfortunately we arrive at 4.30 AM. Ouch.

Yesterday we had quite an odyssey trying to get a flight out of Indonesia. Our dilemna: since both the US and Australian government have issued their most serious travel warnings to Indonesia (defer all non-essential travel), and we have a one-way ticket to Bali, how do we get to Malaysia/Thailand/Singapore? We visited STA Travel, Travel Centre, and about a dozen other travel agents to get a reasonable ticket, but they were all about $1000 US. Finally, we went to Malaysia Airlines office in Sydney to try to exchange our Medan->Penang tickets for cash when the agent suggested that we could buy a ticket from Bali to Kuala Lumpur for only $150US. So that’s the plan: Brisbane to Bali (1/11/02) and then Bali to KL (1/12/02). From there we can take a quick train ride to Singapore or Bangkok. There are not even any severe travel warnings for any of the places we want to go! And we can exchange the unused portion of our tickets!

We felt a little like we were on the show “Amazing Race” going from airline office to airline office. We finally found a cool agent who was willing to “bend the rules” and issue us a ticket that was supposed to be for long-haul travellers. After finally getting our reeasonably priced tickets, we felt like rubbing it in some competitors’ faces, but there was none to be found.

Katoomba is a quiet one-horse town, with antique shops and used book shops for day-trippers from Sydney. It is a little too far to be a commuter suburb and depends on tourism for its main attractions: the Three Sisters rock formations, the Blue Mountains, and other natural features. Unfortunately, the town is still a little raw, and I would be a liar if I said that we loved it here (we are looking forward to moving on!). Tomorrow we head to Port Macquarie and the beautiful NSW coast and beaches! Pray we don’t meet up with any box jellyfish or other nasties.

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Adelaide, Australia.

Merry Christmas! It’s too warm for Christmas, even by California standards. We have the a/c cranked up in our apartment and have slipped out for just a few minutes to check email and make a quick entry.

Despite what Casey may believe I am not disappointed in my Christmas presents. Chocolate is always appreciated; I needed a toothbrush cover; toilet seat covers are rare in this part of the world and so I am very happy to have been given some!; champagne–how can that be bad?; travel pillows definitely come in handy; and, I have actually secretly been wanting a cup of my own since some of the places we stay don’t supply them in the room.

I have my second bad cold of the trip. The first one was in Fiji and it lasted about four days and did not fully leave my body for a good two weeks. I had a lot of left over congestion and, for some reason, as I fell asleep at night I would make a deep sigh that would wake both Casey and me up. This lasted for about four or five nights; Casey said that I was annoying him because I kept waking him up. Well, I was annoying myself, too!

We called our families this morning…it made the homesickness both better and worse. Anne and Bob had the Leskos and Aunt Olga over for a Christmas Eve dinner; I have only spent two Christmases in New Jersey but both were really nice and festive and I wanted to be there again! Then I called my family in San Mateo and my Mam was telling me the plans for the evening (it was only six o’clock there) and then I thought of all the Christmas shopping and decorating that I would have done with my Mam at this time of year and it made me really miss just being with my family. I wonder what our tree looks like this year? In fact, I have been missing everyone the past few days because it doesn’t seem like Christmas at all here. Casey and I have done what we could but of course it isn’t the same.

Whine whine whine!

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Adelaide, Australia.

Today is Christmas Eve and it sure doesn’t feel like it. Aside from a mild rush at the stores and a few decorations, it just does not seem like Christmas here. Also it is like 80 degrees so it is really hard to get too much in the christmas spirit. I mean, look at Santa Claus, he is wearing boots, heavy coat and wool pants; he wouldn’t last long in this weather.

Cheryl and I spent yesterday apart to buy Christmas gifts. You can’t believe how hard it is to buy Christmas gifts for someone who has to carry with them whatever you buy for the next few months. Most of my gifts were of the consumptive variety: champagne, lots of chocolotes. The rest are just awful: toilet seat covers, toothbrush covers, lexan wineglass, and an inflatable travel pillow. Wow, Merry Christmas.

Today we booked a bus trip to Sydney. 25 hours on a bus across the SouthEast corner of Australia. That is going to be one of the longer days of my life.

We are both getting really tired of Australia. When I told Cheryl how that it was starting to get on my nerves, she said, “Australia has been on my nerves since we got here.” That is why we are heading to Sydney–closer to our departure point of Brisbane. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong here, it just seems like a brown, tacky version of New Zealand. Plus it is a little expensive (the real reason for MY dissatisfaction). Anyway, I am really looking forward to Vietnam and Thailand: the land of cheap, good food.

Cheryl and I were talking about how holidays suck when you are on “permanent holiday”. In your normal, workaday life, holidays are a fun break. But when your normal, workaday life is a holiday; holidays are just a time when the hotels are all full, shopping is a hassle, and the buses, trains and planes are all full.

But on the bright side, being holed up here in Adelaide has given us a chance to do some cooking: roast chicken, chicken salad, split pea soup, standing rib roast, and more…

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Adelaide, Australia.

Arrived in town this morning on the overnight train. The train ride was pleasant enough and we both got at least a few hours of sleep.

Adelaide is hot, at least 100 today as it has been for about 2 weeks. There is not a cloud in the sky. And this is on the cooler coast! There goes our hopes for a white Christmas.

Adelaide is also much more laid back than Melbourne. Although Adelaide is a city of over a million souls, it seems just like a sleepy rural hub. Melbourne was an interesting city. We had a few observations: I’m not sure if this is indicative of Australian culture in general or Melbourne in particular but there is a tacky streak that produces some pretty funny results: belly shirts and skimpy tops on most of the girls (even those who shouldn’t), hawkers with megaphones outside many stores, short shorts, drunken louts, and screaming fools on cell phones. Also, on the morning TV programs they switch seemlessly from news to infomercial (it happens so fast you don’t realize it). In short, it all seems very American. Especially in comparison to New Zealanders, who always seemed to be on their best behavior (I think they are waiting for the Queen to arrive and declare them a part of the United Kingdom).

We are staying in a suite with kitchen for 5 days over Christmas; we are going to do some cooking and try not to move around too much. Maybe we’ll spend Christmas on the beach. Cheryl has sworn off the beach in Australia due to the fear of the alarming array of dangerous sea animals: poisonous box jellyfish, poisonous blue-tipped octopus, 8 varieties of poisonous sea snakes, poisionous snail (!), dozens of shark varieties, and crocodiles, oh my! I can’t say as I blame her; although she seems insistant on my taking out an insurance policy.

We are already missing the fantastic Queen Victoria market in Melbourne. The market had a fantastic selection of fruits, veges (as they say here), meats and seafood. Although we couldn’t buy anything to take with us, we enjoyed a delicious grilled bratwurst on fresh bread. So far the food has been much better in Australia than New Zealand. At least you don’t have to salt everything. The New Zealanders hate salt for some reason.

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Melbourne, Australia.

We are at an internet/cafe and they are playing that Travis song (the one about the rain) and it reminds me of a James song (sort of the jangly guitars and the singer’s voice); and, of course, James songs always remind me of England.

We have checked out of the Kingsgate Hotel and will roam the city today until our 10 pm train ride to Adelaide.We have decided to spend a few days in one spot in order to celebrate Christmas and have picked Adelaide as the Chosen City; after hanging out in the STA office yesterday for two hours, we were finally able to book some accommodations and transport. Unfortunately, right now is the busy travel-tourist season in this part of the world; they all go away for “Chrissy” (what’s with the baby talk?) and spend the holiday in some (preferrably) beachy location. Sooo, we had a bit of trouble trying to find something reasonably priced for OUR holiday, since they (us vs. them) all book months in advance. Finally we found a self-catering studio apartment that cost more than we wanted to spend but has four stars and a/c (necessary!). It was a toss-up between Adelaide and the Sydney area, but Sydney has more beaches (and a well-known poisonous spider) so we thought that it might be more crowded and harder to find a place to stay. Also, Adelaide is located only an hour from the Barossa wine-growing region and has beaches and is enroute to Coober Pedy (an underground city; too hot to live above ground! Mmm,sounds like heaven) and Alice Springs. And it doesn’t have a notorious well-known spider waiting to attack my foot as I slip under the bed covers at night. Yea Adelaide!!

Well, I am here today to write about our glacier experience. “What?” you ask.”Glaciers in Australia?!” No, none here (that I know about). We had our glacier experience way back in lush and temperate old New Zealand but have been too lazy to write about it (also a bit busy preparing for our flight to AU). So…

After we left Queenstown we headed for the West Coast and the small town of Franz Josef. Frans Josef wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the nearby glacier of the same name. There is also the Fox Glacier just a few miles south, but we chose the FJ because we had read in the guidebooks that you can get much closer to that glacier when you take the guided tour walks. We signed up for a half-day tour with the Guiding Company; there are two companies that offer tours of the glacier and we chose this one for no other reason than their brochure was easier to understand. We met the tour group at 8:15 am and were told to wait until they called us. They had a nice cafe and internet access so we hung out for a few minutes while the rest of our group arrived. We were called upstairs to get our boots and water-proof jackets; the boots were heavy hiking shoes that ended just above the ankles and had sharp metal sticking out of the bottom of them (to grip the ice). After about half an hour of taking care of business and waiting for the latecomers to get their act together, we were herded onto a rickety old school bus that smelled of old shoes and stinky feet. We drove for about ten minutes and then stopped at the Franz Josef Park; at that point we were divided up into groups of ten and given one guide per group. Casey and I had a loud-mouthed red-headed woman with a stud in her eyebrow and a long hippy braid. It sounds like I didn’t like her (by my description), but I actually liked her energy (at first); later on she got to be kind of annoying since her enthusiasm and out-spoken character also included the inability to be sympathetic toward her inexperience charges (us!). We hiked about ten minutes on the pathway towards the glacier, and then,in full view of the ice mountain, walked another thirty minutes on the valley floor. At one point we had to cross a river that had no bridge or other means of getting across it without getting our shoes wet. (We weren’t wearing our boots at this time as they had those metals spikes in them and were unsuitable for climbing and scaling the slippery rocks.) Everyone in our group was trying to find a better way to get across than the one she showed us; our guide, in her waterproof rain boots, barked out: “Okay people, if you don’t think that you’re going to get wet during this trip then you’d better turn back. I don’t understand people who don’t think they’re going to get wet.” She stood there, in all her professional hiking gear, shaking her head….Well, you know, the Guiding Company didn’t tell us that we should wear waterproof shoes;in fact the brochure said that boots were provided (which would make me think that I could wear sandals if I had wanted to).Casey wasn’t happy that his tennies were soaked. Finally we stopped and changed into our boots and stored out wet shoes in the rubber bags provided. Our guide told us to set heavy rocks on top of our belongings to keep the Kea from picking through them.

Climbing the ice was a bit scary at times since there was the constant threat of slipping. Fortunately, we were never too far off the ground; as we climbed higher and higfher, we would turn corners and climb into mini valleys in the rock and ice. If any one of us had slipped, the most we would have fallen would have been maybe ten feet. But, the ice was sharp and the rocks very jagged, so I don’t think that we would have survived the fall without serious injuries.

When we finally got to the end of our climb, we were no where near to the top of the glacier. Of course, this was expected;if we had wanted to even see the top, we would have had to have signed up for a full day and had done some heavy-duty vertical rope climbing (no way, Jose!). But, I must admit that I was a bit disappointed with the amount of glacier that we actually could see; I could have stayed on the valley floor and seen what I saw without hauling a– up the rocks for an hour and a half! (And saved NZ $45.) On the other hand, I was glad to have gone through the climb since I had to overcome my fear of heights and the unknown, and I had proved to myself that I could do it. It’s not at all like walking in snow since the ground is a mixture of ice and frozen rock and very slippery. I also gained a sense of what it’s like to climb in ice and bad weather conditions (it started raining and snowing on our way down) and I have a deeper understanding of the difficulty the mountain explorers (such as those who climb Mt. Everest and Annapurna) face. When I read “Annapurna–A Woman’s Place” I could only imagine what they went through; now that I have a better understanding, I think that they have lots of courage and strength (both mental and physical) and determination. Because, really, climbing the ice sucks.

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Melbourne, Australia.

Sorry if this entry is a bit strange…I haven’t had my morning coffee yet and I feel a little bit spacy.

It’s our second day in this city. Yesterday we walked around the hood (South Yarra) and I had my straggly hair trimmed and Casey bought some flip-flopish slides so that his feet can enjoy the warm weather. We decided to walk to the City Center (not quite realizing how long it would take us) and spent the next two and a half hours strolling the streets of Melbourne. It’s a pretty city, but a lot dirtier than New Zealand. In NZ there was never any trash on the streets or large amounts of cigarette butts on the ground; in that respect, Melbourne looks like any other American city. In fact, Casey was saying that Australia seemed a lot more American than any place we have been to so far. But, it’s not all bad–as we walked along, we were shaded from the hot sun by beautiful trees and enjoyed the old brick buildings. However, we did not enjoy the “plague of flies” (to quote Casey’s on-target description) that bombarded us as we made our way through the parks and small stretches of green grass. We seriously thought that the little buggers were attacking only us; then we saw other people swatting the air around them, too. We made it to the City Center and immediately booked two more nights in Melbourne, but CLOSER to the action! We didn’t want to have to take such a long walk again. (Exercise is one thing, but heat exhaustation is quite another.)

I must go wake up Casey now. Today we check out of Hotel Claremont and we need to eat our “included breakfast” before we pack it all up (or, in).

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Queenstown, NZ

Queestown is rightly called “the adrenaline capital of the world”. There is just about every type of activity here involving, air, water, and land in some death-defying combination. They have: 4×4 trips, dirt bike trips, horse treking, fishing, 4 types of bungee (invented here)–inlcuding the largest bungy in the world: something like 500 feet, skydiving, hanggliding, whitewater rafting, zorbing (?), alpine luge, and lots more.

I have just completed an alpine luge, which was a fun little ride on a resin sled with a lever between your legs to control the speed. As with most of these things, I was way too big to be riding it and had a little trouble controlling it (much to the shock and dismay of the Japanese family I almost took out).

Tomorrow I am going whitewater rafting on a level 5 rapids. Cheryl, wisely, is going wine and cheese tasting.

We only have a few more stops in NZ: Franz Josef and Fox glaciers, Hanmer Springs, and then we are back to Christchurch for our flight to Melbourne, Australia.

New Zealand is starting to grow on me. I especially like the West Coast of the South Island. There is a stunning and rugged beauty here. Two days ago we went to Fiordland national park on a cruise next to giant cliffs (up to 1500 vertical feet) that dwarfed the boat and all its inhabitants. The light there was a dusky blue. And yes, lots of Lord of the Rings was filmed there, so you’ve probably seen these mountains too. Queenstown, although a well-oiled machine designed to strip tourists of their money, is set on a deep blue lake with 15,000 foot mountains poking around it on all sides–somewhat similar to Lake Tahoe. I think a few more days here will make me like it even more–just in time to leave!

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Te Anau, New Zealand.

Ahh…cool, crisp mountain air, a beautiful lake, and a small tourist town too small to be annoying; this is Te Anau.

We drove yesterday from Waihola (about 45 minutes outside of Dunedin). We had stayed over night at a B&B called Ivy Cottage; the host were a warm, elderly couple named Brian and Robin and they swept us away with their enthusiastic hospitality. From the moment we entered their house we were treated like old family friends. They ushered us into their backyard (with its brilliant view of the lake) and offered us drinks and cheese ‘n’ crackers, and we spent a good two hours “catching up” with them (although we had never met them before!). We chatted with their son and daughter-in-law, who had just come back from visiting Brian and Robin’s daughter in San Rafael, CA. We petted their golden retriever, Buddy (short for “Rosebud)), and gave her lots of attention and love. They offered us dinner (“We’re just about the throw some sausages on the barbie, would you like to join us?”) and we brought out a bottle of wine from our stash of Hawkes Bay goodies. I choked down a lamb sausage (trying to be polite–lamb is not one of my favorites) and successfully avoided the cilantro-laced salad. At nine 0’clock we headed for our own little cottage ($75 NZ a night–about $38 US) and marvelled at the fact that it was still light outside. (It’s really amazing how long it stays light here in the summer–it doesn’t get totally dark until about ten pm.) The next morning we had a delicious breakfast (“brekkie” as the Kiwis call it) of homemade muesli and jam, and NZ bacon (a wider cut of ham than ours–it includes the outer-edged, which is what we serve as bacon, but has more meat with the cut), toast, and an egg (thankfully no lamb sausage).

Yesterday we drove the Southern Scenic route of the island; there were so many stops we could have made along our way towards Invercargill (which is where the route officially stops). We chose two: The Petrified Forest at Curio Bay and a waterfall (it has a Maori name that I’ve forgotten). The forest was really cool, and we were lucky to see it when the tide was out. We went down to the beach and looked for the little imprints of log amongst the rock and seaweed. The next beach over was a penguin reserve; the sign warned visitors to be respectful of them and not to stress them out by getting too close to them (or even just staring when they are in the process of molting). Apparently, they are very emotionally delicate beings…but, they are so cute!

We stopped at Invercargill for lunch. Our take of the city–too much room and not enough people. The shops were all closed and there weren’t many people out on the street (and this was Saturday afternoon). The other Scottish-founded city, Dunedin, was completely different; lots of stone buildings, a beautiful bay, a fantastic rail station and museum (we will have pictures of the station). We would have loved to stay another day in Dunedin, but unfortunately for us it was graduation weekend and lots of the good accomodations were booked up. So, after driving out to the nearby peninsula to see Larnach castle (fun and eerie!), we headed out of town and to Waihola (and Ivy Cottage).

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Dunedin, New Zealand

This is one of the most Southerly cities in the world, although you wouldn’t necessarily know it as it is about 63 F outside (19 or so C). As the name suggests, this town was settled by Scottish settlers and their influence is obvious: heavy brick buildings (this in one of the most seismically active parts of the world!), Scottish names, and big dark lakes with highlands around (yes, I know the settlers did not build the lakes and mountains). There are lots of penguins around in many of the coastal towns here. They are even considered a pest.

I was quite happy yesterday watching the Jets game on Monday Night Football replay. It took some planning but I managed to find a sports bar that had the right channel. Ironically, from what I heard, the game was blacked out in the SF/Oakland area because those “rabid” Raiders fans (who are oh so dedicated to their team) did not sell out the stadium. So I could watch the game in a farming town in NZ (where they watch Rugby, not Football) but the Raiders fans could not watch their game. HA! Unfortunately, the Jets lost so I better shut up…

Today we stopped to see a geological oddity… Strange perfectly round boulders on the beach. The boulders were caused when sediment from the ocean was packed so tightly the molecules became round, so the whole rock became round. Unfortunately, I was so absorbed in this geological scene that I did not notice the giant wave behind me that soaked my only shoes, my pants, and socks. I am now wearing Cheryl’s sandals. She is not too happy about that as they are going to be returned to her a few sizes bigger…

We are going to add a new thing to our pictures. We will now take a picture of every room we stay in. I’m not sure if this will be interesting or not, but, we’ll see.

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Christchurch, New Zealand.

We made it across the Cook Strait this morning all in one piece (or, two separate pieces). We got up at the crack of dawn (6am) in order to catch the 8am ferry from Wellington to Picton (which is on the south island). As we drove our car onto the boat I couldn’t help but compare our Kiwi ferry experience to ourFijian one; this morning everything was so organized and well-thought-out and flowed so
smoothly…when we took the ferry from Viti Levu to Ovalau there was lots of waiting around, lots of exhaust from the various diesel vehicles (our still-packed-with-human-cargo bus drove into the hull
of the ship with twenty other buses and vans and trucks, and created a very unhealthy breathing situation for its riders), and lots of rust covering a great majority of the ship. I felt so at ease this
morning on the beautiful new ferry that I ignored the safety instruction video that they played at the start of our journey (something I never do; even on the airplanes I still pay serious attention to the “crew members” doing their silent moves at the front of the cabin); instead, I went to one of the four coffee bars on board ship and ordered a “long black” coffee and muffin. Casey and I played a few games of gin-rummy (guess who’s ahead?) and moaned to each other about how tired we were and how much our tummys were in turmoil. Yes, we had/have something wrong with our digestive tracts…Casey had it worse than I did, but I still had that icky feeling. We have pinned it down to the Malayasian food we had last night for dinner; Casey ate more of the spicier dish than i did, and so we think that that plate held the bad bacteria! The place we ate at was nice, too, so I’m a bit surprised–it wasn’t dodgy at all. I guess you never know what goes on behind the scenes.

Oh, we had an uncomfortable day today driving from Picton to Christchurch (about a five hour drive). Casey was dopped up on Pepto and Immodium and Dramamine, and then his sinuses started hurting and so he took some sinus medication. I had a Dramamine and we both had less than six hours of sleep…uh, we were not in a state for a driving spree. But, we had booked a B&B in Christchurch and wanted to make it here before evening. We both felt better by early afternoon and started to get hungry so we stopped at the Mussel Boys in Kaikoura and had mussels and mussel soup and salad. Yummm! But, perhaps not the best meal for tortured stomachs because…it all came back.

Well, we made it anyhow and took a nice long nap on the big comfy bed and then got up and went into the city (we are actually staying about five minutes outside of Christchurch in a town called Avon).

The countryside of New Zealand is so beautiful…There are so many shades of green, and they’re all in one spot! The color ranges from a dark brown green to an almost flourescent lime color.We’ve seen rolling hills covered in green(s)and sheep and spotted cows, and dry hills that remind me of the East Bay (before it became so developed), and rows of grape vines, and turquoise ocean (in Napier), and houses dotting tree-covered hills (Napier again, and Wellington)–which remind me of the Bay Area!. Oh, and lots of men in cut-off jean shorts worn just a little too short. Shocking.

The Cambridge Hotel WAS very nice….we had a TV and a small fridge and a very cute (although small) bathroom, and a BIG BIG bed that was so comfortable, and came with three pillows. The Rowena Backpackers
was a “dump” (to quote my man); I even had an asthma attack while we were there, and I don’t have asthma! Even Casey was uncertain as to whether or not the sheets had been washed, and we both slept in the blue silk liners that night.That’s when Casey decided we’d spring for something nicer (the Cambridge).

Question: If you were in New Zealand for Thanksgiving, when would you celebrate it? NZ is one day and a few hours behind the US (four hours behind the West Coast). So, although Thanksgiving is on the 28th of November, if we celebrate it on that day in NZ it would be the day before Thanksgiving in the US. And, since NZ doesn’t (obviously) celebrate Thanksgiving (so, really, it doesn’t exist here), I say we
celebrate it on the 29th (which is a Friday here, but Thanksgiving in the US). Casey disagrees (and so did another American man we met; his wife agreed with me–they had actually had the same debate).

Time to go…the email money clock is ticking and Casey is getting restless.

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Napier, New Zealand

We are now in Napier, “the Art Deco city”. The city was completely destroyed by a 7.8 earthquake in the 1920s and entirely rebuilt in the Art Deco style that was popular at the time. The city reminds me quite a bit of San Francisco, as many of the houses are perched precariously on cliffs overlooking the city. We are staying at a quiet, quiet, quiet bed and breakfast that is a profound change from the place where we spent the night in Taupo (the night before).

Although the Taupo YHA was highly recommended by the guidebook (and was quite clean and well-run), we discovered that it was LOUD, when we returned from the days activities. Imagine this scene: a speaker outside the door of the room, the TV/billiards lounge on one side, the women’s bathroom on the other, both public phones outside the door, the smoking lounge AND ping-pong table outside our door, and the kitchen over our head. We didn’t understand how bad it be staying over the kitchen until a busload of cheap-ass backpackers arrived en masse to cook Ramen noodles and chat over our heads. Oh, did I mention the walls and ceilings are made of a high-grade, sound-permeable cardboard?

Anyway, we decided that twice the room rate was a fair price to pay for a bed and breakfast and some peace and quiet. Boy were we right. The place in Napier holds only 2 couples at a time and is run by a very nice elderly lady. We had our own refrigerator, clean luxurious bathroom, King size bed with big comforter and a fully stocked library and TV. And it was quiet.

Oh, in Taupo I took a ride on a jet boat that skims over water as shallow as 3 inches deep and does 360 degree turns while shooting out 400 liters of water a second. It was quite a ride and everyone got socked in the cold water. Cheryl, wisely, abstained. Afterwards we went to a shrimp farm where we ate fresh giant Malaysian prawns. Delicious.

Yesterday we went on a wine tour around Hawke’s Bay (one of NZ’s largest wine growing regions). The whites we had were quite good and tasted like most fo the NZ whites (very tropical and light), while the reds were good and note too overpowering. Cheryl can go into more detail here…

Let me take a few moments to make some observations on New Zealand:
–I like to think of it as “England in the South Pacific”, English sensibility crossed with a Polynesian respect for the land and hospitality.
–New Zealanders have a very quant notion of themselves, calling themselves “Kiwis” (after a gentle, flightless bird) and generally behaving in a way that you might if you modeled yourself after a kiwi.
–New Zealand is about to re-examine its marijuana laws, which is timely since it seems that almost half of New Zealanders have or do partake. Almost 80% of young Maori men do (according to a survey).
–New Zealand has just admitted a huge number of Asian immigrants (relative to the size of the country) and now seems to be having second thoughts as they try to “digest” and assimilate this new group. Some of the debates sound like debates that the United States had 100 years ago with Italian and Irish and Russian Jewish immigrants.
–Slot machines are legal in bars, which has been a pleasant diversion and does not seem to be abused too much.
–The drinking age here is 18 and just about everyone drinks (lots).

Next time we can give some generalities on the different tourist nationalities we have met…

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Rotorua, New Zealand.

Halfway there?!? I know that I was quite ready for the helicopters to sweep in and take me away to a warm bed and a nice, muscle-kneeding Swedish massage. But, no go. We still had ground to cover.

Our guide warned us that the rocks we were seeing were starting to get very sharp and that it would be much better for us to “stay low, rather than high” (meaning, if we had a choice, we should take a lower pathway rather than a higher one) because, if we fell, it would be much more pleasant to recover from a short fall than one from higher up. Hmm. Too true. He also warned us about the water eels that lived in the black, muddy water of the cave. He said not to open our hands in the water and when we swam, we should keep our fists closed. He made a small chomping motion with his hands and said that the eels might try to chew on our fingers…they didn’t say anything about that in the brochure! Imagine swimming with your hands clenched in fists….it’s quite hard to get a good doggy-paddle going. The first time we actually submerged our bodies in the water it was like something I have never experienced before; the water was freezing and the coldness seized my upper chest and seemed to grip the edges of my collar bones. It was like ice and heat at the same time. But, when we finally saw the light of “at the end of the tunnel” (ha ha) I was both relieved and proud that I had gone through the experience. It was uncomfortable, and scary (the climb down into the cave was a bit freaky), and strenuous, but at the same time a great accomplishment! As we headed to the big metal shed where our clothes were stored (with hot showers awaiting us), I felt tired and exposed (oh, Casey mentioned our wetsuits but he didn’t mention the very skin-tight reality of wearing one! That in itself was pretty trying) but happy to see the early evening sunlight and feel the beautiful New Zealand breeze on my face. And I also felt that there was one more thing in this world that I had been afraid to do, but did it anyway (driving on the left is another recent one).

Now, if only I could learn to love the sight of spiders in my bed, I would be truly evolved, huh?

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Rotorua, New Zealand

It’s true what the Guidebook said: “You will know that you have arrived in Rotorua when you smell the sulfur in the air.” It seems odd that New Zealand’s most popular vacation destination would smell like rotten eggs, but there you have it. It smells like rotten eggs. Once you get used to the smell however, you realize that there is a lot to do. Most of it is centered around the numerous hot springs like are scattered around the area (hence the sulfur smell).

Yesterday and the day before we spent in Waitomo, a small town that exists only to service the tourists who are visiting the real attraction of the area: glow worms. Glow worms are strange creatures that exist in caves and in certain trees in the Waitomo area. They live approximately 9 months and spend 99% of their lives as worms (larvae). The worms drop lines of sticky spittle that the use to catch flying insects. In their butts, they mix poo and some chemical to form a chemical reaction that glows blue. The insects are attracted to this glowing light as they think it is the way out of the cave, and then…

We decided we wanted to see this action up close. So we signed up for “Tumutumu Toobing,” a rafting and caving trip run out of the town. We weren’t entirely sure what this would entail, but assumed if it involved innertubing, it couldn’t be too rough. Right?

After a 15 minute ride through bumpy country roads, we arrived at our destination where we were told to put on a wet suit, a wet jacket, thick rubber boots, and a construction helmet with a miner’s light on it. We then marched through sheep fields in our ridiculous outfits until we arrived at our destination. We then climbed over a rickety walkway and then climbed down a 150 foot shaky painter’s ladder that led us into the a narrow limestone cave. It was at this point that I started to get that, “oh shit, what did I get myself into” feeling. This was the kind of operation that you could never carry off in the litigous USA.

Once in the cave we had to crawl, no, drag ourselves through 1-2 foot passageways. Inside, where the cave ceilings started rising, the water at the bottom (a small stream) started getting deeper and deeper. Soon, we were trudging through ankle deep water, then calf deep, then knee deep, and soon enough it was thigh deep. The cave was beautiful, with huge stalagmites dripping from the ceilings, and our voices echoing. There was only one other couple on our trip, a Canadian couple who went in for “adventure” activities like glacier climbing. Needless to say, they were in the lead.

We got to see some glow worms up close. They are quite disgusting, as they are about 2 inches long and live in a tube made of spittle. Collectively, from a distance, their glowing is very beautiful. And we cruised down part of the underground river on a tube looking at the glowing blue ceiling in total darkness. It was very moving.

We walked some more, climbed some more, swam some more (Cheryl is not a great swimmer, so I was nervous). All told we covered about a mile underground. At that point the guide told us we were halfway. Oh.

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Hamilton, New Zealand

We are now armed with a car, much to the fear of New Zealand’s pedestrians and drivers. Actually, the car is working out very well. New Zealand’s roads are very easy to drive on. The roads are wide, the distances between destinations are small, and there are few large cities to navigate. Unfortunately, our first car was not so cooperative. After we picked it up, we noticed some slight rumblings in the idle. Next a strange dashboard warning light appeared (a Chevrolet symbol with steam rising off of it). Finally, the car would hesitate at just the wrong moment (cutting across traffic, for instance) and then suddenly jerk into gear. We managed to limp back to Auckland and exchange the car to the very cooperative car rental agency who have provided us with a Suzuki station wagon to replace the Nissan Pulsar we had.

The New Zealand country is much more interesting, and we are discovering why everyone in Auckland refers to this as the “real” NZ. It is also interesting to visit towns in the countryside that don’t appear to have changed at all in the last 50 years. Many of them feel like English villages, unchanged by time. New Zealand (with the exception of Auckland) also appears to have imported English working class culture, so that when you visit a pub you could swear you were in Swansea or Liverpool.

We visited a small town in the country where we just stopped to buy some bread and cold cuts. As soon as we pulled up we saw a Maori women with a box of chocolates and a pack of cigarettes walking out of the store. The Indian merchant was walking after her yelling. Soon there were about 4 Maoris and lots of Indians shouting. The lady passed off the cigarettes to a man (her accomplice), but the shopkeepers were not fooled. We watched the scene for a while and then did our shopping. It was a very “Fiji” experience.

On Sunday, while in the Bay of Islands (North of Auckland) we managed to get a nice day of salt water fishing in. The fishing trip was very cheap (only $20 US) for each of us, and the intended catch was snapper. We had a nice day out on the water (even though it was sometimes hailing with 60 knot winds), but did not catch much, I caught a baby snapper but had to throw him back. Another guy on the boat caught a small one and that was it. The day was not a total wash as a couple of bottlenose dolphins swam with us part of the way back to the wharf. They were surfacing and jumping, each time checking out our old chugger boat.

Today we are in Hamilton which is NZ’s fifth largest town and mostly a college town. It is about one hour south of Auckland, and is mostly a stopover for tourists as there is not a lot to do here. Tomorrow we go to Waitomo, home of the caves with the glowing worms. These worms are the larvae of a certain kind of fly that excrete their glowing feces in a long string. Other insects are then attracted to this fecal glow stick and get trapped and up they go into the larvae’s lair. It sounds interesting, so we are off to the glowing poo caves.

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Auckland, New Zealand.

Yes, Auckland is making me very happy. I was trying to figure out why I like it so much and I came up with a somewhat shameful reason: it’s a lot like home! When I walk down Franklin Street, I see the tree-lined avenue and modest-but-homey wooden houses and I think, wow, that reminds me of the neighborhood that I grew up in. And when I see all the smartly-dressed people on Ponsonby Street I think how they could be in any fashionable area in San Francisco (like Maiden Lane or Union Street); when I look into the windows of the boutiques or see the coffee-sipping cafe patrons I think, Ah, civilization is not such a bad thing.

The best thing of all is the weather: cool and breezy (in the “City of Sails”). No sweating, no need to guzzle down liter after liter of water, no need to dust my heat rash (!) with the anti-rash powder that I HAD to buy in Aitutaki (I didn’t write about that one did I?). So nice.

Today we went on a vineyard tour of Waiheke Island. The island has about 30 vineyards; today we visited three of them. The ferry left at noon and arrived at Waiheke at about half past; we then hopped on a small tour bus and headed to the first place. We stopped at Mudbrick Vineyards and tasted their Waiheke Island Chardonnay 2002 (pretty nice, not too oaky) and their Sheperds Point Cabernet-Merlot blend 2000 (okay, perhaps not really a Perez wine). Then we headed over to the “town” (oh no, not another island mini-town!) for lunch, but we only had an hour and walked about for half of it, so by the time we sat down at a cafe and ordered, we had less than 30 minutes left. I really should have known better and not even tried to have a meal in such short time. But, Casey really wanted their raw oysters and I thought, how long can they take? I ordered a “Turkish” flatbread and told the waiter that we needed to catch our bus in half an hour, and did he think we’d have time? “Oh yes, there are only a couple of orders up before yours, it shouldn’t be a problem.” Hmm, famous last words. (As an ex-waiter I should know that our time-frame was too short but I thought that if we told our waiter our tight schedule it would be enough to ensure that we would have enough time to eat. Afterall, I thought, he knows the kitchen.) Well, a good ten minutes went by, and we still didn’t have our drinks. Finally they arrived, and I thought, well, our food must be coming soon. Another couple of minutes rolled past, and our waiter came up to us, “I’m sorry, but I’ve just been informed that we have no more oysters today.” Casey was like, “Oh, no I don’t want anything else…:” And the waiter said, “Well, they went into the soup. It’s a mussel and oyster soup.” So it sounded good to Casey, and he orders it, but at that time a red flag went up in my (ex-waiter) brain and I’m thought, Hmm, if he told us just now that there aren’t any oysters, that means that either he JUST put our order in to the kitchen (at which time the chefs would have told him that they were out), or the kitchen JUST looked at the order (because they were so slammed). And about 15 minutes had gone by already….But, I thought, well, how long can abowl of soup take (it was the kind of place that would have it made up already), and my flatbread shouldn’t take too long…So we saw a couple of people from our tour bus leave the restaurant to go back, and time was ticking away. At about 20 minutes after two (we were leaving at 2:30) he ran by and told us that it just came up and he’d have it for us in a second. Well, another five minutes went by and at this time we’re like, we gotta go. So Casey went up to the counter and I ran out towards the street (in case I had to make a mad dash down the hill) and Casey paid for our drinks, and since the guy felt badly he gave us the flatbread in a togo box (wich we didn’t pay for). When we got onto the bus we made our way to our seats and opened the box and it was actually pretty funny: three slices of ciabetta bread, a few tablespoons of feta cheese, and some kalamata olives. NOTHING had been cooked! We both thought, What the —- kind of flatbread is this? AND, why did it take so long? Very strange.

We headed to two more wineries: Stoneyridge (Sauvignon Blanc 2001 Marlborough and Gimblett Gravels Cab-Merlot Blend Hawke’s Bay 2000) and then to — our favorite– Peninsula Estate (1997 Cab-Merlot-Malbec-Syrah blend…very good! Not a traditional Perez wine, somewhat tannic and smokey, but really nice the way they did it!!!). We caught the 4:45 ferry back to Auckland…the harbor was really busy and exciting. There were tons of sailboats (some Americas Cup) and the city buildings looked (from the ferry) as if they reached right down to the water. It was a pretty cheery sight; the wind was blowing and the sun was shining and the crisp air gave the atmosphere a lot of energy.


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Auckland, New Zealand

Crime Comes to Fiji!

We made it to New Zealand. But first, we should finish up with Fiji. After yet another exhausting Fiji bus ride, we arrived back in Nadi to the waiting of Mama from Tropic of Capricorn. The Fiji bus is dirt cheap (about US $5 for a 4 hour cross-country trip), dirty (the seats appear to last have been cleaned in the 1970s and leave pleasant “souvenirs” on your pants), and bumpy (especially when travelling over the dirt road sections). If you happen to be 6’5″ (as I do), there is not much leg room. Oddly, the bus attendant checks your ticket about every five minutes. Also, most of the buses are made in India, and appear to be Indian hand-me-downs! Two more things: 1. when someone wants to get off, they press a button or ring a bell to alert the driver. On the Fiji bus, someone will press the button, and only after the bus has come to a complete stop, begin to pack up their belongings (a dozen plastic bags, a 20 kilo sack of rice, a few kids), then slowly make their way to the front, stopping along the way to say “goodbye” to their friends, the bus driver, and anyone else they can think of. 2. The bus will move forward about 10 feet (no joke!) and then someone else will ring the bell. Arrgghh!

Anyway, we made it back to Nadi and were taking care of our final business before we left for New Zealand, when we heard some shouting in the next room. The Danish couple that were staying in the room started coming in and out of the room and soon Momma and Temo (her assistant) were rushing in and out. Someone had broken into the room and stolen FJ$900 ($450 US) from their room while we were all eating on the patio (just 4 feet away and in the daylight). Apparently they had slashed the screen window and snuck in. We were quite surprised and hurried home to keep an eye on our stuff as well.

The next day we asked Momma what had happened and she told us that the policeman did not believe the Danish couple’s story. Apparently there were some strange incongruities:

1. Why did they have some much Fiji money when they were leaving for Australia at 1 AM that night?
2. Why didn’t anyone see anyone breaking in?
3. Why didn’t the thieves take their $2000 US Sony digital videocamera?
4. The Danish boy would leave money in Momma’s safe while in other parts of Fiji and then call her several times a day to make sure that his stuff was still there. She said she had to start screening her calls.
5. The first thing he asked about was insurance. He was there at Momma’s a few days ago when someone else was robbed and the person robbed was reimbursed from Momma’s insurance (it was cancelled right after that because there was too many robberies at her place and the other hostels in the area).

Strange… You be the judge.

Today in Auckland, we ran into a couple we meet in Fiji who had money, cameras, and clothes stolen from their room in Fiji.

Well, needless to say we made it out alive.

And now we are in Auckland, which is making Cheryl very happy. Three reasons: 1. It is cold. 2. There are lots of shops, restaurants, and nice places to stay. 3. They have several Mexican restaurants (she has already had a burrito!).

Auckland is a lovely city which reminds me of a cross between San Francisco and London. We are staying in a small cozy room in Ponsonby Backpackers. Ponsonby is a funky neighborhood with lots of retaurants and shops. It seems to be a largely gay area.

Today we went to the top of the Sky Tower (which dominates the skyline and is a little larger than the Eiffel Tower). We are staying in Auckland for 4 more days and then we will start travelling to the rest of the country, as there is not that much to do or see in Auckland aside from eating out and drinking cafe coffee. Even the Auckland residents have told us we need to see the country to see the “real” NZ. This is a definitely a country of outdoors enthusiasts.

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Nadi, Fiji.

We are back from Ovalau. Levuka (the old capital of Fiji and the main town in Ovalau) is a small town that reminds me of a U.S. fishing village; there’s the (not unpleasant) fishy smell of the ocean, and big ships in the harbor and the dependence by the town on those ships. During low tide, the locals search the shore for mussels or go wading out into the water (with all their clothes on), and they sit on the benches that are scattered all along the waterfront and just hang out, talk and say “bula!” as you walk by. It’s a nice change from the tourist-filled areas in Fiji. Casey and I REALLY noticed when we would see other tourists…the two days that we were there, we had lunch at a (very) mediocre Chinese restaurant that was situated above a shop on the main street. One day we had a table by the window and we could see a group of people walk by and we were like, “Hmmm, tourists. I wonder where they are staying?” There aren’t that many options…it’s really either the Royal Hotel (where we stayed) or the Ovalau Holiday Resort (which the locals kept recommending to us). The Royal hotel is the oldest hotel in Fiji; fortunately, we did not stay in the original building but in a newer bungalow nearby. I have a feeling that the inside of the rooms weren’t as spacious as ours, and that perhaps the bathrooms weren’t in such good working order. Also, we overheard a older man complaining to one of the hotel employees that “Room Two was making such a commotion last night! Who’s staying in there?” And the lady told him it was an Indian gentleman, “Mr. Patrick Singh” and that he had checked out that morning. (I thought it was funny that she gave the man’s full name!) And the man asked, “Well, did he have a woman with him? Because it sounded like he had a woman with him” and the lady said, “No…but I will check on that.” “Well, he was loud, very loud.” I guess there’s not a lot of privacy in the main hotel! However, it had a nice, old-time feeling to it; hardwood floors and narrow stairways and a huge billiard table off the lobby. I think it was built around 1860…and they’ve kept it up very well.

We were going to sign up for a village tour but the only one on the island (called Epi’s Midland Tour) was cancelled for the two days we were there! So, we were quite disappointed, but found other things to do…we went to the post office, walked the main street (which takes six minutes at a fast walk, a good fifteen minutes at a slow, let’s-burn-some-time crawl), talked to some people (an Indian man who runs one of the grocery stores has a brother living in San Mateo–my home town. He said that he liked San Mateo, but it was much too fast, much too busy. He likes it better in Levuka, it’s nice and easy and you don’t have any trouble. San Mateo is a typical Bay Area suburb with a population of 90,000 and a very low crime rate!!! However, I admit that compared to Levuka, it’s a whirlwind of activity), and went swimming in the hotel pool. All three nights that we were there, we ate at the same small restaurant in town called The Whale’s Tale; it had a three course dinner for $13.00 FJD (about $7.00 US)…the food was good, and we didn’t have many other choices!

We flew back to Nausori on Friday morning, took a 30 minute bus ride into Suva, and then a four hour bus ride to Nadi. Fortunately, the plane took a mere 12 minutes! It was one of those planes that my dad calls “mosquitos”–they seat like six people and the people who check you in have to weigh you (!) along with any carry-on luggage that you may have. After the guy weighed me (with my big straw bag) I felt like saying, “It’s the bag.” Hmm.

We arrived in Nadi around four o’clock and headed (after a beer and water run) for the Tropic of Capricorn (and “Mama”). We are staying in the double room/house again; it’s nice to be in a familiar place. We had dinner last night (during which we witnessed a [very nice] English guy put ketchup on his spaghetti) at the Tropic and were both in bed by ten…ahh! Traveling takes a lot out of you (especially traveling on a Fijian bus).

Casey will explain the pleasures of traveling by Fijian bus in his next entry…

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Suva, Fiji

Hello! I added the archive of this site to the main page. So you can now see the postings in month-by-month order. This will make more sense later on as the number of postings per page is limited at 20.

We are in the capital city of Fiji, a city of about 150,000 people. The city is about the only one of its kind in the South Pacific (not counting New Zealand and Australia). It is quite busy and actually has skyscrapers (well, large buildings anyway). The city has grown a lot recently, with shanty towns appearing on the hillsides as people from the villages move to the city. These shantytowns and the lush green hillsides remind me of someplace in South America, like Brazil or Colombia.

Last week we went to Naviti island which is in the Yasawa chain of islands. These islands were just opened to tourism a few years ago. The “resorts” are all of the eco-tourism variety. Whereby, local villages run the resorts and there is a minimal impact on the islands. What that means is that there is only electricity for 4 hours a day and no hot water. On the upside, you meet all the villagers, who are very fun-loving and the organize lots of activities like snorkelling, fishing, basket weaving, and kava sessions. Kava is a drink (non-alcoholic) made from the pounded root of the piper mystheticum plant. The roots are first pounded in a mortar and pestel and then strained through cloth. The drink is put in a large bowl. And the person leading the ceremony hands out bowls of the drink to everyone seated in a circle. It is customary to say “bula” and clap once before drinking and then to clap 3 times after drinking. By the end of the session most of the clapping has stopped. The drink tastes chalky and bland. When you drink it it makes your lips numb and drinking several cups of it make you feel like you are mildly stoned (I only have to guess what that would be like ;>). The Fijians can drink over 40 cups of it and the sessions often go on all night. The next morning you awake feeling tired. Cheryl and I partook of the session for a few hours, until we could not stay awake anylonger. We heard it went on until 3 AM!

We were planning on spending 4 nights on the island, but the heat started getting to us, and the thought of an air-conditioned ferry ride back to the main island started sounding very appealing. We stayed with “Momma” for another night (in the marble house!) and took a local (all stops) bus that took FOREVER to get us to our destination, a slightly run-down motel called Vilisites. The restaurant in the motel was quite good (although expensive by Fiji standards) and the room had seen better days. The next day we took a minibus to Suva. One of the ladies from the motel flagged the minibus down from the road, and we packed into the vehicle with all the rest of the locals heading to town. As we arrived at the suburbs of the city, the van suddenly veered off the road and the driver pulled into a side rode. Suddenly everyone was getting out and Cheryl and I were confused as we were nowhere near town. A taxi came by and we took it. The driver told us that they minivan was illegal and there was a roadblock ahead, that is why we were ditched at the side of the road. Oh, that is nice to know.

We are waiting at our lovely refuge in the mountains above the city for 2 more nights, as the bus to Ovalau (another island we are visiting) does not leave until Wed. the 5th. Oh well, I don’t mind as it is the nicest place we have been and such a bargain at Fiji $45/night (USD $22). The owner calls it the “Hotel California” — “…ou can check in anytime you like, but you can never leave…” — We are beginning to see why.

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Suva, Fiji.

Well, it has been a long time, hasn’t it? We both feel as if we have been neglecting our duties! However, we were on a small island for four days (without internet access) and traveling for one, so that leaves us accountable for maybe two.

Right now we are staying at a place called Rain Tree Lodge ( in Colo i Suva. It’s about five minutes from Suva city. We arrived here yesterday afternoon and went into the city for a few hours…it’s actually pretty cool. It’s more like an American city than Nadi is and much less claustrophobic. There is a small warf or port and some produce markets and small shops and big supermarkets and cafes, etc. etc. Casey and I both like it a lot better than Nadi!

It’s strange, though, because we had been warned by various Fijians that Suva is a very dangerous place and that we should be very, very careful. One taxi driver told us how much he loved Suva and that it was such a great place and then I mentioned to him that we had been told it was dangerous and what did he think, and then he proceeded to tell us that we shouldn’t go out at night and that we would be targets and that they rob you in the public toilets for 90 cents at a time. It was really very funny…We were wondering if perhaps they’ll give you change if you only have a dollar on you? And we didn’t AT ALL get a bad vibe from the place (don’t worry, mam!)!! So, we’ve come to the conclusion that by Fiji standards it can be a bit rough (especially if you don’t live in a big city) but that by American standards, it’s pretty normal for a capital city.

Rain Tree Lodge is really nice and well taken care of and pretty new. There’s a big restaurant on the premises and they have laundry service and room service…there are a few dorm buildings and some private bures and a few double rooms situated in mini-dorms…Casey and I have the double room. So far, no one else is in our building so it’s really quiet and nice and private. We were playing pool in the restaurant/cafe area today, and we saw a bunch of new people checking in and we were worried that “our” space was going to get crowded, but when we went back into our place there were no signs that any one else (besides the cleaning person) had been there…there is only one bathroom and five bunk beds, so we figure if more than two or three people check in while we are here, we will try to move to one of the bures. However, it’s nice to be getting the privacy for only $45 a night.

The lodge is built in a lodge-y style (imagine that)…it’s made of wood and painted dark brown and green. We were really happy when we first saw the place–Mama at Tropic of Capricorn recommended it to us. As she said, “I can recommend this place only…if you stay in any other place in Suva, you take your lives into your own hands.”!!!!!!! Wow, huh? That’s the reaction we’d been getting when we would tell people we were heading to Suva. Pretty ominous. Apparently, “mama” knows the guy who owns it–I think he’s Australian. The people at the front desk are really helpful and knowledgeable, and there’s a night security guard. The buildings on the property are surrounded by tropical plants and trees, and there’s a few small lakes with lily pads and fish in them (carp and tilapia). They say you can swim in them during the day (I’m not sure what happens at night) but I wouldn’t…they are 110 feet deep and somewhat opaque. You never know what lurks below the surface. Down the road is the Colo i Suva rain forest park…as we drove here we passed a bunch of typical Fijian neighborhoods, and then turned into the gate and it’s like-ahhhh, and oasis of lushness and newness. I must say that I was happily surprised!

I am happy because (so far) I have seen only a few small, small spiders and two bugs that may be roaches, and Casey is happy because we have a tv and the bed is comfy and, since I like the place, I am sleeping under the covers and not in the silk bed liners that we bought for the trip. If I feel uncomfortable in a place (um, bug-wise or feel that the sheets may not be clean) I sleep in the liner no mattter how hot it is, and have been waking up drenched in sweat (nice, huh?). When we went for our Yasawa (Naviti) Island adventure we had the Night of the Thousand Insects. It was our second night on the island and we came back to our bungalow from dinner. As I put the key in the lock I noticed whart looked like worms crawling around the door edges….Casey was like, those aren’t worms, they’re milipedes and they can bite you. Hm. So we smashed a few and went inside, and found one in the shower (smash!) and a few minutes later, one crawling towrads me in the middle of the room (Smash!) and then, at the same time, one coming out from under the couch towards Casey’s bare foot (smash!). And then I went to brush my teeth, etc. and get ready for bed when I heard Casey get the bug spray (I came prepared) and I was like, are you using the Solarcaine? (He’s growing his beard and as it comes in it’s been itching, and we’ve discovered that Solarcaine is great for stopping the itch.) He was like, yesss…no, actually I saw a bug run under the bed. And I said, What Kind of bug? Casey: A Cockroach. Urgh. I knew that I would have a hard time sleeping if we didn’t kill it, so I looked under the bed with the flash light and then lifted the mattress (Casey and I have since learned that it’s best not to look too hard under and into things) and there was this HUGE, BIG roach under the wooden slats. I screamed and sprayed and Casey jumped up…and we lifted the whole mattress up and I was like, you didn’t tell me that it was gigantic…and then we saw another one, but smaller, and Casey was like, that’s the one that I originally saw! Ahh. So, Casey finally smashed the big one, and sprayed the hell out of the smaller one (which was scurrying away out of sight) and when we put the mattress back down, frazzelled (sp) but triumphant, out comes a coconut spider. Casey smashed it and swore to me that he had killed it (although the body had fallen under the bed). So, that night was definitely a hot, sweaty night for me inside the silk liner. When we awoke the following morning, Casey saw a milipede crawling on the mosquito netting above his head.

After he killed it, he went back to sleep but I started to get ready for the day (only cold water for the showers on the island but it was so hot that it actually felt good). I overheard our neighbor (a really nice older man from Australia) talking to someone and the person telling him that the night before, a couple of girls had found a tarantula in their room and slept on the beach. That morning at breakfast I heard that one of the girls had been in bed and heard a plop and that the tarantula had fallen on her mosquito netting! Wow, I really would have had a heart attack. That was one of the freakiest nights so far.

One of the things I’ve been noticing about Fiji is that most of the houses have barbed wire around them. It’s really bizarre because it seems so unnecessary…Casey says he thinks they have it because of the coups (sp?) that they had a couple of years ago and that there’s a great possibility that they will happen again. But it all seems so laid back, too…people are always smiling and saying “bula” (Hello) and the people we come into contact with really seem as if they are concerned and interested in our welfare. It’s nice.

The weather is much cooler here in the south…Nadi and the island that we were on (Naviti) were so hot–even Casey couldn’t take it. As we headed south we both noticed that, although it’s still very warm by Bay Area standards, it’s not overwhelming. It’s more humid (especially up here in the rain forest) and it sprinkles every now and then.

Time for me to get off the internet! I’ll let Casey fill you in on our Naviti Island adventure.

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Nadi, Fiji

We arrived in Fiji this morning, the 25th of October. Although we left on Thursday the 24th. So for most of you reading this, we are in Fiji today and we left Cook Islands yesterday, and you are reading this today of our accounts tomorrow. Confused? Good. Flying on a Boeing 767 is no problem. No anxiety at all after flying in a small propellor plane. Like a dream, four hours flew past. [We will be flying a one-propellor sea plane to the outer Fiji islands, look out]. We are currently in Nadi, Fiji’s second largest city. Fiji is like a strange mix of Newark N.J., Tijuana, and Calcutta. Sound nice? I exaggerate a little, but it is quite dirty and chaotic. Fiji is 50% Indian (most were brought here by the British as indentured servants 100 years ago) and you sometimes get the feeling that you are in Bombay or Delhi, when you walk down the street and you see Sari shops, hear Bollywood songs, and smell curries cooking. There is a strange relationship between the native Fijians and the Indians. [Not the least of which is physical–the Fijians tall and powerfully built, the Indians short and slight of build]. The Fijians own most of the land but lease it to the Indians who run businesses and own small sugarcane plantations. The Indians are not allowed to own land, so that has made them very aggressive [!] and prosperous businessmen, which the Fijians resent. Neither group like the other; the Fijians hating these “outsiders”, and the Indians hating the discrimination they suffer. So they have this strange stalemate, hating each other, but needing each other. The Indians needing the Fijian land and the Fijians needing the Indians businesses. We are staying with a really nice lady that everyone calls “Momma”. When you arrive at her hostel/hotel, she says “welcome back”. And she is very keen that you do not get ripped off by the many scammers. We are staying in a HUGE house that we are renting (half the house) for only $20/day. The floors are made of the most beautiful, ornate marble I have ever seen. And the bathroom is swimming in this rich, warm marble with beautiful quartz sections. Cheryl says it looks like a drug dealers house on Miami Vice, or maybe Tony Montoya’s palace in Scarface. Too true. We have now run into Mark, the Englishman about 7 times. We ran into him 6 times on Rarotonga (which is not that weird, given the small size of Rarotonga). But when we arrived at Mama’s in Fiji he was sitting in the shade by the pool. Too weird. I think we will shorten our stay in Fiji to just 2 weeks. We have already had a lot of surf and sun, and Cheryl and I are wilting a bit from this tropical heat. It always has to be that way in life, doesn’t it: Feast or Famine? Either 2 months of sun and sand until you have had too much or month after month of cold and rain and snow back home. Maybe it is just me… We will be travelling to one of the outer islands for about a week, so we will probably be incommunicado computerensis in the next week.

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Rarotonga, Cook Islands

Okay, so we are no longer at the Kii Kii Motel. We came back to our room yesterday after hanging out in Avarua all afternoon and decided to stay in for the evening and just watch some (exciting) Rarotongan TV. Since we did not have a TV, but one had been promised to us “by the evening”, we went to the reception desk and asked the lady if we could possibly get one. We had been told that they were going to move one for us from one of the other rooms (and, since it was one of the “perks” described in the Kii Kii Motel brochure, we felt entitled to it); the lady said that we could move it from Number 5 since that room was vacant. We went next door to the room and moved the big 17-incher on over. I decided to “freshen up” in the bathroom and was just about to start brushing my teeth when I noticed something on the sink. It was about half an inch long and dark brown…and it looked squishy. I called Casey and at first he didn’t hear me and then I was like, “Casey!!” and he came in to help me. It had NOT been there that morning when we left since I had seen something else on the sink and had wiped it up (but it was dry and crusty–oh, yuck, now I think I know what it was—the same as this, only older). So, I knew that the sink had been clean when we had left…Casey wiped it up and it was wet and he smelled it and it wa stinky like a, you guessed it, a turd. ACKKKK! Yuck, so disgusting. I was so grossed out….we weren’t sure if we should stay or not; at first I thought it was a mouse but then I thought, oh God, what if it’s a rat? I mean, that is really unsanitary (not just gross). And Casey was like, Maybe we should stay…we were both tired since we had woken up at 5:30 am to catch the plane from Aitutaki, and we had been walking around the whole day. But I just kept thinking of what it could be…and we finally compromised and said well, if they have another room for us, we’ll move. So we trudged on over to the office and Casey told the lady that we found “poo” on the sink, and she didn’t under stand and I said “droppings” and she began to understand. But she only works there and doesn’t have the power to deal with things like this and asked us if we could wait until 7pm to take of this as she had to get in touch with the manager and she wouldn’t be able to contact her until that time. So, we waited (it was then about 6:30). But, meanwhile I was thinking, what if they can’t/won’t move us? We’ll have to find another room somewhere else and it’s getting late. (That time of evening is late on Cook Islands–the stores downtown close at four). I started packing up my things and all the while I had this very sick feeling in my stomach. Finally 7:30 rolls around and the lady comes up to our room and goes, You can keep the TV, you don’t have to move it back to room 5 (which had been the promise so that she wouldn’t “get into trouble”). And I was like, what about the rodent droppings?!? And she said, Oh, well the owner is here right now and if you want to wait until he is done with what he is doing, you can talk to him.

Okay. So we went outside and he was unloading something with another guy and we talked to him and he acted like we were making it up, and he asked to be shown the droppings, and Casey took him into the room and handed it to him out of the waste basket. And he said that they had no other rooms available and that “Rooms are very hard to find on this Island.” That is a direct quote and I could not believe he had the gall to try such a transparent scare tactic on us! Like were are really going to stay in a room infested (could be) with rats because some smarmy guy tells us there are no rooms! And we had passed a bunch of places that day that had “Vacancy” signs out, so we knew that he was lying…he must have thought he was dealing with some 18 year-old backpackers or something! (It was dark outside and the lighting inside was dim, so that may be a possibility.) Casey said, “My wife can’t spend the night in a room that has a rat in it, so we’re going to have to go elsewhere tonight. And we aren’t going to pay for our room.” And he was like, “Well, come back tomorrow and the manager will take care of it”–not saying that we could have our money back. And then–“Before you leave I want to inspect the rooms”!!!!!! What a jerk.

So, we tried to call a place that we knew was nice, but the phone in our room hadn’t been turned on; Casey suggested that we go to Club Raro (a four minute walk away) since we had seen a “Vacancy” sign out that morning. It’s expensive (the cheapest rooms are listed as $165 NZ dollars (about $85 US) but since it was close and we had our heavy bags and no transportation, it was a good choice. I ran over there and booked us a room (at $150 a night) and ran back and got Casey and we lugged our luggage to our new room. I had booked for three nights (since we’re off to Fiji on Thursday) but since it is expensive Casey wanted to stay only a night. The room was small and okay but we could get a better deal elsewhere (more for our money). Casey went to the front desk to change it and came back a few minutes later and said that the manager wanted to offer us a better price if we stayed the full three nights. We both didn’t want to move any more, so we thought we’d see what he had to say.

It turns out that he wanted to offer us one of their beachfront rooms (we had a “garden”) at a discounted price; they normally go for $365 but he said he wanted us to take a look at it and tell him what we thought it was worth and then we could go back to his office and talk! I was thinking, Oh no, he is going to be wasting his time because we only have so much to spend per night and we are not in the market for a luxury room. But, we decided to look at it anyway. The ocean was so beautiful in the moonlight! The waves were crashing against the rocks and above then they had built a huge deck with tables and chairs, and beyond those they had the beachfront rooms…the rooms are not big, but they are nice and CLEAN and modern and the bathroom is really quite spacious; and best of all there is a beautiful ocean view. It also has a small porch area that is actually quite private. We saw a couple sitting out on the deck with some wine and it looked so nice; but we were not getting too attached to it! The manager gave us a few minutes to discuss it and we both agreed that we would be honest and tell him that we only had so much money allowed for our room, and that we were traveling for a few months and we weren’t in the market for an expensive (albeit very nice) room. Casey also mentioned to him that we were gooing to go to the Castaways and get a room and that we could get one for about $120 per night. The guy thought about it and checked his computer and said, “Allright, I will give it to you for $120 per night. AND I will still throw in the tropical breakfast in the morning (as he had promised earlier) since I am a man of my word.” WE were like, wow. Very cool! We moved all our stuff out of the smaller room, and into the bigger one, and spent the rest of the night out on the deck watching the moon and the waves and drinking wine (me) and beer (my beloved husband) and snacking on cheese and crackers. Wow.

So, this morning we went to take care of business at the Kii Kii. The owner’s wife was there and we had to discuss it all with her. She was being very obstinate and Casey had to pull our trump card (I think that’s what it’s called)–The lady that we had talked to last night, after she told us that we’d have to wait until after 7pm to talk to someone, also told us that “Oh, the people in number 5 [next door to us] came to us in the middle of the night because they found a huge rat under the bed!” Oh, very nice to know. So, this morning when the lady was not budging and insisted that we pay for our night (because we had spent time in the room! We didn’t even sleep there! “Did you not use the dishes?” I had made coffee! “Did you not enjoy time there?” We spent time, but we did not enjoy it!) Casey mentioned to her that the lady had told us that the place has rats and that the people next to us found one. She was like, “Who? Who said that?” And I thought, Oh no, she’s in trouble. But, mysteriously enough, right after that the owner’s wife backed down and said we would have the charges reversed. The daytime office lady said that it might take a while to reverse them since the owner has to type up a letter to the credit card company (they had put through one night’s charges already–$60), but that we should check with our card company in a few days. If she “forgets” to give us our money back we are going to have the payment revoked by the card company.

And then we strolled on over to Club Raro and took a look at the ocean and saw that they were cleaning our room (yes!) and walked into to town. Aaahhh, so relaxing.

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(Still) Rarotonga, Cook Islands.

Well, we have gone to Aitutaki and come back. I must say that I did enjoy it, although after a few days it got a bit boring. There’s only so much fun in the sun that a human being can handle…and besides that there’s not much more to do!

Sunny Beach Lodge turned out to be very nice; it wasn’t posh or ultra-modern, but it was in full working order and CLEAN! I saw only a few spiders and the room we stayed in had its own gecko. He was so cute…I named him”Dude” because he was so small
and adorable. Sometimes he would hide for a good part of the day and then show himself towards night-time. Othertimes I would see him in the morning when I would wake up and he would keep me company for an hour or so, and then disappear…he stayed up on the ceiling (I don’t think that he ever got within arm’s reach).

One morning I woke up to find Dude in the kitchen, as usual, along with another thing…at first I thought he might be a cockroach, but he was MUCH too small and dainty. As I’ve said before, the roaches here are super-sized, and this thing was about the size of a Californian cockroach (maybe an inch or two?). However, I got up on a chair and took a closer look and decided that he wasn’t a roach but maybe a pincher bug or beetle of some sort. Anyhow, I did not want him in the kitchen and so I ran into the living room area to get my steel-soled Rockports so that I could give him a good wack. When I got back, he was making a bee-line for Dude!!! I am NOT kidding. When I got back up on the chair he stopped (because he knew that I knew what he was up to) and at this point I couldn’t reach him anymore. I got back down and put the shoe nearby so that as soon as he was within reach I could kill him. The second I got down he started running at Dude again! At this point, the little gecko (he was so cute) turned him tiny head towards the ugly old bug and just gave him a look…he was quite helpless. I grabbed the chair again and got really close to them both and the bug stopped and turned around and went back higher towards the ceiling (away from both me and Dude). I was livid. I really cannot believe that he was about to attack him! And Dude is so small that he really could not fight him off….(a few days later I saw another Gecko in the house and he was a bigger size, not so delicate. He was also a weird skin-fleshy color that was a bit unsettling, but he was still cute). Casey woke up about ten minutes later and I complained to him about the bug and asked him to kill it…it took a bit for the bug to come closer to us (and I warned Casey that the bug was wiley and might try to get away) but when he did Casey (Great White Hunter that he is) smashed him and then examined the remains (checking out the kill). Yuck.

Dude was safe. I took a picture of him with the zoom lense so when we are able to put up pictures on the site you will be able to see what he looks like.

Um, yes, there are no dogs on Aitutaki, only a shocking amount of roosters/chickens and lambs and some cats and,of course, the ever-popular king-sized cockroach. We had been warned about the skeeters, but we didn’t notice any more than on “Raro.” To be sure, I have been using an unhealthy amount of insect repellent and I wouldn’t be surprised if I get foot cancer when I get older…I had tons of bites on my feet from our stay up in the hills of Raro. The Backpackers place was nice but (after the rain) there were lots of mosquitoes and I am definitely a juicy meal to them…Casey, too, got lots of bites. My feet have little skeeter-bite marks on them. They are recovering, but slowly. However, I am now very militant about spraying my exposed parts with DEET! I just can’t get any more bites. Raro has been home to dengue fever and so they warn that you should “take care” not to get bites! There isn’t an outbreak right now, but they had a major one in 1997 and still have a warning up at the airport on how to prevent it.

We are both really brown. We did this lovely lagoon tour on Tuesday and we spent hours and hours in the sun and Casey got burned, and I got very, very toasty. I actually have a tan line from my swim suit (people who know me will know how surprising this is). We stayed inside most of the day on Wednesday but on Thursday went swimming again, and on Saturday took our rented bikes half way around the island to another beach (by the Pearl Resort) and went swimming again, and again added to our darkness. Casey looks very golden and the hairs on his arms are turning blond.

Okay, I will stop for now and let Casey write (we can’t log in at the same time). We are now staying at the Kii Kii Motel (about a twnety minute walk out of Avarua) and it is okay…it’s a little dirty (it looks as if they didn’t sweep the floor before we came) and my spider radar (spi-dar) is definitely up in that place. I already killed one that was running across the bed (it was heading for our bags). I assume I will be killing more…but, it’s better than CI Lodge, it has a TV and telephone (out going calls only). It’s not really dirty, but it does need a thorough going over with the Lysol and a vacuum. I would do it, too, if I had the tools.

Only, at Sunny Beach there weren’t any laundry machines and no public ones on the island so we had to wash by hand. My hands are quite raw right now (I like hot water) and so I think my cleaning days are on hold for awhile.

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Dearest correspondants, we have been to paradise, and we can say–it is really quiet there. We left Rarotonga on Air Rarotonga (The Airline of the Cook Islands) on an Embraer Bandeirante 15 passenger turbo-propellor. This is a decidedly different experience than flying on a 767. For one thing, you have to turn sideways to walk down the aisle. There is no bathroom and it is really loud, also the plane has stomach rending dips when it enters storm clouds–not for the feint of heart. Fortunately, our flight was only 50 minutes. (Air Rarotonga flies to some of the outer islands like Penryhn in the same planes–4 hours!).

Aitutaki is stunning island, part volcanic and part coral atoll. Its Lagoon is 100 sq. miles with about 10 uninhabited islands (motus). The water is that impossible, too good to be true turqoise color you see in glossy travel brochures. The second day we took a lagoon cruise (Kit Cat Cruises) which was wonderful. We rode a party boat out to different islands, snorkelled with 30-different fish, saw giant (3-foot) clams, and ate delicious roasted fish (tuna and marlin). Unfortunately my sunscreen washed off on one of the snorkeling trips and we got bad sunburns. Ouch.

I was already nursing a pretty bad foot infection so this didn’t make me feel much better. But we all must soldier on…

Aitutaki has only 1900 residents, which is about 500 less than our guidebook says and it seems like a lot of the businesses have left. There were only 2 food shops, 1-2 general stores, 4-5 restaurants, and that’s about it. The economy is very informal. If there is something you need or want, you mention it to someone who lives there and they will help you find it, if they can.

I rented a motorbike which was generally a fun experience as there are very few cars on the road, and those that are there generally drive about 15 mph. It was fun, until one day I started riding down the road, waving at all my new friends. They were looking at me rather oddly. In fact one guy was mowing his lawn and stopped just to watch me. I thought this was strange because I had just talked to him the day before (he was the boat driver on our cruise). Anyway, I found out why they were looking at me so strangely. When I reached the top of the hill I was facing an uncoming motorbike, closing in fast. Closer and closer, this strange game of chicken. What was his problem? As he got about 10 feet away, I realized… Oh shit wrong side of the road. I quickly switched over and fate was postponed.

On the second day Cheryl and I met the government minister of the island. A nice, politically minded old fellow he reminded me of my paternal grandfather for some reason. Perhaps it was their mutual fondness for Polo cologne?

Aitutaki television… What a great thing. The TV is basically shown at the whim of the guy who runs the television “station”. Basically all he shows during the day is pirated Australian telelvision ABC (sometimes). At night he plays whatever pirated movie strikes his fancy. One night it was High Crimes with Ashley Yud. One night it was XXX with Vin “tough guy” Diesel. The movies are of the shaky camera, CamCorder-in-the-back-of-the-movie-theater variety. The best part is that if he doesn’t like the movie, he will stop in the middle and change to a different one or back to ABC!

ABC has some poisonously infective TV jingles. One in particular, “Gold Coast Queensland, the greatest, this is as good as it gets” got into us like a virus.

The ABC coverage of the Bali bombings was interesting because it seemed very much like the 9/11 terrorist attacks. There were people with missing signs for their relatives, desperate to find them, but you knew they would probably not be found. We watched the reaction of the Australians change from shock to grief to anger. The amazing thing was the speed with which it all happened. The entire emotional response took about 7 days. On the seventh day the first 2 news stories were about a minor political election and some scandals.

Aside from the abovementioned, we just hung at the beach and avoided the sea slugs, which look like dog turds in the water and are about the same consistency.

We are now getting ready for our trip in a couple of days to Fiji! onward!

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Rarotonga, Cook Islands.

I will add since I have a few more already-paid minutes to use online.

Casey has sunburn on his shoulders (even though he put sunscreen on). The rest of him is getting very brown! I don’t know what I look like as I haven’t looked in the mirror since we spent the morning at the beach…ahhh, so pretty. So clean. So quiet.

We keep seeing this one dog whenever we come into town…he is totally a mottled brown and black (is “mottled” a word?). He looks like a totyal mutt, and we call him “Tiger”. He just trots around like the other dogs. He’s pretty savvy about crossing the street, too–he’s like my old dog, Tinaa, who would look both ways before she crossed the street. A survivor.

Oh, I’m out of time!

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Rarotonga, Cook Islands (Avarua)

Fuck! I just read the news and there was a massive explosion in Bali, Indonesia. Over 150 dead so far. Brings back bad memories. We’ll have to change our plans a bit. Maybe spend more time in New Zealand or go to one of the other South Pacific Islands like Samoa or Tonga. Wow. The pictures look awful, makes you think about how vulnerable you are sometimes…

On a more pleasant note…

The sun finally came out here and it was a beautiful day. Today is the day everyone on the island barbecues in the ground. There is the smell of burning vegetation in the air. Smells like someone smoking really bad pot. Not that I would know…

Saturday is a quiet day, but not as quiet as Sunday when EVERYTHING closes. At least you can buy a beer on Saturday. Speaking of which, I’m about to head next door for one.

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Rarotonga, Cook Islands.

The rain has stopped, but it’s still cloudy. Fortunately, it’s much warmer and the skies aren’t so very dark. The forecast predicts that it will clear up tomorrow.

We booked a trip to Aitutaki for Monday. Aitutaki is part of the Cook Islands, about a 45 minute flight from here. It’s like the only other island that has tourist accomodations; every other island is pretty much “non-populated” (which means not very geared towards the tourist industry). Aitutaki is still pretty small and, quite frankly, we’re dead if it rains there. We’ve booked a week and the only thing to do is swim or snorkel;, and so if the weather is like this we’ll really be up “the” creek.

Last night we saw a dance competition. It was held at the auditorium in town. The place was about half full and smelled of flowers…I think it’s a frangipani scent (which they sell at the Perfume Factory) but I’m not sure. I would lke to find out, though, as it was really soft and pretty…it could also have been the fresh flowers, too, that people (men included) wear in their hair. Just a tiny flower behind one ear–it’s very pretty. When we first got here and I would see it, it reminded me of my bachelorette party. (We all wore a small silk flower in order to show unity–very necessary during a night out–in case we got separated.) The competition was great to see…lots of hip shaking and foot stomping, and chanting at some parts. They also do some great drumming. We didn’t stay until the end as the last bus departs the town at ten pm, and the walk home is loonng.

We are starting to see a lot of the same people…tourists and locals alike. There is the one guy (who told us about the spiders) named Mark, and we saw him this morning as we came into town. (Paul and Rebecca–the owners of the hostel–had given us a lift. The German couple were also going into Avarua as the girl–Pascal–is getting a tattoo today at 1pm. Apparently the local tattoo guy is very well known and he does great work, especially traditional Maori style.) Mark is staying at Vara’s on the other side of the island, and he said that it was quite nice (we’ll keep that in mind). The internet place is right next to the Waterfront bar and as we walked in here just now we saw him. We are also beginning to be regulars at the bars around here! Well, it has been raining and as I’ve said before, there ain’t much to do in a tropical paradise when it rains…so, we drink, and eat, and drink, and email, and drink (hence my sinus headache this morning) and walk around and book tours to other (hopefully) sunny locations. So, now we know the couple who runs the Waterfront, the two bartenders at Ronnie’s, the lady at the Friendly Mart, and last night we met a couple of local guys at the Waterfront and talked to them for awhile. This morning we saw one of them drive by on his scooter…it’s a small, small island. We”ve both decided that we couldn’t live here!!!

No more spider sightings, but the we have heard that there are some nasty and poisonous ones in Australia. Hopefully by then I will be hardened.

We officially checked out of the Cook Islands Lodge this morning. We followed the sign up the stairs to the office, but it was all abandoned! Casey wouldn’t let me come up since the stairs were falling apart and totally rotting away. We figured out that the “office” was one of the units at the end of the building. The guy took our key and we beat it. We really didn’t have much to say to him–it was sort of awkward, but what were we supposed to say–we really enjoyed it here? Hahahaha.

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Rarotonga, Cook Islands

Rain again, although not as bad as yesterday. It was POURING practically the whole day. We headed on out at night with the intentions of going into to town and hanging out at Ronnie’s Bar (where Casey has a Booze card) and then catching a movie, but the bus never came! So, we bought some snacks (ummm, guilty pleasure–meat pie. It was actually gross but we were hungry so it hit the spot) and hung out at our old place (which was nearby). We didn’t want to have to walk back to the new place in the rain. It’s about a ten minute walk but the thought of it wasn’t very appealing. We still have CI lodges until tomorrow morning, so it’s like our dirty little rendevous spot. I felt like we were doing something immoral by going back there…like we had our “apartment”. (Like the movie with Shirley MacClaine–sp–and I think Jack Lemmon.) At one point we went into the common room and the door wouldn’t keep closed because the wind was so strong and, since the island only gets one station, we watched crap tv for a little while. There were two HUGE cockroaches scurrying around the edge of the floor…they were BIG. They had to be at least four or five inches long and, as Casey says, the “were fearless”. Yeah, I guess they didn’t actually scurry but sort of sauntered into the corners. Hm.

When we finally walked back to our new place, it was dark out but not so rainy. We walked in total darkness for the majority of the time. Fortunately we had out key chain flash lights, and were able to see puddles and any ghosts that were lying in wait. It was sort of freaky, but in a more eerie, the-road-might-be-haunted way, rather than the fear of being harmed by any living thing.

We both fell asleep around ten…the bed is quite comfortable and it was nice to know that the sheets are clean. (When we came the day before to look at the place there weren’t any sheets on the bed, but when we arrived that morning the bed was made up.No place has blankets on the beds, the idea is that you won;’t need them, but Casey and I got cold last night…We were woken up at four o’clock in the morning by the partying English guys staying outside our room. Our room is through the dorm bed room, so there is a bunk about six feet away. They were loud…I was able to fall asleep after about fifteen minutes, and I guess being woken up is the price you pay for the hostel-like atmosphere (and cheap cost). But, it was still annoying. They eventually got into a fight and at that point, Casey and I started laughing. I was actually really funny.

Needless to say, they JUST woke up when we left today at noon.

Spider note: I also saw a very big spider in the shower this morning. We had beened warned of his kind by an English guy that we met at Ronnie’s Bar on Tuesday night. He said that he had seen two in his room, that is why he was changing accomodations (I understand this). He described them as being BIG (yes, about two inches–including legs–across) and hairy (yes, very short hairs) and I noted that mine was brown, which isn’t as scary as black but still, no spider is a good spider (except Daddylonglegs, but I still don’t like to see them). I almost reached for him as I had taken my shower without my glasses (I hadn’t put on my contacts yet) and I was about to pick up my shampoo bottle but couldn’t see very well, so I slipped back on my glasses (this after my shower was over) and there he was, hanging out by my shampoo bottle. I didn’t scream but I did make a startled noise. AIIEEE.

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Rarotonga, Cook Islands

We have found other accomodations…the woman at the Friendly Mart (which is a five minute walk from the Cook Islands Lodges) recommended this place just up the road from her store. I had stopped by yesterday morning and bought some supplies and she asked where we were staying and when I told her where she had that (common) reaction. I mentioned that we were looking for another place to stay and she told me about this one. She (Georgina) said that it’s new and it’s owned by a very friendly, nice young couple. When we came back today to ask for more detailed directions, she said that she had told them about us and that they were expecting us!! It’s on this very quiet back road with lots of trees and small houses, and is still in the process of being built. However, the upper floor is complete (as well as the swimming pool) and everything is really new looking (and clean!!). The man greeted us as we came up the drive…he said that they were expecting us (!) and that they had seen us at the airport Sunday morning and noticed the guy from the CI Lodges coming to pick us up and that they had felt sorry for us. They had wanted to say something but of course they didn’t. They both seem really nice. The place is more of a hostel (Rarotonga Backpackers is what it’s called) with a communal kitchen and hang-out room and women’s toilets and showers, and then a separate one for the men. Our room is through a common sleep area…we have the only double (private room). The bed takes up most of the room but at least it’s private and clean and new, and they have laundry facilities and internet (but casey said it’s prob only dial-up, whereas the place we are at right now–“The INternet Shop” in downtown Avarua–has DSL). We will try it for a few nights and see how we like it…we’ve decided to forget the rest of the days that we have paid for at the CI Lodges and leave there tomorrow! We spent a very subdued evening last night reading and drinking wine and beer and eating cheese and crackers and (me) arrowroot biscuits and trying to figure out our plan of action for finding a new place to stay…we went to bed at 9:15. Yes, even Casey.

We had two very cute dogs follow us today. We just petted them for a minute (Casey gave them the special Arundel and Kelsey rough play) and they loved it so much that they decided to become our doggies. They trotted behind us for a good five minutes and then saw a funeral going on and stopped to check it out, and that is when we made our getaway.

We had lunch at the Moko Cafe. They are a seven minute walk from our place, and serve very good food. We had a sandwich there on Sunday and today had their Thai curries…great. They have a bit of an ant problem but it seems to have gotten better. They also have internet access but they have dial up which is painfully slow and costly (when you are paying by the minute).

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Not much to add on my end:

There was pig running in the streets. He looked a little confused. Also someone tied up a goat on a bus stop so it looked the goat wanted to go to town.

There are roosters and mynah birds everywhere they are very aggressive. Sorry can’t think of much more to say. I hope the weather clears up so I can spend the day in the warm ocean water!

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Rarotonga, Cook Islands

Ah ha. The island is beautiful…you know I’m not one for the hot weather but even the humidity is do-able in this environment. Our room is a bit janky–not Ramada Limited funk, because it doesn’t smell–but it’s a bit run down. It seems that the Cook Islands Lodges has a bit of a bad rep amongst the shop keepers and other hotel owners in the area for being a little “dodgy” (as one lady put it). However, we have paid for five nights and have four more to go, then we will seek another place.

We had Island Night last night for dinner at the Castaways restaurant down the road from where we are staying. It was a buffet of island food…bread fruit and taro pudding and this fish dish made with coconut milk and roasted chicken and potato salad and steamed rice and taro root tops, etc…it was all so good (except the dessert–strangely enough–since the chocolate cake tasted like it was made without sugar). Casey is so happy whenever we buy something since the exchange rate is really in our favor (about two New Zealand dollars to the US dollar).

Lots of dogs on this island…they are really relaxed. There are also plenty of roosters (which make their noise at all times of the day) and strange birds and not so many insects–thank God!–just yet. The people are really good-looking–very strong features and pretty skin, and the children are all really cute (they say “hello” to you as you walk by their house and they giggle and smile a lot). It’s not so touristy–not like Hawaii…as the woman who runs the Castaways and its hotel said, the Cook Islands is like Hawaii was thirty years ago.

Without Don Ho.

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Cheryl asked me to point out that we are in the Cook Islands. In Rarotonga, the largest island in the group. In the capital Avarua. In a cybercafe a few feet from the ocean.

This is a volcanic island with 3000 foot peaks visible from all parts of the island. A coral reef circles the island making all the beaches safe for swimming. No surfing as the waves break on the coral about 100 feet offshore.

This place is very laid back with about equal parts tourists and locals. Most of the tourists are New Zealanders.

As Cheryl said our hotel is “janky” (read: Crappy), a bit run down, but at $18 a night not too expensive.

The water is warm as a bath and the beach is breathtaking and everywhere.

Got to go now as the meter is ticking.

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Casey’s entry: Yes, Ramada Limited was very limited. If you ever happen to be passing through Newton, Iowa, and are beginning to be a little bit tired, keep right on driving. Yuck.

Jet Blue is pretty cool. They really DO have little TV’s on the back of each chair (very helpful in making the time pass), and they really DO NOT feed you very much. However, we had been warned and came prepared. About two hours into our flight, we whipped out our sandwiches and started munching. The poor girl next to me had to ask the flight attendant for extra snacks…next time she will pack a lunch.

We are in the process of preparing for our trip. I am having trouble finding shoes…surprisingly, it has been difficult to find shoes which can be described with both the words “comfortable” and “stylish.” I mean, I am a girl who actually LIKES to wear clogs and has come to terms with my “special” feet. BUT–I am finding it very hard to accept some of the hard-core walking shoes that are out there.

Hmm, the drama continues…

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Well, it is about a month later, and time for a pre-trip update.

–Wedding: the wedding went off beautifully, almost without a hitch (ha!). All except for the fools at Gary’s Tux Shop. All 10 tuxedos we rented had at least one thing wrong with them (wrong size, wrong color), one of the tuxedos wasn’t even ready until hours before the ceremony. Aside, from that, I think a good time was had by all.

–Ryder truck: after the wedding we spent the next seven days packing all of our belongings into a 10-foot yellow Ryder truck. Once full (the truck, that is), we drove across the country. That too, was, fortunately, uneventful. Here are some of my observations: Nebraska is really, really long, Iowa smells like the inside of a pig, and when a hotel has the word “Limited” in its name (as in Ramada Limited) you should take that at face value (our room smelled and felt like the inside of a cat litter box). Our belongings had a great ride to New Jersey and are becoming accustomed to their new home for the next year.

–The Trip: Tomorrow we start our around-the-world trip with a JetBlue flight from New York to Oakland. I heard JetBlue has little TVs on each chair; good entertainment but no food. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

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OK. So here is the first post to the travelogue. On these pages we will keep up to date a log indicating where we are, what we’ve seen, and what kind mood we’re in.
Right now it’s about a month and a half before we leave. Here is where we are with the preparations:

–Gear: After embarassingly frequent trips to REI (the sales people actually are on a first-name basis with me), I have what I hope are all the supplies we will need. I’ve probably bought too much stuff, as I have been planning this trip for over a year now, but we’ll just have to learn the hard way (the only way I ever learn). You can see exactly what we are bringing with us in the FAQ section.

–Airline Tickets: Going back and forth, searching all over the web reading travelogues and asking other long-term travelers, we have finally settled on a travel agency and itinerary. We bought our tickets from AirTreks in San Francisco. Our agent there, Glenn, was very helpful in getting us to decide on a final itinerary and getting us a good deal on the airfares for the parts of our trip that require flights. While in the AirTreks office, we met Edward Hasbrouck, who is writing the travel guidebook that I was reading at the time. Our full pre-departure itinerary is available on the Maps section.

–Accomodations: We’ve even managed to book accomodations for the first few days of our first destination, the Cook Islands. Most of the guidebooks say that pre-booked accomodations are required. Whether or not that is enforced or not, I don’t know, but we booked 5 nights at the Cook Islands Lodges just to be safe.

–Wedding: Oh, and we also have a wedding to finish preparing for. Just 10 more days! Seems really soon…

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