2015 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,400 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 40 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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May 31 Final Thoughts

I’m struggling to find something to add to my May 11 Almost Final comments.  They still feel very relevant, and I’m afraid I have not come up with anything more creative.

Not surprisingly, it remains difficult to blend our 2-month adventure with our ongoing “home life” – two different worlds, with different ways of existing in them.  We tend to think and talk about one or the other, never both at the same time.

I am printing up this blog so Peter and I can remind ourselves of all the adventures we experienced and especially so that we remember and remain proud of what we accomplished together.

And now it’s time to think about our next adventure – albeit shorter and less dramatic.

Almost Final Thoughts

The last week has definitely been focused on settling back into Toronto and home, renewing relationships and routines.  The weather has thrown a bit of a curve ball since it feels more like mid-June than early May, so we’ve had to concentrate on remembering what season it really is here at home, plus hustle to get the lawn and garden caught up with the weather!

The trip was such an all-encompassing experience that I have had some trouble organizing my thoughts.  Truthfully, it all feels like a dream at this point!  As time passes, it starts to become more real so here are some initial conclusions.

The Highlights:

New Zealand

  • The scenery generally
  • The Alpine Crossing hike
  • Mount Taranaki hike through rain forest into the clouds
  • Kayaking and hiking in Abel Tasman National Park
  • Hiking and climbing in Mount Cook
  • Boat cruises in Milford and Doubtful Sounds
  • Christchurch, and seeing firsthand the earthquake devastation and reconstruction

Australia

  • Hiking and flying over the Tasman Peninsula
  • Sydney
  • The Bungles in Purnulula
  • Kayaking, snorkelling and boat cruise in Great Barrier Reef/Hamilton Island

Tahiti/Moorea

  • The scenery generally – it was visually stunning
  • Kayaking, swimming and snorkelling (and of course the over-ocean bungalow!)

Reviewing my highlights, I realize most of them have to do with physical activity outdoors!  So clearly it’s more impactful for me to be participating in the landscape than merely viewing it.

The Lowlights

Are very few and far between but definitely the major one was the 4WD camper van in the Kimberley.

How did the trip compare with our expectations?

Exceeded expectations:

  • How much went right!
  • How well Peter and I got along – incredibly well for being together 24/7 for 9 weeks in a lot of challenging circumstances.

Didn’t meet expectations:

  • The Driving – it was a lot more tiring and took up much more time and energy than we had anticipated
  • Australia Itinerary – it did not show us as much of the country as it could have.  With hindsight, we’d have done a lot less driving and a lot more flying.

I’m very grateful that:

  • Peter and I have the ability to have planned and completed this trip so successfully.
  • neither of us got sick before or during the trip.
  • my brother and sister were able to care for my parents while we were gone.
  • my parents remained hale and hearty while we were away.
  • we were able to maintain connectivity with home through Facebook, email and Skype.
  • we did so much planning and strategizing early on, including packing lists and acquiring the right gear a few months in advance.
  • all our flights and hotel reservations proceeded without any issues.
  • we used a travel agent as little as possible (and next time will not use one at all!)
  • any mistakes we made could only have been identified with hindsight.

Generally, we did this trip the right way for the two of us – with 8 of 9 weeks under our own steam – despite the extra effort it required.  Neither of us enjoys being shuttled around, waiting for slow or late people, getting to airports or ferry terminals hours in advance of when it’s actually necessary.  Plus even though we were often overwhelmed by busloads of tourists at different tourist attractions, it was nice to know we could get in our own car and leave whenever we wanted.

As a little more time passes, I hope I will have more insight and be able to more creatively sum up such a unique and remarkable experience!

susie at ALTITUDE  At the Mueller Hut, Mount Cook, NZ

_DSC2064 copy  The Bungles in Purnululu National Park, OZ

2222270Z-HEDKD6A150419WA~HE51092222270ZRU  Kayaking in the Great Barrier Reef OZ

_DSC0097  Snorkelling off our deck in Moorea

Alice Down the Rabbit Hole

And back up again.

That is exactly how I feel!  (I’d like to claim creative credit for that analogy but it comes courtesy of old friend Roger.)

I lived for 9 weeks in a strange world which felt completely separate from my regular world. And now I’ve hiked back up from Wonderland and into my regular world, but still working on how to correlate the two!

Thank goodness for email and Facebook which helped us stay current on people and places so we could come home feeling a little less displaced.

Next post (honest!) will have some final thoughts.

Our Trip “Down Under” by Peter

Sue and I enjoyed two great months travelling New Zealand and Australia or ‘OZ’.

This was a trip we long prepared for and anticipated. We could not do it sooner because of the amount of time we needed to be away. Because this was our first trip ‘Down Under’ we were sometimes surprised by unforseen challenges and at one point: in Broome Australia, things went off the rails and we had to change our plans. The issues were: the stifling heat, the need to have a four wheel drive, unexpected road closures and the volume of the luggage we had. The Kimberley has very special appeal but is at the same time a very tough place in which to travel, and photograph. This we found out the hard way. If we return to see the parts we missed it will be under different conditions, providing a higher level of personal comfort and by that I’m not referring to wheelchairs.

From a planning point-of-view Sue had done an incredible job and we had no major problems to speak off with numerous reservations and travel arrangements. This part was all smooth sailing. The blog Sue produced hopefully will get printed and for anyone interested in doing ‘Down Under’ as well: it would be a good read to start with.

If there are any issues about this experience which I would love to share with people, here they are. Some may know I’ve always been interested in conservation and how it’s done. I have strong feelings about that and watching what is happening down under has not reassured me, if anything, it has heightened my anxiety about how homo sapiens is doing. Part of my interest in conservation stems from personal experiences as a nature photographer and from the fact that my images were published in several environmental books: Endangered spaces (Monte Hummel, WWF), Islands of Hope (Lori Labatt) and Last Wilderness (Freeman Patterson).  These books were accompanied by the writings of several experts in the field on conservation.

Conservation

Fyodor Dostoyevski once said: “Beauty Will Save the World”

When a beautiful area is discovered, my first question about it would be: how do we keep it beautiful? How do we prevent a chain of events that – to give an extreme example – led to the travesty that is the Niagara Falls area today. What we’ve discovered over and over in New Zealand and Australia is that the commercialization of conservation is well under way and it looks like little has been learned from the North American experience.

There is the issue of signs. The most obvious and in-your-face- sign of commercial activity is the billboard. The more you have of these the more you feel like you’re in Times Square. I love the blunt humour of the Kiwi signs though: “If you step off this trail you will fall and die”. But really the message is: good conservation tries to perpetuate the awareness that we’re in a wild place, untouched by Mankind. So signs, if absolutely necessary, should be small and unobtrusive. Structures, if any, should be painted in natural colours like brown and green. Trail maintenance should be minimal and concrete should not be used. Parking lots should remain small and outside the park if at all possible. Commercial venues should absolutely be banned within parks. Park entrance fees should be non profit.

Australia and New Zealand are unquestionably beautiful places.

If you want to come to these countries and enjoy their real beauty: there is plenty of unspoiled beauty to be found, but not in the places which all the books tell you are a: “Must See”. We fell into that trap and will not do it again. “Must See” has, for me, become synonymous with: “Avoid.”

Yes, Mr. Dostoyevski, Beauty May Save the World, but commercial exploitation of nature’s beauty might just make that very difficult. Let’s carefully reflect on how conservation can really help educate people and thereby help protect nature. And then consider the many ways the almighty dollar might corrupt those attempts. “Is capitalism not part of nature?”, you ask. I don’t think so. Nature would not give you a loan. It would feed you to a lion.

Invasive Species?

Another, smaller part, has to do with what in my eyes seems to be a deplorable waste of time, resources and effort in management of invasive species. This is not specific to ‘Down Under’ but seemed more visible in Oz and New Zealand than anywhere else in the world. I would simply refer to the recent book “Where do Camels Belong” by British ecologist Professor Ken Thompson. I totally agree with its contents. It downplays the seriousness of invasive species and emphasizes that the presence of species in certain geographical locations has never been a static thing: Dutch researchers have demonstrated clearly that there is normally a natural steady succession of different species in a given area. If there is one invasive species which we really need to regard with great suspicion it is Homo Sapiens.

Sun May 2 – Home but Majorly Jetlagged!

PS – just noticed I couldn’t even get today’s date right!

We arrived back HOME (to our actual front door!) about 11:00pm on Friday night. It was a very long trip home – 32 hours in total, although 18 of those were spent sitting around waiting in various buses and airport lounges! The last two flights of the trip, from Papeete to LAX and LAX to Toronto, seemed to take longer and be more challenging than any of the prior 12 flights but I suspect that was just our head space about returning home. But I’m very happy to report that we made it and so did our luggage!

Got to give BIG kudos to the airlines. Over the past 2 months, we had 14 flights and not one left late or was rescheduled, and not one lost or misplaced our luggage!

I spent most of yesterday in a daze, almost felt like I had vertigo. Trying to connect the strange experiences of the last 2 months, with our familiar home turf where all the old routines and habits fell into place almost immediately, with the warm (hot) weather here where we had left full-on winter behind. I have SO much to do and am struggling to get my energy to a productive level.

My mind is also still mushy I’m going to continue working on my final thoughts to post in a few days. Meanwhile, Peter is much more productive so the next Post is entirely his!

Wed April 29 / Thurs Apr 30 – Last Post from Afar

It’s Thursday afternoon and we’re waiting in the hotel lobby for our shuttle to begin the long trip home.

Yesterday was a nice hot and sunny day, and we got in a great kayak outing – broke all the rules with respect to staying within the boundaries and paddled to and around the island offshore from the hotel.  It was a gorgeous paddle in bright turquoise water.

For dinner, we left the resort and went to Le Coco sur la Colline, which is a lovely restaurant higher up than the resort so with a much broader view.   It is apparently a very famous restaurant in Papeete but they just opened this Moorea location 30 days ago.  It’s too bad they can’t get the Intercontinental to refer guests to them because it makes a wonderful change from the resort restaurant.  Peter was most excited because it had 2 geckos that wandered around upside down on the ceiling, busy catching flies. We had a terrific dinner there, nicely memorable for the last one of the trip (except for airports and airplanes.)

This morning after getting all packed up, we got in one last snorkel all around the resort and it was just lovely.  Saw even more new fish including some that are coloured in incredibly complicated patterns, and I kicked myself for the last time for not having an underwater camera.

It’s hard to believe we’ve been away for 9 weeks.  It sure flew by and I’m so glad I did this blog (over 70 entries!) because it will take us a while to process all that has happened.  Once we’re home, I’ll do one more entry on our final Final Thoughts, which we’ll be accumulating over the next couple of days.

IMG_3568  Farewell view of the South Pacific.