Friday, 21 December 2012

Dive! Dive! Dive!


Hi friends!

When last I posted we had cracked our camera and were pretty down about it.  To focus on just this however would do a disservice to the excellent diving we thoroughly enjoyed in Palau, Yap and Truk (or Chu’uk).

For those who aren't into researching dive locations, these form three of the four states of the Federated States of Micronesia, to the north of Papua New Guinea and to the east of the Philippines.  All are home to diverse diving experiences.

Palau is famous for strong currents, some interesting cavern dives and generally lots of life in the form of schooling sharks plus manta rays and pelagic fish such as tuna, marlin and sailfish.

Yap is home to a number of manta ray "cleaning stations", areas of reef where large numbers of mantas, some as large as 5 metres across, come to have parasites cleaned off them by reef fish.

And finally, Truk lagoon in Chu'uk is the site of a famous US bombing operation in WWII, Operation Hailstone, which sank in excess of 50 Japanese ships plus a number of planes.  These ships make for interesting and challenging wreck dives showcasing everything from boxes of beer bottles to guns, torpedoes, tanks, trucks, planes and even a John Deere tractor.

We visited Palau first, and had a great 7 days diving a wide range of sites.  We used reef hooks to hold ourselves onto the reef while grey reef sharks schooled in front of us over the deep drop-offs, and we drifted over massive coral reefs populated with giant clams and patrolled by schools of giant bumphead parrotfish, swimming along in a cloud of their own crap like prehistoric cows.  We also had curious Napoleon wrasse getting up close and personal, an interesting experience with such a large fish!  We saw a few manta rays, and watching these giant rays at play was a great experience we would soon be getting much more of at Yap.

The caverns were spectacular, holes in the top of the reef that you drop into at 2 metres, to emerge on a coral covered wall 30 metres down.  The light inside them was truly ethereal.  Our last dive into Chandelier cave allowed us to surface into a series of stalactite-covered caverns complete with trapped air that allowed us to take out our regulators and have a chat before descending once more.  Though we were cautioned not to fart as it would stay in there for every visitor to come after us!  Very tempting..... but I was good, I promise!

In Yap we stayed at the dedicated dive resort of Manta Ray Bay.  We didn't see any mantas at our first visit to the cleaning station, but as the week progressed we saw more and more, culminating on our last day with a 90 minute dive with up to 8 manta rays, some of whom formed a "mating train".  The less I say about this the better! The other diving there was quite varied, a mix of deep drop vertical walls with pelagic fish and beautiful coral gardens with some of the tiny life we have grown to love since our time with Scuba Junkie in Malaysia. One night on dusk we did a dive to watch mandarinfish come out to mate.  These little fish shuffle around amongst the coral and are normally quite bashful during the day, but on dusk males convince a series of females to join them for a quick dash out of the coral and a bit of a "quickie".  Let's just say the expectations incumbent on these males are a long way short of what are expected of a modern human male.

We did spend a part of the week nervously watching category 4 Hurricane Bopha pass to the south of Yap, our concerns somewhat assuaged by the consumption of the Yap "Stone Money" micro-brew beer.

Which brings an interlude from dive talk: Stone money (the real thing, not the beer) is a pretty neat invention of the Yapese (though the beer is still bloody good too).  These giant stone wheels were quarried over at Palau, and then transported by canoe at much peril back to Yap where no such stone was available.  The value of each piece of stone money is the subject of discussion between both parties and takes into consideration the age of the piece and the difficulty of obtaining it from Palau.  As a result when an Irishman turned up with some stone money that he had quarried and transported using modern techniques, these pieces did not have as much value as the traditional money.  Given that it can take up to 20 guys to shift some of these monstrosities they don't often move, but are still used for some transactions such as property dealings and a record of their ownership kept.

Leaving the land of stone money, we flew to Chu'uk, the land of the world's worst roads.  Never again will I complain about London roads or some bumpy Australian highway.  We joined our liveaboard dive boat, the Odyssey, not really knowing what to expect except for wrecks wrecks and wrecks.  What we got was deep, dark and dirty wreck diving, interspersed with wrecks that have been colonised by soft coral and turned into underwater wonderlands. 

Coreen couldn't enjoy it for long however, because on day two she felt an acute pain and perforated her eardrum.  This unfortunately ruled her out from any further diving, but despite this she maintained her usual sunny disposition and dedicated her time to becoming what was acclaimed as the best tech team on the boat, setting up the camera and assiduously checking it prior to every dive.  I couldn't have handled a disappointment like this with the equanimity she showed, and she reminded me why we are such a good team - she is the sensible one!

Then on day three, disaster struck the Odyssey.

Firstly, on the first dive of the day, at a wreck named the Hoki Maru, I experienced a bad case of nitrogen narcosis.  At depths in excess of 30 metres nitrogen can affect the brain like a drug, with a whole range of factors contributing to the nature of the narcosis.  After penetrating and then exiting the hold of the wreck at 37 metres, my narcosis took the form of a panic attack, my vision closing in and hyperventilated breathing.  I had to grab hold of myself and tell myself that if I didn't calm down, I was going to die.  I decreased my depth until the symptoms abated somewhat, and then aborted the dive, very shaken from the experience.  Having never had such issues at depth before, it was a severe knock to my confidence.  Talking about it with more experienced divers afterwards, they related similar experiences brought about by some unspoken anxiety prior to the dive.  Not having Coreen with me as my usual buddy, and then having the camera fail on my entry to the ship's hold (you can't tell it's a full SD card when the screen is black!), may have been contributing factors to the nature of my narcosis, but I will never really know for sure.

Then, after being back on the boat for some time, we discovered that a diver had gone missing from his group during the dive, and had died while diving in the wreck.  Based on post-analysis, what likely happened is that Rob's group thought he had aborted the dive due to ear equalisation issues, and the other group that he followed into the depths of the wreck were unaware that he was following them and was lost.  He was found at 50 metres in one of the most inaccessible and difficult parts of the wreck.  This event rocked everyone on the Odyssey.  It shocked all of us who had enjoyed diving with Rob and his wife Edie (who hadn't been on that dive). They were both very experienced and well-prepared wreck divers, and we couldn't believe that someone of his calibre possibly made such a serious communication error.  

Certainly the toughest part fell to the staff of the Odyssey, who had the overwhelming task of recovering Rob's body from a very difficult location and organising its return to the USA, after which they had to bottle up whatever personal feelings they had and try to ensure that the charter continued to be enjoyable for a bunch of shell-shocked divers.  In this, they did a wonderful job.  I certainly can't imagine where they found the strength, but they were inspirational, and together with Edie ensured we continued to enjoy the diving, while keeping Rob in our thoughts.  I hope it is what he would have wanted.  We were certainly reminded just how technically challenging this diving could be, and how serious diving could be as a whole.  Our hearts are with Edie and her family at this terrible time.
The remains of a Japanese crewman in the Yamagiri Maru engine room
The rest of the week brought some interesting wrecks, though it took me a little time to rebuild my confidence after the events of that fateful Wednesday, especially diving into the dark, confined spaces of the deeper vessels.  We saw massive torpedoes, huge 14-inch artillery shells, tonnes of ammunition, planes and plane parts, anti-aircraft and artillery guns, machine guns, trucks, a bulldozer, a John Deere tractor and gas masks, not to mention all of the everyday items like beer and sake bottles (the Japanese sailors drank A LOT), crockery, toilets, surgeon's tables plus medical bottles and kits.  On some of the wrecks we saw the remains of deceased Japanese sailors, a sobering reminder that these wrecks are not underwater museums but are in fact war graves.
Torpedoes in the hold of the Rio de Janeiro Maru
After Chu’uk we spent a fun few days in Guam, enjoying the wonderful hospitality of some of the people we met in Chu’uk (thank you Sean and John!), and we have now returned to Australia.

Over the last 9 months we have met some wonderful people who have touched our lives, and had some brilliant experiences that we will never forget, but now it is time to end our travels and start the next phase of our lives.  What will this entail?  This will be the topic for my next post, but let me just say the search for our own corner of Australia where we can grow our own food is about to begin.  Things are about to get really exciting for the two of us (and anyone who likes the idea of a free place to stay in Australia!).

Stay tuned......

Friday, 30 November 2012

Gutted


So I would love to say that everything has been great since our last post, but that isn't really true.

We killed the screen of our Canon s95 four days into our trip in Palau (that's in Micronesia).  Cor had a moment of distraction, put the camera into the underwater housing upside down and the force of closing it cracked the screen beyond repair.

So the $1000 worth of underwater strobe (Inon D-2000) and tray we bought in the USA has been pretty much worthless over the past week and a half as we have no idea what we are pointing our camera at, whether it is in focus, underexposed or overexposed, or what settings the camera is on.  At least we don't until we get home and put the card in the laptop.  Needless to say we have had some great experiences, from mantas to mandarinfish, that we wanted to record that we have missed.  We have a few pics that worked, but nothing that does justice to the camera equipment we have.  I ordered a replacement to be sent to our hotel in Guam so that we could pick it up before we do our final liveaboard of this trip, but it hasn't arrived and it looks like the next week will be more of the same.

I know it is only a camera, but we are on this trip of a lifetime and the thought that we aren't able to take the photos of a lifetime that it warrants is a really shitty feeling.  We have both been down about it, but you know what?  We are still here with each other and that is what matters, sappy as it is.

A reminder of how lucky we are is passing to the south right now.  While we sit here in Yap, Typhoon Bopha, a category 4 hurricane, is on its way to Palau and will hit in the next day or so.  We were there diving just last week, and our thoughts are with the Palauns who are about to be hit with this disaster.  I hope they make it through OK.

Love to all of you travelling or just dreaming about it.  See you out there on the water, under it, on the rock or at the bar.

Palya!

One of the photos we got before killing the camera..... a broadclub cuttlefish.

Grey reef shark - they are stocky for a reef shark

Coreen in the Blue Hole cavern

Saturday, 17 November 2012

California dreaming meets Hawaii Five-Oh!

Hey folks,

We are in Micronesia at the moment and have now posted our photos from the past few weeks, but I wanted to give you all a quick skinny on what we have been up to since we last posted.

One of the people we met in Red Rocks was Brian, a legend of a bloke that has done 6 years down in Antartica and now lives on a 36ft Catalina yacht in San Diego.  He offered to take us sailing if we were ever down there, so we did what we normally do, we rolled on down and took him up on his kind offer.  We had a great couple days hanging with him, sailing, chilling out, drinking Green Flash beer and climbing.

A brief side note here on one of my favourite topics: BEER!  Eleven years ago when we were in the USA their beer was not fit to drink.  They were into their Budweiser (the watery kind, not the real Czech kind), Miller Lite (low in calories don't you know) and Coors.  Now, they have woken up to the fact that beer can taste better than water and have a real trend forming of IPA's (India Pale Ales), golden ales, and a whole range of tasty lagers.  It is a complete change from where they were 11 years ago, and one that makes travelling the US a much more pleasant experience!  I can recommend Green Flash, Lagunitas, Kona Brewing Co, Metolius and Mahena but there are so many more.

After this we visited our mates in Venice Beach again, and then cruised up along the coast road to Morro Bay where one of Cor's online friends lives.  Those two just started chatting like they had known each other for years (which I suppose they have) and I was given cause to wonder just how much our world has changed in the last 15 years.  Those that know us wouldn't be surprised to know that Peggy and I got on just as famously, and we swapped names of many sci-fi books and authors over a cracking seafood lunch.

We then went via amazing Hearst Castle (if you ever get a chance, check it out) to Monterey Bay to see the aquarium.  It was fan-fricking-tastic.  So many things to see, and our favourites included the rays, the seahorses and their mola-mola.  Check out the pics on the link to the right for a tiny slice of what it is like.

Next stop, San Francisco, and another friend we met in the Australian outback, the gorgeous Sarah.  Sarah arranged a day out in Napa for us touring some wineries, including one where her friend Zane worked.  This guy was knowledgeable about so much in relation to wine and was a top guy to boot.  We had an amazing day there and leaving after drinks with these guys was so hard, I could definitely hang with them a lot more.

And so after San Fran we flew to Hawaii.  We caught up briefly with our mate James from Costa Rica before he went out for another week of work on the Aggressor, and we did our manta ray night dive.  Only a couple of manta rays and no really close encounters, so fingers are crossed that we see them here in Micronesia.

We hired a convertible in Hawaii (a Camaro) which was fun, and then we added to the fun factor with a helicopter ride over the Big Island.  It was sensational to see the lava flowing red hot down the fields up close and personal, and getting into the valleys to see scores of waterfalls on the wet side of the island was breathtaking.

Another note, in Hawaii cops drive Mustangs, Chargers and Camaros.  They get a stipend to their salary to drive their own cars and the state gives them money for the safety bits and pieces.  It is strange to see a bright orange Charger in the rear view mirror with a cop light on top, real Hawaii 5-0 stuff.

A final thing to add, see the links to the right for our latest pics (I have even updated the Costa Rica ones) and I have now done a video of our climb of Frogland here on Vimeo.  There is one instance of bad language in there towards the end (just a warning for the parents) but check it out anyway.  My first ever video!

Palya!



Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Rocking the Red Rocks

Palya, friends!  Since we last posted we have been enjoying the United States during its pre-election buildup.

We arrived in LA back in early October, picked up a van from the fabulous Lost Campers, and then hit the road.  We spent a fun night with an old Uni friend who has now settled down and got himself a lovely other half and a couple of rugrats.  His parents were visiting and we may have stayed up late with them to put a dent in their son's wine stocks.....which made our setting out for Vegas the next morning a fun drive.

Vegas.  What can you say about it?  It is a pretty artificial place.  No real reason for it to be here but some lines drawn on a map by some people when they were figuring out the state borders.  There is no natural reason for it to be here. No port, no river, no verdant valley.  It is only here for entertainment purposes, and at that they excel.  The gambling, the million different Cirque du Soleil shows, all the bands and comics that play here to halls that may or may not be full, are all part of the modern USA's equivalent of "bread and circuses".  Keep them fed, keep them entertained, keep them happy.  That is Vegas.

We haven't really been "in" that side of Vegas.  We did go to a Bob Dylan and Mark Knopfler concert (Dylan was terrible, he has lost his voice, couldn't understand a word, Knopfler was great, but only played one Dire Straits track), and we did stay at the Luxor with a 50 buck internet special (tired rooms but it did have a hot tub!) but apart from that we have been camping outside Vegas rock climbing.  And that IS something natural that Vegas has, because Red Rocks park is awash with moderate to difficult sandstone rock climbs.  And it is almost in town!

As usual when we go climbing we have met awesome people.  People we learn from, people we laugh with, people we share a beer with.  The crew from Fairbanks Alaska, Erika, Vaughn, Erin, Chad, and Brian as an √§lso ran" were top notch, and have pushed us to do some big multipitch climbs we might not have attempted on our own.  Cor has started leading traditional style climbs but having these guys push me to do some longer stuff has been great.  Getting up at 5:45 to hit the wall at dawn and then do a stack of pitches followed by an hour's descent by head torch in the deepening dusk is probably not what I would have elected to do, but it has been really great fun.  I have learned a lot about climbing and myself, and I know that I will be training next year and coming back stronger.

So now my fingers are a bit of a mess and we are going to take the next week off as we travel up to San Francisco for our flight to Honolulu, no doubt listening to American public radio (NPR) all the way.

A big shout out to James from the Okeanos Aggressor - he encouraged me to shoot photos in RAW format and see what I could do with them afterwards, well my photos are really looking great, so stay tuned for the best of our USA pics!

So until we see you, whether it is on the rock, on the road or at the bar, pura vida!


Saturday, 27 October 2012

Sorry officer, I'm not from around here.

Well we have now had our first (and hopefully last) run-in with American law-enforcement.  We were looking for a missed turnoff to the local Walmart and I thought I was just "going with the flow".  Apparently not!  This whole miles vs kilometers thing is a little confusing, but really I was just thinking of something else when those lights started flashing in my rear view mirror.

The moment the cop got out of his car I thought, hands on the steering wheel, don't get shot, hands on the steering wheel, don't get shot, hands on the steering wheel, don't get shot etc etc.  It transpired I had been doing 50 in a 35 zone (!!) and when he asked for my licence and registration I feared the worst.  A whopping big fine to go with the cost of a replacement GPS that we soaked with water in Costa Rica (a fun story for another post) would really make our hire car costs this trip very expensive.

But he was great and all my fears were for naught.  When he found out we were in the USA for a month he advised us that all the streets in Vegas running one way were 35, and the others were 45, so to do 44 the whole time and we would be fine as no one would pull us over doing 44 in a 35.  50 on the other hand.....

So all in all a let off and a big sigh of relief.  Plus, no one got shot or appeared on COPS.

Respect my AUTHORITY!


Monday, 15 October 2012

Pura Vida!!

I am sure anyone who has done a blog post about Costa Rica has titled it like this, and there is a reason. Pura Vida means pure life, and is a real echo of our "good life" philosophy. The Costa Ricans hustle, but they know why they are working hard: so that they can enjoy pura vida with their families. It's a bit of a cliche but I think we too often lose sight of this.

Now this will be a pretty long post, contrary to the wishes of a few people who apparently lead busy lives, but there is sex in this post so stick with it and it will be worth it.

We left the dive boat, (PICTURES NOW UP!!) picked up a 4WD hire car and did some travelling around Costa Rica with James (who had been diving with us on the Wind Dancer and found himself at a loose end for a few days).

First stop was La Fortuna in the shadow of the active Arenal volcano, which only appeared in 1968, a reminder of how quickly the planet can change without any help from us. We did some zip-lining (essentially flying-foxes set in and up to 200m above the forest canopy) and on one got up to 70km per hour, and on another travelled the better part of 800m across a massive gorge. Adrenaline pumping stuff. We did some walks on the suspension bridges and we did some wildlife spotting at the Danaus Ecocentre. We saw sloths (with a little help from the people at the centre), poison dart frogs, caiman crocodiles and leaf cutter ants. Sloths were smaller than I was expecting. I was expecting large animals but they grow to weigh 7kg at the absolute maximum, which gives them the edge over their predators in that they can hang out on some pretty small branches. The three finger sloth looks stoned and happy, while the two fingered sloth looks permanently cranky. Upset about missing out on that extra finger maybe! That they could create this paradise Danaus in just 15 years is amazing to me and the effort they are still putting in to making it better yet is fantastic.

It's a sloth!
We also sampled the hot springs of the local ticos after getting wet on a forest walk, and as we soaked our troubles away in the 44 degree water we were treated to a lightning show as the storm that drenched us rolled over the volcano.

Arenal volcano puffing away
That night James put his dive instructor cred on show with one of the girls from Oregon we met at the hostel. Anyone who has met a dive instructor knows what I am talking about. That's right folks, our blog just got raunchy!

After some challenging driving uphill, over some very rough roads for a couple hours, we made our way to Monteverde, home of some of Costa Rica's most pristine cloud forest. We did some excellent bird watching with a local guide and saw toucans and the elusive three wattled bell bird, among oh so many others. The toucan eats eggs and the young of other birds! That's why they have those massive beaks. Freaky stuff eh?

Hummingbird
After Monteverde we dropped James off in the crazy San Jose (don't drive here - no street signs and suicidal drivers) and headed to the tourist trap of Jaco on the coast. Most Costa Ricans shrink in horror at this as Jaco is a gaudy tourist trap full of prostitutes, but we were destined for a week at School of the World to learn how to surf (me and Cor) and Spanish classes (Cor). Coreen was inspirational in her work at Spanish and was quickly my go-to translator, while I was learning my way in the waves, with hardly any prostitutes at all. Cor hurt her back so didn't surf after day 2, but thank goodness her back is starting to loosen up now. Not even my mad acupressure massage skills could help at the time.
I'm up!

What I learned surfing: you have to work to put yourself in the right place at the right time (do nothing and you catch 90% fewer waves); fear of getting dumped by a wave puts you towards the back of your board, which only makes it more likely your fears will come true as the wave catches you not the other way round, so man up and get forward; and relax, it's only water. Thank you Riccardo and Alonso!

After our week in Jaco we farewelled our Escuela mates, then we caught a ride, two chicken buses and a boat to swap the Pacific ocean for the Caribbean. We crossed the isthmus in just one day. Remarkable (both that we did it in a day AND that I used the word isthmus)!

Tortuguero wasn't the white sand Caribbean beach town we were expecting, more like a river shanty town with a few touristy afterthoughts scattered about. We did some canoe trips in the river
and saw howler monkeys, capuchin monkeys, spider monkeys, caiman crocodiles, Jesus Christ lizards (they run on water? Jesus Christ!!), and oh so many birds. The guide James recommended, Francisco Bonilla, was absolutely tops, and any good photos we have were down to his excellent work in positioning the canoe.
Jesus Christ lizard

But the real reason people come to Tortuguero is for the turtles that give the place its name. Last season it was estimated that 50,000 turtles nested on this 18 mile stretch of beach, mostly greens but
also leatherbacks, loggerheads, hawksbill and olive Ridleys. The black sand beach looks like the woods around Bastogne post World War 2, full of massive holes, and each night new tank-like tracks of turtles emerge from and return to the water. Some turtles will nest up to eight times in a single season, fertilising her eggs as she needs to from a little chamber where she stores the sperm from her last male she shagged. I'm pretty sure there has been a court ruling about this, it's definitely psycho ex-girlfriend behaviour.

And the biggest danger to her eggs once she has buried them in this war zone? Some other dopey turtle digging them up while making their own nest! Egg breakfasts were definitely on the menu for lots of the local wildlife.

One night we were on the beach being pelted with sand from a couple of nesting turtles as they covered their eggs, it was a real privilege to witness it such a special event. And then, on the morning we left for San Jose and our flight, we took a 4:30am (!) stroll down the beach, and were lucky enough to see a nest of green turtle hatchlings boil out of the sand and make a mad haphazard dash for the ocean. As I learned in surf school, sometimes being in the right place at the right time takes work! There were so many we didn't know where to look, and all we could do was give these little dudes the best possible chance by keeping the birds off them until they made the water.

Escape!

So that is it for now. It has been an amazing few weeks in Costa Rica, and now we are in the USA doing some rock climbing. So until next time, whether it is online, on the rock, beneath the waves or at the bar, Pura Vida baby!


Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Under the sea!

We are in an inflatable boat in the rain, and we are soaking wet. The seas are running to 3 metres and we lose sight of the only land for 500 miles as the wind blows whitecaps off the waves. I tell myself that I am not crazy, but after 20 minutes of this I don't believe me. We hit the water and are under the massive waves instantaneously.

Welcome to Cocos Island diving.


As we descend through the gloom we see lots of little fish swimming in the ripping current, which lets up a bit when we reach the bottom at 30 metres. A quick fin over the nearest ridge and there it is, the reason for all that surface insanity. Hammerhead sharks, stacked, packed and racked 10 to 15 deep swimming by almost within touching distance. There are countless sharks, and just when you think their numbers have no end they are gone, off into the blue. The majestic giants return in numbers 10 minutes later, this time covering the sun. All around there are curious one metre Almaco jacks (trevally), cruising yellowfin tuna and octopus in the rocks.


This is just a sample of our week in Cocos Island, Costa Rica. The diving was challenging and rewarding in equal measure. We have met and dived with legendary people, including a famous underwater photographer and someone we suspect may have featured on a cover somewhere. The photos won't do it justice, in large part due to the relatively poor visibility experienced at Cocos following the large earthquake off the coast a couple of weeks ago. In any case it will be a while before we get them sorted for posting. But the memories of the diving are crystal clear and don't need any Photoshopping.

And the sinuses? They worked just fine for the most part. A few dives where it took some time to equalise the pressure but in the end A-OK.

So Cor and I are now in the Arenal area of Costa Rica, drinking $4 cocktails in the shadow of an active volcano after a hard day of zip lines and hot springs, looking forward to a day of sloths and lava tomorrow.

Palya!

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

On the road.... again!

A quickie to say we are off on the road again.  The last week has been a frenzy of packing and form-filling for the next 3 months, and now we are about to set off for Costa Rica and what will hopefully be an awesome 10 days of world-class diving. 

Despite all the prep and packing we still managed to get another day out on the boat squeezed in last week, and we were rewarded with breaching humpback whales, bottlenose dolphins playing around the boat, a mackerel (that I landed) and a tuna (that I lost).  North Queensland is a really special place in the winter.

We will put photos up here when we can, until then there are a few new ones in the Ingham folder to the right.

Palya!


Sunday, 2 September 2012

A Lucinda life less ordinary

It has been a while since the last blog post, and for that I make no apologies.  Our two months here in Ingham has flown by, and it is now only a week before we jet off to Costa Rica, the USA and Micronesia for 3 months.

We have been surprisingly busy here in my home town, entertaining guests from out of town, going to birthday parties, getting our boat licences, sorting out our transition back to Australian life (driver's licences, Medicare cards, bank accounts, getting our house shipped over, that sort of thing), running on the beach, and of course, going fishing.

There have been quite a few fish caught, no real monsters, but it has been a cooler than normal winter, and we have had some busy days on the water nonetheless (by cooler than normal I mean we have occasionally had cause to wear jeans at night).  Cor has christened her fishing rod and is turning into a bit of a fishing demon.  It has been a real treat to be here, and it is now with some regret that our time at the beach house comes to an end.  If only it could go on for longer, but the next stage is coming and it promises to be exciting.



Thanks to everyone for the messages of support and good will over the last couple months.  It is great to know so many people care and get the whole carpe diem thing.

To give everyone an update I have had some further news on my sinus issue.  It would appear that while exacerbated by my broken nose, the sinusitis was also partially caused by what appears to an abnormal bone growth in my left cheek which has nearly closed my left cheek sinus.  The doc can't say for sure that this is what it is until he biopsies it, but as that test also needs a period of non-diving recovery this is going to have to wait until we get back from our next leg of travel.  He will drain the sinuses at the same time so for now we have our fingers crossed that we will get to Cocos Island in a couple of weeks and all will be OK.  The doc has said I am OK to dive but who knows what will happen when I get to 10 metres?

So that is where we are for now, stay tuned to see where we will be in a couple weeks!


Wednesday, 25 July 2012

The Meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything...

...is 42.  Everyone who has read Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy knows this.

But this post is more about what the meaning is for us, or in other words why Cor and I are on this journey in search of "the good life".  We are often asked why we left good careers, a happening place like London (in an Olympic year), and all our friends, to go off travelling the world.  Well, actually that part people understand, but what they don't understand are our plans of buying a smallholding / hobby farm and growing our own food.  That seems just like a crazy amount of work, right?  Why go to all that trouble?  So a post to explain a bit seems in order.

Back in December 2010, Cor and I were back in Australia on holiday driving from Ingham to Albury when we had a nasty car accident on the highway between Mackay and Rockhampton.  We aquaplaned off the road at about 105 - 110km per hour headfirst into a ditch and flipped the car over.  We were lucky, and for the most part walked away mostly unscathed.  I had a broken nose (check out the Disaster post for the issues this is causing now), whiplash, a gashed leg, a busted head plus some soft tissue bruising courtesy of the seatbelt, while Cor had a tiny scratch on her foot.  But more than anything else it was a wake-up call.

If we had come off the road 5 metres earlier we would have hit a massive gum tree and be dead.

There was lots of water on the drive and if there had been just 1 to 2 feet of water in the ditch, we would be dead (upside down, it took us a while to get out).

Take a good look at the photo of the inside of the car.  See that small tree above the driver's seat?  6 inches lower and one of us would be dead.

See what I mean about wake up call??

We owe thanks to our family Justin Burnside and Vayne Monzeglio for coming to our rescue after the accident.


At the time we were living in London going through the motions, but after this we decided that it was time to reassess our lives and live where we could engage in what made us happy, which is being outside.  Whether it is climbing, running, diving, fishing, camping, hiking or skiing, we love being outside.  So we decided to move somewhere we could do that from home, rather than living near work and commuting to what made us happy.  Our friends Tim and Lynne had done this with their new massage business and were an inspiration.

The other thing we love, though, is food.  We love growing it, cooking it and eating it.  We had an allotment and a great garden in London and were largely self-sufficient for fruit and vegetables 8 months of the year.  It had always been our dream to do a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall or Gourmet Farmer, raise our own animals and be self sufficient in food as much as possible, but that was always off in the future in a semi-retired state.

Well, after our wake up call, we aren't putting it off anymore.  Bucket list?  Doing it now.  There is no point being rich but dead and therefore unable to dive Sipadan, or climb El Cap, or ski some insane off-piste.  The time is now.  And as for a smallholding, well why wait to do the things we have always dreamed of?  Some people ask if we have enough money to do it, and as anyone who has followed their dreams will tell you, you can keep chasing "just a bit more" but you will never have enough.  Far better to get out of the comfort zone, and see what happens.

I hope this goes towards explaining why we seem a little crazed, and perhaps inspire a bit of craziness of your own.  Perhaps we'll see you on that dive boat this year or maybe coming up the drive of our little farm one day for a cold cider and a warm welcome.  Palya!

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Northern Territory Road Trip

Palya y'all!  When we last posted we were pretty low after getting the bad news regarding my shnoz and the cancellation of our Mt K. climb, but since then I have taken a metric tonne of antibiotics, rested up at Cor's parent's place and tackled a two-week tour of the Northern Territory.

When we flew into Darwin, Jetstar screwed us around as usual - a 3-hour delay resulted in us missing the first 3 days of our 9-day tour.  We are so pissed off with that airline.  They truly suck and will never form part of our travel plans ever again.  Adventure Tours did a decent job getting us onto a couple of day trips to Kakadu and Litchfield parks, but these brief trips only reinforced our desire to go back with a four-wheel drive and explore these marvellous places more thoroughly.


Once we joined our tour, we headed from Darwin to Alice Springs.  We were a bit disoriented to begin with - Katherine Gorge is called Nitmiluk, the Olgas are called Kata Tjuta, Ayers Rock is Uluru.  OK, the last we knew but the others were a surprise.  We had a really great group and did some sleeping in swags under the most stars you will have ever seen.


The area around Uluru wasn't the red desert we were expecting.  Instead, it was full of life, and there were so many animals, edible plants and even waterholes by the rock.  It is no wonder that it is such an important part of life for the indigenous peoples of the area.  It is culturally important too.  In a culture where their stories (tjukurpa) have physical manifestations (tjukurja), these are all over the rock.  There are areas for shelter, and areas for teaching young people how to hunt and gather.

The moon over Uluru
We didn't climb Uluru, and the Anangu people ask you not to.  There are a number of reasons which were explained to us by Rebecca, our Anangu guide.
1.  Uluru's water, food, stories and ability to teach is around the base, so why climb?
2.  The climb is a sacred path taken by two of their ancestors in their stories.
3.  The climbers have worn the oxidisation off the rock, leaving a white path to the top.
4.  The Anangu people feel responsible for people at Uluru.  35 people have died climbing the rock over the years, and the Anangu people feel their spirits can now never return home.


For these reasons we felt that climbing Uluru was not a necessary part of our trip, and I hope the new management plan that is pending removes that option.  Visitors will still come as they always have, and will learn so much more as a result.

One of the other cool things that we learned was that the Anangu people prefix edible plant names with "mai" or "food".  So the bush fig they call ili is "mai ili" so they know it is edible.  They do the same with medicine plants and the like - how cool is that??  Imagine if we had 50,000 years of trial and error and prefixed our plant names with what you could use them for, rather than just its Latin genus?  That would be awesome!  OK you would still need to know whether it needs cooking, or grinding or whatever, but it is still brilliant.

To finish off, we took the Ghan rail line, so named for the Afghan camel trains that were our first lines of communication and supplies through the red centre of Australia, from Alice Springs to Darwin.  What a great train trip.  Now that is the way to travel!


So now we are back in Ingham, North Queensland, to spend a couple of months with my parents doing some fishing, some beachcombing, and some general relaxing.  I will do a post at some point about our motivations for this trip and our plans for when it finishes..... until then there are pics on the links to the right as usual.

Palya!  (This is Anangu for hello, goodbye, OK and a whole host of other stuff - a really great word.)

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Disaster!

Well under normal circumstances this week I would be posting about a wonderful climb up Mount Kinabalu, accompanied by some awesome pictures of the sunrise from the top and Cor and I together on the massive via ferrata.

These are not normal circumstances.

While on Mabul I was getting some intermittent sinus pain, which I thought were simply a case of a reverse block caused by diving.  After leaving Mabul, I came down with a week's worth of intense sinus pain.  Cor's father got me into see an Ear Nose and Throat specialist who he knew when we arrived in KK on Saturday.  As suspected, I have sinusitis.  See the black spots above and below my right eye on the scan below?  These areas would normally show black spots indicating empty sinuses.  As you can see from the scan, the ones on the right of my head are partially full of fluid, the ones on the left are chockers, hence the killer pain.  Normally the ENT guy would drain it and job done.

They scanned for a brain too, but nothing showed up on these tests.


Enough medication to kill a horse
The bad news is that the nose I broke in our car accident 2 years ago means that for now while it is infected it is impossible to drain.  If you have a closer look at the scan you can see my giant shnoz is as twisty as the corkscrew corner at Laguna Seca, and on my left the sinus is as tight as a nun's..... well you get the idea.  The ENT specialist advised us not to climb Mount Kinabalu, as the pressure change would be extraordinarily painful.  He also advised against diving until it clears up.  And here comes the kicker.  This is particularly scary as we have our trips to Costa Rica and Micronesia booked for later in the year (and in the case of Costa Rica, paid for), and if antibiotics don't clear it up, and it can't be drained....... let's just say it doesn't bear thinking about as it involves surgery and a long convalescence completely and utterly unpunctuated by diving.

Not many people know that the car accident Cor and I had in 2010 was the impetus behind us leaving London and embarking on this journey in search of the good life.  I plan to tell the story of the crash in a later blog post, but to have the legacy of that same car crash threaten our trip of a lifetime has made the last couple of days very tough for us both.

So at the moment we are back in Lahad Datu for another week, I am hopeful the antibiotics work, that it will clear up completely or make it possible for the sinuses to be drained, and everything will be peachy.  But for now, this is as close as I will get to Low's Peak on Mount Kinabalu......

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Super Sipadan, Magical Malaysia

So we are dry now, finally.  After 52 dives by me and 55 dives by Cor over the last few weeks, we needed some serious dry land time to de-prune the fingers and toes and we are currently at her parents' place in Malaysia doing this.

For those not "in the know", we have been spending our time on an island off the coast of Borneo doing some scuba diving.  During the three weeks, we completed our Rescue Diver course (apparently adequate care provided is better than perfect care withheld, who knew?) and dived the islands of Sipadan, Mabul, Kapalai, Siamil, Sibuan, Mantabuan, Timba Timba and Mataking, plus did a couple of pretty interesting night dives in the port of Semporna, where you really don't want to know what's in the water, you just look for the crazy little creatures that come out at night.

Nudibranch
First the diving.  In a nutshell we dived the number one dive site in the world a few times, plus did some brilliant diving at a whole host of other places.  The diving was incredibly varied, with Sipadan having stacks of big fish schools, sharks (our friends) and more turtles than you could poke a stick at.  Then some of the other islands were havens for small stuff like octopus, cuttlefish, camouflaged frogfish, incredibly cool nudibranches (which you will see from our pictures are an obsession of ours), plus some really weird things we have never seen before like sea moths (essentially a crazy-looking fish).  There is no other way to describe it other than brilliant.


We stayed on Mabul with Scuba Junkie and they were great.  The instructors, divemasters and staff all made our stay fantastic.  The accommodation and food was really good, though we only spent time in the room to get much needed sleep.  Scuba Junkie is a rare company that cares about the environment in which it operates,  plus the community that it works with, something that pervades the attitudes of everyone there.  Highly recommend using these guys if you ever go.

Frogfish
They run a stack of initiatives.  Please support the Semporna Shark Sanctuary petition by following the link, signing up and posting it on Facebook.  When you see firsthand the devastation caused by shark finning to the populations of these amazing animals, with 10's of millions of sharks being hauled out of the sea every year, having their fins cut off and thrown back to drown, you realise how insane and unsustainable the current appetite for shark fin soup is.

Scuba Junkie also have an innovative scheme relating to turtle nests.  In the past when a turtle came ashore to lay its eggs, the locals would either eat the eggs or sell them to others for food.  SJ pay the locals 10 ringgit per egg when a nest is found, and then their marine biologists carefully relocate the nest to a controlled location, re-creating the conditions of the nest, such as depth, shape and temperature.


On one of the nights we got back from a day's diving to find that one of the green turtle nests had hatched and we were privileged to hold a few of these amazing little creatures in our hands and help them on their way to the ocean.  111 turtles were released that night, and over 1000 have been released this year.  It was AWESOME!


We met some fantastic people out there, and dived with some incredible people.  Thanks to Rohan, Carys, Dave, Kev, Khai, Charlotte, Sofia, Ollie, Richbro, Astrid, Shane, Eric, Nas and Corey, plus Ann for those morning yoga sessions when we weren't too tired to get out of bed.  And we never even mentioned Aziz and the rest of the band night crew - you guys rocked!  Thanks also to those amazing people we met and dived with out there, Joachim and Cinzia, Sara, Luis and Sarah, and everyone else for making it such a special trip.

We were very tempted to stay on and do our divemaster course but we have other plans now that include climbing Mt Kinabalu in a couple of weeks, then a 9-day tour at the start of July from Darwin through Kakadu down to Uluru.  The divemaster training might have to wait until the end of the year.  We know a number of the DMs and instructors at SJ are keen to put us through our paces!

As usual, some selected pics are here, and the best of our 800 or so via the link on the right!


Matt and his school of bumphead parrotfish

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Singapore Sling

Sorry for the delay in posting of late, we have been on a remote Malaysian island with very poor internet access for the last month or so, but more on this later....

In late April we had a great week in Singapore with the extended Ung and Chang families for Cor's father's 70th birthday.  Our nephew Caleb was also celebrating his birthday and had no less than 4 cakes for the event!  We stayed in Sentosa and had days out in Singapore, and every evening was a fantastic meal somewhere, which as most people know is the centre of Singaporean life!

On our last day in Singapore we had a great day at the resort with Casey, Natasha, Emily and Caleb, rocking the luge (Natasha the reigning NZ and Singapore champion with a competitive streak a mile wide!) plus playing in the pool and on the trapeze.  It was seriously impressive to see Caleb and Emily 10 metres up on the trapeze, fearlessly swinging away.  It certainly put the pressure on Cor and I to get up there and give it a go!!

A few selected pics here, the rest in the links on the right.....


One of the fantastic birthday dinners





The cutting of Caleb's awesome Soldiers Vs Dinosaurs Cake





Emily launches...



...and Caleb flies!