ss_blog_claim=94754a6b1be8770ce22d6ccb8015a428 ¿Where the Heck are You?: 2010

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Dreams: Deep & Dark

Dreams: Deep & Dark

I have literally been 'round the world ... yet there are oh sooo many, many more places to go, peoples to meet, and wonderous sites and sights still left to be seen!

Where oh where should I go next???

... lately my dreams have been visions of the red robed Maasai herding their cattle and goats across the sweeping savanah of the Serengeti as the untamed herds of antelope, elephants, giraffs, wander from one waterhole to the next, while leopards, lions, hyennas wait for stragglers to invite for dinner. I hear the sing-song lilt of Kiswahili wafting on the hot breeze, mixing with the scent of spices and perfumes from Zanzibar, which I can almost see in the distant east from the snow capped top of Kilimanjaro. ...

Then other nights ... a barge slips slowly along ... just off shore from the monkey filled trees along the deep Tanganyika, following the path of David Livingstone, onward to Lake Malawi and then to the Zambezi and the mighty Victoria Falls ...

I imagine the chaotic frenzy of the markets, the serenity of vast empty countryside, the cacophony of colourful birds amongst the jungle canopy. Some places will pulse with the beat of tribal drums, some will be the beating of hundreds, maybe thousands, of hooves stampeding across the plains, others are the pounding feet on crowded city streets, and then there are golden strands of sand beaten by the ocean's thundering waves while just beyond there are quiet coral reefs that teem with schools of unimaginable fish.

I dream ...

Deep and dark.
Cosmopolitan and urbane.
Wild and untouched.
Frenzied and serene.

Yes, I dream of ... Afrika!

Please note: I have yet to visit Afrika so the images in
this article are from a licensed stock photo album.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

the Gherkin

The unusually shaped London skyscraper known officially as 30 St Mary Axe is fondly called the Gherkin by Londoners and visitors alike. Because of its unique design the Gherkin would be a most striking building even in a forest of modern glass and steel towers. However, its placement in central London causes the protruding bulbous building to stand out starkly above its more modest neighbors.

the Gherkin - London EnglandLondon has a variety of building standards in place to preserve aesthetic views and protect sightlines of many of the historic and scenic venues of the world-class city. Buildings in this area have long been limited to a height of 100 meters, about half that of the 30 St Mary Axe, and most of the more historical buildings are much lower in height. An early ‘90s IRA bombing of the historic Baltic Exchange created a void the city desperately wanted filled. The original proposal, the Millennium Tower, featured a tower of over 300 meters and was rejected as too tall. The city finally accepted this design for the 180 meter 40 story skyscraper. They began erecting the tower in 2001 and it opened in 2004, just a few months before I took this photo. A sale of 30 St Mary Axe was completed February 2007 for £680MM or about $1.25 billion.

30 St Mary Axe is also known as the Swiss Re Tower after the Swiss insurance company that previously owned and is still the primary tenant of the building. The title of Gherkin was bestowed in a mid ‘90s newspaper article about the proposed tower and quickly adopted by readers. However, because of its unusual design the Gherkin has acquired some other colourful nicknames ... such as ... the Crystal Phallus!

A peck of pickle trivia:

  • Height - 180 m (600ft)
  • In spite of its round and curved appearance, the tower is composed of 745 flat glass panels. The only curved panel being the cap on the very tip top of the tower.
  • The building incorporates both passive (convection) cooling and heating, and utilizes the natural light to reduce the cost of illuminating workspaces during the day.
  • The fortieth floor is occupied by a panoramic bar in the dome with 360° views.
  • The gherkin can be seen from 30km (20mi) away in Windsor.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

¿Where the Heck are You?
What Happened-part2

fileId:3096224744019631;size:inter; ¿What happened to Monday? – part 2
Author’s note: This is the second part of the tale “¿What happened to Monday?” You can find the beginning of the tale by clicking here.

…The captain guided the boat between the coral heads towards the beach until the bow gently ran aground. We were at Waya Lai Lai! Many of the villagers were waiting for the boat’s arrival on the beach. As we waded ashore with our backpacks, an ad hoc band was playing guitars and singing us fileId:3096224744019560;size:inter;towards shore. As the local passengers reunited with family, Sonja and I were joyously greeted by our village hosts. After bula’s, hugs and kisses, and croton lei’s were bestowed, we were shown the buhrs we would be staying in while on Waya Lai Lai.

If you have ever envisioned lolling about in a grass hut on the beach of a tropical isle…well this is the real thing! On a natural terrace about 10 meters above the beach, the village has a half dozen buhrs for visitors. Thatched-roof and woven palm frond panels for the walls and a wood-planked floor. There are thin beds with mosquito nets hanging from the rafters; a single bare-bulb light is usable a few hours in the evening when the village runs a generator, and there is a commode and sink in one corner, the communal showers are located nearby. On another terrace above the buhrs, is a community house or village buhr, with kitchen and huge deck overlooking the village and lagoon.

Life on Waya Lai Lai is easy and laid back, one of simple enjoyment. Villagers are very open and gregarious, well except for some of the children who at first play coy; but next you know, they are in your lap. The villagers spend most of their time with friends and family, which is pretty much one and the same on such a small island. The outlying islands of Fiji are still very much traditional tribal societies, typically comprised of 50-200 Kai Fiji in a village who garden in small family plots, gather from the surrounding fileId:3096224744019561;size:inter;rain forest, and fish. As a visitor to their village, you are welcomed into their daily life and routines. During my stay on Waya Lai Lai, I helped gather bananas, coconuts, and other fruits that grow wild in the jungle. I dug kumala (very large yams) and dalo (taro) roots, and picked palusami (a spinach like green) in the gardens. One afternoon I was invited to go hand fishing with some of the men in the straights between Waya Lai Lai and the neighboring island Kuata. Some of the women in the village tried to teach me about making masi or tapa cloth, a native art form where you decorate cloth made out of mulberry bark fibers with dyes. Mine looked like, well a Rorschach test; however, the women in Fiji create beautiful and intricate geometric designs on their masi. Besides joining my hosts in daily tasks, there were opportunities to hike, snorkel, canoe, or float languidly in the warm sparkling waters of the lagoon, catch some rays or maybe not, in a twine hammock strung between a couple palms.

Meals for the visitors are served in the community buhr with many of the villagers attending. The women incorporate a few items imported from the market in Lautoka, non-native staples such as pasta, rice, and potatoes, with the native fruits gathered in the rain forest and vegetables from the gardens. Fish is of course their primary source of protein. On the third night, we were treated to the village Lovo; a special celebratory feast with meke (music and dance) followed by the traditional sevusevu and yaqona ceremonies, this formally welcomed us into the village.

The lovo is a daylong preparation. Fish and free-ranging chickens are caught, vegetables dug and prepared, and fruits gathered. The men dig a deep pit in the sand; a roaring fire started and allowed to burn down to glowing embers. Mid afternoon, the lovo pit is loaded with the prepared ingredients, swaddled in leaves and palm fronds, and buried to bake in the heat of the hot sand and embers of the fire. The feast will include baked palusami, kumala, dalo and sweet uto (breadfruit) and duruka (tender young shoots of cane), vakalolo (small fish and prawns in coconut milk) and kovu (whole chickens wrapped in banana leaves). The centerpiece of the meal is a huge fish – ikamiti – about a meter and half long, stuffed with citrus fruits, bathed in coconut milk spiced with chilies and oranges, and wrapped first in banana and citrus leaves then woven inside a basket of palm fronds. The lovo is left to bake and is uncovered just before dusk. Then the party begins!

The lovo feast begins with the setting sun and the entire village turning out. The air is festive and joyous, which is really something to experience considering how happy and joyous Fijians are to begin with! The food is delicious, a slight smokiness from the embers mingling with the citrus juices and oils of the leaves. Hot tea, a remnant of Fiji’s British colonial past, and fresh juices accompany the meal, some juices are mixed with coconut milk, and others slightly aged and fermented have a little kick. A few of the musicians that welcomed us on the beach are playing and singing softly in the background. As the eating winds down the music comes forth and is joined by dancers, both men and women, as the meke is preformed. The villagers tell tales of lore through their songs and dance, highlighting triumphs, natural phenomenon, and their village family. We were taught the tralala, a side-by-side dance of shuffling steps that is rooted in the era of European missionaries who among many traditions tried to forbid the Fijians from dancing close together face-to- face. Then the dancers and musicians lead a procession, taking the celebration to the beach and lighting a fire. We learn village songs, children’s songs, and sing around the fire with the waves lapping up the shore next to us, while a few who stayed behind ready the community buhr for the sevusevu and yaqona ceremony.

The tanoa, the ceremonial kavakava bowl, was prominently situated on the deck of the communal buhr. The footed bowl of the tanoa typically range upwards of a meter in diameter and is carved from a single block of vesi wood, and often decorated with carvings and shells. The ceremonial preparation of fileId:3096224744019566;size:inter;kavakava is one of the most time-honored traditions of Melanesian life, spanning the south Pacific archipelagos of not only Fiji but also Tonga and Samoa. The koro mataqali a village leader, or the Tui if present, sits west of the tanoa, hence legend holds the first canoes arrived in Fiji. The rest of the village sits in a semi-circle facing the tanoa and Tui. The sevusevu began with me approaching the Tui and presenting with both hands my waka of yaqona wrapped in masi and introducing myself, “dua oo, Ni sa bula yacamu MrBill au lako mai America.” (dua oo – special greeting to a Tui or other high-level leader, and telling him my name and where I come from) A hundred years ago, if the Tui refused a visitor’s sevusevu and waka you would most likely become the next evening’s dinner…thankfully, the Tui accepted my sevusevu with a smile and “bula vinaka vakalevu,” then placed a croton leaf lei across my shoulders inviting me to sit across the tanoa from him.

From a wooden mortar the Tui scooped handfuls of previously pounded yaqona into the tanoa, and with the musicians playing and singing, the Tui chanted a prayer while pouring in water and mixing the kavakava. He clapped his hands once and took a polished and etched half shell of coconut, the bilo, and dipped into the tanoa. Drinking the whole bilo of kavakava at once, then saying “BULA!” the Tui ended with three claps. The Tui dipped the bilo in the tanoa again and reaching out with both hands offered the bilo of kavakava to me. I clapped, taking the bilo I sculled the full cup of kavakava, and trying not to gag or spit, I shouted “BULA!” as I handed back the bilo and clapped three times. Bula’s rose up behind me from the rest of the villagers, I was now a member of the koro. The Tui and I shared another round of kavakava in the same fashion, and then it was time for others to take their turn at the tanoa.

Settling back with the main group, I savoured the experience. I also took a long tug on my Fiji Biji (Fiji Bitter the national beer) to clear my mouth, the tanoa of kavakava looks a lot like a bowlful of dirty dishwater…and an equally soapy taste! I noticed my lips and tongue were tingling becoming a tad bit numb…yaqona is non-narcotic, but has some mild but similar effects. Yaqona is calming and induces mildly talkative and euphoric behavior, and is used in the west by “traditional” healers for anxiety and sleeplessness; however, in greater amounts…well, you probably will not see the gods, but you might talk to ‘em! The tanoa empty now, the Tui prepared another but with less formality than the first, and later another, until the entirety of the freshly pounded root was consumed. The circle closed in as some villagers retired to their homes for the night. The tanoa and bilo were moved into the middle, the musicians began playing and singing the hypnotic village song; which seems to have no beginning or end, it just continues, with others joining in and singing their own verse. During a lull in the song, as the bilo was being dipped and more Fiji Biji’s passed around, one of the guitars was handed to me and my hosts requested I sing a song from my village. I started picking Ripple from the Grateful Dead and they quickly fell in with the melodic rise and fall and shuffle tempo, really getting into the final chorus; and with the other players we got the song going in a round. Having finished the last of the yaqona and the hour so late, we made back to our buhrs.

The rest of my days in Waya Lai Lai were filled with enjoying my fileId:3096224744019568;size:inter;hosts and the beauty of their island home, snorkeling and fishing, and the occasional excitement of a visiting boat from one of the neighboring islands. The morning of my departure was filled with tearful bula’s and hugs as I prepared to leave. I did leave a small yaqona-laced western mark on the village musicians...they adopted the syncopated shuffle and final Do-Dodo chorus of the song Ripple I played and sang for them that one night, into their never-ending call-and-response village song. I could hear it wafting across the water as I waded out to boat for the return trip to Viti Levu. I am still not sure what happened to Monday, but by word of my hosts it is only, ‘bout half hour away. Ni sa Bula! - MrBill

MrBillMrBill, Gather Essentials: Travel Correspondent
MrBill's travel column "¿Where the heck are You?" is
published twice monthly to Gather Essentials: Travel

"¿Where the heck are You?" is the usual greeting I receive from friends and family since they are never quite sure just where I have been. "Where the heck are You?" is a traveler's column. Come with me for a journey to foreign shores, tropical locales, and places you may not have even heard of. Along the way I will introduce you to people; their cultures, art and cuisine, and together we will share an adventure. MrBill wanders and ponders. He is an avid traveler and photographer. He has extensive experience in the fields of Information Technology, Culinary Arts and Hospitality. Originally from the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, MrBill now resides in the Sierra Nevada Mountains near Lake Tahoe. Keep up with all of MrBill's adventures by joining his network.

You might enjoy these other Travel & Adventure articles by MrBill on Gather:
Me Tarzan
Conquering heights swinging through the jungles of Guatemala
Crossing Te Rua Manga
A trans-island trek of Raratonga in the South Pacific
Adventures with Uluru
Tales and adventures told thru the eyes of a tiny Koala

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

¿Where the Heck are You?
What Happened to Monday? - part 1

Being that this is the inaugural edition of the “Where the Heck are You?” column, perhaps it would be best to start at the beginning …

Awakened by the crash of the breaking dawn, I struggled to free myself from the sheet glued to me with perspiration … “oh yeah,” I remembered, peeling away first the clinging linens, then the mosquito netting, and finally staring out the window at the tropical scene, “I’m not at home in the mountains.”

Palms, ferns and vines, and brightly coloured jabbering birds greeted my gaze through the window slats. Looking down, I could see a basketball sized green-skinned coconut lying nearby on the ground, obviously the main culprit in disrupting my dreams. I went outside, and in the gathering light of the tropical dawn, I regained my bearings. Today is Wednesday. I had departed LAX on Sunday around noon and mysteriously landed in Nadi about 7:30 Tuesday evening … supposedly only a twelve-hour flight … so what happened to Monday?

Apparently, Fiji is not only a world and a half away from the Alpine regions I call home, but becomes a day and a half plane ride away due to Fiji lying on the 180th meridian, the International Date Line, and where “day” begins. Having arrived in the mid-evening darkness, I had seen little of the landscape of my first island adventure. I was taken aback, in this pre 9/11 era, when I walked out of the jetway into the concourse to be greeted by a platoon of young men in neatly pressed kaki Sulu’s, the Fijian men’s traditional skirt, with assault rifles slung across their chests. hmmm ... I had heard that Fiji was a tremendously friendly place ... and so it was! The guards all gave broad smiles and big “Ni sa Bula” greetings as the we passed by them. Clearing Customs and Immigration was per functionary. With many more Bula’s exchanged and a quick stamp of my passport, its very first, I was in Fiji!

A boy bearing the infectious Fijian smile was waiting with a placard for me at the arrivals gate. He looked to be twelve ... upon querying, he assured me he was fifteen. With a little assistance, he got my expedition pack into the trunk of the tiny Holden sedan. Then he drove for about 30 minutes through the completely unlit country-side, bouncing down a rutted dirt track navigating mud puddles big enough to be swimming holes. Finally arriving in Saweni, he deposited me and my gargantuan backpack at the little four-room guesthouse on the beach.

I spent a couple days in Saweni, relaxing on the beach and recuperating from the disorienting flight, before leaving Viti Levu, the main island of Fiji. I was bound for the Yasawa archipelago about 100 km to the northwest where I would spend a week on a tiny island of Waya Lai Lai in the Namara village.

Mid morning, another boy, this one was only thirteen, arrived at the resort on Saweni beach driving a little green pickup truck. Obviously this boy was another graduate of my grandfather’s school of driving – if you can reach the pedals and see over the dashboard, you are old enough to drive. He was to take me to the port city of Lautoka to catch the village’s sometimes twice weekly but more often than not just weekly boat out to Waya Lai Lai. The boy and his family were from the Namara village, where his grandparents still lived. He drove me into Lautoka to his family’s shop where I could stow my pack until the boat was ready for departure later that afternoon.

I wandered about town, picked up a couple sundries, made a visit to the central marketplace and had some fried fish for lunch and purchased some yaqona and had it pounded. Yaqona root is pounded into a powder and mixed into water to create the Fiji ceremonial drink kavakava. It is tradition for a visitor to present the Tui (tribal chieftain) with a gift of fresh Yaqona as waka, a tribute and gesture of friendship. Not one to thumb my nose at tradition, especially since Fiji had been cannibalistic up until the early twentieth century, I brought a kilo of yaqona as my waka.

That afternoon at the Lautoka wharf, I began to wonder what I had gotten myself into … the men from Waya Lai Lai were just finishing up loading supplies for the village onto the little boat and were ready for Sonja, a Med student from Germany, and I to board. There would be about a dozen of us altogether, the captain and his helpers, a half dozen villagers that came to Lautoka to trade and visit family on Viti Levu, and the two of us that would be joining the village for the week. vessel for this 100 km open ocean journey was a mere 7-8 meter plywood stitch and glue boat. It had a covered area with four or five wooden pews for praying ... er ... benches to sit on. I took some comfort in noticing the gleaming and new looking 75hp Yamaha outboard clamped to the stern and the unmistakable orange of the life jackets tucked under the pews. Bula’s were exchanged, dock lines were cast off, the outboard engine roared to life, and we were on our way!

The drone of the outboard motors lulled me into a meditative trance. As Lautoka’s wharf faded from view I recalled that Fiji is surrounded by some of the most shark infested waters in the world, causing me to contemplate Vomothe life jackets under the pews. If this boat don’t float – do I really want to be treading water?! Snapping out of my daze, I leaned over to the captain and out of idle curiosity asked how long was the trip to Waya Lai Lai? I then got my first lesson in Fijian time keeping, “oh, ‘bout half hour” he replied with the archetypical Fijian smile. I smiled back and thought to myself, at twenty something or maybe thirty knots, the boat will take at least two and half maybe three hours to make the voyage.

This would not be the last time I would hear “oh ‘bout half hour” while in Waya Lai Lai. You will discover, that the farther you venture beyond the boundaries of western industrialism, the fuzzier time becomes. Time, in of itself, is a most ethereal concept in the outter islands of Fiji; even more so than Mañana Time is in Latin America. At least you know mañana is coming tomorrow. I would come to understand Fiji time to recognize these divisions – daytime, nighttime, time-to-fish-time, time-to-eat-time – you get the idea, it is a very simple life that provides for a lot of free time. Thus, I still had a couple hours of free time on the tiny boat before our arrival at Waya Lai Lai.

-- This tale is continued in ¿What Happened to Monday? – part 2. The conclusion of ¿What Happened to Monday? includes daily life in the Namara village of Waya Lai Lai and island traditions such as the Lovo feast and the Sevusevu and Yaqona.

MrBillMrBill, Gather Essentials: Travel Correspondent
MrBill's travel column "¿Where the heck are You?" is
published twice monthly to Gather Essentials: Travel

"¿Where the heck are You?" is the usual greeting I receive from friends and family since they are never quite sure just where I have been. "Where the heck are You?" is a traveler's column. Come with me for a journey to foreign shores, tropical locales, and places you may not have even heard of. Along the way I will introduce you to people; their cultures, art and cuisine, and together we will share an adventure. MrBill wanders and ponders. He is an avid traveler and photographer. He has extensive experience in the fields of Information Technology, Culinary Arts and Hospitality. Originally from the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, MrBill now resides in the Sierra Nevada Mountains near Lake Tahoe. Keep up with all of MrBill's adventures by joining his network.

You might enjoy these other Travel & Adventure articles by MrBill on Gather:
Me Tarzan
Conquering heights swinging through the jungles of Guatemala
Crossing Te Rua Manga
A trans-island trek of Raratonga in the South Pacific
Adventures with Uluru
Tales and adventures told thru the eyes of a tiny Koala

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Thoughts On Asian Cuisine

Granted, taste is individual, but from experience and experimentation I rank the major Asian cuisines as follows: Vietnamese 1st, Thai/Khmer 2nd, Japanese 3rd, Chinese 4th, and Indian and Korean tied for 5th. This is by no means a comment on quality, each of these cuisines is of high quality and contain a variety of ingredients.

I have eaten several of these cuisines in their native countries, and at both high-end restaurants and street-vendor stalls. I've eaten Thai in Bangkok and Khmer in Siem Reap. In Shenzhen Guangdong (Canton in English) China I of course had Cantonese, and also in nearby Hong Kong. I found the Chinese food in Taipei Taiwan to be more like Fujian of the mainland. I have eaten all these cuisines at American restaurants all across the country.

I pick Vietnamese for the top slot because of not only its unique components but also its fusion of Chinese elements, French influences, and the citrus and curries of Thai. I think if I had to give up all but one cuisine to eat, I would choose Vietnamese because of the variety.

I didn't touch on Nipponese cuisine previously, but from my childhood, it was and is still one of my favourite cuisines. Partly because of the mysticism that surrounded a particular Japanese restaurant my parents would take us to every few years in the city. It was a fantastical mystical place. It began with the kimono clad hostess that met us at the door and lead us over the little arched bridge over the stream that trickled from the indoor waterfall and through a garden to the main dining room. Along the way we would get a quick glimpse of the sushi bar. The main room was surrounded with the sliding rice paper walls of the "private" tea rooms. All of which just made the place magical to a child! Of course as a child, my favourite dishes were the shrimp tempura and teriyaki. My tastes grew as I did and now I am more fond of sitting at the sushi bar enjoying sashimi and handrolls. One of the most intriguing aspects of Nipponese cuisine is the presentation, it is one of the most intricate of all cuisines and is steeped in legend and tradition. I love getting a real Bento Box for lunch, it's so much fun opening all the little food gifts. And least I forget, a big bowl of Miso is a great way to chase away a cold!

A cuisine I forgot to mention is Malay, which I have sampled in both Kuala Lumpur and in America. Which is a bit courser than the more refined Asian cuisines and in general is quite spicy.

The American-Chinese cuisine that so many are familiar with is mostly based on Cantonese with a bit of Hunan and Szechuan to add some spiciness. The 19th century Chinese immigrants who came to America to work on building the western railroads created a style of Chinese food not found in China by utilizing the local ingredients of their newly adopted country and catering to the western American tastes.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Opening Doors To the World


Doors To the

World ...

This is a photo series of doors, gates, and other entrances I have encountered on my journeys to other parts of the world. I have found the world to be a most gracious and extremely friendly host. By stepping through various doorways I have met many wonderful people who have shared their part of the world with me. Included are links to several of my travel columns that will share what's behind the doors.

Knock on any door to enter! (click any door to open the full size photo)

Southern Gallery Western Causeway Angkor Thom

Photos 1-5 are from Cambodia
Angkor Wat Angkor Wat The South Gate
Southern Gallery Western Causeway Angkor Thom

Doorways Ta Phrom Ta Phrom Outer Gate Citadel of Ayutthaya

Doorways Ta Phrom Ta Phrom Outer Gate Citadel of Ayutthaya

Waharoa pa Tamaki Answering the door Gargoyle Balconey

Waharoa pa Tamaki Answering the door Gargoyle Balconey
Maori village NZ Mykonos Greece Catania Sicily

Mykonos Stairs Mykonos Alley rainbow of doorways

A rainbow of doorways and stairways from the labyrinth like
maze of alleyways of Mykonos in the Cyclades Islands of Greece.

Guardian Lions Need a hand? Knockers

Doors and knockers from the twisting alleyways
of the Cyclades Island of Paros Greece

Where ever you may be, just knock on any
door to enter, the natives truly are friendly!

(click any image to open a door to the full size photo)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

¿Where the Heck are You? - Crossing Te Rua Manga

What to do on a lovely tropical day in the south Pacific? You've already had a half dozen days just like it, and most likely there's another week's worth coming your way. You checked email and went to the farmer's market yesterday; you have wandered a few kilometers both ways down the beach and explored the motos, the tiny lagoon islands, across the water from the little family run bungalow resort on Muri beach. It's a day when you have even tired of snorkeling with all the colourful fish in the warm crystal waters of the lagoon ...


¿Where the Heck are You? - Crossing Te Rua Manga!

fileId:3096224744126290;size:full;Rarotonga - Cook Islands. Well, if you are anything like me, you gear up and go for a trek. So I did just that! I went for a trans-island trek to pass the day away and explore Rarotonga's interior. I would cross the island on a generally east to west route. I would need to hike, climb, and scramble through the jungle and over the island's central volcanic ridge to reach the far side of the island.


The interior of Rarotonga is dotted with the cones and lava vents of long extinct volcanoes rising up out of the lush tropical rainforest that blankets the island. The peak, Te Rua Manga, is in the center of the island, with its lava needle rising up above the beach and coastal plains of Rarotonga to a height of 500 meters (about 1650ft).

fileId:3096224744126287;size:full;To cross the Island, the first order of business was to ride my scooter into town and park it near the central market area for easy retrieval that evening.

I had packed a couple sandwiches and granola bars back at the bungalows. I planned on snagging a papua or mango from a tree as I trek along through the rainforest, and bought a liter of cold water while I was at the market.


From town I follow the dirt track out of Avarua, the main village on Rarotonga. The track winds for a couple kilometers across the coastal plain and up the gently rising valley of Takuvaine Stream, known as Happy Valley. Along the way, I pass Rarotonga's lone power plant, a scattering of huts and garden patches, and groves of mango and papua. The dirt road ends at the far end of a clearing just past the last hut along the stream. From here, I have to hump it through the jungle on the often-disappearing trail that gets steeper and steeper the further I climb up the slopes of Te Rua Manga, one of the extinct volcanoes that helped form Rarotonga.

fileId:3096224744126283;size:full;In some parts, I can easily follow a distinct trail. Other times I am just guessing, following an intermittent line-of-sight bearing on Te Rua Manga's protruding needle. I bash my way through the thickness of the vegetation hoping I am on route. As the angle of the trail, or lack thereof, turns skyward, I find myself sometimes crawling and other times clutching at vines and exposed roots to pull myself up the ascent. The jungle is damp and pungent, strange new smells are wafting around me. Some are slightly familiar, the orchids and other tropical flowers, blooms of Tiare the national flower presented me at my arrival on Rarotonga. Other smells overwhelm me, the air thick with the odors of the decaying deft on the floor of the forest. The going is slow at times, searching for direction, a foot or handhold, or the next vine strong enough to bear the weight. Everything I touch in the rainforest is moist, and many things are slippery, some slimy too. My knees, hands and elbows, probably my derrière, have a glazing of wet jungle muck.

Cresting Te Rua Manga, I have to walk heel to toe with my arms out-stretched for balance. It is perhaps a half kilometer across the knife-edged ridge. The ridge top is fileId:3096224744126281;size:full;but a sliver of eroded lava, caked in mud and jungle deft, that is just wide enough for me to stand on at attention! In some places, you are inside the jungle canopy that grows up the flanks of the mountain. Other times you are exposed, teetering on the knife's edge, and looking out over the top of the canopy to the warm blue waters of the south Pacific. Waves crash over the barrier reef that forms the lagoons that completely surround Rarotonga.

I find a secure enough spot with an opening in the canopy to stop for a moment and take a few photos. After stashing my camera securely in my pack, I reach for my water bottle. The bottle is slick, the cold liquid sweating the outside of the bottle in the tropical heat. I take a long slurp with my head tipped back, then drag the wet bottle across my brow to cool it. My feet stutter step to regain firm setting on the ridge top just as the slick half-empty bottle of water squirts out of my hand. Flailing arms grab wildly in the air after the bottle, and simultaneously for anything, a vine, a branch, to regain my precarious position on the ridge ... the water bottle escapes ... crashing down through the jungle canopy below me, never to be seen again.

fileId:3096224744126279;size:full; Regaining my composure, I shuffle my feet, stepping cautiously across the remainder of the knife-edge ridge. I grasp every wisp of a vine or sapling trunk available to steady myself. Finally, I have crossed the knife-edged ridge of Te Rua Manga. After resting against an outcropping on the far buttress of the ridge I am ready to begin the descent to the far side of the island. It is just as steep, just as overgrown, yet for some reason this side of Te Rua Manga seem even muddier and more slippery than the uphill side! Clutching sapling trunks, vines, and roots, I lower myself down the slippery slope. Thankfully, I made it down the steepest pitches before the daily afternoon cloudburst arrived to freshen the muck and mud. I continue downwards. The faint path is falling less steeply now. Nevertheless, it is wetter and slimier, the cleats of my hiking boots are clogging with the muck and forest deft. I am half walking, half sliding, almost like crossing country skiing, my way across the muddy floor of the rainforest between trees, bushes and through tangles of vines and ferns.

Until at long last ... I come to the pot of gold at the end of the afternoon thunderstorm's rainbow - the tropical waterfall of Papua Stream cascading down into a most beautiful and inviting swimming hole!


After a revitalizing dip under the freshly flowing cascades to cool off, there are still a couple more kilometers to go. I am walking lazily now, feeling accomplished yet knowing I will pay for this adventure tomorrow with stiff and sore muscles. I wander the relatively flat costal plain of village farms heading for the beach and the lagoon.

Back on the coast's ring road, I grab a bottle of water from a little shack of a market along the road. Then continue the search for the nearest bus stop. Time now to catch the circum-island bus, it will be the last one of the day that completely circles the island. I must catch that bus and get back to my side of the island before the folks where I am staying send out the rescue party!

I find the bus stop about a block down the road from the shack, or a dozen palm trees since Rarotonga only has a few actual blocks in Avarua back on the other side of the island. The bus isn't far behind me and drops me a block from the market and my scooter. I ride up to the bungalows just in time to catch the sun setting beyond Muri Lagoon and the motos. Friends greet me on the deck with a cold Vailima and tell me I stink! They're right. I'm sweaty, muddy, hungry, thirsty, and sore ... oh yeah, and stinky too! After the beer and sunset I'll shower, and then we'll grill the fish my friends caught for dinner ... It was a great day to cross Te Rua Manga.


Friday, June 18, 2010

Me Tarzan

Me Tarzan

I remember climbing the trees in the backyard of our home as a child. Tying a rope to a high branch and trying to swing across to another tree.

… if there is a bit of Peter Pan in every little boy,

well, there must be a little bit of Tarzan too …

However, as I think back, the rope in the tree thing ended up less Tarzan and more like George of the Jungle!

Today I am in the Petén region of Guatemala traveling from Flores to the Mayan ruins of Yax Ha about 70 Km of rutted roads to the northeast. Along the way, I have stopped for a canopy tour. A canopy tour is the big kid equivalent of playing Tarzan.

Originally developed as a means of transit for rain forest researchers, suspended cables allowed for the easy movement through a jungle area with fewer disturbances of the ecosystem. Canopy tours have evolved into popular attractions in several locations in Costa Rica and are now operating in other Latin American countries as well. Adapting modern climbing and repelling gear to create an aerial network of cables, zip lines as they are also known, allowing you to fly swiftly and safely through the rain forest high above the jungle floor.

Yesterday in the pre-dawn darkness, I sat perched a hundred feet above the jungle canopy on top of Temple IV in Ruinas Maya Tikal awaiting the sunrise. Before this I have been “in” the jungle, trekking across the floor, here in Guatemala and in Fiji, Rarotonga, Cambodia and Thailand. Nevertheless, the closest I have been to the canopy itself has been as I passed through it climbing Temple IV or peering through the tree tops while scrambling over the knife edged ridge of Te Rua Manga during my trans-island trek across Rarotonga two years ago. However, this afternoon I am all decked out in the latest Guatemalan S&M gear repelling harness and teetering up a steeply angled rope bridge across a ravine to the first platform in the trees.

fileId:3096224744010529;size:inter;I spook a couple of parrots as I lunge from the rope suspension bridge onto the platform and put a bear hug on the towering tropical cedar that holds our launching pad. Shuffling my feet, I squirm around the tree trunk as Ricardo, first of my canopy guides, grabs my safety line and snaps the carabiner anchoring me to the platform just as Carlos, the second guide who is bringing up the rear, clamors on board behind us. As I inch up towards Ricardo and the forward edge of the platform, it hits me as I realize that we are waaaaaaaaay the heck up in the air! OK, I am the one who just yesterday, in the dark, climbed nine flights of Mayan steps, nine wooden ladders, to sit 68 meters high on top of a temple to hopefully see the sunrise. The same person whose friends call upon to scale the rickety ladder and paint the upper half of the 30 ft tall living room wall (oh and would I mind varnishing the ceiling beam as long as I’m up there?)…I am the one who deals with heights, not really all that fond of them, but…

So here I am, looking down a hundred feet or more to the dense green of the jungle floor. Meanwhile, Carlos has jumped and flown down the line to the next platform with my camera swinging precariously by its strap from his neck. Ricardo places a pulley on the cable. Then in a swift fluid movement, he grabs the big carabiner on the front of my harness while pulling the cable and pulley down and the carabiner and me up, and snapping it all together he steps back as everything rebounds like the string of a drawn bow and I’m snatched up in the air by my crotch! Yowza! Talk about a nuclear wedgie! Here I am dancing on my tippy toes at the edge of the abyss, I mean platform, with this damnable climbing harness flossing my butt cheeks, and Ricardo say, “Ok, jump!” Now I may have just watched Carlos leap off the platform and zip a hundred and fifty meters through the air to the next platform, but I am sure at this precise moment I am giving fileId:3096224743998086;size:inter;Ricardo the “you’re out of you freaking Mayan mind” look, which I am quite certain he has seen many times before from other first time zipliners. Ricardo again checks my heavily gloved hands for proper positioning and with a big grin calmly says, “no brake, just glide” while nodding towards Carlos and the distant next platform. I step into the air and …

… oooOOOhhh … Shhh ... T!!!

There’s a green blur to my right, and another one on my left…straight ahead looms a gigantic mahogany tree and I’m closing in on it fast! Carlos catches my arm as I glide almost gracefully onto the platform breathlessly shouting, “I WANNA DO THAT AGAIN!” Which is a damned good thing because from here, there’s no turning back and twelve more platforms to go or else you have to shinny down the trunk of the old mahogany tree a hundred feet or so to get to the ground.


After twelve more flights, along the way spooking more parrots, seeing some toucans, orioles and flycatchers, going eyeball to eyeball with a family of spider moneys there was one last long glide that brought us back down to the jungle floor. It was about a 1 km walk back through the jungle on a cleared trail to launching pad, time to savour the excitement, catch a howler monkey off guard, and reflect on the fear of heights having been conquered for one afternoon.

Monday, June 7, 2010

These Boots Were Made For Walking

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My trusty boots!

... these boots were

made for walking!!!

Bought in Rimini Italia for 200,000 lira, they are now six years old and have been around the world.

They have been laced up in 34 countries ... and unlaced at dozens of airport security checkpoints. They have been on trains, planes, and automobiles ... and subways, trams, boats, and even an elephant.

They have been on top of the active Sicilian volcano Mountt Ætna, and crossed the extinct cone of Te Rua Manga on Rarotonga.

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They have hiked in the Alps and the Pyrenees, the Rocky Mountains and Sierras.

Mountains, vales and lakes from halfway up Mt Pilatus - Luzern Switzerland

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Sitting on the summit of Mount Pilatus
- near Luzern Switzerland

They have tread the Spanish Steps, and have been thrown out of St Peter's, yet have been welcomed in and on countless temples in Asia and Latin America.

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Mayan ruins of Tikal- Temple IV
- Petén Guatemala

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Yax Ha Mayan ruins - Petén Guatemala

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El Castello pyramid,
Mayan ruins of Chichén Itzá
- Yucatan Mexico

capturethis,shoes,these boots were made for walking,boots,mrbill,peten,hiking boots,guatemala,capture this,travel My boots have trudged through jungles, forded streams, and mucked through the blizzards of five Tahoe winters!

Lined with Thinsulate®, they are warm in the winter and cool in the summer, and also with Gore-Tex® that keeps my feet dry and happy!

They are light, but sturdy, and have been sure footed support for many of my journeys.

... these boots ...
were also made for
!!! flying !!!

Rain forest canopy zipline
- Petén Guatemala

I hope you enjoyed this stroll in My Boots.