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May 22, 2002  (Bellingham, Washington)

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Homeward Bound

After my "Sunday in Sydney," I got up at 5 a.m. on Monday morning and drove over to Sydney International Airport, where I said goodbye to the Toyota Camry, my faithful companion during the last two months and 9,075 miles.  I got checked in at the airport, went through customs, and then at exactly 9:12 a.m., I hopped on my Air Canada plane bound for North America.  After finding my seat, I settled back for what I hoped would be an uneventful trip.


Not quite.  The first problem was simply taking off.  The plane pulled away from the gate at the Sydney airport and then… stopped.  For the next two hours, we sat parked on the tarmac just a few yards from the terminal because of an equipment problem.  To top it off, the plane's air-conditioning didn't work, so it got a weeeee bit stuffy as we sat there and watched 471 other planes take off.  Fortunately, though, I didn't have a screaming baby with a filled diaper sitting behind me and everyone on the plane was patient and polite, so I counted my blessings.


As the plane sat on the tarmac for the next few hours, I got a nice tan on my left arm while reading the Air Canada magazine 14 times and learning all about the fascinating city of Moose Jaw.  After what seemed an eternity (well o.k., half an eternity), they fixed the problem and the plane took off, so I settled back in my seat once again. 


We were going to land in Honolulu in about 8 hours and then continue on to Vancouver, British Columbia, so I popped in a MP3 disc of Jann Arden, put on my headphones, enjoyed the chicken dinner, and downed three small bottles of wine.  Yeah, I should've heeded that travel guru Rick Steves' advice never to drink on airplanes, but I was feeling pretty cheerful since I was flying back to the U.S. after being gone for four months.  A few hours later, though, and somewhere over New Guinea, I started to feel kinda woozy and regretted downing that third Cabernet -- yeah, I'm a lightweight.


Although I knew we were going to land at Honolulu and refuel, I figured that I’d just stay on the plane.  Wrong!  After the plane landed at Honolulu at 1 a.m., I learned that EVERYONE had to get off the plane and go through U.S. Customs.  That included (and don't ask me why) those of us who were staying on the plane and flying on to Vancouver, Canada.  I had booked a good window seat though, so I wasn’t too upset. 


Here's John Denver singing Back Home Again.

Requires a RealPlayerIf problems, see Help.


When I reboarded my plane in Honolulu an hour later and walked down the aisle, I noticed that a cute blond woman was sitting in the seat next to me.  Hey, maybe this flight wouldn't be so bad after all.  Unfortunately though, as I quickly discovered, she was attached to a rather large and hairy boyfriend -- at least, that's who I assumed was sitting across the aisle from her, holding her hand.  Then to top it off, she tried the old "My boyfriend is sitting across the aisle and would you mind switching seats with him so we can be together" ploy. 


Being a single traveler who enjoys window seats, I’ve had this stunt pulled on me several times and sometimes I take pity.  Not this time, though, because I was tired.  I didn’t care how cute she was – I was going to enjoy my window seat all the way to Vancouver, so politely told her "No," then curled up and went to sleep.


We landed in Vancouver at 9 a.m. the next morning and I stumbled off the plane pretty bleary-eyed.  Since the plane was 2 hours late leaving Sydney, I had missed my connecting flight from Vancouver to Seattle but a friendly Air Canada guy at the Vancouver check-in counter booked me on the next flight to Seattle.  After going through customs for a second time on this trip ("No, I still don't have any weapons or drugs"), I hopped on a puddle-jumper for a scenic flight from Vancouver to Seattle, waited in the SeaTac Airport for a few hours, then got on a bus for Bellingham.  I stumbled into my Dad's house that afternoon after 26 hours of traveling… and then, because of the International Date Line, I got to enjoy April 8 all over again. 


Actually, the plane trip really wasn't that bad and I was glad to get back to the U.S.  Next time I go to Australia, though, I'm definitely booking a direct flight.  And I won't drink three bottles of wine, even if they are free.


2-3413_Camry_at_Airport.jpg (47717 bytes)    2-3414_Sydney_Airport.jpg (66507 bytes)    2-3418_On_Airplane.jpg (30167 bytes)

Above left:  Saying goodbye to my faithful friend at the Sydney Airport.  The Camry has been my companion for 9,075 miles around Australia. 

Above center:  The International Terminal at the Sydney Airport.

Above right:  Ready for takeoff...


2-3419_Waiting_for_Plane_to_be_Fixed.jpg (25472 bytes)    2-3424_Botany_Bay.jpg (18554 bytes)    2-3435_Vancouver_Island.jpg (40938 bytes)

Above left:  ... and still ready.  This was my view for 2 hours while they fixed the problem.  I got a nice tan, though.

Above center:  So long, Australia...

Above right:  ... and hello, snowy North America.  Brrrr, no more shorts, I guess.


2-3464_Dads_House.jpg (76093 bytes)    2-3482_Doti_and_Dad_at_Dinner.jpg (87788 bytes)

Above left:  My truck is still in one piece after enduring a rainy Bellingham winter. 

Above right:  Dinnertime with Dad and Doti.


Who Let The Dogs Out?

I was planning to spend a couple of weeks here in Bellingham with my Dad and my sister Doti as I got ready for a 3-month trip around the U.S. this spring and summer (May, June, July).  However, things have been really nuts since I got back. That's because during the past month I've been preoccupied with, of all things, two annoying dogs.  As I learned when I got back to Bellingham, my Dad has had a lot of trouble with his new neighbor, a rather nasty woman who moved up here a few months ago from California with her two small, irritating dogs that enjoy barking at all hours of the day and night. 


When I left in December for my overseas trip, Dad and Doti were doing just fine.  When I got back in April, however, they were really frazzled and seemed ready to throw in the towel, sell the house, and move to someplace quiet.  If you’ve ever seen the episode of “Seinfeld” where Elaine is tormented by a small barking dog, you’ll get the picture.  Where are Kramer and Newman when I need them?? 


2-3496_Houses_From_Backyard.jpg (87552 bytes)

Above The battle scene for the last 5 weeks.  Welcome back to America...

Dad & Doti soon told me the whole “dog situation.”  Despite their numerous pleas and kind requests, their new neighbor refused to do anything about her barking dogs.  The more Dad and Doti told me, the more ticked off I got.  But I don’t get mad, I get even... and I got right to work.  You don't mess with an irritated Scorpio – especially if you have two annoying little dogs!  After some methods of retaliation that I won’t mention (no, they don’t involve poisoned meat), I think things are finally settling down.  I actually like dogs, but dogs with piercing barks that wake you up at 6 a.m. every morning are not on my list of favorites. 


Anyway, the dog issue, as stupid as it sounds, has dominated my life since I got back here six weeks ago (we Scorpios also tend to be obsessive), so I haven't posted any updates or written much e-mail since returning.  When I was planning my 18-month trip last year, I really wasn't expecting to spend six weeks of that dealing with a couple of irritating canines.   


I'm glad I came back to North America when I did, though, because in another month, Dad and Doti might have been gone.  I also had to pay my taxes before April 15th.  For all of those reasons, I'm glad I decided to cut my overseas trip short and get back to America in April.   Which leads me to….  


A Much-Too-Brief Summary of My Trip Overseas

I have a lot to say about my 4-month trip to New Zealand and Australia.  However, because of my limitations as a writer I'm sure I'll fail to adequately describe it… but here goes:


Overall, my overseas trip went very well and I had a great time.  However, and unlike most people I know who've been to both countries, I enjoyed Australia more than New Zealand.   What impressed me the most about both countries, other than cricket and fish & chips, was how incredibly friendly and courteous everyone was. 


Coming back to the U.S. was a big shock for me, and after I got back, I felt like I was on another planet at times.  Were Americans really this rude, violent, crass, and obnoxious when I left in December?  I always thought of the U.S. as a pretty great country, but my smugness took a big hit because Kiwis and Aussies are, quite frankly, much more pleasant than Americans.  I'm not criticizing Americans, necessarily, but after my experience overseas, I think we could be a lot more polite and civilized.  Yes, I'm proud to be an American, but I also think we have a lot of work to do... and please spare me the "Love It or Leave It" attitude.


What can I say about New Zealand?  Well, it's a wonderful country with lots of scenic diversity.  Imagine scrunching all 50 states into a country the size of Colorado and you’ll get the idea.  However, it rained a LOT when I was there, the roads are incredibly winding, and it was very crowded just about everywhere I went.  Take a tip from me – never visit New Zealand during December or January without having reservations.  The next time I go, it'll be in November, February or March, and I think I'll have a much better time because... well... it really is a nice country. 


2-1618_Hwy_80.jpg (32280 bytes)  

Above:  Mt. Cook, the tallest peak in New Zealand, with Lake Pukaki in the distance.


In terms of culture, climate, topography, vegetation, and just about anything else you can imagine, New Zealand is like a combination of Oregon and Hawaii.  Those are two of my favorite states, so it’s no wonder that I enjoyed New Zealand so much.  I’ll definitely go back some day.


Now for Australia, which is a lot different from New Zealand – although not as different as either Kiwis or Aussies would like to believe.  Frankly, Australia isn't as interesting as New Zealand or America from a physical point of view (I still think that America, with its stunning landscapes, is the most interesting country in the world).  While there are some places in Australia that are incredibly beautiful, such as the Great Dividing Range, there are also large stretches of Australia that I found pretty boring -- and this coming from a person who enjoys long, tedious drives.


BUT... from a cultural perspective, I think Australia is tops.  Aussies are a lot more courteous than Americans, they obey the speed limits, they don’t have the pushy, “in-your-face” attitude that unfortunately is becoming so common here in the U.S., and for the most part, they’re really cheerful.  I can’t count the number of times that I walked into a restaurant, gas station or motel – whether in downtown Sydney or in the Outback – and got a big smile and a cheerful, “G’day!” (always pronounced "gudday," not "good day").  Like I say, coming back to the loud, pushy, violent, in-your-face U.S. after spending four months in polite and tranquil New Zealand and Australia has been a major cultural shock for me.


Here are some more accolades for Australia:  Most of the cities and towns there are a lot more interesting and vibrant than those in America, Aussies generally take more pride in their homes and businesses than Americans, the media there is more intelligent and not nearly as obnoxious, there’s a lot less crime and violence (due largely to more rigid gun control legislation – take the hint, America), and there's an attitude of optimism that's refreshing.  In a single word, I’d say that Australia is much more “civilized” than America.  Americans, including myself, could learn a lot from Aussies.  


The cultural idiosyncrasies in Australia were also refreshing.  I liked Vegemite, I loved Arnott's Farmbake Chocolate Chip Cookies, Aussie music is great, and I wanted to marry any of the women on the Outback television show, "McLeod's Daughters" (except for Tess, who's too prissy). 


Yeah, I did miss America while I was over there, especially its physical beauty, and I'd never want to live anywhere else.  However, now that I’m back in the U.S., I miss Australia a lot, too.  So if you ever get a chance to visit Australia, definitely go.  And even if you don’t get a chance, go anyway.  For more of my thoughts, check out My Impressions of Australia.


2-3325_Vegemite.jpg (33013 bytes)    2-3236_Arnotts_Farmbakes.jpg (72556 bytes)

Above right:  Kids, don't try this at home.  This is the famous Aussie staple, Vegemite, smeared on a cracker, oops, I mean "biscuit"... no wait, a "biscuit" is a cookie...  The trick, as I learned from Peter (see News: April 7, 2002), is to spread this salty concoction very THINLY.  When applied correctly, it's actually pretty good.

Above left:  Arnott's Farmbakes are absolutely the world's best chocolate chip cookies.  Too bad you can't get them in the U.S.  I ate about 15 bags of these in Australia and New Zealand.  I’m now on Arnott’s Christmas Card list.


Current Plans

I’ll be leaving Bellingham in late May for what is now going to be a 2-month trip around the U.S. with destinations currently unknown; I’ll just play it by ear.  Yeah, I'll bring along my boomerang and hopefully I'll be able to throw it by the time I get back in July.  After that, I hope to go back to work, but we’ll see. Certainly, the recession should be over by then (see Why I'm Responsible for the Current Recession).


I’m not sure when I’ll be posting my next update, but it probably won’t be for quite a while.  Because of this “dog thing”, I’m not going to have much time to work on my website while I’m traveling around the U.S. during the next two months, but I’ll try.  I hope to get down to Utah and Texas and take in the East Coast, then swing through Colorado in July before heading back to the Northwest.  That’s the plan, anyway.


Now it's back to the dogs.




Next News

June 18, 2002 -- Part 1  (Port Orford, Oregon)


Previous News

April 7, 2002  (Sydney, Australia)

April 4, 2002  (Coffs Harbour, Australia)

April 1, 2002  (Hervey Bay, Australia)

March 28, 2002  (Airlie Beach, Australia)

March 25, 2002  (Port Douglas, Australia)

March 16, 2002  (Winton, Australia)

March 13, 2002  (Alice Springs, Australia)

March 11, 2002  (Ayers Rock, Australia)

March 8, 2002  (Coober Pedy, Australia)

March 5, 2002  (Port Augusta, Australia)

March 1, 2002 -- Part 2  (Robe, Australia)

March 1, 2002 -- Part 1  (Robe, Australia)

February 18, 2002  (Bega, Australia)

February 7, 2002  (Auckland, New Zealand)

February 2, 2002 -- Part 2  (Taupo, New Zealand)

February 2, 2002 -- Part 1  (Taupo, New Zealand)

January 25, 2002  (Hokitika, New Zealand)

January 20, 2002  (Geraldine, New Zealand)

January 16, 2002  (Te Anau, New Zealand)

January 12, 2002 -- Part 2  (Dunedin, New Zealand)

January 12, 2002 -- Part 1  (Dunedin, New Zealand)

January 1, 2002 -- Part 2  (Christchurch, New Zealand)

January 1, 2002 -- Part 1  (Christchurch, New Zealand)

December 24, 2001  (Wellington, New Zealand)

December 20, 2001  (Auckland, New Zealand)

December 16, 2001  (Auckland, New Zealand)  

December 14, 2001  (Aitutaki, Cook Islands)

December 10, 2001  (Rarotonga, Cook Islands)

December 3, 2001 -- Part 2  (Bellingham, Washington)

December 3, 2001 -- Part 1  (Bellingham, Washington)

October 18, 2001 -- Part 3  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

October 18, 2001 -- Part 2  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

October 18, 2001 -- Part 1  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

October 6, 2001  (Fort Lincoln State Park, North Dakota)

September 30, 2001 -- Part 2  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

September 30, 2001 -- Part 1  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

September 15, 2001  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

August 30, 2001  (Webster, South Dakota)

August 18, 2001  (Watertown South Dakota)

August 17, 2001  (Walnut Grove, Minnesota)

August 14, 2001  (Minneapolis, Minnesota)

August 10, 2001 (Battle Creek, Michigan)

August 8, 2001  (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 2)

August 8, 2001  (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 1)

August 6, 2001  (Manlius, New York)

July 23, 2001  (Middleton, Massachusetts)

July 22, 2001  (Boston, Massachusetts)

July 20, 2001  (Pomfret, Connecticut)

July 18, 2001  (Denton, Maryland)

July 16, 2001  (Cumberland, Virginia)

July 14, 2001  (Roanoke, Virginia)

July 9, 2001  (Sevierville, Tennessee)

July 8, 2001  (Fontana Lake, North Carolina)

July 5, 2001  (Manchester, Tennessee)

June 30, 2001  (Hohenwald, Tennessee)

June 29, 2001  (Corinth, Mississippi)

June 27, 2001  (Natchez, Mississippi)

June 24, 2001  (Austin, Texas)

June 20, 2001  (Canyon de Chelly, Arizona)

June 18, 2001  (Clay Canyon, Utah)

June 15, 2001 -- Part 2  (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)

June 15, 2001 -- Part 1  (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)

June 14, 2001  (San Diego, California)

June 11, 2001  (San Jose, California)

June 2, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

May 19, 2001  (Hillsboro, Oregon)

April 30, 2001  (Hillsboro, Oregon)

April 19, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

April 5, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)