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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 the nearby 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.  I found my seat and settled back for what I hoped would be an uneventful trip.

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


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 – of course they were patient and polite, this being Air Canada – 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, Saskatchewan.  After what seemed an eternity (well o.k., half an eternity), they fixed the problem and the plane took off, so I settled back into my seat once again. 


The plane was going to land in Honolulu in about eight 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 alcohol on airplanes, but I was in an ebullient mood, flying back home after being gone for four months.  A few hours later, though, and somewhere over New Guinea, I started feeling kinda woozy and regretted downing that third Cabernet.  Yep, I'm a lightweight.


As much as I enjoyed the Cook Islands, New Zealand and Australia, it was nice to get home.  Here's John Denver singing Back Home Again.


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.


After customs, I reboarded the plane in Honolulu and walked down the aisle, then 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, I figured!  Unfortunately though, as I quickly discovered, she was attached to a rather large and muscular boyfriend, who sat across the aisle from her and started 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. 


Above:  In search of my plane at the Sydney International Airport.  Where are youuuu?

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 wanted to enjoy a window seat all the way to Vancouver.  So I politely told her "No," and curled up and went to sleep.


We landed in Vancouver at 9 a.m. the next morning and I stumbled off the plane bleary-eyed.  Since the plane was two 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, then waited in the SeaTac Airport for a few hours and caught a bus north for Bellingham, retracing on the ground much of the southbound flight from Vancouver.  I stumbled into my dad's house that afternoon after 26 hours of continuous traveling.  And then, because of the International Date Line, I got to enjoy April 8 all over again.  Gee, how fun!


The plane trip actually 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 small bottles of wine, even if they are free.



Above left:  Ready for takeoff...

Above center: ... and still ready two hours later.  This was my view while they fixed the plane problem.  I got a really nice tan, though.

Above right:  Leaving Australia after two months.  This is Botany Bay where, in April 1770, British Captain James Cook "discovered" Australia.  This was the first place a white person set foot on this continent, so I thought it was appropriate that it was the last place here that I would see.



Above left:  Hello, snowy North America.  Brrrr, no more wearing shorts, I guess.

Above center:  My truck is still in one piece after surviving a rainy Bellingham winter. 

Above right:  Dinnertime with dad and my sister Doti.  It was great to be home!

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 three-month roadtrip around the U.S. this spring and summer (May, June, and July).  However, things have been pretty nuts since I got back. That's because during the past month I've been preoccupied with, of all things, two annoying little dogs.  As I learned when I got back to Bellingham, my dad has been having a lot of trouble with his new neighbor, a rather nasty woman who moved up here a few months ago from California - of course, from California – with her two small, irritating dogs who enjoy barking at all hours of the day and night.


When I left in December for my overseas trip, my dad and Doti were doing just fine.  When I got back in April, however, they were 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?? 


Above:  The battle scene for the last five weeks.  That's my dad's house on the left.  Welcome back to America...

My dad and Doti told me the whole “dog situation.”  Despite their numerous pleas and kind requests, their new neighbor refused to do anything about her barking dogs, and the more he and Doti told me, the more ticked off I got.  But I don’t get mad, I get even – and so I got right to work.  You don't mess with an irritated Scorpio, especially if you're from California and 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 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 four-month trip to the Cook Islands, 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, and despite some snags, my overseas trip went really well and I had a great time.  I loved the Cook Islands.  The main island, Rarotonga, was more populated than I'd envisioned but I greatly enjoyed my stay there.  Even better than Rarotonga, though, was the outer island of Aitutaki.  Aitutaki encapsulated every dream that I've had about what a tropical south Pacific island would be, and should be like.  It was paradise and I hope to go back someday, and hopefully before it becomes "discovered."


I greatly enjoyed visiting Australia and New Zealand, of course, having spent four months there.  Most people I've talked to who have visited both countries generally prefer New Zealand, especially because of its scenic diversity.  But I liked Australia more than New Zealand and mainly because of the wide open spaces there.  Australia reminded me a lot of my favorite place, the American West.  I liked both countries and for different reasons, but what impressed me the most about both Australia and New Zealand (other than cricket and fish & chips) was how incredibly friendly and courteous everyone was.


Speaking of that, 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 great country, but my smugness took a hit because Kiwis and Aussies are, in general, much more pleasant than Americans.  I'm not criticizing America but after my experience overseas, I think we Americans can do a lot better.

My Favorite Memories of the Cook Islands


Above left:  Landing in Rarotonga on the flight from Los Angeles.  Tropical weather and a islander greeting us while playing a ukulele.  Talk about culture shock (but I loved it).

Above right:  Muri beach is the nicest beach on Rarotonga, and it was only a few yards from my room.



Left:  Vaikoa on Aitutaki offered very basic lodging for very basic rates. 

For me, it was perfect.




Above left:  The all-day lagoon cruise, complete with BBQ chicken lunch, on Aitutaki was something I'll always remember.  If you've watched "Survivor," you'll probably recognize this little island called One-foot.

Above right:   A view of Rapota Motu from One-foot Island during the lagoon cruise.



Left:  Heading back home on the cruise. 

And yes, the water really is that color.

New Zealand

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. 


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 hope to return some day.

My Favorite Memories of New Zealand


Above left:  The vibrant and cosmopolitan city of Auckland.

Above right:  As a geologist-wanna-be, I thought volcanic White Island was one of the most fascinating places I've ever visited.



Left:  South Island scenery.  The scenic diversity here, in such a small package, blew me away.




Above left:   Cruising on misty Milford Sound

Above center:   I loved the small family-run motels in New Zealand.

Above right:  And I also fell in love with New Zealand's national dish, fish and chips.



Above left:   Mt. Cook on the South Island.

Above center:  Heading back to the North Island on the three-hour ferry ride.  The skies finally cleared after three weeks of rain and I'd have (mostly) sunny skies for the rest of my trip overseas.

Above right:  The beautiful view from Cape Reinga, the northernmost point of New Zealand.


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 really get a chance, go anyway.  For more of my thoughts, check out My Impressions of Australia.

My Favorite Memories of Australia


Above left:  The Blue Mountains west of Sydney.

Above center:  Riding a 1800's-era riverboat on the Murray River in Echuca.

Above right:   "Hey mate, got a cookie?"



Above left:  Taking a tour of a working gold mine, 300 feet underground in Bendigo.

Above center:   The 12 Apostles along the Great Ocean Road, one of the most scenic highways in the world.

Above right:  And Adelaide, one of the most wonderful cities I've ever visited.



Above left:  Driving across the seemingly-endless Outback.

Above center:   The Pink Roadhouse in Oodnadatta, one of the most remote villages in Australia.

Above right:  Having a beer with good mates in the pub in William Creek (population:  2).



Above left:  Ayers Rock, also known as Uluru, was so much larger (and fascinating) than I ever imagined.

Above center:  Listening to "Waltzing Matilda" at the Combo waterhole in Queensland, where the song was written.

Above right:  Swimming in the Great Barrier Reef was, well, "Great."



Above left:   Playing a didgeridoo (or in my case, a didgeridon't) in Airlie Beach on Easter weekend.

Above center:   The idyllic Whitsunday Islands, a tropical paradise.

Above right:  Updating my website in Brisbane.  This is how I spent roughly half of my two months in Australia, but I think it was worth it.  I think!



Above left:  Feeding hungry crocs at Steve Irwin's Australia Zoo near Brisbane.

Above center:  Feeding hungry Aussies near Newcastle.  I'm having pizza here with my new friends, Peter and Helen.

Above right:  Visiting Sydney (and having too little time to do it) on the day before I flew back to America.

My 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. I'm hoping 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 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!



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