Friday, July 7, 2017

Australia Part Two: Port Douglas, The Great Barrier Reef, Cape Tribulation and the Daintree Rainforest

The Trip Heard Round the World Rolls On!

Giant ferns frame the view on the road from Port Douglas to Cape Tribulation

Hello readers, Chris here, checking in from well after these (hopefully high-resolution) pictures were taken and the events described occurred. It has been a crazy time in the present: Otis is at camp, Balboa the beloved dog is doing his best, I'm looking for work (you hiring?) and Jen is clocking hella grants and I'm writing this post from my parents' home in Pound Ridge, NY (though we are soon to return to our home in Montclair). So rather than talk more about this crazy time, let us cast our recollection back to a simpler time, let us take the way-back machine to March 23rd to 30th, 2017.

Port Douglas

This entry has to do with our trip to Port Douglas, which is the last place in Australia that you'd call any sort of town as you head north up Australia's east coast. It was about an hour and a half drive from Cairns and north of Port Douglas, there's another hour of paved road and then ... rainforest.

Jen absorbs the view at a rest area on the road to Port Douglas from Cairns

The drive up from Cairns was very pretty, as the rainforest comes right down to the (curiously empty and undeveloped) beach and the road rides the border between the two. There are a number of scenic overlooks and plenty of opportunity for the passengers to gape at tropic beach views (the driver cannot gape; the road is quite twisty).

Otis enjoys the view at what was apparently a popular launching spot for hang-gliders

Port Douglas itself is a sunbaked little tourist town that draws visitors to see the Great Barrier Reef, estuarine crocodiles on the Daintree River and the many natural attractions of the Daintree Rainforest. We stayed at the lovely Lazy Lizard Motor Inn, and you should too. Port Douglas has a few restaurants (we ate at The Mexican and Sabi's Kitchen more than one) and a beach. It's quiet, hot, and good for biking if the sun isn't on you. The beach is swimmable because they have a guarded area with nets to keep the box jellyfish and estuarine crocodiles out (two of the three animals that Australians fear).
The three of us inside the jellyfish fence at the Port Douglas beach

It is lovely to play paddleball without any fear of a venomous or toothy death

sun sets over the swimming area

This area of Australia provided us with, in my opinion at least, the very best sunsets on our entire trip, which is especially odd since the coast is east facing. Nevertheless, look at these pictures from Market Park:
This particular view reminds me of the wall decoration in Dr. Jacoby's office in Twin Peaks



And just when you can't justify any more sunset pictures, the moon begins to rise

Another funny thing about Port Douglas was the biological shift change. At dusk, all the lorikeets punch out and roost in the town trees, while the giant fruit bats - which had been snoozing in the trees - punch in and get to work. You do not want to park your car under the lorikeets' trees; Enterprise will not appreciate what they do to it.

The lorikeet day shift punches out and heads to the bar


Port Douglas Excursions

From Port Douglas, we went on three excursions: the Great Barrier Reef, and Cape Tribulation and Mossman Gorge, both in Daintree National Park.

Great Barrier Reef

We went on one big GBR tour, we had been hoping for more, but one was how it worked out. We went out of Port Douglas with Wavelength Reef Cruises and were happy with their tour. They had a pretty impressive knowledge of reef biology and ecology and the threats to its health and welfare. A lot of the reef was bleached, as you may have read, which I knew was a response by corals to heat where they expel the symbiotic zooxanthellae that supply the bulk of the coral's calories. What I didn't know (and hopefully will now relate with some small vestige of my former expertise) was that the corals expel the zooxanthellae because their higher metabolism in warmer temperatures leads to chemical changes inside the corals that become toxic to the polyp. Were they not to discharge the algae, the polyp would die, so the bleaching is a last resort response to a chemical emergency inside the coral.

What I further didn't know was that many corals, prior to bleaching, will change color, becoming fluorescent (which, sadly, our GoPro was not good at capturing particularly) as the coral tries various tricks to slow down the zooxanthellae and reduce the toxic buildup. This meant that the reef as we saw it was a patchwork of brownish, and thus relatively healthy coral, brightly colored, and thus stressed coral, and white, and thus bleached and badly stressed coral.

The Great Barrier Reef as we saw it off of Port Douglas was in a state of emergency, but it was nevertheless in better shape than any other reef we saw on our trip. If you're interested in seeing a coral reef, my advice is to go quickly. I really don't think they'll be around too much longer, and it seems to me that every year their health and beauty are likely to fade until they are gone. Sad but true.

Jen and Otis get ready. We're in the suits for jellyfish protection, not because the water is cold.

Our fist stop was almost Maldivian in its color


Otis takes to the fins

I'm not sure if even this anemone is bleached, but I suspect that it is

seeing these branching corals was nice, because I hadn't seen anything like them since seeing staghorn coral (now endangered) in Antigua when I was 12.

You can see these corals showing off many different colors as a precursor (we were told) to bleaching

This anemone was FAB-U-LOUS!

Cape Tribulation

Cape Tribulation I thought was an actual city in fact but there seems to be no notable human settlement there at all. It marks the end of paved roads in Australia even though it's still some 900 kilometers from the tip of Cape York Peninsula, which I just learned is the easternmost of Australia's two bunny-ear peninsulas.

Since the civilization ends at Cape Tribulation (or really, more like back at Port Douglas), there are vast acres of nearly undisturbed wilderness starting on the outskirts of Port Douglas and extending for vast distances to the north.
A perfect place for a Hilton, if you don't mind half your guests being eaten by crocodiles and the other half dying from jellyfish stings!

Otis kept lookout during this selfie to protect us from any sneaky crocodiles (not really)

The area around Port Douglas has many beaches, and the rainforest reaches right down to the deserted sand. As in Port Douglas, the beaches on Cape Tribulation are unsafe for swimming or sun bathing because of man-eating monsters: estuarine crocodiles, the world's largest living reptile and largest estuarine predator, and two types of box jellyfish - the sea wasp, which just kills you, and the irukandji box jellyfish, which kills you and incites in its victims a "sense of impending doom," apparently rightfully so!

Near this beach we saw our first macropod, which was maybe a tree kangaroo or maybe a wallaby. Whatever it was, it was not photographed but it definitely made our trip to Australia feel more complete.
A wildlife warning sign you are unlikely to see in New Jersey

How not to be eaten

Otis's hand for scale near an Australian golden orb weaver
Not deadly, but perhaps more disturbing to some readers, are the fantastically large Australian golden orb weaver spiders. I've just read that their venom is similar but to but weaker than that of our black widow, and that their chelicerae (spider teeth) and capable of leaving a scar, so perhaps I was unwise to let Otis place his had so near them. (Tough really, they just sit there and Otis' hand is not really as close as it appears to be in the picture. Still, wow, that's one hell of a spider.)

basket fern

Much of what we did in Cape Tribulation was walk on boardwalks into different habitats explained through interpretive signs. We saw our old friends the flying fox fruit bats noisily roosting in trees, more kinds of mangroves than one would think possible, a lot of birds and insects and plants. One thing we saw a lot of were these giant epiphytic ferns that made huge baskets in the trees. According to the signs, they provide a lot of valuable habitat.

Cape Tribulation is also the home of the third animal that Australians fear, the ill-tempered and endangered cassowary. We had seen signs all over warning that the giant birds were often killed by cars, so we had been keeping our eyes peeled. We didn't know at this time just how bad their reputation for violence was, so we were quite keen to see one, but we later found out that their reputation is quite extreme. Apparently, cassowaries are unlikely to run from humans, and if they decide their dignity has been brought into question, they'll jump in the air and kick with both feet at the same time. Also, they look like dinosaurs. And probably breathe fire.

Do not taunt happy fun cassowary

And then we saw them! This is a dad cassowary with three or four chicks, and they were visiting the same ice cream stand we were! The Daintree Ice Cream Stand has its own orchard in which it grows unusual tropical fruits from around the world to incorporate into their ice cream and the cassowaries like those fruits as well. The family was walking through the orchard scoring fruits as we were driving in. They almost made us too late to get our ice cream, but not quite. Our ice cream was delicious and full of unknown fruits, we saw a giant stick insect and then walked through the orchard hoping to catch another sight of the cassowaries.
Dad cassowary and the babies (after the eggs hatch, the mom cassowary goes on a long vacation, I saw Jen's eyes light up for a moment when this knowledge was laid upon us) in the Daintree Ice Cream Stand orchard. They look far away in the picture, but as seen with your eyes, they were plenty close! If I recall, our big camera ran out of batteries right when we caught sight of these guys, so this is from the phone.

Otis places his hand near a jackfruit for scale. Otis's hand was our official "for scale" measuring device.

Jen enjoys ice cream as we walk through the orchard looking for the cassowary family. Wary also describes the ice cream stand dude who accompanied us!

The biggest bug phasmid we saw on our whole trip, a giant stick insect at the ice cream stand
Our drive home was full of sunsets, as so much of our trip to Port Douglas was.

Sunset from the Daintree River ferry. Since it was more like a road that drove across the river than a boat, some of us refused to believe we had ever been on a ferry. Eyes were rolled.

Sometimes on the way back from Cape Tribulation, you have to stop at a crocodile infested beach to catch a sight of the sunset.

Mossman Gorge

Just half an hour out of Port Douglas is a subsection of Daintree Rainforest National Park that includes a walking trail to and around Mossman Gorge. It took a few false starts, but we finally got the family up to the gorge on one of our last days in Port Douglas. Luckily (unluckily?) we extended our stay in PD because our next destination, my college roommate's house in Townsville, was under threat from massive Cyclone Debbie. Jen in particular has lingering memories of ten days without power after Superstorm Sandy and Debbie was looking like (and was) a very strong system.

Our Mossman Gorge hike was pretty steamy and pretty mellow, which was lucky for me because my ankle was not healing as well as I hoped and was even getting worse from too much use. We saw many similar sights as we did in Cape Tribulation, but Mossman Gorge was formed by a mountain river instead of the estuarine ecosystems in CT. This meant no jellyfish and no crocodiles!

Do not look directly at happy fun gorge

Though, of course, since this was Australia we're talking about here, death was never far off. Despite the dire warnings of the signs, we found many swimmers in the park and we enjoyed the crystal clear and quite cool water. Swimming in a river like this is one of my favorite things, and I imagine I'll look back with fondness on our Mossman Gorge trip when I've forgotten many of the other adventures on the Trip Heard Round the World.

photogenic mushroom, an earlier Otis would have been more excited but I carry on some of his earlier enthusiasms!

This doesn't even look real, does it?

Probably the coldest water I've ever seen Jen willingly swim in

The actual Mossman River, Otis and Jen were swimming in one of its tributaries

Otis in the Mossman River. This water had a solid current and many jungle perch and was an ideal swimming spot, other than the constant risk of death

Heading South

So that was it for Port Douglas! Cyclone Debbie kept us away from Townsville, where we had hoped for another GBR trip, so we left Port Douglas on March 30th to fly directly to Brisbane. What could go wrong? On our drive back to Cairns, we stopped at one last beach where folks had made a bunch of cairns. Our stay in Port Douglas gave us most of what I, as an American, think of as the real Australian experience. Our next stop in Brisbane gave us a lot more of what is actually probably the more typical Australian experience. See you all there on our next stop!


Monday, June 19, 2017

Technology and the Internet on Long Term Trip

Jen again. I want talk about the internet and....related stuff. This long post is full of thoughts and observations which are very much my own.

BEING CONNECTED: Administrative

The internet is really a boon to travelers, as you all well know. When was the last time you planned a trip without researching your destination and booking it online in full or part? Right? Imagine doing it over and over and over again. So yes. It is so helpful that regard. We found out about or researched so many things to do and experience through online permutations. Continuously planning out our next steps was sometimes exciting but sometimes not that fun; it is part of the less glamorous aspect of post-launch, on-the-road life. But look, here is a tiny, minuscule sampling of how the internet helped us find things:

Thanks to my sister-in-law, we booked in at a Sheraton in Sandakan, Sabah, Borneo...

...and enjoyed the sunsets from the infinity pool

A river cruise on the Kinabatangan River in Borneo

A cooking class outside of Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

Touring Angkor Wat -- having waded through all the tour and ticket options

We learned about an underground cave lake in Hungary

Unexpectedly fun trip to Kuala Lumpur....



...where online prices for rooms a cut above our usual standard are affordable and widely available

We learned about and went to a green tea plantation/factory/tasting in Sri Lanka

Elephant Nature Park outside of Chiang Mai, that was booked early!

Went on safari in Sri Lanka x 2
This is one of the hospitals we visited (this one after Chris bitten by a homeless cat in remote Borneo) thanks to the internet.
Researched what dental clinic I wanted to go to for tooth extraction


Snorkeling in Great Barrier Reef

Knew to leave a beach town early when it really wasn't working out for  us 

Got intel on getting travel shots in Croatia

Found a great hostel in Vienna

Booked our fun classes in Siem Reap

BEING CONNECTED: Work

Our trip would have looked a lot different if I hadn't ported my position. As most of you loyal readers know, I work at home even when at home most of the time -- so the biggest issue is that I haven't been able to attend some work events over the course of the last 8 months (and as a part-timer, that isn't a huge concern). I have found travel has been really productive for my worklife and also helped keep me grounded. I tend to work more rather than less. Multiple times I have forgotten that it is a U.S. holiday and busted on some grant writing. My colleagues (our Operations Director in particular) have been flexible about setting meeting times that work with the time differences and using different platforms -- I've had work meetings via FaceTime, What'sApp and Facebook video.

In addition to working, I have also been able to write a law (policy) review article, peer review a journal article and do some pro bono work.

Otis has used the online version of our district's social studies textbook, as well as online science and math texts.

Working in Sri Lanka Part 1

Working in Tuscany

Working in our apartment in Dubrovnik
Working in Kuala Lumpur airport (KLIA2) during extra long layover

Working in a chilly tipi in Turist Grabovac, Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

Working in a mall, eating vegan food, enjoying the air con....Bangkok

One of my favorites: Alchemy in Ubud (it is beloved by the internet, more on that concept below)

Like Shonda Rhimes, I said YES!...to bringing my work to a hotel pool in Ubud and sat in this cabana thing in my bathing suit happily typing away; I wish I had done this more on the trip.

Cafe in Athens

My favorite place to work in Siem Reap -- Peace Cafe

An oasis in the midst of Ao Nang: friendly Govindas where I posted up to work numerous times

Working in Sri Lanka Part 2

Working in Sri Lanka Part 3

Working in Sri Lanka Part 4

Working and home schooling in cafe in Chiang Mai

The face of someone working on a grant proposal who has just watched a snake slither on by in her yard in Ubud.
School work in Ao Nang
School work in Maldives
School work in Lecce, Italy (creating chart for books read on trip)
Social studies in Sri Lanka

BEING CONNECTED: Kindles

We have been reading a lot on this trip. Until our last country, we all had our own Kindle* which of course requires internet. I generally keep an eye on our account (we share Chris's) and balance how many books are out, when they are due etc. Our library makes it easy and as previously mentioned, once my friend Busy Mom Kimya gave me a little tutorial on using our electronic system, we were off to the races. I like paper books too but Kindles have been a godsend on this trip. We have had many hours to while away as we traveled and I can't think of a better way to have done so. 

*Sheraton 4 Points Brisbane. Call us if you find it.

When you miss your ferry in Santorini

Eating lunch in Florence

On the move in Sri Lanka

Quiet meal in Ubud

On the move in Thailand

On the ferry from Bari to Dubrovnik
Waiting for flight in Krabi

Thank you LIBRARY!!



In ferry terminal

Pedaling to make energy for resort in Borneo


At lunch in Ubud


THE PHONE

Chris and I were not on the same page regarding this issue. In the parlance of a tween, Chris won. As a thrifty person as well as the person tracking our spending as well as the person bringing home the veggie bacon, I wanted us to get SIM cards for each country as we traveled -- much much more cost effective. Chris came down stridently on the side of sticking with my T-Mobile plan, to which he added himself just prior to leaving. It cost us hundreds of extra dollars on the trip. I am not convinced that the ease was worth it. Either way, I personally do use a lot of data because I text a lot, What's App my family a lot, sometimes use my phone as a mobile hotspot and run all my programs through Safari instead of their native apps.

That was not the only issue of contention around phones. Remember what was released way back last summer? Yeah, Pokemon Go. Chris and Otis have been pretty into it for big chunks of the trip. They share Chris's phone and switch accounts. As an observer, I'd estimate that about 80% of the time it causes some kind of ruckus in our dynamics. I don't necessarily feel it was a positive addition to our travels overall because it caused whiney and annoyed/ing behavior in people. 

Walking around in....Budapest
Using phone when a safari became less interesting
The pokemon weren't good in Bangkok

In Ao Nang

In Athens

BEING CONNECTED: Friends and Family
No doubt about it, the internet has made it super easy to stay in touch. The interesting thing as travelers is to see what the preferred method of communication is with your communication partners. We have found that while some people prefer FaceTime, others prefer texting. We have used Google Hangouts, Google Duo, Facebook video and What's App as well. As wonderful as it all is, we still felt a little sad to not being seeing our families on holidays and missed our everyday connections with our friends at home. 

Otis misses his cousins but loved keeping people connected through his fantasy leagues
When you get this you might feel a little out of the loop

Happy Christmas....feels so far away

Chris FaceTimes with his sister
We got Facebook updates and texts about our dearly missed animals! Those made our day!


BEING CONNECTED: Food

Vegetarians use online sourcing for meals all the time, so the concept isn't unfamiliar to us! But it becomes a little less fun every once in a while when everyone LOVES a place or HATES a place or MEHs a place. Sometimes -- often, in fact -- one's need to eat is outweighed by the need to have your own original experience. But sometimes you would like to have an original experience. Make sense?

In KLIA2

In Vienna

In Bangkok

Mapping out list of #RestaurantGoals in Ubud

...and on our way to fulfilling them!

Deliciousness in Chiang Mai

BEING CONNECTED: Uber, yoga, football and more


The first thing we do is always get the wifi info onto our phones, computers, Kindles....

We sometimes used Duo Lingo

We used Uber more than we do at home. On the day pictured here in Sri Lanka,  it was a real life saver.
...And definitely once Chris hurt his foot.

I did yoga fairly regularly with online videos, here in Sri Lanka....
...here in Ubud

I less regularly did yoga on the beach with a podcast


Everywhere, I mean EVERYWHERE, your service provider would like you to tell Trip Advisor what a good experience you had...

...even though not everyone's tastes are the same
And HASHTAG IT ALL!!

Watching the unfolding of our nation's political events was definitely a way we spent time online...






Directions? Yes. Lots of times we relied on our phones to get us where we wanted to go


Watching football was extremely important to Chris and Otis...
Watching the Super Bowl in Bangkok

On our way out to the Great Barrier Reef, I react to news about Balboa

In the end, we all play the hand we are dealt. Travel in these times is made easier but also more complicated by many devices and options.