Thursday, April 07, 2005


Okay fine, there was no shooting and the sound wasn't a shot but rather my alarm telling me it time to face this day.

Monday--April 4th--the sea was angry this day my friends and thankfully we had both a good captain and a marine biologist on our ship.

The full story follows--On Saturday and Sunday the weather was not great in the tropical northern Queensland. Winds were consistently at 25 knots or better and this makes for really rough seas. Monday was my day off to go to the Reef and now I had to pick which reef exploring company to put my money, life and trust in for this adventure of, I was hoping only, once in a lifetime. Thea, the owner of the pink hotel just kept laughing at me as she refused to give me an answer on which one ship would she go on if she were me--she did however help me tremendously by taking me down to the wharf to inspect all the ships and interview the staff. All the companies that charter out to the reef seem to be very good. The determining factor became the stronger the winds the wiser it is to select a larger craft. I was, as they say in the health care industry, in serious decisional distress and was wondering if I called our nurse line regarding my dilemma would they actually have an answer of would they just refer me to my doctor in the morning. Without group support, I settled on the Poseidon, certainly not for its movie namesake or that at times I feeling a little (or rather a lot) Shelly Winter-ish, but simple because this boat is huge.

I woke up around 5 AM to the same sounds I hear every morning in this part of the country--the loud shrill of, I hope, endemic and/or indigenous tropical birds--honestly, I'm not sure if they are birds, screeching monkeys or a cold blooded murder is happening right outside my balcony door each morning--but its like clockwork, I know that much and, in this case, I will trust and not verify.

I got up and got ready for this much anticipated and overly feared day--so with my new Australian Billabong board shorts and Moontide "no sting" surfer shirt--I headed to the boat ramp. If I was going to end up being a tragic story on SKY or CNN news, I wanted to look the part.

Fifty other divers and snorkelers chose the Poseidon this day. None of them apparently had the hot tip that Thea gave me, that once on board get your tea and head right to the cushy room where the captain sits. I guess everyone else thought this was for invited guests only or maybe he could tell I was an Admirals Club Member--but no one other than staff joined in and this made me very happy. The sea was very, very rough and I would guess at least 25% of the 50 travelers were getting seriously sick. The other significant tip Thea gave me was to ask for ginger tablets as soon as I got on board, I did and they gave them to me. So for an hour and ½ that it takes to travel 50 nautical miles off shore and through huge sea swells, many people were in serious pain and sickness. Sadly for the others sitting right next to all this madness surrounding them--they were stuck at their poorly chosen seats as the people around them were losing their stomachs. Life was good in the captain's quarters.

During the trip and in-between the passengers gagging their heads off, the staff offered the option to rent full body stinger suits and wet suits. To my surprised when I looked out on the deck--everyone opted for the blue singer suit. I cannot begin to describe how ridiculous and awful everyone looked in these very tight and clingy full body lycra outfits. It was horrible and it worried me even more that no one seemed to say--oh this is SO embarrassing. There was no way I was wearing a stinger suit--I opted for the sporty looking wet suit that covered most of my body except for my legs below my knees and forearms--I was willing to risk these limps for something equivalent to a bee sting versus a full bodysuit in the vicinity of a boat filled with cameras. I felt so bad for these blue-bodied people. They would not even qualify to be understudies for the SNL parody on the BLUEMAN show, they wouldn't even qualify for the Blue Zoo Review. I couldn't even make eye contact with them for the rest of the trip. Clearly, these people have not had risk, probability training. After 8 hours at sea, only two guys ended up getting stung--and you want to guess where?...on their face, the only exposed part of their entire body and only to prove, the humiliation via smurf costumes was not worth it.

Our boat made three stops out on the reef and each one was amazing. Prior to the first stop, we were issued our equipment and given our instructions for the day. The staff handed me their best guess at my fin size which were the Carolina blue flippers. I assured them I was a size smaller and not surprisingly fit perfectly into the App. State and Demon deacon yellow color fins, thank god. The next step was the instructor asking if anyone was traveling alone so he could pair individuals for a buddy system. No way I was raising my hand and getting stuck with a blue blob. I waited until the very end and when he asked for the last time, I raised my hand. He then asks the blue people would anyone be willing to be my buddy and to my good fortune, Jamie stepped forward. Jaime is a 10-year-old going on 30 from Yorkshire, UK. For starters--Jaime could have been a blue suit model--he was the only one on the entire boat that looked perfect in his snorkeling outfit. Jaime is a smart, interesting, kind and adventurous young man. In fact, he's a fish out of water. He was a great buddy in the water and a great conversationalist between snorkeling sites.

They serve a huge lunch buffet on the boat and to my amazement the sickies on the boat must also have short term memory problems as they seem to indulge heavily, forgetting that we had to cross the sea again to get back home. HELLO PEOPLE--work with us!

The snorkeling was absolutely fantastic. Many people commented and I agree that it was the best snorkeling they had ever done. The water was very warm, the Reef almost forms a shelf so the water is like calm lagoon and the fish were everywhere. I was snorkeling in my own living color NEMO movie. Yes, there were sharks and I was hardly scared. I did get a little nervous at one point when I felt I was way to far from the boat and once I headed in, I was in the middle of a large school of large fish, on this day, I was a very fast swimmer.

The Barrier Reef is Great and worth the special natural wonder of the world experience. I encourage everyone to go if you get anywhere near this part of the world. You can now take my expert advise and not worry about being attacked or worse, like the recent movie, being left behind. In fact, we all need to be more concerned about this little known issue of falling coke machines.

We returned to the Wharf around 5 PM and I was so happy about my day and the great experience. I walked home to my pink hotel and made sure I only picked roads that did not have any obvious street front vending machines--underscoring my commitment to primary prevention whenever possible.

Cheers from here!

Sunday, April 03, 2005


Here are some links for some pictures:

Click here for some pictures of the Milford Sound.

Click here for some pictures of KeriKeri.

Click here for some pictures of Waiheke.

Click here for some pictures of the Marlborough Sounds.

Not the best views--but click here for a look a Mt. Cook.

Click here for some pics of the Pancake Rocks in Punakiki.

More to come at this posting.



We had tropical torrential rains throughout the night but by morning both the birds and the sun were out like clock work.

The television in my room gets 10 channels of which 9 seem to be dedicated to various forms of rugby. I was thankful that CNN accessed at least one of the stations to update this part of the world about the anticipated passing of the Pope, John Paul II. May he rest in peace.

I made it to market early this morning and walked the booths for hours making up my mind. On this market venture, my nephews scored.

Port Douglas is as alive today as it was last night--everything is open and the weather is trying its best. But locals say if it looks a little shoddy one moment you are encouraged to wait a second and more often than not, it will improve. The wind out on the sea is at least 25 knots and the boats went out to the Reef today. Tomorrow the winds should be more like 20 knots which is still too much in my book, but I will suck it up and will be heading out about 35-50 kilometers to the Great Reef....AHhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! Keep your fingers crossed for me.


If you can locate these two points—you can find me…so come on down and when you do, give me a shout. The Tropic of Capricorn surrounds me as I sit less than 25 degrees away from the equator.

It’s Saturday here and I gathered all my clothes—casual and professional (smile) and taxied out to the airport. I am heading to Carins today. For starters I’d like to thank the person who invented the airport members club and more importantly, the person who pushed through the idea of club membership reciprocity or rather a “one-world” alliance. These places are the best. I enjoyed a flat white while a taped down all my taxi receipts. I got through two days of receipts during my one-hour wait.

A huge plane took all of us on the 3-hour flight from Sydney to Cairns—equivalent to about the distance from FL to Maine. I had a great seatmate and she works as a teacher on an island off the very northern tip of Queensland—where on a clear day she can see New Guinea. New Guinea is the kind of place, if given a choice, you’d rather see than ever visit.

I’m seriously in a rut. I have gotten into an old habit--when I’m afraid of something, I’m exhaustive at asking people about their opinion of what’s ailing me. For example, when I biked and hiked through Alberta, Canada—I stopped almost everyone that crossed my path and asked them if they had seen any bears? Most of the Canadian or European trampers didn’t appreciate this type of inquiry—but it didn’t slow me down. Well now the subject is the Barrier Reef and the question is of the same you think I’ll get attacked when I go out to the Reef? Thankfully everyone, up to this point, has laughed at me and I am starting to feel slightly reassured by that response. But I think my seatmate on this flight may have helped me the most when after initially laughing at me she said—you have a better chance of getting hit by a falling coke machine than being attacked while snorkeling at the Reef. I have never, ever worried about being in the unfortunate path of a falling coke machine—so I am truly starting to settle down a little.

I took a motor coach from the airport to Port Douglas and for the first time things are starting to look much different than I have ever seen before. It is very tropical here; the early stages of our trip were through sugar cane fields on both sides of the road for as far as you could see. About halfway through the trip we saw five kangaroos hanging out. Honestly, I missed actually seeing them because as more often than not, I was on the left side and the action was on the right. But everyone else seems to confirm the sighting.

I checked into the pink hotel called the Newport—it’s more Pepto-Bismol color than I would like but the lady owner/manager is very nice and remembers when Eisenhower Fellow Jean Davis was here last year. I went to the Court House Pub and Bistro for lunch and I’m guessing this is where they filmed Casablanca…or they should or could have. Jean Davis—if you’re reading this blog, how would you describe Port Douglas? I’m going to suggest it seems very much like a backwater provincial town that has a blend of people who grew out of the local mud, newbees looking for a piece of paradise and the regular Aussie traveler on holiday. Then there is me—the brash American, interviewing anyone who makes eye contact with me asking if they were out on the Reef and, if so, did they see any sharks? Then I ask—has a falling coke machine ever hit you? They’re going to ship me off to New Guinea if I don’t watch it.