Sunday, October 24, 2010

No greater loss...

As a fourth grader, in September of 1961, I was the oldest of the three Carew children at Merritt Island Elementary School. In the mornings before school, we ran from the bus to the playground for the short time before the bell would ring, calling us to class. Then it was my job to get my first grade brother Danny, to his classroom.
After the first few weeks, I was sure he could find his own way, so I told him to go on without me. He wasn't comfortable at all with this idea, and pleaded for me to walk with him to his class. Another boy in first grade had an older sister for an escort, so I said "just follow them, you'll be okay". Reluctantly, he did just that and after a few days, I realized that while the other boy still depended on his sister, my brother no longer needed me. It didn't give me the satisfaction I'd expected.
I hadn't thought about that story for 30-40 years. Last year, it surfaced when he became ill.
He was always the most lowkey of my parents offspring. He grew up, married, had two daughters, three sons, and assorted grandchildren.
He passed away yesterday, after a long illness. Most of his family was with him.

Daniel Lee Carew
June 29, 1955 - Oct. 23, 2010

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Awe-sie Holiday

At the age of seven, I moved with my family from Virginia to Florida. Everything was different, the weather, the geography, even the rules of living. We wore such casual clothes and went to the beach almost year 'round. I suppose it was natural that I developed a desire to see more new places.
In my child's mind I could only travel where English was spoken. After all, how could I buy food or ask where the toilet was if I couldn't speak the language? I must have taken a geography class and discovered that such a place existed in the southern hemisphere. That was it. Canada and England were too ordinary. I wanted to go to Australia.
So, at 6:00 am on October 10, 2010, Allan and I arrived in Cairns (pronounced cans), Australia. After clearing customs, a cab ride to the Hilton took about 15 minutes. We were seven hours early for check-in, so we went out scouting for breakfast. To fill up the other six hours, we walked around town and along the marina to check out the dive boats.
Once in our room, our priority was a nap. We were scheduled for a dive trip the next day, and that requires energy.
It was close to dinner time when we headed out and found this lovely restaurant for an 'Aussie steak'. Sirloin of kangaroo anyone?
We opted for Asian cuisine, so I tried Malaysian. I don't remember having it before, but it was no surprise that I liked it. We ate outside and were serenaded by very loud parrots from a nearby tree. Think the Tiki Birds at DisneyWorld, hard rock loud.
Early the next day was our dive trip. Moo! yep, a cattle boat, but hey, great lunch.

We did two short (35-40 minutes) dives with a guide. It wasn't more than 12 meters deep, so any certified diver should have been comfortable. I thought maybe the guide was required to protect the reef from stupid foreigners.
They are very protective of the environment in Australia, which is nice to know.

As for the dives, we saw anemone, clownfish, a giant clam and Allan saw a large sea turtle.
Then there was the Great Barrier Reef. It is listed as one of the seven natural wonders of the world, and that's no wonder.
How many types of Pacific coral exist? I don't know, but I couldn't count the different textures and colors I saw. The reef is 2600 kilometers long. It was like a wonderous sculpture, full of color and texture.

Having no words to do it justice, I'll emulate Joyce Kilmer and say "blogs are made by fools like me, but only G-d can make a reef".

He was inspired when he made this one.

Day 3 was tour day and we were picked up by this giant bus. It made the rounds of hotels and collected a very international tour entourage.

As the guide checked the names on his list, he asked 'where is home?'. We said Japan and got a strange look. But that's where we live.

The skyrail travels over the rain forest to the east(?) of the Barron Gorge, which is Australia's Grand Canyon. Our destination was the Kuranda Aboriginal Village. We saw very few natives in Cairnes, and though this was a traditional Aboriginal home, it was very touristy.

Here are some views from the gondola. We made two stops along the route at areas where walking paths wound through the forest and the flora was surprisingly like Florida.

We always do alot of walking on vacation, and this was a great area for it. The paths lead around through the forest and back to the gondola entrance.

Our first stop in Kuranda Village was the 130 year old Hotel Kuranda. It looked like a John Wayne movie set, except maybe for the Irish bar.

After a tough gondola ride, Allan ordered a half pint, but I went for the full Irish - a pint of beer.

We heard the cracking of the whip before we saw the Man From Snowy River. (That's actually a Bonanza type Australian TV series.)
He gave the young boy a few tries with the whip.

A walk from the hotel was the tourist area, complete with tee shirt shops (yes, I got one each for Brian and Cameron). I also bought Brian a boomerang in Cairns.

Not far from the tee shirt shop, a crowd was gathered for this performance. The guy on the right is playing a digeridoo. There's a better shot of him below.

A traditional digeridoo is made from a eucalyptus tree. I don't know how they manage to bore out the center of such a long trunk, but I heard that sometimes termites will do it. Then the Aboriginals come along and do whatever it takes to finish the job.

I think they just hum into it. The sound that came out when this guy played was sort of a echoey (or is it echo-ee?) moaning.

We rode this antique train back.

It took 15 years to complete these tracks, and seeing the landscape, it was hard to imagine doing it with 19th century tools and technology.

We returned on the west side of the Barron Gorge. It was a pretty nice day.

At night, when we walked to dinner, Allan tried to see the southern cross (southern hemisphere constellation). I don't think he ever did identify it. I'm not sure he knew exactly what to look for, but looking up, we saw the sky filled with bats the size of crows above the local casino.

We're flexible when it comes to food. That night for dinner, we ordered pizza and what we thought was salad, but we got something like nan (Indian bread) with cheese and sausage. The 'salad' was a bowl of steamed vegetables. Tasted okay.

Ever seen one of these? Hint: a kangaroo gave up his manhood, so some tourist could own this unusual item. Yep, kangaroo testicles. Who thinks up this stuff?

Day 4, we were picked up early for a 'Food Trails Tour'. We had 'morning tea' at the first stop, Maloberti's coffee plantation. I had tea and everyone else had coffee and cake.

Coffee beans are grown, dried, roasted, packaged and sold by Maria, who's making cappucino here, her 80-something parents and one equally aged hired hand. Allan liked the coffee enough to carry a bag home. He also bought chocolate covered coffee beans for himself and Andy Perez.

Then to a winery for a tasting of fruit wines (mango, blackberry, lychee, cherry) and a few coffee liquors. After which, we had a lesson in macadamia nuts - how they're grown (on trees), harvested (scooped up like golfballs on a driving range once they've fallen off the tree), then processed for different uses including pressed into oil which has NO cholesterol, NO carbs and NO sodium, too right!

Nothing weird about our delicious, relaxed lunch at a rustic old hotel. And our last promised stop was a dairy that made cheese, milk chocolate and ice cream, which I resisted. I bought a sasparilla - that I couldn't resist.

During our drive from place to place, the guide talked about the history and geography of the area. He'd talk for a while, and when he got to the climax of the story, he'd casually point out the window and say "and right there is where...". We were with him for 10 hours and were never bored, or hungry!

Afternoon tea is seen here. Scones with jam, overlooking a pristine lake. This country has ALOT of old hotels. The one with this cafe has been owned by the same family since 1920.

During a walk through a wooded area, we saw the 'Cathedral Fig'. These vines grew up around a tree, squeezing the life out of it in the process.

Eventually, the tree died and rotted away, but by that time, the vines were strong enough to stand alone. Does this look a bit like something from 'Avatar'? I'm not sure anyone can guess the age of this thing, but since the original tree is gone, I'd say real old.

Another full day, and we weren't finished yet. We went to dinner (can you believe it, after all we ate?) but even though we went light, neither of us finish the meal.

Our last active day was another dive day. What we gave up by way of fancy lunch, we gained in two great dives together, then I asked one of the crew if they could arrange another partner for Allan, so I could stay onboard. Lucky for him, they did a special drift dive in a place called 'Wildside', which began about 100 meters away from the group. It was his best dive.

My favorite part was the crew helping us get our gear on and actually put on our fins on the platform. And when we returned, someone was there to grab your fins off and help you stand up. I felt like Cinderella.

This public pool is open to the Esplanade, and it's close to an acre. You walk right along the edge of it and can jump in any time, no lifeguards, no fence, no hassle. Are these people crazy? Aren't they worried about liability?

Our last day, was a free day, which is perfect at the end of a busy vacation. And why do we think running from dawn to dusk is a vacation? As usual, I needed a rest after this vacation.

Walking around on our last night, we found this in an 'herb shop'. I guess it's holistic viagra.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Scat about town

We leave for Australia tomorrow! We'll be eating vega-mite by noon Sunday. Oh, why not? We don't have a problem eating raw tuna on rice with a little wasabi kicker, how bad could vega-mite be? I'll find out and tell you next week.

These three lovely ladies are all students of mine. Yuka, Mani and Tomoko were standing at the ID check in the Navy Exchange today when I went in for a card. Unfortunately, they don't make it to class much now that they are all working, but they still have a smile for the teacher.

We just got good news from Florida! Our renters signed another 1 yr. lease. That's a relief.

Last Saturday, Allan hosted a poker night, which actually began at 3pm. I'm glad he had the insight to start early, because they played for 7 1/2 hours. I was the designated driver, which meant several trips to the train station. Anyone who drinks anything doesn't drive.

Sunday afternoon was Oktoberfest. It was the same as last year, except the band didn't have as much Oompah. They actually tried to sing popular American songs, but probably shouldn't have.

That brick warehouse-looking building in the 2nd photo, well it actually was a warehouse. Now it houses one good reason to go to Oktoberfest, a chic mall. I didn't buy alot, but did get a cute keyring cat that 'meows' when I push the button on his head. He's solid black like Joey.

And this afternoon, the hospital had a 'hail and farewell' for about 15 people. Hail for those coming, and farewell for those going.

Lots of people move through this place during the summer months. This Corpsman is taking the oath of allegiance as she re-enlists. First she is given an honorable discharge, then she commits for another tour of duty.
I thought they just signed a paper.

See you when I'm back from Down Under.