Wednesday, November 29, 2006

More postcards from Cambodia

I thought I'd post some more random shots from Cambodia.

First of all, back to the little kids, who are adorable when they're not trying to sell you something.

And if you think traffic is bad where you live, think again...

View from the taxi window above and a traffic jam, Cambodian-style below. Then we drove in traffic that was 10 times worse.

Amazing, but the record for people on a moped so far that I've seen is five!

Hey you Polies, look at the freshies!

In Phnom Penh, we visited the Killings Fields and the Genocide museum, sobering memorials to the brutalities of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. I didn't take many photos as the horror of it all saps away any tourist tendencies, but I did snap a couple of shots that I found memorable.

The school that was turned into the infamous S-21 prison where thousands were tortured before being executed at the killing fields is now the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.

There were a few photos of the Khmer Rouge head honchos in poor condition and full of graffiti. I wish I knew what was scrawled on this picture of Son Sen, the Defense Minister and one of Pol Pot's main heavies...I'm sure it's not nice.

The gruesome conditions of the prison have been preserved to show the evilness of the regime, but I was touched that someone else had left a of sign of hope that mankind can heal its wounds with time.

And finally, one last sunset in Cambodia...we flew back to Thailand this morning and will be here until December 24. The adventure continues...

Monday, November 27, 2006

Temples, tourists and pint-sized salesmen

We're taking a little side trip to Cambodia to see the ancient temple ruins around Siem Reap. We met up with Joe again and also Renee's friend's Anna and Chris, more McMurdites, for a few days of touring. The most famous site is Angkor Wat, of course, the 12th century temple that is the crown jewel of the area.

But there are so many historic sites to see around here so we hired a guide and driver for 3 days to do the grand tour. Unfortunately, our visit is coinciding with some Asian expo and photography festival so there are even more people swarming the temples than usual, making it difficult to get photos without a hundred Japanese or Koreans posing in front of every object.

Here a few mostly tourist-free shots:

Bayon Temple

Ta Prohm, aka the Tomb Raider temple.

Non-tourists at Angkor Wat

One of the things that you must endure here as a tourist is the unrelenting assault by locals trying to sell you something. And to make things worse, many of them are little kids who are deadly persistant if you make eye contact with them. One clever strategy that I discovered to get rid of pesky kids shouting "Lady you buy! One dolla! Very cheap!"at you, is to point to someone else, like Renee, and say "That lady will buy some!"

But sometimes the numbers are just overwhelming. We stopped in a village so that I could jump out and snap a couple of shots and immediately our van was mobbed. I was watching the fun, fending off my own salesmen while the others still inside the van were probably cursing me.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Yindee ton rap

That's Thai for Welcome to Thailand. After a nine hour flight, we made it to the Land of Smiles! Renee, another Polie friend, met us in Sydney and will be our traveling companion for the rest of the trip. Here she is taking a picture of her first brekkie in Asia. She still went for the eggs option.

Being accustomed to the milder climates in Australia and New Zealand, we all immediately began wilting from the heat and humidity and quickly discovered where to get a quick fix of air con (7-11's, which are all over the place).

On our first day, we wandered the crowded streets and sidewalks of the infamous Khao San Road area. This is a loved and hated tourist area, swarming with backpackers and tourists of all sorts plus all of the locals, many of whom are trying to sell you a custom tailored suit or tuk tuk tour.

Vendors set up stalls in every open inch of side walk selling clothing, handbags, souvenirs, trinkets, bootleg CD and DVDs, just about anything that you could want. These pseudo hill tribe women are trying to convince Brien that he really needs a little wooden frog. And yes, he bought it for 80 baht (just over 2 bucks).

There are also loads of restaurants, bars, and food vendors and for someone who really adores Thai food, this is pretty close to heaven.

Yesterday was Renee's birthday and she most wanted to drink pina coladas for her special day, so that's what we did. Another Polie friend Michael also happened to fly into Bangkok on the same day so we dragged him along too.

Nice to have friends in the Land of Smiles!

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Great Kangaroo Quest

Continuing on the adventure down under, we embarked on the Great Kangaroo Quest. Since we really didn't have any plans for what to do, we decided that we couldn't come to Australia without seeing kangaroos. There were road signs all over for them as we were driving around, giving us the impression that they would be placidly grazing on the road side at every turn.

We saw some road kill at one point that looked like it could have once been a kangaroo, and as Joe said, "Well, that's a start".

Undaunted, we read that you could see lots of roos at Pebbly Beach so we headed there and sure enough, we saw at least a dozen or so eating grass on the lawn of a holiday rental cabin.

OK, so it's not quite the wild bush encounter we had in mind, but we did also have an unexpected bonus of some wild parrots flying onto our outstretched arms, trying to get our food.
Mission accomplished. We headed back up north and ended up in Port Stephens, a lovely holiday spot on the coast about 3 hours north of Sydney. We've been cruising the beaches and little towns and doing lots of nothing too.

This morning, we went for a bush ride on horses.

Here's Brien on his horse, Kaz, and Joe on Meg:

And this was the view from my horse, Brave. The guy at the stable said the horse got his name because you have to be brave to ride him! That's our guide (damn it, I can't remember her name) in front.

Tomorrow we fly out to Bangkok...stay tuned!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Out of the city

As great a city as Sydney is, it's necessary to get out of the congestion and head off to other great attractions in Australia. We did the obligatory tourist trek to the Blue Mountains and paid homage to the famous sight, The Three Sisters.

There are plenty of easy treks around the cliffs that provide the gorgeous vistas of that area and we spent an afternoon wandering around, including time for a quick siesta.

We found a charming little guesthouse in the town of Katoomba and didn't mind spending a couple of nights hanging out in the mountains.

Today we couldn't decide where to go from there and ended up heading a little bit south down the coast from Sydney, stopping in another little town called Kiama. Its famous attraction is the blowhole, which we got to experience in its full glory at high tide on a screaming windy day.

Kiama must be the place of giant creatures:

Joe and Brien think they've struck gold for pina colada ingredients.

I found the local wildlife to be ginormous. These guys were quite tame and while he thought I was going to feed him, I thought he was about to eat me for dinner. I think I actually screamed in the photo below.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Friends and pirates

Sydney is proving itself to be a fun and friendly place to visit. We got to meet up with a cyber friend, Tara, who took us on a personal tour to one of her favorite places, the old Settlers Arms Inn and Pub in St. Albans.

It's the oldest pub in Australia, built in 1830. After a nice drive through some suburbs then farm land and bush, we crossed the Hawkesbury river on a little car ferry and then it was another 20km to the inn for lunch and beers. Here's Brien, Joe and I enjoying our first Lamington, a very traditional Aussie dessert.

This morning we went to the Maritime Museum at Darling Harbor, mainly because they're advertising a special exhibit on pirates. Turns out, it's a kiddie interactive exhibit with a kid sized slide which I of course had to slide down. We did get a few good photos though.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Down Under

Guess where I am now?

We're doing the tourist thing in Sydney now and it's a fabulous city to explore. Interestingly, the famous white sails of the Opera House are not white at all but a beige up close.

We arrived in Sydney late yesterday afternoon and after checking in at our guesthouse, headed out on foot to the city center. We were wandering around Darling Harbor trying to find a place to eat that didn't have starched white table cloths when a familiar face suddenly appeared. It was Joe, the McMurdo PA who just happened to be wandering around here too. He led us to a conveyor belt sushi place and we chowed down on little plates of sushi rolls that went around and around us.

So today, Brien, Joe and I wandered all over the place walking on the Harbour Bridge, checking out the Opera House and Royal Botanical Gardens and all around that whole area. We're discovering the wildlife around here too. I've not found any crocs to wrestle despite having the perfect outfit for it but there are some really cool bats hanging in the trees in the Botanical Gardens.

And an urban kookaburra who just could not be bothered with us even though we were just a couple of feet away from it.

Not sure what we're doing tomorrow but it won't be hard to find something fun to do in this city!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Is it Tuesday or Wednesday?

It's all coming back now...sleeping in with no alarm clock going off...enjoying a nice latte and the morning paper...taking a nap after finishing the latte...finding food...taking another nap.

Here's my new look:

Totally a fashion mistake after realizing that I bought too many khaki and olive drab clothing items but I hear they need a new croc hunter in Oz.

We've been back in Christchurch for nearly a week now and getting reacquainted with life again is pretty sweet. A group of us took a little road trip up the coast to a beauty of a spot, Kaikoura. It's a right on the water nestled up against snow covered mountains. We walked around and had a little picnic on the beach, sitting on smooth dark rocks that had soaked up all of the suns warmth. Here's Jon, Holly, Brien and Renee on the beach. Michael found himself a bar and had to test out the local wares.

My favorite sight in Christchurch so far - finding this cute little display at the visitor's centre, featuring a promo for the local Antarctic Centre tourist attraction. Note the polar bears in the lower right. Some people just don't get it.

Tomorrow Brien and I are off to Sydney for a couple of weeks. I'll let you know if I get the croc gig...

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Back to civilization

Ahhhh Christchurch! It's a good thing that we end up spending so much time here because it's such a delightful city. Life is a no brainer here - they speak English (kinda), everything is within walking distance, it's a gorgeous place with gardens, arts centres, old architecture mixed with new. By now, I have many favorite haunts - Sala Sala for sushi, Ann's for Thai, Dux for beers on tap.

And at this time of year, you just keep running into familiar faces walking around town. Sometimes it's hard to recognize them because they've shaved or cut their hair or both. About half an hour ago, we were walking from the ATM right next to Dux when I heard someone shouting my name. I looked over and saw this guy waving his arms but I had no clue who he was and was about to decide that he was some weirdo that I should really just ignore when he said "It's Stefan!"

Oh my God. This guy was one of the Kiwi carpenters who let his hair grow bushy and wild the whole winter and sprouted a crop of wheat on his face. Now, he's got this GQ haircut and a smooth chin and actually looks civilized again. Brien took a photo of him because it was just so shocking. If you know Stefan, you'll understand why I didn't recognize him.

I've had 2 showers today. And I let the water run the whole time. Yeah, life is good!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Made it!

By God the plane landed yesterday! The first one touched down on the snow at 11:00am and unloaded some very relieved summer folks who had been stranded in McMurdo for longer than we had been planeless at Pole.

A group of 18 of us got on the second plane that landed just over an hour later. We had a lot of rushed hellos and goodbyes, all the while cramming in bites of fresh apples, oranges, plums and bananas. The first attempt at taking off was a little sketchy as we roared all the way down the skiway before the pilot slammed on the brakes, then turned around and tried it again. We were a little nervous but eventually we did feel the plane lift off and there were big smiles all around.

Three hours later, we stepped out onto the frozen sea ice of McMurdo's Ice Runway, hopped into the shuttle van (my first car ride since January) and were deposited at the front door of building 155. Last night was a nice celebration in Gallagher's, one of the bars here, with relief that we actually made it out and were on our way finally to places beyond Pole.

If all goes well, we'll get on the C-17 that will take us back to Christchurch and the outside world again. To my friends back at Pole, I hope you guys make it out soon - let's meet up for some brews at Dux!