On a Whim Wm's world travels

12 Jan 2008

Iguazu Falls day 2

Filed under: General — wm @ 1:40 pm

Well, it rained on and off today, and when it did rain it POURED! Luckily, it is still fairly warm, so the rain didn’t bother us too much, although we did get soaked a few times. Walked out to the “mouth of the devil” this morning, which was AMAZING! So much water crashing around you. Very cool. Just as we got there, it started pouring (of course). So everyone left. Then, after about 10 minutes, it stopped raining, so we had the place to ourselves. Well, and the little swifts that live in the rocks behind the waterfall (!).

We also took a half hour raft trip, and saw a caiman (small aligator-like animal), toucans, monkeys, and lots of other birds. Went on a walk later, and saw more coati, more toucans, and a capybara. Got some good photos and video footage.

Then we went back to our hotel and had our complimentary breakfast served in our room — at noon!  Made a good lunch. There must have been around 2 pounds of bacon with our eggs, plus fruit, cereal, juice, breads, etc.

I am totally loving my photo equipment. My new camera bag (a “speed freak” from Think Tank) is so handy. I wear it around front, so I can change lenses in a jiffy. And the waterproof video camera is great for video, and even still photos when it rains. No need to worry about it getting wet. And then there is my olympus SLR, which totally rocks. There were a half dozen “professional photographers” who would take your photo in front of the huge waterfall, and one of them came over and asked me about my lens (in spanish). I was using the 7-14mm ultra-wide-angle zoom, and he was very impressed by it and the photos it could take of the entire waterfall. He kept asking me about it.

Iguazu Falls

Filed under: General — wm @ 1:34 pm

Greetings from Iguazu! As expected our flight this morning was delayed (a little over an hour, announced about 5 minutes before they were supposed to board the flight — sheesh!) but we made it, and so did our luggage! The argentine airline is known for losing luggage, so we were happy!

Once we arrived, we jumped in right away with a jetboat ride that took us right under the falls. And I do mean right under. We were DRENCHED! The company supplied waterproof bags so that you could save your camera and (for most folks, including us) your shoes and socks from getting soaked. We were still completely wet after the ride. Also did a 20 minute drive through the jungle. I got some good photos including lots of RAINBOWS!!! Then we came back to the room and took a nap. After that, did a late afternoon walk along the tops of the waterfalls until the park closed. 

A friend who visited here was worried that the falls might not have much water this time of year, but no worries. Apparently there really is not a rainy season here. The level of the falls just depends on how much rain has happened upstream lately. Today, we could not take the small ferry over to San Martin island. They weren’t running it because the water was too high! Hopefully tomorrow the water will be lower and we will be able to go there before we leave.

Got sunburned today, despite putting on sun block. Probably because it got washed off under the waterfall. Yikes! Will be more careful tomorrow.

I am very happy I have that waterproof video camera. Came in very handy during the jetboat ride.

Also, we have a “romance package” at the hotel here, and they keep feeding us! We had a plate of chocolates, fruit bowl, and other stuff waiting for us when we got back to our room last night, right after we had STUFFED ourselves at the buffet for dinner (didn’t have time earlier to eat breakfast, and had a fast and rather small lunch, so we were HUNGRY). Now we get free full breakfast delivered to our room! Too much food!

Taking lots of photos, but will be a while before I can sort through them and upload any. Good video of us under the waterfall of everyone in the boat getting wet!

Buenos Aires

Filed under: General — wm @ 1:30 pm

Spent two nights in Buenos Aires, where it was HOT!  We aren’t sure, but the word is it was over 105 degrees!  Nevertheless, we managed to walk around town a bit, eat empanadas, and of course eat a huge argentine steak.  They have the best beef here!  We even had a hamburger, and it was amazing, like no other hamburger you have ever had.  I should mention that we ate it at a 5 star hotel (the only one in latin america).

It took us no time at all to get into the Argentine sense of time.  They don’t eat dinner here until around 11pm (even full families eat then), then usually go dancing until all hours.  Our second day here we slept until noon (but that might have been more about the red-eye flight we took the night before).

Then a bit of luck.  As we were leaving on our trip, the belt buckle on my money belt broke.  This is a nylon webbing belt with a plastic buckle, but it is handy as it also holds money.  But Argentina is known for leather goods, and we found a great leather money belt for about the same amount of money I paid for the crappy nylon one that broke. A nice coincidence.

Walked down to the Rio Plata, which is so wide you can barely see the other side of it, even though we are 300 km from the ocean.

Unfortunately, we never did find the time to dance the tango.  Oh well, maybe later in the trip.

Another grand vacation

Filed under: General — wm @ 1:24 pm

Cindy and I are off on a 6 week vacation of Argentina (Buenos Aires, Iguazu Falls, and Patagonia) and Antarctica.  Internet access will be spotty (probably non-existant while we are in Antarctica).

13 Mar 2006

Gannet Colony

Filed under: General,New Zealand — wm @ 7:18 am

Yesterday we took a trip out to the Gannet Colony.  Gannets are sea birds, related to boobies and cormorants (which they call shags in NZ).  To get there, we got on a trailer hitched to the back of a tractor, and went out along a beach for 9km.  The beach was rather narrow, with the ocean on one side and tall, steep, crumbly cliffs on the other.  In places, parts of the cliffs had fallen down and blocked the beach, so the tractor, with us in tow, went out into the ocean, splashing and slipping.  It was crazy fun.

You can only do this trip at low tide. At high tide the water is too deep and there isn’t enough beach for the tractors to go on. At one point the tractor even got stuck, and at another the driver had to get out with a pickaxe and break up a meter tall boulder so we could get through.

Then at the end we hiked up to the colony, with hundreds of birds.  Apparently this is one of the largest gannet colonies in the world.  If you’ve seen the movie “Winged Migration” (which you should!) gannets are the birds that dive into the water like arrows.  But there was no diving going on yesterday, mostly raising chicks.  This is near the end of the brooding season, and the chicks were teenagers getting ready to fly.  On their first flight, they take off for Australia.  The trip is so dangerous that 70 percent or more of them will not make it back to NZ to have their own chicks.

10 Mar 2006

Pilgrim’s Progress

Filed under: General,New Zealand — wm @ 6:31 pm

Well, we arrived in Wellington safe and sound. Spent two days there getting our stuff sorted out. We even had time for a walk on the beach, took in an art exhibition of fantastic photographs called the “Earth From Above” (see www.yannarthusbertrand.org), went for a walk in the bush (what they call forest), and had some wonderful meals. Now we are in Hawkes Bay, staying with friends in a cute house a block from the beach. Ahhhh!

3 Mar 2006

Return Visit

Filed under: General,New Zealand — wm @ 12:45 am

This Sunday, Cindy and I fly back to New Zealand for a (too short) 3 week trip. We are going to sell the car that we left there, get our stuff, visit friends, and hopefully do a little sightseeing before returning home. Both Cindy and I are excited about visiting NZ again.

9 Jul 2005

New look!

Filed under: General — wm @ 8:13 pm

Well, I finally got sick and tired of all the blog comment spam. I had turned moderation of comments on, so you haven’t seen any of it, but in the last 48 hours I’ve received several hundred spam comments. This happens every week or so. PITA deleting each of them manually. So I upgraded the version of WordPress I am using to, and then for good measure installed Spam Karma 2. I’ve heard good things about it. Hopefully, this will make my life a bit easier. Thanks to the WordPress people for making upgrading so easy.

Hopefully, all you will notice is the new cool look! And the new search feature, of course.

9 Jun 2005

Moving to NZ?

Filed under: General,New Zealand — wm @ 2:01 pm

I recently received an email from someone who found our blog. He is moving to NZ and asked some questions about what he should do before he moves there. Some of the answers might be useful to other people who are moving to NZ, so here goes. I hope people find these tips useful:

Sign up for Vonage phone service and take the adapter box with you. This assumes that you have access to broadband Internet when you get over there. Buy a cheap caller-id phone and take it with you. Caller id is not all that common over there, so phones with that feature are pricey. Vonage supports caller-id, of course. And phones over there use a different connector than the RJ-11 used here (and on the Vonage box).

Vonage will allow you to call anywhere in the US and Canada for free (well, for a fixed $25/month). Very important if you are leaving friends and family behind in the US or Canada. Vonage to other countries is very cheap, too. In many cases, it was cheaper to call other cities in NZ using the Vonage phone, than using our NZ home phone!

You can also buy a Vonage adapter box from Linksys. That box works on 230v, so you won’t have to buy a new power adapter when you get there, and it is smaller and so easier to take with you. Buy.com has the Linksys adapter for $50, with a $50 rebate if you sign up for Vonage service.

Vonage worked well with DSL service from Telecom. Even Telecom at 64kbps worked fine. We tried it on one other DSL carrier (iHug) and had problems with latency. I haven’t tried any others.

If you are only going to have dial-up internet service, sign up for Skype instead. The quality is worse, but it works over dial-up. Skype now allows you to get a permanent phone number, so other people can call you.

Buy a tri-band GSM phone over here and take it with you. Make sure the charger works on 230 volts. When you get there, buy a Vodaphone SIM card and put it in the phone. Learn to love TXT messages. Everyone uses them. Actually talking on a mobile phone is NZ$0.49/minute, but a TXT message is only 20 cents.

Take some power plug adapters with you (to allow you to plug US style plugs into the NZ/Australian sockets). You can get them for cheap at Fry’s or other electronics stores. I never found 2-prong adapters over there at all, and 3 prong ones are huge (they block the other outlets on an outlet strip) and expensive. A few “cube taps” (to allow you to plug in multiple US-style plugs using a single adapter) are handy too and impossible to find over there. Don’t take any outlet strips with surge suppressors or circuit breakers, since they will blow up on the 230v.

I found, as a general rule, that things that are necessities of life (food, housing, medical care, prescription drugs, public transport, etc.) are relatively cheap over there, or at least the same price as here. But “luxuries” (electronics, mobile phones, cars, cameras, petrol, parking meters) are expensive. Books are also very expensive, for some reason, but there are good libraries and used book stores.

Keep a US-based credit card and take it with you. This will allow you to order stuff over the Internet at US prices and have it shipped to NZ. This is especially useful for books, cameras, and computer stuff. You can have your credit card statements mailed to NZ, no problem. And I can’t guarantee the same luck to you, but I never had the NZ government charge me any duty or taxes on incoming goods (but most of my orders were around US$100, and the rumor is that the NZ government doesn’t bother with that level of thing). Your milage may vary, and may depend on whether you are there on a tourist visa or something else.

27 May 2005

Hawaii Photos

Filed under: General — wm @ 3:14 pm

I’ve uploaded some amazing photos from our week in Hawaii, on the big island.


I got some really nice photos of dolphins swimming (on two different days!), and a bunch of turtles. I also hiked out to the volcano and got some awesome photos of lava.

Here’s a quicktime movie of lava flowing:


23 May 2005

Australia photos

Filed under: General — wm @ 7:38 am

We’re in Hawaii now, on our way back to Portland. I just finished uploading the last of the amazing photos from Australia.


29 Apr 2005

We’re not in Kansas anymore!

Filed under: General — wm @ 12:50 am

We’ve only been in Australia for two full days, but we’ve already uploaded a whole bunch of photos from the Cairns area. You can view them at http://www.leler.com/Oz. Unfortunately, I haven’t had time to put captions on them yet. When I get more photos, I’ll probably edit these down a bit as well. But be sure to see the photos of Cindy holding a Koala bear!

I just added new photos, including underwater photos from the Great Barrier Reef.

24 Apr 2005

the last supper

Filed under: General,New Zealand — wm @ 8:24 am

Last night our sweet flatmates made us a traditional Kiwi dinner with all the trimmings: roast lamb, roasted vegetables, and for dessert our second Pavlova. Yummy. I ate way too much!

One of the vegetables we had was called silverbeet. I’m not sure, but I think it is what we call swiss chard. There was also roasted pumpkin, kumara (which is a kind of sweet potato), onions, and (my favorite) parsnips.

22 Apr 2005

Blog Spam

Filed under: General — wm @ 1:28 pm

Arrrrgh! I just spent several hours deleting spam. Not your typical annoying email spam, but spam comments put into this weblog! I had to go through the entire blog and carefully weed them out, leaving the real comments. I changed the options on the blog to try to make it more difficult, but if the problem persists I will probably turn off the ability to leave comments while we are traveling, and then fix the problem when we get home. In addition to the spam comment, each comment triggered an email to me, so I had over 100 emails telling me about all the nonsense messages with embedded links to buy various drugs. Sigh.

I’m reconsidering my opposition to the death penalty, but only for convicted spammers.

The next day it happened again, but I had turned on moderation so the spam comments did not show up in the blog, and all I had to do was deny the more than 100 comments. Unlike the first day when they were all about cheap drugs, the next day they were all about online poker. Weird.

So you can still make comments on this blog, but they won’t appear until I get around to approving them manually (like the comment on this entry, which I just approved).

Knitting Natter

Filed under: Cindy,General,New Zealand — cindy @ 7:56 am

The NZ dictionary describes “natter” as “talking socially”, like “shooting the breeze” or “chewing the fat”. The knitting group that meets at the Newlands Community House, every Thursday morning, is a lovely knit/natter experience . I have learned a great deal about this area of NZ from this group of women and men (as well as terrific knitting tips and projects). This group knits for charity. Wool and needles are donated. Worthy causes that need hats, scarves, mittens, jerseys, etc. are brought forward and taken on. The Newlands Community House is a feel-good place, providing some wonderful inexpensive/free community service. Through the work of the House Coordinator and a dedicated group of volunteers they maintain a toy library; drop-in care; arts,craft and yoga classes; knitting, scrabble and walking groups; a food bank; and a weekly community luncheon. You can even rent this cute space for $5. I feel quite lucky to have been a part of this community and look forward to coming back to them in September.

Here’s a photo of the Newlands Community House Knitting Group:

I walked Karori Wildlife Sanctuary today. The birds were in full chorus. The sun shone through the silver fern trees. And at night we drove to the Botanic Gardens and admired the constellation of glow-worms. New Zealand is a very special place.

19 Apr 2005

Cat eyes

Filed under: General,New Zealand — wm @ 11:15 pm

We’ve gone a number of times to a beach about 15 minutes away from where we live, and usually spend most of our time there picking up “cat eyes”. At least that’s what the locals call them. We’ve found them at other beaches around NZ as well. They seem to be shells that have been worn down by wave action, until just an image of the spiral shell is left. I don’t know what kind of shell they start out as, or why they stop wearing down when they get to this stage. But I do know that they are beautiful!

Here’s an image that Cindy took of some of the cat eyes we have collected. We’ve found hundreds of them!

Finishing School

Filed under: Cindy,General,New Zealand — cindy @ 4:56 pm

Well, I reckon it is about time for a blog entry from me (that’s me, Cindy, just in case you thought Wm likes to knit). Robin and her mom, Eileen, have been working on my diction. Each day during afternoon tea, before I get too sozzled with wine, I learn a wee bit more kiwi. I have been keen as mustard to learn the proper way to speak. Although with all the wine and learning I have to make several trips to the dunny. The rest of the evening we spend nattering on about wop-wops, whipping the cat until the wee hours. Occasionally I hear a “good on you” when I have done well…but not often. The house is often chocker with kiwis laughing at our slang.

Wm and I have been packing: one box to stay here, one for the rubbish bin and one for our clothes, togs, souvenirs, etc, to bring home. Can’t wait to see you all! Let’s go for a tramp and a cuppa soon!

17 Apr 2005

One Week!

Filed under: General,New Zealand — wm @ 11:30 pm

Our first stay in New Zealand is coming to an end in one week! We are taking off for Australia, spending a few weeks there, then heading back to the good old (?) USA. Will be back in Portland at the end of May, to spend the summer. Current plan is to come back to NZ sometime in September.

I’m really glad we took off last week and spent some time traveling around the north island. It reminded me of why I love it here. There are so many interesting things, friendly people, beautiful sights. It is so easy to travel around here, especially for backpackers. And I continue to be impressed at the food. We had a really yummy Korean meal in Taupo, and discovered a restaurant called the Fat Dog in Rotorua that is known for their huge portions, but I was also surprised at how delicious it was. We ate there twice!

15 Apr 2005

Rotorua and Taupo

Filed under: General,New Zealand — wm @ 9:44 pm

Had a quick trip up to the central plateau of the North Island. I think it was the longest we have been without seeing the ocean, but there are huge lakes, including Lake Taupo, the largest lake in New Zealand. It is in the caldera of an enormous collapsed volcano. When it erupted 25,000 years ago, it covered the entire north island of New Zealand under 100 meters of ash and lava.

First stop was Tongariro National Park, which includes 3 active volcanoes, two of which were used in The Lord of the Rings. Mt Ngauruhoe was Mt Doom. Mt Ruapehu last erupted in 1995 and 1996, although the major problem was that it ruined the ski season. We stayed in the Grand Chateau, one of the more famous hotels in New Zealand, which is right between two of the volcanoes. Unfortunately, this time of year you can’t actually see the volcanoes, because of all the clouds (it is autumn here). So we went onto Taupo. The entire area around Taupo, and on up to Rotorua, is covered in hot springs, geysers, fumaroles, and other volcanic features.

Rotorua is also know as a center for Maori culture. We went to two different traditional dances, a traditional Maori meal, called a Hangi, which is cooked in the ground with hot rocks.

I’ve uploaded lots of photos, at http://www.leler.com/NZ-Apr/

7 Apr 2005


Filed under: General,New Zealand — wm @ 7:39 am

It is autumn here (they don’t seem to use the word “fall” to describe a season) and the days are getting shorter, but it is still nice weather for hiking (which they call “tramping”). So we went out for a quick tramp in the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary. I’ve blogged about this place extensively, they have a 500 year plan for putting it back to the way it was before humans arrived, including a big fence around it to keep introduced species out. We did a longer hike in it than we have done before. The sanctuary used to be the water supply for Wellington, before they discovered that a major faultline went right through it. From the entrance (where you check your bags to make sure you aren’t bringing in any mice or other pests) it is a 20 minute walk up to the old dam. We had never gone beyond that before, but we took off, walking the trail along the faultline, which is now a lovely streambed.

The sanctuary is full of birds, and they are not shy in the least. We got a good long, close look at a Tui bird, a large black bird with white tufts on its throat. The Tui is a great mimic, making the most amazing noises. Everything from whistles to grunts, squacks, and beeps. We watched for about 5 minutes while one, just a few feet above our heads, did a singing performance.

We then turned uphill, walking all the way up to the fence that surrounds the sanctuary. Just outside the fence is a wind turbine, which supplies some of the power for Wellington. There is only one here, but a few weeks ago we drove through an area that has hundreds of wind turbines. This area of NZ is smack dab in the middle of the “Roaring 40’s” — a latitude where there are strong winds circling the globe. There are no major land masses in the seas just north of Antartica, so there is nothing to slow them down. As I type this, the wind is howling — they don’t call it “Windy Wellington” for nothing.

While we were tramping up the hill through a forest, a small gray robin was following us. Everytime we would pause along the trail, he would be just a few feet away from us, just as curious about us as we were about him. Robins here are much different than those in the US, slightly smaller and very cute. We also saw a few Fantails, which are the most amazing fliers, doing acrobatics in midair, and flying right through dense patches of tree branches, narrowly missing each branch as if it were the most fun thing to do imaginable.

The other amazing thing we saw during this hike were hundreds of mushrooms. Huge red mushrooms of all kinds of sizes.

To see more photos from the hike, or larger versions of the above photos, click here.

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