Saturday, November 26, 2016

Australian Wildlife Part 1 - Syarra

When we came to Australia I was excited to see marsupials and monotremes and just different animals such as: Koala, Emu, Kangaroo, Wombat, Echidna, Wallaby, Tasmanian Devil, and Platypuses. This is in order of when we saw them.

We saw koala in Raymond island which you can read about here: Koala sits in an old gum tree - Alrica

Since we arrived we have seen kangaroo and emu in Wilsons Promontory, which you can read about in My Second Marsupial - Syarra.

With a Joey
We saw wombats along the road. We also saw some echidna!

Looking away

The ants are crawling on the echidna
That is a short beaked echidna!

And saw a wallaby just recently as we went hiking in Freycinet National Park. I will talk about this later in the blog post.

We have maybe not yet seen Tasmanian Devils or platypuses and definitely not up close. Back in Sale we were walking on a boardwalk over a swamp when we saw something splashing around, but we could not see what, so we had to guess. In wishful thinking I said it was a platypus. For some reason that caught on because now everyone is saying that, though there was a lot of skepticism at the time. Here, in Tasmania, I saw a small fleeting glance at something that might have been a Tasmanian Devil, it was small and furry, and the coloration was brown with white spots.

Now lets talk about Tasmania! We arrived at Freycenne national park at about 10:30 and we started walking down the hiking trail. To our surprise huge mosquitoes (Which the Australians call mozzies) swarmed the trail in full daylight! We had to go to the local store and get mosquito repellent. Overall we have enjoyed Tasmania and I will continue to write about wildlife in Australian Wildlife 2.

Penal Port Arthur - Carver

On Thursday, we went to a place called Port Arthur. We had finished our time in Hobart. Hobart was fun. Unfortunately we didn't get to do much there. We arrived late Wednesday night. We went grocery shopping and went to bed. On Thursday morning, we went to Mount Wellington, a mountain west of Hobart. We drove to the top and enjoyed the rocks. The wind was so strong that I almost lost my jacket. It was stronger than the gale force winds we had one day in Sale. After that we went to a restaurant and ate very good fish and chips and ice cream. Then it was time to go.

We drove and drove and drove and drove and drove and drove and drove and drove... and drove all the way to Port Arthur (actually we stopped to pick strawberries and to look at the Richmond Bridge, the oldest still used bridge in Australia.) Once at Port Arthur, we stopped at the Tesselated Pavement. It was a beach but the ground had been carved into different shapes, the loaf and the pan formation, by the Earth's pressure and then carved further by the waves.
The Loaf Formation

The Pan Formation

Then we saw the Blowhole, a cave formation with a broken-in roof that blows out water when the seas are rough (the seas were very calm that day so we didn't see much.) After that we went to see the Tasman Arch, another cave formation that is now just a gigantic arch. Then we saw the Devil's Kitchen, another cave formation.
The Devil's Kitchen!

The Devil's Kitchen again!

The Devil's Kitchen another time!

All right, this is the last one. I hope I didn't bore you too much.
Oh, look at that! Another picture of the Devil's Kitchen.

Look at the water going over the rock through the arch...


The Blowhole from the left.

The Blowhole from the right.

The Blowhole from the right again (but also in action.)

However, it turns out that the three are all formed by the same thing and that their shape depends on their age. The Blowhole is the youngest and hasn't had its roof completely cave in to form an arch. The Devil's Kitchen is the oldest and has lost its roof everywhere on it. The Tasman Arch will someday fall and become something similar to Devil's Kitchen. And they all started out as a tiny little sea cave.

After that we went to where we were staying and slept. The next morning we drove down to the historic site. Australia used to be a penal colony. England would ship people over on a six month boat ride. They would be forced to do hard labor to build the colony (in fact, the Richmond Bridge was built by the prisoners.) And when they finished their sentence in prison, they didn't even get to return home unless they could afford to buy their way back. Port Arthur was a great place for this. As you can see, that tiny neck of land was the only way out (unless you were willing to swim through the shark infested waters) so they only had to patrol that part.

But we chose not to go because it was very expensive just to get in. So we went to the Remarkable Cave. We hiked about five minutes from the parking lot to a boardwalk above a beach. However, the beach was not right on the ocean. The ocean was through a cave. There wasn't a staircase down to the sand but it would be possible to climb over the fence. We could see footprints on the sand, though.
One of the two entrances to the cave.

The other one. Look, you can see the shape of Tasmania!
Then we went on this walk to another blowhole. We didn't make it there though. On the way was a huge hill of sand. So Syarra and I played in it. As we played, people came back from the blowhole and said there was nothing exciting to see. The sea was again too calm. After that, we went back to the Blowhole we had been to the day before (stopping to buy some very good chocolate from a chocolate place on the way) to get fish and chips (or squid and chips) from a seafood and chips stand we had seen last time. After that, we continued on to Freycinet National Park.

Our sandstone cave!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Bridge the Gap – Erich

Ready for a Tasmanian joke? Here goes.

Why did the platypus cross the bridge?

We have been driving through Tasmania for three days, and each of those days we have seen a somewhat celebrated bridge. How does a bridge become somewhat celebrated? Well, the first and most important element seems to be having been built by convicts.

That probably isn't so rare for things built in a certain period in Tasmania. But not all of those structures lasted until today. Some of the bridges have.

On our first day of travels we saw Richmond Bridge in the village of Richmond. (Unsurprising, I know.) It was built in 1823 and it is the oldest remaining bridge in all of Australia. It crosses the Coal River.
It's a little bit uneven
The Richmond Bridge is built over six arches and two of them cover paths you can walk along. The other four are over water, so it's much harder to walk under them. The bridge has an uneven top due to settling that has happened among the supports over the years. This is because it was built by convicts and designed by people who were not really experts at building bridges. This is a running theme you find in many of these bridges.
That's a pretty good arch for bridge amateurs
Oh, and just for an extra bit of fun: the bridge has a ghost. So legend says. A cruel overseer would drive the slaves carrying bricks to the bridge and whip them horribly. The legend says they revolted and killed him and his ghost is sometimes heard under the bridge to this day. Spooky, yeah? Well, it doesn't keep anyone from crossing it.

On our second day we found a very unusual sight. It's called Spiky Bridge.
Don't worry, I will give you a closer picture of those spikes.
This bridge isn't in any town, but it is outside of Swansea. It also doesn't cross a river, it crosses a gully. The story of this bridge is that the people of the area wanted a bridge to cross the gully, but they had to convince the Major who was in charge of the region. One night, the Major was at a dinner in Swansea and his host offered him a ride home. This required crossing the gully. The host took the gully at full speed so that the coach would be rocked terribly in the crossing. And this convinced the Major that a bridge was needed.
That would not be a fun gully to ride across
Again, this bridge was built by convicts. Again it wasn't designed by bridge builders. But the big question is this: Why all the spikes?
I promised a closer picture of spikes and I delivered. Some people have so little trust.
The answer is that no one knows exactly. Some conjectures are: a) it was to make the bridge more sturdy, though why that would help is unclear; b) It was to keep cattle from walking off the edges, though I suppose rails would have done the trick too; c) It was just something that the man in charge thought would be cool.

Today a new highway runs parallel to the bridge, so it isn't in much use any longer. Though you can pull off the highway and if you wanted to, you could drive across the Spiky Bridge. It wouldn't take you anywhere. Still, we stopped to see it, and sadly, lost our daughter on the way. Her head is now impaled on one of the spikes. I think this is good news for Spiky Bridge as now maybe it too can have a ghost.
The tongue effect is the best part
On our third day about Tasmania, we crossed Red Bridge in Campbell Town. It crosses the Elizabeth River. This is pretty great because you can figure out where these names came from. See, the great General in Tasmania was General Macquarie. And he visited this area with his wife Elizabeth whose maiden name was Campbell.
It's red
Before you ask, yes, this bridge was built by convicts. No, they didn't bring in any professional bridge designers either. But this bridge is on National Highway 1 running from Hobart (Tasmania's biggest city) to Launceston (Tasmania's second biggest city). So the bridge gets plenty of use by plenty of vehicles.
And that really is its name
Beside the bridge is a park and in the park are three sculptures that detail the importance of the Campbell Town area. The first shows the building of the bridge.
A sculpture of the bridge right next to the bridge. Meta!
The second shows some of the accomplishments in art and science and technology achieved in the Campbell Town area. My favorite part of this sculpture is the propeller on the airplane, which actually spins when the wind blows.
Lots of industry
The last sculpture shows some of the unique fauna of the area.
I did not see all of these species in Campbell Town
You will note there is are platypuses (or platypi if you prefer) in that sculpture. But they are not crossing the bridge.

So why did the platypus cross the bridge? I don't know that it did. They are very shy and elusive creatures and we have yet to see one. If I do, I'll ask it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Too Close For... – Erich

There's a saying: Too Close For Comfort. Yeah, forget comfort. Let's talk sanity.

Our family is taking an AP Psychology class through a MOOC (a Massive Open Online Course). Early in the course, we learned about our nervous system and its many subdivisions. And one of those is the sympathetic nervous system. It is this system that responds to perceived threats to increase your blood pressure, release adrenaline, dilate pupils, etc. It creates the fight or flight response.

But these days most people have it activated not by a predator jumping out at them, but rather by stress. It's part of why too much stress isn't so healthy for you.

Today, I am in Tasmania. It is an island off the southern coast of Australia across the Bass Strait. Part of being here today is that yesterday I traveled to get here.

Travel days, as I have mentioned before, are always stressful. But I've gotten much better on this trip at not getting so stressed. Except, really when I have made such a claim, I have been referring to after our arrival in the new place. Ever since our arrival in Budapest, I have found it just not a big deal to be in a place I know nothing about.

This doesn't mean I have transcended the stress though. It's still there, it is just in the getting to everything travel related. Yesterday was a very getting to it day.

First we had to take a train. We had to drive 45 minutes to get to the train station and we made that train with about 2 minutes to spare. I stayed reasonably calm there, because even if I had missed that train, I could have taken one an hour later.

We took the train into Melbourne and had some lunch at the train station. If I had been smart, at that juncture, with plenty of time to spare, I should have insisted we continue toward the airport. See, the next step is to take a bus that goes from downtown Melbourne to the airport.

But we didn't do that right away. Instead, we decided to explore a bit of downtown Melbourne. They have a cool tram system, and in certain zones it is free to ride. So we rode (with all of our backpacks) to the end of the line, by the harbor. There was a nice playground here. But then, there were no trams back.

Okay, there were, but we had to wait quite some time to get to them. By the time we got one and got back to near where the bus was, it was approaching rush hour. The sidewalks were crammed with people. So it was slow going to the bus station.

We managed to catch the bus we needed, but by now we didn't have a lot of time to spare. And traffic was, well, rush hour traffic. So it wasn't a quick trip to the airport.

We did arrive there and get our luggage (the two big backpacks) checked in with four minutes to spare. Then we reached the gate after they had begun boarding.

Every step of the way was a close call. Every step of the way, we had to make it with mere minutes to spare. And then the rest of the day was ruined for me. I was more or less a wreck inside.

By the time we arrived, collected luggage, hired (rented) a car, and drove to our lodging, we were basically after the hours that restaurants are open around here. But we went to the grocery store. That was also close to closing time, but we had fifty minutes to shop. That should be no problem, right?

Sometimes time is on your side, but you don't really notice it then. You notice it when it isn't. And yesterday it wasn't.

So let's be sympathetic for my sympathetic nervous system.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Them Thar Hills – Erich

What is so important about gold? Yesterday we visited a gold mine, or a mine that still has gold in it but isn't currently being worked. And Carver asked essentially this question. Why gold?

Gold is soft and easy to work, making it great for coins and jewelry. But you can't make tools out of it like iron. True, gold doesn't rust or degrade, but stainless steel is pretty resistant to that too.

So what was it in antiquity that made people willing to die and to kill for gold? Why was it so sought after by everyone from Californians to conquistadors?

I don't know. But I did learn more about getting it out of the ground.

We headed up to Walhalla, here in Victoria. Walhalla is a neat town, sort of held in time from when it was last truly populated. Now 23 people live there, but it lives on for historical tourism.

Walhalla is in a valley between two mountains and you have to climb a twisty road to reach it. In the winter, because of its position between two high ridges, they only get about two hours of direct sunlight a day. We were happy to be there in the spring.

But in its time, Walhalla was a thriving town built around gold mining. There were five separate gold mines in the mountain at its west. We visited the Long Tunnel Extended Gold Mine. We went in with our guide and with one other couple from the United Kingdom.
It's cold inside there
It took the miners ten years to even build the main adit (horizontal shaft at the entry and exit level.) Then they built a boiler room in the back so they could have steam power for drills and eventually for a lift (an elevator). After this they dug straight down and made more horizontal digs running directly under the main adit. Each of these was mined for anywhere from one ounce to a maximum of about fifty ounces of gold per ton of rock. Most of the time it was around 3 or 4 ounces per ton.

The mine was active for fifty years from 1865 to 1915. Inside we saw the main shaft, one smaller shaft, and the big boiler room and lift room at the backs. We learned why timber is used to build the supports and not metal.
This kind of support is called a "pig sty"
When the rock begins to press on wood, the wood creaks and moans. The miners say timber speaks to them. So they know that something is wrong and they have to fix it or get out. With metal, it keeps quiet. It just bears the weight until it can't bear it anymore and then suddenly snaps.

The highest paid man working inside the mine was the lift operator. The lift could only carry two men at a time. And they were all down on various levels, some of them far below ground. They didn't have radios to communicate with the lift operator, so if they needed the lift, they had to pull cords to ring bells.

The lift operator had to carefully listen to Morse Code being rung out by bells to figure out which level needed a lift car. If the miners were blasting with dynamite and the lift operator sent the car to the wrong level, those miners didn't get out in time. One of many ways to die in the mines. We'll get to more on that.

Because the lift operator had to hear so closely, the lift needed to run as silently as possible. So there was another man who had to, once a day, climb a ladder up into a dark sloped tunnel. He had to go to its peak where the big pulley for the lift was. Then he had to grease it to keep it quiet.
The ladder for the pulley greaser
But the pulley greaser was not the second highest paid man in the mine. That was the dunny man. A dunny is an Australian slang word for a toilet. The dunny man had to go from level to level and collect the excrement and then get it up and out of the mine.

Since the mine was built, 52 people have died within it, and perhaps a much larger number died because of ailments they got mining there. There were a lot of ways to die.

Of course there were rockfalls and cave-ins. There were supports that fell away and dropped people into deep shafts. The lower levels were underwater so had to be pumped out. This didn't stop occasional drownings though. At the very lowest level, the water was still ankle to hip deep and bitterly cold. Some of the men who worked here died of foot rot. I'm not entirely sure what that is, but it sounds horrible. I'm resistant to looking it up online because I don't necessarily want to know what it is.

Other miners died of miner's lung. It's similar to black lung in coal mines, but this was the super fine silicates that got into their lungs and shredded their alveoli. Then they would live on with less ability to breathe day after day. And some died of arsenic poisoning, as the matrix that holds the gold also holds arsenic. Of course, no one knew that at the time.

In the end, it wasn't the deaths that stopped the mine from production in 1915. There were two factors. One was the first World War. Many of the miners left Australia to go fight for the mother country. But that was not the main reason.

What was? Wood. To run the boiler required 35 tons of wood to be burned a day. In addition, timber was needed for supports. Plus people who lived in the valley needed wood to build their homes and then to heat their homes during the winter. There was a lot of demand for wood.

By 1915, all of the trees within 20 km of Walhalla had been cut. At that point, getting wood from further away and transporting it to the mines was so expensive that a ton of wood cost as much as the gold found in a ton of rock. It wasn't economically feasible anymore. Besides, none of the miners could afford to keep their families warm in the winter.

Now that entire region is covered in tall trees. But they are all regrowth over the last century.

Understand, the mine didn't stop running because they couldn't find gold. They never ran out of gold. There still is gold in them thar hills. Just no one is mining for it any longer.
The family, a mine cart, and rusty tools! It's got everything.
That's okay with us. I wasn't looking for a new career as a miner. As Carver, who is still three years shy of the 15 year requirement to begin work as a miner, pointed out: What really is so important about gold?

Certainly nothing I want to risk my life over.

Politics - Alrica

I don’t generally like to talk politics with people and have mostly stayed out of the arguments on Facebook but here it is Nov 8 in Australia, which means we are less than 14 hours from the poles opening on the east coast of the USA and I wanted to express my concerns and fears. As we have traveled around the world over the past year, we get asked frequently about the US elections. They start by asking the open-ended, “So, who do you like: Trump or Clinton?” I can’t say that I like Clinton that much, but my answer is always, “NOT TRUMP!”  The asker then goes on to express his dismay and confusion about how people in the USA could have let Trump get this far. They express genuine fear about what a Trump Presidency could do to the world.

See, here’s the thing. When we left on this trip, I was worried about how people would react to us as Americans in the wider world. But what I found was that world-over, people have incredible respect for the US. That, in general, they believe that we are doing the right thing and that we WILL do the right thing. When people ask where we are from, the USA gets a bigger smile, a welcoming comment, or an expressed desire to visit. While I know that everything is not perfect, in general, we are the good guys.

I think about the world that I want for myself and my children, and it doesn’t include more walls. It doesn’t include hatred or fear of people based on who they are, what they believe, how they dress. It includes seeking out truth and understanding. Believing in science and trusting in democracy.

Teaching our children to be good people is one of the most important things we do. It would never be okay for my kids to make fun of a disabled person. To sexually assault someone (or brag about it) or consider one gender to be less than another. To lie or cheat people. To espouse hate and violence and anger. We teach our children to control their anger. To think before they act. To show respect for others. To find the good in people. How can we hold a Presidential candidate to less? How can we allow a person like this to represent our people to the world? This campaign has not been about policies (though I don’t really align with any of the candidates on policies), this is about character. Trump is NOT one of the good guys.

In many places in the world, voting is required and, of course, in lots of places, people can’t vote. In the US, we get to choose. I hope all of my American friends will choose to vote this year and will think about who they would be proud for their (or my) children to look up to.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Hey Bridge, Bridge, Bridge, Bridge, Swing! – Erich

In mathematics, often we are interested in uniqueness. It isn't always enough to say that something exists, but we want to show it is the only one of its kind. Here's an example.

Say A R and Ǝ z ϵ A such that x ϵ A, z x or in English we are saying set A is a subset of the real numbers and there exists (that's the upside down E) an element z of A, such that for any element x of A, z is less than or equal to x. In other words, z is a minimum element of A. We might want to show that this minimum is unique.

The easiest way would be to do a proof by contradiction. We will assume the opposite, that there is more than one minimum. And then we will show that any two minima (or minimums if you, like spellchecker, prefer) must actually be equal.

Say z ϵ A such that x ϵ A, z x and y ϵ A such that x ϵ A, y x . (Those upside down As mean “for any” or “for all”.) Then we know from the property of z that z y and we know from the property of y that y z. Therefore, z = y. The minimum must be unique.

In life outside of mathematics (and yes, even I accept that there is life outside of mathematics) we are also often interested in uniqueness. I guess an interest in uniqueness isn't unique.

Well, we got to see something unique, the last of its kind. In Sale, Victoria, Australia, there is a swing bridge.
The Swing Bridge of Sale
If you don't know, a swing bridge is an alternative to a drawbridge. A drawbridge has a deck that rises to an angle to allow boats to pass. A swing bridge is also designed so boats can pass, but it rotates. The deck moves from perpendicular to the river to being parallel to the river's flow.

The swing bridge of Sale is not the only swing bridge left in the world. But it is the only swing bridge left in the world that rotates a full 360°. This swing bridge rotates on a central pillar. And it can, if needed, keep rotating all the way around.
Part of the rotation mechanism on the central pillar
The mechanism to accomplish this requires many parts. Not only were there the rollers on the central pillar, but a complex gear structure is required.
Gear structure
And the underside of the bridge needs to be able to roll on the supports.
Rollers where the end of the bridge meets the support
The swing bridge isn't really needed these days. There is no longer boat traffic that requires it. But, normally the bridge is still rotated on Saturdays, Sundays, and the second Tuesday of every month, just so people can see. It's a national engineering heritage landmark.
Recognized for its unique and historic character
Sadly, right now, people aren't rotating it. And why?
A view of the catwalk from above
See that catwalk. Of course, it is designed so that workers have a place to stand while they maintain or repair the mechanism. But it is also apparently a favorite place for vandals to do their work. And because of recent vandalism, the swing bridge is not in operation until repairs can be completed.

It's a shame. It was neat to see the bridge regardless, knowing how it functions and that it is the only one of its kind left in the world. But it would have been even cooler to see it go.

Unfortunately, in this life outside of mathematics, Ǝ (there exists) vandals. And that problem is not unique.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Post 200, Time to Look Back – Erich, Alrica, Carver, and Syarra

This is our 200th post on the Extravelganza411 blog. We thought that as long as we are accepting this base 10 supremacy of society, it would be a good time to look back on everything we have been through so far.

This is a joint post, with input from everyone about things that we should recall. And we'll start with Extravelganza411 in numbers!

We left Lancaster, PA on August 14, 2015. We traveled within the USA and then abroad. Since that date, we have been on five continents in 20 countries (if you include the USA). The graphs below show you the percentage of our time spent in each continent, and in each of the countries. Note: Vatican City is grouped within Italy, as our time there was not enough for it to really show up as much of anything on the graph. Besides, we didn't spend the night. Though the Pope asked repeatedly if we would, but we didn't want to impose.
The blog itself has had 20310 views in that amount of time. Of these, 16762 are from within the United States. The second highest number of views comes from France with 973. And then, pretty surprisingly, the third highest is from Russia with 333. I'm not sure how we are getting word to Russia, but apparently someone there checks out the blog.

Of the authors, Erich has been the most prolific, followed by Carver, then Syarra, and then Alrica. (And then our one guest blog post from Erich's mother, Joni, reflecting on her stay with us in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.)

Perhaps Alrica has contributed the fewest posts of the four of us, but hers are the best viewed posts. The most viewed post on our blog was the very first one, Getting Out the Door, with 190 views. It talks about starting the adventure and the difficulties in getting the momentum going.

The second most viewed post is also by Alrica, titled Chondrosarcoma, and it has 186 views. This one is about Alrica's unexpected bout with a very rare form of cancer, discovered as we were making our plans to leave.

Finally, Erich cracks into the top three with the third most viewed post, Or Not. This post, with 174 views, tells of the sequence of events in Chiang Mai, Thailand that led to us being (thankfully) kicked out of a house sitting engagement we were supposed to be beginning that day

The least viewed, if you are curious, is Man of Stone by Erich with only 11 views. But in fairness, it was posted less than 24 hours ago, so it hasn't had enough time to make its mark

Or Not is a pretty short title, having only six characters (counting spaces.) But it is not the smallest. That honor belongs to Carver with his post whose title has only three characters. It is called UCH about his work as the Ultimate Chicken Handler at a farm where we house sat in France.

Three posts have only four characters, which you would think would be good for a win, but no. They are Fear by Alrica, Yop! by Carver, and San' by Erich.

The longest title of any post unquestionably goes to Carver. It is The Things I Thought About After Posting My Last Blog Post (including clarifications, and the night before the flight, and yesterday) with a whopping 133 characters. I would tell you what it tells the tale of, but it tells the tale of so many things, you should probably just read it.

Carver has a propensity for long titles as both the second and third longest titles are also his posts. They are The very important person who I can never respect again because the first time I saw him, he had a pigeon on his head with 117 characters, and South Gaul Pop Quiz and Further Plans and my Excitement about Going to Hungary and Why it Isn't all of Gaul with 107 characters. 

While these numbers have been interesting, one set of numbers has been on our minds a lot: money. It has been Alrica's job to keep track of our budget, which we are doing surprisingly well on. Our initial budget was $3000/month. This needs to include things like storage of our stuff in Lancaster and continuing deposits into our retirement account so it is really closer to $2300/month. For the first few months, Alrica kept track of every penny that we spent trying to get a sense of how we were spending our money, dividing it into categories of housing, food, supplies, travel, and communication. This wasn't so bad in South Africa where much of our payments were by credit cards, but by morocco, which is an entirely cash economy, every glass of orange juice became a challenge to remember and record. By the time we got well into Europe, budgeting switched to a monthly function of keeping track to ensure we weren't badly overbudget.  

Many of you might be surprised that a family of four can live off of $2300/month or roughly $75/day. It helps to live slowly. Most of our accommodations have been airbnb's which we get at either a weekly or monthly rate depending on how long we will be staying there. We have used this service 16 times. When it fits our needs, we try to housesit. Housesitting is a service where we stay in someone's home and take care of their pets but no money is exchanged in either direction. We have enjoyed getting to know our hosts, and love playing with their pets. The financial upside is that it is free accommodations from which to explore an area. Travel is our second biggest cost. We try to take buses, public transportation, ferries, etc. where appropriate but flights inside Europe and inside Asia are surprisingly affordable, sometimes more than trains. Our best deal was Berlin to Paris for $52.20 for the whole family, including our two checked bags, followed closely by Bangkok to Chiang Mai for $68. Our 3rd biggest expenditure is food. In France, at $447.85 for groceries alone, this was our biggest expenditure since even the grocery stores were terribly expensive and we cooked almost every meal. In places like Chiang Mai, a full meal was between $1-2 per person so we ate out almost exclusively, just keeping a stock of peanut butter and jelly for those times when it rained and nobody wanted to leave the apartment. Finally, the theft of our backpack, which only had clothing and eyeglasses, in South Africa and cell phone in Morocco cost us $996.88 but left us more careful and cautious.

But we have amassed many things besides just numbers. (This is not in any way meant to diminish the importance of numbers, of course!) Here's a helpful collection. We have found the two most useful phrases to know in any nation you visit are “Thank you” and “Hello”. So we have compiled a table of how to say each of those in the foreign countries we have visited.
Useful, right?
The next most useful thing to know how to say is the numbers. See why we didn't want to diminish their importance.

On our journey we have discovered many amazing foods. Each country has its own specialties, and many of these we do not know how to make ourselves. But there are some we have learned to cook.
  • Pap from South Africa
  • Meatball Tagine from Morocco
  • Crepes from France
  • Tom Kha Kai (Coconut Milk Soup with Chicken and Galangal Root) from Thailand
  • Phơ Bô (Beef Noodle Soup) from Vietnam

In addition to these we have written several posts about foods we have encountered.

We've also written about culture, traffic, methods of travel, birthdays, meeting people, seeing nature and wildlife, seeing cultural sites, getting haircuts, shopping for groceries, and fire hydrants.

We've had highs: the gorgeous sunsets in Greece, the many African animals in Namibia, the Kat Rim Khan night market in Thailand, and our introduction to marsupials in Australia.

We've had lows: Our backpack stolen in South Africa, the hotel room with bedbugs in Spain, the tatami mats in Japan, and, well, we don't yet have one for Oceania.

And most of all, we've definitely learned. We've learned about geography, history, religion, and culture. But most important, we've found out that people everywhere are decent, friendly, and kind. They want a safe world for themselves, opportunities for their children, and peace between all. No entire group is bad, and no individual is perfect. But we're all pretty good.

And if we learned nothing but that, it would be enough to justify the journey.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Man of Stone – Erich

The Golem of Prague was a man made of clay. Superman is the Man of Steel. But do you know of the Man of Stone? Or perhaps more precisely, the Man Half of Stone?

He was the Nargun, a mythical half-man, half-stone creature in the stories of the Gunaikurnai Aboriginal people of Australia. According to the legends, the Nargun is made of stone except not all of him. But most of him. And if you attack him with a boomerang or a spear, it will just bounce back at the attacker. (The aboriginal Australians didn't have guns or even metal weapons, so there is no mention of what would happen if a sword or bullet hit him. Unlike with Superman where we know what would result.)

The Den of Nargun is a real place located in what is today Mitchell River National Park in Victoria, Australia. We visited the park today and walked to the Den of Nargun.

On the way we saw and heard kookaburras. Though never at the same time. I mean, we saw kookaburras, but they weren't making their laughter-like call. And other times we could hear the “I'm so amused” call of those birds, but we couldn't see who was making it. (This reminds me of a new proposal. I suggest we stop calling bird calls calls and instead call them their ringtones. Good idea?)
Rapids on the Mitchell River
We also got to see the Mitchell River and the canyon it has formed. We saw scarlet parrots. And we saw this guy.
What is it wearing? Is that a shell? A leaf? A tortilla?
I don't know what he is. Like a cross between an insect and a hermit crab?
We climbed down into the canyon and then we climbed up out of it
The area is filled with lovely waterfalls, tall canyons, steep paths, and the unusual flora of a temperate rain-forest, close to the furthest south that any such temperate rain-forest exists.
This is part of the going back up
We did then proceed to the Den of Nargun. Among the Gunaikernai people, stories were told of how the Nargun would grab and eat children who were found at the pool outside his den. This both convinced children not to wander off, but also to stay away from the den.
The Nargun lives in there
However, the Gunaikernai people did use the cave as a location for learning and initiation rituals for women. It is a place that the Gunaikernai men did not and still do not go. Visitors are asked not to cross the pool and enter the cave, out of respect for the Gunaikernai traditions. We only gazed at it from across the pool at its mouth. We certainly would never want to disrespect the traditions of those who lived in this land for thousands of years before Europeans arrived.

I mean, who would do that? You'd have to have a heart of stone. Or perhaps more precisely, half of stone.