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Oh, Alaska!


Eagles mate for life. Even romantic partners need a little space once in a while.

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Sometimes you need a little space

One of them decides to go fishing. A bald eagle can dive at speeds of up to 200 mph.

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Gone fishing

This juvenile bald eagle won’t go bald (head and tail turns white) for about five years. He’s paying attention, learning how to fish.

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Juvenile eagle learning the ropes

“Stay away from my kill!” An eagle will scream and then emphatically rip into its kill as a warning to other eagles that they will fight rather than give up the food. Eventually, they give way.

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Hungry and willing to fight

Ah, but bald eagles are pirates known for stealing booty. They can spot that kill from two miles away. The kill attracts lots of attention.

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Fighting and feasting

After a while, a few juveniles hang around for scraps of spoils.

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Juveniles waiting for the leftovers

Meanwhile, something attracts the attention of a black bear.

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I think I heard something!

Hopefully, it’s not this spike bull moose, whose antler configuration makes him legal for hunting season. (Not that that matters to any bear)

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A male moose hoping not to be dinner

Everybody gives way to the grizzly bear. This guy strolls through the horsetail grass in the wetlands of our backyard. He eats anything he wants along the way. Coastal brown bears grow larger than their grizzly cousins in the interior, due to plenty of seafood proteins.

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A big brown bear looking for dinner

Perhaps this young cow moose swam across the river because of the bear’s scent.

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A young female moose hoping not to be dinner either

The romantic lovers meet again. Nothing can harm the top of the food chain, except for humans.

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“So happy together…”

Oh, Alaska. You’re almost as beautiful as my romantic wife. Happy 22nd anniversary, Babe!

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Happy Anniversary!

Ron Mitchell

 

ALASKA SATISFIES THE SENSES


We love to travel the world and see different things. Rarely do we visit a place twice. So why have we come back to Alaska for the sixth time? Let me try and answer that…

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Hanging out in the solarium on the Alaska State Ferry

 

Traveling here presents an adventure in itself. I chill-out on a lounge chair with a sleeping bag for three nights under the solarium on the Alaska State Ferry, from Bellingham, WA to Haines, AK. Even make a few friends along the cruise up the marine highway, which cuts through mountains and occasionally stops at remote towns.

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Wrangell, Alaska

Marilynn had a more exciting adventure. She drove the entire Alcan Highway, through Canada to Alaska, slept in her car off the road during a snowstorm, and once even car camped in a Walmart parking lot while in the Yukon! Look at the amazing array of wildlife she gets to see along the way….

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A Black Bear feasting along the Alcan

Smell the fresh air. Winds blow over glaciers, rivers, sea-filled fjords, and pristine forests. The smell of fresh air has almost no smell at all.

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Grey Wolf near Muncho Lake

See the surrounding glaciers, mountains, rivers, canals and forests. The view never grows old. Fabulous scenery engulfs us the moment we arrive.

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Chilkoot Lake

Feel the cool days and nights. Love the feeling of being cool during summer. Beats the hell out of that excessive heat back in Phoenix, AZ!

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Davidson Glacier

Taste some of mother nature’s delights. I caught four Dolly Varden (trout) my first day here. Looking forward to the Sockeye Salmon run that should begin next month. Maybe I’ll catch one this year, who knows?

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Dinner!

We pluck wild oyster mushrooms from a decaying Cottonwood log in our “backyard” as an excellent side dish for the fresh fish. As I write this, we are still hoping that they were indeed oyster mushrooms!

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Oyster Mushroom – we hope!

The sound of a running river serenades us to sleep at night. (Doesn’t really get dark this time of year) Sometimes rain pouring on the cabin’s tin roof adds to the music. A symphony of bird songs wakes us each morning. Sure is a nice break from the noise of freeways, airplanes, sirens, helicopters, and politicians!

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“Home”

Our backyard is the Chilkat River in the Bald Eagle Preserve. Hundreds of bird species appear at different times of year, along with seasonal salmon runs. Each fall season, over 3,000 American Bald Eagles converge right here for the final salmon run on this continent, like an annual convention in Las Vegas.

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One of the 400 full-time residents of the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve

This summer marks our fourth year volunteering in Haines, Alaska as caretakers for Alaska State Parks. That basically means that we clean and stock outhouses, bring garbage into town, and keep the preserve clean. In return, we get to live in a small cabin in the woods. This one even has the luxury of electricity. There is no running water, but driving about 22 miles to fill containers with glacial fed spring water has a certain Zen feel to it. Our outhouses are only 100 steps away from the cabin.

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The watering hole

The small town of Haines (1900 pop) has no stoplights. Some folks don’t lock their doors. Others leave their keys in the car, parked “downtown” for friends that might need a lift. “Just let me know where you left it.” We have made some good friends here.

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Haines, Alaska

Alaska not only satisfies our senses, it overwhelms them. And we appreciate it!                       Ron Mitchell

 

Australia: Ending the Adventure with Blue Mountains and Bondi Beach


 

Driving and flying around Australia for seven weeks, three of us covered lots of territory, and lived in very close surroundings (three beds in one room). Yet, we still love each other!

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Seven weeks was not near enough time!

Adjusting to driving on the left side of the road results in not only a warning ticket, but both Marilynn and I were alcohol breathalyzed by police on separate occasions. The cops must have thought that we had been drinking.

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Opps! Found this waiting for us at home in the USA.

We wrap up the adventure with several hikes in the Blue Mountains, a popular area only 1 and 1/2 hours away from Sydney. “Get there before 9:00 am to beat the tour buses from the city,” our motel manager says. “The tourists don’t speak English, and don’t know how to que.” (form a single line)

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The Blue Mountains

Katoomba, the main small town in the region, provides an excellent home base for day hikes. Numerous cafes and the unique residents, including a Tennessee-based messianic Christian sect, make the town a cool place to hang out in the chilly evenings when not hiking.

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Katoomba

Many trails traverse this temperate rain forest that blankets canyons and mountains. Some of the main attractions include “Three Sisters” rock formation towers and “Echo Point” lookout.

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Three Sisters

The “Grand Stairway” proves to be a heart-pumping hike with over 1,000 narrow steps out of the canyon, past waterfalls and odd rock formations.

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Just part of the Grand Stairway

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Many waterfalls. Many steps.

The forest canopy shields us from the sun, while wild Cockatoos fly in flocks and squawk as if they are mad at somebody.

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Cockatoos

We avoid the crowds of tourists and children at “Scenic World” which we affectionately nickname, “Wally World.”

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Scenic World cable car

To its credit, a person can access views of the canyon if unable or unwilling to hike, via the glass-floored cable car that goes across the canyon, and a different cable car that descends into the valley at a 52-degree angle.

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Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk

We found that the large cities in Australia share at least one thing in common – fantastic walkways.

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Breakfast!

After a breakfast of salmon/shrimp/pea frittata on our last day in Australia, we walk from Coogee to Bondi Beach (where we kept our clothes on) and back on the Clifftop Coastal Walk.

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Coogee Cliffs

This 5.5 km walkway could not be more scenic and was especially pleasant on this overcast day. What a perfect way to prepare for a 13-hour flight back home!     Ron Mitchell

 

Driving Australia’s Gold Coast, from Brisbane to Port Macquarie


Before catching up with Pat and Marilynn and renting a car with them, I rode 29 hours on a greyhound bus where the only scenery consisted of sugarcane fields.

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Sugar Cane – The view for miles and miles and miles

The most exciting event was at a bus stop, where a man selling coffee says to me, “You have beautiful teeth. Are they yours?” Had to think for a moment, as I do have two molar implants. “I guess they’re all mine.” I yank on them to make sure.

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Byron Bay

“Nobody goes there anymore…it’s too crowded.”  Yogi Berra

Rent a car and you get to see more sights by taking tourist roads off the main highway. Byron Bay is big and beautiful, but too crowded on Easter holiday. Getting out of here quickly takes a long time.

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Emerald Beach

Enter Emerald Beach, where seclusion and heart pumping beach hikes suit our style. Kangaroos know what I’m talking about, as they hang out here too.

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Hi there fellas

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The Rules

We decide to rent an apartment in Port Macquarie, which provides an array of opportunities such as purchasing and cooking our own fresh catch from local seafood markets.

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The harbor, Port Macquarie

Why go out to a restaurant (expensive throughout Australia) when you have a kitchen, and balcony overlooking a river and ocean bays? Not to mention stunning sunrises.

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Why go to a restaurant?

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Wow!

Some guys catch their own, fishing from painted rocks along the walkway.

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Rock Art in Port

Beach hikes weave in and out of coast and rain forest. Watch out for those Cockatoos, though. “Those birds are destructive,” a local woman says with a sneer. “They destroy my gutters and tear limbs from my trees.”

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The Birds

I suppose that nobody’s perfect, but not even the birds?   Ron Mitchell

 

 

Australia: Reunited In Brisbane


The worst part about traveling solo is being alone. The best part is, well, being alone.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Lone City Walker

After a good night’s sleep on a nineteen-hour bus ride from Airlie Beach to Brisbane, I wander the streets at dawn. My schedule consists of having no schedule at all.

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Beautiful Brisbane

I must admit to growing weary of solo travel after two weeks of it, and look forward to Marilynn and Pat flying here in a couple of days.

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Here She Comes!

Meanwhile, I get a great deal on a fancy downtown hotel, the “Mercure,” and catch a long workout in the rooftop gym. Then, I take a luxurious bubble bath in my private spa tub, and take the opportunity to wash my laundry in it as well. Naked laundering. Very efficient. The sisters will love this place after being in the outback of Alice Springs.

Photo by Ron Mitchell

Gym on the 13th Floor

The city of Brisbane boasts many great walking/jogging/bicycle paths, that take you over cool bridges, through botanical gardens, and around man-made lagoons.

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Cool Bridges

The free city ferry weaves around the river that snakes through Brisbane. Hop off at any stop.

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City Ferry

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Lagoon

Photo by Ron Mitchell

Fabulous Walkways

In the evening, I walk into a bar (Imagine that) and stumble upon “Ball Queen Bingo,” where a community of drag queens run bingo games each Tuesday and Saturday night.

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Ball Queen Bingo Anyone?

After munching a kangaroo steak sandwich smothered in spinach pesto, it’s back to the luxury hotel for some more luxury. I’m not much of a shopper, even in this major marketplace, but do manage to purchase some baked, spicy crickets.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Crispy Baked Crickets Look Cool in a Salad

Can’t wait to sneak a few of these buggers into Mare and Pat’s salad!

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Spicy Baked Crickets from “Zeed Bugs”

My girls show up just in time for two hours of free cocktails and snacks, nightly compliments of the Mercure Hotel. Life is good, perhaps even better when you are fortunate enough to share it with someone.        Ron Mitchell

 

 

 

Australia: Pat and Marilynn’s Excellent Outback Adventure


Sisters take a road trip into the outback, and the road goes on forever in western Australia.

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Forever, and ever! Thank goodness for the meat pie in the trunk (with beer and wine…)

It seems that rewards await at the end of every journey. This time it comes in the form of an underwater observatory in Busselton.

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The Underwater Observatory in Busselton

Deeper into the outback they drive.

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The Outback

This day ends with evening strolls and morning jogs along the beaches of the beautiful Bay of Isles, in the town of Esperance.

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Esperance

After a long drive through brush fire damage to Kalgoorlie, Mare explains to a woman that she and her sister are traveling on their own for a while.

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Lots and lots of fire damage

“Oh yes,” the woman says. “Girls need to take time from their husbands for manicures, spa days, and shopping.”

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The Super Pit in Kalgoorlie

Little does the woman know that they’re “not those kind of girls.” These gals are more interested in Australia’s largest gold mine, and the Country’s oldest operational brothel!

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The S & M room in Questa Casa, one of the few remaining brothels in Kalgoorlie

They call semi-trucks hauling three containers (or more) “road trains” in these parts. These monsters of the highway can have as many as 84 tires and weigh up to 150 tons.

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Saw more than a few of these puppies along the way

Back on the west coast the sisters land on a different planet. Nobody knows for sure how the stalactites actually formed in the Pinnacles Desert, as each geological theory dispute the other.

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The Pinnacles Desert

Time to fly away from the west and journey to the red center. Alice Springs lives a world away from everywhere else in Australia.

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Approaching the great rock

It does not take long for them to find a favorite bar, “Uncles.” Bars will be bars and boys will be boys. The bartender throws out one very big, cranky, drunk man. No worries. Soon, an extremely intoxicated Aboriginal guy serenades the sisters with an unintelligible song.

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Kata-Tjuta

One does not visit Alice Springs for the company. Access to Uluru and Kata Tjuta draws the curious. Mare says, “The feeling of being there defies description.”

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Uluru at sunset

Where will the girls go next?  Ron Mitchell

 

Travel Tale: To Airlie Beach, Australia


I’m still traveling solo. A 10-hour bus ride brings me to Airlie Beach in the darkness of night. The bus stop is void of taxis and buses. My motel is three miles away. I’d get lost trying to walk it, and possibly get run over while pulling this stupid red suitcase on plastic wheels. Can’t call a taxi. Don’t have a phone. Don’t have Marilynn either!

Photo by Ron Mitchel

What can I say?

Ricki, a young mate I met on the bus, lives in Airlie Beach. His phone has a dead battery, so he cannot call a taxi either. “I live five minutes away,” he says. “Walk to my house with me and I’ll drive you to your motel.” Australians are very friendly.

An envelope with my name on it hangs in the dark at the closed motel office. At least the flashlight on my cellphone works. The envelope contains a key and manual of rules, such as:  Any smoking will result in fines and immediate eviction. No partying. No swimming on beach without a stinger suit. No house cleaning services, this is self-catering. No noise after 9:00pm. No working girls permitted. And my favorite… “We have sand flies, and recommend that you apply sand fly repellent.” It’s time for a beer.

Photo by Ron Mitchell

My Favorite Bar!

So, I walk into “Banjo’s Bar and Bistro,” a neighborhood joint that sits conveniently across the street. After a few cold pours, folks start looking familiar to me. “Meatloaf” from that rock group, and Jeff Daniels from the movie “Dumb & Dumber” stand out. (Jeff is “Drunk and Drunker”) When Meatloaf leaves his woman to get more drinks, Jeff hits on her. “Hands off!” Meatloaf yells several times from the bar. Jeff goes away. He returns a few drinks later and hits on her again. Meatloaf warns him, but Jeff persists. They end up in the parking lot, and Meatloaf connects an effective left/right combination that bounces the back of Jeff’s head from the asphalt. Jeff wobbles away. I say to Meatloaf, “Nice combo!” He replies, “Go away.” Luckily, I understood the  Aussie accent that time.

Photo by Ron Mitchell

Boardwalk

Travel brings rewards. Simply seeing different things is good enough. In the morning, I stroll along a boardwalk that parallels bays, marinas, and waterfront cafes. After walking it many times, sodden in sweat, I wise up and rent a bicycle.

Photo by Ron Mitchell

Marina

In town it’s a backpacker party, with many blonde Scandinavian gals and guys wearing bathing suits, all quite young. Although soothing to the eye, I feel uncomfortable. Two local, older Aussies call me over to sit with them. No agenda, just some friendly chatter, quite common with this culture. Too bad I cannot understand a word they say. Goes like this: “Ewe gongabilly lewie lattie?”  “What?” He repeats. I lean forward. “Huh?” The other guy says, “Froumthestatesareyagoing.” I grasp that one. “Yes, Arizona.” They start laughing and say, “Donald Trump!” We toast to the entertainment of American politics. I’m sorry, Trump fans, but he’s an embarrassment abroad. As soon as people detect my American accent, many of them laugh and say, “Trump.” I just shrug and laugh along.

Photo by Ron Mitchell

Steeler Bird

Back at Banjo’s, my favorite bar, a cold pour with a grass-fed steak (don’t all cows eat grass?) delights immensely. Friendly locals call me to their table. Here’s a fragmented summary of what I could understand, and yes, I’m writing notes and they seem to love it: “Meatloaf” just married his woman two days ago. Australian rugby is so tough that the World League won’t play with them, because of the lack of rules. They think that NFL players are a bunch of sissies because they wear pads and helmets. Aussies fist fight each other (like my generation used to do) and are friends afterwards. They don’t shoot each other like Americans do now. A snorkel and dive tour operator explains that Scandinavians, Irish, and Scottish cannot swim, maybe on account of the cold water in their countries. “The Chinese look like they’re playing hack sac when they try to swim.”

Ranchers and opportunists shoot Dingoes on sight. There’s a $50 bounty for females, $25 for males. Dingoes kill livestock. (I suppose that the Dingo did eat that baby)

Photo by Ron Mitchell

This is not a Dingo

I ask about Fosters beer. Hadn’t seen it anywhere in Australia. “That’s sheetsatthebongodakeg, Mate. Biddersbeatoepdilly.” I’m catching the accent.

About immigration… “We have sex with our farm workers. You Americans can’t.” What? Huh? I need further explanation. “Young Scandinavian girls come and do Farm Stay labor, and get paid enough money to travel around for a year. Americans get Mexican families struggling to make a living.” I wonder if they are considered “working girls.”

Australians are as tough as they are friendly. Okay, let’s travel on, and hop a bus for a 19-hour ride to Brisbane. “Stiatunedmate!”                            Ron Mitchell

 

Solo Travel to the Great Barrier Reef


Traveling alone feels weird.

Photo by Ron Mitchell

Trippin’

Even though they speak English in Australia, the accent is often hard for me to understand. (Some even cough with an accent) Making travel arrangements on the fly takes loads of time and work. I’ll never complain again, Marilynn!

Photo by Ron Mitchell

Fish

Got to take a tour if you want to see the reef. Many leave from Cairns. I’m at least 30 years older than the 40 other folks on this snorkel/dive tour of the Great Barrier Reef. We speed to the outer part, about 50 miles from shore. None of the kids talk with me (many speak Chinese anyway), and they totally quit looking my way once I remove my shirt to put on the mandatory full body stinger suit. (Mare would have taken take a photo of that)

Photo by Ron Mitchell

These Aren’t Mushrooms

But underwater is where it’s all happening, Baby!

Photo by Ron Mitchell

Seriously, This Is Not An Aquarium

I take terrible photos on land, and have no business trying to take them while bobbing around in whitecap water during a rainstorm. Touching the wrong button produced a ten-minute “selfie video” of chaos and a few views of me coughing and gasping for air. Despite drinking lots of salt water, I managed to snap a few nice ones down under.

Photo by Ron Mitchell

A Coral Cliff

The miracle of technology creates cameras for photographically challenged.

Photo by Ron Mitchell

A Colorful Fellow

So, there you have it. A short and sweet unedited tiny sample of The Great Barrier Reef.

Photo by Ron Mitchell

Coral

 

A fellow traveler at Lake Baikal in Siberia once told us, “Some people just have to see it.” The Great Barrier Reef will certainly blow your mind, if you ever get the opportunity. I had to see it. Thank you, Abundant Universe.  Cheers.     Ron Mitchell

Perth, Australia


Perth surprises us. We’re expecting some Australian outback on the western coast. Instead, a clean city with gleaming buildings rises along the Swan River.

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Perth skyline from the water

Cafes, shops, and restaurants line the streets. The old architecture blends with the new as blue skies and sunshine dominate the weather.

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Downtown Perth

Many walking and biking paths surround waterways, as do numerous apartments and condos.

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The view during our daily run/walk in East Perth

Buildings grow before our eyes. Perth is booming.

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Separate walking and biking paths line the river

Take a boat tour on the Swan River to where it meets the Indian Ocean at a major port in in the town of Fremantle.

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Coming into Freemantle

A hangout for artists, writers, students, and tourists. Some nice beaches and cafes can be found here as well.

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The beach in Freemantle

Many mansions vie for space along this part of the river, some priced upwards to 70 million dollars. Jeepers. Not what we expected at all.

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How much for that place?!?

Each mansion owner seems to own a sailboat.

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Adios Amigas!

Perth marks the spot where I part ways with my two lovely travel companions. As Mare and her sister Pat head out to explore the real Australian outback, I head Northeast to play around the Great Barrier Reef. Lifetime dreams coming true. Happy trails and love all around! Thank you Abundant Universe.                  Ron Mitchell

 

 

Traveling Tasmania, Take Two


Hop a ferry and get shucked, Baby! We be eating our way through a picturesque drive on Bruny Island. Fresh oysters not only exceed guidebook hype, but raise the bar of future expectations.

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Moo Brew and Oysters for breakfast

Just down the road, more food and drink options include Bruny Island Premium Winery, Bruny Island Cheese Company, and Bruny Island Berry Farm. Too bad the berries were out of season. All the while, enjoy fresh air blowing through the windows from the numerous bays, vineyards and farms. Bruny Island is definitely worth a day trip.

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The “neck” on Bruny Island

Drive south to Port Arthur, which holds the heart of vicious pride in the history of Tasmania.The British sent thousands of convicted criminals to the stone buildings on this isolated bay.

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Port Arthur Historic Site – Penal Settlement

Their sentences came in biblical increments of 7, 14, 21, or a lifetime of hard labor. Just figure on a lifetime sentence, since there was no route home except by ship.

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Help!

The “ill behaved” lived in isolated cells where they were fed the same three meals daily, two of them being porridge. Strict Calvinistic religious influence imposed silence, (reflection) as the word of the day. They were allowed out of isolation one hour each day, under the solitude of a hood. In church each Sunday, they stood in upright wooden “coffins,” watched by a guard to prohibit tapping on the standing coffin next to them. No talking, no knocking, or 150 lashes will remind you to reflect.

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Ron at church in prison

Very few inmates escaped. Most died there, their bodies buried on a small island with no headstone. “Because they were criminals in life, they deserve to be forgotten in death.” Those that endured the sentence had nowhere else to go. So a community of skilled convict shipbuilders, loggers, and shoemakers was created.

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Driving the Tasman Peninsula

Some managed to procreate. Don’t ask me how, as women were kept in a separate colony. Hey, we gonna find a way, Baby! When convicted youths arrived (age nine and up), they presented unskilled labor and discipline problems. I could go on, and on…but let’s just agree upon the oxymoron of criminal justice. Don’t miss this fascinating place if you ever have an opportunity to visit Tasmania.

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Near the “neck” on Tasman Peninsula

Spend the night at Parson’s Bay retreat, where you cannot drink the water without boiling it, but the gourmet restaurant serves Wallaby medallions and goat curry.

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Hiking on Freycinet Peninsula

Continue the drive north through the Freycinet National Park and take the short hike to wineglass bay lookout, through terrain that resembles Freddie Flintstone’s town of Bedrock.

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Wineglass Bay

Reward yourself at Pasini’s restaurant in the nearby town of Bicheno. The beer was cold and the seafood pizza blew our taste buds away.

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Seafood pizza!

Bed down in Launceston, where you can walk the cataract gorge along the river.

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Cataract Gorge in Launceston

Drink fresh beers from the James Boag brewery. One of the ales is so special that it’s not permitted to leave the state, even to mainland Australia. Before flying away, head north for a final drive through the Tamar Wine Region for fine wines and luscious scenery.

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Tamar wine region near Launceston

Truly, Tasmania stands out as a highlight of our adventure, giving us an unexpected diversity of wildlife, culture, terrain, drinks and food, food, food!

Thank you, abundant universe.  Ron Mitchell

 

 

 

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