Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The Land of Fire & Ice

I read an article in Lonely Planet about Iceland about a year ago and decided I would add it to my list.  It sounded incredibly fascinating, and seemed like an easy enough trip.  When I found out in early May that I had to use some vacation time (a long story), I tried to convince my cousin that we should go to Iceland.  She was not easily convinced, but after several failed attempts to book trips elsewhere I finally won her over.  Well, to be fair, I think Pinterest pictures of the Blue Lagoon won her over, but regardless of where the credit lies, I found a good deal and she said "Yes!"

WOW Airlines now flies from Pittsburgh to Reykjavík non-stop, and at a very reasonable price, so it's actually very easy to go for a long weekend; which is basically what we did, just during the week.  We flew out Monday night (arrived early Tuesday morning) and left Friday afternoon.  If we were to do it over I might choose a different flight arrival time, or perhaps I'd book a hotel night for the night we left (meaning we could check into our room at 6am when we arrived).  Depending on the difference in cost between flight times, it might be cheaper to have the extra hotel night expense.  Anyway, Tuesday was a bit brutal since I don't function well without proper rest and I can never sleep well on planes.  We made the best use of our early morning by settling into some lounge chairs in the lobby and trying to sleep, then we decided to go find a bakery (this act unwittingly set the tone for our trip) before our tour began at 9:30am.

We did a tour of the city (obligatory photos below) and also visited the Northern Lights Center where we learned about the aurora, got our hopes up about seeing the aurora, and saw spectacular photographs of said phenomenon.

Reykjavík with Hallgrímskirkja Church in the background
HÖFÐI House - where Reagan and Gorbachev met in October 1986

Hallgrímskirkja - Lutheran (Church of Iceland) 
Viking statue outside the Saga Museum
We also had a quick tour of Perlan (The Pearl); four hot-water storage tanks, situated on a hill, on top of which they created a beautiful glass dome that houses a restaurant and gift shop.  Surrounding the dome is an observation deck with fantastic views of the city.  They just opened a man-made ice cave inside one of the old tanks, but we didn't have time to visit that. We returned to our hotel around 2pm, and were thankfully allowed to check into our rooms and get some proper rest.  We would be heading out to attempt to view the elusive Northern Lights at 9pm.

Saturday, May 6, 2017


It has been a long week at work.  The new system has been giving us (mostly me) a lot of trouble this week.  We shipped over 1800 packages last Tuesday with no major issues.  Beginners luck.  With our official "go-live" date occurring this Monday (we went live early, and a bit unexpectedly, for one client last week), things have been a struggle since, to say the least.  I didn't get home until nearly 8pm on Wednesday night and the issues still were not resolved!  Then Thursday morning God brought me to Hebrews 10:26-39 in my devotions (or time of personal worship as my Pastor prefers to call it).  I just couldn't stop the tears.  How often do I count "the blood of the covenant by which he (I) was sanctified a common thing"?  Probably every day.  I rarely give it any thought.  Then verse 34 reminded me of the prayer request from Advancing Native Missions a couple weeks ago that our pastor brought to us.  There were Syrian refugees in Turkey who were going back into Syria to baptize some new believers.  They had asked for prayer that if they were captured that they would die quickly, and that if they were tortured that they wouldn't deny Christ.  I just didn't even know how I was to respond to it all.  The first notation from my sermon notes this past Sunday was "Lord, am I lethargic in my walk with you?"  The world is a mess and I lost sleep Wednesday night because our shipping system isn't operating properly!!  What am I doing!?  But, I had to remember the rest of the sermon; a sermon about a life of significance.  In doing my job well and working hard I am "being merciful to God's reputation"- my work does matter, it just may not look as grand as the tasks to which God has called others.

"Drudgery is one of the finest touchstones of character there is. Drudgery is work that is very far removed from anything to do with the ideal – the utterly mean,* grubby things; and when we come in contact with them we know instantly whether or not we are spiritually real. Read John 13; we see there the Incarnate God doing the most desperate piece of drudgery, washing fishermen’s feet, and He says – “If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.” It requires the inspiration of God to go through drudgery with the light of God upon it. Some people do a certain thing and the way in which they do it hallows that thing for ever afterwards. It may be the most commonplace thing, but after we have seen them do it, it becomes different. When the Lord does a thing through us, He always transfigures it." -- Oswald Chambers
*mean: as used here, something or someone ordinary, common, low, or ignoble, rather than cruel or spiteful."

significance (noun)

1.  importance; consequence
2.  meaning; import
3.  the quality of being significant or having a meaning

Monday, April 24, 2017

West Coast Roadtrip

A point that I failed to mention about my time in Western Australia, is that I crossed something off my bucket list!  Well, 2 things really, but only one is listed on my blog bucket list.  I have now been in the Indian Ocean!  I only have the Arctic Ocean left on my list, and to be honest I'm not that keen to cross it off; although, I hear there have been some amazing technological advancements in wet suits.  And yes, some of you might be wondering why I left out the Southern Ocean.  To be honest, I have no idea.  Although, in researching this topic I found out that some Australian "cartographical authorities define the Southern Ocean as including the entire body of water between Antarctica and the south coasts of Australia and New Zealand".  So, if I go by that delineation I still only have the Arctic Ocean left to check off my list!

On Sunday, we drove 820km (about 509 miles) from Exmouth down to Kalbarri.  We arrived at our hostel around 4pm and I headed to the pool to cool off.  Ann and I chatted for a bit and then decided we'd head to the beach to watch the sunset.  We were early so Terry, Ann, and I walked down to the pier to see what was happening.  To be honest, calling it a pier might be too generous; it seemed to me to be more of a large dock.  The setting was quite idyllic with two young families fishing and having fun.  We made it back to our starting point in just the right amount of time.

We took some photos, in-between swatting flies, and then headed back to get ready for dinner.  I realize  now that I'd failed to mention in previous posts about the flies.  From a bit south of Kalbarri to just south of Coral Bay there are flies, lots and lots of flies (despite that fact that there is a near constant wind)! I'd been warned about the flies before my trip to Uluru a couple years ago, but had thankfully not encountered them (due to my visiting in winter). The prevalence of flies has led to the common use of flynets in many parts of Australia:
If you'd like one of your own you can purchase one here - they ship to the U.S.
I had certainly enjoyed my reprieve while further north, and the decrease in fly activity.  Anyway, back to the facts.  This was our last night together and we enjoyed a phenomenal buffet dinner at a local hotel just a short walk across town.

Our first stop, on our last day of the tour, was at a lookout over the coastal cliffs; a spot called Pot Alley.  From there we headed to a pink lake.  It's not the famous Pink Lake, but it was fascinating none-the-less.  No-one really knows why the lake is pink. Scientists speculate that the colour comes from a dye created by bacteria that lives in the salt crusts.  Most of the lake was empty since a local company extracts the bacteria and uses it in health & nutrition products.

On to Greenough, to visit a Wildlife Park owned and operated by a woman named Michelle.

 We got to feed the animals that she's rescued, including a camel, a horse, kangaroos, goats, and sheep.  We were also able to hold a joey (baby kangaroo) named Rosie - she was incredibly adorable!  Our last stop of the day was at Lancelin to visit the sand dunes.  Several in our group tried sand-boarding (no connection to water-boarding), but I'd done it before and don't like the end result, so I declined.

And so, our trip had come to an end - I got dropped at the train station in Perth and quickly caught the train to Freemantle. Demi had mistakenly told me that the YHA was just across the street from the station in Freo and I for some reason had no map that listed my hostel!  A rookie mistake.  I had a map, but it didn't extend far enough to show the area where my hostel was located.  In addition, everything in Australia (except in perhaps Sydney, Melbourne, or Brisbane) shuts down after 5pm, especially on a Monday.  The first gentleman I asked had no idea where it was located, but God sent me a lovely lady on try number two.  She looked it up on her phone and after a few minutes of trying to figure out how to direct me she just walked with me!  When Google maps proved to be no help she called the front desk; unfortunately that gentleman was just as un-helpful.  I was staying at the Freemantle Prison YHA (which had seemed like a great idea until I was lost in a strange city, at night looking for a prison), so she got me as close to the old prison as possible (we were standing along the old walls) and said that if I walked along the walls I should eventually find the part that housed the hostel.  Long story short, I did eventually found it and despite their desperate lack of signage guiding you to their location it was a nice place, for an old convict prison.

 2 days, 1,000 miles, and one prison stay - not bad for a road trip :)
Exmouth to Perth

For a little perspective :)

Saturday, April 1, 2017

West Coast Beaches

We spent most of the day on Saturday visiting beaches in Cape Range National Park.  They were lovely, but none of them had any shade (and I sunburn easily).  No trees, just a lone umbrella that Ben had purchased under which he could hide (he'd been sunburned the day before).  We had rented snorkel gear, so at the first beach I waded in and snorkeled away, only to be stung by the jelly fish that were quite proliferate at the particular location.  Thankfully it wasn't a bad sting, and I did see a turtle and some fish before that happened.  I wasn't "jonesing", as they say, to snorkel so I decided to walk the beach instead.  It had a two-fold purpose since it also kept me cool - it was a scorcher of  a day and I can only stand to lay in the sun and cook if it's not too hot.  I believe the average temperature in Exmouth for this time of year is about 95°F.

After lunch at a second beach (this one thankfully had a small picnic shelter that we were able to snag) we headed off to one last snorkel spot.  Since I'd reapplied sunscreen recently I determined that my wisest move would be to stay out of the water for a bit to let it soak in some more.  This beach was mostly large rocks and there were tons of crabs scurrying all over the place.  If you weren't paying attention I'm sure you could easily have missed most of them, they do an excellent job of camouflaging themselves (although, as soon as I typed that I thought, "God's really the one who camouflaged them").  This beach had less jellyfish, so I did eventually get in the water; it's much cooler in the water and you can't get burnt under the water.  We didn't last long at the beach though, everyone was too tire, hot, and cranky.  Thankfully, I only seem to have some sunburn on my feet and ankles, which I quite certain is from yesterday's adventure (there's a distinct line around my ankles where the wet suit stopped).  After arriving back at our hostel Arpana and I headed to the pool to enjoy the rest of our free afternoon.

"Exmouth is situated at the tip of a slender peninsula, enabling you to watch the sun both rise and set over the water.  The best view is from the lighthouse." This little note was on an advertisement for Exmouth that I had ripped out of the 'Qantas Spirit of Australia' inflight magazine on my flight home in March of 2015, and it was certainly a good tip.

We all hopped in the bus and headed up to Vlamingh Head Lighthouse to watch the sunset.  Exmouth was first used as a military base during WWII.  "During the Second World War the North West Cape became a very valuable refueling depot for US Navy ships, and the Air Force developed a base at nearby Learmonth."
There were several of these with lots of fascinating facts about this area

"Navigation along the north west coast had long been known to be hazardous
 (it is one of the most dangerous coastlines in the world)"
Although it was certainly not the most amazing sunset I've ever seen, it was beautiful - especially the after-glow.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Ningaloo Reef

Tour Day 4

That's a whale shark in their logo - WA is one of the
spots in the world where you can swim with them.

The whole reason I took the Aussie Wanderers tour was to see the Ningaloo Reef.  It’s a fringe reef, so, unlike the Great Barrier Reef that requires an hour boat ride to reach it, this reef comes right up to the shore.  Also, because Western Australia (WA) is so remote, it doesn’t have as much human interference or traffic, so the coral and the sea life are more abundant and much healthier.  I did a day tour with Ningaloo Reef Dive to see the Manta Rays.  I didn’t realize when I booked that you had the option to scuba dive (or I would have), so I only snorkeled.  The visibility in the water was amazing though, and I saw so many things.  On our first guided snorkel we saw tons of Black-Tipped Reef Sharks, some were quite large, and two sea turtles!  One of the turtles was only about 3 feet from me, so I was able to get a close-up.

Had to snap a picture of this coral - don't you love its funny face?

 Of course there were fish galore: trumpet fish, parrot fish, and lots of other fish of which I don’t know the names.  We had a snack back on board the boat and waited for our spotter plane to find us some Manta Rays.  Once the plane found them and directed our boat to them, Jen, our snorkel guide, jumped in to keep an eye on them so each group (we’d been split in two) could get to them.  On the signal we quickly slid into the water and swam hard over to Jen.  They were HUGE -- a bit freaky looking as well, but very cool.  We even saw 2 at one time, which is quite rare according to Jen.  One of the rays even had two sharks swimming along underneath it.  You know it was great when the staff is super excited (or “frothing” as they like to say).

It was coming right at me, so I had to get out of the way!!

Back on the boat we had a nice lunch while cruising around (another boat had spotted a whale earlier, so we went searching for it but never saw it).  We did, from the boat thankfully, spot a tiger shark.  There was a “bait ball” (a big swarm of fish swimming really tightly together) and the sharks were trying to get the fish up to the surface so they could eat them.  On our last snorkel of the day we saw a cowrie shell, which is extremely rare to spot during the day.  The water here is an incredible shade of aquamarine, absolutely stunning.  Back at the hostel I met up with our group and we set off for Exmouth, where we’d spend the night in a bug free hostel!

Coral Bay, Western Australia

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Longest Flight in the World

They say “reckon” a lot, instead of “think” – I reckon it might rain this afternoon.  And instead of “How are you doing?” they ask “How are you going?”  When you ask a flight attendant if something needs put in the overhead bin, they respond with, “I’ll pop it up for you, do you want your jumper (jacket) with you?”  Oh, Australia, I’ve missed you.

Yes, it is a long way to Australia, and my flight from Dallas to Sydney is currently the longest flight in the world, clocking in at 8,578 miles (roughly 17 hours of flying time).   Blessedly, every seat has its own entertainment system and they give you free food. Check out the menu for my return flight - they know how to treat you right.

 My travel time was increased even further due to the fact that I flew directly on to Perth (an additional layover plus a 5 hour flight).  Sadly, I goofed and used the ePassport kiosk in Sydney (I’d never had the chance before and it seemed quicker) so I don’t even have an Australian stamp in my passport.  Live and learn.  Staying in a hotel my first night was an excellent decision, any trip that takes over 30 hours deserves a hotel room all to yourself.  Getting from the airport to the hotel took well over an hour, a few buses, and lots of asking for directions.  It was about 3pm when I arrived, but the Art Gallery of Western Australia was only open until 5pm, and it was too early to go to bed anyway, so I freshened up a bit and headed off.  I’d read that they have a lot of Aboriginal Art in the gallery, but wasn’t all that impressed.  It is a small gallery and it wasn’t really the art I was looking for, although a lot of it might have been done by Aboriginal artists.

There were some nice pieces though and it did kill some time.  I stopped at Woolworths to grab an evening snack and then headed back to the hotel.  There wasn’t much on TV except coverage of Cyclone Debbie hitting Queensland, so by 8pm I was out.  That, of course, meant that I was awake by 2am, but it was to be expected, no matter how little sleep I’d had in the last 30+ hours.

I was the first one picked up for my Aussie Wanderers tour and we ended up with a lovely group of people.  For the beginning of the journey I sat next to Jaimie, a 19-year-old from Cornwall here visiting his uncle in Perth and traveling around until he starts uni (college is high school in the UK, and university is our college).  There’s a couple in their 70’s from Seattle, WA (Terry and Ann), 2 other British guys: Josh and Ben; a Swiss girl named Alex, 3 German girls: Arpana, Suzanne, and Juliane, and a Canadian named Lauren.  Our only noteworthy stop on day 1 was at The Pinnacles Dessert.  Covering a distance of about 10km, the rock formations are unexplained, even to this day.

 There are several theories about their formation, but nothing concrete.  Our accommodation for the evening was at Big River Ranch in Kalbarri National Park.  We took a hay ride on the back of a truck so see their little piglets, and to feed some cows and horses out in the field while the sun was setting.  The bathroom situation left a lot to be desired.  We all shared one big trailer that had been refitted in to a bathroom.  That wouldn’t have been such an issue, but there were no locks on the bathroom stall doors (an awkward situation with a mixture of boys and girls).

Day 2 was an early start to beat the heat.  We headed to the Murchison Gorge in Kalbarri National Park and after a short hike several in our group tried abseiling (we’d call it repelling).

 After a fair bit of driving we stopped at Shell Beach, appropriately, if not unimaginatively named, for a little beach break.  While there I saw several shovel nosed rays and possibly a little shark.  The water was really clear, but the wind made the surface a bit too choppy to make out details.  Our accommodation for the night was at Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort (Mia is pronounced MY-A, not ME-A), which is located in Shark Bay.  The town is known for its wild dolphins that live in the bay and they have a lot of rules in place now for human interaction with the dolphins.  They’re very careful not to do things that will change the dolphins natural habits (let’s just say they learned from earlier mistakes).  They only feed 5 of them, they can tell them apart by their dorsal fins and they only feed them 10% of their daily food requirement so that they don’t become dependent.  Lots more driving today, it’s about 780 miles one-way to get from Perth to Exmouth.  We stopped in a little town called Denham for lunch and  then made a stop at the Stromatolites; they’re really only noteworthy if you believe in evolution, although I guess if you're into biology they could be interesting.  We drove through some random patches of rain and saw several rainbows and some beautiful clouds with the sun setting behind them.  It was a lovely evening drive, to be sure.

We spent our third night at the Ningaloo Reef Club in Coral Bay and it was not my favorite (or anyone else’s for that matter).  Because of the rain there were bugs everywhere.  No exaggeration, the walls were covered in grasshoppers, beetles, and other random bugs.  To make matters worse there were tons in our room for the night as well!!  Thankfully we killed enough of them to allow me to sleep without fear and we did manage to get the AC to work, so all was well in the end I guess.