Saturday, December 30, 2017

15 Days - New Zealand (north island)

Yep - headed to New Zealand on a solo trip. 
Jan 29 - 11:20pm Virgin Australia VA2 LAX to Sydney (arriving Jan 31)
Jan 31 - 10:30am Virgin Australia VA142 to Auckland (arriving 3:35pm)
Jan 31 - Feb 15 - touring New Zealand north island
Feb 15 - 8:00am Virgin Australia VA143 Auckland to Sydney
Feb 15 - 11:15am Virgin Australia VA1 Sydney to LAX (arrive 6:05am same day)

My planned route - staying at Airbnb's - is shown in this map (click here). The plan includes diving number 30 of one listing of the top 100 dive sites in the world (click here to see list) here: Poor Knights Islands (click here).

Friday, November 10, 2017

Wrapping Up My Second Trip Down Under

And in what seemed like the blink of eye, this trip down under is over. Another superb trip!

Unknowingly I booked my return flight on the same day as the Melbourne Cup horse race - which is celebrated on Karragarra Island with a community picnic/fund raiser organized by Gary and Sonia.  So, the day before I departed they were involved in preparing for the event including lots of finger foods.  I followed their suggestion to take the ferry to the mainland and drive about an hour away to the beautiful Tamborine Mountain — home to several National Parks, a Botanical Garden, a Heritage Center (history museum), and hiking destination.  I enjoyed a fun, beautiful day of hiking and enjoying the solitude of the parks and gardens and included a lunch stop at a local brewery.

I returned to the Island in time for yet another delicious dinner with Gary and Sonia — now great friends who I hope to visit again in 2018.  Even as I write this, I am amazed and pleased that Gary encouraged this stop in this beautiful part of Australia.  And, I’m super pleased that I took a chance on assessing his genuineness.  

I booked a motel near the airport for the day before my return flights — so I could get the rental car returned early and have a relaxed departure.  It worked our perfectly. Little did I know when I booked the motel that it would be walking distance from the Brisbane cruise terminal — which now has new meaning knowing Gary/Sonia and their son run the port operations.  

As you might imagine, I’m already watching for cheap fares to return to dive Fiji, to revisit my cousin in Melbourne, to visit friends and do another live-aboard in Cairns and, of course, to return to Gary/Sonia’s island home - perhaps to include Melbourne Cup next year.  Another great trip — wrapped — with more lined up.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

New Friends

One of the many fun things about traveling is meeting people.  Sometimes they are just people I get to know for a brief part of the trip and don't get contact information, and sometimes they are people who I will stay in touch with, follow on Facebook, and/or visit again.  This trip has been no exception: I'll definitely try to stay in touch with some of the folks on the scuba diving adventure and I've enjoyed getting to know my accommodation's host in Cairns who took me out to a pub on two of the nights to "join" her trivia teams (I'm terrible at trivia, but enjoyed the evenings).

But this story is about the continuation of a contact that started in Bali last March -- with typical "traveler" connection kind of conversation.

It's always a bit of a "dance" to discern the seriousness of the "come see me," or "let's stay in touch" invitations I've gotten during my travels -- but for many reasons, including his assertive way of making sure I had his email, I felt the invitation by "Gary" during a short poolside conversation was genuine.  And with my usual "what's the worst that can happen" attitude, I followed up the meeting with email exchange that probed his seriousness.  Of course the emails gave him lots of opportunity to shut down, or defer, the invitation -- but that didn't happen and I embarked upon the trip with tentative plans to visit him.  Tentative?  Yes, of course.  After all, I knew about as much about him as he did me.  And in this case, it wasn't an easy -- pop by and visit.  He lives on an island about an hour south of the Brisbane airport.

On Halloween, I flew from Cairns to Brisbane, picked up a rental car -- and following his guidance, proceeded to a small motel in the town of Redland Bay (here) he arranged.  He had encouraged me to say hello to the owner -- who also owns a villa in Bali (made another "friend") -- and after that proceed to a nearby locals' restaurant.  All went smoothly.

The next morning I proceeded to a nearby residence with gated parking (he had left a gate remote at the motel for me) -- where I met up with Gary and his wife Sonia, who was visiting the residence (home of one of their 4 children) to pick up their newest grandchild, a four month old, for the day.  All prearranged by Gary, who had to proceed to a business meeting, I accompanied his wife on a ferry ride

to their home on Karagarra Island (here).  It's worth remembering that until arrival on island, I just thought I would be staying in a unit/room near or in Gary's home.  I quickly learned that I was staying in a second, waterside guest home about 1/2 mile away from their residence.  After showing me around, Sonia gave me the keys to their SUV and I arrived at my accommodations - a fully equipped home. And this was the place:

And this was my view from the rear: 

And that night I returned to their place for a delicious lamb shank dinner:

As you might imagine, all my trepidation about the genuineness of the connection from the brief Bali-poolside conversation 7 months ago, vanished as I got to know Gary and Sonia -- owners of several successful businesses including all the port operations services for the very busy Brisbane cruise terminal, and learned about their family (4 children in their 30's and grandchilden).

Gary and Sonia are like me -- haven't met too many "strangers" except those who want to remain strangers -- and conversation flowed easily such that I was happy to agree to join Gary on a two day - 22 hour road trip to near-Sydney and back, including an overnight stay at another relative's house, to pick up a vintage jet boat he had purchased.  Here we are returning on the ferry with the boat -- one just like Gary owned as a young man.
Of course I was with him for its maiden voyage of his ownership:
I'm staying a total of 6 nights -- enjoying more outings and meals with Gary/Sonia -- and learning all about Aussie island life and their businesses, their lives, their families.  It's been delightful.  It was definitely another lucky day for me to have crossed paths with Gary last March in Bali.  I'm already thinking of when I can return and continue to enjoy their friendship in this beautiful piece of the world.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Another Lucky Personal Connection

So here comes another unusual "lucky personal connection" story:  This last March I met an Aussie poolside in Bali - chatted with him about an hour or so -- and yesterday I was driving his SUV, moving into his "guest" house - a fully furnished, waterside home, and sitting down to a lamb dinner with him and his wife at his primary residence, also waterside just down the road.  Where: On Karragarra Island (mapped here) only accessible by ferry south of Brisbane.

Before I tell the details story in my next posting (don't have time tonight to write it all), its been fun for me to reflect on several such unusual and lucky personal connections I've experienced in my travels, including:

1. Adding a Dutch "daughter" to my life from a chance meeting on a flight to Amsterdam (told here) - leading to knowing her mom and brother and staying with them in The Netherlands and hosting them in Portland and on a road trip to San Francisco.

2. Adding a Chinese "son" to my life from a chance meeting with the adult son of his host family in the USA (told here) and traveling with him to the home of his parents in rural China (told here).

3. Adding a Chinese businessman friend to my life and having dinner with his wife and family from a chance meeting on an intra-China flight (told here).

4. Adding entire Balinese families to my life by (a) making a personal connection with my Balinese driver (told here), (b) taking a chance on asking a Balinese fisherman if I might go fishing with him (told here); and, (c) taking a chance on alternate path on my route (told here).

Of course, those are just a few that come to mind.  This most recent story -- in my next posting.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Diving The Great Barrier Reef

So, in keeping with my sometimes-blogged-about observation: people generally more enjoy hearing about what went wrong on a trip rather than the "I loved this and that."  Truthfully, I even enjoy telling the travel-hassle stories more than the "I went here and saw this and that..." (well, except for Facebook which I consider to be mostly "bragging" anyway -- and I use it that way as well).

And, this diving experience did serve up a few of those stories that I'll lead with:

1.  On one of the dives, I led my buddy back to the wrong boat!  Humbled by the error, thereafter I relied more heavily on the superb underwater navigation skills of my diving "buddy" for the 11 dives - a 30 year old dentist from Argentina.
She sweetly shared in the miscalculations -- and the experience could not have been better in being reminded that sometimes we learn best from failure!  Of course we enjoyed many laughs about it -- including the reactions of the divers on the other boat who were also just coming in from a dive.  When one asked how we got there -- I just told 'em we swam in from Cairns (3 hours away)!  Also, we didn't hold the record for getting lost on our boat -- others had to be picked up more than once -- and we had some solid excuses as the boats were identical from the same company -- with the same name ScubaPro.  Ours just happened to be ScubaPro III instead of ScubaPro I and there had been some challenging current that affected other divers as well.  I couldn't help but think about all the platitudes about only seeing what you are looking for!

2.  I failed to realize that unlike Bali diving, this company did not provide "booties" to wear inside your fins -- and I ended up the 11 dives with toes that looked like they could be good shark bait. No long term damage -- and really quite minor in the big scheme of things -- but irritating nonetheless.  I won't be making that mistake twice -- but I may well end up on the wrong boat again someday!

That's it -- nothing else to add to the fun of difficult travel stories.  The rest was AMAZING!  Great people (24 divers from around the world), great staff (fun and talented), great training, great food, comfortable bunks (I was bunked with a mid-20's guy from Santiago), calm seas (no one got sea sick), and wonderful dives.  And I learned a ton -- not only because I decided to take the Advanced Open Water certification and the Enriched Air certification training -- but also because most the dives were not guided.  Don't get me wrong -- I greatly prefer guided as it eliminates much of the underwater worries regarding time and place, and makes for a MUCH more relaxing dive, but being totally responsible for ourselves (buddy and I) and all our own gear preparation took my diving capability to a new level.

These photos don't do the trip any justice -- but there was little time for photos anyway and it's an experience, like diving itself, that no photo can explain.

And yes we saw sharks (2) and many turtles of all sizes -- and lots of beautiful fish.  I even experienced my first ever night diving (did two of them).  But please don't ask me to compare diving here and in Bali -- every dive is amazing and like life itself, sometimes the "experience" depends on so many variables -- weather, mood, attitude, people you're with, comfort with gear.  I truly believe I could go diving in the exact same spot every day and have a truly unique and wonderful experience each time.  As I have gotten more comfortable in the water, I truly love the feeling of weightlessness -- and I love just taking a relaxed pace.  I do think it's a little like motorcycling in this way:  some people treat it as a search, and speed along looking for the next thing -- others enjoy the ride in the moment.  Every fish, every school of fish, every clam (and we saw some giants), every coral, is fascinating when viewed from the weightless state of diving.  I'm convinced that there is no "one best place."  The Great Barrier Reef did not disappoint and I'm happy to make this bucket list check mark -- and I will be delighted if I should have the opportunity to return!


Those who read my blogs know that I enjoy the unusual signs I see - and Cairns served up a few on my walk around the town.

And I saw another van like the one above -- but it was moving too fast to get a photo.  Liked the saying though: "Love is like a fart...if you have to force it, it's probably shit."

Another Lucky Choice - Cairns Accommodations

Arrival in Cairns went super smooth as the host of the guesthouse met me curbside at the airport and transported me to her place where I had booked two nights before and two nights after the live-aboard diving experience.

I quickly learned that this host, in addition to the private room that I rented (, provides longer term student housing for international students who come to Cairns to study English - arranged through the school.  She provides "host mom" type of connections for these students including breakfast and dinner.  She invited me to breakfast (included) and dinner (for a tiny fee), and I had great fun getting to meet and visit with these 17 to 25 year olds from Columbia, Japan, and France.  Once again I felt like I'd made a lucky choice in accommodations -- as it was clearly the best of what I enjoy: my own private room with great wifi, but in a hostel-like environment where my mind gets expanded and humbled by interacting with young people motivated to change their lives and future by both study and travel.  The second night she even invited me to go to a local pub where she -- and on this week, her one student from France, participate in a trivia game night.  We had great fun with lots of laughs -- as another Australian joined our "team."  I wasn't much help to the "team" on the questions -- but had a fun time learning about everyone.

The place was also a perfect spot to walk to the retail diving store where I needed to check in for my live-aboard -- and walk around Cairns picking up some last minute necessities.

Another lucky choice - indeed!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Wake Up America!

Waited for and rode on the rental car shuttle back to the airport with a couple who had flown to Australia from New Zealand just to attend the MotoGP motorcycle races.  As you might imagine, motorcycles and my booking in January to go to New Zealand made it easy to forge ahead with as much conversation as time allowed.  But the interesting tidbit that prompts this posting is a comment the young woman made about having learned from a friend who moved from San Diego to New Zealand: most Americans only get a couple or three weeks holiday time each year, not the 5+ weeks Kiwi's get.  I acknowledged, that, sadly, Americans continue to fall behind other nations in so many areas including holiday time.

The brief conversation prompted some reflection as I settled into my seat: Here I am enjoying the privileges that a career in Federal public employment allowed me, reflecting on how the USA could be so much better than it has become.  Short holiday time for most American workers even seems minor when compared to our other challenges: no single payer health care system (except for those over 65), costly college education, out-of-control gun ownership, religious intolerance, wall-building bigotry, increasing homelessness especially for the mentally impaired, inadequate/challenging child care funding, distant, meaningless wars that go on and on, as well as war words with North Korea -- just to name a few.  And embarrassingly, we Americans currently have a completely dishonest clown as President -- still supported by some 36+% of our electorate because of their ignorant bigotry, misinformed beliefs about immigration, abortion, gun rights, religious freedom, just to name a few.

Oh wait!  From the people I know who follow my blog -- I'm preaching to the choir!

Time to select Van Morrison's "Bright Side of the Road," lean back and let my earbuds coast me into taking a nap, and wake up in a better mood.  After all, I'm a lucky bloke -- headed to Cairns to accomplish yet another "bucket list" item - scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef.

So, I wrote all of the above before I learned that my seatmates -- Canadian citizens in their early 30's from Quebec are making a year-long world tour with their now 7 month old -- had sold their home and put everything in storage because the accountant mom gets a year off - half paid at 93% of her full salary - upon the birth of a child and the police officer dad gets a full year off at 50% of his salary.  Exactly the kind of benefit where Americans lag on the world stage - that I had just written about.  Of course I learned their blog site (all in French) and contact information and we snapped this photo as the conversation continued all the way to baggage claim. Oh America!  We could be so much better.

Wrapping Up First Week - Next Stop: Cairns

As with all fun travel -- the days passed too quickly as Bernie and I continued our exploration of family history (reviewing baptism and marriage records at the local Catholic Church, and finding the original 1873 marriage record of my paternal great grandparents - including the consent for my then 19 year old "spinster" great grandmother to marry my then 32 year old "miner" great grandfather).  We also visited another cemetery - always interesting, always sobering:
before heading to visit some of Bernie's cows on a pasture which overlooks the entire area:
The clearing between our heads is the homesite/property of Bernie's family -- including the original homesites of my great grandparents and my great, great grandparents.

And we capped off the evening with a traditional Swiss-Italian meal of polenta (thanks to my mom for teaching me how to make it) and "Bull Boar."   Interestingly, polenta was a huge part of my upbringing but not Bernie's -- and we never called Swiss Sausage "Bull Boar." Bull Boar was a favorite of Bernie's dad. Swiss sausage/Bull Boar is a red-wine sausage that is distinctively different from any Italian sausage primarily because it does not include fennel.  We fixed the Bull Boar both the way my mom used to fix it (in gravy) and the way Bernie's dad used to fix it (boiled) -- and celebrated a wonderful week of family connections and friendship.

And early Wednesday morning (Tuesday afternoon in the USA), I repacked
and drove back to Melbourne airport vowing "I Will Return" with credit to Arnold Schwarzenegger."

I am writing this in the Melbourne airport as I await my Jetstar flight to Cairns (pronounced "Cans" by Australians) for the second week of this three week adventure.

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Emails That Restarted The Australian Family Connections

After writing my prior blog posting about my first connection with Bernie, I searched for and found the original emails between us.  Bernie had written a condolence letter on behalf of his family after learning of my dad's passing -- and I responded.  Excerpts from these emails follow.  I couldn't help but notice that the emails were exchanged exactly 4 years ago to the days of this visit.

From: Noel
Date: Wed, Oct 23, 2013 at 9:04 AM
Subject: Re: Thoughts from Australia
To: bernie

Thank you very much for your thoughtful email.  It is heart warming to learn of my family connection to you and your family.  At age 62, I'm one of dad's four surviving sons.  I've had the good fortune to have enjoyed the global family connections that Dad started -- including with cousins in Switzerland and Holland.  I am delighted to learn of the connection with you and your family -- because by the time I asked Dad about potential family connections in Australia, he had not recalled any.
It would be my hope that I may be able to visit Australia and meet you and your family in person so that we may keep up the family connection -- and similarly, I welcome an opportunity to host you should you travel to the US. 

My mom is not doing well -- now living full time in an Alzheimer's Care Home in Morro Bay -- where she has nearly no memory except in the moment.  Her movement to the Care Home accelerated Dad's decline in spite of every effort the family tried.  As you probably know, Dad lived life on his terms -- and he never prepared for nor adjusted to the changes required by his aging.

I'd like to be in touch again soon.
Warm regards,

From: bernie
Date: Tue, Oct 22, 2013 at 7:49 PM
Subject: Thoughts from Australia
To: noel

It is with sadness that I write to you to convey our deepest sympathies and condolences to you all on hearing of the passing of Wilmar.

We met Wilmar and Henrietta back in 1991 when Wilmar and Henrietta trekked to Australia to join in on a Family Reunion that I had planned for the Tomasini family. (My Great Great Grandmother, Maria Susanna Tomasini, was a sister to Wilmar's Grandfather Noe Tognazzini, and they all lived at Basalt near Daylesford.)

During the time Wilmar and Henrietta stayed with us we able to show them where Wilmar's Grandfather lived, and I remember Wilmar took a small stone home from the what remained of the stone house that Noe built. Oh how he loved his genealogical research work, and meeting his long lost relatives and working out who was related to who, where they lived and what they did!
We showed Wilmar some old family photo albums and he was able to identify some of the photos, which were otherwise listed as 'unknown'

We always looked forward to receiving letters and emails from Wilmar, they always contained so much, were a good read, and sometimes, much to think about. My Dad, Ron, would quite often ask me if I have had any correspondence with Wilmar, and when I did get something he was always happy to hear from the 'American contingent' of distant cousins.

About 12 months ago, I was able to inform Wilmar that my parents had successfully purchased the block of land that was originally taken up by his Grandfather Noe, and
I believe Wilmar was happy about this. Some may say it is meant to happen, that 'family land' will one day, return to family.

A very kind, thoughtful and generous man, who filled his life to the brim doing all the things he found enjoyable and gave him so much pleasure.
I am sure he will be deeply missed by many, many people.

Our thoughts are with you all at this time.

Warmest Regards

P.S. Mum has asked about Henrietta, and hopes that she is doing ok

Time For Living - Not For Blogging

As always happens with my trip blogs, I get busy living life with little time left over to write about it.  And, that's certainly been the case since I arrived at Bernie's on the afternoon of October 19.

I don't have the time to go moment by moment -- but suffice to say that I have been incredibly busy with:

1. Bernie: taking me to the home sites, other Swiss-constructed homes, visiting again with his mom (almost 80) and brother and one of his sisters, visiting/researching at cemeteries (including meeting with record holders), visiting the library and pouring over reference materials about Swiss Italian migration here, visiting the local history museum, sharing meals and brews at area pubs, and looking at and discussing his detailed research records.

2. With new friends/relatives: I spent an evening/dinner with a couple who had contacted me after finding me through an AncestryDNA connection as a potential 4th-6th cousin.  Their family connection is on my paternal grandmother's side -- who comprise nearly all my family contacts that I visit and stay in touch with in Switzerland.  It was fun to add new friends and family (they live in Melbourne) to my life:

3. On my own: As noted in a prior posting, I scheduled this trip to coincide with an annual Swiss Italian Festival here -- and have therefore enjoyed some of the activities associated with it -- including a local parade and community gathering.  In addition, I've spent some time visiting the local library, enjoying the community of Daylesford, even attending the rehearsal of the local community brass band.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

"Boots Gully" - Why I'm Here

This posting may only be interesting to family members -- but it's worth telling a very brief "Cliff Notes" verson of why I'm visiting this part of the world -- about an hour and half northwest of Melbourne -- for a second time in 2 years.

In the 1850's my great, great grandfather arrived in this still-rural and somewhat remote area of Australia from the Italian speaking southern canton of Switzerland in search of a better life with hopes of finding gold.  In short order there would be 2500 Swiss-Italian immigrant families here (among many other cultures) -- and while gold was elusive to nearly all except the first few Swiss immigrants, they created a life here.  My great, great grandfather and his sons became Australians and acquired land for their homes here - then called "Boots Gully."

Anyway, then in 1888, just months after my great, great grandfather's death, my great grandfather set out for California with 8 children ages 12 to 1 including my then 8 year old grandfather.  Of course, there is much more to the story, perhaps topics of future blogging, but that's sufficient for now to begin to understand "why I'm here?"

Now let's jump 100 years forward: In the late 1980's, my parents visited the area as part of my dad's interest in genealogy/family history but it wasn't until 1991 that a bit of good luck and Google-assisted good fortune allowed a previously-unknown, local relative "Bernie" (then about age 27) to contact my parents (then in their 70's) and invite them to a family reunion here of Bernie's branch of the family tree.  My parents visited and a lasting bond was created by my parents with Bernie and his family here. In addition, Bernie's family today owns the land that my great grandfather owned here -- just across the country road from the original homesite/land of my great, great grandfather.  You can imagine my dad's thrill to do as I got to do just last year -- sit on the remaining foundation stones of my great grandfather's (his grandfather's) home here.

More good fortune fostered my personal connection with Bernie -- as we connected when I took on the task of managing my dad's email upon dad's death in 2013 - and I added to my bucket list a trip to Australia to further my own interest in family genealogy and to connect with family here.

Fast forward to last year (2016):  With too much caution, I only committed to staying with Bernie for one night during my first ever trip to Australia.  With hindsight, I now laugh at my then cautiousness: Bernie is about 14 years younger than I am - he is actually a "3rd cousin once removed" - and I had no idea what to expect beyond a greeting and a visit to my great grandfather's original home site.  Little did I know, at that time, that Bernie shares my passion for genealogy -- and had amassed and organized quite a collection of genealogy research into all his family trees -- including my branches.

 I blogged about my visit last year here. And I left after one night wishing I had scheduled much more time to get to know Bernie/his family and gain benefit of his very thorough, detailed family tree information and the area.  From the moment I left here last year I had been thinking about when I could return.  And this time, a year later, I've planned to stay with Bernie for 6 nights.

Friday, October 20, 2017

New Friends and Restaurant Prices: When $25 is Actually $15.62

I posted on this topic on my last visit here, but was reminded of it last evening when I sat down to dinner and picked out a meal that showed on the menu as $25.  It's still a little unnerving to see -- but some quick reflection allowed me to remind myself that the meal was actually only $15 USD.  For those of you who haven't read my prior posting -- it's an easy calculation.  First apply the exchange rate between the Australian Dollar and the US Dollar - currently .782 giving a price of $19.53 and then deduct another 20% because unlike in the USA, there is no tip expected - yielding an equivalent US menu price of $15.62.  Certainly the meal would have cost at least that in USA.  It was delicious.

Here is the place I ate (where my cousin also works as a bartender) and here is the menu.

Now, in this case yesterday - I didn't really pay anything for my meal last night.  I was graciously treated to dinner by a Melbourne couple who had contacted me prior to my trip after noting that the Ancestry.Com DNA test linked us as possible 4th-6th cousins - connected through my maternal grandmother and born in Gordevio, Switzerland - the same "Giorgi" family I have visited many times in Switzerland.  It was fun to finally meet the man behind our many emails (and his wife) and spend the evening getting to know them and their genealogy research.  A 4:00 o'clock meetup stretched into an evening of delightful conversation, such that we were the last ones to leave the restaurant.  I'm meeting up with them again today to watch the Swiss Italian Festival parade -- and I've added two more related Aussie's to my life.  Such fun.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Travel Checklist

This morning I woke up thinking about creating a list of suggestions for travelers -- based on the way I travel and things I've learned.  This listing won't be for everyone -- if you only travel infrequently, domestically, or on tours/cruises -- only a few things on this list may apply to you.  But for those few of you that are more adventurous, I thought perhaps you'd enjoy seeing my travel check list suggestions:

 Passport (valid at least for 6 months past trip end with sufficient pages for entries)
 Check/apply/get VISA for destination (have extra photos when needed)
 Driver's License if planning to drive during trip
 International Driver's License (available at AAA) if planning to drive during trip

Airport Processing
Apply for Global Entry to speed re-entry into USA - and includes Pre-Check.  If you are infrequent traveler - forego lengthly Global Entry process and $100 fee by downloading Customs "Mobile Passport App" (click here) AND initialize it with identity information.  Until it is more widely used, it is as speedy as Global Entry in getting you through immigration/customs.

 Get at least two credit cards with no foreign transaction fees (Capitol One and some Chase Cards)
 Get at least two ATM cards and know your pin numbers
 *When traveling with someone else, you can just have one of each and rely on your traveling partner in the event of loss.  When traveling solo, keep one credit card and one atm separate (money belt or separately in hand luggage) in the event of lost card/wallet.  Only thing worse than losing your only credit or ATM card is losing your phone!  Have a backup plan.

Phone/Cell Service
This is an continuously changing situation depending on where you are traveling, how long you'll be gone, and whether you will rely on only having service at wifi locations or want continuous coverage.  Don't think of just calls/texts -- anymore, the smart phone can make a world of difference in traveling (transit times/directions, access to travel documents/information, information about restaurants/attractions).

WIFI ONLY: If you are willing to live with wifi only service:
Make sure you have Skype app and preload with $5 credit for calls.  This will be your only way to make calls to regular phones in the USA.  Think lost credit/atm card or atm that fails to deliver your money but debits your account or need to change plans because of emergency/death in family.   Also make sure you download the "Maps.Me" app (click here) - one of the best, free off-line mapping/gps programs -- be sure to also download the detail map for your destination(s).  You should have the Google Maps app - do not rely on Apple Maps.

CONTINUOUS COVERAGE: If you are just doing short travel, you might just look into international options of your current cell provider.  But for longer travel, you should:
-Make Sure Your Phone is UNLOCKED - not in contract - otherwise your options are limited to the international options of your current cell provider.  In planning ahead, don't buy your next phone on contract.  Having an "UNLOCKED" phone is essential to being able to buy inexpensive SIM cards in country that will give you (1) WAY cheaper service; and, (2) a local number.
-Get your regular contacts to download and set up What's App (click here) - the international standard for texting except in China that uses the excellent WeChat (click here) and USA (where our Apple iMessage texting is worthless as soon as you put in foreign SIM -- requiring you to contact all your contacts and give them the new country phone number).

I have lots more to write about cell service when traveling -- but don't have the time now.  I'll make that another posting sometime.

Arrived Melbourne and Contact Info

Contact info:  Upon arrival in Melbourne, I purchased a local SIM card for my cell phone -- giving me a local number and lots of high speed data.  However, the downside of this is that my prior phone number will be disabled until I return to the USA on November 7 -- both for calls and regular text messages. So, if you are trying to reach me - please do so through What's App (the message program used everywhere in the world except USA and China) with my regular phone number or Facebook Messenger and I will send you my Australian number for regular texting.

October 18/19:  So, one additional reason that may have made the flight more affordable is that arrival in Melbourne was 11:00pm -- requiring me to get a motel near the airport for the first night, adding another $100 or so to the cost of "getting here."  The motel shuttle was delayed, so I finally put my head on the pillow after midnight for my first real (non-airplane) sleep in about 31 hours.

Slept well and on Thursday morning I made my way to car rental place and drove about 1 1/2 hours to Basalt, Australia near Daylesford -- staying with a cousin whose family still owns the original home site of my great grandfather previously blogged about here.  It was great to reconnect with my cousin -- and spend hours digging into more family tree information that he has collected over the years.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Oct 16-18: Getting Underway - Layover in Fiji

I was delighted to get this trip underway -- and flew two Southwest flights to get from Portland to LA, and then boarded Fiji Airways at 11:30pm for the nearly 11 hour flight to Fiji's Nadi (pronounced Nan-Dee) Airport.  Crossing the international date line caused October 17 to vanish (does that qualify for time travel?) and I arrived at 6:00am on October 18.  Flight was as comfortable as economy coach allows (although the seats did have a uniquely noteworthy deep recline, they needed deeper cushions to spare the tail bone ache that sets in after an a few hours).  I got a little sleep and enjoyed some fun conversation with my seat mate, a native Fijian in his 20's who works for one of the cell carriers in Fiji and Caribbean, Digicell.

With the anticipated 12 hour layover -- I approached the Nadi customer service desk near the arrivals area and they confirmed two options I was already aware of:  (1) take a 6 hour boat cruise of the nearby Fiji islands - the touristy option; or, (2) take a city bus to the central market of Nadi.  Of course I opted for number 2 -- getting some Fiji dollars from an ATM (worth 1/2 of an USD) and storing my backpack for a couple bucks.

I was the only white on the dilapidated bus which was full of both young students going to school and Fijians headed to work.  Obtaining a recently implemented fare card and making sure the bus was headed to central market - the adventure had begun.

Before I left Portland, I was encouraged to try Fiji's national drink - Kava: a narcotic drink squeezed from crushed powdered root of a pepper plant.  Wikipedia describes it as producing a state of calmness, relaxation, and well-being without diminishing cognitive performance.  It goes on to say that Kava may produce an initial talkative period followed by muscle relaxation and sleepiness.  Anyone who knows me, knows that it doesn't take Kava to make me talkative -- so it was difficult to personally assess any effects of the small amount I drank.  It was neither objectionable nor wonderfully tasty -- more like a bland tea but then again maybe the seller went easy on his preparation for this obviously ignorant white boy.

After meandering in the market - much like central markets everywhere in SE Asia - I hopped another bus to another suggested destination: Port Denarau - the launch point for all the intra-island tourist boats surrounded by luxury accommodations.  Interestingly, although I was obviously the only non-Fijian on the bus -- the destination was awash with white tourists boarding the boats.  The location even had a Hard Rock Cafe - a certain tourist indicator.  I spent little time there -- just long enough to figure out that there was no remaining island-hopping opportunity that would get me back by flight time.

Scam 1:  As I have witnessed before in my travels, a woman at the Port giving me change when I bought a bottle of water shorted me by one dollar coin.  I've encountered this scam so much in my travels that unless I am in a hurry or otherwise know it is a small coin amount, I count the change openly, like a dumb tourist in front of the cashier.  That allows us both to play dumb about the attempted scam -- ah! yes of course! a mistake.    

On the bus back to the central market - to connect to the bus to the airport - a noticeably non-Fijian (maybe better than just saying white!) woman boarded and sat just behind me.  I engaged conversation with the comment: "So, you must either be an experienced traveler or an ex-pat resident?"  She laughingly told me that she and her husband (both Kiwi's) have been traveling around the South Pacific in a 46 foot sail boat for the past 7 years.  The bus trip was long enough to learn lots about the life style/choice -- like inquiring if such boaters were similar to motor home owners who tend to build community where they park/moor; whether they worried for safety from pirates/theives, etc.  A fun conversation with a person with an unusual life style.  She said they committed to 7 years when they started, but they already knew they'd try to do 10.  It came as no surprise when she responded to my question staying in touch with family -- that they had no children.

Scam 2: Upon disembarking the bus, a Fijian encouraged me to walk with him to his "locally owned" store.  I followed along only after telling him I was a backpacker and wouldn't buy anything.  The short walk gave me enough time to get suspicious and he didn't disappoint my assessment when he directed me inside the well-stocked, locally made craft store.  I was introduced to a man who proceeded to try to entice me to a "kava ceremony."  Not only had I already experienced Kava at a regular market stall, but my memory of the similar tea scam was current from my experience in China (blogged about here) -- so I politely declined and was on my way.  When I later looked up Fiji scams, sure enough - kava ceremony is one of them.

So maybe the Kava did make me extra talkative today.  Another delightful conversation ensued with a Fijian woman when I gave her my bus card with a small remaining balance (I didn't need it anymore).  I learned that she was a grandmother who had been a nanny for a British couple for 20 years -- even living in Britain for a while.  Of course I had more questions than time allowed until her stop.

Back at the airport, I sampled Fiji beer and settled into a lounge for my 6pm departure to Melbourne.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

My Second Trip to Australia

In November 2016 I made my first ever trip to Australia -- and blogged about it here.  It was a supremely wonderful adventure that included (1) getting to meet and stay with a cousin (who also enjoys genealogy); (2) visiting the house sites of my great, great grandfather and my great grandfather when they migrated from Switzerland to Australia in search of gold in the 1850's; (3) traveling the Great Ocean Road; and, (4) driving between Melbourne and Sydney - exploring both cities and much in between.

After that trip, I watched for another opportunity to return -- to continue my friendship with my cousin, explore more genealogy, see more of Australia, and scuba the Great Barrier Reef (a bucket list addition ever since I learned to scuba just two years ago, blogged about here).

So, luck was with me when I found an open jaw trip flying into Melbourne and out of Brisbane for about $484 worth of free points that I had acquired from applying for a credit card.  I depart Monday, October 16 and return November 7 with these plans:

Oct 16-25: Fly to Melbourne, drive to Daylesford (map here) - stay with cousin and visit the annual Swiss Italian Festival there - details here.

Oct 25-31: Fly Melbourne to Cairns - and spend 2 nights/3 days on live-aboard scuba diving adventure on Great Barrier Reef.  Details of live-aboard here.

Oct 31-Nov 7: Fly Cairns to Brisbane and travel to island of Karragarra (map here) where a new friend/wife that I met in Bali invited me to visit/stay.  More on that in a future posting.

Since I'm traveling solo -- I hope to have time to continue this blog and post photo links.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Photos/Video - No Keyboard

Enjoying amazing time with Todd but won't be blogging because my iPad keyboard failed. Too difficult to type blog entries on iPad screen keyboard. Therefore, this blog will be told by photos only - posted to this album link:

The linked album will be updated regularly - probably daily - so check back for updates - same link.

Update May 8, 2017:  Just did a short video of some of the diving shots.  Definitely a learning curve to taking good diving shots with the tiny GoPro Session.  Check out this less than 2 minute video:

Update May 22, 2017:  Just finished a short video of the spearfishing of an octopus while Todd and I were with our friends:  . Just before it was taken to the boat, the video captures the inking

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Adventure Gets Underway Getting to Bali

I've often said that most folks, when asking about my adventures, are most interested in things that go wrong and in that regard the start of this adventure was more adventurous than I prefer:  The Ventura Shuttle from Ventura to LAX raced the 30-something passenger van down Highway 1 like he was trying to escape from a chase -- throwing us from side to side and squealing the tires.  About the time I decided I'd had enough and was going to speak up, we were close to getting to the end of this "thrill" ride -- so I disembarked with a commitment to myself to spend some time both letter writing and making Trip Advisor and Yelp reviews.  Not that it will do any good but unfortunately for the driver, I like to write.  In addition, the experience will encourage me when planning for future trips to, when possible, use Amtrak/Metrolink and the LAX FlyAWay bus. When faced with the same trek in the future, I'll arrive prepared to use my phone video to capture and report the crazy-ass shuttle driver who wasted lots of time loading 19 prepaid passengers at a snail's pace and in passing out promotional pens, luggage tags and business cards.  Somehow the business hasn't gotten the message that what really earns repeat business is good customer service and comfort, not promotional knick-knacks.  

Now for the good (pessimists among you can skip the rest of this posting!).  I was delighted to connect with Todd at the International terminal as prearranged and begin the brothers' adventure.  And with a little good luck on timing, we were able to access a nearby lounge (a benefit of some legal credit card "hacking" l will  post about another time) and enjoy free beers, snacks, and comfort, to toast the start of this "Wild Idea" trip.

Given my enjoyment of easy access to toilets by aisle seating, I booked adjacent aisle seats -- but good luck was with us as they closed the aircraft door with the middle 4 seats to myself allowing us to take the center section aisle seats with two empty seats between us.  The adequate knee room seating, meals, entertainment system, and attendants left us impressed with China Airlines on the very new Boeing 777.  We each managed a few hours of sleep on the 14 hour flight.  In our 3+ hour layover in Taipei we enjoyed another airline luxury lounge with lots of free food and drink again courtesy of the same credit card promotional benefit mentioned above.

The 5 hour flight from Taipei put us back on another beautiful China Airlines 777 where we had adjacent aisle seats and enjoyed the same great amenities.  I am writing this as we prepare to land in Bali.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

A "Wild Idea" Begins This Next Bali Adventure

Summary:  This blog has been started to try to capture and share an adventure to Bali, Indonesia, with my brother Todd set for April 17 to May 3, 2017.

Background:  In October 2015, I embarked on my first ever trip to Bali -- that solo adventure (including first ever SCUBA diving) and the resulting Bali friendships inspired a second solo trip in October 2016 which I also loved.  I had just returned from that second trip, and had already booked a third trip - 3 weeks with Dana in December 2016 - when I decided I wanted to return again in the spring 2017. (Blogs from those prior trips are here: October 2015, October 2016, December 2016.)

Now, in preparing for these Bali trips and my first ever SCUBA diving, my brother Todd, a very experienced SCUBA diver, had been superbly helpful.  So in mid-October 2016, I sent an email to Todd with the subject line: "Wild Idea" and inquired as to whether he might ever be interested in traveling to Bali/SE Asia with me to SCUBA -- and within a few weeks, we had coordinated plans and booked flights.  This 6-month lead time was perfect for finding affordable airfares that fit within my "wanderlusting cheaply" interests -- and for $600 each (including insurance) we confirmed plans to fly on China Airlines (wikipedia here: largest carrier of the Republic of Taiwan with 12,000+ employees - not to be confused with Air China).  This adventure with Todd begins the evening of April 17, 2017 when we head to LAX to catch a 1:10am flight (on the 18th) to Bali with a change of planes in Taipei.

As always, I am not sure how much I will blog but my plan is to at least include photo links here.