Sunday, March 25, 2007

More to Whet your Appetite

More pictures to keep you reading our blog... I've found time while we're cleaning up our breakfast (fried eggs, baked beans, toast, and fried onions/bell peppers/tomatos) that we made this morning on the west coast of S. Island NZ. These ones are from our Lake Waikaremoana trek from last week on the N. Island. Enjoy!!

Painting by M, of our approach to Panekiri Bluff in 120 kph winds! Don't believe me, check this video!

Joint painting, mostly by J, of the grassy fields up against the lake at Maruati Hut.

Lake Waikaremoana, 600 m below, from Panekiri bluff.

In the grassy fields around the lake.

Two Quickies

Not much time here in Hokitika, S. Island, NZ, but I've managed to upload two photos, one from Sydney Aus. we took at Bondi beach with our Nepali friend and trekking guide, Bharat (the one who took us through the Himalaya in October... he's a student in Sydney now!),

... and the independence monument in Phenom Penh, Cambodia at sunset. This commemorates their independence from France. It has a cool park around it (though you have to cross a super busy traffic circle around the monument to get to it from the park) that is always full of fun people!


Friday, March 23, 2007

Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk

Once again, I'll be skimping on the details here and I'm not posting any pics because the internet in the first world is so expensive!

We arrived in Auckland on Mar. 12 or something, and stayed for several days, checking out the sights, the birds, an island nature reserve, and a mainland "island" reserve which has active predator controls in place (see, when the first humans arrived on NZ's shores about 600 years ago, the brought with them dogs, cats, and other mammals, none of which lived here before, so they all just preyed on the flightless birds and other precious critters 'round there parts).

Then, when we were totally prepared and had bought all our food for our 5-day 4-night trek around Lake Waikaremoana (sounds like "why-CARE-uh-moe-on-uh"), we drove for about 6 hours to Te Urewera National park. We stayed the first night in a motor camp near the track entrance, and took a boat across the lake to start off.

First, we had to climb the ~600 m to the top of Panekiri bluff, a huge stone wall that faces the new rain-water lake (it was formed only 2200 years ago when a landslide blocked up the valley). This was not only a tough climb, but the winds were absolutely crazy. We walked through an exposed saddle point, emerging from the coverage of the forest into 100+ kph winds that literally knocked us over! The hut we stayed at on the top of the bluff (set back a bit, but with still amazing views) was a 30-something bunk hut with running water. We used our Jet Boil (R) to prepare some mashed potatoes, soy protien, and green beans. Delish!!

The next 4 days, the weather was perfect: sunny but cool, light breeze, minimal clouds (only adding to the drama of gorgeous sunsets), and crystal clear skies. We went through multi-varied terrain, from fern forests (complete with 20 and 30-ft. tall fern TREES), river-side beech and birch-like trees and huge old-growth forest (the area around the forest is still-virgin forest, so it's quite old and awe-inspiring to be in there). And on most nights, we listened to the Kiwis call to each other as the sun went down. Very cool.

Look for pics in the coming weeks, most likely after we get back to America in mid-April :(

For more on the lake and other tracks, check out the NZ Department of Conservation. Search for Lake Waikaremoana.


Friday, March 16, 2007

Mini Update

Sorry for the COMPLETE lack of updates on this here blog. We've been in Australia (last week) and NZ this week, and it's too hard to find the time and to justify the money to spend on the internet (compare: 25 cents an hour in Cambodia, 3 dollars an hour in Auckland!).

Anyway, just want to let everyone know that we're still alive and kicking. Sydney was great, and we met up with our trekking guide from Nepal (who's now going to school there), and my cousin (who treated us to beers and dinner). We mostly looked for sleeping bags for our upcoming NZ trekking.

We flew to Auckland 5 days ago, and leave tomorrow for Lake Waikaramoana for a 4-night 5-day trek. After that, we're headed for the south island to copy our friends and do the 3-night 4-day Kepler track in Fijordland. Today, we went to the open bird sanctuary of Tiritiri Matangi, a predator-free native environment full of super rare endemic NZ birds. Of note, we saw the super-duper rare Takahe, a huge green-and-blue flightless bird (the size of a turkey) with a huge red beak. We probably say about 20 different kinds of birds there, and only really missed out on seeing wild Kiwi, which are nocturnal anyway.

Hope you're all well, and we'll be back in America on 11.April.


Monday, March 05, 2007

Monopoly Money

We're about to leave the Asian continent for the first time in nearly 7 months. It's a strange prospect, but we're really looking forward to seeing family in Sydney and getting back into the great outdoors in New Zealand. As we leave, however, I wanted to make a couple of lists, comparing the different Asian countries we've been to. The first one is the money:

1) Japanese Yen - about 115 yen per dollar when we were there in August and Sept. 2006. Not much to talk about here, exepct that the moeny was unremarkable so as to not stick in my memory at all. It's the only currency against which the dollar improved over our visit... take THAT Japan!

2) Chinese Yuan - about 8 per dollar in Sept. and Oct. Nice, small currency, but the unusual multiple made it more difficult to do conversions in our heads. Of course, every bill has Murderous Mao's mug on it. Pusing 7.8 per dollar when we left, compared to about 8.1 when we got there.

3) Nepali Rupee - about 70 per dollar (72 when we arrived, 68 by the time we left!). Big, long bills with animals on one side and the king on the other. They're changing that, now that the king has been deposed. Pegged to the value of the Indian Rupee (160 NRs = 100 Rs), and very colorful.

4) Indian Rupee - about 50 per dollar. Lots of pictures of Gandhi, a useful 20, 50, and 100, and totally useless coins. Readily traded and used in Nepal, except the 1000 note, which is not allowed in Nepal!

5) Singapore Dollar - About a 2/3 exchange for US/Sing. Simple bills, and like the rest of the country, usually very clean (they must wash them or take them out of circulation quickly). Useful dollar and 5 dollar coins. Very colorful.

6) Thai Bhat - About 35 to 1, or 40 to 1, or sometimes 30 to 1, depending on who's doing the trading and what gets them the most money; officially somewhere near 35 Bhat per dollar. Nice small bills, usefull 5- and 10-Bhat coins (which are bi-metallic). Useless 1 and fractional Bhat coins (much smaller than a dime... more like a pinky fingernail). Thirty-five is a strange number to do conversions with, but we were here so long it got easier. Looks like Monopoly money, b/c the twenty is green, the fifty is blue, and the 100's are pink (there's no 5-Bhat bill).

7) Lao Fun Bucks (aka Kip) - about 10,000 to 1. Totally ridiculous. Just try walking around with a million Fun Bucks (in 20,000 notes!) in a wallet. Want dinner? Try spending about 35,000 for a plate of pasta, bread, and a beer! The 1000 and 2000 notes are both blue and have nearly the same design. Just silly. Lao seem to prefer Thai Bhat or US Dollars instead of their own money, and best of all: Once you have kip, you can't trade them back in anywhere for real money! Finally, it's against Lao law to use foreign currencies for any transaction, but the government-owned airline and airport only accept US dollars to pay for tickets and the departure tax!

8) Cambodian Fun Bucks (aka Riel) - about 4000 to 1. Not as ridiculous, but nearly so. Dollars are far more widely used in Cambodia than in Laos or Thailand, and riel is only used instead of quarters. They're small bills, easily lost, and are often in need of a good ironing. The 100 riel notes are nearly useless.

We've saved some money from each place, but I'm sure the internerd is a better source of pictures for the various currencies if this post has interested you. Better yet, just get your butt over to Asia and enjoy the fun!

Miss you all and we'll be back in the States before too long,

Friday, March 02, 2007

A Holiday In Cambodia

Sorry for the serious lack of updates recently. I know our three avid readers are anxiously awaiting our latest adventures, but we haven't had much time to blog. Here's a brief recap:

We spent several hot days in Vientianne, the capital of Laos, and enjoyed ourselves quite a bit. I don't really remember much of what we did, mostly ride bikes around the city in the morning and evening and find air-conditioned coffee shops in the afternoons, but it was a good time and we had a nice room with AC. We also spent one day at Ban Pako eco-lodge, a place about 2 hrs. journey (by bus and boat) from the city center on a bend in a river and across from a protected forest area. We were hoping it would be cooler there and for some wild-life spotting, but neither occured with much frequency (save for some massive brown spiders in our over-priced bungalow).

We flew from Vientianne to Siem Reap, Cambodia, home to Angkor Wat (the largest spiritual structure in the world) and the temples of the ancient Khmer civilizations. We spent 5 days there, 2 exploring the nearby temples on bike, 1 day exploring the far-away temples by car, and 1 day exploring the city of Siem Reap. It was an exhausting experience, and with no AC to go home to, the 90-degree nights in our tiny room made it hard to sleep (but it only cost us five bucks!). Exploring the temples and ruins was an amazing experience, and we hope to have photos posted sometime soon.

We took a very short flight from Siem Reap to Phenom Penh, Cambodia's capital city, on 1.March. We stayed in a really grotty place, and promptly moved to a much nicer hotel yesterday. Today (3.March) we toured the city's Royal Palace grounds and the Silver Pagoda (so-named for the 6000 silver tiles that make up the floor inside). The Royal Palace here is kind of like the one in Bangkok, but much less interesting and ornate. We only spent about an hour there, whereas we spent nearly all day at the Bangkok palace! But also, the one here is much much smaller. This afternoon (everything in Cambodia shuts down from about 11am to 2:30 for lunch...) we're going to the National Museum and to a Folk Dance show in the evening. Tomorrow (4.March) we'll see the Khmer Rough prisons and Pol Pot's Killing Fields, before beginning a two-plus-day journey to Sydney, Australia (including 20 hours in Bangkok).

Hope you're all well!