Diving the Great Barrier Reef & learning about underwater photography: Cairns, Queensland, Australia

Earlier this week I am happy to say that I completed yet another one of my bucket list items; I went scuba diving/snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef along the eastern coast of Australia…. before it died completely. That said, I’m VERY sorry to say that, at least for the bits I was able to see up close, were already pretty much bleached/dead, when compared to pictures I have seen over the years of the explosion of color it once was…. very sad. Global climate change, it’s a thing.

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My travel-buddy and I had went up to Cairns in northern Queensland, which is the town located closest to barrier reef, and stayed there for a week. Be warned! Once you get there you’ll be barraged with boat tour options because Cairns is about either diving the reef, or visiting the UNESCO world heritage area rainforests/wetlands that line this part of the Australian coast. We ultimately opted for a company a friend of ours had previously used and been very happy with, called Reef Experience, which advertises itself as the only one to offer “all-inclusive” tours… no “hidden fees”, etc.

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This would be one of the photos they sell to you, taken by their photographer

What this translates to (per my understanding, which may be flawed)… is that while there are other companies that may seem cheaper… in reality they all pretty much cost the same or in fact more, while delivering essentially the same offerings. The major difference is other companies might not include various taxes and fees and what not (cost of the swim gear?) in the advertised price, and you’ll find you have to choose to add them in addition, or not dive… and by the time you do, those other guys are actually more expensive (unless you own all your own scuba gear, etc).

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Our tour group, including me and my friend (can you spot me?). The company posted this to their Facebook page for us to download afterwards — a freebie photo

They do have an online website, but I, rather than make the reservation that way, dragged my ass into their offices (a short walk from our Airbnb) FIVE days in advance of our trip …  on the assumption that this would keep problems from developing … I paid for the two reservations, and they asked were there any food restrictions. I explained that my friend was a vegetarian who was allergic to mushrooms. So, all good, and was told what to bring with me, when we’d be picked up, etc… and went home.

TWO days later (on Sunday, when we were supposed to dive on Wednesday), and I might add AFTER it was already two late to cancel and get a refund!!!!! I get an email explaining that under Queensland law, not everyone is legally allowed to do scuba diving and that we had to both fill out a medical form and send them a list of all the medications that we were taking, dosage, and how often; They would then show the list to their dive doctor and he would say if we could dive; or he would say that we needed to go to a doctor to be certified in person as healthy enough to do scuba. WHY they could not have told me that when I was in the office, and given me the form then, I don’t know. …. AND this was no PDF that we could fill-in and then send back to them, or even a website to fill out, it was an image file (???!!!). Something you needed to print out and fax back. Now keep in mind, we’re tourists, and I’ve yet to find a really portable printer (and who the fuck brings those on a plane?) and the Airbnb we were renting didn’t have “business office” facilities … so we had to get REALLY creative to figure out how to fill this thing… my friend, who is a professional geek, luckily had an image editor on his laptop… I have no idea how other people might manage it

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Also, read the form REALLY carefully. [Have you EVER suffered from a cold? Our best guess was that was, what’s called in the legal profession, a gotcha question; i.e, IF anything bad happens that you might want to sue them over, odds are you answered “have you ever had the common cold” with “No” because you want to be allowed to go scuba diving, and they can then say “SEE they lied on the form! They can’t sue us!”

So… Early Monday morning, after finally figuring out how to fill this thing in, and before we left to do the tourist stuff we had come to Cairns to do — which was NOT filling out medical forms, we sent it to them. LATE Monday night — seriously I kept checking my emails for a response from them, it didn’t come till around 9pm…. we got an email saying that their doctor had OK’d me to dive, but my NOT my friend (who is WAY healthier than I am and not a month before had been scuba diving in the waters off of Bali). Do not pass go, do not collect $200…. He had be seen by an actual doctor to get OK’d to dive, and they suggested a 24 hour walk-in-clinic nearby. My friend (being too tired and grumpy to go that night) contacted them to make an actual appointment for the next morning, but was told he couldn’t get one, that he had to come in as a walk-in, and hope to be seen on a first come first seen basis starting 5pm. (We called the company, who started calling around to other clinics and NONE could see him.) So the next day, he went over at 4:30 …but the doctors on staff did NOT know of his medication, and could NOT ok him to dive! They told him he had to come back AGAIN the following morning at 6:00 AM, BEFORE our 7:30 am dive, when the doctor who actually knew his stuff would be there. So my friend did, and that doctor said it was no problem — the drug is a common one in the USA, but less commonly used in Australia — and thankfully my friend was able to go there and be back by 7am, in time for our 7:30 bus…. which came 10 minutes early…. and after all that rushing, we were dropped off and discovered we now had to stand and wait for the boat crew to be ready…. because they were not.

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Talk about hurry up and wait!!! But back to the issue of pricing…. Essentially most of the one-day tours at this price point, about $150 USD/person, all seemed to last for about the same length. You should expect need to arrive at your ship at about 7:30 am and return to port at 4:30 pm. (Like I said, ours included pickup from and drop-off at our hotel — and thankfully the Airbnb was actually IN a hotel or they would not have — as part of the price… on the up side, they did call us when they were about to arrive. I STRONGLY suggest you find what the nearest hotel to you is, and set that as your pick up location if your airbnb is NOT so situated)

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Finally the staff arrived to check us all in. We had to show either the print out of our ticket or an email confirming it. On their sheet I saw that they had my friend listed as vegetarian, but NOTHING about his mushroom allergy, so I reminded them…. they said “thank you” and wrote it down…..

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This guy was traveling solo

Then every group of visitors (friends, families, etc) had their photo taken… like the one I posted at the top of the blog…. this is a photo you’ll be expected to buy later…

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Before the boat got started they talked to us, and told us that motion sickness pills (both medicinal and ginger tablets) were available. The Medical ones were $3 AUD for two pills (one for BEFORE we got moving, the second to be taken after lunch), which I went straight over the purchased… and was SO glad I did. Even with, I had to focus on calm breathing and such during part of the rougher parts of the ride out. During the way out to the dive site they fed us breakfast, and lets just say some of the folk who had thought they didn’t need the pills had ‘spilled their cookies’. For my travel buddy…. they had a veggie burger, which he didn’t want because he wasn’t hungry… and for everyone else there were fried-egg and bacon sandwiches… I just had a fried egg which I patted down with paper towels, to remove the oil. While doing it I talked to the chef-female and asked her, “did they tell you my vegetarian friend is allergic to mushrooms?” and the answer was “NO they  had NOT.!”… Keep in mind I told them this TWICE…. AND she kind of freaked because the dish she was getting ready to make for his lunch, was FULL of mushrooms!!!! That’s a MAJOR screw up!!

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There’s a top deck for those wanting to tan and rest, note the resort deck out in the distance (it just stays out there pretty much 24/7)

SO, that said… Along the way no matter which cruise you take, they’ll feed you breakfast, lunch, and a snack on the return trip (ours were all you can eat, and there was enough for seconds) — which is either included or you’ll need to pay extra. Ours was included, with water, tea and coffee for free…. pop or beer cost extra.

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Taken using their underwater rental camera… notice the color difference between the shoe in or out of the water?

Once out there, you’ll be lent a blue “stinger suit’ to protect you from jelly fish stings, a pair of flippers, a snorkel and goggles. Our company also lent a wet suit to anyone who was a certified swimmer and didn’t have their own (again something that I think other companies might charge you for). They seemed to have all the gear at pretty much every size, so for instance my friend who wears a shoe size of 13 Australia /49 European & 15 US — huge feet, has trouble find socks and shoes, WAS able to borrow ones that fit… while my feet are at the other end of spectrum (unusually small for a white girl, although average for an Asian woman), and I was also able to find ones that fit snuggly.

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They even had prescription goggles that they were lending out for free. I have particularly horrible eyesight, and doubted they’d have mine… but they had one that was close enough to allow me to see, and even had one that was for folks who were even worse than me… although they weren’t bifocals so I could see far but not near….

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Me, with my borrowed prescription goggles — purchased pic

Once we got out to the reef and dropped anchor, everyone got one scuba dive with an instructor (if they weren’t already certified), where the staff helps you get into the gear, into the water, and then makes sure you can both breath properly using the tank and regulator, and are able to expel water from your goggles while under the water (because apparently the goggles have not yet been made where that won’t happen).

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The rental camera is red filtered for underwater use, and is kind of lousy above it

And then you get led around by the instructor for about 20 minutes after that, after the photographer has had a chance to take pics of you while under the water. A second optional scuba dive was available for $65 AUD more (clearly advertised as such in advance), and you could make up your mind to add it after you’ve done the first depending on how you felt about it.

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This platform (holding a mini motor boat for emergency pick ups) was lowered into the water, and we took off from it, see the 12 air tanks lined up?

The first dive was about half an 35 min and included instructions and making sure each diver UNDERSTOOD them and could demonstrate them (one on one testing), while the second scuba dive is 45 minutes with none of it wasted on instruction. IF you are a certified diver… you could spend the WHOLE time swimming alone, but if not you HAD to swim with a guide and HAD to go through the lesson, even if, like my travel buddy, it’s not your first time going scuba diving. In fact in my group of four swimmers,  I was the only virgin who had never done it before.

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The red filter is simplistic, and makes everything look green

So the pic above — see how it’s very green? — That was one I took with their underwater rental camera which cost me about $99 to rent (but included my choice of 15 of the professional photographer shots … not great, … The pics below are that are blue, are by their photographer…. the very big fish is like the crew’s pet. Apparently this type of fish has a 5 year memory and is a bit like a dog in terms of his level of affection for the divers who come by daily

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The professional photos were color adjusted using very expensive specialized software, I’m SURE of it, because I watched him doing it.

So again, compare the color palate of the pics by the professional (blue) with the one they rented me (green), which I used while scuba diving… i.e., going MUCH deeper into the water than I would experience while snorkeling… much higher water pressure.

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The above were also passed through some basic color balancing attempts by me, using my Macbook’s photo program not complex algorithms for divers

Dealing with this pressure, and the fact that the goggles flood regularly is a big part of what they taught us before we went down. I felt ok for most of it; there were some initial problems my regulator which for some reason was set so tightly that I was having to REALLY force the air out while breathing, I could just breath out.

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Multiple boats all sharing reef adjacent areas, and little platforms set up about midway between

I hand signaled the instructor as we’d been instructed… we went to the surface and I told him about it and he made some sort of adjustment to the thing…  and from then on it was fine. Also between the fat on my ass and my tits, there was too much buoyancy between me and the suit (which also has built-in air pockets) so that I wasn’t able to submerge like everybody else … again I asked to go up… explained it to him… he made some more adjustments and then I was fine.

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A purchased pic of the diving staff, the blond guy front and center led my group of 4+him

After we finished the dive the instructor (blond guy wearing glasses above) told me that I had actually done unusually well and should feel proud of myself. He said that MOST virgins on the first dive freak out during the instruction section, because of problems breathing, or feeling like they were being water boarded, or whatever…. and MOST never actually manage to get past the initial instruction phase to do the scuba dive itself. I on the other hand had managed to do the whole thing, including pretty much the whole time allocated to the dive.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_213c.jpgBut at the very end of it my core muscles in my torso, and the muscles in my legs were just knackered. At that point, my friend, who is a strong swimmer, signed up not for the 2nd scuba dive (which he had intended to do) but rather for a snorkel dive with the ships marine biologist (I forget what the fee for that was, but it was less than the snorkel dive), which you could only sign up for if you were a strong swimmer. Since I was tired, he ‘informed’ me that he was borrowing my rental camera. 

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Me, showing off my iPhone in it’s waterproof plastic case, $28 AUD/~$20 USD ($13 on amazon)

Before going on the trip I had found a camera store just near our Airbnb rental. The girl working there had convinced me that the rental underwater camera’s offered by these trips weren’t actually all that good, and intended more for video than photos. That a better option, was to use my own iPhone inside one of these clear, heavy plastic zip-lock bags designed for smart phones. She said that’s what she uses and has used for a few years, and if you’re NOT going to invest in a top of the line camera it’s really the best choice. Supposedly I COULD have used it for scuba diving but to be honest, I didn’t trust it to keep my iPhone dry more than a few feet down …. but I figured snorkeling it could manage…. and in addition to the scuba outing, which you HAD to do with a crew member unless you had certification to scuba solo (which takes a full three days minimum to complete in Australia) there were two chances to go snorkeling independently (about four hours total) — although you had to stay within a certain distance of the boat/life guards while doing it ….

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Googles maps

An image of an underwater reef taken from above the water, they’re easy to spot, and at points they come up so high that boats can’t pass over them… so snorkeling really is a viable option… at the right locations you don’t HAVE to go very deep to seem them. Our boat while it ultimately docked at two different locations, so we got to see some variation of the reef while limiting our snorkeling to within the ken of the lifeguards. Although, that said…. BOTH locations were on/at the bit of the barrier called the Norman reef — if you look at a map of the barrier reef, it looks like a line of underwater islands.

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As the medical thing we had to go through earlier demonstrated, not everyone can scuba dive safely because of medical reasons— for instance people taking certain prescriptions aren’t allowed,  and not everyone feels comfortable scuba diving (even among those who want to, they freak out when first trying it as it can be claustrophobic and a bit like being water boarded). As such, even though scuba is included in the price, you can choose to just do snorkeling the whole time, if you’d rather

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These were the photos I took during our first chance at snorkeling, before we did our scuba session, when I was still using their rented underwater go-pro type camera (i.e., everything is very green)

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Photos from the rented camera, even after I futzed with the color balance on my computer, still not very good (but better)

… First thing I noticed when doing snorkeling was that MUCH bigger fish than I saw by the reefs seemed to like to hang out JUST under the boat. I think it has something to do with what was in the blue plastic bin they had hanging below the boat… it had these things that looked like transponders in it which I guess sent out sound-waves that attracts the fish to the boat… but that’s just an educated guess (after they pulled up the crate, no more big fish were hanging out down there). Anyway, once again… here was the photo I took of the photographer using the expensive to rent underwater rental camera … very very green

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And by comparison, THIS is the image of the same guy only this time I was using my iPhone inside the plastic bag. See how BLUE everything is? And sort of monotone everything is?

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Taken with my iPhone … really

DwdX1JAQSv+xgt9Rj8NcXg_thumb_c24e.jpgAfterwards, at the end of the trip while we were heading back to port, one of the staff members saw me flipping through images, and suggested try a free app for the smart phone, that she loves, which would automatically color correct my photos for me (it also allows you to modify that correction, less or more, etc) called Dive+ … which I did… and here’s what it looks like (before and after)

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So it’s a sort of judgement call as to whether to use it or not to apply the correction… but I was actually REALLY happy with some of the photos I ultimately got with the iPhone/Dive+ combo

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Love this one, it’s very other worldly

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I keep wondering how far down the professional dive photographer had to go to find this shot (below) … because it was NOT up near the surface where we were snorkeling (images above), that’s for sure

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Purchased image from our dive, also visible on their Facebook page

That said, its pretty clear from my images that the barrier reef, at least up at the top where a snorkelers could see it is already like 90% bleached out in these areas… which is very very sad.

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bottom right is scuba and deep divers (folks who are experienced enough to hold their breaths and go deep)

OR of course, if you don’t TRUST the plastic pack to keep your smartphone dry, you could always still rent from one of those underwater cameras from the tour company … which I opted for — at the last-minute — as the thought of a water-logged smartphone popped into my brain before the scuba dive. I admit I did this AFTER a lecture by the photographer about how much better my photos would be if I had the right equipment…

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purchased pic of me and my friend … I’m holding the rented phone (at the end of the yellow thing… which will make it float/bob in the water if you loose it) in my left hand

Actually I think that it was because  I decided to rent their go-pro-type underwater camera (the yellow thing in my left hand in the picture below) along with a package of 15 of the digital photos the professional photographer took……that they decided to put the above photo on their Facebook page… I’m GUESSING it was because … as far as I know, I was one of only TWO people who had opted to rent one of those underwater camera things, and as the camera is front and center in this photo, above, the photo helps to promote other people renting it

Domestic air-terminals in Australia are different from in the USA

So, yesterday we flew from Sydney north to Brisbane, changed planes, and kept on north to Townsville Airport, which is where you start seeing the Great Barrier Reef… bucket list travel to be sure. We were heading towards Magnetic Island, which is for the most part a tourism destination…. lots of beaches and hiking and mother nature at her Aussie finest

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will blog about it later, but suffice it to say, this is the view from our airbnb’s bed

Anyway, getting here we flew Virgin Airlines domestic. There were a few things about the airports that I found interesting. Firstly, in the domestic terminals there are few to any food places in the public areas before you pass security. This seemed strange to me because people regularly arrive at airports early, for one reason or another, and need to hang out and wait till it’s time to check in. (The reason for the absence made sense to me a bit later.)

The second thing I noticed was that … in Australia, when flying DOMESTIC (I checked, this is not true when flying international), you do NOT need a boarding pass in order to pass security. THIS in part is why there’s not much in the way of hanging out places before security. The fact is that as long as you’ve only got carry-on type luggage, you don’t really need to wait to check in before accessing the food and shopping options on the other side of it. I somehow doubt you can pass a full-sized suitcase through… but we arrived at the airport a good two hours before check in would normally be allowed, and — since we were flying Virgin, one of the major Aussie carriers (their desk is ALWAYS open) — they happily checked out bags anyway.

To be honest, I had missed the fact that something was absent from the normal process when we entered the line for security, i.e., no one stopped us to check our boarding passes; but, it was like little voice in the back of my head that went ignored. I only realized that something was off when I saw a of couple, standing right near the gates, doing what was clearly tearful goodbyes …. at a gate. This confused me at first…. Why are these two standing the middle of the walkway, holding on to each other like it was the last time they’d ever see each other? The woman had tears trailing down her face, and he was kissing her sweetly. This is the sort of thing you USED to see in the USA at airport departure gates before 9-11, but you just don’t anymore because of loved ones no longer allowed to approach said gates (tearful goodbye have to happen before security and tend to be rushed, because no one wants to miss a flight because of the long lines that can happen there). And then later as we were boarding, I was watching two friends (who I had initially assumed were traveling together) saying their goodbye, and then one loaded the plane with us while the other turned and left to exit the airport…. and the light bulb in the brain went off as I finally put the pieces together.

When we landed in Brisbane I also noticed a few people who were clearly waiting at the gate for folks to get off. They were standing there with faces of happy expectation, looking at every person who walked off — in the face — clearly looking for someone they hadn’t seen in a while …. Again, you just don’t see that sort of the thing at gates in the USA anymore. When you do, its AFTER people have exited the controlled areas, which are guarded to keep anyone from walking in-the-out-doors, so to speak.

And then when we got to Townsville, as we unloading I noticed there was a bar before you exited the controlled area, that seemed to be utilized by locals, just hanging out. REALLY unusual from my perspective. I almost had the feeling that IF you live right by the airport in Townsville, it’s a SMALL town, that’s the local bar. Again in small towns in the US you might find bars like this BEFORE security, but not after… at least not since 9-11 happened.


And on a totally different note: our airline stewardess on Virgin Airlines from Brisbane to Townsville looked like Gal Gadot’s (i.e., Wonder Woman’s), not as attractive, sister.

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the resemblance was particularly pronounced in profile and when she was smiling.

 

A poignant celebration of Fireworks over the Australia’s Sydney Harbor bridge, as viewed from my Airbnb….

So, yet another of my bucket list items has been checked off, although not at all in the way I had imagined. I have seen a fireworks display over the Sydney Harbor with the bridge and the archetypal Opera House in the background with my own eyes.

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It was totally unexpected… I was lying in bed in Sydney Australia, getting over a bad cold I’d been fighting — starting just 3 days after my arrival (so I probably picked it up during my flight), and my traveling mate for this trip had gone out with an old friend of his (he’s originally from Sydney) to a party. So I was not in the best of moods… stuck in bed, missing a party … etc.,

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To pass the time, as I was lying in bed, I was yet again watching the movie that won the 2016, Academy Award for best picture, “Spotlight.” For those who don’t know it…it is a movie about how the Boston Globe in 2001, had exposed the sexual abuse scandal that is still rocking the Catholic Church today. They had followed up on a theory of a psychological researcher — who had argued that 50% of Catholic priests were sexual activity and that of those, about 6% were pedophiles. According to him, this was not because they were attracted to children, but rather because male children from rough neighborhoods and broken homes (in particular) were the least likely to admit to the abuse.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_1f60.jpgGoing on that researcher’s assessment (which would have meant about 90 pedophiles within the total population of Boston Priests) the Globe’s journalists were able, through extensive legwork, and by reading between the lines of church records — to uncover that while only one pedophile priest was currently in the news, in fact 87 of them were currently being bounced around the parishes of Boston; all of this being part of a methodical & institutionalized attempt on the part of the Catholic Church to protect itself rather than its children.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_1f66.jpgOnce their research was published, over 1000 Boston area victims — knowing they were no longer alone — stepped forward, and ultimately 249 priests and brothers were publicly accused of sexual abuse JUST within the Boston Archdiocese. The Globe’s finding, had world-wide repercussions, effectively opening a can of worms as all Catholic communities, one by one, in a domino effect began to publicly address this cancer within the Catholic church… a phenomena which we are still dealing with almost 20 years later.

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In fact, the REASON I was watching this movie, for maybe the third time, was that just two days before all of Australia had been a twitter, literally twittering — and facebooking, etc., over the fact that Cardinal George Pell (who is referred to by multiple sources as the third-most-powerful Vatican official) had FINALLY been “convicted of all charges that he sexually molested two choirboys in Australia in the late 1990s. (Pell, 77, has been the Vatican’s chief financial officer in recent years; he earlier was the archbishop of Sydney and of Melbourne.)

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_1f5e.jpgI’ve talked about Pell before…  Almost a year ago I was in Australia, in Ballarat, a town just outside of Melbourne, which is epicenter of the abuse scandal here (I was staying with a woman I had befriended via Facebook years before). At the time I had blogged about “Ballarat’s loud fence: Civil protest against the church in Australia” and had included an amazing song written and performed by the inimitable Tim Minchin, ‘Come home (Cardinal Pell)’ … a song he had penned in an afternoon. (I admit I have since developed a bit of a crush on this guy… he is a genius.)

At the time, as far as I knew, Pell was only thought to have been actively involved in the coverup, but as this week’s court case proved, he was also sexually abusing boys himself.

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So this was a story that while was of HUGE interest to the Australian public, it was NOT being covered by the local press. In fact, the Judge on the case had instituted a media gag order on its outcome. As such, the Herald Sun Newspaper of Melbourne’s front page rather than covering the results, showed in large letters the word CENSURED followed by, “The world is reading a very important story that is relevant to Victorians [The Australian State within which Melbourne and Ballarat reside],” but, that said “The Herald Sun is prevented from publishing details of this significant news. But trust us. It’s a story you deserve to read.” The gag was so tight that even foreign press, for fear of legal repercussions, were blocking Australian readers from seeing what they’d written about the case. I learned about it because my Ballarat friend was reaching out via Facebook to her friends abroad to see if THEY could read trustworthy media sources talking about the case, and tell her what those articles had said.

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Anyway,  at this point you’re probably asking yourself, “WHY in fuck’s sake is Rebecca going on about Cardinal Pell in a blog post about a fireworks display over the Sydney Harbor?!” Well… when I saw the display I had NO IDEA why they were happening. My Aussie friend hadn’t known they were going to happen, I’d had no warning. So part of my brain sort of assumed that MAYBE … if this wasn’t due to some corporate event… just maybe they were in celebration of outcome of the court case.

Talking about it the next day with another Aussie native, apparently there’s a yearly TV show here in celebration of the Christmas Holidays that has something to do with caroling… and always includes fireworks over the bay that part of the program, and she though this was for that… but I couldn’t find anything on-line to confirm it… so I like to think that this was in celebration of the conviction… to paraphrase the country western song…  it’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Restored 1929 Route 66 Gas Station : McLean, TX

Not only is this a restored 1929 gas station, but apparently, this was very the first “Phillips 66” brand gas Station In Texas.IMG_0311.jpg

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IMG_0320.jpgIMG_0313.jpgOne thing I found kind of odd was that while other restored stations along the route had glass windows and you could see inside, this one had boarded up windows that were painted to look like glass.

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That said, I found both the poverty and the politics of this town to be more than a little bit disturbingIMG_0316.jpg

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THIS in particular gave me the heebeejeebees….

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With emphasis on “the civilized world” …. WTF? SERIOUSLY?

Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo, Texas

Cadillac Ranch is one of those classic American public art works that everyone has seen in pictures, and of course its been on my list of things to see in person. The fact that it was cold and VERY wet and muddy, kind of added to the fun

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Finding this was a little bit problematic. My GPS for my car had no idea where it was, and the address I had for it, the program didn’t recognize… but, as I was on I-40 there was internet, so Google maps to the rescue. It’s located between two off-ramps, so I took the one to the west of it, which brings you to a gas station. There I found a plethora of folks who had just come from there (and not one group of them either). I talked to a couple in the car parked next to me, and they assured me I was in the right place and it was about a half mile down the road and I couldn’t miss it because of how many cars were parked there.

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In something I had read on one of the travel sites I had referenced before starting my Route 66 trek, a writer had warned that if it’s wet, the mud becomes like tar and almost impossible to get off your shoes afterwards. For the last four years I’ve been schlepping around a pair of rubber boats for JUST such an occasion (and yes this does mean I had the boots in my car back in 2016 in Canada at the boat graveyard when the muck had actually pulled my shoes off my feet, only I’d forgotten they were there).

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Although some folks opt to take their shoes off and just kind of go for it… like this girl did… but it was raining and 48 F, what WAS she thinking…

IMG_9987It turned out this was a very good thing because in order to access the site you have to go through this gate, and because everyone takes a fairly similar path to the site, the ground is lower along the path and fills up with water, becoming a bog it’s very difficult to avoid stepping into, especially if like me you’re not sprightly.

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Over the years the piece has become interactive, not just with the elements, but also with the viewers, which is tacitly encouraged by the artist who created (aka the permanently  unlocked gate).

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People bring cans of paint to use, but most times don’t use all of it and leave behind half used cans for the next person…

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although others will come through from time to time looking for the empty cans and disposing of them.

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One foot in the air dripping muddy water

The roaming route 66 salesman

Met this guy while staying at Motel Safari in Tucumcari, New Mexico, he drives up and down 66 selling stuff to the motels that says Route 66 .

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And here I thought my car had a lot of stickers…

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He says he’s originally from the Chicago area and got into the business by selling a map he created about how to negotiate route 66, and since then has added all sort of other items to what he sells.

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PS, found these today, it is the map this guy was selling…. with the price marked out and being sold for twice that…

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Getting your kicks on route 66, the greater LA area edition

I have begun my route 66 road trip!!! Only, I’m doing it backwards from California rather than starting in chicago like the song does.

Rather than beginning it on the Santa Monica Pier, which is where the powers that be want you to begin, I started my trek on the 2nd historic beginning of the route (the furthest end point). Namely, I started on the corner of Lincoln and Olympic Blvd — adjacent to the freeway, and a walking distance from the pier. That said, I could not find any markers there…. (I THINK there may be two Lincolns and Olympics, one on either side of the freeway, with Lincoln being one way on each side… the sign MAY have been on the other side.)

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That said, the ORIGINAL ending point didn’t make it past the corner of 7th and Broadway in downtown Los Angeles. It only extended to Santa Monica as the greater LA area grew, with Santa Monica being a desirable location to live and downtown LA degenerating into a massive skid row (There are over 60,000 homeless living in LA county, and they’ve created a tent city in downtown LA takes over 50 square blocks, HUGE! With only nine toilets per 2,000 people…. If you’ve never seen it, I suggest watching this video)

This is clearly NOT what tourism officials want tourists focusing on… So Santa Monica is a MUCH nicer start….  I made my way to the Pier in order to get the “tourist” aspect

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This couple from Germany was just finishing up their Route 66 trip, and were strongly advising this book to me, which this shop called 66-To-Cali had for sale… I gave it a look. I think it’s more useful if you have TWO people and one person can follow the book giving directions to the driver. So, not so good for me. I HAD wanted to buy the California 66 end of the trail T-shirt but they run VERY SMALL and they didn’t have one my size.

A video I took while there

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Then I started the drive, stopping to take snaps of various “Historic 66” signs along the way…

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14th & Santa Monica Blvd, in Santa Monica
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S. Carmalina Ave & Santa Monica Blvd in LA
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Cafe 50’s on Santa Monica Blvd/W. Historic Rt 66 in LA

Then I hit, BEVERLY HILLS!!!!

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Santa Monica Blvd and Wilshire Blvd, in Beverly Hills
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Church of the Good Shepherd/W. Historic Rt 66, Beverly Hills
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“In Beverly Hills? Rodeo Drive BABY!” — Pretty Woman

Me in front of Beverly Hills Building & Safety/Police Building… and a picture of the nice Japanese couple who took the picture for me

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On W. Historic Rt 66, Beverly Hills

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Maple Drive & Santa Monica Blvd in Beverly Hills
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various locations on Santa Monica Blvd/W. Historic Rt 66, West Hollywood
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Santa Monica Blvd/W. Historic Rt 66, West Hollywood
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Santa Monica Blvd, West Hollywood (two ends of the same block)
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Alvarado & Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles
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Sunset Blvd, crossing the bridge over Arroyo Seco Parkway, in Los Angeles (near Dodgers Stadium)

So far for the MOST part I managed to stay on the road with one hick-up when approaching Pasadena where I got off the Arroyo Seco Parkway (110/66) too early…. which is sad because it turns right into Route 66 at its end.

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I had used Google maps to chart out 66, then found landmark addresses (some of them just being local business of no import) and plugged them in … problem is I think I ultimately plugged it into my GPS system wrong because of two very similarly named roads (Blvd vs St. vs Rd type issues).

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U.S. Post office on E. Colorado Blvd/W. Historic Rt 66 in Pasadena
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Near the corner of E. Colorado Blvd and S. Lake Ave in ‎⁨Pasadena

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The view of the mountains north of Pasadena from E. Colorado Blvd/W. Historic Rt 66 near N. Hill Ave

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Saga Motor Hotel, E. Colorado Blvd/W. Historic Rt 66, Pasadena
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E. Colorado Blvd, just past Madre Street
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E Colorado Blvd/W. Historic Rt 66, Pasadena,

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This sign was on E. Colorado Blvd Arcadia, in front of Coco’s Bakery Restaurant (I used their rest room)

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Entrance to the Santa Anita Race Track on Colorado Pl/W. Historic Rt 66, Arcadia
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E. Huntington Drive and 1st Ave, Arcadia
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Huntington Drive and 2nd Ave in Arcadia, a Railroad bridge
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W. Huntington Ave & S. Mayflower Ave in Monrovia

There’s a Costco directly on route 66, 1220 W Foothill Blvd, Azusa, CA ….got a love it, of course I filled up on gas, used the bathroom, etc.

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890 E Alosta Ave, Azusa
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1832 E Rte 66, Glendora
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E Rte 66 & Amelia Ave, Glendora

At this point it was getting dark, and my stop for the night was at the historic Wigwam Motel in San Bernardino — see the blog post about that — which is family owned and if you don’t get there by 8pm you need to call and tell them or they’ll give away your room, and you’re expected to show up at a decent hour… so I stopped taking photos and just drove the next 40 minutes with no stops

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And then, after I checked in, I went to get my dinner in San Bernardino was a place that had the most reviews/highest— it was an all day breakfast with dinner till 10pm. Everything I had tasted homemade —Corky’s Open 24 Hrs Rialto, CA

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One warning… including stops it took 6.5 hours to drive from Santa Monica to San Bernardino … I was expecting it to be 4 hours, i.e., WAY longer than I thought it would, or google said it would take, to get from Santa Monica to San Bernardino

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My 2nd Wigwam Motel (#6); Holbrook, Arizona

This motel is a classic Route 66 experience … but that said, DEAR LORD!!! What a dump!! That said I am SO glad that my first experience with WigWam Motels (all three of which are registered on the National Register of Historic Places) was in San Bernardino, CA and not this one in Holbrook. That one made me very happy, this one pissed me off so badly by comparison that after I inspected the room and checked the wifi, I asked for a refund and a found a MUCH nicer room for $10 less someplace else in town.

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I’m willing to bet this owner spends on classic cars to park on his property what the other owner in California spends on repair and upkeep of the rooms.

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In a way I got lucky. Normally I would check in, unpack my stuff, get into the bed, fire up my computer and THEN check into the wifi. This time, just as I was checking in a nice Chinese guy (I ran into him again at a restaurant) who was booked into one of the other TeePee’s came into the office complaining that he couldn’t connect to the wifi. He said it worked fine in the office — the woman had told him to connect there first, THEN go back to the room… but counter to what she’d told him… not in the room. So I logged in, walked outside and towards my room… and sure enough the wifi died. She said “well you need to go INTO the teepee cause those are concrete and we have extenders in each room.” Ok fine… I go into my room and see there is in fact a wifi modem there… try to log in and get “wrong password” — even checked the bottom of the thing to see if listed a different one… but no… that and I looked around the room and it clearly had NOT been kept up with the same loving care I’d seen in San Bernardino.

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While it has a nice coverlet, there’s no art on the walls

While I didn’t take any photos in the bathroom, the tile was cracked, the shower had a dinky curtain (the CA one had installed a class door) and compared to the one in CA looked worn (exact same layout as you can see) AND, of course, the WiFi if it did work was inaccessible and WORST of all, the woman working the desk didn’t seem to care.

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Note all the classic cars parked out front, THATS where this owner puts his money, not the rooms

I met my neighbors and they too were all complaining about the WiFi. You could connect in the office but when you tried to connect in the rooms either it said wrong password OR, from the one woman who HAD been able to log in, it was insanely slow.

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Like I said the woman running the joint didn’t care so since I’d not unpacked or even sat on the bed, I asked for a refund and booked at the local Travel Lodge which had unusually high reviews for $10 a night less… got there to find it was clean, no bed bugs and 34 Mbps downloads and 20 Mbps uploads… (a bit small and cramped, but like I said, well-kept up, blazing fast wifi, and nice caring people working the front desk).

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I did however come back the next day for more pictures because the BEST part of this hotel is the experience you have OUTSIDE of the rooms… which is free. And just like the other Wigwam, this one was reflexive of the Disney/Pixar Movie “Cars”  — a cartoon you SHOULD know if only because it was nominated for two Academy Awards including Best Animated Feature and won the Golden Globe Award for Best Animated Feature Film. Anyone who’s seen it KNOWS that it’s animators were clearly influenced by many of the iconic Route 66 locations in the Southwest, which include either this motel, or the one other Teepee motel located in Holbrook, Arizona (where I’m also going to be sleeping in about a week) in the creation of the Cozy Cone Motel in the movie

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From what I read, because the Radiator Springs in the movie is supposedly limited to Route 66 locations from Kansas to Arizona, THIS WigWam lays claim to being the inspiration for the Cozy Cone Motel in the movie and at Disneyland.

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Again, I was at Disney during Halloween, so ignore the spooky extras, they’re temporary

P.S…..

Normally I don’t do post scripts but this was too funny. When I was in Santa Fe visiting with an old friend from grade school who lives there, I was talking about my trip and mentioned my two WigWam bookings… how much I loved the one in San Bernardino and then as I mentioned this one in Holbrook my friend’s girlfriend jumped in with, “That place is a DUMP!” to which I agreed whole heartedly. She’s never stayed in the CA one, but went on at length about how much she’d hated her stay here.

 

 

 

Traveling Route 66 and detoured in California; am sad

Sept 21st… Driving east, just past Amboy California I discovered that a section of road 66 was closed, I knew not way, and traffic was detoured north on Kelbaker Road to I-40. Writing this, I’ve discovered that it was due to a construction project that began last year (from the looks of it had I driven this a few weeks later I could have done it):

“San Bernardino County Public Works will be constructing two new bridges and road improvements on National Trails Highway (Route 66) at Dola Ditch (2.08 miles east of Kelbaker Road) and Lanzit Ditch (2.77 miles east of Kelbaker Road), east of the community of Amboy. The construction will include removing the existing timber bridges and constructing new timber bridges….Construction of the project is tentatively scheduled to start on March 6 and run through mid-September.”

And then once I got to I-40 it was already approaching 7pm and sunset, so I knew it would be simply silly to return to the road and try to back track it… Which means I missed the ENTIRE trek from Amboy through to Needles, CA (where I grabbed dinner) and then on to Kingman, AZ.

missed it

 

So I missed Chambless, Danby, Fenner, Goffs, Homer, Bannock, Ibis, and Klinefelter (2nd map because some of the towns didn’t show up when zoomed out to include Needles)

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That said, MOST of what I missed are ghost towns… once the traffic that populated 66 moved to I-40, all of those small towns died… but still …

The next day I DID backtrack one hour to Needles and do that bit (I slept late and got some blogging done in the morning), but I’ve now missed a big chunk and will have to do it at some other point in the future because right now … because I booked all my hotel rooms along the route… I just don’t have time to backtrack… this makes me sad

Bagdad Cafe, Newberry Springs California

Back in the late 1980’s one of my favorite movies was The Bagdad Cafe. It’s a movie about a run down cafe/motel on Route 66, and definitely worth seeing. Anyway, the shooting location, which had been known as the Sidewinder Cafe (before the movie came out) is REAL, although it’s in Newberry Springs (the town of Bagdad which isn’t that far away was leveled after traffic was redirected from Route 66 to I-40, and before traveling the OLD route 66 became a thing) and this week I got to visit it.

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As much as I love me some bumper stickers… I don’t like what they’ve done with the interior of the place

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