The Templar’s Tunnel, Acre, Israel

In the historic city of Acre, Israel, is a 350 meters/985 feet long tunnel. It is known as the Templar Tunnel, because it is believed to have been built by the Knights Templar during the crusader period (1095 A.D. – 1492), and though lost for over 700 years, it was rediscovered in 1994, and is now one of the city’s major historic tourist attractions.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_e6ee.jpgThe city of Acre  is located on the western edge of the Northern district of Israel, just above the modern city of Haifa, and importantly along her Mediterranean coastline. She has many different names, in Hebrew it is Akko, while in Arabic it is Akka, and with a few other names besides. Often overlooked by Jewish tourists to the country, because its past is predominantly Muslim and Christian, it is one of the oldest continuously inhabited human settlements on the planet.

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While her history is long and varied, for the purposes of this blog I’m interested in the Acre’s role during the Medieval period; when because of its location on one of the very few natural ports in The Holy Land, and hence was of great strategic importance to anyone wishing to take part in a Christian pilgrimage to the area, she served as the capital city of the Crusader states.

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The tunnel had been essentially lost for 700 years, but it’s import had been “rediscovered” in 1994 because a woman living in one of the homes built above it. When they dug down to figure out the problem, they stumbled upon the tunnel, which had been converted into part of the towns sewage system.

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Evidence of its sewage system past is still there

As the saying goes, you can’t dig a hole anywhere in Israel and NOT find something of historical importance. Although converting the tunnel to a sewage pipe probably happened after the time of the Mamluks — slave soldiers, not unlike the unsullied in the Game of Thrones— who during the Mamluk Sultanate kicked the crusaders out of the area, at which point not only had its import probably been already forgotten, but history is written, and as often erased, by the victors.

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A public bathroom located directly across from the eastern entrance to the tunnel, and above the tunnel (kind of funny if you think about it)

Between 1291 when the Mamluks kicked out the crusaders and 1920, when the British were granted the mandate by the League of Nations to take over control of Palestine from the Turks’ collapsing Ottoman Empire, the fact is no one in the area cared about Templars, let alone their tunnel.  All the glory was to the Muslim empire that had taken it back from invading Christians… so turning their tunnel into a sewage pipe was probably seen at the time as fitting and appropriate.

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Once re-discovered The Acre development company, in co-ordination with Israel’s Antiquities Authority, cleared away the dirt and excrement filling the tunnel, and found whatever of historical value there was within it; all the while preparing it to serve as a local tourist attraction whose doors initially opened to the public in 1999… although repairs, rehabilitation, and extension of the tunnel continued through 2007. Today, the water that once carried you-know-what out into the ocean still runs (you can even see where it enters into the now destroyed Templar castle), but now people throw coins into it instead, supposedly for good luck.

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The Knights Templar, or Templars, were a catholic monastic military order that have long served as a focus of fascination and urban myths, both good and bad.  They were founded in 1119 to protect pilgrims who came to see the holy lands from Muslims and highwaymen (being a pilgrim during that period was a very dangerous activity, with dead bodies littered along the paths); initially WILDLY popular with the faithful, once the Crusades were over and the holy land was lost support for them faded, at which point their size and wealth made them a convenient target for a deeply in debt King Philip IV of France, who was deeply in debt to them financially. They were then completely disbanded by Pope Clement V.  If you want to learn more about them I found this GREAT pod cast about them by the guest host Dan Jones, who is an internationally best-selling historian/author of non-fiction works.

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The tunnel runs from what is believed to be the destroyed Templar palace on the western part of the city, on the Mediterranean’s edge, whose remaining walls are now shallowly submerged beneath the water (but still visible)

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The tunnel, according to one of the multiple short movies shown in the tunnel (this one is just towards the eastern end), is thought to have been built to go under another the Pisan quarter (a quarter within the city of Acre that was controlled by people from the Republic of Pisa) who were not friendly with the Templars and tended to charge them taxes to pass through their area…

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and, in addition to that would try to stop the Templars from taking “sacred relics” related to the story of Christ out of the city. [I say sacred relics in quotation marks because one sort of has to, like the 16th century Dutch humanist Erasmus, question their authenticity. To quote his commentary on just how many places claimed to own pieces of the true cross… “if all the fragments were collected together, they would appear to form a fair cargo for a merchant ship.”] The Templars, didn’t take kindly to the Pisan’s interference in their business, and in response built this tunnel…traveling UNDER the Pisan quarter, from their castle to the port

Location map of Akko Port; A) The sea-front of the Pisan quarter (insert Fig.6); B) The Western Basin, (insert Fig. 2b) 
[source of the photo, “New insights on Maritime Acre revealed by Underwater and Coastal Archaeological Research”]
In the image above, the destroyed Templar’s Palace is the Green roundish thing at the bottom left of the town, the Templars tunnel is shown as a line of red dots, the sea-front of the Pisan quarter is marked as A, while the port that the Templars were trying to get to is in the Western Basin, marked B (I’m not sure WHY they couldn’t just park boats alongside their castle, but apparently they couldn’t.

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So of course there are TWO entrances to the tunnel… the EASY one to find is adjacent to the destroyed palace directly adjacent to the big parking lot and the world-renowned Uri Buri restaurant (considered one of the three restaurants in all of Israel, and the country’s best location for seafood). At the bottom of the stairs at this entrance is a set of two buttons, either of which will initiate an audio narration describing the tunnel (no video). However, if a large group is coming through, I strongly suggest waiting till they’ve passed to push it as you won’t hear it otherwise.

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The tunnel’s “Eastern Entrance” is now marked on Google (Feel free to send me chocolate in thanks)

The hard one to find is buried in the alleyways of Acre across the alley from that public bathroom I showed earlier … in fact when I first arrived in town Google maps did NOT have EITHER of the two doors marked!!! (As in all manner of folks can be found wandering around trying to find the bathroom! Not to mention the Eastern entrance to the tunnels) While I was there I submitted a request to Google that they fix that, marking for them exactly where it was located… and if you’re wandering around the town trying to find that entrance using Google maps, you can thank me for the fact that

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Eastern Entrance

By comparison to the easy to find entrance (which is kind of plain and squished) the eastern entrance is actually quite fancy looking on the inside, even though it’s really easy to miss on the outside (especially when the doors are not open for business). And the squishiness is not just at the entrance… At that east end of the tunnel, the ceiling is very low…. [well either that, or (much more likely) the walkway for tourists is placed very high up within the tunnel because that end is close to the Mediterranean, and probably dips down lower than the other side does, and as such is deeply flooded with water.]

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At this end are two narrow tunnels, one in each direction, with ceilings that become progressively taller (or shorter if you’re coming from the other end). That said, from the perspective of the average tourist, it starts out with you having to bend down very low in order to pass (the ceiling was at about the height of my arm pits), and then the further into the tunnel you go (heading east) the higher the ceiling moves (the bottom picture I was JUST able to stand full height to 5’4″ — my travel buddy that day was a few inches taller than I).UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2be6.jpg

At this point in the tunnel (picture upper left) she was just getting to where she could stand tall… and the walkway — which is you look is clearly elevated (there was the equivalent of a little river running under it) is lit up, and had little glass windows embedded into it showing where various archeological finds were discovered — the originals are in a museum, these were just pictures of the objects found. And the ceiling gets taller the further east you go (which supports my elevated walkway theory), until you get to this point in the tunnel, where the ceiling gets REALLY tall and vaulted… and they seem to have found a 2nd layer to it or some such

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all photos of the same location, but from different angles

The above photos are taken of the same location but looking both directions — double tunnels at one side that join at this point into one huge tunnel. As you can see at this point in the tunnel (on the left side of the photo above) there’s yet another movie screen showing more about the history of the place, that once again comes with narration in either Hebrew or English. The movie doesn’t restart, the track being played just switches languages based one which button you press, even if its mid film.

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From that point on, instead of two narrow tunnels it’s one wide one…  but still with the windows in the walkway where they found things…. and the blue wall is where the easter exit/stairwell is located.

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As you can probably tell from the photos (no I did not change my T-shirts while in there) I actually traversed the tunnel twice. The first time was on a temperate day (high of 68 — 70 F) with a new friend who I had met the night before at the Airbnb I was staying at (an American girl doing her post doctoral studies at Tel Aviv University). The 2nd time I went on a hot day (closer to 85 F), and I decided to go there thinking that in the tunnels it would be cooler… I was wrong… while it wasn’t as hot as outdoors it was HUMID down there, because of all the water running under the walkway, and therefore the even less comfortable the outdoor heat which was dry.

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In order to go into the tunnel you’re going to need a ticket… and this is where things get a bit complicated (see above). You COULD buy just a ticket to go to the tunnel… but … The MAIN attraction in Acre is the Hospitallers‘ Fortress (aka Knight’s Halls)… and in order to see it you HAVE to buy the combined ticket. Every other attraction you can buy a ticket for just that thing… but NOT for the Fortress…  As such, if you have ANY interest in seeing that you’ll want to buy the combo ticket… I strongly suggest including the Turkish Bath… but if you’re in town with no car, do not get the Rosh Hanikra ticket as that is very far away and does not include any sort of shuttle bus to get you there.

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How to eat during Ramadan in an Arab town, such as Acre (Akko/Acco), Israel

This month is the first time in my life I’ve spent Ramadan in an Arab town. I’m SO naive about these things that I didn’t even THINK about that when planning this trip.

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  1. First thing to remember is that while Arabs are of two predominant religious groups, Muslim AND Christian. The first keeps Ramadan, the second does NOT…
  2. … and not all sects of those two major groups are alike. While Bahá’í and Druze are both, historically, offshoots of Islam, the Bahá’ís DO keep Ramadan but the Durūz/Druzim [transliterated Arabic & Hebrew spellings for the plural] do NOT …
  3. Christian owned restaurants tend to hire mostly Christian workers (friends and family), and are in retrospect easy to spot because they’re the ones that offer beer and wine options on the menu.
  4. Muslim owned places do NOT have beer or wine on the menu.
    *Noting this distinction in advance will tell you which of your favorite eateries are likely to be open or not
  5. And of course, Acco being in Israel, there are a handful of Kosher places in town… that hire Jewish workers and as such will be open: This includes the VERY expensive Uri Buri (which will demand reservations), which has won all sorts of culinary awards, is considered to be one of the best resturants in Israel, and while it has shellfish on the menu is also set up to cook Kosher food. (Warning: its “French” style, so after a full meal here, you’re going to want to go out to eat)
  6. That said, NO restaurant can afford to be closed for one month every year!!!
    According to my Airbnb host (a Xtian who has lived here his whole life) the first THREE days of Ramadan is when it’s an issue. Employers give their muslim workers that much time to acclimate into the pattern of NOT eating during the day, and then will open back up for business because there’s a tourist market that has to be served.or of course you can load up the fridge in advance and feed yourself… something I neglected to do…

Rustic Eating House, Waiouru, New Zealand

If you’re in the area and you’re looking for a REALLY good place to eat at affordable prices, I STRONGLY suggest the Rustic Eating House in Waiouru, New Zealand. Granted, the last thing you’d expect in a town so small that you’ll miss it if you blink (population 950) is a chef driven restaurant that serves up haute cuisine, but prepare to be surprised!

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It’s located  in a strip mall right near where highway #49 meets up with highway #1. I had also taken some interior shots, but I googled the place as I was about to write about it, and I’m seeing that they JUST did a massive redecoration of the interior and it now looks radically different on the inside (as in much more like a fine dining experience and less like a diner).

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2a5e.jpgFrom the new photos someone posted I’m seeing brand new chairs padded with brown leather, green plants, and decorative piles of chopped wood. That and they’ve covered the white pillars with wood paneling  ….  So, that said the image below is what it looked like in early March 2019 when I visited the place, but it doesn’t look like this anymore.

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So, when I first got there, I was having a hard time believing the reviews on Trip advisor, as they looked like every other a mom and pop cafe with coffees and teas, and all the take-away offerings one comes to expect at places like in Australia or New Zealand,UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2a58.jpg

but that said, on 2nd glance I could see they were clearly a cut above, as in they had all the obligatory meat pies and such, but with much more interesting ingredients…

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In addition to what was on offer in the cases, they also had a menu which looked VERY interesting….UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2a57.jpg

I ordered the “Venison in Black” — roast venison eye fillet, with a chimichurri rub, beetroot, leek, black sweet potato and chocolate sauce.

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My friend the vegetarian asked for a veggie burger, and while they didn’t really have one, they put this together for him on the fly and he was VERY happy with it:6k5UbRBoQn69jTyByhmDmQ_thumb_d131.jpg

that said, If it ain’t one thing it’s another we were sitting outside and there were shade umbrellas big ones weighted down by water. I was at one table in the shade, my travel buddy was at a different one in the sun (having an on-line work conference meeting).

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I was sitting in the shade below the umbrellas she was setting up in above photo, when it happened

A massive wind picked up and started to knock them over, so I stood up to try to keep them from falling on me and then one of the ones that I was holding went completely airborne taking me with it. Rebecca went boom again. Did not hit my head. But I was little bit shaky afterwards… basically post fall shock. I did scrape up my hand pretty good, and my neck was not particularly happy with me afterwards. That and I was a bit less than pleased with how little the staff seemed to care about what had happened to me, past asking me did I want to call for an ambulance (because, and this is what they told me…. that would take about a half hour to show up anyway and cost me a load of money). In fact the only “help” was the owner got me a band-aid for my hand and moved my plate for me, indoors. So NOT the best customer service on the planet. That said my food was REALLY tasty and the chef had no issues with modifying it slightly to meet my dietary needs.

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

Man Friday, a Mexican/Int’l Cafe on Magnetic Island, Queensland, Australia

Man Friday is a BYOB cafe, open only in the evenings, that describes itself as serving Mexican food, but doesn’t. It is located in Nelly Bay on Queensland’s Magnetic Island (which for gubernatorial reasons is technically considered part of the mainland city of Townsville). I shouldn’t be too hard on it; my travel partner, who is originally from Sydney, but has lived for almost half his life in California and has spent a lot of time in Mexico, likes to try every “Mexican” restaurant he finds in Australia, in large part because almost NONE of them get it right. He’s always curious, and hopeful, that he’ll find one that does, but admits its pretty rare that it happens. This would not be one of the NOT ‘authentic’ ones…. but it is tasty for all that.

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My travel partner and I spent a week at an Airbnb in Nelly Bay, and as there were only a handful of food options in Nelly Bay we did our best to try all that we could, and this was one of them. And like I said, this was one of the ones he was wanting to try … as part of his ‘do they have real Mexican food’ test. To the owner’s credit, she (I think it’s a she) recognizes that Mexican and Tex/Mex are not in fact the same thing, and that’s exemplified by her menu.

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That said, the owners are not actually clear on which is which. Nachos, for instance, while technically created in Mexico, and she has them listed as such …. are not considered to be “authentic” Mexican food; they’re Tex/Mex because they were created AT the Mexico/Texas border for the consumption of Anglos, aka white people. The story is that at a Mexican border-town hotel with a restaurant… back when the border was a lot more porous even than Trump is trying to make it today, the owner, who went by the nickname of “Nacho” … short for Ignatius, had white customers who came in after the kitchen was closed asking for something to eat with their Margaritas. The owner, looked in the kitchen, and threw together a bed of leftover tortilla chips, slopped over them various leftover ingredients, heated it up a bit and served it.

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This is essentially the same way the “Chinese” dishes of Chop suey and Egg foo-young came into being …. dishes which you won’t find in any self-respecting Chinese restaurant in American that caters to the Chinese community rather than serving mostly white customers. I am always amused when I take friends to a REAL Chinese restaurants and they get frustrated that they can’t find either on the menus. All of these dishes are essentially what you do with leftover ingredients … they are not “cuisine.”

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That said, both my friend and I were, in spite of the in-authenticity of the food, happy with our meals. The woman who runs the kitchen can actually cook. My friend ordered a vegetarian burrito. When I asked him how it was, he said, “Very Tasty! But wrapping is crispy, I’ve never had a crispy burrito before” to which I responded,  “OH, that’s because it’s not a burrito, it’s a Chimichanga” which is ALSO Tex/Mex rather than Mexican. It was created in Arizona but there’s a disagreement as to whether it was a restaurant in Phoenix or Tucson that first did it. That said, it’s yet another example of how Man Friday’s Chef knows there is a difference between the Mexican and Tex/Mex, but don’t fully understand what that difference is. (That, and the refried beans weren’t, they were just beans… the way the British might serve them.)

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For my dish, since this sort of Mexican food does NOT meet my food needs because of my fatty liver disease — my liver right now isn’t all that different from human Foie gras — was a negotiated affair of what they had in the kitchen that could meet my needs… and I have to say they did a VERY good job of it. UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_20fa.jpg

My dinner was a grilled bit of chicken breast, nicely spiced up that was VERY juicy (YAY!!!) with a salad with NO dressing (because that has oil in it) and a little side dish of balsamic vinegar for me to dip my food into. I was happy.

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That said, Man Friday’s is for the most part, out-door seating in a VERY pretty garden. There’s not much space, and even less so in-doors, so make sure to make a reservation, and like with all restaurants on the island, be prepared for a LONG wait between ordering and getting your food. Either snack in advance, or order in advance.

Paddy’s Market & Market City (the mall for Asian tourists) in Sydney Australia’s Haymarket

In a way this building tells you a LOT about this section of Sydney. It serves the needs of multiple populations living right on top of each other but that somehow remain utterly obvious to each other. Paddy’s Market (open Wednesday –> Sunday), the basement of this building, has a long and complicated history that extends back to 1834, when Sydney’s Governor had moved all of the towns hay & grain markets out of the city into an adjoining area, that henceforth became known as Haymarket. What started out as simply a local market has over the years evolved into arguably one of Sydney’s major tourist attractions, that sits at the edge of the tourism district in the Haymarket neighborhood. And sitting upon that base is a Market City, a mall targeted directly at upper middle class Asians (the 20%), both those who are visiting as tourists and those who live in Sydney

I NEED TO TAKE A PHOTO OF THE BUILDING’s EXTERIOR!!! ARGH!

In actuality, Paddy’s Market is something of a chain. While it still maintains a branch at the original Haymarket address (for locals and tourists) its larger branch is located about a half hour west in Flemington, which also offers a flea market section and night food market. Combined, the two locations offer up over 1000 stalls selling food, fashion and just stuff. The Flemington location is where the Sydney markets were moved too when the city grew well past the Haymarket in the 1960’s (wholesale markets for the metropolitan area that sell fresh… from the ground …perishables, like fruits, vegetables and flowers to NSW and ACT florists)

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Currently the tourist attraction part of Patty’s is in a massive space on the ground floor/basement level (the building sits on a slope) of a multistoried entertainment and housing complex, where it was moved to in the 1970’s

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_bb76.jpgThe lowest floor is of an old-fashioned brick construction (I have the feeling that it had its exterior walls preserved), can get very hot and uncomfortable… and house’s Paddy’s, while a modern, air-conditioned, steel and glass structure towers above it,

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which houses both the Market City Shopping Mall (with 30+ factory outlet stores on its 2nd floor, a food court and wide selection of restaurants) and a separate/connecting apartment building, .

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That said, Paddy’s Market, which sits in the basement of the structure– in what could have easily been the parking area based on the look of the place… is in fact broken into two parts. In the southeast corner of the area, Paddy’s maintain’s it original purpose as a”Farmers Market” that manages to maintain its popularity with locals for the breadth and depth of its offerings, even though there’s an Asian Supermarket (IGA X-press Thai kee) located just above it in Market City, and there’s a Woolworth grocery store just kiddy corner from it, offer up way more in terms of packaged and bottled options. In large part it is because Paddy’s boasts a combination fresh foods which these other more modern stores just can’t really compete with

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…the reality is that in those areas, the more modern markets can’t really compete… that said, I was initially seriously wondering how the new ‘refrigerated’ section of Patty’s manages to compete with them in anything other than convenience

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Thai Kee Butchery

I ultimately realized that both the meat market at Paddy’s, and the fish area is actually owned by the Asian market, Thai Kee, that is upstairs in the modern mall, Market city

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_20e4.jpgand as such seem to be offering up the sort of bits and pieces its customers want but that the modern market upstairs doesn’t sell (that market has no fresh meat of fish sections, just frozen). So for instance, the meat market down in the basement has: tripe, tendons, small intestines, pigs ears, ox-tails, duck, wagyu beef, and shoulder-blade steaks. In a way this makes in that the market’s smelly meat and fish sections are not up in the shiny clean section adjacent to places selling clothes, etc., but are down in the basement, bothering no one.

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… that said, I had difficulty understanding how their seafood section was able to complete, considering their clientele were from the looks of it, mostly Asian (who take freshness in their seafood way more seriously than westerners do); and considering just how nearby this market is to Sydney’s seafood market, which is just a short ride away from Paddy’s by light rail

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And the seafood here is well… NOT so fresh… the eyes of the fish was all clouded and bulging, and the flesh didn’t even look firm… so how this seafood place stays open considering a predominately Chinese clientele, I don’t know.

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Adjacent to the food section of Paddy’s there’s a stall that sells every form of uniform a person might night need, from Chef’s and waiter’s uniforms to construction worker’s safety gear. And beyond that is ….

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the flea market!!! THIS section of Paddy’s is what makes it a mecca for the tourist in the tourist in the know…  these guys have pretty much everything a tourist might need from really high quality and affordable leather goods — These guys had HIGH quality leather men’s belts for about $30 AUD/$20 USD… best prices I’ve seen on comparable belts in the USA was $35.

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I got a particular hoot out of their Ned Kelly statue out front — he’s sort of the Jessie James of Australia. After having learned about him in via some general Australian history books, they all mention him, and then reading the Booker Prize winning novel, the “True History of the Kelly Gang” … so that I pretty much knew as much about his as the average Aussie, I was lucky enough to pass through Ned Kelly’s Home town Glenrowan last year, which of course. The statue basically shows the home-made armor he crafted for himself before his final showdown with police — where he was completely outnumbered.

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There’s no shortage of new ageie, paganie, stuff scattered throughout the market, including scented candles, crystals, incense, taro card and palm readers, massage and reflexology booths, etc., you name it

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There’s sexy costumes and kinky wear for folks who are getting ready for things like Sydney’s Mardi Gras/Gay pride festival in March — which I was lucky enough to attend last year.

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There’s hats and clothes of all variety, and no shortage of suitcases for sale to load them into — so you shouldn’t be restricted by the fullness of your luggage when you came here

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And probably the MOST common shop in this section… I counted at least 5 of them but I’m guessing there’s more … and this doesn’t include ALL the places selling Australian T-shirts… there’s more than a few….  are shops selling souvenirs for tourists… everything from the obligatory boomerangs, to the grotesque … furry kangaroo balls attached to a back scratcher, all crammed together into a small space, so that’s kind of hard to find what you’re looking for or even really see what’s being sold.

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BUT, and this is a big BUT… all of that is just on the ground floor of the building. I suggest taking the elevator upstairs and checking out the modern multilevel Asian/tourist focused shopping mall that’s sitting on top of Paddies.

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YUP, THIS is what’s sitting on top of that, and it’s like a different world. This mall is like every mall in South Korean. Granted, it’s a modern shopping mall so on the surface not so different … but here’s the thing… the whole time I was walking around it I kept feeling like I was back in South Korea, and I mean at the mall that was located across the street from my house when I worked there as a professor.  All the types of products and stores you see in Korea were on sale here. I kept feeling like if I lived in Australia, and went to visit Korea, I’d be sad cause I’d be like… everything here is what’s for sale at Market City in Haymarket…. And then I saw THIS store… UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_20e5.jpg

And I was like, “Oh my God I AM in Korea!!! 100%!!” …. this proved it to me. Giordano is a REALLY common brand there, and I was, I shit you not, actually wearing one of their T-shirt the first day I first found this store…. I’ve got BOXES of their clothing stored back in Chicago that I had shlepped back with me when I moved home after dad died.UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_20e3.jpg

That said, my favorite part of this mall is the food courts on the first floor of this building that are full of highly authentic, highly affordable, Asian treats aimed at tourists visiting from Thailand, Japan, Taiwan and China…

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Look at all the people in these photos… I was one of the VERY FEW White people here… the place is like being in Asia

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They even have a Hakata/Fukuoka style Ramen place

On the Top floor of the building there is a whole collection of sit down restaurants, that are AS authentic, and where again you’ll find very few white people having a meal

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Up there, they have a conveyor belt sushi place that I had fallen in love with. I could stuff myself silly with really fresh sushi, for only about $20 US, which is ridiculously cheap… for sushi

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Please forgive me!

So, I’ve been in the Orlando Florida area for almost two months, and have posted BUPKIS to my blog. I am woefully woefully behind. There are all sorts of posts about the road trip down to Florida that I’ve been negligent about posting…  not to mention what I’ve done once I got here. I just haven’t been able to motivate myself to blog about it.

That said.. I promise I will try very hard to fix this… please pay attention to the “Recent Posts” category, as that will include all my efforts at “catching up” most of which will be backdated to when I went, rather than when I wrote the post. I’m going to be in the Orlando area for one more month and then I’ll be heading north to the Washington D.C. area — my GOAL is to be completely up to date before that happens.