Sunday, April 01, 2007

Final post

After much badgering from Michael, I'm finally putting up my final post. After rediscovering my password and remembering how to post to my blog, here goes.

After the Not So Great Barrier Reef, we had a lovely visit in Sydney with friends of Michael's family. They were incredibly gracious hosts and it was a great way to finish off our journey.

Upon returning to America our first stop was Carmel Valley, CA to visit Michael's mother, catch up on New Yorkers, and some much needed sleep. After a few days, we settled into life in Boston. I returned to UMMS, and after a summer off and 5 weeks in Europe, Michael started work at Bose.

And last week brought the biggest change in our lives to date. Sam Kinyon Agerbak was born on March 22 (3 weeks early) at 4:57 pm, weighing 6 lbs 12 ounces.

And last but not least, we set a date to get married - October 14th, 2007.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Not So Great Barrier Reef

Next, onto Cairns. Cairns is another popular beach town which caters to folks wanting to dive the outer bits of the Great Barrier Reef. The advantage of going further out is that the Reef is less trafficked and has not suffered as much damage from all the tourism.

While the original idea was to do an overnight on a dive boat, a refreshingly honest travel agent told us the weather was pretty harsh out on the Reef and she would not recommend doing more than a day trip. She had just been out diving a few days before so it seemed pretty good advice.

That said, we found a one day, two dive trip that left the following morning. As the travel agent had warned about rough seas I picked up some seasickness medication for the trip. This comes in two varieties - natural (which is basically ginger) and chemical. The chemical kind makes you sleepy so I went for natural. This may have been my first mistake.

So we get on the boat and are informed that it's going to be a hard and wet ride. We are advised to take seasickness medication and shown where the seasickness bags are kept. We are told that the winds are at 30 knots so be prepared.

I was actually pretty ok for the first hour (of an hour and 45 minute trip). When I started to feel sick I requested some of the chemical medication but I think it was a little late as I filled three full barfbags about 10 minutes later. The good news was that I was not the only one and I felt much better after the fact. Nicole Richie's got nothing on me - I can take her. See photo of me with barfbags (an after shot).

By the time we got to the first dive site my stomach had calmed down. Most of the folks onboard were snorkeling, a few were doing an intro dive (for people who aren't certified divers but want to get the feel of diving), and a few were doing guided dives. We were the only folks doing a nonguided dive so we were pretty psyched about that.

What was nuts was the winds were still going strong and the waves were pretty high and you're out in the middle of nowhere. How anyone snorkeled here I have no idea. It's so much better underwater. I really thought those snorkelers were nuts.

So first dive was good - the visibility wasn't great but it was fun to be on our own. The only freaky part was when we surfaced we came up facing nothing - no boat, no people, no nothing. It was like that bad movie where the divers get left behind. Luckily when we turned around we saw the boat about 100 feet away and just swam over.

After lunch was when the trouble began for me. We were briefed on the dive and the routine was pretty much just like the first time. So we jumped in and swam over to the reef just like before. But this time it was raining harder and the waves seemed to be bigger and I started to freak out. When we got to the reef, Michael gave the signal to go down and as we started to descend I freaked out. I came up after going down about 3 feet and felt like I couldn't breathe. In short I was hyperventilating. I've never been a big fan of the initial descent anyway so being as I was already freaked out from the conditions I think I was just panicking a bit.

Michael came up and swam closer and tried to figure out what was going on. I told him I was hyperventaliting, etc. and he talked me through slowing down my breathing, etc. The funny thing is that I knew it was better underwater - no waves, all the air I could want, etc. but I was just having a hard time getting down. After about two minutes I was ready to try again and this time we made it down without incident. This is now known as the, "Michael saves Katie's life" event. After that it was pretty smooth going. There were some cool swim-throughs which we had never done before and we got to pose by a huge purple clam for an underwater photographer.

The boat ride back was just crazy as the ride there. By the time we got back to shore I had taken a total of five seasickness pills BUT I used no barfbags on the way back. A minor victory.

Now we spend the next 24 hours in Cairns (as you have to wait to fly after diving) and then off to Melbourne.

Final observation. Here's a little piece of art I saw this am in Cairns - a bunch of plastic and wooden turtles and things in the shape of turtles going into the local art museum. Just my kind of art.

Come a Waltzing Matilda with Me

We were lucky that our boat had fewer passengers than usual - 10 instead of 14. This gave us all a bit more room to spread out and relax. Wayne was our trusty skipper and Paul our chef - I use that term loosely - and overall boat guy. We were also lucky that everyone on the boat was nice and interesting - no obvious weirdos or strange folks. In sum, four Germans, two Brits (not including Michael), two Americans and us.

Our days were spent sailing, snorkeling, and hanging out on the beach.

If you want to dive around here and you're not on a dive boat - no problem. Your sailboat will take you to the dive boat. It's sort of like a floating bookmobile where they ferry you over and on this little boat are wetsuits, tanks, BCDs, fins, etc. So while others were snorkeling one day we did a dive. Saw some really big fish which was cool.

Because it is still jellyfish season you cannot get into the water without a stinger suit. These are lycra body suits which are hard for anyone to pull off. I thought this picture of Michael looked pretty good - I call it the Charlie's Angels shot.

My favorite part of the trip were the sunsets. We would sit on deck, drinking from our boxes of wine, eating processed cheese and crackers. All this while someone else was preparing dinner and would later do the dishes. We were clearly back in a first world country.

During one of our beach mornings Michael went walking between these two islands on a sandbar that was about 1 foot underwater.

After three days it was time to return to dry land. While I had a great time I'm not sure I have the best sea legs for the long haul. This will become more apparent in the next posting. But all in all, good fun and highly recommended.

Welcome to Oz

After climbing the glaciers it was time to head east again and get ready for our trip to Australia. We hauled ass for 2 days driving on some very curvy and narrow roads, which made night driving pretty exciting. One night in the middle of the drive through the Southern Alps we had to find our rough camping site in complete darkness. We pulled over at one place by the railroad tracks but both Susanne and I got freaked out when we saw a lone campervan hidden in the bushes. Much to Michael's dismay we insisted on moving, luckily only another mile up the road. Here we saw a few more campers and it didn't feel so much like a scene out of a Friday the 13th movie.

We spent our last night in Christchurch at the airport holiday park so we would be close by for our 6:15 am departure to Brisbane. Susanne was a real trooper - not only did she get up at 4 am to drive us to the airport, she also had to clean out the camper all by herself - even the yucky bits.

Getting to Australia turned out to be a bit of a chore - see Michael's blog for details of our visa fiasco. I think that after almost five months of traveling we might be losing our touch a bit - getting a bit lazy, a little slack, whatever. In the end it was a miracle that we were able to board our flight.

That same day we flew up the east coast of Australia to Airlie Beach. The gig in Airlie Beach is to take a 2-3 day cruise around the Whitsunday Islands that are part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. There are numerous boats to choose from - the classic booze cruise, racing boats, catamarans, sail boats, really expensive boats, etc. I pretty much based my boat choice on the name - the Waltzing Matilda. It evoked just the image I was looking for. Traditional and classic and not so fast moving. Anyway, we left the following morning on the Waltzing Matilda for a 3 day, 2 night cruise. As you are not allowed to bring any glass on board I purchased my first box of wine and prepared for the journey.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Glacier City

Next we headed north of Queenstown and up the west coast to Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers. We stopped briefly at Fox Glacier on our way to our accommodation for the night. As I'd never seen a glacier I had no idea what to expect. In short, it looked like a huge pile of dirty ice. But really huge. At Fox we didn't get on the glacier but we did manage to sneak a peek.

The next day Susanne and I got up really early to go on a full day hike on the Franz Josef. As Michael had already done some glacier hiking on his trip he opted out and stayed back and tried to sort out some plane ticket issues.

Franz Josef is 6 kms high and 1.5 kms across. Our hiking company suited us up with waterproof jackets, pants, hiking boots, wool socks, hats and gloves. All we had to bring was food for lunch and sunscreen - remember, no ozone in NZ.

The hike was pretty cool. The first hour was spent climbing ice stairs - big stairs so it was pretty tiring.

After that we just hiking around on the glacier discovering little paths, climbing ice walls, crossing bridges, etc.

The entire trip was 14 km roundtrip. Writing this the morning after I'm still pretty tired and sore. Now it's time to head back to Christchurch where we grab a flight to Australia at the end of the week to begin the last 2 and a half weeks of our trip.

Adventures Day Two

After a night of camping rough - no holiday park, just parked at the end of a dirt road - we headed off for our second day of adventures. First up, flying to Milford Sound. Michael rented a plane and took us on a 90 minute sight seeing tour.

The scenery is just amazing. We flew over big snow-covered mountains. In our small plane we were able to fly between the mountains all the way to Milford Sound on the Tasman Sea.

On the flight back clouds were coming in below us in the mountains which made for some incredible sights.

Our final adventure was not one we had planned but it too was really cool. Susanne's friend Lee works on the 1992 New Zealand America's Cup yacht. The NZ14 does tours twice a day out of Queenstown on Lake Wakatipu. Lee got us half price tickets for the afternoon voyage and we jumped at the chance.

This was the boat with the famous funky keel that was kept secret for so long. This was a wonderful way to see Queenstown and a truly unique experience that I don't think we would have gotten anywhere else.