Monday, December 8, 2014

"What were the odds?" I thought.  We were told never to leave the vehicles but it was late morning and I just HAD to pee!  That meant violating the rules and stepping just out of site on the edge of the jungle.

I was in Ngorongoro Park in Tanzania, Africa on the road that goes around the top rim of the crater.

Ngorongoro is an amazing place in the world.  Once a mighty mountain, it blew long ago and now what we have is a savanna below with Jungle around the upper reaches of the rim.

The animals reside both down in the crater and venture up to the rim.  Well, some of them do, and it was surprising to learn that elephants will climb all the way up to the top.  There were lions, hippos, rhinos, giraffes and a whole host of animals living at the bottom.  Jungle cats like Leopards lived among the trees lining the sides and top.  Elephants pretty much went wherever they pleased and could be found on top and below.

I was in the middle of a several week safari through the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Park areas and today's agenda was to descend into the crater.  My guide for the trip was a veteran of the area having been a park ranger for many years before guiding.  He knew it wasn't a good idea for me to venture out of the jeep but given the lack of safe places to take me at this particular moment and the time of day, consented with my pleas that I'd be quick.

Some children I met along the way between parks during a mountain bike ride...

And I was quick.  Probably no more than 40 seconds quick.  Just not quick enough to avoid the leopard that had just made the top of the rim RIGHT where I'd decided to go.  Sure enough, there I am going and out he/she comes not 10 feet in front of me!

Good thing I had gone number two that morning or I probably would have crapped my pants too.  I just froze and stared.  Luckily for me, this was late morning and a leopards hunting is done at night or very early morning and so this one wasn't hungry.  More like they were tired from a long night of partying and terrorizing the local herbivores.  That was good news for me because I was definitely down the food chain as soon as I stepped out of that jeep.

It was unfortunate that was the closest encounter with a leopard I'd get for the whole trip and didn't even have my camera.  But such is the way of safaris.  It was actually down on the savanna where I learned the real lesson on just what the pecking order is out there.

A lion pride had just attacked a baby hippo not long before we arrived and we got to witness first hand the lions having their meal of the day, and then all of the other animals lined up and waiting for whatever they could get.  This was like natures restaurant wait list!  Only this restaurant is an outdoor "BBQ" minus the cooking.

Mom is the actual BBQer though. She does the kill. Dad just waits to be served and protects the family. Isn't nature wonderful?

Of course, Dad gets to eat first. He's checking to make sure that his meal is the properly cooked level: raw!

Hey, looks like Dad ordered the full rack of ribs. Yum.

Once Dad is done, Mom and the others eat. Perhaps Dad, like most men, just isn't that socially gifted.

Now as the lions hang out and enjoy their BBQ, the other animals have taken their particular designated spots and are patiently awaiting their turn at the meal.Here Mom walks over to the small watering hole and note the Jackal patiently waiting his turn too.Now to explain this phenomenon, we have a chart. Note the proper placement of said invitees to the BBQ and their distance-from-the-kill perimeter and spacing as to avoid overcrowding and proper pecking orders:
Now, if you are a crafty but small Jackal, you might have a plan of your own...

If you are real small, you just might be able to sneak up to the lions original BBQ kill spot in the hopes of snagging some treats that the lions didn't carry over to where they are now.Score! You've got some tasty organs! It's just like picking up your sausages from the local butcher! Lions don't like the organs.

And so goes another day in the Serengeti (well, this was actually Ngorongoro...but the same thing applies to both). The lions will wander off and the hyenas will have their pick. After they're satisfied, the other jackals will take a shot at the meat and once they are done, the buzzards/vultures that have been circling all day will clean up. They are like the janitors of the Serengeti.

I was pretty fortunate to get this sequence of events on camera.  The rest of the trip down in the crater and to the other parks I enjoyed a plethora of animals to shoot pictures of.

Yes, you can get this close, just be prepared for a quick exit should the elephant decide it is TOO close... 
He's either very photo savvy or he's sizing me up to see if he can take me...

Careful what you might find when you round a corner!

The rule of the road here is that the elephant gets the whole road!

Yes, even the trees are unusual.  This comes from elephant scarring...

Thursday, November 20, 2014

It was one of those days on the Caribbean Sea where you would have to lean like you were in the ski jump at the Winter Olympics in order to stand at the front of the ship.  The winds were wailing pretty darn strong. 

So strong in fact that even though the Caribbean winds are warm, when they hit a certain velocity, you don't feel that warm anymore.

So we headed back toward poolside.  After all, you don't want to exert yourself too much on a cruise ship, chances are you've overeaten for days now and are in no shape to be doing a lot of exertion anyway!

But a funny thing happened on the way back.  We couldn't get there!  The glass door that separated the cushy non-wind cruise life from the adventurous too-much-wind bow of the ship wasn't opening.  Try as we might, it wouldn't open.

"Voyager of the Sea"...two upgrades from their "Chicken of the Sea" vessel
No problem, I'm smarter than the average tourist, there's another door on the other side of the ship.  So we make our way around without being picked up like some kind of human kite and try the other door.  No luck there either.  It won't open.

It could have happened...
By that time, we're wondering just what to do.  It's not exactly sunshine and fruity rum drinks standing in the wind there and for whatever reason, they must have been giving away free rum drinks because there wasn't a single person around to knock on the glass door and have them let us in from the inside.

Get up people and go see if somebody (me) might be stranded on the bow of the ship!
That didn't stop us from knocking on the glass door though.  Because, you know, people appear out of thin air if you make an effort to knock loudly...

After a few minutes of futility, I'm feeling the magnitude of the situation and how ridiculous it is that we're out here but still on the cruise ship and yet we can't get in!  Eventually the wifey-poo will wonder if we fell overboard and personally have the captain looking for us but that is a long time before that eventually will get set in motion.

5 minutes go by...
10 minutes go by...

What time feels like waiting where you don't want to be
Finally, somebody comes walking along the corridor inside and hears us knocking.  They try opening the door and they can't open it either.  They're either locked or both defective.  We shout through the tiny slit of the door for them to go get a ship employee as if we are talking through some sort of cave that has been walled in by an avalanche or something.  They disappear.

5 minutes go by...
10 minutes go by...

Eventually another tourist comes along and he also tries to help get us out.  Finally, with the help of a second tourist, the four of us; two inside, two outside are able to force the sliding glass door open enough for use to squeeze in.

Turns out, the weather was windy enough that the bridge had locked down the bow of the ship.  Good idea!  Except, Royal Caribbean, CHECK FIRST TO SEE IF ANYONE IS STILL OUT THERE!!!!!

So needless to say I wasn't quite the smiley, chipper, cruise tourist as we wandered back to their customer service desk with hair that looked like I just auditioned for Medusa in some cruise improv play!

Me at the Royal Caribbean customer service desk...
I have to admit though, they played the part of "stupid" very, very well.  I finally just gave up.  They wore me down with their blank stares of indifference.  I went along my disgruntled ways and went back to overeating and lounging around doing nothing or killing myself on some "toy" they'd built on the ship to keep us from gaining too much weight and not being able to get through the corridors.

That aside, this was a cruise out of New Orleans that visited Jamaica, Grand Cayman Islands and Cozumel.  Though I sort of detest cruises, it's one way to get a good sampling of the various Caribbean islands without spending a fortune flying from place to place.

And then when you besiege these locales, you can sign up for any manner of excursion you can that will still safely get you back to the ship in your allotted time.  We did some zip lining and river floating in Jamaica during that time.

Here my son demonstrates how to make gravity do all the work for you
What is it about Jamaica that they HAVE to play Bob Marley on the tourists buses?  Really?  Are there no other Reggae artists in Jamaica?  I mean, if you go to Liverpool, England, will you only hear Beatles music?  I was in San Francisco last month and they weren't just playing the Grateful Dead!  But I digress...

Apparently this is the ONLY musician they play in Jamaica
Somehow I convince the militant security people at the zip lining prep area that I was competent enough to zip line in sandals without losing my foot to a rogue jungle vine that might suddenly lunge itself out in front of the zip line course or break my toe upon exit from the line.  It took a bit of persuasion though.  The zip line was fun.  It was only until two months ago that I realized I had now zip lined in 6 different countries but never in the USA and so we found one locally near Portland and fixed that oversight.

Do you see ANYONE running on the track?  Of course not, they are all in line at the free ice cream machine.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying I didn't have fun on the cruise despite being stranded in the bow.  I'm just saying that if you're going to have a free soft serve ice cream machine, that's a recipe for disaster for me.  I'm like Forest Gump with the Dr. Peppers.  17 ice cream cones later and all I can do is lay by the pool in the sun going "why oh why did I just do that."  Some of you might have more control.  For that I commend you...

Sunday, October 26, 2014

"Holy Crap!  That cut my scalp," I yelped as I saw the blood on my fingertips from scratching my head where the talons had just glided by.  

In a panic I bolted across the street to the nearest porch and rang the doorbell.  No answer.  I swept the blue sky to see if it was safe.  Nothing.  I quickly made a dash up the sidewalk towards the next house.

It came out of nowhere and flew by my head in a blurring, screeching noise that caused my to stumble.  I got to the second porch and knocked on the door.  No answer again.  With sweat trickling into my eyes and my pulse in overdrive, I paused to recompose myself.

"This shouldn't be happening," I told myself.  And I was right.  This was a typical neighborhood in the middle of the Bay Area in California.  

I was taking some time to go for a run on a fine sunny weekday morning.  This was the first time I'd ever been attacked by a bird while running.  It wouldn't be the last though.  Only this wasn't your ordinary craze-panicked Robin or Blue Jay protecting their young, this was a full-sized Falcon!

Why there was a full-sized Falcon in a neighborhood in Alameda, California I had no idea but it was there and it was after me.  Sure, they don't look like much from your cushy couch watching Wild Kingdom reruns but let me be the first to clue you in on the terror of having one claw you across the top of your head and then circle back for more.

As you can see, not a lot of protection from attack here...
Alas, it was just one more page in the why-in-the-hell-does-this-stuff-happen-to-me journal of my life.  I really didn't know what to do.  Nobody seemed to be home anywhere.  Do all these people really have jobs?  I thought all Californian's were rich and retired!  Would the Falcon attack me on the porch?  Would the police think I'm insane if I called them?

Lots of stuff goes spinning through your head when you're being hunted.  The only logical conclusion I had was that I had unwittingly run by its nesting area somehow.  Surely I couldn't be the only person to do this.  I hadn't seen a pile of bodies from previous encounters stacked up anywhere along the way; claw marks running down their dead pale skin.

I snapped back into reality and made another mad dash across the street to a tree that was large enough to provide cover. Crap!  It was waiting in a tree just next door and I could see it launch as I started my sprint.  This time though, I was able to dive under the tree in time and as near as I could figure, the Falcon had taken a strategic overhead position waiting for me.

Do you see a lot of "wilderness" for Falcon breeding here?
I looked up and down the street of nicely manicured homes.  There wasn't a single person in sight.  I was already zero for two by ringing random doorbells.  So I crept past the first tree and stayed under two more just beside it.  At the end of the trees I made a sprint for the next porch I could see.

I looked around.  The Falcon was flying in a circular motion but he wasn't attacking.  I rang the doorbell.  Again, nothing.  I stood there shaking with adrenalin, waiting, watching.  The seconds bled into minutes and felt like hours.  After what seemed like 20 minutes but was probably only 5-10 I slowly stepped out and chose to walk slowly down the sidewalk.

Nothing moved.  My eyes darted from tree to tree, power line to pole, rooftop to chimney but he was nowhere to be seen.  I walked on gingerly and cautiously.  Still no sign of the Falcon.  Eventually I moved into a slow run and continued my run, taking a right down half a dozen streets so I could give a wide berth to the area and return back to my start.

To this day I have no explanations and never heard of any other sightings in that area.  The scars healed, time marched on but the memories are there and as vivid as the day it happened.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

"Oh look, you cut yourself," I said looking at Jeanne's ankle.  "Wait a minute, is that a LEECH???!!!!"  Sure enough, while hiking through Mossman Gorge in Queensland, Australia, Jeanne had somehow picked up a leech.

We were visiting at the tail end of the dry season so it was pretty unlikely to catch a leech this time of year.  Had we been hiking this same trail during the wet season, the entire trail would have been crawling with them.  In fact, the locals told us that during the wet season they also drop down out of the trees and onto you.  "Best wear a wide-brimmed hat," they advised matter-of-fact like.

The leech was tiny; smaller than a small-size caterpillar.  It wasn't one of those huge ones I remember seeing in the scene from the movie "Stand By Me."  Still, the thought of something sucking your blood doesn't bode well with most people.

Mossman Gorge is located North of Cairns, Australia up near the Great Barrier Reef.  It is located in a lush jungle gorge as you head up to Cape Tribulation.  This jungle is one of the oldest on the planet.

The river and gorge are a popular swimming destination for locals and tourists alike.  The primary reason is that the water is safe.  There are no crocodiles that will suddenly snatch you "down under" without warning.  That is a real possibility anywhere near the ocean waters that feed it.  Wrestling crocodiles for my life isn't on my bucket list either!

It's also an incredible place to shoot photographs.  The beauty of the Gorge, the rocks, the crazy roots, the fig trees and their fin-like roots that travel above ground for long distances in search of Earth they can penetrate.  The area is very rocky.

Yes...this actually is the trail...
It had rained just the day before we arrived and the Gorge was still damp.  That breeds leeches we later found out so we were lucky to only have one actually breach our skin.  But the drenching also meant very few tourists and the whole trail practically to our own.  I swear the feeling hiking around there was something out of Jurassic Park!  I half expected to spy one of the pesky meat-eating dinosaurs lurking in the jungle undergrowth.  Turns out the only things I did see were a might bit smaller...

He "thought" I wouldn't notice him...think again, Mr. Lizard, think again!
Not exactly a Jurassic Park Dinosaur...but perhaps a baby cousin...
Though the trail was a bit difficult to navigate with its roots and rocks, being from Oregon we were very accustomed to dealing with such hiking and had no other problems.

Roots have trouble reaching Earth due to rock so they snake to where they can
I'd say this was one of our non-beach highlights of our time in Queensland, Australia...minus that damn leech of course.

Just a little make-shift bridge I made along the way to help cross this gorge... ;)
Yeah, I could have done like other tourists and pretended to be holding this boulder up...
This impossibly large fig tree is threatened just from humans hiking around it...sort of like Redwoods are
Amazing what the fin-like roots would do to find a place to dig in... I couldn't resist just one cheesy tourist pose...

Monday, October 13, 2014

"Again?  How many super-storms must I endure?" I thought when I saw the weather projection.  I was in Taiwan for a 17-day work trip, my first, and low and behold but a typhoon comes right to the island.  Oh, and not just some typhoon, this happens to be Super Typhoon Zeb; still on the list of the top 15 largest storms ever.  And this wasn't my first rodeo with top 15 storms.  I'd already been directly through Hurricane Gilbert in Cancun, Mexico in the late 1980s and that too was larger than Katrina.

Now having been directly in a full Cat-5 storm, I know exactly how terrifying that is.  Last time the wind blew parallel to my hotel window and the sheer force of 170mph winds blew the rain through the window frame and flooded my room.  The noise from that one was so horrific I had to take turns listening to music on headphones so that I didn't have to hear the freight-train like storm directly overhead.

Out on the Coast...not exactly your wading in the water weather...
So fast forward many years to Taiwan and here I go again.  Only this time I was in Taipei and had a mountain range protecting us from the brunt of the full storm.  After many hours trapped inside the hotel while the city shut down, I got bored.  It didn't sound bad outside?  I convinced a friend of mine to venture outside for a walk.  How bad could it be?

They have those "run away" signs at the coast for a reason...
So unwittingly we took off down the street thinking, "this isn't that bad at all."  Block after block we headed and nothing.  The streets felt eerie.  Normally this is a bustling melting pot of urban dwellers going about their busy lives.  Today they were silent and empty.

A friend of mine plays "Superman" as we notice a downed
tree stump that wasn't down when we first started our walk
After about 10 blocks we rounded a building corner at a side street and got blasted by a ferocious wind.  It was enough for both of us to quickly say, "Run away"...and so we quickly made our way back to the hotel.

We did get a chance to do some tourism despite the storm.  The weather preceding it and after was just fine.
But on the way back, it was if the typhoon had been stealthfully and secretly following us on our "stupid walk" because with each block we retraced, there existed carnage from wind damage.  Trees were blown over, motorcycles toppled, statues laying in the street.  When did this happen?  We were just here and it was fine!

Crap...this eliminates nearly all Walmart shoppers...
Just before we got back to the hotel the wind swept through a side street and poured onto our main street with a vengence and happened to catch a motorcycle that was as stupid as we were for being outside.  The motorbike crashed into the street right in front of us.  I quickly went out to help but they didn't seem to want any help and quickly fled away.

The obligatory "stand in front of the monument" photo pose...
We made it back to the hotel without further incident and after another 24 hours of boredom watching the cockroaches scramble out of the sugar bowls in the dining room, the storm finally blew over.  The general consensus was that we journeyed while the eye was over and then got caught as the back half of the storm ascended and just got lucky we weren't in a spot when the winds amped back up again.

I think the work dinner to Hooters happened just so they would have fun
at how we would explain THAT to our spouses back home...
The thing about hurricanes and typhoons?  They don't last a really long time and beyond the devastation they wreck, weather-wise things return back to normal pretty fast.  We had the opportunity to get in some touristy visits during the remainder of our stay.

I never knew Edward Scissorhands lived in Taiwan...
I must confess, I haven't been back to Taiwan since.  I half expect that if I do, another super-typhoon might come to visit me.  I seem to attract them...

Everything is crowded in Taiwan so why shouldn't the local pond be too?