Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Lavender Federation Trail

South Australia has several long distance trails.  One of them is The Lavender Federation Trail, named after the late Terry Lavender.  The 105 kilometer trail begins at Murray Bridge (a mere 75 kms from Adelaide) and winds its way up to the Barossa Valley.  There are plans to extend it into the Clare Valley.
We have yet to explore this trail in depth, but this past winter we did get out and complete the Tungkillo Loop Trail, which is an extension of The Lavender Trail.
The head of the loop is located in Tungkillo on the Adelaide to Mannum Road. At 20 kms in length it was a perfect day trip.  We were able to complete the loop in about 6 hours.  There is parking in Tungkillo and the trail is easy to find since there are signs pointing you in the right direction.
We began the walk on dirt country roads, which took us through pastoral land and rocky outcrops.  Since we walked the trail in June, the landscape was a lush green.  The gentle rolling bright green hills contrasted magnificently with granite boulders.  This was the landscape that would accompany us for most of the 20 kms.

Pastoral Land & Granite Outcrops

About 2 kilometers into the walk we left the dirt road, and began to cut across fields.  For about the next 12 kilometers we were mainly on private land, but as long as we stayed close to the fence we were not trespassing.  This part of our walk included several fence crossing which were facilitated by conveniently placed ladders--it was great to not have to worry about opening and closing gates.

Conveniently Placed Ladder

Other reminders that we were on grazing land included herds of sheep and cows as well as signs announcing the shooting of feral animals.  In case we didn't believe about the shooting, fox carcasses were left hanging on the fences.

Fox Carcass

At about 14 kms  into our hike we left private property.  We walked the main road for about 1 km, where we once again joined a back country road to return to Tungkillo.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Close Your Eyes and Picture This....

Glenelg is well known for its sunsets.  We are fortunate to have an uninterrupted view of this daily event from our flat, and as often as possible I take a few moments to watch the sun dip below the horizon.  There have been very few days, in the last year, that I have been disappointed with Mother Nature's delightful show.
Yesterday I decided to go for a different perspective and headed down to the beach.  I was driven by a break in unstable weather, and wanted to take a pre-sunset walk along the water.  On my return I stopped along the seawall in-front of our flat to watch the last few rays of light disappear behind the surf.
My attention was drawn to the half dozen kayakers surfing the waves--something I had never seen at our beach--and ignored the people around me.  However, my attention was caught by the voice of the lady next to me.  I assumed that she was talking to a young child because she was describing our surroundings with rich, colorful language.  When I turned to look at them I was surprised to see that she was not talking to a child, but rather to another adult.  I thought it was a bit strange at first, but upon closer inspection I realized the listener was blind, and her friend was describing the scene before them.  I could not help but close my eyes and listen to the woman's voice.  Her choice of words, with a focus on detail, created a vivid picture in my mind.  Of course, I had had the advantage of seeing the scene she was describing before closing my eyes,  however, I am not sure I would have noticed all of the details that she included in her description.  For me it was a true lesson on the necessity to not just stop and observe, but to really search for the small details.
In the past year I have seen some amazing sunset moments on the beach.  There was the young man who dropped to his knee to propose to his girlfriend.  There were the boogie boarders who left their fun in the surf to lay in the sand and watch the changing colors of the sky.  There was the couple who framed the sun by creating a heart shape with their connected arms.  There were the young women who washed themselves in the sea before kneeling on the beach in prayer.  There was the pod of dolphins frolicking in the water.  Each of these scenes was touching in its own way, but none were as moving as what I experienced last night.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Burning Mountain

One day the Gumaroi Aboriginal people in the north sent a raiding party to steal Wanaruah women for wives. The Wanaruah people heard of the plan and sent their warriors to do battle with the raiding party. One of the wives of a Wanaruah warrior sat at the top of the southern rock face of Mt. Wingin to wait for her husband's return. When her husband did not come back because he had been killed in battle, the woman was so sad that she asked the great sky god, Biamie, to kill her. Biamie felt so sorry for the warrior's wife that he turned her into stone and as she turned to stone she cried tears of fire that set the mountain alight.
This dream story comes from the Wanaruah Aboriginal people of the Hunter Valley of New South Whales. It documents their relation to Burning Mountain, located about 300 kilometers north of Sydney, just off the New England Highway.
Burning Mountain is a a naturally ignited coal seam which is believed to have been smoldering for several thousand years. It is one of three burning coal seams in the world and the only one in Australia.
From the car park there is a short trail, flanked by interpretive panels, that leads you through a gum tree forest to a viewing platform at the barren summit. Here you can see smoke, hot sulphur gases, rising from the grey, smoldering ash, and you can not help but remember the Wanaruah Warrior's grieving wife.

(source-information panels Burning Mountain Nature Reserve)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Passion Fruit

As I entered the market I was greeted with the enticing aroma fresh passion fruit. I just had to buy a bag and take them home. Once home I had to decide what to do with them. After searching through several recipes I decided on Australian Chef Matt Moran's Baked Passion Fruit Tartlets. They turned out to be a tasty treat.

Baked Passion Fruit Tartlets
(Serves 6)

3 eggs
1 egg yolk
150 gm caster sugar
150 ml pouring cream
200 ml strained passionfruit pulp, from about 20-30 passionfruits
To serve: icing sugar

Sweet pastry
225 gm unsalted butter
100 gm icing sugar
375 gm plain flour
1 egg
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten

For the pastry, mix the butter, sugar and flour in a food processor until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. With the motor running, add the egg and combine until a dough forms. Wrap in plastic wrap and allow to rest for 2 hours in the refrigerator.

Preheat the oven to 160C. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry to 3mm thick and use to line six 8cm-diameter tart tins, then place in the refrigerator for 20 minutes. Line pastry-lined tins with baking paper, then fill with pastry weights, dried chickpeas or rice, and blind-bake for 15 minutes. Remove weights and bake for another 5 minutes or until golden. While still warm, fill any cracks with leftover pastry, then brush the insides of the tartlet shells with the beaten egg yolk and return to the oven for 3 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

Reduce the oven temperature to 120C. To make the filling, lightly mix together the eggs, egg yolk and caster sugar in a bowl until sugar has dissolved. Stir in the cream and passionfruit juice and then strain through a fine sieve into a jug. Pour the filling into the tartlet shells and bake for 10-15 minutes or until just set – the filling should still wobble slightly in the centre. Leave to cool to room temperature.

Just before serving, dust the tarts with icing sugar and caramelise with a blowtorch or under a very hot grill.

Saturday, September 26, 2009


This week's theme is twisted.

This photo was taken in May at Barrington Tops National Park. This World Heritage Area is located in New South Wales, about 5 hours from Sydney. The park has various hiking trails and a varied river environment, as well as a sub tropical rainforest. Over 70% of the park is mature old growth forest.

Friday, September 25, 2009

I've Been Everywhere Man...

Recently I visited The Social Primate's blog, and learned that Johnny Cash's "I've Been Everywhere" is a remake of an Australian song that was written by Geoff Mack in 1959. We have listened to the Johnny Cash version for several years. I would have loved to have known about the original on our road trip to Coober Pedy since it begins, "Well, I was humpin' my bluey on the dusty Oodnadatta road"--and it was the Oodnadatta track that we took to return to Adelaide.
I never imagined that our Down Under adventures would include a 600+ kilometer drive, on an unsealed road, across the isolated Australian Outback. I am not sure that we would have ever taken the Oodnadatta track except for two things:

1. My birthday wish to see Lake Eyre--an obsession that began with the stories of explorers who crossed the Australian desert carrying a wooden ship, in search of the great inland sea--launched us on this adventure.
2. The Pink Road House--a couple of mates in the bush who own this place gave us the information and courage that we needed to embark on the journey of a lifetime.

We didn't traverse the entire historical trail from Marla to Maree. Instead we began in Coober Pedy and connected with the Oodnadatta at William Creek. William Creek was very important on our trip, not because it is home to the most isolated Pub in the world, but because it is one of the only gateways to Lake Eyre National Park. As we walked around the town of 12, we had to decide if we would climb aboard the small airplane for an aerial view of the lake, or drive 60 kilometers on a 4wd road. As tempting as it was to look down over the vast salt lake, which was filling with water for the first time in many years, the wind and price proved too much. So down a bumpy road we headed.

As we stood at ABC bay and looked out across the vast salt plain in front of us, I could almost see the sea that the explorers were so desperate to find. Perhaps they stood in the very same spot and realized that their search had not been in vain--that they had just arrived several thousand years too late.
At our next stop Halligan Bay, we were once again reminded that we were standing on an ancient sea bottom when we were greeted by a lone seagull. As we slowly crunched our way across the surface, I realized it didn't take a vivid imagination to mistake the desert's undulating, deceiving dance for sparkling water. The wind ruined our plans for a lakeside picnic, so we ate a quick lunch in the cab of our monster SUV, before resuming our journey.

After an hour of very rugged terrain we rejoined the Oodnadatta track. We faced a long afternoon drive, one that was isolated in terms of company (human and animal), but full of history and natural beauty. The track itself was an old Aboriginal Trail that was also used to run cattle from north to south. At one point in history the renowned Ghan, the train that runs from Adelaide to Darwin, followed alongside the dirt road. In some spots you can still see the skeleton of the old tracks. Brown signs indicate roads to the original Homesteader plots, a reminder that this rugged land is still called home for some. One of these residents had built a sculpture garden alongside the road.
As we crossed the dessert, we passed painted cliffs, towering red sand hills, and several oases. The meandering riverbed was dry, but there were several springs. As the afternoon wore on we once again came into contact with Lake Eyre. We had reached the southernmost part of the lake and found ourselves 12m below sea level.

Just as the sun began to sink, into the horizon, we arrived in Marree. We were greeted at the Caravan by a friendly bloke who invited us to join the other travelers at the barbie for some evening tucker.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ya me meo...

My Abuelo Canuto used to refer to the commode as his throne, but I can't remember if he called the bathroom his castle. Whatever you call it--restroom, loo, W.C., john, lavatory, powder room--I would have to say that in my travels the quality and consistency of this necessity have been varied.
In Mexico, during the Day of the Dead Celebrations, I faced the dreaded open pit --at least they had built a make shift building around it. In Morocco, while staying with a friend's family, I was introduced to the roof top squat toilet--a loo with a view. In Spain, I endlessly confronted the seatless flush toilet--no wonder it took our Landlord 6 months to finally replace the broken toilet seat in our flat. In France, I learned to not expect toilet paper. In Costa Rica, we had a doorless dunny. In Germany, I fumbled for change. In Italy, I dreaded the filthy bathrooms. And in the Netherlands, during the Queen's Day Celebrations, I was disappointed by the lack of facilities for women--there were plenty open portable urinals for the gents.
My experiences with this public convenience here in Australia have been very different. I am amazed that no matter where we go--from the rural outback to large cities, and from National Parks to neighborhood parks--there are alway clean public restrooms with plenty of toilet paper. The type of toilet varies--flush, chemical, pit, composting--but they are always free.
Of course, I understand the lack of public services in developing nations, but all developed countries stand to learn a lesson from Australia' s catering to a basic necessity.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


An Echidna

I am not sure I had ever heard of an Echidna before my friend Mary Ellen, from Albuquerque, came for a visit last year. At that point I was still trying to get used to the idea that the grunting I heard in the woods was coming from the harmless Koala, not a wild boar. So when we headed over to Cleland Wildlife Park, we made sure to stop in and check out the Echidna, hoping we would be able to identify one if we were ever lucky enough to come across one in the wild.

An Echidna rooting for lunch.

When I saw it, all I thought was, "Oh, a porcupine," and I wondered if I needed to worry about getting shot with quills. Fortunately, Mary Ellen had read up about them in Lonely Planet Australia and filled me in on a few of the details. I learned some additional facts on the web page for the New South Wales Government Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water.
It turns out this animal is one of two egg laying mammals--the other being the Platypus. They are found only in the wild in Australia and New Guinea.
They are also known as Spiny Anteaters, even though they are not related to anteaters, because they enjoy eating termites. They are able to break into termite mounds using their short snout and stout limbs; their front feet are claws which help them dig, while their hind feet point backwards to help push dirt away.

Check out his reversed back foot.

They are a relatively shy animal that, when it encounters with danger, it will either rolls up into a ball--leaving it's sharp spines sticking out-- or dig into the ground.
On Mary Ellen's brief visit, we were never fortunate to come across an Echidna in the wild. Since then, Mark and I have viewed several in their natural habitat.
Our first "wild" sighting was as we were cruising down the Princess Highway at 100 km an hour. Mark was already flipping a U-turn before I could answer his "What the hell was that?" As we pulled up near the Echidna, it quickly rolled into a ball, making it the only shy Echidna that we have ever meet. The others have either been walking and just continue on their way, or looking for food and they can't be bothered to stop. We were lucky enough to come across an Echidna with his nose in an ant pile. His face was completely covered with ants!!!
So, when in Australia keep your nose to the ground and you may be lucky enough to see one of these prickly little guys.

A feral Echidna near Alice Springs.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Hiking the Coast of the Fleurieu Peninsula

On the second day of our Fleurieu Peninsula weekend getaway we hit the trails. We started at Parsons Beach and headed east towards Victor Harbor. We were on a section of the Heysen Trail, one of Australia's long distance walking trails, so it was well marked. From the upper car-park the trail makes a steep decent to the beach, where there were several surfers braving the cold pounding surf to catch some waves. Unfortunately, at this point the trail follows the coastline and you have to walk across the sandy beach for 2 kilometers. This was a bit tricky since it was high tide, and at several places along the beach the fingers of the water were reaching the steep unstable sand cliffs. So several times we found ourselves waiting for the water to recede, so we could dash across to a dry area. We were able to keep our feet dry, but weren't so lucky when we crossed the wash to reach Waitpinga Beach. We decided to skip walking the last 100 meters of the beach, and headed up to the road. It was a sunny day, and a lounging skink and slithering brown snake were using the bitumen for an early morning warm up. At the car park, the trail--a well maintained boardwalk--climbed through the thick bush, up a small hill to a lovely little campground.
At this point the trail, a wide fire track, cut inland through the lush green landscape to Newland Head. Once again we were on the coast, but this time we were high above the water on towering cliffs. The view of the expansive Southern Ocean and the rocky coast line was breath taking.
Here the trail becomes a rugged, steep path that traverses the dense coastal vegetation. As we walked along we kept scanning the water in hopes of a whale sighting. There were no large black figures floating on the water, just some grey shadows lurking below the water's surface. On closer inspection I noticed that one of the shadows was the shape of the fluted tail of a whale. After some debate we came to agree that it was indeed a whale tail, and a 5 minute wait rewarded us with a brief resurfacing. From our vantage point high above the whale we had a great view of the whales calloused head. As we continued along the coastal path we were lucky enough to have several more sightings, but once again most were feeding far below the water's surface. We also came across an echidna and a couple of roo's.
The trail continued to cross the coastal cliffs, passing near some pastures, and through some densely vegetated gullies. Three hours into our hike we came across a picnic table with wonderful view of the jagged coastline, West Island, and Rosetta Head--a perfect place for lunch before making the return journey.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Victor Harbour

What makes you fall in love with a place? This is a question that I tried to answer this weekend as we visited Victor Harbour for the 4th time. I am not sure I found the answer, but I do know that Victor Harbour has a spot in my heart.

Victa, if you want to sound like a local, is located an hour drive south of Adelaide on the coast of the Fleurieu Peninsula. We arrived Saturday morning just in time for the local Market. It is not big in size, but there is a huge variety of local produce and products.

We then strolled through the charming historic old downtown to our hotel. We were a bit surprised to find that the normally quaint and quiet center was bustling with poodle skirts, beehives, and vintage cars--there was a 50's Rock and Roll Festival in town!!!

We didn't stick around for the activities, because the main reason for our weekend trip was 4 kilometers away at Port Elliot. It was here that we hoped to get a final look at the Southern Right Whale, before they migrate south for the summer. We were not disappointed. As we enjoyed a mid-morning coffee at the Flying Fish Cafe on Horseshoe Bay, we could see whales in the distance. A walk along the foreshore provided sighting of at least a half a dozen whales.

In hopes of getting a closer view of the majestic creatures we headed down the road to Basham Beach Regional Park. We were in luck. There was one of the amazing mammals no more than 100 meters away! We climbed a small hill for a better vantage point to observe the dozen or so whales in the surrounding waters. To our left we were also able to watch several dozen surfers. Unfortunately, a couple of them decided to approach the whales, who quickly swam to deeper waters.

We finished up the afternoon with a visit to Granite Island, which is located directly in front of Victor Harbor. The island serves as a natural barrier protecting the town from the Southern Ocean. You can visit the Island vis-a-vis The Causeway. The 632 meter long bridge can be crossed on foot, or on a horse drawn tram. We crossed by foot, and were able to stop and enjoy an Australian Fur Seal lazily drifting in the water. Perhaps he was waiting for a penguin to return home to Granite Island. There are several hundred of the smallest penguins in the world that live on this island. They can not be seen during the day when they are out fishing. Every night at dusk, if you join a tour you can catch them returning to their burrows. We had already seen them back in February, so we decided to skip the tour this time around. Instead we circled the island on the 2.9 km Kaiki Trail. The views were spectacular. It was also amazing to see how the hard granite has been eroded over time by the wind and waves.

By the time we arrived back in Victa, the Rock n Roll festival had ended. However, there were still a few people people celebrating at the Crown Motel. We joined them for an adult beverage, before heading to the pub for dinner.

I still can't tell you what it is that I love about Victor Harbour . Maybe it is the small town feel--where the locals greet each other by name. Perhaps it is the charm of it's colonial architecture. Possibly it is the natural setting--a tranquil bay. It could be because it is a great place to base yourself for outdoor activities--several National Parks are nearby and a 30 kilometer bike trail passes through town. Whatever it is, Victa is one of those places where I would gladly go for a weekend getaway, and it is a place I would recommend for visitors to Southern Australia.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Steamed Shrimp

Last week when at the library I found the recipe for Garlic Prawns with Shallots and Fish Sauce in blue eye dragon Taiwanese Cooking by Jade and Muriel Chen. I didn't think much of the recipe, but I liked the way the shrimp were prepared--deveined but not peeled, and steamed. So when I found some very yummy looking jumbo prawns at the market--I knew how I was going to prepare them. The picture in the cookbook had showed the whole shrimp left intact, so I took my kitchen scissors and cut a 1/2 inch part of the shell off the shrimps back. I then removed the vein. I placed the prawns in a steamer basket, and sprinkled them with fresh diced garlic and fresh cilantro. I then placed the steamer basket over boiling water and steamed them over medium heat for about three minutes. I transfered the shrimp to a plate and drizzled them with some olive oil, and lime. The meat came out very succulent, and they were very tasty. They didn't even need any sauce.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


This week's theme is upside-down.

When we were at Cape Arid National Park a couple of weeks ago, this big guy wasn't bothered by the rainy day. He was having fun frolicking in the water. I was fortunate enough to catch this picture right as he went down for a dive.

Friday, September 18, 2009

I Can't Stop Chasing Men

I have been married for almost six years. I am happily committed to my life partner of 16 years, but I am sad to say that, for some reason, no matter where we move to I just can't stop chasing men.
In Utrera there was strong, dark, curly haired Carlos. When he would drive by in his orange truck, my heart would pitter-patter and there were days I would actually chase after him. His physical presence in a room would cause me to shout an "Hola". My girlfriends all thought I needed help, because they felt Carlos was a bit of a perv. I would argue with them, "What other man in town could keep your shower as hot and steamy as Carlos?" After all he was the Butano (butane) delivery guy.
In rural Andalucia, and most of Spain for that matter, there are no gas lines. Water is heated either electrically or by butane--our apartment had the joy of butane. Butane comes in these orange canisters that are a bit bigger than the propane ones for the gas barbies. It is delivered to your home when you call the company and place an order.
There are several cons to the heating of water by butane. One is that you never know when the bottle is going to run out. This usually occurred half-way through my shower and I would find myself wrapped in a towel, dripping wet, on the roof of the apartment trying to change the bombona. Believe me when I say this was not fun in the middle of winter.
Another problem, as stated above, was the rooftop location of our heater. This meant that I had to lug the heavy, bulky bottle up three narrow, steep flights of stairs.
And finally, when you called to order a bottle of butane you were either assigned a morning or afternoon delivery time. This meant you had to dedicate either an entire morning or afternoon to sitting at home waiting for the gas. Since we lived smack in the middle of town, there was the added issue of limited parking. I tried to explain this to the delivery company and would request that the butane come first thing, before the businesses opened. I was always told--and quite rudely-- "you can't choose the delivery hour of your butane." So my actual delivery was never really based on a morning or afternoon time slot; it was whenever the delivery guy could find parking. This could be three days after the scheduled delivery.
After about six months of butane delivery madness, I decided to take maters into my own hands. There was nothing I could do to control when the water turned cold, but I figured there was something I could do about the delivery process.
It didn't take much, just some of my female charm and a few extra euros, to get my butane carried all the way to the roof. The actual delivery was a bit more difficult. I had to become a stalker. I constantly scanned the streets for the orange delivery truck and soon I was familiar with Carlos' routine. I discovered, if I stopped off at Cafe Illy on my way home from my 7 am run, I could pay for Carlos' coffee, which would ensure that by the time I arrived at the flat he was waiting at my door step.
So when we moved to Adelaide, and I found out the water isn't heated by butane, I was thrilled. Unfortunately, I was soon faced with another dilemma. For some reason, we do not have recycling pick up at our building. I spoke with the guys that pick up our neighbors recyclables, but my female charm hasn't worked at getting them to pick up ours--we don't have a bin.
Fortunately, one day as I was returning from my morning run a resolution to my problem presented itself. It was recycling day for everyone on the street but us. In the distance I could see an older gentleman searching the bins for 5 cent deposit items. I ran upstairs for my collection of beer bottles. A new chase was about to begin.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A New Icon?

Many years ago there was a President at the University of New Mexico who was being driven crazy by the crows that congregated in the lovely large cottonwoods outside his University home. He was so bothered by their cawing that, if my memory serves me correctly, he had the grounds keepers shoot off guns and light fireworks to scare the birds away. I wonder what he would have done had a flock of cockatoos moved in!!!
The first time I saw a cockatoo in the wild was while driving around the Fleurieu Peninsula. It was a Sulphur-crested Cockatoo. The large white bird with a yellow crest was acrobatically hanging upside down eating nuts in a pine tree.
I have since seen hundreds, if not thousand of Cockatoos. The Sulpher-crested, and the Galah, pale grey and pink in color, are the most common. They are often seen in large flocks that are hard to miss because of their loud shriek--an ear piercing cacophony that is ever present at dawn and dusk.
In addition to being loud singers, they also love to eat. Depending on the species, you may see them covering trees where they eagerly devour the nuts, flowers and bark; or on the ground in search of seeds and insects. You can tell when a flock of Cockatoos has visited a tree, by the debris that is left on the ground.
One late afternoon when driving near the Flinders Ranges a flock of Sulpher-Crested Cockatoos performed an arial ballet for us. The white ball of birds moved gracefully and effortlessly across the sky in a perfectly choreographed dance. It was one of those visions that will never be forgotten.
Over the past year, I have come to view the Cockatoo as another Australian icon.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Excuse me, please?

My morning runs started back when I was in High School. I never was on a team, I just would get out and do it. I continued to run off and on in college, both as an undergrad and grad-student. About 15 years ago, running became an integral part of my life. Over the years, I have worked up to 10 kilometers, 5 times a week. I no longer view running as exercise, but rather as a normal part of my life. When I wake up, the first thing I do is put on my running shoes.
I loved running in New Mexico. Since we lived near the University I had two different routes I could choose from: the golf course or Johnson Field. Oh, how I loved those morning runs. There is nothing like cool fresh NM air and a sunrise over the Sandia Mountains. In the fall there is the special bonus of the smell of roasting green chile.
Of course, I can't complain too much about my runs here in Glenelg. There are plenty of shared use bike paths. This means I am able to run for kilometers on end along the ocean and take advantage variety of loops. My only complaint about my runs in Australia is that when the wind blows, it blows!! There is nothing shielding us from those antarctic winds, and there are spring days when I worry I may get blown all the way to the Red Center. The hot winds of the North aren't much kinder, and they tend to bring the flies.
None the less, it was my running in Utrera that proved to be much more challenging. First of all, when we first arrived there were no other women runners in the pueblo. Women would walk, but I was a bit of a freak show. It wasn't long before I had the whole town talking about me. When I meet someone new I would get the "I know about you, you are the runner." Of course it didn't take long for the gossipers to start monitoring my running. If I missed a day, the questions would start "Aren't you feeling well, you didn't go for a run?"
Then there was the problem of where to run. I didn't feel comfortable running the dirt roads on the outskirts of town: they were just too isolated. The narrow cobblestone streets were far from ideal. Way too much traffic on the wider streets. Fortunately, just at the end of town, there was a long wide, tree lined paseo (walking area). I was able to run up and down the paseo six times, combined with 6 loops around the park across the street, and was able to make my 10 k's. Somehow, I managed to get over the monotony of all the up and down, and round and round--but still there were a few challenges. On rainy days, the park was muddy. The kids ditching school liked to throw rocks. Some days the park caretaker would show up late, and the gates would remain locked, though my biggest problem was probably the old men in the park. There was a pack of about 10 seniors that walked the park daily. They would take up the whole path, making it impossible to pass them. When I ran up behind them I tried to make as much noise as possible--cough, jingle my keys, drag my feet--but they seemed never to hear me. As I got closer, a polite "excuse me" got no results. So the only choice left was a full on bellow of "on the right!" This not only got their attention, but also drew the reprimand, "Nena! Nos asusaste!" (Girl, you scared us). Of course, the whole process would repeated itself on my next two laps.
One evening, when having a drink with one of Mark's coworkers, I was describing my running situation. Eva just shook her head and laughed. She informed me that I was going about it all wrong. That if I wanted to get them to move I would have to yell out , "Coño, quÍtense de allÍ!", which roughly translates as, "Get the hell out of my way." Given my upbringing which stressed respect toward eleders, I was never able to brazenly address the pack of older gentlemen. So, I was left with the daily routine of politely announcing my presence and being yelled at by the Senior Citizen's of Utrera .

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Breakaways

In her book "Oyster", Janet Turner Hospital, talks about breakaway country as deviant land forms that are headstrong and rebellious. As I read this, I had to wonder if it is possible that author/director Stephan Elliot also held a similar definition for this type of landform. If so, is that why he chose to have the Breakaways Reserve play such an important role in his movie The Adventures of Pricilla, Queen of the Desert? After all, Hospital's descriptive and poetic words--deviant, headstrong, rebellious--are a perfect definition for the main characters in the story.

We rented Pricilla just before our trip to Coober Pedy. Even though the movie did showcase the Breakaways, I felt the Oscar winning costumes took away from the landscape, and it did not prepare me for what I would see when we arrived at the Reserve.

The Breakaways, which were once part of the Stuart Range, are located about 30 kilometers to the north of the Opal Capital of the World. From the vast flat plain of the long-ago sea bottom rises a series of multi-colored hills, mesas and plateaus. The surrounding flat, wide-open space and the bright blue sky accents the stunning colors of the earth: red, yellow, white, grey, orange, brown and black. The contrast of the bright colors with the bleakness of the surrounding landscape is not an image I will soon forget.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Quick Stop

On my home I made a quick stop at the vegetable market, or at least in theory it should have been a quick stop. After all, my purchase was a bag of red peppers off the front display, and I was paying with correct change. However, Rose couldn't be bothered with ringing up my sale since she was much too involved in a discussion with the stock girl. A discussion that I was soon drawn into, and five minutes later I was still standing at the checkout counter--red peppers and money in hand.
I am not complaining. Over the years I have come to expect and accept the social interaction that comes with shopping, and have learned to enjoy these moments. In fact, a few weeks ago in Perth, I was forced to shop at a modern chain store. This is something that I usually try to avoid here in Adelaide, but in Perth it was the only choice in the CBD (central business district). Anyway, at the store they had self-check out, but I kept finding myself drawn to the aisle with a teller. Not because I couldn't figure out the self-check out, gosh even my Father In-law has it down, but because I want that human interaction.
It wasn't always this way. When I first arrived in Spain grocery check out lines used to drive me crazy. For about the first year I would have killed for a self-check out stand. Why did I have to hear about Mari Carmen's Sunday in the campo? Did they really need to know how I planned on preparing the chicken? As time passed I began to feel that my inclusion in these discussions was my informal acceptance into the community. They trusted me enough to share information about themselves, and at the same time were trying to better understand me. Of course they never fully accepted me as a local, and they called me La Americana, but it was nice to feel that I belonged.
Of course things in Adelaide are a bit different, especially since we are in a large city, not a small pueblo. However, I can reflect back over the last year and see how my grocery line interactions have evolved. Jenny has gone from a simple "hello", to a "how was your weekend?" Rose keeps me up on all the local gossip. Even dour Olive, who I have yet to see a smile cross her lips, has gone from the farewell grunt, to an actual "see ya". My quick stop is slowly evolving into a greater sense of community.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Jerusalem Artichoke

A Jerusalem artichoke.

For many years I thought that Jerusalem artichokes were the really little artichokes. This winter, when reading about in season foods in the Australian Gourmet Traveller Magazine, I discovered that Jerusalem artichokes are not even artichokes, but rather a type of tuber. A quick search on the internet showed that the Jerusalem artichoke has no relation with Jerusalem or with artichokes. It is related to the Sunflower family, which is probably why it is also known as a sunchoke.
So the next time I was at the market I kept my eyes open for the knobby little root. I wondered how I had missed them in the past, as many of the stalls had the Jerusalem artichoke for sale. Perhaps in the past I had mistaken them for ginger, since they are similar in appearance. I decided it was time to give them a try and picked out a couple of firm, mold free pieces.
Once home it was time to decide how to prepare my newly discovered vegetable. Since I had read that they were similar to potatoes I decided to prepare them in one of my favorite ways: thinly sliced (skin and all), drizzled with olive oil, and baked on the pizza stone. The result was a vegetable crisp. I served them in a bowl with a touch of sea salt as an appetizer. When Mark first saw them he thought they were potatoes and wanted to know where the ketchup was. I told him they weren't potatoes and to give them a try. He took a bite, and the first thing he said was "how did you do this with an artichoke?" It was true, they did taste like artichokes. My new discovery became a keeper and throughout the winter I continued to experiment with Jerusalem artichokes: baking whole, mashing, and even eating raw. They repeatedly proved to be a yummy treat. As we move into spring it is time to leave the Jerusalem artichoke behind, but we will definitely be revisiting them next year.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


This week's theme is electric.

In 1908 the electric tram came to Adelaide. Until the late 1950's there were several electric tram lines serving the city. Today there is just one remaining tram line that runs the 12 kilometers from Adelaide CBD to Glenelg. Trams run every 15-20 minutes, and the full trip takes about 30 minutes. On Saturday and Sunday, they run the old vintage cars (pictured above), 3 times each day.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Coober Pedy

My choice of Cobber Pedy as this past July's Birthday destination was not based on the fact that it is the Opal Capital of the World. My interest arose after reading Jack and Harry: No Turning back by Tony McKenna and Mervyn Davis. The story, set in the 1950's, is of two young mates who ran-away from their home in Perth when falsely accused of theft. Their journey takes them through the heart of the Australian Outback, to Coober Pedy. After finishing the story I was ready for a visit to Coober Pedy, not in search of the shimmering gemstone, like so many others, but in quest for a better understanding of the South Australian Outback.

Drive to Coober Pedy.

If you look at a map you can see that Coober Pedy is in the middle of nowhere. Over 800 km north of Adelaide, it took us 9+ hours of driving, on the very long and straight Stuart Highway. One would imagine that such a journey would become monotonous. It is true that the landscape was flat and dry, and except for the occasional dry salt bed there was not a lot to see. However, it was the subtle changes in the scenery that made the trip mesmerizing. It was amazing to see how such a huge empty space can be so rich in colors, textures and contrasts. The earth would suddenly change--yellow, red, green, orange, white--depending on the mineral composition. The ripples of the clouds across the blue sky mimicked flowing water. Vegetation showed hundreds of shades of green indicating forgotten riverbeds and hidden watersheds. I was surprised by the lack of wildlife. I know that many of the animals of the area are nocturnal, but I expected to see a lizard basking in the sun and perhaps a 'roo or two in the early dawn or late evening. We were treated to a very exciting Emu with chicks sighting-the perfect Birthday gift from Mother Nature.

Mother Nature's birthday gift.

We knew that our destination couldn't be far when we began to see what looked like huge ant piles--the famous opal fields of Coober Pedy. At the tourist office we learned that in opal mining a shaft is dug straight down until some trace opal is found. Then tunnels are dug outwards, at that level. Off the main shaft there can be several horizontal diggings at various levels. The mounds at the entrance of the shaft is the dirt that has been removed either by a blower (a huge vacuum) or by a wench. As I looked upon these mounds, I could not help but feel that Mother Earth had been violated. Man had dug deep into her belly, bringing her insides to the surface and leaving her innards exposed. I also questioned if the land would ever be cleaned up. Sadly it will be left as is, because filling the shafts could cause possible cave-ins during future mining projects. So the opal mining of Cobber Pedy is leaving giant scars across the land.

Opal field of Coober Pedy.

As far as the town itself is concerned, there is no denying it, not only is it in the middle of nowhere, but it is a lot of rock, dirt and dust. The name Coober Pedy comes from the Aboriginal words "kupa" (white-man) "piti" (hole). This is appropriate since more than 50% of the 3,500 locals live in underground dugouts and/or work in the opal mines (statistic from the local tourist office). In addition to homes being underground there are also underground churches, stores, art galleries and even a golf course. The purpose of the underground dugouts is that they provide relief from the harsh landscape--to escape the intense heat of the summer and cold winter nights. However, as you look around town you realize that it would be virtually impossible to remove the word harsh from the living and working conditions in this outback town.
A highlight of our trip was having our own dugout, an underground home that had been excavated in sandstone. It was fair sized, with a kitchen, living-room, two bedrooms, and a bathroom. It included all of the modern conveniences. Since we were about 30 meters below the surface, there was no natural light, and it was very quiet. No matter what the weather is outside, the rooms maintain a comfortable temperature ranging from 23°C to 25°C. Unfortunately, we were only able to get the place for one night, and we had to move to an underground motel for our second night. It was not nearly as spacious, but still very comfortable.
Coming from the southwestern part of the United States we are not unfamiliar with mining communities. We have fond memories of the night life in Bisbee, Arizona. We had hoped to see a similar night life, which provide insight to the life of the locals. Unfortunately, even though many of the accommodations were fully booked, other then the three restaurants which were full of tourist everything was completely dead. Perhaps there are special underground places that the locals go to get a way from the tourists, but we couldn't find them. Needless to see we were in bed early, and didn't get a feel for the people that actually work and live in Coober Pedy.
Coober Pedy may not make the exotic list for vacations, but it is a must visit if you really want a true picture of the South Australian Outback.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

One Step at a Time

When visiting my Mom in Mexico a couple of years ago, we heard of a woman in San Miguel de Allende who custom designed and handmade the ultimate walking shoe. I just had to get a pair, not because I have a shoe fetish (which I do), but because I love to walk.

I walk everywhere: the grocery store, gym, laundromat, butcher, bakers, bar, cafe. etc... Now granted, most of these stops are within a 10 block radius of our flat. However, the gym is a half-hour walk in each direction. I don't have to walk--there is public transportation doorstep to doorstep--but I prefer to use my foot-mobile.
When people find out that I walk this distance at least 4 times a week, they want to know why. They question if it is part of my exercise program--no that is the 10 k morning run. They worry that I haven't figured out the tram system--I have a tram pass. They think I am just crazy.
I repeatedly find myself explaining my love of walking. I can spend hours on end wandering streets and neighborhoods. Just ask some of my past visitors. They may even confess to having done some walking training before coming down under.
What is my passion about walking? When was the last time that you: heard the shriek of a cockatoo or the coo of a morning dove, felt the warmth of the sun on your hair or a breeze on your face, smelled the winter rain or a garden of springtime roses, saw the naked branches of a jacaranda or a cat lounging in the sun, or even tasted a fresh picked grapefruit. For me a walk is much more than transportation. It is my connection with mother nature and the world around me. It is the vehicle that allows me to discover the world--one step at a time.
Do you like to walk?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

He May Be Cute, but....

My cousin Diego is half way through Medical School and my whole family is very proud of him. A couple of months ago, after seeing a picture of Mom and I petting a koala, .5 Dr. Diego informed me that the koala population in Australia is infested with Chlamydia.

Mom, Sydney and Maya at Cleveland Wildlife Park.

Of course the first thing I did was a search on google, and it turns out that he wasn't pulling my leg. According to the Australian Koala Foundation, the legendary Australian icon is indeed infected by chlamydia. Chlamydia, a disease that can lead to blindness, pneumonia, urinary/reproductive tract infections--which can ultimately result in death. When in captivity an infected marsupial can be treated by antibiotics, but, the foundation points out that such treatment is not possible in the wild. They stress that the disease is harmless when wild animals live in a natural and healthy ecosystem. However the overall population of koalas on mainland Australia is in decline, as natural habitats continue to shrink.

Koala trying to escape heat on hot afternoon at Bel Air National Park.

So next time you are at an Australian Wildlife Park no need to hold back when you get an urge to cuddle these irresistible furry creatures. However, you might want to avoid heavy petting sessions with "the wild ones".

Mum and lil' one in the Adelaide Hills.

Monday, September 7, 2009

It's Show Time

Over the weekend, Mark and I headed to the Royal Adelaide Show. Similar to the New Mexico State Fair, back in my homeland, the Royal Show is an annual agriculture event. Every September, (coincidentally the same month as the NM State Fair), a little bit of the country comes to the big city. It is an opportunity for the State's farmers to show off their livestock in addition to their produce: wool, grains, grasses, dairy products, fruits, and vegetables. There are competitions of beauty and strength, for man and beast--horse riding, dog shows, tent pegging, and wood chopping (just to name a few). ,You can also find a variety of demonstrations-cooking, sheep sheering, cattle milking, and iron-smithing. For those not interested in agriculture there are plenty of other activities: gourmet food and wine tasting, live entertainment, art shows, and of course carnival rides. All of these are activities that I easily associate with Fair Time.
The one thing that I found unique to the Royal Show was what they call Showbags. There is an entire Pavilion devoted to these themed bags, which are promotional in nature. Even though in the past these sample bags were free, they now sell for a set price, with the average being $10 to $20. You can buy everything from bags of chips, to candy bars, to toys, to cosmetics. Truthfully, I found the Showbag Pavilion a bit overwhelming--a true representation of mass consumerism--but a distinctive feature Australian Shows.
Would love to hear about the fairs/shows where you live.

Sunday, September 6, 2009


I love food. So when my in-laws arrived in Adelaide talking about the ricotta hot cakes they had at Bill's, on their stop-over in Sydney, I knew where I would be having breakfast--my next trip to Sydney. As I waited for that opportunity, I decided to do some research about Bill's. It turns out that Bill's is celebrity chef Bill Grange's restaurant. There are actually three Bill's in Sydney, and they are famous for their signature hot cakes.
I had to wait a couple of months, but last March I finally made it to Bill's over in Darlinghurst. I went on my own, since Mark was in meetings. I actually walked, well over an hour, from CBD (Central Business District aka Downtown for us Yanks). But I figured the walk would allow me to build up my appetite.
When my hot cakes arrived, I was glad my mode of transport to my breakfast had been the foot mobile. My order looked lovely, but the portion--three large fluffy golden discs, a caramelized banana, and a kilo of honeycomb butter--was enormous. Unfortunately, after about 30 minutes of sure oral delight, I had to leave my half eaten plate.
When I slowly sauntered out of Bill's, I decided that as divine as the meal had been, any return visit would not include the hot cakes. I am not saying that they were not good, they were wonderful, but 1 serving was just too much. This being said, I still wanted to share the joy of the ricotta hot cake with my husband. When we got back to Adelaide I was thrilled to find that Bill's Hot Cake recipe is no secret and available on-line. A recipe that is not only a keeper, but one of our favorite Sunday morning pleasures. A pleasure that I am about to head into the kitchen to prepare!
Even though the recipe is easy enough to find, I have included it below. My only changes are that I halve the recipe, use whole wheat flour, and for the Honeycomb butter I skip the honeycomb and add cinnamon.

Ricotta Hotcakes
1 1/3 cups ricotta
¾ cup milk
4 eggs, separated
1 cup plain all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
a pinch of salt
50g butter

Place ricotta, milk and egg yolks in a bowl and mix to combine. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into the ricotta mixture and mix until incorporated. Place egg whites in a dry clean bowl and whip until stiff peaks form. Fold egg whites into the batter using a wide metal spoon. Do this in two batches. Over a low to medium heat, lightly grease a large non-stick frypan with a small portion of butter. Drop a ladleful of batter into the pan and cook for two minutes or until the edges have turned golden brown. Flip the hotcakes over and fry until it is cooked through. Transfer to a plate. Top with appropriate condiments and dust with icing sugar.

Honeycomb Butter
250g unsalted butter, softened
100g sugar honeycomb, crushed with a rolling pin
2 tbsp honey

Combine all ingredients in a food processor

Saturday, September 5, 2009


This week's theme is orange.

In Australia there are a series of large structures and/or sculptures around the country called Big Things. This big guy--known as Larry by the locals--is located in Kingston, South Australia. Built in 1979 it measures 17 meters tall by 15 meters long.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Whale of a Tale

Ever since I saw the pictures of the Great Australian Bight in the "Lonely Planet", it has been on the "must visit" list. The only question was when, since the area is not only famous for its' towering cliffs, but from May to October it's home for the Southern Right Whale. So when Mark found out that he would be working for most of August in Perth, we decided to take advantage of the timing and drive back to Adelaide. This would allow us to experience both the Nullarbor and the Cliffs, but hopefully we would also see some whales.
We got our first view of the cliffs right after crossing over from West to South Australia. It was breathtaking to see the flat treeless land--was once part of the ocean floor--drop 90 meters into the pounding surf of the Great Southern Ocean. We had several more photo opportunities to view the cliffs before reaching the Head of the Bight--the winter breeding ground of up to 100 whales.

Bunda Cliffs

As we entered the gates of the Head of the Bight Interpretive Center, we saw a sign indicating that there were 30 or more whales in the area. I tried not to get my hopes up. After all, every time we have been at a whale viewing area we have seen none. But still, the thought of thirty whales in one area was pretty exciting. We had little information about the Interpretive Center itself, and were not sure how it would be set up. From the outside it looked like a little kiosk at the edge of the cliff with a fence around it. We had to question if it was really going to be worth the $12 per person, but we figured we had better pay up since there was little chance we would be heading this way ever again. Once the entrance fee was taken care of, we were relieved to find a path leading from the enclosed area. A short stroll brought us to the cliff's edge high above a tranquil bay. As I scanned the horizon, I could barely hold in my excitement. There, floating in the sparkling blue water, were at least a dozen black objects--whales!!!!! Just when I thought things couldn't get better, the whale closest to us blew and we could hear the sound as clear as day.

Whale Blowing

To add to the experience the path did not end at this scenic outlook. In both directions there were wooden staircases which allowed visitors to get even closer to the water. As we headed left we saw one of the great animals roll over on its back. Closer inspection, through binoculars, showed a whale calf trying to climb onto it's rolled-over mother's stomach. (Apparently when the mother whales get tired of nursing they take a break on their backs.) When we reached the viewing area at the end of the staircase, we were clearly able to see that the half dozen whales near the cliffs all had calves. From our vantage point I felt like the prying eye, watching the most private and intimate moment between mother and calf. It was mesmerizing and calming to watch the gentle nature of these enormous beast (some over 20 feet long) with their offspring. It didn't take much imagination to see the soft caresses or to hear the motherese.

Taking A Break From Nursing

During the next hour and half we were treated to many more blows, body rolls, and caresses, as well as some tail lifts and spy hoping (lifting the head vertically out of the water). At one point two of the lil' ones left their mother's side and began to play with each other--frolicking in the gentle surf. When it was time to go, Mark had to drag me away. Our afternoon at the Head of the Bight was a very touching experience.

Southern Right Whale

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


Today is the first day of spring, or so my Pilates instructor informed me. At first I thought it was a bit strange, not because it is September (I am slowly adjusting to the fact that it is winter in months that I normally associate with summer), but because it is the 1st day of the 9th month of the year. In my many years of schooling I was taught that winter/spring seasonal change occurs on the equinox, which if my long term memory doesn't fail--will not occur until the 22nd or 23rd of the month. So I had to question if Leanna was exaggerating the facts, or if I was once again being faced with a cultural difference?
I have since confirmed that today is in fact the first day of Spring--at least here in Oz. A season that will last until the 1st of December, when summer will begin (hmm... what happened to the solstice). Even though I am having a bit of trouble adjusting to the idea of a seasonal change on the first of the month-every three months, there is no denying that spring is in the air. After all, last week, on our drive across Western Australia, we saw hundreds of different types of wildflowers. Since it is still early in the season, and many flowers have yet to come into bloom I can not imagine what the scenery will be in a month or so. Here is just a small sample of the many beautiful wildflowers that we saw.