Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Bumpy Ride

photo from www.delange.org/Xochicalco_o/Xochicalco_o.htm

During our stay in Cuernavaca, Gretchen's and my relationship evolved from grammar and study to touristy/cultural events in and around the city.
A visit to Cuernavaca wouldn't be complete with out a visit to the pre-Colobian archaeological site of Xochicalco, located just 38 km southwest of town.  The architecture of the site may have affinities with Teotihuacan, but the draw for me was the Solar Observatory.
The site was originally a natural cave which was modified to allow the study of the sun's movement between April 30 to August 15. During this time the sun shines into the cave and its movement can be tracked. Twice in its journey across the sky, when the sun is at its zenith (May 14/15 and July 28/29), an intense beam of light is cast onto the observatory floor. 
Unfortunately, we would not be able to visit on the key dates, but still the site was a place I wanted to visit. I had convinced Gretchen that it would be a good day trip, but we were left with the question of how to get there.  Like most places in Mexico, it was accessible by public transportation but this involved some planning.  However, no matter how great the plans, there is always room for unexpected surprises.
Our trip to the archaeological site went off without a hitch.  I am sure some people wouldn't be happy with the final 30 minute walk in the sun, but we couldn't be bothered waiting 40 minutes for a combi (a VW passenger bus) to take us to the gates.  However, at the end of our visit to the site (which was nothing short of spectacular--even without the strong beam), we were thrilled to see the combi sitting at the gate.  That enthusiasm dwindled as we approached a jammed packed van.  The driver took one look at my 6 foot, blonde hair, blue-eyed companion and told those in the back to make room for me, as he so kindly climbed out of the driver's seat to make room for Gretchen between him and the other front seat passenger.  From the look on the faces of my companions in the back I could tell they were far from happy trying to squeeze me in.
As we drove down the bumpy dirt road, the driver tried to chat up Gretchen.  His feeble attempts were wasted, though I am not sure if it was because la Rubia was sick of always getting hit on or due to a lack of comprehension skills.  Whatever the case, her body language showed relief when the passenger next to her yelled "baja" and soon exited the van.  No sooner had the door closed and Gretchen moved closer to the door, when a large figure appeared on the horizon. The driver's scrowl turned to a grin and Gretchen's relief to tension as the near 300 pound figure hailed the combi.  From my position I could not see how it would be physically possible for such a large person to squeeze into an already jam packed vehicle.  Still, the van drew to a stop, the front door was opened, and the traveler invited in.  Not a sound was made as he slid into the seat, partially smashing and covering Gretchen.  Not a sound was made for the next several miles.  The silence in the van was broken when our newest fare requested a stop.  Once he had exited the van there was a collective sigh of relief which was quickly gave way to a van full of giggles.  

Monday, August 30, 2010

Bang For The Buck

We had hoped to make the 700 kilometers round trip journey to Wave Rock  in a day, but 97 east of Perth we decided to call it quits.  The map on my lap didn't inform me that the town was settled in 1831 and is the oldest inland town in Western Australia, or that it was an extremely popular place for a weekend get-away destination. We chose it for a stop-over because we were tired and the sun was setting.

As we drove down the main road we were greeted by some beautifully restored heritage buildings and several had been converted into charming sleeping options with character. Unfortunately, they were all booked. The only place with availability was Kookaburra Dream Travellers Overnighter, the valley's only backpacker hostel.  It had been years since we last stayed at a hostel, and even though we were not looking forward to returning to our days of budget traveling, we also realize it would be impossible for us to carry on. The sign in front of the building informed us that there was space available but that we needed to call the provided number for more information.  To our relief not only was there a bed available, but there was a private room.  The only downside was we would be sharing the bathroom-which turned out to be no drama since it was kept fastidiously clean.

Overall the Kookaburra turned out to be a travelers dream come true.  The building was centrally located and within walking distance of all the local attractions.  Our private room was separated from the rest of the house, and we had our own secluded garden.  The amenities--self-service kitchen (fresh breakfast supplies provided), lounge with fireplace, bathrooms, gardens and outdoor barbie area--were all spacious and meticulous.  The staff were courteous and helpful.So next time you are in the Avon Valley and are looking for budget accommodations that provide more than just a bed to sleep in call in at the Kookaburra.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


"Big Bart" is located three hours from Perth at the main entrance to Wagin, Western Australia.  The 4 ton ram was built from steel and covered with fiberglass.  The giant is 9 times the size of a live ram and measures 7 meters high and 13 meters long. The statue stands as a monument to celebrate the town's prosperity and reliance on the wool industry.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Rock Solid Frame

This week's PhotoHunt theme is framed.

In this photo Nafplion, a seaport town of Greece, is framed by a hole in the Palamidi castle wall.  The town which is located in the Peloponnese, a region of southern Greece, was the first modern capital of the country. 

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A 'Roo Of A Different Color

All across Australia you will find kangaroos.  However, it is not everyday that you will come across an Albino kangaroo.  In fact, these white furred and often pink eyed marsupials are quiet rare.  Their albinism is the result  of partial or total lack of melanin pigment in the eyes, skin and hair.  The lack of enough dark pigment melanin makes their skin sensitive to sunlight and they are susceptible to sunburn.  Lack of melanin in the eye also causes vision problems.  These health issues paired with the animals' lack of camouflage to hide them from predators means that very few survive in the wild.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Dead Wrong

I decided to start the day off on the right foot and arrived early  for round two at the language school in Cuernavaca.  To my relief they had found me a teacher as well as another student to join me in the class.  My new classmate, Gretchen, was a Political Science student from Germany. She did not share my same level of oral language fluency or vocabulary, but she needed to be able to pass an advanced grammar test. I didn't mind the slightly mismatched levels as long as we remained focused on grammar.  Gretchen's lack of fluency and comprehension were seldom a problem. In fact, she was the one that brought some tragic news to my attention.
I was waiting for the bus when Gretchen came running up to the stop.  As she tried to catch her breath she managed to ask if I had heard the news--that Fidel had died.  All I could say was "Wow, how did I miss that one?"  After all, a meal at my host family's house was always accompanied by the T.V., and just that morning we had watched the news.  Gretchen insisted that her host mother had told her while eating their pan tostado.  Our conversation, normally dominated by grammar discussions, switched to speculation.  Who would take over? What would happen to Cuba now?  Would Cuban Americans return to Cuba?
As we passed through an intersection, Gretchen pointed out the paperboy in the middle of the street.  In his hands he held a paper that read "Fidel Ha Muerto." I caught a quick glimpse of the photo below the headlines--an open casket of Fidel.  Boy, I know it had been a while since I had last seen a photo of the dictator but I was amazed at how much he had changed.  Gretchen suggested that perhaps he had been on some medication that caused him to gain weight and that his family had decided to shave him for the burial.  Hmmm, possible--but fat, bald and beardless?
When we arrived at the school Gretchen anxiously asked Julia if she had heard the new about Castro?  Her response was "Quien?" The clarification of Fidel Castro brought a smile to her lips. As I glanced down at the ever present daily newspaper on her desk it became apparent that Gretchen's host mother had been discussing the death of one of Mexico's union leaders, Fidel Velazquez Sanchez, not the famous Cuban. Perhaps it was time to focus on comprehension.

Monday, August 23, 2010

A Whale Dreaming Story

Aboriginal peoples along the South Australian coast have featured whales in their dreaming stories for generations.  Here is one example.

One hot day, many Aborigines gathered at Encounter Bay for a large ceremony. The participants wanted to hold the ceremony through the night, but they did not possess any fire to enable them to see at night.  Two messengers were sent to find Kondole, a large powerful man who owned fire.  Kondole, was only invited to the ceremony for his fire.
Kondole hid his fire, however, and thus infuriated the other participants. They were determined to obtain the fire by force, but no one dared approach him.
Finally Rilballe decided to wound him with a spear and take the fire from him.  Rilballe threw the spear and wounded Kondole in the neck.  The participants laughed and shouted after this and most were then changed into different animals.  Kondole ran into the sea and became a whale, and now blow water out of the wound in his neck.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Another Brush Stroke

Light was just peaking over the horizon when we woke up one chilly winter morning.  As I looked across the bay the waters were calm. A glance at the trees confirmed there was no wind.  Perhaps the weather forecast was wrong and the strong winds would not reach this far south.  I hoped so since we were heading down to the coast in search of whales.  Even though it was still early in the season and there would be whales in the area for another month and a half, they would be long gone by the time I returned from my trip to the northern hemisphere.
As we got ready I could see change brewing on the horizon. I was a bit surprised when I spied the quick moving clouds coming from the west.
By the time we were all loaded up in the car we had a full on storm, with lots of wind and rain. Had we not already paid for our reservation at our favorite small hotel in Victor Harbour we probably would have skipped the excursion.  As we climbed Adelaide's surrounding hills we entered a thick fog, and travel was slow going.  We decided that instead of cutting across the inland valleys we would follow the coastal road.  This would give us the opportunity to call into some of the coastal towns we had yet to visit.  The fog lifted, but the rain and wind continued.  When we had to turn inland, for the final stretch of our drive, I became worried that the large gum trees that lined the narrow country road would drop their branches on our rooftop.
By the time we reached Victa (as the locals call it) the rain ceased.  We headed straight to the coastal trail about 10 kilometers out of town.  Even though the sun was out we opted for a quick lunch in the car before hitting the trail--the winds were too fierce to try and eat out in the open.
We took to the trail with our daypacks filled with our rain gear.  Past experience had taught us how quick those strong winds can bring torrential rain. Fortunately, we weren't faced with the bitter cold of the south; in fact, it was rather warm out.

The coastal trail slowly meandered from from the crescent beach at King Head up to the Waitpinga Cliffs.  When we reached the apex of our climb it became apparent that we would not be seeing any whales--the water was just too tumultuous.
The whales may have been absent that day, but the views were aplenty. For a brief moment a feeling of solitude spread across me as I stared across the vast ocean towards Antarctica. The loneliness dissipated as the waves beating against the rock face, 100 meters below,  drew me back into the present.  My focus turned from the dark stormy sea to my surroundings.  The winter rains had turned the cliffs and rolling hills into a collage of various shades of green highlighted with bright yellow wattle flowers. The vibrant colors of the land were tied to the dark ocean by an arching rainbow--a sight to behold.
As we returned to the car I internalized the intense, contrasting colors and textures that surrounded me, and I added them to the palette from which I continually draw to paint the picture of Australia I will carry with me for a lifetime.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Count Von Count

This week's PhotoHunt theme is numerical.

The numerical value of this photo is not the number of buildings on the lefthand border. Instead, it is the length of the pier that extends behind them. The jetty is located in Busselton, Western Australia. It measures 1841 meters and is the longest wooden pier in the southern hemisphere. It was built 140 years ago because the shallow waters of the Geographe Bay didn't allow cargo ships to enter the area. The original jetty only measured 176 meters in length. However, due to accumulation of drifting sand the jetty was continually extended until it reached its current length in the 1960s. In 1971 the jetty was visited by its last commercial ship and it ceased being a working jetty. Today it is used exclusively for tourism and recreation.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Taxation Without Representation

As a temporary resident of Australia, we pay taxes, but will not be joining the millions of Australians Citizens who must visit the polls tomorrow.  Voting in Australia is compulsory for citizens over 18, and those who do not vote face a fine.
To be honest, I am not really sure I completely understand the election process here Down Under.  My ignorance came to light back in late June when at a pilates class I was asked about my opinion of the New Prime Minister.  The confusion on my face said it all, and the woman next to me shook her head with disgust and said "You don't listen to the radio do you?"   The conversation didn't continue for a lack of interest, but because the roll-downs had begun.
After class, as I walked home, I scanned the headlines as I passed the News Stands.  Sure enough, not only did Australia have a new Prime Minister, but it was a she.  Wow, how had I missed the political campaigning?  After all, I couldn't imagine a women fighting for a power position without a lot of hoopla.
A quick internet search when I got home cleared up my befuddlement--there had been no election.  Less than 24 hours earlier the new Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, had been a deputy to Kevin Rudd.  Then, during the wee hours of June 24th, P.M. Rudd lost the support of his party and he gracefully stepped aside and handed the reigns over to his deputy.  With my new understanding of the situation I didn't feel like such and idiot.
My education about Australian Politics did not end there, and it soon became clear that elections were in the near future.  It turns out that even though elections are held at least once every 3 years, it is the Prime Minister who advises the Governor-General to call an election at any time. On July 17th, Prime Minister Gillard called for an election to be held on August 21st.  So it was time for me to broaden my understanding on Australian Politics.
I already knew that the politics in this country take place within the framework of parliamentary democracy, and that that the country is a federation and a constitutional monarchy.  From my recently acquired knowledge I realized that the Prime Minster is not directly elected by the Australian people, but is chosen by the political party that holds power.  So tomorrow the public will not be voting for a specific person, but rather for a political party.  It is interesting to note that rather than casting one single vote, preferential voting is used in this country.  That means that voters number candidates on the ballot paper in a rank order of choice.  This is unique in that if your first choice candidate is not elected and no candidate receives half the vote, your vote may be re-examined for your next preference.  This system is used to ensure that the most preferred candidate is elected.  It is this system that allows minor parties and independent candidates to access the Senate in a country that has a de facto two-party system between the Australian Labor Party and a coalition of the Liberal Party of Australia, the National Party of Australia and the Country Liberal Party.
Over the last month or so I have gained a better understanding of the local political system. I am still a long way from fully understanding it, but I am looking forward to seeing preferential voting in action.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Cooking With The Heart

It isn't hard to see why some people maybe fearful or even dislike artichokes.  There is no doubt that the spiny, tough exterior can be a bit of a put off, but I find it hard to believe that anyone could resist the soft heart that is hidden deep inside the protective prickly leaves. As a child I was no stranger to artichokes, and I loved the communal sharing of such an exotic food at our humble table.  As much as I enjoyed the plucking, dipping, cleaning and savouring when a steamed artichoke was served whole, it was the fried artichoke hearts that really brought a smile to my face.  The crunch morsels were a food that in my youth I associated with guests and parties, however, as an adult they have become a bit of a regular around my house. Of course there are occasions when I want to "wow" my guests and I pull our a can of artichoke hearts.  Even though the recipe was never written down, I watched my Mother make them many times.

Fried Artichoke Hearts

1 can artichoke hearts (not marinated)
1 egg
½ cup flour
½ cup panko bread crumbs 
½ teaspoon oregano
Salt, to taste
Vegetable oil for frying
lemon wedges

1. Strain canned artichokes. and pat dry with a paper towel. Cut artichoke hearts in to quarters.

2. In a deep pot, pour oil to a depth of 2 inches.  Heat oil to 375°F.  

3. Beat egg in a small bowl.   

4. In another bowl mix flour and salt.

5. In another bowl mix panko breadcrumbs and oregano.  

6. Dredge artichokes in flour mixture and then dip in beaten egg. Toss into bread crumbs to coat and shake to remove any excess.

7. Fry the artichokes, several at a time, and remove when golden brown.  Let drain on paper towels.  

8. Serve immediately with lemon wedges.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Yo Hablar Español

My relationship with the Spanish language has been a bit complex. At the age of 5, thanks to my Ecuadorian babysitter, I was a Spanish/English bilingual child. However, a 5 year stint in Indiana left me a monolingual English speaker. When we returned to New Mexico I had some receptive skills in Spanish, and could follow a basic conversation. Unfortunately, I refused to speak the language, even with my my Maternal Grandparents, and my relearning Spanish was pretty much given up as a lost cause. It wasn't until High School that I was given the opportunity to recover what I had lost by the Foreign Language Requirement. However, instead of studying Spanish, I opted for the more romanticized French.  It wasn't until my University Studies, when I found out that I had to wait until my Senior year to study in France that I turned back to my heritage language--the Spanish Department let you head off to Spain with just 15 credits under your belt.
Over the course of the next several years I was on the road back to bilingualism, and I eventually returned to the Albuquerque Public School System as a Spanish Bilingual Teacher. During my first year of teaching it was brought to my attention that I had some serious issues with my grammar structures--perhaps if I had spent more time in the classrooms than the streets of Spain I would use verb tenses other than just the present. I needed to do something about mastering Spanish grammar or I would not to continue to teach in Spanish. So, thanks to a scholarship the following summer I headed south of the boarder to a Mexican Language School. I knew that by the end of summer I had to be able to write a grammatically correct letter in Spanish or kiss my job goodbye.
I can't say that I got off to a good start. I arrived at the school late, and was given a shortened version of the placement exam. The test consisted of the question "What do you want to buy while in Mexico?"  I replied "Nothing." I guess I should have elaborated on how I was not in Mexico to shop, party or have fun--that my only goal was to learn how to speak in the past and subjunctive, because my simple "nada" earned me a spot in the beginner level class.
I couldn't help but feel a bit shy as I stood in the doorway of a class that was already underway. I anxiously looked from face to face, and to my relief there was someone in the group that I knew. I couldn't believe my luck. Smack in the middle of the group sat Dr. Peter, the President of the University of New Mexico, and next to him was his wife! With a feeling of relief, I confidently introduced myself and joined the group.
Like with any student that has been incorrectly placed in a leveled group it didn't take long for me to get bored. I wanted to study language structure, not make lists of barnyard animals. Unfortunately, my inner-child decided to let my dissatisfaction be known when Dr. Peter added "buey" (ox) to the list. From somewhere deep inside a little giggle escaped my lips. I was shot a look by the instructor and I quickly quieted, but the damage had been done. Juan was forced to explain how in Mexico the term for a  castrated bull, buey, is a derogatory term often used in male banter.
The next animal added was mosca, thank God it wasn't ladybug. I instantly felt my hand fly up into the air, and it wasn't long before I found myself arguing in perfectly pronounced present tense Spanish whether or not the list should include invertebrates, since the insect belongs to the Arthropod family. When I finished my little speech, I found the faces of my classmates frozen in horror (not all that different from the mummies of Guanajato). As Juan stood tapping his foot, I couldn't help but wonder if I was going to sent to the Principal's Office. Instead, the whole class was sent for an early break.
It didn't surprise me too much when the School Director sought me out to let me know that a mistake had been made and that they were in the process of finding me a private instructor who would focus on advanced grammar. To everyone else's relief I was sent home early. In my younger years I would have rejoiced and headed to the Zocalo for lime ice-cream float, however, the new student in me couldn't help but pout since all I wanted to do was study.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

He May Be Hot, But He Doesn't Breath Fire

When surfing Wave Rock it is important to keep your eyes open because more than likely you will see an ornate dragon.  However, no need to worry that a fire-breathing creature will snatch you up while you are surfing since the striped lizards are about the size of you foot.  This species of lizard belongs to the Agamidae family, and can only be found in Western Australia. They are a common sight on the many granite outcrops of the southern part of the state.  When out in the open, basking on the warm rocks, they often display a head bobbing characteristic.  When the head bobbing is accompanied by a push-up like movement, the dragon is engaging in a mating ritual. The movement allows them to display their chest and throat region thereby transmitting information about attractiveness and availability to potential mates. 

Monday, August 16, 2010

Let's Go Surfing Now

You would think we would have reflected on our previous driving experience as we made the decision of where to visit on our second trip to Perth. However, the idea of driving 700 kilometers in a day didn't stop me from wanting to visit Wave Rock. I was still in the "we may never have another chance to visit" mode. I am not sure how, but I eventually got Mark to agree to make the long trip. It was probably because I threatened to do it on my own during the week on a tour, and he didn't want to miss out on something great. However, he continued to feel that traveling such large distance, so I could take a  photo of me surfing in the middle of nowhere, was a bit idiotic.
We arrived in Perth early in the morning. The sun was still low on the horizon but we could tell it was going to be a warm day in March. We drove 130 kilometers to our first stop. I just had to call in at Meckering since there was a "big" photo op I couldn't pass up. The draw in this small town is a giant 35mm camera--home to a museum dedicated to photography. Original we had planned to stop for a quick Big Thing photo and continue on our journey, but we decided to go in and check out the displays. The museum's collection was pretty impressive, with over 1,000 items including cameras, projectors, enlargers, processing equipment, slides and movie cameras.

After this stop, we were less than half-way to our destination, so we continued on.  At just after 1:00 p.m. we pulled into Hyden, the small town near Wave Rock. We decided to grab a bite to eat before heading out to go surfing, but the only eating option was the petrol shop.  It looked like a Chiko Roll and Pie would have to do---mmmm the savory snacks of Australian road trips. With full bellies we were prepared to hit the surf. I was a bit worried that the wave would not live up to my expectations.  However, as we stood at the base of the 15 meter high and 110 meter long natural wall I knew the drive was worth it.
There are several opinions on what caused the unique rounding of the face of the granite cliff. Some believe it occurred millions of  years ago by subsurface chemical weathering. Others say wind and water erosion have undercut the softer rock beneath the upper edge and have left a round overhang giving the rock formation am impressive wave-like shape. Whatever the cause it has become one of Australia's most famous landforms.

You can find me surfing the wave in this post

Wave rock became a popular tourist attraction in 1967 when it made a cameo in National Geographic Magazine. Previously, the unusual formation was virtually unknown outside of the local farming community. Prior to the Wave's rise to stardom the inselberg had a much more utilitarian role. In 1951 a retaining wall was constructed long the edge of the rock to direct rainwater into a storage dam. This dam continues to supply the local community of Hyden with water.
In addition to "surfing" the rock face and visiting the dam, we decided to take some time to explore a couple of the walking trails around Hyden Rock. The panoramic view from the summit of the rock was worth the effort.  We also swung by the landform called the Hippo's Yawn.  As we stood in front of the outcrop, trying to envision the large mammal's mouth, I couldn't help but wonder if perhaps someone had accidentally added an apostrophe instead of a comma and if the name should have read  Hippos, yawn.
Unfortunately, we were fighting time and, with over 300 kilometers in front of us we had to hit the road.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

It's That Time Of The Year

When the winds begin to blow and the rains arrive in Southern Australia, the locals know it is time to breakout the binos and head for the coast.  Every year between late May and October hundreds of Southern Right Whales approach the southern coast to give birth, mate and socialize.  One of the best places to view the whales is from the the Great Australian Bight.
The Bight is a an open bay located off the central and western portions of the southern coastline of Australia.  It consists of a coast line that is characterized by sheer cliffs that drop up to 60 meters to the ocean.  The height of the rock platforms make it an ideal location for whale watching.  However, the best vantage point to watch whales is probably at the Head Of the Bight, which is located 78 kilometers west of Yalata a 20 kilometers east of the Nullarbor Roadhouse (over 800 km from Adelaide).  

The Head of the Bight is accessible by a sealed road.  The facilities include a a visitor center with useful information about whales, restrooms, a water tank, and a covered picnic area.  However, the highlight of the center is the meandering boardwalk that allows visitors to come within meters of the water.  From the viewing platforms you can see the giants of the sea slapping their tails, breaching, blowing and rolling belly up--and you can even hear them breathing.
Last year we were fortunate enough to visit the Head of the Bight when we drove to Adelaide from to Perth.  You can read about our visit to the center here and/or our drive more than halfway across the country here.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

A Serious Dose Of Vitamin C

This week's PhotoHunt theme is orange.

Last time the PhotoHunt theme was orange I went big as well, but the Big Orange matches both in name and color. Located in the heart of the orange orchards near Berri, South Australia the landmark opened in 1980. Standing at 15 meters tall, with a diameter of 12 meters, it is the biggest of the "big fruit" in Australia. Unfortunately, the structures which houses a cafe, souvenir ship, function room lookout and  360 degree mural has been unable to achieve commercial success and it is currently closed to the public.
Other of Australia's iconic "Big Things," several of which have been showcased on PhotoHunt, can be found here.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Shhhhh, We Are Trying To Sleep

Yesterday I got a note from the Property Management Company who we rent our apartment from.  Since it was a note that went to all the residents in the building, I assumed it was announcing that they would soon be cleaning the garage floor or outside windows.  I was surprised to discover that the note was a reminder that we need to courteous to our neighbors and keep noise levels down late at night and early in the morning.  The reason that I found this strange is that our block is fairly small.  There are only four floors with four flats on each floor.  During the 2 years  we have lived here, I have formally met 2 other people in the building, and know about 6 of the other tenants by sight.  In many ways it is as though we live in a ghost town; not only do I rarely see anyone but I seldom hear them.  Occasionally, during the summer months, those that live on the waterside will have friends over for drinks but once the sun goes down the party soon ends.  So you can imagine why I was surprised to have gotten the note.  I also couldn't help but wonder if whoever the noise culprit is was notified directly of the complaint.  I can't imagine that the complaint was directed at us, after all, I just got back from almost three weeks in Perth.  But, still, I began to wonder if the coffee machine, that makes the most horrendous vibrating sound when turned on, is waking the neighbors up, or if the TV that has been my company in Mark's absence been too loud.  I am sure that the reality is that someone had a raging party while I was out of town, and I wasn't around to witness it.   Of course this doesn't really take away my feeling of guilt, and I have become frustrated with what I believe is an unprofessional way of dealing with a situation.  However, I have to remind myself that what I am calling unprofessional is actually a moment of cultural difference.  I have a feeling that it is un-Australian to directly point the finger;  instead, problems are dealt with in a more general sense.  So for now, I need to put my guilt aside--I am not a noise maker--and remember that I am living an Australian life.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Red, White, and Blueberry Pie

Celebrating Holidays, when the seasons are opposite to what one is used to is a bit difficult.  On this blustery winter morning in August I can't help but want to put on some Christmas Carols.  Fortunately, this year for the 4th of July--even though it is not a holiday here we take a moment to remember our independence--Mother Nature was a bit more cooperative.  It wasn't warm enough to break out the bikinis but we were able to have a picnic at the beach.  As I planned the menu (Veggie Sticks with real sour cream and chive dip, American Style Hot Dogs which we are skipping next year, Potato Salad--Granny's traditional Recipe, Budweiser--Dad that one was for you) I was stumped for a perfect dessert.  I wanted something light and refreshing.  There were strawberries in the store, but they were coming from halfway around the world and I prefer to keep my produce a bit more local.  I ended up going with a Blueberry Pie, at least I could buy local produce that was frozen.  I followed a recipe from Cook's Illustrated, and ended up with one of the best blueberry pies ever.  I ended up making a very small pie because, even though the berries were frozen, they remain a hot commodity in this part of the world.  However, if you live in the Northern Hemisphere and are like my parents you may have blueberries coming out of your ears so I have decided to share the adapted recipe.  Enjoy!!!

This recipe is for a small pie, so you probably want to double the recipe for a regular pie.  You can find the original recipe in Cook's Illustrated July 2008 edition.

Pie Dough
1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour 
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/4 cup vegetable shortening , cold, cut into 2 pieces
1/8 cup vodka , cold 
1/8 cup cold water

Blueberry Filling
3 cups frozen blueberries
1/2 Granny Smith apple , peeled and grated on large holes of box grater
1       teaspoons lemon juice 
1/3 cup sugar (5 1/4 ounces)
1 tablespoons tapioca flour (can substitute ground quick cook tapioca)
         Pinch table salt
1 tablespoons unsalted butter , cut into 1/4-inch pieces

Instructions for Pie Dough
In a large bowl combine half the four, salt and sugar until combined.  Add butter and shortening and cut until the dough resembles cottage cheese curds.  Add the remaining flour and mix.  Sprinkle vodka and water over the mixture.  Fold in until the mixture sticks together.  Divide the dough into 2 parts, flatten into a disk, and refrigerate for an hour.

Remove 1 disk from refrigerator and roll out so that it is 2 inches bigger than your pie dish.  Place dough in dish and leave any dough that is hanging over.  Place in refrigerator while preparing the filling.

For the Filling
Place half the berries in a saucepan.  As you cook them on medium heat mash the berries to release their juices.  Continue to cook, stirring frequently and mashing occasionally, until the mixture is thickened and reduced by about half.  Let cool.

Preheat oven to 400

Place grated apple in a clean towel and wring.  Transfer to a large bowl.  Add cooked berries, defrosted uncooked berries, lemon juice, tapioca flour, and salt.  Mix until combined.  Transfer the mixture to the dough-lined pie plate.  Scatter butter pieces over filling.

Roll out second disk of dough.  It should be a bit smaller than the first piece.  Use a cookie cutter or hand cut a star in one of the corners.  Place dough over top of pie.  Leave the overhanging dough.

Using knife trim the overhanging dough, leaving it flush with the rim of the pie plate.  Flute edges using the tines of the fork.  

Bake pie for 30 minutes.  Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue to bake until juices bubble and crust is deep golden brown about 30 minutes longer.  Transfer pie to wire rack and cool to room temperature.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Maritime Museum In Western Australia

Australia is a country with strong ties to the ocean, so it only fitting that Western Australia has a world class Maritime Museum.  The museum is located a short 30 minute train ride from Perth's CBD, perched on the shore of the Indian Ocean in Frematle.  
Visitors are invited to explore the role the ocean has played not only in the development of this young country, and its current role in its life today.
The museum beautifully showcases Western Australia's strong fishing industry which is traced back to the use of Aboriginal fish traps. Stories from the past and present are included to demonstrate the challenges and successes of the local fishing communities.
A long term exhibit demonstrates the important role trade has played for thousands of years, ranging from the exchange of simple products and ideas by the people living on the borders of the Indian Ocean to the more current globalized trading, where thousands of cargoes are brought into the Australia through maritime trade.
There is a gallery that focuses on the stories of bravery, war, peace, sacrifice, weapons and naval defense.  Here, visitors learn the strategic importance of Fremantle.
Of course, a Maritime museum would not be complete without a display of watercraft, and guests are treated to an array of vessels.  Needless to say the pride and joy is the Australia II, the racing yacht that won the America's Cup in 1983.  

Victoria Quay, Fremantle
Open daily: from 9.30-5.00, excluding Wednesdays.
Closed Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Years Day, Good Friday, Easter Monday and Anzac Day.
Public information phone number  +61 [0]8 9431 8444

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Dark Side Of Guanajato

The other day as I was walking around Perth I saw a billboard advertising an exhibit at the Western Australian Museum. As I looked at the picture I was transported to another time. No, not to 79 AD when Pompeii was buried under several meters of ash, nor to our 2005 visit to the historic ruins. I was taken back 16 years to what was Mark's and my first trip together. We both were seasoned travelers. As such, we brought diverse experiences and expertise to the trip. However, where we really varied was in our expectations of the experiences that we desired as we traveled south of the boarder to the largest city in the world and its neighboring state of Guanajuato.
I envisioned culinary feasts at small cafes and restaurants. Mark looked forward to the delicacies bought from the street vendors (an amoeba or two thrown in at no extra cost). The romantic in me wanted to find accommodations at renovated historic buildings, mansions, and villas, places steeped in history and mystery. Mark was after convenience. The closer we were to the bus station, the less distance we had to lug our luggage. I could spend hours on end at the markets, looking at the exotic foods and spices and the endless quantity of textiles and ceramics. Mark felt shopping was a four letter word and was ready to hit the local cantina.
After a week of fits, tantrums and compromise, when we pulled into the city of Guanajuato and, after finding a convenient hostal that didn't rent rooms by the hour, we knew it was time to let someone else take over the decision making for us. We justified a full day tour by signing up with an operator who spoke only Spanish--it would be good language practice. So, we had a jam packed day of visiting churches, plazas, gardens, theaters, mines, and the University. We were driven up the steep hill to the Mirador (lookout) where we were able to admire the city below. We enjoyed a yummy lunch at a typical restaurant where we were able to practice our Spanish with our fellow travelers. Then at the end of the day we were taken to what our guide claimed was the highlight of the trip--the Mummy Museum. It should be noted that Mark and I are not fans of horror and/or death, and we weren't thrilled about the prospect of having to walk around a building that housed a bunch of human remains. However, it was part of our tour and we sucked it up. Our visit began with the history of the local scene and how the mummies came to exist.
The naturally occurring mummified corpses (mumification owed to the characteristics if the soil in which they rested) were all victims of a Cholera outbreak in 1833, during which time bodies were buried immediately in order to control the spread of the disease. Unfortunately, some burials occurred prematurely. Expressions of horror frozen on the corpses faces suggested that they may have been buried alive--a reminder of the horrific and tragic ending of a living life.
The mummies in the museum were disinterred from the Guanajuato's Graveyard between 1865 and 1958 when  family members could no longer pay the tax required to keep the bodies in the cemetery. Not all the disinterred bodies were mummified, but the 2% that were, were stored in a building and eventually they began to attract tourists.
With the brief history lesson over, we were invited to stroll through the narrow passageways at our own pace to enjoy the exhibit.  Because the museum had started out as a storage facility, the bodies are not displayed with dignity, and it didn't take long for Mark and I to become spooked;  we decided we needed to get out of there pronto. As we ran through the narrow, dark passages past over 100 mummified bodies, our own faces mimicked those surrounding us.  However, our contortions were not from agony, but rather disgust.
When we were finally able to escape the building and sit in the warm sun on the plaza, we knew that even though our future travels would involve plenty of comprise there would be no more visits to mummy museums.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Tasty Green

One of the biggest problems that we have faced in WA, other than distance, has been eating out.  Not only has food been extremely expensive, but for the most part the quality has been a disappointment.  In fact, I have probably been served some of my worst meals here in Perth.  In trendy Subiaco, I ordered a warm mushroom salad and was brought a bowl of mushrooms swimming in a sea of sherry without a green to be seen--can you say gag.  At another historic eatery, famed for its meat, I was served a gourmet burger that took me back to the hamburgers served at my elementary school cafeteria.  I am sorry, just because the the beef is Wagyu doesn't mean you can charge AU$25 for a compressed patty that resembles a char-burned shoe sole.
After our first couple of visits to the city and trying a variety of eating venues, we had to turn to pub food.  At least we knew what to expect, even if it was over priced.  Then on our visit last January, someone suggested that we try one of Perth's newest eateries, The Greenhouse.  I was a bit skeptical as I listened to the rave reviews about the amazing, funky fresh, organic food--but we decided to give it a try.
When we arrived at the Green House, I knew we weren't in your normal run of the mill type of place.  The owner's strong eco focus can be seen the moment you pass through the door.  The space and furnishings have been constructed with recycled materials.  However, even though I was impressed by the use of recycled and recyclable materials--I was there to eat.

Service was prompt and friendly.  The menu, which featured small plates, was simple but varied.  We decided to try four plates: lamb kofta, duck rillette, fried cauliflower, and  piquillo croquetas.  All I can say is that when the food arrived it exceeded our expectations.  It was obvious that the Chef knows his trade.  He took simple, quality ingredients and made some excellent non-pretentious plates that looked beautiful and tasted great.  At last we had found a restaurant in Perth that meet both our needs and tastes.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

A Birds Eye View

This past summer, January in Oz, we once again found ourselves amongst the giant karri trees.  The summer heat in Perth was full on so we decided to try and escape it by making the long drive down the moss covered forrest.  Of course, like with our previous visit, we didn't have enough time but, once again, we were enchanted with the area.

We based ourselves at the Pemberton Caravan Park.  Our ensuite cabin may not have been as luxurious as our room at the Karri Valley Resort, but we did get our own frog.  Since he was found hopping around the kitchen I wasn't sure if he was to be treated as a pet or as an entrée.  Once I finally caught him I released him back into the wild.  Actually, the Caravan Park was a very pleasant place to stay.  It is surrounded by tall trees and a river flows nearby.  Since we planned on being on the trails more than in the room it was a perfect place for us.
Of course, any trip to Pemberton wouldn't be complete without a visit to the Gloucester Tree.  The 61 meter  karri tree, which is located 3 km from the center of town, was once a fire lookout.  Today, thrill-seekers can visit the platform at the crown of the tree by climbing the pegs which, in 1946, were hammered into the tree's trunk to form a spiral ladder.
I decided to skip the birds eye view, since I could envision myself getting stuck half way up, and I didn't want to create a drama. Instead, as Mark gave it a go, I sat at the lovely picnic area. It wasn't long before I had company. However, my new found friend was not as well behaved as the parrot at the resort; this one was rather aggressive. So, if you're planning to visit and/or climb the Gloucester Tree you may want to picnic somewhere else.
There are actually a couple of other trees in the area that can be climbed, and you can get more information here.   By the way, I have heard that the view from the top is sensational.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Mother Nature Showing Her Color

This week's PhotoHunt theme is colorful.

There were many choices for this week's theme, but I decided to showcase Australia's most famous natural icon.  These colorful pictures were taken at Uluru (aka Ayers Rock) at sunset.   It was a remarkable site to watch the giant monolith change colors as the light from the setting sun struck it.  
Uluru is a large sandstone rock formation in central Australia.  It measures more than 348 m high and 9.4 km in circumference.  However, it is interesting to note that the formation extends several kilometers below the surface of the ground--so visitors can only view a small section of Uluru.
The inselberg, or island mountain, is an isolated remnant left after the slow erosion of an original mountain range.  The remarkable feature of Uluru is its homogeneity and lack lack of jointing and parting at bedding surfaces, leading to the lack of development of scree slopes and soils.  

Friday, August 6, 2010

Karri Valley Resort

Our arrival at Karri Valley Resort was not without drama.  We were tired and hungry, but were informed that if we wanted to eat in the restaurant we had less than half an hour before the last sitting.  We had envisioned a hot shower followed by a cold beer on our lake side balcony, but this wouldn't happen if we wanted to eat a warm meal. It had been a long day and we were both cranky, so we decided to skip the fine dinning experience and have a lakeside cold meal of surf and turf--tuna and beef jerky raided from our hiking provisions.  As we sat on our private balcony overlooking the Beedelup Lake it was soon became apparent that we had not been the first people to enjoy such a picnic as we were soon joined by an Australian Ringneck Parrot.   In the end we were happy with the dinning choice.  We couldn't have had a better view or been in a more peaceful location.

As night fell, our eyes drew heavy and we soon turned in.  I am not sure if it was the fact that Beedelup is derived from the Noongar word Bejalup meaning place of sleep or the 12 hour drive, but no sooner had our heads hit the pillow were we fast asleep.
We awoke early the next morning anxious to explore the surrounding forest.  We decided on a short pre-breakfast walk among the giant Karri trees.  I am not exaggerating when I say giant, since this variety of Eucalyptus tree can grow to be 90 meters tall.  A short path up one of the surrounding hills took us up to the Walk-Through Tree.  The 400 year old tree, which is over 75 meters tall has a 3x4 meter hole cut into its base.  It was pretty impressive to stand inside the tree knowing that there are more than 150 tons of tree above you.

After breakfast we returned to the forest.  Unfortunately, we didn't have a lot of time to spend on the trail since we had a long, almost 400 km, drive back to Perth.  But, we did spend a few hours walking through the damp and misty timberlands.  The understory was very lush and green.  A moss covered trail took us around the lake to Beedelup Falls.  Here we crossed a swing bridge which took us over the Beedelup Brook and provided a full on view of the water flowing over 100 meters over steep granite rocks.  The waterfall itself was not that impressive, however, we were astounded by the amount of water.  After all, this was not what we had imagined from the arid land of Western Australia.  As our time in the southern forests of WA came to an end we knew that we would return to spend more time exploring the area.