Friday, December 24, 2010


I am heading to the outback for just over a week, so I've decided to take a break from my Blog until I get home. Besides, it is a bit hard to post when you don't have internet service. I hope you all have a wonderful Holiday Season and I look forward to seeing you in the New Year.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Natural Disaster

I have to admit that I no longer grab for my camera when I see a Koala or Kangaroo. I sometimes will pause for a look, but truthfully these animals have become a bit mundane. However, there are several Australian exotics that make me squeal with joy. Unfortunately, they are a bit harder to come by and often it takes some effort to reap the reward of viewing them in the wild. 
One of these animals is the Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombat, and it was the hope of sighting one in the wild that had us packing up our camping gear and heading out to the Riverlands over the weekend. We had been planning the trip for weeks, and even though I had seen them a couple of times in the wild, I wanted to take advantage of the unseasonably cool temperatures to head out to the semi-scrub desert of South Australia. A couple of days before we were to set out I realized that the late spring storms, that brought an abundance of much needed rain, had possibly put the animal that we were heading out to see in peril. Apparently, torrential rains had flooded the area that many South Australian Wombats call home. I could only hope the two Conservation Parks that we had planned to visit stood on high enough ground and had not been destroyed by the devastating storms.
As we drove along the cliff banks high above the Murray River, I was shocked by the scene below. The waters had breeched the river banks and the entire valley was flooded. It saddened me to think of the dozens of wombats that had built their burrows on the flood plain. From where we stood it was obvious that for a marsupials that spend more than half its lives underground, more likely than not they had suffered an untimely death. As we continued down the road, my spirits didn't improve since many of the surrounding fields high on the plateau were flooded. 

My spirits rose when we arrived at Pooginook Conservation Park. Less than 10 minutes from our campsite we found a warren with at least a half dozen entrances. With the near full moon high in the sky we sat off to the side in wait. And wait we did, but not a single critter decided to come out for a feed, and eventually we decided to call it a night and return in the early morning.
Under the predawn sky, we were better able to assess the environment and in the faint light we were able to determine that the burrows we had chosen to observe sat in the middle of a flood plain. My heart felt heavy as I looked for signs of life and questioned if the endangered species that once called this home had been overcome by a flood, or had they escaped to higher ground?  

Posted by Picasa

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Man Vs' Mail

This week's PhotoHunt theme is male.

A couple of weeks ago, while visiting Kangaroo Island, we came across an interesting collection of (māl)boxes.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Face To Face?

My time in croc country was quickly coming to a close and I had yet to see the world's largest reptile. I had seen plenty of signs, warnings, and even an imprint--but no sightings of the elusive animal.It was for this reason that we broke up camp at 4:30 am in the pitch dark. I energetically encouraged Mark to hurry up, since I didn't want to miss the boat. I anxiously anticipated that our trip along the Yellow Water Billabong would finally put an end to my quest to spot one of the terrors of the north. Unfortunately, the tour operator had assured us a unique experience--lots for birds and magnificent flora--but could not guarantee a face to face encounter with the ferocious giants.
Along with several dozen other bleary eyed travelers we stood in line to board the bus that would take us to the boat ramp. It appeared that most of our fellow passengers had spent the night in the lodge or taken a morning shower since they frantically swatted at the millions of mosquitos that descended upon us. Fortunately, in the predawn hours, we had used plenty of Off before we even left the tent. As a result it was the first time in 12 hours the pesky bugs were ignoring us--they had plenty of other sources to quench their bloody thirst.
The short road to the dock remained flooded--the remnants of a wet season that had extended well beyond its normal period. I couldn't help but wonder if the high waters would increase our chances of seeing a croc. Just as we boarded the boat the sun began to make itself visible on the horizon. As it made its gradual climb in the sky it brushed the grey canvas with various shades of reds, yellows and oranges.

As promised our cruise through Kakadu's most famous wetland, Yellow Water Billabong, was fruitful-- White Bellied Sea Eagle, Australian Darter, Ibis, Kingfisher, Kingfisher, Whistling Ducks, Jacana, and Jabiru were all spotted. The sing song of the different species of birds added a musical symphony to the painted landscape that lay before us--a work of art only achievable by mother nature.
Of course, for me the highlight of the trip was the sighting of several crocs. The first one was a very large male who became agro and began swatting the water as we approached. Even from a distance I was amazed by his size  and happy that we hadn't run into him on the trail. Just before we turned around and headed back to the docks a spiny back broke the lagoon surface just in front of us; he was lovely enough to hang around for some photo ops. 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

If It's Not A Croc, It's a Boar

Our plans to stay at Jim Jim Billabong were foiled because the isolated camping area was still closed to the public. Instead we pulled into Gagudju Lodge at Cooinda. One quick look at the campground and I knew that there was no way we would be staying the night with the masses. Dozens of Campervans and Caravans were parked one on top of another in a fenced off area. It was like the parking lot of a major mall at Christmas time, but rather than parking and rushing off into the semi-pathetic mini-mart, heaps of of Aussies and Tourists were all lounging about in front of their temporary mobile homes. From my vantage point, outside the massive chain-link fence, the campers resembled caged animals and I wondered if they felt entrapped or protected. 
We quickly filled the RAV4 with petrol and decided to call in to the information center to find about river trips. We had hopes of catching an early morning boat ride before continuing on our way to Darwin. We were in luck; the dawn tour had space. But, of course it did, since it cost $30 more than all the other river tours because it included breakfast. I knew the last thing I wanted was to spend way too much for a meal that would consist of greasy eggs and stinky sausage, but I really wanted to see the river and its wildlife at dawn. So we coughed up the money, and headed down the road to the National Park Campground.
We were unsure of what we would find, but to our relief the large campground was virtually empty. I was also happy that the generator free area was at least a 1/2 mile from the Mardugal Billabong, home to--yep, you guessed it--crocs. We found the perfect spot to pitch our tent and settled into enjoy the evening. Unfortunately, it wasn't long before hell descended upon us as millions of mosquitos came out for a feed. We were able to protect our skin with long sleeves and spray, but there was nothing we could do about the insistent drone--a noise that would stay with us throughout the entire night as the little buggers tried to make their way into the tent. And this cacophony  was interrupted  only by the distant howl of a dingo, and the snort of the wild pig that crashed through our camp in the middle of the night. As we followed the clackety clackety sound of his hooves against the ground through the bush, for a picture that wasn't captured, I began to wonder if perhaps there was a reason to stay within in the perimeter of the shiny silver cage just up the road.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Southern Kakadu Water Falls

We were headed to the more visited northern part of Kakadu, we decided to stop and stroll among the southern hills and ridges of the less visited part of the park one last time.
There were a few cars at the Yurmikmik carpark, but the occupants had already hit the trail. Originally we had hoped to hike the Motor Car circuit walk, but since parts of the walk followed the South Alligator River, where crocs were a plenty, we decided to just do the linear walk to a couple of different falls.
After crossing a swing bridge across the Plum Tree Creek we soon found ourselves in a monsoon forest. Giant Fan Palms lined the trail which followed a dry creek bed. When we began to scramble over large conglomerate and sandstone boulders we knew we were on the wrong path since we were supposed to be following a historical vehicle track--so we back tracked several hundred meters to where we had made the wrong turn.
The correct trail, which was first driven in 1946 by Paul Allmich in his Chevrolet truck, was easy to follow and it wasn't long before we were at the turn off to Motor Creek Falls. At this point there was a large group on the trail in front of us. We took advantage of them pausing for a break and quickly passed them. This was fortunate since the trail became much more technical and I would not have wanted to be stuck behind a large pack of people.  When we arrived at the towering canyon wall we were a bit taken back. Nothing had prepared us for the emerald green water that lay in front of us. We sat on the edge of the pool admiring its beauty and understanding why so many people are drawn to the Northern Territory. It wasn't long before the serenity was broken with voices and we knew it was time for us to carry on to Kurrundie Falls.
We retraced our steps to the vehicle track and continued on our way. The noon time temperatures were starting to soar. The open woodlands that we were traversing provided shade from the sun, but there was no escaping the oppressive heat. In the distance we could catch glimpses of white water cascading down the front of the brown rocky ridge--our destination. 
Once again we were required to leave the well defined track. It was obvious that this part of the trail didn't get much traffic and the single track was hard to follow in many areas. Fortunately, from our vantage point high on a plateau we were able to use the very full Kurrundie Creek as a guide. Unfortunately, the trail soon dropped us down to the riverside. Of course we could still use the river as a guide, but I was more concerned that the thick vegetation would be a perfect place for a croc waiting for lunch to come by. Since there wasn't much of a trail we ended up walking higher up along the side of the hill where we could see any dangers that lurked in the water.  
Unlike the previous perfect water hole we had visited, the Kurrundie pool was nestled high on the cliff side. There was no protection from the sun. It was impossible to reach the water to take a dip. It wasn't the perfect spot for a lunch break, but our stomachs were grumbling. So we found a rock where we could comfortably eat our lunch. It wasn't long before we had company, but this time instead a large group of loud tourist we were joined by a circling Peregrine Falcon--the perfect guest for our picnic.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

This week's PhotoHunt theme is funny.

When I saw this big guy taking an afternoon siesta in the sun, I couldn't help but laugh. 

The Red Kangaroo is the largest living marsupial and it can grow up to two meters (6 feet) and weight up to 90 kilos (200 pounds). Kangaroos are bipeds and their powerful hind legs allow them to move at speeds up to 56 km (35 miles) an hour. In a single bound they can travel 8 meters  (25 feet) and they can jump 1.8 meters (6 feet) high. The use their strong hind legs as a method of defense and in a fight they will hold the antagonist with their forefeet while rearing on the tail and giving powerful kicks with their back feet. The Australian giant lives across the mainland and feeds on grasses.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Cataplana Al Diablo

For some reasons here in Adelaide clams (cockles here in Australia) are hard to come by. So when I saw some at the market this week I knew what we would have for diner.
Whenever working with clams I always follow Penelope Casas' instructions for prepping them: she says to scrub them, then put them in salted water with some cornmeal for several hours or overnight. The idea is that the clams eat the cornmeal, which helps them plump up as well as expel any remaining sand. I then prepare them using the following recipe that I've adapted over the years

1/2 onion finely chopped
1/2 red pepper chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2  tomatoes, peeled and diced
1 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika
2 tablespoons minced parsley
1 cup white wine
1 dried hot chile, crumbled
Salt, to taste

Rustic bread, to serve

Sauté the onions, garlic and pepper in the oil in a large deep saucepan (I use a Cataplana--a Portuguese cooking vessel.) When the onion is wilted, add the tomatoes, paprika, parsley, wine, salt and chile. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Add clams, return cover and cook over a high flame until the clams open--discard any that do not open. Serve immediately in same dish with slices of thick rustic bread to soak up the juices.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

If You Can't Beat 'Em

My first month at Burra had been rough. The kids were eating me alive, and just as I was questioning how I would make it through the school year I was called into the Principal's Office. I felt like a teenager as I sat waiting with my head hung low, wondering if I was about to be thrown out of the Teacher Exchange Program. A smile had started to cross my face as I began to dream about returning to the comforts of my own, non-graffiti filled, home back in New Mexico when Don Beschit's voice brought me back to reality.
By all indications I was to be saved the humiliation of being thrown out of the program I had worked so hard to become a part of. However, a horror of a different type was placed before me and; on Friday I was to help chaperone the 5th and 6th grade field trip. I tried to put a positive spin on the upcoming event by telling myself that the day would provide me an opportunity to first-handedly observe how the other teachers interact with and control their students.
My plans of using the excursion as a time to glean some useful tools to take back to the classroom didn't go as expected. I cowered on the sidelines as I watched 80 menacing students take over the narrow, cobblestone street of the town we were visiting. My mouth gaped open as I watched some of the little beasts climb on parked motos, bang their fists on cars, and push other pedestrians out of the way. Of my five colleagues, only one tried to gain control over the ringleaders of the out of control mob--the others ignored the situation that was unfolding before us. To my relief we arrived at the doors of the tapestry museum we had come to visit. Unfortunately, things didn't get much better. I tried to hide amongst the small group of students that were listening to the curator, but my attention was on the other students who were chatting incessantly, touching everything in sight, and throwing spit wads at the woven treasures. To this day I can not understand how we did not get thrown out of the museum. Nor could I comprehend how the teachers allowed such behavior. Was I the only one that felt guilty for the student's behavior and embarrassment for the school we represented?  Perhaps such behavior was accepted in my host country's culture.
I must admit the day was not a complete bust. Our lunch time picnic was a real eye-opener, as I learned that turning cheek is not the only tool used in coping with unruly creatures.  For over an hour the students were released in an enclosed park to do as they pleased, while the teachers headed to the kiosk and drank several beers. What could I do. When I was handed the first Cruz Campo I silently toasted--If you can't beat the students, join the teachers.

If you look under the seats you can see how some of bottles were hidden for the photo.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Pool With A View

After our hike across a flood plain and some lunch we were ready for a climb. We began by calling in at the Gunlom Plunge Pool, a large natural pool set at the base of a towering escarpment. The jagged rock face was worn smooth by the seasonal waterfall, which continued to flow even though it was the dry season. 
As we skirted the large pool I spotted the white float that was being used to determine if the area was crocodile free. I closely kept my eye on the survey device waiting for it to bob up and down--the sign of a croc nibbling on the bait below. Even though it remained still, but I couldn't help but be reminded that in this part of the woods I was not at the top of the food chain.

The croc free pool (at least temporarily) was left behind as we began the steep climb through a patch of monsoonal forest and savanna woodlands. Our final part ascent included a scramble across the exposed rugged sandstone terrain, and to our relief the well marked path soon brought us to the top of the plateau. Had we not been breathless from the final exertion the scene that spread before us would have taken our breath away. It was as though we were standing on the edge of the world as we looked out across the sweeping views of the southern hills.
In addition to superb views the top of the escarpment also offers numerous rock pools. We had been told that they are salt water crocodile free, and that it is safe to take a dip. However, even though the serene water looked inviting I just couldn't overcome my fear. Instead we sat at the edge of one of the pools and enjoyed the view as we sweated profusely.  

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Keep Your Eyes Open

I had some technical difficulties, so I am running late this week.

This week's photohunter theme is hard to find.
I know some South Australians who have lived in SA and never seen a Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat in the wild. I spotted this hard to find animal as we cruised down the highway at 100 km an hour. Mark didn't believe that I had seen one, but I convinced him to turn the car around. Sure enough there amongst several rabbits was a normally nocturnal animal having brekkie.
The Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat is one of three species of wombats. The South Australian State Animal is found in scattered areas of semi-arid scrub and mallee from the eastern Nullarbor Plain to the New South Wales border area.  The large, pudgy, burrowing mammals have sharp claws that they use to dig burrows in open grasslands and eucalyptus forests. They are marsupials and they give birth to tiny, undeveloped young that crawl into pouches on their mothers' bellies, where they will remain for about five months.  The pouch is different from other marsupials since they face backward so no dirt gets in when it is tunneling.Wombats do not have many natural predators and man is their greatest enemy. Destruction of their natural habitat as well as hunting, trapping, and poisoning has severely reduced the wombat's population in many areas, and has completely eradicated it in others. In most parts of Australia the wombat is now protected, with the exception of parts of eastern Victoria where it is classified as vermin and often shot.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Visa By Marriage

It isn't everyday that your partner comes home and announces that he is in the interview process for a job overseas, but it could happen. Seven years ago it happened to me. Within 5 days of walking through the door and making his announcement Mark was offered a job he couldn't refuse--an opportunity to work in his field in sunny Southern Spain. I'll admit that we weren't exactly living in dreary England, and it wasn't the weather that made the job offer appealing. No, it was the fact that my partner had been dreaming of returning to Spain after my year long teacher exchange (an experience I refused to repeat).
Of course I had no problem with the idea of a year or two abroad, especially if I didn't have to work. However, there was a hitch and the visa being offered to Mark was not valid for domestic partners. It didn't matter that we had been together for years, that we were in a committed relationship, or that we owned a house together. In order for me to legally accompany Mark we need the "simple" paper that showed we were husband and wife.  We never really sat down and discussed it, and there was no formal proposal; but as we stood in Kinkos faxing his signed contract we knew what had to happen. We didn't spend hours on end making wedding plans--Mark was too busy preparing to leave the country in under six weeks.
One of the most important days of my life was planned by me and my best friends. The Girls were with me for every step of the way--date, announcement party, venue, guests, reception, and ring selection. They went so far as to make the flower and cake arrangements without my input and I could not have done a better job. Both my bouquet and cake brought tears of joy to my eyes.
We began the planning with a brainstorming session that took us from a drive through wedding in Vegas to a simple ceremony at our home. We decided on keeping the pending marriage a secret until the announcement was made at our annual Christmas Tree decorating party. (You may want to note that our our yearly tree was far from traditional and consisted of a hollowed out cactus adorned with over 500 white lights and a hundred colorful hand crafted mexican tin decorations.) The sparking sight would provide the back drop for our vows.
Our small and simple ceremony occurred on Tuesday after Thanksgiving, exactly 10 years after our first kiss and 4 days before Mark was to leave to Spain. We were joined by our Parents, and my 3 B.F.F.--each playing a key role:  Bride's Maid, Best (wo)Man, and photographer. The event was presided over by one of Mark's ex-colleagues who just happened to be a Minister.  I think he did the service more as an act of friendship than as a belief in our eternal love. Maybe we shouldn't have told him we had to get married for the visa. Also, it didn't help that as Mark slipped the silver band around my finger he declared it a symbol of his freedom (it should have been love). When the ceremony was over, and the Minister walked down the path with our gift of gratitude tucked under his arm (a dozen bottles of Spanish wine), I couldn't help but wonder if he was headed home to get drunk.
With papers signed, pictures taken, and Kalhua--which my paternal Grandmother had bought in Mexico for this vary occasion when I was 6 years old--was drunk we headed to a local restaurant to celebrate a union that was going to embark us on the adventure of a life time. This all occurred 7 years ago today.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


As we drove from Litchfield Park towards Kakadu Park, my crocodile fears began to return. It didn't help that the National Park was known for its crocs and that at the entrance we were greeted by a large sign warning of the eminent danger. However, with the fear came excitement and my eyes frantically darted left and right scanning the bush and waterways for the infamous creature.

Our first destination was the South Alligator River. The name is a bit of a misnomer since any large reptiles living in its waters would be crocodiles not alligators! The track to the river skirts a seasonal billabong. Due to the late spring rains there was still some water in the area. With the sun high in the sky there was not much activity, but we suspected that the area was an oasis for wildlife and birds during sunrise and sunset. After a short 2.5 km hike from the campground we arrived at the river. Signs warning of crocodiles kept me from approaching the water. Instead I stayed high on the bank and peered down at the river through the trees.

On our return trek to the campground I noticed just to the side of the trail a huge imprint in the dried mud. I couldn't help but wonder if the several meter long print was left by a croc? When I pointed it out to Mark, he argued that we were hundreds meter from the river and there was no way that impression was left by a gigantic reptile. However, later that evening while telling yarns with some fellow campers we learned that up to just a couple of weeks before the Alligator River had over-flowed and had reached the campground .  While this information allowed me to gloat over the possibility that what we saw earlier was a print left by a croc, at the same time I began to wonder if sleeping in a tent was a wise idea. Maybe there was a reason everyone had congregated in the center of the campgrounds? Would  our solitude would make us easy prey for a hungry predator. Ahhhhh, the thrill of the Australian bush.