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Ann's Corner

VOLUMES 121 & 122-----------JULY/AUGUST 2012



August 12, 2012

Hello again everyone!  As I said in my June 2012 edition, my newsletter ramblings may be kinda hit 'n miss for a while as we continue to pile on too many activities to keep up with.  What with travel, Hunter Education activities, Wheelin' Elks RV Club, Chairing the Elks Lodge Board of Directors, and trying to research new software to modernize my web postings, we seem to get overwhelmed!  But, I'll try to bring things up to date today.

Shortly after posting the June 2012 Newsletter we jumped right into a new Hunter Education class.  That class wrapped up on June 23rd, and Ann and I were scheduled to leave the Spokane Airport on the first leg of our trip to Australia the following afternoon.

Why Australia?  A little background and review:  An organization, founded in 1989 by New Zealander George O'Scanlon, has expanded from bringing American style football and young players to the attention of New Zealand and Australia via the Down Under Bowl, into a multi sport undertaking.  Now known as Down Under Sports, they invite high school students from all over the United States to Australia for Football, Basketball, Track and Field, Volleyball, Wrestling, and of course, Jennifer's main sport, Cross Country running.

Cross Country athletes are recruited through nationwide reporting of the results of state meets.  Most members of a team that competes at the state level will receive a 'feeler' letter to determine interest in going to Australia.  (We don't know the selection criteria, as some members of state teams get solicitation letters and some don't.)  Whatever the criteria, only a very small percentage of those invited actually make the trip because it is rather expensive.  Supposedly, each state is limited to no more than six athletes in each sport.  Participants may either travel alone, which many did, or be accompanied by a parent or parents.  (For a price, of course.)  I don't have an exact athlete count, but there were about 70 boys and 50 girls in this 2012 cross country group along with perhaps 20 or so parents.

At any rate, Rick and Christi decided to make the trip with Jennifer.  Ann and I elected to partake of the adventure as well, but would make our own travel arrangements and not be a part of the Down Under Sports tour.  (Even though our travel arrangements were made completely independently, we ended up on the same plane as the entire Down Under entourage on the L. A. to Brisbane leg of the trip, and in hotels only 4 or 5 blocks apart in Surfer's Paradise.)

So, Saturday afternoon, after rushing through the online final report of the results of the Hunter Education class, we began our packing and last minute preparations for Australia!

Sunday the 24th found us clearing airport security and awaiting our 3:28 PM departure from Spokane International.  For a person who hates the hassle of airports and flying, (ME) the thought of our flight schedule was daunting!  Spokane - San Francisco; San Francisco - L. A.; L.A. - Brisbane, AU.  As best I can calculate, we spent about 7 hours sitting in Airports plus 18 hours on airplanes before arriving in Brisbane at 6:45 AM on June 26th.  (Yes, we lost June 25th due to crossing the International Dateline.)

The big 747 just after arrival in Brisbane 6:45 AM


After only one week, 3 days, and 14 hours, we cleared the first leg of the customs process, only to find that one of our two suitcases didn't make the plane ride out of L. A.  (OK, OK, we probably stood in line for an hour.)  After receiving assurances from Quantas that our bag had been located, would be on the next flight to Australia, and be delivered to our hotel, we sought our scheduled transportation for the 80 kilometer ride to Surfer's Paradise on the Gold Coast of Australia.  We soon found a nice man in suit and tie holding a sign with my name, who transported us in a very fancy Mercedes van to the Outrigger Hotel in Surfer's Paradise, Queensland, Australia.  It should be noted here that the nice man in suit and tie drove on the wrong side of the road, steering from the wrong side of the vehicle!

The missing bag with all our toiletries and pajamas did arrive at the hotel about 6:00 PM on the 27th.

Here's the view that greeted us from our 22nd floor balcony

We faced chilly temperatures and rainy skies for the first 3 days of our 6 day stay in Surfer's Paradise.  Too bad our umbrellas were also in the missing bag, but the hotel came through with a loaner that got us through.

As part of the Down Under Sports group, Rick and Christi, along with the runners, were provided transportation to the race venues, while Ann and I were on our own.  We purchased bus passes and proceeded to try and learn how to get about using the local public transit system.  On the day of Jennifer's first race, held in Pizzey Park, and armed with slightly erroneous information from the public transportation office and one of our bus drivers, we found ourselves disembarking from a bus in a downpour!  The bus driver pointed down the street about two blocks, and said, "This is my nearest stop, but there's Pizzey Park."

We proceeded to what appeared to be the only occupied building in sight which turned out to be a Casino and headquarters of the Bears Rugby Club.  Prior to our trip, we had heard from friends who had been there, that the Australians are generally very friendly and helpful.  This was probably the best example of how true that is.

A nice lady at the front desk, while not familiar with the existence of the race we were seeking, surmised that it had to be in the Gold Coast Little Athletes field.  Pulling forth a Park map from beneath the counter, she pointed out that this was on the complete opposite side of the Park from where we stood.  (And, it's a helluva big park.)

I inquired, "Can we walk across the park to get there, or do we need to go around along the road?"

Nice lady replied, "Oh you could walk across, but I'm afraid it will be very soggy with all this rain."

Oh Crap!  Now what do we do?

The problem was quickly resolved!  Nice lady called upon the driver of the Casino's courtesy car and informed him that he could drive us around to the race location.  This was expeditiously done, even though it had to be 3 or 4 miles by road to the other side of the park.  My attempts to pay the driver for his time and effort were politely refused!

So, we made the race venue, but found that due to the inclement weather, they had moved the race time forward by a half hour!  We saw only the very end of Jennifer's race.  The runners, the parents, and the spectators, were all wet, cold, and miserable!  The boy's race followed and we all suffered through the elements to watch that as well.

So, we've lost a suitcase, we're wet and cold, we've been lost, we missed a big part of the race, it's still raining like hell, and by the signs I saw as we rode along in the Casino's courtesy car, it's at least a half mile to the nearest bus stop.  Are we having fun yet?

Fortunately things were about to get much better, and would pretty much stay that way for the rest of our trip.  The 'getting better' began with Rick prevailing upon one of the Down Under coaches to let us fill a couple of empty seats on one of the busses returning the athletes and parents to their hotel!

Here's a couple of pictures of the drowned rats.

Tired and Wet


The All American 5K

As the weather improved, so did our enjoyment of our new experiences.  While still chilly and very windy, we enjoyed our first walk on the beach on June 29th.  The surf was considered too rough for swimming or surfing, with plenty of signs saying so.  Confirming that the United States is not the only place with some idiot inhabitants, there were some swimmers and surfers to be seen.

Rough Surf

On June 30th Jennifer's second race occurred.  This race was one of six over a two day period in conjunction with what is called the 'Gold Coast Marathon'.  In addition to Jennifer's race, the 5.7 K Queensland Health Challenge, there were a marathon, half marathon, 10 K, 4 K and 2 K races.

By most standards, other than our own Bloomsday in Spokane, these are huge races!  The Queensland Health Challenge had 4,021 entrants with 3,587 finishers.  This was the longest race of Jennifer's career, as most of our domestic high school races are either 3 miles or 5 kilometers.

We were not able to get close enough to the starting line for decent photos, but could hear the P.A. announcer kibitzing with the Down Under runners just before the race.  The Down Under kids were first in line at the start.  After our runners were welcomed, they began a chant of USA - USA - USA - . . . . before the starting gun.  Think that won't bring a tear to your eye 8,000 miles from home?

I guess the nice weather and cool temperatures agreed with Jennifer, as she finished looking strong in 255th place, with a net time of 28:06!  She finished 94th for females overall, and 50th for girls in her age group.

Here are some photos.

Jennifer's Squad from the Down Under Group.  I think they were called the 'Possums


Just short of the finish line.


Grandma and Jennifer (Grandma may have a tear in her eye here)


How Sweet is that Medal?

The balance of our time in Surfer's Paradise was spent walking around the city, and strolling the beach.  This area is obviously geared to tourism, and showed us many avenues of getting those tourist dollars.  While it is now winter in Australia this area is very temperate and thus a popular year round destination.

One of our strolls on the beach turned up someone we recognized!  Imagine finding your nearly 16 year old granddaughter and a new mermaid friend surrounded by 3 boys.  No, don't imagine it, here's the picture to prove it!

Jennifer and some of her new friends.


Ann and I on the beach with dumpy little buildings in the background.

We did manage to tear Jennifer away from her friends long enough to spend part of a day with her parents and us.  We all put on our Elks 228 tee shirts for a stroll and pictures on the beach.

The Parmans in Elks Tee Shirts

We were also able to have our first taste of Kangaroo.  A small hamburger stand specialized in Kangaroo Burgers, so Ann and I split one, Rick and Christi split one, while Jennifer ate a whole one herself.  After hearing our American accents, a conversation with the lady running the place revealed that they had recently returned from a trip to the States in the New York vicinity.  The end result was a huge bowl of complimentary french fries to accompany our burgers.

Enjoying a Kangaroo Burger

Soon after the Kangaroo burgers we bid goodbye to Rick, Christi, and Jennifer, as they moved on with the Down Under group to spend a day in Sydney, then on to Honolulu for a three day stopover before heading back to L. A. and home.

As Ann and I were determined to at least sample the Outback while in country, our next move was a July 2nd 4:00 AM pickup by another nice man in suit and tie, to ferry us to the Brisbane airport in a luxurious Audi sedan.  From Brisbane we were scheduled to fly to Cairns, then on to Ayers Rock nearly 1,200 miles into the center of Australia.  When checking in at Brisbane, we found that our non-stop, direct flight to Ayers Rock had been cancelled, and we were routed through Alice Springs.  This, of course, made for another landing and takeoff that we weren't anticipating.  Did I mention that I hate flying!

After deplaning in Alice Springs and sitting in the tiny airport for an hour, we re-boarded the same plane for our final leg to Ayers Rock.  The Aboriginal name for Ayers Rock is Uluru and it is a sacred site along with another huge sandstone formation nearby called Kata Tjuta.

Uluru or Ayers Rock at Sunset  (We were told it is 10 kilometers around the base of the rock)


Kata Tjuta at Sunrise

A bit of information about Ayers Rock may be of interest.  This is literally hundreds of miles from anywhere or anything else!  Other than the airport, there are 4 small hotels, an RV campground, 2 or 3 restaurants, some gift shops, a small grocery store, and a book store.  The campground had several RVs, but how they hauled enough petrol to get there is beyond me.  The activities are mostly guided tours to the nearby National Park or other points of interest around Uluru or Kato Tjuta.

Another bit of trivia, is that some time zones in Australia are broken into half hour increments, making the correct time in Ayers Rock/Uluru, 30 minutes earlier than Cairns.

I might also add that it was apparent that this was winter in Australia!  While the area doesn't have snowy winters like ours, the early AM temperatures were slightly below freezing at -2º Centigrade.  Fortunately we had done our research and packed a set of long underwear and other warm clothing for our outdoor activities.

After Surfer's Paradise and Jennifer's races, our activities were pretty much 'touristy things' with our stay in Ayers Rock no exception.  We were booked for two activities during our two night stay.

First was a 'Sounds of Silence' dinner at sunset in the desert the night of our arrival.  Sunset was observed over appetizers (they were billed as canapés) and beer, wine, or soft drinks.  The most interesting of the appetizers, was a small pastry shell filled with crocodile meat.  We found the meat to be overly dry and rather tasteless, so not high on our favorites list.

After sunset, we moved downhill to a sandy area with tables covered with white cloths, and set formally with cutlery and several shapes of wine glasses.  ( I called it 'Supper on a Sandpile') The meal was buffet style, with some of the more interesting items being crocodile Caesar salad, and kangaroo filets.  During dinner we were entertained by Didgeridoo music and later by an astronomer who talked about the constellations such as the Southern Cross, which we in the northern hemisphere never see.

We also met some interesting people with whom we shared our table.

Clockwise beginning with Ann:  (Sorry, I don't remember the names)  Newlyweds from Italy, he is a banker she a medical doctor specializing in breast surgery; Next an Australian couple, she works in a winery, learning winemaking, he is a teacher; Then a couple from Sweden, he is a social worker, she a teacher.

Late to bed and early to rise; the next morning was a sunrise tour into the nearby Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.  Turned out we were the only people on this tour which included a picnic breakfast and a 2.7 K hike into a spiritual canyon called Walpa Gorge.  As the night before, our long underwear and warm clothing was appreciated.

Ann and our tour guide on the sunrise viewing platform.


Our guide making 'fruit bread' toast on a camp stove.

As we rode back toward the Ayers Rock Village, we did see some interesting wildlife.

Feral Camels along the roadside


Rear view of a Dingo - This wild doglike animal is becoming scarce in the area and our guide had never seen one in the wild.

We left Ayers Rock on July 4th, back to Cairns.  This time our direct flight operated as scheduled so we had only one takeoff and landing.  One difference we found on the Australian domestic flights is that they still feed passengers as we did in this country some years ago.  The food itself was not much different than the old days here.  It certainly wasn't gourmet food!

July 5th found us aboard the Kuranda Scenic Railroad up to the crest of the mountain range just outside Cairns to the mining town of Kuranda.  The railroad was constructed in the late 1800's to provide a supply line to the gold mining country inland.

Kuranda Railroad

This trip to the shopping area of Kuranda would provide Ann with the opportunity to purchase the black opal necklace she had been seeking since our arrival in Australia.  The good news was that she wasn't required to pay the 'value added tax' that funds a good part of the nation's governments.  By certifying that the item was going out of the country, being sealed by the merchant, and inspected by customs officials at departure, she was able to save over $200.

What goes up, must come down, and we returned to the lowlands via a Sky Rail gondola that is the most modern method of transport between Cairns and Kuranda.  This area of Australia is tropical rainforest, and the view from the gondola certainly showed that well.

Many of these trees had to be well over 200 feet tall.

Our tour bus met us at the Sky Rail terminal and our next stop was Hartley's Crocodile Adventures.  Hartley's has been hatching and raising crocodiles for many years.  Our tour included a boat ride around a lagoon where the various crocs can be observed up close and personal.  A dead chicken on a rope tied to the end of a sturdy pole enticed a specimen named 'Ted' to launch himself out of the water at very close range!

Ted the crocodile about 3 feet from the boat leaping for a dead chicken.


Ted from a slightly more comfortable distance.

One interesting bit of trivia we learned had to do with crocodile sex.  No, not that kind!  Crocodiles lack the X Y chromosomes that determine sex in most animals.  Instead, the temperature at which the eggs are incubated determines whether the hatchling will be male or female.  If the incubation temperature is constantly close to 32º Centigrade, the baby will be a male.  If the temperature varies much either side of that, they will be female.

On July 6th we traveled to Port Douglas for a 'speed catamaran' boat ride to the Great Barrier Reef.  This should have been a major highlight of the trip, but weather conditions and gale force winds did not cooperate!  Our first clue was overhearing the ticket sellers advise one and all that they should purchase seasick pills before embarking!  Ann and I had already taken that precaution, and were ultimately thankful we did.

I'm guessing the catamaran seated around 250 passengers on three decks, and was pretty much full.  The destination at the reef was a huge semi rigid platform that provided the launching pad for those who wanted to scuba dive or snorkel and the site of the included buffet luncheon.

From the underwater observation room on the platform, it was apparent to us that the water was so murky that snorkeling was pointless, and scuba diving wasn't on our menu anyway.  We didn't even put on our swimsuits!

From listening and observing, it was apparent that people of many cultures and countries were represented on the reef tour.  With all that diversity, we noted that people are still people.  With the perception that the 'all you can eat' buffet was included in the price, many people obviously made several trips to the food line.  Some would pay for that later!

Here's a clue as to just how rough it was out there!

To say that the 90 minute trip back to port was miserable for many would be putting it mildly!  Much of that free buffet food was finding its way into the myriad barf bags the crew members were scurrying to provide.  Neither of us got sick, but the sights, sounds, and smells were certainly not pleasant.

After recovering from what Ann thought was a near death experience on that boat, we spent the next day walking around the city of Cairns, people watching and seeing the sights.  One notable sight was avoiding the guano on the sidewalks around the hotel.  The trees were full of roosting fruit bats.  Close your eyes and visualize a small housecat with wings, and you are seeing a fruit bat in your mind!

Fruit Bats in Cairns

Cairns on this weekend happened to be the site of a Ukulele Festival!  A huge park along the waterfront was filled with vendors selling everything from beauty creams to, well, ukuleles!  There were also stages scattered about where various ukulele bands were performing throughout the day.

When I think of ukuleles, I think Hawaiian, so imagine our surprise as we approached one of the stages where a girl singer was belting out Hank Williams' Jambalaya!  Her next number was Tammy Wynett's Stand By Your Man.  Hot Dang!  Country/Western ukulele!

Country/Western Ukulele Music

Our last evening in Australia was spent with a meal and show at an Aboriginal Cultural Center called Tjapukai.  Here we were treated to a theatrical presentation of some traditional ceremonies of the native peoples, including face paint for the audience.

Of course, the mandatory gift shop was present with ample opportunity to increase the tourist's credit card balance.  We did buy a small necklace for Jennifer and a hat for me, but resisted the temptation of the high dollar items.

A display of Didgeridoo's, the native musical instrument for sale at $300 to $500 each, and up.


Didgeridoo Demo

It's difficult to describe the sounds emanating from a Didgeridoo, but I'd call it a sort of humming/buzzing sound with varied pitch and tempo.  What I found amazing was the players' ability to make a continuous sound without seeming to take a breath!  The technique is called 'Circle Breathing' but remains a mystery to me.

Ann with her native face paint.

Thus ended our perusal of tourist attractions in Australia.  Another 4:00 AM hotel pickup on Sunday the 8th started our long journey home.

Ann and I were both coming down with coughs and head colds as we left Australia, which made the 19 hours of airplane time and 11 hours waiting in airports even more tortuous than it should have been.  Nevertheless, we made it home safely, if entirely exhausted.  With the time zones crossed and the mystery of the International Dateline, it was difficult to get my mind around arriving on U. S. soil some 3 hours before leaving Australia!

Without time to fully recuperate from travel weariness, we jumped right into another Hunter Education class on July 10th.  (See the Hunter Education page for details)

Our next adventure was a trip to Port Townsend, WA with several members of the Wheelin' Elks RV Club.  Port Townsend is on the very northeast tip of the Olympic Peninsula, and requires either a ferry ride or a long circle to the south of Puget Sound to drive there.  We elected to take the land route, left home on July 25th, and set aside two days for the drive over.

We camped at an RV park near Cle Elum, WA with the intention of playing golf on the onsite course.  We decided we couldn't handle the 90º+ temperature, and hung out in the air conditioned trailer instead.

We arrived in Port Townsend on Thursday the 27th.  Friends and RV Club members Jim and Darlene VanSlyke lived and worked in Port Townsend for 40 years before moving to Spokane, so they made the arrangements and reservations for our activities.

Our campground was on the shores of the Straits of Juan de Fuca, the shipping lane from the Pacific Ocean to Puget Sound and the Port of Seattle.

Ann at the Seashore in Port Townsend


Most of the crew enjoying some sun in a nearby State Park on Sunday.

Good food, good fun, good friends, and a golf outing on Saturday, made for a very enjoyable trip.  On Monday the 30th we returned home, electing to pull the entire 400 miles in one stretch.

From the Wheelin' Elks trip, we jumped right into Jennifer's 16th Birthday celebration on the 31st.  This was the first of 3 or 4 celebrations I think.  Having completed driver's education and passed all the required tests, the DRIVER'S LICENSE was picked up earlier that day.  Gift opening, Rick's excellent grilled steaks, and ice cream cake topped off the evening.

I'm guessing that this car from her parents and Grandma's $300 in gas money were the highlights of the gift opening.


Good Cash Money


The Ford Explorer that was Christi's winter car, became Jennifer's.  I'm not sure how this was all worked out, but this also became an occasion to trade in the family's 1999 Ford pickup to be replaced by a new Ford 1 ton diesel???

2012 Ford F350 Diesel

The next stop on the Birthday Train was a girls sleepover at Jennifer's house.  I've lost track, but somewhere in the mix was a visit by some friends that Jennifer met in Australia.  A girl from Western Washington, a boy from Northeast Montana, and a boy from St. John, WA spent a day with Jennifer at Silverwood Theme Park near Athol, ID.

No, we ain't done yet!  On Sunday August 4th, we had the traditional birthday dinner at Shogun Japanese restaurant.  This is the 'hibachi cooking on the table top in front of the diners' type establishment.  As best we can calculate, we have been doing this annually since Jennifer was about 6 years old.

Blonde haired, blue eyed, Geisha?

Well, aren't you glad I've about run down?  Hope to have some shootin', huntin', or reloadin' stuff next time.

This newsletter's hillbilly wisdom comes from a roadside sign observed several times near Cairns, Australia:

"Don't spread Electric Ants"

I'll let you look that one up!

Well, It's time to shut down here, So . . . .

'Til next time, Keep 'em shootin' straight, shoot 'em often, and above all, BE SAFE!!!!!

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