Alice Springs, Australia

In the early ’80s I was captivated by a Masterpiece Theater Miniseries, “A Town Like Alice”, so much so that I read the book upon which the series was based. Who knew that about 35 years later we’d be spending two nights in this “bonza” town in the Northern Territory, right after our stay in Melbourne.

There is still so much more to say about Melbourne, and I will eventually get to that, but first, I bring you Alice Springs with a summary of why this is a town we will never forget.

Our hotel, the Doubletree, is located right across from the Todd River. Both the river and the mall (among other things) are named after Sir Charles Todd, who brought communications to the area by constructing telegraph wires or stations or something along those lines. (Clearly I wasn’t all that interested). His wife’s name was Alice, and I’m guessing that at one time the area had a lot of natural springs?

Check out the Todd River.

What, you’re having trouble finding it? That may be because the “river” is bone dry. You see, this area can go for YEARS without rain. It actually looks a whole lot better on Google maps, portrayed as a blue ribbon surrounded by green borders. But no. It is all brown and dry. But the walkway is nice.

So, why did Mike and I decide to skip Uluru and the Great Barrier Reef to spend an additional five nights ( count ’em, FIVE nights !!!) in Alice Springs?

It was a nose bleed. Yes, you read that right. But WHAT a nosebleed! Enough to warrant a 3AM ambulance ride, a hospital stay of three nights, with a trip to the operating room thrown in for good measure. Thanks to the wonderful doctors and nurses in Alice Springs, our hero is out of the hospital and on the mend. But he needs to rest up, so we are hanging out in Alice Springs for those extra days, then flying to Sydney, where, if all goes well, we will be able to rendezvous one last time with our wonderful group before we all fly home.

Exactly HOW did Mike get that geyser of a nosebleed?

No, his boomerang did NOT circle back and whomp him in the nose!

It all started in Melbourne. He awoke very, very early with what he thought was strep throat. (It wasn’t). Being the considerate, resourceful guy that he is, he didn’t want to wake me or our tour guide, so he surfed the net to find St Vincent’s Hospital was close by. (Bad idea). I woke as he was headed out the door, unfortunately not alert enough to shout “NOOO. Don’t do it.” But then I figured he knew what he was doing, he’d get his antibiotics, then return to the hotel to spend the rest of the day sleeping off his illness.

While I was enjoying the magnificence of the Great Ocean Road, Mike was having his nasal passage assaulted. A nurse decided to ram a swab up his nose to do a flu test. That caused his FIRST nosebleed. (The afore mentioned nosebleed in Alice Springs was the SECOND one). The doctor cauterized the wound, (but not well enough) kept him in the hospital overnight and discharged him early Saturday morning, clearing him to fly to Alice Springs.

Although if we’d had our druthers, Mike would have skipped learning about another country’s health care system, however there WERE a few positives.

  • We felt lucky we weren’t in a remote area devoid of medical facilities AND grateful we both understood the local language (sort of).
  • We HAD purchased trip insurance plus we have high spending limits on our credit card, so we were okay paying (charging) up front.
  • We learned more than we ever wanted to know about travel insurance, electronic devices (phones, SIM cards, hot spots) which provides me with lots of material for future blog posts.
  • The hospital was only a mile away, so I got plenty of exercise walking along the “river”, from hotel to hospital and back, a couple of times a day.
  • I was able to download “A Town Like Alice” to my phone and reread it while waiting for Mike to get out of surgery. I had forgotten that I had liked the miniseries so much more than the book. Still it was a good distraction and it reintroduced me to the word “bonza”. What do YOU think it means?
  • We discovered how tuned in Australians are to what is happening in America, and how well informed they are about Trump, Pence, even Mike Pompeo! Some of them probably know more than many Americans. The nurses were curious about what Americans think of Trump, so we gave them our views and others’ views. Being liberals, that’s what we try to do. Present the facts. We had no idea how much other countries are counting on us to vote him out, something we heard frequently on our trip.
  • The hotel has a pool, so I could imagine I was taking a “sit in the sun and do nothing” kind of vacation. It didn’t take long for me to remember why I never go on that kind of vacation any more!
  • So, that’s why I haven’t been posting much these past few days. I know. A blog is an unusual way to inform friends and family of a somewhat traumatic event. (Mike’s nose was traumatized, as was my psyche).
  • Thankfully, all is well now. Happier posts will follow with better photos!
  • Santiago, Day Two

    We started our second day in Santiago by congratulating ourselves on our wise decision to take it easy on day one. It’s amazing what a good night’s sleep can do for a pair of weary travelers.

    First on our list was La Chascona, one of the three homes of Pablo Neruda. Don’t feel bad if you don’t know who he is. I certainly didn’t, and this is the second time I’ve been in Santiago. Not only was he a Nobel prize winning poet, but he was also a politician, and a very quirky collector. What did he collect, you ask? Well, clearly houses, given that he had three of them, all kinds of art, books, knickknacks and women. I’ll let you read about the women and all the steamy stuff on your own. I’m doing this post on an iPhone so have to stick with the essentials, because I am so high minded.

    La Chascona is now a very well run museum, complete with a short, but very informative video about Neruda’s life. You also get one of those “press the button” audio guides, which explains what you are seeing as you move from room to room. What makes this house so fascinating is it was built according to Neruda’s specifications and it is multi level.. Big deal, you might be thinking. LOTS of houses are multi level. Yes, but do you have to go outside to get from one level to the next?

    No ranch style living for THIS aging Chilean!

    We weren’t allowed to take photos inside the house, but I was able to get this shot of the dining room from outside. The table is very narrow, to facilitate conversation and extends almost the entire length of the room.

    What I loved most about the dining room is something I unfortunately couldn’t photograph—the back wall. The left side was occupied by a hutch containing china and crystal. what looked like paneling on the right was actually a door to a secret passageway, with a spiral staircase leading to Neruda’s bedroom. The treads on the staircase were so small, I was afraid by very tall, very big footed husband wouldn’t be able to climb it, but he did. For him, the outside staircases were far easier to navigate.

    See, I wasn’t kidding about multiple levels!

    La Chascona is close to Cerra San Cristóbal, so even though we fully expected it to be a tourist trap (thank you, Esther, for the warning)it made sense for it to be our next stop. We rode the funicular to a viewing area for a look at the HUGE metropolitan area of Santiago. I knew the city was big, but didn’t know HOW big till then.

    At the summit is an enormous statue of Mary. It appeared some sort of religious service was taking place there, so we climbed the 6o steps (yes, I counted) to ride the cable car. Although you get even more views of the city, to me it wasn’t worth waiting in line. And yes, the hill IS a bit of a tourist trap, although most of the tourists appeared to be South American.

    On our return trip, I noticed a couple of clearly North American ladies in our funicular car. What are the odds, that among all the thousands of visitors to Cerra San Cristóbal, those two random strangers we encountered would be two of the other five travelers on our OAT trip? A quick question got us the answer. It was 100%. They too had come in a day early, and had been touring via the Hop on Hop Off bus.

    Returning to the hotel, we met the remaining three OAT travelers who had arrived at the normal start date. Our guide took us on a short walking tour, which ended at Chile’s “ground zero”, the Plaza de Armas, where the Spaniards initially settled. At one corner of the square is a statue of the Moche’s leader, Caupolicán,

    and diagonally across is Pedro de Valdivia, the Spanish conquistador.

    Isabel Allende’s wonderful book “Inés of My Soul”, gives a historically accurate, but fictionalized account of the founding of Chile, as told by Inés Suárez, the only known female conquistador, and mistress of de Valdivia. It is well worth reading.

    Our day ended with a fabulous welcome dinner at Casa Lastarria. We were the only patrons because we were dining at the ridiculously early hour of 7 PM, to make it easy to get up for our 6:45 AM departure for Easter Island.

    Pisco Sours for all!

    And if all goes well, my photos will upload.

    Santiago, Chile

    Expect to find these words carved on my tombstone: “She never passed up the opportunity to use a clean bathroom”. Good thing, because it took us two and a half hours to get our butts off the plane, thru Santiago airport and into a taxi. The airport’s long lines would have been even more of a challenge with a full bladder.

    One reason it took so long was the computers at passport control went down for 30 minutes. Can you imagine what the crowd would be like if that happened in a NY airport? But here, everyone chilled. No groans, cursing or eye rolls. Free Wi-Fi helped. It gave everyone an opportunity to check in with friends and family.

    Was this a regular occurrence? We will soon find out, because over the next six days we will be experiencing Santiago airport three more times: back and forth to Easter Island and to Buenos Aires.

    Another reason for the long lines is Chile seriousness about not allowing agricultural products into the country. If the dogs don’t get you, the scanning equipment will, so there were no nuts or granola bars in OUR luggage.

    We followed our tour guide’s instructions, paying for our taxi inside the airport. 20,000 pesos sounds like a lot, but it is only about $30, and they accept credit cards, so I didn’t need to stop at the ATM to the right of immigration, but I did anyway.

    Although we don’t usually stay at Crowne Plaza Hotels, I signed up for their loyalty program when I made our on line reservation. Not only do loyalty members get free Wi-Fi, they also can request early check in. By the time we arrived at 10 AM, we were pleasantly surprised to learn that our room was ready.

    A less pleasant surprise was how very tired we were. Or maybe we are just having to acknowledge that we no longer have the stamina that we did in our younger days. Back in “the day”, we would have ignored our weariness and started checking things off our (actually MY) list. Instead, our goals for day 1 are: eat, walk a bit, rest, get acclimated to the new time zone. That was ONE To-Do list we completely accomplished!

    By 1 PM, we were so hungry that we ended up having pizza and beer at La Junta, a bar with outside tables. I tell you the name so that if you are ever in Santiago, you will avoid it. The only problem with outside dining—that’s where all the smokers hang out. We ate inside.

    Yeah, it was every bit as bad as it looks.

    Thanks to the OAT Forum and Trip Advisor, we fared MUCH better for dinner. Both recommended Boca Nariz, a wine bar offering tapas and entrees.

    If you don’t have the time or the energy to tour a Chilean vineyard, this is a great alternative. Here, you can choose from a wide variety of wine flights. We opted for wines from the Pacific coast and were pleased with our choice.

    Although it looks empty, that appearance is deceiving. Those empty tables are reserved. If you plan to visit, it is wise to make a reservation. We lucked out. Initially the hostess seated us at the only available table, one designed for munchkins. Poor Mike looked like he was at an elementary school parents’ night, sitting at his kid’s desk. The hostess took note and moved us to the big kid’s table as soon as one opened up.

    Once again, my blogging is lagging behind our experiences. More about Santiago next time we encounter cooperative Wi-Fi

    The Roads to Stykkishólmur and Akureyri

    Growing up, I remember watching  an old Bob Hope/Bing Crosby movie entitled “The Road to Morocco”.  It may have been the first “buddy” road trip movie ever made.  It was a comedy that got its laughs from the strange costumes and mishaps that the two “buddies”encountered during their travel.

    You’re probably thinking “yeah, so what’s the point?  Well, unlike my usual digressions, there actually IS a point, that point being that at times I FEEL like I’m in a buddy movie.  Perhaps that’s what happens when you travel with 14 of your friends.

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    We haven’t had as many mishaps as Bing and Bob, but we HAVE had our share of comedic moments.

    Those of us who didn’t feast on fermented shark were greatly entertained by the facial expressions of Sam and Nancy.   Believe me, they definitely weren’t acting.

    SOME of us hiked to a nature reserve in a volcanic crater, on the coast.  The hard part was SUPPOSED to be the climb down to the “flat”area, except the FLAT area was actually a bed of mud with rocks poking up haphazardly.

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    At times, it felt like elves were hiding below the surface, trying to suck the boots off our feet.

    We, however, were undaunted.  A bit muddy, a bit wet, but definitely undaunted.

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    Look, we are still smiling .  Helen is using Sam as a wind shield.  It is difficult to get a good group photo while standing in mud, being buffeted by wind.

    Odd  costumes? Yep, we had a few of those.

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    The Galapagos have blue footed Boobies; WE have blue footed buddies.

    If YOU had been experiencing misty, windy weather, would you want to get on a boat to go chasing after whales?  Neither did 10 of us.  Instead, we elected to have a leisurely breakfast, a stroll through the botanical garden, and lunch in town.  No mishaps and no funny costumes for us.

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    The whale watchers, on the other hand, had both.  Sorry.  No photos of them in their bright blue jump suits.  All we got were very vivid descriptions of the experience from our participants.  Sharmon reported sighting “two whales and nineteen puking passengers”.  Fortunately none of our five were in her head count.  Even more fortunate, the sea sick whale watchers had the foresight to come equipped with plastic bags.  That presents another question.  If you thought you were going to need them, would YOU get on the boat?

    In the afternoon, eleven of us (including four from the morning adventure) decided to try our luck riding Icelandic horses.  I’m happy to say that there was not a single incidence of motion sickness.  We DID manage to model some pretty funky outfits.

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    Karen, Diane, Sam, Kathy, Carol, John, Helen, Sue, me.  (Sharmon and Luis were still getting suited up). 

    Is it my imagination, or do some of us look like we are on our way to fight a fire?

    Our ride took us through magnificent scenery.  The air was clear and fresh smelling, unless you happened to be riding behind Diane.  HER horse was desperately in need of the equine version of bean-o, emitting noises that would have had most third graders in hysterics.  (Okay, so WE laughed too. )

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    But he looks so innocent!

    Because we took so long getting fitted with helmets, choosing our trusty steeds, mounting and dismounting, we were running late for our dinner reservation.  Modern technology came to the rescue.  A google search for the restaurant phone number and a quick call via cell phone, and voila, problem solved.

    We ended our “buddy movie” on a high note, having a great dinner at Strikiò Restaurant.

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    Does this look like a rowdy group?  

     

     

     

    Three Wish Mountain

    We were on a mission, leaving rainy Reykjavík in search of sunshine.  Would we need to squander one of our three wishes on a request for some respite from the rain?  Read on, if you want to find out.

    First up on our way to Stykkishólmur was a stop at a wool studio.  CBAC040C-4A7C-4401-8DCE-BC4E43710BA3

    When I had initially learned that the itinerary would exchange a visit to a waterfall for a wool demonstration, I was a bit distressed.  Was I ever wrong!  The presentation was quite wonderful.  The explanation of  the chemistry involved in dyeing wool was fascinating.  In the OLD days, cow’s urine was a key ingredient; it has since been replaced with ammonia, and not just because of the smell, although that alone was a good enough reason for me.  The problem is today it is too difficult to collect.  The cows are allowed to roam free and don’t take too kindly to someone following them around with a bucket.   The urine of old women also had characteristics that produced a particular color.  I don’t remember the color or the age requirement, I DO remember several of us volunteered to donate.

    Our next stop was at the Settlement Center in Borgarnes, where we were treated to a very interesting Norse history,  including an opportunity to stand on the bow of a moving Viking ship.

    Lunch in the second floor restaurant was delicious: a choice of tomato or lamb soup and a salad bar chock full of my favorite items.  A nice surprise was that this lunch was now included, where at one time it wasn’t.  Given the high price of food in Iceland, this was a welcome change.

    Today’s drive was a long one, blessedly broken up by several stops.  Here we are viewing vertical lava flows.  Our guide explained the geology behind this particular effect.  I promptly forgot it.

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    Luis is posing for all of the photography enthusiasts.  By now, I can identify everyone from the back. From left: Karen, Kathy and Nancy ( and the fuscia arm in the far left corner is either Helen or Debby)

    Finally, we arrived at Mount Helgafell, where, if you climb to the top without speaking and don’t look back, you can face the east and make three wishes.  They have to be of positive intent, and you can’t tell anyone what they are.

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    I’m facing the east, have made my wishes, and am now allowed to look behind me.

    Being a generous soul, I gave one of my wishes for the good of our entire planet, (excluding Russia), one for Mike and me and one for a family member in need of a wish.   We’ll see if the Viking version of prayer works.  (At least none of us got turned into a pillar of salt!)

    Mt Helgafell deserves a few more photos, so here goes:

    The ascent was rather easy, because the path was well maintained, and the view was worth every step.  Although we hadn’t really found the sun, at least it wasn’t raining, and there were some patches of blue in the sky.

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    The two Canadians: My blogging buddy Nancy (in red) and my newest friend, Sue.

    Our second day on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula was also quite full, starting with a visit to a waterfall.  This short video, done by Mike, captures the beauty of the waterfall better than any of my photos, but if you don’t want to hop over to YouTube, this is for you.

     

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    There’s one in every crowd. OURS is called Luis.

    Kathy expressed an interest in bird life, so Hlynur took her for a little walk in a nesting area.  Wonder what happened?   Mike managed to get this action shot of Kathy being dive bombed by an angry mama bird.

    It looked like a scene from an Alfred Hitchcock movie. You know which one.

    To be continued…