The Land of Oz

As a kid, I was always fascinated by the Wizard of Oz. In addition to watching the movie multiple times, I read every single Oz book our library carried. So, I was quite excited when I stumbled upon the PBS series entitled The Magical Land of Oz . To my surprise, it wasn’t about Dorothy or the wizard at all, but was instead three wonderful shows about Australia, where we will be heading shortly. (No tornado required, and, I hope, none expected).

Why is Australia called the Land of Oz? I didn’t know, so I asked Mr. Google, the source of much of my wisdom. Turns out, it has to do with the way it sounds when you say the first three letters of the continent’s name. Give it a try. Anyway, the shows are visually spectacular, much better than anything I can hope to capture with my photos.

Speaking of photos, this is the first trip I will make without bringing a camera. Yes, I will still take photos, but I will be using my new iPhone 11 pro. After our son sent us photos he had taken with the wide angle, telephoto and regular lenses, and showed us what the camera can do with night shots, I was intrigued. It was definitely worth a trip to the nearby Apple store to just take a look. Silly me. I really thought I would be able to leave the store without making a purchase!

Another purchase for the trip was a “lipstick” charger from Amazon. My friend Sally had been using one on our recent bike trip and I was quite taken with the little gadget. Even though the iPhone 11 is supposed to have a robust battery, I didn’t want to take a chance of running out of juice should I encounter a once in a lifetime photo op.

Of course, that wasn’t the only gadget that captured my attention. I also HAD to have the Lencent adaptor I stumbled upon when purchasing the lipstick charger. They both come with cute little storage sacks and don’t take up much room in my gadget bag.

Because my replaced iPhone is few generations old, I decided not to turn it in, but instead plan to purchase a prepaid sim card for use in Australia. (Yes, my buying frenzy continues). After learning that, like New Zealand, free, unlimited WiFi isn’t widely available in Australia, I figured it was worthwhile to give a foreign sim card a try, using THAT older phone for accessing the internet. (An idea I picked up from one of the travel forums I follow).

Here’s what my research uncovered: you need to pay attention to “credit validity”, which was a new term for me. I have since learned that it refers to the number of days the prepayment option has purchased, starting from the day you first use it. So, if you purchase a card with a credit validity of 7 days, and you use it on the 1st of the month, regardless of the gigabytes purchased, you are done on the 8th, and need to “recharge” (pay more).

Why not go with Verizon’s travel pass? Well, if you use the internet ONCE during a 24 hour period, you get charged $10 for that day. It seemed like a better deal to get a prepaid sim card for 28 days for $30 Australian dollars (about $20 US, or two days worth of Verizon Travel Pass.

Why wouldn’t I just use the Australian sim card, in my new iPhone, you ask? Good question. Here’s why: I know myself well enough to recognize that it is entirely possible for me to lose my original sim card, a significant concern.

There are three mobile phone networks in Australia. Telestra, Optus and Vodaphone all offer coverage in the most traveled parts of Australia. Of the three, Optus is the only network that has a store in Melbourne Airport. So, given that this is a new experience for me, I decided that I wanted to interact with a human rather than purchase a card in advance from the internet (Amazon)and hope for the best. That way, I can have someone exchange the cards for me, and make sure that the phone is functioning correctly before we leave the airport.

Thanks to the internet, I was able to check the coverage map for Optus, where I learned that coverage varies by type of device, something I never would have considered. It appears that the iPhone 7 may not have great coverage throughout Tasmania and parts of the interior where we will be visiting. Big decision: will I decide to be without WiFi when in those uncovered areas? Or will I trust myself not to lose my original sim card and just use my new iPhone? Bet you can’t wait for this cliff hanger to be resolved in a future post.

Another cliff hanger: Will we get off the wait list for an upgrade to United’s business class? Here’s the deal. A free round trip ticket would have cost 240,000 miles each, whereas an upgrade is only 60,000 miles each, plus the price of an economy ticket and an additional cash payment. Given that we had nowhere near the miles needed for a free ticket, we opted for the upgrade, resulting in our waiting to see whether United can sell those seats for more than what we paid in cash and miles. It’s a gamble–one that does not make me a happy, loyal United customer. BUT, the other option would have been paying almost $8,000 each for business class. Of course, we could always stuff ourselves into economy for 6 hours to LA and 16 more hours to Melbourne. Yeah, we sure HOPE that’s not happening.

Finally, we learned from our trip leader that during our tour, we can expect temperatures to vary from a potential low of 30 F to highs in the 90’s, with varying degrees of humidity. Hey, its a big continent, and we are covering a lot of ground. That makes packing even more of a challenge. This time, I’m using different packing cubes for cold, temperate and hot areas.

Theoretically, the blue cubes can be compressed. Realistically, the plastic compression bags do a much better job so that’s what I used for my jacket. It is great for travel because the lining zips out, transforming the shell into a light weight rain jacket. Plus, the lining can be worn alone for cool days and shell plus lining will keep me toasty during those 30 F days and nights. Yes, it all fit into my duffel, was under 50 pounds, PLUS my backpack (carry on) had plenty of room to spare.

Here’s the route we, and 10 other travelers, will be taking on our Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) tour. Six of us have opted for the pre trip to Tasmania.

See you in Oz!

Patagonia – Our Final Days

I’ll admit it. I am a lazy blogger. It seems it always happen this way. I start out with great intentions, keeping friends and family updated as to our whereabouts, but toward the end of every trip, I run out of steam. Then, re-entry into our world takes a few weeks. So here we are, back home, reliving our wonderful time in Patagonia via photos.

Our last several days have not been recorded, so let’s start there. If you recall the map from the Punta Arenas post, you’ll remember that we had some very long travel days.

With a bus like this, however, you travel in comfort, and you really get to experience the countryside. There were only 12 travelers (plus guides) on a bus that could carry over 40 passengers! With multiple interesting stops along the way, time passed quickly.

On our way to cross the border back into Argentina, we stopped to pay tribute to Gauchito Gil.

Here’s his story: Gil joined the Argentinian army to fight against Paraguay. He returned to his village as a hero, but soon after, the Argentine Civil War broke out. He refused to fight against his countrymen, so he deserted. He was found in the forest, by the police, who tortured him and hung him upside down from a tree. As a policeman was about to kill him, Gil said, “your son is very ill. If you give me a proper burial and pray to me, your son will live. If not, he will die.” Despite the prediction, the policeman cut Gil’s throat. When he arrived home, the policeman discovered his son was indeed very ill, so he heeded Gil’s prophecy–gave him the proper burial, said a prayer or two, and (wait for it–dramatic pause) the son was CURED!

SO, today’s travelers offer a beer or some other tribute to Gil, as an extra insurance policy for a safe trip. As you can see, we were no exception. Hey, why not.


In addition to educational stops along the way, our guides kept boredom at bay by entertaining and feeding us. Laura, our guia excelente, donned that costume before she served us a wonderful treat. Yeah, I forgot what it is called, but I certainly remember the wonderful taste.

We were not without our national Geographic moments. As we drive the highways and by ways, we noticed several eagles and other large birds of prey sitting on fence posts. Were they watching the cars go by, as an avian form of TV? No, they had figured out that it was just a matter of time before some tasty road kill would make their grocery shopping much easier. Take a look.

Before we knew it we were in El Calafate, Argentina. The main purpose of our 2 night stay here was to view the Perito Moreno Glacier in the National Park.

We certainly did that, both from a ship and from land. It was quite a majestic sight. The experience wasn’t just visual, however. It was also auditory. We could actually hear the glacier groan and thunder, as parts of it crashed off into the sea below.

While in El Calafate, we stayed at the Kauyatun, a gorgeous hotel reincarnated from a former sheep ranch. Best of all, it is within walking distance of El Calafate’s charming center.

Our trip ended in Buenos Aires, where we had our farewell dinner, then flights home the next afternoon.

A toast to Laura

Saying goodbye is never easy, especially when you have such an interesting, caring, informed, fantastic guide like Laura. We all truly appreciated how hard she worked to make this trip extra special for all of us. Her energy was amazing!

We also felt so fortunate to be a part of an extraordinarily compatible group. Our hope is that this will not be the last time we see these wonderful, smiling faces!

The terrific twelve

Towers of the Emerald Blue

“Paine” is a Mapuche word meaning emerald blue, or, if you prefer, blue green. So “Torres del Paine” gets its name from the towering, unusually shaped mountains and the icy clear Lake Pehoe.

Normally, this area is buffeted by high winds and lots of rain. Laura and Maria, our guides, have reminded us how very fortunate we are to be experiencing this incredible weather. It could change at any moment, but so far we have beaten the odds.

Last night we took advantage of having an astrophysicist in our midst and persuaded Mike to give the group an impromptu lecture on the southern skies. We were so very lucky: the phase of the moon was perfect for viewing. It wasn’t so bright that it obscured the stars. We saw the Milky Way and the Magellanic Cloud, a rare treat. Too dark for photos–you just have to take my word that it was magnificent. And Mike was really pretty amazing too.

I DO have other photos that will give you an idea of the grandeur and beauty of this National Park.

During yesterday afternoon’s first hike, we battled head winds that made those two miles feel a whole lot longer.

The sun wasn’t in the best position for photos, but I liked this shot of some of our group admiring the view.

One advantage of staying at one of the three hotels within the park was getting an early start. THAT allowed us to hike to the perfect spot so we could catch this gorgeous reflection on the lake.

It was a 4 mile hike that, according to my Fitbit, was the equivalent of climbing 43 flights of stairs. Believe it or not, it was a much easier than yesterday’s shorter hike because the wind wasn’t blowing.

We were able to see this waterfall from a distance AND up close.

Once again, our timing was perfect. On our return trip the light was just right for the mist to create rainbow after rainbow.

Okay, so the surrounding area wasn’t picture perfect, but that was the best angle to capture the rainbow.

Another amazing day in Patagonia, and it’s not even over yet. One more hike this afternoon.