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The Arachnid War

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Nug had been like a broken record for the past month, “When we go to Mongolia, I want to stay in a ger and ride a camel!”  She would repeat this seemingly every day.  I personally didn’t see the big deal but she had put up with tons of my requests so I agreed.  After our drive to Terelj National Park we stayed in a local family’s ger for the night.  We had a magnificently paired dinner of spaghetti bolognaise with hot sauce and soy sauce.  On the side we were given pickles and yogurt which was washed down with beautiful instant coffee…what a treat!

Unpretentious dinner

Settling in for a nice game of rummy….we thought.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After dinner we retired to our ger to play rummy and escape the cold.  The 1st hour or so was fine until a spider the size of my palm rappelled onto our bed in the creepiest manner possible and sprinted for a dark corner.  I shrieked in terror while smashing him into oblivion.  At that moment we got the strange feeling of being watched.  A scan of the ger revealed my biggest fear materialized and I got chills.  It was infested by (this is a conservative estimate) hundreds of these creepy crawlies.  Apparently the arachnids were nocturnal because where there had been none before there were now countless 8 legged beasties.  There were several spider varieties of different colors, size and hairiness.  They were scuttling on the floor, in corners, on the other beds and on the ceiling.  The closest town was miles away and the outside temperature was in the 30’s.  For all intents and purposes we were captive.  I was absolutely terrified.

One of the creepers

Midget bed

 

 

 

 

 

 

The only saving grace for me was that it was Nug’s idea.  If I had proposed the ger stay the wrath of heaven would have crashed down on my head.  The arachnid war commenced over the next several hours.  The spiders would charge and we would dismantle their forces.  They would retreat, regroup and hit us again.  It was like the movie “Kill Bill” with Nug and I employing our ninja skills and standing back to back as the spider corpses piled up.  As the attacking spider numbers started to dwindle we squeezed onto one of the single beds and wrapped ourselves like burritos for protection.  We spent the next several hours (sleeping is not an appropriate term) taking periodic 3 minute naps and jolting awake to check for enemy intruders.  It was mostly random kamikazes at this point.  As the sun rose we stepped out of the ger like survivors of a zombie apocalypse.  We were greeted by the Mongolian host, “How was sleep?”  We lied in unison, “Okay.”  After breakfast (4 cups of coffee) and a bit of national park exploration we fulfilled Nug’s 2nd Mongolian dream.  We rode camels.  I must say it was a much more pleasant experience than her 1st idea.

 

I hate spiders.

This sure beats a ger.

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Crikey!!

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After a great trip to New Zealand my parents came to Australia to visit us as an afterthought.  Haha…just kidding Mom and Dad!  Anyways, they had several days to spend with us on the Gold Coast.  We planned a day trip to the “hinterland” to walk the Twin Falls Track.

Mom and Dad

Nug

 

 

 

It was a chilly but sunny day and we were on the lookout for some Australian critters.  “Do we have to watch out for snakes?” my mom wondered aloud.  “There are no snakes in Australia except zoos,” I joked.  We encountered very few trampers on the trail and found several great caves and waterfalls.  I led the group and kept running ahead and looking back like an anxious puppy while I waited for everyone to catch up.  Each time I turned around I would needle Nug to hurry up or bother her in some way that only a husband has the power to do.  On one of these exchanges I watched her face change expression and her mouth gape open as she attempted to speak.  I didn’t hear a word but instinctively wheeled to face an unseen foe.  Covering the entire path and directly below the sole of my oafish foot was the giant body of an 8ft carpet python (which at that moment looked to be an anaconda).  I immediately broke into an impromptu break dance that I hope no one saw and is never repeated again.  At the same time a strange guttural scream betrayed my fear.  Fate smiled on me at that moment because although my erratic stomping feet tried, I missed the snake and retreated to safety.  The serpent had apparently just dined as there was a massive lump in his gut.

It was scarier in real life!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nug laughed once I was out of danger and my Dad proceeded to further wound my dignity by stepping on the snake’s tail as it slithered away “so we could get better pictures.”  The rest of the walk was amazing with cascading waterfalls and caves, yet behind every tangle of roots I saw more pythons lurking.

Behind the curtain

Twin Falls

 

 

 

The Infamous Barrier Reef

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Have you been to the Barrier Reef?  My haughty response was always “Nah, but I have seen tons of coral reefs in tropical places before.”  The credulous reply was habitually, “You have too!  It’s one of the highlights of Australia!”  This groundhog day conversation had annoyed me to no end.  After a few trips Down Under and repeatedly fielding the question we decided to discover what all of this fuss was about.  Nug and I booked cheap flights to Cairns on Jetstar in April and packed for a week in “Tropical Queensland”.  On the flight there I read about all the critters that can kill you in dreadful ways.  “I don’t think I want to leave the room,” I confided to Nug.  As we walked off the plane the sticky tropical heat clung to us like stink to a Frenchman.  The volcanic mountains soared skyward and we literally swam through the humidity to our Rent-a-Bomb rental car (You can’t beat this outfit for cars that look like they came from the dump or the cheap price).  We hadn’t even left the state of Queensland but it felt like we were on a tropical island.  We jumped on the “Tropical Great Ocean Road” and rubbernecked amazing scenery as I tried to navigate hairpin turns.  Everything was electric green…except the water which was a poo brown and reminded me of a dirty day in Jax Beach.  We made a pit stop at a beach and were encountered by signs warning of “Marine Stingers” or jellyfish.  In April the box jellyfish, which has the world’s most deadly venom, is prevalent.  It is an odd feeling to sit at the water’s edge and know that less than 10ft away is a creature that with the slightest brush of its tentacle could send you into painful spasms which could lead to your demise.  Needless to say the water was to dirty for a dip…oh, and the jellies made it even less inviting.

Marine Stinger Warning

Port Douglas

 

 

 

 

 

Video of Tropical QLD

 

 

 

We continued to Port Douglas and passed what must have been 200 roundabouts…apparently they don’t believe in traffic lights.  Port Douglas was an amazing island style town with great restaurants, mountain views, and a fantastic waterfront market on Sunday.  We explored several national parks including Cape Tribulation, Mossman Gorge, and the Daintree Rainforest but our main goal was to get to the Great Barrier Reef.

Nug at Mossman Gorge

Daintree Rainforest

 

 

 

 

 

 

We booked a cruise on Calypso and were met with a morning of off and on rain.  Either way we were committed as we rode to a patch of reef 32 miles off the coast.  The woman next to us was horribly sick the whole ride.  If it wasn’t for Nug’s foresight and the sea sickness meds my landlubber ways would have had me competing with her in a barf contest.  I skeptically mentioned that I hoped the ride would be worthwhile, while harboring low expectations.  We arrived at the 1st snorkel spot and it appeared to be a random spot in the middle of the ocean.  Nug and I pulled on musty jellyfish condoms (lycra body suits to protect from marine stingers) and were the 1st ones off the boat into the water.

Heading to the GBR!

Wearing the jellyfish condoms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My pompous façade was instantly washed away as I stared in wonderment at the underwater scene.  The sharks, rays, turtles, thousands of fish, corals, and cornucopia of colors were stunning.  I thought I had seen great coral reefs before but this was like the allegory of the cave for me.  I thought my head was going to explode!  The 4 hour journey went by in what felt like 15 minutes.  On the ride back I had to admit, “The Great Barrier Reef is the real deal,” before I passed out in the corner like a tuckered out child.  Now I am just trying to avoid being one of the zealots who bombards people who have visited Australia with the annoying question, “Have you been to the Barrier Reef?”

 

If you have made it this far and can bear any more here are 2 vids from our snorkel trips to the reef!

 

Gold Coast Whale Watching

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Video from our sunset whale watching cruise aboard the Whales in Paradise boat. We saw tons of whales off the coast of Surfer’s Paradise.

Great Barrier Reef

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Video from the Great Barrier Reef aboard “The Calypso” out of Port Douglas.

Old Friends, New Places

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“I don’t like Brisbane,” Nug confided as we scooted south after 2 hectic days of buying our van and getting sorted when we first arrived in Australia in December.  In the 3 months since arriving we had seen no reason to return.  Our plans to pick up Ted compelled us to take a long weekend and give the city another chance.  At the Lenny Kravitz/Cranberries concert the 1st night we caught up with a few guys that we had met several years ago in Laos.  We ended up hanging with Rhys and his roomie Mick for a couple days and were treated to a fresh perspective of the city.  Inevitably, discussions of our initial introductions several years ago were revisited.

We met Rhys at the airport in Vientiane, Laos.  We had shared a van ride to Vang Vieng to meet up with “some of his mates”.  We were all at JD’s Bar overlooking the Nam Song River and watching the full moon while enjoying some of the local specialties when we hatched a plot to “hire” motorbikes the next morning and proceed to some rumored limestone caves in the mountains.  A dodgy looking local guy drew a crude map on a napkin and assured us it was worthwhile.  The next morning the 4 of us left town on 3 sputtering bikes (Nug was riding behind me and holding on for dear life).  We streaked down narrow paths through vast emerald colored rice fields and over streams and mud bogs.  We discovered several interesting caves but the sheer darkness kept us from venturing too deeply.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were at least 20km out of town and trailed a river down a side road towards the base of another mountain range when I whacked a massive pothole and our back tire went promptly flat.  “Shit!  Now what?!”  There was a hut on the river and several Laotian guys who were hanging out there assured us in broken English that they could fix the tire.  We settled in and after 15 minutes of talk we were told about an entrance to a “river cave” near the hut.

The Flat

Motorbike Pit Crew

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They pointed out one fellow as the professional spelunker.  His English began and ended with, “Yes, come,” which was punctuated with a swing of his arm in a let’s go gesture.  The 4 of us proceeded to the water’s edge where there were some inner tubes.  We were outfitted with headlamps that were rigged to a car battery which we sported around our necks like heavy chains (I use the term headlamp liberally.  They were essentially Indiglo watches attached to our foreheads.).  He pointed to a tiny hole in the base of the sheer limestone cliffs and we saw that the river vanished into the crevice.  A rope was fastened to a tree on the bank and disappeared into the void.  The enthusiastic guide hopped on a float and motioned for us to join.  We took turns squeezing through the minuscule opening and waited for our eyes to adjust.  Stalagmites were everywhere and phosphorescent creatures lit up the water.

The Cave Opening

Nug with the head lamp and battery pack

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The small gap gave way to a massive chamber with a sandy beach 50 yards away on the far end where we disembarked.  My light flickered and the exposed wires on the battery gave me a buzz.  It was remarkable and we were the only ones there.  Our guide waved his hand, “Yes, come” before squeezing into a tiny crack.  The 4 of us looked at each other in dumb astonishment but obediently followed.  After 45 minutes and numerous stunning chambers, I was clueless to where we were or how deep in the earth we had gone.  We had squeezed underneath rock crannies that offered 12 inches of space at a maximum and wriggled like snakes for 20 yards in utter darkness.  I had to draw in my gut repeatedly to squirm through some cracks.  We had traversed underground rivers that were chest deep with a limestone ceiling inches above our heads.  To avoid getting shocked we had to hold the batteries above the waterline.  My light had flickered off several times and the darkness was entirely complete and silent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I asked our escort with a hint of anxiety, “How much further?”  The response, “Yes, come” was barely audible and he was off again.  Rhys and Steve let on that they were getting nervous at this point.  Claustrophobia gripped my psyche and I began getting dizzy.  I wheezed, “Nug, can you breathe okay?  I’m having a tough time getting oxygen.”  The darkness rushed in on me from all angles and the silence was deafening.  No one has any idea that we are here!  I was panicking.  Nug slapped my face hard.  “Get it together!  Take deep breaths and come on!”  As we pushed on the battery shocked me yet again.  20 minutes later and we slithered beneath a gap and found ourselves back in the original chamber.  It was more beautiful than I remembered.  The 4 of us burst into the sunshine covered in blood, sweat, and in my case tears.  Back at JD’s Bar that night we all agreed…that was one of the most stupid and amazing things we had ever done.

3 years later the 4 of us are still in agreement on this assessment as we reminisced over beers and looked out at the Brisbane River.  After 4 days of catching up with the boys and getting the local low down we bid farewell and headed to the airport to get Ted.  On the way Nug looked over and said, “I really like Brisbane!”

The Bloodsucker

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Springbrook National Park is a quick 45 minute hop into the Gold Coast Hinterland from our Kirra apartment.  The drive through the mountains is picturesque and a refreshing variation from the bustle of the Gold Coast.  There are numerous campgrounds and things to see or do which would require a few weeks to adequately cover.  For our first trip, we camped at “The Settlement Campground” which is a national park and has private wooded sites for $10 per night.  It is conveniently located on the Purling Brook Falls Walking Circuit.  After arriving we set up camp and were straight into the woods to check the waterfall and plan our 14km hike for the next morning.  Since it was getting dark we headed back to camp to use the free barbeques (Aussie barbeques are more like the hot plate that you would see at Waffle House) to cook our burgers.  As we were heading back to our site with the cow patties we saw a rat the size of a cat scurry away from our site.  “Yuck!”  We set out the camp chairs and table at our site to enjoy our feast with some boxed wine.  After a few minutes Nug let out a horrifying scream, “Arggghhhhh!!! Get him off me!”  I grabbed a pan and tried to adjust my eyes to the encroaching darkness and started scanning for the rodent when Nug began to swat at her ankle.  “What?!? Where?!!?” I screamed.  “My leg! These leaches!” she bellowed.  I looked down to see her brushing leaches from her feet…all but one.  She broke down, “Nug, get this thing off of me!” she cried.  The tears rolled down her freckled face as I tried to brush it off with no luck.  I picked up the 4 inch brute between my thumb and pointer finger which increased his determination as he burrowed in to her ankle steadfastly while wriggling in my sweaty fingers.  “Please!  Help me! Get it off now!”  Did I think to burn the bugger off?  Of course not… I pulled and the parasite intensified his hold on Nug’s epidermis.  It was a tug of war involving the creature and me with neither willing to budge…until Nug’s ankle skin yielded.  Blood flowed from her ankle and Nug whimpered while the leach went spastic in my hands.  I squeezed him until he popped like a grape…all over my hands.  “Did you murder him?” Nug inquired.  “Yes, baby, it’s lights out for him!” I consoled her.  The burgers were nowhere near as enjoyable afterwards, but the waterfalls and walk the next day were incredible.

Link to video of our hike

The Culprit

Purling Brook Falls

 

 

 

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