Category Archives: Random Musings

Stumbling on the Sidewalk

When in pursuit of sidewalk endings, adventures are bound to pop up along the way. Most of the time, the escapades that seem the craziest at the time, once survived, end up being the best stories and they are the reason we sling on our backpacks as much as possible and go-go-go. But, not all adventures take us down a road we want to travel, and that, my friends, is how I almost became Thad’s personal ACS case last week. (ACS= American Citizen Services.)

It all started on a bright, sunny Friday afternoon, three weeks ago. I had just driven back to the embassy from a going away lunch at a local polo club (great Indian food!) and was settling in at my computer for an afternoon of sorting and scanning diplomatic notes. Strangely, my left eye was super blurry, but I blamed it on the raging sunshine outside and figured it would quickly adjust to the florescent lights of the office.

It didn’t.

All weekend.

By Sunday night, I was doing the worst thing anyone with any kind of ailment can do: I Googled it. Suddenly, WebMD had me convinced I had rare eyeball cancer and was going to die before morning. Thank you, internets. The upside to my internet searching was that it made me realize maybe my blurry vision was a bigger deal that I was giving it credit for and maybe, just maybe, I should pop in to our embassy medical unit to have them take a quick glance on Monday morning.

Which I did. After finishing the visa intake for the morning. (I was really not too panicked about this whole thing yet. I’d get to MED when I go there…) Going in, I told the medical officer that I had only half-vision in my left eye. I would have slated it nearly a horizontal line across my eye, with vision on the bottom. Without much hesitation, I was shuttled off to an ophthalmologist here in Kuala Lumpur for a series of tests, but I still wasn’t feeling super worried about the situation.

That sense of calm would not last much longer.

After a succession of eye tests at the hospital here, the ophthalmologist sat me down and without much ado announced that he was diagnosing me with optical neuritis and that I must be admitted to the hospital immediately for an MRI, as the condition is a precursor to multiple sclerosis. Suddenly, I went from having what I thought was a bit of blurry vision to the possibility of a life-long, potentially debilitating disease. How did that just happen? Not really sure what to think or do in the moment, I told him I needed to check in with the embassy before making any further plans. I was in shock and couldn’t really process what was happening. Had my life just changed in the course of two minutes? I quickly got ahold of the medical unit, who decided if that is the route we were going to take, we were going to take it in Singapore.

Back to the embassy I shuttled to throw together the makings of an emergency medical evacuation. By this time it was Monday evening and I was scheduled on an early Tuesday morning Air Asia flight, with specialist appointments booked for Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning. (All of these bookings happened in the course of about an hour. When MED moves, they move!) Before leaving post, I had to get a few things in order at my desk, I had to top off my cell phone minutes, I had to pack a bag for a week and load up as much school work as I could fit to take along. Things were a blur, and not just because my left eye had quit working!

It was all happening quickly.

Too quickly.

Which is how my crazy medical condition also nearly made me become Thad’s personal ACS case! In the midst of the chaos of prepping and packing to go, as I moved all of my money and cards to the purse I was taking to Singapore, my credit card got left sitting on the dining room table. On Tuesday, I caught the quick one-hour flight to Singapore and headed to the 4 Seasons hotel where I would be lodging for the duration of my stay. The great medical section team in Singapore had the room pre-booked, so when I arrived, I just rolled on up to the counter, ready to sign in. I passed my credit card over and scanned the fancy lobby as I waited for the desk clerk to run it. Soon, he had a worried look on his face. He swiped the card again, but I could tell something was wrong.

Oh no! He didn’t need to say a word. I might be partially blind, but the lightbulb went off.

A few weeks ago, we had some weird taxidermy charges on our credit card out of Texas. (You know how I like to keep stuffed dead things lying around my house!) The credit card company shut off those cards and sent us new ones. Well, the card in the hand of the desk clerk was the old card and the new shiny one was sitting at home, in Kuala Lumpur. Not good.

So, there I was, in a foreign country, half-blind and with only the cash in my purse: about $200USD total, trying to pay for a hotel that ran $300 a night. Uhhh…Thad to the rescue! I quickly called him and had him give his card number to the hotel so I could check in. He then had to sign an avadavat saying he would cover my costs for the entire stay (room service, anyone?!), but he quickly sorted it from his end so I was able to drop off my bags before heading to the first appointment.(It is almost as if sorting out unprepared Americans is his job or something!) But, the lack of functioning card did make me basically destitute in what is definitely not one of the cheaper cities on the globe. I spent the next four days, until he was able to join me in Singapore, convincing doctors and hospitals to take my card by just the number, without physically having it in-hand. (Scary how well this actually worked! I was able to put thousands of dollars of medical bills on a card I did not actually carry.)

I felt like such a dunce! Maybe the eye-sight really was a bigger brain issue.

Over the next three days, I had eye tests where I realized that no, I did not have 50% vision in my left eye, but closer to 5% and that I was basically color-blind as well. I had an MRI, which at the cost of that thing, I’m not sure why they can’t add a muffler to the machine. And I was admitted to the hospital for three days of IV steroids to reduce the swelling on my optical nerve. (My nurse friends will attest, I have what must be close to the world’s worst veins, so this was a rather unpleasant period for me. I’m such a terrible blood donator that Red Cross usually sends me away, not able to get enough blood to bother with. The doctors at the hospital in Singapore had to call in the head phlebotomist, who was still not able to get three full vials of blood and then had to poke and prod to find a place to insert the IV. No fun for anyone! Three weeks later, my right hand still has two rather good sized bruises on it from the poking and prodding procedures.)

To make a long story short, the answer to the big question is “we don’t know.” Thankfully, the MRI scans came back clean, no lesions, so for now, no MS. (This is something that will have to be monitored long-term with follow-up MRIs in the future, but clean and clear for now.) The IV steroids and subsequent oral steroids (don’t mess with my right now, man!) have brought my vision back to probably 90% and its improving each day. With nothing to go on, the doctors are leaving the diagnosis as “optical neuritis” and will just monitor. I’m headed back to Singapore in a month for follow-up exams (you can bet I’ll have my credit card next time!) and then it will just be a wait and see (literally!)situation.

Adventures, for the most part are fun, but sometimes the sidewalk gets a little blurry, which gets a bit scary. Over the last three weeks, my sidewalk nearly disappeared but is slowly coming back into focus and is a good reminder to keep searching and enjoying the journey. (It’s also a good reminder to always carry a valid credit card!)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

6 Comments

Filed under Random Musings

Officially a Diver!

Open Water Dive #3-

Day two of our SCUBA weekend dawned early as every rooster in the vicinity was keen on letting us know the sun would soon rise. I was a bit sore from the previous day’s long swim (you know, the one where we damn near died) and my coral scrape was redder and angrier than the day before, but my biggest complaint was my feet. The big toe on my left foot had a giant blister, and I couldn’t imagine shoving it back into a flipper. When I got to the dive shop, I asked one of the workers about trading for a new pair of fins, thinking at least if they rubbed, they would rub in a different spot. Taking a quick glance at my fins from Saturday, we quickly realized why only one foot was sore- my fins were two different sizes! The one on my right foot was the correct size, but the left flipper was a size smaller. No wonder if rubbed so badly! After getting matching fins (and a pair of socks to help lessen the already painful blister), it was time to head out for a day of boat diving.

The first task of the day was to get our equipment ready to go, something we had done numerous times before, but never with the added challenge of a boat bumping over waves as it made its way to our destination.  It took longer, but eventually we all had our BCDs strapped to our tanks, our weight belts on and our masks ready to go. There is only one way to exit a small boat once your equipment is on- the back roll! We had not practiced this at the pool and it took me a couple of deep breaths to psych myself up for the maneuver, but with one final draw of air, over I went. Thank goodness for an inflated BCD! I quickly popped back to the surface, ready for another outing.

Convincing myself to deflate the BCD and head under the water usually takes a few extra seconds. Each time the teacher would give us the signal to descend, my classmates all quickly disappeared below the surface, but because I had been having ear problems, I was always more cautious about the decent. As I worked on getting myself ready to head under on Saturday morning, my little routine was immediately sped up when I saw a sea snake, just inches from my face. He was black and white striped and came swimming along right in front of my eyes. I’m not talking about an arm’s length away or ever a comfortable foot away. He was in my space bubble 100%. Not wanting to spend any extra time with him, I dropped at a rate faster than I ever had before. Goodbye surface. Goodbye snake! (I learned that evening that he was a particularly poisonous sea snake, lethal to those he bit. And he was inches from my FACE!)

For some reason, I had no equalization problems with my ears all day on Saturday. They easily popped and I never got the shooting pains of Friday’s dives.

This third dive was the last one where we had to check off skills, which we did in quick succession. The reef we were swimming near was full of fish, so while each person when through their various checks of removing their mask, using the compass (a skill I am sure I didn’t really pass, as I pretty much just swam in a circle, but whatever!)  and demonstrating proper buoyancy, the rest of us enjoyed swimming around in the world’s largest aquarium. Apparently, a few people saw a turtle, which I am hugely bummed I did not see, but I did see lots of brightly colored fish and sea urchins. (This weekend also taught me that those sea cucumbers that I thought were so rare and exotic when I did my 4th grade research report on them are really not nearly so special. They sea floor was covered with them, looking not unlike certain parts of male anatomy, scatter hither and thither.)

On this third dive, we went down to nineteen meters, the maximum regularly certified divers are allowed to go. (Technically, we are certified to eighteen meters, but when our instructor checked her dive computer that evening, it showed we made an extra couple of feet before hitting the ocean floor.) I think one thing that stunned me the most about this dive was how it didn’t feel like we were nearly sixty feet below the surface of the ocean. Amazing!

Open Water Dive #4-

Finally! The final dive of the weekend. A week ago I would have told you I was not sure if I would make it this far, but there I was. Off the boat I bailed, not even the last to back roll into the sea.

The final dive was really about just enjoying SCUBA. We had no skills to check off, but rather a start point and an end time and away we went. We swam through coral reefs and saw fish of all types, including the dreaded trigger fish. (Stay away from that one!) We wove our way through rock formations to which clung spiky urchins and wavy anemone. We spent forty minutes under the sea, all of which passed much too quickly, as there was always something to see around the next corner.

And, it was done.

I am now a certified diver! A few years ago, it would not have even been on my radar to get certified (not a lot of cool SCUBA to be done in Idaho, after all) and a year ago when I first saw the classes offered in the embassy newsletter, I was skeptical. A month ago I was a nervous wreck. But today, I am a SCUBA diver. While I am never going to be the Sportiest of Spices, I do have a few tricks up my sleeve!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

3 Comments

Filed under Random Musings

Taking it to the Sea

It is no surprise to regular readers of this blog that I am not the Sportiest of Spices.  As much as I sometimes think I would like to be a runner, I have no stamina and I definitely do not have any rhythm for Zumba or the like. (Heck, I can’t even get an elliptical to run smoothly!) So, it may come as quite a shock to those same diligent readers to learn that I am now officially a PADI SCUBA certified diver! That’s right. After two days of closed water courses as the embassy pool (click here for those details), I headed to the scenic Tioman Island last weekend to do my open water courses for final certification.  (Look for more on the travel itself in an upcoming blog, tentatively titled “From Marsing to Mersing”!)

Finishing my certification required four open water dives, each of which turned out to be a bit of an adventure in and of itself;  luckily, I had a good group of colleagues/classmates (and, of course, my dive buddy for life!) who braved the journey at the same time. I had been dreading this weekend for months, not sure if I would be able to actually complete the course without total panic setting in. As a matter of fact, for the entire week before the trip, I felt like I used to feel during finals week in college. I just wanted it to be over, for better or for worse. Good grades or terrible grades, certification or no certification, just let the stress end.

We made it to Tioman by midmorning on Friday, dropped our stuff in our rustic (clean, but low on amenities, like a flushing toilet) cabin and headed directly to the dive shop. We were off and running with no time to fret. This was smart planning.

Open Water Dive #1

 This dive is meant to be just a dip of a toe into ocean waters. After becoming comfortable in the pool (not an easy task to begin with in my case), it can be a huge jump from knowing the surface is always just a few feet overhead to being in a much less controlled situation. Because this was a shore dive, we had to suit up at the dive shop and walk to the ocean, a few hundred meters away. Let me just remind you that I am about the wimpiest person on the face of the earth (I’ve never been able to do a single pull-up and I could do maybe three pushups if my life depended on it), so hauling that tank about did me in. Picture Quasimodo in a bathing suit. Once we reached the water, it was a literal weight off of my shoulders.

For the first dive, we only went down about five meters and I don’t think I even realized we were that far down, though my ears screamed we must be at the bottom of the Marinas Trench. This session was mostly about passing off skills that we had previously practiced in the pool and it all went well until we had to change from our own regulator to the spare one our dive buddy was carrying. (Thad has been my dive buddy throughout this process. If you want to send him condolences, I can provide you with contact information! He definitely got the short end of the dive-buddy stick.)  I took my regulator out and grabbed his spare one, only to have the mouthpiece of it fall off! Luckily, our dive instructor was there and handed me back my own regulator before I even realized what was happening. Before I knew it, I was back breathing my own air, Thad’s spare was fixed and away we went.

The biggest issue for this first time out to sea for me was my ears. They just wouldn’t equalize! I’ve never had a problem with them when we fly, but for some reason the water pressure really got to me. My ears would not pop! (I also realized on this trip that I apparently do not know the difference between my nose and my mouth. I would try to hold my nose and breathe through it to pop my ears and each time, air would come flowing out of my regulator. Or, I would take a deep breath in preparation for clearing my mask, only to realize my entire breath went out my mouth instead of my nose, leaving me with salt water to the eyebrows. After three plus decades of life, how do I not know the differences between these two parts of my respiratory track?!?)

Since this was a shore dive, it meant surfacing and wading back to shore the way we had come, which was fine until a wave crashed me into a bit of coral, leaving a rather nice scrape on my right leg. My first (but surely not my last!) SCUBA injury! (Can I be on the SCUBA DL?)

Dive #1 was only about twenty minutes and while we didn’t see a whole lot worth reporting home, it was nice to have some fish to look at while my classmates checked off their skills, rather than staring at the pool tiles like I had done in the past. Watching bright little fish flit does a much better job keeping my mind calm than smudgy blue tiles.

Open Water Dive #2-

This is where the poo hit the fan. Dive two was another shore dive, but rather than wading in from the beach, we all did the “giant stride” off the end of the jetty. I did a much slower ascent on this dive, hoping my ears would take care of themselves, which they did, kind of. They never fully equalized and while they weren’t killing me like the first dive, there was definite pressure as I went lower and lower.

Once I finally reached the bottom with my classmates, we were all just floating in a circle, waiting for another round of skill checks when I felt a nip on my leg. Already a bit freaked out about the possibilities of hostility beneath the sea, I looked at my instructor, wide-eyed, only to see him laughing (as much as is possible through a mask and regulator.) He pointed at white and yellow fish and then made a biting motion with his hands. Not a second later, I felt the nip again. That dang little fish was biting me! Apparently, I had invaded his territory and he was having none of it. Jerk fish! (To be fair, maybe I was the jerk by stationing myself right on top of his house, but still…)

Dive two was going swimmingly (yup, I went there!) until the end, at which point it the whole thing went a bit south. We were all supposed to head back to the jetty, but a strong current kicked up and no one could make any progress under the water. Some divers made it back to a rope as a meeting place, but others of us were hauled in the wrong direction. Soon, we all surfaced, but fighting the current on the surface was no easier than below. For every foot of progress I made, I lost the same amount of ground. Using a brightly colored fence on the shore as my gauge, I quickly realized that I was getting nowhere, quickly.

After nearly half an hour of paddling (remember, I am a terrible swimmer and super wimpy) I pretty much thought I was going to die. With the shore just 100 meters or so to my right, I had pretty much resigned myself to death at sea (or at least the need for a boat rescue.)

Instead, though, I gave up on the jetty as a goal and just headed inland. It didn’t matter that I still had two more skills to check-off; I was done. I aimed my body for shore and paddled like mad. Before long, I realized most of my classmates had done the same thing. No one could fight the current any longer and we all just wanted out of the water at that point.

To shore we headed!

Meeting up again on the beach, the general agreement was to call it a day and to finish our skills during the first dive on day two. Even the instructors seemed surprised at the strength of the current! (Neither of them made the jetty either, both making for shore with the rest of us.) Friday evening, as we sat at the dive center, filling in our dive logs for the day, one classmate succinctly and cheekily summarized the dive in his log with a single sentence, “We damn near died.”

Day one was done. I had a nice battle wound; I provided a bit of nourishment for an angry fish; I bobbed at sea like a tropical Titanic survivor. I finished.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

4 Comments

Filed under Random Musings

Being SCUBA’s Weak Link

It’s official. I don’t belong in the “real world.” I should just ensconce myself in the world of academia for the rest of my life, make a fort of books and live there. That is my spot.

This was once again confirmed for me last weekend as I spent two full days in SCUBA class.

Saturday and Sunday mornings were spent in the classroom, watching videos, reviewing the books and taking the quizzes. This was my happy place. I will read and write and take tests all day long, happy with my indoor habitat.

Afternoons, that is where things got ugly. Each afternoon we had to kit up at the embassy pool for skills practice and assessment. Keep in mind, I am not a water person. I took years of swim lessons at the Caldwell City Pool (always the first session of the season/day, so it was freezing cold and miserable) and when that didn’t work, my parents enrolled me in private lessons with a teenager from church. Still, I can’t swim. I can float okay, but you’re not going to get anything more graceful than a dog-paddle out of me.

So of course, how does Saturday afternoon start? With a mandatory four lap (one lap being down and back!) swim. This was the first indication that I was going to be the weak link of the weekend. While everyone else did their quick four and rested, I slogged my way up and down the pool solo. The trials (I mean, skill tests) continued from there. After successfully getting on the kit, which I would estimate at about 683 pounds (remember, math, much like swimming was never a strong suit for me), we headed into the pool for all sorts of floating and bobbing and breathing exercises. While I was never the champion, I survived each one. Strangely, the worst part of that first day was not when we had our oxygen tanks shut off while sitting on the bottom of the pool, but rather when we had to de-mask and hang out, again on the bottom of the pool, for a full minute. Even with a respirator in, not being able to see clearly about did me in. (In other news, why was the embassy pool so murky?!)

SCUBA from 8AM-6PM made for a long, exhausting day, with the tiredness falling more on the side of being emotionally drained from spending the entire afternoon reminding myself not to panic than it did from the physical work of the lessons.

One day was not enough though.

Back to the embassy we went on Sunday for another day of keeping the terror at bay and trying to act like a normal SCUBA class member. The morning again was fine, with a few hours of videos and quizzes and then a sixty question final exam. Soon though, the clock struck 2PM and it was time to gather poolside once again.

On day two, my “big step” into the pool was much less spastic and I wasn’t always the last one to take that leap, so that was an improvement, but once again there was a series of skill that needed to be demonstrated before we could call it a day. Getting weight belts on and off under water was no problem and I was even able to drag a “non-responsive” swimmer (Thad!) to the other end of the pool, but swimming the length of the pool and back with no mask was less than pleasant. (I think this gets to the heart of my underwater issues. I don’t like not being able to see what is going to get me!)

Somehow, I passed each of my skills and ended the day with the thumbs-up to go on the sea dives in a few weeks. I’m not sure whether to be happy about that or not. It is one thing to be nine feet under the water in a pool and another to step off a boat into the great open sea. I’m hoping that the underwater world is as amazing as I’ve been promised, making these lessons worth all of the dread and anxiety. Right now, I’m leaning towards being a snorkeler for life, but maybe, if I spend some time where the “seaweed is always greener” and “all the fish is happy as off through the waves they roll,” where the clams all know how to jam and the slugs can each cut a rug, I’ll change my mind and dream of spending my days down under the sea.

(Sadly there are no photos of this crazy weekend adventure. I took my phone along, but my focus was on breathing regularly so that my lungs didn’t explode like crazy blown-up balloons and making sure my kit was fully assembled and attached at all the right points each time I had to take it off and on. So, no pictures, but believe me it happened. Hopefully there will be pictures from round two of SCUBA certification when we go to Tioman Island in a few weeks.)

3 Comments

Filed under Random Musings

The “Bear” Necessities

Everybody’s got their travel “thing.” Some people hop on planes in search of culinary delights (or disasters, whichever the case may be), while others want whatever death-defying experience there is to be had (skydiving and bungee jumping and ridiculously terrifying roller coasters come to mind). Some folks want to scale peaks or reach unknown depths of the ocean.

Me? It’s all about the critters! When I travel, my main goal is to hold/touch or at least visit the native fuzz balls.

I couldn’t spend four years in China and not touch a panda (click here for that story) or move to Malaysia and not go hang out with the elephants. Christmas in Thailand saw me snuggling with a monkey named Jackie (click here for that story) and I didn’t leave New Zealand without hunting out a kiwi named Kevin.

Of course, no trip to Australia would be complete without cuddling a koala. This was not as easy of a task as one might think! In many places Down Under, restrictions have been placed on koala-holding, meaning you can easily get your photo posed *next* to a koala, but it’s hands-off. But, there is no way I was finally going to make it to the land of shrimp on the barbie and not make physical contact with what must be the world’s cutest marsupial. A little research online lead me to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary outside of Brisbane, which meant our trip planning immediately took a turn to the north. No longer was Sydney going to be the home base of our southern hemisphere adventures, as there were koalas calling my name in Queensland.

Vacations may be for sleeping in and taking it easy, but when koala-holding day arrives, there is no need for an alarm. I was up with the first rays of the sun, dressed and ready to head out to the sanctuary before the crowds arrived. I wanted a non-molested marsupial!

Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary is on the edge of Brisbane, in what appears to be a residential neighborhood. (I would buy a house there in a heartbeat and then be the crazy lady who comes to the sanctuary several times a week, soon starting to pick up the crazy laugh of the kookaburras that live there!) We got there just after opening, traded in the tickets I had pre-purchased online (no waiting means getting to the koalas sooner!) and quickly scoured the map for the location of the koala cuddle station. Our beeline to the station meant bypassing the cobbled-together critter that is a platypus and the gum-tree dwelling kookaburra, as well as the giant field of free-roaming kangaroos and emus. While those were all on the must-see/do list for the day, they fell below the main attraction and life-long dream of holding a koala.

With just a few folks in line in front of us (how that is possible, I have no idea!), I purchased my picture packet, which was weirdly reminiscent of picking the photo packets for school pictures. Which combination do you want? How many wallets will you need to pass out to your friends? I definitely needed postcards to send home to family and friends and for just $2, a calendar for my desk at work was a yes as well. Simply put, I got all the things! If it was an option, I chose it.

Before long, it was time!

I quickly hopped into the picture area where I was promptly handed Minty, a dark gray koala bear with pink ears and a rubbery black nose. I was prepared for the adorable fuzziness and even the cuddliness, but I was not ready for the weight. Koalas are dense animals! You’d think that little guy would be mostly fur, but really their hair is quite short and the majority of their mass is body. Their heavy, eucalyptus-fed bodies.  My few minutes with Minty were up much sooner than I would have liked, but it was awesome to get the chance to hang out with him.

I may not be a sky or SCUBA diver (although the latter is set to change this weekend) and I don’t need to search out roller coasters or challenge my stomach with foods from afar, but if there is a furry animal to be held and I can get there by plane, train or automobile, it will happen.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

6 Comments

Filed under Random Musings

Chasing a Waterfall…or Two

Idaho is a pretty outdoorsy place. We’ve got skiing and white water rafting and kayaking and mountain biking and hiking and camping and…and…and. If you want to spend time under the great blue sky, Idaho is the place for you. Sadly, being born and raised in Idaho didn’t do a lot for my outdoor-aptitude.

I went skiing once. It was the 6th grade ski trip, sponsored by my middle school. I have no idea why I thought it would be a good idea to sign up: I hate the cold, I am not naturally athletic in any way and skiing wasn’t exactly on my radar. All I can figure is a friend wanted to go, so I wanted to go too. All I remember of that evening was that I wore jeans (terrible choice!) that got soaking wet when I rolled down the bunny hill and how miserable the long ride home from Bogus Basin to Caldwell in wet pants was.

I’ve been white water rafting and lake kayaking many times. Generally a non-swimmer (which will make next weekend’s SCUBA lessons an interesting experience), I braved each of these events with a tightly lashed life vest and long bouts of screaming.

I don’t hike and I am not really sure why one would chose to sleep on the ground, hobo-style, when there are perfectly good hotels with beds and bathrooms that don’t double as grasshopper breeding grounds.

All that to say, I somehow missed the genetic line where the outdoor skills were handed out.

But, when traveling, certain experiences present themselves and regardless of personal issues (fear of heights, being a non-swimmer, needing a hot shower, etc.) go out the window. Such was the case in New Zealand. As we wended our way from Auckland to Wellington before taking the ferry to the southern island, we decided to head to Waitomo to check out the much raved about glowworm caves. There were tours to walk through the caves or to take a small boat, but we both knew instantly that we needed to do the rafting tour. Wet suits? Inner tubes? Hard hats with lanterns? That sounds like an adventure I wouldn’t have anywhere else!

Excited about black water rafting (black water being cave rafting, in contrast to white water with rapids), I probably spent less time reading through the details of the excursion than I should have before signing away all liability on the dotted line. Needless to say, once I had squashed and squeezed myself into my wet suit (I don’t think there is any graceful or pretty way to get one of those on!), I was more than a bit horrified to hear the words “waterfall” and “jump” in the same sentence.

That’s right. As part of navigating the underground cave/river system, we had to jump off of not one, but TWO waterfalls.

Basically, to get from the top of the waterfall to the bottom meant backing up to the edge with your tube held tightly to your bum, counting to three and bailing off the edge. The guide, not trusting that any of us would jump out far enough, put a little extra heft behind each jump, pushing each person out and away from the wall. When my turn came to make the leap (second, because Thad was loving it and headed up first!) , he said “Ready?” to which I promptly replied “Nope.” I guess that doesn’t mean the same thing for the Kiwis as it does in the good o’ US of A, as he continued to count to three and over the edge I went.

Word of advice to newbies in the cliff jumping business: Close your mouth before you hit the water. As I smacked into the water, I inhaled a good portion of the freezing cold cave water- straight into my lungs. Needless to say, there was endless coughing and sputtering as I tried to refill them with oxygen, rather than the liquid they were currently harboring. After nearly drowning myself, I was ready to continue on the journey through the caves. (This breathing-in water incident would come back to haunt me two days later in the form of a lung infection, but that is a story for another day.)

Amazing!

With our headlamps off, the roof of the cave glowed like the night sky. It was spectacular. Constellations of glowworms wove together to make a glittering galaxy above us as we floating serenely along the quiet river. I have never seen anything like those caves and quickly forgot that my face and fingers were nearly numb with cold and that I had just bailed off two different waterfalls, backwards. None of that mattered as I marveled at how something as unappealing as a florescent maggot could create such a beautiful scene.

TLC may have warned us all off of chasing waterfalls, but I must say if I had stuck to the rivers and lakes that I was used to, I would have missed out on a spectacular adventure! I am gonna’ have it my way or nothing at all, which means taking the plunge into a pitch black cavern with just an old inner tube on my rear. How’s that for claiming the insane T-Boz, Left Eye and Chilli?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

2 Comments

Filed under Random Musings

Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu

In 2004 Thad signed up to attend a workshop for AP history teachers, as he was getting ready to tackle a new set of courses at Liberty Charter School in Nampa, Idaho. As a part of his new class load, he was going to get the opportunity to teach AP history to juniors and seniors, but part of the preparation for that was to get the proper certification from the Advanced Placement company. His class was held in North Carolina at Wake Forest. Since I was on summer break at the time, I decided to go along for a vacation while he was in class, but not wanting to be solo on my daily explorations, we invited my parents to go with us. After a week of him going to school all day and us roaming the surrounding areas, we headed out as a group for a few more days of travel. It was in those wanderings that I made a fateful $8 purchase: a National Parks passport. This small impulse buy would become the center of our US travels from them onwards.

Because of that little spiral-bound blue book, we’ve taken scenic detours to National Park sites that are well-off the beaten path. Sometimes these are planned adventures and sometimes they are because one of us spotted the tell-tale brown on a road sign that is the signal that a National Park area is nearby. Some of these places are close to main cities and attractions, but as often as not, they are down less-traveled roads and possibly through Children-of-the-Corn-esque fields.

Our recent road trip in New Zealand brought back the memories of these American countryside jaunts when Thad decided that we were going to find the place with the longest name. Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu (which translates roughly as “The summit where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, the slider, climber of mountains, the land-swallower who traveled about, played his nose flute to his loved one”) is registered with the Guinness Book of World Records as such, with a moniker weighing in at eighty-five letters  and it sounded like just our kind of adventure. (There are variations on the name and length, some reaching over 100 letters, but this is the most commonly seen/used of them.)  After pulling out a couple of maps and not getting much in the way of directions and a GPS that had never heard of the location, we set off to see what we could find, just us, a book and a plan. As this place is not much more than a hill in the middle of nowhere, it wasn’t a surprise that little could be found about how to get there, but how hard could it be? New Zealand isn’t that big, right?

Luckily, our Lonely Planet had some vague directions, based mostly on turning right at a large field with a small road sign in front of it, so we set the GPS for what we thought was the closest town and then hoped for signs from there.

There were no signs.

After getting extremely lost and turned around multiple times, we literally came to the end of the road in New Zealand. We didn’t actually think much of it when our paved road turned to dirt, as that happened several times in the previous days as we crisscrossed the north and south islands. But, at one point, the road just ended. No pavement. No dirt. Just a field with no access.

Backtracking ensued and eventually we came to a fork in the road and a gut instinct that said to take that right turn, so right we went. Twenty more kilometers down the road (paved this time!) we would have passed it had we blinked! In the middle of the countryside stands a LONG skinny sign with the name of the hill. Behind it? An unassuming bump in the landscape.

It took an entire day to find, but it was an excursion well-worth the (slight) frustration and crazy twists and turns. Not many folks would have stuck with the search, but we were rewarded with five minutes of glory and the distinction of having set foot on the place certified to have the longest name in the world! Luckily, my years as a passenger in the quest for National Parks passport stamps have taught me that such journeys are often rewarded in the end, a lesson that came in handy as we made our way through the sheep-dotted countryside in the Land of the Kiwis.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

4 Comments

Filed under Random Musings