The backlog…well, a start (here’s Seattle, Jamaica and the Caymans)

Naked in Seattle

One of the things I think we do well when we travel is mix up our modes of transport. We drag our bags around on planes, trains, buses and into motels for a bit, and then swap to something where we our stuff stays — like the cruise and the motorhome. Staying with friends/family also gives us a “home” for a while, and visiting Suei, Gemma and our little Blue-man has been one of the highlights.

United Airlines lived up to its reputation and lost ALL our luggage and, despite promising to deliver it later that night, it turned up about 26 hours after we did…and only because we made numerous phone calls. It was really extra handy we were staying somewhere where we could sit around in someone else’s clothes while ours washed and dried.

Back to my nephew (and Seattle). That little guy is the happiest, most engaging little man I’ve met and it was pure joy to spend time with him. Suei took us to see the sights and taste the flavours of Seattle. It’s a beautiful city and we toured part of it from a duck, and then looked down on it from the Space Needle. I love the city’s connection with the water and the fringes of houseboats that line the lakes. We also managed a quick trip through the Experience Music Project (EMP), which was fantastic. That night we had the yummiest dinner at Nick and Art’s beautiful home. Talk about a 5-star meal! The next day we were off to see the lock and fish ladder. We were in luck, as the lock was filling with boats so we got to see the whole process which was fascinating. The fish ladder viewing was a first for us too so much excitement there. We also had a brief glimpse of a harbour seal (or a swimming earless dog). The next day was a much-anticipated tour around Microsoft, a drive to pick up our camper, a shopping trip to stock the camper, and another much-anticipated visit…to Cabela’s. That night we packed all our clothes and food into the camper for our roadtrip the next day.

 

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Jamaica mon

We boarded the cruise in Miami after Geronimo and Noah, Joan’s son and grandson, met us at the airport and looked after us for a few hours. The yacht class we were booked into was certainly fancy and we didn’t have to wait in line to board. Our butler took us from the drop off point in the carpark, through customs and to our room. Very spoilt! Our room was fantastic too. Right at the front of the ship with floor to ceiling glass. We had free rein of parts of the ship that weren’t available to others so we never had to fight the crowd for a swim, drink, meal etc. Like last time, we made friends with heaps of the staff and, thankfully, our little bit of Italian was helpful with the restaurant staff on this trip. We also learned a bit of Indonesian as many of the wait staff were from there. Others were from Madagascar and Mauritius.
The first stop on our cruise was Falmouth in Jamaica. Terry has booked a private trip on a gameboat. We left the ship (when we damn well felt like it) and grabbed a car to take us to the boat. The drive was very interesting and the driver told us that many people spend 15+ years building their homes. They start with the first floor, but allow for subsequent floors and extensions in the design. In reality, they all kind of looked half done. We drove through Montego Bay (woo-ooo-ooo-ooo-o-o-o give me Mon, give me Montego Bay – Terry didn’t believe this was actually a song) and onto or boat. Despite the best plans, the fishing was very quiet with only one hit, and the waves were quite big from winds of 15-20 knots. After 4 hours we were pretty happy to return to land. It was a stunning day but the fishing wasn’t the best –- but that’s fishing.

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The Caymans
Our second stop on the cruise was at the Cayman Island, particularly, Grand Cayman. Again, Terry had organised a tour separate to the cruise company so we jumped in a taxi and headed to Camana Bay where we met Richard and his 28 foot long boat, the ‘Flying Scotsman’. We headed out, passing the overcrowded boats filled with others from the cruise. First stop was Stingray Cay where we hopped out of the boat into crystal clear water and were surrounded by Southern Atlantic stingrays. We could handle them and they came up around us for a look. It was amazing. Because we were with our own guide, we were away from the crowds and, after all the other boats turned up, we choofed off to snorkel along North Wall. After that, Richard took us to Starfish Point where we snorkelled in the seagrass for starfish. Next it was around the corner to a private little restaurant at Kaibo where we sat right on the beach and had drinks and lunch. There were no other people there and it was divine! On the trip back, it poured rain so we got nicely rinsed. We saw iguanas in the trees on the way back into the marina which was too cool. We saw more than 6 in one tree alone!

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Still roadtrippin’

Hi all. We’ve been in a bit of a wifi void while travelling through Yellowstone and the Grand Teton. Not complaining, just saying. Despite this, I have been very dedicated in my writing and photo editing and below is all the ins and outs of days 3 to 7. I will upload day 8 later “tonight”.

Day 3

Today we were on the road, bright and early (not) and headed from Baker City, across the border (at about Ontario) and into Idaho. The fairly stark landscape continued but, as we moved further east, there were more outcrops, ranges and cuttings, interspersed with pockets of vivid green from irrigated agriculture. There were still no trees in sight, just a bald vista. Tonight we’re at Craters on the Moon National Park which is really interesting. It’s all just volcanic rocks and all the campsites look like multiple mars rovers parked all over the place. The sunset was lovely and showcased a mountain we can see from our camp. Not sure what mountain it is though.

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Day 4

Would you believe it but we actually, FINALLY made it to Yellowstone National Park today?! We started the morning at about 10 degrees Celsius, which didn’t feel nearly that cold until we read it at the information centre. Still, I was in thongs and shorts so it wasn’t THAT bad. We did a 7 mile drive around the Craters of the Moon National Park, taking in the volcanic sites, and a 2 mile walk to the tree moulds. This is where the lava surrounded trees and, as it cooled, made moulds of their shape, complete with bark patterns. Some of the moulds are from trees that are still vertical, others have fallen and the moulds are horizontal. From there, we hit the frog and toad to Yellowstone and, within a few miles of the entrance, we saw a bison. Finding a campsite was tricky because, even though it is late in the season, it is still busy. On the way to our campsite we saw more bison on the plains and another close up dude, causing traffic havoc. We also stopped at Gibbon Falls for a sticky beak. Tonight we are camped with about a gazillion other people at Canyon campground with firm plans to do the northern loop tomorrow. A section of road in the park is closed and is causing us a few hassles but we’ll sort something out over the next day or two.

 

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Day 5
Today we did the northern loop of Yellowstone or, as it’s more widely known, the Mammoth loop. We saw geysers of every size, shape, colour and activity and then spent an hour or so marvelling at the terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs. Wildlife-wise we saw herds of bison, the odd elk and missed 4 bears by 30 minutes. Aaaaahhhh! We did get in trouble from a very unfriendly ranger for moving more than a few metres from our lunch. It was the middle of the day in the middle of a very large town but apparently we were still at risk of a bear stealing our sauvignon blanc. We also saw snow. Yep, snow. In jeans and a t-shirt I went across the road and collected it for the kids. Apparently it rained a few nights ago so it’s likely the snow formed then and hasn’t melted away yet. Anyway, it was a nice surprise.

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Day 6
This morning we started with ice. Riley had left his drink bottle outside and it was nearly frozen through. The camp chairs, bear food boxes, campervan etc all had a coating of ice but we were mostly toasty inside our camper, even without power. We headed off earlier than usual and discovered the cold weather made all the steam vents REALLY obvious. It was magic. We stopped at some for photos and then headed to Old Faithful for a look. Unfortunately the road beyond Old Faithful is closed so we’ve done A LOT of backtracking today. After exploring Old Faithful and its surrounds, we headed back towards Madison, Norris and Canyon Village before exploring some new country, including another look at Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon (from a different angle), on our way to Fishing Bridge where we are camped tonight. Our camp is in the Yellowstone Lake area, which apparently is famous for grizzly bears. You can’t camp here unless you are in a hard-sided vehicle. No bear luck so far but we’ve added a coyote (we think) to our list, and got stuck in a massive bison traffic jam. It took about 20 minutes to get through it. I also really want to see a moose!

 

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Day 7
This morning we washed a mountain of clothes and, while Finn and I were at the laundry, Terry and Riley saw mule deer in the camp. When the washing was done we headed towards the eastern entrance of Yellowstone. We only went some of the way but Finn saw a yellow-bellied marmot and all of us saw RIVER OTTERS!!! The boys got a good look when Finn bailed up a lady with a scope but Terry and I had to be content with distant views. We also saw a coyote, and had to drive around a bison that was ambling along the road. We then turned back and headed down the south entrance (exit?) road, out of the park. Along the way we stopped at Grant Village for a greasy, traditional US lunch. We are now camped in the Great Teton National Park. The Tetons are gorgeous but…they’re like a slice of Switzerland. I think we should’ve come here before heading to Europe! There is still a slight chance of a bear tomorrow, as we head south out of the park and the state, but my main aim is MOOSE! Must see a moose. Moose are a must.

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Roadtrip!!!

I’m going to cheat a bit and skip ahead to our road trip. I’m a bit worried about remembering everything on the drive so I’ll write every day, and post when I can. In all my spare time I’ll work on the photos and words for the cruise and Seattle.

Day 1

This morning we said sad goodbyes to Suei, Gemma and little Blue-man and headed south towards Oregon. After skirting the edge of Portland, we travelled along the Historic Columbia River Highway (Highway 30), stopping at waterfalls and lookouts. We did a few walks and ended up less than halfway towards where we’d planned. Typical Vallance-style travelling. Tonight we’re camped on the Columbia River at Eagle Creek campground, watching chipmunks run around us. It’s quite lovely but the highway is between us and the river. I think my sister would call it ‘white noise’.

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Day 2

We had a quick breakfast and said goodbye to the chipmunks with the plan to get a fair way down the road to Yellowstone National Park. But….in true Vallance-style travelling, we got a little bit side tracked. The caretaker at the campground suggested we double back a few miles and look at the Bonneville Dam and fish hatchery. It was AWESOME!! We met Herman the 70+ year-old sturgeon, saw fish in grow out ponds, and watched hundreds of big adult salmon navigate the fish ladder on their way to spawn where they were born…at the hatchery! Riley even had a go at fin clipping a fingerling. We had a great time. So great it was nearly lunchtime before we left. Sigh. Eventually we hustled into the camper and were on the road. Half an hour later we stopped at a gorgeous lookout, surrounded by pear orchards, with views of Mount Hood and Mount Martin (I think) for lunch. Sigh. THEN we were on the road again (Finn keeps singing the words of Willie Nelson’s song but he mostly just makes them up). As we travelled east, the Columbia River Gorge scenery changed dramatically and, as we said goodbye to the river, we entered open plains, dry mountain ranges and I SAW BIGHORN SHEEP. Google them for Oregon. Tonight we are at Baker City (about the size of Atherton City) which was where we were kinda hoping to get yesterday. Ha!

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Washington DC

We had a lovely two days at DC with the best guide you could ever ask for. After arriving at Joan’s mid-afternoon, the boys took off into her forested backyard for a bit of tree climbing and squirrel trap building. Joan, Terry and I sat on the back step and had a beer. Noice. Joan’s house is just lovely and filled with stories of her travels and friendships. After dinner we took a twilight walk around the suburb, looking for the elusive black squirrels (zoo escapees) and getting photos with the variously coloured fire hydrants. The next morning, after a late start, we were soon off for our walking tour of downtown DC. We caught a bus and then a train and spent several hours taking in the Air and Space Museum before walking past the National Museum of the American Indian (a beautiful building), the Capitol Building and the Supreme Court. The final stop was the Library of Congress, which was just gorgeous inside, and included the Thomas Jefferson Library (what’s left of it anyway). An earlier start the next morning found us outside the White House before walking towards the Washington Memorial via the old Post Office, Museum of Natural History (for another photo opp. with an Easter Island dude) and Museum of American History. We stopped inside the last to see the panel that has Joan’s famous photo on it, and to look at some of the glass Joan donated from the windows of the 16th Street Baptist Church windows after it was bombed (and 4 little girls were killed) in 1963. Once other people found out who Joan was, she gave an impromptu presentation and posed for photos. Next we stopped at the information building for the National Museum of African American History, which was still under construction. Here someone asked if Joan was Joan Mulholland and asked if she could get a photo with her. Talk about hanging out with a celebrity! After leaving the fans behind, we walked past the Washington Memorial to the WWII memorial, Reflecting Pool and onto the Lincoln Memorial. After a break in the shade, it was across the Arlington Memorial Bridge to the Arlington Cemetery, where we stopped at the grave of Medgar Evers. The next day it was an early start (thanks so much for changing our flights United Airlines!) and we said a sad goodbye to Joan before jumping on a plane to Miami (via New York of all places!). Joan may be coming to Australia next year to recognise the 50th Anniversary of the freedom rides in Australia if anyone is interested in listening to her speak. No confirmation or itinerary yet but let me know if you’re interested.

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The Big Apple

We’ve spent the last two and a bit days in New York. It wasn’t nearly enough time but we packed in as much as we could. We arrived at our lovely motel, after a very long transit from the airport, and had a couple of hours sleep before heading for dinner at the Shake Shack. The next day we visited the massive Times Square Toys-R-Us and M & M shop before jumping on a hop-on-hop-off bus tour and heading downtown. We saw various landmarks and suburbs including the Empire State Building, SoHo and Hell’s Kitchen before hopping off at the 9/11 Memorial and walking along the river to the Liberty and Ellis islands ferry. Initially we weren’t going to catch the ferry to the island but you couldn’t really see Lady Liberty that well from the mainland. Ferry trip over, we hopped back on the bus toured some more of the city on our way home. The next day we hired bikes and rode around Central Park. Even though the city is very green, Central Park is like an oasis amongst the buildings. Right on the boundary of the park is the American Natural History Museum and we spent several hours in there exploring the labyrinth of displays. Again, not long enough but we got a good taste of it. After that it was a quick shower and change before catching the subway to Times Square. Here we grabbed a hotdog from a street vendor (when in Rome…) and headed to the Minskoff Theatre on Broadway for The Lion King. It was a fantastic way to end a big day! Now we’re sitting at the Amtrack Station, waiting for our train to Washington where we will spend a couple of days with our friend Joan. An announcement has just said that we’re delayed so looks like this post will go live today after all!

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Aloha

First stop on our US trip was (technically Guam but we didn’t go outside the airport) Honolulu! We arrived in the afternoon, headed out for dinner and then home for an early night. The next morning we went on a tour of Pearl Harbour. It was great, but we definitely needed more time. In the afternoon the boys had the obligatory swim at Waikiki Beach. Next day we went shopping at the outlet stores. Finn fell in love with a pair of Vans that he ‘just had to have’ and w all ended up with a few new things–shoes, jeans, underwear, socks and other bits and pieces. The next day we were back on the plane and are currently in New York.

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More bits and pieces

Lots of little things in this post. The boys had their school athletics day just before the holidays and Pat (Terry’s Mum) came up for the day. Despite stiff competition, Finn managed to just pull off another age champion medal. Riley also did really well, especially as he’s a lot smaller than most of the other kids in his age group. The fancy dress ball was just before the holidays as well. Finn made his own leprechaun costume as part of his art project. His friend Bridget went as a pot of gold (complete with a rainbow on her head). Riley’s group made a Jack Sparrow costume but, as only one of them could wear it, we quickly threw together a William Turner costume for Riley to wear to the ball. The wildlife shots for this post are of Gillie, the Boyd’s forest dragon that Riley and I found in the middle of the Gillies Highway on a trip to Cairns. Gillie was very cold and wet, and we weren’t sure if he was injured, so he came with us to Cairns and we released him the next day at home. He was fine once we warmed him up. Some recent reef fishing photos (where Finn kicked our butts), the kids doing a high ropes course in Cairns, a couple of waterfall shots from Lake Eacham, and the Atherton Show complete this post’s photos. Oh, except for the awesome new sign the local mountain bike club installed on their trails! And purple is my favourite colour!
Mum and I are currently at the kids’ band practice. She’s been here for a week (including the reef trip where she caught a nice trevally) and is heading home tomorrow.

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Sail away!

A couple of weekends a go the boys did a learn to sail course on Lake Tinaroo. They absolutely loved it! Riley will do more sailing with the club later this year, and Finn is trying to work out how he can go to sailing AND athletics at exactly the same time on a Sunday morning. These photos are from the second day when we went to pick them up.

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The baby turns 10 and other stuff

Long time no post, I know! As with any family it’s been go, go, go in the Vallance household.
One of the most memorable event in recent times was Finn turning 10! It’s funny how my kids’ ages make me feel older than MY age does. The family’s “party rules” allow for a party on 10th birthdays so we took Finn and 6 of his mates for lunch at McDonalds and then a 2 hour game of laser tag in Cairns. On the way home we stopped at Emerald Creek ice-creamery for a cooling off, and then had a Lego cake and chocolate fountain when we got home. Big day but lots of fun.
Finn also did well in cross-country this year. He came first in his school cross-country and about middle field in the district comp.
Riley received a(nother) principal’s award last month for his work at Environmental Captain at school. He’s implemented a recycling program at the school (with the help of the council) and runs a gardening club for all ages during lunch on Thursdays. They weed the school gardens but they’ve also got a few vege gardens going. One of the gardens is growing sweet potatoes for the tree-kangaroo rehabilitation centre.
Both kids represented the school at the music camp this year and had a fantastic time. There were about 70 kids involved from around the region and they made some great noise.
Anyway, that’s it for now! Hopefully next time won’t be so far away!

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