Friday, August 19, 2005


It’s dark, quiet, and completely surreal. It’s 3 a.m., and we are 41,000 feet over the Pacific. Soon, we will set foot in the United States for the first time in nearly a year. It is hard to imagine what to expect. Our senses have been drowning in amazing new experiences for months. What will we do with the familiar?

* * *
John, a newfound friend in Vietnam, told us we would be in for a shock when we returned home. “Compared to life around here, the commercialism and excess of America will feel weird.” We had heard this before. Friends of ours that lived in Russia for years had relayed their amazement and dismay at something as simple as the aisles of the grocery store. After they had grown accustomed to living in a community of relative dearth, they couldn’t believe their eyes when suddenly they could walk into an American supermarket and pick from the thousands of different food items filling the shelves.

We now understand. Life in Asia (and much of the world) is much more precarious than anything we could have imagined. Millions of people quite literally live on the cusp of their demise. Everyday they wake up wondering if today is the day they might catch a bad break and die. Things we take for granted, like clean air, fresh water, decent shelter and edible food, are things many only dream about.

Yet, despite these difficulties, life in Asia is richer than you can imagine. The sounds, sights, and smells – all conspire to weave a sensual tapestry unlike anything we know. Everywhere, smiles light up the air like neon signs. Laughter is the daily soundtrack, and the luscious smells of exotic food punctuate the air. People exude happiness, even when they have nothing. It is amazing. There is a tempo to life that inexplicably draws you in and holds you close.

* * *

The sun has peaked over the horizon, and our journey is drawing to a close. We have been in the air for 12 hours, and the excitement of seeing our friends and families is starting to build. “Ladies and Gentlemen, please fasten your seatbelts as we begin our decent into San Francisco International Airport.” Here we go.

We see Lynn’s brother Rick in the airport terminal. He has a big smile on his face, and is holding two of the things we missed most -- a quart of milk and a pint of fresh orange juice. We laugh, and run to give him a hug. It is good to be home.

We make our way to the parking lot, our well-worn backpacks on our backs for one of the last times. As we drive out into the world, we are struck by the modernity of it all. The buildings are solid, extraordinary, and huge. People seem hurried. The infrastructure is impressive. Most conspicuous of all? Everyone drives an expensive car.

* * *

We took an old friend with us on this trip. Mabel is a beloved Fisher-Price cow from Lynn’s childhood. She seemed like the perfect mascot, and besides, she really wanted to come along. Enjoy her photo gallery here.

* * *
This trip has opened our eyes and expanded our minds. There is a fantastic world out there, with a myriad of cultures, rhythms, and lifestyles. Ours is not the only way, and we are grateful to have seen and experienced the differences. We have become more aware, more understanding, and more in-touch with the world.

St. Augustine said, "The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page." It’s true. Get out there. You won’t regret it.

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Thursday, July 14, 2005

The Road To Auckland

A funny thing happened on the way to Auckland. As the wheels of the rental car rolled through the northern Kiwi countryside, we discovered a different New Zealand. Gone were the majestic high mountains of the South Island, the rugged fjords of Milford Sound, and the beautiful coast of Abel Tasman. No longer did we see the pristine trout streams of Taupo, or the sophisticated bustle of Wellington. Here, the classic art deco of Napier has been replaced by funky corrugated sheet metal, and the rolling sheep pastures by elegant equestrian ranches. Caves filled with glowworms beckon, and idyllic beauty overwhelms.

Out of the blue, the small town of Hamilton hits us with the best public park and botanical garden we have ever seen. Acres of beauty line the pristine Waikato River, and international theme gardens showcase style from around the world. We wander through quickly, disappointed we have little time to spare. New Zealand’s largest city awaits.

Auckland lays languidly along a spectacular harbor, nestled among dozens of volcanic hills. While it may not be New Zealand’s capital, it is far and away New Zealand’s most vibrant and happening city. Great food, sophisticated shopping, and hot entertainment keep Aucklanders hip. A mix of international cultures and styles, Auckland provides the urban mojo that defines the North Island.

Enjoy the Hamilton and Auckland Photo Gallery.

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Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Islands in the Bay

Dawn breaks with a whisper, as darkness scrambles to maintain its once-mighty hold. Moments ago we saw nothing, but now distant shapes begin to appear in the ethereal mist. Islands. On the beach, a ribbon of water falls from the cliff on to the deserted sand below. As the struggling sun fights to burn away the dense coastal fog, the day yawns, stretches, and starts on its way.

The sea is flat, save for the lone gull paddling its waters. Not for long. Soon kayaks, sail boats, fishing trawlers, and ferries will ply this waterway. We wait for the ancient Maori canoe to push off, its intricately carved bow ready to break the ocean swells. In the meantime, the quiet envelops all. The calm aquamarine water draws seals from shore, while brilliant blue fish school below.

Paihia town sits solemnly on shore, patiently waiting for life to start again. Humans have come to this place, but have not spoiled it. Its beauty has captivated them, and infused both Maori and European alike with a sense of respect and awe. This is the Bay of Islands.

Enjoy the Bay of Islands Photo Gallery.

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Friday, June 17, 2005

Fire Down Below

There is a place down south where the world likes to rumble and shake, steam pours from the depths of the earth, and the air hangs heavy with the stench of sulfur. The ground looks scorched, as though giant blowtorches have unleashed their wicked flames, leaving only desolation in their wake. The earth cleaves away, revealing an ochre palette of burnt oranges. Steam vents hiss with sinister intentions, while mudpots pop and chuckle at their wispy cousins.

Life is different here, both flora and fauna. Tropical plants grab hold and thrive, fooled by the thermal heat beneath them. Animals tread lightly, fearful of the consequences of only one tiny misstep. Humans have explored this place for many generations, sometimes harnessing the power, and sometimes dying from it. The consequences of life here are dire.

The Maori were the first to discover this place. They thrived here, in touch with nature, and respectful of her powers. The Europeans came later, often wreaking havoc on the delicate balance already in place. Eventually, a new balance was reached, with both cultures living peacefully with each other, and always with respect for the awesome power beneath them.

There have been eruptions – some with power that is difficult to imagine. 1800 years ago, the ground opened up with an explosion that dwarfed the 1980 St. Helens eruption. Ash hurtled 50 kilometers into the air, changing the sunsets from ancient Rome to China, and 20,000 square kilometers of the North Island of New Zealand was completely destroyed.

Today, remarkably, this place is a travelers’ mecca. People from all over the world flock here to see the astonishing thermal sights. The center of this activity is the quaint town of Rotorua, complete with its quality museum and classic thermal pools. It has come a long way since the last eruption.

Enjoy the Rotorua Photo Gallery.

Enjoy the videos of Rotorua’s thermal activity:
Craters of the Moon
Hell’s Gate
Bubbling Mud Pot

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Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Trout, Trout, Pretty Little Trout…

So long as water moves, so long as fins press against it, so long as weather changes and man is fallible, fish will remain in some measure unpredictable. And so long as there is unpredictability, there will be luck, both good and bad.

Roderick Haig-Brown

Those with an affinity for fly-fishing already know what I am about to say, as secrets this good seldom remain hidden. You see, passionate people with knowledge of the sublime simply can’t bear to keep quiet; the pressure to share is overwhelming. Oh, they may try, and indeed try zealously. However, soon, their excitement overwhelms them, and they start to crack, telling first one, then another. Before long, people are talking, and the secret is out, flying free among the general public until it is a secret no more.

Occasionally however, there is some little quirk that protects a secret even after the world starts to talk. It could be anything really – timing, geography, a fluke of nature. These are the best secrets, the ones that last for generations, unspoiled by the modern world.

The secret is this: New Zealand is home to some of the best fly-fishing in the world.

Picture this: The river runs clear and cold. You crouch behind a boulder, the icy water numbing your lower legs. Oblivious to everything but the monster rainbow slowly finning 60 feet upstream, you silently stalk your fish. An eagle soars overhead, riding the thermals in this remote canyon, but you notice not. Three more steps and you will be in position to make the cast. Fighting to stay silent against the current, you move upstream, your eyes never wavering from your fish. You peel away some line, and begin your cast. The rod moves and your line floats away into the distance. One false cast. Then another. Then release, and your line flies through the air, your fly alighting gently on the water. A quick mend, and the fly is drifting naturally towards your hungry prey. With a powerful stroke of her tail, the rainbow launches upwards through the water column and into the air, taking your fly, your line, and your heart with her.

With more than 700 rivers and 200 lakes containing one of the most substantial wild trout populations in the world, New Zealand is a fly angler’s paradise. Of course, you knew that. The word has been out since the 1800s. Its only because New Zealand is insulated from the rest of the world by thousands of miles of open ocean, that it remains pristine to this day. The secret is out. Go fish New Zealand.

Enjoy the New Zealand Trout Fishing Photo Gallery.

Enjoy the Underwater Trout video.

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Saturday, May 28, 2005


In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

J.R.R. Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

The air is still and dark. Ice crystals crack under our feet as we climb into the land of shadows. Wisps of steam crawl along the blood-red earth, looking for ways of escape. In the distance, a mammoth peak rakes the darkened sky. Welcome to Mordor.

In recent times, the Lord of the Rings Trilogy has captured the world’s attention. Nowhere is this more apparent than New Zealand, home to director Peter Jackson and the myriad of locations where the three movies were filmed. In New Zealand, maps mark all filming locations, tour companies take people by mountain bike, bus, airplane, and helicopter to the sites, and LOTR books inundate the shelves.

Of the many incredible sights seen in the movies, few are more impressive than Mount Doom, a dark, lava- spewing volcanic monolith, situated in the land of Mordor. It is Mount Doom where the greatest of the Rings of Power was forged, and it was Mount Doom where Frodo and Sam journeyed to destroy the Ring.

One of New Zealand’s Great Walks is the Tongariro Crossing, a one-day, 12-mile tramp through Tongariro National Park. This walk takes you through one of the most magnificent and desolate volcanic landscapes on the Pacific Rim, and leads you through three towering volcanoes, including Mount Ngauruhoe, otherwise known as Mount Doom. It offers spectacular views, amazing geologic sights, and with several thousand feet of climbing over the 8-hour hike, a wee bit of exercise.

As an active volcanic area, the smell of sulfur permeates Tongariro National Park. Steam escapes from cracks in the trail, warming the hands of trampers on the way. Emerald green lakes dot the barren craters, and lava formations mark the twisted trail. Near the end of the track, a stream tumbles off the rugged flanks of the mountain, and down through the peaceful forest below.

Trampers come by the busloads to experience the surreal landscape surrounding Mount Doom. Despite their crowded presence, the tramp does not dissapoint. The spectacular beauty of Tongariro gives credence to the claim that this is the best one-day walk in New Zealand.

Enjoy the Tongariro Crossing Photo Gallery.

Enjoy the Tongariro videos:
Mount Doom Steam Vent.
Emerald Lake Smoke.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Art Deco City

In 1931, a huge earthquake hit the East Coast of the North Island of New Zealand, killing hundreds of people, and destroying every building in sight. The town of Napier, and its sister city Hastings, sat directly in the crosshairs of the disaster. Both towns were, quite literally, flattened.

Napier found itself 40 sq kilometers larger after the quake, as a result of the immense upheaval of the sea floor above sea level. A deadly series of fires ripped through the town, and there was nothing that could stop the flames. When everything was over, there was nothing left.

This was during the Great Depression. Although that sounds like adding insult to injury, it was actually a boon for Napier. The high unemployment meant there were plenty of folks interested in working on the rebuilding effort. As a result, the city was completely rebuilt from scratch within two years. This rebuilding took place during the height of Art Deco style. Everything was pointed towards the future. Automation, speed, and modernity were in. Victorian sensibility was out. Because of this unique construction boon, Napier became one of the Art Deco capitals of the world.

Thanks to a dedicated sense of preservation, Napier retains its Art Deco charm today. People stroll down streets that look right out of the 1930s. The beautiful black sand beach is fronted with a wonderful public garden, and an art deco clamshell amphitheater. The historic buildings look like new, and Napier has become famous for its unique sense of style.

Enjoy the Napier Photo Gallery.

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