Dolphins smile

From the volcano to the jungle boot camp. We kid you not. After a long car journey — complete with wifi — to the airport we boarded a tiny plane that bumped and dipped its way to the Osa peninsula and the Corcovado National Park. It was a white knuckle ride which did not end on landing: the runway is handily placed next to the cemetery.

Then a 45-minute journey in searing heat along an unmade road, made bearable by Jason, the driver, who spent the whole time telling us how he longed to live in a cold country. En route we encountered this common potoo, with her chick — see its little open beak?

On arrival we were given a whole set of ecological do’s and don’ts, mealtimes, etc., but it was all good. No aircon, wifi only in the lobby — but we survived. It’s been a wonderful stay in a cabin surrounded by all the sights and sounds of the forest, with the natural and rather scary wake-up call of the howler monkeys, whose bark is considerably worse than their bite (or so we are told). This one’s a capuchin though.

Our chief photographer didn’t even need to stir from his armchair to capture this hummingbird…

… and butterfly. Exactly the way he likes it, in fact.

Overhead, croaking away, our old friend the toucan — the yellow-throated variety this time.

The coati was lurking in the bushes nearby, possibly to recuperate from that nasty gash under the eye.

We went to look for dolphins in the Golfo Dulce, or “sweet gulf”, a so-called tropical fjord. Over in those trees they’ve been filming Jurassic Park: Island Survival, now in pre-production.

Our luck was in: we saw not only bottlenose dolphins, which swam alongside our boat…

… but also spotted dolphins, rather more reserved than their cousins.

Pelicans — or as Ronny, our Capitán, called them, the Costa Rican Air Force — provided a low-level flypast.

Then it was off for one more birdwatch before we move on to the next port of call. Our smudger claims he took several prizewinning snaps on this jaunt. Sadly he managed to delete them “inadvertently” before they saw the light of day. So the red-crowned parrot and black-throated trogon above were taken with his phone through the lens of a telescope, which is a bit of a cheat. The redbreasted blackbird is a real eyecatcher, while the menacing caracara is a vulture which we had seen before, in Patagonia.

So as the sun sets on our visit to the Pacific side of Costa Rica, we prepare to head north again, to colder climes.

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Take me to the bridge

From the northern Caribbean rainforest of the Tortuguero national park we moved inland to the humid forest land around the Arenal volcano.

Mike took on the 3km hanging bridges trail, rising high above the forest canopy via a series of 15 bridges, six of them hanging. It’s quite a recent addition to Costa Rica’s ecotourist circuit, completed at the start of this century.

The top of Arenal — which is still active — is only visible about 70 days a year. We got lucky.

Along the trail we came across this row of fruit bats under a rocky overhang, patiently queueing for fruit, presumably.

Oblivious to the rain, this russet-crowned motmot observed the tourists going by.

Our hotel here boasts its own exotic flora and fauna, like this kiskadee.

Right outside our window, Tere witnessed a set-to between a black squirrel and two brown ones. Outnumbered, the former was forced to retreat.

Frogs and toads emerge at night, unfazed by the flashmobs.

Then it was off to the Caño Negro wildlife refuge, a twitcher’s paradise on the Río Frío, where this American pygmy kingfisher was waiting to greet us.

There were more herons than you could shake a stick at, so we didn’t.

El Pájaro Loco (that’s Woody Woodpecker to you and me) was keeping busy.

Amazonian kingfishers were everywhere. The Caño Negro lagoon is considered the world’s third most important wetland area. By kingfishers, possibly.

Caimans lurked in the murkier crannies. This one turned tail on noticing us.

Slider turtles were taking the sun too.

Meanwhile, back at the hotel, Mike’s size 44s narrowly avoided reducing Costa Rica’s tiny dwarf gecko population by one.

¡Qué Rica!

Our previous blog post clearly stretched some of our readers’ knowledge of Spanish lingo to breaking point. The heading meant “Where to now?” and the gorgeous photo of a quetzal — nicked off Google images — was supposed to be a clue to our destination: Central America. Still, we’re here now, which is the main thing. Here being Costa Rica.

This is a very environmentally conscious country. Here in the little Caribbean coastal town of Tortuguero — where in a few months’ time the turtles will be hatching on the beach under David Attenborough’s watchful eye — colourful bins stationed every few metres along main street even make it an enjoyable experience to chuck your rubbish.

The journey northeast from San José was by bus and boat, passing this conjunction of two rivers, one “dirty” because it carries sulphur down from the country’s tallest volcano, the Irazú; the other “clean”.

Amid the banana, coffee and pineapple plantations we (or rather Jonathan, our guide) spotted this sloth, its beige fur denoting that it is of the two-toed variety.

Arriving at our lodge here in the tropical rainforest, we were welcomed by this green iguana training its beady eye on us.

Under a torrential downpour interspersed with intense sunshine, we struck out by boat into the natural channels that meander through the dense forest and its lush vegetation. As luck would have it, the first non-avian creature we encountered was another member of the sloth family, three-toed this time.

High up in the branches, a keel-billed toucan (the name possibly an inspiration for Quentin Tarantino). We also saw both its cousins, the black mandible and aracarie toucans.

Everyone loves a cheeky monkey. This little fellow is a white-faced capuchin.

We nearly missed this spectacle caiman, using the swamp as a cunning disguise. Only its baleful eye gave it away.

As the sun came out, this green heron emerged to stretch its legs.

The Jesus Christ lizard is so called because it walks on water. Provoked by our guide, Luís, this baby duly skittered a couple of steps across to the next log.

We rudely disturbed this howler monkey at his lunch. He was polite enough not to howl.

The great curassaw is related to your Christmas dinner, apparently. The name must be a transliteration of Curaçao. That’s what we reckon, anyway.

What the Jesus Christ lizard looks like fully grown.

As we returned to base, bedraggled from the precipitation, a line of brown pelicans flying in formation dipped their wings in salute. At least, that’s our story.

A life on the ocean wave

  We’ve been cruising the Aegean. But first, a quick tour of the sights and sounds of Athens. Stop us if you’ve heard it all before.

As night fell, we espied the Parthenon from our hotel window. BA having mislaid Tere’s suitcase, mind you, she was in no fit state to enjoy it. (Fortunately it turned up on day 2).

The temple of Zeus, just sitting there in the heart of the city.

The changing of the guard at the tomb of the unknown soldier, next door to the Ministry of Silly Walks.

The temple of Poseidon on Cape Sounian. Evocative ain’t the word.

Our first port of call, off the east coast of the Peloponnese, was the picturesque island of Monemvasia, settled in the 8th century by Greeks fleeing a Slav invasion.

Next came Santorini, now entirely populated by Koreans and Chinese doing fashion shoots.

Here a wine tasting also brought us face to face with local wildlife.

Everywhere the churches were iconic (sorry).

Here beneath the silver clouds is our cruise ship, the Silver Cloud.

In the Turkish coastal town of Marmoris, we met up with Tere’s cousin Siobhán and her partner Kenan for a traditional lunch of kebab and chips.

Probably our most spectacular excursion was to the ancient Anatolian city of Ephesus, dating from the 10th century BCE. The Romans built the library of Celsus at the start of the 2nd century AD.

A signpost to the local house of pleasure. Words superfluous.

This excursion also took in the final resting places of the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist, who emigrated to these parts together after the death of Christ. Allegedly. The museum nearby houses the bust of Commodus, aka Joaquín Phoenix in Gladiator.

No tourist in Turkey can avoid the statutory carpet factory visit, complete with pizza-style rug spin. We felt sorry for them, with sales having plummeted disastrously this past year for obvious reasons. But not sorry enough to buy one, though we were tempted.

Mykonos was lovely, albeit rather blowy the day we called in.

The Turkish city of Çanakkale on the southern shore of the Dardanelles is convenient for a visit to the Gallipoli WWI battlefield, but we chose a trip to ancient Troy. This proved a bit of a disappointment. Achilles and co didn’t leave much behind for tourists. So the highlight of the day proved to be Brad Pitt’s Trojan horse, donated to the city by the movie producers after filming (in Malta and Morocco, mark you).

Last stop the Greek island of Lemnos, very untouristy and all the better for it. Now home to the miserable drizzle of May Day in England!

The party’s over

We arrived in Melbourne under sunny azure skies, a delightful antidote to the Tasmanian chill.

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Truly an idyllic scene under the Yarra pedestrian bridge as the Friday afternoon sun slowly began to set.

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This is a city on a much larger scale than Sydney or Brisbane. The centre seems to have been totally redeveloped since the turn of the century, with a range of — ahem — challenging architecture.

imageWe wondered about tumbling property prices (geddit?).

imageFed Square is the Marmite (or rather Vegemite) of this trend. Love it or… well, decide for yourselves.

imageTraditional areas remain, like the much-loved Queen Vic market. (Does anyone call it that? They do now.)

imageThese fine old terraced houses lie around the original university campus.

imageChinatown dates from the 1854 gold rush, when ambitious Chinese came to seek their fortune. It led to riots and, ultimately, the notorious White Australia policy.

imageBut the only building we’d ever heard of was the mighty Melbourne Cricket Ground, for some reason known here as the Imm Say Jay. Unless we’re very much mistaken, that’s Dennis Lillee putting the fear of God into England batsmen.

imageThe weather changed dramatically on our second day. Rain cascaded down, the temperature dropped and the wind got up, with surprising results. It proved to be an omen.

imageWe took a trip out to the Great Ocean Road to see the Twelve Apostles, limestone stacks millions of years old. Actually there were only ever nine of them, and one collapsed a decade ago. So here are most of them…

image… and these are the others.

imageWe finally encountered roos in the wild, if you can call a golf course wild. Yes, that one is wearing a blue tag.

imageKoalas too, up a gum tree as ever.

imageNearby were crimson rosellas…

image… and king parrots, perched on our van hoping for sustenance.

imageThis one photobombed our intimate koala portrait.

imageTere duly fed them birdseed. Note the crutches, bought in Hobart where her “good” knee seized up.

Sad to say, it got worse. Here we now sit in a Melbourne hospital where she has just undergone an arthroscopy. Our trip ends here, and we’ll be home when the medics say it’s safe for her to travel. It was fun while it lasted! G’day to you all.

Hobart des artistes

If we have apprehended Antipodean geography correctly (and it’s never been our strong suit), Tasmania is the closest Australia gets to New Zealand. The climate certainly reminded us of South Island and, after the warmth of Sydney, we were glad we brought our winter woollies.

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Hobart today has two claims to fame as far as tourism is concerned. One is its history of seafaring explorers. As with Kiwi-land, it seems the French were actually the first Europeans to arrive but got elbowed aside by the Brits.

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The other is as a contemporary artistic hub. We stayed in a converted jam factory called the Art Hotel, its jam-packed walls now a preserve for the fruits of Australian talent, spread thickly across the… (cont. p.94).

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Occasionally the two combine, as here in Salamanca Square.

imageAs rain clouds rolled across Mount Wellington, we briefly feared we might have got caught up in an open-air performance of the Rocky Horror Show.

imageBut soon the sun was again shining on Tasmania’s Government House, regarded as one of the best Vice-Regal residences in the Commonwealth.

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But these days the jewel in Hobart’s crown is MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art, hewn out of the sandstone of the Berriedale peninsula. It opened in 2011 to house the private collection of professional gambler David Walsh, who likes to describe it as a “subversive adult Disneyland”. Get the picture? He certainly did. (Photo by MONA.)

imageIn another downpour, we searched desperately for a way in. Not big on signage here.

imageFittingly, the first work we came across featured water cascading down the sandstone wall to spell out random words. Here, also fittingly, it’s Rockstar.

imageIt was dark in here. Maybe because this is a land of often searing sunshine, Aussies seem to like interiors, notably restaurants, where you stumble around, barely able to see your hand in front of your face, much less read a menu. (As a pro on one of the innumerable home improvement TV shows here remarked the other night while enthusing about somebody’s hideously gloomy new kitchen, “Black is the new white!” At least it’s an improvement on the old White Australia policy…)

Meanwhile, MONA’s order of the day seemed to be juxtaposition. Contemporary stuff alongside ancient artefacts…

imageA European artist’s Fat Car…

image… and nearby, one of those quirky Ghanaian coffins in the shape of a car.

imageHere, a ghostly photo of William Wordsworth’s death mask (top right) gazes down on an Egyptian sarcophagus.

imageThe attempt to juxtapose at all costs can seem quite desperate, to the detriment of the art and the viewer’s appreciation of it. These wall hangings from Mali and Nigeria stand on their own merits, unlike some of the western “art wank” (MONA’s own description) on show. The pieces called Cloaca and Cnuts (our deliberate misspelling) in particular spring to mind — fair descriptions of those who selected them for exhibition, perhaps.

imageAnd to these eyes, this massive Snake by Sidney Nolan, Australia’s best-known 20th-century artist, only seemed to emphasize the massive elephant in the room (or rather, not in any of the rooms): the total absence of any indigenous Australian art.

This is Brian Pseud handing you back to GautreysGoGlobal — oh, wait… they’ve nicked off to Melbourne!

On the waterfront

Sydney. Its Opera House. Its Harbour Bridge. Its blue waters.

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These are they.

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Many keen beans are prepared to spend a fortune (up to $A373) and have their cameras and other possessions confiscated just to walk across the top of the bridge. Did we? What do you think?

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A fine view of the skyline can be had from Watson’s Bay, a ferry ride away. Useful tourist tip: make sure the ticket machine is working, or you will end up buying a $A10 Opal card that’s good for nine years. Did we? What do you think?

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Beaut Bondi beach. Balmy.

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Argyle Cut provides a grim reminder of Sydney’s colonial origins. Convicts had to cut through the solid rock by hand to create the passage in the mid-19th century. It took 16 years.

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We took a day trip out to the Blue Mountains, so-called because from a distance the refraction of the light makes them look that colour. Note the Three Sisters top left.

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We finally got to see a cassowarry…

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…a wombat…

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…an echidna, or spiny anteater, the only living egg-laying mammal…

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…a quokka, another marsupial…

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…and a baby roo in the pouch.

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These cherry blossom were aflower in Leura, a delightful mountain village. Dozens of Asian tourists were after the same shot. Sakura!

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After 33 years, we were finally reunited with Diane and Barry, Mike’s colleagues from Tokyo days. Next reunion: 2049.

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And we met up with Elena and Ron, friends we first encountered in Vietnam three years ago.

Next up: Hobart!

Rock around the clock

That sums up our time at the Ayers Rock resort, built around the two iconic rock formations of Uluru and Kata Tjuta in the arid Red Centre of Australia’s Northern Territory.

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We first saw Uluru from the sky, already getting an idea of its looming singularity amid the barren desert landscape.

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We watched the sun rise behind it next morning, creating a mystical glow.

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We were surprised to find Ned Kelly there too, thankfully armed with nothing more potent than a Panasonic Lumix…

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… useful for snapping the noontime moon above the rock as a Qantas A380 flew over.

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We were led into the nooks and crannies of the iconic monolith, a sacred location for the Pitjantjatjara Anangu, the Aboriginal people of the area. The photo shows the spot where food is prepared, the ancient sandstone worn smooth from centuries of grinding seeds to make flour.

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The painting is probably a map of local waterholes.

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This huge natural feature on the rock wall, an apparent cross-section of a human head, features in one of the many Anangu creation myths.

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A goanna lizard popped out of the bush to check us out, then vanished just as fast.

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We enjoyed a gourmet sunset dinner, accompanied by a didgeridoo player who assured us that despite appearances, he is indeed an Aborigine.

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Kata Tjuta, which lies 35km across the desert bush terrain from Uluru, is quite unlike it in appearance. Though both are millions of years old, their geological formation processes were quite different. (If you want more than that, Google is the chap to ask.)

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Mike struck out to explore Kata Tjuta’s hidden mysteries.

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It was cause for reflection.

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As the sun set, gorgeous colours appeared behind Kata Tjuta.

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British artist Bruce Munro’s massive Field of Light installation was, we fear, no match for that natural beauty. Sorry, Bruce.

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As we flew away from this magical place, we saw the huge salt lakes spread out below, reminders that 500 million years ago, this arid place was a vast inland sea.

Sydney here we come!

Nem con

Now back in Queensland, the intrepid GautreysGoGlobal team plunged into the rainforest to bring our readers more of the vicarious thrills they crave.

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Just time for a quick snap at Walu Wugirriga, meaning “look about”, across the bay from Cape Tribulation. (Some mightily godfearing folk were in charge of place names back in the day…)

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Here in the forest, strangler fig vines grab hold of unsuspecting trees and slowly throttle them to death.

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The cycad is a bit of a slow learner. It grows about 1cm a year. On the plus side, it’s been known to live for a thousand years or more, according to our trusty guide, Frank. He is a naturalized Aussie, originally from Switzerland, who’s been around these parts almost as long as the cycad. Schwyzerdütsch and Strine together make for one weird accent, believe us, and he seemed most put out that we had seen (or rather heard) through his linguistic disguise.

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There must be a reason they’re showing us boring old trees, we hear you mutter, and you’re right. Other forms of wildlife were hard to discern. This friendly fellow is a skink lizard.

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We took to the Daintree river in search of bigger game, again without much luck. Seventeen species of bird live in the Australian rainforest, but we can offer only a solitary nightjar.

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This was the nearest we got to the crocs that allegedly abound in these waters.

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We did get to feed some cute wallabies, though, at a sanctuary-cum-café.

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Next day dawned bright and clear — perfect for taking a catamaran out to the Great Barrier Reef. This is the pontoon on Agincourt reef where we spent a delightful arvo.

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All you pub quiz habitués don’t need us to tell you that coral is neither vegetable nor mineral, but animal. Its closest relly is the jelly, known as a stinger in these parts.

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Myriad shoals of fish live in synergy with the coral. We did spot some gorgeous clownfish, now travestied under the sobriquet Nemo, but they proved elusive for our camera person. We did, however, learn that Nemo is a fully paid-up member of the piscine LGBTQ community, regularly transitioning between genders. That’s something Disney omitted to tell us.

imageSome tourists frittered the time away scuba diving or snorkelling. We preferred to optimize our visit amassing fishy facts.

imageFor example, the waste that fish excrete after eating coral (see photo) makes up 30% of the sand on the ocean floor.

imageThen it was feeding time, for us and the fish. Here Gus the GT ( giant trevally) shoves aside dozens of red bass to get his snout in the trough.

imageBy far the best view of the reef is from above. We duly took to the skies in a chopper.

imageThen it was back to our beach hotel in Port Douglas, where the trees resound with the cries of swooping parrots.

Now for the Rock.