Saturday, January 31, 2009

The brainy seahorse

So for all of you not so into creepy crawly things, I thought I'd better balance out the day's entries with a post on a cute creature. They may not be cuddly, but I think seahorses are downright precious, with their long snouts, curly tails, and ability to turn bright colors in "social moments" (what exactly does that mean, Wikipedia?). The Great Barrier Reef is home to nine species of seahorse. Male seahorses stick close to home (within 1 square meter of their habitat) while females roam up to 100 times that distance (no wonder I like this fish so much!). The male seahorse is the one who gives birth: anywhere from 1 to 2,000 babies ("fry") at a time. Another interesting fact about the seahorse: it is a genus of fish officially called the Hippocampus, which coincidentally is the name for a part of the human brain involved in short term memory. Ooh, and this is kinda cool: their eyes can move independently of each other. The more I learn about these bony fish, the more I want to know!

Here, Snakey, Snakey...

If you're like me, when you think of poisonous snakes, you picture a large viper or cobra in a jungle somewhere. Conversely, when I hear "sea snake", I imagine a small, harmless, wiggly creature about 6 inches long. Think again. The Great Barrier Reef is home to 17 species of sea snake, and while most live on the ocean floor, their lack of gills means that they need to come to the surface for air... which means there is a pretty good chance you could run into one while snorkeling. And try not to let it bite you: sea snakes can have some of the most potent venom of all snakes. (The good news is most will bite only when provoked.) Oh yeah, and those in the Great Barrier Reef can reach lengths of 4-5 feet.
Happy snorkeling!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Bigger than a goby, smaller than a whale shark

Lately I've been researching the Great Barrier Reef, and I have decided that no matter what happens with the "Best Job in the World", I definitely need to visit the reef someday. The world's largest coral reef system, it was named one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World by CNN. And to quote Wikipedia, it is "the world's biggest single structure made by living organisms." The reef's date of origin is a bit vague, but we know this: it was a bloody long time ago (in the ballpark of 600,000 years). If that isn't enough to get you on a plane to Australia, consider this: more than 1,500 species of fish live on the reef, sharing their home with 17 species of sea snakes, 215 species of birds, 30 species of whales, dolphins, and porpoises, and 6 species of sea turtles. Not to mention the dugong (aka "lady of the sea" or the less flattering "sea cow").(

I began this post with the intention of giving you an overview of the Great Barrier Reef's attractions... but got so distracted by the dugong that I am devoting an entire post to this marine mammal. Here are the top 5 things I think everyone should know about a dugong:

5. It has a fusiform body. (note: Fusiform would be a sweet Scrabble word)
4. Its habitat encompasses the waters of at least 37 countries, though most live off of Australia.
3. It's the last survivor of the Dugongidae family. (Maybe I will change my last name to Dugongidae so it doesn't feel so lonely...)
2. Other nicknames for this creature include "sea camel" and "sea pig".
1. A 5,000-year-old wall painting of a dugong was found in a cave in Malaysia in 1959.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Bowl me over

When you hear "bowling alley" you probably picture a non-descript building with a dimly lit, smoke-hazed interior minimally decorated in drab oranges, greens, and browns. But today's chic bowling lounges challenge our long-held stereotypes, and they do it in style. Last night we celebrated a friend's birthday at Grand Central Bowling Lounge in Portland. With two levels, more flat-screen tv's than an electronics store, and a dress code (!), this place is a swanky upgrade from bowling alleys of eras past (and priced accordingly). Our group crowded into a lane, at the end of which was a giant tv showing music videos. When it was my turn to bowl, I removed my hot pink pumps to don the required bowling shoes, grabbed the lightest ball I could find, and approached the lane. A little background: My bowling experiences have been infrequent and inconsistent. Sometimes I get a strike or two, and other days my ball spends more time in the gutter than it does knocking down pins. My highest-scoring game up to this point was back in high school gym class. So let's just say my expectations were low. As I set myself up to bowl, I focused my eyes on the center arrows on the floor of the lane (a little trick I adapted from my Little League pitching experience). I wound up, released the ball, and. . . STRIKE! Caught unprepared, I unfortunately forgot to do the little spin and finger snap I've seen bowlers do on tv. But I did break into a short victory dance. After this initial success, my scores wavered from pretty good to so-so, but I managed to end the game with a career-high 109. I enjoyed this moment of glory, and my enthusiasm wasn't even dampened when I glanced at the neighboring lane and noticed scores close to 200. No, I did not win the game (details, details) but I guess I'm not ready to throw in the towel on my bowling career just yet.

Highlights from Peru

Here is my last email before leaving Peru.

February 5, 2005

until I am in Portland. We are in Arequipa right now, trying to avoid further water balloon and shaving cream assaults... it is carnival here right now, and we are easy targets. Well, my trip is drawing to a close.... only 5 more hours until I am on a plane, and about 24 hours until I am back in Portland. We just finished lunch at Govinda, our favorite vegetarian Hare Krishna chain restaurant in Peru. Before that, we treated ourselves to luxurious 1 hour massages (also at Govinda, go figure) for $8 each. Gotta love it. We are trying to figure out what to do with our last few hours and our last few Soles (Peruvian money).

Here are some highlights from my trip:

1. Peruvian taxi drivers
2. Surfing in Huanchaco
3. The Santa Catalina Convent in Arequipa
4. The food in Cusco!
5. Hostal Amaru in Cusco
6. Machu Picchu, obviously
7. Isla del Sol, in Lake Titicaca
8. The parades in Copacabana, Bolivia during the festival
9. The Floating Islands (Los Uros) made of reeds in Lake Titicaca
10. The fact that the most expensive hostel we stayed at in Bolivia cost us each $2.50

All in all, the trip was amazing. Our 3 days in Bolivia were so much fun; the town of Copacabana is pretty cute, and the Isla del Sol is absolutely breathtaking. We took a boat for 2 hours to get there, and it felt almost like we were in the middle of the ocean. We hiked along the ridge on the top of the island from one end to the other (it took less than 3 hours) and the views were some of the most beautiful I have ever seen. Blue-green clear water, lots of little islands, snow-capped mountains in the distance, and flowers everywhere. We stayed at a hostel with incredible views from its 2 decks (and from our room). The entire Isla del Sol experience, including hotel and dinner for two (freshly caught trout from the lake, dessert, bottle of wine) was about $20. The floating islands were pretty neat as well. They are a group of islands near Puno, Peru that people make from tortora reeds and stake into the ground so they don´t float away. The people who live there make their houses, boats, and just about everything else from the reeds. Pretty amazing.

Memories of Cusco. . .

Cusco, Peru is a gorgeous town with a rich history, and the jumping-off point for most treks along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. One of the "New Seven Wonders of the World", Machu Picchu is an absolutely breathtaking testament to the innovative, industrious, and meticulous nature of the Inca people. If you haven't seen it, it should be on your short list of places to visit. I recommend SAS Travel; their guided 4-day trek was well-organized, affordable, and our guide Freddy was quite knowledgeable. Plus, the food cooked by our porters was some of the best I've ever eaten.

January 23, 3005

Hola! We made it safely to Cusco after a brief 45 minute plane ride from Arequipa. While we were exploring Cusco for the day, some Australian guys that we met in Arequipa were on a grueling 14 hour bus ride during which their driver got lost. Needless to say, we are extremely glad we opted to fly. Cusco is a beautiful city, and yesterday we lucked out with sun and got some beautiful pictures. We just checked the weather report and it looks like it will be pretty nice here until Wednesday, which just so happens to be the day we start our hike on the Inca Trail. Good thing I love hiking up thousands of stairs at 14,000 feet in the pouring rain. Awesome. We are staying at Hostal Amaru in Cusco that is seriously luxurious compared to anywhere else I´ve stayed so far on this trip. Last night we stayed at a different hostal, but after figuring out that the water didn´t work from 8 pm to 5 am, we decided to look around for other options. We have a sweet room at Amaru. The hotel has a few different deck areas with panoramic views of the city, beautiful flowers and cobblestone patios, and comfy chairs for reading. Our room has French doors and a skylight and our own bathroom with a shower (and hot water!!). Including breakfast, it is costing us each a whopping $12.50 a night. A splurge considering our hostel in Arequipa was $3 a night, but definitely worth it. Last night we ate dinner at this posh tapas bar with couches and absolutely delicious food. We also saw a free (pirated?) movie at a bar, "Million Dollar Baby." Anyway hope all is well, we are off to explore the city!

Flashback! Peru, 2005

Here begins a flashback to January, 2005, the start of my 5-week Peruvian adventure. I came across these emails I sent to friends and family from Peru and thought I'd share them to relive the experience. More to follow. . .

January 7, 2005
Hola! After a couple days in Lima we were reunited with Rob´s backpack around 2am on Thursday morning. What a relief! I´m sure Rob is glad not to have to buy a new wardrobe at Topy Top and to have his stuff back! After spending the morning surfboard shopping in various suburbs of Lima, Rob bought a board to use up at the coast. He didn´t get to try it out in Lima, but we did check out the beaches. There are some pretty swanky suburbs that are quite a contrast to the various cinderblock barrios. It has been interesting seeing the stark differences in wealth even within the same block. We have seen brand new oceanfront townhouses and shacks made out of cardboard and aluminum sheeting. Pretty wild. We have also had some interesting experiences while being driven around the streets of Lima in various taxis. I have learned a lot about traffic rules here. It seems that the lines dividing the road into lanes are mere suggestions which you can choose to ignore if it is more convenient. I have also learned that a 2 lane road is really wide enough for at least 3 cars going their maximum speed. And it appears that honking your horn is a form of communication not unlike a wave or nod; in Lima there is a constant beeping of horns just for the heck of it. But one highlight was definitely going the wrong way on a freeway off-ramp. Luckily, the drivers in Lima seem to expect this, so we entered the freeway unharmed. At times it has been quite exciting... let´s just say I´m glad I´m not behind the wheel... I think I would have a nervous breakdown.
Yesterday afternoon we left Lima for the mountain town of Huaraz. It was definitely the cushiest bus ride Rob or I had ever been on. We were on the 2nd floor of a double-decker bus, so we had a sweet view, and a waitress came around and served us lunch and drinks. If anyone is ever in Peru, I highly recommend the bus company Movil Tours.
Huaraz is a beautiful town. The mountain views are like a mini-Switzerland. It is crazy, though, the town is around 10,000 feet yet it never snows here. Our taxi driver said they don´t get snow until 5,000 meters. Today we walked around the town and went to a couple of markets. We tried to go on a hike but between the barking dogs chasing us and the altitude we decided better of it and headed back into town. Tomorrow we´re either going hiking or to the hot springs, depending on the weather. And then it´s on to Trujillo on the coast.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Betty Moment

Every year I volunteer with an organization called Betties 360, which provides outdoor adventure experiences to at-risk teen girls. Through the program, adult women are mentors to girls in a variety of settings--rock climbing, windsurfing, snowshoeing, mountain biking-- in order to help them build the self-confidence and go-get-'em attitude of a "Betty."

So last weekend a bunch of us were at the coast, enjoying unseasonably warm temperatures and brilliant sunshine. It was just what we needed-- a break from the chilly, often gray winters that Portland throws at us. We surfed two days in pretty rough waters-- insanely strong current that made it hard to even walk straight, huge sets, and gusty winds. Despite the conditions, it was awesome to just be in the water surrounded by such a gorgeous, bluebird day. My "Betty moment" came on our last day. We awoke to mild temperatures and rough surf. As part of my video application for the "Best Job in the World", we wanted some footage of me in the waves. So I pulled on my 6/4 wetsuit, hood, booties, and gloves and trekked down to the water. Normally this is no big deal-- but today was a little strange because there was not another soul on the water. No one was attempting to surf, stand-up paddle board (like Gerry Lopez was the day before) or kayak. The beach was eerily vacant. I took a deep breath, put on a big smile, and. . . action! I'm not sure if the footage of me being thrashed around in the whitewater will make it onto the video... but regardless, I definitely felt like a Betty. And sometimes that's all that matters.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Grasshopper's Dream Job

It was an ordinary weekday... I was on my way to work, stifling a yawn and reaching for my mug of tea, when I heard something on the radio that made my eyes pop open and my pulse quicken. The Best Job in the World... anyone can apply... sign me up! Just as the travel bug had begun to bite me again, I hear about this opportunity. Could it be fate? Never mind that the whole world has also received word of this opening for "Island Caretaker". I would absolutely love this job, and I'll do whatever I can to get it.