Quote of the Day - As I gaze upon the sea! All the old romantic legends, all my dreams, come back to me.
MIPTC's South Seas Journal: Wandering In The Red Sand – Day Eleven
Souvenir stores near Ayer's Rock sell Australian bush (slouch) hats, complete with strings and wine corks dangling from the brims. It admittedly looks odd, until you've been outside and understand the purpose. Blow-flies (we call them horseflies) swarm around your face, landing wherever they can find moisture.
The strings and wine corks are meant as a distraction, and apparently work fairly well.
But not as well as mosquito netting, which I found as an amenity in my hotel room and promptly took with me, having been outside long enough to get off the plane and to the hotel. The purpose of the green netting was immediately apparent, even though the odd-looking bush hat was not.
The flies are a distraction at most, but for someone who's lived in Southern California for long enough to appreciate the lack of virtually all bugs, it's very noticeable. Beyond silly-looking hats, there's another way to avoid bugs: wind.
When it's hot, there's not much wind available where the land is flat, as it mostly is around Ayer's Rock. Thankfully, however, there are some nearby mountains that offer some respite. For sunrise, our guide takes us on the Walpa Gorge Walk, a stunning walk into the Olgas, also known as Kata Tjuta in the aboriginal language.
The mountain range is actually some 36 domed rocks; mystical heads to the aborigines. There are many Pitjantjatjara Dreamtime aborigine legends associated with this range, including one about a great snake named Wanambi, who lives on the summit of Mount Olga and only comes down during the dry season. Thankfully, it was still wet when I was there.
The gorge is mostly flat, and a thin, mostly stone path leads toward the crevasse point along the two-kilometer path at the base of the gorge, looking up to sandy red sedimentary mountains towering overhead and in between the two tallest domes in the formation. Quite different than Ayer's Rock where the layers are at 90 degrees to the ground, the sedimentary layers at the Olgas are parallel. Interestingly, the two mountains are less than half an hour drive apart.
Only a geologist knows why they're so different.
The Olgas are not as bright red as Ayer's Rock, but they're certainly stunning. The gorge walk features running water across the rock path, steep cliffs that rise straight out of the ground and deep, circular pock-marked walls overhead. It's a bit unnerving to realize that the pock marks are actually car- and bus-size boulders that have eroded out of the conglomerate sediment, and ended up on and near the path where you're walking. When you have a moment to look down, it's immediately obvious where the round boulders came from, and that you're in the way.
Another feature of the gorge is the differential in the temperature, which provides relief from the flies. The gorge is shaded in the early morning and stays that way well into mid-morning, so it's much cooler than the surrounding area. As a consequence, the wind blows, and blows hard. So hard, in fact, that the flies can't. The relief is almost instantly obvious, and allows you to enjoy the scenery without the distracting of buzzing around your ears or near your eyes.
As the morning progresses from sunrise, long, diagonal shadows crawl centimeter by centimeter toward the ground and back toward the crevasse point. Now we can see lizards and goannas sunning themselves, waiting to feast on an errant fly. By the end of the walk, the sun highlights the red rock, and the warmth greets us as we walk back to the starting point at the edge of the gorge.
If it's not windy in the gorge when you arrive, you can always try the other (and much longer seven kilometer walk) in the Olgas, the Valley of the Winds. There are no flies there, for the most part. Otherwise, your best alternative is the Great Barrier Reef.
MIPTC's South Seas Journal: Wandering In The Red Sand – Day Ten
The blue and green that color the Great Barrier Reef change dramatically as we travel inland to and arrive at Ayer's Rock, located just about in the center of the smallest continent of the world. Small is a relative term. Australia is about the size of the United States, if you're looking for a comparison, but despite that singular similarity, it couldn't be more different.
The colors of the reef shift to the red earth and blue sky of the desert. It's a pervasive red, visible just about everywhere other than the sky, which far from overshadows the red of the earth and The Rock. Ayer's Rock juts straight out of the ground, tilted on a 90 degree angle from the earth. The rows of sediment belie the angle, visible clearly from overhead.
Just take a look at the photo in the last link, and remember the iceberg rule applies equally here: you can see only part of it above ground. It continues deep underground for some five or six miles. The four clustered hotels of the resort around the exposed part of The Rock are dwarfed in comparison, despite this exaggerated, wide-angle view.
But it's not The Rock, the view or the red that strikes me. It's the spiritual nature of the rock. The aborigines call it Uluru, called so by the Anangu aborigines. I'm not sure why it's called Uluru, the aborigines don't put their stories in writing, but instead pass them down from generation to generation. Nevertheless, the Rock is a stunning monolith.
The Anangu request that we not climb the rock because it crosses one of their dreaming tracks, so we refrained, and instead walked around the bottom and enjoyed the 15 km trip over several days, and even took a helicopter flight around (not over) it and flew around some nearby mountains to get a better perspective.
While you and I can get in a plane and see the ground from the sky, the Anangu art gives us the same perspective, despite the fact that when these aboriginal dot paintings were first made, no Anangu had ever flown.
Beyond the art, there's much to see on and around the National Park, and in between, we stayed at a wonderfully quiet hotel, with a phenomenal view of the Rock. Our walking tour guides from the hotel included those who had spoken with the Anangu to learn their stories, which they in turn related to us.
The stories are amazingly imaginative and relate directly to the Rock, explaining the formations, caves and cave art, water holes and the sunrises and sunsets. The stories involve mythical beings who in the form of animals help form Uluru and the surrounding areas. One anthropologist, Charles Mountford, did some fifty years of research on the Anangu and then published a book containing the stories, Nomads of the Australian Desert, which was promptly banned in Australia by an Australian court-issued injunction because it described rituals sacred to the Anangu, including photographs, and put their stories in writing.
MIPTC won't make the same mistake. But you can ask me about it ....
Lawyer 2 Lawyer Internet Radio Clears Up E-DiscoveryToday, e-discovery has become vital to attorneys and to their law businesses, however, some misconceptions exist such as Microsoft Vista's effect on e-discovery. On Lawyer 2 Lawyer, Bob Ambrogi talks with the experts, Stephen D. Whetstone, Esq., VP of Client Development & Strategy for Stratify and Attorney Craig Ball, trial attorney and computer forensics examiner, to weigh in on the misconceptions of e-discovery and what the future holds for e-discovery. Hold on a bit longer for MIPTC's return to Lawyer 2 Lawyer next week.
MIPTC's South Seas Journal: Not So Much Downtime In Cairns – Day Nine
My body sways back and forth as I walk around. It's not due to alcohol; it's seven days on a boat in the Coral Sea. I'm standing perfectly still. It's the rest of the terrestrial world that's moving.
The dive portion of the trip is behind us, and as you likely know by now from my previous eight posts, I'm sorry to leave the Great Barrier Reef behind - I could have spent another week diving. But I'm glad to be off the boat.
Mike Ball's SpoilSport dropped us off at the dock, and the staff's apologies flowed because the boat lived up to its name. The retrofit of the boat planned to end just before we got on didn't, and instead of two diesel engines to power us out to the distant Osprey Reef, we had only one. Consequently, the crew spent time finishing the repairs to the boat, and the trip was slightly delayed, as well as several other minor disasters. Despite the "rough seas" of the start, the Great Barrier Reef lived up to its name and I'm more than pleased to have had the opportunity to dive there. Next time, it'll be Tusa's Spirit of Freedom instead, or better yet, the Four Seasons Explorer liveaboard in the Maldives.
One can always dream.
But I'm back on solid ground in Cairns (pronounced by the Aussies as something close to "Cans" with a very slight "R" thrown in before the "N") at the Shangra-La hotel and enjoying the view of the boats tucked neatly in their slips in the nearby marina. When the short, tropical rainstorm hits midday, I'm all the much more enjoying lunch under the covered deck just behind the hotel. As most tropical residents say, if you don't like the rain, just wait a few minutes.
As quickly as it comes, it goes. The bright warm sun pops back out from the grey clouds and provides a wonderful double rainbow, complete with an in-between Alexander's band to highlight the difference between the two. I'm glad, too, because tonight we're heading to the Cairns Zoo for the swaggies are out and about at the zoo; our hosts are full of music and tall tales. But like most Aussies, they back up what they say. Our zookeeper climbed down into the crocodile cage and giving his best imitation of Crocodile Dundee, he got a large, 18-foot croc to jump up out of the water and snap at him, while he deftly stepped back just in time to avoid two rows of one-inch teeth coming together with over two thousand pounds of pressure.
It's a show, that's for sure.
At the zoo, the night owls fly around, the fruit bats dart between the trees looking for insects, but it's the Koalas, Kangaroos and joeys that steal the show. We're allowed to hold and pet the Koalas (their claws are very sharp) and the Kangaroos and Wallabies hold us, trying to take honey bread out of our hands with theirs. Very small and their "cuddly cute" belies the power behind those feet.
A fitting end to a wonderful dive trip - seeing the fish that swim on the land.
MIPTC's South Seas Journal: Underwater In The Great Barrier Reef – Day Eight
The Lizard Island pickup of divers new to the boat is complete and the tsunami is a distant memory. We're off to Cod Hole. I know the fish as a Grouper. Cod, as far as I'm concerned, is what comes from the Atlantic's Grand Banks and goes into Mrs. Paul's fish sticks.
But we're in Australia south of the equator and west of the International Date Line, and most everything is different. And yes, in case you're interested, water going down the drain swirls counterclockwise. I know. I saw it.
Most of the fish I've seen here I've never seen before. It's been an amazing experience. Imagine floating just a foot of so away from a venomous Lionfish, with its myriad poisonous fin spines fully extended, watching as it waits for prey, oblivious that I'm behind it, off and to the left. I'm nowhere in its way, and I know better than to get in its way. Aside from the danger, it's a stunningly beautiful fish. Its multiple, elongated fins extend nearly ten inches from its body, erect and flapping in the current like a flag rippling in the wind.
Nature. You just can't duplicate it.
Anything big enough like that, you stay away. Another clue is a bright color, like Fire Coral, which very aptly makes the point that you shouldn't touch the reefs. Not only will it likely hurt, you're damaging the basic building blocks of the ocean, which eventually provides food to you and me.
If you like fish, that is.
Personally, I prefer shellfish, but my point is the same. Perhaps someone should put up big signs underwater that say, "Look, but don't touch." "If you break it, you buy it." The breakage cost is like the MasterCard commercial: priceless.
But you can't stop the fish from touching you. Especially the big ones, like the Potato Cod. Let me give you a little bit of setup here. The dive boat has an underwater videographer as part of its crew. She dives with us and takes video of our dives so we can remember what we saw, for those of us with short memories.
We've both been diving for awhile, so we understand underwater hand signals. While we're diving together, she motions me over closer to a rather large and (I learn later) friendly Potato Cod. She get the obligatory 15 - 20 seconds of video of me somewhat close to it with my knees on the sand, and I move away from the Cod, who apparently thinks I'm there to feed it. As I move up and away, it moves closer to me, going after my hand, which holds a black snorkel I found in the sand, lost by another diver.
About 50 feet deep, I swim away up to about 35 or 40 feet, and the Cod disappears. Or so I think.
My first clue should have been that the videographer is still filming me. At the time, I don't quite understand why she's still zoomed in on me and the little red light is on, but when I watch the video later, it's for the comedic effect.
Unbeknownst to me, the Cod is not to be dissuaded. It thinks I have food, and it wants to be fed. As I swim away, the Cod follows underneath and behind me. Are you catching the irony here? I don't see the Cod, but the videographer is in front of me, finning backward. She see the Cod, and she knows what's going to happen next, but purposefully doesn't signal to me.
I move along slowly toward the videographer, as does the Cod, but it instead approaches in stealth mode, just a bit faster than me, and rises up underneath me. I'm at 35 feet, it's at about 36 or 37 feet, but I still don't see it. I'm looking ahead, smiling at the camera, parallel to the sand floor, head looking up and straight ahead.
I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille.
I continue to swim toward the camera, and still unknown to me, the Cod does, too, but still out of my sight. Apparently now understanding that I have no food and don't intend to feed it, the Cod gets frustrated with me and decides to let me know.
The camera is still rolling.
Still underneath me but only by about a foot now, the Cod gives one big push with its fins and body, turns its large body sideways and reaches up to give me what I can only describe as a fish kiss, and plops its big lips right under my chin, giving me a head butt.
I react quite as the videographer expects: a very surprised jolt back and up, and the Cod, quite satisfied now that I understand it's presence, slowly swims away. I'm the one who looks foolish now.
Video to follow, once my dive gear arrives. Check back periodically in the next few weeks, and I'll post the video, too.
Film at 11.
MIPTC's South Seas Journal: Underwater In Australia's Great Barrier Reef - Day Seven
Bright magenta. Deep neon blue. Screaming yellow. Ruby red. Glorious green. Dark, inky black. Oh yes, and orange like there's no tomorrow - orange that would easily put a highway worker's reflective vest to shame.
These adjectives do no justice to the underwater nouns in front of me. I simply can't describe the brilliance of the colors on the multitudes of fish circling Steve's Bommie, which is a sea mount where I spent my last day on the Great Barrier Reef scuba diving, starting at nearly 100' below the surface and ascending clockwise around the pinnacle.
But then there's the dull brown of the Wobblygon shark, sleepily hidden and barely squeezed in a six-foot long hole in the rock, almost perfectly blending into the sandy background with its strangely curved, short, fuzzy bearded whiskers on its snout, almost like singed nylon strands curling back toward its jaw.
And then there's the Rockfish, so perfectly camouflaged in a nearby but much smaller hole in the rock that the only way you really know it's there is to see its gills move ever so slightly, confirming this mess of three-dimensional pinkish red, white, brown, and sand skin is actually alive. The Army would do well to adopt such successful methods, especially given its foot-long, half-a-foot wide size - one of the largest I've ever seen.
Then there's the blood-red anemone, smoothly swirling around to and fro mocking the waves above, which hosts an equally blood-red anemone clownfish to protect it. Swimming in stark contrast to the red clownfish, next appears the ubiquitous orange and white-striped Nemo clownfish protecting an orange anemone, as equally brilliant as Nemo.
The anemones you may have seen in salt-water aquariums are no match for those in the wilds of the Reef. The ones in tanks are small typically measured in inches, and the ones in the wild extend up to four or five feet in width, and accommodate as many as ten anemone fish.
The namesake for the bommie (underwater sea mount), Steve, has a memorial plaque in his name gently resting on the top of the lower bommie. I can't imagine a more fitting memorial for a scuba diver.
You can see photos of the site here, which just about says it all.
MIPTC's South Seas Journal: Underwater In Australia's Great Barrier Reef – Day Six
The tsunami warning came exactly at the wrong time. Taking a momentary break from diving the depths of the Coral Sea, we were ashore on Lizard Island to drop off some divers and pick up new ones.
Wandering through Lizard Island Resort, we were clambering around aboriginal trails when the resort's manager located our small band of visitors and alerted us to the impending catastrophe. We were some 50 feet above sea level on a sweeping overlook vista mesmerized by the remote and isolated beaches. More important at the moment, the skies were clear, sunny and bright and there was not a wave in sight.
Somewhere to the Northeast, an underwater earthquake had hit near the Solomon Islands, potentially starting several large waves headed our direction, at speeds up to 200 miles an hour and pushing waves that would approach the beach at unimaginable heights. Thankfully, earthquake sensors, wave height detectors and radio communication are much faster. We were alerted an hour before the tsunami would reach the pristine, white sandy beaches in front of us.
But it's the waiting.
I know what tsunami devastation looks like. I saw the photographs of Banda Ache, and did not want to become a statistic. Choices, at that moment however, were few.
Our dive boat, SpoilSport, was anchored in the harbor and its two tenders divided: one on the beach, another attached to the boat. There were more divers on the island than the beach tender would hold. Those closest to the tender went to the boat, the rest of us were shepherded to the highest point on the island, something around 100 feet directly above the beach, far less vertical and horizontal distances than I would have liked.
Disaster brings out the true nature of individuals, I think. Some of the women staying at the resort quietly and demurely sobbed, children hung close to their parents for security, but more just stared out to sea, most apparently not understanding which direction was Northeast or even how to spell tsunami, let alone comprehend its possible significance.
Meanwhile, aboard the boat, deliberations began whether to retrieve those of us onshore, weigh anchor and head out to deeper seas. Its anchorage was on the Southwest side of the harbor, somewhat but not completely protected from the possible waves. At sea, a tsunami might be no more than an extra foot of wave height; otherwise barely noticeable. Near shore, it was quite another story.
The wisdom of a retreat from the harbor to the open seas, combined with the time to round up us wayward passengers and the necessary delays weighing anchor and securing the boat for open water tipped the scales in favor of staying put. The skipper resigned his boat, crew and guests to riding it out.
So to speak.
For those of us marshaled at the highest hut, the resort staff brought bottled water, juices, fruit, hot coffee and the ultimate comfort food - cookies. They granted permission to use the phone to call back the US and let our loved ones know we were safe and secure. At least that's what they told us to say. You believe what you want to hear, I suppose.
The hour and many cookies passed, and the resort received word that the wave sensor at Willis Island to the North reported no series of waves as expected. The scientists who warned us had been wrong, and no one was complaining.
Back aboard the dive boat, it was the adventure that never was. Especially for my bunk mate, who had slept through the whole thing.
It's just a matter of perspective.
MIPTC's South Seas Journal: Underwater In Australia's Great Barrier Reef – Day Five
Most of the underwater life across the globe lies just 30-40 feet below the surface, and snorkeling barely scratches the surface of it, so to speak. Scuba diving opens up the two-thirds of the world most of us never see. According to some, it may not last forever if we don't soon do something about global warming.
If my almost 20 hours logged in the Coral Sea and Great Barrier Reef are any indication, we're dangerously close. I can't claim any scientific knowledge to back me up and certainly not any statistical studies, either. Just diving over the last 30 or so years of my life and my eyes.
To be sure, The Reef is riotously exquisite in its diversity and population of fish. But slight changes in depth would ruin the myriad schools of fish, colorful and plentiful soft coral and dependable hard corals that rely on zooplankton for nourishment. Let me see if I can describe what would be lost if we don't start eliminating excess emissions of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.
While diving The Reef these past several days, two things are immediately obvious: diversity and quantity. Imagine a bright, neon red-flamed file shell (from the clam family) tucked away in a hole in the side of a underwater pinnacle extending down over 100 feet into the abyss. The clam is not at all what you think. Over and under its narrow shell opening, five-inch tentacles extend outward like fishing lures, and its thin lips flash a white/blue neon electric charge across from the outside to the middle like a cheap motel inviting unwary guests into its waiting jaws.
Then turn away from the pinnacle, and you are floating amongst bright, brilliant blue fish with an equally sharp and distinctive stripe of yellow down its side, as fluid as a blanket waved over top of a bed, and as thick as the bed itself, but extending in a circle, enveloping one side of the pinnacle in a swath moving with the ocean surge, darting as the large pelagic fish swoop in from the deep for a quick bite.It would be a shame to sit idly by and lose this wonderful resource. Especially if you haven't had the chance to see it yet.