Hervey Bay is the world’s first whale heritage area

WHOOPEE!!!

Every year I write about the whale migration up (and down) Australia’s east coast, and visit the whales when they stop for a bit of R&R in the calm waters of Platypus Bay between Fraser Island and the mainland. Every year more and more whales participate in the long swim from Antarctica to the tropical waters around the Whitsundays where the females give birth to their calves. They drop in on the way back down, pausing in Hervey Bay to fatten up their calves for the polar cold. The pre-adult youngsters do a bit of socialising with each other and with the funny little air-breathers on the boats. The adult males are more interested in fighting and sex. (That seems to be fairly common in males of many species.) The adult females look after their calves, which a male will brush aside in his hurry to get to a female, even if she’s not necessarily interested in his advances. (Understandable. She’s just squeezed out a six-metre baby that’s been in her womb for a year and she’s feeding her bub fifty litres of milk a day. She’s probably not feeling very sexy.)

A mother humpback whale and her calf approach the boat in Platypus Bay. They’re so comfortble with the boats they bring their calves up to say hi.

This very young baby whale rolled around on the surface while her mum had a nap under the water. Mum eventually took baby back down to the bottom for more feeding.

The point is the whales hang around for as much as a week or more before they continue on back to the feeding grounds in Antarctica. About anywhere else on the coast they’re moving. They might put on a short performance but in Hervey Bay you’re sure to see a show.

The whale has lifed its snout above the surface to get a better look at the visitors. Its eyes are underwater but it can see just as well through water as air.

She’s looking at the people as she cruises around the boat. She hung around for nearly an hour so the boat couldn’t move.

A closer shot. Her eye is just near that white splotch

In short, our bay is a wonderful place to meet the big cetaceans. The days when whales were hunted are fading but it’s as well to remember that as recently as the nineteen seventies the whales were at the brink of extinction, with only a few hundred remaining. These days somewhere around ten thousand whales make the big swim from the South – and that’s just on the East coast. Others swim up the west coast, and up the coasts of Africa.  Most of our visitors are humpbacks but as the years go by, we’re seeing the occasional Minke and Southern right whales.

She’s deliberately spraying water everywhere and some of us got wet.

Blowing rainbows

Hervey Bay takes the whales very seriously. For the months from late July to late October the whale- watching boats are busy taking visitors out to see the whales. We have a week-long whale festival in late July to welcome the whales back to our bay. You’ll see statues of whales in three different places in what’s a fairly small town. There’s one at the cultural centre, named after Nala, a female who comes into the Bay every year. There’s one at the water park, and there’s a fairly simple one at the harbour, greeting visitors as they step off buses to get to the boats.

And now the Bay’s claim to be one of THE great spots to meet the ocean’s giants has been officially recognised. Hervey Bay is the world’s FIRST whale heritage area.

May there be many more.

Time-keeping for seniors

Back when we used to be working people we used to get up before six in the morning and get on the road to Melbourne before seven, and we’d get home again by about seven in the evening. That meant we had the weekend to Get Things Done. You know – washing, ironing, house-cleaning and the like. We often did our shopping on the way home from work but if we didn’t then that was another chore for Saturday or Sunday.

And it all got done, every weekend.

These days, when we don’t have much in the daily calendar at all, it’s not quite so clock work. Most of the time we don’t even know which day of the week it is. We tend to know when Wednesday ticks around because we have to put the bins out, and Saturday’s when the paper gets delivered. Apart from that, the day of the week is whatever it says on the computer. As for the jolly little people at the checkout who ask us what we’ve got planned for the weekend… um… kick tyres in the mall?

Since we’re not sure what day it is, vacuuming happens… when we get round to it. Washing’s a bit more regular, though not always on the same day of the week. We do that when the knicker drawer starts to look a bit sparse. And shopping, I have to say, has become something to do to get out of the house.

What it boils down to is you can do all those jobs in your own sweet time and fit in fun things, like reading, taking photos and travel.

Speaking of photos I’ve been trawling through my pictures of late, so this week I’ll share some of my favourite bird shots. I hope you like them.

Pelicans at Burrum Heads

A young grey butcher bird blending perfectly with a frangipani

A welcome swallow at the harbour

A noisy miner bird sucking up nectar

Our local male magpie

A pair of kookaburras

A pale-headed rosella perched on a garden stake

Australian ibis cruising down the beach

It’s early morning and an osprey is catching some sun

Brahmani kite has just caught a fish

Osprey checking the scenery

Rainbow lorikeet confrontation. See those RED eyes?

A crested pigeon

The problem with climate change

Since I don’t live under a rock I have heard all about sixteen-year-old Greta Thunberg’s epic voyage across the ocean to speak to the UN about the inaction on climate change. And, of course, the student (and others) ‘strike’ across the world.

In Australia, the news was full of the marches in the cities. The media ‘interviewed’ a five-year-old, who said he was marching to save the world, and two eleven-year-olds, who wanted to get rid of ScoMo and the Adani coal mine. Both convincing arguments. Just a minute while I unroll my eyes.

I wonder what all the tub-thumping is going to achieve. I suppose one outcome is that more people will give some thought to where the world is headed and what we can do about it, and that’s a good thing. I also admire this young girl who is trying to make a difference. She’s already getting lots of applause – and also a lot of opprobrium, and I hope those looking after this kid will help her through all of that.

She’s getting plenty of media attention from both sides of the argument. My Facebook feed is full of her photos. But here’s one reader’s comment from The Australian’s article headed Greta Thunberg berates world leaders at UN climate summit that struck a chord with me. “A privileged Swedish 16-year-old claiming that climate change has stolen her dreams. Really!! How about she, whilst on her study break, travels to the slums of India where her peers struggle to make do with 1 power point and no running water. Where they have only one dream, a chance of a fair go so that they could turn their circumstances around.”

In India, they ARE trying to make things better for their people. So are the Chinese. To do that they need industry and they need power and for reliable power supplies they need coal-fired power stations. India and China are building hundreds of new coal-fired power plants, even as they are harnessing as many renewable sources as they can. [1] If they don’t get good quality ‘clean’ coal from Australia, they’ll buy the dirty stuff from somebody else so the net effect on the world’s climate by not digging up our coal will be a negative value.

Not that it matters anyway. CO₂ doesn’t cause lobal warming. Whether you’re a ‘believer’ in man-made climate change or not, I urge you to give up the time to watch The Great Global Warming Swindle. It’s 75 minutes long but worth every second.  Scientists, eminent in their fields,  present hard scientific facts to explain what really causes climate change on planet Earth. And it isn’t the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. I’d love for Greta Thunberg to watch it, too. It might set her mind at rest – or maybe divert her considerable energy to more worthwhile causes, like the state of our oceans.

Sure, the planet has problems but cutting CO₂ emissions isn’t going to help. In fact in some ways it makes things worse. In Australia older coal-fired power plants have been shut down in the name of climate change and the cost of power in those states has soared, harming business and also our most vulnerable people – those on fixed incomes. If, in one of the richest countries in the world, older Australians are dying of cold because they can’t afford to pay power bills, we have a problem. [2] And if it’s bad here, imagine how bad it is in undeveloped countries in Asia and Africa. It’s very difficult to raise the standard of living anywhere without reliable power.

If you’re still supporting the “CO₂  causing global warming” argument,  Greta Thunberg’s address to the UN included a number of alarming predictions based on ‘scientific’ climate models. My understanding of the scientific method is that someone puts up a hypothesis which is tested by experiment. The hypothesis is used to predict results, which must be repeatable. Evolution is accepted as a theory, many times tested and proved. Einstein’s famous equation is also a theory, constantly tested and proved.

The same can’t be said for current climate models. Remember back in the 1970s we were on the way to a new ice age? Oops. Perhaps not. Then it became ‘global warming’ and now it’s the one in the middle – climate change. That’s at least safe. To test a climate hypothesis, scientists collect data from the past and see if the predicted outcomes fit what actually happened. The trouble is, accurate climate data doesn’t go back far enough to provide realistic results using the current models. We have seen climate model after climate model predicting terrible outcomes. Here’s a list. None of them actually happened.

And although I have no doubt many scientists are ethical that’s not always the case. Scientists can, and do, manipulate data to support a position. Look at Dr Michael Mann vs Dr Tim Ball. Mann produced the famous ‘hockey stick’ graph used by Al Gore in his ‘inconvenient truth’ campaign. Ball questioned the data. “In 2003 a Canadian study showed the “hockey stick” curve “is primarily an artefact of poor data handling, obsolete data and incorrect calculation of principal components.Read the whole story here. Professor Ball is one of the scientists interviewed in The Great Global Warming Swindle. In this presentation Physicist Dr Willie Soon describes Dr Manning’s representation as ‘fradulent’. He discusses this and several other ways in which data has been manipulated ro serve a purpose. He has a few withering things to say about the climate models being used. Well worth your time.

Closer to home, respected marine physicist Professor Peter Ridd was sacked from James Cook University for questioning some of the research on the ‘demise’ of the Great Barrier Reef. His appeal against unlawful dismissal was upheld. More about that case here. And then there’s Dr Ian Plimer, a geologist who is a well-known climate sceptic, arguing that the climate has always changed. Read more about him here.

Greta Thunberg is not the first youngster to bring her concerns to the UN climate summit. In 2014 Kathy Jetnil-Kijner read her poem about rising sea levels and how they would swamp the Pacific islands. The trouble is, they’re not. Three studies have found most of the islands are, in fact, growing. [3] So much of what we’re being fed is alarmist, often with little regard for the facts. Yes, sea levels are rising but not by the metres alarmists claim. [4]

Here’s Andrew Bolt giving his position on Australia’s climate change guru and alarmist-in-chief, paelentologist Tim Flannery. Ignore Bolt’s hyperbole and listen to his FACTS. Bolt on Flannery

I would urge young Greta – and maybe everybody else – to listen to what Bjorn Lomborg has to say on the subject.

The climate will change without us, but there’s still plenty we CAN do. We contribute to the destruction of our world in lots of other ways –

  • Deforestation
  • Over fishing,
  • Species extinction, often because of loss of habitat, also because of stupidity such as trophy-hunting and absurd traditional medicines
  • Plastic waste
  • Over population (that’s the big one and short of war, famine, and/or pestilence, the only answer to it is education)

Perhaps everyone could focus their attention on some of those issues, where what we do will make a difference. I read today France has banned the use of single-use plastic cutlery, plates, and cups. [5] It’s a great start. As Mister Lomborg suggests, we should be looking for innovative alternatives. Instead of stopping all air travel (yeah, right) we should be investing in research to find better engines or using things like Skype for conferences instead of travelling. We should be using biodegradable materials to make throw-away cups, plates, and cutlery. We should be buying wooden toys instead of plastic junk… etc.

Here’s a thought. Why don’t we give up on globalism and go back to sourcing as much as possible of what we need locally? Think of the outcomes. Jobs, less introduced plant pests, no more sending fish caught by Western fishermen to China for processing, no more producing far, far more than we need to sell overseas.

At the end, though, the answers in our increasingly complex world won’t come from going back to the stone age. I’d vote for putting more money into innovation and research.

And please – watch The Great Global Warming Swindle.

 

 

Sanitising history

When I went to university I studied history. One of the reasons was my own family history – that is, what my family endured during World War II in Amsterdam.  It was all relatively fresh back then. My four sisters were all born before the war and the older of my two brothers was born just after the Germans marched into Holland. In Australia, many of my friends’ parents had been in the army fighting the Japanese. The memory of the war years was a part of life.

But as the years turn into decades and those who survived start to die off, memories fade and facts become fuzzy. In particular, the horrible reality of the Holocaust has, for far too many, become a late-night movie shot in tones of sepia, something that wasn’t real. Some world leaders (and others) state the Holocaust never happened. And in Europe and America and Australia, too, angry young white men wave Nazi flags to show their superiority. They wave a flag that their grandparents fought to tear down. Have they forgotten, or did they never know?

I read an article in The Australian the other day – I won’t link it because it’s a subscription newspaper. The headline is “Golden oldies out of tune with the taste tests of today”. As you’d expect, it’s about musical lyrics from the sixties and seventies which these days would (apparently) cause people to raise their eyebrows.

Examples include:

  • Summer Nights from Grease: That line “did she put up a fight?” had to go (see above)
  • Rolling Stones’s Brown Sugar: “Hear him whip the women just around midnight” is not acceptable and Mick Jagger no longer sings those words.
  • Beatles’s Norwegian Wood: Apparently about a man who is annoyed with a woman who won’t sleep with him, so he burns down her house. Can’t have that. (To which I’ll add it had never occurred to me that’s what the song was about until I read the article)
  • Johnny Cash’s A Boy Named Sue: Gender stereotypes.
  • Etc

Artists have been forced to change the words, or the songs are no longer played by some broadcasters.

This isn’t new. Enid Blyton’s gollywogs had to go because they were seen as demeaning black people. That connotation never occurred to this avid reader. Gollys were just dolls.

Agatha Christie’s excellent 1939 murder mystery And Then There Were None was originally titled Ten Little Niggers, after the children’s rhyme of the same name which plays an important role in the plot. You’ll find the words of the rhyme – several different versions – in this article. But the word ‘nigger’ was deemed offensive in the US, so the name was changed for that market. And I accept that’s fair enough. That’s marketing. For instance, Jack McDevitt’s book Slow Lightning was called Infinity Beach in America for the same reason.

These days, the title Ten Little Niggers has been changed to And Then There Were None for everybody. I suspect ‘ten little Indians’, which was the version of the rhyme I remember from my childhood, was just as offensive. For me it was a counting rhyme with no particular connotations at all. In fact, I don’t see how words in this sort of context can offend. Sure, words can be weapons – either in person or on social media, cruel epithets flung at people. But something like a book title?

Then there’s all the tub-thumping about statues. In the US it’s the Civil War monuments. In Australia, Captain Cook’s statue has been defaced. In Holland people argued about the statue to Coen (governor of Batavia in what is now Indonesia) in his birthplace of Hoorn. In Oxford, Cecil Rhodes’s legacy is under attack. Benjamin Franklin is criticised for owning slaves. Lord Nelson is criticised for participating in the slave trade.

All of this bothers me. It’s white-washing history, trying to sanitize the past to fit in with what’s acceptable now and I think it’s counter-productive.

These events happened. Those beliefs were common, and acceptable. If we try to pretend none of it ever happened, we’re kidding ourselves. That’s how you end up with white supremacists waving Nazi flags as though that’s the New Order to which we should aspire. Isn’t it better to accept that bad things happened in the past and move on? You know, actually LEARN from history?

Going back to the musical lyrics, one has to ask if the current gangsta rap music is going to be held to the same standards as the golden oldies from the sixties? Or is it okay for current music to talk about sex, drug-taking, rape, and murder? The rappers themselves contend they’re ‘singing’ about the reality of inner cities, where poverty, drugs, and despair are a way of life. Songs written in the sixties and seventies likewise reflected the era.

Perhaps in fifty years or so, when the current hits become the golden oldies, they’ll be sanitised then.

The dawn of terrorism

Tributes lights over the skyline of Manhattan, New York on Memorial day 9-11-2014

I suppose in everyone’s life there are indelible moments, times you don’t want to forget, others you couldn’t forget if you tried, and others that mark monumental events in time. For me, one such was the Moon landing in 1969.

Another was the attack of the World Trade Centre in New York in 2001.

Last Wednesday marked the eighteenth anniversary of the destruction of the World Trade Centre’s twin towers in New York city. It’s one of those iconic dates, referred to by Americans as 9/11 and I guess even we Australians accept that date means the eleventh of September, not the ninth of November.

In the early morning of 12th September I was listening to ABC radio while Pete was in the shower getting ready to go to work. I’d just been retrenched, so I was in no rush. And then I heard something disturbing about New York. When Pete appeared from the bathroom, I said, “Something terrible’s happened in New York.”

We turned on the TV and saw the awful vision of first one plane, then another, ploughing into the towers. Pete went to work while I tuned into the news, gathering everything I could. There’d been a third attack on the Pentagon, and a fourth attack ended in a field, heroically prevented by the passengers. When the TV died (they pick the BEST moments) I tuned into the radio and listened to the talking heads.

Over the days we got a new TV and watched the footage of the planes hitting, the dust and smoke, first one tower, then the other, collapsing with the precision of a controlled demolition. People walking down dark, crowded stairwells while the building burned above them. The fire fighters and police killed in the line of duty. And the people, trapped above the levels where the planes hit, jumping to their deaths. That’s the vision that haunts me.

Through it all, although so far away, I could feel the sense of disbelief that something like this could happen in America, of all places. Things like that happened in the Middle East, not in the West. Americans weren’t the only ones who were left shaken and perhaps prophetically, a lot more vulnerable.

People visit the memorial to the vistims of 9/11. Photo by Tobe Roberts from Pexels

Life goes on. The young people who weren’t born when the attack happened could be forgiven for not quite understanding the depth of feeling of those who remember the event. There has been endless speculation and conspiracy theories. And many people who weren’t killed or injured on the day have had to live with post-traumatic stress disorder. Many have died of diseases acquired because of the toxic dust that swept through the city. They were the most immediate effects. But looking back, I think it’s fair to say that this event marked the beginning of the overt war between the West and Islam, and the start of terrorism, to which we have become all too familiar.

I appreciate the first shots were fired much earlier, when Saddam Hussein tested the metal of the West by invading Kuwait. Although that battle was won, it left lingering resentment, and that, I believe, led to the attack on New York. That in turn gave George W. Bush the excuse to finish the war against Saddam Hussein which his father had started when freeing Kuwait. The result of ousting Saddam has been on-going instability in that region which Western powers cannot ‘fix’.

9 11 was also when the war in Afghanistan started, to root out the terrorist group Al Qaeda, deemed responsible for the attack on New York. The war in Afghanistan has continued since that time, beginning to rival some of the medieval European wars – the Hundred Years War between France and England, and the Thirty Years War both come to mind. Again, the West can’t ‘fix’ Afghanistan. You can’t force democracy on people. By definition, really. “Government by the people”[1] only works when the ‘people’ have a commitment to making it work. And where the powerful elites, especially the military, are also committed to making it work.

That kind of segues neatly into the recent death of Robert Mugabe, dictator of Zimbabwe. He came to power in 1980 after a protracted war with Ian Smith’s majority white government. At the time the then Rhodesia was a jewel in the African crown, a prosperous, well-run nation. It was understandable that Mugabe and other black leaders like Joshua Nkomo wanted to see their own people share that wealth, so they encouraged buy-outs by blacks of white farms. But soon enough the policy turned to eviction of white farmers, who left the country in droves. It wasn’t just the whites, though. Like so many African countries, Zimbabwe was beset with tribal conflicts. Political leaders were attacked. Here’s an example. In a public statement Mugabe said, “ZAPU and its leader, Dr. Joshua Nkomo, are like a cobra in a house. The only way to deal effectively with a snake is to strike and destroy its head.” He unleashed the Fifth Brigade upon Nkomo’s Matabeleland homeland in Operation Gukurahundi, killing up to 20,000 Ndebele civilians in an attempt to destroy ZAPU and create a one-party state. Nkomo fled the country.” [2]

Since those times Zimbabwe has become a basket case, with soaring inflation, starvation, and general unrest suppressed by Mugabe’s military. In contrast, Mugabe lived in luxury, in a twenty-five bedroom mansion, as shown in this article. Mugabe comes across as a man who was obsessed with power and keeping it. It’s just a shame that his ousting and death won’t make any difference.

Spring has sprung

Our side garden while the grass is still green

For those of us in the southern hemisphere, spring is either around the corner or happening now. It’s not a huge event for us. The only deciduous trees we have are frangipanis and yes, the leaf buds at the ends of the branches are starting to swell. The very coldest (for us) winter nights are behind us now and the days are warm, in the mid-twenties, and dry. Soon enough the temperatures will rise and with them, the humidity. If we’re very lucky, we might even have a wet season this year but so far, the prospects are not good. We can already see the grass drying out.

It’s that oscillation between the oceans. The west coast is getting some of the rain it missed out on in the last few years and over here on the east coast many areas are enduring another year of drought. Last year the rain expected in the wet season, between December and March, didn’t happen here. The only cyclones were right up north and thankfully not very strong, although one huge rain depression sat over Townsville causing devastation on drought-ravaged pastoral properties. I think the graziers up there are still cleaning up. But at least the rain topped up the dams, the inland rivers, and the ground water.

Lorikeets love callistemon flowers

Here in Hervey Bay the callistemons are starting to flower, much to the delight of the lorikeets and other honey eaters. The mango trees are setting fruit and we have our fingers crossed that this year the rain will come and we’ll actually get more survivors than last year’s two. That’s right; two mangoes from two large trees. Our lime tree is bearing well and we’ve frozen quite a lot of juice in ice cube trays.  They’re lovely to add to water on a hot and humid day.

One tree has brand new tiny mangoes

The other tree is still in the flower stage

This year also we’ll keep an eye on those bunches of ripening bananas. We were warned that if we didn’t collect them when they were just ripe the birds would help us. We were a day late and didn’t salvage any. But the lorikeets, miner birds, and blue-faced honey eaters (also called ‘banana birds’) enjoyed a feast.

Hopefully we’ll get to share this with the birds

Limes

Salad greens and herbs, with three tomato plants down the end. We’ve also planted seeds for snow peas and green beans

We’ve been busy in the garden planting herbs and salad greens. Come summer the plants will bolt but in the meantime, rocket (arugula) and lettuce will be welcome. So will the tomatoes. We’ve planted a large variety, a roma tomato, and a cherry tomato. They’ll go well with basil, coriander, and parsley. It’ll be lovely as long as we can keep the insects at bay, especially fruit fly.

I’ve also planted some ornamental flower seeds to fill in some corners. Who knew petunia seeds were so small? They’re the only ones that haven’t made a showing so far. But there’s time.

(L-R) allysum, cosmos, marigolds, petunias

The main thing we need is rain. If you’d care to help us by sending up prayers, magical spells, or incantations, or maybe suitable ritual sacrifices if that’s part of your belief system, we would be very grateful.

An unforgettable experience

Black backs and dorsal fins – a moving pod

It’s whale season in the Bay, that time of year when humpback whales make their annual migration up both sides of the Australian continent to give birth to their young in the warm waters of the tropics before heading back down south to Antarctica for the summer. Many whales on the East Coast run stop into Hervey Bay on the way south to take a break, maybe see if they can get a fin over (the boys) or fatten up their calves for the southern cold (the mums). The sub-adults come along for some fun and to learn the ropes and they’ll often interact with the people on the whale watching boats. Numbers are increasing every year and a few Minke whales and some southern right whales have been spotted, too.

I love whale watching. Armed with my camera, I go out at least once a year and sometimes twice. Some experiences are better than others, depending on the whales. It’s not a circus. They don’t perform to order. Sometimes they feel like interacting with the boats, other times they don’t. But when they do, it’s simply wonderful.

The very first time I went whale watching was 2007, the first year we lived here. We’d moved north from Victoria with a removal van full of stuff and two cars carrying the fragiles, clothes and so on. After wo weeks of unpacking boxes, moving furniture around, buying shelves and sideboards, and all those other jobs associated with moving house, we needed a break. Hervey Bay touted itself as the whale watching capital of the world so we bought a couple of tickets and off we went. On that occasion, Pete came, too. He doesn’t have my passion.

The trip from the harbour to Platypus Bay off Fraser Island, where the whales congregate, takes around forty-five minutes, travelling straight across the Great Sandy Strait to Fraser Island’s Moon Point, then up the channel that runs so close to the beach you can almost reach out and grab a handful of sand. From there, the boats fan out over the wide expanse of the bay and start looking for whales.

That year the whales were in spectacular form.

I parked myself on the boat’s top deck (it has three) while Pete stayed down on the lower deck, closest to the water. I used a Canon 20D. It was my earlier photography days and I had the camera set at sports mode, which is basically shutter priority with auto everything else. You never know when a whale is going to do something so I soon learned to keep the camera up to my eye with my finger hovering on the shutter.

On any whale watching trip you’ll see whales just cruising along like those in the top picture, often in casual groups of two or three that’s known as a ‘pod’. It’s not a family – humpbacks are normally solitary. A dorsal fin will slice through the water, a column of expelled air will spout from the blowhole, then they’ll dive to rise again somewhere else. People who have never been whale watching before will take lots of pictures of backs and fins. Yes, me too, in the early days. But now I want something more to photograph.

The whales have a number of “party tricks” which are really just their natural behaviour. They’ll display their tail fins, roll around in the water, slap their tails hard in an action known as a peduncle slap, wave their long pectoral fins in the air, and perform kind of horizontal rolls in the water. Groups of randy males will get together in ‘fighting pods’ where they’re trying to prove who’s bigger and tougher, and that’s something to see with lots of grunting and churning water.

But all the skippers agree there are two behaviours that are stand-outs: breaching, where the whale flings its whole body up and out of the water, to fall down with a monumental splash. And there’s the skyhop, where the curious whale approaches a boat and hangs vertically in the water with its snout above the surface. Breaches are fairly rare and you have to count yourself lucky. So are serious skyhops.

Friends, on that wonderful trip in 2007 we saw it all. Tail-waving, pectoral-waving, tail slaps – and breach after breach after breach and the most magical skyhop I have ever seen. So… come along and see the photos I took with my pretty amateur camera back in 2007. Excuse the quality – just enjoy the moment.

A tail wave. The underside of the tail is like a fingerprint – every whale’s is different

Waving a pectoral fin. The whale is on its side, relaxed and happy, and there’s another whale cruising along beside it.

A vigorous tail-slap

A (slightly fuzzy) breach. She’s on her way down.

He’s come right out of the water and now he’s heading down for the splash

A truly spectacular back flip

Sideways, horizontal to the surface

The splash down is incredible

Face to face with a humpback. They can see clearly through water and air. The eyes are just below the surface.

So close

Many of my other trips have been marvellous in their own special way. Approaches by a mother and calf, a very young calf frolicking in the water, a pod of six males fighting, and a forty-five minutes ‘mugging’ (where whales hang around the boat, meaning the skipper can’t move until they leave) by a curious teenager. But this first time was totally memorable. I hope you enjoyed the glimpse.

 

A glimpse of San Francisco

The seven sisters (painted ladies) with the city behind them. I wouldn’t want to live in a tourist attraction.

After a very nice breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant we were ready to catch the shuttle bus into the San Francisco city centre. But it turned out to be a shuttle for a lot of hotels in the area, not just the Marriot. The driver came into the foyer and told us the bus was full – but if we wanted to stand for the half hour trip into town we could do that. Pete and I shrugged and got on the bus. In the scheme of things a half hour stand wasn’t a big deal.

Within a few minutes a young couple who looked Japanese offered us their seats. We refused, as you do. It was our choice to come on a bus with no seats. But they insisted and so we thanked them and sat down. We exchanged a sheepish glance. It was one of the first times we’d actually been faced with the fact that people thought we were OLD.

Little boxes on a hillside…

The bus went along a freeway. It was interesting looking at the suburbs spreading up into the hillsides around the bay. It reminded me of that Pete Seeger song – little boxes.

We hopped off the bus in the city’s central square, once again thanking the young couple who’d stood for us. The day was cool and although the drizzle seemed to have moved away, we weren’t sure. A line of double decker, open-topped buses stood in a row, offering sight-seeing tours and we thought we’d better do that rather than just walk around. That way, we’d get our bearings and see some of the main sights without wearing off any more shoe leather.

The view from the bus

Like the rest of the world, we’ve seen San Fran in the movies. We knew about the steep roads courtesy of Steve McQueen’s movies, the tram cars were familiar – they’re the same as the older style used in Melbourne – in fact, that’s where they came from. And we knew about the hippy flower days of the sixties and seventies, when we were young. That vibe still remains in areas like Haight Street. The whole inner city is bright with colour and quirkiness. Street art was flourishing even back in 2011, a little earlier than many places. Given a choice between Washington, New York and San Francisco, San Francisco won hands down for me.

Lombard St

Lovely American architecture

What it says

Back to the days of flower power

I’m sure the food’s lovely

Wonderful street art

Stevie Wonder’s paver (and a few others)

After the bus tour finished Pete and I caught a tram down to Fisherman’s Wharf, another place we’d heard a lot about. The place was packed with tourists, many of them doing what we were doing, stopping for a seafood lunch. Of course we had clam chowder. It was delicious and very filling and we regretted the fish and chips we’d ordered as a main course. Hey ho. We did our best, then wandered around the waterfront.

A road to the Bay

Fisherman’s Wharf

There’s more to Fisjerman’s Wharf than just the restaurants. We ambled through the tourist area, picking up a couple of Tee shirts to take home, then checked the historical precinct.

 

A sub and a Liberty ship

Alcatraz stood on its island in the middle of the bay but we couldn’t get on a tour. A submarine, and one of the original liberty ships built by Rosie the Riveter and her companions, were moored at the quay and were open to visitors. Read all about them here. In fact the liberty ships were actually built in the waterways next to our hotel. The factories are long gone, replaced by parkland.

Alcatraz

After a full day we boarded the shuttle bus back to the hotel. We were looking forward to having a pre-dinner drink, then enjoying a steak in the restaurant. But at around 6:30 on a Friday evening the bar and the restaurant were both closed. When we enquired at reception we were told the bar and restaurant were only open from Monday to Thursday. The clerk couldn’t suggest any restaurants nearby but we could order a taxi into the city. Apart from that, we’d find an order-in menu at the back of the amenities folder in our room. He assured us the food was good.

We were frankly amazed. This was a Marriot hotel. But I suppose it was in a more industrial part of town, no doubt frequented by business travellers rather than tourists. We schlepped back to our room to consider options. We looked on the internet but there wasn’t anything within walking distance of the hotel so we opted for a delivery to the room. Pete ordered a veal and mushroom casserole with a salad and a beer.  I ordered lasagne – after all, who could mess up lasagne – and a bottle of Chilean wine. We were told the food would be delivered in about an hour.

Two hours later Pete rang to find out what the hell had happened. After the usual pathetic excuses they said the delivery should get to us in ten minutes. Make that more like fifteen. Whatever. At around 9:30pm at last we had food.

Or so we thought. My lasagne was disgusting, grey mush which might have been meat between a couple of sheets of pasta. It was totally horrible – so bad that I wrote am email to the company complaining about it. Pete’s food was a bit better without being brilliant so we shared that.

Chicken and mushroom casserole with rice

“Lasagne”

This was our last evening in America. It certainly didn’t end in quite the way I would have hoped although it was memorable – for all the wrong reasons.

Our breakfast venue

Next morning the hotel restaurant being closed, we caught the shuttle bus (not crowded this time) into town and found a bar serving a cooked breakfast. It was a fun place and Pete enjoyed chatting with some of the folks there. Really, on this, our last day, we didn’t do much just strolled around the city, visiting some of the shops and malls.

Later in the evening we collected our bags and went to the airport for the long haul home. San Francisco to Los Angeles, then the seventeen-hour flight to Brisbane on Qantas.

It was going to be nice to be home.

 

Crossing America

San Francisco and the bridge

After our stay in Washington we would be flying across America to San Francisco on the west coast. I’m not sure why we weren’t on a direct flight, but we weren’t. We would be flying to Detroit, then on to SFO on Delta, which Pete thought was the better of the US airlines. In fact, before we left Australia, Delta informed us we’d been upgraded from business class to first class. How nice. We arrived at Washington’s airport in plenty of time for our flight and discovered a few… unexpected things about air travel in the USA.

Although airports everywhere are trying to shorten queues and reduce the number of staff at airports in various ways, up to this point (in 2011) everywhere we’d been we went up to a counter, checked in our luggage with the clerk, where we watched it disappear via a conveyor belt, and received our boarding passes. Not in Washington. For a start we had to wait a looong time to get served, despite being business class/ first class. And then when we checked in we were given a boarding pass and told to take our suitcases up to baggage handling ourselves. Then we had to go through security. When I noticed other people taking off their shoes I asked a staff member if that was required. She looked at me as if I was a bit stupid or just being difficult. There were no signs telling passengers what was needed, or if there were I didn’t see them and I STILL haven’t been through any other country’s security where shoes had to be removed – unless they set off the alarm. It was also the first time I’d been through the full-body X-ray booth.

Business class boarded first and we sat watching the other passengers file down the aisle. Many of them had suitcases which were almost as large as the bags we’d checked in and the cabin crew stuffed the luggage anywhere it could fit in the overhead lockers. Obviously, everybody was avoiding checking in luggage. We landed in Detroit and found our flight to SFO had been delayed several hours. Despite our business class/first class tickets we were not permitted into the airline’s lounge so we kicked our heels clock-watching with everyone else.

At last, we boarded and we were off. Flying across America takes as long as flying across Australia but the view is very different. In Australia most of the flight is over desert, the red heart of the country. In America we crossed farmland, enormous rivers, large cities, and mountain ranges. And maybe a bit of desert. The view out the window was great.

City, river, and hills

Farmland

Mountains

I can’t say the same for business class service. It’s a five-hour flight so we were offered a meal. We were in the last row of the business class section (I never did see any sign of first class) so the choice was a do-it-yourself hamburger, or nothing. The salad had already been snapped up by everybody else. We were delivered a tepid meat patty, a cold bun, a slice of plastic cheese, a lettuce leaf, slices of tomato, and some dressing for the burger, with potato salad (I think) and a slice of cake. I didn’t finish the burger and only tasted the potato salad which was inedible IMO. I probably ate the cake. It was the worst meal we had on any flight anywhere, by a long way.

First class meal

By the time we got to San Francisco it was quite late. We’d booked two nights in a Marriot hotel situated between the airport and the city that offered a regular shuttle bus into San Francisco. The place had a nice restaurant with an inviting menu but it was too late to eat a meal, so we sat at the bar and had a couple of drinks with some nuts before we wandered off to bed.

We’d have tomorrow and a good part of the next day to look around before we headed home.

The Natural History museum and a bit more Washington

The elephant in the room

Today we visited the Natural History Museum, with its foyer dominated by an elephant. Like its counterpart in New York, the way the exhibits are displayed is wonderful, showing creatures’ skeletons in the setting where they once lived before the climate changed. There was a minerology section and we saw the famous Hope diamond

Life and death

Crystals

The Hope diamond

Later we used Washington’s excellent train system to go to Crystal City, a shopping mall on the other side of town near the Pentagon. The trains are great – clean and fast. I was surprised at the lack of patronage but at least we had our choice of seats 😊

Washington’s subway

We wanted to experience a bit more of ordinary life in the city. For a start, we tried a Starbucks coffee. Sorry, Americans, both of us pronounced it horrible. We tried getting into Costco but the door guards wouldn’t let us even go in for a sticky-beak without a member’s card. So we went to Walmart instead. The store sold everything at often a fraction of the price we pay in Oz. But we didn’t see anybody who would have qualified as one of the Walmart people whose images are shared on the internet.

A 1950’s style diner

Then we strolled around the many levels of the mall filled with too many fashion shops (just like at home), bought lunch at a food court, and ended up in an electronics store, where Pete, who wouldn’t touch a Kindle with a barge pole, admired the Sony equivalent. The price was much less than we would have paid in Australia, so he bought one. That caused all sorts of problems back home when we tried to buy books for it. The system recognised the serial number as bought in America, but the American site wouldn’t let us buy books because we were in Australia. Sigh. This was 2011, remember. Since then, Sony and a number of other sites no longer sell books or dedicated readers and everybody (including Pete) uses a tablet to read.

There were a lot of uniforms in the mall – understandable with the Pentagon close by. There’s a diner there, too, the classic American model of the 1950’s. No waitresses on rollerblades, though.

The capitol building

The Washington monument

Ulysses S. Grant

Horses drag artillery in the Civil War

We caught the train back to the area around the Capitol building. It’s certainly an impressive pile of stone, kind of Roman in design. I expect that was deliberate. Then we headed into greener areas and admired a number of statues commemorating the Civil War, including General and later US President, Ulysses S. Grant. At the time work was underway preparing for an event which I suspect had to do with the Vietnam War. We noticed a couple of vets looking around.

Our last stop was at a stall near the museums that sold Tee shirts. I’d bought a Tee shirt in every country we visited and I acquired one with a bald eagle on the front. By that time the feet were starting to complain loudly. Looking back, we were eight years younger and a lot, lot fitter then.

Here are a couple of pictures of locals.

Tomorrow we would be heading for San Francisco, our last stop before the long flight home.