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Gator Huntin' In the Bayou

LOUISIANA - PART II

sunny 95 °F

After 3 days and 2 nights on Bourbon Street, it was time to get out of the Big Easy and head south to the bayou.

We boarded a bus outside our hotel and drove 45 minutes south of New Orleans. We passed the levies and drove to the end of the highway. The gulf was still another 20 miles away, but I got the feeling that not too many people lived in that direction. The heat was overbearing, and the humidity felt like a lead weight on your chest. Spanish moss hung from trees and marshy water was visible in every direction. We had arrived in gator country.

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Finding our fanboat at the dock, we boarded and plopped on the protective headphones (when the fan blades get turning, it is pretty loud). We pushed off and slowly made our way out to one of the main channels. Once we hit larger water, the guide punched the engine, and we buzzed across the water.

We used the channel lines made by the oil companies to access deeper into the bayou. The first area we arrived in looked like a giant, grassy field. The water was only 1 or 2 feet deep here and large mounds of dirt floated everywhere. The grass was light enough that it could grow on the floating dirt, but no trees could be supported here. The guide said that it felt like walking on a water bed, and it was pretty likely you would fall through. It was a little eerie seeing the grass constantly shift and move out of the way for the boat. Since the boat didn't have any parts that went into the water, we could move pretty easily through the super shallow water. Just as we were turning around to leave the first area, we spotted our first gator.

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Surprisingly, we used very different bait than the last time I went gator hunting. When attracting crocodiles in Australia, we used chicken and red meat. In Louisiana, the gators like a sweeter treat, marshmallows. Here's a video of the gator viciously attacking the bait.

Alright, so the attack is a little anticlimactic. Marshmallows don't require much stealth or viciousness. Raw meat bait would cause the gators to attack the food much more aggressively (as we saw in Australia). An aggressive gator could spell trouble, as I was only separated from them by a little chain (instead of the steel enclosed box we used in Australia). Apparently the sound of the marshmallow hitting the water gets the gator's attention, and the contrast in color between the green of the water and the white of the marshmallow make it easy to spot. The gators aren't the only things that enjoy marshmallows, a bird came in and snatched one away too.

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We moved on to some smaller channels, slowly scooting up and down looking for the bigger gators. It was amazing how well our boat was able to navigate the twisted and narrow channels, our guide was obviously an expert fanboat operator (fanboats can not go in reverse and have to be moving to turn). Here's how it looked in the channels.

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We saw a couple of baby gators swimming eagerly out to the boat, so we pulled one aboard.

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This little guy got more than he bargained for when he got too close. Everyone aboard held the gator (except Freddie) and posed for a couple pictures. Our guide talked a little bit about the gators and how they live in the channels before releasing the little guy back into the water (in the previous video, you can hear his N'awlins accent).

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We moved deeper into the channels towards an old oil connector. The guide knew several gators frequented this area because it was more open than the narrow channels. Sure enough, as soon as we made it into the area, two big gators came right up to the boat.

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I thought the boat was about to tip over as we all crowded to the side to see the big guys. The larger gators like marshmallows just as much as the smaller ones.

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As guys tend to do, we have to keep pushing the envelope. No longer just satisfied with being a foot away from a 12 foot gator, our guide decided to start messing with him by trying to grab the gator.

He eventually grabbed hold of the biggest gator.

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We headed back towards the dock, but took a detour through the lake. The lake was enormous. Balls of dirt floated in the water, but much less frequently than in the area we first stopped. The fanboat skimmed over the water as we drove around at full throttle. After doing a large loop, we went back into the narrower channels.

Just before we got back to the dock, we passed a raised cemetery. The cemeteries are often raised due to the high water table, which would push the air filled coffins out of the soggy ground (eventually the coffins would flood and sink back into the ground). It was still a cool thing to see. This cemetery was only accessible by boat as the original pathway was washed out in one of the passing hurricanes.

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We exited the boat, said thanks to our guide, and then boarded the bus to head back into New Orleans. Leaving in the same manner as we arrived (in style), we called the limo to shuttle us to the airport. It was rush hour traffic, so we took a detour through some of the neighborhoods that had been affected by hurricane Katrina several years ago. 4 out of 5 houses were boarded up and in total disrepair, but then you passed a house that looked in great shape. The driver explained that a lot of people took the money from the government and moved away, while some actually used the money to rebuild their destroyed houses. Our driver proudly boasted that he had used his money to buy a new truck and moved in with his sister. It left me with mixed feelings about donating to the Katrina relief fund.

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Arriving at the airport, our trip to Louisiana was over, but it had been a great time.

Posted by Mike.Flynn 18:54 Archived in USA Tagged animals boats marshes tour Comments (0)

Manly Beach

sunny 83 °F

Greg, Jason, and Will have arrived in Sydney. What's the first thing to do? Head to the beach!

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I had read the best way to combat jetlag was to begin eating on your new time schedule, get out into the sun so your body knows it's time to be awake, and keep the blood pumping. Dawn and I figured a walk to the beach would keep our new arrivals awake for their first day.

After making a quick stop at the mall for a couple haircuts, we walked the long (and I mean long) way to the wharf. We walked the entire length of downtown, but it was perfect for a first impression of Sydney. Lots of people, lots of walking, lots of new sights kept the guys moving. Our destination was Manly Beach, the closest beach on the north side of Sydney Harbor.

The best part about Manly Beach is the scenic route in which we take to get there. The beaches on the southern side of the harbor are a bus ride through the suburbs with nothing really to see. However, Manly Beach requires a walk through downtown and then a scenic ferry ride across the harbor with awesome views of the Opera House and Harbor Bridge.

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Slowly chugging across the ferry you can take in the entire city from the water (the best way to view Sydney). You pass by the naval shipping yard, past the island once used as a base for protecting the harbor, past the huge houses on the north shore, past the zoo, and past the opening to the Pacific Ocean. Sailboats and yachts zigzag in front of the ferry. We even saw a submarine headed back out to sea! We landed on the harbor side of Manly and made our way through the beach town.

While the rest of us were focused on getting to the beach, Jason bolted down the street. He was the first to notice the fountains along the walk to the beach, and before anyone could stop him, he ran right through the middle of them.

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Jason didn't just run through the fountains once, twice, or even three times. He repeatedly charged back and forth through the water. Notice that the only other participants were a 4 year-old and a 6 year-old (whom had to dodge Jason as he barreled past them).

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After dragging Jason away from the fountains, we made our way to the beach. Manly beach is larger than the beaches south of the harbor (Bondi, Coogee) and has more of the feel of the beaches in North Carolina (long, straight beaches versus beaches lining the inside of a cove). Jason crashed on the blanket, Will made some friends on the volleyball court, while Dawn, Greg, and I took a dip in the ocean.

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A good thing about Manly is that portions of the beach are shaded in the afternoon by the giant pine trees that line the beach (which was good since it reduced the chance that Jason would bet burnt after passing out on the blanket). We spent the afternoon relaxing on the beach and catching up on stories from back home.

Once the sun started to set, we made our way back to the ferry for the ride back into the city. A beautiful sunset over the city completed a great day at the beach.

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Posted by Mike.Flynn 02:00 Archived in Australia Tagged boats beach world_heritage_site Comments (0)

Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race

sunny 85 °F

Since 1945 an event called the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race takes place on December 26. As the name suggests, the event is a yacht race that begins in Sydney's harbor and ends at Hobart, Tasmania. Eager to see the start of the race, Dawn and I headed out to Watson's Bay to watch.

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The distance between Sydney and Hobart is about 730 miles. Bass Strait (area of water between Tasmania and the rest of Australia) is renowned for its high winds and difficult seas. Even though the race is held in the Australian summer, storms often make the Sydney-Hobart race cold, bumpy, and very challenging for the crew. It is typical for a considerable number of yachts to pull out of the race before the Bass Strait crossing. The first year the race was held it took over 6 days to make the trip. The winners of recent races finish in about 2 days. The same boat (Wild Oats XI) has won the last 4 years (including the race we saw).

As you can see on the map above, Sydney's harbor narrows as it connects with the Pacific Ocean. We were on the southern point at Watson's Bay. On the bay side, you are rewarded with beautiful views of the harbor with a backdrop of downtown Sydney (you can see the Harbor Bridge and part of downtown in the picture below). We arrived about 40 minutes before the race started, so we got to see the yachts begin to jostle for position in the harbor. We put down a blanket, ate a packed lunch, and enjoyed the beautiful day with the many other people who made it out to view the beginning of the race.

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At 1pm the race started and we watched all the yachts open up their sails and make their way out of the harbor. We walked to the ocean side of Watson's Bay to watch the yachts hit the open sea. Luxury and motor boats circled the yachts, helicopters swarmed like bees, and people lined up 4 deep along the coastline to try to get a good view. Watching the yachts head off into the ocean was nice, but the most impressive view was of the entrance to the Sydney harbor itself. Watson's Bay's ocean side was made of tall cliffs that looked out over the ocean. If not for the race, I probably would have never known that such a scenic view of the ocean existed here in Sydney.

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20 minutes after the start of the race, Dawn and I had seen enough boats. We decided to take a leisurely walk back towards the city along the harbor coastline. One of the best parts about Sydney is that you are constantly presented with stunning views of the city. The Harbor Bridge and downtown skyline are visible from almost anywhere close to Sydney (you would be able to see the Opera House if Dawn's head wasn't in the way). As we walked back to the city, we took several breaks just to enjoy the beautiful view.

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Our "leisurely" walk turned into a workout. The sun was searing and the path seemed to be almost entirely uphill. We finally made it back to Rose Bay and stopped in a bar for a beer. Boxing Day is one of the biggest days of the year for cricket as it marks the beginning of an international match. Australia was hosting South Africa at the MCG (we were there!). We split some fish-n-chips and watched part of the game before finally making our way back home.

PS - If you put the timeline together from my previous post, you'll notice that we went home and played some cricket ourselves :)

Posted by Mike.Flynn 06:13 Archived in Australia Tagged boats event Comments (2)

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