December 2007


Hi everyone. We’re back, and we’ve arrived in Bangkok after a restful week in Hong Kong. We stayed with John Hulpke (Kate’s dad) at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology in Clearwater Bay. After living in a van for a month, it was terrific to stay with Kate’s dad in his comfy and roomy flat at HKUST faculty quarters.

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We got an Octopus Card so we could zip all around Hong Kong on the very clean and efficient public transporatation system. The Octopus Card works not only on subways and buses, but also at grocery stores and cafes. It’s even better than a debit card — no swiping, no PIN, just touch the card to a sensor pad and away you go. The subway system is huge yet easy to use, making it easy to get from Clearwater Bay to Hong Kong’s “Central” District, one of Asia’s — and the world’s — financial hubs. Dodging all those Armani-suited captains of the universe on Central’s busy streets was hard work; good thing the subway home is the perfect place for some shut-eye.

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(It wasn’t just sleepy-head Kate — we saw lots of people riding home from work asleep, some standing up!)

More interesting than banks in Central, was Kowloon, where there are many street markets selling everything from fresh flowers and live fish to “Gucci” bags and “Rolex” watches.

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One afternoon, while Kate was barginning hard for a pair of socks (she managed to get the merchant “down” to full price) we noticed another little reminder of home:

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We were tempted by the delicious-looking street food…

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…but decided to indulge ourselves on great Dim Sum, instead.  More than once.  (Hope we don’t come home too much bigger than when we left!)

Even though Hong Kong is on the water, it gets tons of pollution drifting over from the mainland’s nearby “special enterprise zones.” As a result vistas were a bit hazy, giving distant skyscrapers an otherworldly aspect.  Kind of lovely, actually (but not so good for the lungs).

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John shared with us one of his favorite neighborhoods, Sai Kung. It has winding streets with tiny shops and numerous good cafes — including Honeymoon Dessert, which has special separate “Durian” and “Non-Durian” seating areas. (Try googling it!) Sai Kung also has a wonderful harbor, filled with fishing junks.

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On Sunday afternoons everyone and their dog — literally — comes to Sai Kung’s waterfront park to play. Kate had a chance to commune with several of the denizens.

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And believe it or not, in Sai Kung’s park we actually saw “chestnuts roasting on an open fire”!  We ate some, which John graciously purchased after Kate angered the chestnut vendor by taking pictures. (Sorry ’bout that!)

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After a week that went way too quickly we had a fun dinner with John and his girlfriend Cubie. Note the ketchup: it was for our hamburger and fries at Dan Ryan’s Chicago Grill. Brought up fond memories for former Chicagoan Derry.

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Thanks John and Cubie (and Teresa and Grace) for a great visit! Now we’re in Bangkok, gearing up for some snorkelling on the Andaman Coast…. Hope this finds you all well and enjoying December.

Happy Solstice, with love, Derry & Kate

Hi everybody, hope all’s well back home!

Well, New Zealand has continued to grow on us. Since our last post, we left the North Island and spent a couple weeks exploring the South Island. We never quite got used to the fact that going south = colder (farther away from the equator) — this despite months spent in Mozambique. One thing we did get used to easily, though, was driving on the “wrong” side of the road. We were anxious at first but it quickly became normal; we’re relieved to report no driving mishaps.

The “Top of the South,” the northern (warmest) part of the island, was beautiful and sunny — perfect for camping and hiking in Abel Tasman National Park. The turquoise ocean with granite outcroppings and boulders reminded us a bit of Lake Tahoe.

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We spent a day hiking part of the 51 km (~32 mile) Abel Tasman Coast Trail.

While resting on one rock outcropping, we watched seals playing below us. This one swam all around, seemingly wanting to make sure we got a good picture.

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Not far from Abel Tasman, we explored a small preserve that our guidebook described as “Arthurian,” but which we found positively “King-Kongian.” Big rock outcroppings were covered with trees and roots and vines strong enough to climb up, Tarzan-style. The terrain seemed to be the natural model that all jungle gyms are trying to emulate. We followed a path as it wound around among the massive jungly rocks, down into this chasm.

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Derry hones his Spidey-skills…

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The Top of the South is full of little hidden adventures like this. After exploring King Kong’s realm, we followed the directions in our guidebook through numerous farmers’ fields, opening gates and closing them behind us, until we parked in a pasture…

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…at a trailhead that leads to a big cave. We hiked up and up and up on switchback trails as the pastures receded below us. “I don’t remember the guidebook mentioning all this uphill, do you?” “Nope!” “You didn’t happen to bring a water bottle, did you?” “Nope!” “Me neither.” But we made it up to the opening of the cave. As we descended into it (via a path, no rappelling this time!), the air turned refreshingly cool.

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The cylinder on the left is an old metal jerry can encrusted with minerals. Neato!!

Looking up out of the cave…

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…or looking out from inside the mouth of some giant snaggle-toothed beast?!? :-0

We didn’t see Gollum (to answer Mom-Sue’s question), but we did see various dragony-looking things, like this one which is hissing at Kate. Aaaaah!

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Fortunately we managed to escape from the cave unscathed except for muddy knees and hands from scrambling around.

The third Thursday in November rolled around and we thought of how grateful we are for all of YOU! (And for each other! And for the opportunity to travel.) We celebrated with a minor feast at KFC. It doesn’t look like much, but that’s actually mashed potatoes and gravy.

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We headed farther south to see something really cold — glaciers. Even here, though, we feel New Zealand’s unique juxtaposition of tropical and non-tropical, as the glacier seems to be pouring into the jungle.

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Then came a decision-point: go farther south to the fiordlands (colder and likely to be rainy), or return to the Top of the South? Assuring ourselves that we’ll visit the fiordlands next time, we headed back to the Top — and the sun — for two days of sea kayaking in the Marlborough Sounds.

On the first day we had a guide, Harry, here coaching Kate.

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Harry later set us loose to find our way to our lodging for the night — Lochmara Lodge, accessible only by boat or by the Queen Charlotte Track (another of many multi-day hiking trails in New Zealand).

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At Lochmara Lodge, we saw something as magical and beautiful as glowworms: bioluminescence in the water of the Sounds at night. Like fireflies and glowworms, this is one of those things where hearing about it and seeing it are oceans apart. We stood on the dock and dropped stones into the still black water below us. Each splash and ripple lit up with pulses of light; a shimmering comet’s tail followed each stone on its descent through the depths.

OK now for some silliness. Kate really likes animals (especially dogs) and tries to make friends with them wherever we go. One unusual campground we visited, Pelorus Bridge, is run by a family with a pet calf. In the evening the family would take the calf for a walk around the campground. It was amazing to see this calf frolicking and cavorting, sprinting around and playing chase and hide-and-seek games. (And yet we ate a hamburger for dinner tonight! Cognitive dissonance!)

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Kate loves animals…

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…and vegetables too!

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Trying to make friends with a bird…

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OW! Maybe that wasn’t such a good idea. Hopefully Kate learned a valuable lesson.

OK we are actually in Hong Kong right now, so stay tuned for another post later this week…

With love, Kate & Derry