All About Trey

Life, Travel, Adventure

Sodomite!

It’s been awhile since I’ve been attacked in church.  I sat there and listened to the preacher spit the word “sodomite” from the pulpit, over and over again, like a spear being hurled directly at me, and I bit my tongue.  I’m a good Episcopalian and we don’t cause a scene in church.  Looking back, I think I’m a bit grateful for the experience.  It’s a reminder of the real world.  An ugly reminder.  

I live in my little blue bubble.  I’ve got a loving, open, and welcoming church in DC.  My company, while very conservative in nature, has never been anything but supportive.  John and I went to the company holiday parties and everyone was welcoming, or atleast had the decency/civility to keep any ugly comments to themselves.  My family met John and loved him.  Between Ptown and my Big Gay Cruises, I even vacation in a little blue bubble.  I’m not subjected to hate, or bigotry, directly.  Not that I’m not aware of it in the world.  I am.  But I’m lucky enough to be able to wrap a nice big blue blanket around me to insulate me from the hate and bigotry.  Most of the time.

On Sunday, I went to church with my Mom.  It’s a very conservative Anglican Church aligned to the Anglican Church of Nigeria.  They don’t like The Gays.  The preacher had an interesting sermon about what the end of times means for Christians.  Interesting, but not something I agreed with.  But other than the random slight to Islam and the weird digs against Baptists and 7th Day Adventists, it was fine.  Just a comment.  In the 13 years I’ve been going to my church, I’ve never heard a preacher denigrate or disparage another religion or church.  Anyways, I’m not sure what happened, but he sort of went off the rails.  I truly believe his ad hominem attack on gays (and women) was not planned at all.  But there he was blaming sodomites for the reason why he can’t celebrate in the Episcopal Church.  Now, the term sodomites is such a good biblical term and as he said the word, repeatedly, you could hear the hate behind his use of the word.  It’s like when people use the word “homosexual” instead of gay because they mean it to be disparaging, degrading, or insulting.  In his mind and according to his sermon, priests need to be fighters.  And that’s why women and effeminate men (I don’t need to translate that for you, right?) shouldn’t be priests.  Priests need to be manly men who will fight to make the church pure and ready for the return of Jesus.  Right.  Because Jesus was such a fighter.  It’s WWJF, right?  Who Would Jesus Fight?

I still went up to take communion.  Regardless of the hateful speech that preacher used, I was in a house of God and I know that God loves me.  After the service, the Rector (head Priest in Charge) came to our pew to apologize.  So props to him for doing the right thing.  Oh, I totally believe that he agrees with the preacher’s sentiments, but not the language used.  He’s a friend of the family and I truly think he was appalled by the language that was used.  I thanked him for his apology and told him that I really appreciate it.  My mother, apparently zoned out during the sermon and was oblivious to the situation.  So that’s a blessing.  

Mom does altar guild after the service and I politely declined to help her and said I would meet her in the courtyard.  I walked by the preacher who gave the sermon and didn’t look at him, didn’t shake his hand.  Just walked on by.  

I had too many thoughts in my head to be able to say anything to him.  Of course, in his sermon he also mentioned that he didn’t want to debate this issue.  He was right.  Anything else was wrong.  It was against the Bible.  So having a discussion wouldn’t have worked anyways.  He’s pure of heart of course.  

All of this happened the day after Charlottesville.  The caustic bubble of Alt-Right, Nazism, hate and bigotry that has been hidden/submerged in our American politics for long finally burst out of the sewer and onto the streets in a disgusting display of intolerance, fear, and hate.  

All of this happened the day after a Alt-Right supporter whose twisted thoughts and beliefs led him to drive his car into a group of protestors killing one and injuring 19.

If I had the chance to say something to that preacher, I think I would say something like this:  

Yesterday, hundreds of Alt-Right/Nazi supporters marched in Charlottesville chanting “Blood and Soil”, “Jew Will Not Replace Us”, and “Fuck the Faggots.”  You used the word Sodomite today in your sermon.  But you meant Faggot.  And that’s not the love of God you are preaching.  You are teaching people to hate the “others”.  And one day your teaching will lead to the death of a child of Christ by someone who you’ve taught to hate.  What would Jesus say about that?      

 

P.S.  A light, fun, non-political, non-religous, blog post soon!  I promise!

I Won't Survive the Zombie Apocalypse

I’ve always been a big reader of fantasy and science fiction and when I was younger I really enjoyed those books about the earth after some sort of apocalypse.  A meteor hits the earth, nuclear war, even alien invasions.  I always imagined myself as a survivor.  Somehow I escaped the tidal wave that washed across America and I would help rebuild society.  I’m an engineer.  And a planner.  I’ve got some skills.  And I wouldn’t be one of those people who would take advantage of the breakdown of society.  I wouldn’t try to rob or kill people.  I’d fight for truth, justice, and you know, the American way. :-)

But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that it’s all a bit of fantasy.  Not the end of the world stuff.  That part’s real.  Today’s apocalypse will be a pandemic plague, or a dirty bomb, or an EMP that fries all of our electronics and brings us crashing back into the middle ages.  I’m fairly certain that it won’t be a zombie apocalypse though.

Having said that, I won’t be the scrappy survivor that I imagined I would be.  I won’t be part of that small noble group of survivors sticking to our moral code while we try to rebuild society.  No, I’ll be part of the millions and billions of people around the world whose decaying bodies will be strewn across the countryside. 

In today’s politically focused language I have what is referred to as a “pre-existing condition”.  Several actually.  Some are minor (gout) and some are not.  I’m can proudly say that I’m a cancer survivor going on 10 years now.  But when they removed my thyroid, it made me dependant upon a daily dose of thyroid hormone.  Without my daily pill, I’ll start to get tired in about a week.  In two weeks I’ll be exhausted.  In three weeks I’ll be dead.

So when the pandemic, dirty bomb, or EMP finally happens and the factory that makes my pills doesn’t have power, ingredients, or people to run it, or trucks to bring it to my local CVS, I’ll basically be out of luck.  So even if I somehow manage to survive the apocalypse (and living 6 blocks from the White House I should assume means I probably won’t), I won’t survive for much longer.

Okay, so that’s the worst case scenario, right?  We can hopefully avoid the apocalypse for while.  But the end result is the same if I lose my health insurance, right?  Sure I’ve got financial resources that will help me for while.  But for how long?  Will Medicare and Medicaid be around when I need it?  If I need it?  Right now one of my pills treats my acid reflux which if untreated can cause esophageal cancer.  What do I do then? 

It’s true, when you are young you think you are invincible.  Nothing can harm you and insurance is for old folks.  And now that I’m (*ahem*) older, I do think of insurance. A lot.  While the ACA isn’t perfect, it’s better than almost anything else we’ve seen here in America in a long time.  I’m hoping people are finally realizing that and figuring out that fixing it is better than any of the alternatives proposed so far.  But we shall see.    

From Russia With Love (for Trump)

When did I first think there was something to the allegations about the Trump campaign and Russia?  In July 2016.  That's when the Trump campaign softened the RNC platform on supporting Ukraine in their fight against the aggressive and hostile actions of Russia in Crimea and northern Ukraine.  The Republicans have always hated Russia, so why give them some love now?  It just smelled wrong.  

Now we are almost a year later and we've had the DNC emails hacked by Russia and leaked to Wikileaks, we've had Russian trolls carpet bombing the internet with fake gnus to spread lies and disinformation against Hilary, and we're up to like a dozen Trump campaign or administration officials who have LIED about meetings with the Russians.  Look, the news may say that they "omitted", "forgot", or "failed to disclose" these meetings on their forms.  I'll be straight with you if you'll  pardon the pun.  They LIED.  I'm a little bit familiar with the clearance process and having to report foreign contacts.  They didn't omit, forget, or fail to disclose.  They LIED ABOUT IT ON AN OFFICIAL DOCUMENT.  There is no way in this (or any other universe) that the former Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency "forgot" to disclose these contacts.  He omitted them intentionally.  

So what's the motive?  And I'm speculating, but I think it comes down to good old fashion greed, power, and revenge.  Flynn, Lendowsky, Manafort?  Flynn hated Obama after he was fired from the DIA, so revenge makes sense.  They all made bank off their work with Russia and other foreign governments where they sold their knowledge and access to officials still in the US government to help them get lucrative consulting contracts.  The problem I suspect, is that the money came to easily.  And once they were "bought", it was time to turn this relationship into a two way street.  The Russians want the sanctions lifted against them.  And they thought if they could get their agents inside the campaign and administration to pressure, coerce, or convince Trump to do that, then it was money well spent.  A couple of million in bribes, I mean consulting fees, as compared to the hundreds of millions they can make when the sanctions are lifted is a pretty good investment.  

Today there's a report that the CIA knew that Putin had specifically authorized the attack on our election with the intent to help get Trump elected.  I mean, it was clear that Hilary would not be a friend of Putin.  And Trump was . . . malleable I think is the word I want to use.  Once your agents have infiltrated the organization you are targeting, then you need to work on setting up the right conditions to make the most of your investment.  So you spend a little bit of money on internet trolls and hackers to help push the election in Russia (and Trump's) favor.  The fact that you are undermining the basic foundation of our democracy is just a bonus for Putin.  

So what about Trump?  Is he the master mind in all of this?  A Putin puppet? Or a clueless ego maniac with a huge narcissistic disorder?  I'm not sure.  I think he got into the election to prove he could win after being made fun of after so many years.  And to make money of course.  It's always about the benjamins for him.  But I think there were people around him who help maneuver him, guide him, and coerce him into making the decisions that they/Russia wanted him to make.  To convince him that Russia is our friend, that we need to work with them, to share our intelligence, and to, of course, lift the sanctions against them.

Why did Trump wait almost 3 weeks before firing Flynn after the acting AG told him that Flynn had been compromised?  Why did he fire James Comey?  Why did he share classified information with Russia?  Why does he still deny that Russia hacked into our election?  There are so many unanswered questions so I'm sure my speculation may be a bit off.  

But there is something rotten at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave and I hope we figure it out quickly before it eats away at the basic core of our country, our democracy.       

 

 

  

Pride 2017

So there are certain dates that people remember where they were when something specific happened.  The Kennedy assassination, the moon landing, the Challenger explosion.  My dates are a little bit different.

June 26, 2003.  I’m sitting my office in Rosslyn overlooking the courtyard where the beauty school students would soon gather for their lunch break.  I’m constantly re-freshing my browser when I see it.  The Supreme Court has ruled against Texas’ sodomy law in Lawrence vs. Texas.  It’s hard to quantify or describe the impact of that ruling on me.  Despite (or maybe because) being born and raised in a religious environment (Episcopalian thank God!), I’ve always believed that God loved me.  But hearing the Supreme Court ruling makes me start to cry.  I close the door to my office and I text my best friend and former boyfriend to share the news.  It’s like a door to a whole new, unexpected, future just opened before me. 

November 8, 2008.  I’m in Puerta Vallarta on a gay vacation.  I’m in the hotel bar with my laptop and a cocktail.  As one does.  I settle in for a long night of election watching.  The US makes history in electing our first African-American president.  But the people of CA vote against same sex marriage.  It’s like a weird sucker punch.  If we can’t have marriage in CA, where can we have it?

May  24, 2012.  John and I are sitting on the beach at the Four Seasons Resort on Nevis in the Caribbean.    As the sun sets, we are sipping some bad champagne given to us by the gay couple we met on Antigua.  We talk about out future.  John’s new job.  Getting married.  Moving to Arlington.  It’s all good.  And yet not to be.

June 26th, 2013.  I’m in San Diego for work.  I hear that the Supreme Court has overturned Prop 8.  Marriage equality is the law of the land in CA.  I go to Hillcrest, the gayborhood in SD, and march with the masses to celebrate.  I drink too much.  I start to cry.  That’s normal, right?

June 26th 2015.  At work again.  I know the ruling is coming and while I know, I hope, I believe, that the Supreme Court will make the right decision, I’m still on the edge.  And then I see it on the internet.  The Supreme Court has ruled that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples.   I say “yes!” probably a bit too loud and then go close more door.  I read the legal reviews as the tears run down my face. 

Tomorrow I will march in the National Equality March for Unity and Pride.  I’m not a marcher.  That’s not my style.  But I’ll do it.  Our President, while not authorizing outright discrimination against LGBT contractors, has relaxed the regulation requiring federal contractors to provide documentation about their workplace policies.  It’s like a bizzaro version of DADT.  And we know how well that worked.    The President has also signed a “religious liberty” executive order that will allow organizations to discriminate against the LGBT community.  As Jesus would want them to do, one assumes.  But these policies are wrong and un-American.  So I’ll march.  To stand up for what I believe.  To make sure that those who come after me have all of the rights and responsibilities that most Americans take for granted. 

Happy Pride Everyone!

Alternate Timelines and Life Plan Version X.X

So I've been in my head quite a bit more than usual.  And a bit depressed as well.  John passed away 5 years ago yesterday.  Which always gets me thinking about the path not taken.

In comic books, they have the alternate timeline, it's how they reinvent the characters every 5 years or so and create a new universe for them.  I've been thinking about the alternate timeline for my storyline if John hadn't passed away.  We would probably be living in north Arlington in a nice house with a big yard for the dogs.  He would be a partner at a law firm in DC where hopefully he wasn't working 80 hours a week.  I would probably still be at my company.  We would be going on fabulous vacations together (two incomes = Four Seasons resorts!) and hosting fun dinner parties.  That's the pretty version of my alternate timeline.  But I know that it wouldn't be the complete version.  Relationships are hard.  We would have our fights, our arguments, our challenges.  But in my utopian version of my alternate timeline, I don't want to think about that.  As we say at work, that's a problem I want to have.  And I would gladly take all of those problems and more to have him back.  But that alternate timeline is not meant to be.

I'm a planner.  It's what I do.  Personally, professionally, I have to have a plan.  And yes I know life if what happens while I'm making plans, but it's just how I live.  I have to have a plan.  Life plan 2.2 was where I was going to graduate from USNA with my BS in Naval Architecture and become a Naval Flight Officer.  I was going to fly for 8 years (required commitment for flight school training) and then stay in if I like flying.  If not, I was going to move to Europe to build ships since we don't really build a lot of ships here in the US.  That life plan sort of fell apart when I had to change my major. And when I ended up a SWO, not a NFO.

Life plan 3.1 was where I stayed in the Navy even though I was gay (hey, Don't Ask, Don't Tell could have worked!) and changed career fields to do IT stuff.  And that plan sort of worked.  Obviously not the DADT part.  And when I got passed over for LCDR, well the staying in the Navy part didn't work either, but the moving into IT was the right call.

Life plan 3.5 was where I was going to be a defense contractor for 2-3 years just to get used to working in the civilian world and then I was going to do real IT stuff.  Like for a commercial IT company like Apple or Google.

Life plan 4.6 was where John and I were going to get married.

Current life plan?  Life plan 5.0 is still a bit of a work in progress.  I'm on a 5 year plan for retirement and I'm going to start taking classes to become a traveling ASL interpreter.  But we'll see.  I suspect something will happen to turn my plan on it's head.  It would be nice if whatever changes my plans does so in a good way.  Maybe I'll meet someone special who makes me change all of my plans.  Wouldn't that be nice?  

Pet Peeve - Trey Addition!

So I'm in a mood.  Fair warning.

I've decided to get another personal trainer at my #SelfEsteemCrushingGym.  I've had several trainers there and one has been good, one has been okay, and one sort of sucked.  And when I hurt my shoulder back in late 2015, I sort of stopped with the trainer.  In late 2016, after the surgery, I started with some light lifting and then built up a bit before I went on my sabbatical.  So I'm back from my sabbatical and I'm </Fatty McFatterson> a little bit larger that I want to be and so I decide to get a new personal trainer.

So I contact the personal trainer manager.  A week goes by and I email her again.  Cindy (let’s call her Cindy) apologizes.  And then we begin an email exchange that I kid you not goes back and forth like over a dozen times.  I explain what I’m looking for and when I want to train.  And she wants to meet with me.  But our schedules don’t match up.  And finally I’m like, do we really need to meet?  Can’t you just assign me a trainer?  Which she does, for a day when I’m in San Diego for work.  When I specifically said I wanted to start training the first week of May since I was in San Diego the previous week.  And this is all symptomatic of that fact that while she’s reading my emails, she’s not really understanding them.  I sign ALL of my email “Trey”.  Yes my archaic hotmail account says the L word, but I don’t go by that.  And if you READ and COMPREHENDED my email, you would figure that out.  It’s not rocket science.  So at the end of this drill, I’ve got a training session scheduled with Jay (not his real name obvs!)

I sent Jay an email and SPECIFICALLY say that while L is my legal name, I go by Trey.  I prefer Trey.  Call my Trey.   I explain my age (*cough*), weight (ugh), what I’m looking for in a trainer, etc.  I do cardio and lift by myself.  So I want help with balance, flexibility, and core.  Stuff I won’t do by myself.  I tell him that I’m looking forward to seeing him at 6AM!  A lie, but a small white lie.  He responds saying that he’ll see me the next AM.  So I’m there at 0550 AM.  I do the treadmill to warm up and then I go to meet him.  He looks at me and goes, “Oh, L.”  And I’m like “No.  Trey.”  Seriously?  Did you even read my email?  So not starting off on the right foot with me.  So we go through the paperwork drill when I really just want to work out but I’m biting my tongue.  I explain again about my current workout routine.  I do cardio mainly on the elliptical, stairmill, or bike.  I’m not a big runner and since I’m carrying some extra weight I don’t want to put too much stress on my knees.  We get through the paperwork and he’s like, “So what do you want to do?”  Are you f&$king kidding me?  I hired you to train me.  In theory you have some sort of education and background in physical training to be able to tailor a program for me to help me attain my goals.  I tell him that I’m looking to him for the plan and he thinks for a moment and he’s like, okay here’s what we’re going to do.  He explains how his program all about using body weight (fine) to build strength (umm, okay) and lose weight (fine).  The first exercise is long jumps.  Which I haven’t done in probably 30 years and not really that great for my knees.  It didn’t hurt so much as it felt so unnatural.  But after expressing my concern about my knees, this is the first exercise?  So needless to say I just suffered through the first sessions. 

So today, I get an email from Cindy.  I had filled out one of the “three minute” surveys from the gym and apparently my response got sent to her.  I had complained about how hard it was to get a simple training session scheduled and I recommended that they replace the ancient wall clocks (some of which don’t have second hands) with digital clocks.  When I’m lifting, I like to rest for 45 seconds and can’t figure out when that is with the current old clocks.  Anyways, Cindy apologizes for how hard it was to schedule the trainer but she wanted to make sure she put me with the “right” trainer.  Right.  And then she asked me how the first session went.  She also mentioned that she would ask about the clocks but it may take some time before those get updated.  So . . . . big digital clocks on Amazon are like $70.  You buy three for the weightlifting area.  And done.  But whatevs.  It’s never going to happen.  Most of the treadmills don’t have racks to hold books, magazines, or iPads while you are working out, so you have to look down and it’s bad for your posture.  I submitted a recommendation for that and nothing happened.  So I don’t have my hopes up for new clocks.  But the main question is what do I say, if anything, about Jay.  Right now my thought is to wait to have a second session and see if it’s any better.  Plus, I’m in a funk right now so I’m not sure if my constructive criticism would be really welcome.

On the plus side, my month of sobriety is over and I’m enjoying a nice New Zeland Pinot Gris.  So I’ve got that going for me.        

Three Churches

So in three weeks, I've been to three different churches.  

Two Sundays ago, I went to my church.  St. Thomas.  We are currently in the process of building a new church so we are temporarily worshipping at another church at 1230 on Sundays.  Not ideal, but I can deal.  Not a fan of the other church, the acoustics are weird and I was having a hard time hearing everything.  But after my sabbatical it was good to be back with my church family.  Our new church will be built on the grounds to the St. Thomas' church that was burned by an arsonist in 1970. During the civil unrest of those times, a lot of folks left St. Thomas and the church went through a transformation focusing more on the local community and became one of the few places of worship in DC that supported LGBT christians.  St. Thomas help many funerals for AIDS victims who either didn't have churches, or whose churches wouldn't hold their funerals.  St. Thomas has a strong social justice ministry and is very inclusive and supportive of the LGBT community those are the things that drew me to St. Thomas'.    

Last Sunday I was in COS, so I went to church with Mom at St. George's.  St. G's is an Anglican church.  Or as I like to call it, a Nigerian-Anglican church.  They left the Episcopal Church because it was too liberal (i.e. allowed gay priests/bishops, supported marriage equality) and aligned themselves with the very conservative Anglican church in Nigeria.  It was Palm Sunday so no sermon.  Just a reading of the Passions.  My sister told me that the week before the sermon had been about "christian marriage."  So glad I wasn't there for that.  I'll do almost anything for my mother, but I won't sit in a house of worship and be discriminated against.  Nope.  I would not have caused a scene, because I'm an Episcopalian and we don't do that.  But I would have gotten up and left.  It was during the Prayers for the People that I saw something funny.  They use the 1928 Prayer Book, not the 1972 Prayer book most Episcopalians uses, because the 1972 prayer book is too liberal and takes a lot of the fire and brimstone out of the liturgy.  Plus it allows for more welcoming, easier, and modern language.  Fewer thees, thous, and wherefores.  Anyways, I noticed that when we did the Prayers for the People we prayed for "Christian Rulers" around the world.  Hmm.  Just Christian ones?  Don't we want to pray for them all?  Don't we want all of the rulers to be kind, merciful and maintain justice for all their people?  The 1972 prayer book says we pray for all the rulers of the world.  God loves us.  All of us.  Not just the Christians.  

For Easter Sunday, I ended up going to St. Lukes.  I had accepted a birthday invite from an old friend for 1230 before I knew St. Thomas would be worshiping then.  So I went to the 1030 service at St. Lukes.  St. Lukes is a historically black church just one block away from me.  Apparently it was an offshoot of St. Thomas' back when churches were segregated (legally, not culturally as they are today).  I was not the only caucasian in the church, there were about a 10 of us in a 100 person church.  I felt very welcomed there, but it was definitely different.  St. Thomas is more low church (i.e. casual) and St. Luke's is a bit more high church.  They had incense.  Their thurifer (the guy who swings the incense around) was doing full overhead loops!  It was impressive.  And a little bit dangerous if you aren't careful.  They had a wonderful gospel choir dressed up in robes.  And the sermon was good, but a little bit more engaging/participatory than I'm used to.  For the most part, you won't hear "Can I get an Ah-men!" at St. Thomas'.  But their church is lovely and I was glad I went to Easter service.  Oh, somethings are the same wherever you go.  There was a teenager in the pew in front of me on his phone the whole service.  :-)

I'll be back at St. Thomas' next week.  Looking forward to it!

 

 

It's the Hypocrisy, Stupid!

One of the things that pushes me to the breaking point these days is the just the rampant political hypocrisy that seems to just defy belief.  The Alabama governor who cheats on his wife and yet claims the “sanctity of marriage” is why he’s against marriage equality.  The Oklahoma State senator busted for hiring a 17 year old boy for sex while voting against transgender and gay rights.  Of course, these are mostly Republican politicians.  Right?  And note I did say most, but certainly not all.  It happens on the Democratic side as well.  Did I think Anthony Weiner was an idiot for sexting?  Yes, the first, second, and third time he got caught.  Apparently the stupid is strong with him.  But he’s not a hypocrite.  The Democrats aren’t the one beating the Bible yelling about “family values” and using it was a weapon against other people.  To be honest, I have no interest in anyone else’s sex life.  Who you sleep with, regardless of your marital status, is up to you.  But you don’t get to use the Bible as a weapon or spout “sanctity of marriage” and “family values” and then get busted for having a little something on the side without me calling it like it is:  Hypocrisy. 

And it’s not just about sex.  It’s basically everything these days.  How many times did we hear the Republicans complain about Obama’s golf trips or vacations?  And yet not one peep about the almost weekly trips to Mar-A-Lago.  How many times did we hear the Republicans complain about the costs of Michelle Obama trips overseas with her daughters and Mom?  And yet nothing about the costs of the Trump children jetting around the world requiring Secret Service protection.  If the Obamas were making money off his trips to Hawaii then the fury from the right would be overwhelming. I can’t even begin to imagine the nuclear meltdown from the right if Hillary had become President and hired Chelsea into any kind of position at all.  Or if she had lied on her clearance form about meeting with Russians.  Or if Obama or Hillary had anyone remotely close to their campaign who had ties to the Russians or we registered (or should have been registered) as foreign agents.    

On progressive blogs, there’s an acronym for this all too common occurrence. IOKIYAR.  It’s OK If You Are Republican.  Saying one thing and doing another has become just a fact of life for most Republicans.  Basically they are living out the saying:  Don’t Do What I Do, Do What I Say.  Which basically means they don’t have to follow the rules.  They are above the rules.  Talk about elitism!

Now none of this is particularly earth shattering.  Nor sadly new really.  It’s been going on for a while now.  But it seems to have increased exponentially with the emergence of our current President.  So many Republicans have abandoned their principles in exchange for money or power. Or both.  It would be easy to laugh about all of this if it weren’t so sad. 

A Harsh Reality

So coming back to reality has definitely sucked.  Let's break it down.

The jetlag.  Not that I sleep well anyways, but needless to say getting back on a regular sleep cycle has not been easy.  Mistake number one.  Getting drunk on champagne on Saturday and then proceeding to take a 4 hour "nap".  Yeah, that's didn't help.  I think I finally got to sleep around 4AM on Sunday.  Mistake number two:  Getting up at 3AM on Monday to catch a flight to CO Springs.  So yes, I'm a bit messed up sleep wise.  And no, I don't get cranky at all when I'm exhausted.  Never.

Work.  So I went into work on Friday.  Most people were glad to see me.  My boss is like, "Oh, I lost the bet.  I didn't think you were going to come back."  Gee thanks?  I did see my CEO and he made some random comment that I think was relatively benign.  He's an odd character and he was none too please when I asked for the time off.  And that's putting it nicely.  And the first thing I do is go on a work trip.  So I'm gradually easing back into my work life.

So I'm officially Fatty McFatterson.  I got on the scale and it was not pretty.  Two months of eating and drinking my way around SE Asia and Oceania has taken a toll.  And even though I was walking an average of 6-7 miles a day, yeah, no.  Not enough.  So I'm taking a drinking sabbatical until the beginning of May.  Until I go to Ptown.  Not drinking in Ptown?  That's just crazy talk.  I am looking forward to getting back to my gym though. 

So I'm in CO Springs which is good because I get to see SB and Mom.  Mom had a nice honey-do list for me.  I mean, I walk through the door and not even before I grab a glass of ice tea she wants me to fix the phone.  I'm reading the user manual and then I go online to look for troubleshooting help.  And I'm like, this phone is a POS and it's old.  Mom, how old is this phone?  We got it in 2006.  Okay, I'm not spending hours on the phone with tech support to get an 11 year old crappy phone to work.  Let's just buy a new one.  Oh, and the smoke detector was so old that it didn't have a button you could use to test it once the battery was replaced.  The instructions say to blow smoke at the detector to test it.  Umm, no.  Let's go crazy and spend $25 on a new smoke detector.  So good times.

I fly back to DC late on Sunday and then reality definitely kicks in.  On the plus side, the Nats have started playing, so I've got lots of games to go to!

 

Blue Mountains, Bondi, and Beyond!

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On Monday I took a tour to the Blue Mountains.  Every time I've been to Sydney, the locals have told me that I *have* to go out to see them and get out of the city for a bit.  And so I decided to do it.  Sadly I went with a big tour bus, but it still was a good trip.  Got up early, popped some cold medicine (oh yes, sick again, I'm sure it wasn't the 16th plane ride of this trip), and took the bus down to the Aquarium to pick up the  tour bus.  It was a double decker.  Lovely.  And I was sitting next to a lovely woman from South Africa who was a bit large.  And I'm not exactly a skinny Minnie myself, so it was a fun trip.  After a short stop at a small little town for coffee and bathroom breaks, we arrived at Scenic World.

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Yes.  Scenic World.  *WORST NAME EVER*.  It sounds like some super generic tourist site that you would see in a Jurassic Park movie parody.  Now, to get to Scenic World proper, you take a cable car from one cliff to another.  But the line to get on the cable car was long and I really wanted to stretch my legs.  So I ditched the tour and headed off on the Prince Henry Cliff Walk.  Which was definitely a good call.  The sun was out and the view from the trail was awesome.  Stopped several times to take pics.  The Blue Mountains are sort of like the Grand Canyon.  Except green.  Lots of green.  There's still the stark canyon walls, but there's actually a tropical rainforest at the bottom of the canyon.  So amazingly pretty.   And I think even Sarah Beth would be impressed by the speed walking I was doing.  The walk was supposed to be 45 minutes and I only had two hours here, so I needed to step it up to see the rest of "Scenic World."

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Now it's sunny and I'm sweaty AF, but loving it.  I get back to the cable car and there's still a queue.  Another tour bus has just dumped their folks into the line.  But I finally get on board and its a short, but impressive trip between two sides of the canyons.  Once I get to the main Scenic World building, I head immediately to the railway car.  They'd turned an old mining railway, one that is super steep, into passenger rail that takes your about half way down into the canyon.  You can adjust the seat and I set it for the super steep option and it's definitely an E ticket ride as you go down through a short tunnel and then down through a crevice and down into the rain forest.  I walked around the rain forest for a bit and it was cool, but I was running short of time.  So back up the train.  Grabbed a bite of lunch.  And then headed for a short walk to see the Katoomba Falls.  Very cool.

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After Scenic World, we headed to the Featherdale Wildlife Center.  So Kangaroos, wallabies, dingos, ostriches, crocodiles, you name it.  It was pretty cool.  But I was feeling the sun at this point, so I went to the cafe to grab an ice tea and suck up some wifi.  From the wildlife center, we headed to Homebush which is where the Sydney Olympics were held to catch a river cruise back into downtown Sydney.  We made it back to the main harbor area just at sunset so the Opera House was glowing in the light.  Very cool.

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My last full day in Sydney and it's overcast.  Of course.  My original plan was to go to Bondi and lay out and swim.  Now, with my nearly radioactive skin at this point, I'm thinking laying out isn't a good call.  But I've heard the cliff walk from Bondi to Coogee is really nice, so that's my new plan.  I catch the bus out to Bondi and while it's overcast, the waves are pretty nice and there are surfers and swimmers in the water.  I had brought my swim trunks just in case and I'm like sure, why not.  So I do the towel change on the beach and jump into the water.  Hmm.  A bit colder than the water in Fiji.  But it's all good.  I swim for a bit and even do some body surfing, then it's time to start walking.

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The walking is good.  Great views along the cliff walk and I totally understand why 80% of Australia lives within 100 miles of the coast.  The scenery is just spectacular as you walk from one cove and sandy little bay to another.  Now, while it's overcast, it's also humid, so even without the sun, I'm sweating.  Lovely.  I make it to Bronte Bay with no problem.  But the section of the trail from Bronte to Coogee has been damaged so there are detours, and the walk is more steep and not really as pretty.  And my toes have started to hurt.  So I'm ready for this walk to be over.  But I make it to Coogee just as my bus is arriving back to the city, so I hop on and am glad to be off my feet.  I ended up having dinner with a nice bear I had met and then called it a night.

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My great 50th birthday trip is almost over.  Just the long, long, long flight back to DC and the real world.  Which is a bit sad.  But it's time.

My Disco Needs Kylie!!!

So I think it's a law or something here that every bar must play at least one Kylie song a night.  And that's a government regulation that I could really support!

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So I've been sampling the night life here in Syndey. In addition to the beaches. I did meet a cute Aussie Bear who is a DJ so he's been giving me some tips on where to go. So that helps. Oxford St, which is just a block away from my new, and fab, AirBnB flat, is the main party strip and there are probably a dozen clubs within a 6 block stretch. Gay and straight. So the sidewalk is packed with the youts (as my sister would call them) as they party hard. And yes, I'm feeling very old here, but still having a good time.

Friday night, after my failed beach day at Manly Beach, I headed to the Shift Bar for a beer. Chatted with some folks. Then head up to the Columbian Hotel Bar which is the next stop on my bar crawl. I'm about to walk in when a security guy stops me. "Hey mate, how are you?" "I'm good", I reply. "How much have you had to drink tonight?" Now it's like 8PM. And I'm very sober at this point so I'm a little shocked by the question. "Um, I had one beer at the Shift and then I thought I would check out the bar here." "Okay mate, have a good night." So their security guys (who all beefy and sadly straight) are really hard core. I guess they are trying to clean up Oxford St to reduce the partying so the security guys have the power to turn folks away if they think they are drunk. I saw it happen on Saturday night. A guy and a girl heading into Stonewall. He was clearly buzzed. But not falling down drunk, rambling, or anything. Just someone who has had a good night. The security guard looks at him and says, "Not tonight mate. I think you should go home." Wow. Okay. In addition, after midnight you can't order doubles or shots. And they have these weird lock out laws. You have to be in a club by 130AM. I guess the bars don't close till 3AM (not that I would know from personal experience), but you can't bar hop at the end of the night. After 130, they won't let anyone else into the club and if you leave you can't get back in. So strange. And yet still Oxford was hopping on the weekend.

Now, I love to dance. The T-dance at Ptown is my favorite thing. Dancing from 4-7PM, to songs with words! I'm in. All in! Getting to a club at midnight to dance to the permo techno beat with no words till 6AM? Pass. Hard pass. But most of the clubs and bars I've been to here have been playing words with songs and I'l admit that when one of my favorite songs is played I'll sing as I dance. Give me a good anthem and I'll belt it out. But wow, the people here aren't just singing along. It's like performance art. They are LIVING the song. Hands in the air, flourishes with the beat, dramatic steps and hand gestures, and they are practically yelling the words to the song to each other. It's like they are all drag queens, over exaggerating everything about the song. And it's not just the gay guys. The straight girls were doing it also. A couple even had the choreography from a video down and were working it to the song. It's just a little bit crazy. And it makes for great people watching.

And now, some classic Kylie:

Say you won't leve me no more, I'll take you back again.

No more excuses, no, no; 'Cause I've heard them all before

A hundred times or more

I'll forgive and forget, If you say you'll never go

'Cause it's true, what they say, It's better the devil you know

It's better the devil you know.  

Hammock Time!

 

So I'm on the plane back to Sydney.  My stay in Fiji was great.  Even if the weather was sort of so -so.  It's the rainy season here, so kind of to be expected.  Let's see where were we?

The last morning at the Octopus Resort, I got up early and went for another beach walk.  As soon as the sun hit the lagoon, I grabbed my snorkel gear and went for a swim.  The reef is literally just yards off the shore and it pretty amazing.  The many different kinds of coral is just spectacular.  And the fish.  Fish are most active at sunrise and sunset, so they were out in force.  It was really just awesome.  After my snorkel, I had time to clean up, have breakfast and then check out and wait for my ride to the next resort.

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The system they have here is pretty good and they've got the logistics down pat.  My bags were tagged for my next resort, like an airline tag, and then we were got into the smaller boat that would take us out to meet the passenger ferry.  Another at sea transfer and it was kind of cool.  The sun was shining so I went up to the top deck to sit outside and take in the fresh air and see the various islands and resorts go by.  It was two hours to my next resort with plenty of stops to pick up people and to let them off at the various island resorts we passed.  So very cool.

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We got to the Blue Lagoon Resort and I think they lied.  I think the lagoon is more the beautiful turquoise color that is so inviting.  Another transfer to a smaller boat and check in to the resort.  My beach front villa is nicer than the Octopus, but it still has the outdoor shower as well as the toilet that's technically outside, though there's a roof over it.  A hammock is just in front of m villa and there's a palapa with a couple of lounge chairs on the beach for me.  So very nice.  I quickly grab lunch and then head off on a snorkel trip.  We take a small boat to two different snorkeling areas including the Blue Lagoon Beach which is a private beach owned by the Blue Lagoon Cruise line.  So sort of like their Labadee.  The water was not as clear as the Octopus reef, but I think it's because we're mored exposed to the ocean, not protected.  But with all of the nutrients being churned up, the fish are everywhere.  Definitely a good snorkelling trip.  Back to the resort in time for happy hour (which is just from 4-5! And they only have one cocktail special.  Boo!).  But it was good to just chill.  I got a pretty good spot to watch sunset and it was just okay.  Or so I thought.  Just after the sun went below the horizon, the whole sky lit up and it was just amazing!  Bright oranges and red.  Just amazing!  After dinner, I crashed early.  There's not much to do at night and that's a good thing.

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The weather the next day is just ish.  Mainly cloudy, but warm.  My agenda?

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0600-0700:  Beach Walk.

0700-0745:  Morning Swim

0745-0815:  Shower, clean up.

0815-0900:  Breakfast.

0900-1000:  Read in hammock.

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1000-1200:  Snorkel trip.  Again, amazing.

1200-1230:  Shower, clean up.

1230-1315:  Lunch.  Which was delish.

1315-1445:  Read in hammock.

1445-1545:  Massage!

1545-1600:  Hang at bar waiting for happy hour!

1600-1700:  Read while sampling the local rum cocktails.

1700-1800:  Read in hammock (I've forgotten how much I love just relaxing in a hammock!)

1800-1830:  Sunset cocktail and pics.  Again, with the clouds I didn't think the sunset would be much, but it popped out from under the clouds and just lit up the sky with soft purples and pinks.  I ran down to grad a pic and of course it started to sprinkle.  Oh well.

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1830-1930:  Dinner.

1930-2100:  Read in villa while the rain pounds against the tin roof over head.  It cools down a little bit which helps. 

2100:  Bed time!

So a rough day.

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My last day at the resort, I had signed up for the cave trip.  So you take a boat (across very rough seas since the weather was not great) over to one of the most farthest out islands.  While most of the islands are volcanic in nature, this one island had some limestone caves that you can swim in.  Kind of like a ceynote in Mexico.  We climbed up and then down into the cave and it was really cool.  And the water was clear, but not that salty since I'm not sure the ocean ever gets into the caves.  The first cave is open to the sky and you can see the limestone cliffs overhead and you look into the cloudy sky above.  So cool!  After swimming a bit, the guide help us go underwater to the second cave.  Which is pretty freaking dark and without a flashlight would be super scary.  But it's still pretty cool.  When it's time to leave, I dive under the guide, going deep under a different part of the cave wall, and back up into the main cave.  From the second cave, you can see the light of the main cave and the submerged cave walls pretty clearly, so I knew exactly where I needed to go.  I'm not sure the guide was happy with me.  But oh well.  We also went into a third cave, but it was much smaller so only three of us when in.  Some of the folks on the trip were a bit clausterphobic I think.  And again, I swam out my shelf by going deep.  :-)

After the cave trip, it was back to clean up and then check out.  The ferry was supposed to pick us up at 1PM, but since the seas were so rough, I knew it was going to be late.  And it was.  Almost an hour late.  The small boat transfer back to the ferry was fun.  And the seas were definitely rough on the way back.  Which slowed things down.  And the overcast skies had start to spit rain.  So not a great way to end my trip to the Yasawa Islands, but still.  A great time.  DIdn't get back to the Raddison until late, only to discover that my reservation had been cancelled.  Lovely.  But they got me a room, I got some dinner, and then re-packed since I had an early flight to Sydney the next day.

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I'm slowly coming down to the end of my trip and I keep thinking about what's next.  What I'm going to do when I'm back in DC.  Getting back into a gym routine.  Work.  Yikes, what's that going to be like.  I'm a planner by nature so I'm always thinking about what's next.  And I've had to try hard to tell myself to stop it.  To just live in the moment.  To live in the now.  And I'm trying.  Life in DC, gym, work.  It will all be there when I get back.  I've got six days left.  I'm going to make the most of them!

Vinaka Fiji!

 (That's Thank You in Fijian).  

 

One A Day Like Today

You Never Want To See the Sun Go Down! *

Unless you have a cocktail in your hand watching the sunset into the deep deep blue sea with the light reflected across the scattered clouds sky turning them all sorts of amazing colors.

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So I slept poorly.  I was hot most of the night and the fan wasn't enough.  I'm sure my body trying to burn through the alcohol I consumed didn't help.  But I woke up around 6ish and went for a short walk on the beach.  The sky was clear and it was going to be a glorious day.  I was sweating already so I thought, why not go for a swim?  So I changed into my suit, grabbed my goggles and walked down to the water in front of my burre.  I got into the water and started swimming.  Now it was sort of low tide, but wow the water was shallow.  Like 2 feet deep.  And my draft (i.e. my big belly) was probably a foot under the water, so I was barely clearing the sand.  But I'm like, it will drop soon, I'm sure.  Nope.  The sand turned to coral.  And still shallow.  So I keep swimming.  And swimming.  Now I'm swimming perpendicular from the beach so I keep expecting the water to get deeper.  It actually is, but the coral reef is so big that it almost comes out of the water.  I finally made it to the far side of the reef and took a deep breath.  I hadn't wanted to stop and rest where I might touch the coral or get cut by it.  So I needed a break.  So I just sort of floated there a bit and watched all of the amazing marine life.  Really cool.  Well after a short rest I figured I couldn't go back the way I came, so I headed parallel to the shore along the outside edge of the reef.  Finally I got to the small channel through the reef that allows the boat to pull up to the shore.  When I got out of the water, I was a tired little sea otter.

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After breakfast, I read for a bit more and then decided to go snorkeling.  So back in the water but this time with fins, mask, and snorkel.  Which makes viewing the undersea life that much better.  I had my GoPro with me and took some good pics.  Since the reef is so shallow, the fish are all over the place and easy to sea.  Especially with the sunlight streaming through the water.  It really was a great swim.  After the snorkel, I decided that I needed to sample the hammock that was in front of my burre.  It works.  And I sort of dozed in the sun for a bit before I realized that I would burn quickly if I didn't get out of the hammock and get into the shade.

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After lunch, I decided to lather up and hit the lounge chair and just read and bake.  I'm sporting SPF 70, but the sun is so bright and strong.  In no time, I'm just drenched in sweat.  But it sort of feels good just slowly roasting in the sun.  And I'm really enjoying this new SciFi series I'm reading.  But at some point, my skin starts to feel the burn and I'm like, time to go.  So a quick shower, re-apply the sun screen, and then back into the water.  Instead of the left side of the reef, I'm off to explore the right side of the reef.  I've got my open names for the different types of coral I see.  The brain coral, the fan choral, the antlers coral, the polyps coral.  It's all very scientific I assure you.  They are all so pretty and the various colors are amazing.  Every shade of green, red, orange, purple, and even some blue.  So pretty.  And the fish.  Just everywhere.  So many of them.  I discovered later that the locals are not allowed to fish in this bay which is why the marine diversity is so great.  And it really is spectacular.

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After the snorkel, I dried out a bit laying in the hammock for a bit before showering and changing for happy hour.  I limited myself to two Mai Tai's which were delish and then read until the sunset which was spectacular.  After happy hour, I had dinner and then sat at the bar working on the blog.  On Sunday nights they have a movie.  It was Deep Water Horizon.  I'm sure it's good, but I don't want to see a movie about a ecological disaster while I'm at an amazing beach resort in Fiji.  Let me live in denial about the real world for a bit longer.

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Definitely a very good and relaxing day!

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*Check Out "On A Day Like Today" (N-XTASY mix)  by Obssession.  It's part of my 2003 Ptown Playlist!

A Tale of Two Resorts

So Sarah Beth and I said our tearful goodbyes at the Auckland airport where I was whisked away into the Air New Zealand premier boarding lounge while she had to wait for the United check in gates to open.  Bad planning on my part.  Sorry.

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The flight to Fiji was fine and it was raining as we landed.  Perfect.  My last chance for some R&R and it's the rainy season here.  But by the time I got my luggage and through customs, it had stopped.  So I normally don't complain about my hotels, but . . . . .  I had checked the website and it said that the Raddison Blue had an airport shuttle.  But it doesn't.  It basically will arrange transportation for you. Which I hadn't done in advance, so there goes $45 FJD (or $22 USD).  Not a lot, but just annoying.  I make it to the Raddison Blu which is in Denarau which is basically a resort complex where there are probably a dozen different resorts.  It's fine.  My room isn't ready when I arrive, but by the time I get lunch and have a drink, it's ready.  The room is nice, and ACed, and the first thing I do is crash for a nap.  I wake up to a cloudy sky and make my way to the beach front restaurant so I can have my sunset cocktail.  And of course it starts to sprinkle.  But I've got my book and I've got my cocktail so I snap a quick pic and then head into dinner.  I go back to the room to re-pack for the trip the next day.  The bus is picking me up at 0800.  I'm up early and l head to check out and that's when I discover that to pay by credit card I have to pay the 3% credit card processing fee.  Are you f%^king kidding me?  You have a cashless system at all of the restaurants and bars so people can't pay with cash as they go.  And you are a Raddison for God's sake!  You are turning over 300+ rooms a night.  Are you really telling me that you're going to pass the credit card processing fee onto the guest?  Super lame.  Losers!  Sad!  (Sorry if I sounded like Trump there).

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So when I was planning Fiji, I wan't exactly sure what I wanted to do.  The main island is pretty big and hard to get around. And they drive on the left side of the road.  And I wanted someway to sample more than just one resort to get a feel for the country.  So as I was doing my research, I read about the Yasawah Islands off the north west coast of the main island.  They are an island chain that have a number of different resorts on them. And there is a ferry that leaves Port Denarau in the AM and makes it's way up the chain dropping folks off at the various island resorts and then when it gets to the northern most island, it turns around and picks people heading back to the main island.  This would give me a chance to check out a couple of different islands and different resorts.  And they had a range of options from backpacker style accomodations to more luxurious options.  Guess which one I picked?  

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So we're on the boat heading out and it's overcast and a bit grey.  Perfect.  I end up chatting with a USAFA grad who is getting his degree from Georgetown in Foreign Affairs (like I did) and he's on this working trip where he goes and spends time at the US Embassies in Fiji, Australia, NZ, and one other place.  Talk about a rough gig.  Anyways, we pass through the first set of islands and we stop to do at sea boat transfers for the people going to those resorts.  We head north and as I'm looking forward I see an island that's covered by dark clouds overhead.  That's my island.  Of course.  We approach the island and smaller boat comes out to pick me (and two young women) up from the ferry.  The smaller boat makes it's way to shore and we have to hop out of the boat into the surf and walk up the beach to get to the Octopus resort.  Loving this by the way.

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A cool towel and a welcome cocktail and I'm definitely relaxing.  I had splurged for an ocean front burre and it was nice.  No AC, but a fan.  The mosquito netting over the bed looks romantic, but of course I'm looking at the holes in it and thinking great.  More bites for Trey.  I do love the outdoor shower.  The outdoor toilet?  No so much.  It's a flushing toilet, but still I don't want passers by to hear me while I'm taking care of my business.  And I'm assuming my trip to the toilet in the middle of the night will be another opportunity for the mosquitos to sample my blood.  Good times.  By the time I settle in, it's time for lunch.  Which is good.  And then I scheduled a snorkeling boat trip in the afternoon.  It's still cloudy overhead which is good or else I would fry in no time.  We take one of the small boats around to the next bay over for some snorkeling. The water feels amazing and it's so clear!  I'm loving the fish, the coral, the plants.  It really is awesome.  We get back from the snorkel trip around 4PM which means it's happy hour!

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Now the drinks are measured pours, so they are a bit lame, but I get the rum, pineapple juice, and club soda special.  And it's pretty tasting.  It's started to sprinkle again but I'm under the covered bar area with my book so I'm pretty happy.  So I have another drink.  And another.  Now 99% of the time, I'm a happy drunk.  But every once in a while I get rather melancholy.  Almost everyone here at the resort is a couple, so of course I started thinking about John.  I've thought about John a lot on this trip.  He would never have been able to get this much time off.  Even as a partner in a law firm.  And I'm sure he would not have been that keen on hiking the Milford Track.  But this?  And beautiful beach resort in Fiji?  Oh this is right up John's alley.  Of course, we wouldn't have stayed here.  With both of our incomes, he would have found an amazing, more expensive, more posh resort for us.  One that probably had the drinks included.  But all of this thinking about John sort of made me a little bit sad.  So I headed back to my beach front burre and just called it a night.  Hope the weather and my mood will improve tomorrow.

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Pretty Hurts (NZ Remix)

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So good flight to Auckland.  Picked up the rental car (STAY LEFT!) and made our way to the AirBnB.  The best thing can be said is that the flat is in a good location just on the outskirts of the CBD.  But in reality it's a little bit sad.  Still.  Two bedrooms!  So there's that.  After we settled in, we had dinner and then headed to bed.  We had a long day ahead of us.

So the original plan was to get up at the crack of dawn to head to the Waitomo Glow Worm caves to go black water rafting.  But SB, put the kibbosh on that adventure.  Which was fine.  It was going to make for a crazy long day.  So we had a leisurely get up and then headed south of Auckland around 930ish.

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If the South Island was all about the rugged natural beauty with the fiords, the beech forests, the cascading waterfalls, then the North Island is all about the bucolic beauty of rolling hills and pretty farms.  And of course you can't get more a more natural and idyllic setting that Hobbiton.  About two plus hours south of Auckland is where they filmed the Shire portions of the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit movies.  And when they rebuilt the sets for the second set of movies, they built them using permanent materials so it could become a tourist destination.  And it is.  And still, even though we were carted around in a tour bus and our gaggle was probably 50 people, it was still kind of magical.  Our guide, an American, was very knowledgeable and shared some really interesting back stories about the films, challenges with the shoots, some of the cinematography aspects, etc.  I was afraid that I would lose SB while I geeked out, but she seemed to enjoy it.  And of course we got some good pics.  The tour is 2 hours long and it ends at the Green Dragon Inn where you can have a drink.  So that was pretty nice.

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After lunch at the Shire's Rest, we headed off to the Wairere Falls because apparently we can't go a day in NZ without going on a hike.  They really weren't that far from Hobbiton and I wasn't exactly rushing to get into the car again to drive back to Auckland.  But wow, that was not a fun hike.  Practically uphill the whole way and over rocks and creeks, through mud, you name it.  By the time we got to the first viewing platform I was exhausted and we had only been climbing for 45 minutes.  But the falls were spectacular and they are the third largest falls in NZ just over 150 meters high.  We both decided against the second viewing platform which was another 45 minutes up.  Pass.  Hard pass.  So back to Auckland we went where we got back, parked the car (which is a bit of a haze) and then headed down the hill to dinner.  Auckland's geography is very much like San Francisco's.  Lots of hills.  But after a couple of glasses of wine, it's all good.

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The next day we got up and headed down the ferry terminal to take a boat over to Waiheke Island.  This is a pretty decent size island just off of Auckland that has like a dozen little wineries on it.  Our first thought was to rent bikes (so glad we DIDN"T do that!), but instead we did the hop on and hop off bus.  Normally we both avoid those types of tours, but the island is kind of big so it was a good way to get around.  After stopping in the first little town on the island to walk around, we headed to our first winery.  Te Motu.  The bus drops you off and it's about a 10 minute walk to the winery passing varies vineyards with the vines heavy with grapes.  It's late summer here so they should be harvesting soon.  All of the vines have netting over them to help protect them from the birds we think.  We share a tasting and it's all reds so not really my thing.  But some were good.  Afterwards, our host pointed us toward the Vineyard Walking Trail which connects some of the various vineyards in the area.  Again with the hiking, right?  And while it was not far, it was definitely up the hill and down again and up again.  But totally worth it when we reached Casita Miro.  We did a tasting there and then had a fantastic lunch sitting next to the window overlooking the Onetangi Bay.  BTW, the weather was just amazing.  Sunny, bright, and warm, but not too hot.  For lunch we started with kalamata olives, then moved on to goat cheese coquettes with honey and almonds, and then we shared the braised ox cheek.  Seriously delicious!  And a glass of wine of course!

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After lunch, we headed down to Onetangi Beach.  Just amazing.  A big wide open beach.  Hardly anyone was there.  The water was shimmering under the sun.  The sand was soft and warm, but not too hot.  I changed into my bathing suit and made my way into the water.  It was perfect.  Cool, but not cold, and it felt amazing under the bright sun.  Just the perfect afternoon.  I left Sarah Beth on the beach just relaxing (which she needs to do more of) while I swimming in the water.  Afterwards, I joined her on the beach and just laid down under the sun and quickly dozed off a bit.  The temperature was perfect.  There was a light wind.  I mean, it was just an amazing afternoon.  We finally decided that we needed to get up and head back.  So we made our way back to the bus stop and then stopped in town for a quick gelato before we walked back to the ferry terminal and our boat back to Auckland.  Definitely recommend Waiheke to anyone who comes to Auckland.  It's just magical!

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Tomorrow it's an early wake up and my flight to Fiji leaves at 0930 and SB's flight back to the states leaves 1430.  We've had a great time together and didn't have any problems getting along at all.  I'm so glad she could join me on this part of my adventure!

I do think NZ is the prettiest country I've ever been visited.  When we were hiking we would stop and say, gorgeous.  So pretty.  Amazing.  It was almost like a cliche.  But it was really true.  And while the North Island has a different climate and geography, it's also amazingly pretty as well.  I need to come back here again!

 

Milford Track (Day 5)

So the Mitre Lodge is a real lodge.  Like one that has power 24 hours a day.  Oh, it's the little things in life.  So I did stay up late to work on the blog a bit.  And then crashed.  We could actually sleep later today, but neither of us did.  We Rhiddlehoover's are early risers.  It's a curse.

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Anyways, after another delicious breakfast, Sarah Beth and I walked (of course) back to the marina.  There is a nice FLAT nature walk from the lodge to the marina and while my feet were still hating me, I had ditched my boots and just walking in my sandals.  And it was fine.  We got out early to one of the look out points for Mitre Peak which is the majestic Rocky Mountain you see on most travel posters.  The sun was just coming out and there were some low hanging clouds on one side of the peak, but it was still so pretty.  And amazingly enough, the sandflies weren't bad at all.

After we got to the marina, I had stealthily made my way to the front of the pier where our boat was departing and so I was the first person on the boat.  Sarah Beth went immediately to grab a seat inside on the second deck while I went up to to grab the premier picture taking spot on the top deck.  I was wearing shorts (of course) and my black pullover and I suspected that once the ship got underway I would be cold, but I wanted the good pics.

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And the pics were good.  The weather, while chilly, was partly cloudy with some low clouds hanging over the mountains.  Sarah Beth mentioned that it looks like Skull Island and you sort of expect to see King Kong coming over one of the mountain ridges.  And she was right.  Ironically, Milford Sound really isn't a sound, it's a fiord.  Fiords are created when glaciers move down a mountain and create a deep gouge that become filled with water when the ice caps receded.  A sound is actually created by erosion from large rivers.  So there's your fun fact for the day.

I'm listening to the commentary while I'm perched up top taking picture and I really do think the Milford Sound is one the most picturesque places on Earth.  We sailed out along the southern edge of the fiord stopping at some waterfalls along the way.  The very steep walls of the fiord extend deep into the water so the ship could get really close to the side.  Like so close that the waterfalls were spraying onto the people on the very bow of the ship.  I was suitably impressed by the Captain's ship handling skills.  I know he does it several times a day, but getting within a foot of a sheer granite mountain wall and not hitting it with a several ton boat is pretty amazing.

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We turn around at the mouth of the Milford Sound where it meets the Tasman Sea and you can actually feel some of the ocean swells.  But then we start to return via the northern side of the fiord.  It's just gorgeous and tons of waterfalls.  We also pass a small colony of seals sitting one some rocks including two baby seals with their mother.  Talk about adorable!  Now other than the limited rain we had two nights before, there hasn't been a lot of rain, so the waterfalls, while awesome, are not quite as powerful as they usually hard.  You can either have rain, awesome waterfalls, and crappy pics, or no rain, only outstanding waterfalls, and good pics.  I chose the good pics.  As the ship returned to the marina, we passed one more set of warterfalls and it was just amazing!  A great way to end the tour of the fiord.

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Sadly, after the boat tour, we boarded the tour bus for our 4 hour trip back to Queenstown.  And then once we got into town, Sarah Beth and I had to hike up the very, very, very steep hill to our guesthouse.  My feet were seriously complaining at that point, but we arrived just in time to get showered and changed before happy hour started!  #Winning!

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Milford Track (Day 4)

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It's another early get up.  As I walk into the dining area to fix my lunch for the day, Shawn (of the Dead as we call him) lets me know that the guides did a blood sacrifice last night and the rain scheduled for day has disappeared from the forecast.  I'm not quite sure I believe that so I wear pants (for the first time in 6 weeks I believe) and put on a rain coat.  Even if it's not raining, it's still pretty damp out there and a bitty chilly.  But I actually think this is the mildest morning yet.

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And we are off.  It's 13.5 miles to Sandfly Point which is the end of the track and where we will catch a boat over our lodge for the evening.  It's still a bit dark and we are walking through this mysterious looking rainforest that seems even more green and lush after the rain last night. The forest is just so much more alive it seems.  We're walking along the Arthur River which we hear gurgling just a few yards away from us, though hidden by the lush green forest.  Not far from the lodge, we get one last view of the Sutherland Falls and then we head back into the forest.

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We stop briefly at the Dumpling Hut (and no they didn't serve dumplings) and then we kept walking.  It's a gentle downhill, but my feet are complaining.  I've got a little blister on my baby toe which one of the guides wrapped up for me.  But it still hurts.  We stop at the Boatshed, which is where they used to house boats used to move supplies up from Lake Ada, where I take off my raincoat, put on a thin long sleeve t-shirt, and Deet up again.  The sandfliest are everywhere and they lust after human blood.  It's really insane.  And I've got Deet all over me.  In my hair.  On my arms.  Around my neck.  Wherever there is exposed skin.  After the Boatshed, we cross the Arthur Valley by swing bridge and come across the Mackey Falls which are gorgeous!  With the rain from last night, the water is roaring down the falls.

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A little after the 30 mile marker, we stop for lunch.  The sand flies oddly enough are not interested in our food, only us.  So annoying.  While we are eating, a wecka comes out of the woods to investigate us.  It's a native bird with a huge body.  And not very shy.  We were specifically told not to feed them, but some people were.  Oh well.  After lunch, we stop for a minute at the Giants Gate falls.  So amazingly pretty!  I really do love waterfalls and there are hundreds in this area.  From there, it's only 2.5 miles to Sandfly Point.

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 (In the voice of Stefan from SNL).  Sandfly Point is the HOTTEST new club in the South Island!  It's got everything!  It's an amazing new open air club that doesn't need disco balls or lasers.  It's got the natural beauty of Milford Sound as it's backdrop!  It's super exclusive with a waiting list that is 4 days long.  When those lucky few get into the club, they are not greeted with that old boom, boom, boom of techno music, they are greeted with the sound of only wild birds and the hum of insects.  Only the hottest people are allowed into the club and once they do get in, they start dancing with their hands in the air.  You've got to dance as fast as you can or the sandflies will bite you and offer a blood sacrifice to the nature all around you!  It's dance or die at this hot new club!  :-)

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We only had to wait about 10 minutes at Sandfly Point before we caught a small boat over to the marina at Milford Sound and then to our lodge.  Where a nice, long shower was key.  As was the glass of wine I'm currently enjoying!

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Milford Track (Day 3)

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In 1996, I went on a hiking trip in Patagonia.  It was pretty awesome. We did day hikes from various lodges and hiked Torres Del Paine, Mount Fitz Roy, Cerro Torre, and even hiked on top of the Perrito Merino Glacier. Which was really cool.  On the first hike in Patagonia, our guide made a comment about how surprised he was by my endurance on the hike.  I wasn't in the best of shape, but I have some pretty decent endurance and I'm stubborn as a mule.  There's no way someone is going to tell me that I can't do something.  I will kill myself to prove that person wrong.  Which is also how I survived Plebe Summer at the Naval Academy.

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Today was one of those days.  Power on at 0615.  Lunch making at 0630.  Breakfast at 0700.  And we were on the trail at 0730.  Today we *only* hiked 9 miles.  But we hiked up, over, and down MacKinnon Pass.  We basically climbed over 600 meters, and then down 800 meters.  I'm not sure which is worse, the climbing up or the climbing down.

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We left Pompoloma Lodge and headed back into the beech forest.  There were low clouds overhead and they had managed to keep some of the heat in the valley so it was actually a little bit warmer than yesterday as we headed up the canyon.  Without any sunshine, the forest was a bit dark and mysterious, but it was a great way to start the hike.  While I'm going faster than normal, SB is still ahead of me and at some point she leaves me behind.  Which is fine.  I'm loving just walking alone by myself.

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Our first stop is at the Mintaro Hut where there is a real bathroom and a chance to fill up your water bottle.  And then it's onward and upward.  There are a series of 11 zigzags on the trail as it climbs up and up and up.  At some point we get above the tree line and are actually climbing into the low hanging clouds that surround the mountains.  Which is kind of cool.  And is actually a bit chilly.  We we get higher up, the wind kicks in and starts whipping around me.  The wind actually blows some of the clouds up the mountain.  Up, and up I go.  And the wind is almost overwhelming now.  Almost near the top of the pass, there is a memorial to Quentin Mackinnon.  The little stone hut is almost hard to see through the clouds whipping by, but it's still kind of cool.  I continue to walk up the pass spotting small ponds or tarns which would be incredibly pretty if the weather is nice.  My hands are almost numb now but I soldier on through the pass and down to the Pass Hut.  Sarah Beth is already there, of course, but I stop, take off some of my wet/sweaty clothes and put on a dry layer.  And scarf down my lunch.  We need to be at the next lodge NLT 430PM.

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If going up was hard, going down was even harder.  Scrambling over rocks and fording small streams, it's just slower going.  Though the clouds we can sometimes see the towering rock cliffs, moss covered forests, and alpine glacier fed streams that feed cascading waterfalls.  It's still pretty windy and I'm really focused on not hurting myself on the descent, so I don't really look around that much.  Down and down and down I go.  I only fall twice.  The big ole backpack I'm wearing not only changes my center of gravity, but it's almost like a sail catching the wind. So when I step on an unstable rock (which is quite often), I need to be careful so I don't careen over.  As we approach the cascades shelter, which is our break stop, there are a set of cascading waterfalls that are just amazing.  I'm hot at this point and all I can think of is jumping into that water but we don't have time and I'm sure it would be insanely cold.  After a break, it's another 90 minutes down, down, down the mountain to get to the Quentin Lodge.

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I drop my bag, use the facilities and then Sarah Beth and I are on an optional hike.  Because the  9 miles we walked up and down Mackinnon Pass wasn't enough.  We are off to see the Sutherland Falls.  These are the falls that made the Milford Track famous and the original discoverer claimed that the falls were a mile high.  Well, they are pretty big, but not a mile high.  Technically they are 580 meters high, so like a third of a mile.  Now the guides weren't exactly honest when discussing this hike.  They claimed it was flat.  Wrong!  Up and up we went, down and down we went.  Over two swing bridges.  And it's almost 1.5 miles to the base of the falls.  Which are definitely worth the hike even if my feet were complaining the whole time.  There's a small pool at the bottom of the falls and I totally would have gone for a swim if someone had told me we could beforehand.  I didn't have my pack with my swimsuit and walking back in my wet shorts would have caused some serious chaffing issues.  By the time we get back the lodge, the bar is open so Sarah Beth and I have a glass of wine or two before dinner.

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Tomorrow we are hiking a half marathon.  In the rain.  Good times.

Milford Track (Day 2)

Last night I was working on the blog when the power went out.  At 10PM.  Fine.  I go to sleep.

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At 0645 the power comes back on and the light over my bed wakes me up.  At 0700 is the lunch packing.  You can make your own sandwich, wrap or salad.  There's fruit, trail mix, and chocolates as well.  Plus a delicious looking lemon wedge.  Breakfast is at 0745.  Eggs and bacon for me.  Then back to the room for the final packing and then on the trail around 0830.

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Now there are 48 people on the track and it's sort of a gaggle of people as we start the hike.  The first thing you do on the track is to cross a swinging suspension bridge across the Clinton River.  The sign says no more than 20 people at a time, but apparently lots of folks didn't read that.  Sarah Beth and I approach the bridge and we're like, we'll wait a bit.  Let those folks go ahead and then we'll go.  I love the suspension bridge, even if it does swing a bit.  SB?  Not so much.  But we make it to the other side and enter the beech forest.

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Now it's daylight, but the canyon we are in has very steep mountains on either side which means we don't get direct sunlight.  Which means it's a bit dark and chilly as we enter the beech forest.  But it really is magical.  The trees, the ferns, the moss, the chirping birds.  And we are both wearing Eau du Deet so the insects are avoiding us for the most part.  A little over a mile into the track, we take a side excursion to look at the wetlands.  There's a small section of raised wooden platforms that takes us into the wetland areas where you can see some interesting different kinds of moss, some birds, and some very cool spider webs glistening in the sunlight.  Very cool.

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Then its back on the trail.  Both Sarah Beth and I like walking alone on the trail.  There are some walkers who are talkers and you can't really enjoy the walk and all of the amazing nature around you when you are engaged in a random conversation.  So whenever someone catches up to us or we catch up to them, we pause for a picture to let them get ahead of us.  The trail runs along the Clinton River through the Clinton Canyon.  As we are walking, we are surrounded by the noise of the chirping birds and the gurgling flow of the Clinton River to our right.  It really is so nice and peaceful.  And the river.  It's so clear.  The river is fed from the snow pack high atop the mountains ringing in the canyon.  And the mountains are granite, so the snow run off doesn't really pick up any soil or anything.  So when it gets into the river, it's crystal clear.  And the with the sun reflecting off the water, it's just enchanting.  Several times I thought I would love to jump in, but there was swimming planned for later.

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Around 1245, we pulled into the Hirere Falls Lunch Hut for a break.  It felt so good to drop the backpack and just rest a bit as we ate lunch.  It was really delightful.  Oh, but at this point, the sun is overhead and while we are still mainly walking through the shaded beech tree forest, I'm hot.  So I've lost my black pullover and just wearing a t-shirt and shorts.  And I'm fine.  Sarah Beth is still in her coat, hat, and wool mittens.  She's cold most of the time.  Where as I'm hot most of the time.  Oh well.

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We continue to make our way up Clinton Canyon and take a small detour to see the Hidden Lake which is nestled right against the almost vertical rock wall of the mountain that frames the canyon.  The lake was created by a succession of avalanches where the snow pack collapsed and tumbled down the granite rock face taking some trees and bushes with it.  You can definitely see where the avalanches have happened.  Next up is Prairie Lake.  A small little lake that is fed by a waterfall of melted snow pack from 4000 feet above at the top of the mountain ridge.  And this is where I could swim.  So I had to walk into the bushes to change into my bathing suit, and while I was doing that, SB stripped down to her sports bra and her hiking shorts and jumped in the water.  I'm guessing by her reaction that the water is cold.  But I'm still doing it.  So I put my sandals on and slowly walk into the water.  And it is cold.  Very cold.  But it kind of feels awesome as I'm now officially hot.  One of the other people on the track mentions that no one has gone to the other side of the lake where the waterfall is coming down.  Challenge accepted.  So I dive into the water and yes ODG it's cold.  But I'm fine.  I start to swim across the lake and I notice that the water is getting colder.  The water is deeper here, so it's not as warmed up by the sun, and the waterfall emptying into the lake is melted snowpack, so it's pretty chilly.  But I make it to the waterfall, tag the wall, and then head back.  Getting out of the water the sun felt amazing on my skin and I was so refreshed.  It was pretty awesome.

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After the swim, we went back to the main trail and headed up the canyon to get to the lodge for the night.  The Pompolona Lodge.  After hiking for 7.5 hours, I was ready to get out of my hiking boots, stretch, and get cleaned up.  Sarah Beth and I split a bottle of rose and had some nibblies before dinner.  Dinner was great with crime brûlée for dessert, so Sarah Beth was happy.

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According to my FitBit, we did over 36K steps which might be a new record for me.  The hike tomorrow is shorter, but more strenuous.  We need to climb up and over Mackinnon Pass.  So a long hard day tomorrow.

Milford Track (Day 1)

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So it was an early get up at our guesthouse in Queenstown.  We did our final packing, had a delicious breakfast, and then headed down the very steep hill into downtown Queenstown to meet at the Ultimate Hikes Trek Center.  Now I had missed the pre-briefing the day before since I was sampling the healthcare services in NZ, but Sarah Beth had given me a pretty good rundown of the meeting so I was pretty prepared.  Well, as prepared as I was going to be.  They had recommended thermal layers, long pants, etc.  And I was in shorts.  And cotton shorts no less.  Yes I had on my  black pullover, but once you got into the sun it was really quite nice.  For me.  Anyways, we walked into the Trek Center and it was bustling with people.  There were 48 people on our trip.  And oddly enough, I think Sarah Beth and I were on the lower end of the age range.  Lots of retired folks.  In addition to a pretty sizable US and Japan contingent, there were some Kiwis, some Aussies, an Italian, and an Israeli.  What I found fascinating was that the majority of the tour were women.  The Japanese contingent had something like 10 women and 2 men.  And there were two lesbian couples as well.

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We loaded up onto the tour bus and started heading south around Lake Wakatipu heading toward the town of Te Anua which is the jumping off point for all of the treks and trips in the Fiordland National Park.  I was fighting my TBN the whole way and we did have a very entertaining (and cute) bus driver.  So that helped.  What didn't help was the Japanese folks behind me who talked the whole way.  And Japanese is not soothing language.  Anyways, we made it to Ta Anua and stopped for lunch.  Then it was a short drive to Te Anua Downs where we caught the boat across Lake Te Anua to the start of the Milford Track.  The water was just super calm and the scenery as we sailed up the lake was just amazing.  And you know how I like a good boat ride.

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So there are two ways you can do the Milford Track.  You can do an unaccompanied trek where you stay in Department of Conservation (DOC) huts but you have to bring your own sleeping bags, food, and cooking gear.  To do the unaccompanied trek, you have to sign up over a year in advance.  It's that popular.  The other way (which we are doing) is the accompanied trek where you stay in lodges where they have running water for showers and toilets, real beds for you to sleep in, a bar for your post trekking beverage of your choice, and cooked food for your meals.  It's a bit more pricey than the DOC hut trekking, but so much nicer.  So once we landed on the far shore of Lake Ta Anua, the first thing we did was put on bug repellant.  The flies and insects were lusting after our blood.  So we sprayed ourselves liberally with some Deet.  Then we hiked for about 20 minutes to get to our first lodge, the Glade House.  After dumping our bags in our room (ensuite thank you!), we went for a group picture and then did a nature hike around the lodge.

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So the forest on the Milford Track is mainly Red Beech, Silver Beech, and at the higher elevations, Mountain Beech.  As we entered the forest, it was just so green and lush.  Lots of ferns and moss covering the trees.  There is a very shallow amount of soil over the top of the granite that makes up the base of the forest, so the beech trees have a very shallow, but expansive root system.  I mention this because for basically the whole hike I was looking down to make sure I didn't trip over a root or sprain my ankle.  Seriously, there were roots everywhere and we were climbing over rocks, fallen trees, you name it.  So a little bit hard core for a "nature" walk.  But we survived.  So our guide pointed out some traps they have set for stoats which was small weasel like animals.  They were introduced into NZ and don't have any natural repeaters, so they have grown dramatically in population and are wreaking havoc on the local bird population.  With the exception of some bats, there are no native mammals in NZ.  They were all brought over from Europe.  NZ's primary wildlife is birds.  Which evolved with no natural predators and whose population has been decimated by the mammals brought over to NZ.  Something like 50% of the bird species in NZ are extinct.

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At the highest point of the nature walk, we came upon the Glade Burn which is lovely mountain stream tumbling down a rock filled gully.  It was really lovely and the water was drinkable.  So SB and I had some water and it was cold and delicious.  After some pics, we headed back down the roots and rocky trail back to the Glade House.  Happy Hour starts at 5PM, so we didn't want to be late!  We made it down without any injuries (#Winning!) and enjoyed some beer and wine before dinner.  They cut the electricity off at 10PM, so no late night partying here on the Milford Track.

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