Thursday, July 15, 2010


After leaving our safari adventure we next went to see a nearby well-known geyser. I think Jake and Brayden were interested to see it, I'm not sure how it got added to the agenda, but it wasn't far away. This geyser predictably erupts every few minutes, but you have to pay a fee to get into the area to see it. So we did, and we stood in the broiling heat for 3 eruptions, which took all of about 15 minutes, and we'd had more than enough. It wasn't nearly as interesting as the price of the admission might lead you to believe it should be.

Following this we went to a free park to see some big trees and do some hiking. I got a new camera recently as a gift from John and the kids and through the weekend I was playing with all kinds of settings on it. I found the mixed lighting on the forest floor especially hard to compensate for.

But then it looked to me, by the photos I saw on the screen, that I may have hit upon the right setting for the occasion. We started on the more serious part of the hike, climbing up 600 ft as part of a 3-mile loop.
"I don't WANNA hike!" whined Kate and Allison in the car on the way there. But when we started they and Brayden became our leaders for nearly all of the 3 miles, showing endless energy and having a great time.

What's obvious now though is that I did not have the right camera setting, so any movement in my shots blurred. And there were very few shots that didn't have some movement. Oops.

Brayden picked up some sticks and somehow convinced the twins to each take hold of one, and they formed a hiking chain and stayed in this formation for nearly all of the last mile.

The hike and park were great and free while the geyser was a joke and a rip-off. Taken together it was a relatively inexpensive, fun day.

We stayed at the park into the early evening and then we all went out to a big dinner and stayed and yet another hotel nearby. The next morning we enjoyed breakfast and swimming at the hotel pool with the cousins before we headed out on our separate ways at noon.

Our last stop was at a famous landmark, to view the city, walk part of the bridge, and pose with the sailor statue.

"Hi Opa!" says Allison.
I guess instead of winging it I better go through the instructions that came with my new camera so I won't have so many blurry photos to show for some future outing. "RTFM!"* a friend once told me in college when I was first learning to use the internet (in 1990), using UNIX, and had questions. If you don't know what UNIX is, consider yourself fortunate. Actually, I spent about 2 years using it and I still don't really know what it is.

*read the "fudging" manual

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

out of africa

My brother has been in Africa covering the World Cup, but we headed someplace Africa-like but without the malaria:

As part of our cousins outing, we booked lodging and a tour on a safari a lot closer to home. There is huge park that started out as a place to breed endangered mostly African animals in captivity, and in addition to doing that they also give safari tours and even allow some overnight guests.

When we arrived and checked in, our assigned tour guide gathered us and we began a walking tour with him, going through and near different animal enclosures. We saw cheetahs and other cats, monkeys and many types of birds, and porcupines.

After walking through the central part of the property we boarded a large jeep to head out into the safari portions of the park. Erin and Jake and the dads rode on the roof for the first half of the tour.

One particular giraffe was very curious, and persistent.

There were huge herds of all kinds of African herbivores, too many species of antelopes and gazelles to count. We also rode through a cape buffalo enclosure (notoriously nasty, huge, things), saw some ostriches and got to inspect one of their eggs.

About half way through, the smaller kids rode up top with John, and Erin and Jake got a nice close look at some zebras.

All along the tour the guide stopped the jeep and turned to us and explained the animals we were seeing and the breeding program and so on. Erin and Jake listened pretty intently to everything, but according to John the smaller kids didn't pay attention to anything while the guide talked but as soon as he started the truck up again and got moving they raised their arms and squealed like they were back at the amusement park.

Our tour lasted about 3.5 hours and it was really interesting, there was so much to see and so much property to go through. After we made it back to base we checked out our lodging for the night:

There are about 20 individual tent cabins spread around the property. Inside ours was 2 double beds and Erin had a make-shift bed for on the floor. Through the back door of the tent was a bathroom. It was definitely a tent, with tent issues like insects and poor temperature control, but it was fun.

We were informed that dinner would be served at 6:30 so we had some time to relax. The kids got together and started running around and exploring the property together.

At first at least a couple of us followed them around to see what they'd get into but it was pretty warm and we (adults) were fairly tired, so eventually we sat down at the dining area and had some beers and caught glimpses of the kids and they ran past us, going from here to there and back again.

And we were having fun relaxing and the kids were having fun together when suddenly Jake came running for us and informed us that "they are throwing rocks at the lemurs!"
"What? Who is throwing rocks?"
"Kate and Allison!"
I walked quickly to where the lemurs were and saw that Jake was correct, though thankfully they were throwing little pebbles and not large rocks. Even so, I grabbed the girls by their shirts and practically dragged them back to our tent cabin. Once inside they got a lecture and weren't allowed out to play anymore. I bet if an emplyee had seem them throwing rocks they would have asked us all to leave. These people were very serious about their animals.

Eventually, after dinner service had been underway for a while, John came and got us, and he continued the lecture over dinner. Then Brian chimed in. "You know, all these animals are in enclosures and things during the day, but at night when we are all in our tents they let the animals out, and monkeys are smart, they might find out which tent you're in and decide to throw some rocks at you."
"Reeeeeeeally?" they said, but they didn't seem all that concerned to me.
After dinner, Erin and the boys got to roast marshmallows. Kate and Allison were taken back to the lemur enclosure where they had to apologize to the animals.

Then they were able to walk around and see some animals again, but no longer unsupervised.

The next morning, after eating breakfast, the kids watched the parrots eat theirs.

And we discovered that a new gazelle had been born in the early morning hours.

This was such a cool experience, like staying in a zoo for 24 hours, which allows you see much more than you do when you briefly pause at an attraction for a few minutes at a time. We saw many animals being fed, we saw previously inactive animals spring to life and run all around and play together. We listened to the animals all day (and all night).

I highly recommend it, and we'll be back. Sorry lemurs.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

cousins' getaway

John's cousin's wife, Cindy, asked us to join them on a little getaway. Their boys wanted to go back to a particular amusement park they visited two years ago with us and they wanted to explore it together again. So we ditched a couple of days of summer camp last week and stayed at a hotel near the park.

The (mostly) fearless roller coaster riding team was assembled again.

Jake just turned 9 and was now way too cool to be seen holding hands with his cousin. But Brayden stepped up and took Erin by the hand most of the day.

Kate is the one who really isn't into fast roller coasters yet. Allison rode the ones she was tall enough for and both of them like spinning sorts of rides. Meanwhile, Jake and Erin were tall enough for most of the big rides and they loved them, as usual.

This amusement park has animal shows as well as rides and some of the neater things to see are dolphins playing in a pool (and there was a separate dolphin show as well in a big stadium), and the diving tigers. We also saw a killer whale show and a sea lion show.

The next morning we left this park area and headed to a new destination. Everyone was really excited to get there, though it wasn't always so obvious. Not even a new and exciting upcoming adventure could tear Erin away from Harry Potter #7, or the boys away from their books.