Tuesday, May 1, 2007


Here we are suddenly in the fifth month of the year. Where did April go? Watching for the hummers, waiting for the sun, channelling new ponds, spring-cleaning--and now at last we seem to have arrived at a springtime with fat buds on the wistaria and nesting pairs of several bird species
daily gathering at the feeders.
Travelling with Apollo seems to have happened a long time ago. Of course, we have only the present moment, and so I seize it--looking forward to what will come next.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

To new blog readers from a new blog writer

Despite all my efforts to re-sequence the "Accompanying Apollo" blogs that follow, it seems impossible to make the linear record more reader-friendly. Blogspot records all blogs in the chronological order in which they were entered, so that to all intents and purposes they appear backwards to the unsuspecting reader. Very Alice in Wonderland. So, in order to help readers travel aound the world EASTwards, as we did, I suggest you scroll down to the last entry (Accompanying Apollo) first. Then scroll up to the second entry ("More of India") and beyond it to "Accompanying Apollo 2"--read these two entries in tandem. Scrolling up once more will bring you to "Accompanying Apollo 3" for Western Australia entries; repeating the upward trip to "Accompanying Apollo 4" will bring you to New Zealand, and thence--finally--you can reach
what seems to be the beginning and is actually the end--our ordeal in Japan on our final leg homewards.
So much for trying to be clever as Apollo. I never could keep my horses' heads in the right direction. Of course I could re enter the whole story backwards, but life is too short for the monumental effort that would entail. So think of it as a puzzle, and enjoy!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Accompanying Apollo 5: from New Zealand to Japan and home

To return to actuality, however, it was by plane and not by stepping stones that we next accompanied Apollo. True to his word, Rhys delivered us to the airport in good time and waved us off on what was to be the last leg of our journey, via Auckland and Japan. Alas, this final place of call proved a serious disappointment. Once more we were in the terrain of impaired communication, and this time it was rendered even more frustrating by the Japanese refusal to admit they have not understood. Our children had advised us to stay at an airport hotel as they had done a couple of years before, and to use the free shuttle for forays into Narita, where there were temples and gardens and markets galore. Alas, we found the shuttle ran only every four hours (twice a day) so that meant leaving early and spending four hours downtown before returning. There was also a public bus that started from the hotel, visited all six airport hotels, and then did a brief tour of the town. This left every hour on the hour and took an hour, so it seemed quite convenient. But it, like everything else, was very costly, and we had already spent nearly $30 on a frugal breakfast when Alan set off on the shuttle for a four-hour reconnoiter. Consequently I paid a fare on the public bus to be set down at a supermarket, where I bought quantities of food--bread, meat, cheese, fruit--for picnics in our room. This was still more expensive than it would have been in any other country, but $40 bought enough for 2 lunches and 2 suppers each.
Meanwhile, back at the hotel, the only entertainment in English was CNN, which showed a continuum of the Bush debacle, and my electronic Sudoku game (which had already saved my sanity during the endless trips on Indian roads). Even Alan agreed that such “news” as TV offered was unbearable, so we decided to try to change our flight home to an earlier one.
We were fortunate in this. Once I’d managed the long distance phone system I found myself talking to an Air Canada agent in English and learned there was space on a trans-Pacific flight to Vancouver that left 48 hours earlier than the one we had booked.
Hurrah! We rebooked our e-ticket accordingly, and though there was no way we could get a “hard” copy, she assured us that we were now in the system to fly the next day.
Since Alan had much enjoyed the visit to the temple, we set out next morning to take the public bus together. The hotel staff assured me this bus would stop at the temple, as the timetable said it would, and after an hour there we would be able to get the next bus returning at the same bus-stop. At least as I asked the questions, they nodded and bowed sagely in response, so I assumed I was being given assurance. Alas, none of the staff I spoke to prepared us for a bus-driver who spoke no English, understood no English, and was not prepared to stop anywhere downtown except the station. Despite our pressing of the bell, and our frantic jumping up and down, he drove placidly on and returned us to our hotel an hour after we had left it, $8 poorer with nothing but a tour of other hotels to remember. Thank goodness we were leaving that afternoon. I forbore from showing the staff how I felt about getting no refund for the two-night cancellation; this was evidently an aggressively profit-seeking commerce we were currently engaged with. We packed up and set out for the airport grimly grateful the ordeal of being bowed to was over.
I’m sure readers will anticipate what happened next. None of the check-in staff would believe we were booked on the flight that left that day, insisting we ought to have a printed ticket, without which we could not be permitted to board the Air Canada flight. Ninety minutes we spent locked in the attempt to make them understand the process by which we had made the change. Finally, one of these handmaidens understood my demand to see her boss and a man (of course) appeared out of nowhere blandly asking what was the problem. When he shook his head and reiterated “no ticket, no flight” I finally lost it. I grabbed his hand, forced his finger to locate the Air Canada 1 800 # on the top of the original e-ticket, thrust the desk-top phone into his free hand, and began to dial the number. “Ah so!” He made the call. Within seconds the scene had changed to one of universal and interminable bowing. Our bags were put into priority loading, we were whisked to the gate, and an attendant hostess showed me into a bulkhead seat—all without any move on my part to achieve such relative comfort.
Alan took a few pictures of the temple, its priest, and its gardens, as seen below.

I suppose the lesson of all this is that one should avoid travelling to or in any country without having at least a smattering of its language. Or without a companion already versed in the customs and idioms of that country. For us, India and Japan were the two exotic places where expectations and communication had failed us.
On the other hand, Europe, Australia and New Zealand all offered us the comfort of the familiar, in speech as well as in customs, and at our age the familiar is more to be sought after than the strange, more than much-fine gold.
Of course, none of this matters to Apollo, our golden god in whose company we had set out. He remains poised above his golden chariot, loftily in command. Nor does he have a place he calls home to which he returns thankfully, however fleetingly, at the end of his circuit. But for us the platitudes are all true. There is no place like it, and nothing rewards the traveller more than achieving it again. It’s the place we somehow don’t have to deserve, the place where when we have to go, they have to take us in. The place from which we venture forth again when the golden glow lures us onward and upward.

the other home place where when we have to go, they have to take us in

Now, where shall we go next?

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Accompanying Apollo 4:From Western Australia to South Island New Zealand

As customary we spent our last Donnelly day visiting Bridgetown, lunching at The Cidery, and paying affectionate homage to Hugh’s birthplace. Then all too soon it was Jan. 1 and off we set for Freo via Busselton, where we took tea with Hugh’s parents, and rested for a while under the trees at the war memorial in Manjimup.

Next day we met the Palm Court trio (Susan and Janet plus husbands Russ and Peter) for a final dinner at Joey’s in Fremantle.

Only Laura was missing—she had an unbreakable baby-sitting date—and the pictures of Mandy, Erin and me show a remarkable family resemblance. But the picture I like best is of the men on the beach, looking exactly like Stephen Hero and friends on the Dublin strand—even to Cranley’s umbrella.

All too soon it was our last day. The weather had broken by now and become grey and cool in sympathy as we said our farewells and paid a last visit to King’s Park in Perth, where Hugh took the last of our Ozzie pictures. We parted knowing there might well be reunion next year, either here or in Europe, so tears were few.

Goodbye, Western Australia, until our next Christmas visit.

and hullo South Island New Zealand, to us a true home from home

To reach our next destination, Christchurch on the south island of New Zealand, we had to fly to Auckland from Perth, an eight hour journey. Once there we transferred to a domestic flight in the wee small hours of the morning, arriving in Christchurch at 8 a.m. Our “Kiwi” guide, Rhys Warner, was waiting for us and told us we were to be his only guests, so we had very comfortable riding in a commodious all-terrain vehicle. Everything we could ever need, from extra cushions to umbrellas, was in there, and our guide soon proved to be an excellent driver and raconteur. He was actually a musician (singer/guitarist) manqué who had given up a promising career to look after his widowed mother, and whose two sisters lived in Perth—which he had never yet visited. He loved his south-island home and knew every corner of it. He intended to show us as much as he could in the four days we had in his care.
We began early that first day in the Antarctic Museum, where we took a virtual journey with Captain Scott and hobnobbed with the lovely little blue-eyed penguins. Then we checked IN at the “Copthorne”, a comfortable central hotel, and checked OUT the extensive park and gardens nearby. The city was remarkably like its prototype, Oxford, with punts trailing through the backs piloted by bowler-hatted young bucks. We happily explored the museums and the cathedral, feeling very much at home and warmly welcomed as Canadian tourists. Later in the day we found a tiny movie theatre, the “Cloisters”, showing “The Queen”, so we watched it with great pleasure before eating in a quite Dickensian pub called “The Bard of Avon”. So very English it all seemed to be, and I confess we liked that.

With Rhys in the South Olympics, Mount Cook behind us

The next day saw us bound for Geraldine and the west where we saw extensive views of Mount Cook from the Church of the Good Shepherd. Here, though it was at the base of the mountain range, I had a mountain-top experience. This area was called the Southern Alps, and very lovely it was. We drove past field after field of beautiful lupins as we approached the resort of Queenstown.
Here Alan went wandering through the town once we had checked into another lovely “Copthorne”, and came back declaring it was the one place he had found on earth to match the Gulf Islands for scenic splendor. I agreed. I could happily live here.

vistas like this along every road--Monty Python country!

Can you spot the seal on the rock? This is in Milford Sound, among the spectacular fjords, and the torrents are pouring down into the Sound.

We were off early the next morning to reach Milford Sound by midday. This was Fjord country now, and the weather became suitably rainy so that we saw torrent after torrent fountaining down the hillsides as we careened along.

Milford turned out to be a beautifully planned harborage, and our boat for the cruise was comfortable and even cosy as we watched the cascade on every mountainside. Despite the streaming windows it was spectacular indeed; we even saw a solitary seal flat out on a rock. Meanwhile our guide was recounting how Captain Cook never came into the sound, being unable to spot the entrance, and how Doubtful Sound, next door as it were, was even more of a marvel. But to see it meant spending an extra night, which we didn’t have, on another cruise ship—so we saved it for another day (though knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted we should ever come back. . .) A friendly kea bade us farewell as we drove back up the valley. It is said this people-loving kiwi parrot always seeks out new tourist visitors and welcomes them to his habitat. He certainly found us, and stayed beside us till we regretfully drove on. Goodbye, fjordland.

Our next stop was Te Anau and a motel-type lodging across from a delightful steak-house, where we enjoyed an unusually large meal before descending to the underground caves to see these extraordinary creatures—actually larvae—drop their garlands of enticing beads to entrap their suppers of moth and fly. Somehow seemed appropriate to our engorged state. These beads are what give off the luminescence distinctive of other kinds of glow-worm; they look like nothing so much as constellations of stars in a night sky. It was quiet and eerie paddling along a subterranean stream.
On our way to Dunedin the next day we stopped at Annatown, a delightfully quirky little frontier-type village with attractive shops, and alongside the Eyre Mountains we saw the Kingston flyer—a train plying its way between Annatown and Queenstown. Later we marvelled at the Remarkables (the fabulous mountain range across the centre of South Island), bought fresh fruit and delicious freshly made ice cream at a wayside stall, and picnicked beside a fast-flowing river.
Though the journey was long, it was so rich in delightful scenery that we found the time flew by as we sang some old songswe all knew—Gershwin, Hammerstein, Cole Porter.
Main Street, Annatown, and the Kingston Flyer

Alongside the Remarkables -- a great place for a picnic

If Christchurch was Oxford, Dunedin was Dundee. A more Scottish town could surely not be found outside of Scotland. Evidences of Presbyterianism were everywhere, not only in the churches themselves but also in the town’s layout and architecture, even in the brogue we heard spoken in the streets. There was a most imposing railw ay station as well as several other beautiful buildings in the central octagon of the city, which was where our hotel was located. Again we dined well in a tavern before retiring for our last night in the South Island.

The journey south along the Otago peninsula was full of pastoral scenes—deer and lamas as well as sheep in the pastures, all very well cared for. New Z ealanders seem to love their animals dearly.

The mission for today was to visit the albatross colony and see there nesting albatrosses, penguins, seals and other sea creatures.
The information centre at the nesting site provided a deal of lore about the albatross, a bird with a magnificent nine-foot wing span and a fixed zone of flying and feeding activity around the south pole. The peninsula is the only mainland site favou red by nesting pairs, which more customarily raise their broods on off-shore islands. This being the breeding season, there were several nests visible from the carefully constructed hides, to which Alan dutifully climbed. He was able to snap a couple of brooding birds, but the distance was too far for them to appear as anything larger than two white blobs on the hillside. But we know what they are, and feel greatly privileged to have been allowed to enter their domain for however brief a glimpse. The record of successful fledging at the centre is quite good, despite the egg-stealing of predators like the ferret and the feral cat, and no doubt the longevity of their champion “grandma”—62 years old when last seen—will be surpassed in the course of time.
Our way back to Christchurch, where we had to catch a plane at 6 p.m., took us through many little towns, where we bought provisions for another picnic, and past the “beach of boulders” where perfectly smooth spherical stones dot the sand and where domestic deer come to take apples from your hand.

Above you see Dunedin (the railway station), sheep dotting one hillside and nesting albatrosses dotting another, and hungry deer who are remarkably like fatter versions of our own Canadian white-tails. The beach of boulders below has no known explanation.
Perhaps, like the Giants Footsteps linking Ireland to Wales, this marks the pathway we should take on our next journey with Apollo.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Accompanying Apollo 3: Western Australia

Now where are we? And which side is up?

Our "downunder" family live in Fremantle, a beautiful port-town just south of Perth, in a tiny house that seems even tinier now that our two granddaughters are young women for whom one bathroom seems hardly enough. When we last visited them for Christmas three years ago, we occupied a condominium acquired for that purpose, just a stone's throw from the family home, which is located midway between the Indian ocean and the Swan river. The place our daughter had secured for us this time around, a townhouse closer to the river, was elegant and airy, with space enough for us to entertain family members, as we frequently did over the next month, dining with Hugh and Mandy and the girls daily at their place or ours. The distance between domiciles was almost a kilometer, however, and I found walking it hard on my constant boon companion (Arthur Itis). As a result I became temporary owner of what they called a “gopher” (a motorized scooter) on which I not only merrily skirted the river bank, but also ventured onto the nearby train for the frequent shopping expeditions necessitated by the season.

Inside and outside the apartment

As you will notice below, Alan escaped most of these expeditions by camping in the south with our son-in-law Hugh, who shares his love of the outdoors, so that they “campfire” cooked while we mere womenfolk (Erin and Laura being now far too maidenly to call little girls) baked pastries and gingerbread houses and harvested the prolific crop of lemons, daily dropping from the laden backyard tree, to press passers-by into taking off our hands.

Hugh climbs the highest tree in Western Australia, and Alan stays silent on a peak in Cape Leuwin.

Meanwhile, back at the opulent apartment, it’s tea and crumpets with Hugh’s aunts, or, after a ride on my gopher to Mandy’s much-loved kitchen, there’s always more baking.

Then of course there was the Christmas music, and we sang our way through several concerts and services, while Mandy and the Palm Court Trio practised weekly in our living-room; the annual soiree with Martin came and went as did the essential visit to Handel’s Messiah in Perth’s splendid concert hall; the girls took us to see their ballet practices and played for us the video of Erin as a soubrette in the school’s production of “Kiss me Kate”; and, crowning all, the Chevis family treated us to genuine chamber music on Christmas Day: flute, oboe, cello and (due to Hugh’s expertise with saucepan lids) percussion.

The whole Christmas Day experience was as it had been for our two previous December visits—an early morning beach gathering (Leighton Beach on the Indian Ocean being almost as close as the river bank) with champers and croissants—followed by a long and languorous feast under the (laden) lemon tree in the 40 degree heat—followed by the Christmas tree gift exchange—followed by the chamber music—followed by carols, including several in French for Hugh’s sister-in-law Isabelle, who brought a torch, though no Jeanette, for the occasion-- followed by the well-loved Christmas tapes and, for us at any rate, an early bedtime feeling replete and highly blessed. Only Santa Claus was missing from the festivities this year, and we hardly needed him, so many and motley were the friends gathered on the beach and so generous were the gifts, many of them totally unexpected, that were showered upon us. And in just two days time, those same beach-sharing pals would be joining us in the Donnelly River escapade. Meanwhile there were old friends Bob and Jenny to spend Boxing Day with, barbecuing and dipping in their pool.

Musical moments are shown here, followed by ballet practice, and Christmas Day on the beach around the corner from the Chevis House. If you peer closely you will see the sedan chair prepared for my use to facilitate journeying across the sand.

Donnelly River is an old mining camp and mill converted into holiday chalets deep in the bush 200k south of Freo. It’s a year- round home to Western Red Kangaroo, several kinds of cockatoo, kookaburras, emu, possum, and sundry other marsupial creatures. It’s a place to which our Ozzie family has repaired every New Year’s since 1999, when we were with them for their first such expedition to welcome the new millennium. Several other groups now join the Chevis family there, and several of our granddaughters’ friends also customarily accompany them and share bunks in the rented chalet—# 26—where there are 2 bathrooms, three bedrooms, a well-equipped kitchen with dining area, and a roomy family room with lots of board games (but no T.V. or video equipment! For these there is a common games room in the centre of the circle of dwellings.) The chalet has a roomy deck where most meals are eaten (in day after day of glorious sunny weather) and where happy hours take place most of most afternoons. The bush animals join us there and share our fruit and veggies, although the curious possums venture out only at nightfall; roo will often appear at the back door, begging for carrots in their own peculiar way (they appear to be scratching their chests), gently nudging for attention, and emu and parrots will take apples and nuts directly from outstretched hands. There are frequent bush walks along the Bibbulmun track, and daily dips in the lake. There are also weird bush games like Kubbe, imported from (I think) Sweden, played in great hilarity, each family trying to outdo the others in slinging chunks of wood around. The atmosphere at Donnelly is remarkably free and friendly among all God’s creatures, and we don’t wonder at its appeal
as an annual venue for our family and their many friends.

Mrs. Roo and offspring come to call, a couple of "twenty-eight" parrots take breakfast, Alan eyes the kubbe, and wonders where it landed. Will it still be here on our next visit?