United States

Goodbye America, Hello New Zealand!

My ride!

My ride!

Without too much trouble, I managed to get my Air New Zealand boarding passes and make it through security again here at San Francisco, after waiting a while for the counter to open and then checking my carry-on roller as it was too heavy (first airline I’ve flown with a carry-on weight limit, whoops…least it was free!).

Now waiting at the gate, to board in less than 2 hours. WOW what a big plane, and how thrilling to see it sitting here!

Anticipation is growing, but I think I’ll be tired enough to get some sleep on the 13 hour flight to Auckland. It helps that in Seattle I finally got a neck pillow. After the flight here I wonder how I ever did without one!

Once in Auckland, I’ll go through customs (and get my first NZ stamp in my passport!), possibly pick up my now 4 checked bags to drop off again at the domestic terminal (though the airline says they should be checked through to Wellington, but I’m not certain as sometimes they have to be picked up at customs and I’m not sure how they’ll do it), and make it to my final 1 hour flight to Wellington, my new home. My layover in Auckland is 2 hours, so it’ll go pretty quickly…it’ll be interesting to see how busy customs will be at 6 am local.

It’s starting to sink in…oh what a dream.

Goodbye for now America! Goodbye summer! Goodbye Northern Hemisphere! Goodbye Western Hemisphere! Goodbye US Dollar!

Hello new adventures! New Zealand, HERE I COME!!!!! 😀

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Categories: New Zealand, United States | 4 Comments

On My Way!

I just can’t go to Seattle without going to Starbucks, in the city where it all began 🙂

After a long wait at the counter to get my bags checked (and a huge blessing via the young man helping me and ultimately getting me Alaska Airline’s $40 fee for my three bags instead of the $350 fee the system wanted to charge me due to connecting with Air New Zealand), I made it quickly and smoothly through security and on to Yakima’s sole gate this morning.

It was only a 25 minute flight to SeaTac (Seattle Tacoma International), so of course it was over before it had barely begun. I was happy to find my gate for my next flight to San Francisco was only a couple of gates down from where I walked across the tarmac and up the steps to my arrival gate.

It seemed pretty busy when I first got here, but things have calmed down a bit since then, allowing me to get my Starbucks hot chocolate and snacks.

Alright, about time to get settled and ready to board flight #2 in about 30 minutes. That’s a short 2-hr flight and then I have a longer layover.

Goodbye Washington!

Categories: New Zealand, United States, Washington | Leave a comment

Last Day in America Until…?

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Today was my last (full) day in America for a while. My family and I (including my sister, who drove up last night), went up to Reecer Creek Canyon area in the mountains to see the wildflowers and butterflies.

It was beautiful up there, and I’ll let some of the photos speak more than my descriptions.

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This friendly German Pointer, Lexi, found us, and was pointing at every chipmunk and bird she heard! We didn’t see her owners anywhere, and after waiting a while we tried calling the number on her tag. No answer, and finally we had to go, thinking there was a GPS tag on her second collar. Not long after we got a call back saying they found her, which we were very happy about, especially as we were told it wasn’t a GPS tracker but a shock collar. 😛

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There was a fire in the area last year, and we saw vast stretches of charred trees. However, the grasses and wildflowers were cheerily poking up amidst the devastation, happy for the rejuvenated soil.

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This is Table Mountain (aptly named!), where there is usually a regional star party every August, about the time of the Perseid meteor shower. This year they decided not to have it though, due to some concerns about fire damage in the area and not wanting to disturb the fresh growth.

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Mountain Arnica, bright cheery yellow flowers defying a black and white world.

For the complete album from the day, check out my Flickr Reecer Creek set.

These last few days have been about as busy as the first few, finishing packing and repacking, getting all my affairs in order, and visiting. Last night we had some family friends (including former college mentors) over for a wonderful dinner, and I’m so glad they were able to come as it was great to spend some time with them again.

In the morning I’ll be off to New Zealand. My family will take me to the Yakima airport, where I’ll be glad to drop off my THREE checked bags, and ’twill be a very bittersweet parting.

But after the tears dry, the excitement of travel will kick in again, and I’ll hope to temper my excitement long enough to get some sleep on the long journey. Hopefully I’ll be able to update from the airports.

So long for now, the much anticipated adventure to the Southern Hemisphere is about to begin!!

Categories: New Zealand, United States, Washington | Leave a comment

Oregon Overnight, Fires, and Pyrocumulus

The Three Sisters, Oregon Cascade Mountains

The Three Sisters, Oregon Cascade Mountains

On Saturday my parents and I drove down to visit my grandparents in central Oregon, where my sister met up with us as well. We had to take a longer-than-normal way down, as a wildfire in south central Washington had forced the highway over Satus Pass to be shut down. Sadly the weather in the Northwest has been prime lately for fires, and we saw a fair amount of smoke around on the drive down and back.

It was a quick overnight trip to the ranch, but good to go down there in the midst of this larger whirlwind trip. Here are a few other photos I took there of the lovely views.

Mt Jefferson

Mt Jefferson

Black Butte (left) and Three Fingered Jack

Black Butte (left) and Three Fingered Jack

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Coming back, as we crested the last ridge before looking down into Kittitas Valley (where my parents live), we got a good look at the smoke from a new fire growing on the opposite ridge.

What I was most fascinated with was the towering pyrocumulus clouds.

Pyrocumulus cloud growing above a smoke column northeast of Ellensburg, Washington

Pyrocumulus cloud growing above a smoke column northeast of Ellensburg, Washington

The basic principle behind cloud formation is water vapor condensation onto tiny particles called cloud condensation nuclei (CCN). These CCN could be sand, dust, salt, … or in this case ash.

A fire in effect seeds the atmosphere, and the hot air above the flames can generate rapid and robust convection (rising air) that results in a puffy-looking (cumulus) cloud if there is enough moisture in the air.

Such cumulus clouds that form as a result of fires and volcanoes are known as pyrocumulus, or even pyrocumulonimbus if they grow large enough to produce a heavy shower or thunderstorm.

While the phenomenon is not uncommon, I had rarely seen such a well-defined example. A visible satellite loop from yesterday shows a series of pyrocumulus forming over the fire’s hotspot, and then moving off to the east (due to upper-level winds) as others form over the fire.

1-km visible satellite loop of Washington State, from 7am to 9pm local (PDT) on 28 July 2013. Counties are outlined in purple. Courtesy of the University of Washington - http://www.atmos.washington.edu/cgi-bin/list.cgi?vis1km.

1-km visible satellite loop of Washington State, from 7am to 9pm local (PDT) on 28 July 2013. Counties are outlined in purple. Courtesy of the University of Washington – http://www.atmos.washington.edu/cgi-bin/list.cgi?vis1km.

The fire in the northeast corner of Kittitas County (center of the state) is evident from the eastward-moving smoke plume. Later in the afternoon, about 3pm (2200 UTC), you can start to see the series of whitish knobs forming on top of the fire. These are the pyrocumulus. They really start to explode around 5 to 6pm (0000-0200 UTC).

As an aside you can also see the fire in south central Washington, although there are not so many pronounced pyrocumulus clouds on the smoke plume.

There may have been a little bit of rain falling from the cloud, but a radar loop yesterday showed a stationary spot of reflectivity that was in the location of the fire. Fires are not always visible on radar, but sometimes they are large enough for the ash particles to reflect the radar beam and appear to be stationary “rain” showers.

I didn’t save a loop, but here’s a single image showing the fire last night.

RadarScope image of the Pendleton, Oregon radar reflectivity. Blue circle shows my location, and the green blob to my northeast is the fire.

RadarScope image of the Pendleton, Oregon radar reflectivity. The blue circle shows my location, and the greenish blob to my northeast is the fire.

Ok, nerd moment over. For now. 🙂

Here’s hoping the firefighters get some better weather for fighting the fires, and everyone and their homes stay safe.

Categories: Oregon, United States, Washington, Weather | 4 Comments

Enjoying Paradise (at Mount Rainier)

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There are two main sites for accessing the base of Mount Rainier in western Washington State: Sunrise, on the northeastern side of the mountain, and Paradise, on the south. I once went to Sunrise about 15 years ago, and that was the last time I had been so close to Washington’s gentle giant.

Last Sunday, the 21st, my sister and I met up with our parents near Paradise, and had a wonderful day exploring viewpoints and short walks, the longest of which was an easy walk of less than a mile to a lovely waterfall. It would have been great to do more actual hiking as the weather was fantastic (hot actually) and the wildflowers were in full bloom, but I was recovering from a cold and wasn’t quite up to anything too strenuous just yet.

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Tatoosh Range, part of Mt Rainier National Park, at Paradise Inn

Tatoosh Range, part of Mt Rainier National Park, at Paradise Inn

After lunch outside the inn, we went on our little walk and saw a few butterflies and myriads of people amidst the beautiful scenery.

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Our destination was Myrtle Falls, a pretty little spot but only accessed from a steep and narrow staircase down from the main trail. The staircase ended on a small platform by the falls which soon became packed with other avid photographers, so we quickly took our shots and left to gaze at the mountain back on the trail.

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Even in the midst of a busy day at the park, it was wonderful to breath the fresh mountain air and drink in the views.

As we left the top of the Paradise road, we drove down and stopped at many of the viewpoints along the way.

Our second stop was the result of an impromptu, “what are they looking at down in the valley there? It must be an animal…it’s a bear!” from my sister. My sister and I had only ever seen a couple of bears in the wild, and they were young black bears running away from us while we were interning at a wildlife area in the north Washington Cascades about 10 years ago.

This big old shaggy black bear wandered slowly through the valley, eating some shrubs and grass and not bothered with anything. It was a long ways off (can’t wait to get the 70-200mm Canon lens and 2x extender soon), but still pretty cool for us.

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There were a lot of neat spots to stop at, so we took our time coming down the mountain, ooo-ing and aww-ing all the way.

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Reflection Lakes

Reflection Lakes

I was particularly interested in the reflection lakes, and trying for shots of Rainier’s reflection as the wind was very light. Sadly the lakes were not quite calm enough for good reflections, but it still was a pleasant stop that involved me being able to finally touch my first snow in about 2.5 years!

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At the end of our drive, I moved all my stuff (and myself) to my parents’ car, so my sister could go home and I could go stay with my parents to visit with them (and start the process of sorting and repacking boxes in storage) for a couple weeks.

For more photos of the day trip, please check out my Mount Rainier Flickr set.

Mt Rainier and avalanche chutes

Mt Rainier and avalanche chutes

Looking down towards the Cowlitz River, through the lovely thick forests near Mt Rainier (Mt Adams is faintly visible in the background)

Looking down towards the Cowlitz River, through the lovely thick forests near Mt Rainier (snow-capped Mt Adams is faintly visible in the background)

Categories: United States, Washington | Leave a comment

Packing, Visiting/Sleeping, and More Packing

Countdown

Less than NINE days left until I fly off for the long awaited move to New Zealand!! Single digits now, another big countdown.

On Sunday this week my sister and I met up with our parents at Mount Rainier, and the day was stunning. I just drunk in all the thick forests, snow-covered mountains, and meadows abloom with wildflowers. We went on a short walk of about a mile to a waterfall, but didn’t do too much as I was still feeling a little sick (got a sore throat as soon as I stepped foot on US soil, that developed into a bit of a cold but am pretty much back to normal now).

We did stop at a lot of viewpoints and even saw a big old black bear down in a valley! I intended to go through my photos the day after, but have kept busy this week and hope to get to them this weekend so I can share. It was a great time in the mountains, but at the end my sister went home and I left with my parents, to visit with them and get ready for the movers.

That’s what this week has mostly been taken up with; busy, busy, busy preparing for New Zealand. I’ve just about finished going through all my old boxes in storage here from when I moved to Kwajalein, and we finally got the moving date scheduled today, for a week after I leave. I’m sad it couldn’t be any sooner in spite of our hurry to get the estimates once my Kwaj pack out arrived, but happy my parents will be able to take care of it on this end.

I also had time recently for a nice walk around my old alma mater, Central Washington University, where I got my BA in Geography 7 (!) years ago. The day after my graduation ceremony, I hopped in my new car and drove to Oklahoma, as I was that excited to go start my new life there as a meteorology grad student. Ah, the memories. Two of my best friends growing up came to see me, and we enjoyed checking out old haunts and seeing how things had changed around campus.

Now for more visiting and the final last little bit of prep. Got a couple more books about New Zealand that make me even more excited, though I hope this last week with family goes slowly and wonderfully. My Dad says I should just go there instead of reading so much about it…I told him I think I just will. 🙂

Categories: New Zealand, Ramblings, United States, Washington | Leave a comment

More (Ocean) Is Always Better

Me and my sister, at Ecola State Park, with Cannon Beach below us

Me and my sister, at Ecola State Park, with Cannon Beach below us

What do people who have been living on a tiny island in the middle of the ocean do when they go on vacation? Go to the beach, of course!

This morning my sister and I (or rather I) laid low as I was nursing a bit of a cold, but then in the afternoon we decided to take the short trip to the coast to see some favorite spots on the north Oregon coast, as well as to finish up the shopping I had started yesterday for cold weather New Zealand clothes.

It was a beautiful blue sky day, and about as pleasant as it gets there on the coast. I was only a bit chilly at times, thanks to my thinned tropical blood, as you can guess from the differences in what my sister and I were wearing. I was also not quite brave enough this time to wade in the water, as many accustomed to the colder waters were doing, especially when I was not quite feeling 100%.

Fort Stevens State Park

Fort Stevens State Park

One of the places we stopped at was new to me, Fort Stevens State Park. Caitlin had been there before with some friends, but had not seen the shipwreck as exposed as it was today.

Fort Stevens State Park

Fort Stevens State Park

The Peter Iredale was a barque that ran aground while sailing from Mexico to Portland, Oregon late in 1906. Everyone on board survived, but the ship was badly damaged and eventually the remains were left alone.

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Bow of the Peter Iredale wreck. It was also a fine day for flying kites!

We later drove further south to Ecola State Park, a great lookout point over one of our family’s favorite vacation spots, Cannon Beach.

Cannon Beach with Haystack Rock and the Needles, from Ecola State Park

Cannon Beach with Haystack Rock and the Needles in the distance, from Ecola State Park

We also had fine viewing conditions from the park out to one of my favorite lighthouses, Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, fondly known as “Terrible Tilly”. I got a book about this light over 10 years ago and was fascinated by its story.

Terrible Tilly

Terrible Tilly

Tilly was built in the late 1800s, on a tiny rock (yes, much smaller than Kwaj…only about an acre, if that!) just over a mile out to sea, and about 20 miles south of the mouth of the Columbia River that separates the states of Oregon and Washington.

After many years of being the most expensive lighthouse to maintain, through many ferocious Pacific storms, Tilly was retired in the 1950s and the private owners converted it to a columbarium (storage for urns with cremated remains). The only way to reach the lighthouse is by helicopter, and sadly it is not open to the public.

Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, from Ecola State Park

Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, from Ecola State Park

It was wonderful to spend even a brief time looking out over the terrific Pacific, especially as I had just come from an island some 5,000 miles southwest of where I stood, and would soon be traveling to another Pacific destination some 7,500 miles or so away.

For the first time, though, I was at least initially more taken by views of the forests and mountains, as it’s been so long since seeing good ones of both. My sister teased me that the trees around Ecola State Park that I took a couple photos of before finishing my ocean shots were probably not used to being photographed by most tourists.

Average trees on average hills in Ecola State Park, with Tilly at my back...but still just happy to see coniferous forests and elevation!

Average trees on average hills in Ecola State Park, with Tilly at my back…but still just happy to see forests and elevation!

We’ll probably go check out more forests and/or mountains in the next day or two, but I am glad we were able to see one of my favorite and most frequented spots on the coast. 🙂

For the whole album, including a few more photos from the coast, check out this Flickr set.

Categories: Oregon, United States | 2 Comments

I’m Baaaaack!!!

My sis and me, tired, hungry, and a bit bedraggled, but overjoyed to see each other at the airport!

My sis and me, tired, hungry, and a bit bedraggled, but overjoyed to see each other at the airport!

Over 5,000 miles later…I made it!!

Emotions overwhelmed me again as I walked outside to the airplane steps at the Kwajalein airport a couple of days ago. Leaving behind people and places that had meant so much to me (even to the United plane sitting beside my ATI plane, I waved at both sides to a good friend who had just arrived back from vacation), I tried to both soak in the last moments and shut out the feelings of sadness.

Just as I got to the steps it started to sprinkle, and I said aloud, “a fitting farewell for Kwaj” (to which one of the airport workers said “yep!”). The sun then came back out though, for a fine last view of the island. As we taxied down the runway, I saw one of the weather station techs outside getting the 00Z balloon ready to launch, and he waved at my plane, not even knowing if I could see him. I managed to get a window seat on the DC8, so I did see him though, and that made me both happy and sad again.

When the plane turned around and kicked it into high gear, I couldn’t help the tears streaming down. I cried until I could no longer see the island (which was a bit longer than you might think, as I craned my neck back for so long it hurt), and then settled back with a sigh to watch the rest of the islands of Kwajalein Atoll disappear into the blue of the sea and the sky.

The flight to Hickam (air force base at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu) was uneventful and seemed to go by fairly quickly. At the baggage claim I said a quick goodbye to a couple of Kwaj friends and shared a taxi to the Ala Moana Hotel.

Part of the view from my 9th floor balcony

Part of the view from my 9th floor balcony

This time even with three large bags (quite hard for me to deal with, but doable) and a backpack, I somehow managed to make it up the elevator and to my room on the first try (might have something to do with someone else inserting their key card and then me pushing my button after his).

The other part of the view from my balcony

The other part of the view from my balcony

After settling in a bit, I walked over to the mall across the street for dinner. Every time I leave Kwaj I feel a bit overwhelmed at first by the traffic and “civilization”. One of the first sights to greet my eye was a trolley full of Asians with the driver leading in a hearty rendition of “YMCA” (maybe having something to do with the tour group just having passed the Y. They all looked so happy I couldn’t help smiling and waving back.

I got a good night of sleep and was up at a decent hour for breakfast before taking a shuttle to the airport.

Open breezeway at HNL

Open breezeway at HNL

I had a direct flight to Portland that was only a few minutes longer than my flight the previous day to Hickam, but somehow it felt an hour or so longer (perhaps having something to do with it being a crowded commercial flight instead of 15 people on a private carrier being treated nearly like first class).

Approaching PDX (Columbia River on the left, Mount Hood on the right)

Approaching PDX (Columbia River on the left, Mount Hood on the right)

My first glimpse of land was dramatic; coming out of the clouds, I saw forests of dark green Oregon conifers, and I thought I’d rarely seen a more beautiful sight. Barring the dying Black Hills of South Dakota (forests turned to brown and orange thanks to the pine beetles) that I saw a couple months ago while storm chasing, I hadn’t seen evergreen forests in two years.

I saw pasturelands next, against the beautiful backdrop of the Cascade Mountains, with Jefferson and Hood being most prominent.

Next came cities and the Willamette River, running down to the Mighty Columbia, with my home state of Washington on the other side. I also then saw Mount Adams and St Helens.

At this point the journey ended almost as emotional as it had begun. After two years, my reunion with the Pacific Northwest was a wonderful one, and I laughed and shed a few more tears of joy and yet still sadness for the life I had left behind on a tiny rock in the middle of the Pacific.

My sister and I were then happily reunited at the Portland airport, and after we got my bags and went to dinner, we made it safely back to her home in Kelso (southwest Washington).

May the next 2.5 weeks of visiting family and friends, sightseeing, and shopping and preparing for my New Zealand adventure go slowly and fantastically!

Categories: Hawaii, Kwajalein, Living Abroad, Marshall Islands, Oregon, United States, Washington | Leave a comment

Under the Sea

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Instead of writing about individual scuba dives, some of which I have already done on my Kwajalein blog, I’d like to share a bit about the experience as a whole, where I have been, and where I hope to go in the near future.

I have always loved the ocean. I grew up in Washington State, and spent a lot of time in the mountains and a little bit of time on the coast. If my family had to decide between mountains and ocean, my Mom and I would always say ocean, while my sister and Dad would always say mountains.

I love looking across the ocean and thinking about what and who is on the other side, and what all is under the water. Now that I have lived on a tiny island surrounded by nothing but water for two years, I yearn for the mountains, so am that much more excited that I can have the best of both worlds in New Zealand.

At any rate, coming to Kwajalein I figured I would finally take the plunge and learn how to scuba dive.

My second day of diving; photo taken by my instructor, Doug Hepler. Used with permission.

My second day of diving; photo taken by my instructor, Doug Hepler. Used with permission.

Within two months of my move, I was certified as an open water diver, which meant that I could dive to 60 feet.

On my first dive, I fell in love.

Kwajalein’s waters are warm, clear, full of marine life and wrecks, and not full of people (actually I liked that about diving; you can hang out with people without having to talk with them). It truly feels like swimming in a giant tropical aquarium, and it’s right in my backyard.

I love a friendly octopus

I love a friendly octopus!

To tell the truth though, it took me a couple of extra lessons in the pool before I passed that portion of the scuba class and was able to go on the first dives. I have long enjoyed swimming, but my biggest fear has always been drowning, and I had a hard time relaxing that first time breathing under water.

I then remembered a memory I had long suppressed; when I was about 5 years old or so, I jumped off a diving board in a public pool near Seattle, and lost my orientation. I remember swimming down instead of up, and then I blacked out. When I came to, a friend of the family was leaning over me, probably assessing whether or not he needed to perform CPR. I guessed that’s probably where my long-standing fear of drowning came from.

I’m generally one to face my fears head on. I was terrified of my first tornado, so I decided to go storm chasing. I was terrified of drowning, and decided to scuba dive as soon as I had the opportunity. I see a cliff, I want to walk to the edge and look down. Okay, not always, but sometimes I feel that urge, but know I’m only invincible in my dreams.

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Taken by my dive instructor, Doug Hepler. Used with permission.

I really don’t say this to boast, though, but more for the benefit of those who are scared to go diving. If I can do it, you can do it.

A few months after I completed my initial training, I completed the advanced diver class, and was certified to dive to the recreational dive limit of 130 feet. I also took Nitrox training, which means I can dive with a higher blend of oxygen, allowing me to stay in the water longer on some deep dives, with lower risk of getting decompression sickness (DCS, aka the bends).

Since I love photography, it was only natural that I should want to take my camera underwater. After I began with just a relatively cheap point-and-shoot waterproof camera, I decided to go all out and upgrade my DSLR to a Canon 7D and purchase a full underwater system for it.

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Yes, it’s heavy, and a bit unwieldy, but underwater it’s only slightly negatively buoyant and works like a dream (most of the time). I’ve been told I look like a submarine on night dives, with my two strobe lights on and my wide angle 8-inch-diameter dome port.

While it was quite expensive, I have not once regretted spending the money. I have only to improve my photography skills, as the equipment is top notch and I expect to use it for years to come.

Underwater photography has given me more of a purpose and happiness while diving and snorkeling. While I love to just quietly observe marine life, the most dull dive can usually be made interesting if I have my camera with me, as I can always see something from a different perspective.

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Clownfish are my favorite fish to see and photograph!

I have enjoyed about 100 dives around Kwajalein Atoll. I could have had many more, but did start to experience a bit of burnout earlier this year as I had already been to many of the sites so many times, and wanted something fresh. In spite of what I just said about my camera making a difference, I just needed a bit of a break to do other things (such as spearfishing in the tide pools for lobsters and crabs at night–quite fun!), and felt pretty happy about some of my photos from many of the sites.

I have dove from Kwajalein to Roi-Namur, and so far my only trip outside of the Marshall Islands to dive was to go to Kona, Hawaii, to see manta rays (my blog post from that dive). I have seen manta rays here at Kwajalein, but Kona is one of the famous spots for large groups of them.

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I had never seen such beautiful creatures, and it remains my favorite dive.

Aside from the marine life, Kwajalein Atoll has many WWII wrecks. I already wrote about the planes near Roi-Namur recently. One of the best wreck dives near Kwajalein is the Prinz Eugen, a German WWII battleship which you can learn more about on this Wikipedia link.

Torpedoes on the Prinz Eugen

Torpedoes on the Prinz Eugen

There are so many highlights photos I could post; so many of my favorites. So instead of bogging you down too much here, I hope you will go to my Flickr collection of dive photos.

Clown Triggerfish

Clown Triggerfish

As to where I hope to go diving in the near future, New Zealand has lots of great diving, so I’ve heard. I’m just going to need to get a much thicker wet suit or learn how to use a dry suit, as the waters are just a bit colder there!

There are lots of interesting sites for marine life, including probably the most famous, Poor Knights, off the northern peninsula of the North Island. There are also opportunities to go diving in and around an active volcano, and to see some wrecks such as the Rainbow Warrior, a Greenpeace ship blown up by the French in 1985.

Speaking of facing fears….they also have Great White Shark cage diving off of Stewart Island, just south of the South Island. I think I’m going to have to do that at some point soon!

Categories: Adventure Sports, Hawaii, Kwajalein, Marshall Islands, New Zealand, Roi-Namur, Scuba Diving and Snorkeling, United States | 2 Comments

The Magic of Elevators

CardiffLifft

Some kids are fascinated by elevators. Aka lifts. Aka liffts as they are creatively known in Wales.

They like to push all the buttons.

Me, I was fascinated by escalators. When given the choice, I always preferred using an escalator, as I thought there was something rather magical in a moving staircase, provided you get out of the way at the end so your feet don’t get eaten. I still love escalators and tend to prefer them to this day.

Elevators have always made me feel slightly claustrophobic (unless it’s a glass elevator, those are cool), for the same reason I always get a window seat on a plane. Speaking of, I admit I’m a bit nervous to find that I’ll be leaving Kwaj on a plane with no windows, so my last look at the island as I walk up the steps to board, will indeed be my last look at the outside world for several hours until I get off at Hickam AFB in Honolulu. At the same time, it’s kind of cool that I’ll get the chance to fly on a C17, for the first and likely last time in my life.

But I digress.

When my company sent me to Kwajalein two years ago, they arranged for me to stay in a not inexpensive hotel in Honolulu, the night before taking my flight here. The Ala Moana Hotel is a lovely place, and is adjacent to the Ala Moana Mall, making it an ideal choice if you make it to Hono in time to do some shopping.

You can see the top of one of Ala Moana's towers on the right, with the two antennae on top.

You can see the top of one of Ala Moana’s towers on the right, with the two antennae on top.

When I checked in, I was told my room would be in a tower (12th floor or something like that) for which I would need my room key to access the elevator. Every room above the 4th floor requires the guest to insert the key card inside the elevator and then push the right button to go up. I had never before stayed in a hotel where this was required.

I walked rather doubtfully to the elevators, and pushed the up button. One of the four sets of doors opened, and I rolled my bags inside and took a look at the panel. Just then some other people walked in, inserted their card, pushed their button, and the doors closed. I tried to quickly push my button as well, but it didn’t light up, and was afraid of making too much a fool of myself by fumbling with my card when I didn’t know what I was doing, so I played a greater fool and silently pretended I was going to the same floor. (I’m the same helpless person who to this day has not been able to figure out how to work an entertainment center on the seat in front of me on a plane, even while watching a six-year-old next to me power hers up and fly through the options and get to watch a movie.)

Once the others got off, I inserted my card and pushed my button. Sadly I was not fast enough, though, and the elevator went up past my floor and the doors opened and someone else got on, and pushed the ground floor button. I again could not get the elevator to stop in time at my floor, and so I continued going up and down a few times before I finally humbled myself to ask someone for help.

Despite this faux pas, I have stayed at the Ala Moana three times since while traveling back to Kwaj after vacations, as it is a good hotel and well located.

The view from my room (looking down on the mall), after I managed to find it.

The view from my room (looking down on the mall), after I managed to find it.

On my last visit, a month ago, I ran into a similar problem. My room was on the 5th floor, and the hotel staff told me where the elevators were. (Yeah, yeah, I had done this three times before and had it down now, or so I thought.) I went to the main elevators, pushed the up button, and walked in. I was about to insert my key when I saw THERE WAS NO 5TH FLOOR! Just like in superstitious hotels where the buttons skip from floor 12 to floor 14, this elevator went from button 4 to button 6.

Hmm. Not to be deterred, I coolly swiped my card and pushed button 6. On floor 6, I looked around for the stairs. I searched what felt like half the floor (come on, where are the fire maps showing where to evacuate in case of emergency?), and all I found to help me were some more elevators. I thought I might try these, as I was correct in assuming by now that only certain elevators stopped at certain floors in the tower (maybe I should have listened to the staff?).

I pushed the down button, and it wasn’t long before a set of doors opened, and to my slight dismay I saw the elevator was occupied by another young woman. I quickly inserted my card and pushed the now apparent button 5.

“Only going down one floor?” she asked.

“Yes, I wound up going up in an elevator that didn’t have a 5th button.”

Looking like she was trying to suppress her laughter, she said, “well now you’ll have to just go back up, as it looks like you weren’t fast enough to get it to stop at your floor.”

Down at the ground floor again, I finally managed to get the elevator to go up and stop where I wanted it to. Whew.

Following my flight to Hono on a plane with no windows, I will be staying a 5th (and possibly last, or at least for a long while) time at the Ala Moana. Let’s hope I manage to find my room on the first try this time.

Come on, where are the escalators?

Categories: Hawaii, Misadventures, United States | 3 Comments

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