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Perth

semi-overcast 76 °F

Today my plan is to visit the Western Australia Museum and Art Gallery. I took the train downtown; took about 20 minutes. First stop, downtown Perth. It's a clean, modern city with a lot of arcades, malls and plazas.

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A very walkable community with public transit, both underground and surface rail, very accessible.

The Museum was, frankly, a bit of a disappointment. It suffered from Dead Zoo syndrome.

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There was a pretty good exhibition on the evolution of animal life; one item I particularly liked was this fossil of a coelecanth.

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To their credit, there is a sign that says they have embarked on a $346 million project to create an entirely new museum by 2020.

Despite some rather old fashioned features, there was a quite extensive and fairly unblinking gallery describing the history of European/aboriginal relations. Sadly, relations oscillated between half-hearted attempts to establish rights for aboriginals and increasingly Draconian measures to control them, segregate them and ultimately attempt to extinguish their culture. Lots of resonances with the experiences of Native Americans and other indigenous peoples unfortunately. It took me several hours to take the whole thing in and give it some thought.

After that fairly heavy dose of history, I roamed across to the Art Gallery of Western Australia across the plaza. There I discovered a blatant violation of the Iron Law of Museum Closings - they are closed on Tuesday !!??!!

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This was such a stunning development that all I could do was randomly wander for a few hours to end the day. Here's an example of the classic Perth hotel/bar. There are many similar ones all over Perth and Fremantle.

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I also ran across this interesting bit of street art which I call "Evolution of the bloke."

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Finally, I headed up to King's Park above the city around twilight. There is a beautiful garden of Australian plants, many of which were in full bloom. A bit too dark to get good pictures, unfortunately. I did run across this tree - an Australian version of the baobab tree of Madagascar called the boab.

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I did some brief research on this tree. Signs in the park suggest that it is a species that was isolated from the Madagascar baobab when the supercontinent Godwana broke up about 100 million years ago. This appears to be inconsistent with the very close genetic relationship between the boab and the baobob. The strongest current theory is that humans brought the boab to Australia during their migrations 50-60 thousand years ago. This is also consistent with some recent genetic studies that suggest there was a human genetic contribution to the indigenous population from Indian Ocean populations about this time. There is also evidence that the yams eaten in the South Pacific have a genetic contribution from South American yams, suggesting the possibility of yet another ancient cross-ocean interaction among early peoples. I think that is super cool.

I got an extra bonus when trying to get a photo of the baobab -

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A pair of rainbow lorikeets were nesting in the tree and one kindly showed up for a photo before bedding down for the night.

Once again, sunset arrived in style and another day comes to an end.

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Posted by tdeits 03:13 Archived in Australia Tagged trees birds sunset history downtown perth aboriginal Comments (0)

Belize - getting there and getting organized

Airfare, cell service and data plans, oh my!

sunny 83 °F

This fall I was able to organize a trip to Belize with my son and his girlfriend. I have never visited Central America before, so Belize sounded like a good first foray; it's pretty politically stable, reasonably safe, and the official language is English (although Spanish and Creole are commonly used). I planned the trip in two parts; 5 days on the Caribbean coast and 5 days in the interior highlands. I would be traveling alone in the second part of the trip.

My first pleasant surprise when getting this started was that I was able to grab a really good fare on American. I currently use Google Flights site as my starting point for scouting airfares, although I have found that it can give wildly inaccurate results for travel between overseas destinations (quoting airfares like $130,000!), so use with care For domestic (US) and European travel it works very well and allows you to quickly explore options. I got a round trip from Detroit for $550, which is less than half what Delta, for example, was charging at the same time. I also needed to book a short hop from Belize City to San Pedro (a barrier island off the northern coast). My son and I used the two different airlines servicing this route and both were fine - pretty casual travel in twin prop planes for a 20 minute flight. My son even got to sit in the copilot's seat; does that count as fun or is that scary? I'll let you choose.

As I often travel alone, having connectivity is important to me. I scoured the intertubes to try and understand how phone and data service were handled in Belize. Honestly, I ran across a whole lot of contradictory information. If there was a consensus, it appeared to be that connectivity was hard to come by and quite expensive. Well, my experience was very different. I went to the BTL (Belize Telemedia)office about 5 blocks north of the airport in San Pedro. The provided me with a SIM card, $10 phone credit and 1 gig of data for $26 US (Belize dollars are pegged at $2 Belize = $1 US). I had good connectivity along almost all the main roads and in the cities I visited, with perhaps a few dropout zones in the south of the mainland and off the beaten track (more on that later). That is a pretty good deal to my mind. I don't know if other services are comparable, but this should give you a current baseline for comparison if you are planning to visit.

We booked an apartment in San Pedro located about a half mile south of the airport through Airbnb . We took a taxi there ($5 US - no meters, so ask the fare before you get in!) and settled in. The apartment was clean and comfortable and in a pretty good location. We like to walk, so hoofing it up the main road or along the beach into downtown San Pedro was easy and convenient. Downtown itself is small enough to completely cover on foot; no vehicle needed.

Speaking of vehicles, the predominant modes of travel for tourists are taxis and golf carts. The carts are small, noisy, open gas-powered vehicles that reminded us of Disneyand Autopia cars. We were in San Pedro over the New Year's holiday which is absolute peak visitor time, and the streets reflected that. They were full of golf carts, delivery vehicles, taxis, etc. The relatively low speeds and narrow streets helped mitigate the rather casual attention to stop signs and other traffic 'laws' downtown. Golf carts are expensive - rates seemed to run in the $60 US range per day so you may want to add that as a budget item if you plan on renting one; taxis would probably be a cheaper alternative.

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When we left the island after New Years, it was considerably quieter.

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(photo credits to Robin Deits)

We hit the grocery store for provisions (prices are quite reasonable) and settled in for our visit.

Posted by tdeits 12:11 Archived in Belize Tagged shopping golf san pedro lodging downtown tips carts service airfare cell data Comments (0)

San Pedro Island, Belize

sleep eat repeat

sunny 82 °F

If you are looking for a laid back Caribbean experience, San Pedro delivers.

The eastern shore of the island is pretty Caribbean coast with a variety of restaurants, bars and hotels lining the beach.

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The hotels range from luxury to budget, as might be expected. If you were looking for the closest approximation to a Hawaiian beach resort with all amenities in downtown San Pedro, you might want to look in to Ramon's Village Resort. We didn't stay there, but wandered the very attractive grounds, peeked into room windows and had a good lunch on the beach by the pool. Not a huge resort, but very pleasant looking.

We ate at several good restaurants - made our own breakfasts. Our favorite turned out to be Sunrise Island Cuisine. It's a little place; it's not on the beach but is tucked into the courtyard of a small hotel about 1/3 mile south of the airport along the main road. We had lunch there twice and dinner once. Ceviche is a restaurant staple in Belize and we had really tasty shrimp and conch ceviche. Seafood is excellent on the island - here's a snapper dinner at the same place. By the way, the owner was most friendly and positively effusive when we came back again! It's a very restful and quiet place that makes a nice brief respite from sun and sand.
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By the way, Izzy's smoothie shop is another not-to-be missed treat a few blocks north of the airport.

The best meal we had was at another well known island restaurant El Fogon. It's a white-tablecloth restaurant where they prepare stews in an open pit in the dining room. It's very popular and everything we ate was delicious. The only downside was that I didn't do enough research on my meal. One of the items offered was gibnut stew. Gibnut is a rodent of unusual size that is considered a delicacy in Belize. Here's a picture of my meal and its source. Up top are my son's and his girlfriends shrimp and fish meals.

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Credit to Trent's blog for the gibnut photo.

The gibnut is a rodent (I don't think I have eaten a rodent before, so that was part of my interest in the dish) also called the Paca and other names. The origin of the name gibnut is a bit obscure; it may have to do with their diet of fruit and nuts. It tasted quite good; a rich and not gamy dark meat in a really tasty mild chile/tomato sauce.

The downside is that I later learned that the gibnut is overhunted and that the current level of hunting is not sustainable. So, while it was an interesting diversion for me, I would not eat it again and you might want to think twice about choosing it as well.

By the way, prices overall were moderate and I don't think I had a bad meal the whole trip. In the next entry, we will actually do something!

Posted by tdeits 06:18 Archived in Belize Tagged hotels restaurants san pedro downtown ceviche Comments (0)

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