The Move

Jenifer DeLemont
Sitting in my Living Room in Guam

We are moving this year, and we sure are going to miss our place in Guam! I know we’ll never get a beachfront condo again (where else could we afford such a thing?)

It has been amazing to wake up and see the ocean each day, but it’s time to go back to seeing a fence and more houses behind it. Setting aside how much I will miss our home here in Tumon Bay, moving with the military involves a lot of paperwork and red tape. I thought I would write about what it is like, for those who don’t know.

People keep asking “Have you started packing yet?

The answer is no. We aren’t allowed to pack our stuff, because then we could hide drugs or guns in it. They pack it for us (like we’re children.) We have no say over how things are wrapped or boxed. Movers come, pack our things, and take them away. We get a receipt and the vague hope that we’ll see any of it again one day.

I have also had many people ask “Are you throwing away all the trash in your house?

Again, no. Both of us are so used to moving that we don’t keep things that we don’t need in our house anymore. Sometimes this means regretting that I threw away something that could have been useful later. However, I have moved more than twenty times in the last twenty years. Rich has moved six times in the last ten years. At this point, we just re-gift or throw away pretty much everything (I say this with the sincerest apologies to my mother, who likes to get me things like artificial snowballs.)

I feel bad, since I know that the reason people ask this stuff is because they want to relate to us and say “Oh yeah, I know what that is like.

Believe me: I appreciate every single one of you. Thank you for trying to relate to me and make connections with me. It means so much! But the truth is that it’s this whole different world when you live a nomad lifestyle. And with the military, it’s a whole different world, plus red tape. It’s just not an easy life to relate to.

Jenifer DeLemont
The View From Our Home in Guam

Now, I may not have to worry about packing or throwing away trash. But, there are a lot of things that I do have to worry about. With the military, we are required to fill out more paperwork than you can imagine.

We have to have a PCS (Permanent Change of Station) binder. They require special forms and appraisal information for my paintings. They require very thorough medical checks for both of us. Then there is the power of attorney forms we have to get so we can sign for each other (since he’s going to school in Japan and I am going straight to our next duty station in Hawaii.) There is also the checklist to make sure that our phones, cars, etc are all sorted, and that has to be turned in to the command. Not to mention all the paperwork we have to turn in to housing.

As to the cars: Yes, the military would pay for us to ship one vehicle. A lot of you have said that we should take what is owed to us and ship one of our cars. However, I have never owned a car nice enough that I think your tax dollars should be used to ship it. We buy beater cars because we’ll only have them for a couple years, and then we sell them when I go. It’s just easier that way, and means we don’t have to wait months on the other end for our car to show up.

There are two shipments of our stuff: Household goods and express. Both will probably take 16 weeks to get from Guam to Hawaii, so we’ll get to live without our stuff for quite awhile. As to why they call one of them “express,” many jokes are made about that in the military, but the real answer is that no one knows.

Jenifer DeLemont
On top of a Mountain (We love hiking)

Another fun thing is that they aren’t really going to give me enough money to stay in a hotel while I house-hunt. Rich will be off at school and they will be paying for him to have a hotel and per diem as well. But me? All I get is the housing allowance for Hawaii (enough for a two week hotel stay.) I either get to make friends to stay with really fast, or try to make it work staying in the youth hostel in Waikiki with all my stuff.

I suppose normal couples get to look at houses together, but they are not in the military. In the military, they just send the spouses ahead with a boatload of paperwork and not enough resources, and expect us to set everything up for our active duty spouses. (Then find a job and help with the mortgage because BAH -or Basic Housing Allowance- is way too low in Hawaii.)

I have been asked why we don’t just rent, and I get that. I am sure it seems like it would be easier. However, most people build personal wealth over the course of their lives by owning and paying off property. If we just rent everywhere we go for the rest of our lives (with rents everywhere being higher than mortgage payments), we’ll have nothing when we are old.

A mortgage costs less than rent in Hawaii, and that money is going to equity in the home (meaning we can get it back by selling.) Since housing will take up 70% of our total income in Hawaii, it sure would be nice to get some of it back, don’t you think?

Also, even though no one has asked: Yes, I’m nervous.

I’m scared of job hunting and house hunting and starting all over again. I am scared of having to make new friends and learn new street names. I am scared of having to buy us a house, get us two cars, set up our utilities, and get furniture off craigslist all without help. I am scared of having to deal with all the military red tape and paperwork without Rich to sort it out. I am scared that something will happen to him in Japan (he did get hit by a car the one night I left him alone in Korea- so I worry!)

But, I am also excited. This is our next adventure! Will we have a house as nice as the one in Guam? No! We really won’t. But I am hopeful that I will find a great job with fun co-workers, and that we’ll make awesome friends and find all new beaches to enjoy. I am always looking forward, and I am sure we’ll make our next adventure a good one. It just might take a while to settle in.

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One thing I know I am looking forward to is Leonard’s Malasadas. My family used to live in Hawaii (I still have relatives on Maui) and because of Leonard’s, I grew up eating homemade malasadas at family gatherings. Nothing else tastes quite as much like love and family.

 

Reef Monitoring

Jenifer DeLemont
Green Sea Turtle

If any of you snorkel or dive, remember that you can always share your data with a reef monitoring project and help advance science.

I want to talk to you today about how to take pictures for reef monitoring, how to label and make notes on those pictures, and where to send them to. Hopefully some of you will find this interesting, and you’ll want to spend some time helping our oceans!

If you plan to do so, there are a few things that you want to remember:

Overall shots of the reef are more important than close-up pictures of fish or coral. The main thing that NOAA is doing is monitoring overall coral health and counting various animals/corals. For this, wide shots are best.

Make notes on the depth the photos were taken at, and of anything else that may be relevant. Remember to think like a marine biologist and note things like: The number of animals sighted and if it is higher/lower than normal, the amount of litter, any invasive species such as the Crown of Thorns, and an estimate of the water temperature. All details matter because they put the data in context (data out of context is less useful.)

Crown of Thorns

You’ll want to submit the data on a flash drive with your name and contact details, and make sure to say whether or not you want credit by name if they use a photo you took for something.

Find the local NOAA office in your area and go in person, or mail the flash drive in. If you cannot find a local office, you can always do a Google search for reef monitoring in your area.

Example: I live on Guam, which is part of the Marianas Islands. So if you type in Marianas Island Reef Monitoring, you get Eyes of The Reef (which is our local outreach program by NOAA.)

If you are in the Hawaiian Islands, The Marianas Islands, or anywhere that there is coral, you should think about sending your pictures to a reef monitoring project. Even if you only go on vacation to one of these places, remember that science is about the aggregation of data and looking for patterns, and more data is always better than less.

I have been helping to share data with the Eyes of the Reef project that NOAA has in Guam for years. It’s just a drop in the bucket when you look at how big the reefs are and how many reefs there are, but every little bit helps.

Giant Anemone

Australia Wrap-Up

tower of central station
Central Sydney in the morning.

This will be my last Australia post. I think I have finally covered nearly all the things I wanted to say. There are just a few loose ends that I will sum up here.

The main takeaway is that you should definitely go to Australia. I felt like I stepped into a parallel universe where everything was the same; and yet just a bit off. It’s not like England were even the recent immigrants and decidedly English.

It’s actually shockingly like the US (in that they lack an established culture), while somehow simultaneously being nothing at all like anywhere else on Earth. I know that sounds crazy, but when you get there, you will see.

The big highlights to note from the trip are:

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The bills are plastic and feature the Queen of England, and the coins are heavy and weigh you down. Still, very neat. I love foreign money.

1. Stay at YHA hostels if you are by yourself and on a budget. They are mostly wonderful, and extremely affordable. Make sure to buy through their website, and look into package deals (sometimes they run a special on a set amount of days like: 10 days for $200.)

I stayed at the YHA in Bondi Beach, Railway Station Sydney, and the one in Cairns. All were good, with the usual hostel bothers (sharing a room with a stranger) and the usual perks (kitchen to cook in and knowledgeable staff.)

Coastal Walk
Bronte Beach on the coastal walk trail.

2. Snorkeling and diving on the reef will be warm, but if you go around Manly Beach or other popular locations around Sydney (or anywhere south of Sydney); get a wet-suit. It was freezing in the middle of summer (January.)

On a side note, it was totally worth it. I hadn’t been in a cold-water environment since middle school, and the kelp dancing in the waves was magical. So were the groupers.

Blue Mountains
Kangaroos hopping away from us in a National Park.

3. Go to the Blue Mountains, but maybe not with a tour (so you can hike around at your own pace.) I am sorry to say that I can’t recommend the company I took a tour with, though maybe you’d have better luck?

However, I do recommend the Blue Mountains. The land is wide and open like Northern Arizona, and it has the same stark and empty beauty.

rainforest
Sweating up a storm in the rain forest.

4. If you’re going to Cairns for a reef tour, it’s worth it to go to the tourist town rain forest for a day. I got great pictures in Kuranda.

If you like shopping, they have oodles of that. I am not a shopping person, so we went to the butterfly garden and the wildlife park, and ate at a restaurant. The whole thing was really very nice.

We took the Skyrail up, and the train back. I definitely recommend that. Someone here in Guam told me to take a bus up to Kuranda, but if I had, I would have missed some of the best things I saw on the trip! Don’t settle for a bus. Take the Skyrail and the train. Getting there really is half the fun.

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Angel Fish with dead coral behind it on the Great Barrier Reef.

5. I did the live-aboard through Cairns Dive Center and stayed on a boat called The Kangaroo Explorer. It was the most affordable option, but the staff was amazing and the chef was top-notch. Seriously, he blew me away with the food. I had a great time! I cannot recommend these guys enough for kindness, fun, and really creating the best experience they could for all the passengers.

However, the impression I got was that tourists only ever get to see the parts of the reef that are the most damaged, and this is both good (for the reef) and bad (for you.) So… take from that what you will. But I see better turtles and coral in Guam on a Tuesday.

Bondi Beach stop
Big Bus Tour, Sydney.

6. The Big Bus Tour was good. I mean, it’s better to see stuff by just taking the regular trains, because it is cheaper and you don’t feel rushed. However, I didn’t do it to see the sights. I did it to listen to the commentary and enjoy a day of sitting down (after all the walking as a tourist, and then all the running at full speed in the Blue Mountains.) For what I wanted it for, The Big Bus Tour was perfect.

If you, too, need a day of rest; give it a shot. You can do the central Sydney area and the Bondi Beach area all for $50 for the day. Sit on top (wearing a hat and sunscreen) for good pictures, or sit below in the AC and just watch the stuff go by.

As an aside, I have also done this tour in Paris and London. Both were good. Honestly, the Big Bus Tour was the only place I picked up those fun tourist facts (like how the guy who built Oxford Street was paid in rum because that was Australia’s first currency.) The locals don’t like to repeat that stuff over and over so they just stop telling people, but the recorded voice on the Big Bus Tour will say it over and over.

me on hill
In the Chinese Garden in Sydney.

Final Thoughts:

Most of the places I spent money on tourist stuff were great and I have almost no regrets on that score. As for the people, they were fabulous. I found Australians to be kind, well-intentioned, and welcoming. People gave me directions and helped me book trips and purchase things with ease as long as I stuck to the tourist spots.

Now, a few of the pubs I went to refused to try my (US) card and asked for cash. They were off the beaten track, and I imagine they don’t see many Americans (only 30% of us even have passports.) So, I don’t think that was too unreasonable.

Actually, I was surprised how few Americans I ran into. With the exception of the reef tour, I didn’t actually meet any at all. Unfortunately, that did not save me from having to think about Trump. Every Australian I met had a go at me for Trump. Seriously, all of them teased me about living in a country run by a madman.

Trump actually personally screwed me while I was in Australia as well. He shut down the government so that the value of the US dollar plummeted. The exchange rate (which is usually very favorable) dipped surprisingly close to 1:1. So, I guess I can’t escape US politics anywhere in the world, even down under.

edge of the world
From the Blue Mountain Tour.

Anyway, I would recommend the crap out of Australia if you were choosing a place to visit. I know the Maldives look attractive and Europe calls to everyone. I know Japan is top on all the anime-geeks lists. But, Australia has something about it that is magical, and I am really glad I took the time to go. You should, too.

And if you are worried about those stories you heard about Australia being dangerous, let me put that fear to bed right now. I saw nothing dangerous. Not one thing. Seriously, they say it’s dangerous, but it’s super tame in the cities, in the Blue Mountains, and even out on the reef.

I suppose you should take into account the fact that I grew up in Arizona (think: scorpions in your shoes, rattlesnakes with skin-rotting venom, Gila Monsters, and Tarantulas.) And, I guess, the fact that I live in Guam and am frequently harassed by Giant Beach Roaches and Huntsman Spiders here. But even so; I expected to see more dangerous stuff, and I really didn’t. I came back with a few black aunt bites, but that is all.

shirt in store
This map is full of lies. It’s actually quite safe in Australia.

Chinese Gardens

Chinese Garden
The Chinese Garden, with the city of Sydney in the background.

One of the best things in Sydney was sitting and resting by the pond at the Chinese Gardens.

Chinese Garden
A window looking out at the garden.

Granted, it’s a little odd to look at a serene garden and see skyscrapers in the background.

red window
A window in the tea house within the garden.

However, as long as you keep your eyes down and in the garden, it is really relaxing.

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Look out from the tea house at the pond and the viewing area across the water.

I particularly liked all the animals. None of them are in cages or technically considered part of the garden. They just visit and/or live there by choice.

Chinese Garden
An iguana in the Chinese Garden.

I saw iguanas, birds (including the much hated White Ibis,) turtles, and ducks.

Chinese Garden
A duck and a turtle in the pond.

Of course they do keep koi there, which is awesome.

Chinese Garden
Koi in the pond.

Anyway, it’s a peaceful place and there are lots of benches. I brought a book and some water, and i just hung out for awhile.

picnic spot
A viewing pavilion by the waterfall.

If you need a break, and you are tired of the hustle and bustle of being a tourist; this is the spot to visit.

me with waterfall
Me downstream from the waterfall.

 

Kuranda

kuranda sign
Kuranda Sign

There is a village up in the rain forest called Kuranda. You can get there by bus, but savvy people know that the best way to go is either the train, or the “Sky Rail.”

skyrail building
Skyrail Building

Thankfully, I went with my friend Melissa, and she knew all the best things to do. I am so grateful for her!

mel in tram thing
Mel in the Skyrail

So, we took the Sky Rail there, and it offered places to get off and walk in the rain forest, as well as amazing views from within the cable cars.

skyrail tram best image
Skyrail End in Kuranda

When we got there, we went to a wildlife park with koala bears and kangaroos, which was cool.

roo
Kangaroo

Then, we went to a butterfly garden, which was even better. (I love butterflies!)

gorgeous
Butterfly from the butterfly garden

And, I tried a kangaroo steak, which was way better than a kangaroo burger.

kangraroo steak
Kangaroo Steak

Finally, we took the train back to Cairns.

train through mountains
Train through the mountains

The train ride was amazing, and we even stopped to see the waterfall!

waterfall and mist
Waterfall and clouds

It was a really good day, and I loved the rain forest.

rainforest overview
View of rainforest

Blue Mountains

overview of mountains
The view from the parking lot.

I took a tour of the blue mountains through a company called Barefoot Down under. I chose them specifically because the flier claimed that only a “moderate” level of fitness was required (while other tours said the hiking was “hard” or “difficult.”)

As a cancer survivor with a heart condition, I struggle. I mean, I am not unfit. I run three times a week at the gym and I swim nearly every day. I can and have hiked all day. In fact, just last year I did the 888 stairs to the top of Ulsan-Bawi in Seoraksan.

pathway in forest
Stairs that the tour operator thought we should run up. Not walk, mind you. Run like a mountain lion was chasing us.

That said, I can’t go at break-neck speeds. I can’t run up and down trails. I do need to hike slowly. And that is why I chose the tour group that said the difficulty was only moderate.

Unfortunately, the tour group leader decided that running was the only way to hike.

Honestly, it would have been fine if we got to Wenworth Falls recreation area, and then he pointed out the easy trail to me to get to the falls. It was short, and I saw children and old people on it. After all, I had disclosed that I had a heart condition, and if he was planning on running wildly down the trails, then he should have let me do my own thing and given me a time to meet back up with the group.

However, he didn’t.

me in woods
Just sat by myself in the woods. All alone. Waiting for over an hour.

He took me into the jungle and then told me the path he was taking to the falls would be “too hard for me” and to “just sit at the trail fork.” I sat. And sat. And sat. He never came back for me and the group did not return. I ended up deciding to hike back out on my own, and I sure am lucky I did! The tour guide had decided to take everyone out going a different way, and I would have missed them all and got left in the forest by myself.

To add insult to injury, he had his wife e-mail me to say “You have wondered off. Please return to the tour or you will be left behind.” When I got back to the city and had wifi, I checked it and when I saw that i was livid. He told me to stay behind, and then planned to say I wandered off and it was my own fault.

Luckily, I decided to hike out on my own.

pathway
Upper pathway, which is nicer than the lower trails.

However, I couldn’t very well yell at him in front of everyone when I re-joined the group (and boy did he look surprised to see me.) After all, one of the other girls on the tour told me that he had pretended to try to come and find me (which I know he didn’t, because I did not move.) Ergo, he played it up for them so that he could make sure it looked like my fault.

I took the high road and tried to act cheerful for the rest of the day. We went to a restaurant with overpriced kangaroo burgers, a street full of graffiti, and an overlook to take pictures. However, the whole time I was thinking about how the guide had tried to leave me in the woods because I confessed to having a heart condition and he wanted to run all day.

 

kangaroo burger
Kangaroo Burger. Not really very good, but I had to try.

The thing that gets me is this: He could have just said “This hike is rated difficult” on the flier. If he had done so, I never would have gone on the tour. I wouldn’t have paid a bunch of money to see Wentworth Falls (which I never got to see.) I would have looked for another tour, or taken a bus up to the park and hiked at my own pace like my friends did when they went to the Blue Mountains.

So basically, the tour flier is misleading. It is not “moderate” in difficulty. It is “hard.” That is something they should change immediately. I have no idea how Wenworth Falls looks, and I spent about an hour in the woods reading my book instead of finding out because the tour guide told me that I was “breathing too hard” as he was literally running up a hill and I tried to follow, and so he told me that I should “wait here until the group returns.” I was pretty disappointed.

On the upside, we did come across Chris Darwin (the great-great grandson of Charles Darwin) completely by chance. So, I got to meet him. At least that was something.

edge of the world
One of the only good pictures I got, from an overlook we drove to.

Bondi Beach and Coastal Walk

Coastal Walk
The view from the roof of the YHA Bondi Beach hostel

The first place I stayed was the YHA Hostel in Bondi Beach. It’s a little out-of-the-way (as in, not on the main strip in front of the beach.) However, I actually enjoyed that a lot because we could hear the ocean instead of the people partying late into the night. It’s a run-down sort of hostel where everyone is on beach time (as in, not in a hurry,) but I like that as well.

Coastal Walk
Bronte Beach from up on the coastal walk. Someone wrote “Send Nudes” in seaweed.

It was a short walk down to Bondi Beach if you went one way, and a short walk down to Bronte Beach if you went the other. Both are beautiful, but Bondi Beach is certainly the more crowded of the two.

the rocks
One of the many bays along the coastal walk.

The best part was taking the coastal walk along the cliff-sides and seeing all the fabulous views. You can walk through Waverly Cemetery as part of the coastal walk as well, and that is a beautiful place full of old gravestones from early colonial days.

Clovelly Bay
Waverly Cemetery on the coastal walk.

I walked all the way to Clovelly Bay, since I planned to snorkel there. It is a significant distance and there is a lot of up and down-hill, so I recommend a moderate fitness level or a bus pass so you don’t have to get back the same way if it’s too much for you.

Coastal Walk
The Coastline and the pathway along it.

Still, you can’t beat the views of the coast in the Sydney area! The sandstone cliffs are striking, and the little beaches inside coves are full of cheerful families and surfers. It’s really a delightful walk.

Coastal Walk
The view from another high-up spot on the trail.