Friday, 25 April 2014

Mitchell Secret Agents and the Mission Impossible (or not)

As secret agents Mark, Lisa, Ally and Meghan set down in Cairns, Australia, as part of their World Tour Mission, an un-encrypted message was received from a known source.

“Dear Mark and Lisa: I know I am a worrier but there was an earthquake in South America and the scientists expect a tsunami to hit the east coast of Australia. Please listen to weather reports before going to the beach or staying in an igloo on the beach. It is time you came home! Love Mom”

Immediately, suspicious of the intentions, we investigated further. It was believed that this source had made previous attempts to sabotage the Mitchell World Tour Mission.  Kidnapping of the younger agents was suspected during an earlier leg of the mission when the suspect known as ‘Mom’ and her accomplice ‘Papa’ flew to Spain and Portugal.  The agents had undergone extensive training on how to deal with these threats and so far had evaded all attempts of sabotage.  This recent message was particularly troubling as it included our exact location, natural disaster warnings, and orders to abort the mission and return home immediately.  This was definitely the work of an insider who had access to our mission data.  Determining whether this message would necessitate an abort mission, or was just another attempt at sabotage, was first on the priority list.

We made our way to the igloos on Trinity Beach, logged in and accessed our files.  We had been without access for over a week and in this line of work, anything can change in a week.  No tsunami was spotted by the tsunami beacons, but there was a threat of Cyclone Ita heading in our direction.  This would require more investigation and consultation with local intelligence agents. (Desiree , Mike and their agent in training Hanley)  If a cyclone were to hit the north coast of Queensland, this could definitely impact the mission.  At the present time, the storm was a category 2 in the Coral Sea near the Solomon Islands, and was recorded as no immediate threat to us.

Our Igloo
A view inside, the junior agents slept in the loft.
We are just north of Cairns, everything is looking good!
or is it?
The mission continued as planned and the special agents completed a tour of the Tropical Rainforest Village, Kuranda, a hike to Barron Falls, exploration of the enchanted waters of the Blue Lagoon, ocean swimming, tropical fruit tasting and plenty of relaxation.  Extensive training had prepared the secret agents to be able to act and look like regular civilians, or perhaps even tourists on vacation. Nobody would guess their real identities, and the extent of their mission, particularly during morning drills when they were required to get wet and sandy. 

The Blue Lagoon, such an amazing spot!
As the agents continued to blend in with society enjoying BBQ’s and long walks on the beach, they maintained a close watch on Cyclone Ita and were in constant contact with mission control.  Ita had continued to intensify and was sitting as a category four off the coast of Cairns.  Upon impact it was expected to reach a category five.  Intelligence agents on the ground had recommended that precautions be taken.  Long life milk, batteries, candles, cooking fuel and water were secured and stored in the igloo should the need arise.  The special agents were aware of the nearest evacuation centre; however, ground officers Desiree and Mike had established that they would relocate the secret agents if the mission was in jeopardy of being compromised in any way.  All precautions had been taken to protect the mission and the secret agents involved.  The igloo was as strong as a bomb shelter, and the only true threat came from a possible storm surge from a direct hit. 

A breakfast BBQ on the beach.  

So yummy, delicious after our morning run.
Preparing for the storm, anything that might blow away is put in the pool
Cyclone rations
It also became evident that the suspect known as ‘Mom’ had no knowledge of Severe Cyclone Ita and all precautions were taken to maintain that position.  Intelligent Agent, Uncle Dan at home base was under strict instructions not to release any data to ‘Mom’ or to any other inquiring civilian.  Uncle Dan was to report to any queries, that the agents were in no immediate danger and all precautions were being taken to ensure their safety.  All information that may necessitate worry on the part of the suspect known as ‘Mom’ was to be illuminated.   

At twenty-two hundred hours on Friday April 11 2014, Category 4 Cyclone Ita hit land, 200 kilometers north of Cairns and began to reduce in intensity.  It was predicted to hit Trinity Beach the following evening and be nothing more than high winds and heavy rainfall.  The secret agents made it through the storm unscathed; however, the beach and retaining walls were not so lucky. Eight vertical feet of sand was removed from the north end of the beach.  The mission would continue as planned and arrangements were made for the agents to head out to the Great Barrier Reef.  Successful completion of the Australian leg of the mission was recorded.  Everything had gone as planned until known suspect ‘Mom’ got wind of the information that had been withheld.  At this point in time all communication from ‘Mom’ has ceased and the secret agents are still trying to establish contact and repair trust.  The source ‘Mom’ is of great value and an integral part of the Mitchell World Tour Mission, without her the mission would be impossible!

Ita is coming!
and YES, we even take selfies during cyclone!
The junior agents first underwater mission.
Mission accomplished, we found Nemo!
Sorry Mom/Grandma for keeping the storm from you, we just didn’t want you to have a category 5 meltdown.… and it worked.  We love you! 

WARNING - This message will self-destruct in ten seconds.

Meg figures she can classify this experience as her Geography Disaster Project for her dad.  To that end the following educational value has been added at no extra charge!

Cyclone: Much like hurricanes and typhoons in the northern hemisphere, cyclones are massive low pressure storms that develop over warm water (minimum 26 C/80F). Unlike their northern hemisphere cousins, cyclones spin in a clockwise direction due to the rotation of the earth. These storms can have wind gusts up to 300 km per hour near the eye wall and can include damaging rain, hail as well as the possibility of tornadoes and storm surges.

Cyclone Rating Scale: Cyclones are rated from category 1 being the smallest to category 5 being the largest. A category 5 cyclone is equivalent to a weak category 4 hurricane. 

Storm Surge: A inundation of water along a coastline due to the approach of a powerful hurricane/cyclone. Storm surges are particularly extreme if they correspond to a high tide at landfall.  Despite extreme winds, the deadliest part of a cyclone/hurricane is the storm surge.

Special thanks to ground agents Desiree, Mike and Hanley for a wonderful stay in Trinity Beach and for our lovely 'cyclone aftermath' dinner together.  

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

The Gold Coast and the Green Behind the Gold too!

It is not hard to see how the Gold Coast of Australia got its name.  The sandy beaches stretch on for miles and are littered with blond surfers catching waves.  Not only is the coastline golden, the ‘green behind the gold’, known as the sub-tropical rain forest, is a precious gem as well.  The border of New South Wales boasts the largest volcanic caldera in the southern hemisphere, a natural beauty forming the Mount Warning Shield Volcano. Of course this meant that we would be spending a day climbing and exploring.  Surfing, tanning, hiking and mountain climbing, what more could anyone ask for.    
I think everyone starts surfing here when they are “knee high to a grasshopper”, although that may not mean much to the Aussies considering their grasshoppers are huge!  The beaches are so beautiful and the waves are long and smooth keeping the surf crowd occupied for hours.  I always considered surfer types to be laid back folks who slept in until after lunch in their vans, surfed all afternoon and partied until the wee hours of the morning. After living on the coast for a week I learned that surfers are morning people.  Cabarita Beach had a great little cove where tonnes of locals came to surf.  As soon as the sun came up, the water was speckled with tanned bodies floating on their boards, waiting for the right wave.  I suppose I should have known that the best waves are found early in the morning, I did watch Soul Surfer after all!  We spent hours on a steep headland watching the surfers of all ages.  In the middle of the day the beach would clear out, only to be busy again after dinner until nightfall.  Mark enjoyed playing the bagpipes for the surfers who seemed to enjoy having some tunes on their rides. The girls built on their Florida surfing skills while at Surfers Paradise and caught some nice waves too.
We spent many hours at the top of the headland in the distance, watching the surfers.
And a few hours doing this too!
Mark attracting an audience again.  I actually couldn't hear Mark when the girls and I went out to find him.   We headed over to the beach and heard a woman on her cell phone talking about a guy bagpiping down on the rocks, she was asking for directions how to get down to see him…we decided to follow her - how many bagpipers could there be on the Gold Coast? 
Ally at Surfer's Paradise
Meg catching a wave!
Along the boardwalk.  
The sub-tropical rain forest is referred to as the ‘green behind the gold’, as it is located a little inland from the coast.  Giant Fig and Gum trees, stunning waterfalls, colourful parrots, lush vegetation and the famous kookaburra were highlights during our afternoon hike.  Although we were walking along the cool, damp, forest floor the air was warm and humid.  All of our senses were alive as we took a treetop walk through the canopy, high above the forest floor. Mark and the girls ventured up even further into the treetops for a better view 30 meters above the ground. 
We couldn't believe the size of the trees.
While Mark was capturing a photo of these parrots...
one flew up and landed on his head.  Since he was holding the camera the shot is a selfie
but at least it captured the moment!
Kookaburra sits in the old Gum Tree, merry merry king of the bush is he...
Another beautiful waterfall, and of course a beautiful family too :)
You can't see me, but I am wringing my hands down below on the platform that is already
suspended way too high above the ground for my comfort, and these guys are going up another 30 metres
On our way up to Mount Warning we came across a family of wallabies.  The road was very steep and winding, but was nothing compared to the climb we had ahead of us.  The trek through the rain forest was beautiful and again we experienced it with all senses.  Two kilometers into our hike we came to the base of the steepest part of the climb. There we found a chain heading straight up the rocky slope, and a notice to beware. What a climb!  At the top we were rewarded with a beautiful view and an up close and personal look at a python, sunning itself on a tree branch.  All I could think about on the way back down was how many more pythons there were hanging in the trees above my head that we weren’t seeing!

Unfortunately, these little guys are really speedy and this was all I was able to capture!
We are hot and sweaty and feeling mighty proud of our hike so far, then we came to this...
What….did you see how sweaty we were in the previous photo?
Us Mitchells do not give up…so here goes! This was only the beginning, but so much fun.
I'm still debating whether it was worth the climb when this was the view I got at the top…did
I mention I really do not like snakes?
The Gold Coast was amazing and like many of the places we have visited, we could have spent a great deal longer here.  The lifestyle was relaxed and if you were wearing shoes you were overdressed!  We did as the locals did and spent as much time as we could outside and barefoot.  There wasn’t much more in the Gold Coast we could have asked for except perhaps a couple of teaching jobs! 

Yes, we could live here, no problem!
A big thanks goes out to Bill and Joy who allowed us to use their apartment. We had an amazing week at Diamond Beach!

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Spoken like a true Aussie

“Right, now grab your jandles, your chilly bin and cheers to the road, mate!”  That is how our Australian GPS announced our arrival in Sydney… seriously!  As we unloaded the car we all had a chuckle at the Australian accent and tried to make sense of what the “bloke” had actually said.  Living down under has required that we develop a whole new vocabulary, and one we are enjoying learning. 
It's all about life on the beaches here!  This is Manly Beach, one of our faves.
Sydney night life.
Time for another photo shoot!
I “reckon” we have learned more than 50 new words during our stay here.  Our friends gave us an official Australian lesson this afternoon.  This is what I learned!  Togs are swimsuits, jandals (Japanese sandals) are flip flops, ice blocks are Popsicles, chilly bins are coolers, lollies are candies, jacks are crackers, avos are avocados, mossies are mosquitoes, rubbish is the garbage, sunnies are sunglasses, and jelly is frozen jello on a stick.  Considering that my teachers were under the age of 10, that was about as deep as we got, but we had covered everything we needed to know about OZ and the outdoors!
We were a little distracted from our lessons with the beautiful view from our friend's home!
Our lessons continued with adults adding a few more words; tea is referred to as supper  or dinner, uni is university, bottle shop is the liquor store, cab sav is wine and if you have a kangaroo loose in the top paddock, it means you are not so bright.  Although everyone spoke English in OZ (really Aus), learning the Aussie slang was almost like learning a new language, but much more fun!

While on the plane to Sydney a little guy sitting a couple of rows ahead of us said “Holy Dooley Mom, look at the size of that plane!”  A few moments later as we were taxing down the run way he said “Holy Moley Dad, look at that bus”.  This was his first plane ride and he was amazed and excited at all the sights.  Everything was new and he just had to express himself.  Mom and Dad could be heard for the first half hour of the flight reminding him to keep his voice down!  We thought it was priceless and loved his energy.

Everyone in Australia is so friendly and I love that Mark has become a ‘mate’ overnight.  That is just what men call one another here, regardless if you are perfect strangers or not.  It makes you feel like part of the big Australian family.   We’ve heard “G’day mate” regularly, and lots of  “How ya going?”  I suppose it translates into our ‘How are you doing?” or “How’s it going?”  At first it sounded quite funny, but we are getting used to it now.  The best thing is that the people are actually waiting for your answer when they ask this. “Alright, thanks mate.” is an acceptable response but it never sounds quite right without the accent.

Men are referred to as Blokes and the woman as Sheila’s.  Although we haven’t quite added these words to our vocabularies, “No worries” and “It’s all good”, seem to have easily become part of our everyday language.  I suppose that is to be expected considering everything is ‘all good’ when you’re travelling around the world with ‘no worries’!
Cool art exhibit…these are full sized surfboards.
This is Bondi Beach, there is a whole television series devoted to Bondi and the rescues
that take place here, plus a whole lot of other shenanigans.
It is amazing how quickly you can pick up the vocabulary and even the accents in a new place.  I wonder if we will sound different when we return home. We certainly sound different here.  While in New Zealand, we learned that the Kiwi’s often ask people from North America if they are Canadian as opposed to American.  Supposedly the American’s take it as a compliment when asked if they are Canadian, and it is much easier than apologizing to a Canadian for thinking they were American!  The love hate between Canada and the USA is quite similar to that between New Zealand and Australia.

Although we don’t speak French fluently, which is quite shocking for the rest of the world considering we are Canadian, after spending a couple of months in Australia and New Zealand, we can confidently say we are bilingual!  Now, if only we could get the accent down pat, we’d be all set.  Cheers mates, surf’s up!

Special thanks to our friends Denise, Paul and the girls for a wonderful time in Sydney, and of course for all the language lessons!  xo

Meg enjoying the boogie board!

Ally giving it a go too!
Loved this sign on the walking path along the water.
Just another day in OZ!