Arapiles: the Drought ends
Posted by sibylle in Uncategorized (Tuesday April 28, 2009 at 7:40 pm)

With a deluge!

On Thursday night, the rain started. By Friday morning, we had several-inch-deep puddles of water just below the campsite. One of our neighbors, packed up his stuff and left. Friday we had a severe downpour in the morning and clearing in the afternoon. Friday night, it rained. Saturday morning dawned cold. We had planned on hot, dry weather during our Australia climbing trip and weren’t well prepared for days or weeks of rain.

By today (Tuesday, April 28) we’ve had 5 days of rain ( I don’t know how many inches. Or for that matter, how many centimeters. I always ask locals, “What’s the average rainfall?”, to a reply of,

“Well I don’t know. We’ve been in drought for the past 13 years and I don’t know what it was before that.”

However, the amount of rain we’ve had made me wonder about the frame of reference for this drought. To a British settler from the wet UK, which gave the world the flush toilet, several months without rain would seem like a drought. To anyone who’s lived in California, with a dry season from May until October, several months without rain means it’s summer.So I’m beginning to suspect that the drought is a matter of frame of reference.

When I checked on the net, it states: “The annual average precipitation at Horsham is 47.93 Inches.” and another site states that, “The Horsham Rural City Council sits comfortably in-between with an average annual rainfall of 450mm.

I haven’t found the rainfall figures for the past several years, but 45 cm is close to 20 inches, which is considerably more annual rainfall than many parts of California or Colorado, two states where I’ve climbed a lot, so I suspect that it’s a drought from what were relatively wet conditions.

I’ll try to find more numbers on rain, but it sure seems to me like the drought is ending, as we sit with wet shoes, damp clothes, and will head to sleep in  our soggy tent!

Posted by sibylle in Uncategorized (Sunday April 19, 2009 at 11:03 pm)

“Don’t you dare feed the emu,” Whympey admonished me.


We had gone to Little Desert National park for the afternoon with Andy, a climber camping nearby who had a car. Two Scottish women who had been staying in camp in a “Hippie Camper” van, and whom I’d talked to about the van they were renting, had told me about the emu in Little Desert.

They had camped at Little Desert over Easter to avoid the crowds that descended upon Arapiles.

“The emu will eat bread from your hand,” one said.

“Hold the bread on a stick,” added the other. “He comes running over and I was scared he’d bite my hand.”

Having been bitten by a penguin, and lost some skin in the process, I wasn’t about to try getting bitten by a bird that’s bigger than I am. Still, I wanted to get close to the emu, so I’d brought some bread with us to Little Desert. Whympey is the park’s ranger and caretaker. The park, at its main facility, the Lodge, has a number of guest apartments for rent. Whympey was at the front desk when we arrived.

“I heard there’s an emu?” I asked him.

“Yes, Nuisance; he’s around here somewhere,” Whympey replied and walked outside with us. “He’s gone back by the shed.”

 With Whympey’s help, we soon located the huge bird. It looks  like a very large feather duster on huge stilts. The brown feathers appear very dense and thick, to keep it warm over the cold winter. The bird has immense feet and can run quite fast. I hadn’t gotten close to any of the other emus I’d seen in the Grampians, and was very excited to look at one closely.


“Where did he come from?” I asked Whympey.

“We bred him,” he replied. “We had the parents and several chicks.” Amazing to think of something that huge as chicks. Whympey explained that the other chicks had run off into the wild, before they’d put up a fence around the refuge.

I mentioned hearing about the emu from the Scottish women and Whympey enjoined me to not feed the bird. There went my idea of getting close enough to pet one!

“Can I touch him? I asked. “Will he bite?”

“No, but he’ll kick you,” Whympey responded. Well, with legs that size, getting kicked did not seem like fun.

Whympey watched us like a hawk while we were near the shed. The emu then headed for the front lawn, we went on one of the signed and numbered nature walks, and Whympey returned inside to conduct his business. When we returned from the guided walk, the emu was still on the front lawn and Whympey nowhere in sight. My big chance! I pulled a piece of bread from my pocket and held it up. Sure enough, Nuisance came running. As this large animal charging me neared, I concluded that perhaps throwing the bread on the ground might be a better idea.

He came nearby and gulped the bread off the ground. I held up another small shred of bread, and he came closer. I never had the courage (or stupidity) to hold any of the bread out to the emu, but instead dropped in to the ground.

I cajoled my son into taking pictures of the great bird, while Tristan told me to stop feeding it because I’d get all us into trouble.

Sure enough, Whympey came charging out of the office.

“You’re naughty!” he yelled. “Very naughty!”.

Well yes, I was, and admitted it. As a biologist, I know it’s not good to feed wild animals, and especially with inappropriate food. But as a very curious visitor, I had a burning desire to view this marvelous bird up close. Let’s hope he suffers no harm from the bread.





Arrival at Arapiles
Posted by sibylle in Uncategorized (Tuesday March 31, 2009 at 7:03 pm)

On Sunday, we explored Melbourne, visited the Melbourne Zoo (more on this when I can download photos), and went to the train station to buy a ticket. We  took the tram to the train station early Monday, a train to Ballarat where we switched to a bus, and rode the bus to the small farm town of Horsham.

Keith Lockwood (Noddy), a friend of my climbing partner Dave Goldstein, works in Horsham and lives in Natimuk, an even smaller town (500 - 700 inhabitants) abut 10 km from the Arapiles State Park. Noddy kindly  lent us Dave’s water bottles, his stove plus pots and pans, and drove us to the Arapiles.

After we  erected our tent, laid out the sleeping mats and bags, I admired our home for the next month. An enormous pine tree shaded the tent and dining area - a flat log propped on two rocks, sufficient for cooking and eating. The relatively level ground was pleasantly sandy and quite dry. After cooking our first meal, we jumped into our bags, exhausted.

I awoke early to to the chorus or numerous warbling birds. Just before sunrise, hundreds of different birds sang, cawed, hooted, and warbled to greet the new day. I wish I had audio recording to replicate the morning symphony. I’ve never before camped anywhere with such an abundance of bird song.


I got up quietly to not wake Tristan and explored the campground and surroundings. As I walked toward the toilets, a kangaroo jumped out from the bush and ran across the trail. Several more kangaroos grazed at a water seep near the toilets. I sat quietly, to see how close they’d come, taking pictures of kangaroos eating, kangaroos jumping, kangaroos grooming. I had hoped to see kangaroos in Australia, but never guessed that they would be so abundant. Apparently, the locals consider them a bit of a menace, much like those of us who live in deer territory in the United States view deer as a nuisance. The kangaroo, like deer, jump in front of cars, causing a great deal of damage to both. And local hunters shoot kangaroo, so that kangaroo steaks are abundant on local menus and grocery store shelves.

 On our first day in the Arapiles, we hiked up the Central gully to the top of the mountain and visited both view sites. Below us, the flat farms stretched to the horizon in all directions. I could see why early man  thought the earth was flat -  sere, dried grass and brown fields stretched to the horizon in all directions, and I could  see the curve of the earth (looking like a round plate, not a ball).

Living in the mountains, I’d never before viewed the earth lying flat below me and seen the curved horizon quite so prominent. When I’m able to download photos, I’ll post pictures.



We’re finally in Australia!
Posted by sibylle in Uncategorized (Friday March 20, 2009 at 6:24 pm)

After nearly 20 hours of travel, we reached Melbourne, Australia on Saturday the 14th in the morning. We had no specific plans as to our next step: if wide awake and feeling up to an encounter with traffic going the wrong way down the road, I  had thought of renting a car and driving to Arapiles.

But a night with very little sleep left me groggy and much too confused to attempt to drive on the left side of the road, so we opted instead to stay in Melbourne for a night and then attempt further travel. This left me unprepared for the immigration officer’s question, “Where are you staying tonight?”

I explained that I’d optimistically hoped to drive to Araplies, but given up this notion as a consequence of sleep deprivation.

“So you’ve got nowhere to stay tonight?” the office continued. Well, this didn’t sound promising, as it made me seem like a homelss vagabond  and possibly an immigration liablility. I explained that I had friends in Natimuk, and had brought tent, camping gear, and all necessities to camp in the Grampians and Arapiles State Park.

This appeared to convince them, and they let us enter Australia. Our next step was to figure out whre we would stay tonight. I’d thought of staying at one of the cheap hostels or hotels in our Lonely Planet guidebook. When I asked at the information booth about bus transport and hotels, she looked surprised.

“You’ve got nowehre to stay tonight?”, she asked. “You won’t find anything in Mebourne. The airshow’s on and Grand Prix week is coming up. All lodging in Melbourne is booked.

Aha. That’s why immigration wondered where we would stay. The very helpful information booth lady offered to call a few of the hotels and hostels in my Lonely Planet guide, and also called one she knew of. As she had predicted, all were full.

At this point, I asked about the ‘Caravan Park’ - a campground in Melbourne for tents and campers. They had room, and I promptly booked a space. A quick taxi ride in pouring rain took us to a quiet, green, grassy Caravan Park complete with swimming pool (which we never used) , clean showers and welcome sleep.

Park Guell lizard
Posted by sibylle in Uncategorized, Spain, Europe (Wednesday March 11, 2009 at 8:43 am)

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Lizard at entrance to the park

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Sculpture in Park Guell

More Gaudi Park Guell mosaics
Posted by sibylle in Uncategorized, Spain, Europe (Tuesday March 10, 2009 at 8:08 am)

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Gaudi mosaics on bench with bridge in back

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Detail of bench mosaics

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Another detail of bench mosaic

Gaudi’s Park Guell
Posted by sibylle in Uncategorized, Spain, Europe (Sunday March 8, 2009 at 6:01 pm)

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Mosaics on bench in Park Guell


Mosaic detail with rainspout hole

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Backside of bench; water goes out through wolf heads

Barcelona- Gaudi museum, Sagrada, Park Guell
Posted by sibylle in Uncategorized, Spain, Europe (Friday February 27, 2009 at 9:13 pm)

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Tristan in Gaudi’s Park Guell

We flew to Spain primarily to climb, but I thought I’d show my teenage son Barcelona’s sights, including “Park Güell“, which houses the Gaudi museum and numerous of his buildings and  sculptures. Since our plane left Barcelona in the morning, we needed to drie back from Siurana a day before our flight to return our rental car. We chose a hotel within walking distance of Park Güell for our last night in town and spent the day walking around this fantastic park.

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Chair in Gaudi museum

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Detail on Sagrada Familia

La Mussara, Spain
Posted by sibylle in Uncategorized, Spain, La Mussara, Europe (Tuesday February 3, 2009 at 5:43 pm)


Breakfast al fresco

We enjoyed our breakfast at the picnic tables in front of the Refugio. The Refugio’s hosts allowed us to keep our food inside the building, where it stayed much cooler and was also safe from animals. We also washed our dishes inside, at the common sink, with the non-potable water running in the taps. They advised us to not drink the tap water, which came from a large cistern.


Arboli, with cliffs in back

Instead, we got water at one of two springs – one along the road toward the crags, or a second at the approach to the crags. However, as the season progressed, the local springs ran dry and after that we obtained our drinking water from either the spring at Arboli, or the one in L’Albiol. Since we drove to either of these places most days to climb, or on rest days, to shop for groceries, this worked fine as long as we had sufficient water bottles that we could go for two days between trips.


Ruins above La Mussara Refugio, with goats

In the evening, after dinner, we often walked five minutes up to the hilltop ruins, where a local shepherd often brought his herd. The ringing of goat bells accompanied the croaking of numerous frogs that lived in a large artificial pond in front of the ruins. A few times, we saw paragliders very close, but I forgot my camera every time they were playing near us!
The ruins sit very close to the cliff edge, with the escarpment dropping eventually 1,000 meters to the Mediterranean.

Uzbek cuisine - Khoplama
Posted by sibylle in Uncategorized (Sunday December 14, 2008 at 5:06 pm)

From my Uzbek cookbook



A few day ago, I mentioned that on my climbing trip to the Ak-Su in Kyrgyzstan, our Russian hosts gave me an Uzbek cookbook. the pictures of the dishes are so gorgeous, and the recipes quite fascinating at times, that I thought I’d post one of the dishes every once in a while.

I haven’t actually made the dish above, Khoplama, but I may try cooking one or the other dishes in this cookbook.

The recipe calls for “1 radish, black, average size”. I remember as a little girl in Germany we always had black radishes, which are quite large. I haven’t seen them much in the US.

Anyway, the Khoplama appears to be a nice, hearty winter soup or stew.

Please let me know, if anyone makes this dish, how it turned out!

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