Emeryville Amy

This blog will be a combination of my favorite places in the Bay Area and abroad, memoirs, recipes, restaurant reviews and travel experiences.

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Location: Emeryville, San Francisco Bay Area, CA, United States

Saturday, March 30, 2013


Just checking to see if this still works.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Snorkel/Sail Cruise on the Great Barrier Reef

The first reservation that I made for this trip after purchasing my plane tickets was for a 3 day snorkel/sail cruise out to the Great Barrier Reef. I have always wanted to go there and have wanted to go on an overnight sail on a sailboat. This was a chance to kill 2 birds with one stone. After quite a bit of research online, I finally found a 65' sailboat that just took 10 passengers rather than a huge speed boat that took a couple of hundred. I checked to see if there was room for us and if Laurel liked the idea. There was room so I signed us up. I knew that it would be a perfect way to end our trip.

At the hotel in Cairns the concierge called to confirm that the sail was on (everything here is weather permitting) and found that we were good to go. We showed up at the dock at 7:45 am and were told to take off our shoes and pass them with our bags up to them. So, no shoes for three days. My kind of trip! Our crew was really nice. The captain, Sean, was from New Zealand and looked like he had been on boats his whole life. He was a very fit, tan, good looking guy in his late 50'. Our diver instructor was named Johnny and he was from Scotland, in his mid 20's and tan and cute. The cook, Jenny, was an Irish girl who had only been with the company for a month. They were a great crew.

The other passengers were a couple in there early 30's from France on their honeymoon and 2 Dutch couples. Not an Aussie in sight. I was so excited I could hardly stand it. The boat was beautiful. It was all wood, even the mast. There were 4 sails, though we never put the front sail up. We motored out of the harbor and into the ocean. The crew put the sails up but we kept the motor on because it would take 4 hours to get to the reef even with the motor on. One of the Dutch women got seasick right away. Apparently she had a migraine that morning. She should never had come aboard because she was stuck on the boat once we left. She was miserable all day and night so her husband arranged with Sean to have them dropped off at a pontoon out at the reef so they could go home on a day trip boat. Bummer for the 3 Dutch folks who got off, but it meant then that there were just 5 of us passengers and the the 3 crew. We had plenty of room that way which was really nice.

We arrived at part of the reef (it is made of 2900 individual reefs), had lunch and got ready for snorkeling. I had been warned by some people at home that we would have to wear these unattractive lycra bodysuits to prevent jellyfish stings but it turns out that the stingers are only near shore. Laurel and I both opted to wear them anyhow to prevent sunburn and provide more warmth and bouyancy. They were quite comfortable and made us more visible to the crew from the boat. I happily jumped off the boat into the water, eager to snorkel. Laurel has a phobia about jumping into water and has only once even jumped into a pool and that with my patient encouragement. She had no choice here if she wanted to snorkel. It took a little bit but she did it. And she did it 7 or 8 other times as well during our three days. I was quite proud of her!

The water was about 84 degrees and crystal clear. We swam over to the edge of the reef where the fish were swimming among the coral. It was so amazing and yet I think that each time we went in the experience just got better and the water more clear.I loved swimming in schools of fish and with turtles and above the amazing coral. We saw a couple of eels, a stingray,a barracuda, turtles and countless variety of fish. We usually would snorkel for about 45 minutes to an hour and I think I went in about 9 times during the trip. The crew all loved to go in as often as they were able. They took turns taking people out on scuba dives. We went to a lot of places that the bigger boats didn't go to which was really nice. There weren't any other people snorkeling in the same reef as us. Just us and the fishes...

The food was good and plentiful. We ate in the back of the boat under the shade tent at the table they set up in there when we weren't motoring far. It was a pretty quiet group. I think that having a lot of different first languages made conversation more difficult. We mostly spoke English but we attempted French to include them when we could. Conversation got easier when the Dutch left and the group was smaller and had started to get to know each other a bit. I liked hearing the crew's life stories. They were plenty talkative if you got them going.

It was really hot on the boat, especially in the sun. There was shade under the canopy in the back so we often retreated there. Toilets on boats are always interesting. There were 2 on this boat and both required climbing up a step to sit on them. It took some acrobatics but I got pretty good at it after awhile. I was afraid of getting dehydrated so I drank a lot of water and had to visit them quite a bit. We were allowed one 3 minute shower each day. I was glad to get the salt off of me and feel clean after my last snorkel of the day.

I dreaded sleeping down below because it was so stuffy due to the heat. I asked if I could sleep upstairs and the crew said I would be too cold on the deck and that they slept under the canopy. I said no problem but Johnny said that there was one place up there if I wanted to sleep near them. I didn't want to bother them so I went down below. But I couldn't stand it. I crept up the stairs with my pillow and slept in the open space that Johnny had said I could use. But I didn't bring a sleeping pad and the deck was hard and narrow and my knee hurt a lot. I didn't sleep much. One of the Dutch guys came up and slept outside on the deck. I don't think Sean slept much with us moving around so much.

The next morning we woke up early since we had gone to bed at 9 pm and the sun rose at 5 am. The French couple and Laurel and I went for a pre-breakfast, post instant coffee, snorkel. It was fabulous. The fish were very lively and plentiful. After an hour the crew called us back to the boat for breakfast of fresh fruit salad, cereal, yogurt, bread and toppings, including vegemite, nutella and peanut butter. I was disappointed that the coffee was instant, but I wasn't about to complain.The sun was already hot by 6:30 am and we slathered on the sunscreen all day long. We motored to another snorkel spot to drop off the Dutch. They climbed down on to the inflatable speed boat and the captain took them to the pontoon. We then headed to a better snorkel spot and went for a pre-lunch snorkel.

That night I decided that I was going to bring my sleeping pad up and sleep outside under the stars on the deck. I lay on my back looking up between the rigging at the bright moon and twinkling stars and thought that life doesn't get much better than this. I slept like a baby all night. I hadn't slept that well in months. Maybe I should always sleep on a rocking boat under the stars with a cool breeze blowing over me. I knew that I was going to be sad to have this part of my journey over. My only disappointment with the cruise was that we didn't have enough wind to sail. We had to motor from sight to sight which wasn't unpleasant, but I never got to experience true sailing on the boat. Maybe next time...

4 Wheeling in Cape Tribulation

Cape Tribulation

Laurel and I wanted a little more adventure in the rain forest so we signed up for a 4WD excursion. At 7:00 am the morning after our night walk, Jenny drove up in a 4WD jeep. Jenny was our guide for the day. She was just over 5 feet tall and probably less than 100 pounds with pigtails but she was one tough cookie. We drove about 30 minutes to pick up the other 4 passengers and then headed up the road to where Laurel and I had stopped to hike to the swimming hole the day before. We forded the river and continued on the unpaved road.

As we bumped along, she informed us that the road was amazingly smooth because they had just graded it 2 weeks before. It only was graded (smoothed out) once or twice a year. I thought it was still a bit bumpy, but I am a city girl. She drove up 2 incredibly steep hills while adjusting the gears to the super-low setting. It was a 1 in 3 grade which translates to a 33% incline/decline. Many people wipe out because they don't know how to drive their 4WD correctly. She sees wrecks 3 or 4 times a week and this is not a heavily travelled road.

Jenny stopped so that we could get out and walk into the rain forest a bit. She told us tons of things about the trees and foliage. She was a wealth of information and kept up an interesting and informative and funny narrative for most of the day. We crested one hill and the scenery changed to what I had imagined Australia to look like. It was dry and sunburnt in color and there were lots of Eucalyptus trees around. We got out and took pictures of the landscape.

After driving for a awhile longer we stopped at Wajul Wajul which is an Aboriginie community of about 500 people. Jenny is friends with a lot of people in this community. She arranged for us to meet three of the women and have them take us to their sacred waterfall. They were interesting to listen to. They shared about the area and the healing property of many of the plants. Jenny had already told us a bit of their history and of the aboriginie culture. Drinking is a big problem in the communities and this one decided to be completely dry. There was a big sign on the road as we entered the town. It said that if you brought any alcohol in there would be a $7500.00 fine, imprisonment and your car would be impounded. Pretty intense. But, it seems to be working well for them. Jenny said that she had a really bad headache one time that she was there and they healed her. The remedy was to take a nest of green ants, break it in half and rub it into her hair. The other ants were mashed in their hands and held up to her nose for her to inhale their scent. She wasn't entirely comfortable with the process ( I would have freaked to have had ants on my head...,) but she said that in about 10 minutes her headache was completely gone and didn't return. She also said that she picked ants out of her hair for a few days.

Jenny had lots of stories about rescuing people that were truly in need and not just due to their own stupidity. If they rented a car that they didn't know how to drive properly she wouldn't bother to stop but she would call for help for them. She told one story about getting out at a river crossing to decide if the water was too high to cross. There were 5 German tourists in her car and she had just finished telling them that the crocodiles in the area seemed to particularly like Germans for some reason. She stepped out into the river and the current swept her up and hurled her downstream. She bashed into a bunch or rocks before pulling herself out. She walked back to the jeep all bloody and told her passengers that that happened all the time- no worries but that they would not be able to cross the river that day. Not one of them had gotten out of the car to see if she was okay and had just watched her get swept downstream. Maybe they were afraid of the crocs...

We stopped for tea at a swimming hole and enjoyed the cool water. I didn't feel like getting all wet but a couple of the guys went in for a swim. Jenny told us a lot about living in Cape Trib. They don't have any electricity provided for them. Everyone has to create their own from generators, solar panels and some other system that I can't remember exactly. She said that prices were higher here for everything because of that. it costs them 20 times more for energy that down in Cairns. I think she also said that they have to provide their own water too.. Electricity could have been provided there but the council decided that in order to prevent a greedy developer from turning the rain forest into a bunch of condos they would discourage the people who had bought the land parcels from developing by not providing power.

Our last stop was at a mangrove beach. It was low tide and the exposed beach was immense. Here and there were mangroves trying to take root in the sand. I thought the beach was absolutely breathtaking. If it the sun hadn't been so brutally bright or if I had some good shade, I could have stayed there for ages.

After the tour was over, Laurel and I both agreed that Jenny was our new hero. She knew how to drive and fix 4WD's, ford rivers, befriend all kinds of people including her aborigine friends, speak several languages, create her own electricity, give amazing discourse on the rain forest and surrounding area and probably could wrestle a crocodile if the situation arose.

Sunday, November 29, 2009


I experienced many "firsts" on this trip including walking in the rainforest at night. After a rushed dinner at the Daintree Rainforest Retreat Motel, Laurel and I drove 20 minutes up the dark and windy road in the rain to the spot where we would meet our guide for our night walk. Wisely we had scouted out the turnoff during daylight hours and knew where the dirt road was located at Coopers Creek. It was kind of creepy bumping in the pitch dark down the dirt road but Laurel assured me we were in the correct place. We finally saw some lights from a house up ahead. We parked and our guide came out to meet us, flashlights in hand.

We were the first arrivals of our group of eight. Three giggly Italian girls in sundresses showed up next then 2 other couples. We were told that we needed to walk in single file about 3 meters apart and use our flshlights to search for animals hidden in the forest. If he saw anything he would stop and point it out. He said we would do a rotation every 10 minutes so that we would all have a chance to walk near him- he would shine his flashlight on the ground and we were to stand in his"circle of light" spot until everyone else went by, then take up the rear.

We went into the humid, sauna-like jungle and he had us turn off our flashlights. If you looked up you could see a little light from the moon between the dense forest canopy, but side to side was pitch blackness. He said people never came into the jungle at night before flashlights because it was too hard to see and too easy to get lost. I believe it. I would never find my way out of there even with a flashlight. It was tempting to walk on each others' heels instead of keeping the recommended distance at first.

Our guide stopped to point out various large spiders, sleeping birds and insects. I was hoping for something a bit more exciting, not that just being there sweating profusely in the dark wasn't interesting in itself... When Laurel had her turn behind the guide he stopped and said "python on the path straight ahead". Sure enough, there was a 12-15 foot python on the path. It lay there as our group gather close and then it began to slither away into the undergrowth. It moved completely silently and we watched in awe as it stretched out in full length. Glad that I didn't step on that.

A short while later one of the Italian girls gasped and pointed to another python on the side of the path that 5 people had just walked by. We gathered up again and waited for it to move on. The guide said we were really lucky to have seen two pythons in one walk. There were countless dragons (bearded lizards) and frogs and toads and even some butterflies.

I used my walking stick (ski pole) for the one and only time on the trip. I was glad that I had it because it was fairly treacherous going for most of the time. The path was full of gnarly roots and uneven gorund. I couldn't believe how much I was sweating in the dark. I was completely wet with perspiration- it felt like it was just running off of me. I don't think I have ever been so drenched at night before. We walked for two hours. The last 15 minutes or so we were in an open field and walked along the forest edge. The breeze there felt wonderful. This was truly amazing. I wish that I had brought my camera because there were moments that I could have taken photos but I didn't think it would be possible. Oh well, we all know what pythons look like. Of course, it is a bit different sensation to have them out of a cage and lying on the path right in front of you...

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Daintree Rainforest

Daintree Rainforest

Our flight from Sydney to Cairns arrived at 5:10 pm local time (6:10 Sydney). The rental car company we were using, Cruising Car Rentals, did not have a kiosk at the airport so we took a shuttle into town. We got dropped off at 5:50, not knowing what time the place closed. Luckily it was open until 6. The guy working there thought we were no-shows. He quickly did the paperwork and handed us the keys to our sporty little red car.
I squealed with joy when I saw that it was an automatic. That was going to make it soooo much easier to drive on the windy roads and through the round-abouts. The sun which had been setting close to 10:00 pm in New Zealand was beginning to set already at 6:00 and we had a 2 hour drive up to Daintree where we were spending the next two nights. The dark grey clouds blocked what little light was left in the sky. The roads were fairly windy and there weren’t any street lights since it was the highway. We wound our way around the cliffs near the ocean- similar in feel to driving Highway 1 in California.
We didn’t want to take any time to stop for dinner because we just wanted to get there before it got too late. By the time we passed Port Douglass it was pitch black and we were driving on tiny little two lane roads. There was a ferry we needed to take to cross the Daintree River and I wasn’t sure how late it ran. We spent an extra half an hour searching for the road to the ferry in the dark. Thankfully we saw headlights across the river from a car that was coming towards us. Yeah, we weren’t stranded in the middle of nowhere. After the ferry the road became really windy and we only had our headlights to illuminate it. We could tell that it was jungle on both sides of the road but we couldn’t see it. Frogs jumped around in the road in front of us and hoped that I didn’t hit too many. Eventually we found our way to our motel and they had closed up for the night. They put a sign on the door for us to honk when we arrived. We were shown to our room and we ate a late dinner of cracker, cheese and apples.
The Daintree Rainforest Retreat Motel is really cool. It is very eco-green and has solar panels for its energy. There is a pool and dining area and lounge space all outside with roof coverings. The birds and insects and foliage leave us no doubt as to where we are. It rained hard most of the night and I loved listening to the sound of it drumming on the roof. It is warm and humid but not blazing hot like the 109 degree day in Sydney.
The owner Eric told us we should get up early and go for a walk at a nearby place. We got up at 5:45 and were at the spot for a walk by 6:30. We had hoped to see some animals but no luck. The sun was up before us and the animals must have been hiding. We headed up the road to Thorton Beach and had a nice walk on the sand. Unfortunately, it is jellyfish season and they advise people not to go in the water. They do provide a bottle of vinegar near the beach so if you go in and get stung you can pour vinegar on the sting to make it hurt less.
Every few kilometers on the road, there are signs warning about the danger of hitting the local bird of fame, the Cassowary. Despite the signs, we have yet to see one of these huge flightless birds. Or any other animals for that matter except spiders and lizards and birds… Tonight that might change because we are going on a guided night walk in the rainforest.
We came back to the motel to speak to the owner about options for our day. He said he would try to book us on a 4WD tour tomorrow. That should be a blast. We decided that today we would go on a bunch of walks and hikes and maybe lounge around the pool here a bit. We drove all the way to the end of the road. We parked and tried to find our way to a swimming hole Eric had told us about. Laurel headed off on what she claimed was a trail but was a bit more treacherous than I wanted. It didn’t seem like a real trail to me so we went back to the car and tried again. This time we found the correct trail and made our way through the rainforest to the swimming hole. It was amazing to walk through the forest listening to all of the birds and insects and startling the occasional lizard. I went for a dip in the swimming hole but didn’t go too far because further out the ground was dark and I couldn’t see what was in the water. Back at the car there had been a sign warning about crocodiles in the area.
We stopped for lunch at a picnic area near a mangrove forest. It was so beautiful walking along the path through the mangroves out to the beach. Another path took us through a fan palm forest. It seemed like the right time for some ice cream after all of that hiking. A local ice cream place makes all kinds of fruit flavored ice cream from the fruit grown in their orchards. The drive in from the road went past trees laden with exotic fruit and were kindly labeled so that we could tell what they were. Gorgeous red and hot pink ginger plants surrounded the little ice cream stand. Today the ice cream flavors were: banana-mango-guava, wattle- seed, sapote- aka chocolate pudding fruit, soursop. They sold us all four flavors in a cup. We both like the wattle-seed the best. It tasted a little like coffee. The woman at the counter cracked open an enormous jack fruit and gave out samples to everyone with the disclaimer that we should suck on it and either swallow it like an oyster or throw it in the garden. I did a bit of both.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Chillin' in Sydney

Today was about 40 degrees cooler than yesterday. Such a difference from the sweltering heat wave. It was still sunny and bright this morning and I put on my sunglasses at 7:00 am when I drank my coffee on the balcony. I headed out early on my own to go to Darling Harbour where the Sydney Aquariam and Wildlife Center are located.

The aquariam here is fantastic. I really enjoyed the glass tunnels with the sharks and stingrays and fish swimming overhead. A sign said that the glass made everything appear 25% smaller. Hard to believe because some of the rays and sharks looked enormous. They also had 2 dugong as well which are similiar to manatees. They eat 150 heads of romain lettuce each day so the staff feed them continuously from 7am-8:30 pm. I also got a preview of some of the fish I will be seeing out at the Great Barrier Reef.

The Wildlife Center showcased many of the most lethal animals on earth. Killer spiders, snakes... I got a kick out of seeing kangaroos and koalas. It might be the most close up encounter that I have with them, but who knows what I might see in the next week.

Food Down Under

Laurel and I often take pictures of our meals before we eat. It helps us remember what we ate and reminds us to be aware and thankful for our food. We had some really good Vietnamese food the other night in Sydney. They have lots of good ethnic food here.

More Sydney Pictures

I wanted to add a few more picture to the blog that I just posted but I think there is a limit per entry. These photos go with the Sweating in Sydney blog.

Sweating In Sydney

Sweating in Sydney

In one day we went from New Zealand where it was the coldest spring in 50 years to Sydney where heat records were being made. Our hot adventure started early with a 4:30 am wakeup for a 7:00 am flight. We arrived in Sydney at 8:30 am Australian time (10:30 NZ) with a challenge of what to do with our luggage for the day since we couldn’t get into our place until 5:00pm. Since 9/11 it has been almost impossible to find lockers at train or bus stations to store baggage.
We realized that we were just going to need to schlep our bags all day with us as we boarded the train to town. We got off at Circular Quay (pronounced key) and went for a walk over to and around the Sydney Opera House. I was surprised that it is cream colored rather than white. In photos it has always seemed gleaming white. Large lights and a stage were being set up by the front stairs of it. Australian Idol finals are being held here at the Opera House Sunday evening.
Hungry and hot, we chose a bayside café with umbrellas to dine for lunch. We ordered iced coffees and an antipasta platter to share. Big drinks in milk shake glasses were delivered to several tables around us and we started wishing that we had ordered milkshakes too. To our delight, the waitress brought us 2 of the drinks which were not only iced coffee, but also topped with a scoop of ice cream and whipped cream. So we basically started lunch with dessert. The antipasta platter was very good with lots of tasty marinated vegetables and cheeses and salami.
A harbor cruise sounded like a good idea but we had 2 hours to kill before it left. I changed my clothes because I had sweated through the ones I had on earlier. We headed out into the relentlessly hot sunshine, me dragging my bag and Laurel with her backpack, and headed over to the Rocks- an open air market in an old section of town adjacent to the Quay. I dragged my way through the crowds barely looking at the stalls because it was just too hot and hard. Taking pictures was all I could really manage. One stall had 4 huge paella pans with delicious smelling paellas and curries. In order to get away from the crowds we went back to the dock near the immense cruise ship and went over by the Harbor Bridge. We found shade at a bench under a tree and hung out there drinking cold water for awhile until a seriously disturbed homeless man drove us away with his foul language.
It was great to be out on the bay. It is a wonderful bay and since it was a sunny Saturday everyone was out sailing and boating. There were hundreds of sailboats and other vessels. I have never seen a water space more crowded. One 40 foot sailboat almost ran into our ferry. Besides that, it seemed like people were pretty good at controlling their boats. The ferry captains were amazingly adept at maneuvering their ferries. The cruise took us all around the harbor and gave me a good sense of where things were located.
It was finally time for us to catch the ferry to Balmain district where we were staying at the home of the McPauls. They aren’t here because they are visiting Berkeley but they let us stay there along with Evan and Angie from First Pres. The heat seemed to keep increasing and our bags kept getting heavier. We slogged our way up a big hill and then down the other side and over a few streets to their place. We rang their neighbors (Al and Margaret) per instructed and they came out to meet us. It is a bit embarrassing to meet someone new when you are drenched in sweat and red in the face, but they didn’t seem to mind. We were invited to join them for a drink after we got settled. I took a wonderful cold shower to wash the long day’s grime off and went over for a drink. There is nothing like a good shower when you really really need one. Their deck looks out onto the harbor and Sydney skyline. They were so nice and welcoming and gave us advice and helpful hints for getting around. The breeze picked up and it felt lovely to sit out on the deck.
After drinks, we walked over to Darling Street and up the hill 10 minutes to a fabulous district with lots of restaurants and shops. A Vietnamese restaurant looked good so we dined there at an outside table. The food was fresh and delicious- shrimp and vegetable rolls with peanut dipping sauce, BBQ duck and green papaya salad and “shaking” beef cubes. It was fun to be in a neighborhood that was so happening. All of the restaurants with outdoor seating were packed. We went to the grocery to get some supplies for breakfast and lunch and then headed home.
I didn’t sleep well for the 2nd night in a row. We are on NZ time and is was really bright and warm in the morning so we both got up early, had breakfast and then headed out in different directions. I took the ferry to Circular Quay and got on the bus towards Bondi beach. I enjoyed the bus ride through town and took note of place to go back to on the return trip. I LOVED the beach. At one end was IceBreakers- a swim club that has a saltwater pool next to the ocean and waves come up and crash over into the 50 meter pool. I thought about going for a swim but didn’t have my goggles with me. Instead, I walked along the great costal walk which winded up and down along the shore cliffs. The shore was comprised of extremely eroded rocks that were beautiful. Tons of people were out jogging, walking their dogs and strolling along. It was hot but there was an ocean breeze.
I returned to the beach and walked onto the fine white sand to the surf. The water was the perfect temperature and I enjoyed wading in while I watched the surfers and boogie boarders hoping for some waves. There must have been hundreds of people, both kids and adults, in groups being trained to life guard and do other types of water safety. They were easily distinguished by their water-polo style caps in various colors. Lots of people were swimming and the beach continued to fill up. I hopped on a bus to return back to the city and got off at Hyde Park to walk through the gardens. Flowers were in bloom and huge trees provided shade as the temperature soared. I wandered through a shopping area to the Palace gardens and back to Circular Quay. I bought a cold liter of water and drank it in just a few swallows before the ferry arrived. I still had to walk back to the McPauls from the ferry landing afterwards so that I could be there to let Evan and Angie in.
The heat really was intense and it was humid as well. It was 42.5 degrees centigrade which is about 105 or more farenheit. Luckily we figure out how to use the air conditioner. I decided to hang out inside for the rest of the day. Evan and Angie wanted to go get groceries and I cooked up some tasty sausages, pepper, onion and broccoli for dinner which we ate inside. Australian Idol finale began around 9:00 so we went outside to watch the fireworks from the Opera House. A few minutes of the hot air drove us back inside. We cheered when we saw that the forecast for tomorrow is for it to be significantly cooler after a thunderstorm tonight. Yeah.