Monday, November 24, 2008

This Dump is a Place

At the beginning of August we were given the opportunity to move into a different house, on top of a hill overlooking Bagdad. This was a privilege that we thought might not come along again in a hurry, and wanting to get away from the microscope in the middle of town, soon accepted. It's a smaller house than where we had been previously living, and there's a lot of wildlife around which we really like. But the house has one feature that as I like to say, "you don't find everywhere": the backyard has an unobstructed view of one of the mine's waste dumps. When I first started telling people that we were moving to the top of the hill, several of them laughed because they knew how close the house is to the dump. But then someone said something to me that I thought was pretty smart: when they look out the window and see the waste dump, they don't see something ugly. They see a reminder that they are employed and can provide for their family, which I think is absolutely right!

California Dreaming - Part 1

In mid-June we hit the road with friends and made the journey south to California for the first time. We had a very busy, fun-filled week of theme parks, sightseeing and our first visit to the ocean in just over a year.
The thing that struck me immediately about California was the air. Almost as soon as we crossed the border, the smog seemed to hang in the air. Soon after entering California we drove past a huge wind farm of giant turbines. California has set many precedents for making progressive environmental laws aimed at reducing vehicle emissions and developing "green" energy projects, and it seems like they certainly have their work cut out for them to make it a success.

About 6.5 hours from home we arrived at Anaheim where we spent 3 amazing days at Disneyland. We stayed across the road from Disneyland so we just had a short walk to get to the park each day. June of course is mid-summer, the middle of the school holidays, so we couldn't have picked a busier time to visit the world's favourite playground, but it was definitely well-worth going. We had been warned to expect long lines of waiting for rides, and that was certainly true. Lucky for us, our friends had been to Disneyland before, so they could tell us things to avoid and things not to be missed. I went on my first and last rollercoaster: the Matterhorn. At first glance, it didn't look too bad. No loops, inversions or other crazy stuff, just riding round and round a track inside a fake mountain. My optimism soon disappeared as we turned the first corner on the ride: from then on I shut my eyes, hung on and hoped I wouldn't die. Of course N went willingly onto it too, not knowing what a rollercoaster was and just trusting Mum and Dad - he seemed to be fine at the time (he sat with P) but afterwards was suspicious of almost every ride. Our favourite rides were the Nemo Submarine (we managed to go on it every day, in spite of the wait of more than an hour), Pirates of the Caribbean, the haunted mansion, Soaring Over California, Grizzly River Rapids (I think that's what it's called; it's a raft ride at California Adventure) also the It's Hard to Be a Bug 4D show which had N screaming in terror - he screamed through every 4D show we went to (3 in all), even the Muppets in 3D was too terrifying for him. There is so much to see and do at Disneyland that it's easy to spend 3 days there and still not see everything. It was better than I had imagined and as much fun for adults as it was for the children.
After Disneyland we drove south to San Diego where we spent a long-awaited afternoon at the beach. We hadn't seen the beach since we left Queensland in April last year so it was quite a thrill to be able to kick our shoes off and walk on the sand. I would like to be able to say that the water was crystal clear and warm as bath water, but I'd be lying - even in the middle of summer the water was freezing. That didn't stop N from getting into it, although after getting dumped by a big wave soon after going into the water, he spent a long time wrapped up in his towel, just sitting on the sand. After 3 super-long days at The Happiest Place on Earth, it was very nice to be able to just relax and kick back for a little while.
What I liked the best about San Diego was the seafood. We made a point of eating seafood each night we were there, because in land-locked Bagdad, fresh seafood just isn't something that we can easily get. The nicest place we ate at was King's Fish House - easily the best seafood I've eaten in quite a long time. Happy days.
Our next objective in San Diego was Legoland. Legoland made the biggest impression on N, who is a die-hard Lego fanatic. Of the three parks Legoland is the most hands-on with lots of practical, "kid-powered" activities, which we all enjoyed. There are cars that kids can drive themselves, fire engine races, a huge water park, and of course, tons of Lego - blocks to build with, and some amazing models. Minitown USA is a fantastic park full of miniature Lego versions of lots of famous American landmarks: New York City, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Daytona, and so many more. As well as the models and activities there are lots of theme park-style rides, and even a rollercoaster or two. Of the three parks, N loved Legoland the best.

After Legoland we spent a day at SeaWorld, the last stop on our holiday. The highlight of SeaWorld was the orca show, which fortunately we saw AFTER the dolphin show. A word to the wise: while it might seem great to sit 2 rows from the front at the dolphin show, those seats are definitely NOT the best in the house. Those very naughty dolphins are trained to line up their tail flukes and DRENCH people with water, which they do very well! Not just once but several times, they stopped right in front of us, raised their tails and let us have it! N was lucky and could change into spare clothes afterwards but the rest of us had to just walk around in the sun until our clothes could dry out, but underwear and socks stayed wet the rest of the day - there was a plus-side to going there in summer after all! At the Shamu (orca) show were were smarter and made sure that we sat well outside the "splash zone" - we learned our lesson!
I guess that SeaWorld is competing for its share of the theme park market, because as well as the animal exhibits, there are plenty of amusement rides and activities for children. I had expected the focus to be more on the animals but it was definitely on tourist dollars, souvenirs, games and rides for children. Of course, SeaWorld also has a rollercoaster (Journey to Atlantis). Not for this little blue duck!