Mind over Matter or Miss Out on Life

There is a big difference between using illness as an explanation, and using it as an excuse. I’d like to illustrate this by using my recent diagnoses of Anemia and Exercise-Induced Asthma.

Several people in my life have interpreted the asthma diagnosis as “you shouldn’t exert yourself!” but at no point have I turned down an outing despite anticipating shortness of breath, pain in my lungs, intense coughing/retching, and occasional injury as I stumbled due lacking the red blood cells necessary to transport oxygen even if I could breathe it in. In fact, the judgmental people who assumed I needed to exercise and lay off the cigarettes (I don’t smoke) were often worse than the symptoms themselves.  Although to be fair, I hoped I merely needed to exercise more, too.

Huon Valley, Tasmania, Australia. Licensing available on Shutterstock and Dreamstime.

Instead I’d pack up my gear and rush out the door with as much anticipation for the adventure ahead as I would if I didn’t end up suffering.  I am a nature photographer, and running around outdoors with a heavy backpack is a prerequisite.  Although my pace was affected, and I learned the hard way to turn down hiking-based tours and group outings with strangers, my overall determination was not.

It took 3 hikes to get both usable light AND the falls flowing nicely.  Morialta Conservation Park, South Australia. Licensing available on Shutterstock and Dreamstime.

Many hikes have been unintentional.  An stroll at ground level saw me follow a sign stating “Challenge yourself! Get there faster” up a terrifying trail. Ill-prepared, gasping for breath, and unable to plod more than a few paces at a time, I wondered where I was trying to go in the first place… and nearly turned around.  Doing so would have been a mistake, as the trail led me straight to a bird that had eluded my camera for 2 years. On an easier trail I would have missed it entirely.

A Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo takes flight off a high cliff in Morialta Conservation Park, South Australia. Licensing available on Shutterstock and Dreamstime.

I am not discounting the constraints that mental and physical illness oftentimes inflict, but at some point mind over matter needs to factor in. A slow climb up that hill is better than no climb at all. It’s a big world, and you won’t experience it sitting on your ass.

Grampians National Park, Victoria, Australia

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Facility Spotlight: Port of Nagoya Public Aquarium (Japan)

I originally visited Port of Nagoya Aquarium in February 2017, and wrote this review shortly after although did not post it.  Since then the orcas now use the huge show pool!

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Humans learn best when they are entertained, and if one speaks Japanese, Port of Nagoya Aquarium would certainly be a perfect fusion of entertainment and education, as this seemingly small aquarium felt like a living science centre. And if you don’t speak Japanese (like me), it is still worth trip as there is plenty to see and do.
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Port of Nagoya Aquarium’s North Building’s theme is “A journey spanning 3.5 billion years: Animals that have returned to the seas.” Alongside a rather large collection of bones and fossils detailing cetacean evolution are their living descendants, including orcas, belugas, bottlenose dolphins, and pacific white sided dolphins. That it is all in Japanese didn’t make it any less interesting – indeed, I spent most of my day watching the cetaceans play with toys, interact with their trainers, check out the guests, and more.

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Cetacean evolution displays, with the show pool’s underwater viewing in the background.

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While the orcas do not have their own show so to speak, the aquarium conducts scheduled public training sessions. The two I saw were vastly different from one another: one was low-energy and seemed to focus on basic behaviours and husbandry, while the other was more like what you’d expect an orca show to be (complete with background music), and featured more high-energy behaviours. Both provided an extensive commentary.

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Stella providing a voluntary urine sample

Earth, who was transferred from Kamogawa Sea World in late-2015, was interacting affectionately with his grandmother Stella and aunt Lynn. He and Lynn seemed particularly close, as she kept following him around and melon-bumping him. At Kamogawa he was often alone in the back pool.
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Lynn and Earth, BFFs

The beluga whale training session takes place in a building whimsically called “Under the Northern Lights” (although I was sad to see there were no simulated northern lights – the title evoked images of Chimelong Ocean Kingdom). The belugas seemed to have a very good relationship with their trainers, and appeared enthusiastic and responsive. There was even a trainer in what I presume was the med pool tossing a ball back and forth with the animals in there, as if it was to ensure they weren’t left out.

The dolphin show was high energy and fun, and featured both Bottlenose and Pacific White Sided Dolphins(!!!). Earlier in the day, they held a special presentation for visiting students which was heavy on narrative and laughs – the Pacific White Sided Dolphins in particular were crowd-pleasers with the children.

And the show pool itself? Spacious and deep. [Note: This is the one the orcas have started using since typing the review]

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The South Building’s theme is “A Journey to the Antarctic” and is meant to simulate a journey south from Japan. It includes marine life from Japan, equatorial regions, deep-sea regions, Australia, and of course Antarctica.

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Found them! 😉

A Sugar Glider from Australia

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Sea turtle breeding

“I woke up like this” #nofilter #nomakeup

Just don’t make the same mistake I did: make sure you enter what I believe was the “Japan’s Seas” area by way of a small, rather lackluster room that held only a few small fish tanks. I bypassed it for something more “exciting”, and inadvertently started exploring the exhibits from the wrong end, not realizing I had done so until I was about halfway through and became like a salmon swimming upstream.

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The aquarium also holds educational talks and feeding sessions throughout the day. One would need to speak Japanese to understand them, but judging by the crowd’s reactions, they were interesting.  Topics included breeding, feeding, ecology, and animal care.

A cheeky baby dolphin who was born at the aquarium flashes a researcher.

One thing that stood out at Port of Nagoya was how much time the trainers spend with the animals in their care. Outside of scheduled shows, trainers were often seen giving the animals check-ups, rub-downs, playing with them, or training them – basically, the focus on enrichment was high. At times the trainers merely stood back and observed, with the animals often seeking them out for attention of their own accord.

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“Play with me!”  Image licensing available here and here.

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Even the fish received ample enrichment! Image licensing available here and here

There also seemed to be a larger emphasis on tactile gestures as positive reinforcement than I have seen at other facilities.  The trainers were very hands-on, and the animals sure didn’t seem to be complaining.

It is notable how much closer the trainers could freely get to the animals, the images below. At SeaWorld parks in the US, for example, the trainers often put a small set of bars between them and the orcas during certain interactions (likely due to regulations).

A recommendation: If you have no reason to visit Nagoya for any reason other than to visit the aquarium, the Shinkansen from Tokyo is a time-efficient method of getting there, and it was an easy hop by subway to the aquarium itself.  Although it appears pricey, the expense worth every penny considering the hassle, cost, and lost time if one opts to check into a hotel instead.  However you choose to get there, a visit to this aquarium is definitely worth it.

But be warned: the gift shop is rather dangerous if you love Lynn, too 😉

 

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Tour Review: Solar Whisper (Daintree River, Queensland, Australia)

If visiting the world heritage-listed Daintree Rainforest in Queensland, Australia, a riverboat tour is a must. With their solar-powered vessel, Solar Whisper offer the true eco-tour option. Even if not visiting the Daintree, their Facebook page is well worth a Like both for the amazing photography and to keep up to date on the “Days of the Daintree,” a tabloid-style narrative about the escapades of the river’s resident wildlife (particularly the crocodiles, many of whom are named after Royals).

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Up close and personal with Kate the crocodile

Having been on a Daintree river cruise with a different company 2 years ago, the absence of harsh engine noise was notable, and allowed one to actually hear the rainforest birdsong as we glided through the mangroves.

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I imagine the local wildlife prefers it as well, as we saw considerably more than on the other tour I went on, including 2 White-Lipped Treefrogs, a colony of threatened Spectacled Flying Foxes, several birds, and (despite being the low season for sightings) 2 crocodiles. None of the wildlife seemed perturbed by our presence.

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A sleepy White-Lipped Treefrog that just kept sleeping

David’s narrative was interesting, educational, and humorous all at once. It is obvious he is genuinely passionate about his work, and knowledgeable about the wildlife he is able to share with others through these tours.

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A “2016 model”, as David put it

Solar Whisper is notable in that they are bat-friendly, highlighting the importance of these threatened “lycra-clad teddy bears of the sky” (as their Facebook aptly describes them) to rainforest health, in a region that far too often demonises them.

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A python resting in a tree that also contained bats…

As a bonus, the man at the front desk, Martin, was extremely knowledgeable about Australia’s bird-life.  He provided some useful tips that helped me add a few new ones to my Life List.

All in all, Solar Whisper is a must-do.  Very highly recommended.

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Travel Tips: The Backpacker (and how to avoid them)

Many species have been misrepresented over the years. The killer whale’s Latin name roughly means “Demon from the Depths of Hell”, and they were used as target practice until Moby Doll showed us otherwise. Wolves have been mercilessly hunted to extinction in some regions because they too were viewed as monsters. The thylacine was hunted to complete extinction on account of its alleged habit of eating chickens (even though this famous photo is believed by some to have been staged).

There is one subspecies I have personally lived among that I believe has an inaccurate reputation, and that is the backpacker. Often presented as an adventurous young person heroically traveling the world in search of new experiences, carrying only what they can put on their backs, backpackers are in fact noisy codependent alcoholics with short attention spans and little interest in anything that doesn’t satisfy their need to disturb everyone else around them.

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To the backpacker, sitting quietly engaging in any solo activity such as reading a book is seen as a cry for help. Backpackers cannot fathom why anyone would want to be by themselves, let alone be QUIET! I came to suspect that the reason they are so noisy is to alert other backpackers to their presence to ensure they do not accidentally find themselves alone.

More times than I can count, backpackers would hear of my adventures with an expression somewhere between awe and disbelief, replying with some variation of “Oooh, I would love to go there but I have nobody to go with!” Many did not seem to understand my words when I suggested they go by themselves. As such, many spent their entire time abroad in the hostel, never venturing further than the nearest source of food, usually a pub where other backpackers were sure to be found.

Why someone would pay thousands of dollars to travel overseas just so they can sit around getting drunk is beyond me.

Kermit None Of My Business

On those rare times the backpacker does venture forth to see the sights, they are incapable of enjoying anything that they can’t get drunk with, take a good selfie with, or build a fire in. Ancient rainforest? Great place to sing crappy pop songs at the top of their lungs (I guess it was too quiet). National park with spectacular cliffside formations? “What do you mean I can’t build a fire here? This is boring!” Beautiful waterfall? “Time to get naked and ruin its natural beauty for everyone else!”

MIllaa Millaa Falls, taken while on tour with On The Wallaby (NOT recommended -- review forthcoming)

MIllaa Millaa Falls, taken while on tour with On The Wallaby (NOT recommended — review forthcoming)

Case in point: a natural cave had been “enhanced” with steps and seating carved into the rock.  My friend pondered why, so I explained how backpackers can’t enjoy anything natural without the aforementioned conditions. With eerily perfect timing a large group of German backpackers carrying a portable barbecue and several coolers came noisily up the steps, announcing their presence to everyone within a 10km radius.

So if you plan on traveling on a budget, take heed! Pay the extra few dollars for a proper tour that you are confident is not aimed at backpackers (watch this blog for reviews!), especially if you hope to see some nature on it. Consider alternatives to the hostel scene, such as AirBNB. If you must stay in a hostel, check reviews on tripadvisor for ones that backpackers claim “lacks atmosphere” or “is full of old people”, and make sure there is not an attached pub or you’ll never have a second alone to pee or get a wink of sleep in preparation for your own adventures… which is just how the backpackers prefer it.

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