Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Ta Ta Taipai

Sadly, our Photographic Safari in Canada is over and now, we have to say goodbye to the beautiful people of Taipei as well. Our brief stay in Taipei was designed to give us a few days to wind down from our Canadian Safari and we did just that … however, we still couldn’t resist having a bit of a look around while we were there.
We thought it a must to visit the world famous tallest building (for a short time only in Taipei) the Taipei 101 Observatory, so we grabbed a Cab and with some assistance from Mina, our petite little helper from the Riviera Hotel … off we went. Taipei 101 has a magnificent and rather upmarket shopping mall, with everything from a huge food court, to stores from every major designer in the world, like ROLEX (yes, the genuine Rolex), Cartier, D&G, Gucci and Prada just to name a few. The elevator ride to the 89th floor took no more than a few seconds and didn’t feel like it even moved. To be honest, if we hadn’t got out of the elevator to see the view, we wouldn’t have believed we’d ever left the 5th floor we started from. Again, our scenery shots were dampened with wet weather, but we’ve included a few to show you just how high up we were anyway. There was also an amazing range of exquisite gifts and art on display for those with a bulging wallet and no other method of relief. Down one floor we saw the amazing Damper, which has been attractively dressed in gold paint and shiny stainless steel, to make it a feature, rather than just an amazing piece of engineering. So much so, that they have created an whole tourism mascot from it called the “Damper Baby” which you can of course purchase and take home with you. This damper controls the entire building sway and movement.

The next day we decided to see a little of the local landscape and experience some local culture, getting the chance to do some people watching, rounding off the day of Taipei absorption. So, we loaded the backpacks full of camera gear and headed off to the metro for a trip to Danshui where Peggy, our always helpful concierge from the Riviera Hotel recommended we go to see her home town, the sights, visit the Historical Fort, stroll along the river and finish up in the night markets. True to form, the rain started and although not heavy, dampened the scenery photography enough for us to admit when we’ve been beaten. We have been so lucky with weather throughout the whole trip for wildlife photography, but nearly every time we came to an anticipated scenery location, the weather left us positively uninspired.

We had a great day people watching and absorbing the locals evolving from scooter to pedestrian movement in what seemed like a migration of masses of happy smiling faces, all the time ready to try and communicate with a couple of stunned Australians. The sheer volume of people moving in any given square centimetre is amazing to watch as they all do it, without so much as a scuffle or harsh word to say to the scooters zipping in between their bodies. There is every conceivable product or food available in the markets and the temptation got the better of us after seeing a long queue waiting to buy three deep fried thingies on a stick, which we diligently basted with some goo with a brush sitting in a bowl, delicately balanced on the edge of the sidewalk cart. We still have no idea what they were, what delight filled their insides, or what we basted them with, but they tasted great and as at the time of writing the first half of this BLOG, sitting in the Dynasty Lounge in the Airport, we have no unpleasant side effects to tell you about. Lucky huh?
Only a block from the hotel, we felt adventurous enough to try a packed little local eating establishment, so in we went, where we were greeted by a Maltese Terrier with it’s tongue hanging out and a pair of ghostly eyeballs that I don’t think do a lot of visualising, which could be a good thing after seeing the buffet hot box. As many of you know, I’m all for trying new things and love to experience local foods, but when even I, can look at a huge array of hot boxes and have no idea what ANY of the foods on offer were, we decided to play it safe and move on. Sorry … but I do like to have at least some idea what animal, or part thereof I am about to inflict my stomach with.
The next day, we thought we’d see if we could pick up a bargain gadget or two, so again Mina wrote her suggestion in a language the Cab driver could understand and off we went. Harvey Norman eat your heart out … we got out of the Cab to see a six story Sony Ad with a welcoming double glass door at the bottom and after getting over the initial awe, in we went. The place was a computer market so to speak, with wait for it … 6 floors, with about 80 or 90 little computer, phone, sound, vision and gadget stores per floor, all packed to the eyeballs with enough stuff to see the gadget freak satisfied for the next millennium. Wow just isn’t a strong enough word. The depressing thing was that none of the prices, from Laptops to Cameras were particularly enticing at all. You can save about 10-20% on most things, but most items only come with a Taiwan warranty and to be honest, you can get the same sort of prices in Harvey Norman if you’re prepared to do a little haggling. Oh yes and across the road was a whole street of computer based stores for those who just didn’t get enough after leaving the 6 story I.T. extravaganza.
Another surprising thing was the lack of souvenir shops for the discerning tourist. Again, Mina came to the rescue with a card that got us to the ONLY souvenir shop we saw in Taipei. I really thought they’d be everywhere. This store did have 3 floors of everything from keyrings to fine art to choose from. So we picked up the few mandatory “I thought of you style” trinkets and it was back to the Hotel for the last supper. We decided to have dinner in the hotel and off to bed at a reasonable hour for the much dreaded bag packing before leaving for home. It took about 4 hours the next day, to reorganise the bags and distribute the weight within allowable limits, but we did it just right according to China Airlines with one bag having a comfortable 1kg buffer with the maximum limit. Nice!
Again, China Airlines’ check in service was fast, smooth, very friendly and efficient. I zipped outside for my last smoke before hitting the Duty Free store for some last minute alcohol and cigarettes, then into the Dynasty Lounge for an internet connection and a bite to eat. True to form, the China Airlines flight direct from Taipei to Brisbane was met with happy smiling faces and service comparable to the finest of 5 star restaurants, the seats were comfortable and the food was excellent. In all honesty, the flights we have had with China Airlines are the best we have experienced anywhere and I think QANTAS could do themselves a favour by sending their staff to the same attendant’s school. We’ve flown on many airlines, to many destinations around the world and China Airlines made QANTAS look like a very poor, second rate, budget airline in comparison, which is in stark contrast to their prices which were almost double that of China Airlines at the time we purchased. So, if you get the chance to fly China Airlines, both Dad and I highly recommend them.

The flight home was uneventful, which is a good thing when talking airline flights and we arrived home pretty much exhausted. No matter how good your trip away is, it’s always nice to see the faces of your loved ones and feel your feet firmly on home soil. The long days in Canada, Jet Lag of loosing a day getting to Taipei and flying all night to arrive in Brisbane just in time to start the day have taken their toll on me. Dad is remarkable in this area and after just an hour or two of “Nana Naps” here and there, bounces back like a 20 year old … and as he’s fast approaching his 75th Birthday next month … this is a man I truly aspire too. I just hope you all don’t hammer me too hard with work on Friday as I am really not yet firing on all cylinders yet and have the feeling it is going to take a week to get back into the swing of things … hint hint!

Again, I would just like to say a special thank you to all the beautiful people who helped us along the Taipei journey, from our wonderful China Airlines Hostesses Sally and Nancy, the helpful and very beautiful young ladies at the Riviera Hotel ... Peggy thank you for the Pinapple Cake, we got it home and it was lovely, Mina, April, Clair and Linda, not to mention our Bellmen Gordon and Wilson, plus the many locals who were kind enough to let us take their photo's. Thank you for making our visit to Taipei a wonderful experience.

Next week, I’ll try and publish a summary BLOG which should complete the trip nicely. Until then, we’ve uploaded yet another Album 7 with lots more photo’s from Taipei for you to see.

If you would like to see some more photo's of what we've seen so far, please visit our PICASA Web Albums page!
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Keep smiling ...
Darren & Keith Gardiner

Taipei Tourists

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Farewell Canada

Sadly, it’s time to leave the beautiful scenery, friendly people and very photogenic wildlife of Canada in the early hours of tomorrow morning. To say we’ve had a wonderful trip would be the understatement of the year. With Paul from Canada Photo Safaris making it feel like the wildlife and scenery was “On Tap”, we felt a little spoiled talking to other guests over breakfast this morning, who haven’t managed to see a fraction of what we’ve been lucky enough to experience over the last few weeks. Again, thank you for showing us so much of what Canada has to offer Paul.
The last few days of the Canadian part of our safari involved a lot of travelling, but we still spent some time in Paul’s home town of Grand Forks, British Columbia where the Deer are as easy to find as driving through the suburbs and looking in back yards. The White Tail Deer really has a nice butt worth capturing, so we even have a nice bum shot for you in the latest album. Paul was even kind enough to introduce us to two of his wonderful children, Heather (Very Pretty Girl) and Jamie the budding fisherman. It was a pleasure to meet such nice kids, who were so well mannered and behaved … now we know why you’re so proud of them Paul.

Well we did it everyone … we managed to see and photograph the illusive Sasquatch who with very little coaxing, even posed for a nice happy snap with Dad and I, wasn’t that nice of him! So the myth can now be dispelled, he is real, we saw and touched him and although communication was a little difficult with this fellow, he seemed to be enjoying a cold beer when we arrive … but that’s another story.

Just so I could keep everyone happy, I finally put on the gloves and beanie I brought with me, which so far hadn’t been unpacked, just so Dad could get a shot of me pretending to be cold. Mind you, I’m only wearing a T Shirt, with a thin cotton shirt over the top, but it wasn’t cold enough to do up the buttons. This was more for the photo than for the cold, although … I think my fingers were a little cool before I put on the gloves. It’s going to be a hell of a temperature shock to go from Canada to Taipei in the low 30’s with high humidity and then back home to more warm days of high 20’s.Probably our biggest disappointment was the rather hard to find Bull Moose. Of all the wildlife I thought would have been on tap in Canada, the Moose was it. Their photo adorns magazines, postcards and blogs from this part of the world everywhere you look, and it’s one of the only animals we never managed to see. Well sort of … luckily, we found a decent statue of one, so here is the only Bull Moose we managed to see.
As I mentioned above, this will be the last BLOG from Canada as we’re off to see the bright and happy faces of the people in Taipei tomorrow flying China Airlines, who we’ve been very impressed with so far.

Again, thank you to all the wonderful people we’ve met along the way, for allowing me to take your photo and publish it in the album for all who read this to see. From the lovely waitress at our Vancouver hotel Eva and Teddy cleaning up after the trashy visitors, to the very sexy Mexican tourists Liliana and Erika who tried to ask us for directions in Stanley Park … sorry we couldn’t be more helpful girls.

If you would like to see some more photo's of what we've seen so far, please visit our PICASA Web Albums page!
Go To:

Keep smiling ...
Darren & Keith Gardiner
Aussie Canucks

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Our Inukshuk

Our Inukshuk (Trail Marker) originally used by the Inuit (Eskimo) marks the point where our trail is fast coming to an end. Sadly, although the days have been long and hard, they have flown by faster than an Eskimo on his way to the Ice Shop. We are genuinely tired and a little fatigued from our efforts to capture the shots we were looking for, but Paul has made every minute count with his keen spotting ability plus a vast knowledge and experience of the animals themselves, their habits, habitats, behaviour and even where to start looking in the first place.
After leaving Elk Island, we took a Helicopter flight with Jamie from the Icefield Helicopter Tours base at Cline River over the Columbia Ice Fields which just helped enforce the sheer size and scope of these incredible Rocky Mountains. These ice fields are the head waters for all the fresh water rivers in Canada that flow East and West off the Continental Divide which is the highest ridge in Canada. In the days of the Ice Age, even the highest peak was covered in ice … sadly this ice is melting at an incredible rate.
The next major event on our rather busy calendar was a lunch date with a handsome Grey Wolf. I know, looking at this photo, it appears that we were to be his lunch, but this is character trait instilled in us by Hollywood, not how it really is in the wild. To say it is special to spend time with these magnificent animals is an understatement and words simply cannot describe their beauty … so have a look at the photos instead. We had the ultimate privilege of spending a little quality time observing a wild wolf in his natural environment and this experience will stay with us for the rest of our lives.
Again, Paul surprised us with his spotting ability and managed to get us up close and personal with a usually rather difficult to see Canadian Porcupine. Although many metres up, clinging to a tree in the dark, with a harsh back light in the rain, we still managed to get a couple of shots of this interesting fellow gazing down on us from his vantage point. We didn’t ask Paul to climb up and bring him down to ground level for us … wasn’t that thoughtful of us?
There has been some pretty spectacular scenery along the way, which I haven’t talked much about I know, but it’s only because there has been so much else going on and so many animals in front of our shutters, sometimes it’s hard to take time to stop and smell the roses … so to speak. We’ve kind of been in the wrong place at the wrong time for some of the scenery shoots, with rain inevitably dampening the spirit, not to mention the lens on many occasions.

We also shouldn’t forget to mention all the wonderful people we’ve met along the way who were kind enough to let us take their photos and include them in the BLOG … thank you very much Lisa, Fiona, Jamie, Michelle, Meaghyn, Casey, Shelly and the skinnydipping girls we busted coming out of the sub freezing water too!

If you would like to see some more photo's of what we've seen so far, please visit our PICASA Web Albums page!
Go To:

Keep smiling ...
Darren & Keith Gardiner
Glacier Googlers

Friday, 3 October 2008

All About The BEAVER!

From Jasper to Elk Island, things got a little chilly visiting the Angel Glacier at Mt Edith Cavel in Alberta Canada, but we soon warmed up with a lovely, friendly and homey welcome from our hosts at the Chipmunk B&B, Jean-Claude and Liliane Bonjour. Their warm and friendly log home was just a treat with Liliane’s fantastic cooking and spotlessly clean rooms. What a fantastic place to stay for a few days while stalking the wildlife in Elk Island Park.

Now it’s time to get a little more serious about getting those all important photos of Canada’s creatures that can be very difficult to spot, let alone photograph, but Paul was at the ready with his camouflage blind, allowing us to sit quietly and hidden while awaiting the activity of some of Elk Island’s more shy inhabitants.
Anyone who knows me, will know just how important it was for me to get those all important Beaver shots and with Paul’s keen eye and knowledge of this rather private animal’s habits, we lay in wait. After little more than an hour thumb twiddling and butt shifting in the swampy grass, sure enough … Benny the Beaver as we nicknamed him, clocked on for another hard day’s work. The old saying of “Busy as a Beaver” is more true than I imagined. These little guys work so hard building their impressive lodges, digging trenches, making dams, collecting branches for food and levelling huge areas of forest, all with those big teeth and tiny hands. Let’s just say, I’ve gained a new respect for Beaver!

Another bonus we hadn’t expected was just how beautiful some of Canada’s wildlife can be, we had an unexpected and very rare “Blonde Beaver” sighting, very close to one of the park’s rest areas. This particular species can be hard to spot in the wild with a camouflage coat, but the long flowing blonde hair makes them a little easier to spot with a trained eye. With a little coaxing, we even managed a smile. Who’d of thought Canada had such attractive wildlife … but so far, Paul has not been able to identify the specific name for this lovely creature.
We’ve been up close and personal with so many of the amazing animals Canada has to offer, it’s hard to keep track, but I do know that without Paul spotting them in their natural habitat, we wouldn’t have seen a fraction of what we have been so privileged to witness so far. I’ve had a Gold Mantle Ground Squirrel make friends and try to hang on to my finger for the ride home. Paul even climbed down a cliff to convince the most beautiful Mountain Goat I have ever seen, climb up to the top of the cliff, just so we could get a couple of close up photographs … how’s that for service? We’ve photographed Moose, Mule and White Tail Deer, Elk, Canadian Geese, Big Horn Sheep, Richardsons Ground Squirrel and did I mention the Beaver?

We'd also like to say a special thank you to Jade and Heather, who were ever so accepting of our Australian sense of humour. Your service was excellent and your bosses need to know you're both worth a raise!

If you would like to see some more photo's of what we've seen so far, please visit our PICASA Web Albums page!
Go To:

Keep smiling ...
Darren & Keith Gardiner
Beaver Bandits