Author Archives: Stephen Jaye

About Stephen Jaye

My name is Stephen Jaye, I currently live in Denver, CO, but have lived in New York, Chicago, Indiana, and Wisconsin. I love the weather, I love getting out, being active, and I love exploring places. In this blog are my travel writings.

A Mini Safari at Kakadu National Park

The word Safari is typically associated with groups of people out looking for the kinds of wild animals usually only seen at the zoo. The word Safari originated from an Arabic word that literally means “to travel”. For some, a safari represents a kind of once in a lifetime experience that typically lasts for one to several days.

The Yellow Water Cruise is not a safari. It is an Indigenous-owned operation that takes tourists on a two-hour boat cruise in the central part of Kakadu National Park.

It is one of the best places in the world to see crocodiles in their natural habitat, and the reason most visitors to the national park take this cruise. I came onto this cruise with the mentality that its sole purpose was to look for crocodiles. Before departing, there was a series of safety instructions given by our tour operator where we were specifically told not to take selfies with the crocodiles.

What I ended up getting honestly felt like a very small scale, and river-based version of what we commonly think of as a safari. We see a bunch of animals in their natural habitat on a journey through wilderness.

For the first 10-15 minutes of the journey, we primarily saw birds.

It was maybe 20 or 30 minutes into the journey that the crocodiles began to appear. The first one we saw from a distance. However, one of the other boats was already looking at the crocodile. Our tour guide told us we would just “catch the next one”. He then informed us that there were tens of thousands of crocodiles in these seas, and that he would “bet his job” that we will see another one. He also informed us that the crocodile diet mainly consisted of fish, something good to know.

They did begin to appear.

While some were in the water, plenty of crocodiles could be found just sitting on the ground in the wetlands directly adjacent to the river.

One was even stationed – protecting a bunch of eggs.

Then, we actually got up close and personal to a couple!

At this point, I was glad to have heard that these creatures primarily eat fish. I would not attract their attention. Nor would the candy I happened to have in my shorts pocket (still a dumb idea).

Then we began to see some other animals in their natural habitat.

As we paddled around the river, seeing the crocodiles swim around, then packs of wallabies and finally buffalo, I began to feel a strange resemblance to the zoo.

The wide-open areas with packs of animals, and trees in front felt like the habitats set up at zoo exhibits. The background landscape, with its rolling hills, and blue skies that fade into the horizon, looked like those backdrop drawings placed behind the animals, as if to try to fool both the animals and the visitors into feeling more like the animals are in their natural settings.

Only this is the real thing.

It probably helped that the water buffalo we saw is a species that is originated in India and Southeast Asia, not Australia. They were brought to the Northern Territory as it was being settled in the 19th Century and were able to live in the relatively similar habitats in far northern Australia. If one is to consider the past 150 years a mere blip in evolutionary history, on the Yellow Water Cruise visitors can see animals from multiple continents all from the same boat.

It is an amazing feeling to be right in front of something that had always felt so distant. However, this was real. The wide-open plain in which the animals were grazing and hoping around was truly wide open with the animals having room to roam. The crocodiles were swimming along in the river, sometimes at fast speeds.

And, the backdrop in which the blue sky fades into the horizon really was a reflection of the time of day about half an hour before sunset.

Finally Forced to Slow Down

I couldn’t believe I had made such a dumb mistake. Shortly after entering Kakdu National Park, the vehicle we had rented suddenly started sputtering.

The car slowed down, and we had to pull to the side. We were stranded.

It didn’t take long for us to realize what had gone wrong. At the gas station we had stopped at right before entering the park, at the Mary River Roadhouse, we had accidentally put the wrong fuel in the car- diesl.

When visiting another country, it is important to learn some things about how that country works, especially when it comes to getting around. Besides the most obvious difference, that Australians dive on the left side of the road, there are differences in fuel, with disel being far more prevalent here than it is in the United States. Most gas stations here have all options presented at the pump like this.

There was no excuse for the mess up at the Mary River Roadhouse. The pump I used to gas up the vehicle was labeled quite obviously.

And the nozzle did not even fit properly into the gas canaster. Yet, I continued.

It’s not the kind of mistake I typically make. In fact, I often pride myself as to having never made other similar mistakes, like locking my keys in my car. This one just happened, costing us hours as we had to arrange a tow to get the car’s gas tank drained and re-filled with the proper fuel.

In this situation, the easiest thing to do is have a break down. After all, tons of activities await us in Australia’s largest National Park. And, we have limited time here.

Yet, there was noting to do but wait for roadside assistance. Lamenting over the mistake would not get the car repaired any faster and becoming anxious about what activities were being missed could not make the ones we do end up being able to do any better.

After a deep breath, I ended up spending most of the several hours having some fairly in-depth conversations with people, both people who had come with me to the park, as well as strangers that helped us out by giving us a ride to our hotel room.

All while just taking in the scenery that was in front of me.

We talked about life, we talked about travel, how we handle our personal relationships, and what we had learned from our experiences. Some of it was quite deep and personal. I came away feeling more connected to the travel companions I came to the park with, and with a new connection to a nice Australian couple who had just retired and were now able to travel all around the country in a nice camper.

Overall, it still ended up being a good day.

My uncharacteristically dumb mistake was really life forcing me to slow down. The two months prior to this trip were stressful and exhausting for a variety of reasons. I felt like I had -2 minutes to spare at all times, constantly rushing from one activity to another. What I needed, at that time, wasn’t to reenact a scene from Crocodile Dundee. It was to slow down, capture my thoughts and become more connected with what was around me. Through the process of exhaustion, and random luck, the forces of life gave me what I had needed.

The Other End of the World

It started with a series of firsts.

My first time in Australia.

My first time flying Qantas, as well as my first time on what is considered a “domestic” flight in a country other than my own.

Finally, my first time in one of those time zones that operate in half hour increments.

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I wasn’t even a teenager the first time I looked at a time zone map and noticed these peculiar places on the other side of the world. After many years of only seeing this on a map, it felt strange to finally physically be in one of these places.

With respect to geography, I could not be in a place more opposite from where I live.

Darwin is in the Southern Hemisphere. It is tropical. It is coastal, and it is remote.

Rather than four, or two, they separate the year into six seasons.

The series of flights to get here, without the layovers, took a total of 21 hours. With layovers, and crossing the international date line, it was a three-day journey. There’s no way not to feel farther from home than at this point.

Yet, as soon as I arrived in Darwin, I found myself in a setting that felt strangely familiar. A Greek festival.

The Glenti Festival, in its 32nd year, celebrates the Greek heritage of Darwin. This aspect of Darwin’s history and culture is something I was unaware of before coming here.

The overall vibe here felt strangely familiar. It became easy to forget just how far from home I was geographically. I repeatedly encountered the types of attire, mannerisms, and activities I would typically associate with the more rural parts of the United States.

I ended up feeling like it would be impossible to find a county more culturally similar to my own. Other than the United States, I don’t recall anywhere else I saw as much soda sold at the grocery stores and as large of portion sizes at restaurants.

With the warm humid air, beaches, consistently seeing hats like the ones many wear in rural America, and streets like Mitchell St., it felt like a weekend at Daytona Beach, Florida.

I could easily imagine some of these places featured in an MTV reality show!

Many of the differences I did observe felt like slight differences within the same general framework.

In the United States, we contend with the way we uprooted our Native American population, with mixed results that include many failures we tend to gloss over.

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Australia has the Aboriginal population, who appear to be honored in ceremonies, but not fully integrated into mainstream Australian society. When the conference I attended in Darwin began, I was given a “welcome to country”, acknowledging the Larrakeyah population that was here thousands of years before British settlement. Yet, I am certain that the nation of Australia administers all affairs here. This feels similar to our often impoverished “indian reservations” across North America.

The influence from nearby countries in Southeast Asia can be felt in both the racial makeup of the population and the types of cuisine available.

At places like Stokes Hill Wharf, one of my favorites in Darwin, cuisine from Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, India and more can be found.

The wharf was one of several places to see a phenomenal sunset during the dry, or Wurrkeng, season.

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It also feels like Australia has a similar political divide. Without ever bringing up politics, over the course of the week I heard viewpoints ranging from admiration of President Trump, to envy for New Zealand’s progressive stands on certain issues.

There are still some obvious differences. Australians drive on the left side of the road and pronounce the last letter of the alphabet “zed” rather than “zee”. They also have a different perception of “cold”. Many lament winter temperatures in Sydney and Melbourne, mostly in the 5-20C (41-68 F) range. For most Americans, this is not cold.

The most culturally significant difference I experienced was how friendly people are.

I felt a kind of cultural warmth here. At the conference, I met dozens of people who would happily chat with me about both professional and non-professional topics. I also made friends with others at the penthouse bar at the hotel. Nearly every day, I was invited to join with people, who were previously strangers, for a meal or some other sort of activity.

One afternoon at a bar along Mitchell St., I noticed two people who were sitting alone, at separate tables. Despite different ages, genders, and races, they weren’t sitting alone for long; one invited the other to join. When a room is empty enough, we Americans leave an empty seat between ourselves and the people we were joining. However, any of the Australians I met, that would come join me at a session, would sit right next to me. I noticed them all doing it with each other. Even in a room with dozens of empty rows, there would be people sitting right next to each other.

I came away feeling that American culture is a bit stand-off-ish. An Australian woman I met on a ski lift at Whistler last year told me that people sitting adjacent to each other on a ski lift but not speaking a word to each other “would never happen” in Australia. Yet, we do these kinds of things all the time. We keep our distance from one another. We abruptly end conversations so we can get back to activities that involve work, making money, or personal development. Sometimes, our behavior even suggests that other human beings are mere commodities to be leveraged for personal gain.

Yet, it is important to remember that the values of our immediate surroundings are not the only ones that exist. With loneliness and depression on the rise in the United States, perhaps we can benefit from incorporating some of the values observed in a place that couldn’t be farther away geographically yet could hardly be more culturally similar.

One Cloudy Day in Sydney

The day started with fog. It wasn’t thick enough to cause major travel hazards. But, it was thick enough to obstruct views of the Sydney Harbor Bridge from the Central Quay train station platform, as well as the 25th floor of a nearby hotel. The hotel concierge would not recommend activities like ferry rides and bridge tours so long as the visibility was as low as it was.

Luckily, that fog would gradually lift over the course of the day.

This would give way to an afternoon that was just cloudy, with five afternoon hours to explore Sydney, as early June has some of Sydney’s earliest sunsets.

It ended up still being a pretty good day to walk through The Royal Botanical Gardens.

The low-level cloudiness of the day, if anything, provided a unique experience. The thick layer of cloudiness felt like it added an element of mystery to the trek through the gardens, with its variable, but often dense vegetation.

Embedded in the trees are plants from many parts of the world, some unexpected.

At the far Northeast end of the garden is Ms. Macquaries Point. There are several paths to get there, each with different vegetation. It is a large garden visitors could easily spend multiple hours at. The view of downtown, from across the bay, is perhaps the best one in the city.

The Sydney Harbor Bridge Tour is supposed to be an epic experience. However, it is expensive (~ AU$ 300), and probably would not have been cost effective on a day like this. Ferry rides to Sydney’s North Beaches, however, cost only AU$15 round trip.

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These ferries track right next to Sydeny’s defining skyline features as it connects downtown with communities like Manly Wharf.

Manly Wharf feels similar to many coastal communities in America, particularly in California. Despite less than ideal weather conditions, surfers ventured in and out of the waves of the Pacific Ocean all afternoon while coastal birds wandered among the humans looking for food scraps.

Over time, their presence becomes something everyone is just accustomed to, part of the background like the sound of the ocean waves or the humming of one’s kitchen appliances.

The great thing about venturing to places like this is the ability to imagine the day to day lives of people who live here. Central Quay is, of course, the most “touristy” part of Sydney. There is nothing wrong with being a tourist. Attractions are attractions for a reason; they are great places to visit. However, most of the other people walking around places like this are also tourists, not living their typical day-to-day lives.

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Here it is different. At the bars, people were cheering on their local team in Australia’s favorite sport- rugby. The shops along the wharf provide not only the kinds of services tourists need, such as restaurants and ice cream shops, but also grocery stores and gyms. Patrons at the bar would encounter others they are already familiar with. Living near this beech and taking a 30-minute ferry ride to work every day feels like an amazing life!

There were also plenty of families in the area, many enjoying the beech, and preparing to take the ferry downtown for the Vivid Light Festival. This festival runs for something close to a month at Sydney’s darkest period, with various light displays illuminating Sydney’s downtown buildings.

It was also quite well attended. It makes perfect sense for an event like this to occur this time of year in Sydney. Sydney’s winters are not that cold. Saturday was a chilly day with temperatures in the 10-15°C (50-59°F) range. This, although not cold from the standpoint of anyone that has lived in cold cities in the Northern United States, felt cold enough to encourage many locals to wear wintry clothing, including coats and hats. For the entire day, most people appeared dressed the way New Yorkers would dress for an evening in December with temperatures just below freezing.

One day stops are never a guarantee. This is especially true in places with variable weather conditions; mid-latitude destinations in wintertime. Travel is often a delicate balance, between planning and spontaneity, between maximizing time and finding time to relax, and between the desire to take part in everything and the limitations of the human body. It is possible to use perhaps the scarcest human resource, time, to its fullest while traveling by doing things like visiting popular destinations in wintertime for one day. However, it requires the understanding that not everything will always go exactly according to plan. Being aware of what is going on, weather and other considerations, while noticing events like like Vivid Light Festival and being open to trying them out will usually lead to a great experience regardless of circumstance. Sometimes, when circumstances require adjustments to be made, the experience can even end up better than the one originally planned.

The Longest Flight of My Life

Nearly 14 and a half hours on an airplane can be quite an intimidating prospect. It is the longest flight that I have ever taken in my life and I can’t imagine a longer one in my future. The flight itself turned out to be both surprisingly easy and surprisingly challenging at the same time.

The most obvious challenge on a flight that leaves at 11 P.M. is sleeping. Airplanes are not comfortable places to sleep. Despite this, I was able to get at least six hours of solid sleep. However, I spent much of the flight in and out of sleep and a good part of the second half of the flight trying to force myself to sleep.

I was trying to avoid jet lag. Sydney, Australia is 17 hours ahead of Los Angeles. It actually ends up feeling more like going back 7 hours and just losing a day. The flight departed on a Thursday evening and landed in the morning on a Saturday. Friday just didn’t exist! Understanding that 7 A.M. in Sydney is 2 P.M. in L.A., and that without any kind of adjustment my Saturday in Sydney would be short (I’d likely get sleepy at 4 P.M., which is 11 P.M. in L.A.), I came up with a plan.

First, I forced myself to stay up a couple of hours after boarding. This was relatively easy as the flight provided dinner service. Then I tried to force myself to sleep as much as possible. A little over halfway through the flight, it became harder to sleep in the unnatural position of an airplane seat.

This was the most difficult part of the flight, as is often the case, but it was not nearly as difficult as I had thought it would be. Maybe this is a sign that our lives are too sedentary. Being seated for 14 hours in a row is obviously not natural. However, many of us have had days with similar amounts of time spent seated. Ten hours at a desk job, with an hour and a half of commuting and some time at home in front of a computer or television at home has created a surprising number of similar days. I have somewhat different reasons for having had days like this, but the 14+ hours of sitting on an airplane felt almost disturbingly too natural to me.

The sun rose right as the flight was preparing to land. It left me with one question. Why did I just leave summer to visit winter? In Sydney, on Saturday, I would last until just after 9 P.M. before falling asleep. Not bad. Maybe long flights to the other side of the world are far more manageable than we all think, and we all should take advantage of opportunities to visit “The Land Down Under.”

Downtown Los Angeles; Where the Recent Past Comes to Life

Los Angeles is something that can be felt as soon as visitors exit the airport. The air has a feeling about it that is distinct from drier inland areas but also distinct from the humid areas of the Eastern United States. It feels like a strange combination of warmth and chill that hints at the relatively cool waters of the Pacific Ocean nearby.

Could this atmosphere be why California’s lifestyle is chill compared to the also densely populated cities along the East Coast? This interesting combination of almost tropical sun and breeze coming off the relatively cooler Pacific Ocean creates a pleasant and relaxing atmosphere that is neither begging its residents to get inside like the cold winters of the Midwest nor suffocating like the combination of heat and humidity characteristic of summers in the Southeast.

Los Angeles is a city that came of age in the 20th Century, more recently than most other large cities in the world. When most people think about the region, images of windy roads and people surfing come to mind. Most don’t think too much about downtown Los Angeles. However, Downtown Los Angeles, as it turns out, is also quite historic, as well as vibrant.

First, there is the Pueblo, just across the Street from Union Station.

On the plaza which surrounds the historic monument, performers periodically perform traditional Native American dances, while Olivera Street is a Mexican themed market. Los Angeles, like everywhere else in North America, was originally inhabited by Native American tribes. It was also part of Mexico before it was conquered in the Mexican-American war in 1848. Markets like Olivera Street can be found in many other cities that were originally part of Mexico, including San Antonio and Albuquerque.

One of the oldest establishments in modern Los Angeles is the Grand Central Market, dating back to 1917. Today, it feels like a testament to the idea of multi-culturalism, which is a key component of the current identity of L.A.

Packed into this area, which covers less than a City block is cuisine from all over the world, from Mexican to Salvadorian, Chinese and Mediterranean. It feels like there aren’t two vendors serving the same nationality of food!

Most people who grew up in the United States have seen at least one movie scene filmed at the Los Angeles River.

Perhaps the most famous one is the car race scene in the movie Grease. This river is typically dry, as had to be the case for the teenagers to race their automobiles on the concrete. However, in springtime, especially in wetter years like this one, it can become filled with running water.

The last quarter of a Century has seen a renewed interest in Urban living which has not completely escaped Los Angeles despite its car-centric past.

Downtown Los Angeles has become a desirable place to live. As is the case in other thriving American cities, development is everywhere. The old stereotype that “nobody walks in L.A.” seems to no longer be true, at least for downtown. The sidewalks here are bustling, although not as much as New York.

The Last Bookstore, built in 2005, has also become a destination for locals and tourists alike.

Built at a time when people believed bookstores were going to gradually cease to exist (thus its name), it was built to be so much more than a bookstore. Seemingly influenced by the hipster movement at the time, it was built to be a community center with a strong artistic component.

In particular, the upstairs, referred to as the “book labyrinth”, attracts many visitors, many of whom are taking pictures in front of the most interesting artistic displays.

Many of these visitors appear to be “doing it for the ‘Gram”, a quick way of saying that someone’s primary motivation for taking part in a certain activity is to post a picture that is likely going to get a good amount of likes on Instagram. This can easily be spotted because these individuals are always taking photos with their phones and posing in an attention seeking manner (which can manifest in many ways)

The present-day condition of Los Angeles is in some ways like many other cities where renewed interest in urban lifestyle has brought a lot of new energy and life into the central part of town. New, hip neighborhoods have emerged, with places like Urth’s Coffee shop in the Arts district.

Urth’s Coffee Shop feels like the epitome of trendy, selling expensive coffee and healthy food, essentially exactly what young wealthy urban professionals want. It is a part of the Arts district, which is your quintessential Early 21st Century trendy neighborhood.

However, these districts are often still adjacent to, and sometimes mixed in with the remnants of the urban decay that took place about half a century ago. Adjacent to the Arts district are some places that appear less than desirable and include large homeless populations.

Los Angeles is not nearly as obviously historical as Rome, Athens, or Alexandria. However, many often forget that recent history is still history. An event does not have to have occurred too long ago for most people to remember for it to be historically significant in the sense that it had a significant influence on the subsequent progression of the human condition.

Attractions in and near downtown L.A. uncover pieces of our history whose overall significance is something that is still being determined. The Last Bookstore appears to be certainly influenced by the recent hipster movement, and downtown’s other destinations are impacted by recent movements including globalization and gentrification. One day in the future, this will likely be considered just as historic as monuments from centuries past.

That Town I Always Just Drive Through

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Everybody has that place in their lives; a town, a neighborhood, or maybe a specific restaurant. We always pass by, on the way somewhere, thinking “this place looks neat”. But, for some reason every time we pass through, we are, well, on our way somewhere. So, we drive by, time and time again, saying to ourselves that one day we will find a reason to specifically visit this place.

That place for me is Georgetown, Colorado. It is situated along I-70 50 miles West of Denver, on the way to many mountain destinations, including ski resorts Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, and Vail. The first time I saw this town from I-70, I thought it looked like the kind of village commonly depicted in a model train set, with its mountain backdrop and homes on multiple tiers. For years, I just drove past this town. I think I may have stopped there once or twice to pick up some quick food before going up Guanella Pass, but never spent any meaningful time there.

That was, until I found out about the Burro Races.

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I must admit that many of the events I attend are ones I get invited to with no prior knowledge. Some of my best experiences are when I just went along with someone else’s strange-ish idea. I am a big proponent of self-determination. However, that self-determination needs to be accompanied by some degree of openness. Otherwise, we get in ruts, going to the same places and taking part in the same activities over and over. An event where people race burros up and down a mountainside is certainly not what I would call “ordinary”.

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The event itself included a lot of other out of the ordinary activities. The most interesting was The Burro Poop Drop Contest. Participants pay $10 for a square. These squares are laid out over a city block in front of the starting line. The square that ends up with the most poop wins! I think there are prizes for second and third as well.

Mine didn’t win, but most of the good ones (in the middle) were taken by the time we arrived.

The event I did win at was the poop toss.

This event is essentially bags (or cornhole or bean bag toss depending on your regional dialect), with bags shaped like burro poop, which made them bounce in weird directions. I guess they really like to celebrate burro excrement at this event! I was able to win a $50 gift card to a restaurant, which happened to be located right at the finish line!

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We were able to eat our food while also watching the end of the race.

The main thing that surprised me about the race was the fact that the participants were not actually riding the burros. They were running alongside them, almost walking them like we do our dogs. I guess there has to be a reason for that, but I did not get a chance to talk with the participants long enough to find out.

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What I did learn was a bit about the town of Georgetown. Compared with more touristy towns like Breckenridge, Vail and Winter Park, it has way more of a traditional small town/ country vibe. While everyone was lining up for the race, the speakers played mostly country music. The town has one of those neat general stores that we still commonly see in small town America.

These are a blast from the past, the type of stores I encounter all the time on storm chases, bike tours, and other trips to rural parts of the country. In this cities and suburbs, we have stores that sell “everything”, but they tend to be large warehouses like WalMart and Target. When I encounter a General Store like this one, I feel like I am entering a different realm of human existence. A place where people don’t always feel the need to have every option available to them. A place where people have time to engage each other in casual conversation. This could be a place where people are okay with having a little bit less in exchange for a more personal experience.

The homes in this town also reminded me of the past. A few have a creek running through their yard, reminiscent of medieval homes, with moats for protection from invaders.

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One even had a hitching post.

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I’ve often wondered if people in places like this are happier. However, they probably have a completely different set of problems I am not even thinking about. At this one point in time, watching burro races and partaking in interesting events, I was quite happy, and it seemed like everyone else around me was happy. However, I do not know what life is like here on a typical weekday, or on the day when the frustrating spring snowstorm hits making it impossible for residents to get out of town. We live in an era of divisiveness, where people have short attention spans and often don’t take the time to truly understand others before passing judgement on them, whether that be one of envy or disgust. I feel like the only judgement I can make upon Georgetown right now is that they are at least fun enough to participate in an event that revolves around burro excrement once a year.