Burning Man 2009 – Remembering the Future

Well you learned what Burning Man is from my post about our first burn in 2008. As we get ready to go again this year, here are some moments from last year. Be warned, this post is rated R for some nudity.

This was the last time we saw these tickets. Thankfully, the gatekeeper let us in.

The spirit of Black Rock City.

Wire art.

Slide art.

The Temple is always a special place.

In our home camp.

At the center of it all – the Man.

Isn’t she cute?

Star Wars on the Playa.

The people make the place.

Who dat?




Life is good.

Love blossoms on the Playa.

Umbrella dance.

The retro rocket.

Love the do.

Only at Burning Man.

All things are temporary.


Hi mom.







Skull art car.

Always playing with switches.

Two months before Halloween.

Our humble abode – we are Adam and Eve on the Playa.

The ever popular Critical Tits ride.

Bronzed goddess.

She is so happy.

So are they.

Elvis is always in the building.

Let the burn begin!





Look, she’s glowing!

Dunedin And The Otago Peninsula – The End Of The Line

My last stop in the South Island of New Zealand was Dunedin, on the southeast coast. This would mark the furthest south I have ever been (at least until I get to Antarctica someday).

Although tea is king here, Gretchen would have enjoyed the coffee if she were here with me.

Dunedin was settled by the Scottish, and so it retains a Scottish feel.

The old train station could be lifted right out of Edinburgh.

So could the schoolgirls for that matter.

Of course, then they go off to college and all innocence is lost. Here a college student disassembles her office as a work of “art” in a downtown gallery.

They love their rugby in New Zealand. They even show love to the opponent. I was lucky to witness the arrival of the Welsh rugby team at the airport for a big game with the New Zealand team in Dunedin.

The local Welsh folks came out to cheer on their boys.

And they were given a warm welcome by a band of bagpipers on the tarmac and a men’s chorus singing a Welsh song at baggage claim. And remember, this is for the opposing team. They are very polite down here.

Outside of Dunedin is the Otago Peninsula, a rugged and rustic area.

With plenty of sheep.

A little Maori culture.

And a lot of wildlife, which is a draw for most visitors (rugby notwithstanding).

The Sea Lions of Sandfly beach are big and curious.

But the real stars of this place are the very rare Yellow Eyed Penguins, that nest here. Every evening at sunset they come ashore to their nests in the cliffs and dunes. Since they are endangered, it’s important to keep a distance as to not disturb their nesting.

And from this remote point down on the southern end of the South Island of New Zealand, where the water does indeed spin counterclockwise, and the night sky is ablaze with unfamiliar patterns, and where June 21st marks the beginning of winter, it’s time to think about heading back home.

But no worries, as they say down here, Barcelona is only three weeks away! See you then!

Milford Sound – Into Thin Air

I had not originally planned on going to Milford Sound (which is really a fiord). But all along the way everyone told me I could not come to the South Island and not go there. Just the drive there made it worth it (five hours each way). So I got up early in the morning (before dawn) and headed for this place that seemed to be at the end of the world.

As the landscape began to reveal itself I found myself in classically bucolic farmland.

And then the raw beauty of the snow-covered mountains that surround what they call Fiordland.

The lush vegetation still adding a twist.

And then, as I climb higher, the vegetation disappears, and it’s just snow, sky, and rock.

Eventually I encounter this tunnel. It was an odd tunnel, very dark and rough-hewn, and of course very narrow. All around me it was was a bowl of rock and snow, and the road going right into the icy rock.

And then just minutes downhill from the other side, it’s green and lush again.

And before too long I am at sea level, Milford Sound.

Which is not a sound at all but a fiord that has been carved out by glaciers thousands of years ago.

Which has left a landscape of sheer granite walls of rock that can go from snow-covered alpine heights right down to the sea. Melting snow and runoff from rains produces numerous waterfalls down the sides of the mountainsides.

There were dolphins swimming in the water by the boat, and seals on the rocks.

Somehow, starting from lichens and moss, whole forests find a footing on the sides of steep rocks.

It was a great boat trip from the innermost part of the “sound” out to the Tasman Sea and back. But now I have to head back to Queenstown in the fading light.

Meanwhile, the next morning, back in Queenstown I have to decide.

Am I really going to jump off a perfectly good bridge into thin air?

Damn right!

Click here to see the video.

Destination Queenstown – Life On The Edge

The South Island is many things. Imagine the California coast, the Grand Tetons, a tropical rainforest, the Swiss Alps, the Scottish Highlands, and throw in a bit of rural England for good measure, on an island the size of North Carolina. That’s a start on the South Island.

My drive began with sunny weather, but as I approached the mountains to the west, the clouds were brooding.

The landscape, it appears, was literally divided. And the brooding got worse.

But I did not let the rain stop me from taking a look at these strange rocks.

And in my travels across the South Island, I have never seen so many one lane bridges. It seems there are even more of these than sheep!

This was an amusing stop, not only for the water fall bridge in the distance guiding the water over the road, but for these Kea birds, the only species of alpine parrot.  They are not shy and they will grab your stuff if allowed. This guy and his buddies got on the roof of my car as I left. They are thought of as the bad boys of the parrot world.

New Zealand is famous for its exotic ferns. They gave the landscape a primordial feel.

As night began to fall the mist descended into the valleys giving the rural landscape a mysterious feel, to add to the primordial.

The first day’s drive got me as far as Franz Joseph Glacier Village. The glacier was the destination of a morning hike. The surrounding mountains had a fresh coating of snow seemingly gently blown on as the snowline fades to green.

As I approach the glacier its size becomes apparent. Just a few decades ago, where I am standing was under a few hundred feet of glacier.

Walking on the glacier can be very dangerous, and can only be done with special guides and/or helicopters to land further up near the top. Even so, the day before I was there someone fell into a crevice and was killed. So I had to be satisfied with pictures from the face.

The moss and lichen here are like nowhere else I have seen. It seems to cover everything, and manages to find a living on sheer rock.

After I leave the glacier I encounter staggering scenery on the way. I can see why they filmed Lord Of The Rings here, it seems like a fantasy.

But I swear it was real.

Then you turn a corner, and a little bit of the real world comes back, even if it’s a bit surreal.

Very suddenly the road hits the coast of the Tasman Sea. Right where the sea appeared, the beach had countless rocks and sticks stacked and placed along the beach all down the road. Many of the rocks had messages written on them commemorating trips taken, adventures had, and love found and enduring.

Of course I had to add one.

And then back inland, where the scenery could change at one turn from lush and green to alpine, the strange vegetation always adding a twist.

Again, the mist comes as night falls. I guess I will be driving under that.

The last bits of sun kiss the tops of the mountains.

And then dusk as I get close to Queenstown and the surrounding lakes.

The morning reveals Queenstown from the top of a mountain. I took a gondola up to see the view, I admit it, I was scared. I don’t even like to move when hanging in one of those things.

Of course Queenstown is famous for all kinds of extreme sports and numerous ways to scare yourself and throw your body around. There’s skiing, parasailing, jetboating, hang gliding, white water rafting, and of course most famously this – bungy jumping. It was invented here, on this very bridge.

Hmmm, what do you think? Should I try THAT!

Well fortunately there’s no time to think about that now. I have to get to Milford Sound and back today. Pictures at 11.

Island Hopping – Auckland to Christchurch

I arrived in New Zealand at Auckland, their largest city at 1.2 million people. There are only slightly more than 4 million people in the whole country (as opposed to 40+ million sheep).

I have a dear friend, Rose, who lives here and she was kind enough to put me up and show me around a bit. One of the first places she took me was Mt. Eden, which is an extinct (hopefully) volcano in the city.

Actually Auckland is in the middle of many volcanic cones, some extinct and some still active but currently dormant, like Rangitoto out in the bay.

I knew there were many sheep in New Zealand, but I did not expect to find them in a city park that apparently doubles as a farm.

And more sheep, here in Cromwell Park, which surrounds One Tree Hill (made famous by the U2 song of the same name). I could lie and tell you this majestic tree is the “One Tree”, but all that remains of the one tree is a sad stump. A tree sacred to the Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, was cut down in 1852 by the British and replaced with a Monterey Pine. In 2000, Maori activists cut the tree down and the status is still in limbo.

We spent a night out in the country outside of Auckland visiting another friend Clare.

It’s almost winter here, so there was a crispness in the air. It really felt like fall, strange in June.

Clare’s place was beautiful, with lots of land, 4 cows, even a small winery.

But the next day it was off to the airport to fly to Christchurch, where I was going to start my drive around the South Island, ending in Dunedin further south (remember south down here is like north for the rest of us – so south is colder and north is warmer).

I only had late afternoon to take a peek at the city, so Christchurch Cathedral was a natural place to start.

With a name like Christchurch one would expect to find some churches, but I never expected a generic church. At least it wasn’t painted yellow.

Of course there is more to Christchurch than churches, they also like their games.

And oversized chess seems to be popular down here too. Maybe it’s a British thing since Christchurch is very British.

They have a very grand botanical gardens in the heart of town.

It felt even more like fall down here.

Although it’s the largest city in the South Island (350,000), Christchurch had a very small town feel about it, in a British kind of way.

Not to be outdone, this enthusiastic group of Catholic girls showed off their school colors.

All in all a pleasant place, even the guitars have a softer edge.

But now it’s time to hit the open road and see what the South Island is really famous for – the great outdoors. You can see the mountains in the distance, that’s where I am going!

Sibling Rivalry – Melbourne and Sydney

With time running out, we had to take in Australia’s two biggest cities in four days, beginning with Melbourne. Although fairly big (3 million or so), Melbourne had an easy going feel about it, almost quaint. Here a downtown mall atrium encloses an historic building.

This is not a city stuck in the past, as it had plenty of very modern architecture along with the older buildings.

And a symbolic fire that is kept downtown at this time every year in honor of an Aboriginal tradition.

And who said malls were invented in the USA, here is a Victorian era mall in downtown Melbourne.

The city had a civilized yet cutting edge vibe, kind of old Britain meets Seattle.

Not that I saw many of these being worn.

On the full day drive between Melbourne and Sydney, we had to stop at a winery for Gretchen to sample some boutique Australian wines. She was happy I was driving.

If Melbourne is the younger sibling who doesn’t like to be told what to do, Sydney is the oldest with all the ambition to shoot right to the top.

Even the chess set was bigger.

Bigger, brasher, flush with confidence and money, Sydney aims to be world class, in style if not in substance. And they are very proud of their iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge.

We stayed in an edgy area called Kings Cross, where apparently this sign has been a fixture for years.

They still celebrate the Queen’s birthday here. Who said the Queen is above crass commercialism?

Like most of Australia, Sydney has a large Asian population.

Buskers and street performers could be found throughout the city.

LA has Muscle Beach and Sydney has Bondi Beach, though it was pretty quiet since it was winter. But that didn’t deter Gretchen from picking up the surf board.

Local Bondi Beach history and color is celebrated with many murals, and remember to throw that tin in the rubbish bin mate.

The city center was lively and vibrant both by day.

And by night.

They even have an old time amusement park across the river as therapy for those who have a clown phobia.

One thing that gives Sydney it’s character is it’s magnificent harbor, with numerous bays and inlets.

Oh yea, and there’s this Opera House they are real proud of.

It’s quite a grand piece of architecture that actually contains 3 theaters as well as an opera house. The European architect who designed it (who recently died) never got to see it in person after it was completed.

We however did get to walk over this bridge, and take in an acrobatic performance at the Sydney Opera House.

And with that great night, our time in Australia came to an end, and Gretchen headed home and I am off to New Zealand. A great distance indeed to reach, this land down under, but a great trip was made even better by having Gretchen by my side.

The Great Ocean Road in Birds and Pictures

We left the desert Outback for the considerably moister climate of the south coast of Australia, just west of Melbourne, to drive the Great Ocean Road. After our first day at the coast, we got to the small town of Lorne after nightfall. Then on a morning that literally smelled like heaven, we woke up to this sight right outside the door to our room.

In fact, we had to keep the door closed to keep them from coming in. Even so, we resisted the urge to put these cockatoos in a cage and sell them for big bucks stateside.

Where we stayed was quite nice, considering it was a backpacker’s hostel. The reception office was quite quaint.

Our first stop was the Kennet River where we were told we could see Koalas in the eucalyptus trees. And lo and behold.

Gretchen proved great at spotting them, most of which were high up in the trees.

Not to be outdone by a bunch of slow moving and dim witted puffy bears, the birds continued to entertain. These parrots where not shy to use people as a perch. I even got a picture of the bird while it was on my arm.

But the real reason we came down this way was to see the fabulous coast of the chilly Tasman Sea.

And when one encounters a new shore, the only logical thing to do is embrace nature with nature.

Photo of Peter's bum by Gretchen Hanser.

Of course what this stretch of road is really famous for is the great cliffs and rock formations just off shore.

This particular formation is called the “Twelve Apostles”.

Of course nature has a way of making fun of man’s quaint ways, as there are now only 6 “apostles” left standing.

The mood changes as the light changes.

And the same scene can look very different the next day. But one constant is the continuous roar of the ocean. It seemed louder and wilder than I have heard it before.

Time and erosion from the incessant pounding surf will turn this apostolic statue to rubble, as the mountains return to the sea.

At the top of the cliffs was this beautiful scrub bush environment that really intrigued me.

We took the inland road back towards Melbourne, and found an idyllic countryside landscape covered in farms and fields.

It was strange to see these working farms among the eucalyptus trees and birds of paradise fluttering about.

At times the trees seemed like something out of Dr. Seuss.

But our time in the Outback and the countryside was coming to an end. And the road now led to the cities of Melbourne and Sydney. And remember, we are driving on the left!

Uluru – Into The Australian Outback

No this was not our rental car, but you get the picture. There is a reason they call this place the Red Center.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

My time in Australia started in a place seemingly far removed from the Outback, a place called Surfer’s Paradise, south of Brisbane, where Gretchen was working at her conference.  The view from her 24th floor balcony was impressive.

This place is kind of an Australian Myrtle Beach. I had to put up with it while Gretchen finished her conference. I know, poor me.

But apparently they do surf here.

And it is Australia, so the plants do weird things.

And the birds, well how would you like to wake up with these on your porch?

But as soon as Gretchen was done we flew to the heart of the Red Center, the outback “capital” of Alice Springs, in the Northern Territory. A whole 25,000 people live here. It’s hundreds of miles to any place bigger…or to any place at all.

Oh yea, and we saw Kangaroos on our first day there! They really hop!

And Kangaroos are not the only marsupials to be seen here, there are also the mostly nocturnal Wallabies, this one with a baby in her pouch.

And what do we do right after seeing these adorable critters…we eat them! We had to get an Outback Grill Platter at (the real) Bojangles.

Guess who got the spaghetti? Actually, I think I ate most of the Kangaroo, Emu sausage, Crocodile, Water Buffalo, and Camel on that plate of meat.

This is an area that still has strong Aboriginal influence (as strong as the decimated Aboriginal population can muster), and they can be found out selling their traditional paintings on the streets.

Out here it’s all about the land, and the rocks can do strange things.

Which must inspire the people, so Gretchen had to make her contribution to the underwear tree on our drive to Uluru.

There are only small Roadhouses on the four hour drive from Alice Springs to Uluru. They usually offer basic accommodation, gas and eats, and usually a few penned in Emu…and toilets.

Ok, so the real reason we came all the way out here, is to see rocks, ok one big rock, do some strange things.

This is Uluru, formally known as Ayers Rock. After the land surrounding this place, that is sacred to the Aboriginal people here, was given back to the “Original Owners” the name was changed to Uluru, much the same way we now refer to Mt. McKinley in Alaska as Denali.

We did the walk all the way around the base of Uluru, at times going right up to the steep sides, and into crevices that sometimes held pools of water.

And Uluru is not the only notable rock here. There is also Kata Tjuta (many heads), not as well known, but no less striking.

We could hike right between these massive rocks.

Of course we had to be the last to leave the park, and be moved along by the ranger.  It’s a whole different universe out here.

The Many Faces of Shanghai

As I ended my time in Shanghai, and then a brief stint back in Beijing, I tried to take it all in (I apparently took too much in, getting sick the last day in Beijing before leaving China).

Artists ply their trade on the street in an artsy area of Shanghai. Recognize anybody?

Shanghai is a river city. On one side of the Huangpu River is the city that began as a colonial settlement of the British, French, and yes, even the Americans.  This architectural heritage survives along the Bund, the area along the river.

Modern Shanghai looms over the colonial Bund area.

And around this core, the modern city has grown, most strikingly across the river in Pudong. This area was undeveloped just 20 years ago, now it looks like Manhattan (without the charm as of yet).

Futuristic buildings at the Expo site in Pudong.

The Grand Hyatt occupies the top floors of the Jinmao Tower in Pudong.

Business is now king in Shanghai (and other parts of China), and the city also sees itself as a new fashion capital as well. There are a lot of high hopes for this high rising city.

A golf equipment demonstration outside a subway station.

Looking as pretty as a picture outside a mall entrance.

The young are flocking here in droves, and the Europeans and Americans are back as well.

A bride and groom pose for pictures in a city park.

As modern and forward thinking as Shanghai is, stepping into a Buddhist temple here definitely feels like stepping back in time.

But every city has its alleys, and in some of Shanghai’s, the past lingers.

An obedient pet? Dinner? Or both?

And in a small alley neighborhood night market, the fish are cut and ready to buy,  and they were still moving!

There was even room in the markets for old representations of those not so market friendly.

China today is a complex place, changing in many ways, and seeing this in the market just left me with more questions than answers.

Colorful statues of a dark past.

Who is this for? The holdout Maoist who looks fondly on the Cultural Revolution that led to persecution, murder, and ruin for the country? Or is it for the curious tourist wanting a piece of the past?

Now the little red books are found in markets as relics of the past.

It does seem that China, as a whole, does not look fondly back at those dark days, and since the opening up begun by Deng Xaioping in 1978, the country has been on a steady track of both development and the loosening of restrictions on people’s freedoms. And I think they may even be developing new and better ways of organizing the workings and relationship of government and business.

But they clearly have a way to go, since innocuous Websites like Facebook and WordPress were blocked, and China still executes far too many people every year. This should not happen in a truly modern and open society. I think in time they will get there. And one day, this picture may be graced with a reminder of a more dignified past that will also point to what promises to be the Chinese century.

The World Comes To Shanghai

More and more this is a city with a spring in its step. That happens when the world looks your way.

Indeed the world has literally come to Shanghai, as the city hosts the World Expo 2010.

The Expo is a sprawling, and I mean sprawling, amalgam of over 200 countries exhibition pavilions. Here the very intriguing British Pavilion.

The lines were crazy, with 2-3 hour waits for the popular countries, like China, the USA and Britain – no I did not wait.

The African countries were more accessible. I got to play an African drum, drawing a crowd of curious Chinese.

And some of the Arabic countries were easier to get into, like Tunisia, Algeria, and Palestine.

The theme for the Expo was: Better City Better Life, and they seem to mean it, as I found Shanghai cleaner than I expected.

They have this cute mascot, named Haibao, who was ubiquitous all around Shanghai. I must say I was sick of seeing him by the time I left – at least I think its a him.

And what is this? A game of go being played in Haibao’s presence.

And even my humble hometown of Buffalo got a nod for its Pan American Exposition of 1901, on the floor of a giant mall 10 stories high.

All across China, but especially in Shanghai, it’s all construction, all the time. It’s like the country is a big erector set. Apparently, there is more square feet of construction in Shanghai now, than all of the built space in Manhattan. Shanghai is already home to the third tallest building in the world, but that is not good enough, so they are building an even taller one here.

The Chinese are so fixated on the future of their star city they have even built a model of almost the whole city in the Urban Planning Museum.

This is a proud city with a colonial past and what looks like a bright Chinese future (unless of course the housing market bubble pops).

Oh yea, lest you forget, there are always reminders, this is China!