Archives for the month of: December, 2012

The plan to stay at home for the Christmas break brought on a case of some very itchy feet. We were itching to travel somewhere. Not to some exotic overseas location (though that would have been nice), but to a place where we could relax and enjoy the Australian summer. About a month ago we planned to go camping, but a little thing called work got in the way. So with tent in hand, we searched for a place to pitch it. Luck was on our side as another family had cancelled a reservation that they had at Shellharbour Beachside Tourist Park – and it was a prime position too. Shellharbour is just over an hour and a half drive South of Sydney, very easy to get to. The spot we nabbed was right at the end of the camp site closest to the beach and rocky head. So far the weather hasn’t been on our side, but New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are looking quite promising. With grey skies dominating our first night, I decided to try some shots at dusk of the seaside pool and the rocky head. I love the way the ocean blurs on long exposure shots. The artificial light contrasting against the ill-defined clouds creates an interesting mood too. At first I was being lazy, shooting from a distance and holding the camera by hand. This didn’t really work, so I got down on the seaside rocks and pulled out my trusted Manfrotto. This was essential for this little shooting trek. Next time I will remember to bring a torch too so I can see what I am doing in the dim light. BTW – all the links from the photos open up to the larger images uploaded to my Flickr account.

Shellharbour - #1

Shellharbour - #2

Shellharbour - #3

Shellharbour - #4

Shellharbour - #5

Hopefully the weather does clear up so my little man can get out of the tent and into the sun.

Camp Shellharbour

If anyone is interested in visiting this beautiful seaside spot on the NSW South Coast, below is the location on Google Maps of where we chose to stay.

Shellharbour - Google Maps

Christmas 2012 is well and truly over and it was great. But all the Christmas pudding and over eating has given me the kick up the backside to get spinning again. I was dying to get out on Christmas Day and go for the happiest ride of the year, but alas it was wet, windy and miserable in Sydney. Boxing day was not much fun either but I got out on the MTB steed and hit the trails around my Parent’s house. Today was going to be the day to go out and smash it – and what do you think happened to the weather? From 19 degrees (Celsius that is) on Christmas day to 36 degrees today. In my head I was going to ride the M7 – 80km of dedicated cycleway, with more chance of getting swooped by a magpie than being hit by a car – all goodness. But when I got ready to roll the heat hit me like a sledgehammer. And it was blowy to boot. Didn’t matter – sunscreen on, cap and shades donned, and plenty of iced fluid to go.

Christopher Yardin getting ready to roll

The first 20km was torture, and my heart rate was constantly jumping over 160bpm. I was suffering!

So I tried to think of a distraction to keep me mashing the pedals. What jumped into my head was one of my mates saying to me the other day that cycling is the new golf. What a load of b0ll0cks!

I decided to amuse myself with a list of all the reasons why cycling is cycling and not the new golf. I would love to hear other cyclists reasons why too.

Ten reasons why Cycling is not the new Golf

10. No one is going to carry your bike for you – caddies anyone?

cyclocross bike carry

9. Going into the rough means… change bikes (Road to MTB) and more fun!

8. Pushing the limit on a bike means getting closer to hitting your maximum heart rate, not choosing to hit over the water hazzard.

7. After one stroke, you have another stroke, and another – 90 times a minute for hours on end. Go hard!

6. Buggies are not an option.

5. Cycling legends are cool (Gary Fisher, Mario Cipollini, Bradley Wiggins).

Gary FisherMario CipolliniBradley Wiggins

Golf legends are not (Lee Trevino, Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson).

Lee TrevinoErnie ElsPhil Mickelson

4. I don’t have to pay $20,000 to join a club plus green fees to go for a ride.

3. Going into the water means that I am f#@&ed, not just change balls and take a drop.

2. My course is… everywhere.

and

1. Bombing it downhill makes you feel alive!

No doubt there will be a follow up with even more reasons, but for now tight chains everyone and giddy up some more before New Years.

Christmas Eve is upon us here in Sydney, and one of the unique Aussie traditions – a visit to the Sydney Fish Markets. Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere is in the middle of summer, and instead of Turkey many of us have prawns (and lobster, crab, Balmain bugs, oysters, salmon, along with anything else that swims or drinks salt water) for Christmas dinner. So the Sydney Fish Markets are open for 36 hours straight from 6am on the 23rd of December until 6pm on Christmas Eve. It is pandemonium and the busiest day of the year for the fishmongers. The queuing is so big going into the markets that the police manage the traffic into and out of the parking lots. We are fortunate in that we are less than a 5 minute walk to the markets, and observe all the mayhem with some amusement. Normally we go to pick up our seafood at 2am on Christmas Eve, but as we were still down in Melbourne at that time we had to delay our trip to 10:30am. It was very busy at that time, with some of the fishmongers having queues 3 deep from the stalls. Many fish lovers were walking around with esky sized boxes filled to the brim with seafood and ice. I had the Pok on my shoulders, and from his vantage point he was happily eyeing up the large selection of prawns on offer. One of the blokes even indulged him and gave him a king prawn to munch one – to which he shoved the whole thing in his mouth at once, grinning from ear to ear. Here are some of the photos I shot, with him sitting on my shoulders the whole time. It brings a whole new meaning to balance and stability for your shot.

Sydney Christmas 2012 - Fish Markets #1Sydney Christmas 2012 - Fish Markets #2Sydney Christmas 2012 - Fish Markets #3Sydney Christmas 2012 - Fish Markets #4Sydney Christmas 2012 - Fish Markets #5Sydney Christmas 2012 - Fish Markets #6Sydney Christmas 2012 - Fish Markets #7Sydney Christmas 2012 - Fish Markets #8

Now I am going to finish enjoying the rum that I have in my hand, and look forward to more mayhem tomorrow morning as my son tears into the presents delivered by Father Christmas. Merry Christmas to all, and peace to all men. Joyeux Noël.

Two of my three brothers won’t be at home for Christmas, though it could be said that they are spending Christmas in their new homes and with their adopted extended families. So we decided to go and spend some time before Christmas Eve with my brother and his wife who are down in Melbourne. They live in a pretty trendy part of town and are within walking distance of the Prahran Markets. I brought my SLR along with me to see what shots I could capture and I wasn’t disappointed. The Christmas food wares were out in force for all to enjoy, and the markets presented an explosion of colour. The market has everything that a food lover and chef could ask for, from many corners of the globe. Coffee and flower lovers won’t be disappointed either. And in true Australian Christmas spirit, the best seafood was on display too – after all prawns often replace turkey for many of our Christmas dinners.

Here are a my best shots from our day trip, and I must admit that I left the market feeling very hungry. Three more sleeps to go…

Prahran Markets #1

Prahran Markets #2

Prahran Markets #3

Prahran Markets #4

Prahran Markets #5

Prahran Markets #6

Prahran Markets #7This last shot was a bit of a surprise with the butcher turning into a phantom while plying his trade. A circular polariser filter would have fixed this, but the effect is cool.

Prahran Markets #8

Today, 21st December 2012, is supposed to be the day when the world ends. At least that is what the conspiracy theorists (and the Mexican taxi driver who picked me up the other day) are telling us with the Mayan apocalypse looming.

So far so good, but the 21st December 2012 has only just commenced in Mayan Mexico.

What has happened though is my Flickr account has been whacked with visits for one photo in particular. This one of what I called the Mayan Witch Doctor. It is three times more popular than my next most popular shot.

Mayan witch doctorIt is not a particularly great shot, though the guy in the get up is quite the looker. This was captured when we went to the Riviera Maya in 2006 on the Mexican Yucatan Peninsula at Xcaret Archaeological Park. He was one of the many actors who put on a performance for the guests at the park. He was the last character to get up on stage and was the best dressed. Some of the others were pretty spectacular, and mean looking, Mayan characters. Here are a couple of the other hombres.

Apart from the fantastic performance of Mexican history and culture that you can see in the Xcaret México Espectacular, the main attraction is breeding and conservation park that has all sorts of flora and fauna being bred. For me it was the first time seeing many of these beauties of nature in person, having only read about them in books. I forgot to mention that the Xcaret site is also a place of Mayan village ruins.

Parrots at Xcaret

Spider Monkey at Xcaret

Butterfly at Xcaret

Flamingos at Xcaret

The Yucatán Peninsula is quite spectacular in that it was the place where the dinosaur killing asteroid hit the earth, and there are theories that this resulted in the plethora of cenotes (or sinkholes) that pepper the landscape. This is the true land of the Maya, and for many centuries they tried to revolt from the rule of the Aztec Mexicans. My recommendation is to skip Cancun altogether, and see the real Yucatán Mexico. We stayed at a hotel on the Riviera Maya, not too far North of Playa del Carmen. While there we went swimming with Dolphins at another eco-park Xel-Há, went zip-lining in the rainforest canopy, and went mountain biking through some trails. All-in-all pretty cool!

But the sticking to the Caribbean Coast does not do the peninsula justice. We hired a jeep and trekked inland to the city of Valladolid (no doubt named after its Spanish namesake). This place had a bit more of a Spanish influence, with the town square and the Cathedral of San Servacio.

Cathedral San Servacio

Valladolid is also the perfect base to visit the large former Mayan city of Chichén Itzá. This archaeological site is just amazing! The funny thing is that I think my best photos from that trip are when we visited that site. My favourite is the shot I took of the El Castillo (or Pyramid) in the middle of the site with no-one at all in the shot. I also love the deep blue of the cloudless sky.

El Castillo - Chichen ItzaYou can walk around for hours at this site and see some eerie sites, along with the old carvings on the ruined stone walls and ramparts. The locals are a bit prickly too.

A Head on the Observatory - Chichen Itza

Lizard at Chichen Itza

I am dying to go back, and this time take the Pok there – he would love it!

There are still a few things that we did not get the chance to see and do:

  1. Visit the coastal Mayan City of Tulum
  2. Go to Cozumel and dive off the coast
  3. Lounge on the beach at Playa del Carmen – we only went through the town streets
  4. Visit Merida in the Yucatán state
  5. Go to Cobá and Uxmal Mayan sites

And if you do decide to go, here are my tips:

  • Make sure the Mexicans know if you are not from the USA. For some reason, everything was cheaper once they found out I was Australian – I wonder if that is a North American thing (I wonder if the Kiwis do the same to us when we go to New Zealand)?
  • If you are going to hire a car (strongly recommended) get a 4WD. The roads are not that great off the main highways.
  • If you do drive, then don’t drive at night. Mexico has great cerveza and tequila – get it?
  • See the eco-parks and nature sites! The Mexicans deserve more credit for the effort they are doing to keep these going, and you will be personally rewarded with an awesome tourist experience.
  • If you go to Chichén Itzá, get there as soon as the park opens. It has a very different vibe with no-one around.
  • When you do go to Chichén Itzá find the spot where your clap will resonate through the entire site. I am not going to tell you where – go there!
  • Don’t go to Cancun – if you want that experience then stay at home and go to the Gold Coast in Queensland or Miami in Florida.
  • It gets hot in the Yucatán so bring water with you wherever you go.
  • Be prepared for Mexico food belly, it is not like Taco Bell there.
  • Read up on the history of the Maya before you go. This will make the trip much more rewarding because you know what you will be looking at.

Hopefully the world will not end in a few of hours so I get to visit there again.

 

 

Cycling in the morning is offering me a few absolutely spectacular sunrises – awesome way to kick off the day. It is quite hard to capture some of these unless I stop and shoot the photo. So I have decided to now take along my little point and shoot on my rides just in case. Here are a couple captures from two dawn rides I did last week, and I am hoping to see a few more over the Christmas break. Enjoy!

Cycling Sunrise - #1

Cycling Sunrise - #2

I have just spent the last 3 hours watching CNN International cover the tragedy of the mass shooting in Newton, Connecticut, USA, and as a parent it has left me unbelievably sad. I am looking forward to spending my third Christmas with my son and the rest of my family, and I cannot comprehend the depth of hollow sadness that 20 sets of parents must be experiencing right now. This emptiness will continue tragically for not only the 20 families, but for that whole community. It will remain a permanent tear in the very fabric of the society that forms this community. The constant coverage is looking at everything from what the shooter’s motives were to what the political response will be to the crime. But what triggered me to write this post was the absolutely incomprehensible response by a politician from Texas, Louie Gohmert, in an interview on Fox News. In this interview he says:

” I wish to god she had had an M-4 in her office, locked up so when she heard gunfire, she pulls it out and she didn’t have to lung heroically with nothing in her hands, but she takes him out, takes his head off before he can kill those precious kids.”

WTF!

I means seriously – WTF? I am a parent dealing with a two year who is occasionally pushing other kids as he is interacting with them. He is two, and is still learning to get to grips with what is right and wrong. Yet in the USA, you have an elected representative claiming that the solution to preventing the tragedy is to arm teachers. I cannot imagine the psychological damage and harm that this would do to my son growing up if he goes to school knowing that his teacher has an assault rifle there just in case. I cannot imagine how I would possibly tell my son that it is not OK to push someone else – when he responds, “But my Teacher has a gun, with plenty of bullets. She can shoot people if they are naughty.” This politician’s response is sheer bloody lunacy, and bordering on mental sickness.

In 2009, Australia had 30 homicides committed through the use of a firearm. In the same year the USA had 9,146 homicides committed through the use of firearms. Even if you pro-rated that against the differences in populations (22 million in Australia versus 313 million in USA), that would still only give Australia just over 420 firearm homicides annually. Making that the equivalent of a USA firearm homicide rate 20 times that of Australia – apples for apples.

Those school kids are never coming back, neither are those kids from Columbine, and neither are the people from the movie theatre in Colorado.

I do not understand what is the “culture” of the gun that challenges the Western world’s largest democracy (India is the world’s largest democracy) from tackling the issue of gun control. Is it that the USA is paranoid that the British will try and bring them back into the Empire? After all, that is the foundation for which the second amendment is based on. Is it that the USA desires a return to the lawless Wild West where everyone was walking around with a sidearm? Is it that they want the kind of militias that plague countries like Somalia.

I think that people should seriously assess why gun control advocates are so scared of being silenced, as Charles M. Blow wrote for the New York Times. Guns are not banned in Australia, but you cannot own an assault rifle and their use is restricted to the the people who should be using them – the Australian Armed Forces. This is a Defence Force who has only ever defended us, and Australians have no fear of them turning Australia into a military dictatorship because we live in a liberal (in the terms of a free people and not the bent of a political party) democracy where the rights of individuals are protected by the institutions of state – legal system, law enforcement system, etc. – and not solely controlled by the government of the day.  Gun control does not mean the total ban of guns, there are legitimate reasons for having a gun – ask any farmer on a large farm or ranch or a sports shooter at the Olympic Games. Nor does gun control mean demonising gun owners. But it does mean that people should not be able to run around with Glocks, AR-15 assault rifles, or AK-47s. And if criminals are illegally carrying these weapons, then I trust that our law enforcement departments do the job they are entrusted to do.

All I know is that as a parent, I am so glad that my child is being raised in a country where he is 20 times safer. And my job is to make that environment even safer still so that he can do the same for his children in the future. No amount of words that I write can convey the sympathy that I feel for these 20 families and the families of the teachers who also died trying to protect the most precious asset that we have – our children.

All I want for Christmas is a Park Tool Workstand… and it has arrived early! One of the reasons I love cycling is the mechanical aspect of maintaining my steeds. I don’t have all the tools in my kit bag and there are still some types of repairs that I have not quite cracked, but now that I have this workstand it will make things a whole lot easier. I had been eyeing up one of these for quite some time, and was further inspired by this video of one of the Garmin team mechanics plying his trade.

The workstand was delivered unassembled and we had to put it together before putting it to use. When I write we, I meant the Pok and me. He loves playing with tools, and already knows what screwdrivers, allen keys, and wrenches are. Though I think I give my son’s intelligence more credit than it deserves – he thought we had just built see-saw.

Today we got to use the workstand for the first time, giving both the road and mountain steed a through clean and lube. This workstand is awesome! For starters, it works equally well for both bikes. It enables me to get in under the rear derailleur mechanism and into the nooks where dust and grime build up. With its pivot, I can also rotate the bike around 360 degrees making it much easier to do whatever I need to. The height is adjustable too, but I have not fiddled with this setting yet. Little Pok loved the whole set up and joined in the bike cleaning fun. Now to work out how to adjust my rear derailleur.

If anyone thinks that I am subjecting my son to hard working child labour, the alternate option would have been dealing with a crying tantrum spitting two year old. He loved washing the bike, constantly interjecting with “Daddy, my do it.” Although he did object to the spray from the hose bouncing off the frame onto his head, to which he instructed me to “Stop spraying me Daddy, my don’t like it.” In between his bursts of assistance he spent the rest of the time jumping in the puddles I created, hopping over the hose in the garage and doing laps of the mounted bike.

How would I rate my new piece of bike gear? About 4.5 out of 5 stars, and the reason why I drop the 1/2 star is because of the mount that sits underneath the bottom bracket. It could be a bit better in terms of it’s base of support for the frame, but it is not flimsy – you just have to tighten hard the frame grip strap. I would definitely recommend my fellow cyclists to invest in one of these. If you shop prudently from one of the online bike shops you should be able to pick one of these up for not much over USD200.

Time to giddy up and go for another summer spin with one of my now super clean steeds.

So my 2 year old son, AKA “The Pok”, is singing Jingle Bells every morning and night now. I suppose I had something to do with this, as I have been playing Diana Krall’s rendition of the carol every day for the last couple of weeks.

It is very funny listening to him try to wrap his mouth around the verses. I also use this song to have him open his mouth so I can brush his teeth – parenting.

As a follow up to my earlier post, Christmas in Sydney, I wanted to shoot some more Christmas photos but this time at night. I brought in the tripod to run around one evening after work. For me the Christmas spirit truly comes alive at night. There is absolutely no chance of snow in Sydney, but nevertheless we decorate as if we were in the Northern Hemisphere. The City of Sydney have done a cool job this year of decorating the town, with the only downer being the scaffolding covering the works on the Sydney Town Hall – which is being illuminated.

Joy to the World!

Christmas in Sydney #7

Christmas in Sydney #8

Christmas in Sydney #9

Christmas in Sydney #10

Christmas in Sydney #11

Christmas in Sydney #12

The festive, or silly season has well and truly descended on Sydney – and I partook in the festivities last night. But even though last night’s hydration methods were not optimal, I did not want to give up the opportunity to go for a weekend ride. It is funny at the moment, because riding on the weekend during the  silly season is an eye-opener. In addition to the regulars that you pass by on a morning ride – other riders, runners, and walkers – I find myself passing the stragglers coming home from Christmas festivities, in all their garb from the night previous. There is a lot of glass on the ground too, but at least it is quieter.

So it was a perfect setting to take my road steed out for a spin and blow away some cobwebs. I am fortunate that my local road runs are not that far away from some of Sydney’s major tourist attractions. I am less than 5km from getting onto the bike path on the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and not much further from The Rocks, Circular Quay and the Sydney Opera House. I decided to keep the spinning local into The Rocks and then back again over through the inner west. Here are a couple of snaps that I stopped to take while on route (it was not a hitout ride by any stretch).

Riding in Sydney - Dec 12 #1

Don’t let the clouds fool you, it was 20 degrees celcius at 7:30am.

Riding in Sydney - Dec 12 #2

The Sydney Opera House had a gloomy wake up this morning, before being lit up by the beautiful summer sun.

My reward for this morning’s ride was provided after rounding the corner at Dawes Point. The silly season is also the cruise ship season in Sydney, and docked at Circular Quay was the massive Royal Carribean ‘Voyager of the Seas’. A huge cruise ship – 311m long and 63m high. I was pretty blown away by it’s size.

Riding in Sydney - Dec 12 #3

It has a big backside too.

Riding in Sydney - Dec 12 #4

A surprising ride, and a few PBs on some of the segments. Definitely need to get the kilometres back up, and looking forward to doing some big rides over the Christmas break.

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