Archives for the month of: February, 2014

Something happened on the weekend just past that made my blood boil. I try to keep this blog positive but this recent incident, though brief, had me seeing red mist.
I am not a perfect parent, far from it. I try to be, but I know I am not. I seldom judge other parents either – how can I from my less than perfect perch? But I am protective of my son. Not to the point of where I intervene when he needs to learn lessons of social interaction, but protective nonetheless.

My boy wanted to play on the playground at our local mall. To be honest I find it a bit naff but he likes it. If we go up to level 3, my boy knows that’s where the playground is – time to play. He loves it, and I love sitting there watching him. I love spending time to watch him play, because I know that during the week the demands of my job may mean that I’ll get possibly less than an hour a day with him. So with his shoes now off he threw himself at the playground with a grin on his face. There were lots of other kids mostly his age, except two – my guess was they were aged 8 and 5 years old. I later figured out they were brothers.

The one mistake my boy made was to choose to play on one of the constructs that they thought “they” owned.

At first they started to verbally harass him, but my son simply ignored them. Then they tried to “get in his face” and banging on the constructs where my boy played, but my son didn’t even acknowledge the action. But I saw red mist when the elder of the two (who was some 3-4 years older than my son) decided that my boy wasn’t getting the message and proceeded to spit at my son. Not just once, but he hocked spit at my son several times. It took me a few seconds to realise what was going on, and my son rushed hurriedly away from his bullies. That’s when I stood up and said in a volume and tone of voice that made the whole playground and parents take notice, “‘son’, go to that boy and tell him to say sorry!” The little cr@p b@g of an 8 year old was now looking me in the eye, realising that he had crossed the line a while ago. My boy did just as I asked with the 8 year old responding meekly, but I still couldn’t identify who was the parent of the miscreant. My son resumed his play, not hurt. The miscreant was bricking himself, with the full knowledge that I was the one he was messing with now.

But it was to my shock that a couple minutes later the miscreant and his brother ran to their mother sitting two seats away from me. She didn’t want to “own” her children when they were bullying my son, nor when I made my presence known. In fact, she was more interested in burying her face into her iPhone. Observing her, after I identified her as the mother of the miscreants, I noticed that she spent the whole time with her face buried into her bl00dy phone. She was completely clocked out, not a parent, while her children were bullying others at a public playground. We left a few minutes later after my wife returned from a brief foray in a shop adjacent to the playground. My wife asked me “what’s wrong?” noticing the red mist in my eyes. As I walked past the clocked out mother I responded loudly to my wife, “our son was spat on by that older child, and I had to stand up for him.”

I think that this time the absent mother kept her head buried to avoid my wife, who wanted to confront the part-time parent. But at this point I realised it was futile and we left.

Upon reflection, my red mist was really at the part-time parent. Children are going to cross lines of discipline and social misbehavior – after all how do they learn what is acceptable and not. But a parent who clocks out and doesn’t parent, particularly in public, is unacceptable. We all want to clock off sometimes, but do it at home. Some children are not fortunate to have two parents, or have one parent away from home for extended periods of time (ask the child of any parent who serves in the military), or their parents are just flat stick working two jobs trying to provide for their children. But when you are there physically but not, what is that? You are doing your child a complete disservice, and showing them it is acceptable to be absent. More often than not you have made the decision to start a family, but you must be stupid if you don’t realise the responsibility this entails. Parenting is not part-time, and yes it is exhausting – that is just not an excuse.

I am not a perfect parent, but I will pass judgement when you can’t be ar$ed doing your job as a parent. Just don’t be surprised when you lift your face out of your mindless electronic morass and see a parent taking care of their own child who is being bullied by yours.

On our recent trip up to tropical North Queensland, following the first two stops in Port Douglas and briefly at the Mossman Gorge, we cross the Daintree River into the rainforest proper. I am going to get this single point out of the way now –

the Daintree Rainforest is awesome!

I had known about this place all through school and when my interest in travel piqued its prominence as a destination to explore rose even further. All I can say now is wow! The Daintree Rainforest is the oldest forest in the world. At over 120 million years in age, it has never been beaten by the ice ages of the past. It is also the only place in the world where you can take a photo of two world heritage sites in one shot – the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest. It is also that forest that has the highest amount of biodiversity in the world. But this trip was focused on the forest that meets the ocean, and it turned out to be the perfect time of the year to go. It was surprisingly the low season, the weather was perfect, and the beaches were deserted. How else could I have got a shot like this one – no staging required.

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Crossing the crocodile infested Daintree River set the tone of the trip – adventure! We drove onto the cable ferry to cross the murky waters, waiting on the other side was the rainforest.

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Getting off the ferry, we immediately felt like we were surrounded by the forest with the tree lined route overhung with foliage. I couldn’t help but stop at the first lookout. I was surprised when we got there as the afternoon storm shower was rolling in. From the lookout we could see the mouth of the Daintree River, but it was the cloud and rain that I wanted to nab through the lens. This would be a perfect candidate for me to experiment with HDR.

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The drive itself along Cape Tribulation Road is fun. We hired a Subaru Forester for the the trip and it handled great on the roads. Along the route there are several aggressive speed bumps whose intent is to slow people down significantly around the areas where cassowaries are likely to cross. The cassowary in Australia is an endangered species with just over a couple of thousand still left in the wild. So my hopes in seeing one were to be random at best. But we got lucky, after traversing one of the many speed bumps my wife excitedly gestured to the left side of the road in the shrub. Sure enough there one was making a slow getaway back into the forest brush. This was the best I could do, given that I was behind the wheel.

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The expectation that the rainforest would be teeming with big fauna was quickly dashed. This is a forest of the small and nimble. I think this makes it even more beautiful, because it is not the domain of humans. The animals are definitely not scared of the tropical rain. Straight after the afternoon shower, these birds just got back to business in this red hued plant.

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The ferns, some of the most ancient of plant life, continued to slowly uncurl. The natural spiral pattern of the frond has an eerily mathematical beauty about it, and I will never get  tired of shooting them.

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Speaking of other animals in the trees, the largest spider I have ever seen was a common sight all around the rainforest. The golden orb weaver is huge, with its outstretched legs giving it a reach much longer than my outstretched hand. Initially they are quite confronting, particularly when a couple of the locals told us about the strength of their webs, but they are not aggressive towards humans. Their strands of spider silk have a greater tensile strength than that of steel. One of the locals said that American researchers were trying to work out how they could make body armour out of synthetically produced silk of this kind of spider, via goats of all things. In this photo I took you can see the tiny male in the bottom left of the photo trying to approach the female as she gorges herself on some insect food. The same local went on to tell us that the male would soon suffer the same fate as the insect “meal” but not before he went about his reproductive business.

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As dusk approached, the quite of the rainforest took over. There is no mobile phone coverage in the Daintree, no signal, no data, nothing. And the TV reception at the house we stayed in was dodgy at best. The noise of the forest takes over, the birds and beetles humming away. The moon was in the final stages of the waxing gibbous phase and illuminated brightly the night sky. The lack of other radiant light added to the aura of seclusion. I didn’t have my full blown Manfrotto tripod with me, but a mini one that I carry always was the steady arm for this shot.

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Before the above photo we took a guided walk in the rainforest at night. That is for my next post, but my recommendation is for anyone to do it!

The next morning, the sunrise was serene and spectacular. I didn’t quite get the shot that I wanted, the lack of a tripod hampered me significantly. But this was the best I could do. I like the “ladders” on the ocean that the sun’s reflection caused.

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We had a couple more days in the Daintree, and we chose to do some other adventures – zip lining and kayaking (again both for my next post). But I think the highlight for me was actually walking in the rainforest itself. There are a number of boardwalks where you can walk both into the dry and wet parts of the rainforest, whilst ensuring that you don’t get lost. The only danger being the swarms of mosquitoes hungry for the sting. The mozzies were relentless around the wetlands, but on the dry rainforest floor not so much. But it was nothing that a spray of repellent couldn’t keep at bay. Walking through the forest with my travel partner in crime, my wife, brought back our sense of adventure that has gone a bit dormant as parents of a 3 year old. My wife and I love to travel together, and over the last 14 years we have been to many, many destinations around the world. When we do travel together we naturally take on designated roles. I am chief pilot/driver, repairman, photographer, scout, and sherpa. My wife is chief travel planner, logistics manager, chef, spotter, and a somewhat accurate navigator.

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The flora is spectacular and was the inspiration for James Cameron’s movie Avatar. The trees were very strange, and very seldom were adjacent trees of the same species. Here are two together, a regular tree being slowly consumed by a strangler fig. Eventually the strangler fig will devour its host and all that will remain will be the fattened roots of the strangler fig forming a tree on its own.

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A break in the forest canopy, caused by the last cyclone pounding the coastline is a prompt for regeneration. These Daintree fan palms are unique to this part of the world, and their leaf diameter was over a metre. For this part of the rainforest, this was the canopy.

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The Daintree is home to 28 different species of mangrove. You experience a significant change in your surroundings when you reach the wet part of the forest floor. The water runs off from the mountains and into the ocean. This is unlike anything that I have seen.

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The trees changed colour, notice all the orange, and it went from being very green to hues of orange and brown thrown into the mix.

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The muddy forest floor was teeming with crabs! Mostly they were no bigger than the palm of my hand and they were all shy. Everytime we came within a couple of metres of them, they burrowed back down in their holes. So to grab this shot I had to move slowly, silently, and softly on the boardwalk. It wasn’t until after I downloaded the image that I noticed the second one at the bottom of the shot who was motionless to avoid detection.

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While the waters of the ocean looked inviting it was very stinger season with the Irukandji jellyfish everywhere. The waters look sooooo inviting, even with the cloudy grey tropical sky.

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So the best place to take a natural dip is in the watering holes dotted around the forest. We went for a swim at Mason’s watering hole (no bikini shots of my wife allowed 🙂

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Tips for a trip to the Daintree Rainforest

The natural beauty of the rainforest is breathtaking. Here are some tips that I picked up for the next time when I take my son when he is older.

  1. Hire a four wheel drive (SUV) – a small hatch or sedan is not worth the bumps and discomfort. Even if the 4WD you hire is only a small.
  2. Make sure you bring mosquito repellant – you have been warned.
  3. A solid pair of hiking shoes will increase your mobility – it is a forest after all.
  4. If you a bringing a camera, one that is good in low light is best – the forest canopy significantly reduces the available light with which to shoot, even in the middle of the day. First side tip is to keep your camera handy when you are driving (I would have missed the cassowary shot if my camera was packed in the boot). Second side tip is to bring an underwater case if you have one (the forest climate is very wet).
  5. Bring a pair of binoculars if you have them – I am sure there were things I did not see in the canopy above my head because I wasn’t optically armed.
  6. Get used to not having a phone – who needs to be constantly connected anyway.
  7. Water, water, water – carry with you a bottle, camelbak, flask, whatever. It is hot and humid, and you want to keep going to see more.
  8. Careful what you touch – the plants are more of a danger than the animals.
  9. Careful what you pick to eat – most of it is poisonous.
  10. Relax and take in the world of micro – it is awe inspiring, but don’t expect to see child size lemurs jumping out of trees.

Magic Accommodation

Finally I want to put in a plug for the accommodation that my wife found. We stayed at the Sanctuary Bed and Breakfast house at Cape Tribulation. The house is spectacular and we had it all to ourselves. It sits in the forest canopy and is far enough away to be privately secluded, but close enough to get to most of the sights in Cape Tribulation within 15 – 20min. Just don’t forget not to leave out any food for furry or six legged visitors.

Here are a couple of photos of the house (and I shot a number of the photos in this post from the wooden deck).

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On my recent trip up to tropical North Queensland and after leaving Port Douglas on our way up to the Daintree National Park, we stopped at the beautiful Mossman Gorge. It is located in the home of the Kuku Yalanji people, and the local elders administer the visitor information centre and entry to the gorge and rapids. It was good to see you local people at the tourist centre. The gorge itself is in the Southern part of Daintree National Park, and covers the Mossman River and the adjacent Rex Creek. The rapids were wild and the current strong. It looked dangerous to go for a dip in the water (no crocodiles in these waters), and sure enough we found out that a couple of days after we visited the place a Taiwanese tourist lost his life after getting swept away in the river catching his feet in the rocks. Searching on the web I found that he has not been the only one. Luckily my spidey senses were tuned in. I don’t understand how they couldn’t have been though, given that there were boulders in the river taller than me – a sure-fire sign that this body of water has the ability to “move” big things.

This was my first taste of the Daintree Rainforest, and all I could think was wow! It was lush and overgrown and a veritable microcosm of all sorts of flora and fauna. The streams running down the slopes were tranquil and beautiful.

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What I was not expecting was the huge variety of fauna that lived in the macro world. After you tuned into your surroundings, every step yielded a new and for the most part small discovery. These tiny mushrooms, rooted into the tree, were no bigger than my fingernails. I could hear a Mary Poppins tune in my head.

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I was awestruck by the rapids. They were strong and flowing with big huge rock boulders creating a path for the water to flow. The ones you can see in the middle of the shot were all bigger than me in height.

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The majority of our surroundings were green, but there was the odd dash of colour in the fruits of certain plants. I am pretty sure that these were not safe to eat.

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I was hoping to see a cassowary or a forest dragon, but what we did get stopped in our tracks by was a brush turkey. Not the prettiest of birds, and this one decided that it was going to walk directly across the track in front of us and scrap the forest floor underneath it across the track. I don’t know what it was trying to achieve but it was definitely not scared of us, proceeding to go about its business regardless of our presence.

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Bidding farewell to the bird we returned to the shuttle bus, but not before seeing more weird and wonderful flora. I have no idea what the round things growing on the side of this tree were. So I am going to call them tree polyps.

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A beautiful introduction to the rainforest which was only going to get better as we crossed the Daintree River.

I can’t believe that after all my years growing up and living in Australia that I have never been to tropical North Queensland. Every Aussie who lives in the Southern parts of Australia knows the names of all the places, but to experience it is something else. So when my wife said, “let’s leave the boy with his grandparents and go for a trip up to Port Douglas and the Daintree Rainforest” I was there!

With work being so busy of late, I decided not to put in a half effort to research our destinations but trust in my travel agent – my wife. The first destination on the trip was Port DouglasTo get to Port Douglas from Sydney, you either drive for 2 days or fly to Cairns. Cairns was our choice as we were time poor for this short 5 day trip. I am not sure what expectations I had, but they were very quickly dismissed. Port Douglas itself is over 100 years old, built off the back of the mining and timber industries. But it is now very much a holiday resort town at the foot of the Daintree. I knew it would be green, being in the tropics with almost daily rainfall. So these photos were no surprise.

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This is Four Mile Beach, which has a large amount of detritus at this time of year. This is all part of the natural cycle where the old plant life is washed down into the ocean, churned by the waves, washed back again, and then feeds itself back into the ecosystem.

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What I didn’t expect was such an eclectic mix of buildings housing hotels, cafes, restaurants, and pubs. The place we stayed out, the QT Hotel, was a couple kilometres outside of the main street in town – Macrossan Street. It was pretty cool, and for this time of year empty!

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When do you ever see the hotel pool this void of guests? BTW – don’t be confused by the grey skies, it was 28 degrees Celsius and quite humid.

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The town itself is a cool mix of old an new with some vibrantly coloured buildings which very much reflect the artists who are resident in these parts.

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Turquoise brightens up Macrossan Street, but not in a tacky way.

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An old steam train still runs through into the town, which is more of a novelty ride than serving a proper industrial purpose.

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This railway station is adjacent to the Port Douglas Marina, which is an impressive collection of expensive maritime hardware. A couple of the Great Barrier Reef tourist catamarans / trimarans could be painted grey and commissioned in the navy.

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And the town is very cycle friendly, my sort of place. I rode one of these two bikes (the salmon coloured one) the morning after we arrived, and it was quite possibly the worst bike I have ever ridden. But it was two wheels without an engine, so I had to give it a go – and it was fun!

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The older buildings have quite a history themselves, and look like your typical tropical North Queensland buildings. This pub dates back to the time when the town was founded.

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And this church dates back to the same time period. No doubt both structures have been ravaged multiple times by cyclones.

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The local shopkeepers are quite expressive with their quirky shop signs. The jewelry and art shops are probably the most impressive here.

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The colour continued through to the tropical fauna, which was only a taste of what was to come up in the Daintree. Macro photographers would have a field day up here.

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And unique views are presented by zooming the lens in on some of the tropical plants.

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The best bit of our trip up to Port Douglas was being able to rendezvous with old friends of the family on my wife’s side – Nori and BM. If it wasn’t for Nori, my in-laws wouldn’t have got together and my wife would not be here. BM’s brother and his wife were also up in Port Douglas and we had a splendid meal at the Sea Temple hotel.

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This was a great start to the trip, and it got better when we crossed the Daintree River.

This week’s travel theme from Ailsa’s blog ‘Where’s my backpack?’ is Yellow. Yellow has so many meanings that you discover on travels. It is the King of Thailand’s colour, it is the colour of the overall leader’s jersey in the Tour de France, and it is also the colour of the away strip of my football team. Here is my take on this week’s travel theme (and as usual the image link through to my larger photos on Flickr).

Starting in Australia the mystical crocodile infested wetlands of Yellow Water, Kakadu, Northern Territory, Australia, look serene in the sunset. One would be very short for this world if they chose to swim in here or step to close to the water’s edge.

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On the other side of the country and at the heart of Australia’s second biggest city, Flinders Street train station in Melbourne is a beautifully preserved yellow painted building.

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Back up to the Australian tropics on the Great Barrier Reef, one of the best travel experiences that I have ever had was snorkeling and scuba diving along the reef. It was surreal being surrounded by schools of Pacific Yellowtails.

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Last year we went to Maui in Hawai’i for my brother’s wedding. After the wedding we had a great night at a Hawaiian Luau. Yes it was a stage performance but the food was fantastic, the pina coladas were flowing, and the performers were awesome. I loved watching their yellow flowing skirts as they ‘shook their coconuts’.

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My mother in-law lives in the English Northern Midlands, in a beautiful country region known as English Frankton. I love driving through the fields when the rapeseed flowers are in bloom.

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Over in Paris, France on Bastille Day the Eiffel Tower was aglow in yellow light. And they tried to blow it up with fireworks too. Cool night!

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Lastly, I love the zoom zooms (Formula 1)! And yellow is the colour of Renault. Yes they may have had splashes of other colours polluting the livery, but yellow is their colour. Here is the car they built, in the turbo days, that earned them their first win – at the Paris Motor Show of 2004.

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And here is Renault in action at the 2009 Suzuka, Japanese Formula 1 Grand Prix. Seeing the crazy Japanese revheads at Suzuka was half the fun and it is an amazing track!

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Thanks Ailsa, easier theme this week.

Our boy, AKA ‘The Pok’, has started to say some really funny things with the reasoning of a 3 year old behind his musings. Some of it is hilarious, or just bizarre.

The Pok LOVES to go for a swim, but as a 3 year old he barely has the ability to paddle leave aside the need to breathe. His swimming is effectively limited by how long he can hold his breath underwater.

So when we were in the pool the other day taking him for a swim, his enthusiam for jumping in the pool and swimming underwater across a couple of lanes knew no bounds. Then he spotted the older kids next to him performing pirouettes underwater. While he was performing one of his many jump-swims halfway through he attempted to pirouette, not realising the limitations of his own lung capacity. I figured out at the last second that I would have to intervene and went over to lift him back out of the water.

He had swallowed a copious amount of chlorinated pool water. This resulted in much coughing and spluttering as I raised his head above the pool surface. Clearly embarrassed at his own failure to emulate the feat of the older swimmers he turned and said to me,

“Daddy, [cough] that was just a trick [cough]!”

He lifted himself back out of the pool, and proceeded to successfully perform his “trick” a further ten times – without swallowing half the pool.

I have come to the realisation that his confidence far outweighs his abilities, and thus he is progressing in leaps and bounds.

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Visiting my parents in Summer is always a fun opportunity to get up to mischief in the backyard pool. The Pok (AKA my son) loves the opportunity to go for a swim with his cousins and anybody else that is prepared to jump in.

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But this year Santa delivered a variety of water weaponry; water pistols, water pumpers, and the piece de resistance is the nerf water rifle with its water cassette.

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I grabbed this last one as my weapon of choice, and so the battle began. I thought I was doing pretty well with my 20 feet of hyper accurate water sniping over the other low volume weapons (and the equally inferior family opponents who were carrying them) until my 9 year old niece, C, yelled out…

“Hey Uncle Chris. If you unscrew the orange lid on the cartridge, and keep that part of the gun underwater while you keep shooting, you never have to reload. You will have unlimited shots”.

What ensued for me was total domination of the battlefield (the pool). And I just got schooled in re-engineering my weaponry.

My niece C will either become the next “Tony Stark”, or end up being a globally hunted weapons smuggler. Either way, she has that “criminal cunning”. Respect!

PS – no permanent casualties were suffered in the pool, and whatever applicable parts of the Geneva Convention were adhered to.

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