My Modern-Day Molotov Cocktail

I never ate shrimp on any regular basis when I was a kid. I really don’t remember having prawns as part of any childhood meal, certainly before man landed on the moon, the commercial introduction of the jumbo jet, and probably not until after Elvis’s untimely death. In the ‘70s a shrimp cocktail was the fancy appetizer of choice when you could afford to take a girl out on one of those rare real dates that included nourishment—also if she was fortunate enough to be allowed a starter. Nevertheless I found that I loved the stuff: At corporate functions a few years later in the ‘80s I could usually be found, drink in hand, in prawn proximity. Ah the lure of that bitter, crimson, horse-radished glop, complemented by freshly sliced lemons.

Since then, it seems that I’ve been living in shrimptopia, with large circular aluminum plates festooned with magnificent pink swirls of marine decapod crustaceans on a bed of smashed ice, continually within arm’s reach. Even when I find myself occasionally and inexplicably in a supermarket, there are shrimper dishes apparently everywhere: little blue or white rectangular plastic-wrapped polystyrene plates, packed with tiny anemic de-shelled prawns, identifiable only by their naturally convenient little red finger-food tails. Furthermore, the small frozen ones are dead cheap and they taste ok with a splosh of lemon and a dollop of magic sauce.

Sadly, I’ve never really thought to question the sheer abundance, availability, affordability and wholesomeness of this agreeable source of sustenance. I read online newspapers daily, I’m generally curious by nature and I travel a lot; heck I’m even a fairly avid diver and snorkeler. I always thought that shrimp was a good thing all around: nutritious, copiously available, and harvested honestly, in all weather by solid guys like Lieutenant Dan. Yet only now has it come to my full attention that I have been instrumental in helping to build the Death Star, one prawn at a time: One big modern-day Molotov cocktail.

Staying recently at the fabulous Tangalooma resort on Australia’s Moreton Island, I was engaging in various aquatic and other healthy outdoor activities: snorkeling the wrecks, whale watching, feeding the wild dolphins and so on. Between these marvelous activities I spent an hour in Tangalooma’s marine education center, which was fairly rudimentary though informative on ocean-saving topics ranging from turtle troubles to shark suffering. However, one small laminated flyer on the center’s window really caught my attention, and had the elevator speech on shrimp farming.

As I was now to understand, prawns were not good for my cholesterol, were processed by Asian slaves, and ultimately responsible for ongoing decimation of the world’s mangrove forests. Say what? Well I had read about the Thailand slavery issue a few months earlier and the European Union’s import ban threats, but the tropical shrubbery destruction was news to me, and since then I’ve read up on it a bit, and basically Asian shrimp farming appears to be responsible for obliterating large tracts of mangrove forest. I won’t repeat all the stats as they are a few clicks away for anyone, but those that jumped out at me are: five square miles of mangrove devastation yields only a few pounds of shrimp, after ten years the depleted land is useless for another forty, and twenty percent of the world’s mangrove forests are now lost to this inefficient practice (many sources including Furthermore, when compared to the carbon footprint of beef raised to the detriment of tropical rainforest, shrimping is ten times worse! That’s ten times worse than pretty darn bad already. To me, these inefficiencies and collateral damage are truly staggering in any reasonable analysis of twenty-first century agriculture practices. The stats are also ugly for wild catch: For every two pounds of prawns that make it to your table, there are twenty-six pounds of ill-fated, unused by-catch.

So that’s it, I’m afraid. Deal me out on prawn Provencal and Szechwan shrimp and I must apologize to mother earth for unwittingly treating her like dirt these past few decades. I may be one step closer to veganism, but certainly slightly closer towards more responsible global citizenry. I thought I was doing my part already with all the recycling, energy efficient practices, and blacklisting other dodgy food sources, but the Cajun shrimp casserole came at me out of nowhere.



The German Channel

When first I heard mention of the German Channel I immediately thought of Das Boot reruns: The 1980’s subtitled epic adventure of a motley bunch of ruggedly handsome Deutsche submariners scuttling assorted allied ships in the Mediterranean and Atlantic during World War II. My second thought was that of a pant-suited Chancellor Angela Merkel giving some long and detailed speech on the state of the European economy in the Bundestag.

But this was a markedly different German channel, more sound than vision: A massive, manmade water passage joining two remote islands in faraway Micronesia. Created over one hundred years ago, this fritzian furrow is an underwater gully flowing with color in an otherwise monotonic and unimpressive shallow sandy sea. Turns out that the corralled crevasse, originally dredged for commerce, von den Deutschen, has become a fabulous, world-class Scuba diving site.

The walls of the manmade trench appear to have created a near-perfect environment for coral colonies to prosper, and as we know, with healthy, vibrant coral comes almost everything else we want to thrive in our waters. Furthermore, strong ocean currents funnel the water through the trench like a burgeoning monsoon river. This curious combination of rush and reef makes for an aquatic adventure that would impress and excite even Squidward. Never mind the Scuba, just float on the surface with snorkel gear and fly like Eddie the Eagle ray over large diverse coral colonies, shivers of reef sharks, balls of parrotfish, groupies of grouper and regiments of Napoleon wrasse: And some of these fish are pretty darn big. Importantly, have your knowledgeable boat operator drop you at the starting line and follow you all the way to the end so that you can focus exclusively on taking in the world class views below.

My Korean Barbecue

Awareness gradually nears as my mind flickers erratically back and forth between alternate realities, until the present context and situation presents itself. Coming out of sleep is always a little weirder and takes just a little more time for me to find myself when I’m on travel. However, this morning I feel oddly different as awareness ripples gently from my mind throughout my musculoskeletal system towards my extremities. My neck feels strange and there’s an unusual indication coming from my left scapula. Further down I start sensing additional scattered alarms here and there, including my right wrist, my left bicep, both shins, and miscellaneous toes. Brusquely, I realize it’s pain. Ouch, I think to myself and I’m now starting to hurt all over.

As full consciousness approaches I wonder: Have I been running with the bulls in Pamplona? Sitting near the Russians at a Euro Soccer match? No—suddenly it all comes back to me: I had a massage at the Foot Shop in Dongdaemun, Seoul, in South Korea. Two unremarkable little women with naturally formed boney knuckledusters: Kneading, rolling, compressing, squishing, and tenderizing my flesh. It’s not like I didn’t try to give them feedback—I was groaning like a multi-car accident, but to no avail as they continued to pound away, mechanically, as though they were basting pork for a Korean barbecue.


This was the best part: At the beginning in our jim-jams and so full of hope.


Still a lot of expectant hope here …


.. and the shattering of illusions ..


Big Red Rash

It was a long and difficult trip for John: Impossible at night, highly dangerous at dusk and dawn, and barely realizable during the limited hours of winter’s solstice. The distance was immense: A nonstop round trip of eight hundred and twenty two miles from Mount Isa to Birdsville. Driving in the light of day one could barely comprehend the abject horrors of the previous night: Cows strewn asunder to the left and right, legs sticking straight up like upside down garden tables after some drunken picnic. Either side of the faint white dashed line, dead marsupials and other slain beasts endlessly blotched and stained the road. More than clues, this was cogent evidence of road trains: giant, snarling, heavy trucks with massive metal jowls and menacing lights dragging four or five trailers measuring over 150 feet long. Nocturnal land-based creatures on the roadways have no chance as these pummeling Pullmans stop strictly for destinations and nothing else.


Typical road train with multiple trailers

Nevertheless, John was given an essential task: To deliver a replacement alternator to a client that had broken down in the middle of Australia’s Simpson Desert. Of course, it was my car, a Toyota Land Cruiser that I rented to do a bit of light off-roading on the way to and from Australia’s renowned Big Red Bash. It was a powerful diesel 200 series truck that performed ably for me in the deep silky sands of Fraser Island the week before. Traveling to the Bash from Brisbane, there wasn’t a hint of the problem during the first two long weary days. However, on the third day, the battery warning light illuminated unceremoniously in the dullest possible shade of red. My fellow road warriors turned their full attention to my car’s dual batteries: multiple voltmeters and iPads were produced and the battery was pronounced marginally OK at 12.25 Volts, but to be checked periodically as we traveled further and further into the desert. As our convoy lead, Dave, walked back to his truck he called out to me nonchalantly, “don’t run anything in the car that uses the battery.” Well with no A/C or fans and the swirling dust and sand requiring windows up, this was going to be a sauna: Another two days of continual motoring and this would surely be the Big Red Rash.

For the next 24 hours the voltage continued to check in at a steady 12.25 volts. For my part, on several occasions I tried unsuccessfully to use Vulcan mind control techniques to extinguish the annoying little red battery light. Then, on the fourth day, on the final approach to the campsite I watched the voltage needle plunge swiftly, like the Dow Jones on Brexit. The car’s alternator had died, and I was over one thousand miles away, in the middle of nowhere.


The car was sweet when it was running


Poor baby in the shop

I cannot thank John and Ben at Fleet Crew rentals enough for their service, which goes way and beyond the call of duty. Also, I need to thank the crusty but soft-centered manager at the Birdsville Roadhouse garage, Peter Barnes, as well as my wonderful convoy compadres: Dave, Mike, Paul and Johnny. Gentlemen, what a fabulous trip and thanks for allowing me to ride along!


The Swagsman Swagger

Almost cinnamon in appearance, the powdery sand had a deep red color. It was dense, gritty and fine, perpetually sticky, and threatened to coat anything that it touched—from aluminum car paneling, to rubber tires, trailer hook-ups and hitches, and humans. Eerily, the pigment would find it’s way into sealed compartments, your cups and dishes, inside your socks, and it would line up unevenly under your fingernails giving you that unwanted wilderness look. For this was no ordinary sand; it was a parting gift from the world’s largest parallel dunes in Australia’s Simpson Desert, known to the locals as Nappanerica, or branded contemporaneously by the colonists as Big Red.


After a hard rain the coarse red sand re-emerges

Anything but a proper shower would simply move the crimson granules about your person, temporarily banishing them to the least visited creases and folds in your skin. Thankfully, we found such a shower at the Swagsman Quality Inn at Miles, the gateway to the Australian Outback. Like a Vietnamese monsoon, abundant steamy hot waters flowed generously from the showerhead in room 11 of the Swagsman. An overhead heater in the bathroom furthered our comfort as our fragile human bodies attempted to regain normal body temperature after an adventurous week surviving the winter desert nights with only a cloth tent between the outback and us.


The sticky red sand started its 2,000 km journey to the Swagsman from here

I watched triumphantly as erratic rivulets of sand flowed downward from my torso, thighs and legs, and swirled with resignation around the new aluminum drain (I forgot to note whether the swirl was clockwise or not since we were in the southern hemisphere). The hotel’s state of-the-art laundry facilities similarly expunged the grime and grit from our clothes, aiding in our return to normalcy and our typical personal hygiene standards after a fantastic challenging camping trip in the outback.

We stayed in the Swagsman for one night either side of a weeklong camping trip in the outback and it felt like a Ritz Carlton. It is a new hotel, with Wi-Fi, had a great shower and the dinner and breakfast was fabulous. It was also accommodating to park extra long camper trailers, a skill that I have otherwise yet to acquire.


With my limited trailer driving skill-set I needed areas the size of a small aircraft landing strip to park this behemoth.