S: Australia 2009
FC: Australia 2009
1: South Africa: What am I doing going back 6 months? I think (operative term, think.... *smile*) I forgot to tell about the Emu dance. The male Emu (ostrich-y) slams his head back & forth really hard against each shoulder making a really loud thudding noise while he crouches low to the ground & flaps his enormous wings. I'm told its to protect the female. Its horrifying & he doesn't stop until you think his shoulders will break. I thought about this the other day while watching the Australian Emus... | Australia: Its autumn here & while the brown leaves are scattered on streets & sidewalks, its hotter than Africa. I am melting... It is said that the hole in the ozone layer is directly above Australia, making this place beyond any heat you can imagine. At times, it is almost impossible to go outside during the day. The main slogan throughout the country is: Slip, slap, slop. (slip on a t-shirt, slap on a hat & slop on the sun block.)
2: We arrived at our hostel in Sydney at midnight & I raced off at 9AM for my volunteer work. While I did not see much at this point, I loved the old-fashioned terraced brick townhouses throughout Sydney. | I did not see many skyscrapers (except I did see Ernst & Young's tower & it made me smile!) at this point, but we were taken through little areas of Sydney filled with health food stores, old theatres, shoppes & well, I loved it!
3: My volunteer work with CVA (Conservation Volunteers of Australia) was actually in Canberra, Australia's capital & 3 hours southwest of Sydney. Taking a bus with 4 other volunteers, we arrived at our own house! A little 1-story house in Canberra centre, a quiet suburban/college town (for a capital city). We had a huge backyard, fruit trees everywhere, bright red parrots, & REAL BEDS!
4: The CVA did not stay with us but simply left us at this great little house with a barbecue & all the food we wanted! We just left a list on the table in the morning & everything we wanted appeared when we got home that night! After having horrible food for so long this was a real trip!
5: I lived with 2 guys from Taiwan - Jimmy & Sean - (both in the Taiwanese army), a Japanese girl - Nuri, a girl from the UK- Libby, 1 Canadian girl (but she's from Toronto so it doesn't count! *smile*) & a guy, Nick from Belgium the first week.
6: My house-mates and the CVA Leaders were incredible. Each night one would cook - yes, still on food - so we had incredible family dinners like roll your own sushi (a lot like make your own tacos, but really different!). After all the different volunteer experiences I have had so far, this was EXCELLENT!
7: We were like a family within 2 minutes! Hanging out, going to a concert in the park, the largest short film fest in the world (Tropfest 2009), getting addicted to a stupid TV program & working insanely hard, but happy.
8: To arrive at a river, see mud & erosion, & leave 3 days later with more than 1,500 plants & grasses planted! It was excellent. | Mainly we worked at a national park (Tidbinbilla) & a riverfront in the city. We re-cleared trails closed in 2003 due to a bush fire, planted wetlands grasses along the riverside, poisoned &/or cut down non-native trees, weeded (a lot....) & it was incredible to "see" that we really made a difference!
9: The national park had 1 thing that was too amazing for words. Kangaroos! Zillions of them. Someone said - & I agreed - that they were like squirrels in Central Park, just zillions everywhere, & just a few yards away as we worked. And venomous ants & spiders, never mind snakes that can kill you in 30 minutes! (& yes, I was bitten by a poisonous ant on my first day out & ripped off most of my clothes - much to the chagrin of the volunteer coordinator - as my back swelled & KILLED in pain!)
10: Okay... a bit of things I think are really interesting. All animals that have pouches (ie., kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, possum...) have babies known as Joeys. The park rangers are adamant that people call them Joeys. Well, Joeys are amazing! A female kangaroo conceives a Joey. The Joey grows to 100 cells, at which point the mother kangaroo stops its growth for 9-months. After 9-months, the Joey (which looks like a slug with 2 black spots for eyes, tiny paddles for legs & tiny, little arms & about 1/4 to 3/4 of an inch long) climbs up from the birthing canal. He climbs an equivalent of 2 to 3 miles up into the mother's pouch. The mother can’t help because she will kill her Joey if she tries. Inside the pouch there are 2 teats. The Joey grabs 1 to nurse & it swells so large that it secures the Joey into the pouch. The mother feeds the Joey 100% milk. When the Joey grows active, the mother switches the milk to 50% milk & 50% water.
11: At the same time all of this is happening (female kangaroos are pregnant throughout their entire adulthood!), another Joey begins its climb up into the pouch. Joey #2 arrives & takes the 2nd teat. This teat swells to secure him. The mother kangaroo feeds the new Joey 100% milk at the same time as Joey #1 has the 50/50 milk! When Joey #1 begins to leave the pouch, the mother shuts off his milk supply... At the same time, Joey #3 is conceived... Wild, no? While kangaroos are not vicious, because they are shy they try & swipe you away if you get too close. The problem is that they have the longest, sharpest claws. When they swipe at you, they can actually slice you wide open.
12: Also in the national park are koalas. Because the 2003 bush fires killed so many, the park is also trying to lure new koalas into the park by bringing in koalas from other areas. | They have to sterilize these koalas because the original koalas do not have the immunity required to defend themselves from diseases from other regions. Koalas are very hard to spot, but what is interesting (to me anyway *smile*) is that a koala chooses a group of 7 trees that it eats from. He eats about 2.5 kilograms of eucalyptus leaves everyday from these same 7 trees. When he moves, its to a different set of 7 trees.
13: One day at work, we had to balance on rotting trees that had fallen during the bush fires. While balancing on these trees, we chopped down non-native plants (Canadian Pine Trees are killing the local wildlife, the sap runs into the rivers killing fish - CHRISTMAS TREES! Anyway...). These snakes were right beneath our feet... | Do you have any idea how exciting it is to be chopping down pine trees on a balance beam hovering over poisonous snakes? *smile* (Just so you know, we were provided snake pants to protect us. Very reassuring! *smile*)
14: After volunteering, I went back to Sydney. It was the last weekend of Sydney Mardi Gras (Gay Pride). Great timing as this event is HUGE! Sydney is a beautiful city & (as I soon discovered) with many skyscrapers & gorgeous green parks. (With areas inside the park filled with bats!! Thousands of bats that are awake in the daytime & are deafeningly loud!) The Opera House disappointed me. It’s not really white, its made of many panels not a smooth | surface, & its small! But the harbour is beautiful & the ferries around the city really fun. Plus, I got to go to the dentist for a teeth cleaning, & if you know me at all, that was perfect!
16: We left on a 21-day tour up the Gold Coast the following Tuesday. After 3 days of giggling early-20-somethings (the other people on the tour...), we left the tour & rented a bright green camper van (the “Jucy Van Company”). Starting in Brisbane, we headed north to Cairns on a 19-day, 1,700 kilometer drive. Campgrounds here are incredible. Great kitchens, laundry services, barbecues & gorgeous!
17: It was awesome camping on the beach, waking under palm trees & thank God for my queen-sized mosquito net as we were inundated with mosquitoes. The mosquito net was large enough to drape around the camper van at night like a canopy bed! We could keep doors, sunroof & windows open for fresh, ocean air. Without the net we would have melted alive or be bitten beyond comprehension. The camper van was awesome with a refrigerator, stove, sink & DVD player. Watching dollar-store films under the stars was excellent!
18: Everyone speaks about how big Australia is, & many Australians have told me that they have no want to travel anywhere else because they can’t even see all of Australia in their lifetime! I know its smaller than Canada & that the country’s entire population is less than the population of those living within London's ring road (the road that circles the city), but when you drive a zillion kilometers up the coast & all you can see besides the ocean & faraway mountains is acres upon acres of sugarcane (who knew? *smile*) & you know that you haven't even touched upon the interior, this place "feels" massive! | Throughout this drive we went through many, many small towns. Even if they were just minutes outside a city like Brisbane or Sydney, Australia has many small towns that look like old (US) western cowboy towns before they (just before *smile* minutes before?) they became ghost towns. Even 30 minutes outside a city the people are really country, small town, everyone related, peaceful & slow - calm... So nice!
19: En route we saw & did a lot. We went to a sand "blow out" area that is a sand hollow between 2 hills created by crosswinds.
20: We went to a castle - or remnants thereof - with waterfalls & gardens. We camped at the hot springs at a campground with interior & exterior thermal pools of varying temperatures. Gorgeous...
21: We went into caves, & took 2 incredible boat trips out onto the Great Barrier Reef.
22: The 1st Great Barrier Reef trip was a day trip, the 2nd? Well picture this, a 3-hour choppy ride to the outer reef with 100 other tourists. At 2:30, 96 people left us (& 2 other people) on a stationary barge thing for the night! It was insane!! We were treated like royalty, ate gorgeous food on the deck, had dessert in the underwater observatory, a snorkeling trip at sunset & a 2nd trip early the next morning, breakfast on the deck & & & *smile* There was room for 6 guests on this barge thing (this barge thing is pretty “la-di-da” floating tourist playground with amenities galore. Certainly a bit "uppercrust!").However, there were only the 4 of us. We all paid for a bed in the 4-person room. However because we were only 4 on the boat, the "suite" was not being used. So we drew straws & I WON!
23: The sounds so far out in the reefs are amazing too. High winds that howl! Its a bit crazy at night in the middle of nowhere! & these weird birds!! Thirty or forty of them on the deck hand rails. They do NOT let each other land on the handrails, so we watched as some just kept fluttering about, trying & trying to land until the point of exhaustion. Many flying into the walls, falling down, it was all so strange - & sad - to watch. | We stayed in this amazing suite on this barge 3-hours out in the outer barrier reef, & well it was incredible... Oh! Our night snorkeling was the most incredible experience. Our guide brought fish food, threw it out into the water & our faces were surrounded by hundreds of bright purple, yellow trimmed fish banging into us. It was crazy! I have never experienced anything like this! Fish in my eyes, face, everywhere! & they are not small fish either!!
24: Fun Aussie Stuff: 50,000 years ago the African people walked to Australia & settled. Now of course there is an ocean between the 2 continents, but these Africans (or Australian aboriginal people), are the poor & destitute of Australia. While we have not seen much homelessness, when you do, they are more than likely to be Aborigine people. We understand that it is the greatest social problem in Australia. On the flip side, Australians get the most liberal social security support. For example, it is normal for a child of a single parent to receive $1,200 a month support until they are 25, even if they don't "need" it.
25: The Didgeridaa (the Gaelic word for never ending sound) was named by the Irish (Australia's original explorers). It is also known as a Yidaki. An Aboriginal musical instrument made from certain, hollowed trees, is considered a "mans’" instrument. Its believed that women that play them will become pregnant (or if pre-pubescent, the girl will become barren). The reasoning? As the folklore goes, if a woman is up late enough to have her turn at playing this instrument, it will be her & many men so... Also, it is a story told to children to get them to sleep when the Didgeridaa player (the "Mick Jagger" of their time) came to town. This is the oldest instrument known that has never been changed or improved. It is still created & played as originally designed. | Boomerangs only return to the thrower if carved from naturally bent trees (the wood grain must create the curve of the boomerang). Trees growing with the right bend are watched for years before a boomerang (that will actually return to you) is cut.
26: I feel like there is so much I want to write here but I guess I will end by telling you that I recommend NEVER booking a tour through Australia (or New Zealand). These 2 countries are set up so well for backpackers, camper vans, travelers. Its easy & safe & wonderful!
27: We have been traveling for 7-months now, & this "mid-point" has left me quite pensive, sad, happy, thought-full & a bit scared. Where will I find work? Will I find work? Can I actually work anymore? *smile* Seriously though, I think that a mid-point brings a very different feel to the trip. Gratitude has always been HUGE for me, but now its even more so. I miss "home." I don't ever mind doing anything domestic (like dishes), just to remind me what the real world will be like again!
28: I remember the first few months... & now I walk through a hostel kitchen & I realize that I am completely at home with all these strangers after 2 days. It was very strange, but well... true! | "What a long strange trip its been...." (Grateful Dead if you didn't know!) | Pensive, pensive, pensive... Any suggestions? Okay, okay... enjoy these last 4-months??
29: Canberra - Sydney - Brisbane to Cairns Australia March 2009 - April 2009