Tuesday, December 14, 2010

the people you meet

Life is full of interesting people!  I've met quite a few over the last few months - including someone who...

...is American and sews Canadian flags onto her backpack so that people treat her better while traveling in foreign countries (I always thought this was just a rumour!)...
...had a single-digit phone number while growing up in Australia...
...honks at animals as a means of preventing them from becoming roadkill (this actually seems to be common down under - there were several people who did this)...
...is a barrel racer...
...helped save a shark attack victim...
...makes guitars as a hobby and plays them in his band...
...wants a pet moose...
...admitted the only reason she chose to learn snowboarding instead of skiing was because the boots are cooler...
...is like a real-life Crocodile Dundee, having spent his childhood capturing and tying up crocs so that his mother, who worked as a ranger for National Parks, could tag them before letting them go back into the wild...
...makes Worcestershire sauce at home!...
...laid the eggs I ate for breakfast (to be clear, these were chickens :) )...
...made me jealous over an object I've never coveted: An inflatable neck pillow!  Early morning bus rides can do that kinda thing to you...
...went skydiving to celebrate her 80th birthday...
...killed 2 people while driving drunk at age 14...
...celebrated beating me at pool by raising her cue in victory, only to be whacked by it in the forehead after it got caught in a ceiling fan...
...has never been on a plane...
...decided his purpose in life is to fight discrimination against men...
...is currently addicted to Nintendo's latest version of the Mario game...
...didn't think anything of walking into the hostel dorm and climbing into her top bunk to go to bed without shutting the door to our room...
...broke her back in a skydiving accident and as a result is now shorter than she used to be...
...has creative control over some of the political advertising campaigns in the USA...
...thought I'd lived in Estonia because of the quality of my language skills (two people actually - and they were both from Tallinn!)...
...would lock the doors and turn out the porch lights for the bar she owned in the outback so that customers still sitting outside would have to finish up their last drinks in complete darkness...
...assumed that I would know how to use rabbit and bear traps because I'm Canadian...
...asked me if my name is short for something because they actually know someone named Eileen who goes by Aili for short...
...goes shopping for cosmetics at Holt Renfrew when she visits Canada because it's cheaper than buying them in Australia...
...wants to fulfil his fantasy of having sex with a midget before settling down (although, he did say he was willing to let this go if the right girl came along first)...  Can't make this stuff up :)

Friday, December 3, 2010


When I was figuring out how to get from Perth back to Sydney to catch my flight home, I decided to take a side trip to Indonesia.  Despite my plan to be in Australia for my entire time in the southern hemisphere, the possibility of curing my yoga withdrawal and learning how to surf better proved to be too tempting!  I've been in Bali for the last two weeks and I'm sad to say that I'm leaving here tonight.  This is the first step in my journey home, which will take me to Sydney and then Chicago for a few days each before getting back to Toronto mid-December.

Bali is truly enchanting!  This place has everything - great food, sun, sand, surf, shopping, interesting culture, beautiful scenery, amazing yoga, kind people - and I've really enjoyed it all.  After just a few days here, you can barely remember what you were doing before you arrived.  (Yes, it actually was hard for me to remember that I've been on vacation for the last six months... this place is that chilled!!)  I've definitely taken my relaxation to the next level here, and had the opportunity to do some things that are a bit out of the ordinary, including visiting a Balinese healer for massage therapy and reflexology (sooo good!!), learning budi suci (breathing and movement techniques that are kinda tai chi-ish) and running into a fortune teller on the street.  It's been quite an experience!  One that I won't forget.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

west side stories

A few experiences from the last Australian state I had left to visit... 
I started exploring Western Australia with a trip to the Kimberley.  The first day after driving for a few hours from Broome, our group stopped at Fitzroy Crossing to have lunch.  The local pub was across the street from where we were sitting and I ventured in to check it out.  Most of the outback bars I’ve been to have been pretty empty, but this one was different: It was packed full of drunk people - all Aboriginals - and this was at 1 pm on a Tuesday afternoon!  After learning about some of their history, I understand why they drink.  A sign on the wall read: If you hit a member of staff, the bar will close immediately.  A glassy-eyed man who identified himself as Joker came up to me and started chatting.  He asked where I was from and proceeded to tell me what a beautiful country Canada was, even though he’s never left the Kimberley region.  He welcomed me to his country, warned me about how dangerous it can be if you're not prepared for it and told me a story about rescuing lost German tourists on the land, who'd become delusional from dehydration after being in the bush for three days.  I was thankful I'd decided to see the area via a group tour :)  

A couple of days later we arrived at Bungle Bungles in Purnululu National Park.  Australia is full of seemingly random natural formations that are really interesting to see, and this place definitely falls into that category!  Bungle Bungles is a range of sandstone domes that have alternating orange and grey bands of colour - they almost look like giant beehives.  Although they’ve been around for an estimated 360 million years, only locals knew of their existence until the 1980s.  And they’re only expected to last another 20 millions years, which, relatively speaking, isn’t all that long.

Another stop on the Kimberley tour was at Tunnel Creek.  Here we went along the creek through a long cave to where it emerged on the other side.  We took sandbanks along the sides at parts and we had to wade through standing water at others.  At one point we stopped - our guide Cheryl had just noticed a sparkle as the light from her torch (a.k.a. flashlight) hit something up ahead....  Turned out it was the twinkle in a freshwater crocodile’s eye!  Our group stood there for a few minutes, mesmerized.  After the croc disappeared underwater - and, after Cheryl’s reassurance that it wouldn’t bother us if we didn’t bother it - we continued on our journey and waded through the same section of water the croc was in!  
The next day, back in Broome, I went to Cable Beach.  As soon as I got into the water to cool off the volunteer lifeguards evacuated the ocean... because of crocodiles!  Turns out saltwater crocs don’t abide by the same mutual avoidance philosophy.  Humans are part of their food chain!
Also in Broome, I got up early one morning to catch sunrise at Town Beach.  Tourists are advised not to travel alone in this city and I couldn’t find anyone else crazy enough to get out of bed at 4:30 am, so I opted to take a taxi rather than doing the 20-minute walk by myself.  Sunrise was beautiful - especially with the boab tree in the picture!  I was at the beach until after 6 am, when I started walking back to the hostel by myself.  About halfway back, I ran into an Aboriginal man wearing a striped button-down shirt and black jeans with no shoes who was walking in the opposite direction.  Our paths crossed and I said hello.  He stopped me to ask for directions, pointing towards where I'd come from: “I know my family lives that way, but do they live that way and then that way [gesturing a turn] or just that way?”  He didn’t seem drunk, but was extremely disoriented.  He nodded when I asked him if he would recognize it when he saw it.  “Just keep going then,” I told him.  And after a few more random questions, he did.

Along the west coast, the highlight for me was definitely Ningaloo Reef.  At Coral Bay, I decided to spend a day on a boat snorkeling with manta rays.  I have to say, this day trip was by far my best snorkeling experience ever!  In addition to the manta rays, I saw turtles, whales, dolphins, and sharks on top of a huge variety of tropical fish and coral - way more than what I saw at the Great Barrier Reef!  As I was watching the beautiful, brightly-coloured water creatures interact with each other, I couldn’t help but wonder if they judge or treat each other differently based on the colour of their scales.  My guess is that they don’t.  They all seem very supportive of each other.

On the way down to Perth, I left Australia briefly to visit the Principality of Hutt River.  Hutt River is an independent sovereign state about the size of Hong Kong that seceded from Australia 40 years ago because the man who owned the land didn’t want to abide by the farming laws the Australian government had just imposed.  This place has its own currency, postage, national anthem... I even got my passport stamped!  I also got to meet the royalty here - the creator of Hutt River, H.R.H. Prince Leonard, and his wife, H.R.H. Princess Shirley.  I didn’t have to go through Australian customs and immigration when I left Hutt River and re-entered Australia... in case you were wondering :)

Friday, November 19, 2010

you live, you learn 5

- There are as many ways to wash dishes as there are people.  
- Microbreweries are a lot smaller than non-micro ones.
- Honeybees dance to communicate.
- In some parts of Australia, young men think it's still fashionable to wear their pants so that the belt falls below the ass.
- Cultured pearls are formed within an oyster's gonad.
- Highways in Tasmania switch between being divided and undivided frequently.  In both sections, the lanes are marked by a dotted white line.
- Pizza seems to be more likely to get stolen out of a communal hostel fridge than any other food.
- It's hard, but not impossible, to find dinosaur footprints.
- There are no traffic lights between Geraldton and Darwin.
- Aboriginal husbands only speak to their mother-in-law via a third party.
- Most animals are camera shy unless you have food.
- Some messages are not meant to be communicated by certain channels.
- Mangoes are the most consumed fresh fruit in the world.
- You don't need a license for marine fishing in Tasmania with a rod and line, but if you fish in the same way on water inland you do need a license.
- Some boarding passes look like receipts.
- BBQ sauce enhances the taste of camp-cooked spaghetti bolognese.
- Kangaroos actually do box each other.
- Coffee and other warm beverages seem to be served at cooler temperatures here than back home.  I can drink it right away rather than having to wait for it to cool down.
- Guinness tastes sooo much better on tap :)
- Life is subject to interpretation.  Perspective is everything.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

and i quote 5

"Hopefully the people getting out of the car are paleontologists!" - Helen, a friend I met along the way, to me, at Gantheaume Point in Broome, being optimistic about the profession of the people who'd just pulled up into the parking lot.  On a whim, we'd decided to look for dinosaur footprints that are hard and dangerous to find and we weren't really prepared.

"Sorry about the view!  I know it's not my best angle." - Gaylene to me.  We'd walked into a narrow hallway at her work and she was bent over in front of me, rummaging for keys in her bag to unlock the next door.

"F*#$, he could have a seizure right now!" - What I was thinking to myself as I was going up the scenic chairlift at The Nut in Tasmania (a volcanic formation) with Craig, an epileptic friend of a friend.  Craig doesn't have the same type of warning signs that some other epileptics do, which means he could have a seizure with zero notice.  He's a pretty big guy too and the safety bar was pretty unsubstantial...  Thankfully nothing happened, except for me reaching a new level of appreciation for Craig's ability to not live in fear.

"You're Canadian." - A glassy-eyed Aboriginal man to me at Town Beach in Broome at sunset, after I'd answered his question about what I was doing there.  Based on just a sentence or two, he was able to successfully guess where I'm from even though he's never left the Kimberley region.

"... pretty good visibility for crocs, ...." - Roger, my tour guide for Cape Leveque, listing out the highlights of the beach we'd just pulled up to for a swim.  I think he was kidding but made sure I had people around me as much as possible while I was in the water... just in case.

"And what, you couldn't manage to get a tan in that amount of time?" - A loud Australian tourist who described himself as fat, balding and middle-aged, to me after finding out that I'd been in the country for almost 5 months.  A tan is one of those funny things that sometimes only you know you have.  I didn't bother letting him in on my little secret...

"Save our planet, it's the only one with beer!" - A Wicked camper van in Broome, trying to spark a new wave of environmentalists.  (Wicked is the name of the company, not an adjective on my part.  They're known for having graffiti-covered vehicles.)

"You've got to look after your health, don't you?" - Lorna, one of my tourmates, to the group of us standing around eating frozen treats at the rest stop.  She'd just informed us that the bar she'd chosen was equivalent to drinking one glass of milk.  It was her second treat of the day (mine too) and she was trying to justify it...  I didn't need to, mine was made of frozen mango so it counted as fruit :)

"I'm not very good at counting." - One of the tour employees to her co-worker as we were on our way out to the jetty to catch a boat for a day trip snorkeling on Ningaloo Reef.  She was trying to figure out how many passengers were on the bus and was having some difficulties, as people were moving around.  It turned out the co-worker wasn't very good at counting either - he did the headcount after the first site, where we ended up accidentally leaving someone behind...  Luckily that individual was still there when we went back to pick her up (and hadn't even noticed that the boat had left!).

And now, for a few from my time in Adelaide that get a bit lost in translation...

"Sa oled kodus siin. [You're at home here.]" - Endel, a 91-year-old Estonian Australian, to me, after I arrived to stay with him for a few days.  Although we'd never met before, he was waiting to welcome me on his driveway with open arms.

"Ega sa seda hullemaks ei tee. [You're not going to make it any worse.]" - Endel to me as we were eating dessert.  He'd found a can of fruit salad to open up and wasn't too impressed with the quality, so he was encouraging me to put sugar on it in the hope that additional sweetness would make it taste better...

"Üks, kaks, kolm, neli... [One, two, three, four...]" - After just two days of being immersed in the language of my childhood, I found myself thinking in Estonian, while counting out the number of potatoes we needed at the grocery store.

"See oli kaua aega tagasi - umbes viisteist aastat... [It was a long time ago - about 15 years....]" - Me to Endel.  He'd just asked me if I could write in Estonian and I'd answered that the last time I did it regularly was when I was still in Estonian school, which I finished a number of years ago.  I trailed off as I realized who I was talking to, and that it really is all relative...

Saturday, October 30, 2010

two roads diverged in the west

After Melbourne, I enjoyed some lovely visits with long-lost and new friends in Tasmania and then Adelaide (both of which ended with some very difficult goodbyes!) before getting to Western Australia.  Priscilla and I arrived in Broome a couple weeks ago, and headed our separate ways the following day.  Back when we were in Melbourne, it became clear to me that Priscilla and I needed to split up.  We had different timelines and priorities for the last part of our trip.  I wanted to incorporate time to do absolutely nothing into my schedule - this was very important to me, and not something I was willing to negotiate on!  On top of that, I felt the need to spend some time by myself, so I suggested we each do our own thing on the west coast.  (There’s little space to have your own day when you’re on the same tour or sharing the same rental car.  Despite my best efforts, my dreams of having separate days in Melbourne didn’t really materialize as our similar interests got in the way.)  I even suggested a transition strategy of staying in separate places in Adelaide to help us adjust from constant togetherness to complete independence.  The four and a half months we travelled together were great - I’ve been grateful to have someone to share the ride with - but I really felt the need to be on my own... and so far I’m really enjoying it :)

After getting to the west, I spent a few days camping in the Kimberley and have been back in Broome for a week now.  It's hot here - the kind of heat that leaves you with elbow sweat if you leave your arm bent for just a couple of seconds, and makes finding shelter from the sun make you feel like you've hit the jackpot.  I've seen some pretty amazing things though, and that makes it all worthwhile.

It's hard to believe I arrived in Australia exactly 5 months ago today.  I wouldn't say the whole thing has gone by quickly, but the days certainly seem to have piled up.  Travel is a roller coaster of emotions, finances and circumstances.  (Side note: I say finances because my credit card keeps getting put on hold due to "suspicious foreign activity" despite the fact that I've informed them on five separate occasions of my travel plans.  I keep finding out that the card is not usable at the most inopportune times - like when I'm trying to book a multi-day tour that I need to pay for and have already exhausted my bank card's cash withdrawal limit.  Customer service is not an optional thing for me, so I'm going to have to switch banks when I get home... right after I figure out what to do with my PC points... :) )  It's also like therapy - there's this instantaneous level of conversational intimacy that you automatically have with fellow travelers.  Typical conversation starters like name and occupation are not important and seldom used.  The focus instead is on where you've been and where you're going - both geographically and in life.  Geographically, I still have a lot of Western Australia to explore before I leave the country.  And in life?  I'm still figuring that one out - luckily I have another month and a half of total freedom to think about it... :)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

on the road again

Moving on from Melbourne began with a bit of a false start.  The airport shuttle was over an hour late for our scheduled pick-up, so I began to wonder if Priscilla and I would make our check-in cutoff time.  We had the kind of ticket where you forfeit the fare if you miss your flight, so I was pretty happy and relieved when I inquired about getting a taxi to the airport and managed to find out that our airline's computer system had crashed, resulting in stranded passengers, delayed flights and utter confusion at the airport.
When we finally got to the airport, we got to personally experience the chaos...  There were people everywhere - you couldn’t even identify what was a line and what wasn’t!  We arrived half an hour before our scheduled departure time - exactly at our check-in cutoff time - and our flight wasn’t on the departures board.  I asked an airline staff member what was happening with our flight.  He managed to find out that it would be leaving at some point that day, but that was about all the info we could get.  Standing in the airport, watching masses of people waiting around with their baggage, listening for flight numbers to be yelled out by airline staff so that would-be passengers could raise their hands to identify themselves, I couldn’t help but find the whole thing pretty entertaining - the airport was humming more than the Melbourne casino had been on a recent Friday night!  There was excitement in the crowd when one of the self-check-in kiosks started functioning :)  An hour and a half after we were supposed to take off, our flight number was called...  It was our turn!  We raised our hands... got ushered towards the check-in counters and put into one line... then another line... then yet another... only to find out that there were no seats left on our flight!  It had been oversold and filled with passengers stranded from the previous day, so we were re-booked for a flight the following night.  
I've been meaning to go to the tulip festival in Ottawa for years.  It's funny, but every year I seem to think of it a month or two after it's finished.  When Priscilla and I were on the east coast, a retired Dutch couple who'd been living near Melbourne for over 20 years informed us that the city also had a tulip festival, and it was going to coincide with the time we were going to be in town.  They even offered to take us there!  But the month in Melbourne went by quickly - we ran out of time and didn't manage to take them up on their generous offer.  One of my first thoughts when I found out that we were going to be delayed by a day was that we could go to the tulip festival.  Dianne - who graciously offered to save us from the travel chaos with food and shelter - had the same idea.  The extra day in Melbourne gave us the perfect opportunity to go, so we did!  The tulips were lovely although I have to admit, the festival aspect of it was lacking.  Even though it was raining off and on, I enjoyed it.
The next day, we managed to confirm our flight out in the evening before going to the airport.  When we finally boarded the plane, I had an aisle seat.  The guy across the aisle one row up was reading a newspaper that had a big article about the airline fiasco I'd just experienced.  I skimmed the first paragraph over his shoulder.  My eyes grew wide and I almost started laughing.  I leaned forward in disbelief, trying to get a better look and had to ask the guy if I could borrow his paper when he was done with it.  He was kind enough to oblige and when he did, closer inspection confirmed what I thought I'd read: The airline's statement claimed that a technology giant was responsible for what had happened, because its contracts should have guaranteed back-up systems kicked in when the airline's boarding systems crashed - and that technology giant just happened to be the same company I'm on a leave of absence from!  This might just be the first time ever that a work-related glitch has provided me with the opportunity to stop and smell the roses see the tulips :)

The day we were supposed to leave...
...and the exact same spot 24 hours later.

What a difference a day can make! 

Monday, October 18, 2010

you live, you learn 4

- Reciprocity is a beautiful thing.  And minimum requirement.
- It's easier to ice a cake before cutting it.
- It costs $2.20 to mail a regular letter from Australia to Canada.  In comparison, mailing a card costs only $1.45 and involves writing "card only" in the bottom left hand corner of the envelope to identify that no letter is enclosed.
- Paw paw is what Australians call papaya...  This one took several months to figure out!  And I can't even take the credit for it :)
- Some movie theatres here have reserved seating.  And use bean bags as seats.
- When you go with the flow, it's easy to get caught up in the current.
- It takes approximately 20 hours of labour to handcraft a ukulele.
- Frozen peas taste better frozen.
- The swipe on my emergency replacement credit card finally worked somewhere!... at one of those vending machines that you can rent movies from.  The only form of payment accepted is a credit card so that they can charge you for the full amount in case you don't return it.  (The swipe on my card still doesn't work anywhere else.)
- Even though the temperature is higher here, Melbourne winter can feel colder than Canadian winter because a lot of places don't have central heating.
- You can make a drink that tastes like a Snickers bar using beer.
- In Michael Jackson's song Smooth Criminal, the name repeated over and over in the song is Annie.  (All these years I thought it was Eddie, but was confused because the rest of the lyrics sound like they reference a woman...  Now it all makes sense :) )
- For some species of turtles, the temperature of the sand around the nest determines whether the egg develops into a male or a female.
- Some bank cards have weekly cash withdrawal limits that are less than 7 times the daily limit.
- Today's my 3rd consecutive day at McDonald's because they have free wifi for customers :)
- An air freight copy of O, the Oprah magazine, costs $21.50 AUD.  The sea freight one is a month out-of-date and costs $13.50 AUD.
- You can never see too many sunsets.
- Timing is everything in life.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

and i quote 4

"Ok, so you're from the middle east?" - Random traveller who was trying to understand where in Canada I'm from, after I explained that Toronto is not on either coast as they'd guessed, but east of the centre of the country, close to the US border.

"You want fresh water?" - A puzzled convenience store clerk to me, while glancing at the display of bottled water in the refrigerator, after I asked him if he knew where the nearby address of 1 Freshwater Place was located.

"It depends on which instructor we have!" - Me, laughing, to Simon, our bartending course instructor, after he asked the class which end of the American-style Boston shaker should be used to gather ingredients for a cocktail.  Simon was standing right next to one of our other instructors, Jim, and the two of them had given us conflicting instructions!

And now, for a bit of a series...

"You can go visit Arch and Gaylene!" - My dad's excited first reaction to my travel plans back in March.  Arch used to work with my father years ago, when he and his wife Gaylene temporarily relocated from Australia to Toronto.

"Eww!!  You eat sponge?!?" - My sister Kersti-Li in 1989, in response to Gaylene's explanation of the ingredients in lamingtons - an Australian dessert that includes sponge (cake) - as re-told to me by both Gaylene and her sister Dianne independently.  Kersti and I were both apparently squirming a bit at the thought!

"Actually, it's my birthday today as well." - Gaylene's sister Dianne as she was driving Priscilla and I to Philip Island to see the penguin parade, after I told her that day was my mom's birthday so I was going to call her later to wish her well.

"No, not with me around!" - Me to Gaylene, in response to her question about whether or not the peanut butter cookies I was baking would last.  It took a few seconds for me to realize she meant as in 'not go bad'...  I never get to that point at home and didn't here either - I ended up making a second batch a couple of days later :)

"OMG, that's crazy!!  That means it's been... almost 20 years!" - Me to Gaylene, after establishing that the last time I'd seen her and Arch was in the early 90s.  She has just informed me that they moved back to Australia in 1991 and last visited Canada in 1993.

"How do you think we feel?" - Gaylene to me, in response to my shock and disbelief above.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

a month in Melbourne

After we finished the east coast and got back to Sydney, Priscilla and I started looking online for an apartment in Melbourne, our next planned stop.  The options were limited - some required longer term stays, some were too expensive, some were in undesirable locations...  The selection was looking pretty grim.  We began to wonder if we should cut our stay in Melbourne short to be able to afford a decent place for a shorter period of time.  Just as we were starting to lose hope, an ad came up that was ideal given our timing, location and price criteria - Leyla was looking to sublet her place while she went on vacation for a month.  A few emails and phone calls later, we'd managed to confirm that we would take it!  The deal was going to start in a few short days so we rented a car and spent the weekend driving from Sydney to Melbourne.

We also spent the weekend doing something you shouldn't normally do while traveling - hoarding money - since we knew that payment for the apartment would be a bit of a challenge.  The options available to us were bank transfer or cash, and since neither Priscilla nor I have an Australian bank account we opted to go with the cash option.  Since we both also have bank recommended withdrawal limits, this meant that we had to start stockpiling cash a few days in advance to make sure we'd have enough by the time we got to Melbourne.  We met up with Leyla on Sunday afternoon to check out the place and close the deal.  Sitting in Leyla's apartment, counting out bill after bill after bill to cover a month's rent plus a security deposit, it felt (and probably would've looked, to any outsider) like we were doing a drug deal!  But instead of drugs, we got keys to Leyla's apartment and her promise to vacate it by noon the next day.  I was excited!  It had been over a year since the last time I'd stayed in one place for an entire month... and the prospect of not moving around for a bit had left me dreaming about some of the luxuries an apartment would provide - things like unpacking and being able to buy a normal-sized bottle of shampoo without having to carry it around at its full weight.  :)

Melbourne has a lot to offer and some of the things I enjoyed there included great food and drink (sometimes in hard to find places!), the nearby Yarra Valley wine region, and the opportunity to connect with old friends as well as make some new ones.  Part of my original plan was to spend several months in Melbourne and get a job bartending or in a café.  After I got to Australia, my travel timelines shifted such that the working part of my working holiday visa is no longer part of the plan, since I won't be anywhere long enough to get hired.  Even so, I was still interested in learning how to make espresso-based beverages and a proper cocktail, so I signed up for a barista course and bartending school.  I really enjoyed both of these - there's something very satisfying about being able to make drinks properly.  An added perk of bartending school was being able to enjoy a cocktail at any time of day with zero judgment :)  The most challenging part of all of this was learning how to froth milk properly... it took some practice, but I got it. Never would I have guessed that I'd want to hear the compliment "nice milk!" - but I did.  In fact, it left me beaming :)

One of the highlights for me was definitely the trip to Philip Island.  I'd heard of this place before we arrived and it seemed a bit surreal - stadium seating on a beach to watch penguins come in from the ocean at dusk?  How exactly did this whole thing work?  When someone I hadn't seen since 1989 offered to take us there on a day trip, I was excited and curious to find out.  Turns out everything I heard is true - every night penguins swim in from the ocean, coming back from their multi-day fish trip feasts.  They gather in teams near the water's edge before finding enough group courage to waddle across the beach to their homes.  The ones who've been home come out excitedly to meet them - especially the hungry young ones who've been waiting for food for days, and who can't identify their parents so they approach everyone who goes by!  These penguins are tiny (~30 cm tall) and so cute to watch.  Some of them are so full that they fall over!  Cameras aren't allowed to protect the little creatures so you'll just have to see it for yourself.

Some other images:

A typical alleyway in Melbourne where you
might find popular bars and restaurants...

...some of my attempts at free-pour latte art :) ...
...and my first creation in bartending school:
A pina colada!

Friday, September 24, 2010

photo album

Some pics from the last couple of months...

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

under the sea

I remember discussing scuba diving with my real estate agent Octavio when my condo was being listed for sale.  During our first meeting, after I told him about my travel plans he asked me if I'd been scuba diving before or was planning to go when I was in Australia.  My answer: "Yeah, why not?  I'm up for trying it out - plus I'm a good swimmer so it shouldn't be too hard."  I am very comfortable in water - several years of competitive swimming, lifeguarding and water polo will do that to you - and figured this would all come in handy for scuba diving.  Octavio loves scuba diving and was quick to point out, and emphasize, that swimming and scuba diving are completely different - so just because you're good at one doesn't necessarily mean you'll be good at the other.  I was surprised at this, and remember wondering, how could they be that different?  I jumped at the first opportunity to find out...

While in Port Douglas I signed up for a day trip to go out to the Great Barrier Reef.  The boat was going to stop at two sites where passengers could go snorkeling and/or scuba diving, so I opted in for the introductory scuba dive at the first stop.  On the morning of the trip, while making our wavy way out to the reef, the scuba diving instructor gave a briefing to cover key info required to survive the introductory scuba dive.  Topics included how to communicate underwater (there are several standard hand gestures), how to equalize pressure (to avoid blowing your eardrums - hold your nose and blow out) and the basics on how to use the equipment provided.  The crowd was divided up into groups of four for the first timers.  It seemed safe and simple enough that I felt ready to take the plunge.

The first step was a test just below surface to gauge our level of comfort before officially going down.  After gearing up with a mask, air tank, mouthpiece, weights and flippers, I was told to sit on the edge of the back of the boat and practice breathing through the mouthpiece while I waited for my one-on-one time with the instructor.  I sat there, breathing in and out through the mouthpiece.  It wasn't difficult, just kinda annoying (in a cumbersome way) so I kept cheating by taking it out and breathing normally (i.e. without it :) ).  The guy responsible for herding the intro divers into the water noticed and had me start breathing through the mouthpiece again.  Three times!  I was happy when it was my turn to slide into the water and get started.  After I got into the waves, my instructor Sean said I'd need to hold on to a rope and go one meter below surface to try out what we'd covered in the briefing.  We both went underwater, with me holding the rope to guide my path and gauge depth.  I thought I was doing ok at the beginning... breathing in, and out, and in, and out... and I was, right up until Sean made a hand gesture to ask if I was ok.  I tried to make one in return to say yes and found myself accidentally communicating that I wanted to go back up to the surface (this is what a thumbs up means underwater - go figure!), which I then tried to follow up with other signals to indicate that my first hand gesture was not what I'd wanted to say.  But we hadn't covered the signals I needed so I was trying to make some up!  It wasn't working...  This all took some brain power and time and at some point I noticed that I was lacking oxygen.  In the midst of trying to communicate underwater I'd forgotten to breathe!  And I'd let go of the rope, and was sinking further underwater, fast...  I panicked.  I couldn't wait for Sean's reply - I popped right back up to the surface and pulled out my mouthpiece, gasping for air.  A wave splashed in my face.  Sean followed me back up: "What happened?  What did I tell you to do?"  I wondered if he'd noticed my fear and felt a bit embarrassed that I'd had to come back up before we were done the test.  I tried to hide it: "Umm, I'm not sure what happened.  I guess I let go of the rope?"  Sean gave me some pointers before suggesting we do a re-take.  This time, when we slipped below surface I focused on two things: breathing continuously and holding on to the rope.  Everything else was secondary.  And I managed to pass the surface test!  Two of the four people in my group weren't so lucky...

So then there were just two of us left in our group for the intro scuba dive.  Sean gave us another quick briefing before we started, reminding us that we'd equalize as a group every meter on the way down and about the hand gestures we needed to know.  When we slipped underwater, I knew that this time there'd be no opportunity to pop back up to the surface: I'd need to remember to breathe the entire time.  We started the descent...  I was doing ok with the breathing, and was busy looking around, trying to figure out if we were supposed to equalize yet.  Were the others doing it?  I couldn't tell.  I didn't want to damage my eardrums and had no idea how far down we'd gone, so I went ahead and did it on my own.  The descent continued...  I was still breathing all right, but still there were no signs of group equalization.  I continued to equalize on my own - pretty much constantly, along with reminding myself to breathe - and the next thing I knew we were at the bottom, next to some coral and just above sand.  Sean made a hand gesture - one that hadn't been covered in the briefing.  I wanted to address whatever he was saying but couldn't, because I literally had no idea what that was!  Now that we were at the bottom I had the added complication of trying to avoid swimming into coral.  At the same time I had to continue trying to figure out what my instructor was saying.  And respond.  And pose for the underwater photographer.  And breathe.  It's amazing how much more difficult things can be when your survival is at stake!  Things that you take for granted on land - like your ability to breathe and communicate - are a challenge underwater.  I'm not gonna lie - there were definitely a few split seconds of panic where I forgot to breathe because I was focused on something else - between the reef, the photographer and the communication attempts, there was a lot going on!  I can totally see how people get overwhelmed and feel the need to head up for air at the surface.  The whole thing passed very quickly and before I knew it we were climbing back into the boat.  I'd barely had time to enjoy the underwater scenery!  Luckily I got some snorkeling in afterwards...

Later that day, after we got back on shore I decided to get some exercise.  Running on the beach, I found myself naturally breathing in and out through my mouth - a skill that just hours earlier had seemed so difficult and unnatural underwater that I had to constantly remind myself to do so in order to survive the dive.  How is it possible that something that happens so instinctively and automatically in everyday life can all of a sudden make you feel like a fish out of water?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

reality check

Something happened the other day that I wasn't expecting at all: I actually considered the possibility of cutting my trip short.  This had nothing to do with being homesick or not having a good time - quite the contrary, I've been so busy enjoying every second of my trip that I haven't really missed anything from home except for people and hot yoga.  But something happened back home that made me wish I was there to help out...  It took a couple days for me to find out what was actually going on (it can be hard to reach people on the other side of the planet) which gave my imagination time to go wild with possibilities, leaving me in an unsettling state of constant distress...  I was happy and relieved when I finally found out that everything's ok.  Think I'm good to stick around here a bit longer now... :)

Monday, September 6, 2010

you live, you learn 3

- Spelling is optional.
- Things change.  (Like my 3-digit luggage lock combination, randomly one morning without being reset... while it was securing my bag.)
- Sometimes the hardest sign to find is the one for the road you're on.
- All peacocks are male.  The female is called a peahen.  The generic term is peafowl.
- Rainforest smells can range from rotting vegetation to refreshing.  You never know which one you'll experience next or how long it'll last.
- People here tend to say "double _" to spell things out.  Of the dozen or so people that have read my last name as K-W-T-A-N when spelling it out loud, only one has noticed that this actually forms a different name.
- The great barrier reef is actually made up of over 2900 individual reefs.
- Crocodile tastes like chicken with the occasional hint of fish.
- During the Australian election campaign, the Prime Minister candidate debate was moved because it conflicted with Master Chef, a reality TV show that's a cooking competition.
- In Sydney, you need to hail buses in order for them to pick you up from the stop.  You also need to pay every time you switch buses - they don't have the concept of transfers.
- Female butterflies mate only once in their lives.
- Some species of turtles breathe through their anus.
- Over 90% of people who get bitten by snakes in Australia were trying to capture or kill it.
- Swimming in water with crocs is considered normal for some Aussies.
- The Sydney Opera House tour was delivered live via poor quality headphones.
- Even though he lived for 25 years after construction was completed, the architect who designed the Sydney Opera House never saw the completed building.
- Wollemi pines were thought to be extinct for millions of years until a bushwalker found some near Sydney in 1994.  (Prior to that, people knew they existed only from fossils.)
- Kangaroos like wasabi peas.
- Some things are worth repeating.
- Happy hour is fabulous at any time of day :)

Saturday, September 4, 2010

and i quote 3

"You're turning me on." - Message shown on the display of a Virgin broadband modem when you turn it on.

"Are you planning to go to uni?" - James, who tried to pick me up at Gilligan's in Cairns, making an assumption about my stage of life and next big decision.

"They're not the smartest animals, but they sure do taste good!" - Russell, our second WWOOFing host, appreciating select qualities of a cow that decided to cross the highway in front of our car, forcing him to slam on both the brakes and horn to avoid hitting it.

"Even if you win the rat race, you're still a rat." - Message on the front cover of a blank greeting card depicting a rat emerging from the bush only to be unknowingly overshadowed by an onlooking black cat.

"May contain butter." - Package of monounsaturated spread.

"Ah... it's the cold I'm detecting." - Produce seller at Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne to me, after I told him I was a Canadian with a bit of a cold in response to his inquiry about my accent.

"Ingredients: Love, Purified Water..., Love." - Label on a bottle of cola-scented bubble bath I got, produced by a local company that puts the most important component of their products both first and last on all ingredient lists.

"Why are you there?  Is it because your bed is there?" - My 4-year-old niece Maaja during a phone call home, trying to understand my motivation for traveling.

"We are all visitors to this time, this place.  We are just passing through.  Our purpose here is to observe, to learn, to grow, to love... and then we return home." - Australian Aboriginal Proverb

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

further up the east coast

In Mission Beach, I saw a rare sight: A cassowary in the wild!  I had never heard of cassowaries until I saw one at the zoo in Sydney a couple months ago.  I remember thinking, why haven't I heard of this thing before?  It's more endangered than the koala... and apparently less popular - so it gets less press - even though cassowaries are a critical part of the rainforest ecosystem (they disperse seeds that other animals can't to regenerate the forest).  Although these birds are known to move quickly, this particular cassowary took its time crossing the street, sauntering in the rain in front of our car.  I was lucky enough to see one further north as well, in the parking lot for a rainforest walk in Cape Tribulation.  That one moved much faster - by the time I jumped out of the car (fyi not recommended, as they can be aggressive), I barely had time to pull out my camera before it disappeared into the forest!  But I did manage to get this shot... :)

I saw a lot of beaches on the east coast, and my favourite was Four Mile Beach in Port Douglas.  It wasn't the most beautiful but it offered something the others didn't have: Yoga on the beach.  As a hot yoga addict back home, I'd been suffering from withdrawal for some time...  And although this wasn't in an infrared heated room, yoga with the ocean in the background sounded pretty appealing, so I went to a class.  I'm happy I did!  Lying on the beach in Savasana, listening to the sound of the waves coming in, I noticed something - or perhaps more accurately, the absence of something.  Other than a few traces in my jaw, there was no tension in my body.  This was a new experience for me - and one I wasn't expecting to have on this trip!  Or ever...

There were a lot of rainforests to visit in northern Queensland, and after hiking through a few of them I opted to gain a new perspective by going jungle surfing in Cape Tribulation.  I saw the Daintree Rainforest up in the canopy, zip-lining from platform to platform.  This rainforest is the world's oldest - and at 135 million years old, it was around at the same time as the dinosaurs.  The tour guides managed to keep our group in line, and entertained, by calling us the names on our helmets...  Mine was Stiffler's Mum :)

Priscilla and I tried to be strategic about selecting a second WWOOFing experience as the last leg of our east coast trip.  After scouring through the host listings, we categorized the possibilities into definitely, probably not and no way.  (We'd learned from Valerie during our previous experience that "mulching" meant handling manure, which didn't sound like something we'd enjoy, so this was a key criteria in our evaluation.)  We tried to book a couple of more appealing places further in advance, only to find out they were unable to commit to our requested dates at that time (for one place it was way too early, for another it was way too late)...  We also had some communication issues, with a few unreturned phone calls/emails...  Then we forgot about it for a bit, and all of a sudden it was just a few days before we'd planned to WWOOF.  And nothing was booked.  In a bit of a panic, we started making phone calls...  We had communication issues again, this time from the phone booth randomly hanging up in the middle of calls...  Some people weren't answering their landlines or mobiles...  Things from the probably not list started to slide up into why not?...  When we called, Russell answered - and had space for us!  After all that strategizing, in the end it all came down to who was there to confirm availability when we needed to book something, and host us for the timing we had in mind :)

So our last stop was in Mt Surprise, 300 km west of Cairns, for some WWOOFing with Russell.  His listing said that he had a small farm incorporating a museum, campground, restaurant and reptile demos.  Work would include planting, harvesting and selling of organic produce (and no mulching! :) ).  I was excited at the prospect of eating healthy for a week - based on the last experience, I was under the assumption that WWOOFing hosts live off their land and eat what they grow.

Arriving in Mt Surprise certainly was a surprise, in many ways.  Russell hadn't planted his organic garden this year as he'd been too busy... hosting a camp for 15 construction workers who were building a bridge nearby!  There was temporary housing set up on Russell's property for these men to live in - these long, portable-type things called dongas that had individual rooms for everyone.  We had to negotiate our responsibilities, as what we were expecting to do was no longer a possibility.  Russell wanted help looking after the crew, mainly in the form of doing dishes after breakfast and dinner.  He told us we could help out Cindy, the lady who ran his café, during her working hours, supporting her efforts to look after the construction workers.  It turned out that his restaurant - and our diet for that week - had a typical outback menu (meaning meat, burgers, fries, toasted sandwiches) rather than the organic veggies I'd been craving.  The café menu items are all things I typically don't make at home, and felt I shouldn't make if we were going to charge people for them, so I informed Russell accordingly.  He said he didn't have any expectations for us to do any food preparation - that he'd cook breakfast and dinner for the construction workers, and that Cindy would take care of the café during the day.

Shortly after our arrival, Priscilla and I found out that another WWOOFer - Sachika, a young woman from Japan - had just left Mt Surprise unexpectedly that morning.  She'd left a note for Russell and Cindy saying that she couldn't get used to this environment, and got up early enough to avoid saying goodbye in person.  Apparently there were a few events leading up to this unexpected departure:

- Sachika wanted to call a cab while she was in Mt Surprise to get around town.  With a population of 70, this town doesn't have any cabs - or need any for that matter!  There's nothing close enough to go to that you can't walk to in less than five minutes.  Everything else is really far away.
- The night before, Sachika had found what looked like mouse droppings on the sheets, freaked out and stripped the bed to sleep directly on the mattress.

Who knew culture shock could be defined by taxi availability and gecko poo?

Throughout the week, I had the opportunity to learn about and handle snakes.  Russell is a man dedicated to clearing the bad rap snakes have by default with the general public, and his informative snake show is filled with stories that help clear the misconceptions.  I've handled snakes before - reluctantly, with fear - but after spending a week there I was no longer uncomfortable with snakes...  In fact, I was surprisingly fond of some of them.  Funny how quickly things can grow on you!

I also had the opportunity to get to know some of the construction workers quite well.  Not since Stampede last summer have I seen such a concentration of men seeking female attention!  They were all happy to share their life experiences and lessons with me, reinforcing the need to be true to yourself while respecting others.  There isn't much to do in the outback, so after getting back from work a lot of them would start drinking and end up having a bonfire after dinner.  Every night.  Although they were full of wisdom, they were also full of alcohol and a couple of these men brought new meaning to the term stupid drunk - the morning after Priscilla and I decided to brave the campfire, we found out that three of them decided that it would be a good idea to go hunting for wild boar in the middle of the night.  They were already quite drunk when I'd left at 1 am and had apparently continued drinking until they decided to leave for the hunt at 3 am.  The hunt entailed driving around the outback in an open vehicle with some of them hanging out of it with knives and other sharp objects so that they could try to spear any prey they came upon.  I cannot believe they thought this was a good idea!  Fortunately no one got hurt.

On Sunday nights, the pub in town doesn't serve food so more tourists than usual come wandering into Russell's place.  When a group of hungry tourists came into the café after the construction crew had finished eating, I asked Russell if he could make them something.  He suggested I heat up some leftovers from our dinner that I'd just packed away.  I looked at him incredulously, wondering how many times I'd been served leftovers in small town cafés.  It wasn't that the food was bad or old - I'd literally just put it away - it was just that it was, well, leftover!... not made to order.  "You do know how to do that, right?" Russell asked, clearly concerned that I might not have the skills to support this request given our earlier conversation about cooking.  "Yup, I'm on it," I replied.  I prepared and delivered dinner to these four tourists - reheated BBQ'd steak and sausages as well as multiple salads.  Russell supplemented this with a batch of fresh french fries.  After dinner, they couldn't stop complimenting the food!  Success!!  Our responsibilities evolved as the days passed, and I actually did end up making quite a bit of food throughout the week - sandwiches in the café, pizza for dinner, plus dessert several nights in a row, which was an unusual treat for the construction workers.  Needless to say, they didn't want us to leave when it was time to go.

After Mt Surprise we spent another night in Cairns before flying back to Sydney, where I experienced a bit of culture shock myself.  Although I'd been in Sydney twice already and seen that it was filled with the hustle and bustle of a big city as well as tons of people, this time it struck me that these people were mostly strangers to each other - strangers who couldn't be bothered interacting with each other as they tried to get on with their busy days.  It all of a sudden felt surprisingly empty compared to Mt Surprise.  Thankfully we were staying with another friend of a friend, who gave us a warm welcome...

Monday, August 30, 2010

up the east coast

July and the first half of August were spent between Sydney and Cooktown, with a few ventures inland.  Now that I have some time and internet access, here are select experiences from the east coast road trip...

Before leaving Sydney, Priscilla and I signed up to be Willing Workers On Organic Farms (WWOOF).  This program allows you to work for 4-6 hours per day in exchange for room and board, and we decided to do this twice on the east coast - once at the start and once at the end.  Our first WWOOFing stop was in Willina, northwest of Newcastle, with Bill and Jilliana - medical herbalists who operate a wholesale plant nursery as well as a holistic health practice that manufactures herbal medicine and beauty products.  Their listing said: If you're interested in health, natural healing and disease prevention, amazing Greek vegetarian food then you will enjoy our paradise.  It also said: You will live in our barn house as part of our family.  After a few years of naturopathic treatment to optimize my own health, this place sounded pretty intriguing, and Priscilla and I felt like we'd lucked out when we confirmed they had availability to host us.  After the excessive proportions of meat in the outback diet, I was also ready for a digestive break and excited about Greek vegetarian, thinking about veggie moussaka and Greek salad (mmm... feta).  I was also curious to see what living in a barn would be like, although a bit apprehensive about it at the same time - would I be sleeping on hay?  I would soon find out.

It was interesting to see how Bill and Jilliana described their lifestyle in the listing compared to my experience of how they actually live...  We left Sydney in the evening and drove straight up to Bill and Jilliana's 400-acre property, arriving quite late at night.  It was dark, but I could see that the house looked like a giant shed.  Bill met us outside and lit the way for us to quietly climb up the stairs into the loft that housed our beds.  The next morning we woke up to find Valerie, a 19-year-old university student on exchange from New Jersey, and a fellow WWOOFer, in the third bed in our loft (which was surprisingly comfortable and cozy for a barn/shed!).  She gave us the lay of the land: Bill and Jilliana only ate organic food; didn't eat breakfast (to give their digestive systems a break); didn't drink water (to reduce the amount of work their kidneys had to do); and only ate properly food combined meals (too much to explain here, please google).  This meant that they only ate 2 meals per day, one primarily consisting of fruits and the other one was usually made up of vegetables and beans.  My visions of vegetarian moussaka vanished into thin air.  Bill later informed us that their diet was based on the ancient Greeks.  It was like doing a detox by default - which, in the end, I actually quite enjoyed, even though it was unexpected... I was just happy that my own quest for better health had already at least introduced me to some of the concepts Bill and Jilliana lived by.  Otherwise it probably would've been too much of a shock!  Especially with the physical labour...

Priscilla and I helped Bill and Jilliana with both of their businesses, with the majority of our efforts focused on the plant nursery.  We weeded in the nursery and packed up plants on two trucks - one for each of the Sunday markets that Bill and Jilliana attended as vendors.  As someone who packs frequently, I have to say that Bill and Jilliana took the concept of efficient packing to the next level!  Plants were stacked tight and staggered at least 3 pots high.  We packed the trucks a day early and then got up at 3 am on Sunday to do the 2 hour drive to the market with Bill.  It was still dark outside and on the truck while I was unpacking, so I had to be careful not to drop pots of plants as I pulled them out - which was actually surprisingly challenging!  We were set up and ready to go well before the market opened at 8 am, at which point Bill asked us to help out during the market as well.  Tasked with selling plants, I felt like I was on The Apprentice - except that rather than competing to win the opportunity to work for Donald Trump, my prize would be having less plants to re-pack onto the truck on the way home - which all of a sudden was oddly exciting!  I was not equipped for the job...  I gave away all my plants a few years ago to avoid killing them (since I was never home), and consequently I lacked the product knowledge required to support the inquiries of customers striving to make an informed purchase.  I decided to focus on supporting customers who'd already made a decision, and getting those who needed info access to Bill.  It worked well - when the market closed, Bill said that sales were higher than usual given the time of year.  We still had quite a few plants to re-stack on the truck, but I was happy to do it - and that he trusted me enough to allow me to contribute to his livelihood.
Right after leaving Bill and Jilliana's I found myself in Hunter Valley - one of Australia's wine regions - eating and drinking at a micro-brewery just hours after leaving their home.  The next day was occupied by a wine tour.  It's funny how quickly and dramatically things can change - and how easy it is to adapt! :)

You can feel the energy in the air when you get to Byron Bay!  This was the first stop on the east coast where I got that sense of relief that you get when you arrive at your vacation destination after a particularly stressful and busy period (even though I can't say that I've been stressed or busy lately!).  Byron Bay welcomes visitors with sunshine, beautiful beaches, great food, alternative therapies and interesting people - some of whom told me things I already knew.  I totally get why some people never make it further up the east coast.  After some surfing lessons...

...I decided to get a picture of my aura taken.  I was actually tempted to perform a very, um, scientific experiment of getting my aura cleansed (a service readily available in Byron Bay!) and then getting a second photo taken to see the difference.  After my first aura photo I realized there was no need to go any further, as the reading felt accurate.  Red represents vital energy, grounding, passion, determination, will and focus.  My reading revealed that I am:

- Considered trustworthy, competent and determined by people who meet me
- In the middle of a cycle
- Capable of committing to a cause to effect change
- Sometimes overly focused on others/external things and for this reason need to make sure I take care of myself

I was also informed that I need to get clear on what I want for the future - which, ironically, is the reason I decided to take some time off in the first place.  It's exciting when life gives you confirmation that you've taken a step in the right direction... regardless of the source :)

When I was in Hervey Bay I called Neil and Claire, friends of a family friend in Toronto.  I had never met these people before.  They didn't know I might be contacting them either so until I picked up the phone and explained our mutual connection they had no idea I even existed - and even so, they excitedly invited Priscilla and I to stay with them in Bundaberg for a night.  We arranged to visit them a few days later and I have to admit, some of my initial excitement was not just at the prospect of meeting these people I'd heard so much good stuff about, but also because of the idea of not living in a hostel for one night... showering in flip flops and sleeping with things you don't want people to steal in your bunk bed gets old kinda quickly.

When we arrived Neil and Claire welcomed Priscilla and I with typical Aussie hospitality - meaning, they told us to feel at home in their home and actually meant it.  And I did feel at home, right from the start - how can you not enjoy being in a house designed with a special nook for happy hour?  We first met up with Claire at the Bundaberg Barrel and went to the house to meet Neil, who had come home to greet us between work and his evening commitment.  Neil and Claire are avid travellers and we immediately bonded by sharing our various adventures, getting into a conversation about the realities of travel that left us all erupting with laughter.  I was laughing so hard my cheeks hurt and it felt like my abs had gotten a good workout.  Since we'd blocked in Neil's car on our arrival and he needed to get out, I went to move our car.  After I got in I finally stopped laughing, looked up and found myself in the front left-hand side of the car - the passenger side down under. I smiled and started laughing again: "Well, I guess I better get in the other side." Neil replied: "I was wondering what you were doing!" Instinct is a funny thing, and can kick in when you least expect it.

We were having such a good time that we ended up extending our visit in Bundaberg, and the rest of it was equally fabulous and entertaining!  We toured around the area, shared some more of our experiences, ate some authentic and traditional Aussie treats - homemade meat pie and BBQ - and used the happy hour space daily :)  When it was time to leave I didn't want to go...  I was hoping time would somehow just pause so that we could hang around a bit longer without compromising the rest of our desired itinerary.  Unfortunately that never happens.  We had to move on.  The day we left, Claire woke us up to say goodbye before leaving for work.  Neil came home between his morning commitment and work to say goodbye to us.  The night before, Neil had thanked Priscilla and I for treating him and Claire so well, saying that it isn't often that they have the opportunity to connect with people from our generation at that level.  He reinforced that sentiment again that morning.  After we said our goodbyes and Neil left for work, I felt completely overwhelmed...  I couldn't help it... I started bawling.  Uncontrollably.  These people, who days earlier had been complete strangers, had generously invited us into their home and graciously hosted us for a few days - and they were the ones thanking us for treating them well!  It seemed to me like it should be the other way around.  I've realized that although it was hard to go, this was the ideal parting - how often do both parties think they got the better end of the deal and express gratitude for it?  Not often enough I'd say...

A few more stops down the road, Priscilla and I were at Airlie Beach.  It seemed a bit cold to go snorkeling, so we opted to see the Whitsundays via a scenic flight on a seaplane.  We booked a plane ride for the following afternoon through our hostel shortly after our arrival.  When the booking agent was explaining logistics, she told us the airport was 10 minutes down the road.  Priscilla and I nodded in recognition - we'd just driven by some signs for the airport turn-off on the way into town.  I was excited - I'd been on a seaplane for a work trip between Vancouver and Victoria a few years ago, which had been pretty amazing.  And that was for utilitarian travel!  A flight designed for touristic purposes in a part of the world known for breathtaking views would surely be at least equally enjoyable.  The next morning we walked around and tried to fill up our day before the fight, wandering around a market and making some phone calls home.  We hopped in the car early and started driving to the airport.  Ten minutes down the road, we hadn't seen any signs for the airport.  Although I'd been going the speed limit, I wondered if I'd been driving too slowly.  Maybe that was why we hadn't seen them yet?  Five minutes later, there were still no signs... the airport turn-off was further out than either of us remembered it being.  We discussed, and eliminated, the possibility of there being more than one airport in the area - Airlie Beach, with a population of less than 3,000, was simply too small to support 2 airports... right?  When we finally got to the turn-off, I was feeling a bit unsettled...  Why had it taken us so much longer to get there than it was supposed to?  And why was it not in the direction of water?  I was still optimistic, guessing that perhaps the plane took off from land and landed on water (a convertible seaplane? how cool!)...  The additional travel time meant that we were no longer early, so Priscilla jumped out of the car to run in and tell them we were there for our flight while I went to park.  When I got into the building, Priscilla was running out - there were two airports, and we were at the wrong one!  My cell phone rang.  It was the scenic flight people, to ask if we were still coming.  I quickly explained our predicament, only to find out that they couldn't wait for us to get from one airport to the other.  The plane was going to leave without us!  After spending the morning trying to figure out how to kill time before our afternoon flight, we were going to miss it...  We debated sticking around for another night to catch a flight the next morning but ended up opting against it - the time felt right for us to move on and I think that I just wasn't meant to be on that flight.  (They also kindly refunded our deposit, since it was an honest mistake...  Whitsunday Airport vs. Whitsunday Coast Airport - who named these??)  So the Whitsundays - a "must-do" in Australia - will have to wait until next time... 
More to come!  Stay tuned...

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

and i quote 2

Expanded to include some additional sources...  Enjoy!

"Are you guys normal backpackers?" - Travel agent in Byron Bay, when Priscilla and I were unwilling to book a day trip through him 10 days in advance, as that's way too much advanced planning these days for that type of thing.  (We've since established that we are in fact not normal backpackers... but for other reasons :) ).

"You're just another tree to him!" - Tour guide at the Bungalow Bay Koala Village on Magnetic Island, to let the people who'd paid the $14 surcharge to hold the koala know that unlike the humans, the animal would not be emotionally attached after this experience.

"F@#%!! I was waaay off on that one!" - A bouncer's expression after it changed when he found the date of birth on my Ontario driver's license after carding me to make sure I was old enough to enter the establishment in Airlie Beach.

"Anti-social behaviour will not be tolerated." - Beach Hotel bar coaster in Byron Bay.

"You'll see it," and/or "You can't miss it." - Every single person who has provided me with directions in Australia.  These often refer to things like "a big tree/rock/field on your right" as there regularly isn't signage to refer to.

"Looks like they've set up a bit of a minefield for me." - Russell, a resident of a small town in the outback who gave us a lift, as he swerved to avoid the cattle dung while we were driving on an unfenced road...  It had rained the day before and apparently cows prefer wet asphalt to wet ground, making it a bit more challenging than usual.

"We're just going to cuddle... non-sexually." - Laura, one of my hostel dorm roomies, to let the ladies in our female dorm room know that a man would be joining her in bed. (I found out the next morning her statement was not true for the entire night, and was thankful I'd invested in noise-isolating earphones before leaving home and then fallen asleep wearing them that night.)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

you live, you learn 2

- It really is a small world!
- You can't tell how heavy a plant is just by looking at it. You need to actually pick it up.
- Although tipping isn't customary in Australia, every credit card receipt I've had has included a tip line (even the one from the travel agent for the outback tour!).
- Some days, you actually do need a winter jacket in Sydney during winter.
- Blogger formatting doesn't always post the way it appears in preview mode.
- Penguins are found exclusively in the southern hemisphere.
- To minimize tearing while chopping, rinse an onion in water after removing the outer layer.
- Female kangaroos are able to freeze development of an embryo.
- Rembrandt painted mostly on hemp.
- It's all relative.
- The swipe on my emergency replacement MasterCard doesn't really work even though it reads the number. You need to punch in the number for the transaction to actually go through.
- Things get lost in translation.  Sometimes even when you speak the same language.
- To make banana ice cream: 1) Peel ripe bananas and cut into smaller pieces. 2) Put in freezer for at least 24 hours. (Freezer burn is ok.) 3) Put into blender or food processor.  If consistency is icy add unfrozen ripe banana. 4) Enjoy!
- If something is truly important to you, you will create space for it in your life.
- Most wines are not vegan friendly.
- You can select an automatic check-in option for domestic flights within Australia.
- Labelling roadways is optional over here, both on maps and on street posts.
- It's actually possible to have too many hours in a day.  Who knew?