Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Broome - The Best Outback Experience EVER

Hi everyone! Really sorry I haven't written in a while, but I thought it would be incredibly boring to listen to me rattle off all of the boring school stuff I have been doing. From april 6-11, I was up in Broome, Western Australia, which is about a 2.5 hour plane ride north of Perth/Fremantle area. This town is in the West Kimberley, which is a northern region of Australia where many Aboriginal communities live. These are some of the experiences we had and the things we did so I can remember them all. This experience has positively changed my life and it is hard to put that into words so that isn't included here. 4/6: Today we left at 4:45 a.m. It was very early, and Steve and Brandon (people on my trip) went around waking up everyone to make sure we were up and at 'em. Our plane ride took longer than expected, because we stopped at this random place on the way to Broome. When we got here, Peta was here, being her usual self. She is one of the study abroad directors, and let's just say she is one of a kind. We went to the UNDA-Broome campus and stayed there for the night. During the day we went to this cool lookout pint that had dinosaur prints visible at very low tides. It was called Gantheaume point. While we were there, it started to pour! The group that was up in Broome before ours had a lot of rain too, and we thought that this must only be the beginning of our great weather. The first picture is one of the ones I got looking off to the side, and the other is one that Sara took. The red color of the ground was absolutely amazing, and the picturesque skies the whole trip due to our interesting weather conditions were so great! Reflecting back, it actually was great weather because then it wasn't as hot as it normally would've been. Broome is hot and humid compared to Fremantle/Perth, usually 10 degrees hotter, and very humid. We got really wet when we tried to run back to the shelter. Next we went to Cable Beach, where it continued to rain. It was one of the most fun days ever! We climbed over these rocks on the beach and then basically played on the beach for the whole day. This was really fun because our group got a lot closer. We were all down on the beach, all soaking wet, and we got to act like little kids! We played games in the sand, tried to get some pictures where we were jumping, watched a great sunset, and did some water aerobics! Here are some pictures of what we did that day: We ate some yummy pizza for dinner that night, and hit the hay. 4/7: Today we woke up early and made our way to the Morgans' house. They are our Aboriginal hosts. We talked about racism and dreamtime with Collin, and then we went on a camel ride! We were supposed to do this the first day, but it got rained out, and we were worried we wouldn't get to do this! This is one of the biggest tourist things to do in Broome. Here are some pictures from that: Our camel's name was Alice, and she was the newest camel in the train which we found out after we had gotten on her. It was really scary getting up on the camels and back down, because they basically sat down on the ground. They have an extra joint in their legs than humans do which was cool to see (for me at least). It felt like you were going to fall off though when we were doing this. We came back and hung out a little more after this, had some good spaghetti that Maria made, and I even got to play some guitar and digeridoo (can't really play that, but tried!) There were some good laughs and we all had a great time, and it was Alison's birthday! Maria gave her a cool print of some Aboriginal artwork that Bec did (Collin and Maria's daughter) which was pretty cool. After that everyone went to bed again. 4/8: Today we went out to a park pretty close to the Morgans' house in Broome. There we talked about the origin of humans and how the Aboriginal people see it. We also got to make and throw spears, which I was pretty horrible at. After this we went to the Broome pool and paid $3 to get in and swim for a half hour before they closed. We thought it was going to be a waste of money, but it was so refreshing after sweating all day. Then e came back and ate some food, had some group discussion and went to bed. 4/9: This was my favorite day of the whole trip. We woke up really early (6:45 a.m.) and got into our cars to head out on a 4-hour car ride to an Aboriginal community. This car ride was really bumpy and we felt like we were on an adventure ride! We got to the Bidyadanga Aboriginal community to pick up some locals, grab a quick snack, and then we headed out to this beach, which I believe is called Missile (or Mission) Beach. This is on Aboriginal grounds and one is only brought out here by the local Aboriginal people. We pulled up on this FANTASTIC beach that was incredibly gorgeous! Here are some examples, of the picturesque skies (that we enjoyed the whole trip if you can't tell already) and some shells we found. There were shells everywhere because this beach is not public that were so perfect. When we first got there, we were introduced to the land. We had to take a mouthful of ocean water and spit it back out. While here we did a lot of fishing, walking in the soft sand, and enjoying life. Tony from our group was nicknamed "Mungaroo" which mean "man who is like woman." He spent a lot of time talking to the Aboriginal women elders and making bread etc. with them, they thought it would be funny to give him this name, and he really connected with the Aboriginal people. Shane said that he would have done what many anthropologists have been trying to do for years. It was really nice of these local Aborigines to bring us out there; we were some of the first white people to be able to visit this site, with less than 50 seeing the site before. On the way back from the beach, Collin shared with us stories about spirits. He was very convincing, and I think I really believed what he was saying. We got to bed soon after arriving home to a wonderful dinner that Bec prepared for us at her house. We got to meet Collin and Maria's grandkids who were SO cute! CJ is 18 months, and Kendra is 3. 4/10: Today was Kelsey's birthday. We got up early and drove out to this beach with mud flats to go crabbing. This was not my favorite experience of the trip. After sinking into the mud on numerous occasions past shoe level and nearly losing my shoes each time, I fell backwards after losing my balance, sinking my butt into the mud. I then gave up crabbing soon afterward because this was a very unpleasant feeling. My butt was wet for most of the day, and then the mud hardened and was very uncomfortable. However, this did not retract from the rest of the day so much once I was able to get over that. We walked back to the gazebo we had set up for the day, and I endured a few laughs from Collin, Mark, and Ben about the condition I was in. The tide came up rather quickly and we went to wash off the mud from our skin. After that, we had some good talks and Bec made some awesome art and Colin carved a "boab" nut. He gave this to Katie at the end ouf our trip because she helped Kelsey out most of the trip. Kelsey fractured a bone in her foot playing footy and has been on crutches for about 3 weeks at this point. I talked more with Mark an everyone had a good time. Brad caught a shark while we were there, that was probably about 2 feet long, and also two salmon were caught which was unheard of in this area according to Collin, fishing from the shore anyway. We saw a bunch of stingray jump up in the air as well trying to catch fish, and even one big shark! After this we went back to the pool for a longer time, and then we went to a different area by Gantheaume Point to watch the sunset. I had another discussion with Mark who was really an incredible guy. This is what it looked like at sunset: That night back at camp we thanked the Morgans for everything they did for us and Collin had a discussion about spirits, similar to our car ride, with the whole group. Some things we talked about were the abilities to feel and see spirits, the spirits that he saw at our rest stop and from past groups, and his experiences with bad spirits. 4/11: Today we woke up and packed up our tents and belongings. We had another little chat with Collin about Stolen Generations and oter things. We then had our own chance to make Aboriginal art! I will post mine later when I get it back, however mine is not the greatest. We then bought a piece of Aboriginal art for $100 which is really great and will remind us of our trip forever. We got to the airport and said goodbye to the Morgans which was really sad, and took a group photo! I will really mis the people I met on this trip, but am very glad for the experiences I had. Here is a photo of Emily and I with Collin:

Monday, February 28, 2011

Life at UNDA!

Hey guys!

I have officially been at school for a week now, so I thought I would update whoever cares to read this.

The first week was hot. And I mean hot. It has been 95+ Fahrenheit every day I have been here, since Monday February 21st. In the shade it isn't so bad but in the sun it is pretty hot. Basically, you walk around with another skin layer that is composed of your sweat, all the time. At least there is one room in our dorm that is air-conditioned, as are the classrooms and the library.

Our dorm building is awesome. It is an old hotel, one of the oldest buildings here in Fremantle, Western Austalia. We are about two blocks of walking distance to the beach, and the ocean water is quite cold. We have gorgeous sunsets, because the sun sets over the ocean. Emily and I's room is quite big, we have plenty of space and we have a door that leads out to the balcony that runs the length of our building! We shall put up pictures hopefully soon.

The first week of school was orientation. We had a few dorm meetings, and had some academic orientation and getting oriented with the community.

My 21st birthday was really fun! In the morning, all 86 of us international students (mostly US) hopped on a train with our group leaders and enacted an Amazing Race around Perth. We had a bunch of clues to get us to certain areas and had questions to answer. It would have been really fun, but, the heat was really intense this day. My group did quite horrible but I think we got most of the right answers.
At night, we went out on the town for the first time. I have to say, alcoholic drinks do not taste good whatsoever. Maybe that'll change with time, who knows. They are also really expensive down here.

We had our first day of class for the semester on Monday, Feb. 28th, the day I am writing this. I didn't have class til 3:30, so Emily and I went to get books, and did a couple other things during the day. I walked to my class and there was this huge group of people standing outside. I soon came to realize that I am in the introductory class to the Biomedical Science major, or one of them. There are 207 people enrolled in my class, mostly in the 17-18 age bracket. So that first class was an experience to say the least. I definitely felt like a number.

We have been eating some good food down here, mostly pasta and tacos that we cook for ourselves. We are trying to not eat horribly which would be so easy to do when you cook everything yourself.

If anyone wants to hear anything more specific or has any suggestions, feel free to comment! Or send me an email at:


Sunday, February 20, 2011

Last Travelling Post!

Sorry for the long entries, I typed them each day instead of all at once so I could remember more!

2/16: Today was our departure day from Sydney. We got up around 10, said goodbye to our “lovely” hostel room, and made our way down to reception. We checked out and then waited outside for our shuttle. Shuttle was boarded a little late, but we got to the airport with 2 hours of downtime. We had lunch at the food court, at a place called Red Rooster, which was like chicken and fries. We then bought some amazing KRISPY KREME DONUTS! Same thing as the States, can you believe it? I was so excited, and ate mine before we got off our plane. The plane boarded a little late so we were half an hour late to our destination. We called our new shuttle bus and got our bags and made our way to Gilligan’s Backpackers in Cairns. Cairns is up near the Great Barrier Reef, and has weather similar to a rainforest. In other words, it has been very hot and humid. We checked in and made our way to our room. It is a lot nicer than our other places. For the same price, we are in a 4-person dorm room (which only has us 3 in it so far), and it has an en-suite bathroom, with separate rooms for sink, toilet, and shower. The shower stays the same temperature the whole time, and the sink is big enough to wash your face in (these two things were not so in Sydney). Also, the bed is not as hard as a backboard like it was in Sydney, and I do know what those feel like from my EMT training. We unpacked a little and went to eat our free dinner that they serve each night, which really isn’t all that great. We went over to the mall, and passed by this tree that houses at least a hundred little parrots that squawk incessantly. Luckily, they are about two blocks away, but they were quite loud. The mall was closed as usual, because everything down here closes so early, but the grocery stores were open. Emily and I bought guacamole ingredients, which included Doritos “original” flavor, which are like tortilla chips, and coriander, which is what cilantro is called down here. Our hostel has a nightclub/bar and pool which aren’t all that interesting to me at least.
2/17: On Thursday, we didn’t have anything planned. We woke up late morning, and went to Cairns Central (shopping mall) and ate lunch at the food court there. Emily and I ate at the Bucking Bull for lunch. Emily had a yummy baked potato and I had a breakfast sandwich. We then walked around the mall a little bit, and headed back to our room. We then went to find where our scuba-diving trip would be taken off from, and saw this really cool pool area by the marina. We got back and watched some HOUSE and watched the movie Daddy Day Care. The heat here is quite sweltering to say the least, we are still trying to get used to it. Luckily, our dorm room is air-conditioned, and some stores are, but the rest of the backpackers isn’t and many stores aren’t. We then went down for our free dinner, which again was spaghetti, and then went back to the grocery store for some more food to last us the rest of the week. Not a very eventful day but it was a nice acclimation day.
2/18: SCUBA DIVING DAY! We headed out at 7:40 in the morning, a little early. Got to our boat, checked in and received our wetsuits, mask, and fins. I was so nervous to tell whoever is reading this the truth. This is my major in a nutshell, seeing an actual ecosystem thriving! However, the breathing underwater was a bit scary. Our first dive was around 10:30 a.m. We got our scuba gear on (tank, weight belt, etc.) and made our way to the back of the boat. The scuba gear is quite heavy, it would be easy to just fall over while walking for sure. We sat down on the edge, put our fins on, got our oxygen tank ready, and fell headfirst into the water. The water near the Reef is actually really warm; I was worried that it was going to be a lot cooler than the air temp. We had to practice a few skills such as finding your oxygen breathing tube thingy if you dropped it, and a couple others about 5 feet underwater. Breathing underwater at first is really intense. You just have to put your thoughts aside and realize that it is actually working. When you go down, you have to equalize the air spaces (lungs, ears, etc.) in your body with the water pressure. This involves plugging your nose and blowing against your plugged nose to fill those air pockets on the way down. We get down to the reef, and it is in full action! Tons of fish were swimming everywhere, I think I was in awe for the first few minutes. We all hooked arms at this point, and swam over to a spot where we could kneel on the ocean floor. Here is where I got my close-up with Nemo! Well, some of his relatives anyway. It was really awesome to see them and be in the water with them! There also was a really friendly fish that the crew nicknamed Wally, and I got to pet him on my second dive. He is a huge wrasse of some sort. There were many other tropical fish of all colors, and many huge schools of fish that we swam by. Apparently we saw a turtle, but my mask was too fogged up that I missed it. Of course right after the turtle swam by I fixed my fogginess problem. We ended up doing 3 dives total, each for about 20 minutes or so I believe. It was so invigorating to be in the same environment as these living creatures! On our third dive, we got to hold a sea cucumber, and saw a bunch of different types of fish. When you resurfaced, you swam over to the boat and got your fins off and scuba gear off. It was nice to finally take the wetsuit off. They are so nice in the water, but outside they are a little too close for comfort. We had some lunch served, which was nothing special, and then after our third dive we headed back home. We got some cool pictures and talked with some of the crew. There was one guy named Sam that was really interested in talking with us, and he made the journey back very fun. We were introduced to MILO, this chocolately-powder type stuff, and to the Tim-Tam straw method. He also gave us sour plums, which apparently some people like to eat (a kind of lolly that the British enjoy, like a candy). He was really nice to us and made us feel welcome and involved which I really appreciated. We got back to our hostel, and Emily and I ate at a place called Cactus Jack’s, that had Mexican food. We then watched the movie “Never Been Kissed” (personal fave!), and got ready for bed.
2/19: Today we went up to Kuranda, a little village in the Queensland rainforest. The coolest thing for me was seeing all of the biology at work. For example, there is this type of tree that can grow from top to bottom. The bird can deposit it somewhere in the canopy, and it can work its way down to the bottom, attacking other trees and such and not needing roots. Also, there are these things called basket ferns that can develop up in the canopy, and can use other trees for structure (without harming them), and gain its own nutrients by developing its own soil. Emily and I also went to the Koala Gardens, where we had the opportunity to cuddle koalas! Our koala was named Chimby and she was pretty cute. She weighed about the same as a human baby of the same size I would say. We also hand-fed kangaroos which was cool. Next we went to Bird World. Basically it is this huge aviary that has TONS of big birds (parrots, cockatoos, etc) and a ton of other smaller parakeets and cool stuff. One of the birds landed on me, and I got a picture! There were also two cassowaries there, one of the most dangerous birds, and I was within 3 feet of them, which was really cool! They estimate there are only about 1500 left in the wild, and they may lose a bunch more with the latest cyclone passing by. The cyclones make all the fruit fall off trees, so the cassowaries are very well fed but then have a hard time finding food, and may venture into the towns looking for food and can get hit by cars. They actually will send helicopters to do food drops to make sure the cassowaries are OK. We also checked out the Venom Zoo, where this guy who developed it has a bunch of venomous spiders and snakes. I was intrigued to see the box jellyfish that our driver said was there but I didn’t see one. As we left the place, it started DOWNPOURING. Real rainforest rain! It was coming down pretty hard and we got soaked. The transportation up to Kuranda was provided by something called the Kuranda Skyrail. It is this big gondola type thing and our driver said that it was built by using helicopters only. Afraid of harming the wildlife, huge helicopters were brought in and the concrete for the poles, the carrying of the poles, and everything to construct this place was done via helicopter. The rainforest up there has been around since before the dinosaurs they have found out, and many of the plants there go way back. There was also a river and waterfall called the Barron Falls which was really cool to see, probably the biggest waterfall I have seen yet. After all of this stuff, we headed back to the hostel, and ate some dinner. Emily and I watched the movie “Freedom Writers” which is really good, made some guacamole, and went to bed.
2/20: Our last day not at school! Today, we went to Hartley’s Crocodile Park. Basically, this place was like a big zoo for crocodiles. They also had cassowaries and koalas and some lizards. This place was pretty cool: we were supposed to go kayaking but there was a crocodile in the jetty where the kayaks were supposed to go out, so it was cancelled. We got there around 10:50, and watched an awesome crocodile feed at 11:00. We also got to see the crocodile farm area. This place breeds crocodiles for their meat and for their skin: you can’t take wild crocodiles for these things, only ones bred in captivity. We also went out on a boat in a crocodile lagoon area where the crocodiles had more area to spread out. There was a snake show and a crocodile attack show, where the croc demonstrated death rolling some food and did some cool jumps for food. The koalas, that Emily and I named Bert and Ernie, were actually both females we found out. We got to pet the one that was named Paulita! Also, Emily and I got to feed the cassowaries which was cool. After the crocodile park, we came back to our hostel, made some quesadillas for dinner, and got all packed up and ready for bed, because our flight the next day was leaving at 5:20 a.m. for school!
Thanks for reading everybody! My blogs will turn into weekly updates from here, but feel free to email me!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Last Stuff from Sydney!

Hey guys.

Thanks again for reading.

OUR VLOG IS UP AND RUNNING! Check it out here: http://www.youtube.com/user/vlogaustralia

(will try to post pictures if possible, but may not work until later on)

2/13: Today we really did not have many things planned at all. Emily and I walked around a bit, and found this huge mall area with a great food court to try later. We also found a post office, but it was closed on the weekend. We decided to tour the Sydney Opera House, which was really interesting. He told us a lot of history and more about the architecture and types of shows. We then went and ate dinner by the Opera House, and went back to the Opera House for an opera! Well, sortof. It was a mini-opera, highlighting many of the different operas and composers. This was a very good experience, and I heard many familiar songs! After the opera, we dashed over to the BridgeClimb. This is where you have the opportunity to climb the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge. You are hooked in the whole time, and it is mostly a series of stairs, with a few ladders.

Here is a few examples of what the bridge looks like when you are climbing it, and some pictures of our actual climb. The ones that I am not in I did not take, however, because no cameras were allowed on the climb. This was a really amazing experience, and it wasn't physically taxing at all. I was worried it was going to be very hard, but it actually was easier than expected. The views were so amazing, and I am really glad that we were able to do it at night!

2/14: Today we also didn't have much planned. We slept pretty late, and then Emily and I got a box to mail some of our stuff over to school that we wouldn't need. Our suitcases are very close to maximum capacity, we were a little worried that they would charge us. Then we ate lunch at a food court that was in the mall area they have in Sydney. This huge building that has great architecture houses this big mall, it has 6 floors, but most of the shops are very expensive and are more like boutiques than chains. The bottom floor has the big food court, and there were over 15 different options to eat. I had tacos (first Mexican food I've found here!) which were pretty good. We bought some "Niblets" from Mrs. Fields which are basically mini cookies and mini muffins, which were also very good. Afterward, Emily and I decided that we wanted to go do some more exploring, and we headed down to the Circular Quay area (by the bridge and the Opera House, very touristy). We boarded a ferry to go to the zoo, but realized that the zoo was only open for another hour, and then just decided to ride the ferry back. This day turned into "Emily and Amanda Adventure Day." We then got some yummy ice cream, mine was cookies and cream, and it tasted like real cream, not just vanilla. Earlier this week I had some gelato, it was called "American Chocolate" and had Snickers pieces in it, and this was really good! We then decided to board a ferry to go out to the Sydney Olympic Park, because we had always wanted to do that. This ferry took almost an hour, because the Park is actually pretty far away. We got there, and decided to start walking, rather than sit more and wait for the bus. We gave up and got on the bus, and it dropped us off by one of the stadiums, the Acer Arena. We also saw the ANZ stadium. These are the two biggest stadiums at the park, used for most of the outdoor events. There was a concert going on at Acer Arena, which was the Michael Buble concert! We decided not to randomly go to the concert, especially because we saw the same thing in the US in 2010. However, many concertgoers were abundant in the park. We caught a train back to downtown Sydney shortly after arriving, because there isn't much to do at night in the Park. When we got back it was 7:30ish, and we were starving! However, we couldn't agree on a place to go, and finally settled on a place after walking around at 8:00ish. We saw many bats and flying foxes out over the Harbour, because they live in the Botanical Gardens.

2/15: Today, we had a few things planned. Emily and I went to the Taronga Zoo, after not being able to go the day before. They had many different animals that were really cool to see! They had a lot of babies too, which was really awesome! Many of the zoos I usually frequent do not have as many. Some animals of note include platypus, echidna, wombats, koalas, elephants (with 3 babies!), gorillas (1 baby), chimpanzees (1 baby), tigers, lions, etc. The babies were so cute to watch, they were the most energetic. We then caught a ferry back, and I had some white chocolate gelato. This was really good! We caught another ferry over to Manly, which is a city/suburb of Sydney that is a half-hour away. They have a great surfing beach there, and it is at times a little touristy. We met up with some of Amy's family, and we had dinner that they cooked which was a real treat! Laundry was due for the night, and packing and getting ready to leave!

I really enjoyed my time in Sydney, there was so much stuff to do, and the weather was really great for us. It only rained one time, and misted a few other days, but it wasn't very hot, which was appreciated!

Friday, February 11, 2011

More Sydney Stuff!

Hey guys. Thanks for reading again.

A short entry is promised for you all!

2/10: Today we caught a train down to the Circular Quay (pronounced key), this is where all the cool stuff to look at is (i.e. Sydney Opera House, lots of boats, Sydney Harbour Bridge). We caught one of the ferries over to a place called Darling Harbour, which is a different section of Sydney. We went to the Sydney Wildlife World, which was really cool! They had a ton of different Australian species there, especially koalas and kangaroos!

They also had a really huge wombat, but he/she was sleeping. They also had a full-size crocodile which was pretty scary, I’m not sure that I’ve personally seen one before except on TV.

The croc at Wildlife World!

We then grabbed some lunch while watching the Ellen show with Justin Bieber on mute in the café, and then headed over to the renowned Sydney Aquarium. This is definitely a highlight of the trip so far. We got to see many fish (duh) but also saw some big sharks and some dugongs (which are a little manatees). They also had some pretty big lobsters, seahorses, and an octopus. We got to go out on this glass-floored boat and feed the fish in the coral reef exhibit, which is where the big sharks were.

After these two things, we walked up to the Sydney Tower. This is a big observation tower which is the tallest structure in Sydney, and offered great views of the whole city! Next on the list was a ferry ride back to the Circular Quay area, where we took some great pictures, and we boarded a huge old boat for dinner! That sounds really lame, but it is a big wooden boat with real sails and everything! It was pretty cool because it is the only ship like this in Australia, and was built in 1920 and still fully operational! We had some good grub whilst aboard this majestic ship, but I think I had more fun being on the ship! Afterward, we got back to our hostel via train and did some much needed sleeping, for we were to get up at 0530 the next day.

2/11: 0530 alarm rings! Man these are some early days. We boarded a train down to the King’s Cross area of Sydney around 0615 this morning. This area is notorious for its many strip clubs and such type of folk, but that stuff is all active at night, so no worries! We got on our shuttle and headed off on the Oz Experience tour that we had booked. This was to bring us up to the Blue Mountains area, where we had many things planned. We picked up some more people and took our drive up to the Blue Mountains! They are so pretty and we had two absolutely gorgeous hikes!

They were a bit quick for my pace, however, but I am getting some much needed exercise apparently! When we first got to the mountains, we headed into the Blue Mountains National Park, and we saw some wild kangaroos! We saw a female kangaroo and its joey, and when we approached them they jumped away separate. Usually the joey will get in the pouch of the mother before they take off, and that was a really cool thing to see! Our guide said that this is very rare. We also saw many cockatoos, which are native to Australia. These look like white parrots, but have yellow on their heads and under their wings. Example here:

A cockatoo! Not my picture, you can't really get this close.

We also had the opportunity on one of our hikes to see a couple black yellow-crested cockatoos, which are similar to the white ones mentioned above. Our guide says that he has only seen them a couple times, so that was a rare treat! Also today, I had this amazing apple cinnamon muffin from a little bakehouse on the trip that was the best one I’ve ever had, and we had some good laughs along the way: our guide was pretty funny. We got back and ate dinner at Hungry Jack’s (read: Burger King) and have spent the evening relaxing, which was much needed after today.

(blog is longer than planned, because Internet was uncooperative for too long :)

2/12: Today we had nothing planned. Woke up at 1100, which was AWESOME, and then we headed off to the Circular Quay area. We ate brunch at a place called Rossini's cafe, which is a gold mine because it is right next to all the action. Next we walked over to the Sydney Opera House, and after a lot of explaining and phone calls, we got tickets to a tour and an opera show tomorrow! I am really excited for that!!! After that, we walked around Sydney for a little while, then hit the Australian Museum. This place had a lot of cool things to see, like many dinosaur replicas, and an exhibit about Sydney's animals. They also had this great photographer exhibition called Wildlife Photographer of the Year, and there were some really amazing photos in there! I think that was my favorite part. After the museum, we hitched a train ride back to the hostel area, and it was downpouring! Not too much fun, because it had only misted a little earlier this week. We ate dinner at Subway, and bought some movie tickets to see "How Do You Know" at 2130 this night. Movies are a little slow to come out over here than in the States, and they cost a lot! Hoping to eat some popcorn at the movie tonight and relax a little. Tomorrow will be a big day!

Thanks for reading and God bless!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Well, that worked...

Hey there everyone!
Thanks again for reading, it means a lot to bring you all along on the journey with me, even if you aren't here!
Anyway, here is a recap of the last few days:

2/7: We got up pretty early (0600) and made our way down to the bus to catch a bus to the center of Christchurch. We had to get picked up by a shuttle to get out to Kaikoura, which is a coastal city about 2.5 hours north of Christchurch. We were going whale watching and I was so excited! It was a little rainy and windy on the way there, but when we got there they told us that our trip may be cancelled, and they announced that it was. I was SO BUMMED, this was one of the things I really was looking forward to. So that was around noon, and we had about 4 hours to catch our shuttle. So we did a lot of sitting, and a little shopping but didn't buy anything. We went to the Why Not cafe, which had some good nachos, and went to catch our shuttle. Apparently we did not book the return trip however, and so we basically ended up stuck in Kaikoura for the night. Luckily we found this information site and they helped us get a hostel real cheap that was really nice as well for the night, and we booked the earliest trip out of Kaikoura. We really did not have anything to do and no clothes/toiletries, so that was a fun night... anyway we got up the next day and went to the shuttle.

2/8: We had originally booked an across-country train ride for this day, but we wouldn't have been able to make it due to the shuttle mishap. Luckily, our friend Amy got an email saying that the train wasn't able to run and we could get a full refund which surprisingly worked out! We got back to Christchurch, and went to a pretty cool aquarium, and finally saw our first Kiwi bird! We tried to see them at Orana but they didn't come out there. They are really awesome, and we did see some other things, like an eel feeding. This wasn't too exciting though. Then we got some baked potatoes for lunch, and got back to our hostel to shower and pack and get ready to leave the next day. We also did laundry, which is really overpriced, and the dryer was not very good so we tried to airdry our three loads in our room, which eventually worked by the time we went to bed...

2/9: We woke up at 2:30 a.m. this morning! Ridiculously early, and I am still awake at 6:45 p.m., right now, the same day somehow! We had to catch our shuttle so early because we had to get to the airport at 04:00 a.m. for our flight out this morning at 6:00 a.m. to Sydney. We got to the airport, and it was a sit-and-wait fest, because everything opened about 15 minutes after we got in line. The plane ride was nice however, it was still dark outside and the plane was about half empty and I slept almost the entire way here. We got here, and walked ages to our shuttle, and finally got to our hostel about 1.5 hours after getting in the shuttle. It definitely wasn't what we were expecting. Noone leaves any personal items out unless they are in the room, and the luggage lockers barely fit our huge bags in them. So any time you need something, you can't just reach in your bag, you have to go unlock your locker, pull out your bag, get the item, etc. We were definitely spoiled in our hostel in Christchurch. We finally found some stuff to do after finding the Sydney Visitor Centre, and got some great views of the harbour, the Opera House, etc. We went on a bus tour that showed us a lot, but I couldn't tell you where any of that stuff was still.

A little teaser regarding my next entries from Sydney: We have a great "pirate ship" dinner to go on tomorrow night, and we are going to the Sydney Aquarium and a zoo type deal. Going up in an observation tower to see all of Sydney, we are climbing the Harbour bridge, and doing some other cool stuff! Thanks for reading!

P.S. Sorry for no pictures, there will be some next time!
P.P.S. The vlog is on hiatus until we get to Perth probably, however, we will still film videos!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

First Official Entry!

Cheers all!
Welcome to my first (read: extremely long) blog post of the trip! Today is February 6th, which means I have already spent five days traveling and doing exciting stuff! It seems right to try to remember everything from each day, so bear with me! Sorry this entry is so long, I will try to shorten them up!

Feb 1: Today I got to the airport around 10:00 a.m. or so, and got ready to depart to Los Angeles! Got my last Caribou Coffee fix for the next 5 months, and we got on our first plane out of 4. Emily was traveling with me at this point, and we met up with a couple friends from our study abroad group, Matt and Gavin, on the US leg of our trip. We traveled down to PHX, which was about a 3.5 hour flight if I recall, and then onto Los Angeles. We almost missed our connection because de-icing took so long at MSP, but go figure. We forgot that we would be missing lunch, so we got something real quick in the airport in PHX and power-walked to make our flight to LAX. Once we got to LA, there was some amazing weather. We ended up walking two terminals over because it felt so good! Here is where I will mention that we finally hit summer weather, which will continue for me until fall hits back at CSB/SJU, so a continuous 7 months of summer heat. We parted ways with our study abroad friends, and met up with our traveling partner, Amy, for our journey onto our V Australia flight.

Feb 2: I will put the Australia flight here, because we spent all of Feb 2 in the air (this is a hard concept to imagine, but we traveled over the International Date Line, and so we never saw Feb 2 at all). We boarded our flight, and the plane was really great, especially because we would be on it for 15 HOURS. There were some cool lights along the top of the plane that changed colors, and we immediately got to work playing with our video screens (we refers to Emily and I). I ended up watching four movies on the flight, which include Red, Toy Story 3, Life as We Know It, and the Social Network. I think Life as We Know It was my favorite, but I am a sucker for romantic comedies. I think I slept about 4 hours or so on the whole plane ride, because my internal clock was so confused and there was so many fun things to do! We got served dinner and breakfast on the plane, but neither were very exceptional. The flight attendants were all really great and seemed to be enjoying their work (contrary to many I’m sure you have experienced). Not to mention that there were many male flight attendants, who smelled amazing and weren’t too hard on the eyes. Once we deplaned, we wanted nothing but to stand up for a long time: our legs were sore and so were our behinds . We left at about 9:45ish LAX time, and landed around 7:00 a.m. Melbourne time.

This is our V Australia plane!

Feb 3: After landing in Melbourne, we (now refers to Amy as well) did an international transfer to our flight to Christchurch, which is the first leg of our traveling journey. We had to go through security again, and then walk through a bunch of duty-free shops before finally finding our gate. They ended up switching almost every flight’s gate number in the terminal which was a little confusing but we made it. This flight may have been the hardest, because we were all exhausted and there were two women behind us that talked the whole 3 hour flight rather loudly. I slept for a little and read some Lord of the Rings. We were late taking off from Melbourne, and finally got out to our shuttle around 4:30 p.m. Next, I had to become acquainted with driving on the other side of the road, because it is a hard concept to wrap your mind around. We got to our hostel, and after being booked into a room with many different people of both genders in it, we finally got our private room. I am sitting in it typing this blog, and we have 8 beds instead of the 4 we originally booked, but it is a big room so no complaining from me (except maybe a window would be nice). Our hostel is located very close to the beach, and therefore isn’t too close to the hustle and bustle of the city (good and bad). We ate dinner at Subway because we didn’t feel very adventurous and were so tired. We went to bed after taking a well-deserved shower.

Feb 4: Today was our first scheduled excursion day but it wasn’t until the night. We decided to go and explore the City Central area of Christchurch, but we decided to get some breakfast first. The day before we saw a fruit market called “The Funky Pumpkin” and decided that we would go get some breakfast there. I ended up buying about 7 apples of differing varieties, some that are typical US brands and some that definitely were not. So far I have eaten four of them, and they are quite delicious. I also bought some chocolate milk, which is quite heavy on the chocolate part and extremely tasty. We then decided to try our hand at the bus system, and boarded a public bus to the inner city area. The bus costs $3.20 New Zealand dollars for a one-way ticket, which we paid and got going into the city. Once we got there, it was definitely a new experience. Many tourists were around however so we didn’t feel too out of place. They have many busy streets with tons of shops and restaurants to browse through. We ate lunch in a food court area right next to where all the buses drop off, at a place called Pure. I had a pesto chicken salad sandwich which had some yummy avocados, and Emily ate this meat lover’s pizza slice with BBQ sauce. Both were really good, and we also bought a cookie and muffin from Muffin Break. We found our first historical monument, the Bridge of Remembrance, which I believe was for WWII victims, and that is where our first videoblog is recorded (check out our YouTube channel, vlogaustralia). We then walked around a bit more, and made our way to Cathedral Square. They have a really big cathedral here (no duh) and it was really cool to walk around in. We found where all of our shuttles would be taking off, and then we continued to walk around. We made our way down Worcester Street and found a street performer, who was entertaining but a little creepy. One thing that you must know about this region of the world is that they are very 9-5. This means that all the shops are pretty much open these hours only, and a lot of the restaurants close after lunchtime. They have little marketplaces that pack up and are completely vanished by 6 at the latest, too. We continued walking and found our way to the Arts Centre, which had many different artistic shops. I ended up buying two books there, one mystery novel and another that is on my list of books to read. We walked farther and ran into the Botanical Gardens. These are very pretty and so far the best gardens I have ever seen. The trees here are enormous, too! We went to the rose garden, and by this time we were so exhausted we headed back to the bus to get back to our hostel in time for our excursion. When we got back we had a note saying to call the excursion, which had been cancelled, which was a bit of a bummer. However, we decided to go to a really nice restaurant, called Salt on the Pier. I had surf and turf, and it was really delicious. We walked out on the really long pier, but it was so incredibly windy and kind-of cold, we probably should’ve waited to do that a different day. We got back and didn’t do much but shower and go to sleep, getting ready for our first excursions the next day.

Feb 5: We got up this morning and ate some of our breakfast from Funky Pumpkin, and caught a bus out to the city around 10:30-11:00. We were quite hungry after getting there, and so decided to grab lunch. We went to a place called the Pita Pit, which I believe has a store in MOA, and it was really good. We jumped on the bus, headed for the Antarctic Centre, our first excursion, around 12:00. When we arrived there was plenty to do. We experienced an Antarctic storm, which really reminded me of Minnesota and waiting in the bus lines at SJU in the wintertime. This really wasn’t so bad, except for the fact that I was wearing shorts (they gave us jackets so my top half was pretty warm). We then went to a 4D movie, which was pretty cool. This movie had the water effects, snow, and the moving seats which was cool. The only bad part is that they surprised sprayed us in the face 7 times, when 4 was definitely more than enough . After the movie, we walked around a bit more, learning more about the International Antarctic program. Almost all the Antarctic programs worldwide leave from Christchurch International airport. We saw a few of the US Air Force planes that fly back and forth to there each day, and one of the guides said that the planes sink into the ice on Antarctica and can’t stay over there too long. We saw some of the equipment that people used over there when they first journeyed over, and some more modern things as well. We then went to the penguin feeding which was really great! I believe they have 24 penguins in their enclosure there, and all of these penguins were rescued because of a condition they have. Some had been hit by boats, some had paralyzed fins, and many were blind. One penguin had on purple booties and the keeper said this particular penguin was so lazy that it started developing hard parts on its feet, and so the booties helped to protect its feet from hurting when it walked. They fed them in the water and we got to see some of them swim. One of the penguins that I felt bad for was named Elvis, and this particular penguin was blind in both eyes, so the keepers had to shake the bucket to let him know they were there. Next, Emily and I went on this Hagglund ride, which is the vehicles they use in Antarctica on the ice. Calling these things all-terrain vehicles does not even begin to classify them. They have wheels that run along tread-tracks, and they can move pretty quick, I think we may have gotten up to 30 or 40 km/h. This ride was really adventurous, and there were a bunch of hills we went up and down quickly, almost like roller coaster hills. We did a lot of intense turns, and then we went into the water, and submerged our vehicle halfway in it. This was a little scary because it seemed like the water was about to come crashing in. This wild and crazy ride was really fun and I am glad we got to do that. We got back from the Antarctic Centre, and immediately caught a ride out to the Christchurch gondola. This was a really cool experience, we went up to the top and could see all of Christchurch and a town called Littleton. This is a harbor town near Christchurch, and people used to walk over the huge mountains in order to get to Christchurch until two tunnels were made. Here is where I advise checking out our second vlog on the YouTube channel mentioned previously, or at the link at the bottom I will include. This vlog was taken on one of the mountains with Christchurch in the background. We journeyed back down, and saw many sheep on the mountain, as well as the damage that the Christchurch earthquake did to this rock formation on one of the other mountains (they may be just hills, but they were mountains to me).

Me at the top of the Christchurch gondola!

We got back to the city, and decided to get something to eat, and headed to a restaurant called Rock Pool. Emily and I got some nachos and some potato wedges, but the potato wedges here all come with this sweet chili sauce which is good but not the greatest on potatoes. We waited here for a while, and then ventured out back into town. We went to a place near the Botanical Gardens called North Hagley Park, where the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra was playing a concert called Classical Sparks. This was really fun, but there were a bajillion people there. It is very similar to Music in Plymouth. This orchestra played Ride of the Valkyries, the first movement of Beethoven’s 5th symphony, and they also played an arranged version of the Final Countdown for choir and orchestra, which was AWESOME. Only in NZ would they do something like that! It rained a little, but luckily tapered off quick. They say in Christchurch that you can experience all four of their seasons in one day, and this day was pretty close to that I’d say. We left the concert to go to an improvised comedy show that was really great and we had a good time at. However, we didn’t get back to our hostel until 12:00 midnight or so, and then we all took showers and got to bed quick around 1:00 a.m.

Feb 6: Today, we ventured to Orana Wildlife Park. I think this may have been one of the best zoos I will ever go to. We woke up at 8:30 and got going with breakfast and getting ready. We ended up getting off the bus shortly and trekked over to our shuttle. This day has been the hottest day I think I will ever experience. There was a nice breeze from the windows on the shuttle but it wasn’t cool at all, just nice to get the hot air circulating. We got off the bus and got our tickets validated and were on our way. This park has many different animals, such as porcupines, otters, meerkats, kiwi birds, tuataras, gibbons, spider monkeys, lemurs, lions, tigers, and cheetahs. They also have rhinoceros, water buffalo, African Wild Dogs, zebra, llamas, emus, ostriches, and plenty more! The first great event we went to was the tiger feeding. At each feeding the keeper explained a bit about what was going on with the animals in the wild, and a little about the animals that were in the park. He had this huge piece of meat on top of this really tall and large stump in the enclosure. He let the tiger out and the tiger walked around and then smelled the meat. He jumped on top of this first stump that was probably 8 feet high, and then leaped across an 8-10 foot gap to reach the stump with the food on it. It was really incredible to see the agility of this awesome cat. Next, we walked around to a few feedings, but we never got to see the kiwi bird, which apparently is very skittish, and the enclosure was so dark it was hard to see. The giraffe feeding was really fun, they gave us branches with leaves on them to feed the giraffes. Nothing is more awesome than watching a giraffe walk toward you, and then eat basically out of your hand. The giraffe I was feeding licked me, which is a little painful because their tongues are pretty hard. They wrap their tongue around the branch and then rip off the leaves with their tongue!

No zoom required for this awesome giraffe experience!

We then walked to a few more exhibits, ate lunch, and wandered off to our first encounter. This was the lemur encounter which was really awesome! The keeper cut up a few bananas, and then we got to go into the lemur exhibit and hand-feed the lemurs banana pieces! This was really an exciting experience, and the lemurs were so gentle with eating the bananas. One of the lemurs was very piggish and ate almost my entire bucket! We talked with the keepers a bit about the lemurs and had a great time feeding them bananas. Next we walked to a few more feedings, but we didn’t see a lot. The lion encounter was next, and it was AWESOME! You should really check out this vlog if you have a chance, you will not be disappointed! Basically, we were taken out in a group of 20 in the back of this truck that had a cage around us. We entered the lion exhibit, and lions immediately started asking for their food. They were doing a lot of growling, and one lion likes to jump on top of the cage, and we had a lion on top of us, which was really cool! Seriously, check out the vlog. After this we caught the shuttle to see some more animals, and went to the rhinoceros feeding, where there was a cute baby rhinoceros. We then saw the cheetah feed, which wasn’t very climactic to say the least. Finally, it was time to head for home, and we got back on the hot shuttle. I swear I sweated off a few pounds today, it was absolutely horrible. Apparently it was around 36 celsius, which transfers to +++ F and it was humid. We got back to our hostel, and grabbed some food at this fish and chips place, and I had chicken nuggets that were similar to McDonald’s, and a ton of chips, which are fries. Now I am writing this blog to all of you lovely people, and that about rounds out the day. More exciting adventures to come in a few days! Thanks for reading, cheers!