Sunday, May 2, 2010

Finding Nemo!

Last weekend, April 23-27, I finally had the chance to get up to the Great Barrier Reef. Ever since I took the scuba class and got certified I have been looking forward to getting up to the Reef.

My friend Courtney and I decided to go up to the reef together. I met her during my scuba class so we were both excited to get back underwater. We started off by going to the travel agent on campus. We looked through brochure after brochure with everything there is to do in Cairns. Cairns (pronounced: “cans,” Australians never pronounce “Rs” if they are at the end of a word) is the big tourist city in North Queensland that is close to the Reef. After deciding what we were going to do we let the travel agent do her thing. When she was done scribbling and jotting things down she looked up at us and said, “That will be $1150.” Courtney and I almost fell off of our chairs. We told the agent that we needed some time to talk about the trip before we booked anything. Courtney and I decided that there has to be a cheaper way to do everything we wanted. After doing some searching we found a way that we could do everything we wanted for only $800, it is still a lot but it was cheaper than the agents plan. We booked our own flights and then went back to the travel agent to have her book the rest of the trip the way we planned it.

On April 23 we started our adventure up to Cairns. Our bus departed from Lismore at 11:00 am headed for Brisbane. After about 200 pages of Harry Potter and 5 hours we finally made it. The ride to Brisbane is normally only about 2 hours but with all of the stops the bus had to make it took 5 hours. By coincidence Courtney’s Aunt and Uncle were in Brisy on business at the same time we were. They picked us up from the transit center and we headed to South Bank for dinner. South Bank is located along the river and is loaded with shops, restaurants, markets, and street performers. It is a really nice part of the city; most of the people walking around were really dressed up. We had dinner at an Italian restaurant and had a couple of hours to chat before heading to the airport. We made it to the airport about an hour and a half before our flight. As with all domestic Australia flights there is almost no security to go through but we wanted to be there early anyways. On domestic flights here you are even allowed to bring liquids. When going through the metal detectors you don’t even have to take your shoes off. The security is still there but it is nowhere near as strict as it is in the States. Our plane departed Brisbane at 10:00 pm and arrived in Cairns at midnight. Choosing this late flight was the first step we took in saving money on our trip. By taking this flight we decided that we could just sleep in the airport until morning, thus avoiding having to pay for a hostel. When we were getting off of the plane we immediately got a little bit nervous; the Cairns airport was completely empty. We assumed it would be kind of busy as airports normally are and that we could sleep without being noticed. We followed the group of people over to the baggage claim even though we had no luggage to claim. We took a seat in the baggage claim area and watched as everyone except for us slowly left. At this point every alternative to sleeping in the airport was running through my head but none of them were very good alternatives. There were two security guards who were looking at Courtney and I as if wondering what we were doing still sitting there. They turned and walked outside, thinking that we were in the clear we laid down in the now completely empty building. As soon as we laid down the two guards walked back in accompanied by three more guards; all five of them looking at us. We decided that we would just go up to the guards and ask them if it was ok to sleep here or not. I walked up to the group of guards, who by this time were all giving us interesting looks, and asked them if it was ok. The guard said, “You want to sleep here?” followed by a little chuckle. My heart sank and my mind was racing for an alternative place to sleep, the idea of sleeping in the rain on the streets of Cairns even ran through my head. (Side note: I think the rain follows me all around Australia seriously). The guard looked at my worried face and says, “Well you can sleep here if you really want, but I would really suggest the international terminal. It is much more comfortable and they have benches to sleep on.” I was so relieved I think I could have hugged him. We wouldn’t be sleeping outside after all. We walked down to the international terminal and found the cushioned benches the guard was talking about. Unfortunately so did a few other people. There was only room on the benches for one more person. I gave the spot to Courtney and I made myself as comfortable on the floor as I could. By this time it was about 1:00 am, we had to be at Deep Sea Divers Den at 7:00 am. The first international departure was not until 6:00 am which worked out perfect as that is when we had to get up anyways.

I woke up about ten minutes before my alarm to the early morning hustle and bustle of the airport. I woke Courtney up and we freshened up a bit in the bathroom before we headed outside to find a taxi. We took the taxi to Divers Den and arrived at about 6:40. It was still raining but the sun was starting to poke out from behind the clouds and it looked promising. The doors to Divers Den were still locked and the sign said closed. We waited on the chairs outside the shop thinking we were a just a little bit early. At about 7:20 am we started to get nervous because there was still no sign of anyone. I double and triple checked the address and I knew we were in the right place so we decided we would just have to wait longer. At about 7:30 am someone showed up at the shop and told us that he was just showing up to open. He said that check in was not until 8:00 am. So instead of being 20 minutes yearly we were an hour and 20 minutes early. We decided to walk down to the American Embassy (aka McDonald’s) to get some breaky. We headed back to the shop and got our dive adventure started. The package we decided to do is a 2 day, 1 night live aboard trip that includes 7 dives, all gear, all food, and accommodation. We took a shuttle from the shop to the marina to board the boat. Once on the boat we had a quick safety briefing and then we departed headed for the Great Barrier Reef. It was about an hour and a half ride out to the Reef. During this time we got assigned scuba gear and wetsuits. We also had dive site briefing so that we would not get lost underwater. By this time the clouds were mostly cleared up and the sun was shining so we sat out on the sun deck the rest of the trip. We finally arrived and it was time for the first dive. Courtney and I were both a little scared as this would be our first dives by ourselves without an instructor. Once in the water all fear was forgotten as everything I learned in my scuba class came like second nature. The fist dive was pretty cool. We got to see a bunch of fish and we even seen a White Tipped Reef Shark. While underwater I led and Courtney followed as she is, well, um… let’s call it directionally challenged. As the leader I had to make sure that we would surface relatively close to the boat and when we surfaced on the first dive I was happy to see the boat nearby. After we were back on the boat with our gear off we jumped back in to have a quick snorkel before lunch. Once back on the boat we had an excellent lunch that was followed by another dive site briefing. The boat had moved during lunch to the second dive site. As soon as we arrived we got geared up and we were back in the water. This site was on the edge of the reef. There was a massive 30 meter coral and rock cliff that we got to investigate. It was full of interesting coral and thousands of small fish. Back on the boat we were on the move once again. This time we were heading to meet with the live aboard boat. Once we linked up those of us who were spending the night on the Reef transferred boats. The live aboard boat was better than anything I had imagined. For the price we paid I was expecting it to be nice but not over the top, but this boat was way over the top. It was like a floating hotel. We had afternoon tea and the best carrot cake in the world during the ships safety briefing. Soon after that we had a dive orientation and we were back in the water. This dive site was one of the best sites of the trip. It was extremely colorful and there were thousands and thousands of fish. It was at this site that I seen my first sea turtle. Watching turtles swim in the ocean is the coolest thing ever. The turtles are my favorite thing to watch underwater. We also seen another shark on this dive, we actually seen a shark on every dive from here on. On this dive when we seen the shark we swam parallel with it until we were pretty far in front of it. The shark was not a huge one but it was still about 1.5 or 2 meters. Nothing that will take your arm off but it would leave a mark. I kept checking over my shoulder to keep an eye on him as we were swimming away. When I looked over my shoulder the third time my heart skipped a beat—the shark was following us! Noticing that I was looking over my shoulder Courtney turned to look. She stayed calm but the look on her face was anything but calm. The shark was swimming right at us. When it was about 15 meters away it took a right turn and casually swam away as if knowing he just scared the shit out of us. When we were back on the boat we had a little bit of time to rest before dinner. When the announcement for dinner came we headed down the dining room. As soon as we sat down the staff set down our plate of food in front of us. We had steak and mashed potatoes drizzled in a sweet gravy, cooked peas and carrots, and unlimited salad bar. It was defiantly better than the food I am used to eating in my apartment. After dinner it was time for the night dive. Courtney was kind of freaking out about the night dive but I was really excited. We geared up and grabbed a flashlight and jumped into the dark water. Because we had never done a night dive Courtney and I had to go with a guide. The reef at night looks like a totally different place than during the day. The first thing I noticed is that the fish at night are a lot bigger. All of the predators come out at night for a hunt. All of the little fish are hiding in the coral and not swimming around. The big fish are surprisingly fast and their movement is quick. Because there is no sun to light up the water surrounding us we could only see the small area where we pointed our light. The fish darted back and forth in our beam of light. The big fish would follow our lights just waiting for them to light up a small fish that would become its dinner. I felt Courtney poke my arm and shine her light off into the distance. I looked in that direction and could see the green eyes and a silhouette of the shark she was pointing at. This was the biggest shark that we seen on the trip. It was also the most eerie because after is swam into the darkness we could not see it to keep an eye on it. After the night dive we were back on the boat just in time for dessert, sticky chocolate gram cracker bars and ice cream. After, we headed up to the third floor to the bar. In the bar they had a big screen and heaps of big comfy couches and chairs. Here we filled in our dive log book for the day. By the time we were done filling it in we were falling asleep in the chairs. We went back to the second floor, put our name on the 6:00am wakeup call list and then headed to bed.

I woke up when someone was knocking on our door telling us it was time to get up. I woke Courtney up and we headed out the dive deck for dive orientation. Then we were back in the water by 6:30am. The morning dive was really busy. The night fish where heading out and the day fish where making their way out of their hiding spots. Once again we saw turtles and heaps of other fish. When we were back onboard it was time for breaky. Toast, bacon, sausage, fruit, cereal, yogurt, and just about anything else you could want for breakfast was in the buffet. During breaky the boat moved to a new dive site. After breaky it was right back into the water. This new dive site was my favorite; it was the most colorful site with the best coral. On the first dive here is when I found Nemo! There were two Clownfish in an anemone swimming in and out of it as it was waving back and forth in the currant. We also found a stingray swimming along the bottom. I was getting pretty close to the ray until I remembered that a ray is what killed the Crocodile Hunter. I don’t think the one I seen was big enough to kill but I wasn’t taking any chances. We had a little bit of a break before our last dive of the trip. We decided to rent an underwater digital camera for our last dive. It was only $25 for one dive and we could take as many pictures as we wanted to and they would put them all onto discs for us to take home. We got a lot of really cool pictures with the camera. We took pictures of us with clownfish and us just swimming around the coral and of all the different fish. We probably took over 100 pictures on the one dive. Back on the boat we finally had a chance to relax for a little bit before we transferred back to the day boat to ride back to Cairns. When we were on the boat heading back in there was a girl with a laptop looking at her pictures so we asked if we could look at ours on her computer. We put the disk and but we could not open the files. The person who put the files on the disk accidentally created shortcuts to the files instead of copy and pasting the file onto the disc. We immediately went the staff and told them what happened. They said not to worry and that they would call the other boat and they would get a new disk with the files on it. We sat back down but about ten minutes later a staff member came over and told us that they had already deleted all of our pictures and they were sorry. I was trying my hardest to stay calm but I was furious and they could tell. I told them that if they deleted the files that the files would still be in the computers recycle bin and they could restore them and put them on a disk. She told me she would phone the boat and tell them to try that. Long story short we never got our pictures. They gave us the $25 back but it was not about the $25 it was about having the memories. I am over the fact that we didn’t get the pictures, there is no need to stay mad about it, but what still irritates me is that the staff just didn’t seem to care at all. I almost wonder if they even tried to check the recycle bin because every time you delete a file it always goes there and if you cannot figure out how to restore I file from the recycle bin you should not be employed anyone—ever. When we got back Courtney talked to the travel agent and told her about what happened and the agent was pretty mad about it and she said she would look into it but chances of ever getting those pictures are pretty small. The way I am looking at it is that this is just an excuse to have the need to go back some day. Once we were back in Cairns we checked into our hostel. A girl from Holland who was on our dive boat was also staying at our hostel so we met up to head out for dinner. On our way out we ran into a guy from our boat who is from Ireland he joined us for dinner as well. The town was very busy for a Sunday night because it was ANZAC Day. ANZAC day stands for Australia and New Zealand Army Corps. This is like Australia’s version of Memorial Day except it is a much bigger deal here. After dinner we headed back to the hostel. It was only about 9:30pm but we were exhausted and we were looking forward to sleeping.

We woke up at 6:00am, we got ready were waiting outside the hostel by 6:45am. At 7:00am we were picked up by the tour bus. We were going on a day trip to Cape Tribulation. It was about an hour and a half drive to Cape Trib but it was a very scenic and pretty drive along the ocean. Included in the trip we stopped at a small zoo. Having already been to 2 Australian zoos this was not super excited but it was still fun. After that we headed to the Daintree rainforest. We crossed the fairy across the Daintree River into the National Park. There were Cassowary crossing signs and speed bumps everywhere around the park. A Cassowary is a large flightless bird like an emu but with a really colorful head and a large horn on its head. There reason for the speed bumps and signs is that there are only about 1500 left in the world and this is the most populated forest in the world. The Cassowary is considered to be the most dangerous bird in the world. It can use its long neck and horned head to head butt people. There have been over 400 attacks and 2 deaths by Cassowaries. We stopped at the Cape Tribulation Beach to go for a walk and have lunch at the Beach House restaurant. The rainforest comes right up to the beach and looks as if it’s a scene out of Jurassic Park. I was just waiting for a T-Rex to come out of the forest. No swimming was aloud at the beach even though it was a nice day. There is no swimming because there are too many salt water crocodiles in the area. After lunch we went on a walk through the rain forest. The forest was so unique and is like nothing I have ever seen before. There were vines everywhere, root systems that have snorkels and leaves bigger than me. After the walk we went on a Daintree riverboat ride to look for crocodiles. We didn’t get a chance to see the dominant male croc but we did see quite a few young crocs and the large female croc. The large female was about 2.5 meters long and we could see blood on her teeth from whatever she had eaten for lunch. Back in the bus we headed back to Cairns along the same scenic road. Once back in Cairns we met up with the girl from Holland who was with a staff member from the boat. All of us went out to get Thai food. That was my first experience with Thai food but I am in love with it. We went back to our hostel after dinner and packed up all of our stuff as we were leaving in the morning.

Our hostel offered a continental breaky so we got up at about 8:00am to eat and then head to the airport. We got to the airport about 45 minutes before our flight left. We landed in Brisbane two hours later. We took the train from the airport to the transit center to catch our bus. The only problem was we did not have a clue what stop on the train was our stop. We just kept looking out the window for something what looked familiar. We almost missed our stop but we made it off at the last second. After waiting around the bus station for a couple hours we were back on a bus heading for Lismore.

My trip up the Great Barrier Reef was one of the best experiences of my life. It is hard to decide if I liked the Outback or the Reef better but I do know that I want to go back to both of them. I only have one month to go here in Australia. I cannot believe how fast the time has gone. I miss everyone and I will see you all soon!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Outback… No not the Steakhouse

Just warning you that this is a long post and may take a while to read.

This Easter was one of the most interesting Easters that I will probably ever experience. First off I had to change all the clocks by “falling back” for Easter. It was just odd changing the time backwards for Easter when everyone at home was “springing ahead.” Secondly, when I woke up on Easter, for the first time in 20 years, there was no Easter basket to be found. Instead, I found myself in the sand of a dried up river bed in the middle of the outback.

The trip to the outback was organized by the university for international students. My journey started a couple weeks before I even departed. I had to go to the international office to pick up some paperwork, my camping pack, and sign a waiver. I had to sign the waiver acknowledging the fact that we would be in the middle of nowhere several hours from any medical help. After I picked up my pack I spent the next week trying to find everything to fill it with. I did not want to have to buy camping supplies such as a sleeping mat and sleeping bag for just one trip. I was able to borrow all the things I needed from my friends who were not going on the trip. The night before we departed I had trouble sleeping because I was so excited and kind of nervous. I was excited for the trip but nervous that I would oversleep and miss the 5am bus departure. When I was still awake at 2:30am the idea ran through my head to just stay up all night so that I would not sleep through my alarm. I ended up falling asleep and when my alarm went off at 4:30am I popped up and was ready to go. There were 18 of us on the trip, 16 students and 2 guides. The guides were not from a tour business, they were the teachers of the university’s outdoor education class. We all took the bus from Lismore to Brisbane, about a 2 hour ride. Most people slept but I was still too excited for sleep. Our plane left Brisbane at around 8:30am; I was finally able to get about an hour of sleep on the three hour flight. When we finally landed at the Alice Springs airport everyone forgot about being tiered anyways. Alice Springs is a small town, smaller than Muskego. The airport only has one runway and when we landed the plane had to turn around and taxi back toward the small airport. The airport does not even have terminals; everyone gets on and off of the plane on the tarmac. Once we all had our packs we took a bus to the car rental place. On the way there the bus driver pointed out the bone dry river bed of the Todd River. He said that a week before there had been two meters of water in it from the rain. He said that this was the first time it flowed in two years and that if you see it with water in it three times then you are a local. While the guides, Steve and (Hey) Jude, were getting the two 4x4 troopies and the food for the week we all had the chance to stop at K-mart for anything we may have forgotten. We all met in the park to pack the troopies and head off into the middle of nowhere. After about four hours of driving it started to get dark. We stopped at a rest stop, aka one outhouse and a giant tank of water that “may not be suitable for drinking.” Here we unpacked the top of the troopies and took what food we thought we would need for the night. We hiked for about 300 meters down the middle of the dried up Fink River. We made camp in a nice sandy spot. Some collected wood for the fire and some started on dinner. Dinner was made with camp stoves. Contrary to what I was expecting we were not roughing it when it came to food. I ate better on the trip then most other days. For dinners we had a lot of pastas, for lunch we had a lot of pb&j, tuna, and wraps, and for breakfast we had Wheat-Bix and muesli with powdered milk—it’s better than it sounds. When it came time to go to bed I grabbed my sleeping mat and sleeping bag found a spot around the fire. Sleeping outside under millions of stars is better than any hotel in the world.

We woke up with the sun; it took people a little while to realize that it was even Easter because we were in such a different place. No snow melting, no Robbins chirping, just sand and hot emptiness. We headed back to the troopies, packed up and hit the road. We drove to a resort campground. The resort is near Ayres Rock, better known here as Uluru its traditional Aboriginal name. If it were not for the resort there would be nothing there at all. The staff has living quarters because there are no houses or town. The petro (gas) station and the super market are all on resort property. Soon after we arrived and checked in, we headed to the national park that hosts Uluru and Kata Tjuta. Once in the park we went to Kata Tjuta for a hike and to watch the sun set. We did a 5k hike around Kata Tjuta before watching the sun set reflecting the red rays off of the red rocks for an amazing effect. We went back to the resort for the only dinner of the trip that we did not have to cook. We went to a BBQ restaurant where you buy your meat and cook it yourself. I got the combo platter, two beef sausages, one emu sausage, one kangaroo skewer, and one crocodile skewer. This was one the cheapest things on the menu for $27.00. It was an expensive meal but it was really good. The emu sausage was the best and the crocodile had a unique but amazing taste. That night we all slept under the stars again but this night was not so peaceful. After only a couple hours of sleep a monstrous storm blew in. The lightning was like nothing I had ever seen before. Every time it flashed it filled the sky and looked as if every little bolt when straight to the ground. We did not have the tents set up and with the size of the storm there was no way we could set them up at this point. We had to take our sleeping bags and mats over the laundry room where our group, as well as some others, spent the night.

The next day we went back to the national park to go to Uluru. We walked through the culture center to learn about the Aboriginal culture. It is similar and yet uniquely different from Native American culture. After this we went to a lookout that gave us the perfect Kodak moment. While we were here taking pictures it was drizzling on and off, then a rainbow appeared over Uluru. It was really cool to see this because it is a very rare occasion to see a rainbow anywhere in the outback and we got to see it over Uluru. After we finally decided we all had enough pictures we started our walk around Uluru. The hike took about 3 hours to make it all the way around. After the hike we hit the road to start our way to Kings Canyon. We would not make it to Kings Canyon by nightfall so we had to camp on the side of the road. But it would not be excited if it was right on the side of the road so we put the troopies in four wheel and started cruising through the sand. We eventually came to a spot that Steve and Jude must have used on past trips. There were already logs in a circle around the place where we would start our fire. To start the fire we needed wood, so Jude and I and some others got in the troopie to go look for wood. We could not find a good windfall to collect wood. So Jude told us to hold on as he rammed a tree a couple of times with the big brush guard on the troopie, good things is only a rental! We collected the wood from the fallen tree then made a fire and dinner, by this time everyone was ready for bed. We slept under the stars again keeping an eye on the lighting in the distance but luckily it never made its way towards us.

In the morning we packed up and finished the drive to Kings Canyon. We did a 5k hike around the canyon. The hike was not necessarily an easy one. There was about a lot of elevation change and it was nearing the middle of the day when the sun is hottest. Luckily half way through the hike there is a water hole. We were all really excited to see this because by this time in the trip deodorant doest really stop the stink of not showering. After a good swim we finished the hike and then headed down the road to a service station to make lunch and relax in the shade. When we were rested and even had a little nap we headed back to Kings Canyon. This time we were starting our overnight hike. It was a 7k hike to the place we were spending the night. We had to bring all our personal items, tents, gear, food, and water for the night. No one’s pack was light and it was not an easy hike. There was climbing, gap jumping, and lots of elevation change. Before we started the hike we had to call a hotline to tell them how many of us were going on the hike, our names and ages, where we would be camping, and when we would return. We did the first half in the daylight. We stopped to watch the sun set from the edge of the canyon. The second half was a lot flatter and was done in the dark with flashlights. We made camp in the most amazing rock amphitheater. This was the most remote we were the whole trip. Even to get back to the troopies it would be a three or more hour hike. After dinner we all spread out to see what cool places we could sleep. Pat and I found this awesome spot up on a rock dome. We were up about 50 feet high sleeping about ten feet from the edge in any direction. It was the best view. Unfortunately nature had different plans. A rain cloud came through in the middle of the night, again. There was no lightning this time so Pat and I thought we would wait it out. It stopped raining after about ten minutes. Everyone but us had already gone back down to camp to get inside a tent. We were happy that we didn’t, but then about 15 minutes later Steve came up by us and made us get down because he was worried that a lightning storm might be on the way. I was pretty irritated but got down anyways and of course the lightning or more rain never came. But I know he was just doing his job.

In the morning we had to pack up camp and start our way back to the troopies. Everyone’s packs where a lot lighter with less water and food but it was still a long hike after a night of almost no sleep and the sleep we did get was on solid rock. When we got back we packed up the troopies and headed back to the service station. We stopped for a bathroom break and so that Jude could register our vehicles for the next part of the drive. The next stretch is 130k of off road for 4x4 only. It was a bumpy ride but it was a lot of fun. We also got to see a dingo and wild horses on this part of the ride. We made our way to a camping area again on the Fink River, only downstream this time. Because of all the rain, this time the Fink River was flowing strong and we had to camp on the bank. The Fink River is considered one of the oldest rivers in the world. It is pretty cool to say that we got to swim it. We all fell asleep in the sand on the bank but were woken yet again by thunder and lightning. This time we had some tents already set up but not enough. With no shelter to run to we piled into the tents and the troopies to wait it out. The tents filled up fast and I was stuck in the troopie. After about 30-45 minutes the rain died down enough so that me and Todd could get out and set up a tent for ourselves so we could try to get a few hours of precious sleep.

At this point in the trip we were all getting over the novelty of rain in the outback. As Steve and Jude kept saying they thought it was amazing because they have never seen it like this, but even they were getting sick of the rain and lack of sleep. We packed up camp and headed to Serpentine Gorge. This was a spectacular gorge and one of my favorite spots on the trip. After a short but very steep hike we hit the road. We drove to Eldry Creek Big Hole. It was the best waterhole on the trip. It was a big pond with a stream feeding into it from between two cliffs. We swam up the stream and found a sandy spot along it and had a rest. Who would have thought we would ever sit on the beach in the outback, I guess the rain really did make some things cool. After a good long swim we packed up and hit the road to see the sights. With all the rain we had rivers were flooding the roads. They do not have bridges in the outback because it almost never rains, so when it does rain the roads get flooded. We were lucky to have out four wheel drive with a snorkel here. There was heaps of two wheel drive cars stuck, waiting for the river to go down so they could cross. We on the other hand drove right through them like they were not even there. On the way to the campsite we stopped to see a place where geologists believe that a meteor struck Earth. Who knows if they are right or not but it is hard to dispute when you see the giant crater with rocks pushed up on all sides in an otherwise perfectly flat area. By the time we made it to the campsite rain was once again on the horizon. Steve was able to sweet talk the site manager into letting us sleep under an outdoor café overhang. Under the overhang, in between the tables and chairs, we all slept for the whole night through the rain—finally some sleep!

We had to be up pretty early because the café opened at 7am so we had to be cleared out by then. But as 7am rolled around it was apparent that the café was only opening hoping that we would buy something because there was nobody else at the campsite. After we packed up the troopies we went on a canyon hike on a trail that the campsite had. It we were all a little skeptical but it turned out to be amazing. We all hiked through about two feet of water to get to the best parts where we were able to climb on the rocks and explore the endless canyon. We then headed back to the troopies and hit the road. The long rain through the night flooded the rivers even more. We did not have to worry too much but the flooded rivers still caused us a minor problem however. If the rain continued and the rivers flood more, the currants would increases. With the snorkel on the 4x4 we could drive even with the engine underwater but if the currant is too strong it could wash us downstream. We had one night of camping left and one more river to cross. We decided to head back into Alice Springs a day early and camped at a campsite in the city. We had to do this because if it continued to rain the last river might be too strong to cross and then we would miss our flight in the morning. When we got to Alice we were surprised to see the Todd River was flowing with at least two meters of water. I got to see the Todd River flowing—I am one third of the way to being a local of Alice Springs, Australia! The campsite we were going to stay at was actually on the other side of the Todd and we could not get to it. We tried another campsite and they were full. This is when we thought we might be sleeping in the troopies. Luckily the third site we went to had a spot open. We made camp here and took advantage of the luxury amenities. We jumped in the pool and got to use a grill to make dinner instead of the camp stoves. We even had a sink and running water to do the dishes. There were showers available but no one even bothered because no one had soap and we had already gone seven days without a shower, what is one more day? We set up all the tents and they were all claimed for the night just in case it started raining. We all slept under the stars even though there were not as many because we were in the city now. As with almost every other night it started to rain. It was only a light rain but it was enough to scare some people in the tents. I however just pulled the tarp I was sleeping on over me and slept through it.

The last morning of the trip we went to Anzec hill to watch the sunrise. It was one of the best sunrises I have ever seen. The clouds in the sky had so much color. After sunrise we went back to camp to pack up. We divided up the leftover food for anyone who wanted it. Then cleaned the mud, dirt, sand, and wet socks out of the troopies and headed to the airport. As we were waiting in the airport I noticed that there is only one waiting area and three gates in the whole airport. The gates are right next to each other and all lead out the same doors outside to the tarmac where you walk up the stairs the plane. The flight was delayed about an hour because it had started to storm again. Once we got on the plane I immediately felt bad for everyone else on the airplane as none of had showered in over a week. The plane ride home was a lot more active because after a week together we were all like one big family. The coolest people I met on the trip were three Germans; I cannot wait to go to Germany to visit them someday. When the plane landed and we got on the bus to head back to Lismore, we had to say goodbye to Steve and Jude as they were not taking the bus with us. Someone jokingly asked if since they are not there could we stop at Liquor Land on the way home. The bus driver overheard us and actually stopped. We all got a little something to drink for the ride home. When we got back the first thing everyone did was take a nice hot shower. Then we all went to the bar to celebrate the three different birthdays going on as well as an outback trip survived.

Overall it was one crazy trip. Sleeping under the stars, trying to avoid rain, no showering, it was all amazing. The first morning I woke up in my bed I sat up and looked around kind of bored because I did not have my outback buddies to play with. I cannot wait to go back someday. I know my mom and dad really want to go so I am thinking that when they do go I will go with them. Then maybe I can see what it normally looks like with no rain.
I am sorry that it was so long but don’t say that I didn’t warn you. I am heading to the Great Barrier Reef this weekend to do some scuba diving and a rainforest walk, so another post will be up soon after that. Until next time, I miss everyone.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Four days accommodation in Byron: $0, Scuba Class: $395, Surfboard $200, Food: too much, Getting totally dominated by a monster wave: Priceless!

Well it has been a little longer than I expected in between posts. I have been really busy lately so I just did not have time to get a new post out there. So for all the people who keep asking me “When are you going to blog again?” here it is…

Byron Bay:
Byron Bay is this sweet little town right on the beach. It is about 40 minutes from the town my campus is in. The town of Byron is always busy. They have a ton of shops, bars, hostels, and vacation homes. Byron itself is kind of going through an identity crisis. It has always been known as a backpacker’s town full of young people, hostels and clubs. As time goes on big developers are moving in and putting in high end vacation homes and apartments. The town has a “no chain restaurant or shops” rule which makes all the prices of everything really high. One of my roommate’s brothers lives in Byron, so when I go there I have a free place to stay. He said I was welcome anytime I want to stay. He lives in a small brick house and shares rent, $500 a week, with four other housemates. The small house he lives in is valued at $1.8 million, it’s all about location. His house is in the process of changing ownership. The new owners plan to buy up all the houses on the block to tear them down and build upper class apartments. While I was in Byron last weekend I got the chance to go see an underground Aussie band. They are called The Hungry Kids of Hungary—youtube them, they are amazing. Byron is also the home of New South Wale's (the state I am in) number one sushi restaurant. I have never really had sushi before so I thought I would give it a try and it is amazing! I am always craving sushi now.

Scuba and surfing:
I have spent the last two weekends in Byron. While there I have been doing my scuba class and going to the beach to surf. Last weekend with my scuba class we finally got to get out of the pool and into the ocean. We did four different dives at Julian Rock; it is rated to be one of Australia’s top 10 dive spots. Scuba diving is one of the coolest things I have ever done. We got to dive down to about 50 feet below the surface. While under water I got to see so many new things. Besides all of the coral and rock formations I was able to see many fish such as: Eastern Blue Groper, Snappers, Blue Spotted Eagle Rays, Wobbegong Sharks, Surgeon fish, and Butterfly fish. Now that I am done with the class I am an internationally certified scuba diver. I cannot wait for the chance to go diving at the Great Barrier Reef. After the scuba class every day I would go to the beach to surf. I am still not any good at surfing but every time I go I feel like I am getting a little better. I found a spot where the waves are smaller so I will be able to learn better. Unfortunately I did not find this spot until after I had already been dominated by monster waves. One of my favorite parts of surfing is that when you fall is do not really hurt, it may feel like you are going to die from drowning but the board always pulls you back to the surface. Well at least I thought you never really got hurt until this monster wave sent me flying in the air and then I landed face first on my board. (Don’t worry Mom, I know, and I am being safe.) Now that I found that spot where the waves are smaller I should be able to get better faster and then maybe be able to shred the big waves instead of getting beat down by them.

The food in Australia is not that much different than the food available in the US. There really is not a true Australian dish. If I were to go out to eat I would have to decide between Chinese, Italian, or sea food just as in the US. In the grocery stores they have basically the same stuff only different brands. They do have some of the same brands such as Kellogg’s but the product will be called something different. For example, Rice Krispys are called Rice Bubbles, they still have Snap, Crackle, and Pop don’t worry. I am finally starting to get used to the brands that are offered here and I don’t feel so lost when I walk into the grocery store. Although, the other day I almost made a, “Hey I am American and I don’t understand the metric system,” mistake when I went to the deli. I was waiting in line, I wanted to get a pound of ham, it wasn’t until the girl in front of my order that I realized I cannot get a pound because they don’t have pounds. So I just asked for a half of kilo hoping for the best. Luckily a half of kilo was not too much ham. The only foods I can think of that I have eaten here that you cannot really get in the US are Vegemite and kangaroo steaks. Vegemite is concentrated yeast extract; it’s a dark brown color and smells kind of funny. Most Australians eat it on bread or toast and they all make fun of the American because we don’t like it. I unlike the majority of American do like it; I eat it all the time and I like it more every time I have it. The kangaroo steaks were amazing! The whole time I was cooking them I did not know what to expect at all. When I took my first bite I was surprised at how amazing it was. The best part is roo steaks are really cheap; I got two steaks for only $4.50.

I cannot really think of anything else for right now. Classes are going about as good as classes can I guess. I have a couple assignments due this week and I should have probably been working on them instead of working on this blog post but whatever I will still get them done in time. I suppose that is all until next time. I miss everyone.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Laundry and classes!! Oh Joy!!

The time has come! I needed to do my laundry. Doing the laundry here kind of sucks. They only have four washers and four dryers. No matter when I try to do my laundry all of them are in use already. They have 22 units with about 16 people in each unit--four washers and dryers is not enough. Then if you get lucky enough to get a load in the wash its always a race to get it in the first dryer available. At least if its not raining we can hang it on the line to dry.

Last Monday was the beginning of classes for most people. My first class was not until Tuesday because I have possibly the best class schedule ever. I have no classes on Monday or on Friday and I only have one three hour class on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. It is really nice having four day weekends and it will give me the chance to travel a lot on the weekends. I have not been to class since December 18th so I was not exactly ready to jump back into the routine of going to class but it was not too bad. The classes I took are: Marketing for Hospitality and Tourism, Sports Tourism, and Entrepreneurship in Tourism. I was sitting in the room waiting for the professor for my sports tourism class to show up. When he came is he was wearing his “Meet me at the UniBar” shirt so I knew the class would be fun. In reality none of my classes seem as if they will be very challenging. All three classes require a lot of reading and three assignments, but only my sports tourism class has a final exam. Having to buy the text books was the worst part. I am used to Stout where we get free book rental, so having to pay about $200 for books really sucked.

On Thursday we had a big toga party at the UniBar. The official theme was rainbow toga. I did not want to spend the money to buy rainbow colored sheets so I used my grey one and told everyone I was the raincloud and the end of the rainbow. It was a lot of fun having 800 or so people all dressed in togas at the bar. On Friday I spent the day in Byron Bay. Byron Bay is a big tourist town right on the beach; they have a ton of surf shops, cafes, and bars. While I was there I bought a secondhand surfboard. I am basically addicted to surfing, it is all I ever want to do. I know a lot of guys who go almost every day so I will be able to practice a lot. Most of my friends were staying the night in Byron at a hostel but I wanted to save some money so I headed back to Lismore on the bus. My journey to and from Byron was quite the little adventure in itself. Some of my friends were driving past Byron on their way to Tweed Heads for the weekend so they dropped me off. When all my friends went back to their hostel I just stayed at the beach to do some more surfing. When it was time for me to go I walked to the bus stop. It turns out that some girls I know where also taking the bus back to Lismore. While we were on the bus I found out that my ride from the bus station back to campus fell through. I did not want to take a taxi by myself because it would have cost about $17. So I crammed into the taxi with the three girls and my surfboard. They were going to the square to do some shopping so I went there with them. From there I was able to take the free shuttle back to campus. It took me about an hour longer then it should have and I had a ton of funny looks for wandering around town with a surfboard but I made it home all the way from Byron for only $6!

The rest of this weekend will probably be pretty chill. I should start reading and working on my assignments. I am going to try and get them done early so I won’t have to worry about them. I know I say that every semester but here I have so much free time I think I will actually stay on top of it.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The End of an Era…aka O-week

The End of an Era…aka O-week

Today is the last day of O-week here at Southern Cross. O-week here is just a chance for all the international as well as the Aussie students to get used to the surroundings and meet some new people. I was constantly busy this last week—orientation during the day and party at night (don’t worry Mom I was being safe and responsible). There were parties every night of O-week including an alien theme at the UniBar. The best part of it all is that everyone here drinks boxed wine, aka goon, at the parties. They drink a lot of goon because all of the other alcohol here is crazy expensive. To get a slab (a case) of beer is at least like $30 for the cheapest stuff. The cheapest bottle of vodka here is about $35 for only a .75 liter bottle. If you want the good stuff like a bottle of Captain Morgan you better be ready to drop about $50-$75 for one liter. You can get two four liter goons for around $18. It is pretty great with because people still make mixers with the goon. The most popular is goon and juice but everyone also loves a good goon sunrise as well.

The last big event of O-week was a trip to a wild life sanctuary which I went to yesterday. It was basically a giant zoo but the only fences were to separate the different animals. The best area was the kangaroo area. I got to pet, feed and hop around with them. Of course there were fences blocking off the more dangerous animals such as crocodiles and the snakes. One of the best parts was seeing them feed the crocs. It also reinforced the fact that I never want to get anywhere near a croc ever. I also got to see a familiar looking little lizard with a bright blue tongue.

To cap off an excellent first week here at uni I went to the beach today. Some friends and I headed out to a less traveled beach that is more for the locals. It was the most amazing beach I have ever seen. The water was clear and bright blue and the sand was white and soft. Some of my Aussie friends brought their surfboards so I was able to give it a try. After paddling out I was sitting on the board waiting for a good wave and looking around at my surroundings it was hard to believe it was real. Looking back to the beach and the rocks with the waves crashing against them it looked like I was staring at a giant poster. I was not any good on the surf board but they said that I was doing better than most of the Americans they try to teach. I was able to stand up on the board a couple of times but it was only for a quick second or two. I cannot wait to get back out the beach and keep practicing.

I miss everyone! Keep checking for more updates!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The first week.

Everyone wanted me to get a blog so here we go....

First things first the weather here is amazing! Sorry I just had to let you know. Anyways the flight down here went smoth. Only the flight from Milwaukee to Chicago was a little bit late. Other then that all was good. I landed in Sydney at about 7:30am last Wednesday. I felt like a lost puppy in the airport. Trying to exchange American money, buying a phone, and finding the right shuttle to the hostel. When i finaly made it to the hostel I got to settle in a bit then go exploring Sydney. Sydney has some amazing parks and of course I got to see the Sydney Opera House. It was not untill I seen the opera house did it finaly hit me, "Holy shit I'm in Australia!" That night in the hostel I went to the bar in the basment with some people from Canada and Holland. It was cool that I was able to drink at the bar but I was so tired from the flight that I left at like 9:30pm to go to bed. The Next day Kate met me at the hostel and we went exploring together. We then jumped on the train that brought us to campus.

We arrived at 4:30am on Friday, we were standing in the carpark of our dorm without a clue where to go or what to do. We got a hold of the RAs and they got us into our room. Since then I have been busy everyday. We got to go to the beach for the day where I got really sunburn. I guess they have a really thin ozone layer in Australia. We have heaps of oriantation stuff every day, it gets a little boring but they give us free snags (sausages) at the BBQs so its not too bad. Everyone here is really nice. The Aussies are great and there are a lot of awsome people from the states here as well. Suprisingly there are a lot of WI and MN kids here. So far I live with one girl from Eau Claire and one Aussie girl. I am still waiting from my last roommate. Rumer has it is that he will be a guy, it will be nice to have another guy roommate. The colleges, or dorms, here are appartment style so we have four bedrooms, a big bathroom, a kitchen, and a living room. Overall they are pretty nice.

Today I got to see a aboriginal dance. I even got to play the didgeridoo!!! I wasn't any good at it but it was fun giving it a try. Just more oriantation stuff today. I signed up to do a scuba class. It includes 4 open ocean dives and I will get internationaly certified in scuba so that will be really cool. Plus this way when I make it to the great barrier reef later in my trip I will be able to do a complete dive insted of just snorkling. Tonight we have trivia night at the unibar so hopefully I will win some good prizes.

I will try to keep updating the blog as much as I can.