Sunday, January 16, 2000

Hello everyone!

Thought I’d pen some memories about Australia before they slip away into the ether of my mind. My time in Australia was limited and I did a whirl-wind tour starting in Melbourne and ending in Cairns where the Great Barrier Reef is located.

penguin

Penguin photo source: Wikipedia commons

I got off the plane in Melbourne and went directly to Avis to rent a car. Of course, they drive on the left hand side of the road and this was a challenge right from the start. Have you ever driven on the opposite side of the road? It’s like writing with your opposite hand. Everything is opposite: the steering wheel, in the rear view mirror you look up to your left, the blinkers, the windshield wipers… Every time I went to use my blinkers, I would accidentally turn on the windshield wipers. I quickly got used to circulars and only panicked once – where I stopped in the middle and everyone honked and yelled at me to go. I only had two days in Melbourne and I wanted to cover some serious ground which is why I rented a car.

I drove to Phillips Island to witness the penguin parade which was a major highlight for me. Every night without fail these small penguins come out of the ocean and parade across the beach up a hill onto the land to sit on their nests. You pay $10 (Australian) to witness the spectacle. The operation is an excellent example of eco-tourism (a concept that combines tourism with environmental preservation).

They have stadium seating to view the penguins coming out of the water and have built a large boardwalk to see them walking on the land and sitting on their nests. They make all sorts of noises and you can get really close to them but of course you can’t touch them or use flash photography. The penguins seem to LOVE an audience! The money they raise goes toward upkeep of the facilities and on-going penguin research. A win-win for everyone! Could you imagine the penguins fate if they were not protected?

Next, I flew to Sydney and hung-out in a place called Newtown. Sydney will be an excellent city for the upcoming Olympic games. I was impressed with their public transportation system (combined trains, buses and ferries) and enjoyed the harbor. I did see a wonderful ballet at the Sydney Opera House which was quite enjoyable. Honestly, I was ready to leave after five days…that was enough for me.

ferrie opera house

On a ferry in Sydney Harbor

Next was Cairns on the north east coast. I met many international travelers’ and hung-out at a nice hostel away from the ocean front madness. Of course, the highlight was the Great Barrier Reef. I highly recommend to everyone that you visit the reef – it truly is a natural wonder of the world. I went out on an old pearl diving sailboat, The Falla, with a group of about 18 people and a hilariously funny crew. I snorkeled (couldn’t scuba dive for health reasons but most people did) across the shallow reef – very relaxed – doing the dead-man float for hours. Oh, what a sight! Beautiful coral of all shapes and sizes, large sea turtles and a huge variety of beautifully colored fish swimming six inches from your mask! I bought a video and a book that captures the images but you have to BE there to truly appreciate it.

The Falla

The Falla

If I were to do it again, I would plan on taking a 4 day/night cruise and go to the outer reefs which are less affected by tourists. Also, I would wear shorts and t-shirt – ouch! – I had a bad sunburn which made it tough to sit down for a few days. The reefs are in danger due to pollution, agricultural run-off, and tourism. Spending one hour with the reefs is enough to turn you into a radical environmentalist!

There’s a lot to do in Cairns, many tourist options from 5-day outback safaris to rainforest walks to parachuting and hang-gliding. I’m on a budget so I had to be discriminating. I chose a one-day rainforest tour which turned out to be a complete disaster. Seems like you can’t travel without a few disasters along the way but I don’t like dwelling on the negative. However, I thought you should have a realistic view of my journey so I’ll share.

The tour started out early in the morning. We had to pick-up about 15 people, and then we were going to visit three waterfalls where we could swim and play and then we were going to have barbecue steaks for lunch. The first swimming hole was great! We all got into the van and headed to the second swimming hole which was a natural water slide. It was raining so most of us walked into the rainforest with nothing on but our swim suits and sandals. We only had to walk about 10 minutes, do the slide and walk out – 30 minutes tops.

Unfortunately, someone decided that while we were in the forest, they would rob the van. So we returned to the van and our backpacks were gone. Thank goodness, I did not have my passport or money or credit cards in my pack. Most people had all their money and credit cards stolen. Everyone was crying and shocked and chaos ensued. In the middle of the chaos, a young French woman started screaming because a small leech was in her eye – YUCK! Our guide was excellent. She handled the situation with grace and diplomacy. An ambulance was called to help the French woman and the police came to make a report which took hours.

Cairns Rainforest

Cairns Rainforest

The most upsetting loss for me was the pack itself because it zips onto my larger backpack and my prescription sunglasses would be hard to replace. But, MIRACLES do happen! I said a little prayer and asked that the greatest good come from the theft. Later in the evening, my guide came to my hostel and said that the police had recovered a bunch of backpacks – YAH! We gathered up as many people as we could find and went to the police department and got our stuff. I was missing some important items: a watch that my Mom gave me for graduation, a camera (everyone’s cameras were gone), cosmetic items, an address book and my personal journal. My sunglasses and pack and small miscellaneous items were recovered. It never feels good to be violated but it does feel good to witness a miracle. Believe it or not, it was fun to rally together with people who shared a negative experience. We laughed and cried together. I felt very happy to recover my pack and haven’t dwelled on what was lost.

I haven’t talked to a traveler yet who hasn’t experienced theft – it goes with the territory. I am quite relieved that it’s already happened to me and I survived it! Initiation complete! I realize that the few material things I have brought with me are all replaceable…I’m not hanging on too tight.

Thank you for letting me share my experiences! I have lots to write about Kathmandu…

Love, Jen