Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Magical Mystery Tour and Camping

Our wildlife biology class takes place over 5 weeks, luckily, most of this time is spent in the field. We went on a tour through Border Ranges National Park, and even got to camp in the rainforest. This is a picture of our class (minus me as I am taking the picture.)

Our magical mystery tour (the prof's words) began at 9am Thursday morning. We made a stop in a town called Nimbin before heading to the rainforest. Nimbin is like... what I imagine the 1960s were like. I'll just leave it at that.

We took a detour to see some of the huge fruit bats that live in the area. These are called flying foxes, because they are about the size of a fox - so cool!

After Nimbin we drove to Border Ranges National Park and took in several of the views. These pictures are really a poor representation of Australia. The vast majority of the country is hot and dry and flat, we just happened to be on the East coast near the Great Dividing Range. This is most topography there is in Australia.

The land we were on is actually Aboriginal property, given back to the indigenous people fairly recently by the government. One is supposed to ask the elders of the tribe permission to actually climb Mt. Warning (indigenous name is Wollumbin), the volcano that is the focal point of the area. Our professor did this prior to our arrival. Before this field trip, I had looked into climbing the mountain myself, and found out that women weren't actually supposed to. It's so interesting to ask an Australian what they think about the indigenous people. I inquired about Wollumbin to several locals, some told me that I should definitely get permission as it is the right and respectful thing to do, and some were angered that Aboriginal people even have control of the land at all. (One told me to "stuff them," which basically means forget them.)

Personally, I have huge amounts of respect for this people group. They are probably the most under-appreciated group of indigenous people in the world. We hear about the Actecs, Incas, Mayans, Native Americans, and their great contributions to society or how progressive their architecture or agriculture was. However, I am ashamed to say that I had never even heard about Indigenous Australians, let alone knew that they are the oldest surviving group in the world. It's thought that Aboriginal people have inhabited Australia for 60,000 years. - and Australia is not an easy place to live considering most of it is a desert and the ocean surrounding it is swimming with deadly sharks, jelly fish etc. etc. Furthermore, instances of massacre and murder have taken place, relatively recently in some cases, and nobody seems to know about it. As much as I have doted on Aussies, I will say that sadly racism is alive and well in this country. Australia still has a long way to go regarding this (just like the US).

Anywho, we saw lots of cool wildlife during the day. This is a Bower bird, who was being very camera shy.

Bower birds like to find random objects that are blue to decorate their next with. Our prof told us a story that even a topaz ring once got pilfered by a bower bird.

We stopped at a koala rehabilitation center. Almost 90% or of koalas are infected with a strain of chlamydia which can cause blindness and is often fatal.

The camping trip was a few days later.  We took our final exam for biology class in the evening. The next morning  I woke up at dawn and was thrilled to see a few wallabys wandering around.  What a privilege to get to see these animals in the wild.


Blue Mountains

These are the word Charles Darwin used to describe the Blue Mountains when he saw them for the first time. An accurate description, don't you think?

After leaving Sydney, we got back on the train and took it two hours west toward the Blue Mountains. Now, "mountains" has a very different meaning here than it does in the States, and these mountains were more like big hills. But they were blue, and they were very beautiful.

The three points are called the Three Sisters.

A group of us rode the "scenic railway" down to the bottom of one of the mountains. The area used to be a coal mine, and the railway was used to transport coal. Now, it is like a theme of the mountains and the surrounding city, Katoomba. The little train here is mostly just a means of getting to the bottom, not a ride. But it was nearly a 45 degree angle, and "Indiana jones" theme music played, so it had a roller coaster feel.

At the bottom, we were surrounded by sub-tropical rainforest and the remains of the old coal mine. This is Katoomba falls.

As a part of our scenic railway ticket, we got to take the skyway back. It was like a giant ski lift for 40 or so people.

Unfortunately, this picture wasnt taken the day we actually rode the skyway. The day we rode it there was fog that reduced visibility to less than 100 meters. But, floating through the fog and clouds was exciting.
The next day, the fog turned to a cold rain. The temperature didn't get above 50 F and the fog was so thick we couldnt see trees that were 15 feet outside our window. So, we spent the entire day lounging around the hostel watching Disney movies and working on homework. It was actually really nice to have a day to relax after running from place to place during the last week in Sydney. We played this game called "signs," one of the many "camp" games we've taught eachother throughout the trip. It was such a blast.

The lounge area near our rooms was the location for a breast cancer awareness jewelry party. So, each time we went between our room and any other area, we had to pass through trays of finger foods, cakes, and champagne. This was rough, considering most of us had no money, and only brought ramen noodles or peanut butter sandwiches for the stay in Katoomba. As the event was wrapping up, the cleaning staff, a few women, came and offered us all the leftover food. You should have seen us! I've never seen college students put away so much cake in champagne in my life! The staff had clearly drank half the remaining champagne already, which made the whole thing that much more interesting. One of the women said, "How often do you stay somewhere and party with the staff like this?" But thats an Australian for you.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Alright, this post is not for the faint hearted. The fact that I was creeped out by this experience says a lot considering the last couple of posts were about snakes and spiders.

So, the story begins with my roommate, Megan, coming out of the bathroom and saying "Guys! Come here and look at this." To our surprise and delight, there was a cute little gecko on the floor. It looked just like the Geico gecko only it was white and yellow colored. I took him over to the other cabin to show my creature-loving friends .

So, as I am holding him with one hand and using the other hand to open the door, Mr. Gecko starts to escape and I catch him by the tail.

Bad idea.

The tail immediately falls off, leaving the lizard running away on the ground and a bloody twitching tail in my hand. This resulted in a loud scream followed by several curses on my part and ten or so curious students arriving to investigate.

Apparently it is a defense tactic. We let the lizard go shortly afterward, and he seemed to be alright. This is the weirdest country.

Friday, October 30, 2009



Last week was such a whirlwind of new experiences! We left for Sydney last Wednesday arvo (afternoon). After a short plane trip we caught a train to Central Station where our hostel was located. My first impression of Sydney was that it was like Chicago or Washington D.C - but classier. The architecture of some of the old buildings is beautiful, as is the landscaping. Here is a picture of the famous Harbor Bridge. You can't see from the picture, but some people are actually climbing across the top of it! Seeing the Harbor Bridge and the Opera House finally made me feel like I was actually IN AUSTRALIA. The whole experience has been so surreal thus far, but seeing the actual buildings that were on TV during the recent Sydney Olympics finally helped it sink in.
The hostel that we stayed in was right next to Central Station, and was a reconstructed train station. Some of the rooms were even old train cars! I met some amazing people in the hostel who were traveling the world. I think aside from the city itself, my favorite thing about Sydney is how culturally diverse it is. I often felt like a minority - which was fine with me! Walking down the street I heard French, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, and accents that sounded German and Russian. I think I met someone from nearly every continent in fact (well except for maybe Antarctica).

This is the view from the top of the Sydney Tower.


The Australian Museum

We visited the Tower after a day of absolute random fun. I, of course, had all kinds of things planned for the day (shocking, I know) but as we were walking in the direction of the harbor, we kept stumbling across good fortune.

St. Andrews Cathedral looked small from the outside, but the inside was just spectacular. The stained glass windows, huge archways, and massive pipe organ were so breathtakingly beautiful that we whispered as we walked through.

After visiting the church, we walked past a Virgin Mobile store and a woman was holding a poster and yelling "Guy Sebastian is about to give a free concert!" Concert? Free? We were totally in. It turns out that Guy Sebastian was the winner of Australian Idol, something we have all enjoyed watching during our stay, in 2003. We loved his music - and him! He signed a CD for us "To Team USA, I hope you enjoy your stay in OZ!"

Our stay in Sydney was short, but next up was the Blue Mountains. A post about it is soon to come!

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Spider that Came to Class

This post is for my dad and Janet, who are both going to be stoked about this!

It is already very difficult to pay attention during class here at the Australia Centre. An obsessed crow already tries to get inside the window by repeated flying against it and squawking at the top of its lungs. A group of 30 -40 kids who are staying in the centre come down to the lake to launch sail boats at least a couple of times a week during lecture. There is always something crazy and distracting going on. The fact that a spider casually crawled in, took a seat on the desk in front of me, and proceeded to listen to the lecture for an hour didn't really surprise any of us.
Here is what spidey looks like

I need to research to find what kind of spider this is. He was awfully well behaved during the lecutre on marine oil spills. It was mostly the students who were a little freaked out by him, not the other way around.

We ended up letting spidy go in some bushes outside of class. So, if you're ever in the Lennox area, keep an eye out for him. He'll be the one thats oddly very educated about the Exxon- Valdez.

The Pancake Place

Sunday I went to what is lovingly referred to as the "pancake place." Here is the story: There is a song that Jack Johnson sings called "Banana Pancakes." Well, it turns out that Jack Johnson himself owns a house in Lennox Head and ate banana pancakes at this particular restaurant. The place is within walking distance from our cabins, so my friend and I walked down for brekky. I couldn't tell you the name of the place, its tiny and only has outdoor seating. But this place is just adorable. Everyone brings their dogs, which run around unleashed with kids. The front area is littered with kayaks, surf boards, towels, and bikes. Its the kind of place at which one could sit and people-watch for hours.

Here is a picture of the view from our table. If this wasn't good enough already, the food at this place is FANTASTIC. I'm telling you, its the best kept secret in Lennox. The last time I was here I had a chicken sandwich with avocados (avos) and pineapple and I think it changed my life. Today, however, I knew it was time for the banana pancake experience. Before I even go on, if you are on a diet, stop reading now. In fact, just go ahead and go get a snack because there's no way you can see this and not get hungry. Alright, here they are:

This glorious concoction consists of banana pancakes covered in maple syrup with homemade vanilla ice cream on top. In the back there is some famous Aussie bacon whichb is, as I have already mentioned, delicious. So that's how I started my day: enough saturated fat to notably shorten my life. Needless to say, between this and the other amazing aussie food, most of us have gained a couple of pounds. I say its totally worth it!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


We went on our second SCUBA adventure today. Luckily the visibility was much higher today - 15 meters this time. (I keep wanting to write "metres" - aussie style) It was also much warmer/calmer conditions. We were in the water by 8am. Strapping the gear,tank and various gauges is always the hardest part of the experience. There must be close to 50 pounds worth of gear by the time we are ready. Each piece has a designated place: the regulator (what you breath through) comes over your right shoulder. The gauge that shows how much air you have left and at what depth you are at gets strapped at your waist. On our left wrists were compasses. Masks and snorkels on our faces, boots and fins on our feet. Underneath all this is a wet suit that honestly takes a good 15 minutes to fit into. The tighter the better when it comes to these things, apparently. The suit is always too short for me (surprise there) which means I am in a constantly bent state while wearing it. To top it all off, we wear hoods that come around our faces that make it look like we are more likely to be shooting into space than to be diving.

So, after suiting up and gearing up, you put your back to the water and flip over the side of the boat. Gravity does the rest. I was the first one out this morning, so I waited by the buoy (pronounced in aussie, "boy") for the rest of the crew. The decent is always a little scary. It gets gradually darker and colder as you pull yourself down on a rope, constantly plugging your nose and blowing to equalize the pressure on your ears.

We aren't actually scuba certified yet, so we still have to practice skills while we are underwater. We did a full mask fill first: You fill your mask with water and then blow air out your nose in order to clear it of the water. We do this so if for any reason our mask would get flooded with water, we wouldn't panic. Then, we worked on achieving neutral buoyancy - which as you can imagine, is difficult. You do this by inflating or deflating your BCD jacket. Anyway, enough of the boring stuff. The cool part comes when we are swimming around and the instructor, Jack, starts excitedly pointing to something in the distance and then telling us to get down low. I look over and see a nice little school of parrot fish... I smile and nod, and then Jack points again. I look over just in time to see a fin a good meter high swimming through the school of fish. It was another gray nurse shark. This puppy had to be 3-4 meters long. We watched it swim with this school of fish, not trying to eat them, but just swimming. We later learned that the fish actually hang out with the shark for protection from other predators. A shark that big would not normally try to prey upon a fish so small - it would be a waste of energy to chase it. It would more likely hunt larger prey (like American college students?)

So as we are watching this shark and swimming closer, I forget to look immediately where I am swimming and nearly put my hand directly on a wobbygong carpet shark. These guys hang out on the bottom and are generally harmless (the scar on Jack's leg begs to differ though). None the less, it gave me quite a start. We saw quite a few nurse sharks this morning as well as lots of colorful fish. We are diving again tomorrow, I can't wait!
This is the view of Julian Rocks, the area we normally dive. This is a small island about half a mile off the coast.