I learned a few things when snorkeling the reef. Grab some snacks and snuggle up, cos it's story time.
The first is the Romeo and Juliet of the sea: There are certain fish called butterfly fish and when they choose a mate, they choose a mate for life. When one dies, the other abandons all other efforts to live and begins swimming in circles around the spot their mate was last seen alive. The living fish swims and swims, unyielding in it's search for it's lost love. It swims until it literally dies of fatigue and hunger, surrendering to death as the only answer to it's grand display of loyalty and love. Ah, the romance of the sea:)
I also learned of the untold story of finding nemo: The battle of the sexes. Here is how the story should've gone down according to marine biology: the female clown fish (Nemos mom, Coral) continually nags at the male clown fish (Nemos dad, Marlin). Her persistent nagging causes Marlin to release male hormones, thereby keeping his male status. Once Coral dies, Marlin will cease to produce the hormones and will no longer maintain his masculinity. He will become the female of the family and will choose Nemo for his new mate, beginning the nagging process with him to ensure he remains male. Gives it a bit of a different, albeit disturbing spin eh??:)
From Port Douglas we continued our drive north to Cape Tribulation. This drive was incredible with heaps of curvy roads all bordered with the vast blue-green ocean to the right and the dense multi-colored rainforest to the left. We learned quickly what a Cassowary bird is and based on the stories and the hundreds of warning signs decided that if we saw one of these birds that is the deadliest known bird for humans, growing up to 7-8 ft tall, that we would first, snap a picture for proof of existence while simultaneously praying that our existence would continue past the encounter. Sadly, we never got to see the little fella. Cape Trib experience in a tiny nutshell: dance party with two Americans and two Canadians (the hostel was a bit lacking in numbers of people), laying on the beach under the moon and the stars where the ocean meets the reef, and trekking through the rainforest with Matt the awesome German who was amazingly capable of keeping up with mine and Lauras random humor. We ate ice cream at Daintree Ice Cream Company which is basically located in paradise surrounded by the most beautiful and colorful scenery I've ever seen. The ice cream is made from the fruit trees grown right there on the property; we hadn't heard of more than half of those fruits. Delicious. Take away memory: Laura forging the path ahead of me and Matt on the Imogen Creek Trail. Laura turning with a pale face and mouth shaped into a large "O". Laura not saying a word as she sprinted with straight hands and high knees past me and Matt. Laura finally saying as she stood behind us that she saw a baby croc on the path. We later found out it was a ridiculously large and ugly lizard called a Goana, but that didn't matter. We'd had our croc sighting and the memory of Laura in a baby croc panic will make me laugh forever. "Baby croc. Baby croc. High knees High Knees!! Don't trip don't trip!!"
Down the road we went to the Whit Sunday Islands where we met up with Wayne (a friend of Laura's from Sydney) and his parents Glen and Margaret. They own a private sailboat and were gracious enough to let me and Laura stay with them for the night and the next day. We boarded the boat just before sunset with perfectly blue skies and an even more blue ocean reflection of that sky. We spent the evening sipping rum and coke (our introduction to Bundy Rum, the local Aussie rum brewed in Bundaberg) and talked with this amazing family until the stars were well set in the sky. I realized while talking with Wayne's parents just how educated and well rounded so many of the Aussies are. I tried my best to soak up as much information from them as I could. Biggest lesson of the night: learned to identify the Southern Cross in the sky, which the constellation on the Australian flag. They taught me how to find the Southern Celestial Pole using the cross, which is the southern hemispheres equivalent of the Northern Star. Now, I will always know which way is south and which is north, no matter what hemisphere I'm lost in..now, if only I would know what to do with that information! This night happened to be 3 years to the day of my Daddy meeting up with the angels, and I could think of no better way to spend it then talking with him under the deep sky of the southern hemisphere with a nearly full moon and the boat gently rocking me to sleep. I like knowing he is up there and gets to be with me on all these adventures. I think he'd be happy for me. Went for a morning sail and Glen was brave enough to let me and Laura man the wheel of the boat for a while as we learned as many sailor terms as we could manage.
Airlie Beach was one night adventure all on its own. After napping in the grass near the beach, we got ready for the night. All I can say about this night is I was introduced to the world of Aussie footy boy culture. Wow. They are a hilarious and very different breed than our American boys. Lesson: there are very distinct sports to be distinguished between. Rugby is not the same as Footy (Australian League Football). What you play largely depends on geography, Queensland region vs. NSW region. Careful there, I'm sure I'm still not even right on the differences and they love their footy.
A bit down the coast is Fraser Island. This place needs its own blog entirely. It's The largest sand island in the world and home of the most natural breed of dingos, who freely roam all over the island. You must take a barge to get there. Only 4WD vehicles are permitted because the beach is literally the highway on the island. Me and Laura, the prepared planners that we are loaded the car up on the barge and set forth on our journey, with smiles on our faces and no idea what we were getting ourselves into. As we drove off the barge, we parked, pulled out the manual for our hired car, found 4WD in the index and began our lesson of the day. After bumping and bouncing the 15 kM to the beach we started picking up a few more lessons. Bar tender: "did you guys let your tires down?" Us: "Huh?" Bar tender (after he stops laughing): "Tires need to be let down to at least 16 psi. Have you gotten bogged yet?" Us: "Huh? What's bogged??" Bar tender (more laughing): "Obviously you have not gotten bogged yet." We learned what bogged meant the next day, three times over:) Camper friends: "You have a hired car on Fraser??" Us: "Yep. Why?" Camper friends: "Hired cars aren't allowed on Fraser!! Oh well, you at least have your drivers permit to drive on the island?" Us: blank stare. Camper friends (more laughter): "Oh man. Well you have your campers permit to camp here?" Us: "Campers permit?? We literally just got on the barge!" Response of the night: "Damn lucky tourists!" I'm sure all those who know me and Laura well are not at all surprised at this point:) Night number 1 we pulled into our campsite off the beach, behind the dunes and turned off the car. Problem: pitch black outside. Dingos. It's only 6:30 at night. Problem solved: stargazing through the windows, a few paper cups of wine and a muse over life. This place is beyond amazing. You literally drive on the beach, with the ocean about 5 feet from your car and water splashing in the window. No lanes on this highway, just signal to say which way your veering, and Speed limit gets up to about 80 km/h. Hiked up Indian head, a super high look out and spotted several sharks, sting rays and sea turtles swimming below. Saw whales playing in the distance. Swam in Lake McKenzie, an unreal crystal clear lake filled with only rainwater. Camped with a group of boys and their family who were amazing and took us in, offered us food, drinks and music. Met Bart Thrupp, an incredible artist on the radio in Oz and will for sure be big soon. Spent another night stargazing and wishing on shooting stars in one of the most beautiful starry skies I've ever seen. Flew kites on the beach with two really cute families we met at the creek. Near death experience: missing our turn inland to catch our barge, driving toward the southern tip of the island without realizing it, no other cars in sight, only 1\4 tank petrol in the car, unbelievably soft sand in which we almost bog about 5 times, sun going down, tide coming up, no signs to indicate where we are on the island. Thankfully, we finally spotted a group of cars at the far tip. We made it on the last barge of the day with only 5 minutes to spare (wrong barge, but we played the sad, lost girls card and they let us on no worries:) Otherwise the night would have included me, Laura and Migaloo either getting bogged and washed into the ocean overnight, or being stranded on the shore with no gas, no people and the dingos. Oy vey.
Favorite part of the Australian highway is the heaps of signs geared toward keeping you awake, like "Rest. Or RIP", "Are we there yet Mum?" or some fairly graphic pics of cars crashing into trees and Cassowarys. Stopped for some free coffee/tea and bikkys (a biscuit is a cookie is a bikky) at the Rest. Revive. Survive. stops run by volunteers. And yes Loz, we slept at the truckers spot and survived!;) Also spotted our first wild kangaroos on that highway. Felt relieved once we saw them and the passenger didn't have to be on "Roo-duty" anymore.
Learned how to surf in Noosa..well Laura learned to surf, I learned how to fall somewhat gracefully back first into the water without hurting myself. Hung out with some local Aussies that taught us all about koalas and their predicament, as well as other things.
Byron Bay was last stop. Little hippie town where you instantly feel a bit lazy and immediately want to curl up on a hammock and take a nice nap. Pretty beach, interesting and funky culture. Slept at the Art Factory hostel in what resembled a covered wagon from the Oregon trail. Ended the trip by waking up at 5 to drive up to the light house and watch the sunrise over the ocean.
The next two weeks were spent in Sydney, doing the touristy biz and meeting Las Aussie mates. No worries, I approve of all of them:) Did the Opera House, sketched the Opera House while sitting in the botanical gardens, ate Roo pizza, walked the harbor bridge, visited Newtown, hung out at Manly beach, went to a barbe and watched the AFL championship with some true footy fans\players, and toured the wine region at Hunter Valley.
The last month of my life feels unreal on countless levels. Truly a soul vacation. I am realizing each day that the saying "the more you learn, the less you know" is not so much an observation but an absolute truth. So now I am Saying goodbye to the world of footy and rugby with its Tim tams, ciders and wedges with sour cream and sweet chili sauce. I've grown accustomed to and will miss my daily encounters with phrases such as "ay, how you goin?", "fancy a drink?", "Aw, no worries, you'll be right" and "that's rubbish!" Now..it's time to learn some Italian:)
As i sit on this plane to Beijing i realize I have so much to learn. I realize the large amount of respect for all those who speak a different language. I smile as the announcement on the speaker was just spoken in Chinese first, followed by English about 5 minutes later, and the girl next to me on the plane is reading a magazine written in pictures and symbols I cannot even fathom to understand. At the airport I patiently waited my in line for the restroom and when it was my turn I walked up to the stall, took a big step up into the stall, closed the door behind me and turned around only to find what looked like a toilet seat with no base, lodged into the ground and two little footprints on either side showing where to position your feet. I promptly did what Stacia does so well, panicked, opened the door and exited within about 3 seconds of walking into the stall. Wallked past the end of the line and out of the bathroom laughing at myself the whole time. Apparently, I'm not culturally savvy enough yet to know what to do with a squat toilet.
Next stop: Rome, Italy. Where I will greet the pasta, wine and gelato with open arms.