Archive for March, 2009

The Backpacker’s Dilemma

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

In the past month, I’ve been forming a theory. There are spectrums to most things in life. We sit on a series of points in a series of spectrums at any given phase, point, or moment in our lives. One of the easiest spectrums to recognize is given physical ability. This is to say that a boy who is 7 years old can never be as strong (at 7 years of age) as a man who is 21 years old. This is an exaggerated example, but you get the point.

Now for a situation that is a little closer: A 11 year old boy who works out 6 days a week for 6 months can’t be stronger than a 25 year old man that has been working out for 2 days a week and only 1 month. Make sense? There are many more obvious spectrums including metabolism. A woman at the age of 65 is simply never going to have the same body fat percentage (no matter how hard she works at it) as her 15 year old granddaughter (who eats junk food and sits around all day).

Another example of a spectrum that is more theoretical (my theory) is awareness. I believe that someone’s awareness of others is never lower than when they are an infant. Sure they see things swirling around their faces, but their only concern is their own survival. They feel hunger, pain and drowsiness (to name a few). Then you make your way to your adolescent years where you know that there are many other people in the world with needs that are not nesses airily your own, but you don’t always care. It’s somewhere between 16 and 22 that I believe most of us are most aware. This is when good professors and teachers are exposing you to other things and people in the world. This is also the age where most (not all) people get involved with some sort of charity work. It happens to also be when many of us do not need to support ourselves financially. This gives us a lot of free time on our hands. Once 22 hits, I think it’s safe to say that more of us are worried about paying rent or what career we are going to seek than saving the whales. From 22 on, (usually/unfortunately) our awareness of the rest of the world begins to decline in most cases. This leads to us eventually voting for a president when we are 80 years old because of one single issue (that usually only affects us). This could be something as embarrassingly selfish as a president who is going to essentially bankrupt the world (in the long run/big picture), but in an unrelated policy is going to make it 20% cheaper for you to purchase your favorite brand of cigars (again, an exaggerated example to make the point clear). The awareness spectrum can also be shaped as a bell curve with the bell at the age of 16-21 and a long tail (for most of us).

I know I haven’t referenced the title of this post yet, but the ground work as been done. My next theoretical spectrum is the exposure to new people in your life. At one end is no new exposure and at the other end it is meeting a ton of people every day. The old person in a hospital bed sits right beside the kid who is grounded for a year, the hermit in the woods, the shy person who just moved to a new city, and the proverbial person who has just moved back in with their parents in their small home town. These are only a few. On the other end of the spectrum is college, summer camp, and backpacking (to name a few).

Today we are going to concentrate on the end of the spectrum where you meet a bunch of new people. In the world of backpacking (especially alone), you will meet as many people as you do in your first days and months of college (at a small college). It’s a rush. It’s life in fast forward. You are a 9/10 when it comes to things in common. There are an army of people who are (at the moment) in exactly the same shoes as you. Back home, their situations vary from high school graduate to entrepreneur who just sold their business, but here in the sea, we are all the same.

You have a plethora of ice breakers including “Where are you from? Where are you going? And how long have you been here for?” This leads to a 3 hour conversation if time and language barriers permit. And if you get lucky enough to be in the same place, doing the same thing, for even as little as 48 hours, you can easily have forged a friend for life or a supercharged romance. But it’s not like college. You won’t get to spend the next 4 years of your life with these people. You have a day, an hour, or sometimes only a few minutes to meet these new people, before circumstance or itinerary, rips them away back into the sea of backpackers. Sometimes they poke their head above the water, weeks or even months later, sometimes for a day, sometimes a week, and sometimes for only a passing glance.

Here in lies the backpacker’s dilemma. You meet people who you never would have at home, but you can’t keep them. It’s a series of small losses that lead you to feel at the end of a month like you have suffered a serious loss. It’s the chronic water droplets that fall on your head that compile into a form of torture.

Often I feel jaded after I meet someone for the first time that is traveling in the opposite direction and leaving the next morning. You tend to learn how to read people in just a few moments which is a terrible skill because you can pick out the “would have been-s” instead of just turning a blind eye to the whole thing. Often I use my newly acquired skill of comfortable public solitude, but then get interrupted by a text message from a 48 hour friend that I have met a few weeks back. It’s a lot like bumping into a beautiful woman in the elevator of a sky scraper in New York. If you don’t say something at that very moment, they are gone forever. You simply will never see them ever again. Only the difference is that you did say something to that woman, every time, but you still won’t see them ever again. From the painfully beautiful Norwegians to the perfectly skinned Swedish, to the mysteriously brilliant Russians, to the warm and friendly Argentines, to the French girl who could have farted in her accent and made it sound sweet as a rose.

From the bold and deep feeling of camaraderie I got from my English brothers to warm and accepting nature of the Italians who I have met. I haven’t even arrived in Europe yet but I have received a full dose of European culture. You find yourself running through the inner monologue again and again “If I had just me this person under a little different circumstance, maybe at home.” But that’s the whole point, you wouldn’t have met them at home, and if you did, you wouldn’t be in the same place in life. You wouldn’t be a 9/10 in common and you and they wouldn’t be as approachable or reciprocating as you are when backpacking. You would be late for work, or studying for a term paper, or just on your way to previous plans with your current friends or family.

But what if we weren’t this unapproachable at home? What if we maintained the mentality of a backpacker whilst at home? Could I be onto something? Would you instantly bump yourself over to the other end of the “meeting new people spectrum”? Or is it one of those recycling situations where it won’t really work unless everyone pitches in?

Some people are happy in their current rhythm. Some people don’t want to meet new people, or try new things, or go to new places. We are creatures of habit and I am absolutely no exception to the rule. At home I go to the same supermarket every time because it has taken me over a year to get the rhythm down just right to find what I need in the first pass instead of wondering around for at least an hour.

There is something to be said when it comes to being approachable though so if you are feeling a bit stagnant at home and you want to try something new, just remember that it might be harder to create something new, but if you do seem to overcome the initial barriers, you can more than likely, actually, keep it.

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Scuba Certified on Magnetic Island

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

I have just been to magnetic island for the past 6 nights. 3 of those nights were spent at a Kuala sanctuary/hostel and 3 of those nights were spent getting my Open Water PADI Certification. This means that I can now dive 18 meters deep without a dive master hovering over me. Though the buddy system is still a rule, I can now just pop on a rig and go diving with a friend. Much more importantly, I understand what the hell is going on when I am under the water. You can go diving without the certification, but I feel a thousand times more confident with all of my newly learned skills including: How to fill your mask with air if it gets flooded, how to swim to the surface safely if you run out of air, and how to swim under water in zero visibility and still know where the heck you are going. These are only a few of the many skills I picked up in the past 3 days. The certification package included 2 pool dives, 4 ocean dives, 3 nights accommodation, and 3 dinners all for about $200 US. This is a screaming deal compared to the $500 US price for just the certification back home.

I was the only American in the course and there were 9 people total. Part of the course was proving that you could swim 200 meters continuously and tread water for 10 minutes continuously. There was no time limit on the 200 meters and you were allowed to lie on your back for the 10 minute water treading session. Sure I’ve been bodyboarding for 12 years, but I’ve never have a formal swim lesson in my life, let alone been on a swim team. I don’t consider myself too too strong of a swimmer back home at a public pool. In fact, I see holder men and women in their 40s smoking me in speed and endurance almost every time I go to a public pool. But when it came to doing these tests in an international crowd, you might as well have called me flipper in comparison to the pathetic doggy paddling that the Germans, Swedish, English and Serbians were using. I wasn’t trying to show off, but I was literally swimming circles around them. I just didn’t have the patience to go as slow as them. I would sometimes swim an entire lap of the pool underwater because they were all in the way so much. I couldn’t help but wonder if anyone (including the instructors) could stand a chance to me (the same guy who gets smoked at home in the public pools) in a 50, 100, or 200 meter race. None of them could tread water correctly for even 2 minutes before having to flip on their backs and rest. They said I looked like I was standing on a underwater latter because my head was at such a steady position above the water.

And then it dawned on me. I’m from the best swimming nation to ever walk this planet. Does Michael Phelps ring a bell? We’ve got enough gold medals in this stuff to pay off the national debt. Well let’s not get too carried away. But damn right I’m proud, even cocky. You put YOUR head in the fucking water during a swim test and then get back to me.

Aside from the swimming, there was a degree of comfort that I had in the water that everyone but the Swedish guy in the group didn’t have. Especially those German girls, just floundering around and panicking up to the surface the moment a drop of water slipped into their mask. At the end of each dive, I had significantly more air in my tank than everyone else because I wasn’t panicking. I just breathed normal or even less than normal; the water is soothing. I remembered back to the swim test that I took (against my will) for junior life guards WHEN I WAS 9 required me to tread water (the real way) for ten minutes. A bunch of nine year olds were stronger swimmers than these foreigners.

But let’s get to the interesting stuff, the ocean dives. What did I see? Well, the standard response was that I didn’t see a single dolphin because there were too many sea turtles in the way. That was the joke at least. The truth was that this is still the windy season and the visibility of my first ocean dive was about to the end of my outstretched arm. I might as well have been at the bottom of a peat bog. We entered the water from the beach and there were 3-4 foot waves that day. As all of the foreigners struggled with getting into the water (including my dive instructor) I wanted to see if it was possible to body surf with a scuba rig on. One thing that did get the best of me was the motion sickness that I felt when being thrown around on the bottom in the murk. I so close to throwing up in my regulator (what you breathe the compressed air out of) that I was seriously wondering what would happen with all that compressed air at 20 feet deep. We had to swim along a rope that the dive instructor held the front of in order to stay in a group when diving in such murk. I just had to make sure that the guy in front of me didn’t kick me too hard in the face, though I knew how to put my mask back on and flush out all of the water.

The second day we dove in the ocean in the morning and the visibility was much better at about 6 feet. The waves were a lot smaller and I have the foresight to take a motion sickness pill before I dived. I really enjoyed the experience that I gathered in the water and though the other students were a bit of a drag, I enjoyed their company.

Next I am going to Cairns to dive the Great Barrier Reef (Scuba this time). And after that I am going to go to the middle of the country to see the real outback.

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Airlie Beach (Whitsundays)

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

After my second overnight 10 hour bus ride, I arrived in Airlie Beach. It was 6am when the bus arrived and the boat wasn’t leaving until 1pm so I had some time to kill. I dropped by the local chemist to purchase some motion sickness pills and then parked myself on a park bench to try and grab some sleep. I must have looked like a total bum and if I had a empty cup next to me, I would have for sure had some change in it by the time I woke up.

Something I didn’t read on the brochure of this particular boat was that it was “lovely for couples.” Needless to say I ended up being the 11th wheel on the ship. Laughing out loud when I had realized, I think that the captain (Adam) and the deck hand/cook (Tina) where even secretly dating which would make me a 13th wheel. Each couple was from a different country and spoke a different language, but all of them spoke at least a little English. The couple that I enjoyed the most was a German couple (my age) living in Australia for about a year. They both spoke great English and the girl didn’t even have an accent because she had lived in Michigan for over a year. Stereotypically speaking, Germans usually are known for their strong accents and their lack of drive to adopt the native accent. This couple was top notch. But enough about the people, let’s get to the Great Barrier Reef.

I would describe the GBR as a giant organic strip club. You can look but you can’t touch. There were so many millions of beautiful things swimming around and graphic coral formations in almost every shape and size. There were huge clams the size of water melons with florescent green and purple lips, pulsing open and closed to the beat of an imaginary song. It looked like a cartoon. It was freaking unbelievable. Big parrot fish that were bright green and blue, snapping pieces of the coral off and chewing it into sand. Even a sea turtle showed up briefly to say hello. But this wouldn’t be Australia without some danger.

It was a mandatory clause to be wearing a wetsuit at ALL times when entering the water. We are now in deadly jellyfish territory. There are two major types. The uragangie jellyfish isn’t exactly fatal but it will send you to the hospital for a long time. It is completely translucent so most swimmers never see it coming. The last morning of my dive, I actually spotted one. Needless to say, I got right out of the water to avoid his friends. The second type of deadly Jellyfish is absolutely fatal known as the box jelly (Man of war). These things look like a Don Quixote helmet and hand out around the shores of mainland Australia. Get stung by one of them and you’ll probably be dead before someone can pull you up onto the boat.

There are also a number of species of sharks around the islands including, tiger sharks, black tip reef sharks, and bull sharks. Tiger sharks are the only deliberate man eaters of the bunch. They have an indiscriminating pallet. They are the garbage disposals of the sea. They can definitely be fatal, whereas most people live through bull shark attacks and black tip reef sharks can only take about a big mac worth of flesh out of you before you get back to the boat.

The shark attack scenario is quite rare in this part of the country but the jellyfish situation is very serious. This is why the captain of the boat gets into a motorized dingy and drives around all of the snorkelers when they are in the water. He watches over them like a mother hawk and if anything were to happen, he would be there to fix it before any of the other snorkelers even notice anything is wrong.

What about the weather? Well, we are in the windy season so the visibility is not going to be good no matter how you slice it, but the captain seemed to be able to find some coves that were mostly clam due to the islands blocking the winds. Still, when someone would dive down 15 feet, you couldn’t see them anymore. It was best not to worry about sharks in the murky water, even though the low visibility increases the chances of mistaken identity based attacks greatly.

The weather was very windy and even some scattered downpours, but when the sun was shining, I felt like I was in a Nautica commercial. Bronzed bodies casually lying across the deck of a sail boat? We made this stuff look good. And believe it or not, I’m actually tanned now. Everyone here gets the program. But SPF 30 sunscreen on every 1.5-2 hours and you will be bronzed. Wait a half hour too long and it’s to the cancer ward with you.

The highlight of the trip had to be when the captain went fishing off the back of the boat at dusk for sharks. He used a fish head and a mini glow stick. The combination both got the blood into the water and attracted small fish with the light. This process can sometimes take all night, but within a frighteningly short 7 minutes, the fishing pole bent in a completely flexed “N” shape. Like some scene out of Jaws, the real squealed as the unknown creature swam away with the bait. The sun was setting in all its beauty as our fearless captain had to put the brakes on because his real was running out of fishing line.

I was chanting “shark for dinner, shark for dinner” as the captain said “this has to be the biggest shark I’ve ever caught in this area.” I was crossing my fingers for a tiger shark, as I had never seen one in person. I wanted to see a monster. Never mind the snorkeling tomorrow, I wanted to see a man eater.

The best part about the set up was when the shark got close to the surface, you could see the glow stick approaching the surface as well. The glow stick was still about 20 feet ahead of the hook and every time the glow stick reached the surface, the shark pulled harder and harder down to the bottom of the sea. The battle went on for about 30 minutes or so and the passengers on the boat were electric. We couldn’t wait any longer until there it was.

A 6 foot albino hammerhead shark; it was beautiful. As pale a white as you can imagine with some pink hue near its eyes. This must not be eaten at all. As it was swimming along the surface, we all snapped as many pictures as we could in the low light. The cameras of course didn’t capture the essence of the situation though. Maybe it wasn’t meant to be shared.

Before we could get the hook out of its mouth, the shark dove under the boat, severing the line in the process. We were all high on adrenaline for the next hour or so after that. It was my first proper shark fishing occasion and it was absolutely stunning.

Next I am taking a bus up to Townsville where I will catch a ferry to Magnetic Island. There I will get my open water Scuba Certification after a 3 day dive course. After that I plan on flying to the center of the country to experience the true outback. Wish me luck!!

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Cool Bananas (Agnes Waters/1770)

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

Every country needs a best hostel and in Australia, it’s Cool Bananas. Started 6 years ago by an Australian hostel pioneer, Greg (the owner and manager of Cool Bananas who only refers to himself as the manager) has capacity for 80 backpackers but chooses to keep his capacity down to no more than 50 or 60. He likes knowing everyone who is staying at his hostel by face and first name. Agnes Waters/1770 used to be an Australian secret. Only 6 years ago, there was no paved road into the town and only 5 years ago Greg got a call from the CEO of Greyhound Australia “Is this Greg of Cool Bananas? I love fishing in your town, I’m going to make it one of the stops for the Grey Hound. Tell the rest of the people in town. I’m putting you guys on the map.” And that was the birth of the Agnes Waters/ 1770 tourist industry.

More about Greg, who used to work at the Hilton in Byron Bay in the 80s and decided to start to convert motels into hostels when an experimental community room of 4 bunk beds ended up remaining full for an entire summer. “There was no manual for how to make and run a hostel back then. We just had to ask people what they wanted and if it was within reason, we would give it to them.” “We also did some traveling ourselves and knew what were the most important parts of our stay in other hostels.”

Greg is a machine that goes all night. From midnight when he is telling his guests to take the party to the beach, to 4 am when he is patrolling the halls of his property to make sure everyone is safe. This man works all through the day and night with a knack for cleanliness and a sensible taste of friendly banter. Every element of his hostel reflects his dream and you can tell that you are walking in the halls of his dream.

He also has cooks who make a 5 dollar meal every breakfast and dinner. These meals are made from scratch by either an Australian cook or a French cook and the food that comes out is amazing.

But enough about some weird hostel, what about the town? Well there really isn’t much to it, but the main attraction is something called a “scooteroo” which is essentially a single gear mini motorcycle. They are really easy to operate and go just fast enough to give you a bit of a thrill on the open road (60 miles per hour). At first I was cautious about maxing out this mini hog but eventually I found myself understanding why bikers do what they do. We just toured the town on back roads and the coast line. The fee was $50 AUD which seemed a little steep for two hours of riding, but it was worth it.

Yes of course we had helmets and yes people did fall off of their bikes. But here is the difference between me and the rest: I rode that hog like I still had the world to see in the next year. I let other bikers pass me. I left a ton of space between me and the next guy, and I didn’t pass people on blind curves (you wouldn’t believe how stupid some of my fellow backpackers are.) It was a great time.

The day before I left Cool Bananas there were some pretty substantial waves at the local beach break. I got to chatting with the French cook and it turns out that he bodyboards too and he had an extra board and fins as well. For the first time in months I was able to ride a proper bodyboard with fins (something I had given up on a few weeks ago). It was great to finally be riding a board that was made for me and though the fins where way too big, I still had a great time bodyboarding with the cook who had been feeding be for almost the last week. In rural Australia, you can and will have meaningful conversations with people who are in the tourist industry (Just like everywhere in New Zealand).

Next I head up the coast to Airlie Beach (Whitsundays) for a 2 day 2 night sailing/snorkeling trip with 10 other passengers. The boat is the Prima which is a 47 foot sail boat. Just like Frazier Island, this trip’s success will rely largely on the group that shows up for the boat.

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Frazier Island

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

After the Cyclone blew over while I was in Noosa for a week, I made my way to Rainbow Beach (which would be the launching point to Frazier Island). Frazier Island is the single largest sand island in the world. It is almost 100 Kilometers long and sustains an impressive rainforest and many lakes of all shapes and sizes. Once again, the thing that is incredible about this place is that it’s made of sand, not soil. So when you are kicking along in the jungle, it won’t be dirt, it will be white sand. This place is home to 4 foot lizards, March flies (horse flies) and Dingoes. But first let’s talk more about the nature of this trip.

Australia is similar to New Zealand in the sense that they believe in realized normal amounts of danger. This means that if you are going to go off road-ing, they assume that you are going to act responsibly and follow the directions they give. There isn’t the same American court system of at will law suits here. The individual doesn’t have a super power over the small business. This makes the self guided tour possible. It is normal to see semi dangerous events and destinations be sold to tourists as self guided.

In the case of Frazier Island, you are loaded up with 10 other strangers, camping equipment, and a Toyota Land Cruiser for a 3 day 3 night adventure. There is an equipment count and check before you leave for the island and anything that is lost or broken at the end is paid for by the group of 11 evenly. There is a worst case scenario insurance that is purchased for the group that only activates in the case that the vehicle is completely destroyed, then the $1000 deductible is split between the 11 people evenly. If anything else happens to the car or equipment, then the group pays in full. If the $4,000 engine breaks, pay in full. If the $3,000 suspension breaks, pay in full. If you drive on the beach during high tide and the car gets swallowed by the ocean, pay in full.

They say that about 50 of these vehicles are rolled each season by self guided tours and we would be entering the island on the first day after the cyclone. The guide at the tour shop said that we could come upon some pretty interesting things on the beach after a cyclone, from turtles to great white sharks, to even whales washed up dead on the shores. But before we get to the island we must first meet the group of travelers that will be sharing the responsibility of the Land Cruiser.

Staring down a table of my suspected peers, I patiently watched the safety video for Frazier Island. I knew that my sole deciding point of how my Frazier Island experience would be based upon this group of 10 others. The place could be hailing and with the right group be the best 3 days to date on my trip. On the other hand, nothing sours a trip more quickly than a group of people who you don’t get along with. I arrived to the rainbow beach hostel “Pippies” early that day to find that 90% of the guests were English. I watched a movie with the others in my hostel and figured out that they were all English, and not particularly friendly. This has nothing to do with their Englishness, only to do with the idea that they already knew each other and had no reason to be outgoing. There were a few people on the other hand that were kind enough to acknowledge my existence. I wasn’t shaken up at all because of my Byron Bay growth session.

The tour company also owned Pippie’s so the same people who checked us into our rooms were the people giving us our safety briefing about the island (that was a short ferry ride away).

The Hotsel/Travel woman said “Take a look at everyone at this table, they are going to be your best friends for the next three days. I suggest you get to know each other.” So there I was, staring down the table of 10 other who would either be best friends with me in 3 days time, or would be scars on my memory of Frazier Island forever.

I made a few off color jokes to test the waters right away and received a few uncomfortable responses, but the group had potential. Little did I know that this group would end up being perfectly balanced for my vulgar/blunt/sarcastic/mean/erotic/random humor.

For starters, we ended up naming our group team face ______ (use your imagination). The trip was rainy, the trip was covered in horse flies, the trip was infiltrated by dingoes. The trip was 3 of the most fun and random days that I have had in Australia by far. No amount of typing would do justice for the chemistry that our group had. 9 English, 1 Canadian, and one very Funny American (ME!)

One of the highlights of the trip was singing Whitney Huston at the top of our lungs (“I Have Nothing” while off-road-ing though the Jungle. As soon as the you-tube vide emerges, I’ll be sure to post it on this page. But there was also great beautiful lakes like lake McKenzie, a crystal clear lake around the rim with a deep blue center. But the most memorable lake took about 40 minutes to hike to. I don’t remember the name of the lake but it was dark green and surrounded by ultra high sand dunes on one side and thick jungle on the other side. Its waters were infested with naturally occurring catfish that would swim up the surface almost close enough to the people to just reach out and grab.

Much of this trip has been learning about the backpackers who are traveling along side of me, not just in Frazier Island, but all over. I have an observation to make. Traveling for long time periods to many countries is not as special and rare to an English person as it is to say an American person. Rightfully so, there has been a number thrown around by the international crowd that less than 20% of Americans even have a passport. The number tends to change every time, but the message is still the same, Americans don’t travel, they vacation. They go to a resort for a week or two and never leave the pool for the most part. I agree with that statement whole heartedly, but when you are the CEO of the international community, you simply can’t afford to take the time off. But when you do find an American traveling alone, they are usually pretty well informed and interesting. But that (an American traveling alone) is just as rare as those individuals.

Here’s my point. In England, it’s normal to travel for months on end, say after college or high school. Therefore, you get 20-30 English for every American abroad. 99% of those Americans are very informed and educated, while only maybe 10% of those English people are informed or educated. So who else is abroad? Well, those annoying fraternity boys who you hate in college, they travel if they are English. The nice folks who don’t have a very big vision or ambition in life, they travel in England. The culturally inept people too, they love to travel. This isn’t a mark against the English, it’s just that you will find a very diverse population of them while traveling, because it is thoroughly engrained into their identity and the American identity just doesn’t have it. So all of our culturally inept individuals and all of our exclusively booze lusting individuals just tend to stay at home.

I found myself informing people about how the moon controls the tides (something that I thought everyone learns in 5th grade) and a bunch of other well known facts when talking to the English folk. But in that group were also those amazing individuals who were very well informed and very cultured. It’s a much more mixed bag than I had expected.

Back to the island, we ended up attracting about 5 other camp sites to party with us in the night, complete with pink face paint, inter gender wrestling matches and sing alongs. We constantly had dingoes walking through our camp ground and even devised a plan to catch one with our extra spaghetti. In case you haven’t seen a dingo before, they look a lot like scrawny dogs, but apparently in the 80s one ate someone’s baby so they are treated like dangerous animals now.

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The People of Aus

Friday, March 6th, 2009

Well I must say that both the backpackers and the locals have improved a colossal amount in attitude, friendliness, and chat-ability as I make my way up the coast.  Particularly the local people are incredibly happy, helpful, and friendly.  I just chatted with a girl from Denmark who is reading Obamma’s book “The Audacity of Hope”.  Which gave me a real warm feeling. 

It’s working.  The world has already noticed but there is a long road ahead of us to repair our image.  I’ve been to 19 countries before this trip and I have never seen so much Anti Americanism as I have sensed in this trip.  This is not just the locals, but the backpackers.  But don’t worry, they are loving my sarcastically arrogant humor :) (actually they think I’m serious sometimes!)

But I know when to use it (sparingly).

 

I must say that I also feel an attachment to Mexico while abroad.  I think of him/her like my little brother/sister or my neighbor.  Anytime some European slaughters a cultural reference or pronunciation, I feel very close and united. 

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Going Dark for a While

Friday, March 6th, 2009

As stated at the end of the last article.  There could very well be a cyclone that rains my plans out for the next week or more.  It is possible that the internet will go down as well in this time.  I would like to warn everyone that if the weather is great, and I go on my assorted trips, I might be away from civilization for more than 10 days (having the time of my life).  Please don’t worry.  It the weather is good, you will have less chance of hearing from me.  If it is bad, then I’ll most likely be on the computer more (or swimming).  But don’t worry.  I am more than a few days drive from Carins (hurricane alley).  If the cyclones hit, I will only receive rain by the time it hits me, not earth shattering winds. 

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Sharks and Crocks and Cyclones Oh My

Friday, March 6th, 2009

If you’re my mom, don’t read this article 😉
We will start with the sharks.  There have been three shark attacks in the last month in the Sydney area (I’m very far away from there now).  One was a great white that attacked a navy seal in training.  The fellow seals tried to fend the shark off by punching it in the nose.  The man apparently lived.  The second attack was by a bull shark (way less deadly than a great white) and the third attach was by another great white at Bondi Beach (Sydney’s most famous beach).  The attack happened just 50 meters off the coast (which is still in water that you can touch the bottom in.)
Recently they have still been having sightings of great whites in Bondi.  But onto the crocks.
Frazier island is one of the must see attractions of the east coast.  But there have been cyclones (don’t worry, that just means hurricane) that have been stirring things up recently.  Apparently the weather has relocated a 4 meter (14 foot) crock into the Frazier island national park.  They have 5 teams of rangers looking for this crock to “relocate it” before it “disturbs” any of the tourists. 
Apparently we are in the wet season of Australia right now and Cyclones are a normal occurrence.  One hit about a month before I came to Australia and flooded the streets for weeks making it impossible for people to leave.  There happened to be crocks swimming down the streets at that time (nature taking its things back). 
But don’t worry (no one else is(Great logic right?)).  This stuff seems to be normal here.  No one is battening the hatches just yet which leads me to believe that maybe these cyclones are not as bad as our American hurricanes.  Either way I have bought a tour package of a bunch of things for the next week or so.  If the weather permits, I will be able to go on these assorted tours.

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Found My Stride

Friday, March 6th, 2009

Part of this trip was about putting myself into situations that I would never have had the chance to be in at home and to emerge stronger.  One of those situations was social.  Being able to start a conversation with anyone has not always been hard.  But I do actually have a shy vein in me.  But even more importantly, I wanted to learn how to be comfortable in not starting a conversation with everyone I see.  I wanted to figure out how to sit in a room full of people and  not feel obligated to chat, but at the same time, be able to chat whenever I feel like it.  If this sounds petty or hair splitting then I apologize for not conveying it properly, but it is more than relevant to someone who is traveling alone for 13 months. 
Either way, there was a rough patch in Byron Bay where I wasn’t really connecting with anyone.  There were plenty of people around and I mad small talk with most of them, but for the life of me, I couldn’t get any sort of a genuine connection.  I was in Byron for 3 nights and if I couldn’t make it work out, I was going to try a few more cities in Australia and then just move on to South East Asia ahead of schedule. 
It seemed that everyone I met in Byron were just kids who had just turned 18 and were just looking to get smashed all day every day. I thought It was odd to come this far across the world to accomplish something that you can do at home in your local pub.  And the people who didn’t want to get wasted wouldn’t open up for conversation.  The room was full of drunken monkeys and frightened mice.  Finally after about two days of sharing space with the mice, they began to open up.  It was weird, all at the same time in the same night, a social clog just broke loose.  In those two very socially uncomfortable days, I found it.  My stride that I hope to keep for the rest of the year.  My stride that I hope to keep forever. This is the ability to start a conversation with anyone but not the need.  Since then, I have comfortably spent days alone in public and comfortably started conversations with just about everyone. 
I am now in Noosa, which is the Beverly Hills of Australia, but in true Ausie fashion, the department stores have backdoors that lead to perfect beaches with stellar waves.  While I was in Byron Bay, I had the pleasure of making Kangaroo Steaks.  They are cheap, and way more tender than beef, it cooked properly.  The meat is a little sweet to the taste and the blood that comes out is bright red.  Apparently it is better for the environment because kangaroos are less destructive to the land and the atmosphere than cows. 

I also went and rented a long board to go surfing for the day. The water was perfect, the waves small, and the sun shining.  So I brought my sunglasses out with me.  It was like fishing without a hook.  Who cares?  But low and behold.  I caught a wave and there was a kid learning to surf in my way.  I forgot to hold onto my sunglasses and it became a very expensive day indeed. 

 

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Byron Bay, Thank You

Monday, March 2nd, 2009

A few people said that Australia is not all bad, just the people of Sydney, like any big city. Though I met a bunch of interesting foreign people in Sydney, from Russian PHD students, to Chinese fashion designers, my concern in a country is of its locals.

In my 14.5 hour bus ride, we stopped at several rural gas stations and as I cringed when speaking to the locals (walking on egg shells), they would reply with sentences like “That will be $5 thanks”. They were thanking the patrons before they even received any money. This was the type of small town manors that I was foolishly hoping to find in Sydney.

We pulled up to Byron Bay at 8:30 am and I was completely drained. Normally the rooms are not ready for people until at least noon. Luckily my first impression of Byron was a good one. The manager of the hostel saw that I had been in a bus all night and bent a few rules to get me a bed to sleep in. This was a huge step in the right direction.

Byron Bay is a 10-20 mile white sand bay with crystal clear 78 degree water that isn’t very salty at all. Because of the low salt content, you can easily swim around with your eyes open under water. Although, unlike New Zealand, there are plenty of things to kill you in this country. In fact, there have been 3 shark attacks on the east coast in the last month or so. Sharks are a very real danger here and always on my mind when in the water. In New Zealand, I would easily swim straight out to sea, but here I am always scanning for dark clouds in the water.

Though I met a bunch of people on the bus, I didn’t get any of their phone numbers because I wanted to have a day or so to myself. This is all part of traveling alone there is a balance between loneliness and intense bonding that is constantly in fast forward. It’s good training for patience and a perfect time to reflect.

Many of the people that I’ve met in Australia (who are traveling) are just looking for the next big party. This is fun but I do miss the quality of traveler that I found in New Zealand already. I’m sure they are out there. In fact, a few of them are just arriving to Australia right now. And those numbers I do have.

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