Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Safe in the US

Just a quick note to let everyone know that I am safe and made it home OK... but our internet connection at home has been out since before I came home... I am at my sisters house now so I don't have time to write a concluding post... but be prepared for one... if our internet is ever fixed!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Monks, Leeches, and Jane Eyre

Hello friends! This will most likely be my last blog before I head off to the States... and as my dad mentioned to me, I was actually wrong when I said that my flight comes in on Wednesday, it is coming in on THURSDAY. So mark your calenders accordingly!

Now, as I complained about before, while I was in Byron Bay, it rained. A lot. Every day. There were bucketfulls and bucketfulls of rain. While there was usually a short break between the rain actually coming down, it always looked like the sky threatened to open up again at any second. And to prove to you how much it really did rain... I actually bought an umbrella. I went through my entire Australia vacation without needing one... and on my last week here, I have to buy one or stay indoors all day. Funny, huh?

The place that I was staying at in Byron Bay, the Arts Factory Lodge, was actually a nice little funky place (besides being full of backpack thieves). It was a bit annoying at night because it was ALSO full of young 18-20 year olds hell-bent on getting drunker than they've ever been before!

I actually think that this place probably used to be more accommodating to people who were actually there for a nice little retreat AWAY from the party scene... they have yoga classes and digeridoo lessons and a spa out back... fire-twirling lessons and horseback riding through the beach... but at some point they decided to let people under 25 stay there... and now at night all hell breaks loose! I guess I don't blame them for partying right outside my window until 4 in the morning... I mean, it's not like there was anywhere for anyone to go with all the rain...

Anyway, I did like the place. They had cool off-beat paintings all over their walls, the bathrooms were FILTHY but I've seen worse... the pool was clean and had a jacuzzi right in the middle of it... but I think if I was here with someone I knew I would have enjoyed my time even more because then maybe for one of the days I would have been the loud person outside my room at 4 AM!

My favorite part about the Arts Factory was the fact that they had a group of Tibetan refugee monks there for 2 weeks starting the day that I came. Every day they had programs... they had meditation hours each day, talks with the monks where you could ask them questions about what it is like to be a monk... special ceremonies and speeches given by the monks themselves... and for the young at heart, each day also had an arts and crafts hour where you could make things like compassion flowers or prayer flags! I went to a few of the things (they were all free, although donations to help the monks were accepted).

The first thing I checked out was the 'happy hour talk' where you could ask the monk questions. I just wanted to observe, because I didn't think I knew enough about the monks and the Buddhist religion to ask intelligent questions... so I followed the 'better to be silent and have people suspect that you are a fool, than to speak and remove all doubts' rule.

The way that each program was set up was that there was a little room, one or more monks, a translator, and us. The monk would talk in his language (I think Tibetan? I don't remember the language that they speak in Tibet) and the translator would relay to us in English what he just said.

I did learn a lot during the hour... one of the more interesting things was that girls can indeed be monks! I had previously thought that they were all male because that was all I had heard of. Although the female monks don't live in monasteries, they do live in nunneries... and they do have to shave their head as well. They don't do the chanting that the male monks do, but they do things like yoga instead, which the men do NOT do. Besides those few differences, they generally do the same things as the male monks, trying to help people, always striving towards enlightenment...

I also learned that the middle children in families are generally the chosen ones... the ones that the parents send off to train to become monks. It is thought of as a great honor for the children, but I'm sure it must be hard for them because they don't get to do all the things that the other children do... they are too busy training to be a monk (or monkette? That actually reminds me of a joke that the translator made... he fancied himself a very funny guy - and he did make us all laugh so I guess he was - "What do you call a girl monk?" "A Chick-Monk!" hahahaha... ).

Ok, back to my story. The children that are chosen to be monks are not forced to remain in that position, and if they ever - at any point of their life - decide to not be a monk anymore, they are completely free to stop, and there is NO stigma against those who decide not to be a monk anymore... rather, they are MORE respected because they had tried something that a lot of people never do. A case in point, the translator let us know that at one time in his life, he too was a monk... but then he discovered girls, or rather, they discovered him. At that point he decided it was just not right for him anymore.

We also learned that the monk we were speaking to had not seen his family since he fled Tibet to India... about 25 years ago. He learned that recently his mother had died, and he was sad because he was hoping he'd have been able to see her before she died, but it just didn't happen this way. We learned that he does not miss having a family of his own, (i.e. a wife and children) because he never knew what it would have been like in the first place, so he can't miss something that he has never known. He also mentioned that he thought that because this question was asked, he must assume that it is something that is wonderful and should be missed, but that because he doesn't know it, he doesn't miss it.

I also went to one of the meditation hours, to see what it was like. Unfortunately, I am not very good at keeping my mind blank or focusing on only one subject... my mind is constantly racing with thought after thought. The focus of this meditation hour was being happy. The first thing they had us do for 10 minutes was just repeat to ourselves in our head 'life is good' over and over again... they said that the way to train your mind to be happy is to just not let the bad thoughts overtake the good. If you are thinking 'life is good' and suddenly a thought comes in 'oh but my backpack was stolen and the rain is terrible and where is my flower headband anyway?' to just push those thoughts to the side and continue thinking 'life is good'. They said that if you start to think that all the bad things happen for a reason, (i.e. to teach you a lesson of some kind) you will stop feeling sorry for yourself or your situation and will just be happy to be alive, and happy for all the good things that you do have. Really beautiful philosophy, I think... kind of a 'stop feeling sorry for yourself' motto. And guess what I noticed after the meditation! I just so happened to be wearing my 'Life is Good' teeshirt! Maybe I should send a case of those tee's to the monks. But I guess they don't need them... they seem to only wear the normal monk garb, red and yellow robes.

The last thing that I went to regarding the monks was a cleansing ceremony... I am fascinated by religious ceremonies like the Aboriginal one that we did on my Heading Bush tour (although the woman that I was talking to at one of the meetings said that Buddhism is not really a religion, it's more of a way of life) and I really wanted to see a Buddhist one.

At the ceremony, the monks were all there (with the translator) and they started it out by telling us that for the ceremony to be effective, you have to believe that it will be effective. They said that even though the Buddhists believe that you should never just blindly have faith and you should only believe what you are proven, for this ceremony to work you have to actually think that it will work... to let your brain accept that it will work. I guess they really believe in the power of the mind to heal.

They then tell us to imagine that they are not old monks in robes, but they are actually the beautiful healing goddess... and that we were to picture them as the goddess as best as we could. They pointed out a bowl in the front of the room which had 2 figures in it, a man and a woman. They said that those figures represent everything that might be wrong with us, or any problems that we might be having. Then they passed around pieces of dough, one for each of us. They said that the dough pieces were to be rubbed all over ourselves, and we were to imagine that all of our problems were getting stuck into the dough... as we rubbed, the problems would be removed from us and put into the dough. Then, a monk came by with the bowl and we placed the dough into it. Next, another monk came by with a bit of water, which he poured into our hands. We were supposed to taste the water, then use it to rub all over ourselves. The water was representing the purifying of ourselves... so that now that our problems were removed, the water would purify our newly clean selves. Next, they came by again with a pitcher of water and the bowl, and they poured the water over our heads into the bowl and said that any remaining doubts or issues would be washed away into the bowl. The head monk then said that if we had any remaining doubts as to whether our problems would be gone, he would wave the peacock feather in his hand as he chanted some words, and that would blow the last of the problems away. After his chant, one of the monks removed the bowl from the room. They said that now that the bowl was gone, our problems had all gone with that bowl, and we would never see them again. When the monk returned, the bowl was empty of all our problems.

Finally, the head monk had each of us come up to him... more water was poured into our hands and we were to drink it (I think it was again a purifying drink) and he handed us a packet of little herb powder pills. He said that if you ever need a reminder of the things that were in this ceremony, you need just to dissolve the pill in water and drink it, and you can be back on track with knowing that the problems you might have are only skin deep. My guess is that the herbs have the same flavor as the water that we drank (which had a distinctively herbal taste) so when you drink it, it would help you remember the actual ceremony. That is just science! I know that when I smell something that I associate with a particular place or person, the memories always flood in!

He also gave us a piece of red string, which also would serve to remind us of the ceremony... we would then bring the string over to another monk who would tie it around our wrist using a special 'monk knot' that will never come out! Hahahaha... just kidding, that was the translator talking. It was actually a regular knot.

Anyhow, I really enjoyed this ceremony, heaps more than I did the Aboriginal one. I always had the feeling from the Aboriginal one that the guy who was doing the ceremony didn't really want to do it... that he was doing it for the money that I'm sure he was getting paid. Also, I didn't say this before (I don't think) but the Aboriginal man seemed a little TOO fond of all the ladies... constantly talking about how beautiful they are and hugging them as much as he could... but the monks, they really seemed to take it seriously. It was lovely. Oh, and sorry that my description isn't as detailed as it was in the Aboriginal one, but I didn't take any notes for this one, and I didn't take any pictures (I thought it would be rude to have cameras flashing when the monks were talking... the aboriginal one was outdoors so there didn't need to be a flash).

I was kind of sorry that I wasn't going to be around longer now, so I could listen to a few more of the talks that the monks gave. But, at least I did get the chance to see anything! I was surprised that more people didn't show up to the talks... I mean, how often will you ever get to see actual refugee monks from Tibet, who see the Dali Lama on a regular basis?

While at the Arts Factory, I decided to get a massage at the spa because it was cheap, I didn't have to tip the masseuse, and because my shoulders had been killing me a lot lately. When I booked the massage, I also got a free day trip into Nimbin for Sunday, which was great because I really wanted to go back to that market... it had so many great products!

I had my massage (at times I swear the woman was purposefully TRYING to hurt me... but that is another story) and while the massage helped my shoulders a bit, she said that the muscles in my shoulders and upper back are terribly tight and knotted up... that I couldn't get them all out in just one session... and that when I get back to the states I should consider having regular massages. Hmph, I probably will think about it... if I can find a place that is reasonable!

The next day, I went to Nimbin. I was told when I signed up that the market would still go on even if it rained... but when we got there, we passed right by the town that the market was held in. We were told that the market was closed due to rain (!!!!) Instead, we went to see this really crazy guy who sincerely enjoyed talking about the chaos theory... and in his house he had dolls all over (art), and trash in his yard (he called it 'junk art') and he had a wall with all of the gods and religious characters known to man (besides Mohammed - he couldn't find an image).

It was entertaining I guess, but I was rather disappointed about the market. We ended up going for a walk through this guys woods, and because of all the rain we had been having we walked through partially submerged terrain. And then... when we got onto dry land... a lot of us were covered with leeches. YES! DISGUSTING, SLIMY, LEECHES! I had 3 on my ankles... and they were the tiny, little, thin leeches that you might easily mistake for a twig... so people were finding them for the next hour to come. Actually, I kept thinking I felt something on my feet, but I would try pulling at them and would find nothing... and later that night, I looked at my feet and saw that between my pinky toe and the next one was covered with blood. Seems that I missed one, but it had since fallen off (guess it got it's fill) so at least I didn't see the little beast. Dang leeches.

Now, when I got back into the hostel, I remembered that I had left my book in the laundry room just a few hours ago (since the Nimbin trip was only a few hours long). I went to get it... and it was gone. GONE! So not only is this place full of backpack thieves, it is also full of BOOK thieves. The book wasn't expensive... I got Jane Eyre and Emma for a dollar at a second hand book shop. They were both books that I had been meaning to read at some point of my life, and I was up to Jane Eyre. I was enjoying the book... and was REALLY looking forward to seeing what would happen to Jane next... and now I can't. Because it's gone. Gone into the hands of some punk that is probably just going to rip the pages out and use them as cigarette papers anyway. Sigh.

Anyhow, I am now back in Sydney... back into the noisy, dirty air! But, in a few hours, I will be in the air, and a few (30) short hours later I will be back in the states! Yay! I miss everyone so much! Mwah!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Just quick

Sorry, no real update today, just a quick blog to tell the people who didn't read my PREVIOUS blog carefully (Stacy) that the Australia Zoo blog is posted, just below the 'not the zoo butt...' blog.

I'm feeling a little crabby so I don't really feel much like updating... it has rained here every single day since I've been in Byron Bay, and not just rained, but POURED... and it is supposed to just do more of the same for the rest of the time that I am here and in Sydney. So I am constantly cold and wet!

I could talk about the fact that the refugee Tibetan monks are here at my hostel giving talks and such, but I don't feel like it. Hahaha... Really, I'll tell everyone about it later. Right now I'm cold, and wet, and annoyed that the computer is so slow so I am going to go drink some hot cocoa or something. Bye!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Not the zoo but...

Hey everyone... I know I was supposed to do my zoo update, but I don't really feel like doing it now. Tomorrow, really this time. I have started it, so when it is posted it will actually show up BEFORE this post... but I have other news...

To everyone who doesn't know this yet... today, I decided that I am going to cut my vacation just a little short... I am actually leaving 10 days earlier than planned, for a couple of reasons. 1 - I am not really DOING anything. Here in Byron it is pretty expensive, and all I am really doing is spending money on food and entertainment and accommodation... So I'd rather save a bit of money instead. 2 - I am missing everyone greatly :) 3 - I'm a bit bored here. I don't really have anyone to hang out with, everyone at this hostel seems to have their own little cliques and groups, and they all seem to be only concerned with getting drunk all the time... and I really don't feel like spending all that money to go out every night... It's kind of like a college atmosphere actually... so I'm sure I'd have a blast here 5-10 years ago :) I'm an old lady sometimes, but I would rather go out and have a good time at night with my friends as opposed to complete strangers.

And, as I said before, I am tired, and I just feel like being home among those who love me :)

AND all these bad things keep happening to me in the last week... first, I lose my camera, my watch, (and I didn't tell you about this) my pretty flower hair band that I JUST BOUGHT!

then, I have that problem with those stupid bed bugs at my last hostel. I was really hoping I would go home without ever having to experience bed bugs, but no. Even though the reception lady said "I don't think it is bed bugs" I am pretty sure they were. I noticed a line of red bites on my shin that definitely looked like them... so when I got to the hostel I am at now, I washed ALL my things, including my backpack and my suitcase. Which brings me to the next bad thing...

SOMEONE STOLE MY BACKPACK! It was empty (I had left it in the laundry room to dry overnight) and when I went back to get it, it was gone. Sure, I shouldn't have left it there overnight, but I didn't want to bring it into the room, it was wet... and I have NEVER had a problem with things getting stolen from me before in Australia... but I guess I am too trusting. Why would someone steal a backpack though? Oh wait, I'm in a hostel full of backpackers. I found out about the backpack getting stolen AFTER I made my decision to leave early though...

Anyhow, I am going to go now, and I'll update my zoo post tomorrow.

And I'll be back in the states on Wednesday!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Australia Zoo

OK Guys, I am finally updating you on my trip to the Australia Zoo! Wooo! Clap your hands!

So, I woke up at about 7:30 to get ready to catch the (free) 8:30 bus to the Australia Zoo. It was a huge bus, double decker, and it was completely full of people wishing to visit Steve Irwin's former home... actually over-full. Another bus showed up shortly before ours left to handle the extras.

The ride was about 50 minutes long, and during it, we watched an episode of the Crocodile Hunter (Yay Steve Irwin!). When we got to the zoo, the bus driver told us a bit about what you could find around the zoo, and mentioned that we might even be able to see a Tasmanian Tiger, which is 'extremely rare and endangered' because of a facial disease. Now, before I visited Tasmania, I might have thought 'Oh, cool, Tasmanian Tiger, I don't know what that is, but I get to see one!' but after I went to see the Tasmanian Devils in Tasmania, I found out that Tasmanian tigers either 1) do not exist or 2) have long been extinct... and I suppose 3) have not been seen for so many years that they are thought to be extinct. So I found it quite amusing that he said that, I am not sure how many other people caught that error... I'm pretty sure that he was talking about Tasmanian devils, and made a slip of the lip.... otherwise he wanted us to look like fools and ask someone where the Tasmanian tigers are....

Anyway, when I got into the zoo, I was greeted by Steve and his family...

I was actually fairly impressed with the zoo by first looks... it didn't look like your ordinary zoo... nothing in it looked like a cage. The enclosures that the animals were held in were either bigger or at least no smaller than any other ones I have seen before in any other zoos... And the workers were ALL wearing the signature Steve Irwin outfit... you know, khaki shorts and a khaki top...

The first thing I checked out was the Alligator pit. Not the crocs yet, although before I read the sign I did think that these were crocodiles... I guess I can't tell the difference... here is one cute little guy named Fang 1.

There were 6 separate pits in the Alligator area, with one or two (if it had a mate) alligators in each little pond. These alligators looked MUCH happier than that sad little croc I saw in Alice Springs... in the dirty, tiny, aquarium.

OK, so next, I decided that I would join the crowds and feed an elephant. The elephants were fed every morning at 11:30, and you were invited to do it as well if you wished (for no charge unless you buy the photo). I waited on the line and fed my friend the elephant a piece of carrot. It was interesting... he grabbed it with his trunk pretty quickly, and it was kind of wet feeling... but the elephant was very gentle in grabbing the food. I of course bought the picture because when am I ever going to have the chance to have a picture of me feeding an elephant again! It was under 10 dollars anyway cause I just bought the digital print on CD.... Here it is!

After the elephant, I passed by a small area of Koalas... the koalas were actually in a few places around the zoo, and there was even an enclosure where you could walk through and check them out... but you couldn't touch them.

Here is my favorite picture... isn't he adorable! And his eyes are open! Usually when I see them, they are asleep...
Oh, and I got a bit of video here of one of the little dears eating... awww isn't it cute?
Next, I walked by when the workers were feeding the giant tortoises... these guys are known for being slow, but when they saw that food they went over for it fairly quick... I have video of one of them eating, but it was a little too boring to show here. The woman who was talking about the tortoise as he ate invited anyone to make an appointment to come into the tortoise enclosure if we really liked turtles. I actually saw that throughout the zoo... people were in the enclosures of the (non dangerous) animals, and the animals seemed to be happy to have them there!

Soon after, I noticed that people were lining up around one area, where the gate that had once been open, was now closed. I went over there to see what was going on and saw that the workers were taking the tigers (not Tasmanian tigers) for a walk!

The animals in this zoo actually seemed like they were kind of pets, in a way. I would see the workers sitting in enclosures of animals I would think were normally too dangerous for someone to be... like the tiger cage... and the animals were fine with it. I guess this means that the animals are all happy and well taken care of... and while normally I don't think it is a good idea to have wild animals so tame towards people, it is probably nice for the ones who are going to be in captivity for the rest of their lives... they get a bit more attention, and are more OK with having people gawk at them all the time.

The next place I found was the dingos... and because the animals are always given the opportunity to have a place to hide from people (a terrific thing for a zoo to do... some zoos force the animals to be out in the open ALL the time... to never have a break from people staring at them...) I only managed to see one, which was pretty far away. They look JUST like dogs, don't they? Isn't it strange to see a dog in a zoo?

Next, I tried to find the cassowaries... which is the most dangerous bird in the world. It is found in rain forests, but in the Australian rain forest, they are pretty rare now, and it is not often that you see one in the wild. And if you do happen to see one... in the wild... you'd better stay away from it. These things have dagger sharp claws and they can kill you in seconds... and they have a sharp plate on the top of their head for slicing through the rain forest... they are bad little (big!) birds. I heard a story not too long ago of a young guy being killed by one of these because he was teasing it... not a smart thing to do.

I actually saw one of these birds in the Sydney zoo... but it was in a much smaller glass enclosure, which nowhere to hide. This was a MUCH better place for the birds... a huge forested/rain forest area with plenty of places for them to remain out of sight.

I didn't see any at first... they were all hiding in the thicker areas of their enclosure, but look at what I saw stealing their food!

These little guys were all over the zoo, just running around. Kind of cute, aren't they?

Anyhow, I did eventually see one of the birds... here is the picture... look scary? Actually it kind of looks like a turkey, doesn't it?

And here is video too!

Next, I saw the crocs. And WOW were some of these suckers big... this one was huge... too bad I couldn't have someone stand next to it for scale... but actually, the crocs were one part that I did NOT see any workers sitting around in the cages... I don't think that crocodiles could ever be tame pets. Same with alligators...

So, throughout the zoo there were cute little Steve Irwin things... this one made me laugh so I had to take a picture of it. It was a kiddie ride...

Hehe, cute, huh? Who wouldn't want a statue like that in their living room?

Next up was the snakes. The snakes enclosures were kind of small (in my eyes) but were still bigger than I have ever seen any other ones. The poor snakes always end up in tiny areas...

But I really did like how they made the home look like how their home would look in the wild...

See an enclosure from afar...

and this is how one side of the room looked... I think normally snakes enclosures would be about half the size of the ones here, or even smaller, so I guess its not too bad.

Right outside the snakes home I saw wombats... and they were all asleep. I was hoping to see one wake up and walk around (no, I did not bang on the glass) but no such luck. So here is a picture of a sleeping wombat...

BUT lucky me! What I saw were only the SLEEPING quarters of the wombat! Outside they had a whole huge area to play and dig!

Here is an AWAKE wombat... he looks a bit like a cross between a gopher and a bear, doesn't he?

OK, next it was on to the bird aviary! It was pretty big, big enough that I didn't see too many birds, except a few small ones...

and there was a worker that walked by with a cockatoo on her wrist... he was cute, could say hello, and hello pretty boy and hello pretty girl (she told him to say hello pretty girl to me, but he said hello pretty boy. Hmph, insulted by a bird.) and he also did the raise the wings trick...

Secretly I was thinking, 'hah, Aunt Chris' bird can do that!'

After the aviary, I went to ROO HEAVEN!

This was an amazing part of the zoo... you walked into this enclosure, and it was like a huge park, with kangaroos all around. EVERYWHERE. Kids are playing, and kangaroos are chilling out right next to them. People are feeding the roos, or just sitting next to them...

and of course, like all of the enclosures, the kangaroos had a place where they could go to get away from everyone, where we were not allowed to go...

When I left Roo Heaven, I was on to see the elephants!

There were 3 that I saw... and it looked like a mommy, a daddy, and a baby elephant... they were so cute, but they snubbed us for a few minutes it seemed...

Of course, when the keepers entered the enclosure, they went right up to them. I wonder what they are all gabbing about? Perhaps the elephants were letting them know what they wanted to eat tonight?

Here is a better picture of when they were having a drink...

And just for all of you, another video!

This was neat... right next to the elephant enclosure, they had a statue of Ganesh, the Hindu Elephant God...

And people actually left him offerings of flowers and money!

Next, I went to see the tigers in their enclosure. They were a bit far away for me to get a good picture of them from the outside area...

But there was a better view when I got to the glass paneled area. Unfortunately, you can tell that you are behind glass so the pics aren't as good as they could be. I did get a video of the tiger playing with it's ball... not a terrific video because the end of the wall was right there, but you can get the idea!

After the tigers, I left the India portion of the zoo (since obviously tigers and elephants are not native to Australia) and I must say I was impressed with how they did that portion. The sculptures and flowers, and the effort to make it feel like you were in an Indian zoo... not that I have ever been in an Indian zoo, but I could imagine that it was like this.

So, on to the Emus! I wasn't THAT interested in seeing the Emus, because I have seen them in the wild... but I thought this was cute. This was an area of the enclosure where the Emu was supposed to have a bit of privacy, so it was covered with a burlap so no one could see in and the emus couldn't see out... but this little guy was wondering who was out there... nosy bird!

I walked by the Tasmanian devil enclosure, but I didn't see even one Tasmanian devil. Good thing I saw them in Tasmania, huh?

I had heard from people that they thought the Australia Zoo was kind changed into a memorial to Steve, but I didn't notice it too much... the only 'goodbye' I saw was this one... although maybe the few statues I saw were all added after he died?

Next, I saw the Echindas, another one of Australias strange native creatures. It looks a little bit like a porcupine, doesn't it?

And it walks strangely too... can anyone say VIDEO???

Next, I had to walk back through the kangaroo territory, and I am glad I did! Check out this beautiful roo... a (mostly) white one! Have you ever seen such a thing!

I had lunch in the food court (I had an American Burger... they were nice enough to call it 'ketchup' as opposed to 'tomato sauce' when you ordered the American Burger!)

You know how birds are sometimes pests and the pidgeons will go on the empty tables to eat the food people left? Well, it's not the pidgeons that are the problem in the Australia zoo...

The LAST thing that I did was hold a koala. Yes, I decided to do it... just because I might never have a chance to hold a koala again. He was cute, but his nails are really sharp, and boy do those things smell!

So, that was the end of my Australian Zoo adventure! We got back on the bus, and watched another Steve Irwin's Crocodile Hunter film, and got back to Noosa. Oh! I forgot to mention! On my walk around the zoo, I saw ANOTHER person that I knew before... an irish guy... and again, I couldn't for the life of me remember WHERE I knew him. He wasn't one of the irish brothers that I met on the Frasier Island trip... and I couldn't remember the last time I met an irish guy... but then as soon as he left I remembered... he was on my rafting trip! Ugh, my memory.

ALSO... when I was leaving Noosa... I saw ANOTHER person that was on my Heading Bush trip! Penny was just getting off the bus that I was getting on! How cool was that, it was so nice to see another person... Awww, I miss them all!

OK, that is all for now guys! Enjoy the videos!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Noosa - And Dolphins Beach House

Here is just a quick blog fix for you all before I tell you about the zoo (tomorrow).

I arrived in Noosa a couple of days ago, and didn't really do much in the actual city... because my hostel (called Dolphins Beach House) was about a 3 hour walk from the city. I was picked up by their courtesy shuttle, so at least I didn't have to walk, but straight from the beginning I wasn't really thrilled with the hostel... the people weren't exactly RUDE to your face, but it was kind of like, they wouldn't do anything extra for you... anything that might inconvenience them in the slightest. For example... I asked "do you have laundry machines?" and they said "yes.". That was it, no letting me know where they were or any extra information (or telling me that the dryer was a dollar every FIVE MINUTES!). Also, everytime I went to ask them a question, they gave me the impression that it was just so hard for them to have to ANSWER my questions... a real 'too busy for you' kind of attitude.

The hostel itself was OK, but it looked a little dirty... and a bit run-down. It was in the suburban area, so it wasn't noisy or anything like that, but if I had known that it was so far away from the town (where I can DO things) I probably would have chosen some place different... The only reason I booked into this place, actually, was because this was the place my travel agent recommended. It seemed like they really wanted to market it as a peaceful escape from city life... they had little paintings and sculptures all over, it could have been nice if it was a bit better maintained.

About the far distance to the city... at least they had about 10 shuttles running to and from town throughout each day... but I really like the freedom of choosing myself when to go to or leave... which is why I like walking places.

Another thing that irked me a bit was the fact that all over the rooms and the common areas, there were little signs posted... little messages from the staff to us that made me feel like they didn't really think much of our intelligence. For example, there were three signs around each light... one saying "please save the planet and turn off the light" one saying "Shut off the light when you are done with it" and one saying "It's simple! Flick off the bloody switch!". There were signs around the fridge telling us to put our food back in the fridge or the cockroaches will come, and signs saying "It makes us very cranky having to wake you guys up at 9:30 to get you to check out! blah blah blah blah..." Also, there was a sign that said "starting in january, everyone is only allowed to stay a maximum of one week" so I guess they didn't like seeing people any longer than that...

Maybe they had problems in the past with a couple of the patrons, but because of that, they make me feel less valued and feel like I am being spoken down to... Maybe I am being overly-sensitive, but I just didn't like it. Some of the signs were just nice reminders, and some were downright rude.

I also had the feeling that the people didn't care so much about anyone from when I was on the computer, and overheard the conversations of the staff amongst themselves, talking rudely about someone that they had just gotten off the phone with. And speaking of the computers... the hours of being able to use them are terrible! The reception closes at 8, and that means you must be off the computers at 8. And the night before last (when I told you that they said 10 more minutes) it was actually only about 7:35... I overheard them saying that they really wanted to leave, so they decided amongst each other to close the office early. "Sorry guys, we are closing 15 minutes early, so you have 10 more minutes on the computer!"

Maybe it is just unfortunate for Dolphins that I just came from Fraser Island, where I had a bit of bad luck which caused me to spend a lot more money than I thought I would have to that week (the camera wasn't too expensive, but still, I am on a tight budget!) so maybe I am a bit harsher than I would normally be... but I am so glad to be leaving today and heading for Byron Bay... my favorite place so far :) And pretty much, my last stop before going home...

One more thing about the hostel that I am staying at before I go... I am not yet sure if it is true yet... but I woke up the night before last with 3 bites on my wrist, and a couple on my arm. Then, this morning, I saw a bunch of bites on my leg. I don't know what bedbug bites look like, and I got a bit worried when I saw this... if it was mosquitos, that is fine, but if it was bedbugs... it would REALLY skeeve me out. I talked to the manager about it, and she looked at my bites and said that it didn't look like the bedbug bites, which tend to bite in a straight line all in one area of your body... but she would check anyway just in case. Me, I hope beyond hopes that this is true, and it's just mosquitos, but as soon as I get to my next hostel I am giving ALL my things a good wash. They do LOOK like mosquito bites... so I guess I am not as worried as I might be...

OK, until my next post! Bye now everyone!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Frasier Island

Finally! You will now hear about Fraser Island!

My time on Fraser Island was bitter-sweet... i.e. I had great times, and I had some not-so-great times... it truly is an amazing island, a natural wonder in fact, and I met some terrific people on this trip, but I also had a bit of misfortune towards the end... and even the luck of the Irish couldn't help me. But I get ahead of myself, let me start from the very beginning...

Fraser Island is an incredible place for many reasons. First off, it is the largest all-sand island in the world... and the 'all sand' part is what makes it so incredible... the island truly is just sand, and if you were to dig, the sand actually goes down to 600 meters below sea level, so it is not rock with sand on top, it is sand. All the vegetation on the island (including rainforests) are growing on just sand... and this island is the only place in the world where rainforest grows on high sand dunes.

The plants and trees get all their nutrition from any dead plant matter or leaf litter on the ground. This island was at one time used for logging, but when it was realized how scientifically important it was, the logging stopped... and timber hasn't been collected from the island since 1991... and in 1992 it was listed as a World Heritage site... and now the island is only making money by tourism.

Fraser also has over 50 freshwater lakes and about 80 streams and creaks that run through the island. We were able to swim in a few of them, and unfortunately, some of us got a bit of grief from them... (hint hint towards the bad luck!)

OK, now on to my actual trip. I was picked up in the morning at around 7:40 (it was wonderful! I had a sleep in!) and after everyone was picked up, we headed towards the ferry that would take us to the island. There were about 16 or so of us, and most people came in groups... it was just myself and one other girl who seemed to be travelling alone.

We boarded the ferry (as did our bus) and settled down for a 50 minute boat ride to the island. You will all be very happy to know that I did not get seasick on this ferry... I think big boats are OK for me, but the little ones, not so good...

After we arrived to the island, we boarded back onto our bus and headed out into the rainforest. As we drove along, our tour guide (Peter) told us a bit about the vegetation, the rainforest, and the island island itself. The way he spoke was very amusing, it was kind of like how a pilot might speak to the passengers as he is taking off, 'We plan to be flying at approximately 20,000 feet, we are expecting a bit of rain and turbulance so be sure you buckle up!' He certainly seemed to know his stuff though!

After a short drive, we had the chance to get out of the bus and take a walk through the rainforest, so we might see the flora up close and personal... we also had a chance to get to know each other outside of the bus. Before we set off on the walk, we all introduced ourselves and said where we were from. As usual for these tours, we were a pretty varied group! There were a couple of other people from America (NYC actually), a whole group of girls from Norway, a couple of Dutch girls, a Swiss German family, (their child was ADORABLE... couldn't have been much older than 2 or 3...) a German couple... one English girl and two Irish carpenter brothers. I ended up hanging out mostly with the English girl (she was the other person traveling by herself) and the Irish brothers. They were all so much fun, and were hilarious! I love the Irish and English sense of humor... despite the fact that they don't think Americans are funny.

Anyhow, after a short walk through the rainforest (and a run-in with a LOT of spiders... I think I saw more spiders in the two days in Fraser than I did in my entire time in Australia!) we got back into the bus and set off for our next stop, Eli Creek. BUT... on the way, we met up with a small airplane pilot who offered to take us for a flight over the island for a small fee. He promised us that this would be an incredible experience... and that we would actually be able to take off from the beach, and we'd see parts of the island that you'd never be able to see without being in the air. He also said that we'd see plenty of creatures like sharks or large fish in the water. I don't normally do things like that (spend a lot of money for 15 minutes of fun) because I never feel like it is worth the money... but I was convinced to do it, and anyway I figured that since I didn't do the helicopter ride over the 12 Apostles so I should do SOMETHING similar... and I also really wanted to see the sharks and other sea life from the air!

We got on board (myself, the captain, my Irish and English friends, and two other people) and we took off, as promised, from the beach. That was actually a pretty neat experience... watching the ocean from the window get smaller and smaller as we got further into the sky...

Our Captain...

Our shadow in the water...

The tour from the air was pretty neat, we did see a lot from the sky.

This one was actually my favorite, a lake called 'butterfly lake'.

and a shipwreck from the sky... we'll be seeing and learning about this one closer up in due order!

Ok, so we definitely wouldn't have gotten those kinds of views from the ground! The ride lasted about 10-15 minutes before we decended. I did enjoy the trip, but I couldn't help but be disappointed. There was no marine life out (that we noticed)... so we didn't see any sharks from the sky, or even any large fish. That was the selling point for me, so I couldn't help but feel a LITTLE cheated... but it still was a great experience. One more airplane pic of the captain and I!

After leaving the plane, the six of us walked to Eli Creek, a little stream that had the CLEAREST water that I think I have ever seen in a creek... and although it was running swiftly, it was completely silent because the water was moving through sand instead of rocks. We took a bit of a walk through the creek... it was very shallow at first but as you can see from the picture, it got pretty deep. And me without a swimsuit on!

The shallow... (those aren't pants, it was windy!)

And the deep! Ok, that isn't so deep, but it actually got to my thighs only I didn't get that picture...

Wading through this creek in the rainforest was like something out of a movie , I felt a bit like Indiana Jones, wading through the Amazon river...

After the creek, we stopped for lunch at a little resort-kitchen – it was buffet-style eating... chicken, salad, lunch meats, etc... low-key, but delicious. After about an hour, we were back on the bus to our next stop, the Maheno shipwreck (the same ship in the picture above that we saw from the air).

The ship was at one time a 'luxury cruiser', which was built in 1905. In 1935, it was sold to Japan for scrap metal, but ended up being caught in up in a cyclone, and was washed ashore on Fraser Island. Now, it is just one of the many interesting things that people come to look at on their trip to the island!

Our next stop was a lookout over the ocean called Indian Head (named because when Captain Cook first discovered it, he saw many Aboriginals on it - and he thought they were like the American Indians) where we might be lucky enough to see sharks, large fish, turtles... etc.

It was a beautiful view, but we unfortunately were NOT lucky enough to see anything other than schools of small fish and the birds that were eating them. I hoped that there was still a chance that we might see turtles when we visited Lake Mackenzie, which known for being an extremely clear and beautiful lake, and I asked Peter if that was a possibility. “Oh, we aren't going to Lake Mackenzie, we don't have a liscense for it. We're going to another, similar lake, Lake Birrabeen.” Whaaaa? I was once again slightly disappointed... I had thought (and I seem to remember that my travel agent told me this to be true) that we WOULD be seeing Lake Mackenzie... it was the most famous lake in Fraser Island! How sad that we were missing it... but Peter said that because of how popular it is, not everyone can have a liscence for it, or the lake would end up being destroyed by so many visiters, and that the one we would be going to was just as nice, just not as popular. Oh, well....

We were up there for a while, and when it seemed that everyone was leaving I headed back down to the bus as well. Then, about 15 minutes later, a couple of people came back down from the lookout point, all excited because they had seen a whale. Hmph, another time when I miss something because I left too early! First the penguins on the Great Ocean Road, now this! After the lookout, we headed towards our camp for the night, with a quick stop to this neat little area called the 'Coloured Sands'. They were beautiful, and reminded me a bit of the okrah pits from my Heading Bush tour, but these sands weren't used by the Aboriginies to create body paint. How do I know? I asked!

I also saw this... look familiar? This is what we put in the birds cages... a cuttle bone! I never really knew where they came from, but apparantly, they come from the sea!

We got to camp pretty early, about 4:30, and dinner wasn't until 6... so myself and my Irish and English friends entertained ourselves by building domino tracks and card houses... it was fun! My house was the best, no matter what you might have heard. Dinner was absolutely DELICIOUS.... Peter made everything... we had the choice of steak or fish (I had fish), and there was also baked potatoes with sour cream, salad, garlic bread... and the best part was, after we finished, we didn't have to do any of our own dishes... there was a dishwasher! This was the life of luxury! We didn't have to cook our own food, AND we didn't have to do our own dishes! And to top it all of, we finished with vanilla ice cream!

We were all in good spirits after dinner, and were talking and joking around when we were offered the chance to go on a night walk with one of the other groups to see if we couldn't find any dingos or other night roaming creatures. In the first 5 minutes, we did see one creature, however just mentioning the name of this little guy sends shivers down some Australian's back... it was a large cane toad.

For those who don't know, cane toads were introduced into Australia back in 1935 to take care of a native species which was a problem, the cane beetle. However, these toads decided they didn't want to eat those creatures, they wanted to eat other things instead... and they have multiplied and damaged a lot of the eco-system in Australia since then. Plus, they're ugly.
We kept walking along the beach, looking for creatures and looking at stars... but unfortunately the only other creatures we saw on the whole trip were a few clams and another smaller toad. We were a large and loud group though, (especially the 5 Norwegian girls) so I assume that any wildlife that was out there ran off when they heard us coming...

When we got back from the walk, we stayed up a bit longer, and some of us tried scaring those who went to bed earlier with dingo noises (it didn't work, no one knew what a dingo sounded like) and then went to bed in nice big tents with warm and cozy cots. A few resolved to wake up to watch the sun rise over the beach... and I was determined to be one of them.

The next morning, I almost didn't wake up for the sunrise... my alarm went off but I pushed snooze and then fell back asleep... where I had a dream that I had gotten up too late and I ended up missing the sunrise by just 5 minutes. I woke up again to a rooster crowing (it was actually the older Irish brother who wanted to wake me up) and we began walking the 15 minute hike down to the beach. I off-handedly mentioned my dream of missing the sunrise by minutes, and I guess I look like a psychic because they then got nervous and made me run! Of course, klutzy me in flip-flops, I fell a couple of times while running in the sand (but it was nice, soft sand... good cushioning!) but we made it there before the sun had showed it's bright shiny head.
With anticipation we waited... and waited... the sky got brighter and brighter, but no sun. We were trying to decide if the sun actually had rose already behind one of the clouds when it finally started to appear. OK, so we ran, but we ended up waiting maybe half an hour before it even rose! Hmph. I fell for nothing. I did get some nice sunrise pics though...

After the sun was too bright to stare at anymore, we walked back to our campsite and had breakfast - cereal, toast, and fresh fruit. And once again, I marveled at this wonderful dishwasher that was sparing me from washing dishes! After we all had enough to eat, we again headed out on the road, eager for another day of fun!

Today we had just a few places to visit before we were to meet our ferry at 4:30 to return to Hevey Bay... the first stop was a lake called Lake Wabby. This lake atually formed because of a depression in the sand, which was deep enough to expose the water below the island. Because of the location of the lake, we couldn't drive right up to it, we had to park somewhere and walk about 1.5 km over sand dunes to get there... lets just say that by the time we finished crossing what felt like the Sahara Desert,

we didn't care HOW cold the water was, we all jumped right in! The water was really deep in the middle, but it wasn't very large - you could easily see the other side of the lake, so some of us (myself included) decided to swim to the other end of it.

I had my Casio with me (in it's waterproof case) so it wasn't very easy for me to swim the normal way while holding my camera. I backstroked most of it... it was actually farther than it looked on the way there... by the time I got there I was tired but I made it! The view looking back was well worth the swim...

We stayed there on the opposite side for about 20 minutes before it was almost time for us to get back on the bus for our next stop, so we swam back. Getting back seemed much easier than getting there (perhaps my arm muscles were getting more developed by the minute!) and we were on the other side in no time at all, congratulating ourselves on a job well done.

This, dear friends, is when the first tragic event of my Fraser Island trip took place... I looked at my wrist to see how much time it took me to swim back, and saw... a naked wrist. My watch, the one that has been with me since day one of Australia... my xmas gift from mom... my way of telling in an instant what time it was in the US and Australia... it was gone. Gone, somewhere on the bottom of Lake Wabby. This was so upsetting to me! I had really become attached to this watch, really grown to depend on it... and wore it all the time... but now it was gone, just like that! I am still trying to look on the bright side of this loss... maybe this will be good for me, and for my last couple of weeks I shouldn't live by the clock anymore... but I still find myself looking at my wrist every now and then and feeling a twinge of sadness. My wrist looks so empty now... :( But I guess now Fraser Island will always have a piece of me...

We left the lake and went to the area of our picnic lunch... nothing spectacular happened here, but we were forced to eat in cages.

Hah, just kidding. These were dingo lockers, where you would run to hide if a dingo attacked the campsite... ok not really... they were the place to put your food and other products so the dingos wouldn't get them :)

Lunch was sandwich wraps (fajita type things again... what is it with Australia and fake Mexican food?) which I didn't enjoy as much as I could have because I was still thinking of the lost watch. I got a little happier when I saw that we had shortbread cookies for dessert though... :)

After lunch, we went for another bit of a rainforest walk. We saw a couple of eels swimming around in the crystal clear water of a creek (really neat to see) and we saw a couple of large lizards climbing up the trees... but it was really a wonder that we saw anything! A few of the girls up front would spot a lizard and they'd start screaming and jumping around and making a huge ruckus (not because they were afraid, but because they were excited to see it) that I would have thought the lizard would have ran away in terror before the people at the end of the line saw it... but it didn't, and I got some video to show you!

After the rainforest walk, our last stop was at another lake, crystal clear Lake Birrabeen (our substitute for Lake Mackenzie). This lake actually had been filled by only rainwater... there were no streams leading into it or out of it. I wondered to myself if it was filled with leeches, as leeches are known to be in places with standing water, but I forgot about that as soon as I saw how clear and beautiful the water was. It really was clear as glass... and the sand was so white and soft! We had about an hour and a half to swim and play before heading back to the ferry, and we tried to put it to good use!

Because the water was so clear, I tried getting an underwater picture of myself, but it was harder to do this that it seemed... but I did get a nice underwater video!

We were playing around, swimming, splashing, picture-taking, when suddenly we heard loud screams coming from near the shore. Instinctively I looked around for sharks or crocs or baracudas or something like that, but saw nothing... I just saw one of the Norwegian girls screaming and jumping up and down... and I think I heard the word 'leech'. Uh oh! We all got closer to her to inspect the damage, and indeed, she did have a leech on her... she managed to get it off, but was bleeding. We saw the offending leech on the bottom of the crystal clear lake... and it was a big sucker, no pun intended! I think most of us lost our taste for swimming after that (the thought of more leeches on one of us was not very appealing) so we got out and lay in the sun for a while.

I took my camera out of the waterproof case to take some more pictures of the lake (the waterproof lens was a little smudged so I wanted to get a clearer pic out of water) and this is about when terrible thing number two happened. I dropped my camera in that nice, soft, white sand. Uh oh... I quickly brushed off all the sand I saw, and blew in the creases and cracks of the camera. I figured it was ok, I didn't see any more sand in any place that should matter, so I pushed the button to turn it on. The lens started to come out... then it stopped. The LCD screen flashed 'Lens Error!'. Great. I got a piece of grass to try to get every last bit of sand out of the area... and blew into the cracks as hard as I could... and eventually got the lens to open and close again, but it made a funny sound as it was doing it... 'no matter', I thought, 'I can deal with funny sounds... I have lived with my sister Stacy for years and I got used to her funny sound...' (hahahaha).

I didn't have time to take any more pictures as everyone was rushing for the bus. So, I carefully put my camera in it's case, and told myself I'd take more pictures to test it later. We headed to the ferry, everyone a bit sad that our time would soon be coming to an end, and boarded the boat. I was on the sundeck of the boat, and was about to take a picture of the island we were leaving, when I realized something was wrong. My camera turned on, the lens opened and came out as it should (only with a funny noise) but... it wouldn't focus. Noooooooo! I tried in vain to focus on a bunch of different things... but it just didn't work. And it made more funny noises. Fraser Island has now taken my watch, AND my camera! I raised my fist and shook it at the island that was growing smaller and smaller as we headed towards Hervey Bay and shouted 'damn you Frasier Island! You haven't heard the last of me!' I was consoled by my Irish and English friends, and we went down to the middle deck to sit down. So, this was my horrible news. I lost my watch and my camera on one trip... although my bad luck on Fraser doesn't compare to the bad luck of it's namesake, Captain Fraser. If you are curious.. Captain Fraser, his wife Eliza, and his crew were sailing around Australia when they shipwrecked a few hundred kilometers from the island. Most of the crew went on the lifeboat to try to get to land, leaving Captain Fraser, is wife, and the first and second mate with the ship. The captain and others eventually washed onto Fraser Island, and were captured by Aboriginies living there, and forced to work. Captain Fraser was old and frail, and was eventually speared in the back by the Aboriginies and he died. The first and second mate also eventually died on the island, but Eliza was saved, and returned to England... and about 20 years later she was killed when she was hit by a horse-drawn tram. The island was eventually named after the Frasers... I suppose when the island brings you that much bad luck, it's only fair. Maybe the lakes names should be changed to be named after me... Lake Wabby could be 'Karen Lake' and the sand on Lake Birrabeen could be named 'Karen Sands'. It's only fair, right?

Anyhow, I guess the fact that I broke my camera is no big surprise. I am actually shocked that it didn't break before that day... I am way too clumsy with my stuff at times. It had a bunch of dents and chips in it (thank goodness it was a tough metal) but it couldn't hold up to a couple of grains of itty,bitty sand. I actually wasn't as upset about the camera as the watch, I was just glad that my photo cards were OK... So, our trip was over, and we all said our sad goodbyes, with promises to keep in touch. Despite the fact that this was one of the shortest trips I have been on, I got on very well with the people on the trip, we got to know each other better than I got to know other people on 3 or 4 day trips. I did have fun, and learned a lot about that fascinating Island, and I wouldn't turn back the clock and not go just to save the watch and the camera... though I would fasten the watch a bit tighter and not take the camera out of the protective waterproof case until after I left the beach!

Anyhow, the reason that I got up early this morning was to go to the electronics store and see about getting another camera. Some electronics in Australia are actually better priced than they are in the US, so I figured I should see what I could get... plus I was going to the zoo and I knew I'd want to be able to take pictures there. I looked up a bunch of cameras on Amazon, and checked out reviews, and decided on one camera that I thought would be perfect for me. Shockproof (you can drop it up to 5 meters and it will be OK) freeze-proof, waterproof, crushproof... basically, it is a Karen-proof camera. I took note of the Amazon price before I got to the store, and it was about 30 bucks cheaper in the store than it was on Amazon (American Amazon) and the price was actually even better than that because of the (slight) currency difference between the US and Australia. The only downfall to this camera was the fact that it used XD cards, instead of SD... and I had a nice supply of SD cards that would now go to waste. Well, I guess not all would go to waste, since I can use them as disks for my mini-computer!Anyhow, I am now in Noosa in my hostel (I'll talk about the hostel and Noosa in another blog) and tomorrow I am off to the Australia zoo. I know some of you are looking forward to hearing about this, so keep your eyes out for the new blog either tomorrow or shortly after (depending on how tired I am tomorrow!) Tah!

Ps... since this blog was written, I have already been to the zoo... but I have no time to talk about it today... I will post again tomorrow or the next day!