Monday, November 23, 2009

B18: Last Days


My days in Australian are winding down. I do not have time to make a blog in prose form but here is the condensed version.

- Melbourne Victory soccer game: Soccer players in Australia still cry and hold their leg for 15 mins when they get fouled then get up and play the rest of the game. The guy that did that even scored the game-wining goal.
- Finals: Good - SWOT VAC, very comprehensive tests (3hrs) organized, included reading period. Bad - testing took a month, it was hot, the libraries were too crowded and the libarian yelled at me.
- Tasmania: We underestimated distance and didn't have enough time (only 3 days). There was tons of roadkill and we saw the Tasman Peninsula National Park (where there are no Tasmanian Devils with face cancer), Port Arthur (old prison), Cadbury Chocolate Factory, Jam Farm, Bay of Fires, St Columbus Falls, The Dairy Factory, Narawntapu National Park (with pademellons).
- Swan Hill: In the Mallee Shrubland outback, it really was isolated. I visited Abdul's family and it couldn't have been more lovely... they made me feel super comfortable.
- Mildura: Outback town with red sands.

Here are some picture from the last two weeks. I'm coming home soon!

Until then,

Mikey Doo

(This is why many of the national parks were closed. [Wentworth, Victoria])

(The rugged cliffs of Tasmania. [Cape Huay, Tasmania])

(The Murray River, Australia's largest inland river. Luckily no crayfish grabbed my toes. [Apex Campground, Mildura])

(A Murray Cod. Australia also has a giant banana, shark, bug, etc. [Swan Hill, Victoria])

(Hanging out in the outback. [Perry Sandhills, Wentworth])

(The Melbourne Victory soccer club wasn't very victorious. [Etihad Stadium, Melbourne])

(The rocky headlands of the Bay of Fires and Aussie Paul. [St. Helens, Tasmania])

(The Tasmania gang after a non-stop weekend. [Narawntapu, Tasmania])

(Rock climbing. That was some kind of red algae stuff. [St. Helens, Tasmania])

(The Cadbury chocolate factory. [Hobart, Tasmania])

(It was windy. I thought I was going to be blown off the mountain. [Mt. Wellington, Tasmania])

(No Hormisira Banksii but there were Pan rocks. I will explain more later. [Tasmani Peninsula, Tasmania])

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

B17: Snorkelling, Surfing and the Melbourne Cup

(Shredding the gnar at the world famous Bells Beach. [Bells Beach, Torquay])


Last week was the last week of instruction and many of my classmates were stressed out about finals. I am now in SWOT Vac (Study Without Teaching Vacation) which is the time when Australians study. You see, Australians mess around the whole semester by handing out beer on campus every Tuesday, playing on multiple sports teams, running many clubs that drink all the time, bush-walking in their beautiful national parks, and partying their brains out on the weekend. They don't do the whole study thing until SWOT Vac (I saw so many people crawling around campus today when I was at the gym). They were surprised to hear us going out of town for our SWOT Vac… for once, they said "Wait… don't you have to study?"

(Wait, I'm supposed to study that? [Lowe Theatre, Melbourne Uni])

Saturday we went snorkeling at the Mornington Peninsula. Known for its extensive sea grass beds and its mostly endemic sea weeds (about 60%), the spots we snorkeled at were different than anything I'd ever seen. After a lot of searching, we saw wide-eyed pufferfish/globefish, crazy starfish with 15 legs, menacing crabs, little crayfish, tons of salmon, fluttering rays, and a weedy sea dragon. What looked like a piece of seaweed from above, turned out to be the weedy sea dragon I had come to the peninsula to find; the same creature they promise to show you on the $66 tour. Anyway, Dawit, the Cal marathon runner survived his first swim in the ocean (he learned to swim the day before coming to Australia) and we all had a great time.

(The weedy sea dragon. This seahorse was hard to find! [Portsea Pier, Mornington Peninsula])

(My favourite fish in the bay. I couldn't make him puff up, though. [Rye Pier, Mornington Peninsula])

I had to get my surf on again, so I planned another surfing trip for Monday. We rented from the surf club and brought Abdul down to Torquay for his first taste of the riding the motion of the ocean. The five of us (Brian, Mari, Abdul, Michele and I) carved up the waves at Torquay Point Beach and Bells Beach. Torquay was packed, but the bright spot was that Abdul stood up on his first wave! Bells Beach, home of the Rip Curl surf competition every year, was on a shallow rock reef littered with my friend Hormisira Banksii. I caught some pretty sweet waves that I would have to jump out of early lest I end up "surfing" on rocks. When we got home that night, Abdul wouldn't shut up about our trip. He asked questions ranging from where he can get a wetsuit to where he can sign up for surf club. Needless to say, I think I showed him a good time.

(Heading out. [Torquay Beach, Torquay])

I heard about the Melbourne Cup in America… that's how huge this race is.

"On the first Tuesday in November the nation stops for a horse race, the Melbourne Cup (www.racingvictoria, In Melbourne it's cause to have a day off - never mind that it is the only race in the world that has a public holiday…it's watched by some 700 million people in 170 countries."

It must have been huge if it caused me to dress up in a suit and to pay $58 to get into. Luckily it did not disappoint. What did disappoint were the horses that I chose. In the pooled bet we had with our friends, Abdul picked "Shocking" and I went with "Fiumicino", horse # 3 and jocky-ed by "Steven King". "Shocking" came in first; in other words, Abdul picked the winner of the Melbourne Cup! "Fiumicino placed 22nd in a 24 horse race (with one scratched before the race). I decided to place a real bet on the last race. Going with Maggie's lucky number 8, I threw $5 down on "Juggle the Books" which would have given me a $105 payout had I won. "Juggle the Books" didn't place in the top 10 of the 17 horse race.

(Here are our front row seats! [The Melbourne Cup, Flemington Racecourse])

What was more fun was seeing all the drunk Australians and the women with their funny hats. All the men had sunglasses and were coral ling their girlfriends around. We had many conversations with the older ladies who were so tipsy and made the funniest comments about how American we were. One of them even took a bite of Brian's sandwich that he was holding. What a country!

With that whirlwind of activity behind me, I can now concentrate on studying… not! I'm going to go play some FIFA and plan my trip to Tasmania. Why study today when I can study tomorrow?

Until then,

Mikey Doo

(We got some funny looks when we carried our foam boards into this territorial surf spot! [Bells Beach, Torquay])

(Abdul showing off his winnings. What a punk. [The Melbourne Cup, Flemington Racecourse])

(It was packed with funny hats galore! (The Melbourne Cup, Flemington Racecourse])

(Abdul bragging again. Geeze, I hate losing. [The Melbourne Cup, Flemington Racecourse])

Sunday, October 25, 2009

B16: The Academic Home Stretch

(Perfect day in Australia. You can see the fortifications built to fight back the tide to keep the fort safe. [Fort Nepean, Mornington Peninsula])


School has been going smoothly. Well, it always goes smoothly in the 'pre-final lull', but things should be heating up soon. My Statistics final, which is worth 80%, should be very steamy indeed. Globalisation is very vague and hopefully I can "crap on" (Australian term) about America, and how I'm American, and how I grew up in America, and how I have an American accent in order to sound like I am globalised and, hence, deserve a good grade. We are talking about seaweeds and seagrasses in Biology and that would be incredibly boring if I hadn't…

(My feet were killing me because I was standing on pointy rocks! Gotta' work on my Queensland feet. [London Bridge, Mornington Peninsula])

… gone to Mornington Peninsula 2 weeks ago! Often overshadowed by the Phillip Island penguin parade, the Mornington Peninsula was cheaper and more outdoors-ee. All along the Mornington Peninsula beaches were heaps and heaps of Hormisira banksii which I gladly squishd between my toes. Highlights of the camping trip with Brian and Mari included, in addition to the pristine beaches, the historical Fort Nepean (built on tip of peninsula for war time), the London Bridge (not the same as in Port Campbell), and Cape Shanck (home of the blue-ring octupus). I also turned on the gas stove and pitched the tent all by myself.
(This is Hormisirii Banksii. This was actually taken at Wye River, but its abundance at the Mornington Peninsula made me want to show what I was slushing through all weekend. [Mornington Peninsula])

The next weekend, I took Brian's (driving manual with my left hand!) car and drove Mari, Michele, and Maureen up to the Dandenong Ranges. Home of the famous lyre bird, this documentary, by Abdul's favourite documentist, David Attenborough, was shot in the forests we went hiking in. Actually watch the video… it is amazing. We climbed the Kokoda trail, which is meant to show the treacherous conditions that Australian soldiers dealt with when fighting the Japanese. Powering through the famouse Eastern lyre bird trail and Sherbrook Falls trail, we were bush-walking fiends! I only made the car start smoking once. Note to self: learn what is under the hood of a car when I get back to America.

(Some Australians gave me some birdseed to attract the huge cockatoos. They also asked me when I was going back to America before I even told them where I was from! How did they know?!?!? [Eastern Lyre Bird Trail, Dandenong Ranges])

(Ok, I'm not kidding. Watch the video. It was filmed in the Dandenong Ranges! This is also Abdul's favourite documentist.)

Don't worry, I'm not only hanging out with Americans. Abdul invited me to play "futsal" on Tuesday since our campus sport season is over. It is like soccer except:
- the goalie acts like a kamakazi and comes out on the field all the time.
- after a goal, the defending team stands on a line and the other team kicks it right at them, like a shot on goal, but it always hits the human wall. I did plenty of ball-protecting.
- there are only 5 on the field.
- it is played on a basketball court.
- it hits the ceiling.
Not to blow my own trumpet, but I scored 4 goals and we won 7 to 3. The other goalie came up to us afterwards and "reckons" our team can win "the whole thing". Australians do a lot of reckoning.

Abdul and I also went to the zoo and we saw some animals there. It makes me sad that I will be leaving soon. With that in mind, we planned a last hurrah for the couple of days after finals. We plan to go to Swan Hill, his hometown for a little taste of the outback. Then possibly a roadtrip down to the coast so I can teach him to surf and he can show me where he went to high school (right near Sydney). Hopefully it all works out for the best. Besides, I have to enjoy myself before I cone back to America and catch Swine Flu.

(These are echidnas, my favourite Australian animal. They are monotremes, meaning they lay eggs and have reptilian-like limbs. They 'breast feed' despite the fact that they have no nipples. Their penises have four heads and they are known for their "mating trains" where multiple males, sorted according to size, follow (in a line) and attempt to copulate with a female. [Royal Melbourne Zoo, Melbourne])

I booked my tickets to Tasmania for the end of November. They were only $28! My goal: capture a Tasmanian Devil and bring it back to Kimmy.

Until then,

Mikey Doo

("Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree, merry merry king of the bush is he..." wait, they are sitting on fence posts and they aren't singing; they are waiting to steal our food. [Eastern Lyre Bird Trail, Dandenong Ranges])

(Chilling on a lookout tower. The sea behind is where a former Melbourne Mayor went missing during an afternoon swim. His famous last words: "I know these seas like the back of my hand." [Fort Nepea, Mornington Peninsula])

(This is now Mike's seat. The hikes here were short and there was a chair lift that will soon make them even shorter. [Arthur's Seat, Mornington Peninsula])

(Auntie Amy, I found out about the Dandenongs from your friends list. Thanks! The thing I liked the most about the Dandenongs were the many different kinds of trees. Ferns and eucalyptus were abundant and everything was flowering. [Eastern Lyre Bird Trail, Dandenong Ranges])

Sunday, October 11, 2009

B15: Surfing the Great Ocean Road

(Jumping off the rocks in Lorne sucks! The surf was large, weak, and incredibly fun. This is where we entered the water. [Lorne, The Great Ocean Road])


This weekend I went down the Great Ocean Road again to our surf camp. On the way down we hitched a ride with an Aussie economics major who is applying to study abroad in Santa Barbara. He was pretty stoked that we wer from California and we talked about everything random, like cars, or the American Civil War, or the Chinese language, or surfing reefs, or Michele Obama, or Aboriginals. We also talked about our hopes for a good swell and warm waters.

After going too far and ending up at Kennet River (where all the koalas are) we finally ended up Wye River. We stayed in another clubhouse, the Wye River Lifesaving Club. It was very homie. It is interesting how there are all these little hostel-type clubhouses on the coast with places to board and cook in the kitchen. It reminds me of ski resorts that board their employees during ski season. I wonder why America doesn't have these little lifesaving clubs?

(The Wye River Life Saving Club. Looks small because it is. At least this time there weren't 90 people with 60 beds... There as also a koala in the tree to left, it isn't pictured here. [Wye River, The Great Ocean Road])

Friday night we surfed Wye River (not actually a river, just a beach where the river feeds into the ocean). It was big and choppy and incredibly difficult to get out past the waves. The waves were inconsistent but still super fun to ride and I enjoyed them in between conversions wtih a guy from Chile who was "Chillen" out there. Saturday morning we surfed Wye River twice and it was more of the same: unpredictable, tiring, but fun. I ran into one of the Aussies from the last surf trip and she invited me out to Lorne to her favourite break. That afternoon, we (Chilean, Brazilian, Norwegian, Philipino, Aussies [two], and American [Brian]) packed up and drove down the windy road to Lorne.

(Wye River. There was a bird's nest and it actually swooped screeching. We had to put our hoods on and run away. [Wye River, The Great Ocean Road])

At Lorne I borrowed the Brazilian's board and we jumped off hte rocks into the blue waters. Ignoring the sheila's advice, I paddled to the left and soon found myself paddling on top of a rock literally. The middle of my board was sitting on top of a rock and I was paddling and not going anywhere. Other than that, I surfed great and the waves were pretty endless. We would catch waves and ride them all the way to the beach (about 150 metres away) and have to get out and run back up the rocks and jump back in. It was nice being able to surf a fiberglass board… the big foam ones are clunky and usually end up hitting me in the head.

The next day (Sunday) we went back to Lorne and I got to see the first big crowd of beachgoers in their bathing suits (bathers). We surfed the beach break which felt nice and safe. I watched the little Aussie children shred it up and they watched me do handstands on my board.

I also got to explore the tidepool at Wye River. My feet are taking a beating, but I feel that that is for the better in case I am in Irvine and ever need to walk home barefoot in the wee hours of the morning. Brian and I saw fishermen, salmon, starfish and crabs. We actually saw more dead wild life than living wild life! We saw a dead seagull, a dead crap, a dead fish, a dead jellyfish, and a dead penguin. The waters were clear as day and as warm as a bathtub.

(Spring time in Melbourne. Evidence of cauliflory is in the foreground. The leaves grow from the stem of the tree. [Carlton Gardens, Fitzroy])

(Blue waters and pointy rocks. [Wye River, The Great Ocean Road])

It's amazing how all the students I've met are so generous. They take me places, let me borrow their fiberglass boards, and are never too busy to give little tips that can make my life easier. It seems like all their experiences are so unique and so culture oriented. I have so much to learn. On the flip side, Aussies and international students like to drink, play games, and talk very loud. Sleeping is also something they don't like to do. Hence I didn't sleep much and am extremely tired. Next week I'm going to try and look into flights to Tasmania and my housemate and I are going to the zoo!

Until then,

Mikey Doo

(Wye River Beach. Pretty good swell. [Wye River, The Great Ocean Road])

(A starfish with 8 legs? [Wye River, The Great Ocean Road])

(Getting the feet wet. I had to run away because that wave soaked that rock. [Wye River, The Great Ocean Road])

(Rock fishing. He was going for salmon. [Wye River, The Great Ocean Road])

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

B14: The Great Barrier Reef and Cape Tribulation

(You have to get super close with the underwater cameras. The guide said if you listened, you could here fish munching on the coral... I never heard it. [Mackay Reef, The Great Barrier Reef])


I'm skipping my blurb about school because that's boring. I burst through the school doors and threw my papers and pens in the air in joy for it was uni break! I ran home and packed for Cairns (pronounce "Cans") and was on my flight the next day. Being an airhead, I thought my flight was an hour when in reality it was 4 hours. Boy was I surprised. The next day Michele (Berkeley), Maureen (UPenn) and I picked up our Toyota Altise and drove to Cape Tribulation.

Sunday was all about driving. I (not Michele, not Maureen) drove through roundabouts and yields and left handed off ramps and speed bumps with huge rocks on them and humongous signs with arrows pointing in every direction and didn't die. We stopped at Mossman's Gorge and my inner nerd was revealed as I swam around with goggles and did some "cliff diving' off some of the boulders. That night we made it to Cape Tribulation campground.

(The 2km track was boring, but on a scorcher like that day, it was nice to swim in the swimming hole. [Mossman's Gorge, Queensland])

Monday we climbed Mt. Sorrow. Michele, who jogged half dome, said it was the hardest hike she has ever done and I could tell she was telling the truth because her face was the color of a cherry. We made it to the top, through the tropical rain forest, leech and tick free (it hadn't rained in a while) and saw a rather inspiring view from a dinky platform. Defying all logic and common sense, I jubilantly followed an Aussie through a bush onto a secret trail with a drop off on both sides (like the Devil's backbone at Zion). We made it through, climbed a boulder and I was greeted by this view:

(View from the second lookout of Mt. Sorrow. The drop off from here is freaky... Mom, my tummy went "Wee wee". [Mt. Sorrow, Cape Tribulation])

On the way down I swung from branches and pretended that I was Tarzan.

Tuesday was the reef trip. It was the most jaw-dropping thing I have ever seen I was so happy. I saw dam =selfish, parrot fish, a huge puffer fish (that followed me with one eye), a stunning stingray with blue specks, and some of Nemo's cousins. Some of the fish were as big as my torso and some were as small as my fingernail. The captain of the boat said he saw me diving to the bottom and asked what I saw. He knew what I was talking about and gave me little lectures about the ability of the fish I saw to change sexes, colors, or habitats. I wanted to touch the reef so badly, but I refrained because it damages the reef and would infect my hand. I remember being so caught up in the moment, that I was the only one in the water (everyone had returned to the boat). Time ran out and I wanted to cry because I didn't want to leave. I pathetically kicked my way back to the boat with one leg because I stayed out there so long that I acquired a muscle spasm in my right leg. One of the crew members smiled at me when I got onto the boat… I didn't smile back. I didn't want to leave :(.

(Making a dive. Dad, there was no seaweed to roll around in like in La Jolla Cove. Diving down was always scary because I would take pictures and turn around and there would be coral right all around me. [Mackay Reef, The Great Barrier Reef])

Wednesday was Jungle Surfing (ziplining) and exotic fruit tasting. Jungle surfing was a little lame… but hanging 23 metres in the canopy of the oldest continuous rain forest in the world was pretty awesome. My favourite fruit from fruit tasting was the jakfruit, which tasted like starburst and could weigh up to 40 kilos (90 lbs!).
(This is a jakfruit. Weird, huh? The little ones in the basket are Black Sapote (left) and Soursop (right). Juanita, I also bought some flaxseed oil, but it tastes terrible! Grandma Sevilla, the leche (called Longan) was terrible here, it was nothing like the ones at 99 ranch! [Daintree Ice-Cream Company, Cow Bay])

Thursday was Paddletrek (sea kayaking) and croc spotting. Our kayaking guide Troy was like a little kid and was eager to show and talk about wildlife. He talked about Dugongs, turtles, and crocs, but all we saw were sea hawks, mud skippers, white tailed rats, and crabs. He took us some secret hikes to beautiful rock views and exotic croc rivers. At croc-spotting, we saw 0 croc(s) and I actually fell asleep on the boat. I guess it was a pretty hectic week.

(The dust came all the way from Sydney. They said it hadn't been this bad in 70 years... but the view from sea kayaking is still amazing. [Cape Tribulation, Queensland])

Friday we drove back to Cairns and returned the car. We also visited the Cairns Botanical Garden and walked along the Centenery saltwater and freshwater ponds. We spent the rest of the day exploring the city, drinking tropical smoothies and browsing exotic markets.

I took my 5:45AM flight home and read about 3 pages of "The Fountainhead" before passing out.

This trip to Queensland was all about "firsts". This was the first time that I…:
- have had my luggage lost by the airlines. I got a free t-shirt and I wasn't even that upset. I guess I'm starting to gain the Australian stress-free outlook on life.
- thoroughly enjoyed a good campfire. We met new blokes (men) and sheilas (women) every night at the campfire and they loved talking about America and our backwards governmental system. Frequent topics of discussion included leeches, evading the Australian government, getting "Queensland Feet", salties (crocs), leaving star wars toys on Mt. Sorrow, tea, cassowaries, free diving on the coral reef, drinking, dropbears (imaginary bush creatures), spearfishing crayfish, and good bush tucker (food).
- was embarrassed for not picking up a bug. A woman saw me pushing a huge rhino beetle across the floor with my sandle and she said "it's not gonna bite ya'" and picked it up and put it outside. You don't understand… this rhino beetle was a solid 4 inches and SQUEALED when she picked it up.
- felt sad while snorkeling. Much of the corral was bleached and broken. Talking to Paul, a free-diving spearfisher, he said he didn't' expect the reef to last 10 years. What I saw I might never see again…
- did not freak out over ants. There was an ant the size of my fingernail in my shirt and when I pulled it out I didn't even scream! It was a green tree ant… I didn't quite have the courage to lick its abdomen to get the "lime" taste that they are famous for.
- went croc hunting through the forest by myself. Everytime one of those bush-fowls moved, my head spun because I thought it my be a croc. The fishermen said they were out earlier that morning, but on my solo excursion through the mangroves, I didn't find any.
- had to take a ferry with my car. Cape Tribulation sure is secluded!
- walked through the rain forest barefoot. I pretty much walked everywhere barefoot, shirtless, drenched in sweat. Just like the little bush children. I felt like a true Australian.
- spent over $80 on bug spray, sunscreen, and aloe. Braving the elements is expensive … those mozzies (mosquitoes) are persistent.
- realised that spending money isn't always terrible. I had the time of life and will cherish these memories forever. I can't recall a time in my life when I have ever been so incredibly happy.
(Since I know you all want to see my "Queensland Feet"! [Dreamtime Hostel, Cairns])

Sorry for the long blog entry. I'll try to cut down the next one. Next weekend is another surf camp!

Until then,

Mikey Doo
(Beaches that I dream about. This is one of the only places in the world where the sea meets the rain forest. This looks like a picture that would be hanging in Grandma Suzie's house. [Cape Tribulation, Queensland])

(I took 27 pictures in 10 minutes. I was too trigger happy and didn't get any pictures of big fish or stingrays. Oops! [Mackay Reef, The Great Barrier Reef])

(Aboriginal markings on our bodies. We rubbed ochre (a type of rock) together and it made paint. We also had fresh coconut (as evidenced by the pile in the background). [Paddletrek, Cape Tribulation])

(Epiphytes and buttress roots were characteristic of the tropical rain forest. [Mt. Sorrow, Cape Tribulation])

(Ziplining. Kimmy, it wasn't as fun as you said it was in Hawaii! Upside down I thought I was going to hit my head. [Jungle Surfing, Cape Tribulation])

(Where the "salties" live. The yellow mangrove leaves take up all the salt and fall off. Alexandra, doesn't the water look like the water from the "It's a small world ride" at Disneyland? [Coopers Creek, Daintree])