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])

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Mt. Hotham and Great Alpine Road Pictures

(Snowboarding with Eucalyptus trees in the background. [Mt. Hotham])

(Egg & Bacon Peas (Fabaceae) attract bees with their large, showy petals. The markings are nectar guides for the bees. [Apex Lookout, The Great Alpine Road])

(The Grevillea (Proteaceae) is characterised by its tepals (long petal parts sticking off). These tepals secrete nectar and attract birds (because they are red). When the bird drinks the nectar, the tepals bop the bird on the head which deposits pollen. Hopefully, the bird will help spread the pollen. [Apex Lookout, The Great Alpine Road])

(This is a termite (Isoptera) mound. Australia has 15% of the termite species in the world. These mounds are excellent at managing the environment and the inside is usually kept at 95% humidity. [Apex Lookout, The Great Alpine Road])

(Upper falls at Eurobin. Despite the name, there was no bin full of euros anywhere on the hike. [Eurobin Falls, Mt. Buffalo])

(You can barely see the platform for para-sailing. The idea is to run down that wooden runway and jump off the cliff... [Underground River, Mt. Buffalo])

Sunday, September 13, 2009

B13: Mt. Hotham and The Great Alpine Road

[The runs were a little slushy but the rides were awesome. Uncle Mike - Not as fun as Colorado, but I didn't fall on my face on any of the jumps this time! [Mt. Hotham, The High Country])


I will refrain from putting up too many pictures until I get the ones Brian took. Check back on Wednesday!

School - From what I heard back home, Australians are super difficult on grading essays, so I put a lot of time and finally got my result back last Friday. I got an H2A (B) and some very encouraging comments (Kimmy and dad, thanks for all the help with the essay!):
"Great work, Mike. Your rhetorical flair makes this essay a pleasure to read. Structuring your essay around the what, where and how points demonstrates an independent approach to the material. Your solid summaries of the articles and clear, independent argument demonstrate a good understanding of the key issues in the globalization of food and cultural imperialism more generally. A more nuanced analysis of Watson's argument would have articulated the complexity of cultural hybridity and strengthened the focus on how we eat through the analysis of cultural practice."
I have a mid-semester test that I have coming up in Biology and have been listening to lectures on my iPod on my way to class, and have been attending extra tutorials for Statistics.

The week - Monday I tried Eritrean (African) food and Tuesday I scored 2 goals, but The Jersey Boys tied, 7-7. The fire lit inside me and by the end of the game, I was yelling at the referee in Spanish with sweat dripping down my face. Wednesday at baseball, I got to touch the Uni Games championship trophy and lamented over the fact that I wouldn’t get to help Melbourne defend their crown. Before I knew it, it was the weekend.

[My friend, Dawit, took my housemate and I to try food from the country he grew up in, Eritrea. The bread was citrus-like and this lamb meat was tasty. I admit, that the best part was the baseball game (Arizona v. Colorado) playing on the big screens. [Footscray, Melbourne])

On the weekend, Brian, Mari and I went snowboarding up in the “High Country”. Taking the Great Alpine Road (not as magnificent as the Great Ocean Road), Mari and I held on to the car handles as Brian recklessly took hairpin turns up to the top of the mountain. We arrived at Mt. Hotham, rented our equipment and hit the mountain. For the second half of the day I wore jeans because ski pant rentals cost $46 for a half day… When you are the only ski resort in town, you can charge an arm and a leg. I did my jumps, didn’t break an arm, watched Brian yell at Mari (“Mari, put your skis back on!”) and explored the runs lined with Eucalypt forests and weird insects embedded in the snow.

Sunday was all about seeing the Great Alpine Road as we took 4 short hikes and a 4 wheel drive excursion. Tons of feces littered the road and we took note of the fact that we need a scat book for the next time we go hiking. I ran from plant to plant spewing useless information about the genus and special adaptations of the fauna. I was able to identify most of the plants and feel that this should substitute for my review for my mid-semester test. Mari asked if I was “this energetic as a kid”.

I also learned some things from my trip. Back to the bullet points.
I learned that…
  • I don’t always need to be over prepared. Packing light and taking what I need is more important than bringing everything. This weekend we used a wood stick as a knife for our peanut and jelly sandwiches!
  • My first car is going to be 4 wheel drive, not an Acura (like Uncle Ed’s).
  • I should appreciate flora more. Even though plants don’t move, they are still amazing.
  • The reason that mom and dad forced me to go on hikes was not to cause me pain. They just wanted me to appreciate what they always have: enjoying the outdoors with people you love to be with.
  • You don’t need ski pants to ski. Jeans work fine… if you don’t fall.
  • Don’t drink beer after snowboarding all day. Drink water instead.
  • Australians aren’t that different from Americans. I thought that Australians were all about the outdoors and having fun. In reality it isn’t a race or sect of people that can offer me what I want, but individuals. The people I have met here, Australian and American alike, are outgoing and by being outgoing myself, I am making the most out of my experience.

(They ended up closing many of the runs because of the wind. [Mt. Hotham, The High Country])

(Brian and Mari wrestling over a tim tam. I told you those things cause problems! [Porepunkah Caravan Park, Porepunkah])
(Venturing from the trail in front of The Lady Bath Falls. Mom - Hiker Rick would be proud of me! [Eurobin Falls, Mt. Buffalo])

Monday, September 7, 2009

Wilson's Promontory Pictures (from Brian's Camera)

Ok mom, feel free send me a $1,700 camera any time now!

(What a tight camera! The stars of the southern hemisphere. Look for the "Southern Cross". [Tidal River Campground, Wilson's Promontory])

(Dancing in the moonlight... [Tidal River Campground, Wilson's Promontory])

(Oof! [Mt. Oberon, Wilson's Promontory])
(River of tea. [Tidal River, Wilson's Promontory])

(Rock climbing. [Squeaky Beach, Wilson's Promontory])
(The group! From L to R: Elaine, Mari, Brian, Me, Dawit. [Mt. Oberon, Wilson's Promontory])

(Giving San Diego some love using extra shutter speed and a flashlight. [Tidal River Campground, Wilson's Promontory])

(The emus would slowly walk away and would disappear in seconds. Can you see why? [Cotter's Lake, Wilson's Promontory])

(Wallaby. [Cotter's Lake, Wilson's Promontory])
(I don't know what this, but it is definitely a sclerophyll. I'm guessing a lilly pilly... I better get back to studying Biology of Australian Flora and Fauna! [Lilly Pilly Gully, Wilson's Promontory])

B12: Wilson's Promontory

(Doesn't this look "So Australian"? [Cotters Lake, Wilson's Promontory])


I don’t know how these Australians do all the work, it seems like all they do is party but when it comes to tutorials, they all know what they are talking about. Maybe it’s just because I am terrible at biology and it takes me a little longer to learn what the benefits of Mycorrihizae bacterial symbiotic relationship are. Globalisation is really interesting, especially since we are talking about foreign aid and human rights. Getting into debates with Australians is so enlightening, despite the fact that they often debunk my arguments rather quickly. Research is tough, but now that I have a Perl programming book, things are running more smoothly (Auntie Mary, all those java classes I took have done me no good!). I worked very hard during the week, because during the weekend because...

(Beautiful hike to Squeaky Beach from Pillar Point. The walks were slippery and the waves were massive. Luckily, I have my grip-grip vibrum hiking shoes! [Squeaky Beach, Wilson's Promontory])

I went to Wilson’s Promontory! I went with Brian (UC Davis), Mari (Oberlin College), Dawit (Berkeley), and Elaine (George Washington University).

The hikes had a lot more water and beach with less rainforest. Tougher and longer treks were rewarded with panoramic views. I would reach the summits and put my arms up and pretend I was in a movie where the camera zooms out and circles me, encompassing the wonderful view. Wilson’s Promontory sits on the southernmost tip of Australia, on the Tidal River. The tidal river is dyed a nice shade of darkish red because the water runs through tea trees (I didn’t taste the water, but it looked like tea to me). We climbed enormous granite boulders, walked on the whitest beaches I have ever seen, and ate lunch on top of the windy peaks. We came back at night and cooked meat, marveled at the southern hemisphere star constellations, and made flashlight art with Brian’s $1,700 camera.

My favourite part was the animals. We saw roos (eastern grey kangaroos), waddling wombats, chubby wallabies, elusive emus, nasty leeches, irritating possums, scavenging rosellas, screeching magpies, ordinary crows, monster ants, shy centipedes, and one-legged seagulls (red legs and eyes!). I responded to the kookaburras that decided to “laugh” at 5 am with some shouts and spent a good portion of my meals chasing rosellas away. A wombat ran through Brian’s tent and left footprints on Mari’s pillow. Leeches in the sink prompted me to be as careful as possible when sitting on the toilet (stressful!). Drinking fountains were approached careful so as not to disturb the possum that decided to stop and deposit feces and urine. Seeing kangaroos hop around on the side of the road at night was fascinating because their movements are so unique and their reflective red eyes are so mesmerizing. Watching emus disappear (after Mari ran after them waving her arms in excitement) into the forest before my eyes was beyond frustrating. What struck me the most was the animals’ comfort with humans. Animals in Australia have no natural predators, so fleeing was never a necessity which allowed us to get up close and personal with the creatures.

(This is a wombat. He is a marsupial and makes loud noises that startle us in our sleep. The human is Brian. He hikes in flip flops. [Tidal River, Wilson's Promontory])

Sadly, we didn’t get to go on ALL the hikes, but we did get to go on all that were open (except for 1). My favourite was the Mt. Oberon summit, which was a 2.5 hour hike that took us through eucalypt forests and to a panoramic view of the national park. The islands in the distance were mysterious and unexplored which made them all the more beautiful. We did many hikes and visited Squeaky Beach (white sands), Tidal Overlook (view of the tea river), Lilly Pilly Gully (lame), and Cotters Lake (actually a beach). I got on Dawit’s nerves because he wasn’t down for another 3.5 hours and was mad that I would even consider it.

(The picture does not do justice to the blue water or the steep cliffs. [Pillar's Peak, Wilson's Promontory])

So that was my adventure with nature. Next weekend, I don’t have anything planned, so hopefully I can have a relaxing 2 day vacation. This every-weekend-road trip way of life is wearing on me. I also booked my ticket for Cairns in Queensland for uni break. We are renting a car and camping every day. I guess Mike will continue to meet nature.

Soccer game tomorrow… I better get some sleep! Check back on Wednesday, I will try to have more pictures uploaded... my battery died halfway through the trip, so I didn't get very many pictures.

Until then,

Mikey Doo
(Hanging out with the kangaroo. I get mad because he doesn't move. [Cotters Lake, Wilson's Promontory])

(Is that wallaby pregnant or just stumpy? [Cotters Lake, Wilson's Promontory])

(Kangaroo meat... Grandma Suzie: we should just have this instead of turkey on Thanksgiving, it literally took 2 minutes to cook! [Tidal River Campground, Wilson's Promontory])

(Some Australian game. They threw the ball up, and chased each other, and threw the ball around. It was madness. Maybe I can teach this game to Michaela, Ryan, Max, Kiara, and Natalie! [Squeaky Beach, Wilson's Promontory])

(Kangaroo Tail were everywhere. The base of the plants were burned, and it seems that the plants sprung to life after fire... almost as if they were waiting for the fire to pass through the area. [Lilly Pilly Gully, Wilson's Promontory])

(This is a charred Banksia plant right after a fire. The woody fruit must be opened by fire in order to germinate. This is one of the many adaptations of the sclerophyllous plants of Australia (thank you "Biology of Australia Flora and Fauna"!) [ Lilly Pilly Gully, Wilson's Promontory])

(Here Auntie Chrissy. You asked why they would need two flush buttons on the toilet... [Tidal River Campground, Wilson's Promontory])

(Before the kangaroo almost attacked me. I guess it didn't like me taking pictures because it started hopping quickly towards me. [Tidal River Campground, Wilson's Promontory])