Tuesday, November 30, 2010

west side stories

A few experiences from the last Australian state I had left to visit... 
I started exploring Western Australia with a trip to the Kimberley.  The first day after driving for a few hours from Broome, our group stopped at Fitzroy Crossing to have lunch.  The local pub was across the street from where we were sitting and I ventured in to check it out.  Most of the outback bars I’ve been to have been pretty empty, but this one was different: It was packed full of drunk people - all Aboriginals - and this was at 1 pm on a Tuesday afternoon!  After learning about some of their history, I understand why they drink.  A sign on the wall read: If you hit a member of staff, the bar will close immediately.  A glassy-eyed man who identified himself as Joker came up to me and started chatting.  He asked where I was from and proceeded to tell me what a beautiful country Canada was, even though he’s never left the Kimberley region.  He welcomed me to his country, warned me about how dangerous it can be if you're not prepared for it and told me a story about rescuing lost German tourists on the land, who'd become delusional from dehydration after being in the bush for three days.  I was thankful I'd decided to see the area via a group tour :)  

A couple of days later we arrived at Bungle Bungles in Purnululu National Park.  Australia is full of seemingly random natural formations that are really interesting to see, and this place definitely falls into that category!  Bungle Bungles is a range of sandstone domes that have alternating orange and grey bands of colour - they almost look like giant beehives.  Although they’ve been around for an estimated 360 million years, only locals knew of their existence until the 1980s.  And they’re only expected to last another 20 millions years, which, relatively speaking, isn’t all that long.

Another stop on the Kimberley tour was at Tunnel Creek.  Here we went along the creek through a long cave to where it emerged on the other side.  We took sandbanks along the sides at parts and we had to wade through standing water at others.  At one point we stopped - our guide Cheryl had just noticed a sparkle as the light from her torch (a.k.a. flashlight) hit something up ahead....  Turned out it was the twinkle in a freshwater crocodile’s eye!  Our group stood there for a few minutes, mesmerized.  After the croc disappeared underwater - and, after Cheryl’s reassurance that it wouldn’t bother us if we didn’t bother it - we continued on our journey and waded through the same section of water the croc was in!  
The next day, back in Broome, I went to Cable Beach.  As soon as I got into the water to cool off the volunteer lifeguards evacuated the ocean... because of crocodiles!  Turns out saltwater crocs don’t abide by the same mutual avoidance philosophy.  Humans are part of their food chain!
Also in Broome, I got up early one morning to catch sunrise at Town Beach.  Tourists are advised not to travel alone in this city and I couldn’t find anyone else crazy enough to get out of bed at 4:30 am, so I opted to take a taxi rather than doing the 20-minute walk by myself.  Sunrise was beautiful - especially with the boab tree in the picture!  I was at the beach until after 6 am, when I started walking back to the hostel by myself.  About halfway back, I ran into an Aboriginal man wearing a striped button-down shirt and black jeans with no shoes who was walking in the opposite direction.  Our paths crossed and I said hello.  He stopped me to ask for directions, pointing towards where I'd come from: “I know my family lives that way, but do they live that way and then that way [gesturing a turn] or just that way?”  He didn’t seem drunk, but was extremely disoriented.  He nodded when I asked him if he would recognize it when he saw it.  “Just keep going then,” I told him.  And after a few more random questions, he did.

Along the west coast, the highlight for me was definitely Ningaloo Reef.  At Coral Bay, I decided to spend a day on a boat snorkeling with manta rays.  I have to say, this day trip was by far my best snorkeling experience ever!  In addition to the manta rays, I saw turtles, whales, dolphins, and sharks on top of a huge variety of tropical fish and coral - way more than what I saw at the Great Barrier Reef!  As I was watching the beautiful, brightly-coloured water creatures interact with each other, I couldn’t help but wonder if they judge or treat each other differently based on the colour of their scales.  My guess is that they don’t.  They all seem very supportive of each other.

On the way down to Perth, I left Australia briefly to visit the Principality of Hutt River.  Hutt River is an independent sovereign state about the size of Hong Kong that seceded from Australia 40 years ago because the man who owned the land didn’t want to abide by the farming laws the Australian government had just imposed.  This place has its own currency, postage, national anthem... I even got my passport stamped!  I also got to meet the royalty here - the creator of Hutt River, H.R.H. Prince Leonard, and his wife, H.R.H. Princess Shirley.  I didn’t have to go through Australian customs and immigration when I left Hutt River and re-entered Australia... in case you were wondering :)

Friday, November 19, 2010

you live, you learn 5

- There are as many ways to wash dishes as there are people.  
- Microbreweries are a lot smaller than non-micro ones.
- Honeybees dance to communicate.
- In some parts of Australia, young men think it's still fashionable to wear their pants so that the belt falls below the ass.
- Cultured pearls are formed within an oyster's gonad.
- Highways in Tasmania switch between being divided and undivided frequently.  In both sections, the lanes are marked by a dotted white line.
- Pizza seems to be more likely to get stolen out of a communal hostel fridge than any other food.
- It's hard, but not impossible, to find dinosaur footprints.
- There are no traffic lights between Geraldton and Darwin.
- Aboriginal husbands only speak to their mother-in-law via a third party.
- Most animals are camera shy unless you have food.
- Some messages are not meant to be communicated by certain channels.
- Mangoes are the most consumed fresh fruit in the world.
- You don't need a license for marine fishing in Tasmania with a rod and line, but if you fish in the same way on water inland you do need a license.
- Some boarding passes look like receipts.
- BBQ sauce enhances the taste of camp-cooked spaghetti bolognese.
- Kangaroos actually do box each other.
- Coffee and other warm beverages seem to be served at cooler temperatures here than back home.  I can drink it right away rather than having to wait for it to cool down.
- Guinness tastes sooo much better on tap :)
- Life is subject to interpretation.  Perspective is everything.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

and i quote 5

"Hopefully the people getting out of the car are paleontologists!" - Helen, a friend I met along the way, to me, at Gantheaume Point in Broome, being optimistic about the profession of the people who'd just pulled up into the parking lot.  On a whim, we'd decided to look for dinosaur footprints that are hard and dangerous to find and we weren't really prepared.

"Sorry about the view!  I know it's not my best angle." - Gaylene to me.  We'd walked into a narrow hallway at her work and she was bent over in front of me, rummaging for keys in her bag to unlock the next door.

"F*#$, he could have a seizure right now!" - What I was thinking to myself as I was going up the scenic chairlift at The Nut in Tasmania (a volcanic formation) with Craig, an epileptic friend of a friend.  Craig doesn't have the same type of warning signs that some other epileptics do, which means he could have a seizure with zero notice.  He's a pretty big guy too and the safety bar was pretty unsubstantial...  Thankfully nothing happened, except for me reaching a new level of appreciation for Craig's ability to not live in fear.

"You're Canadian." - A glassy-eyed Aboriginal man to me at Town Beach in Broome at sunset, after I'd answered his question about what I was doing there.  Based on just a sentence or two, he was able to successfully guess where I'm from even though he's never left the Kimberley region.

"... pretty good visibility for crocs, ...." - Roger, my tour guide for Cape Leveque, listing out the highlights of the beach we'd just pulled up to for a swim.  I think he was kidding but made sure I had people around me as much as possible while I was in the water... just in case.

"And what, you couldn't manage to get a tan in that amount of time?" - A loud Australian tourist who described himself as fat, balding and middle-aged, to me after finding out that I'd been in the country for almost 5 months.  A tan is one of those funny things that sometimes only you know you have.  I didn't bother letting him in on my little secret...

"Save our planet, it's the only one with beer!" - A Wicked camper van in Broome, trying to spark a new wave of environmentalists.  (Wicked is the name of the company, not an adjective on my part.  They're known for having graffiti-covered vehicles.)

"You've got to look after your health, don't you?" - Lorna, one of my tourmates, to the group of us standing around eating frozen treats at the rest stop.  She'd just informed us that the bar she'd chosen was equivalent to drinking one glass of milk.  It was her second treat of the day (mine too) and she was trying to justify it...  I didn't need to, mine was made of frozen mango so it counted as fruit :)

"I'm not very good at counting." - One of the tour employees to her co-worker as we were on our way out to the jetty to catch a boat for a day trip snorkeling on Ningaloo Reef.  She was trying to figure out how many passengers were on the bus and was having some difficulties, as people were moving around.  It turned out the co-worker wasn't very good at counting either - he did the headcount after the first site, where we ended up accidentally leaving someone behind...  Luckily that individual was still there when we went back to pick her up (and hadn't even noticed that the boat had left!).

And now, for a few from my time in Adelaide that get a bit lost in translation...

"Sa oled kodus siin. [You're at home here.]" - Endel, a 91-year-old Estonian Australian, to me, after I arrived to stay with him for a few days.  Although we'd never met before, he was waiting to welcome me on his driveway with open arms.

"Ega sa seda hullemaks ei tee. [You're not going to make it any worse.]" - Endel to me as we were eating dessert.  He'd found a can of fruit salad to open up and wasn't too impressed with the quality, so he was encouraging me to put sugar on it in the hope that additional sweetness would make it taste better...

"Üks, kaks, kolm, neli... [One, two, three, four...]" - After just two days of being immersed in the language of my childhood, I found myself thinking in Estonian, while counting out the number of potatoes we needed at the grocery store.

"See oli kaua aega tagasi - umbes viisteist aastat... [It was a long time ago - about 15 years....]" - Me to Endel.  He'd just asked me if I could write in Estonian and I'd answered that the last time I did it regularly was when I was still in Estonian school, which I finished a number of years ago.  I trailed off as I realized who I was talking to, and that it really is all relative...