A Travellerspoint blog

Chat Thai and Churby love

Chinatown and creeping on strangers in Sydney

Wednesday morning we walked to Paddy's Markets in Haymarket, hoping they would bear some resemblance to Paddington Markets, which sell artisan goods and vintage items but only run on the weekends. No dice. Paddy's Markets is a cruel jest on those hoping for one of Sydney's artsy markets crammed with handmade items and gourmet food. It's crammed alright, with stuff straight from China. Junky souvenirs, cheap luggage, every possible cell phone case you could imagine, we walked straight through and looked at each other on the other side saying, well at least we have more of the morning free now. So we wandered around Haymarket aka Chinatown, which is much more bustling than the one in Melbourne.
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By sheer luck I happened to glance at an address on a building and recognize Sussex Center, which is on Gina's Sydney a Food Tour because it has Ramen Ikkyu upstairs in the food court. We had been whittling down her list as much as possible, trying each day to finagle a route that covered both the area of Sydney that we wanted to see as well as one or two eateries on her list. Gelato was a priority. Obviously. Whereas ramen was more of a note, if we happened to be in the area, Ramen Ikkyu happened to be very highly rated. Well look who happened to be in the area.
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It was very good. I had never had real ramen before, so Gina was coaching on this one. We ordered the special, the bowl that had been raved about in several magazines. If you can't tell what is going on there, it is ramen noodles in a lovely broth with pork, boiled egg, seaweed, and vegetables. It's unusual on any sort of food expedition, self made or otherwise, for a stop to be such a tiny little counter wedged in he back of a food court. But they must be doing something right because it was completely crowded.
Then we walked back towards The Rocks to the Museum of Contemporary Art. Rick (Churby's dad) has arranged for us to take a survey there in exchange for fifty bucks. And by "us" I mean I served Gina up on a platter to the administrator while I went and had a coffee on the patio (hey, I did the Port Macquarie mystery shop by myself, this just makes it even). Plus, can you blame me? It's quite an arresting view. The opera house is one of those sights you just can't stop taking pictures of. And the fact that it is tiled (and self-cleaning) means that it is always glossy and proud in the sunshine.
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It was here that I also realized I have a developing habit of taking pictures of strangers. Sorry I'm not sorry. What they don't know won't hurt them. So for those of you who ask me who these people are, if they're not smiling directly at the camera, I probably don't know them and am just creeping around in bushes trying to get a good photo. Again. Not sorry.
After another loop around The Rocks we were exhausted and decided to make it an early night and just get takeaway. And oh look our lovely list came into play again. We weren't that far from Thai Town (by the time we reached any sort of decision, which, if you know us, you know takes a freakishly long time). So we dragged ourselves into Chat Thai, which also seems to be inanely popular as it had breathing room only and a menu of biblical proportions. By the time we got our order and dragged ourselves home, we were pretty slap happy. Not too tired though for a lovely chat with Jenny at the apartment. And of course, Churby love.
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That's a flattering angle for her. She's the cutest but she is also quite he little sausage roll. I'm sorry Jenny. It's just part of the Churbs charm.
Just a side note, I don't think I have mentioned this yet, but Sydney's train system is just glorious. I'm lookin' at you, Chicago. The trains are double deckers so you almost never have to stand and they are new, clean, fast, and very conveniently placed. We loved them. I wish I had a picture actually.

Posted by Chloeah 20:01 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Taronga Zoo

Shhhh, I have a platypus in my purse

GUYS GUYS GUYS
Guess what! I finally saw my first platypus! They have been one of my favorite animals and an object of facination since I was a kid but they are notoriously shy in the wild and rarely found in zoos. Jane gave it her damnedest the day we went to Ellenorough Falls and we scoured the creek bank where they have been known to nest but alas. But now I've seen one and yes he is comfortably ensconced in my bag until I can get him home and draw him a nice bath.
Monday Gina and I took the ferry across Sydney harbor to the Taronga Zoo, to meet Federica and Max (our Italian friends who did time with us in Mildura). First we had time so we walked around the harbor to Lady Macquarie's chair, a scenic lookout area, for the obligatory opera house selfies...
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Before we receive any judgement for cliche tourist shots, let me defend us by saying A) it's the friggin opera house. you would too, and B) dear god at least they were ordinary selfies, and did not include any selfie sticks, scarves, small animals, peace signs, trout pouts, or the multitude of other accessories that now surround the self-photography process.
The ferry is less than six dollars and it was a beautiful day for the fifteen minute boat ride, which affords yet another great view of the city.
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We were supposed to meet Federica and Max at noon at the entrance to the zoo, but Federica hadn't even texted by noon to say that she was off work yet, so Gina and I got started on one corner of the enormous zoo complex. I have seen more than my share of zoos and Taronga is quite a nice one--huge and clean and well laid-out. There were more than a few animals off exhibit though, plus the cablecar was out of service and I felt a bit prickly about that. Is that wrong? I got indignant (inwardly) that they take you for almost forty bucks and then it seemed like the place was full of "sorry" signs. I'm not talking like one of those tourists who writes a letter complaining that animals were daring to sleep during their visit and that the zoo should wake them up and make them dance for their pleasure. I'm talking about exhibit after exhibit where the animals had been removed entirely. But anyways.
We have seen every animal on our Oz list and then some. We've already gone on and on about koalas and kangaroos (which are far more exciting to see in your backyard) but now we have also checked off bilbies, frilled lizards, goannas,
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quokkas (KWAH-kuh, those smiley rodent-type cuties of Pinterest fame)
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echidnas (ee-KID-nuh, aka spiney anteater)
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wombat (not our first but they are so cute)
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Tasmanian devils
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AND PLATYPUS.
Can you tell that is a platypus? Well it is. You're just going to have to trust me. He is right in the middle on one half of his little ramp into the water, and his bill is the black splotch in the middle of the picture. Platypusses (not platypi) are nocturnal so the platypus house is one of those dark zoo buildings with very low lighting so he thinks it is nighttime and will therefore be more active during zoo hours. Platypusses are smaller than most people realize, only 2-6 lbs, about the size of a football but not as fat. They spend most of their time in the water but cannot see or breathe underwater; they seal off their eyes and nostrils when they dive and rely on their super sensitive bills to feel for vibrations in the water leading them to food. This one was marvellously active, paddling around at a frantic pace and going to town on a crayfish he kept plucking from the rocks in his huge tank. Then he would climb up on his ramp and fart around in a delightful way and then repeat the whole cycle. Gina kindly stood to one side and waited as I got all fired up--the way a mother might patiently wait for her small child. He was so cute! There was also video of the other platy rooting around in her nest box, out of sight, but video wasn't as good as being tank-side.
If it helps me save face at all, I patiently waited while Gina freaked out over the echidnas.
Federica finally texted around 2:30 to say that they were getting off the ferry, and where should we meet? I said we were headed towards the petting zoo, (where there was an emu loose by the way)
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and we could meet them at #4 labelled on the zoo map. Gina and I walked to the spot and waited. And waited. And waited. Federica texted to say that they couldn't see us, and what did I mean by #4? I was about to reply when she sent another:
"Wait...are you at the Sydney Zoo or Taronga Zoo?"
Ohhhh.....the facepalm.........
The Taronga Zoo! Taronga is twenty times the size of the Sydney Zoo, and much closer to Manly, where F and M were coming from. So when I agreed to meet them at "the zoo," in my mind I just assumed Taronga. In Federica's mind, the Sydney Zoo is THE zoo because it is Sydney, and it is much more affordable, and it is closer to where WE were coming from.
So yikes. The one free day F and M had all week to meet us and we effed it up. Yikes yikes yikes. But Taronga is far from the Sydney zoo and we all had our respective tickets so we agreed to just try and meet up at a later date.
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Tuesday we hoofed it to Darlinghurst to Messina, a gelato place on Gina's Food Tour of Sydney. She was in charge of Sydney dining and had compiled a list of places that were supposed to be the best. I must say, we did a number on that list. Messina was a favorite though, with forty gelato flavors ranging from classics like coconut, mango, and vanilla bean to rarer birds like fig marsala and burnt sugar with dulce de leche and shortbread. Then we walked to the Australia Museum, a natural history museum and the country's oldest.
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It was a little freaky, in that old, taxidermied way that museums can be. The assortment of dead creatures preserved in jars was complemented by the huge displays of skeletons and glass cases of oddities, the best of which was this
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haha! I love that they not only discovered that they had collected and displayed dirt, thinking it was a mummified animal, but continue to do so long after xrays reveal it to be nothing. The museum's gem collection was lovely, and they had a huge exhibit titled "Surviving Australia" about the deadly fauna of this country that I hugely identified with for previously mentioned reasons. But they also had a live freaking funnel web spider on display in the CHILDREN'S area. The children's area! A live effing funnel web in a locked box with a window! It just crouched in there, huge and black and shiny, glaring at us with it's eight eyes and it's soul of satan. Jane told us later that funnel webs can create an air bubble and life underwater with that bubble for quite a while, also that they rear up and attack you if provoked. Rear up! Are you kidding me??? And here it is in the kids' section between the shell collection and the books, plotting its excape. Isn't the whole idea behind a museum that everything is dead? Isn't a live museum a zoo? Yes. Yes it is.
We spent the rest of the afternoon walking the Sydney CBD, including Hyde Park, the Queen Victoria Building, and the Strand Arcade.
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At 5 we took the 35 minute ferry ride north to Manly, to finally meet up with Federica and Max. Max had to work--he got a job in the kitchen of an Italian restaurant near their hostel in Manly--but Federica treated us to dinner there and we visited for quite a while. She is starting there soon as well, as a waitress. I'm glad for them, the staff all seemed really nice and they are all Italian, so they can speak their native language at work. The manager even gave us free shots of limoncello because we are their friends. They want to work in Manly for a bit to save up money for a car, then drive around and explore the country, possibly working somewere else if the opportunity arises. I wish we were closer as we enjoy hanging out with them.

Posted by Chloeah 02:41 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

42 Wallaby Way

Exploring Sydney

We had heard that Sydney is touristy, overcrowded, "just another city." Wrong! We didn't find it to be any of these things. Yes it's a city so there's lots of people and lots of souvenir shops and the tall buildings can all be a bit anonymous but it's also friendly and clean with a unique air to it.
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And it has this! The opera house doesn't seem real, in that way you have to pinch yourself when you're seeing an icon in person for the first time. We turned a corner and bam there it was, sitting across the harbor like a swan. but I'm getting ahead of myself.
We have the extreme good fortune of staying with Jane's friends Rick and Jenny while we are in Sydney. Just like her they are extremely nice and so, so generous. And while we had to say goodbye to Peppercorn for the week, we have already become quite attached to Churby, a rotund little white princess who lets Rick and Jenny live in her apartment. Now you know I'm a cat person through and through but Churby takes no prisoners. She doesn't care if you're a dog person or not, she's going to accept you into her throng of admirers. Gina is already figuring out how to fit her in her backpack.
Saturday was our first full day in Sydney. We took the train downtown and explored The Rocks- a harborside area with lots of shops and cafes. It's a bit touristy but there was a market on Saturday with local crafts and food stalls.
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It wasn't far from there to Circular Quay- the docks area where the ferries and tour boats depart from. This is where it got a bit crowded with people gawking at the skyline and crowding around street performers. There was the usual human statues and breakdancers but there was also a young aboriginal guy playing a didgeridoo and a girl with a magic show. We followed the walk around to the opera house area. There's restaurants and bars along the harbor, under the promenade to the opera house.
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We were standing next to the box office, not really sure of what we were doing. The tour was $37 and we thought that was a bit much, so we were considering performance tickets but those are even more expensive, plus we weren't dressed right. And we were getting hungry. Then suddenly a man with glasses suddenly came up to us and asked if we wanted a pair of tickets for the 4:30 tour, starting in two minutes. Baffled we said yes, thank you! And followed him to the queue.
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The tour was about forty-five minutes, and it was cool to learn about the building. What was supposed to take 3 years and seven million dollars wound up at sixteen years and over one hundred million. It was entirely paid for from lotto though, which is a neat thought. It wasn't completed until 1973. The outside is tiled and there are two colors so the sun won't ever wash the color out entirely, and it's entirely self-cleaning. Rainwater cleans the tiles and it runs off the building's curves and down through the base and into the harbor. There are no gutters, thanks to the design.
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The "sails" are held up by huge concrete ribs, and then the performance spaces are basically wooden buildings within the greater concrete buildings. All the offices etc are downstairs, and even the stage wings have to be downstairs due to the narrowness of the sails design. There are five performance spaces but two main ones: the Joan Sutherland (opera) theater and the main concert hall. We We're lucky that we got to see both. Tours run all day but sometimes there are performances or set work and you don't always get to see both spaces. We weren't allowed to take pictures of the smaller Joan Sutherland theater as the stage was set for The Marriage of Figaro. But we got to sit in both of the main theaters, and take pictures in the larger one, the concert hall.
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The organ is one of the largest in the world, with over ten thousand pipes. Most of it is behind the rear wall. The interior of the hall is acoustically perfect, finished in native woods. But what I thought was cool are the clear rings suspended over the musicians' chairs. They lower and raise these while they are tuning up and according to how many musicians are playing, because the ceiling is so high, the resonance takes time to bounce back from way up there. The rings help alleviate that. THE SCIENCE.
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We also got to see the rear view out into the harbor. It was one of the first instances that glass was used as a major construction material, and they had to make allowances for the glass to shift and expand in the heat of the sunlight. Also angle the glass just right and tint it so viewers from the inside don't roast like ant under a magnifying glass or simply stare back at their own reflection.
See what I mean? THE SCIENCE.
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After the tour, we learned the tickets given to us were "tour and tasting" tickets ($70 apiece, bless my soul), so we went with the gentleman down to the Opera Kitchen restaurant for the included tasting plate. He introduced himself as Jim Matthews from Washington DC, and we had a spectacular dinner right by the harbor, sipping prosecco and eating oysters, sushi and sliders. (the seagulls are scary though, they really are just like in Finding Nemo and the little suckers are BOLD) Jim loves travel too, and we talked for some time about places we have been and want to go, the philosophical depth of travel experience, and the possibilities of our open plan. Just as with Jane, we share a lot of the same views on these things. Jim had to leave too soon as he had tickets to the opera that evening so we had to say goodbye, but we exchanged contact information. Gina and I were quite emotional on the train ride home. The friendliness and generosity of complete strangers has been overwhelming on this trip and we never quite feel we have adequately expressed our feelings about it.
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Today we explored the Sydney neighborhood of Newtown-a young hip area with tons of restaurants covering every cuisine imaginable, and adorable shops.
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We ate lunch at Black Star Pastry, which was completely worth the huge line out the door.
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Wouldn't you wait in line for that? We both had lamb shank and red wine pies, and we shared our desserts, first a vegan chocolate cake topped with dried raspberries and caramel corn. It didn't taste vegan (usually a sacrifice in flavor) and it was dense and delicious, though the caramel corn was a bit below standard. I'm biased. Even better than that though was the strawberry watermelon cake with rose scented cream-their signature cake. It's two layers of almond dacquoise, handmade whipped cream, fresh watermelon slices, and topped with dried rose petals, strawberries, grapes, and pistachios in a watermelon gelee. Got that? All you really need to know I guess was that it was friggin amazing and completely unexpected. Not too sweet, hints of floral, the watermelon and strawberry both in balance. I'd love to learn how to make it.

Posted by Chloeah 04:57 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Routes in the Ute

Journeys to Kempsey and Ellenborough Falls

We've been at Jane's for about two weeks now, and the time just flies. When we're not fainting at spiders or drowning in our attempts at scuba, we might be out on little day trips. Jane dropped us off in Kempsey one afternoon while she went to a job site there, and we had lunch in a little pub and wandered around. Downtown was basically the one intersection, so after we exhausted that we went and explored the river and we almost gored by a flock of white geese. What I liked about Kempsey was that it's just a typical little Ozzie town, zero tourism, so there was no flash for the tourists. When we told the woman at the bookshop we were from the U.S. she gaped at us as if we had said we were visiting from Hogwarts.
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Last Saturday Jane spoiled us with a road trip to Ellenborough Falls. We started out in Wauchope (WAH-hope). The previous evening the three of us ate dinner at the hotel pub in Wauchope after a community stargazing event out in a country park. This time though we were checking out the little department store- a cute little throwback to when department stores were tiny and independent, with lovely little displays.
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Then we drove to the Blue Poles B&B for tea and cake. How cute is this?
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It had a great view of the mountains and we could hear the kookaburras arguing with some roosters.
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Next was Comboyne, where Jane's father grew up. It was a tiny little spit of a town but the woman at the information center was lovely and we bought some local eggs. Incidentally, in Australia, a chicken is a "chook." No idea why. But only in the live sense. You might have chooks in your back yard for example but you wouldn't order chook at a restaurant. Then it's chicken.
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We wove up and around the mountains, where we saw a diamond python and one of those termite mounds as big as a person and several cows that had had enough of their fences. Also, bush turkeys, which is apparently a thing.
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Finally we got to the falls, which are the second longest in the Southern Hemisphere. I wish pictures gave any indication of the scope but per usual they're inadequate. It was breathtaking though.
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We also walked up to the head of the falls, which was interesting in that you might picture a huge river coursing over the cliff, in order to produce such loud and prolific waterfalls. But no, it was fed by a deep but very narrow river, and the water had carved out a niche in the cliff, so the head of the falls looked minuscule from this angle.
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Right? You pretty much can't tell from there how much water is going over the side. The view is gorgeous though.
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We then had a little picnic by the car. A ute, incidentally, is a badass suv. I assume it's short for utility vehicle or something. Pronounced "yoot," but I think it's spelled ute. It has this pipe on the front called a snorkel so the engine can be immersed in water if necessary-which Jane informs us that it has been in the past. They can get flooded pretty bad, and the creek on her property can block the road, so sometimes they have to leave Adam's car out by the highway and brave the water in the ute. We finished the day by searching for platypus by the creek in Comboyne, to no avail. But don't worry. I'll find one of those duck billed little sneaksters.
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Isn't New South Wales lovely? That's the province that we're in by the way. Melbourne and Mildura were in Victoria but Port Macquarie and Sydney are in New South Wales. There's tons of dairy farms up in these mountains, the outlines of which you can see on the road to Jane's.
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Most evenings we watch a movie together, and Adam joins us when he can. Jane unrolls this huge screen and hangs it from the loft above the living room, and sets up a projector.
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We've been having an Australian film fest. Including what we saw in preparation for this trip (to get in the spirit) Australian Film Fest includes but is not limited to: Australia, Finding Nemo, Crocodile Dundee, The Man from Snowy River, Sapphires, The Dish, The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Muriel's Wedding, and Saving Mr Banks. I will skip the first three and assume that you already have an opinion on those. But if you get a chance, Sapphires, The Dish, Priscilla, and Muriel are lovely. (Priscilla was a lot to take in-it's about drag queens road tripping through the Outback). Jane gets to see some movies she hasn't seen in a long while and Gina and I get an Australian point of view on Australian films so it's quite fun. Also we drink tea and eat chocolate so what's not to love about that?
By the way, this is Peppercorn, and he is fabulous and he knows it
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And these are Dustey and Slim Beau
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And this is the view from Jane's kitchen, out towards one of the paddocks. We can usually see roos and wallabies hanging out there in the mornings or late afternoons.
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Posted by Chloeah 04:25 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

A Million Ways to Die in Australia

This country is massive and it wants to kill you

My mom has had this friend at work for decades. We call her Miss Bea. Miss Bea has her own cat rescue and raises goats; she keeps chickens and sells their eggs at work. She gave me both of my cats and Gina and I have always loved her. When I went into the lab two weeks before leaving on this trip, I ran into Miss Bea and told her about our travel plans. Reactions to this had been 100% positive, until I paused for breath and realized she was staring at me, open mouthed, in abject horror.
"Oh Chloe, no."
She shot my mother a look over my shoulder.
"You can't let them go!"
We went. Of course. And now I am going to jinx it by saying we've been okay so far. I made it through Peru with a scar the size and shape of a baby carrot and what is left of my colon but I made it through. We nearly froze to death (and I mean that quite literally and with gravity) in Chile but we warmed back up. There was a very real possibility of being mugged in Argentina but we clutched our bags and flew out just fine. But Down Under deals a different hand of cards. It's a wonderful country and I love it here, but just as soon as you get distracted, something yanks you back and makes you remember that the Outback wants you dead.
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See that? That's at Jane's house. As in, where we are staying. And if that internet router is about the size of a laptop then that Huntsman spider is about the size of my hand.
MY HAND.
Jane's mom's response was, "oh well they are not poisonous."
Not poisonous? Not poisonous??? Look at it!!!!! IT HAS FUR.
If a spider is big enough to have fur then it doesn't matter if it is poisonous because I will scream, shit my pants and die, in that order. And I don't even need to ask Ginaa to know that she would do the same.
The other day we were cleaning the kitchen and Gina was wiping down the tops of the cabinets and what did she find but the mangled carcass of a Huntsman, descendant of Aragog, grotesque in death and hideous to behold. Yes it was dead because if it wasn't, we both would have gone through steps 1-3 and not been here to write this post. Jane said she found one on the ceiling of her car once which now means I must do a full scan of all vehicles, showers, beds, and rooms that I enter. I scan doorways before I go through them I shake out all articles of clothing before I put them on. Because it's not just the spiders. (It's not just the Huntsman either- you could have knitted a friggin blanket from the cobwebs that we swept off of all the windows in the house, and Jane just did the windows two months ago. They're taking over I tell you. And she found a Funnel Web spider in the dog dish two years ago. A FUNNEL WEB. Yes those are poisonous. And the pope likes to pray.) There is also a snake several meters long under the shed that we have yet to meet, and we saw a diamonback python on the road the other day. Okay even Michigan has a snake on the road every now and again but a friggin python???
By the way, as I have mentioned before, when people hear you are going to Australia they forward you some variation of this
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or at least just this
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Now I have yet to make an acquaintance with that particular snake but I'm sure several of his friends are longing to meet me.
Even the fuzzies are dangerous. Koalas can chase you and bite you and they have chlamydia and huge claws and kangaroo claws are the size of jacknives and some of them are like six feet tall and they really do box and male platypuses are poisonous and echidneas are spikey and even the magpies want to rip your eyeballs out and my god what is up with the wildlife?? All of the most venomous and most deadly creatures in the world call this continent home and Gina and I decided to TAKE A LOVELY LITTLE JAUNT THROUGH IT.
Jane took us to see some lovely waterfalls (more about that later) and secretly brought the snakebit kit and a big tub of salt. Plus the usual mozzie spray, sunscreen, and enough food and water for a week. Why? Because you always have to assume there is danger at every turn. The salt was for leeches, which don't restrict themselves to water like Michigan leeches. Oh no. Let's just come right up on land and say howdy do. They sit on things like toilet seats and handrails and wait until they can smell you and then they latch on with their gross leechy mouths until you realize you're covered in blood and only then do you douse them in salt. Only then do they shrivel up like Satan's minions and you are left to mop up the blood and cry.
So let's say we manage to escape all the hostile wildlife, there's still rip currents and landslides and hurricanes and fire coral and hundreds of miles of desert, not to mention getting coerced into an unmarked van in Mildura. And don't even get me started about the massive bush fires. Plus there's always the normal civilization stuff like being run over by a car which is a very real possibility in a country where every single driver sees pedestrians as a challenge for their aim.
On this note, Gina and I started scuba lessons two days ago. Day 1 was fine, we paddled in circles around a hotel swimming pool like newborn manatees, then practiced what to do if any and/or all of our equipment failed. You are out of oxygen. Go. Your sister is out of oxygen. Go. Your mask is full of water. Go. You don't even have a mask anymore. Go. Your mask is gone your regulator is broken you are separated from your group your car is on fire you have a raging case of athletes foot and now you are out of oxygen. Go. BDE41DECD03361CC6AC579BC1F20A6EB.jpg
That was nerve wracking but fine. We like our instructor and can keep a healthy sense of humor about how stupid we look, waddling around with several kilos of gear on in a swimming pool. Yeah but then today happened.
I'll say it. It was terrible. I wasn't sure if I was going to vomit or drown or both. Gina wasn't far off those same feelings. You'll notice in my rant about Australia's Most Deadly that I did not mention sharks. I was saving it. The latest shark attack was dum dum da dum......here. In Port Macquarie. Four days ago. A bodyboarder was bitten in the early evening last Saturday; they sewed his butt back together and closed the beaches for a few days. Now I am not exactly going to go out and shake fins with a shark but I agree with Rick (our instructor) that they have been villainized and misunderstood. Rick has been diving for 25 years and he said he was going to go spear fishing that day at that same beach but saw the water and said nope. Also I guess 5pm is a risky shark feeding time. Also note that the man was bitten but not chewed. So basically all signs point to a scared or surprised animal, not necessarily a hostile one. Anyways A) we trust Rick's judgement and B) at this point if I saw a shark I would probably just pull a Bugs Bunny and run across the water all the way back to the car. Which, given the spider/snake/claw/tentacle situation, I would probably drive to the Sydney airport and fly to somewhere that is not trying to kill me. At least Michigan is too cold for Funnel Web spiders and toilet leeches.
So back to scuba. My mask, by the way, is yellow and looks exactly like the mask from Finding Nemo except it says "Rick's Dive School' on the back instead of 42 Wallaby Way Sydney. Day 2 was today, our first open water dives, pretty darn close to the shark beach previously mentioned. But sharks didn't even cross my mind. Fish didn't even cross my mind. The only problem I had with scuba today was the water. Ya know. It turns out it was much choppier underwater than the surface waves indicated, so the three of us were buffed around like a bunch of sneakers in a clothes dryer. The wetsuit and BCD vest compress your chest so it is hard to breathe anyways, much less from a little hose, when your eyeballs are telling you that you're underwater asshole, quit trying to breathe. The swaying sea kelp and lack of control when swimming added up to some extreme nausea, and when we surfaced way out in the middle of nowhere, Rick told me that if I had to puke while we were down that was okay but I would have to do it into my regulator (the thing that goes in your mouth aka your air supply aka the tube of life).
Excuse me? How is that supposed to work? How is one supposed to vomit into a valve without removing it from your mouth and then right away inhale from said valve because you need a breath because you just vomited? All while said vomit is swirling around your head? I didn't want to test this out so I kept choking back (literally) through the second dive, trying to focus on Rick's tank ahead of me and also equalize my ear pressure every other minute because my friggin ears wouldn't pop. Meanwhile the ocean is just swirling around and around whispering yesss, yessssss my precious, you're mine now.......
You know the phrase, "washed up onshore?" That is now a literal phrase for me. We literally washed up on shore. Rick took off his flippers, stood up, and walked to the beach like a man, but Gina and I rolled up onto the sand like a couple of old boots. Tanks and all. Then you just lay there like an upended turtle for a split second, staring up at the clear sky wondering how, after all of this, can you look yourself in the mirror anymore. Then a wave washed me onto my knees and I crawled towards the beach. Rick dragged Gina by her BCD strap. Wherever he is at this moment, I am sure there is a stiff drink involved. He deserves it.
Little did I know that the worst wasn't over. After two dives (especially our first two real dives ever) it takes a bit to get your land legs back. Plus you're basically wearing a refrigerator on your back. While wearing a wetsuit aka a corset. And a twenty pound weight belt. And carrying your two foot long fins. And mask. And snorkel. And what's left of your dignity. Then it was about a hundred yards across the soft sand to the wooden stairs that were our only way up the bluff and to the car. By this point my mood was somewhere in my neoprene booties. About 2/3 of the way to the stairs Rick looked back and pointed to a pod of dolphins skimming through the water, not far from where we dove.
Fuck the dolphins. I'm cold and I'm wet and I've got sand in places where sand really shouldn't be and I've scraped all my knuckles and there is bile in the back of my throat and I feel like a Jimmy Dean in this goddamn wetsuit and the sun is beating down and it feels like I have the U.S.S. Pennsylvania strapped to my back and my weight belt is sliding down so I can only take little tippy toe steps and my mask is caught in my hair FUCK. THE. DOLPHINS. MATE.
We pulled outselves together and out of the equipment once we reached the car though, and Rick was a champ about not openly laughing when Gina got stuck in hers with her arms in the Superman position. We agreed on a time and place for tomorrow's lesson (ha!) and because we still had two hours before Jane could pick us up, we had him drop us off at Town Beach, where we spread our towels and collapsed in the sun like the housecats we are.
So you see it's the ocean. It's the landscape. It's the animals and insects and the shady characters. They're all out to get you at any given moment. It is a very real warning here that if you plan on a country drive (or the Outback, heaven forbid) you should bring food and lots of water and maybe even extra gas. Clare and Adam keep a salt shaker in their car. If I lived here I would have to keep an uzi in mine, given the Huntsman-in-the-vehicle story. Because Australia wants to kill you. The wind screams and the ocean roars and even the dirt is red and raw. Even now, sitting in Jane's warm and inviting living room out in the boonies, I get the feeling that the critters are inching closer, sensing my fear. They know I'm foreign and tender to this wild place, that I have zero hunting skills and will scream and faint if I see so much as a spider bigger than an M&M. They know I have to go to sleep sometime. They can even smell my blood.

Posted by Chloeah 23:17 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

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