Thursday, December 2, 2010
Tearful Goodbyes and Ninga 2010
Welp, as much as it pains me to admit it, studying in Fremantle is officially over. Real life/real school back in the states will most definitely be a rude awakening and I will surely experience reverse culture shock to the max as the laid-back lifestyle I’ve observed and adopted will be shattered by the hustle and bustle of the America. Despite my appalling lack of updates, I am indeed alive and very well, and am currently travelling the beautiful Eastern coast of Australia. My extreme deficiency of blogging has not come as a result of laziness or neglect, but instead to an extraordinarily busy end to an amazing semester. Since my last post, I have gone on a week long road trip all the way up north to Exmouth, Coral Bay, and Kalabarri, spent many grand times with the amazing people I’ve grown to know and love in Fremantle, experienced the horrors of Australian exams, eaten some of the best food of my life, said goodbye to my lovely makeshift home of the last several months, and embarked on the beginnings of my month and a half long adventures of traveling. As fitting all these events into a single post would be tedious, long-winded, and frankly absurd, I’ll bring up the some of the highlights and split the incredible road trip into two different posts (meaning I’ll start describing Ninga 2010 now and finish whenever I get a spare moment, then continue on to my other travels once I encounter another rare wi-fi internet spot).
As I mentioned, over the past few weeks I have been treated to a barrage of delicious treats and tasty concoctions. Two such meals came from William, Blake’s mate who I became good buddies with at the farm, whose family owns a stellar Chinese restaurant that knocks you on your butt when you walk through the door simply from the delectable aroma. Twice I stuffed my belly full to the point of explosion despite my struggles with chopsticks, and waddling back to the car following these feasts was a laborious task to say the least. Getting back together with the farm crew was fantastic; reminiscing about the weekend was made even better through the amazing free food, which included chicken feet! Another great night of food, fun, and frolic can also be attributed to Blake; he invited me and several other mates to his house for a Sunday evening dinner with his family. We arrived, chewed the fat (AKA shot the shit), drank a few beers, and got to know his family and grandparents, who were truly amazing people with interesting stories and such gracious hosts. We then proceeded to inhale juicy steak, creamy potato bake, sizzling sausages, coleslaw, beets, and salad at an alarming pace. Once we were dangerously full and had stuffed our gullets to the point of bursting, Blake’s wonderful mother INSISTED we all helped ourselves to more of the amazing food. After all, we are growing boys! Once we were nearly paralysed from fullness, Blake’s Grandmother brought out her homemade lemon squares which were magical treats, along with a traditional mouth-watering Aussie dessert called pavlova, and also some customary Chinese delights that miraculously found a way to snuggle in with the rest of the food in our very, very full bellies. Following the absolutely phenomenal food, we all sat down for a good ‘ol game of Pictionary. As per usual, hilarity ensued and a grand time was had by all. This wonderous evening between friends and family, while fantastic to say the very least, definitely made me miss family dinners and game nights back home all the more. One last stellar meal that comes to mind was courtesy of our Resident Supervisor (AKA makeshift mom) at the P and O, Anna, who invited several residents to her house to experience some of her mother’s world class cooking. I feel like I’ve already made you jealous enough with all the spectacular food I have described, so I’ll refrain from giving the play by play of the scrumptious meal, and instead just assure you all that it was mind-blowing and a wonderful afternoon. Free delicious food with fantastic friends??? Sounds great if you ask me! After a delicious lunch at her lovely abode, we spent some time chatting with her family and took a trip down to a nearby lake and observed numerous “black swans,” which are a rare treat that can only be found in Western Australia.
As the semester wound down, many students, including myself, got bogged down with a plethora of activities, including writing “snippets,” or little love notes to all our fellow P and O-ers, studying for the INSANE Aussie finals, and packing up our belongings and lives and checking out. I’ll quickly explain my reasoning behind labelling the end of year exams as ludicrous. First, I should fill you in on how different the grading system is; most classes ENTIRE grade is based upon the one assessment or massive essay and the performance in the final exam. Since the exams carry such hefty weight, and because students are competing against each other (since teachers can only hand out a precious few good grades and must make some students fail), students go to extreme levels to do well. However, not just the format to the exams also plays into my impression of them. The examination room, or prison as I like to refer to it, was literally called “the Drill Hall,” and was packed with over 300 students who were all furiously scribbling to try and write enough to outdo their peers. Hand cramps were commonplace and a natural occurrence and
I even had a friend who started a day of finals with a brand new pen and by the end of his two tests he had written enough to completely deplete the pen of ALL ink! Keeping a watchful eye over the “prisoners” were dozens of wardens, proctors, and invigilators who strutted up and down floor peering over the shoulders of students to ensure that no academic violations were taking place. Students are all even given assigned seats, and must place their student ID cards directly in the right hand corner and have an otherwise completely clear desk. There was also one person at the front of the room who had to use a microphone, due to the colossal size of the prison, to explain the very strict and severe rules and punishments for the exams, as well as to announce the time. In order to avoid any distractions whatsoever, students are not allowed to leave during the first half hour of the test or during the last twenty minutes. Weird. Thankfully, I survived this hellacious system and was able to enjoy my final days in Freo in peace. The numerous end of year celebrations featured much drunken reminiscing and shinanigans, including belting out some karaoke and freezing my buns off skinny dipping in the Indian Ocean in the wee hours of the morning.
We also partook in other "last events" before the end of the year: one last trip to the roundhouse, a journey through the gorgeous King's Park (probably my favorite area in Perth), and one final footy practice, a sport that not only has caused profound bonding that has so powerfully occurred within all the male community of the P and O, but has also been an amazing integration into the Australian world of sport and culture. Fittingly I couldn’t escape the wonderful, yet brutal sport, without a magical parting gift that came in the form of yet another injury. The twisted knee I received from an awkward landing from a smashing tackle was painful to say the least and made for a less than ideal plane right to Cairns, but thankfully was not too severe. Hopefully my injury days are over while my footy days are just beginning!
The Sunday before everyone left the study abroad office hosted an end of the year barbeque with a slideshow of hilarious, tear-jerking pictures, as well as several speeches from members of the three different dorms. The speeches were all vastly different, ranging from the serious, powerful, and sentimental, to the downright goofy, as well as a silly song that represented our time down under.
The P and O also had its own end of the year movie, featuring feel good interviews, good music, funny pictures, and hysterically embarrassing videos that had been recorded throughout the year. The 37 members of the P and O, as well my friends from the other dorms and my Australian mates were my family this semester, and I could not ask for a better group of people to share the best semester of my life with.
As that concludes a brief summary of the final few weeks around Freo, I’ll move on to some of the amazing experiences of my week-long road trip along the Northern West coast.
Road trippin with my favorite Allies, fully loaded we had snacks and supplies!
The legendary adventure that was Ninga 2010 could never be contained or described in this wimpy blog, but here are a few highlights of the amazing weeklong road trip. We set out, 5 dear friends, with love in our hearts and no set plans in our heads. We decided to simply go with the flow and take each day as it came, truly living the Australian spirit and simply feeling no worries.
We drove all the way up north to Exmouth, a sacred spot amongst locals, hailed as one of the greatest snorkelling locations in the world. We had to divide the 16 hour drive into two days, separated by a not exactly legal makeshift campsite on the side of a random road. We stopped driving so early mainly because we were told by numerous sources that after sunset the kangaroos are plentiful, beautiful, yet extremely dangerous. This crucial point was reinforced on our drive as passed literally hundreds of dead Roo carcasses on the side of the road due to collisions with drivers. I assure you that I am not exaggerating in the slightest when saying hundreds: it was extremely rare that we would go a single kilometer without seeing a poor, wrangled roo. Our sympathy for the creatures evaporated later in the trip when we had several extremely close calls with the shockingly dim-witted, massive creatures, but that is a story for later.
Anyhoo, after arriving in Exmouth, here are some highlights:
-spending the first day at a gorgeous beach, relaxing and recovering from the drive while frolicking in the balmy, crystalline waters. The next day we ventured into several national parks for what we were told was pristine snorkelling. Our sources did not exaggerate in the slightest and the trip blew us all away. Our first stop, turquoise bay, invited us in with a giant stingray lurking only several meters from the shoreline, clearly visible through the amazingly glassy and clear water. We excitedly put on the snorkelling gear and headed out to the plentiful reef surrounding the beach, only to be met with a barrage of some of the most amazing coral and fish I have ever seen. During my hours fascinatingly observing the incredible underwater sights, I not only witnessed thousands of different fish, but also an eel, a plethora of colourful coral, and an octopus! My friend Kelly also came across a white-tipped reef shark, a sight which surely caused him to pee his pants from a combination of excitement and sheer terror. As I was diving down to get a closer look at the reef, the seemingly lifeless and motionless coral came to life as a perfectly camoflouged octopus rapidly escaped my unknowing grasp. While the lightning quick creature certainly gave me a shock and had my heart skip a few beats, I was ecstatic to witness such a rare sight. After a truly magical afternoon snorkelling at turquoise bay, we decided to check out another beach within the national park called Lakeside, which was supposed to be a more secluded version of what we had seen already. When we got to Lakeside, we were disappointed to find that the water was murky and it was difficult to spot as many fish as we had been spoiled with previously. As I watched my friend Kelly swim around attempting to find a spot with decent clarity, I noticed a large dark patch under the water steadily creeping closer to his unaware body. I tensed up, fearing the worst, but sighed in relief and amazement when a giant sea turtle popped his head up for air a mere 5 feet from Kelly! An important note is that Kelly had been praying all day for an encounter with a turtle and is completely obsessed with them. Despite the poor snorkelling conditions, we spent a wonderful hour just sitting on the beach watching dozens of turtles as they swam about and popped their heads above water; they were so close that we could literally hear them gulp the air when they surfaced. The turtles are a perfect example of there being a silver lining in so many aspects of travel and life; even though the snorkeling was very subpar, the sea turtles were a phenomenal sight and one of the many highlights of the trip.
Our next stop was Coral Bay, a relaxed, fun, hippie town where everyone was extremely friendly and just flat out excited about life. We spent our first day at the immaculate beach, exploring some nearby caves, snorkeling on the offshore reef. When talking to some of the welcoming locals, we mentioned our desire to check out some of the famed reef sharks and one of them recommended a sea kayak tour with several snorkeling stops along the way. We decided to wake up bright and early and try out the sea kayaking adventure, a decision which turned out to be far beyond fantastic. The next morning, our adventure began as we paddled out several kilometres to the first dive site. The kayaking itself was exhilarating yet relaxing at the same time, as the tropical scenery and see through water allowed for some pretty amazing sights. We could literally see tons of fish as we made our way out to snorkel spot number 1. At the first spot, we hand fed swarms of giant fish. As you can see from the photo, my hand is tucked into a fist. This is because our guide told us that these powerful fish often mistake innocent phalanges as delicious morsels of food and have been known to snap off snorkelers poor fingers! We then continued on and swam through other amazing sights: an octopus, an eel, and various displays of out of this world coral. The coral’s brilliance comes from far more than solely it’s color, shape, or sheer magnitude, but by a combination of all three. The Ningaloo reef ranged from coral that looked like a field of antlers, to giant patches of purple lettuce, to an enormous, wrinkly, orange brain. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. We then hopped back onto the kayaks, and after a brief paddle to the next site, slid back into the tropical waters in search of the elusive reef sharks. I anxiously hoped that we might spot a glimpse of one, but when we rounded a corner and peered down the crystal depths of a large abyss, at least 4 or 5 menacing sharks lurked below. I heard several of my female comrades stifle screams and I must admit that my blood was pumping quite a bit faster than normal. Despite our fears, the sharks proved themselves to be docile, despite their extremely fearsome appearance, and were a rare treat that I will surely remember forever. Snorkelling with sharks, I can check that bad boy off the bucket list!
Our last stop on the road trip was Kalbarri, renowned for its multitude of national parks, coastal cliffs, pristine, untouched wilderness, and fantastic hikes. Thankfully, it was able to provide all of the above for our lucky group. However, Kalbarri certainly did not get started on the right foot. We took off from Coral Bay around noon after being told that the drive to Kalbarri would take an easy 5 hours. We started getting worried around 4:30, when we had been driving quite a distance and had not seen even a glimpse of anything that mentioned Kalbarri up ahead. After consulting our map, we realized that we were definitely on the right track, but we were currently immersed in absolute nothingness until we reached the town. We trekked on, but we had a definite scare when a gigantic “big red” kangaroo soared out from the nearby underbrush and nearly collided with our vehicle. When we finally saw the sign that said Kalbarri was nearby, it was nearly 6, and the sky had turned a beautiful, haunting marmalade that meant one thing: hoards of dangerous kangaroos. Since there was nowhere to stop, or even turn around, we had to continue on the treacherous path, deciding to creep along at a trudging pace, keeping our eyes peeled for any signs of dangerous future road kill, rather than attempt to cruise the route quickly (a high risk, high reward strategy that could have either resulted in an early arrival in Kalbarri or a painful trip to the far-away hospital due to a high-speed collision).
Before I continue, I must give a foreword: if you read my blog about the farm, you’ll know that I boldly claimed that sheep are the stupidest creatures on the planet. Well, that statement still stands, but I must admit, kangaroos certainly give them a run from their money and come in at a close second.
During our agonizingly slow journey down the home stretch towards town, a trip that usually takes thirty minutes but took us 2 hours due to the darkness and subsequent roos, we encountered a whopping 23 different kangaroos that came inches within colliding with our vehicle. A heart-racing, adrenaline flowing journey to say the least, but we survived in one piece and lived to adventure on! We finally arrived in Kalbarri at 8 (the 5 hour drive ended up taking us 8), only to discover that the entire place appeared to be a ghost town. Unbeknownst to us, it is socially acceptable in Kalbarri to close everything (and I mean EVERYTHING! There wasn’t a single light on in the entire town) at 6 PM. We eventually found a hotel that had a receptionist lounging outside. Unfortunately, their prices were double what we were willing/able to pay, so we turned around and decided to trek onwards. As we were walking away, the kind lady called out and offered us a room at half the usual price. She (thankfully) must have noticed our frazzled appearance from our treacherous journey and taken pity on us poor uni students. We graciously accepted and instantly fell asleep in our luxurious abode.
The rest of Kalbarri, which has been one of my favorite locations I have
visited thus far, featured an amazing hike through a rocky canyon and deep gorge (which was perfect other than a slight fly issue, and by that I mean thousands of them swarming everywhere, as evidenced by the picture of my friend Kelly's backpack which was one of the many things constantly covered with the nasty creatures), some pristine views of a natural bridge and coastal cliffs, a lake that is literally completely pink and is appropriately named “Pink Lake” (due to some freak combination of chemicals), the pinnacles (a series of bizarre stone formations jutting out of an otherwise barren landscape), a hike down into oceanside caves, and an amazing time shared between great friends. Ninga 2010 (we lovingly refer to our road trip by this name that originates from the Ningaloo Reef that provided us with so many thrills and spectacular sights) was honestly one of the most amazing weeks in Australia and showed us a vast range of stunningly gorgeous landscapes while allowing great friendships to be further strengthened in the process.
Sorry this is such a random collection of thoughts and is so disgustingly outdated, but I promise I will finish writing about the road trip soon and describe my travels in Cairns, Airlee Beach, Brisbane, Byron Bay, Sydney, Tasmania, Melbourne, Fiji, and New Zealand soon! I am currently situated in Tasmania preparing to climb the pristine Mount Wellington and internet access is scarce but I am happy, healthy, and loving life! Miss you and love you all!
P.S. Tons of new pictures are on facebook (Cairns, Airlee Beach, Brisbane/Byron Bay, and Sydney), if you wish to check 'em out!