Fremantle Sunset

Fremantle Sunset

Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Zealand South Island

Here’s another short update (partly written by my butthead big sis Annie Bananie) about the Jansa family travels in New Zealand. New Zealand has blown me away with its incredible natural beauty, and while traveling with the famdamnily is very different than adventuring alone, I am loving the company of my favorite people and we’re all having the time of our lives experiencing this amazing place together.

Jansa Christmas in New Zealand – South Island

After arriving off the ferry on Christmas day in Picton, we rented a car and drove a dangerously twisty road to Abel Tasman. The road offered again, more spectacular views and despite the constant hairpin turns in New Zealand, I think my pops is finally getting used to driving on the left side of the road.

South Island Highlights (so far):

Kayaking Abel Tasman:

Abel Tasman is a national park with great forest hikes that border the coastline. We hiked a short way along the coastal track on Christmas Day, but the real winner was sea kayaking for the day. We escaped the infestation of bees on land to explore the tropical waters, kayaking along the coast and in and out of small coves and a few little caves.

Long car rides, filled with endless listening to and discussion of Harry Potter:

From Abel Tasman, we had to drive 12 hours to Wanaka and then another 4 hours to Milford Sound. The first day, rain gushed down from the sky like the world was ending, and we drove over many rivers that were so swollen and bloated they threatened to overtake the road and wash us away. In at least one spot, the road was hanging on by a thread and was clearly only a few hours of rain away from being destroyed completely. We filled our time in the car by listening to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and by having heated wizarding duels (well… not so much on the second part).

Milford Sound:
Milford Sound, in Fiordland National Park, was one of the most spectacular stops on the trip. With cliffs rising straight up from the river and sea, to lush forests as far as the eye could see, it made for some amazing hiking and an even more phenomenal scenic cruise along the sound to the Tasman Sea. The awe-inspiring mountains, gushing waterfalls (I must have seen a hundred in the span of a few days), and deep blue waters also led to some pretty stinkin sweet hiking spots. Overall, Milford Sounds ranks among the most gorgeous places I’ve had the good fortune of visiting.

From Milford Sound we drove to Queenstown, a great little town on a large lake with the Remarkable Mountains in the background. We have only been here one day so far, but we entertained ourselves with a nice walk along the lake and in a large park (home to a Frisbee golf course that we hope to take on in a couple days). Tomorrow we are going hiking in an area that was used to film many parts of Lord of the Rings!

For the record, we have now surpassed 125 hands of bid spades and I cannot express how happy I am to be reunited with family/family games. Anyhoo, the amount of time I have until I return to the United States is now officially under a week and to be honest I have mixed feelings about it… nevertheless, I’m going to try to soak up as much fun as I can in my final days and I’m excited to see everyone in the states soon!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A New Zealand Jansa Christmas (North Island)

Greetings and Merry Christmas from New Zealand! I just feasted on a wonderful mom-cooked meal of salmon and veggies and plenty of wine to celebrate the holiday away from home.
Since we have Internet access in our apartment for the first time this trip, I thought I would take a few minutes to share some highlights of the trip so far (with the help of big sis/smartypants Anne’s writing). I realize that by blogging about New Zealand I am completely glossing over a month of adventures in various areas of Australia and Fiji, but I will do my best to fill you all in on those places later. Anyhoo, here are a few tidbits about the wonders of New Zealand with the fam!

North Island: Dec. 17-Dec. 24
- Spelunking adventure in Waitomo.
Waitomo is famous for its massive system of caves with rivers flowing through and cave ceilings glittering with bright glowworms. After donning smelly wet suits and helmets, we rappelled 100 feet into an opening in one of the caves. The rest of the expedition included gazing at the glowworms that looked like stars in the pitch-black caves, army-crawling/squeezing through tiny tunnels inside the cave, and rafting down the river inside the cave. We ended our experience in the caves by rock climbing back up the same opening we rappelled down earlier, making it safely back to the daylight above.
We learned later that there is a part in the cave we were exploring that is called “Golem’s Passage,” which is literally a half mile of an infinitesimally small opening that some people have managed to wedge and force themselves through the tiny passage. It sounded like insanity but our guide’s eyes lit up as he explained the grueling challenge and he informed us that he would be testing his skills in only a few days. What a maniac!
- Rotorua:
A hubbub of geothermal activity bubbled all around Rotorua. We spent time admiring the geysers, natural hot springs, and goopy, bubbling mud holes (despite the sulfur smell). After a day of sightseeing, we relaxed in a Polynesian spa and enjoyed the naturally warm hot tubs while gazing out over a lake.
- Hiking the Tongariro Crossing and climbing Mt. Doom
The Tongariro Crossing is a 19.4 km (12 mile) trek across a vast range of terrain. The walk takes you across the path of Mt. Ngauruhoe, more famously known as Mt. Doom from Lord of the Rings. The perfectly conical 9,000 foot-high volcanoes is covered in a mix of soft gravel/worn down lava rocks and large boulders/rock formations. We decided to tack on a bit more length to the hike by climbing to the top, a side trip that took us 3 hours roundtrip and almost killed a few of us. Reaching the top required a lot of rock climbing and involved a great deal of sliding backwards because there was no real path to follow and the terrain was a powdery maroon sand. The vast view from the top made the entire strenuous climb extremely worthwhile, despite the downfall of crispy, sunburnt hands for the whole family (we somehow managed to forget our sunscreen for this long day outside). The descent was a dangerous endeavour, scurrysliding down the sheer rocky face, I most definitely took several tumbles but enjoyed myself nonetheless.We had to rush a bit through the rest of the hike to ensure we caught our bus at the end, finishing in just under 10 hours, but we still had time to enjoy the spectacular scenery that ranged from volcanic rocks, fluorescent blue lakes, giant towering peaks, waterfalls and streams, lush rainforest, and barren deserts.. It is debatable whether we conquered Mt. Doom or it conquered us considering we are all still sore three days later, but I think the whole family would agree that aching legs and bums are a small price to pay for such a spectacular hike. We were incredibly fortunate to have been able to experience the absolutely amazing hike in the first place as the trek had been shut down for a week prior due to dangerous weather conditions.
- Beautiful ferry ride from Wellington to Picton
On Christmas Day we woke up early in Wellington (one of the southern most towns on the North Island) and caught the 3-hour ferry to the South Island. We enjoyed a visit from Santa, lots of card games, and gorgeous views, arriving in the quaint town of Picton.
So far the trip has been a wonderful adventure for the family and pushed us all to the edge in different ways (from fear of small spaces in the caves to those last few pushes up Mt. Doom). Unfortunately, we have done a pathetic job at combating the sun, and a few of us are quite crispy little critters (thankfully I had the advantage of coming in nice and bronzed from my adventures in Fiji).. Aloe Vera became an immediate necessity after the big hike, but we are hoping we learned our lesson early and will be less forgetful about sunscreen for the next week.
And of course, no Jansa family trip would be complete without endless amounts of card games. We have so far played more than 70 hands of bid spades (and yes, Mark Jansa is keeping diligent track of all of this). He happens to be in the lead at the moment, but the scores are tight and a lot of pride is on the line, so we are all battling fiercely for the title. It feels beyond phenomenal to be reunited with the best family on earth, I am most definitely a lucky duck.
Merry Christmas to all!

p.s. once again, internet is too slow to upload any pictures but I just put a New Zealand album on facebook documenting the beginning of our adventure!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Cairns and Sailing the Wonderful Whitsundays!

While the studying aspect of studying abroad is over, I still had a month and a half to travel all over Australia after classes, hitting up amazing places like Cairns, Airlee Beach, Brisbane, Byron Bay, Sydney, Tasmania, Melbourne, Fiji, and New Zealand. Here is the first segment from my post-study travels!

First stop, Cairns! I flew in overnight with and got into the airport at 4 AM (yaaaaaaaaawn). Andrea and I snoozed on a bench until the shuttle picked us up at 9 am, dropped off our bags, and went out to explore the city. We checked out the local markets, bought some sushi and fresh fruit, trying to stick to the covered shops as Cairns was experiencing a torrential downpour throughout most of the day. I limped around most of the city; thankfully my knee was feeling much better from my footy incident so my day of trekking wasn’t too painful. We stopped into a travel shop to poke around and ended up booking 2 AMAZING tours which I will describe later with a super friendly girl who scored us a screamin’ deal. That night we were staying in Gilligans, a hip, young, and CHEAP hostel, but it was a bit too crazy and “party bro” for us considering the circumstances (still exhausted from our overnight flight and day full of walking). I noticed that the male to female ratio was at least 2:1, which would certainly provide some hilarity later in the evening when everyone was out and about and the feisty males engaged in a primitive duel to gain the attention and affection of the limited females. That evening we went around to the night markets, as well as strolled by the beach and witnessed some of the nightlife. As we had to wake up at 6 the next morning for our jungle tour, we opted out of partaking in the alcoholic festivities, deciding instead to finalize our my flights, itineraries, and tours, which was a huge weight off of the ‘ol shoulders.

The next morning, we awoke bright and early, grabbed some oatmeal, rushed our bags over to the more low-key, homely, and less crowded Nomad hostel, and ran back just in time to hop on a bus for the full day tour. The tour was filled with off and on showers, which seemed to spring out of nowhere like a faucet. One minute it would be sunny and warm, the next the clouds would turn black and it was like being sprayed with a hose. Thankfully, it didn’t affect too many of the tour plans.
We first took a little 1.5 hour drive out of cairns, filled with colorful commentary from our wonderful, energetic, vibrant guide, which although quite interesting and informative, was also like a lullaby that quickly lulled me into a wondrous slumber. I awoke just in time to face our first adventure: a crocodile river safari. Although we managed to catch a glimpse of several crocs and a large snake resting lazily in the Mangrove branches, the highlight of this little adventure was most certainly not the animals. In fact, the flora aspect of the rafting experience trumped the fauna by about a bazillion. While seeing the wild creatures was interesting, but a bit disappointing (apparently we had just missed 2 enormous crocs ferociously battling each other over a dead pig carcass… fun!), the scenery and jungle landscape from the boat was superb. Australia’s landscape amazed me once more, and to think of the differences between the sandy dunes of Lancelin, the endless maroon of the outback, and the sprawling green mountains of the rainforests is mind-boggling.
We exited the boat and went on a small drive to end up at an intimate look at the wildlife as we engaged in an immensely beautiful jungle hike. This was definitely one of the highlights, because I have developed a hugely increased appreciation for hikes (aren’t you excited mom????), and I really loved casually strolling through the rain forest and stopping to examine the seemingly unbelievable creatures that inhabited it. One of the coolest things I noticed was the deafening sound of wildlife, which although sometimes didn’t even register with me while I was immersed in the jungle, became apparent once the silence surrounded me after we left.

Side-note: KEVIN (the giant, dinasour-esque bird from the phenomenal Disney movie Up) actually exists!!!! And apparently is actually quite common around Cape Tribulation. The picture depicts the Cassowary (crazy Kevin-like beast), a frequent roadside traveller, as smushed roadkill.

Our next stop was Cape Tribulation, which despite it’s troubled name is actually a beautiful, exceptional place. It received it’s unfortunate name when Leiutenant Cook was sailing around the area at nightfall and mistakenly ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef; he unload several tons of supplies off the boat in order to wrench it away from the coral, at which point the boat needed extensive repairs. Whoops. Despite the wretched name, Cape Tribulation is a gorgeous location and also a distinctly unique area as well, as it is the only place in the world where a great jungle-esque rainforest literally collides with the Great Barrier Reef. After stopping for lunch, we finished the day off with some treks around the beautiful Daintree Rainforest, took a little dip in sparkling river waters of the Mosman Gorge, and hiked around the rapids and waterfalls of the surrounding area. While swimming in the chilly, clear currents of the gorge, I swam at a decent pace upsteam and simply stayed in the exact same spot as the current pushed against me. It was great to dive back into fresh water and as I sat on a boulder in the middle of the small natural pool and surveyed my breathtaking surroundings I was completely at peace and content. It was a magical experience and feeling. As I was getting dragged out of the water by our guide who urged us to hop back on the bus, I noticed a small group of people all huddled around a large black snake, just one of the many incredible encounters with nature we experienced on the trip. Our final stop was at Port Douglas, which was a neat little town with markets and shops, which I bypassed in order to trek down to the shoreline and take in the mountainous landscape surrounding the ocean.

Side-note #2: We weren’t allowed to swim in any of the beaches we visited because box jellyfish (one of the most venomous creatures in the world) were everywhere and are potentially fatal.

Although my trip to the Great Barrier Reef was quite Great Barrier Brief, looking back on it now, I think it all worked out for the best. Cairns was an excellent launching place for the remainder of my travels, but was too crowded and touristy for my taste (not to sound like a snob…). The day tour was pretty cool, and it was great to see the rainforest and hidden treasures of Cairns, I felt I spent enough time there to see what I needed to see. Furthermore, the absolutely PHENOMENAL snorkelling and sailing through the 74 islands of the Whitsundays was more than enough water time for me on my travels.

After eating another hearty breakfast of watery oatmeal and bananas, l lugged my oversized baggage to the train station, where I walked through platform 9 and ¾ (I wish) to catch my ride to Airlee Beach. The train featured another day of rain. Cairns should drop the c and just change it’s name to “Rains.” Because it rains. A lot. A lot lot lot. But it wasn’t all bad, the rain itself was a light, warm, tropical mist at times and when it turned into a torrential downpour, it reminded me of the beautiful Portland, Oregon. Also, the added clouds that came with the weather added a mystical element to the gorgeous mountainous scenery on our tour and the train (it was difficult to capture our ever-changing scenic route on camera so you’ll simply have to trust me that it was amazing). Plus, I can’t complain too much seeing as to how it is the wet season near Cairns, thus this kind of weather is to be expected.

I arrived in Airlee Beach late that night, excited for my adventure the next day. In Cairns Andrea and I had decided to splurge and book a 3 day sailing adventure throughout the spectacular islands of the Whitsundays, easily one of the best decisions I think we made. However, that night masses of “schoolies” or high schoolers freshly done with their semester, swarmed the streets of Airlee in a drunken mob. While friendly for the most part, the countless juveniles were a noisy lot and certainly were in Airlee for all the party central scene that was going on. Also, unbeknownst to us, Airlee holds a large festival the 21st through the 24th of November, so the city was completely packed. So packed in fact, that if we hadn’t called and booked in advance there would legitimately have been NOWHERE to stay. Thank goodness that didn’t occur and I had a bed, albeit in a loud, crowded location.

The next morning the sailing adventure began, honestly one of the most spectacular highlights of Australia and of my life. It was such a rare, beautiful, special experience and I hope to remember the wonders of my sailing journey for a long, long time. After getting acquainted with the ship, my crewmates, and the safety procedures of the boat, we set sail and headed out among the breathtaking 74 Whitsunday Island. My jaw was already in full droppage mode, but once I slipped into the calm, clear, balmy waters for a snorkel, my level of amazement went through the roof. The first thing that caught my eye as I slipped into the lukewarm water was a baby stingray swimming along the ocean floor. I took the incredible sight as a positive sign of things to come, and it was only the beginning of my amazing snorkeling finds. While swimming amidst the incredible schools of rainbow colored fish I kept hearing a constant noise; it sounded as if someone was swinging a dull hammer into the coral consistently every 5 seconds. Shaking off my complete awe at the unbelievable amounts of multicolored fish and coral surrounding me, I followed the noise until a huge mountain of coral loomed into view. The noise was quite unmistakable now, and as I circled the bright mound of reef I had to stifle a yell as an absolutely MOUNSTROUS blue parrotfish swam right in front of me. This fish was easily the size of an average human being and twice as thick (even bigger than the reef sharks I swam with earlier in the semester!). I gazed in wonder as the gigantic beast hurled itself at the reef, actually biting off a substantial chunk of the coral, making a large crunching sound. I continued to marvel at this unbelievable fish until it was joined by some of it’s friends; at least 7 or 8 of these colossal creatures swam over to the reef I was staring at and all began munching on the coral. The gigantic mass of fish sounded like underwater fireworks, and due to their enormous size were not in the least bit intimidated by my presence as they swam easily within reach. Although the animals weren’t vicious or aggressive, had they been tempted they could have easily bitten off one of my fingers. It was pretty stinkin’ unbelievable to be so near so many tremendously immense beings all at once, and to watch them in their natural habitat was pretty awe-inspiring. Another highlight was the coral itself, as there were giant mountains and fields of giant noodles waving in the water. If I continued to describe each surreal snorkel experience (of which there were dozens), this blog would surely stretch on endlessly. I’ll spare you and move on to other details of the once-in-a-lifetime voyage.

Following the amazing time in the gorgeous water, we hopped into the boat to journey onwards. On the treacherous journey, we came across some of the most massive waves I have ever witnessed, and the boat was tossed about helplessly. Some unfortunate individuals did not respond well to the storm and spent the evening chucking over the side of the boat. While I certainly was not feeling all that wonderful, I was thankfully able to hang on to my lunch and avoid any vomiting.
I found it pretty hysterical that while most of us were soaking wet, shivering, and toppling over like ragdolls with every massively powerful wave that crashed into the boat, and some of the passengers emptied out their stomachs noisily, the calm and collected crew carried on cooking our amazing feast for the evening, a balancing act which seemed impossible.

As falafel, tuna, fruit, and oatmeal continued to be the only sources of nutrition throughout my tavels, the included 5 star meals were yet another incredible benefit of the tour and a very much welcomed change of pace. I could also spend many pages depicting every mouth-watering morsel of grub I inhaled throughout the trip, but once again I’ll keep it brief and assure you that the food was EASILY the best I have had during my post-study travels. However, I can’t completely resist simply mentioning some of the tasty treats I indulged in, including juicy steak, grilled chicken kebabs, rocky road chocolate squares, and cheesy pasta bake. Each night, following a delicious feast, we would gather around for a slideshow that included interesting facts about the areas, funny pictures from the day’s adventures, and pictures and descriptions of all the animals we had seen throughout the day. It was a great way to share a few laughs, meet some of our fellow sailers, and learn more about the amazing sights we had seen.

One of the many mini expeditions involved packing everyone onto the tiny dinghy (lovingly referred to as Little Wings) and put-putting toward one of the main islands. We hiked through the jungle up to one of the peaks that overlooked Whitehaven Beach, one of the top ten beaches in the world. After admiring the spectacular view, we walked down to the gorgeous white powdery beach to spend the morning enjoying its magical splendors. Since we had arrived so early, we had the beach entirely to ourselves and it was nice that it was so deserted. Later that evening we learned that the sand of Whitehaven Beach contains 99% Silica (I think… can’t remember exactly what our guides told us. Regardless, it was impressive!), meaning is a fine, glasslike powder. NASA used the sand from Whitehaven Beach to help make giant telescopes. On our return trip back to Wings II, we came across a giant sea turtle right by the boat, a sight which will never cease to make my heart flutter. I don’t know why, but I have a huge soft spot for the giant, adorable creatures.

That night, following another phenomenal day of sailing, snorkeling, and tremendous fun, as we were enjoying the peaceful night sky from the gently rocking boat, experiencing a potent bout of food fade from another mouthwatering meal, the crew flipped on a set of bright blue lights on the back of the boat that illuminated the water. Apparently, this attracts fish and they hoped to catch a glimpse of a blue wrasse. I had no idea what I was in for. Within minutes, swarms of small fish could be easily seen darting in an erratic fashion for seemingly no reason. Out of the blue (no pun intended), a gigantic shadow slowly made it’s way into the lights, and all of a sudden a slash of water erupted from the water, leaving nothing but a trail of blood in the middle of the lit up area. The giant wrasse (look it up, the thing is a beast) circled back for another attack, and was shortly joined by several of his enormous mates. Before the nights end, there were numerous gigantic wrasse (I think we counted 4) hunting and preying on large schools of fish, quite an impressive display. On the last day I was the only snorkeler as it was bright and early (7 am), so I drove out on Little Wings to the dive site with Captain Stew. Since it was just us to he brought along some bread to give me a little treat. I slipped into the clear water, and Stew began pelting me with rolled up balls of bread dough, which caused about 5 Kabillion colorful fish to swarm all over me, which was spectacular. This carried on for several minutes, leaving me in a europhic daze (I was soooooo happy), until I spotted one of the biggest fish I had ever seen. Stew handed me a slice of bread and I hand-fed the giant blue wrasse, the same bloodthirsty monster that had been hanging around the blue lights of the boat the previous evening. When that bad boy was inches from my hand, coming in at an alarming pace, my heart nearly leaped out of my wetsuit. I was lovin it though, freaking amazing.
As we set sail one last time towards the mainland, a school of dolphins playing and jumping off in the distance sent us off in an amazing fashion, one final phenomenal memory from a truly fantastic voyage.

As I finish up writing this, I am actually lounging in a hammock in Fiji and soaking up a few final rays of Fijian sun before heading out (I can’t wait to travel to New Zealand with MY FAMILY in a couple days!) but I have just been a tad behind on updating this darned blog about my travels, so the magical events from this post actually occurred a month ago… whoops. It’s amazing to think about how much has happened since then, hopefully I can update this again soon if I can find time between Settlers and Bridge with the Fam!
Much love,

P.S. My apologies for the lack of pictures, but the internet here is too slow and they wouldn't upload :(

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

"Time Stops"

Hello all!
I realize that I have yet to offer any kind of summary or recap of my absolutely amazing adventures I have experienced thus far on my post-study travels, but I assure they will come in good time. Internet access is scarce, exploration opportunities are abundant, and quite frankly traveling, being fully present in the many awe-inspiring experiences I have had, and focusing on the incredible splendors surrounding me is infinitely more important to me than constantly updating this blog. Nevertheless, at some point in the future I will fill you all in on my various trip details, as these have (at least to me) been some of the most interesting and exciting days of my young life.

As I sit tapping my toes to a lovely jazz combo playing a luscious melody nearby, admiring a beautiful Melbourne sunset from the peaceful, funkylicious Federation Square, I figured I would share an amazingly fitting quote I received from my dear friend Clare Chambers recently. This comes from Paulo Coelho, an author of immense wisdom:

"When you travel, you experience in a very practical way, the act of rebirth. You confront completely new situations, the day passes more slowly, and on most journeys, you don't even understand the language the people speak. So you are just like a child out of the womb. You begin to attach much more importance to the things around you because your survival depends on them. You begin to be more accessible to others because they may be able to help you in difficult situations. And you accept any small favors from God with great delight, as if it were an episode you would remember for the rest of your life. At the same time, since all things are new, you see only the beauty in them, and you feel happy to be alive."

I just wanted to assure you all that I am seeing the beauty in all things, and that I am indeed very, very happy to be alive.
Love and miss you all very much,

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.

Random tidbits:

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!