Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Leaving the Land of Oz

I spent the last two days working the Casuarina Costal Reserve with Conservation Volunteers Australia. We were rehabilitating a dune forest. Fire will tear through that area at some point. That's just how the ecosystem works up here. Our job was to make sure trees survive childhood to the point that they can withstand the fires as fully grown adults. So we were getting rid of foreign grasses and weeds, watering and clearing small firebreaks around native saplings, and doing some garbage picking.

The work was under sun and heat. Out here, people talk about how cold it's gotten when it's 25° C (77° F). Our team leader was talking about shivering in her bed when it hit this temperature. My stories from Chicago (5° to -8°F lows in winter) left people's jaws so wide open I thought they'd been dislocated. We had to cover up completely-- long pants, sleeves, broad brimmed hat, the works, or risk serious dehydration and burns. Lots of water and shade breaks were the order of the day (erm, days).

A lot of the work felt like it wasn't going to have much of an impact at first. But then I got to do some watering, and we got to see some immediate changes. At first I didn't notice anything. Then I realized that I had a growing set of dragonflies following me around. Then came the little skinks and geckos that would duck themselves under the stream of water I was pouring. After that, looking closely, I realized that in one or two places I was watering, the grass was actually moving. It twitched and writhed so quickly I thought I must be mistaking tiny snakes half-buried in the ground to be plants. It was like seeing one of those stop-motion pictures of a plant growing, only this was that speed happening in real time.

After watering, I was shown where another team had done the same work earlier, just about ten yards from where we'd be working. It was a huge change-- ten, fifteen foot tall trees, colorful birds flying around everywhere, the beginning of a proper forest. We ate lunch in a spot that had been been worked out starting about ten years ago, and it was practically a different world. It was a real forest, with a clean creek running through it an fully-grown trees, with bugs, small, colorful birds, raptors, fish, lizards, and more. The forest almost completely restored from having been a tree or two standing alone in dirt and weeds. Once again, hardly out of the city limits. So I like to think what I was doing had some impact.

I'm sitting in my hotel courtyard right now, listening to some backpackers argue about whether one of the guys in the group was drunk every night of the last couple weeks or if he had in fact been sober two nights. I feel pretty smug right now.

Tonight is my last night in Australia. I think I should tie up one or two loose threads I left hanging in this blog over the last month and a half.

When I first wrote about what kind of treatment I got as an American in Australia, it was a big change from my first draft. My first go around was way more harsh. I took a second look at what I was about to post though, and decided that it was too early to pass judgment since I was going to be here another month or so. I figured if I continued to experience the same thing, I'd could cut and paste it back into this entry at the end.

I don't think I will. Yes, I have still gotten a certain amount of flack for being American, but not nearly as badly as I did my first few days in Sydney and Melbourne. It all became a lot more subtle. There was a funny moment when a bartender bought me a coke on the house because “he felt sorry for me after all the practical jokes I must have been put through here”.

I should mention that I've had people tell me about some of the antisemitism they've experienced down under. I can't attest to any of that myself, aside from one German eccentric who clearly wasn't all right upstairs, but part of that is that I don't prominently identify myself as being Jewish. My dad is Jewish, but my mom isn't which basically disqualifies me from the religion, and I barely even think about the ethnic side to it until somebody asks me directly. But the fact that people have told me and written me about it makes me wonder a bit why that's the case in Australia of all places.

I was also planning on writing a bit about how aboriginal people are viewed here. I heard a story just today about an aboriginal man getting kicked out of a restaurant because he posed a “hygene risk.” I couldn't believe it. Even outside of Australia, way back in Panama, I was hanging out with an Australian girl and a Kiwi girl who I otherwise liked, and got treated to a half-hour of some of the most racist discussion I'd ever heard- going on and on about how you could not trust aboriginal or Maori guys because they would steal stuff, be violent, wouldn't work because they're so lazy, and wouldn't be prosecuted properly after committing crimes. I hadn't heard anything like it since my great uncle, a WWII air force veteran, started dropping slurs against Japanese people one memorable Christmas morning.

This was all swirling around the most when I came back to Sydney the second time, when I was served a healthy, unexpected dose of perspective. I met a couple girls from Texas. Both of them were white. We went out walking to some good nightlife spots, and on the way, they spotted a couple black guys walking down the street. The girls turned the guys' way and started yelling “Yo dog! What up homie!” and on and on in the whitest imitation of ebonics I'd ever heard in my life. I half thought the n-word was coming next.

I turned to them and asked “What the heck are you doing?”

One of them, all smiles, turned to me and said “What? That's how you talk to black people!”

I think that's when it really hit home that maybe it's not my place as an American to judge Australians about stereotypes or racism. Seems we still have a fair few things to clean up first among ourselves. That is a large reason why I'm leaving that original draft about anti-american stereotypes on my hard drive instead of on this blog.

I will say this: if there's one thing that you hear about everywhere in Australia about Americans, it's that you don't see them in Australia. Very few of us come out here. Tons of Canadians, plenty of English, Irish, German and Dutch. Not many Americans. It's a shame-- it's a very easy place to travel, especially for first-time English-speaking backpackers. As much I railed against how it's done here last post, I have to admit, it's a good way to get your feet wet if you've never traveled on your own before. Yes, it's a long flight, but if you look it up, it's cheaper than you might expect. And if you look in the right places, you'll find something different and interesting. If you are still worried about how Americans are perceived and treated down here, I think the best way to handle it is to show up and show people what an American is actually like. It's a bit like the conservation work I was doing-often doesn't feel like you're doing much, but after some time and consistent effort, you might get to see some change.

Plus, as a bonus, you get to see Australia. Go see New Zealand while you're at it too. You can thank me later.

Check out this entry's Photos.

Sunday, April 26, 2009


The Great Barrier Reef outside of Cairns looks sepia-toned. About 80% of the coral I saw was some shade of brown. I got to borrow an underwater digital camera for my dives-- one that had been rented from a shop in Cairns. One of the first things I noticed while playing with the settings was that the color bias was set to artificially make all the colors more vibrant. I left it that way for all but one shot, just in case that's standard underwater photography procedure, but it still didn't seem like a good sign.

I'm not saying the reef looks dead. There's color and life down there to see. People will still pay hundreds of dollars to do overnight diving trips out here, and they wouldn't keep doing it if it wasn't worth it. Apparently the brownness isn't a sudden change either. I talked to an ecstatic Canadian diver who had been to the same spots around 2002, and he said it looked pretty much the same as the last time he'd seen it. We saw lots of different and colorful fish, including clownfish (think Nemo) and a gigantic wrasse the dive crew has nicknamed Wally, who circled around me a couple times and then led us all back to our boat, just as our air was hitting the 50 bar mark.

But there were still mutters of people on board who'd expected it to be a bit less... well, brown. I don't know if this is normal for a reef. Not counting my certification dives in Panama, these were my first two scuba dives (maybe some of you more experienced divers will have an idea after looking at some of my pictures). The dive masters and boat crew never mentioned anything about environmental issues or sustainability during any of the presentations. No mention of how to help protect the reef, or if that can even be done. I used to work at a zoo, so I like to think going out and observing these things and telling your friends does a big part by building awareness. But riding the waves on a loud diesel engine boat made me wonder if I was actually having a positive impact.

I can't totally fault the reef trip for my feeling uneasy. I'm getting a little frustrated with the backpacking scene in Eastern Australia. When I was in Latin America, being a backpacker felt a bit like being part of a club of explorers-- people who had left their homes to learn something, and see something new. Out here, we're a different breed. We're tourists in backpackers skin-- we sleep in hostels (pool, bar, and club often attached), drink a bit more than older tourists, and instead of going to normal tour agencies, go to backpacker tour agencies that have bigger type, flashier colors, half an hour of free internet, and mostly the same tours for the same prices, only the people in the pictures are in their 20s and the word “Adventure” is printed everywhere it fits on the page. Adventure? I'm doing this trip to find adventure. Using the term, for example, to describe a cruise on a sailboat that uses its motors instead of its sail more than half the time, includes BBQ lunch, and offers all the alcohol you can buy for twice its store price is a joke. I enjoy BBQ, cruises, etc. as much as the next western 20-something-year-old. But, if you are going to tour agencies booking tours, you are, by definition, a tourist. I know that doesn't bother a lot of people. It bothers me.

I'm not simply trying be be nonconformist here. My problem with being a tourist is that you become a traveling consumer, not even of the destination or local culture, but whatever the tourist industry thinks it can sell you. Fun stuff, sometimes, but that's not what I saved up my money for as a kid.

So I've weaseled my way out of the backpacker scene when I can. But often I then end up back in regular tourist territory. Like the spontaneous day-long road trip with a Canadian citizen born and raised in Kyrgyzstan-- started out so promising, until we ended up just making stops at tourists stopovers with waterfalls and the biggest fig trees in the region. Although there was the 1.5 km sprint up the steep, switchback-riddled rain forest trail, dodging a spider bigger than my hand, so that we would make it out before it got completely dark. I take what I can get.

I flew from Cairns to Darwin two days ago. My flight out of Australia into Singapore leaves from here. Because of that flight and a few key train tickets being sold out, I've painted myself into a corner where I can't see Uluru or Australia's famous “red center” unless I buy round trip airfare there for tomorrow or the next day. I've come to Darwin and was at least hoping to get to Kakadu national park, but public transport is about nonexistent, renting the necessary 4x4 could cost more than $200 a day, and the cheapest 2-3 day tours I've found cost enough to last me over half a month in some of the countries I'll be traveling through soon. The other nearby park, Litchfield, isn't quite as pricey, but is still a good deal more than I'm used to for getting out to a national park. Maybe they're worth it in terms of dollars, but in terms of later opportunities I pass up...

So I've done what I usually do when faced with two choices I feel a bit uneasy about: find choices 3, 4, 15, and up to 21 if necessary. I combed the town yesterday, and, after trying crocodile meat for the first time as lunch, I got lucky. In the bottom corner of a noticeboard of a tourist info center (...) I spotted a flyer advertising open short-term positions with Conservation Volunteers Australia. I'm now sitting in the Northern Territory state library with an application sitting next to my computer. I've been asked to come back after lunch. We'll see what I can do soon!

Check out this entry's Photos.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Snakes. Why Did it Have to Be Snakes...

You are now looking what I found inside of my hostel dorm's bathroom at around 12:30am. So really, given that statement, this photo could have been much, much worse.

When I walked into the bathroom and switched the light on, the snake and I had basically the same reaction: jerk upright, stare, and not move a single muscle. I quietly turned the light back off, closed the door, and calmly informed the rest of the room that there was a snake in the bathroom, and that I was getting some help. I walked outside to the hostel's attached bar and told one of the security guys. He asked if it was a green snake. When I told him it was reddish-brown, he inhaled sharply through his teeth and went to get more people. When he told them it was a brown snake, nobody laughed. At least until one of them turned to me and said “Well, I've got good news for you, mate: the end with the mouth on it? That's the dangerous part.” Then there was a quiet argument as to who was going to take a look at the thing.

One of them lost the argument and came back with me. We opened the bathroom door and turned the light on. No snake. The windows were open. We closed them. The guy inspected the rest of the bathroom, then rushed out asking us to “give them a tingle” if we saw it again, especially considering the color. I looked at his back running away, and then, deliberately leaving the bathroom light on, closed the door again, looking down. The light illuminated about a two or three inch gap between the bottom of the door and the floor.

I swore under my breath and asked for a flashlight. We looked under all the beds and bags but didn't find anything. It wasn't until I'd been laying in my bed for five minutes that I remembered that I'd taken the picture when I first walked into the bathroom. Nobody in our dorm slept very well that night.

Luckily nobody did see the snake again. I'm pretty sure it must have escaped by the bathroom window after I left the first time. I showed the picture to reception, expecting gasps, apologies, offers of a room change, an inspection of the windows, something. Instead, the girl looked at it and said “Oh, yep, you're in Australia. Cool. Hey, Meg, what do you reckon this one is, a python?”

I guess that's just life down here.

A couple days later on a hike, I passed a couple of informational signs, describing the nearby ruins of a World War II fort, the names of some of the bays, the aboriginal origin myth of the islands, and a warning about a local snake called the Death Adder, one of the deadliest snakes in the world. It wasn't until about half an hour later that it occurred to me that a lot of my friends wouldn't have considered that last bit part of normal hiking. Maybe I've been here too long for my own good.

I'm still getting used to some parts of the wildlife though. Like my first night on Magnetic Island-- I asked at reception for tips on a good place to see the sunset. As a response, I was handed a refrigerated sack of veggies and told to go feed the rock wallabies at the end of the bay. And that's how I spent the sunset: sitting on some boulders overlooking the sea, handing food out to about twenty or so pint-sized wallabies bouncing around.

For those keeping score, I spent the day after my dorm snake encounter sailing and snorkeling on the Whitsunday islands, getting my first taste of the Great Barrier Reef, then a couple days hiking in national parks between Nelly Bay, Horseshoe Bay, and Arcadia (yes, a couple of you are wondering, that's really where I slept: Arcadia), where I was staying on Magnetic Island. A head cold kept me from diving. Again. But snorkeling off the Bali Hai island in the Whitsundays was still pretty impressive. So much of the coral seems to be dying though, and our captain in was bragging about how pristine the spot he'd taken us to was. Pretty soon, I'll get a better taste of how the place is doing. I'm in Cairns, Queensland, and I've finally gotten the cold out of my system. Cairns is known worldwide for one thing, and I'm doing it tomorrow.

Tomorrow, I go scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef.

Check out this entry's Photos.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Life in The Forest

The Forest. Couchsurfing in Style.
I think by the time the Brit shook the dead mouse's head out of the toaster over the side of the porch, I realized that I wasn't couchsurfing in the usual kind of couchsurfing place. The mouse had been at first mistaken for a tea bag stuck in the toaster, and then accidentally decapitated by the removable bottom tray. A few minutes later, a cup had been glued to the porch ceiling on one of the spots not covered in graffiti. They tried to glue a beer bottle up there as well, but it was a bit too heavy. I don't think they were doing it with the leaks in porch roof in mind.

To be honest, I actually had a pretty good idea this place was different even before walking in. There was a classic backpacker van in the driveway (unmarked, tie-dye sheet in the back covering the windows) a speaker sitting in the tree, and a broken couch next to the unlocked front door covered in mandarin oranges. Probably the most orderly part of the property.

This place has a name: The Forest. Their mission? To pack in as many couch surfers as physically possible into the one house. The night before good Friday, they had beaten their record by a sizable margin. The first time somebody told me, they had packed 22 people under the roof. This number seemed to grow with each telling of the story until last night when a journalism student interviewed us all about the place, the number had risen to 35. Apparently there's a lot of argument depending on whether you count the permanent and semi-permanent residents living in the bedrooms, living room, porch, abandoned building next door (“the squat”), the metal shed, and a space underneath the shed known as the “undershed” which supposedly was fixed up to be one of the nicest parts of the property. These things happen when you take a small house in a student neighborhood and decide to open it up online to any traveler who needs a roof over their head for the night.

Amazingly, I spent the first night in my own room, when a drunken Dutchman nicknamed “Gigs” passed out across the living room couch and mattress I thought I was going to use. Turned out one of the rent-paying residents was out of town that night picking fruit for some extra cash. I was told as long as I was was careful of the jagged hole in the glass door and could find my way around the clutter in the dark because of a blown fuse, I could sleep there. Actually come to think of it, they didn't tell me about the broken glass hole-- I found that on my own.

I didn't get to bed until well after two or three in the morning. We were all having too much fun hanging out on the porch. I did help out a bit with the group cooking projects, an amazing stir fry with homemade peanut sauce and an Easter cake that sort of collapsed but managed to taste like cornbread with chocolate icing. The crowd sat up, debated politics, compared travel stories, relationship stories, music, and anything else that came into our heads (and the local iPods) that night. A Quebec independence activist got in argument with a Brit about how the Queen secretly controlled all the Canadian law enforcement agencies, the Brit contending that the Queen didn't even know enough of anything to control things in her own country. The chef from Italy and the waitress from South Carolina got in a rather heated discussion of their own about how tipping should work in a restaurant. And everyone had something to say about the politics of health care when we got to that topic. I'm surprised any of us went to bed at all.

I spent the next night sharing the shed-- more or less exactly what it sounds like: a tin shed out back converted into a bedroom with an extra mattress on the floor. Not bad, aside from the noises of Sanchez the pet possum and the other 3+ resident possums getting into fights on the metal roof. I woke up the next morning, shook all the ants off of my shower kit, and walked up to the porch where I had hung my towel to dry. It wasn't there. I asked around, but nobody had seen it. After poking around for about ten or fifteen minutes beneath the porch, around the common spaces in the house, and in the seemingly endless pile of wet laundry that had accumulated after two original tenants had left taking the washing machine with them, I found the thing in one of the private bedrooms sitting on a plastic chair, newly damp. I then looked around for a mop to get rid of the standing water in the bathroom before I took a shower. I asked one of the tenants if they had one.

“Hmm. I think I saw a mop, once.” He replied, thoughtfully. “No, wait, that was the last house I was living in.”

This was my home for four rainy days and nights in Brisbane.

Many thanks to everyone in the forest for all the adventures, including bringing home the kilogram chocolate egg, the mattress in the tree, and of course that which shall only be referred to as The Game. You know what I'm talking about. Special thanks to the full-time residents for permission to write about the place, uncut. If I follow through on my threat to write a play about the place, I'll let you know.
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Friday, April 10, 2009

The Bouncer Says Hello

If you want to make friends with a kangaroo or wallaby, you're normally going to need food. Failing that, convince them you have food long enough for them to come within arm's reach. They aren't huge fans of being petted like cats or dogs, but I've had luck scratching the side of the back, behind the shoulder blades. I met this one at the Billabong Koala Reserve in Port Macquarie. He (she? I didn't check) was probably the friendliest of the bunch, though the albinos gave competition. This reserve's animals were all bred in captivity, and weirdly the ones bred in captivity have a much higher chance of being born albino. The white fur is one thing, but the dark red eyes are a little unsettling.

I was expecting something a bit more... wild, but the Reserve turned out to be essentially a small zoo. Still, it's not everyday you get into a petting paddock with roos or a chance to pat a koala. The place was one of two reasons I'd come to this town.

A lot of people miss Port Macquarie. I might've as well except for two words in my guide book: Koala Hospital. I checked it out, it was exactly what it sounded like. A clinic with indoor and outdoor recovery wards, operating room, and dispensary. The patients? Wild koalas. It started as a garage operation, expanded to a few wood buildings and then captured the heart of a wealthy elderly German woman who left her entire estate to the operation. It's surrounded by eucalyptus trees and treats injured and sick koalas found and rescued by 120 volunteers (or maybe one of the two paid employees).

The hospital doubles as an education center on the animals. Around the grounds are signs with tidbits on their habitat, feeding, physical characteristics and breeding behaviors. Some have stories about one of the local favorite koalas, a permanent resident of the hospital who is totally blind. Also they describe the disappearing habitat for wild koalas, and how many get hurt because they will always return to their favorite place, no matter what happened to the trees there sometimes resulting in things like attacks from dogs. I talked to one of the employees for a while who told me that the day before koala hunting was banned, companies hoping to use their fur killed more than 600,000 koalas in Queensland. I'd never even heard of koala hunting, or that the fur was used for anything. Apparently a lot of it was used to make toy kangaroos. It sounds like some sort of sick joke-- imagine being a kid and finding out how your favorite little stuffed kangaroo was made. But things have changed-- if you ever want to make sure an animal's safety is assured, make sure the animal is cute. People from all over the world want to help the little guys.

I went from Port Macquarie to Byron Bay, the local hippie community and beach. Good stop to make, even if it's making the switch from actual hippie haunt to a place where tourists pay extra for a hippie-style trinkets, classes, etc. On a whim I took a hike through the forest to the beach cliffs to a lighthouse by moonlight. No flashlight. Just the moon appearing and disappearing behind clouds. Forget moonlit walks on the beach, take a chance and walk through the woods by moonlight sometime. Getting to the easternmost point in the Australian continent was a bonus. So was following my way to a great looking lighthouse. I used to think it was kind of strange how people seemed fascinated by lighthouses. That was before I spent an hour finding a hidden path to get to one after dark,

I'm in Brisbane now for the Easter holidays. Good Friday turns out to be a bit more of a big deal here than elsewhere-- everything shuts down, even the grocery stores. I ended up at a barbecue with a ton of Irish and English backpackers in a park. It rained. Seems appropriate, weirdly. Australia brings the barbecue, the British isles bring the weather. Or maybe someone upstairs was annoyed with us for eating meat that day. Tough call.

Check out this entry's Photos.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

If you help me right now, I can win.

The 2009 Bloggers Choice Awards are on. I entered JTrek for the Best Travel Blog award. I'm cocky enough to think I've got a shot at winning. But I need your help.

What kind of help? It's simple. Vote for JTrek here.

You might have to create an account with them. As a hint, nobody is going to check that any of the info you give them is accurate, except for the email address, and that can be changed/removed later.

The awarding process is not complicated: whichever blog gets the most votes wins. If you like what I'm doing, vote for me, I just might win, and you just might find a $20 on the street tomorrow. Because karma is like that.

Thank you all!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Back in the City of Sails

Every once in a while I end up in a place longer than expected. Sometimes because I get sick. Sometimes it's because of state-of-emergency level flooding. This time, I was just hanging around to meet a few people who were all busy during weekdays. Thanks to that, I ended up looking at this inside of this building here.

I'd just arrived back from the Blue Mountains and some of the best hiking I've ever done (which, at this point, is saying something). The Blue Mountains reportedly have more plant diversity than all of Europe. Picture your stereotypical red Australian outback desert scene with red rock mesas. Now add a lot more of the mesas and cover all of that with lush forest and what one national park sign describes as “a vertical swamp” on the sides of all the rocks-- it looks exactly like everything you've ever pictured the dinosaurs roaming around in. Add a lot of waterfalls and a lateral trail carved midway up the side of a long cliff, with water dripping across everywhere in front of spectacular view. That's where I hiked.

A two hour commuter train ride later, and I was back in the heart of the biggest city in the continent. After I made a few calls and emails to people, I decided to spend least two more days in town, and made arrangements. The next morning, I spotted a flyer in my hostel for a performance of Tom Stoppard's Travesties. In the Sydney Opera House.

I got on a phone to the box office and tell them I'm a semi-broke young backpacker who really wants to see the show tonight. Turns out they have student rush tickets. We made the arrangements, she runs me through the available seats, I gave her my credit card number, finalized the ticket info, then the agent gave a started exclamation and asked to put me on hold. I waited a bit, then she came back on.

“Agh. I'm so, so sorry, I've bunged this all up. We just got you tickets for The Alchemist instead of Travesties.”

“Wait, what?”

“Yeah, there aren't any tickets for Travesties tonight. I'm really sorry about this. Look, if you like, I can cancel this and we can see if there's another night we can get you a ticket, or you can keep the ticket to The Alchemist.”

“Oh. Well, can you tell me about The Alchemist?”

“Yeah, sure, it's a comedy by Ben Jonson, also being performed in the opera house--”

“Hang on, Ben Jonson? As in Shakespeare's contemporary Ben Jonson?”

“Yes that's the one.”

She goes on to read off some of the credits for the show and a quick synopsis that I sort of listen to. The only real thing I knew about Ben Jonson was that he spent most of his time either writing plays or whining about why his Clearly Superior Work got so much less attention than that of his perceived rival, William Shakespeare. I'd never read or seen anything he'd ever done. I even had to look his name up just now to make sure it's not spelled "Johnson." Meanwhile, I'd seen, read, and even performed stuff by Stoppard. So I stuck with the ticket to the Alchemist.

And that's how I ended up inside of a big white building that went several million dollars and ten years over budget. It was designed to look like a set of sails. Its actually a couple buildings joined underground, with at least two stages and a cafe. The stage the show was in wasn't quite as interesting as how it all looked on the outside, but the show was great. They decided to stick everything onstage-- costume racks, extra props, even the stage manager was sitting downstage in the stage-left corner calling cues into her headset and banging her table with a hammer when a knock on the door was called for. And it worked. As for the show, three double-timing crooks swindle half the city, juggling Dutch monks, prizefighters, and widows, greedy nobles, and a tobacconist's apprentice that could be smelled for miles. Plus a big explosion half way through. That's entertainment.

I found out as I left the theater that you can have high tea in the opera house while listening to opera singers sing by your table. Yet another reason I'll have to reprise this whole trip if I become rich and famous: I can visit the opera house with more cash and a wardrobe that hasn't spent half its time crumpled into a backpack for six months (not quite Sydney Opera House high tea style these days).

I headed places where the wardrobe I have is a little more expected, like Manly Beach. I haven't looked up why the community of Manly is called Manly. I didn't see anything amazing more manly about Manly than any other non-Manly beach community I've visited in Australia. But, even if there's a severe lack of intentional puns in even the tackiest of souvenir shops I visited there (all one of them), there are some pretty hilarious accidental ones, like the Manly Drinking Station, or The Manly Grill ("part of Manly Culture"). Possibly the most suggestive one is the address of Manly's Website: If you don't get it, you clearly have a cleaner mind than I.

However, the main image that sticks out a bit in my mind from Manly was not the puns or wordplay, or even the really good surfers and coin-operated beach-side BBQ grills, it was something else I managed to catch on camera. On the beach, I spotted a boy, maybe nine or ten years old, in a full wet suit carrying a surfboard. Coming from a place like Seattle, it never occurred to me that anyone would grow up surfing. I watched him run along, actually sucking his thumb occasionally, and I subtly tried to frame a photo with my camera. That's when I was startled by a sign I realized he was about to run by on the beach. Putting the two in the same frame makes for a story you might want to think about. Here it is.

I've left Sydney now. Sticking around to meet people was well worth the wait, I've gotten inside peeks on things from the huge success of WWF's Earth Hour from a member of the young labor party, to life on a remote wildlife park in Namibia from an animal care specialist and even a peek backstage into Hollywood from a fascinating artist and writer who does storyboards for major motion pictures (as in Return-of-the-Jedi-major), and who just published his first novel. These meetings were not just the "oh that's really neat" variety that you tell your friends about and forget. This is the kind that sits you down hard afterwards and makes you really think about the world, where are you in it, what you want, and what you're going to do. And at my age, that's exactly what I need.

More immediate and bit less... er... heavy, I'm facing another choice. Well, several choices. I've left Sydney for Port Macquarie. I'm eventually going to Brisbane to visit more people. That's settled. I'm checking out the Great Barrier Reef, probably. Aside from that, the East Coast is famous for beautiful beaches and islands, and it's where most Australians live. Most backpackers go there to party. All sounds fantastic, but it also sounds a lot like how people describe the places I'm heading in SE Asia, which will also be a lot more affordable. The middle of Australia contains Alice Springs and Uluru (aka Ayers Rock), a massive natural wonder and full of aboriginal rock art, among other interesting things, but costs an arm and leg to go and see. The west coast has the wild and rugged outback. Less backpackers partying, a lot more natural wild stuff, but it's hard to get around and takes ages to do so because it's mostly big and empty. I fly out of Darwin on the Northwest coast. No matter what I do, I'll have to fly to get there., where do I go?

Check out this entry's Photos.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


The content of this post has been redacted by the Australian government as a national security threat. As you may or may not know, Joel has been implicated in a spy ring with a well-known Chinese national. Full details have now been made public in the press. Although Prime Minister Rudd has expressed full confidence in Joel's character and work, the publishing of this blog has been temporarily halted. Today's post was the only one identified as containing sensitive information, all 0ther posts are currently being reviewed. Those receiving this blog by email should consult the posting date on the online source and take it into consideration with regards to all communications.