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Kiwis and Kangaroos

a travel blog by exumenius

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The Longest Day (or Three) - Night 0

Suva, Fiji

Technically October 9th began at Justin’s house in Tucson and ended somewhere over the Pacific Ocean, however, for me it stretched all the way to my landing in Fiji early on the morning of October 11th.

First off, a big thanks to Ed for letting me drive his truck down to the airport. The flight to LA from Tucson was rather non-descript, with the mild exception of flying over that accidental oasis, the Salton Sea. After gathering my baggage and bussing it to the Bradley Terminal, I was immediately accosted by a group of Mormon missionaries upon entering the food court. They were quickly shoed away, only to attack a nearby elderly couple. If I had it my way Evangelism would be illegal at the airport.

I lucked out on the flight to Fiji and had an empty seat between me and my rowmate, Rahim. Rahim works as a shelf stocker for Costco in Oakland six months out of the year, the other half he spends back in Fiji. He was a friendly, older man, who turned into a whiny bitch after he didn’t get the special Muslim meal that he ordered. He verbally berated the flight attendant, who had no control over the situation, for about 15 minutes. Finally, one of the flight attendant sacrificed her fish meal just so he would shut up. When his breakfast came with a sausage in it, the same process was repeated.

I slept on and off for about half of the flight.

It was my first time on a double decker 747 and the leg room was plenty adequate. The media options were rather poor, but the service was excellent. We crossed the equator southwest of Hawaii at 2:46 local time (whatever time zone we were in). A few hours later we crossed the International Date Line, and my nearly non-existent Wednesday, October 10th passed into the dark ocean night.

We landed in Nadi, Fiji at 5:10 local time. Stepping out of the plane I was greeted by the rising sun and perfectly still, warm, heavy tropical air. Inside the terminal a band of Fijian men in skirts struck up a tune for us. I lay down on the floor of the airport for a quick nap thus ending one of the longest days of my life.

What I Learned Today: Bula is Fijian for Hello, Danaka for Thank You.

permalink written by  exumenius on October 10, 2007 from Suva, Fiji
from the travel blog: Kiwis and Kangaroos
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Touchdown in Australia - Night 1

Brisbane, Australia

I landed in Brisbane around 11:30 local time, and was free from the rigors of customs by noon. Stepping outside was similar to stepping into a sauna. It felt like New Orleans in March, minus the pervasive smell of stale urine and sour milk. A man on the train told me that they’ve been getting some torrential rains the last few weeks, which has led to the uncustomarily high level of humidity. I hope he’s right. The Brisbane City Backpacker’s Hostel was about a ¼ mile walk from the train station. Half way there I was soaked. The evaporative cooling powers of sweat are greatly minimized when the relative humidity hits 90%. It is sort of like trying to fit a third corn-fed Minnesota girl into the back of a Volkswagen; there just isn’t any more room for her (or the water) to go.

Checked into my room to find the two inhabitants already there were busy speaking German. I waited for a while, to make sure they weren’t talking about how they hate dirty Americans, and then calmly asked them in German where the shower was. Looks of pleasant surprise fell over their faces, especially when they learned that I was from the US. I think they were amazed that anyone from the States knew German. After swapping stories, it turns out one of them was from Poland, the other from Germany. Our final roommate showed, a Czech named Vladimir, who also spoke German. Though in the end, English one out, likely due to mine and Vlad’s poor Deutsch. Everyone went their separate ways, with me heading back to the train station to get an AC adapter. The voltage in Australia is the same; it is just that the top two prongs are turned at 45 degree angles.

Upon returning to the hostel, I promptly crashed and slept until 6. Quite a surprise to me, the sun was setting at the 6 o’clock hour as I awoke. I took a walk downtown to find some cheap food. While Brisbane is most certainly a 20th century, automobile-centric city, the traffic is beautifully quiet. In over an hour of walking, I heard one or two horns at the most and not a single siren. I eventually ran into the Queens Street pedestrian mall. Imagine a packed mall, three blocks long, full of bars in the middle and stores on the outside, all exposed to the great outdoors. Needless to say, a great place for a stroll and some people watching. I eventually found a grocery store in the underground level of the mall. Prices were somewhat similar to back home, though it seems meat is bit pricier and the selection of fruit isn’t quite as expansive. I settled on bananas and the old standby, granola bars (or muesli bars as is the nomenclature here down under.)

Returned to the hostel and headed to the lounge

to return some emails and work on the blog. The room was packed with most of the inhabitants were mesmerized by the Simpsons on the TV. The bar downstairs was full, but not overly packed. As much as I desired to find my roommates and have a beer or six, it was already 9pm, I could hardly keep my eyes open, I was over my $50 per diem, and I really needed a good sleep (Monday night was my most recent horizontal sleep.), so I headed to bed around 10pm…there will be plenty of opportunities in the next six months to belly up to a bar, that and I am due at the volunteer office at 10 tomorrow morning. A pretty calm first day, which I needed. The jet lag isn't as bad as flying to Europe, but I still feel a bit off.

What I Learned Today: It is tough to jaywalk in a place where the cars are coming from the wrong direction. I probably crossed 35 crosswalks in my travels today and I still look the wrong way for traffic every time. Thus, in the name of safety, I’ve taken to waiting for the little green man.

permalink written by  exumenius on October 11, 2007 from Brisbane, Australia
from the travel blog: Kiwis and Kangaroos
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Meeting the Team - Night 2

Brisbane, Australia

I awoke early today, as usual, and spent the first few hours of the morning using what I would later learn to have been some of my last free wireless internet access for some time. Checked out of the Brisbane City Backpackers around 9 am and headed east over the William Jolly Bridge to the South Bank, and eventually on to the Conservation Volunteers’ Home Office. We were to arrive at 11am, I showed up at 9:30 and they weren’t quite ready for me, so I dropped my pack and took a wander through the South Bank Parklands, a verdant, beach-ish park along the south bank of the Brisbane River. I came upon a pedestrian bridge over the river to the City Botanical Gardens on the north bank near downtown. A beautiful city park, no doubt. By far the most interesting part was the elevated boardwalk through a partially-submerged mangrove forest.

Made my way back to the office by 10:45 to find two of my fellow volunteers had already arrived; Mandy, a mid to late 30s, British woman from a little town near Manchester. I came to find out that she sold all of her belongings in April and has been traveling the world volunteering ever since. The other prompt team member Peter (Hu Wuan), a mathematics student from South Korea. Minutes later, our fourth and final member of our group, Daniel, a mid-20s fellow also from England, arrived. We were painfully subjected to the obligatory safety video and orientation session and then broke for lunch to get to know each other a little bit. My first actual meal in Australia was a delicious salmon/chickpea sandwich with cream cheese. At first, $10 AUS might seem a bit pricey for a sandwich, but once you figure that tax is already included and tips are not expected, it seems fairly reasonable…now if only the dollar weren’t so weak – the Europeans definitely have an advantage over here. We returned and were whisked away to the volunteer house, our place of lodging while we weren’t out in the field. FYI: The first time you ride in a right side driver’s car, especially in the front seat, is a bit of a scare.

Our digs are located in Albion, a northern suburb, about 5 train stops from downtown. The place is an old Queenstown house (which meant nothing to me until I saw it) consisting of an amalgamation of rooms and covered porches that appear to have been added in the most haphazard of manners over the past 100 years. The 12 foot ceilings, decorative woodworking, and maze-like floor plan do offer a certain bit of charm, however. It lacks air-conditioning and insulation of any kind, so the days are hot and the nights cool as wind seems to blow straight through the place. The house consists of two women’s rooms, two men’s rooms, a caretaker’s room, kitchen, two baths, a laundry, and various lounges and dens. The back yard has a small courtyard. I am rooming with Daniel and Peter this week, though as volunteers come and go we’ve been warned that room assignments are likely to change.

Around 3pm the other crew of volunteers returned from their weekly assignment in Noosa. In this group were Matt, a 31-year old from Wales, Aaron a 19-year old student from New Hampshire, Jana (pronounced Yana), a cute little, 20-year old from Berlin, Germany, Anna a youngster from Tasmania, and Lena, a mid-40s women from somewhere, though judging by her misappropriation of pronouns and poor verb conjugation, somewhere English is not the primary language. Apparently a few more souls will be filtering in over the weekend.

Our volunteer program is set up so that we spend the weekends here in Brisbane and each Monday, or sometimes Sunday, we are put into groups and taken to our place of work. We stay at the volunteer work site until Friday afternoons and then return to Brisbane for the weekend. The best part is that we can leave things at the house during the week, so we do not need to haul all of our possessions out into the wild. While at the house, they provide all the food, all we have to do is cook it and clean up after ourselves. We’ve received our first assignment already; this Sunday, Daniel, Aaron, Jana, Mandy and Glen(?) and I leave at 8 am on Sunday morning for a 6 hour drive to Expedition National Park on the other side of the mountains in what is considered the Queensland outback. We’ll be camping out in the wild until Friday morning, so for anyone reading this, you’ll likely not get another update from me until next Friday at the earliest.

After some time chatting with the new volunteers, or volleys as we are known, Matt, Aaron, Jana, and I took off for Cambridge Street to do a bit of shopping and grab a pint or two. Cambridge Street is a bit of a poor man’s Queen’s Street Pedestrian Mall. The shops are dirty and cheaper, the pubs more abundant and every block a few peep shows tuck themselves into small nooks and upstairs spaces. My kinda place. After the young kids grabbed some smokes, we settled on The Elephant and Wheelbarrow, advertised as a traditional English Pub. Having never been into a traditional English Pub, who was I to argue with this proclamation? Had two pints of Toohey’s, which tasted a bit like Leinenkugel’s Original.

On the return trip I had my first run in with the Aussie law. Earlier I had errantly purchased an off-peak train ticket, which means it was not good from 3pm to 7pm. We boarded the train back to the house at 6:58 and wouldn’t you know it, immediately two transit officers stepped on board to check our tickets. When he saw mine and said “This is an off-peak ticket”, I responded in my best confused tourist, American accent “you mean it isn’t 7pm?”. He looked at his watch and said, “you are two minutes early, don’t worry about and don’t do it again.” I am such a badass.

What I Learned Today: The first five minutes you meet someone tells you all you ever need to know about them...well almost everything, usually. Six hours in and I appear to be spot on with everyone. Makes me wonder what they all think about me. The interesting part about this volunteering arrangement is that each Friday people come and go, so I’ll get to try out this little psycho/socio-logical experiment every week.

permalink written by  exumenius on October 12, 2007 from Brisbane, Australia
from the travel blog: Kiwis and Kangaroos
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Prepping for Our First Adventure - Night 3

Brisbane, Australia

Still not quite on Aussie time, as I awoke with sun at 5:30 am. No sense wasting a beautiful morning lying in bed and listening to the trains roll by the Albion Station, so I got up and went for a walk. I headed east and found the little shopping center technically called Woolowin. It has a grocery store, a Bi-Lo (whatever the hell that is), a Blockbuster, numerous real estate offices, but most importantly, a St. Vincent de Paul’s. I’ll be headed there later today to buy some work shirts and large sun hat, plus whatever cheap garb I can get my hands on.

Later on, my trip to St. Vinnie’s was a total bust. Some very nice $6 dress shirts were plentiful. There were also four racks of women’s belts, a whole bin of cassette tapes for $1, and special section of stuffed animals, but anything remotely resembling a men’s work quality shirt was nowhere to be found. I returned to the house empty handed. After lunch, Peter and I jumped the train to downtown to try to find some free internet at one of the libraries and for me to finish my shopping. (Note: The ticket men at the Albion station could be the most unhappy people on the planet, I guess calling out “The Shorncliffe Line will be arriving on Platform 4 in three minutes” all day can really take its toll.)

The city library on the north bank, though a beautiful building, was useless to a tourist. One needed a library card to do anything, including going to the bathroom. Across the river the State Library proved quite a bit more fruitful. The information center on the first floor was packed with people on laptops and others waiting in the queues for a free 20 minute online session on the provided desktop computers. While the wireless was free, it was terribly slow, and though I was able to answer some email and post a blog entry, I could not upload photos nor view any such content. What should have taken me 30 minutes, took 3 hours. I need to find a better place to get a free connection, or just break down and pay for it somewhere.

We then headed to Target in the Queen’s Street Mall underground. Within 2 minutes of being in the store I had lost Peter, not an easy thing to do considering the tall, skinny Korean was wearing a black and white Where’s Waldo-ish hat. After a few laps I gave up on him, figuring he had either went his own way or been decapitated by the samurai clad man who was hanging out in Housewares section. Either way, I could have been no further help, so I carried on with my afternoon. I felt a bit bad, because his English is marginal and he got lost yesterday and had to take a cab home, but I got over it. I eventually found some suitable work shirts at the Big W on sale for $10. A pretty good deal considering, my little tube of Carmex cost me $4.75. My advice to anyone coming to Australia: stock up on cosmetics, they are double or triple the price over here.

Returned home to do some reading and took a nap. In the evening we had a large communal spaghetti dinner. Afterwards everyone took their turn emptying their camera memory cards onto my computer. We are going to get some DVDs this week so I can burn everyone a disk at the end of the volunteer session. Most people, like myself, are staying over here for at least a few months, some more, and photos seem to accumulate pretty quickly in a beautiful place like this. Turns out my laptop will be a savior to more people than just myself.

What I Learned Today: Spending a day with someone whose English isn’t the greatest teaches you to clean up your vernacular slang and poor enunciation habits. I don’t know how many times with Peter I had to rephrase something because I was speaking in Midwest slang or uttering nonsense out of the corner of my mouth. Also, it is really funny listening to him pronounce his Ls as Rs. New Zealand becomes New Zearand, library is ribrary, etc. If you think the girl from Lost in Translation was exaggerating, she wasn’t.

PS: Speaking of language issues, yesterday Matt, the funny guy from Wales, was telling a story about him and his brother’s trip around New South Wales and Victoria in a camper van, when he managed to use the words Wanker, Tosser, and Bloody Fucking Bollocks all in the same sentence. Classic fucking British (or Welsh, rather).

permalink written by  exumenius on October 13, 2007 from Brisbane, Australia
from the travel blog: Kiwis and Kangaroos
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In Search of Reedy Creek Ranch - Night 4

Taroom, Australia

Our team leader John arrived around 7 o’clock this morning to begin packing up the troupee(basically a modified Jeep with seating for eight in the rear) and the trailer for our long haul to Expedition National Park. Involved with myself in this week long adventure were Daniel, Jana, Aaron, Mandy,Glen, our leader John and an illegal sidekick Brian. Glen turned out to be a local guy whose conservation studies mandated 80 hours of volunteer work. Twenty something, with a Mohawk and army fatigue pants, Glen cast himself as a bit of a harrowing character at first glance, however, after meeting him, his smile gave away his true nature; that of a quiet, hard-working fellow. Team Leader John, was an ex-oil geologist turned outdoorsman, who could have been old man Jackl’s twin, in both looks and demeanor. Brian, our stowaway, on the other hand, was quite the opposite, a Jeckl to John’s Hyde. Numerous tattoos, including BEER – one letter on each of the four fingers of his left hand – and a few scars spoke of a misspent youth that carried over a bit too far into adulthood. He was rather small and gaunt, about 5’5”, 150 pounds soaking wet, and had a manner of speech and movement incredibly similar to John Diemel. After hearing the first dozen stories out of his mouth, I decided that was exactly what he was: an Australian version of my hometown neighbor, Mr. Diemel. Oh yeah, the reason I say Brian was an illegal sidekick is that though he is a usual team leader about six months ago he was weed-eating when he took off his glasses to wipe some sweat and the end of the weed-eater hit the ground and kick a piece of metal directly into his eye. It went through the front and lodged itself in the retina. Four surgeries later, he is still wearing a patch, is on limited duty and isn’t supposed to be working, but boredom has got the best of him so he decided to ride along for free.

Introductions and packing finished, we hid the road for what was to be an estimated six hour drive. The first hour and half was spent climbing the range up to the city of Toowoomba. On our climb up the steep grade we passed an old, bright pink car carrying two young girls struggling up the hill. Glancing over we spotted a large plastic dildo glued to the dashboard. The girls looked up, smiled and waved. We nearly drove in the ditch from laughter. Home of Queenstown University (or something like that), Toowoomba is a nice little college town perched on the edge of a plateau. We stopped for a quick stretch. The seats in the back of the troupee will numb even the fattest of asses in the first thirty minutes. After Toowoomba, the terrain levels out quickly. This is cattle country. Were we not driving on the left side of the road, one could fall asleep, awake and think you were smack dab in the center of Nebraska. A small town dots the map every 50 to 70 miles, all of them identical to the one before it. Around noon, we pulled off in the town of Chinchilla for lunch and our first taste of the coming annoyance known as harvest flies. A notch smaller than the common American housefly, what they lack in size they more than make up for in tenacity. A strange casual observation: each of these small farm towns has a skate park, and not one of them was in use.

At Miles, we turned north towards Taroom. The table-flat farmland began to give way to rolling hills, some pasture, most in their native scrub grass and savanna-like foliage. A few kilometers past Taroom we hung a left onto Robinson Creek Road, a red dirt road. This would be the last time we would see pavement (or bitumen as the Aussies call it) for days. For about a 100 KMs we bounced along in the back of the troupee dodging potholes, branches and the occasional kangaroo or wallaby. We came upon a fork in the road, and as Yogi Berra suggested, we took it. Actually, we hung a left, following (rather errantly as we would soon discover) the sign pointing toward Expedition National Park. Fifty kilometers later the end of the road appeared, with the Starkvite Campground to the right. Not where we were scheduled to say. Upon thieving a map from the campground, it was discovered that the directions we had been given were wrong and we had taken a left when we should have went

right. A bout two hours, three more turnarounds, one blue refrigerator and one bleached out road sign later, we arrived at the Reedy Creek Ranch, our intended destination. The trip took nine hours, eight of them on the road...much too long in the back of the troupee. As it was already dusk, John cooked a quick meal of jammers and mashies (hot dogs and mashed potatoes). The place is off the grid and the generator goes off at nine, so we unpacked our sleeping bags and headed to sleep on the veranda. Due to the Adrian’s (the owner) pervish tendencies the girls were allowed to sleep inside, us men were stuck under the stars.

What I Learned Today: Those of us who live in cities are missing out on one of the world’s great wonders: the night sky. Here at Reedy Creek Ranch, miles from any light pollution, the full breadth of the stars are on display. Though it is not the northern sky that I am so familiar with, its magnificence is not in the least bit diminished. I fear that there are many among us who have never truly seen the night sky in all its splendor, and what a shame that is.

permalink written by  exumenius on October 14, 2007 from Taroom, Australia
from the travel blog: Kiwis and Kangaroos
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Cat's Claw Fever - Night 5

Taroom, Australia

As usual I was up at dawn. Along my morning walk, I kicked up numerous wallabies and two large grey kangaroos who had come near the homestead in order to drink from the retaining pond located near the creek. Attempts to accurate photograph these creatures were futile.

The Reedy Creek Ranch is an interesting place. First settled in the late 1800s by an Irish family, the place has seen numerous owners in the past forty years. Back in the 1970s it was a thriving Jackaroo ranch (basically a training ranch for wannabe cowboys). After that it spent some time as a bed and breakfast. Shortly thereafter most of the land was sold to the state. Currently it is being run as a viable cattle ranch, with most of the pasture land leased back from the state. This abbreviated history of the ranch was told to us by Adrian, the current owner. A portly, balding man in his early 60s, Adrian looks more like a retired insurance agent that the operator of a massive ranch in the middle of the Queensland bush. Later in the day we met Stan, the man who runs the day to day operations. Stan looks, acts, and speaks the part of a rancher, ten gallon hat and all. The ranch buildings are aging and in desperate need of paint job. The actual homestead is a conglomeration of buildings added to each other as the principle use of the ranch changed over the years. The crowning achievement of this piecemeal construction project is the wide veranda that surrounds the entire place. This glorified porch would be our home for five days.

The date was April 14, 1871 and Eliza Presho,

fresh returned from a week in the newly thriving port of Brisbane, decided to plant a small creeping vine (the seeds of which were shipped in from London) at the base of her wooden entrance arch at the Reedy Creek Ranch. Fast forward 136 years. This seemingly harmless plant, named Cat’s Claw, jumped to the creek bottom and has spread 4 kilometers downstream. Cat’s Claw, when properly maintained, remains small and produces lovely yellow flowers, however, when released unchecked into a fragile environment it turns into a monster. The vine engulfs entire trees choking off their roots and leaves and ultimately killing them. As the trees falls into the creek, the vine spreads downstream to the next victim. Our job would be to cut the vines and spray the ends of them with Roundup. These bastards grow up to an inch thick and a single tree can have fifty or so vines surrounding it’s trunk. Added to this, once you cut the Cat’s Claw, you have 15 seconds to spray the live end until the plant secrets a clotting serum that protects it until it can regenerate. Oh the joys of invasive species.

Armed with pruners and spray bottles, this proved to be very tough work. The creek bed is very steep, though vacant at the time of water, and temperatures hovered near 90 with nary a breath a wind. Around noon, two rangers from the Taroom Station, Tasha and Nathanial, showed up. This was quite the pair. Tasha was a wildly friendly woman who was never at a loss for words. Nathanial, on the other hand, was a behemoth of a man who barely uttered a sound. Having experience with Cat’s Claw, they showed up with serrated, folding saws, which were an absolute godsend, especially on the thicker, more entrenched vines.

We returned to the veranda around 3pm after a long day in the creek bed. Any sort of progress was difficult to notice, as we had started our Sisyphusian task at the absolute epicenter of the outbreak. Morale was waning, but a delicious chili dinner helped to bring spirits up. Post dinner, we played some cards; Jana teaching us a German version of President/Asshole and Daniel introducing a British game him and his mates called Shithead (a cross between Uno and Texas Hold ‘Em) The sun sets at 6:30. By the time the generator went out, we were all properly knickered out and sleep was very welcome.

What I Learned Today: Exporting culture can be like exporting invasive species, it may serve the exporter in the short term (and in some aesthetic sense) but in the end, it usually kills the entirety of the native culture (species) and needs to be removed. I feel we are grossly in danger of infecting the entire world with our vacuous materialistic culture. Through advertising and socio-political indoctrination man’s desire for possession is overtaking all other concerns; spiritual, environmental, and cultural alike. Gazing over a Cat’s Claw infected forest is like peering deep into the soul of our society...on the surface a pretty, green monoculture, but in reality, a sick, destructive way of life.

permalink written by  exumenius on October 15, 2007 from Taroom, Australia
from the travel blog: Kiwis and Kangaroos
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Shining for Gliders - Night 6

Taroom, Australia

Northwest of the ranch lies a small hill with an impressive rock outcropping sprouting from its zenith. Daniel, Aaron and I decided that we would attempt to climb this less than alpine peak Wednesday after work. Thus, my morning walk today served as a scouting mission to determine the most appropriate course from which to approach the climb. Having the most climbing experience of the group, they trust my ‘expert’ judgment. After hiking to the eastern edge of the forest, I determined that a southerly approach would be quickest and easiest…and our route is set. On the return to camp I am surprised at how loud, yet peaceful this place is. The cacophony of the birds makes an absolute ruckus in the morning, however, it is a good noise, a natural noise, a calming noise. So unlike the noise of traffic rushing to and fro. It truly places one’s soul at ease…out here in the bush, concerns of the modern world sort of melt away, my concentration is on my walk and deep contemplation ensues. Now back to work.

In order to better monitor what areas have been finished, the rangers added blue or pink dye to our spray bottles of roundup. By the end of the day I am covered in blue and pink like a cross between a fierce Maori warrior and one of those androgynous Teletubbies.

After dusk (and after we had engulfed heaping plates of spaghetti) the rangers took us out “shining for gliders.” Basically this is like shining for deer, but instead you shine up into the trees hoping to spot the glowing eyes of flying squirrels. Following much ado and a long drive Nathanial finally located a yellow-bellied glider up high in a dead Gum tree. A few more kilometers and a few more gliders

and we were all about done with this little adventure. It was certainly interesting, but the little beasts, once mesmerized by the spotlight tend to curl up and stay put so it is difficult to actually catch them in the act of gliding from tree to tree. Our final total for the night: 5 yellow-bellied gliders, 0 great silver gliders, 6 rabbits and one television sitting out in the middle of the forest.

What I Learned Today: We are incredibly adaptable beings. At first I viciously swatted at every harvest fly that came near me. Now two days later I barely flinch unless on venture near my eyes or mouth. Given the necessity, we can teach ourselves to endure just about anything. (as if a few flies is anything compared to the daily tribulations of so many of the world’s less fortunate souls).

permalink written by  exumenius on October 16, 2007 from Taroom, Australia
from the travel blog: Kiwis and Kangaroos
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Climbing Pomerica Peak - Night 7

Taroom, Australia

Today was the hottest day yet and with team morale appearing to reach a new low last night, I was a bit worried about the crew. However, a little after our morning start we started to come into an area in which the cat’s claw was much thinner and going much easier. Spirits lifted and by lunch time everyone was in a rather jovial mood.

Following a short nap after work, the Expedition Team (Daniel, Aaron and I) prepared to make the first ever ascent of the unnamed collection of rocks that I had scouted out the other morning. While it is certain we wouldn’t be the first people to summit this small hill, there were no trails leading up to it, nor had the rangers ever been there, so for us these two circumstances were plenty enough to consider it a daring first ascent. A bit of bouldering and a few changes of direction later we were standing upon the top of the hill (which Daniel so eloquently named Pomerica Peak. For some reason the Brits are called Pomies, added to America gave him Pomerica…good enough for Aaron and I). The ascent took only 45 minutes and according to my Garmin was only .83 miles from the homestead, nonetheless, the views from the top were moving. This east face of the rock wall is some 50 to 70 feet straight up, with some deep inner slots. The rocks, which appear to be very old, are cleaving off the main hill, leaving what are some decent climbing faces. Back at camp we had decided to take one of the bright green Conservation Volunteer Association vests to plant at the top as a flag. Much to our luck, at the very easternmost point of the peak stood a large prickly pear tree (an invasive species from the American Southwest). We signed and date the make-shift flag and with a little help from some pilfered electrical tape affixed the flag to the prickly pear. Upon returning to the ranch, we were pleased to discover that in the right light one can see the flag from the veranda. Now we just need to hope that some passing ranger plane doesn’t see the vest and think it an SOS flag from some poor fool stranded on the hill. Oh well, by the time that happens, we’ll all be safely back in our home countries.

What I Learned Today: America’s refusal to switch to the metric system is negatively affecting my travel experience. I find myself having to convert everything to metric before I can speak about anything. My mind is full of .62s, 2.2s, divide by 5/9 and add 32s, etc. The metric system is so easy, all you do is move the decimal point. Seriously, who knows how many cups are in a gallon?

permalink written by  exumenius on October 17, 2007 from Taroom, Australia
from the travel blog: Kiwis and Kangaroos
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Still Miles to Go - Night 8

Miles, Australia

During the night a warm wind howled and by morning it was noticeably cooler and there were even clouds in the sky. I hadn’t seen a cloud since the day I landed. The flies had blown in as well. Though they had been bothersome during the first part of the week, they were poised to reach epic levels of annoyance today. Luckily by 9 am we had progressed our cat’s claw cutting up to the junction of the two creeks, our decided upon goal. Back to the ranch for our morning tea break (in which I never partake) and then packing for the trip back.

Due to the incredibly long drive ahead of us,

John booked us into a caravan park in Miles, a small town about half way home. We bid adieu to Reedy Creek Ranch around 10am and hit the highway, or rather the dirt track and headed south. A quick lunch of leftovers in Taroom, and we coasted into Miles around the 2 o’clock hour. Our caravan park had very nice, nearly new trailers that slept 4-5 people each. Complete with a toilet, shower, fridge and microwave, this was luxury, especially to a group of tired, thirsty volunteers who had spent the last week sleeping on a rotting wooden veranda.

It was only 2:30, but since it was 5 o’clock somewhere (in Fiji, we decided) it was time to head to the pub. I tried to explain to them that it was past noon and the time travel alcohol accounting measures were not needed, but Aussies are nothing if not stubborn. Our choice of pubs was limited to the Hotel Aussie or the Australian VFW Club. As we filed into the Hotel Aussie, the population of the joint tripled. A few solitary patrons came and went during the course of the day, but we had the run of the place. Much like small town America, small town Australia is breathing its death knell. The Hotel Aussie appeared to have once been the crown jewel of a thriving cattle town on Queensland tablelands. Now it is merely a refuge for stop-offs on the road from Darwin to Brisbane. A place for road train drivers needing a beer to hold them over until they reach the coast. A large dining room in the rear of the joint had probably seen its last use sometime during the Reagan administration (not knowing any Australian political history, I need to reference our own for such temporal comparisons).

An interesting fellow named Jimmy Rawlins decided to join us. To put it lightly, Jimmy was drunker than shit, and by the looks of it had been for some years. Fifty-two to be exact. Or so he told us. He introduced himself to each of us and tried to spark up conversation. I wouldn’t say it was English he was speaking, no, it was more of a pidgin dialect, a cross between Creole, Eurasian sign language and Morse Code. Our attempts to ignore him proved surprisingly successful and he soon stumbled to the other end of the horseshoe shaped bar to blabber at and spit on a foreign looking couple who had just order a round of drinks.

I was drinking Carlton Mid, a step up from the piss Victoria Bitter we had swindled from the owner of the Ranch. The others were swilling XXXX Gold, the Bud Light of Queensland. Out of kindness to our wallets, we grabbed a few sixers of Gold to go and headed back to the caravan park. Although Australia has a certain stigma as a land of drinkers, it is awful difficult to procure alcohol in this place. Only certain stores and bars are allowed to sell carryout beer and you would never find it at a super market or convenience store. What a bloody shame.

After playing a few rounds of cards back in our trailer, we loaded up the troupee and drove the three blocks to the Australian VFW for dinner. This place was an exact replica of the Fox Ballroom in Cecil, WI. A small bar as you enter leading you to the dining room in the rear. You ordered your meat and then had full access to a small salad bar. The customers all seemed to know each other, and likely had been coming here and sitting in the same spot for years. In order to get a beer in this joint, visitors like ourselves had to sign in and give our place of residence. I had the grilled barramundi, which tasted a bit like underseasoned cod, the salad bar, however, was ample. On our way out the door, who was standing there but Jimmy Rawlins….I guess the man gets around (to all two pubs).

As the pubs closed up at 9, we returned again to the trailers for some cards. By 11 all were in bed.

What I Relearned Today: Alcohol is an amazing social lubricant. Though we had all gotten along very well up until this point, after our first night out together everyone became quite a bit better friends. Group dynamics just seems to flow better after a night of drinking.

permalink written by  exumenius on October 18, 2007 from Miles, Australia
from the travel blog: Kiwis and Kangaroos
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Thoreau, Rousseau, Laundry? - Night 9

Brisbane, Australia

The crew was packed and ready to go and we were on the road home by 8am. At our gasoline stop in Toowoomba, a few of the group grabbed brekky (breakfast) at Hungry Jack’s, the Australian Burger King. I spent a good deal of the ride rereading the beginning of Thoreau’s Walden. I truly doubt a better piece of literature was ever penned by man. It is a good thing my Varorium edition includes notes, as some of his rather esoteric references would be lost on a common man such as myself. Timeless wisdom all presented in a delicious, verbose, yet readable prose.

Back at the house by noon. I spent the afternoon doing laundry and catching up on my journal entries. A major breakthrough was had,

when I realized that if I sit in the farthest part of the back yard I can steal wireless from the neighbors. No more paying or waiting inline for internet use.

The house grew by two, as we gained a pair of volunteers; Lorelei, a young British girl on a two week holiday from school and Wu Huwmiyg-sometime, a deathly quiet older Korean woman. Daniel and I had a 007 and Mario-Kart tournament in the oft-unused game room. I was soundly defeated at both games.

What I Learned Today: Rousseau was right when he complained about favors becoming burdens. I am more than happy to let all use my computer for downloading photos and internet use - that is why I brought it. However, the old, weird Swedish woman has rightfully abused my good grace and has become the burden Jean-Jacques spoke of. I suppose the moral of the story is that in future I hope that I can retain the humility to receive gifts and acts of grace, but also remain thankful enough so that the giver finds me not a burden.

permalink written by  exumenius on October 19, 2007 from Brisbane, Australia
from the travel blog: Kiwis and Kangaroos
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