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Category: Australia

Walk it Off

Walk it Off

Sleep on the floor of the Melbourne Airport. Wake up. Check in. Dash through security. Sigh in frustration as you encounter even more security. Don’t get distracted by the duty free liquor. No, I don’t care how good that two for one deal is. Realize you still have four Australian dollars to spend. Realize that candy is far too expensive for that. Find a vending machine. Pay $3.50 for a bottle of apple juice. Pocket the fifty cent piece. Impress your friends with the fact that you’ve managed to transport a coin the approximate size of a manhole cover. This is how you properly return to New Zealand.

This coin, now used mostly for exact change, was in its prime used as a discus for hunting, sport, or gladiatorial combat.
This coin, now used mostly for exact change, was in its prime used as a discus for hunting, sport, or gladiatorial combat.

Getting to my proper destination, however, was a different story, resulting in a far different trip to Queenstown than I had anticipated.

New Zealand is big on these silly rules referred to as “bioquarantine laws” by those sorts of people that want to sound threatening, particularly those with trivial things like Ph.D’s and biology degrees. Anyway, it was this manner of folks that impeded my progress in the Auckland airport, hunt up on the tent that I had been dragging around Australia, useless since our camping trip.

Getting my luggage was bad. Getting my luggage through customs, trying to make sure that no folks in hazmat suits were called in over my hair conditioner, was worse. So, by the time my gear was given back to me with the bashful admission that sometimes, a tent really is just a tent, my flight to Queenstown had departed.

A popular recent trend amongst wayfarers, globetrotters, and other miscellaneous world travelers is to post a picture from a campsite, in this case, the first thing that the photographer sees upon waking up in the morning. The following was, more or less, my first view of the day for a portion of the week.

Elsewhere, the peaks of Escalator Heights gave way to the flatlands of Starbucks.
Elsewhere, the peaks of Escalator Heights gave way to the flatlands of Starbucks.

Queenstown was, despite the cold, the lack of beach, and the mountains, an odd sort of parallel to Cairns. Both were certainly towns that catered to tourists, though in different ways. Cairns is very much similar to the beach towns of the eastern U.S, despite not actually having a beach. Walk down any street in the town, and you will likely pass an infinitely repeating sequence of souvenir shop, cafe, and liquor store, like Cairns was built to house a reboot of the Truman Show. Seeing the same few knickknacks and t-shirts is always proof that you’ve stumbled someplace that is slightly too eager to take your sweet, precious tourism money.

There’s a lake down in Queenstown, but relaxing by the water is probably low on the list of priorities for visitors. Take the normal tourism town shop lineup and add camping store to the mix, and you’ve captured the fundamental difference between Queenstown and Cairns. It’s the kind of place that appeals to adventurers, not the kind with swords and battleaxes but the kind with cumbersome backpacks and, dare I say it, dorky pants.

See Exhibit A. (on right)
See Exhibit A. (on right)

Nevertheless, Queenstown has a sort of charm that Cairns lacks. Going to Queenstown is, as one of my group members put it, like stepping into a little Christmas town. All of the elements are there. Snowy mountains provide a picturesque backdrop. The outside of the town is all quaint lodges and cottages. Further towards the center of town, candy stores churn out confection after confection, tempting the passerby to purchase more fudge than they know what to do with. Elves, their faces cherry red from the cold, trundle down the streets.

Unfortunately, there was less caroling and more grumbling about souvenir prices.
Unfortunately, there was less caroling and more grumbling about souvenir prices.

We wouldn’t be in Queenstown for long. The Routeburn Track was calling our names, beckoning us to venture into the frozen mountains, surviving only with our wits and a jar of extra crunchy peanut butter. On the other hand, Mother Nature writes her own itinerary, and she’s a big fan of tagging along with you and then not paying for gas or food.

Things that the LVC students are no longer allowed to do in Australia

Things that the LVC students are no longer allowed to do in Australia

#1: Give out Gympie-Gympie leaves as a skin care product at all.

#2: Wrestle any crocodile longer than 8 feet.

#3: Tarantulas are not a suitable substitute for an alarm clock.

#4: Cross out the “duty” in the “duty-free” sign and run off with eight liters of whiskey.

#5: Emus do not make decent riding animals.

I can dream, though.
I can dream, though.

#6: Whistle Men At Work’s “Land Down Under” more than once a day.

#7: The Australian national motto is not, “Your Money or Your Life.”
-Nor is it “Apply More Sunscreen.”
-Or anything ever said by Steve Irwin.

#8: Kangaroos are not decent boxing opponents.

#9: The Gympie-Gympie is not a joy buzzer.

#10: The road less traveled is sometimes less traveled for a reason.

#11: No playing tic-tac-toe on a blue ringed octopus.

#12: In case of fire ants, do not stop, drop, and roll.

#13: Emotional baggage does not count towards the 30kg weight limit.

#14: There are no “good kinds” of car accidents.

#15: Australia is not “proof of a cruel and uncaring god.”

#16: The alligators do not need to be freed from the zoo.
-Not even if they’re American alligators.

#17: Garlic is not an effective defense against vampire bats.

#18: No telling cobras to “say it, don’t spray it.”

#19: “Running faster than you” is not a good plan in the case of an animal attack.

#20: Lizards are not Pokemon, and you should not try to “catch them all.”

Not even if you color them with Magic Marker.
Not even if you color them with Magic Marker.

#21: No inviting anybody back to your place if you’re living out of a car.

#22: White water rapids are not the “express route.”

#23: Just because you have buns does not mean that any anaconda wants some.

Nicki Minaj has never been so wrong.
Nicki Minaj has never been so wrong.

#24: A full minute of stunned silence means, “What did you just do?” and not, “Please continue.”

#25: Living in the wild does not obligate anyone to drink their own urine.

#26: No hunting for animals at night in residential neighborhoods.

#27: No clogging other people’s snorkels with sand anything.

#28: Just because George of the Jungle swings from vines does not mean you can.

#29: Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are not “a part of a balanced diet.”
-No matter how many you eat.

High Tide Rising

High Tide Rising

The majesty of nature only stays majestic as long as you remain free of bug bites and sunburns. After that, it’s only a matter of time before you need a shower and a bed in a location that doesn’t carry the risk of malaria.

So long, Cape Tribulation, and thanks for all of the crocodiles. We’re headed back to Cairns.
Of course, there’s more to our rainforest story than that. I haven’t told you about the best thing about the trip.
No, it’s not camaraderie or friendship. That’s dumb. I’m talking about stars, not glow worms, but giant balls of gas floating somewhere out in space. Our little slice of sky, without any light to interrupt it, let us see all the way to the Milky Way. I watched several stars jet off on their merry way to oblivion, making a wish each time but mostly just staring in slack jawed awe.

So, with a song in my heart and a song on the radio, that one by Avicii that played about once every ten minutes, we drove back to Cairns to meet four others, fresh from Sydney with their own stories to tell.
When we met our fellow Americans, they were fresh from their own trip to the rainforest, where the brutality of the wild could be viewed from the comfort of an air conditioned bus. Luckily for them, there was still plenty of time to experience nature the way it was intended: while screaming and running.
Our first trip was out to the Great Barrier Reef, in the midst of a minor storm that turned the deck of the boat into a nonstop drunken dance party, complete with that one guy vomiting in the corner.

The reef was just as rough, fish tossed to and fro along with all of the hapless snorkelers. Underwater was far different, with the relaxing quiet punctuated only by the Darth Vader noises of the snorkel. The fish, distressed as they were by the weather, were less than happy to find a gangly intruder in their midst, but nonetheless stuck around for a photo opportunity with this long armed newcomer.

Is it a great white shark? Not sure if it's great, but it's definitely white.
Is it a great white shark? Not sure if it’s great, but it’s definitely white.

Speaking of the weather, the storm had riled up the briny depths quite fiercely over the past several hours, and took its salty vengeance on our boat, a poorly timed wave rocking the vessel and flinging a member of our group down a flight of steps. Ironically, she had been told to go downstairs to recover from a bout of seasickness, which remained an issue even after she had been transferred to the rear of the ship, repurposed into an emergency triage for the sick and wounded.

The meeting on our ship's staircase was far less romantic.
The meeting on our ship’s staircase was far less romantic.

And so, Australia claimed another victim, leaving a network of bruises as a grim reminder of Neptune’s wrath. We angered no more sea gods after that, instead slinking back to our hostel to lick our wounds, apply lots of aloe, and snorkel somewhere else the next day.

On the other hand, towards the end of our stay, we trekked up the Crystal Cascades. No, we didn’t just go up to the waterfall, take a few selfies, nod somberly at the majesty of nature, and then leave. We took a route up the rocks and past thunderous cascades, white water rapids, and soaring cliffs.

And here I thought that the only soaring was going to be done by me.
And here I thought that the only soaring was going to be done by me.

Once we reached the top, we were greeted by the largest waterfall we had seen yet, but sadly, we had no cameras with which to photograph ourselves. I mused that this was what the trip was all about, making memories instead of taking one cool picture after another for social media, until one of my friends went back the next day and did exactly that. Oh well. There would be plenty more to silently appreciate down south…

Far Afield

Far Afield

Cairns is a town sitting on the edge of nowhere. With wilderness and mountains on all sides, it continues the grand tradition of the Wild West, of frontier towns serving as the last bastions of civilization before the housing developments and liquor stores are consumed by jungle, or desert, or whatever nature has managed to defy the determined progress of mankind. A sort of manifest destiny scenario, in which pavement keeps moving until it hits ocean, with nobody ever quite sure when the process needs to end.

"I might be a bit late. There's a three whale pileup along the interstate."
“I might be a bit late. There’s a three whale pileup along the interstate.”

Huh? What was that? What did I do in Australia? Oh. Right. Yeah, I’ll get to that.

To sum it up in a single sentence: I appreciated nature and its vast marvels until I really, really itched for a movie and a bucket of KFC.

I also itched because of my multitude of bug bites. You see, though we had landed in Cairns, we did so mainly out of a desire to camp out in the Daintree rainforest for a week without showers or anything to eat that wasn’t peanut butter and jelly.

That’s not to say that the trip was unenjoyable; I really was amazed at the diversity of spiders that found their way into my tent.

This one is known to the scientific community simply as, "that thing."
This one is known to the scientific community simply as, “that thing.”

What I soon discovered was that the animals of the jungle were quite keen on avoiding humans, though my traveling companion was just as excited to capture every single lizard that he came across. Fortunately, there were much more exciting activities than lizard wrangling to occupy our time.
As would be expected from a place called Cape Tribulation, the landmarks are often given similarly depressing names, such as Mount Sorrow. The folks in charge of the national park had been kind enough to carve a trail up the mountain, though that trail only usually ranged from “narrow” to “vague suggestion.”

Turning every few minutes into a game of "spot the trail before nightfall."
Turning every few minutes into a game of “spot the trail before nightfall.”

In five hours, we made our way up the slopes of the mountain, sweating our body weight and fending off the occasional enterprising spider that had built its web across the trail.

"It'll be worth it. Wait until you see the meat on these guys."
“It’ll be worth it. Wait until you see the meat on these guys.”

By the time we got to the top, we had opened, consumed, and sweat most of our water supply. Marveling at the wonder of nature was our itinerary for the summit, but the child like wonder was quickly replaced by the dread of having to slither back down.
I’d like to think we left some part of us on that mountain, some semblance of civilization. Even our clothes were muddy and scratched by the plants that reached across the trail. At the very least, I know I left some blood on that mountain. Those leeches are persistent.

At least they don't ask you if you've eaten recently.
At least they don’t ask you if you’ve eaten recently.
The Last Will and Testament of Ryan Jones

The Last Will and Testament of Ryan Jones

This document was written in response to a thorough Internet search concerning the venomous snakes, spiders, scorpions, and people that can be found in Australia.

I, Ryan Jones, being of sound mind and body, do declare this document my last will and testament, written in preparation for a holiday (if one can call it that) in Australia. In the event that this document is recovered, likely next to my mangled body, do not attempt to read it. Run. Retreat to a safe distance, and from there, assess the situation and notify my next of kin.
Chances are, whatever hellspawn has done me in is still in the area, and has likely not satisfied its lust for human blood.
Further action to ensure that the area is secure may be necessary, and complete immolation is an acceptable and encouraged course of action. At this point, you may attempt to retrieve my body. If it is damaged beyond recognition, feel free to scoop up my remains with a shovel, trowel, spatula, or whatever implement is most relevant to the nature of the situation.
Now that you’ve hopefully completed whatever grisly work needs to be done, let’s talk about the circumstances surrounding my death. I’m not entirely sure what has become of me, but really, the amount of ways that misfortune could have befallen me in this part of the world are diverse and prolific. For instance, if I went out trying to fight say, a great white shark, it would sound a whole lot more heroic and interesting than if I was bitten on the ankle by a passing death adder. Please use some flourish when describing my last moments on earth. Sure, that whole “crying at a funeral” business is very traditional, but I’ve never been one to follow trends. Instead, I’d like dozens, no, hundreds, of mouths agape as you recount the way I wrested myself from the shark’s jaws, suplexing it onto the ocean floor before finally succumbing to my injuries. I fully expect the women to swoon and the men to listen, teeth clenched, in awed silence.
It is up to you, dear reader, to craft a memorial that will really blow the lid off of this figurative casket. In fact, if you are able, I would like you to compose a three (3) act rock opera detailing my life, my exploits, and my eventual demise at the hands (fins?) of a shark three sharks.
By now, you’d probably like to know what I’ll be doing with my somewhat limited wealth and property. If you have to ask, you’re probably not getting anything. Eight of my closest friends and family have already received pieces of a map. Whoever collects all of the pieces and arrives at the specified location first will receive all of my worldly possessions, and some of my otherworldly possessions as well. Dividing everything out is such a pain.

Sincerely, (is that how you’re supposed to end these things?)
Ryan Jones

Author’s note: though this will has proven irrelevant upon my safe return to New Zealand, I stand by everything I said about the sharks and the rock opera. As you know, the maps are still out there as well. Happy hunting!