Lebanon Valley College Study Abroad

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.

Niki Minaj has never been so wrong.

Niki 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

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

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

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!

Across the Pond

Once upon a time, there was a country so beautiful that people flocked to it just to take in its gorgeous expanses of nature. This was a gentle country, like something out of a storybook, filled with babbling brooks, friendly animals, and people with smiles on their faces.

They don't know who you are, but they want to be your friend.

They don’t know who you are, but they want to be your friend.

Whether admiring the rolling, pastoral landscapes (the inspiration for many a masterpiece), or sleeping under the stars, anybody visiting this country is absolutely enthralled by how peaceful and safe it is.

We’re not going to this country. Instead, we’re going to…

aus

Tune in for the next several days as I map out my travels across the only country in the world that is living, breathing, and biting proof that whatever deity in charge has a venomous sense of humor.

The Devil His Due

It’s been a month. Since February 21st, I have gone surfing and camping, hiked through a volcanic valley, visited a neighborhood of Hobbits, spent more money than I care to admit on obviously essential items, and caught a seagull.

However, at this point in the process, we’ve settled into a routine. It’s almost like-dare I say it-we’re attending a university. We eat. We sleep. We watch The Walking Dead.

The parallels that can be drawn are painfully obvious.

The parallels that can be drawn are painfully obvious.

There was a mountain once. We wanted to visit that mountain. That mountain is now comprised of papers, notebooks, and coffee rather than the much more traditional stone and earth.

But hey, we did end up mucking around in a cave, so that’s pretty exciting. Let’s talk about that, shall we?

You know you’re in a tourist town when shops simply sell “New Zealand Related Items.” So, after purchasing our weight in postcards, shot glasses, and fridge magnets, we made our way to Waitomo caves. The name “Waitomo” can be roughly translated to “water running through a hole,” which is about as good of a description of our time there as it gets.

Oh, and there are stars, not millions of miles away, but meters away, glowing to attract mates, so that they can reproduce before their tragically short lifespans are over. The constellations are a lot less romantic when one realizes that Orion is totally trying to get it on with Libra. Chances are, Ursa Major is going to be talking about it on Monday. What a gossip.

"Come here often?"

“Come here often?”

As far as my own photography goes, I don’t have a whole lot, and what I do have is mostly dark video footage of me stumbling and cursing. So this account of the caves is a lot less “show” and a little more “tell.”

A weekend later, and we found ourselves at Hukanui Marae, a Maori encampment dedicated to maintaining tradition, and, occasionally, educating hapless international students about their culture. Suffice to say, there was singing involved.

This may very well have been "I'm a Little Teapot," for all we knew.

This may very well have been “I’m a Little Teapot,” for all we knew.

Anyway, the main event of the weekend was learning traditions such as the Poi, which would be a lot like hacky sack if the sack was on a length of rope, and the Haka, an intimidating war dance which was undercut by my scratchy voice, courtesy of a cold.

"Give him some time. Maybe coughing up blood is part of the act."

“Give him some time. Maybe coughing up blood is part of the act.”

Also, there was a meal about every hour or so. The Maori really know how to serve guests, and the food far outclassed the catering at the University, most of which is carbs, some of which is hard enough to be used as a weapon.

The traditional war potato is often overlooked by history.

The traditional war potato is often overlooked by history.

Despite What You’ve Been Told

There seems to have been some confusion as to the events that occurred between the 14th and 15th of March, 2015. Rest assured, I have decided to shed some light on the investigation of anomaly NZ-348, hereby referred to as, “The Everywhere Tree.” Some pictures may have been censored, to protect the identities of the people involved.

I inspected the picture on the unfortunately sparse dossier that I had been given. It looked so stupidly ordinary that I considered tossing it in the lake and calling it a day. Looking at the other occupants of the boat, it appeared that they were considering the same.

Investigator Parke, contemplating the choices that have led her up to this point.

Investigator Parke, contemplating the choices that have led her up to this point.

Continue reading

Everybody Wants To Rule the World

I’ve mentioned cows before in this blog, I’m sure of it. Furthermore, I can guarantee that a relatively significant portion of my pictures feature cows in some form or another. Now, this baffled me at first, because cows are also fairly common in Pennsylvania. I suspect that my fascination with new Zealand’s bovine population has something to do with how free the cows are. Free range cows, free range sheep, and free range exchange students, all in the same place.

This guy doesn't know how good he has it.

This guy doesn’t know how good he has it.

That being said, I suspected that some other members of my group weren’t as enthusiastic about the livestock, as Jay had just made his third statement of the day expressing his intentions to punch a dangerous animal in the face, in this case, a snake.

Watch out, Australia.

Watch out, Australia.

The point is, we were experiencing classic symptoms of wanderlust, or quite possibly bloodlust in Jay’s case. That was where the van came in, a dark green monstrosity with a bit of a squeak and a broken radio. But none of that mattered, because the van was freedom. The van was the power to be as free range as those cows, to drive whenever we wanted.

Just don't mention that you have a van to first years.

Just don’t mention that you have a van to first years.

Speaking of going out, you may be wondering why I haven’t mentioned anything about clubbing and Hamilton’s abundant and occasionally seedy night life. That’s mostly because there’s actually not a whole lot to tell. We went out. We danced a portion of the night away. We caught transport home aboard one of the shuttles that Hamilton occasionally decides to send us.

Pictured here.

Pictured here.

It’s probably worth noting that the main thing preventing us from painting the town red was the cost of being at the club. Essentially, every establishment in town accepts payment in cash, credit, sobriety, and dignity, in that order. Once you’ve been robbed of all of these things, there’s nothing left to do but cut your losses and head home, assuming that buses are still running and nobody’s puked on them yet.

For all of your late night lavatory needs.

For all of your late night lavatory needs.

Run Through the Jungle

Our first proper trip in New Zealand was an internationally sponsored trip to hobbiton, famed movie set and tourist hotspot. Unfortunately, we were unable to visit the nearby “tourist farm,” which I can only assume is a place where free range tourists breed while being fed a steady diet of overpriced fast food.

The Hawaiian shirts dot the countryside for miles.

The Hawaiian shirts dot the countryside for miles.

Indeed, on our travels, we ran into many novelty locations, the most egregious of which was possibly Corrugated Sheet Metal Land, where you’re welcomed by a giant dog and must proceed through a gauntlet of dead eyed metal animals before finally emerging on the other side, gasping for breath. You suspect that something changed when you were there, but you can’t put your finger on it. You consider bringing it up with your friends, and they consider the exact same thing, but nobody speaks. When night comes, you dream of a cat, a single cat, sitting on your windowsill, regarding you balefully. The cat is made out of metal, but you can see the twitch of a tail, and suddenly, in the blink of an eye, it’s at the foot of your bed. Yellow, corrugated eyes. Have you seen them before? Will you remember seeing them now? They tell you things that you’ve always known, but tried to forget. THE SHEEP ARE NOT WHAT THEY SEEM. THE SHEEP ARE-

Hm. Not sure what happened there. Anyway, back to Hobbiton.

Hobbiton itself was an oasis of green amongst fields of brown, trees both real and constructed swaying in the idyllic breeze. I wondered idly how the hobbit economy functioned as we wandered through the town. Did they have organized factories? Somehow, I suspected that hand crafting all of the tiny doors and windows would take a very long time.

I'm almost certain that someone on the Internet knows these things.

I’m almost certain that someone on the Internet knows these things.

Now, at this point, it becomes hard to talk about New Zealand as a group. Generally speaking, we’ve all done similar things and taken similar trips, but I imagine that our respective stories will deviate sharply from here on out. Hopefully, you’ll find my personal story to be sufficiently entertaining, at least until I go “missing” in the New Zealand wilderness, where I’ll be forced to build my own wifi tower out of cows and cow byproducts.

Ideally, somewhere around here.

Ideally, somewhere around here.

That being said, we did all manage to compromise and went off on a merry ride to Raglan on the country’s west coast. There, we partook in a water-based form of masochism the locals referred to as “surfing.” We received training in the proper way to ride a surfboard which was, generally speaking, more or less altered when a wave decided to come out of its watery resting place to gut punch one or more of us. After our collective sustained a crooked nose, a surfboard to the face, and an assortment of bruises, we limped home, deciding that we had had “fun,” a state quite possibly induced by one or more blows to the head.

Surfing. Not even once.

Surfing. Not even once.

Here Comes the Sun

Sometimes, I think that if I got off of the bus and started towards the nearest mountain range, I wouldn’t get 10 feet before running into some kind of painted on background. The landscape stretches on so far, it almost seems unreal.
Slightly more painfully real is the sun, free to slow roast us without the encumbrance of any silly ozone layer.

this jerk right here

this jerk right here

To make matters worse, it turns out that buying sunscreen in this country is the financial equivalent of buying gas in our country, in that it’s incredibly expensive and never seems to last as long as you’d like.

These were the lessons that we learned on the first few days at the university, in which we were subjected to a number of grueling endurance exercises euphemistically called “team bonding activities.” They increased our bonds with our new kiwi friends while simultaneously increasing our risk of skin cancer.

It was only at night that we were able to emerge from our holes, covered in a film of sweat, that we were able to roam the night, instilling terror in the general populace and buying all of the coat hangars from the local equivalent of Walmart.

Will the violence never end?

Will the violence never end?

Additionally, we all became acquainted with the residents of our buildings, all fresh out of high school with twinkles in their eyes, devoid of the thousand yard stare commonplace amongst anyone that has ever looked at a tuition bill. Naturally, this being a first year dorm, there was a disproportionate number of guitars to people, which I think is nice because guitars don’t complain when you run naked through the hallway. Still though, it was nice to be in the company of people that were just as unfamiliar with the university as we were.

The first weekend, the university was nice enough to shuttle us all off to a rugby game, which, before you ask, did not involve new Zealand’s famous all blacks.

Their uniforms were only mostly black.

Their uniforms were only mostly black.

That being said, the game proved enjoyable once I managed to figure out the ensuing flurry of violence.

You may be wondering at this point about all of the touristy activities that the kiwis secretly judge us for doing. Don’t worry, there’ll be plenty of that next time.

Soon.

Soon.