Lebanon Valley College Study Abroad

Home Away From Homecoming

Maybe the Routeburn track, pass sealed with snow, would be inaccessible to us, but we were young and filled with hormones and misplaced energy, and we needed a challenge. After the initial disappointment with the track’s closure had worn off, complete with an afternoon of forlornly looking at the ground and a chorus of “aw, shucks,” we chose a worthy adversary: Mount Roy, a strapping young thing with sheep on its slopes and a stylish fringe of snow at the top.

More and more mountains are going grey early.

More and more mountains are going grey early.

So, intrepid adventurers that we were, we trekked downtown to rent a car to bring us there. Our eventual mode of transportation was a magnificent beast dubbed “El Cheapo” by the rental company. We had seen other iterations of this teal stallion rolling around town, but nevertheless, we were taken in by its litheness, occasionally functioning radio, and an adorable horn that sounded like a squeaky toy. Its license plate even said, “EWW.” Nevertheless, it transported us to the foot of Mount Roy without incident, a tiny, yappy terrier in the shadow of the various Saint Bernards of the parking lot.

To the surprise of absolutely nobody, we were unprepared even for this hike and ran out of water. I’m willing to admit that this may have been partially my fault.

To be fair, we did get free tickets to the ice bar for buying all of that soda.

To be fair, we did get free tickets to the ice bar for buying all of that soda.

Skilled survivalists that we were, we melted snow for water while continuing to subsist on the tried and true diet of peanut butter and jelly. This mountain was slightly less brutal than the last, with massive spiders and leeches traded for sheep dung and an old couple that embarrassed us by hiking really fast.

Fueled by prune juice and raw determination.

Fueled by prune juice and raw determination.

Still, we made it to the summit, scoffing at the smaller mountains around us and blanching at the much larger ones off in the distance, their peaks undoubtedly resounding with peals of laughter we could not hear. We were surrounded by a cradle of stone and ice, clouds drifting past us, or even below us. El Cheapo was a single greenish pixel far below, but it was a car, a man-made thing, not allowed to revel in this vastness that only exists at the top of the world.

Apparently, weather equipment gets a pass.

Apparently, weather equipment gets a pass.

The walk down was far more pleasant, the clouds clearing away to reveal the sunny, grassy trail beneath our feet. With sweaty clothing and broken hiking boots, we headed back to Queenstown. It was no alpine backpacking trail, but hey, it made for some good pictures.

We returned to Hamilton to find a school given new life. Returning students swapped hugs, stories, and, in some cases, spit. The break had left me drained, and two weeks of cheap fast food had made me resolve to improve my dietary habits. My room still had a shelf full of junk food, which made me sick just looking at it. I knew that I needed to get rid of all of that food if I was going to start down the path to a better lifestyle.

Naturally, I did this by eating all of it over the course of two days. Suck it, Dr. Oz.

I may have spent the last few weeks in a financial and occasionally literal free fall, but immediately after our return, LVC celebrated Dutchmen Day, a chance to forget about classes and enjoy inflatables, food, and… well, mostly just those things. Not to be deterred, we expatriates made our own Dutchmen Day. Gas station candy bars were our good food. And in place of inflatables, we went zorbing. For the uninitiated, zorbing is the practice of hurtling down a hill in a large beach ball filled with water. Naturally, the most entertaining variant on the “human pinball” formula is a track where an entire group can experience the ride simultaneously, in the same ball. In a confined space, this led to an afternoon of gurgled swearing, tangled limbs, and apologies for the unexpected and uncomfortable physical closeness.

Pictured: a plastic sphere of emotion.

Pictured: a plastic sphere of emotion.

So close but so far

I looked at my last blog post and realized that the last time I blogged was over a month ago! That month flew by, and I have done a lot since then.

To start off, I went on the organized day trip with my school to the caves of Roquefort, the Millau Viaduct, and Couvertoirade.  At the caves of Roquefort, we took a tour and learned how they make the “King of Cheeses.” At the end, we got to taste the cheese. I enjoyed it, but others claimed it smelled like feet. The Millau Viaduct is the tallest bridge in the world from top to bottom, which I did not know before going. I even looked it up afterward to make sure they weren’t fibbing.  Lastly, Couvertoirade is a fortified medieval city used by the Templars during the Crusades.  That day I also had some of the best food for lunch at a rest stop on the highway, which is not uncommon in Europe.  They have full cafeterias at highway rest stops!

Millau Viaduct

Millau Viaduct

roquefort

Roquefort cheese maturing in the caves

The next trip I took was with one of the girls in my program to The French Riviera for Easter weekend.  We stayed in Nice, but we also went to Monaco and Cannes.  All three cities were marvelous, and I felt like a movie star! This was the only trip that I wasn’t meeting another person at my final destination. My friend and I both went together, so it was nice to have a travel partner for once! The week after that trip, I had a cooking class in Montpellier with a French chef.  I was very nervous about it because we would be taught in French, and I didn’t know many cooking words in French.  It turns out that I should not have worried at all because I knew French the best out of the five people in the class.  Three of them had just arrived in France two days prior, and the other knew no French prior to his arrival a few weeks earlier.  The three who just arrived were culinary arts students.  It worked out perfectly because I didn’t know how to cook, but I could speak French, and the others knew how to cook, but couldn’t speak French. Together we figured it out.  This class was specifically for making pastries, and we got to take home our delicious desserts!

Me overlooking Nice

Me overlooking Nice

And now was the moment I had been waiting for the whole time I’ve been in France. I was about to embark on my 16 day vacation from school and my parents were coming! The first weekend of the vacation, I spent in Amsterdam with Kendra. Our main objective was to see the tulip fields and gardens, because that has been a life long dream of mine!!  They were beautiful even though the fields were not completely at their peak.  I felt like I was in heaven!

Keukenhof Gardens, Holland

Keukenhof Gardens, Holland

From Amsterdam I flew to London, where I spent six days.  Shortly after take-off on my flight, I got an amazing view of the tulip fields, and I quietly smiled to myself.  I arrived in London on a Sunday and my parents were not going to be there until Tuesday, so I stayed with my friend.  Before my parents came, we went to Bournemouth to visit his family and girlfriend, who I am also friends with.  From Bournemouth, we went to Portsmouth for the day where we learned all about the Royal Navy history and saw lots of cool, old battle ships.  Then we returned to London on Tuesday to meet my parents! It was the moment I could hardly wait for!! When I saw them, they looked so exhausted from their flight, but we still went out to sight-see for the day.  After that, my parents were beyond exhausted, but would be better adjusted to the time change.  It was so weird seeing my parents, after not seeing them for three months. I was in disbelief that they were right next to me!

H.M.S. Warrior, one of the cool battle ships I saw in Portsmouth.

H.M.S. Warrior, one of the cool battle ships I saw in Portsmouth.

On Friday, I left London with my parents our group tour around Europe for the next 10 days.  We took a bus to Dover, where we took the ferry across the English Channel, and then we took a bus the rest of the way around Europe.  After London, the tour went to Amsterdam, Cologne, Munich, Innsbruck, Venice, Florence, Pisa, Lucerne, and Paris.  It was a full 10 days, and I was so exhausted that I would not stay awake on the bus each day while travelling.  The people on the tour were from all over the world, and our tour guide was from Romania. She was very nice and had a good sense of humor about her crazy country.  By the end of the tour, there were many moments when my parents were really annoying me. I knew that was going to happen after travelling around for three months by myself, but I still couldn’t help but be a little impatient at times.  Those moments did not overshadow the good moments and many memories I made with my parents! It was their first time in Europe, and they saw an incredible amount of things during their trip! It really made the time go by really fast for me too.

Lunch in Venice, while my Dad is taking the picture.

Lunch in Venice, while my Dad is taking the picture.

The happiest moment of the vacation was on Saturday April 25 when my niece was born, my parents’ first grand child.  She came earlier than expected, and my parents were a little bummed out that they weren’t there for her birth. But, they got to go home the next day and still see her in the hospital.  Now that my niece is born, I am really antsy to go home and meet her! She’s making it a little difficult to wait patiently.

I am now 23 days out from coming home.  As friends studying abroad in other programs are starting to come home, and LVC is finishing up their semester, it is getting harder for me to sit here patiently to wait my turn.  Now I have a newborn niece at home too, who I cannot wait to meet. At this point, I am going to soak up all that I still can in France, and take my finals. Before I know it, I will be home!

Wait I can only pack 50 lbs?!

Only 10 days until I board a plane and start a new adventure in my life.  Thoughts are scrambling through my head, like how am I going to fit my life for 5 weeks in one suit?! Clothes, shoes and other odds and ends are going to be fitted into a suitcase like a can of sardines. Hopefully, I won’t find it too difficult to narrow all of my belongings down to 50 lbs. But stepping back from the little details about the trip to The Netherlands, I think about how truly blessed I am to be given this opportunity for a high-impact experience.

So in preparing for this trip, I am only really worried about one thing… packing enough clothes. If you know me, it is easy to say I like fashion. The thought of only packing one suitcase that is 50 lbs of clothes for 5 weeks is frightening. I am going to have to accept that I will be wearing the same outfit more than once while abroad. Although this sounds a little shallow, it is my main concern right now. I have a feeling once I’m over there and engulfed in the culture that I won’t even think twice about wearing the same clothes multiple times.

I spent most of my free time, which isn’t very much due to finals week, showering across Pinterest and the Internet. Looking for both tourist and “hidden” places in Europe, I am memorized by the simplistic beauty of each photo.  From the colorful houses in Italy to the hilltops of Greece, I couldn’t and still cannot truly decide where I want to do all of my traveling.

My friend and teammate, Brittany Fleisher, and I are staying for an extra week to do even more traveling. It is a little intimidating thinking about staying in hostel for a week. But then I think about the all of the once in the life experience and unforgettable memories I am going to have so it eases most of my worries!

Overall I’m most worried about the difficulty of the classes. I am so excited to travel, but I’m worried that I will forget that I am also there to take two classes. So it’s easy to say that I’m most excited just to travel and see as much as possible. With only five weeks, we aren’t going to be able to see everything in Europe. So we are going to have to sit down before we leave and prioritize what we really want to see. Brittany and I talked to the study aboard office and they gave us a lot of good tips and ideas of where to travel and how to get to these different places. I would recommend this step to anyone who is planning to go aboard.

Only 10 days till I take off from Philadelphia and start my adventure aboard with only 50 lbs along with me!!

Keep an eye out for my blogs once I’m over in The beautiful Netherlands!

 

Best Laid Plans

The weather outside was frightful, but the fire was less delightful and more calming. After all, what did we have to worry about? We had pockets full of fudge, a television full of movies, and backpacks full of food. The hostel’s couches were pleasantly spongy, and I sank into one immediately after returning from our walk around Queenstown. Soon after, Anchorman was playing on the television, and we had settled down to enjoy this college kid’s classic. My phone buzzed serenely with notifications, the hostel’s free wifi breathing life into a machine that had been dormant for days before. Perhaps we hadn’t experienced the highlights of our visit, but after more than a week of cavorting through Cairns, exploring the daylights out of any nature unfortunate enough to cross our path, it was pleasant to have a moment to sit and appreciate the little joys of life.

Granted, “sit and appreciate the little joys of life” was only blocked for about an hour on our itinerary, and shortly, we returned to our task of panicking about our hiking trip (already in progress).

Stand by for Sherpa acquisition.

Stand by for Sherpa acquisition.

I rounded up my two traveling companions, bringing them to my room and drawing their attention to the orderly array of food on the floor, bags of noodles and boxes of energy bars lined up in rows that would make a drill instructor blush. These were our rations for the hike, I explained. We would be splitting the food between the three of us, to even the load. I cast my eyes over the gear of the other two LVC students. One had a green hiking backpack, small, but respectable. The other had a school backpack, with what may have been a beaten up homework assignment peeking out of the top.

It was going to be a long night.

I rummaged through my bag, tossing aside dirty clothing to reveal the occasional useful item for surviving in the icy mountains. Were my companions well equipped for the hike? (they weren’t)

Rain poncho? Blank stares.
Cooking utensils? Blank stares.
A sleeping bag? I might as well have been waving a gold plated hiking stick at them.

At least they packed water bottles.

Refills not included.

Refills not included.

We took a trip to town to buy emergency ponchos and matches and called it a night. At this point, I was secretly wondering how much food I could carry in the event that one of them caught hypothermia and had to be left behind.

The next day, we found out that the snow that would have certainly caused discomfort at best and hospitalization at worse had prevented the trip entirely. Our trip had been canceled, leaving us adrift with a small stash of food. We were so down about the whole ordeal that we decided to jump into a canyon*.

*while attached to a rope

*while attached to a rope

It wasn’t just about the thrill of jumping for me. We had chosen the Nevis Bungy jump, which, according to any number of helpful brochures, was the highest in New Zealand, with 8.5 seconds of free fall. And personally, I really wanted to find out what I would think about in that vital 8.5 seconds. Would my life flash before my eyes? Would I have an epiphany, revealing some great truth about me? What, other than a stray bird, could possibly pass through my head during that fall?

Not a lot, as it turns out. It was less about thinking and more about feeling. The wind was the first thing that I felt, howling as I passed through it at a speed normally reserved for falling rocks. I also felt some kind of fear, not for my life, but for my GoPro, clenched as tightly in my hand as possible. The further I fell, the more my cognitive function returned to me, previously suspended to allow me to make the jump in the first place. I wondered how cold the stream water was and how close I would come to it.

Yeah, it was expensive, but I paid for an experience that I may never get another chance to have. And that’s what my trip is all about, really. The big things and the small things, coming together to make one huge amorphous thing that you can’t quite identify, but you’re glad to have in your life.

I could probably do without this particular thing, though.

I could probably do without this particular thing, though.

This concludes the Spring (actually Autumn) break post-a-thon. I’ll update again as soon as I find something neat to do.

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

#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

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.