Monday, November 20, 2006

Oz Trip, Completion

Dave and I are now officially back from our trip around Australia. Between the time difference (3h) and the extended-holiday brainspace, we were both rather discombobulated for our first day back at work. Luckily, there was no drama at my work while I was gone, so I got to ease into being back. So far, so good.

Back to the holiday itself, lots has happened since my Airlie Beach / Whitsunday post. We headed onto the cruise, and it was splendid. It was a catamaran that sleeps 30, but just barely, so it was a bit tight. Luckily, the others on the boat were sufficiently amicable that this wasn't uncomfortable. Nonetheless, I'm still very glad Dave and I sprang the extra bucks for a private cabin.

By day, we would alternate between snorkelling and scuba diving. I'm glad I did both, because each is such a different, if not totally incorparable, experience. Snorkelling is physically exhausting, but requires little to no mental computations... meaning, more brain power can be used on actually observing the fish. Furthermore, it's harder to bump into people while snorkelling, and if you do, it's annoying rather than potentially life-threatening.

Scuba diving is entirely different. Because you are wholly submerged in water, moving around is much easier. All the equipment becomes totally weightless, and the slightest arm or leg movement moves you forward in an organic and graceful manner. While not physically demanding at all, the sheer notion of breathing underwater was one that my body, at first, rejected outright in the form of unadulterated panic. First, you must get over that, then you start noticing the increasingly unbearable sinus and ear pain. Then you have to control that properly. Then, once you're at a depth, you have to think and move AT ALL ANGLES -- left, right, up AND down -- which is wholly unnatural. Then you have to watch that your long flippers don't accidentally hit any coral and destroy hundreds of years of irreplaceable growth. Then your buddy glides by, nearly kicks you in the face with his flipper (and thus nearly dislodges the thing you BREATHE through!) but it's nobodys' fault, because it's tight to move around in, and chances are, you've probably nearly kicked him in the face, too.

Somewhere, in all this thinking, you're supposed to notice and appreciate your surroundings. It took a couple of dives before I really could. Luckily, towards the end, things were much better.

We saw sharks, turtles, Nemos, angelfish the size of dinner plates, parrotfish, massive tropical lobsters, giant clams... more than I could even name. The coral seemed much more beautiful in the Whitsunday edge of the Great Barrier Reef, and the fish certainly were more curious and friendly. Some of the big ones were a little TOO curious and friendly, though... on my last snorkel, I was fairly edgy about the deep channel I had to cross to get back to the boat. Now, you don't have to see "Open Water" to know that inter-reef deep channels can (and should!) be nervewracking. So here I am, making the best time I can back to the boat, and I breathe a big sigh of relief when I'm about a metre from the boat ladder.

Then I see a giant, black thing lurking in the shadows UNDER THE BOAT. Eep. Before I could make up my mind on what to do, it came close enough to tell that it was clearly some sort of fish, not a shark. All the same, it was probably the better part of 1.5m long, completely black (which is odd, considering all the bright colours in a reef), and structured exactly like any small fish you'd find on a restaurant plate. Overlarge eyes, puckered lips, almost round in shape from the side, and very narrow. And he was approaching me with the benign but persistent curiosity of pedestrians coming across a movie set barricade on their daily commute. Luckily, he stopped about 2 feet from me, and held his distance while I slowly went for the ladder. Meeting him was definitely a great experience, but man, was I ever happy to get out of the water!

So that was the reef. There's plenty more stories, but this post is already long enough. The boat also visited two unique beaches in the Whitsunday Islands. The first is known for having sand that is 99% silica... meaning, it is pure white, and as fine as sugar. The beach is shallow for a long, long ways, and because of its warmth, families of stingrays live there. Dave and I saw several beauties, including one that was asleep. We were able to get respectfully close and watch him awhile. It was magical.

The other beach was Finger Beach, so named because the beach itself juts out a distance from the island such that the ocean surrounds it on both sides. There I followed an unamused turtle as he swam in the nearby shallows. He was cute, if antisocial.

So needless to say, the boat trip was an immense success. It was the sole (but ample) redeeming factor of the township of Airlie Beach, or as I like to call it, "mega-attitude-toting obese bad-bleach-blond monoculturalized no-culture American-chain-food nickel-and-dime-ing tourist Hell".

If I hadn't been so grateful to leave Airlie Beach, I might have minded more when, upon arrival to Melbourne, the early-evening temperature was EIGHT FRIKKIN DEGREES. Waaah.

Flashback to Karla packing: "Hmm, I'm going to Australia in the early summer, so I won't be so silly as to pack any long pants!"

Again, waaah. Serves me right for forsaking my Winnipeg Folk Festival roots -- dress for all weather, no matter what. Anyhow, cold or not, Melbourne was worth the trip and then some. The city is stunning, the people are beautiful, there's no end of cultural events to take in, the fashion is sublime, and I haven't eaten so well so cheaply since my last visit to my beloved Montreal. Because of all this, Melbourne has become one of my new favourite cities.

We did some sightseeing, some partying, and on our last night, we saw a concert. It was a free "Make Poverty History" concert featuring some top acts, such as Eskimo Joe, Jet, Sarah Blasko, and even an appearance by U2. It was a great time, and an even better way to wrap up a fantastic holiday.

Ok, so enough of me blabbing. I've uploaded a few pictures here, and another perspective on the trip can be found in our good friend / travelling companion Tomas's blog. Enjoy!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Sad News

Before going into the details of the trip, I would like to share some sad news I received.

I just learned that a deep kinship spanning over a decade of my life is schedueled to end in May, 2007.

Since the age of 15, when life was much, much different than it is now, I fervently followed the lives and adventures of Francine and Katina in the series, "Strangers in Paradise". This internationally-recognized and wildly-acclaimed series has captivated the most diverse audience in the comic book industry. More impressive still is that it is written, drawn, and published by a single person.

The appeal isn't in superhero storylines or talking animals -- rather, it's in the realism of the subjects and characters. One girl struggles with weight, self-esteem, and bad luck with men, whereas her best friend is a loveably obnoxious artist recovering from alcoholism. A myriad of supporting characters rivals the full cast of The Simpsons in number, but in depth and heart, they are in a league of their own.

For more than a decade, we've grown together, we've laughed and cried together... and now, it is officially coming to an end. As of May, it will be no more.

Let us have a moment of silence for the girls, their friends and family, and all those that will miss them. I sure will.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Oz Trip Continued

Hello everyone!

Well, since the last post, Dave, Tomas and I have made our way to the northernmost territory of Australia, Queensland. But don't let the word "north" fool you -- down here, it's positively tropical. The three of us have had a perpetual sweat-sheen for the entire duration of our stay thus far... and it is WONDERFUL. It's a most welcome change to the "temperate" climes of New Zealand, or even our weekend in Sydney.

We landed in Cairns on Monday, and have since done rainforest trekking, swimming in pristine waterfalls, and of course, the majestic Great Barrier Reef. The Reef has been a goal of mine since the tender age of nine, when my father dragged me off to snorkel in Belize... it was so astounding, that once I learned there was an EVEN BIGGER reef to be experienced, I vowed to see it. And now I have! It was stunning, and a loooong post in and of itself. All I'll say in the meantime is that we all tried our hands at scuba diving... and it was incredible. Also very scary, alien, and immensely claustrophobic, but that's a part of the challenge. We went down to about 12 metres and saw the most amazing things. With luck, we will get to do it again soon.

Since Cairns, we took an overnight bus to the Whitsunday Islands, where we will soon be departing on a 3-day 3-night cruise in the somewhat lesser-travelled extension of the reef. After that, we're flying to Melbourne for some much-needed urban relief. (God bless nature and everything, but I could really use a mochaccino!!!) ;-)

Anyhow, I'm thinking of all of you, and big thanks on the comments -- miss you all tons! :-)

Saturday, November 04, 2006


Am sitting in the studio apartment of one Mr. Tomas Ernst in the King's Cross area of Sydney, Australia.

Last night Karla and I flew in from Wellington, saw the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. Both are beautiful.

It's been great catching up with Tomas as well. It's been a while--nearly a year!--but we picked up no problem and are having a great time. He's living the student life and loving it. His place is minutes from the water and downtown. He's got a nice set up here.

Today we went to the Sydney Aquarium and it was fantastic. There were all kinds of sharks, seals, a crocodile, penguins, and loads and loads of fish. It's one of the best I've seen--the tanks were massive, and you could walk into glass tunnels that made you feel you were right in the water. Not that you'd want to be. You should have seen the teeth on some of these sharks, even though none of them were man-eaters.

The difference between Wellington and Sydney is striking too. You really feel like the world is happening here in Sydney. The corporate headquarter skyscrapers are everywhere, and there is a real international buzz about the city. Wellington, while fantastic in so many ways, just isn't the metro that Sydney is.

Karla has been taking many many snaps, as usual. Will share as soon as we can.