Saturday, 25 December 2010

Christmas Catch Up!

Okaaaaaay...there's been a bit of slacking...but seeing as it's Boxing Day and Chris has fallen asleep in front of the cricket, I may as well recount all, or most of what we've been up to since Noosa over a month ago!?! Sorry folks, it's been a busy time, moving to Melbourne and getting settled I wasn't sure whether I could write this offline on WordPad and then copy n paste it to the blog: internet is still expensive, plus sometimes WordPad translates into complete gobbledygook when put into other programmes (bain of my life!)...

Anyhoo, where to start?! Well, from Noosa we went to Australia Zoo, which was fantastic. Just a really lovely zoo, not too big, with really natural enclosures and lots of interesting shows and info. Saw a show in the famous Crocoseum, where they bring out the big crocs and feed them, which was pretty spectacular. A very enjoyable day : ) Just such a shame that good old Steve is no longer around.
We then caught our last greyhound bus down to Brisbane, which was a much nicer city than we'd expected, but we only spent a day looking round as we were by then feeling the pinch of the pennies and still had our Uluru tour to pay for...which turned out to be another highlight, but more of that in a bit.
We then had another few days in Sydney, and used the time to visit the northern beaches, meet up with a friend from home who's living and working there, stay in an awful hostel (18 bed dorm anyone?!), and visit the Blue Mountains, which were stunning.
We then flew to Alice Springs and went with a company called Mulga's Tours on a 3 day 2 night tour of King's Canyon, The Olgas, and Uluru. We had a fantastic guide, a young guy called Greg, and a nice small group of about 24 people. On the long drive out we all had to go up to the front of the bus and introduce ourselves, regaling any funny travel stories that we had etc. in order to break the ice and get to know everyone. We also had paint pens to write our names on the windows next to our seats so you could remember everyone's names (VERY handy, especially when half the people on the tour were from Korea! None of them used their Korean names though, and as usual, they'd picked some pretty kooky Western names for "Bruce"....the mind boggles!)
So first stop was King's Canyon, which we'd never heard of or seen anything about, but it was absolutely spectacular. We did a great walk around the ridge of the canyon, then descended into the canyon to swim in a lagoon, which was much needed as it was really hot out there in the bush. However, as we had heard, the "red centre" was actually green, thanks to all the regular rainfall they'd been having every month over the past year. Where usually there is just red soil and sparse, scrubby brown grasses, we saw lush bushes, trees and wild flowers. Apparently even some of the Aboriginal elders had never seen the landscape so lush and abundant during their lifetime, so we were experiencing something very unique when we were there.
After our walk we went and collected firewood, which basically consisted of tramping off into the roadside bush and uprooting huge, dry dead trees, which was great fun! We then loaded up the trailer and went off to our campsite.
When we arrived, Greg got volunteers for the various tasks that needed to be done, and myself and a Kiwi girl said we didn't mind being in charge of what Greg had termed "handling meat"...little did we know that this was to be preparing and cooking a kangaroo tail. Hmmm...vegetarians may not wish to read on...
This really was a "unique" experience. It arrived in a plastic bag, severed from the main kangaroo (thank god!), and as Greg threw it to me in the darkness, many "interesting" ideas went through my mind as to what the HELL had just landed in my arms. It basically felt like a severed limb (which is what it IS) as it flopped about, and you could feel the bone throught the middle...seriously disturbing!!!
Greg then informed myself and Lucy (my Kiwi meat-handling companion) that we had to singe off the fur in the fire without letting the meat start to cook, then scrape off the singed fur with a knife without wrecking the skin. Right. Ok. The campfire was so hot that we fashioned ourselves some giant tongs out of tree branches, and got on with the fur removal. The tail stank enough as it was (think dead, wet dog if you will) but adding burnt fur into the equation was a joy! But we got pretty darn good at the singe/scrape/dangle-in-fire process, and prepared that thing up a treat. It was then wrapped in foil and cooked in hot coals by the side of the fire.
Turned out this WASN'T our main course, as we had feared, so we sat down to some chilli and rice (which Greg had cooked while we were all distracted by kangaroo limb encounters) and got to sample roast Kangaroo tail for pudding...which tasted like very fatty roast lamb. Apparently the hunter usually gets the tail as it's the best bit, which I suppose is because it's fatty meat on the bone, which when you're surviving out in the wild, would be the best kind of nutrition/energy food.
After all the excitement of dinner, and a few beers and marshmallows round the campfire, we all bedded down in our swags and slept under the stars, which was amazing. And our swags (along with cosy sleeping bags) were literally the most comfortable things ever: I don't think I've ever slept as well as I did in that swag! Although the fresh air, long walk, swimming, wood-collecting, trauma of kangaroo tail prep, and beer, may also have helped! The only precaution we had to take for sleeping in the wild Australian bush was to hide our shoes under our swags, as Dingoes seem to be partial to stealing them, though had a dingo gone near MY sweaty trainers, good luck to him!
The next day we went to The Olgas (which now also are called by their traditional name, but I can't currently remember it!) which are a range of round/lumpy rock formations that the Aboriginals considered to be heads. Again it was an absolutely stunning landscape to walk through and around, which we did for about 4 hours in the heat, but totally worth the effort. The views were just unbelievable, with the red rocks, the pure blue sky and the lush greens and reds of the bush. Like the Canyon, it was such a peaceful place, where you were just totally surrounded by nature: the sky in particular just seemed SO huge, without a cloud, just this beautiful intense blue- wonderful!
And then finally, off we went to see Uluru, which felt so much more in context because we'd seen the surrounding landscape and rock formations. And who knew that what Uluru is, is the tip of a much larger rock that got up-ended fell head first into the earth when there were earthquakes/shifts, so that 90% of the rock is under the earth, and Uluru is the remaining part?!!! Well, I certainly didn't know that! AND, who knew that Uluru is actually sandstone, so is naturally a sandy creamy colour, like the buildings in Edinburgh, but the iron content in the surrounding soil has stuck to it over time and has turned it red???!!! So in a way, Uluru is rusty!!! Crazy stuff : )
It was very exciting to see Uluru up close, and also quite surreal- like it always is when you finally see a famous landmark and have to pinch yourself that you're actually there! We learned a lot about it, and what it means to the Aboriginals from our guide, and walked around the base, where at points you couldn't take photos as it was a sacred area. We ate dinner at sunset, watching the rock change colour (along with about 200 other tourists!), then were up at 4.30am the next day to watch the sunrise over it, which was spectacular, and much quieter!
So all in all it was an amazing trip, and we met some really lovely people which made it even better. Plus the sun was shining the whole time : )

Then it was off to Melbourne, where we have now been for nearly a month. We've found a lovely houseshare with another couple, in a suburb called Brunswick, which is north of the city centre. We have trams and trains nearby to get us into the city, which takes about 20 mins/half an hour, and all the houses round here are very quaint and pretty, with ornate trellisses and rose gardens out the front. The area quite reminds us of an old American city, with all the overhead tram cables and wooden pylons. People had told us that Melbourne is quite European in its look and feel, especially compared to Sydney, but I don't think I totally agree: they both feel like a mixture of American and European, much like the Australian culture and attitudes.
The weather here is pretty baffling too: bright sunshine one moment, pissing with torrential rain the next, and then back to sunshine again, leaving you soaked and bewildered! You have to leave the house prepared for all eventualities, all tempertaures, and everything that the Aussies themselves can throw at you!
They really are a rowdy bunch these Aussies, and one does often feel like a prudish Brit who would appreciate a few good manners and some decent customer service! Our native pal Vanessa has explained that the Aussie way of being "polite" and friendly is to treat you like an old friend or part of the family, which means casually/ me this translates to treating you like crap! I've had a LOT of bad service, unhelpful "help", and a man who told me I had to pay him to accept my CV in his crumby little shop.
No luck on the job front for me so far, which is really frustrating, but Chris is doing really well with his nursing, so that's really great. It seems that Aussies aren't willing to actually give any work to someone on a working holiday visa, because they know you won't stay long, which totally negates the purpose of bothering to pay for one in the first place! Unless of course you want to live in the middle of nowhere and break your spine picking it's really just a "slave labour holiday visa" so they can get their harvests in! They even try and bribe you by saying that if you do at least 3 months of this badly paid hell, then you can stay another year here on a 2nd working holiday, no thanks!
So, as you can probably tell, the Australian experience has its ups and downs, but I guess that's why you go travelling: to find out about other places, cultures and people, and decide where you may wish to go back to one day, and where you've seen quite enough of thank you very much!