Savo(u)r the World

“This is the time to travel, when you’re young,” said the guy on the chairlift at Coronet Peak. And Jackie, my host mom at the chestnut farm. And the creepy hipster man who owned the hostel in Sydney. If I had a plane ticket for every time someone said this to me in the past few months, I would’ve probably continued to travel the globe beyond last Thursday.

But with all of the hubbub about traveling young, I think we forget that if we truly love seeing the world, scared or not, broke or not, married or not, you can go at any age if it is really in your heart of hearts. How, you ask? Is that even a question? My literal answer is to go to Google, Reddit, the library, or to the 21st century in general for sources of how to travel through many circumstances. In the end you just have to want it. It doesn’t need to be extravagant or well planned. It doesn’t even need to be in a new country. Just seeing a new anything up north can bring the smallest bit of enlightenment to the “young” and the restless, or more considerably the souls who crave to be out of their comfort zone.
I think what the skier, host mom, creepy hostel hipster, and many others were referring to when they said “young” is the category of travelers forgoing real world responsibilities/those who can get shitty at the club without being classified as creepy/sad/elderly, or perhaps just those in the 18-30 age bracket. Obviously “young” is the time to go, because at fresh ages most of us don’t have dependents and/or a significant other, or at least not a very serious one. I find the “You should travel when you are young” quote to be frankly terrifying, because it makes me think I’m destined to be a hermit or something when I’m not considered young anymore. It makes me wonder why I wouldn’t keep traveling past this stage of life. Sure, hopping a plane later may mean using up a thing called vacation days, and going now allows me to lose any expectations of my post-adventure bank account, but no matter what age the wanderlust, I believe its important to travel throughout life, because it triggers realizations that we would never realize at home.

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My short and sweet journey

From May 31st until July 16th, I traveled to the north and south Island of New Zealand and the east side of Australia. I had been to this side of the world two years before, but my previous experience and familiarity with these countries convinced me to return and explore some more. While there is always exhilaration and uncertainty when traveling somewhere new, I liked having the added perk of knowing a few faces in the places I planned to visit, and more importantly the rare and incredible feeling of reuniting with those who had defined that brief, unexplainable dimension of my life during study abroad in 2013.
This time around, I was able to cross quite a few things off my bucket list. Some of these experiences awaited without my knowing, like eating a Fergburger in Queenstown, which I quickly added to and ticked off the list (twice) in the week I was there. The others, skiing in New Zealand, completing the Sydney Harbour Bridge climb, cruising Milford sound (with GERMANS, added bonus), and hiking the Blue Mountains were all checked off with long anticipated satisfaction. It wasn’t just these occurrences that were exhilarating, it was the fact that I did this for myself and by myself. I’ve been blessed with a life where I have been encouraged to explore with few limits. Having just graduated, I embraced this trip with zero lingering homework assignments, test dates, GPA calculations or work obligations. All I was there to do was fuck shit up and hope that I would wake up with a minimal headache the next day to do it all over again. It’s probably been the most liberating thing I’ve ever done.

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Of course, unlike what the Instagram pictures, hashtags, filters and smiles show, it wasn’t completely glamorous and exotic. The process of traveling alone becomes infused with mixed emotions. A few things happened whilst abroad that were out of my control. I didn’t know you could book a hop on hop off tour throughout New Zealand until I got there, and my timeframe didn’t really allow me to take advantage of that when I finally looked it up. I didn’t predict that there would be sharks lurking around Wategos bay in Australia, which would cancel my only time to really surf. I didn’t really enjoy the feeling of being on a quiet bus for six hours whenever I trekked to a new Kiwi town as I spontaneously planned my trip along the way. Obviously I got to see parts of the country that not many have, and I openly take pride in the fact that I ventured through the En Zed in the least touristy way possible, but certainly there were moments where I felt lonely.

I think the hardest part for me was like many people on this planet, I am hard on myself, and so I had to be careful about not second guessing or regretting any decisions I made as I went. Obviously if I had had a companion with me, collaborating would have changed things up a bit or a new route would have ensued. But on my own, I met people from all over who were on their own endeavors, either working for the long-term or traveling just like myself. I expected it to be easy to travel with them along the way, but found that my trip was much quicker than anyone else’s. And it was winter, so there were fewer travelers in general. That was a little disconcerting. Then again on the silver lining light of it all, I learned how to be more independent, and this is cheesy, but I learned how to be my own best friend. Let’s just say Beyoncé’s “My, Myself, and I” was perpetually stuck in my head.

Aside from that, I wouldn’t change a thing about this journey, and I am incredibly thankful for my exceptional time in Oceania. I cruised, snorkeled, shopped, ate, hiked, ate, drank, ate, and wwoofed in some of the most beautiful places on the planet. I just have the bug now, people. I have a new list of places I need to go that people I met along the way told me to check out. Apparently venturing through Asia is easy enough, so that’s going down (I just don’t know when yet). More of Europe is obviously a must. Ahhh, the desire to keep going never settles. Ever. And thank God for that.

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I’ll Be On the Next Flight

Cheers to a year since I left for study abroad. I’d say life feels a bit different since the experience. I can’t pinpoint what exactly has changed, but what I do know that I can feel it. I mean, frankly, my 20-year-old self most likely felt the effects in my liver, which breathed a sigh of relief when I landed back on American soil. But I guess there some “deep” and “meaningful” repercussions too…

If I remember right, the humid cold in Minnesota was at a solid -20 degrees, and I was so ready to get away from it. Still, my haphazardly packed suitcases exemplified my procrastination to pack for a five-month excursion. I got my shit together in time to meet the plane on February 13th to land in Oz on the 15th, happily deeming Valentine’s Day 2013 as nonexistent (good riddance).

And so from there the adventure began. I’ll admit it; I was pretty lost and overwhelmed at first. I needed time to understand the flow of Mayur’s accent, embrace Sam’s shameless efforts of being incredibly seedy, and become accustomed to all of the random “sausage sizzle” days that the campus dished out to students. Needless to say, I embraced these things and many other “normalcies” very quickly.

On the trek across the Pacific Ocean to Brisbane that February, I made quite a few predictions of what the experience might entail; cookie cutter ideas like surfing a bunch, attempting the accent, and obviously having a few pints. These predictions were cute, and maybe a third of them came true. We all know the pints did.

Instead, I found myself submerged in a life with few worries and a whole cluster of hilarious and incomparable happenings. Slowly but surely I formed a family of crazy Aussies and internationals who each carried a completely unparalleled personality in their wake. If you had told me that I would be jumping into oceans at 3:00 am with Germans, climbing volcanoes in New Zealand, and partying with the hood rats of Education City for five months straight, my clueless self on that initial Virgin Australia flight would have been a little less sleep deprived and a bit more awake.

But actually, I’ve managed to take a few deeper things from my time down under. Intangible things.  Living abroad for an extensive period of time presents situations where you have to decide if your weaknesses will hold you back or not. Among all of the experiences I had, that may be the biggest lesson I learned…besides learning how to hold my whiskey.

I think of everyone who took part in my journey frequently because you all had such a unique impact on me that still has ripple effects today. I cannot wait to see all of you again so that we can continue where we left off, because God knows my housemates miss the smell of burned toast, and I miss cheersing at happy hour on those warm Australian afternoons.

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Until Next Time

Sometimes I found myself wondering in Australia, how did I end up here? But then I knew: I opened an email from our lovely study abroad department telling me I had not been accepted to study direct exchange to South Africa. That was a blow to the confidence in more ways than one, but we won’t get into that because frankly, that is the past, and there isn’t much more to be said about it.

Australia happened pretty quickly after that, paperwork wise. And then of course I played the waiting game for a portion of the ripe new year before Virgin Australia swept me away. Somehow from that point on, time got away from me…and now it’s July…and time to say farewell to my new crazy and tantalizingly original Australian family. You know who you are because you most likely live in Education City, where absolutely zero education has ever happened. Either that or you have danced once or twice on my kitchen table. Either way, saying good-bye to all of you has been such an ominous challenge. To say that I was in denial as I packed up my room would be a complete understatement, as these five months flew by faster than I had ever imagined. How does time do that? It kind of makes me want to kick a clock across the room and throw a fit like a five-year old.

Because Australia is another home to me now. I have my staple daily running routes. I make sure to always have my key handy because Selina constantly forgets hers. I know which grocery store is cheaper, even though Aldi seems like so much more of a hike. Heck, I’ve driven a car on the wrong side of the road to the point where it’s going to be weird switching back to the other. Obviously five months has given me a chance to not just study abroad, but to embrace a new lifestyle.

So in this short little tearful blog post, I just wanted to say completely and genuinely: Cheers. To all of my yardy-goers, tour guides, bartenders, and new best mates, I wouldn’t change anything about my unbelievable study abroad adventure. This was a completely unexpected and epically memorable experience. Thank you for that.

Until next time, Australia

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Partay

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21st

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TOGA

Sing Me Some Opera

After a plane and two trains, I had officially arrived in Sydney. I made the final trek to Ryan and Honor’s apartment in a nice little suburb just outside of the city. It was getting late and the rain was really starting to downpour, soaking my backpack and rainbow tie-dye duffel bag (clearly purchased in Byron Bay). I made it to their place without completely drowning and gratefully downed a delicious pasta dinner and citrus-y custard dessert, while simultaneously getting to know the awesome couple who were taking me in for a night before I raced the next morning.

This next step was a stressful and exhausting endeavor as both Ryan and Honor helped me try to piece together the puzzle of Sydney public transport to the race location. Little did I know that it was located way out in the boondocks of New South Wales, so not really near Sydney at all? Oops.

I hadn’t thought much about ‘focusing’ for this race as I usually do, I had been too preoccupied with the damn transport and how much money I was willing to sacrifice for that. The level at this point that I cared was this: I had more or less been training for the race. I didn’t have a finishing goal in mind though I wasn’t worried that I wouldn’t be able to do it. All it is is running, you get into a rhythm and fight until you see the finish line, where you fight harder until you cross it and hope you aren’t too sore the next day. There was nothing I needed to prove, so why was I doing this again?

After Honor and I attacked the transport website once more, we found a way for me to get there. It was way past my bedtime at that point. I reluctantly set my phone for 4:30 am and sank into the comfiest bed I had slept in in a while, extremely relaxed yet not looking forward to how short-lived that sleep was going to be.

Public transport got me there, but not exactly in time. It was a sprint to the train station and then two train rides, an accidental exit onto one stop, a significant wait until the next train, and then a final taxi ride which brought me to a park still 800 meters away from the racing site.

I walked up to the registration table to collect my racing bib forty-five minutes late. I was in a mood similar to one I had been in when I was increasingly jetlagged way back in February. I was just laughing at the situation at that point. I figured that although that race had departed, I could wait for a bit and do the 10k instead.

“Hey so I’m really late for the half-marathon…can I still do the 10k?” I asked.

“Definitely!” said the nice race lady, “It starts in five minutes.”

Easy. I threw my bag over to the tarp area and reset my watch, looked down at what I was wearing and shrugged. I was still basically in my pajamas. I found myself surrounded by runners having warmed up, jogging in place and doing last minute stretches in their skimpy trainers. At that point I was just lucky if my shoes were tied. I guess even that was a lost cause seeing as I had been running in them since November and they were at the point where my socks were starting to poke out of the sides, laces barely attached.

The gun fired and the rest is history. I ran hard and beat quite a few towards the end, happy that kilometer markers come and go faster than mile markers do. Once I was done I chugged some water, jogged a bit for a cool down and asked a nice family where the bus stop was, but they offered to just take me straight to the train station. Score! As fast as I had arrived to the race I seemed to be leaving, but I was just happy that the whole ordeal was over with, and that I would really enjoy Sydney from that point on.

Honor, Ryan, and I shared some banana pancakes and then they showed me around the city before dropping me at my hostel. I said farewell to my hosts that took me in for my first night and then set up camp at the Original Backpackers hostel, where I met two English fellows who would be my buddies for the next few days.

That Monday was all about the Sydney Opera House. I came upon this sucker earlier that morning when I was running. When I found it, I pretty much stopped in my tracks. It was just one of those cool moments when you see something you have always learned about or seen pictures of your whole life, so actually looking at it in real time was incredible.

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That night: karaoke at the Irish pub down the street. Maybe too much karaoke? R. Kelly probably cringed in his sleep last Monday night as Lewis and I belted out ignition.

Tuesday brought better weather and more navigation of Sydney and the surrounding area. We went out on the town again that night which ended with a stumble back to the hostel. Dani starting heading to her own hostel, though I believe we were all hesitant to let her walk alone. From what I can recall, she and the other Englishman Michael were debating whether she was strong enough to handle the trek on her own. So what better way for her to prove her case than to deck him in the face? That’s right, the Englishman was decked by a lady yank (in the friendliest context of course).

This of course was all recalled the next day as we set off to the markets and Chinatown for some shopping and more exploration of the city. Michael turned to me and showed me his fat lip, and then some swelling in his cheek where I guess I decided to give him a good swing as well. Case in point, watch out for “lady yanks” late at night on the streets of Sydney, guys.

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 Although we roughed them up, they still let us have a picture

We said farewell to our awesome to friends later that afternoon, and then enjoyed a nap, laksa, and an unbelievable show put on by the Cuban Ballet entitled “Ballet Revolucion”. This show featured dances to popular hits with a Cuban twist, and some added pointe shoes.

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My last day in this spectacular place consisted of some thrifting and then a scenic ferry ride of the surrounding harbor.

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We then watched a kid street perform with some drumsticks and some paint buckets, and then some old geezers get crazy competitive at a game of life-size chess.

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The last portion of my holidays was spent in the Gold Coast with none other than the fabulous Kate Webb. I bunked with her and her family (minus Ryan, who is her brother,  and Honor who were still in Sydney). Emily, also an Aussie studying in Bozeman, and Kate and I grabbed lunch as well. It was an awesome time hanging out with my good friends from Montana, although it was a little surreal catching up with them in their element so far away from home. Another lesson in how small the world actually is! And reminds me of how many connections I have if I ever decide to drop everything and become a globe trotter, which is pretty likely.

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Some Superman Man of Steel, Max Renner Chocolate shop, and time with Kate’s precious nephew Talan occurred in the GC, and now today I head off to Springfield again one last time.

Hooroo! (I think that means good-bye in bogan speak, though every other Australian I meet besides Selina tells me that no one actually says that)

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New Zealand in a Nutshell

Auckland: Autumn leaves. One-dollar sushi. Many pictures of fountains and obscure trees with Courtney’s professional camera, all on two hours of sleep that were very brokenly spent on the plane ride crossing the Tasman Sea.

 Welcome to Middle Earth

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Things became a bit more coherent once Christina and Ashley arrived, and we were all able to settle into Alex’s apartment before heading to the Chocolate Boutique with his friend Tom. So begins a list of events occurring when four Americans studying in Australia come together with two other Americans likewise studying in Auckland, New Zealand.

10. Said Chocolate Boutique

I was questioning the worth of the trek we were making when we set out into the nighttime rain and up a steep hill towards the chocolate café. But once we walked into the joint, I instantly became giddy surrounded by one of my many loves in life: chocolate. The shelves were stocked with the stuff among other tasty souvenirs adorning the walls. I became exceedingly overwhelmed once I opened the menu and my indecisiveness overtook me once again. This is an excessive description, and it’s going to continue, ya’ll.

I don’t know how we did it, but Ashley and I chose the sticky date chocolate pudding to share along with our sides of hazelnut latte and cookies and cream milkshake. A few of the other mouth-watering choices we made….

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Chocolate boutique shake

The exhaustion I felt vanished. You can image why. Needless to say, it was a great first meal of sugar with the group I was about to road trip with for the next four days.

9. A Hostel of Sorts

We came by this quaint little hostel in a town called Rotorua. By far the best hostel I’ve ever been to, but that’s because I go for cheap. Nick from St. Louis, MO greeted us at the front desk and showed us to our room where the beds had fluffy comforters and each of our pillows was garnished with a piece of chocolate. More chocolate! You took your shoes off before entering the main kitchen that had containers for recycling everything and a bucket for composting, The living room had a fire place good for sitting around and enjoying Tim Tam slams whilst playing chess or charades. I felt like I was at a bed and breakfast. Better yet, the colder season made it a quieter place to be and therefore a place just for us, and Sascha the German. More Germans!

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8. Germans. What can I say.

Sascha was a man of few words, but each one was very kind. He caught a ride with us to the Lady Knox Geyser and Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, then the small town of Taupo where we said our good-byes to the fellow. It was then in a small and somewhat stingy internet café that we all emailed our families to let them know we were alive and well, and I received news of the gender of my sister’s baby. It’s a girl! I let out a whoop and a group of Indians next to us gave me a weird look. If only they knew of the future little half-Dane about to enter the world. Alright now back to New Zealand.

7. Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Wonderland

And wonderfully thermal it was. This included a few different walking loops around various sulfur pools and mini geysers, all smelling great. I felt a little in my element having taken too many chemistry courses and nerdily wondering the chemical make up of the different pools, though. Obviously, lots of Sulfur.

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6. Ragitoto Island Volcano Hike

Rewind back to the second day of our travels in New Zealand. Us ‘Australians’ took the ferry to Ragitoto Island to hike the volcano. It’s last eruption being 600 years ago and another one not due for quite sometime, we felt pretty confident as we headed up towards the crater. It was completely overgrown with trees and greenery. We then found some caves to crawl through. Claustrophobics were not welcomed.

IMG_0116Lovely Ferry Ride

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volcano hike markLeaving my mark on the way up.

It's gonna blow!!

Watch out..it’s gonna blow!!

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The cave we emerged from.

5. JUCY Lucy

No, not the decedent burger stuffed with bleu cheese. This Jucy Lucy was our rental van that hauled us around everywhere. Basically it was a good laugh because of the looks we got from the locals, but it was so worth it. I got to drive this sucker around during rush hour on our way back to the airport, where we got lost and had turn back and make Alex and Tom drive us there instead.

This was surprisingly the only major problem that occurred on our travels. Looking back, I think that was pretty lucky, although we already had an intelligible group to start with which therefore brought few downturns in general. Right guys? (insert nervous laugh here…)

I have learned that sometimes everything that can go wrong, will. In that case, it’s ok to ask for help, or in our instance, interrupt Tom and Alex’s post road trip grocery shopping to come and deliver us to the airport. What can I say; we just couldn’t seem to say good-bye.

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Our Jucy Minivan

4. Hot Springs

I got a little taste of Montana in Taupo. After a bungee jumping excursion that I’ll explain soon, we rocked up to this hot spring to boil in the relaxing water. About five feet away from the hot spring waterfall, the water turned freezing and was amazing for icing my legs. All of this impromptu half-marathon training has them wiggin’ out!

3. Hobbits Spotted.

Thank goodness the Alexander family had a remote farm in the middle of New Zealand with no modernized objects to ruin the view. That is what Peter Jackson probably thought as he spotted their farm, whilst on a helicopter quest to find the perfect Shire for the LOTR Trilogy. Hobbiton is the film set where Hobbits once roamed. Now tourists like me can walk the paths where Gandalf and Frodo rode in the buggy, and where Sam, his wife, and his daughter were reunited (in slo-mo) in the third installment.

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So Quaint!

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The Green Dragon Pub

2.5. Cat.

I found a cat in the Shire and it was delightful.

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Didn't expect him to jumpWhoops

2. Decisions, decisions.

Courtney had reigns of the Jucy van and I had shotgun. We saw the sign, pondered for maybe five seconds, and turned around to head towards the 150 foot drop awaiting us. The two guys strapped us in and we were good to go, Courtney going first.

“1, 2, 3, Bungee!”

“So I just put my arms up and go?”

“No, you put your arms up and don’t go.”

The noise Courtney made as she jumped down was accentuated by the excellent shot of birds furiously flapping away from the area. That made me laugh a little bit but mostly shake a bit more in my harness.

“Do you know what this song is called?” the bungee guy asked me as he turned up the stereo.

“Nope!” Even if I did I was shaking too much to think of the name.

He checked my harness one more time and then enlightened me, “North American Scum.”

Gotta love Kiwis.

I then looked over the edge and died a little inside, and then jumped.

The next thing I know my head is being dunked underwater after a flash of a free fall. Then the raft people came and took me away. I was exceedingly high on life by that point and so I don’t know if I gave them coherent answers when they asked where I was from, and when the lady asked me to raise my hips, I literally raised everything but. I asked her if she heard a lot of strange noises from people jumping down. “Oooh yeah,” she said. Moral of the story, bungee jumping is always best done when it occurs from a split second decision. Who cares what sort of sounds you make or which swear words you let loose, or how many birds you scare away in the process. None of it matters, so just let yourself go and jump!

High on Lyfe

High on Lyfe…After the Fall

1. Good Company

I know what you are thinking: the title of this last list component is very heartwarming, ain’t it? Friends. Awww. But in all seriousness, it takes a specific mix of certain personalities to make a road trip this epic. There isn’t much explaining to do here because most of the memories we made fail to be clarified to the general public. Like when the Shakira song came on and Fergie was confidently namedropped. Or when Spa Road was read as Spard. Or when we all had the mutual realization that Tom strangely resembles a blonde Nicholas Cage, which then spurred a good laugh about Nick Cage in general. We love you, Dad.

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It also worked out that we all had appetites. Some of our best meals were made right in Alex’s apartment, where our menus ranged from chicken fajitas, breakfast burritos, and our last family meal of stuffed French toast breakfast.

before picI call this…the “before” picture.

AfterAaand after. Food comas not pictured.

It was a sick journey to say the least, and I would love nothing more than to revisit New Zealand, maybe the south island, to do some WWOOFing or backpacking. For future reference ya’ll: throw in some snow-capped mountains, a map, some preferably newer running shoes, a breakfast burrito and some good company, and I’ll be a very, very happy traveler.

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Ocean Views and Running Shoes (and too many other things to fit into this title)

Due to my excellent skills at procrastination, tickets for Sydney were hella expensive when I came around to browsing them. I think that will have to be an adventure for the month of June, perhaps after finals are over. Then I can fully embrace the “New York” of Australia without any assignments pestering me from the back burner in my mind. Plus, I see a half-marathon in my midst, and what’s a better way to run 13 miles than to circle the Opera House a few times? Oh the joys of compromising with myself.

We instead embarked out to Byron Bay to occupy the second week of our excessive two-week Easter break. Byron exemplifies a complete surfer, hippie style town where shoes are optional and your gelato may or may not be laced with a few special ingredients. The beach has pillowy white sand with countless little seashell treasures (At the souvenir rate I’m going, these may be all I got for my promised and favorite Americans…kidding) Twas the perfect venue for some kick ass morning beach runs.

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It’s a peaceful and surreal setting of vast ocean views, where the coast hooks around the eastern most point of Australia. Our first encounter with notable wildlife (besides the GBR) happened here when a rock wallaby leapt past us as we gazed out this lookout point:

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           The Most Easternly Point of Australia!

Like many beach getaways up the eastern coast, this place was a backpacker’s oasis with the added originality of small town flare. Our arrival day consisted of being distracted by tacos and beer. This made the hostel-search a little challenging late in the day. We found another Nomads, which seemed to be excessively classier than the one in Cairns, but it added to the list of booked no-goes. Finally, we came upon Main Beach Backpacker’s and another hostel experience was born.

We walked into our 16-bed hostel room to be greeted by a mix of Swedish and Canadian backpackers. They were playing cards and relaxing after what looked like an exhausting day of surfing and living the life. Although I don’t smoke myself, I take it from those who do smoke that it’s a solid way to meet new people. All you simply do is ask for a light and boom, you have the entry for a random conversation. I lack this strategy at striking up conversations, slash I’m already significantly awkward in general. Instead I befriended the batch of Europeans and Canadians in the only way I had left: Egyptian rat slap (or Egyptian rat screw, slap that, Orph, or whatever else is it is referred to in this crazy world). Card games and beer go together well when it starts to drizzle outside…until in true Australian fashion we went out on the town anyways. I am beginning to realize that there are few breaks from the celebratory culture of Australians and backpackers alike…

Byron Bay is also where we met Julian. An enormously friendly and carefree soul, Julian is a backpacker from Germany who we caught in the middle of his adventures. He had been surfing in multiple places on his tour up the east coast of Australia, where he planned to continue on to Hawaii and beyond. Long story short, we didn’t share a proper good-bye to our new friend as we rushed out of the hostel, which was a bummer. But more about this in a bit.

Dani and I then finished our break off by venturing to the mysterious Toowoomba campus of USQ (where we originally enrolled for study abroad until we found out it was significantly far from the city). We were there to celebrate our friend Courtney’s 21st birthday, which involved a night out in the very unique small town of Toowoomba. My mind scans over that night and hold on, yep, it involved many free drinks, a very small 80-year-old man in a letter jacket dancing like a boss, too many fog machines, and some other various clubbers in wigs and 80’s exercise gear. Make of that what you can.

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We then ended the illustrious night with none other than my first Tim Tam slam: chomping off two corners of a Tim Tam and using it as a chocolate straw to drink hot water or milk. Note to self: buy another suitcase to fill with Tim Tams before I go home, because they are incredible.

The next weekend some friends and I hit up an NRL game in Brisbane. The National Rugby League and Rugby Union are very popular in Australia, with significantly less if any padding on the athletes as there is in American football. Basically it’s a great view of very meaty and ripped men, to the point where you are in awe but also a little terrified if they get too close.

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           This wasn’t even the team we were cheering for, but this picture had to be taken.

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The rules vary between League and Union. Every Australian you meet will have a strong opinion on which one is better, and I mean strong as in don’t get them started. There is also the Australian Football League, but I honestly have no clue what the rule difference is for that on either so I won’t get into it. The game was a refreshing experience though and definitely made me miss going to sporting events. It was also short and sweet, to the point when everyone was getting up to leave, I honestly thought it was half time. I guess that’s another way to decipher between Australian rugby and American football, that you’ll be home and sober a few hours earlier after a Rugby game (or Dad’s football naps would be significantly shorter).

That Monday brought our friend Sam’s 21st birthday. We got some pizza and drinks (go figure) and headed up to Mt. Coot-Tha. This place has a brilliant view of the city, it kind of reminds of looking out over Bozeman from the top of the M.

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Jumping ahead to the 25th of April. I celebrated ANZAC (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps) Day, a holiday equivalent to our Memorial Day. We (Steph and her friend Andrew and I) woke up at 2:00 am and traveled to the city for the dawn service. We then got some pancakes, took a nap on South Bank near the lagoon, and watched the ANZAC Day parade.

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           The Parade

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ANZAC Memorial Square

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We finished the morning/early afternoon with some drinks in an exclusive underground bar in the city. Steph’s family friend Adam has served alongside her Dad and was wearing an impressive amount of medals on his uniform. Following Adam, it was one of those “They’re with me” moments and boom, we were all granted entry into the pub with other ANZAC Day elites. I felt special but also out of place, considering that I only learned of ANZAC Day a few days before Steph invited me. In the end it was a very cool experience, especially from the American point-of-view.

Now time to rewind again, remember Julian who I mentioned from Byron Bay? Well about a week after break ended, I got a message from King Julian himself in a complete frenzy. He asked if he could rock up on his way through Brisbane, as all of his couch-surfing and hostel opportunities fell through. Not one to say no to adorable surfing Germans, (especially ones I didn’t get to say good-bye to!) I informed the roommates that there would be a German and a surfboard lodged on our couch for the weekend. Their looks of confusion diminished within seconds upon his arrival, and to make a long story short, a weekend of Tim Tam slams, bouncy-house jumping, skip-bo, pool, and beach soccer was had by all.

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Dani and the German

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           Gold Coast for the Day

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Life returned to normal (If you can even say that in Australia) once Julian had to continue on with his own journey. It was nice to have the lad drop by though!

In other random and exhilarating Lizzy life events, I broke up with running for a week…

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        Threw this in for good measure.

Nah, but in all reality my relationship with running had been going a little downhill (That one’s for you, Peick) Clarification: After consistently running for about nine years now, I am no stranger to the day-to-day battle that occurs between my running shoes and myself. It’s a daily decision: either you beat the laziness and get your butt out the door, or you live through the guilt of skipping out. In my case, the feeling of pre-run dread was building up because I’ve lacked something specific to train for. So in a weird reverse psychological way of dealing with it, I made myself not run for a good seven days…and towards the end I realized I genuinely needed to go or else I would go crazy. So I signed myself up and started to train for a half-marathon in Sydney. Not saying that I’ve gotten rid of periodical run reluctance, but I’m really looking forward to racing again and it’s nice to have a plan to stick with. Plus, it’s always great to nerd out with my GPS watch.

The whirlwind adventure in Australia has yet to cease. Today is Dani’s 21st birthday, followed by Lauren’s 18th birthday the next weekend, and then I am off to Middle Earth. New Zealand bound that is, the one place I have dreamed of visiting since I was twelve years old. Don’t ask me why I started dreaming of New Zealand when I was twelve, it just happened. And then I promise there will be time to visit the Australian Zoo to finally hug that darn koala in which I wish not to contract some disease. Until I feel the urge to recap, enjoy your well-deserved summers, my friends!

Tim Tams and Pineapple Lumps,

Lizzy

We’ve Reached Paradise

So since I’ve been here in Oz, I’ve managed to develop some interesting skills. I’ve become a decently avid pool player with the help of my Saudi Arabian, Indian, and Australian pool connoisseurs here at the campus tavern. On a more obscure note, a rather hazardous pastime that has occurred recently is that of knife throwing. Me, in the Australian bush land, throwing hatchets and knifes by the blade into a wooden target. I guess that’s what you get yourself into when you go camping with thirteen+ Aussies.

Which brings me to a recent situation. Over Easter weekend, we went camping to celebrate our friend Jesse’s 21st birthday, hence the knife throwing. Thinking back to seventh grade Lizzy (a terrible thought), those who were there may remember the pleasant three-week period where I was covered head to toe in poison ivy. So that was a phase of bushy blonde bee’s nest hair, braces, glasses, plus an added façade of swollen red contagion covering my arms, legs, and neck. It was mint. Well needless to say, I encountered Australia’s version of the itchy beast, this time contained to the feet and ankles though uncomfortable nonetheless.

I guess I should have anticipated something like this to happen since I basically grew up not wearing any shoes, making me somewhat prone to these situations. I come from a family that would send you straight back outside if you hadn’t acquired an adequate amount of dirt or scrapes from the North Oaks jungle. Here in Australia it’s a common fact that many things are lethal. Those beautiful yellow flowers that are adorning that bush? Yep, definitely don’t touch those. Those cute koalas up in that tree? Those are actually deathly dropbears, so always have an umbrella handy. Moral of the story, I’m lucky I didn’t experience something worse than this red itchy crap. Especially before setting out on my adventure to the backpacker’s oasis: Cairns.

I really don’t want to sound cliché, but Cairns was truly and epically unforgettable. So I guess I’ll go ahead and try my best to relive it through words. This was my first go at backpacking. Picture it: Immersing yourself into an environment where you are bunking with people from all over the world, using hostel dishes in the communal kitchen, and realizing that you don’t care too much about hygiene because you are living out of your backpack and you don’t have much control over who slept here last or who used this first anyways. It’s cheap, cozy, and inevitably leads to hearing some interesting if not extraordinary stories. Everyone is moving in and out, on the go to the next bungee jump, Reef tour, or rainforest escape. And each day, we all get a little tanner and sun kissed to show for it.

Our first day in Cairns (pronounced in the Aussie way CAAAANS), we took the shuttle from the airport to the main street Esplanade that runs along the ocean. We chose the Nomads hostel, which was cheap yet pretty much sanitary (as much as my last description made it sound dodgy) and situated right next to the lagoon. So naturally after dropping off our things, we went straight to the water.

The lovely lovely lagoon

The lovely lovely lagoon

I’ll keep these random excerpts about my family going when I say this: we are not the tropical vacation type of family. We have never been on a glamorous trip to Mexico or the Cayman Islands, and god forbid we go on a cruise. This is what the Narigon family vacation involves: canoes, tents, and some extra strength bug repellent. Add in a map of the boundary waters and you’re good to go.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m thankful for these canoe trip camping excursions. But lets just say that Cairns was the tropical vacation that I never had. Hot, humid weather ensured that I was positively dripping at any given moment, and, drum roll please…I became somewhat tan! After a restful and lazy first day, we headed into our hostel for the night. Little did we know that the next day was going to be the start of a four-day rally involving exotic food, rainforest tours, Great Barrier Reef snorkeling, and Gilligan’s nightclub.

I think Dani can support me when I say this: As I go forth in recounting the experience of Uncle Brian’s Rainforest Tour, you may be significantly confused and think that the Australian sun has gotten me delusional. It was a crazy rainforest endeavor in which I am still trying to make sense.

Basically it was this: A safari bus filled with Europeans, Americans, and our guide known as Cousin Matty who drove the bus named Gus on the highway named Bruce. We honked at every road worker and at every person through the friendly town of Babinda, all the way until our first stop: Babinda Boulders.

Here, we learned the Legend of Babinda. This was about an aboriginal girl named Oolana was married but had an affair with the handsome Dyga. To escape capture for their forbidden love, they jumped into the Devil’s pool within the boulders. Males are primarily the ones to fall into the rapids these days, because apparently if men go near the edge of the rocks, Oolana will pull you into the deathly waters and you’ll be screwed.

After swimming through the fresh water there (away from the deathly rapids) and getting a taste of the rainforest, we headed to Josephine Falls to slide down the waterfall rockslide.

Waiting for our turn down the slide. Man do I feel like I'm five again.

Waiting for our turn down the slide. Man do I feel like I’m five again.

Once we hit the road again, we played some pretty interesting games on the bus and colored in the windows with all of our country flags. I met people from all over Europe on the bus, including one young couple from England who had both just quit their jobs to peace out and travel the world. They exemplified that couple you love but secretly hate at the same time, both beautiful enough that you can predict they’ll have gorgeous kids once they are done circumnavigating the globe together. What a life! Of course they were the nicest people too, and they had British accents.

Anyways, we then made it to lunch at a scenic countryside B&B. This is where the other group guide “Cousin Rohan” demonstrated how to flip your hair from the water to make an Herbal Essences-esque photo: a preview of our next stop at the Millaa Millaa Falls.

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Cousin Rohan demonstrating how to whip your air, pre-whipping stage

Dani whipping her hair like a champ!

Dani whipping her hair like a champ! I’m creeping in the back.

They told us to go underneath the falls to get the best back massage from the falling water. I found it difficult to breath/stay above water while getting pelted in the face by a huge waterfall, much less get situated for a back massage.

They said you get the best back massage if you go directly underneath the falls. I mainly found it difficult to breath, see, and stay above water as I was getting pelted in the face while I was under there, much less orient myself for a back massage. Gorgeous to swim behind and to look at though!

Our last stop was Lake Eacham. This lake is formed by a crater, made from the explosion caused by heat and steam build up that surfaced from the earth’s core. Therefore, it has no water flowing in or out of it. The water is maintained by a healthy and balanced diet of earth-soaking action, evaporation, and precipitation. We jumped into this blue abiss from a slippery and unstable tree branch about twenty-five feet above the water. And I thought cliff jumping was badass. Nah, mate, this is Stralia!

Lake Eachum

Entering the tree jump

Entering the tree jump

There seemed to be local children hanging out near the water everywhere we went. They exemplified the epitome of fearlessness as they jumped off of the highest cliff or tree branch towering over the water. As most of us threw ourselves from the one branch, they tightroped along the next branch up, about 30 feet above the lake. They didn’t even think twice, casually walking across the tree top before the weak branch dipped down to launch them into the water, throwing in a flip or two before they splashed.  I am always up for a lengthy jump, but that doesn’t mean my heart isn’t pounding on the way to the top, or that I don’t choke on my scream on the way down. I guess I should start adding some flips into my jumps…

After some chocolate muffins to reward our survival, we piled into Gus to make a quick stop for platypus watching, and then sang/danced our way home (There was no sleeping allowed on this bus).

Phew. That was a very condensed and summarised version of what I call a once in a lifetime experience, to all of you reading this, a very bizarre series of events that I hope you had fun reading about, though I bet you one rock wallaby that you are thoroughly confused as to what I just described.

On to Day Three. To be honest, I won’t even try to put the Great Barrier Reef into words. I honestly felt like I was floating in a dream that whole day. Here is quickly what I floated by, to avoid making this anymore of a yawn vacation story. With our fellow posse of Irishmen who were unfortunately not photographed, we spent the day with the Australian crewmembers, the cast of Finding Nemo (literally), the sun, and plenty of salt water.

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Starting the day out on the nets at the bow of the boat

Ready to snorkel with the fishies! And two enormous sea turtles.

Ready to snorkel with the fishies! And two enormous sea turtles.

Heading back to the harbour

Heading back to the harbour

Trying to get over our salt water hangover with some wine

Trying to get over our salt water hangover with some wine

Friday gave us the chance to go to the local markets and rest from all of our excursions  We mainly spent time eating samples of avocado and mango. We then stopped for some impromptu pedicures, and ate some more good food.

Speaking of delicious food. It’s been weird not having any nutrition classes to study for this semester. To suffice for the absence of textbooks filled with amino acids and pictures of fruit, I’ve been focusing more on eating all of the nutrients that I’m so used to reading about. I do this by spicing up the grocery shopping (to an extent on a budget) and by branching out menu wise when eating out. As I already know a hefty amount of food chemistry, it’s time to press pause on that front and enjoy these foods in real life.

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Cooked chickpeas with tomato basil sauce, egg, spinach and buttered sourdough, with a watermelon and mint leaf smoothie.

This was an excellent end to the week indeed. I’d like to thank Cousin Matty, the restaurants on Esplanade, Nomad’s, Gilligan’s, and the country of Germany for making this quite the experience. All I know is that I will be making another trip to this place before I go back to the U.S., even if it means battling through the Australian wild to get there.

Good old Cousin Matty

Good old Cousin Matty

More on the second week of our fall break soon…

Mangos and nutella,

Lizzy

Riptides and Whatnot

“Americans don’t mind being mistaken for being Canadian, but if you mistake a Canadian for an American, all hell breaks loose,” said about three people in the last week. Apparently those who visit from Canada need to make it clear that they are indeed not from the country that makes every holiday a good reason to drink. This conversation seems to spur from my sounding Canadian, even though I still have doubts that I have a thick enough accent for that. At this point I just say sure, I’m basically from Canada, because no one here really knows where Minnesota is anyway. Meanwhile, Danny cheerfully informs everyone that she is from New Jersey, and all of the ears perk up and a conversation about Jersey Shore or New York ensues. All I can pathetically do is share that Minnesota has a lot of lakes…and that no, the depiction from How I Met Your Mother is exaggerated and it doesn’t actually snow in the summer time. At least not that much.

That is just the beginning of the amusing conversations I’ve had pertaining to America. I actually just enlightened an Australian the other day that the U.S is in fact divided into states, and that no, Florida is not a city. Needless to say, their mind was blown. Not including that kid, I’ve learned that more Australians have visited the U.S. than it seems Americans have visited Australia. Traces of America are everywhere here from the restaurant chains (I haven’t escaped the red gleam of KFC if you can believe it) to the TV shows and movies. I’m not really here to talk about America, though. I’m here to experience the surf and use cool measurements like Celsius and kilograms.

Other than switching conversions I haven’t experienced too much of a culture shock. You shake your head at that knowing that I still go to the wrong side of the car, but besides those minor details, it’s more of a new and refreshing atmosphere rather than a new planet. At first I was fascinated by everyone’s accent, and found it really intriguing that I actually had the accent. All of us on campus have become a family of sorts and I don’t notice accents so much anymore. I am only reminded of the differences when I pronounce words in another way or use other words for certain things. You can imagine how confused everyone was when I first said ‘clusterfuck’.

So far, my experience has involved a lot of on campus festivities, more specifically themed parties put on by the tavern that is in the center of campus. Many trips to the city have been had where there is excellent shopping and some mighty clubbing.

Taxi what? I’m takin’ the ferry

In the past couple of weeks I’ve made it to Hervey Bay where I experienced some exceptional fish and chips, as well as Bribie Island to try out some surfing. This involved hopping into a truck and driving through a path of deep sand embedded in the bush until we reached the ocean. We then drove up the beach and examined the waves until we reached an adequate location. Like a rock star, Danny made it up on the board her first time. Me, not so much, but in my defense the waves were ‘subpar’ (says our friend Lauren, the surfing expert…she was probably just saying that. Even though I have been to multiple oceans, I don’t have the Australian sixth sense of detecting good waves). Every big wave was like a very salty riptide to me, even so I am very eager to stack heaps when I return to the water.

Promise the waves were bigger when I was out there

School break is almost underway. I think I will finally have the chance to tag those of you I promised with some exotic animals. After some weekend camping we will fly to Cairns, a supposedly very beachy atmosphere with multiple gateways to the Great Barrier Reef. For ‘some’, the quest will continue on my behalf to find the world’s best fish and chips (you know who you are). It will also present more chances to ride a wave with fewer nosedives and ocean wave body slams. After that endeavor, it will be time to visit the city I have always coincided with Australia: the wonderful world of Sydney.

Cheers from down under,

Lizzy

Shrimp on the Barbie

Australians encompass a number of characteristics that I always imagined they would: very laid back and welcoming, stoked on surfing, and with lots of awesome slang in their vocabulary. For instance, it is no longer McDonald’s, my friends, it’s Mackas. Same for all you gingers out there, here you are known as a “ranga” (pronounced rang-ah…short for orangutang). Trying to learn these phrases is all good and fun until the American decides to chime in with a phrase that was always a very cliché Australian thing to say until apparently now: the classic saying “Shrimp on the Barbie”.

You say this, and all of the chill Aussies that you just shared a cheers with will become slightly annoyed that you brought up this raw subject. A lecture then ensues.

“Good shrimp is too small to be grilled for that long. If anything, it’s prawns on the barbie…and we don’t even say barbie.” Duly noted.

Which leads me to talk about more food. It takes true talent to photograph food and have the photo do the food justice, and I probably don’t possess this talent. So either brace yourself for nausea but most likely excessive drooling because these dishes were all delicious.

Clockwise from left: Huge tray of fried flounder with tarter sauce, jelly fish, and homemade chicken curry and rice

Clockwise from left: Huge tray of fried flounder with tarter sauce, jelly fish, and homemade chicken curry and rice

Cooking has become a fabulous pastime as it has been raining here nonstop (So no, I have not become tan yet like I anticipated) The rain has been so consistent that floods have affected many places, most severely in northern Queensland but also on the western coast of Australia. Meanwhile here in Brisbane, it’s the perfect weather to cook some delicious curry and go for a run in the rain, or catch up on some Harry Potter movies. Good thing my amazing roommate has the entire series!

When not cooking or dancing in the rain I do actually have classes, which started last week. Each class is two hours long with an additional tutorial for 1-2 hours directly afterwards. Basically, I have three hours per class once a week. Most students dive right into their respective major when beginning college (without many electives or general classes offered as they are in the U.S.) so many are confused when I tell them my schedule. I have classes that span over three different faculties, or major departments. I’m taking an accounting, English, and history course along with a film/media class, putting me all over the place unlike the set paths that everyone has towards their bachelor degrees. So whenever someone asks me what I am majoring in I just pick the first faculty that comes to mind (If I say I’m studying nutrition, they tell me I’m at the wrong campus).

When not in school, Danielle and I have met quite a few of the people in the apartments around us. I repeat, the hermits have abandoned their shells! One of them is Mayur, who is from a “small” town near Mumbai, India. I say small meaning big because you can’t exactly have a small town in a country that holds 17% of the world’s population. Therefore, he comes from a town of a measly 100,000 people. As we were all having beers one night, he mentioned that if his Dad knew he drank, he would disown him. That made me feel slightly uneasy thinking back to Nellie’s wedding reception where I obtained the liquid courage to do a full choreographed routine to Please Don’t Stop the Music. I’m luckily stilled owned by my parents unless there is another reason why I am in Australia.

Looking ahead, this week brings more class but also hopefully more travelling. Besides some trips to the city, we are looking to hit up the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary where you can hold little baby koalas and feed kangaroos. So for all of you who asked me to tag you as a koala in a picture, stay tuned.

Lovely weather we have here

Lovely weather we have here

Love to all from Australia!

-Lizzy 🙂