Day 60 Thursday, September 26, 2013

There was no class monday which was nice.  Peyton and I spent the whole afternoon writing our Sustainability papers after sleeping in late.  I left the house once to get groceries, while Peyton remained a hermit and didn’t see the light of day the entire day.  The four dollar frozen pizzas were too alluring, and I had to leave the house to pick up five boxes.  With papers completed, we headed to Murdoch Uni to hang out with the other American CIEE group in their flats.

Tuesday was sustainability class at CUSP at three, which would have provided me with a great opportunity to sleep in, but I decided to rewrite my paper one more time in the morning.  Class was a field trip with CUCP Director and author of our textbook, Peter Newman.  We took a tour of the Freo area; from the streets, to the old Roundhouse Jail, to the beach. Peter gave us a history lesson and personal accounts of the town, as he had been a resident for at least 40 years.  A highlight of the tour, for me, was a red Ferrari parked on the side of the road.  Peyton and I made sure to take some pictures and then make conversation with the owner when he walked up.  After the tour was over around five.  We headed back to the house and relaxed the rest of the night. I cooked up a frozen pizza.

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Wednesday was an early class at Murdoch.  I was told it was just going to be a meeting with Kate to discuss our week long trips to Perup and Manjumup, October 7-20.  These trips will consist of research on baby marsupials.  But when I arrived at class I was surprised to hear we would be having a Marine Biology lecture with Jen, followed by a Conservation Biology lecture with Kate, followed by a culture class with Paul.  The morning wasn’t going to be what I originally thought.  Finally out of class around two, only stopping for a quick lunch of Caesar salad and tropical smoothie in the student cafe, Peyton and I hopped on the 98 bus ready to kick it at the house the rest of the night.  After a quick trip to Freo to get a hair cut, and a pit stop at our favorite bar Sail and Anchor, we called it a day.

Today was a long day.  We had a leadership seminar from 9am-5pm at CUSP.  The class consisted entirely of graduate students, some after their masters, others their PhD.  Speaker after speaker presented PowerPoints, to the point where it was hard to register any more new information.  It was interesting to hear the knowledge of some of the leaders in the relatively new Sustainability field.  The group sure was passionate.  Smack dab in the middle of our eight hours of lecture we did have a one hour lunch break.  Peyton and I stopped at Piccolos for the fifth straight time and grabbed our typical sandwiches and geared up for a couple more hours of good ole fashioned lecture.  Yay.

Crafted up another professional batch of Spaghetti Bolognese for dinner and took it easy the remainder of the night.  Getting mentally prepared for Indonesia this weekend.

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Day 56 Sunday, September 22, 2013

I have finally been busy with schoolwork and haven’t been able to commit a second to my blog, but finally I am getting a post finished.  The rigor of school slapped us all in the face these last two weeks as we started a new module at Curtin University Sustainability and Policy (CUSP).  The new Sustainability course started Tuesday the 10th, and is being taught to us four by two professors.  The ratio is great for an informal very interactive class.  I have never received attention like this in a class, so I am relishing the opportunity to really get the most out of this course.  So far we have covered 10 sections in the book, had guest lectures from PhD students and the Mayor of Fremantle who gave us a talks on global carbon politics and leadership respectively.  Over the first week we were assigned a 2000 word essay displaying our knowledge of the first six chapters, relating them to a trip to a community garden that we had to make on our own time.  The garden I chose was called City Farms, and was truly a small farm (or big garden) tucked within the concrete jungle that is downtown Perth.  We also had another 2000 word essay due that week for our Conservation Biology course that required at least eight credible sources.  We had to answer one of two questions, and I chose:  How effective are different types of protected areas at conserving biodiversity and providing ecosystem services?  The paper took a ton of research and time, but in the end I felt like I produced a good product.  On top of the two essays, a trip to City Farms that involved an interview of Garden Manager, Helen, and four hour Sustainability class each day, I have found little time to do much exploring.  The rain has been relentless since our return from Southeast Asia, leaving Peyton and I convinced we are the reason Perth is experiencing its highest rainfall in years.  On a rare sunny day this past Saturday, Peyton and I made a trip on the train to the nearby Cottesloe Beach.  This beautiful beach, right in our backyard, will be visited religiously once the sun comes out I’m sure.  Other highlights over the past 12 days since I have last blogged are:  field trips to the Water Corporation and Regional Resource Recovery Facility (both with CUSP), a creepy tour of the Fremantle Prison, and the Fremantle Dockers advancing to the Australian Football League (AFL, or Footy) grand final (championship).

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For the Water Corporation field trip we took a train to City West, just outside of Perth central, with one of our CUSP professors, Talia.  Once there we were taken to a conference room and given a lecture by one of the managers that covered how the water in the Perth area is sanitized and distributed.  It was very interesting to see how our water gets to our faucets, and just how much it costs the environment.  The Water Corporation was a great example of a company doing their best to leave the world as they found it while still doing their job of distributing millions of gallons of water around Perth.  After the lecture we headed into town and ate lunch at a tasty Italian restaurant that was serving half price pizza and pastas.  The nights the past couple weeks have been full of writing papers and procrastinating.

The trip to the Regional Resource Recovery Facility, codename for the place where the garbage goes, was really eye opening.  We witnessed first hand just how much stuff is thrown away and recycled each day.  There was a mountain of trash (only four hours worth) that had to be sorted for a man to hand remove any contaminated objects, things like blankets that couldn’t be broken down.  The entire plant was powered by renewable energy and its main goal was to cut down on landfills, only reverting to that to dispose of the items that cant be broken down into compost.  We learned how a mountain of trash is eventually broken down and turned to compost after a couple of weeks after going through a giant tumbler, sifted through grates, mixed with mulch, and left to sit and ferment in giant rows indoors.  The recycling was cool too, with its maze of conveyor belts and piles of sorted plastics and papers.  Overall the trip was great, something I would only read about if I were in school back home.

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The Fremantle prison was a highlight as well.  On Friday night after a big day of classes that included a lecture from the Fremantle Mayor, we met Paul and the other American CIEE kids outside an Asian market in downtown Freo.  He gave us each “purple and blue vouchers” (a ten and a five) and let us have at the several different Asian options.  After stuffing our faces we headed up the road a ways to the creepy old Fremantle Prison.  The place stopped holding prisoners in 1991, and has been giving tours for several years.  It is supposedly haunted, as many suicides and hangings have gone on within its walls.  The nine of us grabbed our torches (flashlights), and with about thirty other spook seekers including a group of terrified 11-year-old boys, we set off on the tour.  Dark corridors, tiny cells, big courtyards, and a lot of barbed wire summarizes the tour experience.  I didn’t see any ghosts, but a human dummy did fall from the ceiling during one of the tour guides ghost stories, which made the 11-year-old boys scream like a bunch of girls.  We saw where many men were hanged, and where some men were condemned to months of solitude until they were insane.  Overall the place was totally creepy, which means it was totally awesome.  After the tour Peyton and I headed to Murdoch Uni to hang out with the other Americans in their flat.

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Yesterday was a big day in Freo, as the Fremantle Dockers advanced to their first ever grand final!  We watched the footy battle in the Monk restaurant with a huge group of kids from Murdoch, including our American friends.  After they won the town went crazy!  The bars stayed packed to the brim, the night clubs had lines going down the street, and everyone was in a great mood.  Needless to say it was a great Saturday night.

Sunday consisted of absolutely nothing.  I did a whole lot of procrastinating, as I have another 1500 word essay due Tuesday.  This new course is kicking my butt!

Last bit of news, I recently booked a trip to Lombok, Indonesia with Peyton.  I leave this Sunday.  Life is good.

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Day 44 Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Two Fridays ago, August 30th, I made the radical decision (thanks to my amazingly supportive parents) to book a trip to Bangkok and Koh Samui, Thailand, for my week long “study break”.  We had been advised by Paul and Kate to take advantage of this week off, as our next study break would be the week before finals and I would like to study during that time.  We have a travel agency on campus, and they were able to hook me up with some great deals on my last minute trip.  I chose Bangkok because I wanted to experience the craziest, scariest, most extreme city in the world.  I chose to also travel to Koh Samui (a small island off the coast of Thailand) because I figured I would need a break from the insanity of Bangkok, and I heard it was one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Saturday I packed, cramming everything for the weeklong trip into my book bag, as I like to travel light.  With nothing but a passport, a couple outfits, and an itinerary of flights and accommodation bookings, I was ready for the trip of a lifetime (within the trip of a lifetime).

Sunday Sean, my Irish roommate, saved me $60 in cab fare, and drove me to the airport.  My flight wasn’t until 4:45pm, and I arrived with plenty of time to breeze through customs, grab some pizza, and exchange some American money for some Thai Baht.  The exchange rate was 32 Baht for one American dollar.  I boarded the Thai Airways plane, and skimmed through the array of popular movies on my personal touch screen until I found my third favorite movie of all time, The Prestige.  The six-hour flight “flew” past, and before I knew it we were on the ground in Bangkok.

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With money belt clipped on tight, passport secured, backpack zipped up, I exited the plane into the hot, sticky Thailand air and hopped aboard a bus for the international arrival part of the colossal Suvarnabhumi Airport.  Thailand immigration was almost too quick, and within a matter of minutes I was following signs for the exit and public taxis.  I eventually found them on the first floor, after wandering around like an idiot tourist for a while.  I told the lady at the stand near the taxis that I was going to HQ Hostel, and showed her the address.  She scribbled some nonsense down on a card and told me to hand it to my cab driver.  Once in the cab the driver told me the trip would cost 700 Baht, and even though I was warned to never take a taxi without using the meter because the set price is always much higher, I said “ok” partly because I didn’t know what I was doing and partly because it was past midnight and I was willing to pay the $21 American dollars for the 40 minute drive to my hostel.  The drive through Bangkok was intimidating, with big buildings everywhere, tons of traffic even late at night, people all over the streets, street food carts still dishing out steaming bowls of whatever, hookers waving, bright lights, seemingly endless identical streets of nonstop action.  I instantly knew I had found what I was looking for, an environment that would challenge me, “make a hard man humble” as they say somewhere, I think.  When I arrived at my hostel the cleanliness and the kind English-speaking receptionist pleasantly surprised me.  The place was small, cozy, comfortable, and easily missed walking down the street.  It was right off Silom Road, a very popular and lively street.  I paid a 200 Baht deposit for my room key and towel and headed up to my nicely air-conditioned and immaculately cleaned room, where I met my roommate Sarah.  The room had six beds (three bunks), but only Sarah, I, and some other guy (I can’t remember his name) were in there the first night.  Sarah loaned me some shampoo, I took a shower in the surprisingly very nice showers, and headed to bed looking forward to my first big day in Bangkok the following morning.

I set my alarm for 8:30am, something I never do.  And after a quick shower I was out on the streets of Bangkok the first time for breakfast with Sarah and my other roommate.  A new guy, Luke, had moved in that morning but was too tired from his flight from the UK to come out with us.  We walked down Silom Road past many street food stands, steaming cauldrons, sizzling grills, and small open storefront restaurants.  We finally picked one and sat down for a plate of chicken and rice and a couple bowls of noodle soup.  The whole delicious breakfast cost us each about $3.  I decided to spend my day shopping, as I was told it was a must-do activity when visiting Bangkok.  Sarah had to leave to catch a bus to Chang Mai, continuing her solo journey, and what’s-his-name had to get back to work, his escape time in Bangkok coming to an end.  We all said goodbye at the nearby train station that towered above the city amongst the skyscrapers, and they showed me how to buy a ticket and where to go for my day of shopping.

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I paid my 24 Baht (about 75 cents), hopped on the long, air-conditioned, full train, and two stops later stumbled out looking for the first of three malls, all in a row.  These malls were huge, much larger than our malls in Omaha, which aren’t too shabby in their own right.  The first was very upscale, with shops I could never afford like Gucci, Louis Viton, Hugo Boss, Giorgio Armani, Prada, fancy jewelry stores, fancy sunglasses stores, and other glitzy stuff.  Needless to say I didn’t spend much time there, even though it did take me quite a while to make my way to the other side where I exited for the next colossal mall.  This mall had some sweet stores, with quality clothes, a food court, sunglasses, and closely resembled a mall from back home (except it was Bangkok sized).  But I didn’t come to Bangkok to may the prices I paid back home, and I’m not much of a shopper anywhere in the world.  I came to Bangkok looking for the rumored extremely low prices on goods that look real, but more times than not are just exact copies with the real brand logo.  I asked around in the middle mall as to where I could find these “fake” products I had heard so much about, as I was in search of some fake sunglasses, and I was pointed in the direction of the third mall, MBK.

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This mall was the largest of them all, big enough that you could spend a whole day and not see the whole thing, and big enough that I got lost several times while exploring the endless halls of stores stuffed with North Face jackets, Under Armour Backpacks, Rolex watches, Lacoste t-shirts, Nike shoes, Dre Beats, Nikon cameras, and literally anything else you could think of, all fake.  Everything in the entire mall was a copy of the real thing, priced so low you almost had to buy. Dre Beats headphones for $20,  T-shirts made of really nice material $4, very realistic looking Ray Ban sunglasses $8, $20-$50 North Face rain jackets (and every other version) , were available everywhere you turned your head as you walked through the seemingly never ending corridors of MBK mall.  These item caught my eye that day, and I left the mall almost feeling like I got ripped off on my $10 Thai curry feast for lunch.  A great start to my Bangkok experience.

Next I crossed a couple skywalks over the constantly congested streets, filled with a mixture of bright colored cabs and motorbikes, and climbed several flights of stairs up towards the tops of the buildings to the train.  From there I went to the end of the line where I had been told was the great Chatuchak Market.  I had heard that this market was the largest outdoor market in the world at 27 square acres, and sold literally everything from a handmade rocking chair to a pet tiger.  Apparently it was a weekend market, and seeing as I made my initial Bangkok visit during the week, the market wasn’t at its full strength.  I can only imagine what the place looks like on a Saturday afternoon, because I was absolutely blown away at what I saw during the week.  One section of the market was the craziest pet store you have ever seen.  Stand after stand after stand of any pet you could ever want and any pet supply you would ever need.  Puppies, kittens, parrots, hundreds of species of fish, guinea pigs, rabbits, hedgehogs, lizards, snakes, sting rays, squirrels, swans, geese, and many more species of animals surrounded me every turn I made as I lost myself within the Bangkok super pet store maze for quite some time.  The other stands open in the market that day sold mostly house furniture and clothes.  One section (by section I mean 200 stands at least) sold books of every variety, with no order or organization, just piles and piles of books.  I figured I could have found anything.  I made it a mission of mine to come back to Chatuchak market that Saturday for my last day in Bangkok after my Koh Samui trip, and before I headed back to Perth.  I caught a cab back to the train station, completely drenched in sweat from the walking in the scorching hot sun and thick humidity.  I had become lost when exiting the market and had tried to walk around the entire 27 acres to find where I had came in.  After hopping off the train with my hands full of Bangkok souvenirs, walking down to Silom street, and making the short walk back to my Hostel, I was ready for a breather and shower before making plans for that evening.  I figured I had walked 5-10 miles that morning/afternoon, a perfect warm-up for a big night out with my roommate Luke and his four other friends from the UK.

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After showering, admiring my purchases, and learning that my $20 Dre Beats were indeed fake, the six of us hit the town.  We explored the crazy busy streets of Silom for a while, even venturing down Patpong alley.  All I’m going to say about this area is 1)  I would never bring my children, 2)  places like the transvestite bar in Hangover 2 exist in abundance, and 3)  if you are a white male tourist around 20 you will be literally dragged into these places.  Experiences like these were why I came to Bangkok.  I wanted to say the craziest, darkest, nastiest, “out there” place on Earth, and from what I have seen so far in my life, Bangkok tops the list.  After barely escaping the grasp (literally) or Patpong alley we caught a cab and jammed all six of us plus the driver in for a trip across town to the infamous Khao San Road.  This party heaven consisted of too many bars to count blaring all sorts of party music, several dance clubs, small hotels with rooftop pools and bars, rows of street vendors selling just about everything, carts every several feet selling cocktails, beers, and plenty of Pad Thai, chicken sticks, and fried Scorpions.  This place was absolutely insane; as each bar was packed with tourists and locals alike all with the same goal in mind, party.  Us six 20-21 year old guys engaged in a proper pub-crawl, meeting a plethora of people as we went.  The group got bigger and bigger as the night went on, and we finally settled at a bar called “Golf Bar Cocktails Very Strong We Do Not Check ID Card & Restaurant”.  That’s Bangkok for you.  Basically the night was a blast, and Khao San Road lived up to its awesome reputation.  Being a responsible world traveller I made sure I ended up in my own bed with my alarm set for 6am so I could be ready for my all day tour of the famous Floating Market and Tiger Temple the following morning.

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By 6:30am I was riding shotgun in a van full of tourists that I didn’t know on the way to the Floating Market, one of the largest in the world.  I slept the hour drive to the market and purchased two Red Bulls the second I got out of the van.  Our group made our way down to the roughly 20 foot wide canal and boarded a long wooden speedboat.  This thing had a huge engine, and I’m sure it could have absolutely flown through the narrow waterway if the driver would have wanted to.  After about twenty minutes on the speedboat we hopped off at the floating market where we had to option to walk around and visit the many shops around the water, or pay $5 or so to ride a canoe around.  I opted for the canoe, and relaxed as many different boats selling yummy smelling food, and stands selling cheap souvenirs went past our boat propelled by a single Thailand local lady.  Boats filled with fresh fruit, steaming cauldrons of noodle soup, full grills somehow designed to fit in a skinny canoe, all scooted past in a constant canoe traffic jam where the “sidewalks” are packed full of people trying to sell you picture frames and straw hats.  After a 45 minute ride of this madness, I hopped off the boat, found a vendor selling noodle soup, bought some “Tiger balm” for my “headache” (really I just wanted to help out the poor old lady trying everything to sell me the stuff), and headed back to the van for our next stop on the tour adventure.

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The next stop was “Elephant Village”, near the Floating Market, where we were given the opportunity (at an added cost) to ride an elephant.  Of course the $9 was totally worth it and now I get to say I rode an elephant in Thailand!  The things are seriously huge, and at one point I thought I was going to fall off when the beast stepped down into a swamp for some underwater walking (and a touristy picture).  Each elephant had a guide, armed with a pickaxe, who just sat on the elephants head with nothing holding him, and effortlessly kept his balance while I was holding on for dear life in my seat strapped on to the elephants back.  Midway through the ride my guide turned around to me and tried to sell me some fake ivory necklaces to “feed his family”, as many vendors I had met over the past two days have said.  Unfortunately you cannot help them all and I had to respectfully decline his offer.  After the ride we gathered up the crew, who was watching a baby elephant take a shower, and headed for our next destination.

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While I was under the impression that this “Floating Market and Tiger Temple” tour would only stop at those two places, I should have remembered I was in Thailand and there is no way they would let your wallet off that easily.  The next stop was a bit further down the road at a snake show.  Here we could watch “the most dangerous show in the world” where a guy messed with a King Cobra or two.  None of the group wanted to go, so we kind of stood there awkwardly as the tour guide urged us to head in and the people behind the counter basically begged us with their eyes to buy tickets.  Reluctantly the van driver/tour guide hopped back in and we were off to the Tiger Temple!  Just kidding, we made one more unexpected stop at a “souvenir village” where locals were carving things on wood and you could purchase your favorite Buddha figurine.  Turns out that I was to board a different bus for the Tiger Temple, which was another hour and thirty minutes down the road, so I said goodbye to my group and hopped in another van.  I had the whole backseat in this van, where I laid down and caught some much-needed sleep, considering the night before.  When I woke up we weren’t at the Tiger Temple, rather a floating restaurant where I finally got to eat!  It was 1:30 and I had been up since 6am with nothing to eat but a bowl of noodle soup.  The plates of chicken and beef kept coming, and the rice was plentiful, and before I knew it I was full and happy (a big deal for me).  After another 30-minute drive we were finally at Tiger Temple.  It was scorching hot and horribly humid at this point, and I could hardly walk without panting and losing an abnormal amount of sweat (apparently my sweating problem means I’m “really healthy” but I think it sucks).  Yet I figured I’d be fine for the hour we were allotted to explore the temple.  The Tiger Temple was really just an extremely low budget, run down zoo with barely any exhibits.  There was one with a couple lazy, way too hot, black bears, and another that apparently had some tigers but I couldn’t see any.  The place wreaked, and it probably didn’t help my nostrils that I was literally soaked in sweat and wearing the same clothes as the night before.  Walking around the barren dirt grounds of Tiger Temple were deer, boars, and yaks, all tame from being raised by humans and being around them their whole life.  It was pretty cool to be able to stand a foot away from a live deer, maybe even touch it if you wanted to.  I searched and searched for the rumored 120 adult tigers in the Temple (most in the world in one place?) after I got my first taste when I got to take a picture cuddling up to a three month old baby tiger.  I had almost given into the heat exhaustion and disappointment of Tiger Temple until I did the “sky-walk” that allowed you to walk over all of the tiger cages and I even caught glimpses of a few in their one acre by one acre pen that they were allotted.  The cages went on and on, but I was baking alive in the sun, my hour was running out, and I wanted to take a picture with one of the beasts!  So I asked around and was led to the Tiger Canyon where there was a line of other sweaty tourists waiting to get their picture taken with the 20 or so extremely calm (drugged?) tigers behind a fence.  I waited my turn, and eventually got the opportunity to kneel down behind a full-grown tiger, give him a pet, and take some pictures as proof.  What an experience!  I left Tiger Temple very satisfied in the end and would recommend the experience to anyone.  Grabbing a couple waters on the way out helped too.

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I was ready to get back to HQ Hostel and catch up with the UK guys, but in typical Thailand tour fashion we made one more stop.  As it turns out I was extremely glad we did, as I got to check The Bride Over the River Kwai off my list of places I need to see!  The historic WWII site was absolutely beautiful in person, and something that was amazing to see in real life after it had been a part of so many war videogames growing up.  I picked up a Red Bull tank top before leaving on yet a different van (apparently no one wanted to hold on to me).

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I slept most of the three-hour ride back, but I remember our drivers amazing aggressive driver skills, and passing the breathtaking Thai temples that were lit up at night.  Of course we met stuffy traffic as we got further into the city, and by the time I was back to HQ Hostel I was ready for a shower and some relaxing time.

I met the guys in the lobby and we decided to go out to Khao San Road again.  After a mini pub-crawl I headed back relatively early (1am) because I had to wake up at 4:30am to catch a taxi by 5 for my flight to Koh Samui at 7:40.  I told myself I could sleep when I’m dead.  Everything went smoothly until I went to check in at Bangkok airways and I reached in my money belt and discovered my passport was missing.  After tearing through my bag it was confirmed, I had lost my passport.  The following is a brief summary of what happened next:

Got my boarding pass anyways with a scanned version of my passport I had with me in my backpack. Went to the gate, assuming I could go to the American Embassy in Bangkok when I got back on Saturday to figure it all out before I flew back to Perth Sunday morning.  My dad texted me after I had told him what happened and he said the Embassy is closed on the weekends and I had to act now to get an emergency passport.  Called the Hostel and had them search the room (the best they could at 5am), and they couldn’t find it.  Decided I would have to miss my flight which couldn’t be missed under my contract with the travel agency.  Took a cab to the Embassy, which took a long time.  Once I got there I struggled through a language barrier with a guy at the entrance who told me I couldn’t bring my bags inside and I could either let a stranger on the street look after them for the next couple hours or go down the street and find a place to leave my backpack.  I walked down the street to a translators office (assumed I could at least have some good communication there) where I had them watch my stuff for 40 Baht.  I had to sign a sheet and it looked as if others had done it before me, so I felt a little better about leaving my MacBook in a random building in the heart of Bangkok.  Still nervous though.  Went back to the Embassy after scarfing down a coffee and chicken stick.  Found out I needed a police report before filing for an emergency passport.  Took a cab to the police station which was pretty close.  Had to go through a bunch of paperwork and there was a huge language barrier with the officers, but eventually I made it out with my completed form.  Decided to walk back to the Embassy this time.  Went through security, walked up to the counter, and learned I needed a passport picture.  Was given directions to the place but I still had to ask like three times before I found the small office within a huge office building where I could get my little picture taken.  They worked quick, and 150 Baht later I was out the door heading back to the Embassy.  After going through security again, I filled out a ton of paperwork, paid 4,500 Baht for the emergency passport, and then was asked for ID.  I reached in my money belt and my heart dropped as my American drivers license was nowhere to be seen.  Hustled to look if it was in my locker in the Embassy lobby where I had to stash my phones and headphones.  Somehow it was, and I happily gave it to the lady at the counter who would hopefully approve me for an emergency passport.  I waited and waited for the approval, and a couple hours later it was!  But my journey was not over, as I had to obtain a Thailand Immigration stamp so I wouldn’t look like I swam over here when I went to leave back to Perth.  I also had to check with the Australian Embassy in Bangkok if my Visa would transfer over to my new passport.  I also had to check with the airlines and the travel agency back in Australia to see about flights to Koh Samui later that day (apparently they have one every hour so I wasn’t too worried).  The Australian Embassy wasn’t open until 2:30, and at 11:30 that felt like way too long.  Took a cab to the Thailand Immigration Building.  Another long cab drive, and my wallet was really starting to hate me.  Once there I searched the truly massive building for the Immigration office, receiving very little help from the receptionists who knew little English.  Finally found the Immigration office at 12:10, and as I walked in the employees yelled me at that it was “lunch break” until 1.  At this point I was almost dead because of hunger, but the mission was more important.  I called the Australian travel agency, and they said they couldn’t move my flights and I would have to pay for new ones if I wanted to go to Koh Samui.  I called the Hostel and told them to look again and call me back in ten minutes.  They never called.  I called them again and they said they could not find it, which was the answer I was expecting.  I was just about to head down to the food court within the huge Immigration building at 12:45 when I got a call from the Hostel.  They had found my passport!  I instantly ran outside, grabbed the first cab (may have jumped in front of some people), and started the long drive back to the Hostel.  This drive took an hour and a half with heavy traffic, and we even got in a fender bender when trying to switch lanes.  Both drivers got out, and rather than involving any police or insurance, decided to call it good.  My driver was not flustered at all.  Got my passport from the lady receptionist at HQ, and when I asked her where she found it she would reply, “Yes!  I found it!”  Got back in the cab and headed to the airport which was another 40-minute drive.  Got out, paid the driver 600 Baht for his services and friendship (he called me his friend and shook my hand, which never happens.  You hardly ever talk to the drivers here because they know so little English and are just kind of rude).  Once at the check-in counter at Bangkok Airways once again, I told them my story and without a thought they handed me over a boarding pass for the next plane, free of charge.  I slept the entire 45-minute flight, and woke up on the beautiful tiny island of Koh Samui, Thailand.

Intimidating Thailand Immigration Building

Intimidating Thailand Immigration Building

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Since I travel light with only a backpack, I skipped baggage claim and headed straight for the public taxis.  To little surprise they were charging 600 Baht to get to Lamai, where my Hotel was.  I asked them if I could use the meter and they said there were no meters on the island.  Refusing to pay $18 American dollars for a trip that should cost at most $6 (with a meter), I hit the streets in search of a better option.  Two little island girls saw me walking and said, “Taxi?”, and I just couldn’t say no.  I ended up getting a ride from a local guy on his motorbike for 300 Baht, which was still a lot but the ride was worth it.  I got to my hotel after a 30-minute drive around the island and checked into my own room at Buddy Oriental Samui Beach Resort.  After unpacking and showering I asked the receptionist where to go that night and she said the Chaweng strip.  I was advised to take the Tuk Tuk taxi, which was really just a truck with benches in the back, and they would take me the 25 minutes to Chaweng for 60 Baht.  The street was a mini Bangkok, with bright lights, tons of bars, nightclubs, massage parlors, pharmacies, tailor shops, and nice restaurants.  Motorbikes lined the streets, the best and cheapest way to get around if you know how to ride one.  I chose a good-looking pizza joint and settled in with a two for one cocktail deal.  I walked the streets, checking out several shops, and dodging countless men on the street looking to attack my wallet with their “good deals” or “cheap price” on suits, taxi rides, drinks, you name it.  I went to a bar, got my butt kicked in pool by a girl, and decided to call it a night.

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The next morning I asked the receptionist which beach was the best, and was instructed to go to Chaweng Beach.  I hopped on a Tuk Tuk, paid my 60 Baht when I hopped off on the Chaweng strip, and took the short stroll down to the beach.  What I saw next was truly beautiful and I instantly knew why Koh Samui is such a popular tourist destination.  The water was crystal clear, and between one to three feet of depth as far out as the eye can see.  That means the water was that beautiful light blue, with some sandbars poking up every now and then, a perfect spot for sunbathing.  The sand was white and powder soft.  The beach was very long and lined with small resorts.  These resorts weren’t the towering structures like in Cancun, rather one to two stories, each with a pool, bar, occasionally a beachfront restaurant, and chairs out onto the beach.  I spent the day laying out for a little while at each spot, jumping in the warm tropical water whenever I got too hot.  Covered decks offering Thai massages littered the beach, as one could not walk 50 feet without a Thai lady making eye contact and yelling “massage?!”  They were only six bucks an hour, so of course I had a couple!  I walked the whole beach, stopping for a nice lunch and an occasional drink, and before I knew it the sun had gone to the other side of the island around 6 and it was time to call it a day.  After a cheeseburger and fries dinner at Momma’s Burgers in Lamai, I took a “nap” at nine, intending on waking up for the Green Mango club on the Chaweng strip that didn’t get going until midnight, but I didn’t wake up until nine the next morning.  The sun had wiped me out.

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The next day I did literally the same thing, after I had asked a couple locals if there were any other beaches worth going to on the island.  I was assured that Chaweng was as good as it gets.  The only thing that bothered me about the beach was the constant stream of locals walking up and down the beach that would insist on selling you their necklaces, beach toys, hats, food, etc., if you made eye contact for an instant.  I ended up buying some souvenirs for my friends back home after bartering the price down relentlessly.  That night I enjoyed a nice Pad Thai and an entire red snapper (I was hungry).  I headed back to the hotel with every intention of returning to Chaweng for a party at Green Mango around midnight, but yet again I didn’t make it.  My day was good enough as it was, with another two massages and a nice sunburn to take home with me.  Besides, I had to get to the airport rather early to catch my flight back to Bangkok, and I wasn’t about to mess that up for anything.

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The Koh Samui airport was one of the coolest I’ve ever been in, completely outdoor with some parts covered by a wooden roof.  There were chairs, couches, and beanbags scattered around the terminal, and also a bunch of free food and drinks.  The flight went smoothly, and when I returned to Bangkok I was like an old pro, walking with purpose through the airport and then demanding to use the meter for my taxi trip.  Paying just 200 Baht to get to my hostel this time (plus a little for the highway toll booths), a different hostel called Lub d Bangkok Hostel in the same area, I was determined to have a cheap final night as I had burned through way too much cash on the trip.  All settled in to my new room full of seven other dudes, I sat on my bed for a while amidst the smell of feet and had a Facebook chat with Peyton.  He was visiting Indonesia and was on the islands of Gili (worth a Google search).  Hearing that you MUST get a suit while in Thailand at one of the many tailors (seriously there was one every four stores, ridiculous), I researched the best ones and one happened to be close by.  Hopping down from my bunk, I walked down the road a ways to the tailor where I talked at length with the 50-something Arab manager.  I worked at a deal where I would get their best black suit, made of Giorgio Armani fabric from Italy, tailored to  fit my body for $150.  The real deal costs $3,000-$4,000 back home, and when I received my perfect fitting suit later that night I was convinced my suit was a quality item! I decided not to head to Chatuchak Market because it was just getting late and I would only have an hour to look around after hunting down the nearest train station and getting there.  So, after grabbing yet another Pad Thai dinner down an alley packed to the brim with street carts and tiny restaurants, I decided to head to Khao San Road to buy one final souvenir.  I only brought 500 baht with me ($15) to limit my spending.  The rest of my money was for a cab the next morning to the airport.  I spent 100 Baht to get there, and knowing it would cost at least that to get home I only spent 250 Baht on the “street of dreams”, buying random street food.  When I returned to the Hostel I went up to my room in search of someone to hangout with.  Hostels are great places to meet people, and it wasn’t long before I was at the bar downstairs with a guy from Canada that was “exploring the world”.  He had been basically everywhere because he had some deal where he would get flights for extremely cheap because he was related to a flight attendant or something.  I don’t quite remember, but I was jealous, as I had totally caught the world-travelling bug.  Before I knew it, it was past midnight which meant bedtime so I could get up for my very early flight to Perth.

Before the sun was up, I was up, and by 5am I was in a cab for the final time, heading to the Bangkok airport.  I paid the toll booth one final time, we zipped in and out of lanes one final time, my taxi driver bragged about how much over the speed limit he was going one final time, and I checked in at Thai Airways one final time.  There was a slight moment of drama at the check-in stand because my Australian Visa had transferred over automatically to my emergency passport, and my Thailand immigration stamp was on my original passport.  So I had to wait about 20 minutes as the message was sent to Australia, clearing me to fly.  I was absolutely starving by the time I cleared customs and made it to my terminal, so at 7am I ordered a double Whopper with cheese and a large fry from Burger King and demolished it before it even had a chance to put up a fight.  By 7:40 I was on my way home.  A short snooze, and Hangover 2 & 3 later I was back on the ground in Perth.  It was interesting to watch Hangover 2 after visiting Bangkok, and I can now totally see how they got into trouble rather quickly in a city some would describe as “sinister”.  I loved every minute of my journey to Thailand, especially Bangkok, and I look forward to the day when I can show some friends around the crazy city.

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I was welcomed back to the Perth prices with a $60 taxi back to my house, where my roommates were excited to see me and hear my stories.  As I waited for Peyton to return from his journey I reflected on just how awesome my spur of the moment trip to Thailand truly was.  I saw some incredible things on my week alone in a land I never thought I would visit.  This “trip of a lifetime within a trip of a lifetime” was simply amazing, and I cant wait to plan my next one!

Day 33 Friday, August 30, 2013

As expected I have not had Internet connection (or even a computer, since I accidently left it behind in the rush to get out of the house) the past 11 days.  So here is what I have been up to during my incredible journey up north.

On Tuesday we were picked up at the house at 6:30am.  We were told to pack light, so I did just that, cramming my clothes for the ten day trip into my backpack with my tightly rolled sleeping bag on the back and another bag with my fins (flippers) and bootys (reef shoes).  We drove ten hours straight to Carnarvon only making several stops for petrol (gas) along the way.  Once in Carnarvon, a town of roughly 2,000 in the middle of nowhere, we pulled into a caravan park (RV park) for the night.  The four kids all piled into a tiny portable house that was about 20ft by 10ft while Paul and Jo stayed in an identical place right next door.  The girls shared the queen-sized bed and Peyton and I chose the bunks located in the kitchen/living room.  There was also a small bathroom about the size of an airplane bathroom with a shower.  We had dinner at Eagle Boy’s pizza before heading back to the cramped accommodation for some z’s.

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The next morning we hit the road bright and early in route for Coral Bay.  After about maybe two hours we had made it, and pulled into a backpacker’s hostel where we would be staying the night in a $27 dorm room.  The weather was beautiful, sunny and in the 80’s, something we desperately needed after weeks of rainy weather in Perth.  Glimpses of the bright blue ocean and white sandy beaches on the drive in made us so eager to hop in the water and start snorkeling that we skipped lunch.  The beach at Coral Bay was simply breath taking and I quickly claimed it as the most amazing beach I had ever seen.  The area was definitely properly named, as an aerial photo showed that the entire bay was packed full of coral perfect for world class snorkeling right off the beach.  We slipped on our fins, spit in our masks (to prevent fogging), and jumped in the water to enjoy an afternoon of reef investigating and fish gawking.  After a late lunch of Nutella and peanut butter sandwiches, Peyton and I explored the surrounding towering sand dunes and discovered breathtaking views of the bay.  After a couple hours of walking the beach and dodging blue spotted sting rays that seemed to zoom by every several steps we headed in for a burger cookout and a lecture about the reef and it’s animal inhabitants from the unofficial mayor of Coral Bay, Frazier (he has been giving tours for 13 years and has lived in the town of roughly 1,000 for 20 years and knows just about everything about the area).  We enjoyed a PowerPoint presentation in his little beach house where we were introduced to the many species of fish and different types of coral in the bay.  Frazier is a Manta Ray expert, and prepped us for the all day tour we would be taking the following day in his boat where we would snorkel at a couple of his favorite spots and swim with his favorite marine animal, the Manta Ray.  After a game of Ping-Pong with Peyton back at the hostel, us four kids headed to our dorm room for the night.

We boarded the boat at 9am Thursday morning along with nine others from an assortment of nations and began the cruise on the crystal clear waters of Coral Bay.  After about 30 minutes of cruising through the flat turquoise water we anchored at our first snorkel spot.  In about 40 feet of water we hopped in and spent the next hour taking in the massive coral structures, hundreds of different colorful fish, sea turtles, and sharks.  We hopped back on deck to warm up in the sun and snack on some coffee cake and tea.  Peyton and I took to the top deck to bask in the sun as we took of in search of a Manta Ray.  It wasn’t long before the plane flying above spotted one (after mistaking one for a massive Bull Ray which was impressive in its own right) and we were in the water swimming with the two meter wide Manta Ray.  Frazier, in the process of earning a PhD studying Manta Rays, proudly told us that Mantas have the largest brain/body ratio of any marine animal, and it seemed to be pretty at ease with a group of curious tourists chasing after it for a closer look.  One of the guides dove down for a picture of the Ray for future identification, and the beast pulled up, exposing its belly, and seemed to pose.  Once the Ray had had enough and swam away, we boarded the boat again and were greeted with ham and cheese toasties.  Peyton and I headed back to our perch on the top of the boat to take in some more rays before we were alerted that we had pulled up next to an 11 foot Tiger Shark!  As if that wasn’t enough, shortly after we came within a football field of three breaching Humpback Whales!  It was safe to say we got our moneys worth at this point.  We anchored once more for a final snorkel through the branching corals, a favorite home to fish and sea turtles, before boarding the boat a final time to head back to shore.  Once we docked we were told to go observe the huge shadow next to the dock, which turned out to be their absolutely massive resident Sand Grouper.  This beast must have been a couple hundred pounds, and had been living near the docks for a while because the fishermen feed it.  Peyton attempted to capture the creature on his GoPro camera, attached to an ore we borrowed, but I’m yet to see the footage.  Next, we headed to Exmouth where we checked in at a motel and met up with our Marine Biology professor, Jen, who would lead our research on the Maxima Clam the upcoming week in the Cape Range National Park in Exmouth.  We picked up groceries to keep us fed during our stay, agreeing to each pay for and cook one dinner each, and then munched down some burgers at a local diner before heading to bed in our two person motel rooms.

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Friday we headed to The Bothy, our “employees only” accommodation in the Cape Range National Park.  There were no buildings for the public to stay in the park, only camp and caravan sites, so we were extremely fortunate to have a place to stay.  The park was extremely secluded, and we were completely robbed of all cell and Internet service.  This was truly a week of isolation with focus on research and snorkeling.  The Bothy was by no means a five-star accommodation, not even a one-star.  The place consisted of a living room/kitchen, a bunkroom for the four kids, and an extremely stinky bathroom with pit toilet, shower, and washing machine.  There was a two gallon bucket of saw dust next to the toilet to try to keep the smell down, but we still had to make sure the door was closed the entire time to keep the entire house from smelling like feces.  There were spiders, cockroaches, and other pesky insects everywhere in the house, but we never complained, thankful for the opportunity to stay in such an amazing location.  The park was very flat, with no trees, only low shrubbery in the desert environment.  There were some hills in the distance, including one near The Bothy where Peyton and I would sneak away to watch the sunset and stars each night (how romantic).  Beautiful coast and white sand beaches ran along the entire park where we would be doing our research.  The research would consist of measuring the clam and sea urchin population densities in 19 predetermined sites.  We would split into two groups at low tide (typically 6am-7am and 4pm-6pm) with an adult to supervise (Jen or Jo, Paul’s friend with research experience) and after slipping into our wet suits, trod out to the different sites (we would do 4-8 a day, two in the morning and two in the afternoon) with gear in hand (mask and snorkel, clipboard with waterproof paper and pencil, viewing tube for seeing clearly under the water without having to submerge your head, tape measurer, and camera) and randomly throw a meter^2 quadrat 25 times in a 50 meter^2 area.  We would record the substrate of each quadrat, the visibility, whether or not there was a clam or urchin present, and the size of the clam.  If the substrate ever changed, or we found a clam (some sites we would find zero life in all 25 quadrats, and others we would find a lot, once coming across 14 clams in 25 quadrat throws) we would snap a picture with an underwater camera for later verification.  The research required three straight days of very early wake up calls, and a lot of time recording data, but at the end we felt as if we had done a solid job and it felt good to contribute to the knowledge of the national park on their clam and urchin populations.  We have a lab report due later in the semester for a grade.

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During the days when we weren’t busy being scientists we turned our attention to the world famous Ningaloo Reef and some snorkeling.  Our favorite spot was called Oyster Stacks, where we swam amongst monstrous coral structures and their fish inhabitants, observed extra big Maxima clams in abundance, admired Octopus and Sea Stars, and I even swam with a Sea Turtle for about a half-hour before heading in.  The sunny weather (sometimes hitting 90 during the days) dried us quickly and warmed us after the rather chilly snorkel, although the water was quite not too cold considering it was the dead of winter in Australia.  One day instead of snorkeling we decided to enjoy the beauty of Turquoise Bay, a popular beach in the park because of its powerful current that sweeps snorkelers along the beach and over the coral without having to swim.  Snorkelers are warmed to stay aware of their surroundings and not become too engaged in the fish watching, as there was definite danger of being swept out to sea (next stop, Africa).  We saw this danger first hand, as a park ranger giving us a lecture on the park the following day was called on an emergency rescue.

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The nights at The Bothy consisted of a different person slaving over a hot stove in the kitchen, trying their best to present a meal that would impress the others.  The first night Paul made a huge BBQ (I ate way too much), followed my Chloe’s stir-fry the next night, Emma made a yellow curry, Peyton made pasta with a meat and veggie sauce, Jo made a vegetarian pesto and quinoa dish, and I crafted a chicken picatta meal (a personal favorite back home).  All in all we ate like kings during our time in Exmouth.

Other highlights of the trip were:  watching Finding Nemo with the big “family”, stargazing on the hill with Peyton with absolutely no light pollution in the middle of nowhere, dodging countless Kangaroos on the road back to The Bothy each night (Roo’s are crepuscular, meaning they eat at dawn and dusk and are absolutely everywhere), watching a sunset near the lighthouse on the top of the tallest hill overlooking the endless ocean and witnessing the “green flash” as the sun disappeared beyond the horizon, and living life with no connection or thoughts to the outside world.

The tough parts of the trip were the extremely early and active mornings, having to do a “class four” hike over sharp rocks in my thin reef shoes because I had forgotten my tennis shoes in the morning rush, and being assigned the chore of cleaning the absolutely repulsive bathroom as we moved out.  The life of a scientist isn’t glamorous, but I think we all enjoyed roughing it for the week.

Wednesday we cleaned up The Bothy and headed to the town of Exmouth where we stayed in the same motel and said goodbye to Jen.

Before the sun had peaked above the horizon we were on the road once more with the goal of making it back to Perth in one day, a straight shot.  We accomplished the goal, and by 8pm we were dropped off at 232 South St., White Gum Valley for the first nights sleep in our own beds in a while.

What a trip!

Here is a brief list of the species I saw on this trip, this excludes hundreds of different fish, birds, bugs, and whatever else that I can’t remember.

-       Western Grey kangaroo

-       Kookaburra

-       Butcherbirds

-       Raven

-       Galah

-       Emu

-       Humpback whale

-       Tiger shark

-       Reef Shark

-       Blue spotted ray

-       Parrotfish

-       White tip reef shark?

-       Shovelnose ray

-       Coastal manta ray

-       Squirrelfish

-       Trumpetfish

-       Giant clam

-       Butterfly fish

-       Parenti lizard (varanus species)

-       Gecko

-       Reef banner fish

-       Echidna

-       Juvenile angelfish

-       Some sort of adult angelfish

-       Drunken sea stars (blue starfish)

-       Other sea star (brown, spotted, little, thin arms)

-       Blue-green pullers/chromies

-       Moorish idol

-       Black anemone fish

-       Sea cucumbers

-       Hawaiian triggerfish

-       Octopus (of some sort)

-       Several different species of Sea Turtle

-       Sea urchin

-       Blue spine unicorn fish

-       Black tip reef shark

-       Rock wallaby

-       Osprey

-       Eel

Day 21 Monday, August 18, 2013

This past weekend can be summed up with one-word “chill”.  Peyton and I simply enjoyed being home owners for the past couple days, cooking our own food with our own groceries (hand picked groceries, none of this eat what you mom brings home stuff), sitting on our nice brick patio, lounging in front of the T.V. (despite the fact that there are like three channels that work and watching Dr. Oz all day isn’t something I’m too keen to do), and today I even laid out for a while in the sunshine!  There has been no rain this Monday, and I am convinced the sunshine is here to stay.  We keep getting told that we are a couple weeks from amazing weather, which equals an amazing opportunity to go to the beach that is right down the road.  It’s kind of sad that we haven’t had a beach day, or even walked the beach because of the cold dreary weather.

As I was saying, most of this weekend was spent at the new house, and the nights consisted of Peyton and I sitting on my bed with our noses in our Mac’s expanding our knowledge on what makes us curious.  For me, my interest in the ocean was sparked by our oceanography trip out on the boat, and I have been busy researching deep ocean discoveries.  Life in the deep ocean (I’m talking 3000+ meters) is the final frontier on earth, and remains largely undiscovered.  I want to discover it.  They say the extreme conditions in the deep water, where the pressure and extreme cold make life almost impossible, is the closest thing we have to conditions on other planets.  The work they do at the bottom of the ocean, with their robots and manned submarines, is very similar to how they maneuver around places like Mars and the Moon.  This got me thinking about exploring space, which led to more Google and YouTube searches.  Get this, all life as we know it gets its energy from the sun, yet there are thriving ecosystems at the bottom of the sea where light has never touched.  There are creatures that live off water and heat (from the hydrothermal vents) alone, and don’t need photosynthesis or even stomachs for food to survive.  So if it only takes water and heat to create life, shouldn’t life on other planets be possible?  Am I turning into a nerd on this trip?  I suppose it’s a better alternative to constantly living on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and whatever else I was constantly connected to in my pre-world traveller life.

The most exciting thing this weekend was a trip to Glendalough to pick up some flippers and a mask and snorkel for my trip tomorrow morning.  I had searched on Gum Tree (an Australian equivalent to Craigslist) for a cheap set of flippers and found a great set for $30.  The only catch is that I had to meet the guy in his area, which was a train ride to Perth, and then a train ride to Glendalough away.  So Peyton and I made a day out of it on Sunday, and after making the purchase we walked around North Bridge.  While we were there we stopped at a really cool restaurant and Peyton ordered a single $6 taco and I ordered $6.50 guacamole and chips.  You should have seen the looks on our faces when Peyton’s miniature taco that was about ½ the size of his palm was delivered to our table.  Money doesn’t go far in Perth.

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Tomorrow we wake up at the crack of dawn to depart for Coral Bay and the Ningaloo Reef.  The drive is 15 hours total straight north, and we are doing the first ten tomorrow before stopping in Carnarvon to sleep at a hotel.  We travel another five the following day before reaching our destination.

I don’t know the exact details on the trip other than it is ten days long and we will be in the water basically the entire time seeing some of the most amazing things.  We were told that Internet is a little scarce up north, so this may be my last blog post for a while.  Expect a massive post with tons of juicy details after this once in a lifetime trip to Ningaloo.

If Internet is accessible, expect some updates!

Day 18 Friday, August 16, 2013

Turning a knob to let up my electronic metal shutters that don’t let sun even think about coming in, I crawled out of bed and zombie shuffled it to the shower where I took my time in the consistently perfect temperature water.  To wake up in a new house that actually felt like home and not a vacation was a great feeling.  Even though this trip has been great so far, I feel like the move to this new house has really lifted my spirits to truly take advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity.  We met Jennifer at the train station where we got aboard the 10:15 train to Perth station.  Once there we walked to North Bridge (it’s a North Bridge left, Perth right kind of thing) and entered the WA Museum.  We have one class a day, and this one was at the museum looking at some world-class exhibits.  Tough life.  After all the Aborigines history, stuffed animals and skeletons, stones and minerals, and history of life I could handle we left for a late lunch.  Our group of five snaked our way through the crowded mall to a food court of different ethnic foods.  I chose Indian, and made my best attempt at finishing a plate of three different curries over rice.  After lunch we headed back home to Fremantle.

            Back at the house Peyton and I relaxed.  I caught up on my blog, he caught up with family and friends back home, and we both caught an appetite around six.  Dinner was homemade Penne pasta with Bolognese sauce.  Yes, a homemade meal by yours truly.  It was delicious, and Peyton and I were content to continue relaxing the rest of the night, taking it easy for once on a Friday night.

 

Day 17 Thursday, August 15, 2013

Once again I’m slacking on the blogging.  So after a four-day break from recording my life, here is my attempt to catch up.

On Monday we had Conservation Biology with Kate.  The classes here are a little bizarre with only the professor and us four students.  They are also three hours of lecturing which can get very long, lets say, especially when there is so much being covered so quickly that your brain struggles to retain any of it.  Both of my professors are emailing me the PowerPoint’s so I can review and also get inspiration for our daily class reflections.  The reflections typically incorporate something learned in class and apply it to the real world with an example from a journal article, news article, YouTube video, or whatever else is on the web.  It’s been raining a lot here, which isn’t normal for such a dry continent, so we have been coming straight home from school and staying in most of the day.  Jennifer (Marine Biology Professor) told us this is the most it’s rained in the month in 50 years.  Just our luck.  Peyton and I chilled all night, looking forward to a big nights sleep with class at 1pm the next day.

We somehow managed to barely get out the door in time for school on Tuesday.  Apparently my body needed a ton of sleep, and it definitely got it.  We had class with Paul, where we went over our interviews with our cultural partners from the previous week. During these interviews we had to discuss each other’s names and how they came to be.  My partner was my friend Sam (my Australian friend I met at Doane).  After class we had a stats refresher course where I was basically reminded on how to use Excel, a program I am definitely familiar with.  After class we headed back to the house to relax for a while before heading to Freo for dinner with the girls.  They chose Mexican Kitchen, and I ordered the Mexi Plate with a beef enchilada, beef taco, rice, beans, and steak taquito.  I’m including the order in this blog because the food was that good, and I munched down every last morsel of the $24 plate.  I still haven’t adjusted to the prices here (that $24 dollar meal doesn’t include the $4 drink and $8 chips), but apparently it isn’t that bad for the locals because there is so much money being made here with the nearby mines and minimum wage of $20/hour.  Perth is going through an absolute economic boom and I have to live amongst the ‘young money’ with my measly American savings account.

Wednesday was Oceanography day, and by 10am we were in Jennifer’s (our Marine Biology professor) stick shift Subaru on the way to the marina to hop on a huge Catamaran boat with some other Uni student’s and head out into the ocean to test a spot where different types of water meet .  The boat was massive, and with a bag of chips with tomato sauce in hand (fries and ketchup), I explored the two levels of the boat which included a dry area with couches and a bar, captains control room, and an upper and lower level outdoor seating area.  We were taught about the different devices on board and how they were to be used and why exactly we were using them.  One instrument measured wind speed, one measured wind direction, one measured salinity and oxygen levels, one measured visibility, one measured temperature, one measured the current direction, and one collected water from deep to compare to water near the surface.  Needless to say it was a science filled day, and most passengers caught a couple z’s on the 30 minutes boat ride back to the dock from the testing spot.  I had Zed’s Fish & Chips for dinner and chilled with Peyton at the house the remainder of the night.  Just kidding, after some food we headed over to Murdoch Uni to hang out with the other CIEE group and their friends in one of their flats.  Many people of many nations came and went from the flat and we all shared drinks and had a great time before heading into downtown Freo for another student night at Newport.  After a long night of dancing and socializing I was happy to meet my bed again.

I vow never to drink boxed wine again, after the headache I woke up with on Thursday morning.  By 1:30 I was packing up all my stuff to move houses.  Peyton and I moved a block down the street to a house where Peyton wouldn’t live in a broom closet, there wouldn’t be standing water in the shower room and toilet room at all times, the shower wouldn’t decide go cold or hot whenever it pleased, the internet would be better, and we would have some more social and cheery housemates.  I never realized how depressing of a setting we were living in until we moved.  The new house turned out to be everything we wanted, with Peyton and I both getting big rooms with big beds and plenty of closet space.  We have a huge, clean bathroom that is dry.  The shower is great and there is even a huge whirlpool tub!  We have the whole upstairs to ourselves, and downstairs is a huge kitchen with a dining room and living room, and best of all a guest toilet.  The move took us out of a dreary situation in the dark old house, and put us into the quality of home we are both used to.  We both agree the move was much needed.  After getting unpacked we took the bus to campus to do laundry for the first time, as we both had to wear repeat clothes.  The washing and drying process took so long that we had time to walk over a mile to the closest grocery store and buy very reasonably priced groceries that will definitely help our budgets in one of the most expensive cities in the world.  When we got back we were surprised to see that the dryer had not completely dried our clothes.  Out of money and patience, and bellies on E, we headed back to the house with damp baskets of laundry.  Peyton rigged a clothesline under our front porch roof with his camping hammock (it had literally been raining four days straight), and I set most of my clothes on the living room floor to dry, only hanging my most damp articles on the clothesline.  We cooked ourselves a couple frozen pizzas and relaxed the rest of the night.  Life is good in the new house.

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Day 13 Sunday, August 11, 2013

I’ve been bad about adding to my blog so I will do a quick recap of what I remember (it’s not easy because we do so many things and go to so many places).  On Thursday we had our first Marine Biology lecture with Jennifer.  The class had interesting material, but was hard to digest as we raced through 90+ slides on PowerPoint in three hours.  It probably didn’t help that Wednesday is a big party night in Freo, and we had been our till the wee hours of the morning at Newport club on student night.  Our only class on Wednesday was with Paul where we talked about getting used to the culture and were assigned the task of making an Australian friend and interviewing them.  I slept all day Thursday and went to bed early.  Note to self, avoid cheap wine.  On Friday we woke up early to be picked up by Kate and Jennifer at the girls house and headed off to the local aquarium.  It was really neat to see all the local animals and corals, knowing we will soon be swimming amongst them ourselves.  We had to fill out a huge packet while we were there, but it really helped us learn so we all appreciated it.  After the aquarium Peyton and I went to our favorite bar/brewery, Little Creatures, and tried out another one of their signature beers.  We munched on a big basket of frites (fries) and were set.  I accidently walked out without paying and the waiter ran me down, oops.

Later that night Peyton and I had two Aussie guys over that we had met at ultimate frisbee on Monday.  We sat around the table on our back patio and shared stories and played card games.  It was fun to have a chill night with Australian friends, who are really just like us.  We headed into Freo to check out the nightlife scene, deciding the trip to Northbridge in Perth where all the best nightlife is was too big of a trek that late at night.  Besides, the buses stop at 2am on the weekends and we would have had to walk home from the train station (a 30 minute walk).  Instead we had a late night Kebab (with garlic sauce, a horrible idea) and went to Newport, which wasn’t all that exciting which surprised me considering it was supposed to be one of Freo’s best clubs.  I’m learning that the party is somewhere new every night and you either have to know what your’e doing or stumble on to a crazy night at the club’s.  I also need to remind myself that this is a port-town of 30,000 and Miami Beach.

Saturday I slept in till noon, which felt amazing.  By 1:30 I was out the door on my way to Perth to see Sam play a Footy (Australian rules football) game.  I made this journey alone which was a first and a bit nerve wracking knowing I was heading into the jaws of a big city alone (2 million population).  I made it to Perth fine on the train, but once I got there the big city swallowed me in, and the plan I had in my head went out the door and I scrambled to find the bus stop that would take me to Hamer Park where Sam was playing.  After asking directions I found what I thought was my stop, but the bus ended up taking me to the train station where I started.  After asking for help again, this time from a bus driver, I was pointed to the correct bus stop.  I still felt uneasy being completely alone and clueless in the looming unknown city, but my worries were put to rest when the bus driver said he knew exactly where Hamer Park was and he would let me know exactly when to get off.

I arrived at Sam’s game late into the 4th quarter, but I still got to see what his level of Footy was all about.  It is a brutal game, a combination of soccer, football, and rugby, with no pads.  Sam hurt his knee and got a possible concussion, which he said is normal.  We headed to his house where I met his big family and American cousins who were living there as well.  We ordered pizza and then went out for the night.  We went to several bars, attempted to get into a couple crowded night clubs with hour long lines, and visited a couple houses.  It was a fun and crazy night to say the least, but I would expect nothing less from my crazy Australian friend

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Sunday I woke up, ate breakfast prepared by Sam’s mom, and then got dropped off at the train station.  Once I got back I showered and left for the train station again with Peyton for the Fremantle professional Footy game (AFL).  We met the girls, the Clarke kids, and Paul and his family at the stadium in Subiaco (about ¾ of the way between Fremantle and Perth).  Everyone wore purple, and Paul gave us each a purple Freo scarf and paid for our tickets.  The stadium was packed, as 30,000+ fans watched their hometown Fremantle Docker’s demolish the South Sydney Giants.  It was great to watch, and I was blown away by the accuracy of the player’s kicks and their split second decisions as they withstood bone-crushing tackles.  I treated myself to a fresh sugar donut at halftime.

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After the game Peyton and I picked up some Indian food and headed back to the house for the night to do homework and prepare for the following week

Day 8 Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Class was at 9:30 with Kate.  She is Paul’s wife as well as our Conservation Biology professor.  Class was fun, as we bounced from classroom to coffee shop to outside to the CIEE room.  For three hours we discussed the class expectations and the first lecture.  We are assigned a reflection from each class that will end up being a journal that we turn in for a large portion of our grade. 

            After class Peyton and I headed back for lunch at Zed’s Fish and Chips, which we were sad to discover was closed.  Moving on to the next option we headed a little bit further down the road to a café where I ordered a plate of pasta because I noticed the owner was Italian (and because it was the cheapest thing on the menu at $12).  There are hardly any restaurants here with wait staff like in America, because there is no tipping.  You order at the counter and wait at your table till the food is brought to you.  Spaghetti ended up being a good choice!

            After a little down time Peyton and I headed to downtown Freo to walk around.  We met Sam there in-between one of his classes and he suggested a famous brewery/bar/restaurant on the harbor that boasts one of the top 100 beers in the world, the Little Creatures Pale Ale.  Of course that was our next stop, and the next hour or so found us enjoying a view of the boats with a world-class brew in our hands.

            The docks walked and the streets strolled, we headed back to the house for a relaxing evening while the girls went out to a party.  

Day 7 Monday, August 5, 2013

This was our first completely free day, so of course we were completely busy the entire day.  Peyton and I headed into Freo first thing in the morning.  We stopped for breakfast at a café.  There are so many that are so similar I forgot the name, but it was very good.  It is impossible to have a meal here for under $10 which is really hurting the wallet.  After breakfast we searched and searched for the post office so we could get our proof of age cards so we wouldn’t have to keep lugging our passports around to the bars.  We must have asked for directions five times and walked nearly the whole downtown area before finally finding the place.  $25, a passport and credit card scan later we had successfully ordered our cards.  The next order of business was getting a phone plan.  After scavenging the town once more for a stand that could unlock my iPhone so I could get a new sim card, we discovered it would cost $80.  So instead of wasting all that money I went to the Telstra store and purchased their cheapest phone and cheapest plan.  Now I will be able to text and call basically as much as I need to within Australia, and all usage after 6pm is free.  All incoming calls and texts are free as well.  So I’m slowly getting integrated to life here in WA.

            We headed back to the house to relax for a while before meeting up with my friend Sam at The Orient Bar.  I met Sam at Doane.  He is Australian and had come to Doane for a semester to play baseball.  He lives in Perth but takes the train to Fremantle every day where he studies at Notre Dame.  It was great to catch up with him, and he filled us in on the fun things to do in the area.  He will be a great connection as I try to get integrated into the culture. 

            From the bar we took a bus to the girl’s house, and from there we took a bus to Murdoch University for Monday night ultimate frisbee.  Some guys we met at the campus Tavern the previous Thursday had invited us, and of course we showed up an hour late because we could not find the field (which ended up being about 50 feet from the bus stop or about 15 meters as I should say here).  It was good fun even though it was rainy and slippery and Peyton took a frisbee to the lip.  We even got invited to an awesome music festival in September by one of the guys.

            After another big day we were ready for bed knowing Tuesday would be our first day of class at Murdoch.

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