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Saying goodbye to Asia was not easy, but it was Friday, October 13th, 1995 and we had places to go, people to meet, and things to see. As an introduction to Oz, we were safely seated in the middle of an A300 next to Tom and Val, who were returning from their stay on Java and Bali. The men got the aisle seats and the women sat in the center wasting no time getting acquainted.
There were many travel stories to share and much more to talk about after Karin found out that Tom was from the Netherlands and had lived in Bandung as a boy. Before we knew it, the plane had landed and it was time to say goodbye to our new friends, but not before they invited us to stay with them when we arrived in Cairns.
We were surprised to find that clearing immigration and customs went a lot smoother than others said it would, but after reaching the immigration counter we were convinced that they use directional microphones. We had a real sense of deja vu when the questions the officer asked seemed to be based on a conversation we had while waiting in line. We were on our way with a smile and stamps of approval and acceptance.
Having arrived at 2:30am, we were not sure exactly how we would manage to find a place to rest our heads, but found the visitor information counter and a friendly clerk. It did not take long for us to secure reservations at a hostel and get on the 4:00am shuttle into town. There was no traffic on the roads at this time of the morning, and we would soon find out that it was not much different during the day.
At the hostel, we snuck into our dormbeds without disturbing our roommates and sunk into a deep sleep. We awoke to tummy aches and a mean case of Bali belly, which went on for two days. After recovering, we took advantage of the first washing machine we had seen in months. In Asia, we were washing our clothes by hand and they had taken on a distinctive dingy look, which could only be removed by machine. It was nice to have white socks again, and even nicer to give our hands a break from the chore.
We had started getting used to being around Westerners in Bali, but were real depressed upon arrival in Darwin. You might call it a reverse culture shock. It was like waking up in the middle of a good dream and wanting to go back to sleep. After spending so little in Asia, prices in Australia shocked us, so we had to rush to the supermarket and start cooking for ourselves.
It took us a while to get used to the liberal styles of dress and behavior and the sound of English all the time, especially with the Aussie accent. After a week, we resigned ourselves to the next three months, and decided to make the best of things. Receiving a package and letter from home made things a little better, and the hot showers and potable tap water were other comforts we appreciated.
Darwin is doing pretty well since a cyclone flattened it on Christmas Day in 1974. The weather was very warm and humid. This is one of the six seasons that the Aborigines call Gunumeleng, a transition to monsoon weather. We saw Aborigines in town, but did not have an opportunity to speak with them.
Since Australia is the land of the great Outback, we signed up for three days in Kakadu National Park on a coaster bus with seventeen others. Not fifteen minutes out of the city, our driver, who thought he was Crocodile Dundee, jumps out of the bus, runs into the bush, and starts shaking a tree. Out falls a frill-necked lizard which he catches and holds up, mouth open and frill flared, for our first show and tell. Then it was off to see the 3m-tall (9 ft), 2m-diameter (6 ft) termite mounds made of mud, constructed for optimal natural ventilation and thermal control.
After a short swim in the 'croc-free' Annaburroo Billabong, it was time for an Outback food-sampling barbeque. The kangaroo and emu steaks, and crocodile nuggets were nothing to rave about, but we went back for more of the delicious camel sausage and buffalo burgers. We fed the leftovers to acrobatic Kites, birds that swooped down to catch them in mid-air.
Before we knew it, we were divided into groups of four and given 4m-long (13 ft) aluminum boats with small engines, then told to follow the leader up the freshwater side of a river called Lake Mary. After a quick course in boat-handling, we were turned loose and on our way. We plowed through the waterlillies and over by mudflats to see crocodiles as big as our boats sunbathing on the shore. Although we preferred that they stay onshore where we could see them, they slid into the water as we approached and swam towards us before diving down into the muddy waters to join their buddies below. Onshore, they left impressive 1m-tall (3 ft) Jabiru Storks with dark heads, black and white bodies, and long, red legs.
As if that was not enough fun, we moved the boats to the saltwater side of the dam and headed downstream along the narrow, shallow, and muddy river full of much larger, take-no-prisoners crocodiles. Everyone got a turn to steer the boat, including one young lady who almost beached us. Since the tide was going out, we had to cut things short at dusk and race up the river before it was too shallow. Back onshore, we watched the sunset and relaxed while large formations of geese flew overhead, wallabees played hide-and-seek, and cockatoos made a racket in the trees overhead. We then set out with a torch (flashlight) to spot bright-yellow crocodile eyes on the river, from the 'safety' of the dam.
The next day we visited the Aboriginal rock art at Ubirr. The culture is very complex and interesting, but difficult for others to comprehend and appreciate, even with the explanations provided at each outdoor site. This is also where Crocodile Dundee was filmed, so we climbed up to the top for the view of the Arnhemland Plateau and the wetlands below. We were constantly escorted by our very own swarm of flies, an infamous part of life in the Outback. Continuing on, we visited the park headquarters, impressive and modern museum display of the park's animal life and ecology. We stopped at the Garden Falls Billabong for our daily bath before heading back for another big barbeque around the bonfire in the center of our campground.
Day three took us to Barramundi Gorge for a swim in a lake below the waterfall before hiking to the top and diving into the deep waterpools feeding the falls. After lunch, we stopped at the Nourlangie rock art site, dodging the flies, before running back to the bus and heading back to Darwin. After a much-needed shower, we met Pauline, a friendly Barbadian woman living in Canada, who recognized Karin as a fellow West Indian, and told us funny stories about the polar bears in her neighborhood. She joined us to watch a video of our adventures in the Outback over our first real pizza in months.
The original intention was to dive the Great Barrier Reef on the way to New Zealand, but we found that an airpass with stops in five cities to be an economical way to see some of the country and a tolerable way to cross the vast distances of this large continent. The scenic flight to Cairns (cans, or canes) took us over the Tablelands and across to the east coast, where we had a beautiful view of the Barrier Islands offshore before landing among the cane fields covering the 6km (3.7 miles) from the mountains to the shore.
Crossing the tarmac at the airport, we could not help noticing how similar the surroundings were to St. Maarten. The weather and vegetation surprised us since it was like being back home in the Florida Keys or Caribbean Islands, however it is much cleaner and more orderly. Val and Tom, who we met on the flight from Bali, were there to welcome us with smiles, as if we were family. They whisked us up the coast to their home in tranquil Clifton Beach, then out for a pleasant stroll along the seashore.
We returned home to watch in amazement as Tom prepared one of the best and spiciest nasi goreng and chicken satays we have ever tasted. He has always liked Indonesian food, since he lived there when he was a young man. After dinner, they went with their daughter, Cathy, back to the airport to pick up Richard, their son who was just returning from his 8-month round-the-world journey. It was fun seeing them get reacquainted, while watching his videos and listening to his adventures.
We took a day-trip into Cairns to check out the dive operations and pick up our mail. Sean Connolly, an Internet friend on RTW, sent an out-of-the-ordinary letter, which by tradition had to be read on the steps outside the GPO. It seems he got more than he bargained for on the buses and trains which kept crashing in Pakistan, besides being attacked in the Baluchistan Desert.
The next morning, the weather had calmed down, so we called the dive shops until finding an extremely reasonable price on a live-aboard. There were only six hours left before departure, so we rushed around shopping and running errands, then packed up while a farewell gourmet feast was prepared at lightning speed.
We boarded the 33m (102 ft), renovated trawler at 7:00pm, stowed our baggage, selected and set up our dive gear, then settled into the galley for an orientation briefing, dinner, and an evening of getting acquainted with the six crew members and twenty divers on the half-full ship.
Albert intrigued us with stories about his trip around the world with his wife in 1970. He took a cargo ship to Europe, then a VW to Nepal, before travelling back to Australia overland. Just when Marc thought he had gotten away from it all, he was surprised to meet Mike, who works with the same industrial protective equipment Marc did, and had recently met some of Marc's workmates at a seminar in Vancouver. That night, cruising slowly through the rolling seas, we managed to sleep soundly in our cozy cabin, but many did not fare well.
After fifteen hours, we were 244km (150 miles) due east of Cairns. Arriving at Holmes Reef in the Coral Sea, we were struck by the beautiful blue sea and sky, calm waters, and intense sunlight. There was a small sandy key nearby and shallow reef all around, with the continental shelf dropping off to 1000m (620 ft). Within ten minutes of anchoring, Marc's seventeen years of dreaming were fulfilled as we descended 14m (44 ft) to The Amazing Caves.
It was the best dive of our lives, with white-tipped reef sharks, clown trigger fish, huge crevalle jacks, surgeon tangs, and all our favorite butterflies and angelfish observing us. Most of the time we just hovered at 5m (16 ft), looking into the colorful and densely populated clusters of coral. When we surfaced, we found ourselves with deep and very noticeable tan-lines due to the clear water, which magnified the sunlight. The second dive at The Bridge of Sighs was more of the same with clownfish nestling in large anemones and a small turtle roaming around the reef.
The next morning, we drifted along The Abyss, a spectacular wall that drops into nowhere. The visibility was well over 40m (125 ft), clear enough to deceive a few of the experienced divers in the group, drawing them deeper than planned. We got their attention and they ascended to safe limits. Once our buoyancy was under control, we stayed at three to four meters (9-13 ft) depth, where the colors were intense and the reef life most abundant.
Large turtles cruised by, entertaining the photographers in the school of humans. The highlight of this dive was a blue-ringed octopus making his rounds from his cave in search of food or pleasure. The second dive at The Cathedral featured delicious-looking lobster, tantalizing lionfish, large green Maori wrasse, and a huge reef-eating Crown-of-Thorns starfish.
The third dive at Nonkie Bommie was another spectacular event. We circled the 30m-diameter (93 ft), cylindrical reef in 25m (78 ft) of water, with its top just below the surface. It was packed with all the reef life we had seen before, including jacks that swim in circles as if caught in a whirlpool, until you swim by, then they break formation and follow you around. We skipped the night dive again, saving our energy for another evening's smorgasbord and videos of that day's dives.
The third day, after a night of cruising back towards land, we anchored 50km (31 miles) offshore at The Great Barrier Reef. Our early morning dives on Flynn Reef and Thetford Reef had a wide variety of hard corals and some batfish, but the visibility was comparatively poor. Even after working in the aquarium industry, Marc no longer feels like setting up his own fish tank after this wonderful dive experience.
A few hours later, we were back in Cairns eating gado-gado, an Indonesian salad covered in a piquant peanut sauce masterfully created by our inspired friends, Tom and Val. They expressed a great interest in the Internet, so we helped them buy a 28.8Kbps modem, and they took advantage of our expertise since we had the time to tutor them. In minutes we had the modem installed, used it to register them for an account with a local Internet service provider, demonstrated their computer's newfound capabilities by touring the Internet, then telnetted back to our accounts in Florida to read all of the email that had piled up.
The following day was spent testing the fax software so they could communicate with their widely-spread but very close family. This eventually led to a dedicated line for the computer, and an addiction to the Internet for Val. Within a year, they became part-owners of their ISP and started running it!
Linda, a Trinidadian friend who works at the Florida Institute of Technology, suggested we contact her relatives when we arrived in Cairns. We enjoyed a pleasant evening with Mike and Marcia and three of their four talented children. The West Indian music and creole food were refreshing reminders of Karin's home, but they also made her homesick. We wish we had more time to spend with them, but realize that this İonly means we have a reason to return.
Regrettably, our time in Cairns was up. Our hosts had treated us like family, and we learned much in a short time about Australian family values. They are very close and enjoy each other's company. It is nice to see that some people in the world are still shocked by the nightly news. We followed Tom's suggestion to sit on the left side of the plane for a nice view of the islands, reefs, and coastline.
Flying in, we had a great, late afternoon view of the skyline, the river, the Harbor Bridge, and the Sydney Opera House. It was overcast and 10°C (50°F). We stayed in the King's Cross area, famous for its red-light district, but not bad compared to big cities we have transited, especially now that the government has cracked down on blatant street exhibitions. One of the first things we noticed while riding the underground and walking through the city were the extremes. Some people were very cold and serious while others were liberal in their behavior and dress styles.
Our main reason for visiting Sydney was to meet Steve, our friend from Borneo, who Karin had worked with at Florida Tech. Three months had gone by since he dropped us at the Orlando Airport, but when we saw him it felt like one or two years. It was at this moment that we realized how intense Indonesia had been, and how it had warped our sense of time. We enjoyed a nice meal with his family and hated saying goodbye again. He made it possible for us to exchange email and also to open a talk session with our colleagues at Florida Tech.
Australia is a very popular place for people under twenty-six to work for a year while travelling, and Sydney is one of the main cities. One night in our dorm, our male roommate came home at 3:45am, drunk, homesick, and lonely. He pestered our female roommate enough to worry us, so we stayed awake until he fell asleep two hours later.
We enjoyed walking around the city and visiting the beaches, and find that even though Sydney has a good collection of international food and culture, we would not want to return.
Bernd Wechner, a friend from the Internet, surprised us by showing up at the gate. He posts collections of travel resource information on the net, with links to some of them in the RTW Travel Guide. Visit his homepage to learn more about this over-travelled character.
We staked out an area in the communal house, where many guests were due in for the final Grand Prix weekend. The days were full of low-flying and loud US Air Force F-18s which were part of the show. Some locals were relieved that this was the last Grand Prix to be held here. We happened to be here for Bernd's birthday party, so met a few of his interesting friends, some of whom speak Esperanto, an artificial language.
Adelaide is a small flat city which is laid out in a grid and surrounded by a park. Biking to the university to check our email, we found the city to be very nice and liveable. At dusk, Karin was just starting to get used to biking on the left when she was challenged by a drunkard who yelled, "I can't see her, she's got no f*cking headlights!" while weaving in front of her bike.
We stopped in at the archaeological museum, but did not see much when the fire alarm was mysteriously set off and we had to evacuate. The weather played tricks on us. One day it was extremely warm -- the locals called it a heatwave and were concerned about us walking around in it. The rest of the time it was cold and windy. We kept warm with many homemade pizzas since that was everyone's favorite food, when we were not eating jaffles, a uniquely Australian grilled sandwich of cheese, onions, tomatoes, and garlic.
Walking around the neighborhood, it does not take long to realize how avid everyone is about gardening. Flowering plants are popular and the variety of roses are extensive. Later we came to realize that this is true for most places in Australia.
Marc tracked down the email address of Paul Hellander, a long lost Internet acquaintance, who by coincidence lives within walking distance of Bernd's house. He runs a virtual language translation company, cooks excellent Asian meals, and has also travelled RTW twice to our surprise. Another thing we didn't realize is that he is a Lonely Planet author. He wrote the Greek phrase book, and updates the guides for the Mediterranean and SE Asian regions.
Karin satisfied her computer craving by building a colorful homepage for his company, South Australian Language Services.
When his wife, Stella, sees us near the computer, she teases us about our addiction by saying that we are back for our therapy. She cooks the most incredible Greek moussakas and kataifa dessert. They also kept us laughing by acting out Fawlty Towers skits.
One evening we went to Zorba's Greek Restaurant for their ritual weekend of dancing to live music. Stella was in the mood to show off one of her talents by singing a few of her compositions. We will spare you the details of the delicious and authentic food, but will say only that we have acquired a taste for Retsina wine. We look forward to our next visit to Adelaide and hope to meet Paul and Stella in Greece in mid-1997.
John, who we met in Solo and again in Bali, Indonesia, was there to pick us up from Brisbane Airport. He loaded us in his van and raced down to Runaway Bay, where he had grown up. We dropped our bags and headed out for a tour of Surfer's Paradise, a tourist mecca where the weather, buildings, and plant-life reminded us of Miami Beach. There is even a town called Miami just to the south.
After watching the surfers cruising the waves, we bought some prawns and headed home for nasi goreng udang. John also happens to be a lover of Indonesian food, after seventeen surfing expeditions to Bali. In fact, he was in a crisis deciding whether to live and work in Asia again, or go back to the boring and desolate gold mines of Western Australia. A few months later, he made the right choice: Bali.
We strolled through the Burleigh Head National Park and saw our first kookaburra taking food to a large nest on the side of a tree. The sky was threatening to fall on us, so we headed to the Carrumbin Sanctuary, which specializes in Australian wildlife. The bird collection included: jabiru storks, owls, ibis, parrots, giant pelicans, geese, and the odd-looking, prehistoric cassowary. The mammal collection featured: wombats, dingos, Tasmanian devils, and golden, red, tree kangaroos.
There were endangered bilbies, which look like possums, but have the ears, fur, and hop of rabbits. The koala bear made a unique honking noise when feeding time came around. We petted the friendly, but smelly kangaroos before being mesmerized by the colorful swarm of five hundred or so rainbow lorikeets that arrived on schedule for the afternoon feeding, as if it was their job.
As soon as we started off on our three-day camping trip south along the Gold Coast, the rains began. Our first stop was Byron Bay, famous for its long, sweeping beach, point-break surfing, and alternative lifestyles. We pitched our tent at the beach campground, then fell asleep to the sound of the rain tapping on the canvas.
The next day John surfed Back Beach, but not for long, as the water was a bit chilly. After visiting many lovely beaches and driving through rainstorms, we headed into the mountains, only to run into a dense and very eerie fog. We set up camp at Grafton, next to a horse and cow pasture, and prepared Thai chicken soup to warm us for the wet, cold night.
Back in Byron Bay the next day, we came across a public access terminal, where we introduced John to the wonders of surfing the Internet. The highlight of our trip was dinner at the Marrakesh Restaurant in Miami, owned and run by Cici, a very talkative woman who had many funny stories about life in Australia. After returning from our camping adventure, we were fortunate to spend some more time with John's family.
Our time was up, so we returned to the Brisbane Airport on November 23rd for the three-hour flight across the Tasman Sea to New Zealand. It looks pretty close on the map, but it is 2278km (1416 miles). Our main reason for coming to Oz was to visit friends and to scuba dive, both of which we accomplished. Some of our favorite memories of Australia are experiences we shared with our friends and their families. All five areas we visited were different, the accents were Aussie, but the vast distances keep them unique. We would like to return to Adelaide and areas north of Cairns, and based on suggestions from others, visit Perth and Melbourne.
If you have the time, we would appreciate any mail you might post before February 5th to:
CPO - Poste Restante
This may be our last mailstop for awhile since we are no longer travelling on a schedule. We do not know if we will find access in the next six months, but send us email and we will eventually reply. We look forward to hearing from you,
Marc & Karin
January 29, 1996
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