The Karen Files

Tag: adventure (page 1 of 4)

Safari Wilderness

In February, George and I were offered the opportunity to go to Safari Wilderness, a sister company to the Giraffe Ranch. They were impressed with the blog post and video I had created for the Giraffe Ranch and asked if I would be interested in doing one for them as well.*  Aside from being incredibly flattered, I was thrilled at the chance to try something new!

I did recall later that I had visited Safari Wilderness once before, several years ago when my sister, her husband, and their two young daughters were in Florida for a wedding. I didn’t do a blog post for that trip which may be why I didn’t realize initially that it was the same place, but I did create a video of that trip for my sister which I will share along with two new videos at the end of this post.

And now… let’s go on safari!

Entrance to wilderness safari

First, I want to give you a little background. Safari Wilderness is located in the middle of a protected preserve known as the “Green Swamp” in Lakeland, Florida. It is surrounded by cattle farms, giving you that “middle of nowhere” feeling as you are driving to it.

View of wilderness safari grounds

The day we chose for our adventure couldn’t have been more perfect! It was neither too hot nor too cold and the clouds were huge and puffy, which helped to keep the sun from getting too intense and made for some dramatically beautiful pictures.

Behind the scenes wilderness safari

Have you ever known pictures of farm equipment to look this magnificent?

When compared to the Giraffe Ranch, Safari Wilderness is quite a bit larger with more animals and more room for them to roam. The pricing for each site is about the same, with each having the same basic adventure options like the vehicle tour or the camel tour. They do each have their own unique adventure options not available with the other – for Safari Wilderness, the one that most appealed to George and I was the kayak adventure, which gives you the opportunity to observe the wildlife and many bird species from the water. You also get to make a stop at “Lemur Island” to hand-feed grapes to the lemurs that reside there.

If you don’t want to spring for the kayak trip but really want to feed the lemurs, never fear! Just like the Giraffe Ranch, Safari Wilderness has optional add-ons available, and feeding the lemurs is one of them. I can’t speak highly enough about my experiences with feeding the lemurs, both at the Giraffe Ranch and Safari Wilderness. It is definitely worth spending the extra money on.

Lemur from above

As of now, I’ve fed these fuzzy little primates five separate times, and it has still not gotten old. I don’t even think it’s possible to get tired of feeling their soft little hands gently gripping your fingers as they semi-patiently wait for you to give in to adorableness and hand them another treat.

Lemur holding my hand

I could talk about lemurs forever but because there is so much more I need to get to, I must move on! As a family-owned working ranch, Safari Wilderness has free-range chicken and they bale their own hay, raise cattle for beef, and even breed, raise, and sell guinea pigs as pets. They keep their tours limited to twice a day and purposefully keep them small to ensure their animals don’t become overly stressed.

Beautiful rooster

For this trip we took the traditional vehicle tour, which made it easier to compare and contrast the differences of the two sister ranches. Our vehicle was a converted open air bus with comfortable padded seats, which we shared with a group of about 10 other safari-goers. The bus did have a canopy cover for shade – believe me, that is a valuable feature for dealing with the strong Florida sun!

Safari jeep with no one on it yet

As far as mosquitoes go… well, we were in the wetlands. Mosquitoes are pretty much a given. If you are very sensitive to mosquito bites I’d recommend putting on bug spray before you go on the tour (but please, not while on the bus if you want to be respectful to those around you who may be sensitive to sprays). I didn’t think to bring bug spray, and while I did see mosquitoes and I’m certain I was bitten, I didn’t react to the bites as I normally do. Usually if I’m bitten my skin develops itchy red welts that last for hours, but this did not happen here. Perhaps the mosquitoes here were a different species that I am not sensitive to, or maybe I was so enthralled with the beauty of everything I saw outside of the vehicle that I just didn’t notice the itch.

Branch on ground with water and blue cloudy skies

Our driver and guide to the safari was a woman named JJ, who was absolutely wonderful.  She was incredibly knowledgeable with a great sense of humor, and her chemistry with the animals was endearing and even comical at times. It was her interactions with the animals that really added a lot to the charm of the tour. She entertained us with stories of her days working in the circus (including Ringling Bros., which, while now closed, still has an awesome museum in Sarasota that I recently blogged about!). She also gave us interesting insights into the animals we “met” and happily answered any questions we had.

Some of the first animals we saw were the water bucks – named not because they spend a lot of time in the water, but because they use water to defend themselves against threats – they are capable of running through the water much quicker than their natural predators. To help us identify them, JJ pointed out a couple of their defining features:

  1. They have adorable heart-shaped noses.

A female waterbuck sitting in shade looking at us

  1.  On the aptly named “ellipsen” water bucks, they have white ellipse-shaped marks on their rear ends, which JJ artfully described as looking like “they just sat on a wet toilet seat”.

Ellipsen waterbuck eating

One frequent visitor to the bus were animals known as the “nilgai” which means “blue bull” or “blue cow”, named because the males turn a beautiful bluish gray color as he matures.

A male nilgai bluish gray in color

The nilgai were one of the animals we were asked not to feed from the bus, due to their tendency to become a nuisance to tours when they get used to being fed by visitors. However, JJ assured us that each of the animals on the ranch is fed, and fed well. They are given grain and hay each day, and have mineral licks in various spots throughout the grounds.

Nilgai looking for a handout

Of course, that didn’t stop them from begging to be the exception to the “don’t feed the nilgai” rule!

Nilgai looking up at camera

Another persistent visitor to the bus were the llamas, which were one of the animals we were permitted to feed. They hammed it up and did their best to look as cute as possible to compete with each other for the treats. But, really, how could you possibly choose between these adorable faces? I fed them all!

Llamas looking adorable

llama looking up at is with smiling teeth

“Perhaps you will give me another treat if I bat these gorgeous eyelashes a few more times!”

Llama with open mouth waiting for a treat, nilgai looking on in background

The ostriches were another animal that we couldn’t feed off the bus but, much to the delight of everyone on the tour, followed us around anyway, attempting to trick JJ into giving them snacks.

Wilderness Safari tour guide disciplining ostrich for stealing food

“You know very well that you don’t get fed off the bus! Don’t you give me that look!”

Did you know? The male and female ostriches have very different coloring, but unlike with most birds, the feather coloring differences are not to attract mates. Instead, the coloring assists ostrich parents with protecting their young – the dark coloring of the males is perfectly suited to keeping eggs hidden from predators at night, while the light coloring of the females is better for blending in during the day. For attracting mates, male ostriches develop a bright reddish-orange coloring on his beak and legs, which he shows off with some clever birdie dance moves to drive the ladies wild!

Male osterich with red legs

While in ostrich territory, JJ pointed out an ostrich egg and described just how strong they are – a human could stand on one and it would not break. During this conversation, a memory stirred about an experience I had in high school…

After learning a new trick where you could surround a chicken egg with your hand and squeeze as hard as you could and it wouldn’t break, high school Karen decided to share this new knowledge with her friend. Her class had just completed the assignment of carrying around hard-boiled egg “babies” for a week, making it the perfect opportunity for high school Karen to impress her friend with the “eggs-periment” The friend in question refused to believe that it was true, so high school Karen challenged her to try it for herself.  With only a bit of hesitation, the friend began to squeeze the egg, becoming more and more amazed as she increased the pressure. Just as the words “Wow, you were right!” were escaping her lips, the egg broke in her hand, spilling egg guts everywhere. The shocked look on her face had high school Karen in hysterics, and she to this day has no idea why the trick didn’t work that time. Was the egg weakened from being carried around for so long? Or perhaps it had a micro crack on it’s shell? The world may never know.

Back to the ostriches! One persistent myth about ostriches is that they bury their heads in the sand to hide from predators. This is actually not true; in reality, they will run quickly in a zigzag shape while throwing their wings around to scare off the threat. They are also pretty tough when they have to be – they’ve even been known to take out lions when challenged or when protecting their young!

A male ostrich looking serious

Of course, as the owner of a very tough little cockatiel, this doesn’t surprise me at all. Would you mess with either of these birds?

Ostrich vs cockatiel

The definite highlight of the tour was feeding the water buffalo. These gentle giant beasts delighted everyone on the tour with their large soulful eyes and their long skinny tongues which they used to take the food from our fingers.

Water buffalo sticking tongue out

They continued to circle the bus and accepted food from anyone who offered it until we had no more to give.

Water buffalo with open mouth

Water buffalo with eyes closed and mouth open

The zebras were another memorable part of the tour. Though we couldn’t feed them, they cleverly devised a scheme to get some treats their own way. Let me explain – Safari Wilderness has different sections throughout their grounds which are separated by large gates. These gates require that the guide get out of the bus to open the gate, then get back into the bus to drive through, and finally back out of the bus to close the gate behind us. In what appeared to be a group undertaking, JJ was shooing a couple of the zebra away from the gate so they wouldn’t try coming through. While she was distracted with closing the gate,  a third zebra managed to sneak up to the bus and help himself to the bucket of food, purposefully knocking it over so the pellets would spill to the ground for all three zebras to enjoy.

Zebra stealing food from jeep

Three zebra eating food

JJ took it in stride, saying that they let the zebras get away with it because it beats the alternative of them trying to run through the gates!

Now, while we’re on the subject of zebras – let’s talk about zedonks! Just like with the Giraffe Ranch, Safari Wilderness also had a resident zedonk (part zebra, part donkey). Because zedonks tend to be very protective of their herd and will make a big racket if they sense a threat, Safari Wilderness decided to give their zedonk the important job of being part of the “border patrol early warning system”, – meaning its main home is inside the double fence section that circles the property.  Don’t feel bad for the border patrol animals though, the fence circles all 265 acres of their property so they have plenty of room to roam!

A Zedonk behind a fence

Next up – the forest buffalo! They are kept fenced apart from the travel areas because they have a tendency to get aggressive when stressed out, and vehicles driving around them multiple times a day would be quite distressing.  Forest buffalo are red in color, which might seem counter-intuitive for a prey animal that lives in the (green) forest, but because their main predators are big cats (such as leopards) which can not distinguish between red and green, they have no problems blending in with the trees.

Forest buffalo in trees

The wildebeest, also known as the “blue gnu”, are funny looking creatures which JJ aptly described as looking “like they were thrown together out of spare parts”.

Two blue gnu or wildebeest behind fence

If these guys look familiar to you but you can’t quite place them, you may be thinking of an old viral YouTube video showing what happens in a standoff between wildebeest and crocodile. Or, if not that, you might be remembering a National Geographic episode showing these animals during their “great migration” in Africa – and “great” it certainly is! Wildebeest travel in groups so large (think millions), that they can be seen from outer space.

Throughout the tour we found ourselves in the company of various species of cattle, many of whom would walk up to the bus while licking their lips, hoping beyond hope for a special treat.

Cows licking lips

Cow at jeep door hoping for handout

These big-horn beauties are called “angola” or “watusi” cattle. Can you imagine having to have such large growths coming out of your head? It doesn’t seem to bother them though!

Long horned angola or watusi cattle

Now for a guessing game! Can you tell me what kind of farm animal this fella is?

sheep that looks like a goat

If you said goat, NOPE! It’s actually a sheep. Sheep can sometimes look quite a bit like goats, but JJ told us a little trick on how to tell them apart: goats have tails that are usually pointing up, and “goat” ends with a “t” – the tail on the letter is up. Sheep usually have tails that are pointing down, and “sheep” ends with a “p” – the tail on the letter is down. Burn that to your memory, because you never know when it might come in handy!

And now (hooray!) it’s time to talk about lemurs again. During the tour we drove past Lemur Island, though we couldn’t get up close and personal with them in our land-based vehicle. We did, however, get to see the delightfully entertaining spectacle of them playing together!

Lemurs having fun playing

You might be wondering, “how do they get the lemurs to stay on the island? Can’t they swim?” Actually, they can’t. They are in a class of primate called “simian”, and apparently, simians can only swim if taught. So if just one lemur made it to the island who had a knowledge of swimming, he’d quickly teach everyone else and Safari Wilderness would have quite a messy situation on their hands!

Three interesting lemur facts:

    1. All ring-tailed lemurs have 13 rings from the day they are born (so unlike with tree rings, you don’t count them to see how old the lemur is).
    2. The only place that you would find lemurs in the wild is on the island of Madagascar (yes, it’s a real place, not just a cartoon!).
    3. Lemurs have a matriarchal society – which means it’s the FEMALES that run the show!

Post Tour:

After the vehicle portion of the tour had ended, those who had chosen to participate in one of the optional add-ons split off from the rest of the group. Besides the lemur feeding (which I already talked about), George and I had two other extras – hand feeding the guinea pig colony and feeding the petting zoo. For the guinea pig feeding, I had pictured in my mind that it would be us sitting in the middle of the colony and feeding them as the swarmed around us. But alas, that is not how it went down. We stayed on the outside of the pen and fed them from there. It was fun to watch them run around and listen to them squeak, but I think this option might be more interesting to the kids. I remember that when my nieces had been here many years ago that they were fascinated by the guinea pigs – even more fascinated by them than the baby cow that happened to be wandering around.

swarm of guinea pigs

The one major difference from the first time I went with my sisters family that I do remember – the guinea pigs were inside previously, but now have moved to the outside. They do have protective netting over the outdoor pen and a little “cave” where they can all hide from extreme weather…

or nosy cats.

cat snooping around guinea pig pen

Did you know? There are some countries that actually consider guinea pig meat a delicacy! You can easily find videos of people trying this “delicacy” for the first time on YouTube. However, we were assured that these “pet” guinea pigs were not the same breed that are normally eaten – the “food-grade” guinea pigs are a bit bigger. Of course, I couldn’t help asking what barbecued guinea pig might taste like… the answer? “Probably chicken.”

Next up, feeding the petting zoo! Once again it was not quite what I expected… While we did enjoy feeding the goats and the pigs, the “petting” part of the description was a bit misleading. The animals were behind a wooden and wire fence that was fairly high, so the animals were partially hidden, and there wasn’t much petting going on. It is an inexpensive option though, at only $5 a person, so it would probably be a fun thing for the kids to do!

Feeding goats

After we returned from our petting zoo feeding, everyone from the tour was given the opportunity to feed the camels, regardless of if they purchased tickets for the petting zoo.

Camel with mouth open looking like he is singing

Three fun facts about camels!

  1. Unlike llamas, camels actually don’t spit, despite what you may have heard from certain cartoon genies. Instead, if you make a camels angry, they just might vomit on you.
  2. Contrary to popular belief, the humps on the camel do not contain water – they are actually fat reserves, which can be used as a food or a water source when needed.
  3. Remember the 40/40/40 rule for camels: they can live to be 40-50 years old, they can drink 40 gallons of water in one sitting, and they can run up to 40 mph.

Two camels with beautiful sky

One more extra that is definitely worth a mention is feeding the budgies. We didn’t do it this time, but I’ve done it in other places before and I have loved it! I would recommend it to anyone who isn’t afraid of birds flying closely to them… and even if you are a bit nervous about the idea, I say give it a shot, at least for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. These little guys are pretty small (with tiny little poops if that has you worried) but they are oh so cute! It is so cool when they fly over to you and land on your hand or arm and nibble on the treat stick provided. I actually grew up with pet budgies as a kid, at one point we had a total of 10 (we started out with just two, but decided to put in a nest box to see what would happen…  you can figure out the rest!) I have fond memories of them having races with each other, flying from the kitchen to the living room, landing on the lamps, and then flying back again.

Parakeets or budgies

This is about the point where we fed the lemurs, but I already spoke about that at the beginning of the post so I don’t want to repeat myself… but I will mention that I took video of the feeding with my GoPro on a chest strap, and I thought the video turned out really fantastic! I’ll share the link to that at the bottom of this post.

But before we get to videos, let’s finish out the tour with the walking portion! After the extra add-ons were completed, JJ walked us around the immediate area to look at the pigs, turtles, porcupines, and other animals they kept up in front.

Piglets with their mom

We chatted with the porcupine for a short while (who was, by the way, very disappointed that JJ forgot to bring him some grapes). Those teeth almost make him look like a cross between a porcupine and a beaver.

Porcupine with paws on fence

Did you know? Porcupine quills are actually just hardened hair, which they can’t shoot out at predators. In reality, if a porcupine feels threatened he would stand up and shake his quills which creates a rattling noise that would hopefully scare off the intruder. If that doesn’t work, they turn, backing into the threat. This is how the quills break off and get stuck in other animals.

We saw a few more lemurs, including this beautiful chocolate lemur. His eyes were almost hypnotic!

Chocolate lemur

“Look into my eyes. You will bring me grapes, and hundreds of them. And you will do it now.”

At the very end of the tour, JJ brought out a ferret, giving anyone who desired a chance to hold him and stroke his belly. It was then I learned that apparently in some states, ferrets are illegal as pets, and even the states that allow them as pets require that they all be fixed.

Ferret getting belly scratched

And at last, that is the end of our Safari Wilderness adventure! George and I took our time looking around the gift shop and taking pictures outside before heading home, so ours was the last car left in the parking lot (leading to a very picture-worthy scene).

Empty parking lot at end of safari

Now – when comparing my experience at the Giraffe Ranch vs. my experience at Safari Wilderness, I honestly can’t choose one over the other. They each had their own unique differences that were fun to experience. The Giraffe Ranch had the feeding of the giraffes and the optional add-on of feeding and bathing the rhino, both of which were really awesome experiences. However, Safari Wilderness was larger, had more animals and a beautiful landscape. They also had the feeding of water buffalo, and let’s not forget how amazing our tour guide was! The pricing between Giraffe Ranch and Safari Wilderness are about the same, but Safari Wilderness had the inexpensive add-on options of feeding the guinea pigs, feeding the budgies, and feeding the “petting zoo”, at only $5 for each of these. From what I recall, the cheapest add-on option at the Giraffe Ranch was the lemur feeding at $25 (which is the same price at both places but I still say that price is always worth it!)

OK, now let’s get to the videos! There are a total of three this time: two from this trip (the lemur feeding portion seemed like it deserved its very own video) and the third is the video from when my nieces were in town. It’s nice to compare the experience with kids vs. without – because each experience really is completely different. It’s great to see children experience animals like this up close for the first time, and to see the joy and wonder in their eyes, but it’s also nice to experience it sans kids, interacting with the animals without worrying about whether your child is having fun!

Video 1: Recent Tour – No Kids!

Video 2: Recent Tour – Lemurs!

Video 3: Previous Tour – With Kids!


*Full disclosure – Safari Wilderness let us experience this adventure for free, but I don’t believe the people we interacted with were aware of that fact; this meant we had the same experience any paying customer would have. I did, however, pay for the adventure when I went with my sister and her family.

Ringling Circus Museum

I can only recall visiting the circus once as a child. Because I was at the big top as just a wee tot, my memory of the show itself is hazy, but I have a clear vision of a crowded arena and of being captivated by the glow of hundreds of light-up novelty toys glowing in the dark – like fireflies on a warm summer night.

artistic rendering of my memory of the lights in the circus patron crowd

For many reasons (which I will not get into on this post), the circus has fallen out of favor in recent times. This ultimately lead to one of the most recognizable shows – the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus – shutting its doors forever in 2017. The day may soon come where there are no circuses left to entertain the masses, but with any luck, the nostalgia will still remain.

What is all this circus talk is leading up to? Will this be a post about a trip to a circus?  The answer to that is yes… and no. We didn’t go to a circus per se, but we did go to the next best thing. A circus MUSEUM!

The Ringling Museum is yet another Florida gem that, until recently, I had no idea existed. It’s located in Sarasota on a huge plot of land which previously belonged to the late John Ringling and his wife Mable. It was also used as the winter quarters for the circus in the early years of the Ringling Brothers. If you’re interested, this map shows a layout of how the space was used, and also gives you a pretty good picture of the massive size of the property.

For $25 (adult pricing) you get access to the original Circus Museum, the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, and 66 acres of surrounding property including Mable Ringling’s beautiful rose garden and a number of other gardens and landscapes located around the estate. Because we were short on time and the museum property closed at 5, we declined to purchase the optional guided/self-guided tour of the the mansion (named “Ca’ d’Zan”) where John and Mable had lived.

Expert tip – if you decide to visit, make sure you get there early. The hours are 10-5, but there is so much to see! There are also multi-day packages available if you don’t want to squeeze everything into a single day.

Our first stop was to the original circus museum. We walked past the heavy curtains which separate the museum from the rest of the world, pausing to let our eyes adjust to the dim lighting. It’s strange… I know that we were in a public place and that there were plenty of other people in the room having their own museum experiences, but when I think back my impression is that it was only George and I, exploring the exhibits alone.

Paintings of sideshow artists at ringling circus museum

You are greeted by painted representations of the “freak show” artists as you enter.

After you get your bearings, one of the first features you might notice is a large pea-green section of train. This is “The Wisconsin”, a luxury private rail car once owned by the Ringlings.  John and Mable had sold the car many years ago, but it was recently re-acquired and restored by the Ringling estate. It’s now one of the major attractions of the museum. While you can’t get on board to explore the inside, you can peek through each of the windows to see the multiple bedrooms, staterooms, kitchen and dining areas and, of course, bathrooms  – all of which have exactly as much glamor and showiness you might expect from the wealthy of nearly 100 years ago.

Ringling Museum Train

The Wisconsin in all her majesty

Looking down the hallway in John and Mable Ringlings Private Train Cars

Looking down the hallway from the back of the Wisconsin

Bedroom on the train

John Ringling’s private room

Steps away from the Wisconsin sat a cannon-equipped car, once used to shoot brave (or foolhardy) performers into the sky.

bruno zacchini's super repeating cannon

Why yes, that is a cannon on my car… but I’m also happy to see you!

Important side note – they frown on people trying to climb into the cannon to see if it still works – so don’t try it, no matter how tempting it is.

As you continue to walk deeper into the museum, you can see much more circus equipment, performing props, and parade wagons – the latter of these immediately made me think of those little boxes of animal crackers I ate as a child. Do they still make those?

Animal crackers (life-sized)

In one of the eerier sections of the museum, there are life-sized outlines of behind-the-scene circus folk performing their everyday duties. The shadows cast by the cleverly placed spotlights created an ambience that left me feeling as if I had wandered into a two-dimensional circus of ghosts.

Spooky circus

Spooky circus 2

Another side note – there is an excellent half hour movie shown in the museum about the early life and beginnings of the Ringling circus, and specifically John and Mable Ringling. I highly recommend that you leave yourself time to see it.

Lights from circus show (turned off)

“Perhaps we can frighten away the ghosts of so many years ago with a little ILLUMINATION!”

Tall man on stilts

Who’s taller now, hmmm?

As strange and wonderful as I came to expect this museum to be, there were still some exhibits that left me scratching my head wondering, “What in the world?” One example – there was a bird cage with an old shoe in it. The description said only that it belonged to Lou Jacobs and it was used in the “Greatest Show On Earth”. Lou Jacobs was a clown who worked in the Ringling Bros. Circus, so perhaps the shoe was his pet bird? I suppose if you use your imagination and squint your eyes real tight, it does look a bit like a canary.

Yellow shoe in a bird cage

“I tawt I taw a puddy tat!”

Then we come to this horse, which seemed to have sunken halfway into the floor. Was it quicksand? Tar? Horse leg theft? Or did the statue builders just get lazy? We may never know. I do have to admit that at the time, I didn’t think to look for a description around the horse. I took the picture specifically so I could make a Never Ending Story reference in the photo caption.

Artax the horse in quicksand

Artax! No! You’re sinking! You have to move or you’ll die!

By now you are surely wondering, “All of this is semi-entertaining so far, but we’re talking about the circus here! Weren’t there any costumes?” Oh yes, impatient one. There were costumes.

Life-sized circus clown Circus dancer costume
Emmett Kelly holding mask to his face The Ringmaster

Circus museum floor

The circus propaganda affixed to the walls was another entertaining aspect of this wonderful place. The below poster in particular spoke to me (not literally of course, but with everything else I’d seen so far, that actually wouldn’t have been so far-fetched).

A hippo is a childs best friend

I want a circus hippopotamus for Christmas… Only a circus hippopotamus will do!

Two grinning children riding a saddled hippopotamus… What could possibly go wrong? While we’re on the subject of hippos, did you know how close America came to importing and using hippos for meat purposes in the early part of its settlement? I make sure to mention this interesting fact whenever I happen to be discussing hippos (which actually happens more often than you’d think).

Moving on! There were a few museum exhibits that encourage you to “play”… but again, and I can’t stress this enough, NOT the cannon.

Toy Cannon that was out of order

You can only play with this toy cannon…if it’s working.

I tried my hand (er, foot) at walking across the tightrope and made it all the way across on my first try! I’m thinking new career path? I was also able to squeeze myself into Lou Jacobs’ clown car. How I got out I still have no idea.

Sitting in the clown car

And now we are up to the most impressive feature in the circus museum – the miniature circus. We probably spent close to half our museum time marveling at this creation.  As a child, I had my own obsession with miniatures and had a dollhouse to place them in, but this setup made my dollhouse look like a dollhouse for ants.

Miniature Circus

This masterpiece, known as the “world’s largest miniature circus”, was built by Howard Tibbals, a circus collector who has been working on this big-tiny representation of the fictional “Howard Bros. Circus” for over 50 years. If you were to visit the Ringling Circus Museum and see nothing else, your time would not have been wasted.

Animal section of circus train

Not only can you see a mini-version of the show itself, but you’re also privy to behind-the-scenes action that you’d normally never see. There are circus folk relaxing between showtimes, elephants and other animals being fed, bathed, and trained, workers building components for the next big show (you can even catch some of them slacking off!), and so much more. The attention to detail on this circus is, for lack of a better word, awesome. The buildings are decorated with tiny posters, tiny tickets are in the hands of the tiny people, and though most people would never see it, there is even tiny money in the tiny cash registers. We learned that bit of trivia by watching an interview with Mr. Tibbals, which was playing in the background in one of the rooms.

Workers cutting logs for use in the circus, copper power lines above

Each time you visit the Howard Bros. Circus you are certain to see something new – either because you missed it before, or because Mr. Tibbals is still working on the circus today. You might even be lucky enough to see him working on the next addition in his museum workshop!

Goliath the Elephant Seal eats a fishie

Goliath the Elephant Seal

The unexpected details were so much fun to find. They had an elephant bathing in a creek! I got way too excited about this when I saw it.

Dumbo the elephant taking his bath

Hey Dumbo! You missed a spot!

And that, my friends, brings part I of my Ringling adventure to an end. But we’re not done yet! Feel free to take a break, get a snack or stretch. I’ll wait.

Oh, You’re ready? Fabulous – on to part II!

So, we unfortunately didn’t have time to visit the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art on this trip. We had spent a lot of time at the Circus Museum and the clock was ticking ever closer to 5… but we really wanted to visit the rose garden and see the Ca’ d’Zan before we left.

Path in the rose garden

The Mable Ringling rose garden is the oldest rose garden in Florida. As you walk down its paths, you are surrounded by floral fragrances and weathered statues.  The flowers all look to be lovingly cared after –  perhaps by the spirit of Mable herself? Many of the roses are labeled with species names and the years planted. I was shocked to see that some of the roses were dated back to the early 1900’s. I had no idea roses could live that long!

roses with statue in background

Roses in the rose garden
When we’d had our fill of roses, we began our journey to the mansion… a journey that was fraught with the perils of pine cones.

Watch out for falling pinecones

Coming up on the mansion… At this point I was glad I wore my comfortable shoes. Oh, who am I kidding. I always wear my comfortable shoes.

Ringling mansion

One thing that the Ringlings really did right with their ornamental decor was their choice of “guardian” statues that were placed on either end of some pathways. This one below was my favorite. I was almost afraid to cross their path lest they detect fear in my heart and obliterate me with laser beams shooting out from their eyes (another Never Ending Story reference!) .

Angry Statue

I wouldn’t mess with her… would you?

In contrast, this happy little character had no semblance of danger – in fact, I was half expecting it to jump up and lick my face to greet me!

Happy lion statue

And now, the Ca’ d’Zan! While we didn’t opt for the add-on ticket to tour the inside of the mansion, we were still able to wander around outside of it.

 Brick porch at ringling museum

Yes, that is a bride  and groom in the above picture. Funny story – as I got closer I realized I knew the bride from my office. Neither of us live anywhere near Sarasota or had any idea the other would be there – but I suppose such is the magic of the circus.

Beautiful windows at ringling mansion

A beautiful choice for the backdrop of wedding photos!

View from the balcony of the Ringling mansion, overlooking the water.

View from the balcony of the mansion, overlooking the water. Nice view the Ringlings had!

There was so much more to look at on the Ringling property. Garden sculptures and courtyard statues were everywhere. Towards the end of our walking tour, we came across these statues of animal heads which confused us at first… until it hit us that they were representations of the Chinese New Year animal zodiac!

Chinese new year statues

It was shortly after this point when a groundskeeper found us and told us that the museum and grounds were now  closed. We looked at the time and were surprised that it was after 5! What felt like minutes was actually hours.

And so, my friends, this post has come to an end… at least until I update it when I visit the parts that I missed!

May all your days be circus days.

Riding a bicycle in the sky during rainy season

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Dinosaur World!

Dinosaur World T-Rex

If you’ve ever driven down Florida Interstate 4 near Plant City, you probably couldn’t help but notice Dinosaur world. The boring views of asphalt, cars and trees is suddenly transformed to extraordinary as you pass by several prehistoric creatures towering over buildings amongst the trees.

Long Neck Dinosaurs

Whenever I happened to be traveling that way I would point it out to whomever I was with and suggest we stop to check it out. Unfortunately, no one ever seemed as intrigued by the place as I was. “Oh, that place is for kids” was what I most often was told. I figured they knew what they were talking about with me being more of a newcomer to Florida then they were, but I couldn’t help but think of a childhood movie favorite: “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure”, where Pee-wee and his friend Dottie climbed up inside a giant dinosaur in a park and watched the sunrise from behind the dinosaur’s teeth. I figured this could be my chance to finally experience seeing the world from inside the mouth of a dinosaur!

Fast forward to six years after the first time I learned of its existence – my boyfriend and I were trying to come up with something interesting to do that weekend. We decided to finally check out Dinosaur World. He too had never been (despite living in the Tampa Bay area for most of his life) but had always been curious about it. With our plans agreed upon, we hopped into the car and headed off to Dinosaur World – for once as a destination and not just a drive-by curiosity.

Dinosaur World Entrance

Entering the prehistoric realm of Dinosaur World

I’ll let you know right off the bat that they did NOT have a dinosaur which you could climb up and sit in, but it was still an awesome place to visit – even without bringing kids. The best way I can describe it is that it is basically a botanical garden… but with DINOSAURS.

Near the beginning of your walk through the grounds you will find yourself face-to-face with a family of mammoths.

Wooly Mammoths
There are plenty of photo opportunities with these prehistoric elephants, the perfect chance for you to get that unique Facebook or Instagram picture that will make all your friends wonder, “Where the heck are they now?”

There was something so enchanting about walking through these beautiful gardens which were decorated with giant depictions of the (extreme) past. So what if science now says many dinosaurs actually had feathers? These were the dinosaurs I had grown up with! And they were HUGE!

Sizing up the dinosaur

That dinosaur doesn’t look so tough.

I was really impressed with how the whole place was set up. They put a lot of attention into every detail and the entire park was incredibly clean and well-maintained, which is exactly what you would expect from a botanical dinosaur garden.

Trash Can Shaped Like Baby Dino in Egg

FEED ME (Your trash)!

Even the trash receptacles had a dinosaur theme. I do have to admit that it took me a second or three to figure out what this brightly colored dinosaur baby with a hole in it’s chest was, but once I figured it out I was amused enough to take a picture of a trash can.

The day we decided to visit the park was not overly crowded, so we didn’t have to wait around to get a good look or a good picture of the cooler dinosaurs. I’m not certain how busy Dinosaur World normally gets, it was quite a hot day which could have kept some people away, but it’s also possible that there are many other people like me who notice it on their way to somewhere else and think that they would like to visit one day but it falls to the back of their mind.

We saw more dinosaurs that day than I could possibly identify. There were many old favorites, but also quite a few that I had never heard of before. They even had baby dinosaurs for that necessary “awww” factor.

There were also dinosaurs in the process of hatching…

Baby dinosaurs coming out of eggs

…with an empty egg perfect for climbing in (though not so easy to get out of as an adult!)

Climbing into a dinosaur egg with the dinosaur babies

Everywhere you went there was something interesting to see.

There were even dinosaur feeding stations – though I preferred to feed my dinosaur the old fashioned way.

feeding the dinosaurs

What kind of dinosaur is “koi”?

Ok, so many of the activities were obviously geared towards kids. They had a place where you could do a fossil dig and a gem excavation, which we didn’t attempt to do, but they also had a place they called “The Bone Yard” where you could pretend to be a paleontologist and dust sand off bones. It was empty when we walked by so we took the opportunity to sweep up some dirt and take some pictures!

Playing with dirt and bones

And of course the Bone Yard also had a section where you could see the fully dug up and put together skeletons of the dinosaurs.

Dinosaur skeleton

There was one unexpected section of the park that had a warning of graphic violence – young children and the faint of heart should not enter. It was within that area where you could see the violent nature of dinosaurs. This part of the park showed dinosaurs eating dinosaurs, some who were missing eyeballs and limbs. It was fascinating and disturbing all at once, but they did have it clearly sectioned off with warning signs of what was contained within so those with young sensitive kids could easily avoid it. This was one of the milder scenes – the predator has caught one of the smaller dinosaurs while it’s buddy escapes.

dinosaur eating dinosaur - wide shot

You’ll have to visit for yourself if you want to see the more violent parts!

Here are two dinosaurs who obviously liked to roam, as they had to put up a rope fence to contain them.

Do not feed the dinosaurs

However, upon closer inspection of the fence, it looked like an escape was a distinct possibility in the near future!

Frayed rope fence

This little guy just happened to be at the scene, which lead me to believe that it was his attempt to organize a jailbreak for the big guys. Why else would he possibly be there?

Lizard on the dinosaur rope

This odd-looking dinosaur caught my eye right away. Not because of it’s huge horns or it’s big red beak-like nose…

Horned Dinosaur

…but because of it’s incredibly sad-looking eyes. What could be causing a dinosaur this much emotional pain?

Close up of sad eyed dinosaur

This was another weird-looking dinosaur that got my attention. Doesn’t it look like it’s belting out a love ballad a la Frank Sinatra?

Dinosaur that looks like Frank Sinatra

At the end of our park visit (but before the gift shop!) there was a building that housed mechanical dinosaurs which moved and roared semi-realistically. It was quite dark in the room so I wasn’t able to get any pictures or video that was worth posting here, but it was interesting (and a tiny bit spooky) to walk through.

I left the park satisfied that I could finally say I had visited Dinosaur World. Would I visit again? It’s possible, though that would be much more likely if I were bringing kids or another curious adult who had always wanted to see it but never found anyone willing to go with them. Of course, if they added a 50-foot dinosaur with seating in the skull, I don’t think you could get me to leave!

Warning falling meteors may cause extintion sign

Instagram pictures for this adventure:


The Dade City Giraffe Ranch

In the eight years that I have lived in Florida, one of my top places to visit in the state has been the Dade City Giraffe Ranch.

So far I have been there three times, and each time I visit I have seen or experienced something new.

Looking at the lemurs at the giraffe ranch

First sister to experience feeding the lemurs at the ranch

Baby and momma feeding the Lemurs

Second sister feeding the lemurs at the ranch

I discovered the existence of the Giraffe Ranch in 2011 via a Groupon deal. It sounded interesting, and my sister was due to be visiting me with her baby daughter in the next couple of months, so I decided to purchase two tickets and give it a shot.

I am so glad I did it! My sister loved the experience, and it was memorable enough for me that I made plans to take a second sister and her infant son when they came to visit in 2013. My family doesn’t have the chance to visit me in Florida very often, so when they do I try to make it an unforgettable trip so they can’t wait to come back!

This year I wanted to  experience the ranch without children, so I decided to take my boyfriend, who, despite having lived in this area of Florida for most of his life, had never even heard of the Giraffe Ranch. I was excited to share it with someone new, and was looking forward to seeing what might have changed in the four years since I had been there. (Note – I have a video version of my most recent trip at the bottom of this post, so if you don’t feel like reading right now, feel free to scroll to the end and watch.)

I noticed a few changes right away when I booked the tour – they added a some new ways to experience the ranch. You could opt to do the original tour in the safari vehicle, OR for an extra charge you could choose to do it 1) by Segway, or 2) walking with a llama companion. I was soooo tempted to spring for the llama companion, but decided to pass on it this time. Now I have an excuse to visit again soon!

Another new optional experience that had been added was something called the “rhino encounter” – they allow you to feed, bathe, and pet a full-grown rhinoceros. I didn’t know exactly what to expect, but when would I ever have another chance to touch a rhino? I had to do it!

There were also the familiar add-on options of feeding the lemurs and feeding the otters. I passed on the otters, but the lemur feeding was something I had done on both of my other trips, and opted for it again on this one. I love the feeling of their little paws as they take grapes from your hand – it’s like when a baby grasps your finger – albeit with with smaller and furrier hands.

Feeding LemursOn the day of our tour, we signed in and sat down for a brief introduction and history of the ranch from the husband and wife team who run it. They talked about how the ranch started, what we could expect, and they gave us some insight into the animals we’d be seeing. They were incredibly friendly and made sure that they had answered any questions we had before we got started.

On to the tour! The lemur feeding was our first stop. Those who opted to feed them were let into the enclosure with a couple handfuls of halved grapes. The lemurs we waiting excitedly as they saw us approaching their enclosure – they knew that approaching people meant feeding time for them! We spent about 10-15 minutes with the lemurs before heading out (there were also some interesting near turkey-sized spotted birds, and tiny deer-like animals wandering about in the enclosure who were all too happy to pick up any dropped grapes).

Lemur closeup - piercing red eyes

“Got any grrrrrrapes?”

Deer thing begging for food

“Might I trouble you for a grape, please?”

Monkey reaching arm out of cage

“That bag is rather fetching… you will relinquish it to me!”

After leaving the lemurs, we walked around the immediate area a bit, checking out a few of the smaller animals before the official safari portion began. There were the normal farm animals such as chickens and pigs, but we also saw ostriches, a couple of porcupines, a hungry hungry tortoise,  and some monkeys.  While I was looking at the monkeys and taking a few pictures, I noticed that one of them was verrrrrry interested in my camera bag, and tried to convince me to give it to him. You can see him reaching for it in my picture. Of course, I didn’t fall for his tricks, no matter how cute he looked as he begged.

chickens and pigs and piglets, oh my!

An ostrich with blue sky, a tortoise eating an apple, and two porcupines

Next we headed over to the otter area. We didn’t pay to feed them, but we were able to get just as close and watch the people who did pay as they fed them sardines – or are the anchovies? What’s the difference between sardines and anchovies anyway?

Otters in waiting

“Forget the pizza, we’ll just take the anchovies!”

After the feeding of the otters, it was time for the real safari to start. We boarded the safari vehicle and were off.

One of the first things we saw en-route was a small group of zebra… but take a look at the picture below. Do you notice something odd about the zebra in front?

Zebras with one odd looking zedonk leading the herd

Following the leader

A Zedonk - part donkey, part zebraTwo normal looking zebrasLets take a closer look… On the left  picture – two normal looking zebras. Nothing odd here.

The picture on the right – Wait a minute, that’s not a zebra! Actually, it is. Well, half zebra at least. It’s a zedonk – part zebra, part donkey. This little critter was not bred on purpose;  one of the donkeys managed to sneak in some private time with a zebra, despite all efforts to keep them apart. From that union came the zedonk!

Here’s another unusual zebra picture… check out it’s trippy stripe pattern!

Trippy zebra stripes

And now, on to the main attractions of the event… the feeding of the giraffes! This is such a unique experience – definitely one of the highlights of the tour. I can’t recommend it enough! The whole process is simple – each person gets a good helping of lettuce or greens, whatever the giraffes are eating that day. You then offer the food to the giraffes with your palms up, arms outstretched, they then bend their long necks down to reach the food, wrapping their tongues and lips around the goodies as they take them from you ever so gently… almost as if they’ve done this before!

Giraffe looking for goodies


Feeding a giraffe Feeding the giraffes

Giraffe grazing toward the future

Giraffe making faces behind my back

Is he making fun of me?

After the giraffes had their fill and everyone had the chance to feed them, we were off to feed and bathe the rhinoceros. It seemed kind of crazy that we would be getting close enough to a rhino to feed it by hand, but as we soon learned, they are a lot more docile than they look. While feeding him, he actually seemed even more delicate with taking the food than the giraffes had been. And he really seemed to enjoy getting sprayed by the hose as he ate. Lucky rhino… who among us hasn’t dreamed of eating a meal in the shower?

Feeding iceberg lettuce to a rhinocerous

Delicious lettuce going into the mouth of a rhinocerous

Bathing a rhinocerous as he chomps on some lettuce

We said farewell to the rhino and continued the tour. Next up – the pygmy hippos. Now THESE are creatures you wouldn’t want to get too close to. Hippopotami kill almost 3000 people a year (I doubt these two were implicated with any of the killings, though you still wouldn’t want to go swimming with them).

Two pygmy hippopotomai swimming and looking innocent
Speaking of hippos, did you know that early on in the colonization of America there was talk of importing  hippos to the marshy areas of Louisiana and breeding them for meat purposes? It’s true! The bill (appropriately called the “American Hippo Bill”) was actually introduced to congress. Don’t believe me? Google it, I’ll wait. It failed to pass the vote, but it did come close…  you have no idea how close you came to enjoying a nice hippopotamus steak!

The tour ended on a high note with a visit from the camels. These guys have faces that always make me smile. Their lips hang down in a perpetual pout as they amble up to the vehicle hoping for a handout, and sticking up their noses to the green beans offered.

Camel with the sun in the background

And now, as I promised in the beginning, here is the video version of my trip above. I hope you enjoy it! And if you are in the Tampa Bay area and looking for something unique to do, definitely check out the Giraffe Ranch at Dade City – and let me know what you think! http://girafferanch.com/


Instagram Pictures:


The Australia Zoo

And now for the long awaited post on my visit to the Australia Zoo! Are you ready for this?

I woke up at about 7:30 to get ready to catch the (free) 8:30 bus to the Australia Zoo. It was a huge double-decker bus,  completely full of people excited to visit Steve Irwin’s former home. It took us about 50 minutes to get to the zoo, and during the ride they played an episode of the Crocodile Hunter to keep us entertained.

When we finally arrived, the bus driver gave us a run through of what we could expect to see while we were there. He mentioned that if we were lucky, we might even get to see a Tasmanian Tiger, which he said was “extremely rare and endangered” because of a facial disease. Now, if I had never visited Tasmania I might have thought “Oh cool! A Tasmanian Tiger! I don’t know what that is, but I can’t wait to see one!” However, visiting Tasmania left me a bit more informed on their wildlife. While I was there I learned that Tasmanian tigers either (1) have never existed or (2) have long been extinct. And I suppose we should add a (3) have not been seen for so many years that they are thought to be extinct. I can’t imagine that he was completely lying to us. Most likely what he meant to say was Tasmanian Devil (which are dying out because of the facial cancer). I’m not sure if anyone else caught his faux pas, or if were even paying attention to his speech. It’s also possible this was his “haze the tourists” gag to see how many people would ask where the Tasmanian tigers are.

When we were released and we paid our way into the zoo we were all greeted by Steve and his family:

My immediate impression of the zoo was quite favorable.  It didn’t look like your typical zoo. Nothing with in it looked like a cage. The animal enclosures were huge and all looked very natural. The workers at the zoo were all wearing the signature Steve Irwin outfit – khaki shorts and a khaki top.

The first thing I checked out was the alligator pit. Here is one cute little guy named “Fang 1”. I’m not sure where he got that name as he had way more fangs than just one.

There were six separate pits in the Alligator enclosure, each with either one or two (if it had a mate) alligators in them. These alligators looked much happier than that sad little crocodile I saw in Alice Springs living in a dirty, tiny aquarium.

Next I joined a large crowd of tourists waiting for the chance to feed an elephant. The elephants were fed every morning at 11:30. Anyone could feed them for no charge, unless you decided to buy the photo. I waited patiently on the line and when it was my turn, I fed my large friend a delectable piece of carrot. He grabbed it with his trunk pretty quickly, but he was very gentle as well. His trunk had a wet feeling to it, almost like someone with wet hands was trying to take something from me. Of course I had to buy the picture. I might never get the opportunity to feed an elephant again, so I wanted to remember it! It was under 10 dollars so it certainly wouldn’t break the bank.

After feeding the elephant I passed by a small group of Koalas. The koalas were placed in multiple places throughout the zoo, and there was one enclosure where you could walk through and check them out up close – you just couldn’t touch them.

This is my favorite koala picture. His eyes are open! It was hard to find a koala who wasn’t sleeping.

I also got a video of one of them eating. Try and tell me this isn’t adorable!

I walked by the giant tortoise enclosure while the workers were feeding them. These guys are well known for being slow, but when they saw that food they ran over to it pretty quick! A woman was there talking about the tortoises as they ate, and invited anyone to make an appointment to come into the tortoise enclosure if we really liked turtles. This seemed to be an available extra for many of the animals. I often saw random people in the enclosures of the (non dangerous) animal and the animals seemed perfectly content to have them there.

Soon after I noticed that people were starting to crowd around a gated area. I went over to see what was going on and saw that the workers were taking the tigers (not Tasmanian tigers) out for a walk. That is definitely something you wouldn’t see in an American zoo!

The animals in this zoo almost seemed like they were all pets. It wasn’t uncommon to see the workers sitting in enclosures of even the dangerous animals – like the tiger cage – and the animals were fine with it. I would hope this means that the animals are all happy and well taken care of. Normally I wouldn’t think it was a good idea to have wild animals be so tame towards humans, but I guess it is nice for the ones who are going to be in captivity for the rest of their lives. This way they get more attention and become used to having tourists gawk at them all the time.

Next I found the dingos. I only managed to see one at a distance, the others were hiding away from prying eyes. That was another big plus for the Australian zoo – every one of the animals had somewhere to go if they felt like being away from the eyes of tourists. Some zoos that I have been to give the animals no choice but to be visible at all times, which can cause extreme stress. The dingos look just like dogs, don’t they? It was strange to see a dog in a zoo!

My next agenda was to find the cassowaries. Cassowaries are considered to be the most dangerous birds in the world. They are normally found in rain forests, though they are pretty rare in the Australian rainforests and it is not very often that you’d see one in the wild. But if you do happen to see one in the wild… stay far away from it. These birds have razor sharp claws and  could kill you in seconds. They also have a sharp plate on the top of their head for slicing through the rain forest – or your neck. They are bad little (big) birds. I recently had heard a story of a young guy who was killed by a cassowary because he was teasing it – not a smart thing to do. I did see one in the Sydney zoo, but it was in a small glass enclosure with nowhere to hide. Here the enclosure was much more appropriate – a huge forested area with plenty of places for them to remain out of sight. I didn’t see any at first as they were all hiding in the thicker areas of their enclosure, but I did see something stealing their food!

These little guys were all over the zoo as well, running around freely. They are kind of cute, aren’t they?

I did finally see a cassowary when it was coming out to eat. You wouldn’t want to meet up with one of these guys in a dark alley!

And of course, a video for your viewing pleasure:

Next it was the croc enclosure. Wow! These suckers were enormous! Too bad I couldn’t see someone standing next to it for scale. But this was the one enclosure where I never saw a worker hanging around inside it. Even Australians are afraid of crocodiles.

Throughout the zoo I would see cute little Steve Irwin sculptures. This one made me laugh so I had to take a picture of it. It was in front of one of the kiddie rides:

Now who wouldn’t want a statue of a crocodile carrying Steve Irwin like a baby in their living room? Nobody, that’s who!

Next up was the snakes. The snake enclosures looked kind of small in my opinion, but they were still bigger than the ones at the Sydney zoo. It seems to be the fate for snakes in zoos. They always end up in the smallest areas. At least they did a good job with making the enclosures look like where the snake would be living in the wild:

Here is a full view of the size of one of the enclosures:

Normally the snakes enclosures I had seen would be about half the size they were here or even smaller, so I guess I can’t really fault them much:

When I left the snakes house I immediately saw the wombat enclosure. Every single one of them were sleeping. I was hoping to see one wake up and walk around but no such luck. So all I have for now is a picture of a sleeping wombat:

Then I had a stroke of luck! I found out that what I had thought was the wombat enclosure was actually only their sleeping quarters. Outside there was had a large for them to frolic around and dig. Here is one of the wide awake wombats. I thought they looked a little bit like a cross between a gopher and a bear (yeesh, can you imagine that relationship?):

Next I visited the bird aviary. It was a huge aviary, big enough that I didn’t even see all that many birds, except for a few of the smaller ones:


There was one worker that was walking around the aviary with a cockatoo on her wrist. As people walked by he said “hello”, and “hello pretty boy” and “hello pretty girl”. She asked him to say “hello pretty girl” to me, but he said “hello pretty boy” instead. I’m pretty sure I was just insulted by a bird. He also did a trick:

After the aviary, I was off to Roo Heaven!

This was my favorite part of the zoo. You walked into the enclosure and it was like being in a huge park full of kangaroos. There were kids playing in the sand while kangaroos lazily watched them from inches away. Some people were feeding the roos, and others were just sitting next to them:


Don’t worry about the kangaroos though – even these kangaroos had an area they could go to escape the humans if they didn’t feel like being social.

Next up: The elephants!

I only saw three elephants in the enclosure, and it looked like a mommy, a daddy, and a baby elephant. They snubbed us at first:

But when the keepers entered the enclosure, the elephants went right up to them. What do you suppose they were all gabbing about? I’d like to think they were discussing their menu for that night.

Here are a couple of the elephants taking a drink:

And just because I like you, another video!

I loved the fact that at the entrance/exit of the elephant enclosure, they had a statue of Ganesh, the Hindu Elephant God:


Some people left him offerings of flowers and money:

After paying my respects to Ganesh, I headed off to see the tigers in their enclosure. They were too far away for me to get a good picture of them from the outside area:

You did have a better view at the glass paneled area, but because you are behind glass pictures do not turn out all that terrifically so I won’t post one here.

I left the India portion of the zoo (the area with the tigers and elephants and Ganesh was sectioned off like a different country) and I must say I was impressed with how they built that section of the zoo. They took time with the sculptures and the flowers, and put effort in making it feel like you were at a zoo in India.

Now on to the Emus! I wasn’t that interested in seeing the emus, as I had already seen plenty of them in the wild, but I caught this picture and wanted to share. This was an area of the enclosure where the emus could have some privacy.  The fence was covered with burlap so no one could see in and the emus couldn’t see out – but this little guy was curious as to who was out there!

I did go to the Tasmanian devil enclosure, but I didn’t see any Tasmanian devils. Luckily I had already seen them in Tasmania. And no, I did not see any Tasmanian tigers either.

Next up was the echindas, another one of Australia’s strange native creatures. They almost look like porcupines.

They walk strangely as well. And here is video proof:

As I was walking back towards the front of the park I had to walk through the kangaroo territory again. I’m glad I did! This time I saw a beautiful mostly white kangaroo. I can’t imagine kangaroos sporting these colorings would last very long in the wild.

I was starving at this point of my visit, so I had lunch in the food court. I had what they called an “American” burger. Those burgers were pretty much the same except they called ketchup “ketchup” as opposed to “tomato sauce” and they didn’t try to sneak a beet on my burger instead of a tomato.

I was joined for lunch by another bird – he was more welcome than the bird I met during my snorkeling tour because this one didn’t try to steal my food.

And right before I left the zoo, I decided I wanted to hold a koala. I missed out at the Sydney zoo, so I figured I would take my shot here.  He was as adorable as could be, but his nails were very sharp, and boy do those things smell!

So, that was the end of my Australian Zoo adventure. As I was leaving the zoo, I saw this banner:

I had heard from a few people that they thought it seemed like the Australia Zoo had been changed into a memorial to Steve. I guess I didn’t notice it too much, although I suppose I also hadn’t ever seen the zoo prior to his death. All of the statues of Steve and his family were probably only added after he died.

So I was now finished with the Australia zoo, and I got back onto the bus and headed back to Noosa.

Oh! I almost forgot to mention: On my walk around the zoo, I saw yet another person that I had met before. He was an Irish guy who once again I couldn’t for the life of me remember where I knew him. He wasn’t one of the Irish brothers I had met on the Frasier Island trip. When before that had I met an Irish guy? As soon as he left I remembered – he was on my rafting trip! My memory is awful.

Fraser Island

Now is the moment you have been waiting for! Here is my post about Fraser Island.

My time on Fraser Island was bitter-sweet. I had some amazingly great times, and I had some not-so-great times. The island itself (which I was told was one of the natural wonders) was everything I had been promised. I also met some terrific people on this trip. It was only towards the end when I had a couple of misfortunes that prevented this from being a perfect trip. Even the luck of the Irish couldn’t help me. That will make more sense as you read on. But let me start from the beginning…

Fraser Island is an incredible place for many reasons. First of all, it is the largest all-sand island in the world. The ‘all sand’ part is what makes it so incredible. Most islands have something underneath the sand, like rock or dirt. This island truly is just sand. If you were to dig straight down, the sand would go down to 600 meters below sea level. All the vegetation on the island (including the rainforests) are just growing on the sand. This island is the only place in the world where a rainforest grows on sand dunes.

The plants and trees get all of their nutrition from the dead plant matter or leaf litter that falls to the ground. At one time, this island was used for logging, but when it was discovered how scientifically important it was they halted the logging – and timber now has not been collected from the island since 1991. In 1992 it was listed as a World Heritage site, and now the only money the island brings in is from tourism.

Fraser Island has over 50 freshwater lakes and close to 80 streams and creaks that run throughout. We were able to swim in a few of them, but I’ll talk about that and the bad luck attributed to that later in this post. (Ooooh, is that foreshadowing?)

Now on to my actual trip. The bus picked me up at about 7:40 am this morning. It was nice to sleep in for once! After everyone had been collected we headed towards the ferry that would take us to the island. There were about 16 of us on this trip, and most people came in groups. It was just myself and one other girl who were traveling alone.

The bus boarded the ferry and we settled in for a 50 minute boat ride to the island. You will all be very happy to know that I did not get seasick on the ferry. It may be that big boats are OK, but the little ones, not so good.

When we arrived to the island the bus headed straight into the rainforest. As we drove along, our tour guide (Peter) told us a bit about the vegetation, the rainforest, and the island itself. I was extremely amused with the way he spoke. He had a real “pilot” quality to his voice and the say he talked – “We plan to be flying at approximately 20,000 feet. We are expecting a bit of rain and turbulence so be sure you buckle up!” He certainly knew his stuff though.

After a short drive, we were able to get off the bus and go for a walk through the rainforest so we could see the flora up close and personal. This also gave us a chance to get to know each other outside of the bus. We all introduced ourselves and told each other where we were from. As was the norm for these tours, we were a pretty varied group. There were a couple of other people from America  this time (NYC) and a whole group of girls from Norway. There were also a couple of Dutch girls, a Swiss German family (their child was adorable and couldn’t have been much older than two or three), a German couple, one English girl and two Irish carpenter brothers. I ended up spending most of my time with the English girl – who was the other single traveler – and the Irish brothers. They were all so much fun, and hilarious! I love the Irish and English sense of humor –  despite the fact that they made it clear to me that they don’t think American jokes are very funny.

After a short walk through the rainforest and many run-ins with spiders (I think I saw more spiders in the two days on Fraser Island than I did in my entire time in Australia) we got back into the bus and set off for our next stop – Eli Creek. Along the way we met up with a small airplane pilot who offered to take us for a flight over the island for a small fee. He promised us that it would be an incredible experience – we would be able to take off from the beach and we’d see parts of the island that you’d only see from the air. He also said that we’d be very likely to see sharks or large fish in the water. I don’t normally do things like this because I never feel like it is worth the money – but this time I was convinced. I figured that since I didn’t do the helicopter ride over the Twelve Apostles I should do something like it, and I also really wanted the chance to see the sharks and other sea life from the air.

We got on board (it was myself, the captain, my Irish and English friends, and two other people) and we took off, as promised, from the beach. That was a neat experience – watching the ocean get smaller and smaller as we got further and further into the sky.

Our Captain:

Our shadow in the water:

I really enjoyed the tour from the ocean. We did see a lot from the sky that we never would have seen on land.


The below picture was my favorite, it was a lake appropriately named ‘butterfly lake’:

The beach:

And a shipwreck from the sky. We’ll be seeing this one up close later on.

The ride lasted about 10-15 minutes before we descended. I enjoyed the flight, but I couldn’t help but be disappointed that we didn’t see any sharks or large fish from the sky. That was the selling point for me, so I couldn’t help but feel a little cheated.

Here is one more picture of the captain and I!

After saying goodbye to the captain and the plane, the six of us walked to Eli Creek. This stream had perhaps the clearest water I have ever seen in a creek. The water in the stream was running swiftly, but it was completely silent because it was moving through sand instead of rocks.

We waded through the creek – which was very shallow at the beginning but as you can see from the picture, it got deeper as we moved on. And me without a swimsuit on! The shallow:

And the deep! It did get up to my thighs but I didn’t get that picture:

Wading through the creek in the rainforest made me feel a bit like Indiana Jones wading through the Amazon river.

Next we had lunch at a resort-kitchen. It was buffet-style eating – chicken, salad, lunch meats, etc – low-key, but delicious. We stayed for about an hour before we were back on the bus to our next stop, the Maheno shipwreck (which was the same ship we saw from the air).

The ship was at one time a ‘luxury cruiser’ built in 1905. In 1935, it was sold to Japan for scrap metal but ended up being caught in up in a cyclone on the way, and washed ashore at Fraser Island. Now, it is just one of the many interesting things that people come to look at on their trip to the island.

Our next destination was to a lookout over the ocean called Indian Head, named that because when Captain Cook first discovered it he saw Aboriginals there – and he thought they were a lot like the American Indians. At Indian Head we were hoping to be lucky enough to see sharks, large fish, turtles… etc. It was a beautiful view, but we were not lucky enough to see anything other than schools of small fish and the marine birds that were eating them.

There was still a chance that we might at least see some turtles when we visited Lake Mackenzie, a lake known for being an extremely clear and beautiful. I asked Peter if that was a possibility. “Oh, we aren’t going to Lake Mackenzie, we don’t have a license for that. We’re going to another, similar lake, Lake Birrabeen.” Whaaaa? I was again slightly disappointed. I had thought (and I seem to remember that my travel agent telling me) that we would be seeing Lake Mackenzie. After all, it was the most famous lake in Fraser Island! I was said that we were missing it – but Peter told us that because of how popular it is, not everyone can have a license to visit it or the lake would end up being destroyed by so many tourists. He assured us that the one we would be going to was just as nice, just not quite as popular.

We were at the lookout for a while, and when it seemed that everyone was leaving I headed back down to the bus as well. About 15 minutes later a couple of people came back down from the lookout point, excited because they had seen a whale. This was the second time I missed something because I left too early! First the penguins on the Great Ocean Road tour, and now this!

We headed towards our camp for the night, with one more quick stop to an area called the ‘Coloured Sands’. They were beautiful and reminded me a little of the Ochre pits from my Heading Bush tour. There was one major difference though – these sands weren’t used by the Aboriginals to create body paint. How do I know? I asked!

I also found this: look familiar?

If you have ever had a pet bird it would! It’s a cuttle bone, which is put into bird cages so they can chew on them and trim their beaks or get their daily calcium. I never really thought about where they came from, but apparently they come from the sea!

We reached camp at about 4:30, and dinner wasn’t until 6. My Irish and English friends and I entertained ourselves by building domino tracks and card houses. For dinner, we had the choice of steak or fish (I had the fish) and we had baked potatoes with sour cream, salad, and garlic bread. The best part was, after we had finished we didn’t have to do any of our own dishes. The place was equipped with a dishwasher! Pure luxury.  We were in good spirits after dinner and were talking and joking around when we were offered the chance to go on a night walk with one of the other tour groups to see if we could see some dingos or other night roaming creatures. In the first five minutes we did see one creature. Just mentioning the name of this little guy will send shivers down many Australian’s backs. It was a large cane toad.

For those who don’t know, cane toads were introduced into Australia back in 1935 to take care of a native species which was a problem, the cane beetle. However, these toads decided they didn’t want to eat the beetles, they wanted to eat other things instead.  Since then, they have multiplied and damaged a lot of the eco-system in Australia. Plus, they’re ugly.

We kept walking along the beach looking for creatures and looking at the stars. However, the only other creatures we saw on the walk were a few clams and another smaller toad. I can’t blame the wildlife for not showing themselves though – we were a large and loud group, so I assume anything out there just ran off when they heard us coming.

When we got back from the walk, my friends and I stayed up talking a little longer and the Irish brothers tried scaring those who went to bed earlier with dingo noises (it didn’t work, no one knew what a dingo sounded like) until we finally went to bed in our nice big tents with warm cozy cots. A few of us resolved to wake up early to watch the sun rise over the beach, and I was determined to be one of them.

The next morning, I almost didn’t wake up to see the sunrise. My alarm had gone off but I pushed snooze and fell back asleep where I had a dream that I missed the sunrise by five minutes. I woke up again to a rooster crowing (it was actually one of the Irish brothers who wanted to wake me up) and we walked the 15 minute hike down to the beach together. During the walk, I off-handedly mentioned my dream about missing the sunrise by five minutes, and I guess I must look like a psychic because they got nervous and made me run! Of course, being my klutzy self in flip-flops, I fell a few times while running – but it was nice, soft sand, which was good cushioning! We made it to the beach before the sun had showed it’s bright shiny head.

We waited with anticipation… and waited… and waited. The sky got brighter and brighter, but no sun. We were trying to decide if maybe the sun had already risen and was behind one of the many clouds in the sky when it finally started to appear on the horizon. So we ran to the sunrise but ended up waiting for half an hour before it even rose. I fell for nothing! I did get some great shots though.


After the sun became too bright to stare at any more we walked back to our campsite to have breakfast – cereal, toast, and fresh fruit. Once again I marveled at the wonderful dishwasher that was sparing me from the torture of washing my own dishes. After we all had enough to eat we once again headed off on the road, eager for another day of fun.

Today we had just a few places to visit before we were going to meet our ferry at 4:30 to return to Hevey Bay. The first stop was a lake called Lake Wabby. This lake formed because of a depression in the sand deep enough to expose the water below the island. Because of the remote location of the lake we couldn’t drive right up to it. Instead, we had to park and walk 1.5 km over sand dunes to get there. Let’s just say that by the time we finished crossing what felt like the Sahara Desert:

We didn’t care how cold the water was, we all jumped right in! The water was deep in the center but it wasn’t very large.  You could see the other side of the lake, so some of us (myself included) decided to swim to the opposite end of it.

I had my Casio camera with me (in it’s waterproof case) so it wasn’t very easy for me to swim the normal way while holding my camera. I backstroked and doggy-paddled for most of it. It was actually farther than it had seemed. I made it to the other side but I was exhausted by the time I got onto shore. Check out the view from the other end! I swam this entire way:

We stayed on the opposite side for about 20 minutes before it was time for us to get back on the bus for our next stop, so we swam back. Getting back seemed much easier than getting there. I can only assume that my arm muscles were getting more developed by the minute! We were at the other side in no time at all, congratulating ourselves on a job well done.

This, dear friends, is when the first tragic event of my Fraser Island trip took place. When I looked at my wrist to see how much time it took me to swim back, I saw… a naked wrist. My watch, which had been with me since day one in Australia, a gift from mom, my way of telling in an instant what time it was in both the US and Australia… it was gone forever. Lost somewhere on the bottom of Lake Wabby. This was very upsetting to me. I had really become attached to this watch and had really grown to depend on it. I wore it all the time! But now it was gone without a trace, just like that! I’m still trying come to terms with this loss. Maybe this is actually a good thing. For my last couple of weeks in Australia I wouldn’t be forced to live by the clock anymore. I still find myself looking at my wrist every now and then and feeling a twinge of sadness. My arm looks so empty now. But I guess now Fraser Island will always have something to remember me by.

We left the lake and went to the area we’d be eating our picnic lunch. Nothing spectacular happened here, but we were forced to eat in cages.

These were actually dingo lockers – places where you would run to hide if a dingo attacked the campsite. Ok, not really. They were the place to put your food and other items so the dingos wouldn’t be able to get at them.

Lunch was sandwich wraps (fajita type things again! What is it with Australia and Mexican food?) which I didn’t enjoy as much as I could have because I was still mourning my lost watch. I did get a little bit happier when I saw that we had shortbread cookies for dessert though.

After lunch, we went for another rainforest walk. We saw some eels swimming around in the crystal clear water of a creek, which were awesome to see, and we also saw a few large lizards climbing up the trees. It’s actually a wonder that the people in the back were able to see anything! A few of the girls up front would spot a lizard and they’d start screaming and jumping around and making a huge racket – not because they were afraid, but because they were excited to see it – and I would have thought the lizard would have ran away in terror before the people towards the end of the line saw it. Luckily it didn’t, so I have some video to show you:

Our final stop was at another lake, crystal clear Lake Birrabeen – our substitute for Lake Mackenzie. This lake was completely filled with only rainwater. There were no streams leading in or out of it. I wondered silently to myself if it was filled with leeches, as I had always heard that leeches are known to be found in places with standing water, but I forgot about that thought as soon as I saw how clear and beautiful the water was. It really was as clear as glass, and the sand was white and soft, and had the consistency of baby powder. We spent about an hour and a half swimming and playing in the lake before heading back to the ferry.


Because the water was so clear, I thought it might look cool to get an underwater picture of myself, but it was harder to get the right shot. I did, however, get a nice underwater video!

We were playing around, swimming, splashing, picture-taking, when suddenly we heard loud screams coming from the shallow end of the lake. Instinctively I looked around for sharks, crocs, barracudas or otherwise scary fish, but saw nothing. I looked back in the direction of the screaming and saw one of the Norwegian girls yelling and jumping up and down in the water. I heard the word ‘leech’. Uh oh! We went  over to where she was to inspect what she had found. She indeed have a leech on her. She pulled it off, but was bleeding. We saw the offending leech on the bottom of the crystal clear lake – and it was a big sucker (no pun intended). When we saw the leech, most of us lost our taste for swimming so we got out and lay in the sun for a while.

I took my camera out of the waterproof case to take some more pictures of the lake (the waterproof lens was a little smudged so I wanted to get a clearer picture of the water) and this is about when terrible thing number two happened. I dropped my camera right into that beautiful soft, fluffy, powdery white sand. Uh oh! I quickly brushed off all the sand I saw and blew in the creases and cracks of the camera. I figured it would probably be ok. I didn’t see any sand remaining on the camera, so I pushed the button to turn it on. The lens started to come out… then it stopped. The LCD screen flashed angrily “Lens Error!” Great. I found a piece of grass to try to get every last bit of sand out of the lens area and blew into the cracks as hard as I could. I did eventually get the lens to open and close again, but it made a funny sound as it was doing it. “no matter”, I thought, “I can deal with funny sounds. I’ve lived with my sister Stacy for years and I got used to her funny sounds!”

I didn’t have time to take any more pictures as everyone was rushing for the bus. I carefully put my camera into it’s case and told myself that I’d take some pictures later to test it out. We headed to the ferry, all of us a bit sad that our time would soon be coming to an end. I went to the sundeck of the boat and decided to take a picture of the island as we were leaving. I aimed the camera to take a shot when I realized that something was wrong. The camera turned on, the lens opened and extended as it should (with the addition of a funny noise) but it wouldn’t focus. Noooooooo! I tried in vain to focus on multiple different spots in the boat but it just would’t work. It made more funny noises. Fraser Island has now taken my watch and my camera! I raised my fist and shook it at the island as it grew smaller and smaller. I shouted “damn you, Frasier Island! You have not yet taken my spirit!” I was consoled by my Irish and English friends and we back down to the middle deck to sit down and share a good cry.

So that was my horrible news. I lost my watch and my camera on one trip. Although my personal bad luck on the island doesn’t even compare to the bad luck of it’s namesake, Captain Fraser. Captain Fraser, his wife Eliza, and his crew were sailing around Australia when they shipwrecked a few hundred kilometers from the island. Most of the crew went on the lifeboat to try to find land but they left the Captain, his wife, and his first and second mate with the ship. The ship and everyone on it soon washed up onto Fraser Island. When they did, they were captured by the Aboriginals living there and forced to work. Captain Fraser was old and frail and was not a very good worker, so he was soon after speared in the back by the Aboriginals and he died. The first and second mate also died on the island, but Eliza was saved and she returned to England. About 20 years later she was killed when she was hit by a horse-drawn tram. The island was eventually named after the Frasers. I suppose when an island brings you that much bad luck, it’s only fair. Maybe they should change Lake Wabby to be named after me: “Karen Lake”. And the sand at Lake Birrabeen could be named “Karen Sands”. It’s only fair, right?

Anyway, I guess the fact that I broke my camera is no big surprise. I am actually shocked that it took so long for me to break it. I am way too clumsy with my things. It already had quite a few dents and chips in it, but it was just no match for a couple of itty, bitty grains of sand. I wasn’t as upset about the camera as I was about the watch, I was just glad that my photo cards were OK.

And now our Fraser trip was over, so we all said our sad goodbyes, with promises to keep in touch. Despite the fact that this was one of the shortest trips I had been on yet, I got on very well with the people on it. We got to know each other better than I got to know the people on the three or four day trips I took. I did have fun and learned a lot about that fascinating Island, and I wouldn’t go back in time and not go just to save the watch and the camera. Though I would fasten the watch a little bit tighter and I’d have not taken the camera out of the protective waterproof case until after I left the beach.

This morning I woke up very early to go to the electronics store and see about getting another camera. Some electronics in Australia seem to be better priced than they are in the US, so I figured I should see what I could get. Plus I was going to the Australia zoo next and I knew I’d want to be able to take pictures there. I researched a few cameras on Amazon, and checked out the reviews. I decided to go with the one camera that I thought would be perfect for me. It’s shockproof for a distance of 5 meters, freeze-proof, waterproof, and crushproof. Basically, it is a Karen-proof camera. I took note of the Amazon price before I went to the store, and I was happy to see that it was about 30 dollars cheaper in the store than it was on the American Amazon site.  The only downfall to this camera was the fact that it used XD cards instead of SD cards, and I already had a nice supply of SD cards that would now go to waste. Well, at least I can still use them as disks for my mini-computer.

So I am now in Noosa in my hostel (which I will talk about in another post) and tomorrow I am off to the Australia zoo.

White Water Rafting on the Tully River

Today was white water rafting day.

It was another bright and early day. The bus picked me and a few others up at 6:40 and took us to the rafting center where we got onto another bus that drove us two hours hours to get to the Tully River station.

The bus ride was uneventful. We got to know the guides who’d be taking us on the river. They all seemed as easy-going as you might expect imagine river guides to be. One sign we passed on the drive did catch my eye. In big letters it said: “This way to Murder Point Winery!” I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t trust any place called Murder Point… no matter how much wine it had.

We arrived at the river station and we had some coffee and muffins for breakfast before we headed to the river. I was one of four people (and the only girl) who were traveling alone, so they stuck us all in a group together along with two other guys who were traveling together. Our guide was also a guy. Me and six men! This was turning out to be my kind of adventure!

Of the guys in my raft, three of them were English, one was Scottish, one was Swiss German, and the guide was an Australian. And get this – the Swiss German guy’s name was Rambo. I could tell this would be an interesting trip!

We went through the normal safety check and learned all the commands that might be shouted at us as we were on the river, and then we got onto the raft and hit the river.

It had been a few years since the last time I went white water rafting. Each time I go I always forget how exhilarating (and slightly terrifying) it is. Everyone on the boat has to work effectively together in order to navigate the difficult rapids. You have to constantly hold on with your legs and feet while paddling furiously, trying not to fall out and trying keep your boat from tipping over. On one of the trickier rapids there was a point where the guy next to me fell into the drink, and the guide almost fell out after him. I happened to be in the way to block the guide from falling in so technically I helped him to not fall out – and the rest of the day he told everyone how I saved him. The guide was just getting his bearings after that near miss and was asking me if I was OK. He didn’t realize we were short one man. I shouted “He fell in!” We turned to the river and saw him clinging to the side of the boat… the side that was just about to hit a jagged rock. Luckily, we managed to pull him in just in time. Whew! Now that is adrenaline.

The entire rafting trip was beautiful. The river went through a rain forest, and while you didn’t have time to enjoy the scenery when you were navigating the rapids, as we were paddling to the next rapid we were awed by the beautiful foliage, trees and brilliantly colored birds. During the down times our guide would talk to us about the different spots as we rafted through them.

We rafted for about five hours in total, but we had plenty of breaks where we could swim in the river, float through grade three rapids, or jump off high rocks into the river. The chemistry between the guides made the trip even more enjoyable. They were always kidding around with each other, and splashing each other they rafted by. It made it an incredibly fun day. It definitely made up for my failure of a day from yesterday.

Our boat did pretty well overall. Only one person fell in, and I still can’t believe it wasn’t me! The other boats weren’t quite as lucky. One boat flipped over three times, spilling everyone into the river. When that happened, we would make sure everyone was OK before laughing at them as we floated by.

On another note – I don’t remember exactly how the subject came up, but someone (it was probably me) asked our guide what was the worst injury he ever saw on the river. He told us about a man who died when he fell out during one of the rapids because he stood up instead of assuming the rapid floating position (which is feet first, floating on your back) and his life-vest was not properly fastened so it fell off. There was another person who died because he dove into the river when he was told not too, and broke his neck. That was sobering information. You really have to respect the rivers you raft on.

When we finished rafting, we went back to the river station where we were treated to video highlights of our day, and were offered the opportunity to buy a CD of our pictures and video of our trip. I was the first one to buy it. I’m such a sucker. But now I have a forever memory of the day. And I can share the pictures with you!


Here is a group picture of me surrounded by my boys:

I had so much fun rafting. They actually have a four day rafting trip available. If I was staying in Cairns longer, I would have taken it. But I had places to be, other adventures to be on!

Tomorrow I am leaving Cairns and heading South again towards the final ending destination: Sydney. I still have close to a month to go though. Plenty of time for more fun!


Snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef

Today (Sunday) was my trip to snorkel at the Great Barrier Reef. I woke up bright and early that morning, and as I was walking over to the boat (which looked like a sailboat that also had motors) I saw one of the girls who was on my Alice to Cairns trip was also on my boat, so I already had a friend!

The weather looked to be perfect for snorkeling. We had about an hour and a half boat ride to get to the place where we’d be snorkeling (it was right next to an island called ‘Green Island’) so we settled down with coffee and muffins and looked eagerly forward to the days events. Our crew was awesome and very entertaining:

and our captain was pretty good at steering the boat with his feet!

About 45 minutes into the ride, I had to go down under the deck to use the bathroom. This was when things took a complete turn for the worse. The wind had started to pick up, so when I went down below I was rocking like crazy. I started to feel extremely queasy so I used the bathroom and got back up on deck as quickly as possible. I hoped that when I was back in the fresh air I would start to feel better. Unfortunately the boat was still rocking a lot, and I wasn’t feeling any better. It so bad that whenever someone tried talking to me I had to apologize and tell them I couldn’t talk because I was concentrating on not getting ill. They understood, of course. At least I hope they did!

Happily, we got to our snorkeling spot without me getting physically sick, but I was still feeling pretty queasy. The snorkeling instructors told me they were sure that once I got into the water, I would feel better, so I got myself prepared and got into the water as quickly as possible.

When I had my face in the water, I immediately noticed that the sea was not quite as clear as it could have been if it was a non-windy day. I did see some pretty fish and coral, but the winds were still picking up. The waves were bouncing me up and down in the water which made it very hard to keep my face under water and to see everything. I kept bouncing up and down, left and right, and the water was going into my ears every time a wave crashed on me. This dramatically increased my feeling of nausea. The waves weren’t at a dangerous level but they were just wavy enough to make it difficult for me to snorkel, especially because I was already feeling sick.

I was out there for maybe half an hour before I couldn’t take it anymore, so I came in. During the short time I was out in the water, I tried to snap everything I could with my waterproof camera. I wasn’t able to see what I was taking pictures of, I was just taking pictures in the general direction of the fish, without thinking, because I was so busy concentrating on not being sick.

This shot below is pretty much the only thing worth sharing. You can see for yourself that the water wasn’t very clear:

Back on the boat, I sat in the sun where the wind could blow on my face. The instructors told me that as soon as we got to dry land I would feel better. After about an hour (way too long to be struggling with sea-sickness!) we headed towards Green Island. Everyone else in our group ate their lunch on the boat before going to the island, but I figured that eating would probably be a terrible idea for me. The instructor made me up a plate I could eat when we got to the island.

We reached the island by use of speedboat – which had been dragged along by our sail boat – how did I not notice it before? When I got onto solid land, I felt immensely better. I walked straight to a picnic table and ate my lunch, where I was joined by this unwelcome guest:

At first I thought this little bird was adorable and I took a picture of him when he came up to me. That changed the second I took the plastic wrap off my food. Now he had only one mission – and it was to eat my food. The island was full of these birds, and they seemed to be experts at stealing food. I did manage to get some video of how bold this thing was:

The second I turned off my camera, he rushed me while I was pre-disposed and he STOLE my bread! I was so angry because I really wanted that bread. While I was busy being mad, another one came by and took a bite of my chicken wing while I was eating my salad. Cannibal.

Green Island was nice, but it was a complete tourist-trap. Most people who go there will spend some time on the beaches or at the beach bar or gift shops, and they might take a ocean-plane or a helicopter ride… the REALLY rich will stay there overnight in a swanky resort for 500 dollars a night. This is where I would have to stay if I missed the final speedboat trip back to our sailboat.

I was still pretty hungry because of my stolen food so I got some chips and gravy and some ice-cream at a little stand on the beach. Then I had to kill some time until this trip was over. I didn’t want to go back to being seasick if I could help it, so I waited for the last speedboat trip to return. I was told by the tour guides that Green Island was such a small island that you could walk around it in half an hour, so I decided to test that.

While walking alone I had plenty of time for thinking. I couldn’t understand why my one shot at seeing the Great Barrier Reef is the one time I get seasick. I’d been on boats in the past, and never before had I  gotten sick. I do have an interesting fact about why you get motion sickness though. I’ll share it with you. The reason that people get motion sickness is because when you are driving (or boating) your body feels the movement, and understands that you are supposed to be moving. But as soon as you do something like read or look at someone who is standing still, your brain gets confused because your eyes are telling your brain that you are standing still, but your body is feeling movement. Your brain decides, ‘huh, this is weird and not right. I must be poisoned!’ so it makes you feel sick to get rid of the toxin that you must have eaten. The really sensitive people can get sea sick even though their eyes can see that they are moving on a boat because the up and down movements of the waves aren’t natural to us.

Here are a few pics of the island:


When it was finally time to head back to port I steadied myself for another hour and a half ride back. At first I thought I would be OK and not get sick. Then the wind started picking up and the boat started rocking… a lot. Even harder than it was on the trip there. The captain said the wind was at something like 30 knots. I don’t know what that means, but I do know that it meant that boat was sideways for almost the entire ride back. Everyone on my side of the boat was constantly being splashed while the other side was holding on to keep from falling onto our side. That sick feeling started to come back. Even though I was getting soaked soaked where I was sitting, I didn’t want to get up to move because I was concentrating so hard on not throwing up.

Eventually though, the crew convinced me to move to a better area where they assured me I wouldn’t feel as sick. When I moved I did start feeling a little better… but all I really wanted was to be back on dry land. I couldn’t understand how five of the people on our trip were really partying it up on the way back, drinking beer after beer. There was no way I could have put any alcohol in my body now. One other guy was beginning to feel sick too, so he ended up sitting next to me for most of the ride home. The other few people who weren’t drinking were just looking out into sea with fear in their eyes because the waves were so big and rough, and kept splashing into our boat.

We did make it back in one piece, but I have to say I have never been so happy to be off a boat. It’s unfortunate that my reef experience was not that great of an experience, since I had been looking forward to it for so long. If I ever plan on taking a sailboat in rough waters in the future, I will be sure that I take a motion sickness pill beforehand. Now that I know I get seasick, I can try to do something to prevent it on my next boat ride.

At the moment I am back in my noisy hostel with drunk people running around on a Sunday. I am about to go to bed (if I can ignore all the partying) because I have to wake up early tomorrow for white water rafting.  And by the way, do you ever experience when you spend a day doing something with unusual motions (such as if you spent the day in the water or in an amusement park) you can still feel the motion of movement when you lie down to sleep? I feel it now, and it is not fun. Oh well, at least I know I won’t get sick while white water rafting. I just might fall out of the boat!

Trip To Cairns

As you all know (or should know if you’ve been keeping up with my blog posts) I am now in Cairns. However, you don’t know anything else about what happened on my trip to get there. Lucky you! I am going to write all about it in this post.

The trip to get to Cairns took three days, but I’m going to attempt to write about that entire tour in one post so I can get to the post about snorkeling and rafting. I’m still behind on posts but I’m working very hard for you to get up to date!

I’ll start at the beginning. Once again we had to leave very early in the morning. This time it was before the sun had even shown his face. These early morning drives are becoming entirely too common for me. Thank heavens for caffeine! As we boarded the bus, the driver had to collect the money for the tour.  I was very proud of myself that even in my half-asleep state I realized that he was overcharging me by about 45 dollars. I stink at math, but not when someone is trying to pull one over on me!

The bus drove around picking up all the people on our tour, and then dropped us all off at the real bus. I can only guess that our real bus driver wanted to sleep an extra hour while someone else had the chore of gathering us all up.

The bus we were getting on was almost like a luxury hotel compared to what I had come from on the Heading Bush tour. There were only about 15 of us on this trip, but the bus had about 40 seats. Each of us had our own two seats on the bus, and there was abundant leg room, air conditioning, and even a TV!  It was like it was made for the queen herself.

Allen, our bus driver, told us that we would have a bit of a drive before our first stop so we should all take a little nap and he’d wake us up in a couple of hours. We of course took him up on his offer, but it was a bit hard to stay asleep when he kept honking the horn every half hour or so. He said it was to scare the eagles feeding on the roadkill so he could avoid hitting them… but I have my suspicions.

As promised, Allen woke us up a few hours into the drive and talked to us about what we would be seeing on our journey to Cairns. With our luxury super bus we wouldn’t attempt to travel any rough terrains that we’d have relished in the 4WD vehicle of Heading Bush, but we would be hitting plenty of dirt roads and we’d even see the outskirts of the Simpson Desert.

There was plenty of time for us to twiddle our thumbs and stare out the window on this trip. There was a lot of driving in between each stop. I remember one point, after we had been driving through kilometers and kilometers of absolutely nothing, we were all extremely excited to see a police station. It was placed pretty much in the middle of nowhere in the Australian Outback. Allen told us that two cops live in the area with their families, and between the two of them they monitor an area of 2000 km. If they hear about an accident that happened 1894 km away it might take them six to eight hours to even arrive to the scene. Can you imagine living like that? Or worse, can you imagine if you were in an accident in their territory while they were 2000km away? I sure hope they have other protocols for situations like that.

There was a toilet on the bus, but Allen asked us to please only use it in an emergency. These bus toilets weren’t meant to be used for three days straight. When we had to go, he would make a stop in the bush so we could use the same ‘bush toilets’ that I became accustomed to on my last trip! Such wonderful memories it brought back. It was amusing to me seeing the girls act nervous on their first time peeing outside. I felt like I was a pro by this point!

Our first non-toilet stop was at a little Aboriginal village where we were could buy artwork at the town’s art gallery or go to a little convenience store. It was a quick stop – in no more than 15 minutes we were back on the road. If this trip already seems less eventful than my previous ones, you are right. This particular trip wasn’t much of a tour, at least not in the sense that I was used to up to this point. It was more like a bus ride with a few stops and some commentary.

While we were trying to pass the time in between stops, Allen wanted us to get to know each other better so he had all of us stand up one at a time to talk about ourselves for one minute. He then told us that one thing we could count on him doing each morning of the trip was playing some silly Australian songs that we would most likely be sick of by the end of the tour. “G’day G’day! How ya going? Whaddaya know? Go strike a light!” ended up being our unofficial theme song. It wasn’t unheard of to catch yourself or someone else randomly singing it at the strangest times such as in the bathroom, after dinner, or even in your sleep.

When we were starting to get restless, Allen offered to put in a movie. We all cheered for that brilliant idea. He picked out a good one and slid the DVD into the player… but when he tried to turn it on, it didn’t play. We decided it wasn’t too big of a deal to not have a movie. This would just give us the chance to get to know each other a little better. We still had the luxury seats and the air conditioning!

I settled down comfortably and joined conversation with a couple of people in the seats near mine. I admit that I was a little concerned that on this trip I would hear many of the same things that I had already learned on the Heading Bush trip, but that didn’t end up being the case. This driver seemed to have a special fondness for cattle stations and the people who make a living by working out in the bush. The Heading Bush tour was more about the actual land and the history that it held, as well as it’s connection to the Aboriginals.

I found it fascinating how many cattle stations (i.e. large cow farms) were out in the bush – pretty much in the middle of nowhere. The cows would just roam free on the miles and miles of property, eating what they could find. Eventually they would be rounded up and sold for beef.

The amount of rain that each cattle station gets can make or break them for the year. If they have a year with too little rain they would have to sell off all of their cattle quickly before they die of thirst, which means they would have to sell them for less money in order to unload them faster. The last five years have been especially hard for the cattle stations – they have averaged at only a few centimeters of rain each year.

Our next stop  was at a giant termite mound. Giant may be an understatement! The mount in the picture below is dead now, but it is thought to be over 200 years old. I’m next to it for scale. And if you were wondering, I’m 5’9.

The termite mound pictured above is made by ground dwelling termites. They make their mounds by mixing together dirt and saliva, which means that the color of the dirt determines the color of the mound. Can you imagine how many termites lived in that bad boy when it was alive? Another fun fact – in that entire mound there would be only one queen termite who laid enough eggs to create all the termite babies that populated the entire mound. That would be the job to have! Just sit on your butt and lay eggs night and day while the older generation fed you so you didn’t have to get up. This particular queen did a great job raising her kin. Look at the size of that thing! We marveled at the mound and took pictures for about 10 minutes before we were back on the road.

Eventually we got to the Northern Territory/Queensland border. This mean’s we were back on Sydney time! We were welcomed with a misspelled sign. Maybe they figured not enough people would be driving by to notice.

My favorite part is how they tried to correct it with a tiny red cross out symbol through the extra ‘r’.

At the Queensland border we passed another sign that said “Home of the Min Min lights!” This peaked my interest so I asked Allen what it meant. He explained that that a long time ago there was a hotel in the area called the Min Min hotel which was known for being the spot for crimes involving poisoned alcohol, murder, and prostitutes. The hotel was shut down following the tragedy and it burned to the ground soon after. Since then, people who were driving by at night would sometimes see strange lights following them through the area – sometimes for miles – and it supposedly still happens today. There have even been respectable and trustworthy people who have reported seeing them. There are all kinds of theories as to what these lights might be that range from fireflies to gas bubbles, but no definite explanation has been found.

Our next stop was the middle of nowhere. You heard me right! One of the selling points in the brochure for this tour was that you would have the opportunity to go to the middle of nowhere and take a nothing walk. And I came anyway! The “middle of nowhere” was a little eerie. There truly was nothing for as far as the eye could see.

Imagine being stuck out here with no gas and no water? You would have no hope.

The reason for the lack of tree life in areas like these is that they are made up of a type of soil called ‘black soil’. Black soil (not named for it’s color) cracks when it gets too dry which causes any trees that might be growing in it to fall over – the roots can’t take hold. When it does rain the cracks fill up as the soil expands, which means the soil is constantly moving, expanding and shrinking depending on the weather.

After another 10 minutes of experiencing ‘nowhere’ we got back into the bus. This is when another problem emerged. Our saving grace, the air conditioning, had stopped working. It was just one thing after another on this trip! First no TV, and now no air! We couldn’t even open the windows on the bus. The only thing we could do to allow some kind of air flow was to open the vents located on the top of the bus. Our bus driver apologized profusely, but I am pretty certain I saw the hint of a smile on his face. He said that we should just think of it as “an experience.” I can’t help but think it was all an elaborate ruse orchestrated by the tour company to make sure this tour would be memorable. Despite this newest setback, we didn’t complain (much). This was the outback, after all!

We were now driving down ‘Plenty Highway’ on the way to our sleeping place for the night. We would be staying at a cattle station called “Wirrilyerna Station”. During this drive I became extremely excited when I saw a half dozen or so emus. I shouted “Emus!” so everyone could share in my joy, but people barely looked up from what they were doing.  A couple of them glanced  half-heartedly out of the window but I think it was just to appease me. These were the same people that got all worked up over seeing kangaroos just minutes later. What gives here? Kangaroos are like the squirrel of the outback! They’re everywhere!

When we arrived at Wirrilyerna station, the first thing we were told was to expect some nighttime ‘music’. I think many of us were picturing some kind of hoedown or something. Nope. They had just rounded up a whole herd of cows that were ready to be branded and sold – and we would hear the mooing all night long. I have a video here so you can experience what we did:

The cattle station had a rustic beauty to it – especially around sunset. I did take a few amazing sunset pictures which I’ll share with you now. The reds were so much more vibrant than they were anywhere else because of all the dust in the air. The sun reflected off all that dust making the colors spread across the horizon.


They also had a few pigs that had free range of the entire station. They were not pretty creatures, even for pigs! This one took a nibble of my dress.

Dinner at the station was fantastic. We had spaghetti, mashed potatoes, corn, and green beans. For dessert we had fruit cocktail topped with ice cream and Milo. Yum! I hadn’t eaten this well since pancakes and eggs day in the outback!

I conversed with Allen during dinner when he told me something that I had never known before. He said that generally cattle stations will keep the female cows for breeding and only sell the males. Apparently, more often than not, when we eat beef we are actually eating the bulls and not the cows. This fact surprised me as I had always thought it was the other way around.

The people who owned and lived on the farm had quite a few pets that we got to meet. My favorite of the bunch was a pet kangaroo named Mary who they had rescued when she was a baby. They completely treat her like a member of their family. Every night she gets ice cream, and every morning she has toast and coffee. Have you ever seen a kangaroo drink coffee? Let me tell you – It’s adorable. They also had two beautiful dogs that got along quite well with Mary the kangaroo, a few sheep, and of course the pigs (and piglets!) It was such a wonderful environment. This was one place I could get used to living!

That night, when we had all finished dinner, we brought some folding chairs outside and did some star gazing. I learned how to use the southern cross (an Australian constellation) to determine what direction south was. A few of us also did some additional exploring and found an old old wool-cutting house where they used to sheer sheep. Years ago this farm had bred sheep instead of cattle, but switched when cattle became so much more profitable. They now only have a few sheep left.

When it was time for bed they told us that our sleeping quarters would be inside. I really missed sleeping outdoors under the stars so I dragged a cot outside and was once again amazed by how many stars I could see. That night was a new moon so it was even more spectacular. Millions and millions of stars. Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay out there for long as it ended up getting pretty cold and windy so I eventually went back inside to my warm bed.

The next morning for breakfast I had a sugar cereal. I’m sure this doesn’t sound that interesting, but this  was actually the first sugar cereal I’ve had since coming to Australia. What a treat! And of course Mary had to join us for her morning coffee.

Here is a picture of the baby cattle that was wandering around begging for treats in the morning:


And a picture of the sunrise – which was just as beautiful as the sunset:

After eating “brekky” we were back on the road with a quick stop at the town of Boulia. There we learned that Trevor (the main owner of the cattle station we spent the night at) owned five houses, the town’s butcher shop, and the bar in Boulia. He also used used to be the mayor.  I suppose things like that are quite common in small towns!

The next highway we took was Kennedy highway. This highway would take us all the way to Cairns. It was on this highway that we had the chance to see camels! So maybe they were farmed camels, but still. Camels!

At another stop on our trip we went to a lookout point which had some very interesting graffiti. “I love cheese”? I guess there are worse things to love…

For lunch we stopped at the remote “Middletown Pub”, and had a (delicious!) barbecue lunch at the Hilton Hotel.

If you can’t read the picture, the sign says “No air conditioning, no TV, no pool, no charge!” There were quite a few interesting characters at the Hilton Hotel. It was a very remote area but the bar attracts a lot of tourists on their way to Cairns.  They also have a few regulars who come by every day.

One of the guys we saw there told us he was making a documentary of some sort, so he wanted to take pictures of us tourists taking pictures. First he captured Becki (one of the girls in my group):

And when he saw me taking a picture of him taking a picture of her it was my turn:

Our next stop was at Winton, home of the Waltzing Matilda song and the Waltzing Matilda museum.

Now, if you have never hear of “Waltzing Matilda”, it’s Australia’s ‘unofficial’ national anthem. It was written by Banjo Patterson and his girlfriend (he wrote they lyrics and she wrote the music) and it became so popular that it was sung all over Australia. People would sing it when soldiers marched off to war, before football games, while drinking, and any other occasion you can think of.

The fascinating lyrics:

Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong
Under the shade of a coolibah tree,
And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boiled:
“Who’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me?”

Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda
You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me
And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boiled:
“You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me.”

Down came a jumbuck to drink at that billabong.
Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him with glee.
And he sang as he shoved that jumbuck in his tucker bag:
“You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me.”


Up rode the squatter, mounted on his thoroughbred.
Down came the troopers, one, two, and three.
“Whose[N 1] is that [N 2] jumbuck you’ve got in your tucker bag?
You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me.”


Up jumped the swagman and sprang into the billabong.
“You’ll never take me alive!” said he
And his ghost may be heard as you pass by that billabong:
“Who’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me?”


The song is a true story of a drifter who many years ago had stolen a sheep. When he was caught he tried to swim away in a billabong (water hole) rather than be sent to jail, but ended up drowning while trying to get away.

To make sense of the lyrics – Matilda is another name for a swag (what I slept in when I was in the outback) so ‘Waltzing Matilda’ actually means walking along with your swag. As you walk, your swag will swing so it almost looks like it’s dancing, or “waltzing”. “Jumbuck” means sheep, and “tuckerbag” means food bag. “Squatter” means the person who lives on the land (in this case, it’s the guy who owned the sheep).

Many Australian people did want to make this song their official national anthem, but the Australian government refused, saying that they didn’t want a song about a thief who died while trying to escape as the national anthem. So instead “Advance Australia Fair” (which I talked about in one of my earlier posts) is the anthem. What’s funny about this is that while most Australians know the lyrics to “Waltzing Matilda”, most don’t know all the words to the official national anthem.

While looking around the Waltzing Matilda museum we found a disturbing mannequin. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. The exhibit was meant to show the clothing and living style of people back in the days of the swagman thief, but it looking like something odd happened to the neck of the mannequin so it was held on by tape. Maybe it originated from a prank?

In the closeup you can see that it almost looks like someone tried to slit her neck:

You can also see that her false eyelashes are falling off!

After we had finished with the museum we headed to our sleeping quarters for the night, which would be at a pub in Hughenton. We had shepherds pie for dinner, which was once again delicious. They made it a bit differently than what I am used to. Instead of mashed potatoes it had potato pieces and it was smothered in cheese. Sooo good. Full bellies makes for sound sleeping.

The next morning was our last day of this tour. We didn’t have much of an agenda today. We made a quick stop at a place called the porcupine gorge where we saw a gorge (surprises abound in Australia!) and some huge spiders. I’ll spare you the spider pictures this time.

For lunch we ate at Millstream Falls where I got to see my first kookaburra bird up close. They really do make a sound like laughing!

I think this one was hoping for a handout. Not from me, buddy!

I do have a video of the sound that the kookaburra bird makes for your viewing pleasure:

After lunch we walked over to the falls:

I also got a nice shot of a “Road Train”. In Australia they have huge trucks on these remote highways that carry things like cattle. They make huge dust storms whenever they pass by you.

And then we were back on the road again!

On our final stop before getting into Cairns we visited a tropical rain forest. But first, before I talk about the rainforest, check out this nifty hat. It has corks on strings which are meant to keep the flies out of your face. It is supposed to work because of the constant movement of the corks. Why didn’t I have one of these for my Heading Bush trip?

I really enjoyed the rain forest was really cool. This rainforest was more like how I remembered the rain forests in Costa Rica to be than the temperate rainforests that I had talked about in previous posts. We had about an hour hike through the forest before we reached our final destination – this waterfall:

Of course, we insisted on a swim!

Once again, I apologize if this post seemed rushed. I’m leaving Cairns tomorrow, so I wanted to try to be completely caught up before I go. All in all, this was another great tour. We didn’t do very much, but it was fun and educational. It definitely was a good way to travel from Alice Springs to Cairns – a step above taking a greyhound that would go straight through and not teach us anything.

Now onto the Cairns post!

Alice Springs, without friends

On today’s post I’m going to give you my perspective on Alice Springs itself.  But first, check out this awesome sculpture. Can you guess what kind of store it was in front of?

Did you guess a second-hand shop? You’re right! What a clever advertisement.

Now I do have to admit that I didn’t feel very safe being a lone traveler in in Alice Springs. I’d say the main reason for that is because I would occasionally hear people talking about the bad things that happened to them while there. For one example: on my first night in Alice, two of the people from the other Heading Bush group said that they had a knife pulled on them for a cigarette. I heard three other girls talking about when they were walking home they saw someone being beat up with a wooden board. It was stories like these that made me decide that this was one place I would not be walking home alone at nigh.

Alice Springs was also the first place I have been to in Australia where there were a lot of Aboriginals living in the city. There was a difference between these Aboriginals and the ones we met on our Heading Bush tours. During the tour, all of the Aboriginals we met were very friendly seemed to be pretty happy. The Aboriginals in the city completely ignored me. Almost like they couldn’t even see me. I had a strange feeling that the non-Aboriginals and the Aboriginals coexisted, but they were in different universes. We would go about our business, they would go about their business, and the two universes never met. Even when I would try to be friendly and smile at someone as they walked by, they acted as if I was completely invisible to them.

I was told by another traveler that most of the violence that happened in the city of Alice was actually Aboriginal on Aboriginal violence, and that they just ignored the tourists. That seems to be the case as I was completely ignored most of the time. I say most of the time because there were a couple of times times when I was smiled at or talked to, but it was rare enough that it was always a shock.

I felt guilty about the association I now had with violence and the Aboriginals in town, so I decided to talk to someone who lived in Alice Springs full time to see what they thought of the situation. Suzanne, the woman who owned and operated the hostel that I was staying in (Alice’s Secret) had a lot to say on the subject.

Suzanne has lived in Alice for about 6-7 years. She said that when she initially came to Alice Springs, first she was shocked at the state of the Aboriginals, then she was saddened, and then she just felt numb. She told me that those were the three stages that most people go through when they come to live in this city. She said that the Aboriginals who were living there had numerous problems. Many of them were homeless, and those who weren’t homeless lived in terrible slums. She figured that the reason there is so much violence among the Aboriginals in Alice is because most of them who live there were kicked out of their own tribes or communities for problem behavior – so they came to Alice.

Suzanne said that some of the major problems facing Aboriginals who try to adapt to our western habits is that they end up becoming obese, developing diabetes, or becoming alcoholics. They hadn’t had sugar or alcohol in their diets for thousands of years before us, so suddenly being introduced to it can cause major problems. It has gotten so bad that now many Aboriginal tribes forbid alcohol completely from entering their communities because of the problems it causes (that video I watched in the art gallery of Adelaide makes more sense to me now, the grandmother was trying to protect her tribe from going down a bad road). Things do need to be fixed or changed – but no one knows how to do so. She said that a lot of the local non-Aboriginal people believe that the Aboriginals who have problems should go back to the desert where they were originally from. However, after they had become so accustomed to living in the city they probably wouldn’t be able to survive the harsh conditions of the desert.

It’s a very sad situation. I wonder if tourists who visit Alice Springs leave assuming that all Aboriginals are like the ones they saw in the city because those are the only Aboriginals they have ever seen. I am even finding it hard to write about this now because I don’t want to give people who might be reading this post the impression that I think less of Aboriginal people because of Alice. I certainly don’t. The Aboriginals were forced to give up their way of life when Australia became occupied by English settlers. They had lived on the land for thousands and thousands of years when suddenly they were overtaken by people who forced them to change, and beat or murdered them if they didn’t. To put it even more into perspective – in the last century (sometime in the 1960’s), thousands of Aboriginal children were stolen from their homes and families and placed into white homes because it was thought that we could help them become more ‘westernized’. It was only in the last couple of months that the new Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd, apologized to the Aboriginals for this. Suzanne looked a bit teary-eyed herself as she told me that after the apology the Aboriginals living in Alice were on the street, crying.

Now I don’t want you to think that I am trying to come down hard on Australians or the English either. We Americans have done plenty of wrong. The story above is extremely similar to what we did to the Native Americans, and the days of slavery are another terrible mark on our history. I’m just trying to see this from both perspectives – the Aboriginal perspective and the non-Aboriginal perspective. We’ve seen time and time again how hard it can be to have two cultures living simultaneously side-by-side without conflicts.

But now onto lighter topics. I was really enjoying my latest hostel. Everything was painted in funky colors and they had an awesome backyard pool and a little koi pond that was a re-purposed jacuzzi.


We were also permitted to a free breakfast every morning! And this was not a cheap free like Toddy’s where the “free” breakfast was two slices of bread and coffee or tea. This was good stuff! I discovered a delicious cereal called Muesli, and we had all the milk we needed. It was almost like being at a friends house as opposed to a hostel.

The people staying at the hostel were all very friendly and chatty. The second night that I was there they held a barbecue to say goodbye to two of the long-term people who had been staying there. This was actually when I had that chat with Suzanne. She was such an interesting woman, an author actually! Unfortunately for me, she writes all her books in Dutch so I won’t be able to read them. Her full name is Suzanne Vissar and she did say that one day her books might be translated into English. On that day I will be ready!

Suzanne originally came from Amsterdam and she ended up in Nimbin where she adopted a child. She moved to Alice Springs because that child’s drug-addict biological parents kept showing up and her door and demanding money. She didn’t want the child to continue to be exposed to that, so she left. She speaks six languages (I can barely speak one!) – French, German, Flemish, Dutch, English, and Japanese. She started out just working at the Alice’s Secret hostel, but she bought it recently from the old owners and was now slowly making improvements.

How wonderful would it be to be a writer who owns a cozy little hostel where you constantly meet people from all over the world and in all stages of life? Talk about getting never-ending writing material! I think I need to take life lessons from this woman.

I didn’t limit my chatting to just Suzanne. I also talked to some of the other people who were staying at hostel – and they told me that Toddy’s (where I stayed my first couple of days in Alice) was actually known for being dirty and having bedbugs every so often. Thank goodness when we were staying there it was in one of the newer rooms, because we didn’t have any problems. Oh, and speaking of Toddy’s, I forgot to mention that Toddy’s apparently once had an alien visitor. Of course, this was according to two drunk guys who saw a space ship in the middle of the night when everyone else was asleep. Toddy’s went with it in a big way! On the map they provide to new guests that shows them how to get around in the area they have a little green man in a spaceship with the words “Alien landed here!” right next to their building.

Well, I think this is enough of Alice Springs. It was a unique city, possibly the most unique of all the cities I have been to yet, and I would definitely recommend people to experience it for themselves. Next post – Cairns!

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