The Karen Files

Tag: travel (page 1 of 5)

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

Instagram Pictures:

Trip to #TheRingling #CircusMuseum in #Sarasota #Circus #Museum #SarasotaFL #Florida

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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:


Costa Rica – Part III – The Ending: Monte Verde & Manuel Antonio

And now for the final installment of my Costa Rica adventure!

If you haven’t read part II, you can do so here.

June 3

Today was a very long bus ride to Monte Verde, but at least it was enjoyable. For a good portion of the drive we were going up a mountain, and the scenery was beautiful.

Costa Rica bus view - Monte Verde
There were some parts of the drive where there was nothing but a sheer drop when you looked outside the window. There was no fence or anything blocking the road from the edge of the mountain. One wrong move by the bus driver would have had us plummeting down to our dooms! Very scary, but we had fun.

Costa Rica - on the bus

Steve having fun on the bus

Monte Verde is a reserve (protected area) that contains the cloud forest which we would be visiting later. The reserve was started by some Quakers from Alabama. It has over 400 species of birds, 100 species of mammals, and 120 species of reptiles and amphibians. This cloud forest will be the wettest site we’ll visit – it rains pretty much every day. Cloud forests are generally 4500-6000 feet up (which is why we were doing the mountain driving), and precipitation is generally above 120-160 inches a year.

Monte Verde Cloud Forest

When we arrived and checked into our rooms, it seemed like heaven compared to Pale Verde! There were no bugs and we had our own bathroom with actual hot water (I had to take freezing cold showers in Pale Verde and lukewarm ones in La Selva).

After we checked in and had lunch (a pasta buffet that was delicious), a group of us went horseback riding through the cloud forest.

The horseback trip was so enjoyable and beautiful. At one stretch there was an outlook, but all we could see was white because we were in a cloud at the time.

We saw white-faced monkeys who came extremely close, entertaining us by doing their little acrobatics and trying to jump on our horses. At one point a monkey stole Damon’s hat, and he never did get it back!

It rained while we were out there on our horses. I ended up being completely soaked! It was a cold rain because the elevation at Monte Verde makes it a bit chillier. We were all a little uncomfortable, but it was still worth it.

I need to end this entry now because I am falling asleep while writing this. I’m also feeling a bit sick tonight but don’t know if it is allergies or a cold coming – either way I’m going to bed. I feel a low-grade temperature as well… Yikes! Anyway, more tomorrow!

June 4  

Today we were going to hike through the Monte Verde National Reserve and Cloud Forest, a 10,500-hectare Costa Rican sanctuary where plants and wildlife are given absolute protection.

Before we went into the forest, we stopped at the hummingbird gallery/garden, which was terrific. It was smaller than I expected it to be but it was definitely neat to see so many hummingbirds all in one spot, especially thinking that before I’d been to Costa Rica, I’d only seen one hummingbird in my life. They were all eating and surrounding plants like the “hot lips” plant (a common plant in the cloud forest which feeds hummingbirds and butterflies) and is a member of the rubiaceae family (which includes coffee).



"Hot Lips" plant

“Hot Lips” plant

The trail we took ended on the continental divide at “La Ventana”. There is a high humidity and almost continuous cloud cover in these tropical mountains that form the “cloud forests”. This accounts for the lush mosses, ferns, lichens, orchids, etc. that are found here. The humidity and thickness of growth becomes greater as you approach the continental divide.

It was really a beautiful forest. It was misty and almost dreamlike. I was still not feeling well, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying my time when I was there.

Path in the forest

We had a great sighting right at the beginning of our journey. We saw came upon a male and female resplendent quetzal, which are said to be among the most beautiful birds in the world. They definitely were pretty, though I don’t know if I’d say that they were the most beautiful. Before I could say that I would need to see every single bird that there is, and that would just take way too long.

Note from present: I didn’t get a picture, but here is one I found through Google:

resplendent quetzal

Picture found at the following site: http://guatemalatravel.guide/the-resplendent-quetzal/

Resplendent quetzals are frugivores (fruit eaters) which mainly feed on fruits from trees in the avocado family. When quetzals eat, they regurgitate intact seed from the fruit, at times quite far from the tree. Fruit trees often depend on them as a vital part of their reproduction.

We also heard (but did not see) bellbirds, which have a very unique bell-like song.

There are so many species of tree ferns in cloud forest environments. The cyatheaceae family has 14 species which are found in Monte Verde, and can reach heights of 10-12 meters and can live up to 150 years. While walking around, Professor L pointed out a strangler fern surrounding a tree. He explained that it likely started when a fig seedling growing on the trees crown (possibly dropped by a quetzal?) began to send roots down the trunk, eventually surrounding the entire trunk. This ultimately kills the tree.

There were a lot of epiphytes in Monte Verde, and the leaf cutter ants made another appearance, though leaf cutters are not as prominent here as they are in other sites.

Monte Verdes “dry” season is during the months of December through March, though it is not exactly “dry”. Little direct rain falls during these months, but when warm, moisture-laden trade winds reach the Atlantic slope, they rise and cool, depositing moisture on all surfaces. This produces an almost constant drip from canopy to the ground, keeping streams flowing even when there is no rain.

The problem with deforestation here is that when the forest is removed, so are the condensing surfaces. The mist would be blown west where it vaporizes in the hot, dry air, causing the water flow to the lowlands to greatly decrease.

After all that, we went back to the hotel and then took a cab into town so we could check out the shops. The shops seemed pretty touristy so I decided not to buy anything. I figure I’ll save all of my souvenir shopping for San Jose. They had nice stuff there, and that way I wouldn’t have to carry everything around the rest of the trip.

Now… how to describe my two days here at Monte Verde? I was not able to absorb it as well as La Selva because we were only here for two days. Also, I was still sick, and we didn’t have the opportunity to wander around in the forest by ourselves.

Monte Verde was a worthwhile place to see though, it is very beautiful. It was a very welcome change of scenery – especially since we were just coming out of hell (better known as Pale Verde).

I really wish that I had been feeling a little better for this city because I definitely don’t feel that I took that much away from this experience, or at least not as much as I could have.

Tonight is my last night here in Monte Verde. Next we will be moving on to the beaches of Manuel Antonio. Once again, it’s exciting and sad at the same time.

We’ll see how it goes tomorrow!




What a long day.

The bus ride into Manuel Antonio ended up taking around 8 hours.

The ride down the mountain was just awful. It was bumpy and scary (I tried not to keep thinking about the fact that we might fall off the mountain) and I was uncomfortable the whole way down. But, we made it!

scenery from bus in Costa Rica

We stopped at a gator bridge, which is a bridge overlooking a river that is known to be highly populated with gators. I did see a lot of them down there!

Costa Rica river

After that we stopped for lunch at this nice little place on the shore called Steve and Lisa’s. The service was extremely slow but the food was good and the view was even better. The water here is a gorgeous blue. I can’t wait to go swimming in it.

Manuel Antonio Beach

When we finally got to Manuel Antonio, I was very pleasantly surprised. It was so much nicer than I expected! We got our rooms after lunch. The two Nicoles and I got a room right next to the bar – and I mean on one side of the wall (the inside of our room) there is my bed, and on the other side of the wall (the outside of our room) there is the bar. This could be seen as a not-so-good thing if any of us want to ever go to bed before the bar closes!

After settling ourselves in, a bunch of us decided to go for a walk on the beach. It was dark by then, which was fine by me, because I love the way the beach and ocean look at night.

We all took off our sandals and walked along the edge of the water. I was in SHOCK over how warm the water was. I had expected it to be freezing! After all, this is the Pacific Ocean, which tends to be colder, but there wasn’t even the tiniest bit of cold! Not one iota of uncomfortableness!

We walked along the beach for a little while and then we walked along the strip next to the beach to check out the shops. They had some nice things, like these beautiful bongo drums which I really wanted, but I couldn’t see how I would get them back to the states on the plane as they were much too big.

It started raining (of course) and we headed back for dinner, pointing out a few prostitutes to the guys on the way. Apparently, prostitution is legal here in Costa Rica. The prostitutes are all licensed and tested and all that jazz. It helps to cut down on the crime.

At dinner that night I sat with the professors and we had some good conversations. We ended up talking about the differences between the college students of their time and my time. It was an interesting topic. Dr. L was making the observation that my generation doesn’t seem to care as much as the generation of the 60’s and 70’s. At first, I disagreed, but then after thinking about it for a little while, it’s probably true. It’s very rare that you see a group of young people nowadays fighting for something they truly believe in. It happens, but not like it did in the 60’s when colleges staged walkouts and protests that actually happened, or took over the offices of the president in their school when things got really bad. Nowadays, you may sometimes hear about those kinds of protests, but it seems so rare and much more low-key. In my experience while in college, politics or other world issues was not what motivates the young people – it’s money and professions that do the motivating. I’m definitely not saying that this applies to everybody that I know, but it does seem to apply to a majority of them.


Today we went on a group hike through the tropical forests of Monte Verde. I admit that I was pleasantly surprised with the hike – it was not quite as beautiful as La Selva, but it did remind me a lot of it!

Manuel Antonio Costa Rica

It was a nice walk but unfortunately because it was such a touristy area there was a noticeable amount of pollution (aka litter) and tree graffiti. I wish people would just clean up after themselves and leave the poor trees alone! No one cares if Jimmy loves Suzy or if Justin was here! We can SEE that you were here by your cigarette butts on the ground!

Besides that it was fun and we learned a lot. Manuel Antonio (a beach rainforest) is at sea level on the Pacific coast. The Manuel Antonio national park is one of the smallest parks in the national park system, and is a huge tourist attraction.

Beach rainforest

The islands that are seen from the shore are popular for migratory shore birds.

There are four main plants/trees that keep the beach tropical forest ecosystem held together: Mangroves, coconut trees, the “little apple” or manzanillo tree, and the wild almond.

Mangroves are very salt resistant, as they must be in order to live in this area. Some of the plants, in order to deal with ocean water, don’t allow salt into their roots at all – others let it in, but excrete it at the tips of their leaves. Salt water actually has a lot of nutrients if you find a way to get past the saltiness!

Mangrove seeds fall into the water and can float for months before they find a place to root, ensuring that their genes get spread out far – this is what the mangrove seed looks like:

Mangrove seed drawing

The “little apple” is the most toxic tree in the area; it’s sap is quite poisonous and if it gets in your eyes it could easily blind you. Touching the tree would cause a rash/reaction worse than poison ivy. The little green “apples” that grow on it look a bit like wild almonds, but you don’t want to get the two confused!

Manzanillo tree Costa Rica

Eucalyptus trees are also seen in this area, but they are a non-native (introduced) species.

White face and squirrel monkeys are common here, as are “mouthless crabs”, which are purple and yellow land crabs.

mouthless land crabs - Costa Rica

We walked along the beach and went swimming for a short while, but a few of us (myself included) had to hurry back so we could walk into town and get some money out. I did, however, get some nice pictures that day:

Beach rainforest - Manuel Antonio (1)

Beach rainforest - Manuel Antonio (2)

Beach rainforest - Manuel Antonio (3)

Beach rainforest - Manuel Antonio (4)

Beach rainforest - Manuel Antonio (5)

Beach rainforest - Manuel Antonio Lizard

Ben, Kristy, Brady, and I left the beach and walked into town while everyone else continued to swim. I felt bad for Ben during this trip, it seemed like Kristy and Brady kept trying to lose him. I didn’t really like the idea of Ben being lost in a strange city in another country, so I kept trying to find him. Actually, it’s possible that maybe they were trying to lose me too! But, we eventually all made it back together (after some decent shopping).

Hmmm… Well, since I have nothing else to write about now and it’s still early, I think I’ll write a bit about what my thoughts are of everyone who is on this trip. I’ll give you their descriptions from my point of view, so if I ever decide to write a book or a story about this trip, I’ll have a good reference.

Lets see… I’ll start with one of my favorite persons on the trip.

H – H is just an all around great guy, possibly one of the nicest people that I’ve ever met. He’s always willing to do something nice for you. I have never seen him angry or do anything remotely mean to anyone. He loves yoga with a passion, and is always trying to get Nicole (a yoga instructor) to practice it with him. He is such a free spirit, and probably is the person who is most perfectly suited for this trip. He’s always looking, smelling, tasting, and otherwise examining everything. He isn’t (or doesn’t seem to be) afraid of anything, and he seems to really enjoy being in the forest by himself. He is extremely friendly, and I think everyone on the trip likes him. He’s also got a cool name (single letter names are a tradition for his family), and apparently he is a Quaker! That’s enough for H.

Blond Nicole – I’d have to say that she is my other favorite person on the trip. She’s sweet, and I think pretty much everyone on the trip likes her because she is so cute and adorable. She kind of reminds me of a little chipmunk! She is also very health conscious. She knows everything you ever wanted to know about nutrition. She had an eating disorder at one time, which is why she now knows so much about how and what she should eat.

Yoga Nicole – this Nicole is the yoga instructor. She’s nice most of the time, but she can be mean if you do something that bothers her, and she doesn’t really care what anyone thinks about her. She and the other Nicole became very fast friends because they seemed to have a lot in common. She also became fast friends with H, possibly because of the yoga thing. I like her because she’s a very strong and independent person, but I felt bad for the people on the trip she didn’t like (Jeff mainly) because she made it pretty well known. She also seems a little spoiled. It wasn’t uncommon for her to pout if she doesn’t get her way.

Ellie – She seems like a nice girl on the inside, but she is kind of loud and obnoxious and very “me-me-me”. She doesn’t think of others as much as she thinks of herself. A lot of the people on the trip don’t seem to like her very much because of those qualities. At least one of the guys didn’t like her because he thought she was flirting and making him think there was a chance when there was not. It’s not that I think she means to act like that, but when you are raised as an only child you almost can’t help but be spoiled. Also, her father is a rabbi. I don’t know what that has to do with anything; I just thought that was cool.

Jamie – She was someone I didn’t really get to know all that well… She is best friends with Ellie and she is the second biggest drinker on the trip. She seemed kind of unhappy at times, but she was pretty fun. I think she had a thing for Damon. She also is kind of a tomboy – she was better than the boys at soccer, and she will usually be up for pretty much anything!

Ben – Ben. What can you say about him? He’s definitely an odd character. He can be pretty annoying at times because he’ll ask some questions over and over again, yet he has a photographic memory about other things. He is also constantly cracking corny jokes. He says he was an alcoholic at one time, and now he’s recovering. When people are looking for somewhere to drink and party, he’s looking for an AA meeting, which is admirable. He does sometimes get into these moods that really irritate me because he gets cranky and rude. I’m don’t think people don’t like him on this trip, it’s more like he’s a joke. I do feel bad for him, but at times I think he does these things knowing what kind of reaction he’s going to get. I think he’s enjoying this trip less than anyone else. He seems pretty homesick, and I think he’ll be happiest when we leave.

Jamie Lee – Hmm, I’m not sure how I feel about this Jamie. She’s got beautiful hair; she’s in graduate school for substance abuse (the latter made me think she was a more intellectual type, but I’m not so sure anymore). She kind of gives off the impression that she thinks she’s better than everyone else. Maybe she’s not really like that, but that’s the impression I got. She is very easily excited, and any kind of animal sighting sends her into raptures of delight – especially puppies and sloths. I guess it is endearing, but it can also be a bit annoying!

Kristy – she is young, and her attitude shows it. Fresh into college, she came to Costa Rica more interested in the bar scene and getting a tan than anything else. She’s always looking to drink and party, and she has a thing for H which is cute. She is best friends with Brady, they came on the trip together.

Brady – She is a lot like Kristy, except she is more athletic and Kristy is more girly. I found out that she has an eating disorder, which worries me about her… I hope she’ll be able to get through it. Nicole is going to talk to her about it, since she has been through it once herself. Brady also repeatedly gets drunk to the point of being sick, which I don’t understand. Why would you willingly put yourself through that? She didn’t really seem to care as much for this trip as an educational experience as she does that it is a tanning/partying/drinking experience. These two girls (Brady and Kristy) were never very nice to me, right from the beginning. I overheard them talking rudely about me early on (I’m not sure what I did to deserve it) so this may be part of my reason for the harsher descriptions of them. Kristy and Brady were the ones I had to room with at the beginning of the trip.

Damon – Damon is a character. Honestly, at first I didn’t like him very much. He seemed to always be trying to get with girls and compete with Jeff. But after we went on our hike together in La Selva I thought better of him. He acts different by himself than when he’s with the others. He was very sweet, but not in a “I’m hitting on you” kind of way. He was very excited about seeing all the things we saw (the ant eater and that giant killer bee thing that scared us) and I think he enjoyed the nature part of this trip more than he shows when he’s around Jeff or the others.

Jeff – Jeff pissed me off a lot in the beginning. He’s an arrogant, spoiled little rich kid. He was constantly in competition with Damon (usually he loses) and he was always trying to get with the girls. He’s mean too – but after listening/talking with him a few times, I realize he’s not as bad as he makes himself out to be. At least he feels bad about doing the things he does, but that doesn’t excuse everything!


Today we had a free day. The two Nicoles went out to take surfing lessons, which I would really have liked to do except for the fact that I am a bit short on cash. But I guess you can learn to surf at any beach, right? I also could also have gone deep sea fishing, which would have been really cool, but that was way too expensive.

Instead, I spent the day at the beach and searching for souvenirs for my family.

The water on the ocean today was beautiful. My roommates met up with me at the beach and we all relaxed for a while and then went swimming (I was a little nervous about the water because I kept being warned about how strong the undertow was and how easy it would be to drown. Luckily, I didn’t drown – I’m still alive and kicking!)

Costa Rica trip - part of the group

Some of the group on the beach

The undertow didn’t seem that bad to me, though Kristy was freaking out a little when people went out too deep. She was afraid that the undertow would sweep us all out to sea. She told us that it almost happened to her earlier that morning.

By mid-afternoon (around 2) we’d had enough. Despite my SPF 50+ sunscreen, I was starting to burn! We all had lunch at an interesting restaurant by the water. It had a great beachy atmosphere. Instead of pictures, they hung surfboards on the walls.

I ate with the Nicoles and Ben; the professors, Kristy and Brady sat at a table next to ours. It was one huge lunch party, it was! The food and conversation were good, though Ben was being a bit cranky and irritating.

After lunch, I went shopping on the strip next to the beach. The stuff didn’t really interest me that much, but I did buy a sarong because I’ve always wanted one, and it was much cheaper here than I could have gotten anywhere else. So now I am the proud owner of a beach sarong!

When it was dinnertime, the whole group went out to eat at the same restaurant that we went to for lunch (paid for in full by our lovely professors, how nice!) It was hilarious to see how crazy our waiter was going. It was quite obvious that they don’t usually get this many people at the same time. He was talking a mile a minute, and zipping back and forth between tables like a bumblebee in a field full of nectar-less flowers.

The food was delicious, and afterwards, those of us who felt like going clubbing went out. That was fun, the dance floor was a bit tiny but H found a way around that. He was a dance MACHINE!

While H was tearing up the dance floor (and Jeff was trying to score) the rest of us found a table to sit down and chat. That’s when Kristy started to complain that her feet were BURNING and that she had to go home. H ended up walking her and Brady home, and the rest of us stayed to take his place on the dance floor.

Later that night the Nicoles, Jeff and I got into a conversation about why he can be such an ass sometimes. It turns out that he was really hurt by a girl recently, and by being an ass to other girls it made him feel a little bit better about it, though he admitted he only felt better for a little while before he started to feel really guilty. He said he couldn’t help being a jerk. He would say things and then regret that he said it after it was said, but there was nothing he could do to take it back. I guess he doesn’t know how to apologize! I guess I keep realizing more and more that Jeff isn’t really all that bad of a guy. Maybe I shouldn’t always be so quick to judge people.

We stayed at the club until it closed, around 2:30. Somehow, blond Nicole lost her shoe on the dance floor, and even though we waited until everyone was gone, it was nowhere to be seen. So she walked home half shoe-less. Haha, that’s actually really funny thinking about it again now.

Well, that is pretty much it. We went home, and everyone went to bed. Tomorrow I think I’m going to try to even out my tan on the beach. We were granted an extra hour before we had to head back to San Jose again, so we don’t have to leave until 9:am. That’s late for us!

OK, it’s bedtime now.


Well, after a long bus ride, we’re back in good ol’ San Jose. The two Nicoles went straight to bed (they aren’t feeling very well – I think they caught what I had) and I realized I forgot two people in my descriptions! Steve and Val! So, here goes:

Steve – He’s definitely the clown of the group. He went on this trip last year and liked it so much that he had to go again. He always seems to be looking for approval. He makes a joke and then looks around to be sure that everyone else thought it was funny. He laughs harder at his jokes when others laugh… and whenever he says that something is cool, he adds a “right?” to the person(s) that he is talking with, to make sure they agree. He’s usually pretty sweet, he’s a teddy bear on the inside but I don’t really know about the way he treats Val (his girlfriend). He treats her like she’s a piece of meat. I think he probably really loves her, but I think he’s just so proud of himself that he has her that he puffs out his chest and treats her how he thinks a man should treat a woman: like an object. She doesn’t seem to mind though, so I guess it works for them. Steve also has an obvious drinking problem. He drinks every day and night, it’s the first thing he does when we aren’t having any kind of classwork. I would think it was just a young college kid thing, but he’s 27 years old! He really needs to get in control of that. He gets very cranky if he finds out he can’t go drinking.

Val – Val is a nice girl, but I think she has pretty low self-esteem. She says she can’t go anywhere without makeup because she feels ugly, which usually does point to low self-esteem. That might explain why she doesn’t seem to care when Steve treats her like an object. She is very smart, but she should just have a little more faith in herself. If she stays with Steve, I hope she can help curb him of his drinking!

Well, now I must go shopping for souvenirs… more later!

OK, my souvenir shopping is all done. Tonight we all (minus the professors) went out to dinner at a very authentic Costa Rican restaurant. It was really cool, they even served the food on plantain leaves (or was it banana leaves?) Again, Ben was really pissing me off. He kept insisting that he was the one guy in the world who had the ability to drive drunk. He said he did it often when he used to drink, and he knew he was good at it. He admitted that some people could not drive drunk, he was certain that HE could.

Even though he no longer drinks, it still really angered me. I hate when people drive drunk, and his attitude was so ignorant! At first, I thought he was kidding around, but it quickly became obvious that he was not. He usually admits the joke if it upsets someone, but he kept insisting this was true. I know he really believed it. Steve was getting a big kick out of us arguing though – I suppose it’s nice I could be of some entertainment. I’m seriously glad that Ben doesn’t drink anymore.

When we got back to the room, we didn’t do much. The Nicoles went to bed early and I just felt like sitting downstairs at the Café and writing. While I was down there, I saw a lot of young prostitutes coming in and out of the hotel with old men. Tonight was a big night for prostitution! I think Damon is seriously thinking about getting himself one. I doubt he really will, but he was sitting down here with Jeff and he started wondering out loud if he could get one, and how much, and where they all are… Hahaha! Tomorrow is rafting day, can’t wait!


Rafting was AWESOME! My guide was awesome – he had a great personality and loved what he was doing. He was also FUN! The rafting was scary, but a good scary. Our guide was happy with how we all worked together, so he made sure we went on all the hard rapids. When the head raft guy made a command for him to skip one, he went on it anyway, at the risk of getting in trouble. No “chicken runs” for us!

Costa Rica white water rafting (1)

Costa Rica white water rafting (2)

Costa Rica white water rafting (3)

In my raft it was Damon, Jeff, Ellie, Jamie Lee, Jamie, and myself, and the guide was in the back. It was an unbelievable experience, one that I would most definitely do again.

Costa Rica white water rafting (4)

We had lunch in a little shelter area (because it was raining we couldn’t eat outside). The food was delicious! We had fresh fruit, sandwiches and cookies – and we were all so hungry that it tasted even better. After lunch we got back to the raft and finished the trip, with one more short break to go swimming.

After it was done, they offered to sell us a CD with all the pictures on the trip, and of course we bought it. There were some great pictures! In our entire group, only one person (Brady) fell out – but she was OK.

After we got back, Brady and Jeff had to leave for the second part of their study abroad. They were doing an intensive language study for 6 more weeks in San Jose, tears all around.

As we were saying goodbye, we saw an interesting guy yelling in Spanish and waving around the bible at everyone in the street. He was talking too fast for me to understand what he was saying… I caught Diablo (devil) and a few other things. He didn’t have many teeth. I gotta go for now, more later, maybe.

San Jose street scene

In San Jose

San Jose street scene 2

San Jose (ALTO!)

Well, people really annoy me sometimes.

We’re working on our final (everyone divided up the questions so we would all do some of it), and I had my questions done pretty early (as did Damon), but no one else did. And, silly me, I was the one who volunteered to collect all the answers and put them together, so I ended up having to do so much extra work. By the end of the night, everyone did SOMETHING, but some people did very little and barely answered the questions so I had to make up for it and fix them. I was in such a bad mood by the end of the night. Some people did such a half-assed job on their questions and I hated that my name had to go on it too, but what could I do? I didn’t have time to re-do everything. I’m usually a perfectionist and I really didn’t like handing something that wasn’t perfect. I regretted agreeing to work on this as a group.

I guess I also kind of snapped at poor Ben too. He was doing a lot and helping a lot, but he kept asking such ridiculous questions! And asking them over and over again! Sigh. I’ll have to apologize to him. Right now, bed.

June 10


And for your reading pleasure, see some of the below scanned papers (pdfs).

Final exam (questions only)

Final report (completed at home)

Animals of Costa Rica

Costa Rica – Part II: Pale Verde

It took me a while to get to publishing part II of my Costa Rica trip – it’s funny how life happens and so much time goes by before you realize it. But for everyone who has been waiting so patiently, here it is!

If you haven’t read part I, click here!


Today we had a “break” day. We spent it at the beautiful Tabacon Spa Lodge in La Fortuna.

Tabacon Spa lodge in La Fortuna

Before reaching the lodge, we stopped for lunch next to a lake. It provided us with a gorgeous view of an absolutely breathtaking volcano. I am sorry to say that I didn’t get a picture of the volcano because my camera was MIA at the time, but no worries, I found it now!

Check out the beautiful river we saw near the lodge:

Tabacon Spa lodge in La Fortuna - river

Tabacon Spa lodge in La Fortuna - river

Tabacon Spa lodge in La Fortuna - river

When we first checked into the lodge we immediately went to the pool, which we were pleasantly surprised to see had a swim up bar. (Note from the present – I knew I remembered visiting somewhere with a swim up bar but couldn’t remember where it was! It wasn’t until I re-read my Costa Rica journey that I realized. Shame, I was hoping it was in Florida so I could go back!) We hung out there for an hour or so and then we went over to the hot water springs, which are naturally heated from the lava (or I suppose when lava is still underground it’s called magma?). Those springs were fantastic; I had never been to a hot springs before and honestly had no idea that they could be THAT hot! We stayed there until they made us leave because it started storming with lightning and thunder.

The view outside my window at the lodge is beautiful – the same volcano that we saw earlier can be seen in the distance. It’s smoking and rumbling right now, and tonight after dark we’ll be able to see it glowing red because it is spewing lava – it’s just too bright outside to see it now. All you can see in the daytime is the smoke trailing down the mountain.

Volano Arenal Costa Rica

This volcano is known as Volcano Arenal. It has frequent (non life-threatening) eruptions; it’s a very active volcano.

I’m now in the patio attached to my room and I’m just sitting here by myself… watching the rain, listening to the thunder, and watching the volcano erupt. At the moment it’s hard to tell if the noises I hear are coming from the volcano or the thunder.

Side note – the volcano just did a huge boom, WOW!

Everyone is begging the professor to let us stay here a couple of days more instead of going to Pale Verde, our next rain forest (or actually dry tropical forest) site. I know that this place is nice, and it’s cool to have a little break from roughing it in Costa Rica, but I would definitely rather go see the forest. You can go to a spa with friends a lot easier than you can go to a dry tropical forest and learn about it first hand! I will admit though that I am a little worried about the scorpions that are supposed to be all over the place in Pale Verde.


Before I talk about today, let me tell you about last night… Not only did I get to see the volcano erupting in the dark (which was well worth the wait), I also got to go to a Spanish club with a few of the others. It was really fun! We went in and immediately heard a Spanish band playing. There were three guys up on a stage with their instruments who were dancing synchronized, Spanish style dancing, with plenty of singing and clapping. All I can think to explain is that it was like the Spanish Backstreet Boys! All the people on the dance floor were dancing in the Spanish style, which intimidated us at first, but we got used to it – and we ended up dancing throughout the night.

It was really fun, even though I’m sure they could tell I was American by my (terrible) dancing. When we got back to our rooms from the club, a few of the guys and a few of the girls and I chilled on the patio and watched some more of the eruptions before going to bed. It was a good night.

THEN we get to Pale Verde. Oh. My. God.

First of all, let me warn you that I’m not in all that great of a mood to begin with because I haven’t had much sleep.

We get there and the place is swarming, literally SWARMING with insects. In 15 minutes, I got about 13 bug bites. This was when the strong bug block went on full strength, and yet still they harassed us. I also got bit by an ant, which REALLY hurt. I may have whined about it more than I normally would have because of my crankiness, but it HURT!

Here we are hiking through the buggy dry forest:

Hiking in Dry Tropical Forest - Pale Verde Costa Rica

More bug bites and harassment by bugs happened throughout the day. We saw monkeys and cool birds, but I was so distracted with slapping myself to get rid of the mosquitoes that I didn’t pay much attention. I felt bad because Prof L kept trying to teach but we were not paying as much attention as we did in La Selva. Hopefully after we’ve all had a bit of sleep we’ll be better able to ignore the annoying insects.

One positive thing about the bugginess – because Pale Verde has so many mosquitoes, it also has a TON of dragonflies. The dragonflies are zipping around everywhere, hanging around the people because the people attract the mosquitoes which dragonflies love to eat. I became very fond of dragonflies on this trip.

We did see some cool things. For example, I never would have thought you’d see cacti in a rain forest:

Cactus in Pale Verde

Pale Verde is scary in more ways than just the little bugs. It also has scorpions crawling up through shower drains (yes, we saw it) and it’s a place where killer bees are known to exist (one boy years ago was killed by them). So let it be known that as of now I’m not very happy and I can’t wait to leave. I really hope this all won’t seem as bad tomorrow because I do want to learn about the tropical dry forest.

I do have to admit there were some very pretty parts in Pale Verde, even if I was too miserable to pay attention besides snapping photos every so often. This swampy area is so colorful!

Colorful field in Pale Verde Costa Rica

And the mountains in the background were beautiful.

Dry Trees in Pale Verde

Swampy area in Pale Verde Costa Rica

Swampy area in Pale Verde Costa Rica with mountains

Today was also the day we presented our personal experiments from La Selva in class. A few of the things that were tested and reported on during class –

  • leaf litter amounts on the floor
  • kinds of sugars ants are attracted to
  • leaf cutters being placed in different colonies
  • pheromone trail moving (mine!)
  • water PH levels
  • DEET sprays on ant trails

OK, I have to sleep now, more will definitely happen tomorrow.


Today was another buggy day.

We woke up very early, crawled out of our bug nets, had breakfast and went on a nature hike in the Pale Verde forest. It was very cool, but also very hot. These woods are quite different from the ones in La Selva. The trees don’t grow to be nearly as tall, and the leaves are much smaller. In La Selva, if you cut down a tree you wouldn’t be able to count the trees age by it’s rings because it doesn’t have them. It is a constant growing season there. In contrast – Pale Verde has a 4-6 month dry season, so the trees do have rings. An interesting fact – some people can estimate a trees age in tropical rain forests by the size of the woody vines growing on them.

Pale Verde is also much more rocky than La Selva. The rocks are mainly limestone, which provides many of the minerals that are necessary for the trees to grow. There are many more bugs in Pale Verde (SO MANY MORE), which I don’t quite understand because La Selva is so much wetter. Don’t bugs normally dig moisture? Pale Verde is also larger than La Selva, and is part of a national park.

It seems to also be uncomfortably hotter here in Pale Verde. Where is this “dry heat is better than wet heat” coming from?!

There are a bigger variety of birds here in Pale Verde that I did not see in La Selva, I saw a turquoise browed motmot, which is a stunningly beautiful bird. I also saw a couple of scarlet macaws, very beautiful birds that are hunted for sale in pet stores. I saw a ferruginous pygmy owl, a few great kiskadees, and a few orioles, who have very interesting nests. They hang from the trees and look a bit like this (I drew a picture)

Drawing of Oriole nest

We also saw egrets, woodstorks, a few northern jacana, and a black bellied whistling duck. I haven’t seen any hummingbirds here, but in La Selva they were all over the place.

The trees in Pale Verde that grow near the streams and lakes are evergreen trees – they have water all year round so they have no reason to lose their leaves in the dry season.

There are iguanas everywhere here! Some people were feeding them bananas by hand, which I didn’t think was a very good idea because I’ve always heard that you should never feed wild animals. It only causes them to no longer fear humans, which can lead to all kinds of trouble.
Iguana eating banana in Pale Verde
On our long hike today we climbed up to a really high scenic outlook rock which was appropriately named “La Roca”; we sat and relaxed there for a while, enjoying the surrounding view. Unfortunately, it was at this point that I started not feeling terrific, so I wasn’t able to enjoy it as much as I should have. I was so hot, and I was feeling light-headed – and being that high up is definitely not a good place to feel light-headed! So I sat down and put my head in my hands for a while until it passed. I didn’t really want to tell anyone because I would have felt bad if I made everyone come down because I wasn’t feeling good. Eventually I think Prof. L realized that something was wrong and he took me down. I guess it could have been dehydration or heat exhaustion or a mixture of the two, I don’t know. I just went home and took a nap, and woke up with a splitting headache, but I took a Tylenol and felt a lot better when it kicked in.

I was kind of upset that I missed the next hike because of that nap though. Everyone got to see a rattler and a bunch of other birds, and they all seemed really happy with that hike. I hate that I missed it because that chance will never come again. Oh well, I’ll have to make up for it on the rest of the trip, although the other two sites we visit are not going to be as intense as the first two.

After I felt better, I went out to do my ant experiment for my report which would be due a few weeks after we returned to the states.

The acacia tree  is full of vicious little ants called “pseudomyrmex” who will fight furiously for the survival of their tree. They keep it clean of all bugs and predators who mean harm to the tree (any leaf eaters), and also keep it clean of moss. They attempt to keep it free of nesting birds but the birds usually ignore them and keep coming back so eventually the ants leave them alone. The ants live in thorns on the plant. It looks a bit like this:

Acacia Tree Drawing

The pseudomyrmex ants are constantly patrolling the acacia trees, but if you don’t see them at any time, all you generally have to do is shake a branch on the tree, which will cause a swarm of ants to come out. Because this relationship has evolved over many years, the tree now depends on the ants to protect it. If the ants ever stopped protecting the tree, it would eventually die. Here are some slightly blurry images of the acacia:


Acacia tree - Pale Verde       Pale Verde acacia leaves

If you are stung by one of the ants, it is quite painful and will hurt for about 10 minutes afterwards. The sting area will swell up a bit and/or become red in a slightly bigger than a quarter-sized area, but if left alone for a couple of hours it will eventually end up looking like a mosquito bite.

For my independent study report, I wanted to see the reactions of the ants to various stimuli being placed on their tree.

Here are my results:

First, I shook a branch to see if the ants were active in that particular tree. They came out very quickly, ready to attack. I put a leaf on one of the spikes that the ants live in, but the ants didn’t really pay attention to the leaf. A few of them investigated, but that was the extent of it.

Next, I found another acacia tree that was near the one I used for my experiment. It was at most 2 feet away from it. I attempted to get an ant to come on a stick so I could transfer it from one tree to another, but the ants just ignored the stick. So I got a pair of tweezers and a small plastic box, and began to catch ants by pulling off a few leaves with the tweezers that had an ant on it, and dropped it into the box before the ant could bite me (of course I got bit a few times anyway). I then transferred that ant to my main acacia tree. Surprisingly enough, the ants didn’t bother the new ant. They ignored him completely, though the new ant seemed to be very upset about being on a new tree.

Here are more results when I tried to take ants from further away trees (boy I wish my ant catcher didn’t break).

  • 2 feet – no reaction
  • 15-20 feet – again, nothing
  • 30-40 feet – the ants definitely didn’t like this guy. They attacked him, and I eventually lost sight of him.
  • 50-60 feet – I expected the ants to attack this one too, since he was from even further away, but they ignored it. I haven’t the foggiest idea why that was. My scientific instinct told me to try once again, so I went and found a tree that was…
  • 100 feet away – I grabbed an ant (actually I got two this time) and when I put them on the tree, they were both attacked.

Next I decided to try something else. I found a dead dragonfly on the ground (I wouldn’t hurt a live dragonfly because they make me happy by eating those vile mosquitoes) and I tried putting it on the tree. It was windy so it fell off a few times, but I got it wedged in eventually. The wind made it move around fairly realistically, and the ants attacked that dragonfly so quickly it was unbelievable. They completely swarmed that dead dragonfly. Unfortunately, after this, I could no longer perform any more experiments because the wind was getting too strong and it definitely seemed like it was going to rain, but I think I have enough data for my paper!

I pissed off a lot of ants today, that’s for sure. Hopefully they don’t come back for revenge some day (Note from the present – how’s THAT for forshadowing? I’ve had numerous problems with ants since then, the most notable being the “ghost ant” which is common in Florida. I like to think they are the ghost ancestors of these Costa Rican ants that I sent to their death).

We are leaving Pale Verde forever tomorrow, so I must get some sleep and pray that no mosquitoes or other insects get into my netting (I had to tape up a bunch of holes in it already. I’m not sure exactly what possessed me to bring tape on this trip, but I sure am glad that I did!

Oh, and before I sign off there is one more thing that I forgot to mention that was interesting about today. Damon ate a live beetle. A big juicy one with a crispy crunchy shell… ugh. It was so disgusting! I think he got the idea because H was talking about how while he was in the woods he ate a couple of termites (his reasoning being that if he was ever lost in the woods, he would have to eat something for protein and he wanted to know what to expect). So Damon picks up a beetle that is crawling along the table and holds it by it’s legs while it wiggles around like mad and asks how much we would pay for him to bite it’s head off.

After a bidding war the money amount gets up to 10,000 colones (about 25 American dollars).

When the money was on the table, Damon put the beetle on his spoon, said “this is for your birthday, H”, and put the entire thing in his mouth, chewed, and swallowed.

It was absolutely disgusting! I really didn’t think he would do it, but he did. It’s so funny how these boys constantly compete… H ate termites, so Damon had to eat a beetle.

Tomorrow we are off to Monte Verde for our cloud forest adventure; more writing will come then! P.S., I had two cockroaches in my insect net when I got to my bed, which really annoyed me. Cockroaches are so dirty, they are the last thing I want crawling in my bed.

Skull in Pale Verde

How I felt during my time at Pale Verde…

For part III (the conclusion!) click here.

Monks, Leeches, and Jane Eyre

Hello friends! This will likely be my last post before I head back to the States. Also, I was incorrect when I said that my flight would come in on Wednesday, it is coming in on Thursday. So mark your calenders accordingly!

I know I quickly complained about my stay at Byron Bay on my last post – but the trip wasn’t a total washout.  It did rain while I was there. A lot. Every day. There were bucketfuls and bucketfuls of rain pouring down from the sky at all hours of the day and night. There were a few short breaks between downpours, but the sky always looked like it was threatening to open up again at any second. And to prove my point as to how horrible the weather was – I actually bought an umbrella. On my last week in Australia. Up until then, I had gone through my entire three month vacation without ever needing one. Now my only options were to buy an umbrella, be constantly soaked, or stay inside until I head home.

The hostel I stayed at this time while in Byron Bay was called “the Arts Factory Lodge”. It was such a cool and funky place – despite it’s downfall that it housed a backpack thief. It did have the problem of being loud at night because of all the drunk 18 or so year olds, but I had gotten used to this by now.

When I booked my stay here, it had seemed like it was more accommodating to people who were looking for a nice little retreat away from the party scene as they offered yoga classes and didgeridoo lessons and had a spa out back. They also had fire-twirling lessons and horseback riding through the beach. Maybe this was just the busier season for spring-breaker types. Though I guess I can’t really blame them for partying right outside my window until four in the morning. With all the rain we’ve been getting, it’s not like there are many other places to go!

I did really like this place. They had cool off-beat paintings all over their walls, the bathrooms were filthy but I’d seen way worse, the pool was clean and had a jacuzzi in the middle of it. But I do think that if I was there with someone I knew I would have enjoyed my time there even more.

My absolute favorite part about my Arts Factory stay was when a group of Tibetan refugee monks were visiting for two weeks (starting the day that I came!). Every day they had different programs you could go to for free (donations gladly accepted).


They had meditation each day in the morning, you could listen to talks by the monks and ask them questions about what their way of life is like, they had special ceremonies and speeches given by the monks, and for the young and young at heart each day also had an arts and crafts hour where you could make things like compassion flowers or prayer flags.

The first monk event that I went to was the “happy hour talk” where you could ask the monk questions. I just went to observe, because I didn’t think I knew enough about  monks and the Buddhist religion to ask intelligent questions. I decided to follow the “better to be silent and have people suspect that you are a fool, than to speak and remove all doubts” rule.

Each program was set up in a little room with seats and one or more monks and a translator would join us. The monk would speak in his language (I think it’s Tibetan? I don’t remember the language that they speak in Tibet) and the translator would relay to us in English what was just said.

I learned a lot during the hour. Did you know that girls could be monks? I had always thought that they were all males, and I believe when I’ve seen images of monks they have always been male. The female monks don’t live in monasteries, they live in nunneries instead, and they do have to shave their heads as well. They don’t do the chanting that the male monks do, but they do things like yoga instead – which the men do not do (another thing I never realized). Other than those few differences they do the same things as the male monks, such as trying to help mankind and always striving towards enlightenment.

I also learned that the middle children in Tibetan families are generally the ones chosen to be monks. It is the middle children that the parents send off to monasteries and nunneries.  It is thought of as a great honor for the children, but I’m sure it must be difficult for them because they can’t do the things that other children do. Their whole life they are busy training to be a monk – or monkette. Ok, the females are not called monkettes, but that does remind me of a joke that the translator made during one of the talks. “What do you call a girl monk?” “A Chick-Monk!”

But I digress. Back to my story. The children who are chosen to be monks are not forced to remain in that position against their will. If they ever – at any point of their life – decide that they don’t want to continue to be a monk, they are free to leave with no stigma against those who decide to leave. Instead, they are more respected because they had tried something that a lot of people never do. A case in point – the translator told us that at one time in his life, he too was a monk… but then he discovered girls, or rather, they discovered him. At that point he decided it was just not right for him anymore.

We also learned that one of the monks we were speaking to had not seen his family since he fled Tibet to India about 25 years ago. He recently learned that his mother had died, and he was very sad because he had wanted to see her before she died – but it didn’t work out that way. We learned that he does not regret not having a family of his own, (i.e. a wife and children) because he never knew what that would have been like in the first place, so he can’t miss something that he has never known. He said that because this question was asked of him so often, he must assume that it is something that is wonderful and should be missed, but because he doesn’t know it, he doesn’t miss it.

I did also go to one of the meditation hours to see what it was like. I am not very good at keeping my mind blank or focusing on only one subject however. My mind is constantly racing with thought after thought. The focus of our meditation hour was being happy. The first thing they had us do for 10 minutes was just repeat to ourselves in our head “life is good” over and over again. They said that the way to train your mind to be happy is to not allow the bad thoughts to overtake the good. If you are thinking “life is good” and suddenly a thought comes in “oh but my backpack was stolen and the rain is terrible and where is my flower headband anyway?” you need to just push those bad thoughts to the side and continue thinking “life is good”. They said that if you start to think that all bad things happen for a reason, such as to teach you a lesson of some kind, then you will stop feeling sorry for yourself or your situation and will just be happy to be alive and happy for all the good things that you do have. It was a really beautiful philosophy and a way of thinking that I probably needed at this time in my trip. A kind of “stop feeling sorry for yourself” And after the meditation I just happened to look down and realized I was wearing my “Life is Good” tee-shirt. If that’s not a sign, I don’t know what is!

The last monk event that I went to was a cleansing ceremony. I love to see religious ceremonies from different cultures like the Aboriginal one I was part of on the Heading Bush tour.  Although I guess it isn’t exactly a religious ceremony, a woman I was talking to at one of the meetings told me that Buddhism is not really a religion, but more of a way of life.

At the ceremony all of the monks were all there along with the translator and they started it out by telling us that for the ceremony to be effective, we had to believe it will be effective. They said that even though Buddhists believe that you should never have blind faith and you should only believe what has been proven to you, for this ceremony to work you have to actually think that it will work to let your brain accept that it will work. They really believe in the power of the mind to heal.

Then they told us to imagine that they are not old monks in robes, but they are actually the beautiful healing goddess, and that we should picture them as the goddess as best as we could. They pointed out a bowl in the front of the room which had two figures in it, a man and a woman. They said that those figures represent everything that might be wrong with us, or any problems that we might be having. They next passed around pieces of dough – one for each of us. They said that the dough pieces were to be rubbed all over ourselves, and we were to imagine that all of our problems were getting stuck on the dough. As we rubbed, the problems would be removed from us and put into the dough. Then a monk walked up to each of us with the bowl and we placed the dough into it. Next, another monk came by with a bit of water which he poured into our hands cupped hands. We were supposed to taste the water and then use it to rub all over ourselves. The water was meant to represent the purifying of ourselves. Now that our problems were removed an on the dough, the water would purify our newly clean selves. They then came by again with a pitcher of water and the bowl. They poured the water from the pitcher over our heads and into the bowl so that any remaining doubts or issues could be washed away into the bowl. The lead monk then said that if we had any remaining doubts as to whether our problems would be gone, he would wave the peacock feather in his hand as he chanted some words, and that would blow the last of the problems away. After the chant, one of the monks removed the bowl from the room. They said that now that the bowl was gone, our problems would all be gone with that bowl, and we would never see them again. When the monk returned, the bowl was empty of all our problems.

Finally, the lead monk had each of us come up to him one at a time. He poured more water was poured into our cupped hands which we had to drink, and he handed us a packet of little herb powder pills. He said that if you ever need a reminder of the things that were said in this ceremony, you could just to dissolve a pill in water and drink it, and you can be back on track with knowing that the problems you might have are only skin deep. I am assuming that the herbs in the pills have the same flavor as the water that we drank from the pitcher (which had a distinctively herbal taste) so that when you drink it, it would bring back the memory of the ceremony. That is just science! I have often experienced times when I smell something that I associate with a particular place or person, the memories always flood in.

The monk also gave us a piece of red string which would serve to remind us of the ceremony. We each brought the string over to another monk who would tie it around our wrist using a special “monk knot” that will never come out. Actually, that was the translator kidding with us. It was just a regular knot.

I really enjoyed the monk ceremony, even more than I did the Aboriginal one. I had the distinct feeling from the Aboriginal one that the guy who was doing the ceremony didn’t really want to do it, and that he was doing it just for the money that I’m sure he was getting paid by Heading Bush. Also, I didn’t say this before but that Aboriginal man seemed a little too fond of all the ladies in my opinion. He was constantly talking about how beautiful they are and hugging them as much as he could. The monks on the other hand really seemed to take it seriously, and were doing it for just donations. It was lovely.

I’m sorry that my description for this ceremony wasn’t as detailed as it was for the Aboriginal one, but I didn’t take any notes this time, and I didn’t take any pictures because I thought it would be rude to have cameras flashing while the monks were talking. The Aboriginal one was outdoors so no flash was necessary.

Throughout the two weeks, the Monks were also creating a sand art mandala. They were pouring the sand by hand from little straws, and definitely needed to have a steady hand. At the end of the two weeks they planned to destroy the work of art by blowing the sand away – to show you that nothing is permanent in the world.


I was kind of sorry that I wasn’t going to be around longer now, I really wanted to listen to a few more of the talks that the monks were giving and to see the finished sand mandala. But, at least I did get the chance to see some of them. I was surprised that more people from my hostel didn’t show up to the talks – how often will you ever have the chance to see actual refugee monks from Tibet, monks who see the Dali Lama on a regular basis?

While at the Arts Factory, I decided to get a massage at the spa because it was cheap, I didn’t have to tip the masseuse, and my  shoulders had been killing me lately. When I booked the massage, I also got a free day trip into Nimbin for Sunday, which was perfect because I really wanted to go back to that market – it had so many great products!

I had my massage (at times I swear the woman was purposefully trying to hurt me… but that is another story) and while the massage helped my shoulders a little bit, she said that the muscles in my shoulders and upper back are terribly tight and extremely knotted up and that she couldn’t get them all out in just one session. She suggested that when I get back to the States I should consider having regular massages. Maybe in my dreams!

The next day was Sunday and I went into Nimbin. I was told when I signed up that the market would still go on even if it was raining, but when we got there our bus driver passed right by the town that the market was held in and did not stop. We were told that the market was closed due to rain (!!!!) Instead, we went to see this very… interesting guy who sincerely enjoyed talking about the chaos theory. We went in his house and saw that he had dolls filling every room (which he called his art):


And trash over flowing in his yard (he called it “junk art”). He also had a wall with pictures of all of the gods and religious characters known to man – besides Mohammed – he said he couldn’t find an image.


It was an entertaining trip, but I was still disappointed about the market. We ended the Nimbin tour by going for a walk through this guys woods. Because of all the rain we had been getting we were forced to walk through some partially submerged terrain.


When we got back onto dry land, a lot of us were horrified to see that we were covered with leeches. YES! DISGUSTING, SLIMY, BLOODSUCKING LEECHES! I had three just on my ankles. These leeches were tiny, little, thin leeches that you might easily mistake for a twig so people were still finding them for the next hours to come. On the bus ride home I kept thinking I felt something on my feet, but when I inspected them I would find nothing. Later that night, I looked down at my feet and saw that the area between my pinky toe and the next one was covered with blood. It seems that I had missed one, but it had since fallen off as it probably got it’s fill of me. Dang leeches.

When I got back into the hostel I remembered that I had left my book in the laundry room just a few hours ago (the Nimbin trip was only a few hours long). I went to go get it, and it was gone. Can you believe the nerve of these people? Not only is this hostel full of backpack thieves, it is also full of book thieves. It’s not like the book was expensive. I had gotten Jane Eyre for 50 cents at a second hand book shop. I was just really enjoying the book and was looking forward to seeing what would happen to Jane next… but now I can’t. Because it’s gone. Gone into the hands of some punk that is probably just going to rip the pages out and use them as cigarette papers anyway. Sigh.

So now I am back in Sydney. Back in the noisy, dirty city. But, in a few hours, I will be in the air, and in 30 short hours later I will be back in the States! This makes me happy. I miss everyone so much!


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.

Not the zoo but…

G’day readers!

To everyone who doesn’t know this yet, today I decided to cut my Australian vacation a little short. I will be leaving 10 days earlier than originally planned, for a few of reasons:

  1. I am not really doing anything. I’m currently in Byron Bay, which is pretty expensive. So I’m mostly just spending money on food and entertainment and accommodation – I have no more trips planned. I’d rather save a little bit of money for when I am back in the states.
  2. I am missing everyone greatly
  3. I’m a bit bored here. I don’t really have anyone to hang out with, everyone at this hostel seems to have their own little cliques and groups, and they all seem to be only concerned with getting drunk all the time. I really don’t feel like spending all that money to go out every night. It’s kind of like a college atmosphere here – I’m sure I’d have a blast five to ten years ago! I’m an old lady sometimes, I admit that.
  4. I am tired of traveling, and I just feel like being home among those who love me.

I think adding to these reasons would be that I have had such bad luck in the last week. I lost my watch, my camera broke, and I also lost my pretty flower hair band that I had just bought!

Then I have that problem with the bed bugs at my last hostel. I was really hoping I would be able to leave Australia without ever having to experience bed bugs, but no. The reception lady did say “I don’t think it is bed bugs” but as of now I am pretty sure they were. I noticed a line of red bites on my shin that definitely looked like them. To be safe regardless of whether they were or were not, when I got to the hostel I am at now in Byron Bay, I washed all of my things, including my backpack and my suitcase. Which brings me to the next bad thing that happened.

Someone stole my backpack! It was empty, as I had left it in the laundry room to dry overnight, and when I went back to get it the next morning, it was gone. Maybe I shouldn’t have left it there overnight, but I didn’t want to bring it into the room when it was wet. Up until now I had never had an issue with things getting stolen from me in Australia. Maybe I have been too trusting. Why on earth would someone steal a backpack though? Oh wait, I’m in a hostel full of backpackers.

Anyhow, I am going to go now,  but I’ll be back in the States on Wednesday!

Noosa – And Dolphins Beach House

This post will be just a quick one for your Karen fix before I tell you all about the zoo.

I arrived in Noosa a couple of days ago, and I didn’t really do much in the actual city of Noosa because my hostel (called Dolphins Beach House) is about a three-hour walk away. I was picked up when I got there by their courtesy shuttle so at least I didn’t have to walk, but straight from the beginning I wasn’t really thrilled with the hostel. The people weren’t rude exactly, it was more like they just wouldn’t do anything extra for you, especially if it was anything that might inconvenience them in the slightest. For example, when I first got there I asked “do you have laundry machines?” and they said “yes.” That was it. They didn’t tell me where it was or how much they were (the dryer was a dollar per five minutes by the way). Also, any time I went to ask them a question, they had an attitude like it was such an inconvenience to have to answer my question.

The hostel itself was OK, but it seemed a little dirty and a bit run-down. It was in a suburban area so it wasn’t noisy or anything like that, but if I had known that it was so far away from the town (where I can DO things) I probably would have chosen another place. The only reason I booked at Dophins Beach House was because this was the place my travel agent had highly recommended. They marketed it as a peaceful escape from city life. The hostel did have interesting little paintings and sculptures throughout, which could have made it seem nicer if it was better maintained.

At least they did have ten shuttles running to and from the town throughout the day, but I really like the freedom of choosing when to go somewhere and when to leave it – which is why I normally prefer places I can walk to.

Another thing that irked me about the place was the fact that all over the rooms and in the common area there were little signs posted with messages from the staff to us that made me feel like they didn’t really think much of our intelligence. For example, there were three signs around each light. The first one would say “please save the planet and turn off the light” underneath that one would say “Shut off the light when you are done with it” and one on the bottom would say “It’s simple! Flick off the bloody switch!”. There were multiple signs around the fridge telling us to keep clean and put our food back in the fridge or the cockroaches will come, and signs saying “It makes us very cranky having to wake you guys up at 9:30 to get you to check out! blah blah blah blah…” Also, there was a sign that said “starting in January, everyone is only allowed to stay a maximum of one week” so I guess they get sick of people after that.

Maybe they’ve had problems in the past with a couple of the patrons, but the signs and attitudes made me feel less valued and almost as if they were treating us like children. Maybe I am being overly-sensitive, but I didn’t like it. Some of the signs were friendly little reminders, but some were downright rude.

From the computer area, I would overhear conversations of the staff talking amongst themselves, and they would be badmouthing people that they had just gotten off the phone with. Speaking of the computers, the hours of being able to use them were terrible! The reception closes at 8, and that means you must be off the computers at 8. And the night before last I overheard them saying that they really wanted to leave, so they decided amongst each other to close the office early. “Sorry guys, we are closing 15 minutes early, so you have 10 more minutes on the computer!” We are paying for the privilege of staying at their hostel, I just wish they were a bit more accommodating to their guests.

I feel as though this entire post is a complaint-fest, so I apologize! Maybe it is just unfortunate for Dolphins that I just came from Fraser Island where my bad luck forced me to spend a lot more money than I thought I would have to that week so I am probably being a bit more critical than I would normally be. I am just glad to be leaving today and heading back to Byron Bay, my favorite city in Australia so far. And this will pretty much be my last stop before going home!

One more thing about the hostel that I am staying at before I end the post. I woke up night before last with three bites on my wrist and a couple on my arm. This morning I saw quite a few bites on my leg. I don’t know for sure what bedbug bites look like, but I have heard so many horror stories that I freaked out a little when I saw them. Mosquito bites I can live with, but if bedbugs were sucking my blood while I was asleep? That would really skeeve me out. I brought it to the attention of the manager, and she looked at my bites told me that they didn’t look like the bedbug bites, which she said tend to bite in a straight line all in one area of your body. She did say that she would check them out anyway just in case. I hoped beyond hopes that she was right and they were just mosquito bites but as soon as I get to my next hostel I am giving all my things a good wash. They do kind of look like mosquito bites, so I will just hope for the best.

And now I must say goodbye until my next post. Australia Zoo will be coming soon!

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.

Beach Towns…

I wasn’t planning on writing another post before my trip to Frasier Island, but interesting things have happened so I just couldn’t stop myself.

First – I had a 12 hour bus ride from Cairns to Airlie Beach on the 9th. Airlie beach was an incredibly beautiful town, even though it was a big touris/spring break partying kind of place. I stayed at a hostel called ‘Beaches’ which apparently was just another huge never-ending party hostel. I don’t mind partying every once in a while, I’m not that old yet, but I am also trying to keep my partying to a minimum during this vacation. I’d much rather spend my money on things like kayaking with the dolphins than drinking beer, and Airlie Beach was only a short stop before my next 12 hour bus ride the following evening. But wow… I thought the hostel in Cairns was bad. The incredible noise at this place until all hours of the night – on a Wednesday! Airlie Beach is now the loudest place I have ever had to sleep in. If anyone were ever to ask me to recommend a place to stay whilst in Airlie Beach, I would have to tell them NOT to stay at Beaches – unless they want to party hard all night long. If that is the case it could actually be quite convenient! You can get drunk 10 steps away from where you are sleeping, and then stumble home at four in the morning, easy!

I did manage to sleep through the noise. I’ve become pretty good at sleeping through anything now with all the hostels I have been staying at for the last three months. Plus, I was exhausted from the long bus ride. I woke up the next morning and I had until 8:00 PM to explore until my bus left, so I decided to check out the town.

As you can see by these pictures, there is no arguing that Airlie is a gorgeous beach town:


Unfortunately, there really wasn’t much to do there during the day – it was such a small town. It normally is just the starting point for those who will be doing the Whitsundays, an extremely popular destination for backpackers. The Whitsundays is all about sailing, scuba diving or snorkeling, swimming, and partying all night for a 3-5 day boat trip. I had decided against doing the Whitsundays for a few reasons:

  1.  It didn’t seem like all that much fun to me, despite the fact that it has incredibly good reviews. I’ve just never been that excited about long boat rides. I’ve never been on a cruise, and I don’t feel like I am missing out.
  2. I was trying to save money for my last couple of weeks in Australia. This trip has been more expensive than I had originally anticipated. Australia is a very expensive country!
  3. I had just come from a trip where I got sea sick on a short boat ride. Do I really want to chance that being my fate for five days in a row?

So I skipped Whitsundays but I stopped at Airlie Beach anyway so I didn’t have to be on the bus for 24 hours straight.

So here are a few of the interesting things that happened while I was at Airlie Beach. First – I saw one of the girls from my Heading Bush group! Sandra, my yodeling instructor, was just walking by as I was eating lunch. What do you think the chances of that are? Australia is a huge place, and after Alice Springs we had all gone our separate ways to different parts of the country. It seemed like such an incredible coincidence that I saw her.

Interesting thing number two – later in the day, I saw two of the girls that were in my Surf Camp group! This was definitely an amazing coincidence! I was a little embarrassed when they called out to me – I sort of recognized them when they yelled my name, and I knew I knew them from somewhere, but I couldn’t remember their names, and I couldn’t remember where I knew them from. So I was trying to hold a conversation while mentally ticking off all the places I was sure I didn’t know them from. They kept asking me questions about what I have been up to, which had me worried that I would start talking about the place I had met them in. I think I pulled it off, and I did eventually figure out that it was surf camp – but not until after they left. I felt terrible that I couldn’t remember their names though because they didn’t seem to have any problem remembering mine.

The final interesting thing: look at the store they have here in Airlie:

It was just like the Coldstone Creamery we have in the states! They mix up the ice cream in front of you and sing when you tip them. I hope they are made by the same company, cause otherwise, trademark infringement! The worker inside had never heard of Coldstone though. I have to admit, I think that ‘Cold Rock’ does it better with a picture of Uluru on the sign. Very clever. I can’t even remember whether Coldstone has any picture of a specific rock on the sign.

Enough about Airlie! After the 12 hour overnight bus ride, I’m now in Hervey Bay, which is the starting point to get to Frasier Island. Hervey Bay is another quaint little beach town. It’s bigger, but not nearly as party-orientated. It’s beach is also not nearly as pretty as Airlie Beach, but it is nice – and this one doesn’t have all the signs warning about the deadly jellyfish.

I arrived in town at about 9:30 in the morning, and wandered around a little to check out my newest temporary surroundings. I saw a beauty shop advertising a great deal on a haircut with free eyebrow waxing, and since I needed both, I took them up on it. It was better for me to get my hair cut in Australia instead of waiting until I get home – I knew that you aren’t supposed to tip in Australia, so I’d save a little money! at least I hope I wasn’t supposed to tip. Otherwise I stiffed the poor woman.

After lunch I felt exhausted. I practically had to crawl to my room to take a short nap. The bus ride I’d just come from was a red eye and it isn’t very easy to sleep on a bus. I had gotten maybe three hours of sleep, and not good sleep. I forced myself to wake up after a couple of hours so I’d be able to fall asleep that night and wandered around town again. There isn’t really much to do here either. These beach towns are pretty boring during the day, unless you are spending the whole time at the beach.

Tomorrow I’m off to Frasier Island to see the crystal clear water, beautiful sandy beach, and plentiful wildlife. You will learn all about it when I get back on Sunday. But for now, I’d better go back to the hostel and pack.

Live long and prosper!

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