Sunday, May 2, 2010

Goodbye Madagascar

After 6 months, tomorrow I leave Madagascar.

Its been a lot of fun, Madagascar is a pretty incredible country. But I am definately looking forward to moving on. I think I have seen what I wanted to see and a huge amount of everything in between. I would advise all those that wish to visit Madagascar to do it soon, cause its true what they say, the place is getting severely beaten up. People are cutting, burning, digging up, and killing just about everything that makes Madagascar unique and interesting. But prepare yourself, travel here is not particularly easy (at first the laid back attitude and the poor road/car quality is funny, eventually it just gets really old) and 9 out of every 10 tourists you'll meet are just sex tourists (and all 10 will only speak french). But other than that, its a pretty amazing place.

Things have been fairly slow since my last post, things have gone fairly smoothly. I went from Tana out to the west coast to Morondava to see the avenue of the boababs and the Tsingy be Bemaraha. After the 22 hour taxi brousse ride, during which it was necessary to stop for a few hours so that would could wrassle up a posse of other taxi brousse drivers to dissuade the highway bandits from stopping us/killing us and stealing all of our belongings. At least thats what I was told. Once arriving in town I found out that you couldn't get to the Tsingy by public transport, only by private car. Which, after all told, would end up costing nearly $500 for the 3 days necessary to make the trip. I ended up lucking out, and find another tourist, a girl from Japan that could speak english, that was going and was willing to split the cost. Went and saw the Tsingy, very interesting, whether it was worth the $200 that it cost to get up there has not yet been decided, but I know that if I didn't go I would be kicking myself for a very long time. These are the Tsingy.

During the trip I found out (after being told not to mention how much I was paying to Yuki (the girl from Japan) - therefore it became the first thing that I talked about) that the owner of the care was charging Yuki the full price, and then was going to pocket all my money. I gave Yuki a pep talk, told her not to let them charge her full price, and am awaiting the results currently. However on the way back to Morondava from the Tsingy, Yuki got sick. I don't think it was anything more than what everybody gets when they first get to Madagascar, but she wasn't dealing with it very well. I was dropped at Kirindy to try to see some Fossa (no luck there) and the drivers took her back to the doctor. I cut my Kirindy trip a day short (potential to get the flight on the 3rd - which I did - and saw all the lemurs that there were to see) and decided to stop in to see how she was doing. I got there and standing at the doorway to the hotel were both drivers, looking very concerned, and what looked to be a number of doctors, also very concerned looking. They showed me to her room and what was the first thing I saw? An IV! The room was covered with little vials of medicine and needles. In my opinion IVs are used after surgeries and to stave off death, so I automatically assumed that it was a heck of a lot worse than it turned out to be. It was, just as I thought, what everybody gets when they get to Madagascar. It was just handled... differently than I would have done.

Other than that, I returned to Tana, and have sat around here for about 5 days waiting for my flight to come. I went souvernir shopping, bought way to many things, including two stupid wall hanging things that don't fit into my back and therefore are strapped to the outside where I fully expect them to break before I reach Paris.

As for Paris, got two couches to stay on, both located just on the outside of the main centre. One of whom seems to be very keen on going into the Catacombs to show people around, which I am A-OK with. Going to stay there for just about a week, and then head up to the UK. Not really sure what to do there, if anyone has been there and has some ideas, feel free to give me some advice.

And thats about that, I've got to be at the airport at 4:30 in the morning, so I have to get to sleep pretty soon. Have a good night.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Doing a bit of catch up...

So, its been a while huh? What, about 3 months? I think thats about right. Now, normally you would think than in 3 months time a fair number of things could happen right? Well, youd be right. In fact, too many things have happened to write about so I'll touch on a couple of the highlights.

Finished up the work - Everything finished up at Beza about 3 weeks ago now and its was quite the 5 months. In that 3 months since I last wrote the babies were decimated, babies were being picked off daily it seemed. Including one poor little fella that was eaten while we stood about 2 metres away. And it seems that, as with my favourite characters in movies, if you're my favourite lemur, you're not going to make it. Of my 3 favourite lemurs, only 1 survived. And poor, stunted little Owen Meany (his mother busted up her leg and his growth was really slowed) was eaten with like 4 more days left at Beza.
But the work is all finished. It was fun while it lasted, but it sure is nice to eat something other than beans and rice, although I'm still waiting for it to cool down a bit. I think I'm going to have to leave Mada for that to happen.

Muuuuuurder - In the last little while there was an interesting occurance in the park. They found the mutilated remains of someone, obviously murdered, but couldn't find out where the murder was done (apparently finding the perpetrator was an issue). Well, seeing as the murder happened in the confines of the park, they decided to hold the trial at the research centre. And when I mean trial, I mean 2 police men talked to the accused for about 20 minutes. Now let me descibe for you the crime, and then have you guess at the punishment. So what this fella did, was he took this guy (who apparently was a thief and was bothering him for some time) and tied him to a tree. While tied to the tree, he shot him dead. Cut him down, at which point the body was ripped to pieces by the packs of feral dogs that run through the forest. Pretty greusome huh? What would you figure he got, at least like 15, maybe 20 years in jail right? Well, that would make sense. But no, instead he got fined the equivalent of $2000 (easily payable, apparently he was a rich man) and a warning that next time, he better get a note from the family saying he was a thief before murdering anyone (seriously, I'm not making this up).

Riots - After our work completed we took a nice road trip up the country stopping a few places along the way. Once we hit Tana (the capital city) I decided that I needed a few things, deodorant, a new toothbrush, etc and went out shopping. It was a national holiday and everything was closed but I kept looking in the hopes that a independent stall would be open, but nothing. I decided that it looked like things were starting to get dark and so I should get back to the hotel. I started to cross the Avenue of Independence (the main street in the city) and realized that there were a lot of riot police hanging around in their riot trucks. I didn't know what was going on, thought it may be just normal routine for a leader that just last year gained power through a military coup. But as I watch a cop came out of the truck, picked up what looked to be a shotgun, and fired down the street into the crowd. I freaked right out, I thought I had just seen a cop shoot people while I stood about 40 feet behind him. But no-one seemed to be worried, everyone around me was laughing and talking and taking pictures. Then I saw a bunch of smoke and realized that it was a smoke bomb. Apparently there was some sort of demonstration down the street and the cop was making sure it didn't make it up the street. So I continued on my way across the street and once I reached the second median there were about 5 cops out of the truck, and they all began firing into the crowd. Still no one seemed to be worried, everyone except me. As I turned to cross the street people stopped talking and taking pictures, they all started to book it down the street, sprinting as fast as they could. I had no idea what had changed or what was happening, but I figured if the locals were running, then so was I. I took off and went down as side street away from the cops/demonstrators (who were now running all over the place) and wondered what the bejesus was going on. Then it hit me, it wasn't smoke bombs, it was tear gas, and the wind had changed, pulling it down the street towards us. Let me tell you, all those of you who haven't been tear gased (which I assume if most, if not all of you), it really hurts. You're eyes water and sting, but its your nose, its like you just snorted hot pepper up your nose, through both nostrils. So I sped up and headed back to the hotel, where I passed hundreds and hundreds of people crying and wiping their noses down the street. People that had obviously nothing to do with the protests. Ahhhh, dictatorship.

Moths - I took a long trip up the east coast of Madagascar in order to try to get a glimpse of the rare and elusive Aye Aye. One of the hardest to view lemurs in Madagascar. I took the 14 hours truck ride (trying not to fall out the entire way), checked into the hotel, made arraingments for a truck and boat to get to the island. Packed up all my stuff and went. We spotted an Aye Aye about 20 minutes after we got to the island, I put my headlamp and and turned the light on. And had a moth fly into my ear. Not your normal, moth flys in, buzzes around a bit, flys out, but rather a, moth flies in, hits your eardrum because its so deep, and sits there smacking your eardrum with its wings for 2 hours. So I had to leave the Aye Aye, and sit down to try to persuade/wash the moth out of my ear. Apparently the normal procedure is to use a light (a candle, flashlight, etc) and hold it at arms length and the moth will eventually make it out. Its not, at least not at the beginning, to try to wash it out. All that does is stick it to your eardrum and eventually drown it. I learned this while sitting in the jungle alone, wondering whether a moth is strong enough to break my eardrum (apparently its not, but my poking can seriously mess up my equilibrium). Eventually I made it back to the mainland and went to the hospital where a professional washed it out with a big old syringe. And I went to see the Aye Aye the next day, but this time with a large bandana covering my ears up.

Glasses - After seeing the Aye Aye I went to Ile St. Marie, a tropical island paradise that is nice and cheap (bungalows on the beach for $5) with coral reefs surrounding. I took advantage of these reefs by deciding that I would go for a bit of a snorkel, placing my things well up the beach from the rising tide. I was only out for about 30 minutes when I looked back at the shore to see my hat floating away. I ran back, collected all my things, except for my glasses. Which are who knows where now. My guess is India.

But thats that for now. Today I am in Toamasina because the taxi brousses here take forever to get anywhere and I didn't want to arrive in Tana in the dark. So I have spent 4 hours on the internet passing the time away. After Tana I head to Morondava, then to Tsingy de Bemaraha, then to Kirindy, back to Tana, and then to Europe. I'm looking forward to getting to a country where things arrive and depart on time, and people don't stare at you everywhere you go. But I'm not looking forward to the costs.

Thats all for now. I figure posts should increase now. But who knows.


Friday, January 8, 2010


So 2 months ago I came up with a great idea. I decided that on my days off I would write down what happened in the last week. That way, when I got to somewhere with internet I would just copy-paste and my blog post would be done. It would also ensure that I didn't forget anything in the two months between access to internet. Genius idea right? Well the one flaw is that in order for that to work, you have to make sure you bring the posts with you. Which I didn't do.

So instead you get a recap of the past week, and then a massive post in February when I get internet again. But it was a relatively interesting week.

So lets begin this story on Boxing day, we just finished a wonderful day of turkey, beef and potatoes which is essentially all it takes to make it feel like a really really special day anymore. We had the day off and decided to go for a hike out to a Canyon that was about 3 km away. The hike was great, we got to see further out past the local village that I have ever gone, and the actual valley was really impressive. But on the way I realized that my tooth was hurting a bit. Well over the next week that little bit of pain got to the point where I wasn't sleeping at night because it was unbearable and the gums on that side had swollen to the point that they were covering up about half of the teeth. Gross, I know. So I needed to have someone look at it, luckily there were some researchers at the station that were heading out with a car the next day and we would be able to hitch a ride with them. The one condition was, that we had to go to a beach resort with them. Seemed fair to me. So we hoped in a went along.

Now the issue with having something like a cavity in Southern Madagascar is, the dentists aren't trained all that well, or particularly hygenic. So there was a bit of a threat that I may get my teeth buggered up and walk out with Hepatitis and HIV. So I was a little worried and asked Teague to come along to give me a second opinion as someone that has been in Africa for much longer than I have. So Teague tagged along, taking a week off from data collection to help me out. Well you know what happened, pretty much the day after we left the pain started to subside and the swelling started to go down. So I looked like a bit of an idiot.

The beach was really nice, we stayed in a resort that was a bit beyond my normal price range, but we were there from New Years so I figured, two nights? Might as well stay (and by out of my normal price range, it only cost about $100 for 2 nights, food and drinks included). The beach was great, there was a Vezo fishing village right beside the resort on the beach which was great for exploring, but was bad because they liked to just poop on the beach. There was also at one point in the night when one of the assistants of the other researchers and I were walking down the beach to explore the place and a man came up to us trying to get us to take his boat out to an island. We talked to him for a while and explained where we were staying, how long we were there for. It was difficult because he couldn't speak english very well and no one could really speak French. But just as we were trying to leave I think he asked us if we were sleeping with Malagasy children, as in, are we employing children prostitutes. To which the other researcher which remain nameless, in an effort to just get away and not knowing what he actually said, gave an emphatic yes and a high five.

We managed to escape that guy and found ourselves at a celebration for the new year which, as far as I could tell, putting a bag on a cows head, and beating the crap out of it with sticks and cheering. The other researcher then was asked if he wanted "Boom Boom", which we took to mean a prostitute (I think his reputation preceded him) and we decided that perhaps it was time to leave. We joined in a much tamer, less animal-abusive party for the New Years which was a lot of fun. It was difficult staying up until midnight seeing as we normally wake up at 5, but we managed it and had a really good time. Although its the first time I have ever counted down the new year from a man dancing around with an Ikea analog clock held above his head.

We left the beach and headed for town, 8 hours down the road (but only 3 hours by boat - there is only one bridge you see, and it was a loooong way away). At about hour 4 we took a bit of a short cut and managed to snap the axle on the 4x4 in half. Luckily we were not too far away from a small town (which, interestingly enough, was also a Leper Village, which I didn't really know still existed) and we sent Jacky - the director of Beza - into town to see if he could sort out a car to pick us up. Mahefa, the driver, found a small village (3 mud huts) and paid the man there to guard the car so that the road bandits (yes, road bandits) wouldn't gut the car by the time he returned. We pushed it up the road and then waited in this tiny village for about 4 hours before Jacky returned in a Department of Locust control car and they drove us back to Betoiky - a small small town where we stayed the night is a cockroach infested hotel.

We managed to swing a pickup truck for the next day where we drove all the way back with 7 of us sitting in the open back of the truck. It was a little windy, but it looked significantly more comfortable than the 3 people that were jammed into cab.

We made it into town and I scheduled a dentist appointment with the help of Jacky. It was a lot cleaner than I thought, however the equipment was only being cleaned in the sink (which apparently kills all the really nasty things). The dentist looked at the tooth, and with a mixture of french, charades, and large novelty teeth and toothbrushes told us that it wasn't actually a cavity but somehow I managed to get an infection in my gums. He gave me some mouthwash and I went on my way, really really happy that they was no actual dental work done. Although now I worry that it will just come back when I am back at camp, but as I type, there is no pain, so it all seems good.

Yesterday I went to Jacky's PhD defense, and got to see what Tulear University is like. If you wish to have an idea, take your university, then take a nuclear war. mix the two together and then wait 30 years, long enough for people to start to re-inhabit the campus, and you will have tulear university.

Today I do nothing but relax. Teague heads back tomorrow morning but I am going to stay around for a few more days. Then its back to work until February.

If anyone wants a postcard, send me their address on facebook or e-mail and I will see what I can do.

Until later,


Friday, October 23, 2009

Yum yum eat 'em up!

At this moment in time I am sitting at a computer terminal at a hostel in the heart of Kota Kinabalu, the largest city in the Malaysian province of Sabah on the island of Borneo. Borneo is incredible, the people are friendly and almost everyone speak english to some extent, making travel extremely easy (this is true of everywhere I have been in Malaysia) but the culture is different enough that its an adventure just walking around.

I don't have too too long to spend writing as I have to pay for this terminal but I will leave with a few highlights of the past 10 days in Malaysia.

- Met up with Meagan, a friend from way back home in my Tim Horton's days. We made it to the hostel from the airport when she realized that she had lost her passport, all her plane tickets, and her ID card to allow her to work in Korea. We spent a stressful couple hours looking around Kuala Lampur before returning to the hostel and having the taxi driver show up not too much later with the passport and everything intact.

- Was hassled by a man selling bootlegged DVDs in a night market after having just remarked on how considerate people were when you said no, they just left you alone. Not so this fella, I thought I had a perfect out when I said I was travelling and didn't have a dvd player, when he volunteered to find me a dvd player and tv to watch my movies on. Eventually he gave up, but only to reappear 20 minutes later as we were leaving. He didn't stick around that long, but I apparently need to learn a lot more about dealing with people in markets.

- I missed my flight from Kuala Lampur to Kota Kinabalu and had to buy a brand new ticket.

- I travelled to Danum Valley Field Centre, a station out in the largest continuous forest in Sabah (a state in Malaysian Borneo) where I found my camping facilities to be quite nice, however I was alone in the woods. And when you are camping alone in the rainforest where there are bears and elephants, and leopards, and cobras, etc, etc, you really do feel quite alone out there. Oh, and 2 of the 4 bathroom stalls were homes to the largest spiders I have ever seen in the wild, easily the size of my fist.

- While travelling to breakfast my first full day I spotted some pig tailed Macaques (see photo below), and made the mistake of trying to see if what I was looking at in the forest was a monkey or a log. Apparently my obvious staring was taken as aggression and I was charged. Luckily my first reaction was to sprint the opposite direction, as these guys have been know to attack people and are considered quite aggressive.

- I saw a wild Orangutan!

- Also saw, a bearded pig (which blocked my way to breakfast one morning), red leaf monkeys, samba deer, mouse deer, 3 different types of centipedes (all very large), a malay civet, the emperor cicada, a massive hornbill, the largest monitor lizard I have ever seen, and heard some gibbons. Not a bad haul.

- Realized that I paid less for my entire week, including food, guides, internet access, accomodation, and taxi to get to and from the centre, than I would have for 1 night in the lodge an hour down the road.

And now I am done, because I have hit a half hour and I need to go get some food from the market. Tomorrow to Kuala Lampur, then South Africa, then to Madagascar!

I will talk to you in a while.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The end of Australia.

So its been a while, I am aware. I was down in Tasmania, out in the wilds of the North West Coast, where there was no internet, so I couldn't update. But you can all breathe easy now, cause here's an update.

As I mentioned, when you last heard from me I was heading to Tasmania. I flew out of the Melbourne airport and in my rush made a very unwise move, and got food from Hungry Jacks (Burger King). In a normal situation I would never do this, I rate Burger King significantly lower on the taste and quality of product scale than even McDonalds. But it was all there was and I was very hungry. So I got some, and subsequently got a mean case of food poisoning. Or swine flu, or Ebola, or something that made me feel quite sick for a while. Luckily the nausea and headaches ended quite quickly, however the intensely sore throat lasted for at least a week.

But I stuck it out and headed up North to help with the Save the Tasmanian devil program, monitoring how far the Facial Tumor Disease has spread since the last survey. It was a great experience, and got to see practically all the animals that I could have wanted to (the exception being the platypus) wild and free, and I got to visit places that tourists to Tasmania tend not to visit (ie: clear cut forests - which is essentially all of Northern Tasmania, and a mining camp - where I was surprised to find a large proportion of young 20 somethings, and a large proportion of females. Not at all matching my preconceived ideas that miner were burly middle aged men, apparently they are all burly 20 year old girls).

My crew was made of 3 people, Drew - the team leader, Clair - the assistant, and me - the volunteer. We only caught a single devil with disease, which was great in that it didn't seem to have spread much, and great that I didn't see any really traumatic sights (apparently its really nasty when you see it). However, the other 2 teams which were further north and east, caught a bunch of diseased devils.

After the devil program we headed home to Hobart, where I stayed with Drew for a night. That day I headed out to the Hobart Museum and watched a video on the rigours of Antarctic research and proceeded to return to Drew's to find one of the people interviewed in the movie to be in the kitchen. We then had a nice little conversation where I was told that winters in Canada are far worse than anything they had experienced in Antartica (mind you, it was coastal and in the summer) and they were all impressed with my eyelid freezing shut over my eye story.

Hobart was a nice little place, although quite cold without heating in any building. I toured around for a while, however nothing too too exciting happened while there, so I will save you the time and not write about it.

After Hobart I flew into Melbourne and was lucky enough to stumble upon the opening ceremonies of the Arts Festival where there were a number of free events going on around the town. I was able to see some incredible shows that involved people playing bells on extremely bendy stilts, and then people playing drums and bells dressed in jester costumes while spinning and suspended a good 30 meters from the ground.

Melbourne is a great city, and I would advise anyone going to Australia to budget more time in Melbourne than in any of the other cities (at least those that I visited). There are plenty of little side streets (called arcades) full of coffee shops and interesting little shops to look into. Plus there are lots of free things to do. And a pretty impressive market.

But now I am back in Wollongong and I fly out to Malaysia tomorrow afternoon. I got a surprise a few days ago when I found out that my friend from back home, who now lives in Korea, was able to get a week off and in coming down to Malaysia with me! Much nicer traveling with people than on your own. So as the plan stands, 10 days in Malaysia (with 5 days spent in the wilds of Borneo at the Danum Valley Conservation Center searching for wild Orangutans) and then a one night stop-over in Christopher Cornish's old house in Jo-burg South Africa, then on to Madagascar. In 2 weeks time I will be at my destination in Beza Mahafaly. I have no idea where the last month went.

I'll make sure I get something typed up after Malaysia and before Madagascar, just don't expect anything for about 10 days.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

I wanted to see the outback....

So this has been quite an eventful week.

When I last left you I was leaving to call my host for the next 2 days down in Brisbane. They weren't there. So I was forced to wander around the city for about 2 more hours with my massive pack on before they finally picked up the phone. I took the bus down and when I got there I had a bit of a surprise. Now, I know that people who do couch surfing are a certain type, not too reserved, almost a bit hippyish. Well, I guess these people took that to the next level. The house had 15 people staying in it while I was there. 10 permanent residents and 5 couch surfers (one of whom had been there for 3 months - so the line between permanent and non was a little blurry). And apparently this was one of the slow times, they said that at one point in time, in addition to paying permanent residents they had 28 couch surfers staying. Well, I set my stuff down on my matress (the one right near the door, that didn't lock and the window beside was smashed out) and set about trying to find someone who lived there. It turned out that they were all really great people (although involved in perhaps a few too many illegal things), and there was even a zoologist that lived there that told me all about the various things that can sting and bite you in Australia. After talking with them for a few hours I decided that I would head out to the city and do some site seeing, making sure to take all my important and expensive things with me - not that the people that lived there would take them, but I couldn't be so sure of the dozens of people that were coming and going constantly.

Brisbane is a cool city, its got some nice architecture and a bit to do if your a tourist. I ended up just wandering around for a few hours and visiting the botanical gardens to see if there were any bats. There weren't but there were tons of water dragon lizards and tons and tons of people. I went back to my "house" and they were beginning to make supper. The tradition in that house, since there are so many people, that you pitch in a couple bucks and they will make up some food for you. Well that night the resident Italian, who also happened to be a professional chef, was making roast pork and lamb with yam and beans. Surprising classy in a house that I wasn't certain if it was owned or a squat.

The next day a few people were heading down to the coast to do some surfing. I tagged along with them and we went do about 15 minutes past surfers paradise to a less populated beach. I didn't go surfing, there was only 1 board and I didn't want to go out on my own with no practice. I did however go swimming, and I have never swam in such massive waves (small by aussie standards, massive for lake erie standards), the entire time keeping an ever vigilant eye for sharks.

After the beach we went to a night market, pretty interesting, but nothing too exciting. The best thing was that the food there was actually of a reasonable price, unlike the rest of Australia.

The next day I was picked up by my next hosts, a couple that lived in about 10 minutes from where I was staying the night before. They brought me back to their apartment, where I dropped my stuff and we headed out to the Belgian Beer Club where one of my hosts lab partners was celebrating his successful completion of his PhD. Now remember how I just said that Australian food is expensive? Well while there I got a pint of Hoegaarden or however you spell it. Normally a decently expensive beer, well apparently its half price in Canada cause mine came to $15. For one pint. It was an enjoyable night, there was a great deal of drinking (apparently no one else was disturbed by the pricing there - I stuck to my single pint) and things were moved to a different bar, or at least attempted, as no one would let them in cause they were too drunk. So I left with my hosts and went to sleep.

The next day they both had to either work or go to school, so I headed out to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary on my own. An interesting little place, not too big, but containing essentially only Australia animals. I got to see my first Koalas, wombats, dingos, tasmanian devils, and I think very briefly my first Echidna. No platypus though, however I was able to feed some kangaroos and hold a koala.

Thats night we went out and had a bbq at Kangaroo point and then went outdoor rock climbing up the cliff face there. I have never been rock climbing before, and I have quite a strong fear of heights, so I was a little apprehensive. But I tried, twice. It looks significantly easier while on the ground, looking at the bumps in the rocks you picture that the hand and foot holds are a good 20 cm, but when you get up there, you have about enough space to slip your finger tips in and thats it. The first time I went up I got about halfway. About 15 feet up. Not very impressive at all, but it seemed much higher than it actually was while I was up there. The second time I decided to be slightly more risky and but some more faith in the rope holding me up and I was able to make it all the way up to the top. It was incredibly fun, even if I was quite bad at it and frightened, and the view off across the Brisbane river to the city centre was great.

Afterwards I headed out of Brisbane early in the morning for the 2 full day trip out to Broken hill, my adventure into the outback. On the bus ride up I met CJ from Pennslyvania who was planning on staying at the same hostel as I was. Broken hill itself was nothing too exciting, its the largest city for hours and hours around and its surrounded by near desert. We spent the first day exploring the city, visited the main mine that was the reason the city existed (200 billion dollars of material mined from it) and went up and down the streets. That night there was a dust storm, or what I thought was a dust storm. The power went out for a couple hours and the entire city shut down as we found out when we tried to get something to eat. Eventually it came on and we made some food back at the hostel. But the real dust storm was to happen the next day.

CJ and I decided to rent a car and head out to Silverton the next day. Silverton is a ghost town from the 1800s about 25km from Broken hill. Its got a few houses and a couple artist studios, and was the base for the Mad Max 1 and 2 movies. The only bar has Max's car out front in the parking lot. The town was really cool to wander around, it really felt like you were in the middle of nowhere. We spent a few hours there wandering around checking out the houses and digging for treasure. Well, that was more CJ, I went looking for kangaroos and found 2, which I chased around for a while trying to get some good pictures. We left Silverton and headed out to White Cliffs, an opal mining community 300 km away. We arrived into town with the gas light on riding on fumes, and filled it up in the only gas station in town. White Cliffs is, in my opinion, the closest I could get to an actual wild west frontier town. It had a single restaurant/store/gas station across from the only bar/hotel which is run by a man that serves as the bar tender, the man in charge of coordinating emergency plans, and the only pilot.

White cliffs is known for the fact that due to the intense heat in the summer the opal miners turned their old mines into houses. So many of the buildings are invisible except for a door in the side of a hill. Now, if there is anyone still with me, is where the story gets interesting. We were talking to some old opal miners on the outskirts of town, about 1 kilometer from our car. As we talked I saw that the sky behind their house was starting to get quite dark. We attempted to leave so that we could get back to our car before the storm came but, despite agreeing with us, they continued talking, this continued until the storm was essentially on top of us. CJ and I ran from the house and by the time we hit the road leading to town we couldn't see 10 feet in front of us. The wind was so strong that it was picking us small stones and smacking them into us, and the dust was getting into our eyes and mouths. At some point in time CJ turned around to get me and we passed each other without knowing it. Once I realized that I couldn't see CJ anymore I stopped at which point he came out of the dust and smashed into me. We continued to run down the road where CJ jumped over a fence which I didn't see and ran right into it, pulling it down with me. We made it back to the car, and eventually made it down to the local bar where we got a room for the night. Apparently the dust storm that we were caught in essentially the eye of out in the middle of nowhere, was the largest in living memory and the next day covered Sydney with a thick layer of dust. But in the meantime CJ and I spent an interesting night getting to experience what true outback life was actually like. We talked for a few hours to a local miner, who was undoubtedly the most racist man I have ever met. Who felt like the United states wasn't doing its duty to maintain the white man's supremacy. How could they do their duty? By nuking all of China, and Africa, thats what. He felt like Barack Obama (aka: Eric Cabana as he called him) needed to be shot. He didn't much like it when I told him that if I was in the US I would have voted for Barack. But luckily he was drunk so he soon forgot. Oh, and I forgot to mention, in the 70s he murdered someone. After this fella went to sleep and everyone could breath slightly easier, I got to talking to some of the others in the bar, and as it turned out they were all stuck in town too. We talked for an hours of two and I went to sleep in my dust covered bed.

The next day the skies cleared and we drove back to broken hill, where we relaxed for the rest of the day and I did some light sightseeing with a German couple from the Hostel (light sightseeing consists of walking 4 km to see a mosque that was actually closed, to do the 4 kms back). We watched some Mad Max and backed up our stuff to head out at 4 am that morning for the 19 hours of traveling back that I had to eventually make it to Wollongong.

And thats that. That was waaaaay too long. If you've made it through to the end, congrats, I wouldn't have. Tonight two of Teresa's friends are having a birthday party and its the last day before a week long holiday, so it should be a good night. Perhaps next post will either come sooner, and therefore less will have happened, or I'll edit slightly. We'll see. Next week is Tasmania.

Monday, September 14, 2009

You think that's a knife?

Well, I made it to Australia safe and sound, despite the 35 hours of travelling time (that includes stop over time in airports). The trip over was a strange mix, the 13 hour flight from Chicago to Tokyo was cramped and uncomfortable, stuck between a grumpy old man and a confused little child, I couldn't sleep or get comfortable. I was dropped off in Tokyo at the airport, quite groggy and very dissoriented. I wanted to make sure I had something Japanese to eat in Japan, but I only had a choice between a couple coffee shops and single cafeteria. So I chose the caf. I got a prawn tempura and noodle bowl, which was both expensive and not particularly tasty. But the surprise for the meal was the fact that, over the speakers in the restaurant, I heard the same Beyonce song repeated 7 or 8 times. It was the only song they played the entire time I was in there. No one else seemed to notice it (or at least, no one said anything I could understand, but that might be because they were speaking Japanese. But on the flight out to Sydney, I was placed into a first class seat, complete with a fancy tv and plenty of leg space.

I got into Sydney early on in the morning and was picked up by my friend Teresa to go back to her rez down in Wollongong. On the train ride I was explained all the various rules to Cricket and the differences between football, aussie rules, and rugby (I think those are the three) by an Australia biochem prof, an old englishman, and an eldery italian couple who gave me the phone number of their relatives in Canada so that I can stop in if I am ever in the area.

The country here is incredible. The culture is remarkably similar to Canada but the tree and animals are completely different. There are pine trees that grow right next to palm trees, but both are full of macaques and parrots. I've already seen some dolphins one day when I was down at the beach, and got to see hundreds upon hundreds of flying foxes in the Sydney botanical gardens. I tried to stir some up by knocking a tree they were on, but instead they all just woke up and stared at me, which was kindof unnerving.

But right now I'm in the Queensland state library, just checking to see if there were any messages from my couchsurfing hosts. Which there weren't. So now its off to find a phone and give them a call so that I can meet up with some locals and ditch my massive pack.