Gorgeous Katherine Gorge

It’s Christmas Eve and it is about 80 degree Fahrenheit here, along with humidity. No white Christmas here!

We woke up at 6 am to get breakfast at 6:30. The night before, as I expressed my love for tim-tams, one of the aussies told me about a trick with Tim-tams and coffee.

The trick is to bite off diagonal corners, then place one of the bitten off corners into the coffee. Then you need to suck through the other bitten off corner to get coffee and make the cookie smooshie! Yum, so delish!

We then got on the bus with all our stuff and headed out of Kakadu National Park, where we had spent the last 2 nights. Our first stop was the Kakadu entrance sign to get a picture or two.

Then we headed off to a cafe to get lunch that we would take with us to Edith Falls just down the road. When we got to Edith Falls, we were not allowed near the water, since there may be a few crocs in there. We are our lunch in the grass near by with a view of the Falls. The flies were insufferable though. I guess that is the outback for you!

We then quickly changed into bathing suits for our next adventure.

We then arrived in the town of Katherine about 2 hours later. We stopped at Woolworths for some water and other necessities. Finally heading off to our next adventure, we passed the Katherine School of the Air. Because of how remote this area is, they used to have children gather in a school house and listen to the radio to learn. It just helped me understand how remote the area we were in was, before modern technology. But, even then, I was still having trouble getting wifi now.

The coach pulled up to a dock, where we all loaded into the boat for a Katherine Gorge tour. The gorge was huge and went on for over 100 km. It had a reddish tint to it from exposure to the elements. It actually reminded me of what I imagine the Grand Canyon would look like in person.

We got a certain point in the Gorge where we wouldn’t be able to cross by boat, so we got out and crossed to the next boat on foot. We got a photo or two there.

On the next boat, we saw the iconic Katherine Gorge photo. It was beautiful to see the water running through the reddish rocks, with a little green here and there, a blue sky with a smattering of clouds. Picture perfect!

We then docked the boat again, this time to find a waterfall within the Gorge.

We started on the path, which clearly was not well laid out. There was a lot of climbing on rocks that were slippery with sand and no clear place to put your foot next. A few of the girls only had on thong sandals which broke on the way there. I was behind them and got a little annoyed at the situation, since I had my tevas with me. I really wanted to see this waterfall, so I was getting impatient.

We did get to the waterfall with plenty of time to enjoy the water and the experience.

I brought my GoPro in with me, which was great because the footage is awesome!

The two Aussie sibilings climbed up a rock formation nearby the waterfall and were jumping off the ledge. It looks like fun, so I decided to climb up (again thankful for my tevas) to the top.

Once at the top, about 12 feet from the water, it was a little nerve racking to think about jumping. But, of course there was no other way down and I really wanted to do it.

I jumped and it of course was exhilarating! I came up smiling and laughing. Just a fun way play in the waterfall pool. And, I love that kind of stuff!

Feeling more alive, I swam to shore to get my outer clothes back on and head back to the boat. We got back on the boat, headed back to the dock, got on the coach and headed to our accommodations for the night.

Given that it was Christmas Eve, there were not many restaurants open. So, we ordered pizza and sat by the pool. We got to try an Australian dessert called “lamington.” It’s a yellow cake with a chocolate and coconut frosting and a whipped cream top. Really good!

We swam for a while, before heading to bed for another early morning. This time it would be Christmas!

Exploring Kakadu!

We woke up at 6 am, got breakfast at the restaurant. I made sure to avoid the vegemite! We left the accommodation at 7 pm, to drop off some people who were signed up for a scenic flight of the park.

Kakadu is a massive national park. In fact it is half the size of Switzerland and the size of Maryland. There are over 10,000 different species of insects, which was quite obvious by looking around. There are lots of wild animals as well, like wallabies, crocodiles, dingos, board, wild horses and more.

While some did the scenic flight, the rest of us headed over to the Bowali cultural center to learn more about the indigenous people. We saw their calendar on a stone. It was not by months, but by seasons, which makes more sense to me. I don’t get the point of month’s of December 21st is when winter starts. Just had an extententional crisis wondering about why we had months on our calendar.

We then headed to an area where there was an indigenous rock art walk. We loaded up on bug spray and sunblock before heading in.

There are ants with green butts running around everywhere. Our tour guide mentioned that if you ate the green butt part, you would get a shot of vitamin C. A few of us tried it and it was actually pretty great. It just tasted like citrus.

There were large rock formations, almost wall like, where we could see the paintings. Because most of the culture is held closely by elders, many of the larger meanings of the stories are not known by people outside of the culture. However, we could glean some basics from the drawings. We saw a wallaby on one, another was about fertility, another about celebration and so many more.

From there, we did a quick hike up to see the larger rock formation from a distance. Mark told us about the small rock on the edge of the cliff. Apparently, within the indigenous culture, you are not supposed to mate with a sibiling. But, a chief did and he symbolically placed a feather up there. Now, there is a rock to symbolize it and remind others not to do what he did.

Here is me at the top!

We headed over towards the yellow water, to have lunch. We had a baguette with some cold cuts. Relaxed for a while and just enjoyed the air conditioning.

We then headed down to the yellow river for our cruise. We were on the billabong river in kakdu, getting a wetlands cruise. Our guide was straightforward and funny. He knew a lot about the waters and the animals inside. Though we couldn’t see any crocodiles. There were definitely a few hundred in there!

They are able to hold their breath for up to 6 hours and slow their heart beat down to one to two beats per hour. In dry season, they layout in the sun to keep warm. But, since it was very hot out, they were mostly sitting at the bottom of the river. We were instructed to try not to fall overboard. But, if we did, we had about a minute before a croc would be after us. Comforting, huh?

There were lots of other wildlife in the river as well. We saw “Jesus birds” who look like they are walking on water, but really they are walking on Lilly pads. We saw some beautiful flowers from a specific type of Lilly pad. This one the indigenous women would harvest for their stems. Not before doing a prayer to keep the crocs from eating them. If they did get eaten, the elders would say they didn’t do the prayer right…

After a long day in 80 degree weather, we headed back to the accommodations to hangout in the pool. A girl from LA bought some yellow tail wine and red solo cups. We enjoyed some laughs over that. We hung out in the pool for a couple hours before heading to dinner.

After dinner, we just hung out around the table and talked about the differences in culture. I love hearing from the aussies on the trip because though they don’t know this part of their country, they know about most everything else. We talked about cricket, politics, differences in candies, stores, restaurants and more. It was funny to hear they even have the bachelor in australia. It is the Australian version, of course. I thought I might actually watch that one! Ha!

We headed off the bed because we once again had to wake up early.

Road to Kakadu 

Day 2 we got to sleep in until 8 am…which is major apparently. At the continental breakfast, I saw vegimite and thought I might want to try it. Because, why not? I’m in Australia and it’s their favorite treat!

So I took some advice from the local: step 1 toast the bread, step 2 spread on butter, step 3 lightly spread vegemite. Then, I tried it and it was disgusting! I wanted so bad to like it, but it reminded me of reduced soy sauce. Very salty and ew, just ew. At least I have tried it!

A few of us went to the woolworths, the Australia grocery store, to get some stuff since we would be in remote areas for the next few days. Also, we are doing a secret santa on Christmas, so I needed to get a gift.

Once I packed everything up and closed out the room, I face-timed my family to just check-in and let them know I would be unavailable for a few days.

We boarded the coach and headed off to Litchfield National park and ultimately Kakadu National Park. It was going to be a long day on the coach.

It took us about 2 hours until we got to Litchfield National park to see the Termite mounds. We saw two different types. The first was the cathedral Termite mounds, which would remind you of a grand cathedral in europe. The second was the magnetic Termite mounds which looked like grave stones. The idea is that they face north and are very skinny, so they avoid the sun and keep the temperature moderate.

Next, we headed to Florence falls to see the waterfall. With all the recent rain from the wet season, we were unable to go in. However, we could see the falls from the lookout and it was amazing!

Once we got back on the coach, Mark, out tour guide, went over a lot of rules and such. The thing that stuck out most to me was the “life coach” talk about staying positive and living in the moment. It’s not something I will have a problem with at all. The “wow moments” are why I am here!

We got into Kakadu at around 6 pm and headed to our rooms. This accommodation was in one of the remote areas, so it had “boil water” meaning you couldn’t drink the tap water without boiling it first. The bugs were out of control! There was a lot of bug spray to be used!

After a long bus ride, I went for a jog with lots of bug spray on, took a quick shower, then headed to dinner. We had burumundi, which is a local fish. We were mostly tired from the long coach ride today, so we went to bed by 10 pm, knowing we had an early rise the next morning.

Swimming with Crocs

Day 1 of the official trip started with a museum about the history of Darwin, which is the largest city in the Northern Territory of Australia.

There are approximately 100,000 people in Darwin. It has been rebuilt twice, due to horrific events. The first was a bombing during WWII where the Japanese dropped more bombs on Darwin than on Pearl Harbor. The next was in the 70s, where a powerful cyclone raged through the town on Christmas Day, destroying almost everything in its path. At the museum there was a room where you could listen to a recordering of the sounds from the cyclone, which demonstrated just how devestating the wind was for this town.

There was also a stuffed crocodile in the museum, because, you know, it’s the Northern Territory. The crocs name was affectionately and irconically called Sweetheart. Sweetheart was a large male croc who would guard his Territory in the water by chomping on anything that came through, this included motors of boats. He was accidentally drowned with nets when a group was trying to catch him. A taxidermist stuffed him and while cleaning him out found some sea turtles, the motor of a boat and some pig bones in this stomach. Apparently it was world news when he was killed and the newspapers made wild accustations about how big he was and that he even ate people.

In the museum there was also quite a lot of art, both from aboriginals and Australians. One of my favorite pieces was of the lighthouses in Australia, of which there are many.

From there, we headed off to the main city to get a quick tour, since the town is quite small. I had already seen most of it from my exploring the day prior.

The coach then dropped us off at crocosorous cove, a museum on the infamous Northern Territory crocodiles. I had signed up to dive in with a croc and was super excited to see what it would be like.

Crocodiles have extremely powerful jaws, which have the power of a 2-ton truck, compared to a humans power of a sack of potatoes… Over their lifetime, they may crack teeth, but there is always one ready to replenish the broken one. In total, a crocodile can have over 3,000 teeth in their lifetime. When a crocodiles snaps to get food, there is an incredible snapping noise, just reminding everyone how powerful the jaw is and how you might not want to come up against one in the wild.

My diving time was later, so I got some Thai food at a local restaurant and read some more my Australian novel that my uncle gave me for Christmas called “The Rosie Project.”

A few of us headed in the cove again to get ready for our dive. Most of us weren’t too worried, especially after seeing multiple people go in and be okay. Basically, there was a huge acrylic cylinder which was on a electric pulley system which would slowly drop you into the water environment with the croc. The keepers would then tempt the croc with food to get it close to the enclosure. We had googled to see under water and everything.

I took my GoPro with me to get some footage from within. A few new friends agreed to take photos from outside the tank from up above and from below. We got some great shots…
I still haven’t edited the GoPro footage, but I’m excited to finally get some time to edit everything when I’m on the coach for a long drive.

We headed back to the hotel to wash off the crocodile water and get ready for a night out. Since Darwin is the largest town for the first leg of this trip through the outback, this was our one night to stay out and have fun.

We went to a local place called Monsoon, which was fitting since it was the wet season and always raining off and on. I got the house wine (cab sav, Australia!) and the steak. There are a few difference between US food and Australian food. For one, they call ketchup “tomato sauce” and an entree is an “appetizer.”

We all got to know each other a little better and talked about our flights over and our home countries. There are a lot of aussies on this trip, which is great because we can ask them questions about the country and their culture. But, it reminds me of how I haven’t seen all of the US yet. Just another reminder that I need to do a road trip across the country at some point soon!

Later on, once we had all had a few, there was a call to the dance floor to play a few games and dance. One game involved a carton from a case beer. Basically, everyone had to bend down and pick up the box with their teeth. However, after each round they would rip off a layer and make the top of the box closer to the ground. Basically you were squatting down to get the box. Two girls from our group won!

I was pretty tired, and left with another girl to get some sleep in my room. I’ve got another 25 days ahead of me, so I’m definitely not trying to kill myself early on.

Overall, day 1 was awesome and the group of 18 is great!

Made it to Darwin, Northern Territory!

Hopped on the last flight of the trip, leaving from Melbourne to Darwin yesterday evening. The flight was about 4 hours long and I was so tired I slept most of the trip, messing up my sleep schedule a little. So worth it though! Flying is exhausting.

We got to Darwin at around 10:40 pm and were greeted by warm rain and humid air. It was too dark to see much around, but I could tell the terrain was definitely more tropical here. The people were also dressed differently in Darwin than in Melbourne. Seemed less city like and more rural.

After picking up the luggage, I took a taxi to the hotel. Showering for the first time in over 24 hours and finally being alone was very welcomed. I got to bed a little after 12 am and quickly fell asleep. That was the first time I got the chance to lie down in a while, so the feeling was pretty darn relaxing.

I woke up this morning to 83 degree weather and a light rain. Got “Brekkie” at the hotel after checking out.

Now I’m just relaxing, updating the blog and reading my history book about Australia. This my current view…

I’ve got about 5 hours until I have to meet up with the tour group just up the street.

Planning to just walk around and take in the city. No better way to get to know a place than just walking the streets.

I can’t believe I’m officially starting this adventure tour tonight.

Melbourne = Mel-been

I am in Australia! Specifically, Melbourne, Australia, which as the title indicates is actually pronounced Mel-been.

The journey started with a flight from Dulles to LAX, where I ran into a few people wearing their JMU gear after the incredible win on Friday. We unseated the 5-time national champions of the NCAA FCS teams. GO DUKES!

I of course wore my JMU Alumni shirt and shamelessly yelled “GO DUKES” at others sporting their spirit too. When I got on the plane, the shirt helped strike up a conversation with a guy in the Marines in the row ahead of me who watched the game the night before with some friends. As fate would have it, two kids were seated next to me and the dad was seated in front, next to this Marine guy. The dad asked to have my seat and I said of course and sat next to this Marine guy for the flight. He was friendly and our conversation kept my mind off the anxiety I was feeling earlier, of starting the journey.

I think that the best part about traveling by yourself is how approachable you seem when you are not attached to others. I have found that I more easily make friends and meet really interesting people when I am by myself. This time was no exception. We even got dinner together before we parted ways.

The next flight was a doozy, 15 hours from LAX to Melbourne. There was a group of high-school aged kids who were visiting the US and now heading back home. They were mostly dressed in patterned harem pants and had unkempt hair. They were singing and just happy to go home. Their excitement made me excited for the energy in Australia. I settled in after boarding the flight and tried to begin to adjust myself to my new timezone by sleeping most of the flight after dinner.

We landed in Melbourne at around 10:30 am, with my third and finally flight leaving at 7:55 pm. Since there was time to spare, I decided to get a bus into the city to explore for a few hours.

Using my handy-dang Trip Advisor app, ​I choose to see the Queen Victoria Market, which was closed, since it was Monday. So it goes! I did get to walk around and see all the stalls, though most of them were closed up. Seems like it would be very lively when open.

I got lunch at a local spot with Spanish inspired dishes. I learned new words like “capsicum” for “bell peppers.” Also, when Australians are trying to put emphasis on something, like “that’s really hot” they’ll instead say “that hot as.” The “as” adds emphasis.

After lunch, I headed to the Central Mall which was HUGE! There was this interesting tower in one part, surrounded by glass. I didn’t figure out why this there! It was striking though.

I took this mall as an opportunity to buy sunglasses and just see what Australian fashion was like. There were so many stores I had never heard of and so many cool styles and designs I would never see in America. I love beautiful things, so this was still fun, even if I didn’t buy anything but cheap sunglasses.

It was getting close to the time that I needed to head back, so I walked about a mile back to the bus station and hopped on a bus back to the airport.

And, that would leave me here, waiting to board the final flight.

I honestly can’t wait to lie down in a bed and sleep until I wake up. I’ve been awake and either sitting or standing for a good while now. I don’t have to meet my travel group until 6:30 PM tomorrow, so not setting an alarm sounds like the perfect way to relax before the trip really begins. It’s the little things!

Well this escalated quickly…

I am now in Melbourne, Australia about to board my final flight to Darwin to join the travel group and all I can think is “well this escalated quickly…”

Not too long ago this was just an idea, then it was a fun research project, then it was real financially due to bookings and now it’s real because I am finally here…well almost.

Why am I doing this? So many, many, many reasons that it is hard to keep track. Honestly, it would be easier to have one reason. Like, this was an “eat, pray, love” journey to rediscover myself. Or, this was just a 20-something traveling with her free time and lack of responsibility. Or, just because I want to, so I am. It’s all of those and more. The exciting part is that I won’t know the reason until it’s over. That’s what makes it an adventure!

The days leading up to the trip were stressful because I was trying to be in two places at once. I was trying to get in Christmas parties and celebrating with my family. I was trying to finish up work projects and make sure everything would move on without me in the office. I was trying to finish my class and get through finals. And then there was packing for this trip and being excited about the adventures ahead in Australia. The anticipation and stress had me sick to my stomach, so much so that I was not eating.

No matter how many times I am in this situation, with too many things going on at once, I seem to always be overcome with the anticipation so much so that it stresses me out worrying that I am not prepared enough. Which I always find silly when I am sitting on the other side, having over-thought the details and worried about nothing. I can be too focused on the future that I forget to live in the moment. Too focused on the future that I’m not actually living my life.

When others gave me “best wishes” for this trip, they often conveyed that they wanted me to take this as an opportunity to just be and go with the flow. Don’t plan, don’t think, just be and do.

I’m going to try to honor these wishes, mostly because this is my wish for myself as well. As a 20-something in that awkward, just out of college, first job, first-just-about-everything, there is a lot of importance placed on planning for the future. One of my best friends affectionately calls this stage “b-dulting” as opposed to “a-dulting” because it still doesn’t feel like we are true adults with control and ownership over our lives.

This stage reminds me of that glorious period of time in life when you are just awkward and nothing more: middle school. When you’re going through so much change that you’re still clumsy and all over the place. That is what it feels like at this stage of life, too. Goodness, life is cyclical.

This trip however is not me “b-dulting,” this is me taking ownership over my life, asserting my dreams as possible and doing exactly what I want. It’s getting me outside of my comfy routine into a month of nothing but newness.

There will be uncomfortable moments along the way, I am sure of that. But, those are only learning moments, not stumbling blocks or regrets. There will be triumphs over fears and worries that will build my confidence and self-efficacy.

Not to mention, amazing experiences. Because this whole post is just me overthinking and anticipating the meaning of this trip…which I am not supposed to do.

So, here is the beginning to an adventure with less thinking and more doing! Promising, huh?!