Boxing Day in the Outback

It’s Boxing Day, whatever that means?! The aussies said that basically it is like the American Black Friday.

I got up earlier than everyone else to FaceTime with my family at 5:30 am my time and 2:30 pm their time. It was great to see them and wish them Merry Christmas. They told me about their plans for dinner with some of my family and thanked me for their presents. I expressed how thankful I was to them for letting me not be there during christmas, since I knew they missed me during this time when families get together. They were very supportive of my decision and even empowered me when I was having doubts. I couldn’t ask for a better family!

After hanging up with them, I saw a Snapchat that my sister had sent me of everyone opening the presents that I got them. It made me feel like I was there, which was a good feeling.

We got on the bus and started our next adventure to Alice Springs, which is literally in the middle of Australia. We’ve come so far from the very top of the Northern Territory to the middle of the country.

Our first stop of the day was to see the Devil’s Marbles, which is a rock formation in the middle of the outback. It got its name from some of the first pioneers of this area who called the area Devil’s Country because it was so hot. These round rocks in the middle of the outback made sense to be called the Devil’s Marbles.

The rocks are made of granite and due to weathering and such, are in round shapes. It is pretty amazing when you think about it, since the round shape was created by Mother Nature.

We got some cool pictures in the area.

We then got back on the coach and headed to a roadhouse about 20 minutes down the road. This was an extra special roadhouse, because it is the the UFO capital of Australia. It was basically alien themed and even had a fake alien in a tube in the back, because why not. I’m just not sure whether the owner actually believes in aliens sighting here, or this is just a marketing ploy.

We got back on the road for another 2 hours.

Though the outback is quite remote and we often don’t run into other cars in front of us, there are some different types of traffic jams here than there are in the city. First, since it is wet season we have seen quite a few flooded roads, which we then raise the coach to cross over. The next is wild animals hanging out in the middle of the road. We had to slow down a few times for wild cattle in the road. You know, your everyday traffic jam.

We had about 2 hours into we would make it to Alice Springs, where we would meet about 16 new group mates.

In between making it from lunch and Alice Springs, we stopped at the Tropic of Capricorn, which is the imaginary line that divides the tropical climate from the temperate climate. Basically, we were leaving the wet climate for a drier one. All of us were quite happy about that!

After sitting on a bus for so long, I needed a bit of activity. One of the aussies and I raced across the imaginary line from tropic to desert and didn’t feel a thing, haha.

We continued on our way to Alice Springs. A good friend of mine actually spent her Christmas here for 2 years to be able to be with her family, so I let her know I had made it to town.

We got to Alice Springs, met the new group, did a “ninja” check-in to our new accommodations and hopped back on the coach to head to our first sight here.

About 30 minutes away was Simpsons Gap, which is a gap in the massive ranges out here in Alice Springs. Rain weathered away basically a slice out of a hill. The rocks out here are much more red, since we are literally in the red-center of Australia.

We got out and started heading down to the gap. I met a new guy who is originally from the US, but is on a holiday-work visa in Australia. It is only open to Americans under 30, and gives you the chance to work in Australia, then maybe apply for citizenship. Good to know…right?! (Mom, don’t worry, yet!)

Simpsons Gap area was very windy. There was sand all around that was flying into us as we got closer. There was a pool at the bottom area. We got some cool pictures of the gap.

Our next stop was Anzac Hill, which has a memorial to Australian Vetrans. It also is a great overlook over all of Alice Springs.

From there, we headed to the reptile center to learn more about the types of reptiles that inhabit this area. Our speaker was very funny and quite crude, all in good fun. He was clearly excited about reptiles and loved his job.

As many of you may know, Australia is home to the most venomous snakes in the world. However, there are some upsides. First, if you find yourself close to one in Australia, they cannot sense heat, so its best to just stay still. Second, they have very tinh fangs, so you can wear long pants and not get bitten. Third, if you are bitten, you can rightly wrap the infected area with a bandage and expand your time alive by almost double. This is all in comparison to snakes from the rest of the world.

Though people are bitten in Australia by snakes, only 2 people die each year, on average. That is compared to a country like Shri Lanka, which has a similar amount of people, but 20,000 people die of snake bites each year.

I got to hold the well-trained python for a photo opt!

We also learned about lizards in the area. We got to hold two different types of lizards, one was a dragon lizard and one was a blue tongue lizard.

Here is me kissing the dragon lizard.

Here is me being a lizard momma to the blue tongue lizard.

We also got to look around and see some more crocs, which I am slowly realizing are so much more dangerous than I first thought. Crocs in Australia kill in order of country 1. Australians 2. Germans 3. Americans 4. Chinese. This speaker also made fun on Germans hard core, not just because they seem to have a lot of run ins with crocs. There was a small croc behind glass, who if you got to close would snap at you. I just thought about how I had swam with one earlier in the trip…

We got back into the coach and headed back to the hotel to rest before dinner. Plus, there was wifi, which made me happy!

At dinner, we got to know the new group mates better. They all seem great and they bring good energy to the group, who had been with each other for a while on the road. We needed some new blood!

It seems like there is an abnormal amount of rain in the red center right now and Uluru (also known as Ayer rock), our grand finale of sorts, might get cancelled. I’m hoping that in 2 days time the flooding clears and they reopen the park. Fingers crossed!

I got some laundry done, repacked everything and got ready for our swag camping tomorrow night. Goodnight everyone!

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.

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!