Monday, January 18, 2016

Odyssey in Oz: Photos from the Great Barrier Reef

Hooray! The time has come! I am finally able to see the photos from the Great Barrier Reef! The USB is in the shape of an adorable Nemo, and now I get to share the highlight with you! So, here we go!

Dela and I were so excited!

Here's the other boat that went out. Ours looks similar, although ours was a bit smaller. Notice how flat the water is. This is about an hour off shore, and yes, it stayed just as smooth the whole time! No big waves, no big swells, just big fish!

We jumped in from the back of the boat. One of the biologists was always ready with a camera to grab great pics for us so we could enjoy the snorkel without trying to snap pics at the same time! This was a major plus, and totally made buying the USB worth it!

You'll see a lot of greens, yellows, and beiges in the photos, and for the most part, the reef stayed within these colors. However, everywhere you looked, there were pops of bright blue, bright purple, pink, and red as well! Here's some coral that was purple!

And then, the best thing happened! This turtle swam by! I got to follow along above him for about 5 minutes, and Dela got even closer. I'm so excited that our camera guy got these cool pics of him! And yes, these are not stock photos--this is the actual turtle we saw!

We also saw Nemo! We saw a few spots with Nemos, but here's a good shot of him!

Again, I remind you, these are NOT stock photos!

Here is the Sea Cucumber that they brought up and let us touch. He was all weird and spiky and bouncy. eek!

This guy was also floating around...whadup.

Just in case you thought I was kidding about the whole being there thing, here's some proof! Dela and I snorkeling and diving down a bit!

 I was always so surprised how many fish there were all around us!

Giant clam!

All right, those are some highlights. There are tons more pics if anyone wants to see them! What a perfect day!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Fabulous Fiji: Day 21 and 22

The time has come. Past Liz proves her eternal wisdom once again and Present Liz sits on a beach in Fiji, basking in the glory of solitude. 

Don't get me wrong, traveling with Slou and Dela was absolutely fantastic, and my trip would not have been half as wonderful if it had not been for these wonderful friends of mine. But Past Liz had a sneaky suspicion that by the end of four weeks (yes, four weeks, not sure where my blog post title days went wrong), Traveling Liz would need some serious R&R. 

Dela and I arrived in Sydney from Uluru, dumped our bags at the hostel, and walked to Circular Quay to see the Bridge and Opera house lit up for the night. 

Along the way, we stopped for dinner at some place called Famous Harry's Live Seafood. Neither of us had seafood dishes, but we took a pic of these doomed crabs. #SorryGuys

We said our goodbyes that night since I would be catching a much earlier train than she for the airport. Dela is an amazing woman who is fully committed to her current purpose, and it's fantastic to catch up with her in person once or twice a year! Thanks for coming along, Dels!

I caught my early flight from Sydney to Nadi, Fiji, but it was not without trouble. Why families think Fiji is a great place to take their small children, I don't know, but literally all the kids in the world were on the flight. Literally. #NotLiterallyButThereWereAtLeastTwenty.

Everyone knows how much I loathe children, so this was my personal form of hell. It was bad enough that the kid behind me kicked my seat for four hours and couldn't turn down the damn volumn on his damn GameBoy (or whatever kids play on these days), but he and his brother kept SHOUTING to one another, despite sitting right next to one another. Their mother never intervened no matter how much shade I threw at her. The end of the flight brought a couple moments of turbulence, and you can imagine how all those tiny demons ripped out my soul with their screams. The worst. 

Luckily for all those lives, the plane did land, and I scrambled away from them faster than a wombat being chased by a crocodile. It was raining, but I didn't so much care because I was so relieved to had ditched most of the kids through customs. 

Here's the view from right before the clouds:

Holy lagoons. 

I found my shuttle, and finally, we were off! As we drove farther away from the airport, the rain lightened along with my spirits, and by the time we arrived, I was once again giddy. FIJI!!

I was greeted right away with a shell lei, a cold towelette, and a freshly sqeenzed glass of watermelon juice! 

My burra sat on the far end of the resort and was exactly as perfect as I'd hoped. There was nothing between me and the beach execpt a few feet of green lawn and warm air.

The shower was hot and clean and the bed was decorated with peach colored hibiscus flowers. 

As beautiful as the sunny beach was, I couldn't resist a hot shower--one that wasn't shared with a multitude of other people. Hosteling is not for the weak at heart, I tell ya. By the time I was done, the storm from the other end of the island was rolling in. I took myself on a quick beach walk and then sat down for dinner just as the rain began to fall. 

That night, I lounged on a porch chair and read while a local band played live music for me and the three other people at the resort. If the airplane was hell, then this is my reward in heaven. I fell asleep that night in a king size bed with the screen door open, listening to the waves crash gently, twenty feet from my head, the moon shining a faint glow from behind the clouds. 

In the mornig I woke up too early. The clouds hadn't burned off yet, so I took this as a sign to roll back over and catch some more sleep. By 9:30, the sun was shining! I'd missed breakfast, but I found an unopen package of biscuits (aka cookies, but since they call them biscuits then it's okay to eat them for breakfast--not that vernacular would have stopped me. Thus far, I've resisted opening one/all of the twelve packages of Tims Tams in my carry-on.) in my backpack, so I nom those on my way out the door. I grabbed a paddle and SUP board and paddle my way out to the bay. 

On the south end are some caves that I explore before stumbling upon a coral reef, swimming with fishies! It's no Great Barrier Reef, but I was SO excited to find it on my own! I let myself float gently and watched the fish swim around.

You gotta zoom in to see them. 

 I continued to float through the bay for the rest of the morning, living my own personal heaven on earth. 

Lunch at the hotel was delicious, and half way through my pizza, my head swam with pinacolada bliss. The staff dressed up these cute little boys (who weren't from the plane, so I deemed them OKAY for now) and taught them a war dance! 

Then the staff performed a song with Niko on the guitar. 

For the afternoon I took myself on a beach walk from one of of the bay to the other. It was exactly perfect, except for awkward hasseling from locals. I had the far end of the bay to myself, so I sat and read for a bit. 

I was lucky enough to grow up in Northern Michigan during the summers and so am spoiled enough to have "beautiful beaches" as a no-big-woop attitude. But what saltless, sharkless Big Blue lacks is life. Crabs, eels, brightly colored fishies. I keep forgetting that I'm at the ocean and thus continue to be surprised when the seashells move around on their own. I certainly love the beach and all it's wildlife, but I appreciate that the majority of my beaching is done void of creepy crawlers of the sea. 

And then, just like that, it was time to leave. I packed my bags, hopped in the shuttle, and my trip was officially over! I'll fly overnight to LA and land in the morning. My parents just happen to be in LA this weekend, so I'll see them and my siblings for a couple hours before my flight back to DFW. 

It's been an incredible four weeks, and I really appreciate all the comments and well wishes I got along the way from everyone following my blog and photos! I hope you each get to have your own adventure soon! 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Odyssey in Oz: Day 19 and 20: Uluru

Welcome to the Outback! The official Australian experience has arrived! Luckily, we were right and this is very much a dry heat! Flying in looks exactly the opposite of landing in Queenstown. Instead of dramatic mountain peaks full of lush, green forest, Ayers Rock is flat. With red dirt. (Oh! klahom--I mean, okay, right. Australia.)

The Outback is home to Uluru (known in English as "Ayers Rock)" and Kata Tjuta ("Many Heads"), two giant rock formations that sit out in the open and are sacred to the Aboriginal people. These are the sights to see, and there is literally nothing else. Except maybe an ellusive wild kangaroo. 

We arrived to our hostel--the cheap end of the resort--and settled in. The resort is a series of four hotels, the hostel, a campground, and a town square, complete with an IGA, post office, restaurant, and gift shop. There is one tour company that runs everything and one airport that services the whole settlement. It's a true monopoly and they can get away with charging outrageous prices for each tour. Even just hopping a shuttle to be let off in the national park without a tour guide for the day costs $60! Talk about expoiting tourists! Sheesh...

For the afternoon/evening, we decided to hike into Walpa Gorge, a deep wedge between two of the rocks that form Kata Tjuta. Our shuttle driver gave us an hour to hike which was fairly accurate. The rocky path leads to a lookout in the center of the gorge. 

The rock formations are due to layers and layers of dirt and sediment settling on the ocean floor millions of years ago. As the sea levels dropped, we were left with these giant rocks. The iron from the sand dusts it, giving it its iconic red coloring. The black streaks are algae stains from where the water runs down after a storm. 

We enjoyed our hike--especially because we were virtually alone, except for the flies! So many flies! Wearing these fly nets was not just a fashionable accessorizinf choice, it was an absolute neccessity for keeping Grumpy Liz at bay.

After the hike, our shuttle took us to a couple more viewing areas to see Kata Tjuta as a whole. The land here is a national park, so there are designated viewing areas only. 

But for realz, these fly nets are awesome. 

The second rock formation is the most famous--Uluru. We attempted to watch sunset fall over it, but a storm rolled in and instead gave us a unique glimpse of rain in the desert! We could even see the waterfalls that ran down, which was pretty cool. 

Due to the rain, we returned to our hostel a bit early and enjoyed an authentic Aussie BBQ! At the choose-your-own-meat station, I grabbed a slab of steak and a skewer of kangaroo to grill on the barbie. I was a bit weary of trying kangaroo, but let me tell you what--YUM! It's a red meat, a bit leaner than beef and really delicious! I was pleasently surprised!

(Ever wonder how restaurants get away with charging more if they make you cook it yourself? As of this day hadn't already cost me $200, now I'm spending $30 to grill my own meat. Outrageous. At least it was delicious). 

Since we'd been up since 4am, we crashed early and set our alarm for my last true adventure day of the trip!

At 4am once again, we arose and caught our bus to Uluru to watch the sunrise. Apparently watching the sun rise and set over these rocks is the thing to do out here. Hundreds of tourists were served coffee, tea, and biscuits and sat around watching the sunrise, which, to be honest, was quite lovely. The red rock reflects the sun differently at each point of the morning, so the rock changes colors as the sun climbs higher and higher.

Once the sun was up, Dela and I joined about twenty people for a base walk. The base walk is a 12 kilometer/one billion mile walk around the base of Uluru. Our guide told us aboriginal stories and described the geology during the walk, so it was a really cool way to hear about the culture and see the rock up close. There are even several sections where we were not allowed to take photographs, because the formations were sacred to the aboriginal people and using a camera might dislodge the spirit from that formation. 

(For anyone wondering, no, we did not climb it. A#1: because it was nearly 36 degrees C out there, and B#2: the aboriginals ask that we not, and I'm thinking respecting their wishes is the right thing to do.)

After nearly five hours and a trillion steps (my fitbit set to 15,000 steps buzzed about half way around), we completed the walk! 

We rewarded ourselves with a dip in the pool and a nap in the AC for the afternoon. 

By early evening we were again on a bus heading back to Uluru for the sunset once more. This time, we were served wine and noms and given small fold-out chairs. Due to another storm in the west, we didn't get much color variation in the rock, but it was still an entirely pleasent evening. 

Back at the hostel we indulged in another BBQ and spent some time talking to a couple local cops who were off duty and looking to chat up some tourists. They did not arrest us, so for now, all continues to be well. 

I'm really glad I've ended my Australian adventures in Uluru, as it is such an iconic piece of true Australia. Meeting some local Aboriginals, seeing their land, hearing their stories--the country really comes alive as my understanding of what it's like to live out here  grows. 

Now, it's off to Sydney for one night to catch my flight to Fiji!