Scuba Diving the Great Barrier Reef and Driving Down the Coast

The Great Barrier Reef

Dreams, every so often, do come true.  I had been dreaming of diving the Great Barrier Reef for over 10 years and was close to fulfilling it in 2008, if it weren’t for “the end of a 7-year drought,” insane storms flooding highways and essentially shutting down the coast.  The weather wasn’t much better this time but as we soon learned on the boat, “if it’s raining, the best place to be is underwater.”

We boarded the Kangaroo Express through the Cairns Dive Center, bidding farewell to our ladies for the night and promising to behave.  We’d see them the following day after all and Claire needed to finish up some pool work before getting into the open water.  The ride out was nothing short of terrifying, not so much for our lives, but for the sheer embarrassment of potentially being “that guy” who was hurling over the side of the boat.  Eyes trained solely for the horizon, we mustered up the strength to keep our breakfast down and finally, the 90-minute ride ended with us boarding the much more stable Kangaroo Express, our home for the next 3 days.

After some safety briefings and getting checked into our rooms, and trying to sneak our way into the 11:00 dive, we learned we’d be spending our time between two dive areas:  Mantaray Caye and East Timor on Moore Reef.  Our first dive finally arrived and was essentially a refresher course and ultimately a way for divemaster Joel to gauge our skill

Giant Clam

level.  I guess he felt comfortable, because the 2nd dive was true freedom.  On the first dive we saw a giant clam that was breathtaking and would be a regular sighting through the rest of our time.  After the second briefing, we were allowed to go out on our own, exploring the massive reef system and bommies, scouting three turtles, anemones and tons of tropical fish.  At first, it was scary being on our own but soon found our comfort zone and enjoyed each minute underwater.  This would be our final dive of the day and we settled nicely into the buffet dinner, matched with goon we snuck on board, and got busy playing cribbage.  We met a group of Americans and soon found out they knew how to play Euchre, and the next 2 days were spent perfecting our skills between dives.

The next day was busy, with 4 total dives.  We started early and got on the 6:00am dive and then the 8:00 dive with a delicious breakfast in between.  We probably even snuck in a game of cribbage, too.  The highlight was the Continue reading “Scuba Diving the Great Barrier Reef and Driving Down the Coast”

Nepal to Australia: It’s Time For Friends

Leaving Nepal was not an easy thing to do.  After all, we had volunteered with the Nepal Volunteers Council, Trekked the Annapurna Circuit, Kayaked Lake Phewa and caught up on lost time in Pokhara, Launched the OnlyABuck: Notebooks for Nepal Campaign, stretched, meditated and cleansed at Sadhana Yoga Ashram, and Cared for Elephants in Chitwan.  Considering our dream list going in, we had more than accomplished our goals but knew deep down we would be returning.  OnlyaBuck™: Free Health Clinic, anyone?  (It’s OnlyaBuck™ now by the way…long story.)

Hong Kong Sickboy

Our intention was to fly from Kathmandu to Hong Kong and spend a few days with my old friend from high school (and Penn State), Chi Tsang.  Arriving in Hong Kong, we were both ill and completely wiped from, well, travel we guess.  We just needed  rest and weren’t in top form.  We emailed Chi and broke the bad news, switched our flight to Sydney (for free, thanks OneWorld!) and after 40 hours of travel, landed in Australia’s beautiful city that we had left behind in 2008.  This time, however, we had some friends from San Francisco waiting, Chris Piro and Claire Fabricante, and were hell bent on arriving early, and giving them a surprise.  Yes, I am my father’s son.

Checking into our hostel, we knocked on Chris and Claire’s door and as expected, they were out and about exploring.  This gave us the perfect opportunity to dive head first into our pillows, get caught up on some

Sydney Food Fest Under Jack O'Randa Trees

quality sleep and try to shake the bug.  Nine hours later, we felt great, left a note for Chris and Claire to meet us at the Sydney Food Festival in nearby Hyde Park and most importantly, to bring wine.

The food festival was hopping, and would ultimately begin our foray into the food scene of Australia.  From $2 salmon and avocado sushi rolls to $20 all you can eat seafood smorgasbords, we arrived with one mission in Australia:  eat what we missed most and eat well.  And boy, we were hungry!  We opted for steamed duck and BBQ pork buns and roasted chicken and sage pot stickers.  Laughing at ourselves for selecting Asian as our first meal after having just left Asia, we sprawled out, enjoyed the meal and cracked into some goon, Oceania’s word for bagged wine.  The food was delicious, albeit overpriced, but we’ve become experts in finding value on any menu worldwide.  And we realized, just like the USA, Asian food IS part of the Australian food culture.  Unless you’re from Europe, Asia, or Africa, we are all just immigrants after all, right?

Continue reading “Nepal to Australia: It’s Time For Friends”

The West Coast (Perth, Freo and Rottnest Island)

Perth

Hailed as the most isolated city in the world, Perth is about a 5 hour flight from the East Coast of Australia.  If you look at a map of Perth, to the west is a huge stretch of the Indian Ocean until Africa and to the East is the forboding and nearly uninhabitable Australian Outback.  Not a likely place to build a city, but it is the capital of Western Australia and an amazing city at that.  Nestled on the Swan River, the city is green, clean and it’s inhabitants are extremely friendly.  Buses around the city are free, enticing people to use the public transportation system meanwhile saving the environment.  They use it; all of them.  Huge parks surround and intertwine the downtown area and the harbor maintains the world’s largest musical instrument, the Swan Bells

Once we arrived at the airport, on the way to the bus station a departing passenger handed me his ticket that allowed me to ride the public transport system for the rest of the day.  We made it to the train station, and decided to head south towards Fremantle, commonly known as Freo. 

Fremantle 

After we came up empty handed for some beds, Erin finally found two while I watched the bags at an Irish Pub where I discovered one of my new favorite beers, Kilkenny (no pun intended Mom.)  Checked in and famished we walked around the small port city and decided on some hiro’s (gyro’s.)  

Recently, we became aware of our need for Visa’s for parts of our upcoming trip and we managed to spend the rest of the day researching our entry into China, the countries of SE Asia, and India.  Upon discovering that China charges U.S. citizens $155 each for a visa (other countries pay $40) and realizing we only planned to spend a week and a half total between Beijing and Hong Kong, we decided to scrap China altogether, both for budgetary concerns and principle.  We changed our flight from Tokyo to go directly into Bangkok, giving us additional time in SE Asia, where we will be meeting with Erin’s brother and mom, and allowing us some more flexibility for the rest of the trip so we can meet with my parents in the Netherlands and Spain.  Thanks China!  We decided the next morning we would go to the Indian Consulate in West Perth to secure our visa. 

Back to Perth

Departing the train in West Perth the next morning, we soon became lost as my compass had fallen off of my watch out of it’s encasement.  It’s strange that that had happened because just prior to this, I was thinking that if I could only bring one thing on this trip, the compass would win.  We asked a lady for directions to the Consulate with only 15 minutes until they closed and realizing we wouldn’t make it she offered us a ride with her nanny and newborn baby.  An amazing gesture which further solidified Perth in the record books for friendliest people.  We arrived at the doorstep with 5 minutes to spare and rushed upstairs only to find that they would have to keep our passports while processing the visa’s.  This wouldn’t work since we were leaving for Tokyo in 3 days.  Oh well, we’ll get what we need in Bangkok. 

We had some lunch at a cheap sandwich cafe and caught a free bus around the city to explore.  We walked around for a few hours and then over to King’s Park which offer’s amazing views of the city.  Not feeling well from the mayo on the sandwich, and the dry air, we made our way back to Freo for another night.  The next morning we were on the 7:30 ferry to Rottnest Island.

Rottnest Island

Originally discarded as a Rat’s Nest (hence the name) by it’s Dutch founder’s, Rottnest Island is now a short 30 minute ferry ride from Perth.  Once people learned that the small furry animals that inhabited it were not rats and in fact Quokka’s, a small marsupial only found on the island, they quickly turned the island into a destination not to be missed while on the West Coast.  And thank goodness they did. 

Once we docked and delivered our bags to the tourist center where they would be delivered to our campsite, we rented some bicycles and started pedaling to the nearest beach for some snorkelling.  Their are no cars on the island (besides two earth-friendly buses which use natural gas, a truck to deliver and pick up baggage, and a few others to keep the island running) and the roads around the island amount to 24km in distance in circumference.  The island is home to sixty-three beaches, one ranked Australia’s best, which gives you a pretty good chance of scoring your own private caribbean-blue watered, white-sand beach.  We beach-hopped all day and I received my first jellyfish sting of my life (at least that I can remember) which was extremely unpleasant.  Also, we collected some shells which will be necklaces, earrings and bracelets before long and after a full day, built up quite the thirst, only to be quenched by the almighty beer at the end of the day coupled with some grilled sausages.   

The next morning (today), we rode to one of the lighthouses for a nice view expecting to climb to the top only to discover it is closed to the general public.  “Oh well, back to the beach” is our motto so we rode another 6km to Pinky Beach where we spent the rest of the day sunbathing, swimming and snorkelling before our ferry departed in the early afternoon. 

Farewell Australia 

Our flight to Tokyo leaves at 11:30 this evening and I couldn’t have thought of a better way to finalize our month in Australia.  Yet again, I’m still left with the feeling that I haven’t spent enough time here and there is so much more to see.  Due to weather we were unable to sail the Whitsunday Islands and scuba dive the Great Barrier Reef.  The country is immense and I’d still like to see Tasmania, Darwin, more of Cairns, Melbourne, Adelaide, Uluru and the Outback.  Not to mention what some experts say is the possible origin of man’s life, the stromatolites of Shark Bay. Of course, I’ll have to wait until next time…

Off to Tokyo!  🙂

P.s. Flash drive adapter is missing or lost so pictures will be uploaded shortly!