KETCHUP : There are lots of things we're trying to get used to, such as the fact that no one knows what ketchup is. It's called tomato sauce here, and Heinz is the only brand that uses the word "ketchup". The real tomato sauce, which you would use on pizza or spaghetti, still goes by it's correct name. Australia truly is a land flowing with tomato sauce.
PIZZA: It's really hard to get a pepperoni pizza here. They have all these really weird pizzas, many of which have egg. I don't know what an egg pizza would taste like, but I think egg is one of those things that just doesn't belong on a pizza; like Pineapple. The closest thing I've seen to a pepperoni pizza, is something called an "American style pizza", which has "hot salami" on it, which I assume is basically pepperoni. Some of the strange pizzas I've tried so far are pretty good, but pepperoni, thou shalt be sorely missed.
TOILETS: Australian Toilets KICK ASS!! Literally, if you remain seated while flushing. I must say that they put American toilets to shame. No second flushes for these babies! After experiencing the indoor plumbing, I can hardly wait to see what the water parks are like.
CROSS WALKS: You know the buttons that you push at cross walks to get across the street? The ones that you have to push three times? Well here they give off an alien laser like noise when the light changes and a loud, repetitive BLOOP until the light changes back. The first time I used it I thought we were under attack or something. Fortunately, first contact may still possibly be a peaceful encounter. Come space beings! We have much to learn from one another!
ROUNDABOUTS: Aside from being on the wrong side of the road, driving here is a little easier in terms of remembering who has the right of way. In the states, whenever I get to a four-way intersection, I can never remember who gets to go where, and I always just end up letting the other cars go ahead of me. I'm not driving here at all, but I almost wish I were because there are very few intersections. Instead there are these circular areas of road in the middle of where there would otherwise be a two, three, or four-way intersection. They're a little easier to deal with because if you miss your turn off, you can continue around the circuit as many times as it takes before you get disoriented and dizzy, and crash into the other cars who you have utterly pissed off by not letting them enter the roundabout.
SPINIFEX: Now that I think about it, someone really should have warned me about the sharp, barbed plant known as Spinifex. I certainly would have worn shoes more often. I'm not particularly fond of shoes and I go barefoot as often as I can, and that's how I ended up with 50,000 little barbed blades of grass in my feet. I still don't know why, after setting foot in the Spinifex and feeling the sharp excruciating pain of hundreds of tiny swords in the soles of my feet, I continued to walk through the stuff. I walked roughly ten feet through the Spinifex; or rather I walked one foot and madly hopped the other nine feet, screaming profanities the whole way. I guess it was good of me to teach the rest of the family a valuable lesson, that lesson being: Always have a camera ready.
VEGEMITE: All I can say about Vegemite is that it must be the strongest tasting substance in the world that can still be legally classified as a food item. Vegemite is a brown chocolate color, has the consistency of peanut butter, and is used as a spread for toast and crackers. The jar says that it's a concentrated yeast extract, and that it's one of the world's richest known sources of vitamin B. I am convinced that it must be an acquired taste because all the Aussies love it, and they particularly enjoy giving it to tourists and watching the expressions on their faces as they try to choke the stuff down. Before I wrote this, I had a few crackers with some Vegemite on them so I could accurately describe it, and now I have to say the stuff is growing on me. I think I'll have some more.
SAMPLING THE WILDLIFE: The other night (yeah, I know. The detail of these ramblings is incredible, isn't it?) we had dinner at a place called "The Outback Pioneer Barbeque" or some other equally alluring title. The place was great. All the food was raw, and they let you cook it yourself on these big BBQ's. Here, for your benefit (or possibly, entertainment) are my attempts at becoming a food critic. We shall see if it is my calling in life. It's good work if you can get it.
EMU SAUSAGES: They plump when you cook 'em. These were definitely the tastiest items on our order, possible because they were the only ones with any seasoning added beforehand. I thought they were also a good deal better than some of the less exotic sausages I've sampled, although that's possibly because I had no idea what was in the other ones. They were also the only item on our order that I vaguely knew how to cook. Next time I want to order a drumstick.
KANGAROO: It's what's for dinner. This meat they gave to us in the form of a skewer. It cooked well and had a wonderful texture. It was also very tender. There were no added spices or anything and the taste, although a little bland until dipped in tomato sauce (Ketchup) or BBQ sauce, was pleasant and preferable to beef. Roos are also a good deal cuter and furrier than cattle, but I don't think that's necessarily a plus in a burger.
CROCODILE: The other white meat. This was easily the most exotic of our order. It too, was served on a skewer, but was a good deal harder to cook than the Emu or Kangaroo. I'm willing to bet there are very few people in the world who know the proper way to cook a croc, and none of them are in my immediate family. Eventually we decided it was done, (which it probably was not, but I've never heard any accounts of Salmonella or Ecoli infecting crocodile meat, nor do I believe there is such a thing as mad croc disease.) it was still rather tough, but actually not that bad. It was similar to pork in flavor, although a bit milder and less sweet. Those crocs better watch out now that I've had a taste of their flesh.
SUPER MARKETS: I have two major qualms with the Australian super market industry.
Number One: The security in these places is just ridiculous. They have airlock-style gates that you have to go through just to get in, and you absolutely have to go through a check out isle to get back out. And at the end of every check out isle, they have those gates that beep at you whether you're stealing something or not, and sometimes even when there's no one anywhere near them. Australia needs to relax its death-grip on shoplifters. Maybe America just doesn't care as much, or maybe it's that American criminals set their sights a little higher and actually take the time to get a gun and go right for the cash register. If you Australian criminals took a little extra time and effort to plan a proper hit, rather than being forced to risk the scary beeping gates for a box of Pop Tarts, you could buy all the freakin Pop Tarts you can eat! If anyone takes my advice, do me a favor and shoot those stupid beeping gates on your way out. Thank you.
Number Two: If you compare the size of the average package of any given food item in an Australian store, to the size of the average package of the same food item in an American store, the Australian store's gates will all beep at you in unison for touching the merchandise. Aside from this, you'll notice that the Australian packages are a good deal smaller and generally have less food inside. Maybe we're just used to shopping at places like Costco and Sam's Club where all the items are gigantic and require a forklift to remove them from the store, but as a member of a family of five I can tell you that more often then not, even a Costco bag of chips doesn't survive the ride home.
ANOTHER WORD ON TOILETS: Another odd thing about the public toilets is that on more than one occasion, the toilet seats have been missing and presumed stolen. What do the people who steal these toilet seats do with them? Hang them on their walls? Is there some huge demand for Australian black market toilet seats? Or are mad scientists trying to clone Aussies from their residual bum tissue? I see it as yet another example of Australian crooks failing to set their sights high enough. They probably steal the urinal cakes too.
COLD CEREAL: A lot of the cold cereals that we have come to know and love have different names down here. Frosted Flakes are called Frosties, Rice Krispies are Rice Bubbles, Raisin Bran is Sultana Bran, Froot Loops are still Froot Loops, but Toucan Sam is drawn differently, and as far as I can tell, there are no Lucky Charms! NOOOOO! We will try to make due without the little colored marshmallows, as hard as it may be. But now you have to wonder, do they have Lucky Charms in Ireland?
SPIDERS: I went hiking up in the bush this morning because our ultralight guy, Michael Coates, said there were lots of koalas back there. I didn't see any, but there were some huge spiders, scared the crap out of me every time I walked into a web. I'll take a grizzly bear to these little suckers you don't even see till they bite you any day.
CHRISTMAS: Before I say anything here I would just like to make it perfectly clear that I am no Grinch and I like Christmas as much as the next bloke, but I think this time the Whos down in Whoville have begun to serve the roast beast long before anyone's had the chance to work up the appetite. What I mean by this, if you haven't already figured it out, is that Australia, lacking a Thanksgiving to buffer the effects of the Christmas spirit, has already begun to celebrate the season to be jolly; and it's only the 3rd of November. I will admit that it was quite a celebration: lights, elves, carolers, neon Santa's, fireworks being fired off the roofs of two adjacent buildings as if they were at war, etc. All things considered it was rather spectacular, I'm just not going to be the one to write the extra 41 verses to "The Twelve Days of Christmas".
MT. KOSCIUSZKO: Kosciuszko is the highest peak in Australia, which isn't really saying much because as continents go, Australia is very flat. Kosciuszko is simply a pimple on the otherwise unblemished face of the outback. But as with all blemishes, (except mine) this one adds a good deal of distinction and is also a huge contrast to the flat outback. At 2,228 meters, Kosciuszko is a fairly respectable mountain, except for the fact that you can drive most of the way up and once you do start walking it's fairly level and the trail is wide enough to comfortable accommodate the entire cast of "Friends" walking shoulder to shoulder. Not the most unforgiving terrain I've ever traversed, but it was a rather long hike, and the hailstorms didn't help much, but we did reach the summit of the highest mountain in Australia. One continent down...
NUDE BEACHES: I've been to a few beaches since we got here. One in particular had a sign declaring that the stretch of beach South of the sign was "Clothes Optional". You can imagine my jubilation as I took off jogging in that direction. The beach was relatively deserted, as it was winter and I saw very little, so I went back the next day. I decided to get naked myself this time, and let me tell you, it's really fun! It feels so free and you don't even feel self-conscience. Mike James is the only one who gets pictures though, sorry.
NUDE BEACHER PART 2: Four months later, we were back at the nude beach. I wanted to get tan, and I needed to do it fast. With only two weeks left in Oz, the opportunity was unlikely to arise again. I had hopes that the increase of melanin in my skin would help me survive that much longer in the bleak, sunless climate of mid-winter Juneau. Ok, so that's a load of horse dung. I wanted to be tan, pure and simple. And while in that mindset, I foolishly neglected to wear enough sunscreen. If you only remember one thing in your life, remember to wear TONS of sunscreen if you plan on sunbathing nude. There are about three things worse than a full-body sunburn. One of those things is nuclear war. I spent the next two days smothered in aloe vera and drifting in and out of a Tylenol induced trance. So remember: wear sunscreen, brush your teeth, don't run with scissors, yadda yadda yadda, The End.
STRANDED: "Bloody thing!" Cursed the tall, black-bearded Australian as he dropped my meat pie on the floor, angrily picking it up and throwing it in the trash before getting me a new one. This certainly wasn't the most elegant Roadhouse I had ever been to, but after the two-mile walk from the airfield, the food and air conditioning were more than welcome, despite the butterfingered service. We were on our second month of our six -month circumnavigation of Australia in a little yellow ultralight. We did have a motor home containing my mother and two younger brothers that we lived in, and it was for them that we now waited. After taking off out of Philips Creek earlier that day, my father asked me from the pilot seat if I saw the motor home anywhere.
I replied with "Yes, but they're headed the wrong way."
We didn't have enough gas to go chasing them, so after a few failed attempts to hail them on the radio, we gave up and went on to Winganup. It wasn't a particularly long leg, so we had planned to push on for the Mataranka thermal pools after lunch. Sometimes I wonder what the point of planning is since things so rarely go according to them. So there we were: stranded at a roadhouse in the middle of the Australian outback, armed only with a meat pie and the knowledge that our ground crew could be halfway to Alice Springs by now.
"She said she was going to do this." My dad mumbled, interrupting my thoughts. "She said: 'I go south right?' 'No,' I kept telling her, 'you want to go north, back through the three-ways. Head for Darwin.' But it just wasn't sinking in. How do you get lost on the only road for miles?" I went back to my thoughts. He had been alternating between trying to find the logic of my mother's actions and swearing at no one in particular ever since we had landed. I had given up looking for the logic in my mother's actions years ago and my dad was doing more than enough swearing for the both of us, so I was left in quiet contemplation.
"Bloody thing!" Cursed Black Beard from in front of the drink refrigeration unit as a bottle of coke got away from him and thudded to the floor. You sure do meet some interesting characters in the outback. Eventually we went outside to ensure the motor home didn't drive right past us, the last thing we needed today was another botched rendezvous. The heat had lessened in its intensity since our walk into town, but it was still a blast in the face after being in an air-conditioned room. We found a bench in the shade and I, at least, tried to relax. My father continued to debate with himself the probability of getting lost on a two-way road with the aid of a fully functional GPS. I would have liked to say I was constructive during this time, but in fact I spent most of my time watching a beer can get pushed down the road by the wind. It clinked along down the road in our direction, and swerved out of the way just in time to avoid getting run down by a police truck. The truck reminded us that there was a police station not far from where we were sitting, and we decided to go over to see if anyone reported a big, white motor home having any sort of trouble. Nothing. As we walked back to our posts wondering if this lack of information was bad or good, I once again let my mind wander. It beat the alternative of listening to my father grumble about my mother's navigation skills. The one thing I've decided about this trip is, if nothing else, the rest of my life is going to be pretty boring because I'm never going to be able to top this!
THE END IS THE BEGINNING IS THE END IT WAS OVER: After five months of the most intensely gratifying journey of my life to date, it was over. No more sun, no more kangaroos, no more extremely deadly jellyfish, no more trying to explain the concept of a snow day to a bewildered Australian child... I felt more at home there, more welcome, than I have anywhere else I've been to. And as I sit here in the high school library, mildly aware of the fact that I haven't seen the sun in two weeks, I think: "No wonder I got sunburned!"
MY WEEKEND WITH THE AUSSIES: (Left to Right) Sandi, Me, Shontelle, and Sarah
I had been in Australia barely nine days, and I had already taken a temporary leave of absence while the ultralight was being tested. My brothers were at each other's throats (and will be till the end of time) and I needed to get away from them and my parents for a while. It was more then convenient that I had been invited to spend a weekend with Shontelle, a sixteen-year-old Australian girl that I had met on the Internet about a year ago. Fortunately, she was who she said she was, and not some crazy old man. But I'm getting ahead of myself, so I'll start at the beginning... Unfortunately, I don't remember the beginning very well, so I'll just skip over it and go on to somewhere in the middle, right before I arrived at her house. I had talked on the phone for three hours with Shontelle two nights before, and we had worked out a rough plan for the coming weekend. So on Friday, armed only with a desire to meet Shontelle, an extreme need to get away from my family, and a vague idea of where I was suppose to go. We actually found the house very easily. The directions seemed to fall into place as we searched. Sungie managed to spot her street in time for us to get onto it. We drove up to a fairly big, yellow brick house with a dark green horse float out front. Ok the house looks fine, so far so good.
I couldn't tell from my position on the curb where the front door was suppose to be, so I slowly made my way up the grass lined driveway in hopes that it would make itself apparent to me. It didn't, and to this day I'm not sure which door was meant to be the front. There was a door on either side of the house, but which do I knock at? Once again, things work themselves out. Shontelle was leaning on the inside of a green, wire gate as I walked up. We greeted each other rather awkwardly and I discovered that she was actually waiting for her friend Sarah, who walked up right behind me. A little while later, Sandi, another of Shontelle's friends showed up. Already I was outnumbered.
My parents went in to talk to Shontelle's parents and we showed them the newspaper article about us that had appeared just that day. After a while, Shontelle, Sarah, Sandi, and I departed the company of the parental figures and headed down the outdoor staircase to Shontelle's room, although it seemed more like a small apartment. I was then presented with a very large, cuddly, stuffed kangaroo with a Joey in the pouch. We just hung out for a while until my parents and brothers left. I bid them farewell and good riddance. We then went out to a church where they were having a sausage roast, and later a play. The sausages were good and I met lots of cool Australians and one cool American from Washington State. The play was pretty good too, and the music (did I mention there was music?) was rockin. If my church was like this I'd go more often! After that, we hung around for a while and chatted about various Australian and American things. The next morning I was served a genuine Australian breakfast consisting of Wheatbix and Milo. It was kind of like Shredded Wheat and hot chocolate; interesting, but not bad. After that, we watched some Australian Saturday morning TV, yet another cultural experience.
Shontelle had just purchased a new horse, so we headed out to where the horse was, to take it to where it was going to be. (I had very little sense of direction at this time, so I apologize for having no idea where I was at any given time.) The horse was a pleasant little mare named Gem, and as far as I could tell, she did just about everything she was supposed to do. Up to this point I had had very little experience with horses, (none) and I tried my best to watch and maybe learn a little in the process. I'll be a cowboy yet. I already have the hat.
That afternoon was spent out on the town with Shontelle and Sarah. We went to a mall, or shopping center I should say, and then we went to the bowling alley to wrestle crocodiles. They were feisty little buggers, but I took care of them, no sweat. Ok, Shontelle and Sarah helped a little, and ok they were little plastic crocodiles that popped out of holes so you could hit them with a hammer, but they looked mean and they talked. I think I actually hit one of them to hard and he broke, because after that, no matter how many times I hit him, he kept right on coming. He's like the villain in "The World Is Not Enough" who feels no pain. Despite this super-human croc, we managed to rake in a pretty good number of tickets, which we exchanged for cheap plastic prizes. I got one of those little suction cup things that you throw at glass, and it sticks maybe 4% of the time. We then proceeded to walk back to Shontelle's house, on the way stopping occasionally to throw my new toy at various cars and store windows. When we got back, we had a wonderful meal of steak, sausages, and garlic bread. Towards the end of the meal, we all fell into an unprovoked fit of laughter. I can't remember what we were laughing at, nor am I certain I knew at the time, and I challenge anyone who was there to tell me what it was about.
Since we had decided earlier in the evening not to go see a movie, we thought we might as well rent one instead. After a good deal on indecisive time was spent in the video store, we finally got Mystery Science Theater 3000, The Movie. I was the only one in the party who had heard of Mystery Science Theater 3000, and in fact I had seen this movie twice. For those of you unfortunate enough to live in another country or too poor to get cable, Mystery Science Theater 3000 was this very funny show in which a man and a bunch of robots are forced to watch really bad movies, which they mock endlessly. All in all, it makes for good entertainment. Shontelle got a huge kick out of it like I knew she would, and I feel somewhat enlightened having brought this tasteless American humor to those less fortunate.
The next morning my parents came by to take Shontelle, Sandi, Sarah, and myself to DreamWorld. We all piled in the motor home and set off. Once we got there, we immediately bought tickets, got in, and headed for the Wipeout. Shontelle, being to chicken to go on the ride, even though she had been on it before, chose to wait on the ground with my mother. We got her to go on later in the day, but she kept her eyes closed the whole time except for a brief period long enough for my dad to take a picture. I would also like to take this time to apologize to Sarah about her being absent from the photo below. My father, the photographer, feels very bad about not getting you in the picture, and he keeps coming up with all these lame excuses about why he miffed the shot. So let it be known that the elbow on the left hand side of the picture belongs to Sarah.
It was a really fun theme park, boasting the Tower of Terror, the fastest, highest ride in the world. I can confirm that the ride was both very high and very fast, but one main effect of that much G force is it leaves you somewhat speechless. I found it kind of ironic how one of the only rides we could get Shontelle to go on was defiantly the most stomach churning. The Enterprise, while appearing somewhat mild tempered on the outside, actually makes you want to, to put it bluntly, "Puke all over the place." After three rounds on the Enterprise, it was obviously time for lollies (candy). Australian candy isn't that much different from American candy, except for what it's called. I bought some cotton candy, which I was informed was called "Fairy Floss". I like this name much more than "Cotton Candy". I prefer the prospect of eating the dental hygiene products of Tinkerbell, to a sweeter version of the stuff they make underwear out of. After our sugar-fest, it was time to leave. We escorted the girls to a bus that would take them to the train station, where they would catch a train (duh) home. We said our farewells and I promised to stop by again in November when we come back through the area. It has been a week between my writing this and the beginning of my bold adventure to better understand Australian culture, and as I sit here in this spider infested pilots lounge at an airstrip in Noosa Heads, I can't help but wonder what the folks back in Redcliffe are doing now. So to my friend and gracious hostess Shontelle, her very tolerant parents John and Francine, and my new found friends Sandi and Sarah, and everybody else in Redcliffe, thanks for everything.