Sunday, December 23, 2007

Down under and back

I’m back in Taji now, ready to serve out the rest of my time. If the way I write the previous sentence raises any eyebrows, it was not by accident or a poor choice of words. Regardless, my 16-day R&R left me recharged and ready to tackle my 4 remaining months here. I got word that my unit is leaving Taji at the end of April, so I expect to return to the U.S. in early May.

I had such a good time on the second half of my Australian trip that it’s difficult to write about it without feeling a bit of premature nostalgia. On this blog, I think I left off at the part of my trip when I was about to go SCUBA diving in northern Queensland. I did a 4 day PADI open water certification course, which consisted of 2 days in the classroom and pool and 2 days out at the Great Barrier Reef. Alex and I were in a 3 person class with an American girl from Chicago. The classes are normally a lot larger than 3 people so we basically had individual instruction. Our instructor was a British guy, a bit younger than me, named Uli.He had had enough of the corporate rat race in London and left for Australia to do something he really cared for. At the end of our 4 days, Alex and I shared a secret jealousy of him. I was originally skeptical about spending 2 days of our vacation inside a classroom and pool, but it was worth it. There was a lot too learn and a few things to make sure we could accomplish underwater before trying it out for real in the ocean. The reef was amazing, with all the coral, giant clams, sea cucumbers, and odd fish I’d never seen before. I’d snorkeled on reefs before, most recently in the Red Sea, but nothing compares to actually getting deep down in the water. I’d recommend it to anyone. Even if you get seasick like me, as those of you who saw me on the infamous 3-hour Kennedy School whale watching trip barf-a-thon know, take some Dramamine. You’ll also feel so much better when you jump in the water.While Alex decided to an extra day and a half of scuba diving, I went along with my original plan to rent a car and drive up and down the coast to see the beaches and rainforest I’d read so much about. It was at first extremely odd to be driving on the left side of the road in a car with the steering wheel on the right side, but I got used to it. I'm now even an expert on Queensland traffic law, having been pulled over for doing 100 km/hr in a 80 km/hr zone near Cairns by a policeman who looked about my age. I played the dumb tourist role rather nicely, and the policeman let me off the hook with a warning not to speed on my “holiday,” lest I want to give up 300 Australian dollars. His leniency was representative of the especially pleasant and welcoming attitude we saw in all the Australians we interacted with. After this incident, I made it to the rainforest areas of the Daintree National Forest and went on some hikes through the jungle. I swam in crystal-clear river pools and also visited virtually empty tropical beaches. I unfortunately couldn’t swim in the ocean water because of the box jellyfish that infest the shallow waters in the Australian summer.

Cape Tribulation

After our time in Queensland, we flew down to Melbourne to spend about 5 days checking out the city and its environs, namely the Great Ocean Road. We rented a car and drove along this famous stretch of 2 lane road stretching west from the city’s western suburbs. According to the two travel guide books I had with me, it’s one of the world’s most scenic drives. I thought that the drive certainly lived up to its reputation. The beaches that skirt this famous road are known among surfers worldwide for their amazing breaks. I learned that the ending scene of Point Break was filmed there.

The Twelve Apostles, Great Ocean Road

The road also served up a great opportunity to see some koalas in the wild. Right off the windy road, we saw about 15 of them just sitting up in the eucalyptus trees sleeping and eating. Although I liked Sydney’s scenery a lot more, Alex and I enjoyed Melbourne’s nightlife more. They say that Melbourne is more like a European city than Sydney, and I definitely saw that.

Melbourne skyline

I hope everyone has a nice Christmas and New Years!