Monthly Archives: October 2016

Two In The Bush

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“Are there snakes?” our travel companion asked.

“Of course!” our guide replied. “The last ones were over six feet long.”

“Are there sharks in the water?” another asked.

“Yes,” came the answer, as if it was self-evident. Welcome to Australia.

We were going bush camping. Our guide, a sun-tanned, beer-swilling, short short-wearing Aussie, was showing us our surroundings for the following three nights. A chart listing the deadly snakes found in the area — and the various effects of their venom on the human body — was posted nearby.

“It possesses the third-most toxic land snake venom known,” read one description. “Many human deaths have resulted from bites from this species.”

Wonderful. This should be fun!

The plan was to canoe up and down the Noosa River by day and camp by night. Our guide took us around a bend and called out to a group of bush-campers who had come back from canoeing for the day, asking how the day went.

“We’re going to kill you!” they called back. Our guide laughed. The rest of us stood there wondering the same thing.

Where the hell are we?

The answer, it turned out, was paradise. Over the next three days, we swam in the Everglades, jumped off of rope swings, had campfire sing-alongs, and drank cheap wine. It was like summer camp for adults.

To add to the fun, we ran into some friends of ours from Newcastle and Coffs Harbour — two awesome, fun-loving guys from British Columbia.

It may have lacked the big city flair of Sydney, and it sure wasn’t the luxury we left behind in Noosa, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Tales from the road:

1. Our bush camping guide wasn’t lying about the sharks: the same day that we returned to Noosa, the local newspaper had a story on a fisherman who caught a six-foot bull shark in the river.
2. Warren and I said goodbye to a genuine friend in Noosa. After running into each other in five different cities along the coast, we parted ways with our Welsh friend, Bethan. Proof that it’s a small world: we found out that when I lived in Cardiff, we were just down the road from one another. We probably crossed paths without ever knowing it.
3. I now know what kangaroo tastes like. Warren and I grilled up some steaks seasoned with rosemary and garlic, and they were delicious. The guilty part came a day later when we went to the Australia Zoo and spent time up close and personal with them.

Things I’ve seen:

1. The Everglades.

No, not the ones in Florida — the other ones. As it turns out, there are two in the world, and — bonus — in Noosa’s Everglades, there are no crocodiles, so you can swim. (Just forget about the sharks.)

Noosa, Australia.

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2. Mermaids. Mer-men.

Derek Zoolander would be proud.

Noosa Main Beach, Sunshine Coast, Australia

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3. Hell’s Gates.

Noosa has a beautiful coastal walk that takes you through three beaches and a national park, and the views are stunning. (Well, mostly. You might see more than you were hoping to at the unofficial nude beach.)

Hell's Gate, Noosa. #noosa #sunshinecoast #queensland #australia #travel

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What I’ve been reading/listening to:

Paula Hawkins – The Girl On The Train
D.R.A.M. – “Special”
Toploader – “Dancing In The Moonlight”

(Header photo by Warren Jones)

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Too Many Cooks

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My family has a very simple chili recipe.

Ground beef, tomato sauce, kidney beans, baked beans, and chili powder. Pretty hard to screw up, right?

I thought so, too.

Eager to show Warren an easy meal to prepare on the road, we piled the ingredients into two pots — one for each of us. The plan was to make a double-batch, so we’d have leftovers for the next few days.

I told him to add chili powder to taste. Little did I know the trouble that would cause.

“Can we combine pots?” he asked. “Mine’s too spicy.”

I took a spoonful. How bad could it be? I thought.

A raging inferno would be closer to the truth. Sweat began to pour from my face.

“How much did you put in?!” I asked, bewildered.

“I didn’t know it could get that hot!” he replied.

Fine, I thought. We can still fix this.

My pot was much milder, and if all went well, we’d end up with a slightly spicy chili.

If only it were that simple.

We tried mixing the two pots together, to no avail — still spicy. To make matters worse, Warren had already doled out two bowlfuls of chili from his extra-spicy batch. There would be no escape.

We sat in silence for that dinner, quietly suffering through the sweat and pain. We tried cutting it with rice the following night, and the spice still came through.

It’s been three days, and we’ve only finished the leftovers now.

Tales from the road:

1. In the past week or so of travel, I’ve had one constant: failure. I’ve come out on the losing end in euchre every time we’ve played (much to Warren’s enjoyment), and I took a relentless beating from the waves the last time we went surfing. The one that haunts me the most, though, is my performance on the basketball court. As part of a hostel trivia contest in Surfers Paradise, teams were required to pick a player to compete in an “Around The World” shooting contest. I volunteered to go first… and promptly missed the first two shots from under the hoop, eliminating my team. Fate is a cruel mistress.
2. On that note, we managed to spend two nights in Surfers Paradise without ever seeing the beach. Something seems wrong about that.
3. Language is a funny thing. One of our favourite pastimes of the past week has been getting our Welsh friend to put on her best Canadian accent. We also spent a solid five to ten minutes with two German friends trying to teach Warren the correct pronunciation of Toffifee. He still hasn’t got it.
4. Brisbane gets a bad rap next to Sydney and Melbourne, but it’s actually quite nice. The city offers a free ferry service along the river, the banks of which are rich in public green space. Bike lanes are everywhere. The parks are full of people, savouring the arrival of summer weather. At night, the city’s Fortitude Valley comes alive in a burst of lights and live music. Not bad for a formal penal colony.

Things I’ve seen:

1. Waves.

Byron Bay’s beaches seem to stretch on forever, beckoning surfers of all kinds to its breaks. We rented boards for the day on one particularly sunny morning. Despite the thrashing from the waves, it was a good time.

Byron Bay, Australia

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2. Waterfalls and rainforests.

Just an hour’s drive from Surfers Paradise is Springbrook National Park, a rainforest oasis of natural pools and waterfalls that seems a world away from the Miami Vice-esque palm trees, fake tans, and muscle shirts found in the Gold Coast suburb. Naturally, we had to jump in.

Natural Arch, Springbrook National Park. #goldcoast #queensland #australia #travel

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Springbrook National Park, Gold Coast, Australia

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What I’ve been reading/listening to:

Andrew Jennings – FOUL! The Secret World of FIFA: Bribes, Vote-Rigging and Ticket Scandals
Ian Fleming – Moonraker
Chance The Rapper feat. Kanye West – “All We Got”
Anderson .Paak feat. The Game – “Room In Here”

(Header photo by Warren Jones)

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For The Birds

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Two and a half weeks.

That’s how long I lasted in Australia before something tried to kill me.

It wasn’t the spiders or snakes, their fangs laden with lethal poison. It wasn’t the sharks or crocodiles, their jaws capable of crunching bones and tearing through flesh. It wasn’t the jellyfish, their tentacles stretching up to six feet.

It was the birds.

Plain, ordinary birds.

Warren and I were walking back from whale-watching when suddenly, we noticed two plovers flying in front of us. Then they got closer, and even closer still. It finally clicked: they weren’t flying towards us; they were flying at us.

They shrieked and squawked. Their eyes spelled murder. Death was in the air.

We had stumbled upon a nesting ground.

We panicked and ran to safety, only now, one thing was missing: our sunglasses. They lay tantalizingly close in the grass, prisoners of our feathered foes. We tried edging closer, only to endure one winged assault after another.

They weren’t going to make it easy.

In an act of equal parts folly and courage, Warren made a mad dash into the fray and scooped up his shades. Mine were nowhere to be seen.

I tried looking a few more times, to no avail. Each time, I was greeted by an aerial attack. These birds weren’t messing around. By the end, I was ready to give up and call it a day. To the victors go the spoils, as they say. Finally, a woman nearby took pity and calmly walked over, plucked my sunglasses from the ground and handed them to me. She said she’d finished having a good laugh and decided to put me out of my misery.

I walked away with my sunglasses that day, but my pride is still somewhere in the grass.

Tales from the road:

1. One of the hardest things about being away from home? Missing out on the Blue Jays’ playoff run. (For a fan born in the 90s, the novelty of writing “Blue Jays’ playoff run” still hasn’t worn off. I don’t know if it ever will.)
2. Vegemite isn’t all that bad. I’d tried tasting it before and detested it, but this time, I was offered a piece of toast with vegemite, and it kind of, sort of worked. The trick is in spreading it thinly — too much, and the toast is ruined.
3. It’s funny how many of the same people we’ve been running into as we make our way up the coast. In Coffs Harbour, we saw the same two guys from British Columbia that we befriended in Newcastle. Now in Byron Bay, we ended up at the same hostel as our old roommate from Sydney and another friend from Coffs Harbour, and we’re just down the road from two other friends we made back in Port Macquarie. Something tells me this won’t be the last time it happens.

Things I’ve seen:

1. Port Macquarie’s coast.

It seems to go on forever. We walked nearly 20 kilometres and barely scratched the surface. Port Macquarie is spoiled with beaches, too: we passed at least seven different beaches on our walk.

Port Macquarie Coastal and Rainforest Walk, Australia

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2. Koalas.

They’re almost impossibly cute. One thing they don’t tell you in the Australian tourism ads: a surprisingly large number of them have chlamydia. Scientists believe it was spurred by living in close proximity to humans, due to the animals’ loss of habitat.

David the Koala. #portmacquarie #australia #travel

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3. Visions of home.

Another of the hardest things about being away from home? Missing out on Thanksgiving. Warren and I had been planning on cooking our own Thanksgiving dinner, Aussie-style — searing some kangaroo steaks instead of turkey. As luck would have it, we didn’t have to. We ran into some fellow Canadians prepping their own Thanksgiving dinner for the following night, and just like that, we were invited to join the feast. In the end, we had it all: turkey, stuffing, potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, salad… even pumpkin pie from scratch. We sat down for dinner with Canadians from all over, and others who got to experience their first “Canadian Thanksgiving.” It was a night I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

Canadians celebrating Thanksgiving in Australia.

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What I’m reading/listening to:

Jon Ronson – Out of the Ordinary
Anderson .Paak feat. Rapsody – “Without You”
Nas – “Cherry Wine”
Frank Ocean – Blonde

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