Entry 046: Saturday, December 14, 2013 (Cairns, Australia)

Last day in Cairns, last day in Australia. It's difficult for me to believe it, but by this time tomorrow, I'll be leaving for New Zealand, and a whole other adventure. It really never ends, does it? I'll definitely miss Australia, but I'll touch on that at the end. First, we have to go over some of the stuff I've been doing, like going through the rainforest and swimming in the Great Barrier Reef. Make your bets as to which I enjoyed more........I'll wait........and.....go!

On Thursday, I woke up at 7am. Oh, I didn't want to, but my alarm insisted. You see, I had a full day planned, and I needed to be out and about by 7:55. Still, fifty-five minutes is a long time, so I didn't end up actually getting up until maybe 7:25. I got dressed, and packed my backpack with any potentially useful items. After saying goodbye to Ursula and wishing her a happy birthday, I went downstairs and cooked myself a quick breakfast - a piece of raisin bread toast and an egg. I then got all my stuff, went outside, and waited for a couple minutes before I saw a car drive up. It was a big 4x4, with "Wilderness Eco Safaris" written in obviously ripped-off Indian Jones font. The car parked, and out popped Kevin, the owner/guide. A cheery Australian with an excited personality (I hesitate to say "Irwin-like", but it's probably appropriate), he greeted me and let me know that I was the last person being picked up for the day. Hopping inside the car, I was happy to see that there were only three other guests in the car (the tour supported up to seven). They were all together, a family from Poland, of which the daughter had been living in Oz for two years. And for the next nine hours, they'd have one additional member of their family (well, two I suppose).

Truth be told, I honestly don't have much to say about the trip, and by extension the whole day. It was fun, I got some good rainforest pictures, everything went smoothly, there weren't any wacky misunderstandings or sexy time encounters. It all kind of went according to plan, which makes for a terrible narrative. That's probably why it's the organized tours are usually not the subjects of blogs and travel books.

So, I looked online, and it turns out the itinerary is written out there. Seeing as that helps fill this out without taking any time or effort on my part, I'll just build off that. (Aw, it's just like the cycling trip all over again!) here's how it went.

Depart Cairns: We begin the tour with an informative commentary about the region with many amazing facts about the wet tropics.

Okay, yeah, I kind of already mentioned that we left, but yeah, we left. I should note that if I really don't have much to add, it's not because the trip was bad; it's just that most of what we did was talk (and apparently, our group was really a friendly, conversational one). But yeah, we learned a bit more about Cairns, the Great Dividing Range (which I keep typing as "the Great Diving Range" for some reason), and some of the weather of the area. My favorite tidbit: the peak of one of the nearby mountains in the range (which was naturally covered in clouds when it was pointed out to us) gets an average of eight meters (26 feet) of rain per year. I still have a hard time believing that I heard that correctly.

I also had more white guilt pinched into me when the discussion turned to how the white settlers basically screwed up everything when they cut down the rainforest to make grazing land for cattle. Man, being white can be so detrimental to your self-esteem.

Lake Barine: Here we stop for morning tea and visit the ancient Kauri pine trees.

This was supposed to be the last real touristy spot we visited. Not much to say....there was a lake! Eh? Eh?

Also, apparently tilapia are jerkass fish that need to be killed.

Cathedral Fig Tree: See one of the most amazing trees you will ever see, and learn about the mysterious strangling fig as we view one of the most spectacular fig species around.

So, this was actually the last toursity spot we visited, as we saw a backpacker bus when we arrived (much to Kevin's chagrin). Even the decor on the bus had that "we're young and virile, we can do as we like" vibe to it. Thankfully, this group was leaving as we came in, and a new group came in as soon as we left. But in any case, the tree was indeed pretty nifty (and, this not being a phrase I'd ever think myself to utter, I have seen some amazing trees in my time). It was big and had a lot of hanging branches. It was actually what's known as a "strangler fig," which is a type of fig tree whose seeds actually sprout at the tops of other trees. Their roots then grow down, completely enveloping the tree that they are growing upon. After some time, the stranger fig is just a mass of above-ground branches and roots (no real trunk), and the original tree dies from lack of sunlight.

Simply put, the strangler tree is the scumbag of the arboreal community.

Still, the Cathedral Fig Tree (so named because it resembles both a Gothic cathedral and a pipe organ you'd find in such a cathedral) was cool. However, it was at this point that I realized why a number of the pictures I'd been taking in forested areas did not turn out to my liking (because some of my photos here also suffered from that). Kevin kept saying that he was hoping the cloud cover we had would stay with us all day. Why? Because for rainforests (and by extension, normal forests), it provides soft and balanced light. On a sunny day, you get harsh light coming through the trees, which could occasionally make for dramatic lighting, but more often than not just makes the pictures a hot mess. And that's when it made sense in my head. Some of my best forest pictures of this whole trip were in the cloud forest at the base of Kilimanjaro. It was so overcast, we were walking through a cloud. The light was well diffused, the mist provided a sense of depth, and everything looked both amazing and mysterious. And looking at a number of pictures I took here, some with the sun coming through, and some without (because it alternated between the two a bit), it was clear that the latter was the better. So yeah, when it comes to photography is wooded areas, nuts to the sun. That's a useful thing to know going forward.

Also, I was able to swing on a hanging vine here.

Lake Euramo: Take a walk on a rainforest boardwalk with your knowledgeable guide and look for rainforest wildlife and learn about some of our endangered and dangerous plant species.

Um, yeah, nothing to add here. We didn't find any wildlife on this trip. Actually, that's a lie; we did. Just not on this portion of the trip. We saw some bush turkeys, we saw some kangaroos hopping across the road (including an adorable little Joey [baby]), and we even saw a platypus...'s beak pop up from the water as it swam away from us and into a hiding spot.

As for dangerous plants, the main jerk is the gympie-gympie, or stinging tree, whose heart-shaped leaf has hollow, silica-tipped hairs that get into your pores and get irritated any time your skin contracts (i.e. when you get cold). What's more, it lasts for months, unless of course you get killed via anaphylactic shock. What I'm trying to say here is, plants are evil.

Lunch at Lake Tinaroo: A refreshing lunch in natural surrounds, with beautiful views over lake Tinaroo.

Actually, I don't think this is accurate, because we stopped before reaching this lake. In fact, we stopped and set up our pic-a-nic table in the middle of the dirt road we were on. We hadn't actually seen another car/person for a couple hours, and we wouldn't see any for a couple hours more, so it was a nice moment of alone time, listening to the sound of a babbling brook mixing with the calls of cicadas. (It was basically like one of those sleep aid noise generator apps.) Lunch was simple, but good. I also tried passion fruit soda, which was...okay, I guess.

Travel deep into Old Growth Rainforests: We travel along an exclusive 4WD track through Danbullah National Park which has restricted access and requires a permit to enter. The rainforest we witness has been dated at around 130 million years old. Eventually we cross the mountain range and witness various terrains as we search for Australian wildlife.

One of the most unsettling part of this leg of the journey, after we got out of the rainforest and more into the drier, open planes covered in eucalyptus, was the fact that every street sign - and, seemingly, every surface made of metal - had multiple large bullet holes. Apparently, this was redneck country.

Afternoon tea at The Termite Fruit & Veg: A chance to taste some local produce and have a chance to purchase some unique locally produced souvenirs.

I had no interest in the souvenirs, but the food at this place was quite tempting. They offered kangaroo burgers and steaks, as well as the appealingly named "Croc and Chips". At a mere $9.50, the croc and chips sounded like a damn good bargain. But considering that we'd recently had lunch, and the fact that I have previously described crocodile as "the toughest, saltiest fish you've ever eaten," I decided against it. They also had six varieties of homemade honey (and possibly some hunny in back): macadamia, yellow box, tea tree, avocado, bush, and stringy bark. I might be a bit biased in this regard, but I felt the avocado honey was far and away the best one, and probably some of the best honey I've ever had, though I have almost no basis for that statement. The price was also still good, considering: only $10.50 for a full kilo of the stuff. But really, what am I gonna do with that? So I passed on that as well, but I furrowed my brow whilst doing so.

Return to Cairns via Dinden National Park: The return journey travels along an exclusive 4WD track through Dinden National Park which has restricted access and requires a permit to enter.

Considering this is a fancy way of saying "we continue driving", I have nothing more to contribute.

Clohsey River Fig Tree: After several fun and exciting river crossings in the 4WD we arrive at the 900 year old Clohsey River Fig Tree.

The funniest part of this was that all the Dutch people seemed legit worried that we were crossing rivers, despite the fact that this was a dry period and the rivers were half a foot deep at most. I was going to bring up our river crossings in the game viewer at Askari, but I figured I had already pulled the "look at this thing I did" card enough. Once we arrived at the destination, we were amazed to find that despite the fact that this place had a boardwalk that seemed meticulously maintained, there were literally no other people there. In fact, Kevin said that in his three years of doing this, he's only ever seen a dozen other people there. On the one hand, that makes you feel as though the area is going to waste (which is probably what the rangers feel), but on the other hand, you feel like its all yours. So I don't know which side wins out.

There were a couple neat things here, the first being the nest of an orange-footed scrubfowl, which is, by my estimates, fifty times bigger than the orange-footed scrubfowl. The other interesting thing was the fig tree, which I actually found more visually appealing than the Cathedral Fig Tree. In fact, it was implied that this tree was used as the basis for the Hometree in avatar (if in spirit more than actual design). So, a very cool tree. I also might as well note here that the mosses and lichens on the trees all look like legit camo-print, which makes sense but is still pretty cool when you think about it.

Valley of the Ferns: Here we see the Giant King Fern which is the oldest plant species and largest fern species on earth.

I genuinely don't remember this. We did stop at another river, maybe that was it? I remember driving by some big ferns, but we didn't stop. I dunno, I was just along for the ride.

Lake Morris: Lake Morris is Cairns' water supply which is located in the middle of a World Heritage listed National Park.

While this was, in fact, a very nice lake, all I'll bother mentioning is that it apparently holds approximately 75% the amount of water that the Sydney harbor does. Again, Australia seems to one-up Texas on the whole "everything's bigger here" angle. But it was here that we pretty much ended the tour and drove back into civilization (that is to say, traffic).

Return to Cairns: Drop off at your hotel.

And that was that. We dropped off the Dutch family at their hotel, and then Kevin drove me back to where I was staying. I noticed he was able to speak distinctly faster when it was just the two of us than when the Dutch family was in there; I completely understood the feeling. When we got back, he wished me well on my travels, and took off. On the whole, I very much enjoyed the tour, so if you ever happen to be in the Cairns region for some reason, check it out.

I was back in the house for no more than five minutes when birthday girl Ursula returned home from work. I told her about my day until a friend/neighbor/repairman (I'm not sure which) came over to inspect her room, as apparently she needs to get a hole punched through a wall or ceiling to thread in a cable. I slunk away at that moment to do my own thing. Shortly afterward, she went out with her best friend for a 60th birthday dinner. I decided to take advantage of her washing machine, and so did some laundry, and then did some computer work. After the laundry was done, I hung it up, well aware that the sun had already set (small tangent: I really like dryers, and miss them. Other folks can have their crisp sun-dried clothing; you can give me a set of warm, soft clothes popped out of the dryer any day of the week, especially if it was a chilly day - that's the best!). I then ate my leftover pizza and spinach. To my surprise, Ursula returned home earlier than I expected, saying she felt so sick that she couldn't do dinner (her working theory is that it was because she had two alcohol-laced Back Forest cakes throughout the say). So she went to her room for an early sleep (what a lousy way to end a birthday), while I went to mine to write for the remainder of the evening.

...And then it started raining. With my clothes still hung up outside. "Damn."

I woke up the next morning at 6:30, decided that just wouldn't do, and so forced myself back to sleep until 9am. Much better, though I genuinely miss when I was back at home and could sleep in until noon on Saturdays. I hope that's not gone forever. In any case, Friday was what I'd call a blessedly boring day, in that I didn't do all that much exciting stuff, and I'm quite happy about it, mainly because it allowed me to be terribly productive in other ways. Well, in one way, really. But still!

Ursula was well gone at this point, so I went down, had some breakfast, and immediately checked on my clothes. Thankfully, they all seemed to be quite dry, and surprisingly soft - no crunchy clothes here. I then went back to my room and planned out my day...okay, I didn't want to go out. Fair enough. So, instead, I began filtering through my Australia photos, so that, while I might not be up-to-date on what I've posted online, at least when I do get unlimited WiFi access (Ursula has limited bandwidth), I'll be ready to go. So, I started in order, but then realized that I had yet to receive an email back from the "Covered California" health insurance company for the message I had sent a few days back (and they claimed to get back in 48 hours). And, as had happened several times before, I went onto their online chat, was waiting in a virtual queue for 25 minutes, and was then told that there were no agents available. I decided to give them a call whilst I worked. In retrospect, this was a mistake. I was on hold for, I kid you not, 98 minutes before somebody finally answered. The very fact that I didn't hang up (either with a sense of hopelessness or a sense of trying to protect my ears from their waiting music) is either admirable or moronic, I'm not sure which. In any case, when the guy answered my two questions within moments of me asking them, I suddenly wished I had a dozen more, just to make all the waiting worthwhile. But alas, I didn't, and I ended the call feeling unfulfilled. Also, thank God my Skype calls to the US are free, so all those two hours cost me was like 40mb. And two hours, of course.

The reason I'm writing about a phone call, of all things, is not just because it's showing how difficult signing up for health care abroad is, but also because again, not much happened during the day. I didn't even go to lunch, choosing instead to have somewhat of a second breakfast. I did feel a bit lazy (although I think it's just habit, and I'm now in this position where I feel lazy if I'm not walking for five or so hours a day), but productive nonetheless. And so I sat in my room, going through thousands (two thousand, I think) photos from Australia - deleting many, keeping some, and editing a few. It's actually the editing that's the secret time sink. Whether it's something simple like adjusting the brightness or color balance, or something more involved like combining panorama pictures into a super-panorama picture (which itself requires adjusting brightness and color balance, among other things), every little piece takes time. So you can just watch the hours melt away.

And they did.

When Ursula came back in the late afternoon, she initially called me a hermit for staying in the room, but immediately caught herself, recalling from her travel-heavy youth that you need to be grounded some days. (And from an entitled point of view, I'm paying for the room; I should be able to be in or out of it as I see fit.) In any case, I actually was going to go out for the day. I had gotten a phone call from the underwater camera rental place (several calls, in fact), and they had informed me that I could pick up the camera that evening, which seemed like a godsend, as it saved me probably an hour the next morning. I didn't want to walk all the way into town to get to the store (it wasn't the 2.6-mile walk that concerned me, but rather the idea of having to walk or take the bus after dark), so I decided to take Ursula's guest bike. I'd ride out, get the camera, and then go to the market that Ursula told me opened at 6pm. "Oh, no, that's closed now," she said, "I meant that it opened at 6am." Whoops! I do find it somewhat funny, though, that I had assumed 6pm simply because I can't imagine anyone in their right mind staring anything at 6am.

So, I got on the bike and took off. I swear, it must have been a teen's bike, because the thing was tiny. When trying to adjust the seat to my height, it popped right out. Even at it's highest setting, my legs never even came close to being straight. It's a god thing this was just for short distances; I wouldn't even want to begin imagining cycling Cambodia on that. Still, it did the job, and I managed to make it to the store...eventually. I couldn't check my GPS on my phone while riding, so I made a few false turns, and as it turns out, I'm still not 100% comfortable getting in the turning lane for right turns (remember, wrong side of the road here), so I would get off my bike, playing as though I were tired, go through the crosswalk, and then when the group of cars had refreshed, continue anew. I'm not sure why I'd prefer drivers to think me unfit instead of concerned, but there ya go.

I got the camera, which they then put in a Pelican case which barely, just barely, fit into my backpack (which was a damn smart thing to bring along with me). It was such a tight fit that I had to empty out my CamelBak, and even after that, could not zip my backpack up the whole way. I then rode back, looking for someplace to eat. I was actually craving Subway quite a bit; I had seen one on the way down, and man, it's been so long since I've had Subway in a country that probably wouldn't give me food poisoning. But alas, I wasn't able to retrace my steps well enough, and so I didn't pass by it again. I ended up just getting a grilled chicken sandwich at McDonald's, and pretended that it was a malformed sub. While getting ready to order, I was a bit vexed at the sweat that appeared on my pants where I was sitting on the bike (aka my rump; I swear, the flip side of being quick-drying is that they are quick-wettening), so I just stood with my back to a wall for several minutes while the pants dried, pretending to be the world's most indecisive man. Afterward, I rode back to the house, trying to ignore some punk who seemed intent on showing how much better he was at bikes than me by popping a sustained wheelie. "You're the coolest guy," I said flatly to him when I finally had a chance to turn off.

I got in and put down my stuff, and Ursula returned from dinner literally minutes afterward. She asked to see some of my pictures from Cairns, so I showed her with some feeling of prematurity, as it was the only folder that I had literally not filtered through at all, and so was quite bloated. But she enjoyed it, and noted how it seemed like all my photos seemed good, which made me feel a bit vindicated for all the time I spend on my photography. She then went to bed, and I went back to work, finishing up all my photo filtering up to Cairns. I then did some writing and went to bed.

I had a pleasant sleep until being awoken at 7am. After having breakfast (which consisted of some of my cereal and a coddled egg, the latter of which I've never heard of until today), Ursula drove me down into town, which truthfully was a big help, because the bus schedules on Saturdays are apparently pretty lax, and walking would have taken a good 45 minutes, carry everything with me. Before getting to the marina, we stopped at the market that I had missed the day before. Apparently, it was more of a farmer's market than anything. I had time, so I walked around for about 20 minutes. While the prices seemed to be really competitive in Australian terms (which is odd, because I've always associated farmer's markets with higher "buy local" prices), the real appeal was in just taking in the smells. Man, the smell of fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs, and honeys is a treat for the senses. Know what's not a treat, though? Seeing a stand with a sign saying "Cures all ailments! All natural!", and another that says, "Increase male performance." Upon looking at the owner of the stand, I saw it was an old Chinese man, and my thoughts immediately rushed back to the news that two rhinos at Askari had been poached for their horns. I was legit thinking of overturning his stand in protest, but considering that I had absolutely zero evidence that this old man was using rhino horns or bear bile, I decided against it.

We drove a little further, and Ursula dropped me off at the marina. I walked down to the Falla, the boat I'd be traveling on. It was an old wooden sailboat, apparently used for mother-of-pearl fishing back in the sixties. Once everyone in the group had arrived, we boarded. Now, there are a bunch of boats that go out to the Great Barrier Reef. Some of them - the more popular ones, it'd be safe to assume - could carry as many as 200 passengers. So, one of the reason I chose this boat, aside from the fact that I had gotten a discounted price on it, was because they had a maximum of 22 passengers. But today, because of the holidays and shopping and people generally being elsewhere, there were a grand total of eight people, so that was pretty good.

We got going, and the diving instructor asked who wanted to go scuba diving. It would be a fairly hefty extra sum of money (almost as much as my discounted ticket), but I figured, hey, I have an underwater camera, and if I don't dive in the Great Barrier Reef, I'm going to always regret what might have been. I raised my hand, as did two nice young guys from New York. So, we spent a portion of our trip to the reef (a 1.5-2 hour deal) getting a quick primer on scuba diving. There wasn't terribly much concern about dying (as we'd only be going down six meters), but I find it interesting how easily you can dismiss something like, "When you start, you'll be feeling claustrophobic." After all, I'm a big tough dude, right?

Once we reached the spot, I was outfitted with my scuba gear, and man, I can guarantee nobody is going to be stealing those and running away with them; they are heavy. We then got into the water to do our "challenges", which were a couple of safety-related items to make sure we were doing everything right. It was all going fine and well...until we had to go underwater. Once I deflated my pack, causing me to sink, I suddenly understood the claustrophobic feeling. It had nothing to do with the gear, or with the water. For me at least, it was completely because of the bubbles. When you breathe out, a mass of bubbles comes out of your regulator, which would cover your eyes in a seemingly opaque wall of air. You suddenly feel like you're in a super tight space. This causes you to breathe a little more heavily than you should (a few steps from hyperventilating), which just exacerbates the issue. At the same time, I was getting water leaking into my mask (mainly because one of the crew rearranged my mask in a way that actually made it less secure than how I did it), so that didn't help. In any case, we had to go back to the surface, because one of the regulators of the other guys was malfunctioning, so he got water with every breath. This gave me a few minutes to regain my composure, so when we went back down, I did alright. Once we were all ready, we began diving in earnest.

I'm going to be 100% honest: I was disappointed. Like, in terms of expectation-to-reality ratio, this may have been the biggest disappointment of this entire trip. I was completely unmoved by this experience. I was told by someone that I should have gone to the outer reef, which is apparently more spectacular than the inner reef. So maybe that was it. Maybe the Falla got the short end of the stick and had to get a particularly uninspiring set of areas. Or maybe it's more personal to me (as I had an absolutely sensational snorkeling experience in Hawaii, with turtles and dolphins and everything). But whatever the case could be, I found everything to be the opposite of the Great Barrier Reef I had envisioned: it was fairly empty, with only a dozen or so noticeably unique species of fish, and no color in the coral. I was expecting a rainbow of colors, but only saw various shades of brown, with the occasional blue coral. I did see a number of stingrays, and a giant clam, but that was about the extent of the interesting creatures I saw.

Was it worth the price I paid for the ticket? Yeah, sure. Was it worth the price I paid for the ticket, for the underwater camera, and for the scuba dive session. No, very much no. Having said that, I want to make two things clear. First, if you are somehow feeling sorry for me, don't. In my opinion, it's better to have the regret of doing something that wasn't as great as expected than to regret not doing something and wondering what might have been. Even if it didn't fulfill my expectations, I can now at least say I gave it a go. Second, don't let me turn you off to the Great Barrier Reef. I'm sure it's plenty good, if you go to the right places and happen to go on a lucky day. We were lucky, as it was, because our weather was perfect, and our waters were smooth as glass. We just weren't lucky in terms of seeing cool stuff.

Also, I think I may have had my underwater camera in the wrong setting for a bit. Dag, yo.

Our dive lasted forty minutes. Normally, they should last twenty, or until your air reaches 50 bar. When we finished, our canisters were almost all empty. Not that it would have been much of an issue, the water was so shallow. Hell, I had a hard time staying down,  even with weights. I've always joked that I could set records in terms of buoyancy, and I cannot for the life of me go down in water when free swimming. Here, diving, I had to put in serious effort to keep myself from rising to the top. In any case, after we finished with our first spot and had a surprisingly nice lunch, we had an option to dive our second spot for a discounted price, but we all chose to instead snorkel (with some pool noodles, because what do we have to prove?). We floated around for some time, until we got tired of swimming and made our way to a completely submerged sand cay, where we took off our fins to give some air to the blisters on our big toes. We then got back onto the boat and headed to shore. Along the way, I lay down and put my hat on my head. I definitely fell asleep for some time, and when I woke up, there was a plate of cake slices next to my face. Isn't that just the best.

We eventually got back to shore, but not before getting a bit of a sob story about the boat owner's financial woes and how we should buy t-shirts. When we landed, I got a couple of questions about how much I liked diving in the reef. I was too tired to get into an honest debate about it, so I just said, "Fine," with such little enthusiasm that anyone should have been able to tell what I meant. I paid for my dive (using up all but $5 dollars of my remaining cash), said goodbye, and then walked back to the camera store, where I dropped off the camera and kept the memory card. I then made the 3-mile walk back to Ursula's house, wearing flip-flops. This time, I actually did manage to stop at a Subway to get a footlong sub. It was simple: turkey, no cheese, some veggies, a lot of jalapenos. I then brought it back home to Ursula's, where I ate it for dinner. (Oh, yeah, it was already 6:45 in the evening at this point.)

Once I finished eating, I took a much-needed shower. Ursula invited me to go to a reggae concert by a number of Aboriginal bands at the local venue. I honestly didn't want to, but went to be polite, and as thanks for her driving services. The music itself was okay, but my main enjoyment came from people watching - a girl slapping a guy, an old man doing the most pathetic one-two step dance in history, etc. We stayed for a half hour or so, and then headed back. I then started importing photos and getting my stuff ready to leave.

And that puts us here. Leave, wow. I can't believe I'm already leaving Australia; the time here really did rush by. But yeah, I'll be leaving for the airport just after breakfast. In fact, I probably should have gone to bed an hour or more ago, but I really wanted to get this entry up today, while I know I can. Overall thoughts: I really liked Australia. Were it not for the high prices, I would have loved to stay longer. While the backpacker culture here seems to edge towards the kinds of backpackers I'm not too fond of, the overall culture is pretty friendly and relaxed, which seemed very reminiscent of California. So I liked that part about it. My favorite part of this leg? No question about it - I would actually say the Valley of the Winds at Kata Tjuta may have been my favorite environment to look at and walk through, period. Not just in Australia, but on the whole of the trip. (There's a reason it made me say "wow".) It is a shame that it ended on a bit of a low note, but hey it happens. I've met a lot of nice people, both locals and travelers, in Australia, so you can't complain.

But now I'm off to New Zealand, where I'll be spending a good chunk of time going here, there, and everywhere. If it's anywhere half as nice as Australia, and at least somewhat cheaper, this is going to be a good couple months.

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