My last big trip while in Australia was to The Outback. I had a week or so on my hands before flying back to the States, and I decided to utilize that time because…why not?
After some research, I settled on a tour company called Groovy Grapes. While other people were furious with our tour guide by the trip’s end, I thought going with Groovy Grapes was a blessing. Why? On the days long trek from Adelaide to Alice Springs I ended up befriending three Irish people, a British woman, a Finnish woman who spoke four languages, and a multilingual Belgian woman. All of them had left their jobs and were traveling around Australia for the year. To make ends meet they worked as nannies, in offices, on a farm, wherever, and then traveled some more.
It was awe-inspiring to meet people like this, people I’d heard of but never met in the work-a-holic culture that is the United States.
After camping under a sky adorned with stars; sleeping underground in the opal mining town of Coober Pedy; seeing Uluru (and refusing to hike it out of respect for indigenous people’s beliefs that the site is holy); teaching the Europeans how to make s’mores; learning about the drink Hot Toddy; and trying my first mug of tea with milk, I knew this trip was special.
My last day there I dropped my camera and broke it, but I was able to pull pictures from it. More importantly, the memories were imprinted on me for a lifetime.
Two of the people I met on the trip I would eventually see again on a different continent. They were the reasons I traveled to Ireland and Belgium. That trip will be discussed in a future post!
Sydney and I didn’t get off on the right foot. Actually, if Sydney was a person I would have put my foot in a not so polite place.
As briefly mentioned in the last post, the University of Melbourne sponsored trips around Australia for international students. Two trips I went on were to The Great Ocean Road and The Grampians National Park.
A beautiful memorial to the soldiers lost in WWI, The Great Ocean Road is a road I would travel every month if I could. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves, but I will say this much: driving even a piece of The Great Ocean Road is a meditation on nature, loss, hope, and the beauty of it all.
Gelato in Little Italy one day, Indian food the next, a German foreign film another, and Australian “No Worries” every day.
All of this and more can be found in Melbourne, Australia (pronounced Mel-Ben), a city that’ll always be dear to my heart. A diamond that doesn’t bother to shine, Melbourne simply knows its own worth and waits for you to discover it. Years later, it would make the NYT’s 36 Hours series not once but twice.
After visiting a few galleries as a class requirement when abroad, it quickly dawned on me that Melbourne was a place with a definite art scene. I mean, this was a place where graffiti was legal.
I enjoyed Melbourne’s laid-back, artsy vibe more than Sydney. If my friends and I weren’t taking university-sponsored weekend trips outside the city, we were bouncing around from one festival, museum, or night market to another. We even made it to a FINA water polo match.
When not studying or traveling, my roommate and I would walk down to the landmark Queen Victoria Market for grocery shopping. While I calculated exactly how many kilograms of something I needed for a recipe, my roommate would ask for “two big handfuls” (guess which one of the two of us is more free-spirited).
I still remember the butcher we went to at the market because his face said that he was friendly before he even opened his mouth.
And I still remember Melbourne.
The Great Barrier Reef was everything, honey. The Crayola colors of fish and coral left me in awe and in peace. A two hour boat ride from the coast to The Reef, I’m humbled just by being able to say that my one (and only) time scuba diving was at The Great Barrier Reef.
I REFUSED to let go of my instructor’s hand the entire time. Every under water picture is with me holding tightly to her. I digressed to the likes of a five year old. And I have no shame about it either. Well, maybe a little.
While the rest of the group ventured out in pairs, the two of us swam around together; she pointed out the various animals and coral. Somehow we ended up in the middle of a school of fish—but they didn’t scatter off in surprise. The fish just continued their lazy swim around us. I also saw a sting ray skidding away from us along the ocean’s bottom. One set of coral had these purple obtusions (yes, I think I just made up that word) sticking out of them. When you snapped your fingers close to them they sucked all that purple goodness back inside their hard shells. That right there reminded me of The Little Mermaid, a childhood classic.
Even though I was nauseous after scuba diving and snorkeling, this picture sums up how the day left me feeling. It was the beginning of my Crown Jewel of Memories. It was the beginning of Australia.
Looking back, it was in Cairns, Australia that I first decided it could be exploitative to post pictures of people.
Day two in Australia found me with 100 Australian Dollars in my pocket (thanks to the airline misplacing my luggage) and Aboriginal/Indigenous Australians in front of me. I was at the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park watching a performance that included a two-year old. Jamaica Kincaid’s words ran through my head as my tired brain equated this cultural park (whatever that means) with the Native American reservation visits of my childhood.
“An ugly thing, that is what you are when you become a tourist, an ugly, empty thing, a stupid thing, a piece of rubbish pausing here and there to gaze at this and taste that, and it will never occur to you that the people who inhabit the place in which you have just paused cannot stand you.”
I did not want to be a tourist. At least that’s what I thought while watching people snap photos of the toddler without bothering to ask the parents who stood silently behind him. I took about nine pictures in the entire park, one of which was these:
I can’t lie. There are some of the performers while onstage. But, to this day, I don’t have them posted online.
Other non-documented events included a chance to throw a boomerang and a spear. Take that as you want. As a woman of color who was beginning to understand her identity I’ll give you one chance to guess how I felt about it.
The zoo was much more innocent. I even got to hold a koala for five seconds (which was all I needed).
That evening I managed to find a mall to buy some clothes and an ill-fitting swimsuit because tomorrow would be The Great Barrier Reef.
Clothes or no clothes, I wasn’t missing that trip.
I knew there was a problem when the pilot began spelling out my name over the intercom.
I had just completed a 14 hour flight from LAX to Australia and now the pilot was telling me to report to a desk in the international terminal.