Archive for the ‘Kangaroo’ Category

The Orientation Process Continues!

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

I don’t know what is causing this but everyday almost everyone is waking up around 6 or 7 am without an alarm, myself included. I am sure it has something to do with jet lag/being on the wrong time zone but its a very odd feeling to wake up and have no idea why. Usually when this happens to me its 2 pm when I needed to be somewhere at 9am, so I ususally wake up in a panic and scramble to find some device that tells time to confirm my fears. While the fleeting moments of panic are still there I have been pleasantly surprised to find each time I found a clock that I have woken up 1-2 hours earlier than I needed to.

SO in other words, this country has caused nothing short of a miracle to occur in my life. Let us all pray this blessing does not soon pass.

The first order of business when I awoke for day two was to find my luggage! Luckily it had in fact arrived when they said it would, and was waiting for me in the lobby of our hotel at the concierge desk. I have never been happier to see suitcases in my whole life.

I scampered upstairs with my suitcases bounding behind me and quickly found my shampoo and clean clothes. This was blissful.

45 minutes later it was time to head down to meet up with the rest of the group. Today was going to be all about living in the city and learning where things were. Our tour guide Russ, a native Aussie took us on a three hour walking tour all over the city. We started our tour in Hyde park which is very central and houses the Australian War Memorial.

Australian War Memorial

This building has four corners and there is a statue on each one. A member of the airforce, marines, navy and the fourth one is a woman. Russ was explaining that Australia was the first nation to grant women the right to vote, and that equality has always been a big part of AUstralia culture. Since women ran the country while the men were away at war during every major conflict, they are featured on the memorial. Inside of it is a sunken statue of  solider. It is sunken in so that you have to bow your head to look at it, assuming a position of reverence. The statue has three sets of hands supporting it that represent his mother, his wife, and his daughter. These women symbolize the past, the present and the future of Australia.

Also in Hyde park is this statue of James Cook. Much like Christopher Columbus he did little more than stumble into a large land mass, mistake it for something else, and get credit for finding it when someone else was already there. Essentially he is the Christopher Columbus of Australia. Why we can’t properly credit people for discovering our countries baffles me. I took the picture from this angle because our tour guide showed it to us from this angle and made some interesting comments about his….telescope.

As we made our way downtown towards the shopping district we could see the Sydney Observation tower. At the top there is a very fancy revolving restaurant. Being that the hotel we were already staying at was 80 floors high we were told not to waste our money to see the views from atop this thing as it would be expensive and no better than the ones we already had in our hotel.

This is part of the shopping district. Almost all the stores are located in open air alleyways like this. They are really quite beautiful and you can just wander in from the street without having to go through doors.

Throughout Sydney there are a bunch of public parks that feature the work from local artists. The design in this fountain that Russ is standing in front of is from a local artist. Also- since the soil in Australia is so nutrient poor the trees there never loose all their leaves completely since they don’t have the recourses to replace them all at once like the trees in the US do. Instead they loose a few all year round.

We also walked through the Botanical Gardens. When you first walk in the sign says “feel free to pick the flowers, climb the trees, walk on the grass and feed the animals” I thought this was really refreshing how they encourage a hands on experience when in the United States it would be very “NO TOUCHING”. The big white bird in this picture is really like the pigeon of Sydney. THese things are EVERYWHERE. They are very friendly and will eat out of your hand. Here, Russ is demonstrating how they will sit on your shoulder and eat out of your hand if you let them. They have a particular fondness for banana bread we found out. Many of the students tried this, one guy even had about 4 birds on him.

The botanical gardens back up to Sydney Harbor, where the famous sydney bridge and opera house reside. Of course everyone wanted a picture of this stunning view. I’m fairly certain all 80 kids from my program have this exact picture only with a different person in the foreground in every one.

Harry's Meat Pie Stand. These things are world famous apparently. None of our group was incredibly blown away by them. They were kinda bland, and not great food for an 80 degree summer day.

After our walk around the city we stopped at Harry’s meat pie stand for lunch off of the Harbor. Supposedly these things are amazing and quite famous in Sydney. I didn’t eat the tradition version, because it has meat in it, but instead opted for a veg version.

Harry's Meat pies with potato, mash pea, and gravy. Mine was a vegetarian one. Obviously this is not mine because I would never put coke zero (read:POISON) into my body.

It’s like a pot pie with a serving of mashed potatoes and smooshed peas on top covered in gravy. Its good but certainly not the life changing experience it was built up to be.

After lunch we all were loaded onto a bus and taken to Featherdale Wildlife Park http://www.featherdale.com.au/

It is a very nice facility that is a hybrid between a park and a zoo. While the birds and more dangerous animals were kept in cages the more docile ones were allowed to roam within the permitters. So you could be looking at a pretty exotic bird in a cage and all of a sudden a kangaroo goes bounding past you. Its really awesome. This darling little guy was the first animal we met. He is a newborn baby wallaby, and very sleepy as you can see. But o so incredibly soft and cuddly.

Baby Wallaby

There were also Koalas EVERYWHERE Almost all of them were sleeping in trees, which looks very funny and uncomfortable but they don’t seem to be bothered by it in the slightest.

To me they kinda look perpetually hungover. But also very cute and cuddly. And so incredibly soft.

The Kangaroos and Wallabys are very docile creatures and do not mind at all if you play/pet them. They are very friendly/indifferent. Also super soft. I think one of the major genetic traits of marsupials is that they are really soft.

tiny penguins! They huddled in a little group like this and it was adorable. I was so tempted to scoop one up and let it live in my bathtub for the next four months.

My favorite. So beautiful

Being that Australia has been so isolated from the rest of the world biologically the animals have evolved quite differently, or sometimes very little evolution has taken place at all. This lizard is a very close decedent of the dinosaurs, and he looks it too.

This crocodile is MASSIVE. The inclusion of the girl on her cell phone in this picture was intentional to give it some sense of scale. It was FRIGHTENING to be that close to such a gigantic and ferocious creature.

These guys are wonderfully fuzzy. And as long as they can still get to their food they don't really care what happens to them.

kookaburra!

So after we finished up at the wildlife park we went back into the city and had the rest of the night off. I went with some friends out to dinner at a sushi bar. I am not a big fan of sushi but they were very hell bent on having some since it is so plentiful and cheap in sydney. The quality of fish here is also a lot better than it is in the states. The water around Australia is actually very clean. SO clean in fact that they have begun to attract sharks. While this may seem alarming and unrelated, if the plankton and organisms at the bottom of the food chain have food to eat and can swim in the water then they attract bigger organisms, and this goes all the way up the food chain. So if you have a body of water that is attracting large predators like sharks you have a very flourishing and healthy ecosystem. So if you ever get bit by a shark, look on the bright side, you were swimming in a very healthy ecosystem when it happened!

So after my sushi dinner experience I have gone from a casual dislike of sushi to a passionate one. Luckily it was cheap and I didn’t waste too much money discovering this. After that some poeple elected to go out, but after a long day of marsupials and walking I was quite exhausted and decided to hang out with some friends in the hotel and then call it a night.

Getting Oriented: Turning Right Side Up In the Land Down Under

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

Getting Oriented Via Orientation

After being picked up from the airport we were taken to a hotel conference room at the Vibe Hotel in downtown Sydney. We were given the chance to pick up pre purchased cell phones or buy one ourselves and then were given an overview of what would happen for the next few days.

Then we were given our hotel room assignments and our roommates and walked over to the hotel we were actually staying at which was a block or two down the road. While everyone else struggled to cross streets and get into elevators with their luggage, this was not an obstacle for me seeing as I was still without mine.

Our hotel accommodations for orientation are at the Meriton World Towers, which is GORGEOUS. It is one of the highest buildings in Sydney and no one in our orientation group is on a floor below 68. The rooms are more like apartements, each one consisting of a full kitchen, three bedrooms, a common room with couches, tv, and dining area, two full bathrooms with steam showers and Jacuzzi tubs and a washer and dryer. And all of this is set on a backdrop of the whole city. The views from every window of our room are spectacular. From my bedroom window I have a sweeping view of the whole city clear to the ocean. I can even see the Olympic stadium. At night it is even more stunning.

We were given a few hours to shower and change before we had to be back downstairs for dinner. Not having any clean clothes to change into I washed the ones I had on and then put them back on after I had showered. Once back downstairs we were led downtown to Darling Harbor where we had our first meal at the Yellow Bird Café which faces the water.

We were encouraged to order Kangaroo off of the menu. Apparently there is a national movement to eat more kangaroo meat since it has only 2% fat and a much higher protein content than traditional beef. Kangaroos are also not farmed or raised commercially; they are just so plentiful that they can be caught out of the wild. I didn’t order it, but almost all the boys did and the consensus seemed to be that it tasted a lot like steak, but since the fat content of it is so low it can’t be cooked for very long, so it is served fairly rare.

While I passed on the kangaroo I did not pass up an opportunity to get my first legal cocktail. I felt so dangerous ordering one. But here in Australia where the drinking age is 18 I am legal and apparently they are not nearly as uptight about carding as they are in the US. I ordered a drink called a “greek date” which had mango liquor in it along with lime, lemon, peach and something else. It was quite tasty, and the view we had of the ocean only made it that much better.

It is an odd thing that happens when you put a large group of people together who do not know eachother, but they tend to typically separate by gender. It’s like kindergarden all over again, they boys sit with the boys and the girls sit with the girls. At dinner our group of 80 or so were given four very long tables to sit at. There were three tables of mostly girls and one table of mostly guys. There were a few exceptions but generally speaking you would think we were afraid of cooties or something.

After dinner we were given the rest of the night to do as we pleased. While a few people wanted to go out and explore the nightlife, I knew that jet lag was soon to catch up with me and deliver a swift kick to the arse, so I headed back to the hotel and checked on the status of my luggage. The front desk informed me that it would arrive that night between 7-10 pm, and since it was close to 9pm at the time I figured I could stay awake till 10. Wrong. I attempted to watch television for about 4 minutes before beginning to nod off and then I finally gave in and crawled into bed. Seconds after my head hit the pillow I was fast asleep….