Sunday, October 10, 2010
Exploring the Outback!
My apologies for my lack of updates recently, I have been out and about taking part in various trips and life at uni is beginning to increase in difficulty as the semesters end looms nearer. Here is a brief recap of an amazing week in Broome, another post will come soon to recount my adventures in Thailand and Margaret River.
Our adventure began at 4:45 AM (yaaaaaawn) on Thursday morning. After a nap-filled bus ride and plane trip, we arrived in the blood-red land known as Broome. Since we had gotten into Broome a tad late, we decided to wait until the next day to make the treacherous 4 hour drive to the Kimberley. We stayed at a nice hostel near the Notre Dame campus of Broome. The hostel itself was integrated into a jungle like landscape, and even included an open space in the center of the common room with several trees and vines. At one point, a wild possum poked its head out of this area, and even came down and ate apples right out of our hands. After getting the chance to explore some of the local shops and check out the main part of town, we headed out to a rocky canyon to see some of the spectacular Australian scenery. Before getting out of the van, our driver warned us not to do too much poking and prodding around because deadly stonefish, snakes, scorpions, blue ringed octopus, and many other nasty, poisonous creatures dwell in the jagged cliffs and shallow whirlpools surrounding our destination.
The landscape was stunning; the maroon soil melted away into thousands of multicolored rocks and bizarre stone formations, all overlooking the purest blue ocean I’ve ever seen. This site provided us with our first inside look at the unique natural beauty of the outback and for many of us, we had never witnessed anything like it before.
As the temperature continued climbing and the sun began torturing us with it’s harsh and unforgiving rays, our leader Tom decided we should drive to a local beach to cool off (we made this excursion a daily habit to escape the scorching heat). After splashing about to our hearts content, we wandered down the pristine beach to find a not-so little surprise waiting for us, CAMELS!
We were each given a camel to share, and we were given the unbelievable opportunity to take a bumpy yet relaxing ride across the endless beach. To make matters even better, nature decided to surprise us once again with a truly breathtaking sunset. The calm, crystalline waters reflected the golden setting sun in a truly spectacular fashion, and we all soaked up the immense beauty from our perch atop our friendly camels. Absolutely a one of a kind experience where everyone in our group was truly present in the moment.
After our fantastic camel rides we drove back to the hostel only to find a massive feast awaiting our aching bellies. I am very proud to say that our group of 27 individuals successfully devoured 24 pizzas and 12 loaves of garlic bread. Following our disgusting display of neandrathal-esque feasting, we were all hit by a colossal tidal wave of food fade and drifted into a peaceful coma.
The following day we arose early to head out to our outback destination.
The drive was a rough (literally) introduction into the fierce wildnerness and untamed nature of the outback. The 4 hour jolty journey was marked by a narrow red, dusty road and a jostling, bumpy ride. Thankfully, we arrived safe and sound and prepared ourselves for a one of a kind experience with an aboriginal community in the Kimberley. It’s impossible to describe our daily routines as it varied so much from day to day and we were restricted from wearing watches (which turned out to be a fantastic situation as no one stressed out about a schedule and hustle and bustle was eliminated, contributing to everyone simply focusing on the present and living in the moment, something that the Aboriginals refer to as “Broome Time.” As they say, there’s never any rush in the Kimberley!). Anyways, here are a few highlights of our unique experience:
-Every morning we awoke to a spectacular sunrise while our aboriginal friends played their favorite alarm clock wake up song, Somewhere Over the Rainbow by IZ. Let me assure, it is impossible to wake up in a foul mood when the first thing you hear is that gorgeous song and the first thing you see is the suns first rays sparkling on the oceans surface. Siiiiiiiiiiiiigh ☺
-Every evening before dinner, we would gather around a fire and engage in the “college of knowledge,” where we would go around the group and answer several questions. The questions ranged from topics regarding our experience in the outback, our overall time studying abroad, our personality, and sometimes simply silly questions to make us all chuckle. These fire talks helped me personally reflect on the amazing trip, as well as how unbelievably fortunate I am to have the opportunity to experience all of the incredibly unique things Australia has to offer. The reflections also helped bring the group closer and allowed us to get to know each other on a deeper level, as well as helped break down some of the cliques in our group, giving everyone the chance to mingle with new people.
- Each night Maria (our “mom” for the week) treated us to delicious stews, curries, and other mouthwatering dishes, with the highlight being the steak feast, which was the first real steak I’ve had since I’ve been hear and let me tell you it was worth the wait.
-The Kimberley has the best night sky I’ve ever seen. After devouring multiple servings of Maria’s phenomenal cooking, I would always find time to wander off by myself, plop down on the ground, and get lost in the endless night sky glimmering with an infinite number of stars. Several hours later, we would get to watch as the full moon appeared to emerge out of the sea and we were fortunate enough to experience a full moon every night of our outback trip, meaning that even at the wee hours of morning, we were able to see our surroundings.
-Every trip to the restroom was an adventure as snakes have been known to lurk in the watery depths of the porcelain basin. Shoes are also an ideal hiding spot for scorpions, making the simple tasks of slipping on your kicks an adrenaline rush! We were also told that during our many trips to the ocean to be wary of the deadly box jellyfish, sharks, blue ring octopus, and the stonefish, all of which can kill you almost instantly. FUN! Thankfully, we survived our trips unscathed.
-Collin, a giant man whose size was only surpassed by his tremendous and outrageous personality, sat us down each day to answer our questions and tell us about his life and aboriginal culture. We learned about Aboriginal culture and customs, the Stolen Generations, hunting, gathering, marriage, and the overall outlook and way of life of Aboriginal people. I found his talks to be slightly longwinded, but extremely enlightening nonetheless, illuminating many stereotypes and unfair perspectives that Aboriginals are faced with.
-As part of our initiation into the Aboriginal hunter and gatherer lifestyle, we were instructed on how to make and throw our own spears. The spear making process had several stages. First, we picked out long, straight branches and brought them back to camp. We then shaved off the bark, whittled down any bumps, and sharpened the end until it had reached a pointy tip. We then buried the spear into a pile of glowing embers in order to soften the wood, then transformed the supple branch into a perfectly straight spear. The last step involved firmly pressing a red-hot steel pole into the end of the spear and tying it to the wood with a fine string in order to reinforce the sharp end. Once we had all completed the spears, we had a few lessons on how to properly toss the death sticks, as well as an authentic aboriginal boomerang. The javelin-esque throw took a little getting used to, but I was able to eventually get the hang of it and I successfully nailed our target several times. However, this process made me appreciate the difficulties of hunting and gathering: I was able to luckily hit the stationary target a few times, but if these people wanted to survive, they needed to be able to hit moving targets from over twice the distance as me! Quite a difficult task to say the least.
-We went to check out a local fish hatchery that had dozens of tanks that housed barramundi (enormous sea monsters that are ferocious eaters), sea turtles, lion fish, sea cucumbers, star fish, and spindly pencil fish just to name a few. We were given the opportunity to feed these fearsome fish, with the result being impressive but also hilarious in some cases due to piercing shrieking from the unsuspecting feeders. We were also given lessons on polishing and sanding giant conch shells.
-Another fun excursion we took was to go witness the natural fish traps the aboriginal people had created. By creating dams made out of rocks and utilizing the tide, they were able to create small whirlpools where fish would get trapped and could be easily speared or caught. Sure enough, upon coming across our first fish trap, we noticed something lurking in the shallow water. However, to everyone’s surprise (and horror), this “fish” turned out to be a shark! We were fortunate enough to witness multiple sharks of considerable size in the clear ocean waters throughout the week.
-As the Kimberley sun reached its peak in the sky every day, performing even the simplest of tasks became an unbearable chore as the unrelenting heat suffocated our unnaclimated bodies. In order to boost morale and escape from the scorching heat, everyday we would drive to warm pristine beaches to swim and play.
One of our aboriginal guides, Unja, would always stand on an elevated ledge nearby to scan our surroundings and make sure that we were safe from sharks. During our various swimming sessions, we witnessed dolphins playing nearby, and Unja told us that although we were unaware, a giant sea turtle passed by our group closer than ten meters away.
-One of the many natural wonders that occurred every day in the outback was the unbelievable changes in the ocean that we were lucky enough to be able to watch from our campsite. Each day, the tide went out, unveiling miles of empty sand with thousands beyond thousands of small tide pools. One morning, we went out at low tide to explore the vast emptiness. We were equipped with spears and hooks in case we ran into any crabs along the way. We casually strolled along the beautiful ocean floor, prodding tide pools along the way. All of a sudden, our aboriginal hunting guide halted in her tracks and quickly motioned for everyone to quietly gather around. Once we had formed a circle around her and what appeared to be an empty tide pool, she pointed at apparent nothingness and told us all to watch carefully. Many of us looked around, quite confused, because the tide pool appeared identical to the thousands of others we had already investigated. However, as lifeless as the small pool looked to our untrained eyes, as soon as she jabbed the tiny mound with her spear, a MOUNSTROUS claw erupted from the sand and a gigantic crab burst from underneath the sand. The crab was clearly not pleased with the rude awakening and it began ferociously battling the spear, a sight that was quite impressive but also slightly terrifying considering the substantial size of the crustacean creature. Eventually, our guide was able to avoid the massive pincers and snatch the crab by its hind legs, effectively catching dinner! It was amazing that our guide could not only calmly defeat the impressively sized crab, but spot it in the first place. As I mentioned, even once we knew that there was something in the tide pool, most of us has no stinkin’ idea what was lurking within it. We spotted and caught numerous other crabs during the rest of our hunt, but we decided to throw all back into the wilderness (with the exception of the first one) because they were too small.
Although these are just a few of the plethora of fantastic experiences we were lucky to be a part of, it’ll have to do as a brief summary of our trip. However, this trip was so much more than these words and pictures could ever suggest, an amazingly unique experience. My experience in Broome and the Kimberley helped me change my perspectives on Aboriginal culture, gave me the opportunity to see a completely untouched landscape that I will most likely never encounter once again, and allowed me to witness some of the most spectacular natural beauty I have ever seen.
Anyhoo, I have to run because we just returned from road trippin down south to the beautiful Margaret for a weekend of shinanigans, surfing, relaxing, and fun in the sun and I need to reorganize myself and get to work! Miss all of you wonderous family and friends.
P.S. I had my first surfing session over the weekend and it was freakin phenomenal!