Tuesday, December 11, 2007

There's no place like home...

You all seem so close!

I am back in the United States after what seemed like an eternity. Our flight in Fiji was delayed so I missed my connecting flight in LA to Boston, but only because the stupid travel agent screwed up my ticket, and the airline couldn't issue me a ticket. I missed that flight and sat in LAX for four hours until they could get me a ticket and then for another three and half hours until my red eye flight. That flight was miserable, but at least it was only 4.5 hours until I arrived in Boston.

There's a lot for me to say…let me try to remember. The last week in Australia was a bittersweet one for sure. I feel had I been staying a year abroad I wouldn't have been feeling like I was ready to go home, but since the flight home was impending, I was anxious. My roommate Jamie's parents came to visit. They were nice and took us out to a Thai restaurant for dinner. My taste buds expanded whilst abroad, definitely. The last week also consisted of lots of group goodbye activities. We had a barbecue on the cliff edge overlooking Coogee Bay, which was a lot of fun. It was really warm out and really pretty.

The following night we were going to this ice bar called Minus Five. Basically it's a bar made entirely of ice. Apparently its vodka is served best at that temperature. Because it's so cold you're only allowed in for 30 minutes, and they give you wool coats and ugg boots. It's pretty expensive too. Anyway, during dinner, I got a phone call from my Frisbee friend Ryan who invited me to the beach to throw with my other Frisbee friend, Abra. We had fun throwing and then we watched movies and Chris Farley SNL skits.

I also celebrated my friend Warwick's birthday at this hotel and sadly said goodbye to some good friends. Hopefully Frisbee will bring us all together again, which it may, since Worlds is in Vancouver this August, and I'm going to try to save up and get out there. Yet another birthday! My last weekend in Sydney I took a two-hour train ride out west to celebrate with my Australian friend Lily, who I met in class. It was a movie-character themed party, and I used my Peter Pan Halloween costume. I met a couple really cool people, and we listened to subpar live music and hung out. Lily was really happy that I came, so that was good. We camped out in tents and I was kept up all night by these ridiculously loud and nasty cricket-like bugs. The next morning I drove home with two guys I met (one I knew from class). I had to drive since one doesn't drive and the other was…well he had a bit of a crazy night and was not up for driving. I did quite well on the highway…on the wrong side of the road and all.

The last couple days in Sydney I laid on the beach quite a bit and even went swimming! I threw on the beach again with some Barefoot guys, which is one of the Sydney club Frisbee teams. We went out to dinner (where I ran into Abby who had wanted to hang out…oops) and then celebrated Abra's roommate's birthday. My second to last night (Abby had moved out that day) I went to the botanical gardens, where I took even more pictures of that damn opera house, but this time from a different angle. I also went up to the Pylon Lookout with my friend Mrinal, which goes almost as high as the bridge, but doesn't cost $179.

That night, I had over my Frisbee friends, Mrinal, Abra and Ryan for some poker…which I won. Unfortunately, no one paid up and I didn't receive my 20 bucks. I ended up moving out that night since Mrinal was able to drive me and my massive bags to Abra's, where I was staying until I left. My last day I went to the beach pretty much all day. Abra had to work so I couldn't get back to his house until that evening, when I went to his Frisbee practice with him. I was hoping to see some good mens ultimate, but unfortunately the fields were closed, hence no lights, hence a conditioning practice. Abra and I ate some Thai food and watched a vampire movie starring Josh Hartnett, which was pretty lame but nonetheless scared the bejeesus out of me. That morning I had a somewhat tearful goodbye with Abra, and I headed off to the airport.

This jerk greeted me in the check-in line. I had three big bags, a laptop and my backpack, had just said goodbye to all my friends and was pretty exhausted and alone. He asked me if "I slept" because I was not keeping up with the line. I said, no, I'm doing the best I can. And he cut me in line. That sort of triggered it for me, and I started bawling. He chose to ignore me until I probably annoyed him, so he turned around and offered me a tissue. I refused and he insisted, and I refused and told him he was extremely rude and had no right to yell at me. Then he offered to help with my bags and I refused and looked away. (Hey, if you're going to stand up for yourself, there's nowhere safer than in an airport, right?) Finally, he took my biggest bag and I reluctantly took a tissue. He then told me that I could be quiet now and life is tough. Once I hit check-in, the lady thought we were traveling together, and I informed her he'd been helping me. She said that was nice and once he left, I told her the story. She told me to look out for myself.

I landed in Auckland and met up with my friend Sarah from Syracuse and her roommate from Brisbane who also goes to Syracuse. We checked into the hostel and pretty much passed out from being so tired. We got up early and took a four-hour bus ride north to the Bay of Islands and paid half price to ride "The Excitor," which was everything but. It was half off since they were filming a safety video, which of course I starred in. They asked for a volunteer, so I volunteered to be the person getting life jacketed in. It was a high-speed boat to the Hole in the Rock. There was hardly any swell, so it was just a lot of wind in our faces and no jumps. The hole in the rock was pretty, and on the other side was the wide open ocean, which is always kinda cool to see. Then of course, it started raining so we went back to the hostel and played some board games until it was a reasonable time to go to sleep.

The next day we took a ferry to Russell, which basically had two buildings in the town, and it was pretty terrible for $6 for the ferry. Once we got back, I took the hostel's rickety, rusty bike to the grocery store. At first I didn't have the helmet on since who knows who's been wearing it, but then when I realized how shaky the handlebars, I figured even a lice-infested, way-too-big helmet may help some if I crash. Once we got back to Auckland we hung out and retired early again. The next day we had plans to skydive (yes, me!!!), but with our luck (and my mom's) it rained, and it was cancelled. We took several bus transfers to the foot of Mount Eden, a dormant volcano and walked up. The cows were probably the most exciting part of New Zealand. I tried chasing one, but once it looked at me, I ran the other way. I guess being on a volcano was cool, but of course, it started raining. That night we wanted to see a movie, but figured for $15.50 it wasn't worth it. Yet another early evening in New Zealand.

Fortunately, our flight to Fiji was moved to 9 40 am, so we didn't have to kill more time in rainy, humid Auckland.Of course, it was beautiful the next day as we flew out, and it was raining when we landed in Fiji. Fiji WAS HOT. Our bad luck in New Zealand turned fantastic after the rain our first afternoon in Fiji. Once we got to our beach bungalows, about an hour and a half from the airport, Sarah and I ventured into town to get some groceries. Oh wow. We took a "taxi" to this depraved little shopping area. (A lot of things in Fiji involve quote marks because it's hard to tell what is really legitimate). We stuck out like sore thumbs in Fiji, especially in town, being the only white people around. Naturally, the people at the markets scooped us up and tried selling us junk. They separated me and Sarah. My lady gave me a "free gift," aka a crappy bracelet and then told me about her "deaf and dumb" son for some pity. She tried selling me all sorts of crap for way too much money. I think I made better items at Camp JORI arts 'n farts center.

Anyway, I found a pretty cool wooden bead bracelet and shut her up with five bucks. Bracelet value: two cents. Sarah didn't fare as well. She laid down $25 on absolute crap. They liked her. Finally I ran away and grabbed Sarah and we ran to the grocery store, where we learned there is no regular milk in Fiji…just powdered and long-life whole milk. We bought a few things and ventured off to the "bus stop." Mind you, this is a rut-tut bus that doesn't leave the stop until it's jam-packed. We were hoping it was the right bus when the surroundings looked unfamiliar, but luckily it did, indeed take us back to our bungalow. That night we had some pizza at our "restaurant" and retired early.

The next morning, after some dodgy directions to this beach called Natadolah, we got on public transport again and drove for 45 minutes and got dropped off at the side of the road. We started walking but were informed it's actually a 15K walk to the beach so we reluctantly hopped into the bag of a sketchy pick up truck and sat on some benches that were tied with basically dental floss to the truck. Most of the resorts in Fiji don't get busy until Christmastime, so we were like the only ones around. The beach was absolutely magnificent, and the water felt like a bathtub. You could see for miles. The sun was blazing, and it's a good thing I didn't want to deal with a burn on the 16-hour flight home, which is why decided to lather up.

Some kids came by to try to gyp us out of our money. After awhile, one of the little girls came back and accepted my offer for two artistic shells for five bucks. She knew she wouldn't make anything else from us. Sarah and Lynn decided to go horseback riding…I am not a fan of horses, horse smell, riding with sketchy locals or spending $30 to do it. It's a good thing too, since Lynn's stirrups broke and she's all bruised and they tried getting Lynn to pay the full amount, and she refused since she didn't get a full ride and she was bruised. The "businessmen" didn't have change, and good for Lynn- she refused to pay until she got change, which they couldn't provide. Eventually she bought a bottle of water and paid them. We left after that.

Since we splurged on sandwiches at the beach, we cooked up some delicious Fijian brand Ramen noodles. I almost threw up and we threw out the whole pot of it. I was up all night feeling pretty subpar. The next morning we got up super early for our day cruise to South Sea Island. For only $99 we got a cruise to one of the islands, buffet lunch, unlimited drinks, transportation and access to snorkeling gear, catamarans and kayaks. Unfortunately half the bus was filled with annoying, loud Canadians from Vancouver who were in Fiji for a wedding.

The island was unreal. (See pictures) This was Fiji. I can't even describe it. We laid out for awhile under some tiki huts and then you know, when that became too strenuous, we went kayaking. The island was maybe 20 meters in diameter so it wasn't terribly grueling to go around the whole island. After that we had some lunch- tasty meat and different salads. Since the buffet wore us out, we laid out again. Then we went snorkeling. This was the first time I'd gone not off a boat. I just sort of waded into the water and started swimming with all the fish and coral. I kept an eye out for sharks, and fortunately did not see any. I even splurged for a back massage. I kept telling her to go harder, that I was really sore, but she paid no heed. It still felt very good, and after I was all greased up, I jumped in the pool and conversed with some Australians. After some more lounging and snorkeling, we went on a catamaran. The guy who took us knew I was nervous so he told me the sharks weren't interested and proceeded to splash water and make me let go of the rope. It was a nice ride.

Eventually the boat came to pick us up and we took the cruise ship back to the main island. A perfect day…well not yet. Once we got back, we showered and got dressed up for a really fancy, expensive dinner at the nice resort next door. They gave us cool, minty towels since it's soooo hot and humid. I got basil encrusted salmon, which was delicious. They sang us a farewell Fijian song, and I tried not to laugh. Now, a perfect day.

Our last day in Fiji, it rained, but that was OK since we were too wiped from the sun to lay out again. We packed up and snuck into the nice pool at the resort next door and swam for awhile. No one even questioned us. Then we showered and watched a battle between and Asian couple who for some reason refused to pay for their night (we think they didn't sleep there but had it booked and wouldn't pay). The fight went on for two hours and then the lady tried taking our cab, and I was about to give her a piece of my mind. Surprisingly, all of our ten huge bags fit into the taxi station wagon and we dropped it all off at the airport and then went shopping in town before checking in. Then we bummed around the airport for like four hours, before embarking on our 10-hour flight to LA.

I can't believe I'm home. It's weird, especially with the drastic weather change…and time change. I'm all out of whack, and really cracked out since I haven't slept in two days. There's lots of cleaning and unpacking to do, but I can hardly keep my eyes open! All in all, these past five and half months have really been indescribable.



…or is there?

Happy Thanksgiving from Down Under!

Hi all,

I hope you're enjoying your Thanksgiving feasts. I didn't do much of a Thanksgiving dinner; I went to a friend's apartment for stirfry which she made to get rid of food that was about to go bad since we're all leaving within the week. I haven't done much since Tasmania, but there are few tidbits to share, mostly so I don't forget them, as my e-mails are my only source of collection of my goings on in Australia.

A few friends and I saw "sea monsters" at the IMAX theater. It was alright, I suppose. It was all computer-animated, which these days is almost flawless, but since it was all prehistoric animal stuff it was hard to get into. We wanted to see Deep Blue Sea with narration by Kate Winslet and Johnny Depp, but there was a school field trip so it was rented out. After the movie the rain had cleared so I had the genious idea to walk home from Darling Harbour, which we guessed is around six miles; we're not sure. Dodging traffic and following signs back to Coogee was quite entertaining and adventure-packed.

The weather has been nice up until yesterday. I got a less than favorable sunburn, which is slowly getting better. I'm hoping the next five days that I'm in Australia will clear up so I can enjoy summer before heading back to cold and rain and snow.

The other day I went to tour the Great Synagogue in Sydney- Australia's second temple. It's a reall nice building with sort of gothic characteristics. The inside is really ornate, and the ceiling is cool because it's dark blue with all these stars. The tour itself was merely an information session, and while most of the group (I was the only person under the age of 50) was Jewish, the film was about basic Judaism, and what wasn't, I learned at the museum a couple weeks ago. But hey, for three dollars I'm glad I saw it.

There have been a few last Frisbee get togethers; last week was a farewell to "Seppos" (see your Australian dictionary for that meaning). Tonight I'm celebrating my friend's birthday in the city, if I can find the place. Yesterday a few Frisbee kids and I went to the Sydney Cricket Ground to watch Tasmania play New South Wales. (If you were unaware, I am in the state of New South Wales) It was a test match, which means you play one game over the course of five days. I can't really explain the rules though; I am just learning them myself. It was a six-hour game, and I left after about three, because it's pretty boring, but cool to see nonetheless. I played in a women's ultimate game earlier this week, which was lots of fun except my hamstring really is in tough shape. I need to nurse that back to health. I played really well and the Australian women said it was too bad I'm leaving before their club season; they'd like to recruit me.

I have my last exam in a couple hours, so I guess I should review a bit more before heading off to the racetrack to take it. Yeah, they don't have space on campus for all the exams so we take them in the betting rooms and derby rooms at the racetrack. After that, I'll be spending my last few days packing up!

Stay warm whilst I soak up the sun on the beach!