Hit The Road Jack

“Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former. “
Albert Einstein

We went to see the new Les Miserables film on the 27th. It was spectacular – really did the musical proud. I hope Hugh Jackman gets the Oscar for it. We then headed out on the 28th on our trip down to Sydney, stopping first in the hippy haven known as Byron Bay. One of the highlights was a man cycling round with a stall selling coconuts. Fantastic. A storm started brewing over the beach so we moved on (after getting a thorough soaking) to a beautiful little coastal town called Yamba which was decidedly less busy! At night we drove down to our YHA hostel in Cops Harbour but came and went like ghosts in the night, leaving early in the morning to get down to Port Stephens in good time. It was there that I finally met Wendy (the lady who helped to set up my volunteering in PNG). She whisked us away to her ‘sand pit’: a national park consisting of a vast expanse of sand dune, where we had another crack at sand boarding before rinsing off in the sea. Hannah and I did a fantastic yoga session on the beach which was quite amusing considering the strange looks we were getting from the fleets of tourists.

That morning we popped out on a, rather cheesy, camel ride which was nevertheless good fun before heading on our way once more. We arrived in Sydney just after lunch to an extremely welcoming household. We’re staying with Aunt Sally’s friend Libby and her family in Northern Sydney, a short train journey from the central city so an ideal location for us! We headed out in the car to have a look around and got very excited crossing Harbour Bridge for the first time and seeing the view of the opera house! We stopped off at Bondi beach. Over the trip we’ve been making a compilation of ‘jump’ shot photographs in different places so had a go jumping off a ledge around a metre and a half high onto the sand. It was the most hilarious stupidity I’ve been party to in a while. Kieran jumped off and the sand was surprisingly hard so he twisted both of his ankles badly. I idiotically followed a while after and jumped even higher, giving little thought to the landing as it didn’t appear to be too far down. I landed on a rock and, apart from twisting both of my ankles, seriously jammed my knee resulting in an inability to walk for the rest of the day. Useful. Even after this Anna then jumped off as well and jammed her ankles too. How hilariously ridiculous.

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Merry Christmas Everyone/ Welcome To The Jungle

Christmas this year was pretty odd to say the least. I made the others mini stockings with my hiking socks and stuffed them with wrapped fruit! Exciting! We had a fairly heavy egg-nogg and pancake breakfast before loading the car with camping gear and heading off. Christmas lunch took place at Nandos, followed by a ‘golden gaytime’ ice-cream (that is actually the name of an ice-lolly here). We arrived at Spring brook rainforest at around five and, after setting up camp, went to see the view from a lookout point. It didn’t disappoint. We also spotted some paddy-melons (wallabies) on the way which was a bonus. There was also an adorably fat bandicoot scuttling around the bbq area in the evening!

On Boxing Day we trumped our usual Cornish beach walk with a 17km hike through the rainforest. At one point Hannah and I were walking along, happily chatting about Paris when I suddenly noticed a large blue and red crustacean brandishing it’s claws at me a metre ahead on the path. I swore loudly and jumped about a foot in the area much to Hannah’s amusement. It transpired to be a ‘Lamington spiny crayfish’. To be fair, who expects to see a bloody lobster in the middle of the forest! We weren’t even near a stream! We actually saw a couple more. The highlight was finding a large carpet python which I, again, almost trod on. It was coiled on the side of the path and my heart stopped for a split second before I noticed the pattern on its back. I would not be good at staying still if I got that close to a taipan (the most venomous snake in Aus)! The python was extremely lethargic. It only moved off when Melissa and I touched its tail.

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The antagonist of the story became apparent after a few km. I noticed a little blob on my arm which I eventually twigged was a leech. We then looked down and noticed that our shoes and socks were covered in the disgusting little creatures. We had to then make regular stops to ‘de-leach’. The little buggers were even swarming inside the car; we kept on finding them in our shoes even once we’d driven back to the campsite! That night we also made a fleeting visit to the Spring brook glow worm caves which were spectacular – completely covered in Asian tourists though, not quite as authentic an experience as our walk in New Zealand! We drove back today, stopping for the day at the gold coast for a sun-bathe and a swim which was fantastic after the pouring rain in the rainforest over Christmas and Boxing Day (we got completely soaked on our walk and remained damp for the duration).

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Palace Of Brine

Christmas Eve: we headed out to Moreton Island off the coast of Brisbane. The ‘luxury catamaran’ transfer to Tangalooma resort turned out to be a ferry full of Asians. We then proceeded to be herded around like livestock. Absolutely everything had a hidden price –the epitome of a ‘tourist-trap’. What little we managed to get out of the sand-boarding trip was fun though, granted, a face and mouth full of sand seemed inevitable but that was sort of part of the fun. We considered burying our sand boards and sneaking back later for a proper go but got distracted by the all-you-can-eat buffet. The snorkelling in the pile-up of shipwrecks off the island was absolutely incredible. We saw a couple of green turtles, all the usual suspects: parrot fish, box fish, clowns, angels etc. Melissa even spotted a golly wog/wobbegong/wolly gog wog (whatever the hell the thing was called, stupid bloody Australian names) hidden in one of the wrecks. A wobbegong is a large bottom feeding shark – they’re pretty stunning – see the photo below.

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The end to the day was the ‘feeding the wild dolphins’ experience. It was quite possibly the touristiest thing I’ve ever done, perhaps in close contention with the camel ride in Morocco. A large crown on the pier (predominantly Asian) watched us strip into our bikinis and be herded down into the water in pairs. We only actually got a minute or two in the water it was ridiculous. Don’t get me wrong, the actual feeding of the dolphins was fantastic but we only got one fish and weren’t allowed to touch them as apparently they don’t like it. I beg to differ; mine was rubbing up against my legs like a domestic cat and poking my hand with its nose, hoping for more fish. It was hilarious watching some of the other tourists having a go – the marine workers were having to swat away their hands, molly-coddling the hell out of everybody, of course, but you can sort of see why it was necessary!

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In This City

“Art is the most intense mode of individualism that the world has known. “
 – Oscar Wilde

Anna, Hannah and I have spent the last couple of days getting acquainted with Brisbane. We’ve visited a man-made beach in the middle of the city, done laps of the local markets to gather up the free tasters, wandered around the city popping into ‘tat’ shops and sauntered around the beautiful botanic gardens with the cockatoos and sacred ibis filling the skies. My personal favourite has been the Brisbane Gallery of Modern Art: Fantastically curated, with some really exciting exhibitions due to the ‘seventh Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’. I particularly was taken with ‘Raqib Shaw’, a London-based Indian artist who creates fantastically extravagant fantasy paintings which encapsulate a sense of Japanese delicacy whilst conveying incredibly graphic scenes. His work is incredibly original; He uses stain-glass paint, enamel, glitter and rhinestone which he manipulates with a porcupine quill to create the most incredibly intricate pieces on a grand scale. His large ‘Paradise Lost’ below understandably took him ten years to complete. If you have a moment it’s definitely worth checking him out: http://whitecube.com/artists/raqib_shaw/, although it’s impossible to get across the sense of the grandeur or the texture of the paintings through a photograph or a print.

On a slightly less cultured note, I also accidentally kicked a baby in the face. Not a proud moment. Seriously though, who expects there to be babies all over the floor in an art gallery – Of course I wasn’t watching my feet I was looking at the walls! Luckily the baby was absolutely fine and the mother was very understanding…How embarrassing!

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Fresh Pair Of Eyes

“Medicine is not only a science; it is also an art. It does not consist of compounding pills and plasters; it deals with the very processes of life, which must be understood before they may be guided. “
– Paracelsus

I thought I’d take a moment to recount some of the experiences and stories that Anna and Hannah have stumbled upon during their two months in South East Papua New Guinea. They have been working in a hospital for their medical elective – firstly in coastal Alotau and latterly on Goodenough Island, one of the D’Entrecasteaux Islands in the Milne Bay Province. It’s interesting to hear about the PNG culture from a totally different perspective. The highlanders are still viewed by many of the coastal folk as complete savages! An Australian called David who’s been working with the palm oil plantations for the past 18 months described his first encounter: He had just arrived in PNG and was staying at a hotel in Port Moresby. The first time he ventured out of the house he saw a ‘rascal’ (generic name for thieves or troublemakers) attempt to pick-pocket a highland man in full traditional dress. The highlander grabbed the rascal’s hand, cut off his arm with a bush knife, threw it on the floor and carried on his way. Nobody else on the street batted an eyelid. David retreated immediately to his hotel where he remained for the rest of his stay!
Anna and Hannah were staying in similar accommodation to me, partly with a Pastor and his family in their little family-run church and partly in the hospital’s accommodation on the island with four other Slovenian students. They made up the only six doctors on the island. The doctor-patient confidentiality in PNG is not quite as rigid as the system at home; whilst they were doing the procedure for contraceptive implants they had a stream of spectators wandering in to watch or take photos. As an example of the sort of cases they dealt with a young boy was brought it who had fallen six metres out of a coconut tree. They were trying to pacify him, worried that he’d ruptured his spleen, but he didn’t seem to grasp the concept of staying still and kept trying to get up to go to the market!
They also spent some time in a rural aid post in a stilted wooden hut. Every morning a man would blow a conch to summon the families from across the local area and mountains to bring their children down for inspection. They would weigh the kids in a big sack hanging from the roof with the equivalent of supermarket scales!
They also similarly had interactions concerning witchcraft: A young lady called Sandii told them about her Uncle who ‘flew around the islands to eat people’. She was uneducated as apparently her Uncle had put a spell on her giving her a permanent headache and therefore preventing her from going to school as her dad owed him money. She’s now a yam farmer.
There’s a little flavour of their side of the PNG story.

Anna and Hannah with Trobriand facepaint.

Anna and Hannah with Trobriand facepaint.

Moving On

“The most beautiful moments always seemed to accelerate and slip beyond one’s grasp just when you want to hold onto them for as long as possible.”
― E.A. Bucchianeri

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Yes, sadly all good things do reach their inevitable conclusion. My last days in Auckland slid by pretty quickly. I’d definitely recommend the art gallery to anybody passing through the area. The museum is also fantastic – a long walk but definitely worth it if you’re at all interested in Maori culture. I’m now reunited with Kieran , Melissa, Anna and Hannah back in Brisbane. Anna and Hannah have been doing their medical elective in a southern, coastal region of PNG so it will be fascinating to learn about their escapades of the last six weeks; it sounds like they were pretty much up to their necks in the religious fanaticism! It seems like months since I left Papua New Guinea now. New Zealand has been such a whirlwind! Despite my initial complaints (mostly concerning the ominous feeling that I was stepping back into the English “summer” climate), I can see myself living in New Zealand. The juxtaposition with my time in PNG has probably contributed largely to this secure, ‘homely’ sentiment! In fact out of all of the places I’ve visited It’s probably the country I’d most like to return to, excluding visiting relatives in South Africa/Zimbabwe of course! A trip to the south Island will have to be incorporated into my travels at some point in the future. But enough of that for now…bring on Australia!

So Lonely Was The Ballard

It’s strange how much you can miss people that you’ve only known for a week. The others left in Wellington to carry on down to the south Island. I’m so frustrated that I’m not going to get a chance to see the south Island – If I was reorganising the trip I would have arranged to go down, but you can’t do everything, I guess! I’m now back in Taupo, alone again. I should really make an effort with the people in my hostel but I just can’t see the point; I’m leaving early in the morning. The ‘nomads’ hostel I’m staying at is slightly cheaper than the ‘base’ hostel from the last stay in Taupo but not quite as central which is irritating. I miss friends from home, I miss the family (who I haven’t spoken to in weeks now) and I miss my travelling companions of the past week. Taupo seems a little empty without them!

Instead of moping about I decided to do a three hour hike to ‘Haku’ waterfalls and I stopped off at the hot springs on the way back for a quick dip. The springs are also a pretty laid back way of meeting new people…I got chatting to a Dutch group and a raging hippy from Colorado took us to a more secluded hot waterfall just up the river.

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The blur is actually steam coming off the water! As hot as a sauna!