Darwin's Turtle Lives 9th Life in Queensland, Australia

Wednesday, October 30, 2002
Well, after only a year since I last visited Australia, I don’t know how I did it, but I forgot about the Tim Tam and the electric tea pot. They go together – you can bite the corners off a Tim Tam and suck the tea right through it. It’s the best! Maybe if I can’t find work when I go back home I can try importing these two things. Americans are missing out!!

Visited the National Museum of Erotica in Canberra... we had to go to a government sponsored museum like that! It turned out to be more of a little shop rather than a large government museum, but it was fun hyping it up. I also saw my first dead kangaroo alongside the road on our way to Orange. Kangaroos come out at dawn and dusk and are sometimes they are hard to see. They can be really big, so watch out for them on the road, I tell you.

Also on the way to Orange (for Carla’s birthday!) we saw a short hologram film for the Japanese Memorial. I learned a little history about the area and saw a really bizarre hologram film. There was this mini stage (puppet show size) and a mini girl hologram telling the story. It was very intriguing – and Liam’s favorite thing to do when he drives through this little town.

Are purple M&Ms the new thing at home too?? I was craving M&Ms last week when I saw the color purple on the package. Apparently the whole world came to a consensus on this new color? Where was I? The package I bought had ONLY purple ones inside. It was like an early pastel Easter.

We spent Carla’s 29th birthday in Orange visiting one of her old friends Debby and her husband Mike. We had a great time celebrating – having dinner, meeting their friends, and frequenting the local bar scene. We also discovered the “lock down”. Bars close at 2 or 3am, but you must be inside the bar before 12:30am when they lock the doors. So the bar remains open, but they won’t let anyone in after 12:30. And, as we discovered, 12:31 really is past 12:30, and they won’t let you in!

At the Australia Zoo in Brisbane we saw the Geriatric Ward for the Koalas. Well, they don’t really call it that, but that’s really what it was. In the wild koalas live to be 8 to 10 years old, but in captivity they can live to be as old as their early twenties. The oldest koala lived to be 24 and I met one that was 23! When they get to be older than 10ish though, their teeth start to dull and fall out and they have a hard time eating the eucalyptus leaves, which is mainly all they eat. I found out all this stuff because the zookeeper was feeding the geriatrics with a little bottle and putting ointment onto their little paws.

Also at the Australia Zoo I saw the oldest living creature. Her name is Harriet and she turned 172 last year! She hails from the Galapagos Islands and it was this very tortoise that Darwin used to come up with his theory of evolution. Eventually, he got bored of the poor little guy though, and he sold it to a boat that was bound for Australia. Tortoises were often brought onto ships embarking onto long voyages because they provide lots of fresh meat without having to refrigerate anything at all. Harriet lucked out: the passengers on board her ship never ate her and she arrived at the Brisbane Botanical Gardens where she roamed about until they also got sick of her! She continued to eat all the plants and ruined the gardens, so they gave her to the Australia Zoo in 1970 where she now has her happy home.

The Australia Zoo is, by the way, Steve Irwin’s Zoo. You know, that kooky crocodile guy from TV?? I think he even has a movie coming out right about now, too. At the Zoo we watched two crocodile shows – they egg on the crocs and feed them while all us tourists ogle at them. It was great! Highly recommended if you are in the neighborhood.

We have been staying with Liam and Ann in Sandgate, near Brisbane. They are the parents of Carla’s lifelong pen pal, Sarah. They have taken us everywhere! They had a BBQ for Carla last night (where she had her third birthday cake) and today they drove us all over the Gold Coast where we introduced them to a few friends we met in India… that happen to live in the Gold Coast. It was a great lunch and a great reunion! Thanks to all the Kearns family - Liam, Ann, Sarah, Sean, Kate and Ross!

Love from Sandgate (Home of the Penpal),

Australia... and the Top 7 Things I Forgot to Mention About India

Thursday, October 24, 2002
G'day mates! Today is the halfway point in my trip! I have as many memories to look back on as I do travels to look forward to. Today is my 139th day.

I climbed the Sydney Harbor Bridge the other day. It was so much fun,and really one of the only reasons I wanted to come back to Sydney, it was great! We also went to the Zoo, to a hash, and to a movie... something with Tom Hanks in the Mafia. In a few minutes we are leaving to meet up with Carla's pen pal from Junior High, who we have already met quite a few times. (Hi Sarah!)

Fun fact about the Sydney Opera House: When it was built, the planned cost was supposed to be 3 million dollars. By the time they were done, it cost 105 million dollars! Oops.

Not too much to report on, but I keep thinking of interesting stuff from India, so here is a bit more on that:

  1. Upon trying to check into my hotel room in Goa, India (after finding out that the original year and a half old booking turned up a shut down hotel!), the man behind the desk asked my friends and I would we like a room with a fan (some call it fan con), or one with air con. It's really hot and humid in Goa, so of course we wanted air con, so that's what we told him. He replied that they no longer had any rooms available with air con, so how about one with a fan?
  2. The Indian government runs handicraft stores called Cottage Craft Emporiums. They are great, because they are actual stores (as opposed to street vendors) where you purchase stuff without getting
    harassed and without having to haggle with anyone. In Delhi it was so complicated to go through the checkout line and purchase your goods that I actually needed assistance! In the end, it took five people (I counted) to sell me my $3 drink coasters. Guy #1 wrote out the receipt and brought the item to 2 men who both wrapped up my item and stapled it into a paper bag. Another woman took my money and sent me over to the "wrappers" to collect my purchase – after showing them my receipt, that is. The fifth guy checked my bag at the door to see that I took from the store what I actually paid for.
  3. We actually saw this sign at a train station: (sic) "Visitors Are Requested To Travel By Rail, Because Rail Is Very Comfortable And Is Connected By All The Tourist Spots In India. For Proper Guidance Please Contact International Tourist Bureau And Tell This To Your Fellow Tourists Too. Our Services Are Always At Your Disposal."
  4. A second sign I saw in the train station was this, "Cleanliness is next to Godliness". I actually caused a
    scene when I saw this because I thought it was so funny. The thing about Indian trains are the toilets... when you flush, it all just lands out on the tracks underneath the train! In order to alleviate some of the bad smells, they ask that you don't use the toilet while the train is stopped in the station... but since does anyone follow rules? You can imagine the results...
  5. As a Westerner in India, you are a SPECIMEN. I kid you not, little children point at you and tell their Mom about you in Hindi. Teenage boys follow you around town like the Pied Piper. At tourist attractions fathers take photos of you with their pre-pubescent daughters. And, movie producers ALWAYS cast Westerners as extras in their moves, trust me!
  6. You name it, and you will find it piled onto a moped. This isn't specific to just India, it applies to South East Asia too. Here's a few examples – rugs, coconuts, pigs, hundreds of sticks, corn bushels, very large boxes, families of four, propane tanks, loads of whole chickens, lots of fish and dangling turkeys, to name just a few!
  7. I went on a tiger safari and actually saw tigers. It was really amazing. It was in a reserve in Rajastan and when we started asking our jeep guide stuff about the tigers we found out some fun facts: There are currently about 35 tigers in the reserve. They have room for about 70 before the tigers start encroaching on each other's territory – at that point they'll start fighting each other to the death to protect their land. The best is this – during the nineties the number of tigers in the park decreased to about 17 because government officials were poaching them. That's right, politicians were actually going hunting IN the game reserve; so much for a National Park!

India, Horn OK Please!!!

Thursday, October 17, 2002
My time here in India is coming to an end... I've been here for about a month now and I leave tomorrow to spend one day in Bangkok on my way to Sydney. I just booked tickets online to climb the Sydney bridge!! Anyway, my trip here has been fantastic! I couldn't have dreamed up a better way to spend one month than what I have been doing. We arrived into Bombay and tried to become movie stars overnight... well, the outcome isn't good! We bailed. They wanted to us to wear these skimpy little red dresses and dance on the bar!! No thanks!! They also left us in the corner "to await further instructions" for ages. We decided that we would have a much better time meeting up with all the hashers who were descending upon the city instead.... so I went on a sleuthing mission around the hotel and planned our exit route. They never even knew we left.... at least not until we were long gone anyway!! In Bombay we got our first tastes of what the Interhash would be like. Hashers everywhere!! The only tourists in India right now it seems are hashers. Thousands of them everywhere!! It was great, everywhere we went in Bombay we met more people. There's nothing like visiting a World Heritage Site in India and bumping into someone you met in Malaysia. It was hilarious! We went on a few runs on the outskirts of the city and went to a few parties sponsored by the Bombay hash. I got to see the traditional art of forming wax into bracelets. Of course, I had to get one made and it was so cool! My favorite thing in Bombay was checking out the "laundry facilities". There's this place in the center that does all the laundry for the entire city. It's like the Disneyland of washrooms. It's unbelievable. It's all outside and it's the size of a whole neighborhood! These men stand in these cubicle like things made of concrete and they stand in about a foot of water. Somehow in all the chaos going on down there, they string up perfectly white sheets and clothes! How they can make such clean clothes in a place so dirty I have no idea!!!

The Interhash committee organized a party for everyone before we took an overnight train down to Goa, where the main event was being held. The party was great, and it was where I got my first taste of really good Indian food. Still probably the best I've ever tasted! Then the few hundred of us who were there hopped on the buses waiting for us outside and went over to the train station. The hash actually commissioned a special train - the only people on that train, approximately 1000, were hashers. On regular Indian trains you are not allowed to drink.... but by having our own train it was like a 12 hour party on wheels. An experience I'm not likely to soon to forget.

When I finally got to Goa (site of the World Interhash!) the hotel my friend booked over a year ago, had long since closed. Hmm. So much for using the official tour agency of the interhash! Oh well, we sorted things out and found another hotel within a half hour and all was well. We stayed right on the beach! The interhash was amazing! The venue they they set up was the main meeting place for everyone. The erected a huge tent, complete with all you can eat dinners and beers every night for three nights. There were four thousand people there every night!! The beer cans even had the interhash logo emblazened right on the can! Each day there were organized runs and buses to take you there. It was a great way to see lots of little villages and scenes of Goa the average tourist doesn't get to see. The World Interhash is held every two years in a place voted on by it's members. A representative from each hash present at the event (I got to place the vote for Boston!) decides where the next one will be held. Those hashes who want to host the event put in a bid. It was narrowed down to Auckland, Perth, and Cardiff, Whales. Each hash placing a bid puts lots of work into the planning... and in the end Cardiff won! I already got my registration... so in July 2004 you know where to find me!

Once the Interhash was over, my trip was really just beginning! Carla and I signed up for a 2 week tour (with the hash!) of the state of Rajastan. I wasn't sure exactly what to expect, but it was phenomenal! We stopped at quite a few places including: Bikaner, Jaisalmer, Sam, Jodhpur, Sawai Madhopur, Jaipur, Bharatpur, Agra and Delhi. At almost every stop we stayed in the nicest places in town (a deviation from the usual, to say the least!). Lucky for us, the nicest places in town are always the Maharajah's Palaces. When India gained their independence in the forties, the Maharajahs no longer got money from England, so they had to start supporting themselves and their larges estates, or go bust. Many went bust! There used to be a few hundred Maharajahs and now there are under 50. Those that still exist have no power, but still carry their title and in order to support their estates turned them into 5 star hotels! At the palace in Bikaner, we actually had 2 separate bathrooms in the room! It was also the place where we turned the lawn into a cricket game! The Brits and the Aussies taught the Americans how to play, and since many of us couldn't even claim we had ever even watched a game it was a big undertaking.

I visited a rat temple where the local citizens treat these rats with utmost respect because it is believed that everyone in the town will be reincarnated as a rat. I have to admit, I was a little squeamish at taking off my shoes.... but I made it out alive. In all temples you have to cover your shoulders and knees and leave your shoes at the door. I also watched a camel parade at the camel breeding farm! The camels get fed at dusk every day and they all march out in a big line from their large pen to the food area. They are very funny to watch.... and even funnier to ride! We drove to the desert to a place called Sam (60k from the Pakistan border!) to ride camels, watch the sunset, and sleep in the desert for the night. It was probably the most hilarious part of the trip! They had traditional Indian entertainment for us (including a private fireworks display!) and I tried my hand at balancing the big bowls on my head while dancing. I failed miserably. How they do it, I can't ever be sure... but they make it look easy enough!!

Cows in India really are sacred, and they roam everywhere. When I say everywhere, I mean EVERYWHERE! Even when the owner of the cows lives in a city, he let them out to "graze" in the city streets all day. They are trained to return home in the evenings after picking through the garbage throughout the day. Traditionally, an Indian family won't have breakfast until they bring some food out to the cows - everyone feeds them, not just the owner. You'd think this might make them big and fat - but just the opposite is true. Most of them are the scrawniest cows I have ever seen! Allegedly, the cow is so sacred here that if a person driving a car is faced with hitting a person or a cow... they'll hit the person first. So watch out!!

Driving in India, and crossing the street for that matter, is an art form. There are no lanes, no particular fashion for who has the right of way, and generally no rules. It's up to YOU to barrel down the road without hitting any pedestrians, cows, camels, people, goats, rickshaws, motos, bicycles, cars or other things that maight have found their home on the road. In order to assist you in your quest for driving and surviving, India has given new meaning to blowing your horn. You NEVER pass someone unless you lay on the horn. You proceed to lay on that horn from the time it occurs to you that overtaking that car or truck or motorcycle is an option until you are in full view of whoever it is you have passed. Most trucks have painted this on the back of their vehicle like a bumper sticker, "Horn OK Please!!!". Passing a car is just one example of when to use your horn... they also just honk, generally, all the time or just to let you know they are there.

One day I even saw a BEAR alongside the road on the outskirts of town.Someone (and the copycats down the road) got the brilliant idea that a bear would attract tourists. The scheme being that if you pull over to take a photo with the bear, you have to pay them for taking the photo. The bear is a dark brown, smallish sized one called a Himalayan Brown Bear, which they drag over from the Himalayas. When they see you coming down the road they drag the bear out on the road, right in your path! Be on the lookout, because you have to swerve in order to not hit them. Strange, very strange, and not all that humane either.

The tour also took us through Agra... home of the Taj Mahal! What a fascinating place. It's bigger than I thought it would be - grand is the only way to describe it, although there really are no adjectives that do it any justice. It was built by the Maharaja there to honor is wife. She died giving birth to their fourteenth child. It took 22 years to build and during the entire construction, the Maharaja was in mourning. He watched it beeing built from across the river at the fort. Poor guy. Everything in the entire place is symmetrical except for one thing.... when the Maharaja died, they buried him next to his wife. That wasn't supposed to happen, but everyone knew how much he missed his wife, so they put him there anyway. He's either pleased to be placed there, or he is mad that the perfect symmetry of his masterpiece has been ruined by his casket. We'll never know.

The day after we visited the Taj Mahal was our last full day on the tour. We celebrated by having our own nightclub at the hotel. Complete with DJ and all. It was great! Everyone showed up wearing stuff they bought while in India. All sorts of cross dressing ensued - most of the men showed up wearing saris. Saris are the traditional Indian clothing for women. They are made up of NINE YARDS of cloth, usually silk. It was a really fun night, and a great way to say goodbye to everyone we met. Almost all the people on the tour were either British, American, Australian or New Zealanders.... but hardly anyone lives in their own country! Seems as though everyone we meet is a nomad! This works out well for Carla and I as we get to visit many of them in the next few months. From Agra, everyone on the tour went to Delhi.... except for me and another Boston hash named Austin. We rented a car (and driver!) and went back to Jaipur. Jaipur is known for being the silver capital of India, so I went back and spent two full days stocking up for Silversisters. The last night in Jaipur was the final day, day ten, of a Hindu festival. I have no idea what the festival was for, but the point is you burn lots of stuff to get rid of the evil spirits. Everywhere we turned their were little pyres of things going up in flames.... yet another thing to watch out for in the roads of India.

I'm now in Delhi, my last stop in India. I fly out tomorrow!! I've had a great time and thanks to everyone I've met for making my first trip to India so memorable!

PS. Here's a few more random things of interest to assist you or distract you in your daily life:
  1. I found out a handy thing here that gets me past many language barriers: a hand signal that announces you have to use the bathroom. Extend your hand up in a fist and raise your pinky in the air. Kind of like hitching for a ride, only a different finger.
  2. Met two people in the Guiness Book of World Records. The first painted the smallest tree with the most number of leaves; 17,000 or so. The second guy has the longest moustache in the world, got a photo.
  3. When an Indian performs a magic show he often says, "Shumggli Muggli!" right at the end of the trick! Something to keep in mind in case you ever perform magic in India.
  4. It's bad luck to walk counter clockwise around a temple. You must go clockwise.