BMcG Travels

At least my 3rd attempt at a Travel Blog

The morning after our trip up Cape Tribulation, I awoke like it was Christmas morning.

Today was the main event, the reason why most people come to Port Douglas…The Great Barrier Reef.

We were signed up for a full day snorkel, including a guided snorkel with a marine biologist, at one of the great (and quickly vanishing) wonders of the world.

As we walked to the Marina, I was on pins and needles. I wondered if the water would be too murky and how Ari would fair on only her second snorkel.

We boarded the massive Quicksilver II and rocked slowly out of Port Douglas harbor to Agincourt Reef on the outer edge of the reef system.

Though it was a bit rainy and dark on the way out, the sun came out for us as we pulled into the snorkel platform. The reef itself seemed as though it was at the end of the world. Beyond the edge of the reef, the true pacific loomed, dark blue and with heavy waves crashing against the far reef.

IMG_0888

Donning a full, head-to-toe lycra suit. We were ready to go. (apologies for the below image)

P1680579

The guided tour took us away from the masses and out to the further reef where we were met with beautiful coral gardens in crystal clear waters,

 

Giant clams,

P1680587

Stunning fish,

And even a sea turtle.

P1680618

Rounding the bend, we came across a 5ft white-tipped reef shark, who was off before I could take a picture. Despite a bit of current, it was a fantastic tour, with the biologist popping above the water to give us interesting tips and lessons on the sea life around us.

After spending over an hour in the water, we went back in for a quick lunch, after which we immediately dove back in for more time in the water — staying until the horn sounded to bring us back.

What shocked us both was the fact that a full 1/3rd of the boat simply didn’t enter the water… not once. Instead taking glamour shots on the boat, drinking and, in some cases, sleeping. If you are one of these people, why?

The boat ride back had us both feeling satisfied for a day well seized.
however, I was to be challenged in another way that evening.

The night before, we noticed a circus running as part of the Carnival celebration.

Not just any circus, however, but one that billed itself as a, ‘Circus for grown-ups.’

The show, called ‘Rouge,’  promised a night of hilarity, operatic cabaret and sensational acrobatics. Perhaps feeling a bit more emboldened than I normally would be, mixed with a dash of showing off in front of Ari, I bought us tickets.

Now, with the show upon us, I was terrified.

What had I signed us up for?

My delicate and puritanical east-coast sensibilities were about to be shattered by these down-under rogues.

“Too tired after the snorkel? We can always just turn in early?” I asked Ari.

“Nope.” She replied.

Typical Californian, I thought to myself,  no sense of decency.

With thoughts jumping between my old Catholic priests (I haven’t been to church in 18+ years) and my boarding school headmaster (15+ years on that one), I shamefully crept into the old-style big tent.

These seats are too close together, I can’t breathe in here.

I began to sweat.

Hands held crisply to my side, and wearing a button-down shirt and khakis for some reason, I bobbed and weaved until I was seated. I’ve never been one for parties or crowds and this was one crowded party.

Ari, loving everything, was laughing the entire time, pointing out the old ladies in the front row and the other patrons who were clearly dressed to attend the show.

What, I thought, do these people expect to happen? Oh god, what IS going to happen? Maybe they know something that I don’t!

Then the lights went out.

Shrieks and hooting pierced the air. My back began to ache from tension.

Then the show began.

At this point, Ari was just as excited to see my reactions as she was to watch the show.

The performance was…not that bad! The jokes were no worse than your standard episode of South Park and, despite the occasional bawdy gesture, the primary focus was on the acrobatic and singing skills of the performers.

And honestly, nothing could ever be worse than my 30th birthday in Bangkok, but that’s a story for another blog…

Our final day in Port Douglas was a sad one.

we were both lamenting leaving  the warm sun, green jungles and beautiful waters. We did one final swing through the downtown area before (very) reluctantly boarding our bus to the Cairns airport.

Maker:S,Date:2017-2-23,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-Y

Ari is sad to be going

As if to say goodbye, the natural world of Australia came out, with a resting crocodile and a mob of wallabies visible from the road as we drove back.

Ari’s final days in Melbourne were a blur. As I was working during the days, our remaining time together was spent in the evenings.

Saying goodbye is never easy, but this one was especially tough. Each day closer to her departure felt like an added weight. I hoped to avoid going to the airport to see her off — selfishly preferring to rip the band-aid rather than having to endure a long ride of inevitability. But, as Andrew said to me, “Mate, we’ve been over this…”

Sometimes I feel like saying goodbye has become an institution in my life — to my family and friends when I would leave to go to boarding school; to my roommates and friends, who would get kicked out the same school; to everyone in Massachusetts; and to all the folks I met in the odd times and inbetween.

I wait with Ari as she checks in, wishing I could be more numb, but somehow, over the past year, I’ve forgotten the art of burying my emotions.

The moment of truth comes and we say our goodbyes (several, to be honest) and she walks through security.

I hop on the bus and start the ride back, noticing that things suddenly seem a bit less bright.

P1680690

After a packed weekend and more delicious food, we were off to the real adventure!

Yes, I’m talking about the NSW In-house Counsel Day conference in Sydney! (All joking aside, it was wonderfully done)

In truth, we were off to Sydney were I would be working a conference while Ari had time to explore the city. In fact, getting a jump start, she took an early morning flight out to enjoy her holiday.

Before my afternoon flight, I noticedsomething odd on my ticket.

In small parenthesis, next to the word MELBOURNE, was Avalon.

“What the hell is Avalon?” I said to the office.

Coffee cups shattered and phone conversations cut out as every head turned to me.

“Mate, you booked from Avalon?” Asked one of my coworkers in disbelief and disgust.

Too scared to verbally reply, I cast my eyes downward and nodded shamefully.

Avalon, as it turns out, is Melbourne’s OTHER airport – located in the distant wilds near an eldritch habitation locals call Geelong. I was in for a bus ride.

As I shuffled on to the bus I glanced at the other despairing tourists, for no local would make such a grievous error. Without a word, a silent pact was made – that none would identify the other nor admit to this tragic mistake.

No tickets were checked as no person in history has ever tried to lie to get to this place.

The driver, with dead eyes, and faced with the Sisyphean task of plying this route for eternity, mumbled something in what I thought was Latin and we were off.

As we left Melbourne, the skies began to darken. A blight of sorts had warped the terrain. But, was it even the same land? I was a stranger.

Despite my alertness I began to doze, only to startle awake at the sound of nether laughter, which came from nowhere … and everywhere.

As we pulled in to a corrugated tin structure the size of a Trader Joe’s parking lot, I noticed there were fewer passengers on the bus than when we began. The ride had taken its toll.

Somehow I made it through the madness and made my flight to Sydney.

That Evening, Ari and I had a decent meal but with a view that couldn’t be beat.

Maker:S,Date:2017-2-23,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-Y

The next morning, knowing that my time as a tourist in Sydney was limited to mere hours, I ran off to catch the sunrise view of the famous harbor bridge and Sydney Opera House.

After a long day at the conference, we set out into Sydney. Knowing we had an extremely early flight out to Cairns, we had a nice meal nearby on The Rocks and turned in before 9pm.

The next morning, we were off! My hope was that we would be able to fit in an afternoon snorkel but everything, from flight times to other guests cancellations, had to go exactly right.

Meanwhile, across space and time, my beloved Tampa Bay Lightning were playing in Game 7 against some team from Washington. I knew in my heart that if we made the snorkel the Bolts would lose.

We made the snorkel.

Pulling out of the harbor, we had beautiful views of Port Douglas as we raced out to the Low Islands. Though the water was murky and the current swift, the main goal, of getting Ari snorkeling as a warm up for the big snorkel out at the Barrier Reef, was a success.

IMG_0470

That night, we stopped into a lovely restaurant for our first relaxed date night together.

The next day we were off early — up to Mossman Gorge, crocodile spotting, the Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation. A packed day that promised some prime opportunities for wildlife spotting, some light jungle walks and seeing the only place on the planet where two natural World Heritage Sites meet (The Daintree Rainforest and the Barrier Reef.

Our first stop, Mossman Gorge, did not disappoint, with beautiful greenery and serene waters.

Up next was our big chance to meet the apex predator of Australia, the saltwater crocodile. Knowing I would get a grander opportunity to meet these animals (my favorites), I hoped Ari would get the chance. Fortunately we were lucky and, waiting on the banks as we pullyed out, was this 6ft lady aptly named ‘Fang.’

IMG_0581

After the river trip, we drove north of the Daintree River into the true wild of the rainforest. Up here was a wild land without power or running where. Were people live off-grid and the dinosaur-like Cassowary abounds.

The scenery was stunning.

and the wildlife equally so. (Including a red-bellied black snake, one of the most venomous snakes on the planet and the elusive jungle turkey [actually a thing])

Throughout my travels there are few places that truly embody the ‘paradise on earth’ feeling I felt on Cape Tribulation.

IMG_20180525_103217
As we drove back, enjoying some uniquely flavored ice-cream on the way home, we were both glowing after a day well traveled.

Upon arriving in Port Douglas, we enjoyed the Carnival. Complete with a parade, games and fireworks to round out an incredible day.

Maker:S,Date:2017-2-23,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-Y

Maker:S,Date:2017-2-23,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-Y

On the day Ari was set to arrive, I wasn’t thinking clearly.

I was awash with emotions and invasive thoughts – “Will she still like me after not seeing me for 6 weeks?” (She does)

“I hope Sim and Cata get along!” (They do)

After some stern reminders of common propriety from my coworkers, I went to the airport to surprise Ari, who was thrilled that I came to pick her up. (Again, thank you to Andrew, Deon and Nes who all gave me a serious look and talking to after I indicated that Ari, “would be fine getting to my apartment in Melbourne on her own,” – sometimes I need help connecting the dots)

Like the champ she is, Ari immediately wanted to get out to see the town. After a short walk down the Southbank promenade, we had some dinner then planned for the next day.

Just like old times, Ari fell asleep in my arms seconds after her head hit the pillow (Note: This is not jet lag related, that girl can fall asleep in an instant and it makes me supremely jealous as I do my usual 1.5+ hour ‘Brendan falling asleep routine.’)

The next day, we got rolling early and took the train out to Upper Fern Tree Gully Station to get to the Kokoda Memorial Track, or 1000 steps, in the Dandenongs Ranges.

“Plaques along the trail depict the lives of the soldiers who fought and died on the real Kokoda Trail in Papua New Guinea, during World War II. The steps represent the ‘Golden Staircase’, a name given by Australian soldiers to the 2000 steps cut by the Australian Army Engineers and others into the track between Uberi and Imita Ridge.” (https://visitdandenongranges.com.au/1000-steps)

As if to welcome Ari to Australia, a plump kookaburra was waiting right at the trail-head to meet us.

 

The beautiful, but physically taxing trail, cuts through the temperate/cloud rainforest of the Dandenongs, giving us the shocking colors I’ve come to love and expect in Australia.

Closer to the top, we were greeted with views of Port Phillip Bay and greater Melbourne – I’m still stunned that so much nature can be offered so close to an urban landscape.

After riding the train back to Melbourne and a quick rest back at the apartment, we made our way into Chinatown stopping down some of Melbourne’s famous alleys for some graffiti viewing and finishing things off with heaping plates of Dim Sum.

Maker:S,Date:2017-2-23,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-Y

The next day, it was a typical fall day in Melbourne – cloudy, chilly and rainy. Nevertheless, we made our way down to my favorite spot, the botanical gardens.

Again, Australia rolled out the welcoming committee of wildlife to ensure Ari quickly acclimatized.

IMG_0201

Showing Ari around the peaceful gardens was a treat – if only to see her reactions to some of my favorite spots – including a quick visit to my birthday tree.

IMG_0324

Following the trip to the gardens, we walked across South Melbourne to their famous market. I had pegged this location as a likely candidate for Ari’s favorite spot in Melbourne and I wasn’t disappointed by here reaction. (“Oohh, look at all this fruit! Oh my god, these bowls are only $6!? How many bowls do you think I can fit in a carry-on?”)

After loading up our shopping bag with some healthy veggies and meats, we made our way back to the apartment, just as the rain started to come down.

After a nice salad for dinner, and my body rejoicing at the end of a truly horrendous streak of the finest fast food and/or ravioli for dinner, we tucked in for some Westworld and bed – Just like old times.

E-ver:20180127.4571296.001.002?

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been keeping a fairly low profile, by my standards.

I’ve found myself simply enjoying the city and planning for the excitement to come — My calendar between now and August 1st is getting so full that I’ve taken some time to nap, recharge and watch some playoff hockey.

But, between napping, I have had some fun — going up the tallest building in Australia

IMG_20180506_115849.jpg

And finding my Birthday Tree! (As you may recall, my dad sponsored a tree in my name for one year in the Royal Botanical Gardens here in Melbourne)

IMG_20180506_130747.jpg

Because this is a shorter post, I want to give you a sense of what’s on my schedule in the coming months (Get ready for some more exciting posts with lots of pictures!)

  • Most importantly, Ari is HERE!!
  • Sydney
  • The Great Barrier Reef
  • Daintree Rainforest & Cape Tribulation
  • Darwin
  • Kakadu National Park
  • Litchfield and the jumping crocs of Adelaide River
  • Crocosaurus Cove! – Where I’ll be entering ‘The Cage of Death’ to swim with a crocodile (I have an adoration for crocs that I’ll get into later)
  • And, of course, plunging into the deepest, darkest jungles that Sumatra, Indonesia have to offer

Just typing the list above gives me such gratitude. I can’t believe all of this is on the horizon!

To end, I’d like to share some random thoughts I’ve had:

  • Since it’s release, I think I’ve listened to, or watched, ‘This is America’ by Childish Gambino every day — what a moment in music
  • I’m still getting over the latest Avengers movie
  • I’m desperately doing everything to appease the hockey gods, but, if they aren’t going to smile on my team this year, there isn’t a more long suffering team (and town) than Washington
  • Australian Rules Football is rapidly ascending my list of favorite sports to watch
  • Westworld is still great, but Billions is probably the best show that gets no love or buzz
  • Looks like we have ourselves a hockey series
  • All my love and energy is directed to my sister and brother-in-law, who are expecting their first any day now — even though I’m far away, my heart is with you both!

On my ride back from the Great Ocean Road and the Grampians, one thing we discussed stuck with me and nagged me throughout the week.

When speaking about the history of the Aboriginal cultures prevalent in Victoria (and Australia), I was told that, until 1967, Aboriginal Peoples were classified under the Flora and Fauna code — relegating them to the status of animals.

 

Through further research, I found this specific point to be a myth (as the cited article rather too gleefully notes). (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-03-20/fact-check-flora-and-fauna-1967-referendum/9550650)

 

And yet, after visiting the Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre in Melbourne, I found the truth to be no less troubling.

 

While Aboriginal Peoples may not have been classified as animals (officially), the fact is they were treated as such. Invisible until in the way.

 

The truth is the indigenous cultures of Australia were massacred, raped and enslaved over hundreds of years of colonization.

 

The truth is many of the rolling hills and serene landscapes I passed along my drive through the Great Ocean Road and Grampians were the sites of these massacres  — without a single plaque or marker to give an ignorant tourist such as myself even the slightest hint of the past. (https://cv.vic.gov.au/stories/aboriginal-culture/indigenous-stories-about-war-and-invasion/massacre-map/)

 

The truth is there are still many living victims of ‘The Stolen Generations,’ the result of a policy where, from 1910-1970, indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families in an effort to assimilate and erase all trace of their culture. Through this policy, children were separated form parents, and siblings torn apart and spread across Australia. All in the name of ‘improving their lives.’ In 2008, Kevin Rudd, then Prime Minister, apologized for the government’s role. His apology was met with opposition, including Tony Abbott (Prime Minster 2013-2015) who stated, “Yes, some kids were stolen and this is shameful but many were helped and some were rescued.”

(1. https://www.australianstogether.org.au/discover/australian-history/stolen-generations  — 2. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2008/feb/11/australia)

 

The truth is many histories of massacres and injustices are simply not acknowledged because Aboriginal history is largely based on oral telling, and the old world rule still applies — if it’s not written down, it doesn’t count. (http://theconversation.com/oral-testimony-of-an-aboriginal-massacre-now-supported-by-scientific-evidence-85526)

 

I don’t mean to spotlight Australia as the lone perpetrator of injustice. The United States’ track record of past and ongoing inequity towards, not only indigenous groups, but, quite frankly, all those of none white/European descent, is equal parts abhorrent and depressing.

 

What I do want to do is bear witness. To share the history I have learned.

 

I want to share my belief that trauma is transferable throughout generations. That, aside from the obvious economic and social effects that are still ongoing, and despite the arguments about whether trauma can be epigenetically transferred;  the shared, collective trauma of indigenous whitewashing, religious persecution, sexual orientation/gender discrimination, slavery, Jim Crow and police brutality is real. And, through that, I posit, that as a descendant of white Europeans, should I not share some of the responsibility for past injustices?

 

Most importantly, I believe the onus is on me and people who come from my background, from a point of inherited privilege, to be mindful of the past. Not to try to historically compartmentalize, but to learn and, most importantly, listen, lest we be damned to ignorance and the continuation of a cycle that has caused nothing but torment.

 


 

Following my visit to Bunjilaka, I walked clear across town to Yarra Bend Park — the supposed location of a camp of Flying Foxes.

 

I used photography to ground myself and reflect, letting the slow breathing that comes with holding a heavy zoom lens steady to meditate on what I saw and learned.

 

As is it seems, Australia’s nature found me first as I stumbled into the snoozing camp of the Flying Foxes.

IMG_9789

Lots of Flying Foxes…

IMG_9886

 

Now, to be clear, these bats (Grey-headed flying foxes, to be exact) are not “GIANT VAMPIRE BATS” as Indiana Jones would scream-shout at you, but rather harmless pollen and fruit eaters that, at their worst, are kind of noisy and smelly. But still, to see them in the hundreds was a bit imposing. Especially when they showcased their 3.3ft wingspan.

IMG_9851

Nevertheless, I was happy to watch them glide off to seize the night and figured that was my cue to start to make my way back to Melbourne for my own rest.

IMG_9824