Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Fish Creek, Victoria & The Pauls

The four weeks I spent in Fish Creek flew by. The Paul family, made up of five glorious people, Clyde & Bonnie (cats), Jess, Rocky, Sailor, Queenie, Holly, Smiley & other one (dogs), 140 cows, 300 chicks and 900 hens, was a happening farm. The following pictures will help depict some of the awesome sights, sounds and adventures I had while living with the Pauls.

The milking mob enjoying the luscious organic grass on the biodynamic farm…


The completely renovated salmon ranch house is situated at the bottom of a hill close to the milking shed. Amy & Nic plan to cover the pink exterior as soon as possible :)


Five galahs all in line.


Egg extravaganza…everyday we collected ~700 eggs from the coops and brought them back to the house for processing. The following pictures are from the eggroom where we’d candle, weigh, clean, and package each egg. Farm eggs require a lot of handling and work!
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The Pauls produce delicious organic milk on their property. And since calving is essential to a milking operation, my time on the farm included a crash course in cow insemination, birthing and calves. And, yes, I even stuck my hand up a cows bum :)

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From homemade ice cream to hikes at Wilson’s Promotory, I fell in love with southern Victoria and the beautiful people that reside there.

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A farewell bonfire, Paul style…pink marshmallows, chocolate, biscuits & the potential for a giant fire :)

I can’t thank the Pauls enough for all of the adventures they took me on, meals they shared with me, laughs we had together, and conversations we had. I have so much love and respect for each of you!!


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

From the WA to the SA, and everything in between

WA = Western Australia; SA = Southern Australia

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Fremantle, Western Australia

For two weeks, I lived and worked at an Ashram and Yoga Studio in a hip suburb south of Perth called Fremantle (the locals call it ‘Freo’).

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The ashram is located in a 1950’s hospital/old people’s home (above). The cement block building was full of high ceilings, creaky floors and ghosts!  Right off the bat I knew my stay at the ashram wouldn’t be complete without reading multiple scary books in bed. I found an op-shop, secondhand shop, in Freo and bought Silence of the Lambs  and I’ll be watching you. The books kept me on edge each night which made for good sleep and lots of memorable dreams. My friends at the ashram thought I was crazy to read scary books there, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself and would even recommend others to try it next time you’re taking cover in an old cold creepy hospital.

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Freo, as a town, offers the lonely traveler just about you anything you’d ever desire. A hip farmers & crafts market (above), sunset beaches (Indian Ocean), Mexican hot chocolate (Aussies have yet to learn about the joys of Mexican food…I’ve been enlightening my hosts as I’ve travelled), microbreweries and fun gals [like Kerry Ann & Marie (you can see I came across too loveable goofballs!)] to hangout with. I can see why so many people venture to Freo for a holiday and wind up never leaving.

After two weeks, one swami visit, two scary books, lots of free wireless internet, two good friends, plates full of vegetarian food, meditations and some yoga…I boarded the Indian-Pacific Train in Perth and began the two night journey to Adelaide.

Indian-Pacific Train: Western Australia to Southern Australia

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In case you ever board the trains or planes in Australia, be sure to pack your own snacks, drinks and meals because they don’t serve free food. Luckily, Marie and Kerry-Ann helped me prepare for my trip by whipping up a calzone, chili, fruits and granola bars. All of which were delicious! (and better than anything the train offered)

I highly recommend the train ride across Australia! You will get to see a transect of Australia that most people never see. Not only did the landscape change from coastal, to valley, to rolling hills, scrub, dry scrub, plain, scrub, rolling hills to forest, but I also saw numerous big red kangaroos, wedge-tail eagles  and koalas. Plus, two marvelous sunsets over the great outback! One of which was on the Nullabor Plain (center pic below with wildflowers along the tracks) where we traveled on the longest stretch of straight railroad track in the world. We made two longer stops (not more than 3 hours) during the trip. The first was a mining town, Kalgoorlie (pic below of me a gold miner’s statue) and the second was Cook (pic below of an outback jail hut in the middle of the outback…can you imagine how hot it would get in there?).

After two nights of sleeping in a reclining chair, which was surprisingly comfortable, my legs yearned to stretch and move. Good thing Adelaide, Southern Australia, was just around the bend.

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Adelaide, Southern Australia

After a quick 3km hike from the train station to my hostel, I dropped off my bags and took to the streets to explore Adelaide. My favorite spots in Adelaide are the Central Markets (left pic below), botanical gardens (center below), Southern Australia Museum and State Library. The city as a whole has the charm of a country town, but the amenities of a large city. I wish I had had more than 15 hours to spend exploring Adelaide, but at 6:20am the next morning I boarded another train and began to make my way to Melbourne and ultimately Fish Creek for my next home stay…a chook and dairy family farm.

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Saturday, October 2, 2010

Coral Bay, Western Australia

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Public transportation is a blessing and a curse at the same time.

1) I boarded the Greyhound Australia bus at 7:30am in Perth. We arrived in Coral Bay seventeen hours later. It’s normally an ~11 hour car ride.

2) Brekkie, lunch and dinner stops were at roadhouses. The food at all three roadhouses was barely edible. For example, I purchased a roast beef sandwich for dinner. The meat was more like beef jerky with a dense starchy, chalky roll (they don’t say bun). Luckily the roadhouse sold ginger beer to wash the meal down my throat.

3) Every seat on the bus was filled because there are zero public flights to the Coral Bay area. Plus, Greyhound has a monopoly on the route. Passengers included other backpackers (they slept most of the way), Perth City folk on school holiday, babies, and aboriginals. With so many people on board from all walks of life and cleanliness, there was a staunch odor of BO plus dirty shoes plus baby bottom for most of the trip.

4) I sat next to Kim, a Perth resident travelling to Exmouth for 8 days of camping, snorkeling and paddling. We swapped stories about our plans up north and thoughts on Australia, which was quite pleasant. After a few hours though I was tired of talking. She wasn’t.

Moving on from the bus ride…

Coral Bay is quite the sight to see! Crystal clear blue water, white beaches and minimal waves. It’s the perfect place to read a book, soak up some sun and snorkel along the Ningaloo Reef (which is why I made the trip!). Plus it’s along the Indian Ocean, which I had never swam in before. The other cool thing about this bay is that a large proportion of the area is deemed a sanctuary/no fishing/no boat zone, so it is teeming with marine life.

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The Ningaloo Reef stretches from Exmouth down to the Shark Bay area (stromalite territory, the oldest known organisms on the planet). Coral Bay is wedged in between the reef endpoints. The Ningaloo Reef differs from the Great Barrier Reef in that 1) its really close to the shoreline (you can swim out to it) and 2) it’s made up of hard corals that are less vibrant, but larger in size than the corals found on GBR. This reef is home to the whale sharks in the fall, 12 foot manta rays in the spring, reef sharks, tiger sharks, turtles and squid clusters. Humpback whales migrate along the coast as well in the spring and fall. Since most people are terrified of sharks, I should note that Coral Bay is relatively protected from sharks because the reef is close to the water’s surface making it nearly impossible for sharks to come inside the bay. Having said that, the next bay over (a 2km walk) is designated as a shark nursery and is home 50-100 young reef sharks. IMG_0665

Because the Indian Ocean is still relatively cold, I wasn’t able to spend all of my time in the water snorkeling. I was, however, able to go on 5 drift snorkels along the reef, free of charge! I literally walked off the tip of the bay, swam out 100 ft and drifted atop large rosette corals, blue tipped pencil corals, and hundreds of fish. This was my first experience with a hard coral reef and I was truly impressed. The shapes and size of the corals was impressive. The best thing I saw at sea though was a large black and white squid! I wound up swimming against the current for 10 plus minutes following the squid around observing it. The other fish treated the squid like magpies treat a hawk, they pestered it so it would move away from their homes.


Since I was in Coral Bay during the Aussie school holidays, which means the campsites fill-up to capacity, I decided to venture beyond the bay to the outback for an afternoon. As soon as I got behind the dunes, the ocean breeze came to halt and the oppressive outback heat set in. It’s a good thing I was prepared with water, sunscreen and a hat! On my 2 hour hike I found a dried salt lake bed converted into an outback golf course, fossilized roo tracks and poo, desert flowers and coral remnants. The sky was a brilliant blue and the desert was seemingly endless. As I bushwhacked over the dunes back towards the bays, three big red kangaroos emerged from the bush and jumped off into the sunset. During the hike, I came to realize the vastness of this country and how comfortable I am being a small spec in this world.


Thursday, September 30, 2010

Bat hospital: Atherton Tablelands

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Have you ever wondered what it’s like to work with bats? I am now qualified to tell you. To say it bluntly, it can be a relatively dirty and stinky job. Especially if you are working with megabats. By 7:30am Anneka, a Kiwi ecologist and now dear friend, and I were in the megabat cages shoveling poo. 90 minutes of scraping and spraying equated to at least 5 gallons of poo and food droppings [all of which was later fed to the worms]. It was disgusting! But once we finished, the cages were squeaky clean and would stay that way till the 2:30pm feeding giving us ample time to observe our accomplishments. We fed the megabats fresh apples, banana lollies [fresh bananas stuffed into suet cages], and banana smoothies [a blend of banana, dry milk, infant formula & fruitivorous supplement] everyday. In the wild, they’ll eat a wide variety of fruits and nectar. The free-tailed bats (seemingly micro compared to the macros, but normal sized for a bat in the US) ate mealworms dipped in an insectivore supplement. The free-tailed bats have poo similar to mouse droppings [easy breezy to clean-up], while the macros have green sludgy or brown slimy poo. I’ll spare you the descriptive details. All you need to know is that the bats themselves smell musky and the feces adds another layer of stink. Therefore, if you want to work with bats you need to have a strong stomach.

Aside from the mess they make, megabats are pretty cool. I suspect most of the folks from the States aren’t familiar with megabats due to the fact that there aren’t any native ones in the US and it is illegal to have them as pets. So here’s a brief overview centered around the species we had in Atherton.

As you can tell from the name, megabats are BIG. With a height of 12 inches or more and a wing span of up to 5 feet, they look like flying foxes in the nights sky. As I previously mentioned, macrobats are fruitivorous so there’s no need to be frightened of them. If you ask an Aussie what he or she thinks about megabats, they will likely tell you they are messy and nosy pests, or at least that’s what the skipper on my dive trip told me in Townsville. He’s perception of megabats stems from the bat colonies that form each summer around Australia, and in particular Queensland. A colony can range from 100 to over 1 million bats that sleep, mate and hunt together. Although nocturnal, during the day the bats squeak, shrill and sometimes squabble with one another while hanging in the trees. They also invert themselves (head up, tail down) to pee and poo while hanging in the trees. This leads to a substantial amount of feces underneath the tree, which to the public is perceived as a nuisance. To be honest, it’s quite a sight to see and hear so many bats grouped together in the trees. When I was in Cairns I couldn’t help but notice the thousands of bats hanging outside the public library (all the black specs are megabats). Mom, I think you should work there =)


In the Atherton tablelands, there are three species of megabats that reside or migrate through the area (see pictures below): spectacled flying foxes, little red flying foxes, and grey headed flying foxes. The bat hospital tends to all bats, but is internationally renowned for its work with megabats. The hospital is conveniently located near a small fragment of Tolga scrub, which is the rendezvous point for over 1 million megabats, mainly little red flying foxes, each spring.


Spectacled Flying-Fox with baby under wing (left wing). The babies cling to the mothers for a few months while they breast feed from the female’s teats which are located under the wings.


Little red flying-fox (male & well endowed).


Grey headed flying-fox.


Little red flying-foxes: bat colony flyout (~ 1million bats flew out over 15 minutes)

As a volunteer at the hospital, we would conduct colony searches to find injured bats. Most of the injured bats were paralyzed from a parasite known as the paralysis tick. Like the ticks we have back home, the paralysis tick is the size of a small pea. The paralysis ticks, however, emit a toxin into the host as it feasts. This toxin can paralyze and eventually kill bats as well as larger animals like dogs. Fortunately, the toxin merely causes a severe headache and tender spots when injected into a human. All paralyzed bats were picked up off the ground and brought back to the hospital where Jenny, the Tolga bat lady (she lives, breathes and nearly eats bats), would administer an anti-venom. The paralysis tick population booms between October and January often leaving 50 to 100 bats at the mercy of the hospital everyday. The volunteers during this time work 12-15 hour days managing all the incoming animals as well as feeding and cleaning up after the resident ones.

The second leading cause of megabat deaths are barbed wire fences. During the five days I was at the hospital five bats-on-the-fence calls came in. Only one of the fence bats survived. Although it may not sound like a lot, the resident colony has yet to reach capacity, which means many more bats will succumb to the fences in the region this season. Strong gusts of wind whipping across the tablelands drive the bats into the fences. Jenny actively educates the community and encourages farmers to remove barbed fences from their property to protect the bats, but this can be an uphill battle since most Aussies consider the bats to be pests.

All in all, my time at the bat hospital and in Atherton was worth it for the following reasons:

· I put my rabies vaccination to use.

· Anneka was a joy to be around. She’s one of those friends that leaves you smiling because of her silly dances and bat songs, but also has a real passion for exploring the vast and exciting world around us.

· I won’t have to call Kurt when there’s a bat in my room.

· There are few people that know Ray (the blind bat) and Sparky (the electrocuted bat)

· I saw PLATYPUSES in the WILD!!!

I’m off to Western Australia! There’s so much more to see and do. Cheers.

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