Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Land of Oz

What better to take the sting out of leaving Korea than a trip down to Australia to see some old friends? I didn't think there was anything, so I left Korea to visit Jimmy, who moved to Australia about 8 months earlier. He lives in Sydney and two other great friends, Chris and Joe, also decided to take this perfect opportunity to visit Sydney at the same time. You never expect schedules to work out like this, but as we found out, luck was on our side.

Sydney was a beautiful city. Just flying in on the plane I started becoming jealous of Jimmy and his location choice for ex-patriot living. I did love Korea, but I'm not about to tell anyone that it has great weather. I became so used to the grey ski, so used to cloud cover, and by the time I left I didn't even really notice China's "yellow dust" that blows over anymore. Well the crystal clear sky, warm sun, cool breeze, and white puffy clouds of Sydney quickly made me remember all the things I've been missing. It made me realize that there is some innate connection between people and the condition of the weather. I can have a good time on a rainy day, but seeing the sun shining already makes it a great day, and it was shining the entire time I was Australia.

As soon as I walked off of the plane I realized I was in a different world than the one I had become accustomed to in Asia. Just feet from the plane's gate there was a man on a microphone announcing the duty free deals of the day. That alone was something I've never seen or heard before, but there were other parts of it that made it stand out even more to me because I'd been living in Korea for a year, like he was announcing in ENGLISH! There were also lots of women with bright blond hair walking around. People looked taller than me. It seemed like there were obese people everywhere, and while all those things reminded me of America, everyone sounded like Crocodile Dundee, just to remind me I wasn't home yet. All the little differences seemed to stand out so brightly to me. The things I had gone a year without seeing were normal everyday things to you, but nice little surprises to me.

After arriving a few minutes before Joe at the airport we both took a taxi ride to Jimmy's apartment, in Woolloomooloo, to meet up with Jim and Chris. *Note to other travelers: There is no tipping in Australia, so don't listen to the taxi driver if he tells you there is, he's just being an Ass* Seeing Jim, Chris, and Jimmy's girlfriend Erin was really nice. I always thought that being apart from friends would somehow make it seem different when you met up again, but it's not. As soon as we saw each other it was like we were never apart. We still looked the same, acted the same, told the same jokes, and referenced Seinfeld episodes as much as ever. Even though I've been missing Seinfeld reruns for a year, I can still remember them pretty well.

We spent the first few days of the trip hanging out, catching up, barbecuing, seeing Jimmy's office, Sydney's streets and sights, and yelling lines from Gladiator at Russel Crow's mansion. It was everything I'd hoped for. But we did have one big trip planned, the 3 day excursion to Fraser Island. It's off the east coast of Australia and it's the largest all sand island in the world. Now what does that mean, "all sand island"? I wondered the same thing when I read it, but it means there is no rock formations, no roads, and that the ground beneath you will always be some type of sand while you're there. That is a little more understandable to imagine, but there are areas of the island that look like beach front (obviously), desert oasis, and rain forest. A rain forest growing out of the desert is something I had to see to believe.

Fraser Island was exactly what the type of thing I was looking for. It is a vacation spot, but you don't just sit around. There are no hotels, no spa's, or resorts, it forces you to have an adventure, and in a place that at times looks like it could be another planet. There are only sand roads that and they go up and down like crazy. Driving is part of the adventure because it's dangerous. You have to be worried not to crash the car as you're going over humpty-doodles (sand mounds), and crossing washouts, or just getting the car stuck in deep sand (like we did 4 times). I have no hesitation saying that the four guys from Jersey highly underestimated the seriousness of journey we had embarked on.

We planned out our route as we went along, bought food at the last minute for rock bottom prices, didn't realize we had no way to light the grill until almost nigh fall, thought we didn't have poles to set up the tent, couldn't find a campsite that we were legally able to camp in, found out we couldn't make a fire outside of the campsites that didn't allow us in, couldn't stomach the food we did buy, didn't bring Pepto-Bismol, didn't know how to dig a truck out of the sand, didn't bring enough lights, and I'm sure the list goes on but I'm starting to feel like I'm making us out to be a bunch of idiots. The thing is, none of this really effected the entirety of the trip at all. We were able to see more spots on that island than anyone else I've talked to that has visited there. Getting stuck was part of the adventure, running into a Dingo or two made things more exciting, the bad food made us feel like we were roughin' it, we found matches, and the tent poles, and made due without a fire. We were a bunch of idiots, but luck was just on our side.

On Fraser Island we went to a white sand, clear water lake that was empty. Yup, easily one of the most beautiful beaches I had ever been on, and it was deserted. Not a single person showed up in the entire afternoon we were there. Of course we played football in the white sand, if you know us you could have guessed that, but it was perfect. We walked in areas that felt like the desert. Saw lakes that seemed to be coming right out of the desert. Bathed in areas of water along the shores that bubbled up when the waves hit the rocks segregating them, earning them the name of the "Champagne Pools". We also climbed to beautiful lookout points, hiked cool trails, saw strange animals, drove on the beach, camped in the wild, and all around had an experience that none of us could have imagined.

After the trip to Fraser Island we thought the best of the trip was behind us. How could it get any better than beaches, fresh water lakes as blue as the sky, white sand, Champagne pools? Well no one saw this one coming but a night at the Sydney Casino turned out to be the one night of this trip none of us would ever forget.

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