1.  
  2. So for my final weeks in Australia I decided what better way to spend them than out of the country! I decided to book a spontaneous two week backpacking trip with a friend through South East Asia, specifically Malaysia, Thailand and Cambodia. We had roundtrip flights through Kuala Lumpur, so we decided to try and make it as far as we wanted to go in the first few days, then spend the rest of the time making our way back. We landed on the first day at about 6 pm and immediately booked tickets on an overnight train to Hat Yai, where we spent the majority of our first full day exploring as we made our way north to Bangkok. Another night train out of Hat Yai and then we spent two days in Bangkok, exploring the city on foot with all of its beautiful temples on every corner, traffic packed streets and crazy night markets. After Bangkok we made our way by trains and buses to Cambodia where we landed in Siem Reap to explore Angkor Wat. The ancient temple city is nothing short of spectacular; it’s absolutely worth the $20 entry, which was equivalent to an entire day’s expenses for two people (including food, travel, and accommodation)! Cambodia is absolutely beautiful and awesome for young travelers, and we met plenty of other backpackers on the road. We didn’t have enough time to continue traveling through Cambodia to Phnom Penh,  or to go northern in Thailand to Chiang Mai, so we passed back through Bangkok to explore more of Thailand on our way back down to Malaysia. But then we ran into some trouble on our way back through Bangkok and well… to make a long story short… we spent a night penniless in a particularly filthy hostel and had early morning embassy appointments for some emergency passports! It was the worst thing at the time but ended up being not a huge deal to sort out, and we kept going a day later! We had researched a remote town called Khao Sok in the middle of the jungle, and spent two days trekking the National Park and staying in our own treetop bungalow. Not bad for $10 a day! After Khao Sok we took a van to Ao Nang where we caught a boat out to the remote island of Railay. Covered in limestone caves, the strip of land is the entire island and is surrounded by dots of other floating islands and boulders in the middle of the ocean. We did a lot of climbing and cave adventuring, and I saw the most beautiful sunset of my life! Of course, no words to describe. After Railay we spent a day in Kuala Lumpur, making the most of the end of our trip seeing all the big sites: Petronas Towers, Batu Caves, markets, everything. After that it was a nice 9 hour AirAsia flight back to Sydney! I was absolutely devastated to leave at the end of the trip but so excited about everything I had seen and done. Eating bugs, sleeping on trains, buses, planes and dirty hostels, living out of a backpack and even surviving without money or passports for a bit! By far the best thing I’ve ever done for myself, can’t WAIT to get on to my next adventure!!!

     
  3.  

  4. Blue Mountain Weekend

    For my Outdoor Education class, I went with 63 other classmates and spent the past weekend hiking the Blue Mountains. We left early on friday morning, catching an 8:32 train from Central station up to Katoomba. The train took about two hours, and by the time we arrived we realized just how much colder it is up north. As soon as we took our first steps off the train, we realized how cold the weekend was going to be. We broke up into our small groups of five that we had organized in class as the cabins we would be arranged in for the weekend. Luckily, I ended up with a bunch of my friends and we gathered in a group of a few other people for the first days’ hike. It was relatively easy for the majority of the walk, nothing too steep or messy.

    We started the hike with the world’s steepest railcar that was previously used for the coal mining. It definitely felt more like a roller coaster, and we had to hold on to the sides to make sure we didn’t fall forwards! Once we got to the bottom, we started the first days’ hike that was essentially pretty tourist-y. There were a few sites with signs to describe the coal mining history that was so prevalent in the area. The path was paved, and there were hikers of all ages and physical abilities enjoying the view. There were also a number of contemporary art pieces displayed throughout the woods, some better than others, I thought. My favorite were three lit faces of Buddha, in ranging depths from the path. We stopped for lunch about half way into the hike, and braced ourselves for the thousand step staircase. This was the last part of the day, and it was literally a staircase of roughly a thousand steps that lead from the bottom of the valley where we had hiked all day to the top, finishing at the top of the Three Sisters. The day’s hike was relatively easy until the staircase; my legs were like jello by the time we reached the top! But standing on the edge, overlooking the valley below, it was peaceful and reassuring knowing that the elevation was overcome by hard work and will power. It definitely asserts the idea in my mind that especially in nature, it’s possible to achieve any physical goal if you can focus and see the light at the end of the tunnel.

    When we finished our hike and met with the rest of the groups at Echo Point we all stood together and saw if we could yell in unison and have it come back to us (testing the validity of the Point’s name, if you will). I’m not sure if it worked exactly but it was a pretty good time anyways. We took a group photo and then hopped back on the buses, dirty and exhausted but excited to see our cabin accommodations and get some food! The bus dropped us at a nearby grocery store, and we shopped in our groups of five for the meals for the rest of the weekend. My group and I decided that night that we would make shish-kabobs on the grill, so we got assorted veggies and some chicken and prawns. We stocked up for the rest of the days, and considering how starving we were while we were shopping we definitely bought enough to tide us over (or at least we thought…). Back on the bus, we headed to the cabin site where everyone was to be staying. My group and I were one of four cabins to be detached from the other groups, and this was because such a large number of students were going on the trip this weekend that separate arrangements had to be made for the cabins (I’m pretty sure our cabins ended up being a bit nicer than everyone else’s!).

    As soon as we got to the cabin, we all figured our rooms and beds out and started immediately making food. We were super starved, and luckily there happened to be skewer sticks in the drawers for our kabobs! We had planned to find some sticks in the woods and have Sarah (one of the girls in my group) whittle them down for us because she is pretty handy with knives, but fortunately we saved her the time and effort and got to cooking quicker. Sarah is also great at getting fires going, so she started on our fireplace and within minutes the whole place was toasty and cozy. By the time we were all fed and warm, Wayne had come around to the cabins telling us that we would all meet in one of the other nearby cabins with the other groups to discuss some of the hike from the day. We headed over there and all hung out in one of the neighboring cabins with the other four groups (all girls, coincidentally?). Wayne and Nikki came in and we sat around talking about the hike, and how mental preparation is key for physical success. Wayne stressed this point for the hike planned for the next day, saying that it would definitely be more difficult than today’s. After an hour or so we went back to our cabins to hang for a bit, watch a little TV (yes, there was actually a television in our cabin), and head to bed early in preparation for the long day ahead.

    In the morning, we got up early to make breakfast and lunch before meeting for the bus by 8. After a quick feed and dress, we came together with the other groups on the bus and drove to the beginning point of our day long hike. It was a pretty ugly day out, windy, rainy and cold, and it didn’t put us in good spirits for the beginning of the day. Once at the site, we formed groups of 11 and started down the valley. The descent felt like it kept going for years… I have climbed mountains before, and usually going down is at the end of the hike, and considered easier. This valley hike was a first for me, and by the time we reached the bottom my legs felt like jello. We walked along the bottom in what’s called Blue Gum Forest, because it’s filled with Gum trees that have peeling park like parchment. Nikki told us that this is because the tree actually requires fire for its seeds to drop, so by collecting highly flammable debris around its base, when a flame happens to be nearby, it burns quickly enough to allow the seeds to drop without damaging the tree’s longevity. Pretty heavy stuff for a tree, if you ask me.

    We continued along the bottom for a few more hours, and by this time we were completely soaked. It was pouring rain at some points, and varying on and off. If we stopped moving we got cold pretty quickly, but with a good pace we were able to stay warm well enough. We met up for lunch with some of the other groups at a spot called Junction Rock, named because of its location of the streams in the valley all coming together there. We were pretty hungry, of course, but after sitting for 20 minutes in our wet apparel, we got pretty stiff and cold and decided to get a move on quickly. We started the process of the long awaited and anticipated climb back up the valley, feeling pretty good with some food in our system and with half a day’s hike behind us. My group sang songs, had long, philosophical conversations, and generally kept our minds busy. Every time I looked up and saw how much further it was to the top of the valley I felt a bit unsure of how the heck I was ever going to get back up there. I kept remembering how long the hike down was, and thinking that every step down is going to have to be done going back, but without gravity’s help. As we got higher we reached a beautiful spot with a massive waterfall named the Bridal Veil waterfall because of the way the water mimics the movement of a veil. Keeping that waterfall in sight for the remainder of the climb up was like having an extra piece of eye candy to keep us going. We were finally reaching above the tree tops, visibility was getting greater and the views becoming more and more spectacular the higher we climbed. The rain had decided to take a brief hiatus for about an hour around this time, and while we stopped every so often to catch our breath we would marvel at how unreal the surrounding views were. I took plenty of pictures, but of course they’ll never do it justice… even in my mind’s eye I know I can’t see it exactly as it was, immense and luscious and even more valuable after being climbed through! Seeing the distance from up high gave me a better perspective of how far we had really gone all day, and I have to admit I was definitely feeling proud of myself. Not that I had ever doubted I could do it, but remembering how impossible the ascent seemed when seeing it from the bottom and then looking down and thinking, “damn, I did it!”, it felt pretty good. Back at the top after what seemed like a year later, we kissed the ground and stood to enjoy the views for a bit longer. But of course, it wasn’t even five minutes that we had finished the hike that the rain started coming down again, and harder than it had all day. We climbed onto the bus and ate whatever morsels of food we had left, sharing around with anyone else who had finished and just talking about how beautiful and crazy our day had been. I felt bad for anyone walking behind us, because the final steps in their hike had to be through pouring rain, but I was just glad to be inside and dry. My group and I had finished pretty early, and we were on the bus long enough waiting for everyone else to finish that I actually fell asleep out of physical exhaustion. It was a fantastic little nap, and I woke up as we were driving back to the cabins.

    Feeling exhausted, cold, dirty, but amazing, my group and I immediately started washing and cooking as soon as we got to the cabin. We took turns through the shower, and finished whatever food had been left from the previous night’s dinner. We were all so happy, talking about how our legs felt like mush and how we had no idea how we would be able to climb anything the next day. Wayne came by and told us that unfortunately, we couldn’t have a bon fire with the other groups because of the rain, but that instead we would have another meeting like the one from the previous night, and this time it was in our cabin (because Sarah’s fire was just so wonderful).

    We started off the evening playing a few games, provided by one of our groups. The first game was a long name game, so we could all memorize each others names, and the second was two truths and a lie. Everyone was pretty exhausted from the long day, so Wayne kept the chat after the games brief. We all talked about how grueling the day had been, and how discouraged we felt at separate parts of the day when we realized how much more physical labor we would need to get back to the top; but yet somehow, if we just kept our heads down and spirits up, we made it to the top without too much trouble. Wayne emphasized the importance of will power, and how strong it can be even when things seem impossible. He talked about how that mentality can be applied in every aspect of your life, and how that is why learning in outdoor education is so important. By pushing your body to its limits but trusting yourself to achieve your goals, you get stronger every day. I have always been a firm believer in this, and I think I owe that to my years as an athlete and knowing that at the end of the day, nothing is impossible if you truly desire it. With those ideas in mind, we ended the fireside chat with the ideas of getting another good night’s sleep. I felt great after an awesome day of hiking, and despite having started the day with a functional camera and finishing it with a waterlogged dead one, I was still feeling pretty good.

    The next morning started an hour later than the previous day, so we woke up later and prepared breakfast and packed all of our bags up. We were told that we wouldn’t be returning to the cabins, so we made sure everything was exactly how we had found it (cleaner, even!) and said goodbye to our little cabin. We met up on the bus with the rest of the groups, and off we went for day three, the final journey!

    The rain from the day before had completely cleared up, and it was an absolutely beautiful day. Great temperature for hiking, not too hot or cold, and clear skies with a mild breeze. We started off with a group stretch, as everyone was pretty sore and tight from the long hike prior. After warming up and pairing off into groups, we got started on what was to be my favorite day of the trip. I went with a group lead by Nikki, who I met for the first time on the Royal National Park hike and immediately took a liking to. She’s a great conversationalist, and we spent a lot of the day chatting about everything from siblings to environmental sustainability. There were times when no one else in the group was even talking (out of breath from the climb) but our conversation acted as entertainment for those around us.

    The hike itself was absolutely spectacular, everything I could ever want in a day hike. It was perfectly beautiful, with incredible views of the Blue Mountains and waterfalls around every corner; it was definitely athletic, and kept our bodies warm, but nothing too intense. The sunny weather and happy spirits of everyone made the day go by quickly, and when we stopped for lunch at the bottom of a massive waterfall, we sat with the other groups that had come a separate route and exchanged stories of the beautiful sites we had seen. A few of my crazy friends decided that they wanted to swim in the waterfalls, despite the fact that it was definitely cold, even in my sweatshirt and leggings. But hey, carpe diem, man! I was proud of them for jumping in and told myself that if I wasn’t such a wimp about the cold that I would have done it too. Although I have to admit, I didn’t envy them for being soaking wet for the rest of the day! We walked on after finishing our lunches, and it seemed like every step higher up the valley was easier than the ones from the day before. Maybe it was the endurance, or just our general enthusiasm for the day, but it seemed like an easier climb anyways.

    By the end of the day, I was exhausted and starving again but so disappointed to be leaving already. I had an amazing time all weekend, from every step of every hike to every minute spent in my cabin with my friends, getting to know them better and learning new things about myself.

    When everyone had finished their hikes, we all met again at the top of the valley near the visitors center and had an ice cream to celebrate the long and tiring weekend. We climbed back on the buses and drove to the train station where we filed out and made a mess of the local area. Imagine sixty three tired hikers with too many bags and not enough food, cramming into a small train platform to try and get individual tickets out of one machine. In short, it was chaos. Luckily I got a ticket in time to catch the first train, which came almost ten minutes after we arrived. The train was pretty crowded on the way back, and we were lucky to get seats (I don’t know if I could have handled standing for two hours after all that walking). It was nice to head back to Sydney and see the rest of my friends, but there was definitely a massive part of me that didn’t want to leave at all. As Nikki had put it during our hike, sometimes when you are out in nature it’s hard to imagine that the hectic real world is still going on while you’re off having a great time outside. I knew that I had to hurry back because I was working that evening, and by the time the train pulled into Central I had a half an hour to get to work without being late… so much for showering! I caught a bus from the station and made it back to Newtown without too much trouble, and made the turn-around pretty quickly to arrive at work on time and relatively clean. I should have been drained from the weekend, but I found that I had a surprising amount of energy at work that night (I work behind a bar in a restaurant). I realized that it was the great mood I was in that was fueling my energy; regardless of my physical state, I was so elated from a great getaway in the outdoors that I was happy to be doing almost anything at that point. I had a great time telling everyone at work about my trip as they complained about how busy the schedule had been without me there, and I thanked my manager for giving me the time off to get out and have some fun!  

     
  5. Finally caved in and bought myself a fancy camera… it’s definitely been fun

     
  6. For my Outdoor Education class, we took a field trip to the Royal National Park, which is a national park about 29 km south from Sydney. Founded in 1879 by Sir John Robertson, it is the second oldest purposed national park (after Yellowstone) and is the first to call itself a proper national park. In fact, that was its official title until it was renamed after the Queen in 1955, when it finally became the Royal National Park, as it is known today.

    We split into groups of 11 and were given maps to help guide us along the 8 km hike up the coast. The pictures hardly capture the incredible views, and we had to stop every so often to just sit and enjoy the moment. My group consisted of my friends from my Globalinks program, the American students I travelled here on exchange with, so we all knew each other before the hike, but I definitely believe a day spent navigating around brought us closer.

    One of the theories we learned in class is that of Tuckman’s stages of group development: forming, storming, norming, and performing. According to Tuckman, a group comes together initially to form in some way: for us, it was to take a nice hike. Then there is a period of storming, where the problems at hand are confronted (for example, do we go this way or that way? Around the rock or over it?) and different ideas compete for action. Our storming phase was really smooth and easy, probably due to the fact that we all knew each other before and were happy to take into account certain weaknesses and strengths within the group. Norming happens afterwords, where the group falls into a comfortable niche and just continues on as normally as possible. This was the majority of our trip, because as friends we were all pretty comfortable in the norm stage to begin with. For us, this stage was synonymous with the performing stage, where we fell into a routine of productivity to ensure us enough time to enjoy the views, but stay on schedule and on the right trail! After the task is done, sometimes there can be a period of mourning afterwards, where a group has been together for so long that parting can seem unnatural, but at the end of the trip I think we were all too exhausted and ecstatic about an amazing day to be mourning anything except a few sunburns!

    It was absolutely one of my favorite days in Australia so far, and although I already had firm beliefs on the matter, it definitely cemented my opinion that being in an outdoor setting is critical to learning and development. I know that despite knowing these people for a few weeks now, spending the day exercising outside and problem solving made me see more of them intellectually, and in dynamic ways that otherwise wouldn’t have happened.

     
  7. University of Sydney was founded in 1850 and is the oldest University in Australia and Oceania. Ranked 39th in the world, its campus is also brilliantly gorgeous. A combination of classic architecture and modern style, I often feel like I’m sitting on the set of some awesome movie (perhaps Harry Potter?) 

     
  8. The Great Barrier Reef!

     
  9.  
     
  10. Yesterday I took the biggest jump of my life… out of an airplane!!!! No words will ever be able to describe, but luckily a picture says a thousand words… so this video says ~million. Still not enough, but close.

     
  11.  
     
  12.  
     
  13.  
     
  14. These past few days have been incredibly hectic, so sorry for the lack of posts but my latest adventures have been worth the wait! I took an overnight train from Melbourne to Sydney on Saturday night, then a shuttle from Central Station to the Sydney International Airport for a flight to Cairns where I met up with the other study abroad students. It’s been go-mode since we landed, starting day one at the RainForeStation Nature and Wildlife Park in Karunda. We spent the day having all sorts of fun: playing with native Aussie animals, learning about Aboriginal culture and art (even making our own!), touring the rainforest in 40 yr old Army Duck trucks/BAMF-mobiles, throwing boomerangs and learning how to play the didgeridoo… all very cheesy and tourist-y, but absolutely amazing nonetheless! 

     
  15. It’s late, but better than never! My Great Aunt Bev’s Birthday was on the 15th of February, and Uncle Bob threw her a little party to celebrate. They’ve been married for 58 years, and still bicker like twelve year olds! Love ‘em. In 60 years, I hope I have an 80th birthday that’s just as fun with people that love me at least half as much (she is a VERY beloved woman (love you Aunt Bev!))