an overview of the past 2 months…
Yesterday while taking a trip to the beach I realized that I had not touched my blog in almost an entire month! There are a few reasons I have not been able to stay inside long enough to write my blog entries. First, the weather has finally warmed up enough to uphold Sydney’s reputation as a sunburned country. In fact, when I walked to the Botanical Gardens a few weeks ago an entire flock of cockatoos joined my friends and I. Most Australians consider them pests, but we were able to approach a few of these birds. One Australian woman even took a picture of me and asked for my email address so that she could send it to me; this is a testament to my excitement at finally being able to experience the sun and all the Australian animals that are fabled to be in constant abundance in Sydney.
While Australians are not so crazy about cockatoos or cheap food, they are immersed in a culture that is certainly a reliable oasis of wine expertise. I took a trip with about 10 other kids to the Hunter Valley where exchange students flock by the dozens to take the famous wine tours. It does not matter how acclimated I have become to Australian accents, because when our seasoned tour-guide held up his wine glass in the most sophisticated manner and explained the inner workings of the vintage barrels his vernacular was overwhelmingly convincing. I would have believed him if he said my crystal glass was filled with horse urine. This driver chauffeured our group to three different vineyards and supplemented the car rides with his own poetry and easygoing humor. For only $55 it was an awesome way to spend a Friday afternoon!
IFSA-Butler also managed to take a few willing participants to the Blue Mountains and Jenolan Caves. We stopped first at the “Australian Grand Canyon” where we stood at a tourist lookout that displayed the Three Sisters (three big rocks that australians are crazy about), and then the bus took us to a terrifying cliff. The bus felt like it was about to roll off the edges and straight into this gaping black hole in Australia’s landscape, and I could not see how some people could get a thrill out of such an experience. I was only happy to survive in time to walk into an enchanting array of rocks which they called a cave. Our original plan was to drink wine and watch dolphins in addition to this trip, so many of us were disappointed that 2/3 of our “adventure” had been misplanned. Still, the caves were beautiful and we even got to witness a light show in some majestic corridor deep within the cave. As soon as we emerged into the daylight, our tourguide informed us that the 8th best cave in the world was just a few meters away and that it had been featured on the Planet Earth documentary. After traveling for 3 hours I would not have minded seeing a cave with such a reputation, but I still have to admit that our low-key unknown cave was not such a bad experience.
Outside of organized trips, I have also gotten to pretend to participate in organized marathons! By this I mean that one of my best friends ran a half marathon in late September for a charity and I was thoroughly exhausted just by watching her. Her marathon finish line, which was located right in front of the Opera House, was parallel to that of another marathon for children, and a few meters away bikers in a simultaneous marathon for yet another charity whizzed by the harbor bridge. That day it seemed that the Sydney Harbor was made of the sweat of the thousands of participants in all these races, and for the rest of the day I found it difficult to walk by someone on the street who was not sporting their race number pinned to their shirt.
All of these activities kept me busy while I prepared for Spring Break in late september. In Australia, intra-semester schoolwork is rare and awkwardly strewn among the weeks before Spring Break. As a political science major I had very few midterms, and they occurred only in the form of scattered paper assignments which I was reluctant to do while I tried exploring Australia. It is hard to be one of the few students whose grades actually count, because most of my friends are here on a pass/fail basis. Since the average grade in Australia is a 50%, it is much easier for them to navigate the assignments than for me! With schoolwork and spending money being my only complaints, in today’s world I think I am still coming out ahead!