Weekend Surf Trip + How to Speak Australian 2

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October 30th, 2014

Adelaide, Australia

This past weekend I got to go surfing, something I’ve always wanted to do. With eleven other students, I went on a trip to Goolwa Beach organized by the Exchange Student Network of my university. We drove down Saturday morning, and arrived at the beach-side shack where we’d be staying. After less than two hours to get settled and relax, we were already putting on our thongs and heading down to the beach for our first surf lesson.

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(Just to clarify, to Australians, thongs are not underwear, but flip-flops. While the term flip-flops refer to the sound they make, the term thongs describes the rubber component on the sandal that passes between the first and second toes of the feet. Australians do understand the confusion that can occur when someone says they are wearing thongs, and are quick to clarify what they mean to prevent awkward misunderstandings.)

After going through a short safety briefing and practicing standing up on our boards in the sand, we went out and tried it in the waves. It was much harder than I expected, and I kept taking my hands off the board before I was standing solidly, causing me to fall a lot. However, I finally started getting the hang of it and was able to ride some waves all the way back to beach before we went back to the shack for a late lunch. It was only a few hours until we returned to the beach, recharged from the food. I went for a slightly bigger board for our next surf session, and I also got a lot better at standing up. Since I also worked on catching my own waves without help from the instructors, I ended up paddling a lot and I was pretty knackered by the end of the outing.

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(Knackered means tired, wiped out, exhausted, spent, or near death. I heard multiple Aussie friends use it after a long day of climbing or regaining. Supposedly a knacker is someone who renders horses who can no longer work, and that’s how the phrase came about and came to mean tired or spent. It seems to me like most people will still describe themselves as feeling tired and reserve the term knackered for when they’re especially exhausted.)

We all returned to the shack, craving a shower, food, and a nap. A couple of the others made a short trip to town to get booze since all they had was goon. (Goon is cheap wine that is packaged as a bag in a box. To drink, you tear away a perforated section to expose a plastic tap. This drink is popular because of how cheap it is, costing around $15 for 4-5 liters. I’ve noticed that it is especially common for uni students to buy goon since they often don’t have a lot of extra spending money.) During the surf trip, some of the other students started out drinking more palpable cider, saving the lower-quality goon for when they were already buzzed but still wanted to drink.

When our driver finally came back and started making everyone dinner, he and a girl from New Zealand started giving each other a hard time, although it was all in good fun. He referred to her as a kiwi, and the two of them went back and forth mocking each other until dinner was ready. (Kiwi is the Australian term for a New Zealander. A kiwi is a flightless bird native to New Zealand and is the country’s national symbol. New Zealanders generally take pride in being called a kiwi, which I noticed in the exchange between the Kiwi and the Aussie.)

After dinner, most of the group went out to a pub/club in a nearby town, including our driver and our surf instructor, who claimed that the more hungover you are in the morning, the better the surfing. Despite this advice, I stayed and got a lot of sleep so I could go out early the next morning and surf.

The next morning, I went out about an hour before our lesson at ten in my bathers and wetsuit and got more practice at catching my own waves and riding them in to shore. (Bathers is an Australian word for swimsuit. I’m assuming it comes from the idea that you bathe in the water while you’re swimming. In my opinion, it doesn’t actually make a lot of sense since when you are actually taking a bath, you don’t wear clothes.)

At the start of the lesson, before sending us out to the waves our instructor also gave us tips on how to turn so we could maintain speed while riding the wave. All of us then spent the last hours at the beach trying to improve our surfing technique and attempting turns into the waves. I found that my prior experience from longboarding and snowboarding helped a lot when I tried to turn, as I had no problems turning both on my toes and my heels. My main challenge was learning how to spot good waves and catch them, something you don’t have to do in longboarding or snowboarding. With all the practice we got that weekend, I was able to improve a lot and by the end of the trip  I could catch some of my own waves, turn, and ride across the wave all the way to the beach.

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After this final surf session, our group returned to the shack, packed our stuff, and headed back to Adelaide just in time to miss the storm that rolled in. All in all, it was an amazing weekend. I got to surf for the first time and got a lot of sun from the time in the ocean. On Monday when I returned to school, I had three separate people immediately comment on how tan I looked. Sadly it was only reflected in my face since I was wearing a wetsuit while surfing. Hopefully I’ll be able to get some more sun before I leave Australia, and maybe even go surfing again.

On a more random note, aside from the terms included in this post, here are a few more Australian terms that I’ve heard in my time here:

Bogan

This is a term used to describe someone who has an unsophisticated background or who demonstrates a lack of education and manners based on their clothing, attitude, speech, etc. Another common explanation is that the term is basically the Australian equivalent of what Americans call rednecks.

Daggy

Describing something as daggy means it’s out of fashion, not stylish, untidy, etc. I first heard the term while climbing, as one friend commented that climbers often wear daggy clothes. While my friend said it in an off-hand manner, it was easy to tell that this word could also be an insult.

Dodgy

I have a habit of using the word sketchy to describe things that are unreliable, potentially dangerous, or of low quality. In Australia, the locals use the term dodgy. For example, I hear people describe the weather as a bit dodgy, or say that a particular climbing route looks dodgy. The slang seems to come from the British usage of dodge to mean a scam or a plot. This makes me realize that although a large part of Aussie slang is unique to the country, there are also many words and phrases borrowed from the British.

Footy

Footy is most often used to refer to Australian Rules football. The use of the term can actually be confusing because footy can also be an abbreviation for soccer, known as football in most countries except for Australia, Canada, and the US. I have noticed that quite a few of my European friends are actually referring to soccer when they use the word footy. Thus, to avoid any possible confusion I always clarify which “footy” someone is talking about when they use the term.

That’s all I’ll include now. Until next time!

Michelle

Aussie Foods

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October 27th, 2014

Adelaide, Australia

After being in Australia for over three months, I’ve gotten to try a lot of the local foods and I like most of them. However, there are a few where it’s mostly like an acquired taste, to put it politely. Here’s a bunch of the foods that I’ve eaten:

WeetBix

Picture dry wheat cereal flakes compacted into bar form, and you have WeetBix. I had it plain the first time I tried it, and it was so dry that I immediately started coughing. I was then informed by some of my local friends that I needed to have it with milk. It was much better that way, as the bars broke apart and became more akin to regular cereal. However, WeetBix is quite bland on its own and needs extra flavoring such as brown sugar, cinnamon, or honey to make it more palpable.

Pavlova

This is meringue-based cake-like desert. It’s commonly topped with fresh fruit and/or whipped cream. I tried a few bites of a slice that my roommate brought home. It was pretty good, but my Aussie friends tell me that I have to eat a homemade one baked by someone’s mom in order to get the true experience.

Tim Tams

This is one of my favorite Aussie foods. I’ve heard rumors that there are certain shops where you can find them back in the states, but I’m packing some for home just in case. A Tim Tam is two crispy chocolate biscuits with chocolate crème in the middle, covered in a thin layer of milk chocolate. One of the classic ways to eat it is in a Tim Tam Slam, where it is usually accompanied by a hot drink such as hot chocolate or coffee. To perform a Tim Tam Slam, you nibble off the opposite corners of the biscuit, suck up the drink through the Tim Tam like a straw, and quickly eat the biscuit before it disintegrates in your fingers. The result is a mouthful of chocolaty bliss.

Kangaroo

Kangaroo is delicious. The flavor is somewhat gamey, but in a good way and still quite juicy. Sadly, my only kangaroo thus far has been kangaroo sausage, but I plan on trying some sort of steak or fillet before I leave Australia. While sausage is good, it’s just not the same as a steak.

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Violet Crumble

This is a common Australian candy bar. It is crunchy honeycomb covered in milk chocolate. I like almost all candy bars, but I was not very fond of this one. While the initial flavor was mediocre, I did not the weird aftertaste. I would not eat it again, even if someone was offering it to me for free (and that’s saying something).

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Vegemite

Vegemite is one of those foods I predicted I wouldn’t like, and I was right. Apparently very few foreigners like vegemite, so it seems like something you need to grow up with. The spread is made from brewers’ yeast extract and it is very pungent, salty, and bitter. A common way to eat it is with buttered toast, which you top with a very thin layer of vegemite. The first time I tried it was plain, and I gave it a second shot with a bite of a friend’s prepared vegemite toast. I thought it was disgusting both ways. An Aussie friend said that vegemite and cheese go really well together, and that cheese makes the spread taste a lot better. I ended up giving vegemite one last chance and tried a friend’s cheesymite scroll (looks similar to a cinnamon roll, but not as delicious). While I still didn’t like it, it wasn’t as bad as the other times I tried vegemite. The cheese definitely helped mask the taste, but in my opinion adding vegemite to the bread ruined what would have been a perfectly good cheesy scroll.

Fairy Bread

This combination surprised me. It’s just sliced white sandwich bread with a layer of butter followed by a coating of sprinkles, often cut into triangles. I would never have thought to put sprinkles on bread. To me, they belong on cake or ice cream. It wasn’t bad, but there are so many other sweet treats that are way better so I probably wouldn’t buy it or prepare my own.

Meat Pie (and pie floater variety)

Meat pies are a staple in any café, bakery, gas station, or convenience store. There are many flavors, but the classic one is a plain beef pie. It’s pastry dough filled with mince (ground) meat and a savory sauce. The flavor reminds me of shepherds pie without the mashed potatoes and veggies. The meat pie often comes with tomato sauce (ketchup). I like the meat pie quite a lot, and it’s a fast tasty meal when you are on the go. Another variety of the meat pie is called a pie floater, which is an upside-down meat pie covered in split pea soup and topped with tomato sauce. I tried this iconic dish, but since I’m not a big fan of peas, I preferred the taste of the plain meat pie.

Meat Pies

Sausage Roll

Wherever meat pies are sold, you will almost always find sausage rolls. This is another classic Australian food and can easily be eaten on the go. It consists of a sort of meat paste, similar to the consistency of meatballs, wrapped in pastry dough and topped with tomato sauce. While a meat pie looks similar to a chicken pot pie, a sausage roll looks more like a log. The first one I had was too dry, but the second one I had at a popular bakery was moister and a lot better. Like the meat pie, the sausage roll is a good, cheap takeaway food and I enjoy it, especially when I’m starving and on the road.

Lamington

A lamington is another sweet treat Aussie treat that I really like. It is a square piece of sponge cake covered in a layer of milk chocolate then thoroughly coated with thinly shredded coconut. It’s really good, and I appreciate the fact that the coconut prevents your fingers from getting messy from the chocolate.

Sticky Date Pudding

It is extremely hard to decide whether sticky date pudding or Tim Tams is my favorite Australian dessert. During my trip to Flinders Range I had this dessert and it was amazing. It’s basically a sweet, dark, moist cake, commonly topped with caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream. Between sticky date pudding and Tim Tams, I think the pudding would be my top choice if it was prepared for me the way I had it in Flinders, but the Tim Tams are more convenient and nearly as delicious, and more suited to satisfy a chocolate craving.

AB

This dish isn’t so much an Australian dish as it is an iconic Adelaide dish. The legend goes that drunken university students went to a yiros shop and couldn’t decide between chips (fries) and yiros, so they got both and combined them. The result was the AB, which stands for abortion or after birth due to its appearance. It’s basically chips covered in yiros meat and topped with garlic sauce, tomato sauce, and either bbq sauce or sweet chili sauce. Although it sounds crazy, it tastes amazing even as you feel it clogging your arteries. Two shops, Blue & White Café and North Adelaide Burger Bar, have an intense rivalry over who has the best AB. My roommate and I tried both, and decided the North Adelaide Burger Bar makes the better dish. In the picture below, the one on the right is from the North Adelaide Burger Bar.

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All in all, I have tried food on both ends of the spectrum from absolutely disgusting to extremely delicious. I predicted that I wouldn’t like vegemite and I was right. However, I was surprised that I wasn’t a fan violet crumble, as I like almost all chocolate bars. On the other hand, I also thought that I wouldn’t like either meat pies or sausage rolls, and I enjoy both of them. Kangaroo is a food that I never thought I’d try, and I’m glad that I got the opportunity and liked it. Finally, I’m extremely excited to have found both Tim Tams and sticky date pudding, as they are some of the most delectable foods I’ve eaten in Australia.

I can’t wait to try more local cuisine. Maybe I’ll even get to sample emu or camel if I’m lucky.

Stay hungry and adventurous.

Michelle

Recent Outdoor Adventures

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October 20th, 2014

Adelaide, Australia

Just over a week ago, I participated in a 24-hour regaining event, the 2014 Australian Rogaining Championships. There were over 450 entrants, with almost 100 university students since the event also served as the intervarsity competition. Four of us left Adelaide early Friday morning to drive down to Melbourne, arriving just in time for dinner. The competition was set to start at noon on Saturday and we decided to be competitive, meaning that we planned to be out the whole night and forgo sleep. We were encouraged by the full moon we saw, hoping that its light would be helpful for finding controls in the dark. Finally, the four of us set up our tents and retired early, trying to get as much sleep as possible.

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Saturday morning, we woke up for breakfast, got our map, and began planning. We marked out a shorter 15-20km loop to complete around sunset, and a longer 30-35km loop to do for the rest of the event. Our group started off at a fast pace, and we were able to get all of the controls we aimed for in our first loop while making it back for dinner around 8:30pm. After a much-needed rest, we set off a little before 10:00pm, prepared to stay out all night. We actually did very well in the dark and were able to find all of the controls we attempted. I was really glad that I had a little bit of experience from the previous 12-hour rogaine event. Since this was the Australian Championships, none of the controls were easy but instead were off-track, requiring capable navigation and map-reading skills.

Our main problems began as it started to get lighter out. For me personally, I started crashing around 5:30am, and I spent a good fifteen minutes fighting off sleep before I snapped out of it. The rest of the group also had their own crashes throughout the morning, as we were all tired from non-stop walking and lack of rest. We did get our first few controls without a problem, and even got to stop and appreciate the sunrise.

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However, our success started to fade as our pace slowed, especially when we spent almost an hour looking for a control to no avail. From there, we realized that we didn’t have time to look for some of the controls we had planned, especially in our fatigued state. Our team started the long trek back, hoping to possibly get in two controls that weren’t too far off from the trail leading back to the hash house. Sadly, we overshot a control due to our zombie-like state and lowered navigation abilities, but were able to pick up the last one with some help from other teams who were looking for the same one. Getting the last control before the hash house was a relief since it allowed us to finish on a positive note. We pushed through the fatigue for the rest of the walk back, driven by a burning desire get to the hash house so we could get lunch and finally stop walking.

Upon making it back, we all got food and immediately dropped into chairs, relieved to be off our feet. I ditched my shoes and socks to give my feet some much needed fresh air. Even with long pants, I accumulated what I would call a “dirt tan line” from all the bush walking. I also ended up with a gnarly blister on one of my toes.

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At the end of the day, all the effort was worth it. We got third place out of all the university teams, and covered an estimated 65+ kilometers. As proud as we were of our result, our performance paled in comparison to the veteran teams who took the top spots in the championship. To put it in perspective, we scored 1430 out of a possible 4170 points while the top team got over 3400 points. This is definitely a sport where experience trumps youth. All the groups that scored quite high were made up of older people (at least 40+ years old) who were both physically fit and extremely competent at navigating. As it became quite obvious, you can’t have one without the other if you want to do well.

After hearing the results of the competition, all of us immediately walked back to our tents and got a few hours of much-needed sleep. We then started the long drive back at 6pm in order to make classes on Monday. Overall, it was a very long, extremely tiring weekend to say the least.

In comparison, my weekend activities yesterday were significantly more laid back. I went with many other university students to the Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary near Port Adelaide for a kayaking tour. It was amazing weather and the water was cool and refreshing. After getting set up with our kayaks, we ventured out into the river, hoping to see some dolphins close up. We were not disappointed, as we saw a few almost immediately. The dolphins were very friendly and inquisitive, swimming next to and even underneath our kayaks.

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Our guides knew many of the dolphins by name, as they were part of a pod that lives in the river. Based on the physical markings of the dolphins, the guides picked them out and told us personal details about them such as which dolphins commonly swam to together, which dolphins liked to wrestle together, and who liked to showboat for the kayaks. I was impressed by how much the guides kept up with the characteristics and unique personalities of the individual dolphins and how familiar they were with the intelligent animals. After spending a lot of time enjoying the dolphins’ company, we moved on to explore the mangroves along the banks of the river.

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Some of the tight turns required focus and careful maneuvering, but exploring the trees was well worth the effort. Our guide showed us the seeds that form on the trees. Hearing that it was edible and seeing my guide try one, I had to do the same. Sadly, it was quite bitter. We also learned more about the mangroves; for example, they are one of the few trees where the seeds germinate while they are still on the tree. This is because once the seeds fall off, they need to establish themselves immediately before the tide rises and washes them away.

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Once we were through exploring the mangroves, we headed back for lunch and a chance to relax. We finished the day by stopping at Henley beach to get ice cream before heading back into the city. That night, my arms were achy in weird places since I’m not used to kayaking. Overall, the tour was a great experience, and not nearly as exhausting as my activities the previous weekend.

Anyway, I’m planning to fill my weekends with amazing activities to make the most of this trip before I have to return to the states.

Until next time,

Michelle

Melbourne Parkour Jam

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October 17th, 2014

Adelaide, Australia

My trip to Melbourne was awesome! I know it was over a week ago, but this update is better late than never I suppose, right?

My visit was for the Australian National Parkour Gathering (NatGat), unlike my other two trips where I went as part of a tour. Although I didn’t have anything officially scheduled, I was always busy hanging out with people and training. One of my parkour buddies in Adelaide had arranged to stay with his friend who lived just outside the city center. When he heard I was trying to figure out living arrangements, he suggested I contact his friend to see if they had room for me. She had more than enough space, and by the time NatGat rolled around there were five people staying in her apartment: four of us from Adelaide and one from Sydney. I realized throughout the week that a large portion of interstate athletes were also being housed by the local practitioners. I was impressed by how welcoming the community was, as many opened their homes up for friends as well as complete strangers. All in all, I would guess that around eighty plus people showed up for the parkour jam. On Thursday when most people had arrived, the group met at a popular spot known as the rocks.

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From there local instructors took us around to some of the main training spots. It was a bit overwhelming how many amazing athletes there were, but I was able to find people around my ability level and work on jumps with them. Our main problem was dealing with security guards and cops. Just to clarify, we were not doing anything illegal. Nonetheless, at two different spots we were asked to leave by the security guards who said they didn’t want to deal with possibile liability issues. Everyone took it in stride and honestly, that kind of situation is a common occurrence when practicing parkour. A lot of us understand that the guards are just doing their jobs, and there’s always more spots to train at. On the other hand, the trouble we had at the spot called Chinese Gardens was a bit more intense. It turns out that someone had seen us training and called the cops. However, instead of just calling the regular police number this person had freaked out and called triple zero (Aussie version of 911). Five cops pulled up to the area, and a couple practitioners had to speak up for the group and explain what parkour is. After realizing that we weren’t doing anything illegal, the cops were more relaxed with our group, but still had to ask us to move on since people had called and complained. All in all, it was a fun day, but I think the large group is part of what attracted the security guards and the cops and led to us being asked to leave some of the spots.

Friday was also a busy day. Even though a lot of people had shown up by Thursday, Friday was the actually the official start of NatGat and the local instructors gave a short explanation of the event, ending with local instructors leading groups to various spots. Since a lot of us had already trained at many of the popular areas, most of our Adelaide crew and some of the people from Townsville split off into our own group to hit up the spots we liked the most from the previous day. We also wanted to avoid going in with the larger groups due to the situations on Thursday with the security guards and the cops. After jamming for most of the day, we ended with a game of capture the flag at the original meeting point. The game was intense due to the athletic abilities of all the players. As fun as it was, many of us started getting tired from the day’s exertions and after a few hours we left for home.

On Saturday, two of the Adelaide crew I was living with left for a special nature training session outside the city. Since I was quite sore from two full days of training, I took it easy and went to a local gallery with the remaining apartment mate from Adelaide. We got to explore an exhibit on digital culture and media, which was fascinating and a bit nostalgic. The two of us then met up with the rest of the group in the afternoon and trained late into the night.

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Finally, Sunday was bittersweet, being the last day of NatGat. After meeting up at the rocks in the morning, some of the locals took us to a new place on the south end of the city that many of us hadn’t been to yet. The spots had a great variety of challenges for people of all ability levels, and we spent a couple hours there before making out way to the Docklands for the farewell BBQ in the afternoon.

Overall, the Melbourne trip was fantastic, and I could feel myself improving even during my short stay. One reason I enjoyed it so much was the style of movement. In Australia, many of the movers are purists which means they focus on efficient movement. Back home, a lot of people train a lot of flips and tricking, with more of an emphasis on freerunning. Since I am more interested in the purist side of things and getting good at moving from point A to point B in the most efficient, fastest way possible, I loved training with all the Australians who had a similar focus as me. Instead of watching people throw crazy flips and tricks, I could learn from those who moved through obstacles with the ease and grace that I eventually want to develop. This jam invigorated my will to train, and I look forward to getting outside more in the coming days, especially as the weather improves.

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Get out and get moving!

Michelle

Flinders Range Trip: The Outback

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October 8th, 2014

Adelaide, Australia

One week ago, I went on a trip to the Flinders Ranges. The tour mainly consisted of driving to various scenic locations around Flinders and getting a taste of the Outback. Our tour group consisted of around thirty people, and we stayed in a dormitory-type room at a central campsite area. The scenery was beautiful and we saw a multitude of wildlife including kangaroos, emus, and wallabies. However, the most interesting aspect for me was learning about the lifestyle of those who live in the outback, as well as observing how the cultural background of people on the tour impacted how they adapted to the outdoor activities and living situation.

At the start of the tour, everyone got extremely excited whenever a kangaroo or emu was spotted. The only time I had seen either animal up close was in a conservation park at the beginning of the semester, so whenever someone saw one I was straining in my seat to get a closer view. However, since we spent most of the time in the outback our group saw these animals quite often. Sightings became more akin to, “Oh look, another kangaroo.” compared to the initial “OMG, A KANGAROO! Get a picture!”

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I enjoyed becoming accustomed to seeing all of the wildlife and landscape. When initially encountering it, there’s a rush for the cameras, and desperation to get the perfect picture. Even in the Outback, much of the group had that hustle-bustle, fast-paced attitude. Seeing many kangaroos and emus, spending time away from the city, and being free from cell service or wifi eventually allowed most of us to relax and simply appreciate the beauty of the wildlife and terrain. For me, an escape into God’s natural creation has always been a fantastic to reorient myself and find peace and calm. After the initial excitement of the Outback experience, I became more introspective and realized how thankful I am for the chance to live and study in Australia and the many opportunities I’ve had for adventuring and exploring.

Although I loved spending time in the natural environment of the Outback, I don’t think I could ever live there. For starters, while I could possibly tolerate the heat, there’s no way I could get use to the flies constantly buzzing around, seeking access to sensitive areas like the eyes, nose, and mouth. However, during the trip I got to meet Karen, one of our awesome guides; for her, flies are but one of the few challenges she faces while living in Flinders Range.

Karen works in the tourism industry, and is known for working a lot with camels. Since we both had a love for the outdoors, we hit it off immediately and I asked her a steady stream of questions regarding life in the Outback. Even in the wilderness, there is no escaping politics. The aboriginals and whites in the area squabble over many issues in the area, even topics such as who will pay for the maintenance of a trail leading to old indigenous cave art. Any trouble regarding the stations (ranches) also affect those living in the Outback. Many people, including Karen, are dependent on the stations for food, gasoline, and other common household items. Other stores and cities are too far away to be able to rely on them for supplies. Karen disliked having to rely on stations so much, but admitted that it’s hard to be self-sufficient. I figured that a huge step toward self-reliance would be the ability to forage for food from the natural environment. However, Karen revealed that there aren’t many edible plants in the Outback. It is also wasteful to grow crops because of the lack of water.

This limited supply of water has many other impacts on the lifestyle of those living in the wilderness. People are very respectful of water and tend not to be wasteful, and almost all homes, ranches, and places that see a lot of people have rainfall catchers. Dishes are done in the style of one sink of soap water and one sink of rinse water in order to conserve the resource; there isn’t enough to wash individual plates and silverware with running water. Outdoors, ranchers strive not to overstock the land, and very few crops are grown since it is an inefficient use of the liquid resource. Although it is worse in South Australia with the wine valleys, there generally isn’t much danger of overdrawing water from underground aquifers due to the enormous respect locals have for water. I think that there’s a lot the West can learn from this approach since we are drawing an excessive amount of water from the Ogallala aquifer, especially for agriculture. It makes sense not to grow crops in areas that receive little rainfall, yet the U.S. does it anyway by relying on irrigation. I think much of the U.S. does not have a true appreciation for the value of water, especially compared to those who live in the Outback. Even in the city, Australia seems to be more aware of their respective water issues than people in the U.S.

Other people on the tour also did not seem to understand how vital water conservation is while living in the Outback. Although Karen explained the dual-sink dishwashing system multiple times during our stay, at least half our group didn’t follow it and continued to wash their dirty dishes using running water like they might have done at home. Growing up in a culture where water is readily available would explain an indifferent view of water supply.

Cultural backgrounds of some of the tour group members affected more than just their use of water; it also influenced how they coped with being in the Outback. For example, one of my friends from Singapore had never been camping before. It was the first time  she experienced the warm glow of a campfire, saw the Milky Way away from the light pollution of city, and woke up to see the sunrise outside of a city. For my friend, being immersed in the outdoors after living in the city her whole life was an eye-opening adventure. She seemed to love the trip, and admitted that it had increased her love and appreciation for the natural world.

On the other hand other group members, mostly girls from Asian countries, walked quite slowly during our hikes to avoid working out too much. In places such as China and Japan, being very muscular can be unattractive while slenderness and elegance is considered beautiful.  Finally, those who had participated in outdoor trips seemed less excitable or phased by the physical parts of the trip. During a hike that had a minor incline, a few girls from Europe, my roommate, and I were some of the first people at the top of the route. Many of the Europeans had hiked or camped outside before, and they seemed to have an easier time with the hike than those who spent little time outside cities. We were also more comfortable with small tasks such as cooking dinner on the outdoor griddle, putting more logs on the fire, and taking unwanted spiders outside.

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At the end of the day, the trip to Flinders Range was an amazing escape from the city, and it seemed like everyone enjoyed themselves, from the city-dwellers to the more outdoorsy folk. The wildlife was amazing and abundant, and the landscape was breath-taking and quite pristine. Most of all, I savored the opportunity to learn more about the Outback style and observe first-hand the powerful influence of culture in the way we react to life’s adventures.

Updates to my Melbourne adventure will come soon, but until then, adios!

Michelle