Monster Update and Happy Birthday to Me!!!

High time for an update!

I am writing to you this time from Coffs Harbour, Australia which is pretty  much equidistant between Sydney and Brisbane. Coffs is home to Morgan, a very  good mate of mine, who has been kind enough to pursuade his family to let me  crash at his place for a couple of weeks before Mom flies into Australia. I  may have mentioned Morgan before, but I’ll give a little background for the  sake of continuity. Morgan and I were residents of Union College together this  past semester and we were good friends right from the very beginning. It’s  been very useful knowing him because even though it was his semester of  university as well, he was already fairly familiar with Brisbane, so he took  us international students under his wing a little bit to show us the things he  already knew about the city. So that is why I’m in Coffs Harbour–a place I  probably would never have gone if not for Morgan, but this time in Coffs may  end up being one of my favorite two weeks in Australia. More about the present  later. I’ve got to catch you up about the past.

In the previous entry I wrote about the last few weeks of school and perhaps  the first day in New Zealand. My week in New Zealand was incredible. Lucy’s  family was so hospitable and Lucy was amazing, driving me around all the time.  I stayed mostly in Christchurch, but we took a couple of excursions out to  other parts of the South island as well. Our first little day trip was to  Hanmer where we went to the hot springs and went horseback riding. I had  originally found a horseback riding place in Queenstown that looked  interesting. It was called The Ride of the Rings and it took you through some  of the country where they had filmed the movies. I knew we were going to  Queenstown eventually but then Lucy pointed out that really, The Lord of the  Rings is a whole bunch of pretty land–you get that no matter where you go in  New Zealand. So we went horse riding in Hanmer instead which was gorgeous and  WAY cheaper. It was an hour-long ride up a mountainy-hill thing and there were  incredible views. Look for the pictures that I will load…eventually. My  computer has been behaving badly recently, so it might take me a little while  to do it.

Hanmer also has hot springs that are open to the public and very nice to go in  for a soak. Lucy and I stayed there for about an hour before heading home to  prepare for our second, slightly bigger trip.

We went to Queenstown on Wednesday and returned on the Friday. We stayed in a  house of a friend of Lucy’s family who lives about and hour and a half away  from Queenstown in a town called Wanaka. It was beautiful country. Pretty much  bet best part about New Zealand for me was just driving around enjoying all of  the fantastic scenery. I can see why so many people choose New Zealand for  filming. The landscape is breathtaking even along the highways. I’ve really  never seen anything quite like it. Wanaka was situated on a lake in a valley  and it’s a cute, rapidly-growing, sort of touristy town. On the way there we  stopped in Twizel for some New Zealand fish and chips…which were  disgustingly delicious. Australia and New Zealand are both countries that love  their fish and chips and have stands devoted to this dish alone. This is  probably a symptom of their British heritage, since many fish and chips shop  exist in Britain as well. I’m glad I had the experience, but I probably won’t  be eating fish and chips like that again. They were so greasy that I felt  dirty after eating them, but the fish was fresh and the batter was very  crispy. They were definitely worthwhile to try and I had really never had fish  and chips from one of the specialtystands before. We called it an early night  so we could get to Queenstown early-ish.

Queenstown is the adventure capital of New Zealand. It is home to the first  ever commerical bungy jump…and probably first ever of a lot of adventurous  things…but it was the bungy jumping that I actually tried. Lucy was driving  into Queenstown and she simply pulled over at AJ Hackett Bungy Jump which is a  jump off of a bridge over a very full river. It is a breathtaking scene. Lucy  had firmly told me that if I wanted to do something like skydiving or bungy  jumping, she would happily watch, but she would not partake. I wasn’t sure  about whether or not I wanted to at first. Mom had told me in no uncertain  terms that she was not supportive of the idea. Dad said that he thought sky  diving might be a more sensible choice than bungy jumping and so I knew that  anything I did would not receive parental approval. I had almost talked myself  out of it also and then Lucy started pressuring me. We were just taking  pictures over the bridge and Lucy started saying things like "Ruth, you’ll  feels so great for the rest of the day if you jump. Just think about it. This  is what everyone does when they come to New Zealand. You’ll feel so amazing,  it’s so much fun!" All this from the girl who had never bungy jumped herself  before. I called her out on it, obviously and I really did not think I could  make myself jump of a bridge. No way. So Lucy then started bribing me. She  offered to pay half. Then she offered to pay the whole thing. I could not have  felt good about that, although I admit it was tempting. 🙂  Finally Lucy said  she would bungy jump with me, and practically dragged me over to the counter  to pay for the jump. They wrote our weights on our hands (horror!) and then we  were instructed to leave all valuables in a locker and head out to the bridge  clutching our tickets tightly and practically trembling with fear. There  wasn’t much of a line on the bridge and as we waited and were tied into  holsters the anticipation mounted to an almost unbearable level.

Luckily for us, the girl that went first of the line that was present when we  arrived freaked out at the edge, looked down and subsequently took forever to  jump. Lucy and I both felt that this was a good example of how to make it  worse. At that point we could only imagine the terror that we would feel while  standing at the edge of the jumping off point but infinitely worse was the  feeling of embarrassment that we would surly have being caught on video frozen  with fear just standing at the edge. I resolved to jump on three. The first  girl’s freak-out also reassured us of the competence and professionalism of  the AJ Hackett staff. When the girl proclaimed that she couldn’t do it, the  guy who was supervising (and holding her bungy cord until she was ready to  jump for balance) gave her a very encouraging but firm pep talk–he said  something to the effect of "I am here to keep you safe. If you do as I tell  you, nothing bad will happen. You came here to jump off this bridge and that  is what you’re going to do." They never push anyone off the jump. Everyone has  to jump on their own. I thought it was good.

When it came to be my turn, I was scared stiff but resolute. I had already  paid and ordered pictures, so I had to make it good. I joked with the guys as  they were tying my feet up and asked them if it would be possible not to dunk  me into the water. I was under the impression that you had a choice whether or  not your head would be submerged at the end of your fall. They toldme though  that they could not make it so I did not get wet. I shrugged and said  "Alright. So I get wet. It’s better than dying." They laughed at that.

I jumped on three.

I guess my mind just went on autopilot as I did a front dive off the platform.  After a couple of seconds my brain woke up and realized that my body was  hurtling through the air and not hitting a pool as it would have if I had just  dived of a standard diving board. That’s when I started to scream and I closed  my eyes. I couldn’t help it and it is my one regret. I hit the water and got  wet up to my shoulders then came back out laughing. I didn’t like the second  feeling of antigravity as I bounced and came back down. The first one was much  more exhillarating. Then there was a giant yellow raft below me manned by two  guys about my own age calling to me to grab the long PVC pipe they were  extending toward me so they could pull me into the boat. They were Jesse and  Sean, Australians that had the job of pulling people in various states of  fear, excitement, exhillaration and adrelalin-fueled frenzy down from their  bungy experience. That must be a fun job. I was hysterical with laughter when  as they pulled me off the bungy cord and after I thanked them for the lift to  shore, I turned around just in time to see Lucy catapult toward the water  screaming.

Lucy and I were on top of the world as we walked back to the registration  center to collect our pictures and watch our videos. I was so full of  adrenaline that I sprinted up this really steep hill to let out my energy.  Lucy and I both agreed that bungy jumping was the best decision we could have  made. I purchased pictures of my jump just to prove I actually did it. I  figured that if I got the video I would never watch it, whereas a picture I  could put up on a wall and look at every day. They also give you a free t- shirt with your jump…probably because most people get soaking wet and few  people bring a change of clothes. I will never forget that morning, and from  now on I will have a very different answer to the question "Well, if your  friend jumped off a bridge would you follow?"

We thought the rest of Queenstown would pale when compared with bungy jumping  but the rest of the day was extremely fun. We got lunch at a great little  tavern and then headed to the gondola to go luging at the top of the mountain.  Luging is really fun. They are really just little go-cart-type-things that you  roll on down a little racetrack. It was fun! After a couple of goes on that,  we descended the mountain for a coffee and the ride back to Wanaka. A  spaghetti dinner and a movie later we were dead tired and slept soundly.

The next day we headed back to Christchurch and got there by dinner time. We  went by Mt. cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand, and we stopped so I  could take pictures. We arrived back in Christchurch by evening and met Lucy’s  boyfriend, Ryan and his friend, Tao, for a drink at this really cool  bar/lounge place in town. It wasn’t a very late night but we had a lot of fun  just chit-chatting.

The next day Lucy and Ryan had to go to a wedding, so I took the opportunity  to do some of the souvenir shopping I wanted to do. I felt bad about doing it  with Lucy around because there is nothing that is worse for cultural cringe  than looking at all the things stupid cheap shops sell to represent your  country to the droves of tourists that pass through your hometown on a daily  basis. Lucy did not need to be around for souvenir shopping. I walked around  the centerof Christchurch for a little while and bought little things from  the market stands in the square. Then I found an internet cafe and video- skyped with Mom for the very first time! It was pretty cool. I had arranged to  take a shuttle from the center square in town to Willowbank for a Maori  cultural presentation and native wildlife tour. It was kind of a cheesy show,  but it was interesting to see some of the packaged, traditional, indigenous  culture of New Zealand. I swear, one of the songs they sang sounded EXACTLY  like the "Hokey Pokey" and another one sounded just like "My Guy." I saw kiwi  birds on the wildlife tour as well as keas and one of the oldest species of  lizard in the world. I spotted that one in its cage after the guide missed it.

Lucy’s dad picked me up after the presentation was over and I went back to  their house for some dinner and to sort myself out for the flight the next  day. Lucy was a doll and took me to the airport at 5am the next morning since  my flight left at 7am for Sydney. Overall New Zealand was a great success.  Perhaps it was not the most traditional of tourist experiences, but after the  stress of exams and saying goodbye to all my friends in Brisbane, to be with a  family in New Zealand was extremely refreshing.

I got into Sydney and got a cab to Nicola’s place. The plan was to stay with  her for a couple of nights and sort out my visa extension in order to stay in  Australia until January. We had a lazy day of magazine reading on Sunday and  my visa appointment was at 10am on Monday morning. My visa extension was  granted to me immediately. I had spoke on the phone to several visa officers  this semester and kept getting different information about this, that and the  other thing. Finally one person said that if I made an appointment to hand in  my visa application in person, the papers might get processed faster than the  normal three-week period. I did not realized that by "faster" they meant two  weeks, six days, 23 hours and 45 minutes faster. A quarter of an hour after I  sat down with the visa officer I walked out of the office with a sticker in my  passport and permission to stay until January 14, 2009. Hooray!

The rest of the day was spent walking around Sydney and that night Nix and I  met up with one of her friends to explore some live music around central  station. The first bar had an alternative, punk, emo band playing. The music  wasn’t bad, especially the drummer, but the musicians’ images were crazy.  Tight pants, oversize shirts, hair in faces, floppy dancing…it was hilarious  in many ways…but you probably had to be there. The second place we tried to  find was this really obscure jazz place that is located in such an out-of-the -way location that it would be futile to even begin to describe it. The place  was so packed that there was no way we could get in, but we sat outside the  door listening and it was clear why they want to keep this place on the DL.  The jazz blew me away and the ambiance was fantastic. Opening this place up to  the masses would take away some of the magic that comes from sitting on the  ground in a dirty, seedy-looking building enjoying some seriously good music.  We didn’t stay long since Nicola’s friend had to go, but we stayed for a few  songs. We returned to Nicola’s apartment tired but satisfied. My foot was  killing me from walking in my sandals that decided to crap out on me and it  continued to do so for about a week. I threw the sandals out and bought new  ones.

The next morning my foot still hurt and I felt like crap. Somewhere along the  line I had contracted a stomach virus since I woke up with an abnormally- colored tongue and a feeling of nausea for even the most bland of breads. I  thought maybe fresh air would do me good and decided to go to a chemist’s for  some gatorade and medicine. This was good, but then I made the mistake of  walking into a grocery store. The assault of all those different smells  triggered my upchuck reflex and I barely got out of the store to chunder into  the trash can outside. (Australian word of the day: Chunder -verb- to vomit,  spew, barf, throw up, etc…) It was spectacularly embarrassing, but Nicola  was really good. She took me back to her apartment and set me up on the couch  with my gatorade and crackers. I stayed there all day sleeping, and being weak  in general. I watched two movies and ate approximately eight crackers…two of  which my system refused to accept. I was supposed to make my way to Newcastle  that day, but it was decided that travelling in my condition was unwise, so I  decided to inconvenience Nicola for another night.

Around midnight that night my fever broke and I woke up hungry and cured. I  decided to make the trip to Newcastle but took my time and took it easy. I  stayed in a hostel and was still so tired that I went to bed around 9:30pm. As  soon as I arrived in Newcastle I knew I would not be staying long. Everything  was closed at 6:30pm, even the little cafes that were suggested for dinner in  my guide book. I took a little walk around but ended up setting for half a  subway sandwich for dinner. I couldn’t eat a whole six-inch still at that  point so I saved the rest for lunch on the train the next day and returned to  the hostel to force myself to stay awake until 10pm so I could go to bed and  sleep the whole night. I read some short stories that I found in the little  book exchange in the hostel and conked out. I was still recovering from being  sick and I was TIRED. I made it to 9:30 and slept until 6:30 the next morning  at which point I got up and walked around.

Newcastle was more lively at 6:30 in the morning than it was at 6:30 at night.  People were out having coffee and making their way to work. Australia is  definitely a country of early risers, I have noticed. It was a beautiful  morning, but I knew I wouldn’t really find anything to interest me without  someone else there to hang out with. I was anxious to get to Coffs Harbour  where I could feel a little more at home. So I bought my ticket from a really  nice teller at the train station and then walked to the Newcastle Cathedral,  which is a very pretty building. There was a synagogue marked on my map, but I  didn’t notice it. It was probably just one of the pretty houses I passed on my  walk. Also, Newcastle has some impressive hills. I took a look at the beach  and then packed everything up to be on my way. I made the train to the  transfer and got on the train to Coffs Harbour and Morgan…which ran late,  but still got in by 4:15pm. It was a six-hour train ride, but I was happy to  chill. The scenery was nice as well, and since I hadn’t seen it before, it was  a pleasure to just stare out the window, munch my snacks and pick music to  pass the time.

Morgan picked me up at the train station and took me on a little driving tour  of Coffs Harbour. He’s a great tour guide and informed me about the little  facks of each place we passed through. Then we went back to his house where I  met his parents properly–I had met his mum only briefly and his dad while he  was moving out. I immediately felt at home here and it has been only fun  since. Morgan and I really hit the ground running. It was a relaively calm  first night, and it was Thanksgiving! I had a lovely dinner with Morgan’s  family and then went to bed really. It wasn’t a giant. turkey-filled, feast,  but it was a good dinner with good people, and that’s what Thanksgiving is  really about–being thankful for what you’ve got.

The next morning I was able to make a skype appearance at my family’s  Thanksgiving celebration. Morgan even got to say hello to some of my family  via the video. Technology really is amazing. After talking to a few people via  skype we started the day. Ditte, my Danish neighbor from college, was due in  Coffs with some of her Danish friends, so Morgan and I made sure we were able  to meet up with them for dinner. Morgan took me to the beach near his house  that had MONSTER waves that day. I also met Morgan’s friend Dylan, who is  quirky, but very cool. We had dinner with the Danes and a very nice Indian  restaurant and left feeling full but having had an excellent day.

On the 29th of November there was a music festival in Coffs–the first of its  kind ever, so I witnessed history in the making! We went first to Eddie’s  house, Morgan’s friend and former boss from his stint at Domino’s pizza,  because he was having a birthday party/breakfast barbie/pregame session at his  house before the music festival. We ended up walking to the showgrounds from  Eddie’s house and spent the better part of eight hours listening to bands,  walking around, meeting people and getting extremely muddy thanks to the rain  the day before. All the bands were Australian and my favorite by far was Blue  King Brown, a reggae kind of group that really performed very well. Also on  the program were Greenspoon and Gyroscope. It was fun and I was proud of  myself for lasting the whole day. We went back to Eddie’s briefly after the  festival was over and then went to Scott’s house (another friend of Morgan’s  that I met that day…I met most of his group at the festival I think). We got  home late, tired but happy.

The next day Morgan planned to have people over to his house for a little  shindig that was very casual and fun. Morgan and I went shopping for lollies  and made brownies before everyone got there and it was another late night that  culminated with sneaking into the resort neighboring Morgan’s house and taking  a dip in their spa pool. It was fun and we ended up having to run away from  the guards who heard our splashing. It was so much fun and we walked home via  the beach which was made even more beautiful by the brilliantly starry sky. A  few people stayed over and so in the morning the four of us that were left  over went Jetty Jumping at the Coffs Harbour jetty that extends into the  harbor. I did not jump from the Jetty, but I watched the boys do it and dove a  little off the lower pontoon. We had excellent burgers from a stand in town  and then went our separate ways.

Since then it’s been very lazy times in Coffs. Morgan and I explored a sweet  factory that is near his house. They make honeycomb there, but I don’t think  we call it that in the US. It has no honey in it at all. In fact, it is mostly  sugar, but it’s yellow and looks like honeycomb if it is allowed to puff up  really large. We got to taste it fresh and sample the sweets that they make  out of it and carob, which is like chocolate but I think I like it a little  bit better. The people at the factory told us to come back the next day around  10:30am so we could see the entire process, so that is what we did. The guy  from the day before recognized us and the whole process was very interesting  to see.

The days have been hot and muggy lately so there has been a lot of napping and  relaxing going on to combat the heat. Today Morgan and I went bushwalking in  one of the forrests near his house and we’ve been running errands and doing  odds and ends for his mum and dad. It is now my birthday actually and as it  happens, many of Morgan’s friends have birthdays around this time, so everyone  is keen for celebrations. So happy 22nd birthday to me!! I invite everyone, in  honor of my birthday, to do something special for yourself as my present, then  tell me about it!

That’s about it for the update. Thanks for sticking with me and I’ll try to  update more regularly. I have a very full few weeks ahead of me as you can see  from the schedule I posted earlier. Not long until I see Mom either! I’m  extremely excited!! So take care and I’ll be back stateside soon!!!

As always, thanks for reading.

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