Guest post by Laura Druda, Winner of Contiki’s “Blog Your Way Down Under”
Every day I was in Australia, I toted around a little, grey notebook full of names, places, lists, and ideas. I was determined, when I got back to New York, to compose the most clever, creative, detailed, accurate, and possibly hilarious blog entries this world ever did see. Without question, I WOULD live up to whatever expectations may have been set for me when I won this contest.
However, when I sat down with my Macbook on my lap and my notes by my side, my heart just kept jumping in with flashes of amazing memories, days and moments that I would all but kill to relive (Can someone just please invent a time machine already?). It’s too soon for me to get all technical with Top 10 lists and fancy names that I need to Google to make sure I spell correctly, so right now, here’s what’s in my heart– some memories more wonderful than I ever expected to make:
(1) The night I met my tour mates in Sydney. A group of ten or fifteen of us took it upon ourselves to walk up to the Botanical Gardens and Opera House. This was my first encounter with my tour mates and we couldn’t have had a more beautiful evening for it. The excitement of first conversations, combined with the warm breeze that swirled around us and our new Australia landscape, set the stage for what was to come over the next two weeks. Plus, for me, it provided hope that this big, scary adventure I was on just may wind up being worth all the anxiety (which it so so so was). Here’s a picture of Caroline and me, about 15 minutes after we met, in front of the Sydney Opera House. Neither of us had any idea what kind of friendship was going to bloom.
(2) Maybe it was just because it was the first swim of my trip, but going in the ocean in Byron Bay was THE single most incredible swim I have ever swum (swam?). The waves were perfect, the sun was bright, and the water was warm (ocean water is NEVER warm in New York). Plus, we had a few awesome photo ops when we got out of the water…which everyone knows is pretty much my favorite thing ever. Here we are with three lifeguards who said, “Sure we’ll take a picture; who cares if anyone’s drowning!” as we posed. Cheers!
(3) Holding a koala at the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary! A 15-dollar extra that, to me, is downright crazy not to go for. This is me with Pearl (who had quite the set of claws on her). It looks quick and easy, but before they just hand the bear over, a wildlife expert has you talk sweetly to her, petting her a little, so she’s calm before she’s placed into your open arms. Well, if there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s talking in a mushy animal voice, so for me, this was no problem at all. And can you tell? Doesn’t Pearl look happy to meet me? (4) This is another one from the Wildlife Sanctuary! After the big koala-hold, we got to FEED kangaroos. I mean, does it get any more Australian? Like humans, some kangaroos are jumpy and aggressive, while others stand aside, too shy to hop over for a snack (literally). Their tongues are scratchy like a cats, but huge like a persons. At one point, I had a whole slew of them feeding out of my hands, slurping up globs of food and skin cells like they’ve never been fed before. I’d be lying if I told you it wasn’t a teensy bit scary; they’re probably over 50 lbs each!
P.S. Check out my stylish poncho. This was $2 well-spent if you ask me.
(5) John’s “birthday”. Rumors are a funny thing, and when you hear a rumor that it’s your Tour Manager’s birthday you pretty much HAVE to act on it! Five or six of us huddled around the greeting card section at a Coles grocery store in Brisbane, searching for a birthday card that was the right mix of sentimental and funny to give to our Tour Manager, John, when we heard it was possibly his birthday. After lots of devising and secret conversing, our attempt to find validity in the big birthday rumor ended in a hearty “I’m not sure.” But that was good enough for us! We settled on a Dad card with a pop out, “I’m the boss around here!” pin and a cupcake. (A Dad card for someone other than my dad is one of my favorite jokes ever.) Anyway, my friend, Rob, did an AMAZING job of getting the whole bus to sign the card and that night, at the Noosa Surf Club, he stood up, made an exceptional speech, and initiated a 50-person-chorus of Happy Birthday. John, whose birthday was 6-months earlier, was extremely grateful. And so was I. Here’s John with his cupcake and his “I’m the boss around here!” pin.
(6) The night we stayed in Fraser Island, I said, “This is the most fun I’ve ever had in 24/7 torrential downpour” before my roommates and I shut the lights off and went to bed. We were in Lodge 3, which was composed of five 4-person bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a big kitchen area to hang out in. That night, to escape the rain, a group of us (9?) found ourselves sitting tightly around the kitchen table with cups of tea, a pile of magazines, and a nights-worth of funny and self-deprecating, “This is my Friday night,” comments. For some people, this could have been a low point, but for me, it was a total giggle-fest! What’s better than doodle games (I.E. “Turn this mess of squiggles into a picture”), boys taking Cosmopolitan quizzes, and beating all the non-Americans at naming the state capitals? Nothin’ when you’re simultaneously realizing that you pretty much love every person you’re sitting at that table with. There are no picture for this night because it wasn’t glamorous. It was just one of those accidentally fun times that can’t be captured on film (or, you know, on an SD card).
(7) Karaoke at the farm. If you haven’t been on this tour, chances are you’ve never had the opportunity to sing karaoke at a farm before. Let’s just say, I might not be an athlete, but I’m pretty happy singing pop songs in a microphone with my pals for a few hours on end. This is a group I have decided to refer to as the “Karaoke Dream Team” because we sang several songs together. The others would probably disagree since I totally never discussed this title with them before… I just like naming things.
(8) Whitehaven Beach. This was a steamy hot day on the white, silica sand and in the warm, gentle ocean. The whole beach has this untouched, off-the-beaten path kind of feel to it (even though, really, it’s very much ON the beaten path). Here’s a group of us in a weird combination of outfits.
I stole this picture from Astrid (thanks) because some lady walked right into mine.
So there’s eight of my best memories, but if you asked for a list of what I didn’t like, I’d hand over a blank sheet of paper. I loved every minute that I spent in Australia. <3