Monday, December 9, 2013

34,000+ Kilometres

As I’ve written here before, living in Australia compared to the US is a blessing for travel.  My job offers me six weeks of vacation per year and I’ve tried my hardest to make the best use of that time – balancing trips back to the US with trips around Australia.  I’ve managed to sneak away on a trip that wasn’t domestic or involving North America only once so far – when I went to China in 2011.  But this past October I got to make up for that with a 34,000+ kilometre journey across five extremely different nations.  I spent 29 days abroad and have now been back for a month and I feel that I have finally spent enough time processing my experience and reflecting on the journey that I can write truly insightful blogs about it.

Just kidding!  I’m not that deep.  But seriously, if I had you going for a minute then you’ve obviously never met me.  I’ve just been busy.  Really busy.  Going away for a whole month really sets you back at work.  Plus, everybody and their mothers has been itching to catch up and get all the down and dirty details of my travels.  On top of all of that, I took over 3,000 pictures and still haven’t gone through all of them.  It’s so tough being me sometimes.  Le sigh.

Enough oh my bullshit.

By plane, ferry, train, and automobile, my journey took me to rich countries, poor countries, and countries in between.  To Europe, to Asia, and Eurasia.  There was lodging with fancy toilets full of buttons to make water shoot at your bum at different angles, and there were holes in the ground (I preferred the former, just in case you were wondering).

My first destination was Estonia – a former Soviet republic that finally found the strength to break away from its Russian occupiers just over two decades ago.  Estonia has been slowly struggling to transform itself from a poor Eastern European country to one that is more aligned with Western Europe, and the results are truly astounding.  Estonia was not what I was expecting.

Then there was a country that was exactly what I was expecting:  Finland.  Despite is eastern location bordering Russia, Finland is a rich Western European nation in every way.  Modern and progressive, clean and efficient, Finland aligns well with the other Nordic countries and the rest of Western Europe, but it has an ever-so-slight eastern twist to it – maybe from a history of Russian rule which finally ended around World War I.  I’ve always had a fascination with the Nordic countries so my expectations were high, and Finland came to the table and put a smile on my face the entire time I was there.  It was pretty much flawless.

Then off to Russia.  Tickets for this journey were booked and paid for months before Russia’s infamous anti-gay laws were passed mid-year.  With all the negative press of late, I was hesitant about going, but I wasn’t willing to lose the money.  Russia wowed me – sometimes in a good way, and sometimes in not such a good way – but it wowed me and that’s the important thing.  Despite the influx of western influences since the fall of communism, Russia was a truly Eastern European country.  Signs of capitalism were all around – and usually right in your face – but those signs were just frosting.  While the ingredients are all there, the cake itself is a relic from the past and probably needs a lot more baking to transform it into something modern and delicious.

From the global cities of European Russia, I traveled on the Trans-Siberian Railroad for four days to reach Irkutsk – one of Siberia’s principal cities but by no means a big one – and the small town of Listvyanka on the shore of Lake Baikal.  Quiet and serene, Lake Baikal was a complete 180 degree turn from St Petersburg and Moscow, and a refreshing one at that.

After Russia, I traveled southward to Mongolia.  Once isolated and poor, Mongolia has very recently come into a bit of wealth thanks to a resources boom.  Dirty and dusty with drab architecture and abandoned buildings, the capital city retains much evidence of Mongolia’s past, but is dotted more and more with signs of its future:  upscale hotels, fancy retail stores like Louis Vuitton, and an increasing number of western restaurants across the city.

Outside of the principal city, I spent some time in a quiet national park away from the dust and dirt and the dichotomy of Ulaanbaatar.  With no western food available, my little tour group ate like locals.  Mutton galore and sheep brain soup later, our faces were a little downtrodden, but a hike up to a tiny Buddhist monastery on a mountainside made it all worthwhile.

My final stop was South Korea.  Both Koreas, technically.   I was completely unprepared for Seoul.   Two years ago I was shocked to find that Hong Kong was so western for an Asian city, but Seoul wasn’t.  It was so western for any city.  Switch all the writing to English characters and you’d hardly know you were in Asia (well, except maybe for all the Asian people, but you get the point).  Modern, clean, efficient, and orderly, Korea was everything that Mongolia wasn’t despite being only a three hour flight away.  At the DMZ, the sight of North Korean soldiers checking me out with binoculars was unnerving, but I can proudly proclaim that I stepped foot into the forbidden, renegade North Korea for a good fifteen seconds or so.

And then it was back to reality – to work and socializing and post-trip depression.  I’ve since done some shopping and booked another trip to look forward to, so I’m back to normal and it’s high time I finally churn about some blogs about my adventure.  Culture, sights, and food of the five countries will follow in individual entries.  Until then, I’m going to get back to sorting through my massive amount of pictures.  I really need an assistant.


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Elcid & Jess Escape the Government Shutdown

“Do they realize that they look absolutely ridiculous to the rest of the world?” asked my flatmate.  He was referring to Republicans, of course.

The news of the US government shut down has been big here in Australia.  And it’s been big news mainly because it’s ridiculous.  How can the most powerful, wealthiest country in the world just stop functioning overnight?  Looking in from the outside, it can only be viewed as absurd.  What makes matters worse is the fact that Republicans have shut down the government because they don’t want affordable healthcare for all.  While the rest of the developed world – and even many countries that many would classify as “third world” – have universal healthcare systems for their citizens, Republicans are fighting a law that doesn’t go nearly far enough.

Australians are no stranger to a government shutdown.  By “no stranger”, I mean it happened once.  And only once.  The series of events during the Australian government shutdown was much different to what America is experiencing now.  In 1975, a simple budget dispute lead to the first and only deadlock between the Australian Senate and the Australian House of Representatives (which, like in the US today, had majorities from different parties).  So, what happened?  Well, keep in mind that Australia still has the Queen as the Head of State, and she keeps the power to dissolve the government – a power that she (or really her representative in Australia) only used that one time in 1975.  So, the Queen fired the Prime Minister and then appointed a new one who quickly mustered up the votes to get a budget bill passed so that the government could get back to work.  Shortly after the bill was passed, the Queen fired the rest of Parliament.  This whole chain of events took less than four hours.  New elections were held a month later.

Can you imagine if Obama could just fire all of Congress?  That would sort of be amazing (until you think about a Republican firing all of Congress, which would be horrifying).

While the rest of the world watches and waits for the US to pull its shit together, I would like to say one quick thing to two of my best mates – Elcid and Jessica:

Congratulations on becoming Australians!

Yes, this whole blog post was supposed to be about both Elcid and Jessica becoming Australian citizens, but I’m glad I waited (procrastinated) a bit (a lot) because it ties in so nicely with the US government going to crap.  Now, whenever shit like this happens they can just quietly hide their US passports in a drawer or under their mattress and walk around flashing their Aussie passports, rolling their eyes like the rest of the country and questioning what the hell is wrong with those damn yanks (in their best Australian accents, of course).

My dear Arkansan friend Jessica and her English husband Guy became Australian citizens together in February of this year.  Their ceremony was held on a Wednesday afternoon at the Manly Council chambers near where they live.




Each municipal council runs the citizenship ceremonies for its residents, and they usually give you gifts as sort of a welcome to being an Aussie.


Plants are a common gift, as is Vegemite, and they usually put on a reception after the ceremony with the quintessential Aussie foods:  meat pies, Lamingtons, Pavlovas, Anzac biscuits, and some sparkling wine for good measure.  I decided that it wasn’t enough.  As it was on a Wednesday, a big ass celebration couldn’t ensue (but there were a few cheeky beers at the pub, of course).  So, I surprised Jess and Guy with an Aussie hamper (aka gift basket to the Americans reading this) just in case the council didn’t give lavish enough gifts.  All of the best Aussie things were in there:  Vegemite, TimTams, Iced Vovos, Milo, tea, Anzac biscuits, Lamingtons, Shapes, Freddo Frogs, Caramello Koalas, a beer from each state, and so much more.



So, Jess (and Guy too!):  Congratulations on becoming Australians!  They have a government that functions.

Fellow Floridian Elcid had his citizenship ceremony in August, but it wasn’t the grand celebration that he had hoped for.  His municipal council – Waverley Council – has a long wait to get a ceremony and so he was instead offered an abridged ceremony at the immigration office in the city.  He took it as he didn’t want to wait months more.  There were no speeches, no reception, no gifts, and he could only bring one guest (his husband, David, of course).  After so long here, to have a half-assed ceremony would be a bit of a let-down.  So, I decided to arrange a post-ceremony celebration a few weeks later.  As I had already used the gift basket idea, I had to think outside the box.  And what did I come up with?  A whole day of Aussie fun!  I took Elcid out for brunch at the Poolside Cafe at the Andrew Boy Charlton in The Domain.  Then, we walked around a bit like tourists just for fun.



We ended up at Baroque in The Rocks for macarons.  Since both Elcid and macarons have invaded Australia, I felt it appropriate to combine the two on his citizenship ceremony celebration day.


Then, it was off to the Sydney Tower for a short 3D video about Sydney and some high up views of the city.  I hadn’t been up the tower since my first day in Sydney over three and a half years ago, so I was excited to check it out.  It was Elcid’s first time.




  
Then, we headed back to my apartment for an Australian afternoon tea – complete with all sorts of Australian edible delights and a lovely Australian cake made by our friend, Mirri.


And with that I’ll say to Elcid:  Congratulations on becoming an Australian!  We may be stuck with Prime Minster Abbott for the next 3 years, but at least there’s healthcare and the government keeps running!  Plus, John Boehner is like 10,000 miles away at all times.  That’s a huge plus.


Monday, September 30, 2013

I Hate Sydney Birds

The world today is burdened by many different plagues – civil war, famine, political oppression, disease, and so much more.  In Australia, we are not immune to the world’s problems.  While Australia may be considered “the lucky country” by many observers, there is one issue that is of grave concern to Australians yet which has been wholly ignored by politicians and intellectuals.  The problem:

Birds.

There are so many annoying birds in Australia.  And I fucking hate them.  Seriously.  They are awful.  Ok, so they aren’t as awful as spiders or cockroaches, but these heinous little creatures have to go.  Now, I’m not talking about the grand and elusive emus or cassowaries which roam the outback or the rainforests of North Queensland.  I’m talking about all the little shits which inhabit Sydney.  They are my neighbours yet they refuse to act neighbourly.

First off, let me say that not all birds are on my shit list.  I’m not making some big sweeping generalization that all birds are evil and need to be destroyed.  There are plenty of wrens and ravens and other species of bird in the city which mind their own business and go about their day.  Of course, there is also the kookaburra, which is far too iconic a species to hate.  Besides, I hardly see kookaburras where I live.  And of course, we are semi-tropical here, which means there is a whole range of beautiful parrot species to ogle.  My favourite is the appropriately named rainbow lorikeet:


It’s amazing how it fits the whole gay rainbow of colours on such a small body.  There’s also the crimson rosella and the galah which are parrot species and which I occasionally spot.  But the vast majority of birds are sinister little shits which want nothing more than to terrorize humans as part of their evil scheme to rise up and take over the world.  And they can’t do that… because that’s my job.

Pigeons

Pigeons are awful.  They are nothing more than rats with wings.  And they’re everywhere in Sydney.  I thought they were everywhere in Seattle when I lived there, but I was wrong.  You ain’t seen pigeons until you’ve seen Sydney pigeons.  They are numerous.  Beyond numerous.  And we should kill them and feed them to the homeless.


Pigeons seem to be unafraid of humans.  We can walk up real close to them and they don’t fly away.  Even when you stomp, they just make a small hop like it was nothing.  At least Seattle pigeons would fly the fuck off if a heavy shoe came down within about a foot radius of them.  Not these bitches.  But the worst thing about pigeons:


Poop.  They sit on power lines and poop everywhere.  I’ve experienced first-hand the horrors of being pooped on by a pigeon.  I had to change my route to work after that.  And now I’m super careful about where I walk.  I may look like an idiot making a big semi-circle around a spot on the sidewalk, but I refuse to be a victim again.

Ibises

The majestic ibis.  What a shit bird.  It’s big and disproportionate and wanders around the parks by my house.  Ibises are the starving Romanian gymnasts of the bird world:  you will often times see them with their legs spread on the top of the trash can – bodies and lengthy beaks hanging down into the refuse below – just picking out trash.  Therefore, they are also the homeless of the bird world.  The city got smart and starting installing trashcans with smaller openings, so ibises have resorted to scavenging whatever trash is available wherever they can find it.



They should really be more careful – they might choke on something or eat something potentially lethal to their fragile, fucked up little bodies.  Like this one who learned a lesson the hard way (I didn't do it!)


Is it bad that I got a bit excited when I saw this dead little sucker on the back streets of Glebe?

Cockatoos

Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos to be precise.


Now, I know what you’re thinking:  “Phill, cockatoos are gorgeous!  How can you hate cockatoos?!?”  First of all, fuck you.  Second of all, cockatoos are awful.  I don’t care how pretty you are, if you are loud and obnoxious and destructive then I am going to hate you.  Lots of men thought Sarah Palin was a MILF, but then she opened her mouth and suddenly everyone saw her for the unattractive wench that she actually is.  Cockatoos are like Sarah Palin.

Cockatoos come onto your balcony uninvited.


And they squawk.  And when they squawk, they really go at it full force.  There is no bird louder than a cockatoo.  Walk through The Domain around sunset and see for yourself – they make some horrid noises for such a beautiful creature.  I’d be running along with my iPod on – headphones blasting Cher or Lady Gaga or something else super gay straight into my ears – and I’d still be completely startled by the noise.  If I ever trip and fall while running, there is a 98% chance that it’d be due to a cockatoo.  The other 2% could be due to the fact that I’m completely uncoordinated and run like I imagine a penguin would.  Speaking of, we do have penguins in Sydney AND THEY DON’T FUCKING SQUAWK.  Cockatoos:  take notes.

Also, cockatoos are destructive.  Given enough time, they could bring down a skyscraper.  Look at them go to work on this building right in the middle of the City – in broad daylight – with tons of witnesses – and COMPLETELY NO REGARD FOR THE LAW.  They’re just making holes in the building for the heck of it.  They are vandals.  What’s next?  Arson?  I wouldn’t put it past them.


Shitheads.

Seagulls

Seagulls, while not as dangerous as the final two birds that I’ll describe, are by far the most annoying.  It has been scientifically proven that seagulls are actually more annoying than pigeons, ibises, and cockatoos – combined.  Like pigeons, seagulls are EVERYWHERE in this city.  It does not help that this city has tons of water in it which only helps to encourage them to come further and further inland.  Also like pigeons, seagulls are not afraid of humans.  But while pigeons are just nonchalant in their reaction to humans, seagulls are actually aggressive.  I learned this the hard way during my first week in Sydney.  I went up to Manly, which like many crowded beach areas has a ton of seagulls, and decided to sit outside at a nice cafe while I enjoyed my schnitzel and chips (French fries).  Then, before I could even realize what the hell was going on, a seagull landed on my table, took a chip right off my plate, and flew the fuck away.  It stole my chip.  That seagull owes me 20 cents.


This sort of thing happens all the time.  Eating a wrap or burger?  A seagull will hover around your face and try to peck at your meal between bites.  And don’t ever think of leaving food unattended or more than about six inches from your person – they’ll get it and they’ll get it quickly.  Even food in bags is not safe.  Paper bags from McDonald’s or Hungry Jacks can be easily torn through by a seagull using their beak.  Once they get in – and it only takes seconds – they will devour as many chips as they can before all of their other seagull friends catch up and join in.  And when one seagull finds the jackpot, it’s like a swarm.  ALL of the other seagulls suddenly hear the ruffle of the bag or smell the fried aroma of the chips from like a kilometre away and they all fly over in unison.

It’s scarier than that Alfred Hitchcock movie.

Magpies

This is a magpie:


And this is a sign:


Can you read the sign?  If not, then let me share with you what it says: “WARNING: MAGPIES SWOOPING IN THIS AREA”

Magpies are scary fuckers.  They swoop, and they can hurt.  There are dozens of reported injuries each year, especially to the head and eyes.  In fact, people have lost eyes to magpies.  Let me repeat:  PEOPLE HAVE LOST EYES TO MAGPIES.  Oh, also, there have been reported DEATHS.  Not only can the bird give you a fatal disease, they can chase you into traffic and make you get hit by a car.

These things are killers.

They swoop when they feel they are threatened – especially seasonally (in the spring) when they have eggs or babies in a nearby nest.  I’ve been swooped twice.  The first was in 2010 at The Royal National Park.  I was walking in the middle of the big ass beach but I assume the bird had a nest in a nearby dune and I got too close for comfort (apparently, they’ll swoop you if you get within roughly 50 meters of their nest).   The thing basically dive-bombed me twice like it was some sort of Japanese kamikaze pilot.  Then, in 2012, I got up super early one morning (like 5:30am early) to head out to Sculpture by the Sea to beat the massive crowd of tourists.  I took my normal route to the bus stop up Riley Street, but this time I got swooped.  It’s a pretty well-travelled sidewalk, but maybe the bird wasn’t used to passers-by at that ungodly hour of the morning.

Swooping is a major problem in Australia, especially around schools.  Some schools may require children to wear hats with fake eyes on the top to scare off the magpies (they are less likely to attack if they think they are being watched).  Cyclists are also known to wear helmets with long spikes on the top to deter the villains from swooping. 

Mynas

I thought magpies were the most ferocious bird, but then I witnessed the Indian myna.  Just to clarify, the Indian myna is not the same as the noisy miner bird, and it took me a while to figure this out.  The noisy miner bird is a native species which is completely different to the Indian myna, yet looks remarkably similar for a species which is completely unrelated.  To make matters more complicated, many Australians will pronounce the two the same (sort of like how you would expect someone from Boston to pronounce “miner”).  The noisy miner is more grayish in colour.  The Indian myna is an introduced species and is more brown in colour and the little invader has reproduced quickly and spread rapidly across Australia.  It doesn’t belong here and it’s interrupting the ecosystem and threatening native species.

Kill it.


I was running through The Domain a few months ago when I witnessed a myna fly off its perch on a fence and toward an old man who was walking down the sidewalk just a few meters in front of me.  I fully expected to see the bird fly in front of the man, but when it went in front, it never came out the other side.  As I ran around, I saw it furiously pecking at this old man’s chest and stomach area.  Finally, the old man was able to capture the bird and slam it onto the pavement.  He was a bit shaken up but ok.  There was no apparent reason for the attack (except maybe the bird didn’t like his jacket?)

From then on, I have been petrified of these birds.  They travel in packs and they are loud and they are everywhere and now they are attacking people.  If seagulls are from that Alfred Hitchcock movie then these birds must be straight from hell.

Now, the birds are a massive problem but I think people are actually the bigger issue here.  There are signs all around that clearly state that you should not feed the birds.  You can’t miss these signs.


But some people refuse to read.  They refuse to listen.  They refuse to obey.  They just don’t get it.  They’re idiots.  Like this guy feeding the pigeons on the platform at Redfern Station:


What a fucking idiot.

Or this little girl feeding a cockatoo in The Domain while her father stands aside and talks on his mobile phone:


His phone should be taken from him and shoved up his ass.

Or, better yet, this fucking asshole of a mother who let her boys feed McDonald’s French fries to the seagulls outside the MCA:


The Happy Meal you ordered was supposed to make the kids happy – not the fucking birds.  So why are you letting your kids feed the birds, hag?

If the Australian government is going to sit idly by and let birds overrun our beautiful yet vulnerable city, the least they can do is institute mandatory etiquette training in schools.  From now on, all children have to take English, math, science, geography, and a class about not feeding the fucking birds.

Either that or they should build a big prison in the middle of the outback and anyone who is caught feeding the birds will be sent there and placed in a tiny little cell with just their thoughts and about 100 hungry seagulls and a swooping magpie.  And an angry myna.  And a squawking cockatoo.  And a pigeon on a wire placed strategically above their little cot.  That will teach them a lesson.

Economy?  Social issues?  No.  I think I’ve found the perfect platform for my campaign for Prime Minster… one day… when I’m a citizen… A vote for Phill is a vote for no birds.

I’m so winning that election.


Monday, September 23, 2013

Aussie Rules Football

I have previously blogged out rugby league (http://phillipdavid.blogspot.com.au/2012/07/who-wears-short-shorts.html) and in that blog I mentioned another sport that is hugely popular here in Australia:  Aussie rules football.  And finally, well over a year later, I made it to an AFL (Australian Football League – which is pretty much synonymous with Aussie rules football) game.  The verdict:  fantastic!  Before I tell you why, let me tell you about the game.

First of all, it’s important to know that Aussie rules football is the most popular sport in Australia, even though rugby league is much bigger in Sydney.  Melbourne is the epicentre of AFL with 9 of the 18 teams in the league in the Melbourne metropolitan area.  After that, there are two teams each in Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, and Adelaide, and an additional team in Geelong, which isn’t all that far from Melbourne.  The game consists of four quarters lasting 20 minutes each, though a bit of time is added on at the end of each quarter to account for stops during play.  The stops aren’t long – mainly just the time after a goal.  There aren’t any time-outs and the game doesn’t stop for commercials.  All in all, each quarter generally lasts for about 25 – 30 minutes, and players and spectators don’t know exactly when the siren will go off because the clock counts up, not down.

The sport is played on an ovular field as opposed to the more common rectangular field that we know from rugby, soccer, and American football.  There is no “off sides” rule and players disperse freely across field.  Players can kick the ball, punch it with their fists, or tap it with their hands to move it around the field, but in no circumstances can they throw the ball (even though it looks like they are throwing when you watch – the punching/tapping is very subtle).  Players can run with the ball but it must be touched or bounced on the ground every 15 metres.  There is tackling, and when tackled, a player must relinquish the ball to the opposing side.  If a player catches a ball that has travelled more than 15 metres, it is called a “mark”.  The player is then entitled to kick the ball through the goal posts from the spot where they caught it (though, they may just keep playing if the distance is too far).  That brings us to…

Scoring!  There are four goal posts all in a row – let’s number them 1, 2, 3, and 4, in order.  To score, a player must kick the ball through the two inner goal posts (posts 2 and 3) for six points.  If the ball goes between the outer goals posts (between 1 and 2 or between 3 and 4) then the team is entitled to one point.  Also, if the ball bounces off of one of the inner posts (posts 2 or 3) then the team is also entitled to one point.  Simple enough!

Of course, there are a bunch of other rules surrounding penalties and such, but I’m not going to even pretend that I care.  There really is only one thing about this game that is worth caring about.  Actually, I take that back.  There are two things about this game that I really do care about.  Those two things:  legs and asses.

I had seen a bit of AFL on TV but never really payed too close attention.  Going to the game in person, I had a fantastic view of the players.  Survey says:  holy bejesus.  While rugby players are big and bulky and sort of look like meatheads, the AFL players are trim and toned and fit.  They run ridiculous distances across the massive field during the game which helps keep them down to size.  And their legs:  wow.  And their asses: even more wow.

My first game was in mid-August.  I had won some tickets from work so I opted to take my co-worker, Rowan, as he is originally from Melbourne and his home team was playing the Sydney Swans.  Luckily, the Swans kicked his team’s butt:  118 to 59.


Rowan wasn’t too pleased, but he was cheered up when they actually opened up the field so we could walk on it after the game.  Apparently they do that at only a handful of games usually toward the end of the season.


Before the game, we had arrived a bit early and got to see the players warming up.  Look at that leg!  I mean, look at that kick…


Then there was the game play.  I especially enjoyed the parts when all of the players’ backs were to me (Is it getting warmer out here?)


Even the umpires are fit!  They do just as much running around on the field as the players do.  Their legs are also fabulous and their asses are also fabulous and they don’t get as busted up as the actual players do.  I think an umpire might be a good way to go…


I’ll just need to change their bright yellow shirts.

I enjoyed the game so much that I decided to go back two weeks later with my friends Jacqui and Amy.  Jacqui even bought me a Swans beanie!


This time it was a more heated match.  The Swans were in the lead for the first three quarters, but fell behind in the fourth quarter to lose the game.  It didn’t really matter as they still made it to the finals (equivalent of the play-offs).  And besides, they were last year’s champions so what was one game going to do?

And even though they lost, it wasn’t a complete wash.  There was still plenty of eye candy.  Though, I think I need to head down to the beach more often and scope them out this summer.  The players are often sighted at Bondi Beach and Coogee Beach.  Like here – taken from the newspaper:


#’s 41, 29, and 40.  # 40 on the right – Nick Smith – is my favourite of all the players.  Can I get a close up?


Oh yes.  Gays:  who wants to go with me to a game next season?

Or maybe just the beach?


Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Atherton Tablelands

Just inland and over the hills from Cairns and Port Douglas sits the Atherton Tablelands.  Unlike the adjacent area on the coast, the tablelands are not a rainforest, but instead a plateau with lots of agricultural activities.  And whenever there is agricultural activity, there is bound to be food.  And I like food.

A lot.

Our first stop first thing in the morning:  Golden Drop Mango Winery.


Yes, yes, you read that right.  Instead of grapes, they use mango to make wine, following the same process as usual but just substituting the fruit.  The result:  delicious!  They had a range of mango wines – including a dry wine, sweet wine, and a medium wine in the middle.  They even had sparkling and a Port-like fortified mango wine!   What was actually most interesting was how they prune the trees.  It apparently makes it easier to pick fruit when they cut them this way.


Now, wine has been known to make me a bit sleepy and the mango wine tasting we had was no exception, so I had to find a remedy as it was only 10am and we had a full day ahead of us.  Luckily, just up the road was Jaques Coffee Plantation.


We got to see coffee berries (coffee comes from berries – who knew?!?!?) and the machine that they harvest them with.



We also got to try some coffee and – even better – some coffee liqueurs that they make.  But of course, my eyes went straight for the prize:  tiramisu made with their very own espresso!


Survey says:  orgasmic.  Also orgasmic was Mr Jaques' adult son - wowzers.  Unfortunately, I didn't snap a photo because that would have been creepy. 

As if I hadn’t had enough sweets for the day, we passed by the Emerald Creek Ice Creamery just a few kilometres down the road and it would have been rude not to sample their macadamia ice cream, right?


Apparently I’m a risk taker.

But the day wasn’t all about food for us.  We did take some time to feed others, namely the semi-wild rock wallaby population at Granite Gorge Nature Park.  It was my sister’s first time feeding these adorable little creatures:




Granite Gorge also had some great walking/hiking tracks which cross over the massive boulders that are on the property.



The next day, we were back in Cairns to catch the Kuranda Scenic Railway.  The railway takes tourist up into the hills and onto the tableland, finishing at the tiny tourist town of Kuranda with views all along the way.





Kuranda is located on the border between the tableland and the rainforest and is best known for its rainforest markets – a place to buy all sorts of trinkets, souvenirs, art, and more.


After a bit of shopping around, I spotted some mango ice cream.  Again, it would have been rude not to get some.


I may have bought some local chocolate and macadamia biscuits too.  Kuranda also offers some hiking trails in the rainforests around the town and along the Barron River.



For the return trip back to Cairns, we opted for the other main mode of transport to and from Kuranda:  the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway.


The Skyrail whisks you above the rainforest canopy and stops at two educational rainforest boardwalks before taking you back to Cairns.



Overall, I would most definitely recommend a visit to the Atherton Tablelands for anyone visiting Cairns.  Especially the coffee plantation.  And the mango winery.  And the ice creamery.

How do I not weigh 400 pounds?