Sunday, March 30, 2014

A refugee and a home stay

This is a bit of a long one, but I feel as if so much has happened today!  I checked out and headed down the street to Flinders Street Baptist church again.  An older gentleman named Torrey came over shortly after I had sat down and invited me up front to sit with him and his wife Liz.  She was very nice and I found out that her husband is actually on staff at the church, he’s one of the pastors.  After the service she invited me to the morning tea they have after church.  We talked for a bit and then she introduced me to a young woman from Peru who is studying accounting here and hopes to eventually get citizenship.  They have 4 people being baptized next week (or maybe the week after) and I met 3 of them (all Iranian) – they sat at our table.  The one next to me was Hossein and he’s actually seeking asylum as a refugee.  The other Iranian couple, Amir & Maryam, are here while he studies Project Management at University.  Hossein’s story is so crazy to me – people think I’m brave for coming to Australia.

He is a Christian and his house church was raided one day and he got put in jail.  After his court date he fled to Malaysia (I think, it was somewhere in SE Asia) and then ended up on a boat to Australia.  From what I could understand his brother is a Christian as well, but he didn’t come with him (he wasn’t arrested), so he came all by himself. Based on the things I’ve read in the paper this last week, and from what information I gathered at the migration museum, he’s got a tough road ahead.  The Australian government, at the moment, isn’t really granting asylum to people.  Some of them get put in detention centers (not sure what else to call them) until the government decides if they should get a visa.  Anyway, he didn’t speak any English when he got here 6 months ago, but I think he’s doing pretty well with his English now, after such a short period of time.  He’s not allowed to work in the country, but there’s some organization that’s helping him with a place to stay and he’s “volunteering” (because he can’t legally work) doing some sort of video surveillance stuff.  I couldn’t quite understand him, but he was pointing at the security cameras in the church, so I don’t know if he installs them or what…  He said he enjoyed talking to me because he can actually understand me J  He said he has trouble understanding Australians even though we both speak English; he said I talk slower and don’t use as much slang.  It must be my time in Japan, trying to communicate in the simplest English possible since I knew no Japanese.  Liz invited me to go back to their house for lunch, but since Leslie hadn’t really given me a time when she’d be picking me up I had to decline.  I was sitting at the hostel debating about whether I should walk to the library or not, and I ended up chatting with Iliana for a bit.  We had both checked out that morning, but didn’t really have anywhere to be until the evening.  About 15 minutes later Leslie called me to say she would be there in 10 minutes.  It’s a 20 minute walk to the library, so it must have been a “God thing” that I didn’t head out.

Leslie seems nice enough and her home, as she describes it, is very posh; which is partly why she’s moving.  All the homes in her area are so nice, I love them!  Most of them are quite old (late 1800’s) and every one has such great architectural character, which I why I love them.  I’m staying in this great little apartment over her garage, so it’s nice to have a bit of privacy after staying in hostels.  I have to make it look like I’m not actually living here since she’s got her house on the market and is having open house; so I’m still basically living out of a suitcase, but at least I’m not sharing with anyone.   I think it’s going to be an interesting two weeks.  A friend was watching the boys while she came to pick me up, and when we got back the friend told me “good luck” with the boys.  Yikes, that was NOT what I wanted to hear.  When Leslie told her friend that I didn’t have much experience with kids they both laughed.   On the car ride Leslie mentioned that she wanted me to help at her father-in-law’s farm for a few days doing some sort of garden work – at least I know I can handle that.  I might not like it, but it’s not out of my realm.  I guess he passed away last year so she’s been taking care of that place too. 

Apparently she doesn’t like to plan meals or cook (?) so she wants me to think of things to make.  I told her I can follow a recipe in hopes that she would then just pick some foods they like, but she said she wants me to decide.  She said she has given up on trying figuring out what to feed the boys.  Man, I really should have gotten a bit more information before I signed up for this; or rather, she should have given a bit more information in her advertisement as well.  She seems easy going enough, but I like rules and boundaries and knowing what is expected of me, so the lack of that causes me a bit of stress.  I know, I know – but I’m a people pleaser and if you can’t please people if you don’t know what they want from you!  My dad keeps telling me this (my time in Australia) is a growing experience, so I guess these must be growing pains.  Cricket better watch out, I’m going to come home and be taller than him!  After dinner we chatted for a bit and although she seems a bit scatter-brained and her boys don’t always listen to her that well, I’m feeling better about it than I was after the random meal decision conversation.  I’ll be doing some cleaning tomorrow and then there’s an open house Tuesday.  Over dinner she was talking about maybe taking me up to the Flinder’s Ranges at some point and maybe even going all the way up to Uluru in May and she’d be happy to take me along. If she gets the house at the auction next week she said she might even be able to pay me to help her move…  Like I said, she’s a bit scatter-brained so it’s hard to remember everything she’s telling me since it’s scattered throughout other conversations. 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day....

Can you tell I'm in a pretty good mood??  Started off the day totally lazy, it is Saturday after all :)  Rolled out of bed late, ate some breakfast while reading a fascinating article about robots and some other news stories.  That's one thing I miss when I'm back home.  Our newspaper is so boring!!  Maybe it's because it's a big city, but I remember the newspaper in Japan being so fascinating as well - lots of interesting stories from all over the world.  Sorry for the rabbit trail... I had decided that since I have no idea what the next two weeks will look like I had better visit the South Australian Museum and the Haigh Chocolate factory today.  While getting ready to head out I checked my phone and saw that I had a voicemail.  Low and behold it was Mr. M (the couple I'm housesitting for in May).  His voicemail said they'd love to take me out for dinner and that I've been giving out the wrong phone number! :)  Oh boy...  Definitely something I'd have loved to have known before I applied for all those jobs with that number.  That could also explain why my mom was having trouble calling me.  Country codes and what not, it's all a bit confusing sometimes.  He'd only left a message about 5 minutes earlier, so I quickly called him back.  He is super nice (which I already had gathered from our email exchanges).  He explained the phone numbers to me and also told me that he was still checking into some jobs in their area for me.  He works for a nonprofit employment agency and since I'm not Australian they can't officially post my resume or anything like that, but he said if he heard of anything, he'd give me a call straight away.  He was going to be in town on Monday evening and he & his wife wanted to take me to dinner. Leslie is picking me up Sunday afternoon and I have no idea what plans will be, so I explained that and told him if once I knew I'd certainly love to have dinner with them.  He said not to worry (as almost all Australian's do - we say "no problem" and they say "no worries") and if I ever ran into any trouble or didn't have a place to stay to give them a call.  So that was really nice.

I checked at reception and they told me the free tour of the museum was at 2pm, so I had plenty of time to check out the chocolate factory tour first.  However, you do have to call ahead and pre-book the tour because it's apparently quite popular.  Unfortunately, when he called I found out I had waited too long, and all 3 tours for today were full.  So I decided to come to the library and check emails and such since the museum is next to the library anyway.  So, despite the lack of chocolate today, things are going pretty well so far :)

Cleland Wildlife Park

Today I decided to visit Cleland Wildlife Park to see some Australian animals :)

For $20 it wasn't too bad. You got to see tons of wildlife and most of them were free to roam about and you could walk right up to them!  There are tons of kangaroos, of a few different species I believe and plenty of koalas as well.  You can actually pet the koalas during certain times of the day and even pay extra to get a portrait of you holding a koala.  As you might have gathered from previous posts, I didn't pay extra for a photo :)  One of the girls that works at the hostel showed me hers and they are really nice, but I guess I just don't care that much.  I saw wombats, emus, wallabies, dingoes, lots of different birds and even a Tasmanian devil.

Information: Open daily, rain or shine, from 9:30am to 5pm (except Christmas Day)
Tips: If you take the bus from the city, be aware that there are only 2 return times from the park (1:35pm and 4:35pm *as of March 2014).

In other news, I joined a website called Help Exchange last night and shot off an email for a homestay.  I had joined previously, but until you actually pay for the services you can't contact the hosts or read reviews from other guests.  There were a few different families/people who will take you into their home in exchange for some work, such as childcare, gardening, household chores, etc.  The woman I emailed first had some great reviews from previous guests and she's really close to the city, so I thought I would give it a shot.  The "downfall" (if you want to call it that) is that she has 2, twin, 5-year old sons and since she's putting her house on the market she doesn't need much housework done since she has already cleaned it.  That leaves childcare :)  So the upside is that they're boys.  They're going to pick me up Sunday afternoon and I will stay with her until the 14th of April.  I also got a call from one of the recruitment agencies today, nothing yet, but actually speaking to someone and giving them some more info about myself feels like progress.  So, if I still don't have a job by the time my two week homestay is up I can probably find another family.  I actually got an email offer from another family not too far from Adelaide, so they could be next :)

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Hot flashes & free BBQ

Yesterday was free BBQ night at the hostel, but don't be fooled there was no BBQ sauce in sight.  I've determined that when they say something is barbecued they simply mean it's been grilled in some way.  After spending the majority of my day doing my RSA course, I headed back to the hostel to call about some possible apartments and to start some laundry.  Then I headed over to the main hostel with Miho for the free dinner.  It was quite tasty and very filling.  We had 2 types of sausage, chicken, salad, and bread - there were even some donuts for desert.  There are quite a few French people at this hostel, which is different.  Usually they're Asian (Miho is Japanese and I think my 4th Japanese roommate so far) or German.  The French couple who sat across from us had just purchased a car/campervan and were heading to Perth to try and find jobs and work on their English.

I finished my laundry, read the newspaper, and decided to head to bed around 10:30.  No one else was in the room and the hostel was actually quiet, so I figured I'd be able to get to sleep before everyone came in.  Nope, couldn't sleep.  I just kept getting warmer....and by midnight I was roasting!!!  There was still no one in the room and it was quiet.  Got some water and finally went back to bed...  Thankfully I did cool off eventually and did get to sleep.  But seriously, what's wrong with me?  :)

I made myself get up and go running this morning.  Although I'm walking everywhere, I still don't get much exercise and am hardly eating very healthy so I figured I should at least give it a go (even though I'm not a big fan of running with shoes on).  After a shower and some breakfast I headed back to the market to get some more fresh veggies and other groceries before heading back to the library (where I am now) to check on job applications and apartment inquiries.  In other news, I've lost track of how many cover letters and applications I've submitted - but I guess that's a good thing, right?  Better odds that way.  I packed a lunch, so I think after my internet time I'm gonna head to the Migration museum (it's right behind the library I think)....  Cheers!

The Australian RSA Course

As an American, the concept of an RSA course (Responsible Service of Alcohol) was foreign to me.  I knew before I came that Australia was pretty strict on their drinking laws, but didn't totally grasp that until taking the course. I learned from my British counterparts during my first week in Australia, that it's common (or should I say required?) in the UK as well.  The course cost me about $70 and there are actually 4 different courses for Australia I believe.  The one I took is valid in Queensland, South Australia, Northern Territory, and Western Australia. If I want to work in an establishment that serves alcohol in Sydney or Melbourne I'd have to do two more courses, one of which is in-class only!

It is against the law to serve alcohol to an intoxicated or an under aged person here. If proven, there are severe penalties for both the employers and employees involved, especially in case of injury. This is why it is mandatory in most States for all staff who serve alcohol to complete one of the RSA courses.  For example, if you serve alcohol to a minor the business/manager, the minor, and you would all be fined.  The minor could be fined up to $2,500, the employee up to $8,000 and the business up to $25,000.  The fine for a business who serves an unduly intoxicated person is up to $50,000!  There are rules about refusing entry to patrons and there are fines for refusing to leave when asked, as well as fines for irresponsible alcohol promotions.  Basically, the RSA trainig is to ensure you know your legal responsibility and the penalties for not following the laws.

The course I took was like taking an online class.  There was an interactive video/slideshow that presented all the relevant information and after each section there was a quiz.  It was split into 6 sections and you couldn't move on until you had completed each section.  You must get 100% to pass the quiz and you can only take the quiz twice before you're locked out for a bit.  I failed my first 2 section quizzes :( but thankfully, I could move on to the other sections while waiting for my failed courses to reset. It took me several hours to complete the whole thing, due in part to the internet connection issues I had throughout the day.  It wasn't too difficult, but the first two sections were a bit tricky...

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Adelaide - Day 3

Today was a bit more laid back, which was nice.  Read some of the newspaper over breakfast and then headed to Central Market for some fresh veggies and then to Coles for some other groceries. In the central market I found this great stall – just in case I had forgotten I was in Australia :)

I then headed to the library to apply for some more jobs, check emails and such.  I applied for about 4 more jobs, but didn’t find any new apartments to check out.  Anyway, I took the free tour of the library; which was actually quite interesting.  It’s not really much of a tour thought because you really only go through one room…  They have a little museum area which explains the history of South Australia.  They’re the only territory that actually had a library before they were formally colonized (or something like that).  The library was founded about 2 years before they were a colony, so there’s lots of history.  And the old section of the library is amazing – these pictures just don’t do it justice!!

You can go up onto the second story and look at the books too – I just loved it.  It’s a pretty great library and it’s actually the 2nd most visited attraction in Adelaide.  After the library tour I had a quick break before I had to head out again to go look at an apartment.  First appearances can be deceiving, but it was so perfect!!  A bit on the high end of rent, but the place is amazing (and very secure).  Just one roommate (a girl) and she seemed very friendly and nice.  There are apparently quite a few people interested, and since I would only stay about 6 weeks, I’m not holding my breath.  I told them I was interested and to call or email me if they decided to rent to me, so we’ll see what happens.  I haven’t heard back on any of the other places I called or emailed, so I’m still on the hunt.

It was rainy when I left the apartment, so I headed back to the hostel for some dinner.  I ended up sitting and talking to the girl from Latvia (I think her name is Linda) for a few hours.  She’s lived in Scotland for the last 5 years or more and has such a unique accent.  We both are terrified of spiders and are praying we don’t see any while living in the city.  Sadly, she leaves tomorrow for Melbourne.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Adelaide - Day 2

I’m reading through some Psalms and they’re bringing tears to my eyes.  It’s been a bit of an emotional day.  I put so much pressure on myself – find a job and an apartment today.  A bit unrealistic, but it was my goal lying in bed this morning anyway.  Psalm 111:5 says “He provides food for those who fear Him; He remembers His covenant forever.”  I want a job because I hate spending money (which most people already know), especially when I have none coming in, but God has a plan.  He cares and He knows how I’m feeling.  I don’t think I've ever been so consistently emotional in my entire life!  I catch myself tearing up so often…  Granted, I have a pretty lousy memory, so it’s possible I have been this emotional and I just don’t remember.

As I alluded to earlier, I had a rough start to the morning.  For some reason my computer now refuses to connect to the free internet in the hostel, so my plan to skype with my family wasn't working so well.  Thankfully, I have a cellphone, so we were able to end up talking for a bit anyway.  I was totally stressing about no internet – how could I check my email for replies to apartments from yesterday, and how would I find more jobs and apartments to apply for with no internet?!  Oh, the things we take for granted.  Anyway, my loving parents reminded me that I had visited the library the day before and libraries usually have free internet.  Sometimes I have trouble with problem solving .  It was great to talk with them and my little cricket (and not just because they solved my internet dilemma).  I got an update on my Grandma and the new puppy, found out about people at church who are praying for me (THANK YOU!).  It’s so nice to hear that people are supporting me in prayer, especially when I’m having a stressful morning.  I was ready to hop on a plane home this morning (if that had been an option), but I really think those prayers are helping.
I did end up at the library for the better part of the day, and apparently it’s not totally my computer’s fault because I was able to connect at the library.  I got some people called about apartments, sent in some resumes, finally got my online banking for my Australian account set up, I even got stamps to mail some birthday cards (sorry Aprille, I think yours will be late).  So it was a decently profitable day in the end.  I decided to extend my stay at the hostel to help take some of the apartment hunting pressure off myself, but I’m going to look at one tomorrow night anyway.  He said several others are interested, but we’ll see what happens.  My goal for tomorrow (well today, since I’m not going to have internet to post this until tomorrow) is Psalm 118:1 – “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good…” end of story.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Arriving in Adelaide

I arrived in Adelaide last night and made it to my hostel - lugging my suitcases the last 3 blocks after getting off the bus was a bit tiring.  Adelaide seems so small compared to Sydney - which it is, but it just feels so much less cramped. Everything is more spread out.  One of the women in my dorm, an older woman named Beverly, was so helpful this morning (she’s Australian and lives near Sydney).  She came just for a weekend getaway, she said she always tells people what to visit when coming to Adelaide, but hadn't really done much of it herself, so she decided she'd better.  We chatted while I ate breakfast and she gave me a map of the city and a booklet of the films being shown during the French Film Festival over the next few weeks.  She taught in Japan and she has housesat as well :) 

After my free breakfast (gotta love free), I headed to Flinders Street Baptist Church, I had seen a sign on my walk in the night before.  It's a very proper old church; I think the building was built back in the 1800's - so it's a beautiful old building.  The people were much older in general, and not as welcoming as the church in Sydney - but it was nice.  After a lunch of leftover pizza, I headed out to do some exploring and try to get my bearings.  I found a Coles while walking, so I got some groceries and after dropping them back off in the hostel headed back out to visit the Art Gallery of South Australia.  The museum was free and had some really cool pieces of art.  I just loved some of the landscape pieces, they were so realistic.  James Ashton and Eugene von Guerard were probably my favorites. They had some Aboriginal art as well, so that was cool.  The state library was next door, so I popped in there as well.  I might try to take the free tour tomorrow. So now I’m catching up on emails and searching Craigslist and Gumtree for jobs and accommodation.  Hardly exciting, but I’ve got to find something J

Friday, March 21, 2014

Surf Camp Australia Reveiw

Surf Camp Australia.  I’ll do my best to give you a review of a week  (I was there March 17-21, 2014) – I didn’t have all the instructors, so it’s not a completely objective review, but will give you an idea of what to expect. 

You catch the bus at Wake Up hostel in Sydney and ride for about 2 hours to Seven Mile Beach where they hold camp.  There are 7 beds per room (we had a smaller than usual group, so we only had 5 people in our room which was really nice) and they split the guys/girls.  The bathrooms in the courtyard are communal - showers on the left and toilet/sinks on the right.  I always showered in the camp ground’s bathrooms because they were really big, very nice, and girls only J  The surf camp is actually located inside a camp ground (travel trailers, not tents) so there is a swimming pool and a reception desk you can use.  You can buy just about everything (except alcohol) at reception.  There is a pub on top of the hill where you can buy alcohol and get a great view of the beach – it’s about a 10 minute walk up hill (but only 5 min. on the way down).  There is wifi (it was about $7AU a day I believe), I didn’t use it, so I can’t tell you have great the signal strength was, but it is there.  The cell reception wasn’t that great, but you could get pretty good reception up on the hill though.

The meals are very filling, and basically all you can eat, oh, and did I mention, very tasty?  We had some type of sandwich every day for lunch and then pasta, steak, chicken, etc. for dinner.  If you’re a vegetarian they can accommodate (I believe they can also do Gluten free, but no one in our group was GF, so I’m not 100% sure).  Everyone has to wash their own dishes from every meal, but it only takes about a minute.  During dinner every night they play a slide show of the day’s surf photos so that’s always fun, and then sometime after dinner (around 8pm) they play a video of the day, from footage shot throughout the day.  On Friday they combine a bunch of the footage and make a week-long video.  All the photos and videos are on their facebook page, so although they don’t actually give you the photos, you can share them on your own page, or tag yourself in them.  After dinner and the video are over you’re free to do as you please. There’s a huge Jenga set and lots of playing cards, we watched a movie one night too.  You have to be quiet after 10pm (because it’s in a camp ground), so if you want to stay up and be loud you have to head to the beach. 
Learning to surf is very hard work, so if you know ahead of time that you’ll be going to surf camp, I’d suggest you start working out.  Lots of swimming laps, some running and maybe some pushups J  My arms got very tired and sore from all the paddling (to get to the back waves and to catch waves).  

Now for the actual surfing portion of the review, this is why you’re reading this in the first place, right?  Everyone gets a wetsuit for the week (if it’s not summer) and they have free SPF 50 you can use as well.  After you’ve got your wetsuit on you walk about 5 minutes from the camp to the beach (I’d suggest wearing flip flops – I cut my foot the first day on something – even with calloused feet) and then walk across the beach for another 2-5 minutes and then back in to the road (you make a big U shape).  Once at the road, the instructors have the surf boards on the trailer and you grab a board and have to carry it back to the beach.  I’m short, so it was rather difficult to carry the board because I can’t reach the whole way around it, so my suggestion is to carry it on your head or grab a buddy and do the double carry.  There is a handle in the middle of these learner boards, so that does help.  Once everyone has a surfboard and is on the beach you usually do a warm up run/jog and then some stretches.  You split off into your group and your instructors walk you through the new concept for the current lesson on the shore and then you all head out into the water.  We learned accelerating, braking, turning, the Eskimo roll, the shuffle, how to paddle out, etc.  The instructors are helpful in the water, but the ratio of student to instructor is a bit high, so you need to plan to work on stuff on your own a lot.  Plus, there were times when I felt like the instructors were more interested in messing around, or surfing themselves, to actually make the effort to help you.  Granted, they were all guys and I think most of them were under 25… Natalia was the only female instructor while I was there, and she was in my group and she was always really great at helping people out.  Don’t let that fact put you off going, but just keep that in mind.  If you think you need more help, ask for it.

My last tip would be to leave yourself time on the Saturday after you get back to Sydney, because your free camp Tshirt and hat aren’t given to you at camp.  You have to go to the Rip Curl store in Sydney to pick them up, and they close at 5pm on Friday and you won’t be back in time to get it Friday night.  You get a permanent 15% off card for Rip Curl stores in Australia, plus you get a onetime $20 off a $50 purchase Rip Curl store coupon (I believe it’s good for anywhere in the world). 

Surfing is very hard work, but it’s also lots of fun.  If you think you’d like to try surfing, give it a shot – don’t get discouraged if you’re not the best person out there, just keep on trying and have fun, that’s what it is all about!  If you have any questions about my experience let me know and I’ll try to answer as best I can J

Surf's up!

Surf camp….it was great fun, but such tough work!!  I don’t remember surfing being so tiring in Panama, but then again, I don’t have the best memory.  Plus, there were only 2 of us, so Ricardo helped a lot more (in terms of catching waves and paddling).  Sunday night, before we left, I wasn’t so sure if it was a wise decision.  But, now that it’s over and I’m back in Sydney I’m so very glad I did it.  It’s going to be so weird to not see Zoe and Jennifer anymore though – we’ve become pretty good friends.  Anyway, back to surf camp.  As I said, it was very hard work.  I’m so battered, bruised, and sore.  Monday we had an afternoon session with low tide, so it was pretty hard to surf.  Tuesday morning was our first full day and in the morning the tide was rising, so it’s much easier to catch waves.  Then our afternoon session was low tide again, so difficult.  Most of us were starting to paddle out and trying catching our own waves by Wednesday, so that was super tiring.  Having a desk job does NOT prepare you for surfing (just in case anyone was wondering).  I can definitely say though, that by today (Friday), I’m in dire need of a break. Definitely tweaked a muscle in my shoulder and did something to my hip. Quite a few people only went to the morning sessions because the waves were “softer” and easier to catch, but I paid for surf camp and I don’t live near the ocean so I made myself go to every lesson.  By Thursday morning I was doing pretty well, I think.  But then Thursday afternoon and Friday morning, the waves were just not so great and it made it really hard. 

When we left this afternoon Natalia (one of my group’s instructors – and one of the better ones, in my opinion) told me to keep surfing because I’m good.  That was really nice of her to say, and very encouraging.  Makes me think I should do another camp sometime.  I think I heard somewhere at camp this week that it takes about a year or 2 before you’re really, truly able to surf.  So I’ve got a long way to go, but at least I know it’s something I can work towards.  I have no intention of joining the surf community though, at least not after Jordy’s description of them.  Maybe that’s just my fear of commitment kicking in – they live and breathe surfing and that’s their main priority in life – it’s basically they’re drug.  Anyway, I don’t really have any photo’s of my own – Jennifer did take my camera down on the last two sessions, but the waves weren’t great so she couldn’t get many photo’s.  There are photo’s and video’s on the surf camp’s facebook page though,so feel free to check that out (see if you can pick me out – everyone starts to look the same in a wet suit).

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Australia - Day 8

I thought I'd been doing so well the past few days.  Feeling ok about things, not too worried.  I made it to Central Baptist Church just in time for service (I had a bit of trouble finding it at first), and as I walked in and sat down I was so overcome with emotion I didn't know what to do with myself!  I nearly cried and I don't even know why. Thankfully, a very sweet young woman came over, sat down and started chatting with me to help take my mind off things.  It didn't last long though because just about every song made me want to cry.  Anyway, after a bit of an emotional service (for me anyway), the young gentleman, Tim, beside me started talking to me and then introduced me to a few of the other young people in the church.  Everyone was very nice and inviting.  It was definitely a lesson for me - I'm not the most welcoming person at my church back home.  I might say hello, but I don't make a ton of effort other than that, and after being a visitor just this one time I'm definitely going to try to make more of an effort when I get home.

On my way back to the hostel I happened upon Jennifer and her friends (sadly I can't remember their names, but they went on the beach walk with us yesterday) at the Vodafone store.  With their personal expertise and experience I was able to pick a phone and a plan!  Hopefully, I picked the right one :)  I just finished booking my flight to Adelaide for next Saturday and my hostel in Adelaide for 4 nights. The penny-pincher in me hates constantly paying for things knowing I don't have any money coming in, but as I typed that I remember that I've got my last paycheck coming in soon!  Well, I'd better go repack my bags and get ready for surf camp tomorrow.  Cheers!

Australia Day 7

Beach day!!  Our group did the Coogee to Bondi walk (it's about 4 or so miles long I believe).  We caught the bus to Coogee beach and then walked along the cliffs making our way past several other beaches and ending at Bondi. 

It was quite warm, but the views were so beautiful!  Plus, there were so many surfers!!  Every single beach had plenty of people waiting in the water to catch a wave. 
Bondi Beach

After the walk was over few of us hung out at Bondi for a while before catching the bus back for the night. We narrowly missed getting caught in a downpour :)   

Friday, March 14, 2014

Australia - Days 4-6

Base Camp (a.k.a. Melaleucca Surfside Backpackers)

Day 4 was a bit rough due to continued lack of sleep.  I was able to skype with my parents though, so that was nice. I also got my bank account set up and got a bank card.  It is a bit confusing how it all works though - hopefully I don't get charged fees on stuff.  After a 3 hour bus ride to Port Stephens we were at Base camp.  I stayed in one of the tents hoping that since I would only have a 1 tent-mate (versus 9 in the cabins) I would get more sleep. *Spoiler Alert* I didn't get more sleep, I got less.  I forgot how NOT sound proof tents are - they just don't have quiet zippers!!  Plus, the people in the other tents (about 2 feet away) were not quiet inviduals.  Anyway, we went down to the beach after supper and the clouds went away and we got to see the moon and the stars - it was really pretty and we had the beach all to ourselves.

On Thursday morning (day 5 for those keeping track of such things) we went to the Stockton Sand Dunes.  It was so neat!  The dunes were beautiful and they actually have a lake underneath them!!  My Dad would have loved to drive the 4WD truck over them - my truck was all girls and I'm pretty sure Mitch made it extra rough just to hear them squeal :)
Stockton Sand Dunes, Port Stephens

We got to the top of one of the dunes and pulled out the sandboards.  They're smaller than a snowboard and have a round point at the front (but not on the back).  You sit on them and put your hands out behind you to steer.  Due to too many dislocated shoulders from previous trips they forbid trying to stand and go down the dune.  It was such a workout to try and climb back up the sand dune after a ride down.  Despite not ever tumbling off my board, I still left completely covered in sand.  Thanks in part to the sunscreen I had applied before we left, and in part to the wind blowing the sand all over you.  Since we were heading out for a hike shortly after returning from the dunes we didn't bother showering, we just rubbed off the sand as best we could.  The hike up Mt. Tomaree was quite steep (and since I had somehow missed the part about packing shoes for the hike, I did it in flip flops *I can see the shocked look on your faces now, me in flip flops).  The path was paved with bricks most of the way, and the majority of the rest had metal, grate steps/paths, so it really wasn't that bad.  The view from the top was so amazing, something you see in calendars or movies shot in exotic locals.  Pictures just don't do it justice.
View from Tomaree National Park, Port Stephens
After lunch we all headed down to the beach to get some sun.  It was so stinkin hot down there I couldn't believe it!  What a difference being back at camp on the shaded lawn and being on the beach.  The water was rather chilly, but since it was unbearably hot it felt so refreshing.  I didn't last long because I felt like I was getting burnt and with little sleep in the last week and lots of activity I was feeling really tired.  I headed back and got a nice shower (no more sand in my hair).  We had an amazing dinner and everyone sat around chatting for quite a bit afterwards.  Caryn (from Wales) was keeping us girls quite entertained.  Most of us then helped clean up and somewhere in the middle of dishes it started.  You get a group of girls together and someone starts singing a Disney song - there's no stopping it.  :)  We sang so many random songs (and not all Disney) - with Jeff arriving halfway through and adding to the chaos.  Once it was dark everyone headed down to the beach for a bonfire, but I decided to take my chances and skip it in order to get some sleep before everyone got back.  It worked, I did get more sleep than usual - I might need to invest in some stronger sleeping pills, because the ones I have don't seem to work all that well.

Friday morning, day 5 we packed up our stuff and then set out for the marina to catch a dolphin watching cruise.  I do love being on boats and getting to see dolphins was an added perk.  Boy did we see dolphins!!  There were so many of them and we even got to see a baby dolphin!! They like to swim along with the boat and jump in the waves so we got to watch them for quite a while.  The boat had a slide off the back so at one point we stopped and they let us use the slide.  The water was incredibly cold, but it was fun.  So now I'm back in Sydney for the rest of the weekend.  Paid a ridiculous $8 for a small load of laundry, but what can you do - I needed clean clothes.  One of my current roommates is from Germany and she's very sweet. We've got a 3 hour walk tomorrow morning, so hopefully I can get some good sleep tonight.  Being a light sleeper sure makes group travel interesting....and not in a good way.

Australia - Day 3

I finally met an Australian!!  :)  Hard to believe, but it's true.  The people with Ultimate Oz aren't Australian and the other people I've met (in my rooms and on the street) haven't been either!  So this morning they had us sit through a 3 hour "lecture" series on work and travel in Australia.  I didn't find the work section all that helpful really, but it was good to hear a bit more about the cool places to see in Australia and see some pricing for packages through Ultimate Oz.  After UO people gave their part of it they had a guy from Travel Wheels talk to us about how to rent a camper van to travel around.  Two of the girls in our group ended up deciding to get one that has a little tent on the top.  After the camper van talk, was Mitch (the first Australian).  He came to talk to us about surf camp.  He was adorable, of course, and incredibly full of energy!!  They take about 70 people each week and they hadn't filled up next week yet, so we could go for at a discount of $495 - 5 days, all you can eat, with 2 surf lessons a day.  It sounds like quite a few people from our group will be going, so if I'm going to try it I think now would be the time.  If I went any other week I wouldn't know anyone at all and I think I'd be intimidated.  I've hung out a bit with Jennifer and she's going to do it so I think I will too.  At the very least it gives me a plan for next week.

After our lecture, we had the Sydney Harbor cruise.  We were split into 2 groups since we can't all fit on the ship.  The other girls I had chatted with were in the other group, but thankfully Jennifer was in my group so that was nice.  It was a small ship with nets on the front that you could lay in to sunbathe, and if we hit a wave just right you got splashed.  We got to cruise past the Opera House and under the Harbor bridge and get a beautiful view of the city.

After returning from the cruise I packed my bag for base camp tomorrow and then paid for internet to see if I could find some jobs to apply for on the Travelers at Work website.  Didn't have much luck, most wanted 3 months minimum stay and since I have to be in Gawler in the middle of May that's not really possible.  I think that commuting from Adelaide to Gawler during the house sit would be doable, so I'm thinking I'll move to Adelaide (or somewhere near there) and get a job and when I do the house sit then I'll commute a bit further.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Australia - Day 2

I didn't get much sleep due to a roommate who locked herself out in the middle of the night – once I was awake I was awake…. the hazards of a hostel I guess.  I had the bathroom all to myself since no other girls on my floor seemed to be up at 7am on a Monday morning.  After getting ready and trying not to wake my roommates every time I had to go back to the room for something I forgot, I headed down to the cafĂ© to get some breakfast.  Read the newspaper over eggs, toast, & coffee – so that was nice.  Since our group wasn't meeting until 11:30am I decided to head over to the Ultimate Oz office early and use the free wifi there.  I now know why it’s free.  J  Every 5 minutes it would disconnect and then reconnect.  I couldn't get anything done.  My breakfast wasn't sitting so well with me and I was getting fed up with the internet so I headed back to my room for a bit.

After our meet up and a brief orientation we headed out on a walking tour of Sydney.  There are quite a few people with Ultimate Oz this week.  I’m the only American – most of them are from the UK, with a few Canadians and a few Belgians thrown in too.  We walked towards Darling Harbor where we had lunch, and then we continued on to the Royal Botanic Gardens.  As we came out of the garden we were at the Opera House. 

It seems so much smaller in person, but maybe that’s because we were on the back side.  From the Opera House you can see the Sydney Harbor Bridge.  It was about 4pm by the time we got to the opera house and the tour was over and we were free until 7:30 when we had our welcome dinner.  After I got back (it’s a bit of a walk back to Wake Up from the opera house) I decided to head back to Wicked Travel to see if I could mooch some internet before I had to be at the welcome dinner.  I didn't really count on Jenny being there and not really giving me an opportunity to use the internet.  Sometimes I’m just not assertive enough.  I told her I had come to mooch some internet, but we started talking and I never felt like I had an opportunity to walk away and use the internet.  Needless to say, she talked me through some East Coast bus tours and by 7:30pm I was late, but felt really bad not booking anything because she wasn't going to get commission on it if I didn't at least put a deposit down or something.  I was late and felt so rushed….so, it looks like I’ll be going on a sailing trip in Whitsunday at some point!  I paid for it and she told me to come back tomorrow or the day after to finalize everything…. I nearly ran away to try and get back on time.  I was a bit late, but thankfully not the last one to show up.  I didn't hang around too long after the dinner – but it was a good chance to get to know a little bit more about people.  I've learned quite a few random facts about some of the countries represented in our group.  For instance, in Scotland if you’re Scottish and go to a Scottish University you only have to pay room and board?  And you owe the government the money so once you get a job they just take a percentage of your paycheck and pay it off.  If you haven’t paid it off after ‘x’ number of years they just write it off!?  

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Australia! - Day 1

I don’t even know where to begin!  I feel like so much has happened in the last 3 days…when that’s really not the case (it hasn’t technically been 3 days either, but it feels like it).  The emotional ups and downs have been almost more than I could bear at times.  I like my life to be pretty even keeled I guess.  The flights weren’t near as bad as they could have been, so I was thankful for that.   By no means enjoyable, but for a 14+ hour flight, it could have been worse.  As the plane was starting to land in Sydney I was beginning to panic, questioning why I had ever thought I could do this on my own.  Thankfully, there was soon stuff to do (customs, baggage, bus transfer, etc) so I couldn’t dwell on it too long, but man it’s rough.  All the blogs I read from other people who had headed off on their own to do this didn’t really mention all the moments of self-doubt (and maybe they didn’t have any). Knowing so many people back home were praying for me definitely helped, but didn’t entirely prevent such moments of panic. 

There was free internet at the travel desk where I was waiting for my bus to the hostel, so I hopped on and let my mom know I’d arrived safely, now I’m sitting at the Wake Up hostel and I’ve wasted almost 20 minutes trying to log on to my email!  Not sure if it’s the internet here or if it’s my computer – it truly could be either one.  No one else around me seems to be having trouble, so I’m starting to think it’s my computer.  I keep getting an Explorer error, so I’m gonna download Chrome and see how that goes.  I did read before I came that the internet in Australia is terrible, but no one ever expanded on that so I’m not really sure what they meant by that.

While wandering around Sydney earlier this afternoon I stopped into a travel agency that said they have free internet for backpackers, so I might have to try that instead…  The girl I chatted with was nice (she’s from British Columbia), she said I should head north – in April is when they start hiring for peak travel season in Cairns.  She said lots of people like the hop-on-hop-off bus route you can use to get from here to there – but after trying to drag my bags through the airport today,  I don’t think hopping on and off a bus is for me (I thought I did so good packing light, but not if I plan on living a backpacker lifestyle).  I packed for living somewhere, not traveling around…  So that’s where I’m at right now, waiting till about 9pm so I can finally go to bed, and fighting with my computer to check my email.