Thursday, July 30, 2009

Day Something...Inappropriate Awesumness

On the way to Melbourne, we stopped at Sovereign Hill. Our guide said it was an "amusement park", but it was more of a "living museum". I think for younger kids it would've been more entertaining, but we made the best of it. It's an old-fashioned gold mining town. The Aussie gold rush took place about the same time as ours. However, as leaders, we found plenty of adult entertainment.

We tried our hand at gold mining. Lu, our guide, saw me trying to awkwardly mine for gold and tried to give me some advice. Apparently, you have to hold the bowl at a tilting angle and dip it in and out of the water. After watching me splash around for a minute or two, look put her hands on mine and said, "Not so rough, dear. Gentle, like this, you see? It's a bit like sex."

Oh. My. Goodness. The inner giggling was too much for me to control. "I've never really been on this side of things, Lu," I explained. "Usually I'm the river."

Lu's response. "You might like it rough in the bedroom but gold mining requires a more intimate approach."

Inner giggling erupted into full on guffawing. I knew I liked Lu.

After gold mining, it was off to candle making. We couldn't help but notice these candles looked a bit like ... like ... well, like dildos. I'm sorry I can't find a euphemism, but there's no way around it. We made ours "rainbow colored". Then Tonya, whom everyone assumed is extremely conservative and straight-laced, kept sneaking up behind me and humming "Somewhere over the Rainbow." I knew she was my mentor for a reason!

After spending a night in this creepy camp-like structure, we made our way to Melbourne. On the way, we stopped to do volunteer work with a conservatory group. We planted 480 trees in two hours. It was so awesum to see some of the students really get into the planting and working as a team. This was one of my favorite activities, although riding up the mountain in the back of the jeep left little to be desired.

Finally, Melboure! We gave the students some free time to wander around the city to shop (souvenir overload) and it was nice to just have some adult-only moments. Melbourne was my turn to room with Jess. I didn't know Jess before this trip, but she's my age and originally from Michigan. I seem to have this attraction to people from Michigan. Jess was no exception; we were instant buddies. Here's a great picture from our "candle" photo shoot. Yes, that's a candle.

The next few days would prove to be awesum!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Days 4-6

After my exhausting trip to the hospital, we drove to Manly Beach. There is actually a ferry that goes to Manly Beach. The irony was not lost on me.

One thing that wasn't lost on me either was the sight of old Aussie men in Speedos. They sure do rock a banana hammock down-under. Our guide informed me that one nickname for Speedos in Australia is "budgie smugglers". Oh, laugh laugh, smile.

The students went surfing in the icy cold weather. As beautiful as the surf instructors... I mean, the ocean waves were, I was too tired to attempt any type of water sport. I sipped a hot chocolate with Tonya while the others hit the beach.

We drove onward to Canberra, Australia's capital. The highlights included a stop to the war memorial, which was breathtakingly beautiful. I could have spent hours there. The tomb of the unknown soldier is one of the world's largest mosaics. Constructed entirely by hand, it took six million tiles and ten years to build. The other war memorials were decorated with red poppies (read: Flanders Field) and it was a sight to see.

The not so great part about Canberra was yet another trip to the hospital for throat swelling. Also, my shower flooded and the steam set off the fire alarm in my hotel room. The hotel manager yelled at me and made me cry. All the boys on the trip saw me sobbing and packing up my things to move to another room. It was, um, slightly embarrassing.

After Canberra, we drove to Aubury-Wodonga for the homestay! The students stayed with real Aussie families (not fake ones) for a family experience. They had an amazing time. We all met up for a family BBQ at a wild life reserve where we fed kangaroos! Crikey!!!!

Next Stop: Melbourne!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Sydney: Days 3 and beyond

Day 3 started off with a long coach ride up to the Blue Mountains. We went to a camp facility run by a program called "Full-On". It's all about getting young people to focus on being positive and overcoming challenges. We walked in to a large room where they were blasting music and letting the kids dance around. As a professional Energizer, I lent my hand to helping the quieter kids bust a move. Some of them, however, needed no help from me.

The leaders gave a brief keynote about positive thinking. Then we went outside to do a team-building activity. The students had to figure out a path across this maze without talking. I thought they did aMAZEingly well, heh heh. It was great to see them work together and build bonds. The energizing, mini-keynoting, and rec event combo taking place in the mountains, made me feel very much at home. It was a definite comfort zone. It was like Aussie Montreat, minus the whole God thing.

Then they began passing out equipment to go abseiling, which I thought meant sliding down a mountain on your belly. Turns out it's more like repelling. I pretended not to be freaked out about the prospect of climbing down the side of a mountain, and decided to concentrate more on how awesum my ass looked in this harness.

We finally climbed into the mountains to our first abseiling site. After waiting in line, and waiting in line, and waiting in line, Jess and I finally stepped up to go after all 33 of our students took the dive. I was really proud of the kids; none of them chickened out. At first I thought I wouldn't be too scared, but after getting strapped in and looking over the edge, I began to panic. This was about an three story drop, and there I was, strapped in with two pieces of rope on a skinny metal pole. Putting my feet on the edge was the scariest part. As I began to go further over the edge, I couldn't help cursing in fear, then apologizing to the students, then cursing for cursing, then apologizing for cursing at myself for cursing, and before I knew it, I was at the bottom being unstrapped and patted on the back.

After that, we hiked up to an even higher spot, where I abseiling a 20 story rock face! This was even scarier, but I was so proud of myself for doing it. The scenery was amazing and the overall experience was awesum. The hike back up to the top, however....less than awesum.

The students were pretty much exhausted, so I thought they'd all go straight to bed when we got back to the hotel that night. WRONG! One of them came up to me and told me she couldn't breathe due to a swelling in her throat. Um, okay. After a bit of confusion, we finally jumped in a cab and headed to the hospital. The cab driver pointed out that we were in the red-light district of Sydney. I mean, Aussie Montreat in the daytime and the Red Light district at night - could this trip get any better???

Basically, we entered the hospital around 10pm and came home around 3am. It was a long, arduous process. I was proud of myself for not vomiting, especially when the man in the bed next to us projectile vomitted onto the curtain separator. The next day it was off to Canberra, the capital of Australia for our homestay!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Day 2: Come Sail Away

After a much needed shower and good night ( or was it morning's?) sleep, we headed off to sail Sydney Harbor. Oh, excuse me, Harbour. Interesting how both Australia and the US were established by Brits, yet we managed to develop our own type of spelling and they are still stuck on ways of old. (USA, in yo' face!!!)

We divided into groups and piled into three sailboats. My group quickly titled itself "Group Awesome" - so appropriate! Our sea captain then helped us board the "Blue Moon" (again, appropriate). When I told him there was a beer in the states called Blue Moon, he seemed intrigued. But when I then asked for an authentic Aussie sea shanty, he seemed confused.

The students had a great time getting to steer and help raise the sails. We cruised around and spotted some famous Aussie scenery (i.e. The Opera House). The weather was a bit misty, but it provided for some awesum rainbows! (Can you spot the second rainbow?)

After sailing, we took a walking tour of Chinatown. Until the 1970s, Australia had a "White's Only" Immigration policy. Basically, you could only come live in Australia if you were White European, or of White European descent. Once this law was repealed, millions of Asians were finally allowed to move into Australia. The Aussie government built gardens, like this one, to help establish friendship between the people of Australia and its new citizen. I found the gardens very relaxing.

Then it was off to the Opera House for a inside tour. If you think the outside is a bit funky, wait until you set foot indoors. Since the building was finished in the 1970s, the decor was designed to match. Furthermore, in 2008 the Opera House received World Heritage Status, which means any renovations made must reflect the original design concept. I'm talking bright purple carpets, orange padding on the seats, and pink curtains. After going on an interior tour, we played around on the steps to let off some steam.

Off to dinner (chicken or fish?) and then a little shopping before bed. Tomorrow would prove to be much more than I expected.


Friday, July 10, 2009

Day 1: Sydney

After 24+ trip across the globe in THE WORLD'S MOST AWESUM PLANE we arrive tired, stinky yet excited to Sydney, Australia.

We met our delegation manager, Lu. We found our baggage (all but one, not bad for a group of 37) and spend 2.5 hours in customs. Note: Do not ever try to sneak beef jerky into Australia.

Onward! We arrive at the ...

the ...

I don't know what it was. It was a big gorge with a circular bridge and lots of information about frogs. Strange but stimulating. We didn't care too much - we were FINALLY in Australia!

Then we headed to the ANZ Stadium. They kept mentioning AFL (Australian Football League) and saying "Aussie Rules!" when describing the sport. I thought it was some Australian custom to support your country by proclaiming its awesumness mid-sentence. I was two seconds away from saying "USA! In yo' face!" when one of the kids asked if "Aussie Rules" and "AFL" meant the same thing. Apparently, they are synonymous. Awkwardness adverted.

Outside ANZ Stadium was Stripper Heaven. Check out all the poles!!! (Kidding, this was some type of thank you memorial to the volunteers of the 2000 Sydney Games.)

We stopped to take a picture on the Olympic Podium used during the 2000 games. After examining the picture, we discovered my hand was in this strange position. Someone said, "You look like a gay retard!" but after a stern look from me, they changed it to, "Um, a dinosaur? Maybe a kangaroo?" Hence, it became a joke to see if I would inadvertently make that hand in my pictures. Exhibit A:

Then it was off to the Sydney Tower, which is a tall, creatively named tower in Sydney. We took a skywalk. This basically meant we strapped ourselves to a pole and walked on a Lucite railing around the outside of the building, 260 meters in the air. I can't tell you what the conversion from meters to feet is, because unlike the other people on the trip, my phone is not that smart. However, I was jazzed by the awesum suits we were given to wear. The beginning was somewhat terrifying, not to mention the thought of having to call a parent and explain the death of their student due to a 260 meter drop off a tower in a Power Ranger-esque jumpsuit was racing around in my head. I decided to risk it. Paid off. The view + our super-hero poses? Awesum.

We had dinner at a fancy restaurant and were offered chicken or fish with chips (fries). This would become a common theme and the students would begin to grumble about the chicken or fish option. Luckily, it did not lead to mutiny. We went to our hotel in downtown Sydney and crashed.

Highlight of the Day: Watching the students make fast friendships.
Disappointment: 42 Wallaby Way is not an actual address in Sydney.


Monday, July 6, 2009


I'm home, mate.

Expect plenty of posts and pics soon.

Right now I'm off to beat the jet lag.

- A very, very, very, very tired WG