Monday, October 11, 2010

The Great Adventure of The Great Ocean Road

Ok, this is going to be a pretty long entry, so just bear with me...

My day started off pretty interesting, I got up, crept around in the dark showering and getting dressed as not to disturb my roomies, then went downstairs to get breakfast. I entered the kitchen, there was only three people in there. One was a guy, who had clearly just rolled out of bed and came downstairs for breakfast. The other two people were already dressed and looking very nice, like they were going to work or somewhere important. "Wow," I thought. "They are very dressed up for 7 am." I quickly realized that these people weren't "up" at 7am. You can't be "up" if you haven't yet gone to bed. The girl was taking occasional swigs from a wine bottle, and the guy was just sitting lazily on the couch watching TV. I laughed to myself, I tried my best to watch them unnoticed, like when you see wildlife somewhere and don't want to startle it. But the girl did notice me, and began chatting with me. "Hi," she said. "Would you like some wine," she politely offered at 7am. "No thank you," I declined. She asked me where I was going and what I had planned for the day. I explained I was up so early to go on a Great Ocean Road tour. "Oh, that sounds like so much fun!" she exclaimed. "You are going to have the best day!" We chatted a few more minutes before she asked me if I knew where the nearest bathroom was, then she excused herself. I don't mind drunk people, as long as they are happy and friendly drunks, even at irresponsible times like 7am. I so much prefer them to rude or mean people. Give me a friendly 7am drunk over a stuck up prude any day.

I finished my brekky and went upstairs to wait for the bus. I ran into drunk girl again, and she again told me nicer than any flight attendant ever had to have a nice day. I figured it was a good omen. I was picked up right around 7:30 am from my corner and met a German girl named Ann Marie. She was traveling alone as well, in the country for an internship in Sydney, and was taking a weekend trip to Melbourne. We met up with our bus and our tour guide named Sandy, who people on the tour for some reason drew immediate connections to Sandy, the character in Grease played by the Australian Olivia Newton John. After fiddling with her mic for several minutes and stalling the van out in the middle of the road ("If you all can tell, this isn't my usual van..."), off we go. We first stopped at a seaside beach area known for surfing called Bells Beach. It's the beach that is apparently the setting of the groundbreaking Keanu Reeves movie 'Point Break,' although that movie was actually filmed in Hawaii (Aussie ain't got nothing on our rip curls). We took some breathtaking shots (it's almost impossible not to on this trip, actually) and the most significant thing I learned at this stop was that the Aussie passion for surfing was born due to Americans stationed here in WWII. Our soldiers brought surf boards and impressed the Aussie girls, so the hobby caught on. We had out morning tea on the beach (gotta love the English influence) and set off again. Our next couple stops were scenic viewpoints for photo ops. We stopped at the Great Ocean Road sign, once a promising stone structure, but after being knocked down several times and once destroyed by fire, they have now put up a very inexpensive wooden archway. We made our way onward, stopping in a neighborhood known for its koalas and birds. We drove up a long road and parked to walk down and see if we could spot any creatures in the trees. It was amazing, almost every fifth tree seemed to be inhabited by a koala. We gathered under each koala tree, frantically taking identical photos as if one picture of the koala wasn't going to cut it. Our van eventually picked us up from our koala quest and took us down the road a little ways. There were lots of birds gathered in one area, as if they were accustomed to an event occurring there (and they definitely were). Bird seed was distributed by Sandy, and like trained house pets, these birds came down from the trees and began landing on our arms to feed on the seed. I kept having several that for some reason felt my head was the perfect perch and would swoop from the tree to sit on my head. This was happening to other girls in the group as well, but I am proud to announce there was much less screaming and squealing involved in my bird landing. I was just glad none of them felt the need to defecate while using my head as a resting place.
Our next stop was a tiny town for lunch. After 2 days of Go West tours, I have come to conclude that a lot of these smaller towns still exist only because of the tourist groups that come through and stop to eat. There was a beach nearby (of course), so after lunch, I walked out and got a few more photos. We continued on our journey, really starting to get into the more green portion of the road (meaning more Ireland, less California). When the road was constructed after WWI as a tribute to the soldiers who did not survive, it was started at either end. The project took much longer than planned and was much more intense than expected, so the middle portion of the road ended up being made from old logging truck paths and was well off the ocean. It was a stark contrast to the jagged rock edging and rocky beaches we had seen on the beginning portion of the road. It was hill after rolling hill of very green grass (wettest year in the last ten, remember?), most often covered with some type of feeding livestock. We stopped for a tour at Maits Rain forest walk, named after the guy who used to watch over the area and make sure the loggers were not overlogging or taking protected trees. It was amazing, like a jungle right out of some prehistoric era. You half expected some dinosaur to come wandering out of the bush edge. There are some tremendous trees here (I confronted Sandy about Melbourne claiming second tallest tree. See, both Huon valley and Victoria can't have tallest tree behind Redwood. She explained, depending on where you go, I might find a third or forth contender. It depends on who you ask. I guess no one is checking when each tour makes this claim...), but I am so much more impressed with the ferns. I have always had a soft spot in my heart for ferns, and seeing these ferns taller that full grown men is just amazing to me. Sandy says they have been budding more this year than shes seen in decades. You used to only see the occasional new leaves spawning, but there was not a single fern I passed that didn't have at least one curl growing up from it's center.
Let me pause from my exciting fern talk to explain some of my disappointment for my fellow countrymen on this trip. I was one of 5 Americans on the bus of only 11 tourists, so it was more Americans than I have been around in a month (huh, that is a weird thought.) If we all behaved like these people on my bus, I can see why the world hates Americans. There was a couple, and a man from Chicago, and a man from California, but he sounded originally from Ireland or something to me. Anyway, the Irish Californian or whatever really loved the sound of his own voice. You could tell this because he kept telling Sandy and people beside him on the bus irrelevant things, things not even people who knew him or cared about him would care to know (for example, the song "What a Wonderful World" came on the radio and he felt the need to announce to the entire bus that this song was played at his niece's wedding. Yeah buddy, her and probably 3/4 of the weddings around the world just that day. Who gives a damn?) This in and of itself isn't completely unforgivable, I mean, I have family members and even friends that I can tolerate for a couple days that feel the need to be the center of attention, but he was on my list. Then, which is the reason for this side story in the middle of my rain forest description, he did something completely unreasonable, unimaginable, unforgivable. HE LITTERED IN THE RAIN FOREST! I mean, I have a big enough problem with people littering in nasty cities where there is already trash laying around and you almost think, "what's one more piece?", but this is a rain forest, one of the precious few left on the entire planet. I was walking behind him, listening to him drone on inanely even though no one was listening, fiddling in his pockets as he walked. He discovered a wipe we had been given earlier to clean our hands after feeding the birds, and as if it was nothing at all, flicked it so carelessly from his pocket that I wasn't sure I really saw what I did. The wipe fell tragically down too far for me to retrieve, and I was so upset by that, because I wanted to pick it up, take it back to his freckled, bespectacled face and demand an explanation for littering in the rain forest. I hated him silently the rest of the day. Oh, and the other guy, the Chicago guy, kept burping out loud all the way home. And was a mouth breather. I couldn't wait to get off the bus.
Anyway, looooovely rain forest. I learned how fragile they are, because if they ever catch fire and are lost, they can't be replaced. They are the kind of forest that cannot be made again, so once they are gone, they're gone. You might say, "Well, fire, why do you mention that? Is that really an issue?" It is because the trees that grow up to the edge of the rain forest are the types of trees that crave fire; they are pretty much suicidal trees. They need fire in order to reproduce. They actually shed their bark all around the tree in order to make their own kindling in hopes that a stray spark will come along and help them pass on their genes. You can see why this is a problem for the neighboring rain forest.

Onward we went, finally making our way to the highlight of the trip- the rock formations off the coast known as the 12 Apostles, the Loch Ard Gorge, and London Bridge. The latter two have great stories I will tell you (I told you this would be a long one) and the former formation is actually only 8 instead of 12, the liars. Anyway, we arrived and I decided to splurge and pay the extra $75 for the helicopter ride to see the formations from above. It was totally worth it. I got some amazing footage, even though I meant to get some recording of it and forgot because I was so intent on taking pictures from every angle. After we landed and rounded up the troops (gassy, mouth-breathing Chicago and his Chinese girlfriend decided they didn't need to come back on time), we went off to see Loch Ard Gorge. Sandy, who is a fantastic story teller, told us the story of Loch Ard Gorge. It is named after the ship that crashed in the area during early settlement. The story is centered around the two survivors from that 54 person ship- two eighteen year olds Tom and Eva. Tom was thrown overboard as the ship struck one of the tiny islands off the cliffs. He was a pretty good swimmer, and managed to make it even to shore basically because he was trapped under an overturned life boat. Eva was not the best swimmer, but managed to survive by clinging to wood from the ship. Long story short- Tom hears Eva's cries for help and saves her, but because of how long she's been in the water, she's suffering from hypothermia and going in and out of consciousness. Tom and Eva stay in an on shore cave until morning. Tom knows they will not survive unless he finds help, so he goes out in search of help. Just by sheer luck, some of the rancher checkers in the area had been out that morning, and Tom was able to follow horse prints to get help. They end up being saved and they become instant celebrities to the whole country. People are pressuring Tom to marry Eva (everyone loves a happy ending, right?). Because it's Victorian times, many people begin changing the story to say Tom and Eva slept in separate caves, to protect Eva's reputation, haha. Eva's entire family (mother, father, 2 brothers, ad 3 sisters) were killed on the ship. She and Tom took a land route back to Melbourne (which takes a month) and upon arrival, Eva books the first trip back to England, never to return to Australia again. In interviews later, they ask Tom why he never proposed to Eva, didn't he love her? Tom tells them he did love her, since they had spent all that time together after the ship wreck, but he knew that if he proposed, Eva would say yes because he had saved her life. And he knew she hated Australia and knew that every day looking at his face first thing in the morning would be a constant reminder of that night. He said he would rather love her and miss her the rest of his life than force her to be unhappy. Awwwwwwwwwwwwww!

London Bridge is a rock formation named because it looks (or looked, I suppose) like a bridge. It looked much more like a bridge before 1990, and they actually used to let people walk out onto it in the middle of the ocean. But one day in 1990, there had apparently been too many millions of people and millions of years of ocean hammering at the structure, and part of it toppled into the sea. This happened at the end of the day, lots of tour groups, including a school group of children, had just gotten into their buses and left. There were only 4 people left out on the structure: a elderly couple and young couple with champagne, waiting for the old couple to leave so they could have some privacy. Eventually, the older couple made their way across the structure and back to the car park (haha, Aussie for parking lot). Just as they did, the whole section that they had just walked across dropped into the sea. The younger couple were frantic, afraid their side might go as well. They yelled for the older couple to get help (1990, the time before cell phones, mind you). The older couple went back to town and went to the police station. The old man went inside and yelled "London Bridge is falling down!" The cops initial reaction was one of, "yes, I've heard that one," but agreed to come along and check it out. After seeing it was true, he radioed for help. The rescue helicopter was in Melbourne and could be there in 3 hours. By this time, towns people had heard what happened and drove up to watch. Local news helicopters were circling and one landed on the rock formation. The couple rushed to the helicopter, thinking they were being saved. The reporter stopped them, shoving a microphone in their face. "We're not licensed to carry passengers, but can I get an interview?" The couple angrily refused, and the helicopter returned to the sky. Finally, three hours later, the Melbourne chopper came and rescued the couple, dropping them right on land next to their car. The couple, covering their faces, went to their cars and left immediately. The crowd was disappointed, why not take some time and enjoy the fame? The next day, the reason was exposed by local news- the happy couple was married- but to other people. The woman had a husband and children and the man had a wife. They worked together and were supposed to be on a work conference, but had taken a romantic holiday to the London Bridge with champagne and everything. BUSTED.

So that's my story of the Great Ocean Road. It was a good day, and I took some amazing pictures.

On a different note, I'm still not a fan of my roommies. They are pretty inconsiderate. I mean, I always go out of my way not to disturb people sleeping, being very quiet, using my cell phone as a light. One of them doesn't have the decency to shut the bathroom door when getting ready in the morning, so all the sleeping people in the room are subjected to her series of hacks and snorts and general lugey hawking choir in the morning. I mean, come on. Shut the door, it's the least you can do. I did meet one of them last night sitting in the hallway and she spoke to me. "Our roomies slept a lot, huh?" I told her. It seems like there is always at least one asleep, where it is 8 pm or noon. She was reading Russell Brand's 2nd book, and I told her I had been reading his first (yes, I've been just slightly obsessed lately- despite my obsession with luberjacks, I am also inexplicably a sucker for boys in eyeliner) and I had noticed the book on her bed and wanted to meet her. She is checking out this morning too, and she's been the one sleeping above me the past couple of days. Anyway, she was nice.

Anyway, I am off to Adelaide this morning. I will add some pics to this later and tell you about Philip Island yesterday. I have just been so insanely busy the past two days with tours, and I haven't packed a thing yet. Oh, I forgot to tell you, Sandy says I say "G'day" very well. When I was talking to my German friend about saying "hello" when people say "g'day," apparently Sandy was listening. "You say that well though," she said. "I do?" I was very happy. So maybe I will throw the occasional G'day out there now that I have Aussie approval.

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