Monday, December 20, 2010

Mayhem at the Mount - Gabe's 21st & strollin' the Cherryhood with Sam

20 - 24 November: Tauranga, NZ

(Gabe's birthday): We woke up at 10 am to a cooked brekkie at Gabe's parents' house in Papamoa, NZ. They live in a lovely Tuscan-style beach house, opposite the sand dunes with beach access. We relaxed throughout the day with his brothers and family friend Luke, before getting ready for the party that afternoon. Family began to show up sporadically, with his uncle setting up the keg and the guys preparing the pig and lamb on the spit for the night's roast.

Guests began to arrive at 430 (a mix of family, high school and uni friends). Tyson even came over for the night :). It was great fun night with lots of Waikato draft beer, Gabe and his twin brother Angus competing in a yard glass race (drinking a yard-full of beer out of a tall, bear-shaped glass) and several people ending up in the pool (including Gabe after finishing his yardie). Throughout the night Gabe kept wanting to rub in his win: "Where's Angus?... I need to find Angus. F*** you, Angus - I beat you!" ... guess he was pretty excited. Good times :).

Sunday: was a day of goodbyes :(. We got up, had breakfast (another bbq with the stragglers from the night before) and then Gabe and I went for a little adventure on the beach across the road to soak up the sun and spend some time together before his flight out to Sydney to continue his Google summer internship that afternoon.

Finally, it was time to go so, dragging our feet, we headed off to the Mt. Maunganui airport. I must say, it was the hardest goodbye I've ever had to deal with. The airport was small enough for us (Sam, Tyson and myself) to accompany Gabe all the way to the gate to wait for his departure. Although seeing him get on the plane was hard, at least we got to see him off. It was somewhat strange with Gabe leaving New Zealand and not the other way around.

Afterward, I went with Sam and Tyson (thank you for dealing with a teary me, in special need of cheering-up ice cream) back to the Mt. for some Copenhagen Cones, dropped Tyson off at bus back to Hamilton (another goodbye :() and head back with Sam to his house in nearby Otumoetai. After a yummy dinner with his dad an step-mom, we took the adorable doggy Roxie for a walk and I finally tried a JellyTip ice cream from the local dairy (thank you Sam - real friends know a second, surprise ice cream makes all the difference) :).

Monday: After stopping at the supermarket for some essential picnic snacks, Sam and I adventured to the McLaren's Falls for the afternoon. We walked around the beautiful string of lakes, took a mini hike through the forest, and enjoyed the waterfalls. A salami twist pastry served for a delicious lunch.

Sam = the Avian Whisperer (what's with the rooster?!):
Sorry friends, no salami for you...

All mine mmmmmmm
Posing while exploring the falls:

Tuesday: Whitebait day! Sam and I ran errands to get some seasonal whitebait fish from the local butcher to enjoy some superb whitebait fritters prepared by Sam's dad that evening.

The whitebait montage...
It begins with frozen fishies... mmm oh how I love eyeballs in my food.
Woooo check it out!Arf arf (hehe Sam the seal)
Bryce wippin' up some batter:
Fritters a-fryin':
All done:
Whitebait, woooo!After dinner we took another nice walk down by the water. Wednesday: Sam and I explored downtown Mt. Maunganui for the last time with a mini hike to the end of Leisure Island (a peninsula accessible during low tide).

Later that night, I donned my usual traveling attire (traveling boots, teal flannel & tights) and it was off to the airport for an 11pm flight and my final goodbye. Thank you Sam for a great few days of enjoying NZ before my departure.

To the wonderful people I met and had the pleasure of spending time with over the past 5 months - thank you for amazing times and life-long memories.

Erika, Sam & Gabe (aka the Fab 4) - it's been 5 months, but there's no time limit on this friendship (aka I don't care where we all end up, you're not getting rid of me).

Gabe - I never thought I'd meet my other half, half-way across the world, but I'm so glad I did.

Let the adventure continue...

Ta-ta for now,
Happy travels,

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

With my Noogler by the harbour - Sydney escapades

13 November - 19 November: Sydney, Australia

Sunday morning, after spending the night at Leon and Reuben's, we went out for breakfast at a nearby cafe with him and his friend, an actress from London. Then, we took them up on their generous offer for a ride downtown to the Sydney Harbour. It is amazing how easy it is to get into the city via its spectacular bridges. I kept thinking how much I would love to live in one of the surrounding suburbs. Once in the city, it was amazingly hot, as we wandered by the famous Opera House and then west, across the city, toward Darling Harbour.

We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around Sydney, discovered that large Apple/Mac store, which had free Internet on all of its display computers, and ended up using it to book another hostel for the next two nights downtown.

Then, we continued on to Darling Harbour (home to the Maritime Museum, complete with pirate ship, the Sydney Aquarium, lots of ferries and various cruise boats) in search of the Google offices, so Gabe would know where to shoot off to work the following morning. We thought this would be an easy task, with a Google sign or something visible outside the building... we were mistaken. After searching the wharfs until our feet were a bit sore, to no avail, we gave up and headed back towards the harbour.

Fitting in with the little kids, playing in a fountain on the waterside:

I am a believer that ice cream fixes any sad situation, so we indulged in some delicious gelato by the waterfront, before returning, once again to the Mac store, where we Googled Google (haha) to get an actual street view of the offices. Turns out, we had been right outside the main building, as Google operates in the top few floors of one of the main workplaces, but clearly, one would not know that from the outside.

We had planned to meet back up with Leon, Reuben and friends that afternoon, but ended up finding them a bit later than expected. In talking to Leon, he told us to meet them at a restaurant lounge/bar near the town hall. After walking around hopelessly for another hour or so, circling the town hall, we figured out that it was not the Sydney town hall he meant, but actually one in the neighbouring suburb of Balmain, directly west past Darling Harbour. Once we got that straight, a cab ride brought us to the right pub. There, we chatted for a bit and then ditched outside to find some grub (since the bar didn't start serving dinner for another hour) and we were starved after just ice cream for lunch (hm.. we tend to do quite often... it's just so good!). We found a take away pizza place, ate outside and then went back to the bar for a little bit, before finally sharing a cab back to their flat. We finished off the evening by watching what turned out to be a horrible movie - another one of those "the world is ending" flicks - which we abandoned halfway through.

Monday, I slept in, while Gabe was up and off on the tram to work by 9 am. I hung around for the morning, chatted with Reuben (who was off work before his evening shift as an apprentice chef at a ritzy restaurant in "The Rocks" - a hip section of downtown Sydney). I headed into the city in the afternoon, accompanied by Reuben. We explored for a while, but eventually the rain, which had been pouring all day, drove us into an indoor market for lunch where we found a phenomenal Japanese restaurant.

Afterward, we parted ways, as Reuben headed off to work and I went to monopolize a computer for a few hours at the Mac store again for some free Internet. Then, before heading back, I explored the Queen Victoria Building (QVB) on George Street, a massive spectacle of Romanesque architecture that runs the length of an entire city block and is full of little shops and niche restaurants.

A little history for you - The building dates back to 1898, when it was completed, replacing the original Sydney markets on the site. Built as a monument to the long reigning monarch, Victoria, construction took place in dire times, as Sydney was in a severe recession. The elaborate Romanesque architecture was specially planned for the grand building so the Government could employ many out-of-work craftsmen - stonemasons, plasterers, and stained window artists - in a worthwhile project. Originally, a concert hall, coffee shops, offices, showrooms, warehouses and a wide variety of tradespeople, such as tailors, mercers, hairdressers and florists, were accommodated.

I enjoyed a cup of coffee there, reading my novel, while marveling at the building's main Christmas attraction - a giant tree, covered in Swarovski crystals, which stretched from floor to ceiling, soaring through all four levels.

Fun fact: This 24-metre Christmas tree was adorned with thousands of crystals and 60,000 lights and took 12 months of planning and over 40 hours to install/decorate.

Around 5:30, I walked back to the Paddy's Markets where Reuben and I had gotten off our tram to grab one back out of the city. Turns out that Gabe, who finished at Google at 5:30, ended up on the exact same tram. It wasn't until we disembarked on the platform 20 minutes later that we realized we'd been riding nearby the entire time, as he was in the front and I was a few cars back. :)

We had planned to get a ride from Leon into the city to our new home for the next few days - Traveller's Rest Backpackers - but realized too late that our brilliant choice of a hostel (sense the sarcasm) lacked a 24-hour check-in and was already shut for the night. Instead, we hung out with him and his funny Aussie roommate, toasted Gabe's first day at Google and enjoyed a sausage sizzle dinner. Pity to pay for a room we didn't end up staying in, but a fine trade to spend the evening with friends and good food.

Gabe left for work, while I hung around most of the morning and then grabbed a mid-day ride from Leon to the hostel. I arrived by 12:15 only to find that the hostel reception had closed for lunch and did not open again until 2 pm, meaning I snuck in behind a fellow traveler with a key and sat around in the patio for a few hours, eating crackers with marmite for lunch (the only food I had on me.. haha yummmm). After checking in, I wandered back towards central Sydney since our new hostel was in the south east corner in the section in Kings Cross (home to many other backpackers and night life hubs). On the way, I found an amazing sushi place called Sushi Hero II :), where you can get full, un-cut take-away sushi rolls for $2 (picture the equivalent of a sushi burrito).

As I had left around mid-afternoon, I took my time to walk all the way across the city, back to Darling Harbour, where I was meeting Gabe after work. My meanderings took me all the way up and down either side of the harbour, where I scoped out many restaurants along the pier to decide on a place for dinner with my Noogler (aka New Googler). Around 5:30 I met Gabe and took him back along the water to a brewery/restaurant, where we hung out for quite a while, people watching with our spicy potato wedges. Ferry and cruise boats line the docks, awaiting tourists and special event bookings, so we had fun guessing on each passerby's agenda for the evening. There was a large, entertaining group of kids (high school age we assumed), going to a dance of some sort (perhaps ends of the school year prom-type celebration?) on one of the ferry cruise boats. It got chilly once the sun went down, so we called it an evening and started the long walk back to our hostel.

Me repping Gabe's new "Noogler" hat from Google and Blokarting jacket (the cold explains me borrowing the jacket; the awesomeness of the hat is explanation enough):


meant sleeping in for me and work again for Gabe. Around mid-day I headed toward the city once again, stopping at an Internet cafe for a few hours to make some Skype calls. I went to Sushi Hero again (becoming a trend..), wandered through Hyde Park (which lies between Kings Cross and central Sydney), walked around the harbour again, before getting some ice cream (another usual) and then meeting Gabe at Google. His friend Mark, a fellow computer science guy from Waikato, was arriving that day (he did not start his internship with Google until the following week), so I met him in the lobby and then, once the Noogler joined us, headed to the Helm Bar, a neat place across the bridge, on the side of the harbour opposite the offices.

There, we had some cider and then left Mark to go meet Leon and Reuben at Reuben's restaurant uptown. Arriving, we felt kind of out of place (or more, underdressed) in such a ritzy establishment (we're talkin' black stone marble, mood lighting, chandeliers, and a tower of champagne glasses for decor). We waited around 15 minutes, checking the bar for the brothers, who didn't show, so we went back to the Helm Bar for their fish 'n chip deal night - never did find out what went wrong or if we had misunderstood our meeting time.

On Thursday we had to switch hostel rooms (same hostel, just different room, as our previous one was booked for this last night). Therefore, I stayed until it was clean and moved our things, before tackling the city to make preparations for Gabe's 21st birthday the next day. I started at Paddy's Market, a huge, undercover market full of stalls selling everything from fresh fruit to trashy t-shirts, belts, underwear, and odd little knick-knacks.

Next, I went up George Street several blocks to the movie theatre to buy tickets in advance to see Harry Potter #7 that evening - although Gabe isn't much of an HP fan, we were both bummed that midnight showings seem to be only a U.S. thing. Next, I walked all the way up to the sushi place Reuben and I had found on Hunter Street to grab take-away for a lunch date with Gabe at Google.

The Google office building:

Chillin' outside:
After lunch, I went back into the city and ventured south to the markets again where I bought Gabe's birthday present (sunglasses). Then, realizing our hostel was much farther away than I thought, had to hurry back in time to drop off my purchases, shower and get ready for our dinner date at the Helm.

It was all you can eat mussel night, so we ordered one of those (since I wasn't sure how keen on mussels I was... turns out not very, so good choice). However, this made the bar tender man a bit testy, since he thought we were stealthily trying to steal mussels (ew, no). After nicknaming him mussel man (due to his intimidating/semi-joking, yet stern demeanor), and buying another appetizer and some drinks to appease him, we enjoyed our dinner and hurried to the theatre for HP extravaganza (I was clearly, waaaay too excited)!!!!

Gabe and his mussels (ow owww): ;)

After the movie (poor Dobby :,( ahh!) we made our way back to the hostel, stopping in the park to have a mid-journey stick-wand duel (I won of course because my spell knowledge is far superior).

Friday we awoke bright and early to check out and celebrate GABE'S 21st BDAY!! I provided him with a flashy, and literally flashing, birthday badge and brought out some celebratory champagne, with which we made mimosas!

After checking out of our room, we hung around for a bit in the little hostel courtyard to finish our orange juice ;) and then walked downtown.

It was an overcast, semi-rainy day, but luckily the place I had picked for a birthday breakfast was at a small restaurant with inside seating that borders Darling Harbour. At this Middle-Eastern, exotic restaurant (which masquerades as a hookah lounge by night), we enjoyed breakfast - all you can eat pancakes (chocolate chip, raspberry with caramel and ice cream toppings for Gabe!! and a full egg/bacon spread for me). The place even had those fun paper tablecloths for crafting works of art while you wait for your food so we created some crayon masterpieces.

Next, we went for a walk along the harbour, hopped on the tiny tourist trolley tram (empty due to the rain - or because you can literally walk faster than this baby), then disembarked near the Helm Bar for a bit of cider.
Posing as a kangaroo outside the Sydney Aquarium:

Next, we walked to the Mac store to abuse the free Internet in search of the nearest pool hall. We discovered 333, a bar/restaurant with a few tables, where we spent an hour or so, before heading back to the hostel to get our bags and proceeding to the Sydney airport around 430.

We need practice...
Due to our poor planning, we had booked separate flights on our Sydney-Auckland journey, so we hung out before parting ways to board our planes.

I tried my first bloody mary! - decidedly not a fan:

^ And hey, what'da you know - more sushi!

I had incredible luck at the airport, because upon trying to check-in, they asked me for my "exiting New Zealand itinerary" (you need to show round-trip flights in and out of NZ before they will let you enter the country) and by utter luck, I had accidentally brought my printed itinerary for my flight back to the US the next week with me in my bag. We said goodbye to Sydney, arrived in Auckland very late and after driving east to Tauranga on the opposite coast, it was nearly 2AM.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Frolicking with the fishes in beautiful Cairns - Coronas and sunburns at the Great Barrier Reef!!

10 November - 13 November 2010: Cairns, Queensland, Australia

On Wednesday, since check-out was 10 am and we had only booked one night, we had to get up at 9:30 am and switch rooms. Although the chance at a decent sleep was already long gone, I took a mini cat nap, while Gabe used the Internet to check some emails (we were due to arrive at Sydney the coming Saturday, where Gabe is interning at Google for the summer, and he was still researching apartments).

We caught an 11:30 am shuttle into town (our hostel was a quick drive away) and had breakfast at a corner cafe. I ordered "iced coffee" and ended up with chilled coffee with ice cream in it (hm...). We walked around the marina, perused the shops, checked out a travel agency for some free Internet and information on the Great Barrier Reef and then went for a swim in Cairn's fantastic sprawling pool, which overlooks the bay.

The Cairns Esplanade lagoon - aka amazing public pool overlooking the water (you can't swim in the ocean in downtown Cairns; if you're looking for beaches you must catch a bus up the coast):

Afterward we went back to Travel Bugs (the agency) to book a sailing trip out to the reef the following day and then found our new favourite place - The Courthouse. It is a restored courthouse building, converted into a bar/restaurant with lots of picnic tables on the lawn outside. As "the official home of Coronas in Cairns," the Courthouse sells them at 3.50 each (Corona is ridiculously expensive in Australia/anywhere that is not the U.S. or Mexico so we made good use of this opportunity). ;)

We took a shuttle back to the hotel to freshen up, then ended up going to town once again for a pizza dinner at the Courthouse. On the way back into town, we looked up to see swarms of dark birds screeching as they filled the twilight air - a common occurrence, EXCEPT - they were not birds, but thousands of bats (we assume coming out for a nightly insect feed). Ahhh!

Bahaha.. clearly, Gabe hates bats:

The Courthouse was busy and when a crazy character in a top hat and circus ringmaster-type costume began to entertain the crowd, we discovered that it was toad racing night - yes, TOAD (as in warty, slimy, prince in disguise amphibians - now with numbers painted on their back in white-out) racing. For a fee, contestants could enter the race, choose their "winning" toad and will it to the finish line (aka all the toads start in a bucket in the center and, once the bucket is raised, the first to jump head-first into the surrounding, square barrier made out of two-by-fours is the winner!)

I, accidentally making eye contact with the ring-master (a hilarious, and extremely politically-incorrect Aussie), was pulled out of the crowd as the girl to start the first heat by lifting the bucket. After a few Coronas I'm glad I did not trip on the two-by-four barrier - as several contestants (very excited about their toads) did just that during this silly evening.

Fun fact: Toads also get excited (or nervous) and cannot control their bowel movements - much to the surprise of the contestants who got photos holding their toads before the festivities!

After watching the races and hearing countless racist jokes directed at the many foreign tourists in attendance, we left the Courthouse for the hourly shuttle vans back to Calypso (our hostel). We were waylaid by an all-to-common gelato craving and ended up missing the van (Tim Tam flavoured ice cream, piled high in a waffle cone = TOTALLY worth it)! Luckily, we talked our way onto another hostel's van and the accommodating driver gave us a lift back home - we had our gelato and ate it too ;).

On Thursday, we awoke and checked out of the hostel at 6:30 am, eagerly anticipating our adventure to the Great Barrier Reef! We caught the 7 am shuttle to town and got to the Marlin Marina by 7:15. There, we enjoyed muffins and coffee on board the Ocean Free - our 35-person capacity sailing boat (only about 20 on our day-trip)/home for the next 10 hours as we sailed to Green Island - a fully developed coral island situated 26 kilometres from Cairns on the Great Barrier Reef.

Enjoying a tasty muffin (or two), waiting to leave port:

Ahoy matey! Captain Sarah :):

Testin' the waters on the ride out:
The crew:
Gordo - Scottish, knowledgeable seaman
Benny - Hilarious scuba guide from the U.K.; gave an excellent safety talk about putting on a life jacket in a crisis
Matty - Seasonal employee from NZ (we spotted him due to his silver fern arm tattoo)

Benny giving us a funny life-jacket-safety talk:

After an hour or two trip to the island (we had to motor due to a lack of winds), we moored on the exclusive Pinnacle Reef - 700 m off shore, where we snorkeled for several hours.

An aerial view of the Ocean Free and Green Island:

Woo hoo, excited about snorkeling!!:

Maybe this is why I got sunburned.. hmm:

My favourite sights were the giant clams on the bottom and huge schools of brilliantly rainbow, bright-colored parrot fish. Then, after a "smorgasbord" lunch of meats, salad, veggies etc., we hitched a ride on the little motorboat to the island to spend an hour and half exploring.

And Jane, swingin' on vines, ahhhh:

Gabe and I adventured to the far side of the island, past the crocodile farm, to a more remote beach - clear, turquoise water and white sand. Did I mention that the water was 28 degrees Celsius (82.4 degrees F)?!

In the croc farm gift shop, rawr!

We had a little too much fun trying to do a timer photoshoot on my camera on the island beach:

Woops, we look like we're dancing?

:)Back aboard the Ocean Free, we made the most of our trip and snorkeled for the remaining hour or so.
Benny came out on the reef with us and helped us find Nemo!! The clown fishes tend to hide on a particular bit of the reef). Near the boat a few fish have made the mooring their usual haunt - "Darth Vader" a huge, black Great Travelli, along with a whole school of large fish kept circling the boat/ladder. To be funny, the guides threw prawns into the school just as Gabe and I began to swim toward the ladder. Caught in the middle of the feeding frenzy, we literally came face to face with Darth Vader and his friends! Also, several black tipped reef sharks made an appearance. Along with Benny and Matty, Gabe did some leaps off the boat - one on top of a shark!

Gabe being attacked by the fish:

You can see Darth - that big black guy in the foreground:

Handstand into the Great Barrier Reef, oooshhh:

Rinsing off with the fresh water hose:

On the sail home (yes, we got to sail for a little bit because the breeze picked up), we enjoyed a glass of wine, cheese and cake deserts to nibble. It was an amazing day!!

We arrived back at the port in the late afternoon, and took the Calypso hostel shuttle van back to our hostel, where we showered, checked the internet, and inevitably realized how horribly sunburnt we were! Gabe gained a lobster-red back after our day frolicking with the fishes, and I earned a tomato-colored booty - I guess that at least means we got our moneys worth of snorkeling (no matter how much sunscreen, 10 hours in the sun, especially Australian sun, will turn you nice and pink).

Having pointed out a spelling mistake in the hostel's email address upon booking, we earned $10 "Zanzibar Bucks" from the hostel's bar, which we used during happy hour, to score a jug of beer and play a game of pool before checking out that evening and switching to another hostel downtown near the waterfront. This game of pool was so horrible, in fact, that after 15 minutes, we ashamedly abandoned it halfway through (the pool game, not our jug) to catch one of the hourly shuttles back into town. Once checked into our new hostel - Waterfront Backpackers - Gabe went for a dip in the Cairns lagoon, which was directly facing our new lodging, to cool his sunburned back, before we stopped by the store to pick up some essentials, like much-needed aloe vera and swimmer's ear drops (did I mention I got lots of water in my ears after our adventures with Nemo?).

Next, we wandered into downtown Cairns, popping by PJ O'Briens (a local pub that caters to tourists and student, hostel-dwellers) to use our free dinner coupon provided by our new hostel. However, we found we had mixed up the pubs and were told to go to the Woolshed instead (another similar, young pubish bar/club). The free meal was pretty disgusting, which explains why it was free - chili, spaghetti?? (aka rice and spaghetti noodles with the same awkward meat slop, slopped on top). I have another bone to pick with the Woolshed - Gabe wasn't ID'd as we entered, but I WAS!!... WOW, apparently, I can't even pass for an 18-year-old. Haha, in my defense, this was the only place that this anomaly occurred.

We stayed at the Woolshed for a little while, eventually got bored and strolled through the Cairns night markets on our way to our favorite Corona bar, always a solid back-up. Afterward, we got some ice cream and meandered down by the water, which was at a surprisingly low tide, where we admired the stars... and cockroaches?! (several little guys were scurrying around the cement wall).

On Friday, we awoke around 10:30 am, and made it out in time to catch the tail end of the full breakfast specials (11 am) at a shop on the walk right outside of our hostel. We then made our way back down the mainstreet to Travel Bug (our agency) for some free Internet. Then, we filled our afternoon with more delicious gelato, some coronas, and after a stop back at the hostel, a swim in the lagoon. Next, we got ready, had a Radler :), and headed through the night markets again to the Corona bar, where we had some delicious pizza and listened to live music.

After dinner, we went back to PJ O'Brien's to go on our "pub crawl," which we had signed up for the previous evening. I've put pub crawl in "quotes" for one main reason: you cannot call that a pub crawl. The evening started out quite fine. We got our crawl wristbands, our free beer at the pub and waited to be summoned to go to the next bar. Finally, Snapper (yes, that was his name... maybe that should have tipped us off) came to get us, and as we walked outside to join the "group," we found the "group" was one other couple (Liam and M-something, who were obviously not very friendly since we never really got the girl's name..) and us.

Beginning the "pub crawl":

The next bar turned out to be the Woolshed, which, what'da you know, had no cover charge anyway. There, we got another drink and upon exiting from the toilets, were ambushed by good ol' Snapper, becoming two of five unwitting, unwilling contestants in a dance off. I was nominated to dance to techno music in front of the entire bar (how do you dance to techno without horrid head-bumping?! No clue.. so that's what I did), and Gabe was instructed to do a strip-tease... hahaha I must say, he stepped up to the plate and made the girl he had to strip-tease around feel awkward, which means he gave it his all. At the Woolshed, we also ran into Benny & Matty, our crew from the Ocean Free! (This was before the dance-off, unfortunately). Next, with any possible embarrassment out of the way and over with for the evening, we continued to the next place.. the Mad Cow (yes.. that's actually what it was called).

Again, pretty sure there was no cover, so Snapper's "pub crawl" wristbands got us absolutely nothing. But, we made the most of it, had some horrible tequila shots, and ended up having a great time dancing on the tiny dance floor, watching a hilarious singles' mating ritual (aka several awkward dudes trying to pick up on the ladies, who were not feeling it... apart from the one guy who scored and had a nice little make-out session in front of everyone while gyrating). Song favorites include Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream" and "Boots with the furrrrr" - which, if you know the lyrics, you can imagine there were some pretty creative (inappropriate) dance moves to be seen.

The Mad Cow became the scene of the crime, when, after our hour slot ticked to a close and it was time to move on to the next venue, good ol' Snapper was no where to be found. At least, he had given us a few extra drink tickets for the next bar as a conciliatory gesture, since the pub crawl of 4, clearly, was a bust. Realizing that good ol' Snapper had ditched us, we tried to find the next bar, located inside Gilligan's (also a huge hostel on the main drag). Of course, it turns out Gilligan's was the one place with a cover, which, incidentally, our wristbands did not cover (thanks Snapper!). Upon seeing the ridiculously long line, full of drunken college kids in short skirts, and already having paid to join the "pub crawl," we decided to bail and went back to PJ's to try to work some sympathy drinks out of the deal. We got one with one of the extra drink tickets (at least Snapper got us that much), hit McDonald's for Gabe and a 24-hour dairy for a candy bar for me on the way home, and went to bed.

Saturday, we got up, checked out, storing our bags at the front desk, and perused downtown Cairns one last time before our flight that evening. There was an outdoor market near the lagoon with lots of beautiful opal stands and several selling various fashion items made from crocodile skin! In talking to a stall owner, we discovered that they have many crocodile farms in Australia, where they breed crocs just for their skin.

Fun fact: A baby crocodile is worth around $100, while just his belly skin can go for nearly $1000.

Gabe testing out one of the croc hand back-scratchers (yes, that's a claw!):

Next, we used some more Internet at our agency and grabbed breakfast at the same corner shop from our first morning in Cairns, where we experienced an impromptu rainstorm. In retrospect, we were extremely lucky in Cairns, because it was the rainy season, yet this was the only precipitation we experienced and it only poured briefly. Then, deciding we did not have enough time to catch a bus up to one of the northern beaches without being very rushed, as we had originally discussed, we spent a leisurely last day in Cairns, and, naturally, ended up back at the Corona bar ;). We hung out there, enjoying the nice picnic bench-filled seating area out front.

Having too much fun at the picnic tables: :)

At 4:15 pm, we made a quick trip to the supermarket to get some dinner supplies since, before hurrying to catch our 4:30 pm reserved airport shuttle. Instead, running out of time, we ended up with some muffins and Doritos (healthy dinner for ya). Gabe ran back to get our bags, while I checked out, and we made it in time for our shuttle. We lounged in the airport's outdoor smoking patio (away from the smokers), and boarded our flight to Sydney - the final leg of our adventures in Oz!

The plane ride was uneventful, except for the CRAZY lady we sat next to. Overall, besides talking a lot and sleeping on each other's shoulders, I think Gabe and I are perfectly decent people to sit next to on a plane. However, this woman apparently did not agree. Near the end of the flight, I decided to glance out the window to get a good look as we approached downtown Sydney. She evidently found this quite annoying, or was just plain crazy, because she proceeded to lower her book and give me one of the freakiest death glares I have ever seen, and may ever see, in my life. Gabe and I finished the plane ride feeling extremely creeped out, as she kept staring/glaring at us oddly (was this a freaky defense mechanism to dissuade us from noticing that she was reading a trashy love novel, and had, perhaps, gotten to a particularly steamy bit?! I have no idea... I'm gonna go with she was just psycho). We disembarked quickly, and luckily, avoided an awkward run-in with Weird Plane Lady at the baggage claim. Welcome to Sydney!

Upon arriving, we grabbed a cab to our place for the night - the flat of Leon and Reuben, two brothers/family friends of Gabe's since high school, which is located in Annandale just outside the city across the Anzac Bridge. We hung out and, since Reuben was out on the town, were able to crash in his room for the night.