After leaving the farm I stopped by to see my friends ‘J’ and ‘A’ once more before departing Australia for good. During that portion of my time with them we got our adventurous spirits on once again and visited the Featherdale Wildlife Park just about a 20 minute drive from Marsfield and the Jenolan caves nestled in the Blue Mountains.
For this post I will let the pictures do all the talking as my words won’t be able to give the proper justice to the beauty found at the Jenolan caves! As for the Wildlife Park, it was both awesome and sometimes a bit nerve-wracking to be in such an open area with kangaroos and wallaby bouncing around! Though they were all quite used to humans, I was still pretty nervous to pet them. The variety of native birds, mammals and reptiles were quite impressive and was a wonderous way to spend the day! Both would recommend both of these attractions for anyone visiting the area.
Playing I spy (and mostly winning, though another would disagree ;)) on the way to Victoria with horses in tow. Mind you it was a 12-14 hour drive each way, so we had lots of time to kill:)
Rudy: A rooster on the property that just one day showed up and staked his claim on the land was one of the many creatures that roamed around. Though I had never really had an issue with him (I bribed him daily with food!) any time a new person came on the property, he would try to attack them. He was rather sneaky at it too, even going so far as to attack unsuspecting people who had been on the property before from behind! Many people had stories of their encounters with the rooster ending in bloodshed (on the humans part, not the rooster’s!) or very close calls. Luckily I was never one of them, so from my perspective it was extra entertaining to hear about others close calls!
General wildlife on the property: goats (ham and cheese), burger the bull, bats, wallaby, kangaroo in the valley, snakes, huntsman, frogs, moths, bunnies, foxes, black cockatoos, parrots in the valley… the beauty of the wilderness that surrounded us daily was unbelievable and amazing!!
Dried bat: I had been used to (somewhat) encountering many a huntsman spider while opening and closing gates around the property as the sneaky buggers loved to hide out in the wood. They mostly stayed away from gates that were opened often, but ones that weren’t operated daily were havens for the gigantic arachnids. So one day while very cautiously going to open a seldom used gate, as the wood plank slid back and a giant fuzzy THING dropped out from the gate, I couldn’t help but scream and run away! Of course I was laughed at and for good reason that time… It turned out the furry thing that fell out wasn’t at all a huntsman, but a flattened dried, very dead little bat:( Poor buddy!!!
Mama and Baby
Goodness snakes alive!!! I had about 6 close encounters of the slithery kind while on the farm. Luckily though they were only encounters with the shy red-bellied black snakes! While they are still quite poisonous to people and animals, thankfully their first line of attack was to simply slither away. My two most harrowing encounters go as follows: one evening while enjoying a cocktail (or two) as I was sitting outside, one appeared from under the truck heading directly toward me. I didn’t know whether to move or stay still! Options raced through my drunken mind as it got closer and closer. Finally I made my move and very slowly lifted my legs off the ground to the chair. Thankfully that was enough to alert the snake to my presence and it abruptly lifted its head, flipped 180 degrees in the opposite direction and scurried away! My closest encounter however was while I was walking across the lawn (again a wee bit intoxicated, though a different day). I was taking confident strides to my destination until I noticed a coiled red-bellied black snake not three feet in front of me sunning itself in the afternoon sun. We literally didn’t notice each other until we noticed each other! I stopped and squealed and it uncoiled at warp speed and hauled away from me as quick as it could, lol!!
Red-bellied Black Snake
A wallaby sighting: in the valley around sunset it was a common sight to see several dozen kangaroos in the fields just off the main road. But never had I seen any ‘roos’ or their smaller counterparts in the mountains until one early morning while collecting one of the horses from their field. Normally this horse was always calm and relaxed as we walked out of her field, but on this day as we exited she startled quite abruptly and stared in wonderment behind her. While wondering what was wrong with her, I followed her gaze behind us only to spot a little wallaby at the entrance to her field staring back at us. We all stood frozen for a few moments checking each other out until the little guy hopped away. Very cool!
Watching My Kitchen Rules with ‘S’ and getting drunk: I had discovered the TV reality show My Kitchen Rules while in Thailand and it quickly became one of my favorite evening shows to watch and relax to. I introduced my house mate ‘S’ to the show and it wasn’t long before we started making nightly ‘dates’ to enjoy our meals and company while watching the show together. Often times we would get (or already be) a bit tipsy on our drinks of choice and would laugh hysterically throughout the show with our added commentaries. Loved it!
Scratching on Mom
T’s account of Rudy’s beating by the farrier: Just the visual of this one still makes me laugh! T, a French rider at the farm, while very good at speaking and understanding the English language still had a few things here and there that he was learning along the way. The phrase “beat the $h!t out of…” was one phrase he was introduced to. It came about as the farrier told ‘T’ about how Rudy had attacked him relentlessly one day, forcing him to retaliate in self-defense. As the rooster continuously attacked the farrier, he defended himself by striking the rooster until one particular blow ended up knocking the rooster unconscious. Hence, the phrase “he beat the $h!t out of Rudy” became a new phrase in T’s repertoire, and his recounting of the story the farrier told him was simply hilarious, lol!! And don’t worry readers- Rudy is just fine!! He is alive and well and still attacks who and when he pleases!
Enjoying a scratch
Out to Field
Listening to music on the front porch and talking for hours with A: ‘A’ was another groom I had the pleasure of working with. We had so much in common that I called him my male twin. Evening after evening we would sit on the front porch after a long day with drinks in hand and conversations for hours while listening to music from all ages and genres. One particularly fantastic night, ‘A’ put a blanket on the front lawn and we just lay there listening to music while watching a gloriously beautiful night sky, sparkling bright with every star from the heavens. Absolutely gorgeous!
Jumping over jumps drunk: ok, so I’m noticing that many of my stories here involve drinking… But hey, there really wasn’t much else to do on the property after finishing with the horses and drinking just brings out the fun in myself and my company! On this particular night, it was myself, ‘S’ and the Australian ‘T’ who got our drinks on thought it would be a great idea to try to jump over the jumps set up for the horses! In all reality however, it was mainly ‘T’ who was doing the jumping while ‘S’ and I simply laughed our rears off while running around the arena. Good times!!
Sunsets on the bench: Self explanatory
Home sweet Home
Smokes falling asleep on my hands: One of the shows I had the privilege of being a part of was down near Melbourne and unlike previous shows, it was 4 days long. All our horses were doing really well and one in particular, Smokes (my nickname for him) made it to the final round as a contender for Champion of Champions. After his jumping round I stood on the sidelines holding him while watching the other contenders being ridden. Now, Smokes since I’d met him had a habit of always wanting to lick, whether it was our hands or arms. Normally I wouldn’t allow this behavior in case it led to a nip, but he had been such a good boy all weekend that I allowed him his guilty pleasure. I stood to his side with my hands clasped under his muzzle allowing him to lick the salt off while I watched the others do their course. A couple of minutes later I realized that his licks had subsided and that he was simply resting his muzzle in my hands. A few minutes after that I started to notice how heavy he was feeling in my hands… It was about then that I noticed his eyes were closed and his body had a very gentle sway to it… He had fallen asleep in my hands!! I gently woke him giving him some loving pats while whispering in his ear that the show was almost over. Bless him!! By the way, he did win the Champion of Champions!
Champion of Champions!
Worming a young stud: I think the picture says it all! While I thought he had swallowed, he apparently didn’t and instead spat all the medicine right back on me!
Reconstructing my San Blas anklet: my anklet from the San Blas Islands had at some point come undone, so I made it a project to reconstruct. Since we had a road trip coming up, I brought it along to help kill time. What I wasn’t expecting however was how involved ‘T’ (Australian rider) got into the project himself! Along with providing helpful suggestions on how to make the slow and sometimes painful process of stringing hundreds of teeny beads on a teeny rope, he was also my cheerleader, egging me on to keep going and get the project done! It was on the leg back to the farm that I finally did complete the anklet and got it back to its place around my ankle.
Peggy the possum: Possums were common creatures to see during the night but usually only from afar. A couple of them however ended up becoming quite brave! One particular evening as we sat on the front porch having a few drinks, we noticed this creature walking along the stone path directly up to the front porch steps. It came up so confidently in its movement that we all at first thought it was a cat! But no, it was a possum!! It stopped just shy of getting on the porch, perching itself on the stairs. It looked at us, we looked at it in amazement, and it simply turned away from us, scampered to a nearby tree, climbed it to the roof, ran across the roof overhead us, down the tree on the other side of the porch to a little spot we often threw bits of old bread or muffins. Absolutely surreal! We named this possum Peggy:)
In her nest
Possum with baby
Gabrielle the frog and T’s reaction to the frog: The French rider ‘T’ may kill me for posting this, but we had a frog that seemed to appear nightly in the same spot, so it was named Gabrielle. One particular night, ‘T’ left the porch and entered the house and let out a scream that put 5-year-old girls to shame! ‘A’ and I went to investigate what happened and it turned out that one of the frogs (maybe Gabby?) got into the house and startled ‘T’. Needless to say I was cracking up over the sound of ‘T’s’ scream, and once he calmed down he too had a little chuckle over it;)
Of course there are many more, but since this post is getting rather lengthy, I will leave it at that!
Mid-January started to roll around and though I was still having a grand time with ‘J’ and ‘A’, I also didn’t want to out stay my welcome. So once again it was time to think of something else to venture to. I had really only scratched the surface of exploring Australia, so I wanted to stay a bit longer while also being able to afford it!
Oddly enough, one of my new friends whom I’d met back in Malaysia while at the horse facility emailed me in late December (once hearing that I was in Oz) about a friend of hers who was working at a horse farm on the Central Coast, about and hour and change north of Sydney. Even though I had this information back in December, I didn’t follow up at all other than simply getting an email for her friend.
Fast forward to mid-January, though I wanted to actually be able to travel more of Australia, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to at least shoot off an email and see if they needed any help at the farm. I can’t recall if it was later that day or the next, but very shortly after making contact I was given a number to call for a phone interview and a couple of days after that I made a commitment to go and help at the farm as a horse caretaker and groom. Part of the reason I decided that route was, well, because I love horses! But the other part was because it offered the potential to travel around to various parts of Australia with the horses.
I will never forget the day I arrived at the farm as it was one of the most memorable for me in a fun and funny way:) Even as I’m writing this I can’t stop smiling about it! Since the farm wasn’t terribly far from where ‘J’ and ‘A’ lived (and they wanted to make sure I wasn’t going somewhere sketchy, lol!!) they offered to drive me to the farm and we made plans for a day trip before getting there. First stop was along the coast for some beach time at shelly beach, then some late lunch at a chinese restaurant, then onward to the farm.
The part that made this trip the most memorable for me was when we were heading to the farm. Firstly the changing of the surroundings was absolutely stunning! The green, lush rolling hills surrounding us was just breathtaking! The second part is harder to describe, but it was the overall scenario. I had my backpack in the trunk, I was sitting in the backseat of the car being driven along the countryside into unknown territory and I was being fretted over by my two great friends about where I was going and whether the place was a good one… Which put together all added up to me feeling like a child being dropped off at summer camp by her two dads!! It was absolutely adorable!!
When we got to the farm we met ‘S’, my new housemate and fellow horse helper, unloaded my things into my new room (inspected first by my “2 dads”;)) and took a little wander around the front of the house. That is where we first met Rudy the rooster. I still recall ‘J’ and ‘A’ being cautious about the ridiculously fat, and I mean seriously rotund, rooster that was roaming around the front of the grooming stalls, while I simply brushed aside the notion that he could be dangerous by pointing out that surely they wouldn’t allow a rooster who attacks to roam around freely. He wasn’t showing any signs of aggression or threatening motions, so I figured he was friendly…
Of course the next day I was warned by ‘T’ (the rider) and ‘S’ that I should be VERY wary of Rudy as he was quite well known for attacking people, especially strangers (both ‘T’ and ‘S’ had been attacked!)!! So apparently ‘J’, ‘A’ and I were very lucky that first afternoon of arrival in that we did NOT get attacked! In addition, I learned that the trick to keeping Rudy at bay and happy was to feed him bits of horse feed… No wonder he was such a chunker, lol!!
I ended up spending several months at the horse farm caring for the numerous horses along with ‘T’ and ‘S’ and have so many fond memories of my time spent there (to be listed in my next post). And while I didn’t get to travel as much as I had hoped to originally, I was able to make it at least to one new State (Victoria) with the horses.
Originally I was hoping to stay for 6 months to a year helping at the farm, but energies started to change in a variety of directions that led me to decide to move on. ‘T’ and ‘S’ had also moved on to better and brighter things for their path a few months before I left, but we of course still keep in touch. It’s really amazing how even spending short periods of time with some people, you just know you will never lose touch, no matter the distance or time apart.
I hadn’t planned on visiting Australia initially because I’d learned from fellow travelers that it was a very expensive country to visit. However, it was while I was in Malaysia volunteering at the animal shelter that I just happened to receive an email from a good friend of mine whom I’d known back in New Mexico. We had lost touch over the years despite attempts on both our ends to keep in touch, but alas he found me:) And as chance would have it, he was living in Sydney! So of course I had to go see him!!
The timing of it all to this day still fascinates me. It’s just further proof in my book that everything happens the way it should. After a couple of email exchanges I made plans to see him and spend Christmas and New Years with him and his partner:)
I arrived in the ‘land down under’ mid-December and was greeted at the airport with the loving embrace and friendly faces of my friend and his partner. After a quick nibble out, we headed back to their place where I met their two kids, Willow and Bear, two absolutely adorable pups!! We stayed up quite late that first night (and for the next several nights) with bottles of vino and beer, catching up on all things past and present. What a truly amazing and still surreal time!
They showed me around all the hotspots of Sydney; Bondi beach (pronounced Bond-eye, not Bondy), the Opera House (of course!), the harbor area, Mansly, the Botanical Gardens and the Watson Bay area where sailboats dotted a quiet bay eclipsed by beautiful homes gently sloping from the water. It was all so picturesque and beautiful! We even ventured a bit further out on the weekends for little road trips to the Blue Mountains where we viewed the Three Sisters.
The thing that surprised me about the Opera house was that the roof was made of tiles! From all the pictures I had seen prior to seeing it first-hand, the roof simply looked white and I hadn’t noticed anything particularly remarkable about it. However up close, it was impressive to see that the roof was in fact made of white and beige tiles and that they formed very specific patterns giving each shell a unique and artistic flare. In addition, again from pictures, I had always imagined that the Opera house was a singular building and each layered ‘armadillo shell’ was part of the design to enhance acoustics for that one stage. I had no idea that in fact there are multiple stages allowing several productions to occur within the same season. Just goes to show you that you never really know about something until you get up close and personal with it;)
The Botanical Gardens were absolutely darling! They seemed to go on forever and though they were basically next door to the heart of downtown Sydney, they had a quiet and calm about them that made you feel miles away from the hustle and bustle of the city life. 2016 just so happens to also be the 200th birthday of the gardens, so that’s pretty cool:)
The Blue Mountains too were a surprise as I had no idea such lush green life and landscapes could be found in Oz. Again, most of the pictures I had seen of Australia boasted the main highlights of the Barrier Reef, the Opera House or the Outback where the land is red and lacking plant life. But in the Blue Mountains, I could have mistaken us for being in Virgina near the Blue Ridge! Simply beautiful!
The only odd thing to me was knowing that it was only a week away from Christmas, yet not really seeing any sort of Christmas decorations anywhere! There were a few scattered here and there, but nothing like I was accustomed to seeing in the States around Christmas time. However, that didn’t stop us from doing some decorating ourselves:) J’s mom had sent him a Christmas tree, so on or about the day before Christmas, we got our drinks on (which put us all in a jolly mood) and set up the Christmas tree and other decorations to get the place looking festive! A few gifts were exchanged, delicious food was cooked, and we all reveled in the joys of being with good friends.
Happy Birthday Gardens!
Opera House & Bridge
Christmas Day passed and New Years was quickly approaching, so the next big thing was to decide how to ring in the New Year. We settled on trying for one of the free spots at a park on the harbor (Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair). The only trouble was that once capacity for the park was reached, they closed it off therefore not allowing any new people in. And because this venue was free to enter (and honestly was one of the best in my opinion as it had a fantastic view of the harbor, the bridge and the opera house) the lines would no doubt be long. The chances of getting in at all were unpredictable!
‘A’ (J’s partner) had to work New Year’s Day, so that left ‘J ‘and I to try for a park place where ‘A’ would meet us later. We made it there around 10am to find a line that wove back and forth and forth and back with what looked like thousands waiting to get in! We got in at the back of the makeshift line and thus began the slow and arduous task of walking a few feet every couple of minutes, slowly inching our way to the entrance gates. Luckily we came prepared however with water, snacks and sunscreen.
Opera House & Bridge_2
Opera House & Bridge_3
City from the Park
I should mention at this point that the Norwegian couple I had met back in Kuala Lumpur were also in Sydney for New Year’s. We had reconnected via email and arranged to meet at the park. After about an hour or so, they arrived with another friend in tow and they joined ‘J’ and I in line (which still had only moved a couple hundred feet or so, lol!!). The mood around us was festive and it was funny to see how many people had already started hitting the beers hard! Personally it was just too hot in the direct sun for that in my opinion, plus having to find a bathroom would have been its own kind of torture!!
The hours ticked away as we crept closer and closer toward the finish line… Finally, about 4 hours later we were in! While there were already thousands of people in the park, it didn’t feel as crowded as I would have thought which I was very grateful for! We scouted a place to sit under a nice shady tree, then sent one of the fellas to the nearby food and drink kiosks for some cold beers! We sat around enjoying the cold beers and continued chit-chatting and all was absolutely perfect, save for one thing…
A Different View
‘A’ was still at work… The plan we had hoped for was that he would be able to get off work a bit early, then head to the park where he could hopefully hop in line with us and make it in before the park reached capacity. However, at this point it was already past 2pm. The line that had formed behind us seemed longer than the line we had initially started in, and according to the online information, the park had already almost reached capacity and would soon be closed off. Not happy news!! As the time ticked on it seemed less and less likely that he would be able to make it to the park.
A Different View_2
A Different View_3
New Years Crowd
Seriously a huge conundrum!! I didn’t want ‘A’ to have to spend New Year’s alone, especially without his partner!! But I also didn’t want to leave our park spot. We debated back and forth what to do and eventually settled on me staying in the park, and ‘J’ leaving the park to be with ‘A’. In addition ‘J’ had started not to feel so hot, as even though he kept reapplying sunscreen the entire time we stood in line, he still managed to get a pretty bad sunburn!! So as he wasn’t feeling the best he said he was fine with leaving to be with ‘A’. Though I know I shouldn’t, I do still feel guilty for having stayed behind because I wanted the three of us to be together for New Years. But as ‘A’ and ‘J’ said, they had “been there, done that” with Sydney’s firework show. It wasn’t so important for them to see them again, but since it was a first for me, they said I should definitely see them.
New Years Harbor
Attempted Night Shot
So I hung back with my friends from Norway and rang in the New Year watching fireworks shower off the Sydney harbor bridge and light up the harbor waters. It was such a beautiful sight! I love everything about fireworks; the sounds, smells and sight of them. Being so up close and personal to such a spectacular show was unbelievable. I’m so thankful for the chance to have been able to be there!
New Years Sailboat
New Years Eve 2015
New Years Eve 2015_2
After the show, I parted ways with my Norwegian friends and met up with ‘J’ and ‘A’ and we headed home to comfort the pups. Though we were not able to spend New Year’s night together, we did have our own New Year celebration a bit later. Popping a bottle of champagne we wrote down things we no longer wanted to be burdened with in our lives and set them on fire Zozobra style!