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Sophie's Australia Adventure

Just Keep Swimming!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Yesterday we transferred out to Orpheus Island to conduct research. Oh, that went well! I had a lot of fun, but we didn't get much work done. First we went out in the morning to watch fish. I got very thirsty and Laura and I found NO FISH AT ALL! We couldn't find the "minimum observer distance" where we could see the fish but not scare them away. The water was very murky (though no where near as bad as LA) so we had to be on top of the fish to see them. But this scared them away. After about two hours of this, we took a break for lunch. And then it was back in your wetsuits and back in the water! This time we had to conduct several transects. We were supposed to tie the end of a tape measure around a piece of coral and roll the tape out to fifty meters. Then we should have swam along the tape and recorded every meter what we saw (soft coral, branching coral, massive coral, table coral, dead coral and algae, sand, rubble, or seaweed). But our tape wouldn't stop flipping over to the not-meter side! Eventually we got one transect done, but by this point, my mask had started malfunctioning, and I got saltwater in my eyes, nose, mouth, and ears. The mouthoiece on the snorkel also cut into the roof of my mouth, which is still sore. But, we were in the Great Barrier Reef. It was breathtaking.

Gone Bananas

Today, we visited the banana farm. There were a lot of bananas there, but we didn't get to sample any. We DID get to ride around the farm on a truck that was NOT meant for humans, stand at the edge of a waterfall, and see a spider the size of my hand.

Oh yeah...and then there was the discovery of the amazing

Vol-Tan-O !

When we got on the truck (towed by a tractor and used for carting thousands of kilos of bananas), it was covered in mud. A rich, red, volcanic soil mud. And a lot of people got pretty messy. Most people looked at the muck and said "Ew!" or perhaps, "Yuck", or even "Cool!" But Mrs. McGuire? Mrs. McGuire said "Oooh, it makes a great spray-tan!"

Mrs. McGuire has been, by the way, comparing herself the entire trip to the sun. We worked on applying the "miracle tan" to Mrs. McGuire's arms, back, and face. Next we did the same thing for Laura. But Mrs. McGuire wasn't satisfied. "We should share with the entire world!"

And, with that, we had a product.

Vol-Tan-O !
"Because you're hot!"
A combination of all-natural Volcanic Enriched Powder (Alec's idea) and fresh spring water, Vol-Tan-O's amazing resluts will blow you away!

We are currently working on an array of similar products.

Goodbye Winter, Hello Summer!

Today we woke up very early to see the sun rise over Uluru. We were not very hopeful as there had been no sun at all the day before. But, once we got to the viewing point, we did indeed see the sun rise...before disappearing into the clouds again. We then got to see a watering hole and the Olga Ranges. I was very sleepy and did not really remmber any of these little stops.

Much of day was taken up by our flight to Cairns. When we got off the plane, we were greeted at the gate by a gust of face-melting heat. Being from Los Angeles, I never, ever, EVER thought I would say this about the heat but IT WAS WONDERFUL!!! It was muggy, and hot, and awful, but we LOVED IT!

This didn't last long. The moment we were all in the coach, it started to rain. But, it was HOT rain. We started to make our way to Hartley's Crocodile Adventures. But it wouldn't be a visit to Cairns if we didn't stop at the beach! We stopped at a tiny little cove and hopped into the water, which we weren't supposed to do...

At Hartley's Crocodile Adventures, we got to watch some enormous "saltwater" crocs being fed. But saltwater crocs are incorrectly named. While freshwater crocodiles, or "freshies", can only swim in fresh water, saltwater crocs can swim in both saltwater AND freshwater, making them much more dangerous. (It also doesn't help that they're a lot more aggressive!) We also got up lose and personal with a cane toad, a python, and, best of all, a koala! As it turns out, Queensland is the only state in which petting of koalas is allowed, so we were very lucky we were in this state.

We were very happy after a long day to drive to our hotel and go straight to bed. Goodnight!

Greetings from the Outback!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

I'm in the middle of nowhere. As far as I can see, all there is to see is red dirt, yellow grass, olive green trees, and grey skies. Today we flew out to Alice Springs. Our arrival would have been cheerful if a) it hadn't been raining; and b) I hadn't realized that I left my wallet at our hotel in Melbourne. But, we were on a tight schedule, so it was into the bus and go! Or it would have been, if the stagecoach could get through the mud. We had to call a four wheel drive bus to come and take us to Ooraminna Bush Camp. Once we got there, we plunged into some hands-on activities. We baked bread (special bush bread called damper), cracked whips (Indiana Jones still takes the cake, especially from me!), and rolled out our swags to enjoy a night under the stars. Hah! What stars? The night was so foggy we couldn't even see the moon! But we did enjoy a long talk by the campfire from a professional astronomer (my brother Gabriel would be jealous). After a long day, we were very happy to snuggle up in our comfty swags and sleep.

See you at Uluru!


We woke up in our swags. From there, it was on to the bus for a six hour drive to Uluru. We ended up behind schedule due to the muddy roads, but we made good time and arrived at Uluru- aka Ayers Rock- only a little bit late. The very nice people at Anangu Waii stayed late to let us finish our activities. First, we learned how to make kiti (bush glue) from Cassidy Uluru, an Aboriginal. He also talked a little bit about the tools used by men, women, and children in the Aboriginal Culture. The Aborigine used the same techniques for over 20,000 years, and only stopped about 50 years ago. After this, we got the chance to make our own "dot" paintings. Cassidy pointed out that it is strange that they are called dot paintings, since the important part of the painting is the symbols, not the surrounding dots. When we were done painting, we drove over to the west side of Uluru (the side you'll see more pictures of) to take some pictures. We were meant to watch the sun set over the huge rock, but you can't really have a sunset with no sun!

We then finally retired to our hotel rooms at the resort. We ate an Aussie style barbeque dinner and enjoyed some Australian music. I cannot wait for tomorrow's camel ride. Good night!

Healesville Sanctuary and Queen Victoria Market

Friday, May 29, 2009

Today we enjoyed “sleeping in” until 7 am. We then boarded our stagecoach for the 1 hour drive to Healesville Sanctuary. At the sanctuary, we got to look at koalas, emus, sugar gliders, a spotted python, and two types of possums. After this, we observed a veterinarian disemboweling a kangaroo. It was disgusting but fascinating. I admired the bravery of the kids who stayed in the room with the vet while the rest of us watched from behind glass (smell-proof glass), but I also admired Mrs. McGuire for knowing to turn away before the intestines came out. Yick! Luckily, lunch was not right after this activity. We had to go to the bird show first. I think that the show was my favorite part of the Sanctuary. I saw several really amazing birds, including a wedgetail eagle, a blackbreasted buzzard, and a kite. They were truly beautiful.

We were very excited to get to spend time at the Queen Victoria Market. Although the market was built in the 19th century, it is anything but old-fashioned. For one thing, the open market is entirely solar-powered. At the Queen Vic, you can buy anything from fresh fruit and veg to boxing kangaroo pens. I enjoyed eating donuts from the world-famous donut truck and buying a couple souvenirs. It was a great way to soak up some Melbourne culture and a great end to our stay in Melbourne. Tomorrow morning we board our flight to Alice Springs! I can't wait! Goodnight!

Otway Fly

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Today, we got up early to get into the stagecoach and make our way along the Great Ocean Road. Why did we need to get on the road at seven am? Because we were traveling to the Otway Fly, a National Park that is home to many unique trees. We got to plant a Mountain Ash tree and a Myrtle Beech tree (in the pouring rain). We then trekked through the rain forest, and got to see the adult versions of the little saplings we had planted. The Mountain Ash grows up to one hundred fifty meters, although none this tall are currently in existence. If one were, it would be taller than the tallest California Redwood (currently 120 meters), making it the tallest tree in the world. The Myrtle Beech tree is a species that has been around 60 million years, and was a food for herbivore dinosaurs. We walked along the treetops on the Skywalk, a pathway that stretches around some of the Park, allowing visitors to gain a different perspective on these huge trees. I interviewed Peter, our guide. I was surprised to learn that the effects of climate change are not felt evenly around Australia. Peter told me that because Victoria is very wet, they are not feeling the effects as much as, say, the Outback.
I really loved being at the Otway Fly. It was really great to see all those trees. The air was very clear from the pure oxygen produced by the trees. It was an entirely different world, and I am glad to know it is being preserved.

Arrival and Moonlit Sanctuary

We first set foot in Australia at about 8 in the morning. From there on it was go-go-go! We got on our stagecoach and took a lovely tour of Melbourne. We saw Cook’s Cottage, the oldest building in all of Australia. We also looked at the Melbourne Train Station, another very old structure. It was a demonstration of Melbourne’s special culture: the train station in 1800s style across the street from Federation Square, the most modern building I’ve ever seen. We also learned a bit about modern Australian culture when we had the chance to sample Australian junk food. By far, Timtams (a chocolate biscuit with fluffy chocolate crème covered in chocolate) won the vote as Australia’s best junk food.
Then it was on to the Moonlit Sanctuary. First we had a quick lunch, then we moved on to the really fun part. Our task was to clean up Rita the wombat’s enclosure. Wombats love to dig holes, so we had to put dirt in all the holes she had dug and level the ground out so that Rita would be able to keep digging. We also planted branches in the enclosure for her to gnaw on. Next we got to feed wallabies. Wallabies look like small kangaroos, but they are much more shy. We then moved on to the squirrel gliders and checked the pouches. None of the gliders had young in their pouches, but it was still a learning experience.
After dinner, our first real meal in Australia, we got to take a Moonlit Tour at Moonlit Sanctuary. We saw nocturnal animals in action, including a koala, some bettongs (small white marsupials), and a tawny frog mouth owl. We learned that over 60% of all of Australia’s mammals are marsupials, and all of Australia’s mammals are nocturnal.
Our first day was a day of education. We learned about subjects on both ends of the spectrum: we got a firsthand look at culture on our tour, and we did a lot of biology at the Moonlit Sanctuary. The amazing thing about our trip is the hands-on education. I had a great time!


Sunday, May 24, 2009

Mr. Shelton asked us to find out about Didgeridoos. After visiting six different websites, I still think that Wikipedia is wonderful. But strangely, Wikipedia didn't tell me anything about the history of this aboriginal wind instrument. I did learn that didgeridoos are traditionally made from eucalyptus wood, but can now be made from modern materials such as PVC piping! To find some history, I looked at a website dedicated to Aboriginal Arts. This website told me that the Didgeridoo has been used by the Aborigine for as long as 40,000 years though the only evidence dates back to only 2000 years. The Aborigine made this instrument out of trees that had already been hollowed out by termites. The site mentions that Djalu Gurruwiwi, a famous didgeridoo player, has said that a properly made didgeridoo has a spirit. However, a didgeridoo with a spirit is hard to find, since most of them that are sold are not indigenously made. I hope that while I am in Australia I will get the chance to hear this magical instrument played.


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Hi, my name is Sophie and I am a seventh grader at Walter Reed Middle School. Next week I am going to go on a trip to Australia! I am very excited to be going on this trip because I will get the chance to see an entirely different world. I have never been out of The US, so this will be especially amazing.

So, a week from next Monday, I will set out with my Technology teacher, Mr. Shelton, and three other girls: Lulu, Elvira, and Laura. We will be in Australia for fourteen days on a breathtaking adventure! If you would like to follow our trip, you can follow me on Twitter; my account is SBridgesDSA. We will also be setting up a YouTube feed and a Picasa album. See you later!

Essential Programs Details

Duration 14 days
When May 25th - June 7th, 2009
Focus Marine Biology
Aboriginal Culture