Date: Sun, 6 Feb 2005 01:30:53 -0800 (PST)
From: Send an Instant Message "Michael Tselman"
Subject: Note 6 (Australia)

Dear friends,

I have been travelling in Australia for 3+ weeks now and tmorrow night I'll be leaving to India. While sightseeing in Australia has been on my agenda, the main purpose of stopping over here has been to see my cousin and her son in Melbourne. I have not seen them for 13 years and was waiting to meet them after all those years. We had a really happy family reunion, but as this would probably interest a much smaller circle than this distribution, I’ll skip the details.

I have to admit, that Australia is the first country where I managed to completely relax and just go with the flow. Maybe it’s the feeling of being at home while visiting my relatives in Melbourne or my friends in Sydney or the warm weather or just the very genuinely relaxed attitude of Australians, but I stopped rushing and got a little bit of calm and rest before jumping into the turbulence of Asian continent.

I like Australia! Unlike many other countries that I have been too, I can actually see myself living in Australia. But it is so far from the rest of the world…

I enjoyed being in both major cities – Melbourne and Sydney, with Melbourne reminding me of Boston, and Sydney of NY if you put them in a much warmer climate.

As one moves up the east coast of Australia it gets warmer and more humid – you get to the tropical regions. Beach culture dominates. Sydney is full of wonderful beaches and I, being very averse to water-sports, started to enjoy swimming, body-surfing on the waves and even decided to take an Open Water Diving course.

And what a better place to take a diving course than on the Great Barrier Reef – the famous coral reef that stretches for thousands of kilometres along the Australian North-East coast. I was a bit apprehensive at first towards diving as I’m not a good swimmer, but decided to face my fears and after passing the swimming test and medical exam decided to go for it completely. There was a good deal offered by one of the major diver training companies, where in 6 days one could get an Advanced Open Water Diving certificate. (that’s a PADI certificate for those who knows). Two days we spent learning theory and practicing in a pool and the next 4 days we spent on a boat diving in various locations on the Great Barrier Reef. We did all kinds of exercises underwater and learned a lot. The more we dived, the more comfortable we became and it was obvious by how little air we used from the tanks by the end of the trip. If at first I was beginning to get low on air after 20 minutes, the same tank easily lasted me for over an hour on the last dives. Just shows how your breathing slows down once you are comfortable and do not think about breathing. We did all kinds of diving – skills (where we had to take off masks, or gear and put that back on, help a friend to breath with auxiliary regulator, do all kinds of emergency drills, etc…), naturalist dives, where we had to identify species underwater, deep dives, night dives, navigation dives. This was very exciting. Getting up at 5:30am and jumping in the water by 6am, was really something we were all looking forward to. The water quickly wakes you up, but it is warm (+28C) and calm in the morning and as you descend, you get surrounded by the magical underwater life with corrals, fishes of all colours and sizes, you see a murray eels and sleeping small reef sharks and sting rays and turtles, and you see them so clearly and right next to you. This is hard to describe – I’m sure that the diving part of my readers understands what I mean – these are the excitements of the first underwater experience.

After diving course, which I did near the city of Cairns, I returned back to Melbourne and besides doing a bit more of a touristy stuff, basically relaxed and spend some more time with my family.

As far as the touristy stuff goes, I saw little penguins getting out of the water and marching on their nightly parade to their holes in the soft sand of the beach. My friend in Sydney took me for some excellent wine tasting through the Hunter Valley – Australia’s primary Shiraz and Chardonay producing region. We tried a lot and left the vineries quite happy, but what I enjoyed the most, was when we were stopping on the road near grapevines and just picking and eating very warm (the sun is strong there), ripe, sweet, juicy grapes which smell of sun and earth and berries and childhood back in Russia in Crimea on the Black Sea.

Of course I had to see a kangaroo. Unfortunately I did not get to see them in the wild but I got to see some in one of the Nature Reserves where they just roam free without any fences to hold them. Rather, they stay there mostly because tourists bring them some food. So I had some kangaroos eating right out of my hands. Koalas are abundant in many areas. They stay motionless on the trees for hours and generally sleep about 20 hours a day eating nothing but eucalyptus leaves which provide them with both food and water.

Distances are great between cities in Australia, as the continent of Australia is slightly larger in size than USA. Luckily, they have a very strong competition in the airfares from the small air companies similar to the JetBlue and SouthWest in USA. That drives airfares down, so that even now, in a summer season you can book a one way ticket on the same day as the flight for under $100US between many cities on the East Coast. This provided me with a true flexibility of travel. You do not have to plan in advance and just buy the tickets whenever you want to fly – like a bus.

Now, a few random points.

1. Asian food is excellent wherever you go in Australia. I probably had the best Thai and the best Vietnamese food I ever tried. It is cheap and it is abundant.

2. I almost managed to get a seat on the stadium to see the final of Australian Open, but the tickets ended just 3 people before me. So I watched Marat Safin win on a big screen in a huge crowd just outside the tennis arena. Surprisingly, even though he was playing an Australian (Layton Hewitt), a lot of Australian girls were cheering for Safin.

3. My vocabulary became polluted by two Australian expressions. One is “mate”, which replaces your US “buddy”, “dude”, etc… and is used absolutely everywhere and towards anyone. The other one is “no worries”, which stands for US “OK”, “no problem”, “fine”, etc… “No worries mate” is something you hear about 50 times a day in all kinds of circumstances.

4. I really feel that I have not provided you with the “Australian experience” as much as I did with the New Zealand. But this is not really an exotic country and so there is less fascination with various new things. This is a large and warm place with some wonderful, easygoing, open and friendly people, very well developed infrastructures, first class cities, fantastic beaches and underwater life, great wines and foods, and more and more and more. Take a month and come to Australia. But you need at least a month if you want to see both coasts.

With this, I say good buy, mates,

India’s next!