Globe Trotter: US#1: Los Angeles and Las Vegas’ giant fantasies

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‘Living in America, at the end of the millenium… you’re what you own’

And what I was owning, fully conscious of my luck of being one of the too-few people on Earth able to move because they longed to, was a cabin-sized suitcase, a small backpack and my passport opened to a border officer. My Mum and brother were on my side. We had left Lyon, France, two days ago, to take a plane to Germany. After our second plane was cancelled, we’ve had to go to Warsaw, Poland, to take the third one, and after hours of flights and hours of queuing up, here we were, eventually.

In Los Angeles, California, United States of America, for the first time in my life.

 

My family had decide months before to go on this trip, the first one we would do during Summer holidays. It was a dream of my brother’s to go to the US and after I studied it for a year already, I thought it was high time for me to see it with my own eyes. After years of watching American movies, having American food and hearing about the ‘American dream’, I finally had the opportunity to go at the source. We would spend two weeks on the West Coast; cross California, Arizona, Utah and Nevada; go to the Grand Canyon, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Francisco or Monument Valley. All those, with a group of fifty other people and a guide, as for the first time ever, we’ve decided to go on an organized trip.

 

We arrived exhausted but delighted to finally be there and eager to learn. From the first few minutes I spent on the American soil, I couldn’t have a more bursting and loud memories. I remember lights, lights everywhere as if life in this town was a constant feast, the highest buildings I’ve ever seen and the largest road. As soon as we’ve gone out of the airport and met the driver who would take us to our hotel, an incident had happen that had make me realize I clearly was not in France anymore. The driver was looking for his car on an endless carpark; at some point, he pushed a button on a remote control, noticed a car whose highlights had light up, and hopefully opened the car’s door before snapping it stressfully and telling us, ‘That is not my car’. He had just make another driver, in a car exactly similar to his, freak out.

 

On the way to our hotel, this adorable former immigrant let my brother play with all possible gadgets in the car – and there were so many – while telling us his story, after I asked him where he was from since he sounded exactly like a friend of mine coming for Romania. He told he himself, Sebi, was Romanian and had come to Los Angeles to become an actor – ‘but I didn’t try hard enough, I only tried six months’. He added, joyfully, that in Los Angeles everything was about money, was fake and was a fantasy, and continued with the stories of the celebs he had seen in bars thanks to his work. It was fantastic to meet such an open-minded and extraverted person at our arrival; this trip has started the right way, and everything I discovered for the two weeks that followed made me realize how impressive a country this multi-faced land is.

 

LOS ANGELES, California

However, we only visited Los Angeles two weeks after our arrival, and after touring four different American states in an exhausting but amazingly rewarding trip. Coming back to Los Angeles was a bit sad, as it meant the end of this beautiful journey; but getting to see this town was like being thrown within a postcard, and seeing with one’s own eyes something one has known for years from photos and reputation. The first glance we took at the letters ‘Hollywood’ on the hill really felt like something; it was as if we’ve entered a story that went well beyond us. It might sound crazy; but getting to see the very place we’ve get glimpses of in movies and books, made me feel extraordinarily grateful.

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We also walked through the moving Walk of Fame, its pink and Bordeaux stars and its multiples shops selling awards ranging from ‘Best musician’ to ‘Best roommate’. We put our hands and feet on to the foot- and fingerprints of so many celebrities, Meryl Streep, Clark Gable, Tim Burton! We were laughing at ourselves, admitting this ambiguity of feeling like we were living something extraordinary, while doing the same thing as million of tourists before us who probably thought, too, ‘My foot is only half of Will Smith’s’, ‘Marilyn Monroe really had long fingers, way longer than mine’

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Eventually, we went to Venice Beach, a beautiful and crazy area that gathers both the worst  and most greasy fast-foods, the most dedicated body-builders of Los Angeles, more souvenirs shops for us to count them all, topless guys playing basketball and whose skills made my outraged brother complain that ‘Players clearly aren’t that good in France!’, and people trying all possible existing sports including swinging in a hoop or dancing with rollerblades.

 

LAS VEGAS, Nevada

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A few days ago, we’ve been to Las Vegas that, as my Mother kept repeating for weeks before, actually is ‘the town of excessiveness’. It’s not even about the gigantic sign ‘Welcome to fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada’ at the entrance. It’s not, either, about the dozens of wedding chapels all over the streets; or about the Stratosphere tower, the highest tower in Las Vegas, on which people can do rides that consist into plunging into the void; or about the people literally flying above one’s head on Fremont Street yodel; or about the fact that they rebuilt an Eiffel Tower, Venice, the Coliseum, an Egyptian Pyramid… and many more, within the town.

IMG_6324.JPGGoing to Las Vegas is like entering a new world, one that never sleeps, a fantasy based on lights and colors and money. We stayed open-mouthed in front of the endless casinos’ flashing machines, occupied by players whom we could see but who could apparently see nothing but the game they were losing their souls or gaining their life with. As we were lucky enough to tour the town by night, we could go in all the town’s most extraordinary hotels. From outside already, they looked fascinating and it was about the one that would be the most incredible sub-real. In two hours of touring the town, we went through many countries and atmospheres without even living Nevada. We saw the Excalibur, my favorite-looking by far, built to look like a Middle-Age castle; the Luxor, with its full-size sphinge and its pyramid whose beam caresses the evening’s Vegas; the  Caesar Palace with its marble stairs, Coliseum and Roman statues; the Bellagio, with its hundreds of flowers building patterns within the hall; the Venetian, that reproduced Venise’s canals and where it is possible to do gondola rides. Gondola rides, in a hotel! And what impressed with the most, is that not only did they dig canals in their hotel, they also did it on the second floor.

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But I think that the one hotel I liked the most was the Paris Las Vegas, that features an Eiffel Tower and a Montgolfière, but also a beautiful casino with the names of the Parisian metro stations. This place was wonderfully poetic, as a midsummer night’s dream, and I loved the fact that this was the idea Americans had of my country.

Nevertheless, I think that the best memories I’ll keep from Las Vegas will be about food, and more specifically, about a very famous restaurant called Umami Burgers. I am not a huge fan of burgers usually, and not eating meat clearly does not help; but we were unanimous: those were the best burgers we’ve ever had. I personally tried the semi-cooked tuna, ginger and wasabi one, and it was amongst the purest and most delicate scents I’ve ever had. So, if you ever go to Las Vegas and have 15€ to spend, do not play them in a Casino, go have a burger at Umami!

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This is the first article of a probably very long series, for me to write about all the marvels I witnessed in the US. At least three other articles are to be expected, on respectively, the Natural wonders (Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Bryce Canyon…); what I discovered of the American culture; and San Francisco! Keep reading 🙂

Globe Trotter: ‘Les Vendanges’, a Costa Rican’s Experience Picking Grapes

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En la vida hay que ser piso’e tierra. I have a number of quotes my mom used to tell me memorized; this is one of the simplest and one of my favorites. In life you have to be “piso de tierra”, which translates to “dirt floor”; in essence, it stresses the importance of a humble life. It means understanding that when stripped of riches, or wealth or power, we are simply beings that come from nature and from dirt, and that we are not superior to any of our fellow humans. It was through this desire to find humility and to challenge myself that I decided to participate in les vendanges, the annual grape harvest in Burgundy, France.

I had heard various things about les vendanges, from both media and people. My initial idea of it was that of a trans-generational activity with people from all ages working in vineyards, singing songs, making jokes and, later, eating, drinking and enjoying their time together. Evidently, I also knew it was hard work; after all it was still an agricultural job. This became more and more clear after I had signed up for it. When I began discussing my plans to participate with friends and acquaintances, many reacted the same way: “It’s really hard work”. All of a sudden, the tone from “great cultural experience” changed to “exhausting labor”. A friend from work even said her 26-year-old husband tried it and gave up after a day of work. The comments made me more apprehensive about participating but encouraged me, given that this only reinforced my original motivation of doing hard work. Thus, the night before my first day, I packed myself some lunch and made sure to have a decent night’s sleep.

The alarm went off at 5:45 in the morning. After making toast and preparing my bag I put on pants on top of my shorts and three layers on my upper body. I left my apartment, heading for the train station through the chilly, empty Dijon streets. The train sped through large fields and little towns as the sun woke, slowly covering all of the green vegetation in my eye reach. At 7h20 we arrived at my destination: Meursault. A small group got down with me and we all found a small bus the managers had sent for us. I immediately noticed that I was the youngest. When we got to the chateau, I found a group of three my age in the corner. Except for them, the managers and myself, I soon realized everyone in the room was an African immigrant, many of them were from The Democratic Republic of the Congo, I learned later. The reason this fact stood out to me was because it implied to me that employers were specifically looking for cheap labor. I briefly spoke to one of the managers who made me sign a few documents and, after having some coffee and biscuits, we headed off to the vineyards in three different trucks. One of the young guys invited me to join their truck, even if we hadn’t yet spoken. Feeling slightly out of place, with everyone knowing where to go, I followed him.

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The Work

Indeed, it was hard work. This was not obvious until later, however. The first day, because I did not know anyone, I put my headphones on and followed the limited instructions I had been given. Crouching, removing leaves to see the bunches of grapes better, cutting them with the pruning shears they had provided and putting them in my bucket. I would continue doing this and empty my bucket periodically when the Porteurs (carriers) came close to me. They had large buckets strapped to their backs and their job was to collect the bunches of grapes from the coupeurs (cutters), like myself, then to go dump them into the trucks. I later calculated that these men- they were exclusively male- were carrying between 30 and 40 kilos back and forth throughout the day; as much as my body hurt later that week, I still cannot imagine taking their position.

In the first three minutes of the job, I cut my finger with the shears. It burnt but was not bleeding too bad, so I decided to ignore it and continue. Other than this, the first two hours rushed by fairly swiftly; they were repetitive but painless, and they had given me plenty of time to listen to a podcast and music. It was surprising to see people stop so soon, but I followed without complaining. The managers arrived, brought out sandwiches, water and wine. I decided not to have the latter on my first day. We soon went back to the vineyards for another two hours. These were slightly more tiring, but still easily bearable. After the 30-minutes lunch break is when my legs and arms began feeling a bit tired, but I persisted as I had in other physical activities during my lifetime. It was in the last 2 hours that the amount of work I had been doing really began weighing on me. My legs felt sore, my lower back had an intense pain and my shoulders felt perpetually uncomfortable. I was very relieved when I heard our bosses yelling from the other side of the field to go back. After going to the chateau and changing, they dropped us off at the train station and I dozed off for the 40-minutes trip.

The following day, I woke up with pain all over my body. It was what I had expected all along, but my mental preparation did not lessen the pain in any way. I repeated my morning routine and savored every minute of the train ride, enjoying the stunning change of color scheme in the French countryside. I forced myself to continue my job despite the aching, and an hour into our arrival at the vineyards I no longer felt pain in a certain spot, just fatigue. By the end of the day, after hours of crouching, squatting, kneeling and sweating, the fatigue was truly getting the best of me. I had heard people often passed out while doing the job, because it’s often the first physical job they do. I thought of how back in Costa Rica I had helped in reforestation projects and a few building tasks, but how nothing compared to this. One of my bosses, knowing my origins, asked if I had ever picked coffee. I thought of how picking coffee was thought of as a very “lower class” job in my country, mainly done by Nicaraguan immigrants. This was an instant reflection of what the culture of the vendanges is slowly changing into. It certainly gave me something to think about while cutting the grapes. I should have at least tried picking coffee once, I kept thinking.

After getting home the second day, I cleaned my room, cooked dinner and then intended to take an hour-long nap at 8pm. My 9pm alarm did not wake me, and I slept 10 hours until 6am, only to wake up feeling even more sore than the previous morning. People had told me, and I knew it, just like with sports the third day was the worst, when you must bear the soreness of both the first and second day. I looked at my hands, scratched from reaching into vines all day, looked at my shoulders, burnt from late August’s sun, and smiled in pain, knowing that this was exactly what I had signed up for. The third day was by far the hardest, my legs hurt every squat and my back stung whenever I bowed down. And then the fourth day, I was ok. It was a very strange feeling where I was exhausted, but it didn’t bother me to continue working. At the end of every day I was ready to stop, hungry thirsty and sleepy, but not sore, not necessarily in pain.

In terms of work, I found precisely what I was looking for. Unfortunately, I had to start the harvest late because of my internship dates and could only do 6 days, yet these were enough to challenge me and satisfy my desire for self-achievement. Beyond that, I was satisfied in a philosophical aspect, as I had been working with nature and, in a way, doing exactly what my body was made to do: gather fruit. As you might expect, though, I doubt I would have been happy continuing for much longer and the experience also helped me appreciate office work and life as a student. That in itself is what made the experience so powerful as well: knowing I didn’t have to do this for the rest of my life and doing it next to people who were not fortunate enough to say the same with certainty. This work showed me what I could do in many ways, but it mainly taught me about what many people have to do; and in doing so it gave me great respect for all that part of the human community that allows the rest of us to have food on our tables at night.

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// 2 tips on picking grapes //

  • Try not to cut any grape in half. The juice will cover your sheers and your hands will become sticky, making it much more uncomfortable to continue the work. The longer you can continue with clean shears the best.
  • When you see several bunches bundled together, you can put your bucket on the bottom, move the leaves with one of your hands, cut with the other and let the fruit fall on its own.

Globe Trotter: Advice From a Traveler Who Lost Her Luggage More Than Once

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‘Ma’am, the plane left five minutes ago. You must go to the counter to know what to do.’

That’s how I learnt I would be stuck in Frankfurt for at least a day, on my way to the United States.

 

Throwback.

 

Last Summer, I went to the United States for the very first time in my life. My family had decide to book an organized trip to make the most out of the ten days we would have there. First there was a flight from Paris to Frankfurt, then from there to Los Angeles – flying with a company which for its own reputation will remain anonymous ( was cheaper). So we got up at 4 am on that Tuesday morning, took a plane from Paris, and arrived in Frankfurt to know that the airport was fully blocked because of a security incident. We were parked for five hours in an airport hall, and our plane took off without even calling out for passengers, leaving many people behind

 

We safely arrived to Los Angeles a day later, after more than ten hours of queuing for tickets in two days. However, the situation was solved quickly enough for us to be able to laugh about it a month after. It also made me think over the hardships that a traveler can meet, even though they remain very light when considered through the realm of the luck we already have to travel, freely and without constraints. I however noticed that in the four long trips I have been lucky enough to experience, only one went perfectly well (with no lost suitcase or blocked airport). Indeed, our suitcase was lost for five days when we went to the Seychelles island, our plane was cancelled when we went to New Zealand, leaving us stuck in Australia, but at least we could do some tourism in Sydney whereas queuing up in Frankfurt’s airport doesn’t offer much of an entertainment. I thus came up with these advice, for people who love to travel as much as I do, and will still love to travel no matter the number of lost suitcases, blocked airports or cancelled planes…

 

  1. Always take the vital minimum in the cabin with you

The day after we were told we couldn’t take the right plane to Los Angeles, all people stuck in Frankfurt were divided between a handful of different planes to finally reach the US. Some of them went through Manchester, Paris, or even – as was our case – Warsaw. At all moments of the process, we were told our suitcases would leave in exactly the same plane as the passenger and that we would get them back as soon as we’d arrive in Los Angeles. That sounded too good to be true; to me, that was impossible; either the suitcases would have left in the plane we should have taken, or they would stay in Frankfurt. Turned out – to my disappointment – that I was right, and all families that had suitcases checked-in didn’t get them back for at least a week.

My family was the only one that had decide to keep everything with us in the cabin – which means we didn’t have much, as the weight and size are limited, but as least we had some. We were able to share some first-necessity goods with the others; toothpaste, tampons, medicines… From now on, we’ll always travel with at least some clothes and necessary items in the cabin with us!

  1. Find other travelers

As soon as we learnt our plane had taken off without us, my family and I started running to The Company’s counter to see what to do. After a long race through Frankfurt still partially blocked airport, we found the place – wasn’t that difficult, there already were 200 people queuing up. We would spend six hours in front of this counter; the company hadn’t brought enough people to help. Finally, it turned out the counter could not give new plane tickets but only an accommodation for the night.

Nevertheless, after asking all people we could see, we managed to find other travelers who should also have been in the plane to Los Angeles. We gathered altogether and spent those six hours talking, getting to know each other, the situation making us closer than we would have been without this. We called ourselves the Frankfurt’s Shipwrecked Squad and stayed together the whole time. The next day, one of the Squad figured out which line to choose, so that we could leave Frankfurt. When we eventually arrived to the United States, our trip was even better, as all Frankfurt’s Castaways felt like a large group of friends that had gone through an adventure together.

 

  1. Carefully divide your belongings in case you lose a suitcase

Four years ago, my parents decided to take my brother and I on a trip to an earthly paradise, the Seychelles Islands, where they’ve had their honeymoon. As soon as we arrived, after a long flight that left me delighted – I had just discover we were given food and could watch movies in a plane, which made my 13-years-old-self overjoyed -, I was caught by the Seychelles’ unique atmosphere. The air was so hot I could literally feel it, there were palm trees everywhere and the airport looked like kind of an exotic treehouse. However, nothing perfect is made to last; after two long hours of waiting for our suitcases under the warmth, we found out one of them hadn’t arrived. We were told it had most probably been put into another plane, which means that by the time it would take to find out where it was and to bring it back, we would have to wait at least three days. It finally arrived five days later.

It eventually turned out that we’d been lucky enough to lose the least useful suitcase, but half of our clothes, swimsuits, solar creams and those highly necessary items had been left out. If you have two suitcases,divide everything between them – clothes, pads, everything. We never know.

 

  1. Always keep a small backpack with you during the flight

When one decides to keep all their belonging in the cabin, one ends up with a ten kilos-luggage to carry by hand and to put on the shelf above their seat. Then, one quickly understands that there’s nothing as annoying, in a plane, as someone trying to get their luggage from this shelf during the flight. As a 1,60m dwarf that does not even weigh 50kg, I could picture what would happen if I tried. I’d have to climb on the next passenger’s seat, which would probably coincide with turbulence ensuring that my suitcase would fall on someone’s head, as would I.

That might have been a bit too dramatic. Nevertheless, I couldn’t have been happier I had chosen to bring a small backpack with me, to put under the seat in front of me. I first thought I couldn’t fit more than a book and a box of tissue, but this small backpack with black and white elephant patterns turned out being more useful than even I could have imagined. It made me think of my roommate – who happens to be the Honduran Keeper! – and never travels without her tiny little backpack, that already went to France, Italy, Spain, Guatemala and so many different countries. That became the ultimate goal for my backpack, too.

 

  1. Take every hardship as an opportunity

In 2015, my family and I went to New Zealand, to follow the steps of the movie The Lord of the Rings. I’ll remember this trip as one of the happiest moments in my life – now that I think about it, most of the ‘happiest moments in my life’ are related to traveling. However, after we arrived in Sydney, we were confronted to an unexpected hardship. There was wind that day; and the company that should have taken us from Australia to New Zealand had its reputation to maintain; it never had any accident, and was determined to not take any risk. Our flight was cancelled and we were stuck for a whole day in Sydney.

We were terribly sad. We had less than ten days to spend in Kiwiland and one of them was being withdrawn from us; moreover, a Lord of the Rings tour was planned for this day and that was what we’ve been the most looking forward to.

But finally, that was literally the best thing that happened to our trip. My Mother and I were able to visit Sydney during a few hours; we went to the Opera – which made me understand I still had to improve my English-speaking skills, as I spent ten minutes asking a stewart for a soup while he was laughing his heart out and probably wondering why this Frenchie was asking for a soap – and saw the Harbour Bridge. Even better; the tour guide accepted to work on Christmas day, two days later, for us to still be able to do this Lord of the Rings Tour, and we spent an unbelievably awesome couple of hours with him. Bob turned out to be the best guide we could have had and made us feel like we were involved in the movie. Without our flight being cancelled, and without the Kiwis being amongst the most pragmatic, helpful and generous people I’ve ever met, that would have never been possible.

 

Finally, all those advice can be summed up into one: always believe that things happen for a reason, and that we can make the best out of anything. If our flight to New Zealand hadn’t been cancelled, we wouldn’t have seen Sydney and meet Bob the Awesome Tour Guide. If Frankfurt’s airport and That Company’s jobs hadn’t been awfully done, such a solidarity would have never been triggered between Frankfurt’s Castaways, and so one. Keep smiling, and keep traveling!

 

 

Australia’s Home Trotter: 4 Man-Made Wonders of Australia

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Following one of my previous articles featuring some natural wonders found throughout South Australia, I began thinking on the well-known landmarks found all throughout Australia. The infamous Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Great Ocean Road, and the historically rich Port Arthur. Now I’ve written a fair few articles showcasing some of the finest things, I believe, Australia has to offer, so why stop there? I’ll just keep going and do my best to get as many people excited about my country as I am!
So here it is, my top 4 list of iconic Australian, man-made, landmarks. Enjoy!

1. Sydney Opera House, Sydney.
Sydney Opera House 1The Sydney Opera House, partnered with the Sydney Harbour Bridge, is possibly Australia’s most recognizable landmarks. It is easily one of Sydney’s most popular tourist destinations as a multi-venue performing arts centre that is one of the most famous and distinctive buildings of the 20th century. Designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon, his now world-famous design was the winner of an international competition and was formally opened to the public on the 20th of October, 1973. Prior to the Sydney Opera House design, Utzon had won 18 competitions but never seen any of his designs constructed, making the Opera House his first. The design was praised throughout the world, with the Assessors Report of January 1957, stating:
‘The drawings submitted for this scheme are simple to the point of being diagrammatic. Nevertheless, as we have returned again and again to the study of these drawings, we are convinced that they present a concept of an Opera House which is capable of becoming one of the great buildings of the world.’
Its fusion of ancient and modernist influences resulted in its the worldwide appreciation, with having “changed the image of an entire country,” according to U.S. architect, Frank Gehry.
Following the beginning of its construction on the 2nd of March, 1959, the Opera House cost about $102 million to construct and was about 10 years late in terms of its completion. Today, the Opera House hosts 40 shows a week and is home to the Australian Chamberlain Orchestra, Bangarra Dance Theatre, Bell Shakespeare, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Opera Australia, the Sydney Theatre Company, and The Australian Ballet. If you’re ever in the Sydney area, the Opera House, as well as the many shows it puts on, is definitely worth a visit (or maybe even two!).

2. Sydney Harbour Bridge, Sydney.
Sydney Harbour Bridge 2 - Construction.jpgThe Sydney Harbour bridge is, as mentioned before, another one of Sydney’s most iconic landmarks. Construction of the bridge officially began on 28 July 1923, when an official ceremony was carried out to mark the “turning of the first sod”. However, the building of the bridge itself only commenced in 1924. The building of the monument took eight years by 1,400 men and cost about 6.25 million Australian pounds (which in modern terms is approximately $13.5 million AUD), with about six million hand driven rivets and 53,000 tonnes of steel being used in the structure. The construction of the bridge also claimed the lives of 16 men, with only 2 of the 16 having fallen to their deaths – for that time, that’s pretty amazing.
The formal opening ceremony was conducted on Saturday, 19 March 1932 and, fun fact, the ribbon signifying the bridge’s opening had to be cut twice. Just as the Premier of New South Wales (the state in which Sydney is the capital city) was about to cut the ribbon, a man in a military uniform, named Francis de Groot, rode up on a horse and cut the ribbon with a sword – the man was arrested straight after. The ribbon was re-tied and the Premier finally got to the cut the ribbon and officially open the Sydney Harbour Bridge to the public. The bridge is also known as the “Iron Lung” as it kept many workers employed during the Great Depression, greatly assisting with continued prosperity of the Australian people during trying times; the bridge is largely considered a triumph over the Depression era in Australia.
Nowadays, the bridge is the world’s fourth-longest spanning-arch bridge and which celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2007. The bridge also features the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb, a walk up the southern side of the bridge, which is a popular tourist attraction that gives people an incredible view of the harbour and the city. The Sydney Harbour Bridge is also the centrepiece of the fantastical New Year’s Eve celebrations.

3. Port Arthur, Tasmania.
Port Arthur 1.jpgNamed after George Arthur, the Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemen’s Land (now known as Tasmania), Port Arthur is located approximately 97 kilometers south-east of Hobart, the capital city of Tasmania, on the Tasman Peninsula. While the settlement began as a timber station in 1830, it is best known for being a renowned penal colony. From 1833 until 1853, it was the destination for some of the roughest and most violent of convicted British criminals, those who were secondary offenders having re-offended after their arrival in Australia. The most troublesome of convicts from other convict stations were also sent there in order to bring these individuals under control. Port Arthur operated as a prison up until 1877, when it was put up for auction. Much of the land was destroyed in fear that it would remind people of the darker times in which the area was one of the harshest of all the penal colonies in Australia.
Thankfully, in 1979, funding was received to preserve the site as a tourist destination, due to its historical significance the critical role it played throughout the development of early Australia. Now, Port Arthur is a World Heritage Listed Historic Site with more than 30 buildings, ruins and restored period homes set in 40 hectares of land. People are also able to take a cruise to the Isle of the Dead, join a guided tour of Port Arthur’s island cemetery, or even take a tour of Point Puer Boys Prison, which was the first reformatory in the British Empire that was built for housing young male convicts. People can also spend the night to fully experience all that Port Arthur and the surrounding environment has to offer. With it being such a rich piece of Australia’s history, as well as being a World Heritage listed site, why wouldn’t you go visit and experience a piece of history frozen in time?

4. Great Ocean Road, Victoria.
Great Ocean Road 2 - Memorial Arch.jpgThe Great Ocean Road is an Australian National Heritage listed 243-kilometre stretch of road along the south-eastern coast of Australia. It stretches between the Victorian cities of Torquay and Allansford and is the largest war memorial in the world, dedicated to the memory of those lost from the ranks of the First Australian Imperial Force (AIF). It was planned at the end of World War I, as, by the time of World War I, the rugged south-west coast of Victoria was accessible only by sea or rough bush track. Construction on the road began on 19 September 1919 and was built by approximately 3,000 returned servicemen as a war memorial for their fellow servicemen who had perished in WWI. The construction was conducted by hand with explosives, pick and shovel, wheelbarrows, and some small machinery used to clear areas of land. This work was perilous at times, with several workers killed on the job. The road was completed in 1932, with it being claimed to be “one of the world’s great scenic roads” by the Tourist Development Authority in 1962. In 2011 the road was added to the Australian National Heritage List.
Today, the Great Ocean Road hosts the Great Ocean Road Marathon, a 45 km marathon which began in 2005, and the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, 6.3 km cycling race that was first held in 2015. Another cycling event, the Amy’s Gran Fondo cycling event, is also held along the road and is held in September. With such an incredible journey through some of the most beautiful landscape in Australia (and indeed the world), featuring a variety of natural landmarks (like the 12 Apostles and Bay of Islands), as well as stunning beaches, great dining places, national parks, and hiking and walking trails, a road trip on the Great Ocean Road is an absolute must.

Clearly, I’m more than a little passionate about what my country has to offer tourism-wise. Visiting these places won’t only make you a grade-A tourist, but it will also allow you to experience little pieces of Australia’s history, from its beginning as a penal colony, all the way to its influential roles in the wars of modern times. If you ever have a chance to visit any one of these landmarks (or all of them!) do not hesitate. I doubt that you’ll be disappointed!

If you’re curious about any of the places I’ve mentioned here and would be interested in learning more, these links would be helpful places to start looking!
https://www.sydneyoperahouse.com/our-story.html
https://www.sydney.com.au/bridge.htm
https://www.travellingking.com/fast-facts-sydney-harbour-bridge/
https://www.discovertasmania.com.au/attraction/portarthurhistoricsite
https://www.australia.com/en/places/melbourne-and-surrounds/guide-to-the-great-ocean-road.html
https://www.visitmelbourne.com/Regions/Great-Ocean-Road

Australia’s Home Trotter: The World’s Happiest Marsupial (and Friends)

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Now when I mention ‘Australian animals’ you’re probably thinking of the most horrific, most deadly animals that we, in Australia, are so lucky to call our own. Spiders, snakes, crocodiles and sharks will probably come to your mind. If not, then you’re thinking about the Aussie icons, the koala, the kangaroo, maybe the emu. But I can wager a guess that most people outside of Australia haven’t heard of some of our cutest critters. So that’s what you’re to read about today: Australia’s cutest animals that you probably haven’t heard of, including the world’s happiest marsupial. After everything that’s happening in the world currently, I feel like we could all do with a moment filled with fluffy cuteness (well, I could, anyway). So, read away and discover more about some of Australia’s most adorable furry friends…

The Quokka

Ah, the quokka. The world’s happiest (and quite possibly cutest) marsupial. These little guys are the epitome of happiness. They’re some of the friendliest, non-threatening Australian animals, with many wild quokkas happy to munch on their lunch surrounded by humans. They’re so friendly, they’ll even take a selfie with you. Yep. You read that right. Wild animals who will take selfies with you. If you don’t believe me, feast your eyes on these adorable pictures (and no, these haven’t been photoshopped).

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Quokkas are a small type of wallaby (imagine a sort of small kangaroo), with greyish brown fur with lighter brown under surfaces. The quokka has a brown face, short rounded ears (which are adorable), black eyes and a black nose. Its feet, paws and short tail are brown. They’re generally found in Limestone heath, woodland, wetlands, and settlement, and in large numbers on Rottnest Island. The animal is the primary source of tourism to the island, with approximately 10,000 to 12,000 animals calling the island home. Quokkas hop along the ground and are, occasionally, known to climb trees as well. If the thought of these ridiculously cute marsupials hopping along the ground or scaling a tree (that’s probably more than ten times its size) with their adorable small paws and feet, doesn’t fill you with joy, I don’t know what will.

And, look, while I don’t suggest, recommend, or condone going out in the bush and looking for a quokka you can take a selfie with (as these animals are wild and shouldn’t really be interacting with humans in this way), they are very, very cute.

 

The Quoll

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While I’m speaking generally here, there are actually four types of quoll found in Australia, these being the northern, spotted-tailed, eastern and western quolls – but if I were to explain them all individually we’d be here all week. So, for now, we’ll just stick to the generic ‘quoll’.

Quolls are (mostly) carnivorous marsupials with a pointed snout, a long tail and brown to black fur spotted with white. Quolls are active creatures with bright eyes, an adorable pink nose (that begs to be ‘booped’) and many sharp teeth (that prevent you from ‘booping’ the nose). Depending on their species and size, quolls are known to eat reptiles and mammals, such as bandicoots, possums, echidnas and rabbits, insects, birds, frogs, lizards, snakes, and fruit.

Despite their dangerous(ly cute) appearance, three quoll species are an endangered species and one is vulnerable in Australia, with all four species having declined radically in numbers as a result of habitat loss or change across Australia, and introduced predators such as foxes and cats. Quolls also have a short lifespan, which may also contribute to their endangered and vulnerable listings. Small quolls live for only about two years, and the larger spotted-tailed quoll only lives for about four to five years. So, once you see a quoll, you probably won’t ever see it again. Sad, but the harsh truth, so enjoy its company while you can.

Similarly to the quokka, I wouldn’t recommend you go taking selfies with these cute little fluffs, mainly because they would most likely attack you and, with teeth like theirs, you’re more than likely going to be left with a nasty bite and some scrapes. So, just don’t do it and stick to taking pictures from afar.

 

The Bilby

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The bilby is possibly one of my favourite of all Australian animals and has been one of my favourites for as long as I can remember. There are two species of bilbies found in Australia, the greater bilby and the lesser bilby. However, due to the belief of the extinction of the lesser bilby in the early 1950s, the greater bilby is the only remaining bilby found in the world. Bilbies used to be found across 70% of Australia. However, now they can only be found in the Tanami Desert of the Northern Territory, the Gibson, Little and Great Sandy Deserts, the Pilbara and Kimberley regions of Western Australia, and the Mitchell Grasslands of southwest Queensland; this accounts for only 15% of Australia’s landmass. This dramatic decline (and continued decline) in bilby numbers has resulted in the species to be labelled as vulnerable, with a population of less than 10,000.

This adorable marsupial has large, long, pinkish coloured ears that are almost hairless. These provide the bilby with great hearing and are believed to help keep the Bilby cool, which helps when you live in a desert. The bilby has incredibly soft, blue-grey fur, with a white belly, and a white-tipped black tail. Clearly, with a face like theirs, it’s easy to see why these soft, fluffy babies have become so beloved by the Australian people. So much so, in fact, Australia has adopted the bilby as the Easter Bilby, instead of the Easter Bunny (though we do talk about both). We love the Easter Bilby so much, we even Easter Bilby chocolate. I’m not kidding. Chocolate bilbies. They’re adorable.

So it’s safe to say that the bilby is easily one of Australia’s most loved, and most adorable animals, and I mean, with a face like that, it’s easy to believe. (They’re just so cute!)

 

The Tree Kangaroo

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Now you’ve heard of the kangaroo… You know, the red (or grey) thing with big feet and a cute little head that hops around like it owns the place (and most likely does). Well, they have cousins. And they might be even cuter than they are. Meet the Tree Kangaroo. Yes, folks, a kangaroo, but in a tree. Imagine the cross of a kangaroo and a lemur. That’s a tree kangaroo. Also, I should probably mention, these guys aren’t only found in Australia like their overhyped (but still very cute) cousins. They can be found, not only in Australia, but also West Papua, and Papua New Guinea, with six of ten species being found in Papua New Guinea. So, while some Australians claim that they’re ours, they’re really only partly ours (just like Russell Crowe!). The two species native to Australia are Bennett’s tree kangaroo and Lumholtz’s tree kangaroo, with both species being found in the rainforests of Queensland.

 

These furry, squishable little creatures aren’t just a pretty cute, squishy face. They actually represent a group of macropods (animals that evolved into the kangaroos and wallabies of today) who, after coming down from tree to live on land, re-ascended into the safety of the trees to become the tree kangaroos that we know, and love, today. They’re a unique, one-of-a-kind animal and I think they’re positively one of the cutest things I’ve seen, over the internet that is. Due to the rarity of these incredible creatures, and their love of heights, they’re very difficult to spot, so difficult that you may not even see them with expert help. So, if you do happen to see one in person (and not just over the internet like me), count yourself lucky. You’re one of the few. Be sure to get photos of these huggable, little cuties (though it may be near impossible to get a selfie with one!)

While I know I’ve only introduced you to four of the many adorable cuties that Australia has to offer, I’ve already rambled enough about these lovable creatures. If you do happen to want to learn more about these animals (and perhaps raise awareness for those which are listed as vulnerable and endangered), you can visit the links below. I hope that these ridiculously cute fluffy babies brightened your day a little and brought some happier news than some of the other stories making headlines around the world at the moment. So remember, if you feel overwhelmed with all the negative, doom-and-gloom stories that are currently flooding the news, there is an adorably sweet and constantly-smiling fluff-ball somewhere in the world, or a fluffy, cuddly tree kangaroo just chilling in a tree. So be like that tree kangaroo and try to relax and focus on all the positive things in life!

 

Discover more about these animals or look at some other cuties in these links below:

https://www.experienceoz.com.au/en/australias-10-cutest-animals

https://www.buzzfeed.com/simoncrerar/cutest-australian-animals-ranked?utm_term=.jk3XKBRay#.be30B31yn

http://wildlife.rottnestisland.com/land/fauna/quokka

http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/factsheet-quolls-australia

https://www.bushheritage.org.au/species/quolls

https://www.bushheritage.org.au/species/bilby

http://members.optusnet.com.au/bilbies/About_Bilbies.htm

https://www.worldwildlife.org/species/tree-kangaroo

http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/topics/wildlife/2013/02/tree-kangaroos-best-photos-ever-taken

 

Honduras: A Norwegian in La Ceiba

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When people ask me what is the thing I like the most about my city, I always say that I love the combination of mountain, river and sea. Let me tell you the story of how these three get along…

 

They have a unique relationship. The river seems to seduce the mountain while she slides dearly through her jungles, giving life to the toucans and macaws. And the mountain, ah! She feels so fortunate to have a lover like the river, who’s so gentle and treats her like a queen.

 

But the river is so fretful and he can’t declare his eternal love to the mountain. That’s why he continues his path until he finds the sea. Unfortunately, the sea lives forever in love with the sky, so much that it imitates its color. The beach is full of rocks that the river gifted to the sea, but the sea orders his waves to march only so that the sky can see them. The foam of the armies that come and go, imitate the clouds of the sky. The sea longs to be the sky, to be one with the sky, to share a romance with the bluish lover from above. However, this love is impossible. Here’s the tragic romance that starts from the mountain and ends with the sea. Nature is a tragic beautiful romance, an eternal paradox that entangles itself in the branches of the jungle, in the cold water of the river that longs for the heat of the sea, in the sea that thinks it touches the sky at the horizon, without knowing the perpetuity of his deception.

 

When people ask me what it is that i like the most about Honduras, I say it’s precisely how out of simplicity there is beauty, art, and love. The small little towns with tall grass. The abundant mountains full of palm trees, monkeys, snakes, waterfalls, and happy people that will work all day to avoid staying in bed. In the coasts, we are blessed by Garifuna communities, full of people that go out to greet the sun when it comes in the morning. They take advantage of the visit to find out what the sea will gift them with. They light us up with their dances, and their percussion sweetens our ears with melodies that seem to enchant our waist so that we move it on the rhythm of the music. They make us happy with their laughs, their expressions and their desire to live.

 

In the west, the Mayan left their mark. Stunning cities, doors to the path, full of history that tells us how we were made out of corn, and how we obeyed the sun when it was time to start building. In the east, we have La Mosquitia, land that is alien to globalization and to the predominant vice of destroying nature. It has its own language as well.

 

I like when people fall in love with my city, as much I am deeply lost in its beauty. A great friend of mine came from Norway to visit me the other day. I decided to give him an exclusive tour, that rarely any kind could give you! And it’s not a way to underestimate guides – or to pump my own self-esteem -,  but if you ever have a friend in any city you want to visit, make sure it’s you friend who tours you around the city. You won’t be a tourist anymore: you will be part of his culture. I for example, knowing that my friend likes nature, fish, and the sea, I designed a quick trip for him to visit a little bit of all this.

 

First, I took him to my uncles and my dad’s farm in Jutiapa, my father’s town. This is my favorite place on earth at night. There is no power, no technology, nothing to distract you from the light that the bugs or the stars give you. To get there, one has to pass a scene of Jurassic Park, up until now, without dinosaurs along the way. Once you get to the heart of the jungle, you will encounter the hot water rivulet. It’s magical, like another world in our world.

 

Then we took him to Nueva Armenia, a Garifuna community under the municipality of Jutiapa. My friend played a world cup match, the most intense one I’ve seen. All the players played their heart out there, and I’m also pretty sure that it was the match with the youngest players in history! After that, I took him to the sea, where the atlantic ocean clears you mind. Where the wind seems to have curative powers because it feel like no problem is too big when it caresses your face. And then, I took him to parts of my city, telling him their history and parts of my story.

 

After the tour, I was really glad to hear that he loved it and that he had spent such a great day. Of course, we had to experience a little of the night life, so I took him to a bar whose popularity has raised a lot recently, called El Jaguar. Here, he gave a try to the most well known shot, a tequila with chilli, know as Semen del Diablo. We were both very tired but lucky; the day had been great, with excellent weather, and at the bar, we even found some of my highschool friends I hadn’t seen for so long.

 

To my surprise, my friend told me my city really reminded him of his hometown. The beauty of the world is that two completely different countries can have more in common than what you think. What would Norway have in common with Honduras? They have different climate, economy, politics, culture,… CLIMATE! And then, he told me that his town was also a coastal town, the food that they eat was similar because they eat fresh seafood whenever they want.

 

Even the most opposite poles have something in common, they attract each other. Let’s not forget that idealists live all around the world. Whether it’s the desert or the north pole, there are always people everywhere with cravings of saving the world. The beauty of our world is that people from opposite countries can become best friends. The beauty is within all that we have in common, and it’s good to remind ourselves there’s always something we share, no matter how different we are to the other.

 

Credits: hondurastravel.com