An optional 243 kilometre road trip for the mere sake of in actuality was one of my most well-spent days down under. Likened to areas like Big Sur, the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, Australia is a destination in itself. Driven by an adorable Kiwi import named Isaac, our tourbus’ trek from Melbourne down the Great Ocean Road and back again was made that much better due to a constant stream of New Zealander humour and music. Beginning with some truly Outback-looking terrain, quaint towns, and a few dozen kangaroo-crossing signs, the journey had me already entertained before any semblance of an ocean was in sight. An hour or two in, Isaac stopped us for tea-drinking and exploring Bells Beach, the site of one of the longest running surf competitions and the inspiration for the movie Endless Summer. Back in the van for more mileage, we next stopped at a common habitat for koalas and tropical birds. Luckily for us, both kinds of creatures came out of hiding in the branches above us. Next stop, lunch in Lorne, a seaside town with sprawling beaches. A hop, skip, and a jump to the Great Otway National Park, where our group did some rainforest exploring before making the last stretch to the Great Ocean Road’s famous rock formations. First sighting of these beauties was the Twelve (now eight) Apostles. Made of stacked limestone, these gigantic, beautiful, and precarious landmarks endure huge wave after huge wave (which in layman’s terms is why they are basically dropping like fies). Standing in front of these views was surreal after having googled and researched the Great Ocean Road for so long of a time. Back on the road for a short stretch, we next arrived at the Loch Ard Gorge where we got to get a lot lower to the formations and even put our feet in. Exploring nature’s beauty at this site was probablymy highlight for the day. Last stop was London Arch (formerly London Bridge), named for its manmade doppelganger. The tale for how part of this limestone stack fell is an incredible story. The return drive was icing on the cake: quiet and full of picturesque sunset views of the Australian Outback.
In Australia, coffee drinkers use a whole new lingo. Here’s what I’ve gathered so far:
Short Black: Basically known as an espresso shot to the rest of the world, this is what you order when you need a caffeine fix in a pinch and don’t mind your coffee strong and short-lived. It is, after all, called a short black.
Long Black: My go-to drink here, this is the Aussie term for an Americano. Two parts hot water meet one part espresso and you’re good to go.
Flat White: Take your short black and add two parts espresso with steamed milk a.k.a. I will never order this. The closest equivalent in the U.S. would probably be a no foam latte.
For reference, lattes and cappuccinos are the same here. And if you’re truly missing State-side coffee, just ask for milk on the side of your long black. Forget about iced coffee for a while though, unless you want a seemingly coffee-less concoction made with sugar and actual ice cream!
I miss Dunkin’ Donuts.
It’s hard to learn about Australian culture when half the people you meet live everywhere but Sydney. The “backpacker trap” had led my Boston University companions and I to get a round bought by Texans, hang out with in-transit Norwegians and French, surf with some Danes and some Dutch, and make close bonds with those studying in our program. Every activity commenced – be it going out on the town or heading off on a walk through Hyde Park – begins with the all too familiar, “Today…we meet Australians.” Granted, sometimes the goal is met, such as when we learned the surf-side lifestyle from surf instructors in Gerroa, gained Aussie lingo insight from some Sydneysider encounters, and even interacted with friendly, native baristas and bartenders. But living footsteps away from what locals dub the “Backpacker District,” the trap is permanently on our radar and something we will try our darnedest to avoid.
A major “check” for my Australian bucket list, this weekend was spent in Gerroa, NSW learning to surf, or atleast trying. Held two hours south of the city, Surf Camp Australia actually accomplished a couple of firsts for me–first time surfing, first time venturing out of Sydney, and my first truly exhilarating experience abroad thus far. As a mediocre swimmer and an irrationally large fearer of sharks, surfing may not be the most sustainable hobby, but trying my hand at it gave me a lot more respect for the sport and also let me tap into the surfer lifestyle I’ve always secretly envied.
From Friday to Sunday, myself and 60 other “shark biscuits” (surf novices) lived in beach bungalows, ate barbie-style, and rose with the sun to take advantage of morning’s ideal surfing conditions. Professional instructors combined skill practice on sand with almost six hours of water-time to have each and every newbie stand on his or her surfboard atleast once. I had never thought of it before, but besides being a literally physical sport, surfing is also scientifically physical. Straying from the media-constructed stereotypes of surf culture and its beach bum reputation, the camp’s instructors taught not only necessary skills but also surf etiquette and the science behind catching waves. From rip tides and weather conditions to gravity and velocity, lesson topics provided us “kooks” (…true surfers love coining terms for beginners) with a shockingly cohesive grasp on the sport.
Nosedives and wipeouts were a commonality for all of us learners during the course of the weekend. Good thing the surf instructors were so mediocre looking (ahem…). Our embarrassing mistakes were of course hilarious for the ridiculously attractive staff and pretty startling for those of us spending much of the time under water. Yet by the end of my time at camp, huge waves became the best waves and tricks of the trade helped me appreciate the possibilities of the ocean for once.
The best part is that after two days of being battered by waves and toting 7-foot boards to and from the beach, I’m feeling not a single pain in my body, just as long as I don’t use my arms, back, core, or legs for well…anything at all.
For a city that speaks English, likes McDonald’s, and plays Journey on weekend nights, Sydney seems pretty similar to the United States at first glance. Take another look and one key value reveals that this city down under boasts a lifestyle completely unique from Western doppelgangers. “No worries” is the particular value and its umbrella effect is a broad one. Essentially take Boston, loosen it up ten notches, slightly slow down the pace, and make winter simply entail temperatures that dip just below 60°F.
Case in point: The scene is a busy Sydney sidewalk, 8:30 a.m., time for work. The same scene will happen in urban settings across the world today, minus a few strategically relaxed Aussie substitutions. Pedestrian collisions are met with a smile, maybe a laugh, and a firing exchange of “no worries” and similar phrases, never with a curse, glare, or even awkwardness.
A botched coffee order warrants nothing but a shake of the hand and a shout of “Aw, she’ll be right” (the saying that basically means “It’s all good”). In fact, in my coffee shop experiences here to date, I have witnessed two such Sydney-dwellers accept and drink their less-than-perfect orders. To imagine this happening anywhere in the Greater Boston area actually pretty laughable.
So here’s to “no worries”–the mantra that caps half off all Aussie sentences, eases day to day interactions, and slowly but surely permeates the vernacular of me and all other wannabe Sydneysiders.