Friday, February 4, 2011

Cave Bacon, Blue Bottles, and Rip Tides

We’ve been so busy since our return from the Blue Mountains that I haven’t had time to write until today. I can’t cover everything we’ve done in the last couple of weeks, but at the very least I’ll explain the title for this post.

Cave Bacon

In his post about the Blue Mountains, Philip mentioned our trip to the fantastic Jenolan Caves. Our guide suggested we compose poetry inspired by our subterranean experience, so I decided to rhapsodize about formations that looked like, you guessed it, juicy strips of bacon.

Here’s “Ode to Cave Bacon”:

Glistening carbonate descending in sheets
If I could munch stone your taste wouldn’t be beat
Your crystalline fat’s taken years to congeal
But with an egg cut from marble you’d make a mighty fine meal

Blue bottles

January 26th was “Australia Day,” akin to America’s 4th of July except for the very big fact that Australia never revolted against Britain to become a republic (Queen Elizabeth is still the country’s sovereign). Instead of independence, the day marks the arrival of the first British fleet in 1788, so Aboriginals understandably refer to it as “Invasion Day” or “Survival Day.” We decided to spend it with our friends Susan and Josh and their adorable baby, Pepper, at Coogee Beach (which is where the three of them are lucky to live and which Philip and I prefer over Bondi). We had a great time hanging out with them and some friends of theirs. The only problem? The day was scorching hot and the ocean oh-so-inviting, but the lifeguards (who wear the cutest red and yellow beanies on their heads) announced that blue bottles were washing in with the tide. Blue bottles are jellyfish that look like, you guessed it, blue bottles. Here’s how a friend of Josh and Susan’s described their sting: “Imagine someone pressing a lit cigarette to your skin—not for seconds or minutes, but for hours.” That gave us pause . . . We noticed, however, that plenty of people continued to swim in the ocean; and Susan said odds were still good we wouldn’t get stung. So we made our way to the water’s edge and, after standing there for about 15 desire-and-dread-filled minutes, I started walking into the sea.  Precisely at that moment, a girl only a few feet in front of me started screaming and crying and ran back onto the beach. Needless to say, our flirtation with the water came to a quick and cowardly end! Fortunately Coogee has a saltwater pool where we could take a quick dip, and we had lots of fun hanging out on shore with Susan, Josh, and Pepper. This is completely random, but I can’t resist sharing one of Susan’s stories (with her permission). Back in December she planned to make Josh homemade chocolate mousse for Chanukah. Unfortunately her mother, who’d been visiting, had used half the cream she’d set aside for the mousse, and Susan didn’t have time to go the store and buy more before Josh came home. What was a nursing mother to do?  Let’s just say the mousse ended up being a true expression of love . . .

Rip Tides

Thwarted by the blue bottles at Coogee, we decided to head to the ocean again a few days later. This time we took a ferry from Circular Quay to Manly Beach, enjoying beautiful harbor views along the way. Excited to spend a day on the sand and in the water, we rented a beach umbrella (keeping in mind that Australia and New Zealand have the highest skin cancer rates in the world) and spread out our towels. But no sooner had Philip waded into the surf than the lifeguards blew their whistles and ordered all swimmers out of the ocean because of dangerous rip tides. Blue bottles may inflict pain, but rip tides kill, so the lifeguards closed the beach. We spent the ensuing hours gazing at the tauntingly beautiful waters, hoping for an “all clear” signal that unfortunately never came. Chagrined, we went home thinking we’d never get to swim in the ocean at a Sydney beach.

Following a fascinating few days of studying Aboriginal history and art, both in the classroom and at museums, yesterday we decided to visit Susan, Josh, and Pepper at Coogee Beach one more time. Because we were meeting them for dinner, we didn’t think to bring bathing suits and towels, which we immediately regretted when we arrived at the beach, given that crowds of people were swimming in the apparently blue bottle- and rip tide- free surf. Once again we were at the beach but unable to go in the water. Here’s the happy ending: Josh offered us his own swimsuits and a couple of towels so we could take an evening dip. Which we did, with gratitude. Thanks, Josh!

Tomorrow morning we leave Sydney for Wollombi (in the Hunter Valley), where we’ll spend six days at an Aboriginal camp learning from Aboriginal instructors. We won’t have access to the internet during our time there, so won’t be posting again for at least a week. In the meantime, everyone, be well!

~Andy

With Susan, Josh, and Pepper at Coogee

With Pepper and Susan

Yes, couldn't get enough of Pepper

Bathers braving the blue bottles at Coogee Beach

Coogee's saltwater pool

View of cliffs at Coogee

Scene at Manly Beach just before swimmers were ordered out of the water

Lifeguard with surfboard

UV-free reading at Manly Beach


Hanging out with our friend John near Oxford Street (which is lined with gay pubs called "hotels," so-called because once upon a time only establishments that provided lodging could serve alcohol in Australia)

Students in front of Finger Wharf in the wonderfully named neighborhood of Woolloomoloo

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