Heli to Rotto, Biking The Island, Quokkas, The Rottnest Express, A Beach Lunch and A Colombian Dinner

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The truth about my trip to Australia is that, until I boarded the flight over here, I hadn’t really thought about what it was that I expected to get out of the trip. Of course, just coming here was going to be enriching and exciting, but what specific thing did I hope to take away? And then it dawned on me as I studied my itinerary; Australians are daring, they just get up and do things and don’t think twice about it. And so the activities planned for Wednesday (yesterday) would be the perfect opportunity for me to let go of my neurotic New York Woody-Allen-like qualities and become a Paul Hogan, a Steve Irwin, a Priscilla Queen of the Desert. It all began with a helicopter.

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Funny, when I first found out that I’d be riding a helicopter on this trip, my declaration to Craig was, “Oh no, I have to ride a helicopter” and his response was, “What!? That’s so awesome. You get to ride a helicopter!”

Amazing how two people could have such different reactions to the same event. For me, a helicopter is a glass cage that dangles from the sky, leaving you vulnerable and exposed to the world, close to death in a million different ways. But yesterday, as we boarded our helicopter for a trip over to Rottnest Island–one of Perth’s premiere tourist attractions–I took a deep breath and pretended that I was just the sort of person who might enjoy a helicopter ride. Can’t you see how relaxed I am in this picture?

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The amazing part is how simple and smooth it was. It felt like a toy. The blade starting spinning above us and then up we went, like there was nothing to it.

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At first, I just focused on the fact that I wasn’t dead (yet). Then I started to take in the view; it was pretty hard to beat, especially as we approached the island.

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Rottnest Island is a national park with a few hotels on it and lots of trails for biking. When we finally landed (phew) there were three bikes there waiting for us.

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Here’s Cory and Rich parking their bikes so we can get a little coffee before starting our day.

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Coffee consumed, we were off. The island is incredibly tranquil and quiet, with very few people going about–so you feel like you’re in your own personal paradise. Here’s a lighthouse we stopped to look at.

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And here’s a walk down to the beach:

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Cory and Rich went for a quick swim and I decided just to stick my feet in the water. Here’s my first time touching the Indian Ocean.

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And here’s Rich all snorkeled up:

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After that, we biked back to the bike rental.

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And on the way saw some of the adorable island creatures, the quokkas, which are like miniature kangaroos.

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When the Dutch arrived at the island hundreds of years ago, they saw the quokkas and thought they were rats, which is why they named the island “Rat’s Nest” or “Rottnest.” There’s some trivia for you.

So back to our theme for this post—my becoming more adventurous in Australia. We’re up to Part Two of that process: The Rottnest Express.

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As you can probably tell by now, I’m not one for roller coasters and so it was with great concern that I heard the captain of this boat say, “Don’t ride if you don’t like roller coasters.” If we were back in America and I’d heard that, I might have opted out; but here in Australia, I was becoming a new man. But I made sure to sit in the back where they promised it would be less bumpy.

Here’s our tour guide preparing us for how fast the boat would go and how sharp the turns would be (gulp):

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And here’s a map of the island showing us the animals we’d see:

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The biggest fuss was about seeing humpback whales. They couldn’t promise that we would, but they’d certainly try. And then we were off.

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The boat, turns out, was just fast, not nauseating at all–even though the captain promised to “drive right into the swells.” We saw New Zealand fur seals and an eagle’s nest (isn’t that nest incredible?):

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We saw dolphins (didn’t get a good picture, though here are people taking pictures):

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And finally, at the end, we saw a humpback whale and its calf. That was pretty exciting.

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So once again, my fears were for naught. Amazing how we can build things up in our head to be terrifying and then when we experience them, they’re hardly as scary as we thought they might be. (Reminds me of the time I saw The Blair Witch Project, but that’s another story.)

What was my reward for facing my fears and growing as a person; becoming more Australian? The most beautiful lunch ever.

As the top of this post shows, a table was set up on the beach and Chef Antony Bearman of the Rottnest Lodge prepared the most perfect lunch using all local seafood. Here he is showing off a crayfish which doesn’t look at all like an American crayfish; more like a lobster (and this one had horns):

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Here it is up close:

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I also ate my first barramundi; here it is in its raw state:

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Chef Bearman put the barramundi in a foil packet with butter, some white wine and herbs (a lot like my friend Emily did here) and packed it up and put it right on the grill.

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He also grilled up scallops and cacciatora sausages:

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Which he topped with an orange saffron reduction:

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After watching the demo, we finally got to sit down at that gorgeous table and eat. First, the scallops and sausage.

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Here they are up close:

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What’s great about this dish is that the fat from the sausage flavors the scallops. It would be really easy to recreate this at home; just slice some cooked chorizo up, brown it in a skillet, then use the fat to cook the scallops. And then hire a chef to make your orange saffron reduction and you’re set.

We were drinking excellent Chardonnay from the Margaret River which, apparently, has been voted some of the best Chardonnay in the world.

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Here, then, is the barramundi served with a little salad and a lemon wedge:

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Oh and here it is with the gorgeous backdrop:

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Here’s Dave, our waiter, pouring Rich some more wine:

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Finally, the crayfish tails served with wontons stuffed with more crayfish and topped with a fish sauce.

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It was pretty much a perfect lunch.

We also saw some birds called pink and grey galahs (paging my birder friend Morgan!):

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At last, it was time to take the ferry back to Perth.

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Here’s the funniest part of the story: the one thing I wasn’t afraid to do all day? Take a ferry back to Perth. That seemed like the simplest, most benign form of travel we’d engage in. Turns out that was the roughest, most nauseating, spirit-crushing experience by far; we were downstairs, by the bathrooms, and that boat was just slamming through the waves. Here’s a picture of the spray blowing past our window:

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Vomit bags were passed out, so this was clearly not the norm. A few people threw up (luckily in the toilets). And somehow I kept my cool which suggests my transformation was complete. I’m officially tougher now that I’m spending time in Australia.

At the end of this long day, I was to be a dinner guest at Abstract Gourmet’s house, along with the rest of the Eat Drink Blog committee. Here’s everyone at the table:

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And some of the terrific Colombian food that Matt made (his wife is from Colombia, which is why Matt started to learn this cuisine):

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That’s ceviche on the left, shrimp in a mayo-based sauce on the right.

I was embarrassed because after my crazy day, I was beyond tired and barely hungry (especially after that ferry ride). But I enjoyed everything that I ate, even if I didn’t finish every plate. After the appetizers, Matt served up Mondongo with pork, pork shoulder and tripe:

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And then Sudado de Res (or Colombian Beef Stew):

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Matt’s wife cooked up arepas:

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And then my head hit the table, I woke up and said, “I’m so sorry, but I think I need to go to sleep!”

Perhaps if I were even more Australian, I would’ve been more peppy and raring to go, but as it was when I returned to my hotel room, my face planted into the bed (well first, I uploaded my podcast, because I didn’t want you guys to be bored today) and then I woke up exactly at 4 AM like I did the day before and tried to fall back asleep. Must be a jet lag thing.

But who rode a helicopter, an adventure boat, and survived the roughest ferry ride ever? Me, here in Australia. Bring on a crocodile, I’m ready to wrestle.

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