Monday, November 26, 2012

EvBetPGH Down Under: Making New Friends

What do you do when you've used up all of your vacation days traveling to all of Canada's provinces? You start using them on actual vacations, to places other human beings may one day want to experience too. Which is how I found myself just about as far away from Pittsburgh as I could possibly get for ten days. Over the past two years, I've had three Boston friends move (independently of each other) to Australia (two in Sydney and one in Melbourne). With a couple extra days off because of Thanksgiving, I was able to take my longest vacation in three years to visit them on the other side of the world. I left Pittsburgh on a Wednesday and got to Sydney on a Friday. I left Sydney two Sundays later and got into Pittsburgh later that night. Time travel. It will screw with your head! 

Peppered in with my Australian adventures over the next month will be new Pittsburgh misadventures as I try and enjoy the holiday season. (Seriously, I could give both Ebenezer Scrooge and the Grinch a run for their moneys.) But, for now, let's cover the most important thing I flew around the globe to do: make friends with so many goats. Wait, what? 

Okay, so maybe I should start at the very beginning and say that I am 100% committed to figuring out a way to one day own a wombat. 

Wombats are ridiculous and cute. They are like overgrown rat-badger hybrids. If you want to see the cutest thing in the world, watch this video. This little guy was one of the first animals we came across at Featherdale Wildlife Park outside of Sydney. PROTIP#1: Featherdale is awesome. Just about everything we did in Sydney was super crazy expensive, but this place was worth the $27AUS I spent to get in for the day. (PROTIP#2: Australia is super crazy expensive; if you go you will spend twice as much as you think you will.)

We moved on from obsessing over the wombat, to obsessing over wallabies! You've already seen the cuteness of these creatures in this post's opening photo. They are like smaller and darker kangaroos. The wallabies were not fully enclosed, so they could jump out and hang out with us humans. One did and we chased it around for a few minutes. We went back to the enclosure to check on the others. That is when I saw something I will never unsee. 

Listen. That is not what I thought the inside of a pouch was going to look like! Aren't they supposed to be lined like a snuggly blanket? That is just gross. What is worse is that I had to watch that baby wallaby plop out of the mess onto the ground. Then it kept sticking its damn head in there! Gahhhh! Nature.

Fortunately, it was time to get up close and personal with a koala, which helped to wash some of the wallaby trauma away. What I learned about koalas: they sleep. A whole lot. Featherdale has so many koalas and I think I saw two of them not snoozing away. Doesn't matter though, because awake or asleep, you can't look at these guys and not just sigh. They are adorable to an unbelievable degree. Sadly, it's against New South Wales law to hold a koala, but we were able to get up close to one for a photo.

I dunno... It kind of looks like Rob was eating some of that eucalyptus too.

PROTIP#3: Kangaroos are down with ice cream cones. We each bought a cone full of green grassy stuff (which you can see scattered all over the ground under this roo, along with his poo), but all the kangaroos wanted to chow on were the cones. 

That is the happiest kangaroo I've ever seen.

Another animal on the Allison wish list: a quokka. A what? A quokka. [Kwah-ka]

Rob with a couple quokkas, shown here for size.

Marlana told me that quokkas pretty much only live on one island in Australia. And that on this island they eat berries that ferment in the sun. And that makes them a little tipsy. And that makes them awesome. Someone please get me a quokka for Christmas. We will make mixed drinks and he will drink them out of a tiny glass and my life with be perfect.

Photo by Marlana. Little bugger only posed when I was in the bathroom.
Hell, why you're out buying me a wombat and a quokka, you might as well add a tasmanian devil to the mix. Not exactly identical to the cartoon character, but this little guy did run around his space like a nutcase. He gets bones and new scents added to his enclosure often, so he can remain just as active as he would in the wild, sniffing and searching all over the damn place. Watching this guy run around in circles was hilarious. And then, kind of like my dad's dog Rocky, he just kind of collapsed and passed out once he had worn himself completely down. 

Some other creatures we came across:


Turd lizards! (That's not really their name. But these things look like crawling turds. That are also lizards. Endless entertainment at Featherdale.)

There was a snake house. It was horrible. (Just cause I hate snakes, not because it was actually bad.)

Dingos! (PROTIP#4: Dingos do not bark. That is one of the main things that set them apart from dogs. So don't bark at one like an idiot for five minutes trying to communicate with it before the stranger nearby reads that important tidbit aloud from the very informative sign.)

The ever-horrifying emu. These things are just weird and do not make me feel like I'm not about to get pecked in the head over and over.

As we were closing out our afternoon at Featherdale, we had time to visit the petting zoo (even though a few of the animals had open enclosures, Featherdale was more zoo-sans petting-like). The petting zoo was basically an American barn. I'm sure they also have these animals in Australian barns. But we didn't come this far away from home to see chickens, pigs, and cows - so we had saved it for last in the event we ran out of time before having to head back to the city. Thank goodness we had time. Otherwise I would've never learned my true calling in life: goat whisperer.

It at started with this first goat, whose neck I scratched, causing him to physically smile.

When I got up to go check out the other animals, he got up and followed me. He wouldn't leave my side. He wasn't biting at me or trying to get in my bag. This goat was legitimately just following me around. As if his accompanying was some sort of sign, every small goat in the barn came up to me at once and started showing me some serious goat attention.

By the end of our time in the barn, I had amassed an army of goats that actually looked sad to see me go. I was a bit sad to leave them behind too. It was kind of awesome to have this little group of goats hanging around me like I was their leader.

So now, I think that brings my personal at-home-in-Pittsburgh zoo to a wombat, a quokka, a tasmanian devil, and four goats. Oh, and my two little black cats. Things will certainly be getting mighty interesting around here if all goes according to plan. 

Featherdale was seriously an awesome experience. If you are ever finding yourself in Sydney, try your best to get there for an afternoon. 

P.S. Oddly enough, as I was sitting down to work on the photos for this post, I was waiting for What Makes Rick Tick on WQED to beging. I was thrilled to be asked to answer a few questions about Rick Sebak for this special celebrating his 25 years making awesome shows about Pittsburgh and a dozen or so other quirky things. The special started out showcasing some of Rick's earlier work before he landed himself back in Pittsburgh (a fellow Bethel Park High School grad he is!). One of the clips they showed was from something he had filmed in Australia and showed kangaroos and a shot of Rick and an emu. (Rick also looked a little suspicious of the emu; they are quite a disconcerting bird!) If you have a chance to catch the What Makes Rick Tick special, enjoy my (not entirely awkward) segment. It was an honor to be included in celebrating him, as he as been such an influence and just all-around terrific Pittsburgh person.

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