I am truly in awe of the fact I am on the flight home. The last 24 hours have left me incredibly emotionally drained and also severely dehydrated, due to the fact that the rate and intensity at which my tears have fallen has far exceeded the rate at which I could rehydrate. It’s kind of a grim way to measure, but I think the importance and depth of a relationship can definitely be linked to how many tears you shed. I don’t consider myself an overly emotional person, which means when I cry, shit has gotten real and ladies and gentleman, I can officially say shit has gotten real. I am leaving the life I created for myself, along with the people who filled it with such richness and joy and I feel like if I hadn’t cried, then something would be wrong.

I am finding it extremely hard to unscramble the chaotic state of my brain and put into words the ways in which the past five months have changed my life. The tears that have fallen and the ache I feel in my heart right now just reaffirms what Australia has done for me. I feel so much fuller and so much happier with the memories and experiences I have to bring back with me and I never want to forget this feeling. It so unfortunate that you never really understand how amazing something is until it is gone. I never could have dreamed my time here would have the impact it did on me, and I can’t help but giggle at all the fears I had when I left in July. Five months later, I am a new woman – watch out!

Flying internationally without my dad has the possibility to be one of the most stressful situations ever. Deciding when to get to the airport, trying to find a parking spot, wondering if my bag is too heavy – for some reason all of these situations would have not raised my blood pressure so much if my father had been present. I think having to be completely responsible for everything is what had my blood pressure higher than normal; my dad always has everything under control and my mom can quell any worry with the touch of her hand. The synopsis of the situation? I want my mommy and daddy. I reckon that the ache in my heart will start to subside once we land in LA because then this whole situation will start to seem real, and it will definitely be gone once I am running to jump into my parents’ arms in Indianapolis.

What now? Well, we have 13 hours left until we reach LA. In that time, I will put up with the woman sitting behind me who is tapping her screen, that is located in my headrest, with such vigor I can’t imagine what she is doing; I will see how many movies and seasons of The Big Bang Theory and Modern Family I can get through; and I will see if I can actually sleep at all. And after we land? Deal with my swollen ankles, and then turn on my iPhone.

The pilgrim hats were a success! Not only did everyone look great in them, but everyone actually kept them on the whole time. It might have been due to the fact that the punishment for taking one's hat off early was to chug the remaining gravy, but I think it is because everyone loved them so much. Devin and I were responsible for making the cornbread and dressing and to keep it a positive review, I will say both dishes had their strong points, like neither caught on fire. The cornbread suffered because the ovens here are fan forced, which means things have the potential to cook really fast, so unfortunately the muffins were a tad toasty and dry. However, luck was in our favor because Devin and I were the only ones that actually knew what really good cornbread was supposed to taste like. On the other hand though, the stuffing was actually really good, not that I was really surprised since it was my mom's recipe. But to sum up the evening, it was absolutely perfect. The best part about it was that even though we weren't with our parents or grandparents, it still felt like we were with family. That's how much I love these guys. Every single one of them doesn't even have to try to put a smile on my face and last night I felt like one of the luckiest people alive getting to be surrounded by so much love.

Today Tiffany took me over to Ballarat to explore Sovereign Hill, which is like a version of Connor Prairie. All the employees are dressed up in appropriate 1850s style, sharing the history of the gold mining town. Tiff and I ventured into the depths of a mine, explored all of the shops and buildings, and panned for gold! I have five flakes to prove my success, as they are floating in a little souvenir bottle. Not to toot our horns, but we were sifting gold flakes out of the sand like pros. Afterwards we celebrated our new found wealth by eating at possibly the world's largest pancake eatery. This restaurant was three stories, serving up pancakes of every combination. After an afternoon of panning for gold, pancakes hit the spot perfectly, and so did the ice cream we decided to have after the pancakes. We then laid in the park grass, basking in the sun to let our bellies settle before the car drive home. 

The weather forecast for the next two days actually looks enjoyable, but I'll believe it when I see it. I've been told this is the coolest November Melbourne has had in a while, and I'm like, oh perfect I'm so glad I was here. But tomorrow and Monday it's supposed to be over 90 degrees and sunny, which means I'll be soaking up every bit up sunshine and heat I can into my pores to take back with me. The weather channel is currently saying it's 27 degrees in Bloomington. How crisp. 

We returned to Melbourne last night and stepping off that plane felt so glorious. After 10 days in 90 degree, 75% humidity weather, getting blasted in the face with a wind that carried no trace of precipitation was marvelous. I’m actually excited to dry my hair today after my shower, that’s how bad the humidity was, and also how dramatic I’m choosing to be. 

On the plane last night, I had my first official cry thinking about the people I’m going to be leaving here, and I’m wondering how many more I have left to go through. I have so many thank you letters to write I’m afraid my hand is going to be dealing with some major cramping over these next few days. These next four days are going to be a roller coaster of emotions, that’s for sure, but tomorrow will help pull me out of the spiral of sadness because we are getting to celebrate Thanksgiving! We are introducing our mates properly to the holiday with turkey, cornbread, mashed potatoes, dressing, apple crumple, and roasted vegetables all on the menu. I’m also going to try and find a craft store to help me make little pilgrim hats, but we’ll see if that dream gets to come true. 

Tonight I went out to dinner with Asha and Gabby and even though I spilled hot tea all over my pants, it is now one of my favorite memories from my time here. I seriously could have spent the whole night talking and laughing with them, while simultaneously stuffing my face with an endless amount of Asian noodles. After dinner, I was forced to try two Aussie favorites – Milo and vegemite. Now I hadn’t heard of Milo before tonight, but vegemite was something I had been purposely avoiding my whole time here. I tried Mylo first, which is basically like a chocolate malt milk drink, so for someone who doesn’t like chocolate it was pretty yucky. I felt like I was drinking sand, so after giving it an honest try I gave the rest of the glass to Asha, who gladly took it from my possession to finish it off herself. Next up was the vegemite and I felt my heart rate quicken as Gabby took it out of the pantry. Even as thinly as it was spread, swallowing the one bite I had was horrible. I literally have nothing awful enough to compare the taste to, so just picture eating the saltiest, most disgusting paste you could ever imagine and there you go. I honestly have no idea how people stomach vegemite and enjoy it – just watching Asha finish my piece of toast almost triggered my gag reflex.

It's hard to think that we have less than eight days left here and it's gotten to the point where I don't even know if I can actually grasp that reality. It seems like a daydream that in a little over a week I will slowly slip into my routine that I left at home. I think the most intimidating thing about returning home is I just don't know how it is going to seem. Will I remember everything I went through here, remember how I grew, or remember what I learned to truly appreciate? If I am able to remember and harness everything Australia has shown me and taught me, I think I am going to be a very full, happy person. I know I'll be especially full after I get to dine at everyone Bloomington eatery I have missed so dearly. 

I absolutely love this hostel because I have met so many people, each with their own stories. It's truly amazing what some people's adventures entail and my five month trip seems so short compared to how long some backpackers have been here for. We met two Americans yesterday from North Carolina, and they have been gone for over a year and a half! For the most part, it doesn't seem like people are trying to escape from something back home or be lazy; instead it seems like everyone is just trying to find something more. The two Americans had graduated from UNC, and decided it was time to see different parts of the world, so they went to India for four months before coming to Australia to live in Melbourne. A guy who is from Italy just decided to come to Australia so he could travel as well as improve his English. Another guy who is from the UK decided to come here after graduating from law school because he was unable to find happiness with his dead end job and suburban lifestyle. The "wanting something more" feeling is something Devin and I can both relate to because in the short amount of time we have been here, we feel like we have grown into completely new people. I feel like I view things so differently and with a more open mind, and it's really exciting. In order to grow, I think travelling and experiencing something different or out of your comfort zone is completely necessary. For instance, I now know if left completely on my own, I really would be okay. I would miss everything and everyone yeah, but I think that having that realization for me has been really sobering. While Australia is not too different from America, I think visiting a developing country would really be eye-opening. So who knows, maybe that is my next adventure?
Cairns weather seems to follow this particular pattern – there will be clouds early in the morning that burn off by about 10am, allowing for four to five hours of sunshine, which then gives way to an overcast sky with rain that comes and goes. It’s always humid, my hair is always frizzy and I’ve realized it was quite silly of me to bring my hair dryer and straightener because the last thing this humidity makes me want to do is style my hair. But it is nice experiencing this kind of weather before we head back to winter. My pores will be thoroughly cleansed and I shall be a new woman.

Perhaps the only thing I don’t like about our hostel is how it does not come with air conditioning. It has free WiFi and a pool, which are both things I wouldn’t consider necessary, but no air conditioning, which I consider completely necessary. It is one dollar for three hours, so it’s not awful, but still. With this weather I feel like I need to shower ten times a day and any time I move I can feel a drop of sweat somewhere on my body. So what Devin and I have resorted to is using it when we are getting ready for bed. We will usually be hanging out in our room for a couple hours before we go to sleep, and we wait until we absolutely can’t stand it anymore before we will deposit a dollar into the machine to kick on the air. 

Tonight we attempted to cook our first dinner here at the hostel. We had bought some veggie tofu burgers and some sweet potatoes and we were pretty excited about how good we thought it all would taste. Much to our disappointment, the veggie burgers were probably one of the worst things we have ever tasted. Usually meat substitute stuff tastes pretty good, especially with toppings and condiments, however these burgers prove that there are still meat substitute items that taste like dirt. Even the cheese, mound of onions, and river of ketchup overflowing the bun could not mask the awful taste. But at least the sweet potato fries were the bomb. It’s pretty hard to go wrong with sweet potatoes, and luckily we had made enough to still send ourselves into a food coma without the burgers’ help. 

Devin and I both came to the conclusion after we got here that staying in Cairns for nine days was probably a bit excessive. We thought we could be doing better things with our time, like preparing our stuff to go home or hanging out with our friends. However, we soon realized that we should be taking advantage of the opportunity we were given to just relax in solitude. I mean we literally have nothing planned for the rest of the time we are here, but at least what it is giving us is peace and time to think about wherever our minds choose to wander. It feels like I’m kind of just in a constant meditative state, sharing it with my best friend, and honestly I love it because I know as soon as I get back to Melbourne, it will be all sorts of crazy, and the same goes for when I get home. I quite like this routine I have fallen into of falling asleep by 10pm and waking up around 8am, and my biggest worry being if I put enough sunscreen on my shoulders. 

It being only our second day in Cairns, we wasted no time in exploring the Great Barrier Reef; we booked our tickets yesterday and boarded the ship this morning! With Cairns being a tourist trap, there were a lot of pamphlets to sort through to ensure we were going to get a great experience. It’s a pretty sad reality, but a lot the reef has been destroyed and is now dead because of all the irresponsible tourism that has been happening for years and years. With that said, the best places to go are to the outer ring of reefs because there has been less of a human impact there. So that was the goal: to find a reasonably priced tour group that took us out to places where the reef wasn’t dead. Lucky for us, we did pick a great tour and we had great weather.

One of the things I was most looking forward to was getting a nice tan while snorkeling for 4+ hours today, however Cairns and the surrounding areas have now officially entered jellyfish season, which meant we were required to wear stinger suits if we weren’t wanting to die. While they looked ridiculous – Devin is modeling it nicely for you in the picture – I was really glad I wore it because I saw multiple jellyfish every time I got in the water. They were sneaky too, because they were smaller than my hand but totally clear. I guess Devin saw some ones that actually looked terrifying, but I was freaked out enough by the small ones that I was glad I didn’t see anything scarier. In addition to the jellyfish and the hundreds of fish that I don’t know the names of, I saw a school of flying fish, giant clams, a pod of dolphins playing with one another, and a shark, all for my first time! The shark was totally harmless and was only as long as I am tall, but it was still very thrilling to see because how many other times can you see a shark and not be worried about it eating you?

Even though we had ventured out to the outer rings of the reef, the affects that we have on the reef were still very noticeable. There were heaps of all different kinds of fish, but for the most part they were the only things providing the vast array of colors because most of the coral was dead. I learned that even sunscreen affects the reef and the species that thrive in it. I don’t know how recent tours started doing this, but an additional tax is billed onto each person’s ticket, which is put towards conserving the reef. Long story short, I was reminded of just how delicate Mother Nature is and how we sometimes forget to treat her nicely. So, just make sure you treat her nicely today, for me.

Poor Devin, he got attacked by another bird yesterday while on a run. Now his phobia is legitimate, and anytime anything swoops near him he freaks out. However last night when we saw the fruit bats in the city, he wasn’t the only one freaking out. Wikipedia has now informed me that the average wingspan of a fruit bat is 3.3 feet, so imagine a hundred of those screeching and swooping above you and trying to stay calm. It was f-r-e-a-k-y.

Thanks to our wonderful mate Asha, Devin and I finally ventured out into the Australian countryside. Asha took us back to her home in place called Banella this past weekend where we were able to enjoy the company of family, home cooked meals, sleeping in a caravan, and seeing our first Huntsman spider. While we were told it was still nowhere near the actual Australian outback, we didn’t know the difference so we were pretty stoked about the fact we were finally away from the city and any tourist traps.

On Friday, we ventured out to Mount Buffalo with Asha and her mom, Wendy, as our guides. The trails they took us hiking on were so neat, and truly off the beaten path. With one of the trails, the path took us through a cave that required us to crawl under rocks and down ladders to reach the other side. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared at first, but it helps when the manly man you are with volunteers to go first. So needless to say, after Devin descended down into the depths of the cave unscathed, I happily followed. Because the scenery was so beautiful, we also made sure to take plenty of pictures, landscape as well as ones of each other, to accurately document the day. Examples of the ridiculous photos taken of each other include, but are not limited to, Devin and I reenacting The Lion King scene with Simba and Rafiki as well as the Titanic scene with Jack and Rose and pretending to be koalas in a tree.  All in all, the whole day was full of unique experiences that we are both so thankful to have to take back with us.

Saturday was another action packed day, with us waking up with the screeching cockatoos bright and early at 7:30am. First on our to do list was to attend a festival that was held at the wetlands just outside of Banella. The highlight of the festival I think for both Devin and I was our opportunity to creatively express ourselves through painting some of our own aboriginal art. It was totally free and the woman who was providing the art supplies was absolutely awesome. While some were quick to critique our attempt at creating our aboriginal paintings, she was persistent with her motivation in that “there [was] no wrong way to create art”. It’s funny how quickly I felt like I was back in my elementary school art class, with my earthly, bangle covered art teacher encouraging me to express myself. While I don’t think my piece of artwork would sell for really anything, it was awesome to get caught up in the process of creating something meaningful. After our visit to the wetlands festival, we spent the rest of the afternoon exploring some more of the countryside and squeezing in a catnap or two in between each stop.

By the time we arrived home yesterday, Devin and I were both pretty wiped, so we were looing forward to the day we had before we left for Cairns to relax and spend how we pleased. However before I went off to sleep around 1:30am, I decided to check my email just to double check when exactly our flight was leaving Tuesday. Much to my surprise, our itinerary told me that our flight wasn’t on Tuesday; it was instead Monday afternoon – aka less than 14 hours away. After my mini panic attack and after the initial shock of my complete idiocy wore off, Devin and I adjusted to this new found knowledge that our vacation was actually starting a day earlier than we expected.

So now we are off on our next adventure to Cairns, where we will snorkel the Great Barrier Reef and explore the rainforests for nine days before returning to Melbourne, five days before we head back to the states. Just where has the time gone?

I sold my bike! Oh my goodness, what a relief it is to not have to worry about it anymore. Good ole Calypso (the name Devin and I gave her) was sent off in good hands tonight to another aspiring rider to be. My roommate made a really funny observation in that my bike had always been in our little common room area this whole semester, except if I was out riding obviously, so even on nights where Christine nor I were home, Calypso was still there. Now, on the last night in our rooms at the village, Calypso is gone and it’s strange and a little sad. Yes, leave it to me to get sentimental about a bicycle. Anyway, with my pocket a little heavier I can breathe a sigh of relief in that I don’t have to deal with the packaging and fees that would come with taking Calypso back home with me. And now I can buy all the souvenirs I want to stuff my new suitcase with! Jokes; I’m taking a break right now from packing up my stuff and I can already tell I’ve purchased enough things here to fill my second suitcase full to the brim. I honestly don’t know how I made it here with one suitcase, under the weight restriction. Seriously, that will be something I will always be proud of.

Even though I’m a tad bit nostalgic about Calypso leaving me and only having three weeks left here in Australia, one thing I won’t miss at all is the student village. Even though the mold growing in my bathroom is so much fun to breathe in every morning and the white concrete walls give such a homey feel, I can’t wait to be back in a real house or my sorority house for that matter. Seriously, that place already felt like a castle before I came here, so I can’t imagine how AXiD will seem when I move back in. As I type this in one of the village’s communal kitchens, I can’t help but laugh at the threatening posters that read, “Any dishes, dirty or clean, that are left by the sink will be thrown out immediately” and “Remember, it’s a communal kitchen, so treat it that way”. If only people took them seriously. There have dishes piled by the sink every single day I’ve come in here, and people leave their nasty messes all around the kitchen. It also seems to be that people can’t read expiration dates because a couple weeks ago I threw out a 3-liter container of month old milk from the fridge. Also no joke, multiple times I have opened that fridge and been greeted by flies of various sizes. Lost your appetite yet? The only thing, and I really do mean the only thing that the village provided me were the opportunities to make the friendships that I did; I now know people from all different parts of the world, and it’s really cool. But yes, the student village; how I won’t be sad at all when I turn in my keys tomorrow.

As I sit here typing and admiring my sparkly, freshly manicured nails, I can’t help but smile as I reflect on the weekend. Friday was one of those days where I didn’t really have anything to do, so I got to spend it how I pleased with no rush at all. The second most exciting thing I did that day was buy another suitcase to take home; it’s a deep dark blue with 360 degree rotating wheels in case you are wondering. However despite all that fun picking out a new suitcase, the most exciting thing I did was going out for a belated birthday glass of wine with my roommate. Christine took me to The Lui Bar, which is located on the 55th floor of Melbourne’s tallest building. Even though I stole it from Google, the picture with this post shows the view we had – absolutely stunning. This bar helped remind me how quickly I can adjust to a luxurious lifestyle; a free coat check? Being brought water without even asking? Delicious smelling hand crème for my convenience in the bathroom? A private elevator just for my use? Yes I loved it, which just made returning the village that much more dismal.

I was treated to my first bagel in Australia with Tiffany yesterday morning at a place called Manchester Press. This place was so hipster, it might have made the hipsters in Bloomington look lame in comparison. All of the guys who were waiting outside either had too styled of hair or the “I styled my hair to look like I just rolled out of bed” hairstyle and all of them were of course wearing skinny jeans, and sporting at least a two day scruff, however only some of them were wearing combat boots or high tops. The place was located in the back of an alley, with their hours as well as the waiting list written in chalk on the wall outside. And while the bagelwiches were delicious, Bloomington Bagel Company still has my heart. After stuffing our faces with enough avocado and feta cheese to last a month, we decided to spend the day shopping. While we did shop for clothes and such, we also took a little field trip to the USA Foods Store. The ultimate goal of visiting this place was that we would find grape jelly, but alas they were sold out. What were other popular items at this place? Pickles, Tide detergent, and Pop Tarts. After finding out they were sold out of grape jelly I was pretty upset, but that was before I rounded the corner and saw a ginormous box of Goldfish, which helped ease the pain a little bit. We also bought a box of Jiffy corn muffin mix because Australians simply do not do corn bread. One thing I decided I have to do before I leave is let my under-privileged Aussie friends experience the great, succulent taste of corn bread.

The good times continued into the night because the Frisbee team all got together to have a little reunion night, which of course got a little weird, but was a lot of fun when all was said and done. I had gone into last night thinking it would be the last time I would see some of them, but now I realize I can’t bear to think of that possibility and think I’m just going to spiral down into a state of denial. 

I’ll be honest, up until two hours ago I had not done any studying for my two finals next week. Instead I have been doing fun things like bike riding, sailing, and playing with a puppy.

Yesterday was Melbourne Cup Day, which is recognized as a public holiday here, which meant everyone was out and about. It was perfect weather for it too, sunny and not too hot. Instead of going to see the majestic horses race in a fancy hat, Devin and I opted to go out on a ride. For the first time since I’ve been here I biked to his uncle’s, which allowed me to experience one of the steepest hills I have ever seen in my life. It was one of the hills where if I pedaled any slower, I would just fall backwards. Luckily that didn’t happen, but it made me realize how crazy the topography is here. Devin had told me about it with his rides in the country, but I didn’t quite get the severity of it until yesterday. I mean, we were just casually biking along the river in a neighborhood when Devin told me we were going to cross the bridge, so I needed to shift into a lower gear. I thought he was kidding because it was a little bunny hill up over the bridge, however what I realized probably a couple seconds too late was that he was talking about this massive hill that started after you crossed the bridge. After a hill like that, it’s then I am reminded of how beautiful I sound after exertion.

Continuing on to the next part of our bike ride, Devin took me to a beautiful nature reserve park that’s tucked down in a valley off the highway. We had ridden through most of it and were climbing yet another massive hill to start our journey back when Devin realized he had a puncture in one of his tubes. He then realized he hadn’t brought his bike pump, repair kit, or phone. Back home, this wouldn’t have been an issue though because I could have biked home to get my car that has a bike rack. But we are in Australia, so we realized we had to come up with alternative plan. We spent about 45 minutes arguing about what was the best solution – Devin sitting on my handlebars, Devin sitting on my bike seat while I stood up pedaling in an attempt to get home together – but I was not liking either of those situations, which landed me a “lame” label. Long story short, we both made it back and we both realized that the whole situation was just another reminder of how nice and convenient everything is back home.

To celebrate the second day in a row of beautiful weather, today Tegan took Devin and I out on her family friend’s boat! Oh my goodness, it was literally the perfect temperature, the perfect wind speed, and the perfect non-existent motion sickness level for a boat ride. Devin and I were pretty excited because we finally were able to wear our Sperry’s in the environment they were made for and the sailing trio running the boat also complimented us on them, which made me feel like a rock star. Side note: Sperry’s aren’t sold here so anyone non-American doesn’t always know what to make of them when I wear them, so it was fun to be around people that could appreciate them. In the hour and a half we were out on the water, we were able to enjoy the view of Melbourne’s skyline as well as the coastlines in both directions, and we were also entertained with plenty of boating stories and protocol. Tegan’s boyfriend, Nick, also came along with us and sometime during the evening he mentioned his sister had a new puppy and showed Devin and I a picture of her. Once we got done squealing – yes, we – we asked if we could go see her. The answer was yes and I instantly melted when I saw her. Mia was her name, and she was an adorable 12-week old ball of fur – that’s her in the picture with this post. I dare you to try not to squeal or smile.