Sunday, March 30, 2008

More on "Tassie"

Well, I guess the weather can't always be perfect for me... it was cold and rainy the next day in H9bart, and I just wasn't up to the stress of driving on the left side, and in the rain. I took a day off and just lounged around reading much of the day, tho as it cleared up I did go for a walk back down to the harbor, stopping by at my Irish pub again (strictly for international relations, of course). I also found a movie theater so I saw The Spiderwick Chronicles, paid a fortune for popcorn, and recouped some of it back by sneaking into 10,000 B.C. So now I'm all caught up on my movies.

The next day the weather was better, but still chilly. Autumn is definitely here in Australia. I walked around Battery Point, a nice old section of Hobart with some cute little cottages, tea rooms and shops. Popping into a used book store, I saw one on thylacines, or "Tasmanian tigers" because of the beautiful stripes along their backs. They looked more like dogs, but were actually marsupials which had evolved to fill the same niche. They died out from disease and shooting because they were thought to be killing chickens. The very last one on the planet died in 1936 in a zoo here, ironically the same year it was officially "protected". So there were actually some still alive when Mom & Dad were kids! They are still well-remembered in Tasmania, with a sports team named after them, and, if you look closely, you can even see them on the state license plates.

Anyway I asked the shopkeeper if there were any stuffed ones in a museum in town, and found that sadly, none were saved for that, but he told me there was a small exhibit in the Hobart museum & gallery. (That's right, the city is so small its art gallery and museum are both in the same building.) But it's a nice place to visit, and though the thylacine exhibit was little more than some old film footage, a baby "joey" in formaldehyde and a skeleton, I heard that there are stuffed ones in England. I must visit that when I get back there.

It's a good thing I rested because my last day was long and busy, but good. First I went down to the saturday market, very much like a European weekly market, with lots of interesting crafts and gewgaws to look at. They sell lots of beautiful cutting boards made of Tasmanian wood, but I would have felt like I was adding to the island's deforestation by buying one.

Then I went on an afternoon bus tour that took us to another little animal sanctuary, at which I petted another wallaby and wombat, and this time a koala, and heard a great talk on Tasmanian Devils, with some playful young ones that I almost got to pet, after one fell asleep! (Some day....) The guide's talk was good because he pointed out that the Devils are headed for extinction as they, too are suffering from a contagious disease, and thousands of them are killed along highways each year, and the government, while using them as a national icon and a huge tourist attraction, actually does next to nothing to publicize the plight, even to their own citizens. The average Tasmanian child knows more about dinosaurs and soccer players than they do about their own indigenous fellow animals. And all the sanctuaries I've visited have been struggling on private dontations: the government gives them NO support. The thylacine's demise was a tragic shame and is still painful to contemplate; if the Devils go the same way, knowing what we know now, it will be an unforgivable disgrace. Ok, that's my rant for the day.

Anyway, I also got a beautiful shot of a kookaburra that wasn't even in a cage, but just hanging around in an open pen. And I finally found out what a magpie really looks like: striking black & white specimens, or at least the ones here.

Then the bus took us to the quaint little nearby village of Richmond, where I checked out a miniature model of 1860 Hobart, and some other shops, and had an incredibly delicious vegetable quiche. There was a pretty girl on the tourbus who sat next to me, and it turned out she was visiting from Brisbane and was heading back this eveing on the same flight as mine.

Then I had an hour to kill back at the B&B, with a cup of tea and a quick read about Brisbane while I waited for my shuttle to pick me up. They have a nice system in some cities here, where shuttlebuses will take you directly to & from your hotels for A$12 (about U.S.$11). Not too surpisingly, the Brisbane girl was on the shutte too-- along with Incredibly Annoying Transvestite Cell Phone Guy, who kept calling people during the long bus ride, saying in a loud voice, "Hellew, it's me.... I'm leaving Hobart.... yah, I'm on the bus, heading for the airport now....." Anyway, I thought to myself: now, with MY luck, who am I going to sit next to on the plane: pretty Brisbane girl, or Cell Phone Guy? Neither, it turns out, but the guy was sitting in front of me, so it was close!

But good things come to those who wait, for the Brisbane girl met up with me at the baggage claim and said she was heading past my hotel and would I like to share a taxi? We were also joined by a very cockney young strapper she met on the plane who was also making his way around the world, but doing it the hard way: working as a bricklayer. He said Tasmania was getting too cold, so he decided it was time to move on to warmer places-- which Brisbane definitely is. It was about like flying from Boston to Miami. But more on that in the next installment: Brisbane, the Final Stop in Australia. See you then!

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