Thursday, October 10, 2002

Tasmania

Being the octopophile I am, I subscribe to a mailing list known as the ceph-list. My trip to Tasmania was initiated thus: I e-mailed the ceph-list some time ago with an inquiry into the state of cephalopods in the region immediately surrounding Australia. Specifically, I wanted a destination for my mid-semester holidays. I received a number of helpful replies. (And not so helpful ones, such as the plea from an envious someone in the States, begging me to fly back, pick him up, and take him with me to see exotic cephalopods.) Most exciting were the invitations of a few researchers in Tasmania, suggesting that I might be able to help them with some field work. Too excited for words, I booked my tickets.

Well, the field work didn’t quite happen, but it was just as well, as I had an extremely pleasant, mellow week wandering around Australia’s island state. I did still get to meet these cephalopod researchers, one of whom actually had the privilege of dissecting a giant squid that had washed up recently in Tasmania. They were very friendly, and gave me articles, and took me out on a boat on Hobart’s river while they played around with some underwater cameras. And then, they asked if I was going to be at the conference in Thailand. “What conference in Thailand?” I asked.

Apparently, the international cephalopod conference, which takes place every three years, is occurring in 2003 in Phuket, Thailand. But get the dates: February 17-21st. Are you amazed yet? (For any of my readers who may not be aware, my birthday is February 19th.)

So I’ve decided I want to go to Thailand for my birthday. It is actually a possibility: last year, my friend Morgana got CCS (the College of Creative Studies, at UCSB) to pay for her to go to an infectious disease conference in New England. Admittedly Thailand is a bit further than New England, but I’m fairly sure I can talk CCS into paying for some of it, and for the rest, well, who knows? I can work, I can borrow, I can beg, and I can write proposals.

But I get ahead of myself. To start at the beginning, I got on a plane to Tasmania the day after I turned in four long papers. Needless to say I was a bit giddy. On the plane, I sat next to a very sweet girl from Thailand (note the foreshadowing) who was going to visit her father and sister, who live in Hobart (Tassie’s capital city). When we got off the plane, and she found out that I had no particular plans other than hunting down a bus and then a hostel, she and her sister insisted on driving me to the city, taking me to a backpackers, and giving me their phone number in case I needed anything later. The episode was vaguely reminiscent of “Two Penniless Boys in Bridaban,” a chapter of Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi wherein the author and his friend, as young boys, find themselves entirely provided for by God’s generosity—and sense of humor.

It was the first backpackers I had ever stayed at, and a very pleasant one indeed. The beds seemed to me extraordinarily cheap, at eighteen Aussie dollars a night—especially as I spent a couple of nights as the only one in the room. Full kitchen facilities were available and the company was excellent. I met two American girls on the first day, with whom I wandered around the city for a while, as well as two very sweet Mexican sisters, some amusing Irishmen, one of whom ate boiled potatoes for dinner every single night, and a PhD student from Perth, Western Australia. She was quite a character, extremely fond of zooplankton, and had a really delightful way of talking. She was in Hobart to learn a particular lab technique from the folks at CSIRO, a technique which she described as being “an employable feather in my cap.”

CSIRO is the “Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization,” an Australian research institute with a branch in Hobart. This is the place I ended up visiting in order to meet none other than my Santa Barbara advisor, Armand Kuris, who happened to be in town for a parasitology conference.

Cue It’s a small world after all . . .

One notable quality of Tasmania was the temperature. I hitchhiked up to the top of Mt. Wellington, just outside Hobart, with friends Cara and Yoav, and we were actually snowed on. Pelted, in fact. This was an extremely welcome change from Brisbane, where the temperature is now pushing 40.

Most of the week I spent alone, wandering from place to place in no particular hurry and with no particular plans, taking each day as it came. It was really wonderful. After a few days in Hobart I hopped on a bus up to Launceston, a city in northern Tasmania. There I met more lovely people in a backpackers, including a girl from the Midwest who reminded me shockingly of some of my friends from the States. She wanted someone to share her pizza with, and we chatted all evening.

I hiked a nice park called the Gorge, saw an echidna for the first time, and went to Seahorse World! Seahorse World is a place where seahorses are bred commercially, for the aquarium trade (good! They live much longer than animals caught from the wild, and wild populations no longer suffer from aquarist collection) and for Chinese herbal medicine (not so good. Don’t like killing seahorses).

I saw a weedy sea dragon (like a leafy, but more pigmented and less elaborate) for the first time, as well as tanks and tanks full of more standard species. The number of young being produced was simply mind-boggling. I missed my suitemate Jeanine. She would have loved it.

My flight was out of Hobart, so I had to take a bus back down. I saw Cara and Yoav again, and ended my trip with a climb up a blue gum tree. Yoav happens to be a professional tree climber, in a sense, as he studies, well, trees, and he has all the gear: ropes, harnesses, caribeaners, etc. It was quite rigorous but quite fun.

Yoav, incidentally, is a chap that Cara (who’s from UCSB, and on the program with me) met in her travels. He’s from the States himself, but studying in Hobart. And we found out he is actually featured on the website of my beloved tree octopus--look under “sightings.”

Cue song again . . .

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