A trip down under
TASMANIA — I am in Australia to celebrate the end of my bachelor days, having tied the knot early this month. My wife and I chose to spend our honeymoon in the continent down under because the countries in the northern hemisphere are too cold this time of year. And we wanted to be as far away as possible from the blood-curdling events in our country.
Australian seasons are the opposite of what the northern hemisphere experiences. When it’s winter in the United States and Europe, it’s summer in Australia. And when it’s summer in the north, it’s winter in Australia. With temperatures in the 16-27 Celsius range during our visit, the weather was perfect for tourists, especially because there’s sunlight from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Australia is a vast continent with a land area 22 times the size of the Philippines, and almost 80 percent of the land area of the United States. Despite its huge land size, it has a population of only 24.6 million, compared to 103 million in the Philippines, and 325 million in the United States.
The country is experiencing a migration boom: In 2017, it welcomed 245,000 immigrants. One gets the feeling that people from all over the world are migrating to this vast continent in a way that’s similar to the waves of migration that happened in America.
Australia has a “point system” of immigration where a successful applicant has to obtain a “pass mark” based on total points earned for each of several factors, such as age, English proficiency, employment experience and educational qualifications.
Anecdotal tales reveal that many young Filipinos are migrating to Australia by first getting a student visa. After finishing school, they acquire a “temporary graduate visa” which allows them to work anywhere from 18 months to four years. By obtaining legitimate work, they eventually qualify as permanent residents, and thereafter obtain citizenship. Last year, there were close to 500,000 foreign students in Australian colleges.
Our first stop was Sydney, which is as cosmopolitan as any European city but still with plentiful signs of the outback culture that this country is known for. There are beautiful beaches within the city, and lots of birds. While we were at an outdoor café, colorful parrots landed on our table, wanting to get a piece of our pastries.
What marred our stay in Sydney was the food poisoning I suffered. A sudden fever, vomiting and chills one midnight necessitated an emergency trip to the hospital. My stay in the hospital was costly, and it taught me not to scrimp on medical insurance in my future trips.
Our next stop was Melbourne, which surprised me as one of the most racially diverse cities I have visited. The beautiful public parks, wide pedestrian lanes, lovely river promenade, free museums, and free tram ride, justify why the place is considered one of the most livable cities in the world.
Our final stop is the island of Tasmania, which is 80 percent the size of Mindanao but with a population of only 500,000. The island has vineyards, and farms planted to a variety of fruits like apples, strawberries and cherries. Its picturesque mountain and coastal views make it a perfect destination for outdoor activities.
The popular allure of Tasmania, however, has a lot to do with its indigenous animal called the Tasmanian Devil. Contrary to its dog-like depiction in cartoon shows, it is a marsupial that looks like a giant rat in reality. It earned its name because early English colonizers observed that only its glowing red eyes and ears were visible in the dark.
In my travels, I visit the wet markets, try the food in restaurants frequented by locals, and observe the flora and fauna, to get a hold of the hallmarks of the local culture and the land. The zoos and the botanical gardens of Australia provide abundant proof of the remarkable distinctiveness of this continent because its plants and animals are amazingly unique.
Visiting a foreign land equips us with a prism of comparison when we look at our own country. It makes us realize that the natural beauty of our archipelago’s landscapes and seascapes are equally, if not even more, outstanding. If only our leaders provide us with efficient transportation, good roads and clean toilets, it will truly be “more fun in the Philippines.”
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