Hopping kangaroos and burgers … a feast for visitors down under

It is 8am Sydney time on 14 February 2012. My flight from Patagonia, Chile touches down in Sydney. This was no smooth landing as the plane almost crash landed, jolting me to a realization that I had reached my dream destination. Feeling the butterflies in my tummy at the fear of the unknown, I tell myself to enjoy each bit of the excitement which suddenly began to overpower me. I finally was where I wanted to be for such a long time …Sydney, my new found freedom away from home.
The flight was the longest journey I have ever taken and I was glad to be on the ground again. Sitting in the middle aisle of a big plane doesn’t help when the only thing on your mind is getting off at your destination. I felt the warmth of the sun as it shone in my face and simultaneously felt the chill of the Sydney morning breeze as I walked through the maze of people and road traffic to find my university shuttle bus.
I remembered how I had dashed across to the empty window seat when the passengers had begun to disembark the plane, hoping to see kangaroos. Suddenly I was thinking kangaroos again, hoping to see a few. Almost 45 minutes later, I could feel my heart pounding in my chest. I could hear it louder than my thoughts as I was now scared at not being able to find my shuttle bus. The airport map in my hand gave away my desperate face. Then, I stopped for a second and quickly remembered my first thought as I was again looking out for kangaroos more than the bus. “Don’t be silly Danni’’ I reminded myself, “this is an airport, of course there are no kangaroos around, plus the barriers have kept these hopping icons away”.
Reminding myself that these kangaroos will hop into view when my bus journey begins out of the airport, I focus my energy on finding the bus. With a bit of luck after almost an hour later I found the bus. I greeted the driver and walked towards the bus to begin my journey. He put my bags in the luggage compartment and gave me a small smile as he saw me walking to the wrong side of the bus. Of course, in Chile we drive from the left side of the car, too late for me to realize that in Australia they don’t. I laughed and moved quickly to the other side; I wanted to find the perfect seat for my next journey and had the freedom to do so.
I chose a seat in the middle of the bus as I wanted to see everything, I mean the kangaroos. I reminded myself not to fall off to sleep as I was now in kangaroo territory. My heart danced to a thousand tunes as the bus was put into gear and taxied out west. The driver wanted to chat with me but soon realized that I was not in the mood for small talk.
I kept looking out of the window, feasting on the beauty and greenery of Sydney. I saw horses and big farms, but, no kangaroos. The driver kept looking at me through his driver’s mirror and finally asked me; “Are you okay? You look concerned?” Of course I did. I kept looking around and there were NO kangaroos. I couldn’t see a single one. I was too shy to tell him why I was concerned, so I played along and acted like nothing happened.
It was a long drive. During the second half of that journey, the jet lag began to hit me, but we soon reached my university campus. I was again excited about my new beginnings. The driver took me to the main office where two girls were waiting for me. They showed me my new home and I was introduced to my new housemates.
My first impression was that of an empty and grey room but I reminded myself that this wasn’t something that I couldn’t fix. “Once I get my stuff set, I will make it home,” I said to myself. I soon ventured out into the expanse of greenery, shrubs and small hills close to my university residence. “This is kangaroo country, so you will spot hundreds of them here,’’ I told myself. As time passed by, I was getting very disappointed about not seeing the animal icon of Australia. It was strange, because people kept telling me you can see them everywhere. “Not true, you can’t.” I said, giving up on finding kangaroos.
A month had passed and I was at a family dinner with my mates when the strangest food was served … two trays of kangaroo burgers were put down before my eyes. “How can I eat this meal, I have not even seen the kangaroos that have fascinated me all my life. How can I bring myself to eating kangaroo meat? Are Australians mad to be serving what they call is the country’s icon?”
I know when you are travelling you are willing to learn new things. That is why you travel in the first place; the excitement of things you never heard of or seen before. However, eating a kangaroo was something I have never even thought of and certainly no one told or warned me about it either. I was supposed to see them on the streets!
One bite. Two bites. Am I actually eating kangaroo? No more for me. I kept thinking about the Australian symbol and why they eat it. It just didn’t make sense to me. However, I’m not going to lie, it was good meat. I was impressed. But, I just couldn’t eat it anymore.
Kangaroo is the national symbol of the land down under. It is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Australia. At least, it was all I had in mind since I first arrived here and well before my journey from Chile began. It is in their national coat of arms! But now, there was a whole meal of kangaroo meat in front of me. I did some research and things started to make sense. The kangaroo population is huge; it is more than 50 million according to the Australian Foreign Affairs and Trade. So if I think about it, of course Australians would want to do something about it, so why not eat them, right? Plus, knowing it is the healthiest red meat is even better.
A few days after my bitter dinner, I had my first date. I was excited and nervous, since I had no idea where I was going. But to my surprise, we went to “Featherdale Wildlife Park”. This has so far been the best day of my life for I finally saw and touched a kangaroo. It wasn’t sitting on my plate but hopping around as I had always imagined!  I remembered this one kangaroo just sitting by himself looking around. He seemed scared while I was trying to get close to him. However, he was just as nervous as I was, since I wanted to touch him and I didn’t want him to pounce on me. After a few seconds, he let me come closer and I patted his neck. I was no longer disappointed. My dream had come true. It took me a while but thanks to that date my dream of seeing a kangaroo came true. Yet, what happened with wild kangaroos? With seeing them hopping around the streets? I still wanted to see that.
As I was walking across my flat to attend classes one normal morning, I saw something move in the nearby bush land. I stopped to look. I was finally seeing my first wild kangaroo. Of course, as a tourist I wanted to take a good look at it. So I walked towards it and 5 other faces began to appear from the grass. It was a family of kangaroos! I even got to see a baby kangaroo in its mother’s pouch. Seconds later, the family of kangaroos was hopping away from me.
No pictures, it’s just a memory.
While walking back, my thoughts were all over the place. I had this bittersweet feeling. Dinner wasn’t that bad, but the experience of seeing a kangaroo family was beyond belief. Touching one was like a dream. I guess you have to try everything in life, but I would rather watch hundreds of kangaroos than have one on my plate.

By Daniela Ruiz

 

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