Nine Things You Might Not Know about Kangaroos

Kangaroos just capture the imagination, don’t they? Even after weeks of driving through Australia we never tired of seeing them bouncing along, being all fascinating and kangarooey.

[ptcPhoto filename=”KangBungarra.jpg” title=”Bungarra” caption=”Our first kangaroo sighting – do you see them?” position=”center”]

I may have become a little obsessed with kangaroos while we were in Australia, to the point where the first thing I did when our friend Caroline visited was have her watch a National Geographic documentary on them. If you’re already a kangaroo enthusiast (or if you’re from Australia), these facts might not come as a surprise, but the rest of us could stand to know more about these marvelous marsupials.

1. They’re Australia’s Grazing Animal

Similar to how we have deer or elk roaming about, Australia’s grazing animal is the kangaroo. Rain runoff makes foliage grow on the side of the road, which attracts the animals – especially during spells of dry weather. Therefore they often wander onto roadways where thousands are hit by passing motorists each year.

[ptcPhoto filename=”KangarooSign.jpg” title=”Crossing” caption=”There are around 100 kangaroos per square kilometer in open woodland areas of Australia.” position=”center”]

It didn’t take long after we left Sydney to find kangaroos right off the highway, but unfortunately we found several dead roos before seeing a live one. In order to avoid hitting one on your Australian road trip, try not to drive during “kangaroo hours” – the peak time for crashes is between 5 and 10 pm.

[ptcPhoto filename=”Wallaby2.jpg” title=”Wallaby” caption=”A wallaby on the side of the road.” position=”center”]

2. Female Kangaroos have Three Vaginas

Well, actually, all female marsupials do. The three-vagina system employs only one common connection to the outside which is used to mate, give birth, and evacuate. When a Jill mates with a Jack the sperm travels up one of the two “side vaginas” (via a two-pronged penis, btw), and Joey is borne out of the center.

[ptcPhoto filename=”KangaJoey.jpg” title=”Blue skies” caption=”A joey will stay with its mother for up to a year after leaving the pouch.” position=”center”]

3. Joeys are Born the Size of a Lima Bean

Why have kangaroos evolved this way, you might ask? Essentially, this unique reproductive setup allows female kangaroos to be perpetually pregnant in an environment that can be hostile and unpredictable. A joey weighs about 2 grams at birth and has to climb, hairless and blind, up through the mother’s fur and into the pouch. Once this happens another embryo (that’s been held in limbo in a uterus) can start developing.

[ptcPhoto filename=”KangaMomJoey.jpg” title=”Joey” caption=”A joey will develop in the pouch for around eight months before living outside.” position=”center”]

A Jill can therefore have three joeys at once – one in suspended animation, one developing in the pouch, and one that has left the pouch but is still under her care. Another fun fact: Female kangaroos produce two types of milk – one for the older joey, and one for the lima bean sibling.

4. Wallabies are Kangaroos, but Not the Other Way Around

There are over sixty species of kangaroo, all belonging to the macropod (“great-footed”) family. All of them are endemic to Australia and Papua New Guinea. Most of these photos show Eastern Grey Kangaroos, which are found in southern and eastern Australia.

[ptcPhoto filename=”KangaFunny.jpg” title=”Wallaroo” caption=”Kangaroos can be bred with wallabies to make ‘wallaroos,’ but they are typically born infertile.” position=”center”]

[ptcPhoto filename=”WallabyStare.jpg” title=”Stare” caption=”Wallabies are generally much smaller, and they’re built to have agility in forested areas.” position=”center”]

5. There Used to Be Giant Kangaroos

The Procoptodon were giant kangaroos that grew up to seven feet tall and weighed five hundred pounds. There is evidence they lived as recently as 18,000 years ago.

[ptcPhoto filename=”Wallaby1.jpg” title=”Giant?” caption=”The giant roos may have gone extinct due to climate change.” position=”center”]
[ptcPhoto filename=”KangaSam.jpg” title=”Petting” caption=”Petting normal-sized kangaroos on Phillip Island” position=”center”]

6. Australians Eat Kangaroos

Kangaroo meat was always a protein source for indigenous Australians, and today around 15% of Aussies eat it regularly. The meat section of any Australian supermarket will have a good selection of kangaroo products on offer – burger patties, steaks, kebabs, and so on. We didn’t eat kangaroo while we were there, but have read it’s a tender low-fat alternative to beef. Interestingly, the Australian government only approved kangaroo meat for widespread human consumption in 1993.

[ptcPhoto filename=”KangJerky.jpg” title=”Jerky” caption=”70% of kangaroo meat is exported to European countries.” position=”center”]
[ptcPhoto filename=”KangarooPet.jpg” title=”Kosher” caption=”Kangaroo meat is halal, but not kosher.” position=”center”]

7. The Faster They Go, the More Efficient They Are

While hopping along at the same speed as an elite human marathon runner, a Red Kangaroo uses half the amount of energy. Each of its hops can span 18 feet. This is because elastic tendons in their massive feet and legs work as bands that both spring them forward and store energy for the next bound. They can reach speeds of 40 miles an hour.

[ptcPhoto filename=”KangHop.jpg” title=”Hop” caption=”Kangaroos can’t hop slowly. At speeds under 4 mph, they use all four limbs to get around.” position=”center”]

8. Kangaroos Kick When They Feel Threatened

In a boxing match between two males, it is normally the losing one who kicks first. It’s used as a defense mechanism so that the dominant male can’t land as many punches. So if you’re kicked by a kangaroo on vacation, it’s probably because you got too close and intimidated him.

[ptcPhoto filename=”KangaCloseup.jpg” title=”Kick” caption=”If you’re being attacked by a kangaroo, the best thing to do is act submissive (curl up in a ball) and wait for help.” position=”center”]

9. Kangaroos Never Stop Growing

Although the rate of growth slows considerably after a kangaroo reaches maturity, it will continue growing for its entire life. So if you meet an old guy like this (I call him Beefcakes), chances are he’s pretty old.

[ptcPhoto filename=”KangBeefcakes.jpg” title=”Beefcakes” caption=”Look at those pecs!” position=”center”]

[ptcPhoto filename=”KangarooLook.jpg” title=”End” caption=”So maybe those extinct giant kangaroos weren’t giants after all, but were actually centenarians?” position=”center”]

Snapshot Sunday: Beach Walks with Lanta Dogs

[ptcPhoto filename=”LantaDogs.jpg” title=”Woof” caption=”Volunteering with dogs from Lanta Animal Welfare – Koh Lanta, Krabi – Thailand” position=”center”]

Home to over 60 cats and some 30 dogs, Lanta Animal Welfare in Koh Lanta is the only animal care facility in the region. Over the past decade they have treated and sterilized over 8,000 cats and dogs and have placed animals in forever homes around the globe. We had only planned to volunteer here every few days, but have found ourselves going back daily to walk the dogs and cuddle the kitties.

Stay tuned for a full article on LAW and the great work they do!

Click here to view a larger, detailed image.

Fiji Costs: $133 a Day

This will be a short one! We embraced “island time” for a couple weeks there in Fiji and spent many a day laying out on the beach or by the pool, slathering on sunblock, and sipping Fiji Beer. It was a very budget approach to an island group that offers a wide array of tempting (but expensive) water sports. Fiji might not be the most affordable island getaway, but for a few dollars more you’ll be greeted with warm island songs before sliding into a swinging hammock and enjoying legendary hospitality on one of country’s 333 isle gems.

Just want the numbers? Skip to the bottom.

Predictably, lodging costs will make up the lion’s share of a visit there. We stayed in “affordable” places ($50-$70 USD per night) and just the sleeping part added up to 44% of our daily costs. There are certainly cheaper places on the main island, but why would you travel that far and not go a little further for cleaner, quieter beaches? (Read about our accommodation choices here).

[ptcPhoto filename=”FijiBamboo.jpg” title=”Beach” caption=”The beaches on the mainland don’t have the white sand you see in the brochures.” position=”center”]

Hopping from island to island is relatively easy (hotels can arrange transportation for you), but remember to factor transfer costs in to your budget (we paid around $40 each to reach the Mamanuca Island group). If you’re arranging your own transfers, make sure the boat operator is licensed – saving a few dollars is definitely not worth the risk involved in going out with an unprofessional or inexperienced skipper.

Food might be limited to the menu (and costs) of whichever resort you choose, so it’s worth checking the hotel’s restaurant reviews and proximity to other options when booking. We loaded up on supplies and had some picnics to save money. If you enjoy beach cocktails, don’t forget to stop by the duty free shop before exiting the secure area in the airport – alcohol prices are much better there.

[ptcPhoto filename=”FijiEspresso.jpg” title=”Coffee” caption=”Entertainment: Learning how to make cappuccino in our room at the Hilton.” position=”center”]

One other random thing: Most places will charge an additional 2% fee if you use a credit card, so if you’re comfortable carrying a lot of banknotes (or making frequent trips to the ATM), it’s better to pay in cash.

The daily average cost for our visit was $133 (or $66.50 per person per day).

Here’s a breakdown of all our costs during our stay. This table does not reflect costs to enter the country (we used miles to fly in from New Zealand).

Type of Expense Total Cost
(for 11 days)
Daily Average Notes
Lodging $637.26 $57.93 Our lodging choices ranged in price from $52 USD at the Hilton Fiji (we used points and only paid for an upgrade) to $70 USD for dorm beds at a backpackers resort on Mana Island.
Food $386.76 $35.16 We made our own meals as often as possible (it’s easier if you find a place with a kitchen).
Transportation (within country) $151.20 $13.75 Boats to the Mamanuca Islands average around $40 USD per person.
Entertainment $75.60 $6.87 Our only entertainment cost was the Cast Away tour.
Alcohol $172.17 $15.65 Large bottles of beer cost about $3 USD at the store (more, of course, at the resorts).
Incidentals $39.85 $3.62 Includes the costs for items like sunblock, internet, clothes and donations.
Grand Total* $1,462.84 $132.99 *Total reflects expenses for two people in USD. It does not reflect costs to enter the country (i.e., visas or airfare).

[ptcPhoto filename=”FijiPie.jpg” title=”Pie chart” caption=”” position=”center”]

Some Examples:

Average cost of brunch for two – $15 FJD ($8)
A bottle of sparkling wine to go with your brunch – $26 FJD ($14)
A 4GB data-only SIM card for your phone – $70 FJD ($38)

Spain Costs: $98 a Day

Ah, Spain. When we were there we felt like euros were just seeping out in every direction. Then we went to Australia and realized what an expensive place really is. With some patience and self-control, you can fit quite a lot in to a $100 USD a day budget. Our favorite aspects of Spain – the wine, olives, jamón, and flamenco – don’t have to cost that much at all.

Just want the numbers? Skip to the bottom.

That $100 budget may preclude a some sights, restaurant meals, and all-nighters out at the discotheques, but overall we found it pretty affordable by European standards. As you can see from my handy-dandy pie chart at the bottom of this post, our transportation costs took up an inordinate amount of our daily budget – if we had it to do over again we’d probably spend even less. (Incidentally, we found that renting a car in Europe might not be the best idea…more on that later.)

To save money on food, try sticking with the menú del día (the menu of the day, normally around €10/$14) and tapas. The bread and olives that come with the meal are almost always free in Spain, which is a nice added bonus. Wine and beer aren’t badly priced either – you can buy bottles of good Spanish wine for only €1-2 ($2-3) at the market. With regard to jamón…if you plan to eat as much as we did, you might want to stick to the southern state of Andalusia (it’s much cheaper there!).

[ptcPhoto filename=”BudgetPaella.jpg” title=”Paella” caption=”Paella in Barcelona. If it doesn’t take them at least 30 minutes to make it, you aren’t getting the real thing!” position=”center”]

If you’re into flamenco, there are usually free shows at flamenco bars later in the evenings. You may have to ask your hotel or locals to find out where they are. You can pay €35 ($48) to go to a fully choreographed performance but we were really happy with the free shows.

As far as daytime entertainment goes, Spanish cities are full of stunning architecture, quirky street performers and public art installments – all of which are free to enjoy. Museums do tend to be on the expensive side, so keep an eye out for free days (unfortunately you won’t be the only one, though – the queues on these days are dreadful).

[ptcPhoto filename=”DaliAbeBudget.jpg” title=”Abe” caption=”From the Dali Museum. What do you see?” position=”center”]

In terms of lodging, we were limited to a lot of dorms – one of which was probably the worst we’ve ever stayed in (ask me about Bronchitis Boy sometime). The upside to dorms is that they usually have kitchens so you can forego a few restaurant meals.

Back to transportation costs: For the two of us, renting a car just wasn’t cost effective. I didn’t conduct a thorough cost analysis on car rental until after we’d already rented one, having just assumed that since we found a great deal at only €13 ($19) per day, a car would be a better deal than taking public transportation.

[ptcPhoto filename=”SpainCarBudget.jpg” title=”Car” caption=”Our trusty rental car in Spain.” position=”center”]

The problem with a rental is that while it might seem like a great value compared to the train or bus, you still have to pay for it on the days you aren’t driving it. If you travel really quickly you might find that it’s a better value, except for the fact that fuel is extremely expensive. Plus, parking can cost up to €10 a day in the cities, and Spanish drivers…well, they can be terrifying. For a while there it looked like the cost analysis would be a close call. Besides, we were going to out-of-the-way places that we wouldn’t visit otherwise – there’s an added value, in kind, for the freedom having a vehicle can provide.

[ptcPhoto filename=”CadizBudget.jpg” title=”Side Trip” caption=”A side trip to Cadiz, which may be the oldest European city.” position=”center”]

So how did we do? Based on my research, going to all the major places (cities and sights) via public transport would have cost us around $550 USD. The total cost of the rental (including the daily fee, fuel, parking costs, and tolls) came to $893 USD. This figure even incorporates some offsets that we received by offering rides to other people. Have you heard of blablacar.com? It’s a website where you can pay to carpool, and it’s extremely popular in Spain and Portugal. It’s a good way to save money, meet people, and cut back on your carbon footprint.

[ptcPhoto filename=”SpainBarbie.jpg” title=”Shopping” caption=”Shopping in Granada…Flamenco Barbies.” position=”center”]

A final word: Be careful with money and valuables in Spain, especially in Barcelona. We sat and watched a drunk guy try to unzip someone’s backpack on the metro (we yelled at him and he slinked away). This is also the second time in three trips to Barcelona that Eric’s had his wallet stolen there! Thankfully I carry the cash and passports, so this just cost us a lot of headaches in getting the fraudulent charges reversed and new cards ordered.

The daily average cost for our visit was $98.27 (or $49.14 per person per day).

Here’s a breakdown of all our costs during our stay. This table does not reflect costs to enter the country (we flew into Portugal and drove over).

Type of Expense Total Cost
(for 28 days)
Daily Average Notes
Lodging $768.64 $27.45 Our lodging choices ranged in price from $17 at a dorm in Barcelona to $42 at a hotel in Burgos.
Food $689.40 $24.62 We ate a lot of meals in, although you can find great deals on tapas.
Transportation (within country) $932.21 $33.29 Our rental car was $19 a day.
Entertainment $90.15 $3.22 Includes the Baelo Claudia (Roman ruins), Jerez Alcazar, Mezquita, Alhambra, and Dali Museum.
Alcohol $204.27 $7.30 1 liter bottles of beer usually cost about $1.
Incidentals $66.97 $2.39 Includes the costs for items like sunblock, internet, clothes and donations.
Grand Total* $2,751.64 $98.27 *Total reflects expenses for two people. It does not reflect costs to enter the country (i.e., visas or airfare).

[ptcPhoto filename=”SpainPie.jpg” title=”Pie chart” caption=”” position=”center”]

Some Examples:

Average cost of a sit-down dinner for two – €30 ($41)
Entry ticket for the Alhambra in Granada – €13 ($18)
A metro ride to any station in Barcelona – €1 ($1.40), if you buy a 10-ride pass.
A 1GB SIM card for your phone – €15 ($20)

Snapshot Sunday: Getting Sweet on Malaysian Deserts

[ptcPhoto filename=”ABC.jpg” title=”ABC” caption=”Ais Kacang (ABC) in Georgetown, Penang – Malaysia” position=”center”]

Better known as ABC, ais kacang is a desert commonly served in Brunei, Singapore, and Malaysia. Most versions include shaved ice, red beans, palm seeds, sweet corn, and rose syrup. Ours also had grass jelly (which tasted exactly like root beer flavored gummy spaghetti) and was topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Click here to view a larger, detailed image.