For two months, our digital nomad Andrew Evans will be traveling around Australia. His whereabouts are a mystery–we never know exactly where he’s headed, though he sends us a daily photo clue. Once his location has been revealed, he’ll share his travel experiences here on the Intelligent Travel blog. Check back often for his reports.
Attention all schoolteachers! It’s your fault and I blame everything on you.
Instead of merely teaching us things, you caused a mild obsession in at least one young mind that grew into a major obsession when he was much older.
I should never want anything. I should be just overjoyed and content. Thanks to my work, I have already tracked wild tigers in India, dodged black mambas in Botswana, and cuddled baby penguins in Antarctica. But that just wasn’t enough.
There was one more animal I just had to see, out of childish affection, yes, but perhaps also just a touch of adult skepticism. An animal that very few in the world have ever seen. But you teachers said that there was such a thing and I believed you and then chose to do a report on it in the 5th grade.
I was ten years old, it was winter, and for two weeks, all I could do was study the duck-billed platypus.
I wrote four informative half-pages in careful cursive writing, telling you all about this unique Australian monotreme–how it’s a mammal that lays eggs and swims in streams with webbed feet. My sources? National Geographic, of course, followed by the World Book Encyclopedia. I illustrated my report with a colored pencil drawing of an adorable young platypus in a nest and you gave me a two-stroke red pen “A” and thumb-tacked my report on the wall.
A few decades later, life took me to Tasmania where the platypus is abundant. That does not mean they’re easy to see–most Australians have never seen a platypus in the wild. They are extremely shy and elusive, only venturing out when feeding at dusk.
Seeing a platypus was such a priority that I traveled all the way to the self-proclaimed “Platypus Capital of the World” in Latrobe, Tasmania. As I pulled into the town’s main park, hundreds of stylish young people in dresses and suits gathered around; it was as if I was walking a red carpet and they all recognized the importance of my seeing a platypus for the very first time. Only later did I learn that it was the local school’s Leavers’ Night (like prom) and that my starstruck walk through the park had interrupted all the parents taking pictures of their kids. I wondered if their school mascot was a platypus, but am still waiting to find out the answer. (If it’s not, then it should be.)
Anyway, I finally found my platypus! It was in the quiet shade of the Warrawee National Forest, about ten miles away from town. The eucalyptus trees are incredibly high there, small wallabies seem to hide behind each tree, and the creeks and ponds of water shine with a bright amber sparkle. My gracious guide taught me to look for streams of tiny bubbles that would pop up at the surface right near the shadowy banks. Once we found the bubbles, we followed them as they moved along until finally, after about an hour of waiting and watching, I saw a real live, duck-billed platypus burst to the surface.
I stopped breathing for a half-minute. The platypus pretended not to notice me, but after just three mini breaststrokes with his webbed feet he was down underwater again, leaving little hints of bubbles as I chased along the riverbank. There he was–no, over there. Almost as a physical reminder of my own young fascination, a ten-year-old boy from Queensland helped me with his keen eyes as we tracked that platypus. Whenever it surfaced, I bombarded the poor animal with shutter clicks, until he dove back down again. Finally I learned to just watch silently and the platypus became a little more showy.
Ah, what marvelous animals! The platypus is incredibly graceful in the water, just gliding at the surface and munching away (they store the food in cheek pouches until they’re back on land and can actually swallow it). When they surface, the water just pushes right off their back, as if the animal isn’t even wet. I learned that these animals have incredibly dense fur, almost watertight, and that’s how it looked to me beneath the bright ripples of pond water.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
I watched the platypus until dark and was lucky to see a second, younger animal as well. I still can’t believe my luck–even with a guide and in the right place, the platypus can be tough to spot.
That night, I drove the hour back to my hotel with a giant grin on my face, simply beaming. There is such a thing as a platypus, and I saw one, in Tasmania.