* Guest post by Becky Bailey

When I was 16 my mom and I went Down Under, and somehow our travel agent booked us on a “Traditional Aboriginal Hunting and Gathering Tour in Australia”. Before that adventure, we started in Sydney and enjoyed all the shopping and tourist attractions. During our second week, we went out to Port Douglas by the Great Barrier Reef to do some scuba diving – or in my mom’s case, helmet diving.

However, that Aboriginal Tour was a doozy.

Aboriginal walk through mangrove forest

Walking through the mangrove forest in bare feet was excruciating.

Traditional Aboriginal Hunting and Gathering Tour in Australia

We were met by these really outdoorsy looking Aboriginal men on the beach, who explained we would be gathering food for our lunch through the mangrove forests. Sounds fun, right?

I knew something was up as soon as they asked for everybody’s shoes.

No options, you had to give them up. The two French women on our tour refused, demanding to hold them the whole time. Big mistake. Then the guides asked for our cameras, with an explanation that unless you had a really secure neck strap, it wasn’t safe. Not suspicious, we handed them over and were each given a spear. A SPEAR!

At this point my mom and I were really wondering what we had gotten ourselves into, but decided to go along with it anyway. (Luckily my stubborn mother kept her camera, chancing it on the tour and getting some great photo evidence.)

Mangrove Swamp

As we began walking in the hot sun through the shallow part of the beach, one of our guides warned it was jellyfish season and to be careful where we stepped. Not too far from the starting point was the entrance to the mangroves.

Once inside this gorgeous flooded forest, the shade felt like heaven. The water was about knee high so we really couldn’t see where we were stepping. All of a sudden, I realized I was literally getting stabbed in the feet by the sharp roots of the mangroves. “Wow, really wish I had my shoes right now”, I thought. Treading a little more lightly, I kept maneuvering my way through the tangled roots while trying not to trip or hit my head.

Hunting for snails in the mud of the mangrove forest – a very humbling experience.

Mud Forest

After about 20 minutes of walking through the water, we came to a drier area of the forest. Now instead of water, we were ankle deep in mud. Okay, glad I don’t have my shoes. Without the coolness of the water, the mangrove forest quickly became a hot mangrove sauna full of mud and bugs.

Suddenly, our guides stopped us and pointed to me. “Come here,” he said, “You’re going to get us some mussels for lunch!” With no choice in the matter, he had me down in the mud on my hands and knees digging for snails and mussels. “Put your whole arm in!” he yelled. At this point I was 100% covered in mud up to my shoulders with not a single snail to show for it.

Finally I got a mussel large enough to appease the guide, pried from deep under a mangrove root. After my demonstration everyone had to do their share of gathering, even the French girls with their shoes in hand.

Our walk back through the mud seemed to go on forever. With the temperature rising and the mud getting stickier, it was almost unbearable in the mangroves. At last, we were in the ocean water again.

Jellyfish Season

Oh yeah, did I mention it was jellyfish season? One of the French girls screamed out from the back of the group. She had a full-blown jellyfish wrapped around her ankle! Limping back on to the beach, she was actually a really good sport about it all.

As we walked back along the beach, the guide warned us of jellyfish sightings (too late for some).

Once back at our guide’s house, we ate all of the days rewards: a very measly amount of snails and mussels. Our guide even surprised us with some green sea turtle too. (Yeah, I know – totally illegal).

To this day I can’t say if the day was a fun adventure or cruel joke, but it will always be my most memorable day of vacation ever.

At the end, I was muddy, bruised, tired and hungry, but definitely feeling Aboriginal.