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By Aaron Smith, Contributing Reporter

Abel Tasman, the explorer who gives the island its name, photo by Aaron Smith.
Abel Tasman, the explorer who gives the island its name, photo by Aaron Smith.

HOBART – All Vivi knew of Tasmania, Australia’s southernmost state, was what most people knew – the cartoon character, The Tasmanian Devil. But there is a lot more to it than the fictionalized version of a mammal endemic to this island state.

Although Tasmania is closer to the Equator than Rome, we didn’t feel it, with icy winds blowing in straight from Antarctica that brought in spring temperatures of a bracing eleven degrees. As the original penal colony for the rest of Australia which was England’s penal colony – Tasmania, originally called Van Diemen’s Land, was a remote, wild place where the bad of the bad battled the elements to survive. The isolation, inclement weather and population of pioneers and convicts have formed Tasmania’s particularly bloody history.

From the butchering of the Aborigines to the barbaric treatment of convicts, there are many dark tales here to unearth, such as that of Alexander Pearce who escaped jail with a motley crew of convicts only to be imprisoned by their refuge in the wilderness and consumed by madness. Alexander was the only member of the group to survive, and he had to resort to cannibalism.

Today Australians, just like Brazilians, love beach, beer and barbeques and are mad about sports. But that’s where the similarities end. Aussies wouldn’t know what to do with a samba beat if it grabbed them by the hips, and football is a completely different game.

Arriving in the country twenty-four hours before Grand Final, the big day for Australian Rules Football where the two leading teams fight for the end of season premiership, left Vivi aghast. Similar to American football, but without the helmets and protective padding, Vivi screamed and cursed with the rest of my family (her future in-laws) as burley young men in tight shorts elbowed, punched and clawed at each other. With a cold beer in one hand and a sausage in bread doused in ketchup in the other – she had her first taste of Australian culture.

Vivi's first bite into a rat's coffin, photo by Aaron Smith.
Vivi's first bite into a rat's coffin, photo by Aaron Smith.

With a quarter of Tasmania today still covered in rainforest, a lot of it World Heritage, outdoor activities are very popular, especially hiking, white-water rafting, and the best trout fishing in the Southern Hemisphere. The endemic tree, Huon Pine, is the world’s oldest with some up to 4,000 years old and the forests here also have the tallest stands of hardwoods in the Southern Hemisphere. With such a rich supply of unique timbers, Tasmania has booming arts, crafts and high-quality furniture industries, samples of which we saw while exploring the bustling Salamanca Marketon on Hobart’s historic waterfront.

Tasmania also boasts some of the world’s cleanest air and freshest water, and we saw a fantastic selection of fresh organic produce, local fine wines and zesty cheeses. As a wind off the harbor chilled us to our bones we nipped into a bakery to initiate Vivi into the great culinary tradition of the Australian meat pie, endearingly referred to as ‘Rat’s Coffins’. Again doused in ketchup, Vivi bit into what she later described as a crime against food. But I bet it’s better than one of the convict Alexander Pearce’s recipes. “Pass the fava beans and the Chianti please.”

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Senhor and Senhora Smith are from different worlds; he, Aaron Smith, an Australian travel writer, still idolizes his childhood idol, Indiana Jones, and she, Viviane Silva, is a sassy Carioca ‘Sex in the City’ girl. They have decided to embark upon a trans-continental four-month honeymoon BEFORE they get married, from Bogota to New York, the Far East and Australia by bus, boat and donkey. Follow them along the Gringo Trail – it’s an epic Clash of the Titans journey to (hopefully) marital bliss at the end of the road.

For more info on Aaron’s writing check out: www.jetsetvagabond.com
To read Viviane’s blog go to: www.varaujo.wordpress.com

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