I'd heard that the food in the Blue Mountains of Australia was fabulous; what I hadn't realized is that I would end up on the menu. It was the first day of a long weekend visiting this outdoorsy destination, an hour and a half drive from Sydney, with breathtaking views of valleys, forests and some bizarrely lunar rock formations. Mostly to show off to my brother, Matt, a photojournalist who has braved a few wars, one major riot and several natural disasters in the course of his career, I'd opted for what's called an eco bushwalk, a vigorous nature hike at the Mount Tomah Botanic Garden.
As we wandered through the floratowering tree ferns, huge psoriatic eucalyptus, wrist-thick vines snaking everywhereI suddenly realized something slimy was crawling across my ankle. I glanced down and saw what looked like a very fat, black-and-yellow worm with (I could have sworn) a mouth on either end. "Oh, that thing?" our guide, Rusty, said, responding to my yelp. "It's a leech. When they sense the heat from warm bodies, they drop out of the vegetation." Oh great, I thought. Not only was I wearing shorts, but my head is shaved. I felt like a walking smorgasbord.
Fortunately, I wasn't the only appealing meal around. The Blue Mountains are becoming something of a hot spot for restaurants. And this combination of culture and nature is the perfect balance for my brother and me. Matt loves nothing better than shooting closeups of some rare fauna at the edge of a cliff; my idea of adventure is going out to eat instead of ordering room service.