Lamington

I spent the past week in Lamington National Park. We stayed in a bunkhouse in the middle of the rainforest. It was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had so far in Australia. It all started getting up at 5:30 in the morning to catch the bus leaving from Uni at 7. We piled into a bus and started a fairly standard drive out of Brisbane. Then we headed up a long and winding mountain road. That was a bit nerve wracking, especially when someone pointed out the “car skeletons” that lay off the side of the road where they had clearly rolled off. We got to the bunkhouse and found out we’d be staying nine to a room. The bunk rooms literally had three sets of triple bunk-beds built into the wall and nothing else. That first day we hiked about 5 kilometers, stopping every so often to get acquainted with the rainforest around us. It was beautiful, but by the end we were a bit tired and cranky. We got to eat in the resort’s restaurant, which was really nice, although it got a little repetitive by the end. We were then asked to line up by star sign, in alphabetical order. I thought it was weird, but it was just a random way to mix us up. We counted off and were divided into 3 teams: Alpha, Delta and Omega. I was on team Alpha and everyone on it was really cool. The next day, Team Alpha was assigned to the “Dusk to Dawn” or “John Hall” hike. We got up at 5 am to listen to bird calls and see the sunrise. (2km hike) We took a break for breakfast, and then it was an all day 12km hike with our professor, John Hall. He is pretty amazing. He makes the littlest things seem huge and important. He’s a fantastic story teller, and it’s really a privilege to learn from him. This hike took us through a huge variety of rainforest environments, up and down and all over the place. It culminated with a show put on by the glowworms. These tiny larvae glow blue at night, turning the hillside into a facsimile of the night sky. They even twinkle. By the end of the first day, we were exhausted and ready to sleep. The next morning we were able to sleep in until 7:30, which felt like heaven. This day was Alpha’s “independent day”. We could choose from 3 hikes. A few members of the team decided to do the two shorter hikes, but most of us decided to hike 17 km. That was probably my favorite day of the experience. It was really nice to be able to set our own pace. We felt like we could be kids, and just enjoy. By the end of it, I was in pain from the hips down, but I was so proud of what we accomplished. The next day was our “waterfall hike” with our tutor Josie. She is a really cool person, and I am a little jealous of the way she lives her life. She is essentially a nomad, traveling where she can find work that interests her. She is really fun to talk to, and I wish I was in a better mood to enjoy our hike. I was still hurting from the day before, and several times wished I had stuck with my original plan of doing the shorter hikes the day before. We first did an assignment, analyzing biodiversity (that was about 2k), then went for a 12k hike to the base of a waterfall and back. That night after dinner we learned “bush dancing”. It’s sort of a mix of Irish and Scottish dancing and American square dancing with some Aboriginal influence thrown in. Learning these dances was hysterical. For the first dance, I was paired with John Hall and I could not stop giggling the entire time. It was so much more fun than I was expecting, everyone was breathless and laughing by the end of the night. We then trooped back up to the bunkhouse and had a small campfire. John told a ghost story about the min-min lights that haunt the outback, it was really spooky and awesome. A few of us dragged our mattresses outside and slept under the stars that night. It was pretty magical. I woke up with the sun, and watched a pair of parrots play for a couple of hours. We then packed up and drove a few hours to a littoral rainforest. Good news: littoral means “by the sea”. We had a little time to play in the ocean and lay on the beach before heading back to Brisbane.

After a good night’s sleep, Sarah and I headed out to the West End Market. We met up with our friend Alex and browsed the market for a little while. It was really cool, all kinds of fresh produce and artisan products. We then walked across the pedestrian bridge into the city. I bought a new camera since mine got broken during Lamington. Then we came back to study for a while, and that’s what I’ve been doing since. It was a great week, and for those of you keeping score at home, I hiked 50 kilometers in five days. Pretty damn good.  

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Rose tinted glasses

The honeymoon has sort of worn off, and I’m starting to settle into a routine. Brisbane is still beautiful, most people are still kind and helpful, Australia is still lovely and fantastic and I wouldn’t trade my time here for anything. However, the rose tinted glasses are losing their sheen. I’m realizing that I need to work just as hard as any semester at Hobart, and with the added distraction of legally being able to go out to bars and clubs, a balance needs to be struck. Also, I’ve been homesick for the first time. I miss my dog, my family, familiar food, familiar surroundings. I almost feel guilty about feeling homesick. I’m having such a great time, I don’t want to miss anything by being wrapped up in thoughts of home. Maybe going back out into the bush will help. I really didn’t feel homesick at all on Straddie, I was so excited about learning about my surroundings, seeing koalas and kangaroos and all kinds of cool sea creatures. We leave for Lamington on Monday, and maybe that will help. 

There’s one last thing I’m worried about. I’m a meat eater in a house full of vegetarians. I’m really worried that I’m being judged for my choices. I have considered a vegetarian lifestyle, but I ultimately decided it wasn’t right for me. I have no problem eating vegetarian meals while I’m at home, and I’m grateful that my host parents buy ham for my sandwiches and that sort of thing. I just don’t want to be made out as the bad guy, or the girl who has that weird gross habit of eating animal flesh. I’m assured that’s not the case, but I’m not so sure. 

No witty or insightful ending for this one. Except maybe, don’t worry Mom, things are fine, I’m still having a great time, learning a lot and enjoying myself. Just needed to get these thoughts off my chest.

“Love conquers all things; let us too surrender to love.” -Virgil

I have to admit it. It’s been eating me up inside not saying it aloud. I’m in love. It’s all I think about; it crosses my mind every minute of every day. I’m talking about Australia, of course. I am absolutely loving it here. Brisbane is simply amazing. I have never felt safer in a city. Last night, coming home from dancing at 2am, we were worried that we got on the wrong bus. It all seemed fine until we turned left onto a road that we usually turn right on, and then crossed the river. Minor freak out, though I told myself that it’s all part of the adventure and worst case we’d just have to get off and get on another bus. In the midst of this freak out, one Ozzie boy sitting across the aisle said basically, you’re screwed mate, this bus goes down to the West End not up into Ashgrove. So, we said, oh well. We’re Americans, first night in the city, you know how it is, we’ll figure it out. Thinking back, I probably would not have revealed so much about myself if I were talking to a stranger on a bus in Boston or New York. So, this boy gets off in the West End (obviously to continue partying) and the Ozzie boys sitting behind us say, don’t listen to that guy, he has no idea what he’s talking about. This bus stops in West Ashgrove, in fact we’re almost there. They then explain to us how to get back to the Woolworth’s near our house (I wasn’t naive enough to tell strangers exactly where I was living). They press the stop button so we don’t miss our stop and wish us a good night.

It was a simple thing, but it meant so much. Reassurance, guidance, genuine concern for our well being. How many Americans do you know who would do the same thing in that situation? At home, it’s stranger danger, keep your head down and your nose clean, if you need help you could maybe ask a cop or a store clerk, but not some rando on the bus. Here, it’s mateship. It’s taking care of each other. We’re all in the same boat (or at least the same bus). It was a beautiful introduction to that facet of Ozzie culture, and it’s an experience that’s making me fall absolutely head over heels. Love conquers all: language barriers, fear and worry, culture shock. If we surrender to that love, if we allow ourselves to love wholeheartedly and indiscriminately, if we look out for and take care of each other, we might like what we find out about each other and about humanity.