Leaving on a Jet Plane

This morning I went to the Queensland Museum. It was just supposed to be an interesting way to kill a couple of hours and it’s something I’ve wanted to do since I got here. It ended up being a really fascinating way to tie what I learned this semester together. First I went down to the “Sciencentre”. There are lots of interactive displays about transportation, physics and the human body. It was (of course) overrun by giggling primary school students, running around and pressing all the buttons and pulling all the levers. Thankfully, I wasn’t in one of my “I hate kids” moods. I wandered among them for a while, feeling very out of place and making chaperons nervous. I had enough of that, and decided to explore the rest of the museum. At every display, I could hear my professor’s voices saying the things I read on the exhibits. An entire room was dedicated to one of the questions on our marine biology final: Why are turtles endangered, despite their nesting spots being protected? There was a WWII exhibit that had Murray’s voice bouncing around my head, and the model of a strangler fig brought John’s botany lectures front and center. It was pretty incredible to see things stuffed and mounted that I had seen living and breathing in their natural environment. It was so cool to see so many of the things I learned about this semester under one roof, and I’m really glad I went.

After the museum, I wandered through the “rainforest walk” on south bank to the Brisbane Wheel. When I first laid eyes on it, I was determined to ride the big Ferris Wheel. It was officially on my bucket list. My enthusiasm was dampened a little when I found out it was $15 to ride it. But, I decided YOVAO, I’ll probably never get the chance again so I might as well. It was a really cool experience. The little gondolas are enclosed, air conditioned pods with speakers that play an audio tour of Brisbane, pointing out major landmarks. I got some really cool pictures. Maybe not worth what I spent, but it’s all good. After the ferris wheel ride, I continued wandering down the south bank of the Brisbane River. I got some pizza at a cafe and sat next to a water feature. As I ate lunch, I was amused by the antics of the ibises that splashed around in the fountain. The pizza was pretty good by Australian standards (definitely can’t wait for some real pizza when I get home). I walked down to the ferry terminal and sat in the shade reading until the ferry came. That was the next thing I wanted to check off my bucket list. My plan was to just go one stop down the river to get back to the CBD and do some shopping. Of course, I got on the ferry going the wrong direction. I decided to scrap the idea of shopping and instead just enjoyed the ride and took a bunch of pictures of the city from the river. The ferris wheel and the ferry combo was a really great way to say goodbye to Brissy. I got to see a lot of the city in a short period of time and took some cool pictures. 

Once I finally got back to the CBD, I met Sarah and we took our last 109 bus to Uni. She had all of her gear with her and looked like she was running away from home (which she kind of did, since she couldn’t find our host parents to say goodbye). We met with everyone for a farewell dinner. It was a really lovely evening. The food was fantastic. It was really great to have the chance to say goodbye to the program staff and our professors. John Hall recited one last poem and told one last joke. Tom Cribb tried to convince us why staying in Australia was a better idea than moving on to New Zealand. We got lots of pictures, told stories and recounted memories and wished everyone safe travels. The group is splintering off and heading in several different directions. Most people are going to either Sydney or the South Island of New Zealand.

Since I’m going to Sydney with my parents later and I’m not really one for hiking and backpacking, I’m going to Cairns with Cierra. I knew at this point in the semester, the only thing I’d really want to do is to relax, preferably on a sunny beach with a fruity drink. Since it’s just the two of us going, we booked the flights and hostel and are going to be winging it when it comes to the day to day. I really want to go snorkeling, I’d love to do some day hiking, and swimming and laying on the beach are definite must-dos. Hopefully it all works out!

After the dinner, I made my way back home to Ashgrove. It was very strange riding alone. Sarah’s starting her adventures a day earlier than me, and is spending the night in the airport in order to catch her ridiculously early flight. I’m not leaving until Saturday morning, so I have an entire extra day without her at our homestay. It’s weird being without my partner in crime. (It’s definitely for the best that we’re doing different things for the break. I wouldn’t have been as happy if I was backpacking in South Island, and she wouldn’t have been as happy if she was coming with me to Cairns.) I’m really looking forward to reconvening in New Zealand to hear everyone’s travel stories. 

Bittersweet

I’m feeling so strange and conflicted. On the one hand, I am absolutely ready to be done. I’m burnt out, exhausted and ready to move on to the next thing. I am ready for the next adventure. I have done pretty much everything I wanted to do here in Brisbane. I’m ready to eat different foods, see different scenery and be done with Uni for a while. On the other hand, it’s painful and it’s scary to say goodbye. I love Brisbane. I love it here. It’s become my home. I have my routines, my favorite place to stop for sushi, I’ve figured out how to get pretty much anywhere on public transport, I know where you can get $3 drinks on a Wednesday night. I’m so sad at the thought that I might never ever in my life see this beautiful place ever again. Although I know that if I want to come back, all it takes is time and money. (Really, any problem can be solved with enough time and money…) I am bored, feeling stagnant, burnt out, ready for something new. And yet… I’m happy with where I am right now and I’m not sure if I want to go just yet. There’s this strange dichotomy in my mind: I feel like I just got here, and simultaneously, like I’ve lived here all my life. I’ve lived in Brisbane for 10 minutes and simultaneously 20 years. I am so glad my parents are coming over at the end of the program rather than during this break. Maybe it’s selfish, but those extra 20 days in Oz are going to be as precious as diamonds to me.   I will do my best to savor these last weeks in the land down under. I have 3 more full days in Brisbane, then 7 in Cairns, 14 on the North Island of New Zealand with my class, then 16 traveling all over the eastern half of the continent with my parents. A little over a month left in this beautiful, foreign-yet-familiar world. So all at once, I mourn and I rejoice, I smile and I cry, and I count down the moments left.

Last Night on Heron

Last night we went for a night snorkel. It was fun and kind of spooky to be swimming out to a shipwreck at night. As I was laying in bed, I could still feel the fins on my feet, the snorkel in my mouth and the gentle bob of the waves. It was then that I knew a part of me will never leave this island.

I have had a simply amazing experience. This is definitely my favorite field trip so far. To actually see the Great Barrier Reef is a dream come true. Honestly, every time I’ve gone for a snorkel there’s been a moment when I had to remind myself that I’m actually here. It’s not a dream, it’s not a TV show, I’m actually in the ocean with turtles, sharks, cleaning wrasses, parrot fish, giant starfish and coral as far as the eye can see. I have seen and learned so much. Twice this week I’ve woken up at dawn to the terns chattering, pulled on my wetsuit and slipped into the ocean. Let me tell you, there is almost no better way to start the day. I’ve spent every spare moment snorkeling. Honestly, I don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t. Sleep has so much less value to me. I can sleep in Brisbane. I can sleep in Geneva and Ilion. I can’t see these amazing organisms there. This has also been my most productive field trip. For whatever reason, the more things pile up the more drive I have to get them done. The vast amount of work ahead of me is daunting, but it makes ticking things off my to-do list that much more satisfying. I am not ready to leave Heron Island. I don’t want to go back to buses and classes and grades and papers and presentations. I don’t even really want to go on to our terrestrial field trip. I honestly think I could happily live out my days here. Maybe it’s good that we’re leaving tomorrow, before the magic has worn off and I’ve gotten sick of this. (Though right now I doubt that could happen). Despite my protests to the contrary, the ferry back to the mainland leaves late tomorrow morning and I have to be on it. Thank God for memories, for pictures and stories and dreams. I’m leaving Heron Island tomorrow morning, but a part of me will be here as long as I live.   

Heron Island

Tuesday night we trooped onto a bus to get to Heron Island. Heron is a little island on the Great Barrier Reef. And it is little. The only things on the island are the UQ Research Station where we’re staying and the resort where our American professors and their families are staying. The bus ride took all night (and we got very little sleep). We left Brisbane at 11:30 pm and arrived in Gladstone around 8 am after a brekkie at Macker’s. (McDonald’s breakfast). We then sat in a grassy field next to the ferry until it was time to leave at 11. (That was pretty nice actually. Some guys tossed around a rugby ball, I finished a book I was reading, we worked on our tans a bit.) Then it was time for the ferry. We had been told by Tom, our Australian Marine Bio professor, that this ferry made even experienced boaters sick. We laughed it off; Ozzies love to tell Americans all the ways that Australia is fit to kill (or injure, or cause discomfort). He was right though. A show of hands that night said 13 of the 32 of us lost their mcmuffins on the way over. I, thankfully, didn’t puke. It took every ounce of will I had, and I was white as a sheet, shaky and sweaty, but I kept down my breakfast. Once we arrived, we had an introduction, got into our rooms and then it was off to explore the reef flat. It was really cool to see the corals and other critters. We had burritos for dinner (I thought Mexican was an interesting choice after our “eventful” ride over) and I fell asleep around 9:00.

I woke up with the sun around 6, thought about going to back to sleep but couldn’t, so I got changed. I walked over to the jetty, where Tom said he’d be if there were any interested early risers. I was the only student who turned up, so I was the only student who saw Gus, the big (3 meter long) grouper that visits the harbor occasionally. There wasn’t too many other exciting things, but that was cool and I won some brownie points. After breakfast we suited up for our first snorkel. After signing out wetsuits, fins, masks and snorkels, we went down to the beach and waded in. I had some trouble at first. I would put my face down in the water and hold my breath. When I reminded myself that I could breathe through the snorkel, I would take a huge shuddering gasp (not the advised method).  This lead to a weird panic-attack feeling. I gave up on snorkeling for a minute and focused on swimming. Then I tried looking down while floating, and that was ok. I figured out that what really freaked me out was hearing my own breath rattle around in the snorkel. Once I identified that, it was easy to ignore, and snorkeling was a lot of fun. We saw tons of fish, most of them really pretty. We also saw a Linckia laevigata which was just gorgeous and huge and cool. Once I really felt like I was getting the hang of snorkeling, it was of course time to get out of the water. We had some free time, then at low tide went out onto the reef flat again. At this point, we worked with our assigned groups on our assigned project areas. I’m with another girl and two guys (Tom tried to get a guy and a girl from each college) and we work well together. Our project area is gastropods (aka snails), so not the most exciting project in the world. We decided to pick three habitats (reef flat, sand flat, rocky shore) and compare the richness of species we find in each. So the afternoon was spent counting all the gastropods we could find in various square meters on the reef flat and sand flat. Dinner was steak and potatoes, and then a lecture on the various types of fish we have seen and will see. After attempting to get some work done (a succeeding a little) I sat down to write this blog. Once this is posted, I’m off to bed early. Big day tomorrow, Team Gastropod is one of the teams going on a boat snorkel on the reef proper. Can’t wait!

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.