Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Surfing Again

I suppose I should pick up where I left off, in Byron Bay.  Neville ended up not only being part of the worship team, he was also the Pastor at Eastgate.  There were actually a lot of young people at the church because it’s quite near to a YWAM base, which was pretty neat.  They had a missionary from Turkey, named Glenys who was helping lead the music and spoke a little bit about her work there.  Sadly, she had given her full presentation the week before and I’d missed it – I was quite interested since my sister and I had been planning a trip to Turkey a couple years ago.  It was a really nice service, I quite enjoyed the music; they played some of the songs with a very country twist (Neville plays the mandolin) so that made me smile.  His message was on worship, particularly on singing – based on Psalm 96.  He said that worship is the fuel of missions and missions is the work of worship – I quite liked that.  As usual, nothing in Australia makes me homesick quite as fast, or as consistently, as a visit to a new church.  Thankfully I’ve only been to maybe 5 different churches while in Australia, so it hasn’t happened too often.  That said, having now left Cairns and my volleyball family and other friends there, the closer I get to my return date the more I’m looking forward to coming home.  Admittedly part of that is just being tired of living out of a suitcase, but I also have a long list of people I can’t wait to see and hug.  Oh, and I almost forgot.  One of the cool experiences at the church was that it was their picnic day (due to the weather we ended up just eating at the church).  I ended up sitting with an Aussie girl named Sarah who is in town for work and we were then joined by a bunch of middle aged and older men from the church.  Within minutes they were all talking about surfing, it was so cool.  True Aussie locals trading surf stories and favorites spots around town – made me almost wish I’d spent more time in Australia in a town that actually has surfing.  My other cool event of the day happened later that night.  It had stopped raining and the sun was shining a bit so I decided I’d take my chances and make the trek to the lighthouse.  I walked along the beach to the famous surfing spot called “The Pass” and they have a lookout on the rocks at the corner, so I climbed up to take some photos.  Honestly, I’ve never seen so many surfers in my life.  It’s a decently large beach and there were people with surfboards everywhere!! Byron Bay is sort of the Mecca of East Coast surfing so I guess it makes sense. Anyway, back to the story.  I stopped half-way up the steps to the lookout to take a picture and the woman standing there started up a conversation.  Her name was Mira and she was in town on business.  One thing led to another and after telling her I was hoping I could come back and had been trying to get a sponsor, etc., etc., she told me I should definitely come back and even called a friend who she thought might be able to help me get a job here.  The person didn’t answer their phone, but we became Facebook friends and she told me she would give him my contact info.  It was such a surreal experience, and I can only chalk it up to a “God moment”.  As my Grandma always told me, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”  Since I ended up talking to Mira for so long I didn’t end up having enough time to make it to the lighthouse (would have been dark before I’d have made it back).

On my last day in Byron it was finally nice, so Brit, one of my roommates, and I headed back down the beach to make the trip to the lighthouse.  Once you get to The Pass you have to take a trail up the hill and along the coast, extremely steep, but the views were beautiful.  The path leads you to the “Most Easternly Point on the Australian Mainland” which is pretty cool I guess.  The lighthouse was surprisingly large; not so much tall, it just seemed very stout up close, and the actual light and lens were enormous.  We took a slightly different path back to the hostel, and when we finally got back down to the beach, who should be standing there taking photos, but Mira!?  It was really funny – we chatted for a minute and she told me that her friend would be in touch…  Later that night I caught the bus to Yamba.  The bus stop is actually about 15-20 minutes from there and only one other guy got off the bus with me.  While waiting for the shuttle to take us to our hostel we naturally began chatting.  We found out that we both loved beach volleyball in Cairns and after a minute or two of talking about it he suddenly asked when I had left Cairns.  Turns out he was in Cairns on my last night of volleyball.  He remembers everyone saying goodbye to me and stuff.  I asked if he had still been around when we’d taken the huge group photo, but he’d left by that point.  It was just so random, but it definitely had me cracking up – nice to find someone who understands why I love Cairns so much.

My first morning in Yamba I tried surfing again – it had been nearly a year and I was a bit nervous about it.  Shane, the guy who coordinates and helps you is such an awesome guy though, incredibly nice and has a great sense of humor.  Being the only American he called me “Team USA” all morning, I think it was just easier than trying to remember my name.  I’m pretty sure him and his brother own the hostel, or at the very least are the managers. They don’t have the big, foam learner boards that I’m used to so I had a proper surfboard this time.  Somehow I did end up catching some waves – the smaller board is much harder to balance, but I managed.  I banged up my knees something terrible though, I’m not very good at climbing on the board without cracking one, or both, of my knees on it – never noticed on the foam boards of course.  The water was quite rough so you were constantly fighting the riptide and waves to try to get out into the water far enough to catch a good wave.  It was a pretty good morning out though, and it was nice to know that I am capable of surfing on a “real” surfboard.  The next day, after my usual wishy-washy-ness (I couldn’t decide if I wanted to go out again or not since my knees were so sore), I finally decided to go for it.  Shane wouldn’t be taking anyone out on my last day in Yamba, and I wasn’t sure I was ready to attempt on my own, so I decided I’d best make use of the chance I had, pain and all.  Either Shane hadn’t brought enough of the longer boards (that’s my guess) or he was confident I was good enough, he gave me a 6’8” board which was smaller than the one the day before!!  I honestly don’t think I did as well surfing with it, but it could also have simply been that I was quite tired and the water was still rather rough.  He told me that the smaller board is actually easier, but I just don’t believe it – not yet anyway.  After being thoroughly bruised (knees, hip, and elbow to be exact) I decided I’d had enough.  I sought out some shade and a good view of the waves out the back so I could watch Shane and the other good surfers catch some waves.  I ended up talking with this lovely older gentleman (he told me he’s 76), who is originally from Sydney, while waiting for the others to finish.  He told me he travelled the whole east coast and decided Yamba was the place where he wanted to retire.  He knew Shane of course, Yamba is a small town, and also confirmed that he’s a great guy, just one of those really likeable people.  Sadly, I just accidentally deleted all the photos off my camera – I had been trying to transfer them to my computer.  So all my photos and videos of Byron Bay are gone, but I texted Brit and she’s going to send me some so at least I’ll have something to scrapbook.  Although honestly, I cringe just thinking about how much scrapbooking I have to do when I get home – that’s going to be a full time job in and of itself!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Cyclone Marcia

Thanks to a rather ferocious cyclone, my time in Surfer’s Paradise was dominated by rain.  I was blessed though to be a good distance away from the cyclone, it hit land near Yeppon & Rockhampton, so we only had to deal with some wind and rain.  It was a category 3 when I found out about it and it was eventually upgraded to a category 5, and judging from the news coverage I saw after it went through Yeppon, it was devastating to be sure.  I spent the morning of my only full day in Surfer’s Paradise walking around town with one of my roommates checking out the sandcastles from the 2015 Sand Safari, the Australian Sand Sculpture Championships and doing some shopping (well, it was window shopping for me, I already have too much luggage).
 It was drizzling rain off and on all morning and we got the shuttle back to our hostel around 2pm – there’s not much else to do in Surfers when they have the beaches closed down.  I then spent the rest of the afternoon reading my newest book and then watched some movies in the lounge with a bunch of other people.  Anyway, I made my bus trip down to Byron Bay – it was running late which turned out to be a blessing.  There are only 4 shuttle times that the shuttle bus goes to the bus station.  The last hostel had coordinated their shuttle times with the Greyhound and Premier bus times, so in my mind this hostel had done the same.  About 15 minutes before I was to get the shuttle I realized that I was quite likely to miss my bus!  The shuttle left the hostel at 2:10pm and I was to catch the bus at 2:20pm.  I honestly couldn’t remember if 2:20pm was the time the bus arrived at the station or the time it was to depart the station, but I desperately prayed it was the former.  In the end I sat around for another half an hour waiting for the bus to arrive, so I still don’t actually know the answer to that question.

Everyone told me I would love Byron Bay – I don’t think I’ve yet to meet a person who has said they didn’t like it.  I spent this morning wandering around town a bit since it was almost sunny and wasn’t raining quite yet.  Molly, one of the girls from Brisbane, had told me that I had to visit the 23 Hour Bakery and try their Triple Threat Muffins, so I found the place (Byron Bay is rather small so it wasn’t all that difficult) and after looking through the case of delightful looking pastries didn’t spot it.  I asked the gentleman behind the counter and found out that Molly had been lucky the night she stumbled upon this place and it’s amazing muffin.  The Triple Threat is not a muffin they regularly carry, it’s only made sporadically as the muffin of the day, or something similar.  I decided I’d have to console myself with a Double Chocolate Muffin, which was his suggestion for a replacement.  I did some more wandering around town and also finally got to shop at Aldi!  I knew that they have some in Australia, but so far had never been in a city or town that had one nearby.  While the brands and products are obviously different, the store looks pretty much exactly the same as the one back home.  Shortly after noon it had started to rain and continued to rain or drizzle for the rest of the afternoon.  I spent the rest of the day curled up in bed either napping (my two newest roommates had just come in after an overnight {13 hour} bus ride from Sydney so they were exhausted) or finishing “Committed”.  It really has been a rather fascinating read, the author, “delves into the subject of marriage and, debunking myths, unthreading fears, celebrating love, suggests that sometimes even the most romantic of souls must trade in amorous fantasies for the humbling responsibility of adulthood.”  While I’m not sure I agree with some of what she says it was interesting to learn about marriage in other cultures and even marriage throughout history, statistics on American marriages, and what psychologists and anthropologists have to say about marriage. There were a few sections of the book that struck me, but as you can imagine, this one was very apropos:
The problem, simply put, is that we cannot choose everything simultaneously.  So we live in danger of becoming paralyzed by indecision, terrified that every choice might be the wrong choice… Equally disquieting are the times that we do make a choice, only to later feel as though we have murdered some other aspect of our being by settling on one single concrete decision… The philosopher Odo Marquard has noted a correlation in the German language between the word “zwei”, which means “two” and the word “zweifel”, which means “doubt” – suggesting that two of anything brings the automatic possibility of uncertainty in our lives… In a world of such abundant possibility, many of us simply go limp from indecision.  Or we derail our life’s journey again and again, backing up to try the doors we neglected on the first round, desperate to get it right this time.  Or we become compulsive comparers – always measuring our lives against some other person’s life secretly wondering we should have taken her path instead.
Freedom Paradox, which my friend Rav introduced to me, is a very real problem for me; I have too many options!  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not necessarily complaining about being a young woman with options, knowing that so many others today, even throughout most of history, have very few, if any, choices they can make for themselves.  But when you are told your whole life you can be anything you want, how do you decide what you want to be?  As most of you know, I never could decide – let me rephrase that, I still haven’t decided.  If I haven’t tried it how will I know if I want to do it for the next thirty-odd years of my life?  But as I’m learning over the years, maybe I don’t have to be defined by my  job, and maybe I don’t have to only have one career path (or any career path for that matter).  I know what kind of person I want to be, and isn’t that more important anyway?  I remember reading a blog post that a friend had shared on Facebook, asking that we stop introducing people by their job titles, but instead by their character or what they mean to us.  For some people their job is a calling, for other’s it is simply how they provide for themselves or their families.  I don’t surround myself with people who have impressive jobs or prestigious positions, I surround myself with people who are loving, generous, loyal, funny, wise, the list could go on and on.  It all reminds me of a quote from the movie “Something to Sing About”, “You have to care more about what drives the man, than what the man drives.”

As I prepare to come home I am once again faced with many options.  In some ways, now that I’ve quit my “career” I have even more options than I did before I came to Australia.  There are many jobs and options that I have contemplated over the last 3 or 4 years of my life, but was never brave enough to quit my job to pursue them; that is not an obstacle anymore.   So as I sit here in my hostel, on a rainy night thousands of miles from home, and contemplate my future plans, I just pray that I’ll have the wisdom and strength to choose a path, not just any old path, but a path with purpose and usefulness.  Ok, I’ll spare you the rest of my ramblings, I could probably write a few more paragraphs, but I’ve got to get up early for church.  I’ve been on tours or buses the last 3 Sundays or so, so I haven’t been able to get to church.  I found one here (thanks to Google) and message asking if someone could pick me up since there’s no public transportation that goes out their way.  I’m not entirely sure what kind of church it is, but I didn’t see anything too crazy on their church website and it’s only for one Sunday so I figured I’d give it a shot.  I got a phone call earlier this evening from a nice gentleman named Neville and his wife and daughter will be picking me up tomorrow morning around 8am….

Can’t believe I’ll be home in just over 2 weeks!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Noosa & Brisbane

Finding time to blog these days is a bit tricky as I only have a day or 2 to see each city.  It’s raining here now so I figured I should make good use of the crappy weather.  I’ve now been to Noosa, and just left Brisbane, so I’m currently in Surfer’s Paradise.  Everyone told me how much they enjoyed Noosa, and while I did enjoy it, I probably wouldn't move there.
 Just wasn’t sure what all the hype was about I guess, but I spent my first afternoon on the beach enjoying some sunshine and reading a book and then spent my last (and only) full day doing an Everglades tour.  We took a boat up the river and across some huge lakes (some were a couple miles wide but only knee-deep so you could literally walk across them) and when we stopped for morning tea (I love that they adopted this British custom – coffee & cookies are always appreciated) half of the group hopped into canoes and canoed our way up to our lunch spot.  I made friends with a nice young British girl named Hannah, so we sat together on the boat and then were able to share a canoe so that was nice.
We enjoyed our trip up (or possibly down, the water was so calm we never could decide which direction we were headed) the river and luckily did not tip over at any point.  My trip voucher just said it was a lunch cruise, so I hadn’t worn a swimsuit and was a bit unprepared to go canoeing.  It was a lovely day and I ended up running into my tent-mate from Fraser Island on the beach later that night so it was nice to chat with her for a bit.  The coolest part of Noosa was probably the sandcastles that this guy named McCormick builds on the beach every day.
Valentine's Day Sandcastle

In Brisbane I had some lovely roommates for my two nights there.  Brisbane is on a river, and therefore do not have a beach, so they built a man-made one(sorta like Cairns and their lagoon) that’s very impressive and a bit like a waterpark; the way they have it all spread out with water features and a large kids play area and plenty of seating areas around – it’s quite nice.  Anyway, I spent my first afternoon in Brisbane on the South Bank Street Beach reading, and finally finished the book about Miss Savidge.  She really was a remarkable woman and if you can get your hands on the book, it’s a fascinating read.  I spent the evening researching interesting (and free) things to do on my only full day in Brisbane and came up with a pretty good list (thanks to Pinterest).  The next morning I enjoyed some free pancakes with my roommates Molly & Grainne (British) and Sharona (Belgian) before finally heading off around 11am (we were busy talking).  My plan was to work my way around the city, basically making a big loop so I’d end up back at my hostel.  My first stop was the Queensland Museum, which I quite enjoyed.  They had some very neat exhibits including one about bicycles and their history in Australia.  Another that I very much enjoyed was an exhibit on 3 recipients of the Victorian Cross (the pre-eminent award for gallantry. It is awarded for an act of outstanding courage or devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy).  I wasn’t allowed to take photos in the exhibit, but it reminded me of a quote I read once "Go through the list of Medal of Honor winners, Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force–it doesn’t matter. There are those who have earned that supreme honor by killing their enemies, and deservedly so. But most of the posthumous awards have gone to men who, above all, sacrificed their lives in order that others might live."  Private Paddy Bugden was awarded the Victorian Cross for rescuing a captured comrade, Major Bair Anderson for “fearless leading and gallantry in attack, and without hesitation and regardless of personal risk dashed forward and silenced machine guns which were causing heavy casualties” (London Gazette - Dec. 26, 1918), and Private Robert Beatham for conduct remarkably similar to Andersons.  I’ll admit that the short movie they put together of the lives and service of these three men made me tear up a bit.  They had the words to Capt. James H. Knight-Adkin’s poem, “No Man’s Land” printed across the walls, hearing and seeing footage of the conditions those men fought under makes the poem really hit home.  I’d have to do some digging (my quick Google search while writing this didn’t turn anything up), but the letter they send to the families of the recipients, they read it in the film, is quite moving and I would love to read it again.

After the Queensland Museum, I headed next door to the State Library for a little look-see.  It’s a fascinating building and after wandering around for a bit I decided to sit down and read the newspaper.  Molly had talked the night before of going to the movies to see the movie “American Sniper” and in that day’s “Courier Mail” was an article about the trial for the man charged with killing Chris Kyle, as well as the disturbing news of the Coptic Christians in Egypt killed by ISIS.  After the library I headed next door to the Gallery of Modern Art.  I didn’t stay long as modern art isn’t really my preference, but I did enjoy some Japanese exhibits and some Aboriginal artwork.

 Leaving the museum I walked along the riverbank and then crossed over to head down Queen Street, one of the main shopping “malls” and then over to St. John’s Cathedral.  It’s an interesting and beautiful church – it’s been in the process of being built since the early 1900’s and was only finally completed in 2009.  The woman handing out pamphlets and greeting was incredibly nice, and when I asked if there were any photos of the progress over the years she went and found her copies of the 150th Anniversary service handout, which had photos showing the progress (there was no exhibit showing the before and after).
 She noticed my inspection of some of the sculptures on the ceiling of the entryway and told me that they were all designed by school girls.  There had been a competition for designs among the local school children, and all the winning designs had been submitted by girls.  After visiting the cathedral I made my way to the Royal Botanic Gardens (I think just about every semi-large city has a Botanic Garden!) and wandered through there until I got back to the river and then made my way back across on another bridge and headed towards South Bank.  I’d read that the cinema in South Bank had really cheap student tickets so I figured I might as well check the price and movie times since I was going to be walking by anyway.  Turns out it was only $6.50 because it was a Tuesday night (in Cairns a movie is about $18 so this was extremely reasonable).  American Sniper was on at 6:20pm so I headed back to my hostel.  Luckily I found the girls in our room when I arrived and they decided we’d all go see it together, including Caroline (another roommate who is from France).  Seeing as none of them were American they had no idea it was based on a true story, and I unwittingly spoiled the ending for Molly on the way to the theatre by telling her about the newspaper article I’d read earlier that day.  The other girls were in suspense the whole movie thinking he was going to die on one of his tours of duty.  It was quite interesting to watch the movie on foreign soil, and being quite possibly the only American in the theatre at the time.  Seeing as I’d gotten teary eyed earlier reading about Australian soldiers I wasn’t sure how I would fare watching the movie, but I did quite well.  I just can’t help thinking of all my friends in the military, and all the soldiers I have written to over the years, when I watch current-day war movies.  I just appreciated that the showed why he did what he did - it was to kill people, it was to save people, he was a protector.  Anyway, we all enjoyed the movie and it was a fun night out.  Although it would have been great to have them all traveling on with me, I'm just thankful for the nice people God's put in my path so far.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Fraser Island Adventures

I arrived at Dingos Backpackers (after an overnight bus ride) around 7:30am on Tuesday morning.  I couldn’t check into my room until 11am, so I had some breakfast and took a nap in a hammock until check-in time. We had a safety briefing at 4pm and I have to admit I was wondering to myself why in the world I was even doing this 4WD tour.  I honestly think it was only included because it was going to be part of the first East Coast package I’d looked at so Georgie (my travel agent) added it to the one she created for me...but I consoled myself with the memory of everyone on my sailing trip telling me that Fraser Island was one of their favorite things in all of the East Coast.  Anyway, at the briefing we got divided into our groups so I got to meet my “team” for the next three days: a Swedish guy named John, a British couple Paige & George, and 4 Mexicans: Regina, Ximena, Jenny, & Mariana.  I could not have been happier with my group.  John is 32 and was not into the whole party scene and being older than the rest of our group we sort of bonded over the whole non-drinking/up all night partying thing.  The 4 girls from Mexico City were delightful and I loved hearing them chatter in Spanish all the time; they're here studying (in Melbourne).  There were a lot of people on the tour, but everyone got broken up into groups of 8 and then there were 4 groups of 8 per guide/lead driver.  Our guide was Cristos (half Australian, half Greek) and he was one of the best tour guides I’ve ever had, and I’ve been on a few tours.  He drove one of the cars, and then there was our car and two others in our convoy.  Fraser Island is known for its dingos, which, although they look adorable, are quite vicious.  We were warned many times to never walk around by ourselves, especially at night.

On Wednesday morning we were all up bright an early, basically to hurry up and wait.  We were late getting going, but after gathering all our sleeping bags, packing our food and coolers into the trailer and packing our bags into the trunk we were off to catch the ferry over to Fraser Island.  Our first day of the tour was interesting – George drove first and from the videos and talks during the safety briefing it seemed as if the rules for driving in snow are the same for driving in sand.  Since I can’t drive a manual I didn’t do any driving on the trip, but that was fine by me – I enjoy being a passenger.  Paige drove after George, but it ended up being team driving because he sat in the passenger seat and did all the shifting for her.  Ximena drove next, with George sitting up front for moral support – she did really well and was the only girl that did any significant amount of driving on the trip.  Our first stop of the day was the beautiful Lake McKenzie (my photos don’t do it justice, just search Gogle for pictures of the lake and you’ll see what I mean).
 The sands around the lake are composed of pure, white silica and the water in the lake is so pure it is unsuitable for many species!  Cristos had us all posing for group photos and making crazy videos (all of which he added to a FB group so we could all have them).  Lake McKenzie was one of the few places we could actually swim on the tour (the rip tides are too strong on the beaches and there were way too many jellyfish – the beaches were dotted with them).  The camp we stayed at was on Aboriginal land, so we weren’t allowed to whistle, they believe it attracts evil spirits; and we weren’t allowed to spit in the fire (not sure why you would do that anyway) because it was disrespectful.   The guys cooked our dinner the first night – Asian stir-fry and it was pretty good for camp food.  After dinner we chatted for a bit, but then they all started playing drinking games, which I have never understood; they're usually dumb.  Anyway, I headed to bed early, but of course couldn’t really sleep because of all the loud music.

After a fitful night of sleep I was up early, as was John, so we started on breakfast (scrambled eggs & toast) while everyone else was working on getting up.  Our first stop of the day was Eli Creek, a.k.a. Hangover Creek.  It’s apparently the perfect cure for a hangover, as many of my tour mates would attest later in the day.  The water in the creek is incredibly clear and we filled up all our water jugs there.  After playing in the creek, and Cristos making a few more videos and taking some group photos, we headed to the “mouth of the creek (I think that's the right term), and played some sports. It's a popular spot on the island, as you can see:

 Football, soccer, frisbee, and kite flying were the sports of the day, but it was so hot and the sun was so strong I didn’t last too long.  After a stop for some lunch we headed to a spot called Champagne Pools which was pretty neat.  It was ocean water, but because they area was protected by some rocks (the water crashing over the rocks creates the champagne-like bubbles) we were safe from sharks, rip-tides, and jellyfish.  As with every stop, there were group photos and videos to be taken, and I must admit Cristos has an eye for creating great photos.  Our last stop of the day was Indian Head which offers a panoramic vista of the surrounding beaches.
 Apparently on clear days you can see Manta Rays, Sharks, Dolphins and Turtles swimming and hunting in the water below, but we didn’t see any.  We headed back to camp to prepare our dinner and it was definitely one of our better meals: steak, potato salad, and a lovely garden salad as well.  Somehow I ended up in charge of the potato salad and was complimented on how tasty it was, which is a bit ironic because I never eat potato salad, and usually don’t like it!  We sat around the fire again after dinner, but I ended up chatting with some guys in our group (in one of the other cars), mostly about sports because they’re both Pittsburgh Penguins fans.   A bunch of us decided to head to the beach to view the stars (you have to go in big groups due to the dingos).  At this point in the trip we’d only seen one while driving down the beach. I have NEVER, in my entire life seen stars like that – it was as if you could see the entire Milky Way!  It’s impossible to capture in a photo, but I so wish I could have, just to share it with you all.

On Friday morning my alarm went off and as I was about to sit up in my tent I heard a guitar playing.  My first thought was as to whether it was a real guitar, and then Cristos started singing!  He was serenading us awake with a song he’d written, quite possibly on the spot, and he was actually pretty good!  Our first, and only, stop of the day was Lake Wabby.  To get there you have to hike maybe 45 minutes and cross some crazy sand dunes to get there – it’s such a random lake.  There are actually fish in the lake that will nibble the dead skin off your feet if you sit still long enough.  Because the sand dunes literally drop right into the lake, Cristos had us all lying on the side of the sand dunes spelling out FRASER while he swam to the middle of the lake to take a photo of us.  He then, of course, had to video people rolling down the sand dunes into the lake.  Before starting the drive home we had some lunch and then John convinced Cristos to get out his guitar and sing us another song or two.  He sang us a song he’d written in Greek, but did a rough translation into English.  Then he sang a few other made up songs about Fraser Island and 4WD trips before we finally had to head back.  The ride back to Rainbow Beach was rather uneventful, but at the end, shortly before arriving at the ferry landing we did see another dingo and this time I actually was able to get a photo of it!

In the end I’m really glad I did the tour, although if I’d have had a different group I might have felt differently.  Cristos was phenomenal and I can’t wait to see all the cool photos he took of us all.  Mis chicas Mexicanas were on my bus this morning, leaving Rainbow Beach, but sadly their next stop is Byron Bay, and I got off in Noosa.  They were tons of fun though and maybe I’ll visit them in Mexico some day….

Friday, February 13, 2015

Sailing the Whitsundays

“Calm seas never made a skilled sailor.”  That’s the phrase that kept running through my head throughout my whole sailing trip on the Mandrake.  It was a nice little sail boat and there were 14 of us and two crew: Eugene the Captain, and Luca the deckie/cook.  It was Luca’s first trip, and he’s only 18, but we all thought he did a fine job (he makes killer mashed potatoes as well).  Since we didn’t have to be at the Abel Point Marina until 2:30pm I had most of the day free, after checking out of my hostel at 9am.  I was able to finish the book my friend Kae sent me, “The City of Tranquil Light” (which I highly recommend), and after finding out the local library isn’t actually in town, and would be closing soon anyway, was pointed in the direction of a book exchange shop.  I was able to trade it in for a new book, “Miss Savidge Moves Her House”, which is a rather fascinating true story that I’m still enjoying.

Anyway, the time finally came and I met the rest of my travel companions: 7 Germans, 5 English, and one Scotsman.  Everyone was traveling with other people, however I never really felt left out; the boat’s far too small for that to happen.  Our first sailing experience was quite rough and a lot of people felt rather sea-sick.  I was sitting at the front of the boat (everyone sits on the high side while we’re sailing, so there’s not much room), so I was completely soaked by the time we arrived at our mooring point for the evening.  Because the sea was so rough Luca had been unable to boil the water for our spaghetti dinner during the voyage, thus we had a rather late meal that evening.  It had been cloudy and overcast for most of the afternoon, and it ended up raining that night so we were a bit miserable trying to sleep.  We had to keep all the hatches closed to keep the rain out, so there was almost no air circulation (and the heat from cooking dinner hadn’t really had time to escape before we all headed to bed).

No one got much sleep that night, but we were up around 6am the next morning and heading to famous Whitehaven beach, recognized as one of the world’s best beaches with 6 miles of pure white silica sand.  It was still cloudy and overcast so it wasn’t quite like the photos you always see, but it was very pretty despite the cloud cover.
 During our walk up to the lookout over the beach I was able to spot a goanna, which is basically a type of lizard.  I will admit it did give me a bit of a fright when I first saw and heard it. Despite the clouds and sailing in the later afternoon the day before I’d still managed to get sunburnt so I did not use the world renowned sand to do any exfoliating.  Several of the girls even “washed” their hair with the sand, but I declined their invitation to join them; I have enough trouble trying to keep my hair tame as it is!  After our time at Whitehaven and a bit of lunch we headed to some snorkel spots.  The first one had tons of fish, including George, the resident Maori Wrasse.  Eugene was throwing bread to them so we had quite an array swimming madly around us.  The next spot was the coral spot, and of course more fish – including an anemone fish family.  The final snorkel spot of the day was the turtle hangout.  We had seen some turtles from the boat while sailing the day before, and we were lucky enough to see one while snorkeling as well.  I still couldn’t get a very good photo of it, but now I’ve seen a few in the wild so I’m fine with that.  After our snorkeling was finished we headed to a nice calm spot for the night.  We were blessed with a gorgeous sunset that night and we all sat up on deck after dinner talking and playing some card games.

We were blessed with what Eugene claims was the best night of sleep he’s had since rainy season began.  With no rain we were able to keep all the hatches open, so it was nice and cool.  We were up in time for a delightful sunrise and a nearly cloudless sky!  Sadly, the sunny day ahead wasn’t exactly the best news for me since I was already feeling my sunburn from the previous two days of cloudy skies.  After a nice breakfast and thoroughly sunscreening I I took my turn in the dinghy to get to the beach for a few hours.  The sun is so harsh here and even though it was only 8am I could just feel the sunburn so I ended up napping in the shade.  Once back on Mandrake we had just enough time to stow all our stuff on the right side of the boat for the ride home (and time for me to reapply sunscreen).  Since the wind would be coming from the left the high side of the boat would be left as well so we didn’t want our stuff flying around down below.
It was a lovely ride back to Airlie Beach; I truly do enjoy just being on the water.  I sat in the very back of the line this time around so I remained relatively dry.  The scenery was spectacular as we sailed past lots of islands and saw a few other sail boats, all set against the stunning turquoise water filled with tiny whitecaps and a bright blue sky overhead.  Though I wasn’t able to shower or wash my hair for two days, and did not appreciate the claustrophobia-inducing toilets it was definitely a trip I would enjoy taking again.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

All Good Things Must Come to an End

I feel as if I’m overdue for a blog post, but just can’t really put into words everything that I’m feeling right now.  I’m sitting in my hostel for the night, in the city of Townsville, writing this and will head to Magnetic Island tomorrow for a couple days.  I guess I’ll go back in time a bit and tell you about my last few, precious days in Cairns.  This is probably going to end up being a long post and for that I apologize.  Spent Thursday and Friday afternoon at the lagoon with Caterina, Jordan, Max, Stefan, & Allan – the water is incredibly warm, but it’s better than sweating in the sun.  Plus, if you stay in long enough by the time you get out the heat is almost bearable.  On Friday night Stefan and his girlfriend Kaho (she joined us that afternoon) were going to Dominos for a pizza dinner and asked if we wanted to join, so Max, Allan, and I decided we might as well enjoy some sustenance before heading to volleyball.  Caterina had to go to work and sadly could not join us.  On the way to the courts we ran into Nina, Rob, & Sweeny heading that way as well.  Since we were so late arriving (I’m usually there by 6pm and it was after 7:30pm) we got to skip to the part of the night where all of us regulars just play together.  We had 3 teams and were able to have a nice rotation on the courts, and since we all know each other there was tons of banter and laughter back and forth.

On Saturday I worked in reception all day (despite working both Thursday & Friday morning, for which I was to actually be paid, but never was) – it was slow, as usual.  I checked 2 people into a room that was to have been vacant for at least 3 days and they came back to tell me it wasn’t cleaned.  I texted Tim to tell him it needed cleaned and told the guests that I’d have it cleaned by the time they got back.  By 4:30pm (when my shift ended) I checked the room and it was still dirty.  Without knowing when the guests would return I couldn’t move them to another room, so I just cleaned it myself.  With the room cleaned I grabbed some dinner and headed to volleyball.  It was actually pretty dead all night, not many people at all.  When I arrived Jun, Calvin, Lucas, & Chulisa were playing against some new people I’d never met.  Mark arrived shortly after I did so we jumped in and played a few games.  Lithia, Hoover, & Gus arrived eventually, but that was it and it just wasn’t much fun.  I left a bit before 9pm because Pukari was having a birthday celebration and I still needed to shower and get ready.  We ended up at the Casino because they have live music and upstairs there are some pool tables.  We ended up having a small pool tournament among ourselves and I ended up on the winning team thanks to Allan (I think over the course of the entire tournament I got 2 balls in the pocket).  It was a late night, but Pukari said he enjoyed it, so that’s what counts I guess.

Caterina wanted to do something with everyone before I left so she decided meeting up for drinks at the Pier Bar before volleyball would be easier than trying to host a BBQ.  So, Sunday afternoon when I got off working in reception she and I walked to the Pier Bar together.  We had a nice group of people and it was so nice of everyone to stop by to see me.  There were pool tables so the guys ended up having another tournament; I was luckily allowed to stay out of it this time.  By 7:30pm we were all heading to volleyball and when we got there Stephanie, TyeiSha, and Wilson were back from the Torres Straits!  I hadn’t seen them since I’d been back so it was great to see them before I left.  Nina told me a few times that night how she really doesn’t want me to leave – her and I are usually the only girls, on a regular basis, that play until the lights go out.  With Jedda, Caterina, Stephanie, and Mae being the only other girls that really count as regulars.  Somebody was joking the other day about the guys only going to volleyball every night to pick up girls, yeah right…

I had texted Agatha and Alicia when I returned telling them I only had a week left and really wanted to see them, but I never heard anything back.  I mentioned something about it to Jay and found out they’re back in Korea at the moment.  Over the last couple days I kept running into people while out and about, saw Agnes in Coles and we chatted for a bit since I hadn’t seen her at volleyball in awhile, ran into Park on my way home from volleyball one night and found out he works with Louis at the RSL, and I’ve even passed Rob on the street a few times.  Every time those little meetings happen it makes me feel like I shouldn’t leave, like I belong here somehow.  Jay even gave me his lucky Texas dime that he’s been carrying around with him since 2008, he said it will help me earn money so I can come back to Cairns as soon as possible.  My last night at volleyball was wonderful, with the exception, of course, that it was my last night.  There was a quick rain storm around 4:30pm so it cooled everything off and helped keep the dust down on the courts.  I met up with Caterina, Jordan, & Allan at Rattle & Hum (they had been at the lagoon and were having a drink after the storm) and we all headed to volleyball together.  Rob, Nina, Sweeny, Francis, Moses, Chulisa, Sam, & Banali were already there so we quickly made a team and got playing.  After a several games, more people had arrived in that time span, Allan told me I should get everyone to sit on the steps for a group photo.  I thought it was an excellent idea, and since Jordan was counting the score for the current game I told him that when it was over he should tell everyone to gather so we could get a photo.  It was a big group, and yet I can think of at least 10 more people off the top of my head that weren’t in it or had already left for the night.  Pukari had bought a teddy bear and had been not-so-discreetly having everyone sign it for me over the last few days so they gave that to me as well.  We quickly got back to playing and I think they only let me sit out one game.  Every time I’d get off someone would step out and tell me to jump in since it was my last night.  I almost felt bad because we were all there to play.  The last game Nina and Jason kept saying, “Come on, we’ve gotta win this one for Abbie!”  They eventually turned out the lights and I had to start saying the majority of my goodbyes.  Most of us stood around talking for a bit, but thankfully we didn’t prolong the inevitable too much.  Caterina and I were the last to leave and I’m really, really going to miss her.  She’s such a sweetie….