It’s two weeks before I head out to New Zealand an I can feel the little girl in me bursting with excitement.
I always described my anxiety as a little girl stuck in my chest doing jumping jacks. At first, I thought she was a afraid. I realized that she is just excited for what’s to come.
After shifting my perspective from believing that I was anxious to excited, it has become much easier to get through my days. I’m not going to lie though, sometimes I randomly cry.. but I’m fine, I promise!
I guess it’s just the thought that I am about to be across the world… in a new country… by myself…..
Like….. who told me this was a good idea? Who said I was capable of living on my own for four months in a new environment?
Hi! My name is Yohely Espiritusanto. I am currently conducting research at an international research in Cali, Colombia. The international research is Universidad del Valle Sede San Fernando. I am researching the correlation between viral diseases (Zika, Dengue, Chikungunya) and Guillain-Barr syndrome. Small side note: I am a Gilman Scholar and obtained a SUNY New Paltz scholarship to be able to do this study abroad program. On this blog, I will be recounting my adventures. I want to start this blog by explaining the process of preparing to get to Cali, Colombia.
I was worried, nervous, and confused! When I was packing for Colombia, I was not sure what to bring to Colombia. I had not studied abroad before, so I did not know what would be provided and what I had to supply. Also, thinking about all the things that I used in a day really worried me because I did not know how I was going to fit my life into two luggages. (In hindsight, I was one of the luckier people because two 50 pound luggages can fit a lot.)
I realized that I could not pack by myself and decided to ask advice from a friend that I knew that studied abroad for a year. My friend took me to several different stores and made sure that I had clothes for every possible weather that still reflected me. She also told me not to bring things such as sheets, hangers, towels, dishes, and etc. She mentioned that those would be provided. However, because I was stressed I brought sheets, hangers, and a towel. I regretted it! When I got to the apartment that I am staying with for two moths, I saw all of those things. Honestly, I ended up wasting luggage space by adding those extra items.
So genuinely, my advice would be to ask your friends who have studied abroad to give you advice on what to bring and listen to them. If your friend does not know, then shoot the people you are staying with an email. Lastly, another resource is to ask the international office to allow you to meet someone who has studied abroad and/or someone who has studied abroad in the country you are going to. The study abroad office at New Paltz is super helpful and I would not doubt that they could help ease your worries with things such as packing and other preparations before you go. Make sure to ask for help while preparing and ask as many people you know that are from the country about it. Do your research and ask questions to those who know!
PS. Do not forget to visit your friends before you go abroad. I assure you will miss them. But also remember they are one Whatsapp text, call, or video away.
(Written from 26 May, final week of classes and exactly one month remaining in Australia)
There’s no such release as the feeling of finally being done with classes. The time of worry is over! Exams are done, papers submitted, and school a distant memory. You now have the rest of the summer (or in my case, some winter first, and then summer) free to do whatever you want. Spend time with friends, go out and explore new wonders, all in all stress free. Right?
Sadly, I’m not done yet. Two of my major essays are due within one week, Creative Writing next Friday and World History as soon as I can pump it out. Needless to say, I’m no where near started, but I can’t take the same “do it the day before” attitude I had back home and apply it here. It gets worse though; not only that, but for these two classes I’m earning over 50% of my grade WITHIN ONE WEEK. The Creative Writing short story, complete with commentary, making up 70% of my grade, and the World History presentation I gave Wednesday, combined with the essay on said presentation, and the final next Wednesday making up 80%. I did a great job on the presentation, and I don’t doubt I can turn out a decent short story with a little planning, or that the other essay or final will be all that difficult for a history buff like myself. But still, the fact that there is so much to do in such a short amount of time is slightly overwhelming.
My other two classes have exams in early June, at the horse race showgrounds for some baffling reason. I’m not stressed about them too much; I only need 6 points in European Rev and 4 points in Irish History to get High Distinction (their version of A+ I guess). My classes here, at Victoria University, are done, but sadly I can’t truly say all my classes are over. Thanks to the Excelsior Scholarship back home, I need 30 credits this year to keep the money, or else I have a giant loan to pay back. As I only have 27, I needed to take a summer class, and what better than Introduction to British Literature? From what I can tell, it’s not the kind of class one can just slide through easily (though I will try) and requires a certain amount of dedication that’s going to clog up my time a little while I’m still here. It’s is more of an inconvenience than a worry, but the class is certainly keeping me on my toes with its weekly discussions, multiple readings, TWO essays, and midterm and final.
The past few weeks have been busy, to say the least, so much so that time has really flown and I now find that I only have one month left here. Realising my time is short, I need to do whatever is left on my bucket list here before I’m no longer able to, as it may be some time before I get to come back. Melbourne is a decently sized city, but as a tourist I find that I’ve already done most of the things I wanted to while here. There’s a few things still to check out, but the list is growing very short and I find I’m going into the city once again just for the sake of going, rather than actually having plans. In Victoria, there’s things I want to do still, but that requires more planning, and often requires transport I don’t have. And out of state, I don’t have the budget, aside from my trip to Tasmania tomorrow.
But I’m determined to make the most of my time here while I still can (provided I get all my assignments done!). Instead of looking so much for things to do, I’m looking for people to do them with. I’ve become closer with friends, expanding my usual group with mutual friends that overtime became my own friends. Though I most often only hang out with a small group of people, I’ve become a slightly familiar face throughout UniLodge and find myself able to strike up a conversation with most anyone (which is a huge boost for me as I’m usually pretty shy and not outgoing). Going out with friends to the bar or for a party used to be a thing I was very much afraid of and dreaded (which isn’t one hundred percent gone), but now it’s become more common and comfortable. I’m looking forward to Tasmania, and hopefully other trips with friends soon. And of course, I’m looking forward to finally getting my classwork all complete so that I enjoy the final month of my time here somewhat stress free.
As I start to prepare to leave for home, i’ve really started reflecting on my time here in London. It’s such a big city with so much to offer and I feel as though i’ve only experienced a quarter of what it has to offer. England may be a small country, but there is so much more to it than meets the eye. Every part of this city is so different and beautiful in their very own way, and i’m going to miss the diversity once i’m back to the cozy and small little town of New Paltz.
I’ve seen so many beautiful parts of England that I don’t even know where to begin. Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus were the first parts of central London I delved into, before I knew all that this city had to offer. I thought everything was amazing then… if only I could go back and tell myself it only gets better from there. That was the first of my many trips to the Piccadilly Circus/Soho area. I think it was one of my favorites, not entirely because of what it had to offer, but because it reminded me of home. I’ll admit I was pretty homesick this trip, but aspects like this made me feel more comfortable. They call Piccadilly the Times Square of London – and it’s easy to see why! Plus, who knew there was also a Soho in London? Definitely not me, but i’m happy there is (even though Soho in NYC is significantly better IMHO). There’s also a China Town in that area too. This area just kept feeling more and more like home.
One of my favorite and last places I visited here was Notting Hill. Known for being the background of many movies, it was the most adorable little place i’ve ever seen. Walking down the residential streets and seeing the colorful houses made me want to return in the future (far future most likely, yah know, when i’m financially stable) and live there. Seriously, I was gushing over this place. Beautiful trees and flowers were everywhere in sight and my heart was very happy. If you want to smile, look up pictures of this place. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Outside of the city, England is filled with historical sights. For instance, the city of Bath. The small city is quite a way from central London, yet completely worth the visit. I literally bought a Jane Austen book after visiting here (mostly because I walked down the path she wrote about in her novel Persuasion). The Roman Baths possess such a rich history that you can’t find in the U.S., therefore I enjoyed every minute of my time there. There’s also a really good ice cream place.
Stonehenge is another historical mystery that intrigued me. If you don’t know about Stonehenge, I suggest you look up pictures and keep in mind the rocks were arranged that way circa 3000 BC. Yup, that’s right, BC. That means no technology, no machinery, zip. So how were the stones transported there and arranged like that? Maybe look up a conspiracy theory for an answer to that question, because nothing is known for sure.
I could go on and on about every place i’ve encountered here including the good and the bad. But I should stop before I start getting into every little detail like what the person next to me on the tube was wearing. Bottom line is that through the ups and down of being abroad, London has been so wonderful, so beautiful, and hold so much promise for the future.
Imagine the average bar of soap, with an area of roughly 46.2 cm (I did a lot of math to illustrate this). Convert that to meters, then multiply that by 187,826 or so, and you’ve got 8,460 m. In kilometers, this is an area of 8.46 km. Paint it red, put it in the barren desert, claim it as an Aboriginal holy land, and you’ve pretty much got Uluru. A giant oasis in the desert, this is the perfect chance for the government (and occasionally locals) to make money from tourists, who come daily in the hundreds and violate nearly every sacred rule set in place. It’s hot, full of flies, and there is NOTHING else around. So, is it really that appealing?
I didn’t actually know if I’d be able to make it to Uluru (also known as Ayer’s Rock) up until a week before I did. Getting a text in the middle of class from Lily and Julia, they tell me they found tickets to Uluru for only $200 roundtrip. The catch? It was only five days away, and I didn’t know if skipping class with such short notice was a good idea. I realized though, that opportunities like this don’t come every day, and if I didn’t go I’d definitely regret it. I would get to go camel riding in the Outback, as I’d promised close friends from my church, and get to see this giant rock that just screams Australia as much, if not more, than Sydney Opera House. So in a wonderful spirit of “screw class, I’m in Oz,” me, Julia, Lily, and Joseph, made plans to travel to what the Aussies call “the Back of Bourke,” i.e., “the middle of rural nowhere.”
Stepping out of the airport, you immediately get hit with an immense heat, and the first thing you notice is the redness of the soil beneath your feet. It’s truly Martian when you first see it, and it’s near impossible to get off your shoes or bare feet. The next thing that hits you is the flies, which will not leave you alone no matter how much bug spray you use or if you were dumb enough to buy a goofy looking fly net (no offense Joseph and Lily). Since it’s impossible to get anywhere without a car, renting one was on our first list of priorities. With that, we went into what somehow classifies as a town for lunch, and after that, to the rock. There really is no way to prepare for seeing Uluru in person. At a quick glance, it is just a big red boulder in the middle of nowhere. But once you see it even from a distance, it is truly awe inspiring. It’s much bigger than any picture can properly portray, and as you driver closer and closer toward it it becomes more and more magnificent. There’s also surprisingly more vegetation than you would expect: vibrant bushes, small trees, and loads of yellow grass.
Our first stop at the rock was at an Aboriginal Cultural Centre, dedicated to showing Aboriginal life, belief, stories, and most beautifully, art. Unfortunately, you aren’t allowed to take pictures of most of it, which while sad for the photographer I’ve become, is understandable. To have your way of life constantly intruded upon, even mocked, whilst trying to hold onto your identity amongst invasion of your sacred land, is a struggle I’ll never fully comprehend. If it means no pictures, so be it. This was my first hands on glance at a life completely foreign to me, dating back over 80,000 years. With more time, I would have loved to have seen more, but the schedule didn’t allow. And so we left there to embark on a bush walk around the rock itself, and as we pull up to the parking lot we spot a massive tour group climbing on said sacred rock. I want to punch every single one of them. If there’s one thing you don’t do on someone else’s holy land, it’s climb all over it, in doing so disrespecting everything about the owner’s beliefs, and claim it as your own victory. Don’t get me wrong, I want to take pictures, and I want to climb. But I was raised to respect other people’s wishes and their beliefs. To ignore that makes you seem not like a conquering adventurer scaling the top of the world, but an ignorant prick who really doesn’t care at all that this is someone else’s sacred land.
But, leaving them be and secretly hoping karma will teach them a lesson while I’m on the other side of the rock, the four of us begin the long walk around the base. As I’d mentioned earlier, Uluru is huge. With a circumference of 9.4 km (5.8 mi), it’s bigger than Central Park, Hudson NY, or even my pleasant Footscray suburb. Everywhere there is something to see, each crack and crevasse a work of art and each outlying boulder beautifully placed. The sounds of the occasional breeze, buzzing insects, screeching hawks filling your ears, and the soft red sand beneath your bare feet (I had to know what it felt like without shoes). Nevertheless, we gravely underestimate how long this walk will take us. Surely, we’re just going to do a quick loop. After an hour, we begin to question how long the walk is. Debating whether we should turn back or not to make sure we have time to see the sunset, we decide to keep trekking, sure we’re more than halfway there. An hour and a half pass by, and we’re pretty sure we’re not far from the end. Just short of two hours in, we’re getting close, maybe. At two and half hours, we have to turn to look at the map. Only then do we realize that this is a FOUR HOUR hike. Much too late to turn back, we have to tough it out for another hour and a half.
In the great desert heat, having to refill on water many times, and constantly swipe away flies, we make it to the car exhausted. Determined to carry on to see the sunset from a vantage point a few kilos away, we drive and arrive having just missed the best part of the sunset. The flies are still insane, and the light isn’t good enough for pictures. But something greater is out there than a colorful rock. Driving to the hotel we begin to see the stars emerge in the Outback sky. First, one. Then two, or three. We check in, have dinner, and decide to head out again for some quick stargazing. I look up at the immensity of the heavens. In the Outback, there’s absolutely no light pollution. You can see everything, stars all around and light filling the night sky. The entire galaxy is before you, a sight impossible to capture with my camera (but I got some from a pro photographer) but instead enveloping your entire soul. This is the opening of the heavens. And there is nothing more beautiful than this.
The stars came into vision again very quickly: having slept only 5 or 6 hours, we had to wake up early in order to prepare for our sunrise camel ride. Stepping outside to wait for our pickup, the frigid morning air chills you with ease. Arriving at the camel farm, the staff give us a quick run down on what to expect, and then take us out to the camels themselves. Having ridden horses several times, I can tell you riding a camel is a whole different rodeo. To start, camels are much bigger than most horses, and must be mounted as the camel kneels, as opposed to climbing up into a stirrup. Once saddled the camel rises to the ground using its back legs first: failure to observe and prepare for this leaves one with a face full of red dirt. Camels also walk using one side of their legs at a time, going left, then right, then left, much like a ship. As with horses, naturally you want a camel that is well behaved, and even more so since an angry camel has the tendency to spit. When asked about our camel, Luci, we were told that he is “adventurous” and “strongminded.” Only once up and on our walk did they reveal his full name.
And so, Joseph and I are ridding Lucifer the Camel through the bush as the sun just comes up over the horizon. The stars slowly fade as warmth returns to the Outback. Lucifer is actually quite well behaved, making me think he’s just misunderstood and teased by the other camels. We get to Uluru once again, as the sun rises over the vast Australian bush and paints the rock in these beautiful reds and oranges. I’ve said this many times before, but the view is breathtaking in every way, and the whole experience blows you away. Never before would I have thought I’d make it to Australia, let alone riding camels in the open Outback. I’m currently doing something I doubt more than 3 other people I meet will have ever done (Joseph, Lily, and Julia). I get to witness something here completely beyond myself. The beauty of this sacred rock, having in a peaceful and respectful way conquered it by walking the entire circumference of it. The vastness of this great galaxy, each and every star and planet before me. The pleasure of sitting a top one hell of a camel (pun intended) while riding through the desert.
I cannot overstate how special it really is for me to be here, not just in this country, but this world, this life. There is so much to explore out there. A rock. A desert. A country. A galaxy. And it’s yours.
(Written from 6th May, almost 3 months since leaving)
So the Australian adventure is here, changing me in more ways than I ever could have imagined. Life has become so much bigger, so much more beautiful. I’ve proven to myself and the world that I, Jonathan David Kline, can take on the world, then thousand miles from home. The days of a small secluded life in rural nowhere have been behind for quite some time, and I find that the opportunities in Australia are far more than I ever had back home. I love it here. I really, genuinely do, and a giant part of me wants to stay here forever. So with the future ahead of me, my eyes set on Australia and all the adventures I’m experiencing in this great new world, what do I really miss from home?
To be honest, a lot less than I thought at first (I’m sorry to all the people back home reading this, especially my Dad, but bear with me). I even boast about it to all my friends. They talk occasionally about how much they miss this or that, whether it be the food, or New Paltz, or friends, or any other range of things. But honestly, I don’t miss home like I thought I would. In terms of food, I don’t really eat much to begin with, so whatever keeps me fed is enough (usually pizza, grilled toasties, and chicken parm). I’m not from the city, so I’m not attached to New York style pizza, grilled toasties are easy to make anywhere, and although initially I missed having chicken parm come with spaghetti, I kinda like that it comes with ham and chips (fries) here. As for New Paltz, I was only there for one semester before coming here. Though I loved that semester, I don’t have the same attachment to it as others. Going back will be nice, but not something I’m extremely looking forward to. That ties into friends as well: I only got to make so many friendships at New Paltz due to only being there for so long, and once I go back there’s only a few faces I’ll have actually missed. Outside of New Paltz, truth be told I don’t have more than two or three close friends, who I only see once or twice a year anyway.
This isn’t to say of course that I don’t miss SOME food, New Paltz, and friends back home. But in many ways, I’ve found more success here than I did back home. While I miss some restaurants (and especially cheaper food), I’ve found several places I like here that can substitute. Plus, I’ve become half decent at making my own food, and do so just about everyday (which doesn’t sound like a huge accomplishment until you’re out on your own without a meal plan like at New Paltz). I miss the small town feel of New Paltz, and even though Deyo was kinda crappy I miss my old suite, which had legroom, occasional crazy, and most importantly, free laundry. But I’ve come to appreciate Victoria University enough (it’s not the greatest school); classes are easier and students and professors friendly. I won’t say I like UniLodge (we’ve had to evacuate for a ‘fire’ every week), but I enjoy being able to cook my own meals, play games of pool, and hang out with friends. And friend-wise, I feel I’m much more comfortable and able to enjoy being with friends here more than I sometimes was at home. Now, I’ll actually seek to hang out with mates, watch movies, play games, and importantly for me, not be as afraid of women or parties/drinks as I used to be. The friendships I’ve developed are ones I never really had back home, and even though inevitably I won’t be able to keep them all once home, I feel like now I know how to make friends, how to be social, and once home how to keep friendships going.
But when it comes to friends, there’s one I truly miss with all my heart, and whenever I’m asked, “don’t you miss anything from home?” is my immediate response: my sister. Two years younger than I am, Shelby has been my best friend since day one. We had an incredible childhood full of memories and jokes we make to this day. After losing our mom, we toughed it out together, working to push through and build the other up (I needed a LOT of it). Always supportive, always there for the other, and at the same time always making fun of the other or making complete fools of ourselves. So when I first started looking at study abroad, the one thing that was holding me back above everything else was being so far from Shelby. At New Paltz, I was still close enough I could come visit when I wanted, and we still talked on the phone every single day. Now, I was going to be geographically further from her than ever before. Not to mention, this being her senior year of high school, I’m not there to help her through and experience such a huge part of her life. Performing her senior year acting troupe show, getting her driver’s license, going to prom, deciding where to go to college, walking down the stage at graduation… and I’m on the other side of the planet.
Yet even though I’m so far away from home, I still feel close to home, if not closer (if that makes sense). I’m still able to talk with my sister at least once a week but usually more. I don’t always enjoy the time difference, but we’ve come to manage and have worked out the best times to call each other (usually my late morning, which is NY’s late evening). I still get to be a part of my sister’s life, watching as she develops into a new woman. Just as this trip has changed me, it’s also changed her, making her more independent and ready to leave the nest, and as a brother I couldn’t be happier. I also try to talk to my parents at least once a week, who I also miss a lot. My dad is always excited to hear from me, brightening up his day whenever I call, and mine as well. I think even more than Shelby he wants me to come back soon, and I can’t blame him. As excited as my family is to hear all my interesting stories taking on sharks in the reef and crocodiles in the jungle (I may have borrowed those stories from Finding Nemo and Crocodile Dundee), I’m just as excited to hear stories back home about how the deck furniture is being replaced or my dad got his crown replaced. Because even though it’s not always interesting at a glance, it’s home.
Being so far away has made me greatly appreciate everything about home that I sometimes took for granted. I miss the dishwasher, free laundry, my computer, the deck swing and hammock my family is beginning to set up once again. One big thing I really miss having is my car; which is definitely one of the first things I’m using once I get back (hopefully on the right side of the road!). Not that I mind so much using public transportation or my feet for shorter distances, but there’s some days I just want to drive in the countryside, or not walk fifteen minutes to the grocery store. Although generally speaking the weather here is better, I miss the change of the seasons and the beauty of spring. I miss hanging out with my cousins after church on Sunday or being at my grandparents doing yard work. I miss baseball games and bike riding and building things. Home cooked meals my stepmom would go out her way to make for us, sitting at the couch watching Jeopardy while eating said meals, and then a walk to the falls after dinner as a family….
Despite everything here, there’s just some things back home that will always hold a special place in my heart. No matter where I go, or how far, or for how long, home is always home. Maybe one day Australia could be home. Maybe I won’t always stay in the same place I grew up. Maybe what I have at home isn’t meant to last forever. But there will always be something special about my life in upstate New York, that no matter what happens I will always treasure and cherish.
When I first arrived here back on February 12 I started with 144 days. After changing my return flight from July 6 to June 15th (Australia is EXPENSIVE)I suddenly have 31 days left! Time really does fly by. While I do miss home im not sure Im ready to leave. I wanted to come to Australia because it was so far away but now that I am leaving soon it makes me wonder if I will ever make it back out here. It has definitely been an incredible semester though and I managed to do practically everything on my list.
Also classes here are a JOKE! Now It doesn’t mean you should skip class but it is incredibly easy compared to classes back home. I am sure however that this differs from major to major. I am a bit worried about getting back home and having to readjust to classes and life at New Paltz. So much has changed back home with friends, family, and especially with work. Going back home will definitely be interesting.
I have done a number of trips with tour company REAL Australia. All of them have had some memorable moments but honestly none have lived up to the amazingness of the orientation trip. PLEASE if you end up studying at Victoria University DO the orientation trip. I cannot stress this enough. REAL Australia as a concept is cool because it is small group trips (8-15 people) led by real Australians! They do trips to Torquay, Healesville Sanctuary and the Mornington peninsula. While they all have some breathtaking sights if I could do it again I would skip Healesville and instead go to Ballarat Wildlife park.
Regardless Phillips Island was cool. I saw a pelican feeding which was pretty cool. There were about 15 pelicans all fighting for food. We also had lunch which was chicken parm or as it is said here chicken parma (the Australians shorten everything). In fact it is interesting to note that chicken parma here is not done with pasta but instead always with chips (American Fries). The penguin parade was honestly disappointing as it is dark and cold and no guarantee the penguins will go near your viewing area. You are also not allowed to take photos. While I do recommend going to Phillips island I think one might be better off skipping the parade. Either way Real Australia provides some pretty cool trips which are definitely worth checking out!
(Written from 25th April, just past halfway point in time in Oz)
You look around and see the great nothingness surrounding you. There is no land, only water. But despite what appears to be emptiness, below you is perhaps among the greatest flourishing of life this world has to offer. Thousands of miles of coral reef wrap around the northeast coast of Australia, the largest living organism on the planet, and unlike the Great Wall of China (unfortunately for the Chinese) can be seen from space orbit. With such diversity, this is the epitome of a strange and unfamiliar world, and unfortunately, a dying world. This must be the work of God himself: the reef, its abundance of life, the mere thought of you having travelled all the way out here to a sight few back home will ever see. You see the first of the snorkelers headed out into the waters. And here you are, about to do something no one back will ever experience. You realize once again how choppy the waves are and how terrible dinner was last night. You’re about to hurl into the Great Freaking Barrier Reef.
Planning this trip was one of the first things I wanted to do. Up there amongst the Serengeti plains and Amazon rainforest, the Great Barrier Reef is one of the most iconic parts of nature, with such an incredible amount of life found in one spot. As I mentioned earlier, it can be seen from space. And as sad as it is, it may not last forever. If I don’t do this now, I may never get to see it. But combined with a turbulent flight the day before, a bad pizza that kept me up sick a good chunk of the night (shout out to the Domino’s in Cairns), I was really not feeling it when I woke up in the morning. I almost didn’t even go, but again, if I didn’t now, when would I? After some serious questioning and Joseph persuading me, I decided I really couldn’t miss out. And so, I got on the boat, embarking on the incredibly long and rough boat ride to one of the outer parts of the reef. You can’t see much from the surface, but there are occasional fish that come near enough to spot them, and even the occasional turtle if you have a keen eye. I was still feeling sick, so when everyone else went to scuba dive I stayed on board. If I was going to do this, I needed food first.
Lunch wasn’t much, but it was enough to get me going and ready for the afternoon. Though I didn’t get to snorkel, I decided instead I would try my hand at scuba diving. I’d never done it and it was something I’ve always wanted to do. There’s that moment of hesitation on the side of the boat holding you back. The oxygen tank is heavy, the flippers awkward, and you’ve never relied on a regulator for breathing. Not to mention that you’re in the middle of nowhere. No matter how good you think you may be at swimming (I’m not) it’s an incredibly daunting feeling. Then you go under… and it’s breathtaking. So much so that it really is hard to describe in words. You’re surrounded by fish of all kinds and colors, getting up close and personal with creatures you’d only ever dreamed of. There’s an indescribable feeling of awe and admiration that swallows your entire body. Every corner of your eye is capturing something incredible, each new sight more and more magnificent. I didn’t see anything big like a turtle, shark, or stingray (maybe that was for the better), but it was an experience that will literally be impossible to forget.
The next day was sort of secondary to the reef at first glance, merely an extra part of the travel package and something to fill up an extra day. I’m proud to say it was probably one of my favorite days in Australia so far, definitely top three or even top two. We spent the day touring the Daintree Rainforest, the oldest in the world, with a small group reminiscent of the Great Ocean Road I previously embarked on in Victoria. The driver, Wyllie, was easily the best part of the trip: the most true-blue Aussie I’ve met with an uncanny resemblance to Steve Irwin (he doesn’t really look or sound like him, it might just be the fact that I’m not from here). Very entertaining, friendly, funny, informative, and outgoing in every sense, this bloke easily was the best tour guide there could be. We hiked in the rainforest searching for cassowaries (not too much unlike Russel searching for a snipe in the movie UP), spent time exploring incredible beaches, went crocodile sightseeing, and even went swimming in a rainforest pool (not the same place as the crocs)! Just as much as being at the reef, being in a rainforest is absolutely different and unique from anything I’ve experienced back home. Moments like this make you realize just how special it really is to be in this new world.
We had one more day in Cairns (pronounced ‘cans’, hence the title), and with the city being so small we didn’t have much of any plans at first. After some research, we saw a ferry that could take us to Fitzroy Island, and decided we might as well see what was what. Presented with the opportunity to scuba dive once more on the reef (actually some combination of scuba and snorkeling- snuba, they call it), I jumped at the chance. After all, this time was cheaper and longer, and I wasn’t sick. I somehow managed to convince Joseph to go too, who could not swim at all, and upon arrival we quickly suited up. Once again, the experience was astonishing. I’d say it was better than the first time even, largely due to not being sick and actually getting my money’s worth this time. On shore again, Joseph and I made quick friends of the couple who’d snuba-ed with us, having lunch while taking about life. Then was a quick trip to the beach to try snorkeling, but because I was pretty terrible at it I didn’t stay long. I went instead on the hardest hike I’ve ever attempted (even harder than the Figure Eight Pools in Sydney). This mountain was only 375m high (1200 feet roughly) but had to be climbed at a 60 or 70 degree angle most of the time (fair dinkum). I’m great at hikes, but this was a challenge for me. So much so that I actually had to stop for a few minutes. Not for pictures of admiring the view. I had to catch my breath. Twice. If you know me, this is not something Jon Kline does.
All in all Queensland was a life changing experience, and something I will always remember. I did so many new and cool things that I’d once only dreamed of: exploring a rainforest, scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef, stopping a hike due to exhaustion… the list goes on. It also opened my eye up to how precious life on this planet really is. I’ve always loved nature, and always been an advocate for preserving it as best possible, but being there in person gives you a whole new eye. Hearing about the destruction of the oceans, the chopping down of the Daintree rainforest, seeing in person bleached coral reefs, is heartbreaking. When the Great Barrier Reef has a shorter life expectancy than you do, it’s a sad day for nature. I may be the only one back home to ever come here, to experience this kind of natural beauty such as the reef or rainforest. But I don’t want to know that I’ll ever be the only one. That my kids may not have the same chance as me to scuba dive in the Great Barrier Reef or hike in the oldest rainforest this world has to offer.
So, what can I do? In a sense, nothing. But in another, everything.