Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Spring Break Aussie Style

Hello Everyone! Sorry I have not written in a while but I have been traveling for most of the past 3 weeks and so I haven't had much access to internet. Australia has yet to get in the free WiFi game.. most hostels we stayed at had WiFi available but you had to pay for it and it was pretty expensive and pretty slow, so it wasn't really worth it to try and get on, especially when there were so many other things to do. Anyways you're probably wondering how I've been able to travel so much around finals time, but here it actually isn't even close to finals- since our semester started so much later (in late February), I am really only halfway done and so last week we had what was equivalent to Spring Break in America, only of course they don't call it that since they don't even really have seasons in Queensland, and if they did this time of year would be considered Fall rather then Spring. They call it "Lecture Recess" and the weekend before we had a 4 day break for Easter, so most of us study abroad students took advantage of the time off and went exploring.. all over Australia. I don't have time right now to write in detail about everything I did so I figured I'd put it in bullet point form and add some pictures- but overall it was one of the best couple weeks here and it was really cool to see more of Australia, meet other backpackers, and just generally have adventures! 

- Over Easter Weekend we went to Airlie Beach where I spent one night and then left for a 3 day 2 night sail around the Whitsunday Islands, where we snorkeled, went for fullmoon bushwalks, and stopped at Whitehaven beach, probably the most beautiful beach I've ever been to. The sand is 98% silica and it's the sand they used to make the Hubble Telescope- it even squeaks when you walk on it!
On the sailboat at sunset. 

At a lookout before hiking down to Whitehaven Beach. 

-After going back to school for 4 days, we left for Sydney!! We walked around the city and the Sydney beaches, where there are no stingers but the water is cold! At night we hung out at our hostel or went to King's Cross, Sydney's infamous redlight distract where the best nightlife is. 

In front of the Sydney Opera House. 

Touching the Sydney Opera House!!

-After 4 nights in Sydney, we left for Byron Bay, a super chill little surfer town where we hung out on the beach, went sea kayaking with dolphins and turtles, and went to visit a nearby hippie village called Nimbin.

About to go sea kayaking with dolphins. 

-After 3 nights in Byron Bay, we travelled up the coast to a place called Surfers Paradise in the Gold Coast. I was expecting it to be small and laid back like Byron, but it was actually much bigger. It's kindof like Australia's version of Miami Beach or Vegas, with skyscraper hotels, casinos, amusement parks, and all kinds of themed shows and tacky night clubs. It was fun but I definitely preferred the atmosphere in Byron Bay! If anyone reading this blog plans to go to Australia I'd put Sydney and Byron Bay at the top of my recommendations!

-After the Gold Coast we spent 1 night in Brisbane before heading back to Townsville. Unfortunately we didn't have much time to spend in Brisbane but we walked around the area our hostel was in which included Brisbane's Chinatown, and made friends with other backpackers staying at our hostel. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A Normal Week

        This week was pretty much ordinary. No storms or cool trips. The weather in Townsville has been absolutely beautiful lately though, which makes staying in town not bad at all. This Saturday and then again on Monday after my morning I class I finally got to take advantage of living on the coast of tropical Australia and went down to the beach. Floating in the ocean on a sunny, 80 degree Monday was a nice reminder of why I decided to spend 6 months halfway across the world from my friends and family. Especially with the rain I was beginning to get a bit homesick, and I was beginning to wonder why I'd thought it would be a good idea to miss out on so much stuff happening at home to come to a random city where it rained all the time. But now that the weather is nice, I'm able to go to the beach and be instantly reminded that no matter how much I love St. Mary's, missing one semester to be able to hang out on a palm-tree studded beach after class was probably a good decision :).
        School is also going well- it's midterm week here but fortunately mine weren't too bad. Volleyball on Tuesday night was fun. So far my team, the UniSlayers, is undefeated! I'm not sure how much of that (if any) is down to me, but it's fun being able to brag about it. It's been a long time since I've been committed to any kindof sports team and it's actually really fun. Tuesday's nights are definitely something I look forward to. In fact my team all gets along so well that we've even started to meet up on weekends to play beach volleyball at the Strand. 
        Work at the cafe at Uni is also going well. I've been assigned to register the last few weeks which I much prefer to grill- far less opportunities to burn myself! The only problem is that they have different names for coffee drinks here (i.e. latte, cappuccino, etc mean different things here) so when people ask me what's in some kind of drink, I sometime have no idea myself. That and the money is kindof hard to get used to. They have $1 and $2 coins here but the $2 coins are tiny. The biggest coins are actually the 50 cent pieces... that makes no sense right?! So I am always catching myself about to give someone the wrong change. The other day though, my friend found some American money in her bag and it looked and felt so weird! I guess I didn't realize how quickly something you've used your whole life can become foreign if you don't see it for 2 months! 
        I've been hanging out more with my housemate Adam, because I decided I need to spend more time with Australians. Although still a student Uni, he is quite a bit older so we don't have much in common but I've been bringing my laptop to the living room to Facebook rather than sitting holed up in my room, and over our computers we talk about random stuff. He's kindof a tech nerd (he's studying IT), and I couldn't know (or care) less about programing and that kindof stuff, and he's pretty equally uninterested in biology, so it's funny, whenever either of us tries to tell the other person about our schoolwork, we just smile and nod. But he's got a good sense of humor and likes to try and get me mad by making fun of America. The other day he tried to tell me that per capita Australians are better athletes and have won more Olympic medals. As if!
        Last Saturday I hung out with another new Australian friend, Leah, who's originally from Tasmania. It was fun getting to stay at her apartment because she has a really nice place with a huge balcony overlooking the city, and we cooked dinner, dyed our friends hair, and watched Sex and City and Charlie St. Cloud. It was like a middle school sleepover but it was fun and a nice break from the usual Saturday carnage. 
        Most of my friends here are still American, which in some ways is kindof unfortunate but in other ways it's to be expected. It's hard to make friends with Australians when you're only here for 5 months and when it's so much easier to relate to other study abroad students because they are experience the same things as you (excitement, frustration, homesickness)  and interested in doing the same things (stupid touristy stuff, traveling). So far I really like the Australians I've met though, and am looking forward to meeting more. In fact, a friend of mine who studied abroad in Sydney 2 years ago has put me in contact with two of his Australian friends who I'm now talking to on Facebook and plan on meeting up with when I visit Sydney over Lecture Recess (Spring Break) in two weeks. They seem really cool and I'm excited to be shown around Sydney by people who live there. 
        Alright well. I'm pretty tired from working all day and I have class tomorrow morning so I will write more later. This weekend is Easter and we have Friday and Monday off so I'm going to the Whitsunday Islands, off the coast of Airlie Beach about 4 hours south of here. I'm doing an overnight sailing trip and going snorkeling and the weather is supposed to be good so hopefully I will finally get to see the Great Barrier Reef as it looks on all the postcards!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Oldest Rainforest in the World!!

As I mentioned before, last weekend my friend Clara and I took a trip to Cape Tribulation, located in the middle of the Daintree Rainforest, the oldest rainforest in the world! We decided to visit Cape Tribulation because we wanted to see something really unique to Australia. Originally we wanted to go to the Outback and see Uluru (the biggest freestanding rock in the word), but that was before we realized what a big country Australia actually is- larger than the continental United States- and that to visit something in the center of the country would require a 19 hour bus trip. Definitely not possible in a weekend! So we decided on the Daintree Rainforest, a World Heritage listed rainforest and much closer to Townsville. We arrived in Cairns from Townsville at around 4am (see previous post about bus being 8 hours late!) and were picked up at 7am the next morning by Cape Tribulation Adventures, the company we'd arranged to do an overnight tour with. 
Needless to say we were exhausted but that day was probably one of the coolest days in Australia so far. The tour included a crocodile cruise on the Daintree River where we spent an hour looking for the massive (up to 18 feet) saltwater crocodiles that live there. Because the tide was high and the weather was cloudy, we didn't see any really huge ones but we saw two small baby ones sunning themselves on logs near the bank. Our guide was really funny and kept us entertained despite the lack of huge croc sitings- he was full of information about crocodiles as well as trues stories (some funny, some tragic) of encounters with the deadly animals. He also knew a lot about other aspects of the rainforest environment and even managed to make information about plants interesting with his stories on mangrove trees. After the cruise we went on a hike in the rainforest and saw lots of cool plants, lizards, butterflies, and huge spiders. Cassowaries, giant flightless birds, and tree kangaroos also make their home in the rainforest but you have to be really lucky to see them. The rainforest itself is cool because of how old it is- approximately 60 million years older than the Amazon. 
We finally arrived at our hostel in Cape Tribulation, named by Captain Cook because his ship ran aground on the reef of Cape Trib waters and he found the rainforest a miserable place to try and repair his ship and resupply his crew. He also named the nearby mountain Mount Sorrow and the bay Weary Bay. Clearly Captain Cook wasn't having a great time in Australia. Anyways, that afternoon we had a choice of activity and Clara decided to go ziplining or "jungle surfing" as they call it, and I decided to go sea kayaking at sunset. Sea kayaking was kindof scary at first because one of the first things the guide went over was the procedure in case we see a saltwater crocodile. Normally the crocs don't actually live in the ocean, they're just called saltwater crocodiles because they can swim in saltwater, but when the ocean water is warm enough (like it is this time of year),  some of the big ones sometime swim out of the estuaries and into the oceans looking for new territory. After learning all about how dangerous they can be, I was a little bit freaked out, especially since I'm not a very experienced kayaker! Even though the guide from the morning told us that the crocodiles really only need to eat once every few months and they don't purposely look for humans to eat, he said that they are very territorial and will attack you just like they would another crocodile who enters their territory- by grabbing you, dragging you down, and jerking you around. The only difference is that when they do this to other crocs who have invaded their terrority, the other croc swims away fine, albeit a little bruised. Us humans on the other hand are unlikely to survive that kind of treatment.
 But my guide promised me that in 12 months of doing sea kayaking tours he'd only see one crocodile. So we went, but I was pretty tense for the first bit until I finally convinced myself the chances of seeing a croc were pretty slim and focused on the beautiful bay and the Great Barrier Reef, right underneath me! We saw fish, sea turtles, and we almost saw a dugong! Which are really rare and quickly becoming an animal I'm sortof obsessed with (the Aborigine painting I almost spent $300 on was of dugongs). Unfortunately the dugong that has been hanging around the area for the past couple months and who the guide saw twice the day before was nowhere to be seen that evening :(  We waited for almost an hour above a seagrass bed (their preferred food) and scanned the surface around us, looking for her every 3-4 minute surfaces to breath, but sadly she did appear. I was very very very disappointed. In an effort to make it up to us, the guide led us into shallow water, hopped out of his kayak, and picked up a box jellyfish. Not quite the same as a dugong. But still pretty cool since this is the jellyfish all the hype is about and the reason you can't go swimming in the ocean in Queensland. I was amazed he just picked it up because we've been told countless times that if a box jellyfish stings you, you'll be dead within minutes. Obviously my guide did not die, and he explained to us that people really just make a big deal out of them because Australia doesn't want to be sued. Yes, if the tentacle of a large one comes into full contact with your neck or chest, you will die within about 120 seconds. But the chances of that happening are absurdly small- much smaller than getting into a car crash.  So he held it out for us, and even let us touch it. It was pretty cool to touch one, and it was nice to finally put a face to the name of the mysterious danger that has kept me from enjoying swimming in the ocean. 
The rest of the night we hung out in our hostel, and then next morning we walked along the beach and up to the Cape Trib lookout point. That afternoon our tour took us back to Cairns and Clara and I spent the evening exploring Cairns, which seems like a fun a place. It is definitely more touristy than Townsville, but that means more good restaurants, cool shops, and a great boardwalk/public park along the beach. The following day we returned to Townsville, and this time our Greyhound bus left right on time :)

On the Daintree River,  looking for saltwater crocodiles.

Mangroves! The only trees that can grow with their roots under saltwater.

Cool rainforest plants... they almost look as if they've been painted on the tree. 

Huge spider! These were all over the place, including at our hostel. 

Pretty rainforest beetle. Unfortunately my camera's zoom is not the best. 

Lizard! I can't remember the exact name of this species but it's part of the dragon family (as in Bearded Dragons, Komodo Dragons, etc.)

One of the cool things about Cape Tribulation is that the rainforest literally goes right up to the beach.. something I guess Captain Cook didn't appreciate as much. 

Warning about jellyfish. This sign is slightly ridiculous because it makes the jellyfish seem huge, like giant squids or something. Their bodies are not actually the size of our heads!

Me standing at the Cape Tribulation lookout. 

A dugong! ( picture taken from googleimages). This is the animal I really really wanted to see but didn't. Aren't they cute???

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


Well I kindof got my wish from last week- Townsville did end up getting a cyclone of sorts. Not a huge one, but one with winds strong enough to take out many of the trees in the park across the street from my house. They called it a "mini-tornado" but some people were unlucky enough to have their roofs blown away and there was flooding and trees down in a lot of places. It happened around 4am in the morning. I was woken up by the sound of the wind because my window was open and it was actually quite scary! I almost went and got my Australian housemate because I was thinking to myself, if this is a cyclone, I really have no idea what to do!! Luckily it only lasted about 20 minutes. I was hoping classes might be cancelled the next morning, (it would be only fair since I'm missing out on snow days back home) and sure enough, my 9:00am lecture was evacuated half an hour into the class because the room had started to flood. The day after was surprisingly sunny and most of the days since have been at least partially sunny so I'm hoping the mini-tornado was the rainy season's last call.
 On that Friday, however, I learned that even if it had stopped raining, I probably had a few weeks until the effects of the rainy season stopped being an inconvenience. The bus my friend and I were supposed to take on Friday ended up being 8 hours late because of flooding south of Townsville. We were frustrated because we had counted on having Friday night to hangout in Cairns, a coastal city north of Townsville, before heading to the Daintree Rainforest on Saturday morning, but we made the most of it by spending the afternoon at Townsville's Indigenous Cultural Center. There we learned about the history of Australia and how truly awful the European settlers were to the Aborigine people. Even today racism is still a huge problem and many people see the Aborigine as less than human or as lazy, unintelligent, amoral and generally incapable managing themselves. But in reality the poverty, unemployment, poor health and crime that plagues their communities is the direct result of centuries of racism and discrimination.  It was only in 1967 that they got citizenship and the right to vote. Australia is still working at equality and justice but it is being achieved at a surprisingly slow rate for such an otherwise developed nation. Even in my short time here I've heard several racist comments- one otherwise perfectly nice Australian friend told me that she would never go swimming in the public pool my study abroad friends and I  sometimes go to because "it's like a bathtub for indigenous people". Another time I was drinking Goon (cheap boxed wine) and was told by a white Australian that I would "fit in well with the Aborigines".  I try not to be too judgmental of Australia as a country, however, because even America is still struggling with racism as the case of Trayvon Martin clearly illustrates.
On a happier note, we also learned about their culture and looked at some really amazing artwork in a gallery they had set up. I almost bought a painting I liked it so much, but it was $300 so I decided to wait until I have saved some money from my job here before spending that much on a piece of art. I really like their style of painting though and think it will be a good souvenir of my time here, so I definitely plan on returning to buy it! Okay, well having just returned from volleyball (my team won!) I'm pretty tired, and since I have to get up around 6:30am tomorrow for work, I think I will save writing about the Daintree Rainforest until tomorrow!

Tree branches down in the park!

Road floods on the way to Cairns. 

Monday, March 19, 2012

Full Moon Parties, Rain, and More Rain!

The past couple weeks in Australia have been really fun, and really really really wet! According to the Townsville locals, the rainy season is typically in Dec/Jan/Feb (depending on who you talk to) but this year it's late and happening right now, halfway through March! It has literally rained 24/7 for the past 6 days and is supposed to continue this way for at least another week. It seriously doesn't stop... it might stop actually raining for 10 minutes every 3 hours so but other than that it continuously comes down and even when it's not actually raining, it's cloudy. I don't think we've seen the sun in at least a week. At this point, I am honestly just amazed that there is still water in the sky! As one of my friends pointed out though, we are right next to the ocean so I guess there is an endless supply of water. It was fun at first but since I have to take the bus or walk everywhere, I am getting a bit tired of arriving at my destination soaking wet. We bought ponchos the other day and wear them even when going out on the weekend, much to the amusement of my Australian housemate, who says he actually likes the rain. He of course has a car. The park across from my house has flooded and the stream running through campus has turned into a roaring river, cutting off several paths. My taxi driver from the other night even predicted a cyclone soon... although it would be pretty cool to say I'd lived through a tropical cyclone, I would rather it stop raining! According to him, the cyclone that hit last year had winds up to 300km just north of here and 170km here in Townsville. I am not actually sure how fast that is because kilometers still don't mean much to me, but he said it in a way that seemed to imply that was very very fast and I know that cyclones can cause a lot of damage! Less worrisome than cyclones perhaps, but still important is the effect the rain has on my ability to do laundry.. dryers aren't really a thing here in Australia- I mean they exist of course, but most people hang their clothes out to dry. Butttt if it is pouring rain than it is pointless to wash your clothes because you can't hang them to dry! Despite the rain the last couple of weeks have been a lot of fun. Last weekend I finally went to stay on Magnetic Island, the island right off the coast of Townsville. Every month on the island on the night of the full moon there is a big party with a DJ on the beach so my friends and I decided to go and then spend the rest of the weekend on Magnetic Island. The party was really fun and after dancing on the beach all night it was nice to be able to crash in my hostel bed right next door, instead of having to take the ferry back like some of our friends. The next day we tried to go snorkelling but because of the stormy weather and the cloudy sky, the visibility wasn't great. I did see a couple of cool fish but it wasn't the amazing, crystal clear water and colorful coral Great Barrier Reef snorkelling I was hoping for. Luckily I will have plenty of other chances to snorkel while here! After giving up on snorkelling, we went to check out some waterfalls on the island and that was really fun. There were some crazy Australian boys there who put us to shame with their fearlessness- they were jumping off super high cliffs and doing back flips from the rope swing and when we found a spider bigger than any of us had ever seen, one of the boys claimed that it was nothing, he'd seen ones twice as big (and then began throwing rocks at it to the horror of us biology majors). I also joined a volleyball league last week which I am really excited for. The first day was just a tryout to form teams and even though I'd never played before, I managed not to completely embarrass myself and am on a team with 3 Canadian boys, an Australian girl, a Cecilia Blanc. I think it will be a lot of fun. In other news, the Hunger Games movie comes out in Australia this week and we have already bought tickets to see the midnight premier. Much to the disappointment of my little sister, it comes out here even before the it comes out in the US... I am very, very excited because I loved the books. And the next day I leave for the weekend to visit Cairns and the Daintree Rainforest, the oldest Rainforest in the world! It should be a good week :)

Townsville weather forcast for the next 5 days.. soo much rain!

The hostel deck where the Full Moon Party was held, right before it started!

Sunrise the morning after the party.. taken from outside my hostel room. 

Getting ready to snorkel. It was required that you rent a stinger suit because even on Magnetic Island there's deadly jellyfish.
The pool at the hostel.. would have been so nice if it wasn't so overcast all weekend :/

Waterfall fun! The girls standing at the front are my friends Lee and Clara, who go to Tulane. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

Week 3- Classes and a new bike!

I''m finally starting to settle into a routine here in Australia- classes have started, I've moved into my new house, and today I finally got a bike! My classes have been really good so far- I ended up having to switch out of Coral Reef Geomorphology but instead I am now taking Conserving Marine Wildlife: Sea Birds, Mammals, and Reptiles which has been really interesting. The lecturer has spent 20 years working on sea turtle conservation so he knows a lot about the subject and we are also going to have a number of guest lecturers, namely other professors who have specialized in other marine wildlife including humpback whales, dolphins, and dugongs! Dugongs are sortof like manatees, in case you didn't know (I had never heard of them until last week). It's been hard remembering which classes I have on which days because their schedule here is very random... rather than having MWF or T/TR classes at the same time in the same room each day, the classes here are on totally random days, in different rooms, sometimes on the other side of campus. For example my Australian Vertebrate Fauna class is on Thursday at 2:00pm and Friday at 3:00pm in completely different buildings. Needless to say I spent a good deal of time walking around the campus quite lost. Luckily they have maps posted every couple hundred meters but I still felt freshman all over again. I have at least one St. Mary's student in each of my classes which is kindof funny, but it also makes sense given that 4/5 study abroad students come to JCU for marine biology... I mean there's really no better place in the world for it. In fact in my Marine Conservation class I think nearly half the students are American exchange students. 

My new house is also pretty cool- I live 5 minutes from campus and in a really nice neighborhood right next to a park with a path along the river for running and biking. I am living with an Australian student but he is a bit older and has a 5 year old daughter who sometimes spends the night. The third roommate is a pre-med student from India named Tanya. Both of them are really nice but Adam is a Dad and Tanya is very religious so I think it will be a very different living environment from the one I initially hoped for (a house full of friends my age). Most of my friends don't live too far away, however, although getting around here has definitely been the most frustrating thing in my 3 weeks here. The bus system is not great, especially after dark and on weekends, and taxis are insanely expensive so it is very difficult to hang out with people because figuring out transportation is never simple. Hopefully the bike will help and I also got a job this week!! So that way I will have some extra cash for taxis and whatnot. I will be working at the cafe on campus which I think will be pretty easy and a good way to keep me busy on Wednesday because I don't have any classes that day as well make more friends, especially Australian friends because I am definitely mostly still hanging out with other study abroad students. I also signed up for volleyball which meets every Tuesday, and Ultimate Frisbee, which meets every Wednesday. Many of my St. Mary's friends laughed when I told them that because I am the last person they would have ever expected to play SMUT, but everyone here has says the Ultimate Frisbee club is the best way to have fun and meet new people so I figured I'd give it a try :)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

First Week in Townsville

Me touching a Grey Kangaroo at the Billabong Sanctuary!

Koala Bear!

The Strand (the beach in Townsville)

Feeding a Kangaroo!
I am here in Townsville! I apologize for not writing sooner but it's been kindof a crazy week... When I got here I didn't have accommodation figured out so the school arranged for me to stay in a hostel until I found permanent housing. The hostel is fun but it is stressful trying to find a place to live! A lot of students had arrived a couple days earlier than me and so most of the good places for rent (close to school, with other students, air-conditioned, etc) are taken. Nonetheless, there are lots of study abroad students in the same situation as I am staying at the hostel so it is actually kindof fun.. in between scouring the JCU website and (their version of craigslist) for a place to live, we've checked out the local Farmer's market on Sunday morning, had a barbeque on the beach and went out to the bars and clubs on  Flinder's street, the home of Townsville's nightlife. The only downside is having to walk or rely on public transportation to go, especially because it is crazy hot and humid. And unfortunately, you can't really swim in the ocean now because it's jellyfish season and there are two types of jellyfish in the water, the box jellyfish and the nearly invisible irukandji jellyfish, both of which can kill you instantly!!  They have set up a net around a small section of ocean for swimming but I still think I'd rather wait until April until they're gone... in the meantime there is a really nice public pool not that far from one of my new Swedish friends' house. There is also a river, but there are potentially killer saltwater crocodiles living in it so I'd rather not swim there either.. although the Aussies don't seem to be too worried because many of them take their boats out and go tubing on it. Actually there a loads of dangerous animals here, including 21 out of the 25 most venomous snakes in the world, which I learned yesterday at the Billabong Sanctuary, a sortof interactive zoo just outside Townsville. Despite all of those snakes and all the other weird and crazy Australian animals that are poisonous (including frogs, spiders, and even snails) our guide told us that  barely anyone dies from these animals. The animal responsible for the most human deaths per year in Australia is can you guess? The horse!! We were all very surprised by this. In addition to the dangerous animals at the Billabong Sanctuary we also got to see really, really cute ones. I got to feed kangaroos and even hold a koala, which are definitely my new favorite animal because they are probably the cutest animals in the whole entire world. I think it was literally the best 2 minutes of my life. They are just sooo adorable, I never wanted to let go of it. Anyways I have to go and organize my stuff for school, which starts tomorrow, but I will try and write again soon, once I figure out my housing situation!