The past two weeks were spent traveling the east coast of Oz (a trip I have learned a good portion of Aussies have not even done yet) with my best mate La. We made the trip in a hired Nissan X-trail we affectionately named Migaloo, after the well known white whale of Australia, in symbolic reference to our trek from the northeastern coast to the southeastern coast, migrating alongside our whale friends. The first few days I was able to sit and find time to write far more details about the trip than I was able to capture as the epic road trip continued. Therefore, my first few entries will be a bit lengthy and detailed, whereas from about day 3 and forward, the thoughts will be shortened and plugged with more entertaining material for those who's attention span will be understandably challenged. That being said, bare with me and here we go..
Today was an absolutely beautiful day. I felt as I had the unreal opportunity of time traveling as I left the USA in the peak of a blazing hot summer to find myself in a lovely, crisp autumn morning (even though it is technically Spring in Oz). The morning was "fresh" as the Aussies would say for a cool morning. La laughed as I could not help but continually point out the endless shades of flowers along our walk with their colors brighter than even my favorite Seattleite greeneries. We strolled leisurely to Manly Beach (about a 15 minute walk) where I was greeted with a picturesque view of an ocean built up onto the horizon as we came off a hill. The waters were a translucent blend of blues and greens, speckled with surfers and boards catching the early morning waves.
I am sadly reminded every time I strap on my pack and begin an uphill trek of just how out of shape my americanized booty is. My legs are a sore bit of jello and I find myself panting a tad more than preferred, but I gladly take a deep breath, inhale, stretch it out and press onward toward a healthy and active lifestyle (I hope;)
Two lattes later we headed back home to finish packing. Destination: Cairnes. Flight time: 2:25 pm. Now if only we knew which airline we were flying on...
The 2.5 hour plane flight from Sydney was just enough time to drink some red wine and do some prime planning for the road trip. We flew into cairns just as the sun was beginning to set over the eastern coast of Oz. The pink and purple silhouette of the mountains against a tropical backdrop made for a perfect greeting. Renting the car was easy enough. Once I found the steering wheel and re-educated myself on the layout of all the important buttons and handles, learning to drive the car on the wrong side of the road actually proved to be a little less difficult than I had imagined (although it of course came with it's fair share of panicked squeals from mine and Las mouth - thank goodness for insurance!). Parallel parking in front of the hostel was next up, but thanks to life in Hoboken, I parked it like a pro with only a few attempts even from the wrong side of the car:)
I'm sitting in my first hostel on the top bunk, perched above a German who just questioned the "bless you" I doled out to Laura after she sneezed. He says "what's that she says? Bless you?" He's never heard the term but quickly equates it with his more familiar gazuntite and wishes good health to Laura as well. The hostel is both what I expected but also not quite what I expected. Its quiet at the moment, with Laura, me and the German all lounged on our own bunks, doing our own thing. It's a decent sized space with room for 3 more roommates, who have all gone out for the night. Not much on the to do list for the night - just chatting with some backpackers about the must sees and must dos for the road. The make up of tonight's company included primarily German boys with a few French ones mixed in as well.
As I learn about a backpacker's life in a hostel, I'm pondering the life that's up ahead of me for the next 4 months. Wondering if I'm the right fit for the part. I have a thousand questions about the etiquette and entire process and poor La has to sit and listen to me wade through each one of them. Here's hoping I've got what it takes.
I woke up bright and early (a new and quite strange habit I'm developing). It was about 5:30 based on the lack of sunlight. I awoke completely confused with a foggy head from the remnants of the lurking jet lag and a malfunctioning internal clock. I moved around the room quietly - wouldn't want to wake the Germans, Candadian or the unidentified person who arrived late in the night. I'm sure I looked a bit foolish as I'm still learning the etiquette of hostel living, but I didn't see any sense in making enemies that early on. The morning began with a jog along the shore in Cairns.
On the road again, but this time for a longer time frame. Gotta get used to this backwards driving bit. There are new conversions to consider, like the km/hr, Celsius to Farenheit, feet to meters, and as if it wasn't already tricky enough let's talk about the roundabouts that are present at nearly every intersection. Also present are the Roo crossing signs..a tad different than deer crossings:) Biggest lesson of the day: STAY LEFT and you'll be right! Blinker on right, wipers on left. The drive from Cairns to Port Douglas was lined with the ocean on the right and tree covered hills on the left. Quick stop off to climb down the rocky hill and take pictures on a sand island across the water where we met an American Phd student who taught us about Blue Ring Octopus and how to do the sting ray shuffle. Fact: only way to survive a bite from the blue ring is for someone to pump your heart for 90 minutes after the attack. Hope La is up for the challenge if needed!
A few more Km down the road and we stopped off for a crocodile adventure. Here we watched these massive creatures snap their jaws shut as they were fed huge pieces of cow hide and chicken. Fact: when a croc snaps his jaws together it sounds eerily similar to the sound of a gun shot. Learned enough facts about these guys to make me walk on my tip toes with both eyes wide open when near the Australian embankments. I got to check Feed The Roos off my list as I knelt down to pet and fed several little kangaroos and wallabies. Roos: cute. Wallabies: creepy. Spotted several Koalas, but haven't cuddled one yet.
We parked in a tiny parking lot right above the 4 mi beach at Port Douglas. After a fairly decent nighttime ritual of getting ready for bed, we nestled into the car for a good, free night's sleep at the Sla Crocodile Nook car hostel (the first of six). I only woke up a few times to get comfortably rearranged but then drifted back into a nice sleep. I woke around 5:45 with the sun seeping through the windows, brushed my teeth, gathered my sketch pad and journal and headed the 50 meters to the shore. The sand was soft and pale brown and the sun was just rising over the horizon. This is where I stop and breathe deep. I stop and say countless thank yous to my God for all the blessings I am given. I cannot say it enough. Blessed is the overwhelming word of the day.
All day Monday was snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef! It was brilliant. Boat name: Posiedon. Level of anxiety as I plunged into the deep ocean waters: extremely high. We geared up with snorkels, wet suits and flippers and jumped in feet first. The first time I placed my head underwater I literally gasped (and then choked on the water:) because of just how much natural beauty was in front of me. Think Finding Nemo in hi-def in real life and you may come somewhat close to the reality of what I was seeing. Sooo many colors and sooo many fishes! We also had the opportunity to see 3 whales on our way out to the reef. Quite literally a breathtaking experience. Next up is our trip up the coast to Cape Tribulation: the only place in the world where the rain forest meets the reef....