Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Welcome to Northern Australia- for the next two weeks I’ll be in and around Cairns way up north in Australia. I’m currently in the Daintree Rain Forest World Heritage area where I’ll be until Sunday working on the mangroves part of the program. Sunday, our group of 24 swaps with the other group of 24 and travels to the rain forest and the outback west of Cairns in the Atherton Tableland, where we’ll be for four more days. Finally, I’ll have five free days in Cairns itself. I’m still working on plans for those days- hopefully lots of diving and maybe a little hiking.
Yesterday morning we left Brisbane at 10 AM for our 2 hour flight more than 1000 miles north to Cairns. After a quick lunch, we drove north for more than 2 hours along the coast of the Coral Sea and through the rainforest, past numerous sugar cane plantations and even a ferry crossing, finally arriving at the Crocodylus Village, nestled into the rain forest. This morning we started bright and early to take a cruise down the Daintree River to study mainly mangrove species, but also crabs, birds, fish, and as you can see from the picture crocodiles. It seems as if crocodiles control life up here- they inhabit all the streams, creeks, rivers, and even beaches, largely minimizing any desire to go for a quick swim. For the next four days, we’ll be travelling around in our “troopie” (see picture), wading knee deep in mangrove mud, and preparing for a presentation and exam Saturday afternoon- the real work has begun!
On a side note, that bottom picture is a slightly-modified road sign warning visitors of the (somewhat amusing) consequences that speeding can have on Cassowaries- an endangered peacock-like bird with razor-sharp claws that lives here in the Daintree Rain Forest (and apparently wanders around our hostel at night). We’ve been assured that they aren’t aggressive as long as we steer clear of their chicks…
Sunday, September 27, 2009
Friday I made it to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, the largest koala sanctuary in the world (is there much competition?). For $16 you could get a picture holding a koala, or you could just hold one for free. I was cheap, so just imagine a little koala clinging to me if you want. Other highlights include a bird that wouldn’t speak no matter how hard I tried, but quickly said “bye bye” the instant I turned around- a trick solely to get me to come back and try to get him to talk some more (and fail). My favorite part was the kangaroo pen where there were about 50 various species of kangaroos hanging out ready to be petted. If you pretended you had food in your hand they would come over and let you scratch behind their ears or pet them or try to take a photo with them or whatever- they’re actually really similar to dogs. I’ve attached some of the cuter pictures.
We began Friday with lawnbowling, the "socializing" game of Australia. The game involves two teams of four members; team members each roll two balls toward a small white ball positioned about 30 feet away. The goal is to have your ball stop closer to the white ball than other people; the "trick" is that the balls are unevenly weighted, such that there is a heavy half and light half and the ball curves toward the heavier half. You can also knock other people's balls out of the way or hit the white ball away from its original starting point. All in all, lawnbolwing appears to be a game played for the company, and a game that, according to locals, becomes more enjoyable as one consumes more drinks. I've attached a picture below. Off to Cairns tomorrow!
Several titles for this post came to mind at one point or another, including things like, “It must be the economy…” or “This really takes me back to U11.” In case you’re wondering what I’m talking about, I went to the Brisbane vs. Sydney soccer game this afternoon. Brisbane won 1-0, but it took a dull 87 minutes for Brisbane to break the tie. Perhaps most depressing, in a stadium that holds 55,000, I was one of only 7,100 in attendance (my seats were good though). Something else occurred to me during the game too- soccer is much lamer in countries that call it soccer instead of football (football is Australian Rules here). I’ll have to scientifically test that sometime. Maybe I’ve been a little bit harsh- I had a decent time- it was the first pro soccer game I’ve been to, and it was a sporting event in a foreign country.
Yesterday I made it out of the city to the Glass House Mountains northeast of Brisbane. A group of nine of us climbed Mt. Tibrogargan, an old eroded volcano with a very exposed, steep scramble to the top. The Glass House Mountains are ancient volcanoes that have been more resistant to erosion over the past several million years than everything else around, so the mountains tower 800-1300 feet above very flat surroundings. The views were great from the top, and it was great to see Australia outside of a city. The forests here don’t have much in common with Southeastern United States deciduous forests. We also managed to get back into Brisbane before another dust storm moved in early yesterday evening.
Tomorrow I meet with my research adviser and we finish up classes in Brisbane and Tuesday we fly north to Cairns in the morning. I’ll update with kangaroo and koala pictures soon!
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Yesterday morning everyone was surprised to walk out of lecture and discover that the world was ending- Actually it was just tons and tons (literally) of very fine dust from the Outback. As you may have heard, it started in Sydney yesterday morning (http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2009/09/22/world/international-us-australia-weather.html?scp=1&sq=sydney&st=cse) and worked it's way up to Brisbane by noon. Today we finished our last day of classes and tomorrow we all get to finally learn what lawnbowling actually is. Over the past week I've also learned that as it turns out, everything is more dangerous in Australia: animals (our professor warned us yesterday that, "There are snakes here that will kill you before you hit the ground"), wall sockets (he also warned us that 240 volts could give us a "nasty shock"), and even street crossings ("Right is right"- i.e. cars come from the other direction here- this one's tricky). Culturally things have been pretty similar (like California), except for morning tea, sports (I'm still working on rugby, and I haven't even thought about Australia Rules Football or Cricket yet...), and passing people on the left. This weekend I'm hoping to make it out to the mountains northwest of the city and maybe make it to a soccer game. More to come in a couple days...
Monday, September 21, 2009
Saturday, September 19, 2009
After 14 hours, I finally made it to Brisbane. I met a fellow Stanford abroad student before we boarded who coincidentally ended up sitting next to me. For a few brief moments we were convinced we had scored one of the only empty seats on the plane between us, but that illusion was tragically shattered about ten minutes after takeoff when the flight attendant informed us someone else was moving up from the back- alas. Today will be the tough day- it's only 10 AM here, and I need to force myself to stay up till late tonight. The weirdest thing is cars driving on the opposite side- look right not left when crossing the street! Pictures will come soon (as soon as I take some).
Friday, September 18, 2009
Finished all my packing and headed off to the airport! First I have a quick 4-hour "warm-up" flight to Los Angeles, and then my real flight from LAX to Brisbane (a mere 14 hours). Saturday September 19th 2009 will be lost for me due to the mysterious workings of the dateline, but I'll make it up on my 40 hour return day.