Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Cairns... the best weekend of my life thus far

Okay so here is the next post I promised a while ago and it is all about my trip to the great barrier reef and white water rafting! Cairns (pronounces Cannes like the French city) is up in northern Queensland and it is one of the most popular places for people to dive on the great barrier reef. This weekend (March 24) I am going to another part of the great barrier reef, but it is at the bottom of the reef, whereas Cairns is at the top. Anyways, I left on Thursday afternoon w my friend Maya and we met Jackie and Taylor at our hostel called Gilligans. Getting off the plane we got a complimentary shuttle service to gilligans, so we started looking around for someone who looked like a driver...little did we know we were getting picke dup by a pirate... literally. This guy with a sign with our names on it comes strolling up to us with a missing tooth smile, no shirt on, a bandana and leather pants. I thought it was a joke. But anyways, we made it to the hostel and found Taylor and Jackie soo tired in our room (they went skydiving). So, Maya and I decided to go look around the town and grab something to eat. We stumbled upon a little mexican place, which is exactly what we wanted bc we have been searching for somewhere to get sangria! So after some of that we went back and chilled in our hostel for the best we could. Our hostel also happened to have a night club underneath it that was the place to be in town, so our walls were constantly vibrating to the sound of the bass. Luckily I brought headphones and it was fine. Oh I also forgot to mention we were staying in an 8 person hostel. So the first night we stayed w some Danish girls, the second night an English couple, an italian and a guy from belgium and the third night the couple left and we got an englishman and a guy from the netherlands. All of them were super nice and really fun!

Okay so anyways, on to the more interesting part, we woke up pretty early and walked down to the harbor where we were catching our cruise out to the reef for the day. The boat was pretty big and was awesome for snorkelling etc. I was going to try scuba diving, but it kind of ended up being too much money and I wanted to see as much as I could on my own. So after getting all our gear set up we headed off to the reef! The ride out was really pretty, here are some pictures!

So, As you can see there were mountains all around as well as the crystal clear water... it was amazing. Once we got out to the reef they set us up with some jelly fish suits... they were probably one of the goofiest things I have ever worn. There are jellyfish out on the reef around Cairns called Erikanji (Sp?) and they are super super small. If they sting you, you basically have an hour to get to a hospital before you die. So wearing them was kind of necessary. Here is a picture of the group of us in them!
So as you can see they are NOT flattering. Anyways we dove at one reef first and it was pretty cool... tons of fish and really big coral. The reef was pretty deep so it was fun to dive down and get really close to things. Ill post the pictures after I am done talking about this part. After that reef we boated over to another section, which was very very shallow. I got a little nervous at this reef, because there was a HUGE barracuda right where we were all getting in. The guys on the boat thought it was hilarious that I was so scared and kept telling me it was fine, but I didn't believe them for a second. Anyways, I finally got in and swam really fast past the barracuda, to see the most beautiful reef I think i will ever see. It was first of all so so shallow and the colors were amazing. The pictures I took don't do it justice at all. There was also a huge drop off (yes like in finding nemo) which was unlike anything I have ever seen. In this reef I saw fish I have never seen before and really cool coral that were very different than what I have seen in the Caribbean with my family. After this reef we headed back into the harbor while having a wine and cheese party (I was pumped). Here are the some pics...

So Attractive...

Neon fish in the shallow reef

The Cuda... you can blame me for being scared

So once we got back into the harbor we got dinner and chilled out, because we had to wake up at 6 the next morning to go white water rafting! Waking up was a little difficult and none of us were too thrilled to sit on a bus for 3 hours and drive into the depths of the rainforest, but I don't think I will ever have an experience like that one. Driving in (after sleeping a little) was actually really interesting. I don't know how many of you heard about cyclone Yasi, but it went right through where we drove and you could definitely see the effects of it. There were houses torn down, banana fields were torn to shreds and even the rainforest was pretty bare. Our guides to us that the rainforest is usually a lot more full, but considering we went only a week after the cyclone, it was still pretty damaged. We were put into groups on the bus and then were told to get equipment etc.. It was just us 4 in a group with our instructor. But we warned him...we are not a bunch of girlie girls. White water rafting was and I think will be one of the best experiences of my life. At first I was a little nervous, mostly bc I had no idea what animals lived in the river, but I got over it and had the time of my life. The river we went down was smack dab in the middle of the rainforest and again, because of the cyclone the rapids were huge! Our guide also loved us and taught us how to flip the raft and other things that the "extreme" group was doing. I seriously can't even explain how excited I was/ still am about the whole thing. The river was 10km long and we did it in two parts. It took about 5 hours, but I could have stayed on there forever. Here are some pictures of that... check out my facebook for actually pictures of us rafting that the photographer took- theyre pretty awesome.

Some rapids

Waterfall shot

Jackie holding the raft on the rocks we jumped off of

my hot gear

Cairns from the air
Us girls at the beginning..
So, as you can see we had a pretty good and wild time in Cairns... That night we went out with our Belgian and English roommates and they were so fun! I was really sad to leave :( One last thing about Cairns- there is an extremely large aboriginal population, so when walking down the street we saw tons of homeless aboriginals. This was kind of a culture shock to us, because where we are living (the gold coast) I haven't even seen a homeless person or an aboriginal at that. It was horrible to see that everything we have been hearing is true- these people are truly oppressed, which as we saw, is leading them to alcoholism. It was really sad to see, but it really opened my eyes to a part of Australia that I would not have even seen. Anyways, that is kind of depressing, but it made me realize how luck I am and it made me actually see what everyone is talking about over here. So, yeah that was Cairns, the best weekend ever in the history of my life. The next place I travelled to was Sydney for Mardi Gras... which was wild. But, you're going to have to wait until next time!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Byron Bay- forever ago, but AWESOME

Hello! I know it has been like almost a month since my last post, but I have been ridiculously busy. In the past 3 weeks I have travelled to a couple of different places in Aussie, studied A LOT, had mid terms, and saw the beginning of the Quiksilver Pro surf competition that is going on right down the road! It is crazy to think that I am over half way done with my semester here... I  can't believe I have to fly home to the cold United States in 45 days. It's nuts! But anyways I am going to write 3 separate posts describing the last couple weeks of my life here, it has been pretty cool/ eye opening, so bare w me if it is a little lengthy!

So, the weekend of February 11th I went to Byron Bay with my program provider, Arcadia. It was a free trip, so everyone on the program came, which was the first time we had all been together since orientation. It was weird being around everyone again, just because we have definitely formed our little groups and stuff, but none the less it was fun! We left on a Friday and drove about an hour or maybe a little more, south to New South Wales, which is a new state! NSW is the same state that Sydney is in, if that helps anyone out. But yeah, so we drove down there and we got settled in what was like a summer camp type place- there were a bunch of little cabins that had multiple beds in each room. We walked around the grounds a little bit, had dinner there, hung out together and then went to bed- it was a pretty low key night, because the next morning we got up at 4:30 am and went to see the sunrise at the Byron Bay lighthouse! It definitely was not my cup of tea getting up that early, but seeing the sunrise over the ocean was pretty priceless. Here are a couple of pictures...

Climbing up to the lighthouse at 4:30 am

Sunrise over the Pacific

Hot air balloon over Mt. Warning at sunrise

So those are just a couple of some of the amazing pictures I got to take that morning- it was really beautiful! The hot air balloon is definitely my favorite :) But anyways, after that we went to this little cafe and had breakfast (s0 good) and then we went back to our "camp" for our surf lesson!! Surfing was so so much fun, we had a little info session on the beach before hand just about waves and surfing in general, and then we got ot go into the water! At first i was on a super super long board, so it was really easy to get up, and then I switched boards w another girl in our group (a shorter board) and tried that out, and I actually didn't do too bad! On my facebook there are a bunch of pics of me surfing, but for some reason facebook isn't letting people take pictures off it anymore so I am not able to post it to my blog :( oh well though, if you have a fb check them out! But yeah so after our lesson we had a little break and then we got bused into the town of Byron Bay. Byron is a really laid back awesome town. The beaches were beautiful and it just had a really friendly vibe to it. We were free to kind of so whatever we wanted there, so a couple of friends and I got some lunch and then we headed to the beach for the afternoon. It was SO nice out that day. We took my underwater camera into the ocean and played around, it was just a really fun/cool day. Here are a couple pics from the day....
Byron main beach

Justin, Mark and I jumpin' the waves

making Felicia a sand mermaid

After being at the beach all day we headed back to "camp" and hung out for a while before having a BBQ. My friends Justin, Ang and I all went swimming in the lake next to the camp- it is supposed to have "healing powers" because of the tea trees that live on the edge of the water. For those of you who don't know, tea tree oil is very good for your skin and is supposed to preserve your skin and make you look younger. I didn't necessarily feel "healed", but the water made my skin really really soft and it smelled like tea tree oil which smells so good! We had our BBQ and then went out to this hotel/bar thing down the road that had a live band. It was pretty cool, but I definitely like the Gold Coast night life better! The next day we were up early again, heading back up to the gold coast for a day of kayaking with an aboriginal and an aboriginal tour guide. When we got back up to surfers we took the kayaks across the canal to a little island were we got to go snorkeling- we didn't see many fish, but it was cool to finally snorkel a little bit. After snorkelling we had a snack on the beach and listening to a story about the aboriginal people who used to live there. After that we got back on our kayaks and headed to another island not too far away. This island (I forget the name) is famous for its surfing beaches and for its native history. There, the aboriginal man (Jordie) performed an aboriginal induction ceremony on us, where he painted our faces with watery clay and welcomed us in the native language. It was a really cool experience seeing that side of the Australian culture. The aborigines are very attached to the earth and all that it brings to the human population, and it was really nice to hear about their thought processes regarding the sacredness of animals and the earth. One thing that Jordie said that really stuck in my head was "Take only what you need", which is very true and a lot of us don't think about today. After that we walked around the island for an hour or so looking for wildlife, but it was high noon, so it was super hot and not a very good time for sightings. After we were done we took a swim and kayaked back. I will post a couple pictures of that part of the day at the end of the post. SO yeah, that is an abbreviated version of Byron Bay, I definitely am interested in going back there, it was a lot of fun! The next thing i will be updating about is Cairns, which is where the great barrier reef is. Cairns is definitely my favorite trip so far- so much adventure and fun! It is kind of late so I am not going to do it now, but be on the look out in the next couple of days!!!
Taylor and I in our snorkel gear

Kayaks on the beach

The group "bush-walking" on the island