Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Reflecting on the Trip (By: Kevin Crandall, Rachel Tirocchi)

Looking back on this trip to Australia I think it is safe to say that this was a truly unique and once in a lifetime experience for all of us. Although this trip provided each of us with many challenges such as long travel days,15 hour plane rides and jam packed schedules, our group never lost their resolve and everyone always seemed in good spirits. I think most of us would agree that no matter what challenges the day held in store for us we were always ready to meet those challenges and eagerly accepted the task of enjoying everything this beautiful country had to offer us. 
Some of the experiences that this trip provided us with included walking through the oldest rainforest in the world, rafting down the Barron River, swimming at Mossman Gorge, working at a wildlife sanctuary with exotic animals, milking cows and planting trees to help rebuild the rainforest. Not only did we get to share these experiences with each other but we also shared them with the people who were kind enough to guide our group through our time in Australia. 
I think it is easy for many us to define this trip by what types of activities we did each day, however I believe that it was the small things that brought this group together and made this trip more enjoyable for everyone. The long bus rides, early mornings and lack of technology forced us to come together as a group and we became more comfortable with each other each and everyday. The closer our group became the more it seemed like the days weren't as difficult to get through and the long bus rides felt shorter, which in turn, made our big experiences like walking through the rainforest together that much more enjoyable. Even on days where things didn't work out in our favor we were able to make the best of it. When our trip to the Great Barrier Reef was cancelled due to a cyclone, you never heard anyone complain. Instead, we all rallied together and made the best out of the situation. 

When reflecting on this trip as a whole I couldn't say enough about the people from NEC who attended it or the people in Australia who helped to make the culture shock more bearable and our trip as fun as it could possibly be. As a group we gained an understanding of not only modern day Australian culture, but also Aboriginal culture as well. We were able to hand-feed kangaroos and hold Koala's. We planted trees, mulched gardens, and walked thorough the rainforest. We explored tourist attractions like the town of Canberra, walked the beach at Port Douglas and experienced Cairns nightlife. We went on wildlife tours, swam in clear blue rivers and watched the stars at a cattle ranch surrounded by a campfire.

Although the trip is at an end as we sit at LAX writing this blog post I can say that each of us wish we could have stayed longer and experienced more. This trip was filled with great people, great friends and was the best experience of our lives for many of us. Although each of us took something different from this trip home with us the times we shared in Australia will always be an unforgettable memory for all of us.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Heading Home

After several days of worrying that our flights would be cancelled due to the cyclone, we made it out of Cairns and now wait for our flight to Los Angeles.  What an amazing trip!  This is one we will be talking about for years to come!

Day 7 (by Brandon and Kate)

Today was pretty simple; it was the first day of the trip that we actually could sleep in. We definitely took full advantage of it! There was a continental breakfast at the hostel that we were staying at that consisted of toast and cereal. After breakfast, we all went out wandering around Cairns. We all started out together, and some of us stopped here and there at small stores. For lunch we went to this Greek restaurant, which served us plenty of delicious food. We were all a little let down that we weren’t able to go to the Great Barrier Reef, but we definitely made the best of it because our travel agent is a magician and swiped us a sweet rafting gig. We were all thrilled to go on this adventure together, but two people decided to stay back.

The Raging Thunder bus came to the front step of our hostel and picked us up around 2pm. Then we were on the way to what was a perfect plan B for the cancelation of the Great Barrier Reef. After arriving at the drop point up the river, we all exited the bus and got briefed about white water rafting. Everyone was getting excited as we drove up along the riverbanks while overlooking the class 3 rapids. Next, it was time to gear up, get into smaller groups and follow the rafting guide down to the riverbanks. At this point, we weren’t all that close to each other, but after we got into the water we all assembled again. Four of us had GoPro’s strapped to our heads to film the adventure ahead of us.

The rapids started off slow and calm, until we came up to some larger more rigid ones where we had to get into bracing positions so we would not get bounced out. Fortunately there weren’t to many casualties on this journey… just kidding, only three people got bounced out of the boats. We were purposely putting ourselves into this maneuver called surfing, and this is where Sean, Louisa and Austin got splashed out. While surfing, Sara started to slip off the front of the raft. All you could see were her legs in the air, but Sean was there to save the day as he pulled her back in before she slipped completely out. There was a small pocket in the rapids where the river was calm enough for us to swim in, so we all dove off the boats into the water and floated to the next set of rapids. Following the rapids was a long and slow journey to the exit point of the river where we were given coffee, tea and water for refreshments. At this point, we all purchased the images that were taken throughout the journey and headed back to the hostel.

We ended the day by going to dinner at one of the nicest places, which was only a ten-minute walk from the hostel. It was a bittersweet moment because we knew that this amazing trip was coming to an end. As a group we all sat down, had a toast and just reminisced about all the different things that have happened on the trip. As the day came to an end, we all arrived back at the hostel and headed to our rooms to pack our bags with all of the fancy souvenirs. We leave the property at 4am sharp local time then arrive at the airport to head back to the arctic, which is also known as New Hampshire.

Some pictures from Rafting Yesterday (Blog post to follow)

Since the cyclone prevented us from going to the Great Barrier Reef, we made due with an unbelievable day on the Barron River!!!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Weather Update

There have been a few people asking about the weather in Cairns and how it may be changing our departure plans.  There is a cyclone that is now projected to hit north of where we are, so our flights are still scheduled to be on time.  We will update the blog with any new information as we get it from the travel company/airline.

Today is going to be a relaxing day in Cairns!

Day 6 (by Ellie and Sarah V.)

Day 6  

Chirp, plop, zip, peck, just a few things we heard this morning waking up early from sleeping out with the birds. There was one bird that when it talked, it sounded like screeching. One bird even made a chuckle sound that made us want to laugh along with it.  This is what happens when you sleep amongst the animals at a Wildlife Sanctuary on picnic tables with sleeping bags.

 Before going to bed, the guide brought out some pythons for us to hold, took us behind the scenes to see the owl enclosure, and showed us the bright tree frogs.

We rose bright and early at 5 in the morning. We rushed to get ready to head towards the reef only to find out that we could not go. We were all bummed but it is what it is and we took the day by storm! (no pun intended). With the approaching weather, the tour companies made the decision that it would be too choppy. We ended up having an pretty awesome and relaxing day while also giving back to the animal refuge center.

We had a pretty scenic view and we stopped to get coffee, tea, smoothies, breakfast, etc. before heading back on the bus and heading back to the Wildlife Habitat in Port Douglas.  Where we meet Sebastian, our animal expert guide who showed us behind the scenes. We also worked hard spreading mulch around the different areas around the center. We were sweating, but it felt good to give back to the community and help the animals.

One cool thing we want to mention about the center is that the habitat is not like a zoo. Here you can really interact with the animals. This leads us into lunch, where we got to eat back with the birds that slept around us. It was weird to be back. The birds tried to eat our food, so we feed them an apple. After we were done eating, Kate got up and walked near the birds. Birds are one of Kate's fears and she got the courage to hold the bird. We are so proud of her that she faced her fear. We then had time to roam around the grounds where we got to see the wallabies and kangaroos again. We also saw crocs, tree kangaroos, pelicans, and an emu. We then had the opportunity if you  wanted to hold Sampson the Koala. He was a very cuddly fella. He pooped on Bryan when he held him! When everyone was done getting there pictures, we were so excited to show everyone our own picture of the Koala. After the habitat we were back on the bus towards the same route we were on this morning. We arrived back at Cairns and had free time to shop, swim, nap, whatever we wanted.

Even though we did not get to go to the Reef we still made it a eventful day. We still stayed positive throughout the day.  

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Day 5 (by Paige and Austin)

Good morning world!  While everyone is back at home in the snow, we are waking up to 80-90 degree weather. With Australia being 15 hours ahead, today is St. Patrick's happy St. Patty's Day everyone! 

This morning we woke up to a lovely breakfast made by the staff at Crocodylus hostel. Some of the native food we had for breakfast consisted of eggs, canadian bacon, toast, fresh fruits, spaghetti, and beans. After breakfast we ventured off to a 45 minute hike known as Jindalba in the Daintree rainforest. This trail is about a 700m circuit with many steps and with signs to explore the marvelous design of the rainforest.The hike was on a boardwalk made by the Queensland park and wildlife. This rainforest is one of the richest forest in Australia with so much biodiversity in it with profound shapes, forms, and colors. It is also the oldest tropical rainforest in the world, even older than the Amazon rainforest. For those who don't know, most rainforests including the Daintree rainforest only has a meter of soil before it hits the base of solid granite. Obviously, this isn't the best for plants and trees to grow, but the Daintree still seems to flourish. 

After our hike we decided to cool off by hopping into what we called the Australian honeyhole. Some of us decided to be daredevils and jumped off a bridge that was nearby into the water. It was so refreshing and breathtaking. 

Soon after we made our way through downtown Mossgrove where we stopped by The Junction for a delicious buffet style lunch that consisted of the local Australian style cold cuts, salad and rice. Soon after a quick 10 minute ride, we arrived to the Mossman Gorge Centre where we embarked on a rainforest walk with an Aborigine guide. The guide was a funny, enthusiastic, and caring person that wanted nothing more than to share and educate his culture with us. His name was Roy but he wanted us to call him by his aborigine name "Dingo". He started off the tour by introducing us to his culture by a traditional Aborigine welcoming by having each one of us walking through the smoke from the burning of the melaleuca tree bark while he spoke in his native tongue. He did this because he wanted us to smell as his country, to feel welcome to his culture and ancestors. As we ventured through Dingos world, he taught us the ways of the Kuki Yalanji tribe. Every thing from how the Yalanji used the base roots the Red Pine trees as shields, and a form of communication by banging a rock against the flat root. He also taught us how just recently the Australian Government enforced a law that the Aborigine people need to abandon their local cultural ways of medicinal treatment consisting of using the native plants and animals to the requirement of using the Australian health system. 

One plant that caught my attention that Dingo showed us was the Spiked Tree which is equivalent to poison ivy and poison oak back in New England. Except for one thing--the poison in the Spike Plant is so strong that is stays in your body for decades and will reappear on your body on the same date every year...Just fascinating. 

Dingo finished his guided tour by showing us where the Yalanji would have their ceremony of marriage. This spot meant a lot to Dingo because of his life story and how the woman he was supposed to marry was taken away from her family as an infant as part of the stolen generation.

After working up a sweat, Dingo told us about a great swimming spot at the Mossman Gorge Centre. We were all very excited about this especially me because we could finally use our cameras and go pros to capture great pictures as we ventured through the rapids of the river. 

As we exited the beautiful rainforest of Mossman Gorge, we had one last stop at the Wildlife Park which is where a lot of the students were looking forward to because of the one on one interaction with the wildlife. It was simply amazing to be able to feed and get face to face with wallabies, kangaroos and the local reptiles. We finished up the night with a traditional Aussie BBQ that was prepared by the students.    

Now we are sleeping on picnic tables in sleeping bags as all the birds fly around us.

Day 1 (by Heather McFarlane)

This post is the 2nd try. The first is housed on Bryan's broken computer...

When we boarded the bus, all seemed well. The group dynamics was synergistic, each student laughing and joking with one another. Before we left NEC, the necessary Girl Scout cookies were acquired and devoured. The bus ride to the airport was uneventful. However we may have to leave a student behind—apparently there was a typo with the Visas. On the other hand, everyone cleared through security. It was now a mission to find the gate and food (Update: We didn’t have to leave the student behind, her Visa was corrected). The plane was boarded and the seven hour plane ride began.  
It is an interesting game, sitting next to a stranger on a plane. Some students just walk in the life, others don’t. For example, one student made two new best friends from Australia. Another student made connections in her future career path. Sadly, another student was repeatedly sneezed on during the entire flight. 
Once the plane landed at the LAX airport, students dispersed and hunted for food. Students were so desperately hunger, they spent $20 on a bacon hamburger. Sated students tiredly shuffled onto the plane. Energy was restored when students realized that the plane wasn’t filled. Most of the students were able to obtain a row to themselves. Unfortunately, the energy quickly vanished when the students realized that they were to spend 15 hours on the plane. 
The 15 hour flight finally came to an end. Another intriguing game during air travel is airport security and customs. It seems that each airport tries to devise and engineer a more complicated and difficulty set of rules than the next airport. This airport was no different. Due to confusing signs and misdirections from airport security staff, we almost missed the airplane destined to transport us to Cairns.
Temper tantrums were very nearly had at the ticket booths. With quick maneuvering, the crisis was adverted. Hastily throwing our backpacks into the luggage chute, sprinting through the security checkpoint, and cramming as tight as physically possible on a small bus, we boarded the plane and arrived in beautiful, sunshine Cairns. 

Leaving the airport was easily enough once the bus arrived. Several businesses quickly caught the eyes of the students and plans were made. After converting American dollars to Australian currency (which was ah-mazing because handing over $160US you receive $190AUS), the students scoured the town. Discoveries such as an infinity pool, fabulous eateries, and other small wonders helped brighten the students day. 

We all reconvened at out award-winning hostel, the Northern Greenhouse, to listen to a presentation from climate scientist Steve Trone. The presentation explain the different climates, habitats and ecosystems that make up Australia. It was interesting to discover that the rainforest barely make up less than 1% (0.26% to be exact) of Australia. The Australia Rainforest is the oldest rainforest in the world and listed as a World Heritage. 
World Heritage listings recognizes areas of culture/natural throughout the world and seeks to protect and perserve the area. Rainforest are extremely important because they are home to a variety of plants and animals. The Australian Rainforest is home to 65% of the countries ferns, 36% of the countries mammals, 60% of the countries butterfly species, and many more. As it seems, Australia’s rainforest is one of the richest countries on earth in terms of biodiversity of plant species and animal species. Many of the animal species in Australia cannot be found in the wild anywhere else. 
However, the rainforest doesn’t just affect plant and animal diversity, they play a vital role in human existence. The many plant species help humans life by cleaning the air we breathe through the conversion of CO2 to O2. Furthermore, the rainforest provides food and medicine. Though the rainforest is extraordinarily old, it can still be decimated by tropical storms such as cyclones.
Steve explained to extremely harsh cyclones that affected Australia: Larry and Yasis. Larry was considered a bad cyclone because of what took place after the storm. There was little aftercare put in place so keystone plants and animals, such as the Cassowary, didn’t survive.
The Cassowary is a large flightless bird. It has a very poor digestive system and majorly eats seeds, berries and other seeded fruits. Due to the poor digestive system, the eaten seeds are not affected and when the Cassowary passes its bowls, the seeds are distributed across a wide area. This distribution of  seeds is an extremely important role in the dispersal of the rainforest plant species. Without the Cassowaries, the affected areas of the rainforest from cyclone Larry, weren’t able to successfully reclaim the land. One of the main things learned from Larry was how to care for the Cassowaries without hindering the natural circle of life. When cyclone Yasis hit Australia, Australians were more prepared for the aftercare. However, Steve said that Australia has much more to learn.
Once the presentation was finished, the students got ready for dinner. We headed to a local restaurant and enjoyed a lovely local cuisine. Afterwards, we headed back to the hostel after a night walk on the boardwalk.   

Swim in the river!

Day 4 (By Sean Walsh and Sara Culhane)

We all awoke from a great night out in Port Douglas and had a wonderful breakfast under the hot sunny sky. We loaded the bus and headed to the Daintree River crocodile solar boat ride. As we traveled down the river we didn't have much luck spotting crocodiles because of the cyclone that recently hit Cairns. The water in the river was too high on the river banks so most were probably in the water. We finally saw a 3 year old crocodile named Eric cooling off on a tree in the shade. Also on the boat we learned about the many different trees, birds, and of course, crocodiles. Many different species of trees and birds live among the Daintree river, along with about the 76 species of mangrove trees along the river. We really enjoyed the entire boat trip, without or without lots of crocodiles. 

As we were leaving the area, Ari spotted our first cassowary of the trip. It was just walking near the side of the road, which is lucky because they are endangered and it is quite rare to see one in the bush. Lunch was delicious at a roadside nature center, especially because of all the different animals surrounding us. We ate among many birds and there were reptiles as well. After eating we walked around the back to a pen with wallabies and kangaroos in it that we really sweet and friendly.  

Our next adventure was visiting Daintree Discovery Center, which is an ecotourism visiting center. As were were being talked to by the owner Pam, another cassowary and it's baby were seen walking through the forest. It was awesome. Pam told us that out of every 4000 guests that walk through the park, one person sees a Cassowary (and no one ever sees a chick!!) 

We learned all about why the center was built and what it has done for the Daintree Rainforest. They have achieved the removal of 40 tons of debris from the forest, including sheds, cement slabs, tynes, water tanks and a water tower. Weeds, oils palms, and debris were all removed in 31 days and the reconstruction began. 1,764 trees were planted in the area. They have done great things for the Daintree Rainforest which allowed endangered species like the cassowary to start making a come back. 

We arrived at where we are spending the night, which is in a cabin like peaceful place. As soon as we arrived and got our suitcases unpacked, we changed into our bathing suits and went right to the river down the road. It was a beautiful river, super clear. We all were hot and bothered being in the humid weather, but as soon as we all got into the water, our moods instantly changed. It was a great time with everyone. Some locals showed us a rock like substance called Ochre.  It is quite the hot commodity and people used to trade for it all over Australia.  It is used as face paint in the aborigine culture.  
We had a wonderful dinner and played a card game all together. Each day has been truly amazing in this beautiful country.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Day 3 (by Louisa Carrol and Ari Turner)

Waking up to a beautiful, warm sun was how this lovely day started.  To kick off the morning we saw a 6 foot carpet Python catching up on some zzz's himself.  Not to mention the lovely sight of seeing horses roam the farm at Woodleigh was amazing.  It's not everyday you wake up to such beauty!  Thanks to Dr. Martin we all had the chance to touch the Python, some of us even holding it for themselves.

When then went on to have a typical farm breakfast of eggs toast and cereal. All seemingly normal in my daily routine,however farm life is busy and there are several chores that must be completed by day's end. Being that no one from our group is much of a cattle farmer we got to experience the task of milking a cow for the first time. It was quite an odd experience sitting underneath such a big animal and pulling on it. But our group was successful and even got a fresh sampling of the product. Next we were able to learn the art of whip cracking. Painful for beginners with bad aim but some of our group were naturals while others like myself took a few missed attempts to appendages leaving some tended skin and drive to get it correct. Eventually we were all successful and felt as if we were ready for the rodeo.

Our time at Woodleigh cattle ranch was over and we all piled into the bus and headed towards Kuranda Skyrails ( sitting high above the rainforest in a tiny box there were several jokes about plummeting to the forest canopy and bouncing around like gerbils in a ball. The views were spectacular from the gondola, but the out look to a unusually strong Barron falls was FANTASTIC! Due to "time restrictions" we had to quickly make our way down to the base center and got to listen to a sustainability lecture from on the the onsite experts. It was quite fascinating to hear about the airdrop ping of all the Skyrails posts and the strategic design of all the rainforest walkways.

Next we took a scenic drive along the coast to our next destination of Port Douglas. Upon arrival we all rushed at the opportunity to get some ocean wind on our faces and take in the lush landscapes. A few of us separated from the group and had to get a little creative when coming back to our accommodations by taking a sunset jog along the coast in order to make our dinner reservation at the yacht club. After dinner all 17 of us hit the town and unwound ending the day with great anticipation for the next day's adventures.    

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