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.