Wednesday, 4 July 2012

My Australian Adventure: Part One (the volunteer project)

As I promised a while back, here's the first part of my travel journal, written whilst I was in Australia last summer. It's not exactly a literary masterpiece (and I apologise if there's any rambling in there!), but most of it was written whilst travelling on a coach or by torchlight!

Enjoy! :)

Saturday 6th August 2011

Well, I’m here - I’m in Australia! And it's been a long day! Well, two days, really (I’m more than a little confused about the date and time at the moment!) We arrived at Heathrow around 6pm, where we met up with all the other people flying from there- over 20 of us in total! Checking in, going through Customs, and a lot of waiting around! But we found the right terminal (easy to get lost in here- Heathrow’s massive!), and got on the right plane. Took off at 10pm. A 23-hour ordeal involving loud people and almost no sleep. Ended up watching films and doing about 20 sudokus. :P After 10 or so hours we stopped in Bangkok airport for about an hour (by then it was 9am - or 3pm there!), then back on board for another 11 hours! Arrived in Sydney at 5am (or 8pm in England! Where did Friday go…?). I’ve had two hours sleep in two days and I feel like hell! But I’m here!

We collected our suitcases, then the various groups split up to go to our individual projects. Two groups, including ours, were going to fly to Brisbane, so we waited, talking, in the airport for a couple of hours. The flight wasn’t too bad- after that 23-hour one I’ll never complain about flights again! Awesome views from the plane, anyway (I had a window seat for once!), of the Australian coastline. Then we arrived in a very sunny Brisbane! We met our project leader at the airport, and met the rest of our group, who had flown in from America. Then we met the people in charge of Wild Mountains Trust, with whom we’d be working for the next two weeks. They drove us through the wild outback of Australia…it’s so pretty! Endless fields of cows and horses, forests spreading for miles over mountains, low hills…and we left the main road and followed a winding track uphill, into the mountains themselves! The views are stunning! The first thing we saw, halfway up the mountain? A koala sitting in a tree! Seriously! It was so adorable! And apparently there are snakes around here, too… And I’m living here for two weeks - I still can’t believe it!

We did some introductory activities and got to know the building and the area. We’re going to be sleeping in A-Framed wooden huts on mattresses with sleeping bags and pillows - pretty basic accommodation! And there’s no heating. God, it’s cold! Well, it is winter here. And we’re in the mountains. Good job I brought a lot of warm clothes! Still, we’re here. And I slept through my first night- for 11 hours!

Sunday 7th August 2011

Woke up marvelling that I’m actually here, on the other side of the world! The weather was sunny, for a wonder- warmer than England! So… today, we went for a walk in the rainforest! Saw so many plants you can’t find in England, including stinging trees (“stinging nettles on steroids!”) and eucalypts. We had a talk on Wild Mountains and what we’re going to be doing over the next two weeks. Wild Mountains is an education centre which promotes sustainable living, which is why everything is recycled and reused, and nothing is wasted- the centre also operates on its own water and power supplies. Also, the meals are exclusively vegetarian (a bit of a shock for most people! I’m the only vegetarian in the group!)

The setting is beautiful, too. The sub-tropical rainforest of Queensland, on the border of New South Wales (we saw the border- it’s rabbit-proof, since rabbits are a common pest in Australia due to a lack of predators!). We also climbed up the inside of a hollow tree, which was an experience! (It was full of spider webs…) We also encountered various animals, including a gecko, and a lot of creepy crawlies! Several people have been bitten by ticks already!

This afternoon, we did a workshop on effective communication, and discussed what we’ve learnt since arriving. Other than that, we discussed the timetable for “chores”, and learnt to croquet. Or fail at it, like me. Oh well. We stayed in the hall for a bit, huddled around the fire (the only source of warmth!), then went on a walk to look for glow worms!

Monday 8th August 2011

To start our second day we each had to find a private spot in the forest and sit there for a while, just observing what’s around us. A lot, that’s for sure! We’re in the Australian bush, surrounded by acres of eucalypt forests and rainforests…I could think of endless words and none could quite describe what it’s like. I’d say it was peaceful- there’s no traffic around for miles, and not even a whisper to suggest that there’s anyone else around- but there’s so much life- from the tiny insects in the grass (of course, some of them aren’t so tiny- such as the spider discovered in the campsite toilet!) to the laughing kookaburras in the trees above. Seriously, they sound like monkeys!

Already I’ve learnt so much from being here. I thought it’d be hard to live like this, but it feels almost liberating. Far from the frantic noise of cities, cut off from the outside world, without even a phone signal…Technology doesn’t exist out here in the wilderness. And I have to say I’m loving it.

Today we:
  • Played a hilarious game this morning, “Wizards, Giants and Elves”. Basically a more interesting version of “Rock, Paper, Scissors”, only with more potential for injuries (especially when playing on gravel!)
  • Shovelled a lot of gravel and rocks into the back of a truck (and learnt how to shovel properly! Unfortunately having the coordination of a one-legged ant led me into some slightly ridiculous scenarios including tripping over my own shovel. Clearly my clumsiness has followed me here…)
  • And had fun riding in the back of the trailer! Justin’s mad driving, along with the winding forest path, made it an experience! And we saw a wallaby! (I’d better make sure I have my camera next time!)
  • Succeeded in making part of a gravel path in the clearing to park cars on- a great team effort!
  • And helped with the weeding, removing invasive weeds from the forest! (and discovered some extremely weird mushrooms that spit smoke at you when you touch them!)

Really tired (almost fell asleep on the floor this evening!) but had a great day!

Tuesday 9th August 2011

It’s bloody cold! Woke up at 6 am freezing! Yeah, we have to get up early, but considering I’m still jetlagged I keep falling asleep at 8 pm so I wake up early anyway. Today, I joined the group paving the amphitheatre they’re building in front of the main hall. We had to shovel a lot of gravel (cue more shovel-related drama!), then pack it down by jumping on it and bashing it repeatedly with a brick! Then we had to level it (a ridiculously time-consuming process!) and arrange the bricks on top. No cement yet, but it looks pretty impressive so far! Other groups were oiling, painting, and cutting bamboo. Then we all went to do more weeding. We’ve certainly discovered some weird animals today. A leaf insect (looked like a dried-up leaf!), a gecko, and even a dead snake! (headless and tailless. Seriously! God knows why…) And saw another koala, officially named Jim. :P

Paving progress!

I read more of The Hobbit this evening, sitting by the fire, until I actually fell asleep- on the floor! For about two hours! Frozen to death when I woke up- the fire was dying and there was hardly anyone left there! So I walked back to the campsite on my own. Through the forest. At night, with only a torch. It was pretty scary- I kept expecting a giant snake to lunge out of the bushes and attack me! But I made it back without freaking out- go me! Slept through the night, too.

Wednesday 10th August 2011

Woke up frozen to death again. I’m wearing two pairs of extra-thick socks, thermal top and trousers, three layers, fleece, gloves…and I’m still cold!

This morning I actually managed to do a bit of writing! Character planning for my new story :) Then:

  • Our first activity took us into the rainforest, where we constructed “wo-boys” on the track to stop rainwater flooding it! More shovelling. At least dirt is easier to shovel than rocks!

  • Went on a walk to see some waterfalls. Trekking through the rainforest made me feel like a real explorer, haha. :P
  • Then continued with paving the amphitheatre. Finished paving the first layer! At last! And, on the way to Whiptail clearing to pick up some more bricks, we saw FIVE wallabies! They just popped up all over the hill! I’m so annoyed I didn’t have my camera!
  • Another hour’s weeding...yay.
  • We all watched a short film, “The Economics of Happiness”, which was really interesting (though I confess to falling asleep once or twice- damn my messed-up sleeping pattern!). It was about how big corporations are money driven instead of focusing on what’s important- making sure future generations actually have a planet to live on! I think my inner eco-warrior has been reawakened!

Thursday 11th August 2011

I had a pretty good day! Began with more paving (oh joy!)- half-finished the top level now! Plus collected more bricks. And it rained, for the first time since I’ve been here. I guess the weather isn’t that bad. It can get pretty warm during the day, actually (and the sun is blinding!)- It’s too bad the nights are so cold!

Saw another koala! This one was so close! It was sitting in a tree just around the corner from where we were paving, and as we watched it decided to do a massive JUMP to the next tree, and climb all the way to the top! We were left staring in amazement! It’s the most active I’ve ever seen a koala! (all they ever really do is eat and sleep usually!) 

Friday 12th August 2011

Can’t believe it’s been 8 days since I left England! Today was pretty good- spent it cutting bamboo and collecting wood to patch up the gaps in the A-frames! Oh, and our game of “Cat and Mouse” this morning was hysterical! This evening we all played the “Hat Game”! I’ll try to explain the rules, but it’s a little complicated! We were divided into two teams, and everyone was given three pieces of paper. We had to write three random words down without letting anyone else see them. All the pieces of paper were put into a hat. Each team took it in turns to send someone up to pick out words from the hat, and in the first round, we had to tell our team about the word without actually saying it! If they guessed it, the person then drew another one, and continued until a minute was up. This carried on until we’d got through all the words in the hat. Then in the second round we were only allowed to say one word, and our team mates had to guess from that what the word we’d drawn was. Again, this continued until we’d got through all the pieces of paper. Then in the third round, we weren’t allowed to say the word, we just had to act it out! As you can imagine, it was pretty funny! (with some of the words people decided to put in the hat…) A hilarious night!

Saturday 13th August 2011

Awesome day :) We left the hall this morning, and drove back down the mountain, back towards civilisation! And we got to see more of Australia :) Got some nice pictures of the beautiful scenery we passed- mountains, fields, forests, even (in the distance) the sea! And saw a kangaroo! Only for a second, but wow! And I finally got a phone signal! Yay! (even though it was about 2 am in England :P) We went on a hike through the rainforest at Lamington National Park, which was amazing- it was like walking through the set of Jurassic Park or King Kong! Some of us got to see a funnelweb spider (yeah, the one with the poisonous bite :P), and I think I saw a bandicoot! Also climbed into some caves (if it has a “Do Not Climb” sign…hehe) Took some awesome photos. Well, until my camera died. A great day, though I was pretty tired when we got back.

Sunday 14th August 2011

Another awesome day. Most of us went on another hike to the waterfall on the border with New South Wales! A “short hike” (according to Richard!) turned into a full-day expedition, up and down a LOT of steep slopes. Every time we thought it was over, another one appeared! We found the waterfall, but decided to climb over the border to get a closer look at it. Another epic trek through the rainforest! At several points we had to cross the river, balancing precariously on stepping stones (it’s a miracle I didn’t fall in…) and even crawling across this giant log that was suspended across the river!

Living dangerously!

Had a campfire outside the hall tonight, which was pretty awesome. 

Monday 15th August 2011

Today we all went back to Whiptail (where we saw the first koala!) and did various jobs. I was part of a team who were attempting to move a caravan which had been there for 12 years! We had to remove anything that was fixing it to the ground, then use some ropes to create a pulley system so we could move it without it rolling downhill! Once the caravan was free, we had to help turn it around. It was like a game of tug-of-war! But our triumphant moment came when we finally succeeded. Victory for the Caravan Crew!

Tuesday 16th August 2011

Today was Lantana Bashing day- time to get rid of all those nuisance lantana plants that had been swamping the other plants and trees! We also did some more bamboo cutting, and planted over 70 trees! Proud to have done my bit for saving the rainforest :D It was freaking hot though; I could hardly see for the sun! Did quite a bit of story planning in the evening. Continued discussions on “Extreme Croqueting” :P Also finished reading The Hobbit and started on the first Lord of the Rings book, whilst sitting around another campfire beneath a starry sky. Nice :)

I can’t believe we only have two days left here!

Wednesday 17th August 2011

I’m going to miss this place. It’s so nice, sitting here in the middle of the forest, not a sound save that of the birds (kookaburras are so loud! Though not as loud as koalas at night…they sound like tigers! Seriously!). I do want to see the rest of Australia, but it’ll be weird being around so many people I don’t know.

Today we continued with the road we started last week- more shovelling gravel and rocks, and wild rides through the forest in the trailer! More wallabies :) I still haven’t caught one on camera!

Watched another short film, “The Story of Stuff”, which was about consumerism. So much of it resonated with my prior-held beliefs about the current obsession with technology and upgrading- why on earth do people feel the need to replace their mobile phones every few months?! And it pointed out the dire consequences if we continue living as we do now. Hmm. Some people would do well to take its message!

We played the “endangered species” game this evening, which was pretty funny. And the Hat Game, again! Honestly, it’s impossible to act out the word “antidisestablishmentarianism”! Lol.

Thursday 18th August 2011

It’s raining. And cold. But it’s the last day… I guess this has been an experience!

Final day of paving the amphitheatre- finally finished the top level (covered in mud though!). This afternoon we all cleaned the hall from top to bottom- pretty thoroughly! And talked about what we’ve learnt in the last two weeks. I think what the people at Wild Mountains do is amazing. I’m going to miss this place.

Friday 19th August 2011

An emotional morning! We finished packing and tidied the A-frames, before carrying all our luggage up to the hall. I bought some Wild Mountains postcards, including one of a wallaby (I never did get a picture!). Viv gave us all medals (with croqueted chains!)- mine said “Best Hiding Ability” (for the missing money!). 

We all said our goodbyes as we all got into the bus for our journey to the airport. Away from the wilderness (though several people got bitten by ticks at the airport!) And we were off again- en route to Cairns! For the Adventure Tour :D A pretty good flight- got to see the Great Barrier Reef from above!

Our team leaders met us at the airport and drove us to the hostel. It’s AMAZING! More like a hotel than a hostel - it’s huge, it even has its own swimming pool, bar and nightclub!

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