Got into Australia on Monday morning, and since then I’ve basically been in a sense of constant awe. This is already one of the most unbelievable experiences of my life. But why don’t we start a bit earlier.
Arriving at the gate in LA, I looked around to see if I could find other SFS kids, after all this was the group flight that most of us were supposed to be on. There were a few other college-aged kids, but none of them looked like the type to be heading off into the wilderness for a few months, but there were some open seats, so I sat with them anyways and opened up a book, scoping out the gate area every now and then to check out any new arrivals. Two hours went by. Finally, one of the kids piped, “Hey, are you SFS?” All six of us looked up at each other. Hah. Well, that turned out pretty well.
The flight into Cairns, the nearest city, was just stunning. We dropped below the clouds, and suddenly we were right over the Great Barrier Reef, and looking down we could see the reef’s expansive beds of coral even from our high altitude, an unbelievable sight to behold. Wrestling our eyes upwards, we looked towards shore and saw pristine beaches straight up against lush mangrove forests, sloping up to a range of cloud-topped mountains. It kind of looked like one of those Corona Light beer commercials replete with the hammocks and everything, or like a scene from the latest swanky James Bond film. We hadn’t even landed yet, but all of us agreed: this was already incredible.
So we were met at the airport by two of the Centre’s staff, and began the drive out through suffocating heat. It’s been a mild winter at home, but I’d forgotten that you could get this hot and humid sometimes. We drove through the city and then turned south on the highway, leaving the buildings behind and passing through vast fields of sugarcane on the coastal plain. One more turn, and we were on the Gilles highway, working our way up into the mountains. It started to pour down rain as we ascended, and so we labored through dozens of switchbacks and slope-hugging curves, rain pelting the windows, the silhouettes of a great forest in the distance. We continued on for almost two hours, and at one point the van slowed on the road a bit. Is there traffic ahead, or an animal in the road? No, because WE VEERED OFF THE ROAD STRAIGHT INTO A WALL OF TREES before suddenly finding the van hurtling through the thickets on a narrow road completely concealed from the highway, thick rainforest flying by the windows as we charged on with reckless abandon. None of us could stop laughing at the surrealness of the situation. We were in the rainforest now, for real!!! But more stunning to us, we had, seriously, veered STRAIGHT OFF THE HIGHWAY, INTO A WALL OF TREES. My life may have flashed before my eyes, and I may have said some goodbyes to loved ones, haha. To call that move a surprise would be a great, great understatement. I almost had a heart attack. Seriously, we veered off the road. Into a wall of trees. I cannot emphasize how terrifying this was, and how mind-blowing it was to suddenly find ourselves on a small path in the rainforest. It’s not like we slowed to a stop, flicked on the turn signal, waited a few moments, and then slowly turned into the wall of trees. We just veered off the road, into a wall of trees. Three days later, I think the adrenaline is still pumping.
The School for Field Studies’ Centre for Rainforest Studies, where I’ll be spending the next three months, is just gorgeous. It really is right in the heart of the rainforest. Walking from our spacious cabins towards the main building for dinner, I couldn’t help but notice dozens of birds flying between the trees, and every single one of them was a new species. My binoculars have been on fire the past few days, and with every new bird, I just cannot contain my excitement. My classmates probably think I’m somewhat crazy. Well, I probably am, I think that’s pretty clear at this point. But hey, there’s two more avid birders here too! So I’m not even the only crazy one!
Oh, and the bathrooms are not attached to the cabins, they’re a good walk down the trail, so speaking of unique experiences, I woke at 5 yesterday morning to get an early shower and find some birds at sunrise. So I headed down for my shower, flashlight in hand because it was still pitch black outside. The cicadas were so loud that it sounded like a fire alarm, nocturnal frogs, geckos, and other mysterious creatures screamed every few moments, and large animals trampled somewhere in the underbrush. Imagine hearing all that in pitch black darkness, walking down a muddy trail in the middle of the tropical rainforest. All at once, it was terrifying, surreal, and absolutely beautiful. Later, I headed for the main building, still under the cover of darkness, and the trail from my cabin to the building is a hairline trail on the side of a hill, with a precipitous drop to the left. I did this again under total darkness, with the birds beginning to wake and screaming at the arriving dawn. When the sun finally did rise, and I worked my way through dozens of new species flashing before my eyes every minute, and it was absolutely magical.
I’m not even going to try and give a chronological summary of what’s been going on, so here’s just a few scattered highlights from the past few days.
We went on a 6 km hike this afternoon in our free time, so I ran to my cabin to grab my hiking books. Sprinting down narrow rainforest trails, I seriously felt like Indiana Jones or something. It’s so much fun.
I haven’t actually heard anybody say “G’day, mate!” I’ve heard ‘mate’ quite a bit; I think I’ve actually heard it from every native Australian I’ve encountered (including the Customs officer at Immigration, which was pretty sweet). However, I’ve only heard G’day once, from the pilot on our flight from Brisbane to Cairns. Oh, and also my calling card is from a company called Say G’day! (the exclamation point is part of the name, but it also signifies my excitement, how convenient!) .The Centre’s phone does not accept incoming calls, but I can call people very very cheaply, so lemme know if you wanna talk! The only other interesting piece of lingo I’ve picked up is ‘no wuckers’, which is roughly analogous to ‘no worries’, which Australians use quite a bit as well.
Professor Hiebert Burch was right, there are so..many…leeches. The group went on the property’s 2 km-long Site Trail, and by the end all of us had picked off about twenty leeches or so. The best thing about leeches is that while they’re feeding on your blood, they introduce anticoagulants to stop it from clotting, so if a leech has fully engorged itself, the bleeding just will not stop for so, so long. People have been bitten, and there’s been blood everywhere…man, it’s not pleasant, haha. Fortunately I haven’t gotten to that stage yet, I’ve managed to pick off all the leeches that have attached to me, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before I provide a blood meal for a hungry leech. I can’t wait! Actually, I think I can, hah.
One of my cabinmates spent a few weeks in the Amazonian rainforest in Brazil last month, and he’s told us that we should expect our clothes to either be dry, or to be clean, but not both. So far, that seems completely accurate.
One of the girls brought a banjo from home. Yeah. We’ve been rockin’ it pretty hard.
I’ll see if I can remember more later. But so far anyways, this has been plain amazing. Then again, I haven’t started classes yet, and looking at the syllabus, this may actually be quite intensive, so I won’t have as much time to explore for myself. But if the classes are quality enough, I won’t have any complaints about that. And that’s it for now. I have a few photos on my camera, but I haven’t had time to move them onto my computer yet, but I’ll definitely post some later. Until then, I hope everyone else is doing well! Rock on.