January 29, 2010

Gnarly, sick, tubular, wicked.

Any and all of these words can be used to describe my first surf experience last Saturday morning.

Nat, Kat, Lyndsay and I left the house at 8:30 and headed for Burleigh Heads Beach to attend our scheduled surf lesson. A very wise investment, we only paid $20 for a two hour lesson that included a board and a rash guard (those tight fitting short-sleeved numbers to protect your upper bod). And our lesson was just the four of us and one other woman, Amanda, who was about 25 or so and on her second lesson. So it was very small and individualized which made it so much easier and more comfortable. Our instructor’s name was Giles (or Jiles? I don’t know. It made me think of the butler. “Giles, please take their coats…") and he was so cool and helpful. Very encouraging and great at giving you specific feedback. And he looked like Handsome Rob from the Italian Job.

So everyone has favorite sports to watch and favorite sports to participate in. My favorite sports to watch are football and baseball. My favorite sports to participate in were cycling and volleyball, but I think surfing is now number two. Sorry volleyball, but you’re getting the boot. Guys – it was absolutely incredible. I seriously had such a fantastic time. One weakness of mine is that if I’m not naturally good at something (usually athletically or musically) right away, I tend to get really frustrated. It’s dumb, I know, because these things take time and practice. I don’t know why I expect to instantly be good at something, but I always want that and if I struggle, I get really down on myself. As we were driving to the beach, I was praying that God would break me of that attitude and that I’d stick it out no matter how I was doing with it. But guys, I really think I can do this surfing thing! It took a little bit to get used to, obviously, like with any new skill, but I wasn’t bad! It was only a two hour long lesson and I was really pleased with my progress!

First, we practiced in the sand. Giles explained how to tides work, how to spot a rip, stay away from it, or use it to your advantage. He taught us how to paddle and how to position ourselves, and then we gave it a go. We walked out to waist deep with our boards, laid on our bellies, and caught a wave paddling in. Easy as pie.

Then we returned to the sand and practiced standing up. The plot thickens. As sand found its way into every pore on my body, I practiced paddling and hopping up gracefully maintaining my balance. No problem while you’re on the beach practicing on the outline of a board that you drew in the sand. But after ten minutes or so of this drill, Giles dragged us out to sea to give it a go. Different story.

When I was out there, the first few attempts were abysmal. Actually, to be honest, I think my first attempt was actually a small success – but it was a fluke. The struggle was keeping the balance while placing the front foot where it needed to be. The back foot was easy placement, but I snowboard. Both feet have clearly designated homes that they can’t deviate from even if they wanted to escape. So navigating both feet to their proper places from the belly position was no easy task. I seriously consumed so much salt water. And I loathe salt water. Oh, it was just awful. But for some reason, it’s all worth it once you finally get up successfully and ride the wave all the way to the beach. I was blowing salt out of my nose and spitting it out for hours, but it was so worth it. I love surfing.

After struggling for a bit, I had a good string of successful rides and I was on cloud nine. That feeling is unlike any other. When you’re walking out, you see the wave that you want, so you turn around and paddle. You then feel the wave breathing done your neck, so you paddle harder, then hop up (hopefully with ease) and ride it in with spectators watching. The onlookers are impressed with your newly developed skills, because your lovely blue rash guard says “Surf School” in bright yellow. There’s no hiding that you’re a newbie. But whatever, it’s so worth it. And Amanda said that her last lesson was with a girl who had six previous lessons, and Nat and I were even better than she was! We must have a gift :)

The entire experience was fantastic except for one minor detail. I had a run in with my new friend, the blue bottle jellyfish. Unlike last time, I’m absolutely certain that I was stung. I’m trying to find a pain to liken it to… maybe electrocution meets tattooing? It definitely wasn’t a bee sting. The idiot that coined that phrase needs to be stung by both again and reconsider that description. It wasn’t the worst pain I’ve ever felt, but it was definitely worse than a bee. Maybe a herd of bees on steroids.

I was only in about up to my hips when I starting to feel the piercing jabs on my thighs. I looked down and I saw him – the perpetrator. Clear with blue spotting, his body wasn’t much bigger than a few inches, but those long tentacles wrapped themselves so lovingly around both of my thighs, then trickled down near my knees and ankles. Thank you, new friend, I’d love to snuggle. No, I wish that I could say my response was that peaceable. I’m not one for the swearing and I usually chastise my friends when they do, but I must admit that “a steady torrent of obscenities and swearing of all kinds was pouring out of me” in that moment (quote from A Christmas Story, for my brothers). I honestly was at a loss as to how I should handle the situation, so I was slightly panicked. I couldn’t pick him up and throw him, because then he’d sting my hand and that’d be so much worse. I was trying to back away from him, or walk to the side, but he was wrapped around. So alas, the two of us danced in the water together for at least 10-15 seconds, until the waves came to my rescue and freed me of his venomous grasp.

And I throbbed. For about 4 hours, I throbbed. The cold water did help quite a bit though, but it all came back when we were in the car heading home. Lord, why? Why creatures like jellyfish? What is their purpose? I was thinking of Monica Gellar on FRIENDS: “Damn you jellyfish! Damn all the jellyfish!!!” They really are awful things. Natalie was stung four times (just little pricks here and there really quickly) and Kat was stung more intensely like I was. Except in a fit of rage, she grabbed his body and threw him, therefore resulting in a hand sting as well. When I told Giles that I was stung he goes, “Oh no way, mate! You okay? Quick, catch that wave.” So I laughed and said that I was okay, and smacked my throbbing red thighs against the board and paddled to catch the wave. Giles beamed and gave me the thumbs up. Oh Giles. I just might throw a jellyfish at you.

Overall, it was a fantastic day and I am now in a love affair with this new sport. No jellies can steal my joy. This weekend, Nat, Lyndsay and I are heading to Byron Bay for a surf getaway! We leave tonight at 8:15 with a bunch of other Americans (our lovely friends from the orientation in Cairns) and return Sunday around the same time. We’ll get two more lessons, have BBQ’s and we hope to sleep out on the beach one night. I’m just concerned as to what the nighttime beach critters may be. I want to keep a safe distance – there are many strange and scary creatures in this foreign land. So be praying for us as we tear it up! We’re all pumped and feeling prepared after our preliminary lesson.

And if you would like to see my battle scars, click here.

I’ll write about classes and new surf stories when I return!

January 25, 2010

Sneak Peak.

A taste of photos to come...

- details about my classes (oh yeah, keep forgetting about those)
- my first surf experience
- my new JOB!

Stay tuned.

For January 25th.

Or if you’re me, for every second of every day...
My Utmost for His Highest

Leave Room for God
“But when it pleased God…”
Galatians 1:15

“As servants of God, we must learn to make room for Him - to give God "elbow room." We plan and figure and predict that this or that will happen, but we forget to make room for God to come in as He chooses. Would we be surprised if God came into our meeting or into our preaching in a way we had never expected Him to come? Do not look for God to come in a particular way, but do look for Him. The way to make room for Him is to expect Him to come, but not in a certain way. No matter how well we may know God, the great lesson to learn is that He may break in at any minute. We tend to overlook this element of surprise, yet God never works in any other way. Suddenly— God meets our life ". . . when it pleased God . . . ."

Keep your life so constantly in touch with God that His surprising power can break through at any point. Live in a constant state of expectancy, and leave room for God to come in as He decides.”

Wow. Kate, Anya? Was this written for me or what?

For those of you who don’t know me well enough, this is what I do: I’m a planner. I think that I’ve got it all figured out. I’m careful to be wise about my decisions, obviously trying to live by the Bible, but I never leave room for God to work! The things that I plan and schedule meticulously are never inherently bad, but it’s just that I do it on my own without consulting God, or leaving him that “elbow room.”

This spoke to me this morning because that has always been my point of weakness. I’m so used to Anya rolling her eyes at me as I explain to her my game plan, or hearing Kate say, “CASSIE! You’re doing it again!” And then I may respond with, “No no no, it might seem like I’m doing it again, but this time it’s different!”

Shut up, Cassie. You don’t know anything. Allow God to do the unexpected, will ya? Loosen up the grip on that precious timetable of yours.

Ugh, okay. I’m learning. Thank you Oswald Chambers, for bringing this polite reminder of my finitude and humanness into my day.

January 22, 2010

Big Screen Debut

Announcing the big unveiling of three short films! I was able to post these to YouTube in the library today, after wanting to put them up for over a week.




Have a go, and leave comments.

(Sorry that the camera quality is so lousy. It's just on my new Olympus digital point and shoot, but it got the job done.)

Life in the Goldie.

We’ve been living here on the Gold Coast for about 12 days now. I’m sorry that I’m just getting to this part my the journey now, but I have a strong aversion to moving out of chronological order. Please bear with me.

We arrived to Brisbane International Airport, and after an hour long coach bus ride to Robina (with all of my luggage safely in tow!) we made it to our new home. Nat and I couldn’t be happier. We live in a complex of condo-like homes called University Place, right on University Drive, and at the end of the street? You guessed it - Bond University. It’s quite a handy location. We found our house easily, maybe the fifth unit on your right when you enter the complex, conveniently located right next to the pool. We let ourselves in and it was so great! We were wondering who our roommate would be, because we didn’t hear any of our peers on the bus say they were living at 25 University Drive. Well, we sighed, she’s bound to arrive soon enough.

Brief interjection - Here’s my address since many have asked:

Cassandra Papia
25/1 University Drive
Robina, QLD, 4226

Ps: Mail might take over a week… Moving on...

So we poked around a bit and noticed that some of her belongings were already in place. Had she been here before us? There was even food in the fridge. A half-eaten box of Tim Tam’s and Vegemite… some subtle clues as to what we were in for. Then shortly there after waltzed our roommate and our lives would never be the same. The feisty and enterprising Katherine Law. Or as we now call her - Australian Diva Sungoddess, Swag, or simply Kat.

Kat is… a character. But we’ve learned that there is definitely more than meets the eye. Standing at about 5’10”, she’s the tannest Dutch/English/Aussie I’ve ever seen, and her presence is thunderous. She has absolutely no filter. If something is on her mind, it’s out there for the world to hear. She had her friend Kirsten with her the first time we met, which was such a helpful dynamic for a first impression of Kat. Kirsten is from the Sydney area and was on holiday with us for a few days and she is so sugary sweet. Extremely polite, friendly and lady-like. Kat and Kirsten… night and day.

Sample quotes:
Kirsten: “I don’t really drink.”
Kat: “HA. I do.”
Kirsten: “Oh, I’m totally not a racist.”
Kat: “BAH! I am. F***ing Asians.”

So there you have it. Kat is very rough around the edges and seems not to change that for anyone. It’s really funny and safe if you’re on her good side, but cross her and you’ll be sorry. I said to Nat, “I’m so happy that we live with her, because in any other context, she’d scare the hell out of me.” Very true. She’s a force to be reckoned with. But since she’s so straight-forward, we have some of the funniest quotes ever written down. I’ll have to post some soon. She’s a riot.

Her majors are Sports Science and Business and Commerce. I can tell that at the heart of it, Kat is a really bright girl who hides behind this tough party facade. We had a serious conversation at the beach the other day and she told me her grades and some really personal family stuff. Honestly, I think you just need to get Kat alone and in the right context and she softens right up. I’m happy to report that Nat and I have already done such a work on this girl. We do everything together. Beach, pool, grocery shopping, working out, cooking, cleaning… everything. We went out to a club one night to pacify her begging (and because it was Kirsten’s last night with us), and she was so great. Since she was driving, she didn’t drink at all and had the car pulled around out front at 11:45 because we said we wanted to be home at midnight. It’s obvious that even though she’s wild, she’s very respectful of those who are different than she is, and values her friendships (made obvious by her close relationship with the sweet and lovable Kirsten).

On our fridge we have a chart. It’s affectionately titled the “Ass-kicking Olympian Workout Regimen” and it has all of our daily activities listed with their times, and all three of our names in columns for all of the 14 weeks this semester. We’re to initial in the cell everyday we stick to the schedule - a little reinforcement and accountability.

Monday - Circuit Boxing
Tuesday - Yoga
Wednesday - On your own
Thursday - Spinning
Friday - On your own

When it’s our free days, we can try another group class (like Pilates of water aerobics) or go running or strength training on our own. The deal is, if we miss a day during the week, we are to make it up over the weekend. And we are to participate in every group exercise class at least once during the semester. If we miss one, then we have to take all the ones we missed in one day. We try to go together as frequently as we can on our free days too for the extra support and company. And Kat absolutely loves it. Nat and I have morphed her into a scheduled athlete with a balanced diet and an early bedtime, who only goes out partying one day a week! We are champions! This is such an incredible feat, especially for under two weeks. And tonight we crossed a new bridge, we prayed at dinner ;) She absolutely was not ready for that one, haha. Maybe it’s too soon…

But the routine is: classes all day, work out, swim in our pool (to combat the lactic acids) quick showers, make dinner, eat dinner, clean up after dinner, collapse from exhaustion. It’s so great because the sun mixed with the exercise, it means we’re wiped out at like 9:30. We go to bed so early. It’s awesome. I’m so glad that we cook and eat together though. If we didn’t, I would be so sad and mourning the loss of my Dexter community even more. But we have a quasi replacement thing goin’ on over here (obviously not as awesome, but it’ll suffice).

I just finished the first week of classes, but before they started, we had a pretty solid six day vacation. It was literally as follows: “I’m bored of the pool, let’s go to the beach now… the sun’s going down at the beach… want to go to the pool again? Okay. Let’s watch Princess Diaries. Let’s watch Cars, again. Pass the chips. Can you put sunscreen on my back? This is the saltiest ocean I’ve ever been in… Put Rihanna on. Put Third Eye Blind on. Put Usher on, again. I hate wearing normal clothes. I haven’t worn a bra or underwear for three days, just my bathing suit. Did you brew more iced coffee? Don’t worry, I’ll make some now.”

We were living the life.

Then classes started and life… didn’t really change that much, haha. I really should start doing homework soon. This weekend, I promise. So that’s what it’s like here on the Gold Coast! About an hour from Brisbane, fifteen minutes from the high-life of Surfer’s Paradise and 10 minutes from about four beaches, the livin’ is easy and the skies are blue. I liken it to any coastal city in Florida like Miami, Tampa, or Sarasota - except cars are coming from every direction and crossing the street is a near death experience almost every time. I believe that drivers here are worse than in Boston. They drive so unbelievably fast, hate pedestrians and never “give way” (yield) like the signs tell them to. And there are very few traffic lights, but roundabouts/rotaries every twenty feet. It only adds to my fear and confusion.

There you have it! I’ll update soon with some classic Kat stories, our trip to Byron Bay, and a run down of my classes. Gotta get to bed - surfing lesson at Burleigh Beach in the AM! I anticipate that some stories should come of that as well.

Much love.

January 21, 2010

Updated link for photos!

Thank goodness for nerdy friends.

Brad suggested that I use Picasa Web Albums instead and it's so much better! I should have trusted Google from the start.

So here's a link to some great albums! Thanks Brad :)


January 19, 2010

Here For a Purpose.

Although we were having an absolute blast doing all sorts of crazy things on our orientation in Cairns, it certainly was a time of spiritual growth and testing. I could tell right off the bat that I was being tested, and my decisions from very early on would pave the way the remainder of my trip. In those first few days, God revealed Himself to me in such a real way, and showed me his plan for me for the next four months.
I love Gordon College. I feel so safe, so loved, so cared for, and truly at home in most groups of people. However, is this good? Is this always healthy? I realized by going to Gordon just how spoiled I am. Especially since I work at Gordon as well. All of my classmates, my professors, my bosses, my coworkers, those who serve me in any capacity, most people who call, most people who I call, and almost all who walk through the door… are Christians. 
What a comforting feeling - to know that I will be accepted for who I am by most everyone. But this is so not reality. I went to a public high school that was larger than Gordon, and those were some interesting four years. Definitely not the best four years of my life, but my faith was so strong - because it had to be. I felt as though I had no choice. There was no such thing to me as being lukewarm at Haverhill High School. If you weren’t 100% solid and sure of yourself, you wouldn’t make it. You couldn't be a half-Christian. 
Even though Gordon is such a comfortable place to me now, it’s so easy to slip into complacency in a world full of Christians. You make excuses for yourself, think of how much worse off you could be, and pat yourself on the back. But the truth is, Nat and I both benefitted so much from seeing first hand just how much worse our lives could really be. Now we know that we need to fight for what we have. I’ve never been so thankful for the environment I’ve been given in Gordon College.
My heart aches for the American college student. Their lives are so empty. So meaningless. My brother once said that if you aren’t living for the Lord, it’s like you’re walking around dead. I honestly feel as though that’s what I witnessed that week in Cairns. A bunch of dead bodies wandering around with no souls. The talk starting at 2PM or earlier was always, “What are you doing tonight?” Aka: “Please validate me and tell me that you’re going to the same place I am. Or else I need to change my plans and go where you’re going, because I must seen where the people are and where the party is.” No one actually does what they want to. It’s so 7th grade, but it’s really all about peer pressure. I personally have never had such a hard time saying no to someone.
Nat and I weren’t in the same room that week, and one of my six roommates was so incredibly sweet. I loved chatting with her and we actually had some pretty deep and meaningful conversations. But then she’d ask me to go out with her. I knew that I didn’t want to. I wanted to put on my yoga pants and read The Time Traveler’s Wife. I did not want to get dressed up, I did not want to spend money on alcohol, I did not want to be up until after 2AM, and I especially didn’t want to be hanging out with drunk Americans. The thing is, Australians drink, and they drink frequently. But Americans binge drink, and that’s one hundred times worse.
So when I’m asked to join her out that night (and most nights to follow), why do I feel as though I need an excuse? I just don’t want to. Period. It’s not my scene. I don’t drink the way you all do. I’m tired. I’m not feeling to great. Why won’t you just leave me alone? And so then they beg. “We’ll come back early. You don’t have to drink. I’ll pay for you.” No. No No No. No thank you. 
Since Nat and I weren’t in the same room, I didn’t even have strength in numbers in saying declining these outings. And honestly, because of the weird jet lag, I wasn’t tired at normal times most nights, I was usually awake enough to go out. But I made the choice and stood my ground and never went out with them. And the following mornings, the stories would pour in. So-and-so got in a bar fight, the cops had to bring them to the hostel, she threw up, he punched a glass sliding door, those three all have black eyes… and I was so happy that I was safe and cozy in my bed.
A few days into this mayhem, people began to notice. And here’s where God shows up and blesses Natalie and I for our strength and obedience. We meet Lyndsay, who’s a Christian, and begin to hang with her at night. And I learn my roommate Molly is a Christian too, and she’s here with three other Christians from Azusa Pacific. Then one girl approaches Natalie on the verge of a breakdown: “You’re a Christian aren’t you?” Nat responds, “Yes, I am, what’s up?” And the girl begins to sob. “I can’t do this. I feel so alone and I just had my first drink of alcohol ever. Why did I do that? I can’t handle this pressure.” God then used Nat to minister to her, reassure her that she’s not alone, alcohol does not send you to hell, and invites her to spend time with us whenever she likes, also extending an invite to attend church with us.
My encounters were of different sorts. That very persistent girl from my room noticed something different and brought it up while we were lounging at the beach together. “So why don’t you party? Do you just not like being around drunk people? Are you religious?” Now we all cringe at that dreaded word “religious” but if that’s how it resonates to people of the world, then yes, I’m “religious.” So then I shared with her where I’m coming from, why I believe what I do and why I  avoid the party scene. I told her about how I see more to life then not remembering the supposed great night at the bar or club. And God totally met us there in that conversation. She opened up with me and shared how she didn’t even really like that scene, and how so frequently, she only goes because her friends do and she’d prefer to stay home and read Jodi Picoult. So then I said, “Amen to that,” and we talked about Jodi Picoult :) But her heart was real and genuine. She sees more to life and wants more than the lifestyle her friends lead. I can tell that beneath the giggly blond with the bronzer and sunless tan, there’s such a deep girl who’s yearning for more, and she trusted me enough to let me see that side of her.
Next was my encounter with a girl who Nat referred to as an animal. She was one of Nat’s roommates and her bunk was an atrocious mess. Clothes and papers everywhere and I think she may have even slept in a pile of clothes after coming back extremely drunk one night. Even her speech in everyday conversation seems slurred with the remnants of a good buzz. Anyway, I asked to sit next to her on the ride home from Community Day and we began to chat casually. She (true to form) asked what I was doing that night, and I told her that I’d just be chillin’ at the hostel. She said, “Oh, because you don’t want to be hung over for your day at the reef tomorrow?” I said, “Well yes, but I wouldn’t like to be hung over ever.” I told her it wasn’t my scene and I don’t see the appeal of binge drinking. I only made those two statements and then she took the floor, spilling out her guts about how much she dislikes getting drunk and she only likes dancing out with her friends. She wishes that people didn’t pressure her to drink, but she usually ends up pretty wasted, hooking up with a random guy. She said that the lifestyle is so empty and she really sees no way out.
Whoa. What on earth am I supposed to do with that? The animal is actually human, and chose to confide all of that in me, someone she just met! I did my best, but I don’t think I said as much as I could have. I think I was honestly just in shock. I affirmed her and said, “You’re right, there really is so much more to life.” But besides that, I really just listened to her and let her vent to me. 
After all of these God-sightings, Nat and I reconvened and discussed how crazy it all was. We really couldn’t believe it. We had made it our mission in the beginning of the week to “find the good.” We were so frustrated and turned off by our immature peers, that we decided to find the good in as many people as we could. And I’d say that God definitely showed up. We were forced to admit that our first impressions of some of these people were wrong, and that they’re really just hurting. They saw Nat and I as safe spaces to let down their guards and be vulnerable. 
With this, Nat and I learned what our job is: we are to be safe havens. With Christians and with non-Christians alike. We are two strong Christians who made this journey together. Automatically, this makes us stronger. But there are strong Christians here in our midst who came alone, and they need us for support. And there are non-Christians who feel stuck in their lifestyle, so we need to be bold enough so they notice that we’re different, and feel comfortable to go out on a limb with us and be real. God really showed us what our life could be like if we weren’t following Him, and I can speak for both of us and say that our eyes were opened and we’re extremely grateful. For those of you who were offering up prayers for us, thank you - God heard and blessed us through them.
So to the office of Global Education: we get it. We now understand why you are so hesitant to send people to Australia. Because yes, it’s pretty easy and can appear to be a four month vacation, but more importantly, because it’s a battleground. I would never approve of one Gordon College student being sent over here alone. It’s too risky, and too hard to stand your ground without support. And if two are sent, then it should be two who are good friends and very grounded. Nat and I are solid individuals, but it’s even a struggle for us to be here sometimes in such a worldly environment. I really can’t imagine what it’d be like without her. I would probably be looking for flights home. 
Please continue praying for us. We’re incredibly blessed to have each other, and have a new friend like Lyndsay, but it’s not always easy to be a small light in such a huge darkness. God is doing big things in us and through us, so continue praying for opportunities and boldness. Love and appreciate you all.

January 17, 2010


There are so many other things that should come before this entry (because I’ve just had an amazing week of Australian vacation), but this is so pressing and current, I just can’t ignore it.

School starts tomorrow and I’m simply refusing to admit it. Nat and I just went for a long and beautiful power walk down by the water on the boardwalk and we spent some time admiring the gorgeous, bright, Australian stars -- but we both have 8AM classes in the morning. Oh yeah, I forgot I was here for school. Darn.

I think I just feel with the warm weather like it’s summer time and I shouldn’t be going to classes right now. I really hope that I’m able to concentrate on studies while I’m in this environment. That will be interesting.

Anyway, I’ll make this a quick entry, an amalgam of random thoughts I’ve wanted to share.
  • I’m not sure quite what it is, but I think music filters over here at a slower rate. And it's A-OK with me, because on most radio station out in public, guess what I hear? 90’S MUSIC! It makes me so happy. As some of you know, it’s my absolute favorite. I’m a sucker for that catchy pop sound with quick witty lyrics. I’m also a master of the one hit wonder. I know them all, titles and artists. So while driving on our coach bus through the beautiful countryside, you’ll find me beaming from ear to ear, bopping along to “Semi-Charmed Life”. Perfect.
  • Remember that time that I scuba dove in the Great Barrier Reef? Yeah? Well do you also remember how after all of his heinous adventures, that’s where Steve Irwin ended up passing away? Oops. He was stung by a sting ray. I kind of left that out half on accident and half because I didn’t want to freak Mom out. Sorry, just relaying the facts…

Lessons Learned

1. I am far from home. Period. No one knows of the Red Sox or the entire New England sports dynasty, and Boston is not a big deal. I made one embarrassing mistake and I realized just how far away I am. Or how I do have some pompous American attitudes, like it’s fine that I don’t know much about Australia, but everyone should know about the states. Dumb.

The scene: Nat and I went to a bar and were hanging out by ourselves at a picnic table on the back patio. Then this guy next to me introduces himself as Shane and asks where I’m from. If you have children around, this next comment is for mature audiences only, I apologize. I introduce myself as Cassie and say that I’m from Boston. And poor Shane, a little alcohol in his system and fresh off of plane from Sydney was so confused. “Boston? Where the F*** is that?” Insert a tipsy Aussie accent. It’s quite humorous.

On the other side of me, Nat starts laughing quite heartily as all of the color rushes to my face. Stupid. I’m American and I’m stupid. “Oh, well I’m from America,” she says trying to dig herself out of a hole. “America?! Bloody hell.” And then he apologized profusely because he was embarrassed that he didn’t know where Boston was. He kept apologizing over and over and I was laughing, telling him it was fine and I was apologizing too. Lesson learned: No one knows where Boston is and they can barely pronounce Massachusetts. You’re from America. Won’t make that mistake again. If they ask specifically where, you tell them, but then and only then.

2. Don’t mess with the Australian sun. You’re not game enough. I don’t care who you are, stupid naive American. You can’t handle it and it will own you. Sorry Mom, but the 15 SPF sunscreen you put in my stocking will absolutely not cut it. I put in on multiple times a day, but it takes like over 45 SPF of the Australian brand (more hardcore than ours) to not get fried. My legs will tell you all about it. The poor, crispy red stilts I’ve been hobbling around on lately. They’re actually much better lately, it’s faded a lot. But lesson learned: reapply 30 SPF or over every 20 minutes.

3. Food over here is basically made with no preservatives. It can both be a blessing and a curse. It’s awesome because you know that you’re getting very quality, chemical-free food, not processed American crap. But on the other hand, you have to eat everything at mach speed to keep it from going bad. And nobody warned us!

So in five days, the casualties were as follows:
   - 2 half gallons of low fat milk (both still half full)
   - A quart (or metric equivalent) of creamer, because they don’t have half and half over here.

On day six, I lost the remainder of my bread, which was about 7 slices. And an unopened bottle of balsamic vinegar. But Nat dropped that on the floor, so we can’t blame that on the preservatives.

I guess it’s not the hugest deal ever, but we feel wasteful because we wish we had known better. I would have loved a warning about that. At first we thought it was because the fridge wasn’t cold enough, so I made it colder. So next time, I’ll get less milk or drink it faster. I’m buying Oreo’s tomorrow, so maybe I should get a half gallon again. Dexter house knows that I eat my Oreo’s in intervals of nine or ten and I need my milk, haha. Anyway, lesson learned: Food dies quicker over here. Buy less, or be quicker with the consumption. I’ll keep you posted on the death toll.

Well, those are my random ramblings (alliteration <3). Time to get some shut eye before day one of classes. Say it ain’t so.

*written last night, posted this morning because of poor internet reception. Getting ready for class now! Blah.

January 16, 2010


A free Flickr account only allows for 100MB of space - I was able to upload a whopping 21 photos. Fabulous. After learning this, I went on the quest for another site to use. I settled on Zooomr, but they are upgrading and not accepting new accounts at the moment (strange).

So for now, I chose Photobucket. Hopefully it works out okay.

Click here for a preview of some photos from my day in the rainforest!

Large Birds, Large Fish

I’m getting bored with writing about orientation because it’s all stuff from last week, but it’s important to get it all out there - for your reading pleasure, and for my own documentation. So we're almost done and on to more current things!

The next day of orientation was Community Day. Both the Blue and Green groups participated in this together, so I was able to be with Nat and Lyndsay which was great. The plan for the day was this: Go to a cassowary sanctuary and… pretty much do whatever they needed us to do. Thank goodness that through various missions trips, I’ve learned to be flexible, prepare for the unknown, and serve in whatever capacity you’re asked to. But for our wild American college student peers, this was not easy and there was much complaining. That was kind of a struggle for Nat, Lyndsay and me, because as Christians, we were accustomed to this and used to serving. But so many people had issues with their projects.

First off, cassowaries are large birds that look like emus and are incredibly dangerous and violent. If you know me, then you know I hate birds. So my instinctive reaction is, “Aw, too bad. Bye cassowaries. Hope you’re time on earth was fun.” But that’s not very Christ-like of me. Jesus loves all 6 foot tall flesh-ripping birds equally...

Thankfully, we didn’t see any. It’s very rare to see them because they’re endangered, which I’m glad to hear. I thought that the wild turkey we saw on our hike was a baby cassowary and that’s why I basically peed my pants when we ran into him. So our activities in the sanctuary consisted of other odd jobs, not related to this lethal winged varmint.

The way that good fertilizer is made is through poop. We all know this. In the rainforest, it’s just a little more interesting - it starts out with koala poop. They have it shipped in from a nearby koala zoo and put it in vats filled with worms. The worms then eat it all, poop and out, and BAM! Nutritious soil. It’s nature at its finest. Nat, Lynsday and I spent some time squatting over a wheelbarrow of this soil, fishing out the worms, and placing them in a new vat of koala poop. It was nice. Quite cathartic.

Then we joined a group that was driving to a different area to plant trees. I’m happy to report that I played a part in saving the rainforest. I planted about four or five trees. Our instructor was a little annoyed though because she kept telling us that they needed to be one meter apart. Our response? “Yeah okay sure.” Then we’d try to eyeball a meter… and we didn’t know how long that was. Turns out it’s a little over a yard. Our trees may be a little too close together. She didn’t have much patience with explaining it too us. Oh well. New rainforest tree friends. Very close.

All in all, it was a pretty good day, but not my favorite. I would have enjoyed it more if the Americans had more joyful servants’ hearts about everything, but they were Negative Nancy’s most of the day. And honestly, we were only there serving for about three hours. That’s it. Three hours. And people were still complaining the heck out of the situation.

Anyway, later that night, Nat, Lyndsay, this kid Scott and I walked to get ice cream. It was beautiful. We walked down by the esplanade and it was absolutely stunning. I wish I had my camera with me. We saw tons of cute shops and finally stumbled upon our destination: Baskin Robbins. It was a good night :) Then we got back to the hostel and watched The Illusionist as our partying peers hit the bars and the pub crawl.

And finally, the moment you’ve all been waiting for. It’s time for my tales of the deep. The beauties and wonders that live in the Great Barrier Reef. I still can’t believe that I swam around down there. That’s absolutely a once in a lifetime opportunity and I’ve done it! We started the day by boarding our ship. We sailed with a group called Passions of Paradise and they were so cool and down to earth - genuine Aussies.

When we set sail, it was raining in Cairns so a lot of us were under the deck. Also, many were hung over from the night before, so they found themselves also hung over the side of the boat. Very unpleasant sights and sounds, since I was getting a little seasick on the rough waters with zero alcohol in my system. Listening to them all miserable certainly didn’t help.

Once we were out of the rain, it was a beautifully clear and bright day, as you’ll see from the photos that are coming very soon. However, the waters were still really rough. On the day that Natalie went, it was stunningly beautiful all day, not a cloud in the sky and the water was so bright and clear. Don’t get me wrong, it was sunny, and bright and the water sparkled, but underwater it was a little cloudy. That’s a weather report they don’t tell you on TV.

My friends Paige, Molly and I sunned ourselves for a while as we sailed toward to reef, taking pictures and enjoying the day. Also, staying above the cabin out with the fresh air aided in the fight against nausea. We were under the deck for about 10 minutes getting some scuba instructions and I nearly threw up. I don’t typically get seasick, but the waters were extremely rough because of the storm in Cairns. Anyway, I’ll get to the good stuff.

I was part of scuba group 2, which meant that I would scuba after group 1 and do snorkeling while groups 3 and 4 were scuba diving. I donned a blue sun suit which would serve as the ultimate sun and jellyfish protector. It zipped up over your chin, had a hood, and had little mittens for your hands. It was very attractive. I was given a pair of child-sized fins for my tiny feet, and grabbed a mask. When it was our turn to suit up, they strapped two weights around my hips and sat me at the smallest oxygen tank. I’m not good at estimating, but those tanks probably weighed over 50 pounds. As soon as I stood up to enter to water, it took so much effort to not fall backwards with the weight of this tank. “Oh well,” I thought. You can never have to much oxygen under water, right?

So I hobbled down the steps, in my blue body suit, my flippers, mask and tank. I’m sure we were a sight to see. We were instructed to hop in and grab hold of the rope that was stretched out horizontally in behind the boat. I was the second one in, so I swam near the end of the rope. Swimming with fins was such an interesting task! I’d never done that before and it definitely took some getting used to. Here at the rope, we practiced some underwater sign language and necessary tricks for an enjoyable time. When your mask gets water in it, look to the sky and push on the top near your forehead. I’m not quite sure how, but water escapes without letting more water in. Oh, science. I’m in awe. We practiced what to do if your mouthpiece gets knocked out somehow: tip it toward the ocean floor to let water out (again, how does this work?) and place it back in your mouth and yell the word, “TWO!” Somehow, the movement of your tongue when saying “two” clears the mouthpiece out. Good to know.

Also, if you’re doing well and having a blast, never give a thumbs up. This means you want to go to the top. Very tricky. You must give the “okay” symbol if you’re doing fine. Giving a thumbs down means you want to go deeper. This totally messed with my American brain. I had to concentrate a little too hard on those hand signals. Another important thing to know is how to equalize. Your ears will pop and it’s just like on a plane or in a pool, except more intense -- block your nose and try to blow out of it to unclog your ears. I did this a few times underwater and it worked so well. You actually felt the pressure leaving your head. I feel like it’s never worked for me on a plane.

So with the knowledge we needed to be safe, we dove. The only rule of scuba diving besides some sign language and a few tips is to breathe and just keep breathing. They had us say that out loud about ten times before we dove. Never stop breathing. Got it.

It’s such a shame that our water was cloudy. Sometimes we’d be swimming in a certain direction and I’d think to myself, “why on earth are we going over here?” and then we stumble upon the hugest section of coral and fish brighter than rainbows over a two feet long. “Oh, that’s why.” It did add for a fun element of surprise I suppose, to look on the bright side. I can only imagine what it must have been like on the day Nat went though. I’m sure you could see so much more; everything just expanding and exploding with color right in front of you. I’ll be thankful for my day though. No matter the weather, I scuba dove at the Great Barrier Reef. Top that.

Under the sea (insert fun Disney song here), I had a fantastic time. I’m an explorer at heart, I think. I love just taking my time, seeing, touching, and holding everything that I can. And what’s really cool about being underwater is that everything is so quiet. Even though I was underwater with five others and our arms were linked, you feel so alone down there. All you can do is think and process things in your own head. Until you reach the surface – then you all can’t shut up about what you’ve seen because you’ve been holding it in underwater for a half hour.

As an introductory diver, we couldn’t go deeper than twenty feet, but that was plenty. We were under for a half an hour and there was still so much to see in the cloudy water. I peeled back my blue mitten and touched something that orange, stringy and sticky. Sticky? Underwater? Yes. It was such a strange sensation. I held what I can only imagine was some sort of sea cucumber, and I ran my fingers through something pink and stringy. It was so soft, not sticky at all. Then I put my mittened hand into the mouth of a large… clam? Maybe? Who knows. It was huge and kept opening and closing its mouth like some sort of underwater venus fly trap. The inside of its mouth was dark purple with light blue spots, and it was so smooth. When it clamped down, it wasn’t hard, it just felt like it was gumming me.

We swam around and saw tons of fish. I mean, tons. They were all so varied. Some were absolutely massive and so bright, and some were tiny, traveling in schools. Some were digging in the sand, which was cute, and one big pearl-colored one looked to be taking a mid afternoon siesta. I’ve honestly never seen so many colors. At one point, I swam directly through a school of fish. It was incredible for me, but I hope I didn’t throw off their groove. So after 30 minutes of exploring, we slowly ventured to the surface where I learned that I had some seriously pruney fingers. We approached the ladder, slipped off our fins, and climbed out, with not enough words to describe what we’d seen.

Later that day, I went snorkeling over to a sand bar with Paige and Molly. It was fun, but definitely not as good as the dive. I almost wish I had gone snorkeling first, but I was spoiled diving first. There was still so much to see snorkeling though, and the fish were less afraid of you, so they were all up in your business. Didn’t phase me. Come on over fishies, welcome to my business. When I climbed back into the boat after snorkeling, I may or may not have been stung by a jellyfish in my un-mittened finger. I definitely felt it right when it happened and coilled in pain, shaking my hand. But I didn't see any blue bottles around. That's the type of jelly that won't send you to the hospital. So then my finger got red and swollen and I saw a little red line on it from where a tentacle may have struck me, but it really didn't hurt that badly. I didn't really tell anyone because some people got it much worse. It's obviously not a big deal if I wasn't even certain that I'd been stung in the first place. But between you and me, I think I was.

Sailing back, we were heading into the huge gray clouds that hovered over Cairns. As we got nearer, it began to pour. It was very The Perfect Storm. Not really, but still scary. I actually went under the deck and curled up for a snooze. It was a two hour trip, so the nap was nice. We made it back safe and sound, got certificates for our first dive and were on our way :)

Anyway, I feel like that may conclude my writings on orientation activities! I feel extremely blessed to have been able to do and see the things we did last week. Definitely once in a lifetime opportunities that I’m so grateful to say I’ve had. Thanks so much for reading, and my next entry will probably be more serious. While we had a blast doing so many fun activities, I definitely learned a lot during this orientation about myself, Americans, and what God has in store for this trip. Can’t wait to share it with you, but be ready, because it’s not all cuddly koalas and rainbow fish all the time. G’day!

January 13, 2010

Backlog Blog

Try to say that ten times fast. Or even twice.

I apologize for allowing so much time to go by between posts. Ideally, I’d be writing every day or two, but things have been extremely chaotic since leaving Cairns and moving into my new place on the Gold Coast. Things have been great, but I’m going to backlog a little bit as to not tell my stories out of order. So, let’s venture back to last Friday, January 8th, and I’ll tell you a tale of two young American hikers trekking through the rainforest…

It was the day of orientation that was designated for our adventure day activities, and we could choose to do a rainforest walk, ride ATV’s, go on a safari in the outback, go horseback riding, or go white water rafting. After much deliberation, Nat and I decided to save ourselves about $150 (to put toward bikes/surfboards) and take the day off. Besides, I already had a day in the rainforest, I can ride ATV’s in the states, I wasn’t elated about the outback, I’m afraid of horses, and we’ve both rafted in class five rapids and these were class three. We’d rather choose our own adventure, and we did just that.

We heard from one of our leaders that the Red and Blue Arrow trails were good hikes that were only about minutes away. So on the morning of our day off, we left the hostel and started walking down Sheridan Street in the direction of mountains, not quite sure where we were headed. After a a few minutes of walking, we decided to stop and ask for directions. God provided a travel and tourism building on the next corner, so after an embarrassingly long game of “how do you open the door to this establishment?” we received our directions and were back on our way. FYI: if it looks like a pull door and doesn’t seem to open on the first try, give it a push. All handles around here look like they should be pulled. Very misleading. It’s even worse when it’s a glass door so those inside can see you struggling.

After walking through a city scene and the botanical gardens, we reached the entrance to the trail. It started off slowly, and we passed many diligent trail runners out on an extremely humid day. It was very tricky as Americans to stay to the left. Since the 1st grade when you lined up and walked through the halls, you were told to stay to the right. It’s so deeply engrained in us, but we must relearn that for life here. Walking, running, biking, even crossing the street… it effects everything. So we’d say “G’day” or “How ya going?” to the runners or our fellow hikers and all was well. After the lookout, the Red Arrow trail became Blue Arrow and things were kicked up a notch. I’m not trying to be gross, but this just needs to be said: Nat and I discussed how we don’t think we’ve ever sweat that much in our entire lives. Granted, we were wearing bathing suits and cotton tank tops (not moisture wicking material) because we were expecting to go directly to the beach after our hike, but still. We were literally drenched. You know when you can tell that your entire shirt is a different color because it’s wet… yeah. Sorry. It was just a very humid day and we were haulin’. I’m not exaggerating in the least - the entire tank top and rears of our shorts. We were a sight to see at the end.

Anyway, we hiked and debriefed on some aspects of our trip. It was nice to have that alone time together. We also talked about the Bible, our favorite classes at Gordon, people we think we’ll miss most, letters we want to write… and every once in a while, we’d just laugh out loud and say, “We’re hiking in the rainforest in Australia!” or “Remember that time we hiked in the rainforest in Australia?” It was great fun. ‘Round these parts, Nat spotted our first critter. She points and says, “Look, a kangaroo!” I corrected her, because the Blue group didn’t have the rainforest knowledge of the Green group quite yet, and told her it was a wallaby. He just hopped along and was too fast for me to snap a picture. I wasn’t expecting to see him in that environment, but he was awfully cute. A man on a mission, for sure.

Shortly thereafter, we ran into our next rainforest creature - far less cute, fun and active, but equally as agile. Despite his lounging in the sun, I would not be deceived. With my new knowledge of rainforest wildlife, I would not let him fool me. I know what he’s capable of. Nat was hiking in front at this point, and the trail had gotten a lot narrower. Definitely only room for one at a time and there was tall grass on either side of the neat, skinny trail. I just remember Nat turning around abruptly and nearly plowing me over, shushing me and pushing me back. I don’t remember her exact words in that moment, but I looked past her and saw what we were up against. Remember our friend the monitor lizard from my previous entry? I referenced a gila monster just to make Tony laugh (inside joke), but it’s actually in the family of the komodo dragon, the heaviest lizard there is. I’ll post photos soon, but please Google the Australian monitor lizard, or goanna. Here’s an excerpt from some research I did…

“Most goannas are rather large for a lizard, and they all have sharp teeth and long claws. Monitor lizards are predators… Goannas can rear up on their hind legs… Goannas can run very fast over short distances, sometimes using their hind legs only. They are very good tree climbers...”


Wikipedia says, “Almost all monitor lizards are carnivorous.” Oh, awesome.

I’m not sure how one would measure the speed at which adrenaline flows through one’s body, but it was certainly moving swiftly. At this moment, I turned my camera on to the video mode. Nat and I were taping from time to time on our journey, and I’d say this was the climax. Although you can only see a little over a foot of his tail, the goanna battle was taped and the video is blog-worthy. I’ll edit the hike video and post it soon, but this is the part of the show where Nat and I tried to remain calm, and figure out how to continue on our hike past the roughly four foot long carnivorous lizard in our path.

While we searched for weapons (sticks and rocks), he sort of moseyed off the trail a bit so only his tail was in our way. I thought that if we hopped the tail and sprinted until we were long past him, we’d be alright. But Nat wanted to provoke him by throwing a stick in his general direction. Even though he was mostly in the grass, who knew if throwing a stick would scare him off or anger him. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t know all there is to know about these creatures and I wasn’t sure how he’d respond. Regardless, Nat broke a stick and threw it, causing him to move his tail completely off the path. We still sprinted by when we passed (all on camera by the way) and he hadn’t gone far at all. He was only about a foot off of the trail on our right. The goanna episode definitely gave us a fright, but we made it and we on high alert as we moved forward. I felt like all of my senses were heightened - I heard and saw everything. Lots of scary birds making loud noises in the rainforest, that didn’t help.

After only a little over an hour of hiking, we made it to the top! It was actually kind of anticlimactic. We knew that it would be a short hike (only about 5k), but at the top, our view was of the Cairns airport. It was very strange. I’m not used to hiking in that which is unmistakably a legitimate rainforest, reaching the top in an hour, and seeing… an airport. We didn’t linger much at the top because there wasn’t anywhere to sit at all and my camera had died because of the goanna affair. We turned around to hike back down, and after a few minutes we met another unexpected wilderness friend. At first, we thought that it was the endangered and violent cassowary - a large bird of prey that I’ll write about in my next entry. For those who know me, you know that I’d much rather battle a goanna than any bird of prey.

Turns out, it was only a wild turkey. He wasn’t too big, maybe two feet tall, but he definitely didn’t look like he belonged in the rainforest. He was black, had his red turkey wattle, he just really looked like a fish out of water. The goanna was to Nat as this turkey was the me. I was hiking in front, saw him, and turned around in a panic. However it wasn’t too bad - we just talked to him, politely asking him to leave the trail and be on his way, and he obliged. Very cooperative bird. Most adaptable one I’ve ever met. Nat just said, “Good thing he didn’t know what we were doing on November 26th.”

So there you have it! The rest of the hike was great, but nothing unexpected. We saw a bunch of smaller, non-threatening lizards, tons of frogs and walls of bamboo. Like I said, we were absolutely drenched when we left the rainforest, and it was actually quite humiliating as we walked on the main road in search of food and beach. While eating at a small pizza place watching American soaps on TV, we were told that no one in their right mind swims at the beach in Cairns. Ever seen the movie Seven Pounds? Will Smith gets up close and personal with the Irukandji jellyfish, the deadliest there is. And their home is northern Queensland, specifically Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef. Feel free to do a little research on those as well. The size of your thumbnail with tentacles ranging from 3 to 35 centimeters, they’re clear and you won’t see them coming. Therefore, Cairns-dwellers forego the beach and swim in their saltwater pools. Did I mention that? Lots of saltwater pools ‘round these parts. I’m not sure way. Look at my blog- fun, and educational.

Once again, thank you for taking the time to read of my escapades! As you can tell, I love writing things in vivid detail, so feel free to skim if you’re short on time. I actually catalog and process my daily happenings as to whether or not they’re blog-worthy. It’s odd, but it’s a mixture of loving to write, and wanting to share every details with those reading at home. But either way, this will be a great log of events for me to look back on in the future as well! Hope you’re enjoying it as much as I am :)

January 9, 2010

I am verbose.

I am very self-conscious of the fact that I have so much to say and I’m not sure how many people care enough to read it. I’ll try to make my blog entries as interesting as possible, but hello. I’m in ‘Strahya, of course it’s interesting. If you’re not interested in this stuff, then tell me what you’ve been up to that’s so much better ;)

Anyway, I’m going to try and pick up where I left off even though so much has happened. When we all got to the airport in Brisbane, we were hit with a blast of hot humid air. You know me, I thought it was fantastic. Anya would have hated it, but I was in heaven. And there are palm trees here! Who knew? Well, some of you knew. I didn’t. I loved being greeted by palms right off the plane.

The domestic terminal, however, was about a 7 min bus ride away. We had roughly 45 minutes until our flight to Cairns (pronounced “Cans” - very Bostonian of them) took off, and we were in a dreadfully long line to pass through customs. It took ages. I hate to report Mom, that they confiscated my unfinished trail mix because of the banana chips. I was sad because it was wonderful and banana chips are my favorite! I claimed on the form that I had food and that I had medicine (ibuprofen), so they had to search through my bags, but it wasn’t too bad. Nat however, neglected to claim anything. I’m not sure why, but she was found to have one left over clementine and she narrowly escaped a $250 fine. The customs man was very angry. She handled it well though. It was kind of humorous because it was a total accident. She meant to finish them all on the plane.

So after spending far too much time in the customs line and dealing with the clementine incident, we had to seriously book it to the check in for the domestic flights. We were sprinting with so many bags, and the people in the line at check in let us cut in front of them. I’m going to dedicate an entry soon to how ridiculously nice Aussies are and how Americans could learn a thing or two (or millions in my opinion) from them. So after we checked our bags, we hopped on the bus to the domestic terminal where they were holding our plane, thank goodness.

After three flights totaling over a day, we were there. We were met by our AustraLearn leaders at Cairns airport and loaded the coach buses to Bohemia Resort. Don’t be fooled by “Resort” - it’s a hostel. Nicest hostel I’ve ever been in though. Six people to a room, a gorgeous patio area and pool with a bar and plenty of picnic tables, but there are two showers to every forty people or so. It’s nuts. The rooms are separated alphabetically, so unfortunately Nat’s not in my room, but we’re meeting some awesome people! Some of our peers, American college students, are extremely wild, but Nat and I are surrounding ourselves with some pretty solid people. We met some girls from Azusa Pacific (a college in Gordon’s consortium) and a great Christian girl from Illinois. We’re having a blast with them. Some good clean fun :) Right now we’re all blogging and watching The Illusionist while our peers are at a pub crawl.

So now I’ll elaborate on orientation. We are separated into two groups, Blue and Green, which was also done alphabetically. The first day, the Green group when to an area called Kurunda to a place called RainForeStation. Clever. We drove two coach buses up a very very windy mountain all the way to the top - I got a bit car sick, but it was beautiful. When we unloaded we separated into three groups and moved around to different stations. Molly (from Azusa) and I were in a group that started with aboriginal activities. We watched an aboriginal play a didgeridoo, which is a huge flute-like instrument with a deep vibrating tone to it. He explained to us how it works and let a few of us try it. It was so hard to do! I couldn’t get a sound out, it’s not like a saxophone. The we had a lesson in throwing a boomerang. It was awesome to see and cool to try, but that’s not my calling, haha. It’s no softball :) Then walking to the next activity, I tasted a green ant. The third segment of their ant body is big and lime green. When touched to your tongue, it tastes like a sour warhead. It was tasty!

From there we went to watch an aboriginal dance routine. It was crazy, but so interesting. A little bit like the New Zealand rugby players in the movie Invictus, but in nothing by a loin cloth and body paint. And they didn’t yell with their tongues out. It wasn’t scary at all, just culturally unique. Then we went on a rainforest tour. We drove through a path on the rainforest in a Boston duck tours boat - same concept :) They called them duck boats too! I felt very much at home. I found myself wanting to quack at passersby, but that’s much more acceptable in Boston. We saw tons of beautiful plants and huge huge trees. No flowers though, mostly very large trees. I took some pictures, but honestly, everything was too big to catch on camera. I took a video when our vehicle emerged into a lagoon. The water was very swampy and gross, but authentically rainforest-y :)

Then after a delicious buffet lunch of east asian cuisine, it was finally animal time. We started off right by each having our picture taken with a koala. He was a baby and we only got to hold him for literally 5 seconds before he was passed to the next person, but he was so adorable. I feel bad for the bloke though, being passed around like that. He was so out of it. Then we saw a wombat, a koala with a joey, a koala with a joey still in his pouch not due for a few more weeks, crocs, enormous spiders, and more. The crocs were so huge. One of them had to be over 12 feet long and he was chilling under water. Just absolutely massive. I don’t know how Steve Erwin made it for all those years.

Then we saw monitor lizards. Tony, two words: Gila monster. These bad boys were massive. Feel free to google it, the natives call them goannas. They are in the family of the kimono dragon and they mean business. They can grow to over 6 feet long and these suckers can move. Never underestimate the belly-dwellers, they can haul it when provoked. One of our leaders, Jay, (Nat and I love our leaders. We have so much more in common with them then with our peers here. We chill with them a lot) said that he had an ex girlfriend who took a swipe to the face with a goanna tail and was knocked out. How lovely.

But enough of the drugged up, the vicious, and the creepy-crawly, I’ll move on to only the greatest creatures that God has placed on this earth besides humans - maybe tied with humans: Kangaroos and wallabies. Man oh man everyone, these animals are just fantastic. After we walked through the rest of the exhibit, it opened up into a backyard where kangaroos and wallabies were hopping about everywhere! I’ve never seen anything like it! Some were lounging on their sides like cats and dogs, some were going ballistic, all “hopped up”. But they were a riot. You’ll never see anything move like this. I was so giggly and I couldn’t stop! They made me so happy. And they had no qualms with humans if you moved slow. Very much the “Australian way” - just chillin’, no worries. I walked up, pet them, fed them, bounced with them - it was such a hoot. I would own a wallaby if I could. They’re like kangaroos, only smaller and with different coloring. Some of these kangaroos were huge though. You just know that if you were on the receiving end of their kick, you’d be done for. But they were such loves :) Undoubtedly my favorite part.

Then I saw a dingo (they are nearly extinct actually, no longer eating anyone’s babies) and allowed a 6 foot long snake to snuggle up around my neck. Feeling a heavy, scaly, muscly snake body around my face was certainly an experience. He wasn’t bad ;)

And that was about it for the Green group’s rainforest day. That night, Nat and I got sushi, read and journaled for a while and hit the sack around 11ish. I’m going to call it quits for tonight because I doubt very many of you (beside my parents :D ) have made it all the way to the end of this entry. Here’s what’s in store for entries to come…

   Day off - Nat and I went for a hike and encountered tons of wildlife on our own. Real Croc Hunter material, you don’t wanna miss this.
   Community service day - worked on the cassowary sanctuary. A huge ostrich-like bird known for being vicious and deadly. Sounds like my cup of tea right? And koala poop, turned worm pooped, turned perfect rainforest fertilizer. Sifting through that fertilizer to relocate those busy worms, and planting trees in the rainforest!
   And tomorrow… Green group's turn at the Great Barrier Reef! I’ll snorkel, I’ll scuba, and my life will never be the same again. Guaranteed.

Thanks for reading if you made it this far. You’re a real trooper. Love you.

January 7, 2010


So I've been here for just over 24 hours and I already have so many stories from my trip!

  • First things first: I'm safe, it's 90 degrees (I'm by the pool right now), and the people here are wonderful.
  • Secondly: The Boston accent lends itself very well to picking up the Aussie accent. They also typically ignore their R's, so I'm in good shaped and won't be mocked for my pronunciation of the word "drawer". 
  • Thirdly: Lesson one. Australia. Ignore the first A. The second A in the middle is short, not long. Ignore the L. And IA is not like in the name Olivia.

We say "Aw-str-ale-ia"
They say "'Strahya"

I have a lot to learn.

Anyway, the flights were actually very tolerable! The first one, from Boston to LA had about 40 fellow AustraLearn travelers on it, so that was cool. At just over six hours, that was officially my longest flight... until later that evening of course. I sat next to a rather interesting character - your stereotypical Italian American with a massive family and super-friendly. He was 38, has 9 kids and works in LA during the winter months (because he does asphalting). It's so funny how much you can learn about a person after 6 hours, haha. We literally talked about everything; family, work, his kids, his divorces, movies, Jesus, politics... everything. His first name was Dean and middle name was Martin. Quite a character. The company was so delightful that I didn't even open either of my two carry on bags! Only for chapstick, of course. I read my Fitness magazine for twenty at the very end of the flight when Dean decided to take a snooze. So flight #1, big success.

Then we had a three hour layover in LA. It was fine, but we were just antsy to board and get started on the 13 hours that laid before us. Once we were on though, it really wasn't that bad. I had a window seat which was a blessing and a curse. Nice when you wanted to sleep, but a pain when you wanted to get up and avoid blood clots or deep vein thrombosis. Is that the word? Thrombosis? I may have just made that up. Something scary that can kill you on long flights.

So here's my story of how I decided to escape death. My seat neighbors, middle and aisle, were both zonked for a long time. Like over 3 hours straight. I didn't want to be that person and wake them so I could pee and also save myself from the threat of thrombosis. After about ten minutes of deliberation, I decided to make a bold move. I slipped my shoes on, and got on my knees to scan the area. No stewardesses or flight crew members in sight. All passengers within eyeshot, asleep. I was at the end of a section near an emergency exit, so I had about 8 feet between my seat and the one behind me. So I decided a climb for escape was in order. I grabbed the handle conveniently located diagonally above my seat and pulled myself up. I was never good at pull ups, but I hoisted myself up over the back of my seat, swinging my leg ever so carefully as to not kick my neighbors. I dangled for a second before it was safe to gently lower myself quietly to the landing. But the first landing was unfortunately part of the emergency exit with a "do not sit" sticker on it. Oh well. Desperation was setting in. It held one foot and half my body weight for a split second, no harm done. I was free. However I did need to repeat this process on the way back over, a little trickier.

Anyway, the 13 hours went by pretty quickly because I slept sporadically for about total of about 8.5 hours. Then I passed time by playing with the fun TV screen! I watched a documentary on BASE jumping (awesome) one on storm-chasing surfers, and watched some of The Time Traveler's Wife. I'm in the midst of reading the book, so I stopped as soon as I saw a scene that I haven't read yet :) More plane stories, of course, but I won't bore you with that.

Landing in Brisbane was amazing. It felt so incredible to know we were finally there! So many stories to tell, but my battery is about to die so I won't risk it!

What's to come next time I have free time:

  • How we almost missed our flight to Cairns
  • Arriving at the hostel
  • Orientation begins!
  • Jet lag sets in : /
  • And orientation day 1: Rainforest day! Amazing skylines, trees, plants, snuggly koalas, my new favorite animal, the wallaby, kangaroos, dingoes, crocs and more!
Miss you all and wish you were here. Thanks for your prayers, emails and comments! You're the best.

G'day, mates.

January 3, 2010

Counting in hours

In about 37 hours, I'll be heading to the airport! I honestly can't believe it.

So what still needs to be done before take off?

- make copies of travel documents
- last minute load of laundry (!)
- an updating of the iPod
- the packing of toiletries that will be used tomorrow and Monday morning

and then I think I'm ready to go! It's sinking in now, I'm actually leaving.

My wonderful friend Kate is sleeping over tonight to fend off the raging New England weather this weekend. She was visiting family in Mass today, and decided not to go to Maine if she's just coming back to say bye to me tomorrow! What a love :) She helped me pack and is crazy good at it... an odd talent, but incredibly useful.

A note about my personality: I'm extremely action-oriented. I learn things by doing and I don't process things through very thoroughly. I'm not rash, but I'm certainly not pensive either. I'm typically on the go and don't give myself time to think and analyze life as it whizzes by. I have many people close to me that usually slow me down and force me to think and reflect. But it's times like these where it bites me in the butt. I'm approaching take off and it's all hitting me like this pleasant Nor'easter.

At dinner last night (Krueger's Flatbread in Haverhill, a true hidden jewel) my parents asked me, "What are you most excited about? What are you most nervous about?"

It's probably not a good sign when you take a bite of pizza and a huge gulp of water to give yourself time to brainstorm. And then the intelligible, insightful answer that emerges from your lips is: "Uhhhhh..."

Great. Not a clue. Mom asked, "You haven't thought about this?" And the truth is, not extensively. My biggest fear as of right now is losing luggage. What a nightmare. But no, nothing earth-shattering yet. So the deep, contemplative, soul-searching thoughts? I'll hop on that as the hours dwindle... maybe on the plane when there are not more critical details to tend to.

Anyway, maybe I'll post tomorrow with an updated hopes/fears list. But as for now, here's something crucial for those I love...

Please Skype me during the sane and sensible hours of communication for both continents that I conveniently blocked off! My name on Skype is Cassandra.Papia and I intend to leave it logged in most of the time.

I hope your Christmases were blessed, your New Year's Eves were rockin' and the first two days of a new decade were a success. 2010, bring it.
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