January 16, 2010

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!


  1. The only ocean life up in my business was the punch you in the face New England clam chowder that Pat and I made last Sunday.

    Heaps delicious.

  2. I have a picture downstairs of an 8 year old swimmy girl with goggles on!
    P.S. - I love that swimmy girl !!!

  3. Anonymous1/16/2010


  4. confession: i've been just sitting in my room by myself IN STITCHES imagining you waddling around in your scuba gear, hung over americans retching over the side, your quality time with worms and poo, etc. etc.

    AND "fishies welcome to my business"??? oh my gosh i cant breathe.

    i love this. oh and PS...i totally am reading nat's blog too...and you definitely left out the part of your day where you wore SPF 15 and played chicken with THE SUN!! at that rate you're going to be paying for my brother's college tuition :) so your job from now on is to bathe daily in SPF 50. BATHE.

    ok im done :)

    check your email! ILOVEYOU.

  5. Cas!!
    Oh my goodness! Literally laughed out loud! You are too cute! It sounds like you had an absolutely amazing time :)

  6. CAS! Did you have Nat pee on your finger? I'm serious. Didnt you pay attention to the episode of FRIENDS when Monica gets stung....and well i think you know where this is going. haha. Life lessons to be learned from that show Cas, life lessons.

    And i can totally see you in your scuba gear trucking aon, or should i say waddling along. haha. i only wish i were there with you to take part in the most amazing thing that nature has to offer. Enjoy it all Cas and enjoy the rare animals for me too!


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