The past six weeks have been incredibly busy and doubly fantastic. I had fun, and sun, and exams.
I sailed the world famous Whitsunday Islands, lived on a private island for a week, snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef, visited Australia’s art capital, Melbourne, saw Beyoncé, my lifelong idol, in concert, and visited my favorite place in Australia, Byron Bay for the last time. Somewhere amidst these adventures I also wrote papers, prepared my final painting portfolio and completed exams.
In late September I left on Spring Vacation for a 10-day, 90-person bus trip up the east coast of Australia. We first hit the Australia Zoo, Steve Irwin’s home and legacy. We stayed the night near Fraser Island, which is the world’s largest all sand Island. In the day we raced through the sand dunes on massive 4-wheels sand buggies, which delivered a wild ride. We spent the afternoon at Lake Mackenzie, enjoying the pristine water. We discovered that Fraser Island is home to both Dingoes and Aborigines. We then spent an uncomfortable night on the bus. On one of our many pit stops I was fortunate enough to come across wild Kangaroos hopping about in a field.
The next day we boarded boats in Airlie Beach and headed to our private island resort- on South Molle (pronounced “mall”). We spent the day snorkeling the Whitsunday Islands and got to see Whitehaven Beach, home to the purest silica sand beach in the world. The high concentration of silica in the sand creates the brilliant white color, and also promises cool feet, as it does not retain heat like other less pure sands.
The next day we spent wandering South Molle. We started the day by feeding turtles and enormous fish. On a walk we came across an eerie abandoned bar with a disheveled 2 bedroom home attached. We had heard that the Island was hit with a terrible storm and had left it destroyed. This bar, in addition to abandoned shops and villas at the edge of the resort hinted at this as well. We ventured into the home in back and found a frightening scene. The place looked ransacked, bedding still on the beds, drawers pulled out in a hurry, a child’s stickers all over the walls. We were confused, but the paragraphs written all over the walls filled in some of the blanks. There had been a 3-person family living here, running the bar. They had spent 4 years working under miserable management and had nothing but horrible things to say about the resort owners and the island itself. They had not been allowed to leave the tiny island for 4 years- overworked and under appreciated. It was clear, by what the writing contained and the fact that there was writing on the walls at all, that this family had gone mad. We took photos, I took a sticker off the wall and we quickly got out of there. Maybe stranger than that scene was the conversations we had later with the current workers, who had not in their months living on the island ever gone over to that edge of the resort nor had they any idea who the names were that were mentioned in the writing. Still unexplained, it all makes me feel a little uneasy. The island seemed so magical until we ventured away from the populated areas and saw all that it once was and learned the mystery it now holds.
We sailed around the Whitsundays the next day and then drove to our final destination in Cairns. Only stopping over to sleep and white water raft down the Tully River through the rainforest. It was an adrenaline filled day of rafting, with at least a million of the most torturous biting flies swarming us the entire time. At times I wasn’t sure what I was more worried about- falling out of the raft into a pile of rocks or getting eaten alive by flies.
On the final days of the tour we stayed in Cairns. Some sky dived and bungee jumped- but due to my recent discovery of my paralyzing fear of heights, I decided to be in charge of the camera on the ground. We also snorkeled and scuba dived the Great Barrier Reef, which was one of the most amazing sights of my entire life. And on our last day, we swam under a waterfall in the rainforest.
In addition to all the beauty and adventure, there was of course unmentioned nights of partying, but also bonding with some of my closest friends in Australia and the making of new friends from all over the world. All in all, 2 buses, 1000 miles, 90 people, 10 days, and 2 of the wildest tour guides I have ever met, amounted to one of the best weeks of my entire life.
After returning home I slowly resurrected my life as a student. Exams were approaching. I spent weeks writing my final paper for my Islam course, on Women’s Rights in Islam. I worked diligently to catch up in my painting class- and prepared for our final portfolio review, which was treated like a gallery showing. And lastly, I crammed for my Marketing Final.
But after all of this I was able to freely celebrate my final weeks in Australia. I finally got to see Melbourne, a place I knew little about but had a strong yearning to see. It turned out to be reminiscent of an American city, with a diverse culture and cool whether. I was pleased that my subconscious compass led me here. Art plastered brick walls on every street, and sculptures were erected in every park. Thrift stores and cafes lined the eclectic neighborhoods. And near the shore, craft markets consumed the beach walks. Besides being an unending race to find the coolest art and shops, Melbourne was chilly at 70 degrees and reminded me that I am completely unprepared to return to an already snowy Minnesota.
I also was lucky enough to get to see Beyoncé in concert in Brisbane. When I had found out her tour arrived in Minneapolis just days after I left for Australia, I cried. I felt both horribly unlucky by the chances and utterly spoiled by the idea that I was complaining about being in Australia. So when I found out just a month later that her world tour led her to Brisbane, just an hour away, I cried again, but happy tears. My parents, knowing all too well my obsession with Beyoncé as an artist and a person, gave me two tickets to see her as a very early Christmas gift. When the night came, I cried even more. But these weren’t just tears of joy, but tears of true unrelenting joy. I could not believe someone I had essentially worshipped (I shutter at the notion, but it is probably an appropriate use of the word), was standing just feet in front of me looking as beautiful as she is and singing as talentedly as she can. It was another of the many beautiful sights I was lucky enough to see while here in Australia.
Just today I returned home from my final adventure, to Byron Bay. It was my third time in this busy little hippie town. We got to do all of our favorites. We shopped, ate delicious Mexican food as Miss Margaritas, consumed lots of gelato, and the best burgers (“Heaven Burgers” as we call them) from Beleporto Burger Bar. We also frequented the beach, both day and night. During the day we found hoards of people tanning and surfing. At night, we found dancers and musicians. We even came across a soundless dance party. We found out that the idea is, headphones are given out to all who want to participate and a DJ streams music to each headset. The people are then able to dance together listening to the same music, but quietly, not disturbing the peace. Police officers as well as onlookers like us were pleasantly perplexed by the idea. The officers even joined in on the party at one point. Good old Byron Bay.
At one point, maybe the greatest moment of the weekend, we were mistaken for locals. To think, someone thought we fit in, for once we weren’t sore American thumbs standing out in a cool and collected crowed of Australians.
These days, I ever so rarely find the need to “Pull the American card” as we call it, using our foreign nationality as an excuse for our embarrassing behavior, or our unfortunate circumstances. I guess over the past few months I may have become apart of Australia just as much as Australia has become a part of me. With one week left, I plan to soak as much of Australia up as possible, hoping I can find a way to preserve the greatness that this experience has been.
The Journey Continues.