And God said to Noah, “We’re gonna build an ark-y ark-y…”
Goodness, it’s been a long time since I’ve been able to blog. I’m telling you, Australia’s a crazy place. If I went into detail about all that we’ve experienced in the past couple weeks, this would surely be a very, very long blog post. I’ll do my best to keep it shortish.
Let’s start with this: the #1 thing I learned was that 4WD Jeeps were made for a very good reason. 50 person coach buses are nice and comfy, don’t get me wrong. But when traipsing through the Aussie bushland in the rain, 4x4s are probably nice things to have.
I get told a lot that Australia’s a pretty dry country. They say it’s the driest inhabited continent, but after careful analysis of the weeks since my last blog post, I simply don’t believe it. When we left North Stradbroke Island on January 16th, it was raining. It then proceeded to rain most of the way through our time in the rainforest and our time in the eucalypt gorge and our time at a dude ranch. I simply didn’t know it was possible for that much rain to fall from the sky!
But we’re strong and brave and we forged on, rain or shine. Our first stop after Straddie was Lamington Plateau, a pocket of rainforest a couple hours west of Brisbane. When we arrived, we were given a tent-pitching lesson. Now you may thing pitching a tent should be pretty self explanatory; this, as I learned, is not always the case. The tents we had were baboon-proof safari tents. The entire thing, rain fly and all, was made out of heavy-duty canvass, and I’m pretty sure the poles were cast iron. Each tent must have weighed upwards of 40 pounds, and putting up one tent was at least a three-person job. But they were waterproof (and they kept out the Aussie baboons), and that’s all that mattered.
The rainforest was incredible. I’ve never been to a rainforest before, and before coming here I had no idea they even existed in Australia. Apparently, back in the days when Aussie, South America, Africa and Antarctica were all connected, the entire area was covered by rainforest. Eventually the outback took over Australia, but there are still pockets of rainforest here and there across the country (1% of Australia is rainforest).
When we were there, we went on some stellar hikes through ancient forests. I was in a group that did a research project trying to determine whether or not here is a dominant species in the rainforest. We looked specifically at two kinds of trees, the black booyong and the strangler fig. Black booyongs are huge and have this magnificent presence and strangler figs are unique because they start out life as seedlings in the canopy of a tree and then drop their roots down and down and down until they hit soil. After that, they continue to grow for hundreds of years, eventually encompassing the entire trunk of the host tree and killing it. Crazy!
We had two early mornings (we had to be up and ready to go by 5am!) where we trapped birds and mammals. For the bird trapping, we set up mist nets, waited for half an hour, and went back and collected and branded any unlucky creature who happened to fly into the net. For the mammal trapping, we went set out a bunch of traps the night before and returned in the early morning to see what we found. My group caught a bunch of rat-like things and a few antechinus, which are arguably the cutest creatures ever. They’re mouse-sized carnivorous marsupials with these giant jaws and little pointy ears. They're extremely aggressive until they realize they're smaller than the flat of your palm. I wanted to take one home with me, but for some reason that wasn’t advised.
When it wasn’t raining, our lectures were held outside. This was spectacular, except we kept getting distracted because parrots would land on the professor’s head.
The rainforest was wonderful in all respect except one: tree-dwelling, jumping leeches. There are so many things wrong with that statement. For one thing, leeches should not be terrestrial, and for another, they simply should not be able to jump at you. They were everywhere – around camp, in the showers (we didn’t have them in the girls’ bathroom, but they were all over the guys’ – hah!), and on any trail you might walk. I was a lucky one, or perhaps I just freaked out enough whenever I felt anything touch my body, but I only got a handful of bites (sucks?). My professor was wearing sort of enclosed sandals and got over 200 leech bites on her feet over the course of just a few hour hike. She was a bloody mess afterwards.
Anyway, enough about leeches. We were in the rainforest for four or five days before adventuring on to our next location, Carnarvon Gorge. On the eleven-hour bus ride, we were exposed to Australian culture in the form of The Castle, a popular Aussie movie from the 90s. We were supposed to spend several days at Carnarvon, learning about fire ecology and conducting studies on kangaroo social behavior (they’re everywhere there!), but sadly there we had to be evacuated after just a day because of flash floods in the area because it had been pouring for the majority of a week.
After some serious adventures on muddy, semi-flooded bushland dirt roads in a coach bus, we made it to Kroombit Park.
Kroombit Park is a dude ranch. We were originally supposed to just spend a night there, but because of the flooding we were there for four days. It was quite an experience – I learned how to crack a whip, ride a mechanical bull, muster cattle, and wrangle a goat in a rodeo. The professors tried their best to figure out biology-related activities for us to do, but I’d say it ended up being more of a cultural experience than a conventional research site.
And now we’re in paradise. We’re on Heron Island in the Great Barrier Reef, and I feel like I’m living in a postcard. I think this blog post is long enough as it is, so I’ll save the details for later, but I’ll leave you with this picture.
Happy February (is this really February?!?)!