There were a lot of rainforests to visit in northern Queensland, and after hiking through a few of them I opted to gain a new perspective by going jungle surfing in Cape Tribulation. I saw the Daintree Rainforest up in the canopy, zip-lining from platform to platform. This rainforest is the world's oldest - and at 135 million years old, it was around at the same time as the dinosaurs. The tour guides managed to keep our group in line, and entertained, by calling us the names on our helmets... Mine was Stiffler's Mum :)
Priscilla and I tried to be strategic about selecting a second WWOOFing experience as the last leg of our east coast trip. After scouring through the host listings, we categorized the possibilities into definitely, probably not and no way. (We'd learned from Valerie during our previous experience that "mulching" meant handling manure, which didn't sound like something we'd enjoy, so this was a key criteria in our evaluation.) We tried to book a couple of more appealing places further in advance, only to find out they were unable to commit to our requested dates at that time (for one place it was way too early, for another it was way too late)... We also had some communication issues, with a few unreturned phone calls/emails... Then we forgot about it for a bit, and all of a sudden it was just a few days before we'd planned to WWOOF. And nothing was booked. In a bit of a panic, we started making phone calls... We had communication issues again, this time from the phone booth randomly hanging up in the middle of calls... Some people weren't answering their landlines or mobiles... Things from the probably not list started to slide up into why not?... When we called, Russell answered - and had space for us! After all that strategizing, in the end it all came down to who was there to confirm availability when we needed to book something, and host us for the timing we had in mind :)
So our last stop was in Mt Surprise, 300 km west of Cairns, for some WWOOFing with Russell. His listing said that he had a small farm incorporating a museum, campground, restaurant and reptile demos. Work would include planting, harvesting and selling of organic produce (and no mulching! :) ). I was excited at the prospect of eating healthy for a week - based on the last experience, I was under the assumption that WWOOFing hosts live off their land and eat what they grow.
Shortly after our arrival, Priscilla and I found out that another WWOOFer - Sachika, a young woman from Japan - had just left Mt Surprise unexpectedly that morning. She'd left a note for Russell and Cindy saying that she couldn't get used to this environment, and got up early enough to avoid saying goodbye in person. Apparently there were a few events leading up to this unexpected departure:
- Sachika wanted to call a cab while she was in Mt Surprise to get around town. With a population of 70, this town doesn't have any cabs - or need any for that matter! There's nothing close enough to go to that you can't walk to in less than five minutes. Everything else is really far away.
- The night before, Sachika had found what looked like mouse droppings on the sheets, freaked out and stripped the bed to sleep directly on the mattress.
Who knew culture shock could be defined by taxi availability and gecko poo?
Throughout the week, I had the opportunity to learn about and handle snakes. Russell is a man dedicated to clearing the bad rap snakes have by default with the general public, and his informative snake show is filled with stories that help clear the misconceptions. I've handled snakes before - reluctantly, with fear - but after spending a week there I was no longer uncomfortable with snakes... In fact, I was surprisingly fond of some of them. Funny how quickly things can grow on you!
I also had the opportunity to get to know some of the construction workers quite well. Not since Stampede last summer have I seen such a concentration of men seeking female attention! They were all happy to share their life experiences and lessons with me, reinforcing the need to be true to yourself while respecting others. There isn't much to do in the outback, so after getting back from work a lot of them would start drinking and end up having a bonfire after dinner. Every night. Although they were full of wisdom, they were also full of alcohol and a couple of these men brought new meaning to the term stupid drunk - the morning after Priscilla and I decided to brave the campfire, we found out that three of them decided that it would be a good idea to go hunting for wild boar in the middle of the night. They were already quite drunk when I'd left at 1 am and had apparently continued drinking until they decided to leave for the hunt at 3 am. The hunt entailed driving around the outback in an open vehicle with some of them hanging out of it with knives and other sharp objects so that they could try to spear any prey they came upon. I cannot believe they thought this was a good idea! Fortunately no one got hurt.
After Mt Surprise we spent another night in Cairns before flying back to Sydney, where I experienced a bit of culture shock myself. Although I'd been in Sydney twice already and seen that it was filled with the hustle and bustle of a big city as well as tons of people, this time it struck me that these people were mostly strangers to each other - strangers who couldn't be bothered interacting with each other as they tried to get on with their busy days. It all of a sudden felt surprisingly empty compared to Mt Surprise. Thankfully we were staying with another friend of a friend, who gave us a warm welcome...