Townsville, Arriving in Cairns, and plans for the near and far future!

Whew! After the fast-paced travel week last week, I’ve been on my own since Sunday night and have slowed down my pace. My main restriction now is money, not time (the opposite of the situation when I traveled and had a job with limited vacation). I’ve burned through much of my funds I’d saved and allocated for this trip, but by greatly slowing down my pace, I’m going to stretch this trip to just past my birthday – nearly the end of April.

After arriving in Townsville on Monday, I did my usual wandering-exploration of the central part of the city (I would probably call it a town; it’s really not that big, but it is the largest town in the state besides Brisbane, well down south). I decided pretty quickly I really like Townsville. There’s a long walking path called The Strand along the water, a beautiful tropical public park, and some street art, which I haven’t seen much in Queensland. There’s also a waterpark area, and beaches, most of which say “no swimming! Scary jellyfish!” It was the Easter holiday, so most things closed really early, but I managed to find food, nothing too exciting, and watched the sunset over the water.

When I’m travelling with someone else, I don’t have much interest in talking to anyone else, because I’m talking to that person so much and am getting plenty of social interaction. However, when I’m on my own, I tend to be more open to talking to people; it’s cool hearing perspectives from people from all over the world. Of course, I have moments and days (like today, actually) that my introverted self doesn’t want to speak to another new and unfamiliar human, but that first evening I was in Townsville, I talked quite a bit with my hostel roommate from Florida, only the second American I’ve met here that I’ve really clicked with (though to be fair, almost all the people I’ve met have been Europeans, Aussies, and Canadians). She had all kinds of stories about growing up with cool wildlife in Florida, like alligators, and made me want to visit Florida – it’s not just a place for spring breakers and people who want to do nothing but lie on the beach all day! I’ve been to Disney World and Jacksonville, but I think other parts of Florida are worth exploring too. And a lot of the rest of the US, really.

On Tuesday,  I woke up thinking I’d go lie by the rooftop pool for a while (yeah, that hostel was a really nice one) and have a low key day, but I suddenly realized I’d left my swimsuit on the boat in the Whitsundays. Noo! It’s really hard for me to find swimsuits I like that fit me. But after an initial panic, I reminded myself that it is replaceable and definitely not the worst thing that could be forgotten. It’s all good! So I made a trip to a big, nice suburban mall and found a swimsuit that, while not my favorite, will work. Surprisingly, there aren’t a lot of options as it’s no longer swimsuit season here in stores! At one department store, I saw hats, scarves, and mittens for sale! Whaaa?! It’s over 90 degrees here, and I’m certain that it doesn’t get cold enough even in the winter to need that warm of clothes. I’m sure they find it stylish and get cold easily… silly Aussies. Later, I went to the air conditioned common room to chill and met a total hippie from Melbourne. We ended up having a long conversation, and she told me her life story. I consider myself half-hippy, half-nerd, so the open-minded hippy side of myself found her super interesting to talk to. She was in a serious car accident with PTSD and issues doctors weren’t concerned about, and used Chinese medicine, organic food, paganism, all kinds of stuff to get her through it. She now runs faerie festivals and is about to volunteer in a permaculture community to learn things so she can start her own. Just an intense, extroverted, inspiring ball of energy, with some conspiracy theories, anti-vaccination sentiment, etc thrown in there for good measure. When I was finally overwhelmed and left to take a walk, she insisted I take some organic fruit because she could sense I was hungry (and I very much was!)

It’s cool to meet interesting people from around the world now and then, but my natural instinct when I invest energy in getting to know new people is to want to make actual friends – I have Facebook friended several people I met and liked that I may not have known for long, but I felt like could be potential long term friends and travel buddies (basically like what happened when I met my friend Steph in New Zealand). But I am starting to learn to let people go – most people reciprocate the facebook friend thing if I ask, and they seem okay with it, but maybe if I only know someone for two days before we part, we don’t have to stay in touch. So the last couple of weeks, I’ve now met a bunch of people I think I could’ve been friends with, but have let them go. It’s weird to me and actually bothers me a bit, because I’ll probably always wonder what happened to that German girl on my Fraser Island tour or the Floridian in Townsville, but likely won’t ever see them again! See, the fact that this bothers me means my hippy side is not fully developed.

Anyways, the next day, I made a trip to a popular tourist destination, the beautiful Magnetic Island. The ferry ride to the island was short but really lovely: bright blue water, whizzing quickly and calmly past lush green islands. Once there, I hiked the Forts Walk, which is famous for all the wild koalas supposedly on the trees along the trail. Naturally, I didn’t see any koalas, but after a long, super hot hike in the blistering sun up a big hill, I did see some amazing views from a lookout at the remains of a military fort used in World War II. Worth it. I also checked out Horseshoe Bay, which is a chill little spot that has stinger nets so you can swim at the beach without worrying about the deadly jellyfish in the water. Then I hurried to the ferry back to Townsville to try to catch the sunset on Castle Hill.

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View from the fort on Magnetic Island

So that’s how I ended up hiking two small mountains in one day. Well, Aussies call a lot of things hills that I call mountains. Castle Hill, in particular, towers over Townsville at 286 meters/938 feet. It wouldn’t have been so bad if I wasn’t trying to get up so quickly before the sunset (a crazy early 6pm around here, which seems especially weird because it feels like summer) and also if I had thought to bring more than the tiny bit of water I had left in my water bottle. But I gasped my way to the summit, immediately refilled my bottle from the fill station they had there (thank goodness), gulped over a liter of water in a few minutes, and enjoyed the sunset. The gorgeous oranges and pinks of the sky combined with the thousands of twinkling lights of the town was breathtaking. Again, worth it.

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Final bit of sunset from Castle Hill

The next day was mostly spent on the bus up to Cairns passing more of Australia’s beautiful scenery. Cairns is a cool (actually no, really hot and humid) town, but surprisingly smaller than Townsville. The attractions are really all the things around it: the Great Barrier Reef (which I will be visiting in a couple days), rainforests, and wildlife of all sorts. Yesterday, I went on a very cool wildlife spotting rainforest tour and saw two super rare things that greatly excited the biologist tour guide: an antichinus (tiny marsupial) and a chameleon gecko. We also saw wallabies (hanging out in someone’s backyard), huntsman spiders, musky rat-kangaroos (so cute and little), leaf tailed geckos, skinks, brush tailed possums, several birds including brush turkeys, turtles, and platypuses! And tons of rainforest trees and fruits, including a massive curtain fig tree! No echidna sightings. I still have hope this will happen before I leave the country.

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250 year old curtain fig tree

Today, I’ve gone to a few markets, tried some exotic fruits, and planned and booked the rest of my trip, which I’m calling my sabbatical, haha. It consists of another 3 weeks in a few spots in Australia and a stop in Honolulu, Hawaii, for a few days! The flights weren’t more expensive to make this stop than to fly straight through since it’s right on the way, so I’ve planned this part to fall over my birthday. And then, *drum roll please* I am heading to Portland to see about getting a job and place to live to move there! My plan is to stay for a couple of weeks in preparation, then head back to Indiana and get my cat and stuff, and make the Portland move in early June. This may be nuts, but I’ve wanted to live there since I was in college, and I figure why not now. I love Australia, but am just being pulled in that direction. And Portland may not be permanent or even super long either, I will just have to see what kind of job I get and how things go! It’s a whole new adventure.

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