Saturday, April 5, 2014

Arriving in Cairns

As I finished helping with koalas in Adelaide, and neared the end of my couchsurfing time, I decided it was probably a good time to figure out where in the world I would be going to next. I was flexible, but I required a place where I could gain more animal experience, have cheap housing, and find realistic transportation. Eventually I narrowed it down to either Tasmania or Cairns, Queensland. 

Tasmiania was appealing due to the ongoing efforts to research and isolate wild Tasmanian devil populations suffering from the Devil Facial Tumor Disease. (I talked about DFTD in my Cleland Wildlife Park blog entry.) There were a small number of researchers taking on volunteers to assist. Some provided housing and food, but open spots seemed sporadic and rare. I emailed the ones that looked promising. Unfortunately, I came out empty handed. I had a few other small leads in Tasmania, but none of them were as set in stone as I would have liked. 

Cairns was a different story. Even if there were no animal places, I would have still wanted to visit. The Great Barrier Reef and some amazing rainforests were easily accessible. To make it better, there was a hostel with great reviews and free pancake breakfasts that only charged a little over twenty dollars a night. In fact, Cairns was filled with animal opportunities. Zoos were competitive to work at, didn't provide housing, and wanted long term commitments. Rehabilitation centers, on the other hand, often needed help, provided housing, and only required a few weeks to a month commitment. I was already in contact with one tree kangaroo center, however housing and transportation didn't seem to be available at the time. So, I contacted Far North Queensland Rescue. They forwarded me the information of two bat rehabilitation centers.

Here is how not to handle this/how I handled this: The first bat center they forwarded was called Bat Reach. I sent an email to them, waited a few days, and never got a response. The second place was Tolga Bat Hospital. After getting no response from Bat Reach, I emailed Tolga. Tolga responded with an email explaining that they were not in need of volunteers, but CC'd others that might need volunteers. The people they copied included Bat Reach and the Tree Roo Center, as well as other places I had not heard of before. Immediately, Tolga sent another email saying that they could use me after all. At the same time, another place, Eagles Nest, said they could use me as well, and Tree Roo sent me an email sounding more promising about housing. 

As you might imagine, I was a little overwhelmed with options. Happy, yet feeling guilty since the chance of doing it all was slim to none. Tolga needed a volunteer for very specific dates (April 5-21) while all of the other places just needed a hand whenever possible. I agreed to that first. This left a hole in the plan. The cheapest date to get a flight from Adelaide to Cairns was March 20th. Tolga provides all food, housing, and some transportation, but charges a small fee. The fee is cheaper than staying at a hostel. Regardless, there was no way I could afford the flight, a Great Barrier Reef trip, the hostel, and then Tolga. I would need to stay somewhere for free for two weeks.

The best option seemed like Eagles Nest. They had already emailed saying that they needed help. They had housing and an incredible diversity of animals in care. I called the owner to infer about volunteering for a week or two. I was turned down immediately. The variety of animals there meant a long period of training. Volunteers had to stay at least one consecutive month. I called Tolga and explained my predicament. They suggested I try contacting Bat Reach again, and gave me a direct phone number. The owner of Bat Reach, Pam, answered and agreed to take me in as a volunteer until I was to go to Tolga. I still needed to stay in a hostel for a few days, but I was okay with that as it would give me the chance to see the Great Barrier Reef.

Jess agreed to drop me off at the airport early in the morning after working a night shift. I asked if she could, but was very surprised she said yes. She thought I should arrive only a half hour before the plane was set to leave. I convinced her that an hour and a half was safer. Even though the process of flying in Australia is much faster and simpler than America, I will always be paranoid about missing flights. In this case, I could have arrived later. The plane coming in was slightly late, giving a small delay. Then an hour was added on for an engineering issue. Another hour when they still couldn't solve the issue. Another hour to taxi the plane, still in need of repairs, off of the terminal. Two final hours when they couldn't find another plane, so decided to fly one in from Melbourne. The benefit of the wait was a small voucher ticket that allowed me to buy one mint chocolate chip gelato. I also got in at least an hour nap on the corner floor of the airport. I, by far, was not the only person doing this. Most of the seats were taken, so the passengers of my flight were crowded on the floor, primarily reading, playing card games, and sleeping. 

Finally, we were allowed to board after over five hours of extra waiting. I was seated in the very last row of three seats. The couple who should have sat next to me opted to move to an empty row instead. This meant that I was able to put up all of the arm rests, stretch out my legs, and relax for the entire flight. Wasn't too bad. 

The Cairns airport was a bit odd. It was mostly outdoors with covered sidewalks. The flight arrived late in the evening. As you would expect in a tropical area, it was raining. I collected my luggage and headed toward a booth that said "Shuttle Information." I had to practically shout to get the attention of the man eating a sandwich behind the desk. He was hardly helpful and said I would be better off just taking a taxi than waiting for the next shuttle. Frustrated, I headed back out into the rain to wait for a taxi. I am absolutely positive the taxi driver charged me five extra dollars than he should have, however I was in no mood to fight it by then. 

I was greeted at the front desk of the hostel by two people. They gave me my room key, reminded me about breakfast, and directed me to the mall across the street where I could get some dinner. Most of the hostel was outdoors. There were two floors of rooms, two dorm like bathrooms per sex, a pool with a hottub, a large kitchen with a dozen different cooking areas and fridges, and not a single elevator in the entire place. I struggled to carry my now very heavy luggage up a set of metal stairs in the rain without breaking any bones. 

My room was about the size of an average bedroom. It contained five bunk beds and four dressers tightly packed together. There were only a few beds left, and they were all top bunks. I chose the one with a very tall dresser next to it. That way I could keep all my stuff right next to me, high out of view from others. The room was all female. There were a few people in the room, but only one girl talked to me. It's possible that the others didn't know English, as English was rarely heard in the hostel. The girl in the bunk across from me was Marika (Not sure how to spell it, but it rhymes with eureka.) She was from Norway and was doing a short trip all throughout Australia. She was only staying in Cairns to see the Great Barrier Reef, which she saw the day before I arrived. She left the next day. There were two other girls who moved into the room after her. They were English and VERY loud. The room most always had at least eight girls in it, but they didn't often talk.

I stayed at the hostel for a few nights before taking a bus to Bat Reach. The hostel was convenient. I got used to it quickly. However, I was very happy to leave. There was never a moment to be alone in the hostel and I sucked back into my introvert shell because of it. I love meeting and talking to new people. At the same time, I can only take so much social interaction at a time; 24/7 is too much. I would happily go to a hostel again, but only for short periods of time.

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