In fact, I am still alive and doing quite well.
Above: My 2011 3-month route. Note the huge gaps, including all of NSW. Clearly there's lots more to discover!
I didn't have the heart to bring my 2011 Oz Blog to a close after returning from my near-circumnavigation of Australia back in 2011. Actually, I never even finished telling you about my trip! When I came home, I decided to leave the blog open with the hopes of A) eventually rounding it out with a final chapter and a summary of my favorite things; and B) returning down under to continue my adventures. There were too many things left undone, unseen, un-experienced. Too many hills and trees never climbed, too many bubbles never blown through snorkel or regulator. On the former hope, I quickly gave up because everything was my favorite thing. However, at long last, the details of my final leg and last WWOOF experience are below. As for the latter hope, I'm happy to say that I will be making a come-back in January to explore coastal New South Wales!! Well, as much as I can in a week.
Conclusion of Oz Blog: Part 1 (30 April - 12 May)
View Townsville from the top of Castle Rock, with Magnetic Island off shore; ReefHQ and marina at right
After my trip to Magnetic Island, having cancelled my Sydney itinerary due to illness, I continued with my plan to do one more WWOOF experience outside of nearby Townsville, Queensland. With only a short time before my pre-set flight out of Melbourne, I hooked up with Russell Kelly and his wife Rachel near Bowling Green Bay National Park. Russell is the genius behind the popular BYO Guides, including the fully-submersible Coral Finder and Reef Finder field ID guides, and Rachel is a brilliant fisheries scientist. Together they maintain a Land For Wildlife property just beside the NP. Living and working on the property involved a whole lot of wildlife, as the name implies. During the week, I helped out around the property, and I also followed Russell and Rachel around to learn about their careers in marine science: from casual chats with fishermen about new MPA zones to a behind-the-scenes of the documentary studio where teams were editing 3D coral growth simulation animations and proofing the new edition of Coral Finder.
Some animals were very helpful, like the Wally mom and her Joey who loved to help with laundry (read: play with); and sometimes the Bush Turkeys came out of the bushes to pitch in with trash pick-up! This Land For Wildlife lived up to its name. There were wild critters everywhere, pretty much all the time. The most surprising had to be the Children's Python (yes, that's the snake's actual common name) who we found next to the outdoor shower one night.
As I write this today, I'm nearing the end of my long career as a student. As I look back over my 2011 Oz Blog, I'm reminded of how grateful I am to have met so many amazing people through WWOOF Australia. Although I never ended up on a "typical farm" as most WWOOF-ers do, I was inspired by the people I worked with, who have been able to shape their lives and professions around their passions for marine animals and conservation of wildlife and bush habitat. So, here's one more plug for their enterprises:
Torres Pearls .... Turtlehead Island, Queensland
BYO Guides and GBRMPA .... Townsville, Queensland
Venus Bay Eco Retreat and Parks Victoria .... Venus Bay, Victoria. After I got home, I received a very special parcel in the mail from them, containing the clip below.
The local paper ran a small spot about some of my experiences and conversations with locals and officials about fishery regulation issues and future management of local shore bird habitat and local stocks of Pipi Clam (Donax deltoides). Unfortunately, habitat protection and sustainable harvest battles are still underway.
Preparing for Oz Blog: Part 2
Since my return to the US in 2011, I've had some big changes (as I'd hope after ~5 years). I remained in Monterey Bay to work as a research diver, lab tech, lab manager, and other kinds of science labor for a while to raise some money to support my drastic decision (some would say crazy....hm, I would say insane decision) to go after a PhD. Yup, you can pick your own adjective to describe those of us who have an extra degree, then want to get an extra, extra degree.
As if starting an extra graduate degree wouldn't be challenging enough, I moved to the heart of French-speaking Québec, Canada, to do it. Did I speak a lick of French? Nope! Now I'm 70% through my program. Do I speak French now? Not really. My last few years have certainly had some big challenges, but it's been amazing to learn about Canadian and Quebecois cultures and climate, as well as do my dissertation as part of the Canadian Aquatic Invasive Species Network (CAISN).
Highlights of my first years in Canada include my first snowman/snow-sports/snow-anything, going to the Arctic and seeing the Aurora Borealis, doing field research in 3 different provinces, trying to learn French. Oh, and I got a cat!
The story of my return to Oz is that I'm finally "living the dream" of getting paid to travel for science! Well, at least, getting my science-travel paid for, which might not be the same thing, exactly. But it's close!! I will give a presentation of my research at an international conference in Sydney, NSW, so of course I inserted some cushion days. I mean, a small part of my motivation here has to do with the 37-hour commute each way. And, by the way, Sydney, Australia is one of the most visited cities in the world, for many great reasons. So yeah. I am determined to get out and about in NSW. (I was also able to book a full day layover in Hong Kong, woot!!)
With t-minus-2 months, I've got a lot to prepare, and I'm still in phase 1 of fun-time-planning. Of course, I'm preparing my research for its debut, which will take up most of my time, and I'm slowly making an itinerary for my 7 cushion days in NSW. So far, I have a huge list of potential things to do, without really knowing what's going to work together, and how to get around. I'd love your recommendations. If you've read my blog, you'll know that I'm super-stingy. I'm on a student budget, but more importantly, I prefer the "luxury" of a hike-in beach picnic or a valuable SCUBA dive trip over any possible hoity-toity, expensive venues or tourist experiences.
Obviously, I have my mask and snorkel ready to pack (they certainly won't get used during Québec's winter), but I've been on the fence about taking camping gear, particularly because I wonder if Summer in the parks near Sydney might be toooo popular for me to reliably find safe campsites each night during my short trip. Recommendations are wanted on that point. :)
Ta-ta, for now.