Thursday, January 31, 2008

On the Townsville, Chapter One

Hey everyone,

I have arrived in Australia, safe and sound, and will answer all your e-mails in one swoop. (Limited internet time until my housemate's computer screen is up and running and I don't have to sit in cyber cafes that charge too much, which is currently the case.)

And so here begins the Australian series of Kathryn updates. If you are on this mailing list, it is because you have expressed interest in hearing my travel details; this may have been a mistake on your part and you must at no time feel obligated towards me or my rambling letters. If it's clogging your inbox, you just let me know. (Unless you're in my immediate family, in which case you can just suck it up; that's what family is for.)

For the record, from what I've seen so far, there probably won't be a lot to write about. I might have to resort to making things up to jazz up my life here, which is looking pretty farmy and low-key. Let's bring you up-to-date:

I have become obsessed with living in the tropics since Guadeloupe and decided to do my teachers' college in Australia, where it's warm and sunny all the time, rather than Toronto, where it is not. I chose Townsville because it is tropical and because James Cook University had the best information package of all the universities. And was the cheapest.

My trip over here was pretty crappy. My already-delayed Toronto-L.A. flight (ice on the wings) had to perform an emergency landing in Las Vegas when the man next to me, with whom I had spent the first half of the flight chatting, suffered something between a seizure and a stroke. Everyone was really grumbly and angry, since obviously it's very inconvenient to miss their next flight and why couldn't he have just waited and almost died once we'd landed, the inconsiderate bastard. (For my part, I was shaky and traumatized and nauseous for the next few hours and was ashamed to think how much my medically-competent brother would have handled the situation.)

Obviously, I missed my next flight, and since people who have no idea what they're talking about love to pretend that they are highly informed, I was sent from terminal to terminal and told that I had to be there at 4:00 a.m. when the Qantas counter opened for business. Needless to say, it opened at 2:00 p.m., so my night on a hard bench, freezing cold with the air-conditioning blasting on my face, turned out to be just for kicks.

But who cares, because I made it here, and the hours of sleeping in my seat and shivering through the night screwed up my internal clock and eliminated my jet lag. I am now right on schedule and am my usual sleepy -- but fun! -- self.

The house is beautiful: it's a Queenslander, which means that it's up on stilts and really open and full of windows. My housemate, whom I will call "Jenny," is really lovely, very open and easy-going and welcoming. The dogs I was so excited about are kind of stinky and loud, but apparently they kept a snake at bay a few nights ago, so I appreciate them in a very big way. The town seems pretty slow and boring so far, but I'm hoping that things will pick up when I start school and meet people who aren't exactly like the parents in Muriel's Wedding. (More people will probably show up if the rain ever stops -- the good news is that there's no drought in Townsville.) I have successfully activated my bank account and shopped for lots of good fruit and peanut butter -- I'd forgotten what it's like to not have Franck/Mom/Club Med cooking for me and I'm in kind of a panic. I would like to start making some big money so that I can just eat out. All the time. No exceptions.

As for my life at the beach, it turns out that: not so much. You see, most of this area is full of large and deadly - or small and deadlier - stingers (jellyfish, I gather), so you have to go to this one netted-off spot. This fits in nicely with the salt-water crocodiles that Barb and Pierre-Yves told me about the eve of my departure and the endless series of deadly snakes. (Incidentally, you'd be amazed how many things look like snakes when you're paranoid and walking alone; I keep breaking into a run and then realizing that it's just a piece of hose or tire or someone's flip-flop. If anything here kills me, it will undoubtedly be my own sissiness.)

Remember how my feet never smelled bad in Guadeloupe or DR, despite my living in sandals and walking everywhere? Turns out that's not the case this time around. As I just discovered, right here in the cyber cafe.

What else is there, let's see... well, I passed three dead bats on the side of the road on my way into town today. Bats whose bodies are about the size of giant water rats, which are also a famous feature of Townsville. I think you can imagine how pleased I am to discover that my one and only true phobia is here in double, including one that can FLY through the AIR and SUCK MY FACE OFF. I say, bring on the deadly snakes, and keep their bellies full of rodents. (Do I sound flippant? I am not flippant. I am terrified.) What I've decided is to just trust that everything will be okay and that night sounds -- such as whatever scrapes endlessly on the roof and whatever hisses outside the bathroom window -- should simply be ignored. If anything comes up, I'll deal with it then; I can't keep imagining the water rats and breaking out in panic rashes. Especially since I'm bloated and blotchy from the humidity to begin with and don't need extra uglies to add to my hideous "adjustment period." I must also trust that the rivers I walk by to get pretty much anywhere, and that are plastered with "Danger! -- Achtung! -- Crocodiles" signs, are only dangerous to swimmers. Jenny assured me that "those toothy buggas" never scamper up the bank for a snack, despite what I have seen on every nature show featuring crocodiles. (Townsville theme song: Never smile at a crododile, never tip your hat and stop to talk awhile...) She also claims that red-back spiders can only kill children and that they would never be somewhere that you use regularly, such as your bed. Definitely shake out your shoes and don't explore old cupboards with your hands, but other than that, no worries.

So what will this year be like? Hard to say. Possibly a terrifying nature adventure, most likely just low-key. I had planned to fall in love with a beautiful, dark-skinned marine biologist named Ben and begin a life of traveling from fantastic island to fantastic island, tracking the dolphins and recording manatee behaviour. I think, now, maybe, it won't happen that way. I guess I'll have to just roll with the punches and make friends with lots of big white guys named Bill.

I decided against risquee series titles (too many obvious Kathryn Goes Down variations) and couldn't think of anything cute with the Wizard of Oz, so On the Townsville it is.

It is quite pretty, the streets lined with palm trees, and when we went out for Thai my first night I found the main out-on-the-town strip really nice. So even if it's not quite what I expected, it's warm (bloody hot!) and nice and clean. I just need to get my hands on a bicycle to get around more easily, and then things will be much more interesting. And if not, Jenny has a giant tv with lots of channels, so I can just watch M*A*S*H* and rent movies and get a library membership and make it a year for introspection. Do a lot of crunches and work on my Spanish. You know, a Me year.

My project will be to spot a croc and send you a picture. Game on!

Hope things are good Up Over,


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