Friday, January 8, 2010

Life's A Beach: Chapter 1

Hi everyone!

So here's the blog version of the updates. I don't know how it works yet, how much space I have or how many pictures I'll be able to add, but for those of you who are happier not receiving e-mails, here's another way to follow my life in Northern Queensland.

As for the name of this series, I’m living in Trinity Beach, which is in North Queensland, near Cairns. I was trying to find something about the Holy Trinity or some kind of queen joke, or even a word play with Cairns (they pronounce it “cans,” in case that helps you come up with something that I couldn’t), but then I thought that “Life’s a Beach” would be the right attitude to be putting forth this time around. (I’ve decided to be actively positive and pro-active in my life here, rather than just complaining all the time... We’ll see how long it lasts.)

For anyone who doesn’t know the back story, here it is: I was in Townsville (also in Queensland) last year for teachers’ college and I started dating my house mate, Mark. He was working as a financial project manager for Honeywell Australia, who are currently installing or upgrading security in Queensland prisons. He came to Canada with me and stayed for the six months his visa allowed, during which time we looked for jobs in the Caribbean without much success. Then Honeywell asked him to come back to Australia for their next project, which is on Lotus Glen prison, about an hour inland from Cairns, and we figured it was our best bet for the time being. He’s been here since early November and I flew in this week.

Our together plan is to stay for 18 months, enough time for him to complete his MBA and the maximum time my visa will allow, before moving on. My own plan is tricky because the visa requires that I not spend more than six months with any one employer, so I’ll have to keep moving around. Also, if I want to extend to the year and a half (the visa itself is only one year at this point), I have to spend at least three months doing something like picking fruit or working in the forest – the details are foggy but suffice it to say that I will have to be crafty and open to whatever jobs come up.

Now. The trip itself was a bit dramatic because I was lucky enough to fly on the staff travel card of Mark’s pilot friend, Jason. (Who is a dead ringer for Jon Livingstone and happens to be one of the all-out nicest guys I know.) The deal with staff travel is that you save oodles of money but fly on stand-by, which means you can be bumped from your flight. Not a big deal, right? Except that in the moment itself, it’s depressing as hell.

It had been a long day, starting with a 5:30 wake-up, because I had to fly to LA first (via Minneapolis.) I’d had a bad cold earlier in the week, so my ears were in rough shape and the two descents were incredibly painful and left me headachy and hard of hearing the rest of the day. I got to LA at 1:20 and hung out all day in LAX (which is a miserable airport under any circumstances), checked in for my big flight and was informed at 7:30 that I wasn’t making it on and would have to go see the check-in staff to be put on the list for tomorrow’s flight. There were a few other people who had been bumped from stand-by so we all hung around during the four hours it took to get re-scheduled and collect our luggage; even better, we shared hotel rooms so no one had to pay too much.

It occurs to me that missing the flight, exhausting a day as it was (5:30 am until 3:00 am, Toronto time), was probably a blessing, as I needed a good night’s sleep and some time away from pressurized cabins. I hung out in LA with my new friends, resigned to the possibility of it all happening again that night; at least knowing what to expect would make it easier.

We went back for check-in as soon as they opened at 3:00 and we hung around the airport again, fingers crossed and trying to talk about anything other than our chances of making it on the flight, since we were making ourselves crazy with uninformed speculation. (And also informed, as legitimate ticket-holders who had missed their flight kept showing up, which meant that they would get priority on our flight and our chances were diminishing by the minute – a very tense situation!) Among other things, we brainstormed possible new career paths for Shannon, who spent the last six years working for Disney in London, found alternative travel arrangements for Saad, whose missed flight meant no possible connection to New Zealand for at least a week, and decided that if I had a baby I should name it “Mozzie.” We were briefly convinced that Nicole Kidman was on the flight when we saw excited people flashing cameras and I remembered seeing her in a BT interview that said she was heading home for Christmas, but it turned out to be Aussie singer Deltra Goodram. Very anti-climactic. Mostly, we stressed about what would happen if one or two of us got on the flight and not the others, since everyone had such a good reason to go home. (Especially this Mississippi couple whose son moved to Australia 9 years ago and has only come home twice since – get these people on a plane!) Would any of us be generous enough to give up our spot? Probably not.

And then, just like that, we all got on. It was incredibly exciting and I was glad to have people to jump around with and hug, rather than being all happy by myself. The flight was long and my ears were bad (I was also really nauseous and couldn’t eat anything – what’s with my crappy immune system?!) and I thought I was going to get bumped from my Sydney-Cairns flight, but I wasn’t and Mark was at the airport and everything was smooth sailing from then on. Oh, except for my bags still being in LA, but they were delivered yesterday (by an elderly man who really shouldn’t be carrying people’s oversized luggage) so after wearing the same sweaty dress for two days, I’m all unpacked and clean and ready to roll.

Mark and I had already agreed on an apartment (via online real estate sites) and he had moved in on the 11th, so it was nice for me to move straight into our apartment. It’s actually a two-storey townhouse, absolutely beautiful – airy, spacious, hardwood floors, great furniture, gardens out the windows, clean and modern – AND it has a pool, which we didn’t think was the case from the web site or from Mark’s first, quick tour of the place. I spent the day yesterday picking up extra sheets, towels, garbage bins, light bulbs, organizing baskets and other such household items, and we re-arranged the furniture right away, so now I think it’s the most beautiful place I’ve ever lived and I just keep wandering around and smiling at how nice and clean everything is.

Tropical jungle pool

Nice big windows out to the upstairs deck

View from guest room over main entrance

Garden outside main bedroom

What I had forgotten about the tropics is how noisy the creatures around you can be. The frogs are incredibly loud, the geckos make this weird little barking noise and there’s this creepy, whispered “hey” outside my room in the early morning. The worst, though (other than our loud neighbours with their totally screechy saxophone jazz and raucous parties) are the wild cockatoos that fly around in packs and squawk like they’re trying to raise the dead. It’s amazing and completely miserable, but it doesn’t last long – some kind of evening thing they have going on.

As for poop, I was sitting at the table yesterday when something hit my arm – I figured it was a bug of some sort but eventually noticed some lizard poo on the table. There’s an overhanging bit of ceiling, you see, and one of the many geckos running around on it had let loose right above me – luckily it bounced off my arm and not into my hair. I sit in a different chair now, though apparently it’s good luck when a gecko poops on you.

Less charmingly, Mark said that the other morning he found some possum poo right inside the big sliding door to the bedroom, which you have to leave open because it’s too hot to sleep otherwise, but which doesn’t have a screen door. I’m not that concerned about cleaning up the occasional little deposit, but I’m not feeling so hot about possums coming into the room and am trying to come up with a plan of action in case I ever wake up to see two little shining eyes staring at me in the night. I guess if you’re going to be all thrilled to be surrounded by trees, you have to deal with the tree dwellers as well.

Now for the best part. Better than a beautiful apartment with a pool, you ask? How is that possible? Better than being surrounded by lush, green mountains? Better than having a corner plaza with a goodwill, a post office, a Thai take-out restaurant AND a Brumby’s bakery?

Check it out: Jason (the pilot who looks like Jon Livingstone) happened to have a flight up to Cairns yesterday so Mark went and rescued him from a staff-hotel-room-and-partying-cabin-crew evening to come have a barbecue with us. They were chatting so much that he missed the turn-off and had to circle back, which meant that they passed a couple of big fields that are past Trinity Beach and pretty much right behind our house. Guess what lives in those fields? A herd of kangaroos! Kangaroos!

Like, maybe eighty of them, just hanging out in this grassy spot, munching away and completely unconcerned if you go right up close to them. So having never managed to see a proper kangaroo during the whole thirteen months I lived in Australia last year, I’ve landed in a house that is two minutes from their operational headquarters. I am so pleased.

I guess that’s it. My body is all puffy and panicky from the sudden heat, but I’m not that concerned because I have nothing better to do than just hang around and wait for it to work itself out. I’ve been driving a lot and was surprised at how easily I got back into the system; the opposite side of the road is actually a whole lot less of a problem than Mark’s big sedan, since I’m used to small cars. My old cell phone even still works! And I won’t even think about job searching until after Christmas, which will be a family visit period for us and during which everything’s closed anyway. In other words, now that I’ve finished with the household errands and my luggage got here in one piece, I’m ready to hit the beach or the pool as soon as the sun comes out; this is the rainy season here, so I’m happy to have nothing to do so that I can take advantage of the nice days when they occur. The rest of the time, it’s nice to sit and read with the shushing of the rain all around.

I hope you all have happy holidays and that 2010 is full of good stuff.


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