What you are reading is the companion piece to Ya Gotta Stay Positive—another side of my story traveling from the Great Barrier Reef to the Outback. This new post is not so focused on running out of gas in the middle of the Outback.
On day 7 of my Australian road trip, Scott and I woke up early in Cairns, Queensland, and walked to the Reef Fleet Terminal. On this day we were scheduled to scuba dive in the Great Barrier Reef. Even though the northern coast is pretty comfortable during the day, it is still winter in Australia, and the cool morning wind reflected that fact. We weren’t sure about the possibility of storing our things on the boat, so we only wore sandals, swim shorts, and t-shirts on the windy winter morning, like idiots. (There was plenty of space to store any clothing or towels we could have/should have brought.)
The dock was even colder and I was eager to board. Inside the boat we took our seats, drank some coffee, ate some food (they provide lots of food on the ship, which is wonderful because Scott and I already had stopped being familiar with the idea of eating enough food to make us “full”), and were advised to buy some anti-seasickness medication from the staff. I remembered when I was sixteen and on a boat headed from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, to a nearby island, and how I chose to take anti-seasickness medication and while I didn’t feel great, I didn’t throw up, but all of my sixteen year old friends who were too manly for meds chundered into the ocean.
“The waves are especially choppy today, so we highly advise all passengers take some medication,” said one of the scuba instructors.
I was about to buy the pills; Scott was planning to tough through it.
“Um, most of our crew is even taking it today. It’s really choppy.”
We both bought the medicine.
After watching a video about the hand signals used while scuba diving (turns out you can’t talk underwater or something), we were divided into groups—Scott and I were in the second scuba diving group, so we would snorkel in the Reef at the first stop, and dive at the second.
Stinger suits (to protect from jellyfish), flippers, and goggles on, we awkwardly jumped/fell off the boat and into the sea. I wish I could completely describe The Great Barrier Reef, but there’s too much—too many colors and shapes and too much life. Some coral look like a green or pink or orange flower made of porous stone. Some coral take the shape of a hundred tiny Christmas trees jutting out of a beige dome with an amoeba-shaped base. The coral, the whole organism, creates an underwater metropolis, and there is no pattern or uniformity to the layout or design of the coral, nor does there seem to be much predictability to which animals, or how many, will pass the area you inhabit at any given moment. The fish and sharks and turtles just moved along, too, as if humans weren’t there, like we belong there, though we do not.
Several of the snorkelers on our tour with us failed to be very aware of their surroundings. A few tourists bumped into my sides or flippers, and I saw plenty of people wade into each other like dummies. This was obnoxious–like being in traffic with drivers who aren’t aware of the other vehicles on the road–and when too many of us were floating close together, I would scissor kick away with my flippers. I saw tourists, I assume on accident, wade too close to shallow coral as well. And without being aware, or in an attempt to kick away from the area, they would shatter pieces of coral with their flippers, sending the brittle shards, tubes, fingers, flowers, and Christmas trees down, sinking and dead, to the ocean floor. After noticing this happen a couple times, I actively avoided snorkeling near anyone else.
Scuba diving provided a closer look at the coral, and was like being on another planet.
Scott and I made our way for the Outback that night, but didn’t get anywhere close before exhaustion caught us. We slept in the camper on the side of the road and crossed into the Outback on the afternoon of day 8.
Part of the Outback is rocky and interesting to look at. The earth becomes red like bricks, spread with orange dust, and the grass transitions from green to yellow to white. For one stretch of road we passed small mountains composed of rock and plant. The stones’ most rounded sides protruded outward, and trees sprouted upward, as if the two were competing for sunlight. Thin-trunked trees arbitrarily stuck out of the red earth like skeleton hands. Dirt fang-shaped structures covered huge grassy areas, like they were stalactites removed from a cave and replaced underneath sunshine. No place has a bigger sky than the Outback.
Then parts of driving through the Outback make driving through Kansas look like a party. Other parts look similar to Kansas. And some of the environment looked like Missouri, or Arizona, or Utah. Really, every part of the Outback I saw looks pretty similar to something else. Other places, too. Many small Australian towns resemble small Missouri Towns. Adelaide looked like a baby version of Chicago.
As I’ve explored Australia, I keep seeing people I think I know. I didn’t know so-and-so would be here, too, I think to myself. Then I use logic for a second and realize the person I know isn’t the person I see. My friends back home just happen to have doppelgangers here. There really isn’t any wisdom in discovering this, but I’ve learned that people tend to look like other people, and places tend to look like other places. Except for the Great Barrier Reef, which is why we shouldn’t be allowed to take tours there, probably.