First of all, I apologize for the later update; the weekend somehow got away from me, and because we camped last week, I was unable to write as the week went. Monday started out with a great amount of running around as we began to prepare for our camping trip to Chillagoe. Chillagoe is approximately a four hour drive west of here; as when we went to Daintree, we passed through the town of Mareeba. Instead of continuing along the main road, however, we turned west and headed into the savannah. The land steadily dries and flattens as you head west. While you may start in the lush rainforest and rolling hills of the Tablelands, within an hour or so, you hit the drier part of the Tablelands, and finally, the savannah. It was quite the change in landscape; while I like the rainforest, the desert, I’m realizing, is much more what I’m used to.The towns quickly dwindled as we drove by them. Steadily, the students fell asleep as there were fewer and fewer exciting things to point out, and as we increasingly hit dirt roads. It’s remarkable that you can start out on perfectly paved roads, hit a stretch of dirt road, and several kilometers later, find yourself back on a paved road. Our students are supposed to be reflecting in part on the infrastructure around Chillagoe, but the roads are a hard one to reflect on. It’s unclear whether they ran out of funds to pave the road, or if during flooding it’s simply impractical to have a paved road; regardless, there we were, bumping along, all of the windows rolled up, in our stifling vans, heading out west. The landscape changes dramatically, as I’ve already said. Out of the rolling agricultural land, there were suddenly short, drought-resistant trees, grassland, and oddly enough, termite mounds (I certainly wasn’t expecting that!). Our main concern in Chillagoe was heat exhaustion and snakes, and fortunately, we encountered neither, although I could easily see how snakes would love the area. It was very warm, and for what felt like the first time in weeks, I felt truly dry. As a woman from a dry part of the US, I was finally comfortable again.
Our first night in Chillagoe was perhaps the most fantastic; after several hours of swimming and playing in a swimming hole nearby, we came back and Ashley and I put dinner together. Once the sun had set, the stars slowly crept out, and Siggy talked about the stars with us. The stars here are more plentiful than they are at home, and because Chillagoe is so remote, the sky was incredible. It was very reticent of star-gazing in Mexico and Jordan, and I was full of longing for both of those places; because the air was so dry, it also smelled like both of those countries, and my experiences in them came flooding back to me. It was simultaneously wonderful and incredibly heartbreaking. It’s hard to enjoy the place you’re in when you’re constantly longing for somewhere else, and I simply want to find ways to be content where I am, with what I have. It was perhaps most powerfully reminiscent of Jordan, because I saw the Summer Triangle for the first time in over a year; ironically, here, it is upside down. As Siggy pointed it out on the horizon, I kept searching for its point, and decided it must have been below the horizon; in fact, it was up in the sky, a complete reversal of what it is like in the northern hemisphere.
Our only full day in Chillagoe was consumed with exploring the rock formations and caves in the area. Chillagoe, like many places, used to be underwater, and as a result, there are a number of calcareous limestone formations that are the result of coral reefs. The caves within them were likely produced by the incursion of freshwater, the acidity of which eroded the interior of the reefs and created some incredible caves. As the daughter of a geologist, I have an immense respect and fascination with rocks and geology, and it was an incredibly joy to see the caves and cliffs at Chillagoe; they are truly a sight. They are somewhat reminiscent of the best parts of Petra and Wadi Rum combined (without the archaeological splendor of Petra), and this too managed to make me feel a little bit sad. Nevertheless, the pleasure of seeing this sight in Australia was buoying, and I loved crawling around the rocks, posing at sunset at Balancing Rock, and enjoying some incredible geology.
The next morning, refreshed after sleeping on the ground (I love sleeping in tents; I have a very strong sense of excitement about going camping, and in spite of sleeping in a dirt parking lot, this was no exception), we woke up to realize that…the keys had gotten locked in one of the vans the night before. While our students dutifully packed up their tents and ate their breakfasts, we worked tirelessly to try and break into our own vehicle. After much trial, Ciara was able to pry open a window and luckily retrieved the keys. Fortunately, or perhaps miraculously, this faux pas did not delay our departure. Fully awake this time, I was able to see much more of the countryside as we passed through it, which I truly loved. I certainly love a rainy climate, but the sparse and stark landscapes of arid and semi-arid areas speak to my soul.
On our way back through Mareeba, we stopped at the Mareeba Coffee Works, where we were able to sample some Australian-grown coffee, as well as a number of other blends, and the chocolate produced at the Coffee Works. It was an incredibly diverting and delicious afternoon, and it came right in time to wake our students up for their last round of lectures for the afternoon. The following day provided a break from schoolwork in the form of volunteering and free time in Yungaburra. Lynn, at Groovealicious, also played Priscilla, Queen of the Desert for our students, which was incredibly enjoyable. I’m not sure all of our students entirely enjoyed it, as it’s a bit off-color, but it’s a fantastic movie, and I loved seeing it.
The days that have followed have mostly been lecture-rich, but not terribly strenuous. We haven’t seen any particularly incredible animals recently, but this has been something of a relief, because it has certainly meant a lovely dearth of snakes. We have all settled in nicely for our last real week of work before our break begins next Wednesday.