The Pause- Play Effect. A weekend in Cairns, Queensland.

27 July 2011
A city of tears, a morning of thoughts and a landing of wonder.  
Friday. 6 am
The rumble of the engines geared, transforming the view of the morning downpour behind the plane’s window into a blur. We soared into the Sydney morning sky, leaving the tears of the city behind as the onset of dusk peeked through among the flicker of the early morning lights. It couldn’t have been a better morning to leave the city.

I often think about what people’s first reactions towards a new place are. The news, textbooks, our education, we’re swarmed with information of locations so distant, so remote from the bubble of our everyday surroundings. But to imagine the crippled Indian boy begging for money, the Nigerian mother caring for her malnourished child, the tribal communities removed from the technological customs of the 21st century while the A- listers grip the red carpet of the Hollywood life, the average family sitting comfortably in the confines of their own home, the teenagers discarding the scraps of unwanted food in the luxury of a restaurant. It’s difficult for me to imagine the world as one, that these events are part of the same world... that my world is intertwined with your world, however different, however far apart. To grip the reality of the concept, I have to take a physical part in the experience. And only by doing so, can I contradict the perceived pause- play effect-  the difficulty I have in picturing the different realities of life present in the one world we all live in. Because life isn't paused until the plane lands. It’s been playing on without care or notice of your presence or absence. First reactions of a new place are interesting, therefore. What did you think you were going to see? How does it differ from your initial perceptions? Can you picture that your life at home is continuing as you've landed in the new location?

We landed in Cairns, Queensland three hours after takeoff. My reaction after landing... the view of the empty landscape, the blue seemingly still seas connecting to the edges of the lush, green mountains made me laugh (while making me question the thoughts that race between the layers of my mind). See, my first thought upon landing in Cairns was “I wonder what Brazil looks like.” Like really, as if being in Australia wasn’t enough. I now need to add Brazil to my travel list? Oh, of course.
Cairns, Australia
Leisure: the definition of an adult vacation.  
Friday. 10:30 am + 12 Hours Later.   
I set my alarm for 8 am each day of my weekend trip to New York City this past June. The early morning buzz allowed ample time to explore the city, a city with a plethora of sites to see, culture to offer, life to live. I had mentioned to my father that he, along with my mother and younger brother, were welcome to accompany me as I explored the city. His decline offended me slightly... How could he take a trip away from home with no desire to cram the freed time slots with an excess of activities? It’s what I love to do; How could my family not share the passion?
Five weeks of adult life provides the proper explanation. And after switching the sweats for the swim suit in the Cairn's Caravella hostel that I would be sharing with Katie and Keli, we spent the day doing absolutely nothing. Hours of laying out by the lagoon overlooking the ocean (the first quarter of the sea is layered with a heavy covering of mud, an instantaneous quash to any previous desire of swimming or laying out by the beach) and hours of eating, supplemented by (my first!) mid day cocktail. Quote me: it’s never felt so good to spend money on leisure. It was truly well deserved after five weeks of a real life, real job. I now understand where my father's decline back in June, had come from.

The lagoon overlooking the ocean.
The hostel entrance.
The "kitchen" inside of our housing.
A cross off the bucket list. 
Saturday. 6:30 am until 9:20 pm.
The room alarms began their buzz promptly at 6.30 am, gapped with fifteen minutes of silence as the three of us automatically hit our individual snooze options. An hour later, however, the day’s essentials were packed and Katie, Keli and I made our way down the steps of our room, headed towards the cafe. No one judged as I ordered a blueberry muffin and jam and butter croissant. The two options looked appealing, and hell... this was a vacation.

The dingy shuttle rattled into the hostel’s entrance at 7:30 am. A slightly stout, middle aged man hopped out of the driver's (right) side, and proceeded to ensure that our listed names matched our actual identities. We settled into the van, and ten minutes later arrived at the Cairns port (not, however, a port by Florida standards). The eight of us, geared for the day’s adventure, made our way across the dock, arriving at the day cruise headed to a world natural wonder, Australia’s pride and glory and the first of seven bullets tacked onto my bucket list: The Great Barrier Reef.

Two men, likely around our age, greeted us as we stepped aboard. “Where from?” they questioned. “From all over the states”, I replied, the typical explanation when asked where our group, stemming from a variety of places across the U.S., comes from. “Ah, you girls are going to be the typical Americans huh?” Great, we’ve been labeled with the stereotype. And absolutely wonderful that yes, we would undoubtedly live up to their perceived and generalized (although absolutely true) expectation. “Well, where are you from?” I challenged defensively. The shorter of the two men (who had mousy blonde hair that seemed to have undergone an attempted, however unsuccessful, brush, complemented by rosy cheeks on his round face) responded that England, in fact, was his home. I laughed, “I was born there... make me a smidge better?” Cocking his head, he smiled cheekily. “You’re alright then.”

We spent six hours on the water, with a visit to two separate locations along the Great Barrier Reef. I learned that the Great Barrier Reef is in fact a combination of separate smaller reefs joined together as one. Sort of like the world, really; Separate states, countries, lives and experiences united under the title of “world.”

The prospect of snorkeling, regardless of having previously snorkeled while in Eilat, Israel, scared me. It’s at first a challenge to accept the pressure of the water against the goggles fit snugly around your face. It’s an adjustment to focus on your breath flowing in and out of your mouth, contrary to your body’s natural push to breathe out of the nose. And it’s an effort to allow your body to become one with the movement of the water, to allow the flippers and wet suit to keep you afloat. I gradually accepted the motion of the waves rocking me back and forth as I laid my body flat, attempting to ride with the flow as I finally caught my breath, getting my first view of the Great Barrier Reef.

My first impression? It was the subdued shading of the corals and sea life that initially struck me. I had been expecting the vibrancy of the multitude of a colors to stand out. I initially attributed the dulled coloring to the shading of my goggle’s plastic covering, butlater learned that a cyclone had made its way through the reef, causing damage as it wrecked its havoc. The reef naturally rejuvinates so in a few weeks, we were told, the reef would be back to its usual state.
Katie, Keli and I: pro snorkelers!
Disregarding the slight change of color in the areas that the reef hits the surface of the water, you might never know that the initial layer of water secures a unique, exceptional life just below. The seas above seem so peaceful, so blue, so, natural, full of just... water. But there's a whole world below the sea; A world of coral, of fish, of a hierarchy within the underwater life. I feel that if the Great Barrier Reef followed our above land standards, it would qualify as the 90210 of the seas of the world.

We returned to Cairns by 4:30 pm and used our free hostel meal ticket at a restaurant in town. I ate spaghetti and vomit for dinner. I swear that’s what it looked like. (I upgraded to a paid meal for the remainder of our stay.) I collapsed in bed by 9:20pm, still feeling as if I were rocking in the water’s waves as I attempted to fall asleep. I had to remind myself that I was back in my real world; I could breathe out of my nose again.

The rainforest trip, but actually a nap for each bus ride we took.
Sunday. 6 am until I have no idea when.  
Individuals travel to Cairns for one of two reasons, so I assume: a visit to the GBR and a look into the World Heritage Rainforest. Katie, Keli and I committed a trip to the rainforest for our third day’s plans.

The bus was scheduled to pick us up at 7:05 am. Our alarms, as a result, were programmed for 6 am.

Our bus, following our pick up from Caravella, passed through Port Douglas, the closest city about 45 minutes out of Cairns. Not that I saw much of the ride given that my summer camp and Israel bus trips have programmed bus time as nap time. It’s a characteristic that never ceased my two years as a sleepaway camp counselor... I could never quite tell if my head counselor found the factor  slightly amusing or unbelievably irritating.

We spent the morning at wildlife park; Katie and Keli wished to get a picture holding a koala as in Queensland (unlike New South Wales) it is legal to do so. (The honor of holding one, however, was a $16 surcharge. I casually passed the offer up.) The wildlife employee had entered the area to awaken the nocturnal creature from its slumber, only to find that the koala had already awoken and was making its way down from the tree it had been so delicately perched up on. Katie, Keli and I turned to each other, cooing at the beauty of the bear- like- animal seemingly in search of attention from the keeper (though I did learn this weekend that a koala is a descendent of a wombat, not a bear). We were confused as to why the lady clutched the bear, hastily placing it back on its branch before making a swift getaway from the koala’s surroundings. 

Apparently, what we had perceived as the koala’s search for a hug was in fact the animal’s attempted attack. Proof came within moments when the koala belted out a roar, similar to the sound of a belching stomach. Needless to say, Katie and Keli did not hold the creature, a creature that was outwardly endearing, however realistically vicious.

We continued the day trip with a bus ride (aka nap) to the rainforest for a thirty minute walk through nature’s beauty.
We ate lunch at a backpacker’s resort (although "resort" stuck out more than "backpacker's" did). Katie, Keli and I sat opposite an elderly couple. The husband’s sister had studied abroad at American and the couple had friends that lived on Brandywine (a street in DC). I brightened up within seconds, naturally gushing over my love for DC. Katie and Keli groaned; they’ve heard it countless times before.

Following lunch we bussed (napped) to a location in which the rainforest meets the ocean. The ocean, undisturbed by waves, was shallow. We watched as people waded ankle deep in the distance. 
Our trip continued with a bus trip (nap) to the Daintree river for a crocodile and snake lookout boat ride experience. If I don’t like fish (which I successfully overcame for my previous day’s trip to the GBR), I definitely don’t like crocodiles and snakes. By no account, however, did I overcome that fear.
Aboard our boat.
Both Saturday and Sunday were devoted to the appreciation of nature, unspoiled environments both over and under the lands we, as humans, inhabit.  It’s hard to believe that among the grandiosity of nature, man made life is present. My first reaction on our drive into the lush grounds of the rainforest was that NYC never sleeps... Times Square, therefore, was alive at the very moment I was passing through the surrounding's beauties. Man made life seem so much smaller, so much less significant when in face of Earth’s natural wonders, Mother Earth’s gentle touch, G-d’s careful creation. 
An overlook of Port Douglas and Cairns on our drive back from the World Heritage Rainforest.
The oddity of being on a plane headed to Sydney, my supposed summer home.
My trip to Cairns was my birthday present. The flight: from my parents. The trip itself: a present to myself from years of saved up camp and babysitting money, savings spent on a weekend in Queensland, Australia, exploring one of the world’s seven natural wonders, in addition to eating my belly weight in gelato. (Right, I failed to mention that Katie, Keli and I savored a scoop [well a bar one of the days] of gelato for each of the four days of our vacation.)

It feels strange, odd to be on a flight leaving Cairns and headed to Sydney. I feel as if I should view Sydney as home, the location where my shower sponge that I have been desperately awaiting a reunion with, resides. Where my laptop and Internet connection await; Where my plush, cozy bed lays untouched,  solely awaiting the return of its only user. Except, I don't consider Sydney to be home. Five weeks in a location isn’t enough to call somewhere home. It's just weird that in so many aspects, my Sydney apartment qualifies as such.

The lingering thoughts of my four day holiday.
I have never spent so much money on food and day excursions prior to this trip. And it's been quite some time since I last steered so far off course my rigid yet healthy lifestyle. And never did I think it would feel so good to do so either.

Experiences come at a price. And I mean that completely literally, not at all metaphorically. A sum of money funds an experience, and for the first time, the fund was that of my own. I am by definition The Cheap Jew and am the first to attest to the enormous satisfaction I gain from watching the sum in my bank account accumulate. But where lies the reason in saving with no plans to spend? Why save and miss out on a potential life changing, perspective altering experience? I’ve learned that the joy in watching the number of a bank account rise only makes it that much more difficult to watch as the amount sinks once you spend. This trip has left me with a new desire to yes, continue saving but to save with purpose, an end goal of where to allocate the money. Mind you, this new perspective is not the Emma of a week ago. The Emma of a month, of a year, of really, ever ago.

Life on play.
I’m seated by the airplane's window seat again, watching the flicker of Syndey's night lights near as the plane navigates towards the airport's runway It’s nice to be landing back in a city, back into the heart of movement, of life... away from the serenity of nature. I really have become quite the city girl, preferring calm as an escape from the rush of the cit ylife. I know many who differ; It fascinates me how preferences vary regarding the individual.

Sydney nears closer; It hits me harder than ever that I now have 6 days left, merely two weeks of my stay remaining in Australia. It's a mix of bittersweet emotions. I long to return to DC. It’s the first time I’ve ever pined away for a location. The other half of me worries, though. When will I be back in Australia? If ever? Where will life take me in the next few years? It’s exciting to have an open book for the future ahead. But it’s worrisome too. This past year has taught me that life is supposed to roller coast you on its winding, unforseen tracks. You’ve got one life... one life to live to make as much, or as little, of it as you want. What I’ve learned? There’s no pause in life. It plays on, regardless of your acceptance. It’s ok to eat your belly weight in gelato and to drain your bank account on a luxurious weekend away from the everyday of life. 

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