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Student Blogs & Vlogs | College Study Abroad Programs, IFSA-Butler
“Everyday, you should do something that scares you. It reminds you you’re still alive.” ~ So. Winter in Cairns…
After departing Sydney, JCU students boarded a flight for Cairns! Everyone dreaded getting on another plane. However, we were very excited to go to a place that had warmer weather. The flight was a quick 4 hours and soon we found ourselves in Cairns!
Our luggage was loaded into a pick up trailer (haha kinda funny) to head to the Cairns Student Lodge. 15 minutes later, we were at the lodge getting our rooms and then dinner. Let me just say- our Sydney Orientation SPOILED us in terms of amazing food! It’s not that the lodge food is bad by any means or there isn’t a variety- it’s just different. For instance, they put bbq sauce next to their hot dogs. I was SO excited because I thought it was ketchup. Well- I was COMPLETELY wrong. Ketchup was nowhere in sight. Plus, I expected to have lot of fresh fruit and vegetables- but that really wasn’t the case. Instead, there was like six different types of pasta dishes. But hey, as our advisor, would say: “food is food, so just eat it.” So, like any cafe food, we have our good days and bad days haha.
So. You’d think that moving into our apartment and everything would allow everyone to settle down and what not. Nope. The next day, my two roommates and I went to find the Smithfield Shopping Center. Unfortunately, we went in the completely wrong direction and instead hiked an hour up the coast. We missed two buses on the way back (one passed us because we weren’t on the right side of the road and the second we barely missed). Finally, we caught the third bus to Smithfield Shopping Center. The mall was way bigger then I expected, with a variety of stores and lots of people. We found a Kmart in the mall and, while we were shopping, we came across an aisle with bikes. That’s when we decided that we were going to buy bikes and, yes, assemble them in the middle of the mall. We didn’t’ really think it through- because we then had to carry all of our stuff back to the lodge while riding our bikes. Now that was tricky. But, we made it! (even in time for dinner). Longest six hour adventure ever, but it’s something we’ll always remember! Sometimes when things go wrong when you’re abroad you just have to laugh it off and keep moving forward.
Our next big adventure was a trip to Trinity Beach! We knew that we could bike it- I had NO idea how long the distance would be. It was about a combined 8 miles round trip (an awesome workout haha) but it was completely worth it! The beach was GORGEOUS with bright blue water and tons of palm trees! I’m sure I’ll be making a lot of trips back to hang out with friends and study (beats the library!).
My time in Cairns is filled with sunny days, cold nights, beach volleyball, biking and tons of beaches. Then- BAM! Reality hits and I remember oh- I actually came here because I’m going to school here. That’s right. And then began…orientation! Yes- it was JUST as awkward as orientation freshmen year. I had no idea where on earth I was going and papers and information was just consistently thrown at me. But I mean it all worked out (it always seems to). During orientation week, a bunch of my friends and I decided to check out Aj Hackett Bungy Jumping. We can literally walk to the place from where we’re staying, and many of us were interested in jumping. The jump is 50 meters (164 feet) and looks SCARY, TERRIFYING – basically any word you can think of. As we were walking up the path to the bungee jump, we kept hearing terrified screams coming from jumpers. The second we got up there, a number of my friends started signing the forms and getting ready. Initially, I decided to wait and see how they faired before signing up. All of them RAVED about it and before I knew it I was signed up and headed up the staircase to the bungee tower.
The funny thing is- I really wasn’t nervous anymore, I wanted to do this and overcome my fear of heights. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. And I did! I was strapped up and ready to go and I jumped. The two-second free fall was probably one of the scariest experiences I have ever had in my life. One second I was on the ledge and the next I was flying toward the pond centered in the middle of the jungle while my friends cheered me on below. But I survived! And actually- I think I would do it again! It was an awesome experience and one of the most memorable things I have ever done in my life. I say this because I was able to overcome my fear of heights, and it’s a great feeling to know that you’re brave enough to be able to overcome your fears and just simply live and experience new things.
As part of our JCU orientation week, we went on a bus tour of Cairns later in the week. And yes, they did in fact rent out the party bus, which was really cool to sit on top of, and so many people were waving and honking their car horns (pretty funny). During our tour, we got to see different parts of the city of Cairns (like the Cairn Esplanade), Crystal Cascades (which was absolutely stunning!), and Palm Grove Beach.
And yes- it is winter here. The only bummer is that it gets dark pretty early (like around 6:30/7ish). The bright side is that the weather is gorgeous and that a bunch of the deadly animals (like the boxed jellyfish and crocodiles) are not as active (but they’re still around haha). So I’m loving it! And each day has its struggles. On and off I find I get homesick and start comparing things to the U.S. and my university at home. Also, there are HUGE spiders here which I am not a big fan of. But, also, with each day, there are numerous rewards. It all balances itself out and I am finding that I am adjusting to life here a lot better then I initially expected. I know that it takes time and I am excited for the next four months here. I’ve already had a lot of great experiences and have met some really interesting and friendly people- I can’t imagine all the fun times to come!
And, with each day, I keep this quote in mind: “Everyday, you should do something that scares you. It reminds you you’re still alive.”
Before coming to Argentina, I never dreamed that I’d be able to travel to (the tip of) Patagonia, Chile, and PERU. Even now, I still can’t believe I was at Machu Picchu! I’ve been looking at my pictures non-stop, unable to actually believe it. Is this real life?
Entering Peru was definitely a culture shock, after having lived in both the US and Argentina (at least, for a couple of months). During our taxi ride from the airport, I was surprised by how much I related Peru with India. The amazing scenery, dominating presence of culture, and llamas walking around in the center plazas may have contributed to that sentiment. Although I can’t quite explain it, the Peruvian culture was so alive in every corner of the city. As much as I love the Andes, the mountains looming in the background in Cuzco were breathtaking.
But then of course, there was the element of tourism. There were SO MANY tourists! Since we were at the peak of tourist season (good weather), we had numerous vendors approach us (there was one day where I was approached in English, Japanese, Korean, and Mandarin all consecutively), asking if we needed massage or other tourist services. It was overwhelming!
One thing about Mendoza is that the province generally attracts an older crowd of tourists who mostly come for the wine and stay for a couple of days. But in Peru, the common “young tourist” was a European backpacker either traveling or volunteering (in a jungle, teaching English, etc) with no grasp of Spanish. Pretty interesting. Then of course, there were hordes of tourists, both young and old, from all over the world, to go see Machu Picchu. Due to the tourism, there was a strong presence of commercialism. The Inca legends and history were all hyped up, and exaggerated. The quaint architecture that contained elements of the Incas and colonialism, all housed modern Starbucks, KFC’s, and other fast food chains. Speaking of food: Peruvian food is amazing! We didn’t try alpaca, llama, or guinea pig, but we had delicious chica and other foods. Note: do not eat the Chinese food, at all costs!
Regardless, exploring the different parts of the city was extremely enjoyable. Although during the first few days, my friend and I walked quite slowly due to the altitude. We were out of breath fairly quickly. (Turns out we were lucky, since some other lodgers at our hostel were violently throwing up, yikes). Remember the three rules to prevent altitude sickness: drink before you’re thirsty, eat before you’re hungry, and sleep before you’re tired! 😀
After a few days in Cuzco, we took a bus to Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley, so we could catch a train to Aguas Calientes. Interestingly enough, the train cars were separated for locals and foreigners (and a heavy fine for foreigners who ended up on the locals car). The view of the landscape on the train was absolutely stunning. They served us banana chips (delicious) and corn covered in chocolate (even more delicious).
Of course, the minute we got to Aguas Calientes, we were met with a million faces asking us if we needed hostel, tourist, and bus services. It was too much. We asked the third lady we encountered for the price and she seemed pretty reasonable. She took us to a dingy “hostel” with a sketchy room and a tiny bathroom with only cold water, and one miniscule bar of soap. We were too tired and wary to protest or muster the energy to find another hostel. But somehow, after chowing down on bread and jam (living the backpacker’s life!), we walked around the town (mostly consisted of Inca figures hyped up), then settled on a pizza place for dinner. (note: the price seemed cheap, but they hid the tax fee, sigh) Since there wasn’t much to do, we went to bed super early so we could get up at 4am. Which…..we miraculously did.
There were buses picking up (lazy :D) people from their hotels to Machu Picchu. We chose to walk all the way to the top. The walk to the entrance itself was mystical. The mountains loomed over us, tall and menacing in the dark. The river seemed to pound against the rocks, which were in weird shapes and sizes. Since we didn’t have a flashlight (mistake), we tip-toed carefully against the bridge and trail, slightly scared but ridiculously excited. Then…..we reached the entrance point. Long story short: there was a problem with my ticket. I ran back to the village, where thankfully, they had tickets left for that day. I paid, ran back, and THEN we started our trek uphill to Machu Picchu at last.
Surprisingly, I wasn’t THAT out of breath during the climb. Each step we took, we were rewarded with a view that grew more and more gorgeous and unearthly. To put it crudely, it’s incredible how the Incas even found the mountains, had the adrenaline to climb up, decide on a location, then BUILD AN ENTIRE CITY up there. It was also impossible to take a bad picture.
Once at the top, it was ridiculously hard to register that we were there. The image in front of me was unreal. Everything was majestic and built to perfection. The weather was perfect, too. Maybe a little too perfect, since we both got sunburned. -_- There were people from all over the world, with tours being given in numerous languages. There were alpacas up there, beautiful foliage, and although I was scared for my life, I couldn’t help but look down every few seconds; to understand the fact that I actually walked all the way up to the site and survived (in fact, as we were walking down, there were these two girls who were excitedly shouting, “We conquered the lost city!” a little too much, haha). Interesting fact: you’re not allowed to take jumping pictures on Machu Picchu. The guard yelled at me. Then, before we knew it, the day was nearing 5pm, and the park was about to close. The trek downhill took 2 hours. We were exhausted, but unbelievably happy.
After Machu Picchu, we took a bus to Puno, to go see Lago Titicaca. Fun fact about the lake: if you turn a map of the lake upside down, you can see a puma hunting a rabbit. The puma is Peru, and the rabbit is Bolivia. Titi means great (I think), and caca means rock, although we’re more familiar with the slang meaning. Obviously the latter refers to Bolivia. Oh, international rivalries. And due to the black market, no one is permitted to travel to Peru or Bolivia via the lake.
When we got to Puno, we were dropped off at 4am (we arrived much earlier than they said we would!) at a very silent terminal. We were pretty aloof, so we followed a woman who was trying to sell us a tour at her agency. When it seemed like we were about to walk off (we were just really, really tired), she lowered the price, so that we ended up paying $20 for a day’s tour. Unintentional bartering strategy, yay!
We boarded a boat that took us to the Floating Islands. The islands are constructed from a reed that grows at the bottom of the lake. Each island is the home of a family, and it felt slightly awkward intruding upon their private space, yet….it was clear tourism was their main source of revenue. They showed us how they live, and took us for a ride on their reed boat.
Then we went to Taquila Island, which was quaint and beautiful. We were served lunch and given time to walk around the island, and the island gave off a Mediterranean vibe, with the clear and amazingly blue water. The lake was stunning, and the tranquility made everything enjoyable. I had no idea how big and beautiful the lake was. Next time I’m in the area, I’d like to cross over to Bolivia…..algun dia!
Overall I am extremely happy that I had the chance to go to Peru. It is a country that is not only home to Machu Picchu, but other amazing sites that I unfortunately did not have the time to explore. I’m going to miss the majestic mountains, the friendliness of the people (everyone addresses you as ‘amigo’ or ‘amiga’) and the bartering (best strategy is to feign interest, look disinterested, and then walk away, haha)! I hope I can return again.
captions: Plaza de Armas/Cuzco/Cuzco with Cristo Blanco in the background/Cuzco 1-2/streets/delicious chicha/San Pedro market/successful bartering!/rickshaw/Ollantaytambo 1-2/train/view from train/soccer field/center/Aguas Calientes/more markets/bridge entrance/Machu Picchu/view from climb up 1-2/incredible view 1-4/friendly alpaca!/amazing views (city in the shape of a condor) 1-8)
This past weekend was a holiday weekend, so I trekked down to Bariloche, at the tip of Patagonia. As the town was originally settled by the Swiss, Bariloche is known for its (delicious) chocolate, lakes, and skiing. Needless to say I was pretty pumped. When my friend I got to the terminal, we had two problems because we were clearly travel noobs: a) we couldn’t tell which platform our bus was supposed to arrive, and b) we ended up missing our bus. I was more enraged at this than our friend and demanded an explanation from the travel agent. Frustrating thing: turns out that our bus was actually in front of us the entire time, but just had the final destination listed because it was making several other stops (such as Bariloche). We felt stupid and annoyed, but luckily, we were able to purchase tickets for that night for half price. *sigh*
The bus ride itself was horrendous. I’m not sure how I survived. Since we bought last minute tickets, we were on the bus (and lower level) that stopped literally every ten minutes. GAAAAAH. Which meant that each time I somehow got my seat to recline comfortably, one of the bus drivers would open the door and yell something, thereby interrupting my sleep and letting the cold in. Dios. On the way up it was slightly better: we were on the full cama (fully reclining seat) at the upper level, and those two things actually make a huge difference! The only few times I woke up were because we were being served food (dinner with wine and a movie, classy), and the bus only made two stops, which was obviously more bearable.
We were extremely relieved to finally arrive in Bariloche. The hostel we stayed at was really homey and the owners made us feel like we were included in a big happy family. (sidenote: the JAM is to die for during breakfast) The first night, we had an asado where we met other lodgers and went out to explore the nightlife. One word for that night: TEENAGERS. So many of them! Apparently Bariloche is the place to go after graduation/during breaks in high school, so while we were at bars and boliches, we felt OLD. -____-
The next day, we went kayaking in the lake by Cerro Ventana. The view was absolutely breathtaking and while I was rowing, it was really difficult not to be distracted by the scenery. We rowed for two hours and while I felt bad that I was holding up my friend and the guide (it was my first time!), I was too cold and in too much pain to try any harder, haha.
My arms were in pain when we hiked up Cerro Companario the day after (I have no upper body strength!). It was the steepest 30 minute hike I ever walked but the view from up top was breath taking and unbelievable. From the top of Cerro Companario, you can see all 7 lakes! Each lake glistened pale shades of blue and turquoise, changing under the sunlight. It was truly nature at its finest.
Since the famous Llao Llao Hotel Resort was around the corner, we had to stop by, of course. This clip is of the lake near the hotel.
And for dinner, we had to pick up some chocolates. You’re only in Bariloche once, right? 😀
As much as I loved meeting new people, spending time playing Bananagrams and passing around fernet with other lodgers (we met other IFSA-ers from Buenos Aires!), my complaint for Bariloche is that it’s very commercialized and caters toward tourists. There were times when I felt that there was nothing to do but buy and eat chocolate. And one of the differences between Mendoza and Bariloche is that everything there is much more expensive. Plus, it’s so easy to continuously buy chocolate! 😀 Apart from the prices, tourism, and the loooong bus ride, I’m really happy I got to explore the lakes district. I can’t capture or explain the view in words. You’ll have to go there for yourself!
If I have more time, I think I’ll head down to El Calafate to see glaciers. Or maybe see Tronador in Bariloche, as it’s snowcapped all year round, and has both glaciers and volcanoes! Enjoy this quick clip of the lakes!