“Here ya go,” said Dez. In my hands I found a green binder filled with pictures and descriptions of poisonous spiders and snakes to watch out for on our weekend excursion into the Australian rainforest. Being the “safety first” type of girl, I started memorizing the names and pictures in my head.
The Australian response to foreigners when they are worried about all the poisonous creatures in their country is “no worries mate.” Obviously this nonchalance was very comforting.
Dez was the man guiding us to Mt. Tamborine and over-seeing our conservation project. At 10 a.m. on a Friday, there were eight of us from my travel program waiting in the sunshine for his van to appear up the long driveway of Griffith University. When it finally arrived, I threw my bag inside and climbed into the van, which was taking us on our weekend excursion. Mt. Tamborine was only an hour away from our Uni, in the hinterland and rainforest located in the central east coast of Australia.
“We are stopping at Woolworth’s grocery store to get food for the weekend,” Dez stated as he pulled into the lot. I thought this was a excellent plan because of my severe food allergies. Now I would be able to oversee what we were bringing to eat for the weekend.
A very full shopping cart later and we were back in the van, snacking and happily enjoying the ride up to Mt. Tamborine. The views were exquisite, and every few minutes we asked to stop to take pictures as we went further up into the mountains. We passed a winery and countless cow and horse pastures on the windy, hilly roads leading up to the mountains. We drove through the town on the top of Mt. Tamborine. Of course it had the Australian essential, a bar, which we all noted was the potential perfect spot to celebrate the completion of our conservation project on Saturday night. We didn’t know exactly what the project would entail; just that we were their to help with ongoing conservation in the area.
We arrived at our campsite and met Park Ranger John from the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Services. He looked just like a poster cut out; smile on his face, in his brown khaki uniform, mustache, and sunglasses to complete the look. My imagination was running images of Jurassic Park through my head until returning back to the present as he said, “there are between three and four thousand acres of national parkland, and 900 acres right here.” It was time to learn about our project.
Ranger John took us to the project location inside the state park. We walked towards two massive piles of dirt that had been placed right in front of the park’s entry. “Well mates, here we have it. I need you to rake out the dirt, find rocks to line the outside of the islands, then plant these plants to cover with dirt and then mulch. Not bad, eh?” Looking at it, I thought that maybe this wouldn’t be so bad. “Yeah, not bad. I don’t even think this will take us two days,” said Erica, my flat mate. Both of us tended to be the overly optimistic types, so I wondered what everyone else was thinking.
“Why don’t you go for a hike to the waterfall, then we will meet back here to go to dinner. Make sure to take plenty of happy snapps,” said Dez. After I heard it, I loved that phrase, ‘happy snaps,’ and vowed to use it more often.
We left for our hike, none of us really knowing where the trail would lead. With trees surrounding us at close to 50 meters in height, I felt quite small in this forest paradise and thankful for the shade from the overwhelming sunshine. As we continued on the trail, we heard bird calls and the rhythmic sound of running water as we arrived to see the waterfall below us. Rocks lined the edges and next to the waterfall, a family climbed the rocks, crossing to the other side through some shallow water. I sat down on a bench starring at the waterfall, then heard a noise and looked up. A white bird the size of a football with black and blue speckled wings was soaring overhead. When we walked back to meet Dez he told us it was a kookaburra. For the remainder of the trip the renowned kookaburra song played in my head, “Kookaburra sits in an old gum tree…” and actually the kookaburras were sitting in the gum trees, which made it quite humorous, that a song I knew in America actually finally made sense. These birds had quite the vocals too. They were loud and as we would soon discover, they loved to steal our lunch food.
Back at our camp site, we made a simple spaghetti for dinner. After a busy day anything would taste delicious. I had read and approved all of the ingredients and oversaw the process. We made a fire outside by our tents, had a beer, and went to sleep under the stars. In the morning I ate an apple and climbed into the van to head back to the park. We were dressed in preparation to play in the dirt. Arriving at the conservation site, we were handed gloves, shovels, rakes, and other tools to help assist. We split into groups to more efficiently complete our mission. Three of us took a wheelbarrow to find rocks to line the islands and everyone else began shoveling and raking out the dirt. After two hours, we were all amazed with the amount of progress we had already made. A few more hours later and the task had become less fun, especially when it started pouring rain. We were now covered in mud and I came to the unhappy realization that we wouldn’t be showering until we went home the following day. With only planting and mulch to do in the morning, we called it quits for the day and went for another hike just as the rain stopped and the sun returned. Dez joined us on the hike this time. He pointed out different eucalyptus and gum trees, and shared stories of other hikes he had gone on in other parts of Australia. Listening to the unusual noises the rainforest made; trees creaking, animals moving, kookaburras singing, forming a collective jungle song.
That night we had dinner at our campsite, this time grilling on the barbie. I used foil to keep the meat safe from cross contact. We made a fire, relaxed, and then the rain returned. We found some shelter and fell asleep. When we woke up, we ate and went back to finish and clean up. Unfortunately, for not thinking we had much left to complete, it took us almost the entire day. However, the satisfaction we felt at the end of the day was well worth the sweat and dirt we built up on our skin and in our hair.
To our dismay, the only other animal we saw during the weekend besides the kookaburras was a wild turkey. We saw no massive spiders or killer snakes. Later after we returned to our flat and had showered all the grime away, Erica and I shared about our adventures with our other flat mates. “It was disappointing to not see anything more dangerous than a wild turkey,” Erica stated. “Well, at least the green binder wasn’t useful for this trip,” I said.
This trip is just one example of some of the remote travel I’ve done and how it is absolutely possible.
How I made this trip work:
- Told the organizers ahead of time about my food allergies
- Packed safe snacks
- Oversaw the grocery store trip and read ingredients for all shared meals
- Helped prepare meals to avoid cross contact and feel comfortable with the meal preparation
I believe that there are always ways to make things work. It is important to be flexible but also focus on what you have control over and see it through. Advocate for your needs in a way where you feel heard but doesn’t overwhelm others. Remote travel is not usually as comfortable, however these experiences push you to leave your comfort zone behind to explore and grow as a traveler.
Have you done any remote travel with food allergies? Share in the comments below.