“Hey buddy,” said the campsite maintenance manager gesturing in my direction. Confused, I gave him a dumbfounded look and pointed to myself not 100 per cent sure if and why he was calling for me.”Yes, you,” he retorted. Without a shirt on, right after my shower, I ran quickly over to the storage shed. Kneeling down, he pointed to the back left hand corner of the room. He asked with excitement, “You see it?” After a couple seconds, I saw a beautiful Desert Carpet Python. The manager told me that the snake lives in the shed to catch unlucky prey, and that the python protects the grounds from rodents, “He earns the right to live here.”
The camping trip at Chillagoe was absolutely amazing. After the three hour drive, we finally arrived in the small town with a recorded population of 200. Considering our group was equivalent to one quarter of the entire population, no matter where we went we drew a lot of attention. Between the cattle, desert heat, and abandoned atmosphere, I kept asking myself if this was real life. Personally, I could never imagine living in such a small rural environment. Growing up in Stamford, CT (population of roughly 120,000), I am the epitome of a city boy, which makes people question why I am roughing it in Australia in the first place. The answer: my passion for the environment and drive to leave my comfort zone influenced my study abroad program and destination. That being said, I embraced the opportunity to go camping.
Setting up a tent for merely the third time in my life, the sun beat down on us over the barren landscape. Dripping sweat, the group headed to the swimming hole. A breached old dam was turned into a small waterfall and lagoon. Between jackpot, ultimate water frisbee, and monkey in the middle, not to mention the amazingly refreshing water, the swimming hole became our safe haven from the heat. Our first night was capped off with spotlighting and sleeping out on a tarp under the stars. The night sky in the southern hemisphere consists of a few thousand stars. Pictures could never do it justice.
Could Chillagoe get any better? The answer: yes. Day 2 started waking up soaked from the morning dew at 6 a.m. Despite this fact, the experience was definitely worth the hours of constellation naming the night before. We started the day off strong with cave exploring and swimming. The caves we visited used to be a coral reef, but were raised up from a mountain building event when Asia and Australia collided. During our exploration, the group discovered a large chamber that was attached to the main room. The only problem was you had to squeeze through a sliver of an opening five yards long. One after another we crammed through to catch a glimpse of what was on the other side. The rest of the afternoon was filled with more rocks. Our trip to Balancing Rock provided us with the best photo opportunities of the trip thus far. The sunset from the highest vantage point made Australia seem surreal.
The chances of rain in Chillagoe, 1 percent. Ok, well that may be an over exaggeration, but we happened to be there for a rare thunderstorm. Walking back from the pub in the pouring rain at night with seven other people in a town we had never been before was an adventure to say the least. Not to mention the fact that when we got back to the campsite two tents collapsed and flooded from the rain. The storm refugees had to sleep in the campsite kitchen on sleeping pads. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the last of the rain. We were welcomed back to Warrawee Center with an absolute downpour. Fed up with the rain, a few students began dancing in the storm. Eventually, the entire group was kicking mud at each other and playing soccer in order to not let the rain get the best of us.
What I’m about to say will completely shock those of you that know me personally, but my family especially. While at the Yungaburra market on Saturday afternoon, my lunch consisted of a Swiss Veal Bratwurst sandwich with sauerkraut topped with sweet chilli and barbeque sauce. Doubt anyone would have expected that from the kid who eats pasta in Kimball for every dinner and whose pallet doesn’t stray too far from chicken and rice. The food came in handy for the swim-marathon to raise money for Polio later that night. Seven of us did the hour long swim and were sponsored money per lap by our peers. I ended up swimming 20 laps in an Olympic sized pool (50 meters), and passed out on the van ride back.
Week 3 was the best week of the trip. Between the sights and group mates I am sharing the experience with, I couldn’t have asked for more. Everyone has been open-minded and care free no matter the circumstance. I have honestly surprised myself with my willingness to embrace every aspect of Australia and get out of my comfort zone. With Chillagoe in the history books, five trips remain: Daintree, 3 Cairns weekends, and the home stay. Plenty more to come.
Francis DeLeo '14