Thursday, March 21, 2013

Lamington National Park

By Rachit Malhotra

Dear reader,

Kudos to you for following our travels around Australia thus far, whether you’re a friend, family or just a well wisher. I have to say, foremost, you can never get used to the way time flies. Your most realistic move is to become a better absorber of the events around you. Our week camping in the Lamington rainforest added another week to our time spent on this massive rock. From day one, it was a lesson in self-sustainability and active learning.
We set up the kitchen tent and the dining tent as a group, followed by setting up our personal tents. To some of us it was something new, while others had the whole process etched into muscle memory. After a brief rest in our new wigwams, we started our week of doing fieldwork in the rainforest and the eucalypt forest.
A group returning from exploring the forest and setting up mammal traps
By sundown, we were typically on walks on familiar trails where we either looked for nocturnal animals, insects, and glowworms. These activities were conducted under the umbrella of learning to think like a scientist. This was as much a lesson in scientific methodology as it was a walk on the wild side.
He was actually learning AND being silly
As an Economics major, I did not think I was going to survive the biology side of the program without feeling like my eyelids had little anchors pulling it down into a constant forced slumber. BUT, we had guest lecturers on the trip who were so engaging and passionate about what they were educating us about, that their words acted like caffeine. I made it through the week with maybe a cup or two of coffee. Outdoor and hands-on learning needs more advocacies. Imagine this, you’re walking through a rainforest with dense canopy cover and you’re learning all about the dense and heavy organisms that grow on top of the trees (also known as epiphytes) and then out of nowhere… BAM! Canopy cover goes from about 70-75% to about 40% at best. The epiphytes are nowhere to be seen. The sky is visible and the vegetation around you isn’t nearly as moist as ten paces ago. You’re not in the twilight zone, my friend, you have just crossed an ‘ecotone’ into the eucalypt forest. We made presentations and discussed the biological and ecological characteristics of and differences between the two forests. I got two leeches, which was the average for our group for the day. I would be inclined to keep a leech count, but these were the only two I got the whole week. But I drift. We had been at this from the early morning till almost dinner time, so after a hearty meal of kebabs and cheesecake (yes, we are spoilt), we slept like babies.

More biology ensued the next day, and the day after. We trapped mammals and we trapped insects. By trapped, I mean set up a bed of cotton and peanut butter snacks in a tin cage that we checked four hours after setting them up. So, back off, PETA. These experiments usually took the entire day, which had us pretty jaded by the time the sun went down. We were unanimously asleep before 10PM every night.

Even though I present myself as a scientifically inept student, I helped my group do a thorough job in designing an express four-hour study of the epiphytes in the rainforest and subsequently presenting a poster to the group. The process threw me out of my comfort zone, but it rekindled that respect and love I had for the hard sciences as a high school student.

But that’s enough of the science. Here’s a photo of the beautiful duo of mother and daughter who have made this trip an utter delight. 
Momma Nat and her sidekick, baby Mira.  Movie rights are still up for grabs.
The trip was one of the most special ones we have taken so far, in my opinion. Dinner was typically accompanied by a sunset like the one below.
We had our setback, but there were enough silver linings to make a playbook
By the time our last day rolled around, we were quite ready for a break from the usual routine of lab, presentations and animal-trapping. So, the bulk of the group decided to go on a short hike to the nearby Moran’s Falls.  And it wasn’t the waterfall that was the highlight of the trip, not by a long shot. It was the red-belly black snake that we saw en route. Of course, by the time I was able to take my camera out to take a picture of the snake, it was already under the safe cover of a small pile of wood and grass on the path. Besides, I wasn’t permitted to get too close, by my own inhibitions as well as those of Yueping’s. So, you’re going to have to simply believe me when I tell you it was 20 feet long, 8 feet thick and breathed fire.  Here’s a photo of us 20 minutes away from the snake.
Ominously and cluelessly marching towards the serpent
We packed up the entire campsite, something I haven’t done before. It was rewarding. It was good to know we had the ability in us to pack up an entire week’s worth of memories and the huts and tents in which they were made into a bus and trudge on back towards modern civilization. We speculated what big news we may have missed during our time away. I checked Google News to ensure Bob Dylan was still alive and then took a nap until we got back to the storage facility where I parted ways with the company.

I have since been back living with my host family for the week, as we enjoy and thrive in each other’s company. Nine others are over at Byron Bay, while a few have trudged on to other places. They are likely having experiences that are enriching or dehydrating their brain cells, but I am having the time of my life with this little diapered dude here.
Maximus, emperor of the house, avid daiper-wearer

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