Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Cairns, Queensland

Cairns is named after a Governor of Queensland of Irish descent. He had no interest in Australia at all and did not care about the honor that was bestowed upon the city that bears his name. A year after the city was named, Cairs returned to Ireland and never visited the people who honored him. Today it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Australia.

With Ivan and Kolbe, we set out for a reef trip on Ocean Freedom. The staff was quite large and very friendly. We had a nice breakfast awaiting us on ship with lots of beverages. We sailed out of Cairns harbour to the Great Barrier Reef. The folks offered us scuba diving lessons and I declined because it was too expensive. The other two were not interested in it either. Snorkeling was too much fun and there was no need for Scuba diving.

As I saw people get suited up, I wanted to join them. I asked if the others had interest and they said no. At last, I said, "I'm going diving." Ivan followed suit and Kolbe resisted, but finally gave in. I did not even try to tempt them. Kolbe liked it so much he went for a second dive.

When I said yes, I had no idea that I would encounter any fear. It just was not in my mind. But as soon as I went under, I began to not trust myself with breathing and I did not trust my mask. It felt claustrophobic. However, I went down again and it felt like a great freedom. I became used to breathing. Breathing is quite essential. After a while, it just felt natural to do and then I was home free. I contemplated going down a second time, but I also enjoyed snorkeling and did that for a long time. However, I got sunburned on top of my head and I realized I had to turn in. A highlight of the day was seeing the white tip reef shark - only about 4 feet long, but the other schools of fish, sea cucumbers, starfish and other living organisms were there. Yes, I saw many Nemos.

Snorkeling can be tiring because you swim for a long time. My legs were sore the next day and I knew I would be tired but it could not deter me from the sheer excitement of being miles offshore and swimming among such a beautiful reef. The corals were so colorful. We even stopped at a sand beach that rose from the waters during low tide. We dug for clams, looked at seashells, and watched the birds. The coconuts that were on the island were form the cyclone a month ago that hit Fiji.

After saying Mass the next day, we boarded a ship that went to Trinity Cove, so named because Captain Cook arrived there on Trinity Sunday. We went into the rivulets where giant mangroves lived. It was here that we would find wild crocodiles. It was a very pleasant trip.

After we deboarded from the ship, a bus picked us up to bring us to a crocodile farm. This farm supplies crocodile leather to the fashion industry in France for handbags and clothing. It sounds terrible and I felt so bad for the crocodiles, but as the tour guide explained it, one in 100 crocodile eggs survive in the wild, but there 98 out of 100 hatch into crocodiles. Therefore, the local scene is not imbalanced. They have a very sophisticated way of managing the life, reproduction, and growth of the crocodiles. Did you know that you can change a female crocodile into a male by heating the eggs? Males are desired by the farmers because they grow larger than the females. The male genitalia is surprising. Anyways, it is quite a complex farming community that they run. The worst job seems to be the three men who are charged with gathering the eggs from the sea rivers where the crocodiles live. They wade barefoot and sans shirts so they can escape an angry female quickly.

I had a great day.

Photos: The Great Barrier Reef and a Crocodile Farm

To see photos of Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef as well as a scenice cruise to a saltwater crocodile fam, please click on the link below:

Pics of Cairns and a crocodile farm

Monday, May 10, 2010

Photos: Maryborough and the Harbour

To see photos of Maryborough and the Urangan Harbour, please click on the link below:

Pics of Maryborough

Maryborough and the Harbour

I’m in my last week of my tenure at Hervey Bay. Though the place is like a holiday destination, I will most remember the generosity and hospitality of my hosts. Bern and Sharon have been incredible in taking care of details that make me feel so welcome and Kerry is unparalleled in the way he sets the tone for my visit and for the work of the school. He is a very dedicated disciple of Ignatius. He would like the Jesuits to take over the parish in Hervey Bay when Fr. Joseph’s tenure comes to an end. I hope the school realizes how much strength it has and I hope they step forward to capitalize on its potential.

Last week’s liturgies were a contrast in style. I held a liturgy for grades one through six and we had lots of singing, movement, and a nice relaxed style. In the evening, we had a liturgy presided over by a retired priest who now works supply. While he tried his best, he ended up with the following theme for a group of secondary schoolers who willingly came to a monthly liturgy: authority must be respected. I cringed when I heard his message. While it is true, one can tailor the message a bit better for the youth whose task it is at this age is to push away from authority so they can appropriate their values for themselves. Oh, well. At least I connected with some of the youth during the party afterwards. The same preside at Mass on Sunday gave a decent homily, but mostly spoke without a microphone and did not acknowledge any of the mothers on their day. He did well though, but the newly ordained concelebrating priest was intrusive with his loud tone and sudden movements.

This is a day off of work for me – a third long weekend in a row. The weather was a little disappointing because it was about 76 degrees with a few intermittent morning showers. I took a ride to Maryborough, home of the author of Mary Poppins, and later I had a coffee down at the quaint Urangan boat harbor. I drove through the roads of Hervey Bay’s towns, viewed many of the sugar cane plantations and stopped into a bookstore, toy store, and visited the local university. I like to stop into libraries because it reveals so much about what a town values. You can tell that this town focuses on helping its citizens gain basic office and computing skills to make them ready for the workforce. It is a worthy endeavor.

This week I have dinners planned at a faculty or staff member’s house. They are some nifty restaurants where I live and a great fish and chips shop at the doorstep of my apartment. I head back from my experiment on the weekend. Sharon will drive me to Brisbane where I will stay with the Jesuit community in Twowong. I will miss the folks here when I leave. They give me lots of reasons to pray for them. I feel like St. Paul who must leave his church communities after he built them up.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Photos: Fraser Island off Hervey Bay

To see photos of Fraser Island and the Kingfisher Bay Resort, please click on the link below:

Pics of Fraser Island

Monday, May 3, 2010

Four-Wheeling at Fraser

Fraser Island is out of this world. It is a large sand island upon which a forest of eucalypts, various species of pines, and indigenous plants grown. Kerry Swann and I left for the island after Sunday Mass and we met up with his wife, Loretta, later in the day at their resort condo.

The resort at Kingfisher’s Bay is extravagant and eco-friendly. The vast ceilings make the resort seems as if it has been carved into the landscape as the rainforest enters upon the calm waters of the bay. The green plants that adorn the inside and outside of the resort give its luxury a seamless feel. One of the two super-sized swimming pools are heated. They too are situated so that once you are in them, it is almost indistinguishable that you are separated from the day.

We ate at the Sandbar, which is a casual outdoor pub surrounded by two swimming pools. We tried for reservations at the Seaside, but I will go there tonight to eat a Kangaroo, Emu, and Crocodile plate. The other restaurants are named after some significant local events, such as the grounding of the Meheno, a larger liner that was to be rehabbed and converted into a luxury liner.

Each day we get a drenching rain for five minutes. This is a blessing for us as the rain will pack down the sand that allows our four-wheel drive to gain traction. The roads are completely sand and it forms into ruts that are difficult to travel. It was a wild wide from the bayside to the seaside, but what a blast. Kerry saw a snake traverse the road. Dingoes are everywhere, but they stay near the resorts because people foolishly feed the dingoes. Horses were removed from the land because they were brought over in colonial times and were not indigenous, but they left the dingoes which also were not indigenous. The aborigines who settled the island seldom left the island. They were a tall tribe and are now extinct. An American was notorious for setting up hunting sport expeditions to kill the aborigines. The British tried to stop him, but at one time the Aborigines told the British that they no longer had to put together a search party to look for the wicked murderer.

The coast is amazing. Vehicles can travel on the sand, which is a 75-mile beach. We traveled over the top of the island and ended up at Urang beach that let right out onto the sand. The Pacific waves were very choppy. The continental shelf is not far from the edge of the beach and it is not safe to go swimming because of the huge sharks. They say you don’t have to worry about shark bites because they will swallow you whole. Some of the jelly fish will also give you bad stings, as if you’ve been stung by a wasp. People don’t go swimming there much, but will wade in knee deep to fish. To go swimming, you go to a river that is dumping into the ocean. It is a little cooler than the ocean’s temperatures, but it is pure and refreshing. The water is rain water that is so pure it is just like distilled water. We went swimming at Eli’s beach.

Airplanes have the right of way and it is best to know the tidal times so you can travel at low tide. We had lunch at Happy Valley and then to the wreck of the Maheno, which is sunken into the sand and it rotten. It beached in 1935 and is just a shell now. The people stripped it of all its valuable furnishings: pots and pans, artwork, seats, and anything on interest and they have used it in their own homes. Up until 1990, couples used to get married in the grand ballroom, but now the ship has sunken so deep that only the top of the ship is visible.

The unit in which I am staying is part of a town-house like complex that has views of the bay. The bay is very still because the island breaks up the waves. The temperatures are warmer and the sunsets are so peaceful. I had wine, cheese and crackers at look-out point to savor the beauty of the place and the richness of life that God has given to me.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Holiday Weekend - Fraser Island

I finished my first week of retreat-giving at Xavier Catholic College at Hervey Bay. It was quite a nice start to the week. I began the retreat with an imaginative journey and the folks liked it very much. Word spread around the school and others wanted to go through the experience. I am also people to consider their theme song – the song they would want playing on the public address system as they walk into an auditorium to announce them. Folks are still pondering which song best represents them and they are giving in some good reflective thought.

The week became very full with various people to see. I even happened upon a young student who created some trouble in the school. Once he was able to tell the story of what he did, all his fears came out and the poor boy broke down in tears. I’m hoping that he is feeling better because of our chat. I’ve enjoyed meeting the students and talking with them. I laugh because they think I have an accent.

The staff and faculty of the school have been very generous in looking after me. I’ve been out with dinner or a beer with a few. They just are so receptive to what the Jesuits can bring them in the spiritual life.

We have another holiday on Monday. This weekend I am taking off for Fraser Island – the largest sand island in the world. It is the whale watching capital of the world. I will be glad to attend the Catholic Church on Sunday and then head to the island. My next week is very full with appointments and then we’ll have a liturgy for the Mother’s Club on Friday. The walking here is great. I generally walk 8 kilometers a day. The Lorikeets are amazing. They are such beautiful birds and the come around in the dawn and dusk – right outside my bedroom. I do not need an alarm clock, but when something scares them at night it is like being in an Alfred Hitchcock movie.

Hervey Bay is lined with neat restaurants. Most are al fresco and two of the best ones are very near to my house – Hoolihans and Black Dog. I ate a Peppers the first day, but their twin café, Salt, is a cool place to hang out. The Indian and Bri food is awesome around here. Other cafes for seafood, coffee and ice cream are great. Bon appétit.