(Skydiving and Christmas sailing)
20.12.2011 - 26.12.2011 36 °C
Airle Beach - Day 1
Arriving at Airlie Beach at 9:15 am after a 12 hour + overnight coach journey was such a relief. The place had a really good vibe about it, it was sunny and there was a nice little beach right where the coach dropped us off. We knew the people were friendly when a cook from a nearby cafe kept running 100 metres to the beach to shout at people to get out of the water because of the stingers*.
- It is currently Jelly Fish Season - AKA Stingers - in this part of Australia and there are 2 major killers. One is the Box Jelly fish which has 2 metre long tentacles that will leave horrendous burn type scars and can send you into toxic shock. The other is the Irukandji which can be the size of a contact lense and doesn't burn but will fire it's stingers into you and causes Irukandji syndrome. This can kill and will create from 24 hours to 2 weeks of severe pain if untreated.
So not thinking a dip in the cool water was advisable we grabbed a tasty full english breakfast from the helpful cook and waited until the time to meet our new couch surfing host Jane. Some how at this point (it must have been the madness from lack of sleep) I decided it seemed like a really good idea to book a sky dive for tomorrow morning!
After booking my impending 45 seconds of terror at 12,000 feet, we made our way to her surgery (she is a local doctor) and waited in the nice air conditioned room for her to finish with her patients. The door opened and a young smiley blonde Dr. Jane bounced across the room introducing herself and asking how the trip went. Se took us to her 4x4 and explained the house was only a little way away but in the heat and with the bags we would use the car.
The apartment was beautiful and on the top (3rd) floor of a nearby building. It looks like a fairly new building and the view was over the whole of Airlie Beach and was stunning.
Yet again we have a fantastic place and an amazing host, we have been incredibly lucky in Australia! We we were so tired from the lack of sleep on the coach we went to the local market just to get supplies but did find a didgerydoo shop and have an impromptu lesson on the way! I got a few noises out which sounded similar to how it should and Jayne did manage slightly more than a fart noise, so that was progress!
Back at Dr. Janes we cooked spag bol and drank red wine while we got to know each other a little better. Even with the short time together we realised straight away that Dr. Jane was a very interesting and fun person to be around. It was going to be a fun few days in Airle Beach!
I slept suprisingly well considering my inevitable fall from the heavens but once awake the excitement started to build. I say excitement, it was kind of a sense of impending doom mixed with excitement. I tried to skype my mum to let her know what I was about to do but after a few failed attempts called my friend Guru from Norway instead as I felt I had to tell someone I loved them before I set off and Jayne was out running!
I very light breakfast for fear of seeing it again shortly and then we trotted off to the agreed bus pick up point to take us to the airfiled
There was only 2 other people doing the jump that morning, a blonde French girl and a guy from Essex. She was a jump virgin like myself and the other guy had done a few before but was still terrified of what lay ahead.
Arriving at the airfield there was the customary 'signing your life away' forms to fill in which did little to help with comments like 'Sky diving is dangerous and accidents can and often do happen' ... Gulp!
Then the safety briefing which was all too brief, before popping on some fetching red trousers and stepping into the suprisingly comfortable harness.
My tandem partner was called Marco and was a very crazy little italian dude. We walked to the plane and did a few more run throughs of the procedures for falling out and then hopped in to the plane.
It was a fairly small plane, just enough room for the 6 of us and the pilot. We all sat on the floor imbetween each others legs while our instructors attached themselves to our backs. The plane span around and lined up with the runway and we were off. Watching the ground slowly fall away with the defeaning noise of the little engine at full throttle was a surreal experience. The windows on the plane were very low so even sat on the floor we could stare out and see the beauty of the whitsunday islands below us.
As we climbed higher and higher we shouted comments to each other about how terrified we were and how much fun it was going to be. At one point I said to my instructor I didnt know what the hell I was doing there and he replied 'Neither do I, I don't even remember which cord to pull!' - to which I laughed nervously praying to god he was joking!
The clouds were now way below us and the tension started to build in the plane as the pilot shouted out '2 miles'. The door slid open and the wind and noise hit us all in the faces like standing behind a jet plane at take off. My heart started to pound so hard I thought I was going to have a heart attack as the instructor tightened all the straps and whooped with excitement.
As we were the first on the plane we were going to be last off so I sat and watched as the terrified and visibly shaking blonde girl got shuffled to the door and then with a shout from the pilot of 'WE HAVE CLEARANCE' dissapeared in the blink of an eye. It was like they were never there! The next two quickly shuffled to the edge and I blinked and they were gone, sucked away into the sky. Was it really my turn next? 'GO GO GO' shouted M*** in my ear as we shuffled along to the edge and as my feet began to dangle over the edge he hollared 'READY FOR SOME FUN? LETS GO!!".
It happened in an instant, suddenly I was falling. The noise from the plane drifting further away replaced by the noise from the wind whistling past my ears as we accelerated up to approx 120mph.
My stomach felt like it was still on the plane but slowly began to catch up with the rest of my body. After 15 seconds we had hit 120mph and the feeling of falling slowly stopped, now I was flying! I looked around as the world seemed to just hang in the distance, the view was unbelieveable. After 30 seconds I started to feel comfortable, smiling, laughing and whooping with enjoyment and the addrenaling pumping through my body.
45 seconds and it was as if my mind started to realise what was happening, I was falling to earth at 120mph and a wave of fear started to creep over me again as I hoped the parachute would work first time.
55 seconds and we shot through a cloud which was noticeably cold and water droplets formed quickly on my goggles.
60 Seconds and a slight jerk on my back as the parachute started to open. It seemed to take forever fluttering in the wind and slowly unfurling until BOOM a huge pull on my back like you had attached me to a car going in the opposite direction. Phew. Relief and excitement was the feeling again as we slowly drifted out of the cloud and I could see the fields below us starting to slowly fill my vision.
We drifted around for quite some time and he did a few diving spins for a laugh and even let me stear the chute towards the landing zone. At one point he realeased a couple of straps to ease the pressure of me against him which made me drop an inch or two - wont tell you what went through my mind in that instant!
He lined us up in the field for the final approach and as we drifted to within a few feet shouted for me to lift my legs up for him to make the landing safetly. We bumped gently onto our bums and I sat there, not quite sure what I had just done with the biggest smile on my face I have ever felt.
Back in the van we laughed and joked about our experience with each other as we made our way back to the airfield. They said it would take 20 mins to prepare the video and pictures so Jayne and me headed to the cafe next door for a well deserved pint and a sandwhich.
After collecting the video the bus dropped us off at the main road and we headed to the Lagoon to sit and chill in the cool waters. I sat there most the afternoon staring up at the clouds in a kind of daze, never quite able to comprehend where I had just been and what I had achieved. What an awesome way to start the day!
Several hours of daydreaming later we made our way back to Dr. Janes to meet some of her close friends for an early Xmas party at the house. Lots of food, drink and drunken singing and chats later we finally made it to bed (not before someone threw up over the balcony!).
I was exhausted but couldn't sleep as I replayed the events of the day over and over in my head with sheer disbelief that it was actually me.
Ater the excitement of yesterday we thought a walk through the Australian bush would be relaxing so set off to find the start of a 27km walking track. It turned out that our map was completely wrong and after over an hour trying to find the start of the walk we were covered in sweat and not in much of a mood to continue. Eventually we found the start and just did 1.5km in before turning back and heading to the lagoon again. It was over 35 degrees and the humidity was ridiculous so we chilled out there before doing a spot of shopping where I bought Jayne another replacement engagement ring (the last cheap one from NZ had died). This one was a fire opal set in silver and was a lot better quality and a fitting xmas pressie. We also took out a 3 day gym pass to try and give us some motivation to keep fit. The first class we liked the look of was 3 hours of Mixed Martial Arts conditioning and training so we signed up for that this evening. 3 hours of throwing each other to the floor, lifting weights and shrimping (escape technique) we headed home exhausted and went straight to bed.
Day 4 XMAS EVE
Walked to the next harbour to board our home for Christmas, The British Defender. It is an old racing Maxi sailing yaught that came 13th in a huge race in 1990. Stopped off in a bottle shop for the Christmas booze which consisted of 30 cans of Tooheys Beer and 2 Gooners (the nickname in oz for boxed wine).
We all boarded the boat (28 of us in total not including the 3 crew) and made our way out of the harbour. The sail can be raised quickly using 3 cranks in the middle of the boat which need 2 people per crank.
We voluntered to help and cranked up the sail so that we could sail out to the island destination. The boat was at a 45 degree angle as we sliced through the waves with us on the high side dangling our legs from the deck high above the waves.
Just before reaching our first island the crew stopped the boat as there was a great snorkelling bay nearby. The risk of stingers is still quite high in this area so it was compulsory to wear a stinger suit. This resembles a very thin wetsuit and although does not cover feet, hands or face it protects 90% of you from the deadly little jellies.
Dan used the small motor boat to take us to the snorkeling area over the coral and we all hopped in to see the fabled barrier reef.
To be honest it was a bit of a dissapointment after the bright fresh coral of Fiji but it was still beautiful. Lots of types of coral and bright coloured fish wizzing about just inches from us. A bright purple fish the size of my hand started trying to head but my mask which made me laugh and was most amusing. The worst thing about it was the flies. They have horse flies here the size of 10pence pieces and there were hundreds of them. Unfortunately we didnt realise that this time of the year was in the middle of the 4 weeks where they breed and the females drink human blood to feed the young. They bit the top of my head more times than I can remember and it feels like someone pinching you hard or stabbing you with a very small needle. They also managed to bite me through the stinger suit and that was really annoying. After being eaten alive for 15 mins I waved at Dan to pick me up and take me back to the ship. Jayne stayed in a bit longer (I guess the more hair on her head protected her a bit better!).
The girl on the ship Laura cooked chopped and peeled just about every minute of the day and fed us with beautiful food throughout the whole day. Bowls of Chilli Nacho's, Fresh fruit and Thai chicken with rice and fresh salad. With our bellies full from the day of constant eating we all sat on the boat playing drinking games like 'I Love my Piggy' and 'Eat my Box'. When the drinking games were over Jayne, Martijn, Beer (his girlfriend) and myself led on the deck gazing at the stars and drinking. Jayne saw her first ever shooting star and too many satellites than we could count. After hours of star gazing we all crawled down stairs to our double bed to grab some kip. The night was awful if i'm truthful. The boat gently rocking was not the problem but the heat was unbearable. It was like sleeping in a coffin with the roof 2 inches from your mouth in 40 degree heat. Seconds after laying down we were dripping in sweat and feeling very claustrophobic. The night was a very long one and between us we only grabbed a few hours of uncomfortable sleep and were glad when it was time to get up (although the flies had also decided to wake up!).
DAY 5 XMAS DAY
Sat on deck eating breakfast while the crew played xmas songs through the stereo. It was a beautiful morning and no sleep aside, a beautiful day yesterday. The plan for the day was to sail to White Haven beach which is a beautiful island with pure white beaches to chill out for the morning before heading to a resort for some snorkelling in the afternoon.
When we arrived at the island it was seriously hot and the flies were out in force. I have never seen so many flies so hungry for human flesh! Walking through the forest was painful (literally) with the swarms of flies trying to eat us alive but once on the beach they eased off. The island was amazingly beautiful and laying on the beach with its pure white sand was the best white christmas ever!
I sat listening to xmas songs on the ipod for a while and we played frizbee and built a 'sandman' (luckily only a few flies ventured this far up the beach so it was quite relaxing).
Morning over it was time to head back through the fly infested forest to the point where the boat would pick us up and take us back to the British Defender. Standing on the beach waiting for Dan to bring the boat it was hilarious watching all 28 people flailing their arms around and doing various silly walks trying to avoid being bitten by the ravenous swarms!
Back on the ship we set sail for barefoot resort
for an afternoon of drinks and swimming without stinger suits (which would be a treat). Stopping off only for another brief snorkle where Jayne swam with a giant turtle(!) it wasnt long before we arrived at the resort.
It was a real treat to swim in their pool without the horrible suits on and we frolicked around with pool noodles and drank a few sangria's to the sound of xmas songs being played by the bar.
We were back on board again for our lovely evening meal and the captain decided to stay moored here for the night as it was a beautiful spot and no sign of the pesky flies. Everyone was too tired from lack of sleep and excessive alcohol the night before to get drunk, so me and Jayne cuddled up on the emergency raft on the front of the boat with a blanket and a pillow and fell asleep watching the stars drift by.
I awoke just before the sun at 5:30 am and sat there watching it rise up over the islands. I was the only person on deck and it was a very serene and wonderful experience watching the light appear over the hills as the waves tapped gently against the hull.
DAY 6 Boxing day
After breakfast we headed out to 1 more spot for a final snorkle. I stayed on board and chilled out in the baking hot sun whilst watching most of the passengers floating quietly above the coral.
The trip back to the mainland was a sad one, everyone had got on brilliantly and had an amazing experience. No one wanted to go back to Airlie Beach. The crew decided to make a GoonaColada out of the remaining wine and fruit which we all used to drown our sadness that we were heading home and have a final sun bake.
Off the boat we headed for the lagoon in town to try and chill out in the water as it was ridiculously hot. Sitting in the lagoon playing frizbee with our new friends was a great way to end the trip.
Too much sun was getting the better of us so we decided to head back to Dr. Janes for a shower and a snooze. It was nice to see Dr Jane again and we realised just how much we had missed her. She had arranged to have a few friends over so we had a snooze and wobbly shower (everything was still moving from the boat, we hadn't got our land legs back yet) and then headed into a bar in town called 'Beaches' for the after party.
It was great to see our new friends again and much beer and laughter was shared recounting funny aspects of the trip and our crews funny habits (like Dans fairground party voice!) before we decided to call it a night and head back to Dr Janes for a well deserved full nights sleep.
Planning day!! Had to plan for New Years now that the excitement of Xmas was over. Sad to see our new dutch friends move on we decided it was time for us to also make new plans and head further north. Various coaches and accommodation were now booked ready for new years so after a quick gym session and a massive tropical storm!! - we had a nice early meal with Dr Jane. It will be sad to move on but we have started to learn that each new place brings new friends and adventures so there is always something good to look forward to.