Monday, 25 April 2011

North Queensland

Wow! What a couple of weeks it’s been. On Monday afternoon I and a couple of other people joined a tour that had been making its way up the east coast. From the hostel we went down to the harbour and got onto a racing Yacht for our sail around the Whitsunday Islands. It was a little strange for me and my fellow travellers, because we were joining a tour that had already been going for over a week. Fortunately the four others who joined with me were really lovely people, so I hung around with them for most of the time. The rest of the group was pretty good too, but it was a little large, so very hard to really get to know everybody.

We started our sailing trip with a sunset sail out to Heyman Island, which was absolutely incredible. The sky was absolutely clear, so we got a beautiful red sunset over the ocean. Once the sun was down we had an absolutely incredible view of the stars. So good, in fact, that I decided to sleep out in deck that evening. Unfortunately it was actually pretty cold at night and very uncomfortable.

The next morning we went for a snorkel just off Heyman Island. There were hundreds of fish and some beautiful reef. I just wish I’d been diving down there, rather than snorkelling. It was a great taster for the diving I was going to be doing a little later in my trip. After snorkelling, we went out to Whitehaven beach, which absolutely deserves the label of the best beach in the world. The water was crystal clear and beautifully warm, the sand was pristine white. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. After leaving paradise, we went for another sunset sail back towards the harbour, which was even more beautiful that the first. We anchored up for the night before sailing into port the next morning.

The weather for the sail was absolutely perfect; warm and sunny, without being unbearable. There wasn’t much wind, which meant we didn’t do too much sailing and were using the motor most of the time. The boat was a world championship winning sailing yacht, so there wasn’t a lot of room or luxury, but it was a really interesting experience and you soon got used to it.

After we got off the boat, we got onto the bus and drove pretty much all day to get to Cairns, with only a short stop for lunch in Townsville and a couple of other little stops.

On Thursday we had a free day in Cairns, with a bunch of optional activities to choose from. I decided to go White Water Rafting on the Tully River, which was great fun. The Tully is supposed to be one of the best places in Australia to go rafting and it really lived up to its reputation. I’d never actually done any white water rafting before then, but having done it, I’d love to do more.

Friday was the last day of the tour and we went up to Kuranda to the Koala sanctuary up there. We got to hold a Koala and have a photo taken with it, and feed some kangaroos. It was a really lovely way to end the tour, especially in the rainforest setting. We came back down to Cairns in the afternoon and said goodbye to the tour guides and all went out for a meal in the evening to say goodbye to everybody. All in all a really good tour and a great way to start my trip.

After a relaxing day in Cairns on Saturday I went up to Cape Tribulation for two days. On the first day we went to a wildlife sanctuary and saw some hundred of birds, and with some crocs and a few other things. Then we went for a boardwalk in the Rainforest, which was really beautiful. We saw some of the local wildlife, like a Southern Cassowary, which is very rare in the wild, as well as some beautiful butterflies. I then actually left that particular tour at lunch time and had the afternoon pretty much to myself in Cape Trib. A had a really relaxing few hours by the pool winding down. I wanted to do a guided night walk around the rainforest, but they were all booked up, unfortunately.

On Monday morning I went ‘Rainforest Surfing’, where you fly through the canopy on zip wires. It was a really interesting way of seeing the rainforest from a completely new angle. It was also a nice little adrenaline rush, especially when I was flying upside down! I was picked up after lunch and rejoined the tour back to Cairns. We went down to Cape Tribulation beach, which is the only place in the world where two World Heritage Listed Areas (The Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest) meet. It wasn’t quite Whitehaven Beach, but it was pretty impressive. We then went Croc spotting up the Daintree River. We saw four crocs, but it wasn’t as good croc spotting in Northern Territory.

Then it was back to Cairns again. Tuesday was another quiet one before my Diving trip.

Early on Wednesday morning I got on a boat to go diving on the Great Barrier Reef. After a very turbulent two hours to get out there, we arrived at out first dive site. Because we were doing eleven dives over three days, we got into the water as soon as possible and got diving. The first dive was a little tricky for me, because I’d not been diving in quite a while, so it took some time to get back into it. Fortunately, by the second dive I’d managed to get the hang of it again, so the rest of the diving that day was much more fun! Each dive took between forty minutes and an hour, depending on depth and air consumption, so overall I had eight or nine hours diving! The first day was intense, given that we were doing four dives. Basically we would get out of the water, eat, have a short break, then get back in! In the evening I did my first ever night dive, which was a really interesting and surreal experience.

Thursday was a little less intense, but even so it went a little like this: wake up, dive, breakfast, dive, lunch, dive, dinner, dive. Exhausting! We had a little bit of free time between dives, which was usually spend resting, relaxing, playing cards and generally try to do as little as possible!

Friday was the last day of diving, so we only did three dives before heading back to shore. I then had a relaxing afternoon in which I almost went to sleep, I was that exhausted! That evening we all went out to a local pub for a meal and a drink to celebrate the end of our diving trip.

The diving on the reef was truly incredible! There were simply hundreds of fish, including some very beautiful butterfly fish, some hilariously ugly Parrot fish and some other truly bizarre varieties. Over the three days I swam with turtles and sharks, found Nemo a couple of times and generally had a great time! I hired an underwater camera for the three days and tried to take some photos. It’s very hard to take good photos underwater because the lighting is very different from the surface. Even so I think I got some decent ones. I also took a fair bit of video, which probably came out a little better.

To round of my stay in Cairns I did a 50 meter bungee jump on Saturday, which was incredibly scary, but a lot of fun! I flew back to Sydney yesterday morning at about six. I met with a friend from school who’s also doing a GAP year. He’s been in New Zealand, but came over to Sydney for a holiday. I am meeting with another friend who’s living out here for a couple of months later today as well, so the next couple of days should be good fun. I’m travelling back to Orange on Wednesday, for work to start on Thursday. After such a great couple of weeks, I’m not at all looking forward to going back to work! I’m not sure these two weeks have done anything but tire me out even more, so I expect that these first few weeks will be a little tough!

Sunday, 10 April 2011


Ok, short blog post this week. Two things to cover: firstly, I’m sorry to say that last week’s historical account of April Fool’s Day was, in fact, an April Fool. Shocking, I know. Sorry for misleading you all. Actually, scratch that, I’m not sorry at all; making up all that stuff and making it sound realistic (if a little far-fetched some of the time) was great fun. I had considered announcing my retirement from this blog as an April Fool, but I decided that was a step too far. I think this one was a far more inventive prank anyway.

So, yeah, all that stuff about Loki, Court Jesters, Pope Alexander IV, Oliver Cromwell, and Thomas Jefferson: Bullshit. Couldn’t you tell?

Secondly, it is highly improbably that there will be a blog post next week, because I’m going travelling again, sorry. This little hiatus will not be anywhere near as long as that unplanned Christmas one. It should only be next week. The week after might be a little late as well, but there should be a blog up at some point in two week’s time.

I don’t have anything substantial this week because I’m actually already on holiday. How dedicated is that? Now I’m gonna go for a swim in the pool, see you all in two week’s time!

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Aril Fool's Day (Lessons from History 8)

Every year, on the first of April, news media, public places, the internet and pretty much everyone else decides to play pranks on one another. Fake news stories are circulated; people announce films, books and TV series that will never happen; people try to get away with the most outrageous lies they can think of. Generally fun times. The whole thing seems a little bit random and really rather strange. I mean, why have a whole morning, and why just a morning, dedicated to pulling pranks on one another? As usual, such rituals have some kind of historical context from which they are now far removed, so I decided to do a little digging into the origins of this world-wide day of pranking, being a budding historian with far too much time on my hands, and all.

As you might expect, this event is predominantly Greco-Roman in origin, as with everything else. In fact it’s probably a left over from the Hilaria Festival, which was the celebration of the vernal equinox. These were generally days of celebration and happiness, with a fair amount of alcohol and food consumed. There seems to be no mention of the pranking element of the whole thing until much later.

As the Roman Empire came into contact with Celtic and Scandinavian tribes, cross pollination from the Norse tradition brought the influences of some of the Norse gods and rituals into the Roman world. One god in particular made his presence known. The closest the Greco-Roman tradition has to a Loki figure is Dionysus, but he is hardly the happy-go-lucky prankster that Loki is. Given the link to Dionysus, along with a Norse Tradition that Loki had more power at the time of the Equinoxes, Loki slipped most comfortably into the Hilaria festival. During the late Empire, a tradition of honouring this Norse God by pranking friends and family, causing mischief and generally having a bit of a laugh developed.

Of course, as the Catholic Church became established, the Hilaria festival became absorbed into the cannon, taking on the trappings of the Lent tradition. Loki also managed to slip in the back door and the pranking continued. It did loose some of the context, however, given that Lent became much less about celebrating and much more about sacrifice. The tradition of pranking people in late March, early April faltered and died in much of Europe.

However the Viking invasion of England reintroduced Loki and his pranksters, and the tradition continued to be strong in England, even as it faltered in the rest of Europe. Indeed as Saxon England flourished, as did the custom of having a jester perform at parties and special occasions. Inevitably they latched onto this tradition and fixed the first of April as the day in which they would really go to town. Chroniclers tell of some really rather spectacular and dangerous pranks and stunts, some of which so enraged the jester’s master that he had the jester executed for treason.

Despite the odd mishap, the tradition flourished and, with the Norman Invasion, spread back to Europe. Through the early Middle Ages the tradition became so popular and out of hand that the Church actually tried to ban the practice of mass pranks in early April in 1257. A petition from a number of prominent court jesters, backed by some influential Lords who quite enjoyed the practice, forced the Papal hand in revoking his decree. However Pope Alexander IV did succeed in containing the practice to the morning of the first of April, rather than the several days over which the practice had spread over the previous several hundred years.

For many years, April Fool’s Day progressed much as it does now, largely lead by the ever popular court jester. Of course it still got out of hand occasionally and jesters were executed for their indiscretions. The only break in this long tradition came in England’s short adventure into Puritanism, after the English Civil war, when Lord Cromwell banned the practice, along with almost everything else that was fun. Fortunately William of Orange saw to the reinstating of April Fool’s Day, along with everything else. Given that Cromwell’s declaration actually happened on the 1st of April 1654, some conspiracy theorists have stipulated that the entire Commonwealth and Cromwell’s Lord Protectorship was one big April Fool’s Day prank, however it is more likely just an uncharacteristic attack of irony from Mr Cromwell.

Given the Puritanism under which the USA was established, it should come as no surprise that April Fool’s Day come late to those shores, however Thomas Jefferson argued passionately that ‘the pursuit of happiness’ not only justified, but openly encouraged the tradition of April Fool’s Day, so the practice was adopted and soon flourished in the New World.

Ever since Loki first danced his way into the Roman tradition, then over into England on a Viking longship, April Fool’s Day had been a long and established tradition in England. Popes and Puritans have tried to ban it, but it still remains, strong and cheeky as ever. So keep pranking, people. Every first of April, remember those brave jesters who fought oppression and death in order to preserve your right to lie between your teeth about stuff in the hope that some gullible idiot will believe you.