(Brace yourself... this is going to be a long one.)
When you are single and female and live in PNG, you can't just travel around wherever you like or whenever you want. To go on any sort of trip away from the mission station, you must either... A) find a travel buddy and/or entire security escort, or B) leave the country. My friend Becky (a.k.a. Becky 2 or B-2, not to be confused with my roomie Becky 1) and I opted for both option A and B. Last week we took our first real vacation, heading Down Under for a week of R&R and of course some fun and adventure.
Early Thursday morning, Gail drove us to the Mt. Hagen Airport where we boarded a plane and flew out of the bush for the first time in more than 8 months. The layover in Port Moresby was several hours, so we enjoyed lunch at the beautiful Airways Hotel. Wow, is this really PNG? If you ever have an extended layover in POM, be sure to stop by the Airways. An afternoon flight on a twin prop plane took us across the sea and to Cairns, Australia. It was my first time in that country and on that continent! I love adding to my country list. Next stop Africa? We caught a taxi to the Tree Tops Lodge where we stayed for the next week. Tree Tops is an amazing place and a wonderful ministry. It is sort of a mission guest house run by SIL-Wycliffe and Mission Aviation Fellowship. The Lodge is currently managed by two missionary couples who were wonderfully hospitable. Room rates are really reasonable, especially for a touristy area like Cairns. Most of the guests are missionaries from PNG and the surrounding area who come to Cairns on holiday, business, or for medical care.
Friday was our first full day. We figured out the bus system and made our way downtown to do some totally normal things: shop at Target and the grocery store, eat at Burger King (or what the Aussie's call "Hungry Jack"), cruise the mall and some touristy shops, and walk along the Cairn's waterfront. The purchases we made were seemingly random but based on what we cannot find in PNG... food coloring, flea collars, measuring spoons, a watering can, karo syrup, kleenexes, chocolate, and a Marilyn Monroe pot holder. I'm sure we had the "FOB" (fresh out of the bush) look as we walked around in awe of the wonders of modern civilization.
Our second day was a bit like the first. We started at the local butchers where we bought two very nice steaks for a future cook out. Becky took a picture of me at the butcher counter, and after receiving some rather odd looks we explained to the workers that good quality read meat is hard to come by where we are from. The head butcher commented, "Then why stop there (with just 2 steaks)?" Next we explored the Cairns Botanical Garden where we enjoyed some amazingly flowers and walked along a rainforest boardwalk. It was a beautiful walk and absolutely free (one of the few things that didn't cost anything). After lunch and gelato, we strolled along the Esplanade and dipped our feet into the saltwater "Lagoon." For dinner we satisfied our craving for Mexican food and enjoyed some chips and salsa and such at Montezuma's. Chips and salsa and Mexican I didn't have to make from scratch... awesomeness. And such was the end of day #2.
On Sunday we took the bus into town to go to church. Becky comes from an Assembly of God background, so we attempted but failed to find an AOG church that was listed in the guest book at the hotel. So we snuck in late to the service at a Presby church across the street from where we were looking. We missed the music but did get to hear a sermon in English! And the people were super nice. After church we made a stop at Rusty's Market and picked up a few things for dinner. Speaking of dinner, the day ended with one of our best meals of the week. Tree Tops has a deck area with a gas grill. Becky and I loaded it up with our two steaks, some onions and peppers and sweet corn on the cob from the market. We did a pretty good job considering neither of us had ever really cooked on the grill before! It was an excellent meal.
Early Monday morning we caught the first bus into town. We boarded the "Ocean Freedom" along with 30 others from all over the world. The friendly crew took us out for a day on the Great Barrier Reef. The initial boat ride took almost an hour. We reached the designated spot out in the middle of no where, suited up with snorkel gear, and jumped into the water. Peering down into the water below, it was like Finding Nemo but in real life. Incredible. We also took a ride in a glass bottom boat, our leader was a marine biologist turned tour guide. That afternoon, we boated out to a "cay" which is a sand island that appears and disappears with the tide. A true deserted island! The water was quite shallow and you could walk out for quite a few yards/meters. From the cay, we snorkeled back to the boat. The most amazing part of the entire outing... we saw several sea turtles swimming in the area. That alone was well worth the trip. It was a wonderful day except for being toasted to a crisp (despite several applications of sunscreen). Ouch!
Tuesday was another full day. Becky and I rented a car from Tree Tops and headed north about an hour, driving on the LEFT side of the road. The coastline drive was breathtaking, with miles and miles of untouched beaches. Mossman Gorge is on the edge of the Daintree National Forest; the Daintree is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If you ever do some traveling, be sure to look up the local World Heritage Sites. The Great Barrier Reef is also one if that gives you any idea of the quality of places that make the list. At the Gorge, we enjoyed a short hike and a splash in the river. Unfortunately the major part of the trail was closed for bridge repairs. Lunch was at a random gas station cafe in the blink-and-you-might-miss-it town of Mossman. The Raintree Cafe turned out to be a great find. They claim it and I agree... one of the best burgers I have ever had! From Mossman we headed a few kilometers down the road to Port Douglas. We stopped at the Rainforest Habitat, which is one of those really cool zoos where the birds fly around and animals roam free. Sort of like a super-petting zoo. Becky had her picture taken while holding a koala bear (they are sooo soft!) and we both enjoyed feeding the kangaroos and wallabies. We ended the day by walking around the once upon a time fishing village of Port Douglas. It is now a resorty tourist town. The beach was really nice.
On Wednesday we had our last big adventure of the trip. We boarded a skyrail that took us up out of Cairns and over the rainforest. It was a neat way to see the rainforest without disturbing the habitat. There were also a couple of stops along the way that allowed you to get out and walk around a bit. Our destination was the village of Kuranda, which probably exists solely for the tourists but was fun to walk around anyways. We headed back to Cairns by way of the scenic railway, which offered some lovely views of Barron Gorge and waterfall as well as the coast of Cairns.
Thursday was our final day of vacation so we took it a bit easy. Becky got her hair cut for the first time in many months. We made a last minute shopping trip so we could develop our underwater pictures and stop at K-mart. We particularly enjoyed K-mart. Since that was our last time to eat out and enjoy Cairns, we chose a nice Italian/pizza place with a view of the water... a perfect end to a perfect week.
It really was a good week: good to get away, enjoy modern civilization, eat in restaurants, shop at Target and K-mart, pamper ourselves, and forget about being a doctors for a while. But it was also good to come back home. This really is home, and it feels like it. Going away helped me to remember that, and to appreciate more what a privilege it is to live and serve here. Thank you, Lord, for that gift.
For some pics of Steph & Becky's Awesome Australia Holiday, check out my photo album.
And here are a couple of links to Becky's less wordy rendition of our outback adventures: