As human beings, we have a very important responsibility towards the other creatures with whom we share the planet, especially those that face the threat of extinction.
Among the most remarkable animal groups that live in our waters are the whales. These aquatic mammals are some of the largest and the most widespread, inhabiting all oceans. Humpback whales, for example, can be found from Japan and United States down to Australia. However, some species are targets for being kept in captivity to perform tricks in theme parks, and some are being hunted for meat. A number have been declared Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
There’s a lot that we can do to help protect whales and other marine wildlife. Here are a few of them.
Since we left the port, I never moved from my seat because if I did, I would throw up everything I had for breakfast in one forceful blow. Oh wait, I didn’t have breakfast that morning, so I’d have probably puked my soul out. Assuming, of course, that I have a soul.
Cliche as it sounds, but it wasn’t the boat. It was me.
We landed in Cairns from Sydney at around midnight, and it wasn’t until 3am that sleep was finally able to give my restless mind a visit. By 6am, despite the heavy resistance of my eyelids, I was already up. It was our first day in Cairns and the boat would leave at 8am. We just wanted ample lead time just in case we struggle to find the port. Struggling to find our destination isn’t really new to us; it’s more like the rule than the exception.
Defying expectations, we found the port and the boat almost immediately — HA! Suck it, Murphy’s Law! — only to be told that we had to check in at the terminal building on the other end of the jetty. Of course. Why the hell didn’t we think of that? And at that moment, we considered changing this blog’s name from “Poor” to “Absolutely Stupid Traveler.” But it was totally fine. We were on our way to seeing a part of the Great Barrier Reef for the first time, and nothing — you hear me, Murphy’s Law? — nothing was going to make that sunshiny day less bright.
The next thing I knew, I was in the toilet, vomiting all my pride out.
It was early morning, and the June wind carried with it a biting cold that I was not prepared for and the aroma of hot coffee from a dozen other tourists who stood next to me. We were waiting for our guide to teach us how to ride one of the camels that formed two quiet trains. Their humps painted a silhouette of a distant mountain range just before dawn.
When I think about Australian wildlife, I usually think about the many dangerous animals threatening my very existence.
Camels were not one of them.
Many times, it’s a saltwater crocodile chowing me down one limb at a time, an eastern brown snake sending me to tabloid headlines with one fatal bite, or a kangaroo disemboweling me with a sharp kick. But camels, no. Before this Outback adventure, camels won’t be the first animal to come to my mind. Scratch that, not even one of the first ten. Not because I didn’t think they were dangerous. It was mostly because up until I was up close and personal with one, I didn’t know there were camels in Australia. Shocking.
When it was my turn to speak, the Kangaroo Dundee threw me a curious look as though something about what I had to say was remotely interesting. Our group gathered around him, each having their turn at sharing who we are, like a small support group in need of guidance and direction. Now that I think about it, we kind of were.
There were a father and a son from Darwin, an old couple from England, and friends from Melbourne. “How about you, boys?” he asked. “Where are you from?”
The Philippines, I said. Shocking, apparently.
“I’ve never had anyone from the Philippines here at the sanctuary. You’re the very first ones,” he shared excitedly.
“I doubt that,” I replied with a sheepish smile. “But if it’s true, it’s our honor.”
I meant it when I said it. But I didn’t realize I would mean it much more by the time the visit was over.
I spotted a stranger walking in my direction. His smile was shining, and his eyes were fixed on me as he leisurely trod through the crowd. If there was one thing I did not expect in Darwin, it is how friendly the people are. Any local we crossed paths with would greet us a joyous “G’day.” But I did not have this realization at the time; it was only my second night in Australia.
So when this middle-age man glued his eyes on me as he walked, I just looked at him with utmost curiosity. In my head, I was rummaging for any reason why this stranger would look at me. I was a fool.
When the man passed by me, he tapped my shoulder — his smile was gone — and said, “It’s a beautiful evening. Smile, mate.” I blame my resting bitch face.
But he was right.
The boat approached a nook along the Mary River, parting the sea of lotus lilies along the way. Our driver and guide Reuben moored the boat and rose from his seat. “It’s been a wonderful afternoon; thank you for spending it with me,” he said before revealing a bottle of champagne.
It wasn’t just the afternoon that had been wonderful to us. From that first step into the AAT Kings bus down to that jump out of it at the end of the day, every single moment we had on that tour was nothing but pleasant. Kakadu had been nothing but accommodating and cooperative. She gave us most of what we visited her for: a peek at her cultural past and a closer look at her biodiversity.
Our journey began in Darwin, 171 kilometers northwest of Kakadu. Darwin is the closest major city to the national park, but it took us more than three hours to get there. Spanning over 20,000 sq. km of forests, wetlands, and savannas, it is the largest national park in Australia, about half the size of Switzerland and nearly the size of Slovenia. Because of its ecological and cultural value, the UNESCO listed it a World Heritage Site in 1981.
Here are the four highlights of our day tour around Kakadu.
There was a lot to be nervous about during the cruise.
For starters, we would be cruising down the Mary River, one of the eight Top End rivers and is known for having the world’s highest concentration of saltwater crocodiles. “There are two major species of crocs here in Kakadu: Saltwater crocodiles or salties, and freshwater crocodiles or freshies,” shares our guide Ray. “There are plenty of both in the wild.”
“How can you tell the difference?” someone from our group asked.
“Well, if it sees you and starts moving away from you, that’s a freshie. If it runs toward you, that’s a saltie.”
Our tour guide Ray called everyone to gather around a particular stick figure of a man with barbed spears and a dilly bag above a signage that says, “A Lesson in Good Behavior.”
The image is that of Mabuyu, a hunter. “He was dragging his catch on a string after a day of fishing,” Ray narrated, “when someone cut it and took the fish. He followed the culprit and waited until they have had their meal, hoping that there would still be a few fish left and that they would share them with him. There was none. That night, as the thieves slept inside a cave, he blocked it with a huge rock, trapping everyone inside it.”
On that bus, I was the only one below 40.
As I made my way to my seat, I was greeted with cheery hello’s by a bus-ful of middle aged to senior tourists, all ready to explore the wilderness. It was not my usual travel company, but it was a welcome addition to my growing list of first times here in Australia. The bus, or coach as locals call it, was bound for Litchfield National Park, 100 km southwest of Darwin, roughly an hour-and-a-half drive.
Traveling with people not my age was a breath of fresh air. As the youngest of the bunch, everyone seemed to be very protective of me. (“Watch your step, dear.“) And everyone was amused by the littlest things. (“That’s a long stick, honey.“) She was referring to the monopod. It was an enjoyable ride, needless to say.
Our Driver Guide for the day was Warren, armed with a great personality and an even greater sense of humor. How he was able to turn what could have been a snoozefest-ish drive into a humorous but highly informative journey was astonishing. He did have a lot of help from nature, though. Along the way we spotted a dingo wandering by the roadside and a wallaby trying to outrun the
bus coach. But that’s not everything this park has to offer.
It was so beautiful, I couldn’t breathe. And I mean it literally.
Our vehicle breezed through the forested slope of the crater rim, and I was reminded of how beautiful things are earned. I remember how I reached the last crater lake I set foot on: hours of trek, tens of scratches all over my limbs, a little bit of blood, and a million swearwords thrown into the air. But this is not like the last time. The road was paved, the ride short, and I comfortably seated like a boss. Not that I’m complaining.
Still, beauty is better appreciated when you move mountains to witness it. A trophy looks shinier when you make it past hurdles before hitting the finish line. We reached the entrance to the site in a matter of minutes. This is it, easy. No climbing, no sweat, no human suffering. (Human suffering talaga?!!?) There won’t be any hurdle this time, I thought.