© 2012; 2006 Connecting: Solo Travel Network & Lisa Fischler. Information
Note: This article is reproduced here for inspirational value alone and will not normally be updated.
Therefore, all facts, figures, and author's opinions are subject to change as time goes on.

Turtles Ahoy! – Australia Adventure – A Solo Travel Report

Text & Photo By Lisa Fischler

When I informed friends, colleagues, and family members that I was planning an adventure in Australia, I heard the same comments from just about everyone.

"Wow! I'm jealous!" and/or "By yourself? You must be brave!"

Brave? Me? I had already traveled solo to other overseas destinations and managed navigating unfamiliar airports and cities by myself. I had experienced and dealt with annoying episodes of lost luggage, deactivated hotel room cards, missed or cancelled flights, and puzzling local behavior. None of that, I thought, had called for much bravery on my part.

But this trip did have a couple of twists that made me a tad nervous. I'd be camping out on a remote island without restaurants, hotels, or grocery stores, not even running water – quite a different vacation experience for me. Also, the chances were good that I'd be messing around with large, wild turtles weighing hundreds of pounds – definitely a disconcerting feature.

Volunteer Tourism

Australia's natural beauty and wildlife was an irresistible draw, and I wanted to interact with its unique environment far from the tourist trails. Rik and Lisa with Hawksbill Turtle So, I joined an Earthwatch expedition to volunteer on a research project focused on endangered hawksbill turtles.

Hunted for their beautiful shells (what "tortoiseshell" is made from) and caught up in a cycle of over-fishing, increasing water temperature, and pollution, these magnificent marine creatures are becoming increasingly rare around the world.

Here was an opportunity to encounter them firsthand while visiting the Great Barrier Reef, one of the great natural wonders of the world, but yes, I was nervous. Would I adapt? Would I enjoy myself?

Camping Tenderfoot

I had never actually slept on the ground. I'd never gone without a shower for more than one day. There would be no pay phone or Internet cafe for contacting friends and family, just a satellite hookup for emergencies.

Soon after signing up, I received a lengthy "expedition briefing" from head researcher Ian Bell covering all aspects of the project, including photos and recommended readings along with informing tidbits – such as how to use the shoreline as a makeshift bathroom.

All these points played on my mind as I arrived in Cairns – the meeting point for researchers and volunteers – and checked- in at the rendezvous hotel. Aside from a bit of shopping and touring, I spent my time anxiously anticipating the adventure ahead.

Volunteers Aged 20s to 50s

The first day of the project was hectic. I met the other four American volunteers, three women and one man, ranging in age from early 20s to late 50s. Emily and Heather were high school teachers, Rik an elementary school principal, and Meg a fund-raiser for a private school.

After loading our living and scientific equipment onto the boat, we gathered on deck to take a "before" photo of ourselves, then we settled in for the long and bumpy ride to our new home on Ingram Island, seasickness medication well in hand.

Naturally, we got to talking, comparing itineraries, luggage, and travel experiences. It turned out I was not the only one who had never pitched a tent before. I was thrilled that I was one of four women out of the group of ten. We ended up pitching our tents together in a little wind shelter that we joked was "prime real estate" – close to the "ladies' beach."

Being an Earthwatch volunteer is all about on-the-job learning. I spent the next two weeks whizzing around the reef on small boats with the researchers and other volunteers, finding turtles and helping to catch, measure, tag, and weigh them.

Turtles may have the reputation of being slow, but amazingly, these critters often out-swam the boat. During free time, I wrote and drew in my journal, exchanged language lessons with Bevan and Gresham, two aboriginal boys on the project, took long walks around the island, and snorkeled among colorful coral and fish in the turquoise waters.

I learned how to calm a frantically flapping turtle (press down firmly on its neck), how to wash my clothes in sea water, how to start a fire, and, thanks to Emily, even how to cook a delicious meal for ten people.

In retrospect, I do believe I extended my bravery boundaries quite a bit with help from the experts and fellow learners who supported me the entire way.

LF

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