I first arrived in Sydney, Australia, where I spent three days adjusting to the 17 hour time difference and exploring the most iconic city of Australia. Like your typical tourist, I went to the Sydney Opera House, took surf lessons at Manly Beach, and went to a rugby game.
We soon packed up our bags and flew out to the literal middle of nowhere— the Outback. I fulfilled my dreams of seeing kangaroos and wallabies but also all of my nightmares of seeing venomous snakes and lethal spiders. The Outback was so unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, with red sand, giant red rock mountains, and flora dating back to the dinosaur ages. I felt like Bear Grylls, living off the land, with zero running water or any contact with human society.
After a week of being homeless in the Outback, we finally returned to civilization in Cairns… the city where I fell in love for the first time. In Cairns, we snorkeled in the Great Barrier Reef for two days. I’ve been snorkeling before and have seen plenty of coral reefs and fish before, but nothing even comes close to the beauty of the Great Barrier Reef. It was love the moment I first jumped into the ocean. The water was nice and brisk and the current was fairly strong, but the visibility was clearer than glass. The ecosystem is thriving, despite all of the coral bleaching going on in the area. After my first swim, I become obsessed. It is like a whole new world to me and I want to know everything about it. After I get back onto the boat after that first dive, I decide I want to see a shark. I pray and pray to see one and start to lose hope after not seeing any at our next few sights….
My mouth is blue and chattering, and I’m ready to call it a day, but the ocean somehow lures me back in. After the initial shock of the cold water hits, I open my eyes to see the rainbow of the Great Barrier Reef and a big brownish grey blob, hovering over the sandy ocean floor.
Excited, I dive down closer to see if it is real. It has a spotted back, and a long tail. It seems... peaceful.
I surface to meet my group leaders and point downwards. He looks for a few seconds before saying, “It’s a zebra shark. Don’t worry, it’s not aggressive.” Wanting to see a shark all day, I let my curiosity take over and I dive right back in to see it.
High on adrenaline, I work up the courage to go right next to the shark, slowly reach my hand out, and stroke its spotted back. The shark seems unfazed. I, however, explode with excitement on the inside, thinking, “These so-called dangerous creatures aren’t scary at all!”
The fun doesn’t end there. After the Great Barrier Reef, we road trip up to the Daintree Rainforest. My nightmare of lethal snakes and spiders returns, but is compensated by the lush rainforest. I hug a koala, feed some kangaroos, and go zip-lining through the forest. While zip-lining, I bond with the boy working at the place (okay, I might’ve fell in love with him too) and get the local’s scoop on life in Australia. We meet a few days later and he does a performance us, spinning fire… it was… fire. #lit.
You don’t truly know what fear is until you see your entire life flash before your eyes. Your heart drops to your toes, and thousands of thoughts race through your mind, yet you feel numb. Yeah, we all get scared sometimes, but I never felt as if my life would be ripped out of my body in mere seconds until I woke up next to a ravishing beast...
Rewind five hours back... I snuggle into my sleeping bag, under the clear Australian Outback sky, gazing into the vivid milky way, dancing above my head. I’m living with no shelter— not even a tent— in the Outback for one week, with nothing but a sleeping bag and a water-resistant layer to protect me from Australia’s most dangerous creatures. I lay there, next to the fire as it slowly fizzles out, and let my thoughts consume my mind before I’m immersed in a deep slumber.
In the middle of the night, I start to hear howls... scratch that... shrieks of destruction and death. I shake it off, not thinking much of it, and try to go back to sleep; but the shrieks get louder and louder. I urge my eyes shut and force my self to sleep... it was the only way to escape from the murderous screams echoing around me. Finally I relax as five minuets pass by in silence. Beautiful silence. I let out a breath that I didn’t realize I held in and thought I had just imagined everything. That is until I heard a few twigs snap and the sound of feet hitting the sandy dirt just feet away from me. Paralysis spread throughout my body and I dare not look behind me. My body goes against every single thought in my mind and turns over to see it. It starts growling— as if a reaction to my movement. It attacks the plastic bin that contains the entirety of our food supply. The distinct noise of plastic cracking rings through my ear. I watch it’s silhouette as it ferociously shreds through the cardboard boxes. I want to scream, cry, run- away, and fight it off all at the same time. Instead, I instinctively cradle myself into a ball at the bottom of my sleeping bag and silently repeat: “THIS IS A DREAM; YOU ARE SLEEPING.” The howls start back up again, and I know for sure this is not a dream and I am very well awake. I continue to lie to myself until I am actually asleep and detached from reality in dreamland.
I wake up when the sunrises to the camp instructor saying: “Sorry everyone! Looks like some hungry dingo got into the food supply last night and ate our breakfast!” Later that day, I go to take a shower in the campground facilities and see a poster that reads: “PROTECT YOUR LOVED ONES. THE DINGOS WILL GET ‘EM!” followed by a ten step process of what to do when encountering a dingo. If only I saw that a few hours earlier...
Besides love, fear is the most powerful emotion. It triggers the “fight-or-flight” reaction in our brains and how you react determines who you are beyond rationality. I chose to hide and escape like a coward, but underlying that fear was the initial courage to sleep out in the open, exposed to the Australia’s notoriously lethal animals. I live for the adventure, seek the adrenaline rush, and obsess over “near-death-experiences.” Although I was terrified for my life, I learned that sometimes the best thing you can do is nothing— just sit there and let life play out before your eyes.
My experience in Australia was one I will truly never forget. I fell in love with the ocean, nearly died, and met a boy who plays with fire. I can’t wait to go back and make more memories in Australia, but for now, Australia has my heart.
Key Largo, Florida, United States