Going Down Under

On 20th August I started the 36 hour journey to the country that I said I’d never go to.

Its the home of the worlds most deadly animals and being the scaredy cat I am, before becoming ill I had no intention of tempting fate. The animals were no longer my biggest fear, leaving my parents and travelling half way across the world was. Leaving my safe haven was what was worrying me, In my house I can move about freely I know where to hold on to and where I can let go and walk freely. So whenever I go and stay anywhere, I hate it cause I lose that freedom of getting up and going where I’d like to.

Going to Australia first came around when Pippa, Dani and I went to Italy in May. I think we were talking about who was going away again that year. Pippa mentioned that she was going back to Australia for her sister wedding in August. That’s true sisterly love as she’d already been out to see them in January. I put in a throw away comment about how I’d love to go but I’ve always been to scared. Pippa then asked if I wanted to go with her! Thinking nothing of It I said YES. She’d have to double check with her family that they’d be okay with it. The next day she told me they were all cool with it. Now it was my turn to ask my family.

Before I even asked my parents I asked my sister if it was okay. Australia had always been her dream, whereas America had been mine. Obviously, she said yes but there was one condition…. I had to bring her a tooth back. Long story short, when I came back from America I bought her a sharks tooth and she wears it everyday round her ankle (I know it sounds horrific but it surprisingly suits her). Now for the parents!

I can’t even try and describe the amount of trust that I have in Pippa, outside of my family she’s the only one I’d trust to take me across the world and bring me back in one piece. The most important trust she has gotten is that of my parents. Pippa and I met through Explorer’s at the age of 14. We hit it off straight away and just bounced off each other. We’ve been away to Explorer camps together. Have so many great memories together but ultimately we have one of those rare relationship where no matter how much time passes between each time we see each other. It feels like we haven’t been apart and we just fall back into being us. This might be why I trust Pippa so much, cause our friendship is effortless and she’s just incredible. When I asked my parents there was no debate or me begging, like I thought there might be. It was just a simple yes!

Obviously there was still one yes I needed and that was from my doctor as for me to get medical insurance I need a doctor to say that I’m fit to travel. After a discussion with my doctor I got the yes I had long awaited and all I needed to do was double check my oxygen levels as, on a long haul flights patients with minor breathing difficulties can become serious due to cabin pressure. After a quick trip to the doctors I was given the go ahead. Now to shop and pack.

Pippa, her sister Lucy (Me obviously being the better one hehe), her mum Petra and ME were all ready to head down under. There was no dramas on the flight over, although it was tiring and before we knew it we had touched down in Cairns. We were staying 2 hours North of Cairn in a little village called Mission beach. Where Pippa’s oldest sister Claire, Jono and there 4 children Catherine, Charlotte, Jack and Charlie live.

The first night in the Unit across the road from Claire’s. There had to be a spider of course! Don’t worry I made Pippa check my room every night. However, that wasn’t the only thing we found that night, flushing the toilet a leg appeared from the lip of the toilet. I tell Pippa she double checks and the leg comes out again! Phew it’s not a spider but a frog. (Got a frog in the bog, hehe!) After a day Lucy names him Terry, Terry The Tree Frog. I mean it’s only right to name him after you’ve gone to the toilet with him. After a few days we decide we needed our privacy back and Terry had to go, so that night Jono came round with his mariygolds to get Terry out. We had our dignity back…. well for now anyways.

One morning I’m sitting on the bed in my underwear ready to put on a pair of shorts, pick up my shorts and a croachroach falls into my lap. I just scream and hit it on the floor. Lucy comes into the room looking slightly confused, I explain and then make her and Pippa check the whole room. They never found it. Had the hebbie jebbies after that anything unexpectedly touch me, I’d jump!

The wedding was beautiful, the ceremony was on the beach with a bamboo arch. They did a sand ceremony, where each member of the family had a different colour of sand and they took it in turn to pour a bit of sand into a glass bottle. It was so cool and looked smart. Headed up to a picnic bench just off the beach in the shade for the champagne reception, while photos were being taken. Once everyone was ready we headed to the reception in Eco Village.

The day after the wedding we headed to an Island off the coast of mission beach called ‘Dunk Island’. We obviously had to get a boat over to the island, which was just off the beach anchored in the water. Getting on was pretty straight forward two steps and I was on. Only if getting off was as simple… good thing I like a challenge. The boat pulled up to the jetti’s steps, Where there’s only a railing on the left side for only half way. I was slightly nervous.We exited through the front off the boat, 3 steps onto the bow through a door slanted door frame. Now it was time for the steps, Jono on one side and Simon on the other. We conquered the steps and spent the day relaxing on the beach.

One day we took a boat trip out to the Great Barrier Reef, with the same company we went to Dunk Island a few days before. To be able to get to the boat that was going to take us out to the reef we had to head over to dunk island first. Trying to get onto the new boat was difficult as there was a big step that needed to be taken between the bottom of the steps and the door of the boat, slightly panicked the captain of the boat Foggy told me to trust him as he picked me off the stairs and placed me on the boat! (I was totally shitting it) finally on the boat I could relax. After everyone was on board we set sail.

10 minutes into the journey the diving instructor asked if I was still up for going for a dive. My instant reply being yes! He explained that he’d have to check the dive book for my condition and if it said I could then he’d try his best to get me out on the reef. Off he went to check the book. He came back 5 mintues later saying that the book said to consult the dive doctor, he called him and the doctor needed to know my medication as that would be what would stopping me dive. I jotted down my medication. Daryl then said that lots of people with MS dive so hopefully he can get me out today. My heart sunk as I said “Daryl I don’t I have MS, I’ve got MND.” He scribbled it down “Also known as ALS, I don’t know what you call it out here” scribbled down ALS. “The doctors going to ask what type? Tell him I’m in the early stages so it’s unknown.” scribbled it down “They might ask how long I’ve been diagnosed? 2 years” scribbled down 2 years. “Okay I’ll call him back and let you know what he says.” Daryl said before he left. I just went quiet thinking if MS is the grey area then MND is bound to be a No. Feeling disheartened I just talked it through with Pippa. Just before we got to the first stop daryl came over, sits opposite me and say’s that for the first stop he needs to see how I am in the water, so I’m going to go snorkelling so he can see how I am before he can commit to taking me diving. He told me that he’ll try and do his best to get me a dive today.

The first stop that the boat stopped at, Captain Foggy took me out snorkelling. It was great. The reef was incredible; so many variety of fish, all different shades of bright colours. Pictures of the reef just don’t do it justice! Once back on the boat Daryl said we’ll give diving ago. Sitting at the edge of the boat with my feet in the water, tank on my back. Ready to go diving! Not thinking I’d get to do this today, feeling slightly apprehensive but ready to free fall into the Coral Sea. I lean forward and before I know it I’m in the water, a quick check that I can breath through the regulator and clear any water from my mask. We head to the rope attached to the boat that the divers follow to the bottom.

Everything is starting to sink in… I’m actually doing this.

I can feel the remainder of the people on the boat who haven’t gone out snorkelling watching me, my heads in the water so all I can hear is the water slapping against the boat, I know when the next slap is coming cause my body sways with the sea. I used to love the sea but with my illness, I’m powerless in the ocean. The sea could take me anywhere it wished. I can feel my breathing getting quicker and quicker. Now I’m starting to panic, why am I doing this. Just breath, I tell myself. I can do this!

We start to descend down into the ocean, Daryl checks i’m okay? I give him the okay signal. I know if I get my breathing under control I’ll be fine. I know that he can see it’s not as theres a continuous line of bubbles coming from my regulator. I give the signal to go back up. I explain that I can’t get my breathing under control. He takes me out away from the boat, where it’s just us. We start the descent again, I feel a lot calmer. I know I can do this. The further away from the surface we are the more relaxed I’m getting. I’m having to intertwine my legs as my muscles are starting to vibrate, surprisingly its making me relax, it’s comforting even – I have no idea why.

I finally stop thinking and I realise that I’m diving, The fish are at my eye level and within my reach. They’re beautiful, It’s beautiful, everything is breathtaking. I start to smile then quickly remember that unless I want a mouthful of water I better stop. I wish my dad was here, he’d love this. I’m just mesmerised by the fish swimming, it looks so easy to them – effortless. I look from one species to the next, each as beautiful as the one before. We head over to where Foggy is, he lifts up coral on top and it’s the pale classic coral colour then underneath a fluorescent purple. We move along following the coral, Foggy then point out Nemo (Clown fish). My first thought being “he’s not the bright orange that he’s depicted in ‘Finding Nemo’ but oh my he’s cute”. Daryl pulls out a left over prawn from lunch, de-shells it and holds it near Nemo’s home. Curious and wary at the start it would swim out fast, take a nibble then hurry back to it’s safe haven. Daryl handed me the prawn and then I was feeding Nemo! Feeling rather pleased with myself, we carried on looking around the reef before heading back to the boat. On the way back to the boat we saw a massive school of fish, they were all synchronised and it was incredible. When they all moved together it gave a shimmer like when you move a hologram from side to side. Now it was time to get back to the surface and reality. Slightly glad as I could now smile again!

One the second last day we headed to Cairn in the afternoon. After settling into our room, we headed to the night market to buy souvenirs. Where I managed to get Laura a Crocodile tooth. The next morning we headed up to Kuranda via the skyrail, Which was amazing as it went over the rainforest. Unfortunately we didn’t see any animals in the trees. At one of the stops theres a HUGE waterfall. At Kuranda we had a look round the shops for more souvenirs before heading to Koala Gardens……

I CUDDLED A KOALA!! wow i’ve held that in this whole blog.

Right back to the blog. At the counter the cashier says you can pay extra to cuddle a Koala. Obviously I did. I get told they’ll be back out in 10 minutes as they’re just having a break. From that moment on I have the biggest smile on my face.

We saw the crocodiles, then the lizards, then sneak past the koala enclosure (they’re so cute with their little noses). We carried on to the kangaroo and wallaby enclosure (excited to go back to the koala’s). With my kangaroo food in my hand, I look round the pen. There’s a wombat enclosure off to the side, wombats are an adorable mix of koala and guinea pig! I see a kangaroo lying down and stick my hand out to feed it. I was so sure he wouldn’t take the food but he turned his head and started eating out of my hand. His fur was so soft and his eyelashes were really long. Not to boast but I’VE FED A KANGAROO!

But then it’s time for the really good part, and we head back to the koala’s. I’m so excited. There’s a couple in front of us, and my excitement rises (I honestly didn’t think it was possible). Now it’s my shot. I sit on the step in front of the back drop and Charlie the koala bear is handed to me. Initial thought is “aaawh he’s cute but, man, he stinks”. The koala keeper tells me it’s the musk and it’s to discourage insects from living in it’s fur. It’s such a powerful smell, and I can smell it for the rest of the day. The koala’s fur is really rough, kind of similar to a rug or carpet. Unfortunately, I have to give him back but I’VE CUDDLED A KOALA (just saying hehe).

We see a few more animals until we run out of time and head back to the skyrail and back into the Cairns to grab our bags before heading home.

I cannot thank Pippa and her family enough for letting me come to Australia with them. It was the trip of a lifetime. As you can mostly likely tell from my blog I had the most amazing time. A huge thanks to Claire, Jono and the kids for welcoming me into there home. Most importantly thank you guys for making an abundant of memories with me that I will cherish forever!

Lucy x