There comes a time in a man’s life when he is obliged to jump up and down with glee, shrieking like a little girl. This is the moment when he sees one of the most unique and elusive creatures on the face of the planet. He will spend the next half hour attempting to convince his classmates that he actually spotted a cassowary across a river and amongst mangroves, but they will all question his judgment until later that day…

Cassowaries—for those who are unawar-ies—are large, black, flightless birds that are smaller only than the ostrich and emu. They are a shy but potentially deadly creature (Fun Fact: Cassowaries can jump up and kick with both feet at the same time. This bird is a Chuck Norris level ninja). Cassowaries live mostly in the dense forest, but occasionally come to the edge to cross a road. If you are lucky enough, as we were, to see one of the two thousand cassowaries left in the wild loping across the road, you would understand our sheer joy. It was the perfect way to end our three day stay in the Daintree Rainforest in northeast Queensland. Some students even got to see a cassowary chick, and all together, our cassowary count was four for the day. We can now check “cassowary” off our list of things to see, which feels pretty amazing. Prepare yourselves, friends and family, to hear us talk about this for months on end.

The Daintree Rainforest is the oldest continuous rainforest in existence and even though our Center is in the middle of our own little rainforest, it was an entirely different experience. We were able to see a forest dragon, a katydid the size of your face, and three saltwater crocodiles. One of these beasts was around 4.5 meters in length. For those of you having trouble visualizing this, Michael Jordan, an admittedly short man, is a wimpy 2.01 meters in height.

There is something haunting about walking through a forest that has existed for longer than you can comprehend. Ferns, which probably remember the dinosaurs, tower over you and fan palms wave like friendly old neighbors above your head. Insects of unreal size zoom past you as you stumble through the old growth, awed by your mere presence, as if you somehow have access to something forbidden, something you weren’t meant to see. Like I said, haunting.

We had the good fortune of visiting one of our professor’s homes in her very own corner of the Daintree Rainforest. Siggy (Sigrid) Heise-Pavlov and her husband Piggy (Peter) built a home on the preserve starting eighteen years ago. While the house seems plain at first glance, upon entering you realize that sacrificing size does not mean sacrificing quality. With the work room and shower room on ground level, it left the entire second floor as a cozy living space for the couple we refer to as, “the Iggies.” Piggy gave us a tour and explained the water system, solar panels, composting toilet, and his potbelly stove in case it happens to get cold. We just have to mention that it was around 90 degrees Fahrenheit during our trip there, so “cold” to Piggy was a relative term.

The Daintree trip really fulfilled for us our vision of Australia. We cannot help but reflect on just how lucky we are to be in this beautiful country and see its iconic flora and fauna, a chance we may never have again. Until next time, because honestly… what could keep me away?