Who? Martijn Vlakveld (24), Master’s student of Biotechnology
What? Research internship at the Australian Institute for Tropical Health and Medicine, James Cook University
Where? Cairns, Australia
‘Cairns is near the equator and has a tropical climate. As a result, nature seems a lot more lively here than in the Netherlands. There is constant rustling and movement, and there’s something friendly about that. In the morning the exotic birds wake you up with a lot of noise and on the street there are lizards running all over the place, and you are surrounded by the sweet smell of wild mangoes. And at the end of the day you might just find a baby gecko in your bed.
Snake out of the drain
Not all the wildlife is cute, however. When I was exploring the neighbourhood, a black snake with a fat red belly suddenly slithered out of a drain. I showed a photo of it to an Aussie and he said I should have kept my distance. Apparently it was a very poisonous snake. Oops.
The spiders are not a pretty sight either. I was doing research on a protein at the Australian Institute for Tropical Health and Medicine. In the mouse department, where I was working, I found a gigantic spider one day. He was as big as my hand and looked as though he’d escaped from a horror film. I still have no idea how that spider got in – that department is supposed to be hermetically sealed.
I walked a lot in the mountains around Cairns and did a day’s diving and snorkelling at the Great Barrier Reef. A lot of places are so shallow that some of the coral nearly sticks out of the water. And the water is so clear. Countless colourful little fish swam around the white reef and a sea turtle even came past that day. Amazing – I was swimming right next to it! Sadly, the bleaching of the coral was very obvious. The bright colours had disappeared completely as a result of climate change.
My idea was to escape the Dutch winter in Cairns. But that plan turned out to be a lot less perfect when the rainy season started in December. More rain can fall in one week than in a whole year in the Netherlands. By mid-January, the combination of heat and high humidity is almost unbearable. I took an extra shirt to work with me every day. On the short walk from my house to the lab I sweated so much that I arrived soaking wet.’