BootsnAll Travel Network

Risky business

(I’ve added captions to some of the pictures on smugmug. If there is a series of pics I didn’t caption all of them. I’m uploading a few more now.)

I’m sitting in a relatively cool internet cafe in Cairns right now. When I say relatively, I mean the sweat isn’t pouring off me, but just rather sticky and clammy. It is unbelievable how hot and humid it is here in Queensland, especially coming from the southern part of Australia, where it’s warm but very dry. In fact, most part of Australia are actually in a drought and screaming for rain, whereas Queensland has more moisture than they know what to do with. I have a whole day to do nothing really, as I’ve booked an overnight bus south to Airlie Beach, the departure town for my sailing trip on the Whitsundays. I’m not really looking forward to this bus ride, not only because it leaves at midnight, but also because it is 11 hours and I paid over AUS$100 for it. It was a slight shock to me, as my flight from Melbourne all the way up to Cairns was only $160. I think I got slightly ripped off, and I’ve know heard from other travelers there are other bus companies that are cheaper. It is a little bit of an adjustment coming from New Zealand, where the hostels and information centers are unbiased places where you can book transport and activities. Here, the hostels and “i centers” make commissions on their bookings, so you really don’t know if they are any good or not. Case in point was my day trip into the Atherton Tablelands yesterday.

My hostel recommended a tour called On the Wallaby, and since all the brochures and everything sound pretty much the same, you are sort of going on word of mouth and some trust in people. There was another American girl Kristen in my hostel also booked on the tour, and we were picked up at 7:40am. Luckily, even though our bus held about 20 people, there were only 5 of us booked on the tour, which is nicer as it is more personable and you don’t feel so much little a herd of cattle getting on and off the bus. The first inkling I had that our tour might not be all it was cracked up to be was our morning tea stop. Our brochure said mornign and afternoon tea and lunch included, but in reality, we stopped at a gas station that also had a small cafe and our guide Bart said we should buy something there, as there wouldn’t be anywhere else along the way to. I thought that was a little strange but not that big of a deal. We boarded the bus again and we off through the winding street up into the Tablelands. The Tablelands used to be a huge rainforest, but after the settlers logged the entire area, there is only 5% of the original rainforest left. We headed towards this area and the waterfalls and lakes that the area was famous for.

Our tour guide was very knowledgeable about the local area, plant life and wildlife and most other things you would expect from a tour guide. However, it also became apparent that Bart thought he was pretty knowledgeable about most things and really let us know it. The fact that three of the 5 people on board were Americans didn’t help matters any, as the range of topics went from rugby and soccer to health care, abortion rights, frivolous lawsuits, alcoholism in indigenous cultures, all in the span of a few hours. While I usually enjoy having some of these discussions with people about certain local and national issues, Kristen and I both realized it was futile to actually try and have a discussion, because Bart wasn’t really listening to us. After a while, it became sort of tiresome and slightly annoying as well, as we paid for his knowledge of Queensland, not of the McDonald’s hot coffee lawsuit. Lunch was a rather paltry affair, probably the worst I’ve had on an organized tour, with some rolls, tomato and cucumber slices and a can of tuna and chicken to make sandwiches, it was eating for sustenance, not pleasure. You can normally expect at least a variety of premade sandwiches with chips, cookies, fruit etc. Even kayaking in NZ, Imogen pulled out an espresso machine and made us cappucinos on the beach. So it can be done better than this. But we didn’t really say anything until after we got back to our hostel, both of us not realizing the other thought the same until the day was over. Luckily we were both able to laugh about how kind of ridiculous the whole day had been.

After lunch, we drove up to the famous waterfalls and went swimming in the rock pools. Wildlife sighting was also a part of the tour, but you aren’t guaranteed to see anything. The two main creatures we were supposed to see were the musky rat kangaroo, which is basically a kangaroo the size of a rat and the forest dragon, which is an iguana-type lizard. We saw the latter, but never spotted the kangaroo which is always disappointing. Towards the afternoon, we made our way to their lodge where we dropped off one of our group, Leo from Scotland, who was staying overnight and doing a mountain biking tour the next day. We had tea, coffee and cookies and fruit at the lodge, and made our way back to Cairns. The problem with tours like this is you never know if what you are getting is good, or if somethign more expensive is much better, or just the same and costs more. I definitely don’t think my tour was worth what I paid, but who knows if other tours would have been better or if they all do the same thing. One good thing about the trip though was talking to Kristen, who has been traveling in Oz for about two months. She is from Twin Falls, Idaho and had been traveling up the East Coast with a friend in a car they bought, so she had some interesting stories to tell.

My other tour in Cairns involved the most famous tourist attraction, the Great Barrier Reef. Luckily for me, this was a much better tour than the Tablelands and well worth the money. On Friday I was booked on a catamaran called the Passions of Paradise. The boat held about 60 people and was mainly a snorkeling boat, though they did offer to have a trial of diving if you wanted for an extra $60. I’m not sure if I can go SCUBA diving or not, since I have some problems with my left ear, so I chose to pass up the diving for now. We were supposed to go to two different dive spots on our trip, but the weather was not the greatest as it was raining and cloudy, and the tide was too high for good snorkeling. So we went to just one location called Michaelman’s Cove, which was just fine. It took us about one hour or a little more to reach our destination, and by the time we were all suited up, we had about 1 1/2 hours to snorkel in the morning. They also gave us stinger suits to prevent stings by the box jellyfish, one of the deadliest animals to humans. One swipe is supposed to be the greatest pain you will ever feel, and kills you in about 15 minutes, though urine and vinegar will slow the progression. Since it was the season for the jellyfish, I thought the $6 suits were a good investment. We were also given these floating devices you strap on which help you float above water, but make it more difficult to dive down closer to the coral. I opted for the floatation device and was glad I did, as snorkeling for over an hour gets pretty tiring.

Snorkeling takes a minute to get used to, but I quickly got comfortable breathing with my mask and was able to just have my head underwater for long periods of time. The coral is really close to the surface of the water, and was for the most part, not as colorful as I was imagining. They have had a lot of bleaching of the coral and since it is really touristy, a lot of the coral is damaged by too many people. If you touch or break off the coral it kills it, and there were pieces of coral all over the bottom of the ocean. Most people don’t do it on purpose, but accidentally kick it with their fins or something like that. But the fish were really cool, and so bright and colorful. I can’t even begin to explain how many different species and kinds there were, but I would say I saw at least 30 different fish, ranging from the little Nemo clownfish to huge Angelfish and bright turquoise parrotfish. After lunch, which was a far better affair than the previous one I described, we got back in the water for some more snorkeling. We were also allowed to go onto the beach and see the breeding grounds of many seabirds in the area. I liked the afternoon of snorkeling much better, as I was more comfortable in the water. Plus, a huge sea turtle lazily swam right in front of me. It isn’t like the movies or advertisements, where they show people holding onto the turtles and swimming with them. You are absolutely not allowed to do this, but I was able to swim with it for a while and hopefully my underwater camera got a good photo of it. It was alittle difficult with the camera since it was cloudy and rainy, it might have been too dark for some pictures and you didn’t get the really bright colors and light effects as you do when it is sunny. After we got back on board, another guy on the boat said he saw a reef shark. While harmless and not considered agressive towards humans, I’m glad I didn’t see one as I think I would’ve freaked out a bit. It was a good day out on the boat and I relaxed back at my hostel that night. Cairns is a bit nightlife party place, but for some reason I just didn’t feel like going out much when I was here. It was the first time I’ve felt a little old while traveling, but also just was really hot and tiring doing activities all day. I am booked on a three day sailing trip on the Whitsundays starting Wednesday. Again, you never know what you are going to get when you book, and it also depends on who is on your boat, your guides etc. But this is the one thing I really wanted to do on the East Coast, so I’m really looking forward to it. Hopefully we’ll have good weather, it has been raining up and down the East Coast for the past week or so. Fingers crossed!

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