This week has been the most humid and warm of all my time in Australia, but I’ve enjoyed staying in the laid back, tropical, coastal town of Cairns (pronounced “cans” by Aussies). I did three day trips, including two into different nearby rainforests and a reef trip.
Monday was my day on the Great Barrier Reef. I went on a boat that took us to two different spots: Michaelmas Cay, a mini sand island covered in sea birds and surrounded by coral, and Hastings Reef, a place full of pretty coral and sea life, very shallow in some spots. I thought it might be more exciting than the amazing first couple times I went snorkeling in the Whitsunday Islands a couple weeks ago, but it didn’t have a dramatic amount of more colored coral and fish, though it was still pretty amazing. Since the Whitsundays are really right next to the Great Barrier Reef, they really are made of the same stuff! This time also had super strong currents and very choppy water compared to my calm first snorkeling spots. But we did see a sea turtle, a small shark, a ton of giant clams, and hundreds of beautiful, big and small colorful tropical fish! I also saw a blue blubber jellyfish. The guide said something about someone getting stung by a bluebottle, and a minute or two later, there was a small blue jellyfish floating maybe two feet away from my face, so I was pretty scared. But, I’ve since looked it up, and the one I saw was a blue blubber, not a bluebottle (though neither usually kill people). And I saw two other smallish clear jellyfish. Fortunately, all the ones I saw (and possibly the one that freaked me out in the Whitsundays) do have a painful sting but won’t kill you, the sting just leaves a mark for a while. I’m still scared of them all because I don’t want to get stung!
I also tried scuba diving. I was nervous about it because first of all, it’s kind of a big deal and something you have to get a lot of training on to do by yourself, unlike snorkeling, and second of all, I’ve always had issues with my ears – I have to swallow a lot on planes to get the pressure on my ears even when ascending and descending, whereas most people’s ears just pop on their own. The dive instructor taught us to plug our nose and blow gently every meter to equalize the pressure, but that’s never worked very well for me, so I wasn’t surprised when I was already uncomfortable with some pain in my ears when going a meter or two underwater. We tried going back up and down again a few times, but I was taking too long, so the dive instructor said I just couldn’t do it and sent me back up onto the boat. I asked him if I could swallow instead (I was nervous to do this on my own without asking, with all the things you have to be careful of when diving), but he said no and sent me on my way. I was pretty bummed out, but the snorkeling was pretty cool too.
The other night, I was talking to a Belgian hostel roommate (who lives in Spain) who’s done a lot of diving and is certified, and had just gotten back from a dive trip on the reef. I told her about my attempt and the issue I encountered, and she was pretty surprised – she said that the way she learned is to swallow to equalize, and that the nose method has more potential to hurt your ears. She also said that she often has to go up and down a lot and it takes her a bit to go down, but she’s been able to successfully dive many times and enjoys it. She recommended the dive school where she got certified in a small village in Malaga, Spain. I do want to go back and see more of Spain, so maybe I’ll check it out! Or maybe I’ll try some dive classes somewhere else where they aren’t in a hurry and all about making money. It still may be the case that I can’t dive with my ears, but there is still a possibility that I can, and I think I’d like it if I could get my ears to be okay far down in the water! Either way, I’ll keep seeking out good snorkeling spots in coastal areas wherever I go, especially if it’s calm and there are no stinging jellyfish, I’d love it even more!
On Tuesday, I spent the afternoon hiking up to and around the Cairns Botanical Gardens. Now, the area Cairns is in used to be completely covered in rainforest before the Europeans cleared it out, so if you go very far in from the coast at all, and especially if you’re in the sun, it is very hot (above 30 C / 90 F), very humid (80% or so), and there’s no breeze, so you are pretty quickly covered in sweat and it won’t evaporate. And there are lots of biting bugs. So that’s not particularly fun, but it was still a pretty nice walk around when I wasn’t thinking about the heat. Cairns has this long esplanade path along the water, so I took that most of the way until I turned inland to head to the gardens. I did the Red Arrow walk, which is a hike up a hill/small mountain to a beautiful lookout over the northern part of the city and coast. There were tons of Australian brush turkeys on that walk, and I almost stepped on a snake! It was little and green, and probably not poisonous, but pretty cool because that was my first wild encounter with a snake (possibly ever). I then checked out the rest of the gardens, including a freshwater lake and a saltwater lake, and saw some super weird looking geese at the saltwater lake that totally looked like they had masks. And I loved the rainforest walk in the middle of the park, where I had it mostly to myself and only saw a few other people. I’ve been in a lot of rainforests, but never by myself until then – and I love hiking through a pretty, quiet, wooded area in peace.
As the sun started to set, I then headed back down the esplanade to the colony of 8,000 large fruit bats (Spectacled Flying Foxes) in central Cairns. I’ve walked past/under them sleeping upside-down in the trees several times during my walks around the city, and I made a point to go watch them at dusk twice this week. At dawn and dusk, they become active and start flying and screeching all over the place, right over your head, heading out to find fruit. If you’re not completely terrified of bats, it’s a really amazing sight!
Wednesday, I went on a small group day trip tour to the Daintree Rainforest. So, if you count the small pocket in the Cairns Botanical Gardens, I’ve visited seven different rainforests during my time in Australia, both temperate and tropical! It was a fantastic tour. We stopped briefly for morning tea at the Daintree Aboriginal Cultural Center, including indigenous damper bread shaped into scones with delicious clotted cream and jam, as well as locally grown Daintree Tea. Then we went for a walk through Mossman Gorge, with its beautiful clean, flowing river full of stones, and our guide Steve told us about a lot of different cool plants. Then we had lunch at the amazing Daintree Tea Haus, in the middle of the rainforest with wild coconut trees and tropical flowers growing around it. My favorite part was the assortment of tastings of locally grown tropical fruit, and the owner explained all about the different ones we were eating, which was really cool. My favorite was a little sweet white tropical berry that can only be found and eaten locally, because it doesn’t ship well! There was even a gorgeous rare antelope orchid flowering in the middle of the parking lot there.
After lunch, we went on a cruise of the Daintree river to look for crocodiles and other wildlife. The cruise itself was peaceful and lovely with the river being so calm. We didn’t see any adult crocodiles unfortunately (they were all hiding in the warm, murky water and are very shy, which is actually good or they probably would’ve been hunted to extinction), but we did see several baby crocodiles, ranging from 2 week newborns to 2 year olds. Adorable. Apparently most of them die before the age of 6, particularly from birds of prey eating them, but they can live to over a hundred years and get up to 8 meters long! We also saw some big birds of prey, white egrets, gorgeous electric blue Ulysses butterflies, a green tree frog, and orange clawed fiddler crabs.
Later in the day, we stopped at Cape Tribulation, a nice beach and lookout, and a couple other lookouts and rainforest walks. I like the story of how Cape Tribulation was named: Captain James Cook, famous English explorer of Oz, crashed his sailing ship horribly on a reef and had an awful time trying to navigate around all the reefs of the coast in the area without crashing it again after that. He was so miserable because of his sailing troubles that he named everything in the area after his mood, including Cape Tribulation and Mount Sorrow. It’s funny because it’s such a pretty area! On the way back to Cairns, we also stopped for Daintree Ice Cream, made with locally grown exotic fruits. I got a cup with scoops of the four different flavors of the day, which is my favorite way to eat ice cream, trying all different kinds!
Yesterday and today, I’ve mostly been catching up on various administrative things, and I’ve started my job and apartment searches in Portland, updating my resume and looking at neighborhoods and whatnot. I’m excited about the cross-country moving roadtrip from Indiana to Portland, the Oregon Trail, so I started looking at routes and the logistics of that as well. I will do more of this stuff once I’m in Portland in a few weeks, but I wanted to get started on things. After updating and tweaking my resume, I’m feeling pretty good about my ability to brag about my skills and experience on my job search!
One aside is that the last few days while hanging around the hostel and using the slow internets, I made another temporary probably-will-never-see-again friend, a German named Simon, and he was fun to chat with. Our talks included an explanation of German politics, my optimistic but still lamenting views on American politics, the process of becoming a navigator for jets in the German military (which only 7 people a year are chosen for and he was one of them, impressive), an explanation of the German education system and why it might be that Germans seem less judgmental towards Americans than many other nationalities I’ve met (which we think has to do with their history and making up for that with a well rounded education system now). Also, an argument about what bread is. He insists and is upset that Australia does not have bread, only toast, which is what he calls soft white bread. And I insisted that in Australia, the UK, US, and probably a lot of other places, it is all bread until you put it in the toaster. Apparently in Germany, bread is only a firm, darker bread like pumpernickel. That was a surprising and interesting debate! He also encouraged me to learn a card trick – they do sound fun if I ever have the time for the practice – and I taught him how to play California Speed, which we spent hours playing with my Tasmanian deck of cards.
So overall a fun week, seeing a lot of different places, wildlife, and new people. Now after hanging out all day waiting for my evening flight, I will be heading to Perth for another week of adventures there!