I’m sitting in the lobby of my hotel in Cairns. I’ve checked out, but I have about an hour before the airport shuttle comes. It’s been alternately POURING rain and cloudy all morning and now the sun has beaten its way through the clouds for a moment and it’s swelteringly hot and humid beyond belief. You could probably drink the air. I was considering going out for a coffee before, but now I just want to enjoy the air conditioning. Especially since I don’t want to order an iced coffee and get another milkshake. Aussies like their sweets a bit too much for my taste.
The exceptionally uncharming woman who either owns the hotel or manages it is behind the desk. She looks, talks, and behaves exactly like Roz from Monsters Inc. I am not exaggerating one bit. It’s amazing. I’m so amused by her monotone sourness. She is letting me sit in the lobby while I wait for my shuttle, so I’ve at least succeeded in finding one kind bone in her body.
My visit to Cairns has been delightful overall. Unless you’re staying in one of the posh hotels down by the marina or up in the rainforest away from it all for $600 per night, Cairns feels like a poor, slacker beach town not unlike Capitola in the 80s. It’s casual everywhere, and you only rarely see one of those signs letting you know that the establishment you’d like to enter won’t let you do so if you’re still sporting your flip flops or you’ve forgotten a shirt. I just walk straight by those places. Nothing of import will be found in there.
I booked five nights here and I’m glad I did. There’s so much to see and I only experienced a smidgen of it. Snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef was definitely the highlight. The trip out to Frankland Islands was actually quite boring. The rains during the night had stirred up lots of sand, so the visibility in the water was nil. And then we were on a deserted island, which sounds amazing in theory, but when you realize there are absolutely no facilities whatsoever, including toilets, it starts to lose its charm a bit. Lunch was good, it was nice and hot, and there were turtles to be seen on the other side of the island bobbling their heads out of the water for air and then disappearing back down into the deep. I took a few pictures, which I’m sure will make you question my judgment about the boringness of the place, but unless you want to fry in the sun for hours on end, or sit idly and watch the waves, that’s about all there is to be done. I kept singing the theme to Gilligan’s Island in my head while we were there. “A three hour tour… A three hour tour….”
There was one very nice thing that came of my trip to Frankland Islands, and that is meeting Gerda. She’s an older Austrian woman traveling alone. She’s a teacher. She and her husband were supposed to take a year off to travel together, but he had to stay behind to work, so she took off for six months on her own so as not to waste her sabbatical. How cool is that? A lot of people have commented that they’re surprised that her husband “let” her go, or questioned her judgment in going without him. Oh, small-minded people. Get over yourselves. Go have an adventure on your own just once. You might find that you enjoy it. And even if you don’t, you’ll learn an awful lot of very valuable information about yourself, I guarantee it.
Gerda is so Austrian. She’s very direct, honest, and sincere. And she has the coolest glasses! We had a nice time on the island together chatting, and at dinner afterwards. We wandered down to a classy restaurant in the main business area of town called Ochre. She got kangaroo; I had duck. I couldn’t bring myself to try the roo, nor to eat crocodile. I suppose I should try it once before I go. We’ll see. The food was great. We sat outside and enjoyed the heat and our wine and just watched the world go by as we chatted about our holiday plans.
Yesterday, I went into the rainforest on another tour. Given the letdown of Frankland Islands, I was apprehensive about this tour, but it turned out to be quite nice. We started in the rainforest proper with a guided tour by an aboriginal man. It was clearly a staged tour, but I enjoyed it anyway, mostly because the rainforest is a spectacular backdrop for pretty much anything. It’s like a quilt made of trees. It’s saturated with thousands of different greens. Water drips from the sky occasionally and for no reason. Birds chirp and signal to one another. The ground teems with ants and spiders. The air flickers with mosquitoes. It’s hot and you feel enclosed, dare I say looked after, by the surrounding trees that wind and twist their ways around each other and up, up, up towards the light. Only 5% of the sunlight makes it down to the forest floor. Amazing.
After the tour we had tea and delicious biscuits with honey that tasted like sarsaparilla. It was the best honey I’ve ever eaten. In the gift shop I bought a tiny jar of what I hope was the same honey we had there. So good.
After that we piled on the van again and took off for our next location stopping to look at the views and see wallabies on the way. They served us lunch there, a gourmet lunch on nice plates at a proper dining table. I had the barramundi, a local fish, prepared perfectly. Well, everyone had the fish, except for two guys who had the chicken. It was the first tour where I was the only person there alone, so I chatted with two of the couples at the end. The American couple was nice and very American. She would shout questions out in the bus in her southern accent to the driver throughout the trip and they were amusingly naïve questions, but it’s good that she asked them. The Canadian couple was a bunch of know-it-alls. I hated them at the beginning. They sat right at the front of the bus and answered every question before the guide was even finished, like we were on Jeopardy or something. He was this short, rotund, neckless sparkplug of a man and she looked like Pat from old SNL sketches. They talked a lot about the cruises they’ve taken. So boring. But they were nice enough to chat with at lunch, and we found a few questions they didn’t have the answers to, so that made me happy.
The rest of the tour we meandered from location to location, looking, chatting, and relaxing. I was exhausted throughout most of it and slept every time we were on the bus. I couldn’t keep my eyes open. All the sun and travel just took it out of me. I felt narcoleptic. Towards the end of the tour the English couple asked if we could stop to get ice cream, so we did. I got mango and it was delicious.
When I got back I read for a couple of hours just to decompress from being with oddballs all day. I finished my book, the third one on this trip. It was The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Before that I read A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, a Booker Prize finalist, and before that was My Foreign Cities by Elizabeth Scarboro. All have been great. I think Time Being was my favorite so far mainly because it was so odd and unexpected, and I love reading about foreign cultures. I just started The Book Thief, which I’ve heard great things about, and I think it’s finally hooked me, so perhaps that will be even better. I have to wait until I get the feeling that I want to delve back into the story before I know I’m hooked. Before that, it can be an effort for me to read. It feels like a task and not a pleasure. But once I’m hooked, I’m in, and then I wait for moments or create moments when I can read. Taking a lot of plane rides has been perfect for that. Although I still can’t understand why they consider my Kindle an electronic device. Once it’s in airplane mode, it’s a book. For reals. Oh well.
After that Gerda and I tried the Indian restaurant attached to the hotel. It was good, but not great. Gerda had never had Indian food before, so that made me like the experience even more. I love how adventurous she is, trying new things every chance she gets. A worthy companion, that’s for sure. She gave me loads of suggestions for my upcoming trip to Portugal, which was great. I know that I’ll like her choices. Another learning experience: make sure you take travel advice from someone who travels like you do. Otherwise, you’ll end up doing everything upside down and resenting it.
One more note from dinner last night. It POURED rain. I have never in my life been in rain that extreme. It rained so hard I could physically feel it coming down around us and the air was thick with it. Amazing.