Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Days 9, 10, and 11: Cairns

Our first day in Cairns, we rented an eensy-teensy clown car and drove north to Cape Tribulation, where paved roads give way to the jungle. Angela suggested that we attend an exotic fruit lecture, which I rejected as sounding, “f&cking awful.” Youth trumped experience here, and it was actually very interesting. This couple purchased the land without any idea how to use it and then hit on the idea of scouring the globe for exotic fruits they could grow for sale in local markets. He now consults with the UN and other organisations trying to introduce new crops to tropical, third world countries.

Along the way to and from Cape Tribulation, we stopped at open air markets, rainforest boardwalks, and scenic beaches. We were even lucky enough to see a family of cassowaries, an endangered bird species that can slice a human jugular with a wicked claw on his foot.

The next day, Angela’s birthday, we boarded a catamaran at 8 am for a day trip to the Great Barrier Reef. On two scuba dives we saw giant clams, Nemos, and a baby sea turtle. Sadly, the Reef is dying quickly, and since we were taken to popular tourist spots, we didn’t see many spectacular colours. That night we took Angela out for a meat festival at a Brazilian place in Cairns. Lord, that was a lot of meat.

On our last day in Cairns, we rented another clown car and drove south into the mountains. We visited a fruit distillery, which was in a corrugated metal shed but had a friendly host willing to let us taste all of his wares (after which we were all a bit drunk), a biodynamic dairy (we’re still not sure what this means except tasty cheese eaten at a picnic table under their trees), and a number of waterfalls on our way to Paronella Park.

Now, let me just say that Paronella Park has the best marketing I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, it couldn’t quite live up to its hype. Essentially, a quixotic Spaniard dreamed of building a castle and chose to do so in rural Queensland near the sugar plantations where he’d made his fortune. He then opened it up as a recreation centre with pools, tennis courts, and a cinema for the local people. It was lovely, but I was expecting the Taj Majal after reading their brochures. Having driven so far, though, we stayed for both the day and night tours.

Our last night in Cairns we went to local brewery. Two American Naval ships were in town, and the 4th of July was only a couple of days distant, so the entire place, like much of the town, was draped in American flags. Given how much Australians pick on Eric and I for being American, he found it a little gross that they were pandering so much to the shore leave dollars. I thought it was kind of nice that the sailors felt so welcomed (especially by ladies in very small skirts that we saw on the streets) but could see his point.

On another point Eric and I agreed: we were too old for Cairns. It very much had an MTV Spring Break Beach Party feel, which has felt more slimy than electrifying since I was about 19 years old. The hostel where we were staying, like most hostels in the town, gave us vouchers for a free dinner each night at a pub up the road. After our adventures each day, we were generally pushing the 9:30 pm expiration time for our vouchers and the 10 pm start of the cheap beer special, when the place turned into a giant, throbbing meat market. Now, I’m generally told I look young for my age, but even if I could pass for 26, I’d be an old lady in this place. I felt like everyone was staring at me thinking, “Granny go home.” Would have helped if I’d brought underwear that could double as a skirt or skintight pleather pants or something.

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