Day 19 & 20: Welcome to the Jungle
Day 19: Up to Cairns
We arose, packed and checked out before wandering a couple blocks to meet up with Mark Rulewski who we’d last seen by sheer chance in the Chico Hot Springs of Montana last June (see account here).
We enjoyed a lovely and leisurely breakfast at Two Good Eggs, and he walked us to where the car was imprisoned and we parted. Maybe we’ll next see him in Oregon!
The petrol prices by the airport were predictably exploitive and ghastly, but the airport itself was another simple and laid back affair, and when one has nowhere important to be, a 15 minute delay really didn’t matter. As we flew north out of town, we got to see the glory of Sydney stretched out below us – all those crazy fingers of land stretching into the harbor, the tall buildings, the neighborhoods we’d walked through and the bridge we’d just climbed.
Our seat mate for the flight north was an erudite and interesting lady named Jessica R. who, growing up a ginger in the UK, had long admired her namesake Jessica Rabbit. With such good company, the trip passed in a flash. And the views of the coast ( and the frickin’ Great Barrier Reef) as we descended were awe inspiring.
We checked in before checking out an Indian restaurant up the street. After a yummy Hanti Gosht we emerged to a riot of wheeling parrots in prismatic gangs! And then, when they’d calmed a bit, and as we wandered Cairns’ beautiful Lagoon (a mirror-calm pool for soaking that occupies the middle of the town’s sea-front) we spied even larger shapes circling in the sky – Flying Foxes! We only saw a few at first, but later we saw them everywhere filling the twilight sky with their wide swooping silhouettes. Venetia was completely entranced. What a magical surprise!
A delicious banana and Carmel gelato and a short sharp shop for breakfast nosh and it was home to bed.
Day 20: Up the Junction
We arose early, but having travelled the day before and turned in early, we felt no pain in it. We were scooped up by the coach (aka “bus”) and taken on a tour of several other local boarding establishment. It almost incredible to me just how many tourist hotels this small town is made of….
A few tourists were let out at the indigenous peoples’ cultural center, and a couple others at the entrance to the SkyRail, but most continued with us to the Kuranda Scenic Railroad depot in Redlynch. Many men serving under foreman Red Lynch had died building this tropical railroad up to Northeastern Australia’s table lands, and we got to marvel at it while suffering no more than the heat and humidity of a nice summer day in Virginia.
We also marveled at Barron Falls. This massive cataract is an unstoppable force in more typically rainy Monsoon Season, but we were lucky to find it almost dry. Photos don’t really seem to convey its scale, but whoa!
Eventually we got to Kuranda and bid the lovely train adieu. And then we were stuck there for 3 hours. I’ve been in many towns called “tourist traps” – sometimes by the locals, sometimes by visitors. In this case, a local woman overheard the description in the post office and under her breath whispered “some people LIVE here” to me ere she departed in a snit. True, but if I lived at South of the Border or the Mall of America, I’d be the first to admit it was a tourist trap. And without a means of egress, we were literally trapped in this sticky tourist Mecca – truly a luxury problem. Opals were gawked at, Schnitzel happily devoured, clothing admired, used books considered, frozen purees consumed, crashed (for-films) WWII plane inspected, the same aboriginal designs seen on every product and in every context imaginable, and countless shops and stalls visited. When asked why there were so many Germans and Austrians among the shopkeepers, one replied “it’s just too cold in Germany”. Fair enough, but I admit to a moment of wondering whether Ira Levin really had it right about Brazil….
Yes, we’ve seen and done countless touristy things in the last 3 weeks, but today was Tourism writ large. Yes, we visited the post office and the grocery store. Yes, we actually conversed with the natives more than we dickered with them about prices. Yes, we took some great tropical reference photos of plant and animal life (lizards, and brush turkeys and crocodiles – oh my!), but we were really just happy tourists pinned like so many beautiful butterflies. When at last our appointed hour was at hand, we tottered down the hill to the marvelous SkyRail that would in turn take us back down the mountain, in gondola #101 no less (clearly named by George Orwell for maximum irony).
There was a large female orb-weaving spider in the station where we stopped to see Barron Falls, or, in the proper parlance of the region, Din Din (what a great name for torrential falls). While we enjoyed the comparatively dry weather (I fear the June trip to Virginia and points north will be far worse), it did seem a little sad to see the mighty cataract reduced to a trickle.
As we descended back to the coastal plane, our attention was drawn to the curious waterpark on our left – an odd oval track where people on surfboards jump off ramps, and generally glided around. It took us a long approach to realize that they were being pulled along hanging wires like cable cars. A curious sport, but then I suppose the Barrier Reef limits most of the hard core surfing up here….
We didn’t head out again once we were returned to the hotel. The snacks we’d bought last night stood us in good stead, and while we missed the nightly megabat festival, we enjoyed our napping.
We witnessed no cassowaries, but otherwise we got our jungle money’s worth.
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