Sunday, January 7, 2007

Don't Touch That Plant, Mates!

So, Cairns (pronounced "cans" if you didn't already know) was, as my guidebook promised, VERY HOT. It felt like Florida in August except more humid, if you can imagine that. The city is very much about tourism, serving as the launching point for The Great Barrier Reef, the Daintree Rainforest and some cool little islands not too far off the coast. It's a great place to "get yourself sorted" for Queensland adventures, but the city itself is, for the most part, defined by rowdy backpackers raging in collegey-style bars...and you have to get on a bus to get to the nearest beach. As if.

Lucky for me, I didn't have time to hang around and quickly booked myself on some fun-sounding trips--one to the rainforest and one to The Great Barrier Reef where I signed up for an introductory scuba dive (note: just booking the reservation gave me butterflies in my stomach). I'd never gone diving before, but people had been telling me "If you can snorkel and aren't afraid to breath while your face is in the water, you can scuba for sure. You'll be fine, mate. Just go for it." So I did.

The first trip was a jeep tour of the rainforest and the Aussie bush. There were eight of us on the day trip and our guide was great. He knew EVERYTHING about the history, geography and plants/animals of the area and seriously looked like he had walked straight out of the set for Crocodile Dundee (see below photo). He drove our jeep through rivers, showed us the Australian stinger plants in the forest (if you touch it, you're in excruciating pain for up to three months and even morphine can't help you) and, like any good Aussie, stopped the day for morning tea along side a lake where we looked for six foot tall cassowary birds (we didn't see any).

What's cool about this part of the country is that the rainforest, the bush and the ocean all come together. One minute, we'd be driving through the bush (which looks like a forest of windy, small trees during a very dry winter, except no pine trees), and the next minute, we'd be in a thick, lush rainforest and the sun would be completely blocked out. Around the next bend in the road would be a view of the ocean...and then we'd be back in the bush, repeating the cycle again…and again.

We drove all day through these different areas, stopping to check out fig trees as big as California redwoods, gathering places for thirsty kangaroos and a roadside fruitstand that sells lychees by the kilo. On the ride back to Cairns, our group tackled the lychees and crocodile jerky while our guide told us how the movie "Open Water" was based on a Port Douglas/Cairns snorkel and dive boat. Despite the soothing undulations of his Aussie accent, I began to panic silently in my jeep seat thinking about my boat trip the next morning. Meanwhile, everyone else chatted happily about the adventures of our day, hoping to spot a koala out the window.

That night I packed my "toggs" and sun screen in my bag and set my alarm for 6:00 a.m. when the shuttle to Port Douglas would pick me up. I laid in bed, sweating, with visions of Jaws dancing through my head.

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