Well, What Did You Expect...Really?

Trip Start Sep 08, 2011
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Trip End Jan 08, 2012


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Flag of Australia  , Queensland,
Friday, November 25, 2011

After so little sleep between Monday (flight from Perth) and Tuesday (trip to Cape Tribulation), yesterday was spent just relaxing. I didn't wake up until noon and then all I did was to catch up with the blog. So, the next big excursion was today to the Atherton Tablelands, a high plateau containing part of the rain forest.

After my experience with the tour to Cape Trib, I wasn’t really expecting much from the tour guide – I imagined the tourists would be treated like cattle and that would be it. So, when the bus came to pick me up, I was more than a little pleasantly surprised that the tour guide (also the owner of the company) welcomed me on to the tour group with a huge hug! I should also point out that the tour company was called Captain Matty’s Barefoot Tours and, guess what, the guide/boss, Captain Matty himself, was in bare feet (and remained so throughout the day).

Once the entire group had been collected (and all hugged in welcome) we set off on our journey. The first thing he wanted to show us was the Cathedral Fig Tree, a massive strangler fig tree. Like the ones I’d seen in Daintree National Park, this is a tree that lives off its host, basically strangling it to death, however, in this case the tree was huge and the process was ongoing. Truly, an amazing thing to see. After that it was a short drive to Heales Lookout, which afforded some great views of the valley below.

Now, the weather did not look particularly good early in the morning, but by the time we’d arrived at Lake Eacham it was pouring with rain. Lake Eacham is a volcanic lake, ie a volcano crater which is now a lake. We were supposed to go for a swim in it, but with the rain we had our doubts. However, Captain Matty pointed out that as we were going to get wet anyway, what did it matter if it was raining? Fair point. Being the tropics, it wasn’t cold, just wet. So, everyone stripped off in the bus and walked to the lake (some 10 minutes away) in their bathers/bikinis and thongs (flip flops! How many times do I have to remind you?). It wasn’t a particularly comfortable walk semi-naked in the rain with very little grip (thongs were not made for this – or, at least, mine weren’t), but once we got to the lake things were looking good again. It was a great swim, unfortunately, however, because of the rain I was unable to take my camera with me.

After that we took a short break for morning tea (they do love that here). Again when compared to the measly offerings of the Cape Trib tour, this was a veritable feast of fruit (some from Captain Matty’s own backyard) and cakes; all very tasty. Then it was back on the road again, this time to Dinner Falls and the Crater. The Crater is exactly what it says on the tin, a volcanic crater filled with water. From the top the water starts at about 60+ metres down the crater, but here’s the thing, no one knows how deep it is. The lowest recorded dive was at 94 metres, but the diver dropped a glow stick at that depth to see how far it would go only to lose sight of it shortly afterwards. Visibility in the water is 50 metres. That makes it at least 150 metres deep – I was only thinking about what kind of unknown creatures probably lived in it!

Then it was on to Dinner Falls itself. It required a 20 minute trek in the rain and forest, through mud and puddles, all in our bathers/bikinis and thongs. At this point it was pointless even taking a towel with us as it would be absolutely soaked before we got to the falls. On the way, I was lagging behind, when I heard some screams up ahead. As Captain Matty had been filling our heads with stories of snakes that the girls had seen one or, worse, been bitten. By the time I caught up with the rest of the group, I could see Captain Matty holding up a cane toad and explaining all about it.

Cane toads are not very pleasant creatures, they were imported from South America in order to combat cane beetles which were destroying sugar cane crops. Amongst disastrous imports of animals (and flora), this has turned out to be one of the worst. Their numbers could not be controlled and now they are rampant all over Australia; in fact Western Australia is on red alert, because it’s one of the last places to be infested by them. Not only have they virtually overrun the country, but they represent a very real danger for the local wildlife, because they have poison glands as a defence mechanism, yet that doesn’t stop them being prey to other animals. The problem with that is that the animals that eat it, then die themselves from the poison. So, they are inadvertently killing off the local wildlife. Finally, to add insult to injury, they don’t even do what they were brought here for! They turn their noses up at the cane beetles and eat other valuable flora and fauna. An unmitigated disaster on many levels.

Anyway, after the explanation, most of which I already knew, Captain Matty casually threw the toad away in the general direction of some Dutch girls. I swear, an Olympic sprinter could not have moved any quicker. They ran blindly through the forest like wailing banshees. Dinner Falls was our first waterfall of the day and, as we would later realise, it was one of the smaller ones. However, hindsight is a wonderful thing, but as it was our first waterfall we were enthralled. There were a few tricky rocks to negotiate, but we all dived into the water and it was lovely. Being able to stand under the waterfall was invigorating. Of course, it hadn’t stopped raining, but we were all a little slow in putting two and two together.

We spent quite a while there and by the time we got back to the bus, our towels, which we’d left on the bus had become less than useless, they were still soaked from the first swim. So we all sat on the bus semi-naked  on our way to lunch, all the while, Captain Matty, who was continually looking in his rear view mirror, seemed to be repeating to himself, "I love my job." I have to say it would have been difficult to argue with him at that point. The only downside, if you can call it that was that people started to find leeches on their bodies. Thanks to QI and Stephen Fry, I’m well aware that the best way to get rid of them was to just let them feed and then drop off you. The worst thing you can do is pull them off as this leads to bleeding because they release an anti-coagulant into the blood so that it doesn’t clot. The rest of the group couldn’t get their heads around that and went in search of the leeches, pulling them off as they found them. They were a bloody mess. Meanwhile, as you can’t feel the leech, I didn’t bother to look for them, I’m sure they were sucking off of me just as much as everyone else, and I’m equally sure that if I’d seen one I’d have been just as grossed out as they were, but what the eyes don’t see, the mind can’t panic over. I was actually surprised by my zen-like attitude.

Lunch was also a pleasant surprise. By this stage if the tour company provides lunch, its usually a salad or a cold sandwich; if they take you to a restaurant/bar for lunch, it’s  usually very expensive. In this case we went to a pub (God knows where – I think Kununurra was bigger than this place and that’s saying something), which had decent food at a fair price. Then to top it off, Captain Matty bought rounds of beer for everyone. I’m sure he’s on some kind of commission for taking us there, but, still, it was a nice gesture. Meanwhile the landlord fancied himself as a bit of a Jack the lad. So, once he’d heard about the incident with the cane toad, he got hold of a rubber snake and threw it at the Dutch girls, again, they went mental, running in all directions, in fact, one of them moved so quickly that I didn’t see her go, all I saw was her hiding behind some friends at another table!

In the afternoon it was off to MIlaa Milaa Falls. Now as waterfalls go, that was impressive. In addition it had stopped raining long enough to appreciate it. Captain Matty showed us a cool trick; after staring at a fixed point in the waterfall for at least 30 seconds, we were instructed to look at the trees to the right of the waterfall. The effect was better than any hallucinogenic I can imagine! That set us up beautifully for the swim in the volcanic crater. We’d all thought that the Dinner Falls was cool, but this was something else entirely. Swimming under a waterfall! I never thought I’d ever do that. A fantastic experience!

I thought that was it for the day, but there was one more pool to visit after stopping off at Crawford's Lookout; Josephine Falls. It was very impressive, but what it really had going for it was that it had a rock slide. You climbed up some rocks, walked across the top of them, with the water trying to sweep you off them, and when you get to the end, there’s a smooth part which you can slide down...on solid rock! I’d been adventurous all day, in and out of the water with no qualms, but this was a bridge too far. I could see myself ending up flat on my back, putting my back out on the rock (did I mention that it was solid?), giving myself concussion or, worse, bashing my brains out. That’s when I called it a day. Besides I was the oldest person there, everyone was 20 something with their nubile bodies (even Captain Matty was only 32), while I’m 46; old enough to be the father of most of them. Some may call it cowardice not to at least have tried the slide; I call it wisdom.

Of course, it had started pouring down with rain again. To be honest, it probably only stopped raining for about 30 minutes (and not consecutively) during the entire day.  Finally, I managed to put it all together: where was I? In the rain forest. What time of year was it? The wet season. Think about it, being in the rain forest during the wet season, what other kind of weather should I have expected? But then at the end of the day, it finally stopped raining, but I was still wet. It was dark and overcast, there was no sun and yet I was soaking wet. At first, I couldn’t work it out, but then it hit me, I was sweating from the humidity! Did I forget to mention that it’s a tropical rain forest? Enough said.
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Comments

Sprint students on

Hey George! It's wonderful to hear from you again. I guess that because of the name user you might be wondering who the hell is. We're your class, Big fella!!. I reckon you might have forgotten about us, so you're having such a magical experience. Just to give you a clue (do you remember Aleix, Marta, Diana, Paula... and me, Marcel). Well we only wanted to know how our teacher was doing. We are all very happy that you're enjoying so much your (let's call it as in Spain) "año sabático". We'll be waiting for you in the class!!

georgegoode
georgegoode on

Hi Peeps,
Don't worry I haven't forgotten any of you and it's good to hear from you too. I'm assuming you'll be taking the FC exam very soon - good luck! If you stay on for the CAE course, I'll see you in January, which is just around the corner.

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