Tropical Queensland

Trip Start Jan 10, 2005
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31
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Trip End May 10, 2005


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Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The first thing we noticed once we disembarked was the heat and the humidity. We're back in the tropics!

Cairns (population 150,000) doesn't much resemble the Cairns that I visited 20 years ago. Back then, it was a quiet backpacker's haven. There were few big buildings and only one traffic light. Not so now. It's much more "upmarket" and there are scads of big hotels - and many more traffic lights! As one of the locals said, Cairns has "grown up" (though there is a maximum on the height of highrises here which is 16 storeys because it's on a major flight path). Most of the shops have signs in Japanese as well as English. (One of the reasons it's much busier now is that it has an international airport which it didn't have in 1983.) It is still a backpacker destination, though, and there are many more budget places for travellers to stay. Though I don't know where they'd eat of they didn't have cooking facilities at their hostel; the food is very expensive - pasta runs about $15-$20. No wonder we saw so many young people lining up for free spaghetti at one of the popular bars.

If you walk through the streets of Cairns at dusk, there's this horrible screeching that fills the air. At first, we though it was birds, but it's bats! Fruit bats, to be exact, or, as they are known locally, "flying foxes"; many of them have three foot wingspans! They live in the larger trees and come out to feed at night.

There is no beach here, just mud flats. There's a public swimming pool that has been built beside the ocean. Many tourists come here to experience the Great Barrier Reef and, although the reef spans hundreds of miles along the northeast coast, it is easiest to access it from Cairns. We took a day trip out the outer reef today to do some snorkeling/diving. The weather was perfect - sunny, calm and 30C. We visited two different sites and saw all sorts of fish, including angelfish and parrotfish, in a multitude of colours and sizes. Martin got to feed the turles. The coral was various shades of yellow, purple and brown, but not as colourful as I remembered it to be. There's obivously been some damage from cyclones, global warming, etc.

A number of the snorkellers encountered jellyfish called "bluebottles) and received painful stings. I was lucky. A bluebottle lookes like a bubble with blue tentacles; these were quite small - the tentacles were only about two to three inches long. One guy got stings around his neck and across his back. His skin was still red and swollen when we got back to Cairns several hours later. Since the jellyfish are on the surface, the divers didn't have to worry about them as much.

But I was silly in one respect. Although I applied sunscreen before we left the hotel, I didn't reapply it when we were out snorkelling and managed to get a sunburn on my back. The tropical sun is much more direct (and hotter) than what we're used to. I imagine I'll be suffering for days to come!

Not all people come here for pleasure, however. We met a woman from outside Cairns who was being treated for cancer at the onctocology clinic. She had been married to a Canadian who now lived in Saskatoon. It's such a small world.

Well, Martin purchased his "didg" just as he threatened to do. It's about six feet long - now we just have to get it home!
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