Kristina and David's Round-The-World Journal:
October 7, 1998 The Mad Irishman of Cairns (or, Sex and the Single Coral)
If the flight to Sydney in business class and the nice hotel were a little slice of heaven, the flight on Ansett from Sydney to Cairns and the hostel here must be some sort of penance. The flight was bumpy, crowded, and the food, well, pitiful (literally bread and water). We're staying at the Caravella 77 Backpacker's Hostel right on the Esplanade here in Cairns. I'm sure it's fine as Youth Hostels go, but the room is a bit scary. Bed with bad mattress, sink, single bulb light and small fridge. That's it. Its saving grace is an overhead fan and an air conditioner, and considering the high humidity and temperature, both are needed. They do give you a card for one free meal on your first night here at a local nightclub. We used it and had decent meatballs with mashed potatoes and gravy. They also offer a free pick up from the airport.
When we got into town we had lunch at one of the many local Lebanese Kebab places and then went looking for the dive shop, CDC (Cairns Dive Center), that is running our dive trip. We were reassured to see that they are a 5 star PADI dive center (something our instructors were not).
When we were booking this trip back in Sydney, Zoe at the Backpacker's Travel Center told us that we had to go see "Reef Teach", a presentation about diving the reef here in Cairns. When we got here, we saw a flyer for it and given our other plans, decided to go see it tonight. It was well worth it.
For A$10 per person you get a 2 1/4 hour presentation on the marine life of the reef by Paddy Colwel, this completely mad Irishman. He's a certified dive instructor as well as a marine biologist who specializes in temperate waters. He does a slide show packed with information about the various types of fish and coral that live on the reef, tells you what you can and cannot touch, and completely enthralls and entertains while he does it. I think I learned more in two hours than I did in an entire semester of Marine Biology in high school. This is absolutely a must for anyone planning on snorkeling or scuba diving here. Reef Teach is located at 14 Spence St and the show is Mon-Sat at 6:15.
So, some of the interesting things we learned about the reef...The Great Barrier Reef is the largest living organism on the planet made up of thousands of tiny coral reefs and islands. It can be seen from the moon with the naked eye.
We learned about many of the fish we might encounter and how to tell them apart; Damsel fish, Wrasse, Angel Fish, and about the differences between soft and hard coral. For those of you that don't know, coral is a very delicate living animal, not just a plant or a rock as some people think. Simply brushing up against it can damage it or even kill it. We also learned that all coral on the Great Barrier Reef spawns at the same time every year; 3 to 6 days after the 11th full moon of the year. This is how the coral have sex and reproduce. They do it all at the same time to increase their chance of survival, the more eggs floating out there in the water, the more likely at least some will survive and not be eaten.
Paddy pointed out to us that the reefs of the world are being destroyed at a faster rate than the rain forests, but this goes mostly unchecked because underwater is "out of sight, out of mind." Most of this damage is man made; pollution in the water, global weather changes due to global warming, and worst of all destructive fishing methods like dynamite fishing and cyanide fishing. On an up note, many of the reefs are now being protected, so that tourists like us will come here and spend money to dive them. One last fun fact, sea cucumbers, already probably one of the ocean's more disgusting creatures, breath through their anus using sticky tentacles that they push out and then suck back in. Thought you'd like to know.....
October 8, 1998 In the jungle, the mighty jungle....
Cape Tribulation, Daintree Rain forest, Tropical North Queensland, Australia
OK folks, I know that we have oohed and aahed the New Zealand rain forests ad nauseum, but let me return to the subject of rain forests with a fresh new look. The NZ forests are all 'sub-tropical', which simply means that they are located south of the Tropic of Capricorn, an imaginary line which borders all that is 'tropical' south of the equator (to the north, you will find the tropic of cancer). Now we are in THE REAL THING. This is the jungle we have all seen on National Geographic, and dreamed of in our fantasies of being stranded with Harrison Ford or Anne Heche on some tropical isle. Thick, lush, and moist. The trees, banana and all fruits tropical, as well as jurassic fern trees, coconuts, and mangrove, lay like thick carpet right up to the water's edge. There is a small stretch of beach in some places, but most of the coast is swampy, with the mangrove trees growing right out the 85 degree water, their shallow roots above ground like an overturned basket.
The sounds of this jungle here, as compared with Hawaii, Fiji, and NZ, are like nothing I have ever heard-with the exception of that 'jungle noises' tape that you can buy, with ocean sounds on the B side... There are things crying out, howling, hooting, chirping, cawing, cooing, and it just doesn't stop! The sound does, however, cycle up and down in intensity, building slowly to a crescendo, and then -cut- near silence. One by one, the birds and insects and everything else out there begins anew, each with a distinct song or sound, all in time, and all as if part of an arrangement prepared by mother nature herself.
This is one of the three oldest rainforests on the planet, along with the Congo and the Amazon, and the only one which connects directly to another of earths true wonders, the great barrier reef. We saw the reef from the plane, and I am still in awe of the whole thing. It is not, contrary to my previous misconception, one single reef. It is 2700 kilometres of sections of reef all lined up next to one another. It is the single largest living organism (a reef system, although made up of zillions of little animals, is considered a single living entity, as it relies on all of its members to continue living and growing) on the planet, and, as I think Kristina mentioned above, can be seen without a telescope from outer space! I can not wait to get out there and scuba dive the reef.
The rainforest boasts one hell of a collection of rare species of life, animal and plant, including crocodiles (up to 8 metres long), tree kangaroos, koala bears, and Cassowary birds- a jurassic leftover not unlike an ostrich or emu. Today we have seen Ulysses Butterfly, a large, cobalt blue winged butterfly of indescribable beauty, bats by the thousands at dusk, a host of birds whose names I just don't know (can't know everything, eh..), and yes, the infamous CANE TOAD! Those readers who are either family or old friends will understand the significance of this sighting, and the rest of you should go out to your local video store and rent this most fabulous documentary, called "Cane Toads". We saw the little bugger from our mini tour bus, en route to Cape Tribulation from Cairns. As the driver of the bus, Blackie (a white guy), swerved to try to squash it, he briefly narrated the history of the cane toad, and at once confirmed the truth of this little bit of folklore I have always held dear. I am serious. If you have not yet seen this documentary, do so right away, and invite all your friends. It is more fun than anything now showing at the cinema, I guarantee it.
In addition to being beautiful, it is humid here. If it were not humid, it would not be a rain forest I suppose, but, damn is it humid. After dinner, a camp-like feast of pasta and salad, complete with camp songs- CCR: fortunate son (that's me), Dylan: everybody must get stoned (that's not me), and the Beach Boys: Sloop John B. (a definite sixth grade camp song), I got into a game of pool on a billiard table with a local.
By billiards, I mean all the balls were smaller, and either yellow or red. By local, I mean Aboriginal. His name was Roy, and he was drunk. I was not drunk, only tipsy. Instead, however, I was a sweathog. I could have been in a sauna, I was sweating so much. I was really missing that dry, California climate, as I dripped all over my cue, the table, the balls, and through my clothes, while getting my butt whipped by a drunken Aborigine. During that game, the DJ treated us to the Mommas and the Poppas: California Dreaming... of course.
Tomorrow, we seek out the elusive and dangerous snapping handbag....Crocodile St. Laurent.
October 10, 1998 Cape Tribulation
Well, since Dave gave you all the flowery jungle stuff, I guess it's my duty to give you the details about what we did and where we stayed. Odds are, if you come to Cairns you will be offered a budget trip up to Cape Tribulation. There are a few resorts, but only one "backpacker's " accommodation, PK's Jungle Resort along with PK's Jungle Inn, across the road. The Jungle Resort has all the single's dorms, 8 beds in a wooden hut. They also have a mildly overpriced restaurant and bar that definitely does have the summer camp feel to it. This is the place for the 18-25 singles set. Across the road is a take-away food stand which is the only other food around. Both the resort and the Inn have small pools and the beach is only a 400 meter walk away. The Jungle Inn is also called the Cape Homestead and has toilet/shower block along with cabins that are actually steel and canvas tents with large awnings over them. They have wooden doors, screened in windows, and a fan. They are only slightly more expensive and only come as double or twin rooms. Much quieter and less of a party atmosphere than the resort.
Jungle Tours is the company we used for the bus ride up and back and they did a good job. On the way up we stopped for breakfast in the little town of Mossman and then off we went to get to the cape with plenty of time to do those activities!! That seems to be the goal, to sign you up for as many activities as possible. There was horseback riding, bush walks, sea kayaking, reef diving, all really out of our budget. So, we went to the beach, which is why we went up there in the first place (note: Cairns has no beach! It's built on mud flats, so don't expect any fun on the sand there). And a magnificent beach it is, I might add. Fine, powdery sand, shallow warm water, jungle and swaying palm trees right up to the beach. Amazing! We built a giant lizard in the sand on the first day.
One of the other things we did was go to the Bat House. This is a rainforrest conservation hut across the road where they take care of wounded and sick flying foxes, also known as fruit bats. For a small donation, you can go in and meet one of their resident bats. We met Alexis, and had the chance to feed her a banana. She was very tame, sweet, and friendly. So friendly, after we fed her, she wanted to lick the salt off our hands! Fruit bats have a wing span of over 3 feet with thumb like claws on the tips for maneuvering around. She even reached out and grabbed us with them to bring us closer! She had soft black fur, wings that feel like leather, and very smart eyes. The picture you see of her is not upside down, that's how they are at rest; they hang from their feet and fold their wings around them. In fact, they only turn "right side up" to go to the bathroom.
On our second day at the beach, David decided he wanted to build a big sand castle. It took a few hours, and with only a little help from me, he finished his masterpiece!
On the way back from Cape Tribulation, we stopped at a local place where they make ice cream from only the local rainforrest fruit. Good stuff, weird flavors.
We also stopped to take a one hour cruise down the Daintree River, supposedly to see crocodiles, but they all seemed to be hiding. So, it was a hot, humid, one hour cruise to see lots of mangrove trees and a few birds. Oh well.
The highlight of the trip back to Cairns was the stop at Mossman Gorge where we had our choice of rainforrest walk or a swim in the gorge. We took a swim and it was just wonderful! The water was so cool and clean and refreshing and the gorge is quite big enough for swimming, even with the 50 or so people that were there.
All in all, the trip was a good one, and worth the money (A$128 per person for transportation and lodging). If you go, I would recommend, bringing food to cook in the kitchen, because the food was over priced and only mediocre. Also, the optional activities were expensive, but everyone who went horseback riding into the ocean said it was well worth it.
Tomorrow we have a day in Cairns and then it's off to the reef to dive.
October 15, 1998 Blowing Bubbles with The Little Mermaid...
As the shadow of Calypso fades into the distance, David and Kristina Cousteau descend further into the last great unexplored frontier, the undersea world of The Great Barrier Reef. Our quest is to seek out the last of deep sea giants... or something like that. Actually, the ship we were on is named Stella Maris (Cousteau's famous Calypso sank several years ago, I believe), and she has as much class as any that I have ever sailed on. The Stella Maris was commissioned 25 years ago for the Sydney to Hobart race, and used as the radio vessel during the completion. Unlike most of the new dive boats out of Cairns, Stella only holds 20-22 people max, including crew, making for a much more intimate and personal dive experience. She is currently owned by a five star PADI dive company called Pro Dive, but was temporarily under charter by another company called CDC- Cairns Dive Company- with whom we had booked our three day dive adventure.The crew was awesome. The skipper of the boat, a young guy (mid 30s ?) by the name of Jamie, was friendly, funny, and interesting, in addition to being an experienced and extremely competent captain. I liked him instantly, and felt very safe knowing he was at the helm.
The first mate, Gavin, was just as mellow as Zonker Harris, from Doonesbury comics, although definitely not a hippie, or as the Ozzies say, a feral. No, Gavin was more like Aquaman, from the Superfriends. This guy was, in my eyes, a diving superhero. He dove with no wetsuit, even to 100 ft. No worries, mate. He could stay down for an hour and a half!! 90 minutes, on a single tank! Most of the newly certified divers were out of air and on the surface after 30 minutes, to give you some comparison.
Kristina and I had the pleasure of diving with him once, and it was a great learning experience. He moves like a fish in the water, slowly and deliberately, inches from the reef, or the bottom, but never actually touching a thing, he is perfectly neutrally buoyant. "I am a lazy diver", he says, modestly. We know better. With over 3000 dives in 16 years, he is an experienced diver. I did my best to emulate his style, or as Kristina put it "try to be a stud like him", and by my last dive, I had shed the wetsuit, and most of the weights on my belt. I moved as slowly and calmly as I could, breathing with control, and I was able to hit 50 minutes with one tank, and majorly increase my buoyancy control. I probably had ten minutes more worth of air in my tank, but everyone else was on the boat already, waiting for me so I stopped playing with this enormous Batfish that I had befriended, and surfaced.
The reef itself is even more impressive in real life than on TV!! (can you tell what generation I grew up in?) The visibility was extraordinary, from 20 to 30 metres. In ten dives we saw one huge and majestic Manta Ray, many sharks, a few sea turtles, giant clams as big as Kristina, a giant Wrasse fish, moorish idols, Parrotfish, anemones and clownfish, butterfly fish, angel fish, and so much more. All kinds of soft and hard coral, from the tiny to the most enormous. It was simply incredible, another world.
October 15, 1998 Back from the Great Barrier Reef...
First, let me say this; the Great Barrier Reef is all that you've ever heard and more. It was truly stunning, beautiful, amazing.
We were blessed with beautiful weather, clear, hot, little wind. It was probably 85 degrees outside and 80 in the water (my dive gauge showed the water temperature at 27-30 degrees celsius, fairly consistently, even far below the surface). From the deck of the boat we could see down about 20 meters. I have never seen such clear blue water in my entire life.
The first day we were picked up at the YHA early in the morning and met another couple from Southern California, Suzanne and Peter. They are traveling around the world for 6 months and are experienced divers taking their advanced course on the boat. We have met very few Americans here in Australia. .
We were then taken down the day boat, where we would do two dives and then meet up with the Stella Maris. The first two dives were great and Dave and I kept to the shallows for fear of getting lost (this was a reoccurring theme). When we got to the other boat we were assigned our rooms, which for us was a 6 bunk cabin in the back of the ship where the air-conditioning was broken. We slept on the top deck of the boat that night.
That night we did our first night dive, accompanied by instructor Tom, Peter, and Suzanne, who were doing a navigation skill. It was interesting and a little scary at the same time. All you can see is what's lit by the flashlight. Not much. We did see bioluminescent particles when we turned off the torches and it felt like outer space.
The following day, four more dives, first one, seven AM. Not the best dive because my mask kept filling with water. Then we got lost down under and came up far from the boat and had to swim against the current to get back. We were fortunate on that day to be accompanied on two of our dives by a dive master, Vicki, on one, and Gavin (Aquaman), on the other.
Our last day on the boat we woke at 6 AM to dive and did two more by 2:30 in the afternoon. We dove at Milln Reef at an area called The Whale. On the first dive we went down to our limit, 18 meters and it was so clear! I couldn't believe how far down we were and it didn't feel like it. We saw a huge reef shark first off and a giant clam. Tons and tons of colorful coral and fish. Our following dive was there too and very much the same.
October 16, 1998
Today was spent in a flurry of activity getting ready to go to Bali. Repacking, organizing and culling our belongings was the first order of the day. We managed to significantly reduce what we had (I had to give up a pair of shoes!!) and we sent a big box home from the post office. Then, nervous about landing in Bali at 12:30 AM, we went to an STA office to get a hotel reservation for the first two nights. Mission accomplished.
We also went back to Internet Adventure where Micheal Caspaney, the owner, has graciously allowed us to us his fax line to make a call to hook up to iPass. He's located at 31B Shields Street in Cairns and he's got the best online rates around (A$6 and hour), good machines, ISDN lines, and a great, air conditioned facility. Here we added in all the photos from the dive trip. All those pictures were taken with an underwater camera. We then took photos of the photos and put then on the page.