Saturday, May 05, 2007


I shall shake the dust of your town from my heels!

I have enjoyed my time in Cairns. The tropical weather, the Lagoon, the laid-back lifestyle and of course the amazing trips I've taken have all played a part in keeping me here. However, it has the atmosphere of a town rather than a city where things actually happen. apart from property development, tourism, and the growing of sugarcane, which continue apace. I get the impression that this is a dream holiday destination for two weeks. It's been almost that long for me. I've tried work, tried leisure, sampled the lifestyle to the max - and although this is a paradise, I know I'll think of it more fondly when I'm gone than I do now. Perhaps it's the way 80% of the population work in hospitality and tourism, or maybe the many ways artfully designed to separate the unwary from their money, or the fact that I'm bored with sunbathing by the Lagoon and have read all my books, even the new ones from the Lifeline op shop (a charity shop, for my UK readers.)

That was a good place to stop by - I picked up Wicked, purporting to be the biography of the Wicked Witch of the West, and ended up having a wonderful discussion with the lady behind the counter about modern reworkings of fairy tales. We agreed on Emma Donoghue, and I suggested Beauty by Sheri S. Tepper. As I was walking home, it occurred to me that I should have mentioned Angela Carter - although I'm sure she'd have heard of her already. Wise Children is one of my all-time favourite books.

So I've bought a ticket to fly to Darwin on Tuesday. I have a list of things to do before I leave, and was fortunately able to tick off another Barrier Reef trip. Should you, gentle reader, come to Cairns and wish to see the Reef, I'd really recommend going to Reef Teach the night before. A two hour introduction to this unique environment, with lots of tea, coffee and chocolate biscuits, was a really good thing to do for only $13! The marine biologist was really friendly and had some amazing facts to share. It was also really helpful from the point of view of identifying some of the fish and coral I saw: the unicorn surgeonfish, for example. Doesn't that sound impressive?

I took the Ocean Free out to Green Island, and was mercifully not seasick! Spent the 2 hour journey out chatting with a really interesting paediatric nurse from Bolton (home of the wonderful Bolton Octagon theatre) who's hoping to emigrate out here. As the boat bobbed along I was the first person to spot turtles in the sea! Snorkelling was pretty simple: Green Island is a coral cay and the water's shallow enough that you're quite protected from big waves as you drift along. I've discovered that it's much easier when using flippers to swim with both feet together like a dolphin, butterfly-stroke-style, than attempting to kick my legs separately from the hips.

On the island, which has a pretty expensive tourist resort ($2.50 for a Mars bar!) I went to their unusual attraction Melanesian Menagerie, a strangely macho enterprise founded by a crocodile hunter with many eagerly captioned photos of dead crocodiles on the walls. I felt uncomfortable and strangely repulsed - much as I do when after scanning Frankie magazine in newsagents, something like this catches my eye. The Menagerie includes delicate scrimshaw carvings on whales' teeth, which apparently JFK used to collect; various fish from the reef in small tanks so you could photograph them; dusty wooden Polynesian masks displayed with little explanation; and the malevolent-looking Cassius, the world's largest crocodile in captivity. All the animal enclosures looked rather small. Although I admired the huge slow-moving turtles, it was certainly a bizarre mix of things and not necessarily one I'd recommend.

Since discovering that my youthful asthma means I can never scuba dive, I've discovered a new appreciation for snorkelling and just how much you can see from the surface and free diving. Our guide took us on a "snorkelling tour" - she dragged a life ring around behind her that we could grip onto if we got tired, and steered us around the coral bommies to find Nemo and his fellow clownfish (I have to see that movie!) she dived down to grab a sea cucumber for us - a slightly sticky, plastic-feeling, orange spiny thing, and to tickle giant clams so we could watch their vents huff in annoyance and their huge shells slowly close up.

Then we put up the sails to sail back, which was v dramatic: it's been a long time since I was last in a sailing boat and I'd forgotten just how much they lean over. At what seemed like a 60 degree angle, the helpers chopped up giant platters of fruit and cheese and cake and offered champagne around. I declined it all, and thankfully was not sick! I also got some gorgeous photos, which I'll post soon.

My tips for Cairns are: don't bother with hostels who claim to give you a free meal every night. You receive a voucher for a backpacker pub like PJ O'Brien's or Rhinobar, entitling you to a choice of 4 meals the size of a saucer. To get a decent portion, you still have to spend money! The best meal deals are the vouchers on the back of the local free paper, which give you discounts at some of the many Sushi Train places, and 2 for 1 meals at Montezuma's (a really great Mexican restaurant.) The best gelati is on Shields St. And don't forget to check out the mosaic-covered street furniture, and the art galleries!

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Ooooh, oooh, oooh. Can I borrow Wicked (if you can be bothered lugging it around until you get to Melbourne) because it sounds really good!

I've only just replied to your email (because I'm slack) and then saw your last 4 posts, so you may be able to ignore the second? paragraph of my email.

The snorkeling sounds like lots of fun, I've always enjoyed it when I've gone.
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