Saturday, March 16, 2013

Sharks and Rainforests

Judging by Facebook, everyone in America is currently drinking green beer and engaging in general Irish merriment, but I'm back in Auckland, trying to quickly recover from my Australia jaunt and prepare for the next travel adventure.

Once LSF and I parted ways, I moved north to Cairns, Australia, where it was hotter and more tropical (yet another consequence of Aussie backwards-ness, move north and it gets more hot, which is totally weird).   I added Cairns to my trip mostly because of the Great Barrier Reef.  I got my scuba diving certification last fall and even used up very valuable suitcase space bringing my snorkel and mask to the Southern Hemisphere, but I had yet to actually go diving.  To be that close to the Great Barrier Reef and not check it out would be blasphemous, so off I went.


Sadly, at some point while moving from Auckland to Te Anau to Queenstown to Wanaka to Lake Tekapo to Christchurch to Auckland to Taupo to Rotorua to Auckland to Taupo to Auckland to Sydney to Brisbane to Cairns, I completely misplaced the USB cord for my waterproof camera, so I have some pretty sweet reefy pictures but no way to upload them until I get back to the States.  Just imagine....lots of pretty coral, seas of thousands of tropical fish surrounding us, a moray eel.  And, a shark.  No joke.  I saw, and swam with a shark.  He was a little guy, but he was definitely a shark, and I was amazed by my own reaction upon spotting him.  I wasn't frightened, even a little bit, but more curious, and sort of chased him down trying to get a picture.  I guess under the water I don't have fear.  Maybe triathlons should be underwater.  That'd work for me.
Heading out to the GBR
The day wasn't all chasing down sharks and snapping pictures of pretty fishes, though.  Our cruise left at 8 A.M. and arrived back just before 5:00 PM, with really only about an hour and a half of diving in there.  So there was a lot of sailing, laying in the sun, stumbling around the boat (because of the roughness of the sea, not beer), and, mostly, trying not to puke (again, roughness of sea).  There was a little cyclone off the coast of Cairns causing all sorts of ocean problems, and when we got on the boat, the crew immediately started pushing motion-sickness pills.  I took some, they worked for most of the trip but not all, and I spent the last hour+ curled on the deck with a barf bag, quietly yoga breathing, and praying for land.   Fun times.
All of my good pictures are on my other camera, but here are some of the snorkelers from our boat
Cairns itself was pretty but not all that inspiring, and I sort of doomed my experience by picking a pretty lousy place to stay.  When I started this round-the-world trip, I had absolutely no intention to be staying in hostels or  backpackers' accommodations.  I figured I was way too old and too lame for that nonsense, the goal of my trip (this little Aussie adventure being the exception) has never been to just drink my way across various continents, and just, no.   But I quickly realized that my money wasn't going to last forever, I'm not quite the princess that I once fancied myself, and, particularly in New Zealand and Australia, the budget accommodations are really not all that bad.  For lots of my travels, I've been staying in backpackers and motels, always getting a single room (I don't do bunk beds) but sometimes sharing a bathroom. 

This has worked OK, for the most part, and I've been pleasantly surprised by some of the places I've stayed.  But then there were times, like in Cairns, when I completely struck out.  I got to my little backpackers' accommodation, had to literally step over a couple of young backpackers who were pretty well focused on the massive bong from which they were smoking to get to my room, which turned out to be small, sweltering, and smelled just like a skunk.  The smell was so bad that I literally could not sleep or really even breathe.  I guess you win some and lose some, but that one was the worst. I guess at $45 / night with a free airport transfer, I probably shouldn't have expected much more.
Tropical Queensland
Hiking through a rainforest
I intended to spend an additional day in Cairns but skunk-smell was so bad that I checked out and moved an hour north to Port Douglas.   Along the way, I drove through the Daintree Rainforest, crossed a crocodile-filled river on a ferry (I was so hoping for a scene out of Peter Pan with angry crocodiles snapping at the cars, but I didn't really even see any), did a little hiking, and even a little swimming at the local pool. 

Pool # 35, I believe
A little shell-shocked from my accommodations the night before, I was a little nervous when checking into the backpackers' place in Port Douglas, but this one was quirky and weird in a totally acceptable and comfortable way.  

This is the kind of stuff you deal with at Backpackers'
Yesterday morning, I drove back to Cairns and began my long trip back to Auckland.   It's amazing, when I arrived, how much I felt like I was "home."  I've been in Auckland just under 3 months, but it feels so comfortable.  I liked Australia, but my heart's still with New Zealand.  And when my taxi-driver found out that I did triathlons and engaged me in a 45 minute, completely informed conversation about Kiwi triathletes, referring to them by first names as though they were no different than Magic, Kobe, or LeBron, I couldn't help but start to feel sad that soon, I'm leaving this crazy triathlon-obsessed country.  It's been good to me.  And I'll be back. 

Here's a few more Port Douglas/ Daintree pictures:

All those vines going up the tree are actually squeezing it to death


There was no way I was doing any open water swimming in Australia


The boat coming across is the car ferry to get across the Daintree River

Crocodile warnings

This is a kangaroo burger.  I had to.



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