The Plenty Before the Nothing
Cairns and Green Islands, 8th – 10th October
Today we arrive in Cairns - the last traditionally-civilised town on the East Coast. The drive isn’t long but it is very hot. Yesterday we contacted the company we bought Bertie from to recommend a mechanic to fix the air conditioning. In three days we will be leaving for the heart of the continent, the dessert. The heat there will be unbearable without air-con. Therefore, as soon we get into Cairns we drive straight to the garage. We discuss the problems quickly and decide to drop off the car early tomorrow morning. We’ll be on an island tomorrow anyway, we won’t need it.
We’ll be sleeping at an AirBnB here because we want to stay relatively close to the centre and there is no campsite there. Our room is in the house of artists-amateurs and every centimetre is drawn on. Only the daughter has been living here in the past few weeks and the room that is usually occupied by an exchange student to the local school is now free for us.
The condition inside Bertie is despairing at the moment. As we knew we would be able to empty, clean and tidy everything under a real roof we have let it all go and the mess is unbelievable. We do a few trips to get everything into the room and to begin the process. We know that soon we’ll be in the desert and want to make sure we are fully prepared so not to end up helpless somewhere. We separate a huge pile for washing, tidy the food boxes, fill up the fridge, fold and put away every item that wasn’t in its place in the last few days. Everything passes quality control as we listen to the last minutes of the audiobook fully enjoying it.
However, I am missing the most important members of this household. When we arrive the house is empty and there is a note warning us not to let the dogs inside regardless of how much their eyes are begging for it. During the day the place of the dachshunds Mustard, Coco, Pickles and Chilli is in the backyard. Not letting them come in was the toughest job for the day.
In the evening our hostess comes home and we dive into an endless conversation about them and us. I don’t think we left a topic undiscussed over the days we were here for. She, of course, lets the dachshunds in the house and tells us their family story - many sausages have passed through their hands and hearts. The house shows it - there is no wall or shelf without a picture, a photo or a figurine of a dachshund. These sausages just want attention and kisses at every free minute. Coco is the eldest in the family at 12 years old. Mustard is her little brother, 11 years old and Chilli and Pickles are twin sisters barely six months old - can you imagine how much energy those two have. I think a doggy break is exactly what we needed.
A standard morning for the East Coast: wake up, brush teeth, put on bathing stuff, arrive at the marina, get on a boat to an island. Or at least that’s the standard for our adventures.
This morning we add an extra step - we drop off Bertie at the mechanic to get himself a working air-con. Fortunately, the garage is closer to the marina than our AirBnB, therefore, we have taken into account enough time for a walk. Cairns is not full of impressive streets and neighbourhoods and the walk is fairly uneventful. We pass a few shops; we’re amazed by a huge stinky tree full of bats; we take a picture of some interesting buildings. We manage to get to the ticket desk for Green Island early enough to also have time to sit down for breakfast.
Our ticket to the island is just for the ferry to drop us off at the other shore and then pick us up. It isn’t like the other island trips so far. But, for non-equipped tourists like us, it also includes renting out snorkelling equipment - snorkel, mask and flippers. As soon as the boat moors we jump out and head straight to the first location for snorkelling, there is no time to waste.
The reef here is in the shallows thus the diversity of coral is fairly low, however, the fish are countless. I cannot believe how full the waters are here so close to people. The island itself has been turned into a resort so this ecosystem is constantly visited by humans. Big and small, colourful or drab, with a normal or weird fish shape, alone or in groups. Impossible to be described. Unlikely to be forgotten! I feel like we’ve been in the water for about five minutes though judging by how tired I am it is more like thirty - and the watch confirms it. The water managed to get rid of my headache very nicely too.
We get out because there are a few more places to discover and we want to have enough time for it all. With these vivid pictures in my head, I start to wonder how could I keep them for longer, and also share them with other people. How do you think? The gift shop knows the answer. They offer two types of underwater cameras. The first one is a standard disposable camera with film - 28 Australian dollars for 28 pictures. The other one is a very cheap knock-off GoPro (the action camera brand that everyone wants to have). Knowing how much the original costs and comparing it to the ridiculous 60 AUD for this yellow thing, I can imagine it would never produce anything of quality. But in our eyes that seems like the right investment as it can be reused and also takes video so we buy it and study it speedily. We quickly come up with a name for it - the NoPro. I think it is very suitable, especially knowing the destiny awaiting it in a few months.
We move to the next snorkel beach and get straight into the water with the new yellow thing - Nic will be taking the pictures as he understands technology better. The life down here is once again wonderful and abundant. And this time we have photo-evidence. Do we? Does this thing even work? Is it recording or taking pictures right now? How about now? I can’t see anything on the screen… Let’s try a selfie. Oh, the battery might be dead. Ergh, just leave it! It is clearly not going to work, let’s just look at the fishies while we still have time.
Above us, on the pier, a load of people are walking around - perfect as we need to find out the time. We shout to one of the couples and receive the desired answer. Between the fish, the corals and the yellow tech-wonder, the time has flown. It will be enough though to get out, have a shower in the open and get on the boat. Ah, and to get a man to leave his kid in the water to throw us up the snorkel that Nic dropped off the pier minutes before the boat leaves. Well done, Nic!
This was wonderful! We saw so many fish. With the corals from the Whitsundays two days ago I think our picture of the underwater life of the Australian coast is becoming well-rounded. The yellow NoPro is still not turning on so we don’t yet know whether it did a good enough job.
From this much excitement, we are both starving and fully ready to destroy a burger and chips each, especially when the patties are our favourite vegan brand. In anticipation of a ring about the car, we wander the streets around. We pass another huge, free, public pool like the one in Airly Beach. We take pictures on colourful mosaic benches. We buy loose almonds and raisins covered in chocolate from a zero-waste shop. I am like a kid in a sweet shop when I see a store like that as they are hard to find in England but here they are everywhere.
We also find a hairdresser and I finally convince Nic to go inside. His last cut was before the wedding - 12 weeks ago! And his usual schedule is every 6 weeks - I was ready to braid his hair. He receives a full pamper session as they wash his hair and also give him some scalp massage. She also suggests fixing his eyebrows but he likes them just as they are. And there - I finally see Nic again. I missed him in these last 6 weeks. And let’s not laugh about the newly appeared tan lines around his neck and sideburns.
We have just sat down for a coffee, as there isn’t much to do around here without a car, and we get the call that Bertie is ready. We head back to the garage the same way we walked this morning to pick up our beastie. There we get full service. Other than the air-con which is now fixed and working the man does a quick scan for other faults. He finds a few small leaks that aren’t worrisome but it is good to know about. He tops up the oil and sends us off in our cool car. He also pays attention to the fact we are only paying for the air-conditioning and nothing else as we can see we’re not made of money but he also can’t send us to the heart of the continent in a faulty car. Oh, the Australian attitude!
We get back to the AirBnB in the early evening after a day full of activities but there is still loads to do. We ask for permission to use the washing machine, we take advantage of the bathroom to get ourselves presentable again, and before dinner, we sit down to get some work done. For example to see what the NoPro has produced in the waters of Green Islands. The quality is shockingly low - like from the first camera phones. For some reason the picture is very zoomed in - even your head can’t fit in a selfie. And on top of that, some files are corrupt and can’t be read. At the same time, I receive an email from a girl we met at the Whitsundays. She had a real GoPro and she took some underwater footage so I asked her to email it to me. And here, we have two underwater videos for comparison - a GoPro and a NoPro. Well, there is no room for comparison. (If you want proof, watch this video in a bit and then go back to the post on Whitsundays to see the other one - you will confirm it for yourself. It was complete torture for Nic editing the footage so it is watchable.) We are immeasurably grateful and happy that in a few months we will be owners of a brand-new latest model GoPro - but the details on that I will save for the Christmas post.
We make dinner, hang the washing, play with the dachshunds (Pickles is my favourite), discuss tomorrow’s plans, end the torture with the NoPro and head to our room. One more long and full day we have been through. We deserve the rest in preparation for tomorrow.
We eat breakfast for a long time. We fold the washing slowly. We bring everything to the car one by one. The later we leave the longer we will have with the dogs. How could I leave when there are four souls wanting to be loved? I can’t! But there’s no alternative … We lock the door, put the key back in the lockbox and leave.
Following the conversations from yesterday with our hostess, we are changing our initial plans. Instead of driving straight West, we are going further North to Mossman Gorge. The road is about two hours in our magically conditioned Bertie - now the outside heat isn’t a bother. As instructed we don’t pay $11.50 for a shuttle from the visitors’ centre to the rain forest (instead we got some smoothies from the cafe). The situation is kinda odd on this subject here and our finances are quickly lowering.
The Mossman lands are owned and actively managed by the local aboriginal tribe (all personnel in the centre are aboriginal) who also live along the path of the shuttle. Everywhere in the visitors’ centre, there are signs that attempt with multiple threats to convince you not to walk to the forest and the river - it is too hot; too narrow; too long; too dangerous … Well, actually, as we saw ourselves the path was perfectly fine to walk. Are they trying to limit the visibility to the village by encouraging the use of the fast bus or are they trying to funnel money into the community - I do not know. But we walk it instead and fully enjoyed it.
The village is empty and poor. The road goes by it not through it so you can only see the houses on the first line - temporary, prefabricated buildings. The streets are dusty and the greenery is missing, even though we are surrounded by forest. You can hardly see people in it, though you can tell that the village is mixed with both men and women. They aren’t following the traditional practices of the aboriginal tribes to separate the two genders. Kids are nowhere to be seen. Odd. Lonely.
We reach the rainforest and the situation is - you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. There is nothing new or interesting here. Some signs explain we could see cassowaries which would have been an amazing sight considering the low number of creatures left on the continent - but we weren’t so lucky. We reach the actual gorge too - wide, full of water and picturesque. And yet - nothing compared to the rivers in the Balkans, Rilla or Pirin Mountains (Bulgaria). It would have been cool if we had remembered to bring our bathing suits to get into the water like everybody else, but alas! Not that I insist on being negative but this place didn’t impress me at all, especially as we travelled 80 km in the wrong direction for it.
We go back on the same road, do a shop and divert again. Seeing as we’re here already, we might as well see something else. At 4 pm we stop at Barron Falls but we are too hungry to walk to the waterfall and just now get everything out for lunch. We set up the table in the parking and eat whatever we can find. A typical Australian wild turkey is circling us or as we nicknamed them - a ‘gobble’. The Bush turkeys are kinda dumpy and funny looking - black with a read head and a bright yellow goitre which looks like a little scarf. They make no noise and get into everything.
Okay, we’re ready for the waterfall. We walk the path and stand at the lookout. What a wonderful place. On this platform, we are levelled with the beginning of the fall and under us opens up a great deep gorge. The water is dammed at the top which is why only one or two streams come down and create water holes here and there. I try to imagine what the view in front of us would be like if the dam wasn’t there - maybe a mini Niagara. Romance!
Of course, there is something to pull us away from here too. We have a long drive to the campsite and it is already getting late. On the way, we stop at one more lookout - Henry Ross. Up here the view is to the bright green valley down under, melting into the blue ocean. It is beautiful… but they should have cut that tree in the centre that limits the view. However, as we’ve seen today life is just a sequence of ups and downs and as much as you try nothing will ever be perfect. And that is okay.
The campsite tonight needs to be noted for some hobbies of the Sims Family members who would appreciate it. We will sleep in something that I would call a train sanctuary. We are surrounded by restored or waiting to be restored steam engines. Everywhere you see old signs to do with the railway industry. Overall a heaven for train-obsessed people. Do we know any of them? … (:D)
From tomorrow - through the savanna towards the dessert! To the first real populated area Alice Springs, the distance is 2,500 km. The petrol stations are hundreds of kilometres apart. There are no trees, the water is scarce, the shops are too. Everything is very expensive! We do not intend to stop anywhere unnecessary in the next few days and will, therefore, require strong nerves. A real physical and mental preparation for the Wild - it deserves the capital “W”.
Are you coming with us?
Vassya (and Nic)