Fun at Cape Tribulation

Well folks, this has been a long time in coming. It happened while we were in Queensland, and was written in Waipawa, New Zealand. By the time I catch up with my blog we should be home at last.

In December we drove up north along the Australian coast for a “holiday”, which is Aussie for a vacation. Two weeks was long enough for two people who would go down to wade in the Lemhi River with a pint of Haagen-Dazs and call it an “expensive date”.
Despite our expenditures on this holiday, which mostly consisted of food (we foundered on tropical fruit until I got eczema because it happens that perhaps Dutch genes can’t handle that much mango) and camping gear (we consoled ourselves with the fact that we had saved our money by not buying pillows and so instead would suffer neck and back pains when we became middle-aged) and petrol ( a fancy name for the shiny, pricey stuff that you feed your car), we still managed to have a good time.

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My mother will be relieved to hear that we heeded the signs reading “Achtung, Crocodiles!” and “Danger, marine stingers.” We did not swim, except in a stinger net.
By the way, swimming in a stinger net is about as exciting as cod with nothing on it. On the northeastern shore there was A. No waves. B. Water that stung like vinegar in your eyes because it was so salty. C. Hot, hot sand with nothing to look at on it.
The only interesting things on this beach with the stinger net on it were: A. The Aboriginal-looking people swimming outside the net. B. The little crabs that worked so hard to dig holes for themselves while the tide was still out. C. A strange, prehistoric bird the size of an emu (ee-mew) called a Cassowary, who stole fruit from frightened tourists.
IMG_7803So We swam in the stinger net, ate tropical fruit, and put our Subaru to the test on the dirt road from Cape Tribulation to Cooktown (four wheel drive only). We didn’t see a single crocodile, even though we wandered up the coast in search of one. Not even a drag mark in the sand was to be found.
We only got rained out of our tent once, which is saying a lot, considering we did go on a holiday to the rain forest.
On this particular occasion I woke up at 3 a.m. to find water dripping on my face. This was quite obnoxious, since the idea of a tent is to keep the outside outside. Unfortunately, these two same people who took the Lemhi-River-Haagen-Dazs date had bought a ninety dollar tent. IMG_7905While ninety dollar tents might be fine for dry and balmy nights, they aren’t so great after rain has been dripping on them for five hours.
We left. We left our wet tent after emptying it, hopped in our car and drove away to the city of Cairns.
There we spent a morning sitting in our car in the rain watching people jog in the rain and trying to persuade ourselves that we were having the time of our lives. Shopping perked us up, at least me. Even when I don’t buy anything, I still like shopping.
May I recommend, on stormy days in the city, that you buy an umbrella?
If only for one reason, buy an umbrella because there is not a feeling like it in the world. Imagine you have come from the desert. Imagine that you grew up in a place where you only get 14 inches (or is it 12?) of precipitation a year. Imagine now being somewhere where going to buy an umbrella is a useful excursion. It’s quite thrilling, actually. You should try it sometime.
The next day, in higher spirits, we returned to get our tent.
It was gone.
Here is what you say in Australia when someone has stolen your tent: “What bloody person has stolen my tent?” I’m not sure what it means, all I know is that it isn’t very flattering.
While we were saying that bit about the–ahem–person who’d stolen our tent, a man jumped out of his bus and ran toward us, shirtless.
Now these people we had seen. They were camping in a bus, which amused Ethan and I until the night of the Exodus. At that time we reckoned that this bloke and his family were actually quite brilliant to camp in a bus.
“Are you missing a tent?” The shirtless man asked. He looked rather like he could have been a viking, with his bright eyes, beard and long hair. I could easily picture him decapitating someone with a broad sword.
“Yes.”
“It’s over here.” He seemed quite embarrassed. I would have been, too.
We followed him over to his bus, and there was our tent, nicely dried after a day and a half, laid out on the grass. He helped us pick it up, apologizing the whole time.
“I thought you just left it there,” he went on, “I didn’t think you’d come back–.”
He said his name was Macca, and he seemed like a nice enough bloke. He even gave us an extra tent peg, though I think it was by mistake.
Anyway, now we’re in New Zealand, and the tent wouldn’t fit in our switch between countries. We gave it, and Ethan’s axe handle (his weapon of choice in a country without guns) to St.Vincents.
There were countless other places to visit on our journey. Our tent (though returned to us in good nick) was not the best for ventilation, and sleeping in the jungle in a pool of your own sweat is not the most delightful feeling in the world. Did I mention that during all this tent-camping along the northern coast of Queensland, there was not a breeze?
Not one breeze, to stir the rivers of sweat running down us as we slept. It was like being slow-cooked. Boiled, more like. Now I know how oysters feel.
In that mucky, sticky weather, swimming was the only relief we could find
At one of our last camping places, near Cape Tribulation, there was a popular swimming-hole owned by a pub. Owned by the owner of the pub, that is. It was free, except for a little box saying “Gold coin donation”, which means you pop in an Aussie $1 or $2 piece and that saves the pub from being liable.
Ethan gave them the $1 dollar piece and we followed the path down into the shady creek bottom.
A sign said, “There are no crocs in our swimming hole. They are in our burgers!” and we were happy with that.
All across Australia, we have heard people say that you are meant to throw your dog in before you swim, and if he’s still swimming there after a few minutes, it’s safe. Well, we didn’t have a dog, but there were other tourists and we didn’t see any crocs.
The next swimming was actually a paid trip, and it included snorkel gear and a boat ride out to Mackay Reef. It’s a 30 minute ride from Cape Tribulation out into the ocean. Our north Queenslander guides strode right out through the water to get to the boat, so they apparently weren’t concerned about the crocs.
Maybe they didn’t understand what ‘Achtung’ meant? IMG_8058IMG_7768
Our boat was driven by a short dark and handsome captain, who would have said “dude”, except he was an Aussie. Our guide looked like he belonged on the set of Braveheart. His hair was wild and long, with a few dreads in it (I always wonder if guys with long hair have the same questions in the morning as girls when they look in the mirror: “Is my hair oily?” “How should I style it today?” “Is there anything I can put on it to get rid of the frizz?”) and one long tiny braid which wasn’t his hair but was somehow attached to his hair.
When I first jumped in, it was hard to breathe through a tube, and I kept coming up choking on the seawater. The “dude” Aussie kept on calling from the boat (he was meant to keep a watch on us tourists, but I think he was putting more effort into his tan) to make sure I was okay.
It took a long time for someone born in Hamilton, MT to get the the hang of snorkeling. The trick is you can’t breathe normally, you have to take slow, even breaths. The salt water was salty enough to support our weight even when we weren’t swimming.
I lost Ethan for awhile, everyone looked the same in their gear. I swam really close to a few guys before realizing that they weren’t Ethan.
When my head was above water, I could see: the boat, a small, crescent shaped beach which we weren’t allowed to set foot on (we had to pay a reef tax just to come out and snorkel), snorkel tubes sticking up like periscopes around the boat, and a blue, blue ocean stretching in all directions. I can’t remember if we could see the coast or not.
When I ducked my head down, it was as if I had stepped through a portal. Many-colored fish swam under me, hiding in the reef. I could hear the parrot-fish crunch on the reef, the sound amplified under water.
The sand was white, the light from above making patterns in it like the patterns of wind over grass. Then there was the reef: Colored coral, with secret places, dark openings. Mountains, ridges and valleys with fish swimming through them. Coral like castles and battlements.
There were clams, water streaming from their jets, their shells bright colors. The empty shells were the strangest. Some of them would be up to six feet long, and empty, like a house.
Ethan, when he found me, showed me a ray he saw who had buried itself in the sand. We saw sea turtles who didn’t seem to be afraid of us, but just drifted past. I watched in awe, motionless in the water, as the fish went about their business not six feet below the surface.
The spell was broken whenever my snorkeling tube malfunctioned (which it did a lot) and I had to return to the surface, spluttering. But I always wanted to go back, to get closer. It seemed to me like flying. Perhaps snorkeling is a better feeling even than buying an umbrella.
Although the intent of our trip up north was to get to the Atherton Tablelands, we didn’t make it until the last few days of our trip. You see, on our first night (in Eungella, near Mackay)we had been invited by our campsite neighbors to join them at their fire. IMG_7704
They happened to be a fit couple in their fifties from Byron Bay (well, Paul was originally from England, but he was now an Aussie. Ethan made the mistake of calling the Brits “poms” while he was talking to them, until the second he realized Paul was from England!). Paul and Robin had been traveling for the past three months around the area.
They were gobsmacked that we’d come all the way from Longreach to Mackay in one day. Paul said they tended to “drive for an hour and then look around for someplace to stop.”
They weren’t the only ones at their fire. They’d become quite good friends with an Indian family from Germany. This couple, Frank and Guri, spoke with a strong Indian accent, yet spoke fluent German to their two children. Their children were beautiful, dark-skinned and blond, with bright eyes. They spoke German to each other, yet the older girl spoke English to us with almost perfect pronunciation.
Paul had a guitar and a good voice. He’d been playing for 40-odd years. Ethan brought over his guitar and they ran through every Johnny Cash song they knew. Unfortunately, we didn’t know enough of “Jackson” to pull off the duet. Ethan also played several John Denver songs, which Paul didn’t know but was keen to have a go at anyway.
The German girl, no older than my sister Annie, stumped Ethan by asking for a Beatles song. He attempted something of the first verse of “Yellow Submarine” before giving up entirely. Fancy us not knowing any Beatles.
These two families gave us ideas about where to go, and it was through Paul and Robin’s suggestion that we found our way to a dairy called Mungali Dairy in the Atherton Tablelands.
When we drove up to the dairy, it was pouring rain.
We found it along a back road. It was only a little building, but it had a verandah with tables and chairs on it, and there were a fair few people there. Ethan was sold the moment we walked through the door. Actually we had been sold on it before we even made it there, because they made cheesecake.
A good cheesecake is hard to find, but the clean glass case was full of them. We settled on one peanut butter and one chocolate. We thought fondly of Ethan’s brother Luke, who would not get any, but who would have loved some. Ethan and I had come a long way for this.
They were huge pieces. I don’t think my sister Linnaea has ever cut cheesecake that big.
The chocolate one was drizzled over with chocolate and topped with a strawberry. They were heavenly, though a bit sweet. We thought about bringing a whole one back for George and Anna, but of course there were excuses: “They’ll probably have plenty of sweet things for Christmas,” and “What if cheesecake isn’t something they do at Christmas?” and “Where will we keep it cold?”
Anyway, it was a dangerous place to linger.
Somehow, the week wrapped up too quickly. We spent a lot of time driving, just seeing the Atherton Tablelands. It rained a lot. We went out for breakfast a few times. We went to a movie at an old movie theatre in Malanda, where we managed to buy two movie tickets for $200.00 before the cashier noticed the problem.
We went to a market in Malanda, and one in Youngaburra. I’m a real sucker for soap, especially when it smells like heaven. Ethan dragged me away from the book-sellers–somehow. I had to drag him away from a place that sold wooden cutting boards. After all, we were leaving the country in a week and a half.
We went swimming in Ellonga Falls, even though it was freezing cold outside. I made my husband kiss me underneath the waterfall–just because. We cooked beans, potatoes, peas, eggs and mince on a small butane stove. We talked to a young German couple who had driven all the way from Perth. IMG_7843
On the last day, as we headed south out of the Atherton Tablelands, we watched the green fade from the land.
In Mereeba, after following twisty directions to a camping site, we met the Crazy Bird Woman in real life.
As we tried to book our cabin for the night, she handed Ethan a baby galah that had been perched on her arm.
“Here, hold him.”
There were peacocks running about outside, along with turkeys, parrots, chooks and ducks. She didn’t quite have feathers in her hair, though she seemed quite distracted.
“Do you want a bag of wallaby food?” she asked, after taking our credit details, “It’s one dollar.”
As we were unloading our car, we saw what it was for. A wallaby, no larger than a cat, came hopping toward us expectantly. Ethan would have used up the entire $1 bag if I hadn’t stopped him. Several other wallabies joined the first one. They were so tame, you could pet them and most of them didn’t mind. Their fur was as soft as a cat’s.
We heard from our bird lady that they were rock wallabies, and Granite Gorge (the name of the campground that she owned) was pretty much the only place they could be found. They were quite tame. IMG_8282
When we left Mereeba to head back to Longreach, we left our last bit of green. Soon we found ourselves in the Outback again. On the back road from Hughendon to Muttaburra (Muttaburra being about as exciting as May, Idaho) we drove for almost 200 kms without seeing another car. We passed approximately four driveways.
There were places that you could not see a tree, only the fence. This fence, straight as an arrow, stretched on into oblivion until it the ripples of heat swallowed it. IMG_7504

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