If it’s possible to gain 10 pounds in the space of a week, I think I’ve managed to do it. I adore my parents but my routine of salad-making for lunch, only drinking booze a couple of days a week, and running first thing in the morning has definitely taken a serious hit, and I’m not loving the results.
Regardless of the setback to being bikini-fabulous, I’ve spent the last couple of days eating, drinking (surprise, surprise, chunky) and soaking up the city of Cairns. Which is actually probably better described “as a town with a dot on the map that suggests a city, but it really just a town.” Not that I’m complaining, it’s a great town especially built for tourists and backpackers. It’s just not as big as its dot on the map would suggest. But I digress.
We arrived midday to our hotel, Rydges Tradewinds, which was relatively average but well-located. We decided a quick walk along the coast would be the best way to get acquainted with the city, and we’re rewarded with a gorgeous view of… Mud. My mom and I were both surprised at the lack of sand.
We had managed to miss a total solar eclipse by about three hours, so the pathways and restaurants were pretty full, but we managed to walk the length of the coast and the marina with minimal trampling of Japanese tourists. The general feeling of Cairns is very reminiscent of Hawaii – close, tropical heat, lush vegetation, blue but occasionally moody skies. We decided to stop for lunch at Villa Romana, which had very good Italian-Australian fare (a little surprising considering it’s tourist-trappy location). A good glass of cold white wine in the middle of a hot Wednesday is a luxury that everyone should enjoy once in a while.
We went back to the hotel to nap before we launched ourselves out to a sunset cruise in the notoriously crocodile-infested Trinity Inlet. Okay, crocodile-infested is a little dramatic, but they are out there! We just didn’t see any. It was a nice hour and a half, but I did wish it were a little longer. It’d be fun to rent a boat and spend a day getting lost in the twisting side passageways of the inlet, pretending to be Captain Cook exploring the place for the first time again. But my mom felt a little safer in a larger, more crocodile-safe boat instead. As we headed back to the harbor with the sunset glowing gold and pink and purple behind the dark, low-hanging storm clouds, a massive stream of flying foxes flew overhead, terrifying my mother and fascinating my father. As we watched bats the size of my chihuahua fly overhead, I mentioned how everything you want to stay as small as possible has evolved to massive proportion in Australia: bats, spiders, snakes, sharks, crocodiles.
We decided to wait for the wind to settle and the clouds to disperse before we tackled the Barrier Reef, so instead of board a boat and take to the water, we opted to spend the next day as land explorers. There is a skycar/cable car that spans nearly 8 kilometers of rainforest, landing you in the hippy art town of Kuranda. It’s a pretty amazing trip, if you don’t spend too much time thinking about what the construction workers who put this thing up in the middle of the forest had to deal with between spiders, freakishly large ants, termites, and probably some other terrifying, undiscovered insect species that feeds off the blood of man.
Kuranda itself appeared to solely exist for tourism – I feel like the ratio of residents to shops or stalls was pretty close to 1:1. There was also a kangaroo petting zoo, a bird sanctuary where you can hold tropical parrots, a butterfly reserve, and even a flying fox reserve (couldn’t convince my parents to check that one out, though it was the only free one). Most of these things were priced a few dollars more that they should have been, but regardless we still opted to go into the butterfly reserve at my mom’s urging. Now, I’m not an insect person (yes even a pretty and harmless butterfly), and I come to find out that butterflies are attracted to white colors. Between my shirt and my skin, let’s just say I spent most of the time flinching as butterflies bigger than most US domestic birds fluttered toward my face. That’s not to say I didn’t have a good time, though. I was just the freak in a butterfly sanctuary trying to avoid the butterflies, where most other people were trying to coax them onto their finger or shoulder.
After a really good burger at Kuranda Cyber Cafe (random, but locals prices and good food) and a few hikes around the surrounding wilderness (where a dinosaur of a lizard nearly gave me a heart attack by running into the jungle right when I was unwittingly next to it on the trail), we hopped on the Kuranda Scenic Railway back to Cairns. Though the site touts this as a must-do, I respectfully disagree. The view from the cable cars is much better, you aren’t packed in shoulder-to-shoulder with 100 other tired and smelly tourists, and it takes about half the time to get from A to B. The tours usually have you go out on the train and back on the cable car, and I can see why. After being in a wide-windowed, airy cable car, sitting in an old-fashioned, cramped train with small windows is a bit of a letdown. Plus they assign you seats on the train, and we didn’t even get a window seat. There was a really cute little German toddler sitting across from us. Cute when he wasn’t screaming from his palpable exhaustion. Okay maybe I’m a little bitter. Moving on.
Dinner was a forgettable affair at an outdoor bar where we got a front-row seat of the Cairns police doing random breathalyzers to suspect citizens driving by, and we headed to bed to wake up for our drive up to Port Douglas to conquer the Reef. Except that my darling father’s earth-rumbling snoring managed to wake me up about six hours too soon, and since I couldn’t get back to sleep I figured I may as well chronicle these events before the details are lost to memory.
So I’ll be on four hours of sleep, driving my parents for the first time on the opposite side of the car and road, with a mother who barely survived teaching four teenagers how to drive without popping an aneurysm. Wish me luck!