A Land Down Under

When we arrived in Cairns, we were a bit disappointed that our arranged hostel pickup was not waiting for us. It was yet another small, though meaningful contrast to one of the many differences between traveling in the first and third world– staying at a hostel in a third world country might mean the difference between the owner’s employees getting paid that day or not, whereas in the first world, you’re hardly more than just another line on a spreadsheet titled “credit”. In the third world, we felt as though pickups (when arranged for) were never late, largely I think because the income we would bring to the hostel was far too important for them to risk us possibly going with one of the many hawkers waiting for foreign tourists. Well, when we called the Cairns hostel to see if they would come get us (as was promised) we were asked if we had landed in the international or domestic terminal. I froze. I frankly didn’t know how to respond! We had come from Darwin, one state over, but yet we had to pass through immigration and customs! Traveling in Australia has been a bit unusual, I must say. Nevertheless, the pickup did arrive and we made it to the hostel in one piece and $15 richer at that. The hostel stay ended up being more or less satisfactory. In another irony, it was much dirtier than really most of the hostels we have stayed in on this trip (sans, of course, India). We had expected perhaps the opposite, considering how wealthy Australia is; in the rest of the world, hostels usually just mean shared facilities, not dirty rooms or anything.

Since we had woken up that day at 03:30 so that we could catch our cheap budget flight, we just ate a small breakfast and then napped till the afternoon to try and make up for some of our lost energy. Katie and I both had some big activities planned for our stay here in Cairns. The next day, she was scheduled to take a professional birding tour and I was hoping to go scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef. Finding a dive boat was also an interesting contrast to how things operated in Asia. When I asked the hostel for suggestions, I was first given fancy brochures for huge, luxurious yachts that charged as much as $100-150 per dive (keep in mind that my dives on this trip have cost between $30-45 each so far). In fact, it seemed as though most of the diving operations worked this way. In the end, I found a company that charged a somewhat reasonable $60/dive. Katie got a break too when she received an email later that day informing her that another person had signed up to go on a birding tour the same day so she was going to get 30% off.

Later, we went to a nearby mall to purchase some groceries so that we could eat for the upcoming days; for dinner our first night, we had a bag of ready-to-serve Indian curry which we cooked several squids in and we accompanied the wonderful meal with the second cheapest bottle of Shiraz available from the (drive-through) “bottle shop.” The hostel has a bit of a tradition of doing a nightly movie and that night’s one was The Simpsons Movie. It ended up being a nice, restful way to conclude the day. Still a bit off from the odd sleep patterns, we went to bed early that night in anticipation of the early starts we would each have the next day.

Scuba diving for me ended up being a tremendous success. The Great Barrier Reef was as stunning as its reputation suggested. I had been a bit nervous as I had read from various sources that the GBR isn’t as “great as it used to be.” But as I quickly realized, that is an incredibly unqualifiable statement- the GBR extends for over 2000 km along the northeastern Australian seaboard; I’m willing to bet that there are hundreds of square miles never even explored before. To say the least, the day ended up being a great success. Though the water was not quite as clear and blue as it was in Sipidan, the coral was just as stunning. I wonder if the tide was low towards the end of our day because big chunks of the reef would stick out of the water like islands. One other thing that made the dive contrast with the other dives I’ve taken in the past 6 months was what I thought of as the “Western” sense of safety and regulation. In addition to sitting through a safety briefing while we were still pulling out of harbor, every diver was required to “sign in/out” before they entered or exited the boat, as a system of keeping track of everyone. Though I do not think in any way that the boats I took elsewhere were any less safe than here (a Tanzanian, Thai, Malay, etc. crew certainly doesn’t want to drown or risk sinking their boat as much as anyone else) but it is almost as if there is a greater assumption in the West that people have less common sense, or are not as well-equipped to take care of themselves as crafty, resourceful foreigners often seem to be. (I think it will be a while before one will see a warning in an Asian coffee shop, for example, that the coffee you’re about to drink is hot.)

Katie also had a fantastic day birding in the surrounding mountains. The mountains around Cairns have the interesting topographic feature of containing flat grasslands on the tops of them. The so called “Table Lands” have spectacular natural crater lakes, rain forest, and other beautiful vistas. We would end up returning there on our own two days later. When I reached port back in Cairns, the dive shop invited me to stop by a local bar that night for free pizza and beer, which Katie and I were of course were psyched about because we were having to pay so much for food everywhere in Australia. Over the course of the late evening as we discussed what else we wanted to see and do while in Cairns, we decided to rent a car for a day so that I could see the Table Lands for myself and we’d spend the other day just walking around the pleasant, gentrified downtown area or maybe go visit one of the beaches.

The following day, we had some difficulty finding a rental company because they were nearly all out of compacts (we’re visiting in the middle of the winter holiday season for Australian students). We finally got lucky when we found a very small company run by a middle-aged couple. The car we got certainly wasn’t pretty or new and changing gears took a certain amount of strength but it would get us exactly where we wanted to go. We agreed to pick it up early the next morning. For the rest of that day, we decided to go checkout some of Cairns’ famous beaches. Though we should have known better, we ended up being quite disappointed. As a result of spending so much time on so many amazing, beautiful beaches all over the world, our expectations have become quite high and anything short of crystal, blue water just looks dirty!

Aside from some more wanderings later in the town’s downtown area, we did little more that day. We woke up early our final day so that we could get an early start on our rental car. The highlight of the day was stopping at a lakeside restaurant and ordering tea and scones as a midday snack. Katie and I still talk about the Afternoon Tea we had at the Kensington Palace Orangery. (We are already planning to have our very own “Boston Tea Parties” during some lovely New England fall afternoons). Since this restaurant only served sweet scones with their midday tea, we made some fresh cucumber sandwiches that morning so we could have something to munch on as the day went on.

We arrived back to Cairns in the early evening. I was certainly happy to see that we didn’t have to pay nearly as much for gas as we had to in Darwin (gas is a slightly more reasonable $6.00 here, rather than nearly $6.80). We cooked a dinner of spaghetti with a garlic red sauce with a bottle of Shiraz and went to bed early in anticipation of our 3:40 wake up for our flight to Sydney!

Photos from Cairns

5 Responses to “A Land Down Under”

  1. Tomme Fent says:

    Tommy – I don’t think the heightened security measures in the West are due to any feeling that westerners have less common sense. Rather, as my husband loves to tell me, I think it’s because we have so many more lawyers in the West, and lawsuits (even for the most trivial of ‘injuries’) are so much more prevalent.

    Cheers from a lawyer (haha) who hates to see your incredible trip coming to an end. I have SO enjoyed your and Katie’s posts and photos, and thank you both for sharing your amazing journey with us.

  2. chelsea says:

    Cairns seem a interesting place.

  3. Pretty says:

    talked to Mariners senior drceitor of baseball information Tim Hevly, who accompanied Eric Wedge and Ken Griffey Jr. to Japan on what he called “a little weekend jaunt.”The trio went on a whirlwind three-day (more or less) trip to Tokyo, leaving from Seattle last Friday afternoon and arriving in Tokyo on Saturday night. They left for home on Monday evening around 6 p.m. Tokyo time — and because of the vagaries of Asia to North America travel, arrived back in Seattle at 9:30 Monday morning.The purpose of the trip was to promote the season-opening games in Japan between the Mariners and Oakland A’s, to take place March 28 and 29 at the Tokyo Dome. A’s manager Bob Melvin solely represented Oakland, while Yomiuri — which both owns the Giants and is helping present the games in Japan — requested that the M’s bring an additional person because this was their first time playing in the country. (You might recall that in 2003 — when Melvin was managing in Seattle — the Mariners had been scheduled to open in Japan, but the trip was canceled because of the Iraq war).Hevly said Griffey, now a Mariners consultant and still a big name in Japan, volunteered for the task. I asked him if there was any consideration given to having Ichiro involved in the promotion, for obvious reasons.“Ichiro is in Japan right now, and it wouldn’t have been a big deal to have him come, but that’s not what this event was set up to be,” he said. “The point was to have someone from our organization there to join with the managers to talk about the games. Ichiro is very focused on getting ready for the season, and it was nice not to disrupt his routine.”One of the highlights of the trip for the Mariners contingent was a clinic they attended on Sunday at the Yomiuri training site, about an hour outside Tokyo, for about 110 kids from around Japan.“That was terrific,” Hevly said. “The passion those kids have for baseball was really evident. The amount of energy from kids between 8 and 12 years old was amazing. They were very attentive. They want to be better.”Wedge and Griffey both offered tips on various aspects of baseball. Among the attendees were a group of 36 kids from Fukushima, which had been devastated by last spring’s earthquake and tsunami. They road a bus four hours to attend, and got a special “meet and greet” with Griffey and Wedge afterward, in which they received some Mariner gear the team had sent with the group. The other kids received memorabilia as well, and the Mariners posed for pictures with all the participants.“It was fun to see how excited they were,” Hevly said. “It’s a reminder how resilient kids are.”Griffey, who made several tours of Japan as a player, is still recognized wherever he goes. When the group went to see a sumo tournament, one glance into the car from the security detail got them waved in. And on the last day of their stay, when Griffey headed out of the hotel, there was a “mini-riot,” in Hevly’s words, as fans surged toward his car for one last crack at an autograph.“He’s definitely a big deal,” Hevly said.As for the main event, the press conference, Hevly estimated that there were “easily 200 people there. The hotel ballroom was packed. There were 12 or 13 TV cameras in back, 100 to 150 print reporters, and about 50 photographers. It was a big deal.”There’s not much English coverage I could find of the press conference other than this Associated Press story, which features a Griffey quote when asked about Ichiro (I have a feeling a lot of the questions were about Ichiro — at least the ones not about Hideki Matsui):“Ichiro is going to be fine, you can ask these two guys (Melvin, Wedge) if a guy had 184 hits they wouldn’t be complaining,” Griffey said. “But you are looking at a guy who is a special athlete. He had one hiccup in his career and come this time next year we won’t even be talking about this. He is going to come into this season determined and with a little fire.”Afterwards, they flew back — Griffey to his home in Florida, Hevly and Wedge to Seattle. And there was no rest for the weary — after heading back in time from P.M. to A.M., Wedge met with Jack Zduriencik at Safeco Field on Monday morning.

  4. Waka says:

    Hi Eva,Nice to meet you too. I have to approve all meeagsss just to stop spam reaching the site. You meeagsss were in the pending folder so not rejected as spam. I just had to publish them.Kevin

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