At around 6am, I checked out of my hotel in Sydney and headed to the airport for a two-hour flight to Cairns. Here’s what the terminal looked like:
Yes, I flew on Qantas, which was pretty nice. Look what was in the pouch of my seat:
Every passenger got one of those to play with during the flight, but I passed the time by working on my blog — what else?
For some reason, the woman sitting next to me was using her iPad to watch a movie . . . with the volume playing aloud! At first I thought she was just checking the volume level to make sure it was working, but nope, she sat back and let it play. After a couple minutes, I asked her politely if she could use earphones.
“Oh, I don’t have the right earphones for it,” she said unapologetically — and then she kept playing it. Thankfully a flight attendant passed by soon after and offered her THE RIGHT earphones. Unbelievable.
Now, I don’t make a habit of pulling out my camera in bathrooms, but there was a funny sign in the Cairns airport that I *had* to photograph:
My first thought was, “Who the hell would possibly use a toilet that way?”
My next thought was, “This is a popular tourist destination, so anything’s possible.”
Anyway, the most stressful part of my entire vacation was about to begin. Based on the itinerary that I’d booked, I was supposed to have two hours from the time the plane landed until I was going to be picked up at my hotel for a rain forest tour. Of course, that’s not how things went. My flight was delayed by about 75 minutes, which meant I only had 45 minutes to get off the plane, get my luggage, find my pre-paid shuttle bus to my hotel, check in, change my clothes, gather up my stuff for the afternoon, and hurry back down to the lobby. Somehow I barely made it, and at the end of the travel frenzy, I found myself in the back of a Land Rover with a tour guide and four other passengers:
The guide was very Australian, and he was cool from the moment he said hello. Unlike the crowded tour of the Blue Mountains that I’d done the day before, this one was personal and cozy. I got to know my fellow tourists during the half-hour drive and had a feeling that the entire afternoon was going to be great.
Here’s what I saw when we got out of the vehicle at our first stop:
It was perfect. There weren’t any other people. There weren’t any gift shops. It was just us surrounded by nature. Look at this beauty:
That’s me at the bottom of a huge waterfall — and the best was yet to come.
Our next stop was a place called Wrights Lookout. As we made the short walk from the vehicle, I noticed one of my fellow tourists photographing something on the ground:
Naturally I went over to see what the fuss was about, and when I was sure that nothing was going to jump or slither out of the bushes and bite me, I took a closer look.
Get ready for it . . .
Be prepared to smile . . .
I don’t know what the hell that is, but it’s my new favorite plant.
Here I am at Wrights Lookout:
After that, we got back in the Land Rover, drove to the next spot, and headed into the forest. Here’s our tour guide, Jason, telling us about the plants along the way:
Here’s what greeted us at the end of the walkway:
I was LOVING this tour, in large part because of Jason who knew everything about nature. On our way to the next stop, he pulled off on the side of the road to talk about this:
That’s a termite mound! Holy crap! I was glad to see it from the safe confines of my ride, but wouldn’t have wanted to get any closer.
The drive, by the way, was gorgeous. Check it out:
Over the course of the afternoon, Jason drove us through seven streams, occasionally stopping to give us a chance to get out. Here I am walking barefoot through one of them:
A minute or two later when I was back in the car, it felt like something was ticking my left foot, so I took a quick glance at it and noticed a small, black speck. I figured it was a piece of a leaf or some other random particle from the stream, and I flicked it off. No big deal, right? Well, a minute after that, my foot was itching so I took another look at it and was surprised to see that I was bleeding:
I thought I must’ve scraped it on something underwater, but no, when I mentioned it to Jason and then described everything in detail, he told me I’d been bitten by a leech.
I fruck out for a moment, convinced that I now had some type of rare blood disease, but Jason assured me that it was no big deal.
“I had three of them on me earlier this morning,” he said. “They just like to drink your blood. No worries, mate!”
(I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea, and yes, Australian people really do use the word “mate” in regular conversation. It always made me smile.)
Here’s something else that made me uneasy:
That’s a spider cocoon, which, according to Jason, was capable of producing 10,000 spiders. When he said that, I was standing about three feet away from it, and before I had a chance to light it on fire, he was like, “Look how sturdy it is!” and he grabbed a pen and tapped it.
What is the purpose of doing that?
Of all the stuff I saw over the course of the afternoon, this was my favorite:
It looks fake, right? A prop from “The Princess Bride,” perhaps?
Well, it was real — a “tree system” that’s 800 years old! The original tree was long dead, but vines crawled up it and supported other plants, and new trees grew out of it, and as you can see above, it’s now massive.
Here’s another interesting plant:
Our final/main stop was at a place called Lake Morris. Here’s a group photo (that I took with my tripod and 10-second timer):
I gave contact cards to all the other people and told them to get in touch if they wanted that photo. As it turned out, I never heard from any of them, but hey, it was fun while we were together.
On our way back down the mountain, we stopped here for a peek at Cairns from above:
Jason dropped us all off at our respective hotels.
Then, after changing my clothes yet again, I headed back out to make the most of the final hour of daylight. I walked along the waterfront . . .
. . . and passed lots of stores and restaurants:
I also walked past a huge public swimming pool . . .
. . . and then went looking for a place to eat:
Eventually I picked a Thai restaurant and ordered “takeaway,” as Australians call it. Here’s what I got:
Chicken satay and coconut rice. Yessir! Eating alone while browsing Reddit on my laptop is one of the simplest and greatest pleasures in my life.