Friday, November 16, 2007

Because, because, because, because

Miraculously, they have wireless at this hostel. It’s actually the most incredibly well-organized hostel we’ve been to, so I guess it’s unsurprising. We realized at the eleventh hour that we didn’t have any place booked in Cairns and that our flight was arriving at 9:30pm. Whoops! A frantic internet scramble and a phone call later, and Caravella’s Backpackers had us booked into a room and left a key in a lockbox for us. As it turns out, we made it out of the airport quickly enough that we caught the desk manager (an ex-pat Kiwi woman named Gloria who is a story in her own right) before closing. Seven hours later, we woke up for the dive boat.

Here’s the front page of the paper that morning:

If you could zoom out, you would see us standing in the customs line in the background. Turns out there was a suspect in custody on our flight from Auckland to Cairns! The subject of a month-long, international manhunt! And what heinous crime did he commit, you ask? It turns out he held up an old lady and stole her purse. With a gun! I am in a country where armed robbery will make you the target of an international manhunt, and garner front-page headlines on your capture. Say, you don’t suppose that has something to do with tougher gun control laws, do you?

One of the really fascinating things I’ve noticed on this trip is that there are no Americans. It’s easy to find someone from Germany or Sweden or Japan in a hostel – backpacking culture is very much international – but I think we’ve met a grand total of four Yanks out of the hundreds of people we’ve traveled with. Talking to other backpackers corroborated this observation. In addition, despite the fact that tourism in the US has gotten dramatically cheaper for most of the world over the past five years, we’ve seen a large decline in visitors to the States. The numbers I read said something like a 30% drop, resulting in tens of billions of dollars in lost revenue and hundreds of thousands of lost jobs. I think this is a tragedy on a number of levels. If we see other parts of the world for ourselves, we can learn from them (how does state-sponsored health care actually work? why aren’t your police packing heat?), they can learn about us (hey, Americans aren’t actually all that bad!), and we can have a real, human basis from which to make decisions about foreign policy. If I meet and befriend some cool Iranians while traveling, I’m going to think much harder about what it means to “Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran,” as John McCain so flippantly and disgustingly put it. Thinking harder is a good thing.

Sorry. On to more pictures.

The dive boat was unquestionably exactly the right thing to do. I think it cost us something like AU$500 each, and that included two nights’ accommodation in very nice rooms, three good meals a day, transport to and from our hostel in Cairns, and, of course, diving on the reef. When you consider that the reef is an hour and a half at 20 knots away from the shore, you’re talking about a pretty good deal. I suspect this may have something to do with the twelve other dive boat companies competing for your dollar... Mmm, delicious invisible hand. Still, I think we lucked out with Deep Sea Diver’s Den and the OceanQuest. Just about everything was top-notch.

So here’s my new desktop background. I’m actually not sure what this is – I’m pretty sure it’s some sort of echinoderm, making it related to sea stars, cucumbers, and urchins. But it also kind of looks like a crinoid, which is a very ancient type of echinoderm of which only a few species still survive. My money is on a type of ophioroid—sometimes known as brittle or bristle stars—called a basket star.

I also went on a night dive, which was fantastic. The most dramatic part was the safety stop in the dim blue glow of the boat’s bow light. Sharks are attracted to this light, so we got to watch (small, harmless) grey reef sharks swimming circles around us while we offgassed nitrogen. Here’s a few videos of that.
You can barely make out the shark in this one:
We also saw a woebegone, which is a really cool kind of bottom-dwelling (benthic) shark. It’s vertically compressed like a ray or skate, and has feathery skin flaps which help it blend in with the ocean floor. Can you see it in this video? There are about six of us lighting it up like an escaping convict.

*note: I couldn't get the videos to upload properly. I'll give them another shot later.

After the delightful dive trip, we booked in on a journey up to Cape Tribulation. This is part of the Daintree National Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It happens that Australia has remained in roughly the same climatic zone for the last 110 million years, so many of the plants that were around back then have been able to persist until today. So basically it’s a Triassic jungle and you keep expecting dinosaurs to pop out and eat you. (Crocodiles are happy to oblige if you get too close to the river. Crocodiles ate dinosaurs here 100 million years ago, too.)

We were fortunate enough to have Jeremy as our guide and bus driver on the way up. Not only has he been hiking around the jungle for his whole life, but he’s totally excited to share his substantial knowledge, and in an Australian accent and manner that exceeds hilarious and enters into the realm of surreal. Actual quote: “The thing with cyclones, you see, is that they sort of draw in, you could say they SUCK, that’s not actually a good word for it, suck, but they SUCK the moisture in, and things like that.” You can’t fake that. We’re actually going to have to hire this guy to play himself in the movie about this trip. I wish I’d had the presence of mind to record one of his excellent little lectures. Anyway, here he is picking some “bush tucker” for us to try. These are bluetongue berries, so named because:

Anyway, Meg and I cut our stay at Cape Trib short so that, should the cyclone swing inland, there won’t be swollen, crocodile-infested rivers between us and the airport. We’re going to try and figure out what to do in this insane, perpetually spring-break (spring-broken?) resort town for a day and half. Sweet as!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Such an exciting trip -- for most people, a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I'm really entranced by your blogs. I do hope you get wireless soon so we can see all those photos. David said my computer, being on dial-up, is too slow to do photos, so perhaps you could send some actual ones when you return, if I cannot pull them up on the office computer I'm using right now. Isn't is wonderful to have such a good friend along? My love to you both. Grandmom W.