Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Frolicking with the fishes in beautiful Cairns - Coronas and sunburns at the Great Barrier Reef!!

10 November - 13 November 2010: Cairns, Queensland, Australia

On Wednesday, since check-out was 10 am and we had only booked one night, we had to get up at 9:30 am and switch rooms. Although the chance at a decent sleep was already long gone, I took a mini cat nap, while Gabe used the Internet to check some emails (we were due to arrive at Sydney the coming Saturday, where Gabe is interning at Google for the summer, and he was still researching apartments).

We caught an 11:30 am shuttle into town (our hostel was a quick drive away) and had breakfast at a corner cafe. I ordered "iced coffee" and ended up with chilled coffee with ice cream in it (hm...). We walked around the marina, perused the shops, checked out a travel agency for some free Internet and information on the Great Barrier Reef and then went for a swim in Cairn's fantastic sprawling pool, which overlooks the bay.

The Cairns Esplanade lagoon - aka amazing public pool overlooking the water (you can't swim in the ocean in downtown Cairns; if you're looking for beaches you must catch a bus up the coast):

Afterward we went back to Travel Bugs (the agency) to book a sailing trip out to the reef the following day and then found our new favourite place - The Courthouse. It is a restored courthouse building, converted into a bar/restaurant with lots of picnic tables on the lawn outside. As "the official home of Coronas in Cairns," the Courthouse sells them at 3.50 each (Corona is ridiculously expensive in Australia/anywhere that is not the U.S. or Mexico so we made good use of this opportunity). ;)

We took a shuttle back to the hotel to freshen up, then ended up going to town once again for a pizza dinner at the Courthouse. On the way back into town, we looked up to see swarms of dark birds screeching as they filled the twilight air - a common occurrence, EXCEPT - they were not birds, but thousands of bats (we assume coming out for a nightly insect feed). Ahhh!

Bahaha.. clearly, Gabe hates bats:

The Courthouse was busy and when a crazy character in a top hat and circus ringmaster-type costume began to entertain the crowd, we discovered that it was toad racing night - yes, TOAD (as in warty, slimy, prince in disguise amphibians - now with numbers painted on their back in white-out) racing. For a fee, contestants could enter the race, choose their "winning" toad and will it to the finish line (aka all the toads start in a bucket in the center and, once the bucket is raised, the first to jump head-first into the surrounding, square barrier made out of two-by-fours is the winner!)

I, accidentally making eye contact with the ring-master (a hilarious, and extremely politically-incorrect Aussie), was pulled out of the crowd as the girl to start the first heat by lifting the bucket. After a few Coronas I'm glad I did not trip on the two-by-four barrier - as several contestants (very excited about their toads) did just that during this silly evening.

Fun fact: Toads also get excited (or nervous) and cannot control their bowel movements - much to the surprise of the contestants who got photos holding their toads before the festivities!

After watching the races and hearing countless racist jokes directed at the many foreign tourists in attendance, we left the Courthouse for the hourly shuttle vans back to Calypso (our hostel). We were waylaid by an all-to-common gelato craving and ended up missing the van (Tim Tam flavoured ice cream, piled high in a waffle cone = TOTALLY worth it)! Luckily, we talked our way onto another hostel's van and the accommodating driver gave us a lift back home - we had our gelato and ate it too ;).

On Thursday, we awoke and checked out of the hostel at 6:30 am, eagerly anticipating our adventure to the Great Barrier Reef! We caught the 7 am shuttle to town and got to the Marlin Marina by 7:15. There, we enjoyed muffins and coffee on board the Ocean Free - our 35-person capacity sailing boat (only about 20 on our day-trip)/home for the next 10 hours as we sailed to Green Island - a fully developed coral island situated 26 kilometres from Cairns on the Great Barrier Reef.

Enjoying a tasty muffin (or two), waiting to leave port:

Ahoy matey! Captain Sarah :):

Testin' the waters on the ride out:
The crew:
Gordo - Scottish, knowledgeable seaman
Benny - Hilarious scuba guide from the U.K.; gave an excellent safety talk about putting on a life jacket in a crisis
Matty - Seasonal employee from NZ (we spotted him due to his silver fern arm tattoo)

Benny giving us a funny life-jacket-safety talk:

After an hour or two trip to the island (we had to motor due to a lack of winds), we moored on the exclusive Pinnacle Reef - 700 m off shore, where we snorkeled for several hours.

An aerial view of the Ocean Free and Green Island:

Woo hoo, excited about snorkeling!!:

Maybe this is why I got sunburned.. hmm:

My favourite sights were the giant clams on the bottom and huge schools of brilliantly rainbow, bright-colored parrot fish. Then, after a "smorgasbord" lunch of meats, salad, veggies etc., we hitched a ride on the little motorboat to the island to spend an hour and half exploring.

And Jane, swingin' on vines, ahhhh:

Gabe and I adventured to the far side of the island, past the crocodile farm, to a more remote beach - clear, turquoise water and white sand. Did I mention that the water was 28 degrees Celsius (82.4 degrees F)?!

In the croc farm gift shop, rawr!

We had a little too much fun trying to do a timer photoshoot on my camera on the island beach:

Woops, we look like we're dancing?

:)Back aboard the Ocean Free, we made the most of our trip and snorkeled for the remaining hour or so.
Benny came out on the reef with us and helped us find Nemo!! The clown fishes tend to hide on a particular bit of the reef). Near the boat a few fish have made the mooring their usual haunt - "Darth Vader" a huge, black Great Travelli, along with a whole school of large fish kept circling the boat/ladder. To be funny, the guides threw prawns into the school just as Gabe and I began to swim toward the ladder. Caught in the middle of the feeding frenzy, we literally came face to face with Darth Vader and his friends! Also, several black tipped reef sharks made an appearance. Along with Benny and Matty, Gabe did some leaps off the boat - one on top of a shark!

Gabe being attacked by the fish:

You can see Darth - that big black guy in the foreground:

Handstand into the Great Barrier Reef, oooshhh:

Rinsing off with the fresh water hose:

On the sail home (yes, we got to sail for a little bit because the breeze picked up), we enjoyed a glass of wine, cheese and cake deserts to nibble. It was an amazing day!!

We arrived back at the port in the late afternoon, and took the Calypso hostel shuttle van back to our hostel, where we showered, checked the internet, and inevitably realized how horribly sunburnt we were! Gabe gained a lobster-red back after our day frolicking with the fishes, and I earned a tomato-colored booty - I guess that at least means we got our moneys worth of snorkeling (no matter how much sunscreen, 10 hours in the sun, especially Australian sun, will turn you nice and pink).

Having pointed out a spelling mistake in the hostel's email address upon booking, we earned $10 "Zanzibar Bucks" from the hostel's bar, which we used during happy hour, to score a jug of beer and play a game of pool before checking out that evening and switching to another hostel downtown near the waterfront. This game of pool was so horrible, in fact, that after 15 minutes, we ashamedly abandoned it halfway through (the pool game, not our jug) to catch one of the hourly shuttles back into town. Once checked into our new hostel - Waterfront Backpackers - Gabe went for a dip in the Cairns lagoon, which was directly facing our new lodging, to cool his sunburned back, before we stopped by the store to pick up some essentials, like much-needed aloe vera and swimmer's ear drops (did I mention I got lots of water in my ears after our adventures with Nemo?).

Next, we wandered into downtown Cairns, popping by PJ O'Briens (a local pub that caters to tourists and student, hostel-dwellers) to use our free dinner coupon provided by our new hostel. However, we found we had mixed up the pubs and were told to go to the Woolshed instead (another similar, young pubish bar/club). The free meal was pretty disgusting, which explains why it was free - chili, spaghetti?? (aka rice and spaghetti noodles with the same awkward meat slop, slopped on top). I have another bone to pick with the Woolshed - Gabe wasn't ID'd as we entered, but I WAS!!... WOW, apparently, I can't even pass for an 18-year-old. Haha, in my defense, this was the only place that this anomaly occurred.

We stayed at the Woolshed for a little while, eventually got bored and strolled through the Cairns night markets on our way to our favorite Corona bar, always a solid back-up. Afterward, we got some ice cream and meandered down by the water, which was at a surprisingly low tide, where we admired the stars... and cockroaches?! (several little guys were scurrying around the cement wall).

On Friday, we awoke around 10:30 am, and made it out in time to catch the tail end of the full breakfast specials (11 am) at a shop on the walk right outside of our hostel. We then made our way back down the mainstreet to Travel Bug (our agency) for some free Internet. Then, we filled our afternoon with more delicious gelato, some coronas, and after a stop back at the hostel, a swim in the lagoon. Next, we got ready, had a Radler :), and headed through the night markets again to the Corona bar, where we had some delicious pizza and listened to live music.

After dinner, we went back to PJ O'Brien's to go on our "pub crawl," which we had signed up for the previous evening. I've put pub crawl in "quotes" for one main reason: you cannot call that a pub crawl. The evening started out quite fine. We got our crawl wristbands, our free beer at the pub and waited to be summoned to go to the next bar. Finally, Snapper (yes, that was his name... maybe that should have tipped us off) came to get us, and as we walked outside to join the "group," we found the "group" was one other couple (Liam and M-something, who were obviously not very friendly since we never really got the girl's name..) and us.

Beginning the "pub crawl":

The next bar turned out to be the Woolshed, which, what'da you know, had no cover charge anyway. There, we got another drink and upon exiting from the toilets, were ambushed by good ol' Snapper, becoming two of five unwitting, unwilling contestants in a dance off. I was nominated to dance to techno music in front of the entire bar (how do you dance to techno without horrid head-bumping?! No clue.. so that's what I did), and Gabe was instructed to do a strip-tease... hahaha I must say, he stepped up to the plate and made the girl he had to strip-tease around feel awkward, which means he gave it his all. At the Woolshed, we also ran into Benny & Matty, our crew from the Ocean Free! (This was before the dance-off, unfortunately). Next, with any possible embarrassment out of the way and over with for the evening, we continued to the next place.. the Mad Cow (yes.. that's actually what it was called).

Again, pretty sure there was no cover, so Snapper's "pub crawl" wristbands got us absolutely nothing. But, we made the most of it, had some horrible tequila shots, and ended up having a great time dancing on the tiny dance floor, watching a hilarious singles' mating ritual (aka several awkward dudes trying to pick up on the ladies, who were not feeling it... apart from the one guy who scored and had a nice little make-out session in front of everyone while gyrating). Song favorites include Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream" and "Boots with the furrrrr" - which, if you know the lyrics, you can imagine there were some pretty creative (inappropriate) dance moves to be seen.

The Mad Cow became the scene of the crime, when, after our hour slot ticked to a close and it was time to move on to the next venue, good ol' Snapper was no where to be found. At least, he had given us a few extra drink tickets for the next bar as a conciliatory gesture, since the pub crawl of 4, clearly, was a bust. Realizing that good ol' Snapper had ditched us, we tried to find the next bar, located inside Gilligan's (also a huge hostel on the main drag). Of course, it turns out Gilligan's was the one place with a cover, which, incidentally, our wristbands did not cover (thanks Snapper!). Upon seeing the ridiculously long line, full of drunken college kids in short skirts, and already having paid to join the "pub crawl," we decided to bail and went back to PJ's to try to work some sympathy drinks out of the deal. We got one with one of the extra drink tickets (at least Snapper got us that much), hit McDonald's for Gabe and a 24-hour dairy for a candy bar for me on the way home, and went to bed.

Saturday, we got up, checked out, storing our bags at the front desk, and perused downtown Cairns one last time before our flight that evening. There was an outdoor market near the lagoon with lots of beautiful opal stands and several selling various fashion items made from crocodile skin! In talking to a stall owner, we discovered that they have many crocodile farms in Australia, where they breed crocs just for their skin.

Fun fact: A baby crocodile is worth around $100, while just his belly skin can go for nearly $1000.

Gabe testing out one of the croc hand back-scratchers (yes, that's a claw!):

Next, we used some more Internet at our agency and grabbed breakfast at the same corner shop from our first morning in Cairns, where we experienced an impromptu rainstorm. In retrospect, we were extremely lucky in Cairns, because it was the rainy season, yet this was the only precipitation we experienced and it only poured briefly. Then, deciding we did not have enough time to catch a bus up to one of the northern beaches without being very rushed, as we had originally discussed, we spent a leisurely last day in Cairns, and, naturally, ended up back at the Corona bar ;). We hung out there, enjoying the nice picnic bench-filled seating area out front.

Having too much fun at the picnic tables: :)

At 4:15 pm, we made a quick trip to the supermarket to get some dinner supplies since, before hurrying to catch our 4:30 pm reserved airport shuttle. Instead, running out of time, we ended up with some muffins and Doritos (healthy dinner for ya). Gabe ran back to get our bags, while I checked out, and we made it in time for our shuttle. We lounged in the airport's outdoor smoking patio (away from the smokers), and boarded our flight to Sydney - the final leg of our adventures in Oz!

The plane ride was uneventful, except for the CRAZY lady we sat next to. Overall, besides talking a lot and sleeping on each other's shoulders, I think Gabe and I are perfectly decent people to sit next to on a plane. However, this woman apparently did not agree. Near the end of the flight, I decided to glance out the window to get a good look as we approached downtown Sydney. She evidently found this quite annoying, or was just plain crazy, because she proceeded to lower her book and give me one of the freakiest death glares I have ever seen, and may ever see, in my life. Gabe and I finished the plane ride feeling extremely creeped out, as she kept staring/glaring at us oddly (was this a freaky defense mechanism to dissuade us from noticing that she was reading a trashy love novel, and had, perhaps, gotten to a particularly steamy bit?! I have no idea... I'm gonna go with she was just psycho). We disembarked quickly, and luckily, avoided an awkward run-in with Weird Plane Lady at the baggage claim. Welcome to Sydney!

Upon arriving, we grabbed a cab to our place for the night - the flat of Leon and Reuben, two brothers/family friends of Gabe's since high school, which is located in Annandale just outside the city across the Anzac Bridge. We hung out and, since Reuben was out on the town, were able to crash in his room for the night.

1 comment:

  1. So great to hear about all your adventures. Beautiful scenery and entertaining anecdotes. You did a lot in just a few days! :)