20 July 2018 Friday
Port Douglas. I need to be putting days of the week with dates because we’ve traveled long enough to lose those connections.
We left Sydney on the 18th and struck out on our own. No more cousins or friends whose counsel we could depend upon. Flying to Cairns and picking up a car. Driving on the other side of the road! Big deal for me. I’ve wanted to explore the UK for years and didn’t dare for fear. Friends and public transport got me to enough places, but in Australia . . . This is a big country. There is some public transport but what I want to see is not necessarily close to anything. Transfers via private buses and vans are pricey and constraining. And so, it was time.
We landed in Cairns as the sun went down and drove a pitiful small way to our lodging in the near dark. I don’t think I’ve concentrated so hard in my life. And we made it. That night was ate at the restaurant closest to where we were staying. I had a beer that tasted better than any I’ve ever had.
Mistake1: At pick up, the rental company “upgraded” us because they didn’t have the car most like my own for us. What we got is this rather large SUV. I considered going back in to ask for something else. Deciding against it, I drove. In Italy, we rented something so small that only one of our bags fit in the trunk. He othe traveled in the micro back seat. I loved that car! I sit higher in my SUV and it is heavy. Just don’t ask me to parallel park. I’ve gotten used to the size but an SUV is not my future! Of course, Julia loves the size.
Mistake 2: Blushing I’ll admit to this. The plan for the next day was to take a tourist train up to a village called Kuranda, hang out in the village for awhile and take the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway back down. The big drive of the day would be to Port Douglas about an hour away on flat roads. I set my google maps to what I thought was the train station and headed off. I needed to concentrate on driving. Julia was not allowed to listen to music or a book, sing or talk. Singlemindedness was the order of the morning. We had driven a bit further than the 10-15 minutes drive I thought I was going on—ok, probably more like 20-25 minutes —when I realized that instead of setting directions for the train station that could take us TO Kuranda, I was driving to the train station IN Kuranda. Turning around seemed pointless and had I wanted to, it would have been hard to find a suitable place. We drove on this winding, mountain road up and up and up some more. We got to the village before any other tourist, apart from those staying the night. We left our lodgings without coffee and breakfast—there was somewhere at the train station to pick something up. I got out of the car, took a very deep breath and felt my shoulders leave my ear region. Trial by fire? It was my most challenging drive so far. The way down was somehow easier.
Parking was a breeze and we found the one cafe that opened early for folks going to work. Flat white is what the call two shots of espresso with a bit less steamed milk than is in a latte. Cinnamon raisin toast is a thing here and it tastes like childhood.
Because of the train schedule which only left from Kuranda twice a day in the afternoon, we did a round trip on the cable car. And loved it. Seeing the rainforest canopy from above and then getting off twice to walk the floor was impressive. Trees taller than can be taken in from either below or above. Such dense growth that from above it looks solid enough to walk on if one was magical and daring enough. The “holes” in the canopy where a tree may have fallen and where sunlight can penetrate almost to the forest floor. Those holes are filled with smaller trees, vines and bushes competing to join the canopy.
Most of Kuranda was not inspiring. Very much a tourist trap with a few decent walks. It is the trip up and back with views of the rain forest canopy that are prized. We were fortunate, however, because we were on a search for the ice cream shop owned by my friend’s partner’s daughter. It was in the old marketplace which I didn’t really know about. Here was the Kuranda that tickled me. Behind a picket fence is a warren of tiny lanes lined with hippy shops, cafes and buskers. It smelled of heavy incense and cooking and things not legal. People running the shops were from a lost innocent time. It was not an exotic Asian or middle eastern bazaar but it was the 60’s.
I did not try to explain this to Julia but she loved walking around and looking at clothes and trinkets and dream catchers with stones and feathers. And we found the ice cream shop and enjoyed mango and peach sorbets. I wondered what it would be like to spend my days working in such a place. It was apart from what was outside of it with a rhythm of its own. Yes, it was for tourists but on its own terms. It was a challenge to its more scrubbed and uniform cousin on the other side of the parking lot.
We are staying at hostels for this leg of our trip. I’ve never stayed in one and wanted to try. I usually like some kind of small inn (an Italian locanda) where there is possible interaction with those running the place. Hotels and resorts are expensive, airb&b’s can be isolating. The hostels in Australia seemed as close to what I wanted and I’ve been curious about hostels. So far the two we’ve been in are great. Both have pools and activities, communual kitchen (though I doubt we’ll use this), TVs in the rooms and quite comfortable beds. And there are interactive front desk folks and other lodgers to greet. Coral Beach Lodge in Port Douglas has a place for us to park and is opposite a beach path. There are young backpackers here and smilies with toddlers (a couple with a baby who re traveling Australia for 7 months) and families with adolescents and teens. Free breakfast where julia tried vegemite (sp? And didn’t like it) and an option for take out in the evening. We had greasy fish and chips last night that was pretty wonderful. Absolutely no complaints so far.
Another more Australian discovery. In Sydney, we were introduced to Master Chef which is on every night right now. We became quite hooked on it. Although I can’t seem to find it on our room TVs, there is a website where we can watch it after it is shown on tv. So, we are watching a day behind and if it is not finished by the time we get home, we can still get the website.
Today, we did a Dreamtime walk at Mossman Gorge. Our guide was aboriginal and he explained the forest of his people. I know he just scratched the surface but I loved that we heard his talk about his people’s connection to their land. I wanted to know more. My favorite story was how women traditionally gave birth under a particular tree and how every year his family visited his grandmother’s tree on her birthday. He lived in the Gorge Park. His family observed some traditional ways. Each clan of his people refrained from eating one animal. His family did not eat a lizard that he pointed out, his wife’s family did not eat crocodile. It is a way to keep the world around them in balance.
Matthew, our guide, told us what was the ‘business’ of men and what belonged to women. He was an only child so he carried the skills and stories of both. He was looking forward to having daughters so he could give up half his story responsibly. He told us about the dances he learned for people’s gatherings and let us put on some of the red, ocher and white ‘paint’ they used for decoration.
I’ve noticed that our guides who are aboriginal do not say good-bye, often they say see you next time, or eye you soon. They have their secrets but are generous with their stories and teachings. We have met them in Uluru and Sydney and now here, in the art and their respect and use of their land and the impression they leave on the culture. We are fortunate for all this teaching.
2 thoughts on “cairns, kuranda & port douglas”
Wow! That was fun and the photos are terrific. I’ve had the “other side” driving experience, since He was considered too “old.” He was white knuckled and guiding when I did just fine. Trouble was is that I’m usually the one taking photos, and he didn’t do that so well. I would chat all the way through and enjoy the drive..it’s an experience all right.
Thank you for bringing me along on your cable car ride. Your entire adventure has brought a world I might never see with my own eyes… and you do it magnificently!