What I didn't mention is that in Cairns, as in Sydney and Melbourne, we had contacts. My brother-in-law Ivor's uncle (tenuous, I know) is living there with his wife and daughter, and when we made contact, Joe and Pauline very kindly invited us round for a barbie, picking us up from the hostel. The best thing, bar none, about traveling is meeting people, and Joe, Pauline, Finola and Jason were fantastic company and great hosts. I know Pauline is reading this blog - so thanks a million once more Pauline. You guys really helped to make our experience of Cairns more interesting, more fun, and very tasty (we had a roast beef dinner the second night! We thought we wouldn't see another one of those before Cork).
Our last big adventure in Far North Queensland was a trip - or an attempted trip - to Cape Tribulation. It got its name, as have many landmarks on the East coast of Australia, from Captain Cook, when the Endeavour came a cropper on the reef, and looked like it would go down. The dots were really joining up for me now - in Sydney's Maritime Museum a few weeks earlier, Nina and I were able to touch a big chunk of metal ballast that was recovered from the waters of Cape Tribulation. It, along with many other heavy items, were thrown overboard the Endeavour in an attempt to raise her in the water and get her off the reef. Captain Cook's tribulations ended well enough: using a technique called fothering, the damaged hull was effectively bandaged with a sail - enough for the ship to be brought to shore and repaired more thoroughly. It turns out that some of the coral that holed the hull had broken off and partially plugged the gap it had made. The crew had been very lucky indeed.
Our tribulations that day were less dramatic. The rain was coming down in sporadic but heavy cloudbursts, making driving conditions difficult (by now we had hired a small car with Cruising car rentals across the road from the hostel, and I can really recommend these guys). This was the second day of rain, and so we were concerned about getting trapped up on the Cape due to road closures. In the end, we made it into the Daintree rainforest, by crossing the Daintree river by ferry, but we only got as far as Cooper Creek:
In our little Daihatzu Getz (again, I have to wonder who thinks up the names here, or what the world's greatest saxophonist has to do with 2-door hatchbacks) we weren't going anywhere. Better to get blocked on the hostel side of the road, than to be stranded (like the folks in the picture) on the far side. We turned back and headed to the Daintree Discovery Centre a few kilometers back. This a great place to stop off in and check out the flora (and if you're lucky some fauna - this is Cassowary country) of this particular rainforest.
Gary, when we were back in Sydney, had told us about something called the Stinging Tree. It would appear that even the plant life on this continent can be really mean. Well in the Discovery Centre - which was a treetops-and-trail tour of the forest - we got to see this plant up close. It's an innocuous looking thing, with fruit that look like raspberries, but each leaf is covered with tiny slivers of silicon (yes, glass) each with a chemical irritant. If you even lightly brush off these leaves, countless poison needles will embed themselves under your skin and hurt like hell. For months! There is no antidote. The information in the Discovery Centre talks of folks throwing themselves to their deaths from clifftops rather than deal with the pain anymore. There is even a story, (perhaps urban legend, if that term can be applied to the wild) of a soldier on manoevers who uses a leaf to wipe his backside. Now that's tribulation.
The rain continued to come down for the rest of our stay in Cairns, keeping us from venturing to any of the other sights like the crater lake, or the crystal cascades. Letizia and I promised each other that we'd come back. In the dry season. But for now, we found ourselves once more on a plane, this time flying South along the East coast of Australia, towards Brisbane.
After a few hours, the left-hand portholes where Letizia and Sara sat were in almost complete darkness. On the right, I could see the clearest, longest and most perfect sunset I have ever experienced. For thirty minutes, I watched the fires burning in rainbow colours along an endless and featureless horizon, the emotion heightened by the knowledge of how far into the distance the continent extended and knowing too that the sun's light which for me was just an afterglow, was now heating the African Cape. The shadow from the left spread under the plane and over the land below until it oozed to the horizon itself where, just as we reached Brisbane, it extinguished the distant fires.
Our airborne hops seem to have the same effect each time. As we leave one place, it is only with reluctance, but as we near our next destination, the anticipation is impossible to stifle. I suppose it is because in our journey so far, we have never gone 'home', we are always traveling to somewhere we have never been before, gradually moving eastwards, into the darkness.