Crikey, We're Dumb!!

Trip Start Jun 17, 2008
Trip End Aug 31, 2009

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Where I stayed
Anderton Van Park

Flag of Australia  , Queensland,
Friday, March 13, 2009

"Dengue Fever Weary Cairns Residents Brace For Cyclone!" 

Well, I imagine it might have been beneficial to have read the newspaper before heading into subtropical Cairns [Dumb Thing #1].  Even without seeing the headline, however, there were some subtle clues that all was not well in Northern Australia. bread and milk left in the grocery store...that's interesting.  "Hey Tracy, why did the guy in the next cabin give us some candles?  Is it that apparent that (after 240 consecutive days with our kids) we're in need of a romantic evening together?"   And then there was the Holiday Park owner who laughed at us when we inquired about a Great Barrier Reef trip, "I don't imagine the boats will be running the next few days, mate.  But come see me later and I'll give you some ideas for rainy day fun"...did I just get propositioned?!?

Eventually we clued in that Cyclone Hamish was bearing down on north-eastern Australia.  Confirming that a cyclone is the same thing as a hurricane helped explain the "expected to strengthen to a category 3 or 4 storm" comment we heard on the radio.  We were a little annoyed because we had been told that if we hurried north we could still catch the end of cyclone season.  We had, in fact, dawdled through the redneck outback of Queensland looking at cattle and dirt (and rednecks) and more dirt; so, according to our plan, Cairns was supposed to be sunny, warm, and dry, not cyclonic....Crikey!!

Well, the bad news was that Cyclone Hamish (what kind of name is that anyway?) eventually strengthened into a category 5 monster; the good news was that it veered south, and the eye of the storm stayed in the ocean.  Nevertheless, Cairns (and all the Elops) did get a bit of a soaking. 

With respect to the dengue fever headline, it was referencing the mosquitoes that were spreading this nasty little disease around Cairns.  It was their worst outbreak since WWII, and based on the papers had reached epidemic status.  You would have thought that the collective 30 shots we had at the clinic before embarking on our trip might have covered dengue, but no such luck.  Although, a quick look at our vaccination book did remind us that we were covered for various types of Hepatitis... so the fun with rusty nails game was still on. 

[For the record, while in Australia, we have now been lucky enough to avoid numerous natural disasters including a cyclone, dengue fever, major flooding, deadly bushfires, extreme heat waves and a Bee Gees reunion tour].

Despite the inauspicious start, Cairns turned out to be a wonderful stop for us.  For starters, it provided me with an opportunity to reassert my manliness when we discovered there were no matches available to light the gas stove.  No, I didn't rub two sticks together to get a flame.  Instead, I employed a little trick I call "Stick a rolled-up sheet of paper into a live toaster until it bursts into flame, light the gas stove with the burning torch, but don't stand there and admire your handiwork because the piece of paper is still on fire, and it will burn your fingers ...ouch!" [Dumb Thing #2].  Fortunately (or coincidentally?) we had an almost finished bottle of wine nearby to douse the flames.  Safety tip: Don't try this at home (at least not at our home).

Cairns also had the nearby Cape Tribulation, an amazing area of land where the rainforest effectively grows right to the ocean.  Besides the natural beauty of this area, Cape Tribulation also offered up the following:

    One of the longest and fastest rivers we had to drive through.  Water flowing across the road is quite common once you get off the beaten track in Australia.  The "Caution: Fast Flowing Water" sign was not all that necessary considering we have eyes.  So we did the smart thing and turned around, but not before we had actually driven through the river and were on the other side [Dumb Thing #3].  The rationale was that with an approaching cyclone, the river over the road was more likely to get deeper and faster, rather than's that for good thinking!!  It probably would have been smarter, however, to have that thought before we drove through it the first time;

    The beach at Cape Tribulation [Note: we had a more successful "river traversing" trip there after the cyclone].  It had thousands of little crabs running around digging holes and removing perfectly round balls of mud.  Tracy nailed it when she said that the quick moving crabs reminded her of Fred Flintstone bowling (when he was up on his tippy toes)...she's always been good with her classic arts references;

    There were also trees on the beach that were like something out of a Grimm fairy tale...mostly intertwined gnarled roots that were two or three feet above the beach.  If you looked into this mess of trees and roots it got very dark and spooky in a hurry.  On a related "spooky" note, I discovered that it was not such a good idea to tell the children about the horror movie, "The Shining" [Dumb Thing #4]...picture 3 junior Jack Nicholson's running around repeatedly saying, "I don't want to hurt you, I just want to bash your brains in!!"  Not such a good parenting moment (which Tracy was quick to point out with one of her "How could you possibly think that was a good idea" looks).  But after driving the kids into a cyclone, and through a river, I figured why not go for the trifecta;

    The testicle plant (see photo)...not since Butt Crack Lake in New Zealand have we seen a natural attraction so aptly named.  I guess it helps when we are doing the naming;

-    Going on a boardwalk hike through the rainforest and seeing a wild wombat (or maybe it was just a wild pig).  Since Tracy didn't get a picture of it, I'm going with the wombat.  Also, in what is happening with disturbing regularity, we saw another giant spider...nothing like a nature walk to freak all the girls out!;

    Getting to sweat our way through 120% humidity in the rainforest.  [I know the math doesn't quite work but I'm trying to paint a picture].  For the record, Tracy wasn't sweating, she was just dewing (heavily);

    The side trip to Mossman Gorge.  Despite periodic torrential rainfall, there were some very enjoyable rainforest walks.  Unfortunately, (as Dumb Thing #5), I left my rain jacket in the car just before one such torrential downpour began. 

    Our first saltwater crocodile warning signs, right next to the bottle of vinegar (for the very tiny, but very toxic, "stinger" jellyfish stings...we decided to pass on swimming here [Finally, a smart decision!].
The other main reason we came to Cairns was its proximity to the Great Barrier Reef.  After the cyclone moved on, we headed out on a full day boating trip.  We were all very excited...yes, because of the fish and the reef, but also because the cruise included a buffet lunch.  After 4 months of sandwiches for lunch, this was a major drawing's that for pathetic?  Throw in the free "Sunlovers Reef Cruises" hats, and life was good!  Upon arriving at the "floating pontoon island", the day just got better and better.  It is too hard to describe all of the amazing fish and coral we saw while snorkeling, but to put it into perspective Tracy proclaimed it as one of the best days of her life. (And being celiac, she couldn't even fully enjoy the buffet.)

The kids also loved the experience.  With a 90 minute boat ride each way, and 4.5 hours at the reef itself, we were a little concerned that boredom might set in.  This turned out to be a needless worry.  Besides the swimming and snorkeling, there was a semi-submersible boat, a kids' "pool" open to the ocean that had fish swimming right through it, and a "touching pond".  It also helped that the water was warm and calm.  And the fish and reef are only a few feet under the water, so while wearing life jackets they could swim and snorkel for hours.  In borrowing from their journals, they particularly enjoyed "the one fish that was bigger than me" and the "one fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish" (although this led to a discussion on plagiarism).  Laura even proclaimed the buffet food to be absolutely "bowlalicious"...apparently you're allowed to make up words in your journal.

If you are ever fortunate enough to be in this part of the world, we would highly recommend the Great Barrier Reef.  You can skip the combination Opal Mine and Candy Emporium, but make the reef a "must see".

And the miscellaneous notes from the last week:

    As part of our cyclone avoidance plan we rented a number of movies.  We thought that an early James Bond movie might be tame enough for the kids [Dumb Thing #6].  It wasn't 10 minutes into the movie that Sean Connery firmly planted his hand on an attractive woman's behind just to say hello.  Was there really a time that this behavior was acceptable?  And if so, aren't we due for a retro comeback of these more affectionate times?;

    We continue to chuckle at what some small towns will do to get noticed.  After leaving Cairns we started our return journey south, this time along the coast.  We stopped in a small town called Bowen for no other reason than that we were tired of driving for the day.  The local tourist guidebook highlighted the town's "world famous Big Mango".  The 10 metre sculpture, costing $90,000, was built as "part of a successful community campaign to revitalize the shire and boost tourism".  Do they really think people will make a special trip to Bowen just to see a Big Mango?  And, do they really want people to know how much they paid for a fading chunk of painted concrete?   Local council proudly proclaims that "there is an ongoing international debate as to whether it was erected upside down.";
    Going to Hypipamee National Park.  The nature walk here included going to a really neat cylindrical crater that was formed by gas exploding out of the earth's core. [Editors note: kudos to Kevin for using the word gas without referring to a bodily function...shows hope for him reaching some level of maturity someday!];

    In a social experiment, we let the kids play their Nintendos for the last part of a drive to our holiday park.  When we reached the cabin, Tracy and I left the car, but the kids remained in the backseat absorbed in their games.  It was a full 30 minutes later before they noticed that we had left...and even then, it might have been the 30 degrees in the car that caused them to move.  If Tracy and I had known we had 30 minutes to ourselves, we might have come up with something better to do (considering our privacy-challenged existence).  On a related privacy note, a number of holiday parks have giant jumping pillows for the kids.  We've discovered that the kids can keep themselves occupied here for at least 15 minutes.  More than enough time, when it needs to be.  Although, the children do wonder why we now refer affectionately to these trampoline-like things as the "jumping pillows of love";

    Despite the kids failing the "Nintendo experiment", there are some positive signs that they are learning something of value on this trip.  A few days ago Sarah suggested that they play, "that tag game we played at the Temple of Artemis near Ephesus".  I'm pretty sure she wouldn't have said this had we not gone on this trip;

    And speaking of the trip, we have decided we are getting soft.  The original itinerary had us going into mainland China for 7 days and then India for another 10 days.  In a rare moment of advance planning, we noted that both our flights in and out of India were at 2am (from different cities 500 km apart), the average high temperature during our planned stay was 40 degrees C, and it was going to be an arduous (and very expensive!) task to get visas.  All this primarily so the children could, between bouts of diarrhea, see the Taj Mahal, and say, "Nice building.  Can we leave now?"  As for China, additional time in English-speaking, car-rental friendly Australia and Southern Africa won out.  To satisfy Michael's request to see his favourite animal, the Giant Panda, we confirmed that we could still see some in Hong a theme park, no less.  We all win!;

    We got to see a wind farm, which is of little, if any, interest but it provided a "renewable energy source" lesson for the kids.  More importantly however, by mentioning it, we have an excuse to include a picture of it that both Tracy and I liked.

So now we are continuing our way south down the coast for our last week in Australia.  We heard something about a large oil spill (caused by the aforementioned cyclone) that has closed a number of beaches near where we are headed.  Stay tuned to see if our luck with respect to avoiding Australian disasters continues.  We are tempted to switch on the TV for some news, but the last time we did that we were confronted with a Michael Jackson press conference about concerts in London.  In our current dim-witted state, we might actually be tempted to buy some that would be really dumb!!!
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