"Australia 1999" story # 1


Cairns, Queensland, Australia
February 21, 1999

Cairns. My first impression of Australia.
     The airport was on a flat plain, decorated with wide-leafed palms. Wild-looking, heavily-forested mountains cradled the landing field. A thick, drowsy heat replaced your cares with a thirst for adventure. It was the tropics: heaven.
     My bus rode through the town of 190,000. People here were happy and friendly. Small shops, fruit stands, and hotels marked the palm-lined downtown on the water. The bay Cairns lied on was protected by mountains stretching for miles into the sea. There was nothing here to remind a person of anything but life's pleasures.
     I was spending a weekend with other students who'd come to Australia to study. Kory and Matt roomed with me at the hotel. Kory played baseball in St. Louis and never said anything that wasn't a joke. Matt had short hair and glasses, and he made us laugh by talking a bunch of "junk" in competitions he was no good at. I'm sure my roommates would agree with me that the hotel we stayed in was excellent - for just one reason: an endless supply of hotel mints. Actually, everyone but us hated them. But, my roommates and I ate fifty of those little white balls a day and always took a fistful when we passed the counter. (It's important to note: my shaver broke due to the Australian volt difference)

We went to the rainforest the next day. I scanned the towering palm trees and vines for snakes as we toured. Two kids and I ditched the guide when we tired of him saying things like: "The fascinating co-bolate leaves of this specimen, trachilarius boringarius, might appear similar to sapairsicus no-one-caresicus, but in fact it's a relative of blah, blah ..." Also, he wouldn't let us go off-trail, and I wanted to explore.
     Danny from Brooklyn, whose head is round but kind of lumpy, and Long Islander Kim, a laidback, lesbian, bracelets-wearing Madonna-fan, walked with me. We swung on some of the vines. Then, Danny said, "Yo! Ain't dat one of those lizard guys the guide was telling us about?" An 18-inch, dark green, spiky-necked Forest Dragon clung to a tree. Alright, my first chance to catch some Australian wildlife! I went up and touched the lizard to Danny's delight, but I couldn't stop its wide-legged scurry to higher ground.
     The group stopped for a swim at Mossman Rapids, a pristine break in the forest. You could slide down a swift waterfall in the rocks and jump from ten-foot cliffs. It was scary and stupid, because you couldn't see where the rocks were. A pretty good rush.
     We left the rainforest and grabbed a lunch that didn't fill me up. No problem, I'd just make use of the plants of the tropics. I took a coconut from a low tree. I couldn't open its husk (I then realized that I didn't know anything about the plants of the tropics, because I'd snoozed through the botany guide earlier). Jewish Jeremy, who stained his shirt, and Kory were finally able to crack it open for me. The juice was bland and the fruit tasted like unsweetened chocolate, but I ate it all. I was proud, and I told people, "I'm half-aborigine."
     We visited a nature refuge next. We saw colorful parrots, a big emu, and lazy wallabees. The koalas reminded me of The Gremlins, jumping from tree to tree with short little legs, bushy ears, and big, curious eyes. We could pet the kangaroos. Their fur is thin and scratchy. I tried convincing one to race me: "C'mon, mate, gimme a go!" But they just laid around. They wouldn't even box me.
     (It's of interest to note: I lost a $100 Australian bill in the hotel pool)
     At night, we sat around discussing things we'd miss while away from America. I said Denny's restaurant, which doesn't say a whole lot about my taste. But, I love it, and for this reason I'll always love my roommate, Kory, who said, as we discussed what was good at Denny's, "EVERYTHING'S good at Denny's." (Such praise brings tears to my eyes) Then, Kory dropped a hotel mint in his mouth. I wiped away my tears and ate one too. Matt stuffed about five in his mouth.

Alright! The next day we went on the Great Barrier Reef. On the boat trip, Matt started bragging to Kim of how she stunk at cards and he was unbeatable. As we motored 25 miles out to sea, Matt managed to lose seven straight card games to her.
     We snorkelled above blue coral shaped like cauliflower, long, pink spikes, and slimy red branches that swayed in the waves. I took some dives. I was euphoric, swimming above big coral balls, in deep grooves, and under ledges. I felt like I was a fish. Of course, I could never be, because I'm much too ugly (let's just say: less colorful). I lost the beauty contest to red-and-blue fish, bright purple fish, green fish that looked like parrots, and black-speckled white fish with yellow lips and faces like old ladies. A school of seven-inch squid, my favorite animal, swam by, with eyes half their body lengths. The fish were amazing to swim with, and whenever I saw Danny we futilely tried to grab one.
     Our boat also stopped to snorkel at a tiny sand island on the Reef, Apollo Cay. It was well-portected - taking one shell could result in a $4000 fine.
     Fat, black worms lined the shallow ocean floor around the island. Then, I saw my first shark ever! It was a 5-foot sawtooth, with a long snout and crooked teeth coming out either side. I was so excited. I swam after to get a good look at it, but I couldn't catch up.
     Things got even better when I saw a sand-colored Loggerhead turtle with black splotches. I kicked my legs their fastest and chased it. It was a slowpoke, so I caught it and wrapped my hands around its two-foot shell. A worried look shown on his face, but he was able to slip away before I could show him to the group. Darn it, I'm no Crocodile Hunter! Later on, I saw another turtle. I pursued it, hopeful for a chance to redeem myself. Just when I almost had him in my grasp, he juked me with two headfakes that Michael Jordan would've been proud of. For a turtle, this thing had moves!
     When I got to the ship, I was quite satisfied. I could gladly snorkel on a coral reef every day for the rest of my life.
     But no one would believe the animals I'd seen. When I mentioned the shark and turtles, one girl I didn't even know yelled in my face, "BULLSHIT!" Oh, I was upset. I walked straight up to a boat-worker and said, "Hey, I saw that girl over there put a white shell in her swimsuit." She got a $4000 scare, and I had my revenge, ha, ha!
     We enjoyed the company of the sea creatures so much during the day, that we decided we'd have them for dinner. Literally, I mean that, because we went to a seafood restaurant. My creature-catching skills saw improvement here, as I was able to snag a bleach-yellow gecko from the wall and hold onto it until it jumped on a diner's head and ran across the dinner table.
     Danny sat across from me, saying crazy things all night. "Yo! Brooklyn is better than wherever all of y'all come from because 1. We got the best pizza in the world, and 2. We got the best beaches in the world. Except when they're polluted." He loved eating the prawns (shrimp), but he wouldn't eat their legs, saying it was because, "I never eat the babies." He insisted the brains were the best part. At one point, he said, out-of-nowhere, "Yo! When I was in eighth grade, I was 5'6" and weighed 300 pounds. I got da picture to prove it." We had no idea why he said this, but he explained: "Because someone was talking about weight ... or waitering. Yeah, waitering." He thought he was pretty hard-core, but it was funny because he had glasses. He said, "I had to get braces, man. Yo! My mom came at me with a broomstick and said, 'No one's gonna hire you! If you don't get your teeth fixed, no one's gonna give you a job!" And when he overheard me challenging Jeremy to a pancake-eating contest, he said, "Yo! When I lived at home, I ate 50 pancakes for every meal." Fifty pancakes!? No wonder he weighed 300 pounds.
     A tropical thunderstorm hit Cairns that night. As I walked home from The Reef casino (I'd like to note: I lost $270 Australian playing poker), the mountains on the city's edge lit up magically every time lightning stuck.

Before going our seperate ways, Matt told me, "You should transfer to my university and come wrestle some animals." Not a bad idea.
     We left Cairns, which, despite my bad luck there, remains my all-time favorite city. Kory and Danny went to Sydney. Matt, Kim, and Jeremy went to Lismore.(brief note: I had to repurchase my ticket because it'd been improperly issued) I went to Darwin.

- Justin

(note: my bags, on the other hand, went to Singapore)

CAZZY (Australian slang for casino) ROUNDUP
Cairns (2 trips): +$100, -$270
Semester to Date: -$170

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