"Australia 1999" story # 26


Cairns, Queensland
May 16, 1999

At the end of a long ride, I woke to see that my bus was rolling along amid fat, juicy palm trees, rainforest-covered hills, and descending, (possibly crocodile-inhabited) brown rivers. It felt wonderful to be back in the tropics.
     7:50 a.m., our bus arrived in Cairns. By 8:00 a.m., I was on a cruise for the Reef.
     We relaxed above the green waves. The tall hotels of Cairns' small oceanfront shrunk from view first. The green-mountain peninsulas that command the inlet crept with us to sea. Soon, even those were left behind, the water turned sun-ray blue, and the boat rested at the Reef.
     At our first stop, called Hastings Reef, twenty-foot corals posed round, like bowling balls, or branching and curvy, like greasy french fries. Large, periwinkle fish played with bumble-bee colored friends. A young parrotfish couple, one green and one purple, kept frollicking by, romanticizing.
     The reef opened up like a white sand baseball field at spots. Moving as effortlessly as a kangarro, I hung out near the bottom, looking in crevasses and caves for my sought-after octopus.
     At the second stop, called Breaking Patches, the corals nearly reached the surface in spots. Other places were shallow with pointed, twisting corals, as maroon as Rudolf's christmas antlers. Other spots were twenty feet deep with channels you could glide through and feel like a fish. The reef had a big drop-off that made a wall of life. Adventuring along the wall, I celebrated my new record depth of 35 feet.
     Before we one-eightied for land, a near-transparent school of squid, my favorite animal, soared the water by me. "See you tomorrow," said Cam and Dave, the ship employees, when we arrived at port.
     Laidback Cairns - what a great place to be.
     I landed at my residence for the long weekend: the house of Oscar, whom I'd been set up with by my Aussie school-mate, Megan.
     I wasn't sure what to expect from Oscar, a gay cross-dresser. (Don't take my phrase, "set up with," the wrong way.) But, he turned out cool. Though only fifteen, he had tons of stories of hanging out with 18-year old girls on rainforest trains and Cairns markets.
     His mom was even cooler. She told stories of my beloved hitchhiking. She said she was down to sixteen cents in Cairns as a kid and was supposed to take a flight to her home in New Guinea. Instead, she hitched to Port Douglass and met some people who lived off the land. She spent six months with no money eating fruit and sleeping on the beach. What a cool mom.
     She made my bed in the open basement, where I was free to feel the motherly warmth of the climate and smell the sugary tropics scent which makes life so sweet.

I arrived early at Cairns' Marlin Wharf the next morning.
     What a great feeling this port gives. The energetic sun was leaving its shine on the wharf's white boats, the neighboring mountain's green plants, the bay's darker, milky green waters, and Cairns' silver buildings. However, all this brilliance ricocheted and slapped me in the face, forcing it into a smile the "Jaws of Life" couldn't extract. With the town's straight buildings tucked away between the huge, sloping mounds, the horizon reminded me of Cedar Point's adrenalin-charming towers and roller-coasters. And though Cedar Point (possibly my favorite man-made place) was all the way in Ohio, just knowing I could get on any one of the fifty boats in front of me and visit such an immaculate, natural place, the Great Barrier Reef, inspired me with enough awe to maintain my smile for a month.
     It was almost a shame to get on a boat and leave the wharf, but Cam had promised me my first-ever, free scuba dive.
     The black equipment was suprisingly heavy, led by the oxygen tank. A few feet below the water's surface, I hovered on the boat's ladder. Wally the bull wrasse, a purple, water toboggan-shaped mascot of the boat, nuzzled me with his protruding chin.
     Our ocean welcomed Cam inside, and he guided my first dive. We floated downward and explored at twenty feet's depth. I was actually able to stay there more than half a minute. Cam showed us the details of the reef, including bright, zigzagged clams. We felt the fluff of wavy, pink anemones, where orange clowfish did their wacky dance.
     Much thanks to Cam, but I found I actually preferred the challenge and nature of free-diving. I hadn't liked the mechanic sound my scuba breathing had caused, nor did I like the slow speed with which I had to proceed.
     Carrying on and snorkelling, I achieved a proud milestone depth of forty-five feet. Though the mask clung to my face like a hostile squid, it was great down there. The hues were all a misty blue or gray, light from the sun barely peeked down, and the coral had all kinds of openings for me to peer into.
     We split for town.
     When time came, I checked out Cairns' happening Friday night. I visited a big, comfortable bar called Gypsee Dee's. A good band played classic hits. Two girls and an old lady sat by me. The lady told me of her travelling and of her aversion for the bald heads of the visiting U.S. navy.
     Her daughter's friend, Adrienne, was beautiful. She was white as light and thin, with the kind face and dark, curly hair of Maid Marian from "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" (one of my favorite movies).
     I received a nice treat when my older friend recommended Adrienne and I dance together. (Thank god I had hair!) Dancing with Adrienne was like bathing in a delicate, forest-hidden waterfall few people knew to exist. We danced a bunch and shared a few laughs. I said good-bye without making a move; by just smiling with me, Adrienne had made my night.

The next day, I voyaged to sea with Cam and Dave's company, Compass, again.
     When I entered the water, I saw something about so:
     Wally the bull wrasse was leading a parade of fish through the sea. He raised a purple fin holding a conductor's wand. Four bumble-bee fish swam from behind him, positioned themselves at a twisty, maroon coral, and took turns plucking it like strings of a banjo. Wally began singing.

(to the beat of The Little Mermaid's "Under the Sea")
We are in Cairns! ...
We are in Cairns!

Some tiny, bright blue fish pulled a lobster from beneath a coral ledge, flipped him over, and tickled his belly like the keyboards.

You still are not even twenty,
buy you're in the Land of Plenty.
To come here certainly was fate,
so, to you, I say, "G'day, mate!"

Just then, a tiny VW bug sped up to the parade. One clownfish, two clownfish, three clownfish filed out, and they kept exiting the bug, seemingly from nowhere, until eleven were hovering near a pink anemone, stroking it like an elegant harp. A big, energetic periwinkle fish motored up to some brain coral and pounded his tail against it for percussion.

This place is a cozy city.
Green tropics are very pretty.
From the Marlin Wharf, boats sail quick.
Don't worry, no one gets seasick.

Dave and Cam swam in behind Wally, waving with masked faces. They tooted on their oxygen valves to the beat of "We Are In Cairns." Meanwhile, two baby parrotfish pulled a white stingray taut. The green and purple parrotfish lovers bounced on it like a trampoline, providing backup alto vocals to Wally's bass.

The Esplanade's great for prancing,
and Gypsee Dee's offers dancing.
You might even meet a cute girl.
It's Eden right in your own world.

As the rest of the parade marched, the squids took turns banging each others' heads together as cymbals. And, out of nowhere, Adrienne, a mermaind in a coconut-shell top, snuck up behind me. Her arms feathered across my neck and chest. The whole fish family joined in the chorus.

We are in Cairns! (We are in Cairns!)
We are in Cairns! (We are in Cairns!)

Wally took over, breaking it down.

Each little octopus,
knows how to rock the bus;
each little clownfish,
knows how to go to town w'this;
each little bull wrasse,
knows how to kick ass!
That's why I belief
you'll go to the Reef
and the Rainforest.
Come quickly for us!
No need be fussy!
You'll be with us here!
We are in Cairns!

Wally slid up to me, and the others posed, fins to sea-level, in a coulage behind. Shells shot into the air, exploding in fireworks, and Adrienne pulled me close and kissed my cheek ...

Shortly after Cam bonned fareware at Marlin Wharf, telling me he used to free-dive to 120 feet in his hey-day, festivities of the trip's last night were underway.
     Once again, a table of interesting strangers had welcomed me. It was a group of young backpackers, including two Swiss girls, a French guy, a Canadian girl, a Dutch girl, and two Kiwis.
     As always in Cairns, I was blessed with nearby beauty. Swiss Frederica's face was an innocent, dolphin-like masterpiece. She spoke only French, however, and I was only left to look at her and think of childhood days when I was pure of ill desire.
     Julie, the Canadian, also had a nice face. Her sweet, big, purple eyes, full black hair, and chill smile of perfect, tiny teeth put all worries to rest. Travelling Australia, she never made plans ahead of time. She was working in a Cairns Baskin Robbins, where she could help herself to the ice cream. How awesome would that be?
     She made me jealous that she got to backpack on her own. The French guy was interesting, too; he'd hitchhiked from Sydney all the way to MacKay in Queensland. That was pretty impressive.
     The live music (we were in Johnno's Blues Bar) was also impressive. The Matt Cochran Band played. Matt kicked ass. He was this huge, bald slide-guitarist. He squatted on-stage in a chair, practically creating smoke as his hand raced across the strings. Loud, staticy, screeching rifts were the product, and I felt so good I wanted to implode.
     My friends left. I wandered about Cairns, stopping to dance at the Wool Shed, and awaited my bus to Oscar's house. I spotted Julie strolling down the street and went to talk with her.
     Looking in Julie's calm, cool eyes - the color of my favorite ice cream, Black Cherry - I had to kiss her.
     Instead of ice cream, she tasted of onion, which she'd warned me about. But, she was still nice.
     After our first kiss, a street musician played. And, if you can believe it, he strummed my favorite song, "Lightning Crashes" by Live. Can you see now why I love this place?

Cairns (1) - -$20
Semester to date - -$342.50

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