Thursday, 13 March 2008

We woke up to blue sky the next morning, all the rain had washed away and we could make it to the bathroom without wading. We had made some phone calls back on the road the day before, and booked some tours that would send vans to pick us up, so we wouldn’t have to move the campervan. I forgot to mention, it started to die on us yesterday, while we were on that one lane road avoiding road trains. We think maybe it had something to do with all the bumps we were hitting, it was pretty rough road in places. When we stopped at the hot springs and let KeaTheresa (our campervans’ name, we thought it was pretty clever since the car we drove in Europe was called Fia Theresa, that was a Fiat, and the brand of camper is KEA), she started up just fine, but we were wary. We’re happy to park her in Cairns and not move her until we turn her in.

A van picked us up at 8:45 and took us to the base of a mountain, where we rode a gondola up and over the rainforest, eventually arriving in the small town of Kuranda. As we soared over the treetops, we noticed a very windy road below us. It was the road we had traversed in the rain the night before! We were awed by the size of the trees beneath us, hard to believe they reached all the way from the ground to us. The gondola stopped a little ways up, and we disembarked to take a short hike through the rainforest with a guide. He showed us the lawyer vine, named because it holds on and wouldn’t let go. It was covered in sharp, painful-looking spikes that snagged clothes and skin. It grows on trees, climbing up whatever it can hang on to. We also saw strangler vines, which eventually engulf a tree, starting up in the limbs and growing down first, so their roots can reach the soil. We saw the kauri tree, with smooth, peeling bark that doesn’t allow any sort of vegetation to grow on it. This region only has “young” trees, no older than a few hundred years old because of previous logging activities.

Our first taste of the rainforest was pretty cool, we look forward to seeing more in South America in a month or so. The next gondola stop dropped us at Barron Falls, an awesome waterfall that was so powerful it made your insides shake. It thundered down the cliffs and slammed into the rocks. Nate described it best in his journal, he called it a “cloud factory” because of the mists that rose up from all the watery chaos.

The town of Kuranda itself was nothing too exciting. We got some lunch at the grocery store and carried it over to the park. It had been raining and the benches and ground were wet, but we found a dry spot and dug in to the yogurt and cheese and bread we’d bought. We wandered around, avoiding puddles and ducking under awnings when it started up again. We passed a quirky little face in the street as we walked past a café. I noticed some bubbles floating around a table, and a woman clutching a purse under her arm and smiling slightly as she watched everyone take notice. Clay saw a pack of bubbles sticking out of her purse, she was a surreptitious bubble-blower. I hadn’t seen one of those before.

We took the Scenic Railway train back down, passing through dark tunnels in the mountainside, tunnels men had risked their lives to create. We passed Barron Falls on the other side, and rattled right past another waterfall, just outside the windows of the train. The train was one of those historic things, all quaint with shiny wood interiors and history just oozing from under the leather seats. They had once created a train car for this route with bleacher seats that were raised one behind the other, and big plate glass windows to peer out at the scenery, but when the WWII came, the cars were used for hospital cars, and after the war they were refitted as regular train cars. We’ve seen several mentions of the war as we drive farther north, they seem to have been more heavily impacted by WWII than the south.

Our handy-dandy van met us at the bottom of the hill and transferred us back to the campervan park. It was nice, not having to move KEA around. We did some school with the kids, and watched a man from the next site over swipe our hose and use it to fill his camper. He pulled the end of it, it was squirting strangely. The kids and I gathered at the window as Clay went outside to have a few words with him. The man played innocent, saying he didn’t know it was ours (right!), but Clay was able to fix it up so no harm done. We find ourselves watching out the windows and wondering about the lives of the campers around us. Two girls pulled up in a pop-up tent, and while one girl sat on her bum and watched in the midst of open suitcases and odds and ends, the other girl set the whole thing up. Alayna kept saying, “Get up, girl, I can’t believe she isn’t helping.” We are turning into busybodies, our neighborhood is the campervan parks and our neighbors are the transient gypsies who move in and out in the night.

At each of our camp sites, we’ve seen different and unique birds. As we walked back from the bathroom through the twilight, we noticed huge fruit bats called flying foxes swooping in the tree above our van. With wingspans of several feet, these bats were way too big to fit in my mouth, and hence weren’t nearly as creepy, though anything with a hairy body and leathery wings is a little creepy in my book.

Clay nearly had a breakdown right before bed. He tried to do some work on our website, and found all our pictures gone. Missing. Nowhere to be found. He sent a panicked email to Phanfare, knowing he wouldn’t hear back until early morning our time, it was like 2:30 in the morning when he sent his desperate plea. All those hours and hours he’s spent updating and captioning, it made us all a little queasy. Hopefully all will be well by morning, Clay went to sleep with his phone tucked under his pillow, so he could check his emails throughout the night.

 

Friday, 14 March 2008

This morning I woke up bathed in the blue light of Clay’s phone. He was having dialog with Phanfare. I fell back asleep. A few hours later I woke up and asked Clay the status, he was cautiously optimistic, we’d have to wait until later that day to see if things worked out.

We were picked up at 7:15 for a drive to the harbor, where we boarded a boat along with about forty other people. After an hour and a half trip, we reached our first snorkel/dive site. We were all fitted with goofy blue suits that covered almost our entire bodies, including our fingers and our heads. The only parts of skin exposed were the parts around the goggles and our lips. This was to prevent getting stung by jellies and to avoid sunburn. This wasn’t a problem, we never saw the sunshine, but the fish still looked the same underwater.

Clay did two dives at this first site, each about forty minutes, while we snorkeled at leisure. This was a different kind of snorkeling, and we really enjoyed it, especially Alayna. Instead of wading into the shallows, we were dropped where it was very deep, and then swam our way to the corals. There were an amazing variety of fish, impossibly bright and colorful, and the corals were much more interesting. More colors, different shapes, and we could see the depths from which they grew, mounding on themselves, all those little animals and plants, polyps and exoskeletons, providing the perfect place for tropical fish to play hide-and-seek. We saw only one shark, a little one, so Alayna wasn’t as scared. She stayed out longer than any of us. Benji only snorkeled about twenty minutes, it was tough for him. He gets cold and I think a little overwhelmed. He jabbers all about the fish he’s seen, but he doesn’t want to stay out long.

We loved the staff on the boat, they helped us keep an eye on the kids, which was really helpful since it was three on one for part of the time while Clay was diving. Between snorkeling we peeled off our blue suits and went into the “dry” room, where we ate lunch and had snacks and watched the slides taken by the boat’s photographer. Everyone pretty much looks the same underwater with a goofy blue suit on, but it was still fun to try to recognize yourself, your eyes all bugged out under the mask and your lips stretched grotesquely from the snorkel. Hard to smile without it leaking.

It rained off and on, and it got blustery cold sometimes, but the snorkeling was worth it, and Clay had some really good dives. I loved to follow the Parrot fish, it had bright blue and purple and its lips looked like it had two big white buck teeth. They weren’t scared of us at all. I also liked swimming in the midst of a school of fish, the bright blue ones liked to hang together.

We returned sticky and tired and ready for a shower. Clay checked the web site and found that the pictures had returned, cause for celebration! In honor of this momentous occasion, we ate Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and ramen noodles for dinner, topped off with a few raw carrots. We’re down to the dregs in the fridge, and trying to use as much as we can before we turn the camper in.

 It was raining again, so we huddled up and did a little school. Last lessons, tomorrow a test and we’re done. Alayna’s working on the rough draft of a paper where she has to organize all her thoughts about the things she’s seen and done the past year, and it isn’t easy. She’ll be glad she did it, though, or at least I’ll be glad she did it. Tomorrow we pack up and turn in KEA Theresa, so I started pulling things out of cubbies and hidey-holes and packing them in backpacks and duffels. We’ll run some errands tomorrow as well, it’s hard to believe our Australian adventure is almost over. The rain fell soft and hard, but continued to fall, almost all night long. It is a comforting sound, falling asleep to the sound of raindrops on the roof.

 

Saturday, 15 March 2008

This morning we rallied for the final take down and pack up. We ran some errands, developed our underwater pictures, and found a post office. The first one we found was closed, and when I called DHL they were closed to. We were starting to panic, or at least I was starting to panic. We had three bags full (“Have you any wool? Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full”) and there was no way they would fit in our duffels. We called the local tourist information office and found a post office that was open until noon, so we hoofed it over there and made it just in time. It seems we do that often lately, make things just in time. Australians are surprisingly punctual, for all their laid back, no worries attitudes.

Once again, we called the campervan place to find out how late we could turn it in, and found out they closed in fifteen minutes. So, we hoofed it to a gas station and then on to the van site where we bid a fond farewell to KEA, who brought us safely over 2,000 miles of Australian countryside. Over one lane roads, through rain and shine, holding us and our stuff with great valor and determination. We checked into a hotel close to the airport and chilled out. A taxi is scheduled to pick us up at 3:30AM, we have no big plans for the rest of the evening, but an early bedtime is mandatory for all.