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Friday, March 16, 2018

To Cairns and back

I begin this post with a map showing our detour to the site of the drive-in movie theatre, Charters Towers, along the Flinders Highway, and then the rest of the way up the Bruce Hwy to Cairns.
As is our wont, we stopped and took pictures at several places along the way. One was the lookout opposite Hinchinbrook Island. The better views, though, are from Panjoo Lookout.
We’d had periodic rains all the way to Airlie Beach and beyond. Tully is reputed to be the wettest town in Australia. But after rain on the Sunshine Coast, we should have been prepared for sun in Tully. 
The wettest town in Australia is awarded an annual “gumboot,” but Tully was not content to just win every year. In its pride at getting more rain than anywhere else in the country, the town has built this Golden Gumboot.

There is a variety of houses of worship in Australia, even along the Bruce Highway. I spotted this Greek Orthodox Church in Home Hill: 

And then a Sikh temple further up the road.

Near the Sikh temple I noticed a strange juxtaposition of signs. Or maybe not so strange.

Finally, we made it to Cairns and a big “Queenslander” house which was our Airbnb. I am reluctant to plug a brand like Airbnb (or Uber, which everyone but us seems to use) lest I sound like the Economist. But I have to say this way of connecting hosts and guests has worked wonders for us. We’d never have been able to travel as we have without it, other than in Asia. Every place is a little bit different, ranging from a separate apartment where we never actually met the host, to new friends who went the extra mile (or more!) Our host in Cairns had some interesting decor including this framed poster on the wall. 

She was originally from Ottawa, and had attended the demonstration personally. It struck me in particular because of the reading I’ve done since we traveled to Vietnam. Neil Sheehan’s A Bright Shining Lie, which I’d meant to read since it was published in 1988, further illuminated many of the places we visited and, frankly, how bankrupt and indefensible the South Vietnam regime was. The bombing of northern Laos went far beyond the Ho Chi Minh Trail; the fomenting of the Hmong people’s war by the C.I.A. led to perhaps a quarter of their tribe’s being killed. And Norodom Sihanouk’s switch to Nixon’s side led to a Cambodian civil war in which the extreme Cambodian communists went from obscurity to a potent force. While no one foresaw the horror that was to be the Khmer Rouge regime, it was just another strand in the tragedy that was Indochina in those decades. The longer we’ve been away from Vietnam, the more I appreciate having been there.

The last time we were in Cairns we did a once-in-a-lifetime cruise on the Great Barrier Reef. But we neglected the rainforest side, and so part of this visit was to make up for that. Our main purpose, though, was to see my cousin Maya—Jim and Liza’s daughter—and her fiancĂ©, Ryan. These two purposes coincided handily when Maya arranged our visit to the Kuranda railway, with a return trip on the Skyrail cable car.

The scenic railway winds through many tunnels up the Barron Gorge to the town of Kuranda. Some of its busiest years were during World War II, when it was used for transporting troops stationed on the Atherton Tablelands. The belief of the indigenous people is that in the dreamtime, Buda-dji the Carpet Snake carved out the Barron River and its creeks. I couldn’t help but remember the naga, river serpents, that we saw carved on temples in Thailand.

We were lucky in that it was not raining when we got to Kuranda. We were able to do a walk through the rainforest and along the Barron River.
It just started pouring as we arrived back in Kuranda, so we decided to have lunch. What did we spot but Saigon Pho! As absence from Vietnam has made the heart grow fonder, we could not resist some of this hearty beef noodle soup that built a nation. 

The rain mostly let up on our cable car ride back down over the rainforest canopy. We spotted crocodiles in the river below us! The boardwalks at a couple of stops were more peaceful.

The next day, Maya took us for a walk in Behana Gorge. The rain was falling hard when we left Cairns, but eased off in the woods. The creek was flowing so mightily that we had to find an area away from the waterfalls to bathe.
Did T. not bother with a swimsuit again?
Then we had a great dinner with Maya and Ryan down by the waterfront. This meant another opportunity to see the bats of Cairns. Thousands of them roost in the city during the day, then take off at dusk for their night habitat. It is something to see.

Our host wished us good luck on our drive back, that we wouldn’t have too much rain. We’d seen that there was flooding in western Queensland, far past Charters Towers, but I don’t think we took in that this was an unusual amount of rain even for the Wet. When we reached the Johnstone River, it was swollen and angry, and I was glad we were crossing it on an elevated bridge.

We didn’t realize until later that flooding of the Johnstone closed the Bruce Highway within hours of our crossing! Tully was looking much more like Australia’s wettest town—the road there was already starting to flood, and there was a police officer there to make sure none of us got stuck driving through.

After about three hours of torrential rain, things eased up considerably, and we made it over the Burdekin River that divides Ayr from Home Hill. I had wanted to stop in Home Hill to take some pictures, including of this post office, which looks like it used to be the railroad station.
We also got some lunch from Dee & Vee’s, the cafe in town. I am not sure whether it was Dee or Vee I spoke to, but she asked me, “Which way are you going?” I indicated south, and she nodded. “’Cause it’s raining that way,” she said, pointing north. You don’t say!

So it was a long day’s drive to Mackay. Our Airbnb there was one of those just a room in someone’s home. In fact, when we asked our host where we could eat nearby, she offered to go with us to the “hotel.” These feature in seemingly every Australian town and offer drinks, pub meals, and of course, the “pokies.” Tonight’s special was rissoles with chips and veggies. I had never heard of, never mind had, rissoles, which are a type of large meatball with sauce, but I’ve been in Australia long enough to know $8 is a really good deal.
We didn't eat at this one, but it was similar.
The next day we were on towards Bundaberg. Once again we found ourselves on a long stretch of road without fuel, so we thought we’d better fill up the first chance we had. Around Marlborough, we pulled off the highway and saw a sign: Garage to the left, Puma to the right.

T. pulled off to the left. In Britain, a “garage” (stressing the first syllable) sells fuel. But when we got to this garage, it was clearly the other thing—a place that fixes cars. Fortunately I am bilingual and knew this meaning. Puma is a service station or “servo.” I assured T. that if we went right, we would be able to buy gas. 
Not bad for a gas station!
On our last leg back to the Gold Coast, we stopped at a roadside rest area for lunch. We expected the usual fast food chains but luckily, it was a Saturday. This is the one day a week that a Brisbane restaurant called Texas Smokin’ Gun brings its slow-cooked barbecue and sells it until it’s gone! 


We got back to our “home” on the Gold Coast—Kim and Garry’s. We were just in time for the year’s pro surfing competition to kick off. 
With Kim and Jo at the opening of the Quiky Pro
We saw Lakey Peterson of the U.S.A.—a semifinalist when I last looked—got the highest score of the tournament thus far, women’s or men’s. Later, I watched as Joel got two of the best “tubes” of the tournament: when the surfer rides through the barrel of the wave and, to our cheers, out the other side. He got more than 8 and 9 points for those two.
Joel (with surfboard!) emerges from Round 2
In Australia as elsewhere, a phenomenon happens to us socially. Because we are both women, we are included when groups of “the girls” are doing something. This is fun, but also unusual, because unlike the other women in the group we are a couple. Before I met T. I didn’t have this experience; my groups of friends tend to be mixed. I have fun either way, but it’s always good when I get back to “normal” and have a guy to talk to as well.
Thank God for Garry! Watching the surfing
Before we left the twin towns of Tweed Heads, New South Wales, and Coolangatta, Queensland, I checked out this monument on the state line.

I learned that in the days of slavery many South Sea Islanders were “blackbirded,” i.e., stolen, and forced to work in the sugar cane industry in Queensland. The law said that if they made it three miles over the border to N.S.W., where things were different, they could be free. As a result, a large number of industrious South Sea Islanders were welcome to work on the Tweed.

It’s an interesting bit of history, and a beautiful part of the world. We miss “our home in Queensland,” or rather New South Wales, already!
Sunrise, Tweed Heads

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A good read of discovery, adventure, and friendship, ending with a spectacular photo! G & P