Welcome to the jungle

I’m happy to say that I’m writing this from the research centre at Cape Tribulation, having made it here safe. I’m using dial-up internet, which already seems, in this wireless world, like mythical lore of old – very apt for this place, as shall all be revealed in due course… But before I start banging on about my adventures, I’d like to start this entry with an amendment: I don’t actually know if the boss here, Hugh, is Lady Diana’s brother – I’m sure I heard he’s some kind of relative, and in my over-imaginative mind this has definitely become a brother, but I realise that, without being sure, I probably shouldn’t be putting it ‘out there’ as fact. I often forget that, with this blogging malarkay, anyone can read my ramblings, so I need to extend my gullibility-induced mantra of ‘engage brain before mouth’ to ‘engage brain before mouth and typing fingers’!

Anyway, I arrived at Cape Tribulation on a battered old minibus with no seatbelts. I felt a frisson of excitement to be leaving the rules and regulations of the tourist staple Greyhound buses behind, and heading off for an adventure in a health-and-safety black-hole.

Our driver/tour guide was George, an incredibly amiable and vociferous aboriginal chap, who could talk for Australia. He literally didn’t stop his barrage of (very interesting) commentary from the moment the engine switched on, until after I’d stepped off the bus (earlier than the rest of the group); I swear I could still hear his resonant voice above the engine noise as the van disappeared off down the road. The photo below shows George in his ceaseless quest to educate the group, even in a car park on a loo-break. Brilliant character – very glad to have crossed his path, even if my head now hurts from trying to retain all that knowledge.

He had encyclopaedic knowledge of the area, and also provided a fascinating insight into modern life as an aboriginal. He told us how his grandma had been taken away from her family and forced to live on a reserve run by a missionary, and he provided all the aboriginal names for the places we saw, and the back-stories behind them. Like the Maori culture, this is  a people that see themselves as part of the land, and the intimate relationship with and deep respect for the landscape and wildlife comes through in the place-names.

We saw a fair amount of wildlife on the journey: wallabies grazing by the side of the road, small salt-crocodiles on the Daintree River (the largest can grow to a pant-filling 8 metres, gulp), lots of MASSIVE golden orb spiders (so called due to their bright yellow webs and gold on their thorax – interestingly, this species was in the Aussie news this week as someone had recorded footage of one eating a snake caught in its web – yes, they are that big, and currently there’s one living outside my bedroom, eek…) and finally a dainty praying-mantis in the rainforest (photo below).

I also saw loads of placidly grazing cows with cockatoos on their backs, which struck me as comically Aussie (i.e. a bit like Britain, but at the same time completely different).

As part of the tour, we had a guided walk through the rainforest, and I tried hard to keep up with George’s machine-gunfire of facts regarding the flora and fauna. I’ve described some of the highlights below:

I had a flashback to geography lessons as the magical language of the rainforest materialised before my eyes in full steamy, verdant splendour: lianas, cloud-stripping drip-tips and awesome buttress roots (to support the tall trunks), like the ones below:

We saw the stunning finished lattice-work effect of the strangulation fig tree, once it had suffocated its poor host. Harsh, but beautiful.

There are hundreds of species of tree and fern in the Dauntree forest. Trees and shrubs include the ribbonwood (the oldest tree in the forest), ginger, nutmeg, black walnut, kaori, mahogany, the spiky rattan, supplejack (host to the edible green ants, which I sampled; supposed to be good for sore throats, and I guess there was a vague menthol taste to them…) and the fascinating bumpy satinash (pictured below), which has bulbous hollow galls attached to its trunk, inside which live ant colonies, which in turn pollinate the tree – a brilliant example of symbiotic living.

Ferns included the ancient king fern (unchanged for literally millions of years), various tree ferns, the basket fern (pictured below) and the beautiful fan palm (also pictured) – no prizes for guessing which is which…

Being in the rainforest, I was struck more than anything by what a competitive, ruthless environment it is for the vegetation. Every plant is jostling and struggling in a one-man(well, plant)-crusade to reach the sunlight before its rivals. And there’s plenty of dirty play such as hitching a free ride with barbs or tendrils, literally crushing the competition (those naughty figs), or weakening them through parasitic tendencies (the epiphytes of the race). It’s like a sylvian version of The Wacky Races. Of course, there’s lots of fair, very admirable, play too, through the ingenious ways that the giants of the forest have become adapted to growing as tall as the clouds, such as buttress roots for support and having no branches on the lower trunk (saving all energy for vertical growth, not horizontal). There is even evidence of some collaborative working between the giants, as their shallow root-systems intertwine to provide more stability than if each one was stand-alone. So we have the whole gamut of a no-rules competition in one crazy biome.

“Muttley, do something!”

Anyway, I was going to write about my arrival at the research centre, and some of the adventures I’ve had so far, but this ancient dial-up of ye olden times is rather sloooow and the rainforest has tired me out, so it will have to wait. However, please see the photo below to pique your interest and entice you back – it’s of me with my new friend, Bratsky, an adorably affectionate and cheeky spectacled flying fox. Suffice to say, this is an amazing corner of the Earth to have landed myself in… 🙂

(I will try and get another picture of her when I’m not wearing black, d’oh!)

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3 Responses to Welcome to the jungle

  1. Gary says:

    It’s not often you see anyone with a pet bat, i have to say.

  2. Lois B says:

    Loving, loving, loving the blog Becky! I am certainly enjoying vicariously exploring the southern hemisphere through your musings and today is my favourite entry so far as it brings back a big smile to my face remembering happy times in Cape Trib! I think Hugh is Lady Di’s second cousin, but don’t quote me on that!
    I think I remember George too and all his stories! I also remember the spiders and walked into a web once – uurrggh! I never met Bratsky but I do remember naughty Rex and Jasper, Pushkin, Sunshine and lovely Annie – are any of them still there? Look out for my patch of endemic ginger is behind the phone box near the Bat House! Top tips are to avoid PKs, head for the Dragonfly cafe for the mango smoothies and faster Internet and if you get the chance do the snorkelling trip out to the reef or a trip up the Bloomfield Track to Cooktown – a strange frontier kind of place. Don’t swim on the beach unless you are feeling brave as the crocs go out to sea, there is a great swimming hole behind the little shop which is really nice. Have a great time and make sure you try the tropical fruits hanging over the fence from the orchard next door – especially the black sapote (aka the chocolate pudding fruit – yum!) Lois x

  3. Nigel says:

    Hi Becky. Just logging in!!! Some of the reports really poetic. Love Nigel (Uncle -so it doesn’t get confused)

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