I am writing this from Cairns, where I have had a brief stop-over before heading down the coast to a place called Mission Beach, where it is very common to spot cassowaries (giant, ridiculous-looking birds – google them, or wait for my blog photos; that’s how optimistic I am about seeing one!). I am booked into a rather decadent yoga-spa eco-lodge down there -I thought it was time to treat myself after seriously roughing it in the jungle.
Anyway, since Cape Tribulation, I am very proud of myself as I have gone ‘off-piste’. I have blogged before about my incurable level of organisation, whereby I have transport and accommodation always booked in advance, leaving little room for spontaneity. It’s something I keep trying to change, but old habits die hard and I find myself inevitably drawn to the security of booking confirmations and surety of knowledge. However, rubbing shoulders with the locals and eccentrics for a week at Cape Tribulation definitely softened my traveller edges and, when a Canadian traveller I’d met up there persuaded me to join him on a bit of a detour, I thought it was time to take a bit of a risk. It involved quite a bit of unpicking of my forward-planning (cancelling buses, rooms in hostels etc) but it felt great to head-off from the centre with my backpack, not knowing exactly what the day would bring.
We successfully hitchhiked down to the pretty town of Port Douglas in the truck of another Canadian who was out here on work. I sat in the back of the battered truck, fending off leeches that had somehow got into the vehicle and were hellbent on getting my blood – another sucker to add to the list of jungle blood-thieves. It was interesting to find out about our driver’s life on the journey (he was involved in surveying the area for diamond mining potential – I had to stifle my dispproval of this seeing as he was giving us a free ride!) and, of course, to travel for free. Jason, my travel buddy, is on the opposite end of the traveller spectrum to me, in that he has hardly planned ahead at all, books accommodation just before he needs to lay his head down, and in fact rarely has the need for hostels as he just seems to befriend locals who then invite him to stay. He has hardly paid for transport on his travels, mostly hitch-hiking or receiving lifts off newly made friends.
This was evident in Port Douglas, where he seemed to know loads of people from when he had passed through before, and we blagged a lift out to one of his friend’s houses on the outskirts, where it turned out we were able to stay for a couple of nights. We had free use of their pool, moped, and dog – it felt like bliss after the research centre and I enjoyed zipping around in the warm night air on the back of a scooter – another first for me.
Port Douglas is quite an upmarket tourist destination – more expensive tote bags than backpacks. However, there’s also a strong community feel to the place, with a daily bustling market on the sea front and lots of community events. At one point we found our way into a fund-raising event for a medical procedure for one of the locals, with barbecue, live music, and a joyous atmosphere of a very eclectic mix of folk – punks, hippies, suits, young families – all having fun together. The town has its own beautiful white-sand beach (Four Mile Beach), with a roped off area for swimming that’s illuminated at night (with stinger and croc protective barriers). The town is also host to two fantastic icecream shops, which were of course heavily sampled, yum.
Four Mile Beach, Port Douglas.
I also managed to get out to see the reef from Port Douglas, which I will blog about separately as I have to leave for my bus to town shortly, and want to attempt to do the experience justice. Needless to say, it was AMAAAAAAZING and one of the best days of the trip so far.
Anyway, after two nights in Port Douglas, we hitch-hiked down to Cairns yesterday; the first leg with a local man doing deliveries in his truck, and the second in a rather flash air-conditioned car with another Cairns local on work business. I think people on work time often just appreciate the chance to chat to some travellers to break up the monotony of long journeys.
Cairns was muggy and overcast, and a dip in the salt-water man-made infinity pool by the sea-front was definitely in order to cool off. The pool has been created as it’s too dangerous to swim in the sea here due to those pesky stingers and crocodiles.
The Cairns infinity pool – it was a lot warmer than it looks here.
We then visited the Night Markets, which, as the name suggests, are a fascinating nocturnal melee of stalls selling everything from weird and wonderful foodstuffs, tacky souvenirs, hippy clothes and jewelry, holistic therapies and cheap massages. I had a 40 minute thai massage, which was definitely not relaxing (I couldn’t help emitting the odd squawk of pain as the masseur dug her elbow into my most tender knots) but was excellent; my backpacker-battered back felt much looser afterwards. For dinner we found an ‘all you can fit on your plate’ seafood buffet and took the challenge quite seriously. The resultant vertiginously-stacked plate was both an obscene sight to behold and a triumph in engineering.
My stomach turned slightly just then, when I realised that half of this is now inside my belly – at least there’s some green on there…
Anyway, Jason and I have now parted ways, but I intend to attempt to integrate at least a modicum of his spontaneity and overt friendliness to the locals into my onward travel. I have started by not booking my transport from the bus station at Mission Beach to the eco-lodge, in the hope I may meet a friendly person also going that way. (But I have also found out the number of a taxi firm that can take me there if that fails – fairy-steps…!)
Post script to now-worried mums/sisters/friends out there: I do realise that a single female traveller needs to keep a sensible head and not get into cars with strangers alone – don’t worry, I am not throwing all caution to the wind, just attempting to allow a bit of gentle sponteneity into the mix… 🙂