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Click Click

Christine and I got a click tonight – a double click.  At least when Christine’s click kissed her hand this time she didn’t have her false teeth (bottom set only) clutched between her trembling fingers.

It appears we are fair game.  Two women on our own, even though we are past our sell by dates, the French men think we are incredibly rich when Christine tells them she is here for six months.   What they don’t know is that we have a discount because we are long term residents and that our rooms are a simple double bedroom with en-suite.   They are paying much more for studio apartments, spacious bedrooms, bathrooms and sitting rooms, with at least one balcony.

I came out on 19th October, and have been here three weeks now.  It has just flown.  I was exhausted coming out with all the trauma of trees chopped down to save the garage roof, the main house roof and the outhouse roof.  Then the wood needed to be taken out of the garden shed, bagged up, transferred to the dry of the garage and then the newly cut wood stacked in the garden shed, now renamed the wood shed.

My attempt to remove the gravel around the pond to the side of the house has been going on intermittently as and when I have been strong enough to lift the gardening tools.  (This being my contribution towards saving the planet.). Was almost on the point of giving up when a woofer enthusiastically took over the job for me.  He found it hard too but the night before I was flying off for the winter, he worked until 11.30pm.  I had explained I wanted grass seed laid across the area around the pond, replacing the gravel. He scrapped and dragged the tiny grey stones until there were two large heaps of gravel by the boundary wall.  He placed bamboo cut to approx three feet tall around the area to be grassed.  He wound rope around the bamboo stakes in a cross cross arrangement.   I had given him a whole new and unopened packet of Lidl tinfoil and demonstrated a strip approx three inches wide and a foot long to be twisted over the rope.  This would I hope frighten the wonderful bird life away and allow the seeds to grow.

I got up around 8 am when it was light I looked out to find the area resemble a space age scene with huge strips of tinfoil waving in the breeze.  In his enthusiasm he had used nearly the whole roll of tinfoil.

As I was still at the stage of unpacking and repacking suitcases, balancing them on the bathroom scales and transferring item from suitcase to suitcase to meet Ryanair’s designated luggage limits, there was little I could do to sort out silver city.  I was travelling with four suitcases.  One 20kg and another 10 kg added the previous evening, and these two would go in the hold.  Good old Ryanair allow me a 10 kg suitcase on board free of charge because it contains necessary medical equipment and there was also the regular 10 kg bag I could take into the cabin.  This suitcase was also filled with medicines.

I could do nothing about the silvery garden as Jonathan was arriving shortly to take me to the airport.  I don’t know if the tinfoil strips were successful and if any of the seeds have developed into little green shoots.   (Latest report five months later is that the bamboo and silver strips remain, but the grass seeds have disappeared completely).

I underestimated the temperatures in Playa Blanca.  Last year it was 23 and 25 in October but reverse the numbers and you get a fair idea of what we have been experiencing. I didn’t bring clothes suitable for these temperatures but have made do and mend.

It took several days to sort out all my possessions.  I had left one very large suitcase, one small suitcase, two large plastic storage containers and my tartan shopping trolley packed to overflowing with my sun hats, cushions and covers for the patio chairs, and throws stored for a friend in the hotel store room.

I was also storing art equipment for one of my friends due out in February 2020.

It’s take these past three weeks to sort everything into some sort of order within the limited space.

It’s been so lovely meeting up with friends and catching up on the six or seven months since we last met.

I am now coming within sight of the end of my winter sojourn in the sun.  What a five months it has been.   There have been dramas and excitement, unrequited love affairs or would be affairs.   The special and wonderful experience of seeing two people you really like finally realise they are meant for each other.  I love them both and am so happy they have found each other.  Personally the loneliness is present all the time and I do feel envious of the many couples who walk along the beach hand in hand.  Feel angry and cheated that John didn’t try harder to look after himself.   But on the positive side I have made the most amazing friends.  The Spanish Social group are friends I know I will have the rest of my life and one couple in particular have been the backbone of my stay here.  I would have not managed half as well without them.  I miss people of course at home, the grandchildren especially. But conversely I will miss the friends I have made here and will look forward to returning in October.  How luck am I to have two places in the world I want to be!  And dare I write a tell all tale of the past five months in paradise?   It has been such fun at times, but maybe what happens in PB should stay in PB?

 

33 Days in the Wilderness Day 23

 

We have booked an airport bus to pick us up after breakfast.  The small minibus arrives and we hurtle around Sydney picking up luggage and other passengers and when we are full to bursting point head out to the airport.  There are different terminals and the bus driver drops us at the wrong one.

I go into the terminal, show my ticket, and the girl directs me upstairs.  I check with the girl at the desk upstairs and she, very rudely, tells me I am in the wrong terminal. We have to get a trolley and push it through the car parks to the next terminal.

The plane for Ayer Rock is the scruffiest plane we have seen.  The seats are tatty and none too clean.  The air hostesses have lots of make-up but their clothes are messy and untidy.

We fly over Botany Bay and then turn north. The first settlers found a lack of fresh water at Botany Bay and they set to see again and discovered Sydney Harbour which had plenty of fresh water.

It is a three hour flight to Ayers Rock and we lose half an hour in the time difference.

There is nothing to see after we fly over Sydney and the Blue Mountains.  Australia is just mile after mile of red oxide earth.  Most of the population live within a few miles of the coast as the interior is so inhospitable.

We are collected in the searing heat at airport by coach and driven the short distance to the main accommodation areas which are about fifteen minutes’ drive from the Rock itself.  All accommodation is low level, and we only have a short time to dump our bags, grab a sandwich and then wait with others at reception.  Our next coach collects us at 3 pm and we set off for Ayers Rock.

First of all we go to the Mumbles and there is a walk through to a ravine.  It it is snowing flies and even though we have out netted hats on, it is miserable. I start to climb the hill to the ravine but give it up as it is too hot and I am wasting so much energy waving flies away.

We wait, with others unable to make the trek, under some shade until the rest of our group returns from their walk.  Whilst we are waiting, Dave the driver, lifts a dragon lizard in the palm of his hand.  The creature is so perfectly formed, with a series of mottled triangular spikes rising from his spine and reaching down to his tail.  He scuttles into the bush as soon as he is set free.   We are take to different photographic stops.  It’s a very flat reddish landscape with two rock formations on the horizon which look like two septic boils..  There is more greenery than we had expected.  It had rained last week, the first time since October.  The dust is as bad as we expected.

Dave, our driver, is very pleasant and gives us lots of information whilst we are in his care.

He warns us to stay rigidly to the desert code.  Do not go walkabout without informing someone where you are going and when you will return.  Take one litre of water for every hour you walk and two litres for every hour you walk in the middle of the day.

He tells us that the Australian government returned the lands at Ayers Rock to the Aborigines several years ago and then leased them straight back.  Everyone entering what the government call the “National Park” has to pay 15 dollars toll to the government on top of whatever the tour company has already charged.

Dave also tells us he had climbed Ayers Rock seven times when he was young and ignorant, but will never climb it again.   The Aborigines consider Ayers Rock a holy place and all tour guides are now honour bound to tell the tourists that the Aborigines have requested that the Rock is treated as a sacred place and ask that tourists stop climbing it.  The Aborigines are also fearful as the Rock is eroding.  We can clearly see in the distance the lighter coloured red soil that highlights the path taken to the top of the Rock.  Added to this is the fact that thirty-seven people have had heart attacks whilst climbing the Rock since the start of the year. (It is only March).

For Maureen and I this decision is not a problem.  We are not fit to climb the Rock but in view of what we have just heard, even if we were fit enough, we would not climb it in respect of the Aborigines’ wishes.  For us it will mean a long lie tomorrow. The rest of our party who are climbing tomorrow morning leave at 5 am to view the sunrise and then start their climb.

We are promised a “good sunset” and Dave pulls the coach into the coach car park.  He hands out folding chairs and sets out glasses, wine and nibbles.  We sit to wait out the half hour or so until sunset.   Many other coaches arrive and I count at least twenty.  Maureen and I are sitting quite comfortably when a coach deposits its load of American tourists who proceed to set up camp directly in front of us and spoil our view.  The driver is quite embarrassed by their behaviour and spends the rest of the viewing time talking to us.  We drink white wine whilst the Americans drink champagne.

The Rock changes colour rapidly as dusk descends. The waves of crimson and purple fan over the crevices in the Rock, but for me the most startling event is what is happening to the west of the Rock.  I can see flurries of ever deepening shadows which looks like fine black dust thrown up from the heels of a thousand horses racing.  I ask the Americans’ coach driver, “What’s that over there?”

”You’re seeing the earth spinning into darkness,” he replies.

As I watch this I am aware of seeing the earth’s movement for the first time, that the earth is round and that it is travelling through space.  It’s a mind-numbing sensation and I feel as if something magical has touch my soul and start to shiver as night blankets the Rock and the drivers collect the drained glasses.

We eat in the restaurant at our hotel.  It is self-service and we pay a flat rate of 35 dollars each for our meal.  This is the most expensive meal we have had yet in Australia.

It is very disappointing as there is no bread, little meat and no tomatoes left in the salad.  We do not complain until an Australian does. He loses his temper and is shouting at the staff saying they are cheating the tourists.  We are refunded most of our money but we complain at the main reception desk so they know what is happening in their restaurant. They ask us to book for breakfast but we decline.

 

33 Days in the Wilderness Day 21

Trudi and Kay have to vote today so we have arranged to meet them tonight.  It’s a fineable offence not to vote in Australia.  Isn’t it convenient that they make voting days a Saturday?

Our task today is to change our tickets at Singapore Airlines so we can have another stopover in Singapore on our way home.  We have breakfast in the hotel and catch the first bus outside to take us to Bridge Street where the Singapore Airlines office is.

It is meltingly hot and we walk up the winding streets.  We are not far from Central Quay but we are a world away from the holidaymakers and tourists.  This is the business and banking area and the buildings are large stone sombre towers.  The streets are quite narrow as they wind down to the harbour area and we eventually find the Singapore Airline office but it is closed.  We must change our flights here as it is the only way we can get a deal on accommodation on our return leg.

We wander on further into the city and go into the foyer of the hotel in Bond Street.  The hotel is large and luxurious and closer to what we have been  used to.  A charming young lad at reception asks if he can help us.  We don’t explain that we are not resident in the hotel and he takes a great deal of trouble and a long time to change our flights for us.  Our change of return date hits the Easter holidays and we have difficulty getting a flight from Singapore to Heathrow.

To our embarrassment he asks for our room number and we have to admit that we are not resident in his hotel but we do tip him heavily for his trouble.  He points us in the direction of a Thomas Cook office so we can book accommodation.

The girl in the Thomas Cook office does a deal for us.  The Orchard is full but we get booked into the Grand Plaza Park Royal.  Four nights cost about £100.  Our change of tickets and vouchers will not be ready until Tuesday or Wednesday.  As we explain we will be in the Outback until Thursday she arranges that the tickets are delivered to the Bayside Hotel.  Next Friday is Good Friday and everything will be closed. We will now arrive in Heathrow late on 8th April and I will arrive in Forenaught in the early hours of 9th April.

We walk through the main shopping streets in Sydney and some of our party from the coach-trip bump into us whilst we are having a cold drink at a pavement cafe.

We find Paddy’s Market in Chinatown and then head on to Darling Harbour and Sydney Aquarium.  The whole area has just ben refurbished and there is an anniversary celebration of the RAAF taking place so there are lots of displays and military people about.  Everyone is very friendly but it is so hot we keep having to stop for cold drinks.

We have a hard time finding our way back to Hyde Park where we catch the bus for Rushcutter’s Bay.  We are again laden with shopping bags.

Our suitcase situation is now getting ridiculous because we have filled those we have taken to bursting zips point and filled the two large flat folding bags Maureen brought and the two red overnight bags supplied by APT.  We have so much stuff crammed in and it is all in such a mess that we have to do something drastic.

Kay and Trudi are having a garage sale in aid of all the stray cats that they adopt and feed so we ruthlessly discard all the clothes we brought, “just in case” and others that we feel we won’t use.

I phone Trudi and they arrange to pick us up at 8 pm at the hotel.  We donate several plastic bags filled with clothes for the good of the stray cats. As long as we only buy small things from now on we should be all right.

The four of us end up going to another sports club, this time the RSL Club.  Were have a meal, not as good as last night’s, play the machines, lose a dollar each and the girls drop us home around midnight.

33 Days in the Wilderness Day 18

We are called at 5.45 am.  We are to be on the 7.30 am bus for the ferry off the island.  At breakfast we hear that Brenda had been taken off Fraser Island as Geoffrey’s condition had worsened last night.  There is talk that he is on a life support machine and other talk that he is now breathing on his own.  Sandy went with Brenda and as yet they have not returned to the island so we are all trying to be as helpful to Danny as we can.

There is an air of dejection and sadness as everyone has become fond of Brenda and Geoffrey.

Our first stop at Hervey Bay is the hospital to pick up Brenda and Sandy and then take Brenda to lodgings close by the hospital that Sandy had arranged.

Brenda bravely wishes us all a good holiday and we leave her in the capable hands of the widow who runs the motel.

The rain stops as we make our way south and we see kangaroos in a field, the first time we have seen them in the wild.

We stop at Noosa Heads for about one and a half hours.  This is the first time we have had a stop of this length during the day.  It’s a holiday place and the shops are mainly touristy.  I buy a 200 dollar hat for 40 dollars for the wedding.  Maureen and Breeda think I am crazy as I can’t get a box big enough to take the hat.

Anne did a collection around the coach for Sandy and Danny.  She got a nice card for each of them and another one for Brenda and Geoffrey which everyone signed.

Danny said we had been on the Bruce Highway for 2,000 kms.

We pass the Glass Hills which have an aboriginal history of a father being disobeyed by his son so the son was turned to glass.

Captain Cook named them the glass mountains. When the rain falls the wet rock is shiny and glassy.

We track southwards and stop in Brisbane to drop some of our party off.  Michael and Chris leave to meet up with Micheal’s two daughters who have been backpacking in Australia for a year.

Brisbane is the first place where we see men in dark business suits and the women dressed for office work.  Brisbane seems old fashioned and has a high rise concrete air to it that we are happy to leave behind.

We drive straight through to Surfers Paradise.  We are at the ANA Hotel which is superb.  First of all we go shopping with Breeda.  It should be called shoppers paradise.  There is a gaudy commercialism.  Traders come out of their shops to pull you in off the pavement.  There are fun fair rides and it seems a bit like Blackpool.  We are warned not to buy anything in the shops as they cater mainly for the Asian market.

We go back to the hotel to shower and change for dinner and there is drama when Maureen opens her case.  Most of her clothes are wet.  They have been soaked on the ferry crossing.  We call up room service but the staff have gone home.  A housemaid comes to our room to collect the wet clothes and promises its return by 8 am as we are on the road before 9am.

Our waiter at dinner tells us he is relaxed to a member of the Irish Rugby team.  Anne, Valerie and Chris are taking advantage of the “pay 14 dollars and drink as much as you like” offer in the bar.

We go with Jimmy and Rhoda to O’Malley’s, an Irish pub adjacent to the beach road.  It’s late as we walk home but the air is very warm and there is a pleasant breeze off the sea.  The pavements are crowded with young tanned people enjoying themselves.

When we get back to the hotel the three girls are setting out to join us at O’Malley’s, but they start dancing in the foyer.  Rhoda joins in but the girls have drunk so much for their 14 dollars they can hardly stand.  We have a coffee in the bar and read the newspapers.

Maureen sleeps well as she had a glass of Guinness.

 

257 miles

33 Days in the Wilderness Day 17

We are up early again for our drive around the island.  At breakfast we find out that the kitchen bins are adjacent to the laundry facilities and Maureen had not one, but two dingoes for company.

We queue for the four wheel drive coach which cost 250,000 Australian dollars.  Another stringy dingo saunters along the road as we wait.  He totally ignores the humans.

We are taken on a woodland walk around a stream.  There are water snakes swimming in the stream and huge spiders and webs in the vegetation.  We get back on the coach and it stops so we can view the Maheno which is wrecked on the beach.  It’s huge rusting bulk is unsafe but there are always those who will jump aboard to pose for a photograph.

Kevin is our tour guide and driver but he keeps forgetting what he is saying, mid-sentence and mid-word.

We hear Geoffrey had been taken off the island by helicopter last night and is in hospital very ill.

We travel inland to Lake McKenzie.  The lake is of silica sand and the water stays in the lake because of the fallen vegetation which provides a catchment layer for the rainwater.  I wish I had brought a plastic container as the silica is the same sand that jewellers use to clean jewellery.  Most of the ladies are to be seen down on their knees cleaning their rings and bracelets for free.

Kevin has told us not to put on sun tan lotion if we want to swim as they don’t want the lake polluted.  The setting is picture post card but the reality is that the lake shelves rapidly within ten feet of the edge.

I can’t believe that today we are actually shown a rusty wreck that the Australians are proud of.  It must be polluting the sea and the sand.  Kevin has also walked us deep into the forest and shown us a King Fern which he gloomily reports is no longer reproducing because of global warming.  I want to let him know that these ferns are growing just fine in West Cork but don’t want to spoil his enjoyment of being miserable. Who am I to spoil his fun.

We are taken on another walk to view the seven different coloured shifting sands but are not allowed near as we might pollute the area!

It starts to rain heavily again as we return to the coach.  Kevin morosely tells us on the return journey that all of the beautiful sandy beaches that we can see are unsafe. One side of Fraser Island is notorious for rip tides and the other side is full of sharks.

We buy hot Ross buns in the shop and I get some butter from the restaurant.

We next meet up with Brenda for our evening meal.  It is self-service in the restaurant and as our fellow guests are mainly Far Eastern, there is very little European food.  I ask one of the chefs if are there any potatoes amongst all the dishes. He says, “No Madam, but would Madam like some French fries.?”

Madam would and he delivers a huge platter to our table.  Some of the Americans at the next table acknowledge our existence but their eyes are fixed on the fries and we make a grandiose gesture of sharing our spoils with them.

There are two large chest freezer compartments on one side of the self-service section.  Brenda is a chocoholic and finds four different types of chocolate ice cream.  She returns for seconds then thirds.

As we turn in for the night we get the news that Geoffrey has viral pneumonia.

33 Days in the Wilderness Day 16

We washed and dried our clothes until midnight last night.  The clothes had got soaked through being taken on the boat to Hamilton Island.  We are up at 5.45 am to finish drying the clothes.

Maureen phones Julie and the great news is that her mother is moving into sheltered housing near them both.

We think we have lost some of our clothes but we have been living out of the suitcases for so long everything is in chaos and mixed up.

I put laced-up leather shoes on today in an attempt to lessen the swelling of my feet.  I reason if I get the shoes on first thing in the morning when my feet are at my best the shoes won’t allow any further swelling.

We stop at Miriamvale which is quite a small town for morning break.

We stop at Childers post office and buy lots of prepaid wildlife postcards.  We find a great discount store, but have little time as we were last to get served in the cafe for lunch and then the girl forgot our order.

Geoffrey is very bad,  I am worried as his breathing is deteriorating rapidly.  They should have given him antibiotics at his last visit to the doctor, as well as the steroids.  He finds it difficult to walk from the bus to the ferry and Brenda is more or less helping him step by step.  I take one of her bags from her.  The Americans look at us as if we are crazy.  I want to explain to them that he is sick.  Can’t they open their eyes and see.

I ask about fishing trips as we walk to the ferry for Fraser Island, but all trips are arranged from Harvey Bay.  Three fishermen hear me talking and ask if I want to join them but they are going out for three days and they all look as if they need a wash, so I politely decline their offer.

The crossing out to Fraser Island is a bit rough although the weather looks great.

A coach picks us up and as we travel to Kingfisher Bay resort, we are warned about the dangers on Fraser Island.

We mustn’t bathe in the sea.  It is full of sharks.  We must use the swimming pools only.  We must not feed the dingoes.  They are to be treated as the wild animals they are.  The coach driver tells us the story of the young girl who camped on 75 mile beach and fed a dingo with the scraps from her campfire meal.  When she bent to wash her plate in the sea the dingo attacked her.  She had 127 stitches in her bottom and her derrière made front page news and headlines on television.

Kingfisher Bay resort is mainly glass and wood with timber walkways between the tiers of bedrooms.

On arrival at the resort we are taken into a large room and again warned about the dangers of the wild animals.  Humans are visitors on the island. It belongs to the wildlife and we are asked to respect the wildlife.

I change my shoes and my feet, although swollen, they are better than they have been since the start of the trip.

There are three swimming pools and a Jacuzzi.  Brenda, Maureen and I eat together and whilst Maureen goes off to do more washing, Brenda and I go for a swim.  It is now about 10pm and we swim by the lights of the restaurant overlooking the pool.  The water and air temperature are very pleasant and we happily swim around the leaf-shaped pool until we notice a dingo sniffing around the adjacent Jacuzzi.  We cast sideways glances at him as we have been warned he could attack if we stare directly at him.   He does not look like any dingo we have seen in picture books or in zoos.  He is larger than we supposed.  Not as big as an Alsatian but bigger than a Labrador. He has a reddish coloured coat but he is thin and gangly like a sprouting teenage lad and we can see every rib on his cage.  He walks confidently around the umbrellas and tables set on the boardwalk in front of the restaurant and then disappears into the shrubs and darkness.

Some Cockney kids join us in the pool and we make a quick exit as they dive bomb us from the ledge of the Jacuzzi.

Maureen blusters into our room shortly after I return.

”I couldn’t stay in that laundry room any longer,” she says.  “There were a lot of strange noises coming from outside and I was scared in case it was a dingo.”

258 miles

33 Days in the Wilderness Day 14

Our alarm is set for 6.15a.m.   We pack our bags, leave them on the path outside our room and rush to breakfast.  Everything is rush.  We have another hard day ahead of us if we are to make Hamilton Island tonight.  We should have arrived there yesterday.

Again we have limited stops.  Everyone is tired and aware of the pressure and stress Danny is under.

We stop at Ayr for a tea break, about three hundred miles north of McKay.

I see a Storm flying.  This is sugar cane country.  Danny says they can’t grow rice because white and black magpies arrive in flocks and decimate the crop.  We don’t know if this is true or it is another of Danny’s jokes.

We see Magnetic Island which was discovered by Captain Cook. He couldn’t get his compass to work properly but the story goes that it was a misladen ship.  (A Danny joke?). We pass through Ayr-Bowen cyclone country.  The mountain ranges are too far west to protect the land.  All the iron roofs on the buildings are secured with large nuts and bolts to hold them down in severe weather.

When we stop at Airlie beach for lunch I buy a T-shirt and two pairs of shorts. We see a Sausage Tree when we stop for afternoon tea.  This is the only one existing outside a botanical garden.

The ten minute drive to the Chute Harbour ferry crossing is pretty bumpy and there is obviously more rain on the horizon.  We have no guide on the ferry to explain about the Whitsunday Islands, or the names of the islands we are passing.

When we arrive at Hamilton Island, we are upgraded to a better hotel because of the delays.  The hotel is beautiful with glass lifts on the outside of the building.  Lots of marble in the hotel.

Our room overlooks the most beautiful bay and we make tea and set ourselves down on the balcony to savor the view.  We last only minutes as all the balconies are home to masses of yellow crested cockatoos.  We have looked forward to these birds as advertised in the brochure, but they are much larger than we believed and quite aggressive as they dive bomb us for a share of our food.

We close the sliding mesh screen from the invaders.  We have been warned to keep the doors locked as the cockatoos trash bedrooms.

The bathroom is great, almost as large as the bedroom. We have a full shower, full bath, cupboards and coat hangers, iron and ironing board.

We meet Tizania at 5 o’clock.  We should go on a boat trip around the island tonight, but we are boated and tripped out.  We arrange to hire a golf buggy, and choose a de-luxe model, courtesy of Maureen’s credit card.  We insure it but are still responsible for the first 200 dollars’ worth of damage.

We walk outside and are shown how to switch on the motor.  Tizania says she can’t drive, Maureen won’t so I am chauffeur.   We head first of all to the nearest bay.  We watch as a beautiful bride and her groom have photographs taken.  The backdrop is the sand, sea and a large yacht moored at the pier.

The sky darkens and the heavens open.  We head to a cafe and sip coffee until the rainfall lessens.  We cross the road hopping under shop canopies and look around the gift shops.  We can’t go back to the hotel until the rain stops as there is no shelter for Tizania who has to sit on the back of the golf cart.  Someone who is catching the bus back to the hotel gives us an umbrella for Tizania.

I fumble switching the engine on and then in the gathering dusk try to find the switch for the light.  We are off but I am unsure where I should be going.  I know our hotel is uphill, across a four-way junction and then down a steep slope.  There are no windscreen wipers on the buggy.  It is left hand drive so I drive with my head out the side peering into the darkness for the edge of the pavement through the streaming rain.  I am relieved when I recognize the left hand turning and we make a steep clime up until we come to the cross roads.  I remember that we go straight across the other side of the hill.

I feel confident and the buggy races freely downwards.  Suddenly there are frantic screams from both Maureen and Tizania.  I brake gently as the road is slippery and turn to see Tizania hanging on for dear life.  The large umbrella has been blown inside out because of the speed I have driven down the hill and Tizania resembles Mary Poppins.  Thankfully she starts to laugh as soon as the speed drops.  Maureen and I are in hysterics but poor Tizania is soaking wet.  We return to our hotel still laughing but when we meet up later to travel back to the bay for dinner, Tizania decides to take the bus.

We select the piece of meat we want cooked in the restaurant and join Tizania, Anne, Chris and Valerie outside after our meal.  The girls have had a too much to drink and Tizania has told them of our earlier escapade.  They decide to join us on the buggy for the journey back to the hotel.  There are now six of us on a buggy made for four.  Tizania stands beside Maureen in the front and under the canopy.  The three girls are squeezed on the back seat.

We take off with a great deal of shouting and screaming.  I know I have the lights on but they seem to have dimmed. People are waving and gesticulating as we noisily pass them and we wave back.  We don’t know until the next day that there is so much weight on the buggy that the lights have dropped down too low for others to see us and that’s why people are waving.

We make slow progress along the front and then start the climb up the hill.  Our speed declines as the road rises and eventually there is a grinding noise and clouds of black smoke.  The three girls sit on determinedly but eventually as the buggy threatens to reverse down the hill they get off to walk.  Without their weight the buggy starts to move slowly forwards up the hill but the grinding noise is as bad.  Danny has directed us to a viewpoint on the island and although we follow the correct road, we can’t find it.  We turn around and try to find our way back to the hotel.  We see wombats feeding on a grassy bank near the hotel and as we turn into the circular driveway, Tizania says she wants to drive.

Maureen jumps out as soon as we near reception and I become the passenger as Tizania takes the wheel.  She has never driven anything before and it is quite hair raising as we speed around the bends in the darkness.  Our lights are sill no use.  We meet the girls still walking on their way back to the hotel and they shriek and cheer us on.  When Tizania tires we decide what we must do with the buggy.

We are off the island at 9 am tomorrow and should hand the keys into the office by 8.30 am.  We are now certain we have caused major damage to the buggy as the black carbon smoke that billows behind it wasn’t there when we started out.  We slot  the buggy in the car park behind the hotel amongst the other buggies and walk back.

We all have a late night drink with the girls in their room and a lot of laughs.  Maureen is worried that the buggy hire people will trace her through her credit card.  We all promise to share the cost of the damage we have done but none of us can stop laughing.

255 miles.

33 Days in the Wilderness Day 13

We wake up and open our curtains.  There are turkeys wandering amongst the chairs on our porch.  We only brought enough clothes for the two days so are hopeful that we get off the island today.

The weather forecast is bad, but the catamaran arrives for us under gloomy skies and in heavy seas.  We have said goodbye to Peggy and May, and to others in our party who are flying off the island later today to Cairns and from there mostly to New Zealand.

We feel like intrepid adventurers braving the deep as if we are venturing into the unknown.  The staff on Dunk Island say they will see us later if we can’t get through the floods but none of us want to return to the island.  Jimmy is to say later in his report to APT that Dunk Island should be sunk.

Danny phones head office as soon as we get on the coach and there may be one road south that we can get through.  However local radio reports say that it is flooded.  Our road is flooded up to 1.5 meters for a distance of three miles and the water is still rising.  The coach is large enough to get through but the computer that operates most of the systems is placed underneath Danny’s seat and there is a serious possibility that this would be under water and we would be stranded without electric so Danny gets on the phone again.

We turn back and head inland and are told we have a hard day’s drive ahead of us.  We will only be allowed three very brief stops for teas and lunch.

We see all sorts of birds and cattle as we drive through the outback.  We drive south on the Beef Highway and see trucks towing up to three trailers.  This long straight red dust road has been especially built by, and for, the beef truckers and they have priority.  A couple of times these huge trucks force us into the verge as we hurtle south.  The vegetation changes to sparser grass and fewer trees.  We see more and more cows on our journey.  We also see many kangaroos but they are all dead at the side of the road, killed by the speeding vehicles.

We hurtle south as dusk falls and Danny is distressed as we start to hit birds.  Soon we are off the road and pull up at the Cattleman’s Travel Lodge in Charter Towers. This is much more basic accommodation than we have been used to but Titania hits the jackpot as she gets the honeymoon suite, complete with water bed.

The staff have been called in at thirty minutes’ notice to wait on us.  The food is basic but good and Sandy joins Tizania, Maureen and I for our meal.  She tells us how she was brought up outside Melbourne and about how she came to work for APT.  She says she doesn’t have a home as she is on the road so much.  When she goes back to Melbourne to visit her mum she cooks non-stop.  Can’t get enough of having a kitchen to work in as it’s restaurant food the rest of the year.

I go for a swim in the pool around 10pm but I’m soon out as I see huge black bugs swimming beside me.

404 miles.  We have crossed the Great Dividing Range from David’s Coastal area to Outback area which was not part of our itinerary.

33 Days in the Wilderness Day 12

After a night of torrential rain we are blamed by the Yanks for keeping them awake half the night.   Danny, Anne, Valerie and Chris laugh when we tell them we have been blamed for their party.

Breakfast is somewhat better than dinner, so we book up for the barbecue that evening.

Sandy tells us the fishing is cancelled as the weather is too rough to take to sea.

It continues to rain so I write most of my postcards.   Some people go for a swim in the rain and Maureen and I find a shop and buy more postcards.  Although it is cloudy some people sunbathe between the showers and are sunburnt by the evening.

I try to pull the mesh screen across our door and it collapses, so we ring for help.  A young man comes to fix it.  I have only pulled it out of its runners, but Maureen and I laugh as we seem to have disasters with anything and everything. The young girl comes to clean our room.  I have read about the many animals that are on this island and the literature tells us to ring reception if we see a Banfield.

I sensibly ask her what a Banfield looks like and to our distress she tells us it is similar to a mouse or a rat, but very rare.

The blue butterflies that are native to this island are as large as sparrows and there are bright green birds the size of pigeons.  Happily we do not see any Banfields.

Our evening barbecue has to be held in the restaurant because it is raining so heavily.   There is word filtering through our group that the weather is so bad we may not be able to leave for Hamilton Island tomorrow.  The mainland is flooded as we are being hit by the tail end of a cyclone.

Geofffrey, Brenda, Titania and I take part in a quiz after dinner.  We are the “Wannabees” (we want to b off Dunk Island) and the opposition are Aussie Power.

We Donov too badly as most of the questions are mainly Australian and Titania can’t understand the two Australian girls who ask the questions. We loose y four points and the Aussie Powertam graciously shar their winning battle of champagne with us.

33 Days in the Wilderness Day 22

We are up early and there is no time for even a swim in the beautiful pool or to look at the beach before we leave.

We go back down towards Cairns to catch the train which goes through the mountain and above the rainforest and hope the track is safe after the Sunday landslide.

It is extremely hot and very sunny.  We wear our large brimmed hats and lots of sun tan lotion.  Maureen says, I don’t know whether we are putting this sun tan lotion on to prevent sun burn or to keep us from rusting up.”

We stop at the falls for photographs and then travel north on the train to Atherton where we have a whole hour’s break for lunch.  At Atherton Post Office I post the computer disc and a photo of me with Buddy to John so he can remember what I look like.

We go on to more falls and people from another trip go into the water and swim beneath the waterfall.  The torrent of water is so heavy we think they are mad.

We go to a museum shop past Innisfall which has been cut off through flood waters for a couple of days.  We see a young man turning wood and he makes a spinning top (peerie).  He has Scottish ancestry and he is really I interested to learn how I used a peerie as a chid in a Scottish village. I tell him how we put a nail in the bottom to lengthen the life of the peerie and how we chalked it with different coloured horizontal stripes so that it would spin and whirl away like a tiny rainbow.  He listens to me carefully and writes down the word “peerie”.

We are back on the coach heading towards the ferry for Dunk Island.  All rivers are a seething mast of fast flowing reddish mud – gardens and fields are under water.

Then under heavy skies it is on to a ferry to Dunk Island.  To lessen Danny’s load we only take two small bags with us.  Great drama as we think we have mislaid our toiletries bag and great relief when it is discovered.

The skies clear and sun shines as we travel by catamaran on the twenty-five minute cruise to Dunk Island.  The crossing wasn’t perfect but it is great to reach our destination.  Dunk Island looks idyllic.  It’s a picture postcard island with waving palm trees, tropical vegetation and golden sandy beaches.  Sandy tries to book me in for a day’s fishing tomorrow.  David, one of the men on the trip from Devon, says he will come fishing with me as he doesn’t like the idea of me going out to sea with people I don’t know.  Sandra tells me the fishing boat has been chartered and the charterers will not allow me to join them.  I am disappointed.

We walk along the small pier to the waiting dilapidated minibus.  I feel quite at home as the minibus could well belong on Cape Clear or Sherkin.

When May hears of my disappointment she says, “I hope their boat sinks.  Serves them right!”

I say, “I wouldn’t wish that on them. But I hope they catch nothing.  That’s really selfish two of them chartering a boat that an take eight.”

Dunk Island has had a tremendously high level of rain.  One of the tennis courts is under water and all the tracks are rutted and muddy.

For the moment we feel we have left the tropical downpours behind us and maybe at last we shall have some sunshine, but little warnings are in our room.  We are in a rush as we are booked into 109 Banfield Units and we have to dump our bags and rush back to the main reception for the welcome cocktail.  Dinner is to be served at 7pm so we rush back to our room shower and change quickly.

It is dark as we try to make our way to the main restaurant but we cannot see where we are supposed to go.  The lighting on the paths set within the rain forest is sparse and we can hear live things in the bushes.  We hear Titania calling.  She says, “There’s a torch and umbrella in your room.”  So we return to our unit to search them out.

We hear others of our party calling through the darkness.  Someone calls, “Stay to the centre of the path.  There are animals in the bushes,”

We are terrified but we are hungry and although the light from our torches is dim, we wave it from side to side on the path in front of us.  We laugh and giggle until we reach civilization.

We leave our large umbrella in the stand at reception and are seated with Geoffrey and Brenda, Titania and Alex, the elderly American. It seems hours since we have eaten anything. This meal has been paid for as part of our luxury coach trip and we very quickly realise our portions are small.  When our main course arrives we wait for the vegetables but the two slices of carrot and single slice of courgette  is all that we are given. `We start laughing and joking and Maureen threatens to beg bread rolls from the other tables but everyone else is in the same  boat.

continue is worried as Jimmy is getting angry and impatient with the waitress.  They have given their order six times and she still cannot get it right,  Jimmy in frustration writes it down on a piece of paper for her. To his fury she still gets it wrong.

The girl comes to take our dessert orders and we ask her what would be the biggest portion.  Brenda and Geoffrey continue to crack jokes and we all end up laughing until we are crying.  We are still hungry but we have had a great evening.

Sandy tells me that one of the charterers has backed out and asks if David and I still want to go because now the rate of the charter has almost doubled.

We still agree to go fishing.

”Can’t come all the way to the Barrier Reef and not fish,” says David.

We stay on with the others in the large, open comfortable bar, drinking until a guitarist forces us out.  The volume of his music is so loud it pierces our senses.  The bar is none to clean and only the ladies’ toilet is working.

Our umbrella is missing from the stand but the waitress finds us another one.  We walk through the rain which has come tumbling down again with a vengeance. The three girls from Yorkshire and Danny are drinking outside their room and are in fine voice.

The top surface of the fridge in our room is running alive with ants.  We had left our cups and Maureen’s tube of condensed milk out in our haste to eat earlier on.  We find a spray and ant powder in the bathroom and dispense with them. We wash the cups and saucers in boiling water.

We sit in our porch in our nighties and drink tea and listen to the rain and the lively chatter from Danny and the girls.  They brought a carry out from the last stop before we came on the island and it seems as if it may not last until tomorrow.