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.

33 Days in the Wilderness Day 10

We pack to leave the Tradewinds Hotel  and our first trip is to the Sky Rail.  We take a cable car  up the mountain and are above the rain forest.  We go on to the Barron Falls and the torrent of water is so great it is like thunder in the distance.

We leave the cable car and walk to view points where we can watch the falls and are covered in fine mist spray.  We carry on as far as Karunda and shop in the station.  I buy a computer saver screen of the Barrier Reef to post home to John.  Maureen buys post cards.

It is very hot.  The skies have cleared and the sun has come out. Maureen waits for me outside the station sitting on a bench.  Rhoda whispers to me that there are geckos running across the bench and we call Maureen into the station to see something so she doesn’t notice the geckos.

We go on to the Aboriginal Dream Time Centre. I am very uneasy about this as the travel brochure describes our entertainment by Aborigines and I am afraid that they have been coerced into performing for us.

But when we meet our Aboriginal tour guides they are a joy.  They are young men who take a great deal of pride and pleasure in showing us a little of their culture.  First of all our guide demonstrates spear throwing and then we have an opportunity to throw a boomerang.  We all have one chance and I watch the others in front of me carefully.  I am immensely proud as my boomerang is one of the few that does come back.  We walk uphill to an open air theatre where our Aborigine hosts perform a series of their native dances.  They pose happily for photographs with us afterwards and are as interested in us as we are in them.

Our last demonstration is the didgeridoo and I buy one from the Aboriginal craft shop for Jonathan and boomerangs for James, Louis and Micheal.

It is becoming hotter and hotter.  We now follow the others to have our photograph taken holding a Koala.  He is called Buddy and he is the sweetest creature with the softest pelt of fur that seems inches thick.  He is very placid and wraps himself around my neck.  I don’t want to let him go.  He is just adorable.  Queensland is one of the last territories where it is legal to hold a Koala.  In others it is forbidden.

Maureen and I have a sandwich lunch and then it is around the zoo section where we see a large crocodile, kangaroos, snakes and more koalas.

The skies are a clear blue and we are  glad to get back to the air conditioned coach.  We go to an opal mine and watch a film on how the opals are mined.  The man who owns the mine gives a short talk and I buy a pendant for Sarahan a bracelet each for Martine, Bernadette and Fiona.

We drive further north in the blazing heat and see wallabies playing in a field near a golf course.

We stop at a roadside fruit stall and eat peanuts that have been dug up that morning and are roasted whilst we wait.  We taste a fresh delicious mango.  Will we ever forget the taste?

We pass oxide red termite mounds, some of which are over six feet tall, standing like sentinels lining the side of the road.

Danny tells us the new miracle crop which has taken over in this part of Queensland is Tea Tree Oil.  We pass miles of rows of small dark green bushes.

We arrive at Port Douglas but have a mad dash to cash money at the bank, before hurrying to our hotel. Raddisons Treetops Hotel is one of the few hotels designated as a rain forest hotel. The rain forest reaches down to the beach in Port Douglas and we think we have arrived in heaven.  Part of the beach has been netted against stingers.  We would go in for a swim if we had time but Sunday’s landslide has altered our itinerary.

We are served cocktails on our arrival.

One of Maureen’s bags, containing all her shoes, is missing from the coach.  Eventually Andrew, the hotel porter, finds it in someone else’s room and when he knocks at our room door he says “Look what you’ve got here!”  I look at what I thought was a small plastic frog stuck on the door by the hotel, but I am looking at my first tree frog.  He is exactly like a fridge magnet.

With Andrew’s guidance I stroke the frog’s tiny body and I can feel his heart beating.

“This is your lucky day,” continues Andrew.  “The geckos have come out to see you too.” Lots of small lizards are darting over the walls across from our room.

Maureen is not enamoured with our neighbours.

We have dinner with May and Peggy in the restaurant adjacent to the swimming pool.   There are forest streams and walkways although the hotel and the most enormous parrot in reception who tries to bite my finger when I talk to him.

Maureen and I try to find our way to the beach but we can’t unlock the gate that leads to the path.  We are off at 8.30 am tomorrow so are sad we don’t have longer at this wonderful resort.

33 Days in the Wilderness Day 9

We are up early again.  The sky is heavy and overcast but today we are going to Fitzroy Island and the Barrier Reef.

We board a huge catamaran and are joined by a similar number of Japanese tourists for the trip.

Maureen is worried about being seasick, but the crew have ginger tablets available on the lower deck.  She is not seasick.

The crew of this catamaran are young lively and full of fun.  It is going to be a great day out.

We reach Fitzroy Island and decline the offer of a wildlife tour.  We are walked out even though we have the flip flops on.  We sit by the most beautiful swimming pool surrounded by rainforest shrubs and trees.  Jimmy gets in for a swim and is soon joined by  others.

As we start to walk back to the catamaran the rain starts again.  It’s the huge heavy stuff and those who went on the wildlife tour are soaked.  We get back on board relatively dry.  The skies lighten the further west we we sail and soon we can see platforms in the sea and a few boats rocking in the choppy waters.

These are huge stainless steel rectangular bins lined up along one side of the platform.  Some contain different sizes of flippers, others mask and snorkels and yet others contain life jackets.  The skies start to clear as we head first of all to the submersible boat.  It has been especially built at a cost of 250,000 dollars and its dimensions fit exactly within the parameters required to tour a section of the Great Barrier Reef.

We see a completely different world through the glass side panels which are parallel with the reef.  Apart from the multicolored fish, the coral is breathtakingly beautiful. It’s like an underwater garden and the sun comes out in the sky above and turns the shades of purple, blue and red coral to more vibrant depths.  Our guide cranks the craft inch by inch along the stretch and all too soon our voyage is complete and we clamber aboard the steel platform.  It has been an amazing experience.

There are long queues to secure a place on the glass bottomed boat so we decide to snorkel on the reef. There are helicopters flying some passengers over great lengths of the reef, but Maureen and I wonder if this is where the Japanese tourist went down.

We are shown how to spit into our masks so it can’t mist up but neither of us has the means and one of the crew donates his spit. He asks us to be careful that we don’t damage the coral. We are warned not to touch it and there are members of the crew in the sea protecting the coral from some of the more exuberant swimmers. We climb down the steps on to a steel mesh platform and from there tip over into the warm water so we can swim the fifty feet or so to the reef. The minute we go in the water we realise we are swimming amongst shoals of brightly coloured fish. Some are blue others have yellow and white stripes, others are bright sunshiny yellow. They swim with us and have no fear.

I think I can’t believe I am actually here and actually swimming off the reef. It is something I never thought I would do. I wish I were a stronger swimmer but I am soon out of breath with the repeated diving in the water and follow Maureen to return to the platform. I would like to swim longer but tell myself I am so fortunate to have had this amount of time.

We dress and have lunch aboard the catamaran. Then we join the queue for the glass bottom boat. The seas have become more choppy, the fine weather is going, but we get a seat on the glass bottom boat. This too is shunted over a different section of coral and the guide explains that coral is named for what it looks like.  We compete with the others recognizing brain coral, stag coral etc. We see larger fish in this area but the coral enthralls us and is what has made this such a magical day. We buy a video filmed that day of our trip.

The skies darken as we leave the reef and we stop briefly at Fitzroy Island to pick up more passengers for Cairns.

By the time we return to the landing area it is raining and we ask to get dropped off at the pier. There is an indoor aquarium and we see lots of the fish that we saw on the reef.  The tanks are labelled so we know what we are looking at. Great fish but they have very little space.

There is a very large tank and we watch a girl visitor in diving equipment enter the tank to swim with the sharks. They are quite small sharks and they are terrified of the girl and swim to the other end of the tank each time she comes close.

We eat at an American restaurant in the Pier complex and I buy an amber bracelet  for Teresa. We splish splash our way back to the hotel. The cafes and bars on the sea front are full of young people. We have a coffee in the hotel bar which is deserted. Maureen goes off to phone Julie and the barman asks me to sample and name his newly invented cocktail. He is in a national competition.

33 Days in the Wilderness Day 8

We meet up with our fellow travellers in the restaurant for breakfast.  We are to leave the hotel early to catch the train that goes over the rain forest.

When we get to the railway station, Danny the coach driver tells us there has been a landslide and the track has been washed away because of the volume of rain. No-one believes him because Danny jokes all day long.  But this time it is true.

Sandy has to suddenly reorganise our day and instead of the rail journey we go to Barrine lake which is in the middle of the rain forest.

It is still raining heavily and we are taken for a boat ride around the lake and see snakes, wild turkeys and there are turtles swimming in the lake.  We also see some enormous spiders.

We travel across the mountains to Kurunda Market.  It stops raining only briefly.  I buy a Black Boulder Opal pendant from the Evert family mining business.

We are dropped back at the hotel in Cairns and we walk, through the rain, to the Evert shop in Cairns where I buy earrings to match the pendant.  We are dripping so much by the time we get back to reception that we ask someone to mop up the floor after us.

We meet some of the APT crowd in the bar.  Jimmy from Dublin tells us he has seen the staff pumping out the basement of the hotel again.

Maureen does the washing in the laundry room in the hotel.

We ask at reception about the other room and we are moved but the dirty sticky stuff from the air conditioning unit is like the first room, but not so bad.

33 Days in the Wilderness Day 7

We ask at reception if they can change our room.  The fan from the air conditioning unit has blown all this black sticky stuff across the ceiling of our room.  It is directly above our beds and I only notice when I awaken wondering where we are.

The girl at reception offers to have the room cleaned but we explain we have tried to remove the stuff ourselves. (At least I have as I am taller than Maureen. We couldn’t get the maids to understand what we wanted them to do so borrowed their long handled brushes.  By standing on my bed I was just tall enough to attempt to brush the sticky stuff off the ceiling but failed miserably.  In retrospect this was a crazy thing to do and has had long standing serious health repercussions for me.)

We are firm with the receptionist.  She explains they are renovating the hotel but agrees they will get us another room.

We realise we have brought all the wrong kind of clothes.  Neither of us understood the temperatures or expected the humidity or volume of rain.  Both of us are suffering with our feet and our leather sandals are consistently soaked.  Maureen is having to use plasters for the cuts on her heels  If it weren’t so hot, wellies would be the answer, but we have noticed most of the locals wear a type of upmarket flip flop and that is our quest today.

The shops are full of suitable gifts to take home and we buy at random as we try flip flops on.  There is a larger variety than we have seen before.

Eventually we stagger back to the hotel with lots of plastic bags, our cagoules dripping and our shorts saturated.  We wear the flip flops home so it doesn’t matter how deep the puddles are.  There is a huge flood at the entrance to the hotel and we have to wade to the entrance steps.   They are pumping out the underground garage.

We dry off and change to meet the rep for our fourteen day trip.  We are given bright red holdalls marked in white lettering with Australian Pacific Tours and matching red wallets.  Sandy the tour rep, makes small badges with our names added in gold lettering.  She says it is vital that we wear these at all times as they will act like an “Open Sesame” on some of our trips and allow us special discounts on others.

Not all of our fellow travellers have made this early evening meeting.  Most will be at the welcome barbecue this evening.  The rest will join our trip on the mountain train tomorrow.

Sandy is mid-twenties, small with pinched features, but extremely neat and, as we are to find out through the dramas that followed, completely unflappable.

By the time we change, wet again, and make it down to join the others for the welcome barbecue, the heavens are emptying which surely must be their last load.  There can’t possible be any more rain up there.  It’s the large globule stuff coming down so hard it bounces up in the air again.

We are laughing as we can’t believe the barbecue is going ahead in this, but it does.  We all sit around tables under a canopy, which at times bends with the weight of water.  It’s the only time we have sat down to a meal and been given bath towels to put around our shoulders.  Every so often the torrent finds a pin prick through the canopy and we have to move as the drips increases to a steady flow.

There is plenty of food and plenty of laughter as everyone is making jokes in the face of adversity.

We meet Peggy and May for the first time.  They are delightful companions although Peggy gets upset when we three first try crocodile and then kangaroo.  I am ashamed to say that the kangaroo is delicious and if Peggy hadn’t been chanting “Skippy, Skippy,” to us I would have had seconds.  The crocodile is not pleasant to taste.  They also serve Barramundi which is a locally caught fish.  I find it a bit strong although ~Maureen really likes it.

There’s an Irish couple on the trip, Rhoda and Jimmy from Dublin and some English people but the rest of our fellow travellers are mainly American.  They are all couples so tend to look at a point a couple of feet above our heads.  Perhaps they think we can’t possible exist because we don’t have men with us.

There are too many people to catch the names of as we join the others for a drink in the bar.

I ask one of the waters what the siren noise is that has started again.  He is a bit embarrassed as he explains,”It’s a silly old frog, madam.  He is looking for a mate.”

33 Days in the Wilderness Day 6

The plane circles over Cairns, which looks like a flattened Venice without the gondolas.  It is difficult to see much as most of the land is under water and it is still dull and still raining.  The rivers are fast flowing torrents of reddish mud and trees stand stranded like floating bonsai.  We are all sprayed with disinfectant before being allowed off the plane.

As we walk through the customs halls a young girl dressed in uniform approaches us.  She has a sniffer dog on a lead and the spaniel runs straight toward me.  Maureen is shaking as we are both thinking of the cigarettes she has but she waves Maureen away and attacks me.

She shouts at me threateningly and the other passengers look away, embarrassed by her behaviour.  I feel as if I am being accused of carrying a ton of heroin but my misdemeanour is much worse.

She shouts, “You are bringing in illegal goods.”

I deny this.

“You must have food in your holdall.”

I start to say, “I haven’t” and then it dawns on me that I have the almond biscuits for our picnic on Sentosa.

I say, “I have some biscuits…”

But she cuts off my explanation and says, “You don’t only have biscuits.  You have fruit in there.  Don’t you realise how great an offence it is to bring foreign fruit into Australia.  You are liable to at least a 1000 dollar fine!”

It’s as if someone has hit me on the head.  I realise I have forgotten completely the two Australian nectarines and the cartons of orange juice purchased in Singapore for our cancelled trip to Sentosa.  They have slipped to the bottom of my rucksack.  I had wondered by it had become so heavy.

I start to explain about the cancelled trip and that the nectarines were Australian ones but I am taken for a dressing down to another table.

She searches through my rucksack and finds packets of chewing gum sealed in cellophane and yells at me that these are food too and should have ben declared.

She is so aggressive, rude and power crazy, I say nothing as I want to punch her full in the face.  If this is Australia they can keep it.  I have never been spoken to like this in my life.

One of the older customs officers, who is watching from the sidelines comes over to her, pulls her to one side and whispers in her ear.

She returns and with a final flourish shouts, “You have committed a crime trying to smuggle contraband goods into Australia.  Don’t you realise the Australian government has spent millions on eradicating the fruit fly and you have contaminated our country by bringing in illegal fruit.”

I don’t reply as I am so angry I am near to committing an assault.

I am directed to a customs room, to be “processed” and have my person and luggage searched.  I hear the young bully yelling at two Japanese tourists in a similar manner,  They have no English and turn white, their faces stricken with fear.  What kind of country have we come to?  I just want to catch the next flight home.

My suitcase and holdall are on a table.  There are two emigration forms beside them and an older lady asks if I am Maureen or Carol as the handwriting is the same on both forms.  When I tell her I am Carol she says I haven’t filled the form in correctly.   I have filled in Maureen’s correctly but not my own.  I rectify this and sign it again.

She asks, ‘Why did you bring fruit into this country?  It’s an offence to even take it from state to state.”

I explain about packing the rucksack early the day before, missing the trip it was meant for and the rush at the hotel to get to the airport.  All the time I am thinking of the excess cigarettes in Maureen’s case and wondering if she has got through or if she is in another room.

The older lady thinks for a long five minutes looking at me all the while and then says, “Okay.  You can go but be a bit more careful when you are filling in emigration forms in future.”

I can’t believe I am being allowed to escape as I thought I would be fined or have to appear in court as the young customs girl had threatened.

I don’t know where to go when I am released as I can’t see Maureen in the airport building, so I walk outside relieved to be in the humid air.  It is a dull dank day and Maureen calls from across the road.  She is with the chauffeur of the limo sent from the hotel to collect us.

“You were lucky to get out so quickly,” she says.  “This chap”, pointing to the chauffeur, “says that the last people he came to collect who were stopped were in there for three hours and fined 1000 dollars.”

“You’re not out of the woods yet,” he adds.  “They still have the right to call on you at the hotel and demand a fine.  It’s happened before so I wouldn’t start celebrating yet.”

On this cheerful note we set off to Cairns.

The girl at reception at the Tradewinds Hotel tells us we cannot check in until after mid-day.  She agrees we are booked in for that day but has no rooms available for us so early in the morning.  Eventually she allows us to leave our luggage and asks us to come back later.

It is raining heavier than either of us have seen in our lives.  I will never again complain about the rain in Ireland.  Queensland rain falls straight down in large (for rain) globules.  It comes down so hard it immediately splits into many normal size rain drops and rises as soon as it hits the ground then bounces up a couple of feet in the air   The storm drains were the deepest we had ever seen on our journey from the airport and it is evident they are necessary.

The Hotel is horseshoe shaped and the two swimming pools in the centre are overflowing.  The canopy which covers the area between reception and the restaurant is scarcely sufficient for its purpose and we have to lean close to the wall to save a further soaking.  A barbecue area with tables and canopies is set up in the opening of the horseshoe shape.  Behind this is the sea but there is so much water about it’s almost as if we are in the middle of a huge lake.

I laughingly say, “What fool is going to have a barbecue in this weather,” not knowing we will be the fools two days later.

The only good thing about the rain is that it is warm.  In fact walking in it is a bit like strolling through a tepid shower but the force is so strong it almost stings.  We have a leisurely breakfast in the restaurant and a very damp cigarette under the canopy.

We wait patiently for the hotel staff to find us a room.  We talk to a couple who live a further 150 miles up the coast.

He says, “We have never seen a wet season like this in the twenty years we’ve been living here.  It is so bad at home, we can’t live in our house.  We have a business to run so we are running it from here in the hotel until the water table lowers.”   None of us know he is going to work away from home for the coming weeks.

When the couple leave, I whisper to Maureen, “How can anywhere be wetter than this?”

We are shown to a room on the third floor.  It has a balcony and overlooks the swimming pools and barbecue area.  We struggle with the controls of the air conditioning system which is very noisy.  We spread our things about and sit out on the balcony.  The air conditioner stops the moment we open the balcony doors.  We try to have a sleep but the motor is so noisy we can’t and when we switch the unit off, within minutes the walls are running with water.  There is no happy medium.

We wade our way between downpours to Cairns shopping area – about the minutes’ stroll away.  We pass hibiscus shrubs with trumpets the size of half pint glasses.  The flowers are almost luminous in colour.  Cairns is obviously a tourist area but there is no beach – it is just a wetland.

We wander in and out of the shops.  We have a wonderful roast meal for 9 dollars in a small cafe and I ask the owner about fishing trips.

“It’s running at 22 knots today.  Don’t let anyone take you out in that weather.  Come back and see me in a couple of days and I’ll tell you if it is safe enough.  There are plenty who will take your money and put your life at risk.  I’ve lived here all my life and wouldn’t go to sea in this for all the lottery money,” he warned.

We wander through a shopping mall and overhear a conversation about a helicopter that has crashed that afternoon.

“He, (the pilot) wasn’t killed but the Japanese tourist he took out was.”

“He must have been crazy taking anyone out to the Reef in this weather.”

“But you know what they’re like.  They’re crazier still for the money.”

We see our first Aborigines and it is not a good experience.  They have nothing on their feet, are dressed quite raggedly and are unwashed.  There is a threatening arrogance about them as they observe our untanned faces and our obvious uncertainty of direction.  We go into a leather shop and purchase waterproofed hide bush hats for 30 dollars.  The owner is an ex-jazz musician and he reminisces of his tours in the 60s and 70s.  He talks of Ronnie Scott, Acker Bilk and the Dankworths with very fond memories.  He played at the New Yorker Cafe in Edinburgh where I spent much of my teenage years listening to the late night jam sessions into the wee small hours.

We tell him of my trouble at the airpot and he says he will report it to the governor  He had similar problems at one time and the governor sorted it out.  He is angry that tourists are treated in this manner.

We find  Woolworths.  We are looking for teabags but end up buying clothes.  I get a trouser suit and three tops for 31 dollars.  Maureen buys fitted sheets for 7 dollars.  (Fitted sheets?)  We cash money at an American Express office in the shopping mall.

We see green and blue black boulder opals for the first time.  They are my birthstone.

We are soaked to the skin by the time we get back to the hotel but in good humour.  We have decided there is no point in being miserable about the weather, being almost arrested and living with the thought that the customs police might arrive at the hotel at any moment!   We laugh a lot and at least we dry off between the showers as it is so hot.

The hotel starts one block away from the beach at the entrance but the other side reaches to the beach road.

Maureen phones Julie and I phone John.  I arrange to send him a fax of our itinerary.  I ask him if he wants any software brought back from Singapore on our return leg.

We have a meal in the hotel and then go upstairs to sort out our tip of a room.

The rain continues and as darkness sets in there is a very strange piercing noise which continues throughout the night.  It sounds almost like a police siren.  So the combination of that, the noisy air conditioner and the jet lag does not make for a peaceful night.

33 Days in the Wilderness Day 5

We have to be out of our hotel room by 11.30 am but they have a store in the basement for our suitcases and a courtesy room we can use for showers etc.  We have planned a busy day.

Our trip to Sentosa is at 2.30 pm and I pack my rucksack with the nectarines and orange drinks for that trip.  We will both have money, travel documents, passports etc in our rucksacks.  We put a change of clothes in the holdall.   We are well organised as we hand over our suitcases and the holdall at reception.  We have breakfast again in the hotel and then have a couple of hours to spend, so we tackle different shops in Orchard Road.  I am still looking for a wide-brimmed hat.  Maureen needs new sandals as her feet are so swollen with the heat.  We are both peeling our footwear off in the evening and we don’t know how to cope with it.

We wander around the shops.  Maureen asks me what time the trip is.  I reply, “It’s at 2.30 pm.”  I am in charge of these tickets but it is the last time she will trust me with tickets.  We find an M&S but they have no hats.  We find a huge department store across the road.  We are also looking for octagonal glass sugar bowls with lids.  The Orchard Hotel is where we have seen these sugar dishes and the head waiter has told us this department store might have them.  Maureen finds a hat in this store, but we find no sugar bowls.

It is very hot and it rains from time to time, but we are getting old hands at this and take no notice of the rain.  It is so hot we dry very quickly when we are wet.

Maureen finds a shop with sandals and buys a black pair and a white pair.  We stroll up the street to the hotel and sit in reception.  It is 2.20 pm.  The Singapore tours rep comes up.

“Where have you been madams.  We have been calling you.  We have rung your room.  Madams were not there!”

He is very anxious.  We have missed our trip.  The trip did start at 2.30pm but we were to be collected at 2.05 pm.  In Singapore if they say 2.05 pm, they mean that, not 2.04 pm or 2.06 pm.  He phones a transport office but is told the traffic down town is too heavy and we would not catch up with the tour bus, even by taxi.  He offers us other trips and we choose a trip on a Chinese Junk around the harbour and out to Tortoise Island which has a Chinese Temple.  He orders us a taxi and refunds the difference in the cost of the trips.

The heat is oppressive and the sky is heavy with rain.  The junk is half empty and we think it is strange that the Chinese lady who takes our tickets is 6 ft tall.  But she is very attractive, has long wavy hair and the most beautiful hands and polished nails.

Maureen and I turn around in surprise as the Chinese lady starts to speak through the microphone when we cast off from Clifford Pier.  Our Chinese lady has a very deep voice and is a man, but no-one else seems surprised.

Maureen mutters, “How does he keep is nails like that?”

It rains heavily and we are glad to be under the canopy of the boat.  We wander around the uninhabited Tortoise Island and admire the Temple.  Tortoise Island is as well-manicured as our guide.  There are many tortoises on the island and there is a snake in one of the ponds.

Singapore is the second busiest port in the world and on the horizon we can see many ships and tankers as they queue in a line to come into the dock areas.  We can also see Indonesian Islands through the hazy mist.

We speak to a lady from Southampton who lives in Singapore.  Her parents are on holiday from UK and she has brought them on the boat trip.  She advises us against a stop over in Bali.  She tells us there are currency problems there at the moment and it is not a good time for two women travelling on their own to visit.  We would be prisoners in our hotel.

I get a Singapore Airlines large floppy hat at Clifford Pier.  Whilst we search for a taxi a very small man pleads with us to hire his rickshaw.  We find a taxi queue but the small man follows us.  It starts to rain and he produces two umbrellas.  We shake our heads and are relieved when a taxi arrives.  If we were to take the rickshaw I have visions of one very small man, at best suffering a hernia, and at worst pedalling uphill to Orchard Road unsuccessfully, and the rickshaw reversing downhill into the path of the oncoming traffic.  Both of us have Peking Duck in the hotel restaurant.  It is absolutely wonderful and I know I will never taste the same again.

We collect our change of clothes holdall and are directed to the courtesy suite, which is in fact two adjoining bedrooms and two bathrooms.  There is a tv in each room, but the rooms are crowded with fellow travellers and we are now worried that we will arrive in Cairns unwashed as the time is flying by.  Two young blonde Swedish lads defer to our age and take off to the swimming pool on the roof deck,  There are showers there and they allow us to jump the queue.  (The use of the bathroom is decided by the time of your flight.)  We wanted to sort out our rucksacks and holdall but there is now no room to spread our stuff out as three French girls have the same idea and the room is fast resembling a jumble sale.

A man from Somerset tells us he has been visiting his daughter in Cairns.  They have had tropical storms and Cairns is under water.  He laughs and says, “It may have stopped raining by the time you arrive but I wouldn’t hold my breath.”

The courtesy bus is to come a 8.30 pm to take us to Changi Airport, but when we get down to reception at 8.10 pm to collect our suitcases, the driver is already searching for us.

I whisper to Maureen, “Well he’s definitely not from Singapore as he is early.”

Our luggage is taken on a truck that resembles a laundry van, although it is made of metal and the rear door has an enormous lock.  The luggage truck follows the bus as we collect more passengers from the other hotels on the way to the airport.

Our suitcases are already on the pavement at Changi Airport when the bus arrives and a porter brings us a trolley  He offers to take it into the airport for us, but we are still out of breath with the rush we have had and choose to have a cigarette outside the Airport hall.

We check in and are delighted to be told we have been upgraded to Business Class for the next stage of our journey.  The only downside is that all the families with children have also been upgraded to Business Class.

We go to duty free where Maureen works out that B&H are the equivalent of £5 a packet.  We are already over the duty free limit.  I don’t buy any but get tobacco for John instead.

Maureen buys 400 cigarettes and this takes her total to almost 1,000.  The duty free limit to be taken in and out of Singapore is 200.  We risk being arrested, but I am soon to face arrest for an entirely different matter.

We meet our South African friends who ask, “What happened to you on the Sentosa trip?  We looked out for you.  You didn’t miss much as the weather was too wet and cloudy to see much.”

This is some consolation as we explain how I had mistaken the time.  We planned to visit the holiday island of Sentosa on the return trip and perhaps visit Malaysia too

Our flight to Cairns is uneventful, save the fact Maureen’s eyes are bad and I filled in her immigration card as well as my own.