Thailand travelogue!

AA: Great Barrier Reef and Cape Tribulation

Leaving Airlie Beach was another early morning. At the bus stop by 7:00AM, with my usual paranoia getting me there more like 6:25. Because I’m starting to run short on time I skipped Townsville and went straight to Cairns, the end of the backpacker highway as it’s often known.  It was a not so lovely 10.5 hour Greyhound ride but thankfully also probably my last coach ride of the trip. The scenery was definitely an improvement for this leg though, lots of gorgeous mountains, Kangaroos and (I think) a freshwater croc spotted from the bus. For an ultra-nerdy reference, I saw a green snake on a sugar cane plant at one of the meal stops. Upon arriving in Cairns I was picked up by a shuttle, checked in and ran over to a supermarket to get some lunch fixings for the next day (and a Kebab for supper.) I’d managed to get a cheap single for the first night then moved to a 3 bed dorm for the next 2. They were even cool with moving my bag over while I was gone the next day which was really appreciated, I heartily recommend the Traveller’s Oasis for anyone who wants to stay a little bit out of the CBD to be able to get a solid night’s sleep.

The next morning was the beginning of my dive course. After a minibus pickup to take me to a place that was only about a five minute walk away, we settled in to the classroom for the first part of the course. My class instructor was a guy named Jack, a Brit who keeps reminding me of John Oliver’s younger more attractive brother. Very similar mannerisms and voice, not helped by the fact that I rewatched a Prof. Duncan heavy episode of Community the night before. I was quite nervous as the day wore on. At first this was mostly because of the medical I’d have to pass. Once upon a time Doctors forbade anyone with Asthma from scuba diving but they’ve done more research in the past few years and as long as you aren’t having attacks or low lung volume you’re fine. Unfortunately I’d heard that Queensland is very strict about these things (and indeed safety for diving in general) so I figured there was a reasonable chance I’d get downchecked and would have wasted a day. Just as we did lunch the med team arrived, two of what I’m guessing were specialists or physicians assistants who took our BP, pulse and lung spirometry for the Doctor that followed. Happily enough I passed, though I’ve lost so much weight on this trip that my balance is terrible at the moment from the changed centre of gravity. It was a big relief, but my true nervousness was to start once we got in the pool.

The smaller half of our classroom group included me and an Italian, a Finn and three French folks so we were assigned to a French pool instructor named Pierre. This was definitely a good move because two of the French people were not the greatest with English so it greatly sped things up for him to be able to repeat once in French for the more complex stuff rather than 4x in English. The first step was just swimming a number of laps in fins, then treading water for ten minutes. Easy. Once we were fully geared up and kneeling underwater in the shallow end my problems began. I was constantly struggling to stay kneeling under the water to see what was going on, my regulator felt foreign in my mouth and rough on my lungs. Each exercise felt worse than the last and I was seriously considering dropping out of the course and taking them up on the end of day 1 refund option. Thankfully right at the end the instructor added a weight to my buoyancy vest’s pockets and I was staying put in the deep part of the pool. That gave me the confidence to stay in the course. By the time the day was over we’d been in the pool a few hours and were all absolutely wrecked. I don’t think I moved from my bed more than twice that night once I settled in, I just watched a movie and fell asleep pretty much right after.

Day two started with pool activities and instantly I felt more at home with the new weight belt. Unfortunately I had new problems with a less well fitting BCD vest, but it wasn’t as much of an issue. It was another strenuous morning though with many of the tasks being to learn emergency skills. Lunchtime was a delicious burger shop then a trip to the dive shop for those of us who wanted to buy masks and fins etc at a reasonable discount. Though obviously they want to make money off us, they also strongly pointed out that having your own gear encourages you continue doing the diving which makes sense. Classroom time followed and we ended the day with the final exam. Proud to say that I finished the exam super quickly and got the first 100% that instructor has seen in all his time teaching the course (a couple years I think,) oddly enough a Dutch girl named Inge got 100% a few minutes later as well. There was a small scale German language course going on simultaneously in the other classroom and I overheard their instructor say to ours that the 3 students had managed 25 mistakes between them. Given there were 50 questions and a 75% was a pass, at least one of them must have cut it very close. Unfortunately at this point we lost our Finnish girl, she never looked comfortable in the water and I think she went back to the doctor to get a second opinion. That night a few of us dragged ourselves over to a place called reef teach, essentially a two hour session with a marine biologist teaching us to properly identify fish and coral types. Very interesting and definitely helped in the water, but dear god I felt like a zombie walking back to the hostel.

The excellent part about this company (besides their tremendous reputation) is that the course includes a three day, two night liveaboard dive trip out to the Great Barrier Reef. Getting up for the boat at 5:30AM was another unpleasant start, but a few of us managed to get a brief nap on the way out to the reef when there wasn’t much to see. Gear setup was the other task, I had to prep my mask then discovered that they hadn’t brought a wetsuit in my size despite me mentioning it at least 4 times. Most of me could fit in the smaller suit, but my shoulders are too broad and keep the top of the chest piece so tight around my lungs that I can’t take a full breath (obviously bad.) Unfortunately this meant that my first dive was going to be in just a stinger protection suit while he tried to get another boat to bring one over, thankfully I found that I was fine in just the stinger suit. Maybe 27c water makes some of these people shiver after a while but when’s the last time Lake Winnipeg hit that temp before you went swimming? Still, I have to admit I was incredibly nervous as we lined up to drop into that green-blue water.

Turns out I had no reason to be, the ocean was 10x more natural feeling than the pool for me. I could move freely, my ears were equalizing properly and I could control my buoyancy much more accurately. We slowly moved down the mooring rope the crushed coral sea bed near a few reef outcroppings. Once on the bottom we ran through a few basic skills before Pierre proved to be an excellent instructor by leaving the other tests for after and taking us for a spin around some of the mounts to see the fish. We saw a number of different damselfish, some Anenomefish (Nemo!), big coral trout, parrot and surgeon fish along with a couple medium sized wrass. The coral itself was beautiful as well, Staghorn, Finger, Plates… all amazingly, though we’ve been told the colours get better as we move on to other dive sites. The absolute highlight of the dive was a stingray though. Just a tiny one, they’re absolutely harmless anyway unless you step on one, or you’re a Steve Irwin level moron and you wrestle them. Before I knew it 30 minutes had passed and we were moving up to the surface to run through some other skills. Pierre was awesome though, I found out later we’d spent 5 more minutes and gone 3-4 metres deeper than the other group. We all particularly enjoyed him picking up a sea cucumber and wearing it as a hat and pretending to play it like an accordion.

Unfortunately my buddy wasn’t feeling great after the dive so I was worried I might need to readjust for dive two, thankfully there was a decent gap before the next drop and he recovered sufficiently. In between dives we got a fantastic lunch (they’ve warned we’ll gain a kilo on this boat from the food) and a debrief on dive 1. Dive 2 was a little less fun since we needed to churn through a couple of the tougher skills including ascending on buddy air supply (simulating ours running out) then going back down and simulating the “oh shit i’m out of air and no one can help me get to the surface now” manoeuvre. We did another quick spin around the coral first, everything was very pretty but the fish situation was nothing new and not as good as the first dive. After we were back on board the boat moved a bit and then the certified divers also on the trip dropped in for another dive on a new reef. For those of us trying to be certified we were done diving for the day, but a few of us went out for a snorkel on this new reef and were blown away. I took along the video camera and  got what I hope are some great shots of coral and a vast array of fish. I was kind of wiped so I turned back, but the other people snorkelling got a brief glimpse of a reef shark. We finished the night off after dinner watching the certified folks do a night dive like the one we were looking forward to the next day. It’s very odd as they all carry flashlights and glowsticks tied to their regulator connection. As they drop into the water they glow a little, but soon they’re down amongst the coral and you can see eerie glows from above water or the occasional bright flash as someone points directly back at the boat. I can’t wait for our chance, especially since they say the second night dive spot is better and the sharks have been getting braver and coming to have a look. The rest of the night was pretty low key, even among those of us who only did two dives. Mostly chatting and sharing a few drinks. I spent quite a bit of time talking to a girl who was basically the more attractive Aussie clone of one of my ex-girlfriends (down to personality… haircut… wardrobe… everything) which was more than a little weird.

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Day two on the boat dawned quite early as the Irish dive supervisor went around yelling out a reveille. I was actually already awake, but it was still an unpleasant wakeup. The plan for the day called for a pre-breakfast dive at 7:30, followed by our last certification dive at 11:00. Dive 3 was the last dive that was really heavy on skills since in addition to the regular stuff we finished off the optional. It was fantastic getting a look at the area I’d snorkelled the night before though from a max depth of 18m. Pierre is definitely a bit more active with his students as we consistently go a couple meters deeper and longer than the other crew of cert course people (though Jack has more of them to wrangle which makes a difference.) We had another great sighting on this dive as well despite being busy testing skills. This one was a lionfish, spines fully extended at the sight of us, absolutely beautiful backlit against the blue green depths. Visibility was in fact excellent everywhere, extending to 20m most of the time. Dive 4 didn’t have anything rare, but it was another deeper dive and our longest yet as we were under for 40 minutes. The added excitement of course is that with dive 4 successfully completed we’re all now PADI certified open water divers and can now dive without the instructor (as we’ll do for the first time roughly 2 hours from when I’m writing this.) Definitely a bit nervewracking, but I personally haven’t really had an “oh god where is the instructor” moment since early in the first dive, and that was only because I got turned around trying to avoid being kicked in the face. Definitely won’t be as deep of a dive either so an emergency ascent becomes much less of an issue. Later on when we go on the night dive we’ll be with an instructor again for the obvious reason, but most of the people in my class are most worried about that one.

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Finally the time arrived, our first dive as certified divers. Andrea and I suited up and spent a little extra time on our buddy checks of each other’s equipment. Soon enough though we were doing our entries off the back platform and slowly sinking down to the reef. There’s a nervousness at that first moment for most people. You sink slowly into the gloom, eyes adjusting to the water filtered sunlight and brain overcoming the hardwired impulses to kick up to the surface so you can breathe. After a few moments your body accepts that there IS air coming in through that regulator and yes let’s flip over and start kicking downwards. I have to admit, this time those feelings were far more intense as up until now we’d had Pierre to focus on, making sure we were all ok then leading us onward. Not only Pierre in fact, but 3 other students as well, this time it was just us buddies if something went wrong. For this dive we had a guide line down to the seabed but after the first few meters Andrea and I kicked off to avoid the congestion of the more timid types and started heading towards the reef.

Visibility on all our dives was pretty great so it didn’t take long for the eyes to get used to the colour and light and begin to pick out fish flitting about (other than the big bunch always up near the boat looking for handouts.) This site turned out to be gorgeous as well and large schools of damselfish and wrass scooted up close to us before veering away as they realized how big we were. This particular site was the edge of a bigger reef with a large number of boumis (free standing clumps of coral, often massive) just off the edge. Fantastically enough, as we swam between several of them I heard a crunching sound faintly and, looking down, spotted a sea turtle chomping away. He was a green turtle, roughly 1m across with his fins fully extended. After a minute I managed to get Andrea’s attention and show it to him, but it took me a few sign language sessions as it was reasonably well camoed against the bottom. It was my first really good close up encounter with one of my favourite animals and I was absolutely dying for a camera. He was completely unphased by our presence and I actually got to within about 6inches of his shell. I honestly could have spend the whole dive watching him ignore me and eat, but I figured Andrea would want to move on. We left it to its dinner and swam on into an area filled with softer corals. The damselfish were particularly great that dive as we saw, blue, lemon, chocolate dip, black and white and many others. Several bumphead parrotfish stalked us at one point before veering off when they saw something tasty to grab, we also saw several boxfish, a big barracuda and a triggerfish. Andrea kept trying to veer off into boumis out in the deep water though, and as a result the extra air we expended kept us from getting to get to some of the other neat sounding areas. We also felt a little lost on the way back to the boat, but had we kept going another minute or so we would have seen the mooring blocks. Not bad for our first dive certified though.

It might have been silly, but I was so hooked on diving already that I couldn’t resist. I signed up for the adventure diver add on course which slightly changed a few of my remaining dives. My night dive was now a certification dive as a night diver, which basically meant that I had to prove I could find a compass bearing underwater. Either way I was going with an instructor, this just meant I got to go with Pierre again and got a temporary new buddy named Jacqueline. Prep for the night dive was rather spirited… Jack sat us all down around the table and described what we would see. He also reiterated that night diving was the best chance to see sharks, but that sometimes they did get big ones. In that case he wanted us to do something called the ring of steel and all lock arms with our tanks facing outward. At that point if a shark fixated on someone like Astrid (one of the divers from his dive group) it would likely circle repeatedly and nudge her with every pass looking for a reaction. Now at some point Astrid might panic, so there was a simple procedure to follow. Jack has actually done shark research so we listened carefully: “The people on either side of Astrid need to look at each other, unhook from her… the one on the left can inflate her BCD to send her floating upwards then they link arms again after giving her a shove. Once she distracts it we can swim on.” It took a few of the group a few more seconds to catch on before Astrid gave him a big punch in the arm. That wasn’t Jack’s only bastard moment either. Night divers wear a glow stick identifying their group attached to their regulator first stage. Jack handed these out and told us they were special pressure resistant ones with a tempered glass insert so not to crack them. They were activated by heat and liquid so he had us quickly rub them between our hands then suck on them as he proceeded to demonstrate quickly bringing up a blue glow. He then sat and watched as all 12 of us tried to make this happen. Keep in mind we’d already done three dives that day, so forgive us for taking a few minutes to realize that he’d just cracked them with his teeth and they were standard glowsticks. Funny guy! :p

A few minutes later we went to suit up, well aware of just how black the sky was everywhere around us. The only lights visible were stars and the occasional large vessel kilometres distant. Putting on the wet stinger suit is never a pleasant proposition but with the night-time breezes it was downright horrifying. Still, it wasn’t long before we were in the water and shining our torches around the water. Red bass were swirling all around the lights looking for some extra light for hunting. The pros call them red bastards because they’ll charge and eat anything tiny you highlight in your flashlight. Thankfully apparently they’re so thick that if you move your light to a rock wall instead at the last minute they’ll veer into the coral and knock themselves senseless for a moment. Unfortunately as we descended my new buddy had a bit of a freakout, she wasn’t a fan of just sitting still in the water. Luckily Pierre was able to calm her down after we surfaced briefly and we continued on, quickly running our compass drills. Night diving was amazing for different fish though as well as weird worms and other invertebrates and bioluminescent things visible here and there. One of the highlights was a massive school of barracuda passing within range of our lights. All about five feet long, there must have been over 100 of them swimming in a massive line. Of course the absolute highlight was when green appeared in the gloom as we were returning to the boat. Pierre and I turned our torches in that direction and illuminated two black tip reef sharks circling the edge of the boat’s light pool, hoping to get some food attracted by the glow. Seeing them was amazing, your blood runs absolutely cold a moment as that streamlined predatory body is revealed. Your mind knows that they won’t attack in this level of visibility unless you make them defend themselves, but it takes a moment for that signal to get through to the rest of your body. We watched them circle for a few minutes until they spiralled back outwards. Most of the group exited the water at that point, I sat back near Pierre floating just under the water with my reg out and snorkel in, watching the fish circling. Just as I was about to swim to the boarding steps a quite large white tip reef shark swam directly into the boat lighting, not even needing my flashlight to see more than a silhouette. It didn’t stay long, but I it was an amazing sight as it cut powerfully through the green glow before diving back down into the blue.

It took us all a while to calm down after that, one of the ex-instructors back on board for a visit got us all playing group games in the ship’s saloon. One weird one where you had to perform a complicated series of manoeuvres without letting go of a broom, the other a team game where a person wearing a blackened dive mask with a snorkel between their legs had to be spun around then called across the room by their partner holding a roll of toilet paper between their legs. Very bizarre… Despite the early start that morning most of the boat stayed up reasonably late, it was actually only the looming dawn dive the next morning that sent most of us off to our berths. I couldn’t resist going up to the top deck to have another look at the stars and actually got my first view of the Big Dipper on this side of the world. Hovering just above the horizon (Dubhe actually disappeared behind a wave once in a while) it was completely upside down and wrong looking. I pointed it out to the other Canadians and we all had a “WEIRD” moment before heading to bed.

5:30 came all too soon, as did the realization that the ship was rocking fairly violently. We’d been told we’d be going to a rare dive site for the dawn dive since the seas were so glassy, but sure enough the wind had come up around 4am and scrubbed that idea. Still, part two of the adventure diver add-on was altering my morning dive anyway. Instead of a second independent dive, I’d be doing a deep dive with an instructor, learning about the environment and giving me the ability to go that deep in future. Because most wrecks are deeper than I’d been so far this was the big selling point of the course for me. At 30m things get very different. Nitrogen narcosis becomes a very real possibility (hence going with an instructor the first time), pressure increases dramatically and as a result air use goes through the roof. You’ve also got a lot less time down there before the nitrogen in your bloodstream and tissues reaches the point where you need to do serious decompression stops on the way up. Decomp diving is something you do NOT do as a recreational diver so at those depths it becomes really important to constantly check your air gauge and dive computer. Pierre took along a few toys to show us the pressure effects as well. First he pulled out a colour slate to show us how red essentially disappears at that depth, appearing as black since those wavelengths have been filtered out. Next he pulled out a coke can, also black looking and shook it vigorously. Of course due to the pressure, when he opened it nothing came out. Last was a standard soda bottle filled with air that had compressed almost flat since at 30 meters air takes up ¼ the space it does on the surface. Turning over we looked up and were blown away… our bubbles travelled up and up and up… the surface completely out of sight. It’s really a mindblowing thing that you don’t even think about before you go down, you’ve never really been out of site of sun or artificial lights twinkling through the surface of water. With show and tell over we headed off towards the boumis, slowly climbing up from 30 to 25ish meters and watching our no decompression time jump quickly upwards. It was pretty wild seeing the other folks from the boat swimming 30 feet above us and pointing downwards. We’d controlled our air use well enough that we actually got our regular dive too (though we came back a bit into our safety for the first time, though only just.) I’d thought my first turtle encounter was amazing… this dive I got three different turtles, two green turtles and one hawk’s bill turtle. Pierre even tried to feed one of them but the big guy was enjoying the coral he was already chowing down on. Lots of barracuda, a variety of surgeonfish (think Dori from finding nemo) along with some nemos and parrotfish. Just as we got back to the ship Justin the giant Humphead Maori Wrass came alongside. He’s probably the size of a dining room table and very curious and friendly, pics to follow.

Because we dove so deep we had to skip the second dive that morning for nitrogen build-up reasons. It doesn’t sound as if we missed much though as the current had picked up a bit and most people didn’t see a ton before air supplies ran low. We had the option to snorkel but the sea was so choppy due to the wind that no one felt like wasting the energy. Actually it was neat being on the boat because the dive supervisor/spotter saw a turtle passing by, mentioned it to the ex-instructor guy who realized it was sick. They took out the tender and brought it back to the ship in a dive bin. The poor guy was covered in algae growth which is a sign he’s been on the surface too much and likely unable to dive deep. Since that probably means he has breathing problems it’s likely he mistook a plastic bag for a jellyfish and has his lungs blocked partially. We helped carry him on deck, then up into the shade of the wheelhouse so Warren the skipper could keep an eye on him. Wazza radioed to shore and marine rescue would be sending a pickup to take him to a marine vet a.s.a.p. when we reached shore. Poor guy and yet another reminder to keep plastic out of the oceans.

My last dive was going to be a digital underwater photographer certification (basically proving I understand how light changes underwater) so I rented a properly set up underwater camera from the staff. Expensive, but the nice thing is that they give you the photos on the memory card so unlike the other options for underwater without buying a full rig it’s not a questionable brand film camera that you have to have developed later. I got what I consider to be some amazing shots, sadly no turtles that dive but some beautiful coral shots and Anemones with clown anenomefish including probably the best photo I’ve ever taken. It’s very difficult work though. The best shots come from being slightly under your target and from as close as possible so it requires balancing your breathing to float absolutely still (full lungs = float up) without using your fins so you don’t hit coral, long slow breaths so you’re as quiet as possible and really steady hands. It’s complex enough that your breathing pattern doesn’t stay really regular and we found ourselves returning to the boat a little faster than usual from the extra air use. Still absolutely amazing and a good sendoff for myself from the Great Barrier Reef. I may wait to post those photos until I get home so I can do some more accurate cropping etc with my big computer.

Back on the boat the crew was in full cleanup mode so after stripping and cleaning my gear I headed to pack up everything. The wind had only picked up since breakfast so we knew we’d be in for a terrible ride, I don’t think anyone knew quite how bad though. As previously discussed I love that sort of thing, but we got to the point where we were getting some serious weightless feeling periods as the ship rolled in swells that were awfully big for a bright sunny day. You know things are wild when crew members throw up. Once we were back alee of the point south of Cairns people perked up a bit and a bunch of us exchanged emails and photos. We were all meeting for dinner and drinks later but we didn’t want to leave that sort of thing until alcohol time.

TD has been royally ticking me off for a long time, but getting off the boat was the point where I will finally stop being lazy and get rid of them for good. I had some things to pay for after the trip, the extra course etc and my visa didn’t work. I’ve kept my TD visa as a backup since my aeroplan visa is so new the credit limit is very low (applying when you’re a student doesn’t set you up for a high starter.) I haven’t had a safe opportunity to make a payment on it in a bit, so I had tried to use the TD one before the boat left for something. I figured they’d been stupid and not made note of my call about going to Australia, but instead they told me I hadn’t made a payment in a while. I must have misread my statement as I thought it was at zero, but there was next to nothing on there anyway. I called them the night before the boat left (early Saturday morning in Canada) and he said he would fix it but it would be the next business day, since the boat didn’t return until early Tuesday morning Canada time I figured that would be fine. Judging by the experience at ProDive, they didn’t. Frustratingly the first ATM I tried would not dispense enough so I had to run another block to a bank. Coming back I noticed the first one was near some Pokies (VLTs) so that’s probably why. Eventually got everything worked out and went back to the hostel. The fun would continue later… Dinner and drinks were fun, but in the end I had to bow out around midnight when the first bar closed. I have no idea how people were still going, but between the early wakeups and the fact that my rental car pickup the next morning would require me to be up at 7 I said my goodnights and went back to my nice quiet hostel.

The next morning when I tried to pay for the rest of my rental car, figuring the thing would have gone through by now it didn’t work again. Seething, I called TD again. After quite the rigmarole I was told that the problem was the card was giving an expiry date from this fall, which is when it expires. I said yes… that’s the card I’m trying to use. He then tries to tell me that the TD/GM partnership has dissolved or some such BS and I should have a new card. I hadn’t received one before I left, and a check with home later on revealed no such card either. Forgive me for thinking my card that doesn’t expire for 6 months would still be good… I asked the Indian dude on the other end of the line what the hell I was supposed to do. I wanted to get the extra insurance paying with a credit card would give me, but no… there’s nothing they can do apparently. To push the frustration level to an absolute max, I needed to then leave a cash bond. But to do that I needed to pay extra since you needed to leave the insurance deductible as a deposit. It was either $20 extra a day to give it a $400 deductible, or $1600 deductible. When I went to take out cash, I swear to god the first ATM was broken. A bit of a hike later, I couldn’t actually take out enough to get the entire amount, apparently I was over my max withdrawals for the day since it was the same 24hr period in Canada. I just about screamed… eventually through trial and error I managed to find what I could take out and it was enough to leave me with $40 until the rollover… fun.

Finally… FINALLY… I got out on the road. It definitely wasn’t the ideal time to start driving on the other side of the road. Pissed and frustrated, tired and not having driven in a couple months. Add to that the fact that I was hungry and couldn’t really use my remaining cash for food. Still I made out ok and soon enough I was driving north along the coast heading north to Daintree and Cape Tribulation. I made a few stops along the way based on recommendations I’d gotten from people on the dive trip and at the hostel. It’s a beautiful rugged coastline and quickly my nerves calmed. I stopped in Port Douglas for a look around, definitely a pretty little town and probably where I’ll dive out of next time I come here. A little bit further north I got into Daintree National Park at Mossman Gorge where I did a nice little hike and went for a wade in the stream since most of the water I’ll come to later will be in croc danger land. I’d wanted to do a recommended river tour in Daintree village proper, but sadly that would have left me with $3 or so until I saw an ATM or my parents made my other payment for me. Instead I headed across the Daintree River on a cable ferry that took half of my cash and looked as if it should have been retired years previously. Everywhere you looked along the riverbank there were croc warning signs and crossing it I couldn’t help but think that it was a very stereotypically Aussie looking river, very much where you imagine crocodiles living.

The other side of the river marked Cape Tribulation, a remote rainforest preserve with a road that winds up and down the hills to the sea. It’s a gorgeous area full of noisy birds, cassowaries, crocs and other lizards, scary big spiders and snakes. I did a few long and short hikes. Having managed to catch my foot in a hatch on the dive ship I had a fresh wound that made walking not fun but the scenery was so beautiful that I couldn’t resist. On one of the botanical walks I actually saw a goanna, a long dragony looking lizard. He was keeping a wary eye on me as I wandered along the boardwalk but not running to hide. That walk definitely made me feel thankful for a boardwalk though as the entire place screamed crocs and snakes. Walking back I ran into a tour group coming the other way to hear their guide mentioning to keep an eye out for snakes that might be up sunning themselves. Just need to remember not to blindly step over any logs or rocks. After a few hikes I found a tiny gas store with an ATM and tried again since it was now midnight eastern back in Canada, sure enough I could take out a few hundred bucks. Eventually I reached the tip of the cape and my hostel for the night, the road does go further north to Cooktown and the big cape beyond, but the next 100km are all dirt and 4WD only. In fact the roads are frequently impassable as the bridges only clear the streams and rivers by about half a meter at times. I can’t actually remember but there may even be full stream crossings on that road if you head further north. This place is a gorgeous spot with a number of cabins/hostel dorms, a beachfront bistro and heavy rainforest canopy all around. It’s cheap and comes with a free hot breakfast so I happily settled in. I have to admit I wasn’t expecting much from the bistro, maybe a nice burger or sandwich and some chips. Instead I got a spicy pan-seared Spanish mackerel with herbed cous cous and a red pepper coulis. It was absolutely delicious, probably the best meal I’ve had in weeks and made up for a whole day surviving on 2 melting chocolate cookies. It wasn’t cheap (in fact not much less than my room for the night) but the alternative was a decent drive and not much cheaper so I just enjoyed it. Returning to my room after a quick trip to the beach (again needing to stay away from the water due to croc possibilities) meant a nice long shower and time to sit down and write all this stuff down. It’s been a few nights since I caught up on the blog. I won’t be posting it until at least tomorrow night however since there’s no internet here. It’s a great place to curl up on my porch and write as I listen to a vast array of birdcalls echoing through the rainforest.