Wednesday, October 12, 2011



Again, we were amazed by the sparkling airport, as well as the friendliness of the Aussies as we alighted from our plane in Cairns. You could have eaten off the airport floor tiles. High-end stores from all over the world, gourmet restaurants and gleaming lavatories. Wow! We looked like a couple of country bumpkins just let off the farm. Of course, every turn we had to stop and ask someone where the hell we were. The roads, the buses, the trains! The whole place, city, airport and train stations were like Grand Central Station, and we were two nuts from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” And everything is downhill. My aching knee!

We had a pleasant shuttle ride from the airport to the hotel. Clean streets, with a moderate amount of traffic. The hotel was The Pacific International; A 4-star, by the looks of it. Bright, gleaming lobby with friendly smiles all around. Porters eager to assist with our luggage, and the biggie here was we were told "No Tipping." Can you belive it? I felt guilty every time I signed for room service, or the coffee bar. A couple times I did add a tip. Can't teach an old dog new tricks, as they say.

The first thing we saw from our over-sized window was an enormous casino across the street from the hotel. I'm sure it's the largest one in the world, but then I haven't seen them all--yet. It looked like some sort of Sports Arena for the Lakers. I made a mental note to take my money there for a visit before we left town. Our room was lovely, spacious and bright. We tested the beds like Goldilocks, and deemed them "..,just perfect." We dropped our luggage and then had the daunting task of emptying our suitcases and restructuring the mess inside. We needed cooler clothes. We’d just left Brisbane, which was in the low 70s, and were headed into the rain forest the next day, which would be in the 80s, and humid.

After the clothes mess and the late hour, we were too tired to go out and ordered room service. As food is higher than our national debt, we decided to split a hamburger, fries and a dessert. We expected something on a tray, but when it was delivered, there stood a gentleman with a huge collapsible table, and one little hamburger in the center. Quite embarrassing. Anyway, he struggled and got the table inside. We sat in our jammies, with the table crammed between the queen beds and pretended it was the most elegant meal we’d ever had. We sipped our water as if it was the finest wine and sent our compliments to the chef.

The next morning, our shuttle took us to the train station for a ride up to see the Rain Forest. The train was circa 1920s, with pictures of days gone by everywhere. The ride to the top was a tad nerve-wracking, at least for me. Ginger loves speed and death-defying rides, so she smiled while I turned a shade of Dolce & Gabanna green. The train stopped along the route (way too close to the edge of the mountain) for picture-taking, while I stayed put on my seat and tried to envision green, flat golf courses. I took a peek out the window once, and was startled to see that the track itself was lying on ground that looked like one good rain would take it downhill. Help! More “S” curves and then we reached the top. Incredible! There seemed to be hundreds of different colored trees, different sizes, and different varieties, all reaching for the sky. At least four shades of greens and velvety browns. At the top we caught the Sky Rail, (or should I say Ginger caught it and dragged me along with her). The view looking down was unbelievable! At some points we couldn’t even see the ground below for miles, it was so dense.

While at the top, we were given ample time to stroll through a myriad of tourist shops, ice cream and bakeries. Our tour included a delightful complementary buffet that we promptly inhaled. The waitress asked if we’d like coffee or tea, and we both ordered iced tea. We chatted with two couples at our table during the meal, and then proceeded outside for the Aboriginal interpretative dance and talk. Halfway down the walkway, a very panicked waitress came running towards us, waiving a piece of paper in the air. “You forgot to pay for your iced tea,” she wheezed. We'd both assumed the drinks came with the buffet, and told her so. She was not happy. “Madam, coffee and tea were offered with your buffet, not Iced Tea.” Well, another $30 made its way into the AU economy, but we were not ugly Americans about it. We waited until she was out of earshot to bitch about “…the nerve….”


We took the sky tram back down to visit a small little zoo, where sweet little Koala bears napped in the trees. I was a bit disappointed in the Kangaroos; all they wanted to do was scratch and stare. I’ve yet to see one up and hopping about, which is a bummer. However, we were offered a picture of a hopping kangaroo for $50, which we declined. We walked for what seemed like miles, weaving our way back to the bottom of the hill. Ginger detoured a bit when she met a bushman along the way. She has all the luck!

That night, to reward ourselves for all the walking we’d done and the strain on my poor knee and back, we visited the casino. Wow! Again! Amazing. It had to be the largest casino I’d ever been in, and spotless. I wondered why I didn’t smell any smoke as we entered, and then found out why. They said there was a smoking area outside! Do you believe it? In other words, no smoking anywhere in the casino. I was amazed. There were tables and chairs for just sitting and lounging right in the middle of the gambling areas. So thoughtful! We decided to have a snack there, but the devil made us order sweets; I had a very modest-sized muffin, while Ginger took what little money we had left and had a piece of carrot cake the size of a slot machine. Such pigs! We donated about $20 and decided we’d leave.

Tomorrow we’re off to see the Great Barrier Reef.

In the morning a shuttle delivered us to the jetty where we boarded a monstrous catamaran to take us to the Great Barrier Reef. The cat ride took one and a half hours to arrive at the reef; the view was glorious and the azure water was breathtaking. They tied up the Cat to a floating barge, which held all the snorkeling and SCUBA diving gear, all the food, along with tables and sun chairs.

We signed up for the snorkeling, but elected to have a thirty-minute massage before going into the water. The masseuse expertly rubbed out all our old age aches and pains, and we felt young again as we donned our masks and snorkels. We then joined a group of young fantastic-looking males (I think they were extras for a new weight-building contest). Well, now that I think of it more clearly, there were about six old ladies, hanging on our rubber raft. Ginger floated lazily and happily. I struggled to keep afloat with a porcine octogenarian who had to prove to her grandson that she could snorkel, while she held tight to my arm, and kept falling against me, grabbing me, and kicking me in the groin. I thought I was going to drown. She held on tight, dragging me under with her. I finally gave her a kick in the groin and snorkeled off. Okay, I didn’t really do that (but thought about it). I helped her get her gear on right, taught her the sniff and blow technique, and then pushed her under.

A beautiful blue fish, about three-and-a-half feet long, floated up to us as we snorkeled. Evidently, this fish has been entertaining swimmers for some years. Everyone reached out to pet him, which he seemed to enjoy. His body had the feel of velet. I can’t imagine how my skin would feel after years in the water. When I finally emerged, I was freezing. I asked around for a towel and was told that most people had brought their own, but they did sell them at the main desk. I assumed it would be 5 or 10 dollars for a beach-size towel, but was given a small bath-size towel and charged $20. It’s grey, it’s short, it’s ugly, has no embroidery claiming that “I snorkeled with the sharks” on it, but damn’it, twenty dollars is twenty dollars. I’m bringing that towel back home with me.

They set out a beautiful buffet on the barge, and offered cocktails and sweets. We laid out in the sun, then back to the coast. We were in bed by 7 p.m., ready for our next exciting trip: Sydney.

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