We arrived in Cairns, Australia, after 44 hours of not altogether pleasant travel (Guatemala City, Dallas, Los Angeles -whoops, delay-, Brisbane - whoops, missed plane - Cairns - WHEW). But, as I kept reminding myself, it was FREE travel so I dare not complain!
The first few days were all about getting over jet lag, which, when you think about it, isn’t so bad because you’re only 3 hours off home time, plus one day. The one day makes no difference, so we were quite happy not to feel so dragged down by jet lag.
Culture shock, however, was another thing. We had some funny language problems (Lucas kept saying “Si” whenever anyone asked him a question) and of course those Ozzies speak such funny English. We were quite happy to be taking a break from Spanish, and I enjoyed the notion that we were not so immediately recognizable by sight as foreigners, even thought that, too, melted away as soon as we opened our Yankee mouths.
The other culture shock was in the crazy prices. Not only was it quite a shock coming from our simple Guatemalan prices, but even compared to the States the prices were
Trautmans swimming in the Reef
Lucas, Grace, Sonja and Steve in our first 5 minutes in the water. As Lucas, Grace and Sonja show, it's hard to smile with snorkelwear on.
just crazy. It doesn’t help that our dollar has devalued over 30% in the last year here, so a really basic lunch would easily cost us more than $50, and it was usually a crappy lunch, to boot. Add to that the prices of the major attractions (snorkeling, nature parks, Aboriginal attractions) and we were really forking out the dough. We saw a bunch of young, college-age backpackers and I can’t imagine how they were getting along. Our friends the HAndersons, who are spending the year hear and with whom we (later) travelled have also found this to be a huge shock.
We had booked a little condo in Cairns, and spent the first 2 days walking around town, getting our plans for the Great Barrier Reef lined up, and swimming in the marvelous salt-water pool in our condo place. (Downtown Cairns also has a fantastic park/pool complex right in the center of town and on the waterfront. We chose not to walk there in our swimming togs, but for anyone with young kids, this place would be a must). I have made it a goal to swim more, and swam more in a few days in Cairns than I have in the past year.
Cairns is the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, so we booked a boat out to the Reef and early one morning set off with a company called Reef Magic. Aside from a brief swim in Florida during last year’s Spring Break, this was Grace’s first really big encounter with snorkeling, and what a way to do it! We rode out to sea for about an hour and then docked up to a large, well-equipped pontoon, where they gave us our snorkeling gear and, if we wanted them, short wetsuits or stingersuits. (Stingers are the very toxic box jellyfish which can be a real danger starting in November) The kids and I got the wetsuits, as they are also a little buoyant, and Steve got the stingersuit to protect him from the sun. Thus, in the photos, Steve is the guy who looks like he jumped in the water with red long-johns.
The weather was perfect, the place was not so crowded, and the water was like swimming in the world’s largest aquarium, with all the colorful fish. To our great surprise and delight, we enjoyed looking at the corals every bit as much as the animals - there are hard corals like the brain coral, which run as big as a fridge and take a year to grow a centimeter, or plate corals in a bazillion colors; there are soft corals which undulate with the water and hide fish like the clownfish, straight out of “Finding Nemo.” We forked out some extra $$ to boat and then swim out to another, “special” spot where a naturalist pointed out some of the cooler things, like one of those HUGE clams that literally snap shut when you put your finger in it (which is exactly what Steve did), and a lovely, huge, TURTLE! It was such a range of beauty - shapes, life and colors - that it was at times overwhelming, and I had to swim up and just look at the horizon to reset my visual palate.
After our day there, we all agreed that not only would this be one of the great highlights of this trip, it was almost certainly one of the great highlights of our lives!
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