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Published: January 24th 2016
The tour bus picked us up at 9am and Bridget our aboriginal guide introduced us to the others on the tour, one young American couple and Philip who was creating a short advertising video and that was it! Luckily for us, peak season is over and so are the crowds.
We make our way to the Daintree rainforest which is the oldest rainforest in the world and a World Heritage National park. It is so old that the Amazon rainforest is a mere baby by comparison. Something like 140 million years old compared to the Amazon which is about 7 million years old. Yet it was only 3 years ago that some control was put in place to protect the forest from the ever increasing visitors who were potentially risking the ecological balance and future of this botanical time capsule. The star attraction is the Mossman gorge with water filtered for thousands of years and providing the world second purest water in the world, second only to some place in Canada. Most visitors will of course taste the water but in the main they come to swim in the gorge.
We are taken into the forest by another aboriginal
guide and are greeted with a traditional smoking ceremony. Apparently this is a ceremony of spiritual cleansing, to ward of evil spirits and to ensure that when we are on the traditional the land of Kuku Yalanji people we are accepted and honoured.
We are then taken through the forest where we are shown how the forest provided bush food, medicines, paint, signposts and sacred religious places. We are also shown the dangers of plants that can literally paralyse you and stinging nettles that have been known to drive people to suicide because of the excruciating pain that drives them insane.
We stop for Daintree tea which has a smoky flavour and scones with butter and Jam - the only thing missing was the Devonshire cream - not sure how this fits into the cultural story but nonetheless they were delicious.
As it happens 'Uncle Roy' was passing through. We find out that he is one of the elders of these indigenous people and is the man behind the recent creation of the visitor centre that controls the crowds of visitors. Uncle Roy started giving guided walks back in 1987 but he said that 'he had a dream' which
was said in such away that it reminded me of Martin Luther King. Uncle Roy's dream was to think harder about how to strengthen and make tourism bigger for his community. At the time many aboriginals could not find work in the modern world and he had a vision to create jobs and opportunities for the next generation of his people. He managed to secure something like a £20 million pound loan to create the visitor centre, stopped the hoards of unregulated vehicles and people exploring 'off track', put on shuttle buses, marked out clearly defined tracks and increased the capacity for guided tours to share their story and experience their culture and environment while at the same time protecting the heritage of this fantastic forest. The loan was intended to be repaid over 12 years but just 3 years in, it is on course to repay it within just 6 years. Thereafter the profits of tourism will help to secure the future of this rainforest and provide a trust for educating future generations of aboriginal people. In his words, education first and work second - work smart not hard.
This is a huge shift from his young days
when aboriginals were not allowed to talk to the 'white men'. Today the visitor centre represents a spirit of reconciliation and Uncle Roy sees this as a way of keeping their culture alive and 'walking together as one'.
We feel really privileged to have met such a significant and influential elder and I even feel quite emotional - he really is history in the making.
We take the customary dip in the clear blue waters and head for lunch.
After lunch we are taken to Cooya beach and are met by Brandon again another aboriginal who shows us traditional fishing techniques and takes us off to explore mudflats and mangroves to hunt for crabs, mussels and other bush tucker. This is mosquito city so we all spray ourselves with mosquito repellant and make our way to the beach where Brandon had put out some nets just half hour earlier. Already the nets are full of barramundi, some black tipped baby sharks and we soon find out, catfish. Brandon is cutting the fish free of the net and saving them for a community funeral to be held this week. He will also cook one for us later. It is
closed season for Barramundi but that doesn't apply to indigenous people who have historical rights to this land.
We paddle into the sea to watch Brandon release the fish from the net and watch the prawns jumping everywhere. We are told that this is the best time of the year for prawn harvest and the fish also chase them so the stock of supplies in the sea are plentiful. I keep squealing because not do they only jump out of the water, they jump in the water and I can feel them jumping at my legs. We are also in bare feet and I want to get back to the beach for my reef shoes even if Melissa does think that they are 'just so uncool' and Martin tells me that I don't need them. I just about get out of the water and I hear a scream and find that the American guy has stood on a catfish and his toe is bleeding.
Brandon gets out and pulls some vine from the shrubs and asks for hot water. Apparently the vine is an antiseptic and the wound needs to be clean. Bridget comes to help so we
leave them to it and we get to work harvesting the prawns. I decide to stay on shore with the bucket and help 'spot' the translucent prawns in the net as it is pulled out while Melissa, Martin, Brandan's Mum and brother throw the prawns in the bucket. It doesn't stop the prawns jumping so I am sent off to get some shrub leaves to cover the bucket to stop them jumping out.
We collect enough for lunch and as the tide goes out we set off down the beach looking for mud crabs. Unfortunately, Bridget has had to take the American and his girlfriend to the local hospital and has my reef shoes in the van so I have to go bare footed. We walk for what seems like miles and I look around and realise that not only are we the only people on the beach, Martin, Melissa and I are now the only ones on this tour with the exception of Phil the cameraman. This is truly spectacular and Phil has promised us our own USB with the filming and photos - how lucky do we feel.
The hunt for mud crabs on the mud
flats has limited success, in fact Martin manages to find the only one and we enter the mangroves to find, periwinkles, mussels and clams. Before I know it I am digging out mussels sinking into the mud and the mossies are having me for dinner. How the hell did I get here I ask? My friend Karen had recommended a dinner show provided by the aboriginal people called 'Flames of the Forest' where they not only cook you a 7 course dinner but put on a traditional entertainment and some how I have been persuaded to hunt for our own dinner! Martin laughs that he never thought he'd see me covered in mud let alone in Mangroves whipping myself with a plant to fend off the mossies. God only knows what else was in there and I start to fear for crocodiles. Brandon tells us that crocodiles don't like the mangroves because they have soft bellies and they don't like crawling over all of the branches. Apparently we were more at risk on the beach from salt water crocs! Now he tells us!
Bridget returns and I am glad to get off the beach altogether and to wash off
all of the mud and to smother myself in after bite cream. Melissa's back too is full of bites and between us we make a right pair. But at least Brandon's Mum has put a barramundi in the oven and we are invited into her kitchen to watch Brandon cook up the other bush tucker and prawns in chillies and garlic. When it is all done, we tuck in with home made 'damper' which is a bread almost with the consistency of a scone. Never ever I have had seafood so fresh and it is delicious.
We thank Brandon and his family for their hospitality and make our way home. First stop is the hospital to pick up the American, it turns out that he has two barbs left in is foot. They hope the body will push the barbs out naturally but potentially he may need surgery to remove them! Selfishly I think how glad I am that it wasn't any of us but I was later to find out that I didn't escape the perils of the threats around us.
Despite everything it really has been one of our best experience days and we make plans
to meet up with Phil in Cairns later in the week to collect our USB stick and head indoors exhausted, planning an early night for another full day tomorrow. I am bothered by my bites though so we go out again to get some antihistamine to supplement the steroid cream that I already had. Dosed and creamed up I fell asleep quite early and woke to hear the TV still on. Martin was still up but I can't open my eye properly - I have developed allergic reaction to the mosquito bites!
More photos below.
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