Wednesday, November 11, 2009

crystal cascades and the game of life

First off, I need to thank my seven loyal followers. Though small in number, rest assured that you all have great taste. I hope you all keep tuning in. Also, I was psyched to hear about the Colby football team taking down Bates and Tufts. Wish I could have seen it.

I’m creeping up on a month in Cairns now and I’m starting to feel the itch to move on. Cairns is fun but it’s getting old. It’s the same scene at every club, every night. Not much variety. It’s tough to argue with a steady paycheck but I’m beginning to feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. And there’s only so many times you can run into Ned Ryerson. I figure I’ll spend a couple more weeks here, buy a used car and steer south.

I posted my first batch of photos on facebook yesterday. Not my best effort but there’s a few good ones. The three spots in the album are Port Douglas, Crystal Cascades, and Ochre Beach (where I spend the night with some friends). Port Douglas is a day-trip tourist spot that offers streetside shops, cafes, and a nice beach. Not much there, but a pleasant way to spend an afternoon if you’re looking to take a walk or lie on a beach. Crystal Cascades was much more interesting.

It felt like I was walking through a cross between a rainforest and a New England stream with water holes and small falls. Five of us walked up stream on a paved path, passing several swimming pools and falls until we came to the final waterfall. It looked like a small gorge, with two steep rock faces on either side of a narrow but deep pool of water. Towards the end of the pool were two waterfalls that fed the entire stream. There were some good sized fish in there too. Made me wish I brought my fly rod.

The main attraction in Crystal Cascades, apart from a scenic overlook, is cliff jumping. On either side of the gorge there were places to jump at varying height intervals. Luckily, there was a group of local teenagers who showed me the spots that were safe, and of course, the highest one.

It was on the opposite side of the pool, and I had to climb a rope in order to scramble up the first few meters of rocks. At the end of the rope, I had to navigate the rest of the way on my own. It took me at least five minutes to get up to my spot, and that was the first time I looked down. It wasn’t comforting. I really couldn’t tell you how high it was, but the scene from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid came to mind. But I couldn’t walk away from it at that point. Besides, climbing down was a hell of a lot more dangerous than jumping. I took a small rock out of my pocket because the local kids told me that it was best to break the surface of the water before jumping. This was probably for the best, because when jumping from that kind of height, and without much room for error, the hardest part is forcing yourself to actually jump. Once you throw the rock, within a few seconds you have to jump. So I dropped the rock, and followed it down to the water. It was worth it.

I swam back to my group and got a few high fives. I was sure to lift my leg when high-fiving. This was one of the rules of the “Game of Life”. One of the reasons I like spending time with people from different countries is being introduced to their kinds of nonsensical games, contests, and different ways to have fun. These people were from the UK, and recently introduced me to the game of Life. As a participant in the game, you may never use the word “mine” and upon giving or receiving a high-five you must lift a leg. Failure to do so on either account results in ten push-ups, to be completed immediately. Of course, you understand, as I previously wrote the word which shall not be spoken, I did not actually speak it, so I am exempt from said push-ups.

Ten push-ups really isn’t a hefty penalty, but it’s more the shame of having to complete them while your friends look on and make fun of you. It goes without saying that it’s best to catch your friends off guard in very public and therefore humiliating places. I’ve seen push-ups done in supermarkets, nightclubs, and sidewalks. I was determined to never be caught. I resolved to be on guard at all times. This game feasts on the dim-witted and the abent-minded. I knew I would be OK.

On the walk back to our car, one of my friends was carrying my camera because he had been taking some pictures of me on the rock ledge. He examined the camera and said, “Hey this is a pretty nice camera, whose is it anyway?”

Ten push-ups later, I discovered the game of Life sneaks up on you.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

straying from the goulash

I’ve been in Cairns two and a half weeks and I don’t feel like I’ve been in Australia yet. Cairns is such a tourist/backpacker hotspot that it struggles for a sense of Australian identity. It reminds me of Cancun a bit, just on a smaller scale. During the day everyone walks downtown and shops, eats, and sunbathes on the esplanade. At night the young crowd (which is pretty much everyone) flocks to the four main nightclubs that offer dancing on tables, stages, and poles until five in the morning.

Backpackers keep the city running during the day as well. All the businesses rely on tourism. Everyone walking around during the day has a backpack and a water bottle. You’re likely to meet someone from every part of the world if you stay here long enough. And the population constantly turns over since the average visit is about a week. Cairns is an ethnic goulash, stirred regularly.

While there is a staggering amount of diversity, the majority of people here are Asian. Seriously, there are Asians everywhere. Mostly Japanese. All the signs in town are translated in Japanese. Most of the streetside eateries offer Japanese food. As you walk around town, the noise of passing traffic is dulled by the constant sound of snapping cameras. They are also the only people in town, and perhaps the continent, that wear pants everywhere. I find this admirable, yet puzzling, since the climate here compares well with the inside of a Hot Pocket. It’s really an amazing display of discipline. I’ve concluded that either shorts are frowned upon in Japan, or they just do not pack well.

My favorite day of the trip by far was this past weekend when I went camping on a beach up near Port Douglas with a few friends. I suppose you could call it camping. There was only one two-person tent between ten of us. We also forgot lighter fluid for our barbeque. Planning was not one of our strengths. To start a fire we used a combination of rubbing alcohol and torn pieces of a towel that had been shoved into the gas tank of our rental car. If you’re not going to plan well, you have to be adaptable.

We spent a good portion of the day rounding up the essentials. Chicken kabobs, steak tips, hot dogs, sausages, and of course, kangaroo steak. Some beer as well. I opted for goon though. Goon is slang for a bag of wine. In Australia, it’s the cheapest alcohol you can buy. I have no idea why they call it goon. It could be because after you drink one, you act like one. There is actually a law in Queensland that you can’t buy goon before 4pm. I’ve been told it’s in an effort to keep the alcoholics sober and docile during the day.

While there was still light we played cricket, soccer, and swam. I got the hang of cricket OK, but after kicking around a soccer ball with a bunch of Europeans I definitely felt like I must have some sort of foot-related disability. When it got dark we cooked our food. Our barbeque consisted of a metal grate balanced on two logs across our fire pit. It was the best food I’d tasted since I’ve been here. Especially the kangaroo steak. It was a bit like elk meat. Kind of chewy and gamey. I hope to someday see a kangaroo in its entirety.

We sat around the fire talking for most of the night. At some point, for no other reason than feeling hot, dry and drunk, we went for a midnight swim. It ended up being a clear night, and it was the first time I had laid down and seen the entire Australian starscape. Most of us slept right on the sand, although by that point we didn’t really care. Maybe acting like a goon isn’t all bad.