Thursday, September 19, 2013

Cairns, Australia

I’m sitting in the Cairns airport in Queensland, Australia. It’s 1:25p, Friday, Sept. 20 – sometime at night on Thursday in the States. I’m waiting to board my flight that leaves for Sydney at 2:20p, where I’ll be visiting my sister and the city itself, for twice as long as I was here.

I landed on Monday. I filled each day with something different. Monday and Friday were half day’s – so we’ll just count the full days:

Day 1: Booked: Snorkel trip. Expectation: Snorkeling the beautiful Great Barrier Reef.

Outcome: I learned to scuba dive. Well, that was unexpected.

Upon checking in at 7am – each day was an early fucking start and after 35 hours of travel the day before and then learning that a global unlocked phone is a lie (fuck you, Telestial) left me losing 3 hours to confirm this and then getting an Aussie phone, but my body seemed to forego almost all jet lag and just be tired after early mornings and full day activities – a older, attractive gentleman popped up looking for pens and told me to hold on a moment and he’s show me the way to the boat. He was likely made more attractive by his accent. And good teeth. Plus, he showered me with compliments all the way down the pier, so fuck, compliment me, I’m not gonna complain non-creepy-non-old-man.

Old men at Safeway hitting on me; not cool. Well-traveled accented gentleman with good teeth; bring it on.

Well anyway, back to the story. We get on the boat 
after a blonde girl from the UK found me and the Diving Instructor on the pier and followed with us. She sat with me; filled out her form for diving. I didn’t think that was an option, I expressed to her, if we had never dove before. Apparently there was an intro dive we could do. It was $70. I was interested, mainly because she was my new friend who could take my photo underwater. But that became nnecessary soon because two guys sat down next to me at the table; one was wearing a Steelers hat. Instantly, we were friends.

Small fucking world.

Those boys could serve as my underwater photographer instead of UK, but my interest was already piqued with the diving because – as, with all things I do – it would make a better story. The diving instructor was giving his speech on diving and asked me, by name, at this point, why I wasn’t joining. When I expressed that I didn’t sign up to dive, he said I could sign up now – and besides I’d get to spend time with him. So, I went diving.

And then I panicked. They were so insistent that you DON’T HOLD YOUR BREATH that when I held my breath - because I was concentrating on blowing air bubbles out of my mask, as told by Instructor – still just learning and only a foot under water, I panicked and went back up. I was done. But the Diving Instructor gave me the good ol’ calm down and back under I went. The intro was over, did I want to spend the $70 to dive. Yes, I did, if only to conquer my fear. Did I mention I’m terrified of sharks? I wasn’t even thinking about that; I was focusing so much on not holding my breath.

When we got back I decided that was it; I was a horrible diver and it wasn’t for me. I went snorkeling and after that I ate about 90 pounds of pasta and couscous for lunch on the yacht. After lunch, the diving instructor convinced me to go again at the second location. I declined; that one panic was enough.

He said he’d hold my hand. In in my life of indecision is a decision, I put on my wetsuit and went diving again. This time I didn’t panic, but I’m still a really horrible diver. Even though, over dinner (I'll get to that in a moment), the Instructor told me I did just fine.

While heading back to Cairns the Instructor spent ample time with me. This was after he sent the other two girls we were diving with back up out of water and kept me down there to give me a hug. So if nothing else, I got a free wet suit rental, a scuba hug and a free cider out of the deal.

Side story: The free drink came when it appears I went on a date with the Instructor. He was trying to get in my pants. I was trying to get a story. Exiting the boat he asked me to meet him for drinks, I needed a shower and instead gave him my number. After a few texts back and forth, where he said I should come to his house and I said I didn't want to be murdered, he texted back something like: I want you to come here and get you naked and see what happens next. I replied that I was heading out for food and drinks and he could join if he wanted. After dinner, he texted that he really enjoyed my company and we should “catch up” again before I left – he followed up again, two days later, on Thursday (more on that in a moment).

Day 2: Booked: white water rafting.  Expectation: Rafting down a river; kangaroo bbq for lunch.
Outcome: I switched over to the “Extreme” white water rafting. I was asked when I boarded the bus at 6:45am (Seriously. I got up at 6am. Voluntarily.) they asked if I wanted to switch over to the extreme versus the regular rafting trip because it would even out the boats; as I was just a single. I declined and said I was a pansy. Then I began to look around and noticed that the people with the extreme wristbands were all of the non-asians.

“I know this is going to sound incredibly insensitive,” I said at the pub during bus transfer for the normal to the extreme trips to the guide who asked me to switch over two hours earlier when we got on the bus, “But am I the only non-asian on the not extreme trip? Because I hate Asian languages.” (Asians, not Asian Americans. Don’t judge me, I also don’t care for southern or Brooklyn accents. So it’s not racists, it just honest.) He laughed at me and said 90% of the trip was that; I switched to extreme.

When I got on the tiny extreme bus I found myself sitting by a group of white kids. We all began to chat. Each of us from a different country: Denmark, Switzerland, Germany, Canada and me. When they told us to split outselves into groups of five for rafting, Cananda said we should all just be a group. And so it was: Group nationally white kids. Our guide? Roy – a former member of the Australian rafting team. Six countries.

The day was brilliant. Filled with more adventure on a raft than I could have imagined. Thank god I don’t care for the sound of Asian languages! I got to cliff jump and flip over on a raft and go down a “drowning simulator” part of the river and “surf” for like 5 minutes. And then we had grilled dingo for lunch! Just kidding. We had hamburgers.

And on the bus ride back, Canada – and adorable little 21 year old gay – and I chatted while I drank my likely contraband Strongbow in the back of the bus. Later, we went to dinner and shared a local-grown Australia vegetable plate.  I now see how vegetarians get full. We left; made plans to meet up in Sydney when he heads back down next week.

I also made (tentative) plans to meet up with my row mate on my flight from DC to LAX. He’s from DC and lives in Sydney. We got drunk in our row – with a nicely placed empty seat between us (that never happens for me) and it seemed to me to be a good omen of things to come. He said he’s a good tour guide with cute, single friends. That sounds good to me.

Day 3: Booked: Fitzroy Island sea kayaking. Expectation: Sea kayaking; snorkeling; lunch on the beach – blanket and all.

Outcome: My latest wake-up call: 7am. Woo. We get on the ferry for a ride I didn’t even think about as being so beautiful. While waiting to move after boarding; I feel like a roasting chicken so – after eating my healthy breakfast of a hazelnut Snickers (that’s a thing!) that I got while buying a bag of rice to stick the half-dead “waterproof” camera in and a $3.50 Coke - I load on the sunscreen.  

45 minutes later, we arrive at Fitzroy Island. The small group of kayakers is told to head to Beach Hire at 10:30.  I kill 30 minutes by trying to figure out why a section of the surf is read and why no one else is convinced Jaws killed a swimmer that morning and no one noticed they were missing yet. The beach is made of old, broken coral; it feels like glass beneath your feet and I would later be bemused by the other patrons of the island walking on hot coals of broken glass and while enjoying a Strowbow at the bar at day’s end with the most amazing Happy Hour location of my life. Content is an understatement.

We leave around 10:45 and I’m with the girl who is training; it’s her first day and she’ just moved to Cairns hoping to be offered a full time job with the kayaking company.  I’m a bit jealous; the jobs of these people: Amazing. Fuck offices, I say.

I take a small pack with me because that stupid underwater camera is only half working. And I want photos. Thank god. The photos I got were amazing. Because, as part of the continuing unexpected surprises these adventures kept seeming to offer: Once to the small island adjacent to Fitzroy, aptly named “Little Fitz”, we pulled up our kayaks on the beach, and scaled the rocks of the island to get the view from the top.

Awesome. JUST FUCKING AWESOME. We head back down, grab our snorkel gear out of our kayaks and pop into the water to look at some fish and some reefs and pretend we became convinced over the last few days that sharks don’t exist.

An Asian falls down. She’s alright. We paddle back to Big Fitz (they don’t really call it that). We’re told we can keep our snorkel gear for an hour. I head over to the beach  - hobbling my way through the broken coral and discovering if you step on the larger pieces it doesn’t hurt so much. I look like I’m playing a really fucked up drunk game of hopscotch.

I put on my flippers and back into the water. It’s a bit merky – I’d gotten used to crystal clear, damn spoiled, I tell you – and my goggles are fogging. I spend about 15 minutes in the water until I can’t convince myself that I can see a shark if it’s coming anymore. I head back out and up to a path called
the “Secret Garden”. I walk through rainforest; I’m the only one there. I can hear every skink and lizard andbird in the forest. It’s both eerie and amazing. I get back tot eh bottom and head over to the bar; the appreciate of the proximity of which is not lost on me. I have a cider here – UTTERLY FUCKING CONTENT...

and then go back to boat. And the boat heads back to Cairns.

 Prior to leaving for Fitz that morning, the diving instructor had texted earlier in the day that he’d like to see me again before I leave. I told him I’d be back around five; he said he’d see me later. Around seven I started to feel some sort of guilt and texted “was I suppose to text you”. He suggested we meet up and I – trying to avoid all the awkward sexual tension – said I was going to head out in town a bit, grab dinner and drinks and if he headed into town, to come and find me. I gave him a (what I thought was) clever (but probably wasn't) out, but I think it was mostly miscommunication. He declined and said it was great to meet me; I later realized maybe he took “find” literally and not in the sense of “text me” that I meant. Just as well. I got what I wanted anyway: A night alone in Cairns, wherein I saw a fire show, walked through the lagoon, had awesome mahi-mahi and a glass of white, did a little late night shopping, perused the club scene and decided I wasn’t missing much, then headed back to the hostel and passed out; exhausted, yet again.

Day 4/4.5 /5: The next morning I had to check out. My body, at this point used to getting up really early, woke me up at 6:30. I declined to acquiesce.  I went back to sleep until 8:30 and then headed up to the front desk to book my airport shuttle and grab some free pancakes. The hostel offered them every morning from 8am till 9:30a and that was the first morning I wasn’t gone before the free pancakes. Weird.

Ninety minutes later I was showered and checked out of my room, re-organizing my hastily re-packed bags in the hostel’s pool/social area. A bit later I head to the airport on my shuttle. And a bit after that I’m off to Sydney – having enjoyed one of the best and most perfect week’s of my life.

Before losing WiFi again, I post: i've had 3 full days (and 2 half days) here. i snorkeled in 3 locations, learned to dive and dove in 2. i had a date... (random). i had lunch on a boat, on an island, and the banks of a river. i was flipped over in the raft, went down a "drowning simulator" on the tully, cliff jumped, white water rafted, made friends, sea kayaked, rock climbed (like a 5.2. ha.) laid on the beach, climbed a gumboot, hiked through a rainforest, had a strongbow in the most extraordinary HH place, drank delicious aussie wine, explored the city and had dinners alone and with people i made along he way. and each day the weather and elements have been perfect - including today, which makes it hard to leave. but damn, that was fun. i look forward to what sydney holds... — feeling free in Cairns, Queensland, Australia.

What a way to check something off of the single person’s bucket list: Solo International Travel: Check! 

Next up: Sydney...


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