29 August 2009

Surrounded by Green!

Friday, 21 August 2009

We were to be picked up for our tour of the Daintree Rainforest at 7:10 AM, and you’ll be shocked to know I was on time.  Of course, Doris, our driver, was early, and she had even gotten a couple of free shots!  While she was waiting for us, a bloke appeared on the balcony of his room stark naked (or nekkid, as we say in the South!) TWICE, and Doris said she was so glad that he wasn’t who she was picking up!  But the day was off to a fantastic start, as we learned we were getting a private tour!  How lucky can we be?  Oh, and the weather was – you guessed it – PERFECT!  So off we went in our Land Rover, ready for another great adventure.

We were riding north up the Captain Cook Highway, past field after field of sugar cane being harvested.  Each field has a narrow gauge railway that runs next to it, because once the cane has been cut, it must get to the processor in 16 hours.  Doris told us that once the practice was to burn the undergrowth to make harvesting easier (got rid of the rodents and snakes that might be lurking there), but now it is harvested by machine and not burned.  We did see a good number of controlled burns of countryside (not cane fields) but I’m not really sure why…

We passed a field of wallabies, and then we made our first stop at Rex Lookout.  They were doing a controlled burn on the hillside south of us, which is the one we just passed, so it was interesting to see if from another perspective.  It was early enough that the sunlight on the Pacific was just beautiful, and the smoke in the air was like adding an overlay to a digital page!  Doris pointed out several osprey nests up on the telephone lines and she was thrilled to have someone who wanted her to stop for photos in her car.  We got some great shots of a mama osprey guarding the chick in her nest.

We came to a small town surrounded by some tree-covered hills.  Doris pointed out some rock outcroppings and/or absence of trees on a couple of them – one was supposed to look like a figure of a shepherd with his crook and a sheep at his feet, but it was hard to make that out; however, in the photo I took, it’s a bit clearer.  See what you think…  We stopped there at a rest area covered in a detailed mural of the rain forest, and there was even a huge sculpture in the play area.  The rest stop was just across the street from a tiny little stone church with a sign out front that said “Historic Church Open”, so I walked over to have a look while Rex and Doris chilled.  What a surprise was waiting for me!  This church had three of the most exquisite stained glass windows I’ve ever seen, and they all had a good shepherd theme.  Behind the altar was an intricate mosaic – it was the sweetest little Anglican church and I was glad I peeked in.

A few more kilometers down the road, Doris pulled off at a small beach.  I couldn’t resist sticking my toes in – no surprise that I got about 3 inches of my pants wet.  Soon we were at our first rainforest stop, and shortly after that we stopped across from the orange elephants (a bed & breakfast) for morning tea.  Doris carefully unpacked tea and biscuits (and coffee – we had to laugh – we Americans don’t drink coffee and she didn’t like tea!) and we took our mugs and cookies and walked through the jungle down to the ocean.  Daintree is the only rain forest in the world that goes all the way to an ocean, and it’s the only place that two world heritage listed areas, the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef, meet.  I got some great photos down there – everything is so lush and green that it was hard to stop snapping!  I loved watching the little crabs tossing out perfect spheres of sand and making cool patterns with them.

Back on the track, we crossed a one-lane wooden bridge and found ourselves at Cape Tribulation, where we headed deeper in the forest.  Doris was an excellent guide and teacher, pointing out strangler figs, red bark trees, stinging trees (the leaves are covered with glassy hairs that will not only cause immediate pain upon brushing against them, but they will keep hurting off and on for upwards of a year!), and the cutest little katydid-like baby called a peppermint stick, due to the smell it can produce.  We saw mushrooms and lichens, basket ferns high up in palm trees, beautiful butterflies, and then we even ate some green ants whose abdomens tasted like lemon!

As we continued on deeper into the rain forest, we saw a tree that had been completely overtaken by strangler figs, and it looked suspiciously like a photo I had seen in Shelley’s album!  Next we learned about a plant called the “wait a while” or the “lawyer plant” because it was covered with short, sharp needles that would grab your clothing and not let go for a while!  There were orchids growing high up in the tall, tall palm trees, and soon we were in the midst of a mangrove swamp.  It’s really amazing how plants and animals adapt to their surroundings to survive and thrive – we humans could take some lessons from them and bloom where we are planted!  We saw the berries of the porcelain plant and an itty-bitty spider clinging to the side of the boardwalk.  The boardwalks throughout Daintree are made of recycled plastics – we’ve noticed Australians are much ‘greener’ than we Americans – everyone carries reusable bags to the shops (any kind of shop, grocery or otherwise), there aren’t many ‘take-away’ restaurants, and, as mentioned numerous times before, no place to get a Big Gulp or a Sonic Route 74!  We have seen very little litter and not much smoking, either.  Good on you, Aussies!

Amongst the mangroves, we saw lots of little crabs like we saw in the mud flats of Cairn, and Doris pointed out a cannonball palm tree, very aptly named!  We were seeing lots of the buttressed roots on trees, many more orchids and basket ferns, mangrove knees, beautiful vines with heart-shaped leaves climbing up tree trunks, and a pretty little jungle gardenia (I think it had another name, but I can’t remember it now!)  Soon we were back in the sunlight, out from under the lush green canopy that had been shading us.

It was nearing lunch time, and Doris had promised us an ice cream treat if we were good.  Yep, ice cream before lunch – my kind of woman!  So we pulled into a little fruit orchard that was also home to a homemade ice cream shop.  They used whatever fruits were ripe to make several kinds of ice creams – we got lucky today as there were seven different flavors!  Normally, they make four flavors and you take what you get.  Today I got wattle bean (tasted like cappuccino), sweetsop, raspberry, and pineapple, and Rex got soursop, chocolate pudding fruit (looked and tasted like chocolate), wattle bean, and one other flavor (maybe custard apple) that neither of us can remember now – that means he must not have given me a bite of it! 

We were back-tracking now, going past the pink boobs (there is a retaining wall along the road made with big round rocks, and random ones have been painted pink) and taking the cable ferry back across the river to the Daintree Tea House.  Doris had already called in our orders of roo steak, so our places were set and our meals ready when we arrived.  We sat out on a lovely semi-sheltered terrace where we were served a delicious rare kangaroo steak, chips, a green salad, a roll, juice, water, and the most delectable array of fresh tropical fruits.  As we ate, one of the proprietors came out and gave a presentation about all of the fruits we were eating.  We had soursop, passion fruit, dragon fruit, orange, red grapefruit, taro chips, pineapple, papaya, and chocolate pudding fruit.  Everything was so tasty!  Even our ice cream didn’t stop us from cleaning our plates!

Our next stop was for a ride on the river with Captain Lex, which is short for Lex.  He was a character!  Doris even rode with us, because she said Lex was her favorite river guide.  Our hopes were to see some crocs out in the wild, and we hadn’t been on the boat for five minutes before we came upon a large female gaping on the beach.  That means she was sitting there with her mouth wide open (looked like a stuffed croc when we first saw her) which is a means of temperature regulation.  We saw lots of birds, including a great blue heron, some beautifully colored tropical birds, and a kingfisher.  Rounding a bend, we passed two Brahmin cows who had come down for a drink, and then we passed another boat whose captain told Lex about another croc downriver.  We found that one hiding in the bulrushes, next to an empty rowboat.  Hmmm….  We maneuvered in amongst some mangroves to catch sight of a pair of tawny frogmouths (a bird that is not an owl but sort of looks like one).  What a rare treat!  We headed back for the dock and passed another cow with a bird upon its back – turns out this particular species of bird has a symbiotic relationship with the cows and it eats all of the insects that but the cow.  It was a funny sight!  We saw an ibis, which look cool to me but they are as pesky to most Australians as crows and pigeons are to us.  All too soon our river adventure was over and we were back in the car, headed for Mossman Gorge.

After a short walk down the trail, we came out at a swimming (sort of) area that reminded me of places along the Little Pigeon River in the Smokies.  It was very rocky and the water was rushing down a little sluice that made a great place to sort of body surf.  A little dangerous, which makes it even more fun!  We didn’t get to hop in, but I had fun thinking about it!  There were a lot of people cooling off in this Garden of Eden-like place.  It was just gorgeous!  We wandered down the trail, stopping at several more overlooks, all with completely different views of the river below.  Once we left there, we were seriously on the way back to Cairns.

We stopped again at Rex Lookout – still pretty, and still smoky – and then just sat back and enjoyed the quiet ride home.  I’m sure I dozed – moving car, after a good meal, not driving, in the sunshine – and Doris let us off at the Best Western.  It had been a wonderful day!  After going through photos and getting packed up for our train ride to Proserpine and Airlie Beach, we were ready for some dinner but not wanting to walk too far.  The first place we found was a Balinese restaurant called bayleaf, so in we went.

Since neither of us had ever had Balinese food before, we ordered this special dinner that we thought consisted of an appetizer, a soup, a main course, rice, and dessert.  Wrong!  We got two appetizers, shrimp chips with salsa and sate & sambal kacang (six small satays – two beef, two lamb, and two pork); a fragrant and delicate chicken and sweet potato soup; a huge platter of mains –hasil laut bumbu kuning (assorted seafood braised in coconut), be celeng base manis (pork in sweet soy sauce), pesan be pasih (grilled fish), tum bebek (steamed minced duck parcels in banana leaves), be siap base kalas (Balinese chicken curry), kambing mekuah (Balinese lamb stew with cardamon), be sampi mebase bali (braised beef in coconut milk), and pickled vegetables - one dish was kind of like cole slaw and one was cukes, onions, and peppers, all served with as much steamed Jasmine rice as we could eat; and then they brought out the dessert platter – dadar (coconut pancakes with condiments), buah (fresh tropical fruits), godoh (fried banana fritters with palm sugar), and something sort of like banana bread.  It probably goes without saying that by now we were STUFFED!!  I was just glad they would be weighing our luggage on the train and not US!  Without a wheelbarrow and someone to push it to get us home, we staggered along, really glad we had not walked far.  We tumbled into bed, packed and ready for our day-long train ride on Saturday.

It’s been a tropical day - Bali Hai!


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