Friday June 19
So here I am in a cabin surrounded on all sides by rainforest aka Daintree Rainforest & National Park which is a World Heritage Site and part of Cape Tribulation (so named by Captain Cook because of his troubles navigating the reef there). No TV, no internet, no modern distractions except the ones I brought with me.
I arrived by bus around noon after a scenic drive up the Queensland coast from Cairns. The landscape alternated between rocky beaches, rugged mountains and tall, ripe fields of sugarcane. The journey also included a short ferry across croc-infested waters (actually almost all the water up here is full of "snapping handbags" as our driver/guide calls them) and a short walk through a small patch of roadside rainforest complete with tea, coffee and restrooms. I'm at a self-proclaimed "resort" called Ferntree in a 5 person dorm room but there are a few other lodging options in the area. These are the last traces of civilization before you head off into the great green yonder, preferably with 4WD.
This place lived up to its name at least at first because I had a few tribulations myself when I checked in. The girls at the desk immediately tried to upsell me on a bunch of overpriced excursions from horseback riding to snorkeling to zip lining but I declined as I think just having the opportunity to stay in a 100 million old rainforest is enough. Next they gave me a key and a map - one of those old-fashioned, rare, genuine paper maps no less - and directed me to room 55. When I walked in, I discovered that all five beds looked occupied so I dropped my rucksack and trekked back to the office to inform them that I was not planning to sleep on the floor. So they moved me next door to cabin 54, which pleased me to see that it was empty upon my arrival so I had my choice of bunk. I chose one right next to the window and made up my new sleeping spot with the linens provided. I did find it necessary to switch blankets with another bunk because the color scheme of mine was just tacky and visually awkward and I don't want to accidentally absorb some bad design vibes via osmosis while I sleep.
After settling in it was time to find food, which should have been the nearby Cassowary Cafe which was open noon - 2:30 according to my archaic paper map. However when I got there, the lights were off, doors were locked and chairs stacked upside down on top of the tables inside. I can't be 100% certain but I'm pretty sure they were closed.
Luckily a friendly middle-aged Aussie approached me saying that I looked lost. I said I was starving and my map lied to me and he confirmed that the cafe was only open for breakfast and dinner and had also changed its name to Off the Grid Cafe a few weeks ago. He asked "which of the great 50 states" I was from and I asked him to guess. He supposed California. I corrected him then we chatted for a bit. He was impressed that I was staying for 3 days because apparently most people just spend a single day and night here to cross it off their list. He directed me to walk through the forest to find food at a few other cafes and lodges nearby.
After enjoying a roasted veggie wrap at the nearby Turtle Rock Cafe, I ended up at the community swimming hole (the safer alternative to the croc-inhabited oceans) with some new friends from Sweden & the Netherlands. I wasn't prepared at all for swimming but I was feeling spontaneous so I went anyways. We walked down the road at least a few kilometers then past a petrol station, across a field, through a small patch of tangled trees before we finally laid eyes upon the crystal clear creek. A handful of kids in their 20s were already congregated in the area, taking turns splashing into the deeper part via the raggedy old rope swing that hung from an even older tree limb. I took off my Birkenstocks and walked barefoot over the smooth yet perilously placed stones scattered across the creek bed. My mind wandered and I thought maybe some cultures might consider this some kind of natural, deep-tissue foot massage.
A few hours later we headed back to our respective lodges and when I re-entered my cabin around 4:30, I found two women asleep on two of the other bunks. One was snoring and one had stinky feet. Or maybe the sounds and smells were emanating from the same one - I don't know and I'm not investigating any further to find out.
The cafe with an identity crisis that had thwarted me earlier was open for dinner around 6 so I went and was the only one out of a handful of customers that chose to sit outside. I ordered a glass of Chardonnay seeing as my top three wines (Rose, White Zin, Moscato) were unavailable and a Rege's Veges pizza with a circumference bigger than my head. It was very tasty and piled high with a veritable garden of veggies like pumpkin, spinach, tomato, onion and mushroom. The cheesy glue that held everything together was a blend of feta and mozzarella. I could only make it through 3/8 slices so I took the rest back to the fridge in my lodge for safekeeping. I got two more meals out of it the following day for lunch and dinner, which helps justify the $20 price tag.
I fully intended on meeting up with my new friends again at their place PK's down the road and walked a few hundred meters before my imagination and fear took over. Once the lights from Ferntree had completely faded behind a paved hill, and now it was just me and stars and woods for what seemed like infinity, I panicked. Just my tiny flashlight and I were surely no match for whatever I was sure was lurking in these foreign woods. I was probably close to halfway to my destination but instead of walking, or more likely running, the rest of the way, I turned and walked briskly back to my cabin. Face palm. As I begrudgingly changed into my pajamas, I noticed my right leg now bears the marks of a battle zone with a record 10 bruises and three leech bites. The left leg by comparison has only two bruises and a small scrape on the knee.
And then, just as the Brazilians (I discovered they were mother/daughter) and I were all in our beds about to go to sleep around 9 PM, we heard the clicking sound of key-in-lock as someone was attempting to open our door. In walked two guys in their twenties and I knew immediately by their accents that they were American. They said hello and immediately invited me and the Brazilian girl to join them for a beach party down the road. And they had a car. Now I had no excuse. I agonized over the decision for a moment then drug myself out of bed and to the bathroom to redo everything I had just undone. I was ready in about 5 minutes and John, Brian and I headed out to the parking lot to their car. Turns out they are finishing up a semester abroad in Sydney and took a side trip to Cape Trib during finals week. We drove a few kilometers north then parked on the side of the dirt road amongst several other cars. We walked down a steep grade in the dark and followed the sounds of music towards the party. There was a live band and a small bar where I ordered a bottle of cider. We followed the younger crowd out to the beach where we found a bonfire and sat around it chatting for a while. Long after I finished my drink, I was starting to get really tired and around 11 PM suggested we go back to Ferntree. They agreed since they needed to drive back to Cairns early and catch a flight back down South.
Saturday June 20
I fell asleep pretty quickly but found it difficult to wake up the next morning. The Brazilians slept in too, which reinforced my decision to do so. By the time I was pretty much ready to go and the rain had let up enough, it was close to noon.
I enjoyed some amazing walks through both the Dibuji and the Kulki rainforests of the Daintree National Park. They were both walking distance from Ferntree with Dijubi just down the hill and Kulki about 2 km north. There was tons of forest to explore and the greenery gradually transitions onto the beach and the beach becomes the Great Barrier Reef. I saw more kinds of plants than I can count and some pretty weird sand formations on the beach that are apparently made by crabs.
The sun was going down by the time I finished Kulki but thankfully I ran into a cute, young Aussie couple that offered to give me a ride back to Ferntree. I had some serious Thoreau moments in the woods and wrote down almost everything I was thinking. I was walking pretty much nonstop from noon til sundown which was close to 6 PM since it is winter here at the moment. I did a few sketches in my moleskine and took tons of footage.
Once back at the lodge, I noticed I had the place all to myself as no one else had checked in while I was gone. I rested physically and mentally just for a bit before rolling out my mat on the front porch and doing about an hour and a half of yoga. Thanks to the humidity, I got good & sweaty & was ready for a nice hot shower but there was none to be found. It wasn't an ice cold shower but it was definitely below room temperature so I cleaned myself very quickly. I played with my gadgets and listened to the few songs I had on iTunes for a bit before I burrowed into bed.
Sunday June 21
It was absolutely pouring rain this morning so I took my time getting up and packing. I had to check out of the room at 10 and my bus wouldn't arrive until 12 so I had a couple hours to kill. I walked down to a nearby cafe and had a muffin the was most likely devoid of any nutrition and an overly processed peach tea. One thing I do like about this place is the abundance of recycling receptacles - everywhere recycles here! By the time I finished my "meal" the sky levy had broken again. I waited as long as I could but it didn't let up so I had to walk back to Ferntree in the downpour. I wrapped my rain jacket around my backpack to keep it and all the gadgets inside dry and my umbrella was enough to keep me from getting soaked. So glad I did my exploring yesterday when it was relatively dry!
I was the last to load the bus and had to take the only remaining seat up front to the left of the driver, which was fine. I never caught his name, but I'm going to name him Mr. Morbid because every story he told us during our return trip to Cairns involved death, dismemberment or despair. Seriously, there was the one about the American couple that was left out on a reef by their tour, never to be seen nor heard from again (presumed to be eaten by sharks), the one about a boy being attacked by a bull shark a few weeks ago, people that died during a heatwave a few years back, a plane crash that happened in the mountains decades ago and was not discovered until the 90's and then my personal favorite, the one about sugarcane farmers putting dynamite in trees full of cockatoos to blow them to keep their crops from becoming bird food. He looked at least part aboriginal and told us several of the old legends that had been passed down to him, most of which involved kidnapping young women, untimely deaths and lost souls forsaken to forever wander the Earth. So, yeah. It was a very interesting trip back.
Our bus stopped a few places along the way back, in between grisly stories, of course. At the Daintree Ice Cream Company which makes exotically flavored ice cream from the fruit that they farm. Today's flavors were Mango, Passionfruit, Jackfruit & Wattleseed, all of which were yummy because my sweet tooth doesn't discriminate.
I wasn't terribly impressed with our next two stops, which entailed a short boat ride down the Daintree River and a pit stop at the Mossman Gorge. We saw exactly one snake, one and a half crocs (one was a just a foot long juvenile) and one frog on the "cruise". After seeing so many gators and other wildlife every time I've ventured out to the Everglades, the cruise was pretty lackluster. And the mangroves our guide kept gushing about just aren't exotic to me after living in Florida for so long. Later, we had less than an hour at the gorge, which had a bunch of natural elements I already saw on other tours: rainforest, river and a bunch of rocks - although the suspension bridge was pretty cool and reminded me of Costa Rica.
I arrived back at Calypso later that evening and was beyond grateful to have a hot shower that night.