(...or "The Dissonance of My Own Self-Involved Culture...We're Awful!!!")
09.07.2017 - 11.07.2017 28 °C
Have you seen the movie "Somewhere in Time"? It's an old 80s romance flick starring Christopher Reeve that I saw as a kid - and the only reason I can think of why I saw it is that Superman was in it - but it stuck with me for some reason. Not to ruin it if you haven't, but the premise is that Reeve sees an old photo from the early part of the century and falls helplessly in love with a woman in the portrait. He somehow wills himself back in time to meet this woman and win her over. Just as everything is falling into place something happens - he ends up seeing a penny that is dated from his time, and this snaps him completely out of the time travel back to his old life. He tries and tries to return to the past but fails, and eventually dies of a broken heart.
Now that you're a bit bummed...what's my point exactly?
I'm standing at the counter of the Hann River Roadhouse - well over six hundred kilometres back down the peninsula from where I started at Loyalty Beach the previous morning - ordering a coffee to take-away. I greet the young girl working the counter and she hesitates for just a second before asking me where I'm from. I answer Vancouver, and return the question, and she replies Indiana. It's probably my imagination but she sounds almost disappointed that I'm not a fellow American.
She is the first North American I've heard since I stepped off the plane in Sydney almost six weeks ago. Her accent reminds me that North America exists, something I have gleefully ignored (save for the phone calls home, of course). And I realize that I only have six nights left in Oz. The end of the long journey is now painfully close.
In the warm tropical air of the previous morning, as the sun rose somewhere hidden behind the lush forest and hills to the east, I said goodbye to Loyalty Beach and to Cape York.
Soundtrack: On Fire Again by Mankind is Obsolete...and Christopher Titus.
I spent the day making my way back down the bypass roads and the PDR. I decided to just drive as far as I could, keeping with my tendency to bank time like money: hoarding it in case I really need it, and then blowing all the left-over in one place at the end.
The only interesting thing was stopping to grab pics of the termite mounds across the street from Bramwell Roadhouse that towered over twice the height of a standard 4wd truck.
As evening started its approach over 600 kilometres later - a respectable drive for the day - I consulted my handy camping app called WikiCamps, a fantastic little app that shows campsites ranging from resorts all the way to tiny little bush camps all over Australia, to find not much near by. I had passed the Musgrave Roadhouse a while back, and the only options the app showed within a reasonable distance were a bush camp/rest area beside a river and the Hann River Roadhouse a bit further past that.
I briefly took a look into the bush camp to find a fairly open area next to a dry river bed, and no one around. I felt the tug to just stop there for the night but something convinced me that perhaps the roadhouse would be a better choice. So, I hesitantly continued on.
The thirty kilometres before I pulled into the Hann River Roadhouse parking lot provided me a painful twenty minutes of hopeless indecision. All the comforts of a roadhouse versus an unattractive but private bush camp. The roadhouse was reasonably populated - several people sitting around having drinks and meals, and the very modest (read: bland) campground was already littered with campers. I sat in my truck for a while torturing myself for the decision, because this would very likely be my final chance for a bush camp. I sat there long enough that if anyone noticed me they probably would be wondering what the hell I was doing. After a good long think I follow my gut and pulled back out and drove the thirty kilometres back to the bush camp - unfortunately killing a bird when it failed to fly away from the middle of the road in time.
I settled in right up beside the river bed in the soft sand for the evening. As I was prepping to make dinner I was munching on a bag of stale potato chips, the sound of which summoned a bird that flew up to a branch near me and barked out something that sounded quite demanding. I tell him or her (as if he understands, or even cares) that the chips aren't good for it. Of course, they aren't good for me either.
Soundtrack: On Nights Like Tonight by Matthew Good.
The full moon returned, and entire cycle having passed since I started up the Connie Sue Highway. I sat around what was probably my last campfire and desecrated several of my favourite songs on the guitar. Not once since arriving at this camp the second time did I have a moment of regret. There is nothing quite like camping by yourself in the middle of no where...well, there was the odd traffic along the PDR a few hundred metres away to remind me I was not in the middle of a desert, but it was good enough for me.
The next morning as I was gathering breakfast, the bird came back. S/he perched above my site and once again started chirping at me. I assumed it was still sore I didn't share my chips. As I was rummaging around in my fridge I saw through the open rear doors that the bird had landed on my table, and had the plastic cap from my water jug in its beak. It stared at me indignantly, shat on the table, and flew away.
I wasn't sure what it planned on doing with the plastic cap, but I'm sure it considered this a win.
During the entire breakfast, this feathered beast wouldn't leave me alone. It tried to sneak behind me as I ate to get into the truck, and at one point had a buddy try to distract me. Bloody smart, these little pricks. As I ate my last bite of toast, it hollered at me one last time and finally flew away.
I guess jerks come in all shapes and sizes.
Soundtrack: Pieces by Claire Voyant, followed by Jim Jeffries.
Half an hour later I'm pushing the lid down on my take-away instant coffee as I walk back to the truck, still weirded out by the young American working in a roadhouse in back-country Queensland. And as it turns out, that was really just the beginning.
As I continue south the land begin shift away from the Outback; the creeks and rivers I cross are still running, the road winds over numerous hills...
The sight of mountains more than a few hundred metres high catches me off guard; despite the absurdity in the suggestion that a mountain could sneak up on you, I still didn't expect them once they were right in front of me. They make the land seem foreign, the least Australian of all the places I've been (another absurd thought).
At the south end of the PDR I turn east towards the coast, making my way through a remarkable pass past the "Black Mountain".
I follow the highway to Cooktown and explore the town for a short time, finding my way to the top of the tall hill the town wraps itself around, for some spectacular 360-degree views.
After getting as much out of Cooktown as one will get in the space of an hour, I head back down the highway and turn down the Bloomfield road towards the Daintree Rainforest, stopping at the classic Lion's Den Hotel for lunch.
The Bloomfield Road, although paved, is extremely narrow and very winding, snaking its way through dense forest and vibrant meadows. It makes for moderately paced but thoroughly enjoyable travel.
Just past the town of Bloomfield is where I had planned on diverting to my final real 4wd adventure, an infamous road known as the CREB Track that branches to the west and then south straight through the heart of the Daintree. Due to the density of the jungle the route cuts through, after any amount of rain the road surface - primarily a soft red clay that twists up and down across steep valleys - takes weeks to dry out because of the lack of direct sun. It is common for the road to be closed for long lengths of time until months after the wet season ends, and even then, there are no guarantees. Suffice to say, the road is closed, and I will not be tackling this one.
I suppose I need to leave *something* on the table.
Instead I continue along the Bloomfield Road that becomes known as the Bloomfield Track as it traverses the eastern coastal route through the Daintree. As it were this track is no walk in the park either: even though many of the areas where the otherwise gravel track climbs across the hillside and down through gullies and creek beds are lined with concrete slabs, these inclines are insanely steep and single lane with no warning of on-coming traffic until you are locking eyes with the driver. After one hair-pin turn that takes me a bit by surprise I concentrate on keeping under 30 kilometres an hour, and find myself engaging 4wd just to get a firm hold on the steep sections at that speed.
The road eventually crosses a wide creek and turns into a normal paved highway as I enter the small village of Cape Tribulation in the heart of the Daintree coast. It is early afternoon but this is my stop tonight, a certain magic engulfing the dense wet jungle and post-card beaches craving to be unearthed.
I start my tour at the beach that stretches north-west of Cape Tribulation, and find a tropical paradise lacking any of the over-sold ambiance of a typical sandy getaway; it very much looks and feels like a national park.
It is here in the parking lot I overhear a father lecturing his young son on the dangers of wading into the waters here, repeating numerous times the warnings on the sign perched at the point where the trail empties out onto the sand about the possible presence of saltwater crocodiles in the area. There is something hectic and certain in his rather loud tirade, bordering on a contextual paranoia. I realize, it is the same tone of voice you hear when you say "Australia" and the other person says "Australia??? Isn't everything there trying to kill you?"
Of course, they' re North American. Jeez...is this what we sound like?
I chuckle under my breath as I return to the truck, but at the same time I'm quite irritated. Irrationally, to be sure, but irritated nonetheless.
Like Goldilocks it takes me three attempts to find a camp ground just right: the first one that I had found through my WikiCamps app - a beautiful rustic resort right on the beach with a restaurant and bar and a pool - had a waiting list...for the overflow lot. The second, a very poorly-rated camp ground and lodge right in town had plenty of space, looked semi-decent from the outside, and was cheap...but had a catch in the form of the most peculiar liquor policy in that I had to hand over all my alcohol for safe storage until I check out. No, this was not some Aboriginal dry-community law, it had something to do with a very restrictive liquor permit that only allowed the property to serve alcohol - that they sold - in their own bar. I get as far as filling in my name before I put the pen down and leave...really on principle alone.
The third choice turns out to be just right - in that they have space, no dumb rules, and give me a discount for mentioning that I found them on WikiCamps. When I told the girl I had just left the place across the road due to the weird liquor thing, she rolled her eyes - the awful experience I would have been in for at that place, at least according to her (and many reviews on WikiCamps), only began with that rule.
I head back across the road in the last hours of the afternoon to walk along the beach and wade a short way into the warm water - I'm not particularly concerned about any crocodiles sneaking up on me in 6 centimetres of water from a sandy beach that stretches away in both directions.
It is still quite warm, and very humid; already a couple of short rain showers have passed over the area. They felt less like rain and more like the clouds were sweating off the excess water they picked up on their way towards the mountains. None of them lasted more than a minute.
The following morning after packing up I'm standing at a cafe waiting for a breakfast sandwich when several people begin gathering around outside the campground reception, which is also a tour booking office...the many wetsuits in the crowd revealing this to be some kind of reef snorkel and/or diving tour. This is where I think I learn a very valuable lesson.
You can spot him a mile away: he comes padding through the crowd, with his miserable-looking family in tow (I mean to say, they looked miserable) over to the cafe order counter. I'll forgive the flip-flops (which I maintain are not real footwear and shouldn't be worn outside of a bathroom or pool deck - evah!) because we are in a very warm rainforest. A short man, mid-aged like me, with his wetsuit cresting his ample pot-belly and stopping at his exposed hideously overgrown bear-rug of a chest. His open light-pink button-up t-shirt hangs off of him screaming "where's the cruise-ship buffet?" beneath his equally hairy face...trimmed beard and moustache complimented with aviator sunglasses and protected by...a *sunvisor*.
I don't even have to hear a single word from his mouth to know...but since I don't have my sandwich yet, I'm forced to anyway.
His loud North American "hi there!" as he reaches the counter is followed by a request for a "...long...white...", the order drawn out as if to make the point that he is being forced to mentally translate on the fly from "Starbucks" to "Rest of World" when ordering coffee. Before the young Aussie dude behind the counter - who I swear must have been stifling some kind of snicker or at least a sideways grin - can confirm the order, the man proceeds to ask if a "...long...black..." would be faster. Because remember, to a North American, everything is about fast/quick/instant. Inside, I die a little hearing this.
As he's ordering he asks the young man's name, probably to be friendly but to me it sounds more like he makes a habit of cataloging names in case he ever has to complain to a higher-up.
I finally get my sandwich, and I rush away as if there were a chance I could be grouped in with this guy and others like him.
I make a connection...a very important one. The entire time this guy was engaging with the Aussie guy, his tone, his approach, his attitude...seemed to suggest that he truly believed himself to be something special here. As if someone from North America is in some way an exotic visitor in Oz, worthy of intrigue and discussion and some dubiously earned recognition for having traveled so far - meaning out of his own country - to grace a foreign land with his presence.
I don't mean to pick on this guy - though he makes it pretty easy to do - because I think we all do this. I know I have for sure somehow had it at one point in my head that people from other countries might find it neat to meet someone from Canada (somehow forgetting the fact my natural social skills leave a lot of room for improvement). I think back to my first trip - how I had such a hard time figuring out how to navigate the minute little differences in customs and habits - and didn't really meet a lot of people. Fast-forward to two trips later, and I've figured out that being a Canadian in Australia is far from being anything out of the ordinary...and you know what? I've had the time of my life.
North Americans have a bit of a reputation for being some of the worst tourists in the world. I'm beginning to really understand why.
I'm still cringing as I pull out of the campground, the crowd crossing the highway with this guy sticking out of the tour group like a bright pink car-wreck. I'm being pretty obnoxious myself getting this annoyed over something that is absolutely none of my business - and I'm probably just grouchy that my trip of a lifetime is approaching the end of *its* lifetime - but I still find myself muttering under my breath when, as I'm starting down the highway, a car pulls up to the side of the road and a young man jumps out sporting a pair of shiny American flag swimmers. I curse the invasion of North Americans into my vacation as I drive away, not noticing I'm driving down the right side of the road.
Soundtrack: Eventide by Claire Voyant...and Ron White. Because at this point, why not listen to an American redneck comedian?
The trip from Cape Tribulation to the greater Cairns area is not far but I have no problems finding ways to make it last the entire day. I start with a leisurely walk along one of the Daintree's boardwalk nature trails, learning all kinds of fascinating things about the rainforest's swamp lands and mangroves.
Some interesting facts: one type of mangrove spreads its seeds when its fruit explodes with a very noticeable "pop!", several of which I hear as I walk the path. Another type has only a 6% chance of germination...unless the seed passes through the digestive system of a cassowary...at which point there is then a 94% chance of germination (for those who don't know, a cassowary is a medium-sized flightless bird similar to mashing up an ostrich, and peacock, and a turkey; they are native to this area, endangered, and can be quite aggressive and even dangerous if threatened). The seedlings of another type of mangrove grow off the surface of the parent tree, and when they are ready they detach into the high tide and float away until finding a suitable place to root. Very cool.
Further up the road I spend more time pulling off at breathtaking beaches...
...across the Daintree River ferry...
...and around lunch when I'm within twenty minutes of Cairns I decide to venture up towards Kuranda - the small town where the gentleman I met at Well 33 on the Canning Stock Route said he found his circular travel digeridoo. I spotted it on the map a few nights previously, and it's only 15 kilometres out of my way. What I don't notice from the map is that it is 15 kilometres straight up a mountainside to the far east end of the Atherton Tablelands. Suffice to say, there are some nice views along the road.
I pull into Kuranada to find a tourist-centric town consisting of a small handful of cafes scattered amongst the numerous trinket, clothing, souvenir, Aboriginal Art, and other various incarnations of gift shops.
I wander the town, investigating primarily the Aboriginal stores. Several specialize in digeridoos, but none of them seem to have this small conical version I seek. Suffice to say I doubt I'll get a full-sized digeridoo in my suitcase without sawing it in half first.
I find a large open market in the centre of town...
...and it's here I find my digeridoo. It isn't cheap, but I spring for it anyway.
After lunch, I make the trek back down the hill and head towards a caravan park near Cairns - the Lake Placid Tourist Park - and upon checking in ask is there is a car wash nearby. There is...and so my beast goes from this:
As I'm cleaning out the truck I befriend my neighbours - a couple from South Australia, Werner and Maryanne if memory serves correct (it probably doesn't). Absolutely wonderful folk who I spend the evening chatting with; they even invite me to dinner. Despite the fact I'm not in a nice remote campground somewhere in the Outback, I couldn't have asked for a nicer last night of camping in Australia.
Tomorrow I drop off my truck and enter the final stretch of this unforgettable journey. The road trip will be at an end, but there are still a few things left to do and discover here in my beloved Australia. But those are things for another day; tonight, right now, this moment, I'm stretching out in my rooftop tent in my 4wd camper truck under a diorama of stars and full moon. Right now, only this moment is important...it's the only moment that matters.
Goodnight everyone - from just outside Cairns, Queensland.