I’m back in Cairns after a quick and quiet trip to Cape Tribulation. Cape Tribulation was named by Captain Cook after he ran his ship the Endeavour aground here on the Great Barrier Reef. There are also, named by Cook, Mount Sorrow and Weary Bay. He then moved on to name some other less well-known sights such as Cheesed Off Cove, Not Again Bay and Why Does This Keep Happening To Me River.
Cape Tribulation is host to a mix of environments all meeting by the coast – tropical rainforest, mangrove swamp, reef, and backpacker hostel. I stayed in (inclusive in my tour price) PK’s Jungle Village, a fun budget backpacker place, as someone has probably described it in a brochure. It provided all of the necessary elements of a backpacker’s place, namely pool, beer, carvery dinners big enough to floor a rhino, and the same fifteen songs that play in every other hostel. These songs include anything by Jack Johnson, Joan Jett singing “I love Rock and Roll”, and “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd. I really do like Jack Johnson, but the swine is on everywhere here.
Cape Tribulation was beautiful, but activities were thin on the ground unless you forked out another couple of hundred dollars to go sea kayaking or jungle surfing, whatever the hell that is. The highlight of Cape Tribulation was not the German tourists with the rude stares at the beach, funnily enough, but a boardwalk through a section of rainforest and mangrove behind Myall Beach. I was up and out early enough that I was the only one on the path, and stopped several times to admire the foliage, look for frogs, and jump out of my skin every time I thought a cassowary was about to jump me.
Dorm sleeping is a mixed bag – in my very limited experience of dorms so far, I’ve found good chats with friendly dorm mates combined with irritating and even disturbing noises in the dead of night. At PK’s, the room was all kept awake for a short while by one fellow who was suffering from a simultaneous fit of coughing and farting while he was awake, and snoring while he was asleep. First thing in the morning, the alarm call of choice is the rustling plastic bag. I shouldn’t complain too much about the dorm at PK’s – in the dorm I stayed my first night in Cairns, one of the three other lads in the room came in during the night with a woman, and the room was then treated to a combination of slurping and choice quotes such as “but everyone’s in the room!” and “why don’t we go in the showers?”. Drunk people don’t seem to realise that their whispering has all the subtlety of a herd of stampeding rhinos.
Having returned to Cairns, I’m staying at Bohemia Resort, a pleasant, clean, newish place miles out of town with all the atmosphere of an aircraft hanger full of young Conservatives on valium, in my own private dorm to avoid slurping and plastic bag-related disturbances. Back in Cambodia, an Aussie fellow I met described Cairns as a ‘nothing little town’, and I can see what he means – there isn’t much here after you’ve had a meal, a fruit smoothie, a sunbathe and a cold stubbie, and it’s a hell of an anticlimax after hearing the name of the town over so many years as being a backpacker mecca of some sort. I’m happy here for forty-eight hours but any longer and I’d be climbing the walls. A walk around town earlier today took me to the Esplanade, a place where the grass is carpeted by bodies, skinny and fat, white, yellow and brown, all toasting themselves in the sun. They have to do this around a giant shallow lagoon-style swimming pool built behind the actual beach, as when the tide is out, there is a mile of mud between the sand and the sea, making it a bit like sunbathing at the side of the Orwell Estuary.
Sunbathing as an art form is intriguing to me. I’ve got a suntanned face and arms from wearing short sleeves, but the rest of me is still standard pasty English white, with the exception of the tanned chevrons on my feet from wearing sandals. I never quite seem to get my act together to working on a tan, but the guys down at the Esplanade are obviously putting in a lot of effort. People apply suncream and then cook one side before turning over to cook the other – I haven’t actually heard any timers going off to prompt this, I assume it happens when you start feeling just crispy enough. I’m also not sure if it’s necessary to prod anyone’s thigh with a fork and see if the juices run clear. The irony of all this is that these people, predominantly Westerners, are all trying to achieve the perfect bronze (shoe-leather) tan, while all over Asia, women cover themselves from head to foot in the sun and bleach their skin to achieve the white skin that is in fashion there. Westerners want to be brown as they think it makes them look healthier and maybe more prosperous, Asians want to be white as they don’t want to look like they work on a farm.
I’ve also noticed a worrying trend amongst older married couples – that being the complete illiteracy of one member of the couple. The evidence I’ve seen for this is that they wander past shops and restaurants, and then stop to read a sign or menu. Rather than both reading the sign or menu in silence however, one of them has to read the whole thing out aloud to the other. I’ve noticed this before at home, so it seems to be a worrying international phenomenon.