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19 July 2008

holiday, part II : no sea too deep (cairns, australia)

so, to recap... it's sunday, 29-june-2008, and jules and i have just flown from sydney in new south wales, australia to cairns, queensland, in the northeast of australia. we cabbed over to the holiday inn - cairns on the coral sea. we unpacked in uninteresting fashion and decided to find dinner. the front desk told us about a nice restaurant appropriately named dundee's. he gave us directions to the general vicinity. it seemed he knew where it was, but the directions he gave us sent us too far south. after seeing the boardwalk end, we decided to walk north on the boardwalk where we found the restaurant. it's open air, they have a live flutist, and they have stereotypical australian meat on their menu. that's what we were looking for. we ordered the australian sampler which included kangaroo kebabs, emu sausage, a crocodile steak, and barramundi (fish) fillet. the kangaroo was nice though a bit tough, i think it had a strange marinade on it that took away from the natural taste. the emu sausage had a really weird texture, while the croc steak, surprisingly to me, a white meat, was excellent. the barramundi was really good too. i could handle eating australian meat. just as dinner was ending, it started to rain a bit, and we were sitting right at the edge of the roof, so jules initiated a move to a table away from the roof edge. after dinner, we tried to find the dock that we were going to set off from the next morning but couldn't recall the designation. we went back to the hotel, bought a bottle of wine for the trip, and packed for our two-day sailing/diving trip.

we woke up monday, showered and made our way to finger 'D' of the marlin marina, just about 10 minutes from our hotel. we had to be there at 7:45AM for an 8:00AM departure. at finger 'D', we met our skipper/host, ThePaul, crewmate and dive instructor, TheLisa, and crewmate and cook, TheBec. the boat we were to spend the next two days on is called the vagabond. we also met the three other people we'd be sharing this trip with, a french family, TheFrenchDad, TheFrenchMom, and TheFrenchSon. the boat can take up to 11 passengers. i was glad it was a bit small like this though. we could easily make our way around the boat and organize our water excursions without much hassle. jules and i were lucky enough to get the double bed at the aft of the boat, and TheFrenchFamily slept in one of the front bedrooms. as soon as we stepped onto the boat, ThePaul showed us where to stow our backpacks and told us to "get your flip-flops off, you're on holiday". we went through the safety precautions, how to flush to toilet, shower, etc. he made it very clear, we were here to have as much fun as we wanted at our own pace.

as we motored out into the coral sea (not enough wind to sail out), ThePaul reviewed safety procedures, day-to-day functions, and a brief synopsis of our next two days. it was about 3.5 hours out to, i believe it was called, thetford reef. there we anchored and prepared for our initial water fun. jules was the only certified diver, the rest of us were rookies if never having dove at all. in this case, TheLisa usually goes with the certified diver while the rest snorkel around. we were at a "bombora" named mystery. mystery is a heart-shaped bit of coral rising about 20 meters up from the bottom of the ocean just to the top of the water. that link says it's in hardy reef, so i might be wrong as to where we were. i snorkeled around with TheFrenchFmaily while jules and TheLisa dove down deep around the interesting formation. i was actually a bit intimidated by how absolutely huge this thing was. from the boat, it looks like a big flat heart, you wouldn't think it it be more than a few feet down, but dunking my head underwater, it looks like a humongous behemoth of a thing wait to attack me. at least, that's what i thought. after the initial trepidation wore off, i went all around taking in the sites. i was actually the first one in the water of all of us, and the last one out. after we all got out, it was lunch time. i believe was had some sort of fajita for lunch, flatbread, meat, tomatoes, lettuce, condiments. it was a nice light lunch on the deck of the boat under the australian sun.

after lunch, we moved on to another dive site, and this was where ALL got the chance to scuba if we wanted. i was apprehensive, of course; i mean, it isn't natural to breathe underwater. TheFrenchDad and TheFrenchSon went with TheLisa first. before you get to go under you have to show two things, that you can put the regulator back in underwater in case it comes out, and that if you get water in your mask, you can blow it out without drowning. TheFrenchDad had a small problem with the idea of breathing underwater. he came up (from just a few inches under) gasping on a few occasions. i think this is a natural reaction. after a few tries, he calmed down a bit and was able to continue. after about, i think, 20 minutes they both come up with TheLisa. now it was my turn. ThePaul helped get me suited up, which you can tell from the picture, is not in the least bit flattering to a fatman. then we got my tank set, and we strapped on my weight belt. jules and i were going to go together, and TheFrenchSon came along as well since wanted to go again as soon as he was back on deck. TheLisa jumps in first for us rookies, to make sure we don't do something stupid. i went in first then everyone else. as soon as i hit the water, my weight belt slipped. apparently, i'm not shaped very well for weight belts. i wore it as a normal belt, and having no ass to speak of, it just slipped mid-thigh, as i tried to pull it up and get TheLisa's help in fixing it. she came over and we got it back up, about mid-belly, everything seemed well, then as i kicked towards the front of the boat, down it goes again. at the front of the boat, holding on to the mooring line, TheLisa and jules help me get it all the way up around my chest. this way it can't get further down past my gut, BUT now it's restricting me, so i can't take a full breath. i have no luck. i found a happy medium by adjusting in minute increments the tightness of the belt, and soon we were ready for the "tests". i passed fairly well, only initially freaking out while taking my first breath underwater. diving, though unnatural, is quite interesting. the one thing i found about snorkeling that i like better (in this area only, i suppose) is that you can hear better snorkeling. during the first snorkel, you could actually hear the parrot fish (complete with actual hard "beaks") clicking their beaks against the coral for food. when you are diving, all you hear is the bubbles gurgling out of your regulator which is, in itself, a bit relaxing. we could get really close to the coral, enough so, that we could "swat" at these things found on giant sea clams that look like purple christmas trees, and when they felt the water move, they sucked back into themselves. pretty cool. since neither i nor TheFrenchSon are certified, we weren't allowed to go deeper than 12m. we stayed under about 20 minutes or so, seeing a lot of cool things (definitely getting an underwater camera next time). TheBecs cooked chili for dinner, after which we all put on the long-sleeve shirts and sat on the deck of the boat, having a few drinks and talking under the stars. they pointed out to us the "southern cross", a very distinctive constellation, only visible in the southern hemisphere. i've never seen so many stars in my life as on that boat that night. there isn't TONS of light pollution where i live but enough to obscure a decent amount of the dimmer stars. you could truly see the milky way. sitting there with jules, talking with our new friends blanketed by the billion-year old light of an unfathomable number of stars... it doesn't get much better. TheLisa told stories about her backpacking days, ThePaul and TheLisa recommended a good masseuse in cairns and tried to convince me to try it (i'm still unsure about it). i also invited them all the crash at our place in egypt if they were ever in the area. i'm guessing it was about midnight or so when we all retired to our cabins, ending a fabulous day.

the next day, we woke a bit later than we meant to. we wanted to get up around 7AM to snorkel over to "clam city" to see a grouping of huge sea clams near the reef edge. we woke up around 8:30AM, and ThePaul reminded us that we had to leave for cairns around 1:00PM so anything we had to do, we had to get done before that. we quickly donned our wetsuits (it's a bit chilly in the morning water) and jumped in quickly to check out the clams. they are magnificent and (i'm sorry) vaguely resemble a woman's nether regions (google image "giant sea clam" and you'll see what i mean). after our morning dip, we got back on the boat and had breakfast, then moved to another dive spot. here i took my second dive, which i acclimated to much quicker than the first time. we stayed down, again, about 20 minutes, but this time i had much more air left in my tank. i did have one problem. we were using aluminum tanks which get lighter as they get empty. toward the end of the dive, TheLisa took us through a shallow path over some coral. here, you're just at the water's surface when you cross over the coral. once i'd gotten past the coral (not realizing i was at the water's surface), i leaned forward to go down and noticed that i was just kicking in the air. i was like a dead fish floating in a tank. i could not for the life of me go down. TheLisa had to come get me and pull me back down until i could kick in the water again. i'm so cool. we re-boarded the boat and moved back to our first dive spot, mystery, in case anyone wanted to go again. there weren't really any takers, so we relaxed there for a bit, then made our way back to cairns. on the way back, we were lucky enough to have some good wind so we could sail the whole way back. ThePaul let us take turns "sailing" back to port. i was the first, and we have full control. he tells us to just turn a little bit at a time, there is a bit of a delay, but once it starts going, it goes. he pointed to where we had to aim on the horizon, and let us go. it was really fun, feeling the boat list in the wind, feeling it pull your direction. after i sailed a bit, i asked jules if she wanted to. she took over and did quite well. i was taking a picture of her from the front of the boat, when ThePaul and jules hustled toward me, yelling something at me. i had no clue what they were saying and thought i'd done something wrong when i realized they were shouting "DOLPHINS!" i looked over the side and saw three or four dolphins skimming allong the left-side of the boat. they jumped out of the water a few times, and stupid me, i was trying to take pictures of them when i should've recorded a movie. sorry, that's the best i got. it was REALLY cool to see the dolphins trailing us. a little later on the way back we spotted some following us briefly and not so close to the boat. TheFrenchSon and TheFrenchDad took their turns steering the boat, then ThePaul asked if anyone wanted to help pull in the jib sheet (the smaller front sail). TheFrenchSon and i were game (which, i'm sure, made TheLisa and TheBecs happy that they didn't have to do it). i would say that i'm pretty strong, but pulling in the jib sheet was surprisingly difficult even with TheFrenchSon pulling too. far too soon, we were back at the dock saying farewell to our new australian and french friends.

jules and i went back to the hotel to clean up before checking out a bar called "the pier" where the deciding game of the three-match state of origin rugby match was on. the state of origin historical series was tied between the two teams and in this year's match, they'd each won one game. this was a BIG game. the australians definitely like their rugby with all sorts of chants and shouts and cheers rolling around the bar. it was like an american superbowl party but with chants like in soccer. queensland won (where we were) over new south wales (where sydney is). that was the end of that day.

wednesday, 2-july, jules and i lounged a lot, and it was good. we got up late and walked around cairns, to the mall, and trying to find the masseuse ThePaul recommended, soulitude. jules figured we could walk it, and hours (not really, but a LONG walk) later, we found it on the outskirts of town. it looked like a nice place, i still wasn't sure if i was going to do it, and luckily, they were booked up until late afternoon. jules and i went to the hotel pool and read for bit, then cleaned up and went to catch a movie. i finally got to see "iron man", and i have to say, i was thoroughly impressed. great movie.

the next day we flew back to cairo via singapore. we had a crazy 8 hour layover in singapore from about 6PM til 2AM. we left our bags at a baggage holding company and took the train to downtown to try to find dinner. downtown singapore was nice, though crazy muggy. there are lots of underground walkways so as not to impede traffic. large open areas under the street where, it seems, is a good place to practice dancing. we saw numerous groups of kids down there practicing cheerleading, break-dancing, hip-hop routines, and such. it was crazy. we had a hard time finding the place we wanted to eat that was suggested by the information desk at the airport. after walking for ages, we ended up eating at the next restaurant we came to which was chinese. they had some weird foods, but all in all, it was a good meal. we took the train back to the airport and waited out the rest of our layover at one of the transit passenger bars. again, far too soon, we were back in cairo, arriving on the 4th of july, just in time to drop the bags, clean up, and head over the TheMech's for a little shindig.

i was tired from that vacation (though it was an amazing time). jules is teaching me to be more of an active vacationer rather than passive and relaxing. it's fun. now she wants a sailboat. i think we'll have to learn how to sail first, then we'll need to figure out the logisitics of keeping my 42" LCD on a boat and getting feasibly-priced internet. if we can work that out, maybe we'll live on a boat.

i leave you with that, and more cairns pictures if you want to see them. btw, i'm not sure how many of my readers are from the oceania part of the world, but if you have the chance, definitely book a charter with vagabond dive 'n sail. we had an absolutely amazing and unforgettable time onboard. thanks to ThePaul, TheLisa, and TheBecs!!

australian nastiness. apparently, canned bourbon and cola is a big thing here. it is AWFUL!!!


video
this is the view out the bathroom porthole while we were sailing back to port. the waterline was really close to the window because the boat was listing in the wind. pretty cool.

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2 Comments:

Blogger themom said...

I'm impressed! Sounds like a great time you guys had "down under!"

XXXOOO

8:54 AM, July 19, 2008  
Blogger swedish chef dave said...

dude
I like the idea of a sailing holiday but when we went to the galapagos 5 days on a tiny boat in the ocean is hard work, but i love tropical places, glad you had a great holiday

6:23 PM, July 24, 2008  

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