Thursday, June 13, 2013

Exploring Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef

Hundreds gathered every night in the treetops by our Cairns hotel.

After almost a week in Brisbane, it was time to explore other parts of Australia.  So we hopped on a Qantas plane and flew two hours north to Cairns.

(Pronounced Cans.  I noticed that sometimes--as in the case of Cairns--Australians omit the r.  And other times, they add an r where one doesn’t belong.  For example, they call their country Austral-yer.)

surreal Cairns waterscape

Cairns is like Hilo-meets-Honolulu with a dash of Reno.  Meaning:

* it rains when the sun is out;
* the trees are packed with screeching, exotic birds for a Hitchcock-version-of-Jurassic-Park sensation;
* the downtown is teeming with a requisite number of international tourists and hippies (meaning all the food is expensive, even the veggie burgers);
* it boasts a gorgeous public waterfront area;
* and in the shadows lurk sketchy characters and strip clubs.

Cairns public swimming area

At the Cairns harbor, we took a snorkel boat tour to the Great Barrier Reef.  We sat with a newlywed couple--he’s from Spain, she from Lebanon--who were on a 32-day honeymoon.  We also met a young couple who met while they were both taking a “gap year” to travel Europe; he’s Australian, she’s Brazilian. It made me feel very internationale since we, too, are doing the extended travel thing.  

I asked the “gap year” couple for a highlight of their travels, and he said they especially loved Berlin, which happens to be where they met.  Startlingly, though, neither one of them had seen Cabaret or read Isherwood’s Berlin Stories.  Perhaps, based on my recommendation, they will now.

mermaid and merman
The seas were rough.  I thought I was over my seasick days, but I soon learned that ninety minutes on a bucking bronco is my limit.  But popping a couple of pills given to me by the crew fixed me right up.  In fact, the crew was great, and even when I was feeling queasy I was aware of what a privilege it was to be on the Great Barrier Reef--much less in a fancy boat being fed coffee, muffins, and a delightful lunch by an enthusiastic and knowledgeable group of young people.

First stop was Michaelmas Cay, then next was our favorite:  Hastings Reef.  As I watched my husband jump with finesse into the water, I was reminded of how this mermaid married a merman.  Watching him so in his element as he dove expertly down to the reef to snap pictures was a joy.  In that moment, I fell in love with him all over again.

Dave has scuba dived in many places all over the world, and we saw something he’d never seen before:  a giant clam, open to reveal its pulsing siphon and purplish blue scalloped edges.  (Later, Dave told me that those blue edges are actually its multiple eyes.  Who knew?)  With its luscious curves and wavering interior, it doesn’t take much imagination to understand why the giant clam is associated with womanly sensuality.

We also encountered a (squool?) of squid, to the special delight of Dave since he’d seen such squidliness only once before.  It was all new to me, so I was in a non-ending state of delight.  

The corals and fish were extravagantly colorful and varied.  When we drifted over the edge of the reef, the sea opened out into an indigo infinity, creating the sensation of flying into the abyss.  Nothingness and everything-ness became the same thing.  I hung there, feeling the moment embrace me.  And I thought of how it all felt like a line by Alan Watts that I’d read just the night before:

“The now-moment is eternity, and one must see it now or never.”

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