Thursday, February 7, 2008

Australia Story (p5) - A New Me

I arrived at Kuranda, a village in the rainforest, with the idea to live there for three nights. Come to find out, it's a tourist place like Fitzroy Island. Everything is only open during tourist hours, from 10am to 4pm, and then it almost becomes a ghost town. I stayed at the only hostel, which was once a beautiful 1908 wedding gift, but is now pretty trashed with stripped bare walls.

The spiders and geckos are more abundant than the backpackers since the windows are open 24/7. The mozzies attack all night while I'm trying to sleep, and sometimes even during the day when I least expect it. The shared restroom is a separate pole shed with some plywood separating things and a few patches of green ants. (The ones that bite hard.) The shared kitchen is dangerously industrial sized, and the items we could cook with were questionable at best.

The first night, I was convinced that I had made a mistake. I had seen everything that Kuranda had to offer already, and was stuck here for another two days. Little did I know, this place would change me forever.

The next day changed my attitude into absolutely loving this place. I made friends with the locals, and they told me where the secret path was to get to the bottom of Barron Falls. (Which, by the way, is only baron during the dry season (now).) They told me "Yeah, you got to see the falls, but now you can experience the falls." When put into this context, being a regular tourist really sucks! That single statement has turned me off to being a tourist, and on to being a temporary local instead. I can "see" places via pictures on the internet, so why bother spending the money to simply "see" it in real life? Here's how to experience it:

A British backpacker tagged along on my hike, and we found the secret path. Taking this path was quite illegal, so we were told to be very discrete about it. It was a skinny, squiggly, rocky path to the bottom of the falls that took at least 30 minutes to traverse. We were well out of sight of the tourists (or anybody), and there were large pools all around us. She said she wouldn't join me, but I could skinny-dip if I wanted to. However, we were interrupted.

Down the trail were two German girls from the hostel, and the hostel owner. He said "we're not at the bottom yet..." He was right, the falls were like steps and we were on one of the top ones. I didn't even see a trail to go down further, but that's probably because their wasn't one.

The "trail" was all rock. At times, we were moving horizontally along a nearly vertical surface, with certain doom below. Of course, there was a moment of jumping over to another rock, also above certain doom. This was certainly a dangerous trail -- one that I normally wouldn't risk -- but we all did it anyway! Those Australians are fearless, and it's a trait that was rubbing off onto me.

At the bottom was a giant swimming area. (Click the panoramic above for detail -- notice the people, they were diving from there!) The owner was skinny dipping for a bit, mostly to get a reaction from the girls. He would slip off his budgie smugglers and twirl them in the air while he was floating around, like some sort of stripper. The Germans had their bathing suits, and the Brit uncomfortably swam in a bra after some persuasion. I swam in my undies for a while, only to be respectful to the apparently prudish women. I got out of the water when the freshwater crabs were pinching my feet, and took the photos for the panoramic above. It was impossible to capture the beauty and size of the area through a camera lens! This was a place that less than 100 people per year get to see -- and none of them are regular tourists.

The lesson for this story isn't about nudity, it's about life. Break loose of pre-packaged deals, and go hang out with the locals. Do something crazy every once in a while, simply because it gives you a unique perspective on things. Lastly, if it doesn't kill you, it can only make you stronger! (My favorite new philosophy.) I returned from Kuranda with a new sort of toughness, a new respect for backpackers, and a new outlook on life. I believe it was this trip that gave me the bravery, confidence, and sense of adventure that I needed for the rest of my story...

* Sorry to all those who have been bored so far, but I needed to put some perspective on the real meat of the story -- which starts next! The next 4 parts are a wild ride through some active, and disturbing, nude beaches.


Sunday, February 3, 2008

Australia Story (p4) - Cairns

My week-long spring break trip was spent in the Cairns area, which is almost as far as you can get along the northwest coast of Australia. Since I was money-starved, I took the train which was a 7 hour ride from Townsville. Cheaper, yes, but it killed two days of my week. It was at least enjoyable to watch the scenery change from the dry Townsville area to true green rainforest. If I had the money (and time), I would've gone further up into Daintree and live in the middle of the rainforest for a while.

Cairns is far different from Townsville! It's a very unique place, and is highly recommended if you plan a trip to Austraila. However, it's very much tourist-oriented. I hate package deals, and found it a challenge to do the things I wanted to do. Getting information is tough, because all they have is package deals and are looking for commissions. This was clear when booking for Fitzroy Island.

First though, a little more about Cairns. The downtown area is at the coastline and offers a lot of hostels and night-life, which is why a lot of backpackers head to Cairns to party. It seems that about half of the restaurants are Chinese, and there are plenty of Chinese people in the area. The place is liberal, and a store to prove that is "Condom Kingdom" right downtown. There is also a large night market with all sorts of stores inside that are open almost all night. For some reason, there are a lot of massage places inside with Chinese women in skimpy clothing trying to bring in business. No thanks, it's not my thing.

The coastline has a futuristic look to it, despite the fact that there is no ocean beach. What exists between the ocean and the land? Mud. It's all mud flats that are home to some unique species of birds, so the town doesn't want to turn it into a beach. Instead, they built a gigantic swimming pool.

Even though it's not legal, there are women who go topless at the pool and along the other Cairns area beaches. No nudity though, but I already had a place picked out where nudity was essentially legal. The only problem was getting there...

I stopped at one of the information places just before closing time, and asked what information they had about Fitzroy Island. They gave me info on package deals for snorkeling, and told me that I don't want to go there. This was not long after the hotels and other stuff on the island were destroyed by a tropical storm, so they were diverting tourists to other islands. They also told me that if I wanted to go, I had to book now before they closed, otherwise I wouldn't be able to get a ticket. BS, I thought -- I said that I didn't believe them, and that I don't want a booking and left.

The next morning, I went to the ferry terminal and got my ticket -- no problem! I traveled over with about 20 other people who were on the snorkeling package deal. I hiked the trails and observed the wildlife. (Note that the island is dominated by lizards, which is really neat to see!) My last stop was Nudey Beach, a beach declared as a nude beach by the private owner of the island (and therefore making it legal). It was a disappointment -- nobody was nude or even top-free. I wondered to the quiet end of the beach, but didn't want to brave some nude sunbathing due to families with kids around. I was a bit frustrated -- the only legal nude beach in Queensland wasn't even being used -- so I went back to the main area.

I talked with one of the employees for a while. She told me that after the last ferry leaves (5pm), nobody is allowed on the island except her, about 8 other employees, and the owners. They have all kinds of fun during the off-hours, because they have the entire island to themselves! To me, it sounded like a dream backpacker job -- I'd be enjoying Nudey Beach before the last ferry even got to Cairns. She was willing to talk to the owner about my employment, but I said that I couldn't -- I had this thing called "school" to get back to. Bummer! Since then, the resort has opened some luxury hotels, so this dream job has been spoiled.