Sunday, April 13, 2008

DAY 171: Day 1 off Cape Tribulation

Sat 12th April 2008
45 km at 14.0 km/hr
Distance to date 10139 km (6337 miles)

I was unable to get to sleep easily last night due only partly to noise from the bar - it’s a nice campsite but with all the facilities come increased risk of this kind of thing. After a mega-bowl of sultana bran flakes I got some gear together and set off for Lync Haven CP where I had stayed for 2 nights, in order to return the key and get my $10 deposit durrrr! I’d forgotten to hand it in, but it was a good excuse to ride through the wonderful 20km-long cool dark green tunnel again, and anyway there were several other places en route as yet unexplored.
The wind was against me somewhat but it only took me around 75 minutes, unladen. Having pocketed my $10 I promptly blew it on a ham and cheese and salad baguette in the Fan Palms Cafe a few km back to Cape Trib. Thus fortified I went down onto Thornton Beach which is beside the cafe, and rode it’s full length of over a km. Riding north on the hard sand benefited from the strongish south easterly and I was flying along right at the edge of the incoming waves at over 30 km/hr - exhilirating; I felt like a kid again, pulling the bike to left and right to avoid going in the sea. The sand is so hard none is flung up to possibly harm the trusty steed; I wouldn’t be so cruel! This was a day for good photo-ops as well; the mangroves, both dead and alive, provide weird and wonderful images with the blue, or sometimes dark grey sky, orange sand and dark green foliage of the trees giving startling contrasts. These are images I will always look back on with acontended and wistful sigh.
From here I continued back through the tube as far as Marrdja Boardwalk, a magical mystery tour winding through tangled mangroves and over dark muddy creeks full of all kinds of slithering lifeforms. There was virtually no-one about as usual. The whole area is very quiet, but then it is only the very start of ‘high season’ here, when Aussies from the cool south come up here for the warm ‘dry’ season. The interpretation boards were excellent as usual, and I am really starting to learn a lot about the tropical systems, although it is continually stressed that we have learnt but a fraction of what there is to know about this complex habitat - the potential for new drugs and how this ancient ecosystem can inform us of the history of the planet, for example, is science in its infancy.
I rode back to Cape Trib via Noah Beach (2km long) and Myall Beach (2km), doing by back-to-boyhood mad dogcarefree beach-riding thing again. It felt wonderful, free, exciting, ennervating, and I felt really happy - kind of ‘aglow’ lol. I’m not crowing I hope - I’m just setting down my feelings, ‘warts and all’, and today very much comes under ‘all’! Perhaps it will inspire more people to discover this wonderful self-propelled travelling life.
Back at JK’s I celebrated my happiness with a 750ml Dare Double Espresso at IGA as I watched the happy smiling campers coming and going. And they are mostly so happy as well, lots of people start talking to strangers; it’s easy to be happy here. Daintree / Cape Trib comes Highly Recommended!
I booked a kayaking tour for tomorrow at 4, and I’ve rescheduled tonight’s night walking tour since the hilarious Carla and I, (she’s from Donegal, she whom I was chatting to over dinner in the camp kitchen last night), agreed to have dinner together here at JK’s bar before rejoining the 'international gang'.
I went up the exotic fruit farm in Cape Tribulation too this afternoon, but they only open for tours weekdays at 2, so I’ll probably miss going there - it was recommended by the German couple in Lake Easham CP. I also did yet another (the Dubuji) boardwalk just near where I’m staying, and it was excellent. It’s delightfully twisty; all on flat wooden boardwalk, so great fun to cycle, stopping at every interpretaive panel to learn more about the amazing mangrove systems.
I did a bit of e-mailing later on but am not able to upload my files and pics to the blog as they don’t allow this, anyway it’s dial-up internet so it would take forever and a day. It might not be possible for me to do this until Cooktown, which could be another 4 or 5 days. There’s no mobile phone signal here in Cape Trib either. But no worries - forget the world!
I typed up the blog to date in the late afternoon then got the glad rags (my only pair of long pants and only shirt) on and called around for Carla.
We had a decent dinner (me steak she stir fry plum pork) with a bottle of good white, and swopped travel stories. After the meal we got back to the camp kitchen table where 7 of us from 7 different countries had a great blather about every issue you can think of - it’s so interesting to learn about what issues affect ordinary people from the USA, Israel, France, Eire, Australia, Argentina and Scotland - we are all so different yet all the same. It’s politicians that are the problem! The wine was plentiful, bolstered by a ‘booze run’ for a bottle from the bar sneaked out to the campers kitchen under the over zealous eyes of the burly security men who weren't supposed to let booze beyond the bar. For the first time in ages I got a little drunk, but hey, what the hell, I’m free, reponsible (I think), and in a beautiful place with good people. I was as ever on my best behaviour of course! (:->) although I hereby confess to sharing cigarettes with Carla (what? you tosser!! you’re smoking? "Well, it’s a one off honestly!"). It’s been one of those days, but when the conversation got a bit vague in the early hours I was happy to stagger back to my tent alone to sleep (hopefully) soundly. Yaaawwwnn............

DAY 170: Lync Haven (Daintree NP) to Cape Tribulation

Fri 11th April 2008
22 km at 14.9 km/hr
Distance to date 10094 km (6309 miles)

The sun was struggling to get past 25m of green canopy again this morning, but it filtered through in places where there was a gap. There are quite a few gaps after the March 2006 cyclone where big trees were blown down, but this area is incredibly productive and there are lots of small trees and bushes waiting to capitalise on the new opportunity. A couple from Lancashire were making breakfast too so I had company once more.
Saying my goodbyes to them and Michel I set off for Cape Tribulation ("...where the rainforest meets the reef"). This was of course named by Captain Cook whose ship Endeavour struck the GB reef after passing by here. The road was very quiet as usual and the ride was perfect - quiet, green, shady under a blue sky and approx 27 deg C. What a fantastic place - all I imagined I would find in Oz! I stopped to have a look at the beautiful Thornton Beach for a while and it felt pretty hot out in the open, away from the forest shade. There is a pretty steep hill again, after about 12km, as the road passes over Noah Ranges; around 6 to 10% for 1km or so, but the downhill is very fast, although I was more wary than usual after yesterday’s crash.
The settlement of Cape Trib is strung out over a couple of km with a few cafes and shops, mostly advertising the many tours available here - Barrier Reef snorkelling, sea kayaking, night wildlife walks in the ‘jungle’ and posh and budget rainforest lodges. There are 2 caravan parks, and I chose the one nearest the ‘centre’ which is PK’s Jungle Village. I got a nice shady site close to everything including the IGA store for only $10/night. I will probably stay here until at least Monday so as to take in a few tours and activities. There are several nice boardwalks through the rainforest too which I fancy. I might as well make the most of all the stuff here because once in the Outback there will be some long days, even weeks, just getting the miles, er, km, in.
And I might as well get on with that I thought as I booked a reef snorkelling tour for this afternoon; I had just over an hour to get the tent up and get ready.

Lyn and I went onto the reef from Cairns in 2006 but it wasn’t a good day - weather wet and windy - but this afternoon looked almost perfect, hence my rush to do this, with Odyssey H2O. Around 15 of us waded out to knee-deep to get on the large ribbed vessel that would whisk us out to the Mackay Reef in around half an hour thanks to 2 x 8-cylinder 350 Yamaha HP motors. We mostly wore stinger suits just in case of jellyfish, though these are unlikely 20km out on the reef apparently. We were all soon in the water - I felt a little apprehensive as it was quite choppy - but unlike last time there was a guy in the water towing a rubber ring around over the best bits of the reef so that the less confident like me can hang on to if necassary. Again unlike last time, there was lots to see with amazing displays of coral, every shape, size and colour of fish that can be imagined; large turtles swimming right underneath us, Giant Clams about 2 feet across etc. etc. Most of the coral was between a metre and 3 metres below, and the water was pretty clear, so all the detail could be observed - sea cucumbers inching along; thousands of tiny fish fleeing to the shelter of the coral as we approached, giant Clams closing with the lightest of touches, and good ol’ Nemos (Clown Fish) feeding inside the coral structures. It’s a weird and wonderful world down there, and it was a privelege to observe it. I can thoroughly recommend this company - they are very professional, very safety-conscious, supportive, and they go to a lot of trouble to explain how the reef ‘works’ and what we are seeing in it. On the way back, with a rising tailwind, the boat shot along at around 35 knots, twisting and turning to avoid the big waves and making for an exhilirating ride that had us all grinning like Cheshire cats..
Follow that! Well, I just set myself up at a nearby table and typed out yeterdays diary which I didn’t have time to do last night, then cooked a decent pasta supper eaten at a happy, chatty table with Carla and friends.
I’ve booked an night wildlife walk for tomorrow, and I’m going to check out the kayaking too - I may get to do this at last. I thought I would see Michel again tonight as he was coming to Cape Trib, but I think he must be in the other caravan park, shame.

This area is the kind of place one could linger and linger - it's so beautiful; so easy going; everything you need is here; and everyone is so happy and friendly it makes you feel good too. It's as near as I've been to paradise!

ing casual

DAY 169: Day off Lync Haven (Daintree NP)

Thurs 10th April 2008
Distance to date 10072 km (6295 miles)

Good sleep last night in this quiet little caravan park, except for the drone of the generator some distance off which I was vaguely aware of. Good company for brekkie in the form of an articulate Dutch couple who spoke perfect English, and who are working in Singapore for a few years. A nice lazy start to the day by gently cycling unencumbered by baggage up to the Daintree Discovery Centre. Yes, it’s $33 entry, but having spent an interesting 2 or 3 hours there I would say it’s good value, I’m sure I learnt a lot of stuff I didn’t know before, such as how to deal with a leech if it attatches itself to your leg - let it feed and then it will just drop off and you’ll be none the worse off! Or if you can’t stand it apply heat or salt to it instead. And if you get stung by a poisonous jellyfish and don’t have any vinegar, apply urine lol. Anyhow there’s loads of info about trees, plants, birds (including audio samples of their call), animals, insects, lizards etc. etc. I was also given a 10% discount, not to mention a free coffee for telling my ‘travel story’ to the gobsmacked girls behind the counter - ah, fame...... but I had to pay for (what was probably the best) Rocky Road ever - it was utterly awesome! I'm definitely going to learn how to make this when I get home.
All the cycling today was through dense green tropical rainforest, and it is simply a breathtaking experiencefor me - and not much traffic either this (north) side of the Daintree River. There are a few hills but who cares - they’re nothing compared to what is to come on the Bloomfield Track up to Cooktown - there’ll be lots of quality pushing the bike, meaning very slow progress indeed - watch the average speed!! The Discovery Centre has a tall tower whereby you get to climb through the rainforest understorey until you’re actually above the trees, and an audio guide explains the differences between the layers, what lives there, and how it all fits together in an amazing complex and closely species-interrelated ecosystem. Think of a complex habitat in Scotland and then multiply by threescore and ten.
Just a hilly km or so east, at the end of the road from the DC is Jindalba Walk, a very nice boardwalk through thick dark richly-scented forest, and as it was so quiet I left the bike locked up and went around the 1km circuit with the binoculars, but the understorey birds were very hard to pick out let alone identify. Scrub fowl roamed around scratching the ground and scootering away when they saw me.
Back onto the ‘main road’ some 3km north is the turning for Crocodylus Village (a YHA cabin / camping / restaurant / bar complex) and I stopped to see if I could get some lunch, but the tuna or cheese sarnies didn’t appeal (I’m becoming a sandwich snob with chicken and avocado etc.) so I just had a beer and chatted for half the afternoon to Jenny, who is staying at the place semi-permanently whilst working up the road somewhere, and the owner guy. They reckoned the food here in the evening was good so we agreed to meet up again this evening and sample same; I fancied eating out for a change. Later in the afternoon with 2 whole beers inside me (unusual for me to drink in the afternoon) I rode down to Cow Bay some 5km east on the same side-road - yet another beach straight out of the Bounty advert of old, and I stopped to chat for a while with a couple from Scotland before riding across the firm sand to the far side of the beach to get a good photo opportunity.
On the way back up this quiet little road disaster struck again. With the dappled sunlight hitting the road in an indistinct way I hit a long, thick branch that lay acrossthe road at an angle, at around 25 km/hr, and the bike catapulted me over the handlebars onto my face. I was acutely aware of those very few seconds when my nose and forehead was scraping the gravel before I overturned and landing on my back in the dry sandy ditch. However my injuries were in hindsight minor compared to what might have been - I think I was very lucky there was nothing sharp or hard in front of me as I fell. A couple travelling behing me saw it all and stopped to help, but I cleaned up some of the blood off my face, thanked them and dragged the bike to the side of the road to check it out. There was minor damage including shifting of the front wheel in the drop out which I managed to mostly twist back, but I couldn’t straighten the bars which had twisted in the clamp. Again, lucky, or testament to this Thorn Raven being one tough bike, but that’s why I chose it. Somewhat shaken I carried on back to camp, where I only had an hour to get showered and changed and to get back the 7km to dine . Worst thing really was the state of my only shirt - I had to wash it in the shower and put it on wet; it would practically dry on the cycle ride back to the venue.
There were lots of ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ at dinner at the mess my face was in (see pic) but I felt OK and on relatively good form, having had another good day apart from crashing. Lets hope they don’t come in threes. It was a bit painful drinking the coffee afterwards, but the beef curry and apricot pudding with ice cream, not to mention the bottle of wine, went down very well. It was non-stop but very good conversation that confirmed again the friendliness and absence of generational barriers in Oz (somewhat unlike the UK). Thirty-something Jenny and her friends were very good company.
It was pretty late when I left for home but I enjoyed the midnight whiz on deserted roads through the tropical darkness, and with no moon it was incredibly starry. I heard lots of rustling in the undergrowth as night creatures ran or slithered back into the bush away from this big ‘predator’ but didn’t actually see much despite the great performance of the Lumitech front light with the SON hub dynamo. Only problem was the fact that the light bracket had come a bit loose during the crash so it wasn’t quite pointing in the right direction. I’ll sort all that out tomorrow at Cape Tribulation. I was hungry again when I got back and had to make a thick cheese sarnie to satisfy that.