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Australia #8. Happy Holidays from the Queensland Jungle!

Merry Christmas to all! And Season’s Greetings. And a great 2010. I’ll be taking a week or two off from posting now.

Unreal that we’ve already polished off the first decade of the 21st Century.

We flew to Cairns in Queensland on the northeast part of Australia. Keep in mind that in Australia “north” means warmer, as in “closer to the equator.” So Queensalnd’s winter is like summer in, like, Mississippi or Louisiana or even Florida in the US.

It was weird to see the (plastic) Christmas tree in Cairns, where it’s over a hundred degrees. The town’s slogan this time of year is “SumMerry Christmas!”

We spent two nights in a resorty spot north of town called Palm Cove. Palm Cove is a lovely spot, a little like Fiji, with palm trees, weird birds, gnarled little grape-leaf trees, islands, ibis birds yodeling in trees, and a whole different set of stars in the sky.

There’s these things called box jellyfish in northern Australia, the size of your head, and with twenty-foot long stinger-laden tendrils. If you get stung you might actually die. Ordinarily there aren’t many of them out in the open ocean—they spawn in the rivers and drift out from there.

Thanks to the danger of box jellies nobody swims on the beaches in Queensland between October and May—which is box jellyfish season. This is a bit awkward as it’s so hot there, totally humid, and very tropical,

We stayed in a nice clean motel-like place, right on the beach, and they do have a tiny area of the beach fenced in with underwater nets to keep out the box jellyfish—which they just call stingers for short. But the pen is very so small, and the water’s a bit muddy right at the shore, and the in any case the water’s full of tourists wearing huge floppy-brim anti-sun hats, so—eccch, naw. In any case, the motel has a nice pool. And we took a swim in the Mossman River.

The town of Mossman is about an hour’s drive north of Palm Cove, it’s at the southern edge of the Daintree tropical rain forest. We had a rental car and we drove up there and went to the Mossman Gorge.

It was a little crowded with locals—it being Sunday—but we found a spot along the Mossman River that was pretty empty, with a twenty-foot deep pool, and a jumble of giant automobile-sized smooth granite boulders. And jungle on either side. And a feral “scrub chicken” wandering around.

I’m talking true jungle, with vines up and down the gnarled, alien trees. Wads of fern growing in the crotches of the branches. A green parrot feather on the ground. It was great to be there and we spent a half hour in the river.

Later we stopped in at this classic outback-style Australian pub in Mossman proper, which is sugar-cane town. The pub had three people in its cavernous interior, watching a cricket game on TV. They were drunk, and excited about the cricket. The bartender, a skinny guy with a frightening stare, started telling us about the crocodiles in the Mossman River.

“Not that they’d be up where you were swimming,” said the bartender. “They don’t crawl up past the rocks, but here in town there’s some spots where the river’s very deep, with dark holes—you’d be making a mistake to swim down here. Last year a croc ate a boy and his dog.” He pressed his hands against his lean stomach, his eyes haunted.

“I ate crocodile for dinner last night,” I told him. “Getting the jump on them.”

“How was it prepared?”

“In a Malaysian curry. It was good. Firmer than I’d expected.”

“Lovely.”

After the outback bar, we went into Port Douglas, a hip-seeming town. We saw a bunch of local freaks with dreadlocks having a picnic and playing Frisbee. And we got supper in a cafe at the wharf, the tip-ass end of nowhere, the edge of the world.

All through the meal we heard the squawking of a flock of maybe a thousand lorikeets—large birds like parrots—settling down for the evening in a grove of palms nearby.

May the the inflatable surfing Santa lead you safely into the new decade!

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