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March 25, 2002  (Port Douglas, Australia)

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G'day mates!  As you can probably tell from this update, I survived my walkabout in the Australian Outback.  The trip across the Outback was fascinating, but it's also nice to be back in civilization.  I've spent the past few weeks driving over 3,000 miles from Port Augusta in the south to the Great Barrier Reef in the east, during which I saw four million bushflies, two million termite mounds, 843 road trains, 27 roadhouses, one dingo, Crocodile Dundee's pub, and a very large red rock.  


On the map above, my journey looks like just a few short lines, but it was actually a long, long drive.  If you're in the U.S., imagine driving from Dallas up to North Dakota and then east to Boston and you'll get the idea.  Thanks to air conditioning, an ice chest (or "esky" as they call them here, as in "eskimo") and 300 hours of my favorite music on MP3 discs, though, I made it.  And I didn't even hit any kangaroos, which was my biggest worry. 


I arrived in Port Douglas a week ago and this seemed like such a nice place -- and so different from the bone-dry Outback -- that I decided to stay put here for a while.  I've been cooped up for several days in the Lazy Lizard Motel where I've been a real lazy lizard, just working on my website, returning e-mails and, best of all, not traveling.  By the way, the Lazy Lizard Motel is a lot nicer than it sounds -- even nicer than the Mud Hut Motel in Coober Pedy.  And it's great not to have to pack up everything each morning and then watch the world rush past the windshield at 60 miles an hour -- or 100 kilometres per hour, as it does here in Australia.


I've got five updates to post in this round, plus this page, including:


So dig in and find out what "Waltzing Matilda" means and why it's not a good idea to sit near the wall in Oodnadatta's Pink Roadhouse.  Now that I've been in Australia for almost two months, I've posted a page that describes some of my impressions about Australia, which you can read in a page appropriately titled My Impressions of Australia.  By the way, there are now 168 webpages on this website with 1,482 photos posted (about 10% of all the photos I've taken on this trip).  So much for my relaxing vacation, eh mate?


Heading Home

As of yesterday, March 23, I've been gone from my job in Portland for exactly one year.  With all the motels that I've been staying at throughout New Zealand and Australia, instead of campgrounds like in my initial plan, I've spent a lot more money on this trip than I was hoping to.  That's one reason why I decided to head back to the U.S. next month instead of continuing on around the world.  The other reason is that I'm getting pretty tired of traveling, something I never thought I'd say.   


As I've said many times, though, Australia is a beautiful, interesting and fascinating country, so it's going to be hard to leave here -- but leave I must.  I'll be flying out of Sydney on the morning of  April 8 and, because of the date change, will arrive in Seattle at the same time, on the morning of April 8.  I'm not really looking forward to the 22-hour flight back but at least I've booked a window seat all the way.


Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes

As I say, I'm now in Port Douglas, a very pleasant and very tropical town of about 4,000 folks in northern Australia on the Pacific coast.  Port Douglas is near the Great Barrier Reef and itís about as far north as you can drive on Australia's eastern coast.  The town's a bit trendy and upscale, probably more than I care for, but it's also very laid back and has a lot of charm.  It's a great little town and I definitely plan to come back here someday. 



Port Douglas:  Not a bad place to spend a week, eh mate?

(Photo courtesy of my good mate, Johnno).


A lot of people don't realize that the northern part of Australia is tropical and, being in the tropics, Port Douglas is surrounded by rainforests.  The weather here has been really hot and muggy, which is typical for this time of year, so it's a far cry from the arid Outback where I spent the previous few weeks.  It's about 90 degrees now and the rain is pouring down outside, which isn't unusual for March.  


Speaking of the weather, there are two seasons in northern Australia:  the wet season from November through March (simply called "The Wet") and the dry season from April through October (called, you guessed it, "The Dry").  It doesn't pour constantly during the Wet, but when it does rain, it REALLY rains -- like it's doing now.  In twenty minutes, though, the skies might be clear again.  A nice thing about visiting northern Australia during the Wet, however, is that the crowds are down, as are the motel rates.


I'm sure that Geoff and Susie, the friendly owners of the Lazy Lizard Motel, are starting to wonder about me because I checked in here about a week ago intending to stay just one night.  This motel, though, is about the nicest place I've stayed at during my entire 12-month trip, it's got dirt-cheap off-season rates, I had a lot of work to do on my website, I had a lot of e-mails to return, and I was getting tired of driving.  So I've spent an entire week here, mostly plugging away at my computer.  


Left:  The first time I'd heard of Vegemite was about 20 years ago in the song, Down Under.  I didn't know what it was, but it sounded delicious.  When I got to Port Douglas, though, I learned otherwise.  It smells like yeast, looks like tar, and tastes like salt.  One evening, an Aussie friend suggested that I spread it very thinly (doh!).  When applied correctly, it's actually not too bad.


And here's the song that piqued my curiosity about vegemite. 

This is the Aussie group Men at Work singing Down Under.

Requires a RealPlayerIf problems, see Help.




However, after being here for so long, I'm getting antsy to drive down to Sydney and fly back to the U.S., especially since it's now springtime there and the weather is improving.  I'm not sure what I'm going to do after I get back to the U.S.  I've thought about traveling around America, but I'm kind of road-weary, so maybe I'll spend a month or so working on my family's history first. 


After I post this round of updates, I'm going to go exploring around Port Douglas.  I hope to go snorkeling out on the Great Barrier Reef, then visit some of the tropical rain forests and maybe go "crocodile spotting" on the nearby Daintree River.  I'll post photos and stories of those adventures in my next update (assuming that the crocs don't spot me first).  In the meantime, you can take a look at my new updates, or just read on and learn about some of the nasty things I've been dealing with during the past month in Australia.


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Above left:  Driving through the Atherton Tablelands near Townsville.

Above center:  No, I didn't eat here.

Above right:  They call this the "curtain fig tree" for obvious reasons.


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Above left:  Dropping down to Port Douglas.  That's the Daintree Rainforest, a World Heritage Site, off in the distance and Cape Tribulation, named by Captain Cook in 1770.

Above center:  The Port Douglas marina.

Above right:  Port Douglas is a nice town despite being a bit upscale.


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Above left:  Four Mile Beach in Port Douglas.

Above center:  Strolling on the beach.

Above right:  Working on my website at the Lazy Lizard Motel in Port Douglas.  This room has been my home for the past week.


Warning:  This Continent May Be Hazardous to Your Health

In my entry from Port Augusta a few weeks ago, I described a wonderfully humorous book about Australia called "In a Sunburned Country" written by the American travel author, Bill Bryson.  In his book, Bryson talked about some of the things that can kill you here in Australia, such as Taipan snakes, red-back spiders, salt-water crocodiles and Great White sharks.


I've had run-ins with a few other things here during the past month that Bryson didn't mention, including Red Gum Trees (see News: March 5, 2002) and a group of pushy kangaroos at Grampians National Park (see News: March 1, 2002).   By the way, if you're ever confronted by a surly kangaroo, be sure to look him straight in the eye and show him who's boss... and never, ever let him see you sweat.  That strategy seemed to work pretty well for me.  ;-)


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Above:  Spinifex -- don't mess with it unless you like acupuncture



A few weeks later during my drive across the Outback, I had several close encounters with another nasty specimen:  spinifex.  I can't remember if Bryson mentioned spinifex, but it's an innocuous looking bush with green shoots similar to lawn grass.  Don't mess with spinifex though, because as I discovered, it's very pointy and can even draw blood -- and it hurts like heck.  Spinifex is pretty, but it's also like a stationary porcupine.


Now that I'm on the coast, I have to contend with another nasty critter:  the box jellyfish.  These things are a lot more venomous than their North American counterpart, the Portuguese man-of-war.  I have vivid memories of a Portuguese man-of-war, having stepped on one in Florida when I was four years old, an event that is permanently etched in my mind -- not to mention my foot.  Box jellyfish are even nastier and, from what I've heard, one tiny sting from a microscopic box jellyfish barb feels like a burning cigarette being pushed deep into your flesh.  Occasionally, a swimmer will get ensnared in the 10-foot long tentacles of a box jellyfish, which isn't a pretty thing to see -- or hear.


As I recall, Bryson discussed the box jellyfish, or "stinger," at great length in his book.  In fact, I believe it was during a visit to this very same city, Port Douglas.  There's a beach here about four miles long (which, not surprisingly, is called "Four Mile Beach"), but nobody goes swimming in the ocean between October and May because of the box jellyfishes which float around here during that time of year.  Actually, the one place you can swim on Four Mile Beach is within the "stinger net," a rope net enclosure with floats attached that extends out into the ocean, about 50 yards on a side, supposedly designed to keep out the box jellyfish.  I thought about swimming in it a few days ago but noticed that the high waves were easily crashing over the top of it, so I figured it probably wasn't doing a very good job of keeping the stingers out.  It wasn't doing a good job of keeping other nasty things out, either, because they caught a 3-foot long shark inside the stinger net yesterday!


As I learned last summer in South Dakota when I visited the world's only Vinegar Museum (see News: September 15, 2001), the best antidote for a box jellyfish sting is vinegar.  And sure enough, as I walked down the beach today and passed by the stinger net, I saw a big bottle of vinegar there with big red letters that said "VINEGAR."  If you're unlucky enough to get stung by a box jellyfish and don't happen to have vinegar handy, I understand that peeing on the afflicted area also works.  I could make some jokes about that, but then my website would lose its PG rating.


There was no swimming today in the ocean, though, because the stinger net was rolled up, waiting for repairs.  The lifeguards had posted a big sign on the beach saying "NO SWIMMING," so everyone, including myself, walked along the beach and kept a healthy distance from the water.  In amazement, though, I saw a guy who was about 20 years old walk towards the ocean, fling off his shirt, and dive in.  As he frolicked in the water, a small crowd gathered to watch him out of morbid curiosity -- including myself, I must admit.  Young Neptune was proving either his masculinity or his stupidity, I guess, but either way he provided us with 10 minutes of free entertainment after which he calmly emerged from the water, put on his shirt, and disappeared into the coconut grove.  That was a shame, because I really had to pee.


Box jellyfish, sharks, and crocodiles are enough to worry about in coastal Queensland, but last night I was reading in my Frommer's Guide about another deadly creature here:  the cassowary.  A cassowary is a small, cute, flightless bird, which looks like a peacock.  It's a distant relative of Australia's other much more ubiquitous and much larger flightless bird, the emu (which is pronounced either "e-moo" or "e-mew," depending on who you talk to).  Cassowaries are an endangered species which, based on what I read in Frommer's, may or may not be a bad thing.  That's because, according to Frommer's, these cute-looking cassowaries can and have killed humans with their powerful claws.  Here's Frommer's advice if you confront a cassowary:  "Back slowly away and hide behind a tree."  As I recall, they used that same strategy in "Jurassic Park" and look what happened.  


Actually, though, cassowaries are pretty, little birds -- at least, when they're not attacking with their killer claws.  I even hope to see a cassowary before I leave, although preferably when I'm standing near a tree.


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Above left:  You can see the stinger net here (near the bottom of the picture) on Four Mile Beach in Port Douglas.  

Above center:  The next day they took the stinger net down for repairs.  As the sign says, no swimming...

Above right:  ...and this is why.  You don't want to mess with a box jellyfish.  After reading this sign, I, um, decided to stay away from the water.



Next News

March 28, 2002  (Airlie Beach, Australia)



Previous News

March 16, 2002  (Winton, Australia)

March 13, 2002  (Alice Springs, Australia)

March 11, 2002  (Ayers Rock, Australia)

March 8, 2002  (Coober Pedy, Australia)

March 5, 2002  (Port Augusta, Australia)

March 1, 2002 -- Part 2  (Robe, Australia)

March 1, 2002 -- Part 1  (Robe, Australia)

February 18, 2002  (Bega, Australia)

February 7, 2002  (Auckland, New Zealand)

February 2, 2002 -- Part 2  (Taupo, New Zealand)

February 2, 2002 -- Part 1  (Taupo, New Zealand)

January 25, 2002  (Hokitika, New Zealand)

January 20, 2002  (Geraldine, New Zealand)

January 16, 2002  (Te Anau, New Zealand)

January 12, 2002 -- Part 2  (Dunedin, New Zealand)

January 12, 2002 -- Part 1  (Dunedin, New Zealand)

January 1, 2002 -- Part 2  (Christchurch, New Zealand)

January 1, 2002 -- Part 1  (Christchurch, New Zealand)

December 24, 2001  (Wellington, New Zealand)

December 20, 2001  (Auckland, New Zealand)

December 16, 2001  (Auckland, New Zealand)  

December 14, 2001  (Aitutaki, Cook Islands)

December 10, 2001  (Rarotonga, Cook Islands)

December 3, 2001 -- Part 2  (Bellingham, Washington)

December 3, 2001 -- Part 1  (Bellingham, Washington)

October 18, 2001 -- Part 3  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

October 18, 2001 -- Part 2  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

October 18, 2001 -- Part 1  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

October 6, 2001  (Fort Lincoln State Park, North Dakota)

September 30, 2001 -- Part 2  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

September 30, 2001 -- Part 1  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

September 15, 2001  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

August 30, 2001  (Webster, South Dakota)

August 18, 2001  (Watertown South Dakota)

August 17, 2001  (Walnut Grove, Minnesota)

August 14, 2001  (Minneapolis, Minnesota)

August 10, 2001 (Battle Creek, Michigan)

August 8, 2001  (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 2)

August 8, 2001  (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 1)

August 6, 2001  (Manlius, New York)

July 23, 2001  (Middleton, Massachusetts)

July 22, 2001  (Boston, Massachusetts)

July 20, 2001  (Pomfret, Connecticut)

July 18, 2001  (Denton, Maryland)

July 16, 2001  (Cumberland, Virginia)

July 14, 2001  (Roanoke, Virginia)

July 9, 2001  (Sevierville, Tennessee)

July 8, 2001  (Fontana Lake, North Carolina)

July 5, 2001  (Manchester, Tennessee)

June 30, 2001  (Hohenwald, Tennessee)

June 29, 2001  (Corinth, Mississippi)

June 27, 2001  (Natchez, Mississippi)

June 24, 2001  (Austin, Texas)

June 20, 2001  (Canyon de Chelly, Arizona)

June 18, 2001  (Clay Canyon, Utah)

June 15, 2001 -- Part 2  (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)

June 15, 2001 -- Part 1  (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)

June 14, 2001  (San Diego, California)

June 11, 2001  (San Jose, California)

June 2, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

May 19, 2001  (Hillsboro, Oregon)

April 30, 2001  (Hillsboro, Oregon)

April 19, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

April 5, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)


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