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Hunkering Down in Port Douglas

G'day mates!  As you can probably tell from this update, I survived my little walkabout through 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 large red rock called Uluru.


Above:  My Dell laptop has gotten a workout this past week here in Port Douglas as I've finally gotten caught up with my web updates.

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.  But 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, I made it.  And I didn't 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 the past 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 wonderful Mud Hut Motel in Coober Pedy.  And it's wonderful not to have to pack up everything each morning and then watch the world rush past my windshield at 60 miles an hour – or 100 kilometres per hour, as it does here in Australia.


In addition to this page, I've posted five updates in this round:


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, I've now written 168 webpages on this website and have posted 1,482 photos (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, like I'd been thinking about doing.  The other reason is that I'm getting pretty tired of traveling, something I never thought I'd admit. 


As I've said many times, though, Australia is a beautiful and fascinating country, so it'll be hard to leave – 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, Washington at the same time, on the morning of April 8.  I'm not really looking forward to the 22-hour flight but at least I've booked window seats 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 it’s 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.



Above:  Port Douglas, Queensland – not a bad place to spend a week, eh?  (Photo courtesy of my good mate, Johnno).

Many folks outside of Australia think of this entire country as a desert and don't realize that the northern part of Australia is actually quite 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.


Above:  The famous (infamous?) staple of Australia.  Kids, don't try this at home.

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 had cheap off-season rates, I needed to work 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.


Oh, I should mention my recent experiment with a famous Aussie condiment.  A few days after I reached the coast, I bought some Vegemite and tried it for the first time.  I first heard about Vegemite about 20 years ago in the song, Down Under.  I didn't know what Vegemite was but, from the song, it sounded delicious.   


Here's the song that piqued my curiosity about Vegemite.  This is the Aussie group Men at Work singing Down Under.


When I got to Port Douglas, though, I learned otherwise.  Vegemite smells like yeast, looks like tar, and tastes like salt.  I spread it on a Ritz cracker much like I'd eat peanut butter, spooning a hearty dollop of it onto my cracker, and I tried it.  Sad to say it was utterly disgusting.  When I told an Aussie about my experience, he suggested that I spread it very thinly (as Homer would say, "doh!")  When applied correctly, Vegemite actually isn't too bad.  In fact, I've gotten quite attached to it.


I really like Australia, all things considered.  But after being here (and in New Zealand) 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 a bit road-weary, so we'll see.


After I post this round of updates, I'm going to explore more 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 updates about the Outback, or just continue reading this page and learn about some of the nasty things I've been dealing with during this past month in Australia.



Above left:  Driving through the Atherton Tablelands near Townsville.

Above center:  No, I didn't eat here.  So bite me.

Above right:  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 left:  The Port Douglas marina.

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



Above left:  Despite being a bit too upscale and trendy for my tastes, Port Douglas is a pretty nice town.  This is Macrossen Street, one of the main thoroughfares.

Above center:  Four Mile Beach in Port Douglas.

Above right:  Strolling on the beach and watching out for box jellyfish.

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.


During the past month I've had run-ins with a few other things here 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!


Above:  Spinifex in the Outback.  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, called 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, though lush and beautiful, is 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 because, on a Florida beach, I stepped on one when I was four years old, an event that is permanently etched in my mind – not to mention my foot. 


Box jellyfish (or "stingers" as they're called here) are even nastier.  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).



Bryson, as I recall, discussed the box jellyfish at great length in his book.  In fact, I believe it was during his 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 though, there is one place where you can swim on Four Mile Beach.  That's within the "stinger net," a rope net enclosure with floats attached that extends out into the ocean, about 50 yards on a side, and 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 three-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 large 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.


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

There was no swimming allowed in the ocean today, 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, however, I saw a guy who was about 20 years old walk towards the ocean, fling off his shirt, and dive right 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 read in my Frommer's Guide about another deadly creature here in Australia:  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.  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 the movie "Jurassic Park" and look what happened.


Actually, though, cassowaries are very pretty – at least, when they're not attacking you with their killer claws.  In fact, I hope to see a cassowary before I leave, although preferably when I'm standing near a tree.

Note:  This update continues on March 25, 2002 – Part 2  (Port Douglas, Australia)




Above left:  They finally took down 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 decided to stay out of the water.



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