Cairns was awesome. The landscape around Sydney is not all that dissimilar to California, but in Cairns you get a sense that you are somewhere way off the map, somewhere tropical. Luckily it didn’t have that third-world ‘jamdung where people are dead at random political violence cyant done’ feel. The city itself isn’t big. An esplanade lines the shore in front of hotels, little kebab cafes, aboriginal art stores and miscellaneous souvenir shops. There is no beach per se near downtown Cairns. Crocodiles and box jellyfish rule the local waters, so tourists and locals are relegated to a tasteful public lagoon at the water’s edge. You probably wont see a postcard from Cains that doesn’t feature the lagoon. It’s essentially a large and oddly shaped pool-beach hybrid, a meter and half deep, that is separated from the ocean itself by a narrow walkway, with a white sand beach that slopes into the water from the southern side. The place was packed every time I went.
My first day there I went cable wakeboarding up by the northern beaches. Cable wakeboarding uses the same system as a chairlift but with ropes and handles substituted for chairs. I cruised around for a while, going off some of the smaller jumps and ramps. There were a few huge ones, but I had plenty of activities left to do on the trip so it wasn’t the day to be a hero.
Day two was whitewater rafting on the Barron Gorge. The Barron’s most dangerous perils include flash floods, several ‘guaranteed drowning points - as described by the guides - and man-eating crocodiles the size of short buses. As the guides gave a detailed safety briefing I threw my hands up as if to say I aint scurred of nothing. As a veteran rafter of the Deerfield river these pitfalls seemed unimpressive, almost pedestrian. The trip down the river didn’t last as long as I would have liked, but my group did get to see some poor asian girl get absolutely tossed out of the raft ahead of us. Like rag-doll tossed. Like double bounced off a trampoline tossed. I ended up going out drinking with some of the guys in my group that night and had a good time.
Day tree. Snorkeling at the great barrier reef. Hands down the highlight of the trip. Boat left for the reef at 8 am, bright and early because it was a two hour trip to the good spots. During the trip out to the reef I noticed, to my surprise, a girl on the boat was wearing a Yale shirt. I immediately countered with my nike Dartmouth shirt, but I couldn’t tear the sleeves off in time so it was a stalemate. Sleeveless is the obvious trump card in that situation. She and I conferred extensively and finally decided it’d be best to join forces and consolidate our power over the rest of the passengers. Before long we had engineered a wholesome, old-time caste system: The fourth estate was down in the windowless lower level dancing and arm wrestling while we were on the sun deck wearing whites and eating a catered lunch with billy zane. Real men make their own luck indeed.
The fish at the reef were unreal. There literally were no boring looking fish. It was like the reef was a box of lucky charms and the reef-warden had hand picked out all the boring bits, leaving only the tasty delicious marshmellow fish. I’m talking lion fish, parrot fish cuddle fish and ill-tempered, mutant seabass. I even saw a turtle, and anybody who knows me knows that I like turtles.
The carrier really hammered the safety precautions into us on a verbal level, but once we were out there it was pretty much every man for himself. The multinational assortment of employees iterated the constant presence of a keen look-out on top of the boat. I don’t know how good of a lookout the guy actually was but he was pretty sick at just standing there looking remiss.
Apparently clams can get huge. I didn’t know this. There were some massive ones on the ocean floor at the reef sites we visited. You can touch them near the mouth (I hope that’s a mouth?) and they clam up – pun not intended but totally intended.
My last week in the Sydney area flew by as I buzzed around in a last ditch attempt to cross the remaining items off my bucket list. On Friday I went to Bondi beach, which is considered the most iconic and well known in Sydney. It was fine. It’s a beach. The water was absolutely freezing though. Way colder than the water in Cronulla. The highlight was finding a little bakery near the water that had carrot cake like fucking heroin. I posted up on the beach with a beer and a carrot cake block the size of a car battery. Made me think of all those poor mutts back at Dartmouth enjoying the throes of final week. See me now baby!
The following day I made the stupendously long trek to Manly beach, which is located north of Bondi across the bay. I took a ferry from circular quay and got a nice view of the opera house and bridge. Bumped into a friend from the states and caught up for a bit. She was one of two people I saw during my whole time in Australia that I knew previously in the states. It was overcast when I was at manly, so I didn’t go in the water. But I did get a beer and a delicious lamb kebab. I sat on some steps near the water when I witnessed the most brazen thing ive ever seen an animal do. As I was eating a seagull flew over my head from behind and kicked the kebab out of my hand. I just sat there, stunned as a bunch of other seagulls raced in to scoop up the scraps that had fallen. It was a spectacle, people had actually stopped to watch this pitched battle between a swarm of rabid seagulls and myself. I was furious. Nobody touches a white man’s lamb kebab. I literally wanted to just start stomping them like Costanza did to those pigeons in the park during the Merv Griffin Show episode. I’m sure theres a law against that too, but fuck it I’m an American tourist so I get automatic diplomatic immunity right?
I spent Sunday at the beach in cronulla, getting my surf on and my tan on for the last time.
As an American it’s only natural to regard foreign lands as fake-life playgrounds full of people whose only purpose is to maintain a kind of pseudo-life charade for visitors. As a cultural chameleon it was quite easy and enjoyable to create a fake-life identity for myself as well. I used a ton of different names, including: Ted Kennedy, Michael Scofield, Stanley Goodspeed, Kenny Fucking Powers, DB Cooper, Colin Powell and Matt Chesky. These were usually met with an approving nod and a quick name repetition, except for ‘chesky’ which they said sounded fake. But despite the inherent differences between the real world and the fake world, I did find a few universal constants, one of which was my Yale sleeveless. This single article has proved itself time and again to be a natural aphrodisiac whose potency is not mitigated with increasing distance from New Heaven. Seriously this is how Clark Kent must feel when he comes out of a phonebooth wearing his superman spandex. Just unstoppable. Everywhere I went in that shirt, the deafening cries of “omg do you go to yale?” and “have you been working out?” were sure to follow. Yes to both ladies, and the drinks are on moi. Winston Winterbottom, Yale 2012, how are ya?
*The picture of me wiping out in AD basement while wearing the shirt provided indisputable visual evidence for the occasional skeptic