Aussie directness

Cairns itself has very little going on. Everything is a drive away. Most touristy things are privately owned, and even the national parks and like have to be reached using tour services ostensibly to reduce the impact of unherded, isolated visitors. This means that there is heavy advertisement and commission-based sales of tours. Truth and moderation are a casualty of the whole setup. It's hard to get information on anything that doesn't involve a $100 tour.

Sunday, we went to a botanical gardens in the north of the city. The gardens has plants from tropical rainforests all over the world. Across from the gardens was a boardwalk that went into the rainforest. We started out at the top of the canopy with light-loving, tall trees. And then you walked into the understory with ferns and the like. And as we walked further and further, the soil got swampier and swampier. The trees and plants changed slowly, finally culminating in paper-bark trees and mangroves. And adjacent to the garden was a 300m hill that overlooked the airport. It took us 40 minutes to climb, but the views from the top of Mt. Whitfield was worth the effort. We could see the Pacific, the rainforest and planes taking off.

We found an elderly couple already at the bus stop to go back. "It's 13 degrees in Adelaide and raining," the lady told us. She was enjoying the heat, but it was still a bit much. "But you don't burn do you," she commented to my wife, "the sun doesn't affect dark skin as much."

Monday afternoon, we took off to beaches north of Cairns (Palm Cove, see picture on right). The water was cold (23C) and it was very, very windy but we did get into the water. Don't know how it'll be on Thursday when we go to the Great Barrier Reef. But however cold it is, we're going.

Coming back, we chanced on a shack that advertised itself as the "Outback Opal Mine". We got off the bus and went in. It was not a mine -- it was just a shop with a wall that was made to look like a mine. A scam. But the scam served its purpose because A. bought a few opal earrings to give as gifts. The blues were great and the milky white didn't look as good. "It'll look good on your skin," the saleswoman told my wife, "the white won't look good on a woman from England, but on your skin it'll look quite good." Apparently, Australians are a lot more casual when it comes to mentioning race -- I have a hard time picturing an American making the same comments.

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