Here's hoping that the festive season was a happy and safe one for everyone, and that you have all just about recovered by now, and are settling into a prosperous 2004.
I'm writing this on 2nd Jan at Port Douglas, but will refrain from sending it until after Monday, when I have to go back to the doctors to find out whether or not I have a perforated eardrum! Still, more of that later.
December in Queensland's tropical north has bean a month of increasing heat, humidity and rain, greatly pleasing the locals, who will readily tell you they've not had a proper wet season for three years if you so much as look like you're about to complain about the weather! My last few weeks at work were enjoyable, and passed without major incident. We were busier than had been expected, so there was plenty of work to go around, and the boss was in good spirits with profits vastly exceeding anything they had dared to hope for.
Stinger season is now in full swing, meaning the beautiful beaches are off limits for swimming. The smaller irikanji jellyfish can slip inside the stinger nets designed to keep the dangerous box jellyfish out, so even this supposed safe haven is not really a goer. Some beaches have been closed completely, and there are regular enough reports of people getting stung to put one off risking it.
Out at the reef a large number of innocuous jellyfish were around during my last week, though nothing dangerous . . . though to be honest I wouldn't recognise one if I saw it. Passengers are encouraged to wear stinger suits, which would make even a super model look daggy. I just stuck to my 5mm full length wetsuit - though with the water temperature around the 28/29 degree mark, I've had the piss taken out of me a fair bit for being a wuss. My last day proper was on 16th December, but I left my gear on board as I would be working on Christmas day, and also hoped to get out for a couple of fun days.
My main priority on finishing work though was to try and formulate some sort of a plan for where to go from here. I'd been thinking of getting a car, driving down the coast to Sydney to catch up with a friend, then heading back up this way and over to WA via Darwin and Kakadu National Park. The down side to this idea though was the 10,000 km I'd need to drive and a combination of the roads and the wet season.
Port Douglas being a bit of a sleepy hollow, I knew I'd have to head to the bright lights of Cairns to sort my life out and figure out what to do. I went down there half expecting to buy a car. I was hoping to find the sort of bargain you get when a backpacker has to fly out of the country the next day - where the asking price has started around the $4000 mark, and has been repeatedly slashed as the owner's departure date draws nearer, ending around $500. Hopeful, but I had seen the odd ad like this in my previous months in Cairns. It's all in the timing, and a brief perusal of a number of the backpacker notice boards about town told me that mine was out.
Another option I planned to explore was that of flights, and my next stop was the Flight Centre, where I was told about an amazingly cheap flight from Sydney to Broome on the 21st of February for the incredible price of $189 - god bless Richard Branson! Knowing a bargain when I saw one, I booked my seat, and will bus it down the coast to Sydney on January 7th, stopping off on the way. When I get to Broome I plan to get a bus pass to Perth, stopping off at either Exmouth or Coral Bay where I hope to work for three months diving the Ningaloo Reef. As June approaches, and my time to leaves draws near, I shall get to Perth for an onward flight. This means I won't get to do Darwin or Kakadu this time around, but I am very aware that this is the only time I will be able to work here in Oz. I can come back on a tourist visa another time and do stuff like that.
It would have been churlish not to take advantage of Cairns' nightlife while I was there, so I met up with my friend John for a night on the town. I'd not seen him since I headed north, and it was good to catch up. He entertained me with stories of vomiting all over the inside of his car, whilst driving to work with a hangover, and we visited a number of drinking establishments including Gilligans, the new and very swanky backpackers which has opened up since I was last in the city. I also made the most of Cairns cheap internet access, spending almost twelve hours on line in the three days I was down there.
I had another ulterior motive for my visit; I decided to treat myself to an early Christmas present of an underwater camera, and am now the proud owner of an Aquapix, Sea&Sea's new amphibious digital camera. This brings the total of cameras I have with me to three, and gives me something else to lug around with me . . . like I didn't have enough already! It's a fixed focus camera, so that is taking a bit of getting used to. It's pretty much bottom of the range as far as underwater digital cameras go, but I've managed to get a couple of good shots out of it so far - enough to tell me that the not so good ones are down to me and not the camera.
So my first job once I returned to Port was to call my old employers and ask if I could go out for a fun day the next day. After the fiasco last time, I thought it best not to even mention the camera, but turned up the next day armed with it and my laptop, and went diving with my friend Ghigo, who managed to find me a shark and a cuttlefish, signalling to me before the rest of the group, so I could get a couple of shots of them before they got spooked.
Two days later I was out again, and this time found that there was only one other certified diver on the boat, a Dutchman with a video camera. They were a bit short on crew that day, so it worked out perfectly, and I led his dives that day. He got through his air quite quickly, so I was able to stay down on my own after he had surfaced, and play around until my air got low or I ran out of shots. On the second dive I found a pair of cuttlefish right under the boat, who were not at all camera shy. I spent a good fifteen minutes playing with them while they posed for me.
The following day was Christmas Eve, and I started it in style with 'Breakfast with the Birds' at the nearby Rainforest Habitat. After a generous and varied buffet breakfast you get to stroll around the grounds spotting the incumbent animals. The trees, water and fine mesh that roofs the place provided welcome respite from the heat. Once I'd seen my fill of birds I started wandering around the section outside that contains a number of marsupials and ducks. I bought pellets to feed to the kangaroos - although the ducks have a strategy to ensure they get their fair share, and will peck your hand to make you drop the pellets.
It was up early on Christmas day, and off to work. I'd got my flatmate a job there for the day, and Ghigo's partner, Ina, was also working there as a one off. It seemed everybody wanted to dive, and we had a busy and fun day, with everything going smoothly. I was pretty hungover from the previous night, but after the second dive I had sobered up enough to feel almost human again. Christmas lunch for me was a peanut butter and cheese roll, which didn't seem quite right, but that aside it was a really great way to spend the day - diving, and getting paid for it - who could ask for more?
I had been determined to get up to Cape Tribulation before I left the area - when I was here five years ago I had meant to go, but had then got in to diving and run out of time. I finally managed to get up there a few days ago, taking a one day organised tour which included a crocodile cruise, rainforest viewing platform, a guided walk through the rainforest, a peek at the beautiful beach at Cape Trib, and a swim in a creek. A fun day, and managed to spot crocs, a cassowary, a monitor lizard, two sharks and two rays right on the beach in Cape Trib, turtles and a dead snake, all in the wild. My other mission while I'm here is to make it to Four Mile Beach for sunrise, but at the time of writing that one has still not been accomplished . . . maybe tomorrow (as I say every day!)
On Monday my beloved libretto laptop died on me, so I 'phoned up the local computer place and brought it in. The guy in there confirmed that it was the hard drive that was gone, but didn't think there'd be a problem whacking a new one in there, the bonus being that I'd increase my 6Gb drive to one of around 30Gb. I'd known it was going for a while, so didn't mind too much the $440 that cost me. The computer has now become an absolute essential item for me, and I'm not sure how I'd function without it (and it's that attitude that is to blame for me having so much gear to lug around!)
Whilst I was getting things sorted out, I decided the time was well overdue to go to the doctors and get them to have a look at my ears. I'd been aware that I've had an ear infection for a number of weeks. Whilst I was working I was put off going as I knew they would say 'stay out of the water'. With my time being limited, I didn't want to have to finish work earlier than planned. I'd always intended going once work had finished, but was being a bit slow at getting around to it. The thing that finally pushed me into going was that in the previous few days, when I had put ear drops (designed to prevent and treat infection) in, I had started tasting them in the back of my throat.
I figured that this was not a very good sign. I know that ear, nose and throat are all connected, but the fact that it had only just started happen made me think this was not exactly normal. I mentioned this to the doctor, and her first impression was that it sounded like a perforated eardrum. This had occurred to me too, and was less than thrilling news. She tried to have a look to see, but I also have tropical ear (some sort of infection caused by having constantly waterlogged ears), and she was unable to see properly, so I am hanging around until Monday, when I have to go back and find out the score. I've not had any nausea or dizziness or even any real pain to speak of, so hopefully it's not perforated. I'm currently to avoid water completely, so cannot swim in the pool, and have to wear earplugs and be careful in the shower.
Having since researched the subject, I have found out that it's not the disaster I first thought. Once a perforated eardrum heals (6-8 weeks) you can dive again, although it will never be as strong. I also found out that leaving an infection untreated can cause a spontaneous perforation, so I guess I have no one to blame but myself. I'd like to hold myself up as an example of what not to do, so if any of you reading this have something niggling you, which you've been putting off getting checked out, why not make the time to do it now? Who knows what you'll be saving yourself from in the long run.
I'm actually feeling pretty philosophical about the whole thing. I know how lucky I am to have fulfilled my ambition of being a diving instructor, and have really enjoyed the experience. Many people never get to do the things they really want to do. Hopefully all will be well, or will get well again. If I do have to stay out of the water for a couple of months then I'll just have to find some other things to do in the mean time, and hopefully will be all healed for when I get over to WA. Hopefully too I have learned a bit of a lesson, and will not stick my head in the sand (figuratively speaking) next time around.
New year was spent with Ghigo and Ina, and a couple of their friends. We had a last minute dash into town, and managed to get there just in time for the stroke of twelve and fireworks. I stayed on in town when they returned home - I'd had three cans of redbull, and had forgotten just how potent that stuff is. This was only my second night out in Port Douglas, so I planned on making the most of it. I went to the local night-club, Fluids, and boogied the rest of the night away. I was expecting a long walk home in the morning, but was delighted to find a bus waiting outside, driven by someone very much akin to Otto from the Simpsons. There was a fight on the bus on the way home, and blood and everything . . . it was most exciting!
Well I'll leave this here for now, but will update you on Monday, when I know more about my ears.
UPDATE - Tuesday 6th
Well I have now officially left Port Douglas, and am currently sitting in an internet cafe in Cairns (just for a change!). I went to the docs yesterday to find out that I did have a small perforation, which has already closed up. I can't dive until the end of the month, though, which stuffs my plan to dive the Yongala in a day or two, and probably also the idea of working at Byron Bay, though I plan to time it so I can at least dive there (paying for dives is going to hurt, but!).
So things could have been alot worse. I'm now going to have to find some fun non-diving things to do on my way down the coast, but let's face it, that's hardly going to be a chore, is it?
In other news amazingly enough I did actually manage to make it down to Four Mile Beach for sunrise - and I've the photos to prove it. I'm sure you'll agree it was well worth the early start (especially as I went straight back to bed after, heh heh!)
Also visited the trendy Port markets on Sunday , have a looksee here.
Well that's all folks. Will write more sometime on my journey southbound. Feels a bit odd to be leaving far north Queensland after seven months, and I'm not relishing the thought of sharing smelly dorms...or lugging the dreaded bags around! Will let you know how I get on.