Tuesday, 30 August 2011


Australia ptII: Cairns

16-28/02/11


We could happily have stayed in Sydney with the Nobles for much longer, but I think we'd already stretched hospitality to new limits. So we said our farewells and headed to the plane station to fly to Cairns.

"Why Cairns?" I hear you ask. Well Australia's a big place and we had to start somewhere. So, a 1,200 mile flight later we exit the rather quaint airport to grey and thunderous skies.

Prior to leaving Sydney we had arranged another stint of HelpXing and as the rain arrived, so did our new host, Cameron. Car loaded, we headed to the hills on the outskirts of Cairns. Cams car was air-conditioned, we were not. We arrived at dusk and were greeted by sweet smelling and very humid air (thankfully the rain had stopped by this stage). Unpack car, move in to our new home and - not for the first time - wonder what the hell are we doing?! We had our own little place, separate from the main house; basic but not as basic as many places we'd stayed in the previous few months with an added bonus of a home gym, you can imagine the delight in Katy's eyes.

We were there to help clear-up the garden after Cyclone Yasi hit the coast several weeks earlier (this being one of the worst affected areas in Cairns). The following day we saw the scope of our activities... the garden was huge. No, really. Bovis would have fitted a small housing estate in there given half the chance.

Cam was a funny guy with a sense of sarcasm almost matching my own, so we got on OK.  His partner, Jacinta, was tall, slim and frankly a bit of a stunner.

They also had two children: Jade and Bryce. And what characters! For the first few days, Bryce would say hello by flying around the house screaming his head off in excitement. Jade was much more relaxed but VERY talkative. 
The other member of the family was Bindy, a lovely little dog (breed unknown) who was only slightly less excited than Bryce. We saw our first live bandicoot that night and our first dead bandicoot the following morning.  Thank you, Bindy.
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The following morning the weather was stifling; so hot and humid it was hard work to do anything, but we made a start clearing the many fallen palm branches and strimming / weed whacking / whipper snippering... whatever you want to call it, his football-field sized garden. Quite sad picking up fallen banana trees, but apparently they grow pretty quickly. The garden had only recently been fenced to keep children in and kangaroos out.

Cam was actually a keen gardener and surprisingly knowledgable. The garden was vast but was nicely laid out with palms and orange trees and some other nice planting like pomelos and coconut trees. The garden had many frogs, huge spiders, pretty butterflies, stick-insects (never realised they could fly before).

Cam's aim for any given day seemed to be to get through the morning asap so that he could start his afternoon of gaming on his Xbox / PSP / huge TV (a man after my own heart, but not so much since the travelling started) and the ubiquitous premixed cans of rum & coke. This meant that we didn't work too long, but it was hot n sweaty.

Whilst we shared sarcasm, Cam took the honours for pessimism. He dismissed every other state in Australia and then proceeded to pick fault in his own (though we later learned that this seems to be a Queenslander trait).  But there was truth in his words. He said there was nothing for us to see around where he was and that it was a virtual necessity that we have a car to get around. We conceded both of these things and started to hunt the free-ads.

Jacinta offered to take us into Cairns town for a look around. As she'd became more comfortable with us, she explained that previous HelpXers hadn't been too easy to get on with, hence her initial reticence, but as we seemed to be able to look after ourselves and not be a burden to her - she had her work cut-out looking after the kids and Cam - she became much happier to have us around.
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Cairns was a most pleasant place. A coastal town, it is laid-back, it's streets are broad and clean. It has the obligatory shopping centre, but this does not dominate. Along the waterfront is a lovely looking public / free pool (The Lagoon) which looked more like an infinity pool and was very welcome as most of the time the weather is scorching. The waterfront street was lined with nice looking restaurants we couldn't afford to eat in and mellifluous tunes drifted from swanky bars that we couldn't afford to drink in.

Walking past the library we saw a sign warning us of walking on the pavement and above we could see why; wafting their inverted wings in the trees above were thousands of fruit bats. Even when they were taking it easy, there were enough to cause quite a cacophony.

It's a nice place.

We had a look around the hostels and made a short-list of vehicles. Most were ropey, but the prize goes to the lovely french couple who wanted us to spend $5,000 on a very beat-up camper van. We really felt for them as they'd spent a fortune fixing problems, but our sympathy only stretches so far. Merci, mais non.

Instead we arranged a test drive with a German called Ronald. He arrived at the house in Australia's standard issue car: a 3.8l V6 Holden Commodore Station Wagon (white). One test drive later and we were sold (or more accurately, the car was, pending funds).

Back at the ranch, and in between garden clearing, Katy had her first go at cracking open a coconut (Cam's garden was littered with them). I'd had some previous experience and we eventually concluded that bringing the coconut to the axe was easier than the axe to the coconut (but with the constant threat of crushing fingers). Success!

By now we had settled in much more and gotten used to the environment. Evenings were spent having meals with the family (thankfully less screaming), watching TV or chatting with Jacinta (Cam would be killing aliens, for which we should all be grateful), who had become much more relaxed and was a really lovely person. We would see the occasional huge huntsman spider and watch geckos picking off insect in the bedroom at night (this one was on a light bulb on our kitchen table) whilst listening to the frog chorus, the torrential rain and coconuts falling on the tin roof.

Cam had a swimming pool which we'd walk past every day. Why didn't we go in? because the water was black... literally. It hadn't been used for months because of a broken pipe and was consequently full of plant debris, frog spawn and - unsurprisingly - frogs. With the garden looking pretty decent by this stage, we suggested maybe we could fix the pipe. Up until this point, our stay was going to be a brief one, but with a few days until we could get the car, Cam's eyes lit up because: a) he'd get the pool fixed and (b) to be fixing the pool would relieve the pressure from Jacinta for him to hunt for a new job ;o)

So, we fixed a pump that Cam had presumed was broken and drained the gunk from the pool. And there was a lot. Next came the digging... he knew a pipe had burst somewhere but didn't know which pipe or where. This was the hottest, sweatiest work I've ever done. Humidity must've been around 99% and we were machete-ing our way through the jungle that surrounded the pool, avoiding the painfully biting ants and the preying manti. Fun though.
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Broken pipes found, we replaced and glued new ones. Before refilling we had to clean the pool with acid. This was new to both of us... it would really have been the blind leading the blind if we hadn't been wearing our safety glasses. As it was, we padded around the pool sloshing acid and scrubbing (feet were very soft afterward!). We decided there was enough acid when the stone cladding starting coming off from the pool.

With a break in pool duties and bank funds cleared, popped back into Cairns to purchase the car. The Marshs were once again Travelling... Let me introduce Clive. it felt right! Our previous travel car - Jeremy - was a tough act to follow, but Clive was four times more expensive so we had high hopes! The car also came with a brand new surfboard (which, to be honest is the reason we got the car at all) and enough camping gear for three people.

Thankfully, it was around this time that I had a tax refund from my company car days and we also had a small win on the premium bonds (every little bit helps!).

Back at the pool, we refilled. I should point out that by now rain was falling... the heaviest and most persistent rain I had ever seen. This helped alot. Then we drained again as we realised our pipe water-proofing was not all it could have been. After a couple more times we finally got it right. We even got the waterfall working!

I think Cam probably got a lot of brownie-points for that. So much so, that he asked if we could stay longer to work on some other projects, but by now we had the car and it had to be registered within 14 days in New South Wales, several hundred miles away.

So we were off again! Said goodbye to Jacinta, Jade and Bryce at breakfast and left Bindy howling at the gate. We left Cam playing Kill Zone 3.  

You've gotta love the HelpX!

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