Day 6 – Cairns / Sydney
By the time I awoke for my fourth day in Cairns, I was just about done with this place. As muggy and nasty as the weather is outside, the air conditioning inside our suite makes the conditions bearable albeit chilly by comparison. As I shuffled from the bedroom my Mum and I shared, cricket was on the telly when I dragged myself into the living room. A cricket match is played over the course of five, sometimes six days! Hence, the telly was playing only day 2 of the contest between New Zealand and Australia. We were just about out of food in the fridge, so I ate a comparatively small brekky of cereal, coffee, and an orange. We then packed up all our stuff, as we were about to check out of The Lakes. Since our flight wasn't until 6:15pm, we had virtually the whole day to spend in the lovely outdoors until we had to take off for the airport around 4:30pm. Mum suggested we drive down the street to a botanical garden that we saw advertised in a collection of brochures in our suite. Although the garden was just down the street from The Lakes, there was no way in hell I was walking anywhere unless it was to another air conditioned room. Mum took yet more pictures of us in the lush garden next to a pond replete with lily pads and jacaranda blossoms that fell from the trees above. Mum took out her camera and (sigh) snapped away. She's acquired a bit of a reputation around the family as an obsessive-compulsive shutterbug since she arrived down under. Regardless, I posed and put on the requisite shit-eating grin next to Uncle Gerry in front of the lilies - whoopee.
We didn't want to drive anywhere too far before we had to turn in the car. We were going to drive to another rainforest area an hour away that Mum wanted to visit, but I objected, maintaining I had had my share of lengthy drives and rainforests. We decided to drive to a park in rural Queensland that was supposed to be 20-30 minutes away. Although the place was actually 40 minutes away, it was a mildly interesting attraction called Paronella Park. A Spanish count moved there after being exiled from Spain seventy years ago, and by the time he snuck back into Spain eight years later to bring his true love back with him, she had remarried. However, her younger sister was single, so he took her to Australia instead. Anyways, inside the park were dilapidated ruins of a castle that once had a movie theatre, concert hall, swimming pool and changing rooms. Only concrete chunks resembling anything but the aforementioned locales remained, which made this afternoon adventure, as I had mentioned, mildly interesting at best. However, before the tour, we were each given "brellies", Aussie for umbrella. They came in handy because by the end of the tour, we would have been soaked, as the tour guide, who didn't have a brelly, was fortunate she wasn't wearing a white t-shirt. On a side note, I've picked up quite a collection of Australian colloquial phrases I will share in due time. Lunch was served after the tour, and I had a chicken satay wrap which was about as bland as the tour, given the price they charged visitors. The tea was good, though – but it's pretty hard to mess up tea.
As it was now about 2:30pm, we decided to head back to Cairns to turn the car in. As we drove down a fairly deserted two-lane highway, Gerry and I noticed a sedan that was stuck in a ditch on the other side of the road. Since there were no callboxes in the vicinity, Gerry took the initiative and pulled a U-turn a half kilometer up the road, came back, and made sure the guy was okay. Turns out it was just some young "punter" who crashed his car. He was fine, and said a tow truck was on the way. He spun out on a turn that he took at too fast a speed, and it was pretty much his fault. Nonetheless, I was impressed with Gerry's attempt at being a good Samaritan.
When we arrived back in Cairns at around 3pm, Mum, for some reason, wanted to visit the Reef Hotel & Casino. She's not much of a gambler, and Gerry quite dislikes gambling. However, I knew full well that he had taken a beating in the stock market recently, and compared investing in the market with gambling. I basically told him it was all, to a certain degree, risk management.
When we walked in, I bought us three a pint of beer. They had slot machines and "pokies", as well as a few table games. Although the casino was kind of dead considering it was a Saturday afternoon, one could still play blackjack, pai gow, roulette, and some other games I was unfamiliar with and can't remember the names of. The minimum bet at blackjack was $25, and I decided to spare a tongue lashing from Mum and Gerry, and abstained. They played the nickel slots and lost their investment in about 5 minutes. After they tore through a whole $1 AUS, Gerry caught an update on the cricket match, which was still going on. Australia, the favorite, was killing the Kiwis, as expected. Gerry became intrigued with the roulette table, and I explained the odds of betting to him, and reiterated what I had told him about risk management: betting on black/red, odd/even, or simply individual numbers which paid according to the probability of success. He found this fascinating, but didn't bet anymore $.
After we left the casino, we needed to gas the trusty Hyundai before we took it back to Billabong Rent-a-Car. Gerry did something at the gas station that blew my mind: he pumped BEFORE he paid! He found my shock amusing, and said that although petrol theft had been on the rise recently (especially by gas-sniffing "Aboes"), Aussies were generally trustworthy enough so that service stations didn't require patrons pay before they pump. I assured him that, in this economy, that practice would rightfully bankrupt gas stations in the States.
Although we stopped at the rent-a-car office, they told us to drop the car off at a specific parking spot at the airport with the keys locked inside, and they would pick it up later. After we checked our baggage in, we were informed that due to inclement weather down south, our plane would be delayed 25 minutes. Fortunately, once we finally boarded our Virgin Blue flight, we were told that films and TV entertainment would be free because their credit card processor aboard the flight was malfunctioning. Serves them right for charging already-paying customers to watch mediocre movies and sitcoms!
Once we landed in Sydney, we waited about 20 minutes in a rainy taxi line. A friendly, knowledgeable cabbie from Kuwait finally picked us up, and told us that since Sydney airport is privately owned by Australian financial powerhouse McQuarrie bank. Furthermore, McQuarrie allowed Qantas Airlines to bribe them into giving Qantas customers preferential treatment with regards to taxis. Thus, if you fly anything but Qantas into Sydney, you'll expedite your wait for a cab by walking over to the Qantas terminal and waiting there instead. Dodgy, I know…
We finally got home at 11:30pm since we lost an hour travelling to a time zone that actually observes daylight savings (Queensland doesn't). The Great Barrier Reef was awesome, and I'd love to visit it again, but the humidity made Queensland a tough place to enjoy in spite of the many beautiful locales it provided. That said, you should check it out; just make sure you prepare to switch wife-beaters- er, singlets, up to three times per day!
A quick recap/lesson of Aussie terms I've picked up thus far:
Brekky – breakfast
Telly – television
Pokie – Video poker machine (can also refer to slot machine)
Boot – trunk of a car
Bonnet – hood of a car
Windscreen – windshield
Petrol – gasoline
Punter – average bloke/patron of a restaurant or pub (more commonly used in Melbourne)
Power box – surge protector
Bugger – PG-13 cussword: Can also refer to a person as a term of endearment, i.e. 'a cheeky little bugger'
Aboe – Aboriginal (singular), indigenous tribes found mostly in northern Australia.
Bloody – PG-13 adjective or adverb - substitute for "fucking/damn"
Dodgy – shady/sketchy
Straight past the keeper – term stemming from cricket meaning 'in one ear, out the other', i.e. "I tried to drop a hint to Mum to ease up on taking pictures every five minutes, but I think my comment went straight past the keeper"
Splash my boots – euphemism for urination
Take the piss out of – to disparage, to mock, i.e. "Uncle Gerry took the piss out of my constant desire to check my fantasy gridiron team"