Lots to report because it has been a long time since I last wrote. After Sydney, we had several days at sea, one of which was unanticipated. We were due to stop at a place called Mooloolabah (where we were going to take a tour into Brisbane) but the weather conditions there were unfavorable for tendering. So the ship, in conjunction with the people at the "home office", scrambled to come up with an alternate spot. Eventually they succeeded in securing one; it was a place called Townsville. We stopped there on Sunday.
Townsville -- notice stripper sign at front left -- Rock behind town is quite large
The town itself looks to be rather a hard scrabble place. Some of the buildings reminded me of a mining town in the western U.S. The stores were highly touristic in nature. Apparently many visitors (mostly I would venture to guess Australians) visit when exploring the Great Barrier Reef. They mustn't be very high end tourists based solely on the number of strip clubs (2) and bars (numerous). The town did have a "chemist" which is apparently what they call a pharmacy here where we were able to purchase some needed (and unneeded) supplies. There was also a Woolworth's. Not sure whether this is related to the old "five and dime" stores in the U.S. (I suspect not) but the name lives on here in Australia as a chain of grocery stores where we also purchased needed (and unneeded) supplies.
The aquarium is the white round building in rear. As for the spider, I am not sure
Of more interest to visitors is the Great Barrier Reef Aquarium which despite its rather grand sounding name proved to be a modest but worthwhile collection of fish and coral typical of the Great Barrier Reef region. This aquarium had two advantages over most other aquariums: 1.) apparently the fish of the Great Barrier Reef are extraordinarily colorful and attractive because we saw lots and lots of beautiful species and 2.) the place was not overwhelmed with screaming, backpack-wearing and sparsely chaperoned children (an ever present hazard at natural history museums wold-wide). Suffice it to say, we enjoyed ourselves and it was nice getting off the ship after three days at sea.
Next stop was Cairns. This town was decidedly more prosperous than Townsville. It seems to be home to a decent number of retired people and a second home to a fair number of others -- meaning lots of condominiums with big, inviting but empty swimming pools. And this was despite the fact that the temperature must have been above ninety. We signed up for an excursion here -- the Kuranda Experience. It involved taking a narrow gauge railway up to a "mountain"/former mining town called, unsurprisingly, Kuranda. The trip up was scenic but hot. We were seated with some real duds and we also had aisle seats rather than window seats so not only did we not see too much but we spent most of our time fending off conversation from one of our neighbors while simultaneously trying to get the others to crack a smile (it's a lot of hard work being co-dependent!).
Anyhow, once we got to the town of Kuranda I thought we were really in for it because the town seemed unrelentingly touristy. Which it was but we were able to find that there were some stores we liked including an artist's cooperative where I bought some prints that I have no idea what I will use them for. We also managed to find a gay-friendly (they had a rainbow flag sticker on their sign) juice bar where we sat in the shade and devoured a Strawberry Mango Smoothie while talking to a Chicago-based couple from ship. To get down from Kuranda, we took the Skyway. This cable-car traverses something like ten kilometers and takes about thirty five minutes (not including a very brief stop at a rain forest boardwalk). The views from the cable car were lovely and in some places even spectacular. I was worried that the little enclosed car would be terribly stuffy but it turned out to be nicely ventilated and comfortable. At the bottom there was a store and cafe (of course) where we got a bite to eat and drink and I bought a book on Australian birds though I can't tell you why because we only have one more stop in Australia and it is a city (Darwin) where I am unlikely to find birds in need of identification.
As I write to you we are cruising the Barrier Reef. There isn't too much to see: atolls, uninhabited islands, sand bars and the occasional shadows in the water which I assume are the reef itself. Cruising this area is no easy feat as it is a national park and the route between islands, reefs, etc is highly prescribed. We are not moving very fast so I can hear the water gently sloshing and there is a soft breeze. Mercifully we are on the shady side of the ship right now so the temperature is quite comfortable. I must however return to my needlepoint from which I took a break for the last couple of days, choosing instead to go to the dark side and begin knitting a pair of socks for R. Also I need to exercise this afternoon. I've been pretty good about exercising on this trip but it doesn't seem to be making much difference in terms of my weight. I guess we all know what that means -- still too much eating. I am telling you it is hard to avoid eating on these ships. There is food every which way you turn and if you are as weak-willed as I am, well the results can be none too pretty!