Thursday, February 12, 2009

Atherton

Pardo's friend Guy Carpenter greeted us onboard the Spirit of Freedom right at 7:15am, having told us via e-mail that if we tried to take the taxi to his home where he'd offered to put us up for a couple of nights, the taxi driver would just laugh in glee. Tall and with the look of a well-adapted Australian, Guy had lived in the Cairns area for the last 15 years or so.

Lisa had mentioned wanting to get a photo with Koalas, so Guy offered to take us to what he felt to be the best of the Wildlife habitats in the area. It turned out that Guy contracted at the Geographical Information Service department of the government two days a week, as well as supporting the local conservation efforts as a volunteer, which made him eminently qualified to make good decisions about such things. We then made a long drive to the place, making stops every so often to get pictures of the area. He mentioned that that past Port Douglas, there were the Daintrees, which had voted to stay off the grid. If the weather had been less warm and humid we would have considered going out there, but it was hot and humid and Guy lived up in the Tablelands/highlands area, which would make everything really more comfortable, so we decided that we would make our way back to his place eventually.

The Wildlife habitat was great --- they somehow managed to get a lot of wildlife in a small place without it seeming unnatural. We arrived early enough to follow the morning feeding cart, and so we got to see birds arrive and snatch fish off the feeding cart, as well as get various species of birds pointed out to us, either by Guy or by the feeding agent.

After that, we went to Port Douglas for lunch, where we found a cheap sushi place that also served an amazingly authentic Char Siew Bao. Then on the way back, we stopped by the Barron Falls --- with the monsoon rains we could see the incredible amount of silt built into the river --- an outpouring of brown water slammed down 500 feet from the top of the fall, creating a massive spray and a breeze that blew secondary streams into the air before they even met the river.

After that sight, we got to see the train station over at Karuda, unchanged for 100 years, with train passing at most once very 3 hours or so. We were then brought to the Carpenter home, with introduction to Francesca, their lovely daughter Jasmine (an impressive 10th grader at Atherton high school). They fed us an amazing dinner with vegetarian pumpkin soup, fresh homemade bread, and we talked for the rest of the evening about friends and matters in Australia and throughout the world.

The next morning started with a visit to the Curtain Fig, an enormous fig tree that had strangled its host, which then fell upon another tree during a windstorm, forming a curtain of roots from up high that was amazing. We then walked around Meecham lake, reminding me why I didn't plan any camping or hiking in the rainforest --- the verdant lush growth made me itch just walking around on an improved trail around it.

Lunch was at an old veteran's convalescent home. We then took the waterfalls route, stopping at no less than three waterfalls, which were clearly at the height of the wet season --- it was hard to believe that in June, these powerful cascades would diminish to a trickle. We then dropped by the local chocolate and cheese factory, buying some chocolate for the family, and getting a video of the cheese-making process, then a quick visit to the Chinese temple that was closed. It turned out that some of the early settlers in this part of Australia were Chinese, and unlike Chinese in other parts of the world, they were so respected that they were never subject to any of the concentration camps that occured during world war 2.

Guy knew the person who ran the bat hospital, so after a quick call we received permission to visit. The facility, which had taken over Jenny's home and her life had both mega (fruit eating) and micro (insect eating) bats, and took in bats that were injured in barbed wire, carelessly put together fruit nets, or in recent years, orphans whose parents were infected by a virus carried by local ticks. We were given a quick tour of the facilities, including the recovery areas as well as shown the baby Albino bats that were brought in from Cairns that looked just amazing.

We then returned to the Carpenter home for a soak in the pool, just the thing for the tropical heat, and another great meal and more conversation. It's always great to have hospitable hosts watch out for you and show you around, and this would definitely be a highlight of our trip!
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