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Johnny B

John and Diane's Amazing Adventure - Part III

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Pleased you are enjoying North Queensland, which is Australia's popular winter escape paradise.

 

http://www.cairnsesplanade.com.au/SwimPaddlePlay

 

This is the Cairns Esplanade Lagoon you mentioned. Did you also see the delightful Muddy's, the free children's play area further along the Esplanade?

 

The further north you go in Queensland, the nicer it gets. I hope you have a wonderful day at Cape Tribulation and Daintree and get to spot some wildlife.

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Diane and John,

 

So glad you had good weather for the reef as it is so amazing when the sun is shining. Going out from Port Douglas to the reef is the best as you do get so far away from civilization. We have also taken a light plane ride from Cairns that took us up to Cooktown for breakfast, Lizard Island for lunch and then we came right over the reef all the way back to Cairns. It was a beautiful sunny day, and we saw the reef at its best. It is truly one of nature's wonders and we are so lucky to have it in our back garden.

 

We will be up in Palm Cove, which is a few miles north of Cairns, in July and are looking forward to returning to that beautiful part of our country.

 

Jennie

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February 29 – Day 54

Cairns

 

We discovered why they call it a “rain forest.” We must have had five or six (or more) inches of rain today while we traveled with Billy Tea Tours to Daintree, Cape Tribulation, and into the oldest rain forest on earth.

 

John, our driver/guide, picked us up at 7:00 and then continued on to pick up eight other people for our day’s outing. We drove two hours north to the Daintree River where, after a coffee and tea break (“white or black, dear?”) we boarded a river raft and set out along the surprisingly wide and muddy river on the lockout for flora and fauna and especially crocodiles. I learned some time ago (from reading to children) that crocodiles make our Western Hemisphere alligators look like koala bears. Crocs have long, thin snouts, razor sharp teeth, and are incredibly vicious and aggressive.

They like muddy water with thick, overhanging trees along the banks (all the better to catch and eat you, my dear). The Daintree River meets all these criteria.

 

Our guide has been working on the river for 12 years and also does a lot of wild animal rescue, including once removing a 12-foot python from a hotel room! When asked about the danger of crocodiles, he told us that two years ago, two little boys were playing 30 feet inland, but in a swampy area when a 20-foot croc grabbed the five-year-old and swam into the river with him. When they trapped and caught the crocodile several weeks later, the only way they knew they had the right one was to identify DNA in his digestive system. Such a horrible story, but it illustrates why no one swims in this river.

 

To make a long story extend a little further, we didn’t see any full-grown crocs because of the previous night’s storm, since they prefer the dry season, but we did see several babies on thick branches which extended into the water. I wouldn’t mess with them, either, even if they are only a couple of feet long. Our guide added that the survival rate for hatched baby crocs is less than 1%, and that only the smart, tough ones live very long.

 

From the river, we drove to part of the UNESCO World Heritage National Park, where an elevated boardwalk took us through a deep section of the rain forest. We saw trees and plants that are the same types that existed many millions of years ago, and learned what steps are now taken to make sure that people a thousand years from now can visit the same places and see the same amazing plants and trees.

 

Next was a barbecue lunch, after which we hand fed kangaroos, some of which were really cuddly. Can’t wait for that photo to be developed. From feeding the kangaroos, we went on to see a 10-foot crocodile which had been rescued, and we watched him being fed large pig parts, which he enjoyed with a huge crunch.

 

As soon as we drove away from lunch and the kangaroos, it started to rain, and rain, and rain. There had been a chart where we ate lunch, which showed rainfall for the last several years as well as for January and February. The minimum rainfall for the area is about 60-70 inches a year, but a more typical year gets well over a hundred. We learned about a storm in 1968, during which 62 inches of rain fell in 36 hours! Now that’s a storm. During January of this year, this particular area had about 18 inches of rain, but February (believe it or not) has been even wetter. .

 

By the time we got to Emmagen Creek for a tropical fruit and wine stop, the weather had cleared somewhat, and a few of us (including John) went swimming in the creek. However, then it started again, and even those of us who didn’t swim (including me) were again soaked by the time we got back to our 4-wheel drive vehicle.

 

As the rain continued to bucket down, we drove to Cape Tribulation, so named by Captain Cook on a bad day, and although we walked down to the beach, no one was willing to walk out to the lookout in that weather. Just the short walk from the carpark to the beach resulted in my clothes being completely soaked through

 

Afterward, we began the two-hour drive back to Cairns, the high point of which was watching a cassowary and baby cross the road and hang around the roadside for awhile. We then drove through torrential rain, lightning and thunder. Several times our driver/guide John had to slow considerably because of temporary “rivers” that crossed the road from of all the rain.

 

John was able to drop us right at our ship, and we arrived looking like drowned rats. After a quick shower (rather ironic), we had barbecue dinner up on deck, and then headed back into town to spend the last of our Australian dollars and use the rest of our internet time.

 

It was a great day, and a wonderful experience to finish off our three days in Cairns.

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Did you get to taste any of the lime ants? a very interesting experience:D:);)

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You certainly got to experience the extremes of our wet season. Often, at this time of year, the road to Cape Tribulation gets cut.

 

You were so lucky to see a cassowary and baby in the wild. I have only seen a couple in the wild on many trips.

 

I hope you are able to make a return visit in the dry season, when you will be able see a lot of beautiful birds and wildlife. Chris Dahlberg does a wonderful bird watching and wildlife boat tour from the Daintree.

 

It is such a pleasure to read your interesting blog.

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March 1 - Day 55

At Sea along the Great Barrier Reef

 

When I was working our way through college, employed at a travel agency in San Jose, there was a client, a woman, who would not sign on to a cruise unless every day waso a port. She really didn’t care where the cruise went, she just couldn’t abide being away from land more than overnight. As we managed to do very little today, I really cannot understand her way of thinking.

 

Sea days, especially after five days of going full tilt in both Sydney and Cairns, are just a blessing. As curious and adventurous travelers, we just have to do everything we can and see everything that can be seen. In Sydney, we went to the Blue Mountains all the first day, and then spent the next day traveling to Cairns. While there, we were pretty much at it from 6:00 in the morning until about 6:00 at night, arriving back at our ship last evening just before 7:00, in time to spend about 15 minutes at the Australian barbecue on the Lido deck and then head back into town for last minute necessities (what do you mean wine isn’t a necessity?)

 

As I look over the HAL Explorer , the new name for the daily newsletter, I am absolutely exhausted looking at all the things that a body can do if a body were so inclined. In one section, they are listed chronologically, from 7:00 Early Morning Stretch to 11:00 PM “Latin Music Hour” with the Station Band in the Crow’s Nest. Across the page, they’re also listed in four categories: Our World (including speakers), Food and Entertaining (including our friend George Geary’s food demo today, which I missed because I didn’t read the program), Technology (including “Transferring Photos” and “Techspert Time”), and Wellbeing, (including the aforementioned Early Morning Stretch, Tai Chi, and my favorite, Team Trivia Challenge. - BTW, we won all by ourselves today, beating out the next team by two whole answers!)

 

By actual count, there are 62 (yes, 62!) separate items on the list, and that doesn’t even count meals or movies. To compare, John and I looked over the whole list, and after our five-day Australian marathon, did exactly one: trivia. Tomorrow, however, I’m doing something which will be a lot of fun: George Geary’s cooking class. We meet at 11:30, spend about an hour learning how to and then preparing a three-course meal, and then take it across the hall to the Pinnacle Restaurant and sit down to eat it – with wine, of course.

 

This afternoon we’ve been cruising between the northern Australian mainland and some really lovely offshore islands, which makes for a very scenic day.

 

So, there wasn’t much too complain about today. I finished two books (I was in the middle of them already) and sat in the sun for a while. Oh yes, I also got a haircut. Such a busy day!

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Busy yes. Just pace yourself. Thanks for your wonderful reports. I so enjoy reading them each morning.

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March 2 – Day 56

At Sea off Northern Australia

(Go to the top of Australia on a map and turn left)

 

Today has a special significance. Since this is a 112-day cruise, today is the end of the first half of it. John and I have discussed it, but we know we dare not mention it to our friend Barbie, because she really, really hates to even think of the cruise ending.

 

One of the things I really enjoy about the cruise is cooking demonstrations and classes. We have a series of guest chefs who come on board, do free demonstrations (with samples – yum!), and then teach two or three paid cooking classes. Susie and I took most of the classes on the 2008 and 2010 cruises, but I just haven’t gotten around to signing up for any this time. However, the current guest chef is George Geary (georgegeary.com) and besides being a friend and a really funny guy, he’s also an excellent cook, and I wanted to see what he’d have us cook up.

 

Cooking classes have 12 students who each receive an apron, a notepad, an HAL pen, and copies of our recipes. While most classes deal with three things to cook, today we had five. The 12 of us divide up into small groups to focus on one of the dishes being prepared. The five today were Drunken Tequila Shrimp, Pacific Rim Chicken Salad in Lettuce Cups, Roasted Filet of Beef Tenderloin with Mustard and Cajun Spices, Potatoes au Gratin, and Baked Vermont Apples. Are you salivating yet?

 

I volunteered for the baked apples, since I’d be too tempted to eat the shrimp myself and I do love baked apples. We spent an hour and a half prepping, cooking, taking pictures, drinking wine (oh, did I forget to mention that there were several bottles of wine out for our drinking pleasure?) and generally having a good time.

 

Since the Culinary Center is right across from the Pinnacle Grill, when we finished cooking and plating the goodies, we each carried our plates across the hallway to enjoy a delicious lunch. The only problem was that after lunch I really, really needed a nap.

 

This evening’s entertainment in the Queen’s Lounge was, far and away, the best show we’ve seen on the ship. It was a three-man group called “The Aussie Boys” and they were incredible. Besides being gorgeous, they sing Australian songs, most of which we non-Aussies were not familiar with, and danced, and generally had so much energy they could have lit up the whole show lounge. The most familiar song was The Seekers’ “Georgie Girl,” but there were sitting around the campfire songs, drinking songs, and all kinds of others. The only song they didn’t sing was “Waltzing Matilda,” which I’ve been told many Aussies try to avoid, since it’s the only one that tourists ever ask for.

 

The evening concluded in the best possible way, with an extra hour’s sleep. We still have two sea days before arriving at Komodo Island, and we’re planning to take advantage of both of them.

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It is hard for us readers to imagine that the cruise is half over also! Your coverage of the ports and the meals on ship etc. have been so interesting. Thanks for all your work! C.

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Diane and John,

 

Believe it or not we have never heard of the "Aussie Boys". I think they must mainly perform on cruise ships. You are so right about Waltzing Matilda. We love the song but one does here it everywhere there is a group of mixed nationalities, as it seems to be the only Aussie song people know or have heard of.

 

Jennie

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Ah, but did they sing "I Still Call Australia Home"? Now that's a beautiful song.

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Ah, but did they sing "I Still Call Australia Home"? Now that's a beautiful song.

 

It should be Australia's national anthem as it is one that brings tears to the eyes which an anthem should:)

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It should be Australia's national anthem as it is one that brings tears to the eyes which an anthem should:)

 

I heartily agree with you. Even when Qantas used to play it so often on TV advertising their flights, I always got the tears. No doubt about Peter Allen, he certainly knew how to tug the heart strings.

 

I also love the Seekers song, actually Bruce Woodley wrote it. "I am Australian". That is another one that can bring a tear to my eye.

 

Jennie

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March 4 – Day 58

At Sea en route to Komodo Island

 

Last night, one of our dinner guests was Cynthia, who is a supervisor at the front desk. We met Cynthia in 2008 and have had a great relationship with her ever since. One of the things that’s fun about spending time with her is trying to get her to tell us silly questions people ask or outrageous requests. She’s far too professional to actually tell us, but any time spent at the front desk will give you a look into people’s minds.

 

While most people on the ship are very nice and “roll with the punches,” there are always those who seemingly go around looking for things to be unhappy about. Cynthia did say that the most common request (read “demand”) made by passengers is for an upgrade, and when they are asked, “How would you like to pay for that?” there is a puzzled look. Apparently the most common response to that question is, “But I was promised.” I was picking up some envelopes at the front desk the other day and a man who apparently is on Veranda Deck (#6) was asking for a tour of a 7th floor suite. He then made it clear that if there was one available, he didn’t see why he shouldn’t be moved into it. The young lady to whom he was speaking told him how much the upgrade would cost, and, sure enough, he replied, “But my travel agent promised me that if there was a suite available I could move to it.”

 

Each stateroom is presented with an accounting of charges at the end of each segment, the most recent being the day before arriving in Sydney. These four days are the most difficult for the front office staff. First, I must tell you that they are probably the most patient and cheerful staff on the ship. All of them are from the Philippines, and they invariably call out a friendly “Hello Mrs. St. John” every time I walk by. Never is their patience put more to the test than on statement day. I do look over our statement carefully, and I once had a question about it (which they explained to me), but there are passengers banging on the counter and shouting about charges of $5.00 and $10.00 which they have usually just forgotten signing for. Some of these people are paying over $100,000 for a room (for two people) and still have to nickel and dime every single charge. I don’t get it.

 

On the other hand, however, most passengers have a great deal of camaraderie with the staff, and the use of first names often goes in both directions (as it does at our table). There is one woman who asks for the same waiter for every world cruise, and on this one she is flying his wife and two children to Singapore so that they may visit for two days. One comment that we hear all the time is that the passengers and crew are like family; we totally agree with that evaluation.

 

Tonight is formal, and of course the most important decision is “what should I wear?” I have to decide earlier than usual, because we’ll be going to the 5:00 showing of the movie J. Edgar, so I’ll only have about 20 minutes to dress. Oh, the challenges of being on a world cruise.

 

Note to Fan: If you’re reading this, we saw Tin Tin last night.

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There is one woman who asks for the same waiter for every world cruise, and on this one she is flying his wife and two children to Singapore so that they may visit for two days.

What an amazing kindness! I am taken aback that someone would do such a nice thing.

Thank you for posting that.

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March 5 – Day 59

(Happy Birthday Jan)

Komodo Island

 

When I was in fifth grade, I was a nerdy little girl who, when bored, would sit down with the encyclopedias and look at the photos and read the captions. One day I came across the photo of a Komodo Dragon and was absolutely fascinated I asked my parents, who had never even heard of such a creature and they, of course told me to ask my teacher. Mrs. Shepherd, who had never been out of California, told me she thought that, though it had been real, it was now extinct and I could never hope to see one.

 

A few years later, I found out that although the Dragons were extinct in almost every part of the world, they still existed on Komodo Island in what is now Indonesia. That just got my interest going again.

 

When I saw that Komodo Island was on this year’s itinerary, I was incredibly excited and almost ran to the computer to book a shore excursion to see the critters. Today’s the day, and our 2-1/2 hour tour begins at 12:30. Ordinarily we don’t book HAL tours, but for reasons of safety, passengers are not allowed off the ship unless on an escorted tour, so we’ll go with them.

 

The information supplied by HAL on this port isn’t very encouraging, pointing out that a tourist to the area did vanish once, but it was more than 20 years ago. He was a visitor from Switzerland, and two years later they found his camera and his watch about six feet up in a tree. We were also told that about a dozen locals fall victim to the dragons, but we were unsure if that’s in the last 20 years or per year. I rather think it’s the former.

 

Komodo Dragons are giant monitor lizards, which can grow to more than nine feet long and weigh up to 300 pounds. They have powerful jaws with razor-sharp teeth and talons. Their saliva has a deadly bacterium, which disables their prey. Are you impressed yet? How about that they can gobble down an adult human in a matter of minutes and have been clocked at 12 miles an hour. They are an endangered species, mainly because they have been extinct for millions of years – except on Komodo Island and neighboring Rinca and Padar Islands.

 

We’ve had four sea days from Cairns, and it has been like sailing on a lake; we couldn’t even feel the motion of the ship. I couldn’t blame my poor showing in yoga class to the ship moving when it wasn’t supposed to.

 

Right now we’re anchored offshore, and we’re surrounded by hills covered with what looks like green velvet. They rise up to ridges, which are crowned by palm trees, to a height of about 1,500 feet. Soooo beautiful. It looks like the setting for Jurassic Park or King Kong. But now our tour will be coming up in about 45 minutes, so it’s time to grab some lunch and get ready.

 

* * * * *

 

OMG they are huge! We tendered ashore and joined our walking group of 25 in the Komodo National Park. Because the 2,790 dragons on the island are not restricted, the entire island is part of the National Park. As we began walking a specific trail, I noticed that, in addition to our guide, we had two young men, one at the front and one at the back, carrying long, two-pronged sticks. Their purpose was soon obvious as the path rounded a corner and a 10-foot dragon came walking toward us. It certainly got our attention! We were all hustled off to one side of the path, except for one woman who just had to get “the perfect photo.” If she didn’t move fast, it was clear that she would BE the perfect photo, as the dragon dragged her away. She did move, though, and we watched the young men “herd” the dragon off the path with their sticks, after which it headed into the woods.

 

We continued on to the “watering hole,” an open area in the rain forest where we suddenly seemed to see huge dragons everywhere. By actual count, I think we saw six or seven in that area, almost all well over ten feet and wandering all around the area. Our group was moved here and there, avoiding the wandering behemoths as they “strolled” under the trees and around the water. We were told that all but one were males, as the female there was somewhat smaller, perhaps only nine feet long.

 

We learned that of the almost 3,000 creatures on the island, only about 600 are female, as each female mates with several males at breeding time. About 30 eggs are laid into a hole dug by the female, and she guards the nest for 8-9 months, after which they hatch, and approximately half survive by climbing up into the trees so that predators like eagles, larger dragons, or their own mothers won’t eat them. When they’re about a meter long, they come down from the tree and begin “hanging out” with the more mature dragons.

 

We walked more through the forest, sighting one baby dragon in a tree, and then circled around toward the shore where the markets were set up. There were all sorts of things for sale: the ubiquitous tee shirts, wood carvings, jewelry, and postcards. The most popular souvenir seemed to be a carved wooden dragon, and the choices ranged from about six inches long to life size. Our purchases included two tee-shirts, one small carved dragon, one carved mask (for our mask collection at home), and, right at the ship from a canoe, a string of cultured pearls for $17.00. Really! My friend Karen, almost a professional shopper, gave them a couple of tests to make sure they were real before we each bought some.

 

What a day! I guess that photo in the World Book has now come full circle, and I’m ever so glad that we saw them,but they really are big and creepy and I was happy to get back to the ship!

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Diane, I applaud your bravery - I have such a fear of reptiles that I would not have gotten off the ship. My nightmares (thankfully they are infrequent!) consist of snakes and komodo-like lizards. Good job on the pearl neclace!!!

 

Thank you for investing the time and money to keep us apprised of your adventures on this wonderful cruise.

 

Smooth Sailing! :) :) :)

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Very, very fascinating! I'm going to google the "Komodo dragon" and see if there's a photo!

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We were all hustled off to one side of the path, except for one woman who just had to get “the perfect photo.” If she didn’t move fast, it was clear that she would BE the perfect photo, as the dragon dragged her away.

There's one in every crowd, isn't there. :rolleyes:

I know there was plenty of warning given while still on the ship as to how dangerous these dragons are. All that woman had to do was trip and get an open scrape when trying to get out of the dragon's way, and the blood would have attracted all his friends, too.

I applaud you for going taking the excursion. I didn't dare leave the ship when I was there.

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There's one in every crowd, isn't there. :rolleyes:

 

I know there was plenty of warning given while still on the ship as to how dangerous these dragons are. All that woman had to do was trip and get an open scrape when trying to get out of the dragon's way, and the blood would have attracted all his friends, too.

 

I applaud you for going taking the excursion. I didn't dare leave the ship when I was there.

 

Interesting... I read this on Legally Blonde's blog:

Once offshore, we were escorted on foot for a short walking tour of Komodo National Park, in search of the "Komodo dragon". We did, indeed, encounter a few of the ominous-looking creatures, one of whom reacted to me bending down for a photo by moving deliberately in my direction. The guide “butted” it with a stick, and we were all told to stand behind him – we gladly complied!

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Diane; It's great that you could capture your childhood dream of one day seeing a dragon.

I hope you were able to get photo's and glad that you were not the one that was in the dragons way.

Thanks for taking the time and expense of posting daily about your trip. It is knowlegable, facinating and a delight to read all about your trip.

 

Helen

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Hi,

 

We are due to stopin Komodo next year. We are arranging our own walk with a guide. We have heard that you can do it on your own with a registred guide with a letter from them. Do you know of anyone that did that? I know you do not usually answer ind. questions but would very very glad if you can do this one. We know Greg and Heo. Don't know if they went off.

 

Jeffrey

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