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Amparo Bertram

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07:33 am: Australia trip report, Day 1
I had an evening flight out of Kansai, which arrived at around 6:30am in Cairns, at the northeastern end of Australia. It had been snowing the day that I left, so I was bundled up in a sweatshirt, sweater, and winter coat. As it turns out, Cairns is a tropical area, which meant (since I couldn't check into my hotel until afternoon) I had the joy of lugging my cold weather gear around with me all day. Now, as some of you may recall, I already mailed my summer clothes back to Michigan, so I had packed the lightest clothes that remained. These consisted mainly of light sweaters and long-sleeved turtlenecks. Quite delightful for staying in a tropical rainforest, don't you think?

Right. Well, the first thing I did was wander around Cairns in search of breakfast. This was a bit difficult, because the only places open that early in the morning were coffee shops. As I staggered around, sweating in my winter clothes and sleep-deprived from the overnight flight, I began to notice a common trend: Meal prices were outrageously expensive. Breakfast sets ranged from $14-$18, depending on what they included.

Of course, those prices are in Australian dollars, so they don't mean much without knowing the exchange rate. About a decade ago, when I first joined JET, the Australian dollar was apparently worth about half of an American dollar. Currently, though, the Australian dollar has risen to about 95% of the value of an American dollar. Thus, even if the price of an item has remained the same for ten years in Australian dollars, it would seem to have nearly doubled as far as an American tourist is concerned. Still, pondering the mysteries of exchange rates is not much consolation when breakfast will cost me triple what I would normally pay in Japan.

One more note about money while I'm on the subject. When I exchanged my yen for Australian dollars, my first impression was that it seemed like play money. I know, I know, that's what a lot of tourists think when they first see foreign money...but since I've already handled Canadian, Mexican, Guatemalan, Costa Rican, and Japanese currencies, I thought I'd gotten over that. Australian money was different enough to seem fake even after all that. It's quite brightly colored, for one thing. I'm accustomed to the colors of Japanese bills, and they seemed drab in comparison. The kicker was that the Australian bills felt more plastic than the clothy paper of other nations' bills. The transparent plastic window in each bill empasizes this. One of my tour guides later said that this was so the watersport-loving Australians wouldn't have their money ruined by getting it wet. (Whether this is true or not, I have no idea.)

Anyway, back to my search for food. I wound up finding a New Age-type place and ordering a vegetarian meal that had enough food for two people. (Note the grilled tomatoes, which are apparently a common feature in Australian breakfasts.) One of the nice things I found during my stay was that Australia has a wide variety of food available, including plenty of restaurants with vegetarian options on their menus. Ethnic restaurants abounded, and I ate a lot of Indian food in general.

After breakfast, I wandered around Cairns to get a feel for the city. It reminded me a great deal of Hawaii, with tropical vegetation everywhere and the ocean within easy walking distance...not to mention LOTS and LOTS of Japanese tourists. I had a bit of stress when it came time to cross the streets. All pedestrian lights are the "push to cross" type. No one actually looks at the lights, though. Everyone looks at the cars; if there are none coming, the people cross, regardless of the light. I wasn't used to such rampant jaywalking. Also, while there I was, in my sweatshirt, all the people around me were wearing tank tops or strapless sundresses. I began to get thirsty, at which point I realized something quite important: There were no vending machines anywhere in sight.

Toto, we're not in Japan anymore.

I went back to the tour company headquarters and made a reservation for an optional tour to Green Island the following day. I reasoned that I had come all the way to the Great Barrier Reef, I should take advantage of the opportunity to go on a snorkeling trip to see it in person. Next, I stopped at the nearest mall and bought a couple of light blouses on sale so I would be slightly less sweaty for a few days.

The mall was, for the most part, just like any American mall. One of the first things that caught my attention after I entered was that the song playing over the music system was from the movie Labyrinth. Then next thing I found was an escalator that surprised me when I got on it because it didn't turn into steps. Instead, it slanted up in the form of a ramp. (I nearly fell over, because I expected the section beneath my feet to remain horizontal.) Finally, I came across something that's nowhere to be found in Japanese shopping centers: Easter chocolate! As I mentioned last year, Japan doesn't do Easter. I was so unaccustomed to it that it took me a while to realize what all the displays were.

While picking up the blouses, I paid a visit to one of the mall's bookshops and bought a hardcover novel. It was kind of expensive, but then, hardcovers usually are. I had brought two Japanese novels with me, but I was already on the last few pages of the first one just from all the waiting on the trip over. I knew it wouldn't be quite that extreme in the following days, yet at the same time I also knew I didn't have the internet to fill my time in the mornings and evenings and would have to rely on books.

When I had completed my shopping, I hopped on the free shuttle bus to my hotel to check in. On the positive side, it was amazingly decorated and landscaped to look like it was in the middle of a tropical rainforest. On the negative side, it had no convenience stores or supermarkets anywhere nearby, so my only sources of food were the hotel restaurants and gift shop, which were relatively expensive.

One interesting thing about the room was that it had a shower, but no bathtub. If I were Japanese, I would probably have experienced a bit of culture shock at that. I don't know if this is a standard arrangement for all Australian hotels, just for economy hotels, or random hotels of which this happened to be one.

Another thing I found interesting about the bathroom was the toilet flushing mechanism. American toilets have a lever. Move the lever and the toilet flushes. Japanese toilets also have levers, but theirs have the added functionality of being able to choose between two quantities of water. Push the lever one way for a "small" flush, push it the other way for a "large" flush. Australian toilets are similar in that there are two flushing options, but they are different in that they use buttons rather than levers. In general, the buttons were distinguished with circular icons, one of which was completely filled in, while the other was half-filled. The buttons themselves came in many shapes and sizes.

One last observation about bathrooms is that I noticed special sharps disposal units in most public restrooms. I don't believe I have ever seen such a thing in Japan. It left me wondering whether Australia has a higher percentage of people who need to self-medicate with injections, or if Japan is simply behind the curve with respect to this particular amenity. (Since Japan still sells television sets that lack the capacity to display closed captioning, the latter wouldn't surprise me.)

I spent the remainder of the afternoon planning my itinerary for the next few days and reading my newly purchased novel before going to sleep early in preparation for my trip to Green Island.

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Comments

[User Picture]
From:megory
Date:March 15th, 2008 11:37 pm (UTC)
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Wow, I can't imagine you having to lug all you stuff around with you all day until you could get to your hotel. At least I hope stuff was all on wheels.

It looks beautiful there.

I don't think I've ever seen a sharps disposal unit in any public restroom anywhere before even though I know a lot of people with, say, diabetes. Maybe the folks in Australia are just way ahead of the curve.

I love the pictures; it really gives the sense of being the next best thing to being there when I see them and read your narratives.
[User Picture]
From:spacealien_vamp
Date:March 17th, 2008 10:10 am (UTC)
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At least I hope stuff was all on wheels.

I was only carrying my winter clothes. My suitcase was stowed at the hotel.

I love the pictures; it really gives the sense of being the next best thing to being there when I see them and read your narratives.

Thanks! I have so many pictures, it's hard to choose which to post.
[User Picture]
From:kataren
Date:March 16th, 2008 04:54 am (UTC)
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Malaysian money is a bit colorful (& differently sized) too. RM1 is blue, RM5 is green, RM10 is orangey-red, RM50 is gray-ish, & the largest, RM100 is kinda purplish.

The pic of your breakfast is so good, it's making me hungry. :P Your shower looks decently sized, but why is the drain hole on the floor right in the middle? I think I'd have been tip-toeing around it all the time. ^^;
[User Picture]
From:spacealien_vamp
Date:March 17th, 2008 10:12 am (UTC)
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Your shower looks decently sized, but why is the drain hole on the floor right in the middle?

You'll have to ask the Australians about that. I spent a lot of the time aiming the shower head at the wall so the water wouldn't splash out on the floor. (My second hotel's shower looked similar, but only had a curtain rather than a glass enclosure.)
[User Picture]
From:megory
Date:March 17th, 2008 12:38 pm (UTC)
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Speaking of shower drains, did you notice the water swirling down the drain in the opposite direction from up north?
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From:skygawker
Date:March 16th, 2008 10:40 am (UTC)
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Reading this is already making me excited about my trip. I can't wait to read the rest of your trip report.

By the way, I just sent you an e-mail about Saturday. I used the e-mail address on your LJ profile. :)
[User Picture]
From:spacealien_vamp
Date:March 17th, 2008 10:13 am (UTC)
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I hope you have fun! The weather will probably have cooled down a bit by the time you get there.
[User Picture]
From:melf42
Date:March 16th, 2008 05:12 pm (UTC)
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There were no vending machines anywhere in sight.

LOL!

Thanks for the update - I love reading about trips!
[User Picture]
From:spacealien_vamp
Date:March 17th, 2008 10:14 am (UTC)
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Every time I used one of the public restrooms, I thought about how it would rate on the melf42 scale.
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