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.