AUSTRALIA: CAIRNS, QUEENSLAND
Link to Cairns Photo Album
(in chronological order, so the slideshow option in the upper right is useful)
From the moment we landed in Cairns and heard the raucous sounds of lorikeets in the trees, we knew we'd found a kind of paradise. Eve Stafford of Arts Nexus and her partner Buck Richardson, author of Dingo Innocent, met us at the airport and took us to our hotel. We quickly found we shared similar views on politics and we felt very comfortable with them.
We were in Cairns as part of the Brisbane Writers Festival, and Eve had helped facilitate part of the funding for the events and set up media events with the local newspaper and radio station.
I'd be working soon enough, conducting a masterclass and participating on a panel about regionalism in writing. But we had a few days to explore, and this we did. While in Cairns, we snorkeled on the reef, went to the rainforest, and drove up to Port Douglas, one of the most beautiful drives we've ever done--most of our adventures recounted in the photos above.
I Could Get Used to This Place
But one thing the photos can't really capture is the laid-back beauty of the region. We felt so relaxed and comfortable. I kept having flashbacks to my years spent in Fiji as a child, because the climate and vegetation were very similar.
It also can't convey the ambiance of some of the touristy aspects of Cairns, such as a tapas/Mexican/Italian/Australian place called Casa Meze, which had a bizarre mix of decor and at which we had sangria and sampled kangaroo, emu, and crocodile. (One of my favorite, relatively harmless, things to do while in Australia was to say to Australians we met, "We had koala, too, but it was kind of stringy," and watch the horrified looks and quick intake of breath.) While we ate, about fifty Japanese tourists took salsa dance lessons in the ballroom across the open hall.
We soon discovered the fruit bats, flying foxes, which we loved--from their golden heads to their black little feet. One night, we watched the fireworks of a festival from our hotel balcony and the juxtaposition of the lights and the dark shapes of the bats flying past was surreal and magical.
Everywhere we went, there was a subtle tropical breeze, taking the edge off of the heat.
Ann Likes Hats!
One night, we wound up having Turkish food with Mary, a member of the US Consulate, Eve and Buck, and the novelist Nick Earls, among others. It turned out, much to our surprise, that the US Embassy had helped sponsor my involvement in the Brisbane Writers Festival. We had a very interesting conversation. I had no idea that the embassy gave money for cultural events in Australia. (I know the Australian embassy in the US probably doesn't do the same for the US.)
Meeting Nick Earls was a pleasure. Funny and laid back but also sharp and detail-oriented, we got a real kick out of talking to him. (Later, in Brisbane, he'd recommend some mountain climbing to us. But the most hilarious thing was turning on the tourist channel in our hotel room and seeing his commercial for Brisbane. Until that moment, we had had no idea just how popular he was in Australia.) Nick, Eve, and Buck set the tone for the whole trip--everyone was incredibly nice and fun.
Even now, we're sad that we had to leave Cairns. We just enjoyed it so much. (I also have to say I was incredibly impressed with the masterclass participants, who produced some great writing.)