15 March 2000, Darwin, Northern Territory to Cairns, Queensland

At the time we made our vacation plans, a 6:25am flight from Darwin to Cairns didn't seem too bad. At 4:45 this day, when we woke to our alarm, we had a different opinion. We had packed and showered the night before, so we just had to dress and call for a porter. By 5:05am, we were checked out. Good thing, too, since our shuttle bus showed up just then, ten minutes early. After two more pick-ups, we were on our way to the airport, arriving about 5:30, in plenty of time for our flight.

We queued up for check-in and were soon at the counter. When we put Chris's bag on the conveyor, there was a problem. Chris's is the bigger of our main cases, a 29" behemoth that can hold a closet-full of clothes. Unfortunately, if you pack it full, it weighs over thirty-two kilograms (seventy pounds). That's the limit for a suitcase on Quantas. Chris's case weighed in at 36.6kg, so we had to take out about ten pounds of stuff. We opened it up, grabbed some heavy stuff off the top and put it into my carry-on. When we put the bag back on the conveyor, it was down to thirty kilograms, safely under the limit. My carry-on, however was then fourteen pounds heavier. Not a problem, just a pain to lug around.

We were off the runway as the sun rose over Darwin. We stopped at a tiny airport called Gove. It started as a military airstrip in WWII, and it appears that there is now a mining operation there. About a third of the passengers on our flight got off there. During the stop, Quantas requested that through passengers leave the plane. We did, taking thirty seconds or so to look around the one-room terminal. In addition to Quantas and Ansett counters, there was a car rental counter. Not one of the major brands; it was a business called "Manny's Car Rental." I wasn't sure, but I would have bet that the man behind the counter was Manny himself.

A few minutes later we were back on the plane and off to Cairns. We arrived without any problems, waited a little while for the Novotel shuttle, then rode the twenty kilometers to Novotel Palm Cove Resort, twenty-five kilometers north of Cairns. Before he dropped us off at reception, the driver gave us a quick description and abbreviated tour of the resort facilities: 100 acres, a golf course, ten swimming pools, three restaurants, two bars, fitness center, and Squirt, the resident lorikeet who sits in a cage by the front door. The driver assured us we could hold Squirt, but warned us that he occasionally lives up to his name. We opted not to hold the bird.

Cairns -- pronounced kehnz, since the Australians seem to be alergic to R's -- was recovering from Steve, a destructive cyclone that blew through the area two weeks before our arrival. There were broken trees, piles of brush, and general damage almost everywhere. Despite the destruction, the scenery was beautiful; lush palms, ferns, and other tropical trees, bright flowers, and green hills made it easy to ignore the signs of Steve.

We checked out our room on the ground floor next to the pool. When we opened the door, we were greeted with a blast of cold air that smelled peculiar. We decided the smell must be insect spray. The cold was caused by the air conditioning, which is either on or off. The outside air was so humid that, if we let the room warm up, everything got damp. We decided to live with the cold when we were in the room. First, though, we wanted to get a late lunch.

The afternoon was sunny with occasional clouds. We walked around the pool to The Varandah, the resort's main bar. After lunching on bar food we went back to the room. I was exhausted, and decided a nap was in order, despite the relatively nice weather outside. I crawled under the covers and was asleep in no time. I didn't know then that I was missing my only chance to lie in the sun in Cairns. Chris put on her bathing suit, coated herself with sunscreen, and went out to lounge by the pool. Two and a half hours later I woke up, dragged myself out of bed and went to find Chris. She was snoozing, too. We decided that a walk to the beach might liven us up some and headed down.

The beach was a five-minute walk down a path that runs beside the resort golf course, then over a bridge across a flooded creek. On the way down we passed a fence separating us from a small field. At the bottom of the field were two or three small kangaroos. They stood up and watched us walk by, seeming curious but completely unafraid.

The beach itself is a narrow strip of sand about a mile long. There is a fishing pier and a lifeguard station there, but not much else. Across the narrow road that fronts the beach, there are a couple of hotels and a small shopping center. Having seen the beach, we didn't have much else to do but walk back to the hotel.

The one activity that everyone had told us we needed to do was to visit Kuranda, a small town in the hills northwest of Cairns. The town isn't much, but getting there is said to be wonderful. There is a steam train that climbs the hills to Kuranda, and there is a cable car, called the SkyTrain that also makes the trip. We made rervations for a tour the next day that would take us to Kuranda by the SkyTrain, then back down by the steam train. All we would have to do was to be in the lobby at 9:25 the next morning.

We decided to eat dinner at the Paper Bark, the fancy restaurant at the resort. On our way there, we heard a band at The Varandah, playing old rock standards mariachi-style. They sounded pretty good, and we decided we would try to get to the bar after dinner if they were still playing. Dinner was excellent. The Paper Bark had set out a selection of wines that we could sample before ordering for dinner. We liked one of the cabernet's and ordered a glass for each of us. I had a very-well-prepared venison steak, and Chris ate a salad and "sizzling prawn pot" that lived up to its name. When it arrived, the prawns were indeed sizzling in a small pot. Apparently they were very tasty, but I don't know for sure, since Chris didn't share them with me.

We left the Paper Bark and walked across the lobby to The Varandah. We sat down at an outdoor table near the stage, but the band was on a break. They returned soon enough and began to play. The name of the band is Horas. It is purely acoustic with an upright bass, two guitars, and a bongo. The four Indonesian members take turns singing, with all of them joining for close harmony on the choruses. They play mostly 1960's rock standards from the Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, and Elton John with a variety of other groups thrown in. We heard them playing everything from Hey Jude and Mrs. Robinson to the recent Breakfast at Tiffany's and La Vida Loca. They played that last song reluctantly after Chris requested it.

The band kept asking for requests, and three of the tables, including us, kept making them. They knew a surprising number of the requested songs. When we requested "(Sitting on the) Dock of the Bay", they said that it had been a long time since they played it, but "We try." They didn't know the whole song, but they improvised well, and knew more of the words than I would have been able to put together. We gave them a hearty round of applause when they finally found a way to end it.

When we had arrived, there was a table of four German guests very close to the stage. Shortly after we sat down, another group joined them and they pulled a couple of tables together. This group -- sitting eight feet from the stage -- ignored the band, talking over the music among themselves. It was quite distracting to the band and to the audience. At one point, Chris and I thought we might be able to get them to pay attention to the band if they heard a song in German. We asked one of the waiters to suggest it to the band. When the waiter passed the suggestion on to the drummer, the drummer smiled, shrugged his shoulders and mouthed "We try." That had been his response to all difficult requests that evening.

The band finished the song they were playing, then murmered among themselves for a few seconds. At that point, they launched into a drinking song in German, with heavy Indonesian accents. It took the German table two choruses to recognize the song and the language, then they began to sing along with the chorus. Great, I thought. That will get them into the show. I was wrong. As soon as the song ended, they again ignored the band and were talking over the music again. Oh, well. We tried.

When they had finished their set, the band members went around to each of the tables and said hello and thanks to the audience. When the drummer came by our table, we told him we had really enjoyed their set and asked if they had a CD. They do, and he said he would bring one the next night for us to buy. We thanked him again and promised to come the next night after we returned from dinner in town.


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