Saturday, February 25, 2012

GBR (hint - not an Australian beer)

Friday started out tough; we had to get up early to catch our flight. We decided to take the train to the airport because it was free with our weekly passes, and to avoid any potential traffic problems. As we live on a hill, the first 100 yards towards the train station are a very steep uphill climb. Misa dragged her suitcase by herself the whole way, but by the time she got to the top she was overheated. In addition, my weekly pass had expired, and although you can take the train to the airport with the weekly pass, you cannot actually get off and go into the airport. It is sort of like in Berlin when the wall was still up. The west Berlin U-Bahn still went to all of the East Berlin stops, you just couldn't get off there. So $36 later I had my ticket to the airport and airport entry passes for Katka and Misa. Next time we are taking a taxi.

Finally after getting to our hotel, cooling off and resting we were all feeling better. So Misa and I headed out to the swimming lagoon in Cairns. It is a large public pool right by the ocean. By large I mean about two Sunset pools or more, and filled with very warm, slightly salty water. The water is actually easier on your eyes than fresh water. I guess the PH might match your actual tears more closely, making it more comfortable to open your eyes under water. We stayed there until well into the evening.

Friday night was awful, because we had three guests next door that partied until 4:00 in the morning, constantly waking us up. The night manager talked to them, I talked to them, and they just did not care if they were a bother. One thing I have noticed about Australians is that they are very nice, but not very accommodating. Your problem is your problem, and not their problem. The stories our friends tell us about their kids' teachers would horrify Americans, but it is the norm here. For example, their 7-year-old daughter had a loose tooth that was hurting and went to tell her teacher, who replied, "well, your tooth isn't my problem." That was sort of the attitude of the people partying in the room, and even the night manager, who was unwilling to do much at all to help. They even have an expression for it, "no whingin' mate," which roughly means, "no whining." I guess that what we have discovered about trips to Vegas is true here; you have to pay a little more to be surrounded by classier people that you can count on for better behavior.

Saturday was the day I have been waiting for since we decided to come to Australia, the Great Barrier Reef. Saturday is also the day I have been dreading since we decided to come to Australia, the Great Barrier Reef. As excited as I was about seeing the reef, I was equally nervous about sharks, deadly jellyfish, poisonous jellyfish, painful jellyfish, paralyzingly jellyfish, and eels.  So when I saw the set-up of our dive location I was really relieved. The boat docks on a huge pontoon platform from which you dive. The platform also serves as a dock for the glass bottom boat and semi-submersible, and has changing rooms, showers, an underwater viewing area, and a children's pool, which is just part of the ocean fenced off. The snorkeling area is set up perfectly. The pontoon sits right next to the reef, so when you want to snorkel you just walk down some stairs to benches that are even with water level situated on a platform below you in the water. This allows you to sit on a bench and get your gear on, and then gently glide into the water above the reef. It seems to me that there is not enough room for any large animals that might bite to squeeze in there, and if they can, please don't tell me, as I don't want to know. The were also no jellyfish to be seen, and if they are present they have full body suits you can wear, but we did not need them. Having the boat docked on the pontoon meant there was plenty of room for everyone. All of us of course fit on the boat, and all of us could fit on the pontoon, so it was like we each had twice as much space as we needed. Sometimes while on the pontoon I wondered, "where did everyone go?" The snorkeling area was so large that Misa and I almost always had a large area to ourselves, but small enough that the two lifeguards could monitor everything from their towers. It was quite remarkable to be following a school of some large, colorful fish, and then stop and look back and see the lifeguard watching you.

Misa and I went out snorkeling twice before lunch and twice after. There were more fish than I thought there would be, also larger and more colorful. Of course Misa is half fish herself, so she took off her life vest and dove down to the actual reef, while I floated on the surface and watched admiringly. We had an underwater video camera that I brought with us, and took almost 30 short videos. 

Misa liked getting up close to the fish and then following them with the camera. There was one particularly large, colorful fish that she went to pet, or shake hands with, I don't know, but when she got close it turned quickly and started to swim menacingly toward her rather than away from her. Except it was a fish without any visible teeth, and a mouth that would not even fit around her arm if it did want to take a nibble. But Misa was back on the surface faster than Michael Phelps, with only one comment, "that's a mean fish!"

Meanwhile, Katka was enjoying the underwater viewing platform, glass-bottom boat, and semi-submersible. The semi-submersible is like a regular boat with the hull made of glass, so you sit well below the surface and look out, as if you were in a submarine. The semi-submersible goes next to the reef, while the glass bottom boat goes over it so you can look down like the snorkelers do.

The lunch buffet was OK; I guess they figure you don't care what the food tastes like when you are eating it sitting and looking at the Great Barrier Reef. There were other activities available for an extra charge, like scuba diving, guided snorkel tours, and some sort of dive where you wear a huge helmet connected to the surface by air hose like divers used to do in the days before scuba diving. They promoted it by saying, "you don't even have to get your hair wet to dive the reef," which was obviously aimed at the debutantes and princesses on board. For Misa and I the snorkeling was perfect, particularly for Misa who could dive to the lowest points on the reef anyway, and for me because I didn't see any sharks, deadly jellyfish, poisonous jellyfish, painful jellyfish, paralyzingly jellyfish, or eels.

We did a little homeschooling on the boat on the way back, although we have fallen a bit behind. We will use all day on Sunday to relax, sit by the pool, and work on homeschool. To Misa that sounds like a terrible way to waste a day by the pool, but I think her friends in regular school in Ladera might trade places with her.