Friday, February 22, 2013

Australia Trip, Part 6


We woke up early because our tour departed early. Handily, people in Cairns understand tropical problems, and the mirror had an unfoggable bit on it. (Handily, there was also a clothesline in the shower. I used to see those all the time, but I never touched them; I thought they were part of the drain, or something to put a hanger on, so I was surprised when C pulled a rope out of the wall.)

Despite the early, the tour came a bit after we expected. I do get it--give people a time so they can be late and it won't matter. Hmph! We were carrying some granola-like bars (mine was nuts and coconut) and water, and I had a windbreaker, which turned out to be much too warm as we made a bunch of pickups and headed out of town. It seemed that a couple of different (perhaps not entirely full) tours were collapsed into one; some of us were on a day trip, and others were staying overnight in the rainforest.

I'm not quite sure where we stopped, but we went out along the coast (on the Captain Cook Highway, I think) and had a moment for pictures. It was strange to me to get out of the van and find myself in warm, humid air right along the coast, where I'm more used to being cold! The strangeness of the combination made me very unsettled that day, and I'm not sure why (or whether I ought to just blame things on, still, not feeling very well).

If only that had been in a certain book.

Our guide shared that they dye the emergency vinegar blue to prevent people from using it on their chips--and that the strategy doesn't really work.

But this is what scared me. Crocodiles? In the OCEAN? And also, the title of that book In the Sea There Are Crocodiles kept running through my head for days.

Our next stop was--I think, as I broke the handle off my file drawer that has receipts and things in it--was the Cairns Tropical Zoo. There are a number of zoos in the area, including some that are mostly open at night so that you can see animals that only come out then. It turns out that while on vacation, I mostly like going to the zoo, the beach, seeing nature, and sleeping in nice hotels! So this was one of the highlights.

First, we were greeted by zoo staff and we walked through a part of the zoo, including the enclosure for the dangerous, even deadly, cassowary. Take a close look. That's not a colorful turkey. That's a dinosaur with feathers, my friends. See its eyes? It's intelligent. See its feet? They will CUT YOU. They are aggressive, territorial birds. They chase away their young. But if I recall correctly, dad has to raise the babies! Also, there are a number of rainforest plants that only the cassowary can digest, so those plants depend on the cassowary to have a bite and poo out the seed for their future generations.

An owl of a sort I've forgotten, but I think it ate toads, maybe.

Kookaburras! Notably, I did not see a single one in a gum tree--and as I'll relate once we get to Hamilton Island, not really gumdrop eaters.

Then we had a talk about koalas, I think, while one crawled into a tree to eat a bunch of fresh leaves. A nifty thing: though koalas sleep most of the time, I saw more awake and feeding koalas than sleeping ones. Something I didn't realize is that koalas may have a preferred kind of eucalyptus tree, and may prefer the newest leaves, so any disruption in their growth can be a big deal for the koala population--already in danger due to their high incidence of chlamydia! Poor babies.

At most zoos I visited, there were options to take a picture with various animals, mostly as a fundraiser. In most of Australia, you can't actually hold a koala; they're hung on a tree branch, and you can pet them and take a picture with, but it's still possible in Queensland, and it was possible at this zoo. (I assume that the reasoning is that koalas are really shy and sensitive to stress, and I can understand that. At the same time, everywhere I went that it was allowed to actually hold the koala, the keepers were extremely careful to keep them happy. Those koalas were hand-raised or tame, often previously injured, with no possibility of returning to the wild; they were only allowed to "work" for short stretches of time, and for a short period so many days; you had to follow very specific rules for handling the koala, including being old enough, strong enough, and tall enough, since koalas don't like to be on the ground; and at any sign that the koala was done, that was it, and it was whisked away. Tip: Even in the zoo, they're wild animals with teeth and big claws. They're not just going to let you have a cuddle.) Anyway, C knew that we'd have an opportunity to hold a koala (and a snake, and a bunch of other things) later, so we went ahead and wandered around with our free time and breakfast time.

There was a tree full of rainbow lorikeets near where tea was set out for us.

C and I began to wander the zoo, but pretty soon, we realized that they had kangaroo kibble for sale. And that there was a big, open kangaroo and wallaby enclosure. And...well, I will have to never tell C that if we'd been on our own, we could have fed lemurs and red pandas, too! At least, maybe in pictures.

When we first found the enclosure, it didn't seem like there were many kangaroos around, but we were approached by this little hustler.

But we eventually found some that were at least as tall as we were--and there was a hierarchy! The biggest ones gently pushed their way to the front, but not so gently we forgot about their ability to kick you right over. And then all of the, say, 5' kangaroos made sounds like disgruntled Marge Simpson while the 5'6" kangaroo had a snack. The smallest ones nibbled delicately, but the largest, well, they were pretty drooly.

After a while, we bolted some tea and fruit and pastry and hopped back in the van, but this was definitely a spot I'd have loved to spend more time at. And we were off...

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