Unexpected Circumstances

The original plan included three nights in Port Douglas, snorkeling each of the two days. The replanning added two days onto the front; the place we’d reserved no longer showed up on Airbnb, so we’d reserved at a different place for the extra first night. Thursday we got up to Port Douglas, and went to the Port Douglas B&B, a delightful place filled with peaceful knickknacks, press-pot coffee, lots of books (and no time to read them). We discovered a birdwatching tour on the Internet, and signed up by e-mail for a full day on Friday. We walked three miles up the beach to town, which seemed awfully windy. We headed towards the office of the company we’d reserved snorkeling tours with for Saturday and Sunday, and had a chat about the weather. A high pressure zone around Sydney, with a low over Indonesia, was creating 30mph winds, and was expected to continue for several days. They expected that they would cancel our tours, and in fact both were cancelled as it turned out. Then we got to our hosts’ and TripAdvisor’s favorite Port Douglas restaurant Salsa at 5:30 pm and despite being fully booked they were able to squeeze us in.

The original plan was that we wouldn’t need a rental car. The new plan was that we would rent one, and when we were planning there were tons of cheap cars available. Unfortunately we didn’t get one at the time — by the time we got around to it, just a couple days before we arrived, they were all booked by people who had flown up for the winter school holidays happening from July 3-10.

The birdwatching trip was promising. Del Richards of Fine Feather Tours picked us up at 7:30, and picked up another guy who’d gone with him eight times previously. He had checklists printed out of all the birds in the area, and we saw many species right around Port Douglas. Then we headed northwest towards some small mountains and saw many more, just stopping in seemingly random places along the road and watching something on a wire or the top of a bare tree, or flitting around in a rainforest. By lunchtime we’d already seen over 60 species. And then Del got the message that his wife, who had been chronically ill for four years, had just died.

(Here’s how messaging works there: The other guest on our tour, who had been on eight of Del’s tours before, got a text message from Del’s daughter; and a barmaid running into the parking lot where we had just pulled up for lunch, simultaneously gave him the bad news. Modern communication has made the world a small town and Port Douglas was a small town to begin with.)

So that was the end of the bird tour, and we returned to move two blocks from the B&B to the place we’d originally reserved on Airbnb. It turned out to be a room in a 3-bedroom apartment rented by a young couple with a 3-month-old baby. I was wondering how much sleep we’d get, but it turned out the mother and baby were away visiting her folks, and we visited with the young dad who is a dive instructor for one of the local tour operators. Secure in the new place, we returned to town and went to Bucci, an Italian restaurant which squeezed us in around 5:30, and had a nice dinner of creatively executed dishes. Except that the barramundi was “off”. It tasted fishy, and not in a good way. Like freezer burn. We ate about half of it, and let the waiter know, so they wouldn’t serve bad fish to other customers. They adopted an attitude, saying that it was completely fresh and couldn’t possibly be bad. They didn’t actually taste our pieces to form their own opinion of what we were tasting — it was a little offensive when one of them suggested that we didn’t even leave enough of it for them to do that. The whole thing was kind of unfortunate — no effort was made to not charge for the fish, to comp dessert or anything like that. Americans are about the only ones who tip in Australia, so I took it upon myself to leave only TASTE YOUR FISH as a tip in this case.

Since the Saturday trip had been canceled, and we couldn’t find a rental car, we arranged a day tour up to the Daintree rainforest. It was nice enough — a drive on the road through the dense forest, a cruise up a river through mangroves with a few saltwater crocodiles sitting around as contracted, a walk on a nature trail incorporating both mangroves and rainforest. Lunch, ice cream, a swimming hole. Dinner at On the Inlet, a seafood restaurant which had good sashimi and a whole baby barramundi. That tasted just fine. We enjoyed talking to all the young waiters on Working Holiday visas from around the world.

The Sunday trip was canceled as well, and we whiled away the day in town. We thought we might take a little tourist steam train which only runs on Sunday; we didn’t quite find the south end of the line in time, and I imagine it would have been completely full anyway of people taking round trips from the north end. We walked along the track, and saw several cute birds and an impressive spider on its web. There was also a weekly junk market selling handicrafts, snacks, and a few other services like massage and fortunetelling. We walked up to the ocean lookout, walked past the super-expensive neighborhood containing mostly vacation rentals, bought some souvenirs, and arrived at the next restaurant, Zinc, slightly before it opened. We took advantage of their happy hour specials, and their early bird special that included a free bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. The food was good, and the Working Holiday waiters were friendly.