There Are Only Ten Days Like This Each Year

Indeed, the rest of the day in Singapore was spent looking for interesting food. Our walk started out in the rain, where we put on impossibly warm Antarctica jackets to keep dry. After finding a post office to mail postcards, we made our way further downtown, discovering an underground network of shopping malls which allowed going to a food court we picked out near an interestingly designed performance space, the Esplanade. The food court turned out to be closed for renovation, the rain stopped, and we walked back to the hotel, stopping at another food court for Singaporean prawn noodles and rice soup. I suspect it’s possible to see most of Singapore without going outside any more than you are forced to go outside in the Honolulu airport.

A dumb travel day followed: 9:15pm seven-hour four-time-zone flight to Brisbane, customs, transfer to domestic terminal, two-hour flight to Cairns, picked up rental car, one-hour drive to Port Douglas, checked in at the Port Douglas B&B where we’d spent the first night in July. Between the International and Domestic terminals in Brisbane, a man spoke to Ray, saying “Didn’t I see you in Iceland last week?” This is the point at which the population biologist in all of us pipes up to remind, that statistically, for all the apparently peripatetic geography, we are moving around a distributed city with a few hundred thousand inhabitants.

A nice dinner, a long sleep, a day of doing nothing except a drive just across the Daintree River to have ice cream and walk in the rainforest, and another nice dinner at Salsa were enough to recover from our accumulated jet lag and sleep deprivation, preparing us for our next morning’s early wakeup call. Of course the folks at Salsa remembered us. They are selected for that quality and it’s only been a few months. I correctly remembered that the food is really good there. It’s the most real restaurant in Port Douglas. The rest are bistros.

Saturday we got up just before 7, had another of Frieda’s most excellent breakfasts (presspot coffee, a platter of exotic fruits, toast, yogurt, and cereal), and reported for our snorkeling trip on the outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef. All thirty spots on the modestly sized boat were claimed, and we motored out for almost two hours to Opal Reef. The day was perfectly beautiful — the water above the thirty-meter-deep shelf under the reef was completely flat, and the sun was glorious. You could look off the side of the boat and see the bottom, as well as several large fish swimming around. One of them had a name — Angus — because some other boat has been feeding him and now he shows up at the mooring to greet the tourists. We stopped in three spots, for an hour each, and looked at the coral and fish glory that is the Reef. Having learned the trick of using Vaseline to seal masks against mustaches, and my using a floatation noodle, snorkeling was quite comfortable. I saw a few reef sharks, and we all saw dozens of species of beautiful tropical fish darting around about dozens of species of beautiful corals and anemones. The turquoise-colored giant clams were especially interesting. We didn’t have an underwater camera, but I was happy not taking pictures; the marine biologist on the staff took pictures, and they sold DVDs of the day’s pictures afterwards. We bought one. ┬áThe guy at the desk says that days like today maybe happen ten times each year.

Sunday we again got up just before 7, had another most excellent breakfast, and got picked up again by Del Richards, Queensland bird expert. Before we even left the carport at the Port Douglas B&B we’d seen a bird, a sunbird who had built a nest on a hanging decoration. And in the tree by the driveway, a rainbow lorikeet. We drove around town to see the usual urban suspects, including the red-footed scrubfowl gathering material for their enormous nests, masked lapwings strolling around the golf courses, miners (Australian for mynahs) and magpie larks, and several waterbirds on a golf course lake. We then drove up into a less-dense rainforest than the one in which we had walked, and saw dozens of other species. The metallic starling colony was spectacular. The Brahminy Kite has a sleek beauty which rivals that of the Bald Eagle. The Pale-Breasted Paradise-Kingfisher was ultimately elusive (two of us just saw the long white tail, another just saw the orange beak) but we did see a platypus paddling around a farm pond nearby.

On Monday we got up later, drove back to the Cairns airport, and flew to Brisbane, this time staying overnight to check it out, instead of just transferring terminals like we had twice previously. We didn’t have a lot of time — two hours walking up one side of the river (including a beach they’ve installed on one side of a municipal swimming pool), through downtown, and through the Botanic Gardens to Two Restaurant, a very fancy tasting-menu sort of place, which was very good. Ten courses, with a split wine pairing, left us very full and pretty tipsy. The best were the lamb course and the dessert which featured “apple snow”. We stayed at someone’s airbnb house, and didn’t see her until 5:30 the next morning as we prepared to leave. The building was being painted and was somewhere between under construction and falling apart, and had the feel of a genteel squat.