Sat., Jan. 29th

Here we are sitting around in the Cairns airport waiting for our delayed plane to arrive.  It was delayed because of Cyclone Olga.  She made her initial appearance a few days before we arrived here, but then she spun off somewhere else.  Unfortunately, she came back around late yesterday, & now she’s causing us lots of wind and rain.  The epicenter (if that’s the correct term for cyclones) is not here, but we’re getting some of the bad weather.  I asked our tour director if a cyclone is like a hurricane, & she said that it is a hurricane that circles in the opposite direction (since we’re in the opposite hemisphere).  Of course, soon after she said it, I remembered learning all about that distinction way back when.

Since our flight has been delayed about two hours, the airline gave each of us a food voucher worth $12.  When was the last time a U.S. airline would do such a thing??  For that matter, when was the last time a U.S. airline served you a decent meal on the plane, such as what Qantas does on its flights??  The Australian and New Zealand airports, by the way, are very clean and pleasant and much nicer than many of our airports.  The airport stores have good stuff to buy, and the restaurants have good food to eat, too.  Not to mention that most of the clerks and cashiers are quite friendly and helpful.  Let’s just say that LaGuardia and JFK leave a lot to be desired as comparisons.

In regard to Cyclone Olga, we really did luck out yesterday when we went out to the Great Barrier Reef.  The tour heading out there today was canceled.

We had a great time yesterday.  We cruised out for about an hour and a half to a huge platform (called Marine World), where they had all the snorkeling and dive gear waiting for us.  There were several marine biologists to assist people and show us stuff, and they also had a “Semi-Sub” that we could ride around in for free.  The boat didn’t completely go underwater, but the people sat down below the water with a bunch of windows on either side of them.  You could see all the coral and fish going by, and the tour guide would explain just what you were seeing.  It was really good, especially for the people who didn’t snorkel or dive.

They also had a helicopter in which you could take a 10-minute ride around the area for about $150 per person.  At the end of the day, you could have taken an approx. 25-minute ride back to the port for a mere $350 or so per person.  Needless to say, we didn’t do that so had to suffer the hour and a half ride back in the boat.

The snorkeling was really fun.  They had a large area roped off with white buoys where everyone was supposed to contain themselves.  But there were some areas that were better than others, so that meant that most all of the snorkelers were in the same general area.  It was a little bit crowded, but not too bad.  (There were approx. 150 people on the boat, but not everyone snorkeled.)  The marine biologists were giving dive lessons too, though the divers generally ventured further out.

Bill and I went out a couple of times for about an hour each.  Both the corals and the fish were just gorgeous–all different colors.  Of course, we were there during the day, but I had heard earlier that the colors are even more brilliant at night, which didn’t make a whole lot of sense, unless maybe you take a flashlight with you.  Anyway, there were thousands of different colored, different shaped, different sized fish and corals.

The boat had a resident photographer, of course.  But she was adorable.  She was a German girl named Martina, and she was really a good photographer.  She was out there almost the whole time diving and photographing people underwater.  You didn’t have to buy your photos, but needless to say, we did!

There’s this one huge wrasse fish the crew had named “Wally” out there.  He kept following Martina around, so that lots of people got their photos taken with Wally.  He wasn’t around, though, while I was getting my photo taken, so I bought one of Wally by himself that she had taken earlier.  Bill commented that she had probably been feeding Wally, and that’s why he was following her around.  He (Wally–not Bill) was colored very pretty greens and blues with squiggly designs on his big head.  His eyes were funny, as they looked around at everybody.  He had great big blue lips too, and he would swim around chewing on the corals.

Later, one of the biologists brought out a bucket of fish and started feeding Wally and some other big fish in order to get them to come closer to the platform so that the non-snorkelers and non-divers could get a good look at him.  (Of course, he was doing this just as I went into the boat to buy a fish identification card, so I didn’t get to see what was going on.)  But Bill was able to grab his camera and take a few shots as Wally came clear up onto the grated metal platform (which was there for the snorkelers to put on their flippers and push off of–it was covered with about 2 feet of water) in order to grab his fish.  He was just like a funny blue puppy!  He and the crew probably go through this same ritual virtually every day of the year.

By the time we got back to the port, we were tired again after another day full of adventures.  We walked around the town (in the rain) and ate at one of the outdoor cafes (with a cover), and then we went back to our beautiful hotel and packed up for the next day.  Ayers Rock here we come (I hope–if we can get away from Olga, that is)!!