On September tenth, David drove Matthew and I to the bus station at five a.m. From there we rode three hours into Rockhampton where we took a flight to Brisbane and then a second flight on to Cairns. By five o'clock we were claiming our baggage at the Cairns airport when Jacob and Patricia found us and greeted us. They had beat us by only one hour. Finally the four of us were together and our east coast adventure could begin!
After checking into our hostel downtown, we walked around Cairns in search of food and beer. Fortunately both were easy to find. We had dinner at a place called Gilligan's and shortly after all four of us voluntarily called it a night. Jacob and Patricia had been traveling for over 48 hours and Matthew and I had been up since four a.m. We were all tucked into our hostel beds before ten o'clock. We only giggled and chatted briefly before crossing into sweet sleep.
The next morning came early but for a good reason. We would be touring the Great Barrier Reef and we needed to be at the dock by 7:30 for a fruit platter and instructions. The Great Barrier Reef was a must-do for us. Not only is it a popular attraction, but it's kind of the only reason people go to Cairns and it's one of the biggest reasons people go to Australia. No trip to Oz would be complete without it.
So naturally, I loaded up on motion sickness pills and made my way on the boat. I had read recently about the soothing qualities of ginger. I read that it was a good alternative to motion sickness medicine and so I had ginger pills, ginger chews and ginger beer (not an alocholic beverage, think root beer). Unfortunately the ginger was nowhere near as strong as Dramamine and even the crew members told me to stick with the good stuff. I took a half a pill and that made the morning go by without too much trouble. In fact we had a really fun time lounging on the deck while coasting towards our destination.
The first stop on our tour was a place called Broken Reef. It was in the middle of the ocean, obviously and yet the water was as clear blue as I had seen. I'd snorkeled in Mexico several times but this was head and shoulders above that.
There were fifty-one passengers aboard the boat and after brief instructions on how to use the equipment, all fifty-one of us made our way to the back of the boat where we jumped into a sea of excitement. Well, everyone that is, except for Jacob. Jacob is actually not a swimmer and so for him, jumping into the Pacific Ocean was a huge accomplishment. I was proud of him for giving it a try. The ocean can be a scary place, especially when you have waves pushing you around on top of trying to remember to breathe out of a tube and keep your legs straight so your flippers will work, plus spitting in your goggles to keep the fog out. There's a lot more going on than just casual swimming. So when Jacob decided he would be more comfortable lounging from the balcony, I didn't blame him one bit.
After assuring us he wouldn't mind if we had fun without him, Matthew and Patricia and I swam out towards the reef in front of us. The whole thing was remarkable. I had never been so close to such diversified sea life. Yards and yards of spaghetti coral, brain coral, pink and blue and orange coral all covered the ocean floor like a giant mural. In between the coral I saw fish of every different color. I felt like I was reading Dr. Seuss as I tried to identify all the colors of fish. Red fish, blue fish, one fish, two fish... Patricia and I particularly enjoyed a giant blue and purple fish. He reminded me of another children's book; the one with the giant blue and purple sparkle fish.
Perhaps our favorite site at the first reef was a giant clam. One of the instructors pointed out a clam that had to be three feet wide and two feet tall. The best part was seeing the instructor put his hand in the mouth of the clam and watching as it tried to close. Can you imagine the size of the pearl that would make?
After our first stop we were fed an excellent barbecue lunch which included Aussie sausages (my favorite), hamburgers, coleslaw and several types of salad. We also had all of the tea and coffee we wanted, which was awesome.
After lunch we had another two-hour snorkeling stop. This one was even better than the first. I got separated from Matthew and Patricia but I didn't mind because the fish and coral I saw were a mere two feet from my face. I saw a beautiful yellow fish with blue stripes and lots of beautiful coral. It reminded me of the gardens I had been pinning so much lately, only this was under the sea. I made a mental note to do some watercolor paintings of the sites I was seeing.
By the end of the day we were all worn out. We enjoyed the complimentary cheese and wine platters provided by the boat as we laid on the bow, soaking up the sun and discussing the issue of Frederick. It was nice having Patricia around because she was as passionate about Frederick issues as I was. In fact, I had almost forgot about this passion, simply because I hadn't had anyone to talk to about it. (Matthew wasn't big on small-town talk and so I kept my opinions to a minimum.) At one point I got so caught up in one of my political speeches that Jacob and Matthew had to stop me and tell me to simmer down. They were laughing pretty hard because I had apparently mentioned both Jesus and alcohol in the same sentence and with great southern gusto. We laughed at the stereotype I was projecting to the other forty-eight people on the boat who could easily hear our entire conversation.
After showering and changing we made our way next door and took advantage of the free meal our hostel was offering. Afterwards we hung out and listened to an awesome live band called Ina Reeves. We all loved their modern reggae remixes and at the end of their performance Patricia and Jacob had talked me into asking them to come to Oklahoma. Sure enough, I told them I knew at least a handful of places where they could play and they said they would love to do a tour in the states. Matthew said they would be a great band to tour college campuses. We connected on social media and left with high hopes.