Emeryville Amy

This blog will be a combination of my favorite places in the Bay Area and abroad, memoirs, recipes, restaurant reviews and travel experiences.

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Location: Emeryville, San Francisco Bay Area, CA, United States

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Snorkel/Sail Cruise on the Great Barrier Reef

The first reservation that I made for this trip after purchasing my plane tickets was for a 3 day snorkel/sail cruise out to the Great Barrier Reef. I have always wanted to go there and have wanted to go on an overnight sail on a sailboat. This was a chance to kill 2 birds with one stone. After quite a bit of research online, I finally found a 65' sailboat that just took 10 passengers rather than a huge speed boat that took a couple of hundred. I checked to see if there was room for us and if Laurel liked the idea. There was room so I signed us up. I knew that it would be a perfect way to end our trip.

At the hotel in Cairns the concierge called to confirm that the sail was on (everything here is weather permitting) and found that we were good to go. We showed up at the dock at 7:45 am and were told to take off our shoes and pass them with our bags up to them. So, no shoes for three days. My kind of trip! Our crew was really nice. The captain, Sean, was from New Zealand and looked like he had been on boats his whole life. He was a very fit, tan, good looking guy in his late 50'. Our diver instructor was named Johnny and he was from Scotland, in his mid 20's and tan and cute. The cook, Jenny, was an Irish girl who had only been with the company for a month. They were a great crew.

The other passengers were a couple in there early 30's from France on their honeymoon and 2 Dutch couples. Not an Aussie in sight. I was so excited I could hardly stand it. The boat was beautiful. It was all wood, even the mast. There were 4 sails, though we never put the front sail up. We motored out of the harbor and into the ocean. The crew put the sails up but we kept the motor on because it would take 4 hours to get to the reef even with the motor on. One of the Dutch women got seasick right away. Apparently she had a migraine that morning. She should never had come aboard because she was stuck on the boat once we left. She was miserable all day and night so her husband arranged with Sean to have them dropped off at a pontoon out at the reef so they could go home on a day trip boat. Bummer for the 3 Dutch folks who got off, but it meant then that there were just 5 of us passengers and the the 3 crew. We had plenty of room that way which was really nice.

We arrived at part of the reef (it is made of 2900 individual reefs), had lunch and got ready for snorkeling. I had been warned by some people at home that we would have to wear these unattractive lycra bodysuits to prevent jellyfish stings but it turns out that the stingers are only near shore. Laurel and I both opted to wear them anyhow to prevent sunburn and provide more warmth and bouyancy. They were quite comfortable and made us more visible to the crew from the boat. I happily jumped off the boat into the water, eager to snorkel. Laurel has a phobia about jumping into water and has only once even jumped into a pool and that with my patient encouragement. She had no choice here if she wanted to snorkel. It took a little bit but she did it. And she did it 7 or 8 other times as well during our three days. I was quite proud of her!

The water was about 84 degrees and crystal clear. We swam over to the edge of the reef where the fish were swimming among the coral. It was so amazing and yet I think that each time we went in the experience just got better and the water more clear.I loved swimming in schools of fish and with turtles and above the amazing coral. We saw a couple of eels, a stingray,a barracuda, turtles and countless variety of fish. We usually would snorkel for about 45 minutes to an hour and I think I went in about 9 times during the trip. The crew all loved to go in as often as they were able. They took turns taking people out on scuba dives. We went to a lot of places that the bigger boats didn't go to which was really nice. There weren't any other people snorkeling in the same reef as us. Just us and the fishes...

The food was good and plentiful. We ate in the back of the boat under the shade tent at the table they set up in there when we weren't motoring far. It was a pretty quiet group. I think that having a lot of different first languages made conversation more difficult. We mostly spoke English but we attempted French to include them when we could. Conversation got easier when the Dutch left and the group was smaller and had started to get to know each other a bit. I liked hearing the crew's life stories. They were plenty talkative if you got them going.

It was really hot on the boat, especially in the sun. There was shade under the canopy in the back so we often retreated there. Toilets on boats are always interesting. There were 2 on this boat and both required climbing up a step to sit on them. It took some acrobatics but I got pretty good at it after awhile. I was afraid of getting dehydrated so I drank a lot of water and had to visit them quite a bit. We were allowed one 3 minute shower each day. I was glad to get the salt off of me and feel clean after my last snorkel of the day.

I dreaded sleeping down below because it was so stuffy due to the heat. I asked if I could sleep upstairs and the crew said I would be too cold on the deck and that they slept under the canopy. I said no problem but Johnny said that there was one place up there if I wanted to sleep near them. I didn't want to bother them so I went down below. But I couldn't stand it. I crept up the stairs with my pillow and slept in the open space that Johnny had said I could use. But I didn't bring a sleeping pad and the deck was hard and narrow and my knee hurt a lot. I didn't sleep much. One of the Dutch guys came up and slept outside on the deck. I don't think Sean slept much with us moving around so much.

The next morning we woke up early since we had gone to bed at 9 pm and the sun rose at 5 am. The French couple and Laurel and I went for a pre-breakfast, post instant coffee, snorkel. It was fabulous. The fish were very lively and plentiful. After an hour the crew called us back to the boat for breakfast of fresh fruit salad, cereal, yogurt, bread and toppings, including vegemite, nutella and peanut butter. I was disappointed that the coffee was instant, but I wasn't about to complain.The sun was already hot by 6:30 am and we slathered on the sunscreen all day long. We motored to another snorkel spot to drop off the Dutch. They climbed down on to the inflatable speed boat and the captain took them to the pontoon. We then headed to a better snorkel spot and went for a pre-lunch snorkel.

That night I decided that I was going to bring my sleeping pad up and sleep outside under the stars on the deck. I lay on my back looking up between the rigging at the bright moon and twinkling stars and thought that life doesn't get much better than this. I slept like a baby all night. I hadn't slept that well in months. Maybe I should always sleep on a rocking boat under the stars with a cool breeze blowing over me. I knew that I was going to be sad to have this part of my journey over. My only disappointment with the cruise was that we didn't have enough wind to sail. We had to motor from sight to sight which wasn't unpleasant, but I never got to experience true sailing on the boat. Maybe next time...

4 Wheeling in Cape Tribulation

Cape Tribulation

Laurel and I wanted a little more adventure in the rain forest so we signed up for a 4WD excursion. At 7:00 am the morning after our night walk, Jenny drove up in a 4WD jeep. Jenny was our guide for the day. She was just over 5 feet tall and probably less than 100 pounds with pigtails but she was one tough cookie. We drove about 30 minutes to pick up the other 4 passengers and then headed up the road to where Laurel and I had stopped to hike to the swimming hole the day before. We forded the river and continued on the unpaved road.

As we bumped along, she informed us that the road was amazingly smooth because they had just graded it 2 weeks before. It only was graded (smoothed out) once or twice a year. I thought it was still a bit bumpy, but I am a city girl. She drove up 2 incredibly steep hills while adjusting the gears to the super-low setting. It was a 1 in 3 grade which translates to a 33% incline/decline. Many people wipe out because they don't know how to drive their 4WD correctly. She sees wrecks 3 or 4 times a week and this is not a heavily travelled road.

Jenny stopped so that we could get out and walk into the rain forest a bit. She told us tons of things about the trees and foliage. She was a wealth of information and kept up an interesting and informative and funny narrative for most of the day. We crested one hill and the scenery changed to what I had imagined Australia to look like. It was dry and sunburnt in color and there were lots of Eucalyptus trees around. We got out and took pictures of the landscape.

After driving for a awhile longer we stopped at Wajul Wajul which is an Aboriginie community of about 500 people. Jenny is friends with a lot of people in this community. She arranged for us to meet three of the women and have them take us to their sacred waterfall. They were interesting to listen to. They shared about the area and the healing property of many of the plants. Jenny had already told us a bit of their history and of the aboriginie culture. Drinking is a big problem in the communities and this one decided to be completely dry. There was a big sign on the road as we entered the town. It said that if you brought any alcohol in there would be a $7500.00 fine, imprisonment and your car would be impounded. Pretty intense. But, it seems to be working well for them. Jenny said that she had a really bad headache one time that she was there and they healed her. The remedy was to take a nest of green ants, break it in half and rub it into her hair. The other ants were mashed in their hands and held up to her nose for her to inhale their scent. She wasn't entirely comfortable with the process ( I would have freaked to have had ants on my head...,) but she said that in about 10 minutes her headache was completely gone and didn't return. She also said that she picked ants out of her hair for a few days.

Jenny had lots of stories about rescuing people that were truly in need and not just due to their own stupidity. If they rented a car that they didn't know how to drive properly she wouldn't bother to stop but she would call for help for them. She told one story about getting out at a river crossing to decide if the water was too high to cross. There were 5 German tourists in her car and she had just finished telling them that the crocodiles in the area seemed to particularly like Germans for some reason. She stepped out into the river and the current swept her up and hurled her downstream. She bashed into a bunch or rocks before pulling herself out. She walked back to the jeep all bloody and told her passengers that that happened all the time- no worries but that they would not be able to cross the river that day. Not one of them had gotten out of the car to see if she was okay and had just watched her get swept downstream. Maybe they were afraid of the crocs...

We stopped for tea at a swimming hole and enjoyed the cool water. I didn't feel like getting all wet but a couple of the guys went in for a swim. Jenny told us a lot about living in Cape Trib. They don't have any electricity provided for them. Everyone has to create their own from generators, solar panels and some other system that I can't remember exactly. She said that prices were higher here for everything because of that. it costs them 20 times more for energy that down in Cairns. I think she also said that they have to provide their own water too.. Electricity could have been provided there but the council decided that in order to prevent a greedy developer from turning the rain forest into a bunch of condos they would discourage the people who had bought the land parcels from developing by not providing power.

Our last stop was at a mangrove beach. It was low tide and the exposed beach was immense. Here and there were mangroves trying to take root in the sand. I thought the beach was absolutely breathtaking. If it the sun hadn't been so brutally bright or if I had some good shade, I could have stayed there for ages.

After the tour was over, Laurel and I both agreed that Jenny was our new hero. She knew how to drive and fix 4WD's, ford rivers, befriend all kinds of people including her aborigine friends, speak several languages, create her own electricity, give amazing discourse on the rain forest and surrounding area and probably could wrestle a crocodile if the situation arose.