Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas Eve

Cassowary, fox bats, yellowbellied sun catcher, Jabiru, box stinger, black pudding fruit, dragon lizard … what do these things have in common? When I woke up this morning I didn’t know they existed and with the exception of the Cassowary and the box stinger, I have now met them all. Today’s trip took us into the heart of the Daintree rain forest, a World Heritage Site.

The first stop was an opportunity to see the rain forest from the river’s edge. And while we didn’t spy any crocs, we saw a roost of maybe 1,000 leathery fox bats hanging in the forest making an enormous racket.We saw the yellow bellied sun catcher in its nest which is made from old leaves and feathers and hangs out over the river’s edge suspended from a tree. And there was a stork known as the Jabiru that was circling above the river.

On our walking tour of the rain forest, we learned about cycads … some of the most primitive trees on the planet. They grow VERY slowly and this Macrozamia cycad is probably nearing 1,000 years old. But it looked like a pup next to some of the Mahogany trees we saw stretching up into the canopy. Near the end of our walk we spied a dragon lizard just hanging out on a tree trunk.

And the sounds … they were at the same time familiar and exotic. The high canopy buzz of cicadas was familiar, but there were screeching birds whose call penetrated the forest like a trumpet … a real contrast to the silence of the outback.

But what we were really looking for was the elusive Cassowary. Emu or ostrich like in its size and shape (over 6 feet), the Cassowary is the gardener of the forest floor. When it eats the fruit on the ground and moves along and excretes the seed elsewhere, it increases the likelihood that the fruit trees will survive in the competitive environment of the rain forest. They estimate that there are about 1,500 of them in Daintree. Their greatest threat now is the automobile and the dog.

At lunchtime I got to meet my first wallaby and my first kangaroo. We visited them at a wildlife rescue center near where we ate our barbeque. The kangaroos remind me of greyhounds. They are graceful and gentle creatures with large padded paws. And the wallaby seemed almost fragile.

After our barbeque lunch we headed deeper into Daintree and took a refreshing dip in a fresh water creek while the tour guides prepared a plate of exotic fruits for us to taste. While not native to Australia, these fruits are all grown in the nearby town of Mossman. Many of the fruits are native to South America. The most exotic was the black pudding fruit … it really was like eating a dark pudding, but I also liked the red dragon fruit and the seedy passion fruit. I had to shake my head for a moment as I stood there in the middle of the rainforest in my bathing suit feeling these tropical flavors explode in my mouth that it was in fact Christmas Eve.

Our final stop was at Cape Tribulation. Named by Captain Cook when his ship, The Endeavor, went aground off the Great Barrier Reef in the late 18th century, Cape Trib sports a lovely white sandy beach. HOWEVER, beware the jellyfish most notably the box stinger, which emits powerful and painful toxins. In recent years they have migrated from the estuaries (read climate change) and in these warm summer months are now in the area near the shoreline. The beach is closed to swimming.

Back in Cairns we ate dinner outdoors by the harbor under palm trees by the light of the full moon. Another great day in Australia.

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