July 14th (Bastille Day):

Today was all about getting to Cairns. I slept until about 8:15, and took my time getting ready, since I had already packed the night before. I took a little walk around in my shirtsleeves to get a photo of a desert oak seed pod, and it was really nice out - just a little nippy so early; I'll bet I could have gone into the pool if I'd stayed another day. I left the room at about 9:45 or so, checked out, then did the Winkiku breakfast buffet (only $34), which was pretty good.

The flight time of 12:20 for Quantas 988 to Cairns had changed to 12:35, so the pickup was also delayed by 15 minutes ... but the bus showed up at 10:50 anyway. The porters had lugged my suitcase to the entrance for me, and I was the first one on the bus. We waited for the full 15 minutes (aparently the AATKings guy had to search out our last passenger - yet another one who can't read a watch!), and then went on to the Outback Pioneer, where we picked up a bunch more people. Then it was on to the airport.

The Connellan Airport is small - far smaller than Traverse City or even Kona, HI. It has one departure area that is divided into 2 gates, which are actually two glass doors next to each other. There's a little food kiosk in that departure area, but it isn't very well supplied with soft drinks.

Eventually the plane boarded. It was again a 737-800, but this one wasn't as nicely painted as the one that took me to Alice Springs. I was in seat 19A, a window seat, and as luck would have it, the seat between me and the aisle remained empty. The flight took about 2 and a half hours, which went fine. The movie was some John Travolta movie but I didn't watch it. I listened to music and read, and before I knew it, the ride was over.

I walked out to the baggage carosels at the Cairns airport, which is pretty much small (as opposed to tiny or miniscule), where I saw my name on a sign. After collecting my suitcase, I got shown to my driver, and then I lugged my suitcase out to the van for the drive to the hotel.

Cairns is bigger than Alice Springs, but not nearly as large as Sydney - it has less than 200,000 residents. The main part of town is blocks and blocks of shops. After checking into my hotel - the Cairns International, a really nice-looking place with a three-story lobby - and finding that my room had been upgraded to "ocean view", balcony and all, I went out to see what I could find. I walked around, noting the food shops, and noting that the restaurants were mostly closed until 6pm. I found a second-hand book shop and browsed through that (finding one book by Michael Jan Friedman that I had been looking for), and another one across the street that didn't have anything I wanted. I returned to one place I had passed earlier to get a hot dog and fries for dinner (only $10.20!). While I was sitting there waiting and then eating, birds started to gather in the trees. I think they were some kind of small parot or parakeet, but they flocked like starlings and were just really noisy. They were doing their sunset ritual, I think, and one of the things they did was rush down the street in huge flocks - the first one I saw went by for two or three seconds! They just kept rushing down the street, dodging traffic as required. Pretty cool.

I walked some more after dinner, but didn't find any first-hand bookstores. There must be some somewhere - else where do the books in the second-hand stores come from? - but I hope I find something, because I finished my last book while eating dinner and I don't really want to read the MJF book (though it's the thrid in a trilogy that I read the first two of). I'm not sure when I'll have the chance, though. I unpacked when I got back to the room, and found that I've only got one pair of underware left - I'll have to do laundry tomorrow after my tour. I also tried out the room's internet, but the keyboard doesn't work very well.

Tomorrow is the Great Barrier Reef tour. I'm not entirely sure what all to bring. I think I will probably bring more than I think I need in the backpack, instead of the little purple book bag. Hat, sunscreen, swimsuit (for snorkeling, should I choose that), etc. Better safe than unhappy.

Mid-evening addendum: I've got $50 bills in my pocket, and have from the moment I entered Sydney. The ATMs issue $50s routinely. Everywhere I've been, I've been able to use them without any trouble. That $10.20 dinner I had today was paid for with a $50. Try to use an American $50 to buy $10 worth of anything, and you've got a major hassle on your hands! Goes to show how expensive things are here.

Also, there are no Australian pennies. The smallest coin is 5 cents. They don't have quarters either (probably because they're metric). And the coins don't have strange names either - no nickles or dimes, etc. I don't even know why our 5 cent pieces are called nickles, or why dimes are 10 cents.

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