Australia really does have the most beautiful sunsets. As my 10-hour journey slowly crept into the eight-hour mark, I watched as the sunset from the other side of grand, green mountains somewhere south of Cairns as the fiery sun lit up the sky above them in vibrant colours of blue and purple, as if someone had taken a new, thick marker and coloured in the beautiful clear sky. I was extremely car sick at this point, trying to avoid looking at the screen playing endless Adam Sandler movies with subtitles, which reading was causing my nausea. The bus picked up and dropped off travelers in major destinations such as Townsville and Mission Beach, yet snack and dinner break stops were in odd little one-street towns with only one gas station or restaurant to pee and grab something to eat from. $16 later with a veggie sandwich on yummy focaccia and a cappuccino in hand, I sat facing the road, which bordered their “main strip” where the restaurant was and the open Coral Sea which you could have easily just jumped into and headed out for a swim.
My 5-day stay in Cairns was with Kirsty and Darren, two of the craziest and sweetest people I met on a Contiki two years ago. When they came to visit Canada last Christmas, they had me so drunk I spewed in my water glass at the Kilted Kilt on a Sunday night. Unfortunately there was no pay back this time around as Kirsty is now almost eight month pregnant (ahem, meaning the baby is technically Canadian) and Darren is a grandpa and goes to bed at 9pm. The two live in an adorable two-story home just outside of town with an annoying and loveable dog named Mac, who is my new best friend. The two greeted me at the Central Station by pulling over and loudly yelling out “how much for the night?”
My first day in Cairns consisted of Australian-styled pancakes, where you add water to a bottle of mix, shake it and bake it (no comment) and a walk along the Esplanade. Cairns was the first to have a ‘lagoon’ along their waterfront since you actually can’t swim along the shore as it is entirely covered in mud flaps. The lagoon is quite cute though and a lot nicer than the one in Airlie beach. The pool is huge and in the shape of Queensland (cuteeee), there are tons of free barbecues available for use, showers, actual sand and tons of park benches. Even for an early Monday afternoon there were quite a lot of people down there. We walked along the touristy shops and backpacker’s hostels, pubs and restaurants. The town is a lot bigger than Airlie and seems to have a lot more to offer, especially since the reef is a lot closer to shore than in Airlie.
One beautiful sunny day (they are all beautiful sunny days), we took a drive up to Port Douglas in the humid heat. It’s about an hours drive up a curvy road along the coast and the view is incredible. If there weren’t so many mountains in front of us, peaking out over the water ahead, you wouldn’t be able to tell where the clear blue water stopped and the seamless sky began. We parked at the end of the Port Douglas strip next to the Marina to walk along its sites and shops, which featured checking out Kirsty and Darren’s wedding reception space (right on the water!), buying cake in jars from a cute little shop called The Hungry Hummingbird and lunch on the patio of a little pub with fresh, grilled fish burgers. My allergies were starting to kick my ass with yet another climate change and adjusting to living with a dog again but we made it into Palm Cove on the way home for ice cream on the beach, stopped to see a Crocodile sunbathing on the side of the highway and checked out the homes of the rich and famous in Cairns (with freaking private marinas in their backyards – what is this life?!).
Then later during the week, I jumped out of a plane! Something I’ve been looking forward to since I first got into Airlie and went on a thrill-seeking splurge, which included purchasing trips for snorkelling and skydiving. I wanted a well-rounded view of the reef from in land, at sea and from the sky. I jumped with Tandem Cairns, one of the better-known companies in Cairns for tandem jumps (which is the only type of jump allowed if it is your first time); they also operate in Brisbane and Sydney (but I obviously recommend Cairns). I boarded their bus heading an hour south to Innisfail where we would jump next to the water and touch down in-land at a small airport. I sat in the front of the bus next to Janice, a Swiss blond with shockingly electric blue eyes (a German Swiss of course – I really need to learn German). We squealed the whole way there both having never jumped before and simply just so excited to finally scratch this one off the bucket list.
We reached Innisfail by 12:30pm and had jumped, landed and boarded the bus again by 3:00pm. I couldn’t believe how fast it went. The safety training was just a short five to eight minute video onboard the bus before parking next to the jump site. It’s instructions: listen to your diving instructor. The actual few instructions that did come in handy included: crossing your arms over your chest, pushing your pelvis forward and leaning your head back when jumping out of the plane. You can then take a “flying position”, which is spreading your arms like the wings of a bird, when the instructor takes you on the shoulder during your free-fall. Easy peasy.
I waited about 20 minutes in the waiting room with the rest of the giggling girls and four drunken Englishmen as we all anxiously psyched ourselves out while watching extreme skydiving videos on their big flat screen. The facilities were actually quite cool. If I had known, and if we had more time, I would have taken full advantage of the Ping-Pong table and swimming pool they had on-site. When my name was called, my heart almost jumped out of my throat it was pounding so hard. My diving instructor was Coops, an older Aussie with shaggy hair. I really liked him until he asked me, “do you speak Indian too?” Then his 10/10 went down to like a 6. You’d actually be surprised how many people have asked me if I speak “Indian”…geniuses. Not sure if it’s ignorance or simply they have no freaking clue about most things.
By the time Coops had set me up with a harness and started filming the action of me getting ready and dancing around in excitement waiting to board the plane, my nerves had vanished. We loaded in and were off; about eight of us accompanied by our diving instructors. The teeny plane was set up with bench style seating where everyone sits straddling the bench block with their diving instructor sitting behind them. There was a door on the side of the plane but it minus well have been made of cellophane it was so flimsy. I was jumping at 15,000 feet, the highest jump you can do in Australia. A few people, included Janice, were jumping at 14,000 feet so I couldn’t volunteer to go first first but I did go first for the 15,000 feet jumpers (of course – I'm a show off). Beside the door were three little lights. The first one in the row of three turns on at the '3 minutes until jump time' mark; it’s a red light. This is when the instructors do all their final checks and attach themselves to you. The second is a yellow light, the one-minute warning where you get up, get next to the door and get ready to fall. Then the green light, the universal 'it’s go time!' sign; this is when you cross your arms over your chest, lean your head back and push your legs out the door while your instructor holds on and adjusts his body for the fall. Watching the first three jumpers fall was hilarious. They were just out and gone so quickly! I couldn’t stop giggling, I was so excited. It really made for an embarrassing jump video because by the time it was my turn, my smile was already permanently etched into my checks.
As we ascended to 15,000 feet, the red light came on. It was my turn. Coops attached himself to me and put my goggles on, setting up the Go Pro on his left wrist in preparation to capture the incredible 60 second free fall and descend via parachute. The yellow light came on. I let out one last squeal. Then it was green. Coops whipped open the cellophane door; I crossed my arms, stuck my legs out the plane and put my head back. I screamed. He yelled something like “fuck yeah!” and he jumped us out of the plane! It was terrifying and so unreal and incredible that I couldn’t even get my voice out of my throat. My mouth was just wide open and my eyes and body were trying to figure out where the hell I was falling; was I still upside down? Which blue was the water? Which blue was the sky? How far from the plane had I already fallen? Where were the others? It was confusing and amazing. Coops threw out a small balloon to balance us, which let us continue the free fall in diving position (which is basically like 'starfish-ing' to your death). He tapped my shoulder, I released my arms and I was flying. This all happened within 5 seconds mind you. I was smiling and laughing and simply in awe of just how incredible the feeling, the view and the experience really was. I could see everything. I could see the entire Great Barrier Reef, all the mountains and homes below me and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. It was quite cold all the way up there (obviously) and my ears popped a few times but what I was expecting, that didn't happen, was that “OMG!” feeling in my stomach that you get when you ride a roller coaster downhill. No nerves, no weird “OMG” tummy feeling, nothing. I was just free-falling over a million dollar view and smiling so hard my mouth dried out from the wind and my lip got stuck to my gum (and no, I will not post that photo). When he pulled the parachute, I thought it would wind me or hurt my chest but it was really light and the transition was smooth. We cruised back down to the landing strip, me controlling the parachute, and we finished off the thrill ride by landing on our feet. My adrenaline was pumping through my blood like it was injected into me. As soon as I landed I wanted to go back up. I've already promised myself I have to do it again and then maybe one day a solo jump.
When we got back into town, Janice and I celebrated the Western way (which I haven’t done in a while) with greasy food and beers.
My last day in Cairns, well my last day in Australia (at least for 2015), included an hour or so of figuring out how I fit everything into two backpacks coming from India and then giving up and getting a pedicure (which I haven’t had in over a year – it was much needed). The three of us, including Darren's sister, spent the evening with a round of beers and a few rounds of Cards Against Humanity; definitely a great way to end off the trip. Next time I see those crazy two they'll be parents! And to think, two years ago we spent two weeks on a bus travelling through Europe where we were either drunk or extremely hungover at all times.
Currently I’m sitting in the Brisbane airport with a very large flat white and an almost empty package of vanilla almonds. I left Cairns at 5:40am (ew). I'm about to board to L.A., they are actually calling me right now on the loud speaker (oops!), to enjoy nine more days of the beach life before heading to Toronto for a visit with family and friends. And to celebrate my 23rd of course! I look around me and I’m actually really excited to go home. I’m ready. I’m ready for my moms cooking again, snuggling my puppies and squeezing my six foot brothers. What I’m not ready for is another goodbye in two months time.
Running to my gate. L.A.ter!