Ever since I saw the movie 'My Cousin Vinnie' starring Joe Pesci, I've wanted to use the phrase 'My Cousin Mini' as the title of something. Yes! Another thing I can now cross out from my 'Things To Do Before I'm 30' list.
But I'm cheating a bit, because this one isn't really solely about the wonderful person that my favourite elder cousin Mini happens to be; it's more about the little mini-holiday to Cairns that the two of us took last year in February, when I was visiting her in Melbourne.
I was really burnt out from work and generally sick and tired of it all, so I decided on this three-week visit to Australia - it just struck me as one of those places which you may never end up visiting unless you just do it - so I just did it.
After Barcelona, I think Melbourne is probably the nicest city I have been to - it's apparently been voted as one of the best places in the world to live in, and it's easy to see why - in February, the weater was great, the people were very friendly and it was green and beautiful, with the weekends packed with 'summer festival activities'. One weekend, Mini and I just went to some park in the city and found an 'African Dance lesson' going on, with a dance troupe singing, dancing and shouting instructions from the stage in front of a huge and enthusiastic dancing crowd. Mini and I watched for a while, and eventually, I couldn't just sit there anymore so I insisted that we throw ourselves into the fray, which we did. Unfortunately, we found place just behind two teenage girls of African origin, who had 15-inch waists and shook their behinds as quickly and naturally as trembling leaves on a windy day- this gave us a bit of a complex at first but we were quick to get over it. It was the most amazing fun - and Mini,a bit reluctant at first, ended up doing quite a bit of fancy bum-shaking -the best part of this is that I have captured part of her dance on my video camera and may use it to blackmail her at a later stage.
There was also the beautiful day trip where we went wine tasting in the nearby Yarra Valley - But I wasn't going to write about Melbourne. I was going to write about the mini-holiday to Cairns and this is what I will now proceed to do.
After a bit of dillying and some dallying, we decided to splurge quite a bit of money on a four day holiday to Cairns in the North Eastern part of Australia. There, we would see the Great Barrier Reef, and the Daintree forest and experience other assorted, untold adventures. So we booked our tickets, packed our backpacks and flew off.
The highlights of the trip (in brief, before this post becomes as long as the Barcelona one):
- Day 1: We went river rafting for the first time in our lives. This is literally one of the most thrilling things I have ever done. It was raining that day, which added to the blur of excitement, and we were on on the Tully river, which contained a nice variety of rapids, including a couple of Grade 4 rapids - otherwise known as death traps (I exaggerate, of course, but so what!). It was totally exhilarating to feel the rain in your face, spinning around uncontrollably in the treacherous water, feeling like you were cheating death at every swirl. The instructors, of course, had their own charming, fond nicknames for each rapid. I forget the names now, but they were mostly along the lines of 'Say Your Prayers, baby' or 'This time, I'm a Goner' or 'The Eternal Black Hole'- you get the picture. This served to build our confidence very well, as did the fact that our boat's instructor turned out to be Marty - the loudest, most racuous, brashest Australian I have ever met -and whom I had previously insulted in the bus on the way to the river.
(In my defence, I didn't know he was one of the instructors, I thought he was the Bus Conductor. And it was sort of a justified insult. While collecting our forms, he noticed we were two sweet, innocent-looking brown girls and decided to humour us - 'So, do you guys speak English?' he drawled, or rather bawled at us. I gave him an icy glare and before Mini or I could stop me, had responded 'Probably better than you'. It took him a minute to understand that, I actually had to repeat it louder and slower - and he gave a sporting laugh, but was just a tad subdued for a minute or two after that. Fine, maybe I was a bit too quick to take offence but that was 2006 -I'm a different, calmer person in 2007)
It was most ironic, therefore, that Marty was the very person who was now solely responsible for our lives. And he actually saved Mini's, too. Because she was listening very carefully to the instructions that he was shouting out at the beginning - and he mentioned that at least one of us was sure to fall overboard. Around two minutes into the journey, at the very first rapid, she resignedly thought to herself 'what must be done, should be done soon' and philosophically, threw herself overboard. One minute she was there in the boat, right across from me, and the next - in the blink of an eye - no Mini, no more. I barely had time to wipe the stupid, triumphant grin on my face at having survived the first rapid myself, but Marty was quicker, thankfully - he jumped in a millisecond after her and pushed her back onto the boat, just in time to prevent her from getting crushed between the boat and a jagged rock.
(I liked him a lot more after that incident, and therefore will not dwell on the fact that he insisted on telling the bawdiest, most inappopriate, tasteless jokes throughout the ride and also deliberately made us go, without life jackets and helmets, under a really forceful waterfall -thereby succeeding in making one of the American girls' bikini tops fall off - a fact that he was very proud of and was heard bragging about to the instructors on other boats, who were less lucky with their attempts. Cretins. )
- Day 2: The second higlight of our trip was going to see the Great Barrier Reef. We were taken out on this speedboat on a stomach churning hour long ride, finally arriving at the place where we were to dive in to start snorkelling. I use the term 'Dive in' loosely- it was more like precariously easing ourselves into the deep water, immediately going under and getting water into our snorkels, coming up panicky and gasping for breath, scrambling back onto the safety of the boat, watching everyone else expertly dive in, being laughed at by the kindly instructors, and eventually trying it again more successfully with some strange noodle-shaped floatation device. The term 'successfully' here is also rather relative, considering that the first twenty minutes after this were spent floating around looking for the Great Barrier Reef - I spotted a large white mass of coral, first got very excited, gestured to Mini that I had found it, and then thought disappointedly 'This is it?'. That was when we then found a handsome lifeguard type who was kind enough to drag us, clinging on to a buoy, to right above the actual Great Barrier Reef.
And there lay the most beautiful sight - a vertitable underwater forest, in shockingly riotous colours - blue, red, black, orange, yellow, you name it. I could not stop from laughing out loud at myself for mistaking the earlier white coral for the reef - with the unhappy result that I almost drowned myself by getting water into my snorkel again. But the things we saw on that reef were truly unbelievable - strange fishes, plants, corals and all sorts of other flora and fauna - in fact, it was so truly indescribable, I'm not even going to bother trying.
We were taken to another location after this, for a different view of the Reef, and I was more enthusiastic about exploring this than Mini, so I spent a lot of time floating around above the reef, drinking in the fascinating sights as well as a lot of unnecessary salt water (I never did fully master the art of snorkelling). Now, thanks to Mini, we had thought well-ahead about the matter of sun protection, because the rays are notoriously treacherous in this part of the world - and so had applied liberal quantities of waterproof sunscreen. Of course, with typical absentmindedness, I had forgotten about doing this on the back of my legs - which as you may guess, also happens to be the only area actually exposed to the sun when you are snorkelling.
I suffered the effects of the sunburn on the back of my legs for almost a whole year - a not-so-happy souvenir of this otherwise wonderful adventure. It was still worth it.
-Day 3: This was the day that we went to see the Daintree Forest. Now, maybe Day 1 and 2 had been highly exciting and this caused Day 3 to pale in comparison. As it was, I didn't particularly see the big deal - maybe it was the muggy, windless day or the total lack of any actual wildlife apart from a spider, a squirrel and a bird - whatever. Mini seemed to enjoy the day quite a bit, though. I just wanted to see a Wombat because I had no idea what it was and liked the word 'Wombat' (Try it - Wombat, wombat!)- but we saw no wombats - either they were not commonly spotted there, or it was the wrong season, I forget which - but it is of no consequence - No Wombats, was the bottomline.
But the day was still quite nice because we did get to see some pretty sights and take some pretty pictures. And also made friends with our slightly cracked Tour Guide-cum-Bus Driver, whose name was CJ. He ended up taking us out for a lovely dinner that night, having clearly developed a little crush on the irresistable Mini. He was quite a nice, interesting guy but had a really twisted sense of humour. For example, while giving his tour speech during the day, he convinced the Americans on board that this particular part of Australia was famous for producing 'Flavoured bananas'. He said very matter-of-factly, 'If you look out there to your right, you will find the fields have different coloured markers - pink for strawberry flavoured, red for cherry flavoured, brown for chocolate flavoured bananas'. He stuck to this story till the very end and was most convincing - the Americans were totally overawed, and a couple made frantic entries in their journals, too. In retrospect, I think this was rather unkind and not very professional of him, but it was very funny. He clearly did not like Americans too much, because he also remarked at one point 'On the left, you will find one of the American embassies which are liberally scattered around this area, easy to spot due to their Golden arch emblems' - which, of course, turned out to be McDonalds. Yes, he was an interesting guy - but Mini decided he was too weird for her and so, there is now little hope of my gaining a brother-in-law in CJ. Sigh.
And that's it! Day 4, we had kept free, in order to do a little 'exploring on our own'. On the way to do this exploring, we made the mistake of stepping into a mall. It was a horribly hot day and the air conditioning of the mall was irresistable. And so, all we ended up doing on this day was a little shopping, and we also watched an absolutely terrible, serious movie called 'Derailed' starring Clive Owen and Jennifer Aniston. We were so disturbed by this movie, that we had to cancel the effect of this by watching another bad, but funny movie - 'Casanova', which just about helped us recover our good mood. And then, after this slight anti-climax to our trip, it was time to fly back to Melbourne.
I leave you with my favourite picture from the trip - Mini and me, snorkelling. Of course, this wasn't the photographer's first attempt. We had been warned about him earlier, but the first time that he suddenly appeared below me, I totally freaked out - because he was very swift, dressed in black, and very bulked up with all his equipment - so naturally, I assumed he was a shark (Pre-emptive note to Ganju - unlike your comment on my previous post, kindly do not point out that sharks are swift, black but do not carry equipment).
Anyway, this picture was taken when the two of us were totally ready for it - holding hands and all - and also looking like we are smiling and not drowning. Rather sweet, I personally feel.