I spent most of the next day exploring Cairns and avoiding the rains. It seems that the rains just refused to stop for my entire stay in the city. Luckily, I’m from Vancouver, so a downpour doesn’t stop me from exploring.
Cairns, even in the rain, is a cute little town. Although there is no beach, that hasn’t stopped the locals from enjoying the waterfront. A long boardwalk curves along the edge of the city, and a man-made lagoon, fully equipped with faux-sand beaches, sits right in the center of it all. This is where locals and tourists alike come to enjoy a swim, have picnics or just lounge in the sun… If there is any.
The lagoon sits right between the ocean and the Esplanade. The Esplanade is the bustling front of Cairns’ 4-squared block city center. It’s lined with cafés and hostels and restaurants of all kinds. I parked myself on the covered patio of a little cafe, ordered a flat white and half read / half people watched the morning away.
The food and drinks in Cairns are pricey. (Although not quite as much as Perth as I have recently found out). I knew I was going to experience sticker shock, but it still caught me by surprise. One could easily spend 35 – 40 dollars on lunch and a beer in Cairns. I opted for buying a coffee and eating makeshift sandwiches from the supermarket.
To be fair, the weather did clear up enough to give me five minutes or so of Sunshine by the lagoon. I walked the length of the boardwalk, had some lunch, did some more reading, and ambled my way back to the hostel to prepare for dinner.
It was the famous Tropic Days BBQ night at the hostel. For $12, the staff cook up a ridiculous amount of Australian meats for the out of town backpackers to enjoy. That night’s meal consisted of Kangaroo, Emu, Crocodile, Sausages and some local fish. On top of that, there were salads and bread and all sorts of sauces to go with! Apparently, in 15 years, they have never run out of food.
“Come up for seconds, thirds, fourths… I promise you’ll never finish it all” said Gabriel, the owner of the hostel.
The food was sensational! I had to try the Kangaroo and Emu three times just to decide which on I liked better. In the end, I deemed it a tie.
Everyone I ate with had similar opinions, and most of us hadn’t tried kangaroo before. Before long we got to chatting about the strangest food we’d eaten over the years. I realized my list was quite extensive after 6 years of traveling around. I’d tried pretty much everything that was thrown at me over the years.
“Have you ever eaten ants?” Asked Paul, one of the guys in my newest group of friends.
“Actually no.” I replied, “Although I did hear in Laos that there were these strange lemon flavored ants that exist. We tried to find them but never came across them” I had to laugh as I remembered my buddy Tadd eating random ants he found on the ground in hopes of picking up a lemon flavoured one.
“Yeah! I’ve had them!” Said Paul.
Turns out, Australia has them too. It also turns out, that Paul loved them, found a nest of them in the forest, took it back to the hostel and has been cooking with them for days.
“You want one?” He asked.
Oh hell yes I do. Any excuse to try weird foods.
Before I knew it, the six of us were staring at a bowl full of big, flying ants with huge greenish yellow bottoms. Paul ripped off the wings and the head and handed me the bottom.
“Here you go!” He said.
I took the ant and, much to the disgust of the onlooking boys, threw it in my mouth. It make a weird popping sound and squished as I ate it, but the thing wasn’t half bad.
“I don’t know if I would describe the taste as lemon flavoured” I said “but it’s not bad”
“Well you should try it in tea!” He said.
So we brewed some ants in boiling water and made a tea. And you know what? It tasted just like a sweet lemon tea. I could have SWORN that there was sugar in it, except that I had watched Paul make it. It was simply delicious!
Once we’d tried the tea, we convinced Natalie to have an ant.
“C’mon Natalie, think of the story! You’ve gotta try it!” And she did! And that meant the battle was on. The only two girls had done it and now the boys has to man up. Some did, some refused, but in the end we had some great laughs.
Just as the ants were losing their novelty, Gabriel announced we were having a musical competition. Fabulous. I’m musically inept. This should be fun.
Luckily, only 3 of the 40 or so people would be competing.
“Okay!” Said Gabriel “I’m going to choose some competitors to play the didgeridoo!”
He scanned the crowd, looked down and me and grinned.
“Hilary, why don’t you come up and play this for us!”
Surprisingly, I’ve actually played the didgeridoo before. Way back in Elementary school for a play we’d put on. I wasn’t good. But at least I could make the sound!
Turns out, I still kind of remember how to do it.
Natalie was another victim, and a girl from Taiwan. The three of us, standing there in front of the other 40 people we were living with, looking like fools. Well this won’t be embarrassing!
It was a good half hour competition. More of Gabriel making jokes than us performing, but he had us all in stitches. Innuendos, flat out making fun of us, and tangent stories that had nothing to do with anything. I think everyone had a great time.
In the end I ended up winning a $100 voucher for the Minjin Swing. Similar to the Gorge Swing in Zimbabwe, the Minjin Swing sends you flying through the jungle, face first, at warp speeds. Yup, I’m in!
Natalie won wake boarding lessons for two and the Taiwanese girl won a highly sought after Tropic Days T-shirt. Everyone was a winner because we were all so incredible… Haha yeah right.
After that the BBQ was over, some people stayed for more drinks, others headed to the Woolshed for some table dancing, and others to bed. I had to be up again in 7 hours for my reef tour, so it was bedtime for me. But overall, a successful evening of trying new things!
(To note: when I went to book the Minjin swing later, everything was booked up. I was a little upset, but made Gabriel promise he would pass it along to a worthy adversary! Next time!)