Friday, 2 December 2011

A mentally stimulating day in Cairns

Today has been a lovely day as a tourist.  We started by having an interesting conversation with the dutch receptionist at the backpackers hostel where we are staying.  She was laughing about how she has recently started transposing numbers, and has to be careful when quoting prices.  She said that she is often reading things in English, while talking Dutch to her mother on the phone.  In Dutch, apparently numbers are read from the right to the left.   So on her mother's 65th birthday, she wished her a happy 56th birthday.  This is because in Dutch, she would wish her Mum Happy five and sixtieth birthday.  Except she said it in English, in the Dutch speaking order.  Jim said he would be quite happy for her to think he was 37, rather than 73!  And if you think about it, we write $25 or £25, and read it as twenty five dollars or pounds, so the English language has a precedent to read the numbers before the currency, going from right to left.

Jim and I did our washing this morning and I ended up with a complex about my knickers.  I had seen other backpackers' washing on the line yesteday, and sighed at the miniscule pieces of fabric that constitute the underwear worn by skinny young girls.  I duly washed out mine, and felt really conscious that mine appeared to be scaled to fit an elephant in comparison.  But how to get them dry without advertising the size of my backside!!  So in the end, I pegged them out on the rearmost line of 3, and then closely spaced a row of socks in front of them to conceal them from view.  Ho, hum, you're never too old to get a complex about the size of your backside!

Jim and I then took ourselves off to Cairns town centre.  It has changed a lot since we were last here 5 years ago.  Back then, most buildings were two storey, and many still had the old fashioned wide verandahs, to keep the buildings cool by keeping the sun off.  Now most buildings are modern, with many 6/7 storey blocks of flats, each with a tiny balcony.  It appears as if most office blocks are in the modern international style with glass frontages and air con.  I know progress is inevitable, but I preferred the older, more local style.  There is nothing idiosyncratic about Cairns any more.  It could be any international city.
Helicopter taking off.

I spent about 4 hours in the Wildlife Dome.  This is on top of the Casino (another depressing feature of modern city life).  The Dome was wonderful.  Quite small in area, but was an artificially created tropical zone.  I spent some time there drawing birds, and crocodiles.  At one stage a hand reared wood swallow sat while I drew him, then came and sat on my shoulder for 10 minutes while I drew another bird.  Then I drew a freshwater crocodile, who was about 4 feet long, happily sunbathing in his enclosure.  I was quite pleased with this sketch.  And finally while I waited for the talk about saltwater crocodiles, I drew some of the osteoderms (bony skin lumps) on the head of the saltwater crocodile "Goliath".  Three hours passed in a flash, and it was time to meet Jim, who thankfully brought me a bottle of water, to redydrate after so long in the humidity.

On our way back to the hostel, we passed some trees, and there was a cacophony of sound.  Looking up, we could see bats, or flying foxes, hanging in the mango trees.  I'd never seen these before.  The sign beside the trees said they were a endangered species, and if any baby flying foxes were seen on the ground, to contact the Cairns Wildlife Ranger who would return it in an appropriate manner.  The public were not to touch them as they could carry disease.  Apparently fruit bats are the only bats that do not catch live prey, because they do not have echolocation.  The bats identify their food by sight and smell, and crash into trees, attempting to grasp a branch, so that they can then reach the fruit.  All bats are protected under CITES but the authorities suspect this is poorly enforced and the larger bats are still caught as food in some areas.
Silhouette bats

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