A tale of cassowaries and aliens…

Photo of a cassowary is courtesy of betta design on flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

I chose to stay in the youth hostel in Mission Beach, northern Queensland because of its unusual name and location. The Treehouse built on stilts and surrounded by verdant rain forest is a big open plan log cabin with bare wooden floors and bamboo framed glass-less windows with shutters.

The small number of bamboo doors that exist are open at the top so all sounds drift effortlessly inside and out. Comfortable shabby sofas are arranged in cosy corners encouraging the residents to gather together and chat or make music. Or you can grab a random paperback from one of the many bookcases and curl up in a hammock on the shady veranda and lose yourself in the plot. The air is filled with incense and a touch of dank decay.

On my first morning I am woken early by the torrential rain, thunder and lightning and with the smell of rich earth assaulting my nostrils it almost feels like camping and only slightly drier. The close proximity to the rain forest also means that as soon as dawn cracks an opening in the night sky a cacophony of kookaburras crash into your dreams with the subtleness of falling pan-lids.

It is not a place conducive to much sleep.

It is here that I meet Andy. I have noticed him over the past few days as he bumbles about the place. He’s a quiet, unassuming young man who appears very solitary. On the third morning I am disturbed by the cleaners who start sweeping the floors at 5 am and I can’t get back to sleep. I feel irritated and headachy; I had a hard time dropping off last night due to a group of travellers talking and drumming well into the early hours. The swish, swish of the brushes sweeping over the wooden floors is as annoying as the whine of a mosquito. It’s no good, sleep eludes me. Drowsily I stumble into the kitchen and find Andy with his head in the fridge. Over strong coffee and cereal on the sundeck overlooking the swimming pool we exchange names and watch as the rain drips languidly through the forest. He then tells me about the cassowaries that live here.

Later that morning, once the rain has eased, I catch one of the shuttles into Mission Beach and ask to be dropped off at the Rainforest Walk, which is about a 6 or 7 km circuit. It is very green and very gloomy in there and almost silent apart from the occasional shriek of a bird. I strain my ears listening out for the ‘boom’ sound which the southern cassowary makes and every time a twig snaps or a giant leaf falls noisily to the ground I can feel my heart pounding in my throat remembering Andy’s story.

…a single kick from one of them birds can rip open your stomach as they have a dagger-like claw

It strikes me as a rather unpleasant way to die with your intestines hanging out; alone in a soggy, dark forest. Fresh droppings close to the pathway do nothing to ease my anxieties and as I walk I nervously consider every tree as a place to hide behind should one of these magnificent flightless creatures run across my path.

The fathers will be minding the chicks now and are fiercely protective, don’t get anywhere near them.

The air is thick and still, the plants and trees still dripping from the night’s rainfall; it all feels extremely claustrophobic.

That evening, back in the safety of the Treehouse, Andy shuffles over with a bottle of cheap plonk and over a glass or two we chat some more. Obviously relieved that I’d survived any cassowary attack he makes a decision to confide in me.

I was driving through the outback, not so far from here when I noticed that there were lights behind me. I thought at first it was another truck. I slowed down to let the truck pass, but it appeared to slow down too. The lights moved up and down and sometimes disappeared altogether, before coming back closer and brighter. They were definitely tracking me.

The lights are known by the aboriginal people as “Min Min” lights and some scientists explain their appearance as a natural phenomenon; however Andy, along with many others, is convinced that the lights are from aliens who are attempting to communicate with us.

Some people think I’m not the full quid, but I am you know, I’ve seen these lights around Melbourne too.

At 10 o’clock, light-headed with exhaustion, I make my excuses and head for bed; it’s all getting a little bit creepy. And as I stare at the full moon piercing the shadows I shudder to think what might be out there.

Less than 2 weeks later I found myself in Winston, the centre of the area which is known for the ‘Min Min’ lights, but sadly I didn’t see any aliens.

(Daily Post: Creative Commons)

An Italian Adventure: when spur of the moment decisions lead you into the unknown …

A few years ago my adult daughter decided that it would be nice for us to spend a few days somewhere warm around my birthday (October), and share some “mother and daughter” time. She tried searching on the ‘net for a cheap break away in southern Europe, but became frustrated when time after time she reached the final page only to find that the holiday was unavailable on those days or for that price!

Eventually we decided to take pot luck and take a cheap flight from Stansted airport to Lamezia Terme International Airport with Ryanair. No, neither of us had heard of it either. The airport is located ten minutes outside the town Lamezia Terme in the boot of Italy so we figured that from there we should be able to go to the Calabrian coast and find somewhere warm to hang out in for a few days. Armed with a small bag each containing not much more than a change of underwear, some lire, a toothbrush and an Italian phrase book, off we went.

Arriving at the Italian airport we thought it would be easy to find someone in the terminal who spoke English and who could direct us to a nice hotel on the coast. Wrong. Not only did there appear not to be an information desk, nor did anyone speak English. Out came the phrase book. After much pointing and tentative attempts at speaking Italian, we finally decided upon a little place called Tropea on the coast where we led to understood we would easily find somewhere to stay. We were given a phone number of a small hotel and directions to get there by catching a bus and two trains. It meant changing in Rosarno, otherwise we’d end up in Villa san Giovanni, the terminal to Sicily!

We caught a local bus to the town of Lamezia Terme and found the railway station where I purchased two tickets to Tropea and even managed to work out from a very complicated diagram which platform the train would depart from. We headed to Platform 3 and waited …. and waited …. I headed back into the station to confirm that we were indeed waiting on the correct platform. We were, but it appeared that the train was running late. We were a little concerned as by now it was getting quite late and at this rate by the time we arrived in Tropea everything would be closed.

Eventually a train arrived and on we got. Our seats were reserved so we made our way to our seats in one of the old-fashioned corridor trains with separate compartments (think “Orient-Express“) and found ourselves in with an Italian couple and another English guy who was heading over to Sicily. Our main fear was in missing the stop at Rosarno as we couldn’t see very much from on the train and many stations seemed to be unlit. Still if we did miss it, we could always carry on to Sicily: it would be as good a destination as anywhere else.

Rosarno was one of the larger stations though and well-lit. We said “ciao” to our new friends and went to find out where the train to Tropea left from. Fortunately we didn’t have to wait long, but even so it meant that we arrived in Tropea at close to midnight. Hoping for a taxi outside the station, we were once again disappointed. Nothing. No taxis, no signs and no staff on duty. Sighing we went back into the station to look for a telephone followed by what could only be the town drunk on his bicycle – don’t ask me how or why it is that we always seem to attract the town drunk, but we do! A most bizarre conversation took place with him slurring away in Italian and my daughter telling him to get lost in English. I left them to it.

Getting through to the hotel on the number we had been given was not a problem, communicating with them was, as no-one spoke any English. Trying to decipher what the person on the other end was saying and then looking it up in the phrase book was a slow process. Finally we understood that the hotel was full, but the manager would send a taxi to pick us up and take us to another place with a room. At this point we were trying to fix a time and the chap kept repeating “ora” which I thought meant hour so I kept on repeating “dodici” (12 as in midnight). Found out later that ora also means now!! Duh!

We were picked up to find that the town centre was only about a ten minute walk away (but it was pitch black outside the station and we had no idea of the direction the town lay in from the station) and we were taken to an Irish Bar / Nightclub which apparently had rooms on the second floor. On being given a double room, we made several trips back to reception armed with phrase book to ask for items such as “blanket” “toilet roll” and “check-out”? It wasn’t five stars, but it was very cheap!

Finally we fell into bed, long after the witching hour, and lay there listening to the boom, boom beat of the disco below and the rhythmic thudding of a bed against our wall, completely out of sync, accompanied by various gasps and groans. After 15 minutes of this, in silence and embarrassment, we both suddenly yelled out in stereo “for goodness sake get on with it”, and broke into waves of hysterical giggles. Needless to say we didn’t bother going to bed until at least 2 a.m. on the following nights.

PS Our Italian did improve over the course of the next 5 days (well it had to really) and we also learned that German was widely spoken (lots of German tourists there) so were able to get by a bit with that. I got quite used to going into a nearby coffee shop every morning and ordering a “un tè con latte e un caffè nero” only to discover on the last day that the owner did speak some English when he greeted me with “Good day, would you like the usual?” I must have kept him amused all week with my hesitant Italian.