I made my way back to the bus collection point after a restful afternoon, though slightly miffed I had been unable to do an adventure tour. I consoled myself with a giant chocolate ice cream as I wandered back through the village before climbing on the coach. About half way through our journey – and with darkness now setting in – we began to make our way through dense forest. More worryingly was that trees either side of the road were astonishingly ablaze with giant flames that towered over the bus. I wasn’t alone in my anxiety, as others fearfully looked out the window with stern facial expressions, unsure if we were about to be burnt to a crisp in the outback wilderness.
The chatty driver had reached a plateau and was not saying a word either, adding to the foreboding sense of it all. Although, knowing the Australian tour guides that was probably a deliberate ploy; enhancing the drama and experience for those on their trip. When he did finally decide to talk it was as if someone had lit a small bonfire. “As you can see ladies and gentleman we have a few flames to the side of us to brighten our dark journey home,” he observed dryly. “With the ground so dry we sometimes get these forest blazes but it’s all good.” He didn’t seem like a worried man, which I suppose was reassuring for those of us on board who had naturally assumed we were about to be burnt to a crisp. But with people who talk about being chased by a crocodile like it is nothing out of the ordinary, you always have to make some allowances.
After driving between burning forest for several miles we finally pulled clear, prompting a collective sigh of relief, grateful Mother Nature had decided not to cremate us all. Arriving back in Cairns I joyfully leapt off the bus and into the nearest bar for a well deserved beer, wondering what the life expectancy was for living in this dangerous and unforgiving part of the country.
Apart from the bushfires, I was aware that Cairns, like Darwin, also had its fair share of dangers from the wildlife, so was glad to hear a particular tale about an errant crocodile only after I had left. On this occasion a 1.5 metre crocodile was discovered on one of the busiest streets in Cairns, Mulgrave Road, in the early morning rush hour trying to cross to the other side. A police officer and road worker cornered the reptile using brooms, while a crowd gathered round to watch, rather than run as fast as they could in the opposite direction. A local reptile remover, who happened to be passing, stopped to help out and put a blanket over its eyes to calm the beast before he kneeled on its back to restrain it and place a rubber band over its jaws. Discussing his exploits, the man later said: “There’s no better way to start a morning than by catching a croc.”