World weather.

Friday 16th December, Cairns, Queensland, Australia

Remember how I said Maria wanted more attention? Well, here I go again proving what a nice guy I am by headlining my journal update with a photo of her. And it kind of gives away the surprise of what we did today before I have a chance to build up any suspense.

That's right, today we visited one of the natural wonders of the world, the largest living thing on the planet, Australia's famous Great Barrier Reef. We set up the trip through a specialized website called "Dive The Reef", a terrific site that acts as a booking agent for over seventy different local dive operators. On 'Dive The Reef', you can compare the services and prices of each different operator in the one easy-to-use place, and decide which one best suits your needs.

Rather than join the crowds on one of the huge catamarans, we chose a fairly small operator. There were about twenty passengers on board when we departed the Cairns marina at 8:30am, but on a busy day the boat could have carried maybe a dozen more. The sky was an endless blanket of blue, and the sun was already scorching even at that early hour. Don't forget that Queensland doesn't have daylight saving (don't even get me started on that!) and so the sun had been up for almost four hours by that time. Our boat wasn't the fastest, so the reef was a two hour ride away. After about an hour's sailing, I was surprised to find dark clouds building above us, and even a few fat, lazy drops of rain falling on our boat. But as quickly as the almost-storm started, it disappeared and we were once again in the middle of an uninterrupted world of blue; ocean below and sky above.

The skipper backed off on the throttle, and our craft rumbled to a gentle stop. A strip of translucent pale greenish blue water stretched across the bow of the boat, distinct from the strong azure colour of the deep water around and behind us. This was the reef nicknamed 'Long Bomby', the favourite destination for diving and snorkelling, according to our guides. Maria suited up for her dive. I was content to snorkel, in fact even snorkelling was going to be enough of a challenge for me. I've always been a little hesitant of the ocean ever since a bluebottle jellyfish wrapped itself around my waist as a kid. I've never known pain like that before or since. It was years before I would get back into the water, and even during my twenties, if I was swimming with friends and happened to drift away from them a little, I'd quickly paddle back towards the group. So while this day on the Great Barrier Reef was a day of pleasant recreation for most onboard, for me it would be a test of my nerves.

I was one of the last to enter the water. It wasn't that I was scared by definition. I just didn't think I was going to enjoy it. And I was right. I dropped myself into the clear, cool water, plunged my masked face below the surface and immediately began hyperventilating. The ocean at that point was about twenty metres deep, and the visibility was almost twenty metres. That meant I could see straight down for sixty feet, and still couldn't see the bottom. I was falling into an abyss. A couple of fish swam by, which helped to distract me, and my breathing started to relax. But when I turned my head and was faced with the dangling tentacles of some form of marine stinger, I was back on deck after less than two minutes in the water.

I was a bit disappointed with myself, but I had enjoyed the boat trip, and I was sure that Maria would be having a great time scuba diving somewhere about ten metres below me. The crew members told me that the next spot we would dive that afternoon was much shallower, and was a sandy bottom, so I vowed to give it another try then. After lunch!

Lunch was a buffet of cold chicken pieces, sliced meats and salads, but I know you don't want to hear about the interesting salads. You're waiting to hear if I ended up conquering my fear or if I spent the entire afternoon sitting on the deck, receiving confused, pitying glances from the crew. Well, I'm proud to say that when we anchored in our second dive spot, the shallower water and the clearly visible sandy bottom gave me much more confidence. Schools of small fish eyed me as they swam by, I befriended a metre-long Giant Trevalli, a dumb looking, slow moving dark grey ghost of an animal, with a large mouth of threatening looking but presumably (hopefully) harmless teeth. I had to lift my face out of the water every time the big, ugly bastard came too close to me so I wouldn't see it. I even followed a couple of reef sharks as they roamed the ocean floor. That was the highlight of my day, swimming after two sharks, about a metre and a half in length, just watching them meandering around the outcrops of coral. When the crew called for us to return to the boat, I didn't want to get out of the water, but all good things must come to an end, and my mask had been filling up with water. That happens apparently if you smile while you're snorkelling.

Maria bought a disposable underwater camera before we headed out on our reef trip, and I've posted the best shots here.

This would be our last night at Calypso. In the morning, Maria and I would be driving further north to the unmissable Cape Tribulation. So in signing off, I'd like to thank everyone at Calypso Backpackers Hostel (especially Amanda) for making our stay so comfortable and problem free.

Just so Maria doesn't get too jealous and start complaining that I've now posted two photos of cute Amanda, I've put together a gallery of photos just of her. Just of my sweetheart. Click here, and if you're interested, here's another gallery of Maria that I put together sixten months ago.

I have finally scuba dived for the first time in my life and hopefully it won't be the last time. I had to do it on my own, Steve is too much of a girl to do something soooooooooooooo dangerous as to dive. Anyway, my instructor was a very nice fellow so I wasn't too disappointed. After two hours sailing on a boat full of "guiris" (foreigners in Spanish), we got to a point in the middle of the sea by the Great Barrier Reef, where we jumped off the boat. Jesus!, it is amazing what you can see under the water, a shame the photos don't show at all what's like down under. There was even a massive shark around and we all prayed it had had his breakfast in the morning. Well, to tell you the truth, it wasn't so massive and the poor litttle thing was more afraid of us than we were of it. No wonder, we didn't look very attractive with the masks compressing our eyes and noses.

We dived for a half an hour roughly, but I promise it is tiring trying to keep up with the instructor. I don't think any of us wanted really to get lost there, so we definitely made our best. And after that, a lovely lunch, some snorkelling near a white sanded beach and a beautiful long siesta on our way back to Cairns. Though it wasn't such a lovely siesta for others (maybe Steve?), who forgot to wear suncream before going to sleep. He is now so red I don't need a light to read what I'm writing.