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Cape Tribulation, a Crazy Woman and a Near Death Experience
Wednesday 30th March 2011 – Cape Tribulation, Cairns – Australia
Today was a very full day, and one that I shall not forget in a hurry. It had excitement, fear, intrigue and a rather strange and comical tour guide. I didn’t know it as I set off this morning, but today would be one of those days I shall relive for years to come.
Having had a late night last night, and an early start this morning, I was extremely tired ahead of my tour to Cape Tribulation in Northern Cairns. I was picked up outside the hostel by the tour bus and realised I was the last person on. Nobody acknowledged my greetings as I nodded to the other guests on the tour bus, so I found my seat and looked out the window at the morning mist. Everyone looked half-asleep still, and I could relate to that, so I didn’t blame them for not saying hello to me.
It wasn’t long before the guide started to brief us on the day ahead, and it was at this moment that I realised what today had in store for us. Knowing what we would be partaking in was good to know, but the thought of listening to the guide all day made me feel a little ill. The woman was friendly enough, yet she talked in a way that resembled a recorded message. Everything she said was scripted, even the parts where she wasn’t talking about the tour at all. She laughed at herself and what she was saying, which also sounded scripted and very fake. I wondered if she was having a conversation with herself on many occasions. Still, it was good to learn a bit about the day ahead, rather than just to just merely exist on the tour.
The roads north get quite rough from time to time, often resulting in a whack on the side of my head from the window. The sky today was far from unpleasant, yet the gathering cloud gave us something to think about. The guide explained we probably wouldn’t avoid getting wet seeing as this was a tropical rain forest. I didn’t care much to be honest. The weather is what it is, and I rarely let the weather get me down unless it stops me from seeing something I wanted to see. As long as we could finish the tour in its entirety, I would be happy.
Our first stop was a small café in which we could empty our bladders and grab some food. It was a good chance to introduce myself to people, but most guests were part of a pair, and not looking to make new friends, and this is how is remained for most of the day. There were a few that welcomed the chance to make new friends though. The stop was brief, and having covered myself in mosquito spray, I was ready for the fun to begin.
We took a short boat ride up and down the Daintree River and managed to spy a couple of crocodile just breaking the surface of the water. Although we were told to remain seated, it is incredible how many people continued to stand up and gravitate toward the side of the boat where the crocs were. The boat driver turned the boat around to let the other side get a glimpse each time, and the same people gravitated towards the other side of the boat for another look. I could tell the driver was angry, and I could understand his frustration. It was great to see the crocodiles in their habitat though.
After the boat ride we took the ferry over the river to the other side and drove into the rainforest. The roads were less comfortable here, but much more fun in my opinion. The next stop was for a walk through the forest along a wooden walkway. In truth, the walk was short and lacked substance, yet the guide continued to talk in her odd, enthusiastic manner, laughing regularly and randomly from time to time. Another walk later on was more interesting, and felt more natural. The trees and thick undergrowth here is quite something. Another stop was at Cape Tribulation beach, and a chance to see the golden sand and clear water. We also spotted a number of large and very colourful butterflies along the pathway. It was nice to be on a beach in the sunshine.
The next stop was at Mossman Gorge, a sacred place for the Aboriginal People. The Gorge consists of a large river of fresh water running down from the rocks above, and down the rocks below. The place in between is where people can swim, and to play on the rapids. The water is deep and the current strong here, so not a place for unconfident swimmers. It was very, very cold also.
We were all enjoying our time on the water, and I was speaking with an English couple on a rock – both of whom are not confident swimmers – when I noticed a guy seemingly in trouble in the water by the rapids. He looked desperate and I jumped in to try and save him. When I got to him his face was one of immense panic, and I will never forget the look in his eyes, the look of fear. I reached out to try and grab him as his head bobbed in and out of the water, but his flailing arms clawed at me, scratching my shoulder and neck. I was trying to tread fresh water in a deep part of the river, whilst the rapids threatened to drag us away. I wanted to help the guy but his fists were whacking my face and he tried frantically to climb onto me.
Minutes past and I could feel myself getting weary. I tried to call out for help, but as this large guy was dragging me under the water, I couldn’t surface long enough to catch a breath and call out the words. All I could muster were a few, feeble hel…, before being dragged under again. I just couldn’t get a grip on the guy to drag him to safety and I began to fear for my own safety as I struggled for air. Several times the guy climbed on me, pushing himself up and myself down, and I genuinely could not get myself out of the water for air. I feared for my life at this point.
During the moments when I was trying to call for help, I could see the tour guide standing on a rock not far from us, seemingly looking into the distance with a puzzled look on her face. I could see her miming the word ‘Help’ to herself, as if she could hear the call but couldn’t locate the source. I wondered why nobody was helping us. Then came the moment where things could have gone horribly wrong for me.
I was close to exhaustion by now, and I no longer had the strength to get myself out of the water. I remember vividly the moment that I almost drowned. I was under the water looking up at the flailing arms and legs. I could feel the legs kicking me in the face, and his arms pushing my head downwards. I had no air left and I needed air urgently. I couldn’t get out and I was at the point of opening my mouth and taking a mouthful of water. The light was beaming down though the water and I remember thinking this was it for me. Everything began to slow down and all sound seemed to fade. I was deep under the water, yet I no longer felt the urgency for breath, but instead just relaxed and accepted my lack of control over the situation. There was nothing left yet I had to somehow get myself out the water. With one last almighty effort, I pulled myself to the surface and gulped several mouthfuls of air.
As I looked around, I could already see the guy being pulled away by two other guys and our tour guide, others just looking at me in the water. I swam to the nearby rock and collapsed onto it. The English couple who had been on the rock the whole time looked at me sympathetically as I regained my composure. To this day I cannot fathom why they did nothing to help, or why they failed to alert the guide. I am not sure how long I was under the water, or why nobody thought to help me out, but it must have been a while, seeing how far away the saviours were now. The guy I was helping was now lying on the ground beside the river, people tending to him, and I was happy all was now ok. I had a nice wound on my shoulder from the guy’s fingernails as a reminder of the day’s events.
Later, I was speaking the guide who apologised for not helping sooner. She had heard the cries for help but didn’t know where it was coming from. She explained she thought this guy and myself were merely two guys having fun in the water, messing about like guys do. She failed to put two and two together when it would surely have been obvious. Being trained as a lifeguard as she was, the guide still found it difficult to help the guy she explained, so I felt happy I had done all I could for somebody who is not trained. Had I not been a fairly confident swimmer I am sure I would have drowned. I guess this is what a near death experience feels like. After a while I was able to enjoy myself again and to have one last swim on the rapids.
After all the drama of Mossman Gorge we set off back to Cairns and to our respective accommodations, taking an incredibly scenic coastal drive through Port Douglas, stopping for an hour in the town of Port Douglas for a look around. We also stopped briefly for an ice cream and to admire the elusive Cassowary strutting through the gardens nearby. We were lucky to see it, and no sooner was it there, but it was gone again.
All in all it had been an epic day. A take away pizza and a movie night in the hostel were just what I needed. I am guessing I will probably sleep quite well tonight.
Written by Daniel Stevens,
Founder of Roundtheworldtrip.org.
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