Australia: Trials at Tribulation

The Daintree Rainforest covers Australia’s North Queensland like a shimmering green cloak.  It ticks and rustles with rain-water, alive and restless. During the day birds screech as if no one is listening. As darkness falls, frogs start their corky chorus.

I stayed in a wooden farmhouse in Cape Tribulation where the edge of over 400 miles of rainforest tickled the veranda. My host, Paul, bumped his way through thick jungle in an old Landrover in the 1970s. There was nothing here then. He built a house and cleared land for a tropical fruit farm. Forty years later I was there to nurse dragon fruit plants and pick fat, purple mangosteens. As I worked in the orchard, the fringe of the jungle whispered with life, inviting me to explore its hidden beauty. In 1997 Paul helped search for a hiker. “They never found his remains,” he mumbled through his bushy beard.

I returned to the uniform mangosteen trees.

The creak of frogs at 5 a.m. was my wake-up call, though stars still speckle the black sky. As the sun rose, humid air clung like a second skin. I spent afternoons on the sweep of ivory beach. Just beyond the crystal shallows, jellyfish billowed like malevolent clouds. I longed to be submerged in paradise, but could only dip a toe in. Sleeping on the warm sand, limbs splayed, my back turned beetroot. Another trial at Cape Tribulation.

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Armed with a rake, I prodded at jackfruit bigger than my head and caught them in an old sheet. Sweat stung my eyes, and the jungle floor moved. A carpet python as thick as my leg slid into the green tangle.

On the hottest day, Paul showed me a gap in the trees where a few trampled ferns marked the route to a fresh-water creek.

“Shouldn’t be any crocs,” he said.

I thought more about pythons as my boots crackled through the undergrowth. Birds called warnings. A twig snapped and I stopped breathing. The beady eye of a cassowary looked at me, side-on. Its sleek, black body disappeared into the trees, blue head bobbing as it went. Red fungus the size of dinner plates bloomed from damp tree trunks, adorned with the silver wisp of a spider’s web. I ducked, continuing along the barely beaten track.

In a clearing, a waterfall trickled into clear blue water. Fan palms shivered as they caught droplets like umbrellas. I shoved aside dangling vines and plunged into the pool. All the heat seeped out of my skin. A fat green frog with a smug yellow grin pulsated above me. I mimicked his smile. Golden discs of sunlight fell across the water as I floated, letting the water lap at my red back like a balm. Birdsong mixed with the rush of the waterfall. Butterflies fluttered through ferns, twinkling like sapphires. The honey sweet smell of tropical flowers clung to the humid air. I dipped my head under the water, submerged in paradise.

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