Tuesday 19th February

A brief flight to Cairns this morning. As we left Sydney, I could see the effects of the recent forest fires that had affected large areas to the south of the City - possibly Wollongong, difficult to say - but a large burned area nonetheless. Even more amazing was the aerial view of the eastern beaches lined up all along the cost. I could easily identify Bondi, Coogee and so on, as clearly as if it were a map.

The big surprise for me was that there was an hour's time difference - I thought flying straight up meant staying in the same time zone. Whatever, that was nothing - what about the heat here? When I landed, I could tell it was a tropical heat - 32 degrees and very muggy. However, this was right up my street!

[later ...] I'm now in Cairns, tapping away at a PC that's conveniently placed in the foyer of the hostel I'm staying at, Traveller's Oasis.

The temperature has dropped now and it's quite overcast, as it can often be at this time of year here - it's the rainy season here season. And when it rains, boy it really chucks it down, and still with that all pervading heat. Still, that won't matter for the diving - I'm gonna get wet anyway after all!

The hostel is a tidy little place with a dinky little pool. The owner is a bit of a nutter. I'm yet to find out whether I'll be charged for using this Internet terminal. The rates read: "1 hour = $4, 15 mins = $1, or toss a coin. Heads it's free, tails you lose (this special offer only available when Mark is working)". Actually, I reckon Mark uses the coin for a lot of decision-making. Earlier on, when I arrived at the airport I called the hostel's freephone number and caught him in the middle of doing his shopping, so Mark was not able to collect me from the airport. Instead I caught a shuttle bus, paid the $7 dollars which he said he'd reimburse. When I got here I said don't worry about the $7. "Are you sure?" he said. "I tell you what, we'll toss a coin for it." I lost the gamble, so maybe my luck will be in next go.

I've just got to decide what to do with myself on Friday morning before the flight - suggestions from fellow hostel guests include bungee jumping, skydiving and white water rafting. I may just opt for lounging though, depending on how knackered I feel on Thursday evening.

In the evening I visited a pub called The Woolshed, on recommendation from a few other people at the hostel - they do a great deal on food and it's the place where all the backpackers hang out. It was a really busy place and the food was indeed great, although I had difficulty woofing down my massive pizza.

Having polished off the meal and started on dessert (aka lager), I spotted someone across the room who was heading for the stairs - it was Nikki Kearly, who works in Nationwide in Swindon, is a good friend of Manda's and as it transpired, had also arrived in Cairns that same night, and also gone down the Woolshed because, well, that's where people go. She was more than a little surprised to see me. For the next ten minutes I kept on grinning thinking how mad that was! I'd been reading her holiday updates, but didn't think that I might actually cross paths with her. Small world, but as the saying goes, I wouldn't want to paint it.