|Sarah and Pete at Cape Tribulation. Paradise ... but there's danger lurking!|
Australia is full of things that really, really want to attack you and quite frequently kill you. There are the legendary spiders for a start — the funnel-web, the redback, the mouse spider, fiddlebacks, tarantulas and even the trapdoor spider whose bite can give you lethargy and nausea if nothing worse.
There are taipan snakes, brown snakes, the, the box jelly-fish (those will kill you, soon as look at you at certain times of year), death adders, cone shells, the blue-ringed octopus and sundry other fearsome beasts. The sand flies on the beaches aren't much fun either.
And that's not even mentioning the saltwater crocodiles — or the sharks.
On the yuck-but-harmless side, the cockroaches are enormous.
In addition, there are bugs, cane toads (enormous and scary but harmless to us if you don't count falling over in shock when you see one) and ... and plants that will attack you too.
I went horse riding in the dappled, steamy forest and encountered the Wait-a-While or Layer plant — a kind of vine with thorns that will happily catch on your clothing or snag your skin so it bleeds as you pass (very ouch when encountered with bare arms while cantering!).
Everywhere we went, there were warning signs; every beach cautioned us against the saltwater crocs. We didn't see one; I think they were more scared of me than I was of them.
It was wonderful to be with dear friends. As another friend, who has just lost his wife, wrote recently, the loneliness of bereavement is both hard to describe and devastatingly debilitating at times.
No, Sarah and Pete could not replace Henry, but they were a constant presence and, together, we were exploring, travelling and, as a threesome had that precious resource of one of us being in the back seat of the car to have some alone time.
There were still many nights when I cried myself to sleep but, in Queensland, there was always a tomorrow of something new; something to experience, to appreciate or even to be slightly scared of.
We drove north and took the ferry across the Daintree river into the park, a lush and sensual tumbling of trees and plants, streams and creeks, calling birds and frogs and a soft, humid sheen that lifted the temperature into the high 80s.
At Port Douglas, with its lovely hotels (we stayed in a hostel but had access to a wonderful swimming pool), Pete and I went out to the Barrier Reef again.
i was scared. Even getting into the water was hard but there was a hand to hold mine — and it did help that it was a comforting male hand – and he waited in the water with me until I was ready and willing to put my face below the slightly choppy waves.
Together we swam in a paradise of beauty over the reef surrounded by yellow butterfly fish, purple and green parrot fish, clown fish, angel fish, bright blue damsel and surgeon fish, stripy trigger fish and the great grey hump-crowned wrasse.
Not one sign of anything scary, just beauty and life-force.
Swimming in coral is never quite as bright as you will see it on the TV — they are using lights with which to film — but it is still a rainbow of colours. You're not supposed to feed the fish (and we didn't) but I remembered taking bread out into the waters of the Seychelles with Henry and how eagerly the fish had taken it from our hands, their mouths hard and blunt against our skin.
Back on the road north, we were on an un-tarmaced surface from Port Douglas north to Cooktown. Several times, we took detours down mud tracks and gravelled surfaces, fording rivers, watching turtles 'plop' into waters to escape us, gazing up through the canopy of glittering green at flashes of colour of unidentified tropical birds.
On one road we even cut back the branches of a fallen tree and forded a river up to the base of the doors before being stopped by a rock fall. All silly, pointless adventures (but with pemmican obviously!) but great fun.
Then, blessedly, just outside Cooktown and on the 'main' road, we got a puncture and discovered that the spare, too was flat. All we had to do was limp a few hundred yards into the main street and call the car hire company.
Who promised to send two new tyres by sea which would take only three days.
Hello Cooktown. What do you have to offer?