A Comedy of Errors in Kuranda by Robyn Boswell
The famous Kuranda to Cairns train runs past Barron Falls and through many tunnels, apparently very scenic. Local friends told us that the three tourist trains a day that cost $17.50 were a grand tourist rip-off; the regular motor-rail that ran the same route was $3.90 return. The only differences were a commentary and the falls didn’t always run, so they turned them on for the tourist train. Guess which one we were going for?
We lined up at the ‘Cairns to Kuranda’ window to be told, "No mate, you buy the tickets there.”
“There’ was a window, covered with cardboard, with a sign saying “Groups and Tour Bookings’ and a growing queue.
“Well mate – we start selling tickets at 9:30.”
Since the trains went at 9:30 that seemed to be cutting it fine.
Suddenly a portly gentleman wearing a pith helmet arrived and started an announcement. He was admirably unsuited to the job as he had an unfortunate speech defect. As his words bounced off the depths of the booking hall everyone looked around in puzzled amazement.
By concentrating hard, I managed to translate.
“There is only limited accommodation on the motor-rail, but there are ample tickets on the tourist train.”
“Yeah right,” we thought. “We know why!”
He repeated the message with increasing desperation but no one moved and the tourist train stood stubbornly with its sparsely populated carriages. Eventually the tourist train rolled out, and a two-carriage motor-rail rolled in. We looked around and realised with relief that the people in the queue would fit easily. Uhoh! We had reckoned without the ubiquitous tourist coach. The ‘rush, rush, look fast’ coachers poured past in a seemingly endless line and onto the stationary train. We began to sweat a little.
At last, at 9:45, the cardboard at the window was removed to reveal a ticket clerk who twitched and gasped at the queue. They seemed incapable of matching bodies to seats to tickets. Finally there were only two people ahead of us. There was a major consultation and ‘Pith Hat’ appeared and counted the empty seats on the train. At last we made it to the window.
“Five tickets, please”
“Single or return?”
“You realise that the only return is at 7pm tonight?”
Oh well it was a pleasant drive up into the hills and we only got lost once. Kuranda was a pretty little town that relied on tourists visiting the craft shops and bi-weekly market. That made what came next even more surreal.
We needed to change traveller’s cheques. I bought a drink and pulled out my Aussie traveller’s cheques.
“Do you take travellers cheques?”
Panic and confusion – “What are they?”
Good grief! They even took them at Rabbit Flat 500 kms from nowhere. I explained carefully. A hurried conference – yes – they would take them. I then had to explain what the ‘50’ on the cheque meant! I reeled out shell-shocked, so the others made for the Post Office to change theirs. A door sign proclaimed ‘Agent for the Commonwealth Bank’ – sighs of relief all round – prematurely.
“Oh no, we’re not a bank.”
“But the sign says you are.”
“You’ll have to go to the chemist and they’ll cash them for you.”
Into the chemist.
“I need identification.”
“Okay – here’s my NZ Driver’s Licence.”
“Not good enough – we must have an ID with a photo.”
“We don’t have any.”
“What about your passport?”
“It’s in the bank in Melbourne.”
It’s the first time we had to show ID after cashing 60 or more cheques in all sorts of very strange places. My brother-in-law offered his Australian licence for his New Zealand wife – not good enough. Eventually an uneasy truce was reached and my sister emerged battered but triumphant.
We spent a pleasant couple of hours wandering around the market, which proved to be populated by friendly, freaky remnants of the hippie era.
On the way back we found a sign advertising a ‘Duck’ tour. We should have been warned by a) the price – there were no $4.50 tourist bargains anywhere and b) the lack of patronage in a tourist town. We purchased tickets for the next ride, anticipating a great adventure through winding, overgrown jungle paths and down treacherous raging rivers on a WW2 amphibious ‘Duck’. As we waited, a Duck loaded with a captive audience of ancient ladies on a bus trip returned and they all clapped the driver. ‘Great sign’ we thought. Maybe it was just their relief that the journey was over.
While we waited, the driver metamorphosed into a welder, wandered off and started doing some maintenance elsewhere. Suddenly he noticed us, realised there was another trip and we were it.
There was one other couple who appeared to have won the trip as the prize for winning the Stone-Face Championships for not cracking a smile for at least six months.
A lurch, a jerk and we were off with a good deal of screeching and bumping. The commentary was as dry as a dead roo after five days on a desert roadside and as interesting as watching clothes drying on the line. We stopped every so often to look at various plants and received a university-type lecture. I thought that he made jokes occasionally, so I laughed just in case they were, because noone else did, only to receive looks from the ‘Stone faces’ that would wither a tomcat’s balls at midnight.
We shook, rattled and rolled down a bush path, then drove into a tiny, very muddy dam – the ‘raging river’ - and floated round for a while whilst our trusty guide tried to spot wildlife. From the dreadful noises the Duck made, anything alive would have headed for the relative quiet of nearby Cairns Airport rapidly!
Eventually he gave up the struggle to find anything beyond us that was living, crawled up the hill and we disembarked with an overwhelming sense of relief!
And so back to Cairns. As for Kuranda – been there, done that – tick.
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