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Rafting the Tully River near Cairns, Australia

After doing 14 dives to 25-35 meters over 4 days out of Cairns, I couldn't fly reassured that I wouldn't suffer effects from trapped nitrogen trying to escape my tissues until I'd been out of the water 24 hours after flying, so I planned a day rafting on the Tully River the day before catching my plane for Hong Kong.


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The river was reasonably exciting, and worth doing as opposed to a lot of other things you could do for the day in Cairns, but it was a typical Aussie tourist experience. By that I mean, it was crowded with hundreds of tourists, a lot from Japan, all of whom appeared to be having a great time. The event was coordinated and implemented with military precision by an army of laid back, wisecracking Australians in aloha attire who engaged the tourists warmly and herded each through his and her personal memorable experience. Leave it to the Aussies to make a few hundred tourists feel at home and deliciously endangered at the same time. Everyone likes relating to the Aussies. On the way up, the bus guide whimsically points out the three colors of MacDonalds cows (dark brown for beef burgers, tan for chicken mcnuggets, and white, for fish flavored), and landmarks in the town of Tully, such as the town cemetary. "Any of your rent any footware from us?" he asks. "Well this is where we get them ... Rafter's Rest." Ask if there are crocks in the river, and the guide replies, "Well, I'm a crocodile wrestler by trade ..."

So you had to take the Aussies' word for it when they said the river was a IV, and maybe it was when the dam that sends the water down the river turns the tap up or perhaps down (sometimes low water causes crazy rapids). I was the only one of 7 pax in my boat who had done any rafting before, and only one of 2 in the bus ride up. I wore my diving wetsuit, both layers, but I was the only one who turned up with much more than a t-shirt (overcast day, 5 hours on a cold river, requires warmth). I had kind of expected to be flipped from the raft on one of these mythical grade IV's or at least be terrified into thinking there would be a good possibility of that, but I noticed at the start that no training was given in high-siding, all hands hurtling themselves at once at the part of the raft in most imminent danger of going topside down -- first time I'd ever done a commercial river where everyone in the boat wasn't drilled beforehand in that maneuver. Sure enough, there was no need for doing more than putting all weight more or less left or right, as there were few standing waves in the rapids, and none of those we encountered were as much as a meter in height.

The ride itself was a lot of fun. I was up front with a lovely Swiss girl named Valerie, in Oz to have fun and learn English. Behind me were Reinhardt, working at Telstra in Sydney, and Reilene, retired with her 62 year-old husband who wouldn't make the trip himself but kept appearing with camera at the riverside. Behind them were Alda, an alternate medicine shaman (sorry, email me correct name if you read this) and his significant other Gabriela. Early on we lost Reinhardt over the side and he lost the lenses to his glasses plus had a few bruises to a knee, but he recovered enough to clamor back in the boat and didn't have to be helicoptored out. We might have lost someone else too, as I notice I'd mentioned there were 7 in the boat, but I can only account for 6 at this point. Well, Aussies are notorious for flubbing head-counts on these trips, as recent news reports from the Barrier Reef attest.


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There must have been a couple dozen rapids on the trip. All were a lot of fun. One was a drop over about 6 or 7 meters, which Reese, our guide, pointed out was an unusually large drop for a commercially raftable river. Calling out commands, Reese deliberately ran us into more than one rock, much to our amusement. There was one rapid which we helicoptored down, which means those on the left paddle forward and those on the right paddle back, and we spin through the rapid. On another Reese had us all sit facing backwards, and as we turned to look ahead, he'd shout authoritatively, "No looking!" One rapid had too great a drop (a grade VI Reese said, and we weren't allowed to do it). But there was a chute at the side and all the pax rafters were huddled in the bow of the craft as the guide sat in back and ran the pax over bow-first. If this didn't dunk the crew, the guide pushed whoever was left on board in. Shortly after that there was a rock with a four-meter leap into a meter of river water and people were queued up the sides of the rock to do that one while the 20 or 30 craft on the river milled about. The rafts frequently queued for the rapids, and often we'd stop mid-rapid so Reese could stand safety on the bank with a rope. It gave the trip the pace of an American football game, bursts of energetic action interspersed with periods of standing around during long time-outs. In mid trip there was a "barbie" with hamburgers and sausages, everyone warned to get food first and then piss, or risk missing out on a meal. Aussies have a ken for the visceral which renders them kindred spirits to us Yanks.

R n R, River and Rainforest (name of the outfit), used a country club for its pre-trip refreshments and post-trip light meal, and after the trip the rafters were bussed down there for spaghetti and cold cuts and a crack at the bar, only $2 for a half-pint of the cold piss that Aussies swear is beer. And a crack at the photos and video purchase. I purchased three pictures and passed around my card with my email address, and I promised my co-rafters I'd post the pictures here. So as soon as they appear in the mail, and when I get to a scanner, I'll put the pics here *Way cool. Happy traveling guys. (And now, promise kept. >> Download your pics from the head of this article.)

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Last updated: September 2, 1998