Thursday, August 4, 2016
We settled into the lap of luxury for one more full day. We started another morning with a hearty breakfast in courses at the lodge. We all had fruits and pastries to start, and then waited for our hot courses. I had a salmon omelette. Genene had the French toast. Greg ate bircher muesli, whatever that is. We had a morning walk scheduled, and our afternoon itinerary called for a trip to Seal Bay Conservation Park.
The lodge prides itself on its eco-friendly footprint–guilt-free, fancy pants accommodations. They collect rain water for irrigation. Their foods are locally sourced, whenever possible. These solar panels were visible from the side of the lodge opposite the ocean.
You can actually review a memo in the Great Room each day on how much electricity and water was used to run the lodge. That’s my kind of detail.
At 9:30 we met several of the other lodge guests and found our old friend Shane, the forester’s son. He was taking us on the clifftop walk. I was happy to see him because he is young and enthusiastic. Everyone remembers Australia’s first conservationist star, Steve Irwin. Shane had the same sort of enthusiasm, but in a more muted way. He clearly enjoys talking about the plants and animals of his homeland. It was an absolutely glorious day, and we took off right out the back door of the lodge and headed to the cliffs. Shane explained that people go to Africa to see the big mammals, but you come to Australia for reptiles. There’s one list that says that of the 25 most venomous snakes in the world, Australia has 21 of them. Shane told us that while it was true that Australia has a lot of snakes, it actually ranks pretty low in terms of the numbers of people killed by the slithering spawn of Satan. One reason is that most of these poisonous snakes are in remote regions, where they are unlikely to come into contact with people. By way of example, people in India are much more likely to get snakebitten than an Australian, just because the snakes and the people in India are on top of each other. In contrast, the population in Australia is concentrated along the edge of the continent, away from the snake habitats. Australia also has access to a lot more anti-venom treatments, lowering the threat. In spite of Shane’s reassurances, we all watched where we set our feet. That’s another thing I learned from Daddy while walking in the woods.
On the cliff walk, we were also on the look-out for the heath goanna, a big lizard that can grow up to 5 feet long. The goanna cannot control its body temperature so it has to sit out in the sun until it can become active. It lives in burrows in the ground or in hollow logs. The goanna lays her eggs in the center of an existing termite mound. (Remember how the brushturkey in the Daintree built a mulch-mound for its eggs? The goanna does the same thing only she takes advantage of someone else’s work.) Momma Goanna seals up the egg chamber. The termites work at keeping the mound at the right temperature for themselves, and that works for the goanna eggs too. Momma Goanna waits for the eggs to hatch 8 months later. The baby lizards eat termites until Momma Goanna comes back to get them. She helps them get to the surface of the termite mound, where they can get some sun. Sadly we never saw the goanna. I am not sad to say that we did not see any snakes, either.
The clifftop walk was absolutely stunning.
Our walk was pretty leisurely. We had to go single file along the cliff top, and we all kept an easy pace. Shane would stop periodically to point out a plant, a bee, or a goanna hole. At one of the stops, we had a bit of excitement. Shane had his back to the cliff’s edge while giving his lecture, and his foot slipped. He dropped to the next level down, which was only about a 1 1/2 feet. Shane was caught off guard by the slip, and he went all the way down to his rear. I know he was glad there was a step down! A couple of us reached out and held onto him, mostly just to make him feel secure. He was not in any danger of falling, but there was a look of real fear in his eyes. He admitted feeling a bit foolish because he had been warning us not to get too close to the ledge. He didn’t follow his own advice and nearly paid a big price.
Shane, come back! Splat.
We stepped out onto a rocky promontory, and Shane told us he had something exciting to show us. I was so glad we had brought a set of binoculars and my zoom lens. I found myself wishing again for my 500 mm lens. In the next shot, you can see it: a pair of ospreys on their nest. There’s a triangular-shaped rock in the next photo, just to the right of center in the lower third of the frame. At the top of the rock you can make out the large brown nest. At the top of the nest, you can see two black spots: those are the ospreys’ heads. What a fabulous place to build a nest! They can just go fishing and come straight back up to eat. As I watched through the binoculars, one of them left the nest, swooped to the water, grabbed a fish and flew back up. Spectacular!
Here is the view of Southern Ocean Lodge from the cliff top. Our room was at the top of the lodge, closest to the Great Room. The hallway is fairly steep. Luckily for us, it was an easy walk to the wine cellar and beer refrigerators!
We got to the clifftop trail turnaround, and Shane gave us the choice of continuing on or turning back with the group. The trail was plainly blazed, and there was no danger of getting lost. Shane told us if we kept going a little ways, we would get an even better vantage point on the osprey nest. Who can say no to that? Our family and the fellow from Calgary chose to continue the clifftop walk and the rest of the group turned back.
What a reward for our efforts! The ospreys were clearly visible on their nest.
Our friend Constantine was visibly moved. He told us that he was a pilot and said, “Seeing these birds speaks to my soul.” Even when we were ready to turn back, he kept heading away from us up the path, clearly enthralled. We bade him a good morning, and watched the birds for a few more minutes.
We took a last look out at the sea, and started back toward the lodge. We needed to save enough time to have lunch and then get ready for the afternoon tour to Seal Bay.
As we got closer to the lodge, Genene began complaining that her stomach was “off.” At first, I thought it was just another case of the schnitzel scamper we had in Sydney, but she said this was different. She said she felt nauseous and really, really, really needed to get back to the room. We gave her the room key and she went ahead. I hollered at her and she stopped once for this shot and then was gone.
By the time, we got to the room, Genene was violently ill. It was one of those situations where she didn’t know whether to sit on the pot or hover over it or both. She was losing all that fancy food from both ends.
After a while, we tried to get her to come to lunch with us, but she couldn’t touch it or even think about it. She drank a couple of sips of tea at the lunch table and asked to go back to the room. We let her and continued dining without her. We were sad because we knew we had to cancel the planned afternoon excursion to Seal Bay Conservation Park. There was no way she could stray far from the bathroom, and she was too sick to leave alone.
The lodge staff tried to help, but they had limited weapons in their arsenal. They had a cute boutique gift shop, where you could buy slippers, earrings, wine, honey, artwork and so on. What they did not have in the fancy shop was ANY first aid medicines. I usually travel with a large bag of over-the-counter medicines, but since we were traveling in the “first world,” I trimmed my first aid bag down considerably. I figured that I could pop out to the drug store if needed. That was a mistake. We didn’t even have any Immodium, and we were far away from civilization. The lodge employees tried to pitch in, but they really were not equipped to deal with our situation. They brought a pot of freshly brewed peppermint tea, and someone raided the staff refrigerator to come up with two small bottles of Gatorade. Another employee found a box of Immodium and gave to us. They offered to take Genene into town to the doctor, but this would have meant a one-hour trip in the car. There was no way she could have been away from the bathroom for that long! She was having to make a run for it every 10 to 15 minutes. We had no choice but to tough it out and “shelter in place.” We took her fancy rollaway bed from its prime spot in the window and rolled that baby right up to the bathroom door. That way, she could travel the minimum distance between trips from bed to toilet.
This picture tells the tale: bed near the toilet; peppermint tea on the table, along with ginger ale and Immodium. Our fancy stay had taken an ugly turn.
And then things went from bad to worse.
Greg began to feel nauseous. And he got sick too. I was the last man standing, so to speak. It was no fun for me, playing the part of nurse. To quote some Star Trek, “Dammit, Jim! I’m a lawyer, not a nursemaid!!!” I was mopping their heads with warm washcloths and trying to keep track of which glass was whose. (I sure as heck didn’t want to drink after either of them! We did not know whether this was food poisoning, a virus, or some kind of plague.)
I felt okay, but I wasn’t taking any chances after watching Greg and Genene. I dug into my first aid bag and took a Cipro, which was left over from our trip to Thailand last year. At least I was smart enough to pack some prescription drugs. I never thought I would need a Cipro in Australia! I checked back in with the lodge staff, and the same lady offered to brew us another pot of peppermint tea. This time, I wanted to slap her for offering. I wanted some real medicine for my sick family! Greg and Genene spent the afternoon alternating between moaning, groaning and sleeping while I stared out the window. Late in the day, I did slip out of the room for a moment to get a glass of red wine from the bar, but I was afraid to eat fancy food in the dining room. I asked the staff bring me a tray of meats and cheese to the room, and I settled in for the long haul.
Our itinerary called for us to leave tomorrow, and I hoped we would be able to travel. What a sad ending to our stay. The lodge was supposed to be our splurge. Instead it was our scourge. We would not be sticking our toes in the Southern Ocean. Genene never even made it down to the beach. There would be no iconic photo of us standing next to seals and kangaroos with the Southern Ocean in the background.
I spent my last evening at the lodge hoping that Genene and Greg would be able to settle down and sleep…and hoping that I wouldn’t be next.