Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The wet tropics, in the wet season

I've been north of Mackay for a couple of weeks now and I thought I'd better record some of my impressions of the wet tropics before I become too used to everything to notice any more.

1. Things that can hurt/bite/sting/scratch/annoy you

This is a HUGE topic up here, I could write a whole post on it. A whole book even! A (no doubt incomplete) list:

 - Lawyer vine - also known as "Wait a while", this rather malicious climbing palm has long tendrils that hang down from its spikey stems. The tendrils are covered with recurved hooks, for some reason. As you walk through the rainforest these tendrils can be quite hard to see. If you do see one in your path it's often at the last moment and you do a matrix-bullet-dodge sort of maneuver. Often you get hooked without realising, and about two steps later you feel the hooks digging into your flesh, or your clothes, bag or hat. You freeze as if you've just walked into a booby-trapped tripwire, then slowly and carefully walk backward those same two steps until you can unhook yourself. Oh, and the leaves are also covered in hooks. Nasty plants.

 - Mosquitoes - Worst down on the lowlands, sometimes there are none at all in the rainforest, which is nice

 - March flies - very common, very annoying in the daylight hours. Surprisingly hard to kill.

 - Sand flies - haven't encountered these too much except down around Airlie Beach.

 - Leeches - these are some of the worst things here in my opinion. I get them a lot from walking and wandering around in the rainforest. Though when they start piercing you can generally feel a prick-like pain, they tend to go for spots where you're already cut, or a leech has got you before, and I tend not to feel these ones so end up with a couple of bloody spots. Though the bite itself isn't that bad, I get lots of swelling the day after and it's damn itchy for days.

 - Ants - Got a lot of bites once when tiny red ants invaded my tent (either in search of dry shelter or to clean up the dead march flies).

 - Spiders - Spiders are so rarely a menace, but yesterday I felt a little sting and felt under my shirt to find a tiny spider that had obviously taken a dislike to me.

 - Ticks - I've only had a couple of larval ticks but these guys leave an irritating itchy lump too.

 - Scrub Itch - Generally under the belt. Itchy.

 - Stinging Tree - Haven't been stung yet but these buggers are like Triffids, always lurking in the bushes next to the walking track or road, waiting for you to stray from the centre of the path... I hear that bad stings last a long time, getting irritated every time you get cold water on the sting site.

 - Bullrout - this is a freshwater stonefish. Not sure how common these are up here in the Far North, but I saw a few down near Mackay. When I was 12 or so I stepped on one. Incredibly painful!

I generally have a gallery of a few of these things somewhere on my body. There's also a plant that can burn you, apparently.

2. The Rainforest

I know, I know. It's a cliche. I almost feel bad for saying it. But... really, the rainforest is fantastic. Apart, of course, from all the things that I've just mentioned above. It's the green. The palms and epiphytes. The insects. The mammals. The birds. The noises. The creeks. The frogs!

3. Rain, and being wet.

This is another 'fact of life' in the wet tropics. You will get wet. Frequently. You will often stay wet. If you wear a rain-jacket to keep the rain off, you'll sweat so much in it that you're pretty well wet anyway. If you're inactive in the pouring rain, especially at altitude, you can get pretty cold so a raincoat is good for keeping the warmth in. If you're walking, you'll likely be pretty wet from sweat and brushing past wet foliage, no matter what you wear. Your shoes and socks will be soaked through most of the time. Everything goes mouldy or at least starts to smell a bit. Or a lot.

4. Rain, and roads

It rains. Roads flood. Roads get closed. Towns get cut off. It's the tropics mate!

5. The *not* Rainforest

I haven't spent too much time on, say, the coast, or the lowlands. Is it all just cane fields? I know that when I'm on the highways down on the coastal strip, I generally just gaze at the cloud-enveloped ranges to the west. One thing I have yet to do is watch some mudskippers, these guys are great fun.

6. The frogs

Have I mentioned the frogs at all? It's fantastic. They're just so revved up!

7. The influences

It's interesting how there are things in nature up here that are very Australian - things with obvious analogues elsewhere in the country. Like the orange-thighed treefrog, Litoria xanthomera, obviously closely related to the red-eyed treefrog, Litoria chloris. But on top of these things are the influences from the north - Papua New Guinean and Indonesian influences. These are the things that are very weird and interesting, like the microhylid frogs, things like the green-eyed frogs (Litoria serrata), tree-kangaroos, cassowaries and the like. I'm sure it's the same with the plants though don't know enough about that.

By no means a definitive list, I'm sure I'll add more as I go!

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