CAPE TRIBULATION, Australia — I've always had a suspicion of place names. Perhaps it began near home at murky Crystal Lake. In geography we learn that Greenland is mainly ice and Iceland is mainly green.
But I'm not one to be fooled so easily. A place in Australia named Cape Tribulation had to be good.
The first information I stumbled onto leading me nearer the place was a T-shirt in a tourist shop in Cairns that sported a picture of a giant crocodile with a pair of human feet dangling from its smiling snout. The caption boasted: "North Queensland--You'll Never Go Anywhere Else."
Later I began hearing of a cape named Tribulation from fellow travelers who had been there and come back. They were ecstatic in their reports, or perhaps I misunderstood that stammer in their voices as they spoke of its many attributes.
It promised everything I'd dreamed a tropical resort could promise: cyclones, dengue-plagued mosquitoes, poisonous snakes, goannas (giant meat-eating lizards), strangling figs and stinging trees, even crocodiles.
All this added to the lure--such a welcome relief from the sheltered way of life and scheduled pace at home. I quickly bought my ticket.
Skirted the Fringes
The three-hour bus ride took us along the Capt. Cook Highway, past miles of narrow, white sandy coast shaded by the spreading boughs of fruiting mango trees; it skirted the fringes of tall grayish sugar-cane plantations before turning inland to enter dense valleys of canopy-covered rain forests harboring the brilliant blue Ulysses butterflies.
After negotiating the crocodile-infested Daintree River by ferry, we plunged through creek after creek before being brought to a halt at the last swollen stream, at that time of year too deep to be forded in our coach.
As we last passengers shuffled off to wade across to waiting four-wheel-drive Jeeps, the helpful shuttle driver smiled and said, "Don't carry anything you don't feel like carrying. We'll make sure everything gets to you." Gen. Custer's supply man once said the same thing.
While the gang waited to be ferried the remaining five miles to our "final destination," a term spoken with some foreboding, I was the only one to heed the Jeep driver's advice: "If any of you would like to walk, the next mile and a half is a beautiful stretch. We'll pick you up on our last run."
True to his words, it was a beautiful stretch, paralleled by rounded fan palms and hanging lianas like a scene from an old Tarzan movie, punctuated by an occasional vista of the ocean beyond. It was all set to music by sounds of unseen waterfalls and streams.
But when my beautiful stretch of 1 1/2 miles stretched into three, with no sign of the Jeeps returning, I began to ponder those immortal words of Oliver Hardy: "It's a fine mess you've gotten us into this time, Stanley."
Belated Jeep Arrives
Finally the belated Jeep arrived, and as I climbed in with bruised and aching feet, a woman asked in surprise, "You walked all this way?"
I casually nodded, "Uh-huh."
"Why?" she wanted to know.
"I just felt like walking," I replied nonchalantly. Cape Tribulation can be rather trying.
At last we came upon our destination, a conglomeration of charming dormitory-style bungalows in a patch of open green surrounded by jungle, where hairless spiders of tarantulan proportions inhabit the rafters and toilets. Truly a joy, the resort of my dreams!
Our driver, a man well aware of the joys, hastily set the last bits of luggage and food on the ground, then waved (or made the sign of the cross, it was hard to tell which) and sped off.
As he did so, a Swedish unSamaritan turned dryly to me: "Did you leave your food on the bus?"
"Yes, and my shoes too," I answered.
Then he said, "I left your bag of food there, and I don't think the driver is coming back."
An hour later, with no sign of the driver returning and with no phones and no chance of seeing him again until Sunday, some three days later, I found myself faced with the harrowing prospects of survival. I carefully assessed my resources and planned how to overcome the odds.
It was a jungle out there, and the cards were stacked against me, but I would survive Robinson Crusoe-style, living off the wild coconuts, bananas, breadfruit, passion fruit and papayas of the area, at least until dinner was served at 7 p.m. A beachcomber's life isn't easy.
At 6 o'clock I ordered and paid for my meal, only seconds later to turn and see the Swedish fellow carrying a bag of food my way.
"I think I brought yours by mistake, and mine was left on the bus," he explained.
Cape Tribulation spares no one.
Although accommodations are limited to only two choices, a youth hostel and camping along the each, there are things a person can do at Cape Trib, one of the most interesting being the guided bush walk with plant expert Paul Mason.
Deep in the Rain Forest