Across Continents

Ken's Blog

Contemplative mood

Cyclones. Tick. An old friend of mine had often teased me. Suggesting I’d something of a check-list approach to life. We’d never quite agreed on this, but I certainly felt I’d had now got sufficient measure of tropical systems. Encounter another – and there’s a chance I might before the cyclone season ends – and I’d at least be pretty confident in my preparations. Added a new expression to my vocabulary – "bunkering down" – preparing to weather the storm.

Would I do the same again? In terms of preparations. Stocking up on rations. Moving to the relative security of a modern hotel. Built to cyclone standards. Above any tidal surge or flash flooding. Yes. Absolutely. Get the basics right. Shelter, food, warmth. Devise a plan. Execute it. Don’t hesitate. Don’t even blink. I’d been able to garner a lot of advice from locals. Those who’d been through these sort of things before. Helps a lot.

Hostel - web

The hostel had been a real find. But it was an old building. Its resilience to a Category 5 cyclone unknown. But more than that. We’d identified a windowless room that could provide a communal refuge from the winds. On the ground floor. Difficulty was that there was a real risk of tidal surge. Of the whole place being submerged under perhaps five or six feet of water. Maybe more. Needed to relocate to somewhere safer until the storm was over.

Mattress - web

Choice of where to evacuate to was very straightforward. Large, modern hotel directly opposite the hostel. Not the time to go shopping around for a deal. Take what you can. Snap decision. Within the hour the place was full. Mixture of Chinese tour groups. And locals who’d reached the same conclusion I had. Each night almost the same cost as a week in the hostel. But there some are things you cannot put a price on. Can’t afford to loose Emma. All the kit. And my own neck.

Oddly enough, soon after I’d arrived in Cairns, got a measure of the place, I’d joked with my parents that the only time you’d find me checking into a motel or hotel would be if I needed shelter from a cyclone. A last resort. Simply unaffordable otherwise. Eye-watering prices. Things said in jest.

By lunchtime Wednesday, twelve hours or so before the peak of the storm, the hostel was empty. All the residents relocated to safer locations. For us, it had been a collective decision. Rowan the manager, guests such as Paul, Miwa, Yuki and myself. All in it together. Making sure everyone, especially those whose grasp of English wasn’t so good, really understood the situation. Knew what to do.

Other travellers, those without friends or family to take refuge with, hadn’t be so fortunate. Aware of at least one other hostel where the owner had shut up shop. Turfed out the backpackers. Onto the streets. By then any spare accommodation gone. Airport closed. No way out. The city’s evacuation centres full.

Since I’d reached Australia, Queensland has endured extensive flooding in the south, and in the north the nation’s largest ever cyclone. Left wondering what was next. Plagues, pestilence, locusts? Glad the tent’s mozzie proof, I’ve plenty of repellant. And I’ve had just about every jab you can get your hands on.

[With especial thanks to Jackie for providing the inspiration behind the opening lines. And Exodus 8 for the last bit]

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