12.03.2014

Calm Before the Pool

Upon landing in Gladstone AUS from Melbourne via Brisbane, we hopped a Maxi Taxi to our hotel (Rydges) and unloaded our bags. My folks wanted food and naps, but as I had slept fairly well last night and then gorged myself on the airport hotel "hot breakfast" buffet this morning, before we left for the flight, I opted instead to join Carl, my sister, and niece and nephew for a walk through downtown Gladstone to their Information Center.

The "on paper" mission of this walk was to confirm our reservations on Heron Island, party central for Great Barrier Reef and Green Sea Turtle explorations, where we will spend the next three days beginning tomorrow morning.

The unofficial reason was to let my energetic nine year old twin niece and nephew, Millie and Ty by name, burn off steam. There was no reason to suspect our reservations were questionable, except for a small seed of doubt that was planted when the Rydges Hotel we are staying at tonight had no shuttle waiting for us (or anyone) at the airport, even though tonight's reservation was not in jeopardy and the Rydges is unrelated to the Heron Island resort community.

Our hotel lies near the top of a fairly long hill down to the water. Gladstone is surprisingly more hilly than I expected. When we got to the bottom, there was a causeway we had to cross to go onto the "island" (not really an island, but more of a peninsula) where the Info Center was located. We crossed and took a scenic pedestrian path to the right that followed the edge of the water and was lined with mangrove bushes.

A few meters along the trail, I looked into the mangroves and for a few seconds, I could not register what I was seeing, so alien was it to my usual surroundings.

"What kind of giant cones or seedpods are dangling from those mangrove branches?" I thought to myself. "And why do they flutter in the breeze like that?"

A moment later it dawned on me what I was seeing. These were not seed pods, nor even anything in the Vegetable Kingdom. A rush of adrenaline spiked my heart and excitement filled my breast.

"Hey everyone," I said, addressing the others. "Don't anyone panic, but...those are bats!" I pointed at the hundreds of oscillating black bodies of the large torpid flying rodents clinging to the mangroves. These were different from the flying foxes (aka fruit bats) we had seen at the Healesville Animal Sanctuary a few days ago, in captivity. These wild animals were entirely black as far as I could tell, lacking the orange fur of the captive fruit bats.

What I had mistaken for plant fruiting bodies fluttering in the breeze where the bats gently oscillating their gigantic wings, presumably to cool themselves against the fairly brutal heat of early summer in tropical Gladstone.

"Oh my god...bats," my sister said, a look of bewilderment on her face. We paused to take in and process our encounter with these creatures, which were both awesome and terrifying. I was glad they were nocturnal and we were encountering them in broad daylight.

A bit further down the path, an angry Magpie swooped defensively down from a tree toward my nephew's head. We learned when we arrived at the Info Center that Magpies can be quite aggressive in protecting the area around their nests and young, though usually it is from July through November, and it is now early December. But clearly this bird was still compelled by hormonal influences to attack what it perceived as a threat, for whatever reason.

A bit further down the path, some kind of lizard, maybe a skink, crossed the path, but was only seen by my niece and me.

The Info Center was largely understaffed but the people we encountered had a certain snarky attitude. My sister told me Carl had read that Queenslanders (Gladstone is in the Australian state of Queensland) tend to be "sharp" with outsiders and a bit despondent. These people were adhering nicely to the stereotype.

Coming back from the Info Center, we found a city water park with numerous fountains and sprayers in which children were playing, so my niece, nephew, and I all got good and soaked before making our way back to the hotel. The warm dry breeze felt good on our wet clothes and dried them a bit as we walked back up the long hill.

Now we are about to go chill at the hotel pool for a spell before we go out to dinner somewhere.

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