CAIRNS, Australia — UTSA Assistant Athletics Director and men's basketball SID Kyle Stephens will be writing a journal during the Roadrunners' nine-day trip to Australia. Check back with goUTSA.com throughout the trip for updates to his chronicles and photo galleries.
Just a reminder that UTSA will play five games against the Gold Coast Blaze (Saturday. Aug. 13), Brisbane Spartans (Sunday, Aug. 14), Cairns Taipans (Wednesday, Aug. 17), Maitland Mustangs (Friday, Aug. 19) and Hornsby Spiders (Saturday, Aug. 20) during the exhibition tour of the Land Down Under.
Monday, Aug. 15 — "Aussie Slang"
The weekend edition of the Gold Coast Bulletin — "The Bully" to locals — had a headline that read "How Your New Solar System is Probably Shonky."
From context, I can conclude that "shonky" isn't good. I wasn't sure what that word meant exactly, so I asked sophomore Jeromie Hill for his translation. He simply said it means "not a very good deal." He went on to tell me that he believes a long time ago Australians just made up words for things and now we have our choices of online dictionaries for Aussie slang.
Monday was a travel day for our group. We awoke very early but still managed to hit the pricey — for everyone else — Food Fantasy breakfast buffet before boarding our bus at 7 a.m. to Brisbane International Airport. Our destination? The "Top End" of Australia, which translates to the far north of the continent and country. Cairns to be exact, which just happens to be Hill's hometown.
Nothing unusual happened during our journey, outside of experiencing about as lax a check-in process as I've ever seen. The group walked into the terminal and began checking in on the computer monitors. We even printed out bag tags and stuck them on ourselves. Then, we handed our bags to Qantas employees, who dropped them on the carousel before we headed to the security line. We did not have to remove our shoes, belts or hats, and once we retrieved the items that had to go through the X-ray machine, we were heading to the gate without showing any identification to anyone. Maybe this is how it used to be in the United States. I can't remember for sure, but I know it's not like that anymore. Now, you might have to stand still in an awkward position for seven seconds in front of hundreds of other travelers and that still doesn't assure you of avoiding a pat-down.
The flight to Cairns was about two-and-a-half hours, and for the last 30 minutes, those with window seats were treated with spectacular views of the Great Barrier Reef from above. It is easy to spot the aqua-colored areas in the deep blue ocean, and to make sure we knew one of the world's most amazing natural wonders was in the area, the TV monitors on the plane were looping a tourism video with plenty of attention given to the reef. It was at that point assistant coach Robert Guster, seated one row behind me, announced to the travel party that he was 85 percent certain he was going to get in the water at the reef tomorrow. After all, Australia's waters are known for not-so-friendly animals like sharks, box jellyfish and sting rays. Experiencing the reef up close and personal by snorkeling is probably the right move. After all, we didn't travel more than 8,000 miles to look at the reef from a plane or boat. It truly is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I'll make sure Coach Guster gets his feet wet tomorrow.
Our bus driver took us into downtown Cairns and proceeded to give us an audible tour of the sights. I'm sure Jeromie was quite interested. Conversely, he was giving his own tour to those seated around him, even pointing out his high school and favorite seafood restaurant along the route. Our driver was still pointing out places to go, including a casino and another establishment I can't mention in name on this blog but got a "our guys don't need to know about that one" from head coach Brooks Thompson, then turned a yewy (u-turn) and dropped us off at the front door to the Shangri-La Hotel.
We all had the afternoon on our own after check-in.
For Jeromie, that meant going to visit his family. I sent the cameras along with him, so hopefully we have some good photos and footage of him and a few teammates enjoying a real Australian Barbie (barbecue). The staff also sent along the team's uniforms to be washed by his parents. Laundromats are few and far between here and hotels charge an arm and leg for laundry services; at least the Jupiters Hotel & Casino did on Saturday night.
Cairns is in a tropical climate. This is winter, but the temperature was in the upper 70s and humidity and clouds filled the air. Our hotel sits right on Trinity Bay, an inlet off the Coral Sea, which is part of the Pacific Ocean near the northeast coast of Australia. A sea wall protects Cairns City from the water, which is mostly a mud flat for the first 1,000 yards or so. There is a popular saltwater swimming pool called the Lagoon and a large park with palm trees lining the sidewalk just outside the hotel. The main road along the waterfront is called Esplanade and it has plenty of shops, tourist booths, backpackers hostels and restaurants — even a McDonald's, or Maccas in Aussie speak. One of the unique attractions is the Night Market, which is a block-long indoor bazaar that opens at 4:30 p.m. Shoppers can find bargains on anything from the stereotypical Australian boomerang refrigerator magnet to Outback hats to back and foot massages. It is very similar to Market Square in San Antonio without the awesome Mexican food.
Cairns also has what has to be the world's only casino with an enclosed rainforest on top. The Cairns Wildlife Dome has tropical birds, snakes, lizards, frogs, pademelons (small marsupials), koalas (they actually aren't bears) and a gigantic saltwater crocodile (saltie) named Goliath all enclosed on top of a three-story casino right in the heart of downtown. I will spare you the boring tourist photos since we are scheduled to visit the Cairns Tropical Zoo in the next two days, but it was interesting to stand five feet from a koala while dodging curious parrots that buzzed my head every 10 minutes or so.
Tuesday is a day the entire travel party is looking forward to. At 7:45 a.m., we will walk to the marina attached to our hotel to catch a boat out to the Great Barrier Reef. Most of the players couldn't stop talking about what awaits, except for Jeromie. He used to work on one of the boats that takes tourists out to the reef, so he already knows what's out there in the Coral Sea.