Water ... check.
t-shirt with annoying slogan to tell the koalas, tour guides, and kangaroos where I'd been the day before ... check
camera (my friends and future children might want to see where I'd been) ... check
map and tour brochure ... check
vegemite (might as well have some sustenance right? They eat it here three meals a day right? Why not bring some along ... just in case I get lost) ... check
and itinerary ... check
We walked over a long plank walkway spanning a stagnant swamp that connected the tour bus parking lots to the main rainforest. Northern Queensland, I found out as our exuberant tour guide talked, contains every kind of dangerous critter from snakes and spiders that can kill you within seconds of a bite, to crocodiles, to kangaroos. So as the boards creaked ominously with our every step, I thought of my checklist, not my trip checklist -- and they had told me nothing of how I might fend off the critter residents in the homeland we would soon be invading.
"Yeah, you don't want to fall into this mangrove swamp we're walking over. Guy came missin' a few months ago. Police or poacher killed this big croc, don't know why, but when they cut 'im open, they found 'im. Well, they found his wedding ring, that's all that was left ofim. They got strong jaws those beasties, shouldn't see'em today though, just don't do something stupid mates."
Right. Do something stupid? Like walk on a half inch plywood plank which is the only thing separating me from our friends in the Crocodylus family? Like tell us this story? But we creaked along, and the soft silty mud didn't envelope us. Apparently, they weren't hungry enough to eat tasty tourist morsels today ... if I got myself eaten today, no one would be able to identify me like they were able to identify the last victim, I had no undigestable wedding ring to give me away today.
We breathed a collective sigh of relief as we stepped off of the mangrove swamp boardwalk, and into the majestic coolness of the eucalyptis forest. Multicolored parots noisily swooped over us--it was as if we had been transported into another world, and I knew that I would be protected under this moist canopy.
"Mates? Did you bring yare toothpaste?"
There was a chorus of "yeahs" and Uh-huhs" from everyone else but me. Toothpaste?
"I have vegemite, does that count?" I asked.
"Mate. You don't have yare toothpaste?"
I was aghast, my mouth was agape, and I had no idea why I might need toothpaste in the heart of this pristine forest.
"I brushed my teeth this morning if thats what you're asking, but no, I didn't know that toothpaste was an essential component in an outback survival ki--"
"Oh mate, this could be a fair dinkem problem it could. They love vegemite, so no, that won't save you. Weren't you around this morning at the hotel, during the safety briefing. You weren't supposed to bring toothpaste, you were just supposed to smear a bit on your collar--you know--'cause of the drop bears and everything--" He inspected my Sydney Operahouse t-shirt with the brusqueness of a teacher expectant of teaching and then he sighed.
Safety briefing? Visions of paramilitary, machine guns, and special ops forces danced through my head. Why would I need a safety briefing on a lazy day trip into the Australian tropical rain forest?
"What are you talking about? My Mom always complains ..."
"This is Australia mate, there are creatures here that you couldn't imagine, creatures that cause Steve Irwin to tremble," he said.
"Yeah, you mentioned that, so what's this rumor about toothpaste?"
"Mate, before we found that the drop bears don't touch tourists that have toothpaste somewhere on their body, something 'bout the mint in it they hate, we'd lose one every couple of weeks, sometimes more often. I think ... that you mate ... are in one hell of a fair dinkem predicament."
What was I doing. Here I was, in a relatively deserted rainforest (minus us tourists), and I had no toothpaste. I turned to walk back, and the guide shot out his hand and grabbed me.
"Nope mate, can't do that. Everyone's paid for their trip into the forest. If you turn back, we all have to turn back. 's too dangerous for you to cross that mangrove swamp alone. Guess we'll have to just risk you. Don't you love capitalism mate?" He chuckled.
There was a chorus of yeahs, and "I'll sue if I don't get to see a koala bear"'s, and at that point, I knew I was screwed, done for. Here I was, toothpasteless in Australia, 8000 miles from home, and there wasn't a darn thing I could do about it. At least I had accomplished a lot in life, no wait, at least I had planned to accomplish a lot in life. At least I got into college. At least I graduated high school. So with mounting dread, pulled along, dragged along rather, by our guide, me and our band of merry wanderers trudged into the forest.
"Drop bears are ..."
"Not helping man, you're just not helping. If I'm gonna die, or be injured, or be maimed, let it be a surprise will ya?"
"Sure mate, but I was just saying that they are called drop bears because they hide themselves in the eucalyptis leaves. They're carnivorous, and they feed on animals on the forest floor ..." Undaunted, he talked, and the more he talked, the more I imagined huge claws which would hug me with deadly precision, intent on ending my young life so that he could drag me off to a nest in the drop bear tree city above me. If I could look up, I guarantee that I'd be doing it now. All I could do was walk alongside my dog, and await my end. All she did was sniff obliviously, insatiated by the new place.
"Yeah mate, least you won't see 'im coming when 'e does," he laughed. Normally, I'm a fan of blind jokes--I've championed a few whoppers myself--but now ... was not ... the time.
And it was at that moment the drop bear chose the only toothpaste lacking tourist in the group, me, to do what it does best, it dropped. Locked, loaded, and ravenous, it descended upon me, raking with it's extended tallons, intent on taking me on my final trip to Australian Drop Bear hell, the famed tree city in the sky.
My dog Fiona likes stuffed toys. Anything that makes noise when squeezed and appears even remotely toy-like she plays with. So as the large teddy bear shaped monstrosity came down, it had time to swipe my right arm twice, and it then became the rightful possession of Fiona. Tail wagging in apparent deference to her master's bleeding plight, she caught it in mid air and ran. I guess the drop bear isn't a fan of doggy teeth, perhaps it's not a fan of doggy breath. Either way, we'll never know because the drop bear became a furry blur, disappearing into the trees above.
"Nasty cuts those," he said, awed. "You'll have a scar from those you know. You mate, are the first survivor of a drop bear attackin Australian history!"
"I don't care, just get me to a hospital, I'm losing blood!"
"wake up, your surgery is over, your arm's fixed now."
And that's how I really got the two scars on my right arm.
Australia taught me two things: every scar has a story, and ... be ware of drop bears.
All I got in Australia were these two lousy scars and a couple of miserable stainless steel plates
This story written for the The Lj Idol Writing Contest No drop bears were harmed in the creation of this story. This author can not be found responsible for any discrepancies in "fact" or "fiction" that may exist in this tale.
P.S. I really did go to Australia, and I really did visit the Daintree national forest in North Queensland, but that's about all that's true in this story. Oh yeah, the story about the crocodile and the wedding ring are true too.