Friday, December 18, 2009

round a small world

Hey folks. Checking in from Brisbane. Just about to leave actually. I spent three nights here and now I'm off to Surfer's Paradise for two nights before heading down to Sydney for the holidays. Brisbane is a nice city. Very clean and compact. I walked around the entire city last night and it took me about two hours. There's not much to do here besides walk around. I went to a couple museums to kill some time but that was pretty much all Brisbane has to offer in the way of tourist attractions.

The past two weeks have been fairly hectic. The three day sailing cruise around the Whitsunday Islands was incredible. It was relaxing because all we did was sail around, lay out on the deck, drink, eat, snorkel, and check out sandy beaches. At the same time it was tiring because we would be up past midnight, and I couldn't sleep in past six. Ever try sleeping on a sailboat? Getting to sleep wasn't bad, but once you're awake, you're awake for good. Anyway we had a good group of 25 other backpackers who were all looking for a good time. The best day was when we visted Whitehaven beach. Definitely a location rich in postcard opportunities. You could wade out into the water and see baby reef sharks and stingrays swim right past your feet. At night we moored up next to a sandbar in the middle of a cove. It was a little strech of beach in the middle of the water. We got dropped off (with enough supplies to last a few hours) played a little rugby and watched the sun go down. Great day.

After leaving Airlie I headed for Rainbow Beach where I stayed for a night before heading out to Fraser Island. There were six groups of ten people, and each group had their own 4WD vehicle. It was really more of a tank than a SUV, but we needed every bit of strength it had. Driving in deep sand is no picnic, and Fraser is the world's biggest sand island. We never got dug in too bad, but all became pretty skilled at pushing a car out of the sand (Think Little Miss Sunshine).

Fraser was an exhausting trip. Again, the cycle of staying up late and getting up early took its toll on all of us. We were always driving, setting up or breaking camp, cooking, or drinking. Deinitely worth every minute though. We stopped at a couple lakes that provided a nice afternoon break from traveling. After a memorable three days, I must admit it was a good feeling to get back to civilization and have a shower and sleep on something soft. Plus, after living on the world's largest sand island for three days, you can imagine how much sand we all had to pick out of our ears, noses, hair, etc. I've found that I need to add sand to my food since I've grown so accustomed to it. Nothing like a little extra crunch.

Well I need to get going. I feel like I've overstayed my welcome in Brisbane and Surfer's is just around the corner. One thing I will say, though, is how small a world the backpacking culture is. I keep running into the same people. It's pretty cool to randomly run into people you met hundreds of miles away and thought you'd never see again. It makes you keep your eyes open.

Hope you're all doing well back stateside. I probably won't check in again until after Christmas, so have a great holiday everyone. Watch some xmas movie marathons and have some egg nog for me.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

pearl takes a break at the beach

I've been in Airlie Beach for four days now and I'm happy to report that I've given in to a life of sloth and lethargy amidst its sandy beach and manmade lagoon.

I get up at eight, determined to make the most of the summer weather (but mostly because my hostel offers free breakfast until 8:30) and spend my day reading by Airlie Bay. There's not much else to do here, which at least eliminates any guilt from just lying around all day in the sun.

I spent the better part of two days driving here. From Cairns, I made a brief stop at Mission Beach where I took a much needed swim, as driving under the Australian sun for a full afternoon is a surprisingly sweaty business. I drove on to a little town called Ayr and pulled into a rest stop where I became more intimately aquainted with the back of my car. Equipped with a foam mattress, linens, blankets, pillows, curtains, and mosquito nets for the windows, I could do much worse.

I was able to find a hostel in Airlie for four nights, which I've been sharing with a trio of Irish backpackers. After discussions of preferable craic, countless 'emm..'s, and hearing how Guinness here is 'shite,' I was reminded how much I missed Galway.

Tomorrow I'm going sailing around the Whitsunday Islands for three days and two nights, and then I'll make for Hervey Bay, where I'll spend two days exploring Fraser Island on 4WDs with other backpackers. I'll need to get there quick because the trip starts 48 hours after I get back from sailing, so I'll be spending more quality time with the car.

Upon Kendra's insistence that it's bad luck to drive an un-named car, I've spent far too much time coming up with a suitable name. I have no idea how soon-to-be parents go about this. There are just too many factors to consider. She's a Ford Falcon. A white station wagon. At 17 years old, she's a Grandma in the automotive world. She's seen over 150,000 miles, but is still reliable.

I decided on Pearl.

You don't see too many Pearls around these days, except maybe a handful of grandmothers and great aunts who never fail to send distant relatives birthday cards every year. Plus, I've always been a shameless sucker for On The Road, especially the first chapter. Pearl seemed right. I hope she enjoys her rest.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

ebb and flow at the crown

A few days ago I bought a used car from a couple Irish backpackers and shortly after I post this I'll be driving south on my way down to Sydney. My first stop will be Airlie Beach, then to Fraser Island, the Brisbane area, and Sydney. Sorry for the long post here, but I probably won't have internet access for a while.

I'm done working at the Crown Hotel Bar and I'd be lying if I said I won't miss this place. There are only so many places in the world where you can drink a beer at 9am, play Keno and slot machines, buy a raffle ticket from a topless waitress, and then treat yourself to a fine dinner and a room for the night. I mean really, why am I leaving?

It's been my first time in the service industry, and the one thing I've been told is that you always need to be doing something. Wipe the tables, rinse the glasses, emplty ashtrays, wipe the seats, stock the fridge, clean the bar, collect glasses, sweep the floor, and every once in a while pour a beer. The waves of people come and go throughout the day. It gets busy and dies down, there's always people flowing in and out and always a task to busy myself with.

One of the aspects I've emjoyed most from working at the Crown has been meeting new people. Some of the friendliest and most interesting people I've met in Cairns either work or drink at the Crown. The array of regulars would be, in an understated word, colorful. The owner has asked me on more than one occasion, "Who are the normal people sitting the corner, are they your friends?" But the clientele is what gives the bar its character. Two of my favorites are Terry and Ash, They've taught me more about Australia then I've learned from living in Cairns for 6 weeks. Terry is a commercial diver with a knack for telling and retelling dirty jokes, and who proudly refers to himself as a functioning alcoholic. Considering some of the other regulars, his pride isn't all that misplaced. Ash is a bus driver who comes in on his days off (I hope) and throws down bottles of beer like they're juice boxes. There's also Smiley, who sits by himself and has animated arguments with who I can only assume is an imaginary friend. If he decides to direct his ire on actual people, I kindly ask him to leave. In Smiley's defense, there's a little bit of crazy in everyone here.

Then there are the Aboriginals. They are usually stone-drunk by 10am, but most of them are genuinely friendly people. When they order a beer I always get a big picket-fence smile with a few slats missing. They will drink until they run out of money or I kick them out for stumbling around. One day a guy passed out on the toilet and I had to wake him up. These are our customers.

During one of my last shifts I was clearing some glasses for a table of Aboriginals and one of them spoke to me in a loud voice, and with a great deal of beer in his speech, "Where's Jesus Christ, boss?"

I've found that when dealing with this kind of crazy that it's best to just go right along with it, so I said, "Dunno, haven't seen him in a while. I'll keep my eyes out for him and let you know if he turns up."

This found a few laughts from his three friends but he was beyond any sense of humor. Just as I was turning to leave he spoke again. "Y'from 'Merica. Who your god, boss?"

This caught me off guard but I thought for a moment and said, "The one with the trident." He quinted his eyes and shook his head slowly.

"You know, Poseidon."

"Dunno 'em. How's ee have you live by?"

I started to walk away, sensing an opportunity to leave, and said to him over my shuolder, "Ebb and flow. Always ebb and flow."

He raised his drink to me as I left, and I decided it would be his last of the night.

I'll miss those kinds of people and those types of questions. The on'es you can't predict. BUt it's time to go. And so it seems appropriate that the last bit of flotsam to be spit from the Crown, the last person I'll throw out on the street, will be me. At least I think so. Continuous motion. Goddamn right.