Published: December 11th 2008November 3rd 2008
Into the Blue
Out on the Great Barrier Reef.
Nope. I got a ride—
—but as the future forecasting philosophical friend of mine, Bradley Charles Kiser, prophesized before I left, “Remember when we got stuck in the sand in Mexico? Well, that will happen again.” I knew exactly what he meant. It wasn’t that our rented POS 2-wheel drive pick-up truck would get stuck in some middle-of-nowhere beach, but, well, I am sure you can figure it out…
(I felt like the triple name would make him sound a bit smarter such as Edgar Allen Poe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau. Remember Brad, You are a Blue-Chipper!)
First stop = Coochin Creek. Leaving at night was a rather questionable decision and Stephanie and my one hour drive north turned into a three hour drive in every direction, but we somehow made it there in our first trip with El Campeon II (The Champ).
Before we decided to call it a night and sleep in The Champ for the first time, we randomly decided to start the engine for no real good reason. Nothing happened. No little rev of the engine. No lights. Nada! We were stuck in the sand.
Whatever. We will just figure
it out in the morning. We had plenty of food for the two nights we were planning on staying there.
After a circus of events, which culminated with a handful of Aussie men at least twice my age pushing the van in a circle to try and jump start it, we decided to deem the van dead. Perfect. One stop and we were already getting problems. I could hear Chris Farley now, “You are going to live in a van down by the river!”
This is where the extremely kind Australians again came to the light. From using their Auto Club card so we could get towed for free to cooking us meals in their super-everything-you-have-in-your-house RVs to picking up extra groceries for our several day stay until the van could be brought to the shop, it turned out to be one of our best stops (special thanks to Wayne & Wendy and everybody else there).
I could barely see Steph. The sky was a midnight blue, the trees were a deep forest green, and the remains of our fire resembled an ancient city on its last leg. All I could focus on was that noise. What
The Champ at Coochin Creek
Not a bad place to chill for awhile...broken down or not.
that noise? It almost sounds like hyenas and they are not too far. No way. This is Australia not Africa, but there it is again. Some kind of devil laugh. Now it’s coming from the tree tops. As the wind picks up, I am almost sure it is monkeys. The blue has turned into black and I can faintly smell the last of the burning logs of our fire and see the outline of Stephanie with the little light the stars emit. The sound comes back louder and closer. The trees surround us completely and the Devil’s devious laugh is ricocheting round and round. Maybe this is
our last stop in Australia. What is that noise?
Monday morning finally rolled around and The Champ was towed to a body shop in Caloundra. The only problem was a minor fuse blew. We were ecstatic. No major damage and no large bill. We then took him next door for some new shoes (or tires…or tyres
) and he was as good as new (I understand inanimate objects tend to be classified as female, but this hunk of metal doesn’t have any feminine qualities).
Caloundra proved to be a
That F$@#ing Kangaroo!
This kangaroo did something to me that I wish not to share with the general public. Only few know and it changed my life forever. Only a female kangaroo could have done this to me. I will stop writing about this kangaroo before the trauma kicks back in.
very nice little beach town with a great second hand bookstore, a public library with free internet, and a bar that had trivia (for some reason, many bars in Australia have trivia one night a week, which I really enjoyed even though many of the questions have to do with Australia so I don’t always do too well). After making a vegetable stir fry dish and then spicy beef fajitas and then a pumpkin based red curry dish (we would make them all over and over again) and finishing second in trivia night (only because a 70-year old Aussie couple that has a Monday through Thursday trivia night ritual asked us to join them), we decided it was time to move on.
Before we hit the next town, Steph and I had some touristy things to do. The first stop was Steve Irwin’s Australian Zoo. This place was filled with many animals you would never see anywhere else. There were Koalas, Wombats, Snakes (Australia has the top ten most dangerous snakes in the world), Kangaroos, Crocodiles, Tasmanian Devils, Dingoes, Cassowaries (the world’s most dangerous bird), Camels, Komodo Dragons, and the Kookaburra. They even had a Southeast Asia section of
Off to the Australian Zoo.
the zoo with Tigers, Elephants, and Cheetahs. We saw so many animals we had never seen before, we almost forgot about our goon hangover. The second stop was The Big Pineapple. I am pretty sure this is the name of the city as well. Basically, there is a pineapple farm just north of Caloundra with a huge fake pineapple. I am not sure why, but this idea spread like wildfire throughout Australia (there is a Big Avocado, Big Boot, Big Lobster, Big Milkshake, and Big DNA Staircase, just to name a few). The novelty factor wore off rather quickly and we were off to our third and final stop, Bli Bli Castle. Not sure what either of us were expecting, but if I could use one word to describe this “castle,” it would be Dumb. I wasn’t necessarily anticipating some extravagant English castle that was built when the white man invaded this country, but I also didn’t expect to see some miniature golf castle on steroids either. In fewer words, skip it.
After our camera clicking spree was over, we went straight to Tin Can Bay. This overnight trip turned into a quick lunch break and we went straight
Largest Croc We Saw!
Steph was getting pretty brave.
for Hervey Bay (pronounced Harvey Bay
)…Home of Fraser Island. The largest sand island in the world! We would never make it to that large chunk of sand, but I have an inkling that it probably just looked like a large island of sand (there is supposed to be a very beautiful lake on the island, but I am just making myself not feel bad for skipping the journey out there). Hervey Bay was another nice little beach town that ended up being one of the best stops. That can be partly accredited to the great weather and lack of mosquitoes (or mossies
Keep moving north. Throw on some “Diablo Rojo” or “M’Bife” and follow the Bruce Highway. If we combined the I-5 and Pacific Coast Highway, we would get the Bruce, but the only difference is the Bruce is about as wide as the street you live on and that could be a generous assumption. One hundred kilometers per hour with a semi-truck coming the opposite direction to share this two lane highway. I don’t think our windows were supposed to shake like they did. Look in the mirror and you will see a mirrored black & yellow OVERSIZED
They sleep around 19 hours a day. Talk about lazy. Also, when they are born they are the size of a jellybean.
sign coming straight for your cornea pupil iris lens!
Several stops. Some just to eat. Some to sleep. Bargara. Bundaberg. Baffle Creek (aka Mossie Hell). Agnes Waters. Tannum Sands. Gladstone. Armstrong Beach. Makay. Rockhampton. Yepoon. We learned a lot on this portion of the drive with the number one thing being: Mosquitoes Love Stephanie! I don’t think I put mossie repellent on once and she might as well have been bathing in it. It didn’t matter. If she missed her right forearm or the back of her knee or anything, they would find it. We learned that around Gladstone there was no more swimming in the ocean. Whether it is box jellyfish (which can kill humans) or a crocodile, I have no interest in meeting either. Stingies & Bities! We also learned about the candid John Molony, Mayor of Mount Isa (a small town in the red center…or centre
). While a kangaroo was jumping through our camp, an older Aussie couple was telling us how that Mayor was calling for “beauty-disadvantaged women” and said his city was a place “where ugly ducklings could flourish.” I didn’t believe this at first so of course, I looked it up. It is
true! Granted, their male to female ratio is around 5:1, but it seemed pretty blunt. Funny, but blunt. The hell with it though. Might as well not beat around the bush. One of the locals dubbed Isa “the beer goggle capital of Australia.”
One of my favorite parts about one of the cities we drove through was when Steph said, “This place is like a hick beach town.” I was laughing pretty hard, but she then looked at me with all seriousness and asked, “Isn’t that an oxymoron?” This was right before we drove past a sign that read “Half-off Near New Tyres.” Near new? You be the judge.
Growing up in Southern California sets the bar pretty high when comparing beaches and beach cities.
On our way up to Airlie Beach for several nights, Steph thought she saw a sign that caught my attention really fast…Crystal Cove! I slammed on the breaks, made a U-turn, and went back to see if that is what it really read. If it did, we were definitely staying there for awhile. To our disappointment, it didn’t. I was bummed. I know my family (immediate & extended), the half of Woodbridge
that has come out there, the many from SC, and everybody else has a soft spot in their heart for that wonderful place. Ahhhh, Nostalgia::::::
Airlie Beach was nice, but it was a quick bathroom stop on our way up to Bowen from there that really stuck in my head. “Kelly Ellie Kelly Kelly Ellie Ellie Ellie Kelly Ellie!” What is going on? Why does that lady keep repeating that so loud and why is she staring at me? Don’t these other people hear her? It is noon
on a Thursday
and kids are playing pool while the adults are drinking at the bar. I have seen this movie before. It is a mix between Deliverance
and Wolf Creek
and I am about to be the star. I don’t want any role in this script. We both hurried back to the car and took off. The gas light was on and we only had a box of crackers to our name with no petrol station or town in sight, but staying wasn’t much of an option.
It was around here that the landscape started to become very lush. I didn’t think I would use the
The devil's jaw pressure is second to the hyena and has the capacity to crush bone.
world lush in Australia unless I was talking about some young chick that had spent too much time sipping wine in a piano bar, but the surroundings were getting more and more beautiful. The rain was picking up, the plants were getting greener, and we were closing in on the tropics.
The Big Mango and then Bowen. Several hours spent looking for some farm work, but to no avail. Same thing in Ayr. Farm towns with no farm work. Whatever. Keep heading north. Past Woodstock. Past Rolling Stone. Past Murdering Point (the billboards were advertising wineries and quaint summer cottages for this questionably friendly city name). Zoooooom! Keep on going. Past the sign that reads Crash Zone Next 2km
for that matter). Past signs with Rest or R.I.P.
with a pillow backdrop. Past Don’t Die for a Deadline
. Past construction zone signs with a road worker holding his daughter saying My Daddy Works Here
. Whether it is in print or on television, they don’t hold much back here.
Nightfall was closing in on our way to Cairns (pronounced Kanz
) so we pulled over. Welcome to Australia’s Greenest City…Innisfail
. This was self proclaimed by the city, of
They had many crocs, which were pretty cool to check out. A bit scarier than the ones I canoed by in Chitwan.
course, and referred to their surroundings, not their attempt for Al Gore’s approval. Maybe we can get work here?
We go to the supposed “man” and the next day we have jobs—“Casey, I got you a plum job.” “A what?” “A plum
job. Bus picks you up at six. Be outside and ready.” “Nice! Thanks.”—What the hell is a plum job? All I know is that it doesn’t mean I am picking plums. He made it seem very positive, but picks me up at six? What does that mean? How about I casually roll in around 9ish and distract my co-workers for the next hour plus then check my fantasy football team?
My life of Everyday is a Saturday
was about to be put on hold…
SIX AM! More like five thirty so I could be ready in time. Saw a rainbow on my way to work so I knew it was going to be a great day, a great couple weeks. Stevo’s Farm! First person I meet is a Jamie…next is a Kath…no Dino on this farm, but two out of three isn’t too bad…bananas, papaws, pumpkins…
Bananas…vitamin A vitamin B1 B2 B3 B5 B6
Cheetahs in Oz?
This in the SE Asia section (wasn't I just there?). They also had elephants and tigers.
vitamin C vitamin E folate potassium magnesium phosphorus calcium selenium iron…Cavendish…Saint Williams…stack stack stack stack stack stack glue stack stack stack stack stack stack glue—”Casey, pick up the greens!”—stack stack turn the radio on stack glue stack stack…”the taste of her cherry chapstick”
…de-hand de-hand de-hand de-hand move stack stack…2 X 3 X 7…2 X 3 X 5…glue stack stack—“When I was in Adelaide…”—stack stack move move gloves on off on de-hand clean—“Jamie do this that this that!!! (but it sounded like Jie-Mee!
)—stack stack—“I told her ‘Now don’t go tell yo’ friends at school that yo’ father shot a bloody snake!’”—stack glue…”you, your sex is on fire”
…bags bags bags bags stack stack tie forklift—“Jie-Mee!”—stack stack bags de-hand de-hand—“Cayseee!”—stack stack—“The python was from me to that sliver thing, but it don’t harm me, I don’t go harmin’ it!”—glue stack stack…”they call me hell, they call me Stacey”
…de-hand de-hand de-hand—“How you going mate?” “Doing great, Noil. Thanks.” “Good on ya! Good on ya!”—stack glue stack—“And with the Sheila backpackers we’d...”—stack tie stack stack stack forklift bags bags…”some days I just pray to the God of sex and drums and rock-n-roll”
…stack stack glue stack stack—“…and the computers use the damn Yankee spelling! No
offense.”—stack stack glue move stack stack—“You can write home and tell ‘em you helped feed forty thousand people three bananas this week!”—stack stack tie forklift…
Papaws…vitamin A vitamin B1 B2 B3 B6 vitamin C beta carotene calcium magnesium potassium…Queensland Yellow…better known to Americans as papayas…pick set pick set pick set pick pick set pick set pick pick set—“Ya see our fuckin’ supa’ dive? Our…” “Your what?” “Our supa’! Our government’s a buncha fucking cunts!”—pick set pick set pick pick—“Maybe this aver? Down at the bar with that fuckin’ cu...”—set pick set avoid the sap pick pick set pick set pick pick set—”Needa dog?” “Not with that bloke whats-his-name moving in?” “Paul?” “Ya! Fuckin’ ol’ McDonald…”—pick set pick pick set…
Pumpkins…vitamin C beta carotene iron potassium…Kabocha…Ken Special…pick toss pick toss pick twist ankle toss pick pick toss toss pick toss pick toss pick twist ankle toss pick toss pick pick toss toss pick toss—”Anything I should watch out for?” “Ya mean aside fr’m snakes?” “Snakes like these thick green vines I’m blindly sticking my hands in?” “Heh?”—pick toss pick toss pick ankle expletive toss pick toss pick toss—”They call these here punkins Japs!” “Whoa, what?” “Ya! We used ‘em
in the war when we run outta bullets.” “Ya! Must notta work too well.”—pick toss literally a ton of pumpkins pick toss—”How long do these last after you cut some off?” ”Sprinkle some pepper on ‘em and put ‘em back in the fridge and they’ll last a month.”—pick toss pick pick toss toss pick toss…
Five days a week! Super speed jolt cola turbo diesel adrenaline boost injected crank crank crank workWorkWORK! Possibly the best workout of my life and I got paid for it. Throw in smoko (better known as break), lunch, some team crosswords, changing socks as often as possible, and taking the machete to some old banana trees and that was life on the farm (the machete work was the best by far…Machete Mike aka Chedwick would be proud…first I threw acrophobia to the wind and now I send aichmophobia to the knife). I was the lone backpacker at Stevo’s, which meant I got to do it all. Away with the monotony some faced. It was great! Plus, the Owner, Noil, could be the nicest guy I have ever met. I must say though, the biggest shock during this job was the fact that not only
The Big Pineapple
In The Big Pineapple.
did I show up to work on time every day, but my bosses did, too (as some of you know, that whole concept is completely foreign to me).
The perks were great, as well. No Playboy Mansion, Lakers tickets, and Treos, but boxes of bananas, bags of papayas, and as many pumpkins as I could carry was not too bad. Basically, unlimited smoothies for those weeks and enough pumpkins to even carve up prematurely for Halloween. Maybe it was because I was the best
American worker they ever
had! We won’t factor in the part that I was the only
American worker they ever had.
My luck on the job front was soaring, but unfortunately the same couldn’t be said for Steph. Three different jobs in her first three days and that trend would continue. Labor demands fluctuate daily, especially in regards to when they do and do not need female workers. In short, she was thrown outside with a hoe all day chipping with less than forty-five minutes total in breaks, then sorting seemingly innocent organic bananas that ended up crawling with cockroaches, spiders, bats, and snakes, then acted as chauffeur to some drunk named Billo or
Billy or William who offered her booze and weed and asked if he scared her all well before noon. As I stated above, her luck was running a little low.
Aside from everything we both learned on our farms, there was some more wisdom cast upon us in this strange city. The first thing was I locked the keys in the van just outside of the police station so I went in and they taught me how to break in. It was great. Took two cops to do it. I stupidly (and expectedly) locked the keys in a couple of days later, but used my newfound knowledge to open the door really quickly. The second thing was how to use Q-Tips to do laundry for free. I don’t know how to describe it, but will definitely show you how when I get home.
Well, finally the two weeks of work was done, and it was time to go blow our money up in Cairns (Kanz!
) scuba diving. We couldn’t wait. So long Innisfail. Goodbye bananas, bed bugs, and Billo. Work was done at noon and we packed up and were back on the road. Cairns was only an
Bli Bli Castle
Wow. Getting up Steph.
hour away. Our shortest drive of the trip. We would be diving in no time. The sun was shining, the landscape was green, the sky was BAAAAAM!!!!! No less than twenty minutes into our drive and a huge rock slammed into our windshield. Sounded and looked as if we had been shot at. It was no problem though. Just needed to stop really quickly so I could shake the glass off of my clothes and we would be at our destination in no time. “We’ve got a life to live.”
- Bob Marley
Finally, we made it to Cairns! Our desired destination for a long time! One of Australia’s most popular cities with a small town feel and plenty to do. That was all just icing on the cake as we knew we would be diving the Great Barrier Reef shortly. The largest coral reef system in the world. It is the world’s biggest single structure made by living organisms and can be seen from the moon.
Steph got Open Water Certified while I enjoyed the sun and then she had a three night live-aboard trip with me joining for the last two nights for our Advanced
This random town in the middle of nowhere was all about microwave mailboxes. I don't get it either.
Class (it might be called Advanced, but it took that class for me not to feel like a complete beginner). The dive trip made all recollections of mosquitoes, picking fruit, and the van turning into a microwave at 8am vanish into thin air. I recommend it to anybody that is passing through Australia.
We both got around ten dives and they were great. A bull ray about 5-feet in diameter. Bumphead parrotfish in a single file line one by one by one by one. Bat fish eating eggs out of our instructor’s hands while we were narced 100-feet plus below the surface at 7am. Lionfish feathered out. A two meter Honeycomb Moray Eel slithering through the water within an arm’s reach of us as if he was curious what was around the bend as well. One meter by one meter Maori Wrasse looking clueless and ugly. Maybe they should go to Mount Isa. White-tip reef sharks…gray-tip reef sharks…and the best of all, the two and a half meter black-tip reef shark, which sent a shiver down my spine. The first shark I have seen that I felt could do some real damage.
The best part was these were
The Honor System
Best avocados of the trip and for $0.50AUD.
just the day dives. We each got two night dives as well. So blindly trusting. Scuba divers sinking slowly into the surreal subterranean sea…downDownDOWN…darkDarkDARK…deepDeepDEEP! Playing water torch games with the giant silver trevally looking for dinner. The octopus in the hunting position digging a new bottom to evade our light. The reef sharks circling and circling looking to feast. Some come in to say hello and some keep their distance. At night, it seemed as if all of these sea creatures had one thing on their minds::::food.
On the final day of October, our trip at sea came to an end. I enjoyed diving even more and Stephanie seemed hooked. We wanted to get back out to sea, but there was something in the more immediate future…possibly my favorite holiday…Halloween! We went out with an extremely nice German couple and another German we met on the boat. I jokingly told one of the guys “I am an American for Halloween” (I had a t-shirt, cargos, and sandals on, surprise surprise). He looked at me with 100% sincerity and said, “No. You don’t have runners on.” Somewhat defensively, I replied, “Hey! I am not from Illinois!”
Our time in
Today is the Greatest Day I've Ever Known
Billy Corgan getting all Buddhist on us again.
the north has been as much fun as it has been hot & humid. It is getting late in the year and is time to turn around. The bullet hole is all patched up and The Champ is again as good as new. We are heading back south to Byron Bay…
[Sidenote #12: When you see a random roadside fruit/vegetable stand, I advise you to stop. You won’t necessarily always get a great deal or the best produce, but sometimes you hit the jackpot. We picked up the best avocados I have had in a very long time for $0.50 each. I really liked how most of the places were on the honor system (or honour
system) and you would just put your money in some wooden piggy bank type box.]
[Sidenote #13: This country has condoms for sale in every bathroom you go into. From high-class restaurants in Brisbane to pubs in Airlie Beach to roadhouses in Podunktownwilluwumby, some North Carolina based company is mass producing condoms in Thailand at a pretty admirable rate. Savage Bliss. French Tickler. I don't know who buys these, but you name it, they got it.]
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