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Published: February 21st 2014
The Easternmost part of the Australian mainland.
When I went to Tesco to buy my toiletries prior to my trip, I was appalled at what I saw in the sun lotion section. Such a thing as 5 or even 3 spf – oh hells no. I scoured the shelves until I could load up on two bottles of the maximum 50+ spf. I don’t care if I don’t tan, I am not getting burnt. Fast forward 4 months. I haven’t been anywhere near a beach in a good while, so when I arrive in Byron and see the gorgeousness of the coastline, I couldn’t wait to hit it.
The hostel was the YHA and had the archetypal relaxed balmy feel about it that seemed to me to epitomise Australia. It had a pool, but why would I touch that when I can stroll barefoot a minute down the road and be on the beach? There were plenty of frolicking beach bums about the place, so I slipped under the radar and laid out my towel. The heat dried out my eyes and I took a cheeky cat nap. I guess some people would call it sun bathing. It wasn’t long though before I was bored of the uncomfortable sand (how can people lie on it all day?) and headed back to the hostel. It was taking longer than I thought it would to acclimatize to hotness (that was never a problem in England).
Back in the shade of the four-share room I realised the magnitude of my situation. I’d put cream on and thought I was safe, but I clearly hadn’t used enough, and being alone, I hadn’t had someone to do my hard to reach bits and large sections of my back and shoulders were red raw. I was zinging like a freshly grilled chook. Like a chilli marinated tiger prawn. Like deep fried calamari. You get the idea, it was bad. Perhaps I had a little heat stroke too because I just climbed up onto my bunk and went back to sleep.
At maybe 6pm I rallied as the sun set and scurried out to seek a late night chemist. Wearing a t-shirt was such a trial I had to forgo a bra altogether. Chuff that. Trying to act casual I explored the streets and eventually found a chemist where I picked up some after sun. I clasped the bag as though my life depended on it and winged it back home. The stuff was a lurid green colour and professed to be pure aloe-vera which I’d heard was the best stuff to use. Problem solved... I slathered myself liberally and breathed a moment’s relief as it dried and I tried to sleep.
It was still hot. Or was it me? I slathered on some more, walked about and then went back to bed. Then I slathered on some more. The next hours were some of the worst I ever weathered. My whole back burned as though it was being constantly painted and re-painted in sulphuric acid. Images of radiation poisoning, trials by fire and that scene from Fight Club where Ed Norton gets his hand burned kept coming to mind. My old faithful friend the Sandman had deserted me. No amount of aloe numbed the burn.
Next day I had to rain-check my surf lesson at the front desk and extend my stay to recuperate. I slept/hid inside most of the day, except venturing out for lunch, until sun down when I deemed it safe to go out for a walk. Turns out Byron is especially pretty in the twilight, the colour and brightness is tuned down to what seems the more natural settings of chilled, cool and calm. The sea was silver and the hills were black. Over the next days I stuck to dark pastimes – cinema, evening walks, the gelato shop and loitering in the chilled section of Woolworths. I extended my stay again and kept returning to the same place for lunch – Soul Bowl – mainly for the sweet potatoes. Third day in a row and I was concerned the staff were starting to think I was weird.
I finally got round to surfing near the end of my stay when I could stand to be out in the daylight again. I was a little self-conscious of my redness and the sun waging war on my skin again so when told to change I yoinked on the wet suit quick-smart. I swallowed a lot of sea water but all in all it was fun. One way or the other, Byron snared me. It was one of my longer stays on the east coast not least because of the need to recuperate/feel sorry for myself, but if it had to happen somewhere, I’m glad it was Byron. I didn’t bother attempting to ‘sunbathe’ again – no need – my tan lines didn’t fade till I got back to Manchester 7 months later.
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