I'm terribly sorry, but I seem to have surpassed even my own verbose tendencies here, and waffled on to unprecedented extremes. For those of you on the road, or bored with this already, I can summarise thus:-
- Fraser was great
- Byron rocked
- Gone to visit cousin in Victoria
- Had staph infection in ears - now gone, but still can't dive.
I last wrote from Hervey Bay, So let me tell you about Fraser Island and my trip there . . .
At 0740 the next morning I was outside my hostel waiting for my bus . . . well alright then, it was outside waiting for me. It did the rounds of the hotels and hostels gathering up more people then took us to the local port. Hervey Bay is a funny place, a conglomerate of four towns (I was in Torquay) drawn together by passing whales and their proximity to Fraser Island.
After a short wait we boarded Kingfisher Tours' ferry and were off to the island. It was a quick crossing, and I got talking to Canadian Jeff on the way who was also doing the three day tour. Once on the jetty the one day-ers were separated off, and the rest of us told - embarrassingly - to write name badges for ourselves. Then we boarded our coach, and our guide, Rob, took us off on our tour.
After a short drive we parked up, and got out of the coach, Rob telling us a few things before we walked to nearby Basin Lake. One of the things he told us was what to do if we saw a dingo. The dingoes on Fraser are the purest around, and the authorities are making a concerted effort to preserve the animals. There are hefty fines for feeding the dingoes, or for leaving food where the dogs can get at it, and indeed even for interacting with them. If you try and attract their attention - for photos, say - you could be in trouble. So you basically have to ignore them. If, however, they do not want to ignore you, then you do the opposite of what you would to a domestic dog; you maintain eye contact, puff yourself up and challenge them. They will know you are bigger, and back down. The last thing you should do is run away, as then they will recognise you for the girly wuss that you are, know they can take you easily and chase after you.
That invaluable advice imparted, we trotted off through the bush to the lake, which was a most attractive spot. The water was clear, and a deep green seemed to emanate from it due, I guess, to the plant matter that coated the bottom of it toward the centre. Fraser Island is famous for being the largest sand island in the world. Just let that sink in a moment . . . there is no earth or soil on the place, just sand and plant matter. There are only a couple of places on the island where there are rocks even. It is said that it is always raining on some point of the island at any time (it definitely was while I was there . . . usually right above us). The island is also home to stretches of rainforest, sand blows, all manner of poisonous snakes and spiders, and a number of other creatures. It was lovely to swim in the lake, and I swam the breadth of it, as well as duck-diving down, enjoying being in the water again (NB remember this later - becomes relevant!).
Once we'd had our fill of the lake it was back on the bus, and we were dropped off and sent on a little walk. Our starting point was Central Station, which had been home to loggers before the island became protected. Rob pointed out sassonacks and king ferns - dating back to prehistoric times - and showed us the perfectly round holes of funnel web spiders while cicadas chirruped and cockatoos squawked. Then we trotted off along the path, which at first followed a little stream. If you closed your eyes (which I didn't, otherwise I'd be sure to have taken a tumble) you'd be hard pushed to know you were next to running water. No babbling or trickling here, as it was sand that the water flowed over.
Next on the tour was the celebrated Lake McKenzie where we had lunch here, albeit a soggy one, while a lace monitor posed for photos on a tree. This lake is said to be the most gorgeous blue. It wasn't all that blue when we were there due to the storm clouds over head, but it was pretty cool swimming as the rain tipped down, making little ball-baring-like beads of water bounce out several centimetres. The sand here is so fine that you can polish up jewellery in it - the Rob advised us not to take it off in case we dropped it. I reckon my dad could have a field day here, with his Christmas present of a metal detector. Also saw a splendid Golden Orb spider here, spinning her golden web. She was a good couple of inches long, and had wicked looking legs that more resembled a crabs'. I know it was a she, as the males are a fraction of the size of the females (like brain sizes in humans - heh heh!).
Afternoon tea, including damper - which was like a tasteless version of delicious Irish Soda Bread - and yummy choccy biccies, preceded our drive of an hour or so back to our accommodation. We stopped off at the shop on the way, where Rob said that we were not meant to take our own wine into the bar, but if we did as long as we were subtle about it then it should be OK. I swear that gave a number of us the idea - I certainly had no intention of doing that until he said so. When we got up to our shared accommodation we were all most impressed. We were staying in roomy huts on stilts, four to a room, five rooms in each hut. There was also a large communal area with table, chairs and even cooking facilities. It was a shame I wasn't staying longer. It's the little touches that make a difference when you're backpacking - like having nice, clean sheets, and the piece de resistance . . . a towel!! What luxury.
Dinner was being served at seven, but most of us in the hut I was in went down earlier. Well, first we sat around the table drinking wine, then we went down and continued to drink there. We found our table - it had a sign on it saying "Ranger Rob" - don't you think he sounds like a super hero? The food was varied and plentiful - a buffet selection that just kept on coming - and by the time we had finished eating we were all drunk and rather leary. That is to say myself and at least ten others. At least. By the end of the night I had mixed my drinks big time, and it was quite astounding that none of the wine/beer/cider/bundy rum/whisky/vodka/shots-of-god-knows-what had decided to make a reappearance.
I believe I was one of the last people to bed at around four, and was lucky enough to see an anti-christ before I went to bed. It wasn't an anti-christ, but an antikynus . . . or something (I'll check on the web before I send this and let you have its real name - sorry, can't find it . . . answers on a postcard, please), that's just the nearest I could remember. Ranger Rob had told us about them on the journey back. The cute little rodents - mouse sized, and indeed resembling a mouse (probably is a bleeding mouse) have a peculiar mating season. When their time comes (no pun intended) the male grabs his female and just goes at it hammer and tong for around two weeks . . . whereupon he drops dead! Still, I guess there are worse ways to go.
So in the morning, as you can imagine, there were a few sore heads. One more than most, as one of the three Aussie guys on board had cracked his head open on the pool table the night before. There had been a big hoo har back at the hut (I was presumably still at the bar at this stage), where one of the other Aussies on board had insisted that it needed to be stitched . . . and he was the one to do it! Once everyone in the hut was awake and able to give their two-penneth, one of the two nurses that were in my room (both aware that they were not capable of stitching at that time) managed to dissuade this plan. In the morning though, he was looked at by a medical member of staff, and a large white bandage wrapped stupidly around his head. Ranger Rob fittingly nicknamed him "Dufus".
Pia - a nice Swedish girl also in my room - and I secured seats nearest the door, as we both recognised a fair chance of chunder that day - especially as we had been warned the roads would be bumpy. There were actually two spare seats on the bus that morning; one belonged to the would-be stitcher of the night before (although to be fair he had been to Fraser before. We were actually quite envious that he'd got a lie in). The other was that of Jeff the Canadian, who'd got lucky with an American girl from the Contiki tour, and had made his Walk of Shame too late to catch the bus. Those of us that had made it were soon bouncing on our way - with a quick up-chuck stop for Dufus en route. We had a brief toilet stop at Eli Creek, where we would be spending more time later. The toilets were particularly smelly longdrops, and they plus the orange juice I had drunk with breakfast provoked a bit of a vom from me. I remain adamant though that it was the orange juice that morning, not the alcohol the night before that was responsible.
After an hour of teeth-chattering stomach-churning track, we came out on 75 mile beach (which of course isn't 75 miles at all - it's just the Aussies exaggerating), and drove right up it, past Indian Heads to the Champagne Pools. We parked up and walked along the boardwalk to the pools, where some slept and others (me) took a dip, to try and wash the hangover away. Afterwards we started heading back down the beach to Indian Heads. A walk up the steep path brought us to this great look out spot where on a calm day, manta rays and sharks can be spotted. The sea was quite choppy when we were there, but we were lucky enough to see an osprey proudly showing off the fish he had caught. For a change, the sun came out while we were up there. We didn't see a lot of it those three days, but I certainly had no complaints - it was nice to be able to do the walks etc without getting overheated . . . and I dread to think how my hangover would have coped with the heat.
After our packed lunches here, we drove back down the beach to a section of coloured sands, stopping at a couple of spots for photos. Further down the beach is the Maheno shipwreck. The boat, built in Scotland, had actually reached the end of its days, and was being towed for scrap by the Japanese when it made a break for freedom, and decided it would much rather live on the beach on Fraser and become a tourist attraction. And who can blame it. There is some difference of opinion as to whether or not it should be removed, and some claim it is an eyesore. I myself have a bit of a penchant for rust, and have been known to stop to photograph burnt out cars at the side of the road, so predictably I loved it and took many a snap. I find comfort in the symbolism of nature reclaiming what has been made by man; it gives me hope that the Earth will survive the havoc we wreak on her.
We then returned to pretty Eli Creek, lined by exotic trees and a boardwalk. The game here is to walk along the boardwalk, then get into the water and float downstream. I had it in my head that the creek was fast flowing, and you'd be swept down, but it was much more sedate than that. The water was heart-stoppingly cold though, and my skin felt warm and tingly when I got out. Saw some bloody big eels in the water. As the island is all sand no soil, the various lakes and creeks remain crystal clear, with nothing to silt up the water. We spent some time here, and had our civilised afternoon tea too, and then it was time to head back to the jetty and drop off about half the group, who had only signed up for a two day tour.
We drove up the beach and had just turned inland when Ranger Rob stopped his usual informative commentary to say he thought we may have had a flat. On getting out and examining the situation, it became apparent that this was an under statement. The rim of the tyre had actually sheared right off, and was lying a way behind us on the track. Ranger Rob apologised but said that those meant to be leaving on the five o'clock ferry would have to catch the later one, then him and a couple of the guys - including Dufus, who redeemed himself - set about changing the tyre.
It all eventually got sorted, and the two-dayers got a free meal before catching the eight o'clock ferry. The rest of us had partied too hard the night before, so it was not a large night. The bar was doing a trivia evening - twenty shots lined up, trivia questions asked and whoever shouted out the first correct answer got a shot. They did several rounds, and I got a total of three, which I was quite proud of. One was "what is Australia's largest city by area", the answer being Mount Isa - got that one courtesy of a packet of Tally Hos.
The other excitement for me that night was coming face to face with a dingo. I'd just left the bar to go and get some more money, when I saw a dog trotting past me. I though nothing of it at first, then realised where I was, turned around, pointed and said "dingo!" Then remembering you're not meant to interact with them, I covered my mouth with one hand, and drew back the pointing arm, gasping in a Basil Fawlty-esque way. As I watched, a Korean girl was leaving the bar just as the dingo passed. She had obviously forgotten (or misunderstood) everything, as she shrieked and ran away. The dingo sniffed after her, then decided against it and scampered off.
I bagsed the front seat in the bus the next day, always liking to sit up front. Our destination that morning was Lake Waddy. We were driven first to the beginning of a trail that led to a look-out offering a unique (I think) view. The ocean, beach, a lake, a sand blow (dune) and rainforest all visible at once. Our path then continued down through the rainforest to the lake - an even darker green, fringed with forest on one side, the sand blow encroaching on the other. Fish nibbled upon us if we stood still too long. After another refreshing swim, and at the time suggested by Ranger Rob, we left the lake and began to walk across the sand blow - not far from where the body of an English tourist was found, years after he had disappeared. At the end of the pleasant walk we came out on the beach, where our coach awaited.
Lunch was a barbecue - veggies catered for - and during which we were lucky enough to see another dingo. There are only 150 on the island, which seemed like quite a low number, Rob explained though that this is what the island can naturally sustain; they do not control the numbers. There used to be more when people were feeding them. This had a negative effect on the animals in a number of ways: the dingoes get reliant on man's leftovers, losing hunting abilities, and not passing these skills on to their young; the diet is of course not what they should be eating, so this too can harm the breed; the dogs also tend to get more aggressive when they are used to being fed or scrounging from man (maybe it's all those additives?) - and the aggressive animals have to be culled, to prevent unfortunate incidents occurring whereby the animals attack children. By nature dingoes are skinny, so many people feel inclined to feed them (I bet you would, Natalie!), feeling sorry for them. This is why there are so many posters around and the threat of fines to try and stop people.
The afternoon was meant to be spent walking on more sand blows (I'm not sure if this is just another word for dunes . . . does anyone know?), but Ranger Rob asked us if we would like to revisit Lake McKenzie, so we went there instead - more swimming in the lake, playing in the sand, and photo opportunities. After an hour or so we returned to the coach park for afternoon tea - finding the lace monitor (or maybe a different one) in the same spot, posing again. Incidentally, lace monitors have extremely poisonous saliva, so you should be careful not to get bitten by one! After tea it was time to go, and we were driven to the jetty where we said goodbye to Ranger Rob and caught the ferry home . . . well, back to Hervey Bay, anyway.
On my return to the hostel, I exchanged pleasantries with a South African guy in my room. He'd been on a self-drive trip, and I asked him how it had been. "Great" he said. "There was this one woman, she was 37!" he laughed and paused, reflecting on how ridiculous it was that someone of this advanced age would go on a trip like this. "She was a bit of a bitch, but it was okay, the rest of us just ganged up on her and gave her shit."
I smiled, thinking to myself, "yep, and that would have been me!"
I booked my bus to Brisbane, and contacted Kate, who I'd not seen since Cape Town. Her and Dave have now got their own place a nice distance from the city centre, and they kindly invited me to stay, and offered pick me up from the bus. By the next night I was admiring their lovely big apartment, and sitting on the veranda looking at their travel photos. It was great to catch up, and I thank them both for their hospitality - and their veggie curry. They took me up to Mount Coot-tha, a popular lookout spot one evening, from where we looked down upon the twinkling lights of the city below.
Whilst in Brisbane I felt a bit of a twinge in the old ears, and while in the city happened to be walking past a travel clinic, thought I'd pop in and get them checked out. Well I guess the instant gratification I'd got swimming in the lakes on Fraser had an accompanying price to be paid, as I was told that I now had staph in my ears. This is a strain of the MRSI bug found in hospitals, and the little sod had managed to make itself at home in my lug holes. Before you could say "will this never end" I was off to the chemist with a prescription for more drops and some antibiotics, and vowing to myself that this time I would be oh-so-good, and not let a single drop of water get near them. Both the doctor and pharmacist stressed that it was vital I did not get my ears wet until I had the all clear from a doctor, and this time I was taking their advice very seriously.
My next destination was wonderful Byron Bay. I came here last time around and stayed for about a week - it's one of those places where killing time is easy and enjoyable. My original intention had been to spend six weeks here working as an instructor. Then when I found out about my perforation, I decided to delay things a while, take my time down the coast, and hopefully still be able to work for a month. By Brisbane I was hoping that I'd at least be able to get to dive here. Julian Rocks, not far off of the mainland of Byron, is said to be one of Australia's top ten dive sites. It is common to see grey nurse sharks - despite their low numbers - and at this time of year manta rays too . . . apparently. Unfortunately I have no first hand experience to back this up. Julian Rocks, along with the Yongala, are going to have to be put off until next time I visit Australia. On the plus side I do pretty much have my itinerary sorted out for next time - fly to Sydney, buy a car, up the East Coast, dive Byron and Yongala, up to Darwin . . .
After almost a week here I went to the doctors to see how the ears were coming along. He said the staph was clearing up nicely, though had not gone completely, and to keep using the drops, stay out of the water and come back in a week. The next time I was told that the infection has now gone, but the ears are inflamed and lumpy - he even drew a picture to illustrate the point. I've now got different drops, and can at least swim, but with ear putty in. Actually he told me to use blue-tack, strangely, but as already had ear putty I decided I'd stick with that. He said that I should leave the diving for a while longer. It is a relief to be able to swim - the beaches here are beautiful, and it was most cruel not to be able to go in.
As my plans to work here were scuppered, I decided that - as nice as it is hanging out here - I should use my time a bit more constructively, and go and visit my cousins in Victoria. The live a few hours north of Melbourne, so I'm flying in to Melbourne then back to Sydney for my flight to Broome. I'm looking forward to seeing them again, the last time being on my trip five years ago, from which I have fond memories.
Before arriving in Byron I had been in touch with Flavia (you remember, the divemastering, belly-dancing veterinarian from Brazil). She had been here for three weeks already, and had one left before she had to move on to Sydney. Well she knew of someone who had a room to rent - which sounded perfect - but I'd have to stay in a backpackers the first night until it was sorted. I popped along to the one nearest the bus stop (lazy cow!) and was shocked to hear it was $29 for a dorm. I'd heard rumour that prices were around the $30 mark, but that had been over Christmas. A quick check showed that I'd only get it a couple of bucks less at another place further away, so I booked in for one night, severely hoping that that would be all I needed.
As it happens the room Flavia had sorted for me fell through, but I got myself another one the next day - at $150 a week it's nearly double what I was paying in Port, but I knew I was getting a good deal - and it's really central too. Fla was staying well out of town and having to hitchhike in and out - bugger that! It was good to catch up with her again and we hung out and partied until she had to go. I also got to see her belly dance at the local middle eastern restaurant - she's really good. I had to go back to the restaurant the next morning once I realised they had shisha there, and spent a decedent couple of hours sucking down some apple tobacco.
Byron's a really cool place, full of funky shops, wholesome and delicious eateries - for once in Australia, somewhere that vegetarians are well catered for; I was beginning to think the whole country ran on steak and seafood. There are of course the colourful people too. Street performers, buskers, fortune tellers, folks selling their wares on the pavement - most of all these with dreadlocks and multiple facial piercings (being the awkward sod that I am I decided to leave the nose ring out - one way of being different). There are so many pregnant women around here that I'm beginning to worry it might be catching! Byron seems to have a magnetic effect on impregnated females for miles around. A veritable epidemic of expectants. They all wander round letting it all hang out - bare bloated bellies everywhere. Mind you, in an Australian summer I guess dungarees wouldn't be the most practical maternity wear going.
I have realised during my time in Byron Bay that I am never going to be cool enough to be a hippie - despite it having been an ambition of mine for yonks. The Technoheads "I wanna be a hippie" was my theme tune in the Lodge for years, but alas it is not to be. I can't carry off tie-dyed fabric, and I don't know my shakra from my aura. I am now thinking of beginning my own social group - at least that way I should be able to belong. I'm going to call them - in an amazingly unimaginative move - the serenas. Soon everybody will want to be a serena - the only prerequisite will be the inability to fit into any other social group. Mind you, it probably won't be long before the rest of the serenas join together and banish me for not being cool enough! Ho hum.
This is a great place to see live music too, and since I've been here I've seen rock bands, soul and funk - some good, some great. I've even been to a rave at a bikers club. My absolute favourite Byron band has been Wild Marmalade - these guys are superb. Two drummers and a didge playing organic dance music, that you just can't keep still to. I've been lucky enough to see them five times, and have bought one of their CDs, so I guess you could say I like them! Check out their website at www.wildmarmalade.zenlunacy.com . My second favourite group was Pornland www.pornland.com.au - a group who were inspired by the soundtrack to Debbie Does Dallas . . . now I know that film inspired a lot of people (I'm thinking of you here, Marco) but it's not normally known for its music. They dress in over the top seventies outfits and strut around the stage with their tongues firmly in their cheeks. They are pioneers of 'Christian Porn', and even have a song about Pontious Pilot (sp?). They put on a fabulous show, and it would be impossible to describe them - if you ever get the chance to go see them, do so.
I've even been to a hare krishna feast. I went along for the food, but arrived several hours too early, and had to sit through all the talking, chanting and dancing. Being an old stick in the mud, I categorically refused to join in with any of the chanting or dancing. They believe that the way to krishna is though dancing, chanting, and eating acceptable foods that have first been offered to krishna. These foods exclude meat, fish and eggs . . . also onions, which I have absolutely no problem with at all - I've often said that onions are the devil's vegetable. Unbelievably mushrooms are also outlawed!!! Mushrooms! Apparently they make you hot blooded and passionate, and fill the mind with ignorance. I now know this because I had to speak up and ask what was wrong with mushrooms. I'm sorry, but that was it for me and hare krishna, I'm afraid. I won't have a bar of any religion that's anti-mushrooms.
On the street performers side I've seen fire shows, and a guy play with his balls like you have never seen - they were glass, and he had four of them on the go at the same time, and could even make pyramids out of them. Top stuff. There's the guy who does the sand sculptures too - he's quite famous . . . well, I'd heard of him, anyway www.sandology.com. One of the best pleas for money I've ever heard was at the market. It was from a guy juggling fire from atop an eight foot unicycle, who said "I'm not on the dole, this is my only source of income, so please give generously or I'll have to go back to my old job of selling drugs to your children". While I'm on the subject of the markets, I felt lucky to be able to go to one, as they tour the area, and only come to Byron once a month. It was a wonderful juncture of colour and hippie culture.
Of course Cape Byron is famous for being Australia's Eastern most point, and the walk to the light house was quite high on my list of priorities. Fortunately I managed to get there earlier on in my stay here, as I'm doing plenty of walking right now. I realised that I did have to earn some dough while I was here, one way or another, so have been walking the streets touting for business - though obviously I don't make a lot of money . . . minds out of the gutter, please, I'm handing out fliers for free internet. At $10 an hour, it's the same as I was getting for waitressing in Port, and all I'd be doing all day is wandering around town anyway . . . may as well be getting paid for it. We are meant to target backpackers, and in most towns you would have no trouble at all in spotting the backpackers from the residents - they're the ones who are scruffy, grubby and maybe a bit whiffy. Things are different here however - the really scruffy, grubby and whiffy ones are all residents!
At the end of my street is the charity shop, and you may think that a charity shop in Byron would be a good place to pick up some funky clothes quite cheaply. Thing is, it may well be if the stuff wasn't siphoned off before it gets to the shop. Whenever I walk past when the shop is shut there are always a number of be-dreaded locals sifting through the stuff that has been left outside, like overgrown rats in a bin. Ahh, it's a great place, and I'm going to miss it!