Heaven to Betsy (Almost)

Friday, March 30, 2007

This is the city: Byron Bay, New South Wales. I’m waiting here. I carry a didgeridoo. Flash back two days, it’s March 28. The year? 2007. It is my friends’ last day in Australia before Chris, Alli, and Kate depart for the sedate beaches of Fiji, and we have quite a lot to do before tomorrow. We awoke early in Noosa Heads to facilitate this flurry of activity, packing up from our apartment and hitting the road in Betsy, my recently christened Ford Telstar. The agenda for the day calls for driving down to Surfer’s Paradise to pick up everyone’s bags, stopping en route at Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo to poke around and Brisbane to get a place for the evening (and drop off the bags we’re currently carrying so there will be room). After picking up the bags in Surfer’s, we’re to head back up to Brisbane to stay the night as they need to be at the airport at 7AM the next morning. A busy day, indeed. Let’s see what befalls our young travelers as they undertake this ambitious outing.

By 9:30, we were on the road from Noosa down to Brisbane, and we arrived at the halfway point, Australia Zoo, just before 10:30. We were supposed to have done this on Pacific Challenge, but since Steve Irwin’s tragic demise, Dave (coordinator of Pacific Challenge) thought it had fallen from grace, and we instead took in the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary with the group. We were still determined to do it on our own, however, and we paid our $36 student admission (yes, it’s really expensive) and entered. Walking past some of the legendary crocs, we found that we’d arrived just in time for elephant feeding. We didn’t brave the massive lines for that but instead wandered the zoo pretty much unhindered. They had lots of cute wombats running around and a little aviary that you can walk through with some really sweet tropical birds from the area, Africa, and South America. They had some tigers as well, which never cease to fascinate me, and, oh, did I mention crocs? We watched a show at the Crocoseum which did seem a little tacky in the wake of Steve’s demise (“Can we have a big CRIKEY for Steve Irwin?”) but it was still interesting. Some snakes, birds, and yes, crocs. We were sitting quite far back but the snap of those amazing jaws was ear popping even at distance. So much power.

After the show, we caught some of the animals we’d missed previously, notably the dingos (one of which licked Alli) and Tasmanian Devils. One of the little devils was running circles and laps rather rambunctiously, prompting me to joke that this was where they got the spinning torrent that is the world’s most famous animated devil. Although we’d seen and held plenty of koalas at Lone Pine, the koalas here were really active and cute and we watched them for a little while as well before leaving for Brisbane. One kept scratching his butt and sliding down the tree onto another koala below, who was already trying to reach some far out eucalyptus.

Another hour and we were in Brisbane, but everything was booked up. We spent a bunch of time on the phone looking for a place and finally found one driving around Kingsfordsmith, near where we’d stayed the last time we were in Brisbane – a nice little apartment for a really sweet price. We unloaded our bags and jumped back into Betsy to head down to Surfer’s to pick Aaron up a gift certificate to his favourite Thai restaurant before heading to Nerang. As we were driving the freeways out of Brisbane, my dashboard lit up. Charge battery, rear lights, brakes, all of the indicators were on. Well, I knew from reflections that my lights were on and my brakes were working, but I still was not sure of what was going on. Maybe just an electronics glitch, and in any case, we had some miles to cover if we were going to stop and get it looked at, so we pressed on to Surfer’s. As we got closer and closer, the interior lighting for the dash seemed to be fading and becoming increasingly unreadable. By the time we made it into Surfer’s, the lights had faded entirely, my signals and hazards didn’t work, and we knew we were going to need to get some help for the car. As we pulled up to the Thai restaurant, the car completely died and we pushed Bets into a parking lot and debated what to do.

I was pretty sure the alternator had gone, though there was some debate about whether or not it was the battery. Regardless, I called RACQ (the Queensland equivalent of CAA) which I had fortunately just purchased a few days prior, and they came out to give us a hand. It didn’t take long to see that my alternator belt had snapped or fallen off and since it was already 7:30, we weren’t going to get the car going again until tomorrow, even though it was a relatively simple fix. But, remember, we had to get the group back to Brisbane to catch their morning flight. I had the car towed to Bryan’s in Miami and while I arranged that had Kate and Alli talk to the Vodaphone operator about train times to Brisbane. There was a 9:50 train from Nerang to Brisbane we might be able to catch that would save the day, but we had some rushing to do. We caught the buses back to Nerang, waiting painfully long amounts of time, and arriving at Aaron’s at about 9:30, throwing our stuff together to get back on the bus for the train station. Thankfully, Aaron’s brother hadn’t been drinking as much and gave us a lift to the train station, so we actually caught the train just in time.

My plan had been to get to Brisbane, make sure they got to our hotel and had something arranged for tomorrow morning to the airport and then get the midnight train back to Nerang so I would be near Surfer’s to sort out my car in the morning and not have to spend the extra hour and a half getting back the next day. The train slowly made it’s way back to Brisbane and was “delayed due to a police incident on one of the platforms”. We arrived about ten minutes before the last train to Nerang, which was actually at 11:23, so plans changed again. We got a taxi to our apartment and were quite relieved after such a hectic day to be back there as planned, albeit circuitously. Kate and Alli had four beer in the fridge and Chris and I had nothing to drink, so the two of us went to find a pub and have a well-earned final drink in Australia. The only thing we could find was a karaoke bar, but we sat there anyway after nearly being mauled by a couple cougars, and had a beer. Chris couldn’t let me buy the last beer, so he bought one, and next thing we knew, they were closing the bar. So we went next door to the gaming room which didn’t close for another hour or so and had a couple more before also closing that place and finally went back home at 3:30 or so. It was an appropriate send off for Aus, I feel, though I would regret the 3.5 hours of sleep the next day.

Which came, yes, at 7 AM when they were leaving. We squared up our collective debts and I walked downstairs with them to say goodbye, wandering back upstairs alone to eat some breakfast and use whatever I could of all the groceries they left behind. Which, given that I was without wheels, largely had to be left behind – a true shame. I called the mechanic at 8AM and they promised me they’d look at the car right away since today I had to get down to Sydney – some 12 hours from Surfer’s Paradise. Then, after a shower, I packed up my stuff and everything I could carry and grabbed a city bus into the centre to catch a train to Nerang. The bus driver was helpful and even called their dispatcher to find out what time the train departed for me. And so it was that I was on the 9:30 train for Nerang.

I arrived and they were holding the 745 bus into Surfer’s for our train from Nerang station, but I decided it would be faster to get my bags now while in Nerang and then I could leave right from Surfer’s towards Sydney. I grabbed a taxi to Aaron’s and picked up my stuff then walked up to the bus stop fully loaded for the first time since leaving Canada. It was a bit of a wait to say the least, but the bus that finally came again had a friendly driver on it that helped me get the right busses to the mechanic (where my car was long since finished and ready). He even hopped off to check a time table at the train station to see if I would have a faster time waiting for the next 745 or going with him. And so it was that I was bound for Pacific Fair on the 745 at 11:35 that morning.

After some confusion in describing what little I knew of the service station I’d never been to and having to pass up a bus I knew would go by the station since I needed to know where to get off and which station it was. Finally, I was in my car with a new alternator belt, some jumper and tow cables, and 4L of oil before I set off for Sydney. The drive itself seemed to go forever. They’re really anti-speeding here and there are cameras all over the place and slow drivers besides. The main highway (the number 1 up the east coast) is two lanes in some points and my average speed limit was 80km/h for some of those long kms. And there were plenty, too, that’s for sure. I stopped for lunch outside of Gold Coast in an airport park – the same one with the terrific vegetables we’d stopped at on the way up the coast a few weeks earlier. Great veggies, and lo and behold, the owners ARE Greek. I didn’t actually stop and have lunch, but just long enough to pick some things up. Likewise, I stopped only to get petrol/gas all along the way, eating leftover vegetables for dinner on my lap and drinking Red Bull as the night wore on and the clock passed 1 AM and then 2 AM relentlessly. I got to Katoomba’s YHA at 2:15 and once I found my key, etc, really enjoyed the hostel. I certainly was anxious for bed, 4 or 5 Red Bull in me or not. And I was shaking like a Polaroid before falling asleep.

Australia Zoo Photos

Heads to Noosa

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

My Telstar drove along the motorway as Brisbane’s skyline was whipping by on our right. I knew I needed to exit, but which one would take us to the area of downtown where we might find a hostel? I chose one at random since that is the best one can hope to do in such a situation, and we (Alli, Chris, Kate, and I) found ourselves on Elizabeth Street. Fortuitously, we were soon in familiar terrain and so we found a spot to park the car for a couple hours and set off on foot to find a hostel down Edward St. In a continuing run of good fortune, we came across a hostel called The Palace pretty easily and so, after lunch and some souvenir shopping for my homebound friends, we unloaded our stuff. I didn’t have such good fortune finding the place where we could park overnight for $14, stopping at two parkades before someone would let me leave the car long enough to run back to the hostel and get better directions. Apparently “it’ll be your first one on the right” referred to turns rather than the parkade. Chris came with and we parked the car and went back to pick up the girls before setting off to get some stuff done in Brisbane.

I needed a bit of space and had already had enough of souvenir shopping, so I went off on my own. I guess I’m a bit homesick after all, as I found myself in a bookstore reading everything I could find in travel guides about Saskatoon. They were unanimous in naming us the prettiest city on the prairies and I was delighted by Lonely Planet’s recommendation that people traveling through get off the Trans Canada and come through Saskatoon instead of Regina. Not to say that Regina doesn’t have some cool stuff to see, but hey, rivalries live on. I saw a brew pub, which I’d not seen many of in my time here (pubs, oh yes, but not breweries) so I went in and chatted with the Zimbabwe bartender (a very interesting guy) while sampling their stuff. They have a 100% wheat beer with no hops even that I really didn’t care for, a pretty nice amber, and a good pilsener, but otherwise nothing unique. I don’t know if I’m a dark fan so much anymore, I didn’t like any of the ones I tried. But I digress.

Six samples later it was time to meet up with the others and grab some groceries. They had also grabbed a beer after some shopping, so we were especially cordial to each other. Chris and Alli had to stop at the ATM, so Kate and I went ahead to try to get dinner ideas. When Chris and Alli arrived, they found our basket stocked with only M&Ms and Coke in honour of Rachel. Then we decided to get a real dinner and got some stuff to make pizzas. Back to the hostel, where right behind our backs – literally as we cooked in front of the fridge - some of the girls’ beer was stolen. Gutsy. There was nowhere to sit in the kitchen, so we took our stuff up to the room and sat on the floor eating our pizza and joking around. Again, I found sleep quite early (by midnight) and just as well. We got the earliest start we have in our foursome’s time together and by lunch we were in Mooloolaba up the coast, actually a pretty decent place now that we were there of our own volition. We grabbed some picnic supplies and had lunch on the rocks of the coast – a pretty nice spot if I may say. Then we continued our trek upwards to Noosa where we had a bit of trouble finding somewhere with rooms until we found a place on Sunshine Beach very nearby that was a great deal. An apartment for $24/night.

We dumped our stuff and headed to Noosa Heads to make the most of the remaining day on the beach. It was 4:00 when we got there and we stayed until sunset because it was an amazing beach. The surf was great (and there were lots of people to watch doing just that), the view was beautiful, and the beach was huge, stretching off to the horizon. We did some bodysurfing until the sun was falling behind the trees, lighting the spray of each wave in orange flame and I ran in to get a photo, but by then it was too late. Chris had bought a boomerang and we threw it around but unfortunately, not quite around. It never did come back, exactly, but it was a lot of fun and we tried until it was almost too dark to see.

We ordered some expensive Chinese food for dinner while Chris and Alli went to rent a movie to watch in our apartment. We went over with the food to see how they were doing and they had narrowed it down to Mean Girls or Just Friends. I had seen both and didn’t like them, but Alli wasn’t up for any of my suggestions, so I just let them pick. We went home and watched Just Friends, which was just as bad as I remember it (I felt a little vindicated that Kate had fallen asleep and that Chris was laughing as infrequently as I was). Alli, at least, seemed to be laughing quite a bit and enjoying herself, so it wasn’t a total write off I suppose, and it was nice to just sit and watch TV for a while. Afterwards, a girl from Sweden joined us and I wound up chatting with her for an hour or so before she went to sleep and I discovered there was free (but sloooow) wireless until almost 2 AM. Had I known the trouble that would befall us tomorrow, I certainly would’ve gone to bed much earlier. But that’s a story for next time…

Noosa Photos

Reunion of Sorts

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Following Chris and my sojourn to Mt. Warning and our night out in Surfer’s Paradies, the plan had been to pick up the girls and drive in to Brisbane and then check out some of the area to the north, but it turned out that Aaron wanted to go out bowling and for dinner with us the next day, which meant a change of plans was in order. We decided to head down to Byron for the day instead and spend the day and the following afternoon there before coming back up to Surfer’s to meet Aaron for dinner. As an added bonus, Dave, Katie, and some remnants of PC4 were also heading there from Brisbane that day, so we arranged to meet with them and for $20 we were able to stay in one of those cabins on the beachfront we’d had when we were last in Byron Bay. You can’t beat that and we certainly weren’t going to try, so we were set.

We had some time to kill and, having seen a sign for the natural arch driving the day prior, we decided to detour out there and check it out. It was only 36km or something. But that 36km is through winding mountain roads so it took a bit longer than expected. We got there and the girls had both fallen asleep and Alli seemed grumpy that we stopped somewhere en route, but we did have time to kill before we were to meet in Byron. It was actually pretty sweet. It’s a place where a waterfall has bored a hole into a cave ceiling, and so you have this big cave with a waterfall falling into it which looks like a big arch. It also offers a place to jump in from pretty high and, naturally, some swimming in and around the arch. We saw a few kids jump from the waterfall and so decided that we would check it out. Not knowing that swimming was allowed, none of us was in swimming gear but Chris went for it anyway and took the big plunge into the cave. Graceful landings doesn’t appear anywhere on his resume, and for good reason, but he was fine.

Then off to Byron. We came into Murwillumbah and there were no signs directing us as to which highway would take us in that direction. You may recall that Chris and I had been unable to find the natural arch yesterday and got somewhat lost in this area. It seems it happened again. We wound up taking a wrong way out of town into some small country roads and backtracked, driving along until we found signs. We made it to Byron by 4:30 which worked out pretty well. It was pretty cool to see Katie again and catch up. She has seen her share of the Keppel sun, that’s for sure. Dave and some girls from PC4 (plus Doug) were also there and we went into town for dinner at Paul Hogan’s old restaurant on the waterfront. It’s quite the setup they’ve got. A large lounge/dinner area (probably they could seat 500) and not a waiter or waitress in sight. People go to the bar to get their drinks and go to the counter to order their food. Which was pricey. And the place, it being Saturday, was close to full. Their kitchen was surprisingly small and all I could think was that money was being made hand over fist. I can’t see a self-service system being very popular for this type of food back home, but it seems quite big over here.

After dinner, a few drinks, and a stop with Katie and Chris for some rum and coke for the night, we headed back to our houses and relaxed and had some drinks. We had a bit of PC2 catch up and then joined PC4 in their cabin for some more shenanigans. Some of them left for town which we weren’t really up for, so we went to the beach for a while and then called it a night. Kate was falling asleep on the beach anyway and lately I’ve been really tired at night too. Maybe it’s the driving, but mostly I think I’m getting a little something cold-like. It was funny to have the exact same beds we’d made us of in the same cabin last time we were in Byron.

We split off with the others in the morning and spent the afternoon in Byron. After looking around at didjs with Chris for a while and getting yelled at for using free wireless when I could be inside using an internet café owner’s much slower wired connection, we met Megan and her friend Brin for lunch. They were both really friendly and it was a good lunch. It was funny, we were sitting at the restaurant eating and Chris looked across the street and there were Kate and Alli sitting on the sidewalk having sandwiches. We invited them to stay when they swung by (now Alli wanted us to hurry through lunch to get back to Surfer’s earlier as they were bored) but they went and got some more internet stuff done. We parted ways with Megan and Brin and went to get the girls when we discovered that the really good didj shop was open. I went up with Chris and the owner was giving free lessons (didj = didgeridoo, by the way) and invited us to sit in. We made some pretty decent progress I’m proud to say, though the breathing out and in at the same time still eludes me, and both of us wound up buying a didj. I pick mine up on Thursday as well as Chris’ (after I drop him at the airport in Brisbane) and I’m pretty excited to see it. It’s going to have a bit of a custom painting on it and, yeah, it should be pretty sweet.

That took us long, and to their credit, the girls were pretty patient about waiting even though we left after 4:30, which was the time I figured we’d be gone by. We got back into Nerang and, after some more flukey navigation, Aaron’s at 5:59 on the nose, one minute before the 6:00 we’d promised, and he brought us out to what he considers the best Thai restaurant in all of Queensland. It certainly was a pretty cool looking place, with fountains and little outdoor huts, and everything. They all had the pad thai and I went for something else and think I probably had the better meal. I didn’t really care for their dish at all, to be honest. Then, we grabbed a movie about three people who were abducted in the outback (two of whom were killed) and watched Princess Bride afterwards. Inconceivable! Then, bed beckoned and we slipped softly to sleep after a little alliteration. Tomorrow, Brisbane. Then up to the Sunshine Coast and Noosa Heads before making our way back to Brisbane via Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo and Chris, Kate, and Alli’s final night in Australia.

Back to Byron Photos

The Green Mountains

Saturday, March 24, 2007

We drove up the winding roads into the green mountains of Lamington National Park quite happily. They were fun roads to drive and it was nice to be in a car doing them. We’d hoped to get groceries and supplies in Cunanbura but there was little there, so instead we had fish and chips at a little chipper and hit the road. We camped just outside of O’Reilly’s famed resort (though I’m not sure why it’s so famous) and there were Wallabees all over the campsite – not to mention more bush turkeys. After deciding to stay for two nights so we could do a full day hike tomorrow, we set up camp and took a hike up to the Python Rock lookout to watch the sunset. It was pretty gorgeous up there and we crawled right out to the ledge and an overhanging rock to view it. It was a little scary but a great view past the trees and over the forest below.

Chris and I went for dinner in the pub, but it was too pricey so I just had soup and we had a beer each and basically called it a night. It was pretty cool out here, which for me was just right. We got drizzled on a bit without our rainfly but nothing worth getting up to put it on and I finally gave up trying to sleep at about 6:30. Not the best sleep ever, and the others said the same. We set off as soon as the café opened at 9AM so we could grab some sandwiches for lunch there and took the Toolona Gorge trail, a 17.5 km trail that takes us to the New South Wales border and along a couple waterfalls. It started out pretty decent; there were a few waterfalls, we were deep in the rainforest, and we took a treetop walk which, at one point, had us 30m above the ground. A little scary to be that high up in a tree, to be honest, but obviously it was quite safe on those bridges and up the tree.

Things took a turn for the worse around the halfway point. First of all, I slipped on a rock and bit it pretty decent trying to get a picture of a blue lobster or crayfish or something. Then, the big lookout we’d come to see was all but grown in and there was almost nothing we could see through the trees. It was beautiful, what we could make out, but it was a tease at best. Basically, we’d walked to the edge of an ancient and massive volcano crater that spread over miles and miles of terrain. In the middle is Mt. Warning, all that remains of the volcanic tube that erupted massively so many millions of years ago, but we couldn’t even see that from our vantage point. Then, Alli discovered there were leaches. The rest of us knew (it was in the pamphlets) but didn’t feel it was in her best interest to tell her. She was miserable for the whole second half of the hike. We couldn’t find a decent place to have lunch, so I found a log that had fallen and we ate there. The second half was just more of the same. Trees and rainforest and no waterfalls or anything to speak of. The price we extracted for the first half of our hike having all those cool massive trees and beautiful falls, I suppose.

We got back and basically had nothing to eat for dinner, really, but I had eaten trail mix on the path so I had my lunch sandwich to munch on had I wanted to. But instead Chris and I went and had a couple beers and I had a bit more trail mix. Ah, roughing it. I finally did eat that sandwich I bought the next morning, at the risk of sounding like I’m writing a diet journal here. We packed up our tents and headed off. Alli ripped one of her contacts the day prior which meant she did the leech-hike half blind and we had to stop off in Nerang to pick up another set for her and her and Kate weren’t feeling tops so they stayed there while Chris and I jetted off. None of us had had a particularly good sleep either night in Lamington, not for any particular reason – except Chris, who was suffering a bit of a cold the second night – we just collectively slept poorly.

So, Chris and I left them in Nerang and took off to scale Mount Warning. The drive out there was beautiful, coming off the mountain ridges that border Queensland and New South Wales and into beautiful New Zealand-esque valleys. It being fall, things are particularly pretty and flowery – not dying, just beautiful. And green. And no, my photos didn’t capture it. Purple trees, green grass, blue skies, and unfortunately, some white and blue clouds around Mt. Warning. We went on anyway, parked, and saw that we had a 4.5 km hike to the top and the mountain itself was 1127 metres high. The rainforest here was a little more sparse and that somehow made it better. It really doesn’t feel real to be here among these plants – I feel like I’m going to turn the corner at any moment and see the line up for the Jurassic Park or Indiana Jones rides in Disneyland/world. The path here was obviously pretty uphill and towards the end we were scrabbling up a steep slope basically on all fours.

On the way up there were a few vantage points where we could see the valley around us and the mountains in the distance that made up the volcanic rim – including the lookout we’d walked so hard to get to only yesterday. At the very top, however, we were enveloped in cloud, which was cool in itself because they were moving around so quickly. We’d get clearings where we could see the ground and valley and other clouds swirling around and everything else, and we basically had the mountain to ourselves. Ourselves and a turkey that attacked Chris’ pack when we were looking on the opposite side of the peak. Luckily, we caught it in time and no damage was done nor garbage strewn. Then, back down just as the rain began. We had to walk the steep peak stretch backwards using the chain to almost rappel but the rest of the walk was uneventful and the rain was neither heavy nor enduring. At the bottom, we met a couple that was really nice and kept giving us places nearby to check out. Specifically, they told us about a watering hole nearby that they thought was great and told us about some local music in a small town called Uki nearby.

We swung by Uki but it looked like it was basically a dj and some guy playing didj so we decided to skip out on that and we decided to come back home instead. We passed a tropical fruit park and thought maybe there’d be something cool there, but alas, closed. However, the people there were freely volunteering another place worth checking out, a natural bridge with a waterfall, glow worms, and apparently now was the time of day to see it. We thanked these incredibly friendly Aussies and drove on to the arch following their directions, stopping to take photos of Mt. Warning in the sunset. At which point we met another friendly Aussie who came out of his house to mention that the place he thought it looked most beautiful was up the road over the bridge where you could see the reflection in the river. Really friendly people, these Aussies. Even if they can’t give directions to save their life. We took the second turn into Condong as instructed and found ourselves driving rural roads in the middle of nowhere. Which was the perfect time to let Chris try driving here in Aus. He did quite well except for the tendancy to drive more left than you would or should. I have the same problem, so I guess it’s a gut feeling coming from driving on the opposite side of the car.

We gave up on finding the arch and grabbed dinner in Murwillumbah before driving on to Surfer’s. We decided to have a guy’s night out and found (after more Lonely Planet cursing) a hostel, showered, and had a bit of wine and nachos (not a recommended combo, incidentally) before heading out. It was a good night out and we got back around 3:30 to our hostel.

Green Mountains Photos

Surfer's Paradise

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

So there we were, Alli, Kate, Chris, and myself, waving goodbye to the few fellow travelers remaining as Dustin drove the bus off to Sydney, standing at the foot of the world’s tallest residential building, the Q1 building – which looks like something straight out of Dubai. In retrospect, I can’t believe I didn’t go inside at all, but while we waited for Aaron (Alli’s friend) to pick us up, Chris and I looked into rental cars with nothing to show for our efforts. I grabbed a paper to look through the classified for buying a used car and Aaron was there. His place is in a suburb called Nerang which isn’t really close to anything, but the bus ride in is $2.60 and takes maybe 30 minutes, so it’s not bad at all. Obviously, to put the four of us up, he’s a really nice guy (a transplanted kiwi) and it was obvious how he’d made friends with Alli’s sister.

After hanging around at his place for a spell, we went and got groceries and had lunch, then I circled some cars worth calling out of the paper and we watched some rugby with Aaron. He used to play in one of the national Australian teams and was friends with other players, so it was pretty interesting to watch with him. Sonny Bill Williams, who is apparently a fellow kiwi and one of the best players in the league, got injured only a few minutes into the game, which was a bit of a shock to everyone. Anyway, after some rugby, we headed into town and Aaron took us to a place called Infinity. It was supposedly designed by a woman from an insane asylum to represent her mind. It was admittedly a bit trippy at times, I felt like I was in the middle of a game of Psychonauts or something, but for the most part it was a bunch of lights and mirrors. There was a rickety bridge over a light canyon which, though you could tell it was mirrors, was still freaky somehow, and a room full of massive balls that we threw at each other, and other fun things.

We looked around town a bit, went to the beach just after the sun had set, and hung out in the surf, then headed home where we had dinner and chatted and slept remarkably early. The next morning I got some photo stuff done and called up a few people to check out some cars then we took the bus into Surfer’s. Aaron wakes up for work at 4:30 AM, so needless to say, we didn’t see him. We walked around town, got lunch, then I met Julio to have a look at his car. One of the intake hoses needed to be clamped, he’d had a dog in the car, and while I’m not usually a guy for a/c, I think it’s probably a necessity in this country. He also was asking a fair amount more than I thought the car was worth. Then Chris and I got picked up by a used car dealership which was as sketchy as it sounds. The car was decent and not even too badly priced considering it had 120000 km on it and looked to be in mostly good shape, but $2500 was a bit much and I didn’t trust these guys. And sure enough, when we thanked them and asked for a ride back, the boss wanted Luca (the salesman) to drop us at a bus stop and let us find a way back. I got Luca talking about places in South America to see beautiful ladies and he took us as far as Chevron Island before his boss called to yell at him and he dumped us there. It was about a 20 minute walk back which wasn’t too bad but obviously a lesson learned.

Chris and I went to the beach for a while then met Alli and Kate and laid on the beach for another hour or so. We stopped for a beer on the main street which turned into four, then hit up HJ’s (Hungry Jack’s = Burger King) and found our way home after renting Borat and Spinal Tap. Aaron was asleep, so we didn’t see him at all today, but we watched Borat which I find quite hilarious. My friends didn’t seem to enjoy it as much as me, though. I was determined to actually get down and surfing the next morning, but by the time the girls finally got ready to go it was close to lunch. So I made myself nachos and we left for Surfer’s at 12:45. Hatless. It seems I lost my hat somehow last night, most likely on the bus or while waiting for the bus. I held out hope it would be found as this hat has become a part of my down-under personality, but it certainly wasn’t at Aaron’s. Chris and I went to return Borat and wound up looking at some more didgeridoos and I learned how to play one (except I can’t do the breathing properly). We ran into Kate again and the three of us rented surf boards.

We didn’t have much luck with the surf again. I did get up a few times but it seemed we couldn’t get up fast enough before the wave petered out, nor far enough before the waves would push us back in. We spent enough time out there to be sucked way down the beach and into a riptide before heading in, and after a bit of lazing around, Kate and I went out again because Chris’ arm was acting up. Still not much luck, but it went a bit better than before. We returned our surf boards, grabbed some groceries to make tacos (Aaron was craving them), and after dinner, I met with Julio again and wound up buying his car. I hope it lasts me, it’s not exactly new and pristine, but it seems tough and in decent condition, so hopefully. It’s a 1988 Ford Telstar (Ford and Holden are apparently the two brands best known for reliability around here) with a good number of miles on it already (250k – below average for Aus) but I hope to put a good number more. He gave us the car for $1400 from $2250, which, when combined with registration, new tires, and everything, is a pretty fair deal I think.

So anyway, we have wheels and can explore the countryside tomorrow. Aaron’s place is nice and all, but I was ready to hit the road and see some things, and I know Chris was too. I got up extra early the next morning and took the car out to get everything sorted out. I transferred ownership at Queensland Transport, tried to get insurance (registration only gives you personal insurance, not property here) and will have to try again with a Queensland address, returned Spinal Tap (which we watched last night after a couple celebratory beer), picked up a iPod-tape converter and charger for the car, and picked everyone up. Then it was off to Lamington National Park, where we really start our adventures in the Green Mountains.

Surfer's Paradise Photos

Dispersal Reversal

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Our final morning on Keppel, we got up (some of us still weaving a bit), cleaned up, and hung out on the beach until our ferry. We left Keppel behind and said goodbye to our leader, Katie, then got on the bus for a really long journey with Dave at the helm. We stopped for lunch at a grocery store and Brad and I shared a chicken and some olives. The journey from Keppel to Brisbane is not to be underestimated. It just kept going and going and going, even when Dustin took the wheel and was really pushing hard to make time. Somehwere after dark as we were still on the road, Dave discovered that our hostel had given away our rooms because of a big game in Brisbane, so we found a backpackers’ in Mooloolaba, had pizza, and hung around the hostel. As you can imagine, we were all less than impressed with this particular hostel, but our replacement was decent even if it all but closed down at 10. I managed to get some laundry done, which was welcome, and otherwise, really, we were all wiped and called it a night very early.

Amie and Meridith were catching a flight to Fiji early the following morning, so we hightailed it into Brisbane to drop them off and then set off for the Lone Pine koala park. It was a pretty decent park considering it was included, and I got to hold a koala. There were kangaroos, wallabies, deadly snakes, wombats, and so on. I talked with one of the park employees that was walking by with a hawk and she gave me some interesting information on local wildlife. Then, after a quick hotdog and fries with Anthony, we headed back to Brisbane and said goodbye to Dave, who had a flight to catch to meet up with his group. We drove into Brisvegas as the locals like to call it at 4:00 and, as it was St. Patty’s day, found an Irish pub right on the main mall and I bought a round of Guinness for the four of us (Anthony, Brad, Chris). Well, wouldn’t you know it, they gave me a Guinness t-shirt which was the envy of the rest of the group. So, needless to say, it was necessary for everyone to procure one. That’s a lot of Guinness by my books, but then I’m not a huge fan. It wasn’t bad, though.

We went for dinner which wasn’t anything worth writing a blog about, but here I am. It was here that Anthony and Chris became generals, fairly easily if I may say. Not quite tipsy enough after their four beers, I suppose. There was another experience that neither Chris nor Anthony had had, and though we tried on their behalf, we did not quite succeed due to dress codes. So, back to the motel that Dave found where I thought we’d all hang out together for our last night, but apparently not. We got up the next morning and dropped almost everyone off at the airport. Dustin, Lauren S, Lana, Amanda, Norm, Myra, Rachel, Chris, Alli, Kate, and myself were left to journey further down the coast. Then it was our turn to say goodbye as the latter three and myself started our journey at a friend of Alli’s just outside of Surfer’s Paradise.

The Pacific Challenge is over, and we have survived; the challenges were sometimes physical and sometimes mental but definitely also social. In the end, we’re left with 20 people who know more about each other than even their friends back home, for better or worse. The trip would not have been the same without any single one of them. So, to those of you out there that spent the last two months with me, thank-you for your part in shaping what will undeniably be a collection of stories I will be boring audiences young and old with for ages to come.

Finale Photos

The Great Keppel Island

Thursday, March 15, 2007

An early morning departure from Hervey Bay was somewhat marred by people being tired and grumpy, maybe because of the party the night prior. In a bus with no assigned seating, Brad and I had apparently ruffled some feathers by sitting in someone else’s spot. For example. So we gave them their spot and that left me in the back of the bus which was rather quiet and not a great place to sit. Still, I did manage to finish my book, The Eight, just in time to pawn it off on someone else. Though I haven’t done so successfully yet. We pulled into a different hostel than where PC has stayed in the past, and man, it was not in good shape. The place looked old and haunted, there were lizards running up and down the walls, the bathrooms had two out-of-order toilets, shower heads that leaked more water in an arc onto the floor outside than down – if you were lucky enough to have a shower head – and broken windows covered with posters on the mangroves.

While the place, located outside Yeppoon, did have electricity, it didn’t have much else, so we ran into town hoping to get on the internet. Of course, the café closed right as we came into town, so the guys just hung around in the town’s pub and had a couple beer. It was actually a decent place and we were enjoying our solitary solidarity when 20 mins later, pretty much everyone else stumbled onto our pub too. This might sound negative but it was actually fun – we plugged the jukebox and hung out visiting. We went back to our hostel to have dinner and catch up on some odds and ends and just hung out at the dinner table some more. Bored on the bus earlier, I had checked my horoscope for the day and it recommended social activity, so I think I got my quota in.

It was a late night and a fairly early morning, but there was no time to feel too tired as we were off to Great Keppel Island. The ferry ride was raucous but I didn’t feel nauseous (unlike poor Kate) until after we landed, and even then not too bad. There was a lot of up and down and it was pretty fun to just stand in the wind, hat tied to my head, absorbing the sea spray. Now that we’re in island mode, it also seemed important to kick it off properly, so we all grabbed some beers and did so in style. Even the captain, when making his announcements on where things are located, mentioned us having already found the beer. When we arrived, we met PC1 as they were departing and discovered that Anthony and I (the only two certified divers on the trip) were going to be doing a dive at 11:00 that day. On the Great Barrier Reef. This was momentous because I’d been looking forward to this even before leaving Canada and also because it was our last big excursion as a group. Of two.

First, we unloaded our stuff in our beach house. Which is quite an amazing little place. A huge living room with leather sofas, some big round dinner tables, patios, adjoining rooms with separate bathrooms, and a sizeable kitchen. The guy who ran the place gave us a bit of talk and scared most of the crew about swimming by telling them things like there were marine stingers that couldn’t be seen or even felt and 20 minutes after being stung you’d go into shock and if there weren’t an ambulance and paramedics nearby, you were dead. Completely bogus, as we later confirmed. After his spiel and unpacking, Anthony and I set off along the paving stone path toward the dive shop, got our gear, and set off. Now, without sounding disappointed, because it was a pretty sweet dive, it wasn’t exactly the reef. Keppel is part of the reef, but it’s not really the part you go to see or hear so much about. Still, we saw some really cool stuff. Stingrays by the barrel full (including a blue spotted lagoon ray), a sucker fish (it looks like a shark because it has fins), a puffer, and tonnes of other fish. Plus lots of coral and so on. It was my first dive without anyone there leading the way. Pete, the dive instructor, basically told us the route to follow and Anthony, myself, and a German lady set off.

After the dive, we came back to the beach house and made lunch, which for me was three pieces of corn on the cob. The weather was pretty cloudy outside and occasionally rainy, which we’ve seen a lot of here – I guess when you kill a massive spider in Australia you get a lot of rain. Anyway, I went to use their internet quickly but their machines were having problems connecting, so I covertly connected my laptop and got through no problem. At $10/hr, covertly is really the only way to use the internet as far as I’m concerned. I’m so behind in my updates, though. I just finished Queenstown photos and uploaded all my Routeburn ones (plus the affiliated blog posts) and went back to our place. The bar has happy hour from 6-7, so most of us went there and got quite happy and then we went back for dinner and hung around the house for the night, attempting handstands and gymnastic feats that would probably have been easier without any alcohol. We stayed up just past midnight to wish Meredith a happy birthday and then fell quite soundly asleep.

Since Anthony and I had gone diving already, the rest of the group did their introductory dive for a good part of the next day. Which meant the place was kind of quiet and relaxing. The weather? Yup, still rain. I finished my secret kiwi stuff, which is one of those books you can make in iPhoto for Amie and then Katie and I went snorkeling around part of the island. We saw some cool things even though the visibility was pretty poor, like a giant sea turtle and a ridiculous amount of stingrays. I swam right over one at a depth of maybe three feet, which was close enough to scare it out of the sand and scare me out of my shorts. Katie heard me yelp underwater from a fair distance back. We stopped for a little rest on Monkey Beach before heading around the next cove and seeing some pretty big fish hanging around in the reef and finally were a little tired and made our way back home.

It was Meredith’s birthday, so most everyone went out for happy hour again where we discovered it was going to be karaoke later in the evening. Chelsea says karaoke the way that Frank Black does in Calistan, and that amused me, if you’ll excuse the random thought. Now, Brad and I have been vowing that we were going to do some karaoke before heading home and so the night was sealed. We went back home for dinner, which was baked potatoes with lots of fixings, and went back to karaoke. After some more drinks, Lana and Mer set the stage by heading up and singing Like A Prayer (Madonna) and then Brad and I did Daydream Believer (The Monkeys). It was pretty fun actually, but I guess only our group applauded us so I guess it wasn’t exactly amazing. Though, in honesty, I thought we did pretty well up there. Maybe I’ll check the video later and discover that is patently untrue. We all spent the night at the bar and unfortunately the karaoke ended pretty darned early, but we did get everyone up dancing and had a lot of fun. And hey, it was productive too. I discovered they have laundry facilities here. I don’t have to run around smelling of Fraser Island sweat. But I will.

Our final morning fully united and on Keppel brought the sun. It was a beautiful day with clouds hovering on the horizon in all directions but being held at bay by some merciful higher power or else some unusual winds. Regardless, we were grateful and definitely hit the beach to take advantage of it. Well, those of us not in class at any rate. Katie and I did another smaller snorkel adventure but the visibility was even worse than the day prior. Chris, Katie, Amie, and I laid on the beach and were joined by the rest of the group as they finished some tests. I took a break from the sun as I was starting to feel scorched and did a little internet stuff before returning at 3:30 to hit the banana boats. Dave threw that in for us because we’d had such shoddy weather in Australia, and it was pretty fun. I didn’t fall off though I was hanging by a handle at one point, and others most definitely did, whether with help or without.

We spent some more time hanging out on the beach and relaxing and when the sun was coming down on the horizon, it was time for some champagne on the beach at sunset. We went down to the beach and toasted and drank some more. Between Brad, Anthony, and myself we finished two bottles. Chris’ arm was really sore and he took some Excedrin which meant more for us and no alcohol for him. This would prove to be our undoing. As we sat enjoying each others’ company on our last night all together, and what is certainly one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve seen, a few dolphins swam up basically to shore. Were they our friends from New Zealand to see us off? For the sake of entertaining fiction I will say yes, but in any case, it was the cherry on top of the proverbial dessert that was our last day in Keppel. We tried to make a pyramid, took lots of silhouette photos, and then headed back for another final-night ritual: our secret kiwi exchange.

For those who’ve just tuned in, the secret kiwi is basically a random draw where you make a gift for someone that, I suppose, embodies their journey or something about them. Lana, who eats almost everything with chopsticks for some reason, got some homemade and wood-burned ones from Dustin, for example. Chris got a poster for his collection and Anthony also got a painting of his highlights. He gave Rachel, our resident coke fiend, a Coke bottle filled with sand and decorated in shells. Brad got two paintings from Lauren, Kristin got a box with shells from all over and some cool quotes painted on the side, Alli got a handmade picture frame, and, well, I could go on and on. For my part, Albrie is sending me a video of everyone leaving me a message. I can only imagine what they’ll be saying. As unappointed group photographer, I decided to give Amie a photo book that I think turned out really cool. I may make one for myself. We went through highlights of the trip and I, for some reason, felt it my duty to go through my highlight of each person. Which took a long time but I like to think, true or not, that it was an uplifter.

Then we headed out to the beach to look at the stars, which were pretty amazing that night, too. Of course. It was a perfect night. I guess I was trying to attract the dolphins or sharks or something, because I went and fed the fish. When I came back, we looked some more at the stars and Brad was passed out on the sand – this was at 10:00 - and was dragged back to the beach house by Alli and Mer. The rest of us went out to the bar and I definitely drank some water. A lot of it, largely thanks to Chris. I was getting pretty tired myself, so I wove my way home and, trying to feed the dolphins once more, fell asleep.

Keppel Photos

Salt-Free Caribbean: A Sharking Tale

Monday, March 12, 2007

We had an uneventful but long drive out of Byron Bay the next morning, stopping only to pick up to 4WD trucks for our upcoming trek to Fraser Island. When we finally arrived at our campsite, it was pouring rain. Luckily, it had just started, so there were still some dry spots under trees. Everyone set up their tents in the kitchen shelter – it looked like some sort of Red Cross shantytown – and then we ran our tents out to a spot we’d picked out. As usual, I was camping with Anthony and he picked us a good locale. We had a bit of a tight timetable as we had to, after arriving and setting up in the rain, get groceries for the next couple days before the store closed and also get dinner from the restaurant across from our campsite. We managed to do both, however, and the rain had stopped by the time we got back to camp and went out to dinner. The rain didn’t seem to be getting anyone down, which is perhaps an indicator that we’ve all gotten a little more mature or at least less whiny. Or so one might think except that everyone was on edge because of an argument about taking the trailer vs. the van we’d had which had culminated in a bit of an argument between Norm and myself. Ah, it was going to be an interesting few days.

Luckily, it didn’t take him too long to get over it and he did apologize, so when we left the next day for Fraser Island, everything was back to normal, albeit a little awkward still. Fraser Island, incidentally, is an island made entirely of sand from many, many years of longshore currents depositing it there. Somehow, the island has become vegetated and contains fresh water lakes. Our first stop when we got off the ferry was one of these lakes, Lake Mackenzie. It was unbelievable. Pristine and crystal clear water that looked like it belonged in the Caribbean or something, shimmering white sand, palm trees, and fresh water. It may well have been the perfect beach. Added to the beauty of this lake wsa that the weather finally was perfect, sunny and hot, but not too hot. We all loved it and fooled around in the water for a long time. Some swam to the other side (I got a bit past halfway with my snorkel set on and had enough), and all of us partook in tossing each other as high or far as we could and trying to flip. Chelsea introduced Lana and Amanda to the rather disgusting act of eating sand and fun was had by all.

Speaking of fun, I should mention driving around the island itself. As it’s all sand, 4x4s are required and we bounced around in the back and had a great time. We got stuck once which was interesting, but apparently the differential hadn’t been locked. Still, we made wooden dams under the tires for traction and I like to think that they played a part. In addition to bumping up and down small trails bordered by trees, we took it out on the open beach and zipped across the surf’s edge at 80kph. We swam on East Beach and did some body surfing on some pretty tough surf – one of the waves jammed me into the ocean floor and I twisted my knee enough that bending it became painful. Brad thought he saw something that looked like a shark in the water, though none of us really believed him because he didn’t run out screaming. Still, it was a lot of fun and I caught some sweet waves that brought me all the way in. We also drove by an old shipwreck that had washed up and was pretty cool to see.

We went back to Lake Mackenzie and swam until after sunset and then took off to find our campsite. It took a bit of looking, but we found a spot and set up. In the ladies’ washroom, there were some massive bigger-than-my-hand spiders in the rafters that we took turns looking at. Apparently they were huntsmen and not poisonous, but I still wouldn’t want them crawling on me. I could only imagine Nicole encountering them. She’d better stay out of Queensland if she ever comes here. Katie and I wound up talking to a couple from Ottawa that were really nice and they informed us that the beach we’d swam on earlier was one of the most shark-infested in all of Australia, which basically means in the whole world. So Brad probably did see a shark, but all of us still have our limbs and/or blood, so we’re okay.

The next morning we woke early and went to Boolabera Lake, which was really nice but not as nice as Lake Mackenzie. We had a good long swim there and the sun was burning – it was definitely mid 30s. After a long time there, we went and grabbed a snack (mostly ice cream) in King Fisher Bay and hung around for a while before catching the ferry back to Hervey Bay. All our stuff was intact and we went out to dinner and met Norm’s son and girlfriend. After dinner and some drinks we wanted… some more drinks. Dustin was the driver and he drove us around until we found another bar and hung out there for a while before going back home. We walked around the beach and the clouds and moon were really cool though the beach was a bit ominous after learning about all the sharks on Fraser. It was not long after that we were waking up to head up to Yeppoon for our final city stop before heading to Great Keppel Island and concluding the Pacific Challenge. Coming soon to a blog near you…

Fraser Island Photos

Admirin' Byron

Thursday, March 08, 2007

We came into the fabled town of Byron Bay only five hours after leaving. In that four hours we stopped for lunch and I bought a scratch and win ticket which I also won at. I’ll take that as a good sign for Australia. Norm’s friend, Myra, who has joined us on the trip, created quite a scene as map hoarder this morning and it was somewhat amazing to me that someone so old could act so young. Still, we got to our hostel and the morning’s drama had long faded, and once we saw our accommodations, they were utterly forgotten. We have five cabins very close to the beach, tennis courts, a full kitchen, and all sorts of other good stuff. There are two rooms and, since it was Anthony’s birthday, we gave him the room with the queen bed while we took the bunks. Then we ran down to the beach to see what we had in store and were quite pleased to discover lots of big surf, gold sand, and well, we got excited. After some deliberations with the man of the hour, it was decided that we would hang out in our newfound paradise for the night and make a nice homemade dinner of steak and salad – given that we hadn’t had a good meat-centric meal in a while, this was an exciting proposition. We set off to begin what would definitely be a memorable night on the trip.

After grabbing our groceries, we came back home and since we weren’t quite hungry yet, we opened up a beer and watched some Simpsons before starting on dinner. Then we got started. Brad had some sort of cream reduction with rosemary and thyme that he wanted to do for our t-bones, and I did the salad, garlic toast, and cooked the steaks. Unfortunately, the grill was hot and our steaks a little thin, so we wound up eating medium steaks instead of medium rare, but I thought it was all delicious. A very tasty dinner like I’ve only had twice on this trip: the rack of lamb in Christchurch and the steak in Akaroa. We’d not even finished dinner when the other half of the birthday celebration, for Kristen, came into the cabin and the party really begun. They handed out streamers and noise makers (which we would later come to rue) and other implements of destruction. We found ourselves singing along to songs and playing our kazoos like trumpets for Sixteen Military Wives among other songs (like Final Countdown). We decided we were going to go down to the beach, which was probably a bad idea anyway, but we set off. No sooner had we started down the path then it started pouring rain. Hard. By the time we got to the beach, it was actually stinging us, and we called Anthony back and ran for shelter. Take it as a sign, swimming was not wise.

Not soon after we came back it let up and others came wanting to swim, including Anthony. He promised he’d not go beyond knee-depth and others went with him, but I figured I’d take my warning properly. Pretty much everyone went except for Katie and I, and we spent the ten minutes or so sitting on the deck and debating going or not. Then Anthony and Brad came back, Brad at least partially covering himself and Anthony missing a pair of trunks that the rising tide swept away with his modesty. He had no problem standing there and trying to convince us that we needed to go. They went away and soon the whole group was back to convince us and we caved in and went down to the beach. Pretty much everyone that wasn’t in town went skinny dipping, but I certainly wasn’t feeling like it and so I stood at the edge of the beach where I couldn’t really make out anyone and watched. I kind of wish I didn’t care, but I do so what choice did I have?

As a reward for my discretion, the owner of beach houses we’re staying in came onto the beach with a flashlight and was very upset at the noise (likely from before in the cabins, though we couldn’t hear partying in other cabins at all) and that other guests had seen a couple guys running around naked. He was all but ready to kick our group out of the place, which seemed a bit excessive as we were far from any cabins and not noisy enough to be heard anymore, but it was not the time nor my place to argue. I tried my best to calm him down (thankfully at this point I was clothed) and tell him it was not our wish to cause anyone displeasure and also that most of the people were clothed and swimming. I don’t remember what else was said, just that he said he’d be talking to us in the morning and I told him we’d stop everything now. And so we called everyone in and retired to our cabins for a more clothed atmosphere though the drinks didn’t stop at this point. Kristen was punching anyone that would let her, Chris went into the shower and was forgotten, and who knows where everyone else went. Heck, we forgot about Chris in the shower until an hour later when we discovered him asleep on the shower floor with hot water raining down on him. Waiting for rain, he said. We sent him to bed and decided to do so ourselves.

The next day we went into town early to use a little bit of the excessively slow internet. I got a few photos uploaded and went to the beach to watch some people surf hoping to see our group. I was in the afternoon class, so I grabbed a quick muffin and went to my class. It was my first time surfing and I was very excited to try it out. With a little bit of a lesson on how to get up, when to paddle, and so on, we were out in the water. I got on my board and the instructor told me what to do and helped me catch the first wave. And, on my very first attempt, I stood up and rode the wave almost all the way in! It was incredible to me. Unfortunately, all subsequent attempts were not as successful, but it was ‘heaps’ of fun and I did catch one really sweet wave which, sadly, I botched by putting to much weight on the front of my board and nose-diving in. My arms were tired but I was still craving lots more when it was time to call it quits. Maybe tomorrow.

We came back home and cleaned up the mess from the night prior and our ridiculous ant infestation. They first attacked when Anthony missed the toilet the night prior calling for Ruth, and now they were all over our counter. We sprayed the crap out of them and got the place looking like a cabin instead of a dorm, had some dinner, watched some shows, and just hung out and chatted until about 1AM.

Our final day in Byron some of the group had to wake up early for class, in part because some of the group wanted to go to Nimben (sp?). We, on the other hand, were going to stay behind and learn to trapeze. I called the place and set us up for some lessons at 2:00 and then we went into town and hung around until 1:30, using the internet and getting some errands done. I drove the bus for my first time today and did okay, but it’s a wider vehicle and second gear doesn’t particularly shift easily and I got stuck between gears in the middle of a traffic circle. Sort of funny, actually. We got to the trapeze place and after a bit of a wait passed by watching some Cirque du Soleil, we were on the low bar learning the basics of what we’d be doing some 8m above the ground. The plan was to basically start off with dangling from the knees, then learn to backflip down to the net below, then combine the dangling with a catch from someone else on the trapeze, and finally combine the catch with a backflip down. It was scary that first time crawling up the rickety ladder and leaping out onto the trapeze but definitely a lot of fun and while I managed to do most of those things, I failed in my one shot at being caught and then backflipping down – I wasn’t ready and just dropped instead. I sliced my toe landing on the net on my feet since it was already cracked.

With some time left, Brad, Chris, and I rented some surfboards and went to surf on the beach. We had little to no success getting any surf, though and naturally with us having surf boards, the sky clouded and was looking intimidating again. I was also stung by something in the water, maybe a small jellyfish or something. It puffed up and, well, stung, but wasn’t that bad. Just a nuisance. After unloading our boards on the bus, I went to help Katie load groceries and a girl walked by that looked very much like Meagan from Saskatoon. I knew she was supposed to be in Australia as well, but I thought the odds were definitely against running into her here s randomly. Still, the girls convinced me I should go find out and I did and sure enough… what are the odds, really? I find it difficult to contemplate.

We returned to our place and had dinner as the rain began, and hung around socializing. Jess, a girl I know that is living near Byron Bay, called me and came by the house for a little while and we caught up. So weird to just see someone and start chatting about the last year from where we left off in Budapest. She was gone almost before she got there, though, and we had a few slideshows and chatted in our living room before closing our eyes on Byron Bay for good.

View Byron Bay Photos