Change of scenery redux

Trip Start Nov 29, 2005
Trip End Nov 21, 2006

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Flag of Australia  ,
Tuesday, January 17, 2006

I've mentioned I don't know how many times in this spot that one of the best aspects of traveling is all the different, interesting people you meet. While I meant the great people I've spent whole days and nights talking (and drinking) with, I now realize the "different" part can go both ways. For example, I was walking through Port Macquarie at 1:30 in the morning with all my things fresh from a 3 and a half hour bus ride when I was approached by a guy who was friendly and all, but at the end of our conversation gave the most unusual request I've ever heard. If I ever encounter an indigenous woman (and I can only assume he meant US indigenous, not Aborigine) wearing native clothing, I'm supposed to give her a big ol' hug and say that it's from Matt McCurran from Port Macquarie, Australia.

Then there's the 42 year-old Dutch guy who I met the next night at the hostel. Unbeknownst to me, there's an international hostel bylaw that states every hostel must have a token psychotic old guy, and this one was the class of them all. For one thing, the guy keeps nine boxes of goon handy at all times. For all you non-math majors, that's 36 liters of wine. Should the apocalypse come, he'll be having the best party. Anyway, I met crazy Dutch guy (no one actually knows his name, the only time he said something coherent on the subject he said his name was Constant, as in "Constant Drunk") while having a quiet conversation with two Australian guys from Melbourne, Guy and Andrew, and two English girls, Sofie and Katie. Any hopes of quiet were dashed the second this guy sat down with us, well on his way through his first box of goon. At first it was hilarious -- everything he said was ridiculous and as he finished off every sentence, he'd trail off before wagging his tongue, making weird noises and then finishing it off with a loud cackle of a laugh that one can only possess if they are a few shrimps short of a barbie. The freakiest thing of all, when he laughs, he moves his head all over the place, yet keeps his eyes locked on yours. The first time he did it to me, Andrew leaned over and said "Terrified yet?" After a while, the whole thing got sort of old and we tried to retreat to my room to play cards. He spotted us and trailed us in, fresh box of goon in hand. As much of that wine wound up on the floor as it did in his mouth and we were unable to complete a single game because every time we started a new one he'd just pick up the cards and fail miserably at a card trick. One highlight though, when Andrew asked him his name, he said in a tone that suggested "C'mon guys, I've told you a million times," something that I believe closely resembles -- and my spelling of Dutch names can be a little off -- "Rujuuifdjnkajdkfdjshjdf von DHFASJFasdfjdkasfhjg asdfdk." As a fitting conclusion to the evening, we found him passed out sitting at one of the picnic benches, using the still full box of goon as his pillow. The joys of traveling.

Anyway, onto what I've been up to since I last posted (which I acknowledge was quite a while ago). As my final activity in Sydney, I watched the National Championship game with Craig from Canada and Marco from France. Craig and I used the game to try to teach Marco the sport. Because the game was so good, Marco wound up getting into it as much as all the other Americans and Canadians who were at the bar and understood (more or less) exactly what was going on. Just goes to show, all those European punks who say it's an idiotic sport just don't know what they're talking about. Anyone who thinks cricket is a class sport clearly has no credibility on the subject.

After the game I parted ways with the Jolly Swagman crowd that I had spent the last three weeks with to work my way up the coast toward Brisbane. My first stop was Newcastle, a college town three hours north of Sydney, and frankly I was disappointed. The town wasn't all that exciting and the beach was closed due to rough tide (which I suppose isn't the towns fault). Worry not though, I still managed to pick up a doozy of a sunburn on my shoulders, and as you might imagine, backpacking with roasted shoulders isn't the most pleasant experience. My one night in Newcastle started off with a few rousing games of kings with Canadian girls Heidi and Talia and two English guys, Kevin and Sam. We were all keen to go out on the town but a class five typhoon hit the town to put the keibosh on that idea. Unfortunately, we didn't want to just call it a night at 11 when the common room shut and apparently our only option was to take the party to the local Mobil station. Getting drunk at a gas station -- just like the sketchy teenage years I never had.

While I was in Newcastle I also had the opportunity to play cricket with a bunch of other backpackers. I had more fun than I expected, but it did nothing to disprove the fact that it's a stupid sport. For one thing, you can hit the ball backwards, and that's considered a good play. Also, if you have a shit hit, you can simply say "I care not for that" and choose not to run. Imagine if they had that rule in baseball, A-Rod might even be a .200 hitter in October.

After Newcastle I moved onto Port Macquarie, an underrated town that many people choose to skip. Unfortunately, I couldn't enjoy Macquarie's selection of pristine beaches because I was too sunburnt to even consider taking off my shirt. Instead I spent the day walking around in the unforgiving heat. Port Macquarie has a beautiful beach side walkway where pelicans are flying all over the place, and if you're lucky, you can spot dolphins in the sea. The walkway is lined with large rocks that everybody paints with their own messages and designs, a real unique aspect of the beach front. Port Macquarie also has a koala hospital that offers informative tours about koalas and the numerous and diverse ways that they can get themselves in trouble. It was an interesting tour, but wouldn't be suggested if all you want to do is walk up to a yard and say, "Awww, what a cute koala."

After just one full day in Macquarie, I moved onto Coffs Harbour, a much more popular backpacker destination, although I thought the beaches were much nicer in Port Macquarie and the Coffs town wasn't nearly as accessible. This is not to say that Coffs wasn't nice, I just didn't buy into all the hype. My days at Coffs consisted of bumming around the beach and/or the pool (it's really the only point of going up the East Coast). The nights weren't all that special except for the final one. It was intended to be a quiet night (the worst ones always are) in which I sat around till about 11 playing shithead -- the backpacker card game of choice -- with a few English girls I had been running into throughout my East Coast swing. But when they called it a night, my roommate Paul, who was a great guy but without a doubt the world's WORST snorer (imagine a chainsaw getting revved up -- at one point after waking me up my groggy impression was that he was intentionally being as loud as possible, like it was a contest) invited me to play a drinking game with dice called Three man. Three man is an absolutely lethal game when you're three man, which I was since I was the new player to the game. Sparing the details of why I had to drink, I wound up powering through seven mugs of goon in the first five minutes of action. By about 2 everyone had the brilliant idea that the next logical step was to all jump in the pool (the first of two such nights I've now had in the last week). We held the world's worst game of volleyball until the police showed up to put an end to our romp because we were being too loud (which we must've been if they could hear us from the street).

With my final day in Coffs before heading up to Byron Bay, I walked with Katie and Sofie and a couple of the girls from the previous nights round of shithead to what Coffs is famous for -- a big banana. On the way up to Byron we also passed the big prawn, or what I like to call the big oxymoron. Quick aside -- Australia has big "stuff" scattered throughout the country. Why, I don't know, but what I've learned after six months in this country is not to ask questions, just smile and nod. Anyway, I was expecting to clear a turn in the road to see this huge banana sticking into the sky, making the Washington Monument look like a millimeter tweeter. Needless to say, I was pretty disappointed. The thing was, at best, 20 feet long and laid on its side in the middle of a tourist trap center. If it weren't free I would've demanded my money back.

After that crushing moment, it was on to Byron, the main reason I went on my East Coast swing as opposed to just turning south from Sydney to go to Tasmania. I can say this much, half a day into my stay I had already decided that it is well worthwhile. Byron is backpacker heaven, with restaurants and nightlife everywhere. The great thing about it as well is it's where everybody heading up the coast slows down for five or six days, so everybody I've been meeting along the coast is all here (I'd been bumping into the same people before Byron, but not at this rate). I went out my first night in Byron, and it was the first time since I was in Chapel Hill that I went out and expected to run into people at the bar. Maybe more important than the nightlife, the beaches at Byron are spectacular. The sand is smooth and clean, the ocean has great but not overpowering waves and the water is crystal clear. Byron also sports a lighthouse walk where you can go to the most eastern spot in all of Australia and excellent lookouts from the lighthouse. I walked up the other day with my English roommate Marie and spent about 20 minutes watching a large pod of dolphins playing below us. I'm going to have a tough time tearing myself from the place, especially since it's gone the longest way toward getting me tanned since I was about 12. It's always hard to say goodbye.
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