Trip Start Dec 03, 2004
85Trip End Nov 31, 2005
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Backpackers have a little game they play when they first meet. You have to ask the standard question, and you can do it before you ask someone's name; in fact, I've asked this and been asked in return by lots of people whose names I never learned.
"Where have you been so far?"
Every now and then the ideal thing happens: your eyes connect and you both laugh, because you're both so tired of this question.
"Don't you hate asking that?" the other person will say.
"Not as much as I hate answering it," you reply. Because not only are you tired of condensed, limp versions of other people's lives, you're tired of your own. It rings false in your ears and you practice ways of spitting it out faster.
I can do it in a breath: flew into Sydney two months New South Wales bit Blue Mountains up near Coffs Harbour volunteering conservation Sydney couple weeks flew to Perth south to Busselton, north of Margaret River, picked grapes packed grapes cleaned supermarket floors two and a half months got cold road trip north yup been to Exmouth working here at a hotel, breathe for a second, and you?
Then you hash through future plans for a bit and if that's all you have to say to each other, you move on and at least you've covered those basics. You might meet again a few days later and struggle to remember: "Now, is this the guy who spent two months living out of his car in Fremantle because he met some girl, or is this the guy who biked across the Nullarbor because he's a total loony? Oh, no, this is the guy who took the bus up the east coast and has just come down from Broome and is totally, insanely broke."
If you actually feel like you might have something in common with the person, there's more questions that are actually more meaningful that you might ask them.
"Where did you have the most fun?"
Definitely in Busselton. So much fun that I've got scars to prove it.
"Where do you wish you could've spent more time?"
Denham, definitely. Maybe Perth. I could've used more sunshine during my time in the Blue Mountains, but you can't have everything. This random town, Woy Woy, that I saw on the train from Newcastle to Sydney that I thought was the most beautiful place in the world.
"Where do you regret not going or wish you were going to go?"
I regret not seeing more of the south west of WA when I was down there. I should've found the time to see Albany, Nannup, Walpole, Pemberton, to do more of my proposed biking trip. But at the same time I would ferociously defend every second I spent in Busselton as unregrettable, so it's not a regret that's going to eat away at me.
I wish that somewhere in my trip there was time to get to Daintree National Park, north of Cairns, supposedly the best patch of rainforest in Australia, but it'll have to hold until another trip.
The moment I knew I was going to be really, really sick on the whale shark boat.
A moment in Bunbury, before the hostel owner suggested I go to Busselton and the people in Donnybrook were telling me that there wouldn't be work quite yet, when I didn't know what to do with myself and just lay on a bed, in the middle of the afternoon, lonely and uncertain. The moment passed and I suddenly sat up, full of energy and ridiculously happy, and went off for a walk. I maintain that my future self somehow sent a sense of how happy I would soon be back to me, because there was no reason at all for the sudden change. But the moment before that was dark.
The first time I had to say goodbye to really good new friends, in NSW saying 'bye to Donny and John.
Coming back from a lonely day in Sydney on my third day to find a girl in my room. Hearing her say, "I'm alone, too. Let's be friends."
Coming out of the cottage in Tuckers Rocks, NSW, to discover that we were standing between a meteor shower and a lightning storm over the sea, and at the same moment, seeing the Southern Cross for the first time.
Jumping off the first waterfall in the Empress Canyon in the Blue Mountains, into the inky black of the water ten feet below.
Putting my snorkelled-up face into the water for the first time and seeing a whole new world.
Walking into a small yellow house in Busselton and finding a girl who said, "I'm alone, too. Let's be friends."
Jumping off the Busselton jetty for the first time, at sunset.
Getting tossed, fully clothed, in the middle of the night, into a pool at a motel in Busselton, and coming up shrieking to say, "I hate you two, you know that, don't you?"
Skinny-dipping at two in the morning, beside the little jetty, Busselton. "This is the coldest water I have ever felt, in my entire life." "Swim harder."
Catching my first fish.
The desert hot springs, times two, in Denham.
Kayaking into a reef lagoon on the Ningaloo Reef. Sunset over the reef.
"Where did you call home?"
A little house in Port Macquarie felt that way.
My caravan, in Busselton, definitely home.
My room here, in Port Hedland, it's home too.
I did a summation when I left New South Wales of beds, cars, kilometres. I think there's been too many to count over here, so this is my summation of the trip this far. If you ever go backpacking, stand brave and carry a little question: "Where've you been so far?" Much as we make faces about it, there's still a big element of joy in being able to say, "I've been there."