Thursday, November 29, 2012

Rainbow Beach.

I left Noosa in the afternoon and caught a bus up to Rainbow Beach. We were meant to be there the day before to have a mandatory safety meeting so I came up the night before my packaged-trip started so I would be there in time. It was a really odd feeling waiting for the bus from Noosa to Rainbow Beach because you don't know who might possibly be on your trip with you and could be a potential friend, but sitting there quietly and separately, you are strangers. It's very awkward. You know that who ever is getting off the bus at Rainbow Beach is only going there to go on a Fraser Island tour, but for that entire ride, you sit there wondering if you will look back on the time when you didn't speak and laugh about it together. (ok to be fair, looking back on it, I can remember two pairs of friends sitting at the bus stop with me who I am now friends with, but I never mentioned it and we never laughed about it). 
Rainbow Beach is a really small town. There are three hostels lined up along side of one another right in front where the bus drops you off. The town by the ocean has a couple small cafes, a FoodWorks, some camping stores, an ice cream shop, some surf and swim shops, and a surf club. If you walk in the opposite direction along the main street, passed the town swimming pool, and continue until you feel like you are walking in the wrong direction, you will eventually reach a small IGA, fish n' chips bar, and a bottle shop. That's really it. So, when I arrived at 7pm and checked in with the majority of everyone else off the bus and they had no confirmation of my booking, despite the fact that I had paid a deposit and had a confirmation code and email, I honestly thought I would end up sleeping on the beach. During after-hours, check-in was the same as the hostel bar and there was only one girl working. She wasn't particularly quick or helpful and definitely didn't seem too concerned when I didn't have a room despite my confirmations. After everyone else checked in, and she served some beers, she finally went back and found a key for me. She said she wasn't sure if there was a bed available but it was an extra key so there might be. She didn't know, didn't care. So I took the key, found the room, asked if the spare bed was taken, and claimed it as my own. I was then of course worried that maybe my Fraser Island trip wasn't confirmed either, of which I had paid for in cash back in Byron Bay. 

The room was a complete disaster with clothes everywhere like they had been there for months and random boys were coming in and out of the room to use the shower. Two girls from Dublin started chatting from me ("Are you from Donegal?" they asked - woo!) and I went to sit with them in the common area to listen to the live music. They had just come from South America where they did a bit of charity work and were really friendly and easy to talk to. Once again, I felt lucky for having met people so easily and not feel alone and awkward, but at the same time, they were leaving for their Fraser Island the next morning and I didn't know if I would see them again. It's weird having conversations with people, getting to know them and spending time with them, but not knowing if you'll see them again. The hostel was filled with people who like me, had arrived a day early, were leaving for the Fraser Island trip the next day, or were really tan and had just come back from their trip. There were a few who weren't going to Fraser at all and am not entirely sure why they chose Rainbow Beach as a stop off, but again, it was a weird feeling not knowing who would be in your group and who you would be sharing the few days with. The live music was good, if not too loud, and happily went to bed early. 

The next morning, since most people in the room were up early to leave on their trip and packing up all their bags (why not the night before?), I too was up early. Partly concerned that my trip wouldn't be booked, but mostly because the people were so loud. I wondered over to check out Rainbow Beach, and it was one of those beaches that makes you smile and want to just stare at it. It was massively long beach and despite the pounding heat, I was ready for a nice long walk. 

On the sides of the beach were huge sloping sand dunes. It would have been really fun to go sand boarding down them.
I looked left, behind me....
and to the right in front of me, and I really felt as though I had the entire beach to myself.
Except for the fact that there were speeds signs and every so often a 4X4 would go galloping by.
I walked for what seemed like ages, but barely progressing down the remote lengthy beach. I chatted on the phone with John and Sheelagh as they tried to see where I was on Google Earth. I splashed in and out the water, the clear water cooling my feet. I was tickled pink with the sun and at peace being on my own on this immaculate beach.
 Except I'm pretty sure this is dangerous...

Later, I went back to shower and two new guys came into my room. They were attractive and Scottish and right away invited me to sit with them at their table during our pre-trip safety meeting. We were broken into our groups, and it seemed like I might actually be in a group with them, but again, my name was not called despite the confirmation this morning. I asked if I could be in a group with the two guys from the room, but she said their car was full. So I sat with a table with about 5 people, and thought, well that sucks. Then she went through the groups confirming the dietary requirements and got to a table that was missing a Ryan Shauna. They thought my name was Ryan which is why I didn't recognise my name being called and for all the confusion. So I actually had a group! I moved tables again to a group with 2 Danish girls, 2 German girls, a Canadian, and a couple from England. We had to watch this terrible video on how to drive a 4X4, what to do if you get stuck in the sand, beware of dingos, look after the water's purity, and campsite rules. It went on forever, was corny and outdated, and then repeated all the rules all over again. The Scottish guy's group was actually missing someone, so I could have moved into their car, but, my group seemed nice enough and I thought, it's only 2 nights, it will be over quickly if it's really terrible! 

I went to pack my small bag that we were allowed to bring so I wouldn't be that loud person in the morning, not really sure what to bring or what to expect, and then the Scottish guys and I shared a few beers, but we couldn't really be bothered. I was already exhausted so we went to bed early as we knew we had to be up to meet at 7am for the start of our 3 day, 2 night island adventure .....!! 


After Surfers Paradise, I continued heading up the east coast. The only plans I had were Fraser Island and the Whitsundays which I had booked with the travel agent in Byron Bay. I had talked to two different travel agents, trying to compare the best prices they could offer but in the end I felt a bit rushed and just decided that I needed to book something and it would all work out. I think I chose a good deal,  as she said she gave me a couple discounts and wouldn't charge me for her commission - neither which I know are true or not - but at least I had two of the things I wanted to see and do booked and set as a plan. I say I felt pressured as it was a lot of money upfront and I had originally intended to stop off between Fraser Island and Airlie to see Ted, but the way the agent booked it left no time to do so. But it is what it is, and everything happens for a reason. 
The thing about trying to book the right trip is that you never know what you're going to expect or who you're going to meet, so when trying to pick the "best" one, it's really out of your control. You'll end up on the one you're meant to be on. 
I loved the flexibility I had to work my way up the coast knowing only when I had to be in Rainbow Beach. I had time to stay longer in Surfers Paradise and I had time to stop off in Noosa again to visit mum's cousin. I had only met her for lunch when mum and I went up for a day trip from Brisbane, but she was very nice and welcomed me to come back whenever I wanted. Noosa is a really pretty town so I decided to go back there to see it again and break up the trip. Plus, another free night would be inviting! However, a bit of miscommunication led me to having booked a bus to Noosa and having not heard back from her, I wasn't sure if I would have a place to stay or not. So, that morning, I called up a hostel that was recommended to me and the only room they had available was a double en-suite room. Desperate not to be stuck, I took it. Of course, later in the day I heard back from her and she said she'd love for me to stay in their home. But to be honest, even though I was paying more for the room when I was really stopping in Noosa for a friendly face and a place to stay, I was looking forward to having a room to myself for the night. And when I arrived, it was more than I expected. It was like a proper hotel room! Large TV, my own shower with towels and a toilet, a big double bed, free wi fi (that I couldn't connect to) and free breakfast in the morning. I was so delighted I stayed up late watching movies and unpacking my stuff, as I do. I was invited over for dinner though, so I did have a delicious home cooked meal AND dessert AND some reputable wine :) 
The next morning, she picked me up from the hostel and took me for some decent coffee and to her favourite beach. We sat on the beach and she told me about the time she was in Sri Lanka when the tsunami hit. It was a ridiculously life-changing experience for her and eye-opening for me. Sure you know that anything could happen at any time and you may or may not have a chance of surviving against the force of nature, but she taught me - especially because I'm traveling alone - to always be aware of your surroundings, to know your escape point, and when in doubt run to the highest point.
If you look closely, you will see the most incredible houses in Noosa. The one above in the middle has an infinity pool overlooking the beach and sea, and behind it there was an infinity pool with glass walls. Took this picture for Jess.

Even though I paid four times for my  room because it was a last minute resort - ha literally - I really enjoyed the familiar company, the home cooked meal, being taken out for a I-don't-want-to-stop-eating Thai lunch, and seeing a bit of an Australian perspective with a local. Even though I had only met mum's cousin briefly once before, isn't that what family, Facebook, CouchSurfing, and traveling is all about - to keep in touch and have a place to stay or a friend when needed where ever you are in the world?

As we left her house to go to the bus station, I commented on a gorgeous flame-red tree that nearly canopied the street, saying how pretty it was. She was delighted that I had said so because she thought the same thing every time she passed it, but she has three sons who just moan at her whenever she tries to share the simple sight of a natural bloom of beauty with them. So I think she kinda appreciated the girl time too :)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

What I've Learned From Traveling #1

  • Get divorced so you can spend your alimony on seeing the world
  • Have a guy get in a brawl over you on a plane and get $800 from the airline in compensation
  • Become an airline attendant
  • You don't need so many clothes
  • Don't like this one bc I'm old fashioned but: download books. I'd say actually read a book then pass it on and trade it instead of carrying it but not everyone reads...
  • Don't forget to eat properly.
  • Get a quick dry towel
  • Chuck things you don't need or have never worn; Guaranteed out of sight out of mind
  • Wear the heaviest things so you don't have to carry them ie jeans/sneakers/sweatshirt
  • Are you really going to use those work out clothes???
  • Traveling people are sometimes more genuinely interested in your travels, maybe selfishly looking for suggestions, but more so than other non-travelers who just want to hear that your trip was good.
  • Try not to feel old, everyone deserves to do what they want when they want and everyone's experience will always be different regardless of age. ***
  • You can technically sleep anywhere
  • Pictures are never going to be good enough; capture mental memories
  • Sign up for couch surfing. Then couch surf.
  • Trust your instincts.
  • A tan eliminates the use/need of make up
  • Swim suits double as underwear.
  • Don't buy Costco size things before traveling, you may think you are saving money but they take up room and guaranteed you can buy the same amenities wherever you are.
  • Street food: spinach ricotta rolls and sushi
  • You can eat instant noodles without water. Cheap meals, versatile snacks!
  • One mans garbage might be another mans treasure.
  • Life, as well as nature, is uncertain. You never know when disaster might strike so know your escape route, be aware of your surroundings always, find the highest point but don't live in fear.
  • Experience what you want to do and see but experience to tell stories. "Spring break" is fun but you can do that anywhere in the world 
  • Test yourself; your confidence your comfort zone your standard of living
  • Make sacrifices. But sometimes you just need a visit to the beauty salon to feel normal again.
  • Don't expect some big realization of why you're here.
  • Don't wait for other people.
  • Remember what you're going home to. - little luxuries like riding in a car and a home cooked meal may be absolute luxuries but take advantage of the things abroad you won't have when you leave.
  • People will come in and out of your life. People on similar journeys will look familiar. Some you will Never see again. Some are there for a reason. Some will stick and reappear in your life. Some will become facebook friends to stalk and follow for a couple months and soon to be forgotten and deleted in a few years. Some will become life long friends.
  • Get a local map and find somewhere different to see
  • Everything will work out. Everything will work out.
  • You can always go home.
  • I think I would prefer a wheelie suitcase.
  • Places make nice pictures. People make the best memories.
  • Happiness is only true when shared.
  • Overnight buses double as hostel + accommodation
  • Strangers one day, friends the next: be nice to people - you never know if you'll see them again
  • Just do it.

What I've Learned From Hostel Life #1

  • Buy shower flip flops
  • Everyone feels entitled to the room they paid for: they can make as much noise as they please and come and go whenever
  • A long quiet zip is worse than a quick loud one.
  • Make a curtain with your towel for some bunk bed privacy
  • Best thing: Sleeping cocoon
  • Not everyone knows each other, but everyone is in the same position and same mind set. Even if they have a travel partner they probably welcome a new person to talk to more than ever.
  • A double ensuite room in a hostel is just like a hotel room but heaps cheaper. And you can meet loads of people in the common areas and still have plenty of hotel-like amenities. Consider that next time you travel and think hostels are just for backpackers.
  • Take advantage of the planned daily/nightly activities, even if free BBQ means a slice of white bread and a sausage, but travel trivia could win you a skydive or surf lessons
  • Get used to: "Where are you from?" "Going north or south?" "Traveling or on holiday?"
  • The difference in $1 a night isn't that big of a deal for an "upgrade" aka less dorm beds
  • Feet smell.
  • Girls are not necessarily less messy or cleaner.
  • Couples don't necessarily want to be left alone.
  • You don't have to be friends with everyone
  • It is possible to stay in a hostel without paying.
  • Look out for cake on the walls and goon in the carpet.
  • A confirmation email doesn't guarantee a bed.
  • Eye masks and ear plugs. 
  • Cockroaches = not a very good night's sleep...

The Eclipse.

We were wondering why there were people down on the beach, and this is taken a bit earlier than the actual eclipse, but....nearly.

Mic Comes to Surfers Paradise!

Mic and I were reunited and it was like we never left each other. The laughing ensued. We took advantage of some free wi fi access, were touristy at Hard Rock Cafe, supported Movember, then went to have a bbq with the guys I met in Sydney, then went to have a late night dance party with Paul and his friends. It was really random, but really fun.

 Free food, proper wine, new friends.
 The following day we checked into the QT Hotel and ohmygoodness was that a lapse of luxury! It was very retro, hip, modern, clean, funky. The views were exactly what you would expect from Surfers Paradise, surveying the pool below and overlooking the ocean in front.

view looking out
view looking in.
They even allowed you to make your own fresh lemonade!
 There were price lists amongst the room selling everything that was in the room, from the mini bar to the flip flops to the phone. Anything could be bought. Mic "liked" the hotel on Facebook and wrote, "how much does the air cost in the room, I don't see it on the shop!" They actually responded and said, "we hope you are joking" and she responded that we were having such a good time that we just wanted to bring home the high the hotel was giving us...too funny. It was really hard to leave the room, the full length mirror, the great big comfy bed, the hair dryer, all these things that just seemed so luxurious. And to say goodbye to Mic again. I'm really glad that Mic came up to Surfers Paradise and I'm really glad that I couch surfed with Paul. They both really made me change my mind on the place and will look back on it with fondness rather than just a place I visited. 

Of course vegetarian sushi in Australia has beetroot in it.

the best, cheapest lunch on the go.

Surfers Paradise.

I had to check out of my hostel early and then had to wait till Paul was done with work before I could go over for my first couch surfing! It was really reassuring that I had met him the night before that I felt like I was going to stay with a friend rather than a stranger. And boy did I pick the right couch surfing host - he lives in the Q1 building which is the tallest building in Australia/Southern Hemisphere! Apparently it was the tallest in the world until one in Dubai out-talled it last year and now it is 5th in the world. I couldn't wait to see the views. 
There wasn't a whole lot to do during the day in Surfers Paradise. It seems like a busy place, lots of shops and restaurants so I wandered around the streets looking at the things I couldn't afford to buy, but there isn't much to actually see in Surfers. The beach wasn't one that takes your breath away. There is a small space between the safety flags where you're allowed to swim and that was quite packed as it was really hot out, but there weren't many, if any, surfers in the water. I tried to sit on the beach, but it was so incredibly windy that within 5 minutes I was literally covered in sand and there were dunes building up on one side of me. I was trying to write an email on my ipod but physically could not do it with all the wind-blown sand. I wandered back to the hostel and wondered why there were people there sitting in the courtyard, some playing pool, some laying by the pool, some watching tv and was a bit confused why they were in a hostel in the middle of the day rather than out seeing things, doing stuff. But alas, there was me, doing exactly the same thing. Tired. Waiting. Broke. I wasn't overly impressed with Surfers and was ok with leaving. 

Tall high rises line the shore. 

The Q1 above. 
Sat down and saw him..her...him...highlight of the day!

Later, as Paul and I were lounging, literally couch surfing - HA - laughing ridiculously at Family Guy and I was trying to figure out what and where to go next, I got a message from Mic who was in Coffs Harbour and had a horrible hostel experience and decided to come up to see me in Surfers. Just as I had written off the place, she asked me if I would stay and I said of course, I was so excited to see her again. Because of the hostel attack (not on her) she decided she needed a recovery treat and booked a room in a proper 5-star hotel for Tuesday night. It had two king size beds and invited me to stay with her! There were three guys I met in Sydney who were coming up the following day and had rented an apt for the weekend and said I could stay with them so I had three nights in a row of unpaid for accommodation. I was getting good at this traveling thing! 

Bye Bye Byron, Hello Surfers

It was time to leave again. On the go, onto the next place up the coast. That morning, I had said goodbye to Mic over our first proper breakfast. I was honestly sad to say goodbye, but knew somewhere in the back of my mind that we would keep in touch. It's weird meeting people, getting to know them for a couple days, if even, talking about your past and future plans, sharing laughs and visiting new places together, or maybe just having a chat over a beer or sharing a hostel room, and then having to say goodbye. Maybe you become Facebook friends, maybe you will never see them again. I suppose they each come in and out of your life for a reason, making subtle or substantial impacts, and the ones that are meant to will stick around.

I however, still didn't have a plan. I had booked a bus up for later that afternoon to Surfers Paradise as it is one of those places you hear about, but I didn't have very high expectations for it. I heard it was a big party town, like a South Beach for backpackers. I knew it was full of high rises overlooking the beach. I knew it wasn't the best place for surfing despite the name. I knew it wasn't going to be paradise. But it was another place along the coast. Even though I had a bus ticket, I didn't have anywhere to stay and being a Saturday night, it wasn't going to be very easy to find a cheap place to stay especially with "schoolies" starting soon. Schoolies are when the kids, like 17/18 year olds, in school have finished their exams and have a week away somewhere. Since the drinking age in Australia is 18, the bars are all very strict about ID's and it gets a bit out of hand. Anyways, I had to phone the first hostel I found to see if they had availability as I learned, you are unable to book hostels online in less than 12 hours. I was running low on money and started to think out of the box for cheap travel options. I remembered that I had a couch surfing membership and decided to update my profile and to write to some people in Surfers. I did my research thoroughly reading profiles and reviews, looking at their photos and trusting my instincts. Apparently I've been a member since 2008 but I have never actually used it, neither to surf or to host. I decided to give it a go, add another venture to my Australian adventure.

It was raining when I left Byron Bay. A perfect day to leave the beach side town, but I swear they were nature's tears of sadness at our departure. The bus schedule said that the bus would arrive 45 minutes later, which I didn't think was too bad at all! However,  50 minutes into the ride, I was wondering why we were in Coolangatta, where I had thought about stopping off to see the beaches and better surfing, but I don't surf so skipped that stop. I looked down at my computer which had automatically updated and went back in time. I forgot that Queensland didn't change times and was an hour behind. I had another hour to travel. Of course no where in Australia could be a quick bus trip!!

While on the bus, I got an email from a couch surfer I had written to saying he runs a bar crawl around Surfers Paradise and he would take me out. I was honestly quite excited - not about the bar crawl but for a couch surfing experience. Not all couch surfing is about staying somewhere for free; sometimes people just want to see a place from a locals perspective, meet for a drink, share a car ride somewhere...

random bar crawler
I finally arrived in Surfers in the pouring rain, staring up at all the brightly lit high rise buildings, which looked a bit like Vegas through the wet windows. I followed 3 other guys from the bus to the hostel as no one knew where we were going, and arrived to see the bar crawl getting together to go to the first place. I was standing in line to check in and wasn't sure who my couch surfer host was, although I had an idea, I wasn't convinced I wanted to go out and wasn't about to drop my bags and run. After I had settled in my room, which was a bit of a disaster because the three other girls in the room worked and lived there so they had stuff everywhere, I texted Paul and he told me where to meet him. I felt as though I was really going out of my comfort zone, to go meet a stranger amongst a bunch of people on a pub crawl, in a new city I had literally just arrived in in the dark. But the motions kept going and I was just following them. It must have been obvious that I was the awkward person standing at the bar alone "checking" my phone and not talking to anyone as Paul came up and introduced himself. He was so easy to talk to, very chatty banter and a goofy smile, he didn't make the situation uncomfortable at all. Even though he was working, he looked after me all night, making sure I was ok and introducing me to people. He seemed to know everyone in town, even though he had only lived there for 10 months. It turned out to be a fun night - my pink rain coat everyone in Perth and Melbourne kept making fun of me for wearing Finally came in useful! My one night in Surfers Paradise turned into four nights, and again, it was all about the people.


After our Nimbin trip, Mic and I decided we wanted one more day in Byron Bay. We needed a day to figure out where we were each heading next. We had to change rooms though and could only stay for one more night as Saturday night was fully booked. Our next room was a 4 person mixed dorm and we shared it with an Australian guy up in Byron for a weekend holiday. We had a balcony over looking the hostel courtyard which was nice, but there were goon stains on the carpeted floor and cake on the walls. Mic and I were sitting in the common room when our new room mate came over with his friends. I don't know why I took a picture of what they were drinking and eating as I could barely stomach the look of it, or even stay at the table without my stomach convulsively turning. But this, I learned from Byron Bay, is what all the backpackers were carrying around and drinking. Goon. Goon is cheap boxed wine. These guys had "splurged" so they said, on butterscotch schnapps as well. I thought maybe they would add it to the goon, to make it sweeter, but no, they would take a shot of pure sugar and chase it with the goon. I can barely even continue to write this. But this post is just to show you what drinking cheaply in Australia means. One box typically contains 4.5 litres of wine.  If you want to binge on a premium boxed wine for a couple more dollars, it is only 2 litres. 


One of the "activities" in Byron Bay is a day trip to Nimbin. Mic and I were quite looking forward to our cultural excursion, to see another part of Australia and especially because it was a kinda rainy day. We were excited, until we got on the bus and the bus driver introduced himself and said the first stop would be to the bottle shop. Mic and I just looked at each other and rolled our eyes. What were we really expecting on a day trip to "Australia's cannabis capital"? Two English kids on the bus already had cups of red goon, which I actually didn't believe could be goon at 10 in the morning, but slowly came to the harsh realisation that yes it was indeed. (and having seen these two guys again in Rainbow Beach and Airlie Beach since, goon at 10am is really no big surprise from them anymore) So, we followed suit, and bought a couple beers, not really sure what we had gotten into.
Our first, or well, second stop, was to Brunswick Heads to take a look at the beach in the drizzling rain.
The water ran inland towards the national park...

Really? This is a ridiculous day.

Then we got back on the bus after a horror-movie worthy park bathroom stop. The bus probably held about 20-30 people and was completely full. I couldn't stop laughing and everyone was looking at me like I had already smoked all the weed in Nimbin. After driving for a bit, we stopped at some sort of retreat with a lake to have a bbq. 

another odd bathroom break...
We drove on and on, over hills and through rain forests of cedars and banana trees. The bus was a bit dinky and every time it turned a corner or a went around a bend in the road, I honestly thought it was going to roll over. I was holding on and bracing myself feeling utterly unsafe and way to familiarly reminiscent of my May '11 car accident. There was even road works along the way and we were driving along bumpy red dirt. It was not a pleasant trip, but we survived.
When we finally got to Nimbin, we had about 2 hours to wonder around the one main street that goes through the small town in the middle of the mountains. It felt as though we had gone back in time. Along with the alternative sub-culture vibe it gets from the immense presence of marijuana, the town is incredibly earth conscious with organic food stores, meetings for all grass-root and social movements, and flyers promoting all sorts of sustainable farming practices, permaculture, and alternative energy.

There were all sorts of paraphernalia available to buy....all sorts.  
It's definitely a colourful place. Stuffed animals on the roof of the sidewalk? Why not?
There were people walking around not-quite-so-inconspicuously asking if you wanted to buy cookies, since cannabis is actually illegal in Australia, you can't go into a cafe like in Amsterdam to buy drugs. Instead, people bake it into cookies or brownies and you can buy about 3 for $20 or so. Chocolate chip. With sprinkles. Big ones. Little ones. The whole place was a bit bizarre. I'm not really sure how people get away with it if it is illegal, and it is known that's what goes on here. The police station was just down the road. There is a MardiGrass party every year apparently....
Then there was the Nimbin Museum. It was absolutely covered with drug-related history and oddities. Newspaper clippings were pasted onto the wall, quotes were was a lot to look at and a lot to take in.

No Expectations. No Disappointment. I like that. Even though it's spelt wrong. 
WWOOF. I'm not sure if this is real/serious or not. 
Human teeth wanted. Anyone?
There was a guy at a cafe where we were waiting to get back onto the bus and he had heaps of weed stuffed in his gums and in between his teeth.....
 After Nimbin, we were told we were going to a waterfall, but it was actually just a cliff. With some water drizzling down the side. Kind of a mean place to take people after they may or may not have eaten some cookies, with the sheer drop below freaking them out....don't look down.
Yeah so it was a curious sort of day to say the least.