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May 29, 2004

To Surfers Paradise

Surfers Paradise can best be described in one word. Incredible. I walked the whole length of the main high street and did not see one piece of chewing gum stuck to the floor. Incredible. I do not make a habit of looking at the floor but the '2 dollar world' and 'Buy a property in Surfers' shops were making me do it. You see that is the only remarkable thing about this Queensland resort. Americans say it's like Florida. I would say it has the class of Magaluf. Nothing can prepare you for the high rise assortment of pink and beige buildings that line the streets. But then again it still managed to pull of these cheese with a little class. In it's early days it used to be a sleepy seaside village for campers but today it demonstrates just how powerful tourism can be. If only James Beatie was still around today. He bought the first piece of land in 1869 and the area has never looked back. It was dubbed the Gold Coast due to the riches it can offer. In 1960 the first high rise would put called 'Kinkabool'. The rest is history. High rise resort on the beach.

We got off the coach and walked around looking for the hostel. It was right next to the bus station. Surprisingly we were staying in a high rise hostel. The room was good, a bathroom included and even a television. Things were getting better. There was even a balcony. When you stay in lots of hostels your sense of first instincts become amazing. Within 2 minutes I had realised that there were one (or maybe two could not tell) girls staying here who had been here for a reasonable length of time. The give away was lines of shoes and shampoo products in the bathroom. People who don't stay long don't leave their products in the bathroom. We finally met them in the evening. Louise (or Mel) looked like a younger version of Melinda Messenger and Charlotte was lovely as well. Both had lovely smiles and were really friendly. They were girls girls.

When we checked in we were given a flyer 'free meals if you show your keys'. Free meals? Nobody gives away free meals. Like every other person in the hostel I was intrigued. Part of the deal was that you had to buy a drink. Hey good deal. When you looked at the beer on tap you really had to choose long and hard. Was it to be 'Lifesaver' or 'Blonde or even 'Honey' beer. You see it was a difficult choice. They brewed their own beer here and described the blonde as 'A pale golden larger brewed from 100% pale malt and imported sanz hops ti bring out the full flavour. I went for the blonde. It was creative marketing speak. It was awful. I was also tempted to sign up as a member and of the 'Brew Pub'. You know what on your birthday you can come here for a free meal! No. I got two stamps on my arm (the extra one was chips for an extra dollar) and walked over to the 'chief'. I have never seen someone dish out food so quickly and aimlessly in my life. My school dinner ladies were like Nigella Lawson in comparison. My plate included 'chicken' and some random 'vegetables'. I tried to smell the 'chicken' but it did not smell like 'chicken'. Believe me, when all you do is eat 'chicken' you know what 'chicken' smells like. It was slightly stringy in places and the chips were more like uncooked potatoes. I managed to eat a token piece of food and left the rest - choosing to consume my 'blonde' beer. According to the leaflet it tasted of Germany. What exactly Germany is meant to taste like I will never know. The girls had been here before and it did not take them long to work their magic on beer inflated, stained shirted 'chef'. He made them roses out of napkins. He would slide across the room and give them free 'desert'. Unfortunately the desert was just as bad as the main meal. They would leave it untouched and the 'chef' would come back and collect the far from empty plates.

Women can be very powerful when they want. Charlotte and Louise had the ability to use their charms to unlock doors. Most of the time the locks were those on the guys wallets, showering them with free drinks without needing to say a word. Their fantastic personality and melting smiles were proving to be a good aid when flat broke. I have never met anyone who could go on for so long with so little. "No we are sisters" she replied. We had two new American girls in the room. I have to say they were rather nice. They were staying just the one night. Before they left they warned me that Kate had a tendancy to fall out of bed. Very funny I thought. Bang. There was a large thud. Three o' clock in the morning. All heads rose in the darkness. "Are you ok" came the voices. I just thought she was being lazy - use the ladder to get down and stop making so much noise - some people. I felt slightly guilty when it turned out that she had rolled off the top bunk and fell a considerably distance, missing my head by a few centimetres. She stumbles off to the toilet without a care in the world. In the morning we told her what she had done. She did'nt remember. No bruises. No cuts. Is she human? She must have been still dazed in the morning because she asked me to come to Byron Bay with her. Right question, wrong direction.

We were joined by two new recruits that week. A guy from Yorkshire with incredible wit and humour and a well seasoned traveller who knew how to play the travelling game. The other guy was a kiwi. Appearances can be deceptive. It looked like he had just come out of the army (well actually he had) but had such a pleasant nature and quirkiness about him. After another 'free' meal together we all went for a dip in the spa. Hot and very pleasant. "Hi guys, where ya from". Enter CJ. He was a tanned surfer type dude from California who was not shy at making an entrance. "Yeah I'm kinda tired, you see I got a lift with these circus people........." and then "Oh my god you see, I was like in this restaurant and we just like started having egg fights, of course I had a white t-shirt on and........" followed by "my kid brother like, he's like a surfer dude and gives me this free stuff right". Now we all have a tendency to exaggerate when we meet people for the first time but this was strangely interesting. Everyone was just sitting back and listening. "What you girls doing tonight?". He had placed himself next to Louise and Charlotte and was on a roll. After a non committal response they returned to the room. He started calling the room on the phone. Nobody would answer.

Clark Johnson had grabbed our attention. We started building this guy up, exaggerating any of his stories and putting on stupid American accents. In the end I called him and asked him to come out with us. Unfortunately Clark Johnson did not emulate his spa stories but for the next day all we could talk about was CJ. He became a mythical legend and provided no shortage of conversation.

May 14, 2004

Leaving Sydney

Plane or bus? Despite the similar prices I went for the greyhound bus option owing to greater flexibility on the way. Everyone will tell you how big Australia is. Of course I knew how big Australia was. That was until I got the coach from Sydney to Byron Bay. Now I thought they are in the same state. I knew it was a thirteen hour duration and that swayed me into taking the 'night bus' option. Foolishly due to laziness I turned up at the bus depot unprepared. I observed plastic bags with endless food supplies and pillows and duvets. Strange I thought. It had been a nice day in Sydney and it was sad to leave after six weeks. I went on board with my allocated seat number.

This was like airplane lotto - you buy your ticket and leave it to the Gods. Most of the time like playing the real lotto my numbers never came up and was always left constantly disappointed. The bus was three quarters full so there was a chance I could get two seats to myself. In the event I won the small prize - avoiding all the pre memorised weirdo's and landing the charms of a nice Irish girl. There was a flurry of standard pleasantries around the coach before there was forced silence by the movie that was just starting. I had been warned prior to my coach experiences that all the movies were poor, out of date and a great substitute for sleeping pills. Seemingly they proved correct.

I had never seen the cast before and it was as cheesy as a bag of wotsits. However remarkably it became funny in it's own quirky way and Adam Sandler seemed to rescue the ailing low budget blockbuster. This was ok but the bald headed Pierluigi Collina's scary brother look a like in front of me was blocking the view. This guy had rapid head movement. Every time I moved my head around his to see the television screen he would move it the other way. This was turning into a game of chess but I was struggling to guess his frequent head movements which in turn lead to me missing the majority of the film. He was also the only person in the entire coach to sleep with the lights on. I know some people do this at home but with the presence of thirty others surely he could'nt be scared. He was amongst friends.

So with the half light slightly in my vision we continued out of Sydney. My lack of preparation was proving a slight hindrance. In reality had I gained the mindset that the distance was the same as going from Bournemouth (in the south of England) to the Highlands in Scotland maybe it would have prompted greater preparation. I could have equally of used the example of Paris to Munich or Copenhagen to Prague. They were all of similar distance from Sydney to Byron Bay. In theory sleep could block out this increasingly worrying mindset. However a combination of hard seats, bumpy roads and a curtain rail being to my right caused a bout of insomnia that would continue throughout the night. In reality you could not sleep anyway. At three hour intervals the coach would stop in the most deserted petrol stations for forty minutes. The lights would come on and the driver would speak over the loud speaker causing even the most sleep deprived to wake. What exactly you were meant to do for forty minutes at four o' clock in the morning was beyond me. Out of the thirteen hours of travel I managed maybe two of sleep. It was one of the most frustratingly boring journeys of my life. Motorway in darkness hardly provides inspiration with insomnia well and truly set in.

I made up for the lack of blanket and pillow with the use of my trusty right hand to cushion my head. This in turn deemed in useless for ten minutes after I moved due to dumbness. At 9.30am the following morning with the bask of sunlight now pouring into the windows the coach finally pulled into the coach stop. Some say the night bus is a free nights accommodation. All I can say is that it's like sitting on a chair with thirty strangers and not being allowed to get off it for hours. Every so often someone will wake you up and make you get out to 'stretch your legs' in a deserted petrol station. Before I had been missing my own bed. Now I was looking forward to any bed.

Before that it was welcome to Hippy Land. The coach pulled up twelve hours after it had left Sydney. It was ten o'clock and the sun was shining. I had noticed that the pockets of the seat in front of me were in fact bottomless in the light. This had caused my mp3 player to land beneath 8B, my phone in 4C and a scattering of two dollar coins anywhere between the two. Everyone seemed zombified - like me they had probably only had two hours sleep and their backs were rigid from hard seat syndrome.








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