Chapter 20: "Saaaailing, takes me away..."

Trip Start Oct 01, 2003
Trip End Nov 2004

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Thursday, January 8, 2004

Tom showed up at Beaches right on cue on New Year's Day. I was laying in the hammock by the "pool" (more like a well), and he walked by me twice before I was able to jump up and get his attention. At first I wasn't 100% sure it was him; it was immediately amazing, and simultaneously strange, to see a friend's face in person. For the past three months the one thing I could never count on was familiarity, so reconciling my current life with the sudden appearance of someone I've been close to for years took a few minutes. Of course after I got over the initial shock we pretty much settled into our usual comfortable camaraderie. Predictably it took us all of 10 minutes after meeting to start drinking (XXXX, the Queensland brew), but it took the better part of the afternoon and evening for us to catch up.

Now I know why Christmas didn't feel like Christmas. Santa Claus came a week late this year, and he changed his name! Tom thoughtfully brought some presents along with him: some much-needed O'Neill board shorts, an excellent book (Chuck Klosterman's "Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs"), and two bottles of Aveda shampoo. Clearly the man knows his audience.

On Friday we stopped by the Tallarook office to get details on the sailing trip that I'd booked us on, and then we took a day trip to Hamilton Island, which is one of the resort islands in the Whitsunday group. Hamilton is obviously set up for vacationers with a big budget, as the restaurants, accommodations, and even the landscaping all seemed upscale. People get around using hired golf carts, and it seems like they should be on rails, so walking around feels a bit like you're trespassing on a theme park go-kart track. After a pizza stop that was delicious (and expensive - I'd told myself that while Tom was here I could indulge), we crossed to the other side of the island and parked ourselves on the beach. Tom took his snorkel & mask out in the water to practice using them; I mainly worked on my tan. That night back in Airlie Beach we had some awesome tuna steaks at a seafood place that required reservations (a novel first on my trip), and then headed over to Magnum's bar for more drinks of various colors and alcohol contents. I thought the night was over when we split up to go to bed (Tom had his own single room, and I was cheaping out in the dorm), but I had some new roommates who wanted to party (one of whom was exceptionally cute), so I stayed up far too late on the balcony hanging out with them.

Saturday morning I stumbled down to meet Tom, and we dropped our big packs off at the Tallarook offices, because we were only allowed to bring small bags on our boat. We had some time to kill before the boat left, so I booked myself into a liveaboard advanced dive course for January 8th in Cairns, and then we spent the rest of the mid-day buying supplies for the trip (um, wine & tequila). At 4 we boarded the "New Horizon" along with 30-odd other 20-somethings from around the world (yes, Tom and I still count as 20-somethings). We picked our cramped little bunks - right down in the front of the boat -and then got a quick run-down of safety procedures from Thierry and Trent, who seemed to be running the show. Once we sorted out the paperwork for our free dives and got ourselves settled, we set about making margaritas. It's nice that there are some constants in life.

I've been hoping to see dolphins in the wild for the past few months, and I finally got my chance! After we anchored between Whitsunday & Hook Islands, a small pod of dolphins swam around the boat just before sunset. Dinner came shortly after. The food on board was remarkably good, and the chefs even made special fish steaks for me & Tom (the only semi-veggies on board). All the passengers spent the evening lazing around the deck chatting, and around midnight Tom & I headed for bed. I had no trouble passing out, thanks to margaritas and Nytol, but poor Tom was kept up by a combination of unbearable heat and the 5 or so obnoxious drunk English guys on the deck who sang (loudly) until 3 or 4 am and almost had a fist fight with the captain. They were not generally popular after that with either the crew or the other passengers.

We were up and moving at 6am. The crew got us outfitted with gloves, hoods, fins, and "Stinger suits," which are thin wetsuits designed to protect us from potentially deadly box jellyfish stings. Then they shuttled us over to Whitsunday Island where we hiked about 2km through the woods to get to famous Whitehaven Beach. This excursion was a mixed bag. Like Lake Birrabeen's beach on Fraser Island, Whitehaven's sand is made of almost pure silica, so it's very fine and brilliant white. Or at least it would be brilliant white if the sun was shining. Unfortunately there were scattered showers and a strong breeze, so I spent most of our 1 & 1/2 hours on the beach huddled up trying to stay warm and trying to keep sand out of my swimsuit. The other issue was the enormous biting flies that harrassed us until we killed them. Luckily they were slow-moving, so picking them off with whatever was handy while they rested on someone's back became something of a sport. I could tell Whitehaven was supposed to be gorgeous, and the scenery was very nice?Ebut it was difficult to really enjoy myself under the circumstances.

Back on board we prepped ourselves for the afternoon dive. Tom was going for an introductory dive, so I was partnered up with a nice guy from the UK named Eddie. We got to the dive site after lunch, and started our dive from the beach. I was hesitant about going because I thought I might be coming down with something - but I (stupidly) went anyway. The dive was fun because it was my first time going without a guide, but the visibility wasn't great, and my ears were having equalization problems. We did see a stingray, lots of fish, and some nice coral, though. Tom came back from his dive in his laveder & black stinger suit sounding pretty excited and eager to do it again. Sunday night turned out to be largely like Saturday night except that we were all too tired to stay up late, and there was thankfully no English choral session.

I woke up on Monday with that unhappy feeling of impending sickness, but it wasn't bad enough to ruin the day. We'd anchored near a beach on beautiful Hayman Island, and that was where they took us first thing for some snorkelling (and in Tom's case, more diving). On the way to the beach we met a huge Napoleon Wrasse (fish) named Elvis, who lives around there and enjoys being fed often. I didn't feel healthy enough to snorkel for more than a half hour, so I spent most of the morning hanging out on the coral beach or ducking into a cave to escape the intermittent rain showers.

Tom & I spent our midday napping and getting some sun on the deck, and the "New Horizon" arrived back at the marina near Airlie Beach at 1:30. We hiked back to Beaches and then split up for a few hours to do e-mail, laundry, errands, etc. We had dinner at the hostel (sorry, Tom - "accommodation"), and then met some people from the boat at Magnum's. I ran into Simon from my first run on the Oz Exp, and it was nice to catch up with him. I was pretty beat, and so was Tom, so we said our "goodbye"s (he was going south the next morning) and turned in early.

I had to catch the Oz bus at 7:30am, and I felt positively wretched when I woke up. Some cold medicine mostly took care of the problem, and I zoned out on the bus ride north. There were a few people I knew on the bus - Claire (UK), Quinn (Canada), and Kate (UK) -but everyone else was new, and the driver was a friendly guy named John (or "Princess," for some reason). John's only annoying habit was singing through the mic karaoke-style over the tunes on the stereo; I saved myself with the I-Pod. We took a major (2+ hour) stop in Townsville, which is one of the larger cities in far north Queensland, and then pressed on to Mission Beach for the night. Right around when we arrived, I realized that my left eye was oozing something mucous-y. A look in the mirror and a trip to confirmed that I had some kind of conjunctivitis (pink-eye) to go along with my cough, earache, and sore throat. The Mission Beach Resort was nice, and we had a buffet dinner with 82 food options, so despite my ill condition I had a decent night.

At this point I was panicking because I was supposed to go diving in two days (tomorrow), and I didn't see how I'd possibly be healthy in time. I called the dive center first thing this morning when I realized my pink eye was now in my right eye too, and took myself off the list for tomorrow. I already made a non-refundable deposit of $100 in Airlie Beach, though, so I need to see if I can switch my flights around and go diving later.

Our first stop this morning was the Johnstone Crocodile Farm, where a crazy old guy named Mick took us on a tour through the croc pens. They have some 3,500 crocs there, and a disturbingly large percentage of them end up as boots or meals before they're even 4 years old. The big ones were certainly terrifying; Mick went into the pens to feed them whole dead chickens, and they were fast! The farm also had a few emus, cassowaries (rare & local big mean ostrich-like birds), and snakes. I held a few of the water pythons and childrens pythons, and it made me miss Floyd and Babysnake.

Next up we stopped at a grocery store to buy picnic lunches, which we ate at the Babinda Boulders park. I went on a solo hike along a trail by a small river (rocky stream, really), and on the way back I had my first real close-up dangerous snake encounter in Australia! There was a five-foot black snake (red-bellied black snake?) making his way through the woods between the trail and the river. It was fascinating how confident the snake seemed! He just made his way along, paying no mind to occasional freaked-out passersby or interested photographers (me). Eventually he disappeared, and I headed back to the bus.

We had one more stop before Cairns, and that was the AJ Hackett bungy site outside the city. It was a little anti-climactic for me because I'd already jumped in New Zealand, and I didn't feel well enough to do it again anyway, so I just took photos for the few other people who took the plunge. I finally arrived at Calypso Backpackers tonight at 6pm and set up camp in my depressingly cell-like room. Tomorrow I'll probably change hostels, change flights from Cairns to Darwin, and change my dive trip date. I'll update again after my diving trip - assuming it happens! Hope your 2004 is excellent! Be well,

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