9.26pm - Road To Nowhere
Trip Start Feb 09, 2009
19Trip End Mar 25, 2009
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Where I stayed
So if you've ever seen Australia on a map, you may notice it is a fairly sizeable land mass. And if you've ever read any Bill Bryson, you may be aware that when they find a name they like, they stick to it. (Count the number of things called Macquarie if you've got a spare twenty minutes and a head for numbers.) All this frantic naming has led to a complete lack of awareness when it comes to similarly named things or places. They're so busy trying to distinguish between Lake Macquarie and Macquarie Lake that they don't even think about the problems that the Stuart and Sturt Highways could present. Or, in my case today, the towns of Marlborough and Maryborough.
When I made the plan for the rest of my trip in Oz, oh so many weeks back in Coffs Harbour, I tried, with the aid of Google Maps and my LP, to make sure that the maximum I would drive in any one day was six hours, and that I could spend an appropriate amount of time in each place that I would be stopping off at. Since I only had the internet for fifteen minutes, and I knew it would take a good couple of hours to pore over the LP and work out how many days I would need for each spot, I just jotted down the names of places that looked nice and big, figuring I could work out what the best place was near each one, and then go there, whilst still maintaining my roughly six hours maximum for driving each day. Now, one of the places I picked out was called Marlborough, which was about three hours away from Mackay, which sounded nice. When I got upstairs however, and started making plans, I realised I had jotted down the wrong name, probably because there's an area of New Zealand called Marlborough, and I had subconsciously read one for the other. I realised, looking at my LP, that the area near to Fraser Island, where I very much wanted to go, was actually called Maryborough. So Maryborough was near to Fraser, and Mackay was near to Maryborough. Great stuff. On to examining the rest of the Cairns route.
Cut to last night. I have finished up my time in Rainbow Beach, where I never made it to Fraser Island, but did manage to make a few nice friends in the hostel bar who helped me kill some time in the evenings, even if the days were still dull as fuck. Figuring out which of the three cafés along the front was the nicest was about as exciting as it got (it was the third one, somewhat typically, and it was also the cheapest). Yesterday evening was good crack though, because my ever changing flurry of posh, polite, but essentially boring English girls that I had been rooming with had all gone, and been replaced by a Tessa, a 22 year old Dutch chick, and Sarah, a 19 year old German. They were both really nice, and we had some good banter about New Zealand, because Tessa had just got back from there and Sarah was going the following week, so we were mooning over our beloved NZ and recommending the best places to go for her. I think we basically talked about how much we loved New Zealand for a solid two hours, and eventually we just started laughing at ourselves and our own obsession.
During all this, I am casually double checking all my plans for today, making sure I have the directions jotted down in my notebook and noting which big population centres to head for. The way seems fairly easy, after I find my way to the Bruce Highway, it's just a straight line almost until I reach the hostel. Good stuff. Since I've got wireless working in my room finally, I decide to just check on Google Maps to see how long it will take.
10 hours 49 minutes, chirps Google brightly.
What the hell? That can't be right. I checked it weeks ago, and wrote down my findings. I flicked back through my notebook and found the page with the times written on. 3 hours to Mackay, it says. So what is going on here?
Sarah checks my LP and points out that it's sixteen hours by bus from Brisbane to Mackay. Tessa has just come up from Brisbane today and said it took her about six hours, so ten hours sounds about right. I am goggling at the pair of them, unable to believe I have dropped such a massive bollock as to have scheduled myself a solid ten hours of driving. That means if I set off at 10am, checkout, as I usually do, I won't arrive until 8pm. That is so not an option. I check and recheck the map, scouring it for some kind of magical shortcut (although apart from a wormhole, it's seeming increasingly unlikely that I'm going to find one), when all of a sudden, my eye falls upon a town name.
I've heard that before, I think. I scroll down the page back to Rainbow Beach.
So it turns out Maryborough is two hours from Rainbow Beach. And Marlborough is about three hours from Mackay. But Maryborough and Marlborough are in no way whatsoever even remotely the same town. In fact, they're about six hours apart. And guess what 2 + 3 + 6 is, approximately? Yup. 10 hours and 49 minutes.
After the longest drive of all my days (though I must confess somewhat bashfully that since I was doing the one doing the driving, what would take most people 10 hours and 49 minutes took me a shade over 8 hours), I finally pitched up in Mackay though, and it is, to my relief, quite a nice little town. I'm in a mixed dorm tonight, which is alright, and somewhat ironically I've met a really nice Aussie lad called Steve, but I'd already agreed to move to a girls' dorm tomorrow (I am in a state of constant vigilance for Peut-être Deux - if Steve turns out to be a snorer, it doesn't matter how nice he is, he's dead to me), so I'll just have to see him around the common room.
Had an average tasting Chinese for dinner, but it wasn't licensed, so after I was suitably saturated with MSG, I decamped to the Ambassador Hotel, the only pub within walking distance of the hostel that had any atmosphere (they're apparently quite the homebodies in Mackay, because I passed three pubs that were totally empty, despite it being a Thursday evening) and procured a VB. (I still feel uneasy using the word schooner, I keep thinking people are going to take the piss out of me using Australian words with my pommie accent.) While I was quietly sipping my pint and reading my book, I very unexpectedly made a new friend, a very large, very drunk, very rambling man who very nearly spilt his drink on me as he lurched towards my table. Naturally, à la the Ben Elton bit about the lunatic on the bus, he sat down. He was in no way aggressive, although his delight at discovering I was a pom was somewhat excessive. He began to wax lyrical on a variety of subjects, which included the following:
"Best book in the world is To Kill A Mockingbird."
"Yes, I read it a few years ago, it's a great book."
"It made me feel bad about seeing things. You know, with your eyes. Movies are shit for me now."
"I'm going to Scotland this year!"
"Ah, that'll be nice, it's beautiful up there."
"Yeah. It makes me hate my own country."
*polite and encouraging smile*
*smile begins to become frozen*
*eyes slowly slide sideways to surreptitiously measure the distance between the table and the door, and just how far away the barman and the two burly but helpful looking men playing pool actually are*
"mumblemumble it makes me feel more articulate! ARTICULATE! I've been trying to think of that word all day."
He probably was quite a nice chap, but he was so bladdered, and his accent was so thick from slurring that I only caught every fifth word. Fortunately after a brief (though not brief enough) time, during which he shook my hand several times and then held it for a disturbingly long period, his other hand clasped meatily on top, he stood up, and, pausing only to call me Lisa, staggered back to the bar. I necked my drink and disappeared to the loo at lightning fast speed, which as luck would have it was in a separate corridor which led straight to the front door. I was back in the hostel in two minutes.
And what a hostel it is. This place, whilst suffering from a slight lack of parking (it's two hours free outside during the day but you have to move after that, which isn't too helpful, but it's the pay off for the central location), is probably the nicest hostel I've been in - not too big, not too small, with a huge deck upstairs for smoking and drinking, a gigantic TV/pool room downstairs with three big squashy sofas and an armchair, a common room upstairs with two more sofas for chilling and reading, a big kitchen with all the usual mod cons and several benches and picnic tables, and a variety of rooms, in which even the dorms have big proper single beds (ie not bunks - no headbumping or people stepping on your feet in the night!) with proper bedding, air conditioning, and mini fridges to keep drinks cold in your room. The showers and toilets could do with a bit of a refit, but they're clean, if a bit old. The only downside is there's no window in this room, because it's in the centre of the building, so it's just four tiny skylights, but they let in a decent amount of light. So it's all good.