Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Surfers Paradise and life with The Weston's

After Christmas, me and The Westons spent a few good days doing what, it seams, Australians do best, shopping. They go completely mental for the end of year sales here. totally coockoo. But my god did I buy some awesome 'shit I don't need, with money I don't have' as Viv put it!

 Days passed in heady blur of red tags and malls. Robina, Pacific Fair, Harbour town. Dresses, shoes to go woth dresses, bags to go with shoes, shades to match handbag - I guess it's like riding a bike - you never forget how. I fit right back in that saddle like i'd never been away.

Several hundreds of dollars later - we decide to try out some of these new items on the classy(!) streets of Surfers Paradise. (After baking a beautiful pie like a good house guest!). Nic and I got the party started around 5pm, then Marge joined us at 7ish and we cracked into the Veuve. AJ and his buddy Hamish (kiwi accent so strong i did an awful lot of nodding and smiling), joined us in a taxi into town. We hit the irish pubs, starting with pints of lager with wet pussy shots (some horrible concoction of spirits) chasers. That kind of set the bar for the night really. Marge had the ingenius idea of sneaking in about a million miniture bottles of flavoured Absolut Voddy - so by our 3rd pub we were all pretty wrecked. We had an awesome night, drinking, dancing, chatting to so many complete strangers who soon became our new BFF's.

I think Nic and I tumbled in at about 2am, congratulating ourselves in a kind of mutual ego-massaging way (whilst bumping into walls and mouth-raping a chicken carcas for all it was worth), about how grown up we were that we had come home at a sensible hour, and not even that drunk! And hadn't Nic done well to not get wrecked, because, my goodness, it would have been awful to get really really drunk before a 6am flight to melbourne! Marge followed shortly after having spent an extra hour with a fit irish chap she met in one of the pubs (ironically). Shortly followed my Hamish, and a soon to be mostly naked AJ. (apparently after a few jars he just likes to be in his pants - fair enough!).

We must have all passed out soon after being reunited at home, and I woke this morning to a not very happy message from Nic - her (v hungover) knight in shining armour failed to provide the lift to the airport resulting in an expensive and hungover trip in a taxi at 6am. It's just gone mindday now - and if the girl has any sense (and if this chloe is any kind of relative to us), she will be sipping a long island iced tea by the pool and forgetting aaalllll about the grotty morning right about now!

I, on the other hand, am so hungover, I am missing the first day of blue skies and sunshine, in exchange for sitting in a cool darkened office writing my blog, feeling super chuffed about my wonderful gifts that arrived in the post from Faye this morning, and delighted to be reuineted with my wonderful mooncup. I might just about muster enough energy to go have a beer by the pool this aftrenoon! It's a hard life!

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Rocky, Hervey, GOLDCOAST!!!

I stepped off the bus at Rockhampton, (having pulled myself together after the traumatic departure at Airlie!), to black and rumbling skies, very ominous! A friendly looking chap was waiting holding a v. professional sign: Couchsurfing: Hollie Howitt. Must be Wayne I thought.
We got on very easily – he drove me passed all the houses with the crazy Christmas lights (turns out they really bloody go for it out here!), and then he took me back to their house. Wayne and Margot’s house is much like themselves. Old fashioned, comfortable, caring, interesting. You know exactly what you are getting, right down to the hand written sign in the bathroom ‘our guests are free to use these toiletries’. There were thunderstorms the like of which I have NEVER seen or heard before in my life. One crack of thunder was so loud, the lights all went out and i jumped up screaming and ran into their room! 
At first I thought they were a little square perhaps, well, they are in their sixties. But after we all had a good giggle, [when Wayne asked how tall I was, and I replied ‘a little under 6’, and he misheard ‘I’m a little under sexed’, then I tried to correct myself my saying ‘I’m about half an inch short’, which resulted in much laughter from Margot and Wayne to retort with some reference to his manhood], I felt much more comfortable in their company.

They were very good to me indeed. They drove me around to see the horrendous flooding; they took me to the zoo where I cuddled a Koala! I cooked them a lasagne, which with the help of their lodger, Jonathan, got wolfed down! They helped me get a doctors appointment for my sore underarm (turns out I had Impetigo! 2 lots of antibiotics and $100 later and I’m fixed!), they took me to the awesome aboriginal Dreamland cultural centre, where Scott, our guide, taught us how to throw boomerangs and played us the didgeridoo.  All in all they were perfect hosts....

….. just no Wendy and Phil!

I got my buss to Hervey Bay on Monday night and James, 25, aussie, collected me at 1.30am from the bus stop, bless him. Lovely good lookin ginger, with oodles of personality, very easy going and I found myself talking even more freely and rapidly than normal! His place was awesome, huge, tidy, modern. I had a double room to myself, and use of the complex pool and gym!

When he returned from work then next day he took me to a field of innocent cows, who pay not much attention to you when one is vertical, but upon laying down on the ground (following James’ instruction and an expert demonstration), the cows become incredibly curious, licking, sniffing, blowing and generally inspecting your very being! It is hilarious. And a bit scary. But clearly the best thing I’ve done in Oz so far!

After that we got icecream and walked down the long pier. Then met Sally’s friends, Krista and Nick, who are the chefs at the new, v. hip restaurant in Hervey Bay (the nicest of its kind in the sleepy little town). Krista very kindly wouldn’t let us pay for our food and drinks, and all of a sudden I looked like some kind of mover-and-shaker of the area, taking James to flashy new restaurants without having to pick up the tab!
The following night we went to the cinema, after a day of helping James do his Christmas shopping, eating Pie, running to the postoffice to catch the last post and making total fools of ourselves at the post office counter. I was quite surprised how well and naturally functioning 2 people could be after knowing each other for all of 36 hours. That night we went to the cinema to see Tron. All in all, an awesome couple of days – and I didn’t even do Fraser (Will wait for Simon who I’m sure will handle a 4x4 better than I!).

I was so excited arriving at Brisbane to meet Paul. I was really craving family, and by god they did not disappoint. Their home is so familiar even though I have never been here before. I’d forgotten how much Nicola reminds me of Sal and how Elliot IS josh and jord. Perfect evening with plenty of wine and a nice talk on the phone with Simon.

Christmas eve was a girly shopping day – me, Viv, Nicola, and her bezzie Marge, who I adore. Found a gorgeous dress. Then that evening we went to Nicola and AJ’s house for drinks (her lovely chap), along with his bro Nick (both mental kiwis), and Marge and El. Lovely night.

Woke early Xmas morn due to the aforementioned mental kiwis, came downstairs about 6am to them still on the sauce! The little darlings had got me presents and all. Lovely boys. We all got ready then headed to Viv and Paul’s where I met my great uncle Reg and his wife Val. Reg looks so much like Pop I nearly cried. We had big cuddles and caught up, then had the most amazing aussie xmas dinner ever – lobster, prawns the size of your face, bugs, ham, chicken, pork, turkey. Not a roast tatty in sight! Got some awesome gifts, the highlight of which, is of course, that viv has managed to secure tickets, and paid half of one for me, for Big Day out, the festival at the Goldcoast, as Elliot's band are on the bill! What I didn't know was that Tool, Deftones, Iggy Pop, Andrew WK (haha), and many more awesome frickin bands are playing! Then, after a post-feed nap, we went for a swim. Yes, a swim, on Christmas day. Hilarious!

I promise I didn't force Nick and AK to do this!

Here for another few weeks, and very happy about it! Viv and Paul feel as instantly close as they did last year when they came over.  Off now to get into our PJ’s and watch chick flicks with yet more wine!

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Sailing/Slaving on Solway Lass, and my final days in Airlie

The Beautiful Solway Lass in all her glory!

Homesick for Simon!
I arrived on Solway Lass around 5pm and was put straight to work with a bottle of brasso. At first I thought the crew were a bit off, but I soon realised they are just a tight nit group have have been working together on the same ship for years (with the exception of the hostie, knickers (aka: Nicola), for whom it was her very first day on this particular boat). And often find the ‘volleys’, as we’re known, as more of a hindrance than a help. But, (and thank you dear mother for teaching me how to work my fingers to the bone!), I soon proved my salt (what a strange idiom), and was quickly accepted.

Me Snorkelling! Mmm sexy!
My daily routine was to wake at 6am, and clean both male and female toilets and showers, then polish all the brass on the boat, set up brekkie, pack it all away and wash and dry up (for 30 passengers!). Then my day was my own to join the other holiday-makers, until lunch where I would do the same, and again with dinner. On day one we went to Whitehaven, it was beautiful. The sand really is completely white, and the sea clear and turquoise, just stunning. Day two saw us snorkeling at Blue Pearl and Hayman island. Fantastic couple of days. Played with a giant fish (maybe 5 feet long!) called Precilla, meanwhile my good friend who I met on board, Mary-Lou (german), had a tremendously skilled osprey land on her head and catch one of the many fish surrounding us! It was hilarious – you should’ve seen her face!

My favourite spot on the ship
The final day was, and I promise I am not shy of hard work, bloody hard work. From half 5 in the morning I did not sit or rest untill I got off the boat at 5pm. I scrubbed, scoured, hoovered, washed, dusted, changed every bed and pillowcase, cleaned and mopped the gully, stock-took, cleaned staff quarters, sprayed bed-bug deterrent spray, took up the urine sodden mats of the gents loos’ (nearly puked). And all this while what started as a small pimple under my arm, developed into a very painful and horrific looking coral infection. I was exhausted and in agony!

View infront of me
 When I had finished my duties the crew were very complementary, singing my praises, what a great Volley I had been, how I was welcome back anytime. I was really quite proud of myself and grateful for the acknowledgment. Ash, the bar girl, even made me one of the crew rope anklets, which I don with pride! I couldn’t wait to get ‘home’ to my second family, I was exhausted!
View behind me
The last thing I thought I wanted was the Baker family Christmas party at Wendy’s daughter’s house that night… but as soon as I was back in the company of my wonderful hosts, I felt totally revived! We drove up to Conway area, (Brady drove me in his old banger of an Astra!), and we very quickly got into the swing of things, downing beers though a horn (which I thought, due to aussie accents, was being dubbed 'the bee horn', when infact, they were being much more descriptive in calling it the 'beer horn', though the slightly less accurate name of 'bee horn' stuck and we all found this hillarious!) Jȁgermeister shots swiftly followed, and I had to beg Wendy to have my last one as I was nearly under the table (at least I wasn't ON the table with my hands in the air and knickers around my ankles a'la Loulou!), Godbless Wendy, she took a bullet for me that night...we were all hammered. Me and Em (Wendy’s 22 year old daughter) arm-wrestled and dicked about like real sisters, Brady was a constant source of entertainment, what two awesome people, a total indication of Wendy’s mothering skills!

Em does Bee Horn

Brady does Bee Horn

Phil does Bee Horn

I have never felt so close to a family that weren’t my own flesh and blood. I bloody love these people. Actual, real love. We decided it’d be a great idea to call Simon, all 7 of us steaming drunk. They all cannot wait to meet him and the rest of my family. No idea what time we crashed but we awoke feeling rather worse for wear, especially Phil who drank a lot of Jim Beam, and could only be roused from the table by us all singing a Beatles Medley!x
Brady Retard - Haha!

Sunday started bad and got a whole heap worse, (those who don’t know me well or are a bit squeamish may want to skip the next bits!). First I tripped over a drum kit and cut my foot open, then on the way home I thought it’d be awesome to quickly pop into town and get a frame and a photo printed of all of us, along with a thank you card for W&P. This ended up taking ages, and then the photo place couldn’t print the picture for another half hour (my bus was at 11, this was at about half 9am!), so we rushed back, I tried to pack, in the mad rush I accidentally flushed my mooncup down the toilet (don’t ask), which made me cry (hungover AND hormonal), all the while my coral infection is getting so bad I am in constant agony everytime I move my right arm. Brady and I make our silly excuses and rush back to town to collect the photo, then the frame breaks, I run into the chemist at a million miles an hour and  show the pharmacist my underarm (even he winces) and says I must see a Doctor but gives me some cream anyway – I forget to buy tampons. We dash home, I give W&P the shitty, broken frame, and they are of course, delighted with it (because they are beautiful people), and they take me to the bus stop.
My super second family

We say our goodbyes and they leave as I hobble onto the bus with a very sore foot and a weeping, blistered underarm. I am crying, and bleeding. And I have a 6 hour trip to Rockhampton.

During my journey, I get a text from Wendy saying she keeps finding little reminders of things I had left, like the cold tea in the fridge which she made me for my sunburn. Then, having completely forgotten telling her all about the word ‘lods’ between me and dad, and how it originated, I get a text simply saying “miss you lods”, I wept silently for about 3 hours.

I cannot wait for Simon to arrive so we can go back to Airlie for the biggest party ever.

Monday, 13 December 2010

My week in Airlie and Dingo Beach

So where did I leave off? Going for a day on the Islands I think….

Sun Deck
Well I was once again v. lucky as weather dazzlingly beautiful, one of the hottest days since I arrived, must have been edging near 34 degrees C. But on the top deck of the boat the breeze kept me cool. It was pretty lush. For some reason there is bloody nobody about, I must have been one of maybe 12 passengers on a boat that could house 100. Subsequently the islands too were v quiet too – as you can tell from the view from my sun lounger – total bliss. The lunch was fantastic  (didn’t opt for the $18 long island iced tea – no not a jug of the stuff – a small cocktail glass – talk about dining out on the name of your island!), and at daydream I lounged by the pool reading and listening to tunes… believe it or not – I really haven’t done much of that kinda thing, so it was nice to just laze around. Plus I was feeling super anti-social for some reason, having missed Simon’s call earlier in the morning, I was in a bit of a grumps – but where better to be grumpy than a deserted tropical paradise?!
By the evening I was over it, but as some kind of cruel punishment, I was sunburnt, (despite constant reapplication of heavy duty pommy sunscreen!). Wendy and Phil were super sweet, played me their wedding song, I cried! Ha! But it was so nice to come back to a home environment when having a down day – can’t imagine going back to some all-night-ravin hostel when you feel like that. So I opted for a v early night after some homecooked grub.

On Friday I woke feeling much more chipper – in a bid to stay out of the sun, Massimo and I went grocery shopping and cooked a great big chicken pie for dinner.  Spent the evening listening to tunes, preparing for W&P’s gig at Dingo’s Pub on Saturday.

Two Horse Town!
We left for Dingo beach pretty early so W&P could get set up and then get ready for the evening. We picked up one of Wendy’s work colleagues, Helen, who I got on famously with. Whilst W&P had to be professional DJ’s and set-up-shop, we got shitfaced and checked out the local area (maybe a square mile with a few houses, a pub, the pub motel and a 2-pump petrol station).

Dingo Beach lies about 40km north of Airlie and is described as “a small isolated coastal community” – there are no resorts, no backpackers, no mobile phone network…. They don’t even have a mains water supply! The road to dingo beach is 28km long with nothing else at the end of it – so the only people who venture here are those who have planned a visit with a stopover in the motel, the locals, or some very very lost people! We were the former.
Look at them pasty pins!

The night was wonderful, filled with drinking, laughing, singing, dancing. A group of bikers where on their 21st national HOG ralley – Harleys in tow! And were stopping off on their way through. What a lovely bunch of chaps – hell raisers they were not! One bloke in particular latched on to me, Johnny. Exactly twice my age, and a good 5 inches taller than me and half my width, wearing the shortest shorts you have ever seen – with the best John Clease pair of pins – like knobbly flamingo's legs, with silly walk to boot! But a great dancer! We chatted and chatted. We debated about the aboriginals having independence (he thought they were incapable of it but wished the aussi government would let them get on with their own rubbish because they were below civilization, I questioned why they should have to conform to a society that is relatively very new and brought about by European settlers after some 60,000 years of them doing just fine by themselves), we debated about how the English feel superior to the Welsh, Irish, Scottish (he wasn’t a fan of us brits and thought we should release our grip on GB domination!), but he was very open to being challenged – and really listened to my arguemtns. It was brilliant.

Of course eventually he asked about my man situation, to which I explained all about Simon. He was very sweet, much more paternal than predatory. He told me he was requesting a mushy love song, and that we were going to have a slow mushy dance together, and before I could contest, his long gangly legs had wiggled him over to Wendy to request it. 

 He walked me over to the dance floor, and said to me:

“You are going to pretend I am Simon, and I am going to pretend you are Annie, my wife. And that way we are just doing each other a favor”

“But Simon doesn’t dance!” I objected

“He does to this fuckin’ song, so shut-up and dance!”

What a total gentleman. It sounds a bit sleazy, but all I can say is, if you are female, you will know yourself, that two men can say the exact same thing to you, but there is something in the tone, or the nature of how they say it, that signifies their intention – and that is what determines if it’s seedy. I can tell you now; Johnny had the purest of intentions, was clearly a loving husband to this Annie, and was the best company I could have asked for the whole evening!

We woke with v. cloudy heads early the next morning in the motel room the owners had provided us (at no cost!). After a group shot, we packed up the car, said our goodbyes to the wonderful locals, and jumped ship.

Me 'n' Johnny
A big Baker family gathering had been planned for the Sunday lunchtime – none of us were in a fit state to attend – but we did, and it was lovely to meet Wendy’s daughter, and phil’s sons and daughters in law and grandson. The meal was fab – but poor Wendy really did feel poorly (and I’m certain it wasn’t all self inflicted!), so we departed early. Wendy was in more and more pain until Phil decided to take her to A&E that evening. I was asleep by the time they got back, Wendy morphine up the eyeballs! But I’m glad to say she is well on the mend now.

Wendy’s son Bradey came home on Monday and it was great to meet him. Wendy made a delicious curry and we had a nice family meal and an early night as Massimo was leaving early to catch a flight.
There were tears in eyes as Massimo said goodbye this morning. 

Me and Bradey dropped Wendy to work. Now I’m preparing to go on my voyage on the Solway Lass – 6 hours and counting! I look forward to telling my tales from the sea very soon! Until then – catch ya later!

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Bushwalking Adventure - Coral Beach Trail

The beautiful view from half way up the trail

So, I decide on a bit of a whim, to try out this walking track called Coral Beach. Well it turns out the aussies like to use the term ‘track’ pretty loosely. I got the bus all the way down to Shute Harbor, and walk up the steep stairs to a road that I think leads to the track, but my map skills being what they are, I hailed a passing car and asked the woman driving:

Me:  “Am I on the right road for the coral beach walking track?"

Woman: “you’re going alone are you?”

Me: “erm, yeah”

Woman: “What shoes are you wearing?

Me: *cue to do the vertical splits to display my sensible walking shoes through the window of the 4x4*

Woman: “Ok, *hesitation*, well yes, you are on the right road love, but this time of year, y’know, just make 
sure you walk with heavy steps and carry a stick, look out for snakes.... and..., does someone know where you are?”

Me: *cue to text wendy to tell her where I am* “yeah I’ll be fine, thanks very much”

Woman: *looking gravely* Bye love.

So with this woman’s words of warning still ringing in my ears, I approach the entrance to the trail and am reminded of a quote from Bill Bryson’s Down Under:   

In fact, Australia has more things that can kill you in extremely nasty ways than anywhere else: sharks, crocodiles, the ten most deadly poisonous snakes on the planet, fluffy yet toxic caterpillars, seashells that actually attack you, and the unbelievable box jellyfish (don't ask). The dangerous riptides of the sea and the sun-baked wastes of the outback both lie in wait for the unwary. It's one tough country.
I approach the metal box which contains leaflets about the walk, and observe the large sign, with a brief account of the walk, and some safety guidelines:

Ensure you have enough water – Check! Infact I bought 2 bottles – clever me! I’m made for this!

Wear sturdy walking shoes – Tadaaa! I am on a roll! Already shown off my millets hikers once today!

Protect yourself from the sun with sunscreen – Always do – I am P20’d up to the max.

Wear insect repellant – Cue me to whip out the Deet Simon gave me (which is handily in my rucksack) and spray liberally.

Wear suitable clothing, long sleeved shirt and trousers and a wide brimmed hat. – Oh. Shit. I’m wearing my denim hotpants and bikini top and all I thought to bring was my graduation shortsleeved T-shirt. 

Well, it will have to do. I never saw Steve Irwin (God rest his soul), wearing long trousers and full length sleeves! ...Come to think of it, I never saw him don a bikini either, but sod it, I’m here now.

Heeding the wise aussie ladies words, I immediately find myself a good stick, The one I like is a little long so I snap it with the sort of bushwalking expertise I imagine a native to have. Like all good hikers, I am immediately chuffed with what I am sure is the best walking stick ever. It is perfect in length, rock solid unlike a lot of the sodden deadwood about, and even has a spike at the bottom to skewer murderous creatures, and a nodule of wood at the top to stop my hand slipping down.

So armed with a stick (what the fuck am I supposed to use the stick for again?), I proceed along the, not so much track, as vague clearing of rainforest. Stomping loudly to scare the snakes. Maybe 3 meters in, I walk through my first (of what would become many many) spiders webs. Letting out an audible yelp and frantically spitting, wiping and shaking myself free of the silk-like stuff, I quickly devise a second use for the stick.
The "Track"

This involves on my first step (left foot), raising the stick above my head in a wielding manor and bringing it down diagonally across me (right foot), to stomp loudly on the ground to keep scaring the snakes. Thus clearing webs that obstruct my path, whilst still threatening all the things that are lying in wake to kill me. Be careful not to wield with too much vigor though, or you will simply bash the low-hanging branches and foliage, disturbing many creatures that may kill you. It’s a tough technique to master. But after 20 minutes I’d mastered it.

I was now proficient in what I am sure is an often used method to avoid death-in-the-bush. Although from a distance, to the untrained eye, perhaps I looked more like a crazed sweaty girl, brandishing a stick, spitting and yelping my way along a sort-of track. 

I came to a clearing which turned out to be coral beach itself, with an encouraging sign indicating the continuing trail along the cost to the viewing platform (and also a picture of a crocodile in a red triangle – not sure what that meant). I was so proud I’d made it through the jungle I took a photo of myself (with stick) on the beach, then continued to find the ultimate Beak Look-out. 

I wasn’t even disheartened by the solitary flipflop, lying on the shingle, not another human in sight, looking forlorn like the palimpsest of a former amateur bush-walker. (I did let out another of my audible yelps when a locust the size of a rat bounced and sporadically flew around me).

lonesome flip-flop

Made it to Beak Lookout!
I hiked with gusto up and up and up until I saw ahead of me the wooden steps up to the beautiful Beak Look-out. What a site. I was pouring with sweat, gasping for water, and shaking with adrenaline. I sat and contemplated the beautiful view, and thought of the irony of wearing a T-shirt displaying the year, which, had I died in some horrific bush-accident, would be a mocking emblem of the year of my death. An epitaph that I unknowingly chose when I grabbed a top out of my backpack to take with me. (although it would probably be inside a snake, so the poetic symbol would be lost on you all!)

Not-so-lucky: One who didn't make it!
Somehow the walk back down didn’t seem quite so scary, I even abandoned the patented stick technique, using it simply to take some of the weight off my feet, and barely even spat when the webs went in my mouth. At one with nature me, expert bushwalker! …Or maybe just lucky.

When I emerged at the little tin box where I had taken my leaflet, the very start of the trail, I breathed a sigh of relief and pride. I grabbed my biro, jotted a note for future hikers, and slid the leaflet back in the box, leaving my stick propped against it for the next bikini-clad novice!

Tomorrow see’s me on a 2 island luxury tour with full use of the spa and bar facilities on daydream and long island. I think I deserve a bit of Whitsunday R&R!