I said goodbye to Dan and Steve and hitchhiked into Mexico today. It feels real- I’m in another country now. An old Spanish church in Ajos.
I said goodbye to Dan and Steve and hitchhiked into Mexico today. It feels real- I’m in another country now. An old Spanish church in Ajos.
This kind family invited me into their home for the night.
Camping on the outskirts of Durango was cold last night! A mere 25 degrees made me wake up shivering a few times even with a nice sleeping bag!
I finally set off from the Springs today on the firstday of this huge trip. It took a long time and some walking to get a lift near Fort Carson. “Have you ever seen a hearst with a trailer hitch? You don’t get to take your stuff with you.” – Jimmy the wilderness therapy/ river paddle guy
On the road, the backpack becomes your home. You want to have all of the essentials ready to go for a good night’s sleep in all conditions. I’m planning to do a good amount of Couchsurfing and staying with locals on this trip, but there will be plenty of times that I need to stealth camp. Stealth camping is the art of making camp at nightfall and leaving at sunrise without anyone seeing you or leaving a trace. Sometimes it’s the safest way to sleep!
Below you will find my open and adventurous plan to travel the world for the next 2-? years. It’s something I’ve been reading and obsessing and mildly (to most) planning for the last five years or so after doing a few bicycle tours and hitchhiking around Australia, America, and Southeast Asia. Now, finally, comes the approach of the big trip. .
I’ve officially got a departure date. February 5, 2017. I resigned from my jobs and there are a few bit of things I’m having to give up to start this trip. There are the things that I knew I’d give up that are easier and expected: jobs, material possessions, the idea of stability, creature comforts, retirement plans– the things that society constantly pumps us with the message that we are to value. I’ll be trading the illusion of stability for raw adventure. I’m not asking for permission, but asking for some support.
I realize how lucky that I am to be able to do this. There will be dangers, there will be times when I’ll probably feel like this isn’t the right thing to do. I’m willing to face hardships in order to make this succeed. In whatever amount of time it takes, my foolish (to most) plan is to hitchhike and perhaps bicycle in some areas from the United States, through Latin America, through Africa, Europe, Asia, and Australia/ New Zealand. Why do this? The simple answer is that I’ve become completely obsessed. There is a desire to meet people of other cultures without following the traditional tourist patterns. Using Couchsurfing, I’ll stay with local people or camp when I need to.
What will I be carrying? Only the essentials: a backpack with a sleeping bag, bivy sack, small inflatable mattress, 2 pairs of boxers (you can always wash one), 2 pairs of socks (same applies), a journal (to document), a small Martin travel acoustic guitar. I debated over and over again whether I should bring a fold-able bicycle or a guitar and settled on the guitar with the idea that I can always find a low-grade bike somewhere if I want to cycle certain parts of countries. Music is the best way I’ve found to communicate with locals when the language barrier is a brick.
“Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” Indeed, I met a girl who I love (unexpectedly, as it always is) two years ago in a pub in Denver and we’ve had many mountain hiking adventures and experiences together since we met. But she’s for her own reasons not able to join me for this trip understandably, and I have to go it alone. So there are things that you must give up that make leaving very difficult. If I waited any longer to depart, I never would. And this is something I must do because I am determined.
Staying determined through the trip’s natural occurring hardships will be a great challenge at times. I’m hoping that I’m mentally and spiritually prepared for that. A sense of humor always helps.
So if you see a hitchhiker on the side of the road with a guitar anywhere around the world, please pick him up because it might be me! Haha.
Below is an overly generalized version of my intended route. I’ll most likely be flying over the oceans and war zones that I might encounter, but other than that, I intend to remain with my feet on the lands. I want to experience the shift gradual shift of cultures and not just fly into places having skipped over the in-between. Of course, the world is too gigantic to see it all, but I will get a taste (in a very literal way) of all cultures of the world.
The 21st century is beginning as one of the most interesting and trivial times to be alive and I’m hoping to have a front row seat to it all. Through hitchhiking, I can share with all of you the different perspectives and events I find myself a part of around this planet.
This is a particularly long post but most of my daily blogs I intend to keep short due to the fact that I’ll be busy traveling and often be exhausted or have limited wi-fi.
I encourage you all to pursue that which makes you feel the deepest fire and most inspiration. Bon voyage! In early February, I will be hitchhiking south into Mexico and the hinterlands of Latin America.
Leaving Denver in the morning, heading to family for the holidays, I found that my cell phone had fallen out of my pocket on the bus. I backtracked all the way to where the bus and train line meet, where I found the bus driver standing there, my phone in his hand. So I got off to a rough start, yet still, lucky to receive it back. The first lift came from an Uber driver from tge country of Guinea. I walked and waited a few hours before getting picked up by a plumber heading east. Walking along the highway for an hour or so, a group of three pulled over blasting ICP andother forms of murderous music. One guy was a blabbing drunk, the other girl and guy (a couple) ready to pass out. I drove their vehicle four hours into the middle of Kansas. It was near Great Bend, Kansas that their drama unfolded and I found myself caught inside the net. They said it was jyst a few miles off the highway for a pit stop but she drove 90 mph along astate road with minimal traffic while her drug dealer boyfriend (he then told me his employment status) caresseda loaded AR-15. I was wishing out of the vehicle but there was no escaping. We arrived in Great Bend alive. The couple ditched the drunk and I found myself stranded, walking in pitch black along a farming road. No idea where I was. No map. It was raining, windy, and cold. Five minutes later, a family grabbed me in their truck after convincing them that I was not crazy. I was mostly miserable. A nice hispanic family invited me into their fiesta and I slept dry in the back of a guy’s truck. I had a conversation with a shirt-off-your-back guy who had lost his job and occasionally thought about jumping off the Lyons water tower. The tower wasdecoratedwith dangling Christmas lights. Out of Lyons, a trucker gave me a lift to Des Moines.
An excerpt from the book “Close Encounters of the Roadside Kind: A Hitchhiking Journey Around America in the 21st Century”:
I hitchhiked through the home of Wayne Gretzky, who has been often called the greatest hockey player ever. You can see why great hockey players would come from this area of Canada, with so many nearby small ponds and lakes that freeze over thick during winter. I was grabbed in traffic by a bloke from England, who migrated to Canada and never looked back. He said, “Years ago, me mate an’ I hitchhiked To France from England with zero dollars in our pockets. Best time of me life. I moved to Canada and like it here. The weather is better.”
One man that picks me up reminisces about his days traveling with his family as a kid. “My father worked in the oil fields in Saudi Arabia, so I was always traveling as a kid. One time I was in Africa and all these guerrilla fighters with machine guns jumped on the bus. I thought for sure, well, this is it, it was all nice, now I’m dead. Well, they grabbed the guy they were looking for and left! It was wild… These days I’m looking to buy a retirement house with my wife in the suburbs.”
My second night in Canada, I arrive in Niagara Falls, a breathtaking blue and white waterfall, a rainbow overhead. Niagara Falls has the highest flow of water in a waterfall anywhere in the world. Loads of tourists from all over flock to the site, snapping photographs, buying overpriced ice cream, tripping over selfie-sticks. Out of good humor, I ask a man struggling with a selfie-stick if he’d like me to snap a photo of himself and his misses. He politely refuses. Really, why carry these worthless products with you? The advertisers have realized how foolish consumers have become, what worthless products they’re willing to by—the selfie-stick proof of this phenomenon. Tourist shops surround the entire area of Niagara. I busk with my guitar and make a few dollars, a few compliments, a few kids dance, until a security guard politely tells me “sorry, you can’t play music here.” The area is excessively touristy at any rate; I’m happy to leave. Along Niagara Falls, just off the railing if one peers over the ledge, you can see heaps of trash that people have discarded over the seasons, never cleaned up: paper cups, cigarette butts, wrappers, faded tourist brochures. Therein is a problem that comes along with global tourism—people’s filth paraded alongside some of the world’s most amazing natural wonders.
I find a small piece of forested area alongside Niagara Falls to camp and fall asleep listening to the gush of the water rushing from Ontario all the way to the New York countryside. Tomorrow, I would follow the water into upstate New York, observe what the river led to.
You can find the full book for Amazon or Amazon Kindle here:
I walk over a river in the morning and chat with a local on the way out of town. My accent is immediately recognizable. ‘Yous’ a yank, are yeh?,” he asks me. He directs me to walk around the bend to where there is a better spot for people to pull over. This turns out to be good advice.
I’m picked up by a guy delivering a BMW SUV and he’s heading north of Bundaberg. We stop in a town to have the vehicle inspected for emissions and safety regulations. I make it to the Gold Coast and ask a couple if they will watch my backpack while I go for a jog along the beach and a dip in the ocean. It is trusting of me but I determine that I have nothing worth stealing inside the backpack anyways.
The Gold Coast is a hot spot for tourists and surfers. The closest comparison I can think of to it in the US would be the beaches in Los Angeles. Therefore, I don’t care for it too much and I hitchhike out of town at nightfall over a red fire sun that is setting over the ocean and creating jaw-dropping images that I burn into my retina. I’m picked up by a local guy coming home from work and driving a meat delivery truck. He is also a country musician of some sort and invites me out to karaoke with some friends of his.
While driving out to the pub, a family of kangaroos are spotted hopping around near the apartment. After a few glasses of whisky, they somehow convince me to get up with them and sing Stevie Ray Vaughn’s “Cold Shot” and it must have been some time shortly after that song that we decide to leave.
The next day I get a lift from a guy who installs high-tech roofs that are mechanical in that they can open up to let the sun inside. He tells me that he has a daughter that got a basketball scholarship and lives in Austin. Dan sets me off where he has work that morning.
While hitching just outside a McShit’s, I get offered a ride by the first trucky in Australia. He tells me about the speed and Codeine epidemic that was prevalent in the last decade and probably still is in different shapes and forms today. He shows me an extensive log book that his employer requires him to fill out. “It’s tedious, annoying and there are always ways around it,” he tells me.
“There are big fines for not following road laws for truck drivers,” he says. ‘Even for riding in the wrong lane you can get a 600 dollar fine.” That night I make it into Bundaberg and sit down in the bleachers at the local park and watch some people play Aussi hockey. It has nothing to do with ice skates and the “sticks” they players carry are more like golf clubs.
There is a solid cracking sound when a player hits the “puck”, which is more like a baseball. They players wear minimal padding and I’m not sure how there are so few injuries.
I sleep in the park and will hitchhike the two kilometers from the park to the farm I have found work at the next day through gumtree.com, a site similar to Craigslist.
Wake up at the face of dawn. Start walking towards the area of the town the farmer lives in and a local tells me “I reckon it’s about seven kilometers away”, so it was further than I originally expected. Nobody picks me up. I’m late for work. I start shouting four letter words in frustration.
Minutes later, a farmer pulls up in a silver truck and yells out the window, “You Jack?”
“Yes sir I am.”
I was about 20 minutes late on the first day but he turned out to be a considerate and understanding man. He says expressions like “All good” and “righty-o” often.
Later a girl working on the farm admits that she had seen me in the morning but decided that she didn’t like to stop for hitchhikers. I spend the day pulling weeds, toiling in the hot sun and walking through muddy rows of flower plants. I just about ran into giant spider webs while walking the rows a few times.
An Australian cattle dog named Bruiser lounges out at the end of the day as I play my guitar. Hayden says that he will pick me up in town at the park the next morning for work. “No worries, I’ll have coffee ready in the mornin’,’ he says and drops me off for the night.
Next morning is spent pulling weeds and vines all day at the farm. I’m in need of travel funds so I’m grateful for the work. I help Hayden with a flower set-up in the front of the roadway. Flower business is booming. It’s the day before Mother’s Day.
Later that night, while walking around the town of Bundaberg I run into a man named Allen who invites me into the pub for a beer. I get the impression he is already slightly smockered, but this seems to be his normal state of consciousness. He invites me to come see his boat that he lives on in the water. Flashbacks of the movie Wolf Creek play through my mind. Ultimately, genuine curiosity overrides my false sense of dread.
We paddle out to the vessel on his tinny and he shows me around his small quarters. “I’ve traveled all around the country on this boat, following the construction work,” he says. “This is the life for some of us, as we must. Some people say that I’m lucky to live like this, but there is no luck involved… not like it just fell into my hands.”
I ask him what he thinks happiness is. He ponders this for a moment. “Doing what you said you’d do and seeing it accomplished,” he says. Surrounding us, the lake is calm, spacious. A chill floats in the air and hangs like a timepiece.
Four beers later, he shows me a piece of wood in the center of the boat that moves to the side that he uses as a makeshift bathroom. “Sometimes I push people in there when I don’t like ‘em and turn ‘em to shark bait,” he says, laughs.
Somehow he stumbles his way off the boat and rows me back to shore. Somebody in the neighboring boat shines a spotlight in our faces. Allen holds up a hand to keep the light from blinding him.
“What are you doing?!,” the paranoid person in the other boat asks.
“What’s it look like I’m doing?,” Allen asks.
The man continues to shine the spotlight in his face.
“If you don’t get that light out of my face cunt, I’ll shove this ore up your arse.”
The man keeps the light on us all the way till shore. Some neighbors he has out here on this waterfront.
That night I meet up with Nazarine, the girl that I had met back in Alice Springs. She is staying at a hostel run by Asians and works on a tomato farm. I find out that she has just been leading me on and avoiding me the whole time, she just doesn’t have the courage to say it. I feel like I wasted a lot of efforts and took a detour to come out and see her. She had been the one encouraging me to come see her in the beginning.
I tell her if that’s the way it was, then I’d just assume piss off.
She blows me a half-ass kiss as I walk away.
Oh well. Isn’t that just how it goes sometimes?
Spend the better half of the day finishing the rows on the farm. Second half was spent around the campfire with everyone laughing and telling stories.
Bruiser the farm dog lazes around the campfire and listened in to our every word. The Ozzies out here are a daring and bold bunch of blokes in their lifestyles and hospitalities.
The next day I get a lift all the way to Rockhampton by one of the farmer’s friends. They are heading that way to meet up with some friends. We have dinner at KFC and I must head to a park for a place to sleep.
Out of curiosity, I inquire as to what the price of a cheap motel might be in the area. It turns out to be 90 dollars for a night. I walk out of the motel and find a six star motel on some soft green grass in the park for the night.
A man picks me up near the ocean side in a small town. I’ve been waiting for well over an hour. Hitchhiking is starting to drain me. I need something to revitalize myself.
“I almost passed you up,” he says. “But something in my gut clicked that I should give you a lift. Always listen to your gut mate.”
He tells me that his wife got pregnant a long time ago and he got trapped in the monotony of the working class life. Before that all happened, he used to travel. “I’m well off financially,” he tells me. “But trading up freedom for comforts was not the best decision, honestly although I love my family.”
He drops me off at a grocery store and quickly sticks some notes in my coat pocket, to my protest. “Seriously, please take it,” he says. “I don’t need it.”
Later, I pull out two wadded notes and to my surprise find 100 dollars. I could have got a motel after all last night. Yet that would have been a waste of funds.
I’m picked up by another trucky who nearly skids to the side of the road when he sees me. He sprinkles some pot in his makeshift soda can bowl and has a smoke. He has a definite roughneck edge to him. Wears a straw hat.
‘I got kids with these two cunts,” he says. “Both of ‘em taking all me working money.”
“You should go to Western Australia,” he says. “That’s where I’m from, you probably wouldn’t guess it. The cunts in the city won’t help no one. The blokes in the west are true blue mate.” He sets me off alongside a construction site.
Then I’m picked up by an old man. “I’m on a pension and retired,” he says. “I don’t go to the pubs no more, don’t drink. I just sort of go around these days.” There’s something sad about the man’s tone of voice, like he’s distant, waiting to die.
Get picked up by a mechanic with two horse dogs who works on the fleets belonging to the local miners.
“They beat the piss out of them,” he says. “They don’t even do maintenance on them; just drive them for thousands of miles till they fall to pieces.
He sets me off and I start walking along country road as the rain sweeps in and I started wondering where I might sleep for the night. This doesn’t look like a light rain; it looks like a potential downpour. I’m not sure how my bevy sack will hold up in that. I need a makeshift shelter. Drainage ditches seem to be the only option along the lonesome country road.
Luckily, an islander with dreadlocks and white guy in the passenger seat pull over and pick me up. They give me a lift all the way to Airlie Beach. I am completely convinced that these guys were angels or some other power disguised as humans. I’ll sleep at a park just before the turn-off to the beach.
“Looks like the weather is better here and glad we could help,” the islander says. “Beats walking the whole way!”
Later that night, the rain faucets down in heavy spurts and I take shelter underneath under the overhang and when that starts to flood I have to take shelter in a bathroom. I don’t get much rest that night. When a security guard kicks me out of the park in the middle of the night I finish my rest across the street at a bus stop shelter.
A guy driving a Ute is my first ride in the morning to Airlie Beach. Most of the people passing by seem to be tourists so they don’t stop. This guy is a local.
We arrive at Airlie Beach where there is the ocean amongst hostel after hostel. “When the bus dropped me off 15 years ago this was all grass and I slept on the beach,” he tells me. The modernized Airlie Beach has a more tourist-catered feel. Paved sidewalks are everywhere and tourist shops abound. I imagine that it would have been a nicer place to come to fifteen years ago. Maybe I was born too late.
“None of the housing development on the hills was there,” he says, pointing to million dollar mansions overlooking the ocean. “Prices are jacked up here now and so is the cost of living. My partner and I sold our home here and traveled the world for two years.”
I meet a girl named Lynn while swimming near the lagoon in Airlie Beach. She is taking a short break from her life in England to enjoy some of what Australia had to offer. I opt out of the youth hostel (as I don’t like hanging out in areas where everyone else congregates) and I head down the beach and find a secluded spot underneath the trees to sleep. The sound of the receding tide invites me into a state of temporary coma.
The next day I get stuck in the pouring rain for three hours and countless cars pass me by and nobody picks me up. Grace comes in a small Toyota car with a school teacher from Proserpine inside. He has some good ideas as to what direction the United States should go, he said. “The States should convert to the metric system,” he says. “It would make things a lot easier all around the world. Not to mention all the jobs it would create for the American people in the process of switching over. Just changing out the highway signs would take some workers.”
He tells me that his wife and he have dreams of moving to Spain in the near future.
Then I’m picked up by an Aboriginal guy with a dog in the back seat as I eat my peanut butter sandwiches on the side of the road. It’s not raining anymore. “I’ve lived in Queensland my whole life,” he tells me. He gets work picking fruit whenever he can.
He invites me back to his place for some coffee and we take turns spray painting hitchhiking signs with some leftover orange spray paint he has laying around. We write T-VILLE in bold letters, representing Townsville.
A few hours later I’m picked up by a guy that is a sugar cane train conductor. “In the morning I’m going for a drug test for a new job,” he says, pointing to a container of fake urine in his glove compartment. “It’s no worries, I’ll pass,” he says and smiles.
He also has a passion for motorcycles. “I have lots of biker friends that complain since you can’t ride in groups anymore,” he says. “If you ride in groups of more than 3, you can get up to 15 years in jail. It’s ridiculous.”
Later, a cop shakes his finger at me while hitchhiking. Something tells me the cop has never hitchhiked before. I ignore him and carry on.
I get a lift from a construction worker who informs me about some of the wildlife and especially the ticks in Australia. “I once got one in my head and didn’t know it before I fell asleep that night,” he says. “I woke up with a huge lump on my head.” It sounds like a horror story and I make a note to myself to check over my body for ticks before falling asleep that night.
I check in at the supermarket hotel and they have room in the back where the artificial lights are dimmed out and there’s nothing around but the stars.
A caravan with a camper trailer cuts us off causing the driver to swerve out of the way. She just about honks the horn but something causes her to refrain. “Oh well,” she says. “Without tourism this town would die.” This is in the small town of Ingham, Australia.
The car rambles on, the motor thumping away at the beat of its’ last legs of life. The lady who has offered me a ride is an older country woman. “We have a chicken at the farm that lays 8 to 10 eggs each day,” she says with a measure of pride.
Hitchhiking has been slow-going and tough in this area.
On a winding road through the tropical region near Cairns and sprawls of sugar cane plantations I wait on the side of the road for over two hours before a ride finally comes. One short ride had gotten me into a tough spot where the traffic was too fast and it was difficult for anyone to pull over, even if they wanted to. I get a lift from an Aboriginal man named Matt, who has picked up a couple that are hitchhiking together all around Australia. Not only are they hitchhiking Australia but they say they have been continuously wandering the roads, landscape and culture of Australia for over five years. They make their travel money from their online business. They seem cautious to tell me exactly what that online business is.
Matt, the driver works for a company called Linked-In that helps Aboriginal people link with their lost relatives from the Stolen Generation. I ask him what his job ensues.
“It’s a mixture of using library databases, computers, and speaking with local communities,” he says. “Some kids were taken away as far as New Zealand, even the United States in some instances.”
Amanda tells me a story about her and Alex driving a desolate road in Australia once and a man came out of the bushes with torn clothing and a three-foot long beard. “We usually pick up every hitchhiker we see, it’s our commitment,” she said. “But that was the one guy we actually passed up. “He looked like he had been living in the bush for years.”
Hours later, we arrive in Cairns and I call Max my host. He says that he won’t be around till tomorrow, so it looks like I’ll be camping again tonight. I throw out my guitar case and busk for awhile and in over an hour I’ve done considerably well. People appreciate the music, except for a disgruntled fat woman who acts as the authoritative manager and tells me I have to move along. I wonder how she would feel if someone came and told her to “move along” with her job? I’m creating a pleasant atmosphere for her customers; some people can be thoughtless and robotic in nature.
I can’t fully blame her though. It’s only the pressures and the weight of the world. Her boss pressures her to behave and remain obedient to the rules of the Corporate Masters.
I stealth camp right in front of the grocery store, in a small island of grass filled with trees. I lay low inside my bevy sack and take shelter from the misty rain that falls and comes down off the mountains.
Max picks me up the following day and takes me to his mansion at the top of the hills in Cairns. It’s a beautiful tropical spot and his home is surrounded by a rainforest setting. Birds chirp, the wind brings in a breeze that is fresh and pure. I’m greeted by his dog Mango, a spunky red dog that can run like none other and is full of energy.
Max doesn’t let his success get in the way with his passion for helping fellow travelers and making genuine friendships. Being used to sleeping on the streets, these conditions feel like the ultimate luxury to me. It’s a sharp contrast to what I’ve been living like yet it still feels the same.
Max tells me over coffee that he invested in Sydney real estate years back and he lucked out when the market rose drastically in the recent decade.
I borrow his mountain bike and cycle/ push it to the top of a hill. It is 20 kilometers to the top and no easy feat yet the view is incredibly rewarding. I look out at sprawling green canopy and a fresh-lake below. A biologist from Germany stands beside me at the lookout with a set of binoculars. “Look this way,” he says, handing me the binoculars. “There’s an eagle’s nest over there. And you’d never guess what’s over that way, it’s not what you’d expect in this area… there are a couple feral cattle.”
The biologist tells me that the fox bats that live in the area can travel up to 200 kilometers every night. They contribute to the well-being of the ecosystem by spreading the seeds of the fruit they eat in their scat, increasing the trees through the jungle landscape. The new mayor of Cairns has recently made plans to cut down trees that the thousands of bats frequent in the local parks in order to get rid of them and encourage them to live outside of the city.
“The mayor is a fool,” he says. “He sees the bats as a nuisance. Politicians rarely understand nature and how ecosystems work. They shouldn’t be allowed to make these decisions.”
On my way back from the bike ride, I notice thousands of fox bats camped out and hanging upside down in the park, staying cool during the day.
Max and I venture into the downtown Cairns area and I busked with my guitar for a few hours with slide style and traditional playing. The highlight of the performance was when a few young kids start dancing around and spinning around the telephone pole, laughing and playing.
I meet another traveler named Todd and together we hike to a waterfall. On the way in, we run into a baby brown snake that hisses and lunges at us, fangs bearing. I nearly walk on top of it since it blends in with the twigs and sticks along the trail. I jump back quicker than I think I ever have before!
Swimming underneath the waterfall is a feeling like none other. There are few tourists in the spot too which makes it even better. It is cold and refreshing. Max and his partner Jacob cook a great meal and in the morning, they will set me off on the road that continues back south to Townsville and then I will head west back to Katherine. I am going to try another attempt at making it to Western Australia.
The next day they drop me off along the road and I’m heading southbound back the direction I came from. It takes at least three hours to get a lift and I just throw my backpack down on the ground in frustration. I have a seat and listen to the wind blow in the trees. Somehow, it speaks.
I’m given a lift by a wild trucky who nearly slams on the brakes when he sees me and pulls right over. The patience has paid off. “Oh so you’re an AmeerrrrrrrrriCAN!,” he says frenetically as we drive off into the setting sun. He tells me that he doesn’t take his job too seriously since it’s just extra income to support his family.
“I blow glass and sell it on the black market,” he says. “I make more than twice the money doing that than what I make in the trucking business. My father got me started with blowing. He gave me a four-year internship.” His rig is two trailers long and he’s got just a few stops left for the day. He’s come all the way from Sydney at the beginning of the day.
We stop at a meat shop and deliver I help him unload some of the day’s meat.
He blasts his speakers and puts in music from Aussi rock bands from the eighties and stereotypical trucky music. There’s something great about this since Jim isn’t your typical trucky; he’s somebody with dreams. He runs over a dead kangaroo on purpose just to mess with me. I brace myself for a giant bounce in the cab but the beastly rig doesn’t even tremble in the slightest.
What I really remember about riding with Jim is that we were laughing hysterically the whole way to Townsville. “This is a lazy man’s job mate,” Jim tells me and pops a DVD in the DVD player. We watch cheesy American war films from the seventies and eighties. He even invites me to stay at his hotel and we have a steak meal. Tomorrow I’ll be doing the same thing I’ve been doing—that is, leaving town.
I leave the hotel about eight o’clock, an hour after Jim has already hit the road. Before he walks out he wishes me luck, coffee cup in hand. “I’m an Australllliiiiian!,” he says, and walks out the door with a laugh. As I wait out at the best choice hitchhiking spot I notice lots of prison guards on their way to work. Obviously, there is a prison somewhere in the area and this factor doesn’t make for good hitchhiking.
Eventually, an older guy pulls over on his way to Richmond and wants the company. He is a veteran with World War 2 stories. He tells me how the English had sent in the Aussis to the front lines but when the Japanese wanted to invade Australia, only the Americans had come to aid.
“I had a friend who fought in Vietnam and had to hide in a ditch in the jungle by himself. The adversary was onto him and while he was hiding, the Vietnamese pissed on him from on top of the hill. He didn’t want to blow his cover, so the poor bloke just had to take getting pissed on.”
The man is full of stories. One of the best ones, however, is a story about a joy ride he took with his hot rod as a young bloke. “I was out for a joy ride and nearly ran over a cop who jumped back while I was passing a car. The cop jumped in his cruiser and followed but I cut off to a side street and got away and he never caught up with me. Anyways, twenty years later I went to a party and the guy that used to be a cop comes up to me and says,’ you’re the guy that nearly ran me over 20 years ago! We were searching for you!’ Anyways, we both had a good laugh over that one.”
I ask him what life is like out in this part of the country for most people. “Well,” he says. “People out here might come across hard at first, and maybe they are—but they’re darn hard workers mate. It takes a certain kind of perseverance to get by in this kind of country.”
He has some borderline racist views towards the Aboriginals. “They were only here 200 years before the Europeans came to the continent at most,” he says. “Half of their cave dwelling artwork was made recently with white man’s paint, so they just use it to claim it as sacred land. Most of the times, they’re just trouble. They have been known to hunt the farmer’s local sheep and drag them into the forest. Also, they have been known to poison their babies in some instances… I have a friend who’s a nurse that has told me stories. ”
I just nod my head and listen. I suppose everyone has an opinion.
At the gas station where he drops me off two Germans are camping in their van with a cardboard sign that has been written on with a black marker. STRANDED: NEED A TOW, it says. I say hello and ask them how long they’d been there. “Three days,” the girl says slowly and clearly, with a trace of resentment and trepidation in her voice.
I buy them a bag of chips and a couple sodas and wish them luck. I imagine it’s hard to find a cheap mechanic in this desolate area considering that they probably live miles away and are the only mechanic shop in the area. Probably some kind of monopoly results with spiked prices.
I wait for an hour for the next lift. The landscape is dry and barren and the wind picks up the speed. I’m truly in the middle of nowhere, where only a lonely gas station and cattle surround me. It’s like Texas in Australia here.
I take out my map and have a look and it sinks in just how huge the expanses are between towns in this part of the country. Often, there is nothing for miles and miles. Then it dawns on me that I’m sitting on the wrong side of the road (the American right side) and it’s no wonder that I’m not getting any lifts! The sun must be getting to my head.
Hawks circle the road, searching for carcass to scavenge. Leaves blow in from the wind and there is the pungent smell of cow shit. The sky is baby blue with only a few faints wisps of white clouds.
I luck out and two girls pick me up on the way to the mines, one of them particularly cute. “We work near the mines in Cloncery,” they tell me. The girl shows me a picture of her operating a piece of machinery. “I get to work in an air-conditioned truck all day so it’s not so bad,” she says.
The girl in the passenger seat tells me that she had a friend in jail who met Ivan Milat. “He was a scary guy,” she says. “He sat all by himself in the cafeteria and he used to have menacing jokes with the other inmates. He used to say ‘what’s the difference between a German and a French backpacker? Ten meters, he would say.”
I set up my guitar once we are in town outside the grocery store as my food funds are running low. A group of Aboriginal kids run up to me and start firing a million questions. “Did you walk? Where’d you come from mate?! How long will you stay here? Why are you traveling?”
It’s a bit overwhelming but the kids are awesome and full of energy so I buy them popsicles once I make a few dollars. A guy pulls over and hands me his number on a piece of paper, tells me that he can offer a place to stay for the night if I’m interested. A miner limps into the supermarket and is missing an arm. I can only assume this is the result of a mining accident. Some people have rough but they remain resilient for their families.
Everybody knows everybody here but the locals are accepting and trusting. They allow me to play in front of the supermarket with no problems.
That night, the Aboriginal kids help me find the guys’ house who had offered a place to stay. We walk through the streets in the darkness of night, some of them on their bicycles. One young kid not older than 14 lights up a cigarette and takes a drag. “You shouldn’t do that,” I tell him. “It’s really bad for you.”
He smiles. “We die young though,” he tells me simply. Maybe he’s right. He recites the lyrics to a 2Pac song. America’s influence on every street corner; maybe it’s a dirty shame.
Every night, the kids say, they play a game of “run from the coppas.” There is a curfew for the kids at 9:30, which they dutifully do not follow and make a game of the whole thing. This is the fun they have living in this small town.
I can’t help but quickly grow attached to these kids. They don’t have much and neither do I. I feel like these kids’ chaperone on a retreat. At the same time, they’re giving me a tour of the town through their innocent eyes. “That’s our school,” one kid says, pointing to a tiny building with faded white shingles.
A quiet kid who follows close to my side speaks up. “My dad’s dead,” he says out of the blue. “I found my Dad hanging from a rope in his room one day. I miss him.” The crickets stop chirping, the world stops spinning and I can’t think of anything to say. I hand him a guitar pick, pat him on the shoulder.
We finally arrive at the guys’ house, only to find out that from a tentative woman that answers the door who says “he might have been on drugs tonight and there is no place for you to stay.”
We depart and I begin the search of finding a soft piece of green grass in this late night hour.
I camp next to a church and am haunted by mosquitoes and the occasional familiar ghosts.
Nothing but the crows leaving this town
In the morning breeze, locals must know better
Home is where you’ll never leave
I write in my journal in the morning as I wait for a ride. As I’m sitting on the concrete steps next to the local library drinking my morning coffee, a dog comes zipping frenetically out of nowhere and rolls over, has ten seconds of bliss, and runs off again. Happy as a free-roaming dog in a small town, since that’s what he is. His name must be Freedom.
I try some delicious pastries from the only bakery that sits on the corner, recommended to me by a couple road workers. “It’s the only place to go,” one of the guys tells me.
Eventually the dust clears and a guy that works in the mines picks me up. “I heard you playing your guitar in front of the store last night,” he tells me. “I dug your music and when I saw you standing there I was like ‘whoah, that’s the same guy!”
He offers insight on the mines surrounding Mt. Isa. “In Mt. Isa, the industry is worth 2.3 billion dollars a week, after wages and taxes.” If the mining in the areas were to end or come to a halt, many of these families and residents would have to simply pack up and leave. There would be nothing left to sustain them.
He tells me a heavy story about his friend who was bitten by a brown snake, which has deadly poisonous venom. (What snakes in Australia don’t carry deadly poisonous venom?)
“We were out four-wheeling and he happened to be in the wrong place, wrong time,” he says. “He’s stepped off his ATV and the snake must have been underneath him. He stepped off and the snake was right there. He walks up to me, almost casual-like, trying to keep his blood from circulating too fast and says ‘mate, that snake, it just bit me’. So I got him inside my Ute and I floored it all the way to the hospital, nearly ran over an old lady at the front entrance. They had to amputate his leg. There was nothing else they could do and he was lucky he didn’t die that day and could take his life home with him.”
The hard red and dusty landscape passes us by. “People have your back in this part of the country,” he says. “We depend on each other. You have to live that way to survive. To this day, my mate still says ‘if it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be here’. I just tell him that he wouldn’t have been bitten if I hadn’t suggested going four-wheeling together!”
Jake is a down-to-earth kind of bloke. Most people that offer rides while hitchhiking tend to lean that way. Halfway into the ride, he tells me that his father is a billionaire investor and recently purchased a 400,000 dollar house for his partner and him to share. In either fate or coincidence, it turned out that the house actually belonged to his girlfriend’s grandfather at one point in it’s’ history.
“My Dad always takes care of me, but I wish I could see him more,” he says. “He’s always busy chasing the next investment, the next big deal closure. I called him the other day and he immediately asked ‘do you need money?’ and I was like no…”
“I wanted to tell him that I just want to spend time with him but I just couldn’t say it,” he says.
Once, his Dad took him around in a rented Lamborghini. “Once the speed reaches above 150 miles per hour, the back side actually raises up and is grounded in the front,” he says. “It was the biggest rush of adrenaline I had ever experienced!”
Jake’s heritage comes from New Zealand and his father originally came from being dirt poor and having nothing. “His x wife tried to bleed him of everything he worked for,” he tells me.
I tell him about the drug-addict that had offered me a place to stay last night but had been out of his mind.
“Mt. Isa also has a lot of drug problems,” he confirms. “Mt. Isa is also a helluva a place to get stuck mate.”
Two hours later, I’m stuck in Mt. Isa and frustration of the passing cars returns. The mechanics at the local shop watch me from across the street. The mining infrastructure is massive amounts of machinery and giant metallic buildings that blow out smoke and pollution beyond your wildest dreams. Further than your farthest nightmares.
I kick at clumps of dust and rocks. Even reading my current book or playing my guitar doesn’t’ sound enticing. I swat the hundreds of flies away from my face that try desperately to dive into my eyeballs. I desperately try to swat them with my shirt—the disgusting maggots are quicker witted than I.
Hours later, just before the giant red ball of fire slides behind the floating chunk of Earth, a white van comes screeching to a stop. The door slides open. A cloud of dust explodes into a mushroom cloud.
Inside the van, there is a bed and four French people squeezed into the back along with their backpacks. “Hop in!”
It’s like God has sent this dirty, stinking van to my rescue in this God awful dirty, stinking town that smells like coal. I throw my dusty backpack inside and hop in knowing full well that as always, I’m in for a ride.
An insect blends in with the tree and its’ surroundings so that it can survive, so that it won’t be eaten by the bigger creatures and swallowed up by the bigger things that surround it. In some ways, people are the same way. People blend in and conform to social norms so that they can feel comfortable, safe, so that the system doesn’t eat them up. Maybe this is the reason that franchises and corporations are starting to decorate the world landscape.
Are people by nature scared to try new things? It is easier to always experience the monotonous?
We’re all just pawns, destined to be moved by someone else if we don’t move ourselves.
These are the kind of philosophical conversations we have in the back of the van. We just lounge out in the back as the miles pass by in the night. The back of the van smells like yesteryears’ dirty socks and wet dog. None of us mind this and the French guys that picked me up simply don’t give a shit. That is their freedom, their philosophy to live by, moment to moment.
Their tactics for acquiring road funds involve setting up a cardboard sign in front of gas stations and busking for gas money. Their sign reads: SOS- OUT OF GAS! They tell me that originally their sign actually said SOS-NO GAS! but somebody called it in to the local police thinking that they were Green Peace protesters against the shipment and consumption of petroleum. So they reinterpreted their cardboard sign.
At one lonely gas station, we have just started jamming and an old Aboriginal woman steps out of the car and hands our driver a 100 dollar bill. It is shocking to me. When the French guys start packing up their guitar I’m a bit saddened that the jam has ended before it even began—it was just getting started. They explain to me that it’s respectful to leave after some has offered to fill your tank so they don’t assume that they are using the money for something else.
These desert towns are strange places and take on a life of their own. Everyone is either transitory or stuck with no in between. One Aboriginal man that seems to be in the stuck category offers our driver sixty dollars at one spot in exchange for buying him a case of beer. The town has limits on how much beer one person can buy per day—not that any rule ever kept people from getting their fix.
Our driver consents to this and the man comes over and siphons the gas out of a can using his mouth. “Don’t you want something to wash out your mouth with?,” the driver asks, offering some water.
“No, it’s alright mate,” he says. Siphoning gasoline seems to be an accustomed practice for him.
Night falls and we stop at pub that has old bicycles set up in the front for decoration and a few locals zombie around inside. I walk inside later after taking a short walk around the park by myself. The two French guys seem to be in some kind of argument with the bartender. He has sold them beer and then tells them they have to drink it away from the pub, even though there are plenty of open seats.
“Yes, but I gave you the take-away price,” he tells them.
“The price wasn’t cheap,” the French guy says. “I don’t think you offered us a special price. Why can’t we just drink these out on the patio?”
The bartender won’t have it and he doesn’t take kind to travelers. However, he takes kindly to the funds that travelers bring into his establishment.
“Then why do the others get to drink inside the bar?,” the French guy persists.
“Because they paid more for the beer. You do the math.”
I try to make eye contact at let them know that it’s best we leave even though this guy is a complete dickhead. We defiantly pull out a table from the back of the van and set it up across the street. We play cards and drink beer on the other side of the bar.
A massive tourist bus pulls up alongside the pub. Its seats are empty with the exception of the driver. The driver walks in and comes out after a few minutes with two cases of beer.
We theorize that the driver must have a contract with the pub to bring tourists into the pub every day. In exchange, the pub owner offers him heavily discounted or absolutely free beer.
I remember what the pub owner had condescendingly said. You do the math.
That’s what tourism business becomes when it mixes with giant industry—impersonal and only a matter of numbers. The relationship becomes one of capital and loses all personal human touch. The traveler is seen as a walking bank to some greedy establishments.
I’m not bashing Australian pubs here—most of the pubs I walk into are full of people full of life and open to more conversation and life outside of pocket books. This is an element of the tourist industry that is prevalent in some areas, however, some more than others.
We stay up till the early hours of the morning chatting, laughing and playing cards. Sometimes they will go into French-mode and I can only get the gist of what they are saying.
Defiantly, the French guys park their van across the street in front of the pub and go to sleep. In the morning, an old lady walking her dog whines about us sleeping along the roadside and commands us to pay and “sleep at the RV Park next time.”
In the middle of the desert, we climb to the top of an old wind mill. Around us, blue sky and golden desert, a vast openness and isolated independence.
We arrive in Katherine and I find myself in the small Northern Territory town for the second time. I’ve officially hitchhiked around half of Australia; what remains is Western Australia, the large expanse of the west. The town seems just the same as it was just over a month ago. The Aboriginals hang out in the shade of trees in the parks. Locals and tourists hang out near the hot springs. Time hangs on like a clump of bush dust.
I go for a hike along the trail near the springs. Abandoned rusty automobiles and white gum trees decorate the yellowed dry landscape.
Shelby, my Couchsurfing host, meets me in the park as we play cards. I grab my guitar and backpack full of Australian dust, say goodbye to the French crew and hop in her car. I find myself in the company of a few local teachers for the night and we go out to the pub for drinks and dinner. She tells me that there is a high turnover rate at the schools in Katherine and not many teachers stick around long-term. Shelby is one of the few that does.
She tells me that she is going to a music event with her friends the next day and to my luck they are heading to Kununurra, which is a small town the northwestern Kimberly region of Australia. This is reassuring, as it means that I won’t have to get stuck waiting for a ride out of Katherine for three days as it happened last time.
We cross into Western Australia and the landscape changes drastically. Steep rocky escarpments cut through the dry land and Boab trees pop up through the soil. Boab trees are iconic to the landscape of Western Australia, some of them living up to 1,500 years old. They were used as food, medicine, and shelter by the Aboriginal people and when the white settlers came, they were used as directional markers as well as makeshift prison trees in some instances. The Boab trees seem to reach up to the sky in a fifty-finger claw; they are some of the oldest trees in the world and each tree seems to take on a distinct personality of its own. The only other place in the world you can find Boab trees is Africa. Some theorize that early nomadic people brought the seeds from Africa over to Australia but the most likely theory seems to be that Australia and Africa were at one point in distant history a part of the same land mass.
We cross the Western Australia border and the billboard reads : Western Australia, A Great Place. It was like the planners couldn’t think of a better way to advertise this part of the country. You can imagine them sitting at a table, dressed sharply in business suits. “Well, any other ideas for slogans, anybody?”
“Hmmm… how about ‘Western Australia: A good place.’
“No Frank, that one’s been used before. We need something snappy, something attention-getting that will really reel the tourists in.”
Someone raises their hand.
“Oh, I know! Western Australia: A Great Place.”
“ Ok, good enough. Let’s go with that.”
I spend a good portion of the day playing guitar with my case open in front of the local Woolworth’s with a cardboard sign that reads: Looking for a lift to Broome. A German guy introduces himself as Wolf and says that he’s heading to Broome in the next couple days and is looking for a travel companion.
“I just have to wait till I can get my truck fixed,” he says. He jots down his number on a piece of paper and tells me to call him in a few days.
Later, a fat woman in a security uniform approaches me. “ Did you know what you are doing is illegal?,” she asks condescendingly.
“Illegal?,” I ask her. I wasn’t aware that playing music was illegal in this part of Australia.
She leans over and her voice turns to a slight whisper, as if to let me in on a secret. “We have a big problem with the Aboriginals,” she says. She says this as if she were talking about the local mosquito problem.
Aboriginal people are hanging around, some bored, some talking to each other. In all fairness, earlier there was a fight between to Aboriginals that lived on the streets right next to where I play. When they hear me playing, they suddenly stop in the middle of the fight and listen to the music, seemingly forgetting about what they were doing before.
“I don’t see a problem with them,” I tell her. “I’m just playing music.”
She won’t have it. “Rules are rules,” she says. It’s not my country and it’s not my town. I pack my stuff up and walk on. Small minds often speak the loudest. Why is that?
As I’m leaving an Aboriginal guy in a blue and white mechanic’s uniform walks up to me, extends his hand. We shake hands. His eyes are blood shot and his words are slurred.
“The name’s Crow,” he says, pointing to his red name tag. The name tag reads Crow.
I ask him about the concert and how much it costs to get in. “Yes, there is a concert mate,” he says. “But people like us, we don’t pay. We don’t go through the front gate… we go around.” He speaks in secrets, whispers, an ancient demeanor.
While walking towards the concert I run into an old eccentric German man. “I’ve lived in Australia for over 30 years,” he tells me. “But I can remember, I was 8 or 9 when Hitler paraded through the streets of my home town. I can remember when my sister died when mortar came crashing down when the Americans bombed our house. I was in the other room and I’m lucky even to be alive.”
We start walking and find ourselves passing a fancy pub. Being a true German, he says, “Let’s go get a beer, fuck it.” We walk into the pub and an Indian man who happens to be the owner looks at my jug of orange juice that I am carrying along with my backpack and says, “you can’t drink that in here.”
Old Man Markus glares at him. “Of course we didn’t come here to drink orange juice, we came here for a beer,” he tells the owner bluntly. “What the fawk did you think we came here for?” The small Indian man walks off.
We have a seat at a table on the balcony. “See, all these people wasting their time,” he tells me. “Like that Indian man that owns this place. Why doesn’t he just mind his own fuckin’ business, ya know? I don’t have time to waste. I could die any minute. I know it’s not a good way to put it, but it’s true. “
He then goes on to tell me that he recently found from his doctor that his aorta has doubled in size and is on borrowed time. “The doctor told me that I should have died months ago,” he says. We catch a bus to the music festival and are let down by the mediocre music acts that are performing.
“It’s gotten worse every year,” Markus says. “I’ve lived here for five years and it’s like the more they promote it, the more they charge, the more hype there is, the worse the bands get. I told you, the concert is not worth even sneaking into for free, let alone paying for it.”
Markus shows me a “good spot” in the park that I could potentially camp for the night. I notice that there are sprinkler heads in the area. “Won’t the sprinklers turn on?,” I ask him.
“Oh no, you don’t have to worry about that,” he says. “I live across the street and I’ve never seen them turn on during the weekends. Besides, if you stay in this gazebo, the sprinklers wouldn’t even reach if they did turn on…”
Markus takes off for the night and that night, not only do the sprinklers turn on but they come blasting on without warning and I have to make a mad dash with all my stuff across the park. Not without first getting blasted and completely soaked. It’s one in the morning.
At first, I wake to the sound of birds and the crack of a sore back. I’m still wet from the night before. Then I feel a sharp pain in my shin and realize that during the night when I had to move I had coincidentally laid on a fire ant colony! I jump up and do a wild dance and frantically brush the aggressive ants off my body. Who needs coffee when you have fire ants?
I grab a shower from the local caravan park and start walking out of town. The first lift comes from a guy driving a taxi van, offering lifts to people to the airport. “I was heading that way anyways, so I thought I might as well offer you a ride,” he says. He is picking up a woman from the airport to drive her into town.
Just two kilometers on the outskirts of town the trees disappear and open up to a wonderful canopy of sun-blistering hell. Not even the birds venture here; there is not a single tree to perch upon. I take my shirt off and use it to cover my face. An hour later, no cars have stopped and I walk another few kilometers till I find a sole tree in the middle of the dry landscape. I throw my backpack to the ground and dust blows everywhere. I use it as a makeshift bench and read my book, jumping out every time I hear the sound of rubber on pavement speeding by.
Still, nobody stops. Two hours later.
I’m starting to think of heading back into town for now but a silver car comes scooting on by and without even bothering to get up from the tree, I shoot out a half-ass thumb. My request is acknowledged and the car pulls over to the curb.
Joe and Kelsie are heading to El Questro to camp and experience the water gorges and waterfalls the area has to offer. That’s the great thing about going into a trip unplanned; you don’t know what’s around the corner and everything that you are in for is a surprise. Not always a pleasant surprise but more times than not, it is.
Joe pops in a CD and we listen to the Avett Brothers as the road winds along. At one point, we witness a wild dingo walk into the road and then dart back into the bush.
The cities have the tendency to bore me but being out in the wild is a ceaseless opportunity for amazement. Joe and Kelsie are young and in good physical shape so we go for a jog through the rocky trail that splits through the creek and make our way to Emma Gorge. Water cascades off a 500 foot cliff edge and the water is the perfect temperature—icy fresh cold but not freezing cold. After jogging through the heat it feels like paradise.
I hike to the top of a hill at sunset by myself while Joe and Kelsie tend to their camping spot. There is live folk music around a campfire and we grab beers and share some laughs together. We meet another guy who is traveling around Australia on a BMW motorcycle. Tomorrow morning, we will hike more gorges together and then I’ll head back to Kununurra.
After a day spent hiking and experiencing some of the wild gorges, I set out my guitar and busk in front of a gas station. While busking, Wolf stops and offers an Emu Export beer. He says that he’s going to leave tomorrow no matter what along the Gibb River Road and he’d like the company.
I sleep on the outskirts of town one last time and in the middle of the night a kangaroo comes rustling around my campsite. I sit up in my sleeping bag and the kangaroo stands there stark for a moment, stomps on the ground and then darts off into the warm night. It’s a moment that is fleeting, memorable, and tingles my nerves with a spike of adrenaline.
Wolf and I just nearly miss each other the next day. Sitting bored along the side of the road, I decide to go for a short jog, leaving my backpack resting on the trunk of a lonely gum tree. As my luck would have it, it is just that moment that he comes driving by looking for me and drives off when he doesn’t see me. I notice him from the other side of the trail and try running up to him, shouting out, but to no avail. Coincidentally, there is a jogger moving alongside the trail at that exact moment that I am able to flag down in order to borrow her phone and call Wolf. Wolf turns around and picks me up and we are off.
It is the start of one of the best adventures of the entire trip. The Gibb River Road stretches from the outskirts of Wyndham to Derby. The road stretches for about 660 kilometers of desert through the Kimberly region. During the wet season (November through March) the road often experiences mild to severe cases of flooding. In recent times, many sections of the road have been paved but other sections still remain single-track dirt road. The road does not take kindly to vehicles that do not have four-wheel drive capacity.
We take to setting canned beans inside the engine bay of the four-wheel drive truck. This way, we don’t have to stop to start the propane burner and we could use the engine’s heat to warm our lunch. The landscape is hard dirt and clay-looking mountains.
For the next two days, we make sure to stop at every gorge that we possibly can. We swim at every spot and often miss the loads of tourists that come by on gigantic buses. One time, we just made it out of a gorge just as the bus rolled in. “They’re a danger to the environment,” an Aussi guy jokes on our hike out.
We stop at a gorge and I take the best shower I have ever taken underneath a rocky surface where the waterfall falls onto me. Huge spiders drape their intricate webs around the water hole and I observe small dragonflies darting in and out of the air eating even smaller bugs.
The Aboriginals had told me that there was a certain ant that you could eat that tasted sweet. You would have to eat the backside and the ones to look out for were the green ones. Finding a green ant, I try eating the backside. “Well?,” Wolf asks.
It tastes like ant guts without a hint of sweet. “It’s disgusting,” I tell him. “Definitely not the one.” We get a laugh out of this. Ropes have been tied to the branches of some of the trees and we climb to the top and jump into the water like wild Neanderthals.
Every night I unroll my sleeping bag and sleep on top of the truck under the stars. Wolf and I drive the truck through the sand along a beach area and make camp in a solitary area away from the other tourists. Dry wood is easily accessible and scattered around the area. We build a fire with flames that reach upwards of ten feet into the air, the licks of flames of which reach to the heavens. We tell stories and jam on our guitars for a few hours and in the morning hundreds of cockatoos come to the area and wake us up. One of the songs on our repertoire is of course Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd and I take to playing some slide guitar lead while Wolf strums and sings the rhythm part. It’s the orchestrated sound of a jungle circus.
On one trail, we nearly run over a black glossy snake that appears aggressive; squirming about and making every futile attempt to bite at the giant piece of metal that hovers over it. I’m no snake expert but I’m certain the snake would absolutely be classified as deadly poisonous.
Since we are running low on gas we hitchhike the 13 kilometers into one of the gorges and are picked up by a man who is on vacation by himself. “My sister and I came out to this gorge at night time once and we saw the red eyes of many crocodiles,” he tells me. We both have a strong desire to see this during the day.
The hike is easy and mostly flat along the gorge’s sandy bank. Dozens of fresh-water crocodiles rest in the water and along the sand. At first glance, many of them appear to just be logs floating along but at closer glance you can see that they are prehistoric survived reptiles. It’s one of the most amazing atmospheres I’ve ever experienced. We try to venture as close as we can get without feeling like we are in the croc’s territory to get pictures. These are fresh water crocodiles and not as dangerous as salt-water crocs. Still, there have been instances when fresh water crocodiles have attacked humans.
On the way back, we’re offered a lift from a car full of ladies. The mother is old enough to be a grandmother and sits in the back with us. Just to have fun, I have dressed up wearing one of Wolf’s ties that he had in his car and the ladies get a laugh out of this. “You look ridiculous!,” she says and tells us to get in. “But please,” she says in proper English humor, “Do take that tie off!”
“Here’s the rubbish bin… should we drop you off there?,” she jokes with us. She chides her daughter, who is driving to stop hitting the ruts in the road. “Drive on the other side!,” she tells her. “You’re giving us a headache back here!”
I take a dip in the cold water of the river back at camp but not for long, the thoughts of green reptiles with rows of jagged teeth that could potentially bite me in half still fresh in my mind.
We drive into Derby and Wolf decides that he wants to find some salvaged part for his Toyota 4-runner. After asking the locals we somehow find our way to the “salvage yard” with in actuality turns out to be an Aboriginal community. Asking around for directions to the salvage yard, we get confused looks and various offers to sell their vehicles.
Neglected houses in various stages of decay and a seemingly abandoned basketball court. Broken doors, sagging porches, dirt roads, rudimentary shelters made of tin and wooden poles. An Aboriginal woman approaches us, alongside her three young kids and a scraggly-looking dog. Her eyes are a bloodshot red and she has a beer in her hand. Sadly, this almost seems like a cliché.
“You have Ganja?,” she asks and sways from side to side. We tell her that we didn’t come looking for Ganja nor do we have it.
We thank her for her time and we drive around the community. One house has a Toyota 4-runner in the driveway and seems like it hasn’t been driven in years. Wolf pulls into the driveway. Four kids gawk at us, one of them wearing an AC/DC shirt.
A woman comes out onto the lawn and he explains that he is looking for a Toyota truck to take parts off of. “How much you give me for car?,” she says.
“Well, I didn’t want the whole car, just some parts, but it has to be a manual transmission… is it a manual?”
“Ok, this one automatic.”
She tries to sell us her other car but it is not what Wolf is looking for. Seeing that there is no sale to be made, she asks for a ride into town. We would have happily given her a lift to town had the truck not been loaded to the brim. In hindsight, I could have strapped myself to the roof if I had felt up to it.
This experience leaves me feeling slightly sad at their condition although there does seem to be a strong sense of community, tainted heavily by drugs and alcohol in this particular area. It’s the all-too-familiar infliction of white man’s medicine in a place it shouldn’t be.
That night, we find a place to camp alongside the beach in Broome. Gathering firewood along the beach before dark, we make ourselves a steady, slow-burning fire. We meet an old Australian who has been traveling the country long-term. He joins us at our fire with his dog Blue. A small crab comes in off the ocean and crawls near the fire for heat. I pull out the guitar and find myself playing guitar.
“You can play that guitar Yankee,” he says. His dog Blue is anxious and seems like he wants to go explore. “Blue sit down boy, you can’t go to the beach, there’s a four meter croc down there!”
He informs us that a giant crocodile has been spotted in the area recently. Without a doubt, I’ll be sleeping on top of the truck for the night.
The sound of ocean waves washing against the shoreline was a comforting alarm in the dawn’s hour. Wolf is already down at the ocean playing guitar, trying to work out the chords for Zeppelin’s Rain Song.
Tom, the man we had met the night before, invited us over for coffee at his site. “I used to own a home along the coast of Sydney,” he says, pouring us both a cup. “I wasn’t happy though, everyone leeching off you, I was lonely. I live better just camping like with no bills.”
A few minutes later we walk back to our campsite where Wolf had left his guitar alongside the shore. To his shock, it is now floating and submerged in the ocean. He runs over to it and we quickly try to dry it off and set it on top of the truck to dry. The guitar will definitely be damaged but perhaps we can prevent it from damaging further.
Lesson learned: never underestimate the tide and the tide is always changing, often faster than you might think.
Wolf and I make camp along Cable Beach in Broome, which despite the hype by other travelers, turns out to be a touristy spot. It is a place that has changed much in the last ten years, the locals tell us. Tourists ride an ocean path on the backs of camels in the setting sun.
Wolf and I depart and I find myself walking again, hitchhiking in a southern direction. In a matter of minutes, I’m picked up by an Aboriginal guy who is a primary school teacher. Five minutes into the ride he seems to be slightly irritated, maybe tired and then I realize that last night was rough and he’s sharply hungover.
“I’m hung over from the horse races last night mate,” he says. I end up driving the 150 kilometers back to his community for him and he falls asleep in the passenger’s seat. He hands me a banana and jots his name down on a slip of paper. “If you get stuck, just call me,” he says. “Might be able to put you up tonight if it’s ok with the wife.”
The desert is dry and hot and there is one car that passes by for every five minutes. The next lift comes from a French guy named Vince. He is heading to Port Hedland the next day, so I decide to camp at Shell Beach with him for the night. Instead of paying for the camp, I just hike out to the Oceanside and sleep by myself in my sleeping bag. The sound and caress of the sea breeze puts me to sleep. It sure beats camping next to the noise of a bunch of other travelers and paying for it.
The sun is a red-rimmed fireball setting over the deep blue ocean, deeper than anyone can possibly fathom. The colors change to reflections of purple, orange, yellow as it sets; the last remnants of light shimmering against wet ocean rock—then it’s a conclusion of a magnificent orange streak as the sun disappears here and reappears elsewhere in the world, giving way to a crescent moon, blue fading to black, families retreating to inland campsite for the evening, the crickets coming alive.
As I sit that night and watch the ocean swallow me alive, one feels insignificant and small.
Vince sets me off at the supermarket in Port Hedland, which is a massive mining town on a scale that I have never seen outside of Mt. Isa. “It’s a strange town,” one of the locals tells me while I’m playing my guitar. “ Possibly a temporary one, maybe we’ll be lucky if it lasts twenty years, destined to be a ghost town.”
He drops two Aussi dollars in my case. “But don’t tell anyone I told ya that mate,” he says, smiles and walks off.
I make it to the edge of town from a guy named Ian, who picks me up in a large commercial truck filled with crumbles of concrete. His job is to take the load to the local dumpsite.
“Why we bury the rubbish when we can recycle it, I don’t know,” he says. “All we’re doing is polluting our country.” Ian is an older-looking fellow, probably in his early sixties.
A lady at a small wooden booth checks us as we drive in. “I’m Ian from Gay Edwards Plumbing, delivering this fine load of rubbish to you,” he says with a flashy smile.
“My company has to pay seventy dollars a ton to drop rubbish off here,” he explains to me. “In Sydney, where I am from, it’s 360 dollars a ton!”
The scale weighs us and we are carrying 3.22 tons of concrete.
Ian has lived in Port Hedland for eight years and tells me he has grown to love the desolate areas. “There’s no kind of super highway like there is from Los Angeles to Las Vegas,” he says. “Here, there’s just a lonely road and the bush, mate.”
Ian is a self-proclaimed liberal. “Anybody that says guns can curb violence is talking rubbish. You can’t curb violence with more violence.”
He sets me off and I start walking until I’m given one short lift from a guy delivering some type of refrigeration unit. I walk until dark and no rides come so I walk off into the bush and make quickly make myself a fire. I heat up my canned beans for supper and read my book. There is the sound of wind and nothing else and if solitude had a sound, it might sound just like it does now; a distant whisper in the wind.
Grace comes to me in the morning after walking for a few hours as the heat begins to rise. I’ve got half a gallon of water left and it’s getting a bit depressing after the hundredth road train I count passes me by. Suddenly, a silver road train with three long trailers pulls over to the side of the road.
The hitchhiker relies on impulsive attempts at good deeds. I then meet Derek, who has been on the road for three days straight. “My truck broke down in Broome,” he tells me. “I had to wait on the side of the road for the mechanic. It took hours. “His recent experience of being stranded in the outback is related, although mine is partially by choice and his was not I suppose.
“You know, they say Western Australia is the only place you can drive huge distances to somewhere to get to nowhere,” he says. He explains that he is traveling all the way to Perth and it’s at that moment that I change my mind about going to Shark’s Bay and rather decide to ride with him all the way to Perth. He seems like a great personality and would be good company.
We make a habit out of stopping at every roadhouse along the way. The Australian government has made an effort to supply truckies with free coffee at every stop in order to keep them awake on lonely desolate roads. “Where’s the next coffee?,” Derek always says with glowing eyes. I think I’ve never drank this much coffee in a short period in my life.
When we pass another truck, he gets on the radio. There is a lot of formal communication and formal bullshitting that goes on between the truckies. It’s the rules of the road and the camaraderie that keeps them alive and in good spirits when they are away from their families.
“Hey mate, I’m about to step out on ya,” Derek cautions the driver in front of us.
“Righty-o mate,” the other driver responds.
We exchange stories, watch the passing scenery and Derek tells me a few cheesy and a few dirty trucky jokes. “What do you call a cattle with no legs?,” he asks. “Lean beef.”
Dead cattle and dead kangaroo litter the road like a great outback massacre. In this part of the country, cattle are not required to be fenced in so often they wander into the road in a zombie-like state and are run over in the night by tons of truckage. “We don’t worry ‘bout the cattle mate, we just run ‘em ova,” Derek explains.
We drive for hours and hours and it’s not until we get closer into Perth that scenery gradually changes from flat, dry desert to hilly, green terrain.
Derek sets me off on the outskirts of Perth as going into the big city of Perth with a giant three-trailer road train rig is unfathomable. I’ll be hitchhiking to Coolgardie and the Stirling Ranges tomorrow.
I hitch out of Perth and a local retired school teacher drops me off near a man-made lake that I would not have found if I had not been hitchhiking. “Water is hard to come by in Western Australia,” he tells me. The lake is 5 kilometers all the way around and the water is ice-cold. I swim a quarter of the way across and then rush back to land to dry myself off.
I sleep in Coolgardie on the hard ground in the middle of the bush. The sleeping bag is covered in wetness and a thin layer of melting frost as the sun rises. In the middle of the night a truck driver and pulls up next to my spot and is surprised to see me when I say hello; he wouldn’t have seen me if I hadn’t introduced myself in the dark.
“Thought I was hearing things!,” he says. He takes time to clean and wipe out his cab.
I have various short rides all the way to Salmon Gums, which is a town small enough that you can only buy groceries at the local post office.
One guy that picks me up is a stocky Aboriginal who used to be a boxer and now works at a correctional facility. He pulls over while I am hiking with my thumb out and even though he hadn’t initially seen me, he offers a ride in his Japanese Supra. He shows me around town and takes me to a scenic overlook.
“This here is wheat country,” he says. We are surrounded by green rolling hills and farmland. “I’m from Melbourne, just moved here five months ago.” He says that he mostly deals with illegal immigrants from Iran and other areas of the Middle East that arrive by boat.
“The boat driver gets paid about 100 dollars per person to bring migrant workers to Australia,” he says. His car is fast, efficient, and quiet as we cruise along the highway and a speed of 180/kilometers an hour.
Just before dark, I’m picked up by an Aboriginal man who is a Christian pastor. “It’s a good job,” he tells me. “We’re in the business of counseling, marrying, and burying people.” He pops in a cassette of a local band, I imagine him as someone thoroughly involved in the community. He pops in some Jesus-inspired country music and old-timer style porch bluegrass all the way to Coolgardie. He offers me the rest of his KFC chicken.
We pass along miles and miles of pipeline. “That water pipe goes all the way south,” he says. “It’s for drinking water.”
He drops me off on the outskirts of town and it’s long since passed dark.
I walk a bit this morning, and then get picked up by a guy heading home from working in the mines. An emu, which is a prehistoric-looking bird similar to an ostrich darts across the road and we nearly hit it. “We used to try and catch those when we were kids,” he says.
James tells me about his travel experiences, having spent time in Thailand and other parts of Asia. He also had tried crickets and unknowingly once ate dog meat that his friends served to him.
He once stayed with the Aboriginals and says that they hunt ducks in groups, throwing rocks at them to scare them underwater and once they pop back up they are captured and cooked. As we pass the train line, he tells me that is derailed just a few weeks back. “The cars dragged for about four kilometers before the conductor even noticed,” he says.
Just as I got out, a man pulled over and offered me a lift the rest of the way to Esperance. He said that first he had some errands to run, as he was searching for a caravan park to stay at. I hike over to a tree-covered area and while eating my bread and peanut butter, a car driven with two guys inside and someone yells,”get out of there, cunt!” seemingly to express the intelligence levels of some of the local miners.
Ten minutes later, Ray comes back and gives me a lift the rest of the way. “The government is run by idiots, selling farmland to the Chinese—what do you think will happen when the big drought comes in ten years? The Chinese will feed their people while we starve!”
We pass miles and miles of farmland. “It’s a different kind of farming on the west. You could grow the same crops on 200 acres of land in the east as you do on 2,000 acres of land in the west.” The land on the west coast is more dry and arid and with less overall rainfall, so farming can become more of a struggle than it is in the east.
“The French backpackers are wild,” he says. Ray stays at caravan parks as a way of life. “They go running around naked and what-not and the caravan people come out and say “hey! Get back inside!’ They’re real buggers,” he offers.
I busk with my music at the local supermarket for a bit and then walk to the ocean and set up camp along the sand dunes.
I wake this morning to an incredible sunrise; a deep red that only the ocean’s reflection can deliver. It truly looks like one of those posters that people like to post up on the walls over their homes but this was in real-time. While playing music at the supermarket, I meet a couple who had been cycling the world from England for 14 months on bamboo bicycles. Anything is possible if you are willing to give up some creature comforts.
While playing at the supermarket I meet an eccentric character named Dita who invites me over to his place if I need a place to stay. He has long hair and a way of expressing himself with the wave of his hands and a sly smile.
Later on I do make it to his house. There is a homemade hammock in the backyard made out of poles from an old ship he found near the seaside. He has a passion for drinking wine by the bottles and seems to be an almost devote alcoholic, amongst other things. One of his favorite expressions is “Hoooot diggity!” as he pours us another glass of wine. His home is full of a library’s worth of books and he’s the only person I’ve ever met that will read a Home Improvement book and Hitler’s autobiography at the same time.
At the kitchen table, he tells me a story about a professor who is trying to showcase to his students some highly-durable glass on the tenth floor of a building. As he is pushing onto it, he falls to his demise below. “There is probably a lesson there if you think about it for a month or so,” he tells me.
We converse a bit about life and anything that comes to mind over the dim glow of the chandelier in the small kitchen. Three glasses of ride wine later, Dita pauses and says,” Well just remember, if you’re somewhere, you can’t be there, and if you’re there, you can’t be here.” His glass is now empty.
“Anyways, do you have six dollars I can borrow? I need six dollars. We need more wine.”
I hand over a piece of my busking earnings and Dita runs off to the liquor store.
That night I also meet his roommate, who he refers to as the Cat Lady, as she is hosting about ten stray cats near the house. She comes into the room, pale as a ghost and a blank expression on her face. “Was there a dog in the house?,” she asks, with a nervous twitch.
“No, I don’t think there was,” Dita says. Then the Cat Lady floats away to her room with the mysterious aura and grace only a feline creature can convey. She disappears like the air we take for granted.
In the morning, there is a market going on down near the ocean side. The town of Esperance is in the middle of a huge project of rebuilding the paths along the ocean side. Iron ore ships depart from the dock, heading to China and who knows where else. A Kool Cones ice cream truck passes by, spewing black smoke and kids run up in bliss. Along the sidewalk, a man dressed sharply in blue paints under a sea mural on a Fish & Chips shop.
Dita and her friend drop me off on the outskirts of Esperance and save my legs the discouragement of walking the three miles to the edge. I’m picked up in a matter of minutes by a couple from Switzerland; Swiss chocolates and excellent travel company ensue. “These chocolates are fresh from Switzerland,” the girl tells me. “I just flew into Australia yesterday.”
That’s how immediate and interconnected our modern world has become; we fly across the world in the same time it would have taken early day colonialists to travel five miles through rugged mountain terrain.
We pass through a national park area and see a few kangaroos hopping around the bush after dark. Seeing them at night time along a dirt road is something truly special that one has to witness with his or her own eyes. They just stare blankly at passing cars as if they’re just part of the natural landscape. It’s no wonder that many of them get hit. Their eyes stare stark into the headlights, waiting the moment of impact to carry them into the next phase, whatever that might be.
“I worked on a farm for two months and my boss recommended me to travel to Bremer Bay, so that is where we are going,” the Swiss guy says matter-of-factly. “If my boss recommends it, I already know it’s a place worth going to. He says that it is quiet and there are not many tourists.”
Sounds good to me, I tell them. I’d be happy to go to that place, wherever it is. That’s the benefit of having no time-frame and no itinerary—the traveler is open to voyage wherever the wind blows and often finds his or herself welcomed by locals with open arms.
That night, we roll into a solitary town and they stop to check-in at the caravan park and we depart. I walk on along a dirt path alongside a river that connects to the ocean (I learn in the morning when there is light), but for now it’s dark and I can’t see anything so all I can tell is that I am close to some sort of body of water. I meet a couple Irish travelers who have just finished fishing and are gutting their fish at a fish-cleaning station.
“It’s great fishing here!,” they tell me.
I trot along the trail until I find a spot that is well-secluded along the water side under the illumination of a pale, naked full-moon. I camp there, in the soft sand to the gentle sweeping of water swell. There is a sharp sulfuric smell in the air. The bloated clouds swoop over my camping spot and bring a soft rain.
I hike along the trail in the morning to the top of a cliff after hiding my backpack behind a bush near the public library, which is a tiny building where only one librarian seems to spend the morning by herself sweeping and drinking coffee. Bremer Bay felt like it was near-empty and all the tourists from the popular season have packed up and gone home. The top of the cliff overlooks a section of ocean that is mesmerizing. Bremer Bay is also a botanist’s dream landscape, with plants that are protected and found nowhere else on Earth.
I hitch out of the ghost town and get a lift from a wheat farmer, an Australian who has traveled through the States, and a man and his son who were surfing in Bremer Bay but go to Albany to stock up on food.
Once in Albany, I set up playing my guitar in front of a gas station after being kicked out of the supermarket by and old, balding, disgruntled manager. I meet a guy named Ralf who was kind to invite me to dinner and his sense of humor, goodwill and his sincerity were so real that all I could say was “sure, why not.”
Ralf is an energetic, outgoing guy from Brazil and we have a jam with his nylon-string guitar at the kitchen table. Together, his girlfriend and him make a dinner using organic ingredients. They show me pictures of their epic trip to South America together; the pictures of the Andes mountain ranges are stunning.
While Ralf and I are at the supermarket getting groceries, he mentions that he had met in his travels a guy who was going around the whole world by only means of hitchhiking. There was a traveler named Jeremy Marie that I had heard about online and read many of his blogs. Come to find out, Ralf was talking about the same guy. It really is a small world, especially when you are traveling.
They easily convince me that Denmark and Walpole are worth traveling to, so tomorrow I will hitch in a westward direction along the coast.
The ocean road that winds out of Albany fades into a green and hilly landscape of cattle pastures and farmland. The clouds above are dark and grey and there is a cold breeze that tells me today is not going to be one of sunshine. I’m first picked up by a woman whose father was a British military man and she traveled all over the world during her childhood and found herself in Russia during the Cold War period.
“There were always guards around our place I reckon,” she says. “These days, I’m a chef.”
Having lived a life full and rich of travel, she now puts value in making roots somewhere.
She drops me off near the farm that she lives at. There are still twenty or so kilometers left until Denmark. The wind blows in a cold, misty rain and that transforms into a torrential downpour. I find myself thoroughly soaked and shivering on the side of the road. I’m pacing back and forth and no cars are coming by and there is not a shelter of any sort in sight.
A century later, a man comes coasting by in a little red car and says that he is heading to the farm and will pick me up on the way back. He is a cattle farmer but only has 30 or so small cattle.
“I can only keep them till they get about 200 pounds or so,” he explains. “Then I have to sell them for space.” He also lived in South Africa for 27 years.
“My family used to be tour guides for the Americans on safari hunting expeditions,” he says fondly. In the days of Ernest Hemingway and the like. “Once my uncle was attacked by a lion that someone had shot but it was not yet dead. It clawed him along his stomach a bit, mashed his legs up real bad—but he survived that one. His partner put a second bullet into the beast.”
“But then it happened again, and that one he didn’t survive—an African man tried to save him by shooting the lion during the attack, but the bullet went through the lion and into my uncle, killing them both.”
Another life from a guy who travels and takes odd jobs on farms and makes documentaries. “I’ve been doing this a while mate,” he says. “There is no going back for me.” He recommends a spot that might be amazing to hike and sleep at for the night. “It’s called Conspicuous Cliff,” he says. “I’m not going that far though, but I can drop you off at a spot where you’ll only have five kilometers to go.”
Then there’s another lift from a real estate agent to Conspicuous Cliff. I meet an Italian guy named Tommy along the trail and I suggest that we climb to the top of Conspicuous Cliff, which we do. The trails winds up sharply to a peak that overlooks the ocean. There is the distinct smell of salt and a freshness you’ll never find in a town or city. At the peak, the wind will blow you over if you let it; the ocean raw and untamed. Our footprints are the only noticeable ones in the sand. Aboriginal people used to hunt and live in these areas in days past.
Kangaroos hop by us along the cliff’s edge, easily maneuvering through trails that would be difficult, if not impossible for us to pass through.
Tommy and I talk about all kinds of things and at night it can’t help but go to the possibility of aliens and other worldly civilizations given the clear view of the night stars.
I hitch the rest of the way into Walpole for the night and find a shelter in a small dugout in the ballpark. Good thing too, since it rains for a majority of the night.
After sleeping on a metal bench all night I wake up feeling like an elephant has slept on top of me. I went to the Valley of the Giants, which is an ancient forest filled with some of the oldest, largest trees in the world. I hiked along the scaffolding and decided that I’d rather hike along a dirt trail then an industrial railing made by humans. Still, it was one of the most incredible hikes I’ve done before and I made it there before most of the heavy tourist traffic arrived.
Hitchhiking out of Walpole, I wait an hour to get my first lift. The lady that picks me up says that her electric power is out at home. “I just moved to the country side,” she tells me. “It’s a lot different style of life than the pace of Perth.”
Her son sits in the back car seat. “Can you fiiiix it?,” he asks.
Then it’s another lift from a girl who is also from Perth, who works in the Walpole café. That morning, she’d put a new battery in her car and needed to drive it around to keep the charge. “It’s hard to find a job in Perth,” she tells me. “In Walpole, I have been offered four jobs since I moved.” She’s a positive-energy, giggly person.
Then I’m picked up by a guy named Dan, who wears a beanie-cap and a smile that could melt a mountainside. “I traveled all over Canada and Australia for a couple years,” he tells me. “I was on the cruise ship from Canada to Alaska, and I was informed that the food onboard was expensive, so I stocked up on canned foods but later realized I had forgotten a can opener. The chef said, ‘well what’s wrong, you don’t like our food?’ when I asked for a can opener, but says ‘see me in five minutes’ and he gives me an outstanding meal for three dollars—next thing I know, I wind up in the ship pub and all the Alaskan fishermen are buying me rounds.”
Dan drives a large white camper-style cargo van. “I just bought this a week ago,” he says. “My family plans to travel in it.”
Dan even invites me for a cup of coffee and says that if I want to come back to Denmark later on, I can stay at his place. I’m back in Albany for the night.
Leaving towards Porongurup National Park the next day, I’m picked up by an Aboriginal lady who used to live and work in the mines in Newman for three months. “You had to wear safety glasses, helmet, PPE for everything,” she says. “It was just too hot and not even worth the money… there was air conditioning inside the mines, and I was getting 1,000 a week.”
Another ride comes from a farmer-type driving a Ute. “I deliver wood chips for the farmers. I go hunting with my son sometimes—feral animals—fox, cats, kangaroo, and deer mostly. The process of getting a gun license is tricky in Australia. First, you apply for it with an initial deposit, then you send in a permission slip for the kind you can hunt on from the owner, then you must have your gun inspected thoroughly to make sure it’s not a piece of crap, then you buy the gun, then you must prove you can safely store it, then you must wait nine months, maybe more.” He laughs.
“I’ll give you a ride all the way to the start of the mountain mate,” he offers.
I hike to the top of Castle Rock, which is a beautiful lookout that gazes onto farmland, clumps of thick gum trees; it’s colder here, you can feel the difference in the mountain atmosphere, even though the altitude is of no comparison to that of the Rocky Mountain Ranges of North America. There are lots of birds in the area, a huge canopy of foliage, the constant chirping of the creatures of the tree tops. The more one spends in nature, away from civilization, the more one feels at ease and peace.
There is nobody around, so I camp out on top of a picnic table that is sheltered by a tin-roofed gazebo. The birds chatter well into the night, seizing once dark, but when the full moon shines it reminds them of daylight and they start again.
I have the climb (Devil’s Peak and Nancy Peak) mostly to myself this morning, only rain into one local; I started early before the other tourists arrive. The one man I run into seems truly happy, on his morning walk, which he says he does about “three times a week.” There is a big conservation movement that he is a part of. He shows me green forest that was completely burned out six years ago. “It’s amazing how quickly lush it re-grows itself,” he says.
I tell him that I am hiking to the top of Devil’s Peak. “Ah, the view at the top is rubbish!,” he jokes. He has German heritage and a good sense of humor.
I get a lift from a Singaporean couple, who seems surprised that I actually spent a day in Singapore. Another lift from an Italian who works on a nearby farm but was heading into Albany since he had the day off. He tells me he tried to see the local racetrack but security told him it was twenty-five dollars, which he didn’t have as he was also a poorly-financed traveler. So he then went to find a secret entrance, which he then found to be an electrified fence—but he did manage to sneak in a different way, only with the small cost of a small shock.
I make it back to Albany for the night and walked to the ocean’s meeting of the land, where society and blinking lights and progress could stretch no further. You can watch the fast-pace of a developing ocean town; it seems that many people live out-of-town and come into Albany for supplies. This town was built much differently than Esperance.
Head back towards Denmark, the first ride coming from a Scandinavian couple who were backpacking Australia. They play Scandinavian metal music through a couple crackling speakers. Another lift comes from a local going to surf with his friends nearby. He tells me about his travels hiking in Shrilanka, where even eighty-year olds hike to the peak. “The entire event was lit by candles,” he tells me. “It was a surreal feeling.”
Another couple that picked me up was working on their master’s thesis for college. “A bottle of wine and the ocean ought to help,” he says.
Then I’m picked up by Matt, and we spontaneously travel west of Walpole. He wears a cowboy hat and has been on the road for a long time. He walks along the oceans’ rocky jagged edges. He finds a small dead puffer fish washed up along the shore.
We talk about the dangers of travel, life, and other things. “People are finding different ways to die all the time,” he says. “Why not live with a little danger, climb at your own risk? This is what we were born for.”
The ocean is a giant tub of water, gradually sucking in all of the coast line. It makes it easy to open your thoughts along a solitary beach. Matt has been living out of his truck for a long time and just pulls out his tent along the ocean and goes to sleep wherever he ends up. It’s not an easy way to live in some ways, yet it’s complete freedom from the weight of the rest of the world while being a complete disconnect at the same time. He lives off social security and occasional cash-in-hand type jobs.
“I’m a socialist,” he says at the campfire. “The government is sending our resources to places like China, so I don’t believe in it. I live free, traveling this country to wherever I want—I follow my own curiosity, not money.”
He puts on a J.J. Cale album and it fills up the night air. I tell Matt that I’ll meet up with him in the morning and head off to the ocean to lay down my sleeping quarters for the night.
I borrow one of Matt’s sheepskin pads to sleep on and in the morning I read some more of my current novel. There is the sound of waves crashing into the ocean, birds cawing as they flutter by, the wind in the sand. When I look up, ten or more dolphins are riding the waves towards shore. I throw down my book and run alongside the sand and follow them along the rocky edge until they disappear, too far into the deep-end to see from shore anymore.
Matt and I go hiking along the edge of the ocean, exploring everything we possibly can. Matt handles the ocean like a regular explorer; with an eye for everything and a keen compass for route choice. He carries his boots on his pack and goes barefoot everywhere, placing one foot on a clump of sand and sliding down thirty feet to the bottom with grace as the clumps fall apart, working like a natural elevator. I try the same thing and nearly twist my ankle; there are things you’ve got to learn.
Matt is completely driven by genuine curiosity and it is infectious; we get along particularly well. We climb to the top of a rocky cliff and he disappears for awhile. I take off my clothes since nobody is around and dip into a cold inlet completely naked. The tide sweeps me back and forth. It’s a liberating and vulnerable feeling. There is that premonition that the ocean could take you to its mercy and throw your head into a jagged rock or a shark could come and clutch you in its jaws—yet this mostly is only an internal fear, out of context and out of reality. Anything could happen, at any given moment. Why worry? I wash up onto a hard rock and walk barefoot along the rock. Nobody is around for miles—I imagine that this is what humans used to do before modern times. Imagine the ancient Aborigines, walking naked along this coastline for the first time, the first human footsteps ever on the shore, the sense of awe they would have had. Hunt, tell stories over campfires, ponder some of the same questions that we still do. Except now everything is so stressful and fast-paced that we barely have time to acknowledge these things. If you do, people tell you that your head is in the clouds and the mainstream mentality is to habitually turn on the TV and stop thinking for yourself. We’ve forgotten to explore and to appreciate that some things go beyond understanding.
The sun dries me off quickly, standing naked and alive on a massive rock. More than half of the rock is submerged in the ocean.
“You just have to go ‘wow’,” Matt says when I meet up with him later. He ventures much further than I do since he is a more experienced climber while walking along jagged rock, the ocean splashing beneath us, Matt tells me that he’s not always confident when he goes swimming in the ocean. “You know, a shark could come along and pull me under. Or I could fall, hit my head on a jagged rock and it would all instantly be over. But that’s life, mate. That’s life, isn’t it?”
We take the Toyota 4-wheel drive and take single-track dirt roads along the coastline. We pass by an underground campground that looks more like an outdoor house that is designed for people to stay in. “I wouldn’t want to camp here,” he says. “Here, you might actually have to talk to and negotiate with people.”
Inside Matt’s Toyota, the dashboard is full of eagle feathers, shells, puffer fish, sandstone, and other treasures that he has found along the ocean. While cruising down a dirt track we come across a couple emus, their instincts being to run off as fast as possible. I do the same thing, and sprint as fast as I can, chasing them along the track. My own instincts, somehow repressed, immediately kick back in. They are impossible to catch, running upwards to speeds of 30 miles per hour.
Matt sets me off near the trail next to the paved road in the morning and I camp in a thick forest of gum trees. He offers me an old inflatable camping mattress that he doesn’t use anymore. “You’re doing alright mate,” he says. We wish each other luck and he begins to drive off, but not before offering his final words. “All we are is dreams,” he says, and disappears at that.
I’ve finished reading the book Ramses, a fictional story about life in Egyptian times. I use it as kindling to get my fire started. I would be honored if some day a rugged traveler burned one of my books to keep warm at night.
In the night, a kangaroo comes hopping over but I can’t tell that it’s a kangaroo in the pitch-black of night. It sets my heart beat racing and a lay there completely still until I can make certain that it is only a kangaroo, albeit most likely a large male. I slowly sit up and once it notices me lying on the forest floor, it comes closer from the other side of the tree (curious), then darts away like a bullet in the direction it came from. The feeling is both primal and magical. Amazing creatures that they are, kangaroos have adapted to withstand the conditions of every corner of the sunburned country.
I stumble out of the brush in the morning, greatly lacking coffee. Two gigantic RV campers pull over along the winding forest road and offer me a lift. “Two campers full of Asians” is how John put it later when he sent me an e-mail to reconnect and say hello. They have quite the convoy and a couple radios to stay in contact with each other. John works in Australia and the rest of his extended family is visiting the country from Vietnam.
“I work for the immigration office and catch a lot of people working illegally,” he says. He offers his opinions on the Aboriginals in Australia. “The problem with the Aboriginals is that they are pressured into living in a society that is not theirs. Their bodies can’t handle sugars, that’s why there is a lot of diabetes, alcoholism, stuff like that.”
I tell him about the dolphins that I saw the day before. “Maybe you were a dolphin in your past life,” he says. “Or maybe even a prisoner!”
They travel almost the exact opposite way that I travel, with everything meticulously planned, kilometer by kilometer, meal by meal, place to place, every accommodation booked in advance; it’s interesting to see travel from this perspective. He shows me a log book that is crammed with things to do for every half-hour. Staying on schedule seems like a chore to me and doesn’t offer enough room for spontaneity. On the other hand, you can’t really do that easily when you’re traveling in a group of fifteen or more people and loaded with children.
We go back to the Valley of the Giants and afterwards I jump out at Conspicuous Cliff— something has been pulling my soul back to the place and I have to explore more by myself before I make my way further east. So I venture over the cliff, where I find crabs and the tide comes in, along with some rain later into the climb. I follow the paths the kangaroos have made through thick brush.
There is the feeling of isolation in climbing and hiking to areas where no one is around; the ocean makes one feel small, as it should. The rain chases me off the trail and makes me change my mind as not to stay near the ocean for the night. I hitch a ride back towards Denmark from an Irish girl and her Australian boyfriend. They are good-humored and cheerful company and set me off further than they were originally going, given the weather conditions.
I hang out with a wild-roaming local dog with one green and one blue eye for a few minutes and was then offered a lift from a local man. He is a carpenter and built houses around the area. “It’s nice because I can work when I want and go surfing when I want to,” he says.
I connect with Dan and take him up on his offer to stay at his place for a night. What first ensues is a fantastic meal of grilled kangaroo, which is a gamey red meat that tastes best when cooked medium-rare. He takes out his digareedoo, which is an Aboriginal instrument that makes a deeply percussive sound.
Dan tells me a bit about his Irish history and how his ancestors first came to the continent of Australia. “My great great grandfather stole bread in England along with his brothers so they could get deported to Australia with all the other convicts,” he tells me. Unfortunately, as fate would have it, his great great grandfather’s brother never made it to Australia and instead was sent to Canada, where they never saw each other again.
Dan takes me to the school that he teaches at and I meet a mix of teachers and students and even get to participate in the local music program. Jamming with the kids reminds me of the initial spark and enthusiasm when I first started playing guitar and making music. Music can communicate things that no language has ever been able to achieve.
The daylight brings more rain and Dan and I go hiking around the area, the rain not stopping our desire to drive around and do a bit of hiking between spouts of hot tea breaks. The impressions of how difficult life must have been for the early Irish settlers– it must have been brutal to an umpteenth degree. Cold and unforgiving weather conditions, clearing canopy all day by hand and horse, with no leisure time whatsoever–just pure survivalism– this is what the settlers had to contend with.
Much of the trees in the region thrive off fires and re-growth after large burnings that happen every few years. Some vegetation shoots right up after a good burn. The trees are resilient and it is amazing how fast they can grow back within months. The distance that Dan and I hike along the trail that takes ten minutes may have taken the early settler’s days.
On our walk, Dan tells me how the Aboriginals would build a stone structure nearest to the shoreline so fish would swim into it under high tide, and once the tide receded they could swoop in and collect the fish. Aboriginals are some of the most resourceful and creative people in the world, especially when it comes to surviving.
I wake up from my six-star slumber on a bench outside the local library in Albany and decide to hitchhike to the Sterling Ranges. It takes a few hours to catch a lift once I am on the outskirts of town but it proves well worth the wait, as it almost always does. Patience pays off.
He is a local man who is both a tradesman and a beekeeper. “I’ve read hundreds of books about beekeeping, I’m the second largest beekeeper in town and I know fuck all about beekeeping mate,” he tells me straight-laced. He uses the huge distances he travels when working to think about his family and new ways to make money and provide for them. Altogether, this man is a true-blue family sort.
“There is this philosopher and I’ve read some of his books,” he says. “He reckons that if humans lived like bees, we’d have true harmony and world peace. No wars, no poverty, no rich, no poor, people doing everything for the great good– no greed whatsoever.” Beekeeping is a never-ending pursuit of experience and knowledge– knowledge of livestock (bees), a bit of botany (knowing the plant life), a dose of environmentalism, and a healthy study of weather.
I hitchhike to the Stirling Range and climbed to the peak of Bluff Knoll. One man that picks me up on the way is a farmer and says that some of the eagles have occasionally tried to grab his young sheep. “A lot of people don’t believe it,” he says. “But the eagles will have a grab at the young sheep. Bloody oath. If the eagles are hovering over my sheep and looking curious like they might have a go at ‘em, I will shoot at them if I have to.”
He takes his eyes off the road momentarily and shoots me a glance.
“But don’t tell me anybody that though, cause they’re endangered.” He drops me off and peels off in his Ute, leaving a thick poof of dust.
The Bluff Knoll climb begins with a paved walkway, which is how any major climb that caters to tourists would be expected to begin, for better or worse. The incline then increases sharply with rocky platforms to the top, curving along one half of the bluff. Near the top, I find myself staggering at my heart beating a solid THUMP THUMP of booming presence. At the summit, the clouds on break up a bit, and over the ledge you can almost feel the sheer drop by the break of the wind and the clouds that hang around all day.
I almost camp out at the mountain’s base but ran into some humored cyclists who poke fun at me first but then offer a lift down to the bottom. As I write in my journal, one guy asks me, “Are you writing your will?”
“Yes,” I tell him. “I will these two cans of creamed rice…”
Ten minutes later, he meets me while walking down the mountain trail and drops me off at a local café that is closed for the season. Across the street, bagpipes can be heard at the caravan park. “The guy that owns the caravan park charges too much anyways,” the cyclist says dryly. The cyclist tells me a story about how his friend got popped in Colorado fifteen years ago for driving while piss drunk. The traveler is always seen as some kind of ambassador for his or her own country or residence, whether he or she wants to or not.
I sleep under the veranda of the café and I can occasionally hear a critter scamper inside the metal roof during the night. Apparently, the café is not completely closed for the season.
I make it back to Ralf’s house and we have another flamenco-guitar style jam in his kitchen. Ralf’s neighbor comes over and is an animated, gregarious sort of personality that loves to talk. He tells us a story about a giant snake, which is a rumored but officially undiscovered species of Australia. It lives in trees and can grow to be upwards of twenty feet long. It’s a bit similar to Bigfoot theories in North America– heavily reported yet elusive and an unofficial species.
He tells us a story about a saltwater crocodile that seems to far-fetched to be true, yet I’ve already heard this story from an Australian I had met earlier in the trip. Brendan leans over the table and nearly talks in a whisper, pure fascination. “I’ve tested my Aboriginal friend a few times, and his word seems to be good,” he offers. “There was an Aboriginal man who was dragged down by a saltwater crocodile and the croc dragged him to the bottom of the water and shook him to try and snap his neck and kill him but he somehow survived it. When the man woke, he was in the croc’s nest and had to break through branches to find his way out.”
He is excited for the morning, as a friend has invited him to a breeding site nearby of endangered species of Australia. “I’m not allowed to say where it is, it’s top secret,” he says. “Imagine what would happen if criminals found out where it was. There would be too much money offered for any of the rare birds and somebody would inevitably try to break in. There are millions of dollars inside that building.”
I try to joke with him and press him as to where it is but he just smiles and won’t offer me a hint as its’ whereabouts.
As the sun rises, I find myself standing outside a low-traffic country road and unsure of the direction the road leads. Generally, I know that I’m headed in a northward direction. As my luck has it, a miner from Kalgoorie picks me up and is heading home after spending some time with his family. Where else could a lift offered from a miner end up besides the local pub? There we sit, marinating on a few drinks and some casual conversation. An hour later, I’m invited to a bonfire with a bunch of other miner friends dressed up at a costume party for his mate’s thirtieth birthday party. Two guys are dressed up as Spiderman, one couple dressed up as Dorothy and the Tin man from the Wizard of Oz, amongst other things. There is no irony lost in the fact that I am in Oz land (Australia).
Only three beers later, there are two acoustic guitars being passed around and Spiderman walks around drunkenly and squirts water into the fire. I carve out a pick from an old credit card and we have a jam. We grab a taxi and make our way to a miner’s kind of bar where the bartenders are all young attractive women dressed in nothing but bikinis missing the top half. A cover band plays lots of songs from the eighties hair metal genre and the beer flows like a river. I find myself starting to speak more freely and blend in with the miners. They introduce me to the Australian concept of a beer snorkel, which is exactly what it sounds– a snorkel inserted into the top of a beer bottle so the beer chugs down your throat at rapid speed.
“Most miners make around 3,000 a week,” one man I meet around the campfire says. He says that he is currently taking a “redundancy” which is when the company pays a worker to leave since they are running out of work. The miners all seem to agree that this is a common practice in the field. Mines shut down, workers are let go, and the corporations move elsewhere to exploit resources.
“America to me is a place of extremes. I’m not sure I’ve ever met an average American,” the Tin man offers. “Every American I’ve met has been an eccentric.” I learn that night that the proper pronunciation of Australia in this neck of the continent is “Straya’, cunt!” Political-correctness is not an accepted concept in a dim-lit bar of a mining town.
Brad takes me to the Super Pit on the way to the road out of town in the morning. The view in front of me is indescribable, like many things that I see during my travels but I will attempt to put it into words. The Super Pit is a giant hole in the ground which has been heavily mined by numerous companies since the early-eighties. It is like an entire village of miners, some channels and holes going deep into the Earth. From the top of the hole, the enormous pieces of equipment appear microscopic.
After Brad drops me off, I stand along the roadside for about an hour. It begins to get cold and windy as the cold front rolls in overhead. Two kindly-mannered ladies eventually pick me up. “Guess where we are coming from?,” the one in the passenger seat asks. “The prison!” She throws back her head and laughs.
Funny enough, this isn’t the first person that was in route to or from the local jail and I tell them this. She tells me that her son is in jail for the possession of drugs.
“We couldn’t even sit next to each other when visiting, only facing each other,” the driver says. “ The maximum security women have is better off than the minimum security men have,” she says.
After driving for a bit, Dawn invites me to stay at their place for the night since it’s raining. “You can sleep in the garage,” she says. The next thing I know, I’m invited in for dinner and in the company of an experienced traveling couple who spent two years sailing around Australia. I meet Celia, who is a Philippine woman staying at the farm in a camper in the garage.
Over dinner of Philippines food and wine, the husband George offers insight into their travels. “Sailing around, you meet some characters,” he says. “We actually had one guy offer us his cattle station and a house in Sydney in exchange for taking him to America plus an incentive of thirty grand in cash. It was too good to be true,” he says. “He was obviously trying to get away from someone. We said no to that one!”
“Another guy we met wanted us to move drugs from Asia to Australia, which we definitely said no to of course but they guy said that ‘we knew too much’ so we packed up, through our shit in the vessel, and set sail out to Cairns as fast as we could.”
“Fifteen years ago, Thursday Island used to be the hot spot for illegal immigrants,” he continues. “They’d take a boat to the island and then fly into Australia from there.”
Two French guys who have been working at the farm and cutting wood on their property for a few weeks are departing the next day. George makes them sing “Waltzing Matilda”, which is a nationalistic tune that sounded worse the more alcohol was consumed, despite the locals often insisting that it sounded better.
“Oh, I’m all buggered,” George says an hour or so later. I’m back in Esperance and sleeping on the garage floor at the farm next to Celia, the magical woman from the Philippines. It almost feels like a home.
On the road, we pass a woman who is pushing a cart weighing approximately 60 kilos around Australia, fighting against and increasing awareness of depression. She hands us business cards, sweat dripping down her face. “These cards have helped hundreds,” she says. At the bottom of the card is the number to a suicide hotline.
I imagined what it must be like to be pushing a cart around sometimes redundant and desolate areas; even by car the landscape can become monotonous. I wonder how she manages to camp along the roadside at night, or if she always books some sort of motel or lodging.
I spend the day helping at the farm, falling a few trees and burning the pile, stockpiling firewood. Dawn places a small lizard on my backside, which decides to become comfortable and crawls over me for an hour while I work. I try lemonade fruit straight from the tree, which tastes like a sour candy but better. Somehow, I’ve lucked out and fallen into the hands of incredible people. The farm is full of hand-crafted ornaments made of recycled and re-used discarded objects. None of the plants on the farm are native and the couple uses the land also as a campsite for travelers.
Over dinner, we listen to bands from an earlier era before my time (pre-Beatles) that I’d never heard before. They told me more stories about sail boating around the world. George built his own boat from scratch, which took him about six years to complete.
“I once came face-on with a brown shark while I was trying to fix part of the boat in a full wet suit because of jelly fish in the area. The brown shark just stared at me and I about had a heart attack but eventually the thing let me be.”
I nearly make myself at home at the farm, having been welcomed with open arms. I help around the farm with what I can, one of the tasks being digging a trench to find a buried telephone pole along the dirt driveway. As I am working, Chas drives up in his Ute (a local that I had met a few days earlier who frequented the farm) and invited me to go fishing for salmon along the ocean. I gladly set down my shovel and jumped in the Ute.
We listen to the band Corrosion of Conformity in his Ute on the drive in. The day before I had spent cycling along the miles of rich coastline where surfers and fishermen congregated. We set up a fishing pole inside a tube of PVC piping and he sets the cast far out into the ocean. The crabs pick away at our bait. “The fish always bite when I try to light up a smoke,” he says as he smokes a cigarette. Still, there are no bites. “It’s the one time I get grumpy when I have a bite,” he jokes.
Eventually, Chas decides to choose plan B and throws some shark bait on the line (half a salmon.) Still, we have no luck, although there is a bite but the fish somehow snaps the line. Most likely it was because I held the line to straight, causing too much tension. Even though we don’t catch anything, the experience of fishing along the ocean is a first and its one to remember.
Every morning, Celia and I have small-talk conversations over a pot of coffee in the garage and she introduces me to Novah, her friend who is also from the Philippines. I stay at the farm in total for nearly a week and on the last night they have a party in which everybody dances in the living room over the sound of blasting dance music and shared laughter. Because George and Dawn are so inviting to strangers, their lives are rich and full of laughter, probably a level above the mundane lives of most.
Dawn gives me a lift back into town and I spend one last bit of my time in the seaside town of Esperance. I keep my promise and return to Dita’s house and knock on his door. He is surprised to see me and invites me in for a glass of wine. We exchange books and he bites off a page of one book that someone has written a message and just says, “I don’t like it when people write in books.” Being quite the character, he spit’s the piece of chewed paper onto the ground. “Hoooooot diggity-dog!”
He then calls up Mrs. White, tells her jokingly “we have an emergency.“ She shows up to his house in five minutes. They have a quick dance and laugh while I play my guitar and set me up on the outskirts of town for the hitch.
Ten minutes later, a lift arrives from an old-timing miner, who has the ins and know-hows of just about everything to do with the Australian mines. His hands are weathered, dry, callused, belonging to a working man. “I’m the superintendent now,” he says. “Used to work the underground, but not anymore… my foot once got stuck in the ground and they kept filling it in, I’m lucky I was able to undo me boot.”
“We do 9 days on, 5 days off now, so I live near Esperance and work in Norseman,” he says, laughs. “Management changes about once every four years. The Chinese own a lot of the mines these days.”
He grunts in between breaths, an exhausted sigh, perhaps the effects of years of hard labor. “The mill’s working conditions are my responsibility,” he says. “It’s safety before production. You have to remember that mate. To remember to value people over profits– but too often management doesn’t consider that these days. The new management fired all the top honchos first thing– they were flying to Hawaii and California for meetings and stuff, a complete waste. They try to cut corners now and I recently had to stick up for one of my workers. The grinder wasn’t working properly, they wanted this employee to go in and work it, so I flagged the foreman, and then they flagged me back so I said ‘well, I’ll be calling the inspector then.’ They tried to fire me, but they sure weren’t successful– safety before production mate.”
He tells me how they drill a hole, fill it with a concrete paste after dynamiting it, then work the area for gold and iron-ore. “This way they can work without the dirt caving in,” he says. He sets me off in Norseman and I wish him luck and he says,” I hope ya get another ride.”
Norseman is a big sprawl of a town, with many fly-in, fly-out miners. Temporary mining housing fills most of the inner-town landscape. I walk a mile or so out of town and nobody picks me up as nightfall quickly approaches. One woman pulls over to say hello and is going all the way to Adelaide but has promised her husband that she “wouldn’t pick up hitchhikers.”
I walk off into the bush and make a fire before it’s pitch black and set up camp for the night.
The wood in this area is dry and burns easily, hot and burning slowly. I sit and watch the flames flicker, dance along the gum wood. Dry leaves and sticks that I find work good for temporary light as they burn bright.
First, I receive a lift from a man and wife who are grey-nomading around Australia, doing an even where you play a hole of gold at every roadhouse along the way. “It encourages tourism to places that people usually pass on by,” he says. The man first sees me with my thumb out while passing along the road on a morning bicycle ride.
They have been traveling for a few years and seen much of Australia, including the Tom Price National Park, which I pass over this time around.
Another guy gives me a lift about 300 kilometers who has the appearance of an Elvis reincarnation. The well-worn voice of Elvis plays over his speakers. He is a retired fisherman heading to pick up his son from the jetty, who spends weeks at a time catching crawfish at sea in wooden-baited crates, most of which get sold and shipped to China’s growing market, feeding the massive population.
“We get the leftovers here in Australia,” he jokes, sincerity in his voice. His son pulls in at the end of very day to sleep on land, as opposed to how he used to sleep on the often rough sea waters. “It’s hard to find workers that stick around,” he says. “We’ve been through 7 in 2 weeks time.”
In this desolate country, there are landing strips for emergency helicopters. “It’s not a good place to get bent and twisted out here,” he says.
A man named Drew picks me up eventually and gives me a lift all the way to Port Augusta. He tells me that his son is setting off on a journey by motorcycle around the world and he has been helping him prepare the bike. The miles roll on and on along the flattest and straightest stretch of road in Australia and eventually we arrive in Port Augusta.
He sets me off and I take a shower at the servo station and when I get out of the shower, hot water still on my skin I realize that my sleeping bag has somehow rolled out of my backpack. Being that the sleeping bag is an essential item that keeps me warm at night, I panic and quickly throw on some clothes and race out of the bathroom to ask the employee working if I can borrow a phone. It is truly a blessing that Drew happened to give me a business card with his phone number written on it! Ten minutes later, I do manage to get hold of him and he says that he will drop the sleeping bag off at the local pub in Wilmington, which is 60 kilometers out of town.
So I hitch out of town and flag people down with a wave of my hands since my situation is becoming somewhat desperate as dark settles in and the temperature begins to drop. I get a lift from one guy coming back from working at the local mines as well as a 17-year old kid who is a volunteer fireman for the town of Wilmington. He tells me a story about a Frenchman who recently got turned around while hiking in the Flinders Ranges and they had to come in with a helicopter to save him. I walk into the pub where four locals are seated and my sleeping bag is at the end of the bar stand. I wanted to buy the Good Samaritan a beer at the pub but he was seventeen, one year shy of the drinking age in Australia. The firefighter sets me off at the top of the Flinders Ranges trail and I take shelter by the base of a large tree to block the strong winds that rage down the mountain pass during the night. All the other travelers are cozy in their caravans while I am out in the elements.
The night proves cold, with lots of wind coming from the ridge, no wood nearby for a fire, having been used up quickly by the other campers.
I walk along the dirt trail in the morning, following the rising sun like something straight out of an old western movie. I get a lift immediately from a couple that are from Adelaide and heading home. They are engaged to get married, tomorrow being their “official day of engagement.”
While driving, the girl gets a call from her mother, inviting her to her adopted brother’s wedding in Namibia (she used to live in South Africa). The story about him was that he was brought to a German-influenced school during the expansion of Hitler’s regime and was treated harshly so they took him under their wing and now he was grown and getting married, having become an artist and a painter.
The guy tells me that Port Lincoln used to be the originally most populated city in the area but the shore proved too rocky for ships to dock, so Adelaide became the new hub.
In Adelaide, I meet back up with my artsy friend Jessica and venture to downtown via the bicycle trail. The pace of the city seems drastic having spent the last month in open farmland and ocean country. Everyone seems to have an agenda, a deadline, a deal to make– there just isn’t time for a thought that doesn’t involve business, perhaps, at least that’s what shows. A group of young people carry boxes of Krispy Kreme donuts. Men and women can be overheard talking about business. Names like Statravel, Marcs, Tony Biance, Padly Pallin, American Apparel, Mountain Designs, and McDonald’s fill the area. A lone old woman paces slowly through the city streets amongst the masses with her cane– the only person that looks genuinely happy. Many faces appear to be frowns, under a constant invisible pressure.
Jessica is still on the road during her trip with friends to Canaberra, so I take watch over the husky dogs. They take to plopping down in the bed and attempting to take over at night and setting off landmines of dog poop in the paths that I will walk through. I take them for a walk in the mornings and they thank me by chewing up my jar of peanut butter, pieces of slimy-slobbered plastic decorating the tile floor.
In Australia, I would not trust the adage that “pedestrians always have the right-of-way.” People seem to drive differently here, and not that Australians mean anything by it– they are often hospitable and accommodating, but you can come to the conclusion that a vehicle weighs more than the average human, so therefore a pedestrian is better to be wise and get the hell out of the way.
I spent the day cycling with my new friend Brendan along the bike paths. I take the dogs for a walk and later the young pup sneaks out of the house, seemingly vanishing out of thin air and I chase her around the neighborhood a bit before convincing her to come back with the lure of a can of tuna.
On the bus, I meet a Malaysian man who speaks of the developing world with wisdom. “Once a country becomes developed, there is no going back– they might try to live simply, but it becomes impossible to do so.”
I’m picked up by a guy originally from Liverpool, England who has what initially sounded like a heavily-coated Irish accent. He moved to Australia about 15 years ago with his family. “The road in between Adelaide and Murray Bridge used to have no traffic at all back then– things here have changed!”
Now cars zip on by the highway in a blur of heavy traffic.
“I thought it was post-Apocalypse or something when I first moved here, being used to the heavy traffic in England.”
The distances between towns were also a real culture-shock for him. “Now my son drives from Adelaide to Melbourne to meet a friend for pizza!,” he jokes. He tells me that his friend does sound engineering for big-name music acts and has had no lack of work, having once had to turn down an offer to do the sound for David Bowie since he was already booked. “My friend always wears ear protection,” he says. “If he loses his hearing, he loses his work.”
It’s not until after he drops me off that I realize that my forgotten sleeping pad is still back in Adelaide. I cross the road and head in the direction that I’ve come from. I’m picked up by a man that has been hunting red deer this morning, looking for a buck that had been spotted by his friend’s cattle paddock. He had no luck and lives at the top of a hill in Adelaide.
Then I get a ride back into town from a guy driving a BMW who says that he hitchhiked around Australia 35 years ago. “Perth to Port Augusta was still all dirt roads then,” he says. “Semis only carried one trailer. It was easy to get lifts. People are so paranoid these days, it pisses me off mate.”
We drive by China town and he comments that “all the Chinese development in Adelaide is crazy.” It’s a sharp contrast to the Chinese woman I had met earlier in the day who had told me that “China town was a great place where I could get whatever I wanted to eat.”
He had six kids in their late twenties, all of them avid world travelers.
I ride the bus back to Jessica’s place. We watch a documentary on solar and wind energies of the future. There is a resistance to the green movement by greedy corporations rooted in old ways of burning massive amounts of coal and exploiting earthly resources.
Jessica and I spend the day hiking a bit in the Adelaide countryside, taking the dogs with us. The young pup, being the ever-defiant one, likes to run away and play catch-me-if-you-can.
A lift from a guy who works for Penfold’s Wine and is heading to work at the vineyards. He usually sprays for weeds but says he “might not have work if it keeps raining since all the spray washes away.” A truck drives by with his company’s logo on the side. The rain doesn’t look like it’s going to let up.
Another lift comes from a nurse in the pouring rain, says that she used to hitchhike all the time.
A farmer offers a lift and gives me his opinion on the political landscape. “This development comes in and destroys the communities we had,” he says. “Big government has their agenda; public opinion doesn’t even matter anymore. Nothing is grown in Australia anymore; the attitude is to grow it God-knows-where, slap on a ‘made in Australia’ sticker, maybe a kangaroo sticker or something like that and call it good. The new counselor ignored the opinions of 17,000 people to increase development in our farm town– there’s no going back to it mate.”
As he lets me out, the sun is finally shining and the hills are flooded with water. I find myself soaked but beginning to dry off.
“Good on ya mate,” the farmer says. “Have a good trip home.”
Then I’m picked up by two women on the outside of town and I end up staying with one for the evening since the rain is coming down in buckets. The rain isn’t always a bad thing. The Aboriginal girl tells me how there are no connections in language between the different tribes. When there were no cars and they could only walk the land, there was no way for the tribes to unify in similar language; the land had real divides.
“If I were to cross into another clan’s territory the traditional way, I would have to sit at the river, light a fire, and maybe wait to be approached by a chief, which could take days,” she says. “The elders would have to speak to me first. To do otherwise would be seen as highly disrespectful. Each clan has its own language, creation story and unique way of life.”
We walk around the river and she talked about the outdoor retreats she does with her class, working with Aboriginal kids. I stay out of the cold for the night and Colette makes vegetarian burgers; she is homely company.
In the morning, Colette’s tiny dogs escape by way of the sliding door and we find ourselves trying to fetch them down but instead they come back on their own terms, looking pathetically cute as if nothing happened. I meet her friend Sue, who offers a ride to the Victoria border. She tells me that her son died of cancer at the young age of two, who donated his body to help kids with ailments.
“He told them they could have it,” she says. “Since he passed, his brother has found ways to raise over 20,000 dollars for cancer.” One has to admire the inner-strength of this woman.
I walk for about 45 minutes till I get picked up by two brothers from the Fiji Islands, one who is visiting, the other who works picking fruit in Australia. “Mel Gibson and Tom Hanks own islands in the Fijis,” the say. How does a person own an island? How far passed insanity can the concept of ownership become? We talk about how it’s better to leave things untouched then to try to control them.
“The Fiji islands are highly populated. Europeans once pushed us to the outskirts to live in villages, but we regained our own independence in 1921,” he says with pride. We stop at Happy Jack’s and they order three burgers under the sly and give me one. They offer to say a prayer before we leave and they ask God to “keep me safe in travels.”
Then I get a lift from a man from the country of Jordan, who works at a water treatment facility, who is on his way to work. “The process is that the water goes through layers of sand, which takes the sediment out of the water. It then is treated with chlorine so it is deemed safe for drinking.”
All the water is siphoned from the Murray River, some 30,000 kiloliters per day for his town in the winter, more in the summer. He has studied and traveled extensively, through Europe, Russia, and Japan. Japan seems to have to made the most lasting impression on him.
“Every bit of land has been used and it is beautiful,” he says.
There are no more lifts before nightfall, so I make a small fire under a near-full moon. A car sees my fire and honks song-like four times. There is no feeling like placing your bare feet beside a warm fire, the clouds overhead growing. As an escape plan, there is an abandoned car around the corner in case the rain gets too heavy during the night.
A ghostly, sly fox greets me as I pack up my camping gear and leave the forest canopy in the morning. The rain holds back enough that I never have to run for shelter inside the abandoned car. I lay back and watch the clouds quickly roll over passed me and the last embers of the fire burn out.
The fox is yet another species that is not native to Australia; it was introduced to the country, just as were camels, cane toads, tamed horses and a few other creatures. Just as the camels and cane toads, it’s safe to say that overall, the introduction of the fox was a failed experiment. The foxes took to eating the farmer’s livestock and became a burden on the local herdsmen.
I’m standing along the roadside for almost two hours and starting to think that nobody is going to come when my saving grace finally comes. The first lift of the day is from a guy coming back from visiting a friend whose mate had died in a motorcycle crash and they’d just flown his body back to New Zealand to be properly buried in his homeland.
His mood is one of dismay but he tells me how he would go pig hunting, scouting out with his dog. We pass two emus running alongside the road in the bush. “You can catch an emu by throwing sticks and stones in the air, then grabbing them around the neck when they become curious.”
He lights up a joint and smokes it, offers me some but I decline. I ask him if he thinks they will ever legalize marijuana in the country. “I hope not,” he says. “Cause I’ll lose my business.”
His mate calls and it’s the formalities of “righty-o, no worries.”
I get another big lift by another group of Fiji islanders who find work picking fruit in Australia. What is it with the Fiji islanders in this region? I’ve been picked up two days in a row by seemingly the nicest people on the planet. Their hospital seems to be incredibly hospitable and I now would like to travel there someday having met these kind folk.
They drop me off at a servo station and it is already dark, yet there is another 200 or so kilometers till I can arrive in Sydney. I try hitchhiking by word of mouth, asking people filling up at the pumps if they have room for one more to Sydney. I reason that just about everybody at the servo station is heading to Sydney if they are indeed heading that direction.
After getting shot down a few times, somebody says yes. He’s a man that has a family with strong heritage in Australia. “My father-in-law, bless his soul, helped the group that brought in the cane toads from the Fiji islands to help with the farmer’s insect pest, which didn’t work obviously– he’s not particularly proud of that.”
“There are lots of Australians that haven’t seen most of the country you have,” he says. The terrain towards Sydney becomes hilly and the highway transitions into four to five lanes in width and the traffic picks up. He drops me off near the main transit station in the heart of Sydney.
Sydney is drastically different; cosmopolitan in a true sense. Motorbikes, people speaking in classy language, designer clothing, clean streets, development followed by development and the clap of high heels down a sidewalk as bicycles cruise by and cars blur by. I walk passed a pub filled with people chattering, betting on their favorite horse. There are cafes with European themes at every street corner.
I meet up with Carlos, who is my Couchsurfing host for my stay in Sydney. He is a musician and originally from Spain, studying in Sydney. His house is full of people from all different countries; Japan, Mongolia, Italy, Germany, you name it– the house itself is cosmopolitan and a good metaphor for what the modern city stands for, at least in my first impressions.
I go cycling with Carlos down to the Sydney harbor, riding the loner bike which is a Frankenstein bike made by his friend from Czech Republic who is a mechanic that cobbled the thing together. The frame is that of a BMX bike and the tires are off of a road bike giving it a funny sort of presence. Carlos and I sneak into the music conservatory and listen to an artist named Mark Wilkinson doing his sound check with a pianist and cello player. The song is called All I Ever Wanted and the message is simple and directed towards the heart.
James Bond style, we dart into a practice room and play on the piano for an hour or so. Miraculously, we managed to avoid getting kicked out by the staff until we were actually already on our way out of the building.
Along the harbor near the iconic Sydney opera house there are classy, expensive cafes mixed with the names of earlier European explorers. Captain Cook boat tours, musicians busking, an Aboriginal selling his artwork. We jam on the guitars for a while and I meet his roommates, one girl from Mongolia who strikes my fancy and together the three of us climb to the top of the hill in an attempt to photograph the full moon, which the rolling clouds do not permit us to do on this particular night. In a four-story building across from the park, business men whack golf balls at a high gated fence during the late night hour.
In Sydney, there may be natural sounds, but the machines are louder and have overtaken these sounds. The ancient Romans, if they time-traveled to this future, might view the city and be completely immersed and enthralled at this idea of progress and development. Observing cities around the world, one can’t help but wonder: how long will they last? Eventually, won’t they crumble and fade just like everything else?
Later in the day, I take the train and crossed the harbor to meet up with my Italian friend I met in Malaysia and her boyfriend who lived in Sydney. When traveling, there is no greater feeling than reconnecting with a person you met earlier during your travels. It makes things at least feel like they have come full-circle and there is a sense of camaraderie and community on the road. Together, the three of us go hiking to a lighthouse that overlooks the ocean front.
Her boyfriend works in the restaurant industry as a chef and he explains how a wage based on non-tipping in Australia affects the servers. “A manager and I were having a meeting recently and one of the servers actually forgot to bring us our silverware,” he says. “Not once, but twice. Since they don’t rely on tips, some of them have no incentive to bring forth good customer service.”
There are pros and cons to having a tip-based restaurant industry, as well as the opposite.
Carlos and a group of about twenty other people go hiking in the Blue Mountains of Sydney. Massive cliffs, waterfalls, ravines, dry and wet microclimates and clear skies follow us the whole day, although it doesn’t have the same sense of openness as Western Australia often has.
It’s my last night in Sydney and I can’t believe I’m actually leaving this incredible country. As always happens when one is about to leave, I get closer to the girl from Mongolia name Sharleen who tells me a bit about life in her country as we sit on a park bench in the city at three in the morning as the drunks stumble on home. There is a soft rain dripping from the sky, making it feel like a scene from some kind of chick flick– it’s a good feeling as yesterday blends into the grips of tomorrow. There is no place I’d rather be than here.
Tomorrow, the definition of here will have a new interpretation.
I have to admit that I accidentally overstayed my Australia travel visa by about 12 days. When I originally booked my flights, I had read incorrectly that one could stay on a travel visa for six months but later re-read to find that this was only for European citizens and American citizens were only allowed three months of stay at a time in the country. Since to change the flight would have been beyond my budget, I opt to instead be thick with apologies at the airport security check and cross my fingers, hope for the best.
They play hard at first but eventually let me pass but not without compensating my entire jar of peanut butter, telling me that it could be a potentially deadly item. I imagined some crazed terrorist taking a glob of PB in his fingers and rubbing it over a pilot’s eyes, blinding him and crashing our plane to the ground. Then I realize that this is stupid and far-fetched, just like the modern day airline rules and regulations.
On the flight, there is no meal served for the entire eight-hour flight and like a true vagabond, I share my Ramen noodles instead of being pressured to buy a processed dinner for twenty dollars from the flight attendants. They won’t even have the decency to share a cup of coffee with us. I promise myself that I will avoid Jetstar airlines at all costs in the future. Watching others eat while you starved was like insult to injury; such is life sometimes.
In Hawaii, I get flagged by the authorities most likely because my backpack was dirty, full of dust and I looked to them like the type of traveler that might smuggle drugs. I wait patiently as they scrounge through my stuff piece by piece. “What’s this?,” the guy demands, pulling out some sage I had kept from a hike in Sydney. I tell him what it is.
“Ok, wasn’t sure if it was marijuana,” he says. Definitely not, I tell him. I am tired of airport checks and want to escape the building and get out into the fresh air.
I am asked more stupid questions entering my own country than I was when leaving Australia. Are you a terrorist? Are you carrying anything illegal into the country? It gives the impression that one isn’t welcome back into their own country.
On Oahu Island, it is hotter than hell’s kitchen. This is my first time ever in Hawaii. I flew there because it was cheaper to fly from Sydney to Honolulu, then to LA rather than flying directly to LA. I walk into a food court where there is mostly Asian-style fast food, Filipino food, a large plasma TV featuring a preacher blabbing about God as people ate their food. Tucked in the corner is a divorce shop offering special “military rates.”
The first human that I talk to is a homeless man on a bike who wears a genuine smile and says, “doing well, thanks.” The first genuine smile I have seen so far amongst the fast-pace of the island. The Bank of Hawaii has a slogan on the front of the building that says “Ready for whatever life may throw at you.” There is a picture of a wedding, parents with a baby, and college students throwing up their tassels– as if these were the only things that life could ever bring. Was that all we ever expected life to bring? If more of the same was never enough, how much more did we need? Was there a price tag for everything on the planet?
I meet a local man and ask him for directions and offer to buy him a cheeseburger at McDonald’s. “Whatever you do, don’t sleep on the beach,” he tells me. “They killed my friend down there. And be careful if you go in the hills hiking– if you go off the main tracks you might run into a pig hunter or something. You don’t want to run into them.”
By days’ end, I’ve probably walked over 15 miles and my feet have blisters since the traffic is too congested on the island and nobody bothers to pull over for hitchhikers. Dare I say that an overabundance of tourism has in some ways destroyed the culture?
I hike to the ocean’s edge, which isn’t hard to find in Hawaii and I sleep as the waves rush against the land.
I hang out most of the day at Waikiki Beach, which is world-renowned for its’ pristine and optimum surfer beaches. Hawaii is a great place if you are not hitchhiking. I take the bus around the island just to get a sense of the size of the island. It’s already dark and it takes about two hours or more to circle the entire land mass. Rush hour traffic slows us down. We pass windmill farms and the bus driver waves a few locals the Hawaiian sign, which is an extended thumb and pinky.
“Aloha, welcome aboard,” says the robot on the intercom. The Oahu boat harbor is massive with incoming shipments of everything imaginable. The cost of living is higher in Hawaii because of the need for imported goods.
Eventually, I make my way to the airport and sleep there since it’s already three AM and my flight for LA leaves early in the morning. I’m not in Hawaii long enough to make a thorough impression, so I’ll have to save that for an extended return trip to the other islands. I find the solace of sleep amongst tropical travelers and local bums.
This is real life.
Stotanism- a quiet resilience, the desire to keep pushing on.
LA greets me with its fast-paced, selfish initial façade and the city seems to move on at a speed that is reckless and inconsiderate of all things human. I’m more than happy when I find a group of travelers that are heading in a van and a car to Colorado and all they need is help with the driving. Coming home seems like a crash-landing, like a dream that can’t possibly be real. Part of me is happy to be home, another part wishes I was still traveling away from where I come from; the feeling is bittersweet.
Funny enough, one member in the group is an Australian is traveling around America in a similar fashion that I travel, through mostly hitchhiking. Bryan is the leader and organizer of our group and is traveling to the Navajo country of Colorado to build adobe houses with a volunteer group.
In a park, we meet a Navajo Indian man that has a certain kind of sadness to him. It seems that the bottom of the bottle has gotten some of the best of him. He invites the Australian guy to go with him to a Sun Dance ceremony and we share lunch with the native. “I was there when the American government kicked my own people off our land,” he says.
The landscape through Arizona is littered with dead sheep, broken beer bottles amongst and incredible red sunset. We stop at a place called Baby Rock and hike around for a while as the red ball falls over the horizon. Phil tells us that his claim to fame is that he once got stuck in quicksand and had to have someone pull him out.
Eventually, it’s just myself and the Coloradan girl from Montrose heading in an eastward direction, as the rest of the gang is heading elsewhere. We say our goodbyes and check into the cheapest motel on the edge of town.
I walk towards the outskirts with Sandra in the morning and we were offered a lift from a genuine Colorado cowboy– until this point I was convinced that they were now only in movies and nearly forever dead. He could just as well be the ghost of Buffalo Bill, on his last leg in the afterlife. He holds a giant coffee mug and sports a red and white flannel shirt, a straw cowboy hat.
“I work on a farm in Gallup,” he tells us. “I just wanted to check and make sure y’all were ok. I seen ya walkin’ down the street with yer backpacks and all. I could have gone myself to church this morn but it was already late and I don’t like walkin’ into church late.”
We hop in his car and he takes us out some 20 miles. “My wife of 35 years left me,” he tells us sadly. He pops in a CD of a country guy singing with a drawl over a slightly out-of-tune acoustic guitar.
I ask him who the artist is. “Oh, this is my wife’s new boyfriend,” he says. He holds a giant silver coffee mug. “It makes me realize that she’s really gone.”
Royce drops us off and the next lift comes a few hours later from a seemingly drunk man and a Navajo woman driving a car that has no hood. “I work at a junk yard, so I’ll fix it soon,” he says. “Runs good anyways.” Their lives seem raw and full of open wounds, much like their car which is in disrepair.
He has on a camo-hat with a hole in the side. Someone has drawn I Heart Sam on the carpet ceiling and there is a faded I Heart with a name that has been crossed out and erased. He offers cheap tequila and accept as not to be rude. It is disgusting and I nearly puke it out in the hot car; it’s a good thing that his Navajo girlfriend is now driving.
“You didn’t have to stop, thanks for the ride,” I tell him.
“I know I didn’t. I don’t have to do anything,” he shoots back.
“There’s a lot of good people in the world,” I tell him.
“I know there are,” he shoots back. “And I’m not one of ‘em. But it’s ok, I only kill the people I don’t like.”
We wait in Hermosa as the steam-engine train full of tourists scoots by us. It takes a full offer to get a lift from a man that is a sort of jack-of-all trades. He tells us a story about a black bear encounter. “I was at my place and I heard this mournful, whining sound and thought it was maybe a local drunk and I was barefoot and it was outside so I didn’t go. Luckily, I didn’t change my mind because it was the mother bear mourning her dead cub which had gotten into the transformer and had been electrocuted so it would have been bad news to get stuck in the middle of that. That was in Silverton and it was the only bear encounter I’ve had.”
Another lift comes from a girl coming from Albuquerque after visiting old friends. “After living in Colorado, I don’t have too much interest in New Mexico,” she says. We get into the small town of Montrose and there is the distinct smells of horse and cow shit, pulling us in like weary travelers, pungent aromas tugging at the air.
Hitchhiking towards Denver, a woman stands on the opposite side of the busy street and shouts against the grain of traffic. “ Ooo—ooooo! HEY! Everybodypraisethelord! Oooo aaaaooooo !!” (lost in translation) She’s got a 55 mph sign on the front of her wheelchair. Cars zip on by and don’t seem to notice her. It’s a concert projection thrown into oblivion.
The last lift to Denver comes from a guy that is retired and lives in a cabin. He used to work in the oilfields. “Used to be able to work 120 hours a week, but now it’s all safety and 80 hours max.”
He traveled to South America in the past. “People live in huts and pay nothing to live on the side of a hill. Hell, maybe they’re doing it right over there after all and we’re doing it wrong.” His voice is raspy and sounds a bit like a disgruntled coyote, having spent a thick portion of his life chain-smoking cigarettes in the stressful conditions of working the oil fields.
I can see the city skyline and Rocky Mountain ranges of Denver approaching in the distance and can feel the magnetic pull of the closest thing to home pulling me back. Suddenly, it’s like I never left and the travels I experienced were just a dream.
That’s all we are is dreams, a familiar voice rings in my head.
All roads are endless and lead full circle, back to the place where you began– it’s inevitable. There is the freedom of choice to follow the road or to cling close to where you came from. You’ll always carry your roots, and there’s no escaping yourself. In between choices, there are convenient excuses such as financial reasons, fears of being robbed, of not understanding another culture or language, fears of falling off a flat Earth, fear of the media actually being right with their cynical depictions, fear of being homesick. Some of these fears are rational and should be acknowledged, others should simply be ignored.
In between, there is your decision if you choose to make it. Your choice to travel.
Your choice, to do so or not. One doesn’t have to travel the world in pursuit of adventure—but it’s a great way to start. You don’t have to live based off people’s expectations. If you get the chance to go, you probably should; it’s an interesting place, wherever you go.
All you need is a clean backpack with the bare essentials and maybe a bit of space left for the dust and stories you might collect along the way.
Total distance traveled on the trip was well over 24,000 kilometers (14,913 miles) by cycling and mostly hitchhiking. Not that the distance was what mattered in the end anyways; I had conquered some of my doubts and accomplished beyond what I initially thought conceivable. Now I was home and as some of the Australians say, all buggered out.
Recommended travel books read on this trip:
Down Under by Bill Bryson
Napalm & Silly Putty by George Carlin
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
The Forgotten Legion by Ben Kane
The Inheritance of Loss by Hiran Desai
The Last Tycoon by Scott Fitzgerald
A Citizen of the Country by Sarah Smith
Adam’s Empire by Evan Green
Legends of the Fall by Jim Harrison
Is That Thing Diesel? By Paul Carter
The Savage Crows by Robert Drewe
Once Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
Three Dollars by Elliot Perlman
The Kiwi Connection by John Meskell
Find the complete book for sale on Amazon or Amazon Kindle here:
After flying with JetStar airlines I can say that I’ve had worst in-flight experiences and I’ve had better. In all fairness, they did manage to scrape us together something resembling a TV dinner meal of frozen potatoes and turkey. The turkey had a strong aftertaste of rubber cement and I’m not sure that the Irish would have eaten the processed potatoes during the Great Potato Famine, but it was edible nonetheless. The air conditioning is blasting and some passengers are shivering. I ask for a blanket to borrow for the flight.
“That will be seventeen dollars,” the attendant says perkily. She’s not joking so I pass. I’d rather endure the cold, and budget airlines are all about endurance—get in, get out, with no expectations higher than somewhere to sit and arrive at your destination alive.
As we disembark the plane, which has arrived an hour late, the flight attendant gently tells a man on crutches that he’ll need to hurry for his connecting flight. “Fan-tastic,” he grumbles.
It’s hard to believe that in that small window of time we’ve flown clear across the ocean and into another country. Jet lag is exactly what the term implies it is—the lagging of the proper required headspace to adjust to differences in culture and time zones. It’s like being sucked up into a vacuum or time warp. Seat-of-your-pants adventure travelers such as Henry David Thoreau, Jack Kerouac, and Hunter S. Thompson have been replaced by the frequent flyer business type. The rugged traveler who moves by whatever means possible and does so for the sake of exploring has been replaced by the week or weekend holiday-er with a loaded credit card. These days, everybody travels but few explore.
Jonathan, who I meet in the Darwin airport, turns out to be one of the latter few. A sign above us at the terminal reads 31 degrees Celsius. That is to say that in Darwin, it is hot. Jonathan seems just as disoriented and lost as I do and after escaping more-than-casual glances of our passports from the border police, I suggest that we try and hitchhike into the city together. I’m dedicated to hitchhiking around the entire circumference of Australia and even from the airport I choose to use the power of the thumb.
Jonathan tells me he has just flown in from traveling the Philippines islands and now will spend a considerable amount of time in Australia. He will be in the country for 9 months or more with a working visa. Many travelers, especially from countries in Europe, travel to Australia and end up working in the country. Wages in the country are strong and there is plenty of available work.
We are both sweating raindrops as we cross our way out of the small airport. A group of cockatoos chirp and cluck as they fly between gum trees. Ten minutes later, we are picked up by a woman who turns out to be heading into town as our luck will have it.
“How ya goin’?,” she asks us. Just got into the country!, we tell her.
“Well, welcome to Australia!,” she says. This seems to make her happy and her face glows. “I pick up travelers from time to time.” She suggests working under the table like “everyone else” if I have to since I don’t have a working visa. The conversation is short and we don’t have enough time to get to know her beyond the surface level.
We walk around the downtown Darwin area for a bit and the first thing we need is food since we are both starving. My jaw nearly drops when I see the prices in the supermarkets; it’s nearly twice the price of produce in the States. So that’s how it goes, I’ll either have to learn to eat bark off trees or find a way to survive this country.
“So where are you staying?,” Jonathan asks me as we make our way through downtown.
“Oh, have you heard of Couchsurfing? I’m staying with this guy, his name is Phillip…”
“No way! I’m staying with a guy off Couchsurfing, his name is Phillip too…”
“No way it could be the same guy…”
“No way, but where does he live?”
“Bakewell area is what I have written down…”
The chances are slim but it’s at that moment that we realize that we both came in on the same plane and are heading for the exact same house. So we decide to hitchhike to Phillip’s house together.
After a few minutes of walking, we’re picked up by a young lady heading for a friend’s house. If hitchhiking in Australia remains as good as it is in Darwin, I’ll have to give Australia stellar ratings all around! This girl is young, as in probably-still-lives-with-her-parents young based off her appearance and how she behaves.
I tell her I just came from Thailand and Malaysia. “Ooohh, I’m going to Thailand soon!,” she exclaims. “I’m going to get a boob job done in Thailand since it’s cheaper. My parents don’t like the idea but they’re going to let me do it anyways. In Thailand it only costs about 10,000 dollars to get the job done and in Australia it costs about 20,000 so it’s a lot cheaper.”
I promise her I’ll keep that in mind the next time I decide to call up Doc for a breast-size increase. She drops us right off at Phillip’s house and we wish each other luck on travels and upcoming surgeries.
Phillip is not home and neither of us have cell phones so we improvise and throw our packs over the fence and decide to apologize later if he takes offense to it We head to the park for a while and go for a jog while we wait for Phillip to get home. . Of course, he doesn’t and Phillip is one of the most easy-going, considerate, good-humored people you’ll ever meet. We meet him an hour or so later and he introduces us to three other travelers from Germany who are staying at his place.
One of them tells us that he got a job working on a fishing boat just off the local port that went sour in the end. “The visherman, vee vwas a dick,” he says in English with a heavy German accent. “All da time, I vwas not take fresh water showers, only vit salt water from da sea and his vife from the Philippines meanwhile vas always washing clothes with fresh water. Sometimes, sharks or crocodiles vould get caught in the net and with the sharks; he vould cut off the fins and let them sink to the bottom of da ocean.”
At the dinner table, he shows us his hands, which in some spots are cut right to the bone. “Da salt water vould get into it and it would sting,” he says. “I had to quit after a week because of dese injuries and I’m going to a doctor tomorrow. Da fisherman was always looking down on me, saying ‘hurry up’ and calling me a ‘fawking cunt’, stuff like that.” At the same time, he says that he would still have done it knowing what he knows now just for the experience.
One of the German guys had been hit by a car while riding his scooter while riding around locally. What was going on in Darwin? Why was everyone getting hurt or in accidents? The travelers set up outside, where an Australia flag was hung up proudly as the wind blew and the mosquito zapper buzzed through the night as it turned the pests into dust.
Dinner is organized so that somebody cooks every night, making for a variety of food and less expenses for the house. When somebody tells me that I am in charge of cooking for the evening, it usually results with an increase in heart rate and sense of panic, as making Instant Noodles is a culinary accomplishment. I decide to do the typical ‘American’ dish, nothing more than burgers over the grill. During dinner, a tree frog climbs over one of the bushes near the outdoor table. Roosters scuttle back and forth in the yard.
Stephen, our host, is a deaf-mute and he has a new service dog that he is training to help him with his needs. We practice by knocking at the door while he is with his trainer to see if he alerts Stephen. The dog still needs some practice.
Despite the setbacks, Stephen seems to live a life that is happier than most people that I’ve met, probably because he openly shares his experiences and what he owns with other people generously. “You gotta watch out for salties in this country,” he tells us at dinner. “They even have been found swimming in the ocean near Darwin. And you don’t see ‘em till they’re right next to you mate.”
The next day, Jonathan and I will walk to the ocean.
Jonathan later tells me that he is from Quebec (pronounced kwee-beck), which is the French-speaking province in Canada. There have been instances in Canadian history where Quebec wanted to become a separate country from Canada, but this never actually happened.
While walking through a roundabout with a pedestrian passage, a car slows down and then starts driving again, nearly running me over. I flick off my sandals and instinctively start running backwards as the car continues to come at me. It’s not till I yell out “Hey!” to the lady driving the car that she slams on the brakes with a horrified expression on her face.
We find out that they had a baby in the backseat and she was more occupied with the baby than the driving. A block away, the couple pulls over beside us at a parking lot. She asks if I’m OK, if I need to go to the hospital. I tell her it’s fine and just to keep her eyes on the road instead and we laugh, shrug it off. “Sorry mate!,” the guy says as they drive off. It was a real kind gesture for them to stop and ask if we were alright.
Jonathan and I venture off exploring Darwin on foot and find our way to the ocean, which as far as we can tell contains no crocodiles. Or maybe it’s filled with salt water crocodiles that we don’t see. Salt water crocs are the one that are known to actively hunt and eat humans.
At the supermarket, a white taxi van drops off a group of Aborigine people, barefoot and seemingly invisible to the rest of the world. We forage the supermarket for pasta sauce, noodles, and garlic bread for dinner.
There is quietness to the area as the sun sets and creates a lava-lamp effect over the city of Darwin, swallows it whole. The tree frog does not make another appearance at dinner.
In the morning, I wake to the sound of Stephen’s robotic vacuum driving around the living room and crashing into everything in sight. Jonathan and I hitch into town and get a lift from an x-fisherman. I ask him what life as a fisherman was like for him.
“It does something to you,” he says. “It’s not an easy life mate.” I ask him if he has seen any crocodiles in the area, the typical tourist questions. Every other noun that comes out of his mouth seems to be cunt. “Oh, the crocs have been migrating south since they made it illegal to hunt them now,” he says. “If you ask me, I think they should kill the cunts…”
He’s a good bloke with a foul mouth. He tell us that he once tried to pick up a loopy hitchhiker with his pants down but when he stopped to give him a lift and see what the deal was he said, “sorry, I only accept rides from hot female backpackers.”
We hop out of the car and thank him for the ride. “Alriiiight m’ate, good luck,” he says.
I busk with my Martin backpacker guitar for awhile, make close to fifteen dollars in an hour and an old Aboriginal lady slowly walks over to me, throws in a coin and says, “You’re pretty good at playing dat thing mate.”
That makes my day. Later, we get a lift back to Stephen’s place from a few guys who planned to travel to Southeast Asia in the future and were keen to listen in to any advice I might have. In the kitchen, I stencil in a rough map of Australia on notebook paper and map in with peanuts the route I will like to take via hitchhiking.
The next day we all make a stop at the local farmers markets since it’s the weekend and it’s on the way out of town. I’ll be hitchhiking south towards the town of Katherine, my intentions being to loop off in the direction of Western Australia. I say goodbye to everyone and my first lift comes from a couple that are both in the Australia Air Force and are off for a weekend camping trip.
They tell me a story of an Asian couple they once picked up who had gotten stranded after missing their bus and accidentally left their backpack and camera in the back of the truck. “We drove all the way back to the coast with their stuff in the back and didn’t even know it till we got there,” she says. “So we drove all the way back to where we came from and found them, gave them back their stuff. The girl was nearly in tears. They offered to pay for gas to compensate, but we wouldn’t take it.”
I inquired about the Aboriginals, which I was curious about after seeing some of them at the supermarket. They told me their thoughts. “The Aboriginals have to keep money in the family; it’s all about helping each other out. That’s why most of them can never get ahead in life because problems like alcoholism drag the whole family down.”
They drop me off in Katherine right in front of a trail head that they tells me leads to hot springs, that actually “aren’t hot, just luke warm.” The first thing I do is go and take a dip in the springs, which turn out to be refreshing after walking for a bit in the heat. Giant spiders perch on webs surrounding the water hole and the locals tell me that crocodiles have been seen in the area before. Nonetheless, many locals and tourists are taking dips in the water. “No worries mate, just crocodiles that might want to eat ya. Nothin’ to worry bout.”
I meet a couple Irish guys that tell me Perth is the most expensive city in the world. It sounds like the high cost of food in Darwin is not unique to Australia. It’s no wonder that most travelers come here to work while traveling.
I try hitchhiking for over three hours with not a chance of a ride. Road trains, which are trucks loaded down with three heavy-duty trailers full of anything imaginable just chug on by me. I’m told that new insurance laws and other political, bureaucratic reasons make it difficult for the drivers to stop, or at least give the ones that don’t like picking up travelers a good excuse not to.
One truck has three whole trailers packed to the brim with cattle. I hope that I can get out of this town tomorrow. I’ll be sleeping in the park near the hot springs, just down the road from where large families of Aboriginals sleep on the streets.
I sit at the dusty roadside with my guitar for almost a full 24 hours without a suggestion of a lift. I’m thinking that maybe it’s time to change my tactics. Most people blow on by and pay me no mind. One girl even makes the effort to roll down her window and yell out “No way!” Many people watch too much television or are brainwashed to think that the outside world is this dangerous place where everyone means you ill. It’s unfortunate because they’ll never have opportunities to step outside of their comfort zones with that kind of mindset.
I try to stay positive but it’s becoming a real challenge to maintain that. I’m stuck in the middle of an outback town, miles into nowhere. I shouldn’t have come to Australia, I tell myself. My moral is as an ultimate low. At one point I even consider buying a ticket to Asia for the rest of the trip and flying out of Sydney after three months. Something keeps me determined though and eventually I get a lift to the outskirts of town, which turns out to be a worse hitchhiking spot than the original was. “You’ll probably have better luck at this spot mate,” the guy tells me.
On the green road sign above me, somebody has etched these words into the sign: 39 degrees Celsius! I hitchhiked all bloody day! Apparently, this guy had better luck than I did anyways. I realize that the sun is beating down on me like hell’s inferno and my gallon water jug is starting to run low. Luckily, I run into a road worker who agrees to give me a lift back into town after I ask him. “Your body loses up to 2 liters of water an hour in this kind of heat,” he tells me. “You can dehydrate quick out there mate.”
I get a lift back to the supermarket where people walk into the store with no shirts and no t-shirts. Instead of “No shirts, no shoes, no service” it’s more like “No worries, come on in.” It’s really an interesting place and only the fact that my bad luck with hitchhiking it tainting my perception right now.
I walk back to the hot springs after stocking up on food and water, an Aboriginal pointing me towards a tap near the petrol station. “You can use there mate,” he says, pointing across the street through faded eyes.
I meet a fisherman down by the hot springs who is retired and lives in his truck, following the good weather and camping everywhere he goes. “I eat well and eat fresh fish every night,” he says proudly. “You know, these rivers flooded real good a while back,” he says. “Washed it up so far back that they found a salt water crocodile swimming near the Woolies supermarket… somebody said ‘ I reckon somebody outta direct him to the meat department!” He gets a chuckle out of this. I get the impression that he enjoys telling this story and has told it a few times before.
Meeting that fisherman is enough to revamp my spirits and decide that Australia was a good place to explore and I shouldn’t give up just yet. After talking it over with him, I decide to try my luck at hitchhiking towards Alice Springs instead, through the Australia outback, also known as the Red Center.
“You’ll have more luck going towards Alice I think,” he says. “More people probably heading that way.”
I sure hope that he’s right. That night, giant fox bats swoop over my head where I sleep in tight packs and make screeching sounds. The mosquitoes come to torture me later in the night, but only for awhile. Then at 2am the sprinkler system blasts on, startling me from sleep and I have to quickly grab all my stuff and make a dash for the other side of the park, but not without getting pelted with water first.
This is the Australia I know so far.
I walk a few more miles to the spot that lead towards Alice Springs and after three hours or so, a working roadside truck pulled over. I nearly jump into the air—wait, no, not nearly, I do jump in the air—and run over to the truck. Thanks so much for stopping, I tell him. I’ve been stuck in this town for three days!
He’s a good bloke that is originally from Turkey and has lived in Australia since he was two. He introduces me to the music of the Turkish ud, which is a strange-sounding instrument with a distinct sound like none other.
These days he works on the roads in the Red Center, patching up cracks and potholes that are common along this well-trafficked road. We talk about a lot of things, from work, to life, to travel, which all blend into one as we pass masses of termite mounds that people have decorated with clothing. The trees quickly disappear and there is the sense that we are really in the Australian outback. There is no Outback Steakhouse to be seen in these parts—this is the real thing.
Kangaroo carcasses scatter the roadside like there was a nuclear holocaust. Flies buzz around at every stop we make. Muz invites me to stay in the motel once we arrive in the town before arriving to Alice Springs the next day. He gives me a Bundaberg rum and coke in a can. “Cheers mate,” he says. “Welcome to Australia. I don’t like these things, my friend gave them to me.”
A cold drink never tasted better. Rum and Coke in a can is just what the doctor would have ordered.
No, it’s alright, I tell him. Thanks for the ride, but I can camp.
He insists on me staying and a warm shower never felt better. We order some food from the local restaurant and have steak and potatoes; a perfect meal after being on the road.
Sleeping rough makes one sincerely appreciate the creature comforts of a soft bed with air-conditioning.
The rain comes down in heavy sheets in the morning, which is unusual for the area, Muz tells me. His work is canceled for the day, which was lucky for me since he will be able to give me a lift all the way to Alice Springs. There is the feeling of momentum starting to build.
We meet up with the other roadside workers at a café and hang out under the eaves as the rain falls down off the tin roof. Stand around drinking coffee, the workers cracking jokes and laughing about the “hard work” they will have for the day. Rain or shine, they still get to collect their paychecks.
As we’re driving, we hydroplane for a moment on a road that is filled with a tiny river of water. Flooding in the area is common during certain times of the year. “Shitshitshitshitshit,” Muz mutters, but manages to let his foot off the gas and gains back control.
Muz tells me that in his opinion, the problem with the Aboriginals was that they get “throw away money from the government” so a lot of the city Aboriginals sit around all day with no incentive to do anything but drink grog (alcohol.)
In the middle of the desert road, there is an unexpected mango farm that offers sample tastes of mango ice-cream and wines. I offer to treat us to some ice cream, which proves to be a great decision—it is delicious. Muz tells me about his trip with friends in an RV across America a few years back. “I loved New Orleans and all the meat—the steak, the fried chicken,” he says.
We drive for a long ways until we finally arrive in Alice Springs (some 1,800 plus kilometers later) and Muz sets me off at the supermarket. Muz tells me that if I had a working visa, his boss would have offered for me to work for their company.
In Alice Springs, I walk passed Digareedoo shops, many backpackers, touristy coffee shops, a World War 1 memorial, and Catholic churches. I hike to the top of the war memorial and overlook the town below. This site was a burial site for many soldiers that didn’t make it home during World War 1.
I walk around the town looking for a place to sleep and find a church called the Angalic Church. I find a secluded corner and catch a few winks.
That morning while walking around town I meet a guy from France who is playing his guitar and drinking coffee in the middle of the center of town. Doing what seems logical, I join him. “This is the best country to find work in outside of Switzerland,” he told me. Just for fun, we jam in front of the supermarket just for fun and he sets up a sign that says he is looking for work. I make 40 dollars in one hour, and a light bulb goes off inside my head.
This is how I could survive in Australia.
It rains all day, on and off.
Later that night, I walk to my Couchsurfing hosts’ house on the other side of town. His name is Zack, and it is mentioned in his profile about being something of a nudist, but trust me when I say that I didn’t expect him to answer the door with his balls hanging out full bloom. I sort of expected him to walk around the kitchen in the middle of the night naked, something to that effect.
Zack tells me about his experiences traveling around Australia in a van and going to a festival called Confest in past years. These days he works at a hospital in Alice Springs sorting out supplies.
Speaking to another guy when they are completely naked in front of you, I learn is slightly uncomfortable, to put it mildly, and it’s hard not to be distracted by this fact that everything is literally hanging out. I don’t think I would have been uncomfortable with it in a different setting, a different place, but this was just weird so I went to sleep on the floor and in the morning I thank him for letting me stay and decide not to stay there again.
The next day, I meet a girl from Belgium while busking in front of the supermarket. Her name is Nazarine. She is super sweet and funny enough, when I mention hitchhiking to Ayers Rock in the middle of the desert, she doesn’t think it is such a bad idea. She asks if she can join me before I can even offer for her to come.
A little girl walks up to me while I am playing my guitar and says,“Guess what? I like your sou—ound.” She can’t quite get the syllables and sound for the word to come out right, which makes it that much more appreciated.
I am invited to come to some kind of “devotion gathering” where I am told there would be other travelers and music by a couple that meet me in town and have seen me playing music earlier in the day. I can’t turn it down, so I go and meet a host of interesting characters. They read quotes from different religions and have me play music in between the spoken word. The people are kind-hearted and I feel welcome in this quassi-hippy get together. Their religion, as they explain it, is defined as a “bridging together of all religions; a oneness.”
The next day, Nazarine and I walk to the edge of town and begin hitchhiking. We wait about two hours to get a lift to Uluru (Ayers) Rock after immediately getting a quick ride out of town by a local guy in a beat-up Ute. I try starting a fire to help Nazarine’s ear, which is apparently slightly infected since she has gotten her ear pierced recently. I work out the chords to a song she knows called Lemon Tree and we sit on the roadside playing that song with nothing but the wind and heat outside our own company.
Nobody is pulling over until I go off into the woods to make a fire and who would have guessed that somebody decides to pull over, probably thinking a woman is all by her stranded self in the middle of the outback. When I pop out of the woods, they might have been hiding their disappointment, although I’m not sure.
There are two guys in the car and they are planning to make a documentary about the Aboriginals that lived near Uluru Rock in order to get some funding for the communities there. Nathan, the driver, tells us his stories about his first interactions with the Aboriginal tribes.
“One day I was driving towards Uluru Rock and picked up a dead Emu that I found on the side of the road. I wasn’t sure why I picked it up, I just felt compelled mate, out of respect for animals. I’ve spent a lot of time in India and learned to respect all creatures.
“Anyways, I had just got back from traveling India with this fresh in my mind and I wanted to visit an Aboriginal community and all the locals said ‘no, it’s too dangerous, don’t do that’, all that sort of thing, so I of course went anyways. So I walked over mate, and hiked into their community and out comes this old man with a walking stick and this man says, in a gravelly voice ‘hello, I am Emu Man. ‘Well, I’ve got something to show you’ I tell him. I run back to the car and grab the Emu carcass and give it to him.
“The next day, the man had sorted out all the feathers into necklaces, stuff like that. That experience sent chills down my spine and changed the course of my life forever. It determined my life for the next 25 years.”
Uluru is a long drive out into the middle of nowhere; some 450 kilometers southwest of Alice Springs.
We’re then invited to stay at a camel farm, where there are a host of interesting characters, one being a French guy who works for the circus teaching Aboriginal kids. Nathan shows me some authentic Aboriginal Digareedoo playing, which is much rawer than the European style of playing. He lets us listen to an audio clip of a recording he did with the village people, jamming with a saxophone, Irish flute, digareedoo, drums and keyboards.
We have a dinner of steak and are invited to stay for the night. We both decide to sleep along the sand dunes.
Mark, the guy that works on the camel farm, tells us that they once found a dead camel and a snake trail next to it, figured that it was bitten by a snake the night before. Mark was once bitten at night by a snake when he had to help push his friend’s car and passé dout in the car, not realizing that he had been bitten. It wasn’t till after the hospital and later in the shower that he noticed the fang marks on his legs and he was lucky that he got to keep his life.
We grab our sleeping bags and hike into the night with the flashlight, toss them down on a soft blanket of earth that overlooks Uluru Rock.
It was like heaven on Mars: craters, desert, mystery, and all.
In the desert, the climate is the coldest in the morning when the sun’s first rays drag up the cold from the ground. Feeling this change in temperature, my body wakes my mind and my mind is grateful for having been woken. I grab my camera and take some shots of a fire red sun over a desolate desert with a giant rock sitting in the midst of it all. Watching the sun unfold over Uluru is like having a magician show you the secret to magic. It is magic. The rock changes colors, transforming from yellow, to red, to purple, to red again and a mix of colors that simply can’t be described in words.
And it really is a wonder to many how the rock got there, in the middle of nowhere. It seems that there is a lot of this type of geography in Australia; giant rocks in the middle of the desert. But how did they form? How long had they been there? Certainly many years beyond our short human life spans. Years of plate tectonics, erosion, and sculpting by the Gods I suppose all play a part. Regardless of the conclusions people form, everyone tends to walk up to the landscape and go wow.
The rock has two different names; one that the European settlers gave it in 1873 (Ayers Rock) and one that the Aboriginals gave it many years ago (Uluru). Personally, I think that Uluru sounds cooler and they should just stick with one name or just stop calling it anything at all—for God’s sake, it’s only a giant rock.
We pack our gear and hitchhike to the rock, eventually getting picked up by a couple girls from Mississippi who are excited to climb to the top but have a mix of emotions based on what they have heard of what the Aboriginals believe. To the Aboriginals, the rock is sacred and out of respect one should not climb the rock. Many people still do despite this and in the past many tourists have fallen off and continue to meet their demise making a wrong step on the top of Uluru Rock.
Nazarine and I walk the seven kilometers around the circumference of the rock and the Mississippi tourists are disappointed when they found that the trail to climb the rock has been closed due to slipperiness from the recent rainfall. Anyways, probably for the better; they don’t look like they are in that good of shape at any rate.
On the way back, a car full of Aboriginals stop to try and give us a ride but there car is full to the brim with people. Night is falling over the rocks, and we are almost prepared to camp out if we have to but at the last minute a couple pull over and offer us a lift back to the ranch.
Later at the ranch, Mark gets to talking, as he is very accomplished at doing. He tells us that his friend had bought the camel farm originally and it was a “sad affair” when they first purchased it. “Only seven camels were at the farm and it was in shambles, but now there are over 700 camels and it is a thriving place since we are passionate about it.”
When we tell him about the Aboriginals that tried to offer us a lift and the car was full, he smiles and says,” yes, that’s quite typical, as the case often is.”
Mark says once he was jogging while working in an Aboriginal community and they stopped to ask “are you ok? Why are you running?!” To the Aboriginal people, the only proper time to run is if you are on a hunt or if a predator is chasing you and wants to eat you. That’s also one of the modern day Aboriginal problems and I suppose a human problem. We used to have to run and work for our food and now we can just sit in front of a computer screens and collect it and lazily have our bodies transported in mechanical, motorized things.
With that, I walk back to the sand dunes that night by myself and lay my sleeping bag under the crystallized blanket of black and shining stars. Never, never turn down a chance to sleep under the stars, I write in my journal.
I jump out of my sleeping bag in the morning at the sight of the sun rising over Uluru Rock. When would I be back at this spot to see the sunrise again? The answer was almost certainly never. When would I witness this exact moment again? Without a doubt, I certainly never would. You could only embrace it.
Mark gives me some advice over breakfast and unorthodox advice at that. He’s not the kind of guy that has had someone spell out his life for him—he has taken and crafted his own reigns and his own set of rules to live by. He always wears a cowboy hat and he lives the lifestyle as well. “Travel until you’re 40, work your ass off till you’re 60 and then retire,” he says. He wishes that someone had told him that from the beginning.
Society tells and expects everyone to go to school, get married, buy a house, work until you might be able to retire at 60 or 70, and if you’re not completely dead or lacking in any energy yet, then you can find some time to travel a bit here and there with any remaining funds you might have. Sounds like a wonderfully great way to waste your life.
Nazarine and I spend the day going on a camel tour that Mark offeres free of charge, a genuine and kind gesture. Even when I offer some money, he declines to accept. Camels not usually what everyone think of when the continent of Australia pops into mind. They are not native species and were brought into the environment originally by early Arab explorers during the 19th century for transportation and construction. With the birth of the automobile, the need for the camel to be used in this way decreased and the camels were suddenly let into the wild.
Being that much of the center of Australia and Western Australia is comprised of desert terrain, the camels thrived in the environment. By 2008, people that studied the camel populations in Australia were suggesting that it was doubling every eight years or so—an alarming rate of growth. They were degrading the environment and natural ecosystem, threatening local species. Recently there has been a push by authorities to kill off many of the camels in the desert, in hopes to put the population at sustainable levels. Some of the practices, believe it or not, include flying by in a helicopter and blasting away at them with machine guns. Yeah, humans. We are definitely a strange and sometimes disturbing breed of animal.
Training camels takes months and months of concentrated patience. They are not easy creatures to tame and even when tamed, sometimes they have it in their personality to be defiant and not cooperate. Nazarine and I are paired with two special camels of this type of personality. When it is time for the group of camels to move, our camels just sit there and look at the trainers stubbornly. “What, you expect us to move in this heat?,” they seem to say.
Eventually, they do. The camel tour through the desert is one of the coolest things I’ve ever experienced but it would have been great to see one in the wild, which I never do. I do run into plenty of other species of wildlife, however.
We say goodbye to our friend at the ranch and hitchhike back towards Alice Springs, as Nazarine is meeting some friends that are staying that way. I have to backtrack to get my stuff anyways and find myself wishing that I had just carried it all with me instead of leaving the extra weight in Alice.
The lift from Uluru area comes from a guy and his sister from England on holiday in Australia. The bumper sticker on their car reads: No Room for Racism in Australia. She gives us her personal insight on Uluru Rock. ‘When the Aboriginals signed the tourist contract, they couldn’t read, sadly,” she says. “So it wasn’t a fair deal. They would never just sign over their heritage and the land of their ancestors. If the amount of people climbing the rock goes lower than 20%, they are inclined to close the site down for climbing. “
We end up in Curtain Springs, which really isn’t much of a town at all but a place for tourists to camp for free and spend their money on breakfast and hot showers if they want.
Bullet holes riddled the signs in the outback. A prehistoric-looking bird called an emu circles the camp and ducks behind bushes. The creature is harmless enough, but if cornered it could certainly do some damage with its’ massive talons. I have seen my first living kangaroo in captivity at the camel farm but never in my life have I seen so much road kill of one species scattered along the road. You see so many dead kangaroo that your eyes stop seeing them after a while.
We set up our camp and make a fire. Dinner is canned spaghetti and bread. We are just about to fall asleep when I hear a rustling sound in the bushes and hear Nazarine mutter something like “there’s a frog” but then I realize that I’m not dreaming and she has actually said “there’s a dog” and I turn over to my left and there is a dog that is distinctly not domestic sniffing around and looking down on me. It distinctly a dingo!
The dingo is a free-roaming dog found in Australia and some parts of Southeast Asia. It is a descendent of the grey wolf and at times it can get aggressive, especially when in packs. Lucky for us, this guy seems to be a lone wolf.
“Hey!,” I yell out at him. “Get outta there!” It dawns on me that this wild dog must frequent the area as campers probably throw their old burgers and food to the camp perimeter, drawing in the curious scents of food that the dogs pick up. This particular dingo probably smells the spaghetti we had cooked earlier.
With that, the dingo runs off into the forest. There is the fading sound of rustling grass and snapping twigs.
The only creatures that bother our sleep the rest of the night are a group of Germans who take their time setting up their tent and make it a point to be as loud as possible at two in the morning while doing so. This is why I sometimes despise campgrounds, even when they are free, let alone paying for them. Anyways, we eventually get our sleep and we do in fact wake up in the morning, mild dew slicked across our sleeping bags.
The scenery surrounding Uluru is arid, rolling hills, dry river beds, red clay, which is some ways reminds me of the landscape of New Mexico, but in most ways altogether completely different. It takes us but a few minutes to get a ride from a couple Italian guys who are driving to Alice Springs in the morning. They are heading east, towards Brisbane, they say and I can tell that Nazarine is thinking about jumping in with them, as she says she has friends that have work there.
So we depart in Alice Springs and agree to meet up again later on the east coast. It’s time for me to go exploring on my own again. I get back into town, grab my stuff, say goodbye and almost immediately set out hitching again out of Alice Springs, back towards Uluru Rock. It’s somewhat mentally taxing to be covering the same distance you just covered but it’s what has to be done.
I get two short lifts out of town and then wait at the turn-off for about an hour and a half as cars zip by me for a ride further south. Someone has left a fire burning at this spot and as I try to put it out, a couple police officers drive by and scold me out their window for starting a fire. I want to say I didn’t start it and do you really care anyways?, since they’re just driving away and look bored.
I’m picked up by a couple that are traveling the Red Center and they live in Sydney. We pass by a crow that is feasting on a fresh kangaroo carcass and they manage to pull over and snap a few shots. They seem to be a couple that has kindled a new sort of relationship, a love with a fresh kind of energy to it. They drop me off in the middle of the bush and I hop over to a sand dune just before dark and set up camp.
A fire-setting sky transforms into midnight dark over the lump of horizon, illuminating distant suns. This is the Outback Sand Dune Estate, a five billion-star hotel—nothing but a sleeping bag, sand, and an immense stretch of stars.
The sun rises again in the morning, and along with it, the persistent flies. As it quickly becomes hotter, they follow me in swarms and I find myself wrapping my face with my shirt to keep them from attempting to fly up my nose, into my eyes, my ears, and any other moisture-thick area on my skin. They aren’t the kind of flies that just buzz by and annoy you for a few minutes, the kind that are common in the States—these flies will follow and shadow your every move until you are on the brink of insanity.
I wait for a few hours in misery, swatting the flies away, only for them to return ten seconds later, nearly 50 to 100 flies on my back. I take to playing my guitar to keep my mind occupied on something else. My saving grace comes from two German backpackers, who to my luck happen to be traveling all the way to Port Augusta. I am in a long ride for the day. The German guys love their heavy metal music. The repertoire varies from Killswitch Engage, to Soilwork, to Lamb of God, to a German rapper called Casper.
We stop in a town called Cadney Homestead where time seems to stand still. There is only the sound of the wind blowing in the desert and the heat burns down onto the caked earth. Inside a roadhouse, a few local guys play billboards by themselves. There is a heavy silence to the room that speaks louder than a crowded bar in the city. Outside, a semi carries a small house on the back of its trailer through the outback. Where was the house going and what kind of eccentrics lived out here? I want to meet them.
Driving through the outback, the driver runs over a snake that darts out into the road. The thing was about three feet long and it happened to fast to swerve out of the way. Just another road kill casualty. “Poor snake,” he says, and the road carries along the straight and forever sprawl of sand and termite mounds.
Cooder Pedy. We stop for snack supplies and pass by a sprawl of houses, many of them built underground to withstand the heat. Families live in shelters built as permanent basements. This is an active miners’ town and one can’t help but get the sense that every town like this is temporary, despite its’ rich history. Once the minerals run out or they find somewhere else to dig, the jobs disappear along with the people. A man with a patch over his eye walks into the store and loads his cart with groceries for his family. I find it likely that this is the result of a mining accident.
They drop me off in Port Augusta and I’ve made it to South Australia, another territory. I ask two young sheilas and a bloke hanging out near a park what there is to do in the town. “No-thing,” one of the girls says slowly for added effect and laughs. The bloke gracefully kicks a clump of red dirt as if to prove that there really is nothing to do in this town.
“Welcome to Port Augusta,” he says dryly.
Despite the boredom and the drag of the town, one gets the sense that there is, underneath it all, a real sense of community in this town. I roll out my sleeping bag beside a bridge in a secluded-enough spot and fall asleep, unnoticed by all.
I’m learning Zac Brown’s song Jolene on the side of the road while hitchhiking the next day when a local miner pulls over in a Ute and offers a ride. He’s got thick calluses on his hands and his skin is a burnt red color. “Happy to give you a lift,” he says. “I’m only going about 100 kilometers or so.”
I tell him that’s fine.
“Been working on farms and mining all my life,” he says. He says that China, parts of Asia and Indonesia now own over ten percent of the agriculture stations in Australia. “The government never talks about it, of course,” he says. “It’s a big problem.”
He tells me a story about the miners blowing up the cop shop in the area fifteen years back because the police wanted to shut the mines down. “They made sure that no police were in the cop shop, but they blew it to bits and they got the message,” he says.
The guy is full of stories. He tells me he once went camping with some of his mates and a brown snake crawled right into his friends’ tent and curled up with him in his sleeping bag. “We were having breakfast, and somebody asked ‘where’s Pete? I’m surprised he hasn’t smelled the bacon and come out to eat yet.’ Well, we just figured that he was tired and sleeping in a bit so we let him be. A bit later, he comes running out of his sleeping bag, screaming like a little girl. The snake had crawled up next to him to keep warm and had finally decided to slither away. He had been lying there, as still as possible, trying not to move! Poor guy, we all felt bad for him. He was lucky not to get bit!”
He stops at the local supermarket on the way to stock up on a 24-pack of grog (beer). “You’re probably wondering why I didn’t buy from a bigger store where they sell cheaper beer,” he says. “I only like to support local supermarkets, so that’s why I stop here, even though it’s a bit more expensive.”
He talks about the problems he experiences with the Aboriginals, in his perspective. “We are forced to keep even the lazy ones employed in the mines,” he says. “We basically don’t have the authority to fire them.” He offers to put me up for a few nights but I tell him that I’ll be making my way to Adelaide. The distance I am planning to cover in three months time seems daunting at this point. I wonder how it would have gone had I accepted his offer.
I snap a picture of him for the scrap book as he drops me off and leaves. “There’s an Aussi wanker for ya,” he says, laughs.
The miner drops me off and I sit down working on my Zac Brown cover again while the flies pester at me. Ten minutes later, a woman in a silver car pulls over to the side of the road and I throw my pack and guitar in the back seat. It becomes instantly noticeable that there is a certain type of nervousness to her demeanor. She has an unhealthy skinny look to her and there are bags under her eyes. She wears a short black skirt and high heels.
“Shit, there’s a cop a few cars back,” she says suddenly. Is that a problem?, I ask her.
“Not for you, but maybe for me. I have no registration, no insurance, and no license for years…”
We are pulled over and they search her car, find amphetamines of some sort in a Ziploc bag, an open container of vodka and her license has been expired since 2006—she’s on a joy ride, this one. They don’t arrest her but instead ask if I can drive her car and follow them back to the police station.
“Don’t worry, we understand that you’re not a part of this,” one of the police officers says. I’m really glad that they completely understand that.
“Can you drive this car?,” the younger, apparently wiser cop asks me.
“I’m not sure,” I tell him. “Can I? I only have a Colorado license.”
The rookie cops looks to his senior for assistance.
“Can he drive this car?,” he asks him.
The older cop doesn’t seem to have answer. “Do you feel comfortable driving this car?,” he asks, rephrasing the question.
“Comfortable enough,” I tell him. “But I’m trying to get to Adelaide by the end of the day is all.”
“Well, we can make sure you get a chance to get there.”
Sounds good, I tell them.
So I’m driving her car to the police station, with my new friend in the passenger seat.
It takes a full hour for the police to work things out with her in a back room. There are a maximum of three police actually working at this small town station. Across the street there is a Blockbuster Video rental. I’m surprised to see one of the stores still in business here in Australia. The police come out of the station and hand her a bundle of official looking paperwork and we walk over to her car.
“So you’re free to go?,” I ask her.
“Yeah, we can go but you have to drive until we get out of here. I told them where my x boyfriend was hiding so we can get out of here.” Somehow this feels like another half-truth or complete lie but I just roll with it. At least I’ll make it to Adelaide by the end of the night.
“Picking up a hitchhiker is illegal in south Australia,” she tells me. Later on, I actually look up the laws and they make it clear that hitchhiking is legal, but it is recommended to avoid it. Not that I really care what is written in a book—if it’s doing good and not bad, it shouldn’t be illegal anyways.
She tells me that one thing that isn’t illegal in South Australia is prostitution and she reveals to me her profession. “I’m a high-class escort,” she tells me with pride. “People message me online for my services.”
I can’t help but ask her how much she usually makes for her services. She remains entirely open and eager to talk about it. “I usually make 300 dollars an hour,” she says. “There’s one guy that has his wife drop him off right at the house, knowing full well what happens. Another guy just wants someone to take to the movies.” There is something really sad about both sides of that equation.
I drive for about fifteen minutes, following the speed limits as we make our way down a winding road towards Adelaide. The blinkers are reversed to what they are in the United States. “Use the other blinker,” she says impatiently.
It dawns on me that I’m getting driving lessons in Australia from a drug-addicted prostitute; not exactly the best way to learn, but interesting nonetheless.
At a petrol station she decides that she’s going to take over the driving. Dear God. In hindsight, I should have just got out of the car and found another ride.
She’s got the music cranked to an ear-piercing decibel. The speakers sound on the verge of being blown and she’s got her high-heels welded to the accelerator. We’re going over 180 kilometers an hour for most of the way until we get to the city. She spoons her finger in a jar of strawberry sugar spread and offers me some to lick off her finger.
“No thanks,” I tell her.
“So, have you got laid in Australia yet?,” she asks me.
“No,” I tell her.
“I know this road and where all the speed cameras are is all,” she says. She is careful to slow down at every camera. On the way to Adelaide, she stops at a few of her “friends’” houses (I use this term lightly) and I get the impression that she just trying to get a fix of some sort of drug so while she is in the house, I hop out when she’s not looking and walk off into the city to get away from her.
I wander around the city for hours until I find a place called the Bike Kitchen, which is a co-op where people can fix their bikes as well as rent out bikes for days. My plan was to rent a bike from the place but fate would have it otherwise. The building is essentially a giant garage with couches sprawled everywhere. Conveniently, there happens to be about two other nylon-string acoustic guitars lying on the couches so three of us that are music-inclined have a jam in a triangle.
One of the people I meet is Jessica and she invites me to stay at her place for the night. Two husky dogs greet me at her door, one of them just a puppy and the other the pup’s mother. They invite me into their home. “Wroarwolwolf!”
My backpack is immediately covered in husky dog hair fibers. The house is a clutter of books and shelves and the couch feels like home for the evening.
In the morning, Jessica makes coffee and tea and we have a conversation in the backyard with the company of the husky dogs. She says that she knows some musician friends that have jams often and we might be able to join them in the next couple days. She tells me about her friend who lived on a hippy commune in Australia during the sixties.
I take off on a bicycle and explore some of the city. Adelaide is full of trails through thick gum tree forests that are fantastic for cycling. I follow the trail and conveniently get lost for miles until I find myself in the middle of downtown. There is a transportation system called the Adelaide-Bahn, which is essentially a bus that follows a track with no traffic lights or stops. The locals tell me that it is the second biggest system like this in the world, the largest being in Germany.
German settlers were some of the early colonizers of Adelaide and the surrounding areas so the German influence in infrastructure is not surprising. While cycling, I meet a guy named Rick who offers to take me on a short tour of some of the coastal areas in the next couple days and I can’t turn it down.
Jessica and I climb to the top of Mount Lofty and bring the dogs with us. It is the first time that I see a kangaroo as the dogs catch onto their trail and chase them out. Out comes a kangaroo, with wide steady, magnificent hops and the dog close behind it. The dogs never catch up to them as the kangaroos are too fast.
We also go to a jam with about eight different musicians and I bring my guitar but fortunately, there is also an electric guitar that I’m able to borrow as well. It’s a bit of a train wreck most of the time with all the people but fun nonetheless. There are a wide range of personalities at the house. Mostly, we improve on cover songs by the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Fleetwood Mac, amongst others.
I take Rick up on his offer to go on a tour of the coastal areas near Adelaide. He stops at all the local pubs to make bets on his favorite horses. He notoriously loses every time and walks out when he knows that his luck is out. An old coal train passes us by at a café near the ocean bay.
Jessica invites me to the Adelaide 420 Festival which has a turnout of maybe 100 people. It’s a funny gathering where everyone lights up a joint at 4:20 and blows smoke into the air. That’s what this feels like. Blowing smoke. The air is light-hearted, a fun energy when the footy game gets out.
I’m not really into the whole marijuana scene although I do think that is should be completely legal, as it shouldn’t be the governments’ decision as to what you can or can’t do, especially with something nearly as harmless as pot. Jessica prods me to play some music, so Purple Haze by Jimi Hendrix seems appropriate for the occasion. A guy in a tie-dye shirt starts singing the same verse over and over again since he’s maybe too stoned to remember the rest.
Purple haze is in my brain
Acting funny, and I don’t know why
(repeated, over and over again)
I can’t help but laugh. It’s a free-spirited event and there are good vibes everywhere. I feel like I’ve been in Adelaide too long though, despite the hospitality. At the Adelaide bridge, we find a piano player busking and we have an improvised jam.
I have the desire to move. Tomorrow, I will.
The next day I make it to Murray River on two separate lifts. There are lots of young people out driving about since it is the Easter holiday which means lots of cars with the passengers drinking beer while driving. “Melbourne is a great place,” one guy says. “It’s like Adelaide but better.”
It’s a sharp contrast to what Rick told me, recommending avoiding Melbourne (pronounced Mel-bun) altogether and venture through the small towns.
So I get into Murray River and nobody stops. I replace my broken G string with a D string and invent my own tuning and take to playing it with a cigarette lighter as a slide. A few people pretend they are going to pull over, only to peel off once I start walking towards them. One guy throws a glass beer bottle out his window and it shatters on the guardrail. There is hospitality of all sorts.
There truly is no such thing as a free ride when hitchhiking. You pay for your ride in the patience it takes to wait for somebody to pick you up and for putting up with some of the hazards on the road. The elements of weather and stupid people are two of the biggest hazards.
I get turned around in a small town going the wrong direction, cars blasting by me. An old man who looks to be about eighty years old is warm when I start talking to him. He’s working in his garden and says he’ll give me a lift to a better spot when he’s finished. Two minutes later, he comes back and says he’ll pull his truck around.
“The rats have been getting into my vegetable garden and eating the roots,” he says. “I built a garden just like this one for my daughter who lives in Katherine as well.”
He tells me that he remembers when they announced over the speakers at school during his childhood that World War 2 had ended and they could leave school for the day. “We went home and there was an excitement to that day I’ll never forget,” he says.
“Well, this is the Murray River,” he says as we drive over a bridge. He starts singing a tune that almost sounds familiar, but isn’t.
I went cruising down the river, on a Sunday afternoon…
A Google search later reveals that it is in fact a song by Blue Baron and his orchestra from the late forties.
He tells me there are many churches in the areas surrounding Adelaide because of the stretched influence of England’s churches. “In 1836, the Queen of England declared everyone had to be Christian.” Sounded like a great social experiment to me.
Next I’m picked up by a commercial fisherman and given a lift to the town of Horsham. The ride is short and I can’t gather much from him other than the fact that he makes about 25 an hour working on the dock.
Then there’s the IT guy that picks me up in Horsham as the sun goes down over the lake. He is coming back from a two-week surfing trip and has his surf board on the top of his van. “On one day, the dolphins followed me while I surfed,” he says. He has two daughters and they weren’t into surfing so he goes on excursions by himself every time he gets holiday time.
We drive through kilometer after kilometer of farmland in the dark. I walk into a public park to try and find a place to sleep for the park and hear a strange gurgling sound. A creature less than a foot tall is seemingly playing hide-and-seek behind a gum tree an in the black I can’t make out what it is. It then shoots up the tree and disappears but I can still hear a guttural sound that sounds like rolling masses of marbles. Later, a local tells me that it was most likely a Kuala.
I take shelter under a church awning since it is raining and throw out my sleeping bag.
I’m picked up by a guy from Bangladesh, which is a small country just to the east of India. He tells me about when he first migrated to Australia and had to do whatever he had to do in order to survive. “It was rough at first,” he says. “I had to sleep in train stations because I couldn’t afford to pay for an apartment.”
He is now an electrical engineer and has increased his living standards since those days.
Three hours later, we arrive in Melbourne and I set out exploring the city on foot. It has a cosmopolitan feel to it and the Asian-influence is prominent in the city center. Chinese, Thai, and Vietnamese restaurants and cafes are common scenery here.
In Melbourne, I’ve been passed along from my new friend in Adelaide to her niece Charlie, who happens to be a musician. The whole house is a musician sanctuary and without any real introduction, I just walk into the room where four people are having a jam and that’s how we meet each other.
I spend a portion of the day busking in front of the supermarket for food funds. Melbourne has some great graffiti along the slabs of concrete that run along the city alleyways; there is the presence of a thriving art scene.
I try taking Charlie’s old bicycle out to explore the city but the cables are so rusty that they snap and I find myself blasting down a hill with no brakes and have to use my feet to come to a complete stop.
While busking downtown, I meet a local guy named Tony who is out of work and living on the streets. He was a plumber by trade but his luck had run out and he had been laid off. He tells me a story about an Aboriginal woman who had claimed that a wild dingo had taken her baby off into the forest. There was a lot of scrutiny and skepticism surrounding the story but later it was proven that it was entirely possible.
I venture back to Charlie’s house and all of us get some kind of 30-minute bug. The virus must have been airborne and out of 8 people staying in the house, 7 of us got sick. Diarrhea and puking ensue. Tony and I go to a place called Lentil as Anything, which offers great vegan-style food and live music.
I leave Charlie’s place in the morning, Charlie being the last one to get the virus that is floating around in the house (that makes eight out of eight) and he has it the worst, locking himself in his room for the entire day. Over dinner, Charlie tells me a story about a friend of his who was busking with his guitar in the street when a pub owner kept stepping out and telling him to “shut up or get lost.” At first, his friend ignored the pub owner but when he wouldn’t stop demanding for him to leave the busker took the guitar and smashed it over the top of the guy’s head to wear as a death necklace.
“It really was death necklace,” he says. “When the police arrived, they couldn’t pull the guitar off the guy’s face without damaging his jugular vein. They finally found the busker and the guy called out from the back of the cop car, the guitar twisted around his neck ‘that’s him!’”
Tony laughs. “Story of my life,” he says.
That night, I sleep in a park beside a bunch of people that wind up on the streets for different reasons. A few have definite drug problems (which they keep to themselves) but one guy from Malaysia had been promised work and was let down when he arrived. “The man that purposively arranged work for me stopped contact as soon as I got here,” he says. “Now I’m stuck living on the streets with no work.”
I find staying with them more interesting and eye-opening than staying at a youth hostel, where it’s just partying and people doing the same sorts of things they would do in their home countries.
That night, possums come out of the woodworks and crawl over our sleeping bags, looking for food. They have a sluggish behavior about them and crawl around in the trees during the day. There are families of possums living in the park.
There is Tony, who has shown me nothing but kindness. He had some issues with his x-wife and eventually tells me he got caught trying to steal a car and it caught up with him in court. My observations lead me to conclude that the core of his problems is drugs and it’s really a shame because at the heart I know he’s a good person.
There is Kiwi, the crazy guy of the group from New Zealand who is the least responsible and seems to be hanging out with a different woman every night. He has a crazy laugh and seems to be a bit of a problem-starter at times with the group because of his loud behavior. He doesn’t give a shit.
There is Malaysia, who is stranded in Australia due to a scam disguised as a job offer. He said whenever the cops come to break up the camp he just “runs off and returns later.”
Then there is Bong, who is from Cambodia. He meditates every night before going to sleep. “Meditation is truly about listening to yourself,” he says. “It’s about letting things go.”
I’ll miss these guys when I’m gone and I wish them the best. Tomorrow I plan on leaving. I can’t stand to stay at this hobo camp much longer.
The problem with hitchhiking out of cities is that it is a task that is near impossible. I take a train to the outskirts of the city and it isn’t until I am halfway there that I realize I’ve left my notebook at his apartment. I scramble off the train and head back, only to find out an hour later that he has left and the door is locked. With no phone, there is no way to get hold of him but borrow someone else’s phone and every time I call him nobody answers. Leaving the journal behind is out of the question. It would be leaving a piece of myself behind.
I spend most of the day waiting at the apartment, entertained by Tony’s mother her sister, who bicker away like only old women can do. The local drunk invites me in for a beer and he cranks on some tunes by an artist named Chris Rea. “I’ve got my habits,” he said. “I drink four to six beers a night.” He pops another one open, asks me to play a tune on the guitar.
“Stay true to yourself,” he says. “Most people never find out how to do that.”
He’s got this distant glassy look in his eyes as he sits in his chair and I’m not sure whether I should take it as advice or a compliment but it suits me just fine. I go for a jog to pass the time. I have a beer with Tony’s mother. I don’t tell her that he’s spending most of his time living at a hobo camp when she asks how I met him—it’s just not my place to do so.
So I’ll spend one more night in Melbourne and having grabbed my journal this time, I’ll be ready for leaving the city (round two!) tomorrow.
Two hours of standing underneath the shade of a tree on the edge of town later, I make it out of Melbourne. An Indian man gives me a lift just three kilometers or so down the road. While waiting, a car pulls to the side of the road and does the “haha” disappearing trick again. I just shake my head. Maybe I’ll see him further down the road with his car broken down.
A half hour later, another guy pulls over. The car is dirty, filled with empty pop bottles, the seats torn, the upholstery in various states of decay. He tells me that he is coming home from work and can’t travel because the government won’t let him leave the country. “Forty years ago I fired off a few rounds of ammo in a place I wasn’t supposed to,” he tells me. I don’t ask him where this was.
He points in the direction of green sloping hills in the distance. “I live in the hills,” he tells me. “I love the view from my window.” He expresses his concern about the number of Asians in Australia. “They’d take over if we let them,” he insists.
He drops me off on the end of a series of road construction and I walked to the point where the speed limit began to increase. A man picks me up in an SUV and tells me he is involved in organizing cricket tournaments and selling sports memorabilia online. As we pass by, he points out that we are passing the birthplace of one of the winning horses.
“I’ve been to Thailand about ten times,” he tells me as we pass rolling hills. “Name’s Wayne,” he tells me and hands me a business card as he drops me off at the truck stop. “If you get stuck tonight, give me a call and I’ll put you up for the night.”
An hour later I get a lift from an Indian man who is taking his father around sight-seeing in Australia. “It’s my father’s first time in the country,” he says proudly. He explains that he works on an orange farm and has lived in the country for five years and has a family here now. A wife and two kids.
“When I first came here I was sleeping in public restrooms and using the hand drier to stay warm,” he says. I ask him about India, a country I have yet to visit.
“Once I ran into a tiger in my home country. It was only a few feet away from me once I noticed it. Luckily, it did not attack me.”
He has another story about a friend of his who saved a tiger from the jaws of a crocodile. When he tells it, it sounds like it could be an urban legend or some kind of fairy tale but the sincerity in his voice is there. “My friend bandaged and cared for the crocodile and the tiger now lives in his house.” I imagined a tiger that the family named Fluffy walking around there house and kids playing with it like it wasn’t some wild creature that could potentially eat you.
The small town of Griffith and the farmland surrounding it is filled with orange farms but the season won’t start for another few weeks. We pass a juice factory and row after row of grain and orange plantations. I nestle my sleeping bag in between some tall gum trees. The clouds in the sky are pondering rain so I wrap myself inside my waterproof bevy sack.
My gear is damp in the morning from the light rain and I find myself walking the wrong way out of town. A road worker passes by me and then reconsiders and turns around, gives me a lift to the direction that I need to travel. “No worries mate,” he says. “I get paid hourly anyways and I’ve got all day to finish my work!”
He spins off and leaves me to eat my can of Ravioli on the side of the road. A local mechanic picks me up next. He’s carrying a trailer with a ride able lawnmower on the back. “I fixed this for someone in town and have to drop it back off,” he says. I help him get it off the trailer and he sets me off on some country road in the middle of nowhere.
One car is passing every half hour on average. There is open country and a small country gas station/supermarket on the corner. I wait for at least two hours until my ride out of there arrives. A man and his wife are on the way to pick up their son from the local jail. “Can you pass me up a beer mate?,” the man asks, who thankfully is the passenger for this trip and not the driver. It’s one in the afternoon and he’s already on his way to being all-out drunk. He offers me a beer and at first I say no, but then decide why not, how many times do you get picked up by two country-folk on the way to grab their son from jail?
His wife chides him and tells him to stop swearing. His mouth is rolling marbles of four-letter words. I gather that his son was arrested for possession of a large amount of marijuana which seems to be a family franchise of some sort.
By the end of the day I somehow end up in the small town of Griffith, being that I have no map and just a general sense of direction. I’m walking up a steep hill when a lady out for a walk curiously approaches me while she is out for a walk herself.
“Where are you going?,” she asks me cheerfully. “And what are you doing?”
Both of those are good questions, I tell her. We chat for awhile and she invites me over for tea and the next thing I know she is asking me if I’m looking for work. There is a box truck sitting in front of the house. “My husband and I were looking for someone to take over the milk route while we go away for travels,” she says.
This idea is enticing and stops me in my tracks for a moment. The idea of working and living in a small town and getting to know the locals in a more intimate setting sounds like an experience. I consider this for a minute and ultimately decide to hitchhike out of Gundagai, to continue my trip moving north towards Cairns.
She drops me off at a gas station a few exits down the highway and as I’m waiting there I go in the gas station for a snack. I grab some fruit snacks and head back to my spot. Nobody seems to be interested in stopping. It’s at that moment that I look down at my bag and it’s decorated with cartoon characters that look like milk jugs. Maybe it’s a sign, I think during an inspired moment. Maybe I’m destined to give it a go at being the milkman in Gundagai.
Impulsively, I stick out my thumb and head back in the direction that I came from. The person that picks me up happens to know Tom and Nancy. He drops me off at their doorstep.
We make a fire and as I gather logs Nancy shows me a red back spider that has decided to make its’ home in the damp wood. “You’ve got to be careful with these,” she said. “Red back spiders like to make their homes in damp places.” As soon as the log heats up, the spider crawls out. Red back spiders are tiny but distinct in appearance with black bodies and a red dot on their backside. One bite could potentially kill a healthy adult human.
Tom comes home from working on the farm and I spend the night hanging out with them and their three young kids. We drive to the local pub. Everyone has come here for Friday night—it’s not even a question of will people go, it’s just a habit in this town. I meet the local firemen, a Canadian girl that is working the bar, a guy from Argentina, amongst a host of other characters.
The television is playing an important footy match. It’s Australia vs. New Zealand. The Kiwis come out at the beginning of the game and deliver their famous war cries.
I wake up before the crack of dawn and helped Tom out with the local milk route. “Back again, eh?,” the local guy at the gas station says as he stocks the shelves. Everybody really does know everybody in this town and it results in curious glances as to who the milkman’s sidekick is for the day. I help him move boxes of milk with a dolly after picking it up at a cooler shed. Two hours into our shift, the sun is beginning to rise. So this is the life of a small town milkman. It’s hard work.
“I get used to which business owners want what and when,” he says. “So a lot of the time I’ll just come by and stock them up before the weekend. I hate getting called out on a Sunday by one of the motel owners saying that they ran out of milk. A motel without milk can be an outrage for some customers.”
Later in the day I go hiking in the hills of Gundagai. I can’t get to the hills without crossing one of the locals’ fences so I knock on the door to ask for permission. I’m welcomed by one of the nicest families I have ever come across. They just laughed it off. It’s probably not often that they get travelers asking to cross their land. “Oh sure, go ahead!,” a jolly woman says. “It’s common land anyways, anybody can use it!”
The rolling deep-green hills overlook the town at the peak, overlooking curvatures of grassland , horses, cattle, the fresh air stretching for miles and miles.
The couple invites me in for tea when they are done and they tell me about their travels through New Zealand. “Our daughter wants to see the landscape where the Lord of the Rings was filmed,” the father says.
While working the milk route with Tom I was introduced to a trucker and local bee keeper who has offered to give me a lift towards Sydney the next day.
I find the truck driver to be nice enough, although just maybe a bit borderline-racist. He jumps right into talking political, a subject I often try to avoid amongst all company, especially when hitchhiking. His ideologies are that China is going to invade Australia soon, the Arabs are taking over the world, and the Jews are responsible for the uprising of every war in human history. He is keen to point out where he frequents the local brothels in Sydney.
I have him drop me off along the outskirts of Sydney along the highway. I don’t want to go into the city because I already know how difficult it is to escape the Rat Race maze once you are inside it. The shoulder that I have to work with has minimal space and the traffic zips by at 120 kilometers an hour. My luck has it that somebody pulls over five minutes later.
The first lift passed Sydney comes from an Aboriginal kid in a van who is on his way to catch a good surf. The back of his van is decorated with surfboards. He says that sometimes he does surfboard repairs to make money. We stop in a small coastal town for a couple stout beers.
He is one of the most down-to-earth people that I’ve ever met. “My grandparents were Aboriginal, they met at a Christian commune during the ‘Stolen Generation’ period,” he tells me. The period of the Stolen Generation was a tragic period in Australia’s history where thousands of Aboriginal kids were ripped from their families in the name of progress and religion.
We sip on our frothy beers. “My mom and dad used to live in tents, my dad following the work of the Australian railroads when they were building it.”
This kid has the desire to travel in his blood. His mother was a woman on the move even when he was in the womb. Alongside us there is the sound of waves crashing against the shoreline as we hang out on the hilltop.
That night I make to the small town of Macksville. Lifts come from a lady who kindly gives me replacement sunglasses for the ones I’ve lost, a strange intellectual type who is intent on quizzing me on the history of US president to which I miserably fail, and a couple environmental activists on their way to stop some oil fracking in inland Australia.
Almost everyone mentions the notorious backpack killer Ivan Milat, a crazed backpacker serial killer who murdered at least seven people in the 1990s and buried them in the Belanglo State Forest. For the benefit of the citizens, he’s now serving a sentence of life in prison inside a tiny room with white padded walls.
Inside the activists’ van, somebody has written in The Trans Van in black marker on the upholstery of the ceiling. They offer me raw salmon. The activists take me a great distance north and tell me that there recently was an area that was sacred for the Aboriginals that the government paved over with a new highway. “We always bypass it with the old highway,” she says. “One time we accidentally drove over it when we got turned around and bad things ended up happening.”
It gets dark and we move through miles and miles of dense gum tree forests and farmland. We listen to raw punk rock music and BBC radio.
In Macksville, I camp behind a grocery store witness two speeding comets as I sleep under the stars.