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Pick up where I left off ... plus some new stuff

Written on: Wednesday November 5th, 2008

A journal entry from: East Coast, Australia

Once again, it's been a litle too long since I've found the time to sit down and update my travel blog. Sorry to everyone who has been eagerly waiting for an update. I actually had this blog completely updated last night, but then lost 2 hours of my writing, so here goes round two.

So I beleive I cut Cape Tribulation short on my last travel blog, so ....

Like I said, there isn't much to Cape Trib other than long, beautiful beaches, 3 hostels, 1 small grocery store, and a swimmin' hole. Regardless, we very much enjoyed our time here despite the fact that it rained every now and than throughout the day - it is, however, a RAINforest lol. Anyways, the days would usually begin slowly, either a jog along the beach or wake up and have breakfast with the gang. Wandering the beaches usually attracts most of the people in Cape Trib (it's either that or play billiards and wait for the bar to serve booze). We also made sure to sign up for exotic fruit tasting mmmmmmm. A van came to pick us up and take us to the exotic fruit farm about 5-10 minutes away. I wish I could remember some of the fruits we tasted, but I will tell you that I have never tried, or even heard of any of the fruits we tasted. Many of the fruits challenge the concept we all have of fruit, its texture, and its expected juiceness (especially the one that was exactly like a potato wedge), but it was a great experience to learn about some fruits and try something new. Nights in Cape Trib were always spent sharing a jug, or two, or three, etc. at the hostel bar. We met some great travellers there, and since the vibe was so good plus the fact that the AFL (Australia Football League) final game was showing, three of us decided to extend our stay an extra night. This is where the group parted as Niki and Graham and to start heading down the coast to adhere to there 2 month timeline. So, Jarrett, Carson and myself stuck around to watch the AFL final game, drink several beers with some roudy Aussie locals, and catch the bus the next day. Back to Cairns!!

Once we arrived back in Cairns, we found a much quieter hostel than the bed-bug-infested, party-central "Gilligans" (where we stayed our first stop over in Cairns). We ended up at a place by the name of Bohemian Central, which was much more calm and felt more like a old-style-home. The bathrooms were actually made for 1 person only (not shared), and the rooms only had a 4 person maximum compared to the 8-bed dorm rooms we had grown accustomed to. Although we had already explored much of Cairns, the three of us took the days to wander some more. We made sure to stop off at both of the didgeridoo shops (for those who don't know what a didgeridoo (didg), it is an authentic wind instrument of the indigenous Australians). Each of the shops were extremely welcoming and encouraged each of us to give the "didg" a try. They were also friendly enough to give us lessons and provide us the basics on how to play the unusual instrument. Jarrett picked up the skill rather quickly, so quick in fact that one of the shop owners used him to demonstrated to some other customers lol. The rest of the days were spent doing some essential shopping, relaxing at the hostel, and wandering the streets at night to see what we could find. One night I must share with you all ... it was right after a fresh rainfall and we decided to go for a harmless (and sober I must add) walk around Cairns. Not 30 yards away from the hostel as we were all walking along the sidewalk, our feet must have missed a massive Huntsman spider by centimeters!! We stared at the brown, hairy spider for several minutes until another guy wandered up. We warned him of the spider (which he came SO close to stepping on, spider didn't move). Normal reaction would be to look at the spider and get the hell out of the way, right? Not this guy. We quickly found out he was Irish, and a crazy Irish guy at that!! "Look at the size of this f*cker", he said, reaching his hand down to the spider. We looked on (from a distance of course - us Canadians aren't used to spiders this size lol. Safest bet in our minds is to stay the hell away!!) probably with our jaws dropped as we watched this guy poke the massive spider and dance around it as it scurried away. I HAD to get my camera for this one. So I ran back to the room, grabbed my camera, and raced back to the street hoping the spider was still there. By the time I got back to the group, the Irish guy had poked the spider enough to chase it up a nearby wall - so unfortunately my pictures aren't great, but I got some :) Anyways, we carried on and ran into some other crazy people (1 iNsAnE Aussie girl, and a hardass Scottish guy that got pissed off when we mistook him for Irish - big NONO ... oops lol. All in all, a good second stop over in Carins.

We caught the Greyhound early one morning to head further down the coast. The next stop was planned to be Magnetic Island!! We had heard mixed feelings of Magnetic Island. Some thought it was extremely beautiful. Others thought it was boring. Eh, why not give it a try and see for ourselves. It was about a 6 hour bus ride down to Townsville, small stopover, than a 30 minute ferry ride to Magnetic Island. We caught a shuttle to the hostel right on the beach ... hmmm Magnetic Island doesn't seem so bad. Although there isn't a ton to do on Magnetic, we had heaps of fun here!! We explored the beaches, went hiking, sea kayaking, and to the animal park during the day, and hung out at the hostel bar and met some more incredible people at night. It's funny that as you travel, it is likely that you will see many of the same people on the same path as you just a day or two ahead or behind your schedule. We ran into some friends here, but left with many more!! Lots of Canadians on Magnetic Island as well - we made sure to have a good time and make Canada proud (responsibly) lol. So we stayed on Magnetic Island for 3 days and 2 nights, then caught the ferry at 9:30pm one night to head back to Townsville, then push further down the coast.

Townsville was rumored to be a "dead-town". We had heard this from EVERY traveller we asked. So, taking the same approach we had pursued all trip, we didn't think it was necessary to call ahead and book a hostel in Townsville. We walked to the closest hostel from the ferry drop-off hoping to secure a room ... NO vacancy. So, we found a nearby payphone and called every affordable hostel in Townsville, which resulted in either no vacancy or no answer. Hmmm, what should we do? We knew we didn't want to waste $150 on a room at 10:30pm. So, we wandered to a park we spotted on our walk to the hostel. This will do just fine! It was right along the esplanade, but we found a nice spot that was sheilded from the footpath. We through our bags down on the grass, locked them all together, and fell into a peaceful sleep. Not for long. I woke up to Jarrett yelling "oh shit boyz .... RUN RUN RUN". Yup, sprinklers turned on! We snatched up our bags and hurried out of the way as fast as possible, managing to escape without getting too wet. We moved on to another spot which we were sure would not be affected by sprinklers ... we were wrong. About 1 hour after we fell into another sleep, the sprinklers awoke us with a suprise, again!! "MOVE, MOVE, MOVE!!!". We grabbed our bags, again, and moved out of the way, this time esacaping without getting wet at all. So, by this time we just wanted some real sleep!! We wandered down the esplanade and ended up at the beach ... perfect!! We through our bags and towels down and were able to catch some serious sleep on the beach until the HOT morning sun woke us up at about 7:30am. That was enough of Townsville ...

We hopped on another Greyhound and headed for Airley Beach, which definitely held its reputation as a backpacker littered party town. We stayed at the largest hostel, Magnums, where there was always a party going on. We kept it pretty mellow in Airley, but made sure to enjoy the live music they had at the place every night!! Our first night was spent in a 10-share dorm room with a broken air conditioner - ya, it was HOT! Although, when we did get the air conditioner replaced for the second night, only us igloo-dwelling Canadians could stand the temperature lol. Everyone else was freezing. Anyways, we wandered the streets of Airley for the first couple of days and booked our sailing trip around the Whit Sundays. Before we left for sailing, Carson and I each purchased a didgeridoo and had it sent home. We would have loved to carry them with us so we could practice, but the instruments aren't exactly light and they would only get damaged, or stolen, had we kept them with us. So, at 4:00pm the next day we boarded our sailbot, "The Pegasus". The Pegasus was definitely one of the worst conditioned boats that we could have chosen from, but at least it was cheap. And it led us to some great backpackers also looking for a cost effective option for sailing the beautiful Whit Sundays. So we took off from the Airley Beach docks and spent the remaining part of the first day getting to know the others we were sailing with. The boat was half loaded with Irish people who loved to party into the early hours of the morning, a hippie couple (one Aussie one English), a Scottish gym teacherwith her rugby-playing english friend, 2 Italian dudes, 2 reserved German girls, and 2 guys from the Netherlands ... if that isn't a recipe for a party I don't know what is :) So most of us called it an early night the first night, except for the Irish, and we were up the following morning at 7:00am for breakfast and to get ready for snorkelling. We ended up travelling to 3 different snorkel locations, and each of them were better than snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef (I wish I had an underwater camera ... oooh well).  The colours were much more vibrant, there was always a school of fish swimming inches away from us, and I saw 5 turtles!!! If you were nice and calm in your approach, the turtles had no problem letting you touch their shells as well!! We sailed over to the most picturesque beaches I have ever set foot on, relaxed in the white sand that felt like heaps of flour under our feet, and snapped some great shots of the infamous White Haven Beach. Our last night on the boat was nothing short of a slopshow. What is a "slopshow" you might ask, please let me explain. It started with drinking games put on my skipper and the rest of the crew, and they very quickly got everyone quite "sloppy" if you will. There was a dance contest, several drinking games, and a party that didn't end tilla bout 4 in the morning. Brilliant time :) The following morning everyone woke up (slowly) and started their day with a jump off the boat to wake themselves up, one more snorkel, then it was time to sail home once we finally got the engine going in the old Pegusus. That night the entire gang from the boat got together for a beer at Magnums to celebrate a great sailing trip around the Whit Sundays. We were told it was the first time everyone got along so well and actually wanted to party with each other again after the trip. 

Now it was time to get a job!! We spent the next few days asking around and attempting to secure work, but without work visa's it was a little tricky as most places aren't interested in hiring illegal staff. So, we secured ourselves an Aussie phone number (04 0173 0656) and started making some calls. The Dutch guys that were on our sail boat had come from working on a croc farm down by Bundaberg. Although the pay was terrible ($200 per week), we still thought it would be a great experience so we gave them a shout. The lady I spoke with said she was unsure if they could hire us without work visa's and she'd have to check with the boss. We took that as a no and booked ourselves a Greyhound pass for the next day at midnight to head further south with hopes of getting work in Rockhampton. Our last day was spent, literally, doing nothing. We sat on the beach, watched boats come in and out, listened to music, slept, and read our books until dinner time. We then wasted some time at the pub until it was time to catch our bus. 

A sleepless 6 hour night on the Greyhound because of a broken armrest took us to Rockhampton, the beef capital of Australia. Despite being exhausted, we wandered the streets looking for a hostel, sat down for breakfast by the river, and Jarrett and I dove into solving a Soduko puzzle. We ended up finding a quiet hostel by the name of YHA, booked in for a few nights, and collapsed on the beds for some sleep. Our eyes were searching for any type of "now hiring" or "workers wanted" signs, and were fortunate enough to find one on the postings board at the hostel for a Cattle Farm. We quickly placed a call, conveyed our interested, and secured a job at the farm by the second morning we were staying in Rockhampton. At this point, any job that we could secure without a work visa was worth pursuing, regardless of the fact that we get penalized 47% of our wage since we are working "illegally". We were, however, promised free room and 4 meals a day, which meant that we wouldn't be spending a cent while working. Perfect! The only hold-up was that the farm was a 2.5 hour drive away, the bus didn't head in that direction, and the earliest we could be picked up was 5 days away. So, we agreed to work, organized the pickup time, and spent the next 5 days in Rockhampton doing literally, next to nothing. My biggest accomplishment was buying a cheap travel guitar to fuel my passion, and we made sure to go for daily bicycle rides to explore what there is of the town. Since we were to be working on a farm, we knew that we were gunna need some proper working attire - don't think that board shorts and sandals would cut it. We rode down to all the bargain shops searching for affordable work clothes and ended up at the Salvation Army where we each purchases a bag of clothes for $6 (2 shirts, 1 jean, 1 short). The army surplus store provided us working gloves for $9, and a Payless Shoe type store in the mall had cheap work boots for $40. We were ready work!!

It was a 2.5 hour ride inland to the Cattle Feed Farm (Barmount Feedlot). The boys who picked us up made sure to inform us that we were 1.5 hours from the nearest town, so make sure to grab all the beer you need haha. The drive flew by and before we knew it we were stopped in front of what would be our home for the next 2 weeks. It was the first time all trip that we would each have a room to ourselves!! We even have closets for all our clothes - nice change. We called it an early night our first night and prepared ourselves for some hard work the next day.

Each day on the farm followed the same routine. Wake up at 5:45am, breakfast at 6:00am, start work by 7:00am. The day is already starting to heat up by 7:30am, so if there was any work to be done out in the sun, it is best to get it done as early as possible. 9:30am was coffee/smoke break - Barb (the cook) would always have some sort of treats prepared for us (cookies, cakes, loafs, raisen toast, etc.). After the quick break it was back to work until lunch time at 12:30pm. We were entitled to a 1 hour lunch, although we never really took it - not sure what we would have done for the other 30 minutes that we weren't eating. So as soon as we finshed lunch (which was always corn beef sandwhiches, 1 spud, corn on the cob, hardboiled eggs, and 1 pineapple. It was good, but I think we've all had our fill of corn beef for a while now) it was right back to work. From this point we would work until the sun dropped until the sky always displayed a gorgeous sunset (pictures will be added soon). This was usually around 5:30pm, then it was time for the best showers of our lives!! Beleive me, when you're workin' in the sh*t all day (literally), the best thing is the world is a shower!! Until the dinner bell was rung at 6:45pm was time to catch up on some guitar playing, then everyone would sit around the dinner table, eat the various meals that Barb prepared, chatted about their day, told jokes, and caught up on the news on the tube. Once dinner was finished, normally we would relax over a game of billiards and a beer, watch some T.V. with the crew, then head to bed nice and early. The best thing about being out on a farm in the "middle of nowhere" was the huge night sky!! You could see thousands of stars in either direction that spanned as far as the eye could see, and all you could hear around you was the frogs and some cattle. It was very peaceful at night. And when I say frogs, I mean heaps and heaps of frogs. Every time we would go to brush our teeth there were at least 5-6 frogs in the bathroom, huddled in the corner, sitting on the mirror, poking their heads out from the sink, etc. We clearly saw the King Toad epidemic had hit the Barmound feedlot pretty hard, as there were always huge toads in the grass and in the porch are searching for meals.

Since the feedlot has only 10,000 cattle at any given time (approximately), the team at Barmound was pretty small. Shawn and Phil are the brothers who run the place (which was passed down from their father), Randy can best be described as a small-town redneck guy who has worked with Barmount for 8 years, Arnelle and Rhami were two exchange employees from the Phillipines, Barb was the cook, and Don was a 50 year old traveller originally from New Zealand and now living in Kodiak Alaska. Don was by far the most "interesting" character we have come across so far. As soon as you see his toothless smile, you can tell he has some stories. Some of his stories would take way too long for him to spit out through all his mumbling and terrible memory, but he sure had some interesting ones. He thought it would be a great idea to have a toad party. What is a toad party Don? "Well, what  you do is kill a king toad, let it fry in the sun all day, and then take a peice of the skin off its back, and when you snort it, it's as good as acid". Hmmmm, tempting Don, but I think we will pass, hahaha.    So our duties on the feedlot consisted of:

-Trauff Cleaning (yay ... easy ... very boring)

-Cocking and Painting the new processing corral

-Pen Cleaning (this is what we did most of the time. Jarrett was driving the big loader, I was driving a tractor with a dump trailer on the back, and Carson had another dump truck. We spent the day running loads. Yes it was boring, but I had my book and my iPod with me, so it really wasn't too bad. Getting paid to read and listen to music isn't the worst thing in the world, but WOW did it ever get HOT in the tractor. Our last day on the farm it was 44 degrees, and it must have been closer to 50 in that tractor!! It was iNsAnE :)

-Processing (this was the most interesting of our duties. Each time a new batch of cattle arrives, they need to go through processing. We were each assigned a different role. Jarrett was the one who moved the cattle into the processing lanes, Carson was branding and injecting them with two needles into the neck, Don was checking their teeth and injection another needle into their neck, and I was in charge of injecting an "organic" growth hormone into their ear and stamping their ear to show they have been through inspection. Provided everyone's roles goes smooth, it would take about 30-60 seconds per cow. We processed just over 300 cattle while we were there)

We worked on the Barmound feedlot for a total of 9 days, with 1 day off. On our day off we grabbed some quads and a dirt bike and ripped around the farm to check everything out. We left early saturday morning with Shawn to head back to Rockhampton, then leave the following morning at 1:00am for Hervey Bay. While searching for a cheap breakfast in Rockhampton, we stumbled into a pub that was full of "old-timers". Unfortunately their breakfast had just shut down 30 minutes early, but because the bar owner felt bad about that, he gave us a round on the house, and discounted all of our other rounds of beers. Now you might all be asking what the heck we were doing drinking beer at 10:30 in the morning, and I can't say I have a good answer for you haha. All the other older lads in the bar heard that we were Canadian and started bringing us over free beers as well. So we stumbled out of the pub at 12:30pm to search for some actual food, dropped our work clothes back off at the Salvation Army donation bins, then spent the day at the Skateboard park reading and watching Carson rip it up on the course. At 1:00am we caught the bus and arrived in Hervey Bay at 6:0oam. Carson and I parted ways with Jarrett so he could head down to Brisbaine to pick up Holly, and they are now on their way back up to meet us here so we can experience Fraser Island this weekend!!

That's all for now everyone! Hope you enjoy that novel haha. Until next time ...