#11// Evil Kate, East Coast tour & ancient grain salad
FIRST THINGS FIRST - you may remember Glenn, of the worldy advice, from blog post five. Nat and I were delighted to discover that he MADE IT TO NATIONAL NEW ZEALAND TV. Now you can put a face to the name - the story sounds like classic Glenn - he had one too many "fizzy bubblies" and got a fine for sleeping in his car overnight because he was too drunk to drive home. A wise and sensible fellow. Coincidentally, the female TV anchor interviewing him is Fay's daughter (five gold stars if you remember who Fay is - hint - blog post 7). WHO'D HAVE THOUGHT.
Here's the man, the myth, the legend:
Anyway - catching up with where we were - HELLO AGAIN! It's been a while. I don't know where to start with this blog, but I think I better rewind to the fateful evening in Sydney - where, against all better judgement, Nat and I are reeled into Evil Kate's travel agency on her industrial-strength fishing line, pulling helplessly against the pointed fish hook wedged into our soft, vulnerable mouths. THAT is my metaphor for travel agencies and YES, I'm bitter.
Travel agencies in Australia basically sell one thing: the East Coast itinerary which is pretty much everything between Sydney and Cairns. They try to sell a package that covers everything you'll need - a bus pass, accommodation and tour trips. For certain places like Fraser Island and the Whitsundays it's much easier to get a tour to see everything, but there are lots of different tours available. Had we thought about this for even a solid minute before paying a deposit, we might have guessed that there are certain tours the travel agencies are going to prioritise in selling because they'll get an extra large commission for them. Thinking we are the average early twenties couple (SIGH), Evil Kate recommends every tour based on their alcohol policy. The highlight of each tour she suggests is the fact that you can bring your own booze. If she had replaced 'books' with booze these scenarios would have been so much more appealing to me. Quiet nights spent reading round the campfire? Wonderful. A designated break at lunch to discuss developments in plotlines? Yes please. A caddy big enough to fit in 4 adults for everyone's books? Fantastic! Unfortunately for me this is not the case, and Evil Kate really does use the fact that the tour provides a large storage container for everyone's alcohol as a USP ("be prepared to get absolutely 100% smashed!" she snorts).
~~~~I feel like now is a good time to mention my disclaimer that throughout this post I MIGHT seem like an un-fun - possibly miserable - youth but in FACT, I have been listening to Lou Bega's album on repeat (literally every song sounds like Mambo No 5, it's quite a feat) which actually probably makes me the funnest person ever. Or someone with desperately poor music taste. Anyway, the point is that I have never really liked nor understood uni drinking culture. I've just never gotten the whole 'let's down our drink from a shoe/do chants' pressurised drinking thing. I love cocktails and seeing friends and spending a night boogying DON'T GET ME WRONG but my days of vodka and squash are firmly behind me (experienced an involuntary gag reflex just typing that), especially as I liken my hangovers to absolute DEATH (unsurprising, given said vodka and squash). So the nightclub scene, on a weekly basis, just really ain't for me - something I finally admitted to myself after an agonising first two years of university, trying to force myself out multiple times a week with everyone else when really I'd much rather be listening to the Finding Nemo soundtrack by candlelight.
So, as we're sitting in World Backpacker Travel - Evil Kate pausing for breath after hard-selling all of the boozy tours - I take the opportunity to say that I want to avoid any tours involving pressurised binge drinking at ALL COSTS. I'm all good with a few casual drinks but I don't want to be paying for the sole aim of reliving freshers. My ideal tour involves a lot of facts, nice meals, maybe a few 60+ couples and an enthusiastic tour guide who wears a floppy hat with corks attached. First of all it's as if Evil Kate (similar age to us and from Leeds) can't comprehend this - looking puzzled, a brief confused silence ensues. I tentatively proffer my own tour suggestions (a little TripAdvisor research shows me where I wanna be) which Evil Kate, sensing a sale slipping through her slimy fingers, instantly dismisses because they'll have "lots of old people and Asians" on board. I don't have a problem with either of these demographics, but Evil Kate vociferously backtracks with such force - suddenly all of these boozy tours are actually only "if you want to, LOADS of couples go on them", Dingoes is "the one and only BEST" Fraser Island tour and Wings Whitsundays is "the only one worth doing". Evil Kate tells us that these particular tours are the ONLY ones which offer such large itineraries - the only way that we'll see everything, and that UH-OH they're SELLING OUT QUICK SO WE BETTER SECURE OUR SPOTS ASAP. Nat and I exchange worried glances and I ask whether we could not just think it over tonight and come back in the morning. Evil Kate adopts a nonchalant air, delicately biting on the end of a long fake fingernail whilst shrugging. "Risky. Risky. Who knows if there will be space tomorrow morning... I personally wouldn't take the chance". And just like that the two of us are snapped up into Evil Kate's Venus Flytrap. The scene was well set for two big, juicy flies - (who am I kidding? Nat's as lean as they come and our bank accounts are far from juicy) *two small, stringy and slightly despondent flies - to take the bait and commit themselves to three highly questionable, highly priced tours recommended solely by Evil Kate. Fast forward to Fraser Island.
Our tour on Fraser Island is EXPENSIVE, the priciest thing we've booked on the trip so far, which is always a problem if something (or everything) goes amiss. We are expecting a lot for our buck (not least because Evil Kate reassured us it was all worth the money). It's a 4-wheel-drive tag-along tour with about four separate vehicles and eight people in each vehicle. The main tour guide drives one car and everyone else with a licence (ie. not me and Nat) have a turn driving the 4x4s. The whole point is that it's a different driving experience because you're mostly driving along the beach, and there's no way you could get around without a 4x4. Nice idea, except it turns out that that's pretty hard for drivers used to tarmac and before one hour we have stopped several times to rescue stuck vehicles. Luckily Nat and I are in a really nice group, although the guy in charge of the music has a penchant for Major Lazer and we are exposed to an alarming amount of daytime German techno. Fraser Island is a beautiful place but from the start we are plagued by dark grey skies and torrential rain which is a tricky equation for a FANTASTIC TIME (which is what we want). It doesn't help that by the end of the first day I am convinced that our tour guide is a bumbling buffoon. We haven't had many dry moments, but of the few we have had our tour guide has decided to give everyone a snack break/smoking stop under shelters instead of taking the opportunity for an exploration without plastic ponchos. We're not allowed to explore on our own because of the dingoes. Dingoes are wild dogs which live on the island and they can be aggressive (but I think there's generally a correlation between attacks and humans trying to hand feed them). Mick, our tour guide, really ups the ante on the dingo scare-mongering, so when Nat and I bump into one we are convinced it's a life-or-death kind of dealio. Luckily I caught the whole anti-climatic encounter on video so you can watch us all overreact at a dog minding his own business. It's pretty unlikely (read: highly improbable) a lone dingo would attack three fully grown people which makes the video even more hilarious/pathetic. My favourite part is when I tell Nat he's being reckless as the dingo trots away, completely uninterested, and Nat's left holding a disproportionately large stick.
Major beatz with Major Lazer
Remember when I told Evil Kate I didn't want a trip focused on binge drinking? One car manages to pack one hundred and fifty cans of beer, ten bottles of cider, five bottles of spirits and ten boxes of goon (boxed wine - one goon = six bottles of wine). (I wrote those stats down on my phone, in case you were wondering). You've got to admire their dedication to the cause. There's a "club" in the campsite, which is just a shoddy gazebo blasting drum and bass. The most meaningful chat I have is with a British guy who says the highlight of his entire tour of Asia was getting stoned and drunk in a riverside bar in Laos. That's my socialising done.
The whole trip literally IS Freshers 2.0 (in case you couldn't tell) replete with noisy one night stands happening in all surrounding tents. Speaking of tents, it was a bit of a bummer when we turned into the campsite which looked like a bogland after the day's downpour. Trying to stay upbeat we headed to our tent and realised that there was a horrible mistake - no sleeping mattresses or sleeping bags! I have camped without both of these things so I know to be (HIGHLY) alarmed at the prospect of sleeping without them. We went back to check with Mick. Nope, that's it - we're camping "basic". WELL THE PRICE WASN'T "BASIC", MICK. We trudged back to our tent. Upon closer inspection it turned out we had a mass ant infestation but it's all good, we're chill. Just thankful we're not two tents down where there's a resident rat - busy neighbourhood this.
(Pic 2) - The alcohol caddy. If you look closely you can see our contribution. An ancient grain salad (those grains really DID taste ancient, it's a 2/10 from me)
(Pic 15) - After a short stint socialising I head back to the confines of our ant infested tent to do what I do best: reclusive reading. (The book is The Shortest History of Germany, it may be the Shortest History but it has taken me the Longest Read)
It's Day Two, Nat's given me a pep talk and I'm determined to try and enjoy the tour a little more today. Cheery thoughts cheery thoughts - BAM. There's nothing quite like slipping on a stranger's used condom to bring down a mood. The day is similarly rainy, and we're expecting an "action-packed" time (in the words of Evil Kate) so when we stop for four laborious hours of volleyball, played on the stringiest, tiniest net you can imagine, I promise myself that I will unleash hell on Trip Advisor. I spend the four hours with my new friend Crabby (pictured) which is apt, because I have been crabby since my morning slip'n'slide. I am also pretty hungry for lunch. Unfortunately it turns out rats at the campsite have chewed up our wraps and all of the drunk people last night ate the vegetarian's falafel. Suddenly the term 'grumpy guts' takes on a whole new meaning. Later I ask Mick for his top three facts on Fraser Island. He tells me 'one'. Inverted commas because the 'fact' is about the last tour group who got so smashed one of the girls became incontinent. WHERE ARE THE NERDY, KNOWLEDGEABLE, HAT-WEARING, LONG SOCKED TOUR GUIDES WHEN YOU NEED THEM? To say I am excited to leave Fraser Island is an understatement. I'm ready not to wake up with twenty ants in my hair and I haven't touched a bar of soap in three days (for the price we paid I'm pretty sure we could have been provided with SOAP).
An overnight bus journey later, we are in Airlie beach for our Whitsundays tour. Unfortunately it's still grey skies and rain, but the boat trip is much more our thing. There's lots of snorkelling and the food is a major step up from rat-nibbled wraps. Everyone's a lot more chilled out and we meet two really nice British girls, Suzie and Sarah (who later become our Coolum BFFs - shout out!!!). The only people not chilled out are the three Frenchies who 100% should have booked onto the party boat. I've never heard such aggressive dance music in my life.
Really tough learning about the formation of Prussia with this racket
From Airlie beach we head to Cairns to find a job. Evil Kate told us that Cairns was THE PLACE for backpackers, so it is unsurprising to discover that she lied yet again and that Cairns is a BARREN WASTELAND OF OPPORTUNITY. Nat and I walk around for eight hours straight handing out CVs/ begging people to hire us, only stopping once to have a cry (well, one of us has a cry). It's low season and no one is hiring. No one. The next day we head out on our Great Barrier Reef diving trip. It's not the best; the boat's pretty rubbish, we get taught nothing about the marine life or how to help preserve it whilst we're there and it's pretty disappointing visibility under the water. We see Barry the barracuda and later, snorkelling, we see two turtles but everyone in the group is so concerned with getting a good look and swimming really close to it that it feels like we're sort of at a circus. Still a nice day though (*Nat just proof-read this and told me to put SOMETHING positive in). The next morning we catch an early flight straight back to the promise land, Coolum.
WHAT a blog post, eh. I've never been so disgruntled for such a long streak of time. Nat's incessant optimism was really put to the test with Grumpy Guts by his side, but I can happily report that the process of writing Dingoes Fraser Island Tours and World Backpacker Travel reviews is really very cathartic and I'm feeling much more zen. I can promise that the next blog posts will be MUCH (much) MERRIER.