Cairns had a big significance on this trip for several reasons. This would be Vanessa’s last stop on her trip. It would also be the last destination where the package deal we had bought would also be ending. From that point on I would have to arrange EVERYTHING myself, from activities to the hostels, no more hand holding.
We caught our very last bus from Airlie beach, bidding a short farewell to our friends, only to meet them all back in Cairns within a few days. We took the journey in good spirits, and were dropped off at the bus station to hunt down our hostel. The hostel in question was Gilligans (https://www.gilligans.com.au/). For those who have backpacked in Cairns before, I’d believe that this hostel is very well known. This isn’t just a hostel, neither is it JUST a party hostel, there is literally a nightclub attached to it.
On the face of it, this sounds like a pretty good idea, obviously you have your perks there as you’re staying in their hostel, and everyone went out at night to the same place so you’d have some great socialising. However, on the odd occasion when going out drinking isn’t on your list of priorites i.e. after a 10 hour bus journey and arriving at roughly 8pm, it wasnt so appealing. As well as happening to be in the room DIRECTLY above the nightclub door (where all the noise was spilling out). Thunderous base vibrated the entire room to the degree I thought I could be having a seizure through to 3am. Unless you’re out yourself, this can get a bit annoying.
On our first day, we had our final activity of the peterpan package, and arguably the one I looked forward to the most. We’d be taking a trip on the Great Barrier Reef (Cairns Premier reef & Island Tours). Most of the younger travellers on the tour were embarrassed when one of the tour guides. The one who drove the glass bottom boat asked
“So who’s been to the Great Barrier Reef before?” where everyone shook their heads.
“Who’s been to Whitsunday’s?” the young among us said yes.
To my surprise, we’d actually been arranged to go scuba diving on this tour, something I’d never tried before. All of us who were going to dive were all huddled into the cabin and given a brief hour or so introduction on how to scuba dive by some young French guy. Personally I thought it took years of training, needing to go into a swimming pool and practise and all this, but apparently not, we were thrown into the deep end, literally. If anything the talk made me nervous when I wasn’t before, “do this, do NOT do that, definitely do not do that”. He wet through had signals and what to do if your mouthpiece falls out, quite a lot of things to remember considering this was our first time.
By the time he’d finished his talk, we’d arrived at our destination and divided into groups for our dive (I was number 7), and told we’re more than welcome to go snorkelling until it was our time to dive. Obviously I chose to snorkel. By now I was comfortable diving into the deep blue after doing it in Whitsundays, bit less paranoid about a great white being under me at all times. However directly outside the boat we had a visitor, an enormous barracuda, and I mean, enormous. It was the creepiest fucking thing I have ever seen in my life. It wasn’t swimming, it was just floating absaloutely still about a metre behind our boat, looking directly at the people on the back of it. We’d have to jump in the water DIRECTLY in front of it with its finger length teeth. According to the tour guides, this exact same barracuda always followed the boat, and would do the same thing every time they were out there. He’d also never hurt anyone, “yet” to use their words.
Safe to say, the barracuda but me on edge as I got in the water. I kept looking at it as I swam away from it as I simply didn’t trust it. Soon enough he was out of sight and I had caught up with the rest of the group that were snorkelling over the corals. I went back into the same routine as I always have now while snorkling, being in absolute amazement of everything, filming everything with my gopro. One of which was seeing my very first clown fish (finally found Nemo). Swimming with no particular direction, only towards something that took my interest, and 2 things on this particular sorkel adventure will stay with me forever, and they were both complete flukes.
I was just minding my own business when I turned around to swim a little further away from the group where I spotted an enormous sea turtle. I couldn’t believe it, there he was just nibbling away amongst the coral. I must of followed it for 15-20 minutes in pure amazement of the creature, taking endless pictures and video’s just to be able to show that I actually swam with a turtle. A few others in the group had also spotted it, and he happily swam amongst us without a care in the world. I kept my distance, as the guides had told us sometimes the turtles wont come up for air if people are in the way and they’ll drown. However that didn’t stop the turtle swimming over to me and slapping me across the face with his flipper as I was filming, quite an honour.
After a while I felt it best to head back to the boat as I didn’t know exactly when I should be diving. I swam back and ran into one of the guides who very kindly offered to film me under the water, and of course the photogenic man that I am couldn’t refuse such an offer. It was only us two, the rest of the group was bit of a distance away. Shortly after she handed me back the camera I looked under the water for a survey of what was underneath us. All I could see was the silhouette of this thing that musnt of been more than 30 meteres away from us, and I thought to my self
“God, that’s a really big fish that one”. Then I noticed its back fins, and the unmistakable way it swayed from side to side
“FUCKING HELL IT’S A SHARK” the thought wasn’t one of panic which I’d always fairly assumed it would be if I ever came within a 100 miles of a shark, but one of pure excitement. I kept trying to give the guide next to me the hand signal for a shark, which in my excitement just looked like panicked splashing.
“It’s a shark!”
“Oh yeah I know” like it was nothing.
I also fairly assumed that if I ever did see one that the first priority would be to get back to the boat, get to dry land and never enter the water again, but rather I tried to follow it as it disappeared into the deep blue distance. This wasn’t an enormous 25 foot Jaws like shark I might add, it was most probably a reef shark, which are still pretty big, but harmless…apparently. We were also told “if one of the sharks happen to bite you just hit it on the nose”…good tip.
We then had a half hour crash course on how to scuba dive. Turns out it isn’t as hard as I thought it would be, its just the thought of it thats worse i.e. what if the tank runs out of air and I’m deep under the water? But within the first two minutes that apprehension was gone and I fell in love with it. Breezing on the bottom of the ocean with a Darth Vader soundtrack while you’re all up close and personal with the wildlife, awesome. Has definitely made me want to get my certificate now.
The next morning Vanessa bid an emotional farewell, and I was left to fend for myself, from here on, I’d be a lone traveller.
Slight deviation from the storyline here, and I HAVE to tell you about this girl I met in my time in Cairns, as she might potentially be the strangest woman I have ever met in my life. She told me her name but I can’t remember, but that was the very first thing she said as she sat down next to me in the roadhouse on the way to Cairns. She was on the same bus. I’m open minded, not one to judge someone too easily, however this was quite difficult as she open-mouthed chewed peanut M&M’s in my face.
We ran into her again on the Greet Barrier Reef Tour, where she introduced herself to me again. She introduced herself to Vanessa a total of 5 times that day, she kept forgetting they’d met…on the exact same boat. She had quite a moment on the glass bottom boat as well. The tour guide shared a little fact with us, he discussed how turtles get slightly poisoned by the jellyfish that they eat, and actually happen to get high off the toxin. Suddenly those stoned turtles on “finding nemo” makes much more sense. To where this strange girl shouted from the other side of the boat “BECAUSE THEY’RE HIGH LIKE ON WEED”. Even the tour guide had to laugh at her.
But then, here came the cherry on top of the cake, the perfect disaster. Seeing as Gilligans was a renound party hostel, they had some magulaf-wannabe performances, such as female jelly wrestling and the like. The one in question on this night was a wet t-shirt competition. Naturally me and the other males surrounded the stage, and looking through the very nice selection of women stood in the back waiting to perform, I noticed a familiar face, you guessed it, this strange girl. I had a sinking feeling in the bottom of my stomach as I quickly thought to myself that I wouldn’t enjoy this.
Each girl came up and did they’re thing (very well I might add) however I couldn’t fully enjoy myself knowing the disaster that was about to unfold, made even worse by the fact that only I in the crowd knew this. She took to the stage. Where all the other girls danced their finest burlesque/stripper routine to excite the countless males before them, what this girl did couldn’t even be described as dancing. From what I remember, looking between the gaps of my fingers held firmly against my face, one move of hers was her knelt over, jumping, waving her arms in small circles. There was more jumping, shaking her ass not in a sexual way, but in a way that a 50+ would to be ironically sexy. All the while she’s being sprayed with water from head to toe. This was not an enjoyable experience, and this was only round 1.
By way of applause, a few were selected for the second round. For the life of me I don’t understand why everyone felt we had to be tortured to see this girl again, but she was through. Now all the finalists were on stage and were told to dance for the win. It was an utterly bizarre picture seeing two beautiful girls dancing erotically with each other while this girl was bouncing around beside her like a kid in a primary school disco. Just when it couldn’t of got anymore cringeworthy, she took her top off, and held her arms up in the air. I cant remember a time when a topless woman has caused so many men to look away in horror. This was quickly followed by her shorts, causing each man to beg to god that she kept her underwear on. She won the competition.
The rest of my time spent in Cairns were mostly taken up by me trying to plan my next step. this was the first time I had to plan anything so I wasnt in too much of a rush. I flirted with a few idea’s, namely ones that aimed to keep my spending down. My next target was always Alice Springs, I wanted to go see Uluru. It was just a question of how I got there.
The other half of my time was spent in the adjoining nightclub spent with some of the friends I’d made on my way up the last half of the coast for a solid 4 days of drinking. This is where an enormous amount of money was spent. A reluctance to leave the friends I’d made had made it even harder for me to move on.
A Welsh university drop-out on a mission to travel the world for as little money as possible.
My adventures have taken me through over 30 countries across Europe, Asia and Oceania, and the list keeps on growing! From classic backpacking to working and volunteering, I have found all sorts of ways to maintain a life on the road.