Tuesday, 8 September 2015

To Kununurra and Darwin

I attempted to write a blog entry about a month or so ago, but it didn't really work out. I got about a paragraph in and felt overwhelmed by how much there was to write. Because I've not added a new entry for a while it does seem like a mountainous task but it's about time I wrote one of these things. 

The situation at the moment is this; I'm waiting for my second year visa to clear. About 3 weeks ago I got a job offer in Darwin (where I've been for the last 6-7 weeks) and in order to work the job I need my second year visa. Its been frustrating because I've kind of just been hanging around waiting for the damn thing to process. It means I've had A LOT of free time. So I've been going down to the beach, pottering about in Darwin, and watching copious amounts of YouTube videos. God what I'd give for Football Manager right about now. 

However, it does gives me the chance to write a new blog. Devastatingly though, about 5 weeks ago I lost my iPhone whilst working on a job installing furniture in a hotel. It means I've lost all my travelling photos, I've managed to recover some of them but I didn't have many from the road trip that we went on. Fortunately, Jonna has tons so I've nicked some of her photos for this entry. 

To try and detail the whole road trip would be virtually impossible. If you asked me to pinpoint on a map exactly where we went and what each place was like - I couldn't do it. Instead I'm just going to describe some of the things we got up to and what it was like travelling from the east of Australia to the west. 

I'd gone on a road trip a couple months before when travelling from Melbourne to Sydney. There were 7 of us who had been living together in Melbourne and we decided to travel together to do our farm work in Tully. It only lasted 4 days but it was a blast. We breezed our way up from Melbourne to Sydney without so much as a hiccup. 

The next road trip however, was a different beast. First of all we would end up being on the road for 5-6 weeks. There were 4 of us and when your confined to a tiny car space for a long period of time, tensions will rise. At times it was downright grueling. Even when it is challenging though, it was still immensely fun. Having been in one place for a while now, I really miss waking up in the morning and setting off in the car not knowing what you will see or who you will bump into. 

For example; one day we were all a little bit leggy from the amount of driving we'd done when we spotted a sign for free coffee. We pulled up in the car to be greeted by an elderly Australian couple. Straight away, it had a Texas Chainsaw Massacre vibe about it. They were incredibly warm and generous however, so we drank their tea and ate their biscuits. Things took a surreal twist however when a cow kept poking its head in through the fence to where we were sitting. Then the older guy took me to see his budgie (not a euphemism). Well, actually, 50 of his budgies. There they all were in this cage, flapping about. He then started to talk about the budgies and described how they attack and eat other due to their confinement. 

"Look at that one there, it got its legs bitten off!" the guy said, with a worrying amount of glee. I wasn't about to start protesting however as I didn't want to end up with my legs getting bitten off, so I just nodded and smiled politely.  

When we rejoined the others they started to tell us a disturbing tale about the times they used to go fishing. They'd take 6 or 7 dogs with them so they could fall asleep and not live in fear of being eaten by a crocodile. Bit of a crap deal for the dogs however as they'd get munched on by the crocodiles, when there was only "3 or 4 dogs left", it was time to leave. 

Here's Jonna and John mucking about with animals after their free coffee.

After that story they told us another one about what we thought was an over protective dog called Mitchy. Apparently Mitchy had a bit of a thing for a human called Steve. Mitchy wouldn't let anybody near Steve and could be very aggressive. In the end they chopped up old Mitchy and put him in the fridge, at which point Jonna asked "You put a dog in the fridge?!".

"No, it was a cow. Mitchy was a cow". I think they could have talked all day about dead animals but it was time for us to hit the road. 

We were knackered on this day. We could have gone on a 15km walk to look at Aboriginal cave paintings. Instead, we lasted about 15 minutes and left. The cave drawings we did see though, were very good.

When your traveling on the road in Australia you suddenly get a sense of the vastness of the place. Your on roads 500km at a time in the middle of the wilderness. If you break down - you're fucked. That wasn't any clearer to me than the time we drove on the. worst. road. ever.

It was about 800km and took us God knows how long. 800km is not that much but it is if you can only drive at 30km an hour...

Sunset has a habit of creeping up on you when you're trying to kill kilometers. You're praying for the light to stay because the conditions become really hazardous when driving in the dark. The day can feel vibrant and alive and bright, and then all of a sudden, the darkness hits and everything changes. This road was hell. It was broken and rocky and it felt like you were driving on a railway track half of the time. This particular night we were chugging along at 30km an hour when a road train passes us by (bearing in mind we'd not seen another vehicle for hours), it caused a massive dust cloud to engulf the car. The driver side window was unable to be closed so the car was filled with dust and you couldn't see anything outside. We just had to stop and wait for the dust, literally, to settle. After that it just became about pure endurance. We started to find roads that were slightly flooded, we'd drive through them and there wasn't a problem but then we found one flooded road that was DEEP. We surmised our options, in reality there was no way we couldn't go for it, what would we do, go back? We braced ourselves and ploughed through the water. I remember feeling genuinely anxious and scared that the car would get stuck, if that happens, in a place like that...game over. When we reached the other side we all celebrated like we'd won the lottery, we were all greatly relieved. Later on we entertained ourselves with dust puns, none of which I can remember (clearly insanity had kicked in at this point) before it got to about 2am and we had to stop. We all slept in the car that night in what John described the next day as "the worst sleep I've ever had". What was nice though was before we went to sleep we did a bit of star gazing on the road. It remains the best night sky I've ever seen.

When we finally got off this God forsaken road and into a little town I noticed a sheet stuck onto the side of a cafe we ate at. It was a review sheet for all the roads in that area. Every road was classified as 'excellent condition' except the one we'd just gone on which was described as 'terrible'. 'fucking shite' might have been more accurate.
This was taken after the "worst sleep ever". I love it because of Johns face. He's bloody knackered. It makes me laugh whenever I see it. 

Jumping crocodiles. 

Big ass termite hills in one of the many national parks we visited. 

The purpose of the road trip was to combine finding work and to experience being on the road in Oz. As we got closer to Darwin we thought we might as well check in there and see if we could get work. We signed up with an agency but the whole scene didn't look too promising. I remember sitting in Peter Pans the second day in Darwin and over hearing several backpackers complaining about how there was no work there. Ah bugger. Hang on though, we had our own car and we were all reasonably fit and healthy. Let's start a business! The business never really took off other than a silly Gumtree advert I posted. This is the advert;

Xena Services is an exciting new buisness which offers cheap prices for the following;

Gardening - we can help you with your garden needs in a variety of ways - just tell us what you need!

Cleaning - We have extensive experience in cleaning so let Xena help you destroy dirt!

Courier - Need a package delivering at amazing rates? Xena has travelled far and wide and is willing to go the extra mile for you!

Removals - Xena is strong and ready to do the hard lifting for you!

Labouring - see above ;)

So get in touch! We are a team of 4 backpackers looking to make cash by doing a great job for you so why not give us a try?

I don't understand why nobody ever used Xena Services? I got left a message by one person who said she needed Xena Services urgently but when I called her back she didn't answer... that could have been our big break. A woman from Yell also hassled me for a couple of days about wanting me to invest money in advertising Xena Services on their website. Unfortunately our advertising budget was zero. The woman was also shocked when I told her we were 4 backpackers and the business had been running for a week.

So Darwin was a little bit slow.

To West Australia and Kununurra then!

West Australia feels different to the rest of OZ. It feels less explored. There are no English backpackers listening to shite chart music shouting "laaaaad" for one. There's a quarantine you have to go through when entering West Australia and I conjured up images of the Truman Show when Truman tries to escape but men in big silver space suits prevent him from doing so. In reality a bloke came up to our car and had a gawk before going back in his office. It wasn't exactly rigorous.

Kununurra was about 300km in West Australia and I started to worry that we were going to end up in the sequel to Tully. It was indeed a very small place but not as small as Tully and when we saw a Coles we all celebrated thinking this indicated there was life in this place. Kununurra was lovely. The camp site we were staying at was beautiful. It had a national park right next to it and a big open camp fire. And most importantly, no English backpackers listening to appalling music.  Nights out were a little bit slow, one bar we went to said they didn't serve shots, in fact they barely sold an alcoholic beverage. Another place told us to get lost before we ever got in because we'd bumped into some French guys who were drinking cans in the street. We were back home in the tent by half 11.

It was time to get down to business though and look for work. We thought we were ahead of the curve by going all the way West, that we would find employers on their knees begging us to work for them. Not quite. It seemed like the place was just starting to see a rise in backpackers arriving there. The job agency was rammed full of Italians, French, Sewdish, etc all searching and waiting for work. Sigh, back on a waiting list.
My publicity photo for a radio interview I did discussing the fact so many backpackers were arriving in Kununurra looking for work. 

I didn't need to be so pessimistic however. We got a offered work within a couple of days. All four of us could work together doing a job called weeding. Weeding? How bad can that be? Turns out very bad actually.

We got up at ridiculous o'clock and drove to the weeding farm. We were greeted by a Japanese fella who was our boss. Within 5 seconds of the conversation he informed us that "I fire you if you no do job", he continued "I fire a German last week in 5 minutes...I will fire you if you no do job!". He told us that he'd fired 80 people in his time as boss, surely over a 10 year period right? No, 3 months.

The job itself was the worst. You're bent over all day pulling out weeds. Up and down these rows of plants in the searing heat. John built up a rapport with the boss pretty quickly, but me, Jonna and Xena were on the ropes after just 2 hours. We were all too slow. Me and John worked a row of plants that was more like a forest of weeds. By the time we finished the row we just laid down in the dirt. "This is our lives!" John said, for the first of many times. Luckily the first day we got to leave after 6 hours. The drive on the way back was quiet. That night we wondered if we would get sacked. The second day began and it was more of the same. I got to work on a row next to Jonna and I kept telling her how bored I was while she was trying to fight off a grasshopper that kept launching at her.

Just before lunch I went into a row to help someone else finish. As I was walking back the boss approached me,

"I fire your friends.." he said,

 "Excuse me?" I replied

"I fire them, they no good, you can stay or you can go with them, but they are fire"

"OK I'll have a think"

When I went back over to the them, they were already sat in the car with the engine turned on. Fuck weeding seemed to be the general consensus. After that we didn't stay in Kununurra too long, work came up in Darwin and it was back on the road.

There were a lot of 'pinch me' moments during the road trip. Sometimes when we were sat in this car together I wondered how did I end up traveling Australia with 2 Swedes and a German. I love that. As someone who used to consider a visit to North Yorkshire as a bit of a trip out, this past year has been exhilarating and eye opening. Now that I've settled into a routine whilst waiting for my visa, I miss how the road trip turns on all your senses. Your brain is overloaded with new experiences and new things to look at. At the end of the road trip I was back in Darwin, where the adventure had all begun. Me and Christian at the Dingo Moon Lodge hostel on Mitchell Street. We didn't have a clue what was in front of us, I'm almost jealous, but I know there are many more great adventures ahead.

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