Life in the Tropics of Queensland
CAIRNS, AUSTRALIA- So this has probably been the longest I’ve gone without posting, and there’s a lot to update you folks about. Last time we spoke, I was planning on finding a job on a farm after moving from Airlie Beach. That didn’t exactly work out…while there is a ton of work to be had Down Under, there are also an extraordinary amount of laborers—6 million backpackers in a country of 22 million people.
As always, there are folks ready and willing to exploit any economic inefficiency they see, and thus we have the concept of a working hostel. A working hostel is an institution where the owner or operator has contacts with local farmers and employers, and acts as a broker for the backpackers searching for these jobs. Travelers will show up to the working hostel with the promise of steady work (or as steady as can be had, so they’re told), and asked to pay, upon arrival, $200 for the first week’s stay as well as a $200 bond. So that’s $400 right up front. Once everything is all settled, you are a member of the working roster- you must be prepared to work every morning, but the catch is that the work is come & go- you might work one place on a Monday, only to be told there is no need for you on Tuesday, and find work at another place on Wednesday.
Why spend so much time talking about this? Well, Victor & Clemence spent a week at a farm in Bowen, and barely earned enough money to cover the week’s rent, despite working each morning for anywhere from one to five hours. Needless to say, yours truly was glad he didn’t join them and opted to remain at Pete’s for a bit longer.
On one of our last weekends there, Pete made his way down to Sydney to visit with his daughters. Up to this point, we had just been helping him prep the house for guests, but there had been no real prospects of any bookings before I was set to leave, so you can imagine my surprise when I received a call from him on Friday telling me that we’d be receiving our first guest that Sunday, and I would be the manager of the Whitsundays Rainforest Retreat for it’s opening weekend. Whoaaaa mama. A little nerve-wracking, but everything went smoothly and it was a pretty cool experience to be in charge of the place for the weekend- because hey, that’s what I’m here for- cool experiences, right? Apart from manager-for-a-day, I had a nice little birthday celebration. I wasn’t all that stoked to turn 26 this year, but it made for a nice excuse to “make a party” as the Germans would say- here we are cutting the cake for my mustache-themed bash.
(PS I had a pretty Swanson-esque mustache at that mo’ment). Other notable events included a few glorious sunsets, and an evening encounter with two brown (tree) snakes in the house, both of which Victor and I had to, in the words of Roger, deal with in no uncertain terms.
As a thank you for helping him out, Pete was able to get Lauren & I discounted tickets for a day cruise of the Whitsunday Islands- which took us to Whitehaven Beach, and Mackerel Bay, where we got to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef! Whitehaven Beach is absolutely stunning- the pristine sand is actually so fine that it’s what they used to make the lens for the Hubble Telescope. It’s said to be so fine you can brush your teeth with it, but this ranks along with the survival tip that the rear ends of green ants make for tasty lime flavoring if you’re bush-cooking for cool-things-that-I’ll-just-take-your-word-for,-tour-guide. Our group spent the morning relaxing on the beach, checking out the views from the scenic overlook, and lazing in the water—though never without our trusty full-body wetsuits, since after all it is stinger season and we wouldn’t want to be stung by an Irikandji and die. Seriously.
After spending just the right amount of time in Airlie Beach, Lauren & I boarded a bus to Cairns, where I planned on looking for work & she was planning to spend a few days before flying to Bali to volunteer at an orphanage for the next part of her journey (which, judging from some of the pictures she’s since posted, is quickly climbing to the top of my list of places to visit). Luckily, I found part-time work at a hostel pretty quickly, so I’ve had a free place to stay for the past few weeks with some pretty cool people, including Cody & Margot- the first Americans I’ve met in what feels like decades. Cody reminds me of a North Carolinian Glussi, so you can imagine we get along pretty well. Despite having to work at a desk for my keep, the view is quite splendid- I’m staying at 93 Esplanade, right across the street from the main boardwalk and lagoon. There are tons of people to chat with which makes it a pretty awesome gig, and the atmosphere is always upbeat and friendly. While it rained the first few days I’ve been here, and there always remains the threat of a flash-storm, the weather has been sensational, if not mind bogglingly humid. Every few days something happens that makes me think ahhhh so this is what it’s like living in a tropical rainforest—mostly when you get out of the shower and simply do not dry, since the humidity ranks somewhere between 98 and a billion percent.
Fortunately I got a job working as a charity fundraiser for the Fred Hollows Foundation after a week or so of searching. Yes, it is what you are thinking—I’m the guy that stands on the street and asks people to donate money to a good cause. I took it because I figured what the hey, might as well give this a go—make some money for myself, and do something good at the same time. If nothing else, it will be a learning experience in dealing with people. I’ve proven to be pretty good at it, despite my complete and total unwillingness to force anyone to do anything they don’t want to do. Call me what you want, but my philosophy follows the ethos of the great thinker Panni, that one must “live and let live”. I’ve learned a lot about how to deal with rejection (I’m putting this so kindly) while still being able to bounce back and have my wits about me a minute later. If I’m not 100% all of the time, then no one wins, least of all the people having their eyesight restored by way of the donations I’m soliciting. My people skills are certainly improving, and I get to talk politics and social justice with rural Australians, which is interesting. I’ll leave it at that. (Update: I wrote this post about a week ago, and have since left this job. I’ll elaborate in a bit).
The other week I got a call from Hans, who was on shore leave for a night after spending four weeks at sea on a prawn fishing boat. We got lunch and then went out for a few beers later that night to catch up- from some of his stories it seems as if he was on the boat from the Perfect Storm, but this had the curious effect of piquing my interest in this sort of work. I was hoping to replace him on the boat when his contract was up, but alas I have no experience on a fishing boat, and the captain and crew were seeking someone who didn’t require any training. Oh well. It’s still on my docket of cool-stuff-to-do, though. I managed to get Hans a place working in my hostel, so he’s staying here for the remainder of his Australian adventure, until he boards a plane bound for Germany in a few weeks.
So, I left the fundraising job earlier this week because I wasn’t making nearly enough money to justify the hours I was working. It was fun to chat with people all day, but sometimes you are just not in the mood for it and it can make for tiring work when you are paid solely on commission. This was the first job I ever worked that was commission-only, and it’s a real different mindset coming into work. If you don’t hustle, you get absolutely nothing out of the experience. If you aren’t trying your absolute best, then it’s not worth coming to work at all. You might as well have stayed home. It is a valuable experience for anyone considering starting their own business. Yes, in a sense, you are your own boss, and you can set your own hours and work schedule but if you fail to deliver the goods at any point along the way, the only person who loses out is you.
Now I’m sure you are all wondering how Easter was celebrated, and the answer is by spending the long weekend working on refurbishing a boat. The Compass is a dive boat owned by a company that does Great Barrier Reef tours, and has been out of the water for a few months while the whole ship was gutted, cleaned, sanded, re-painted, etc. Apparently they are quite behind schedule, so the company came around seeking day laborers to do some of the grunt work and pick up the pace, a job that Cody and I gladly accepted. The guys working on the boat are all Dive Masters, which means they are scuba-diving experts and lead groups of people on diving tours of the GBR, and double as tradesmen for higher pay when necessary. Despite their seemingly rough exteriors, there’s a lot to learn from these guys about diving and how to get a boat running in tip-top shape again. Unfortunately, I was only able to work for a few days until I had to return to my fund-raising gig (only to quit the next day). C'est la vie, since Cody was offered a full-time gig as a host on the ship when it’s back in the water, and the first spot in the dive master training program when it becomes available. Sometimes, that’s just the way things go.
Fortunately I was able to take Cody’s other job, and I’m now plying my trade at a tile warehouse and delivery service, which is giving me pretty decent hours and wholly acceptable pay for my efforts. I think I’m going to spend the next month or so in Cairns, saving up some money at this job and taking time to see the sights. A few of my friends and I have a camping trip planned for this weekend in the , which should be quite awesome, and next weekend bodes a snorkeling trip out to the GBR as well as a super-exciting secret adventure sport which I won’t disclose until after the fact. Longer term (a.k.a like, 2 weeks), I’m hoping to get my scuba diving certification so I can really see what the Great Barrier Reef is all about.
If this post sounds like I’ve been all over the place, perfect, because that’s exactly the experience I’m after. Australia is a wild and crazy place, more so because the current infrastructure lets you try your hand at pretty much anything as long as you can convince someone that you will add value to their operation- even if that value is simply bargaining an open mind and a willingness to work hard in exchange for a job. I’m here to have as many new experiences as I possibly can and while some of my inclinations may come across as a bit zany, I’m fully confident that these are all positive, character building experiences. Travel, especially the long-term travel I’m currently immersed in, is about trying new things without a conventional safety net. It serves to make you question, yet oftentimes solidify, your beliefs and worldviews and challenge yourself by trying your hand at something you’ve never done before. This sort of thing is different for everyone, though if you’ve made it to the end of this post without doing something else, I would wholly encourage you all to seek out your own challenging experience this weekend. It can be something insanely simple- just taking a bike ride around your neighborhood to see it in a different light, signing up for a one-time yoga class, or buying a used guitar and teaching yourself how to play. I think in this world people are too often set in their ways and unwilling to try something new because they’re afraid they won’t be good at it…I would argue that this is the exact point where you begin to really grow as a person. Pick something you’ve never done before, and just go for it. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed with the experience.