Go West, Young Man
MARGARET RIVER, WESTERN AUSTRALIA- Well, there’s a lot to catch up on over the past two months. Let’s get down to business. My last post was the middle of May, when I had just finished my PADI Open Water Scuba Diving course. Living in Cairns meant that I had an absurd selection of adventure sports at my disposal, and I made to make the absolute most of these…however, most are fairly expensive. The upside is that while working at the hostel, I also worked at the travel desk booking people into these tours. A nice little side benefit of this is the opportunity to try out some of these tour packages so that you can better sell the product, what’s known in the biz as a famil. In addition to an exhilarating white water rafting trip down the Barron River, I went diving on the Great Barrier Reef a dozen times. I’ve compiled a photo album of the best shots here. The end of May was an exciting time for adrenaline rushes, since I also got the chance to go sky-diving for a second time, landing on the beach. You can see my Australian video here, and my Hawaiian video here.
Well, towards the end of May I had been in Cairns for about 3 months, and I felt that it was getting time for me to move on. I had worked a few jobs there, explored virtually everything that the area had to offer, and didn’t want to spend so much time in one place if I could help it. However, two things concurrently conspired to keep me in the region for a bit longer. First off, Mom and Steve were considering visiting and if they were to make the trip, I thought that Cairns (and the greater Tropical North Queensland area) would afford them the best opportunity to see Australia in a week. It’s winter down under, and Cairns is one of the warmest places to be right now. I also know the area very well, and would be able to show it off better than anywhere else.
The second is that I started work on a super-yacht with Margot and Vin. It sounds pretty glorious (and it was), and while the boat was for the most part docked while I did have the privilege of going out to sea with them one day. Which was the coolest thing ever. For contractual reasons, I can’t disclose the name of the boat or any photos, but I can say that it was a 160-foot boat with a helicopter pad (plus helicopter), recording studio, full dive center replete with a decompression chamber (which is RIDICULOUS)…it was quite an experience. While only a “day worker”, aka someone who comes on board to work with the crew while they do maintenance in port, we were welcomed with open arms by the crew.
I cannot think of a more hospitable group of people that I would rather work with than the boat crew. They picked us up every morning, provided us with breakfast and lunch, invited us to morning and afternoon tea with them, took us to the dock party thrown for them, and taught us all about life in the boating industry. What this particular boat does is sail around the world to various dive locations, scout them out, and take their owner and guests to these locations when called on…so obviously a top-of-the-line gig, a coveted position for anyone who wants to be a ‘sailor’ in the private industry. The crew was from all over the world and got along marvelously. The thirty straight days I spent working with them made me ruminate quite extensively about the fact that oftentimes it doesn’t matter what kind of work you are called on to do if the people that you are working with, and working for are competent, congenial, and fair. It makes all the difference in the world.
While initially smitten with the idea of yachting around the world, casually dropping references to the far-away places you might sail next such as Tonga, I grew to realize that in a sense you are working (and living) on a floating office building. You work in rotational shifts, such that you may have two months off, and four months on. Those four months on, you live on the boat, you work on the boat, you play on the boat. It sounds wonderful, but it’s not as if you have all of the facilities available to you…in fact it’s the opposite. You have to maintain all of the facilities and keep them in tip-top shape in case the boat is called into action at any time, but you’re not actually allowed to use them yourself.
You travel all over the world, but you always have to be back at the boat at the end of the night, and rarely have the time or means to explore much further than walking (or short driving) distance from port. It sounds incredibly haughty to declare, but in a sense the crew of these ships are trapped on board. They travel for work, but their freedom to travel is not their own and is greatly at odds with the mentality of travel that I’ve come to know and love.
Either way, I’m greatly thankful for the opportunity and insight afforded to me by my month working on the boat, and all that I learned from the captain and crew. Another stroke of good luck allowed me to work right up until a week or so before Mom and Steve were due to arrive in Cairns…leaving me just enough time to plot the itinerary for their trip and knock off some final bucket list items in the area, including heading to Palm Cove Jazzfest (where we saw the Montgomery Brothers perform on the 18th green of the country club- mark my words now, this band is going to be big), climb Walsh Pyramid, and sail in a regatta with the Cairns Yacht Club (we lost, but came in second, and made great friends).
Before I knew it, Saturday came and it was time to head to the airport to pick up the fam. Unfortunately, they missed a connection in Sydney due to poor weather in NY, and the upshot was that their flight got in five hours late. Instead of the planned Welcome to Oz BBQ, we had to settle for the Night Market Chinese special and a walk around town. Saturday night was an early one, back to the glory of the Tropical Heritage Hotel and our phantasmagoric little one-bedroom apartment (obtained for a steal, no less). I arose Sunday morning to find my tow visitors perched on the balcony reading their respective periodicals, basking in the sunshine and ready to go exploring. We spent the afternoon casually checking out town and collecting the ingredients necessary for a good ole Aussie BBQ on the community bar-be-ques on the Esplanade, where we were able to indulge in the local culture and throw some shrimp on the Barbie. You can make fun all you want, but it’s part of the experience.
Due to a few, er, organizational deficiencies on the part of yours truly we had to re-organize some of the weeks events, so Monday we headed out in our trusty little Hyundai Accent to explore the Tablelands- local farmland, waterfalls, and scenic viewpoints. We made it about half the planned distance since there was so much to stop and see on the way, including the Barron River (where I went rafting), Barron Falls, the alt-town of Kuranda, Jacques Coffee Plantation, and Lake Eacham. All in all, a very full day, but a very rewarding one. Tuesday was another day around town, where Trevor from the didgeridoo shop gave Mom and Steve more than their fair dose of Aboriginal culture, and the folks at the Courthouse Hotel served Mom her first Aussie “Big Brekky” and Strongbow Cider, (both of which, I believe, went down quite well). Another BBQ Tuesday night before we were up and out early Wednesday morning for our two-day trip to Cape Tribulation. Moseying up the coastline resulted in the following awesome photographs, and an early-enough arrival meant that we could embark on the “long trek”, aka the never-ending hike at the Jindalba Nature Reserve, where Mom showed her grit after we completed the 2.7k circuit. A quick trip up to the Cape itself to catch the sunset before shooting back down to the Motel for an early night’s rest, since we’d be up at the crack of dawn the next morning with Steve and I climbing the indubitably daunting Mount Sorrow.
After adhering to a litany of precautions advised by the Queensland Government before attempting to summit the peak, Mom dropped us off at the base at 7:30am with instructions to call the authorities if we were not back by 5pm (kidding, but seriously). No need for such drastic actions however, since these pictures were taken before 10am. Shirts have been removed not due to any vainglorious attempt at attaining as many instagram followers as possible in my first week, but due to being grossly saturated with body sweat. We were back down by noon-ish, and found Mom reading at a picnic table near the Cape, where we enjoyed a leisurely picnic lunch together. Agreeing to head back to town on the earlier side, we headed back to Cairns and arrived before the sun set. We celebrated that night by heading out to dinner at the Salt House, one of my favorite restaurants in Cairns, where we sampled the local cuisine- seafood. Mom and I split the seafood sampler and Tuna steak, and Steve got the local special, Barramundi. Also on the menu was some Aussie vino to compliment our entrees. Steve and I headed to Rattle’n’Hum for a beer, but were tucked in early since the next day we had to be up early for the capstone of the trip- the Great Barrier Reef.
Over the past year, my constitution has been tested a number of times in various ways, but one way in which I’ve severely weakened is my tolerance for the cold. In my personal experience, it was absolutely freezing out on the Reef due to the high winds, but fortunately M&S are coming from a different baseline and loved every minute of the trip. Mom made it in snorkeling on a day where the tide was so low that large portions of the reef were noticeably visible from the boat (this is quite rare in my experience). This was the only picture I got of her before I joined. Steve had his first experience scuba diving, and was fortunate enough to be under for 27 minutes on his second dive-, which is absolutely unheard of for an introduction. Here he is in all his glory. All in all, this day was a resounding success, and we all enjoyed ourselves very much.
Having checked out of the Tropical Heritage that morning, we drove to the local beach, Palm Cove, where we planned to spend the last two days of the visit relaxing. Our accommodation in Palm Cove dropped our jaws from the moment we stepped inside, and was a perfect place for everyone to unwind and enjoy the last of our visit before the next legs of our journeys. Reading, lounging, and musicing were the hallmarks of the last day or two before the alarm went off at 3am Sunday morning, and it was time to drop M&S off at the airport.
The unpleasant deed done, I headed back to the hotel for a few last hours of shut-eye before checking out. I am so fortunate that Mom and Steve were able to make the trip out to see me. It was wonderful to be able to see them, and I think in the end we had the perfect visit; just the right amount of time split between visiting with family and having a casual vacation, and doing and seeing enough to justify the trip they made halfway around the world to see me.
As for what I’m doing now? Well, after checking out of the hotel, I made my own way to the airport for an evening flight to Perth, where I arrived late, spent the night in the airport, and took the early morning bus to Margaret River, a little town about 3 hours south. I planned to meet up with Margot and Cher, who had flown out here earlier in the week, where we all planned on finding work on a vineyard (which as some of you know has been my stated intention for quite some time). The Universe conspired in our favor though, not without some serious legwork from the three of us, bestowing upon us a car and a job within twenty-four hours of arriving in town.
I’m writing this post early on a crisp and cool yet sunny Thursday morning, which doubles as my first day off from Adinfern Vineyards since Merv, the grandfatherly owner of the vineyard, has to go to Perth for some sort of wine convention. After speaking with a number of people around town and in my hostel, we got absurdly lucky finding the job we did. The vast majority of the vineyards in the region find obtain their labor by going through third-party contractors, where you are oftentimes nothing but a number to them. You could be assigned to one vineyard on each day of a given week, with no real opportunity to make any real connections with the Estate, owners, or land. The three of us are the only ‘transient’ workers on Adinfern, and will be working there five days a week until the end of August. It’s a family run business, and for the most part we’ll be laboring in the vineyard itself, pruning the vines and clearing up the land to allow for optimal grape growth for next season, but we’ll also have the opportunity to bottle wine on-site when the opportunity arises, and are hoping to even volunteer at the cellar door on the weekends.
That was quite a lot to catch up on, so if you’ve made it all the way down here, Bravo. I’ve also jumped on the Instagram bandwagon, where I hope to post a decent amount of pictures each week depicting a chaste portrayal of my day-to-day life her in Oz. If you want to follow me, my name is mkolle01 (real original, I know), but I’ll continue to post pictures in the albums on this site when I get the opportunity. As always, I’d love to hear from you all- please send me a message telling me how YOUR life is going and what’s new with you!!