Cairns Party and Train Tracks - Australian Hitchhiking Loop (Part 6)

I hopped out of Dan's car near the center of Cairns, he'd picked me up in the outback 700 kilometers ago, he was carrying on just another 100 north for work.

The ocean and greenery had me feeling refreshed, I like the place already, and I knew I would. Sometimes I like a place before I've seen it, I just know, or maybe just make it so.

I headed to the library, no internet there, but a cool place to sit and write a bit, soak in the fact that I'd be off the road for a few days after the long string of consecutive hitchhiking days.

I managed some internet later on at a nearby McDonalds, messages waiting for me from couchsurfers saying thursday night and on were good to go. This being a Wednesday, I fired out a message to see if tonight would be ok too.

With that message out there, I wandered towards the beach and what they call the lagoon - a big shallow pool by the beach, a place for people to swim and cool down without fear of crocodile. It was filled and surrounded with bikinis and shirtless types, beautiful people in a hot vacation felt paradise.

I felt overdressed in my tshirt and shorts, but it was probably the backpack that put me a bit out of place. I relaxed in the shade and took it all in for a spell, then wandered down the boardwalk for a while taking in more of the beach.

I strolled back into town, going to the grocery store for pasta and then getting myself on the internet, a message came back saying tonight was a busy night, so I was on my own to figure out the sleeping situation.

I'd camped out the past eight nights, alongside the road, each night followed by and preceded by full days of walking and hitchhiking. The thought of hiking out of town in search of another place to camp for a ninth night didn't appeal, my time could be better spent.

I found a backpackers hostel a few blocks away that charged $15 a night and came with a meal ticket at a central pub, I settled on this. In the room I met Dan, a guy from Manchester who'd been there a few nights and booked about a week more while getting his scuba certification.

I took a much needed shower and changed into mostly clean clothes. Feeling relatively refreshed, I talked with Dan a while and then we decided to head to the pub to get our free meals. We decided we'd get a beer too, but just one, as it was apparently pricey and he'd also had a wild night a few ago with a bar tab upwards of a $100.

We got our free meals, mine was a small plate of rice with a spoonful of chili slopped on, I gobbled it down quick, still feeling hungry, but sipping my beer to make up the difference. The place had a steady flow of travelers, apparently the free meal offer was extended to just about every hostel in town and most people ended up there.

There was a sign on the wall "Wednesday - Wet T-Shirt Contest, 2-4-1 Drinks 8-9pm, 10-11pm". Being 7:30 at the moment, we decided we'd take a wander and come back in time for it all, just as these "one beer" nights often go.

We took our wander, down to the lagoon and a lap around the casino, then back at the bar right at 8 for a couple beers. The bartender said the contest wasn't due until 11:30, "and it's outstanding, every time", he smiled, "at 9 there's a goldfish race too", he motioned at two long water tanks lined up.

We found our place on the balcony, one round, then another, another, and one more before the 2-4-1 special was cutoff. Around then the goldfish race kicked off, two fish racing head to head, each labeled with "USA", "Japan", "Australia" and so on, a drunk backpacker representative for each fish armed with a straw instructed to blow bubbles to coax them to the finish line. Japan beat out England in the disputed replayed final, too close to call the first race.

A couple girls sat on the couches so Dan and I joined them, chatting them up for a good while and getting more drinks when the 2-4-1 kicked back in. By this time I was getting spectacularly drunk, whizzing around the bar back and forth. Soon there were wet t-shirts and nipples a plenty, screams, chants, hoo-hahs and so on.

Later and after I was getting ousted by a bouncer at the door, I'd gone outside for some unknown reason and for some similar reason they didn't want me back in, maybe there was a cover, maybe I was too drunk, all I could do was taunt the bouncer and wander away.

I wandered for a good while, half lost, half searching. At last I came upon the hostel, relieved I'd found it and remembering I was hungry still. A lonely drunk sat in a chair in the dark. I sat next to him, he seemed smug and unimpressed, but clearly welcomed the company.

I ran off almost as soon as I sat down to go and get some noodles from my bag, telling him I had a good story for him when I came back. Noodles cooked and I went back to the table to find him sitting in the same spot passed out. I started telling him the story of the night anyway, he never woke up for it. I finished my noodles and took a big swig of his forgotten German beer, leaving him to get some sleep of my own.

The morning came with a girl at the door saying it was fifteen minutes past checkout for me, the room was empty except for me and Dan in his bunk. I gathered my bag, said a goodbye to Dan and turned in my key at the front desk.

I sat in the common area for a good while, coming to grips with a new day, clouded by a hangover. Some more noodles and cups of water helped.

Eventually I got the strength and will to leave, heading into town and towards the library to further chill out and do a bit of writing.

Later on I met up with Renata, my couchsurfing host in Cairns I'd gotten in touch with. She was a really friendly and laid back woman, we drove slightly out of town and to a trailhead, hiking up towards a waterfall on a serene path. As we walked we swapped some stories, but I was most interested in hearing about her sailing trips. She got me excited about the prospect of sailing around oceans, even telling me there were websites that made it easy to get hooked up with people cruising across oceans on all kinds of different adventures.

We went to her peaceful house afterwards, I took a walk on my own to the nearby beach, standing in the sand for a bit taking it in. People were kite surfing, other walking on the beach with dogs, a variety of birds sang away as the wind blew nicely.

We later went out hunting for kangaroos, I'd mentioned I hadn't seen any properly yet, so she was bent on making sure I'd see one. We took a hike around a place she'd often seen them, but nothing. We cruised around in her four wheel drive looking more, passing fields that were surprisingly (to her) empty. Eventually we drove down a dirt path through some grassy ditches to a clearing behind some new neighborhood projects where we found some small kangaroos hopping around, but they were actually wallabys, still I was happy with this.

The next day I relaxed the day away while Renata was at work. When she came home she gave me a ride into town and dropped me off where I was to meet my next host in town. Eventually a girl came walking up to, not my host, but a friend of hers who was also traveling through town.

I sat with her and grabbed a refreshing beer while we waited for Melinda to come, our host. Eventually came with some other friends in tow, we all sat around the table with a few drinks and more showed up as well. A tall dutch guy interested in travel, a blonde polish girl talking about rum, Melinda talking about couchsurfing and all of us having a good time.

Hunger got us moving, we went for the woolshed, the bar I'd went to the other night for the free meal and drunken night. I went to the counter asking for the free meal saying I'd forgotten my hostel ticket, that worked and I had a small meal to tide me over. We all sat eating with some more beer, the polish girl was mentioning rum again, saying she had a bottle or so and suggesting we go back to the place she was staying where there was also a pool. This sounded like the thing to me, but the others ignored her mostly.

Instead we headed to a place called Gilligan's, another backpacker friendly place with live music and a couple different areas. We danced around the live music for the duration, the odd drink here and there, we sat at a big table and I compiled forgotten drinks, most untouched, left behind by people with too much money certainly. Well enough time had passed, they weren't coming back, I began sipping these. I offered some to the french girl, the one I'd met first before Melinda, but she seemed to proper for such things, even the untouched drinks.

More for me and we went to the dance floor in the other room, the polish girl still mentioning rum here and again. The french girl was tired and had put in the word to Melinda that she was ready to go. Melinda took me aside and told me the score, and basically it came down to me leaving with them or there'd be no way for me to get to her apartment otherwise, so off I went, but not before getting the Polish girl's address in my head, her and at least a couple others were keen on going back.

We got back to Melinda's place, her feeling a bit apologetic about the french girl wanting to end the night. I was on fire, bouncing inside and still in the mood to jump around. I was considering splitting and heading to the rum and the rest of the night, I figured I'd be able to spend the night at the girl's house and failing that would have no problem with a drunken wander to the beach in the early morning or some such. Melinda talked me down though, saying it wasn't worth it, and besides that she was heading to work early the next day in a northern direction, which is the direction I wanted to go for a hitch up to some beautiful spots on a day trip. I fell onto the ground and into sleep.

The next day Melinda whipped up a quick and tasty breakfast and we got on the road, just 20 minutes about to where she worked. From there I started walking and sticking out my thumb with just my day pack and thoughts of the place people called Cape Tribulation. A bike passed me and said hello, soon after a lady coming from an early morning yoga session gave me a short ride a little further up the road. The biker passed me again before I got my next ride, "You're beating me mate!", he smiled as he rode by.

My next ride came from two young German guys, on their way north to gather some coconuts which they'd sell back in Cairns, this was their living for now in between travels. They had some in the car, one took out a knife to cut a hole in one, popped in a straw and handed it to me. I sipped the refreshing drink with a big smile, the whole of the ocean on my right as jostled between elevations and bends for flavor.

After this beautiful drive they dropped me off near a petrol station, I got a really short ride, about 2 minutes to the next junction, then walked a little past it and posted up in a spot before the road got to bending and twisting again. A guy was walking towards me along the road, as it turns out he was hitchhiking too. No backpack or anything, he was a guy from Ireland who'd never hitchhiked before, even now he was just heading to the next town which was about 20 minutes up.

We both got picked up by an older couple who were keen to tell us how beautiful the area was, we were all witnesses as we drove. They dropped us both in the next town, I parted ways with the Irish guy and walked to the other side of town, soon getting picked up by a girl about my age. Her car was littered with bottles and the dashboard covered with art - feathers, toy dinosaurs, dream catchers and the like. She took a swig of some rum as we drove, talking quietly and peacefully about the long night she'd add, very soft spoken.

We reached the line of cars waiting for the ferry, she said I was free to come to her place which was just over the river and relax a bit. We got over the ferry and soon turned into the driveway of the house she was watching for a friend. It was a tucked away paradise, far from anything and peaceful. The house was built high up and overlooked the small pond with a deck that went out where there was a trampoline. We sat on the deck drinking tea and talking. She reminded me of someone who may have done acid twice a day every day for years, comfortably out of it without being gone.

She played some music and went to her garden telling me to make myself comfortable and that I was free to stay as long as I wished. I bounced on the trampoline a while, alternating between hopping and laying on my back staring at the clouds.

Later her friend came over which she called the pirate, he had long hair and a demeanor a bit like a pirate, peaceful though. He too offered his place as one I could stay a few nights at if I wished, he'd be out of town with his metal detector searching for treasure, things were making sense.

He left and soon after I did as well, keen to continue up to see more of the area I had now entered upon crossing the ferry. I got a ride in the next rush coming off the ferry, I guy who once lived in the area coming back to visit family. He told me what a beautiful place it was, we were cruising through thick rain forest and everything was lush. "You can get away with a lot here too, no worries about police. If they ever decide to come through, the guy at the ferry phones the pub and gets the word out right away", seemed like a close community.

Where he dropped me off was the end of the line, at this time anyway, the road that connected to the very top of Northeast Australia was blocked off because of prior storms. I walked down to the beach to take in the scene there, enjoying that for a while.

Later I walked back to the road to catch a ride heading back towards Cairns or whatever else I'd see along the way. A couple girls stopped saying they were heading there, but were going to go swimming and make stops like this on the way, perfect.

We went to a swimming hole for a bit with a rope swing, one of the girls, from California, jumped in straight away. The other, from france, stayed at the top above on the trail, not wanting to attempt the climb down.

We made some more stops at different beaches and look out points, also at a place where they had exotic fruit ice cream, all the while taking small puffs of poor quality weed from an apple pipe they'd made.

On the stretch back to Cairns the girl from California asked if I'd mind driving, so we switched seats. Being my first time driving a stick shift from the right right seat up front and on the left side of the road, I think I gave the girls a bit of a scare at first with some poor shifting and the like, but all the same we made it to the north end of Cairns where they were staying. I used the California girl's phone to call Melinda and see where she was at, no answer, so I knew she was already at her recital she'd mentioned, so that's where I'd head.

I watched a bit of her singing at a recital outside a church, meeting some family and other people before heading back to her place. Turns out she knew the California girl, I'd told her the story of my dad and the girls name, she said she was a couchsurfer who was meant to stay with her and she'd missed a call earlier, but that was my call, and apparently California had found another place to stay in the meantime.

The next day we decided to go on a hike up north a bit, another nice breakfast and I headed with Melinda and the french girl to a friends house. We all piled in his car and off we went, I left my bag at his house knowing I'd come back and start hitchhiking south straight away.

We got to the trail head and parked the car and started up the trail head after a bit of debate over which was the best direction to start going. We climbed through the forest, at last breaking out to a bit of a view of the city, continuing still from there. We came to a bridge that went over the train tracks and continued up around a rock face, we paused here. Melinda and her friend debated what trail went where and where we really wanted to go anyway, but soon the idea was to follow the train tracks to get to the good spot, the question was when the next train would come and if we could avoid being seen by it.

I spied an easy way to get through a part in the fence under the bridge, they calculated we had some time until the next train and I guess we could hear it in the distance far below. We started down the tracks, pausing under a bridge in thought that the train would come soon and we'd be safe from sight below.

After a bit of waiting and taking in the great view, we continued on thinking we could make it further still, but soon we came upon the tunnel. We knew for sure we didn't want to be in the tunnel when the train decided to come, so we climbed right above the opening to wait. After a bit of time it finally came, there we were sitting right above as the train honked it's horn, a conductor not looking very happy waiving his hands for us to get down, heaps of tourists waiving their hands with smiles out the windows laughing.

The roared under us and we climbed down the stone wall back to the tracks, I picked up the five cent piece from the track I laid down, perfectly flattened as I'd hoped for. We ventured into the tunnel, Melinda first, then me, then the two others. We laughed our way through, Melinda taking pictures as we went with a flash as a way of seeing just a bit at a time exactly what was ahead in the pitch black. Despite this tactic, she went down hard towards the end of the tunnel and scraped herself up a bit, but nothing too rough.

We continued on for a bit longer when suddenly we saw a white truck come following us on the track, it was rigged to travel on the tracks like a train. We scattered, Melinda diving into the bushes and all of us trying to disappear, nowhere to go. The guy pulled up alongside and asked what we were doing, it was quickly apparent that he hadn't been sent to punish us as we all thought, he was just doing his rounds that way. He did explain that we were not supposed to be on the track and could get in a lot of trouble for it, fined anyway, but instead he offered us a ride which he also said wasn't a great idea for him to be doing.

We laughed our way on the back a few kilometers or so until he paused and we all hopped out and thanked him. Walking just a bit further we got to a train stop overlooking a massive array of waterfalls, he'd stopped before this so no one would see he gave us a ride.

The waterfall was impressive and we stood admiring it for a bit, then climbing out and up into a bridge that swirled through the top of the forest canopy, a brilliant little walk that lead to a car park. A bit more walking up the road, then through a jungle/swamp area with a nice trail and we arrived in a little touristy town. There we had a quick bite and the talk became how to get back to the car or otherwise. I was all for hitchhiking, of course, all too easy with the short distance and the one road that lead in one direction. If it had just been me and Melinda that would have been the way, but the others weren't keen and a $5 bus ticket was peanuts to them (a beer or two in my eyes, heaps of food even, no reason to waste it here).

Melinda spotted my bus ticket out of principle, and it's a good thing because days later I'd realize I'd lost the bulk of my cash as well as my debit card (but that'll be explained later). We sleepily and slowly meandered down the mountain back towards Cairns close to Melinda's friend's house. Her and I napped temporarily while the french girl took the friend in her van back to the trail head to get the car.

Once back I grabbed up my backpack and it was time to go. The french girl had mentioned that she was going to Townsville and could give me a ride that far, but she wasn't on to my whole style of travel and gas money was something she'd want and something I didn't have, so I turned down the offer and headed for the road, thanking Melinda for the good times.

At last I'd be in the home stretch, gunning it straight down the coast for Mullumbimby to see Mandie again, plus Nick, in time for GLO dance if all went right.

Also from this trip:

Mullum to Melbourne Orange Pill - Australian Hitchhiking Loop (Part 1)