A month of travel in and around the South Pacific lay in front of me. Life could not, at this time, have given me much more reason to never stop smiling. This time when I left Lismore, I was headed for the Whitsunday Islands, located in the ocean upon a coral-reef-lover's dream.
They lay nine-hundred miles away.
A little, shaggy-bearded man with a bundle of jumpy energy took me to the coast, to Byron Bay. He kept talking about doing stuff all the time. In Byron, he saw friends working on a house and told them, "I'll come up and help you when you're done!" He was crazy/eccentric, like many residents in this curved-beach Eden.
I laid on the beach all day. At that fantastic eating establishment, Bay Kebabs, I ate a chicken-and-pineapple kebab then received a free baklava from the eccentric owner for it being my last visit there. Murray, the owner, with her white cotton hair the color of her face, and a smile that seemed helium-induced, posed with me for a picture. I pointed out where I'd signed a personalized message on her wall (as was the Bay Kebabs custom); she gave me the thumbs-up and said, "I loved it!" Murray's awesome.
A young surfer picked me up at dusk, and he loved m story of all the girls in Raquel's suite who'd liked me. He got me to nearby Broken Head, where I spent the night with Raquel's friend, Dave. Dave and I discussed the bad points of young, irresponsible and overwhelmed Elkie. He revealed he'd heard nothing of Raquel liking me. He took me to the road in the morning.
To my great surprise (and that cliche phrase really does apply here), a tan, freckled, hot girl picked me up. She had a sexy French accent. She was a little older than me. She worked at the Gold Coast ... "Where?" ... at Players (a strip club) ... as a showgirl (stripper).
Wow. I couldn't believe my fortune. We talked about her ex-boyfriend and her need for a vacation. She didn't really like her fortune. She said, Frenchly, angrily about the job she disliked, "The men, they all want to 'fuuc' me." We spoke only in English, but she sometimes let out "Oui," as a soft gasp, and I wanted to melt.
She treated me to coffee at a roadside joint. She rubbed the slender outsides of her thighs beside me, and she opened up her jacket and rubbed her strong stomach, and she planned to go home to take a shower. She would give me her phone number.
During this time, I sat rather like a bump, and didn't make any moves to show interest. And even though Sophie didn't like the men in her strip club, it seemed there was something I might've been able to do for her. She was clearly an interesting girl. But, all I said was, essentially, "(duh) Thanks for the ride!" And she drove off.
At that point, as she drove off, I wanted to kick myself in the side of the head. Damn it! I'm an idiot.
I held on to her number.
I body-surfed in the waves not far from the undeveloped road. And thought.
In my defense (if there could be any), Sophie hadn't had much on Raquel. I was thinking about porpoise-sweet, funny, sad-in-the-depths-of-her-eyes Raquel a lot. I called her. I said I liked her and suggested we get a luxurious hotel room in Gold Coast later - something she'd wanted to do, to splurge on and pamper herself, during our roadtrip.
But, she made it clear she hadn't liked me, we were only friends.
Oh, well ... I guess my romantic dreams weren't coming to fruition. No bother; I was in the South Pacific and free!
In touristy Gold Coast, I ate at delicious Charlie's restaurant, tried to snorkel in a muddy estuary, and toured the Ripley's Believe It Or Not! museum. I rode a late bus to Brisbane city, where a traveler-friendly woman in a bar offered me a place to stay, but I - apprehensive - slept on the comfortable carpet of the transit centre. Next, I rode a train to the Crocodile Hunter's zoo - hungry for a photo of me with Steve Irwin - but, Steve had just gotten back from a month in the States and was tired, so I was unable to see him.
Continuing northward, towards blue sky and through semi-arid forest, I got picked up by two kids. They said, "I suppose you meet a lot of weirdos hitchhiking, huh?"
I said, "Yeah, I guess so."
"Well, how's this take the cake: the car you're riding in now is stolen!"
Ha! They'd found a rental car key on the ground somewhere, matched the key to its car, and were now going to visit a friend. They even told me that, if I wanted to wait for them, they'd come back after their visit and drop the car off for my own personal use. I thanked them, but I still had faith in hitchhiking.
(I wonder if those guys ever got caught.)
The next ride was from a recovering heroin addict and was interesting.
At some point, however, I lost faith in the hitchhiking. I grew impatient; tired of short rides, tired of long waits. I went into the Gympie bus station and inquired as to the price of a ticket to take me where I was going. $74. It was five or seven dollars more than I was willing to pay. I walked out of the bus station.
Not five minutes later, a sky-blue campervan stopped for my thumb. The driver leaned to open the door for me and said, "You can't be going any farther north than me." When he said "Airlie Beach" my face lit up. Airlie Beach was the launching-off point for the Whitsunday Islands. Woohoo. Viva la hitchhiking! This driver wasn't a French stripper - but he was the next-best thing.
Josh was pretty funny, Canadian, and a former boxer and hockey player. He was at the age to be an established professional, he was a bit bulky but not fat, and he wore short but full black hair.
He called his van the "Shitbox," and it was a manual, but its gears were on a lever on the side of the steering wheel like in many automatic cars. The Shitbox drove us on and on for hours and hours and hours past the central Queensland boring thin-forest nothingness.
Josh and I got along well. He told me he'd been to 84 countries, as a traveler and ship employee, and that you can do anything if you set your mind to it. When we stopped for a fast-food dinner, I paid for us, and Josh called it a nice gesture.
Late in the night and after much driving, we fi-in-a-lly approached the town of Serena. It sat three or four hours north of its neighbor town to the south, and it was our goal for the night. Josh, who was sick of sitting after having recently had back surgery, was happy.
"There yonder glisten the lights of the fair town, Serena, whose glorious shine is far more beauteous than any other town's."
We disappeared from awakeness in the long back of the Shitbox. We would be in Airlie Beach the next morning.