"Australia 1999" story # 4


Byron Bay, New South Wales
March 7, 1999

When studying in Florida, a beach trip is for two, maybe three hours. Here, it's for two or three days!
     Matt, Kristi, and I drove with two Aussie mates, Jenni and Jamie, to Byron Bay, Australia's eaternmost town. When we got to the beach, Matt ripped off his shirt, smiled like a little kid at the ocean waves reflecting in his eyes, and sprinted to the water to try a flip. When his pale body surfaced, he kept flopping around like a mackerel: turning somersaults, hurdling waves, falling on his back.
     We rushed to join him. The sun was out, the semi-circle beach was full of topless girls, shier girls, and surfers, and the air was thick with the Australian mood of leisure. We all smiled like little kids. Matt splashed the girls, picked them up and threw them, and dunked them. We rode the rhythmic four-foot waves, ideal for body-surfing, for hours.
     For lunch, Matt introduced us to one of the world's great all-time Mom & Pop shops: Bay Kebabs. Matt got a vegetarian kebab, and I mocked him. "What, are you watching your weight, Matt-ilda? Trying to drop a few dress sizes by summer?"
     I took a chicken kebab, which is a Lebanese wrap filled with cheese, lettuce, pineapples, chili sauce, and chicken. An elderly lady, with blond hair sticking from her head like corkscrew pasta, made it for me.
     "When business is slow, and you're free to make yourself the biggest, juiciest, grossest kebab ever, what do you put in it?" I said.
     She got excited. "Oh, I like alfalfa sprouts and celery stalks and lettuce balls and brussel sprout terds and ..."
     Vegetables? Eww. "That doesn't sound very good."
     "Come in tomorrow, and I'll make you one."
     Alright! In the event where "vegetarian" is accompanied by "free," it's not so bad.
     I celebrated my score by snorkelling. I swam about fifty yards out, to the mast of a shipwreck protruding from the sea. The ship wasn't perfectly preserved, but some big pieces still stood. Big schools of small, yellow fish swam around. I saw a white parrotfish with black spots and another shark, a wobbegong. The shark was three-foot long, gray but tie-dyed brown, shaped like a sideways raindrop, and with whiskers coming from its mouth to trick little fish near it.
     I went back to play with Matt and the girls, when other friends from SCU started to show up. They came by car; they came by bus; Dutch Sam and Canadian Matt came by foot. Sam stuck his hair up everywhere and looked like a koala or Ricky Martin. Canadian Matt had a deep, important-sounding voice and a sober face. Don't let those things deceive you, though, because, being as he's a crazy Canadian, he drank any time he had free time (optional) and money (also not important). With his friendly, white smile, he explained the cricket set that'd been on his back the last ten miles.
     So, we played a beach match of the Australian pasttime, cricket. We didn't know the rules and weren't very good. Sam, especially, would've been deported if a customs official had seen his butchering of the proud Aussie game. When it came his time to bounce the ball to the batter, Sam's throw completely missed the ground and came closer to hitting a bird than the batter. Poor Sam; this was what I'd learned was a cultural difference. Luckily, he didn't let it get to him, feeling confident that he could've whooped some Aussie butt in the Dutch national sport, tulip-growing.
     About twenty of us had gathered, so agreeing on a place for dinner was tough and controversial. I went to Papa Bear's fast-food and pizza, but most people insisted on a nice restaurant across the street (we'll call them "people who care about what they put in their digestive tracts"). Papa Bear's, for what it lacked in sanitation and cleanliness and the smell and flies buzzing around and food quality, makes up for it in cheapness. This meant Kylie, Johnny, Jessica, and I had money left over for dessert at In The Pink. I employed my strategic phrase: "When business is slow, and you can make any heaping, sloppy ice cream cone you want, what flavors do you use?" The girl working, though pretty, didn't have much of an answer and certainly didn't offer me something for free as I'd hoped. Nevertheless, their Hokey Pokey flavor is the best, and Kylie and I joked that we'd get "In The Pink's three-scoop breakfast special" in the morning.
     For nighttime festivities, we wacky international kids (and Luke, the token Australian) drank lots, danced, and star-gazed. Jeff, a Wisonsinite with a stubby, bulbous face and badly-grown moustache, drank the most. In our hostel room, he had to put up with red-haired Rachel's complaining:
     "There's too much light in the room! ... Jeff, you'd better not throw up! ... I'm cold! ... I don't think you should drink anymore!"
     Jeff said drunkily, "Rachel, you're too paranoid. You worry like you're a mom." Rachel grew upset.
     "I brought my mom with me on exchange!" *
     Rachel's face became redder than her hair. Kyle and I nearly fell out of our beds, we laughed so hard.
     When we were ready to sleep, Jeff asked Rachel, "Say, can you turn out the lights ... Mom?"

Saturday was more of the same, with Jeff referring to "Momma-Rachel" all day long, which never ceased to crack me up. Snorkelling on the rocky edge of the lighthouse-decorated Cape Byron, I came upon a green turtle. Sadly (for me, not it), the tough current made catching him impossible.
     We hit up the normal hot-spots: Bay Kebabs (mmm!), In The Pink (mmm!), and Papa Bear's (cheap!). I got my free kebab. The Bay Kebabs lady even cheated and let me have some meat in it, when she must've seen me eyeing the chicken hungrily.
     What had we learned from the first two days of the weekend? Well, a good line that sometimes works for getting free stuff. We also learned that sometimes it's for the best to worry. Because, on Saturday, Jeff forgot to wear his sun-tan lotion, took surfing lessons, and watched his face swell up like a tomato. It just goes to show that maybe we'd all be better off if our moms could come with us on exchange. Jeff should've been glad he had Rachel warning him not to get sunburnt or drink or dance or have any fun.

- Justin

* - funniest thing I've ever heard!

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