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Brian’s Travel Diary

Tuesday, 07 Feb 2006

Location: Surf Fest, Australia

MapThe following events took place from 3rd through the 5th of February while attending Waves Surf School. Nothing has been embellished.

We were speeding home on a dirt and gravel road in a somewhat aged Toyota Cruiser twenty passenger bus, where the driver appeared to be aiming for every available pothole and dip in the road. For the instructors the work day was over and there was beer to be drunk. We were on the way home from surfing all day Saturday and we had to drop off Jayne, the Welsh photographer and girlfriend of Harley, a surf instructor. As we came to a stop, a neighbor of Jayne’s informed us that the back utility trailer containing all of the surfboards was unlocked and the door was wildly swinging open as we pulled in. Harley, our lead entertainment specialist as well as our surf instructor, calmly walked back to the trailer locked it up and came back to the driver’s seat. We continue on to the local beer, wine, grocery, gas and bait store. All 18 of us surf students chipped in for beer and wine so Leigh could make a form of sangria (sangria in the loosest of terms possible). So we complete our beer and wine run at which point Leigh, the lead surf instructor, informs us we need to make a small 30 minute detour back to the beach. On the way home the trailer wasn’t quite as “locked” as it should have been and we were leaving a trail of surfboards from the beach all the way back to the highway. At this point it was quite obvious Harley knew the boards had fallen out upon his inspection YET we still went to the beer store first as if this were standard operating procedure. You gotta love Aussie priorities – go pick up several thousand dollars worth of surfboards or make sure you have enough alcohol to get drunk that night. The answer is obvious.

There were no boards on the gravel road back to the beach. The boards that fell out where the instructors’ personal boards and not the easily replaceable foam boards the rookies were using. Lucky for our new found friends, a kind elderly couple picked up their boards and took them to a local store where we picked them up. All is well as if it never happened. Not even frown of concern ever crossed their faces.

I planned the surfing trip less than a week before to go to Seal Rocks, a National Park and surfing haven. Our trip was sponsored and fully endorsed by the University and its entire purpose was to teach me how to surf and give Jim a refresher course. Jim and I had to meet the bus at 9:30pm Friday night, which was coming up from Sydney already full of passengers. We were the only two not being picked up in Sydney. Lucky for us the Uni was also sponsoring a drinkall_ucan party from 7:30 to 10:30. We were lucky enough to be good and buzzed by the time we left for the train station.

Getting on the train was easy enough. However, getting to our destination was a different story. Jim and I were noting how old the train was when we got on. I said “it has character.” We made it two stops before we were kicked off because the train broke down. Jim asked “what do you think of its character now?” I shrugged and stepped off the train wondering how we were going to get to our destination. Lucky for us the cab system in Newcastle is extraordinarily fast and we hailed one down within 50 feet of the station. Once we got in the cab we addressed our new problem. The weekend was to be fully paid for, so we had no cash. One ATM stop along the way and that was solved. We pay the cabby and we are at the meeting point on time. It’s the middle of nowhere on the side of a 4-lane highway. It would not be our last time standing along the highway this weekend. The train station is there but there is not a soul around. Since we were a few minutes early I go over to check out the train station and Jim is standing on the walk way that leads over the tracks. I’m checking return times for the trip home when I hear a low rumble. As I turn to look down the tracks the wind from this train, which might as well have been the pressure wave from a Supersonic jet, smacks me right in the face. At about the same time Jim is directly above the train and gets hit with the same wave plus a cloud of diesel exhaust. A startled Jim and his hair leap in the air as this diesel coal train moves past at about 90kph. It seems a lot faster than that when you are standing only 5 feet from several hundred tons of steel and coal.

After that we kept a close eye out for trains. The rest of the wait was pretty uneventful except for the thought in the back of my mind that this guy wasn’t going to show considering he was already 25 minutes late and of course, we were provided with no contact information.

Finally, the “fun bus” arrived with utility trailer in tow. Out of the front door pops every stereo type you ever had about an Aussie surfer. Harley, our new chauffer for the evening, honored us by actually putting a t-shirt on. Apparently wearing anything more than just board shorts or jeans is a formal affair for Harley and the people that were picked up in Sydney were greeted with bare chest and bare feet. Harley’s favorite words are “sweet” and “lush.” So far everything is just as I thought it would be, hack and slack assed. Into the trailer go our bags and we are off. The fun busy is a 20 passenger van, with no AC, FILLED to the brim with drunken people from all corners of the world. Oddly enough I didn’t pack any beer, but because of my pre-game warm-up and kindness from a good lady from England the buzz was sustained on some “premium” Aussie beer.

On the bus I met people from Japan – Taka and Kata, Argentina – Ariel and Gabriel, England – Naomi, Joe (the fine woman who offered me her last beer) and Mark, the Swiss Girls – Johanna (actually german), Jasmine, Monica, Nadja, an Aussie named Paul, Carlo from New Guinea, Diego the Spaniard and two Indian girls Janelle and Sabet. Diverse enough for you?

Very quickly the conversation went from futbol to which country practices circumcision. None of these groups of people knew each other prior to getting on the bus together.

Once off the highway we meandered on and off dirt and gravel roads, crossed small streams over short bridges and seemed to be driving more on instinct than on any mapped road. We arrived at what used to be a resort smack in between several National Parks. Complete with a salt water pool, no fresh water, overgrown and nothing you would normally want at a hotel type atmosphere. It was quite obvious the surf school purchased the run down resort on the cheap and had no genuine intention of getting it back to what I’m sure was a very nice resort in its day.

We had co-ed bunking. In my room were the 4 Swiss ladies, Taka and Jim. No individual rooms, but more like a bunk house straight out of the basic training scene of Full Metal Jacket. Due to some “ah-knee-males” (animals), as the Swiss girls pronounced it, I switched with Jasmine to the top bunk right next to the window which was more than amiable to let in sounds from the sump pump every 30 seconds. The ah-knee-males were cockroaches.

Before going to bed in the roach and noise infested bed everyone was enjoying the chlorinated salt water pool, later some would enjoy it more than others. Out of boredom and curiosity to see if anyone would actually play, I taught everyone how to play sharks and minnows. It’s kind of like half playing charades when trying to explain the rules to 7 different countries. It was goofy but everybody had a good time with it.

Breakfast was at 7:30 in the morning on Saturday. This is the first time I was really regretting being lazy in December when I chose to blow off getting the hepatitis A shot. Remember, no fresh water. How things got “clean,” like eating utensils and plates was interesting - one salt water tub next to a second, slightly cleaner, salt water tub and a drying rack. The salt water was pumped out of the ground (Aussie has very little fresh water underground). One scrub brush and no soap was apparently all we needed. By the time I had to clean my bowl, which was filled with the Aussie version of cocoa Krispies, the first tub was filled with floaters of cereal and other breakfast remnants. Who needs soap anyway, it’s a just a consumer marketing ploy like Hallmark Holidays.

Our instructors for surfing were Leigh, Harley and Dylan. Dylan had the nickname Demo for formerly being a demolitions expert. This guy looked exactly like Brody from Point Break a.k.a. Patrick Swazy in that bad Keanu Reeves movie. In fact, I would not have been surprised to hear that these guys robbed banks as the ex-presidents during the week.

After we surfed all day (and picked up the surfboards off of the highway) and got home the party began. Aussie surf school sangria consist mostly of Franzia or the Aussies knock off there of, as if any alcohol consumer really needs to be drinking anything that aspires to be as good as Franzia. I felt right at home playing “cups” and “quarters” as well as playing tutor for the Japanese guys who had no idea what was going on. Jim and I both did our share in picking up the drinking slack of those who couldn’t finish a full cup of beer or sangria as well.

After the party calmed down a little we were inundated with English humor from Mark and his colorful story telling ability. I can’t due justice to how hard he made us all laugh in text, so I’m not even going to try.

Then it got weird. Most people were asleep by this point and a certain 80’s hair band sing-along song came on. Singing Living On A Prayer with people who can barely speak English, at the top of their lungs was a weird moment for me. Ah the international language of Bon Jovi. Take my hand…we’ll make it I swear.

Dylan and I went back to the cooler to get more beer. On our way there it was apparent that our Bon Jovi singing turned out to be a serenade for the two couples having relations in the saltwater pool. Is that even healthy? It would appear that the two English birds went local. I’ve heard of synchronized swimming but synchronized……right, moving on!

When we were pulling beers out of the cooler Leigh, the head instructor, came over to Dylan and me to tell us that someone had stolen a fun bus and rolled it off the bridge. They only had two busses. Now, the bridge is only 2 feet high, but some drunken idiot made off with the keys and killed a fun bus! It’s about 2am Sunday at this point. We are getting up to go surfing in 5 ½ hours.

Then tragedy struck. Dylan dropped a liter bottle of Victoria Bitter. It’s not really a tragedy if you have ever had VB, but it’s better than VD. Mark, the English guy, tried to explain the word “tragedy” to Kata, the Japanese guy. In about the time it took for Dylan to pick up all his glass Kata learned what a tragedy was. As Dylan turned to throw the glass away in his drunk state, he tripped and dropped the glass all over the ground again. In harmony, Mark and Kata, in their extraordinary English and Japanese accents, blurted out “that’s a f***ing tragedy.” You really have to hear Kata say it to appreciate that but it was quite humorous.

As odd as all that was, nothing was more surreal than Jim throwing out a beat box backed up by Dylan, while Janelle, the Indian girl, threw down some free style rap. And as if that wasn’t taking me out of my element enough they celebrated their vocal accomplishments with two rounds of circle-high-fives. Off to bed!

Sunday morning breakfast? None other than Cocoa Krispies and Spaghetti. No hog. Why shouldn’t it get weirder as the days go on? As I finished my bowl of hot spaghetti at 7:30 in the morning we loaded onto the only bus left and drove past the stolen bus – the one rolled into the stream. Whoever did it got away without a scratch and fled the scene. No one knows who did it.

After surfing all day Sunday our weekend was just about over. We were heading home. On the 1 hr ride home, or at least that was all it was supposed to be, we blew out a tire, not 15 clicks from out destination. Blew is probably a pretty substantial understatement. The tire managed to bend off part of the body of the bus so that it was rubbing against second wheel of the dual wheel rear. Maybe by plan or just a lot of luck a charter bus arrived behind us and was prepared to take us the rest of the way to Sydney… well not “us” though, as we were destined for Newcastle. As the rest of our party was from Sydney, they got on the air conditioned, cushioned seat charter bus and headed south leaving Jayne, Harley, Jim and myself semi- stranded on the side of the road with 5 good tires out of 6 and hey, that ain’t bad. Harley started to have at the wheel well with a steel pipe; tools are a luxury only the prepared possess in Australia. On the shoulder of the highway, only feet from speeding cars and trucks, Harley whacked and whacked at the wheel well. As the battle between Harley, a man who can only be subdued by a calm shore line, and the fun bus’ wheel well wore on there could be only one victor. Blood started to run from Harley’s arm down onto his stomach – shirtless stomach. I told him he was bleeding. He grunted one single word as he prepared to take one more vicious swing at the wheel well – “sweet”. Soon it was all over, with the wheel well subdued and a bloody Harley with steel pipe in hand, and we charged on to our destination at 50kmh with hazards blinking and leftover tire bits flapping in the now beaten wheel well. We had to walk the last 100 meters to the train station. The fun bus couldn’t make it any further. One weekend and two fun buses down. The train home arrived on time and it was honestly the first time that I was surprised all weekend.

Oh, and by the way surfing was awesome.