Week 7 | Day 46 – Wednesday 13th November 2013 My alarm sounds again, this time not quite so early due to our close proximity to The Tip. Although it’s still dark, a distinctive lack of stars in the sky tells me it is once again overcast. Hope of a sunrise over The Tip fades as I nestle into the swag and fall back to sleep. Not wanting to waste the morning Rah and I rise as soon as it is light enough to see where we’re walking, and head west along the empty beach toward a rocky point in the di ...
Week 7 | Day 45 – Tuesday 12th November 2013 For the first time in as long as I can recall my alarm sounds; initially soft though working its way up to a volume unpleasant enough to wake me from my precious sleep. I look at the time and realise it’s an ungodly 3:00am. I’d hazard a guess to say I’m the only living thing awake at this moment in time. As I transition from a state of dysfunction – drunk off sleep and unaware of my surroundings – to a state of semi-consciousness I remember that late ...
Week 7 | Day 44 – Monday 11th November 2013 That beautifully refreshing, soft patter of rain falling from the night sky as we slipped into bed early last night has transformed into what feels like the onset of the tropical wet season. Gusts of wind carry the rain horizontally in waves of noise and excitement; perhaps nature’s idea of a friendly reminder for us to keep moving so as to not get caught out when all hell inevitably breaks loose! There is no doubt about it, we are tempting fate trav ...
Week 7 | Day 43 – Sunday 10th November 2013 Sometimes words simply aren’t enough to convey certain emotions and our environment. For this reason, I’ve put together a little video of today’s adventure. There are no special effects and it’s very basic, though I hope you find something in there that wasn’t conveyed in The Old Telegraph Track: Palm Creek to Fruit Bat Falls. If nothing else, you can laugh at my supreme ability to spend more time falling off the motorbike than actually riding it! &n ...
Week 7 | Day 43 – Sunday 10th November 2013 It’s 5.30AM and nature’s alarm clock is rising up and over the horizon in a beautiful, warming array of soft pinks and yellows. With an uneasy sensation resonating throughout my tired and restless being, I decide it’s best to get up and utilise the early start on tackling today’s adventure: the Old Telegraph Track. I slip out of the swag and spend some quality time pacing the first challenge on foot whilst the others sleep for a while longer. I absor ...
I wake at 2am, then again at 4am, where I remain in a state of semi-consciousness for what feels like an eternity. I try my hardest to get back to sleep; listening to the ocean slowly but surely assume the position of high tide, and the sound of the nor’easter gently massaging the elongated leaves of the coconut trees. This state of semi-consciousness stays constant until the sun makes everything bright again. In fact, the only things that remain dark are the incredible bags under each of my tired, itchy eyes.
We remove our slow-cooked bodies from the oven that our black canvas swag has become in the mercy of the direct sunlight. Rah looks beautiful as ever and that isn’t in comparison to my current sad state the lack of sleep has left me in. She manages to look this way all the time; radiating with natural majesty from the moment she wakes until the moment she drifts off to sleep again.
Clean beauty – complete with soap hanging from the tree in the foreground.
As we rise it becomes apparent that we’re no longer alone. A white van has pulled up sometime between Rah and me falling asleep last night, and me waking up around 2am. Still, with no other human to be seen, Rah and I set off on foot; south along the fine sandy shore line. The sun is well and truly up and shining, and so we walk in the growing warmth until we reach a small river mouth. Suddenly we’re surrounded by people fishing, walking, and enjoying their morning. We turn and walk back, past a wrecked boat – presumably wrecked by the cyclonic weather often experienced along the coastlines in this area – until we return to the bike. Still, no one is awake, so we grab our towels and make our way north in search of a shower. We walk across a bridge, under which a creek meets the ocean, continuing on along the most eastern street in Machans Beach, where we eventually reach a public shower with ocean views.
As we walk along, Rah points out her favourite houses to our left – all of which open onto the beach across the narrow road – as well as the houses that have changed; all the while rattling off the names of the occupants (and usually what breed of dog they own). She was been a Machans Beach local for some time and made many friends during her time here. One thing that jumps out at me is the varying themes of the houses along the beachfront stretch. Everything from Mexican-style shacks to articulately symmetrical Japanese units; beach cottages to country-style homes; there seems to be something from every corner of the globe. Most houses we walked past were complete with their occupants enjoying breakfast with an ocean view – waving as we trotted on by.
After showering, we arrive back at camp and Brogs is finally up and about – as is the owner of the mysterious white van. I watch him for a while – looking somewhat frantic and pressured – as he walks from the front of the van to the back, many times over. He eventually wanders over, introducing himself in a thick Italian accent as Mario, and nervously asks for a hand with his van. He smells of stale cigarettes and beer – the poisons excreting from his body as it tries to recover from the night prior. His van has a flat battery, presumably after leaving a light on in the front of the van when he passed out in the back. Brogan to the rescue! I leave them to it, while Rah and I start packing up our gear for the day. It isn’t long before we hear the van splutter into life – settling to a nice, even, quiet idle.
As though we’d just saved his life, Mario is eternally grateful – offering us coffee in exchange for our help. Having just sent my percolator home only two days prior, I am already itching for a hit, and so I eagerly take him up on his offer. The moment I say yes he realises he has actually run out of coffee beans, so give him mine as I don’t have any use for them without a means to turn them into a steam hot cup of coffee. He fumbles around, searching for water, a pot and his cups – all the while looking flustered and stressed. He can hardly hold a conversation. His mind is too busy trying to do a million things at once, so I try my best to calm him. I help him find the water and put it on the boil, as he empties a couple of heaped tablespoons of coffee into his plunger.
Finally, with those miniscule tasks at bay, we get talking. He is from northern Italy. His accent gives it away, sounding more and more French as the conversation progresses. We discuss my southern Italian heritage, which inevitably flows on to fine foods, wines, and coffee. He offers me a cigarette, and when I declined he seems upset within. He looks at the ground and admits that he is addicted to smoking – at first seeming frustrated with himself – and then he shifts the blame on to the cigarette companies. We exchange our theories of links between those companies, the government, and the health industry. He mentions how uncommon it is for someone from his home country to not smoke – only realising this when he commenced his Australian journey. He tells me of where his travels have taken him, and how he met a beautiful Italian girl in Perth – inevitably throwing a spanner in the works and completely changing his travel plans. He’d originally come here with a plan; a plan to purchase a bike, not dissimilar to mine, to carry minimal gear as he explored Australia. Again, a look of disappointment is cast upon his face as he admits defeat, purchasing a van instead; spending the entirety of his travel funds and having to work the entire way around the southern coast of Australia simply to making enough money to continue their trip and modify their van as required (read: modify the van to such extremities so as to make it feel as though they hadn’t left the comfort of their home, much to his dismay, though not hers apparently).
He apologises for waking us up last night. It is at this point that I realise his girlfriend is nowhere to be seen. This, coupled with his eerily frantic presence, leads me to assume the worst. He explains that they’d been fighting since Sydney, and last night had decided that enough was enough. He says they had pulled in close to midnight, argued for two hours straight, and then came to the conclusion that it just wouldn’t work out. They drove back out around 2am, headed straight to the airport, and by sunrise he’d returned alone. Suddenly, it all makes perfect sense; his mood; his sweaty forehead and clouded mind; my 2am wake-up.
We pour a coffee each, and his shaking hands spill the sugar as he attempts to pile many teaspoons of the granulated goodness into his steaming cup. His nervous system seems to be in survival-mode. I watch as his ability to communicate shifts from one end of the spectrum to the other – as though the clouds scattered overhead have caught a draft and exposed a magnificent, panoramic blue sky. The caffeine has hit his bloodstream, and it enables him to compose himself somewhat. After a short silence, the conversation shifts as Mario, in a jovial tone, warns me of falling coconuts. He recounts a story on the matter, where someone was warning him about the dangerous coconuts, when one fell from the tree above and hit the ground between them. He seems lonely, and in need of a distraction, so I offer my number and to catch up sometime for a beer. The gesture comforts him, and he finally seems to be more relaxed by the time we’ve finished our coffee.
Rah I and pack up The DR, and as we are loading the last of the gear on and strapping it down, Mario comes over to thank us for the help, the coffee, and the conversation. We say out goodbyes and fire the thumper up – letting it warm somewhat before sheepishly navigating across the shallow sand and back onto solid ground.
We ride into Cairns, blasting through the roundabouts before settling into the mundane pace of the city traffic. Whilst we’re on this side of town, we swing by Rays Outdoors – on account of our terrible sleep last night – to test-drive some more capable mattresses. Eventually, we stumble upon a keeper. A passer-by looks on as Rah and I are spooning on a self-inflatable mattress in the middle the popular adventure outlet. Impressed by the level of comfort from such a compact unit, we make the purchase and then begin the task of attaching it to The DR. It’s nearing lunchtime, so once the bike is packed we drop into Woolworths and all agree that lunch needs to consist mostly of fresh ingredients. With that in mind, we get the shopping over with and make our way to the water’s edge once again. This time, we find a park along a one way street and set up for an afternoon of fresh food, writing, and relaxing in the shade – exactly what we all need!
Silence is cast upon as we all thoroughly enjoy the fresh food filling our bellies. Two sandwiches later, tiredness is cast upon us as our bodies work over-time to digest the goodness. As we sit here digesting, a wandering indigenous man passes by, swaying drunkenly to the beat of the bottle. He turns his head to face us, and as his body catches up he asks whether any of us have a cigarette. He’s missing all four front teeth – top and bottom – which ensures that ‘cigarette’ sounds like ‘shigarette’. He tells us he lives in Weipa, though his family are from Mapoon on the west coast of Cape York. He introduces himself as Junior Reid, though everyone just calls him Junior for short. He takes a liking to us, settling in and telling us a few stories – mostly of hunting pigs and geese (which are, to the indigenous in Junior’s community, what magpies are to us). He displays a mix of frustration and humour as he tells us of the ‘white fellas’ drop their guns, attempting to catch the ‘suckers’, while he just wants pump them with lead.
He asks us what it is that we just ate, and then describes a few of his favourite dishes; pigs’ blood over rice; fresh whole fish with lots of chilli and salt; geese over the fire. He then starts talking about this family up around Mapoon; his mother, Alma Day; his brother, Walter Day; and his two sisters. He tells us to ask for Walter Day if we make it up to Mapoon, and he’ll make us pig blood rice with fresh fish. He explains that he is here visiting his two sons, Alex & Chris, and smiles a huge toothless grin when I tell him my name is Alex, and dads is Chris. After what seems like an eternity plus some, he thanks us for the company, extends his hand, and then turns
We all assume our positions; Rah reading by the water’s edge; Brogs writing under the shade of a big tree; and I pick up my pen and journal to catch up on a few days of writing in the blazing mid-day sunshine.
A couple of hours of down-time has left us feeling revitalised, and as such the decision is made to head back out to Machans Beach. We pack our gear up and jump back onto the bikes, letting them idle up to temperature before joining the northbound traffic.
We pull into our temporary waterfront home – the sound of gunshots being fired as we back off the throttle – passing a group of Papa New Guineans who have obviously set up for an evening of good times. We sheepishly ride past them to get to our camp site, giving a quick nod of the head to say g’day. I count four burley men – one of which I recognise from earlier today as he set a fishing net in knee-high water out the front of our block, just around from the creek outlet. They’re extremely intimidating; large and loud from every angle.
We strip our riding gear off and begin to unpack the bikes to prepare for the evening. Just out of ear-shot, we find ourselves discussing who is going to go and break the ice. I stand with Brogs and Rah, looking over in an attempt to gauge their size and temperament. After a few short minutes of indecisiveness, I pull the last bag off The DR, drop it on the ground, and make my way over. They notice and all turn toward me, and I don’t leave their sights until I reach the semi-circle they’re standing in.
Emotionless, they stare at me as if I’m the enemy – and for a split second I feel like I am. My eyes are around sternum-height. I look up and break the silence, introducing myself and extending a hand. Just like that, it’s as though a switch is flicked! Their once expressionless gaze morphs and tenses as they burst into laughter, and next thing I know there is a beer flying through the air. The ice cold South Pacific Lager lands in my right hand. I crack it, spraying beer over ground in front of me as they introduce themselves. I try hard to catch their names through the sound of that first sip, and their fast, heavy accent. I can only imagine what Brogs and Rah must have though, witnessing the interaction from a distance.
We stand around chatting for a while about all the great things SP Lager has to offer; mainly the low cost price and high percentage of alcohol, though certainly not its flavour, or rather its lack-there-of. I appreciate the free beer, though, and while the evening begins to set-in it dawns on me that life on the road is exactly where I want to be. I love everything about it, and I haven’t felt this content in a long time; moving from beautiful place to beautiful place at my own free-will; meeting all these fresh faces; waking up each and every day and riding my motorbike down any road that takes my fancy! I feel free!
I finish the SP Lager, thank them for the cold beer and chat, and then head into town on foot with Rah in search of some fresh aloe vera to rub into her radiating sunburn. She planted some in the front yard of her old abode, and so we head in that direction with high hopes. Upon arriving out the front of Rah’s once-home, she is hit with a wave of sadness as she describes the flourishing garden that once surrounded the house – now renovated and garden-free. We continue hunting for aloe vera on the walk home, though it nets us no tangible results. Somewhat defeated, we swing by the general store to grab a few essentials for dinner and make our way back as the darkness of the night closes in.
After dinner, Rah and I head over to join Michael around the fire. He has been left to man the fort while the others drive into town to pick up another slab of SP Lager. Michael is noticeably older than the others; calmer; wiser; more focused. He speaks slowly (comparatively so, anyway) and with confidence – proudly telling us stories of his home country. He explains that he and his wife work locally in the community to help fellow Pupa New Guineans in need of direction and an education.
It isn’t long before the others return with beer. They must have been arguing about it in the car, because as they roll up with the windows down, the sound of three fully grown men carrying on like school boys about who is going to pull the net in bellows from the confines of the station wagon. The focus then shifts directly onto me, as they all agree I should risk life and limb pulling the net in! I try to see the humour in the situation at-hand, though the voices of a thousand people echo throughout my nervous mind – each voice recounting a story of someone who had fallen victim to one of the many dangers FNQ waters serve up on a regular basis.
Creeping in unnoticed, the night sky has thrown a thick blanket over the land, and with a sliver of moon high above us, the only provider of light is the dying bonfire and my dismal head torch. It is so dark that I cannot see the ground beneath my feet, let alone the fishing net that was set in broad daylight many hours ago.
Somehow, I weasel my way out of net-retrieval duties. The lads gather every hand-held light-emitting device they can get their hands on; including my head torch and Michael’s tiny-screened, ancient relic of a phone. Spending that little extra on a waterproof head torch just paid off, though Michael’s phone stands little chance of survival. Michael stays-put while the others prepare to head into the abyss that is the ocean in front of us. He jumps into the car, shifting it in an attempt to locate the net with the headlights on high-beam. After many minutes of slight adjustments, the net is still yet to show up in the beam of light shining out over the black water.
We all have a rough idea of where the net was set, though everyone’s fingers are pointing in different directions. The only thing left to do it wade through the murky water, with only a head torch and a mobile phone to light the way.
Brogan, Rah and I stand and stare in horror as the very real danger unfolds before us. I find myself holding my breath as they scale the rocks to the water’s edge – trying to feel their way down as it is simply too dark to see where the rocks meet the water.
The sand bank that previously stood between the rock wall and the water is now nowhere to be seen. The tide has since risen, which has thrown a spanner in the works. Not one single aspect of this search is working in their favour. The conditions are absolutely terrible, not just opening the door wide to a plethora of oceanic dangers to creep in and strike without warning, but knocking the damned thing right off its hinges and screaming to secure the attention of those you least want it from.
There are three boisterous, brutish brothers bellowing to each other, flashing lights into the once dark water, splashing around in the still of the night. It is simply too much for Rah and Brogs to digest. They retreat to bed in a bid to dodge the potential mayhem lurking around the corner. I stay up, partly because I can still see the tiny beam of light hovering above the water provided by my beloved head torch, though mainly because even if I go to bed, I would lay awake waiting for that blood-curdling scream to fill the night air. That, and in the off-chance all three men come back alive, I am interested in what they pull in with the net.
Finally, after no less than 15 minutes of searching for the missing net, one of the lads releases a yelp when his foot becomes entangled in it! As they drag it in they’re all joking about the catch, but it isn’t until they’re back in the shallows that they can empty the net to see what is for dinner – throwing up two common bream, the biggest barramundi I’ve set eyes upon, a mud crab, and last but not least, a small hammerhead shark. A SMALL SHARK! The only thing missing from the ocean buffet is a saltwater crocodile.
Once everyone has settled down a bit, I open my mouth to ask for my head torch back, but I’m interrupted as another argument erupts – this time in regards to where the net is to be re-set. I put two and two together and settled in for round two. I cannot believe they’re going back out there. As if once wasn’t enough!
They argue the entire way out there, until the dark water is up to their armpits, and just as it seems they’ve reached common ground there is a splash closely followed by silence and then hysterical laughter. Michael’s phone is gone – taken by the ocean and its unrelenting darkness; inevitable really. From solid ground, Michael sees nothing humorous and instead breaks away from his calm demeanour to reveal a furious wrath I can feel from ten metres away.
Realising that this situation can’t possibly get any worse, and that if someone is going to be taken by a crocodile it likely would have already happened by this stage, I kiss my head torch goodbye and crawl into the coffin swag to join Rah. The new thinner and wider mattress has opened up a whole new world of sleeping positions, though it soon becomes apparent that Rah has already discovered this, and as such I mimic the slender shape of a knitting needle, slipping down the side of the swag and nodding off to sleep.