Excerpt from the Journal of Olds – Day 196-198 – Australia – Cairns

We rolled into Cairns after leaping on an airport shuttle and found Gilly at the hostel that we pre-booked a four-person private room in. Within minutes we’d dropped all our gear off and marched out to meet Rob. One of the selling points for the hostel we’d chosen was the free evening meals it offered in partnership with a variety of evening haunts around Cairns. This evening it was at Gilligan’s, the biggest backpacker place I’ve ever seen and one of the main nightspots in Cairns. We wandered in to see a queue a mile long for the free meal and as Rob & Gilly had already had theirs and we’d thrown down the plane food we decided to give it a miss. However, that didn’t mean we’d have to forgo a beer…

Second round in and I wander to the bar – “Two pints of lager and a pint and half of cider please”. A look of bewilderment on the barmaid’s face. After a couple more goes I’d managed to determine that the half didn’t exist, at least in this part of Aus anyway, and ended up with 4 pints. What I should have asked for was a ‘Schooner’ which I’ve since found is a three-quarter pint and seems like an entirely unnecessary measure to go along with a whole host of others including schmiddy’s, seven’s and handles.

The whole place was crammed to the rafters with sailors in dress uniform evidently on shore leave and seeking nothing more than a chance to get smashed and hook-up. There and indeed our, evening’s entertainment was to be a ladies jelly-wrestling competition. Believe me when I say this is not as good as it sounds. While the crowd did their level best to make it a spectacle it quickly deteriorated into more of a jelly MMA event with more brutality than anything else. It wasn’t long before we’d all tired of it and set off back to drink wine and watch a bit of comedy in our bunks.

The next day was ANZAC day (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps) which helped explain the presence of the navy the night before. It also meant the whole town was even more quiet than normal. For somewhere I’d heard of long before reaching Australia Cairns was a pretty small town – at least it certainly felt that way. It lacks any high rise and what it there feels very spread out. I went out for a wander around the local hostel notice boards on the off-chance that anyone was parting with a guitar. Since before we departed I’d been committed to acquiring a six-string in Cairns in the vain hope that I’d have the time & strength of mind to finally learn the basics. To date as I write this, three months after my time in Cairns, my progress has been disappointing to say the least. It’s still with me despite the logistics and additional bulk – perhaps some miracle awaits me in South America.

Back in Cairns my search proved fruitless leaving me no choice but a visit to a music store the next day. The rest of ANZAC day was a pretty sleepy affair but in the evening we’d lined up free pizza via another hostel tie-in. Like good little boys and girls we rendezvoused in front of the hostel at the agreed time and followed all to the woolshed wherein we did what every sane and well-to-do lady or gent would do.

We got drunk.

By the time the pizza arrived the fractions we could get our hands on were inhaled instantly before our attention turned to international goldfish racing. They really understand entertainment in this part of the world. I think team USA took home the gold and before long we were dancing on the tables and partaking sparingly in the odd beer – no, let’s be honest; smashing back foolishly as much beer as we could.

Furrowed of brow and sore of head I was out the next day early and by the time we all reconvened at the hostel I had a new nylon string guitar, Fi had a haircut and Rob & Gilly had viewed an aboriginal art gallery. We taxied over to pick up a pair of Hippie Camper vans form the local Apollo depot. I feel I should stop here to relay a very important piece of advice in no uncertain terms.

Never, ever, under any circumstances, hire anything from Apollo or one of its subsidiary brands.

Over the coming weeks this would become increasingly apparent to all of us but even on day one we were already wondering what we’d gotten ourselves into. The signup process was a horror show of hard sell on the liability limitation payments (we’d already arranged separate cover), a shock that they kept all surcharges on card payments (Britz refunded the surcharges when they refunded the bonds after our previous two rentals), and the general arrogant nonchalance of the clerk taking us through the process.

By the time we were looking at the vans we were starting to look at each other with a shared understanding that we were about to be stuck in uncomfortable death traps for a month. By the way – we’d decided on two vans for flexibility more than anything else though I wouldn’t wish a month cooped up in a van with me on anyone – sorry Fi. Besides, I’m fairly confident Gilly would have assassinated me somewhere along the way – she’s not one for nonsense.

We rolled off the forecourt resigned to our fate with Fi & I having already tried unsuccessfully to upgrade to a newer van. That said, we put it behind us and set about stocking up for our journey. We’d decided to head north first to both visit Tom & Erin and to see what Daintree & Cape Tribulation had to offer. Off we went.