“Good morning!” Someone near screamed, as I made my way to the corner store to buy food for the day. Boxie-boo stayed back at the hostel doing laundry, making sure we had clean clothes for our planned visit to Magnetic Island. She always seemed very content after having fresh laundry. This could only mean one thing: When she put a load into the dryer, then she had to twist every dial to correct setting. If it was me, I would have felt like a Space Captain.
Unaware of where the shout came from, I spun in a circle and searched the empty streets for a matching face, at which point, an Aboriginal walked across the street towards me. He had no shirt on and carried a dirty and stained rucksack, which I presumed was full of trinkets he was eager to sell to tourists.
“Good morning,” I said, no longer spinning, mind you, continuing my pace. He began to match my speed, step for step, even when I slowed down slightly and then deliberately speed up. It was just the two of us, not another soul or car in sight. I kept up my pace, though I sensed he wanted me to stop.
“Where are you from?” I knew my accent had given me away.
He explained he was Aboriginal and then randomly started naming major Canadian cities to impress me, a tactic I later heard on every continent. He told me he loved watching winter sports and how much he loved Canadians.
“That’s great!” I said, increasing my pace with the subtly of a toddler chasing a bouncing ball. It was a balanced pace, the type where you want to seem busy, but not panicked; on route to somewhere on schedule, but not about to pee your pants.
He eventually speed up faster than me, then turned, lowering his rucksack and blocking a majority of the sidewalk. As I continued my pace, he began walking backwards, facing me. His face was droopy and his hair dropped around shoulder length, with broad shoulders and a strong build.
“Hookey is a great game,” he said, pausing, almost questioning his own pronunciation. “Hookey,” he said again, as if it made more sense a second time. He began to open his rucksack.
“Good chatting with you, but I got to get to the store,” I said, before offering a completely unnecessary, “I need bananas.” He ignored my banana comment.
“I have a boomerang.”
If was ever to create a list of statements I do not want to hear from shirtless-strangers-who-randomly-follow-me-with-dirty-bags, telling me that they have an ancient tribal weapon would be one of them. It was about as worrisome than “I have an invisible friend,” but not quite as bad as “I have an erection.” I decided he was harmless and just wanted to show me his trinkets, but said my goodbye and turned into the store, leaving later out a different exit to avoid rejecting his sales.
As always, I loved when the cashier in the store asked me if that’s everything. I was tempted to say, “Oh no, I’d also like all this invisible shit.” I was also sure to buy more than just one cucumber, as sometimes, buying just cucumber can be awkward, especially when I panic and say, “It’s not what you think, I’m making a salad.” This was my first experience grocery shopping since on the trip and I was glad it went much more smoothly than it did back home. The last time, I had 16 items in the 12 items or less line up and began freaking out. Thankfully, this was in Canada, where people are about a 1000 times more likely to apologize to a stranger than to confront them.
After all, I had to be in and out quickly and had no time for small talk about cucumbers. I did have a busy day ahead of me for an unemployed backpacker – shopping for our island trip, preparing our clothes, reserving our stay and diving course, and also, getting a proper dive medical done.
With our laundry in the dryer, Boxie-boo and I made our way together into Townsville. Our first stop was the Great Barrier Reef Dive, Cruise and Travel Centre. In Sydney and before I left Canada, I had compared dive prices online and one of the cheapest places to learn to dive in Australia was Magnetic Island. We were told to get a medical test first before reserving our dive course.
The checkup included a long questionnaire and a lung, heart, hearing and eyesight test. As well, nothing suits a morning better than taking a wee wee in a small plastic cup. Turns out I have great urine. But you already knew that. I love that about you. The Northtown Medical Centre charged us $66 Australia each. Believe it or not, this is the cheapest dive checkup in town.
Boxie-boo was nervous she might fail the hearing and sight test, as was I. She has had many ear infections and sometimes she could not hear me, or at least she made me think she could not hear me. It turned out her hearing is selective, and I suppose, and functions somewhat normally when she wants it to. If you say “Ice cream” it works 100 per cent. If you say something like “We gotta clean, pack, watch our budget” it works 10 per cent.
After spending some time with the nurses over various tests, we spent approximately one minute with the doctor each. I wrote on my medical form that I had claustrophobia, but he never asked me about it. Boxie-boo mentioned her ear problems and she was also never asked about them. He spent maybe five seconds checking my lungs, another five looking in my ears and five more checking out my throat. That was it.
Looking back, if I could have seen our future, there is one thing I wished I would have said before leaving: “It’s a pleasure to do business with you. I look forward to screaming at your customer service representatives in a couple days.”
We later found out from our scuba instructors and other tourists that their doctors made them “equalize” in the office during the dive examination, while their ears are being checked. Equalizing refers to squeezing your nose, for example, and popping your ears like people do after getting off a plane. The ability to equalize is extremely important for scuba diving as it is a necessity when you dive deeper and the water pressure increases.
Confident we could dive, we paid $339 Australian each for four nights’ budget accommodation and four days of Open Water Scuba Diving training – well over our budget, but I knew I would make up for the cost when we reached cheaper countries. We received a combined deal with Base Backpackers Hostel and Reef Safari Diving. This was the best deal we had seen in Australia. In my opinion, there are few places that compare to the Great Barrier Reef when it comes to scuba diving - and what a place to learn.
After our examination, we had to walk a few kilometres with our bags to board the ferry.
I left Canada with my bag three-quarters full, including carrying more of the shared supplies, like medicine and sun tan lotion, etc. At this point, less than a month away, my bag was near full to the brim. The reason - Boxie-boo over packed and did not have room in her bag for the clothes she wore on the plane to L.A., like her winter jacket. Alot of her clothes were slowly entering my larger bag. We were supposed to also have one carry-on bag, which actually attached to her backpack as a removable day pack, but she used her’s to make room for more clothes. This meant buying another backpacker and myself carrying three bags.
Carrying our bags left us exhausted, drenched in sweat, shoulder numbs and our elbows looking great. It was 35 Degrees Celsius. The wind took the day off. It must have been part of a union. There we were, our feet pounding the concrete as we strode into the unknown, with bananas and granola bars, and nothing but a dream to dive. To keep myself from getting grumpy, I lifted the butt of my bag, releasing the presses from my shoulders momentarily. I took in a small breath, a minuscule one, a breath-infant. Then kept moving.
I should have packed a jacket coated in ice. It was a strange feeling during this walk. I felt almost feverish, feeling off-kilter. I felt like a dead body trying to run. My energy was a whirlpool within me, spinning in circles in an effort to assist me, leaving me dizzy. I caveman thumped towards the ferry terminal, with enough weight on my body that had I been spraypainted grey, I might have seduced a Rhino.
So here’s a travel tip I will re-state: Pack light. Seriously. Every single pound makes a huge difference. Nobody wants to carry two bags or three in my case if you include the camera bag. Plus, on most of our walks, I did carry the two big bags, while Boxie-boo carried the carry-ons. On longer walks, Boxie-boo had to step up - and by step up, I mean hunch forward, the large bag pushing her little frame down the road with gravity.
Each day, I watched her become tougher from these experiences.
It cost us $58, including return ferry, for the both of us to catch the fast ferry to Magnetic Island. When we boarded public transit towards Nelly Bay and Base Backpackers, we almost felt like we had returned to Fiji. Magnetic Island was very laid back and easygoing. The rocky concrete road and occasional shack-like home almost made it appear like you’ve left Australia for a second world nation. It was a beautiful place, neighborly, the sort of small town I imagine many Australians would love to retire to. Being only 20 minutes from a major city, it offered the simple life and the city at its doorstep.
After dropping our bags off in an upside-down v-shaped hostel and collapsing on the floor momentarily, we checked in with Reef Safari. We needed to hit the books immediately and were assigned homework. I never thought I would be doing homework while backpacking.
It was hard in the heat to study pages that were soaking up the sweat from our wrists. But we focused, only breaking to make dinner in the crowded cook shack.
That’s all for now.
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