I have now been in this city for nearly a month. Given there are plenty of things to do here like enjoy a good meal for a cheap price, dance on a table, catch king salmon in the estuary next to the crocks, and of course scuba dive some of the more breath taking reefs that this world has to offer. I can still say that I’ve been here for an absurd amount of time.
To think that I have been here for nearly a month, when I am taking 13 months to see an approximate 40 countries is insane. To think that one town, not even country, is claiming so large a portion of my time is obtroquious (look it up) ((it doesn’t exist)) (((I think I love it)))
Just as I’ve been whittled down to a sorry nub, I get a new roommate in my hostel. Just as I am convinced that Australia is nothing more than a strip of spring breakers stretching the length of the eastern sea board, I meet someone drastically different.
Ok, if you don’t believe that I’ve been here too long, please consider this one crucial piece of information: I actually know where I am going in Cairns. That’s right; I don’t get lost when walking the streets here. Anyone who knows my sense of direction, knows that that is simply frightening.
But first I think this is as good a time as ever to coin a new type of backpacker. I would like to announce to the world (my 15 daily readers) The Beer Packer. These are individuals who are better off at home drinking themselves into a daze at their local bars. Don’t get me wrong, drinking is an important social lubricant and has its place in EVERY country, but when this is all you know how to (and have ambition to) do, it becomes a laughable stereotype to place people into.
Here is the definition of a beer packer: when someone asks you how a certain country was, you refer to the price of a beer (or other alcoholic beverage) being directly tied to how good or bad, interesting or fun the country was.
“Hey Tom, I heard you just came from India, How was it?”
“Awwww it was great, absolutely amazing! The beers there were less than a dollar each”
Also for consideration:
“Hey Tom, how was Singapore? I’m thinking of going there”
“Oh I’d skip it if I were you. The beers there were like over 12 bucks a piece.”
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard great and interesting people still use this to gage a country (they drink too), but I am going to refer to the folks to paid $3,000 to fly across the world for a cheap beer, beer packers from now on and it doesn’t have a positive connotation.
Is that all you know how to do? Is that seriously the reason you go traveling? Is it any better that a large part of why I travel is to eat the local food? I would argue yes. Because I can discriminate between a good plate of food and a bad one; my goal isn’t to just get as full as I can so that I have enough confidence to walk across the room and exchange fluids with some other bloated coed who will claim she doesn’t remember anything after that last round of spring rolls that night.
I never hear a beer packer even comment about the quality or taste of the beer in the country, just the price and the availability of it. And believe me I even do some poking and prodding to see if they have experienced anything culturally significant in the country in question.
How old am I anyways? I’m acting like some wicked old haggard hag who is simply judging the world because she has nothing better to do.
BING BING BING !!!
That brings me to my next subject, My 25th birthday a few days ago!!
This one was a real doozy. In true spring break fashion, with the clock stroke of midnight a wet t-shirt contest commenced. Happy Birthday ME J unfortunately though, I was the only one sober enough in the room to get the dead feeling in the pit of my stomach from the grotesque display of self degradation. But I’ve got a sick enough sense of humor, run with it J
While half the other 25 year olds were worrying about being half way to not being able to use “Hey, I’m in my 20s” as an excuse for just about anything and the other half of them were worrying about what they have done with their lives as of yet, I was cheering for girl number two from Canada to win the $50 bar tab prize package (that believe me, she did not need at the moment). What a surreal feeling, so far away from home and in the middle of an event that would certainly make me depressed had it been at home, but warmed by the fact that I was merely in a moment of something much more big and deliberate. I had 38 more countries to see. I wasn’t just going back home when I ran out of drinking funds.
To make it even better, I was with a good friend from home; my favorite roommate in college. My friend and roommate in San Diego, Pat, had made his way up to Cairns for his “spring break” while studying in Sydney for a semester as part of a bigger Masters in Business Administration at San Diego State. The Backpacker’s dilemma had been put on hold for my birthday. I was dancing up a storm with some familiar and much appreciated faces. This marked the official end to the 15 some odd year line of cursed birthdays.
I could use inside jokes and local references that I haven’t really been able to tap into since I had been in Sydney (with Pat). In addition to this, he had a friend from his home town visiting as well. This made a group of three people who completely understood each other’s humor and cultural references. There were also a number of others from Pat’s group of Sydney friends.
Earlier that day we went fishing in the estuary (the place where the salt water meets the fresh water for everyone who doesn’t remember 4th grade science class). We paid $85 Aussie to fish for 4 hours with a funny middle aged man. I used to go deep sea fishing with my mom and sometimes Aunt Pezzz (favorite Aunt because she reads my blog EVERY DAY!!) about a million years ago. It only took a few seconds for the fish to start biting our prawns that we used as bait. In fact, we caught so many “Jew Fish” (I know, Dan Redman, I’m just as appalled in the name as you) that I thought the name of the sport was “feeding”.
Dave (Pat’s good friend from home who had come out to visit) had a propensity to ignore his reel. He would get a bite and the fish was gone long before he had put down his beer to set the hook into the fish’s mouth. It was very funny to see how little involvement he committed to the sport (much like watching me play a game of flag football). And of course, in true fishing fashion, fate would have it that Dave caught a 3.5 foot king salmon. As Dave was holding the fish up to the camera for pictures, the fish would kick him in the face repeatedly (as he held it horizontally). This provided a mini laugh compared to the one I got when Dave had to walk through the streets of Cairns with a large tail hanging out of a plastic bag. People looked at us like we were criminals. They scorned and scowled and sent laser beams our way was we walked down the street with probably the first fish anyone had ever seen in a long time in Cairns (besides the ones off of the reef). Maybe that was the problem; maybe they though we illegally poached this fish off of the protected reefs. People were pulling their cars to the side of the road and practically honking to make sure we saw their look of utter disgust and disapproval.
We somehow managed to make it back to the hostel with the fish packed in ice. I volunteered to filet the fish and Pat jokingly (but probably also seriously) poked fun at the chances that I would actually know what I was doing. More than Fair enough, I am after all, not the type of guy who knows how to put things together, take them apart, or god forbid make anything. One of my most famous lines as a child is, “These hands don’t do or make.”
But somehow, in a character breaking gesture, I managed to get all the meat off that fucking fish in close to record civilian precision. It was a fun birthday indeed. One day later, in true backpacker fashion, my friends from home were gone and I was faced with the question of what to do for the next few days till I would fly to Sydney and then shortly after to Thailand.
I walked into my 4 man dorm room that had been reborn; a common occurrence. Often the people in your room are completely different if you stay there for more than just a day or two. But this time it was different, it wasn’t full of 18 year old beer packers, it had a 36 year old man named Juan from Colombia.
Just as I thought my cultural interaction had hit an all time low, Juan pops up. To sum it up in a statement: We were equally as intrigued and eager to learn about each other’s culture and see each other’s countries. Colombia was my wild card; my ace in the pocket. It was the place in my travels that has the biggest misconceptions about it. It is a more misunderstood and misrepresented than any of the others on my list. I was elated to get to speak with someone from this place and he felt the same to speak to someone from the country that all of his favorite movies are from.
Juan is traveling for the first time outside of South America in his life at the age of 36. The reason is simply because of how hard it is to save up enough money in his country. He has worked for American companies in the past including Hilton and Coke and came out to Western Australia to learn English at university. When I told him that Colombia is my most anticipated country to visit in my travels, his eyes lit up. This was a supreme compliment to hear. It was like finding out that superman wears Alex pajamas when he goes to sleep (think about it).
And so the cultural exchange began. We sat in our hostel room for 4 hours just chatting away about the different things in our countries and how we have been adjusting to Australia. We both agreed that the work ethic was severely lacking in Australia. He was so excited to hear about my travel plans around the world and said that that is his dream as well. He made sure and listed all of the places to visit and things to do in Colombia and of course, in true Latin fashion, offered to show me around when I arrived in Bogotá (in 9 months).
Fun fact; did you know that Juan has Colombian car insurance that includes a policy where a representative from the insurance company will drive him home if he has had too much to drink? What a novel approach to keeping costs down? And a handy little byproduct is less drunk drivers on the road and less deaths. I wonder if it could work in America. Maybe if you were insuring a car that was worth over $30K. Or what if the life insurance companies got involved in the matter? What if they decided that paying out $250K + term life insurance warrants such preventative measures?
“In Colombia, people actually follow designated driving suggestions from the government” Juan said. Well whole flip shit fuck, imagine that, a world with safe roads. Is it possible in a place that is as big as America? Maybe in small towns as a start.
The beauty in a Latino who barely knows English is their fearless use of words like “Beautiful” and phrases like “This is my dream”. I don’t quite know whether it is a function of shallow vocabulary or deep ambition. This blotch of ambiguity is what makes multicultural interaction so damned rich.