While I sorted out the replacement passport and credit cards, I settled into a semi-comfortable existence at Noah’s Backpackers on Bondi Beach near Sydney. It was a fun place with lots of cool people and just a couple minutes walk to the ocean. The place was bursting with travelers from all over, but mostly Ireland. I met more Irish than Aussies in Bondi and learned some valuable bits of Celtic slang:
“What’s the craic?” = “How’s it going?”
“Your man” = “Some guy” or “That guy”
“Moik, ya cunt!” = “Mike, my friend, it is good to see you!”
I guess I wasn’t done with the cunts. At least they were friendly cunts.Irish backpackers are in such great numbers around Bondi that many of the locals have taken a dislike to them. Never in my lifetime did I expect to encounter “No Irish Need Apply” hiring practices, but I did in Bondi. Here’s a brief transcript of my interview for a bartending gig:
BAR MANAGER: So, Michael, where are you from?
ME: From the US, outside of Boston.
BAR MANAGER: And you’re backpacking around Australia?
ME: Yes, but I’m going to need to work for a while to finance more travel. It will take me some time to save up enough cash, so I’m looking for something full time.
BAR MANAGER: Well, let me be frank. I’ve had bad experiences with backpackers. I won’t hire Irish anymore because they’re so unreliable.
ME: Ah, well my name is Moran and I’m Irish-American.
KIWI BAR MANAGER: Well, you’re more American than you are Irish.
I was a bit stunned by those last couple lines of his and didn’t really have time to process them, so the interview continued. He ended up offering me a trial shift, which I didn’t show up for. I may never have been to Ireland, but for that guy to say that I’m “more American than Irish” took brass ones. To take that job would have been spitting on the graves of my ancestors. Instead, I embarked on a series of “labouring” jobs. These included holding up paintings and sculptures at art auctions, mixing cement, digging holes, and shoveling various materials. I also helped an old Iranian guy build a porch (“Why, OF COURSE I have construction experience!”). The cash slowly added up, and I escaped north to Airlie Beach.
Airlie was a nice, if not overly friendly town where people book boat trips out to the Great Barrier Reef. I signed up for a 3-day trip on the Pacific Star, and it was great. We left the marina at night and motored out to the Whitsundays, which are a gorgeous group of islands between the mainland and the reef. On our first morning, we did a quick hike to stunning Whitehaven Beach. It was a bit cloudy, but the beach was nonetheless gorgeous. I have never felt sand so soft. My feet sunk 2 inches with each step. I also spotted a stingray just offshore. Pretty damn cool.The next day, we made it out to the outer reef. And yes, it is amazing. We hooked onto a mooring and stayed there all day. The water was dazzlingly clear and innumerable fish swam all around the boat. I did three dives that day, where I saw all kinds of fish and coral. The coolest dive was the night dive. We jumped in the water just after sunset and stayed down for about half an hour. All we had to light our way around were some flashlights and a light from the boat. So spooky and cool! We spotted a sea turtle sleeping on the bottom and huge fish would drift in and out of sight. It was like a submerged haunted house, but with friendly ghosts. Awesome stuff. On our final day, we headed back to port with some quick snorkeling stops. We’d spot turtles and manta rays just off the boat and some humpbacks breaching in the distance. Getting back on dry land was a bummer!
There aren’t too many work or accommodation options in Airlie, so I took an overnight bus to Cairns (rhymes with “cans”) to do some job hunting. It’s a relatively small city that mostly exists as a gateway to the reef and the tropical north. I’ll most likely get a gig here or do some fruit picking, if it comes down to it (I hope it doesn’t!).By the way, the 4th of July totally sucks in Australia. Granted, there aren’t too many Americans in this part of the country, but in a city overflowing with backpackers you’d think at least one of the numerous bars in town would have some kind of Independence Day celebration. Some of the bars in Airlie had Canada Day parties a few days ago. No such luck for the Yanks. The closest I could find to an American party was a bunch of drunk college kids from Maryland running around the streets with sparklers. They were nice enough, but 5 minutes was all I could tolerate with a bunch of hammered 18-year olds. Instead, I did my patriotic duty and got a Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese McValue Meal®. A nice surprise came in the form of a Samuel Adams Boston Lager, which I found at a local bar. Those of you who know me know that I loves me some Sam. It had been nearly 2 years since I’ve tasted my favorite beer from home, and it went down nicely (but not cheaply - $8.90!!!!). God Bless America!Oh, yeah! Congrats to the Boston Celtics! Once again, my home team has won a championship and I am thousands of miles away and unable to watch! Not that I’ve ever been a big basketball fan, but it would have been nice to see. I have some very faint memories of their 1986 victory, mostly germinating from the giant Kevin McHale poster that adorned my childhood wall and charted my growth. That was kind of cruel, in retrospect. Why give a kid with insecurities about his height a life-sized poster of an NBA player complete with measuring marks along the side? There should have been a word bubble coming out of Kevin’s mouth reading “Little Michael, no matter how much milk you drink or how many jumping jacks you do, you will never be as tall as me. In fact, this poster will give you an exact figure as to how tall I am versus how short you are. Try gymnastics.” That would have better prepared me for the realities of life. Oh, well.