As you step into a travel agency, you will automatically spot a myriad of banners, flyers and a video of all the exciting activities and places you’ll encounter once you embark on your trip along the East Coast of Australia. You can scuba dive in the Great Barrier Reef, ride titanic waves in Byron Bay, skydive Mission Beach, canoe the Noosa everglades – just name it, there’s adrenaline pumping activities for every occasion but there is a specific experience nobody talks about. That’s right, no matter how many photos you post on Instagram, I know what you did last summer.
Well I know that heavy drinking, hook-ups and partying were implied components of the whole East Coast package, but no amount of Shakespeare can prepare you for all the drama that comes with it. With all the hormones of the backpackers fresh out of High School, the beach destinations and the ever-present alcohol (my liver wasn’t ready for this), every single day of our trip felt like a prolonged episode of Jersey Shore, the early years.
Despite its breathtaking natural setting, the East Coast has become associated with stories that have more to do with the people you’ve met (what you did with them or to them or them to you, or who you did and where you did them) than with the places you visited or the activities you undertook. And here is why.
Most road trippers book their activities with a travel agency and let’s be honest… there are not many options out there. You are bound to run into the people you met in the beginning of your trip over and over again along the coast. They often stay at the same hostels, book similar tours and activities, hang out at the same bars and know someone you know. They might go at different pace but the odds are they’ll catch up with you eventually, once you stay longer somewhere, like in Cairns for example, unless they are doing the East Coast in the opposite direction. This is easy to predict. Most backpackers travel from North to South before summer starts or the other way around when it starts to cool down.
Over three to five weeks, you will bond with these strangers more than with that friend from home you’ve known since you were a kid and whom you sometimes refer to as your best friend. Well, no more. He or she doesn’t know you at the level these new friends do. What did you expect with all of these stories that will scar you for life?
You’ll meet so many people, you’ll forget their names and refer to them by a colourful description or an anecdote – Frenchie number 2, the obnoxious player, the player undercover (there were too many players), the dizzy gymnast (a drunk girl who tried a stunt and ended up biting the sand – literally), the loud Latin… and let’s drop the nickname already, Tom. I’m Latin, I have to be loud.
However, there are more scarring experiences than getting a nickname. Have you heard of people who have sex at hostels? Well, they do exist. Right there next to where you sleep or at least attempt to. And if you are extra unlucky, the bed is disturbingly squeaky too. Subsequently you’ll find yourself curled up in the corner of your bunk bed covering up your ears while rocking back and forth. In this scenario, earplugs are your best friend. Never leave home without them. Same goes with sanitiser… lots and lots of it.
Anyhow, it all depends on the environment. For instance, when you are in a place like Fraser Island where there is only sand around and nowhere to go at night unless you want to face the dingoes, you are staying at a campsite with bonfires, youngsters are playing drinking games, there is no TV and there is no Internet connexion… what activity are people going to engage in? You guessed it! Backpackers are going to talk to each other, until the dosage of alcohol starts affecting their brain and their speech turns into blabber. Apart from having fun, people share stories about their adventures, stories about others and then players ask their mates to put in a good word for them. Suddenly all Hell breaks loose and you end up discussing with your other friend – who happens to be as sober as you are – who it was you heard moaning when you retrieved your sweater from the tent. I could never go back to the tent on my own again.
Boys and girls also form strong bonds of friendship. I met a Scottish guy who was simply the nicest, sweetest person you’ll ever meet. It was easy for us to feel comfortable around him because he was an easy-going, funny, really skinny and innocent-looking guy. Then we found out he was a ruthless player who was stringing along his travel buddy. Another female friend dared him to hook up with another backpacker. He was supposed to knock on his friend’s dorm door once if he was successful or twice if he wasn’t. Apparently he managed to make out with her. She had a boyfriend back home.
We let this one go, but later on, one of our friends who seemed rational and mature hooked up with some other guy and she was also in a serious relationship. Our faith in humanity ended that day.
While guys were trying to get cast for a Russell Brand film, some backpackers were re-enacting Girls Gone Wild – Australia. When one of your roomies doesn’t show up, you probably assume where she is. Well, you assumed wrong. You should wait till you speak to her. Then you’ll learn she wasn’t with one guy but was taking part in a foursome. When you believe nothing can impress you after this particular story, her friend – who also took part in said foursome – brags about having slept with the whole staff of the hostel in two nights. So if there are that many rooms, a bar, the cleaning department… DON’T DO THE MATH! Suddenly the foursome makes so much more sense. How practical! It saves a lot of time.
Although all of the stories mentioned here are true, the Australian East Coast is much more than these juicy gossip and they make the trip way more interesting. Overall, the East Coast was an one-in-a-lifetime experience. There were laughs, there were tears, there were moments of shock and bewilderment, there still is a psychological trauma, at least in my case, but more than anything, there are joyous stories, unforgettable experiences and everlasting friends.
My damage here is done. Now I’m ready to cloister myself.
- written by Claudia Cano-Manuel