Leif Pettersen's Travelogue

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Byron Bay, New South Wales, Australia

Posted on December 14th, 2004

You can see the Lighthouse waaaaay off in the distance.

**Bus Seat Buddy Update: Brisbane to Byron Bay, four hours - Unwashed, chain smoker that asked too many personal questions.

The rain pissed down non-stop for the duration of the four hour drive to Byron Bay and continued all night long after I arrived. It was impossible to leave the hostel, without getting soaked to the bone, but I had not eaten since the few measly pieces of fruit I inhaled for breakfast, so I set out for a kebob.

It only took 15 minutes for me to realize that Byron Bay was going to be the most over-priced city on my Australian tour. The wanting hostel, Cape Byron YHA, was six dollars more expensive than anywhere else I had stayed in Oz, while being filthy, providing no air conditioning and being exceptionally noisy. The price of my chicken and chili sauce kebob could have bought me two steaks in Brisbane. These developments went completely against Lonely Planet’s claim that wild competition kept Byron Bay prices nice and low. Perhaps after that kernel went to print, the Byron Bay business community decided to cooperate in the interest of everyone getting filthy rich and all prices were hiked accordingly.

So, I found myself stuck for two nights in an over-priced, tourist-ridden, rainy crap hole, with an inordinate number of drunks, dangerous eccentrics and junkies stumbling around asking for change and cigarettes. What a let down.

I spent my first night in Byron in a deep funk, hunkered behind the hostel’s Internet, before turning in as soon as the Friday night drunks had been chased off the premises at 11:30.

My mood lifted slightly the next morning when I woke up to sunshine. I hadn’t seen appreciable, lasting sunshine in close to a week and there was no telling how long it would persist, so I acted fast. I wolfed down a breakfast of fruit (did you know you can eat a whole pear in seven chews?) and a pastry (three chews), slathered myself in SPF 30 and went for a walk. Byron’s giant beach (and barely clad women) called to me first. The beach is as wide as a football field when the tide is out and runs over 50 kilometers up the Gold Coast. I had two choices, I could either walk along the back of the beach, slaloming between topless tourists and naked hippies, while simultaneously scalding the crap out of the bottoms of my feet or walk along the cool and refreshing water line, 97 feet from the nearest bare breasts. Additionally, I had my old contact lens in, meaning that from the water line I couldn’t tell the men from the women, much less who had their nipples pierced. Well, I’m a city boy with feet like an infant, no calluses, so it was either the water line or have tears streaming down my face.

I splashed my way down the beach for 1.5 kilometers toward the Cape Byron Lighthouse. The roads leading up the hill to the Lighthouse could benefit from some, any, signage. I got turned around after leaving the beach and, no longer being able to actually see the Lighthouse for reference, I ended up doubling back for almost a kilometer, going up a very long, dead end hill, returning to the main road and trudging even further back to town before a badly placed sign indicated that the Lighthouse path started about 30 yards from where I had originally left the beach.

The walk up to the Lighthouse was only mildly taxing and very scenic with panoramic sea views on three sides from the top of the hill, though the supposed possibility of a dolphin sighting was greatly exaggerated. As always, when there’s sun in Australia, it beats down with an alarming intensity. By the time I reached the Lighthouse, I had started to wish that I had brought along the sun block for a second coating, but I had opted for a minimalist walk, wearing a tank top, swimsuit and only carrying water and the keys to my hostel room (Hence no pictures. Sorry, but after a disastrous beach trip in Spain, my digital camera doesn’t go anywhere near sand anymore). Once at the Lighthouse, I bypassed the tempting, impeccably placed ice cream stand and dove into the rainforest walk where I encountered more bush turkeys and a stubborn three foot lizard that was determined to hold his ground in the middle of the path, preventing me from continuing on. The lizard and I had a test of wills that lasted nearly five minutes, where I would occasionally inch toward him, hoping he might retreat, but he just sat and starred at me, flicking his tongue and looking like he might like to climb me and eat my nose. Finally he got bored or hungry or whatever and strayed off the path far enough out of attack range for me to sneak by.

Again, the path was completely unmarked and after about 45 minutes of walking through dense bush, I began to wonder where I might end up, or worse, find myself at a dead end cliff and have to backtrack all the way to the Lighthouse. Just as I was seriously considering turning around, the rainforest path abruptly ended and I found myself on the main road, half way back to town.

At this point, with the failure of the SPF 30 on the Reef still fresh in my mind and the approximate 24 liters of sweat that had washed over me in the previous three hours, I was deeply concerned that I didn’t have a smear of sun block left anywhere on my body and that the sun was renewing my sunburned/rash misery. I hightailed it back to the hostel and stayed out of the sun for the rest of the day, re-hydrating with 23 liters of water and a liter of cider while involved in a complicated English card game called “Asshole” that most of us were sure was being made up as we went to our dealer’s advantage. I finally got the nerve to check on my skin color later that night and I was thrilled to see that I hadn’t gotten so much as a singing.

The next day was going to be awkward. I had to check out of the hostel at 10:00AM and then somehow not completely funkify myself over the next 13 hours, before getting on a 13 hour bus ride to Sydney. Even if I remained inactive and stayed away from the beach and out of the sun, the heat was still such that I would be suffused in a wave of sweat by the time I rolled over and climbed down from my top bunk.

In truth, I managed to stay dry until I tied my shoes, after that it was a full-on deluge. By 11:00AM it was clear that I was hopelessly filthy and I gave up trying to stay clean. I ran around Byron, taking care of travel business, Internet tasks and paying too much for lunch. It was hard not to notice that Byron’s cops were out for blood that afternoon. Apparently, Byron’s cops get a hair up their collective asses once a week and set out hell bent on ticketing every single person in Byron for minor offences. This behavior is so notorious that Lonely Planet even addresses it in a small sidebar, saying people have been busted for parking their cars slightly cockeyed or wearing pants with the waist line sagging down at the thighs (which I whole heartedly support, by the way). The Pigs were swarming Jonson Street on mountain bikes, like thin-skinned Tasmanian Devils, literally following certain people around, waiting for them to do something to warrant a fine. Bikers were their main targets on this day. Anyone on a bike, walking a bike or just standing next to a bike was fair game. I saw people getting ticketed for parking their bikes on the sidewalk – as opposed to what, the middle of the street? – for J-walking and even one poor guy drew the ire of a cop after he walked between the cop and the bikers he was trying to ticket, only because between the cop, the people and all their bikes there was no other way to get passed without stepping into the street.

Perhaps I was just having a bad run of luck, but Byron Bay appeared to simply be an over-priced, mundane, junkie haven, with a malicious, power-drunk police force. The people who convinced me to stop in Byron had a lot to answer for.

Fearing possible police reprisal for wearing a Bahamas t-shirt with solar-activated colors, I decided to get off the street, steering into Peter Pan Travel Agency where I had an epiphany upon spying a “Body and Soul” brochure. Earlier in the day, while desperately looking for a 13 hour diversion to fill my day, I resorted to Lonely Planet for inspiration. There were two appealing options. Option One; Hike down to the Flying Trapeze & and Circus Adventure school, where I could get a terrifying two hour trapeze lesson for US$25 and maybe teach them a thing or two about juggling. After screwing on the requisite courage and getting a fix on the school’s location, it was pointed out to me that it was Sunday and perhaps they would be closed. I didn’t have the strength to walk almost three kilometers just to find out the that place was closed, so I ditched the plan (though, admittedly, with my fear of heights, it wasn’t a very tough decision). Option Two; There were several spas in Byron offering surprisingly cheap massages and boy did I need one of those. I ruled this out immediately, even though I was desperate to have my back loosened up after three weeks of cramped bus seats and third hand mattresses, thinking that the process would contribute too much to the overall pre-bus ickiness that I was trying to avoid. But now I was a total mess and hey, once you’re disgusting, why not take it as far as it’ll go?

I decided on a spa that was off the main street, back in the residential neighborhood. I wandered in and despite it being a Sunday and despite not having an appointment, they were able to get me in 45 minutes. It was simply fabulous. A graying, middle-aged, holistic minded woman worked on me for an hour and unwound me like a Swiss watch. I walked out of there sweaty, covered in various oils and walking like my body had been de-boned.

After that, there was no denying that I needed to do something about my cleanliness before getting on the bus. I went back to the hostel, unlocked my carefully secured bags and snuck up to the showers, even though it meant packing away a wet towel and clothes soaked in sweat for the trip to Sydney. The shower was marvelous, but before I could get dressed and out of the area, some nerve-dead dinkleberry, oblivious to the stifling heat, waltzed in and took the hottest shower in the history of Australia, steaming up the entire bathroom and instantly restarting my flop-sweat. Only fractionally less dirty now, I sat and watched TV, moving as little as possible until it was time to trudge though the humidity to the bus stop.


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