Monday, 13 January 2014

Is that a spaceship or am I still drunk - Chapter 14

I had expected to party for a little while in Adelaide. What I did not expect was for this party to continue for the next four weeks. Upon arriving in the city we booked into the Adelaide City Backpackers which was located just out of the centre on Carrington Street next to a pub called the Saracens Head. The hostel served our needs perfectly. It was cheap, well located, had a fantastic owner and attracted a great bunch of backpackers. The four of us piled into the same dorm along with another eight people who seemed to change each day. One morning I'd wake up with an Aussie hippy underneath me (bunk beds) meditating and the next morning I'd be woken up by a Brazilian pumping a girl for all he was worth. I liked the randomness of what I may find.

We had to sleep on bunk beds and the dorm stunk of sweaty feet but it didn't matter we were having so much fun that this was of little detriment. The owner was a guy called Rick who went out of his way to ensure that his guests had a good time. Festivities would usually begin with a barbie in the back yard around 5 pm and would end, for the hardcore at least as late as breakfast time the next day. I certainly wasn't one of them. I was lucky if I made it to midnight, that damn Mitton gene kicking in again. Sometimes we'd play drinking games and I'd be in bed by 9 pm.

Upon occasion we'd head to Rundle Street which was the pulsing heart beat of the city for going out, but we tried to keep this to a minimum to cut costs. One night we went to the cinema to see The Crying Game and Kev and I bumped into some people that we knew from before we'd known each other. Quite bizarrely I was to become really good friends with the couple that Kev knew and I am still friends with them today some 20 years later, although I haven't heard from Kev since the year 2000.

One night we got some weed which resulted in Mark getting paranoid and hiding up a tree in the street outside the hostel. The poor guy refused to come down and was petrified that we'd leave him. "Boys, boys, please don't leave me boys", he shouted to us in his pompous Home Counties accent. We left him there and went to the pub for a few hours where we soon forgot all about him. When we came back in the small hours of the morning he was still up there calling out for help. I don't think that he ever forgave us for that. To be honest there'd been a rift opening up between Mark and I for some time so I found his pathetic whimpering particularly humorous. It seemed to conflict with his dream of dying in battle for his country, quite poetically.

The city itself seemed really nice with lots of green open space and a lake but to be honest it wasn't really of much interest to us. Our life in Adelaide was for 90 percent of the time contained within the four walls of the hostel. I only really ventured into the city to the poste restante section of the post office to see if I had any mail. This was the equivalent of checking my emails back then.

We befriended a couple of Aussie drifters in our dorm who stayed there for a week or so. They were two brothers with the younger one being slightly deranged. I tried my best to integrate the brothers into our circle of friends and they seemed grateful for it. When they left however so did my electric razor which my mum had bought me for Christmas. I was so annoyed with them for repaying my kindness like this that I vowed to hunt them down. Our group of four ran around Adelaide looking for them and eventually found them booking into the YMCA. We confronted them but they denied it so we called the police. The police said that we had no proof because the shaver was no longer on their person. I spent the rest of he day searching the pawn brokers shops and I was so convinced that I had found my shaver that I called the police again and got them to come and check. Despite my protests that it was my shaver the pawn broker had receipts to prove otherwise and the police officer was angry at me for wasting police time. I put my loss down to experience and decided to grow a goatee beard.

The hostel seemed to attract quite a lot of drifter types, and the demographic always seemed to be guys in their twenties who were alone and either preparing to go into the wilderness for a week, or had just returned from the wilderness. It seemed like such a cool thing to do to me and got my brain ticking.

"Hey lads, do you fancy going into the wilderness for a while to try and find ourselves", I asked the boys.

"More like fucking lose ourselves", Kev replied, his cockney wit never failing to let him down.

To my surprise they all seemed to be into the idea. We'd been in Adelaide for far too long already and we were scared that we would never leave (not as scared as Rick though). Everybody agreed that a little trip into the outback would be a great way to draw us away from the place and indeed the party lifestyle. My 24th birthday was coming up so we decided that we would aim to celebrate this somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Five minutes of research later and we'd chosen both the starting point and our end point to our journey. If we had done some research into what lay in-between we may not have ended up almost dying of thirst exhaustion.

Within the week we'd packed a small bag each and were heading for the bus stop. Our initial plans proved to be too over ambitious. We had wanted to get a boat to Kangaroo Island and then trek the length of the island. When we looked into it we found out that we needed permits to travel there so we opted for the next best thing. If we got a bus to Cape Jervis we could then hike to Victor Harbour. Our hike would follow the coast looking out over Kangaroo Island in the distance. On the map it looked okay, then again a few inches on a piece of paper are never going to look difficult, especially when you're drunk when you are examining it. As the Crow flew the distance between the two towns was just over 60 km. I don't think that we ever bothered to check how far this was in actual terms which would have probably been a good idea since we chose to follow a route that stuck so rigidly to the coast line. In fact very little thought went into the trip at all. We had a sleeping bag, a change of clothes each and a shared map which we'd ripped out of the back of a magazine and showed practically no detail. We grabbed a load of de-hydrated packets of rice and pasta dishes to eat and took a litre of water each to drink. Surely we'd be able to fill these bottles up from a creek on the way, right? Or so we thought.

A few hours after leaving Cape Jervis I realised that this was a pretty shitty idea. This thought process coincided with our first big ascent. For the next five hours only pride would keep me going. I know the others felt the same way but nobody would admit it. The problem was that the landscape was so bloody undulating; we'd get to the top of one crest and see that there was another even bigger one coming up. A more demoralising scene I'd never encountered. Finally hunger, thirst and lethargy got the better of me and I conceded.

"Hey lads, this is bollocks I'm not walking any further, I'm fucked", I admitted.

Adam and Kev totally agreed but Mark being Mark (his new nick name was the scout leader) did not. In retrospect I guess that this was a good thing because just giving up was never really a viable option.

"Come on boys, we need to get together and conquer this thing", Mark encouraged us.

"Well, you three can do what you want I'm going to sleep", I told them.

Five minutes later I was asleep and the others had wandered off in the wilderness in the search of water. Our own supply was down to one bottle by now so this was most definitely a good idea. 

A sudden noise awoke me from my slumber. At first I wasn't quite sure where I was, de-hydration had definitely got a grip on me. It took a few seconds for me to remember that I had gone to sleep in a futile attempt to escape from my situation. I guess that this was the equivalent of an ostrich sticking its head in the sand or a tortoise retiring into its shell (I've always admired tortoises for that little trick.) But as I looked around it all came flooding back to me- the dreadful hike, the large ascents, the lack of water and the curious kangaroo. Wait a minute, the curious kangaroo! What the fuck was he doing there? The most enormous kangaroo that I had ever seen was literally face to face with me. But what's more it seemed more startled by my presence than I was with its. For around five seconds it felt as though time stood still as we both stared at each other. It was only then that I noticed the little joey standing behind it. It was such a beautiful moment. After a few seconds the kangaroo bounced off into the distance with the joey in close pursuit. The whole episode had only been a brief moment in time but the image will stay with me for life.

The others returned with good news. "What is it?" I eagerly asked. But they wouldn't tell me, they said that I should follow them instead. "Have you found water?" I questioned. "Just follow us" they replied "all will be revealed to you." In my head I was imagining all sorts of scenarios which ranged from a valley full of nymphs to a beautiful crystal clear lake to swim in. What I didn't imagine to see as we reached the crest of the ridge was a bloody great spaceship. I shit you not; there right before my very eyes down in a valley was what appeared to be a spaceship surrounded by a garden and a large fence. If the others weren't there with me to confirm its existence I would have put it down to the fact that I had been drunk for the past month. But sure enough we were all witnessing the same thing. "Let's go and investigate?" I asked and everyone agreed.

Upon closer inspection the spaceship appeared to be somebody's house and nobody seemed to be home. A dirt track ran from the rear of the "house" and back towards civilisation. We couldn't actually see an entrance so we imagined that a ladder must drop down underneath it just like on a real spaceship, or should I say on our perception of what a real spaceship would look like. In the garden was a massive water storage tank which was just about to get raided - if only we had more bottles. We sent Adam over the fence to do this for us because he was the most experienced thief amongst us.

After taking the water we continued our journey until we could walk no further. When this happened we dropped our packs, laid out our sleeping bags and cooked a pasta meal using Scout Master Mark's army issue cooking equipment. Our camp was at the top of an ascent, perched virtually on the edge of a cliff. The view was phenomenal looking out over Kangaroo island. No hotel in the world could have been better than this. The four of us lay there in silence taking in this beautiful sight alone with our thoughts. I remember thinking how little we need in this life, some shelter from the elements, a bit of food and water, some friends and some love, mix them all together and hey presto the recipe for a wonderful life. Why do people prefer to complicate this with the weight of material possessions rooting them to the spot? Oh well, each to their own I guess. How lucky I was that I had found out the secret to a happy existence only days before my 24th birthday.

If we thought that the day time view was great then we were certainly in for a treat with the night view. As daylight faded into darkness out came an ocean of stars, shining like perfect diamonds in the sky. This was a sight to equal the night skies that I had witnessed back in Massachusetts on the summer camp. Only this time the sky was alive with shooting stars. Mark informed us that they could be satellites but I chose to ignore him and to live the dream that these were indeed all shooting stars.

The next day we walked all day and nobody complained about the undulating landscape. We were still beaming with happiness from the beauty that we had witnessed the night before. Some time in the late afternoon we found a beautiful beach where we set up camp. We hadn't seen anybody for days and it was all quite wonderful. That night we made a fire on the beach and once again we were treated to the most beautiful night sky.

Three days later and we were still there. We'd decided that we liked the beach so much that we would celebrate my birthday there before heading back to Cape Jervis. By now our food was running low and our attempts at fishing were unsuccessful. We spent our days swimming, chatting about our future plans and exploring and I must say it was all quite wonderful -it took me back to my childhood. On one of my exploring trips I found a balloon with the words happy birthday on it, it felt like a gift from the gods. On the 20th April 1993 I inflated the balloon and we celebrated my birthday in the most glorious surroundings - how could life get any better than this?

The next day somehow made it back to Cape Jervis in one long slog. We may as well not even bothered though. When we made enquiries at the only shop in the area we were to find out that the next bus to Adelaide wasn't for another 36 hours. So is the life of a traveller that none of us really cared. As many long term travellers will tell you, time soon becomes irrelevant. We were just happy to have a shop at our disposal and positively delighted with the plastic table and four chairs which were located outside the shop. We positioned ourselves on these chairs and picnicked for the next day, grabbing only a few hours of sleep in the field behind the shop. Upon hearing our tale about the spaceship the owner laughed and told us the story behind it. It was owned by an eccentric lawyer who had lived there for years and had spent millions of dollars making the road to his property.

Once back in Adelaide we gathered our stuff, waved goodbye to Rick and the other friends that we had made in the hostel and headed north. The past five weeks had been good but our vital organs were in dire need of a rest.

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