The Goobers of Hervey Bay

*A bit of throwback, awkwardly timed, but the longer I wait the worse it gets.

Jump to mid-June, 2015, and my final days in Byron Bay.

I remember Byron Bay fondly despite how poisoned I was when leaving. I loved the bush in which I lived: the haven of lush jungle atop gentle white dunes.

I achieved my own version of a simple life. Clothes on the line, waking up at dawn, candlelit by night kind of living. I struck an easy harmony with that place. And it was the ease of that lifestyle that numbed me to the hollowness of it.

Before I even knew it I was crushed by the empty weight of idleness. Pinched between the trite pursuit of drug-induced hedonism and the mawkish mysticism of a benighted flock. Ground down by the repetitive intangibility.

My exit could not have come too soon. One morning, in a disorganized flurry, I chucked my unpacked stuff in the back of an old mate’s car, and we booked it North to Brisbane. I stayed with him two nights, gratefully enjoying upper-middle class comforts, then hitchhiked to Hervey Bay.

I booked accommodation in a hostel for $25 a night. My intention was to explore Fraser island, the main attraction of old Hervey. I wanted to meet up with fellow like-minded backpackers heading North, and cruise along with them.

I was quickly confronted with how far my priorities had drifted from the average backpacker’s.

The hostel itself was quintessentially typical: white walls holding up fluorescent bulbs. Linoleum flooring led down hallways of taupe doorways. The kitchen exhaled a sweaty breath of a million pots of cooked pasta. In the common area stood three black, faux-leather couches facing a flat screen T.V. Young hostelers on four-month holidays passively watched a rugby match with phones in their hands and box-wine at their feet.

The sterile rooms were lined with tightly-packed, squeaky, metal bunks. On each plastic coated mattress rested a plain white sheet and pillow case. The only decorations were the exploded guts of 15 backpacks. Bright pink and purple and red bras, toiletries cases, singlets, pairs of flip flops, phone charging cables, towels, neon sneakers, and day packs lay strewn everywhere.

Go spend two months in a tropical garden sanctuary for free. Then pay to sleep in that.

The quality of character was as bland and disappointing as the atmosphere. Those people aspired to get drunk in Jeeps and peep at nature on package tours. Across the world and they complained about lumpy pillows and cold showers. Those goobers kept up with television shows and instagram posts. They watched youtube videos. They made reservations, booked accommodation, bought expensive meals. Their adventures were guided. Their exotic experience paid for. They followed the Lonely Planet Script to the best their budget allowed.

I judge them harshly. But I get it. They’re young, in a foreign country, cutting lose the best way they know how, and preserving a semblance of normalcy. That they find joy in the folds of artifice is nothing to be maligned.

They are products of their own lives same as me. I don’t profess to be a precious spirit unbounded by the effects of environment. I just live my life in constant deviation from it.

I hope that someday they eject themselves from the cradle of their own paradigms. I hope they see beyond a culturally dictated method. I hope they return to a childlike state of self-invention.

As they were I pitied them. I understood why, when I ask about someone’s travels, they ticked off places. They talked about tours they went on. They spit out skeletal details when I hungered for the meat of experience.
I want to know what scared the shit out of you? What boundaries did you push? What rules did you break? What madness did you stare down? How did your travels change you? What assumptions did you challenge? In what ways did you grow? What roles did you try on like costumes at a ball?

I don’t care what countries you visited. I’m not your Geography pupil. Tell me something more specific.

Searching for genuine, transformative experience while traveling sometimes feels futile. It takes a great deal of grit to push past the boundaries, escape the traps, and jump the ruts of tourist travel. It takes more than a plane ticket to an exotic country. That’s because everywhere awaits a guide offering predigested experiences. In the 21st century, where everything has been thought, said, and done, it takes a cultivated disregard, combined with a special creativity, to find the less traveled path.

But it’s out there.

I didn’t tour Fraser Island; too expensive, too impacted.

I didn’t meet fellow backpackers; none like-minded.

So I chilled in the park and spoke with a homeless man with years of sadness showing in the lines of his eyes. He didn’t have much to say, so we sat and drank beers and watched the flat ocean and listened to the palm fronds clicking out time with the wind.

Then I walked out of Hervey following a compass heading North.

Thank you for reading.


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