When I woke up the next day I got ready and went downstairs for breakfast. Breakfast was on the main floor of the hostel. While other tour groups and backpackers rummaged around in the kitchen, our group had a private selection of cereal, toast and coffee. I opted for cereal and a piece of toast with Nutella on it.
I carried my plate to the table and took a seat next to Julie, Laurence and Sarina. Conversation was lite because we had to move quickly to let the others use the table. After finishing my toast and a glass of “breakfast juice” as the bottle said, I took my dishes to the sink and cleaned them thoroughly. While I was cleaning my plate I noticed a girl with beautiful dirty blonde dreadlocks and a septum piercing. I admirred her hair for a few minutes before I realized I probably looked a bit creepy.
I went up to the room and grabbed my things. I was way ahead of the rest of the group so after loading my things in the trailor I sat down in the lobby to do some writing. The lobby was pretty hip, I must say. I picked up a guitar but it was missing a few strings so I put it back down. The furniture was bright red and there was several inspiring and whimsical quotes posted around the walls.
After a few minutes of writing I looked behind me out the window and saw the rest of the group loading the bus. I put away my laptop and went to join them.
On the bus we got to ride with Ngaire for the first time. She was just as bright and chipper as Matt had described her. She started off Day 2 by warmly welcoming us and telling us what our first few stops would be. She then sat down in the drivers seat and told Julie, Matthew and I to figure out some music. We couldn't get the bluetooth to work but Julie said she had a new CD we could try out. To my delight it was Amber Isle, the band Matthew and I had heard on the street in Melbourne a few days prior. The music was just as beautiful on a recorded CD as it had been live. I kicked myself for not acting on my impulses and buying it a few days earlier.
Our first stop was a place that looked a lot like the Loch Ard Gorge and the 12 Apostles. It was pretty but honestly I was kind of ready to see something new. I walked down some stairs thinking I'd get a different view but as it turns out it was just a walkway down to the beach where a lot of the other kids had already took off their shoes and drug their feet around.
I stopped and looked at my own shoes. It was our first stop and if I got my feet wet or dirty now I'd have to live with it all day. I decided against the barefoot experience and just as I went to turn around I noticed Laurence standing next to me. He seemed to be having the same thoughts I was.
“I don't want to get my feet dirty.” I explained as he seemed to notice me for the first time too.
“Yas. Our feet vill be dirty all day if we do dis.” I agreed with him and together we turned around and headed back to the top of the steps. Not long after we heard Ngaire say it was time to get back on the bus. I was one of the first back on the bus. I sat and watched a coule of the other kids shake out their socks and dust their feet off. They didn't seem to mind.
When we got back on the bus Ngaire had the great idea to make a playlist for the rest of the day. Matthew, Maxime and I were the only ones on the bus at that point so we went to work making a playlist with Gnyri. The four of us put down a couple songs each and then decided that everyone on the bus had to put down one song.
Around that time Kris approached the door of the bus and before he could step on Matthew put his hand up and told him to wait just a minute.
“I'm sorry sir, if you'd like to board this bus you'll have to give us a song request for the playlist.”
Kris laughed and then replied by requesting a pop song we all knew.
Matthew wrote the song down and told Kris he was allowed to board the bus now.
Next was Sarina, she stepped on the bus and Matthew once again put his hand out and told her to hang on just a second. He explained the rules and she smiled and showed us her phone. She had the song showing on her screen.
Behind Sarina was four or five of the Germans. They had overheard what was going on and had their songs ready when they got on the bus.
"I'm Blue" Eiffel 65
German songs I had never heard of.
"Sail" by AWOL
Matthew nodded and wrote down each one. A few seconds passed and Peter came to get on the bus. We explained the process and he requestted “Blue Suede Shoes” and walked to his seat.
“Who sings that?” Matthew looked at me and Ngyri for help.
“Elvis!” I couldn't believe Matthew didn't recognize the tune.
“Come on! Everyone knows Elvis.” Ngaire hit her thigh as she too gave Matthew a hard time.
“I don't listen to much Elvis, I guess.” Matthew scribbled something next to “Blue Suede Shoes” and looked up to find Denise at the door waiting patiently.
“I'd like to hear “Weary Traveler” by Johnny Cash. I clapped and affirmed Denise's selection.
When everyone had given their request and boarded the bus, I went to work on Ngaire's phone, making a playlist with each song Matthew had written down. As I was searching and adding songs, Jules, Ngaire and Matthew continue to call out songs for me to look up. We decided that the co-pilots were allowed a few extra songs, though we weren't allowed to hi-jack the whole playlist.
By the time I got the playlist together it was time to stop again. “We have about 20 minutes here guys. I just need to run in Woolworths and grab some fresh groceries for lunch. You all can use the toilets to the left, grab snacks at Woolworths or shop around this area. There is a bottle store to our right if you need to get something for later.”
I was first off the bus with Matthew falling directly behind me. We looked at each other and without a word headed towards the bottle shop. I told him I wanted to get some wine to have with dinner. He nodded and when we had walked about fifty feet from the bus he bumped me and told me to look behind us.
When I turned around I laughed because aside from Ngaire, who was getting groceries, the entire bus was headed straight for the liquor store. I guess they noticed what I was laughing at because the German guys smiled and Peter spoke out, “Well I guess we're all just a bunch of bloody alcoholics then aren't we?”
When we walked inside the store we all stood silent for a second and looked around. Wall to wall their were bottles everywhere. I had never seen so much wine in my life. After evaluating the premises we each took a few careful steps in different directions. I first went to the “World Wines” selection. In this section the wines were organized by the country they were made in. I check out the Reisling, Malbec and Port before taking a left turn and going to the aisles that were labeleed by wine type. I found the reds and then made my way towards the Shiraz. 2 for $30, $7.99, $9...the sales items caught my attention first but I knew better than to settle for a $7.99 bottle. Just then Peter walked up and put in his two sense.
“The cheaper the bottle the worse the wine is.” I looked and noticed he actually had a shopping cart. Inside his cart lay five bottles of wine. I smiled when I saw this and he picked up a $15 bottle of Shiraz, added it to his cart and walked away. I laughed to myself and went back to studying my options. I was in between a bottle with a blue umbrella on it and a bottle with a funky orange font. Both were around $13, which is about what I like to stick with.
Before I could decide I heard Matthew from a few aisles over.
“Haley! Come here.” I walked around the corner and found him studying the white wines. “Should I get Chardonnay or Reisling?”
I went with what came out of my mouth first, “Definitely the Chardonnay.” I thought about our supper for a second and remembered Ngaire said she was going to serve us Kangaroo pasta so we could try it.
“Actually, what kind of meat is Kangaroo? Is it dark meat or light meat?”
Matthew shook his head and said he wasn't sure what type of meat Kanagroo was. I told him to pair his wine with kangaroo and I walked back around the corner where I picked up the Shiraz bottle with the blue umbrella on it.
After everyone loaded back up on the bus with their bottles and Ngaire with our groceries, we turned on the playlist and put it on shuffle. Each song that came on brought cheers from different parts of the bus. Jules was in charge of the volume and skipping when we needed it.
“What's your DJ name, Julie?” Ngaire had a big smile on her face as she asked this.
“I don't know. DJ Julie?”
“No! How about DJ Jewel Box?” We all laughed and agreed that the name fit. Ngaire grinned at her success and then looked at me in the rearview mirror.
“DJ Hail Storm. That's Haley's name.” I laughed pretty hard and Jules and Matthew agreed that it was a perfect fit too.
Just then Maxime came to the front of the bus and asked if we could play his song next. Jules laughed and burst out with, “DJ Maximus!”
For lunch we stopped at a famous inactive volcano that Ngaire said was due for another eruption any day now. I took a few minutes before lunch to go on a short hike by myself. I got about 20 minutes into the trail before I thought about the "what-ifs." What if I got bit by one of those poisonous snakes and I died and no one knew where I was? What if I got lost? What if I got poison ivy? I guess fear got the best of me so I turned around and walk back towards the group.
It was a good thing I came back when I did. Ngaire had just finished making fresh chicken and tomato sandwiches. Never in my life had I liked tomatos but all of a sudden they were tasting very sweet and delicious. It helped too that Ngaire was an ex-chef. We all liked that about her.
After lunch we got back in the bus and headed to our next stop, Reed's Lookout. We were only there for about 10 minutes. Reed's Lookout was at the beginning of the Grampions. It was a parking lot area that overlooked acres and acres of green trees growing on the side of a mountain. I enjoyed it and took a few pictures before joining the others back on the bus.
Next we went to a Aboriginal Cultural Center. I got to play a cool instrument called a didgerydoo but I was really quite terrible at it. We also got to walk outside for a bit and it was there that I saw my first Emu in the wild. I was excited though I didn't get a very good picture.
Our next stop was a beautiful waterfall somewhere near the Grampions. I can't remember how many steps exactly but it seemed like there were nearly 400 steps that led down to the falls. The hike was slightly intense but the view at the bottom was completely worth it. I was hot and sticky and putting my feet in the water was all I needed to cool off.
The water was extremely cold so I was shocked when I looked to see Julie and Kris jumping in the water. The rest of us clapped and cheered as they swam across the pool until they were directly under the falls. There were signs that said "no swimming" but we didn't see anyone around enforcing the suggestion.
I had a blast watching the swimmers jump off the rocks and take turns diving. I wasn't sure if it was the safest idea but oh well. The hike back up was brutal but we all made it, even Peter. Once again I was proud of the old sport for being so ambitious. He really was a neat man.
The waterfall was our last stop for the day and when we got back on the bus Ngaire told us we would be camping at a place called Ass's Ears. I asked her to repeat several times before I could tell she was serious. She went on to explain that we would not have any cell phone reception and that we would meet a man named Steve.
Matt had already warned us about Steve on Day 1. It seemed as though between Ngaire's explaination and Matt's advice, there were two things we needed to know about Steve. The first thing was that Steve was very fond of a nice chat. They warned us not to get involved in one of Steve's stories if we were in a rush to be somewhere. Matt even gave us permission to walk off mid-sentence. They had both explained that Steve had a rough, low voice that went very quickly and heartily.
The second thing we needed to know about Steve was that despite his extreme Aussie demeanor, he was a well travelled man with lots of knowledge. I thought of many people back home who had extreme southern accents and despite the way the outside world stereotyped them, they were very wise and sometimes wealthy individuals.
Ass's Ears reminded me of home. We drove 40 minutes off the freeway and soon lost all phone service. Next we drove down a long dirt road full of wild brush plants and eucalyptus plants. Ngaire said there would probably be Kangaroos in the brushes next to us. At one point Jules did yell and point one out. I saw it as it was hopping away.
At the end of the dirt road Ngaire stopped the bus and I saw a very rustic scene. There were a few small wooden cottages and a big flat area of land all around us. It was hot and the land was dry. I then saw a man pull up on a four-wheeler and Ngaire told us that was Steve.
Steve made his way on to the bus and boisterously spoke out, “Well, what mixed back of lollies have we got here, Mate?” Before we could respond he was pointing at Julie. “Where abouts are ya from, Sheila?”
“Belgium.” Julie smiled as she replied.
“Ahh...the Belgiums sure are a drinkin' bunch aren't they!” We laughed at this remark and Steve was off to the next victim.
“You mate, where abouts are ya from?” This time he pointed at Dicta and he laughed a made a comment about her country of origin as well.
Steve went on to tell us that we had to divide ourselves amongst cabins 2, 3 and 4 and that he didn't care how we did that. He also told us that the bar would be open later and that four-wheeler tours would be available tomorrow morning if anyone was interested. In between these instructions he went on a few side topics about snake hunting and jeep driving. When he was finished and we were all drenched in sweat from sitting on a bus that had been turned off, Ngaire quickly told us that supper was at 7:30 in the main dining area.
One by one we piled off the bus and pulled our bags out of the back trailor. I had been smart this time and packed just what I needed in my duffle bag so I didn't have to pull out my whole suitcase.
My duffle bag was one of the first ones out and so I picked it up and started walking towards the cabins. I fquickly matched pace with Julie and she said 3 was a good number so I joined her in cabin number 3.
The cabin was actually quite nice on the inside. Everything was wood, of course. There was one full size bed and two twin-sized bunk beds. Julie fell on her back on the full bed and I tossed my bag on to one of the bottom bunks. Around that time Mark and Kris walked in. They looked at our bags, noting where we were sleeping. Mark chose the bed above mine and Kris put his hat on the other bottom bed. Matthew walked in the door next and Kris congratulated him on being our fourth and final roommate. His only option for a bed was the top bunk over Kris.
Kris, Matthew and Julie mentioned going for a walk around the property and I jumped in the conversation to say I wanted to join as well. After laying down the rest of our things we took off walking towards the main eating area. We had been told that just in front of the area there was a 30 minute walking trail. At the eating place we saw Laurence and Maxime standing away from the group. We approached them and they said they too were going to take the walking trail before dinner. With that we decided to make one big group and head into the wilderness.
We had a great time on the trail. The lot of us covered all sorts of topics on our walk. We even stopped to chase a kangaroo. After giving up on the chase, the six of us headed back towards the inland where the meal area was. After going back to the room and grabbing our wallets and purses, we split up into groups that eventually all met at the bar. The bar was really cool, I thought. It was solid wood on the inside with a huge sectional couch in the corner, centered around a television that was broadcasting Trump, Cruz and Rubio in random order.
The couple from Denmark, as well as Dikta and Denise were already sitting at the bar, listening intently to one of Steve's stories. I looked at Steve behind the bar and decided it suited him well. Here was a space where his longwinded stories were welcome. His boisterous and inviting demeanor would do well for business too, I thought. There was no rush behind the bar, simply a place where his words were appreciated.
After finishing his story he finally looked at the group of us who had walked in and asked us for our order. I asked if there was anyway he could make me a margarita and he said, “Well, here at the Ass's Ears, we make due with what we have so tell me what's in it and I'll make it work!”
I was relieved to hear this and I told him to start with the Jose Gold bottle behind him. He threw some tequila in the glass and waited for my next instructions.
“Do you have any lime juice?” I asked and watched him roll his eyes to the ceiling and then clumsly flop around to a cabinet behind him where he pulled out a bottle of lime juice.
“How much of this? A few dallops?” He asked while he poured. I was watching him intently and told him when to stop.
“Alright, what's next?” he asked me with raised eyebrows.
I had already surveyed the bar behind him and I could tell he didn't have Triple Sec. Most bars in Australia didn't seem to carry this. “Grab that bottle of peach something behind your right elbow. Throw in some of that.” He waved his hands and found the bottle I was looking at. He poured until I said stop and asked if I wanted some soda or anything in it.
“Well, if it's good I won't need soda. If it tastes funny I'll let you add some Sprite.” His face scrunched up at my response and I rephrased my answer. “Can I try it and let you know what it needs?” the group around me was giggling and I could see Matthew shaking his head.
Steve shrugged and set the glass in front of me. It was a murky yellow color which was a good sign. I took a sip and swallowed. Everyone waited for my response. “Yes! That's perfect.” I gave him the good to go sign and he dumped some ice on top of my drink. Matthew and Julie took turns tasting my drink while I gave Steve my card. He said I'd have to drink more than one to run a card and I told him I didn't mind doing so.
After everyoe else had their beer ordered, the guys went outside and Julie and I got into a good discussion about her decision to travel. She explained to me that she had a really rough relationship with an aggressive man for several years. After dumping him she dated another guy for a while who really treated her well. He told her he loved her but would go days without talking to her. She eventually ended the relationship because she didn't feel like he cared for her as much as he said he did. After this breakup she bought her plane ticket to Australia and decided to begin her world travels.
Like she had told me earlier, it was her “fu*k it” moment. She told her job she'd be quitting and she began to prepare for her journey. She had five months in between booking her flight and actually leaving. She had multiple opportunities to fall back into her old relationship but she stayed strong, keeping Australia at the front of her mind. Just before she left her ex-boyfriend tried to get her to stay but she said no. She told him she had nine months of travel ahead of her and she wasn't touching a relationship until after those 9 months.
Her first week in New Zealand he called her multiple times crying, saying he realized he really did love her and he didn't want anyone else. She told him again to wait until the 9 months were up. She said every day after that he texted her or called her. After she had been gone a few months he called to say he was meeting her in Bali. He had taken off two weeks at work even though it wasn't allowed. He told his boss he had to do it no matter what because he wanted to see Julie.
I had a strong sense of respect for Julie because I could see she wasn't one of those hopless romantic chicks who were going to give up on their dreams because of some dude. She told me she was sticking to her 9 months no matter what happened in Bali and I know she meant it. I gave her encouragement and told her to keep it up.
Around that time we heard the call for dinner so we went outside to join the rest of the group. I was pretty stoked to try kangaroo for the first time. I followed everyone to the kitchen and filled my plate with salad, pasta and a spaghetti sauce type of thing that had kangaroo in it. I took my margarita with me and found a seat next to Maxime and Julie. As it turns out, the kangaroo was awesome. I thought it tasted very similar to beef even though Elena disagreed with me.
After dinner we all hung out around the table talking for several minutes before people started breaking up into groups. I ordered one more margarita before switching to water, keeping in mind the bus trip the next day. While getting my margarita and tabbing out Steve told me to tell the guys who were signed up to do quads to come back to the bar to have a chat with him.
I found Matthew and the other quad guys back at our cabin, sitting in a circle around Peter. They were all laughing and hooping at whatever Peter had to say. Julie was there too, waiting for a chance to go to bed. When I told the guys to go see Steve, everyone left except Julie, Peter and I. Julie asked me to braid her hair like I had braided mine earlier and while I worked on her heair she began asking Peter questions that led to a discussion about his personal life.
Peter was 74 and had not had an easy life though he kept an upbeat attitude. Him and his wife had been married 50 years and he didn't plan on quitting the marriage anytime soon. He told us they lost their first child and it was a boy. He said it was very tough on both of them but they had to keep going. They eventually had two girls. Throughout their marriage his wife developed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and it got worse as the years went on. Over the past five years she had also developed severe dessepression and at 74 he had to face the hard reality of admitting her into a mental health nursing home. He said it was the hardest thing he had ever had to do and he felt like they were way too young to be in such a situation.
He told us about how he visited his wife for a few hours every single day, even though her negative attitude and mental stability drained him drastically. He said it was still his wife and he had made a promise to love her. He expressed his discussion in people who take marriage lightly nowadays. In his opinon a vow was a vow and that was how it was supposed to be. There is no easy way out of a marriage.
Peter admitted to being on an anti-depressant himself and said that was partially why he drank so much. The doctors tried to give his wife anti-depressants but her state was too severe so they couldn't do anything about it.
After putting his wife in the nursing home he bought himself an apartment near by and was doing the best he could to adjust to living alone again. He told us during the day he kept busy by doing crossword puzzles and being on the events committee at his apartment. In fact, he had thrown several apartment parties at his place and each event had proved very successful. Even the young people came and appreciated his hospitality, he said.
He also told us that night time was lonely for him. He said it was hard because he had nowhere to go at night and no one to talk to. One of those lonely nights he called up his youngest daughter's in-laws because he had remembered really enjoying them at the wedding years earlier. One phone call chat turned into another and pretty soon the in-laws were begging him to come visit them in Australia. He said he went back and forth, telling himself he neeeded a vacation for his health and then deciding it was more responsible to stay with his wife. Eventually I suppose he came to his own “---- it” moment and decided he would go. This bus tour was his first trip in Australia an afterwards he would spend 10 days or so with his daughter's inlaws.
I was amazed at his courage and also amazed to hear his past. For such a memorable character, I would never have guessed he was going through so much pain. Over the past 24 hours I had watched all of the young guys grow close to Peter and see him as not only a buddy but also a role-model. They definitely looked up to him and I think anyone could see that. Peter had won all of our respect and we loved him for it.
After finishing his story Julie excused herself to bed and I told Peter I needed to get some rest as well. He yelled “buggarrr” and poured me another glass of wine. Buggar was a kiwi expression Peter had taught us. It meant bummer or an aggitated explitive.
It's awful hard to say no to a glass of wine offered by a fiesty old man, so I took my glass I told him I'd have a glass or two more with him. He smiled and suggested that we go back to the main area and see what everyone else was up to.
The funny thing about Ass's Ears was that alochol was not really allowed on premsies, Steve wanted everyon to buy their liquor at the bar, for good reasons. Our group just happened to have a heavy drinking habit so we respectfully went around the rules. I laughed as I watched Peter hide our wine bottle at his feet. He would sneak our glasses under the table for refills, same as everyone else did.
Most of the group was sitting around the table drinking wine and listening to music. Matthew was introducing everyone to Red Dirt music and pretty soon we were demonstrating the Okie two-step. Matthew taught Ngaire how to two-step and swing and as I was watching Maxime came up to me and asked if he could show me how to do a French-style two step. It was a swing move where the man put his arm around the girls shoulder and swung her around in a circle. I loved it and asked to do it several more times.
When we got done dancing Ngaire told us she had a good idea.
“Let's go out to the airfield and look at the stars!” We all grabbed our wine glasses and things and headed towards the empty field. I had switched back to water and was enjoying the view of my tipsy friends. Most nearly all of our group was out on the airfield. We all lay there on our backs looking at the stars and pointing out the Southern Cross constilation. It was very peaceful and many of the others said they had never seen stars like that. I didn't say it outloud, but I thought the stars at my place back home were even more beautiful.
Just as I was getting nice and relaxed, I heard someone say that we needed to do airplanes since we were in an airfield. I didn't know what they meant until I sat up in time to see Ngaire jumping on to Kris's feet. He laid on his back and held up Ngaire with his feet and hands. She spread her arms out like an airplane and hollered in great delight. Pretty soon everyone around me was doing the same thing. I was laughing and watching until Laurence asked me if I wanted to try it with him. I agreed and we had a pretty good go at it.
Before I knew it everyone was switching gears and the airplanes had turned into a handstand competition. Everyone was in a circle taking turns doing handstands. I had a pretty good background in handstands so I entered in and held my ground for about three seconds, which was more than anyone else had. We all laughed and played like a bunch of kindergardens on a playground. After an hour had passed someone suggested we go to bed and get some sleep. I was grateful for that suggestion and went straight in my room and straight to bed.
I fell asleep thanking God for such a beautiful place and such a wonderful night that was shared with wonderful people.