The Stories

Hello World

On the way to Aspen I had to spend a night in Denver first and I must say it freaked me out a little. I kept thinking of the Wizard of Oz and the famous saying ‘you’re not in Kansas anymore Toto’. Walking the streets of Denver late at night looking for a phone box I saw every person in the street as a potential mugger, I guess I had watched too many TV shows during my childhood years, still a TV junkie to this day actually. This actually made me happy despite the nervous feelings, I knew that I was actually doing something that would build my character and make me different, evolve me as a person.

The thing that most confused me when I reached the USA was which way to look when crossing the streets! Bloody hell that gets confusing the first time, you work out which way to look and then one way streets start appearing and confuse you all over again. By the end of my first day in Denver I just said screw it and walked across the road, looking the wrong way I assumed would make me an obvious foreigner and target for robbers, so I just crossed my fingers, and hoped for the best.

Aspen was a great town and the drive there through the mountains was absolutely stunning, the first time it occurred to me that travelling could be a fun and exciting thing to do.

I was so relieved when I met up with Steve and the first thing I asked him was who to tip and how much! Us Aussies don’t tip and it gets very confusing on the first time to a tipping country as to who you actually have to tip. Do I tip the bus driver? Do I tip someone who gives me directions? Do I tip the supermarket lady? I have since discovered that what you seem to do is to tip the person who actually works the least hard for it. Damn tipping culture.

Aspen was a fun time and also my introduction to snowboarding, I was pretty crap at it and blame my instructor. My friend Steve would lend me his board, get me on the hill for free and just push me off saying ‘you’ll work it out’ whenever I asked what I was supposed to do.

I spent about 5 days snowboarding and thought I was getting pretty good at it, even though it was the end of the season and the snow had become very icy and slushy. On the 5th day I was getting frustrated with all my falls so I decided to just get to the bottom of the hill as fast as I could and head straight for the pub.

I had a nice line and was really moving down the hill and impressed myself with the performance, I just didn’t pay enough attention when I hit a patch of ice and tried to shift the board. All I did was slam into the snow and end for end a few times down the mountain, as I spun I knew it was going to do some damage but could do nothing but wait to stop moving.

When I had stopped I felt for broken limbs and looked for blood but there was none, great effort I thought, I fell with style and injury free. I noticed people on the lifts pointing out to me and looked around to see my hat and goggles about 25 meters back up the hill. It wasn’t bad enough to have had a big spill but I then had to crawl back up the mountain to get my gear while people boarded past and laughed at me.

I woke up the next day and could not take any more than a half breath and could not move my neck at all, I am not a fan of doctors so opted for my recuperation to include booze and not prescriptions. This worked for a few months but eventually I had to see a doctor which resulted in a $1500 medical bill and no real explanation of why my neck still had limited movement. My insurance company were not too happy either.

That was the last time I have snowboarded, even after a winter season in Canada. Not sure if it was laziness or some strange held fear from that accident that’s stopped me going. Laziness is probably the correct answer.

After I had spent just over three weeks in Aspen it was time to move on and meet up with Steve’s brother in Florida. It was sad to say goodbye to Aspen as we had great times and met great people there, we vowed to return someday but as I have since learnt, return trips rarely occur.

 

Goodbye Australia

Matt was the man who took it as his duty to develop my drinking and nightlife expertise so I had arranged a weekend of partying with him in Melbourne before I left Australia. I have lost touch with him since but feel I need to get back in touch to thank him and let him see what a fantastic tutor he had been.

I had been to Melbourne a few times before but only for short weekend trips and the city scared me a little. Coming from Tasmania where everything is small and relaxed to Melbourne where everything seems so big and where you actually have to use public transport can be very daunting.

I had never been on a train or used a bus for anything other than a trip to school and back until I was 21, Now, I have spent more time on them than most bottoms should ever need to endure.

So back then it seemed like a big deal to get a train ticket and be in the big city which made me that even little bit more nervous about the trip I was about to undertake. I would say to myself at the nerve racking moments the thing I still say to this day when I am concerned about a decision, ‘Oh well, what’s the worst that can happen’. This is also a statement that I choose never to answer.

After a boozy weekend in Melbourne it was time to take the Qantas flight to Los Angeles and make my way to Aspen to see Steve. I had arranged to be away for 9 months and then head back to Tasmania but inside I had a feeling that I would be away for quite a bit longer, I don’t know why but I just felt that I would not be coming back any time soon.

On March 23rd 1999 I left Australia and it would be a 3.5 years before I was to set foot on her beautiful soil for another time.

Leaving Home

Let me start by saying, I had never ever wanted travel, it was not something I had ever considered doing or even thought I might end up doing. I just got bored!

Many people ask me whether I will ever be able to settle back in Tasmania after all the places I have been and all the things I have seen, sometimes I think that living back in Tasmania is possibly the thing that I might want the most. After all the things I have seen and the places I have been a beautiful island with friendly people and such a laid back nature seems a fantastic place to settle. How can you knock a life where a beach, mountain, rainforest, green fields and nightlife are all within a 1 hour drive from each other?

Life in Tasmania had always been good. I am the youngest of 4, older brothers and an older sister, as mums little baby it was always easier to get away with things, and to get payback on the brothers beating me up by telling mum they had misbehaved when they hadn’t really. As the youngest it is your duty to exaggerate the truth for revenge right?

Dad had a full time job as a livestock agent and mum was the local school lollipop lady, which dint mean she handed out lollipops to kids crossing the road which I initially thought she did. For a few weeks before she started I couldn’t understand why someone would get paid to hand out teeth rotting candy to kids! The penny dropped when I headed to school and saw that she actually held a stop sign shaped like a lollipop to let us across the road. And the older generation think us youngsters are weird!!

Dad also worked fulltime on his 100 acre hobby farm about 15mins drive from where we lived in town. Many nights and weekends we spent at the farm helping out with the usual tasks involved. Watching your father kill and cut up an aging sheep at a very early age is a very good leveler for life and the experiences you will have in your later years, I think it is from this that I am very Blasé to some of the nasty things I have seen while wandering.

I happily left school to take on an apprenticeship as a mechanical maintenance tradesperson, a combination of the regular fitter and turner and welder trades. I enjoyed this work and seemed to be getting good at it which encouraged my bosses to give me more and more overtime, fantastic for helping me save and invest the money I eventually did before heading off on my travels. I sometimes think that without this hefty nest egg waiting for back home I would never have travelled for as long as I have. Having something to come back to makes it easier to get down to your last few hundred travelling dollars without worrying too much about where the next lot will come from, It just seems to come when you need it.

The company I initially started my apprenticeship with closed down in the 2nd year of my 4 year course. My good karma from hard work repaid itself and the company had North Forest Products take over my apprenticeship and also gave me an unexpected $20,000 redundancy pay out.

Party time? Well not really, as much a shock as it may come to people who have met me on my wanders, I didn’t start drinking until I was nearly 20! And it seems that since that moment I have spent the rest of my days making up for that little bit of lost time.

Working at the wood chipping plant was great fun and I made some very good and lifelong friends there, and some of the weekends we had out were probably so of the best nights we, and maybe even my home city Burnie, had ever seen. I think we all realized that our weekend party antics were pretty good when on our second cocktail party in Warrens garage we had random people knocking on the shed door asking if they could join in, bottle of liquor to donate in hand.

As I say I had never thought of travelling and when I saw the shows on TV and heard my cousin who travelled a lot talk of her trips I was never really that interested in it all. I just wanted to work until I was 30, save my money and retire owning some little business that took care of itself.

But then at age 20, I just got bored, yep the same old same old just got boring and repetitive, much the same as things have since I left the Apple Isle. I reach a point where I need new scenery and just go wherever seems good at the time to get it.

A workmate of mine was heading to Aspen in Colorado to work a ski season as a lift attendant. I considered the options I had at the time and realised that the best was to go somewhere and do something different to have my eyes opened to the world around me, and I also knew Aspen was a celebrity hang out spot and thought it would be cool to be there and act like a local.

It took a few months of planning to arrange to meet Steve there and to decide the stops we would make on our round the world ticket back to Tasmania 9 months later. I was a very naïve traveler and had no interest in seeing most of the places we were stopping at but thought that it had to be done at some point in most people’s life so I would get mine over and done with.

I had left work the day of departure at 2pm and headed straight to the pub and had 3 pints with mates. Mum called wondering where I was and saying it was would be nice to see me for a time before I left and reminded me that I hadn’t actually packed my backpack yet. Oh yeah, better get home and do that and write out my Will just in case.

By 6pm the flight had taken off and I started power drinking ready for the party weekend arranged for me in Melbourne. The guy beside me could not keep up and stopped drinking with me on beer number 3 so I kept ordering for him and double fisting my beers until the flight attendant cut me off as we were starting to land.

So on march 19th 1999 at the age of 21, before there even existed a world where we all had email addresses, I boarded the little twin prop plane from Wynyard airport for my 1 hour flight to Melbourne.

This flight started the trend my life would take for the next 12 years. Always leaving and heading for the next adventure, with a beer in my belly.

See photos for Tasmania:

 

Sailing Panama to Cuba

I really loved Panama and would have to say that it is one of my favourite countries, which is why it was a little sad to leave. All good things must come to an end and is was great that in the last few days of my Latin American trip I met up with 3 people that I had started the trip with in Mexico and Guatemala. The plan for my last night in Panama City was to have a few drinks then get an early night as I hadn’t slept since finishing night shift the day before, hhmmm that is definitely not how it went.

The night started with a few drinks and farewells then progressed to everyone going out to a bar but sensibly I decided to stay in and go to bed as I had to leave in the morning on the 6.20am flight. After everyone left I gave a farewell card to the girls I had worked with and they got all upset, Aida started to cry, saying how much they would miss me. We sat down and had a final talk and I finished the bottle of Flor de Cana and found that it was almost 3.30am.

I really needed sleep by now so of I went to take up my usual position on the floor, I`d sold my bed again, and realised that I must have been quite drunk as the room was spinning more than usual. I was woken up by Ariza around 4.30am to help her with an arrival and just couldn’t get back to sleep after that.

Showered up and changed I headed for the airport and passed out as soon as we took off. Must have been asleep awhile as when I woke up I got a huge fright because expecting to see clouds instead I saw tops of palm trees and the roofs of Kuna huts. Initially I thought I had I slept through the emergency landing announcement but as I was about to take the crash landing position I noticed all the others were calm and relaxed, just a normal landing, no need to panic.

After being trapped on the plane for 10 mins till they could get the jammed door open I climbed out and immediately saw my boat captain Jamie waiting for me. We headed off to get our passports stamped and then to the boat. Now here is where I have to explain something about our boat, everytime I told people I was sailing to Cuba they always asked how big the boat was to which I would reply that I had no idea. When I eventually did find out and told them it was a 25 footer they would get shocked looks and just say `well you`ll have fun thats a very small boat`.

So I was a bit anxious to see the boat when I arrived, i`m not a fussy person so figured after Indian animal class trains and Latin American chicken buses I could survvie 1 week in a little boat.As we headed for the boat I looked out and saw a nice little white boat and thought `ahh it`s fine that looks great for 2 people`, and at the same time Jamie pointed our boat `Possibilites` in the complete opposite direction. It `was` a little boat but at least it was standing room inside and seating area out the back. We hopped into `little` Possibilites, our row boat to get to the big boat. Little Possibilites was like all other row boats only it seemed that it had been cut in half and patched up to be seaworthy again. It was a cosy fit for two people and a cramp for three and the time we tried four we started taking in a bit of water and had to evacuate back to the ship. It did the job and with only a 25 ft boat it was the perfect size.

I was very tired on the first day with Jamie as I had sleep only 4hrs in the last 55 so we only collected water and had an early night before starting the trip early the next morning.
AND WE`RE OFF! The plan, make a straight line for Cuba and we`ll be there in a week, sounds simple enough, but there was much more to it than that. The first three days the seas were a little rough and the waves were constantly splashing up over the bow and soaking us at the back, this is fine during the heat of the day but not when you are either eating or poking your head out at night to look for other ships, its a 10 second check then back to bed but not when you get splashed and then have to spend time drying out. Apart from me getting extremely sunburnt and blistering a bit, our first three days were uneventful. The occassional cargo ship to talk to, the sun to try and avoid, the rocking of the boat to become accustomed to and the endless splashing of waves.

On our fourth morning we headed for a small island to rest up for the day, have a good nights sleep and head out again in the morning. On the approach to there we didnt know if it was an inhabited island or not as it was so small. These thoughts quickly vanished when a jibbering spanish voice came on the radio asking questions. It ended up being a colombian military base looking out for drug runners and illegal fisherman. I guess they must have to call support if something does happen as the 15 of them were on this island with no boats at all, just kinda stranded there for a month till the relief shift arrives. They were nice guys and invited us over to have lunch and watch a film with them and of course offer to sell us drugs!!!

We continued on in the morning with me vowing I must get fit as the 50mtr swim from the boat to shore was hard and I got only 10 mtrs before running out of breath and having to back scull in, I was ashamed of myself so I had a cigarette when I got ashore and caught my breath.
Two nights later we arrived at another military island and meet some fisherman, they enjoyed drinking our rum and eating our popcorn but never did drop of the tuna they promised. After resting on this island, which was our last stop before Cuba, Jamie was still a bit worried about the wind not changing direction. We were sailing into the wind from the start and he had heard that by now it should have changed to more easterly, this all meant little to me as so long as we were going forward I figured that was a good thing.

Halfway to cuba the seas calmed and the sunburn healed and it was quite pleasant cruising, we had both got into our set routines for the turns at watches and Cuba just seemed to get closer and closer, then it happened. 100 miles from the coast of Cuba the wind just stopped, really, nothing at all so we had to start up the outboard and motor for a few days on and off. During this time I managed to catch my first fish, a 1.2mtr Dorado, which was delicious.

As we made our final approach to Cuba the wind picked up and the thunderstorms over Jamaica were an amazing sight. We were only 2hrs from land and I was so excited, what will i do first, jump off the boat and run around like a crazy person, get off and kiss the ground or maybe even the customs guy, i just couldnt wait to stand still.

Once arriving in Cuba we didnt know what to expect. We read that in 1975 they were not friendly to boats, then in 1996 they were very strict on searches, hmm what will 2006 hold we wondered.
Well, it held very little `cause after pulling up in the harbour and calling on the radio to no reply then eating, getting changed and tidying up ready to go ashore still nothing had happened. The fishermen ignored us, the radio ingored us and the police ignored us. WOW in `75 you get turned away, in `96 you get strip searched and in `06 you just get nothing. Yeah of course it was too good to be true, we headed ashore and they turned us back, we headed to the marina and again got turned back. We were inches from land and I was ready to jump and they sent us away, the only place to check in was another 40 miles up the coast at Cienfuegos. I told jamie that it is for a reason, it always is. Cienfuegos was our original destination and we only changed `cause of the wind so there was a reason we had to go there.

20 miles up the coast at sunset I found out what that reason was, Luke had been at sea for 12 days and was yet to experience a storm. We watched the lightning and big grey clouds passing in front of us thinking how amazing it looked, then it got a little windy and the clouds decided to head our way. We took precautions then jumped inside to sit it out, well Jamie actually layed it out while I stood inside, on a 45 degree angle, and hoped it would finish soon. We had 60 knot winds blowing us around in all directions, hail stones hitting us and a coulple of times the boat went over so far the windows of the cabin were under water, bit`s and pieces were falling around all over. Its an old joke that the worst thing you can hear from your tattooist is the word `oops`, well I found what the worst thing you can hear from your boat caotain is, after he lays there with not a care in the world as we are rockin and rollin, it is very concerning when he suddenly jumps up to the window frowns, chews his lip a bit and pronounces `hmm now thats not good` `WHAT` oh man i didnt want to hear that. I still dont know what wasnt good cause he just went and layed down again and the storm had passed after around 30 minutes, i`ve since heard that any storm under 24 hrs is a good one, 24 hrs of that, No thanks.

Sailing again I was now even more anxious to reach land, so I was very glad when we entered Marina Jaguar at around 2am that night. We slept like babies and then the fun began.
A fishing boat motored past and told us we had to take the boat to the dock immediately or else, then mimmicked us being handcuffed. We pulled up to the Quarantine dock jumped of and tied the boat, then security ran up and told us not to get off the boat till the doctor checks us. I needed to re-tie one of the lines and put one foot ashore to do it, which I got told off for.

So now actually touching land with the boat and I still couldn’t get off, not until three hours later after the following had happened, The 4 customs and immigration guys had asked loads of questions, After the sniffer dog had come aboard, After the health inspectors had come aboard and of course after the 4 men in overalls had come aboard and checked….everything. `hmm what is this white stuff` `why sir that is baking powder` `are you sure I think it is cocaine` to which I responded to myself `oh hell I hope its not I dont know the boat captain so well`. It was’t and neither was the bag of icing sugar they got so excited about, even making me try some and then asking 15 mins later why I was drinking so much water `casue its hot here and I`m not a Cuban`. We survived our check to which the doctor never did attend, yet 4 days later they gave us a doctors bill to pay.I refused and replied that if I`m going to pay $30 for a doctor I at least want to be told to get my pants down and bend over not have a customs guy say are you sick `No` then radio the doctor and say `its OK they are fine`. Damn Fidel, we still had to pay.

See photos for Cuba and Panama: