Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel

Basically, I hate tours. I detest being loaded onto a bus with 49 other people and herded like cattle from one tourist spot to the next. I loathe hearing, ‘We’ll be leaving here for exactly 18 minutes,’ when I’d like to stay for two hours shooting photos or hiking the trail to the overlook point. But in Cairns there is no other choice – there was no way to get to the places I wanted to see unless I rented a pricey car. So with trepidation I booked two tours in Cairns – hoping for the best but expecting the worst. The first, Uncle Brian’s Atherton Tablelands and Waterfalls Tour, was highly recommended by Rob at Cairns City Backpackers. He said it was deliberately designed to be off the beaten track in the highlands west of the city, which he insisted are more beautiful than anything I would see if I did the more famous tours to Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation. I considered the possibility that Rob was pushing this tour because he was getting a cut but then dismissed the idea. He seemed like a pretty sincere guy. So I took a leap of faith and booked it at a cost of $109.

Uncle Brian's tour bus Atherton Tablelands Daintree Forest Cairns Australia

Uncle Brian’s tour bus – “Gus the Bus”

From the moment I boarded “Gus The Bus” at 8AM, I knew this tour was going to be different. Our guide, Bart, was a showman in every sense of the word. Standing about 5′ 10″ with curly long blond hair pulled back in a ponytail, Bart wore his daily uniform of khaki shorts, a T-shirt and sandals (he claims to not own a pair of shoes other than golf shoes), kicking off his sandals at every opportunity to go barefoot. He memorized the names of every person on the bus (15 of us) and engaged each of us in a long conversation via his headset and microphone as we drove down the road. He wanted details: how long had we been traveling, where had we been, where were we going, and oh, by the way, is there a romance going on between the two of you in the back of the bus who are both from Germany but just met at a backpacker’s lodge? By the time we were 20 miles down the road we knew each others life histories.
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I’ve really been in a funk lately. I don’t know why. I thought it may have been due to the cold weather but it seemed to persist even after I arrived in warmer climates. In Sydney recently, I attended a meditation class, where the teacher discussed the benefit of “remaining present” every moment of our lives. After the class we talked a bit and I told him about my tendency to get bored with things when they are no longer challenging. He suggested that I could be fully present even when I was in a state of boredom, “Ask yourself, what is boredom. Take it out and examine it. Look at it from every angle. Even boredom can be interesting when we are totally present.” So I decided to just sit with my funk. In it. To let it consume me, if that’s what it wanted. To examine it from every angle.

I asked myself what I was really feeling. I found loneliness in there. I miss my family and friends. I am moving so rapidly from place to place that, while I am meeting some wonderful people and making friends, about the time I get to know someone I have to hit the road again.
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Because I had mistakenly thought Sydney, Australia was an oceanfront city, I double-checked my facts before going to Cairns. Yep! Cairns is an oceanfront city in the northwest corner of the Australian continent, where the temperatures are balmy throughout the year. Since it’s located smack dab in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef, I should have no problem finding great beaches where I can soak up some rays and warm my tired ol’ bones – something I was really looking forward to.

Cairns City Backpackers Australia

Cairns City Backpackers

I’d also done some checking on backpacker accommodations and found that Cairns City Backpackers offered wireless Internet connection. Access to the Internet is important because it allows me to upload my photos and post to the blog, so it has been a major criteria in searching for accommodations during the entire trip. Much to my surprise, it has been difficult to find even moderate priced accommodations that offer wireless access. Finding hostels and backpacker accommodations with wireless is really unusual, so I made a reservation for a private room at Cairns City Backpackers for four nights, sight unseen.

A few words here about hostels and backpacker lodges around the world. They are absolutely the cheapest accommodations available. They come in all sizes and configurations, but basically they all have some combination of dormitories and private rooms. The dorms are further divided between big rooms that sleep 16 to 20 people – bunk beds lined up down the wall – and smaller dorms that sleep four to six. Dorm rooms are usually mixed gender, Read More

I’ve just finished uploading the entire collection of New Zealand photos of the North Island and South Island that I posted on the blog, as well as some additional photos that were not on the blog. To view them just click on either of the above links. Enjoy!

I started traveling exactly three months ago today. Along the way I have been intrigued, elated, fascinated, amused, delighted, introspective, questioning, grateful, honored, irritated, challenged, scared, and a myriad of other adjectives too numerous to mention. For the past few days, however, I seem to have been paralyzed by apathy.

I am in Byron Bay at the moment. It is a resort town on the mid-East coast of Australia. It is a beautiful place with rugged, rocky coastlines and lovely beaches. In many respects it is a great deal like the Outer Banks of North Carolina, which was my home for 11 years before moving to Sarasota, Florida this past January. The town caters to tourists and prices are high. Surfers flock here to live their dream and soon fall into the destructive cycle of working less and less and partying more and more. Businesses have a difficult time getting enough help and even when they do, there is not enough affordable lodging available to house them.
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On the Hawaiian island of Kauai there is a beach that is nicknamed “Barking Sands” because the sand makes a “woof-woof” sound with every step. The effect occurs when the extremely fine sand rolls underfoot and the grains slide by one another, causing friction, which produces the barking sound. The sand of Byron Bay, which is also extremely fine (it feels like baby powder), exhibits a similar phenomenon – with each step I took it yip-yip-yipped like a miniature poodle.

Byron Bay Beach sands make a "yipping" sound when walked on in Australia

Byron Bay Beach sands make a “yipping” sound when walked on

Belongil Creek Byron Bay Australia

Belongil Creek

In the daylight, Byron Bay’s main beach is not quite so pink as it is at sunset, but it is a gorgeous crescent of sand nonetheless. I hiked south to where Belongil Creek cuts a swath through the beach on its journey to the ocean. The creek is the color of amber, stained by the falling leaves and bark of the tea trees that line its bank. At its mouth a tireless battle ensued – the brown waters of the creek struggling against ocean waves that relentlessly deposit sand, blocking the creek’s path to the ocean.

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