Solo Adventures in Oz: Alone in Cairns

Australia, Hostels, Lost Girls RTW Adventure, Solo Travel, Tours & Attractions — By on September 4, 2007 at 11:39 pm

To save money a little money during my post-Lost Girls adventure, I’d booked the absolute last flight of the day from Melbourne to Cairns, the capital of Queensland. In retrospect, this was not my smartest-ever idea.

When my plane finally scooted into the terminal at 2:00am, fog and darkness enshrouded the whole place. I could have landed on an airstrip in Ghana or at Chicago’s O’Hare for all I could see outside. Fortunately, recognizing that backpackers such as myself tended to take cheap red-eye flights, the airport provided reasonably priced transportation into town and I found myself standing in front of the locked gate of my hostel. As I’d been instructed earlier that day by a heavily accented proprietor who ended every sentence with, “okay, love?” I fished behind the mailbox for a key and felt tremendous relief when my fingers closed around cool metal, rather than something furry or slimy.

I was desperate to sleep in the next day, but it seemed that my fellow travelers in the uber-cheap all-girls hostel I’d chosen had other plans. Doors slammed, radios turned on, toilets flushed, pots banged starting at, oh 6:00am. No matter how tightly I squeezed my pillow around my head, I could not tune out the high-decibel conversations being held in every conceivable European and Asian language what sounded like inches from my head. Giving up on sleep, I yanked back the sheet and started to get dressed.

My Italian roommate, who at that moment looked to be filing her toenails, took my upright position as her cue to launch into a diatribe about how terrible her four-day snorkel trip had been, and made me promise never to book with Taca Dives.

I swore I wouldn’t and as soon as I could swipe a toothbrush over my teeth in the open bathroom that also served as a hallway, jettisoned myself out of the hostel. Rarely up so early, I was now determined to get a jump-start on exploring. Since my friend “Thailand Phil” had basically shepherded me around his home city of Melbourne, I figured that today was my first real day of my life as a “solo traveler.”

Even on four hours of sleep, I felt totally revitalized….the next few weeks were gonna be so great. Freedom! I could go anywhere I wanted and do anything I wanted—and I didn’t have to check in with anyone!

The high lasted for all of ten minutes, approximately the time it took me to wander into “town” and realized that I’d landed squarely in a backpacker tourist trap that looked more like a South Florida strip mall than the adventure capital of Australia. It was hard to see Queensland, Cairns in particular, as an eco-friendly center of green and sustainable tourism when you could wallpaper the world over in all the pamphlets I spotted for Cape Tribulation jungle tours, Great Barrier Reef dive packages, Whitsunday sailing adventures, hot air balloon rides and party-all-night hostels.

Coffee and caffeine ranked at the very top of my agenda. Sincee most of the cafes I passed offered pretty much the same fare as the next, I entered one and installed myself at a rear table. Once my caffeine fix had arrived, I cracked open the Lonely Planet Australia and pored over the pages, feeling very much at that moment like a cliched version of a backpacker.

Maybe it was the lack of sleep, but I swear I had an out of body experience—I saw myself at the back of the cafe, the sorry solo girl clinging to her guidebook for dear life, trying her best not to worry that she’d made a terrible mistake by letting her friends, her human safety net and buffer, board flights back to America.

I tried to remember that I’d been alone plenty of times before, and in a lot more intimidating situations than this one. When I’d moved to New York at nineteen and I hadn’t known a soul, my curiousity about the place had won out over my loneliness. Back then, I’d spent most of my free time wandering up and down the city streets, and endlessly fascinated by the idea that I might find something cool around the next corner.

My stroll up and down the streets of Cairns, however, didn’t thrill me in quite the same way. The city did have a beautiful 3-kilometer promenade, a gorgoues pool over looking the salt marsh and dozens of very expensive looking barbeque grills for public use, but I couldn’t seem to find an “authentic” part of town. What I did notice, though, were all of the other backpackers-hanging out in groups, laughing as they mingled outside of garishly painted hostels, making plans as they lazed on the grass near the waterfront.

The volume on their conversations seemed amplified, and I found myself vaguely miffed, as if I’d somehow been left out of the good time. How come no one was talking to me? Had I lost my ability to make friends? Was it totally weird to walk up to a random group of strangers and attempt to join their conversation? Did I look completely pathetic??

By the afternoon, I felt physically exhausted and fed-up with my own self-pitying inner diatribe. I reasoned that one of the best ways to meet people would be to scoop up a few hundred of those environmentally unfriendly flyers I’d seen littered all around Cairns and book myself into a couple of tours. Hey, if I trapped myself on a bus with a group of twentysomethings for a long enough period of time, someone would have to talk to me, right?

In my zeal to start the solo adventure off on the right foot, I just didn’t book myself on a couple of tours—I booked myself on five. An overnight trip to the jungle at Cape Tribulation, two scuba trips on separate live-aboard dive boats, one learn-to-sail adventure in the Whitsunday Islands and a three-day “safari” on Fraser Island.

Budget? What budget?

I charged everything, reasoning that I would be heading back to the States in less than a month and would work off the credit card charges quicker than you can say “culture shock.”

To prove that I was already having a great time alone and to assert my independence, I ate at the Sushi Train (a restaurant where small plates of rice and fish roll past you on a conveyer belt) for both lunch and dinner that day, then returned to the weird hostel to crash at about 9:00pm.

So much for the party-all-night backpacker lifestyle.

Just after dawn the next morning, the Cape Trib Connections van screeched to stop in front of my hostel, ready to whisk me away on the first of my quintet of guided tours.

At last…the “adventure” porton of my solo journey was about to begin.

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