I was driving a rented campervan from Darwin to Cairns and needed to stop for the night. I took advantage of a free camping site off the highway. It was a large red dirt area with some trees around for some shade. By the time I arrived, it was dark. I ate dinner and did some writing after feeling down all day. The next morning, the sun was shinning against the blue sky.
I continued on my quest to Cairns. The speed limit in the Northern Territory was as high as 130 KPH (80 MPH), but the other states had a limit of 110 KPH (68 MPH). The campervan was bouncy, and I struggled to control it while driving so fast.
The drive was mostly flat, but there was a brief period of some rock walls. I was on a time crunch to get to Cairns, so I only stopped for gas, the restroom, and snacks. There were cows and kangaroos on the side of the road at times. A gang of motorcycles passed me, so I waved to them and gave a smile.
The highway became crazy! Each lane only had half of it paved. There was a car-width of paved roadway, but I had to drive with the dashed white line in the middle of my van to avoid the dirt and gravel. Thankfully, there weren’t many cars around. When a car appeared in the opposite direction, we both quickly moved to our lane. It was difficult because my car’s left side was on the gravel, bouncing around, while the right side was on the pavement. I had to slow down quite a bit when this happened. Then I went back to driving in the center.
By the time I arrived at the caravan park, it was 6:00 pm. It cost $30 for a site with electrical hookups. I ate dinner and spent time writing. The temperature outside was noticeably warmer than the last several nights. I had the windows open, but there wasn’t a breeze. I opened the side door, but bugs were getting inside. One time when I walked to the restroom, I saw a kangaroo hopping away.
The next morning, I continued my drive. When I arrived at Mount Surprise, I stopped for gas. The shop inside to pay was full of outback character. They sold beer, books, and goose eggs. The décor featured worn hats on the wall and an inspirational sign that read, “Believe you can, and you will.” There was also a newspaper clipping on the wall of a 32-foot crocodile that was found with a human body inside of it.
As I got closer to the east coast, the landscape became less flat. Then, about two hours from Cairns, it was beautiful! I loved the outback’s red dirt landscape because it was unique, but I really missed mountains and greenery.
It seemed to change instantly. There were farms and bright green vegetation. Fog engulfed the area for about 20 minutes and then lifted. I was excited to see something so different after two months of outback living.
I followed my GPS, and it took me up and then down a mountain on highway 52 (the Gillies Highway). The road is narrow, has 800 meters (2,624 feet) elevation change over 19 kilometers (12 miles), and has 263 turns!
I was trying to drive slowly and safely because I didn’t want to damage the campervan, but the cars behind me were annoyed. I sped up a little, but the refrigerator door and a cabinet drawer opened and were slamming back and forth with each turn. I pulled over at a lookout point and secured the door and drawer.
I had to get the campervan back to Cairns before 3:00 pm and was warned that I would have to pay a substantial fee if it wasn’t returned by then. The crazy road made me worry that I wouldn’t make it because I had to drive slowly or risk sliding off the mountain. There were also rocks and vegetation on the side of the mountain, just inches from the road.
The drive was breathtaking! I desperately wanted to stop and take pictures, but I had to keep driving. I pulled over a few times to let cars pass me, and I took advantage sometimes and took pictures.
The constant back and forth on the curves made my items roll back and forth too. I was also beginning to get motion sickness. I finally made it to the bottom of the mountain and still had a bit to go before Cairns. Once I was off the mountain, it was flat, with sugar cane fields everywhere.
When I arrived in Cairns, I stopped at my Airbnb first to drop off my bags. It was 2:00 pm, and I parked on a dirt area on the side of the street. My Airbnb was a one-bedroom apartment on the second floor, in the back of the medium-sized complex. I had to make several trips with all of my bags, running up the stairs. The humidity was making me sweat, and I was frantic.
Once all my bags were inside, I cleaned up the campervan because I didn’t want to get stuck with a fee. Then, I had to stop for gas to make sure the tank was full. I arrived at Apollo at 2:45 pm – just in the knick of time!
It was packed, and there wasn’t anywhere to park. A guy came outside and directed me to the back, where they’d inspect the vehicle. He signed off that the car was in good condition. I turned in my gas receipts (which totaled much more than $250), and they reimbursed me for $250 on-site. It took weeks to get my $1,000 deposit back.
I took an Uber back to my Airbnb and rested. I was exhausted. I drove 3,141 kilometers (1,951 miles) in five and a half days. I couldn’t go as fast as I would have if I had a car because the campervan has limits. The landscape was mostly flat with nothing to see other than Kakadu National Forest.
I was grateful that I could get to Cairns from Darwin for under $100 in vehicle rental, $250 of my gas was paid for, and I was able to continue my goal of driving around the entire country. Even though it was rushed, I was happy that I got to see Kakadu National Park too.
The drive was draining, though. That was a lot of mileage to drive by myself in a flat, barren landscape. I don’t usually feel that exhausted, but it was not a particularly enjoyable section to navigate. Maybe it was just because I couldn’t stop as much as I would have liked, but I was happy to be in Cairns. I decided to relax for the rest of the day in the air conditioning.
As I lounged by the T.V., I saw a news story about an Australian man and his Canadian fiancé who were campervanning in New Zealand when they were attacked in the middle of the night. The man was shot and killed, while the girl escaped. The shooter took the van with the body 80 kilometers and abandoned it. A search was on for the murderer.
It was so sad. I had just finished sleeping in a campervan alone for five nights. I can’t imagine someone just approaching in the middle of the night with a gun. The killer was eventually found and tried. His sentencing will take place in December 2020.
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I was camping in my campervan rental in the Northern Territory of Australia. I ate some yogurt for breakfast and then drove to Katherine and stopped at the visitor center.
I asked them about driving highway 1, which looked like the shortest way to Cairns. Unfortunately, that road is exceptionally corrugated and rough, like the Gibb River Road. The woman behind the counter told me that I’d need a heavy-duty four-wheel-drive vehicle, and it would be slow going. The rental agreement did not permit me to drive on a road like that because of the damage it would likely cause.
Instead, I would need to drive 650 kilometers (404 miles) south towards Tennant Creek. On the way out of the visitor center, I grabbed a pamphlet with rules on what is allowed (and not allowed) when crossing the Queensland border.
The highway was paved, straight, and felt draining. I was getting more comfortable driving the campervan, but it was sensitive to bumps and was sometimes hard to control. As I drove south, the road became more and more empty.
I stopped to use the restroom and get some gas at Threeways Roadhouse. There was a caravan park with a bar, but nothing else around. It was another 25 kilometers to Tennant Creek, and my mileage was limited. I was afraid of going over, so I decided to stay the night there. The road going east was there, so going all the way to Tennant Creek was out of the way.
The caravan park was run down. It was a dirt lot with nothing there except a few hookups with electricity. I found a spot and pulled my campervan in. Then I made a sandwich for dinner.
As the sun started to fade away, the air outside got cold. I took a shower and then sat on the bed, writing for my blog. Then it got too cold, and I climbed inside the blankets to warm up.
I woke up after a cold night in my campervan. While I ate breakfast, I talked with my friend Debbie on FaceTime. It was great catching up because we didn’t get a chance to chat the previous two weeks. It was 10:30 am, and I needed to hit the road. Before I left the campsite, I fueled up on gas and opened the hood to check the oil.
The space under the hood was extremely tiny – only about ten inches deep. The front was tiny and looked smashed in. I was struggling to find the dipstick and asked a guy walking by. He briefly looked at it and then said he wasn’t familiar with it.
I pulled the van into a parking spot and continued to look around. I got the manual out, but it showed a picture of a regular engine with a regular dipstick. I googled and watched a video, but it wasn’t helpful. I checked Apollo’s website (the rental company) about finding it, and all it said was to check the dipstick.
I was about to give up, but after ruining my Subaru Outback because I ran out of oil, I wasn’t going to make the same mistake. Apollo also recommended that I check the oil every 300 kilometers. I had the hood popped open and searched around when a woman, Liz, walked by and asked if I needed help.
I explained to Liz that I couldn’t find the dipstick. She searched around with me, but we didn’t have any luck. Her husband, Tony, walked over and searched with us. My brother-in-law, Todd, FaceTimed me, responding to a message I had sent him asking for his assistance. I showed him the engine, and he was baffled too.
Finally, I called the roadside assistance at Apollo, and they told me the dipstick and oil cap are under the seats. What?! Tony and I found some areas with Velcro, and then I found a latch hidden underneath the middle console. It released the seats, tilting them backward. We had to hold the seats up to get to the dipstick. Tony held it while I checked the oil, and there was plenty.
Tony, Liz, and I laughed and laughed about how absurd it was that the oil and dipstick were located under the seats because it requires two people. Tony and Liz were from a small town, Violet, about 200 kilometers from Melbourne. They appeared to be in their 60s. We talked about travels, and Liz pointed to her gray hair, “It’s crowded now with all the gray nomads around. We prefer to travel in the summer when nobody else is around.” I told her it still wasn’t as crowded as the U.S.
Tony and Liz asked me about how I was getting around Australia. I told them about my Subaru and the relocation for the campervan. We talked about the Red Center and the Nullarbor. I told them that the Australian Outback is more remote than Canada and Alaska.
After talking for ten minutes, we all needed to get back on the road. They gave me their contact information if I ended up in their town, so I’d have familiar faces. Their kindness was heart-warming, and I was so happy they helped me figure out the oil!
Before I pulled away from the gas station and lost cell service, I saw that Josh responded to my message about me coming to Cairns. I met Josh nine months earlier while I was in Whistler for six weeks. We had spent 16 hours together after meeting at a bar in a restaurant. He was the last (and really only person since my divorce) that I had been intimate with. When I left Whistler, I gave him a letter about how I felt. Since then, we had stayed in touch from time to time.
Josh left Whistler in the spring and spent some time on a live-abroad boat diving in Indonesia. After that, he went to Cairns, where he grew up, to visit family. Josh hadn’t been back in a long time, so he planned to spend three to four months there. I told him that I was planning to drive around Australia, and he told me to contact him when I made it to Cairns.
I had told my cousin the night before that I had a feeling Josh wasn’t going to be in Cairns. Something told me it just wasn’t going to happen. Even though I told myself repeatedly that he probably wouldn’t be there, and if he was there, maybe he didn’t want to see me after all, I still hoped. It had been a few months since we talked.
As I sat in my campervan about to drive away and lose cell service, I saw his message appear. Josh said he was back in Canada for a few weeks before going to Europe to hike. He had been in Cairns for the last three months and had just left.
I pulled away from the gas station and cried as I drove. I was hoping Josh would distract me from Damien. The last two years had been nothing but heartaches when it came to men. I haven’t dated a single one. I’ve kissed a few, but they never want to date me. I couldn’t take the constant rejection. Being lonely sucks, but being broken-hearted is worse.
When Damien told us he would check his didgeridoos in the woods, he knew his trick to get the termites to eat them and create the didgeridoos wouldn’t work. He was almost certain he’d find them untouched. He said, “If you want to see me be sad, you can come follow me and check out the logs. I know it didn’t work. I know it’s extremely unlikely, but I still get my hopes up like I always do, and it will hurt when it turns out it didn’t work.”
I resonated with that so much. My brain always knows things won’t work out, and I try my best to give myself accurate expectations. But no matter what I do, there is still a piece of me that holds out hope. Hope for the unimaginable. Hope for the idealistic outcome. Hope for happiness.
Instead, my heart hurts each time the reality sets in. Dreams don’t come true, and my hope is crushed in a vice. You would think it would hurt a little less each time, but the pain never lessens. Those feelings of rejection and not being enough came flooding back. Maybe it was the combination of Damien and Josh rejecting me within a week, but it was too much. Josh knew I was on my way to Cairns, and he chose to leave before seeing me. Not that I expected him to move around his travel plans, but it was clear he didn’t care to see me. He never checked to ask when I’d be there.
I cried and cried. I was also angry with God. If he was making these things not work with guys because some magical man is waiting for me, why does he continue to put me through this? Why would he continue to put these guys who I connected with in my path? Guys who flirted with me, guys who made me think there was something there. It felt unfair.
I continued driving through the vast emptiness in strong crosswinds. I stopped for a break and ate lunch at Tablelands. After leaving, signs stated, “no fuel for 260 kilometers.” Other signs warned of the “High Crash Zone” with various pictures of cars crashing into each other or animals. Once I made it into Queensland, and the roads became smoother.
I was reminded of the last time I saw my ex-husband, Aaron. It was six months after I filed for divorce, weeks before it would be final. His stuff was still in my garage, and I asked him to pick it up. He had just started dating his now-wife and had that “falling-in-love” happiness about him. We argued about how he continued to lie about seeing her, even though I knew he was. Standing at the back of his U-Haul, Aaron hugged me and kissed my cheek. I was trying my best to hold in tears, but they still fell. He had a smile on his face – a stark contrast to months prior when we both sobbed in each other’s arms when I said I was filing for divorce, and he asked me not to.
He was ok because he had a new love, someone who he’d move in with just a few short weeks later. I, on the other hand, was a mess for the next year. For two years after we first separated, I cried constantly. Growing up, I hardly ever cried in front of people. After the separation, it was like the floodgates were opened. I couldn’t say the word “divorce.” Eventually, I got myself to say it, but my throat tightened, and tears welled in my eyes.
I had read somewhere that you know you’re over a divorce when you can say the word, divorce, without crying. At that time, I couldn’t imagine a time where I wouldn’t cry. It felt like an eternity. Aaron moved on quickly while I was extremely slow. Everyone told me men move on faster, but it felt like something was wrong with me. The pain I felt was unbearable. The loss and sadness were more than I could have imagined.
There are times when I’m so excited, happy, and ecstatic that I can hardly believe it. Then there are times when sadness takes over. I feel it deep in my heart, and the pain physically crushes my chest.
It took two years, but I was finally able to say the word “divorce.” I finally stopped crying. At that point, driving around Australia, it had been just over three years since we first separated. In the previous year of travel, I had my ups and downs, but sometimes I was so happy that I had to think about the last time that I cried because it had been so long.
While I drove, a flood of emotion came pouring out. The feeling of being rejected over and over was too much. It was a cruel joke. I can tell when a guy likes me, and every time, I let myself go to the places of “what ifs” and “maybes.” Even though my brain tells me not to, my heart still hopes.
I didn’t know what the solution was. I didn’t want to close my heart off to people, but I couldn’t keep going through this. I couldn’t keep feeling like someone was interested in me, but only temporarily. If I could at least date them for a couple of months, I’m sure I’d find reasons why we aren’t compatible. Unfortunately, I never get that chance.
As I continued to drive, crying on and off, I suddenly got cell service and saw that I had a message from Chris. He’s the musician from Tinder who ghosted me…twice. After he didn’t show up the night at the campsite in the Kimberley, I sent him a message telling him he should just be honest with people if he’s not interested. He wrote back with a friendly message apologizing and said his late reply was because he’s never on the app. He said he didn’t show up that night at the campsite because he was drinking with friends early in the morning and was too drunk by 6:00 pm and passed out.
Chris said he had every intention of meeting up with me, but the night got away from him. He wanted to know where I was and how I was doing. I knew he was lying because his location would update while I was in Darwin, and it wouldn’t update unless he opened the app. Damien was right – Chris is not a good guy. The message frustrated me so much. It’s the same story over and over. Lies, selfishness, and guys being careless with my heart.
I often will talk about wanting a great love like what we see in the movies. What I mean by that is the love that is talked about in great novels and poems (and some stellar movies). The love that is sung about in songs. The love that the bible talks about. I believe this type of love exists, and I’m not willing to settle for anything less. People think I’m silly for wanting this type of love, but I think they’re crazy to settle for less.
It’s not that I expect someone to treat me amazingly, while I don’t reciprocate. I believe both parties have to be willing to invest and make an effort. When I was 19, my first official boyfriend used to leave things on my car while I was at work or kickboxing. One day, he left a giant, clear balloon tied to my windshield wiper. Inside the balloon was a note about how he felt about me. Another day, I had flowers in his favorite color delivered to his work.
After we broke up, I moved away to a different college three hours away. I mailed him a letter explaining that I loved him; I just always struggled to verbalize it. Months later, he was having a heart to heart with his grandpa and decided he needed to see me. He drove straight to my college town, not knowing where I lived (and this was before cell phones). He remembered the return address on the letter that I mailed said, Ellis Hall. After stopping at a gas station, my ex-boyfriend asked someone where Ellis Hall was. He walked into the lobby of my dorm building and asked where my room was located. They couldn’t give out that information, but they patched him through to my room, and he left a voicemail.
My ex-boyfriend wandered the six-story building halls. He saw “Christy and Lindy” outside of a door and knew it was my room because Lindy was my best friend. I wasn’t there – I was actually back in my hometown that weekend introducing my new boyfriend to my family. My ex-boyfriend waited around for three hours and eventually left a note that he had written on torn-out pages from his checkbook, and slid it under the door.
We ended up reconnecting later that summer, but it ended once again. We realized we are better friends, and we’re still friends to this day. I know not every situation will be like that, or not all of the time. But I want humans to start following their hearts. I want humans to be bold in showing people that they care. It’s what the love songs are all about. I do my best to be a caring partner, and I put a lot of effort into relationships. It’s why I made a fool of myself when I gave a letter to Josh, and why I chased Damien to the airport. I just want the effort made in return. I want the big gestures.
It’s a lonely feeling when you aren’t “number one” to a single person on the planet. My parents have each other and my siblings. My sister has her husband and her kids. My brother has his kids. Friends will always put their significant other ahead of friends. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not faulting them. It’s human nature. On dating apps, I often see people say their kids are number one. I get it, but I don’t want to be number two when they’d be my number one. I’m just tired of being down the list or an afterthought. I have amazing friends and people in my life, but I wanted a romantic partner. It’s what Meredith and Christina always talked about in Grey’s Anatomy. We all need “our person.” Someone who is there no matter what.
A day of crying made me feel better. Sometimes I just need to release it. I thought about what I want in my future. I want a partner who puts in the effort – a partner who wants to be around me. I want someone who doesn’t see me as an obligation. I want a partner who treats me with respect and fights for me. My heart can’t handle these emotional rollercoasters, and I am simply too exhausted to go down this path again. That day, I decided I would try my hardest to steer clear of men for a while.
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It was time to leave Darwin in the Northern Territory of Australia. I had reserved a campervan on Imoova, which rents vehicles for $1 a day. They do this because the car companies need to get the vehicle back to a specific city. It’s a win-win because they get the vehicle to where they need it, and I get a ride and a place to sleep (most of the vehicles are campervans). The only problem is that you don’t get a lot of time to get from point A to point B.
In my case, I found a two-person campervan, so it was basically a taller mini-van. I felt comfortable driving it, and it had a bed in the back, so I only had to pay for RV parks or find a place to do free camping. In the deal that I found, the company was also offering $250 in fuel reimbursement. This was the perfect way for me to continue my trip around Australia.
I had to take the campervan from Darwin to Cairns in five days. I paid an extra $40 to keep the vehicle an additional day (the max allowed). I couldn’t pick it up until noon, and I had to drop it off in Cairns by 3:00 pm six days later.
I left my hotel, looking like a mad-woman from the things I had collected, like food. I knew I would need my cooler later, and I wanted to take advantage of being able to cook inside the campervan, so I had some food items. I loaded all my crap into an Uber to take me to the car rental place.
When I arrived, it took almost an hour to go over all the paperwork and for the girl to show me how to operate it. The girl convinced me to pay an extra fee for insurance if something happened (like a rock hitting my windshield). Considering all of the issues that I had with my car in Australia, I decided the insurance was worth the cost.
The small fridge battery in the back would last up to two days, but then I needed to plug it in at a campsite. The girl explained that I likely wouldn’t need to replace the water because it was just me, and I’d only use it for the sink.
The campervan had a very tiny front end, and it was much taller than I was used to driving. I put my stuff in the back and had a hard time pulling the vehicle out of the tiny parking space. It was so close to the fence and other vehicles, and I was afraid of hitting something. I asked the girl working there to help me, and she pulled it out so fast, I almost closed my eyes, thinking she was about to hit something. She was successful, and I took off.
I was still used to driving on the left, thank goodness. I went to a grocery store and got some food items. Then I was off. It was already around 3:00 pm, not giving me much time before it got dark.
When I met up with my friend Andy earlier, he gave me lots of tips on what to see and do in the region because he had already explored it. I wanted to make it to Jabiru in Kakadu National Park. The campervan was fun to drive! I bounced around on the smallest of bumps, but it felt good to have a vehicle again. As I’ve mentioned before, cars feel like freedom to me. I was happy that I could go wherever I wanted.
I made it to Ubirr Rock Art and found a parking spot. The sun was starting to set, but I was determined to see it before I had to set up camp. I followed a walking path through the trees, and a few people were leaving.
I arrived at different rock art murals that were created by Aboriginal people. I had a hard time making out what each piece was, but signs helped me understand what it meant. One sign explained that they painted pictures of crocodiles as a warning to others.
One of the signs read, “During the creation time, when the First People created the landscape and all it contains, Garranga’rreli visited this place as the Rainbow Serpent. She painted her image on this rock to remind people of her visit.” It goes on to explain, “When girls and young women are told about Carranga’rreli they learn about puberty and how to begin life as an adult.”
I followed the path and started climbing up a massive rock section. As I got closer to the top, I noticed a lot of people there watching the sunset. I felt much better knowing other people were around.
The views were incredible! I could see 360° as far as the eye could see. On the backside of the rock, there was a thick, bushy forest. To the side were more rocks. And to the front, the sun illuminated a flat, green field. There was a pool of water, like a marsh, reflecting the sun. The grass was a vibrant green, showing signs of life in an otherwise desert.
I wandered around the rocks, enjoying different views. I was so thrilled that I made it in time for the sunset. I didn’t get to spend as much time as I would have liked inspecting the rock art, but I was grateful for what I got.
Once the sun was gone, I walked back to my campervan and drove to Jabiru’s nearest RV park. By the time I got there, it was dark and almost 7:00 pm, when most park lobbies close. The first park was completely full. The second park had a spot left but no power hookups. I took what I could get and was thankful that there were showers available.
The back of the campervan had a table with two benches that turned into a bed. I decided to keep it as a bed because I didn’t feel like switching it each day. I made some dinner, got some writing done, and went to bed.
The next day, I got up at 8:00 am and ate some breakfast. I put my swimsuit on under my clothes because I wanted to hike to a natural pool and go swimming. On my way out of Jabiru, I stopped to get gas, and it cost $75! I had only driven 155 miles (249 kilometers) from Darwin. My Subaru Outback got much better gas mileage.
I stopped at the visitor center and found out that the cruise I wanted to go on would leave at 11:30 am. I booked it over the phone, which cost $70. The woman at the center said that I’d be driving through Kakadu National Park, so I had to pay another $40.
I arrived at the Yellow Water Billabong (which I was told is not a river, even though it looks like one). I hopped on the bus that took us to the riverboat.
We cruised along the billabong in a single-level boat while the tour guide talked over the loudspeaker. There were about 30-40 people on the boat, and he warned us not to put our arms on the railing because a crocodile might jump up and attack. It could grab a human by the head and pull them under the water.
Ruben, the tour guide, was tall, had black curly hair, was 49 years old with some grey hair (but looked ten years younger). He had a thick Australian accent and was half Aboriginal and half English. Ruben was charismatic but had a salty personality, like many Australians in the outback.
Ruben told us that there are 100,000 saltwater crocodiles (salties) and 40,000 freshwater crocodiles (freshies) in the Northern Territory. Saltwater crocs are aggressive and will hunt their prey, sometimes for days.
As we pulled away from the shore, Ruben explained that the parking lot is underwater every year from October until April because of the massive flooding during the rainy season. His tour company never closes, but during that time, they move the starting location around. They’ve had to evacuate the area twice because the flooding got so bad.
We cruised the water, looking for crocodiles. When Ruben saw one, he’d pull the boat near to them so we could get a closer view. Many were lounging on the banks. The crocs can stay completely underwater for four hours. They have to eat on top of the water, though. Salties can live in both freshwater and saltwater. They need to be between 30- 33 °C (86-91 °F) to digest their food. To avoid overheating, they will keep their mouth wide open, even when sleeping, which cools their brain.
Ruben stopped the boat when he saw a large female crocodile swimming near the bank and trees. Then we saw a smaller, younger crocodile starting to swim towards her. Ruben told us to watch because they are very territorial. Sure enough, we were treated to a show when the female started lunging and chasing the smaller crocodile away.
We continued on our tour around the water while Ruben told us more about the surrounding animals. We passed some birds on the water’s edge. We even saw a Great-Billed Heron, which Ruben said was rare. One of the birds is called a Jesus Bird because it looks like it’s walking on water. The crocs can’t digest hair and feathers, so they’ll cough it up like a furball.
We stopped at a section that had floating lotus lilies everywhere! They were beautiful, and I couldn’t believe how many there were. The green lily pads floated on top of the water while the pink flowers with a yellow center popped up from the pads. Ruben told us that Australia got the lotus lily from trading with Asia. There is a bird that uses the lilypad for nesting. The female is larger than the male, and she lays her eggs inside the lilypad and takes off. The male will sit on the eggs, incubating them for two months.
Ruben was opinionated. He told everyone that we’re putting concrete over our wetlands, which are like the lungs of the planet. He said, “You’re putting concrete in your lungs. Stop bloody muckin’ it up!”
Ruben also advised us not to kill an animal in front of the wrong person. Being half Aboriginal, Ruben has no problem killing an animal for food. He said that if he killed that animal in front of a Gold Coast person, they’d say, “Who do you think you are?” If he did it in front of a Queenslander, they wouldn’t care.
Ruben also pointed out that states now require a fishing license to do any fishing. He said, “Oh my. I’ve never had a license for a tiny fishing boat. You’re all getting ripped off.” He described the land as being of the people and how it’s insane that it’s licensed now in states outside of the Northern Territory.
Being half Aboriginal and half English, Ruben said he gets the best of both worlds. Ruben explained that “his family” lives everywhere because they’ve been around for 65,000 years. He said that 70% of Australians have never interacted with an Aboriginal person before, but now we all had.
Ruben said, “The English taught us how to run a business. They taught us how to create tourism in this park. Now we’re multimillionaires. If you would have welcomed us in the 1700s, we’d be billionaires. But thank you for teaching us business. Now that we have our land back and we’re welcome…thank you. We’re going forward now, we’re not looking back.” Ruben was a huge proponent for working with tribes to teach them how to use their money, so they don’t just waste it on alcohol.
Once the tour was finished, I ate lunch at the restaurant on-site and met a guy who worked there who was from Lawrence, Kansas, USA. Once I was finished, I drove to Majuk Gorge.
The last ten miles were unpaved and extremely corrugated. I worried about my campervan making it through the sandy areas, but I was determined to see the gorge. There were a few sections where I had to go extremely slow over large rocks in a dried riverbed.
I made it to the parking lot at 3:15 pm and started walking down the trail. A couple warned me that they had seen a snake on the trail. I was nervous and kept my eyes peeled. Then, I passed signs warning of crocodiles in the area.
The trail got a little tricky, going over rocks near a river. I made it to the gorge after 20 minutes. A few people were swimming in the water and said there weren’t crocs in that natural pool. Another path took people to the top of the gorge, where a smaller pool was located. I had difficulty finding the actual path because of the thick brush, so I just skipped that part.
I got into the water, and it was cold, which felt good. I missed my group from the Kimberley region tour. I realized that I would not have done all that extreme hiking or swimming in the pools if I were alone. I missed their company too.
I was nervous swimming in the pool, knowing there were snakes and possibly crocs nearby. After about five to ten minutes, I got out and rested on a rock.
There was a family of four with kids in their late teens. The guy climbed some rocks near us and jumped off into the pool. There was another family with two young kids. They were from Melbourne. The husband worked in construction. The family had been on the road traveling around Australia for two months. The man told me that their funds were running low, so they were looking for work along the way.
The man had received two calls about work, but they were each only for two weeks and in very remote places, so he turned them down. He recently noticed a “possible remote work” in Tennant Creek, so they were headed to check that out next.
I felt drained, and my heart was beating extremely slowly. I know I have a slow heartbeat (often in the 40-50s), but it makes me tired when it gets too slow and skips. I took some time by myself, sitting on a rock, and saying some prayers.
I hiked back to my campervan and drove down the gravel road to the main highway. As the sun was setting, the mountains appeared, which were beautiful.
I didn’t arrive at a campervan park in Pine Creek until 7:00 pm. I was able to get a powered spot and plugged in my van. I ate some leftovers and then fell asleep. I was exhausted. At 9:00 pm, I woke up and took a shower. Then I was back in bed before 10:00 pm.
I enjoyed being in the campervan because I didn’t need to carry my luggage around. I kept my suitcase on the bed and used the other half to sleep. I was too lazy to keep moving it around. I didn’t know why I was so exhausted, but I hoped to get some rest. I still had 1,500 miles (2,414 kilometers) until Cairns.
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I was in Darwin in the Northern Territory of Australia for two more days. I wanted to explore a bit of the city, so I walked around downtown. The city was clean and had a great combination of city and nature. I passed a park that had a festival going on. Then I crossed a pedestrian bridge to a beach where people could swim, croc free, thanks to some barricades.
The humidity made me sweat like crazy. I decided to rest at an outdoor restaurant with tacos and sangria for happy hour. Darwin gets extremely hot and humid during their monsoon season. The monsoon season was quickly approaching, so the heat and humidity came with it.
On my way back towards downtown, I stopped at the outdoor festival. Now that it was evening, lots of people were eating food from the booths and food trucks. String lights were strewn above a band playing live music, making it feel whimsical.
I wandered to the outdoor theatre and waited in line to buy a ticket to Rocketman. They stopped selling tickets, saying it was full, but they’d sell some more tickets if people didn’t show up. I waited patiently in line with a few others, and I was able to snag one of the last tickets! I sat outside in a plastic lawn chair and enjoyed the movie under the stars.
The next day, I walked down to a reptile house that had crocodiles, snakes, and all sorts of creepy crawlers. Some of the crocodiles were medium-sized (about the size of ones I had seen in the wild), but others were massive! They even had a clear plastic circular cage for people to swim with an enormous crocodile. I watched two girls inside the cage as a crocodile, at least twice their size, circled them.
The sign in front of one beast read, “Watch out ladies! Burt may be a famous movie star but he’s got a killer reputation with women. At 5.1 M and weighing 700kg, Burt is our oldest and most famous resident. Burt was captured at the Reynolds River in 1981 after a string of attacks on cattle. He then starred alongside Paul Hogan and Linda Kozlowski in the original Crocodile Dundee movie, along with a host of documentaries and awareness programs. Around here though, he is more famous for his habit of attacking every female who was keen to become his mate! This is why Burt is now a confirmed bachelor at 80 years old.”
I browsed through, checking out the venomous creatures and predators. Here are some things I learned:
The Inland Taipan snake’s typical venom yield could kill approximately 100 people. It is considered the world’s most venomous snake, but there are no actual deaths recorded. The snake lives in such a remote area; there aren’t any people around. There are a few reported bites from handlers, who fell gravely ill.
The Western Brown Snake is movement driven. The faster a movement, the faster a reaction.
Towards the end of the exhibition, there was an opportunity to pet a baby crocodile. A woman was holding the baby with his mouth taped shut. I touched his skin, which felt soft and a little slippery.
Once I finished seeing all of the animals, I hopped on the Hop-On/Hop-Off bus to see the surrounding areas of Darwin. I enjoy these because I also get a chance to plug in my headphones and learn about the city.
Darwin’s population is 120,000, making up most of the Northern Territory, which has a total of 223,000 people.
Darwin is known as the Gateway to Asia because of its proximity.
Japan bombed Darwin in February 1942 in two raids with 188 warplanes due to its strategic location and port. It is often referred to as “The Pearl Harbor of Australia.”
The hospital was bombed in that attack, nine days after it opened.
On Christmas day in 1974, Cyclone Tracy struck Darwin, destroying 70% of the buildings. It was estimated that the wind speeds were up to 250 kilometers (160 mph). The hospital was destroyed once again.
The harbor in Darwin is the largest in the southern hemisphere. It’s eight times the size of the Sydney harbor.
I got off the bus at the casino and gambled for a little bit so I could enjoy the air conditioning. After eating lunch, I walked around a beautiful paved path under trees that stretched along the ocean. There was an area connected to the beach, so I walked on the sand for a little while. It was in the 90s °F (35 °C) that day and very humid.
I got back on the bus because I needed to get to the other side of town for a sunset boat cruise. As I sat on the top deck, I noticed a guy walk up and talk to the driver. Then he walked back towards a bench. As we pulled away, I realized it was Andy! I met him on a rock climbing and abseiling tour a couple of weeks earlier and then ran into him in Broome. I sent him a text message, and he confirmed that it was indeed him. We agreed to meet up for a drink later that evening.
I arrived at the pier and ordered a beer while waiting for my boat tour. The birds stalked everyone, scooping up any food they could get their hands on.
The inflatable boat was medium-sized, just a single level, and all of it open to the air. There was an umbrella overhang protecting us from the sun. I was seated at the end of a row next to three women: Michelle, Dee, and Paula. Michelle sat next to me in her sleek black dress and beautiful earrings. She had short blonde hair, reminding me of a high-level woman that worked at the last company I worked for.
The women appeared to be in their 50s and were from Melbourne. They had come to Darwin for the horse races and a girl’s weekend. It was their first time there, and they wanted to escape the cold in Melbourne. Michelle told me how her son went to the U.S. and Canada for five months and loved it. His favorite place was Lake Louise in Canada.
We all drank wine as the boat raced around the ocean. The city was to our right and the open ocean to our left. The boat was going so fast that we couldn’t talk much while it was racing away.
The boat stopped, and the crew picked up box dinners for us at a restaurant off the ocean. We each got fish and chips. There was a tray in front of me like on an airplane, so I pulled it down to eat my dinner. Next, we stopped at a sandbar to walk around and watch the sunset.
I walked along the sand, enjoying the views. A girl in her 20s who was part of the crew asked if I wanted a picture taken, and then we started talking. She was originally from Tasmania but grew up in Darwin. She moved to Perth for four years but recently came back to Darwin. I asked her what Tasmania was like because I planned to finish my trip there. She described it as being a good place for older people and that it was beautiful. I told her about the U.S., and she told me not to spend much time in Sydney because it was just a touristy city.
We got back on the boat and raced towards the harbor. The sunset turned into a beautiful purplish color and then a deep orange. The air had cooled slightly and the wind felt great!
Once the boat tour was finished, I walked towards downtown. The outdoor festival was going on, and I met Andy there. A band was playing live music inside a large, circular tent. Andy and I didn’t have wrist bands, and the concert was almost over. We asked a woman if we could just go inside for the last ten minutes. Andy convinced her to let us in, and we sat in the back on some bleachers. I walked to the bar to get us some drinks, but the bartenders didn’t want to serve me because of the lack of a wrist band. However, I was successful in talking them into giving me a beer.
Once the concert ended, Andy and I walked to an indoor/outdoor bar for a beer. It was great running into him again. He told me about how he drove through the Kimberley region and did some hiking. I told him about the ten-day adventure tour.
Andy was in his early 50s and had been working remotely while traveling. He lived on the east coast but flew to Perth and rented a car. He was only supposed to drive up the coast and a little bit inland, but he ended up driving all the way to Darwin. Andy was torn on whether he should leave the car in Darwin and fly home, or drive it back to Perth and fly from there.
The rental car company would charge a $3,000 fee if he didn’t return the car to Perth. But driving back would be 4,667 kilometers (2,900 miles), going through the outback and Nullarbor. The gas is costly in the bush, and so are the motels. Andy asked me what it was like driving through the center and the Nullarbor, so I told him that overall, I liked it, but it is a lot of driving through nothing. Getting to see Coober Pedy (an underground town) and Uluru were worth it though. After thinking about it, he ended up driving the car back to Perth.
Andy and I talked all about life and how to live it. He had retired early and was working with his investments. He had the opportunity to travel around Australia for a bit and was really enjoying it. Andy was a very fit and active guy, and his adventurous spirit inspired me. He also had encouraging words for me about quitting my job and traveling. I told him what it was like and the things I had done. The more he encouraged me, the better I felt about where I was at in life.
My friend Austin, who I had met up with two days before, ended up at the bar. He joined us for a little while before joining his friends. It was the perfect way to spend my last night in Darwin. Even though I had a hard time saying goodbye to my fellow travelers on the adventure tour a week earlier, I made friends at the horse races and my Airbnb. Then I was able to meet up with friends like Andy and Austin. It helped me to remember that I’d be okay. Australia was feeling like a home – I was randomly running into people that I knew, making the world feel a little smaller.
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I was in Darwin, the capital city in the Northern Territory in Australia, and I needed to get to the east coast. After my car died on me just outside of Broome, I signed up for a ten-day adventure tour that took me from Broome to Darwin. Rental cars were still costly, and if I didn’t return it to Darwin, there would be a significant fee. I knew that I needed to get to the east coast, where most of Australia’s population lives. The prices for a rental car were much more reasonable there. However, Cairns, the Northeast’s closest city, was still 2,710 kilometers (1,684 miles) away.
I searched on a website called Imoova and found a relocation campervan that I could take to Cairns, but I couldn’t pick it up for a few more days. I needed to check out of my Airbnb, so I booked a hotel room in downtown Darwin. While I was grateful for the kindness of my hosts, I needed some alone time. Plus, I wanted to be downtown, so I was within walking distance to most things.
I left my luggage at the hotel until I could check-in and walked around downtown. I stopped into a phone repair shop to repair my cracked screen, but the guy said their glass screen wouldn’t be as good as iPhone because they weren’t an authorized iPhone repair shop. It wasn’t much cheaper than going to an Apple store, so I decided not to repair it there. The closest Apple store was thousands of kilometers away, so it would have to wait.
I walked back to the huge hotel and checked-in to my room. The hotel was beautiful and had a pool and a gym. My room had a small kitchenette and a living space.
Once I set my bags down, I walked along the waterfront on top of a cliff that overlooked the ocean. The landscaping was beautifully done with green grass and palm trees.
I spent the evening writing on my blog. The next morning, I laid out by the pool, soaking up the sun. I needed some relaxing time. Then I spent the afternoon writing some more.
That evening, I met up with my friend, Austin. We met in Los Angeles when I hired him at the last place that I worked. We had both been Executive Team Leaders at Target (but at different times), and then I hired him at an industrial supply company where I was the Recruiting Manager. Austin only worked there for about two years and received his MBA while working. Just before graduating, Austin quit so that he could travel the world for a year.
Like most people who travel long-term realize, a year goes by very fast. I had the chance to meet up with Austin when we were both in Hanoi, Vietnam. When we met for breakfast in Vietnam, Austin had been traveling for almost a year. He told me then that he planned to travel for another year, but his money was running out, so he planned on getting a working holiday visa in Australia to earn money while traveling.
Austin’s sister lived in Perth, so he began his Australia trip there. After spending several weeks in Perth and unable to find work, he joined a caravan and road tripped through the outback to Darwin. He heard there were more jobs in Darwin because it’s more remote. Austin got his first gig working as a bartender at the Darwin horse races a few days earlier. He was lucky, and they put him in the executive suites where there was air-conditioning. It was Austin’s first time being a bartender, but it was just serving beer and wine. Because the main races were on a Sunday, he earned double-time, making around $50 an hour.
I was so excited to see Austin again in person. It had been five months since I had seen him in Vietnam. I was following his travels on Instagram, and he was one to two weeks ahead of me while I was traveling from Perth to Darwin. His posts helped me know which places to stop and see.
I met Austin at an indoor/outdoor bar and restaurant, and we ordered drinks and hot wings. Austin was an upbeat and smart guy in his mid-20s. He looked like my ex-husband, except he was only around 5’8” tall.
Austin and I talked about the last five months and how much we both enjoyed the Australian outback. It’s such a special place because of the remoteness, the like-minded people, and the joy of camping under the stars. Austin joined a car with a few other people, and that car met up with another vehicle or two. In the last section, through the Kimberley region, Austin had some fantastic stories. The vehicle they were driving in blew out two tires. At one point, they were rescued by a man who took them in for a few days. They all ended up on his boat cruising around a lake with crocodiles. They even grabbed a few baby crocs from the water!
We both had such a fun time in the outback because people were always so friendly and helpful. Austin made some great friends, some of whom were in Darwin with him. He was staying at a hostel and still looking for a job. A week after I left, he got a job as a bartender at a local bar. Austin stayed there for a few weeks but then flew to Los Angeles for a wedding. When he returned to Australia, he bounced between Darwin and Melbourne before returning to Los Angeles a few months later. He ended up traveling for almost two years.
Austin’s friend, Jon, joined us at the bar. He was around 24-years-old and was from Minnesota, USA. He had been traveling for a while and had a working holiday visa in Australia. Jon had a job in Darwin at a bar and was enjoying his time. I really admired these young people who took advantage of the working holiday visa. In most countries that offer it, you have to be under 31-years-old.
Jon had left Minnesota and arrived in Australia almost two years earlier. He had seen most of the country, working along the way. He had an incredible singing voice and played the guitar. Jon was easy to get along with because he was so friendly.
We could all relate because we were ambitious people who worked hard in school and worked our way into promotions, but something was missing. We had all been traveling for more than a year, so we understood what we were experiencing. None of us were sure what our future held, but we knew how special it was to be in a situation where we enjoyed every moment of our lives.
Our travels were a little different. Austin was in his mid-20s, so he stayed at hostels partying with other young people from around the world. He often ended up traveling with other people that he met at hostels. I tended to stay in Airbnbs and hotels, often meeting locals. Most of the time, I traveled alone. Austin had traveled to many countries in Europe and then went to India, Egypt, Southeast Asia, and Australia. I had driven to Alaska and spent time in Canada. Then I flew overseas to Thailand to Vietnam and finally to Australia. I had spent a lot of time road-tripping and driving, while Austin spent a lot of time flying worldwide.
That’s the thing about long-term travel – there is no “right way” to do it. People are in different phases of their life and might prefer different ways of travel. People have different things they’re willing to compromise on and different budgets. The point is to get out there and do it the way that you’re most comfortable with (while still respecting other cultures).
Even though I was almost 15 years older than Austin and Jon, and our travel methods weren’t always the same, we understood each other. We understood that we were all on an extraordinary journey of life and self-discovery.
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My Airbnb host, Brian, drove me to the Greyhound Freight station to pick up my suitcase. He dropped me off at 8:00 am before he went to work. I took an Uber back to the house and was happy that my bag arrived safe and sound.
I needed to pick up a package that my mom mailed to me at the post office in downtown Darwin, which was just over a mile away. I walked to my destination and enjoyed seeing a little bit of Darwin on the way. I was relieved when the package was there. After that, I enjoyed some eggs benny at a restaurant nearby. I missed the fantastic Australian breakfasts during my ten-day camping tour through the Kimberley region.
I found a park that overlooked the ocean with a great walking path, so I strolled along, enjoying the sun. I was sweating from the humidity, and people told me it recently started to get hot and humid again as they approached their wet/hurricane season.
I walked back to my Airbnb and rested for an hour. My new friend Suzanne who I had met on the ten-day tour, told me that Damien (the tour guide) informed her of his flight to Zurich that day. Darwin has a small airport, and there was only one flight on Singapore Airlines that day, and it left at 3:45 pm. I told Suzanne I was going to the airport to find Damien so that I could get closure.
In the last two years, I’ve tried hard to be myself. I’ve always been a little strange, and I don’t particularly care about social norms and what’s considered acceptable. For me, I needed closure to move on, and if I didn’t go to the airport, I would never see or talk to him again. It was my only chance.
I was nervous but determined not to give up. I got an Uber, sat in the front seat, and headed to the airport. The driver talked to me about his day and how he hates Uber Eats because of the need to find parking. The song Push It by Salt N Pepa played on the car stereo while my stomach turned with knots.
I arrived at the airport at 1:00 pm and figured Damien would arrive within the next hour. I sat on a bench near the security line, knowing he would have to pass through there. I put on my headphones and played music to pump myself up. I jotted down some notes of things I wanted to say to him:
I just want two minutes of your time. I have regrets about how I said goodbye. I can’t sleep when I have regrets, and I like my sleep.
When I first saw you, I was physically attracted to you, but I worried that I’d get hurt, so I tried to distance myself from you. But as I got to know you, I found out that not only are you intelligent, you think for yourself. I’ve met a lot of people throughout my life, especially in the last year. It is extremely rare to meet someone who is truly unique. You are, and I feel lucky to have met you. In a sea of boring, predictable people, you stand out.
I enjoyed our banter and tension. I found myself more and more attracted to you. I wanted something to happen between us, even if it would just be one night. Maybe I just needed physical touch.
Suzanne told me that you were looking at all of the slutty women coming into the bar and ogling after them at the restaurant. It threw me off, and I wondered if I misjudged you. Maybe you are just like all of the jerks who will sleep with any girl who walks into a bar. As I was trying to process it, you left.
I panicked. I didn’t want you to leave. But I failed to express it. I’m sorry for being a jerk, and I’m sorry for how I said goodbye.
I know I look like a stalker right now, but I promise you that you’ll never hear from me again unless you want to.
I was satisfied with my notes. I thought it reflected why I went there and what I needed to say. As I sat there with my palms sweating, I kept my eyes peeled. Then I saw James. He was a guy that partied with Linda the last two days and who I spent time with at the horse races.
James walked over and asked where I was headed. I told him that I wasn’t flying anywhere; I was waiting for someone to say goodbye. I continued to keep my eyes peeled and was nervously looking around as James talked. He told me how he was tired from the long, wild weekend. He was supposed to have flown out the day prior, right as the races were ending, but he told his boss that he was too drunk to be let on the plane and had to reschedule. He was now hoping that he would get on the flight to Sydney and eventually to Melbourne. After chatting briefly, James got into the security line.
I continued looking out for Damien, continually reminding myself that I couldn’t back away out of fear of what people would think. I was reminded of a Helen Keller quote, “Security is mostly a superstition. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”
Around 1:45 pm, Damien walked through the sliding glass door. I pulled my headphones away from my ears and stood up. He was standing in front of the computer screens. I walked towards him and thought about turning towards the door instead. But then he turned around and saw me.
“What flight are you catching?” He said, confused.
“I’m not. I’m…hanging out. I just need two minutes of your time,” I replied with a dry throat.
He slightly laughed. “Well, you’ll need to stand in line with me. I have missed too many flights before,” he said as he continued walking through the airport, looking for his airline.
I was very thrown off by his reaction. He was slightly laughing, thinking I was ridiculous. He casually dismissed me with his overconfidence, and I had to follow him as he searched for where to go. I followed, bumbling along.
“I don’t like how I said goodbye,” I explained.
“It’s fine. Whatever. I’ve had worse.”
I’m sure you have, I thought.
“Well, I can’t sleep when I have regrets, and I would like to sleep,” I continued.
“Ok. You could have just texted me,” he laughed.
“I would have, but I don’t have your number,” I explained.
Damien stopped and looked at a screen, confused about which airline was his. It turned out that his Singapore airline was operated by another airline, so he got in that line. He said, “You’re going to have to get in line with me.” I reluctantly got in line with him and said, “You’re seriously going to make me do this in this line?” “Yes,” he replied.
I fidgeted as we walked through the first section of the line that was roped off. A single man was standing in front of Damien, and shortly after we got in line, some people got behind me. I tried to talk quietly and didn’t know where to start. All of the moving around, his reaction, and the fact that I was trapped in a zig-zagging line threw me off.
As I stumbled, I said, “This isn’t easy for me. I am not good at expressing myself verbally.” He interrupted, “Umm, yes you are. You have no problem, with politics anyway.” I explained, “Well, yes, with politics, but not with these things.”
He got a little more serious and stopped laughing. I’m not exactly sure what came out of my mouth. I tried to be quiet as we walked through the line, but it was something like this: “I liked you. I liked our banter, and I wanted something to happen, even if it was for a night.”
He smiled, sort of laughed again, and said, “This is going to be great for our think tank.” Concerned, I asked what he was talking about. He explained, “In September, we’re doing a think tank. We’re brainstorming new ideas. That sort of stuff. It’s not final or anything yet.” I pushed further, “What’s it about?” He answered, “Guiding.” Oh no. I pleaded, “Please don’t mention this in your think tank.”
As we pushed further in the line, I imagined this think tank. Damien would likely describe it as a pathetic American girl who was so obsessed with him that she stalked him at the airport. They would all laugh and imagine me as being a weak, pathetic person. Damien would make it seem as though he is so charismatic that women go crazy for him.
He wouldn’t take responsibility for being the initiator of flirting with me. He wouldn’t explain all of the things he said to me and the ways he paid attention to me, so much so that people thought something was going on between us. He wouldn’t describe how he pushed my buttons and then became charming just to mess with me. No, it would go down as a laughable “tour guide makes tourist pathetically fall for him.” Except it wasn’t true. It was lust. And it was quickly fading.
We came to a stop at one of the corners of the line, which made it seem even quieter around us, enabling others to listen. We’re both over six feet, making us stand out. I was flustered. “Please don’t mention this and make me out as a stalker. I’m not.”
Damien was amused. He laughed and loudly said, “No, I want it more dramatic! I want you to start shouting! I want you to start throwing things. Throw a trashcan maybe. Go wild!” Then he mimicked throwing a nearby trashcan. I was mortified and pleaded, “Please stop.”
I was failing miserably. My beautifully written points were out the window. I tried to recover and get back on track. “Look, I wanted something to happen. But then that night at the restaurant, Suzanne got inside my head. She told me that you were ogling all of the slutty women that came in with their boobs showing. That was off-putting. As I was processing it, you left.”
Damien looked embarrassed and explained, “It was one girl. And damn it, I knew she saw that. She gave me these huge eyes because she was mad.” I continued, “Well, I was surprised by it and tried to process it when you left. So I’m sorry for how I said goodbye. But that is why I was a jerk.”
I was surprised when Damien responded slightly angered, “Well, you told me that I was worse than Chris.” That made me feel bad, so I replied, “I’m sorry about that. You’re not. But now you know why I said that.”
I said what I needed to say, and I started to desperately look for a way out of the line so that I could run away. I would either need to duck below the rope or walk out, past the last two rows that now had about seven people with luggage in it. Damien noticed my search for an exit and reached his arms out for a hug. I gave him a quick hug and then handed him my card with my blog information and said, “Seriously, you’ll never hear from me again. Unless you contact me.”
Damien took my card and started to put it in his bag while saying, “To be honest, I don’t read blogs.” I rolled my eyes and started to walk away towards the end of the line, and he looked up from his bag with a smile, saying, “Maybe I will read yours.” As I walked away, I said, “You will be written about.”
I walked outside and over to the Uber pick-up section. As I waited for my ride, I was satisfied. The conversation didn’t go as planned, but I was able to say what I needed to say, even if it was messy and shorter than I expected. I wanted it to be confident, clean, clear, and to be able to run away once I said it. Instead, several people in line, who were probably listening, got a show.
Damien laughed at me several times in a way that made me feel like he was a schoolyard bully who was going to brag to his friends about how this pathetic girl fell for him. This brought back a familiar feeling to me. Years ago, I had a male friend who used to spend a lot of time talking with me at work – much more than was allowed. We went to lunch together, took walks, and had great conversations.
I started to have feelings for him, and it felt like it was mutual. People who sat near me thought that this guy had feelings for me too. But then one day, I found out that he talked about me to his friends in a way that they had a cruel nickname for me. A mutual friend warned me about this because she could see how he acted around me, which was as if we were good friends and maybe more. But behind the scenes, he joked about me to his friends outside of work.
I will never forget how that made me feel. I felt embarrassed and betrayed. That friend’s immaturity showed. You think you leave these cruel behaviors behind in high school, but unfortunately, it doesn’t stop. My therapist at the time pointed out how unhealthy that person had become to me. Every time I tried to distance myself from him (one time saying we were no longer friends) he’d come right back into my life as if nothing bad had happened. The rollercoaster of emotions that he put me through was painful but a life lesson.
With Damien, I couldn’t help but be reminded of this other guy. Damien did similar things. He pushed his way into many of my conversations, paid attention to me, and acted like there was something there. But when I pointed it out, he made me feel foolish. As he said on day three of the tour, I danced with the devil.
Damien got nicer to me when I started to push back and give him a taste of his own medicine. We could have debates, give each other crap, and he didn’t seem to be afraid of me. Seeing how he reacted at the final night at the restaurant and at the airport made me realize he wasn’t so tough after all. He deflected.
In the end, I thoroughly enjoyed my ten-day tour through the Kimberley Region. I met a few great people, some of whom will be life-long friends. I was able to learn more about several countries and teach people some American slang. I saw beautiful sights and landscapes. Damien made it entertaining and kept me on my toes. After a few days of being mean to me, he started to be nice. Having someone hard on the outside be nice to me felt more special than a nice person being nice. It felt like he gave me special treatment. We laughed together, we had inside jokes, gave each other crap, and had good conversations.
Damien is someone who is mostly a unique individual (his treatment of women is not unique). I can appreciate his ability to look like a homeless person and not care. He lives in a van and lives a life he’s chosen. He has read a lot and formed his own opinions about political issues – rare these days. When he wants to be, he can be very charismatic and fun. I enjoyed his masculinity. Once he wasn’t feeling sick, he was a pretty good tour guide, and I felt confident about his ability to guide us.
For the last few years, there have been a few traits that I look for in a partner: Intelligence, Humor, and Kindness. I know a lot of guys who have one or two of these traits. But I’m finding it a challenge to find someone with all three who is single. Damien had two, but he was often not kind. He lacked compassion for people on tour, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when he lacked compassion for me when I wanted to say a proper goodbye.
I don’t regret meeting Damien. He was an interesting guy who helped me further define what I’m looking for in a partner. Looking back, I’ve realized that Damien might have thought that I was there to go off on him, considering how much we argued. That’s probably why he said I should throw a trashcan. When I saw that he was so casual about me being there, my walls went up immediately. My demeanor was defensive with my arms crossed. I have no idea if he’s read my blog. It’s been a year and I haven’t heard from him. I’m guessing I never will.
I don’t regret going to the airport. I’m aware some people will think I went too far – that I’m pathetic. I believe in living a life of adventure and a life of being honest, no matter how awkward it is sometimes. I have pushed myself outside of my comfort zone through rock climbing, abseiling, and flying in a powered hang glider. I want to push myself emotionally too. Life is messy. Life is full of emotions. I am still learning, and I will continue to embarrass myself. And I’m ok with that.
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I woke up feeling better after a rough night of goodbyes, but still didn’t feel like myself. I left my bedroom to use the toilet, and Brian, the Airbnb host, was in the living room. He told me that he and Amy planned on going to the mall in an hour, and I was welcome to hitch a ride with them because it was about 15 minutes away.
I felt terrible that I didn’t talk to Brian and Amy much when I arrived. I had to rush off to dinner, and my mood that day was so depressed that I couldn’t muster the energy to be my usual energetic self. Brian and I briefly talked in the car, and his wife, Amy, didn’t seem to know much English. I wondered how they communicate.
At the mall, we split up. I went to K-Mart and bought a pair of shorts, a shirt, and some cheap shoes. The next day was a holiday, and the Greyhound station where I needed to pick up my suitcase would be closed until Tuesday. The holiday was called Picnic Day, and I asked Brian what it was. He said it’s basically a day off, like our Labor Day. They purposely schedule it on the weekend of the horse races, and it’s only in the Northern Territory.
I walked around the mall, feeling drained. There’s something about the mall that gives me a sick feeling. It reminds me of many years with my ex-husband. We’d shop around, going to stores, getting snacks, and maybe seeing a movie. It’s a life that seems so foreign to me now. It’s a life I don’t want again. I instantly get this feeling of “stagnant relationship” when I’m in a mall.
I ate some lunch and then sat in a massage chair to relax. Shortly after, Brian and Amy were ready to leave, so I hitched a ride back home. I spent the afternoon writing about the ten-day adventure tour. Writing always helps me process things. I figured it would be better to write while it was fresh.
At 5:00 pm, Brian told me that Amy made dinner, and I was welcome to join. I didn’t have much of an appetite, but I joined them. Brian told me that he used to be in the Navy, but now he works as a supervisor overseeing electricians. He had four more years until he retired. Brian was married for 30 years and had two grown children from the marriage. Around six years ago, he got divorced. It was amicable, and they’re still friends. She kept the main house, and he took the vacation apartment.
Brian told me that Amy is from Hong Kong. She didn’t speak much English, but she was very sweet. She ran two nail salons on the east coast of Australia and lived there most of the time. Amy was in town to help Brian with a surgery that he was getting on Tuesday. I saw their wedding pictures on the wall and wondered how they met. They seemed to be making a long-distance marriage work just fine.
After dinner, I went back to my room to write. I wrote, cried, and processed. Then I took a shower and went to bed. I tossed and turned again, unable to sleep well. I had so many regrets with Damien. I was angry with myself, and I desperately wanted to tell him how I felt.
The next morning, I felt slightly better. Sometimes I just need to cry and let it all out. I was still thinking about Damien, and I was upset that I had no way of contacting him. I called the tour company and asked if I could have his number to see if I left a foam mattress pad in the truck. It was missing, but I was pretty sure I left it at the last campsite. The woman told me that she couldn’t give out their numbers, but she’d send a message to Damien about the mat. She told me that either she or Damien would call me back.
I didn’t want to ruin my time in Darwin, and I was told the final cup horse races were going on that day. I got dressed, thankful that I bought a pair of shorts and a shirt the day prior.
I got a ride again from Brian and Amy. They were dressed in nice clothes, which made my jean shorts look too casual. Thankfully once I arrived, I saw people dressed in both casual and formal attire.
It was hot and humid, with hardly any breeze. I left Brian and Amy so that I could walk around and check things out. It was crowded. There were plastic, rectangular tables with chairs under large tents, but the tables were full. There were bars, a couple of food booths, and betting areas. I bought some fish and chips and talked with a guy at a betting window.
There were several races that day (around nine to ten), with the cup being the final race. I placed a $15 bet for the upcoming race and continued walking around. I bought a beer and ended up at Brian and Amy’s table. I tried to cool off but continued to sweat heavily.
Linda, who I had met on the ten-day tour from Broome to Darwin, showed up, so I met her in the middle section. Linda was with her hostel roommate, Annabel, and a few guys from Melbourne who she had met the night at our final dinner. I said hello to James because I had met him two nights earlier as well. James was 35 and was in Darwin with friends for the horse races. They introduced me to their other friends.
Annabel was a sweet, short, 20-year-old German girl with long blonde hair. She had a working tourist visa and spent several months on a farm tending to animals. At first, it was tough because she was alone for a month and new to farming. She ended up really enjoying the farm and showed me pictures of a one-day-old cow. Annabel used to believe she needed to be with someone to be happy. But traveling solo has shown her that she doesn’t need someone and can be happy alone. After her farm work, Annabel traveled from Adelaide to Darwin with a tour group.
Linda told me about how crazy the guys were. The night she met them, she went with James to a gay club because he likes how fun they are. They ended up doing cocaine, which was her first time. She said they spent a ton of money and then said that the guys told disgusting stories about women they screwed in the past.
I was disgusted hearing the stories – weak men who abused drunk women and took advantage of their insecurity. Linda insisted James wasn’t like that, and he thought the stories were crazy too. I thought Linda was too good for them. Hours later, two of the guys showed a video to one of the guys I was talking to. They tried to hide it from me, but it was of a woman in a g-string and no top, doing something sexual. Their whole mentality disgusted me.
The races were about every 40 minutes, and I bet $10 on most (except the first one, $15). Unfortunately, I lost each race except for one when I bet on American Muscle. He came in third place, and I won $14.50.
For each race, I lined up at the fence to watch the action up close. I loved seeing how fast the horses raced by and feeling the rush. Before one of the races, I was at the fence and met a woman named Emma. She appeared to be in her 30s, was very fit, had medium-length blonde hair with a slight curl, a hat with flowers on it, a big smile, and bright blue eyes. She looked like she walked out of a magazine.
Emma was lovely, and we became fast friends. We joked about our inability to place smart bets. She was from Brisbane, was visiting her brother in Darwin, and also wanted to see the races. After watching our horses lose, Emma asked me if I had a group to go back to. I told her I had some friends nearby that I had met up with. She walked me over to her brother and uncle, and we all had a great time chatting.
We placed a bet together, and then she met the group I was with. We went back to our separate groups, but I was happy to have met her. She was a fun, beautiful woman who brightened my day. Emma’s positive energy was a reminder that I’d be okay as I continued to travel solo.
The heat from the races, and the beers, were making me tired. Linda’s group had found some chairs and put them on a section of grass near the walkway. A band started to play after the races finished around 6:30 pm. Annabel told me that she was also tired. We talked about our travels and life lessons, and then she said she didn’t care for the guys in our group. I agreed, and we conspired to leave.
Around 7:00 pm, Annabel and I got in an Uber and headed to an Irish bar in downtown Darwin. With her large, innocent eyes, Annabel told me that she wasn’t comfortable hanging out with the older guys, who were in their late 30s to early 40s with some gray hair. I laughed and told her I was 39. She was surprised by that and I told her I also felt like those guys were creeps, so no worries.
At the Irish bar, I met a few guys who Annabel knew through her tour and hostel. We went to the bar to get drinks, and she said, “The guy with bright blue eyes is making me crazy!” I laughed, and she told me that she was happy that I was there with her.
I talked with Bert, a 30-year-old from England. He met Annabel on their tour, and he was a nice guy to talk with. He told me I looked cool, leaning on a tall, narrow ledge wrapped around a pole. I assured him, “That’s how I roll.” We were outside by a DJ playing music and people that were dancing. On the other side of us were dining tables where people were eating dinner. I was enjoying all of their company, but I was also tired of the same bar scene. I went for a walk down the street to see what else was around.
As I walked past all of the bars and restaurants, I couldn’t help but feel frustrated. It seemed like every guy was a carbon copy of the next. They look similar, they act similar, they are boring, and they are predictable.
I went back to the bar and hung out with Annabel and Bert for a while longer. They were genuine people who I felt comfortable around. At 10:00 pm, I was tired and took an Uber back to my Airbnb.
I never heard back from the travel company or Damien about my foam pad. I figured he was ignoring the request. I knew I wouldn’t be able to contact him by phone. However, Suzanne had told me which airline he was flying (and the layover city) the following day. Darwin is a small airport, so it was easy to find his flight. I had no other option, so I mentally prepared to find him there.
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It was our last day of the ten-day Kimberley Region tour. Thankfully, I wasn’t too hung-over after a night of drinking. We ate breakfast, and Damien cooked up some leftover bacon and eggs from the burgers the night before. I was too slow to get an egg but ate some bacon and toast.
We packed up and got into the truck. I sat next to Phillip again, but this time towards the back of the bus. Damien started the truck, but it wasn’t moving. After five minutes of sitting there, he turned off the engine, turned around, and said, “There is a problem with air not getting into the brakes, which won’t let us move. I’m going to check something out.”
Damien got out to look at the truck while the rest of us were worried. I told Armelle, who was sitting in front of me, “Oh my gosh. My car broke down in Broome, which is why I am on this tour. Now the truck is broken too! The universe does not want me in Darwin!” Armelle told me to hold out my hands and repeat after her. She said something about accepting positive energy from the universe, and I repeated her.
Just then, Damien got back into the truck, started it, and we were off. After a short drive, we arrived at Katherine Gorge. Damien walked us down the path to the start of the hike that climbed up the gorge. He paused and explained some things about the area, like the green ants. Their butts are neon green, and you can eat them. Apparently, the butts are sweet. Damien pulled one apart and ate it. We all passed on trying it. Damien didn’t continue on the climb to the top because he wanted to check the truck out.
The lookout point was beautiful! The gorge overlooked the Katherine River. The people in the group who were always rushing ahead took a wrong turn and had to turn back. I knew they were going the wrong way, and I enjoyed the view instead.
We climbed back down and got back into the truck. We drove to another location where we’d hike a mountain to a natural pool. We only had one hour there because the truck situation delayed us a bit.
My stomach was hurting, and I realized that I started my period. I was annoyed because it wasn’t supposed to start for at least a few more days. I only had one pad, and I asked Suzanne if she had any. She had some in her bag, but it was in the back of the truck.
We all hiked to the natural pool while Damian stayed behind again. I didn’t get inside the water because of my period, and I wasn’t wearing my swimsuit. I also didn’t realize we would be swimming that day. I put my legs inside but didn’t stay too long because I needed to get back to the truck to get Suzanne’s bag.
Suzanne and I left the pool and hiked back down to the truck. I told her that I could feel tension with Damien, but I wasn’t sure if he actually liked me. She told me that she thought he did because he was always paying attention to me, and it seemed clear to her there was interest.
I told Suzanne about a tour guide I had on a nine-day tour in Norway a few years earlier. He had a girlfriend, but after two days, he started to flirt very heavily with me. One night the two of us stayed up until midnight talking. We had a ton of inside jokes and sometimes shared drinks/food. But in the end, he said a quick goodbye and was off. I expected to at least stay in touch, but I haven’t heard from him since.
I feel like I’m a magnet for men who lead tours into nature. They’re often men that I get along with, am attracted to, and they seem to enjoy my company more than others in the group. But I was afraid this was exactly what would happen with Damien. I told Suzanne, “I’m afraid that Damien will also just disappear. Nothing will happen with him, and he won’t stay in touch.” Suzanne insisted that it wouldn’t happen because Damien liked me. I wasn’t convinced.
Suzanne was sitting in the front next to Damien that day. She talked to him about relationships and his upcoming trip to Switzerland. He told her that he liked German women because “they say what they mean and mean what they say.” He liked straight forward women. He didn’t like Australian women because he said they play games.
Suzanne also told me that she found out that he doesn’t want a serious relationship and doesn’t want kids. I explained to her that it was fine with me. With my travels, I wasn’t looking to date seriously. I don’t understand why people think it has to be a serious exclusive relationship or a hook-up. There are so many other ways to have a relationship with someone. Damien knew Suzanne was my bestie there, and I’m sure he knew that what he said to her would likely make its way back to me.
Suzanne told me, “You need to be straight forward and tell him that you like him. But you need to know it might only be a short physical fling.” Fear took over, “I can’t. I’ve been rejected too many times in the last two years. I can’t handle it. My heart can’t handle more rejection. I’m too sensitive. He’ll need to make a move.” I told Suzanne that she needed to help me with the situation.
We arrived back at the truck, and Damien stood in front of it, talking with another tour group guide. Suzanne and I walked to the back, opened the door, pulled down the stairs, and she climbed up to find her bag so she could give me some pads. I was standing on the stairs, trying to help her. As she rummaged through the luggage, Damien came to the back to fill up his water bottle from the spout outside the truck.
I knew he came over there because I was there. Standing above him on the stairs, I looked down at his bare feet and said, “Don’t your feet hurt?” He replied, “Not at all.” Suzanne continued to dig in the truck, trying to give us privacy.
I said, “You need a pedicure.” He laughed, “Naw, they just need to be cleaned. Wait until tonight. I will shower and clean them off, and when I walk into the bar, women will swoon at my feet!” I said, “I don’t think so.” He became more dramatic, “Oh yes! You will see these feet at the bar and won’t be able to resist! You’ll want to put your tongue through my toes!” I was disgusted, “No way! Not with feet!” Damien enjoyed making me squirm, and when Suzanne wasn’t looking, he made a sexual gesture.
Damien walked away, and Suzanne gave me her pads. As we walked to the restroom, she said, “See, he always comes to find you.” I used the restroom, and it was time to leave. Back on the truck, Damien was in a good mood and frequently on the microphone. He said he doesn’t like swimming in croc-infested areas because he doesn’t want to die from a crocodile. He told all of us, “If I die from a crocodile, here’s what they’ll say at my funeral: Damien was a bit of a dick. He was often socially awkward and strange.”
I thought, maybe Damien is self-aware after all. Damien continued, “But if I were to die by shark attack, they’ll say this at my funeral: He was a hero. He was a wonderful guy.” We all laughed as he explained, “Same person, but if you die by crocodile, you’re an idiot. Die by shark, and you’re a hero.”
We made a stop at McDonald’s in Katherine for the best coffee in town. As I waited for my coffee, I called the Greyhound station where I shipped my suitcase. I wanted to see if they were open past 5:00 pm because we might not get to town until close to 5:30 pm. I accidentally called the location in Broome, and they told me it was Saturday, and they were all closed. They wouldn’t be open until Monday. I was not happy because I wouldn’t have any clothes for the final farewell dinner we planned to have in Darwin that evening. I wanted just one night with some non-hiking, clean clothes.
A little bit later, we stopped at a park for lunch – the same old salad on wraps. I still had a bottle of white wine, and I didn’t want to waste it, so Suzanne and I drank it at lunch. We felt pretty good, and I took the last cup of it on the truck with me.
We continued to drive towards Darwin, the capital city of the Northern Territory. Damien was playing surprisingly happy music. He played songs like, Feel Like Making Love and Brown Eyed Girl. The wine made me tired, so I fell asleep. As we got closer to Darwin, Damien spoke on the microphone and gave information about the city.
Damien told us earlier that he would drop us off at our hotel as long as it was in the CBD (Central Business District). My Airbnb was about a mile from the CBD, so I was worried it would be too far away. I noticed on Google Maps that my Airbnb was coming up in a neighborhood. It was almost directly off the highway we were on. It would be a quick three-minute detour to let me off.
I walked up the aisle and leaned over the rectangular area towards Damien and said, “My Airbnb is in the neighborhood coming up. Can you just drop me off there?” While still speaking into the microphone, Damien said, “Wow, people just can’t wait to get off this truck. They can’t stand listening to my voice any longer. They are begging to get away from me.”
Flustered, I said, “It’s not that. You just said we had to be in the CBD.” Damien asked to see my phone, so I handed it to him. After looking at the map, he said, “That’s close enough to the CBD.” I was surprised that I hurt his feelings. I said, “I don’t care when I get dropped off. I just want to make sure that I do get dropped off.” He responded, “It’s fine. I’ll drop you off later.”
I walked back to my seat, and he passed my neighborhood. Damien drove around in a very inefficient manner, dropping people off at their hotels. On the second drop, he asked everyone to get their bags out of the back, so we’d be ready when he arrived near our places. Suzanne told me she was next, so she would sit in the back and that I should sit in the front. As I climbed up, I asked Damien, “I’m going to be dropped off last aren’t I?” He replied, “No, Nieve is near the airport. You’ll be second to last.”
As he drove around to each hotel, I told Damien he was mean the first two days but was so much better the last few days. He said, “I don’t think you realize just how sick I was when we started. I felt awful. My whole body hurt.” I explained, “You should have told us you were at 20% and not 80% then.”
It was down to just Damien and me in the front and Nieve in the back. As Damien pulled into the neighborhood where I was staying, he said, “Huh, this isn’t too far away from where we stay in the guide’s house.” I didn’t respond. Then in the microphone, he said, “If anybody left something in the truck, just call me.” Then he put the microphone down and turned towards me, “Well, I guess nobody has my phone number, huh?” I replied, “That’s true.”
We arrived at my Airbnb apartment complex, and I climbed out of the truck and got my bags from the back. I grabbed the cup I used for wine and put it in his bucket near his seat and said, “Sorry, I had wine after lunch, and here’s my cup.” As I climbed out, he said something that I couldn’t hear because the truck is so high up. I peeked in the front seat before Nieve got in and asked what he said. He said, “Nothing. Just said you did plenty of whining on the trip. It’s just a joke.” Ah, a dad joke. I shrugged because he was actually right; I did whine a lot.
I walked towards the building, and Brian, the owner, saw me from his balcony and waved me over. He let me in the gate, introduced me to his wife Amy, and showed me my room. They rented another room on Airbnb, and a French couple was currently staying there for a few months while they worked.
I didn’t have time to talk because it was 6:15 pm and dinner was at 7:15 pm. I jumped in the shower and then put on my mostly clean hiking pants. I had one non-hiking shirt that I wore the day before the trip began. I had washed it at one of the campsites, so at least I had that. I had to wear my dusty sneakers and only had time to blow dry my hair and quickly put on a bit of makeup. I put my Australian-American hat on and was ready to leave the house at 7:15 pm. Brian and Amy were headed downtown, so they graciously gave me a ride to the restaurant.
I walked into Moonson’s, which had outdoor and indoor seating. The restaurant/bar put several tables together for our large group in the outside patio near the entrance. Everyone made it to dinner except the three Swiss women who barely spoke to anyone. By the time I arrived, only three seats were left. Suzanne saved one for me, so I sat next to her. I was at the very end of the table with an empty chair on the end. The other empty chair was in the middle of the table. I was directly across from the group of four women who were a click. They were missing Nieve because she was the last to be dropped off and was running late.
As I predicted, Nieve showed up and sat in the chair on the end so she’d be close to her group. The server brought a couple of pitchers of beer and cider to our table, but any other drinks (and our food) would be on us. We waited to order food until Damien arrived and he was running late. He finally came around 8:00 pm and sat in the middle. He looked happy and practically skipped into the restaurant.
We ordered food, and then Suzanne and I went to the bar and ordered a bottle of red wine. At the bar, she kept trying to get me to say something to Damien, but I just couldn’t. I was feeling tired; maybe it was from the wine at lunch and the long day. I felt thrown off; perhaps it was because I started my period. Most of all, I was afraid of Damien. He is a large character, he’s smart, he’s a free-spirit, and can be very charismatic.
Suzanne and I sat back down. A few minutes later, she went to the front area to smoke. As soon as she got up from her seat, Damien slid over to her chair and sat next to me. “How’s your Airbnb?” he asked. I replied, “It’s good.” I was too nervous. I was too worried about what would or wouldn’t happen next. My attitude was short.
Damien continued talking and pointed out a group of young men standing close to the bar, “There you go. Some American military men for you.” Then he looked at the girls across from me and said, “Wink, wink.” I said, “No, thanks. I’ve already dated a military guy.”
I was confused. Why was Damien trying yet again to get me to hook up with other guys? He told me I should find Chris days earlier, and now he was pointing out other guys. Damien grabbed the nicotine in front of him and asked whose it was. I told him it was Suzanne’s, and he started to roll a cigarette for himself. The girls across the table began to hassle him, “You eat so healthy the whole trip, and then you go and smoke?” Damien pushed back, “Come on. Every once in a while, I like to enjoy a cigarette. Isn’t that okay?”
Suzanne came back and stood waiting for her seat, so Damien went back to his seat. Suzanne gave me a look like, “I told you. He always goes to you.” I updated her on what we talked about. Damien walked over to the tall tables near us. There was another tour group there, and he started talking to the guide. She was pretty, petite, and looked like a free spirit with her blonde dreadlocks and Indy vibe. It made me feel stupid for even liking Damien. That’s the type of girl he likes, not someone like me.
Our food finally arrived, and we all ate. People started moving around chairs, and some people left. I sat at the other end near Brock, Oliver, Linda, and Kayla. Brock wasn’t feeling well from drinking the night before and looked like it. We all chatted, and Damien was somewhat involved in the conversation.
I went back to my chair, and Suzanne was smoking with Damien in the front area. When she came back, she told me, “Christy, you don’t want Damien. While I was talking to him, he was staring at all the women walking into the bar with their boobs showing. Seriously, he couldn’t even focus. It was so disrespectful.”
I was disappointed. The second day that I met Damien and played some of my music, two popular pop songs came up, and the lyrics were about cheating or something about players. He teased me, saying, “I bet you have some Justin Bieber songs on there.” I tried explaining that I did not, but sometimes I liked pop songs. Then he went on a rant, “That’s the problem. Women listen to these songs and think that’s what men want and how men think. Then they act that way when that’s not how real men are.” Frustrated, I tried to explain to him that wasn’t the case for me; I just liked the tunes.
Hearing that Damien disrespected my friend by staring at women wearing hardly any clothes was disheartening. Damien was a hypocrite. He pretended to be above all of that nonsense and that he was a higher quality person. But in real life, he was unable to control himself. Damien was just like every other man. I wanted to tell him, “Women don’t think that’s what men want because of songs. They think that because of behavior like that.”
I also took that as a sign that he was not interested in me. Linda was standing up on the opposite side of the table, talking to a guy. I walked over, and he introduced himself – James from Melbourne. He was 35 and was in town with friends for the horse races. Damien was sitting in his chair across the table, and suddenly I noticed he was saying goodbye to people.
I quickly walked over to Suzanne, and she said, “He’s leaving. You have to say something. It’s now or never. Don’t have regrets.” I told her, “I can’t. It’s going to be just like the tour guide in Norway. He’ll disappear, and I’ll never see him again.” Suzanne insisted, “This is your last chance.”
I looked up to say goodbye, but Damien had already made his way around the table and was gone. I looked towards the entrance, and he was just stepping outside, past the two-foot white fence. I ran after him and tapped his shoulder. He turned around, “Oh! Hey! Sorry!” He went in to hug me, and I only slightly hugged him while saying, “You were going to leave without saying goodbye?”
Damien said, “I went all the way around the table. I must have missed you.” He hugged me again, and I didn’t hug him back while I kept my arms straight. He laughed and said, “Come on.” I sighed, “Why are you leaving already?” He replied, “This isn’t my scene. I usually leave by 9:00 pm.” I pulled my phone out of my pocket, and the clock said 10:00 pm. He chimed in, “See! I’ve stayed an extra hour.”
I was struggling to voice what I wanted to say. I wanted to say, “I like you. Can I leave with you?” Instead, fear of rejection took over me. I stumbled, repeating myself asking why he’s leaving. He said, “I’m going to spend the next three days eating broccoli and making sure I’m healthy for my flight to Europe. You know how it is.” I pleaded, “But why are you leaving?” He tipped my hat and said, “It’s just like that.” I asked, “Are you making fun of my hat?” He laughed, “No. It’s like your hat. I’m off with the sunset.” I wasn’t accepting it, “But why?” He insisted, “That’s how these things work.” He hugged me again, and I hugged back.
Damien walked away, and I turned back to the entrance. They told me I needed to go to the side entrance since it was after 10:00 pm and now a nightclub. I walked to the side, and they asked for $10. I tried to explain that I didn’t have my purse because it was inside, and I just stepped outside to say goodbye to someone. They weren’t budging.
I walked back to the street and headed in the direction that Damien walked. A block and a half later, I caught up. He had turned the corner and was looking at his phone. I tapped his shoulder and said, “They won’t let me back inside.” He said, “No, that’s ridiculous. Come with me.”
As we walked back to the bar, I said, “You were mean to me the whole time.” He explained, “You’ve been in Australia long enough to know that if we give you a hard time, it’s because we like you.” I wanted him to say he liked me. I pushed further, “But you were mean to me the whole ten days.” He continued, “We Australians only give people crap if we know they can handle it.”
We arrived at the entrance, and they instructed us to the side again. At the side, Damien explained that I only stepped outside the gate to say goodbye, and I was part of a tour group. They insisted that I pay the $10, so Damien walked over to a girl a few steps away. He explained it to her and kept stressing that I was part of a tour group. She reluctantly said, “Fine, but she’ll need to come in with me.”
As I started to walk away from Damien to follow the girl, I angrily said, “You were right. You’re worse than Chris.” I stormed off as he breathed an angry breath. I got back inside and found Suzanne. Most people had left at this point except for Linda and Kayla. I sat next to Suzanne at a small table, and a few tears fell down my cheek.
I told Suzanne what happened and how much I regretted it. She tried to comfort me and told me he wasn’t good for me, anyway. I was angry. I felt like all the flirting and leading me on was for nothing. I didn’t even get to make-out with him. The entire time I knew that was how it would end. I could feel it in my bones. It’s why I often tried to avoid him. I knew that for him, I was entertainment. People always tell me that I’m a great conversationalist.
Two different times in my life, a guy at a party has told me, “I love talking with you. I wish I could put you in my pocket and pull you out whenever I want.” That’s how I felt with Damien. He liked having me around when it was convenient, he liked flirting, and he enjoyed picking on me.
I entertained Damien for a ten-day trip that he’s done many times. In the many years that he’s been guiding, I thought about how many women he probably flirted with. How many women he was amused by. For him, it keeps things interesting. For me, it was painful. For me, it was yet another man that I liked who didn’t want anything more than to satisfy his own desires.
The loud music from the DJ was in full swing, and people were on the dance floor. The place was filling up with party-goers, and I sat at a table in tears. I couldn’t help it. I tried my best to hold it in, but as Suzanne talked, tears just ran down my cheeks. I felt rejected, and I was disappointed nothing happened, not even a kiss. I didn’t even have a way of staying in touch with him.
I briefly got it together while I talked with Suzanne. Ten minutes later, Suzanne’s Uber arrived to take her to the airport for her red-eye flight. We hugged, and she said, “It’s not goodbye. It’s ‘see you later!’” I watched her get into her Uber and drive away. I walked back to the table where Kayla and Linda were standing nearby, talking to those guys from earlier. Tears continued to trickle down my cheeks.
Saying goodbye to so many people all at once was too much for me. I looked around at the people having fun, and I didn’t want to convince myself that I was okay and stop crying. I wanted to cry, and I wanted to go home. I said goodbye to Linda and Kayla and ordered an Uber. After I got into the car, the driver asked how my night was. I reassured him, “It was great.” Then I sat in silence as I lost control of my tears once again. I tried my very best not to make noise and hoped that he couldn’t see me crying in the dark.
I got back to my Airbnb and curled up into bed. I cried and cried. I couldn’t take the constant “goodbyes” and losing people. It had been over a year of meeting people, building a relationship, and then suddenly saying goodbye. When I’m with people for a few days all at once and suddenly alone again, the emptiness is too strong for me to handle. I get a glimpse of being around people – laughing, learning, and creating. Then it’s all gone in an instance.
Suzanne had become a very good friend, and saying goodbye right after Damien was just too much. I also said goodbye to Kayla, Oliver, Brock, Grace, Armelle, and Linda. The quietness of being alone was deafening. I couldn’t sleep.
I was also angry. My Airbnb host in Broome told me that my car broke down for a reason. It was because I was meant to go on this tour. How could this be the reason? To tease me with relationships with people? Introduce me to people only to rip them away?
I thought about all of the time I spent with them. Ten days nonstop – the laughs, learning about other cultures, and exploring a virtually untouched and incredibly beautiful landscape.
Oliver from the Netherlands – his sweet, intelligent, and fun soul was always a joy to be around. He always made me laugh, and I had so many good conversations with him.
Kayla – the adorable Australian. The innocent and caring flower child. Through incredibly optimistic eyes, she saw the world and had such excitement about what this life has in store for her. Her curiosity was endearing.
Brock – the Australian student-athlete who had a dad joke for every situation. He was goofy, light-hearted, friendly, and a hard worker. He has a bright future ahead of him.
Grace from Taiwan – her sweet, sometimes naive nature, was heartwarming. She didn’t seem to have a bad bone in her body. When Damien told her to yell at the group to “hurry the f*ck up!” she peacefully changed it to, “Please hurry up, guys.”
Armelle – the opinionated woman from France. She has studied a lot and knows a lot. She wasn’t afraid of sharing her opinions, and I appreciate that. We often didn’t agree, but we were able to be friends anyway. I enjoyed her insights.
Linda – the sometimes socially awkward girl from The Netherlands. She’s beautiful, and sometimes people took advantage of her. She was traveling and working for a year around Australia. I admired her courage to go on this journey of self-discovery.
And of course, Suzanne, the spit-fire professor from France who was living in Belgium. She inadvertently spoke to me in French a few times, and I somehow knew what she was saying based on her facial expressions and body movement.
Suzanne taught me so many things, like being more direct and expressing myself. She encouraged me, laughed with me, and goofed-off with me. She was my bestie because we understood each other. I loved her zest for life and her sometimes dramatic nature. She was a good friend.
It was all too much. I cried out to God, letting him know I couldn’t keep doing this. I couldn’t keep meeting people and then losing them. I was sad after leaving my group in Thailand, too, and felt the emptiness of the apartment there. This time was worse. Maybe it was because I had spent the majority of the last four months alone. Perhaps it was because we spent ten very full days together, eating together, sleeping near each other, riding in a truck for hours each day, and hiking together. We never had alone time.
The pain, sadness, loss, and loneliness hit me like a brick. It magnified everything with Damien. From the moment I met him, I knew I was going to like him. He was tall; I liked his long hair and his rugged look. He was intelligent and was an independent thinker. He was strong enough to handle my debates and opinions. Sometimes I’m sarcastic, and sometimes I can be a jerk. He was capable of handling it.
I cried on and off for most of the night. I was grateful that my room was far away from the homeowners and the other guest room. I have cried in many Airbnbs, so I am used to being quiet. I tossed and turned all night, hoping those feelings would pass.
To see a video of the ten-day tour, click here. You can also watch on your smart TV using the Vimeo App (or google search), and searching Australia Adventure Tour.
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Once again, it was an early morning in the Kimberley Region. I had a hard time sleeping the night before, so I got up 15 minutes earlier than everyone else. I took the opportunity to put my bag in the front left seat that was by the stairs in the main cab. I finally realized everyone was putting their bags in the truck first thing in the morning or the night before. The seat would allow me to stretch my legs, and it would be close enough that I could try to convince Damien to play my music.
The day prior, I had put together a playlist of songs that I thought he would think were ok and maybe even like. I carefully planned my approach because Damien is very particular.
It was time to leave, and almost everyone was in the truck. Damien was in front of the vehicle filling up his water bottle at the campground water spout. I slowly approached, “Hear me out. Can I play some music that I set aside that I think you will like or will tolerate?”
Damien didn’t initially take the bait and said, “Oh no.” I tried to interject, but he continued, “If you do that, you’d have to give me access to your phone, so I can skip songs as I see fit.” I agreed, “Absolutely. I will give you access, and you can skip any songs that you want.” Damien replied, “Ok, fine.” I started to walk away when Damien slightly turned his head towards me and said, “Good negotiating.” I smiled, “Thanks.”
Shortly after Damien got inside the truck, I leaned on the padding in the rectangular cutout between the cab’s front and the rest of the truck. I asked Damien for the cord because I couldn’t reach it. He handed it to me, and I plugged my phone in. Damien set my phone down near his lap so he could easily skip songs.
The volume was low, making it difficult for me to hear which songs were playing. There were enough songs to last two and a half hours. Damien only skipped a couple of songs and was letting most play. He skipped the two songs that I knew were risks, but I included them anyway. Then after about 45 minutes, I thought I saw Damien put his headphones on.
We stopped for a brief stretch, and as I got back into the truck, I asked Damien, “Did you put your headphones on?” He coldly said, “Yes.” I shook my head in frustration and sat down. Damien continued, “I don’t have to like your music.” I was cursing him inside my head. I spent time putting that playlist together, and I thought he would enjoy some of the songs. I was offended that he wouldn’t even listen. He could tell that I was visibly upset, and he didn’t put his headphones back on. He also didn’t skip any more songs.
Once the playlist was finished, I leaned forward to collect my phone and realized three songs weren’t on there from my favorite band, BORNS. I told him that I just had three more songs from my favorite band and plugged my phone back in. Damien let me play the three songs, and then I unplugged my phone and let him play what he wanted.
I was sitting next to Armelle from France. She was 50, had shoulder-length brown hair, and was physically fit. We talked about sports, and she asked me if I ever played basketball. I laughed, “People have asked me my whole life because of my height, but I don’t enjoy basketball and never played. I played volleyball, but just for fun.”
Armelle told me how she did a lot of archery and was bummed because the place near her house was closing. They were bought out by some company that was going to tear it down. Armelle has played basketball and enjoyed sports. We stretched our legs on the padded railing in front of us and laughed at the difference in our leg length.
It was time to stop for gas, and we all piled out of the truck to buy snacks and coffee. Damien recommended the station next door because it had better coffee. After seeing the minimal coffee and snacks supply, I walked next door and ordered a flat white coffee. I also bought a delicious apple turnover. I had them a couple of times in Australia, and they have apples and cream inside – super tasty!
Everyone else had ordered and received their coffee while I was getting my pastry, so I was the last one inside waiting. Damien walked in and ordered a long black coffee. We stood a few feet from each other, and I leaned towards him, “Did you like any of my songs?” Damien turned his head towards me while giving a smile, “I didn’t hate a few of them.” I shrugged my shoulders and rolled my eyes. He said, “I only skipped a couple.”
An Alanis Morissette song called “Thank You” was playing on the speakers above. Damien said, “I like this song. I should download it. You probably loved her. Women your age loved her.” As if we weren’t basically the same age. I replied, “Actually, I hated her when she first came out. I thought she was just screaming. Then I started to like her years later because of songs like this one, and I ended up liking her.”
We got back into the truck and continued driving. After another hour or so, Damien said we would stop to check on his didgeridoos. Ten weeks prior, he had put several logs with foil on them in the woods, hoping the terminates would eat out the center, creating a didgeridoo. He said, “If you want to see me be sad, you can come follow me and check out the logs. I know it didn’t work. I know it’s extremely unlikely, but I still get my hopes up like I always do, and it will hurt when it turns out it didn’t work.”
I completely understand that. My brain always knows the likelihood of things. My brain tells my heart not to get excited, not to be hopeful, but my heart just doesn’t listen. I try and convince myself I don’t care about something or someone, and then it hurts every single time when it doesn’t work out.
We pulled over, and after a two-minute walk, we came to the logs. Damien pulled the first one up, removed the foil covering, and felt the inside. It was still solid. He was sad, disappointed, and then angry. He checked both sides of about four logs, and none of them worked. I felt bad for him because he looked sad. Damien shouted to termites in the distance, “Why didn’t you eat them?! Were they not good enough for you?!”
We walked another five minutes on the opposite side of the dirt road and up a slight hill and saw an Aboriginal bird catcher. The Aboriginals would hide inside the catcher, and when the birds landed on the branches, they’d shove their spear through. I was in the lead and stopped at a tree with beautiful yellow flowers on the way back down.
Damien wasn’t too far behind me and said, “You can eat those pedals, they’ll be a little fragrant, though.” I ate two of them, and they were soft but didn’t have much flavor. A few others joined and tried the pedals too.
We continued driving and arrived at Nawilbinbin Gorge. Damien told us to hike the 1.7 kilometers and come back to the parking lot. The hike was a steep climb to the top of a rock cliff. It was beautiful, and I was happy to have some exercise after being in the truck for so long.
I hiked with Suzanne, and we talked about a professional paper that she was in the middle of writing. She was writing it in English and was struggling with a few concepts. I answered some questions on which phrases and word usage were correct. I taught her some things we’re taught in school like, “I before E except after C.” I explained to her that English is challenging because many things don’t make sense.
Once we finished our hike, we set up tables and chairs and ate lunch – the same sliced veggies that I had a hard time stomaching after so many days. After lunch, we continued driving.
Brock was our resident joke-teller. At 18 years old, he was proud of his dad-jokes. For days, he would get a kick out of our responses to his jokes, so he kept coming up with more and more. Everyone was in a good mood. Damien gave the microphone to Brock to tell jokes as his first “mic night.” He was such a sweet and funny kid, but the quality of the jokes started going downhill. I put my headphones on after ten minutes.
We arrived at our last campsite of the trip at dusk. We had the option of staying inside a small structure tent with two sets of bunk beds. The beds were just a very thin mattress pad on a wooden platform, but I was happy to have some sort of structure because of the wind the night prior. About half of the group decided to sleep inside their swag instead of a tent, which meant the rest of us could have a tent all to ourselves.
I picked a tent at the far end in an attempt to avoid snorers. Each tent was named after an international city. My tent was called Paris. I put my bags down and realized it was very dusty inside. I moved one of the mattress pads over to my bed, so I had two pads. Grace and Alex were in tents next to me, which was great because they didn’t snore.
My workgroup was on dishes that night, so while others were cooking dinner, I headed off to get a shower. There were only two stalls, so I was thrilled that I was quick enough to get there first. After my shower, I went to the kitchen area. For the first time, we had a tented kitchen with two picnic tables, a refrigerator, and a sink. Damien and the dinner crew were cooking burgers and fries.
I sat at a table with Brock, Kayla, Oliver, and Suzanne. We had a blast drinking and being silly. They gave me a shot of vodka, and I was drinking some red wine. We wanted to have a fun, memorable last night in the bush. I don’t remember everything we talked about because it was mostly laughing, taking goofy pictures with my hat, and just having an enjoyable time.
I do remember Oliver coming up with an extremely addictive, catchy tune as he sang, “You snore in the mornin.” He was referencing me, and I was slightly offended. He slept near me the first night and said in the early morning I snored a little. I tried to explain that I never snore. I was in a weird position on a couch the few times that I have snored, and it actually woke me up. I told Oliver, “If you heard snoring, it wasn’t me!” He insisted it was me, just in the morning, just for a bit. But it was ironic because I avoid snorers at all costs. His tune was so catchy; several people started singing it, including me!
It was time for dinner, and I was feeling a little drunk. The burger and fries were delicious. It was time for the cleanup crew to do the dishes, so the five of us gathered and made it a super fun time! Kayla, Suzanne, Armelle, Phillip, and I washed the dishes while singing our new motto, “Everything is awesome” from the LEGO movie.
Someone was playing fun dance music on the speaker, and Suzanne loved it! She danced around while singing, and it was such a fun environment. Days earlier, Damien teased Suzanne and me while we laughed on a hike, saying something like, “I know you girls just think, ‘Girls just wanna have fun,’” in reference to the song. The song came on the Bluetooth, and Suzanne got in Damien’s face singing it as he put stuff away. Damien just smiled. I said, “You won’t let me play my music, but you’ll let these songs play now?” He said, “That’s because it’s different when I’m driving and only have the road to look at.”
Once we finished cleaning, I sat back down at my table. Damien sat down a couple of spaces away from me and on the opposite side of the table. He was drinking beer, and I told him to try my wine. Damien said he didn’t like wine very much. I put the bottle in front of him, and he drank some directly from the bottle. Then he started to slide it back towards me. It was between us, and I slid it back towards him. Everyone was talking, but he looked at me and said, “You want me to drink this, don’t you?” I said, “Yes.” Then he poured some into the bottle cap and drank it from there.
The day before, I made a comment that I hadn’t even felt a buzz from my drinks and he said I needed to drink more. He also put all of my beers inside the cooler when I only added half of them. I figured it was his turn.
We were all amused by Damien’s magic card trick, and then Brock showed us one he knew too. Our table was being hilarious and loud, probably annoying the other table. We didn’t care. We had a blast.
Suzanne was standing up near me between the two tables when she asked Damien a question about the following day. Damien was reluctant to answer (as usual), and Suzanne very loudly said, “Hold on, let me get Christy to ask, then you’ll answer!” Suddenly, there was a good three to four seconds of complete silence from everybody. Damien stared at the table, and I was uncomfortable.
Then Suzanne continued, “Christy could ask the exact same question as anybody else, and you’ll only answer Christy.” Trying to make things less awkward, I said, “That’s not true. That’s not true.” Suzanne started laughing, and everyone started talking again. I didn’t know what to say. Damien never responded to that, but shortly after, he left the table and said he was going to bed.
We continued to hang for a little bit, drinking and watching more card tricks. Then the people sitting at the other table went to bed. We figured we’d better get to bed too, so we didn’t disturb the others. I was headed back to my tent when I saw Kayla throwing up in her swag. She wasn’t far from the kitchen, so the light helped to see her.
I walked over, and the poor girl tried not to get it in her swag, but her face was in the dirt. I grabbed her and tried to lift her up a little because I didn’t want her choking on her vomit. Suzanne and Sophie came over to help too. I walked Kayla to the restroom, holding her up as we walked. Suzanne and Sophie started to clean her swag. Kayla threw up some more in the toilet and then got into the shower. I got her bag and brought it to her.
Suzanne, Sophie, and I waited in the restroom for Kayla to finish showering. After her shower, Kayla threw up some more. We felt terrible for her because we’d all been there before. Shoot, I was there a few months prior in Thailand. We told Kayla she’d feel better the next day since she threw up. We walked her back to her swag and made sure Brock and Oliver kept an eye on her that night.
I walked to my tent and got ready for bed. I was tired and drunk. I was also a little disappointed. I wanted something to happen with Damien. Maybe it was my need for physical touch, but it was our last night camping. After all that flirting, would anything ever happen?
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It was another early morning in the Kimberley. I was awake at 5:15 am and ready to go at 6:30 am. I sat next to Suzanne, my Adventure Tour bestie, on the truck. She was 42 and from France (but living in Belgium). We had been developing a great friendship over the last week. We hadn’t sat together on the truck yet, so we made it happen.
Suzanne and I talked about why I chose to leave my job in LA and how long I planned before pulling the trigger. It wasn’t something I did out of the blue – I thought about it and prepared for a year. You can read about the decision here.
I taught Suzanne American slang, and sometimes it was unintentional. For example, I say “dude” and “man” a lot, and she started to pick it up too. She would speak them with a deep voice and really pronounced, so it cracked me up every time. She also pointed out that when I tell stories, I say, “he goes” and “she goes” instead of “he said” and “she said.” One day she came to me and said someone taught her AF and bat-shit crazy. It was hilarious trying to explain the difference between bat-shit crazy and just your regular run-of-the-mill crazy.
Suzanne has been to the U.S. a few times, but just to major cities like New York and LA. She told me how she was so confused by our tipping guidelines – who to tip and who not to tip. I’ve heard this from so many people from Europe and Australia. She finally got the hang of tipping in the U.S., and her dad came with her one time. He didn’t like tipping and tried not to tip at one restaurant. Suzanne told him, “If you don’t like it, you shouldn’t come to the U.S. That’s how they do it here.” I tried to explain to her that I’m not too fond of the tipping culture, but servers in the U.S. are paid less than minimum wage (usually around $3 an hour) because it’s a job reliant on tips.