Spin the Globe with Justin Butner

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Airlie Beach (pt. 1) – Watching Tropical Paradise Slip Away

Written 24 November (about events from 12 August)

The plan was a simple one. Wake up, get a free boat ride out to Whitehaven beach, camp for 3 days, and catch a boat back. Total cost would be about $100 a person for three days on one of the top 5 most beautiful beaches in the world (according to the type of people that rank these things).

It started to disintegrate predictably. My travel companions had all gone out drinking the night before and were out until well after 1. Waking at 6 would give us time to break down tents and get all together for the trek. At 6:30, after several snoozed alarms, I started shaking and poking the people who weren’t so much as getting out of their tents. At this rate we would never make it to the marina to meet the CouchSurfer who was willing to take us out to the island on his boat for free.

A phone sounded again, but this time with a message. The young and reckless future alcoholic, the pre-publokent guy we were going to meet, was canceling. The winds were too low and he wouldn’t be able to get us out to the islands. We knew it was a lie. He was just as hungover and didn’t want to go. After all, he had all the time in the world. It was just us who had a timeline.

All outward movement stopped. The dream was slipping. No boat, no island, no camping, no plan. Despite my anger I pushed on. We pack up. We get to the marina. We walk each pier, talking to every person we see. And we would hustle our way out to the island yet.

Everyone moved slowly. The car battery died from us charging our devices. Five guys helped us push-start the car. Fozzie alive, us half dead, we ambled towards the water. Already after 9. And after the grocery run it was late morning by the time we made it to the marina. Our chances were dwindling.

Most boats were already gone. Of those left, most were not going out today. And those going out tomorrow were all in the race from the marina. Or in preparation for the races the following week. The odds were against us, but it never hurts to ask or to rely on the kindness of people who have no reason to help you. And so we broke into pairs to get things taken care of quickly.

As soon as the pairs were made I knew I should speak up. But I held my tongue and proceeded. Myself, the long-haired scruffy guy, and Phil, the German-accented guy rocked through a few arms of the marina. People were helpful in a respect. They pointed to the touring companies on the main strip and suggested we head there to inquire about pay tours rather than asking for a free ride. It wasn’t the answer we were looking for. But despite our striking out, maybe the other pair had done better.

They had. Astronomically so.

They walked back towards us sheepishly. Shelby, the bubbly and attractive girl and Jason, the yachtie-looking smooth-talker. They had found a ride on a boat. It just didn’t go where we were aiming for. There was a boat going out to Hamilton Island for the Race Week in a few days. It was an international consortium of rich guys (USA, Dubai, Australia, South Africa) getting a mansion together. A bunch of people, thousands of dollars of alcohol, thousands of dollars of top notch ingredients. And no one to actually cook or clean up after them. In exchange for the service of servitude, the would allow a couple people to live on their yacht with cable and wifi, eat and drink what they would, and they would probably throw a tip in at the end. They would take their servants out for a race or two, and a few days touring around the islands after it was all over. The offer explained there was only one question.

“How many people do they need?”

“Just two.”

There was a long pause as my heart sank. I waited for a sound, but I never heard it hit the bottom. I was still in freefall when I spoke with a wavering voice of shell-shock. “It has been fun traveling with you two, but I know you have to take this opportunity.”

Things happened for the next few hours. I’m sure they did, though I don’t clearly remember them. I tried to hustle a bit more but quit. My heart wasn’t in it. No one was biting. The sun was high and the heat was up. I was hungry and dehydrated. I needed a cigarette. Then my stomach felt unstable. I spoke in delayed, confused, half-answers to questions that may or may not have actually been asked. The cruise around the Whitsunday Islands was gone. The trek to Whitehaven Beach was gone. Camping on the beautiful beach with no one else besides our group was gone. A few more nights of conversation and fun, a few more days of being mentored by a professional photographer as he went around the island paradise, a few days of actually having a plan – these were gone.

Usually depression sneaks up, a slow descent into a world of darkness that could have been turned around if only it had been caught in time. But there are times when everything falls apart so spectacularly that you can feel the bottom drop out. This was one of those times.

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This entry was posted on December 7, 2012 by in Australia.

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