5,000 K’s on the road brought me to Darwin after 17 days on the road. As republished on The Good Men Project.
5,000 K’s on the road brought me to Darwin after 17 days on the road. As republished on The Good Men Project.
Read further for my adventures in the Australian Outback at The Good Men Project.
The Goodmen Project are re-publishing my adventures. Check out their amazing website, changing the men think, behave and having that conversation no one else is having with or about men.
This one’s about my time being almost carried away by mosquitoes while camping in Kakadu National Park. Enjoy
The third year of hitchin’ through Africa was turmoilous in a good way. I rose in love with an amazing soulmate. I kinda conquered my anablephobia (an extreme unwarranted fear and physical aversion to looking up) and found out a few more things about myself.
I spent a long time in Kenya and a really short time in Sudan where I almost broke down due to the heat and other personal variables.
I patched up Ol’ Red, jammed from beaches to treehouses to boats. I hung out with artists across all mediums. I’ve visited more hospitals and taken more anti-biotics and pharmaceuticals this past year than I have my entire life. I quit drinking but discovered ecstasy. I got addicted to rolex in Uganda, coffee in Ethiopia, tea in Sudan and falafel in Egypt.
I got a free ride on a train from Khartoum to Shendi in Sudan. I was arrested (Zanzibar) with handcuffs and risked arrest with the Gypsy Queen and had to protect some wannabe hustlers from her ferocity when they tried to pull one over us.
I publicly played a song I wrote for the first time, the soon-to-be Grammy nominated song of the year, The Ballad of Jim-Bob and the Bear. Speaking of Grammy’s, I jammed with a Grammy-nominated artist, singers, poets, rappers, the most talented musicians I’ve ever come across.
I gained an awesome camera with some helpful tips by the talents of the Gypsy Queen and created art in two countries I never thought I’d ever be capable of with said Gypsy Queen (who’ll have a special guest post published here in the coming days. Stay tuned).
And finally (yet sadly), after two amazing years, I’ve left Africa – for now.
And I’ve realised that, after three years of full-time travelling, even though people say I’m living the dream, I’m fuckin’ exhausted. It’s not easy to be continuously on the move carrying 30 kilos of everything you have in extreme heat, rain or cold.
This next year I’m gonna focus on surfing (two years since I was last on a wave), writing a few books, editing some videos (no, not porn), develop some ideas I’ve had, perhaps write an album (whether I record is a different story) and learn a completely new repertoire of songs to cover (suggestions are welcome).
So this list is the absolute TOTAL of three years of travelling from Oz to the Middle East without a flight (except for that one cause of the Ethiopian embassy in Nairobi) – from May 13th, 2013, to May 13th, 2016.
Without the good-hearted folks that I’ve encountered on the way, none of this would’ve been possible. So thanks people.
See y’all in a year (or thereabouts. It’s just an outline).
Total distance covered: 47,000 km (29,205 miles) from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia – Eilat, Arava, Israel
Total number of countries: 21
Total number of islands: 27
Total number of hitches on cars: 155
Total number of hitches on public transport: 28
Total number of hitches on trucks: 45
Total number of hitches on motorbikes: 1
Total number of hitches on trains: 1
Total number of hitches with police: 3 – Malawi, Uganda, Sudan
Total number of hitches with military: 1 – Uganda
Total number of hitches: 233
Total number of flights: 1 – Nairobi, Kenya – Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (only way The Universe was letting me get a visa)
Total number of boats: 17
Total number of boat rides: 45
Total number of travel partners: 4
Wettest country: Uganda
Driest country: Sudan
Hottest country: Sudan
Most Mountainous country: Ethiopia
Flattest country: Sudan
Hottest temperature experienced: 45° C, Omdurman, Sudan
Coldest temperature experienced: 1°, possible 0° C, Mt Kenya, Kenya
Highest Altitude reached: 5,188 meters above sea level, Nelion Peak, Mt Kenya
Lowest Altitude reached: 116 meters below sea level, Danakil Depression, Afar, Ethiopia
Total number of hospital visits: 8 (2 motorbike accidents, 2 spider bites and multiple ear infections)
Total number of spider bites: 2 – Recluse (aka, violin spider), Kilifi, Kenya
Total number of wasp stings: 2 – Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, Uganda
Biggest spider encountered: Rain spiders, in the shower, Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, Uganda
Most dangerous snake encounter: Boomslanger, WAG, Thuma Forest Reserve, Malawi
Total number of tropical diseases collected: 1 – H. Pylori (stomach bacteria). Still housing it from Madagascar
Total number of bats in the shower: 10 – Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, Uganda
Total number of festivals attended: 5
Total number of conservation\NGO projects volunteered: 8
Total number of volunteer jobs for food and bed: 24
Total number of art installations with Osotua Creative Collective: 5
Total number of videos on Youtube: 14
Total number of kayaking white water: 1 – Savage Wilderness, Tana River, Kenya
Total number of SCUBA dives: 1, Red Sea, Dahab, Sinai, Egypt with Sinai Gate – 21 meters
Deepest free-dive: 15 meters
Total number of bungee jumps: 1 – Victoria Falls Bridge, Zambia (Shearwater Adventures)
Total number of ziplining: 1 – Victoria Falls Bridge, Zambia (Shearwater Adventures)
Total number of gorge swings: 1 – Victoria Falls Bridge, Zambia (Shearwater Adventures)
Total number of places surfed: 8
Total number of mountains conquered: 12
Total number of active volcanoes: 1 – Mt Erta Ale, Ethiopia (with ETT)
Total number of national parks: 54
Longest period in one country: 7 months, Kenya
Shortest period in one country: 10 days, Sri Lanka
Longest wait for a ride: 2 months, Darwin-Indonesia
Shortest wait for a ride: 3 seconds, Mulanji, Malawi
Longest hitch: 4 days with Harley and Em from Jinja, Uganda to Karen, Kenya
Longest distance hiked before getting a hitch: 10 K’s on the road to Lake Tanganika, Zambia
Most remote place to get a ride: Aberdares National Park, Kenya
Total number of Mohammeds met: 30
Total number of continents: 3
Total number of oceans crossed: 1 – Indian
Total number of seas crossed: 1 – Timor
Total number of canals crossed: 1 – Suez Canal, Egypt
Total number of deserts crossed: 5
Total number of gigs: 97
Total number of tattoos acquired: 1
Total number of articles published: 257
Total number of photos published: 6,165
Most camels in a single caravan: 49
Total number of attempted pickpocketers: 2 – Cape Town, South Africa and Mwanza, Tanzania
Best Coffee: Hailu’s mum’s, Ayat, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Best Tea: Mzee Baraka’s spiced chai, Kilifi, Kenya
Total weight of packs: 33 KG
Total number of packs stolen: 1 – Zambia Oktoberfest
Total number of nicknames collected: 18 –
Total number of hotels bartered with: 39
Total number of couchsurfers from couchsurfers.com: 31
Total number of near-death experiences: 12
Most amazing experience (cheese alert): Rising in love
Worst experience: Ear infection, Mbale, Uganda. Doctor did not go easy on me.
And, too end on a high,
Total number of acid trips: 4
Total number of ecstasy trips: 10 – 8 in Kenya, two in Uganda
Total number of bad trips: 1 – Kenya
Best Weed: Malawi Gold, Malawi
Strongest Weed: Shisha Mani, Ethiopia
Mellowest Weed: Bungo, Sudan
You’d think coming from Australia, land of ‘Everything can kill ya’, I’d know how to camp. I’d know that I should shake out my boots (that I never wear). That I should shake out my clothes before wearing them (and wonder where that new stain came from). That I should shake out my sleeping bag even though I don’t use it cause it’s too hot.
Especially since I’ve had some experience with venomous creatures of the lethal kind. You see, the category of animals in Australia is divided into two: Deadly or lethal.
My first encounter would have been back in 2011. I was hiking, barefoot, through the Cumberland River Gorge with two female friends. We reached a beautiful rocky outcrop by the river that spills into the Southern Ocean where my favourite left wave rolls lazily to the beach (it was here that I had my first Epic wave, dropping off the lip of a 4-foot beast, landing it and then zipping between the other surfers crowding the water).
I needed to pee and waltzed up the river, skipping over rocks. A large boulder was in my way so I climbed over it and landed with a thud on the other side. Just as I was about to unzip I heard a hiss. I looked down and froze.
My left foot had magically landed right next to a coiled up Tiger Snake, the 6th most lethal snake in the world, leaving just enough space for oxygen to pass between it and my foot.
Perhaps if I hadn’t drunken mushroom tea and smoked some joints on the trek, then I wouldn’t have attempted to break Usian Bolt’s hundred meter record.
*But I did.
Six months later I was exploring a semi-dry lake with my good friend, Warwick, a talented photographer who had been showing me the ways of the land in the Otways bushland. As we’re hiking through tall, dry grass in the month of September (just coming out of winter), Warwick, who has grown up in the bush, said,
“Careful mate, this looks like snake country.”
As he went to the right, I went to the left and froze after about 10 meters. Before me, on top of the bushes, lay a long dark snake. Motionless. I couldn’t even see if it was breathing. It’s eyes seemed glazed over, like I get when I have one puff too many on a happy stick.
Hmm, I thought. It looks dead. Reckon I’ll pick it up and throw it at Warwick for shits and giggles.
I guess Karma read my mind and decided to intervene. As I bent forward and reached down with my hand I stopped, not dropping my gaze from the snake which had yet to show any sign of life. A gut instinct rang alarm bells.
Hmm, I thought. It might not be dead. And it might actually be deadly.
“Warwick, ol’ buddy, ol’ pal, would you mind moseying on over here? I’ve found a snake and I’m not sure what it is or if it’s alive.”
Warwick crashed over through the bushes and stopped upon eying the critter. Carrying a mono-pod for his camera he instructed me to,
“Step to the left there, mate,” as he came to stand between me and the snake. Using the mono-pod, he rustled the bushes under the snake.
Now Warwick is a big guy. In height and in muscle. And when he rustled those bushes and the snake came to life, saw us two bipedals and shot into the bush at the speed of a bullet, Warwick crashed back on to me which resulted in me being splayed on my back like an upturned turtle.
“Holy shit!” I yelped. “What was it?”
“Tiger snake,” Warwick said, standing up and helping me to rise.
“Shit, mate, that’s the second time in six months.”
Tiger snakes have a very potent neurotoxic venom. Death from a bite can occur within 30 minutes, but usually takes 6-24 hours. It’ll will generally flee if encountered, but can become aggressive when cornered and strikes with unerring accuracy.
Let’s fast forward to the island of Koh Phangan in Thailand in the year 2013. I was driving a scooter to a jam session on the other side of the island in torrential rain at night on unlit dark roads. Tall grass was growing by the roadside. I noticed something long and dark just on the edge of the road. I slowed down by it and immediately recoginsed the cobra that had me close my legs in and push the throttle all the way.
A few months later I found myself on the sailing boat, SV San Miguel, hitching a ride to South Africa. An epic adventure of adventurous proportions. We had left Phuket, Thailand and sailed off to Sri Lanka. From Sri Lanka, we sailed south to Chagos Archipelago, a deserted chain of atolls and islands. The nearest habituated land were the Maldives, 180 nautical miles to our west.
As we cruised the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, the depth reader showing 4,000 meters of water below us, we came across a strong current that the marine life were using as a super highway. As there was no wind, we jumped in to swim with sharks, barracuda, leatherhead sea turtles, a small hawksbill sea turtle, corafin fish and some Portuguese Man O’War.
The Man O’War isn’t a jellyfish. It’s a siphonophore, a collection of living organisims known as zooids (I shit you not). As I was watching a shark swim beneath me I felt a sting on my left ear. I clambered back on board and in the galley I wiped my ear with vinegar before returning to the water. Then I was stung on my left rib.
Damn it, I thought as I returned once more to the galley for another swab of vinegar. I hate vinegar. The smell can propel me backwards as though I were taking a 12-gauge buckshot to the chest. Returning to the water for the third time I was then stung on my left ankle. I looked around and saw the floating zooid colony and identified it.
Merde, I thought as again, I returned below deck and swabbed the stung area with vinegar. But the venom of the previous stings had reached my left lymph node and it was fighting back hard. So hard that the pain caused had me stumble back to my cabin like after a typical night out in Bangkok. I collapsed on the bunk and passed out.
An hour later I came too and exchanged survival stories with the captain who had suffered the same fate.
Let’s time-jump to June, 2015, when a recluse spider bit my left shin in my sleep in Kilifi. Not knowing what it was I let the bite fester for 9 days before I figured that the black, dead skin and continuous oozing puss (which was my liquefied flesh caused by the spider’s venom) might need to be looked at in a hospital.
After they dug out a hole that could house a piggy bank, placed me on anti-biotics and painkillers, it took four weeks for the wound to heal.
You see, a recluse spider, the size of a quarter, has venom that destroys and melts your flesh. It doesn’t get into the blood stream, it’s extremely painful and leaves a pretty nasty scar if not treated in time and can result in death.
I was close to losing my leg and was very grateful for the treatment I received.
Now, a month later, I’m once again bitten by a recluse fucking spider in my tent. Once again in my sleep. Once again on my left side. This time, on the very point of my left elbow. This time, I knew what it was straight away. Confirmation came on the third day and I headed over to the hospital where I greeted the same doctors that had treated me before (it starts off looking like a mosquito bite, it’ll itch all day and then the day after a white head, like a pimple will appear. Pain sets in like a tender bruise before the venom starts to melt your flesh under the skin).
“Got a new one,” I grinned as they cleaned me up, gave me antibiotics and now, I hope it’ll only take a week to heal.
I love nature but sometimes, nature loves me back a little too hard, like an aunt with giant bosoms who squeezes you in a bear-hug, suffocating you to a point of passing out.
Now I’m practicing how to shoot webs from my wrists.
*Please note: in the event of encountering any snake, you should freeze and give it way. They’ll usually slither off to not be bothered. If it’s a black mamba then good luck.
I was interviewed by the good people at Happy Hobos. Check their pages out on the social networks.
A year ago I left everything I ever knew of my life and drove out in the dark morning of an autumn Melbourne sunrise, heading towards a clichéd unknown destiny.
A year on the road (and 5 months at sea) living out of my backpack, escorted by my guitar (the surfboard I had started out with I donated to Soul Surf Project in Bali) and a daypack – my world had expanded beyond the complexities of western society.
In this past year I met the most amazing people I have ever crossed paths with (besides the amazing people already in my life). I did things I have never ever dreamed of doing like hitch-hiking in Asia, catching sailing boats to cross the seas in the off-season (also known as cyclone season). I explored deserted islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean, rode motorbikes in suicidal Asian traffic and partied hard on beaches, in bars, clubs and private homes.
I slept in hammocks in the Malaysian jungle, woke up in a car park in Bangkok, did some contortioning yoga in Thailand, swam with sharks in Chagos, swam in 4,000 meters of water, saw dolphins at sunrise and sunset. Saw mind-tripping bio luminous plankton, more stars than in an astronomers wet dream and witnessed some of the most breath-taking sunsets known to man.
12 months, 10 countries, countless of adventures and that cemented feeling of never returning to a ‘normal’ life-style.
This is me for the rest of my days. Thanks to everyone that hosted me and helped me along the way. Before I start my two-year (thereabouts) hitch-hiking expedition across Africa to the Middle East, here’s a quick summary of the year gone by:
Number of Countries Visited – 10
Number of Islands Visited – 22
Number of Mountains conquered – 6
Number of Boats Sailed – 12
Number of Bodies of Water Crossed – 2 – The Timor Sea and the Indian Ocean
Furthest Distance Covered by Land – 5,400 KM (driving from Melbourne to Darwin through the Outback, Australia)
Furthest Distance Covered by Sea – 4,000 nautical miles (7,408 KM, crossing the Indian Ocean from Thailand to South Africa)
Number of Storms Encountered at Sea – 9
Number of Shitting Bricks Moments at Sea – 3
Number of Fish Caught – 5
Number of Fish Hooked but then Escaped – 8
Number of Times Hit by Flying Fish – 1
Number of Motorbikes Ridden – 8
Number of Motorbike Accidents – 3
Number of Motorbike Accidents where I was at Fault – 2
Number of Surf Spots Surfed – 6
Favourite Conservation Project – MYCAT – Tiger Conservation, Malaysia
Number of Leeches – 17
Number of Leeches that Sucked Me Dry – 3
Favourite Surf Spot – Bukka, Mossel Bay, South Africa
Number of Near-death Experiences – 3
– Any bus ride\road crossing in Asia
– Surfing Desert Point, Lombok, Indonesia
– Stung by Portuguese Man O’War in the middle of the Indian Ocean
Number of Food Poisonings – 1 (Madagascar)
Number of Jellyfish Stings – 3 (Portuguese Man O’War)
Number of Dinghies Stolen – 1 (Madagascar)
Number of Sandals Stolen – 1 (Madagascar – they were in the dinghy)
Number of Sunglasses Lost – 3 (Timor Sea and Indian Ocean)
Number of iPhones Lost – 1 (Timor Sea)
Number of Parties Attended – 31… I think
Number of Parties Remembered – 20… I think
Number of Acid Trips – 2 (Sri Lanka – trippy, South Africa – mellow)
Favourite Word for ‘thank you’ – Stoo-tie (Singahlese, Sri Lanka)
Favourite Word for ‘you’re welcome’ – Suma-suma (Indonesian)
Favourite Word for ‘sweet as’ – Lekker (Afrikaans, South Africa)
Number of Sponsors – 3 – Ticket to the Moon (Bali, Indonesia) supplying a travel hammock
North Ridge (South Africa) supplying a 65L backpack
Source (Israel) supplying hiking sandals and a 3L water bag
Favourite Alcoholic Beverage – Coconut liquor (known as Arak), Sri Lanka
Best Weed – Sri Lanka
We hustled ‘n’ bustled to fuel up, water up and, watching the tide go out, scraped the bottom of Cullen Bay, just making the open waters of the Timor Sea.
“Next stop, Indonesia!” I announced as Tropicbird headed out, leaving Darwin behind.
We headed due west, straight into a spectacular sunset. Our dolphin escort of the last hour of daylight had let us be as we motored until my midnight-02:00 night-watch shift when the wind picked up and Skipper decided to hoist the sails.
“Now for the magic,” he grinned as he killed the engine.
Silence engulfed us like a vacuum seal.
Nothing but the wind and the breaking waves on the bow.
We were sailing.
I looked over the rails and saw the luminous plankton, also known as phosphorous. A light green twinkled every now and again, like glo-worms by a waterfall.
“Alright,” I grinned, giggty-gigging to myself as I headed below deck to spend my first night at sea in my berth, falling asleep to the rolling motion of the boat.
In the morning, after a breakfast of porridge with raisins and cinnamon, a pod of about a hundred dolphins appeared all around us, surrounding our port, starboard, stern and bow, surfing on our keel.
We all rushed about, watching and pointing.
My watch duty was 4-6 AM on the second day. As the sun came up, I trolled the fishing line out with a squid lure. Jill had come up and sat at the stern, chatting with me, looking out for dolphins while Skipper was sound asleep in the cockpit.
Then the line snapped.
“We’re on,” I jumped on the rod. There was no fight coming from whatever had hooked itself and I assumed that I was going to reel in a limp line. It took all but 30 seconds to bring in a Tarpon fish the size of a baseball bat, my biggest catch to date (although I’d only been fishing once before – the previous week).
“Lunch is served,” I grinned just as Skipper awoke and Baz came up to see what the commotion was about. He helped me fillet the fish and for lunch I steamed and served it on a bed of onion-sweetcorn rice. Olivia made a garlic-soy-ginger sauce which almost had her heaving overboard due to the roll of the boat (which is felt a lot stronger below deck).
Skipper had set up two head sails that were pushing us along at a steady 1.5 knots. We were barely moving so the suggestion of jumping in for a swim was welcomed by everyone. As we changed into bathers, Alison gave a cry from the starboard side.
“I just saw a whale!” she exclaimed. We searched the waters but all I could see was a sea turtle.
“You know you’re going slow when a turtle overtakes you,” I said.
“Oh look,” one of the girls pointed. “Jellyfish.”
Jellyfish stings hurt.
They hurt like a motherfucking sting from a jellyfish. They floated by as it appeared that we had parked right in the middle of their school zone.
On a boat, all your bowel movements are flushed out the back through a pumping system with the water in the bowl coming from the sea. The census is not to take a dump while you’re parked cause then shit just floats around.
Before I go for a swim, I always go for a number 2. So when Orla and Alison, who had already jumped off the stern, started to yelp out and Baz began to inquire who was responsible for the floaters, I realised my mistake.
“Oh, shit –” literally “– Sorry, ladies.” I somersaulted with the grace of a flying kosher pig off the bow.
The depth reader read 250 feet. It’s the deepest body of water I’ve ever swam in and to say that I wasn’t slightly overwhelmed would be like saying, ‘Hey, your slightly overwhelmed.’
I love swimming and I love being in water but put me in water where I can’t see the bottom and you’ll understand why I take a dump before I swim. And it didn’t settle my nerves when the dorsal fin of a shark was spotted as we were toweling off on deck with the addition of 2 sea snakes sighted not long after.
Dinner was an amazing spaghetti bolognese with dehydrated soy (which looks like dog food but is a pretty good meat substitute).
“Do you mind closing your legs?” asked Orla as I scrubbed the plates after dinner at the stern using a bucket of seawater.
“Why?” I asked.
“It’s just that I can see your left testicle,” she said.
I looked down and sure enough my legs were wide open and a curious left nut peaked from its holding in my bathers.
I grinned. “Then don’t look,” and resumed scrubbing.
“So,” Orla listed the day’s events as the sun dropped over the horizon, a red-pink-orange glow splayed across the sky like a water painting, “today we saw dolphins, a sea turtle, jellyfish, swam in Simon’s shit, saw a shark, sea snakes and Simon’s left nut.”
“Star of the day,” I collapsed into the hammock as another dolphin escort joined us.
Venus, the Evening Star (slash planet) and the first one out, appeared like clockwork as the sun set. The red orange ball dropped fast over the horizon and within 15 minutes we were under a night sky, littered with stars, the Milky Way cutting across like a bridge over an endless bay.
“I can’t believe that a planet is lighting up the water out here,” I said, staring in awe at Venus laying a path of light on the water, imitating the moon. We saw the Southern Cross, Orion’s Belt and Jill, using her star navigation software on her iPad, showed us where all the astrology signs were.
“What drug were these astrologers on when they claimed they can see all these animals up there?” I wondered aloud, looking up.
On day 3 I finished a great book that Baz had received at the Life Support Center in Darwin titled, ‘101 Adventures that got me Absolutely Nowhere’ by Phil O’Brien. It was one of the funniest books I’ve ever read, telling the tales of Phil roaming around the Outback from job to job over the last 25 years of his life.
After lunch we stopped for another swim. Skipper dropped the yellow floater that was our safety line but forgot to attach it to an actual line.
“I need a swimmer,” he called out as the floater floated away. I just happened to be standing next to him and without thinking I jumped into 300 feet of blue water.
I popped up and grabbed the floater, treading water as I watched Tropicbird sail away.
Oh fuck, I thought. I started to swim after the boat when two thoughts entered my mind:
There’s nothing more terrifying than seeing your vessel of transport sail away (albeit at 1.5 knots) when you’re surrounded by open water and nothing else. Thankfully the line Skipper threw out just reached me and I pulled myself to the boat.
That night, Baz grabbed the boat-hook and trailed it in the water to activate the bio-luminous plankton. We all hung over the rail, watching in awe and delight as the water lit up in night-vision green.
On day 4 we stopped for another swim. This time, as I swan-dived off the bow, determined to overcome my fear of the very deep blue water. I opened my eyes and saw the bluest blue I had ever seen. Looking to my right, I saw the shadow of Tropicbird’s keel.
Skipper had brought out a mask and was cleaning one side of the propeller, scraping off the barnacles that were slowing us down. I was about to dive down and do the other side when I saw something far beneath me.
Is that… is that a whale? I looked up and in my peripheral I saw something swim by me. I turned and was face-to-jelly with a jellyfish.
I shot to the top and announced our uninvited guests. Still, we kept swimming and I even shimmied out on the spinnaker pole and dropped head down to the water below but somehow, Alison and Olivia got stung.
“I’d offer to pee on you but I already peed in the water,” I said as they thanked me, dousing their stings with vinegar.
Day 5 brought on some violent rolling of the boat. Tropicbird listed to 45°, rolling from side-to-side, really testing our balance (and Irish Riverdancing skills). We listed so violently that it knocked over three mugs of tea, one after the other.
Later that night, while sleeping soundly in the hammock on the deck, I awoke and looked down at the dark waters of the Timor Sea before swaying back over the deck, slamming into the mizzen mast. Taking it as a sign, I retired below deck and resumed sleep in my berth, almost flying onto Baz sleeping in the opposite berth.
As the sun rose up on the morning of day 6, Skipper called out, “Land ho!” and West Timor was in sight. It was a breath of fresh sea air to see land after 6 days on the blue. The wind picked up and we raised the genoa and main sail.
“What’s our speed?” Skipper asked from the forward deck.
“8 knots!” we called back.
We were flying, escorted by dolphins.
As we rounded the headland I spotted a wave, breaking left and going forever.
“Waves!!” I called out excitedly and rushed up to the bow. The choppy water made the bow pitch up to 10 feet before crashing back down onto the water only to be pushed up again.
The bow became my 50-foot surf board.
I was grinning and whooping at every pitch, timing the rise and fall of the motions. I waved at the passing fishing boats as the city of Kupang, on the West Timor Island, came into view, surfing the bow all the way to the anchorage. We passed by floating rubbish, passing plastic debris, cups, Styrofoam boxes, some shoes and what looked like a broken buoy. How the hell does one even bring oneself to dump rubbish in this beautiful environment?
“You’re burnt to a crisp, mate,” Bazza said when I returned to the cockpit.
“I feel it,” I agreed.
Since my sunglasses had taken a dive off the stern the day before, I had also managed to sunburn my eyes. At least the T-shirt tan I had obtained in Darwin was now gone.
Anchoring in Kupang, we had to wait until Quarantine and Immigration came to our boat. Being it Indonesia and being it an island meant we were on island time. After almost two hours eight officials finally arrived.
All boarded but only two were actually doing anything. We had to hide all the tools, and laptops. We made them laugh and had our photos taken with them.
“Where can I surf?” I asked one of the officials.
“Rote Island,” he said.
“Yeah but where can I surf here in Kupang?”
“Oh,” his face dropped. “No surf here. Only Rote Island.”
You gotta be kiddin’ me.
We readied the dinghy to lower it off the forward deck. Skipper checked its little outboard motor and, announcing its comatose state shortly after, meant we had to hitch a ride on a dinghy from a neighbouring boat to begin our first day in South East Asia. The landing area was packed with smiling faces and people waving. It seemed that the whole town had come to see all the sailing boats.
And of course, westerners = money.
On the streets we saw impossible traffic, a mixture of scooters, souped up taxi-buses (like something out of ‘Pimp My Ride’), conductors hanging out of the doors calling out, “Mister! Mister! Where you going?” and “Money, money!”
To them, it appeared, we were walking banks.
We walked on in the dark, paveless streets, trying not to get runover by passing scooters and the souped-up buses, passing fish markets and wood workshops filled with coffins. All along saying ‘Hello’ and waving at the locals who smiled and waved back.
We booked 3 rooms at the Ima Hotel. Jill insisted on paying for all the rooms.
After showering we headed out to a restaurant called ‘The Lion’ at the staff’s recommendation. There was karaoke and two full tables of locals breaking the Ramadan fast. We walked in and all eyes were on us.
Realising that I had sat on a seat that was too low against the table, I pushed back to change chairs when I felt something colliding then flying and landing with a thud, scraping along the concrete floor right behind me. I looked down to see that I had just wiped a kid out that had been running between the tables with his buddies.
“Oh, shit,” I said and was about to approach the little bugger to see if he was alright. But he just got up and continued to run to the table with the other kids and sat with them, as though nothing happened.
This kid had taken a chair like a WWE wrestler and he didn’t even peep.
I looked around nervously, readying myself for an angry, machete-wielding parent to come after me but no one appeared. All of a sudden the music changed and before we knew it, the locals had dragged us to the dance floor to partake in a traditional dance.
By the end of dinner, all the waiters wanted a photo with us.
We hitched a ride back to the hotel with random strangers. I don’t know how they didn’t throw us out of their car as we were blind drunk (well, I was). They pumped the music all the way and took photos of us.
From there I don’t remember what happened.
The next morning, after the all-included breakfast buffet, we were asked to pose with the staff for a photo. We were the celebrities and the locals, the paparazzi’s. We walked back to the landing area from where you could see all the boats anchored in the bay. And then I saw something that was so far over the top you couldn’t even see the top.
Or the sun.
Yachts come in different shapes and classes. The cruising yachts that the majority of the rally participants were sailing on might cost just over a hundred grand. Then you have the motorised vessels associated with millionaires – yachts.
Multi-millionaires have what’s known as ‘Super Yachts’.
Billionaires have ‘Mega Yachts’.
But Ibramovitch, the Russian oligrad who owns oil rigs around the world (and the Chelsea football club) has a Super-Mega-Jumbo-Mammoth yacht. It was bigger than the island we were on and it was blocking the sun. And if this extravagance wasn’t enough, it came complete with its own helicopter.
Its own helicopter!
Who needs a dinghy when you have a heli-fuckin’-copter on the back of your boat? I thought, watching the bird land on the mini-Titanic.
“He has 10 of them around the world,” said Arnour, a French backpacker I had befriended back in Darwin who was sailing on a different boat. “All the same.”
Jesus, talk about your small penis syndrome.
We changed hotels and booked into Hotel Maya. We had an easy night at a special ceremony for the participants of the Sail Indonesia rally. We were greeted by dancing dragons (like those on Chinese New Year’s), Minsters of Indonesia were there to show us how much we meant to them (and their economy). There was cultural dancing from every island and even a fashion parade, free food and gift bags with shirts, hats and scarves.
“Had I known we’d be piled with clothes and hats I wouldn’t have bothered packing,” I said as I tried on the T-shirt, almost drowning in the size XXXL.
“Do they think all Westerners are fat?” asked Orla, holding her shirt marked XXL.
With an early rise for the 7 AM farewell ceremony, we retired back to the hotel by 20:30.
“We’re all going to stay at the hotel room,” announced Jill. It was Saturday night – our last night in Darwin and our last night in Australia. Bazza had organised a pub crawl in town and we were gonna cut loose. We had begun our last drinks on land at the Dinah Beach Cruising Yacht Association bar. I was doing the rounds – again – to say ‘goodbye’ to the locals and members and characters that I had befriended.
John, the politically outspoken bar manager who gave me my first job at Dinah, Cheryl the grumpiest happy bar maid, Merco with his growling voice and antics, Chocko with his stories, Richard with his ramblings, Mongrel Mick who’s deck I sanded down, Paul with his awesome guitars (and my first sailing and fishing trip), Gonzo with his mornings ‘Can’t complain’, Josh with his late-night stumblings, Sue and Rob’s loudy-rowdy, 5-weeks Rowan, Brodes with her uplifting peppiness and Jack, who let me stay on her boat for work for four weeks.
And the mozzies and midges.
“Are you going to introduce me to your friend?” asked Brian, the Irishman I had meet earlier when he was still sober.
“No,” I said. “She’s with me.”
I was returning from the bar with Olivia, a photographer by trade and one of the crew of the Tropicbird when he followed us back to our table. He was discussing his abnormally long eye-leashes.
“They make me look like a pervert,” he demonstrated staring right at me.
I excused myself to the toilets and upon my return was glad to see he was travelling from table to table.
“You know he’s after you, right?” said Jill as I sat between Orla and Olivia.
“Hmm?” I said, sipping on me beer.
“‘I don’t mean to drive a wedge between the two but are they together?'” Jill quoted the Irishman. “‘Because I’m after him.'” Jill was looking at me. Orla nodded in agreement.
“Whatta ya mean?” I asked.
“He was chatting up Olivia to get to you,” Orla explained further.
“Nooo…” I looked at them. “Can’t be”. Present company nodded.”You mean,” I turned back to see that he was batting his abnormally long eye-lashes at me.
Brian wanted me to be the spoon he bends like Uri Geller.
“I just saved your ass – literally,” said Jill as we hi-fived.
“Are you blushing?” asked Olivia and as everyone drew their attention to me I said,
“No!” and could feel my cheeks turning tomato-red.
Brian lingered about like the onion-smell he was emitting. He tagged along in our taxi ride to town and even invited himself to join us at the hotel room where we put away our things.
“Can I play DJ?” he asked as he pulled out his laptop.
“We’re just about to go,” Orla said as she held the door open. He stumbled out and she shut the door behind him, rescuing us and our nostrils.
We headed down not long after to get to the pizza shop just down the road. A white coach was parked in front of the hotel. Looking left, the dark street was empty. Looking right, there were two men standing and smoking – with Brian who had his back to us.
“Oh look, he’s already chatting up two other guys,” Orla pointed out. “You’re not jealous, are ya?” she asked me. “He only wanted to take you in the bathroom.”
“How am I tagged as the taker and not the giver?” I said.
We decided to cross the street with the coach providing cover. But Jill was gravitating towards him like an out of control satellite hurtling towards Earth.
“Jill!” We called to her.
She turned around with a ‘What?’ look on her face. She hadn’t noticed him as we turned right to cross the street behind the coach. With Jill safely back in our orbit, we walked briskly down the street to the pizza shop.
The smell of onions wafted through and Brian appeared behind me. Luckily, he was chasing down his laptop.
“I left it in your hotel room,” he slurred. Dave tried to reassure him that they wouldn’t forget it.
“We’ll leave it in reception for ya,” he said as he and Brian exchanged phone numbers.
From the pizza we caught up with Baz at the Youthshack. After a shot called ‘Wet Pussy’ we headed out on Mitchell St. Our second stop, Hot Potato, was hosting a hen’s night.
We had a shot called, ‘Fresh Pussy’ and then we had a choice of Hubba-Bubba or Redskin low-balls on ice.
“Tastes like melted raspberry icy poles,” I noted, finishing my drink and tipping the ice into Olivia’s glass. “Where’s Dave?” I asked, leaning towards Jill’s ear as the poppy sounds of what some might regard as music pumped through the speakers.
“He’s gone to the ATM,” she said over the loudspeakers. “I said, ‘Thanks for coming out tonight. I hope it doesn’t get too crazy for you’ and he said we haven’t seen crazy yet. He’s going to get cash to prove how crazy he can get.”
Huh, I wondered. How much more crazy could a Saturday night out in Darwin get? And on the notoriously infamous Mitchell St.
Dave came back and bought everyone tequila shots. Everyone means the entire crew consisting of British Bazza, Irish Orla, Aussie Olivia, the Yankees Jill, Omar and Alison and me.
I don’t do tequila and neither does Olivia. We passed our shots on to Bazza’s Aussie crew that were up from Adeliade while Dave prepared the entertainment. He had a low-ball glass full of lemon wedges and a few packets of salt. He ripped open the packets and lined up the salt like cocaine. Then he produced a straw.
“Dave,” I said, “you’re not going too…”
He looked at me with a devilish grin as I stared at Jill.
“No…” I began as Jill nodded and Dave drew everyone’s attention. He shot the tequila, bent over the line of salt, snorted it up through the straw, grabbed a wedge of lemon and drowned his eyes with the citrus juice he squeezed out of them.
Into his eyes.
Both of them.
Tears were streaming down Dave’s face as he rose up. Bazza, like the rest of us, was jaw-dropped, but thought quickly as he raised it up and grabbed a napkin to wipe Dave’s face.
We were all staring at each other, jaws on the floor. Jill was the only one who wasn’t surprised. She just shrugged at us. Orla and Olivia leaned in to be heard over the speakers. “I can’t believe we just witnessed that,” Orla said what we were all thinking.
“I know!” I said. “I always thought it was a myth! Something they came up with in Hollywood!”
“I feel blessed and privileged to have seen that ,” Olivia summed it.
Baz rounded us up and herded us out to the next bar, Wisdom. The line spilled out to the street but being a group of 12 on a pub crawl, Baz cut us through and we went straight to the bar for more lolli-flavoured shots of ‘Fresh Pussy’ followed by a few beers.
We tried to dance to the noise that the crowd was bouncing too but it was cheesy pop with extra feta.
Our next stop was The Deck where shots of sambuca were poured out. Dave demonstrated his party trick again. This time Baz was ready with a napkin. We were still jaw-dropped the second time round as Dave wiped away lemon tears from his eyes.
“Omar!” I called out to him. “Sambuca shots! Let’s do this!”
“I don’t do Sambuca,” he replied. “Let’s do tequila!”
“I don’t do tequila!” I said back.
Well, this was a quandary. I looked over at the bar and took a deep breath. “Alright,” I announced. “If I do tequila, will you do sambuca?”
“It’s a deal,” and he headed off to the bar to get us tequila shots.
We lined up the clear shot of the Mexican beverage next to the dark (and quite thick) Italian muck. As I shot tequila, Omar shot sambuca and vice versa.
“Oh good god,” I groaned as both shots hit me deep in the stomach.
As the music progressively became worse, Olivia and I danced on the stage until the bouncer requested us to get down from it. Baz herded us out to our last bar and the only place to really finish up a proper night in Darwin – The Vic Hotel.
A live band was playing covers of pop songs. We had another round of lolli-flavoured shots, a beer and hit the dance floor as the band played Oasis’ ‘Wonderwall’ and some other covers I can’t recall.
By about 01:30 we had all retired except for Olivia, Baz and his Aussie crew. I walked back to Dinah beach and after a couple of Skype sessions with my brother and a good mate from back home, I tip-toed onto Richard’s catamaran and crashed in the salon with an irremovable smile on my face.
Today we set sail to Indonesia, where the waves await my surfboard and my soul.
I think the last time I was this excited about anything was when I saw The Rolling Stones live at Fenway Park in Boston back in 2005.
Start me up.
“Tell ya what,” I said munching on the grilled mackerel. “Food tastes so much better when you’ve caught it.”
“And the fish is fresher because it’s straight from the water,” threw in Paul.
“And it’s free,” added Richard.
Along with Brodie, we were sitting in the BBQ area of the Dinah Beach bar. We had just returned from an overnight sailing and fishing trip on Pauls, Clair de Lune. He had sailed us on his beautiful boat out to a secret spot he knows.
“Guaranteed you’ll catch fish,” he had said a couple of days ago when he had invited me to the trip.
We set sail on Monday morning, just beating the change of the tide. An old trawler that was moored out in front of the pontoon had listed over and was under water. It’s starboard side jutting up, just breaching the water like a beached whale.
We loaded up the dinghy and took the provisions out to the boat. While I put the stock away, Paul motored back to the wharf to collect the rest of the gang.
Wanting to get some hands on experience with sailing, I was shown how to drop the mooring lines, prepare the winch handles for winching and most importantly, getting the boat ship-shape for sail.
Meaning, everything that could fly needed to be secured.
Paul revved the engine and we chugged out of the harbour, crossing the city of Darwin to our starboard side. Once we were out in open waters, I helped Paul raise the main sail and then the smaller head sail known as the genoa. Once we were wind powered, Paul had Brodie cut the engine and all that that was heard was the wind pushing the sails and pitching the boat across the open waters of the Timor Sea, averaging about 5-7 knots (about 11-13 km/h).
I’d never been sailing before and I’ve never properly fished before either.
We skimmed the waters, listing at more than 45 degrees, almost sailing on the rails of the starboard side.
“I reckon this is about as close to surfing as I’ll get,” I said, balancing myself on the bench as though it were a surfboard.
We drank beers and smoked as the day went on. Richard was at the helm, steering the boat while Paul and I adjusted the sails. We let out a line with a deep-sea lure on it.
“This is called ‘trolling’ as apposed to ‘trawling’,” explained Paul. “‘Trolling’ is when you let out one line while ‘trawling’ is when you drag a net behind ya.”
We sailed under blue skies, the sun grinning down on us. Over the horizon of the mainland that was kept to our starboard, we could see the smoke from the controlled fires at Kakadu National Park (at least, I hope they were controlled).
The smokey haze covered the lower line of the horizon, making it look more like something you’d see in China rather than the northern part of Australia. We reached Gunn Point Reef and dropped anchor. We were only 3 K’s offshore so it was surprising that we were only in 5-7 meters of water. Clair de Lune had a larger keel than most boats so we needed enough water to anchor in so that we wouldn’t get caught out on the low tide.
We used squid and small fish for bait as we hooked the fishing rods. I threw my line in and almost instantly could feel little tugs on it.
“They’re biting,” I said as Paul instructed me to pull up on the rod when I felt a nibble. I followed his guidance and reeled in a small trevellie, a silver bodied fish with yellow dorsal, side fins and tail. It was no bigger than my hand (they can grow to over a meter).
Paul adjusted it on my hook and I threw the line back in. I could feel an increase in bites and something big took the trevellie with the hook. As Paul re-hooked my line – again – Brodie was catching some trevellies and a few brim which were too small and were thrown back in.
The sun was setting over the water. The hazy smoke from the mainland behind glowed the sky red as the moon rose up over the land. It was a night away from being full. Still, it was very bright and lit up the boat and the surrounding waters.
With the light off the moon, I fished from the bow, from the port and starboard side. I lost a bit of bait to the fish that had figured out how to avoid the hook and as evening settled in, I reeled in two decent sized snappers, one after the other.
“Dinner is served,” I proudly announced (although dinner ended up being steak sandwiches).
We continued fishing well into the night. By 22:30 I was nodding off. Paul had retired to his V-berth cabin up in the bow and Richard and Brodie were playing with the trolling line. It had attracted a hammerhead shark that was now circling the boat.
I threw my line with a small trevellie on it and that’s when I felt the sheer power of something very large in the waters below.
Whatever had taken the bait was gunning for it, churning out the line on my roll, smoke just about rising from it like a controlled fire. But let’s be honest here, I had no control and as I tried to reel in the aquatic monster from below, the line went limp.
“It took the hook!” I yelped. “The fuck was it?”
“It was definitely shark,” said Richard. “Might have been a tiger shark.”
I continued to fish off the port side when another powerful jolt had me concentrating on the line. This time, I was determined not to lose the hook. I reeled and pulled, watching the top of the rod bend over as whatever was hooked swam under the boat.
Slowly I pulled and I could feel the fish lose it’s battle. In the light of the spotlight shining down from the main mast, illuminating the entire stern, I saw what I had caught.
“Its a shark!” I said with excitement. I was staring at a 2-foot black-tip reef shark. We weren’t sure how to handle it. Its sharp teeth were not inviting. It’s skin felt like sandpaper and its eyes seemed to scream out ‘evil’. Brodie and I tried to dislodge the hook from it’s mouth to return it to the water but the shark didn’t survive it’s interaction with us. We felt bad about it and decided to call it a night.
I rearranged the cockpit so I could sleep out under the stars. The breeze was just right, feeling like a fan set on ‘3’. The water had barely a ripple as I dozed off on my first night without having to endure mosquitoes, midges and sand flies.
In the middle of the night I awoke and sat up. The light of the moon lay a creamy path across the water. But it was the sound of something releasing air that had risen me from my sleeping state. The sound was familiar, something I recalled hearing when I was out surfing in Lorne last year. A seal had surprised me by popping up right next to me, opening its nostrils, breathing in and out with huffs, staring at me with it’s huge eyes.
But what I heard was bigger. I scrambled to the deck and looked around. I couldn’t see anything and after a few minutes I returned to my sleeping bag.
I woke up twice more due to the same sounds of what I would later learn was a dugong.
I slept soundly, as I always do when I sleep outdoors, and cracked an eye open to watch the red glow of the sun rise over the horizon at the early stages of the morning. I watched the awesome sky go from it’s veiling black night to its brightening morning light.
Paul brewed some coffee and after de-bedding the cockpit, we were all up and fishing. My first catch of the day was a whaler shark. It was about the same size as the black-tip reef shark I had pulled up the night before. I watched as Paul grabbed it behind it’s head and pulled out the hook, returning it safely to the water.
He cooked up some bacon and eggs. Not really one to eat bacon I was surprised to discover that it was actually pretty good. With renewed energy, I returned to fishing as Paul strummed on the guitar.
I reeled in another shark. Another black-tip reef and this time I was determined to release it without it dying. The hook was well embedded in its jaw bone and after a bit of a struggle, I managed to get it out and return the shark to the water, watching it swim off.
“I’m going to the toilet,” announced Richard as he went below deck.
As I released another line I saw a cloud of a yellow coloured substance. “Is that blood from a fish that just got eaten below?” I asked Paul who was standing on the platform above it.
He looked down. “Nah, mate,” he grinned at me. “That’s Richard’s poo.”
As soon as he said it something took my bait. I assumed it was another shark but when I managed to bring it in and saw that it was a fish, I was beaming.
“Mackerel,” informed Paul. “Get it over here quick cause their skin isn’t very strong and that hook might rip out. And watch out for it’s teeth.”
I looked at it’s snapping jaw and saw teeth that were bigger than the ones the sharks were sporting.
“Sheesh,” I said, as I swung the line over to the stern area where Paul released it from the hook.
I had barely returned the line to the water when I hooked another mackerel. Both fish were about 60 cms in length. Before long, I had hooked 4 mackerels.
“Mackerel King,” grinned Paul.
“It’s Richard’s poo that’s bringing them out,” I said.
I was re-baiting my hook when something big took Paul’s bait. He was standing on the platform just behind the stern, over the shark-infested waters. The line whirred out at blinding speed. Paul fought for control but whatever had taken the bait was determined not to be brought to the surface.
We watched for anything, ready to jump to any assistance Paul might need. I followed the line out to the open waters when something dark breached the water about a hundred meters off the port side of the boat.
“D’ya see that?” asked Richard.
“Yup,” I said, squinting against the bright sun. “What was it?”
“Tiger shark. Might just be what Paul’s fighting there.”
After a 2-minute battle in which Paul almost lost his footing, whatever had been hooked snapped the line, leaving us all to wonder what it was.
“Definitely shark,” said Paul. “Probably tiger.”
Hammerheads, black-tip reefs, whalers and one of the most dangerous sharks in the water, the Tiger shark.
Do Not Fall Over Board.
I had thrown my line back in after reeling in mackerel number 4. I felt a few tugs and nibbles on the hook below and snapped the rod up.
“He’s on,” said Paul as he watched the tip of the rod bend almost all the way down. I pulled on it, reeling in whatever was caught.
“It’s a real fighter,” I braced myself. The line was going under the boat.
“Come round to the stern so the line doesn’t get snagged,” suggested Paul.
I rushed around and clambered over to the platform behind the stern. That’s when I watched my iPhone get pushed up and out of my pocket before it landed with a quiet splash in the Timor Sea.
“That did not just happen!” I groaned.
“What?” asked Paul.
“My phone just fell in.” I began to see the outline of what I had hooked. “This fucker better be big,” I said.
“It’s another mackerel,” said Paul as I pulled it up and over. It was the same size as the others.
“Ah well,” I said. “Maybe it was meant to be. I actually feel free without it now.”
Paul filleted the fish while we prepared the boat for departure. We had her ship-shaped and read to go within the hour. I looked over the starboard side and saw something large and round in the water. Brodie was standing in front of me and I pointed her towards the, “Sea turtle.”
Paul revved the engine and raised the anchor. Brodie decided to take an extended nap while Richard was at the helm. Once we were out in deeper water, I helped Paul raise the main sail and then the genoa. Something yellow was sticking out in the green coloured water. As we came up alongside it I recognised the,
“Leopard shark!” I pointed at it. It had leopard spots and was just swimming about near the surface.
With the down wind we were flying across the water, averaging 6-8 knots. Paul turned the engine off and the natural silence of nature greeted us.
“You wanna try steering, mate?” he asked me.
“What? Really?” I sat up. “Fuck yeah!”
I clambered over and stood behind the wheel as Paul showed me what to watch out for.
“You want the red line to be about there,” he showed on the iPad screen that was tracking our navigation. “Keep us out of the green patches cause that’s too shallow for the boat. And try to keep us just on the white-light blue area. Keep the point of the land in between those staunches,” he pointed at the space he was indicating to the port side.
I took hold of the wheel and was surprised to discover that to steer a sailing boat, you really need to fight the wheel. I was spinning it left, waiting for it to react, then spinning it right, mistiming the reaction on it.
After a bit of lefting and righting I had control and was at the helm, steering a 47-foot mono hull doing 7 knots an hour.
Paul had made some ham and cheese rolls for us. Richard took over the wheel to allow me to eat as we flew by the Darwin waterfront, people lined up and watched us sail by. Paul took over the wheel and brought us into the mooring up the creek.
At the bar, we fired up the BBQ and cooked up all the mackerel. We invited John, the bar manager and Poppy, the new bartender for a feed and said goodbye to Gemma who was going back to the cold of Tasmania.
“Thanks for the trip, Paul,” I said to the skipper.
“Thanks for the fish,” he grinned.