I am now in a place halfway in the middle of nowhere called Tennant Creek. I have been in Australia for just over a month now. I have travelled many kilometers up the west coast from Perth to Exmouth and Broome, across to Darwin, and am now making my way across to Cairns, on the east coast. While experiencing many of the joys of travelling here, I must admit, this is not one of my favorite places to travel so far.
One term has stuck in my mind while playing DJ on one of the several adventure tours I have taken so far - one girl kept repeatedly requesting something more mainstream. That's how the backpacker circuit in Australia strikes me - mainstream. Young gap year Brits and groups of Japanese girls come over looking for a bit of sunshine and adventure, but not too much adventure. Everything must be processed into bite-sized chunks, with the ever-vigilant tour guide warning you not to walk too close to the edge of the cliff or do anything that might invite a lawsuit despite that waiver you signed that disclaims all responsibility for anything. And interspersed between these mini adventures is the underlying reason many of the young people come here - to go "on the piss" in the discos that play cheesy pop music and get laid.
Part of this is undoubtedly my own doing - I signed myself up for the easy option of being led around by the hand in tours rather than face a bit of uncertainty striking out on my own and choosing my own path. In my defense, I am on a pretty limited timeframe - I have a 3 month tourist visa to try and explore a country roughly the size of the United States. I promised myself from the beginning that I would not fall into that trap and try and see and do everything but even the scaled-back rough itinerary I came up with was quite ambitious and I was anxious not too waste my time waiting around for a ride or dealing too much with the particulars of arranging my own vehicle. Having experienced a bit of the tour-bus routine, however, I think that it's high time that I explore some of the other alternatives and try and get off the beaten path and meet the locals a bit more.
Unfortunately, I ended up passing on a good opportunity to do so a few days ago. I had just arrived in Darwin after an 8 day four-wheel drive tour through a region known as the Kimberly. I had arranged to share a ride with an Irish guy who I was originally supposed to drive from Perth with. That hadn't worked out so we agreed to meet up in Darwin and I would share the ride to Cairns with him. He had arrived there before me, however, and so was anxious to leave as soon as possible. So we agreed to depart Darwin the day after I arrived there. Meanwhile, I had stored in the back of my mind that the sister of an old roommate of mine (Mike O'Connor) in San Francisco lived somewhere in the Northern Territory and was a possible contact point. Being the procastinator I am, I delayed contacting him about that until the day before I arrived in Darwin. Sure enough, his sister lived in Darwin and had emailed me back almost immediately and had even agreed to put me up. What's more, she is apparently some sort of civil rights lawyer involved with aboriginal issues. It could have been just the kind of opportunity to gain some local insight that I was looking for. Unfortunately, I had already committed to sharing driving and expenses with my Irish friend and did not want to let him down (or face the prospect of finding another way to Cairns), so I decided to keep moving. I'm still second-guessing myself on that decision but it's done now so there's not much point. Perhaps I will still be able to make that connection somewhere down the road.
So my plans now are to go to Cairns, which is the main jumping off point for the Great Barrier Reef. I'm hoping to find a fairly affordable live-aboard dive boat and go diving for a few days on the reef. At the same time, I'm trying to line up some work with clients back home so that I can hopefully offset some of the money I have been hemhorraging while here in Australia. That is another reason my travels here do not compare favorably to a lot of the other travelling I have done. I am used to travelling in non first world countries, where America's insane litigation and insurance costs have not yet been exported, causing prices to skyrocket and preventing people from being able to take responsibility for their own actions. In places like Australia that has already fallen prey to the invasion of lawyers this leads to much higher costs and the hand-holding tour guides that in my mind take away from the whole experience.
One other thing that strikes me about the parts of Australia that I have explored so far is the unbelievable monotony of it all. I have probably driven more than 7,000 km so far and have no doubt seen some stunning scenery. But in between there is just mile after endless mile of the same nothing - a bit of desert scrub and absolutely nothing to distinguish the current landscape from the patch of road you passed 400 or 600 or 800 kilometers back. It's all the same. This is pretty striking in and of itself but the novelty eventually wears off and you are still faced with occupying your mind and trying to keep your muscles from entering premature rigor mortis from being in the same cramped position for hours on end.
All of the above whining might make it seem like I am having no fun at all, which certainly is not the case. But as I mentioned earlier, it is hard not to compare it with some of the incredible travels I have done before and in many respects it does seem to come up a bit short. Also, I keep thinking of what lies ahead in Southeast Asia and beyond and it seems to draw me inextricably onward. So I'm faced with a bit of a dilemma. I met a girl on one of my tours that works at an agency in Sydney that deals with work visas for foreign citizens. As I understand it, her agency deals with all the bureaucracy and red tape of sponsoring a foreigner to work in Australia. In return, they take a cut of all the earnings that person makes while in Australia. She indicated to me that it would be a fairly straightforward process to line up a 4 year sponsored work visa for me as long as I found people willing to hire me. So I could basically come and go anytime I wanted within the 4 year period and work for anyone I wanted within Australia. That is certainly a tempting notion, especially since I had previously discussed with my mate, Alex Mayhew, starting up a business together in Australia. At the same time, I am anxious to move on to Asia and would be disappointed to waste my time and money chasing after something that still might end up being fruitless. So my basic strategy for right now is to explore the sponsored visa option as much as possible but for now still plan on leaving Australia by August 15 when my visa expires. Stay tuned to see how it all works out.