I arrived in Cairns (pronounced Cannes) last Tuesday. Unfortunately, my luggage didn’t. Somehow Virgin Blue managed to misplace my luggage on a direct flight from Sydney to Cairns. They assured me it was on the next flight out, and I would get it that night.
So I slept in my travel clothes, with my contacts in, and popped a mint in my mouth the next morning, doing what I could to make the best out of a crap situation. By 10 a.m. I was worried, but the hostel told me to hang tight and it would turn up. Sure enough, as soon as I headed into town at 10:30, the airline dropped off my luggage.
I thought I was doing well when I left home, managing to get my entire life for a year into one suitcase. If that’s not minimalism, I don’t know what is. But I didn’t realize how attached I was to that one suitcase until I didn’t have it. I felt completely lost, unsteady and unsure of myself. It was eye opening to see how attached I still was to “stuff” that could be replaced if needed.
In any case, with both me and my luggage in the same spot, I could finally breathe a sigh of relief and settle in.
Cairns is located in Far North Queensland. It has a population of 150,000 and is far more spread out than I remember. Despite its size, it retains the feeling of a small town. It was refreshing to see wide streets, angle parking downtown, and numerous locally owned shops, bakeries, and cafes; a completely different world than the Sydney central business district (downtown).
The streets are lined with palm trees, casting shadowy relief from the sun on the sidewalks, and its community gathering space, the lagoon, is the perfect spot for walking along the pier or lounging in the sun next to a shallow, spacious pool.
The hostel where I’m staying is called Tropic Days and is one of 40 hostels I could have chosen to stay at in the town. Yes, this is a prime backpacker’s spot. And I can see why. Anyway, the hostel is family owned and run by a delightful larger-than-life guy named Gabriel and his wife Cathy. It’s basically two houses side by side, with the backyard converted into a little oasis of tranquility, with a pool area, multiple hammocks, places to tent, an outdoor eating area, 3 kitchens, and I don’t know how many bathrooms.
The pool table, wi-fi, and DVD selection are all free for use, which is a refreshing change from having to pay for absolutely everything, especially now that I have no income. A twenty-minute walk from the heart of the town, the hostel also offers free shuttles multiple times a day for those of us too lazy to walk.
Though I could sleep in a dorm room for not all that much more money, I’ve chosen the more economical option of a tent, mostly because it affords more privacy than a dorm room does. Unfortunately, I’m still stuck next to a tent with a snorer. The girl tries to be friendly during the day, but I have a hard time not scowling at her, since I can hear her even through my ear plugs, and it doesn’t make for the best night’s sleep.
We also have a resident baker, a Welsh guy named Jon who spends all day baking and then selling his creations for 50 cents or a dollar to make money. It’s quite entertaining to watch, but his treats are too yummy to resist. Yneida (not sure if that’s how to spell her name or not, but let’s go with it), is Scandinavian and has been working at the hostel for a few months in exchange for food and accommodation. She’s a lovely girl, though I think I mostly enjoy her accent, because it’s so different from the British, Australian, and Kiwi accents I’ve been hearing. I’ve found the Germans I’ve met to be quite friendly as well, which is far different from the encounters I’ve had in the past.
There is one other Canadian that I know of staying at the hostel, and sadly, I find her quite annoying. Everything I say she argues the opposite, and her voice is so loud it carries through the entire hostel. I really wasn’t interested in listening to her Skype conversation that lasted over an hour while I lounged by the pool yesterday.
Then again, I suppose travelling is about meeting people of all walks of life, whether you like them or not. It’s difficult not to stereotype different cultures based on the people you meet from one country, especially if you seem to have the same experience with that culture, no matter where you go. But I’m trying to remain open-minded and get to know people before instantly making assumptions about them based on their nationality. For instance, I was interested to learn that Canadian girls have a reputation for being the wildest of all travellers, and that, I am definitely not. I am more conscious than ever that I am Canadian, and how I act is reflective of not just me but my entire country.
The hardest part for me is still the language barrier, and I have to admit in many cases I’ve just not made the effort to talk to with people who don’t have good English, because I find it so exhausting to articulate myself. Still, I try to smile at everyone I meet, even if I don’t understand them. After all, a smile is universal. I think.