Happy Anniversary

One year ago today my flight touched down on the tarmac in Townsville, Australia. 365 days since a ghostly pale redhead flinchingly emerged into the burning sunlight in a manner akin to someone who'd lived in caves for most of their life. Only October, the end of spring, and the heat at midday was vicious  Unlike the UK, where summer rays seem to gently stroke at your skin in a loving manner, this sun felt aggressive. Dangerous. "Yeah, don't ever leave your credit cards in the car," warned Rhonda, the hospital worker picking us up, "otherwise they'll warp."

We were driven to our new home down palm lined roads; past unfamiliar shops. A cloud of cockatoos pecked like pigeons by our car as we stopped at traffic lights. Another warning from Rhonda: "Don't swim in the river, there's crocs." On our first morning we were almost joined for breakfast by a wallaby. We couldn't buy alcohol in the supermarket. I was definitely not in London any more.

My first two weeks were difficult in many ways. Unlike most backpackers, pitched into the centre of a hostel filled with people in the same boat, I was staying with my Mum. And my Mum lived 15km from the city centre, a city that only had hourly buses which ran until 6pm. Jobs and socialising seemed nigh on impossible. Don't get me wrong, I was very lucky to have my mum, my best friend, with me; I hadn't counted on it being so difficult not to have any 'friend' friends at all. Who was I supposed to discuss Downton Abbey with while drinking cheap wine? Somehow I had to change my situation. I knew I needed to do something, I just didn't know what. The buzzword for my first two weeks in Australia? Limbo.

Although I already knew I loved Australia (sunshine people, sunshine. In November) things didn't quite click into a nice new life like I expected them to. And it worried me. I've now become pretty used to this feeling and I've grown adept at just letting things slide into place naturally, they have a habit of doing that. But pre-travelling Cheskie, used to regular office hours and familiar friends was freaking the fuck out.

I'd love to visit the me from a year ago. Slathered in suncream, comfort eating tim tams and resigned to three months of banana picking because that was the only plan she could think of. I'd say*: "It's OK. You're going to visit a place for two days and stay there for three months. You'll fall in love with the ocean - being on it and in it - and change your mind entirely about what to do on a weekly basis (don't worry - your plans only ever change into better ones). One month you live on a beach, then in a city, the next an isolated farm; each time you move it gets easier to do so. You'll start nannying for three heartbreakingly amazing kids, decide to go home to work in comedy and meet Doctor Karl from Neighbours all in the space of a few days. Sure, there's an idiot or two along the way. A few speed bump like hitches in your plans. But don't worry, even the most devastating hour of the next year is going to send you back to a place you've been missing since you left. It takes a while to settle in somewhere: remember that. When you arrive back here from the UK the shops look normal, the sun doesn't surprise and the palm trees may well as be conifers. You don't touch down into an alien land, you arrive back home.

Oh, and p.s - please dye your hair back to blonde sooner. We really do have more fun."

*After explaining how I'd managed to travel through time and space, obviously.

Hello Cairns, I didn't expect to see you here.

So, I'm in Cairns. Somewhere I really never thought I'd end up; not because of my old flaw of judging somewhere before I'd been there. Sure I'd only been to the shopping centre, but I'd heard one too many stories concerning goon/vomit/dorm sex for me to ever want to go there for an extended period of time.
That was until I returned from my time back home. Having re-experienced living in capital cities - with nightlife, culture and actual shopping - I found myself less sure that my plan to live in tiny Port Douglas was quite what I wanted.

Then came a weekend in Cairns. Granted, I mostly saw my hotel room and the outer reef,  but talking to people who actually live here started to change my mind. I read the local backpacker mag and saw articles about gigs, theatre and pubs. Realised that being able to dive the GBR on my days off would be amazing. Slowly but surely Cairns began to win me over...

Back in Townsville I couldn't work out what to do. Trying to apply for jobs when you're 350km away is an absolute nightmare; I didn't have enough money to live in Cairns without a job. Equally the thought of living on mum's sofa didn't appeal (to either of us!) especially as she's in the process of moving back to the UK. There seemed little point in finding a job that I'd only be working in for 5 weeks before I had to move on and repeat the process elsewhere.

Essentially, I didn't have a bloody clue what to do.

After much faffing, worrying and refreshing of the gumtree job page I decided to pull myself together and make an actual plan; as luck would have it my plan worked almost instantly. Working for accommodation in Cairns seemed my best option, and the third hostel I called had a vacancy literally of that morning. The hostel also happens to be one of the best in Cairns. Hurrah.

So off I popped (via a weekend in Airlie beach because, well, why not) and arrived at 6am on a Monday morning. After dragging my (now extremely diminished) pile of stuff to the hostel and napping on the sofa I was greeted by two smiles almost as broad as the northern accents coming out of them. If you're going to be scrubbing floors then the right colleagues make all the difference - and thank the lord for Sarah and Jess. They left Cairns yesterday and I'll be in mourning for quite a while I expect. It also later turned out that I'd be working with a lovely lady called Helen who I already knew from my hostel in Melbourne - the world really is teeny tiny sometimes.

My first week passed by in a blur of cleaning, early mornings and job applications. On the Friday night I had a trial shift in a bar. Oh my, the only good thing about that is going to be it's anecdotal potential. Unless having a manager aged 18 and 3 weeks, an owner who shoved his finger in my face and a quick pour tray filled with bar flies and rotting mint leaves (all for a top wage of $12 an hour) seemed like the start of a beautiful working relationship.

Thankfully I was offered a job with Wicked Travel, something that thus far seems to be going pretty well. The only downside is that I had to leave my cleaning job, meaning I had to pay rent - an outgoing I hadn't budgeted on as i figured I'd clean in the mornings and bartend in the evenings. I've found a room in a lovely house share with my new friend Dave (coincidentally the person who handed in his notice to the hostel the same day I called asking for work) which means that right now I'm totally brassic. My bank balance is the lowest it's been in a long, long, long time. Two weeks in a hostel (a bloody horrid, dirty hostel), plus two weeks rent up front is a lot of dollar I hadn't counted on paying.

So, I hear you say, bet you hate Cairns then? Worrying about being homeless, starting a challenging new job and dirt poor? WRONG. I love it. I absolutely bloody love it.

I love that the sun shines almost every day. I love that the reef is only a boat ride away. I love that everyone I've met has been generous, helpful and kind. I love that even on a Monday you can go out and dance on the tables in a nightclub. I love the lagoon. I love that the art gallery is hosting a Goya exhibit. I love the Green Ant Cantina. I love that everything is within walking distance. I love that you can have a brilliant night out for $10. I love that the majority of the population is from every corner of the world.

I. Love. Cairns.

My life in an actual rucksack.

I know, i know, it's been a while. Almost four months to the day actually. Thankfully the reasons for being unable to disclose my whereabouts and whatnot are now gone (not as dramatic as it sounds) and seeing as I spent most of the British summer back home updating my 'travel' blog seemed a bit daft.

For those of you unaware, I had the pleasure of working at this years Edinburgh Festival. It was marvellous, I learnt a lot and drank even more, hopefully managing to make a few contacts (and friends!) here and there. Now, however, I'm back Down Under and have just started what I think is probably Chapter Eight of my adventure.

To recap:

Chapter 1: Cheskie gets to Townsville and has no idea what to do.
Chapter 2: Mission Beach, by accident.
Chapter 3: Sydney (although mostly Rouse Hill).
Chapter 4: Nearly bankrupted by Melbourne.
Chapter 5: Mary Poppins visits the farm.
Chapter 5: Cheskie gets to Townsville and has no idea what to do (reprise).
Chapter 6: Mission Beach, by accident, again.
Chapter 7: Homeward Bound for a bit.

And what, I hear you ask, should we call chapter 8? Well, I expect it'll be the chapter where I learn how to be a proper backpacker. You see the title of this blog is rather misleading. My life hasn't been in a rucksack at all, not even close. I flew over with two bags and had half a box of stuff arrive a few months later. In all honestly my life probably wouldn't have fitted into three rucksacks. I've had the luxury of a home to go back to, a base from which I can travel out. I've had an absolutely fixed abode with no semblance of nomadity; that's all about to change.

In a month my Mum is relocating back to the UK. That means I absolutely have to be a proper backpacker. And I've done it - it may have taken blood, sweat and tears but somehow I made it happen. My life really does fit into a rucksack now.