Chapter 18: From Cairns to Brisbane

It was November 5th, and I was back in Cairns. It felt good to be back, but instinctively I knew that the experience would not be the same. Most of my friends had moved on. Gareth was almost in Sydney, and Tarra was a good three bus tours further down the coast than I. Within a day or so, I knew it would be time to move on. Brisbane was my next major stopping point.

I traveled from Cairns to Brisbane in about four weeks. My first stop was on Magnetic Island just off the coast from Townsville in Queensland. Magnetic Island was a spectacular place to stop. Our hostel was nestled right on the beach, the water was a beautiful turquoise, and there were girls everywhere, I mean everywhere!.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have much time for flirting. My main mission on the island was to get my Level 1 PADI certification. This would allow me to scuba dive to a depth of 18 meters, which was key for doing future dive trips.

Our tour arrived late on the island, and after a few beers I headed straight to bed. I wanted to start my dive course the next day. It was just after 9 when I woke up. I had slept past my 7am start time. I scrambled to the payphone to call the dive center. They told me that the class had just started, and the next one would not be for another 5 days. I pleaded to get myself into the one that had just started. Luckily, I was able to persued them to send someone to pick me up and register for the class.

When I arrived at the center, the receptionist asked if I had completed my health exam. She was referring to the $50 checkup required before the dive course to ensure that you are safe to dive.

“Of course,” I replied. This was a lie, but I didn’t have the time to wait another 5 days for the next round of classes to begin.

“Great, can I please see your certificate?”

“Uh, ya, well I was in such a rush this morning that I left it at my hostel.” I gave her a quick smile and she smiled back. Maybe a little flirty?

“No problem, I will confirm that you have taken the health check, and you can show me the certificate tomorrow”.

“Sounds great!” I replied with a gun and a wink. I headed into the classroom and made a plan to avoid her for the rest next 3 days.

The course was an intense three days of both in-class and in-water learning. We started by reviewing the basics of how scuba gear works and learning the signs. Then we moved to the pool to practice breathing and other diving techniques, and then off to the ocean for the real thing.

The dive instructor was awesome; he looked exactly like Teelk from the show Stargate: Atlantis and had the personally of Bob Markley. At age 32 he had travelled all over the world teaching dive classes, and now he called Magnetic Island his home.

There were 4 people in the class including myself. An American couple from Santa Cruz, California, and a British girl named Shelly with quite possibly the largest boobs I had ever seen. She was paired up as my dive buddy for the course, which I didn’t really mind all that much. I remember at one point we had to do a float test, laying on our backs and staying above water for 5 minutes. Personally, I feel that Shelly had an unfair advantage given that she packed her own flotation devices, but who was I to judge. She passed with flying colors by the way.

Going out into the ocean is a crazy experience. It is hard enough to get used to breathing under water, but then diving down 18 meters, holy crap! I panicked the first time I went under. I was nervous about breathing properly, and I had to surface almost right away. The dive instructor reassured me that it was “all good” and after taking a moment I went back under. This time it was like a whole new experience. I threw my fears away and began really living the experience. Within a matter of minutes I was hooked on the underwater world. It is almost impossible to describe in just a few words what the scuba experience is really like, you simply have to see and do it for yourself. Trust me on this one!

At the end of the 3 day course we had to complete a written exam. I seriously underestimated how hard the exam would be given that our instructor told us, “No one has ever failed the exam here before.” As I sat down in my desk and began to look over the questions, I knew that I would be in serious trouble. It was all multiple choice, and we had to get 85% or better to pass. Half way through the exam, I knew that I was not doing well, I began praying for a miracle.

If you don’t believe in miracles than you are crazy, because a realy miracle happened that day. The American couple finished before me, and the instructor began marking their exams right there in the room. As he went from answer sheet to exam sheet he said the question number and letters out load. 1 … c, 2… a, 3… c, 4… d, and so on. He got three quarters of the way through the exam before he realized what he was doing. I couldn’t believe what had just happened, but I didn’t think twice about capitalizing on it. I ended up scoring an 87%.

After completing the three-day course, I signed up to dive the Great Barrier Reef. I can honestly say that Magnetic Island is one of the best spots to do this from. The visibility that day was 30 meters, and we saw some seriously fantastic marine life, including a Sting Ray and a White Tipped Reef Shark. I knew that the Reef Sharks were not very dangerous, but when one (about a meter and a half long) swam by me, my heart definitely skipped a beat.

My dive buddy on the tour was a Scottish guy named Gavin. He was a short, skinny, red haired guy that worked in the dive shop. On the two-hour boat ride home from the reef, Gavin, arranged for us to ride on the front of the boat. We perched ourselves just underneath the windshield of the Captain, spreading out on the flat surface. The boat was going so fast that I couldn’t believe we wouldn’t be bounced right off the front at some point. Luckily it was smooth waters most the way.

“Thi is th’ life,” Gavin remarked in his thick but manageable Scottish accent. He then extended his pasty white legs across the bow of the boat.

I followed his lead and stretched my legs to the point where my feet were just about hanging over the edge. “This is fantastic, I can’t believe the Captain let’s people sit up here!” I exclaimed

“Aye, Ah know heem frae anither trip. He is a stoatin guy.”

I took a moment trying to interpret the word ‘stoatin’, then decided it must have been positive, and moved on with the conversation. “So you come out here often then, eh?”

“Och aye, thes is a body ay me favorite spots tae dive. Ye willnae gie much better visibility than haur” he replied.

I nodded, and then glanced out over the water, watching the sun as it made its way toward the horizon. The sunlight danced on the rippling water, displaying an endless array of colors and shapes. It looked like a beautiful painting, changing only slightly with each blink of the eye. Every moment brought new images to the ocean surface, each one unique from the last.

I thought about what I would be doing if I was still back home in Canada. I thought about what my friends would do that day. It was roughly 4:30 pm in the afternoon on a Wednesday, so that meant it was 12:30 am, the beginning of that same day back home. Wednesday meant work for most of my friends, and it would have meant school for me. It was an awe-inspiring thought. If I had been accepted to the business school, I would be at home studying for an exam or writing an essay, or something like that. What I would not be doing is sitting on the bow of a massive speedboat, skimming across the Pacific Ocean after a day of diving at the Great Barrier Reef.

I took a moment to let the reality of my situation sink in, before asking Gavin, “So this is your life? You get to live on Magnetic Island, and dive the reef whenever you want?”

He smiled, “Aye, thes is th’ guid life.”

“So what’s next?” I inquired.

“Gonna gang haem fur a wee while. ‘en back oan th’ road tae teach scuba in Thailain,” he replied.

“Um, yeah, totally.”

“Aye, Ah dae. An’ fur as lang as Ah can,” he replied while crossing his hands behind his head. “Ah cannae hink ay onie other life worth livin’” I nodded, and he continued, “Mah friends back haem dornt kin whit they ur missin’ out haur. They wark lang hoors, everyday, an’ drink in th’ pub each nicht, ‘en they repeat th’ sam hin’, day efter day. Their nae really livin’, in mah opinion.”

“I was just thinking the same thing,” I nodded, having only understood partial bits of what he just said. “I couldn’t imagine doing anything else right now. I have never felt so alive; I have never felt so free.”

“Och aye, scuba will dae ‘at tae ye.” He smiled and closed his eyes, basking in the sun.

I looked back out over the water. I could see a spot of land off in the distance. This meant that it would only be another half hour before we arrived back on Magnetic Island. I held my hand out to the side of the boat and felt the rush of warm air pass through my fingers. In that moment, I knew my life was perfect.

Magnetic Island was the only thing that I had scheduled on my journey down the coast; everything else was ad hoc. I had absolutely no plan in mind for what I would do next, but that didn’t really matter. Now that I was no longer going back to school, I was in no hurry to be anywhere; the world was at my disposal. I decided that I would just take it easy. Each day I would wake up and base my activities on how I felt in that moment.

After a week in Magnetic Island, I boarded the ferry back to Townsville and spent two days exploring the town. Then on the third day, I woke up with an itch to move on, so I did. It was just the easy, it was just that simple.

That afternoon I bought a bus ticket heading south, toward Airlie Beach. I had no idea where I was going to stay, but I knew it would work itself out. Sitting alone at the bus station, I began people watching which is the best activity to do when you are bored. One person caught my attention almost immediately. A young, petite blonde haired girl with an amazing body. She rustled with her bags as she checked in at the front desk. I was captivated. I had never seen anyone with such perfect features before! She finished messing with her bag and then walked toward me and sat in the seat to my left. OK, things were about to get interesting.

I struggled to think of a really great opener, something that would just blow her away with my charm and fortitude. Turns out I didn’t have to think all that much, she turned toward me and sparked up the conversation.

“Are you waiting for the bus to Airlie Beach?” I was super taken back, her accent was Danish I think and I was loving every bit of it. She could have literally said my shoes are filled with poop and I still would have been fully into her.

“Um, yup. I mean, yeah for sure. Airlie beach.” Breathe Dean. Start over. “… My name is Dean by the way.”

“Marlous. Nice to meet.”

We ended up spending the rest of the time in the terminal talking to each other, and then when we got on the bus, I made sure to pick a seat right behind her. “A coincidence,” I told her.

It wasn’t long before Marlous moved to the seat next to me. There was a chemistry between us that was unmistakable; something raw and unadulterated. I could feel it, and so could she, we just hadn’t said anything about it yet. It turns out Marlous was from Amsterdam and had just turned 18. She was travelling with a friend and they where making their way to Sydney for New Years Eve. She told me that she wasn’t much of a backpacker, preferring not to share a room, and sleep in stinky beds. She was running out of money, and didn’t really want to work, basically she was just biding her time until the money completely ran out.

I am not sure that she was telling me the whole truth, I get the impression that she was either running from something, or possibly toward it. Every backpacker has their own motivations, Marlous was no exception.

It wasn’t long before our conversation turned into a game of 20 questions. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t know that 20 questions almost always ends up sexual. I will never forget that bus ride; my heart was pounding, my face was flush, and stomach was doing flips. If I felt an animal magnetism toward Marlous in the beginning, it had only multiplied by 100 by the end of that bus ride. I knew that that night would be one to remember.

When we arrived in Airlie beach, Marlous, her friend, and myself all found a hostel together. We settled on an 8-share room that was partially full. Hoping to continue the conversation, I asked Marlous and her friend to head out for a drink. I only asked her friend out of politeness obviously. Luck was on my side that night, her friend wasn’t feeling well, and decided to stay in. I had Marlous all to myself.

The sexual energy continued to build over drinks, where we talked about everything from family and friends, to favourite movies, and sexual positions. Yes it was a conversation full of variety. I even remember saying at one point that I knew we would have sex that night. This is not something I have ever said to anyone, ever. But her smile let me know she was thinking the same thing. Enough talk, it was time to go dancing.

We headed to a night club called Animal Jungle (how fitting) on the Airlie Beach strip. I left marlous at a table while I went to get us a couple martinis. I was only gone a few minutes, but when I came back, she was surrounded by guys. I should have known not to leave someone so attractive alone for so long. I wasn’t sure if this extra attention would spoil the chemistry between us or not. I walked cautiously back to the table.

All of my fears where immediately put to rest when Marlous saw me. The spark rekindled the minute our eyes met and my excitement returned to full strength. She pointed to me and I heard her say to the guy next to her, “There is the guy I have been waiting for.” And they all turned to look at me with serious envy splashed across their faces.

And so we danced, closer, and closer. The people, the world, the song that was playing all disappeared into what we had now built into our own little fantasy.
My earlier prediction was correct. We had sex that night; a lot of sex. On the beach, in the pool, in the shower. To be honest, I’d never had a proper one-night stand up until that point in my life. But if this was going to be my first, it was going to be one to remember. I wont get into the details, but this was one of the most amazing nights of my life. Prior to this point, I was rather sexually conservative. Backpacking helped me open myself up to being more sexually liberated. It was a gift that helped liberate other areas in my life as well.

The next day Marlous and her friend took off for a sailing trip. I never saw or spoke to her again. She remains in my memory less for the sex but more for the new energy and fire she released in my soul. I became truly liberated.

That afternoon a group of Israeli guys moved into the room, and we spent the next five days drinking beers under the palm trees outside our room while laughing and chatting about life. It was awesome!

I was inspired by their stories of life in Israel. They told me that everyone, both men and women, are automatically conscribed into the military after high school and everyone takes a test to determine what role they will perform. As it turns out, they all had very diverse talents. One guy was placed on driving detail for a top general, while another was positioned along the border with Palestine and ordered to shoot down anyone trying to cross illegally, while the other was given a top position in military intelligence. It was now past their mandatory three years and after leaving the military there was only one thing they wanted to do, and that was travel.

I asked Shecky (the only name I knew him by) what it was like to be in the military, whether it was scary, or difficult to be involved in the ongoing battle with Palestine. He didn’t want to talk much about the experience, but he did tell me that although their jobs often presented a high level of danger, the only thing that they regretted was not having the opportunity to go to University earlier. The military stopped them from achieving a higher education until years after they graduated high school. They knew that many people their own age, in other countries around the world, would have University degrees long before they could even think about enrolling. I was taken back by this response, but humbled by the thought. I was becoming increasingly aware of the things I had taken for granted in my own life.

I left Airlie Beach inspired from my talks with the Israeli guys. It further engrained the need for me to take advantage of every opportunity that came my way. So when opportunities presented themselves, instead of fussing about whether or not to partake, I just kept saying yes each time one came along. At the end of my week in Airlie Beach, I was again presented with the opportunity to go sailing, so I took it. I then had the opportunity to join some travelers in their 4X4 truck on a trip to Fraser Island, so I took it. I had the opportunity to live and work in Brisbane staying at the home of a motorbike riding Aussie girl that I met on Thursday island, so I took it. Our relationship lasted only a few weeks, but it was a rollercoaster of passions and emotions. I wouldn’t have traded it for the world. I just kept opening my mind and my heart to new opportunities. Each time I had a great experience, and each time I learned something new.

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