Fraser Island, and the Power of People
Just off the coast of Australia is the world’s largest sand island. Basically, a massive sand bar covered with plants, animals and freshwater lakes. It is staggeringly gorgeous.
For me, though, I’ll remember it not for the sights, but for the incredible people I met. I’ll also remember it as the place I snapped out of my funk. Finally.
In my honest (albeit a bit whiny) last post, I talked about how I really hadn’t been enjoying myself. I’d met a few cool people, but generally I’d been travelling alone. Meeting people, spending time with new and old friends, that’s a huge part of why I travel. Spending weeks not meeting anyone… it was weighing on me.
Worse, I’d started to revert to my old ways: The inveterate introvert, too shy to speak to anyone. You can see how that would exacerbate the first problem. A vicious circle ensued.
I had faith that I’d find my way once I got back to the East Coast, and boy was I right.
Shouting Down My Lesser Angels
The East Coast is littered with “Must Dos” any traveler has to see. Fraser is one of the first north of Brisbane (Noosa, I guess too, but meh). It’s a short ferry ride from Hervey Bay (mind-bendingly pronounced “Harvey”), or Rainbow Beach.
My adventure started after a few days in Hervey Bay, nursing a 2-month-old foot injury (yet another casualty from my time in WA), and finishing up work before 3 days without Internet.
Waiting for the bus that would take me to the ferry, I stood next to two Brits that had stayed in my hostel. Part of my brain shouted “Say Hello!” The other half said “Shut up!” It was a war that had waged in my head my entire life. I’d thought that the last year of travelling, especially everything post-Melbourne, had cured me of this battle. Somehow it had re-ignited in the solitude of Western Australia.
“You guys on the Cool Dingo tour?” I blurted, mumbled, stuttered. Somehow the Say Hello part of my brain had caught the Shut Up half unawares. Two big return smiles gave Say Hello even more strength. Little did I know it, but the deathblow (permanently, I hope) to Shut Up was mere hours away.
The main “town” on Fraser is nestled in among trees that wouldn’t look out of place in Big Bear or Tahoe. The buildings look sort of like Fort Wilderness rejects. No time is wasted. We met Hayden, our driver and guide, and we set off.
There were about 35 of us: Mostly British, one other American, one Irish, and the rest Germans. Like any tour, those that had come together, sat together. There was little mixing of groups. We didn’t know each other yet.
Our first stop was Lake McKenzie, a huge freshwater lake with water clearer than you can imagine. Well, OK, you don’t need to imagine. Here are some pictures. It starts off shallow, then gets deep, quickly.
Fraser sits on a massive aquifer, and some of its many lakes dip down into this. Others (that we got to later), are actually collected rainwater, and sit atop the huge dunes that make up the island.
Shut Up was still putting up a fight. It was still a struggle to talk to people. I was able to blurt out a few more words to the Brits I had met on shore (Heena and Bhvishya). They went in to warm up on the beach while I took some more GoPro photos.
Nearby I saw three women trying to take a group photo. “Offer to take their photo,” Say Hello shouted in my head, poised to make its deathblow.
“Do you want me to take your picture,” I said, pointing at their camera. In the introductions that followed, I could tell that Zoe, Grace, Georgia and I were going to get along famously. I realized this right around the time Zoe, face covered in white sand, said “This sand feels amazing, feel this,” then rubbed sand on my face. (No joke, you could sell that stuff for $100 an ounce at Sephora.)
That had done it. I had successfully introduced myself to 5 people, all seemed cool (and I’d find out, were more than cool). It felt like I had pushed hard against something, and broken through. Shut Up was dead. I hope for good.
By the time we got to lunch, all of us sitting at a big long table, I wasted no time sticking out my hand and meeting everyone nearby. I even showed off my party trick: remembering everyone’s names. Not sure when I learned that skill, but it’s handy.
As the day wore on, I re-became the person travel had forged, but I’d thought I’d lost. I listened and learned what these wonderful people did, do, and want. Not sure how fate brought together such beautiful and wonderful people all in the same place. We were old friends, just met, all exploring the unique and incredible Fraser Island.
There were airplanes on the beach. Buses in the sand. Shipwrecks by the sea. Hikes through the forest. Lakes in the dunes. Drinks to the wee hours.
To the non-traveler, it’s probably confusing, perhaps baffling, how rapidly one can become friends with someone on the road. I don’t think there’s one single reason for this, but the fact is, we’re social creatures, and the combination of close quarters, new sights, and shared adventure create a bond over which the usual walls we erect around ourselves seem to fall.
For me, the pinnacle was splashing down Eli Creek, surrounded by friends, laughing, dunking, and enjoying the best things life can offer.
Sure it was our last afternoon together as a group, but it didn’t feel it. The world awaited to fling us to its far corners. But in that moment we were together. Free.