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I arrive in the gold coast Australia, the tail end of my world trip. It’s during the southern hemispheres winter and it’s the day of Solstice. I bunk up in a cheapest youth hostel and save money by only shopping in supermarkets. Damn, everything here is so expensive I discover. What a beautiful country with clean cities and healthy lifestyles. Curse this strong economy! I come to the realization my only choice is to find a job, save some pennies, maybe the employer can provide accommodation—a common offer to backpackers. I scrounge the internet on the top bunk of my bed. My laptop spotlights my unshaven face and dimly illuminates the rest of the room. Ah ha! I find a not too dodgy-looking wageless work on an alpaca farm that can provide accommodation and food. Working outdoors is my cup of tea, I'll probably ask them. I ponder—they can give me a local reference for future work. I eagerly email my CV and fall into a jet-lagged slumber.
I walk off my sleep on the Gold coast beach. I feel the perfect fine sand under my feet and I curl my toes into it. On my right is a wall of modern skyscrapers and my left: calm blue water laps at the shore providing me with a calming soundtrack. Upon a reluctant return to the grimy youth hostel, I am pleasantly surprised by a phone call. A voice on the other end tells me they’re calling from the Blue Mountains Alpaca farm stay retreat. "We’d love to have you come and help out!" they exclaim, to which I accept happily. A train and a bus ride will take me there.
My bus journey ends in a town on a hillside. Wide streets, infrequent traffic and low buildings with porches. After a polite phone call, I am picked up in an old blue pick-up by Deb, an old well-weathered gardener, with a strangely posh accent (Is she from West Brompton?). We make some chirpy small talk as the sunset escorts our short drive to the farm stay. Night has fallen when I arrive, and wild dogs howl to greet me. A single flood light lights the way to my cabin.
In the morning, I am finally able to see my environment. Wooden cabins are dotted around a sloping hill. A group of Alpacas roam a golden brown field that slants downwards to a lake. There is an audience of pine trees.
Deb wishes me a good morning and I return it. She leads me to a big old barn that houses the food for livestock. “Here’s the recipe for the Alpaca food mix” directing me to a selection of cardboard with haphazard directions on. My task is to simply mix the grains and deliver the grain to the alpacas via a motorbike joined to a battered metal sidecar. “Simple enough,” I think to myself, while my scarred knees remind me of my moped crash in Thailand, only a fortnight earlier. I get stuck in preparing an alpaca breakfast.
I confidently load up the sidecar and am led by Deb to my destination, stopping on the way for some crucial info. “Make sure you shut this gate after you pass through and careful to turn the motorbike the right way as you leave it. It doesn’t have a handbrake and we don’t want it rolling down this hill,” she explains as she indicates the lake down the hill. I complete my morning deliveries, with only one motorbike crash into a bench.
Dusk is dinnertime for the alpacas. I prepare the meals, load up the bike's sidecar and make my way to the fluffy creatures. Past schedule, I hurry to the gate. I hop on the bike to drive through and hop off again to go back and close it again. I turn around to continue the delivery only to see the motorbike with the sidecar full of food rolling down the hill. I run, I panic. The bike approaches the lake. Alpacas run out the way. It keeps rolling. Splash! The bike's in the lake and I look at it with despair. Hissing bubbles float to the water's surface, handlebars sticking out as if treading water.
At the cabin, I own up to what I’ve done to Deb and she is more than disappointed. Wielding a rope, we head down to my mistake with a deadly silence between us. I get into the cold winter lake and tie a rope around the bike, water up to my waist. She pulls and I push the bike, slipping and struggling on the lake floor. Enraged, she sternly enforces instructions through gritted teeth, bringing up physics, where I should stand ,and my centre of gravity, speaking incessantly. She informs me slipping on the muddy lake floor won't help. She informs me she can only pull so much. I utter “fuck's sake” a little too loudly. Deb hears. She raises her voice (also a little too loudly) “Get off the farm! As soon as this bike is out you’re off the farm!” I heave and get the job over and done with. I dash indoors and I hastily dry off. Packing my belongings, I head into the kitchen. I smuggle out some apples and a peanut butter sandwich in anticipation of the unknown journey ahead. I am pointlessly hopeful that there’s still a train from the nearest town back to the gold coast—it's getting late. On foot, I leave the farm. Only a fraction of the sun peaks over the horizon.
I stand on the side of the road, with forest flanked on each side. I stick up my thumb to the cars that pass by infrequently. Eventually, one car pulls in. A couple sits in the front. The driver rolls down the window.
“Where you off to?” he asks in a thick bogan accent.
“The closest town, I need to catch a train to the Gold Coast,” I reply. “Are you heading that way?”
“Sure man, hop in!” He introduces himself as Bill and his girlfriend in the passenger seat as Shiraz. “What you doin all by your lonesome trying to hitch a ride this late in the mountains mate?” the chatty Shiraz asks. I tell her of my attempt to boost my CV and getting kicked off the farm stay. Bogan Bill and Shiraz are shocked. Bill focuses on driving and Shiraz exclaims “Whaaaat? She did that this late at night? There aren't even any trains now! This Deb woman sounds like a real cow! Where is this place? We can steal their fuel! Yeah! We’ll steal fuel!” My nervous laugh is interrupted by Bill. “Tell ya what mate, we can help you out. You take my Uncle Rob’s phone number. Put that on your CV, put down that you’re a qualified at building fences. No worries, we'll back you up. Smoke?” He hands me a pack of cigarettes over his shoulder.
“Cheers guys, so kind,” I reply.
Bill and Shiraz end up taking me further than the closest town. They generously drive two hours to the gold coast. They park up overlooking the beach.
“Cheers for the good company G,” Bill says.
“Thanks so much for the ride guys,” I reply, whilst exiting the car. Bill tells me through a cracked window, “No worries man. One more thing, take our phone number. If you ever need some fine ganja, give us a call anytime!"
I still haven't called them.