After leaving the town of Gympie, we began our journey north along the east coast of Queensland. We were feeling new energy now, having made friends with three French backpackers who had invited us to make the trip to Bowen, QLD where they would be visiting a friend of theirs.
A ‘friend of theirs’ is probably an understatement of the massive variety. Not just understated, but basically nowhere near descriptive enough of the relationship between Liz, Alexine (two of the French ladies), and their friend, Charlie.
Charlie is a 70 year old retired entrepreneur who loves to host backpackers from all over the world. He hosted the girls a few weeks prior to our visit. They call him “Grampa”.
He would come to make a lasting impact on our lives.
The journey north was an important learning experience for us. The girls taught us how to make better use of the WikiCamps app, with which we found decent, free places to stay overnight, a free hot shower, and an amazing, waterside, sunrise adventure with Kangaroos.
The morning of our arrival at Charlie’s place, we got up before sunrise to drive to “kangaroos beach” at Cape Hillsborough. We were the first to arrive on the beach that morning, and although other visitors did join us later on, it still felt secluded and special (as it turns out, we’re not THAT special—see link above, lol). We were able to get close-up with kangaroos and wallabies of all ages, all while watching the sun rise behind the offshore Whitsunday islands.
It was simply magical.
After we finished breakfast and had an uplifting phone chat with our friend Debbie (Aussie aunt from Brisbane!), we were on our way to Bowen to meet Charlie.
We showed up to a full house of backpackers. Charlie was hosting four French backpackers who were working on a local tomato farm. The girls had a variety of travel experiences to share. We could see they were working hard to earn money to continue traveling—a common ambition among international backpackers.
This is where we learned how tough the farm work can be physically, as well as how, unfortunately, backpackers can sometimes be taken advantage of by farms and their contractors. Eventually, the girls decided to quit their jobs on the tomato farm after learning that they weren’t being paid the wage promised to them initially. This is common on vegetable and fruit farms that hire backpackers who are desperate to either make quick money or earn their second year Australian visa—for certain nationals, 88 days of farm work extends your visa by an extra year. Many backpackers take on work in order to stay longer in Australia because there is just so much to see. Many stick out what can be shitty working conditions with their dreams of continued travel close in mind.
We were excited to finally meet this Charlie we had been hearing so much about from our friends. When we arrived, we were welcomed warmly into his home and promptly informed of the only rule of the house: You have to be happy. Charlie would constantly check in with everyone—Are you happy, my babay?. We could quickly see how much Charlie loves to have people to take care of in exchange for the company they give him in his home.
While we were with Charlie, we helped him with some of his many projects: gardening (he has quite a large property with lots of plants, flowers, and fruit trees), tidying up the yard, daily cooking and taking care of the house—even some hobby rum-making! A lot like WWOOFing, our accommodation and food was provided in exchange for helping Charlie with various tasks. Because there were so many people staying there when we first arrived, we slept in the ‘Cruiser until a bedroom freed up; but honestly, this was great. It was a little bit of space away for ourselves among such a busy little household of travelers.
Charlie became like a grandfather to us, too. He was always up front about how he was feeling, and always told it like it was. We had some amazing conversations about life with him, really digging into the life experience he had to share with us, his “babies”.
Meeting the French girls, traveling to Bowen, and staying with Charlie also lead us to meet other backpackers who had stayed with Charlie when they first came to Bowen. Now they were living in a share house of their own and working on various vegetable farms in the area.
THESE PEOPLE. All of these people showed us some of the warmest hospitality we’ve ever experienced. So inviting and generous with their time, food, BEER, information—anything they had to give that could help us out, they gave without a second thought. Some of the warmest hearts, the most interesting people and stories… we just can’t say enough about this tribe of travelers. And we can’t thank our first friends in Australia—Liz, Alexine, and Marie—enough for leading us to such incredible people and profound experiences, and for being so incredible, too.
We wish we could have given back more to all of these people at the time we were all together, but we know that the gifts they shared with us will be paid forward to travelers we meet who are new “on the road”. That’s how it works and that is one of the transformational things about travel.
The experience of Bowen, Charlie, and “the Frenchies” has left an imprint on our lives that will never wash away. It was there that we experienced some amazing highs, as well as some halting lows. This became the norm: as we grappled with the discomfort of uncertainties and unforeseen challenges (i.e. where we would go next, if/where we would find work, bank issues in Canada, loss of a family pet, etc.), we were reminded to s-l-o-w d-o-w-n and worry less. No dramas, as the Aussies say. Our traveling friends had been through the highs and lows as well, and they were now examples of how you can actually learn to absorb the Australian “no worries” attitude. They didn’t tell us not to worry, they showed us what not worrying looked like just by being themselves. They embraced each day with childlike wonder and without complaint, always with big smiles on their faces.
We are forever grateful for the 20 days we spent in Bowen, and we look forward to when we can visit again.