‘I don’t know how to get there. This Google map is useless.’ Says Anna. She sounds resigned and her glasses are sliding down her nose because she is sweating like a kettle in the staggering heat of the van and it makes her skin glistening and slippery.
‘It’s getting pretty late, ey?’ I say unhelpfully, as usual.
It is late in the afternoon, to be fair.
The temperature gauge on the dashboard had been climbing steadily over the past few hours and we all know we have to stop driving soon or we risk busting the radiator and possibly the engine. We need to find a place for the night and the few small towns we have driven past looked grim, to say the least, and I’m… ‘Wait!’
Green howls from one of the back seats, still clutching his can of MB. ‘There was a dirt road with a sign on it back there!’
‘How far back was it mate?’ We howl back in unison.
‘Ah, like a bit. maybe a couple of hundred meters? Had to swallow my beer first eh?’
The dirt road’s surface is absolutely atrocious; scarred by deep ruts and carpeted with the kind of tiny, sharp-edged rocks that love nothing more than to puncture a car’s tyers. We rumble along. The darkness has descended by now and all we have is our sickly yellow beams of headlights and our completely unfounded faith.
‘Fuck,’ I hiss. Nobody reacts. ‘Okay, I’m going to take it real slow,’ as if I had any other choice.
There is a fork in the road. An old, weathered wooden sign points to a camping ground seven kilometers away to our left and the other hand points to. Well, nowhere. The text is completely missing. Seven kilometers is not going to happen. We are fucked, we all agree and decide to take the unnamed path because why the fuck not.
Jeremy and I volunteered to go ahead for a cheeky reconn mission. Then I remember I should have stayed with the car, seeing as I’m the only one who can/wants to drive the manual van. Mark Green bravely volunteers to stay with Anna and Lisa.
The gumtrees squeak and groan in the dry heat of Australian night. They stand and stare with their backs to us, protecting ancient, gloomy secrets that two idiots were in no way or shape privy to.
‘Beware! Poisoned traps for foxes, dingos and wild dogs.’ Jeremy stops me and points at a metal sign half hidden in the bush and all of a sudden the acute, palpable feeling of being watched by wild dogs put our senses on high alert.
To deter the imaginary beasts, we make as much noise as we can and occasionally make sudden, histrionic 180-degrees twists so the enemy behind doesn’t take us for a fool and it’s during one of those that I spot the pair of yellow-orange eyes in the dark.
I’m holding a tiny, pathetic Swiss army knife and Jeremy is carrying a long, fairly thin tree branch as we stand side-by-side and watch the dingo or jaguar or whatever-it-is rustle in the bushes and look over his shoulder every few seconds, looking as unsure of itself as us. Then the beast blinks one last time, turns around and hops away into the dense thicket.
Eventually, the road limply ends in a small clearance surrounded by short, scraggly shrubs and a smooth sandy cliff on the far side and beyond that an ocean that always sounds so much more powerful and vehement at night.
And so much more like the true sound of nature than anything else I’ve ever heard.
We parked the van perpendicular to the wind, to act as a windbreak, and pitched the tents behind it. We are way too wrecked to cook. We rummaged through our meager supply of snacks and fruits, then settle down in a semi-circle on our camp chairs and challenge our sobriety with a lethal combination of lukewarm beers and long hastily-rolled joints.
The conversation soon took a turn for the absurd and the magnificent; ‘How big do you guys think the universe really is?’ Someone asks. ‘The scary thing is, it’s growing bigger every day!’ Another answered.
We talk about the Northern lights, the wilds of Canada and Outback Australia. We are dazed and filled us with a sense of wonder, a feeling of longing and a vague acknowledgment that we can never really comprehend such grand matters. The conversation is occasionally interspersed with long stretches of silence while our thoughts float up like schools of jellyfish coming up from the deep seas and touching every corner of our minds with their long, invisible tentacles.
I get up at some point and walk towards the cliff. I stand alone on the edge and listen, for what feels like hours, to the raging restless of the open world.
Next morning, as is so often the case, reveals the truths we couldn’t have seen in the dark. The camping ground isn’t nearly as isolated as it had seemed the night before and the ocean not as wild and civilization not as far.
We pile our bags back into the van and clean up as best as we can. As I pull away from the clearance in a lazy arch, I look back at the clearance and wonder if anyone will ever know we had been there.
It looked as if we had turned around halfway along that dark lonely road last night and gone back; as if the lonely cliff, the full moon, and that stormy sea had all been nothing but a hazy dream.