Finally back in civilization, Nick, Jackie and I checked into a local backpackers’ resort called the Melanka Lodge. (Ivan had his trailer to live in.) Before I go further, I need to explain a couple things about backpackers’ resorts in Australia. They bear a faint resemblance to their distant cousins, the European youth hostels: in both cases, travelers save money by forgoing private rooms and privacy in general in order to save money and thus spend more time away from home.
But that’s where the similarities end. Australian backpacker resorts are businesses, competing for tourist dollars, while the old-school European hostels (originally set up for youth groups and students and such) care little for such quaint ideas as capitalism and are more interested in law and order. Many have (or had; I’ve been out of the loop for a while) curfews, require membership in the International Youth Hostel Association and make you bring a sleep sack with you so you don’t get their beds dirty. (The German hostels were especially bad back then. The commandant at one I stayed at actually sported a monocle. That hostel was like a bad Hogan’s Heroes episode, without the comic relief.)
Australian backpackers’ resorts are the exact opposite. They want to make money and that means making the experience fun (while still cramming as many bodies into one room as possible). The Melanka Lodge was a converted apartment complex, with a swimming pool and a bar/nightclub on the premises. Nick and I fell on the bar like it was an oasis in the desert and we were thirsty camels. Even better, it turned out that if a patron was wearing a Melanka Lodge T-shirt, purchased at the bar, all pitchers of beer that day were half price. We were home at last.
The first pitcher landed on our table mid-afternoon. By sunset we were friends with everyone in the bar. By dark my bar stool had developed a serious list and was taking ever more concentration to stay on.
And that’s when it happened.
Jackie, our Brazilian friend, walked into the bar towing a gorgeous young woman she’d just met in her room. I immediately straightened up on my stool. After some shouted introductions—the bar had transitioned to night club—we settled in to get to know each other. I found that if I gripped the edges of my bar stool tightly with both hands, I could stay reasonably upright. I also learned that if I closed one eye, I could even focus on her, though I tried not to do it too often, reasoning that she might not like guys with a squint.
When the limbo contest started I saw the opportunity to impress her with my talents beyond bar stool-sitting and squinting. I’d never actually limbo-ed before, but how hard could it be?
In the first round, all I needed to do was kind of tilt my head back a little while shimmying under the bar. I tried to make my weaving look like the latest American dance style as I coolly approached the bar—
And promptly fell on my back.
Subsequent attempts yielded no more success, though much hilarity did ensue. Being the life of the party was never so easy.
Somewhere along the line Ivan joined us and Claudia revealed that she had a rental car and if we were all interested she was going out sightseeing the next day and we could all ride along with her. Everyone thought that was a fine idea and a meeting time was arranged for the next morning. Claudia and Jackie retired to their room and I set about the task of informing Nick and Ivan that, contrary to what they thought, they wouldn’t be able to make the trip the next day. They were going to be indisposed. (I figured I’d have to let Jackie come along or it might spook Claudia, but no way was I letting those boneheads interfere with my future happiness.)
The next morning I was up at the scheduled time, my head pounding, wondering who in the heck stuffed my mouth with old carpet lint during the night while I was asleep. I stumbled out to the courtyard and took a seat at one of the picnic tables there. After a while I saw a young woman appear and sit down across the courtyard. However, since I’d left my glasses in my room (I hadn’t been wearing them the night before and didn’t want to give her the wrong impression about me), I couldn’t tell if it was Claudia or not. Making things worse was the fact that I couldn’t actually remember what she looked like, other than amazing (which, it turns out, isn’t a very helpful description). I finally decided it probably wasn’t her, since there was no Jackie with her.
Minutes passed. Maybe that was her. Not wanting to walk up to her and blurt out, “Are you Claudia?” on the premise that she might take that offensively, I settled for taking a casual walk around the courtyard, just a friendly stroll. If it really was her, she’d see me and wave or something.
That didn’t work either. It turns out there’s really no good way to take a casual pre-dawn stroll around a nearly-deserted courtyard without looking strange. If I could have whistled a harmless tune while strolling it might have looked better, but I’ve never been able to whistle. She probably would have just thought I was asthmatic or something.
I sat down and waited some more. I ran over the events of the previous evening—all of them that I could remember anyway—to see if I had perchance done something especially offensive but I couldn’t come up with anything. Finally I had no choice but to walk over to her and say, “Aren’t you…?” to which she responded, “Aren’t you…?” It turns out she had foregone her glasses as well and couldn’t see me either!
A short while later the three of us were settled in Claudia’s car. (Jackie had simply gone to the ATM for money and been delayed.) Claudia expressed some surprise that the other guys couldn’t make it (“They seemed really interested last night.”) but didn’t suspect my nefarious intent. Only one obstacle still lay in my way: Jackie.