Civilisation is more than it is cracked up to be (Day 19)

Today was mostly sleeping. Yesterday was mostly diving. Despite getting a little seasick on the way there, a lot under the water (I think the second dive – where we went to places with a whole lot more current – was worst because I could not see the movement, but I could feel it), and sleeping most of the way back, I really enjoyed it. I even bought the video.

The great barrier reef was great, but, if it is not a sunny day, don’t expect it to sparkle in the light. The fish are neat. The people who took me were friendly. And breathing underwater is just something else entirely.

Also on the good news, I found two excellent Israeli guys, one of whom is going north (as far as Cairns) then across to Darwin. His plan suits me perfectly. He is taking his time, but it is nice to not hurry too much. I might need to catch a flight from Darwin to Malaysia, since a boat through Indonesia is likely to take too much time.

Whatever I do, I do need to speed up. Tomorrow will be May. I guess I need to make a choice – do I spend 13 months in South-East Asia and then go on to Russia et al. Or do I spend just 1 month there. The best of all possible worlds might be to go north more quickly, and then come back south when it starts getting cold. But then that means that heading west (into Central Asia, the Middle East and to Western Europe) isn’t really an option.

I also need to plan for visas. Planning is not exactly my strong point, I must admit. I think Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand will be okay sans visas. But I will need visas for Mongolia, China, and Russia. Sigh.

I am in Airlie Beach by the way. I arrived very late a few nights ago after making what seemed like a foolish decision to press on with the hitching despite it being late, dark and a long way to my final destination. Thanks to the truckie who took a chance on the stranger in the petrol station.

Every day is a weekend for me at the mo. It is funny how people here (backpackers, that is) say that there is nothing to do and and they get bored and they complain that they appreciate their holidays more when they are working the rest of the time.

I agree that all this is true – only the rainy days make you realise how great the sunny days are. But it seems to me to be more about the attitude you take towards your holidays. If you live every one like it is your last, you get a whole lot more out of them. And hanging out and doing nothing is enormous fun sometimes – at least I think it is.

I have this fear of jumping into cold water. It is not my only fear, of course, but it is something that I have decided to vanquish. I am not quite there yet, but I am making significant progress. The key indicator of this fear of mine was the way I would inch into swimming pools (rather than just jump in), and the way I would always test the water before doing anything. Not that I would not swim in cold water, just that it would take me a while to get in.

So I have begun my attempt to be the type of person who just jumps in to cold water without worrying. Swimming every day is helping. So is trying to enjoy the feeling of sudden frigidity that overcomes one when one leaps pell-meel into a swimming pool.

I am unsure whether the fact that Australian swimming pools seem to be very warm on the whole is helping or hindering me.

I just read ‘Into the Wild’ (by Jon Krakauer – who also wrote ‘Into Thin Air’ – another brilliant book – not sure why he likes books about going into things so much), which is a story about a guy who abandons civilisation to go live in the wilderness of alaska for 4 months with just about no gear, and planning to hunt and gather his own food, all by himself.

Of course, it would not be a story if he survived unscathed, and in fact he dies (from starvation, but maybe because he ate some plants that prevented his body from absorbing energy from his food, rather than because he could not gather enough food). I am not telling you anything that exciting – his death is referred to on the first page of the book.

There was quite a lot of evidence that he was finally (after years of drifting arond North America) ready to settle down somewhere and live a more ‘normal’ life, and that he actually tried to leave his self-imposed prison but was unable to cross a river in flood (and had to turn back to wait for it to subside).

The book is really an exploration of why people do this kind of thing – why there is value for some people in being far away and alone and isolated. It is still not entirely clear to me why, even after reading it. I guess it is a bit like why people climb mountains, or why they climb trees, or even why they climb out of bed in the mornings.

I sometimes have these isolationist feelings, you see. So I guess I hoped to find in this book some idea of where they come from. But I didn’t really. Maybe I will figure it out on my travels.