This afternoon I caught a ride with the Oz Experience bus to get from Spot X to Byron Bay (about 2 hours away). Pretty much everyone on the bus fell asleep within minutes of our departure (apparently everyone had a late one the night before) except for the driver (a cool Aussie chic), a Scottish lad named Michael, and myself. We all congregated in the front of the bus, and took turns swapping stories and expanding each others musical horizons via our iPods. The pleasant company made the ride go very quickly and we arrived in Byron around 6:30PM. Our driver was kind enough to supply me with an Oz Experience VIP wrist band, which gave me access to the Oz Experience table at “Cheeky Monkeys” (an infamous bar and restaurant in Byron Bay) , and would prove quite useful in the days to come. I grabbed my bags and made plans to meet up with Michael (my new Scottish friend), and his buddy Steve at Cheeky Monkeys for dinner and beers a bit later that evening. As it turns out, we all ended up at the same hostel (Nomads Byron Bay), and even ended up in the same room that night, which made everything a bit easier.
After dropping our bags and cleaning up a bit, we ventured out for our first taste of the famed Cheeky Monkeys. When we arrived at the bar, the place was pretty much empty, save the table full of people from the Oz Experience. We grabbed a seat with our (their) fellow bus-mates, where we were immediately greeted with free jugs of beer. Apparently the Oz Experience table (in return for showing up early enough for dinner) received from jugs of beer for the table until around 9PM. It was around this time that I noticed I was surrounded by maple leaves, and people decorated in Canadian flags. It was Canada Day! To show support for our little brother to the North, I dawned some sporty Canadian flag sunglasses (which were provided by our waitress). The beer began to flow, and things proceeded to get a bit rowdy. It was around this time that the host announced that they were going to have a contest for a free skydive. The game: “heads or tails.” The premise was simple: Each contestant would place their hands on either their head, or their “tail,” the host would then flip a coin, and if you had guessed incorrectly, you were asked to remove a piece of clothing (or optionally bow out of the competition). As no Canadians volunteered for the game, the host asked if any American (who he referred to as Canada’s big brother) would represent them. Before I really had a chance to think about it, my hand shot up and joined the other contestants on stage. When in Rome.. After a few rounds, I was standing strong, and hadn’t lost a single article of clothing. The poor bastard next to me was down to his boxers, which he then lost, and was forced to ask the audience if someone could lend him their hat so that he could cover his junk and continue on (as a legal matter you were not allowed to get nude below the waist). The game continued; however, my good fortune did not. A few more rounds found me in nothing but my boxers (and some Canadian flag stickers covering my nipples, I thought this a nice touch). I was one of the last three competitors when I finally lost my boxers (no one would borrow me a hat, not that I blame them), so I was forced to bow out of the competition with my underwear (say nothing for my dignity) intact. When all was said and done a cute (and topless) girl, unsurprisingly was declared the winner. After the competition was over, the host announced that the restaurant was now closed and the club was now open. This meant that it was time for everyone to drink up and start dancing on the tables, this is what Cheeky Monkeys is famous for. As the story goes, the owner (sick of going to bars where dancing on the tables was frowned upon) opened the bar with the specific goal of making dancing on table tops its’ main attraction. He added diamond plate and other reinforcements to the tables, and the legend was born. We danced until late into the evening, then stopped by a local bakery (which was highly recommended by our bus driver, and is open 23 hours a day) sample a “Paris Brest” (also recommended by our driver). As we found out, the Paris Brest has a thing layer of pastry on the bottom, a ridiculously thick layer of custard in the middle, and is topped off with chocolate and a cherry, It was insanely rich, but really good!
The next morning was, needless to say, a bit rough. I wandered around town for a bit and found some breakfast, before returning to the hostel. I was asked to move rooms since there was an error with my reservation (a task that I would need to repeat again before the work was through). Later on, I joined the guys, and a bunch of other people from the hostel, for a game of beach volleyball, and spent the rest of the afternoon lounging at the beach and enjoying the sunshine (this was after all the first time I’d seen sun and warmth in a few weeks). We returned to Cheeky Monkeys for dinner and drinks that evening, though I called it a night much earlier than the night before.
Sunday morning. I got up early and met up with the Scots to take a tour bus out to Nimban. Nimban is an old hippie town that was originally founded to host the first jazz festival in New South Wales back in the 60’s. After the festival, the hippies never left, and the town that remains is known for being very “pot friendly” if not “pot pushy.” It’s one of those places you just have to visit to experience (even if you’re not after any elicit goods, it’s still a fun trip). We started our day with a winding journey through country roads, listening to classic rock and Bob Marley blaring through the stereo (this would continue for the entire trip). 2 hours of driving found us in Nimban. As we soon discovered, the town is not much more than a single street about 2 blocks in length, littered with shops selling hemp goods of all kinds, a “hemp museum,” (which displays a history of the marijuana movement in the states, as well as that of the town), and various cafes and coffee shops. While walking down the street, you are often approached by various characters selling “cookies” and “weed.” Before departing our bus, the driver gave a lengthy speech warning about the strength and effects of these cookies, and shared some stories of past passengers who did not head his warning. One such story included a 21 year old Israeli who was ex-military (aka a hard ass). He consumed three cookies (the recommendation is no more than one half) and ended up spending the four hour return trip at the front of the bus crying his eyes out because he was convinced that the rest of the passengers were Pakistani and were going to kill him. Needless to say most people proceeded with caution. We spent an hour (more than enough time) walking around town and grabbing a bit of lunch, then returned to the bus for our return trip. We stopped for a picnic on the way back, and with 2 hours having past, it started to become quite apparent who had indulged in Nimban, and who had not. After our picnic we took a short walk to a nearby waterfall, then all piled back onto the bus for another 2 hours of rock and reggae. Upon returning to town, we all decided that a night off from Cheeky Monkeys was probably a good idea, so we opted to head to the Cinema and check out Transformers 3. One of the Scottish lads slept through the entire movie (you can probably guess why)…
Having celebrated Canada Day a few days before, it was now time to celebrate a “real” holiday (I kid): The 4th of July! I rallied the troops and spent the entire day hanging out at the beach. In the evening we went to Cheeky Monkeys, where they had Jim Beam on special in honor of us whiskey chugging Americans. Needless to say it was a good night.
Over the course of the next few days, I spent a bit more time exploring Byron Bay. I walked along the beach, and through the parks and coastal forests to visit the Lighthouse. I watched the surfers riding huge waves off of what can only be described as one of the most perfect surf spots I have ever seen. I visited various restaurants and cafe’s, and generally just kicked back and took it all in. Along the way, I met Dean: a fellow American, who (as luck would have it) was also traveling to Cairns on the same flight as I was. After a full week in Byron Bay, I made my way to the airport (joined by my new friend) and caught my flight North to Carins, where I would soon learn to breathe underwater.