There was a crude drawing on the side of this van. It was baffling to think why anyone would want this on the side of their vehicle while travelling across the Australian landscape. I was examining it in a car park next to the hostel in my pajamas with seven Germans. Markus called me over to ask me what ‘exempt’ meant on the vehicle registration form. I roughly explained it to him and he went back to filling in the paperwork with the owner of the van.
It was by chance that I had met the Germans. I had taken a couple strawberry Oreos from my food locker and sat down at one of the scattered tables at the YHA hostel in Cairns. Just as I was about to enjoy them a petite, pixie girl asks if anyone is sitting next to me. I offered her to join me and one of my Oreos that she happily accepted. Her name is Anika, she had just finished school and it was her first day in Australia, travelling from Germany by herself. Then there was the mandatory questions exchanged: Where you from? Where you been? Where you going next? Followed swiftly by the backpacker icebreaker used a lot on the road as the universal language, card games. I taught her one of the popular British based games until we moved onto a memory game that she dominated. My memory sucks.
Soon after we were joined by Jörn and Philipp. Friends from Germany, they had left university for some adventure and to improve their English. They had met Anika and the impression that I got was that she looked after them to make sure they got on the correct airplane. It was not long before they went to bed, suffering from jet lag.
The next afternoon we were all chilling in the dinning area. Suddenly I sneezed. “Guzuntight,” smiled Anika. “Danke,” I smugly replied. There was a fourth German that was sorting out his Australian bank, tax file number, etc on his computer. He quickly turned around in a victorious manner giving his countrymen high-fives, but hey! I wanted in on the action and got a high-five as well. This was Markus, the quick-witted guy who had a quizzical thirst for life that he captured through his camera and methodical conversations.
At this stage the Germans had formed a strong bond and I was still an outside anomaly. In the evening Jörn invited me to join them for drinks, they were all drinking the alcoholic choice of all backpackers called ‘goon’, which is basically a fruity wine that is cheapest on the shelves of bottle shops. The most noticeable thing was that Philipp and Jörn’s English became more proficient under the influence. As soon as I sat down at the table they all started firing questions at me about my history and what I had been up to in Oz. They were non-native speakers away from their homeland and I must have been quite the novelty.
One of the things they wanted to know how much German I knew. I reeled off a few words with my personal favourite “SCHWEINSTEIGER”. They taught me a few more, mostly swear words, one a nickname we gave to Philipp when he went to bed early again.
For the next few days I acted as the group’s teacher and interpreter teaching them new words and helped them when they struggled with a sentence. I do not know if it was the excessive wearing of my nerdy glasses but they thought of me as some type of boffin. They branded me as the IT anchorman due to my smarts and charisma. Some part of my personality might have been lost in translation.
For their last night we went to Baskins & Robins that produced a heavenly aroma just from the outside. We were joined by Lyndsey and Gillian, which was also their last night. Anika and I went for the lava cake. This dessert was introduced to me by my uncle Don when I was visiting him in Florida. He ordered one for the each of us and I loved it so much that I quickly scoffed it down and had the half of his that he could not finish. Now I was eating it on the escapade steps in the warm Cairns evening with a scoop of cookie dough ice cream.
The morning after was a struggle to wake up as I had grown accustomed to 11 AM starts since unemployment but I wanted to spend the morning with the gang before they left Cairns. I left the darkness of my room to find Anika and Markus outside swinging in the hammocks. Markus had this massive grin on his face as he flashed me a wad of $50 notes, the money to purchase his car.
The next hour, the five of us just relaxed at the hostel discussing our plans. Markus and Anika were going to travel up to Port Douglas in their new vehicle, while Philip and Jörn had no clue what they were going to do despite the fact they were not booked into anywhere. Anika and Markus made another attempt to convince me to accompany them on their adventure as they had one more place in their van going. The offer was more than tempting but there were old friends I had promised to see, coming from Brisbane and besides, how could Alan survive a whole week in Cairns without me?
Sadly, it was time to say goodbye to my new friends. Jörn and Philipp happily announced that Markus agreed to drive them up to Port Douglas. I made them all promise that they should continue speaking English amongst themselves to improve on their fluency, just because I am no longer there is no reason to revert back to their native tongue. Anika joked about getting a swear-style pot to put $1 in if they spoke in German. Earlier in the week we had discussed the stereotype of how Germans are ‘serious’. These guys were hilarious and had a zest for life.