Pancakes were cooked in one pan and doused in maple syrup, while in another a Brooke's leather saddle was being soaked in oil to soften it up. It had rained heavily overnight and continued in a lighter capacity through out the morning, as Peter accompanied me for the first 50 kms, initially on quiet roads snaking through sugar cane plantations and then on the Highway.
At lunchtime I met George. Having been seeking a shady spot for some time; as now the hot, humid sun had burned through the cloud and was burning through me; when I came across a picnic table under a tree beside the road. While eating, I watched yet another species of ant scurrying across the table. These ones were tiny, black and bent their abdomens over their thoraxes like scorpions. I noticed this old man pulling up weeds nearby and he came over to say hello. George was in his 70s, large, with huge hands, and fresh blood spilled from fresh cuts on his tanned legs and arms. With his kaki sleeveless shirt (that had 'Me' embroidered on the pocket) shorts and hat, as well as his coarse beard, he bore a resemblence to Ernest Hemmingway. Like the author, he was a man's man, gruff, coarse and called a spade a spade. We smoked cigarettes together (even though he had only recently recovered from cancer) and I learned a good deal about him. He came from Catherine in the Northern Territory and the small cluster of houses here (he was minding his brother's house) made him feel claustrophobic. He had left school and started chopping wood for a living at the age of 10 years and two months, then went on to scything sugar cane - and presumably one of these occupations had cost him the two missing fingers. He had been to Europe once when he visited Denmark for Christmas. When he arrived there was snow on the ground, he curtailed his trip and he flew home as soon as he could. Very respectful of the British royal family (as many older Australians are) he said there were three icons : the Queen, Nelson Mandela and Fidel Castro. He wasn't so keen on Prince Charles, who he said had forfeited accession to the throne when he married a divorced woman. During our conversation he watched trucks go by wearing an expression of boyish fascination.
Came off the highway at Proserpine and followed the signs to Airlie Beach - which along with the Whitsunday Islands close by, were more supposedly beautiful places my tight schedule prevented exploring - and turned off again to the tiny, inland community of Palm Grove. Whilst studying the map in the increasing gloom, a car stopped on a side track between cane fields and the minimally dressed, towel-headed, female driver asked if I was OK. Only in Australia. The last few miles were dirt track, against the wind and in complete darkness. Reaching the property, nearly ran into a cow, and then the dogs came out. Three big dogs - one as big as me - barked and snarled, until a 12-year-old girl called them off. "Yes?" She enquired, none too friendly. Her parents weren't in and she didn't know anything about me. Fortunately I was able to persuade Izzy to let me in and once inside the dogs were pussies. Soon Couchsurfers Theresa and Paul, and their older daughter, Emma, returned, and we sat down to minestrone with pasta, which Izzy had cooked (they had a rota). The parents were seriously into environmental issues, worked in this field and are self-sufficient in many ways. They sell sprouts (like mustard and cress), micro herbs and cheese at markets, as well as supplying restaurants. After the girls had gone to bed we told travel tales, of which they had many more than me, having been all over South and Central America, Asia and Africa. They put me off travelling in most of these places.
The chafing at the top of my thighs had been chronic today and Theresa gave me Papaw oil (with a petroleum jelly base) which I applied liberally before turning in.