“Gonna sign up fer the twerking contest?” A 20-something guy in tight jeans dangled his clipboard in front of us, like he didn’t really care one way or the other.
We were in Down Under, the bar next door to the hostel/campground where the Old Girl was parked in Airlie Beach, along the Whitsunday coast. Mat and I looked at each other with slightly glazed eyes. I’ve never twerked in my life, and I’m not about to lose my Miley arse-shaking virginity in front of a load of backpackers in short shorts.
Mat, to my horror, seemed to be seriously considering it. Perhaps he was still euphoric from Hawthorn’s win (and the fact that, even in NRL territory, they showed his game on the big screen). Perhaps he had one schooner of XXXX too many. To be honest, it’s a miracle he could decipher what the clipboard-bearer said – we spent half our time in Airlie Beach guessing what backpacker mumbles mean.
In the end, one thing made up Mat’s mind for him.
“When does it start?” he asked. The 20-something mumbled something that sounded like “Quarter pas ‘leven”
Mat’s face fell. “Nah, we’ll be in bed by then.”
And we were. But as I drifted off into the land of nod, with the faint sound of cheering and Miley’s voice yelling about cannonballs, I couldn’t help but wonder whether we had finally crossed the line.
Had we become Grey Nomads?
Rewind a week and I was feeling younger than ever. We’d walk through the maze of gargantuan RVs and 4WDs in Mackay, silently reprimanding their inhabitants for spending beautiful days sitting in cushioned camp chairs, knitting and reading rather than exploring. We’d smugly run past silver-haired travellers being taken for walkies along the beach by their pint-sized dogs. And we’d giggle to ourselves watching the men (it’s always then men) traipse over to the “dump point” wheeling their Samsonite-esque “cassettes” with a slightly embarrassed expression.
Truth be told, we don’t fit into their world either. Sure, we watch fondly as Grey Nomads gather around their RVs to swap caravanning stories over paper-plate platters of cheese and crackers, sipping wine out of plastic glasses. But we are never invited – a sign we haven’t yet been accepted as Greys. (Though, as Mat reminds me daily, technically he is a Grey Nomad)
But if we had to choose between the Grey Nomads and the backpackers, it’s a no-brainer.
Here are a few things that tipped the balance:
Grey Nomads smile
It doesn’t matter where we go, Grey Nomads always greet us exuberantly. One morning at Lake Elphinstone, a place where you can free camp for 2 weeks, it took me 20 minutes to walk back from the toilets because every caravan I passed on the way had a couple outside ready to have a morning chat about the weather, where we were heading that day, what a lovely view it was, etc. etc. This, we have discovered, is normal.
But backpackers? We didn’t see them smile. I don’t know if it’s because they were disappointed by the beauty of Airlie Beach. Or because it’s not cool to smile. Or because they were always hung-over when we saw them. All I know is that when we smiled and said hello, we were greeted by a stony expression that seemed to mumble “why are you talking to me before midday?”
There are exceptions to the rule, as there are for Grey Nomads, but this is our overall impression.
Grey Nomads clean
There’s this rule in caravan parks that you mop out your shower after use. The mop and water is provided and it takes about two seconds. The same rule applies for kitchens – you clean the BBQ after cooking, wipe down the surfaces and so on. Pretty basic stuff, right?
Not for backpackers. Where we stayed was like uni halls – except more disgusting because these people didn’t have to live there for more than a few nights. So disgusting in fact, that one night I walked into the bathroom as a girl had just finished projectile vomiting over the toilet. Not into the toilet – OVER it. Fair enough, I thought, she’s young and had a few too many snakebites. It happens. But then she committed the worst crime anyone can commit in a shared bathroom situation:
SHE LEFT WITHOUT CLEANING IT UP.
Luckily for me (not so much for her), I realised before she was out of sight and told her in no uncertain terms that she wasn’t going anywhere without cleaning up her mess. Her drinking buddy propped up the wall while vomit girl used toilet paper to clean up her regurgitated snakebite from the cubicle. Swallowing my laughter, I supervised from outside thinking how this wouldn’t have happened with a Grey Nomad. The only thing they leave behind is a faint whiff of lavender talcum powder.
Grey Nomads know stuff
They know where to get your car fixed, where the good free camps are, where to get good fish and chips, the 5-day forecast, the road conditions, the best sights in the tiniest towns…the list goes on. But most importantly, they’re happy to share their knowledge – even if it comes from a trip they did 35 years ago! Sure, they might not know how to twerk, but if they did, I’m certain they’d happily show us how to do it too.
That’s just the kind of travellers they are.