For our last morning in New Orleans, we were afforded a late rise: 9:45am to the bus. David assumed that the second night in this crazy and adventurous town would be as alcohol-fueled, possibly worse, than the first night. For some, like my new roommate, it was, and the extra hours in bed were appreciated. So to say the bus was somewhat quiet is an understatement. I was fine however.
As you may recall, we were losing some members of the tour, and gaining others. We had met them at the group tea the night before. There were a few strange characters, but wouldn’t find out how strange to the last night. After everyone had said goodbye to the 2 leaving members (a man and a woman, both who I occasionally got on with (certainly the man more than the woman, such were their personalities)) who had woken up to see us off, we climbed aboard the bus. David did the headcount, and came up 2 short. He did it again, and still 2 short. He took a roll-call, and found 2 of the new people absent.
They were running very late as the clock ticked past 9:55am. Everything on the tour is timed to precision, so if you are running late, it starts to ruin everyone’s day. David, by now, was very angry.
Running very late quickly turned into ridiculously late by 10:10am. David had returned from the hotel – having gone back to locate the 2. 10:15am and the two people rushed out with their bags in tow. I would eventually find out one of the women (they were both women, and I have to refrain from making a sexist joke like ‘no surprise there’) had a massive drinking night, and had then turned off the alarm. Her roommate, in bed and asleep when the alarmed was turned off, was an innocent bystander. But, not known to us, they both received death-stares as they trudged down the aisle of the bus, half and hour late.
Finally set to go, everyone waved to the 2 people who made the effort to say goodbye as we rolled away. As we did, the man there did the ‘moustache salute’ (finger on the top lip), which got a reaction. It was around now that I had taken on the nickname (perhaps a consequence of my fall and my ensuing popularity), so I was amused to see it, and twirled the ends of my own at him. We pulled away from the curb, and that deathtrap of a hotel, headed for a city called Pensacola in Florida – known for being a place with a big beach.
Not too far into the trip, and after our morning song had been played loud enough to anger all those hung-over, David gave us a speech. The crux of it: Don’t be late (aimed at the two women from moments ago), and drink to your own limit (aimed at more than just me, though the bus started yelling out ‘Moustache!’ at that one). Then David has a bit of a joke about my fall, said that he thought he had heard it all, and said he’d now have another warning story. A couple of people hadn’t yet heard the story, and were shocked when David told them the basics.
After that, David gave the basic introduction to the tour, a spiel of what was happening for the next week and some, and then the newbies had to do the introduction game. That went through, and we realised we had picked up 3 more Germans (all women), who spoke reasonable English, an Italian woman, who spoken broken English, a Pom woman, who would turn out to be a rather strange person, and then a handful of Australians. All-in-all, a varied and different group to the ones we left back in New Orleans.
Perhaps it’s best I include a description of the woman who would prove to be a, well, very strange character for the rest of the trip. Her name was Lisa, and she was the one who caused the bus to be late. She had had a really big night, tagging along with other people from the group. She got very drunk. At one point in the night, she started hitting Anthony (who I was sitting next to) for no real reason. Now Anthony is a great guy, and he wouldn’t lay a hand on anyone who didn’t deserve it, and certainly not a woman. But whatever she was doing to him that night, he had to leave early because he was angry enough to think about hitting her back. This hardly endeared her to him and, as a result, to the rest of the ‘boys’ group. So when she stepped onto the bus that morning, whether she was late or not, she already had maybe a half-dozen people already annoyed with her. Being late only intensified their feelings for her.
Now back home, this woman has a son. He isn’t very old, if I remember correctly. It wasn’t school age, I remember that much. And when she left to go on holiday, she didn’t leave her son with his father, or perhaps her parents or another relative, rather her boyfriend of some short period of time. It was this little piece of information that actually got her off-side with a lot of the women on the trip – they thought her irresponsible and reckless for doing that.
My judgement on her? We didn’t know the whole story of her son or the night out in New Orleans, so how could I hold her to account on either? I just was annoyed with her for being late, but I wouldn’t dislike her just for that
I would, however, eventually come to really dislike her.
Anyway, that’s just a little background to a person that will definitely be popping up future posts. Moving on.
The drive to Pensacola wasn’t going to be long. We were originally planning to be there before lunch. However, due to the late start, and how quickly the traffic would change on a Friday afternoon on the route we were taking, we would be looking at getting to the beach after lunch now. It didn’t really bother me, as I’m not the beach’s biggest fan. But I was still annoyed we’d be late to something.
When we got there, there were cars for miles and miles and miles. David had expected the place to be busy, but not like this. There was no obvious reason as to why it was so packed either. As we started driving around, looking for a parking spot, we headed into a residential area. There were blue flags with a specific emblem hanging from every window nearly. David spotted it immediately and told us that there was probably a Blue Angels air show on today. It’s a navy air demonstration squadron, based out of Pensacola during Summer and Spring. They tour all over the world, and we lucked out that they were doing a show the day we arrived.
Almost on cue, as David was explaining all this, a dark blue C-130 Hercules passed over us, low enough that it shook the whole bus. It was loud, and it was exciting. But we were still searching for a parking spot. Eventually, we had driven so far away from the beach that Markus turned around, drove back, and just dropped us off, with David telling us to meet at the giant beach-ball on a post in the middle of the car-park at a certain time.
Jumping off, I really didn’t want to be spending the day here alone (as I expect it would get extremely boring), nor with the ‘boys’ group who were headed off to do more drinking and (I suspected) engage in ‘laddish’ behaviours with the women abouts. I decided I’d loiter about and see what other groups were formed. Thankfully, the same group that had assembled at Sun Studios again got together, and they invited me to go along with them. This group eventually grew to include others, but noticeably none of the new people who joined the tour.
We headed off to a bar that also served greasy food (not that we wanted greasy food, just that it looked least greasiest) just in time to take up position to watch the F/A-18s do their tricks. It was quite impressive, but it would take them a minute or longer to do all the set-up behind the bar, and then the tricks they did lasted 10 seconds above the beach. My patience wore thing after about 15 or 20 minutes of this and I headed back in. As much of a sight as it was, I wasn’t taken with it as the locals were. It finished up with a playing of the national anthem, in which we all stood and took our hats off – not game to even think about doing anything that could be construed as disrespect among the tough looking crowd.
For lunch I had a burger on the recommendation of one of the women I was with. It was good, too big (which I had come to expect with all American meals by now). There was a fiasco going on with another table of Contiki members. They got table service and ordered their food. Fine, no problem. They got it. Then they went to the bar to pay, and told the guy what they had. He took their money – but he also too what they said as an order. They were the Irish trio, so they would have been hard to understand for this guy. They left. Eventually the lady taking their orders came looking for the to pay the bill. Then out came their second round of food. The staff involved were pretty angry and were determined to get someone to pay for it all. Somehow, Anthony got involved and was the one held for ‘security’ while some people went looking for the Irish girls. No one found them, and, getting bored with the whole thing (as well as conscious of the time) I left with my group. Eventually Anthony, on the verge of getting very angry, just threw money at the people so that he could leave. The Irish girls, when they were located, were very apologetic to Anthony, but he had no qualms with them – it was the rude and bitchy, arrogant and stingy staff that he wanted to belt.
Once the show was over, quite a few people cleared off. It was past 1pm then, so I think out-of-towners were planning on making a move home, while the locals, who could enjoy the beach any day, were happy to leave it. You see, the weather had been threatening all day. New Orleans had been very cloudy, and it had started raining on the trip in. When we got to the beach, it hadn’t rained, but looked like it might any minute. Thankfully, after lunch the sun started poking through occasionally, and it didn’t rain for one second. We were doubly lucky – what with the air show and the weather.
After lunch, ignoring those old wives tales of not swimming on an empty stomach, we headed for the water. The group, 8 or 10 women and me, found an empty place and dumped our stuff. Everyone was worried about their valuables, and when no one volunteered to stay behind to mind them, I did. I wasn’t about to leave my video-camera (and, more importantly, The 18 Cup) just sitting there. The ladies headed in to the water, splashed around and what-not, then came out ten minutes later. Then a couple of them complained about itching. Then they all were. Apparently they were all stung by something in the water. They said jellyfish, but I didn’t see any.
However, when they said that they were itching, I was not at all surprised. Back when I was in year 9, many years ago, me and the family went to Disney World, and stayed a few days in Miami. There, we went swimming and the exact same thing happened to me – I was stung head to toe and was itching like crazy! I didn’t dare go back in the water back then. Back onto the Contiki tour, later we would talk to a local who said that everyone gets stung, but eventually you work up an immunity.
The ladies went to the life guard house, and were given a spray-bottle of vinegar to ease their pain. When they came back, they said they weren’t going in, so I got them to mind the stuff so that I could go for a swim. I went out, splashed around for a while, and had some fun. While I might not be a beach person, there’s something that I love with swimming. Not, like, serious swimming. More like floating and wading. Somehow, it feels liberating. I think that’s the right word.
I came out and noticed that I did feel a bit tingly. I also knew that if I scratched my skin, it would get worse. The best idea would be to rise off under fresh water. There was also a degree of embarrassment associated with an area that became itchy as I walked up the beach, so I couldn’t scratch where I wanted to either. We found a tap and shower, joined the line and rinsed off. We were all itch-free by then (without anyone having to expose themselves for a full shower), though I was the only one who didn’t smell like vinegar. There were a couple who had used that quite liberally, and you couldn’t stand too close to them for some time.
Following this, we all walked to the end of the row of shops and headed back up, ducking into some to look around. Idle activities bore the heck out of me, so after 2 shops, I didn’t stop at the next and kept going. I ducked into a convenience store, brought some Mountain Dew, said hello to some other tour members who were passing time in there, and continued to walk around. I headed back to the beach for some photos, then went to walk up one of those classic piers that go heaps far into the sea. However, you had to pay to get onto it – something like $2. While a cheap amount, I wondered why I would have to pay. For the upkeep? I’d likely never use it again. For fishing? I forgot my rod. I only wanted to take a couple photos. I decided against (a very tight and cheap decision I must say) and walked around some more.
Eventually, when the time came, I headed for the giant beach-ball. The day had been a slow one on the beach, and I was glad to have spent some of it with people, and some of it alone. There was something therapeutic about sitting at the beach after the vast majority of people had left, the wind blowing in from the Gulf of Mexico, the waves rolling in. It was a chance to enjoy nature and enjoy being by yourself. Of course, having someone there to share the moment with would have been nice, and my thoughts often reverted back to that, but what could be done about that?
Boarding the bus, we watched as some security guards tried to teach the group of 3 Irish women how to throw an NFL ball. That was in between putting the moves on them. It was funny to watch, as the guards were 40+, one of them overweight and as bald as a badger, and not doing a much better job throwing the old pig-skin around than these young-20s Irish girls who could hardly manage to get the ball halfway to the recipient.
Eventually everyone was there and we headed for our hotel back into the city of Pensacola. We pulled into the car-park as the rain started coming down, so the unloading and march to the rooms was a wet adventure. My roommate and I struggled to find our room, then settled in for a while. The weather was crap, so I hunkered down for a shower, some TV, and some writing while I waited for the clock to round out to tea time. My roommate ended up scouring the hall for some room party that was happening. Some of the ladies went into the pool (still in their swimsuits) despite the bad weather.
Eventually, tea time came. Out we shuffled to the dining room, and I found myself having to sitting at a table with a few of the new people – the 3 German women and the Italian woman – and some of the originals. The meal was probably the worst included meal of the whole tour. It was supposed to be Indian (I think, or perhaps Pakistani), and it was very, very average. I didn’t leap up for seconds, and had an apple for dessert. Through the course of the meal, there was some discussions exchanged, notably between one of the women from the original group and I arguing over teaching. She was in young child-minding services. She knew I was learning secondary teaching. She asked why secondary and not younger.
Now, I hadn’t had a good argument since I left home. I was on my best behaviour for the tour, knowing that arguing, with me, can turn people off. But I couldn’t resist. Instead of being honest and saying I didn’t do primary education because I didn’t do maths in year 12, and was never going to do the bridging course (which is the only thing stopping me from being a primary teacher – and I would have done it otherwise), I instead said that no learning actually happens before year 7, and I wanted to be a teacher not a babysitter. It was like throwing food into a fishpond, and I had the woman from that second, arguing about this and that and how I was wrong. I enjoyed the argument for what it was. I was probably overly smug and confident, and said some outlandish things that she didn’t poke holes in, but I was having fun. The thing ended on an ‘agree to disagree’ note, and that was that.
A couple people left our table, and eventually I did to. I said an overly-formal ‘thank-you for the company and the dinner’ before excusing myself and heading back to my room. There I milled around as my roommate came back, picked up his wallet, and said he was going to the bar with the rest of the boys. I had no interest in that (if the crowd was who he said it was), and continued to mill about in my room.
Someone came knocking on my door soon. I stuck my head out, trying to find out who it was, and then saw someone walking back up the hall. They were knocking on all the doors, trying to get people to come out. I walked out, followed them to their room and joined into a little gathering going on. They were playing Uno and talking. Everyone wanted me to join in to Uno to see if they could beat the card-counter. I wondered what card counting had to do with Uno, but didn’t argue as a card game is a card game. I was dealt in and applied myself, coming in second after blatantly doing silly things to lose the game, like showing everyone my last card.
People filtered in and out through the evening. The strangest thing to happen was when one of the new comers, the Pommy woman, came in, looked around, then used the toilet. When she was finished, she looked around again and left. Everyone was mystified as to what happened. A very strange thing indeed.
Eventually someone got bored and turned on the TV. This killed any chances of more cards, and it just turned into talking and watching crap. It was getting somewhat late by then, and I didn’t have much to contribute to the conversations, so I ducked out and went back to my room. From there I milled about, and watched some TV, preparing for bed.
Then I had a phone-call on my mobile. It was from Australia, and from a friend that I had not expected a call from at all. I was extremely glad to get a call from her, but at the same time confused. Anyway, that call lasted quite a while, and I was caught up with a lot of happenings at work, in Australia, and what was going on in her life. It was the first serious contact I had had with Australia since leaving, and funnily enough, it was from a person I least expected it from.
After that call, I headed to bed. I didn’t have a chance to fall asleep when my new roommate crashed in, then drunkenly tried to be quiet. I called out to him not to worry, that I was awake. Then I inquired about the evening. Of all his stories, the best one was Garreth swapping pants with one of the women on the trip that most of the guys were trying to crack on to. There was a promise made between them that they would wear each other’s pants to the bus tomorrow. For her, it was easy – wearing regular slacks. For Garreth, not so. She had been wearing those jean-shorts that don’t go much further than the bottom of the … well, bottom? And they were a size that would probably fit snug around one of my thighs. Think hot pants. My roommate thought it hilarious, and I’ll admit I chuckled. The real test would be the next day at the bus.
Finally, my roommate settled down and fell asleep. I did to, somewhere down the line. I wasn’t tired, and I was too busy thinking about things – primarily the call I got. But I too dozed off eventually, and got a good night’s rest for the longest driving day we would have on the tour.