A Van Named Chuck


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Australia is a backpackers’ playground. Not only does the country give the under 30’s welcome entry for a year, but they offer several discounts just for being a backpacker, and tricked out vans are a dime a dozen. Especially in Cairns, the final destination for most backpacking journeys. How convenient! The concept of a ‘vansion’ was first brought to our attention by one of our best friends and avid traveler, Dre. She is an inspiring example of taking opportunities to make travel a lifestyle, rather than a vacation. Vansions were everywhere in Alaska, where Dre had spent the last 2 summers. They included everything you could ever need including the kitchen sink. It was at this realization that we concluded we wanted to live from a van for some part of our lives and travel the countryside. It was officially added to the bucket list.

When we arrived in Cairns we started the Google search for vans immediately. We had no plans at this point, just that we needed a van. Without fully thinking through the fact that we didn’t actually need a van until we were planning to hit the road, we made the impulsive decision to buy the first van we saw. It was love at first sight. Now this may not seem like that big of an impulse, but for backpackers on a budget (aka, us) it is not recommended to waste your annual vehicle registration (a hefty $600+) until you are actually planning to use it. If you have a few months registration leftover when you are ready to part ways, it is proven much easier to sell your van. Backpackers are thrifty like that. The van we bought had 3 months REGO left, which we were planning to spend in Cairns if we found jobs… Rookies. For 2 Americans that had been dreaming of this day for the past year, it was not a factor worth analyzing. We were now proud owners of a bright blue ’97 Mitsubishi vansion that was appropriately named ‘Chuck’. It was exactly what we had imagined. A Queen sized plush bed atop stilts perfectly dimensioned to fit plastic drawers, cutlery, 2 gas stoves, fold out chairs AND table, all camping gear, surf board, multiple coolers, and much, MUCH more. Now we can all do the happy dance.

The day after the purchase was finalized we received offers for our current jobs at Calypso’s Backpackers Resort. It was bittersweet. Living in our vansion paradise would have to wait. It was almost a week before we had the opportunity to take Chuck out for his first road trip (with his most beloved owners, that is). This mini expedition turned out to be just what we needed. We had 3 days and 2 nights to ourselves and an itinerary which could’ve taken several weeks. We took the suggested route by the front office manager, Dave, and hit the open country roads of Queensland. Did I mention these kooks drive on the wrong side of the road?? We laughed when it started raining mid afternoon because we knew the windshield wipers worked great. The blinker lever is on the wrong side as well .

I’ve been told that Queensland has the most waterfalls of any region in the nation and I believe it. It seemed that every few miles we passed there were signs to turn off for a waterfall viewing. We chose to stop at the 5 waterfalls Dave circled on our map, which did not disappoint. They proved that not all waterfalls are created equally. I was struck with the same excitement, appreciation and awe on the last waterfall as I was at the first. You can hear them well before you arrive, yet still never know exactly how it’s going to turn out. Will it be tall and narrow, wild and free-flowing, rocky and majestic, or small and quaint. Queensland is literally littered with them, as well as beautiful mountains, rolling green countryside and the amazing Curtain Fig tree. Definitely a place we will happily hang our hats for the next few months, even if that means Chuck will have to make due with short weekend trips for awhile.

Here’s hoping that the old champ holds up for the next year!!

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Categories: Australia

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