Backpacking is fun and it certainly provides me with plenty of material to write my stories. But for my own sanity, every now and then I need to check into a place by myself where I can spend a few days sleeping on my own in a king-size bed, hang my clothes in a wardrobe, use fluffy towels and not set eyes on a bunk bed or a shower clogged with other people’s hair. And so from time to time I trawl the airbnb website looking for a great place for a beach loving solo traveller to stay.
The first airbnb I stayed at had a huge and shiny kitchen. I had previously been staying with Simone and her phone and her family, and meals had generally involved chicken nuggets and frozen veg, usually overcooked because Simone had been on her phone throughout the cooking process and hadn’t kept a close enough eye on the meal. Then I’d been at a hostel that was so lacking in space and utensils that I had to wait half an hour before I could even find the space and equipment to boil an egg. I was keen to branch out. I went to the supermarket and did a huge weekly shop. And then I started cooking. Roast chicken, roast potatoes, stuffing, cauliflower, broccoli and leeks in cheese sauce, swede and carrot mash, gravy, yorkshire puddings, jelly. Not everything was colitis friendly but I had two bathrooms to myself and my tastebuds were craving proper flavours. I cooked everything from scratch using every pot, pan and utensil available to me.
So it was a bit of a disappointment to discover – once the dishwasher was loaded – that it didn’t seem to be working. I pressed different buttons and turned dials, but nothing I could do would make it work. I felt too deflated by the thought of removing every dirty greasy item to wash by hand so I put it off until the next day. Which was lucky because on the stroke of midnight the dishwasher kicked into action. And that’s what it did every night, whether I wanted it to or not, like Cinderella at the ball, once it got to midnight the dishwasher realised it was time to go back to work.
At the next place I had an unexpected communication breakdown with the cheese grater. How is that even possible? This was a fancy cheese grater where you grated the cheese and it made its way into a plastic container inside the grater and there the cheese stayed unless you possessed magical powers to extract it. Which I did not.
I twisted and pulled it as much as I could without breaking it, and I typed all sorts of things into Google to see if anyone out there knew how to overcome this unexpected predicament but so far nobody has posted any online advice for airbnb guests having a cheese grater crisis. So I had to settle for just tomatoes in my omelette that night.
My next airbnb home was at the bottom of the host’s garden and whilst I regularly saw the host, her family and the rabbits, I didn’t ever meet any of them as the instructions explained that they all had busy lives and all communication must take place by text message only. I must have sent some good texts because the host put in my feedback that I was an excellent communicator and very easy to talk to – even though no actual speech ever took place.
That’s right. Airbnb hosts write you a review so that future hosts can decide whether or not they want you to stay at their properties. I was expecting dubious reviews saying “Caroline left a liberal sprinkling of sand everywhere she went and was not intelligent enough to operate the cheese grater” but in fact everyone gave me such glowing reviews that I’m wondering if I can put them in my CV and forge a career as a professional house sitter in my next life.
One of the reasons I had chosen the house at the bottom of the Text-Message-Only host’s garden, besides its close proximity to a lovely beach, was because it was listed as having a washing machine and I was desperate to wash every item of clothing in my possession. The last hostel I’d stayed at only let backpackers use the laundry between 12 and 4pm and in the height of the Australian summer I wasn’t going to waste a precious afternoon sitting indoors staying dry whilst my clothes got wet, when I could be down at the beach getting myself wet by throwing myself in the ocean. So when I got to my new home, the lack of a washing machine rather thwarted my well thought out plan of “Arrive, make jelly, put on first load of washing, go to the beach.”
It was a very tiny apartment with everything in one room, so it was fairly easy to establish that there was nowhere for a washing machine to hide, all the same I looked in all the cupboards just in case and eventually sat down to read the welcome note which explained that if I wanted my washing done, I was to put it in the linen bag provided before 3pm and then put it on the entertainer with $10. Text-Message-Only would do my washing and hang it on the line for me to collect the next day.
Clearly I wouldn’t be able to put “every item of clothing in my possession” on the entertainer to be washed, because then I’d have nothing to wear in the meantime. But my first challenge was trying to work out exactly where – and what – the entertainer was. I composed a text message to Text-Message-Only to tell her that I needed more clues because in England an Entertainer is someone who sings songs and does circus tricks, and she replied to explain that in Australia an Entertainer refers to the large area of undercover decking at the back of somebody’s house. Not sure I’d pay to spend an evening watching one of those.
Two of my airbnbs had ladders but no obvious clues as to what I should do with them unless the owners knew of my backpacking background and were concerned that I might have withdrawal symptoms if I didn’t have to climb up a ladder to reach my bed. One property had mirrors strategically placed in the bathroom door so that you could see yourself sitting on the toilet. Another apartment had a television in the bedroom which switched itself on at fourteen minutes past five every morning, frightening the life out of me. And one had a very nice landlord called Jeff who taught me how to use patio BBQs – after that there was no stopping me and I barbecued my way around the rest of Australia and New Zealand.
One of the apartments had a very manly smell. Some airbnbs spend their lives being full time airbnbs but others do it as a part time hobby. In these situations the owner lives there most of the time and earns money by renting it out when she or he goes away. When I arrived at this next apartment, it smelt as though a teenage boy had hurriedly tidied up ten minutes before I arrived and compensated for his frantic tidy by spraying his very manly smelling aftershave all around the apartment. I couldn’t wait for it to disappear and I opened the sliding doors to encourage the smell to leave the room.
The apartment was clearly one that was usually lived in by the owner, as was evident by some of the things dotted about – like nappies for dogs and a bowl on the kitchen table containing a button, a sim card, 20 Israeli shekels and a brand new pound coin – I’d forgotten until then that Britain even had a new pound coin. I made some jelly, went to the beach, picked up some groceries and on my return the manly smell was still there, just as strong as before.
One of the benefits of living in someone else’s house is that the owner tells you to help yourself to the staples, which I took to mean basic ingredients, rather than the metal things that fix pieces of paper together. So I tried out a range of different salad dressings and made my first (and only) risotto of the trip because who wants to take a kilogram of aborio rice backpacking around Australia? Much easier to borrow it from the guy who offers you his staples. However everything I cooked from risotto to bolognese had a tang of manly smell about it.
It took me a couple of days to realise that the reason the manly smell was lingering was not because of some over-zealous aftershave spraying by a teenage boy, but because there was an air freshener on the kitchen window sill that was actually programmed to squirt out a manly smell every 20 minutes. That’s 72 squirts of manly smell a day. No wonder it never disappeared. I decided that the air freshener could go and live on the balcony for the remainder of my stay.
This was not one of the airbnbs that came with a mysterious ladder, so I had to climb onto the kitchen bench to get the air freshener down. Except I couldn’t bring it down. Because someone had permanently attached the air freshener to the kitchen window sill so that nobody could remove it. Not only that but it was fixed in such a place that it squirted itself right over the top of the cooker hob. I was meticulous about using saucepan lids for the remainder of my stay so that my meals were no longer contaminated with essence of manly smell. How did this constant spraying all over the saucepans not annoy the person who usually lived here?
And then it hit me. My apartment was actually situated in a place called Manly. I had recently stayed in Freshwater where they had turned off the water one day to carry out essential work – I now decided that this was clearly to ensure the water was fresh enough to live up to its name. Kangaroo Island had certainly had a lot of kangaroos on it, Lorne had plenty of grass, Coral Bay had been just that and now here I was in Manly where the apartment was actually equipped with a device that emits manly smells.
Well, I thought, if Australians are going to be this literal I’ll have to be a bit more careful when choosing my destinations from now on. I made a mental note to steer well clear of Cape Tribulation, Wasp Island and Wee Wee Creek. However Turquoise Bay, Lovely Banks and Sunshine Beach sounded right up my street.