The train took just over two hours, inland from Sydney and I had risen to about 3,500 foot. The concrete jungle on the coast with its fast paced mindset was to be left behind (for now) and where I was heading things moved a little slower, everything was a bit more laid back.
Dense green forests replaced tall buildings and unusual orange aboriginal rock formations dominated the landscape creating a mystic atmosphere. I was staying in a sleepy village towards the top of the Blue Mountains.
My mate Matthew had arranged for me to do some labouring work. It was a chance to earn some decent dollar, get fit, escape the city rat race and a few of us could stay in a derelict guesthouse to save on accommodation.
I didn’t really know what to expect as I entered the abandoned building for the first time. It was wild; torn up carpet revealing wooden floorboards, graffiti on the walls and some boarded up windows….a few months before it had been a hangout for homeless people.
Luckily, Bridget, a middle aged Australian woman, who was also living there, led me through to what you could probably call the lounge. There was a bamboo style table, chairs, sofa, impressive music player and James Dean poster titled ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams’.
“I chose to get a music player rather than a television” Bridget explained as I looked through her pile of CD’s. Fleetwood Mac, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Bob Seger….I was instantly impressed with her collection. The fact that she had chosen music over television was an indication to me that we’d easily get along.
My room was bare; a sofa bed that had seen better days (and nights!), a set of shelves smothered in cobwebs and a window with metal mesh on the outside to prevent the homeless from breaking in. Matthew gave me a metal bar as a moving in gift and said “keep this by your bed in case anyone breaks in here and don’t worry about the noises upstairs in the night, its haunted and full of ghosts!” He then disappeared back to his room before I could ask any questions.
He wasn’t lying either. As I lay in my sleeping bag on the sofa bed that night I couldn’t help but hear continuous footsteps from upstairs. These ghosts must have popped a cheeky disco biscuit from the amount of toe tapping that was going on up there! I forgot about the ghosts and then started to consider what crazy spiders could be sneaking into my sleeping bag with me. I mean, this was Australia, in the mountains and I was in a derelict building, surely that’s a decent place for some dodgy red back to linger. Finally, I pondered on whether or not I’d awake to some bearded, spaced out tramp looking over me.
…I then just smiled, closed my eyes and went to sleep. In the words of Keller, ‘life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all’.
I’ve been in the mountains for a month now. We drafted in another Welsh recruit to work on the building site, Nutty Neil; we renamed the derelict building ‘Hotel California’; we live by a simple motto up here that is vital to keep us sane: WORK, TRAIN, EAT, SLEEP, REPEAT (except for weekends, when we hit the local bars – all two of them!)
The village where we are staying is like a Tarantino movie on acid, with a greater mix of people than a Christmas box of Dirty Bassett’s. There are hippies, junkies, toothless one-eyed monsters, spiritualists, retirees, tourists, local Hill Billy’s, a woman who walks around with a saucepan on her head, devil worshippers, ghost chasers, artists, wacky musicians ….you name it and they’re in Katoomba taking a walk on the wild side!