Arriving at the long anticipated Mission Beach, I had a postcard picture in my mind – a deserted white sand bay fringed with coconut palms, the ocean clear and bathtub warm. Pulling up in a private leafy campground, we would string up the hammock, pack the shoes away and spread out our towels side-by-side.
After a five hour drive pockmarked by long waits at caravan repair shops we arrived in a mutual grump to an onshore wind and one of the last spots in a packed out caravan park, with a road separating us from the beach.
The sand was as dusty as the sea. Still, the saltwater was a balm and sharing an embrace, the stress of the day started to recede. That was until the sea lice began to bite. And bite they did, under every surface of my swimmers, until they turfed me up on the sand in search of the nearest shower. The next day I woke itchy to rain and a shouting wind.
This wasn’t part of the deal. A beach holiday to far north Queensland means sunshine, balmy days upon white sand and romance. It must! It says so on the postcard.
When stacked up against our expectations, reality often does bite, the desired image in our minds colliding abruptly with the way things actually are.
Too often, my adventures in the outdoors start long before I get there, the initial idea sparking a photo album of pre-emptive memories; the campfire by the solo riverside tent, rolling out a swag under a starry sky, the hammock strung perfectly between two trees. Mosquitoes at dusk never feature in these fantasies, but are more of a guarantee than anything I imagine.
Real life rarely meets our expectations.
Postcards and Facebook feeds literally give us a snapshot of the brief ‘peak’ moments detached from all the other ordinary events that make up the day.
Nature teaches us otherwise, revealing to us moment-by-moment the truth that everything is uncertain and as ever-changing as the weather. Any attempt to pin it down with what it ‘should’ be is a recipe for disappointment.
What would it be like to travel without expectations? It would open us up for surprise and spontaneity – the overhanging tree to nestle under when it rains, the little known campground around the headland when the planned one is full.
It would allow the small things to be relished - a conversation with a stranger on the beach, a bird of prey surfacing on a gust of wind.
When we open ourselves to experiencing what really is, as opposed to what the postcard says, we can find beauty and satisfaction in the ordinary as much as the extraordinary. Now that would be something to write home about.