There is a running gag in high school about kids eating tuna sandwiches. Which is not exactly a surprise as eating tuna in public almost always results in someone staring at you reproachfully. Fish never smells too good in general but tuna is the worst. Faces of computer nerds and kids without friends come to my mind as I open the can I brought for lunch. The salty, fishy smell escapes the tin at once. Luckily, there is nobody except me, S., and a family of ducks on the river shore. Nobody to stare at us. I am sitting on a wooden jetty in Grafton, watching the water of the Clarence river flow by. We have stopped here for a break on our way from Bellingen to Byron Bay, with a package of sandwich toast, plastic spoons, a can of tuna and a can of baked beans in our bags.
We had been told before that Australia would be expensive. I had just graduated from university, and after this one-month holiday would start my first job. I did not exactly have a lot of money on my bank account. Screw it, I had wanted to go anyway. I didn’t know when I would have that chance again. So there we were. The Lonely Planet said that Australia was expensive, and the exchange rate could have been a lot better for us. But we had made budget plans: Sleeping in motels outside of towns, not eating in fancy restaurants all the time but buying lots of food in supermarkets. We were pretty sure we could make it without having to relinquish our plans to got to the Whitsundays, snorkel at the Great Barrier Reef, and have a glass of wine one time or the other.
That is until we first went to a supermarket. Still completely jetlagged from our flights, we had arrived in Melbourne at noon, local time, taken up our car from the airport and found our motel – the only one we had booked in advance. In order not to fall asleep on the spot and never get accustomed to the time difference, we had decided to drive to the beach, stroll through the neighborhood and get us something to eat for dinner before going to bed early. We had left that first supermarket with two cans of Chinese instant soup, some apples, and some cheese rolls all of which seemed to be way overpriced.
It had been our first encounter with supermarket prices. We should have many more. My initial hope that we had just mistakenly been to an exceptionally expensive chain was destroyed as soon as we had tried some others – and found out that the price range mainly was between overpriced and exceptionally overpriced – in contrast to European prices. Some really gave me a nasty shock, among them a plain natural yogurt for two dollars, a single cheese roll for six, and an apple for two dollars – all in a supermarket. Let’s not talk about drinks here… The strange thing is, some of the Australian wines they sell are also sold in Europe, and for a fraction of their Australian price. Strange new world.
Searching the supermarket aisles for affordable stuff, we soon came across toast and tins. Toast and tins would become our favorite lunch. We would have toast with tuna, toast with baked beans, or toast with tuna and baked beans for special occasions. Sometimes, we would even buy ham or cheese. In the mornings, we would have toast with jam – for unfortunately, we only found out about meat pies in our last week and then changed habits. For dinner, however, we noticed that pub grub was a good thing and always went for the special offers – which even included a beer most of the times. We also found out that sleeping in pubs would be cheaper than sleeping in motels and wondered why the Lonely Planet, Bible of those traveling on a shoestring, hadn’t told us that.
I think that we will always remember this trip as the toast and tuna holiday, I tell S. as I am preparing our sandwiches on the wooden jetty in Grafton, underneath a bright blue sky. He nods. It is not like we are craving for anything different. We are quite content with our little picnic. The place is perfect, there are a only a few clouds in the sky, and the water of the river just passes by. It is peacefully quiet. This is just the perfect holiday. It is good not to be in high school anymore, I think as I take the first bite of my sandwich, which is delicious by the way. But then again, I kind of have a big heart for nerds. And I am feeling a bit guilty for staring at people eating tuna sandwiches in public.