Every now and then a single unnerving chill runs down my spine and flashbacks of mandarin-laden trees fill my conscious memory.
The “Manda Madness” made me run, like a schoolboy after the dentist, towards the welcoming sunshine of civilisation.
Ten weeks previously, a friend and I arrived in a small town to pick mandarins.
At one metre cubed and weighing (when full) a quarter tonne, a wooden crate known as a bin is how mandarins are transported and priced.
A bin, which earns you $75, can be filled in about five hours for a novice, while a veteran may pump one out in under two. You can’t pick the fruit when it rains and you can’t pick the fruit under a certain size. You can, however, stay at home if you don’t feel like wearing a face of spider webs that day.
With accommodation cheap and nothing much to spend our money on, most of our earnings could be saved. So, with friends being made and cash flowing in, this small town became our home, while the back of Matilda (my van), became my bedroom.
Every second Friday was disco night! Backpackers and farmers alike flocked to the local pub to swill beer and talk shop while listening to DJs play the latest cheesy chart toppers.
The “disco” itself was a sight for no sober man. One had to be armed to the teeth with alcohol to enter this arena.
The small function room looked like something from a bad 21st birthday party. The local girls cavorted around handbags on a dancefloor adorned by a few stage lamps hastily fixed together atop a metal frame.
The stale smell of beer, the local “talent” giving it their all and the hilarity of the situation only seemed to force your arms to swing and your legs to jump.
There was no etiquette in sight, one could do the chicken dance in this circus and no-one would bat an eyelid.
Truckers, farmers, Swedish girls, you name it, the disco had it. But as much as I joke about this bi-weekly event, much fun was had and many friends were made.
However, there comes a time when a fruit picker takes a good look at their current situation. They weigh up the money they have made, the money they have saved, the hours they have worked, the fun they have had and compare it to their current mental well-being.
After quick assessment this, picker realises one of two things. Either, 1) They are born pickers, they destroy mandarin trees and eat their roots for breakfast. Or conversely, 2) They get the “Manda Madness”!
I’m not too sure if “Manda Madness” is a medical term, but you can ask any broken backpacker returning to civilisation and they will swear by it.
I can admit that by my last week, the madness had a grip over me. I needed civilisation and I needed a home. My friends had found cosy accommodation, while I’d been expelled from the campsite as I didn’t pay rent to sleep in my van.
Thus, like my childhood hero Harrison Ford, I was a fugitive on the run, Matilda and I finding any street corner we could park at for the night.
Leaving town, the lights didn’t shrink in my rearview mirror, it was just darkness.
One kilometre from my home for the last two months yielded an empty countryside, but the happiness that in two hours we would be back in civilisation was stirring delightfully in my stomach.