Oct 19, 2011 Lost in Translation
There are no photos from our first week in Australia. It was a continuation of Bali in the sense that we were belligerently drunk and still insatiably excited about our newfound freedom. KC and I actually separated for a few days while I went to a wedding, and she got a taste of traveling solo. In my head I dreamed of a ‘Wedding Crashers’ party-time extravaganza. It was the most boring, disgustingly romantic event I have ever witnessed.
Anyway, when that was finally over, KC and reunited only to get into a huge argument about this, that and the other thing. It was a breach of friendship, but we managed to work around it to decide that we would live in Byron Bay. We talked to some of the locals, started pawing through newspapers and scheduled to look at an apartment. The day we were going to check out our potential new pad, we woke up drunk and skipped down. We literally rolled out of our beds and decided, lets get the hell out of here. It was 10:45. The only Greyhound bus for the day was leaving at 11:00 en route to Brisbane. It was bucketing rain. I didn’t have any shoes. KC didn’t have any shoes. I lost my Australian ID card. KC lost her mind. And so, we went running down the road in our bare feet dragging our suitcases before we finally managed to hitch a ride in the Aquarius Backpacker van. At approximately 10:58 we were at the bus terminal. KC unloaded our bags while I pathetically but enthusiastically begged the Greyhound bus driver not to leave without us. The emptied our pockets and bought two one-way tickets back to Queensland.
Freedom is a gift. It is also a curse. For now, we are abusing it. After a few nights couchsurfing in Brisbane with my friend Sam and his family, KC and I decided one day, “Lets fly to Cairns and go skydiving over the Great Barrier Reef.” And so, we booked our one-way tickets to Cairns.
In Cairns, KC and I had our first real couch surfing experience with a complete and total stranger. On his profile, he mentioned having “two roommates” which turned out to be his parents. He also mentioned that he “spent a lot of time on the water.” What he didn’t mention was that he was a water-sporting Nazi who essentially forced you into uncomfortable situations and made it impossible to say ‘no thank you’ to any of his demands. When he wasn’t forcing us to take pictures of him wakeboarding or making us watch his dog while he was jet skiing, he was letting us wake surf, but taking super-creepy pictures all the while. Anyway, it was an interesting experience. We spent Halloween day wake-surfing at Tinaroo Dam and then we attempted to celebrate our favorite holiday.
Halloween in Oz is pretty tragic. If you can even find a costume shop, you probably won’t find a decent costume, which doesn’t matter anyway because there probably won’t be a Halloween party to go to. Anyway, KC and I settled for some B&W paint and spent Hallow’s Eve @ the Woolshed, a backpacker paradise (or nightmare depending whose team you’re on) which was the closest thing we could get to a real Halloween party.
check it out: Halloween in Cairns
Nov 02, 2011 Like a Bird Without wings
Jumping out of a perfectly good airplane from 14,000 feet & landing on South Mission Beach – BOOM! DONE! We thought we would be free falling over the Great Barrier, but she was farther out than we were lead to believe. Still, what an experience!
Staying in a hostel tonight. Equipped with salt & vinegar chips, pizza, ice cream, sour worms, gummi snakes and a block of Cadbury honeycomb chocolate. Then we’re off to Townsville. We’ve been looking in the backpackers guide books in an attempt to find some work picking fruit. We have a few leads, but we’ll see what happens tomorrow …
Nov 4, 2011 One Night in Townsville
I got lost when I went running. There’s a big hill. I think a lot of people live here, but I can’t be sure. That’s Townsville in a nutshell.
Dec 2, 2011 Mango Packing Blues: 30 days in Ayr
Whoever named this town Ayr was a real dickhead because the last thing you want to do is take a breath in this place. KC and I suffered in this hole for 30 days with dreams of extending our visas. You see, an Australian working-holiday visa is only good for one year, so if you want to apply for an extension, you have to complete 88 days of agricultural work. According to the receptionist at the Ayr working hostel, if farm work is what we were looking for, Ayr is where we would find it. What she forgot to tell me was that the place would rot my sanity.
The good thing about Ayr is that you can get a lot of reading done. It’s pretty much the only fun activity you can do besides watching movies on your computer. I’ve watched Breakfast at Tiffany’s about 300 times, and I just started reading Bill Bryson’s “The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid.” Books and movies are the best part of my so-called life in Ayr. The town’s main attraction is a giant snake made out of papermache or concrete or something. It’s ugly, but I went to see it anyway because I like snakes.
On the other hand, there’s a lot of stuff I don’t like here. Let’s start with breathing because ironically, that’s something that’s hard to do in Ayr. Basically the clouds are made of smoke, and ash the size of peacock feathers rains from the sky. It comes in through the windows and lands on your bed and stains your sheets and your clothes and your skin and everything else that it touches.
Eating is another thing that’s pretty difficult to do in Ayr, particularly if you have to do anything else during the day, such as work. I for example, work from 8 a.m. til 10 p.m., 7 days per week with the occasional Sunday off. Coles and Woolworth’s are the only food shops in town, and they are only open from 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., except for Sundays (my day off) when they are closed. Even if I do have groceries, I probably can’t use them because the hostel puts a dead bolt on the kitchen door at 10 p.m. despite the fact that many of its residents have begged them to leave it open. Oh, but McDonald’s is open round the clock if you’re feeling exceptionally obese.
On the rare occasion that I actually have food to eat and the kitchen is open, I risk getting salmonella. At the very least, I lose my appetite. Piles of crusty silverware, decomposing food particles rotting on the stove burners and clouds of flies and tiny gnats in the air will do that to you. Washing dishes is especially feral. Supposing you can get running water out of one of the rusty faucets, you’ll then have to use the moldy green and yellow sponges to ‘clean’ your eating utensils. But be quick because there’s unidentifiable food stuff clogging the drain, and the sink fills fast.
Sleeping is nearly impossible in Ayr. You can eat melatonin like it’s candy, and you’ll still struggle to keep your eyes closed. The problem is, shockingly, the air: the smell, the temperature, the quality. You see, each room at the backpackers has it’s own AC unit in the wall. They’re covered in mold and they smell like stale sweat, which means you have to compromise a bit of temperature by leaving the window open in order to clear out the smell. When your bed is directly under the AC unit and the window (like mine), you can pretty much count on waking up to tight, shivering muscles with your whole bed covered in ash while everyone else wakes up sweating and complaining about being too hot. It’s a real treat when the AC breaks down, and then everyone just sweats and blinks in the dark for 8 hours until it’s time to get ready for work.
It’s pretty difficult to make friends here as well. A lot of people claim to travel because they like to “meet new people,” but I travel because I like the freedom and the movement, and I just like having my whole life crammed into a suitcase. I enjoy meeting “cool, smart, fun,” new people, but there are enough idiots in my life already. I’m not partial to the 19-year-old Germans who binge drink nightly, or the French girls who only speak French with each other, or the loud Canadians and their wildly uninteresting stories. I don’t tend to get along with people who enjoy themed pub crawls, over-priced tour packages, hostel trivia nights etc. Every now and then I meet someone worth knowing, but it’s always a short-lived affair because all of the sane, sarcastic, exciting people whose company I enjoy get out of here as fast they can. They’re all leaving today, tomorrow or the next day, and I’m just here, rotting away.
On the other hand, at least KC and I are in this together. Unfortunately, even when we do have time to spend with each other, there isn’t much for us to do. There’s a movie theatre open Wednesday through Saturday, and it plays four different movies every other week, but you’ll be at work when the last showing starts. There’s an arcade, but it tends to be closed even during designated hours of operation, and if by chance it’s not closed, there will be two bearded, beer-bellied locals hogging the only game that actually works anyway. If you’re feeling musically inclined, you might go to the Burdekin Hotel bar for some karaoke renditions of Tool, Evanescence and Puddle of Mudd. If you prefer strobe lights, Justin Beiber and athlete’s foot, you can go to the bowling alley, but it’s usually closed. Maybe you’d rather go shopping. In that case, there’s an assortment of local establishments, such as Toy World and Crazy Clark’s Discount Store, that are closed 23 hours per day, 6 days per week, leaving you with lots of options.
Don’t even ask about internet. There isn’t any. Although, if you do ask, they’ll tell you there is in fact internet, and then they’ll make you pay for it, and then you’ll realize, like I said, that there’s no such thing. And if you think you can just go somewhere else, somewhere with people and places and things to do, you can not. The closest town is an hour away by car, and chances are you probably don’t have a car. If you ask me about public transportation, I will laugh in your face.
The only thing Ayr is actually good for is working, but even that is a difficult affair. Our actual job is to pack mangoes into bright orange boxes with light pink styrofoam, but sometimes we get the day off, even when we don’t want one. Other times, we don’t know what time we have to go to work. The hostel doesn’t know, the 35 other people we work with don’t know, not even Jesus knows. The only people who might know are the permanent staff at the mango shed, and they’re not telling. In that case, we show up when we think is best, and if we’re early we don’t get paid for it, and if we’re late, we miss out on the wages and we get an earful from the staff. But even if we can figure out what time we’re supposed to be at the shed, it’s likely that there will be nothing for us to do when you get there. Sometimes the power goes out for a few hours or a machine breaks down, and you can’t do your job. In this case, we don’t get paid, but we can’t go home. We have to sit and wait, just in case something gets fixed.
If everything goes according to plan and you actually get to do some work, it’s still a dismal way to spend your time. Basically we stand at our empty mango bin, sweating and singing to ourselves, literally banging our heads against a metal bar. The conveyor belts are screeching along, the machinery is pumping furiously, and we are just far enough away from each other so that we can’t have a conversation, but we can make eye contact. And then a mango drops into the bin. You put in your box. Only 17 more before you have a full carton. This goes on for hours.
If you think I’m just a big wimp, you might be right. But there’s one more charming thing I haven’t mentioned yet: People who shit in the showers. On our last day in Ayr, someone actually took a shit in one of the girls’ showers. I was there when the chick who works at the hostel found it. I guess shitting in the shower is frowned upon, but I can see how someone could get confused.
Anyway, on December 2nd, 2011 we left Ayr, and we will never go back. Greyhound bound to Brisbane, and not a single backward glance.
(Thanks go out to Tuba Skinny for allowing us to use their music! We saw them at a live show during the Hobart arts festival)
Dec 13, 2011 Sad Santa, Happy West End
It’s been a good time surfing with Dowie, Hassen and Rowdy in West End. Staying with these guys was like the opposite of ‘Sad Keanu.’ It being December and all, I’m going to chalk it up to a belligerent display of Christmas spirit, except less Christmas and more spirits.
The first night was like the silent, holy night. We said hello, we chatted a bit, we were polite and friendly, they fed us raspberry & white chocolate cheesecake and then it was bedtime. The boys had to be at work at sunrise, and Casey and I had a lot of rest to catch up on. On this night, we were all fast asleep by midnight and not a creature was stirring, not even Rowdy, the stuffed puppy. But on the second day of our D&H (Dowie&Hassen) Christmas, things got a little bit more merry and a lot less silent and holy. We started with Vietnamese dinner: sizzling duck with plumb sauce, token spring rolls and rice, cashew chicken. It was a BYO joint, to which we came prepared with Coopers and James Squire. From there, we continued to drink, and drink, and drink at several different bars, ending at a place called Archive. Something about taking a taxi home, and then it was morning.
On the third day of D&H Christmas, we exchanged gifts:
To Tiffani & Casey, From Dowie & Hassen:
Sausage, bacon, eggs & toast for breakfast
Kangaroo with gravy & vegetable medley for dinner
Homemade “Death by Chocolate” cake for dessert
Plus a few precious videos:
To Dowie & Hassen, From Tiffani & Casey
Clean dishes after breakfast
Clean house before dinner
6-pack James Squire for dessert
Plus a few precious videos:
On the fourth day, Casey and I decided to go to the North Pole, but we never made it past Byron Bay. That’s another story though, and I don’t really remember enough of it to tell you about it.
On the fifth day, we were back in West End where the pipers were piping and the drummers were drumming: D&H full on Christmas spirit. I’m talking a Bloody Mary afternoon, a fresh frozen vodka slushy evening, a gnarly live music performance, a miniature pub crawl, an obnoxious bus ride across town and a dangerous walk home before sunrise. I’m talking about screaming into the microphone and high fiving the band, dancing like you’re auditioning for a Britney Spears music video, credit card charges for places you don’t remember going to, girls in the boys’ bathroom, video games, arguing with the bartender, hopping the bus like you’re Russel Brand, laughing so hard you fall over, laughing so hard you can’t get up, four drunk bodies rolling around in the middle of the road, bellowing hysterics and Santa Claus sitting at the ferry terminal, sad like Keanu Reeves.
On the sixth day, we simply enjoyed each others company. Another Bloody Mary morning with leftover chocolate cake for breakfast. Point Break and The Big Hit with a liquid lunch: slab of beer, sack of goon. Finish the afternoon with a side of prawns, mussels and squid, I Love You Man and Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Now it’s dark and it feels like dinner time, so let’s order Domino’s Pizza give a generous tip to the delivery boy for going to the bottle shop for us because we’re too drunk to drive and too lazy to walk. Cap off the night with Get Him to the Greek and fall asleep with Rowdy on the couch.
On the seventh day, our foursome became a trio: Hassen had to go back to work, but Dowie called in. We got ambitious and went to Burleigh Heads where the surf was complete and total shit. The sun was hot, and the sky was blue, so we went home and started in on our supply of Sol, Passion Pop and goon. Hassen cooked up a fantastic Pad Thai complete with proper chop sticks. With my goon in one hand and my chopsticks in the other, it took me 45 minutes to eat half a bowl, until finally Hassen was nice enough to lend me a fork. We had ice cream and sprinkles for dessert and continued drinking. The name of the game was “drink every time you quote a movie, a skit, a youtube video etc.” Shooter became a comedy and I woke up with a headache.
Our eighth day of the D&H holiday was a day of rest. We were all too hungover and physically exhausted to do anything. The boys went to work and Casey and I wasted the day away until they came home and barbecued lamb and sausage with a side of cous-cous spinach salad. We watched The Castle and Zombieland and ate homemade nachos before falling asleep in a pile on top of Rowdy.
On our last day we gave thanks. The boys went to work, Casey and I laid on the couch with Rowdy, and then the boys came home. Everyone was sober, the house was clean, the TV stayed off and we spent the rest of our time reminiscing about our belligerent week.
And now we’re off to Port Macquarie for another couch surfing experience. At the moment, our bus is broken down on the side of the road and it’s raining. Stay tuned!
Dec 15 2011 Port Macquarie
The bus broke down around midnight. Side of the road in the rain. A car wreck at 4 a.m. left us sitting in traffic for about two hours. That’s why it took us 16 hours instead of 10 to get to Port Macquarie, but all that matters is that we made it.
I gotta say, I actually like being on the bus, so I wasn’t too bothered by the hold up. I slept through most of it anyway, and it’s not like we had anywhere to be or anything to do. For most of the trip I laughed myself sick watching youtube videos, reading Russel Brand’s bio and eating salt&vinegar chips.
And then, we got to the Port. Chris’s house is beautiful. Haven’t been exploring yet, but I can tell you one thing: I already love this place. The house has high ceilings, massive windows, two verandas, a wide open kitchen and a cozy living room. Plus, I have my own room. Oh, and mostly I can already tell that this place is meant for me because as soon as we arrived, a giant goanna showed up in the back yard. Chris says that sometimes it slips in through the back door. One time, it got in the house and licked a German girls leg! I hope it licks me and sleeps in my room.
Anyway, tonight we cooked dinner: Kofta meatballs with lamb and rice and lentils. Every single ingredient was fresh. I had to crush the spices, many of them from Chris’s garden, with a mortar and pestle. I also diced an onion, which I’ve never done before. Casey mixed up the meatballs and diced a bunch of stuff, and she and Chris took care of the actual cooking. Then we all sat down at the dining room table and listened to Bob Dylan while we ate dinner. For dessert we had vanilla ice cream and custard, and then we sat around and talked for awhile and now it’s bedtime. My bed has a Jim Beam comforter, and I’m sleeping with the window open.
Dec 16 2011 Come Cook With Me
Tonight Chris, Casey and I made a cooking show. This is after I spent the day running on some of the best trails you’ll ever find. We had mango jello with fresh pineapple for dessert.
But back to those running trails because they were seriously good. I ran for an hour and 15 minutes, just exploring the beaches and the forest. Oh, and I also saw two giant goannas, one of which I had to jump over, one water dragon, a little rock lizard and heaps of skinks. Miles of empty shoreline, up and down hills in the rainforest stopping every now and then to enjoy the view. This place is like a dream from Inception, like it came straight out of my head and now it exists solely for my enjoyment.
Not only are there empty beaches tucked between headlands, but there are giant rocks in the water and lush greens dripping from the cliffs. There isn’t an inch of this place that is dull. While I was running, I literally stopped and laughed out loud for a minute. All I could think was, “This is a real place, and I’m here.” I got the kind of rush a 10-year-old gets from snorting a pixie stick. It was overwhelming. It’s weird to think about everyone back home, going to school and work and hanging out downtown. I am exactly where I am supposed to be, and today has made me very aware of that. It’s going to be a long time before I come home.
Dec 17 2011 Lighthouse glitz & painted rocks
Up before the sun and off to Lighthouse Beach with Chris, Casey and a few hot cups of tea and coffee. We went to the base of the lighthouse and watched the sunrise below the cliff. Then we went back to Chris’s, where he made banana, coconut & honey crepes from scratch. This is real life. I am really here.
After breakfast Chris brought Casey and I into town so we could wander the streets and check out the thrift shops, or “op shops” as they’re called here. We spent a good chunk of time fooling around with the painted rocks at the edge of town and taking posey pictures. Basically, it’s just this wall of rocks that lines the beach, and all of the rocks have been painted by locals and travelers with all sorts of cool pictures and sayings and “we were here” messages. When Chris told us about the rocks, I thought it sounded lame but it was actually pretty rad.
A few hours later Chris picked us up and Casey and I set out for a glitzy photo shoot. For the first time in a few weeks I actually felt like shooting again. Port Macquarie gave me back my creative energy. So I dolled Casey up in a savage glitter mask and ran around on the rainforest trail shooting creepy pictures. Then we painted my face too and headed to Lighthouse Beach just in time for the golden light.
If Port Macquarie was a dude, I’d let him hold my hand and call me by my middle name. It’s kind of a big deal.
Dec 18 2011 Shelly Beach & North Brother Mt
Beaches, mountains and hot chips. Tandoori chicken, rhubarb & apples and an hour long run. Just another day in Port Macquarie. This place is breaking my heart: I love it more and more everyday, but I just can’t stand still. In the mean time, I’m staying in the moment as long as I can.
This morning I slept in. I woke up to the cat birds squawking outside my window. Chris had the day off, so after breakfast we cruised the coast. I am absolutely enamored with this whole area. Chris has lived here for something like 34 years, so he’s got a good handle on the area, including the hidden beaches and best lookouts. He took us to Shelly Beach where we spent an hour digging through shells and relaxing next to the ocean. Shelly Beach, which I believe is just Chris’s name for it, is basically this little cove that you can’t see from the road, and you have to climb down a hill through the brush and trees to find it. Needless to say, we had the place to ourselves.
After that we headed to Camden Haven. We cruised the coast, stopping here and there to check out the views, and then we pulled over at a little shop to get pies for lunch. Then we went up North Brother Mountain, also known as Dooragan. Let me tell you, I could spend days at North Brother. There’s a grassy hill that you can see from miles away when you’re down the coast, and this is exactly where we went. Just a few minutes after we arrived, there was a paraglider taking off. We took a seat on the grassy patch, Chris drinking his beer, and watched the world move. I’ve never tasted fresher air. There was no entry fee, no park signs, not even trash cans. It’s just a beautiful place with a few benches and a handful of people. It hurt my heart to leave knowing I won’t be back for awhile.
Our next stop was along the Camden River. Chris wanted hot chips. He’s a man after my own heart. I can’t think of anything better than french fries and ocean front. He brought us to another stunning lookout, where he stood over the ocean eating hot chips doused in vinegar. I melted. Once again, it was bittersweet. Glad to be there, sad to go. But it was a beautiful way to spend the afternoon.
When we got home I went for another long run, all the way to Town Beach. Lizards, sea eagles and all of the best kinds of dogs running up and down the beaches: rots & malamutes and weimaraners. The light was perfect, the air was crisp, and even the little kids were tolerable when I ran through Flynn’s beach. Just another amazing hour of breathtaking views, salty air and vibrant life.
But I just booked my ticket to Newcastle. We leave Tuesday. It’s not worth talking about. I’m going to go sit in the kitchen and have another helping of rhubarb & apples with custard.
Dec 19 2011 Hitchhikers & Leftovers
On a cloudy, blustery day, there’s nothing as satisfying as cozying up in a beautiful house with the sky churning dark gray clouds and the wind tearing leaves off of their branches. I wouldn’t wish for this everyday, but today has been a good day for it. I spent the afternoon writing at the kitchen counter with Bonnie cat on my lap.
Late last night two Spanish hitchhikers, Endika and Julio arrived, and we talked for a little while too. It was awesome to talk to them because they’re from the same area in Spain where I lived in once upon a time, and I’ve been to all of their favorite spots: Toledo, Granada & Salamanca. They’re actually keeping a travel blog too, and there are quite a few good travel photos. The site is in Spanish, but even if you can’t understand the posts, it’s worth taking a look at the photos.
Tonight for dinner we finished off the leftovers from the last three meals, and Endika and Julio made a pasta carbonara. We all sat down to dinner and discussed illegal drugs, right down to rolling a joint with pages from the bible.
We finished off the rhubarb and apple, as well as the custard and jello, with an extra side of fresh pineapple. And then to top it off, there was a koala bear asleep in one of the trees next to the house. I don’t care much for those things, but the Spanish boys were particularly excited because they had literally spent the day in the rainforest searching for one, and they also visited the koala hospital. They’re kinda cute I guess. Whatever. But now I don’t want to go to sleep because in the morning I’ll be leaving. I think I’m going to miss this place…
Dec 20, 2011 One Night in Newcastle
I’d like to take this opportunity to make a shout-out to Port Macquarie: I miss you already. On the other hand, welcome to Newcastle.
Just arrived a few hours ago. Spent a couple of hours on Hunter Street looking for x-mas gifts without any luck. On the other hand, we walked all over town: this place is like nowhere I’ve ever been. It’s very … wharfy, if you will. Lots of big ships and rusty nautical things, long rock piers and brick castles sitting on the hilltops. It’s pretty cool. It’s got it’s own vibe and I like it, though it’s nothing like Port Macquarie.
The place where I’m staying overlooks Newcastle Beach, V.I.P. There’s a nice deck area where we can eat dinner and hang out later. Nice ocean breeze, sitting high in the sky. We’re going to cook up a little BBQ: some sweet potato chips with lamb kebabs and sausages. Let’s not forget the $3 bottles of wine Casey and I bought. Those should be fantastic. Vanilla ice cream, caramel sauce and milk chocolate for dessert. The playing cards are waiting for us on the table. This could be fun :) But first I’m going to go for a run along the beach trail. Cheers!
Dec 21, 2011 Harbour Life: Sydney Streets
Today I woke up hungover in New Castle. Blow-up mattress. Last night we had a drank a little too much wine at our BBQ. Played cards and laughed until we couldn’t breathe and then I woke up. And now, I’m in SYDNEY!!! I didn’t think I would be this excited, but I’m so stoked and I can’t wait to taste this city!
I’ve only been in the city for an hour now, and I haven’t explored anything at all yet, but I think I dig it. I’m more of a wide-open spaces kind of chick, but these massive buildings have their own vibe going on. I got my first glimpse of the opera house as we were going over the Sydney Harbor Bridge. I’m going to go ahead and be a tourist here and just say that it was absolutely awesome. It’s one of those things that doesn’t seem real because its only ever existed on postcards and calendars and movies. It’s more of an idea than an actuality. Until now anyway. I’ve seen it! And it’s only a 20 minute walk from where I’m staying at the moment, so in the next few days I’ll get to see it up close and personal. I can finally buy those pretty Sydney postcards!
Anyway, tomorrow should be a fun day, weather permitting. Before we leave Alastair’s place, I want to do all of the things that normal people do in the city. I want to go to a coffee shop in the morning, and then have a champagne brunch. I don’t even drink coffee, but I figure I’ll get a chai tea or something just so I can walk around with it. I want to stand on a corner and look up and only see a fraction of the sky because the buildings are so tall. I wanna walk around and just listen to my iPod, and then I want to sit down on a park bench and watch all the freaks and business folk collide with each other. I want to soak up all the Sydney I can handle.
Still dunno what we’re doing for xmas, dunno what we’re doing for NYE, but we’ll be here somewhere.
Dec 22, 2011: The nail-polish is in the food bag
It’s hard to type with a glass of goon in your hand. Casey is painting her nails. This is also hard to do with a glass of goon in your hand. We’re going to the Opera House to check shit out. We spent the whole day walking in giant circles throughout the city, heading home in the complete and total wrong direction for about 2 miles. Tonight, we’re hoping the goon will sharpen our sense of direction.
Casey looks like she’s from the block. She’s got these goddam hoop earrings, all glittery and gold and obnoxious, and I’m wearing a pony-tail braid. I can’t wait to hit the town. Hard. Kings Cross. Sydney, Australia.
Dec 23, 2011: Sight-seeing and Overcrowding
You know those dorky tour buses that drive around big cities with tourists sitting on the roof? That’s what Casey and I did today. But first, we went to a really cheap tourist shop and got decked out in some traditional tourist gear. Couldn’t find a fanny pack, but Casey did manage to find a kangaroo backpack, and I got a classic “I (heart) Sydney” T-shirt. We both got some sweet head gear too. And then for about an hour we rode around on the bus snapping photos, while people on the street pointed and laughed at us.
Overall, it was a fun day, despite my hangover. Although I did get my haircut by some Pakistani guy, and I absolutely hate it. I guess it’s only hair, but now I just don’t have very much of it. Whatever.
Anyway, tonight I learned something important about the city: I don’t like it anymore. The first day I got here, and even for the last two days, I was surprised by how excited I was to be in Sydney, right in the heart of all of the chaos. I was inexplicably joyous and couldn’t wait to check everything out. Three days later and I’m over it. Nothing especially rotten has happened, I just keep thinking about Port M and those empty shorelines.
There are so many goddam people in this goddam city. There’s so much shit happening simultaneously, and it never stops. Last night, Casey and I got dangerously drunk and went down to the opera house sometime around 1 a.m. It was pissing rain and the harbor was empty. I assumed it was empty because it was 1 a.m., but my sober re-assessment leads me to believe it was the rain that kept the masses away. Tonight we went back at a more reasonable hour, and the place was lousy with people. Speakers blasting Black-Eyed Peas, cameras flashing, glasses breaking, girls in dresses and heels. What a load of shit.
There’s nowhere for me to go running either. It’s a bunch of concrete and crowds and stop lights. The sushi I had for lunch today was below average. The people are rude and weird. I hate the Black-Eyed Peas, and I can’t live in a city. Basically, I miss Port Macquarie. The city can be an exciting place to visit for a day or so, but that’s about it. Walking home tonight, ambulances wailing, sirens screaming, domestic disturbances raging, all I could think about was how Lighthouse Beach would look at night. Instead of watching the lighthouse beacon beaming across the ocean, I was weaving through the midnight rush of freaks and hookers and Barbie-doll cut-outs.I can’t stay here for too much longer. I think we’ll head to Manly soon, get out of the red light district and a little farther from the city. Casey does love it here though. She’s right in her scene, rocking out. Drinking lattes and flat white something or others and bopping around in her cute outfits with her painted nails and big, gold hoops. She fits in. I want out.
But then again, I’m hungover, so maybe I’m just being dramatic. Anyway, tomorrow we’re going to do the “Bondi” portion of our tour. Kinda worried about it actually. I’m afraid if I see the beach smothered in flesh it might be the last straw. I might just have to pick up and leave and go spend a week in a cave or something.
Dec 24, 2011: Christmas Eve Cathedral Lights
Dec 25, 2011: Kings Cross Christmas
Dream up your ideal Australian Christmas … A lobster buffet, a lovely white wine, a beautiful beach. Now down-grade to a bogan X-mas … Pub nachos, goon, Bondi Beach.
Dec 27, 2011: The Work AND Holiday Visa
“Note: It is not possible to qualify for an additional Work and Holiday visa by working in regional Australia. This option is only available under the Working Holiday visa.” Bit confusing with the ‘and’ and the ‘ing’ don’t you think? Kind of takes you by surprise when you realize you’re on the shit end of the ‘and’ stick. Only took an immigration lawyer to sort this one out. Let me explain.
So today my couch surfing host, FattyFatFat as he’s known on CS, informed me that my entire travel plan is essentially retarded. After reading my horrific blog post about Ayr, he was confused about the whole ‘visa extension’ deal. He’s hosted some 100 couch surfers, so he’s pretty well informed on these kinds of things, and it’s apparently been quite an issue with U.S citizens. So far, he’s saved approximately six dumb Americans from making the same mistake I made regarding visa extension.
The bottom line is that we don’t have to do anymore farm work because we can’t extend our visas. The bottom line is that Australian government needs to get their shit together. You see, until about a month ago, you could log on to the Australian government website and apply for a Subclass 462 Work and Holiday visa, available only to people from Bangladesh, Chile, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Turkey and the USA, under the impression that you could extend your stay for one year by spending 3 months working in regional Australia. This is wrong. This wasn’t on the website, the government employees might not tell you, but this is wrong. Only Subclass 417 Working Holiday visas can be extended, and these are only available to people from Belgium, Canada, Republic of Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Republic of Ireland, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Taiwan and United Kingdom. The two visas are basically identical, the key difference being the ability to extend your visa or not. Until about a year ago, Fatty said the government was actually sending pamphlets for 417 visas to people who applied for 462s because the government is made up of a bunch of lazy, incompetent assholes. As of recent however, the government site has been updated and these jerks are finally getting shit straightened out. Now, after I’ve already suffered my life away in Ayr for 20 days, it’s expressly clear that if you aren’t from Iran, after 12 months you gotta leave the country mate.
So what does this mean for me? FREEDOM. Braveheart freedom. First of all, no more farm work. ‘Regional Australia’ can suck a big fat one. Secondly, it’s putting a little more pep in my step. I no longer have two years to dick around in Australia, I have one. Initially we were scouting out trips back to Indonesia and discussing Kiwi adventures during this two-year span, but now that we have this unexpected time limit in Oz, we gotta git er done. Live in Sydney for a minute, hang out in Melbourne and mess around down south for another quick minute, and then hang around on the west coast and celebrate our last couple of months with a random assortment of last minute traveling to do whatever we missed on the first go around. And so, a new day has dawned. For the next couple of months, you can find me somewhere in Sydney, doing something, making the most of my crappy American work visa.
After I get kicked out of Australia, I’ll just go back to Indonesia for a little fun, and then most likely head to New Zealand on a Kiwi working visa. After New Zealand I’ll be in Vietnam backpacking and then after Vietnam I’ll be in Europe and then …. well, by then all the laws will have changed and I probably won’t be allowed to travel anywhere because I’m American. But I can tell you this, I won’t be back in the U.S. of A. until I’m good and ready. I’ll brave the seas with the boat people before I go back to Wal-mart World.
But that’s awfully far away. Right now I’m just trying to decide if I’m going to watch the Sydney Harbor fireworks from a boat or a beach on New Year’s Eve. Oh, and then of course I’ll have to find a place to live and a job and all that stuff, but right now I’ve got a couch to sleep on and I can sort out all those other minor details in 2012. At the moment though, the most important thing is that it’s bedtime. Tomorrow can wait. Sweet dreams from Manly!
Jan 01, 2012: Champagne Cruising
I spent NYE cruising Sydney Harbour and sipping champagne. Brilliant firework show. Another brilliant thing that happened was the next morning when in a fever pitch hangover, I booked a one-way ticket to Hobart, a small town in Tasmania, middle of nowhere, nothing. Could be really miserable, but I’ll take my chances to get out of Sydney.
Sydney has been real nice and everything, but not really. Too many people, not enough open spaces. Manly is full of kids and pets and tourists. There aren’t any substantial running trails, the beaches are small and packed with bodies. Time to go to Hobart? I actually didn’t even know Hobart until a couple of days ago. So far, I’ve been advised not to go, which has always worked out for me in the past … kind of.
Jan 04, 2012 Iconic Sydney: Three Thumbs Down
Right now I’m at the Sydney airport eating peanut butter out of a jar with a spoon. This has nothing to do with anything, I’m telling you just for fun. What I want to talk about is my sleepover at the airport and my escape from Sydney, which I’m giving an overall rating of ZERO on a scale of 1 to 10.
As of this moment, I’ve been sitting in the international terminal for about 4 hours, and I still have another 10 hours to go. If you’re not geographically retarded, you’re probably thinking, “But isn’t Hobart in Tasmania, and isn’t Tasmania part of Australia, and wouldn’t that be a domestic flight?” The answer is yes, yes, and yes. I’m here because I’d rather sleep in a gutter than pay for a crummy hostel, and the international terminal is the intermediate option.
You see, the thing about the Sydney airport is that it sucks. If Sydney airport didn’t suck, my plan would have worked. In the midst of a hangover and a fit of new year frenzy, I booked a one-way flight to Hobart at 6 a.m., under the impression that I would spend the night at the airport so as not to dick around with arriving on time for a 5 a.m. check-in. Nice idea with one minor flaw: the domestic terminal is closed from midnight until 4 a.m., meaning you can’t spend the night there. The international terminal however is open all night, and is just a short train ride away. So either I spring for a $100 hotel room or I pretend to have an international flight and hang out at the international terminal hoping I don’t get picked up by security. So far, so good.
But sleeping at the airport isn’t as bad as it sounds. I’ve spent 24 hours on a bus that smelled like a septic toilet and I’ve spent many a night sleeping sideways and upside down on capsizing boats and turbulent airplanes. If I can curl up in a corner on a floor that isn’t covered in piss or threatening to slide out from under me, I’m a happy kid. To be completely honest, I was actually looking forward to staying at the airport tonight. Nothing to do but sit around listening to my iPod, reading My Booky Wook, writing postcards, eating snacks and enjoying the feeling of being nowhere in particular, on my way to somewhere new. It’s a good feeling. Not that I need a full 15 hours to experience, but it’s all part of the fun.
As for our final destination, I didn’t even know it existed until about a week ago, and I booked the ticket 3 days later. So far I’ve heard that it’s a bogan cesspit of inbreeding and a vast scape of nothingness bushland. I’m stoked. So far, every place that has had rave reviews has a been a tourist trap or a concrete jungle. I don’t care if Hobart is full of mutant The Hills Have Eyes people. I’m ready to get the hell out of these cities, away from these tourists and Sydney-siders and all of the China Towns and shopping malls and skyscrapers. I need open spaces and empty coastlines. Hobart has it.
Just for fun, because I’m sitting at the airport doing nothing, here is my very rotten review of iconic Sydney, Australia.
1. Sydney Harbour Bridge: “The Coathanger”
I drove over it. I floated under it. I watched the fireworks explode on it. I saw it from every angle but one: the top. If you’re special enough though, you can see it from the top. All you have to do is pay 250 dollars to climb up the thing and walk across it. I guess this makes sense because it’s a bridge. Yep. It’s a bridge. Cool.
2. Kings Cross
The infamous Kings Cross. Strippers, and hookers and trannies. Users, abusers and coked up street people. A mess of adult entertainment, cheap thrills and coffee shops. And of course, the giant Coca Cola sign overseeing the whole operation. It’s everything they say it is. You can find this scene anywhere in the world. It is what it is what it is. Who cares?
3. The Sydney Opera House
The first time I saw the Opera House was from the bus on my way into the city. I was real excited, like a a kid looking through a candy shop window. The next time I saw the place it was up close and personal, hand-in-the-cookie-jar type fun. It was 1:30 in the morning, I was drunk, it was raining, and I walked for 25 minutes to find the place. It was empty except for the security trucks, which I hid from. In this case, the Opera House was beautiful. It was radiant, it was quiet, and I was literally spinning in circles of joy. If you had asked me then what I thought of this Australian icon, I would have told you to sell your soul to see it in person.
That is, until my second trip to the Opera house, which was a nightmare. I showed up at a more reasonable hour, and the place was boiling over with tourists. Black-eyed Peas songs were blasting from hidden speakers, and piles of kids and pets and old people were screaming and falling over and generally getting in the way, and everyone was taking pictures of the whole grotesque scene.
After that night I stayed far away from the Opera House. Instead, I enjoyed it from a waterfront view while I floated around the harbor on New Year’s Eve. I caught glimpses from the car as we drove over the bridge on our way to dinner, and scoped it out from all sorts of local angles: secret parking lots and hidden hilltops, side streets and headlands. In the end, it’s just another piece of architecture that’s kind of weird and sort of neat to take pictures of, but mostly it’s just a product of good marketing and senseless tourist hysteria. Whatever.
4. Bondi Beach & all surrounding beaches
Bondi beach is easily the most overrated pile of sand on the planet. The only remarkable thing about this place is that people actually go there. The scenery isn’t particularly stunning, the surrounding area is a tourist haven and the beach itself is stacked with sloppy, drunken foreigners, demented families and a teen-squad life guard staff. You have to actually ask people to move over so you can fit your towel in the sand. Why is this beach so famous? Why do people actually spend time here? Why, why, WHY? When I got off the bus and saw what a monstrosity this place was, I walked my ass right back across the road and caught another ride straight back to the city. Same goes for the surrounding shorelines as well. Yikes.
5. Sydney, Australia
It’s a city. That’s what it is. It has buildings and people. The simple fact that Sydney is a city does not entertain me, though I realize some people are quite amused by this.
A Grain of Salt
In the end, I would have to say that iconic Sydney isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, but as a city, it’s not too shabby. I know I’m a grubby little tiprat who’s hard to please, and I’ll always have more fun in a dark alley than I will on a boardwalk, so just take this with a grain of salt. By all means, come to Sydney. See the Opera House for yourself, drive across the bridge, float through the harbor, catch a glimpse of Bondi, have a sexy little treat in Kings Cross. Do all of those things, but just know that a city is a city is a city, and the farther away you get from the German backpackers, ticketed activities and iconic landmark hotspots, the better. I’m sure I’ll be back for a visit though. A few days of chaos is always a good thing, just not a place I’d want to stand still.
And now it’s time for me to go to sleep. I’m across from a McDonald’s, stretching out on a coffee shop bench next to an automatic door and a taxi lane. Ain’t too shabby. At least I won’t drown or fall out of the sky or catch an STD in my sleep. This place has security! And soon, that security will probably arrest me. Sweet dreams Sydney!!