Thursday, December 29, 2005

Sailing the Seas of Cheese

Oh, what glorious sleep! I woke up way too late to catch the early Snowbus to Whistler, but it was sooooo worth it. But now here I am, enjoying the beautiful, serene, snowy atmosphere of the village, at yet another internet cafe.

Of course, dealing with different money and being at an internet cafe are about the only things that make this trip similar to any other. This time, the backpacker ethos is way out the window. I'm staying in a fancy lodge (concierge and kitchenette, yo!) that'd eat up a month of backpacking budget and just paying no heed to cash and enjoying myself. I can still feel the steak from last night settling in my tummy, and though that sounds bad, believe me - it was goooood. Unfortunately, I'll also feel stuff settling in my wallet for a while, but what the hell?

I guess I've spoiled myself tonight, as well. I can pretty much do whatever I want until my friends start trickling into town tomorrow, so I decided to check out the nearby Crepe Montagne, where the French-speaking staff delighted me with onion soup, fondue provencale, and some great locally produced wine. While I'm normally averse to the American tendency to smear cheese all over everything, I'm so full of Swiss gruyere, emmenthal, white wine, and Kirsch right now that I probably smell like some Alpen restaurant.

Well, I'd best get going. I have to finish this espresso and then hit the hot tub. Then maybe the Doctors and Nurses party at the local club, though I really should be a good boy and sleep early so I can make fresh tracks in the morning. Decisions, decisions...

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Viva Vancouver

It's been 14 years since I'd last set foot in Vancouver and I forgot just how pretty this place is. The big inlet, the islands, the bridges - some people have compared this place to Sydney, and having seen the two more or less side by side now, I'd say they're worlds different, but there are some little similarities that could make them sisters.

The airport itself is actually quite nice, and that's where Uncle Yousef, an old family friend, picked me up. We went for a ride through much of southern Vancouver on the way to his huge, new house, where we sat down to a home-style family lunch of Indian curry, Auntie's specialty that used to make me shiver and shake with glee as a kid. I used to cry for this stuff when I was no older than 3, the beginning of my curry addiction. And now, decades later, I was digging into a plate of the same dish that got me started. We reminisced about other embarassing elements of my childhood over tea as it grew dark and I grew ever more tired - I'd been up since 4:20am, after all.

I could've gone to bed, but there was a change of plans. The house is nowhere near my downtown pickup point to catch the Snowbus to Whistler tomorrow, so I got a ride over to my friend Kathy's place downtown, where I have a futon to crash on, internet access, and most importantly, quick access to downtown.

Here's hoping I wake up on time.

SLC Drunk

How positively underwhelming. I know you shouldn't judge a town by circling over it and sampling the wares at the airport, but Salt Lake City strikes me as amazingly lame. These are my impressions upon layover.

While the humps and bumps and jaggy, craggy peaks of the fairly snowy mountains surrounding the city are pretty striking - especially since they carry on seemingly forever in a straight line - the city itself is bathed in a swath of yellow-brown. Essentially, the dingy valley that SLC fills looks from above like a shitstain in a pair of tighty-whities.

I wouldn't go so far as to call them a shitstain on society, but the cult members working the airport are about as lovely as the crew in Houston... which is to say they're a bit inbred and a bit slow. But hey, Mormons are very nice people. And believe it or not, the locals brew good beer. This might just be the place's saving grace.

I had a couple of tall glasses of Polygamy Porter, and it's among the tastier dark beers I've tried. Pretty surprising for a place that doesn't generally serve beer with an alcohol content higher than 3%. Just in case, I brought a flask of rum with me, knowing that I had a longish layover in Mormonville, but it turned out I didn't need it. Miracles never cease.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Back on the Road

Or rather, the tarmac. I was late in returning from an epic powder day in Kirkwood, but I'm now packed and ready for my next adventure. As of 6:20am, I'll be heading off for a sort-of-impromptu trip to Canadia... Vancouver and Whistler to be exact. Updates will come as internet access is available. See you on the other side!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005


Those of you trying to comment but can't - it should be working now...

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Home and Away

I've now been back on US soil for over 12 hours now, and while it's been good to see my own bed, my parents, and my friends, I'm really not happy to be back.

The moment you get back to the states, you feel it. Everyone's cranky and in a rush at the airport. Customs/immigrations folks are rude bastards, most of them enjoying a power trip. The same people you were just sharing conversation with on the plane are now your most bitter enemies, jockeying for position to get through each queue and the baggage claim first. The chit chat is over and everyone's in a rush to get back to the rat race.

I come back smiling and relaxed and that makes people suspicous. They ask me questions. Some avoid me like some grinning loon. Am I the only one who comes back from a holiday with a smile and relaxed demeanor as a souvenir? Well, either way, everyone tries their best to take that smile away the moment you step off the plane. But fuck 'em. I just had the best month ever.

Everyone can go back to their hateful daily routines and wait for their next paycheck. Tomorrow, I'm going to go back to work satisfied, carrying with me the great experiences, beautiful sites, and above all the awesome people I met over the last month. That's what life's about - experiencing it.

See you next journey. It can't come soon enough!

Monday, December 05, 2005

Veni, Vedi, Vinci

I don't know if I'll get to another internet cafe/terminal before I head home, so I figured I'd put down my observations on New Zealand before I go out for a final slosh-a-thon.

* Merino sheep (the ones raised for their soft, soft wool, not meat) are actually sorta cute. I wouldn't nail one or anything, but it's fun to watch them run around the fields.

* At 31, I'm not the old guy on the block for once. NZ is full of older backpackers. Perhaps it's a more sophisticated destination. Perhaps it's because it costs so much to get here. Either way, I recommend this place to anyone of any age. Backpacking has dropped off here in the last couple of years after a nice plateau, so there are many deals to be had at very nice places, especially with the exchange rate.

* Among those older backpackers, there are far too many in North Face jackets, ugly sandals, and beards. Never mind that at this moment, I'm wearing my NF jacket, an ugly set of Keens, and haven't shaved in 4 days. At least I'm not kicking around a patchouli-scented hackey sack.

* If you think rugby is confusing, try watching a cricket match. All 5 days of it.

* Don't ask me to compare Oz and NZ. They may be in the same family, but they are worlds apart from each other. Think of them as two very hot fraternal twins - one resembles a swimsuit model, the other Lara Croft.

* Best. Trip. Ever.


It's my last night in New Zealand and - skydiving cancellation notwithstanding - I've gotta do it up. But before getting on the piss, it's necessary to build up a buffer - especially when there's a morning airport shuttle pickup at stake.

Foregoing the local delicacy of "fush & chups" (yes, that's how these freaks pronounce it...) I tracked down a place that serves lamb chops on the cheap. Now typically, going for cheap lamb isn't a good idea. If the sheep's too old, it's gamey. If it's cooked wrong, it's smelly. But in a country where sheep outnumber people 10:1, it's pretty hard to go wrong. In fact, they have their means of classifying sheep by age, where lamb is proper lamb (baby), the gamey crap that's called lamb by American standards is middle-aged (hogget), and the smelly old stuff (mutton) isn't eaten by anyone.

I sat down for my plate of baby sheep on-the-bone at the Gourmet Express Diner, a casual joint modeled after the typical American diner. There's barstool seating, red booths, and oldies on the stereo, but that's where the similarities end. This place is far too classy and stylish to be a diner. Seriously, at what diner at home can you get a succulent plate of lamb chops with a highly regarded glass of wine?

Needless to say, dinner was great. Followed by a shot of short black (Weird terms for espresso in the southern hemisphere, I tell ya!), my tummy has almost forgotten about the severe lack of high-velocity falling it was expecting.

Speed Addict in Withdrawal

The aforementioned bungy jump was incredible, but it wasn't quite enough. I rocked up to nZone and signed up for a 12,000 foot skydive so I could end the trip with a bang. Well, hopefully not a bang, but a whoooosh! Unfortunately, the weather turned to shit this afternoon and they canceled all jumps.

Needless to say, I am so bummed. The jump was going to be the crowning achievement of the trip, but mother nature simply would not cooperate.

Big ol' refund in hand, I consoled myself with some retail therapy, taking care of my own interests and buying goodies for everyone at home. I still feel like crap about not being able to take the dive, but at least the money ended up going toward some tangible shit, instead of 45 seconds of freefall.

Still, I'd savor one more second of freefall if I could. The folks back home better be up for a skydive sometime in the near future. You know who you are.

The Perfect Drug

About a 20 minute ride outside of Queenstown is the Kawarau river. Looking down at the gorge and the impressive turquoise blue water, you can see the rocky, narrow cliffs where they filmed the "Pillars of the Kings" in Lord of the Rings. I didn't think I'd be one of those Tolkien nuts and check out all the locations, but I couldn't help myself.

Just around the next bend, atop the gorge, is the Kawarau Bridge. In 1988, a Kiwi speed skier and all-around nutcase by the name of AJ Hackett started the first bungy site in the world here. It's the original place to get your ankles tied to a bungy cord, count down, and throw yourself off - and if you dive correctly, get a nice dip in the beautiful blue river. This is strictly for nutjobs.

I am now one of those nutjobs.

Logic is thrown out the window in Queenstown. There are just too many adrenaline-pumping activities for even the most weak-kneed of people to pass up. Whether it's jetboating, luging, bungy jumping, skydiving - it's all here, at a cost. Sure, I was going to relax and take in the scenery in New Zealand. But I had more than a full day of that at Milford Sound. And when you're at the birthplace of bungy jumping, how can you possibly say no?

Standing on the 43m bridge and watching others do it is good fun. You see the adrenaline junkies who yell and hoot all the way down. You see the ones who cry like a bitch before eventually taking the plunge. You see busloads of Japanese tourists who make their way up there just to be the peanut gallery and give you more pressure to perform. I was last in my group to jump, so after seeing the Geronimos and the bedwetters, it came down to the very end to see which I'd turn out to be.

I have a fear of heights. I have a fear of falling. I don't know how to dive. Bungy jumping is the last extreme sport I ever thought I'd bother with. But with a psych-up soundtrack of Nine Inch Nails in the background, I got geared up, put my toes on the edge of the platform, and the guy said "3... 2... 1... Bungy!"

Skipping my usual urge for hesitation, I dropped forward with my arms outstretched, went into terrifying freefall for a couple of seconds, and tucked my head in to perform the picture perfect up-to-the-shoulders dip. The groundrush of watching the stunningly blue river accelerate toward my face jacked my senses into another dimension. The cold splash of going under was refreshing and an extreme rush. The huge bounce back up was balls-out scary, considering how close I seemingly was to the canyon wall, but I was screaming with joy the whole way. By the third bounce, I was pulled into a raft at the bottom and climbed back up to the top, where I got a nice ovation from the camera-happy Japanese. It turns out bungy jumping is a performance sport, and you get style points for going down with form, and more for getting in the water. Who knew?

Diving the Reef a couple of weeks ago was a sensory transformation that I will never forget. Diving head-first off the Kawarau bridge is a sensory rush that ranks right up there with it.

Not a bad start to my last day in New Zealand.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Sounds Good... Looks Good...

Scratch that. Replace "good" with "magnificent."

I don't have time to go into much detail, other than the fact that it was so nice to be able to sleep on the bus. Milford Sound is truly one of the most incredibly beautiful places in the world. You simply have to see this little piece of the Fiordlands at some point of your life. End of story.

Between bouts of sleep on the long, 4-hour journey back, I had a moment of reflection. In the last year alone, I've seen some of the most amazing places the world has to offer: The cloudforests of Costa Rica, the Great Barrier Reef, and now Milford Sound.

Life is good magnificent.

Addendum: Interestingly enough my tour guide, Westie, skis at my home mountain of Kirkwood once in a while and knows some of the Kiwi ski patrol guys there. I'll have to give Todd a shout when I get back on the slopes next week. Can't

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Another Perfect Sunrise

I witnessed yet another beautiful sunrise this morning... after walking home from the clubs. God, this has got to stop.

The night started out innocently enough. I found a place where I could enjoy a good, light array of NZ seafood: The Captains Restaurant and its Captains Sampler Platter. Chowder, prawns, calamari, mussels, oysters - you name it - all washed down with one of their own brews and a perfect glass of pinot gris. Yeah, you can definitely call me a flashpacker.

I got back to Bumbles and met a couple of my roomies: Daniel from London and Sam from Calgary. They invited me to join them for a night out, and we eventually got the full, huge group together by around 11:30. In the meantime, the guys were talking about how much they loved furburgers. It was gona be that kind of night.

Matt, the hostel's manager, joined us and hooked us up with hand stamps for happy hour prices all night at Fraser's. It was fairly subdued, but the drinks went quickly. Before we knew it, we were dancing it up at a club, doing shots, and working every corner of the dancefloor with our drunken superstar moves. Somehow, I got to the point where I was speaking fluent French with Jen (a Quebecoise) and Jess (a New Caledonian) from Bumbles. A bad sign, indeed.

The wee hours were about up and a couple of us decided we had to eat. Jess dragged me out for the "best burger in Queenstown." The place is called Fergburger. That's what the guys were talking about. And let me tell you - eating the South Island's best, most giantest hamburger while sitting on a beach and having the big lake's small waves lap at your feet is a great way to end a night out.

Being awakened at 7:15 because you missed you were about to miss your bus pick-up isn't.

In the Name of the Lord

I didn't plan my trip to Queenstown until the other day in Brisbane, and now I'm simply stoked about it. As the plane got stuck in a holding pattern before landing at the teeny, tiny, miniscule ZQT airport, I looked out the window and the geek within me started to glow: "Holy shit! That's Middle fucking Earth!"

There's this whole Lord of the Rings mania in NZ, just in case no one has informed you. They have the whole trilogy on-demand on longhaul Air New Zealand flights. There are tons of Rings tours on offer. I skipped the $150 option to truck out of Auckland and check out Hobbiton, but I couldn't resist walking into the official Rings store here in Queenstown and looking at the piles and piles of crap they have on offer. I'm fairly certain Peter Jackson has supplanted Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour here. I'm pretty sure they even have a brand of cigarettes named after his Fat Beardedship. I can't be too cynical about it. Having laid my own eyes upon Rohan, Gondor, and the Misty Mountains, I can definitely see why the trilogy has boosted New Zealand tourism.

All my pain and misery from Auckland is gone. I booked into my accommodation at Bumbles, right on the shore of one of the most magnificent lakes I've seen. I got to my room to unload my stuff and - lo and behold - I have a panoramic view of that very lake from my bed.

If that wasn't enough to make me feel better, I walked into town and got myself onto the Shotover Jet, a jetboat tour of the shallow, rocky Shotover River. Weighing in at over 2.5 tonnes, equipped with two Buick V6 engines producing 520 horsepower, and with a capacity of 14 passengers, these boats rip down the Shotover at over 80kmh. The Shotover's no Mississipi. It's about as navigable as a bathtub, but these boats somehow glide through water as low as 2 inches at full speed, pulling 360-degree turns and burnouts in ways those Louisiana fanboats can only dream of. This was just the shot in the arm I needed to get my last week of holiday back on track. I thought the adventure portion of my trip had come to an end, but instead I find myself in the adrenaline capital of the world.

Needless to say, I think I've tuckered in for another slice of paradise. Now I just need to find myself some authentic Kiwi food (mmmm... lamb, maybe some mussels?) for the night and a few pints of Speight's and Steinlager to get myself back to 100%.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Fort Bamber

Well, I'll hand Auckland one thing: It's going to help me get reacquainted with cold weather. Sure, it's sunny during the daytime, although the occasional oceanic wind chill isn't uncommon. At night time, it gets downright chilly - kind of like a San Francisco summer... What I didn't realize is that in the middle of the night, it gets to be freakin arctic.

Upon first arrival into my *fanfare* double private room, I noticed that the cabinets were stocked with extra bedding. I wondered why they would keep so many extra blankets and pillows in a small room - perhaps it was just storage overflow? Come 2:00am, I found out.

For the first time since childhood, I built a fort. Not out of a desire to act out my imagination and go to the land of make-believe, but because it was absolutely, positively, 100% necessary for my survival. In a matter of hours, the climate went from San Francisco cold to Tahoe-in-the-winter freezing. All those blankies saved my life.

To think, it's going to be even colder in Queenstown. Looks like I'll be buying another layer of clothes when I get there. In the meantime, New Zealand will serve well to re-acclimitize me from the oppressive Aussie heat to *fanfare again* snowboarding season at home.

It's Official: I Don't Like Auckland

And that's why I'm sitting here at a computer yet again. I'd rather take refuge here in the lovely confines of the Bamber House than be out and about in this lame city.

It's only been a day and I already miss Australia greatly. Auckland, as I've explained previously, is just another big city. And I mentioned earlier that most of the locals are friendly, well, now I'm going to reveal my ugly racist/xenophobic side: The Maori and white Kiwis are friendly. Most of the immigrants I've encountered, including American expats, are dour and unfriendly. Maybe they moved here because of the beautiful surroundings and the friendliness and warmth of the locals, but they sure haven't assimilated. My last bus driver: Miserable middle eastern asshole who hates his life. My pharmacist: slow, dumb American who must be my crazy landlord's long lost son. My grocery clerk: rushed, unfriendly Asian who hasn't learned how to say "Hi" and "How are you?" back to people.

I never would've imagined that I'd be missing Australians for their manners.

On the other hand, the Kiwis who've been friendly have megawatt smiles and a demeanor that can melt the heart of any misanthrope, myself included. I hope to meet more of that type as I head south tomorrow. Auckland's about as appealing as Oakland at this point.

There's Got to Be Some Kinda Way Outta Here

My shared accomodation at the Bamber House in the beautiful Mt. Eden area of Auckland has been among the nicest ever, but I managed to get a free upgrade to a private room with a double bed this morning. How does one achieve such a backpacking coup? Snore, grunt, and cough like hell.

The previous two nights of full-on partying and staying up, in combination with the attendant sinus problems of flying overseas, finally brought out the beast within me. For the last couple of weeks, I've been supressing a cold. From Cairns on, I've been taking megadoses of Emergen-C and Sudafed, trying to ensure that something like a little cold won't bring me down. It finally did. I went from hard-partying, happy-go-lucky world traveler to miserably wretch in just a few minutes last night. Needless to say, I kept my roomies up all night with my hacking and gurgling, and now I have a private room.

The more I go around Auckland, though, the more I think I should just stay in my room. I'm feeling worlds better after sleeping in, topping up on fluids, and taking some cold medicine, but I've found this place to be pretty unimpressive.

Don't get me wrong - the surroundings are beautiful, and some of the stuff on display at the Auckland Museum was great. But other than that, it's just another big (dirty) city. The true natural beauty of New Zealand is to be found due south, and that's where I'll be headed.

In the meantime, what I am enjoying in Auckland are the lower prices, smiling faces of the (mostly) friendly locals, and the complete and utter ethnic diversity in this city. It's like being back in San Francisco. On any one bus ride, I can hear people speaking in English (of various accents), Chinese, Japanese, Spanish - you name it. Unfortunately, aforementioned buses are pretty reminiscent of SF as well. While Sydney and Brisbane had amazing public transport, the bus routes here are just as nonsensical and ill-timed as the ol' MUNI.

Thursday, December 01, 2005


Backdated post.

Ch-ch-ch-changes... The worst thing in the world about traveling east is the time change forward. I lost three hours from Brisbane to Auckland, and I know it's going to be a bitch to get to sleep.

That and everyone's laughing at me for cooking a full-on two-course dinner at 10:30. But they can screw themselves. While they're eating instant noodles, I've got a nice salad of baby greens and red wine vinaigrette, spaghetti in a wine-infused meat and tomato sauce, focaccia, and a bottle of NZ's Mt. Difficulty Pinot Noir, supposedly one of -if not the- best in the world. I may be in a timewarp, but I'm freakin' posh, bitches. If any of them had been three hours behind, they could've all had some.

Besides going grocery shopping and cooking, I did manage to get one thing done: I clambered up to the top of nearby Mt. Eden and took in the great view of downtown Auckland, the surrounding bays, and of course, the magnificent sunset. I also ran into the local livestock on top of the old volcanic cone. No, not sheep, but a herd of cows. And somehow, I managed not to step in any of the many cowpies.

Quick Update

I haven't had a chance to get to any internet cafes the past couple of days and right now I'm on one of those silly pay-as-you-go kiosks that take coins.. Unfortunately, I only had one New Zealand coin and my time's about to run out.

Anyway, for those of you who've been calling or texting me overseas - neither my Australian nor American SIM cards are working here, even though I have international roaming on both. So FU Vodafone, and FU T-mobile. Luckily I'd used up more than my money's worth in Oz, so I don't feel too bad... And I guess I should be happy to be pretty disconnected while I shift from party mode into the mindset to enjoy some of the finest natural beauty the Earth has to offer. So there'll be a bit of radio silence for now, until I get my hands on more coins and can do some backdated updates.


Backdated post.

As if I'm not miserable enough about leaving Australia, I have to make my departure sapped of all my strength. Luckily, they serve pretty good pies and espresso at the Brisbane International Airport.

I sought the opinion of two people last night regarding the airport. We were at the official Andrew & Omid Birthday Bash at the Pineapple Hotel, and after an entirely-too-big steak, pavlova, and chocolate cake, I asked Andrew's dad if I really need to be at the airport 3 hours before an international flight. He was definitely on the pro side, citing the quagmire of the immigration line. Kel, on the other hand, suggested only a 2 hour window, saying that while the immigration line is bad, it's not that bad. I went with Kel, being that she's a fellow world traveler, and frankly a helluva lot cuter. (Sorry Andrew's dad!)

I'm also glad I went with that choice because the evening of November 30th was not one of those nights to go home early and pack. Despite the fact that we both had morning flights, Andrew and I decided we can not puss out on our birthdays. As the motto of the Down Under Bar goes, "Go hard or go home."

Of course, we weren't going to go back to the DUB, but instead went to hipper, cooler Fortitude Valley. Our first stop was Ric's Cafe, a good starting point for a night out in the Valley. We toasted our birthday over a couple of beers, and marvelled at the fact that one of the guys working there 10 years ago was still there. It was also amazing how many people were out on a Wednesday night.

The next stop was the Press Club, where Minno told us a DJ would be spinning funk. Alas, our old pal was wrong, but there was some good Latin jazz on hand, and eventually the dancefloor got going. We amused ourselves peoplewatching and imbibing in far too many vodka tonics. After Andrew hit the credit card tab minimum, it was my round... These credit card minimums can be a killer - for the liver or otherwise.

A gazillion vodka tonics later, it was time to truly test our stomachs. The warning had been passed around a million times about Ozgur's Kebabs (lovingly known as "Dodgy Kebab") during my time in Brisbane, but we figured getting falafel there would be safe.

I found out in the morning that even vegetarian items can be dodgy at the ol' Dodgy Kebab.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Recovery Don't Come Easy

Backdated post

Wise choice: Booking a private room at the Palace Central for my final day in Australia. This allowed me the luxury of taking a shower and lounging around naked under the giant ceiling fan - just the tiny dose of comfort I needed to recover a tiny bit.

Poor choice: Going to the food court for recovery fuel. Just because the Japanese curry at Food Cafe on Adelaide St. is good does not mean that the stuff at the mall would be even half as decent. Luckily, whatever alcohol I hadn't already sweat out, I dumped out in the crapper.

Wise choice: Going back to the private room for a much-needed nap.

Toast on the Coast

Backdated post.

It took until the afternoon to sweat all the booze out of my system from the previous night in Surfers. The night started out innocently enough. A bunch of us at the Surf n' Sun paid our $5 for all-you-can-drink punch, a nightclub admission, and a couple of free cocktails.

We mingled around the pool, drank punch from a bucket large enough to put down several horses, met various backpackers, then a few hours later, hit Melba's nightclub. At that point, it just about became my birthday, so the steady stream of birthday drinks and dances started. No beer or wine was consumed, so you can imagine the consequences of a series of shots, JD & Coke, shots, JD & Coke [repeat ad drunken]. My main partner in crime was Matt, a guy I met on the hostel shuttle who was also from California, but when he took off, it was me, a few $10 shakers of some hideous cocktail, and a collection of red cards that would make Vinnie Jones blush.

By the time I left, the sun was up, and the only other backpacker left was Anisa from Finland, who had disappeared to the VIP room for much of the night. We made the walk of shame back to the Surf n' Sun, where I was able to get in a few hours of sleep before having to check out and catch the train back to Brisbane. Luckily, knowing what had transpired the night before, they were very understanding about the late checkout.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Posh Backpacker

The other night over drinks, Andrew accused me of being pretty flash for a backpacker. What can I say? Although I'm in t-shirt and shorts most of the time, I can't be blamed for having nice backpacker wear.

Well, today I just marked myself as a posh backpacker for sure. As I walked off from my $24/night accommodations, I had a decent lunch at a sit-down restaurant, and noticed there was an Aveda salon across the way. Having come here with a shitty haircut and with nearly a month of growth along the way, I couldn't resist but go in and shell out the 75 bucks for the new 'do. The scalp massage was worth it alone, and chatting w/ the uber-hottie stylist about snowboarding in Tahoe made it that much better. And 30 minutes later, I have to say, I look hawt.

Those Schoolies had better watch out!

Yikes. Actually, I've devised a way to differentiate the Schoolies from the girls who are of age: All the youngin's try their hardest to look like Paris Hilton, so it's pretty easy to pick them out and - more importantly - avoid them.

Well, that's enough internet time for today. I've got to take care of one more booking and then get back to the serious business of bolstering my tan.

Cheesedick in Paradise

I took the long but pleasant train ride from Brisbane Central to Nerang and hopped on a short bus ride to Surfers Paradise this morning... Not bad for $9. Surfers gives a similar impression to Cairns - lots of cheap and tacky motels, too many tourists, and not much class... Then you see the multitude of high-rise megaresorts and think Vegas-by-the-Sea. I'm not quite sure why they call Brisban "BrisVegas" when it's really Surfers Paradise that looks like the Strip.

My accommodations for the night are at the Surf n' Sun Beachside, yet another tacky motel converted into a backpackers haven. What it lacks in elegance and class, it certainly makes up for with charm and friendliness. People here seem to just hang out together and say hi to eveyrone who passes by, in stark contrast with the majority of cockheads hanging out at the Palace in Brisbane. It seems the cheesier the location, the nicer the people. I've definitely got to keep that in mind for future travels.

Well, the countdown timer's near zero on this kiosk, and I've got some sun to soak up before hopefully a huge night out. Time to go chill...

PWI: Posting While Intoxicated

It's about 11 pm and I'm about to crash out like a bitch... I've eaten one small meal today, followed by several jugs at the Down Under Bar. Pretty weak there tonight, but I still managed to have a decent time. I sat down with my jug of XXXX Bitter and a Filipina not unlike Rosario Dawson joined me with her own jug of beer, cider, and cordial.

Don't get excited guys - she has a huge, German boyfriend and is way too young.

Anyway, we had a great chat about universities and work possibilities in Brisbane. Her friends called and said they didn't want to come to the bar (it's locally known as a major meat market, after all...) so she left me with her 3/4 jug remainders and bid adieu. The concoction was tasty and, apparently, very drunkening. Yaaaaaaaaaay.

Alas, it may be early, but I really have to sleep. Gotta catch the morning train to Surfers tomorrow. I'd love to go surfing during the day, but from everything I hear, the waves are shit there. Oh well.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Sometimes Things Aren't So Smooth

Moreton Island - home of dolphin feeding and sandboarding - was on my agenda for today, but the tour operators had canceled the trips on account of the forecast for storms yesterday. Bummer. I really wanted to sandboard. Oh well, there's always beer for consolation!

I booked a couple of spots on the XXXX/Castlemaine brewery tour, but it turned out Andrew couldn't make it due to family commitments. No biggie, I'll go by myself, right?

Well, I spent 20 minutes frantically searching for my wallet, and eventually found it at the internet cafe where I'd left it after my last check-in. Oops. Luckily, the money and credit cards are still all in there. Unfortunately, I missed the train I needed to catch to Milton for the brewery tour. Oh well. There's always Wednesday afternoon.

In the meantime, I've booked a room at the Sun and Surf in Surfer's Paradise for tomorrow night, as well as a cheap flight to Queenstown when I'm in New Zealand, so at least the coming week is starting to shape up. Now I've just gotta figure out what to do tonight. This Canadian with a massively pierced-up face has challenged me to a pool tournament at the Down Under Bar, which is fine, but I was hoping to see a little more Brisbane nightlife besides the crazy backpacker bar. Maybe I'll hustle some money and go out on the town in style. Yeah, right.

We are Family

I went over the the Palace Central to make good on my reservation yesterday and they couldn't find it. Never mind that I'd already given them my credit card information and everything. It turns out that they had me booked for the nearby Palace Embassy, which isn't so bad because it's supposed to be a bit nicer, but I would've liked to get the same place as Patrick and Andy since it was to be their last night in Oz.

No matter. After some Vietnamese pho noodles and shopping along the Queen Street Mall, I got together with Andrew and his old university roomie Shannon for a Sunday session at the Victory Bar a few blocks away. We were enjoying the live music and $6 jugs of beers out on the patio when all of a sudden, the sky opened up and started to piss on everything in sight. We thought it'd be a quick tropical storm, but it was a sustained lashing, causing the outdoor section of the bar to shut down.

We moved inside to continue our session, with talk of old times and future ambitions over many a jug of XXXX and Toohey's. I got a photo kissing the Toohey's Extra Dry promo girls. One of them was hawt, whereas the other wasn't, but insisted on being in the photo anyway. Women. What can you do? Kel showed up a few minutes later, and not much later, Patrick, Andy, Damo and Ange did as well. We had the crew back together again, and it was great.

I can't stress enough how great it's been to hang out with this bunch from various corners of Australia and the US. It got even better when we went to the trendy Jorge restaurant and met up with Shane, Tracy, Minno, and Fiona. We practically had the whole wedding party together again, making for a brilliant evening of sucking down specialty cocktails and great fusion food. The highlight: Courtney's Love - a chocolatey cocktail served with a chocolate Tim Tam straw. Have I mentioned Tim Tams are made with crack?

A handful of us continued on to the wild and whacky Down Under Bar at the Palace for too many jugs, a little bit of dancing, and a handful of red cards from the girls. Patrick and I reflected on how the last few days have been an emotional rollercoaster, having made some amazing friends and shared some great times, mixed with the reality that it's all going to be over this week. I feel like I have a whole new "family" of friends based around this group, and having to say goodbye to some of them really sucked.

Wracked with pain and misery from no sleep the previous few nights, I crashed out hard and slept in 'til at least 1:30 this afternoon. I guess I missed breakfast with Damo and Ange, but I really, really, really needed the sleep. At one point I did wake up to the sounds of the guy in the bunk below shagging some blonde from the Down Under Bar - ah, the joys of backpacking. I think I'm going to book a single room for my last night in Oz.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

More Observations

Some more observations as I wait for a CD to be burned at the internet cafe...

* Aussie toilets are pretty ingenious for saving water. They have two flush buttons. One for a half-flush, another for full. You can guess when you would use which.

* Everybody is "That Guy." There was an Oasis show here in Brisbane last night, and I lost count of how many guys on the train were wearing the t-shirt. I noticed just as many walking down Queen Street Mall this morning.

* Boost Juice is as ubiquitous here as Jamba Juice in the States. And just as tasty.

* Some bug bites really fucking hurt. My left hand's a bit swollen and in pain, not unlike my foot the other week. A rule of thumb in Australia: if it creeps and crawls, it can and probably will hurt you.

* Many girls in Brisbane don't seem to believe in bras. Viva la Revolucion.

* While the chart music here is as godawful as anywhere else in the world, the radio is far more diverse than anywhere else, mixing up urban, rock, alternative, news, and more. The music in bars and cafes is really good. Right now I'm grooving to Supreme Beings of Leisure. Just about every night I've heard heavy doses of Groove Armada, Blue Six, and more good stuff like that. I still have to find some decent Aussie music, though.

* Tim Tams have crack in them.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Back in Brisbacon

I checked into Brisbane City Backpackers in the afternoon, met a couple of my weird roommates, and hopped in for a much-needed shower before catching a train for the suburb of Lawnton - host to the day's b-day BBQ bash.

By some odd sort of happenstance, Kel, Andy, and Amish were on the same train and we all had a quick post-wedding reunion at the bottle shop in Lawnton, in typical fashion. Damo thundered up the road in his newly fixed Mustang to pick us up and take us back to his oldies' digs in, as they like to call it here, woop woop.

Woop woop's nice - with a big yard overlooking the river, standard Aussie-issue BBQ facilities, a pool, and best of all, just about everyone who was at the wedding. Amongst the gum trees and overwhelming sound of nocturnal creatures, we enjoyed barbecue, many beers, and some birthday pavlova - some Aussie merengue covered in fresh fruit. All the while, we were being eaten alive by mozzies and other such bush annoyances, but we were having a good enough time not to really care.

Caught the last train back to town with Andrew and Mel - 45 minutes of riding and stopping and riding and stopping through suburbia. It was like being back at home on Caltrain. Lovely.

I was back at the City Backpackers by around 1:00 where I was welcomed to my room by the sound of three very intensely snoring FOBs. I may have been seriously lacking in sleep for a couple of days, but even my weary head couldn't put up with this symphony of snores. The girl liked to intersperse hers with moans, while the guy in the bunk below me liked to accentuate the overall work with strange smacking noises. Adding to the auditory delight was the rising waft of FOB breath - don't act like you don't know what I mean...

It's safe to say that I'll be checking out of City this morning. I'll probably head over to the Palace where a couple of the other guys are staying, although I'm scared how little sleep I'll get with the Down Under Bar being on the premises over there. Then again, raging nights are far preferable to the utter misery I had to endure over the last 6 hours. Were it not for the free broadband here, I'd already be walking down the street with my pack.

I've got 3 hours to check out - enough time, I hope, to figure out what to do over the next few days before heading to NZ (pronounced Enn-Zed, I guess).

Bye Bye, Cairns, Bye Bye

I have now been off of US soil for 20 days, which means there are only 10 days left in my trip. 1/3 of my adventure has yet to unfold, and today's gonna be the big b-day bash with Andrew, but I can't help but feel a little melancholy this morning. It could be because I'm still somewhat sloshed from last night. It could be because Cairns, as poor as my first impression of it was, has taken a little piece of me.

In just six days, I did some of the most amazing things of my life, made new friends, and simply let go of my own world long enough to get lost in another. Leaving it is a reminder that reality is just around the corner, but I also realize that I'm departing with many happy memories.

Sure, doing a drunken pub crawl isn't anything special, but it's who you share your time with that is. Here's to Uncle Sam, my cane toad that rightfully should've won the race at Tropos nightclub. Here's to Nico, my big Dutch roomie who was always great to talk to and full of wisdom, no matter what time of day, evening or morning. Here's to Ben, Carsten, and Apex - a few of the drinking buddies you need to have around to just feel like one of the lads. And here's to Anika, Christine, Christa, and all the other German babes who made sure my liver - and heart - got their daily exercise. I toast them all because, besides the insane activities and trips on offer, they're the ones who made Cairns a place I'll remember.

My flight to Brisbane takes off in less than an hour. And the good times with good friends will start all over again... Guess I have all the more reason to be happy.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Recuperation in the Far North

BANG BANG BANG. There was a knock on my door this morning. This time, the driver wasn't leaving me behind. "You're late, mate," said the guy who came into my room to get me. "Sorry..."

"Sorry ain't gonna cut it, mate, I've got three more to pick up. I can come back around and get you." He was angry - probably the first time I've seen a grumpy Aussie.

"I have my stuff ready - I can be down in 20 seconds."

"Oh! No worries, then, mate. Let's go!"

You see, I knew I had a 7:15 pickup this morning, and I was determined not to miss it. So I awoke at 6:30, put all my crap together, and apparently passed right back out. The previous night's stink was still with me. We were hanging around on the patio when two German girls introduced themselves and insisted I share their 1 litre bottle of Absolut Mandarin with them before heading out for the night. A gentleman never turns down a drink (or 6) from a pair of lovely ladies, so before the night had even begun, the bottle was drained and three of us already tanked. The whole group of us then went on to the Woolshed for jugs and jugs of beer and more dancing. All I can clearly recall from the night was drinking directly from the jugs, running into Laura again, and walking around wasted with a couple of other lovely Germans after club closing to locate their campervan park, which apparently was actually miles away. We put them in a cab and were off on our merry way for a good night's sleep... at around 5:30.

So it's with great pleasure that I say that today's trip was pretty much uneventful, which suits me perfectly. Our first stop was Port Douglas, where we checked out the Rainforest Habitat. Once again I got to play with kangaroos and wallabies, coo over the cuddly koalas, and see kookaburras, vipers, and crocodiles chilling out in the humidity.

We then got a little tour of Port Douglas, which apparently is a celebrity hideaway. Current guests include John Travolta and Christina Aguilera. Yay.

After seeing where the rich and famous live it up while in Queensland, we made the long, windy way up to Cape Tribulation. There isn't much in Cape Trib, but it boasts one very amazing bit of status: It's the only place where you can stand on the beach and have rainforest immediately to one side, and the Great Barrier Reef to the other. Within spitting distance. Absolutely amazing, and worth the long drive.

Our group of 12 feasted on barbecued chicken, veggies, and assorted breads, then made the long way down to Mossman Gorge. Now someone from the night before said how amazing Mossman is - like the Grand Canyon with a rainforest in it. They must've been on crack - or too much Absolut. It's not even the size of King's Canyon, nor as spectacular, but it definitely is beautiful. We checked out a funky rope bridge over the gorge before heading down to the smooth, giant boulders in the river for a refreshing swim. Swimming amongst the fish (trout, were they?) and in the ice cold water was exactly what I needed today. For once, I wasn't in 80-degree water, and it felt gooooooood.

The biggest surprise of the day came that I did not injure myself in any way, shape, or form. I could've smashed into some submerged rocks or slipped on algae-covered rocks at the Gorge, but somehow disaster was averted, and I've survived my first activity unscathed.

Of course, tonight's the big Frog & Toad pub crawl, so who knows what's going to happen.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

A Wasted Day

I was supposed to be picked up for a sunrise hot air balloon ride over the Atherton Tablelands this morning at 4:10am, but I turned my phone (and hence, my alarm) off and didn't wake up until 4:30. It sucks that I missed an opportunity at another "first," not to mention a champagne brunch upon landing. Sounds a bit posh, doesn't it?

I came up with a set of rationalizations to comfort myself, though:

1) Getting up in time for a 4:30 pick-up sucks. End of story. Going back to sleep felt sooooo gooooood.

2) The tour's operated by the same guys who did the whitewater rafting trip. Their idea of a 5-star BBQ lunch was McDonald's-quality burgers and KFC-quality macaroni salad. I hardly imagine the champagne brunch would be little more than cold cuts and a box of sparkling wine.

3) The weather was shit today. Tropical storms, big, oppressive clouds, etc. We drove past the Atherton area this morning and there were some serious storm clouds looming over the mountains. I don't think I would've seen the sunrise anyway.

4) I would have had Duran Duran's "Reach Up for the Sunrise" stuck in my head all day, and that would've been bad. Very bad.

5) Considering everything I've done this trip has involved some kind of injury, I simply don't want to imagine what sort of freak accident I could have during balloon flight. Falling out of the basket? My hair being set aflame by the fire-making-the-balloon-go-up-thingy? Being squashed into a basket with a dozen camera-clicking Japanese tourists and suffocating to death? All pretty grim.

Speaking of injuries, I forgot to mention yesterday that I cut my knee up fairly decently on a bit of the Great Barrier Reef. How's that for a battle scar? Attacked by a world heritage site!! I was hanging on to some dead coral to stay at the bottom and wait for a school of fish to swim by, and as I kicked to go up a bit, my right leg caught some of the coral and I felt an intense stinging pain. Luckily, there was no cloud of blood to attract the sharks. Maybe my stinger suit was holding it in, because the gash is pretty red today.

All underwater drama aside, I'll mention again that it was fucking brilliant. That's another reason I don't feel so bad about the balloon thing. After diving the Reef, everything seems a bit anticlimactic.

This morning I hitched a ride up to Trinity Beach with some Danes I met, about the only spot along the coast here that didn't seem to have thunderclouds enshrouding it. We laid on the beach for a while, and at some point decided to go swimming in the enclosure. Enclosure, you ask? Why, yes! It's box jellyfish (stinger) season. These little suckers can kill you with one of their little tentacles, unless you're wearing the aforementioned stinger suit: A lovely lycra number that flatters the curves and makes anyone look dead sexy - if you're into lumpy, spandex-clad tools.

It was super-mellow, and all the soaking in saltwater is probably what I needed to decompress from the previous day's adventures. Hell, when I came home, the sun came out and I jumped right back into the pool and continued my day of accomplishing absolutely nothing. Sometimes you just have to, I suppose.

So with this being a wasted day, I think I'm going to go out and make it a wasted night. Some touristy bar is hosting a half-price-if-you-come-in-beachwear party. As cheesy as that is, I can't really complain about tons of backpackers in swimwear, now can I?

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

As Long As You Are for SCUBA, I Am 'Appee

I set sail for the Great Barrier Reef today on the Passions of Paradise, a sweet 25m catamaran launching from Cairns' Marlin Wharf. As soon as I sat down for some morning juice, I got a wave from Laura from Holland, whom I'd met during the pub crawl in Sydney a couple of weeks ago. With so many people hitting up the same places, it's bound to happen.

A little while after takeoff, a Swiss dive leader came around and asked if anybody wanted to do an introductory SCUBA dive. He reminded me so much of Hank Azaria's SCUBA instructor character in Along Came Polly that I couldn't stop snickering and choking on my juice. It was either SCUBA or snorkelling, and I've done the whole snorkel bit before, so I signed on to put on a tank and go underwater.

We were divided up into groups of four and I was assigned to Group 1 - whom I dubbed Team Sharkbait. One of the dive leaders proclaimed, "This is the group that goes in first, and if there are any sharks, they get eaten so everyone else can have a safe dive." This wasn't reassuring, but we figure if they're joking about it, it's not going to happen.

My nerves took hold as was I strapped on the heavy-ass tank and given my flippers and mask. Moments later, I took my first plunge into the water and immediately started to freak out - just a little bit, of course. I was bobbing up and down on top, hanging on to a rope, and my mask was filling with water. Hyperventilating through my breathing regulator, I motioned to Brooksie, the instructor, that I wasn't up to the task. I couldn't believe I was already falling apart.

Brooksie had it all under control. He got me a better mask, had me put my head under, do all the things we'd learned in our short class, and in a minute, I was happily breathing underwater. Then we had to descend a few feet, which started the panic all over again... but in moments, after realizing how easy it was to breathe down there, it all subsided and the nerves melted away. Already, I was at peace.

We began our descent toward the depths of Paradise Point, the piece of reef that we'd moored at for the morning. Immediately, I was astounded. It was simply beautiful. And everything every SCUBA diver had told me about the serenity and beauty of it all was true. I was in underwater heaven, and I didn't want to come back up.

Unfortunately, a beginner's "resort dive" doesn't last more than half an hour, so after what seemed like a few minutes of looking at clownfish (Nemo!) playing with sea anemones, and checking out the other fishes checking us out, we had to go up. I was exhilirated, but it was a bummer nonetheless.

"Hey Champion, how was it?" Asked the girl getting our tanks off on the catamaran... "Fucking brilliant." That's about all there is to say.

We lunched over whole prawns, veggie lasagne, sweet potatoes - you name it - and each calorie felt well-deserved. Brooksie then came over and said, "You took to the water well - want another dive?" For A$40, how could I resist?

At our next destination - some sandbar of a reef god knows where - some of us dove in for another round, this time going for a good, long 45 minutes, and it was a completely different experience. This time we didn't go as deep, but we checked out stingrays, sea turtles, reef shark, hermit crabs, giant flat fish I don't know the name of - whatever, it was, again, fucking brilliant.

Once again, it was over before we knew it, but sooooooo well worth it.

I spent the return trip sunning myself on the beautiful sundeck - just over the rushing water below - and then chatting with my Team Sharkbait teammate Amanda and her mom, making for a lovely, relaxing afternoon.

After a dip in the pool back home, I'm all set to call it a night.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

En Autre Langue

J'ai rencontre beacoup de gens qui ne parlent pas anglais bien, mais ils essaient a apprendre mieux la langue par ecrire dans ses journaux en anglais. Hier soir, j'ai fait la connaissance de quelques Francais a mon auberge et nous sommes alles pour beacoup des boissons. Mon francais est merde, mais apres un picher ou deux de biere, ce n'etait pas une probleme.

(Translation of the mangled French language below.)

I've met a lot of people who don't speak English well, but they're trying to learn the language better by writing in their journals in English. Last night, I made the acquaintance of several French people at my hostel and we went out for many beverages. My French is shit, but after a pitcher or two of beer, it wasn't a problem.

Writing all of that stuff was a bit of a trick... I know enough of the language to get by, but having to write this blog in it would be pretty rough. I appreciate all the overseas folks who are here and are just learning English but are coming out and speaking it, writing in it, and reading it just the same. Wish people at home would bother to do that.

Just Call Me "Money Shot"

Apparently, I have a knack for getting a faceful of spunk. The other day in Noosa, some of the girls wouldn't go in the water as it's the few days of the year when the coral are spawning, and there are these funky, colorful clouds of coral sperm and eggs floating around. Unfortunately, I didn't hear that conversation until after I'd swam full-on into them.

Today, during a whitewater rafting trip down the Tully River, we hit a calm patch and the guide offered for us to jump out for a swim. I was the first to go, and started swimming right into a foamy patch of water. Of course, it wasn't until I hit it that he told me that was crocodile spunk. I'm batting a thousand!

The trip itself was pretty good. I'd say it was incredible, but compared to the year's previous trek in Costa Rica, it paled in comparison. Not because of the river or the guides - both of which were excellent - but with the ridiculous size of the group. We had over 80 people on 15 rafts, which meant traffic jams at the start of each rapid, stopping for people who went overboard, and just an overall slow cruise. Whitewater's meant to be fast and thrilling, but when its interspersed with long pauses, it's just not as exciting. Still, the higher-class rapids were a lot of fun.

I'm happy to report that I never went overboard, but I did manage to injure myself again. During this brilliant 150m stretch of rapids, we went up and over a sharp rock that poked up (but didn't penetrate) through the bottom of the boat. It's lucky contact point? My right knee, which is lightly abrased but heavily sore at this moment. Oh well, just another battle scar, I guess.

And now the conundrum of the evening: I could go and hit up the 1/2 price drinks at nearby Rhino Bar and drink the pain away, or be sensible and have another quiet night so I can make it to the Ferry Port at 7:45a for tomorrow's trip to the Great Barrier Reef.

Maybe I'll just go gorge myself on bush tucker and pass out. It's either that or the China Cafe, supposedly one of the best Chinese restaurants in all of Australia. I had their (cheap!) wonton soup last night and I have to concur - they're pretty f'in good, simply based on the soup alone. I think I could live off of it for a while.

Monday, November 21, 2005

The Little Things

Here's a rapid update. I've located my favorite internet cafe, Global Gossip, to burn the last few days' photos on to CD, so I figured I'd post while I wait.

There are many big things that are different in Australia (driving on the other side of the road, better weather, everyone being so nice) but it's the little things that remind you you're on the other side of the world. Want an espresso? Better ask for a "short black," mate. Double espresso? Better use the Italian term, doprezzio or something like that. Going for an iced coffee? Don't be surprised if it comes with a scoop of ice cream in it.

I was sitting at a cafe across from the Lagoon on the Esplenade here in Cairns not long ago, and I was reminded of Pav (Drew) - one of my Aussie friends from the wedding. Not only because the boy actually designed the damn thing, but because I ordered an iced mocha and got some sort of chocolatey-coffeey ice cream float. Just yesterday in Noosa, Pav had ordered an iced coffee and got a float as well. Oh well - it was yummy anyway. And by the way, this Lagoon thing is beautiful. Good on ya, Pav.

Show Me Your Cairns

I love Virgin Blue. It's irreverent like Virgin Atlantic, and has flight attendants that are just as hot. Not bad for a budget airline. So Stacey from Virgin Blue, if you ever read random travelers' blogs, I have this to say to you: You may have only offered me a headset and served me a can of Victoria Bitter over the course of two flights, but I'm fairly certain you're the girl I want to marry. Meet me on top of the Story Bridge in Brisbane at midnight next week for the ceremony.

Ok, that's about as likely as Cairns becoming classier than Noosa, and, umm, that ain't gonna happen. But I still love Virgin Blue. I got the best 30-minute deep tissue massage in the Blue Room before my flight up here and I feel pretty great... and it was good to get out of Noosa after too many episodes of fine (read: expensive) dining, lazing about, and not getting much of anything done. I wanted to surf, but it didn't happen. (Bodysurfing doesn't count!) We were going to rent catamrans and sail out in Laguna Bay, but that didn't happen either. We were going to rent 4WDs and head up to the Coloured Sands at Rainbow beach, but - you guessed it - didn't happen. But I've still left there oddly satisfied, and now here I am in a completely different setting.

If Noosa is Queensland's La Jolla, Cairns is its Ft. Lauderdale. You come in from the airport and it's tacky motel after stripmall after tacky motel after stripmall... you get the picture. I'm booked in to the YHA Central, which used to be a tacky motel, but it's been converted into a pretty nice hostel, complete with internet cafe, swimming pool, nice reception/travel booking area, and very comfortable beds. Spacious, too. It's only a few minutes walk from the Esplenade, aka Party Central. Cairns is where all the travelers come to par-tay, but I don't know how much I'll see. I have 5 days of adventure travel ahead of me, all of which start around 7:00a or earlier. So, umm, yeah, it looks like the Aussie term "a few quiet beers" will continue to be a part of my vocabulary for the coming week.

Behind the Velvet Rope

I grabbed a van transfer from Noosa to Brisbane Airport this morning, and all I have to say is thank the Lawd Awmighty for air conditioning. The heat and humidity are brutal. We took a 5 minute break en route and as I stepped out of the van, I felt like I was going to keel over and let bush turkeys peck me to death. The van driver told me it'll feel about twice as hot and humid when I get to Cairns. Yikes.

In the meantime, I'm living it up in the Blue Room, Virgin Blue's airport lounge. I wish I had access to these things at home. There's internet, a cafe, movies, drinks, and - oh yes - massage. I think I'm gonna have to burn some time laying down on a table.

Sunday, November 20, 2005


A big group of us from the wedding met up at Aroma's on Hastings Street for espresso and brunch, but I immediately had to go to the chemist for some oral analgesic. That's right, the morning's multi-grain toast had cracked a tooth that I'd had worked on before the trip. That brings up the injury total to one broken rib, a swollen foot, the other foot cut up by flip-flop chafe, and a broken toof.

Still, one doesn't care about injuries when they're in freakin' paradise. We piled into Damo's '65 Mustang and headed a few miles away to beautiful, un-crowded Sunshine Beach, where the sand is soft, the water shallow, but the waves huge and pounding. Perfect for sunning, relaxing, and playing in the waves... until you take a wave the wrong way and it feels like your arm's about to get torn out of its socket.

Add that to the list of injuries - a nice, sore shoulder.

Unfortunately, I'm not the only fragile one. The Mustang started to overheat, with white smoke coming out of the exhaust - that means a broken head gasket. We got back over to Noosa Crest, and as Damo went to take care of business (not the best thing to happen during your honeymoon) the rest of us went down to catch the various happy hours on Hastings. We finished the night out with dinner at Sierra Cafe and said our goodbyes and see-you-next-weeks. I hate goodbyes, but I'm happy knowing I have reconnected with a ton of old friends and made new ones in the process, so I can't complain.

I woke up in a lot of pain this morning, yet I'm still happy and relaxed. Maybe it's the healing power of Vegemite. Maybe it's the fact that it's late November and I'm sporting a bitchin' tan.

Morning Musings

The wash is on, my batteries are recharging, and I'm about to hit my second cup of coffee.

The lorikeets at breakfast are awfully cute. But their charm starts to wear a little thin when you're still trying to get caffeinated and they're pecking at your bowl of fresh fruits. I found a way to get them away, though. If you feed one of them a whole grape, it will go off and work on getting the skin off the grape. Once that task is done, the other lorikeets will swoop in and start fighting for the bit of grape pulp, and that keeps them distracted for a few minutes while you have your coffee and fruit in peace.

The Australians, however, have found another way to deal with animal nuisances: Vegemite. While the birds and insects may instantly go for whatever fruits or jam or bread you might be eating, no (sane) living creature will even touch Vegemite. You spread this black, brackish yeast extract on to a piece of toast, and you can guarantee that a protective forcefield will form around you.

How do I know this? Because this morning - for the first time since 6th grade when everything Australian was cool - I tried it.

And I liked it.

Anyone who's a) not Australian and b) tried Vegemite is probably thinking I'm pretty whacked out in the head, and they're probably right, but I really, really like Vegemite over buttered toast. 'Course, the blokes here eat it straight on with no butter, but I'm not that crazy.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

More of the Same

I think I've fallen into a rut in Noosa, albeit a nice one. Wake up early, soak up some sun, take an afternoon nap, and spend the evening with friends.

After yet another nap on the veranda, we gathered on the pool deck at Damo and Ange's place for an evening barbecue. The whole Aussie "barbie" thing is NOT a stereotype, as recounting all the mentions of BBQ on this trip would prove. There was an entire cow grilled last night, and I walked off with a shiny new leather coat. Ok, we didn't literally roast an entire cow, but we did have to toast Bessie for her humongous sacrifice to the grill gods.

For many, it was the last night in town before heading home. I'll see some of them next week, but others I may not see again for years. Not the cheeriest thought, but it was good to have everyone together nonetheless.

I called it an early night and was in bed by 11:00. Miracles never cease.

Just a Perfect Day...

When I'd awakened this morning, I was in pain. I must've slept on my broken rib, as it was practically killing me. I popped 4 naproxen and hobbled downstairs for some coffee with Kellie before she headed back to Brisbane, all the while feeding and playing with the lorikeets who like to frequent the breakfast area at the Halse Lodge. Did I tell you this place was paradise, or what?

Still in pain, I strolled into the chemist and picked up Australia's choice of pain-reliever: Codeine. Yup, you can get it without a prescription here. I popped my pills over a great brunch with the wedding party at Bistro C overlooking the beach. The pain started to subside, and we walked onto the sand for a little sun and swim. Floating in the warm, calm water, codeine kicking in, with a belly full of yummy brunch food - I've almost forgotten about my rib. This is the best physical therapy ever.

Noosa's pretty fancy. I've taken a break from the sun by walking over to the nearby internet cafe where I'm using an iMac G5. It's the first Mac I've gotten to use since leaving my PowerBook in California, and it feels great. Yeah, call me a geek, but between the weather, the soak in the ocean, and using a real machine, I can pretty much chalk this day up as perfect.

I should go - my beach towel, snorkeling gear and an ice cold bottle of water are waiting for me in the sand.

Friday, November 18, 2005

The Main Event

This week marks the halfway point through my time in Australia, but more importantly, last night was the culmination of why so many of us have come so far: Damian and Angela's wedding.

The weather? Sunny and warm, with no wind. The ceremony? Short and heartfelt, with a small crowd of family and friends. The reception? Amazing food, plenty of wine, and some not-too-crazy dancing overlooking the beach. Just about perfect. It was so great to share this time with Damo and Ange. As much as I've made a big ol' backpacking adventure out of this trip, last night was the reason behind it all, and it couldn't have been a better night.

Post-wedding partying was a bit stymied by Noosa's strict "in-by-1:30" law, so after a drink or two at the very posh, hidden, yet laid back Flamingo Lounge, those of us who didn't make it into the next venue by 1:30 went home and had a good, satisfying night of sleep.

Don't Wanna Leave

I just woke up from a gorgeous nap out on the veranda, listening to all the rainforest birds sing, watching the big puffy clouds slowly roll by against a very blue sky, and hearing the sound of the nearby waves lapping against the shore.

It's hard not to relax here. I awoke to the sounds of birds, had a casual breakfast on the sidewalk at Sierra Cafe, and went for a nice afternoon stroll before the nap. I think I've finally found the idyllic pace to make this vacation truly rejuvenating. Sure, it's a bit upscale touristy here (think Carmel-by-the-Sea or Santa Fe), but there's a very good reason the well-heeled have made this such a holiday destination: It's simply breathtaking. I've gotta look into real estate here...

But before I indulge those fantasies of retiring to the Sunshine Coast, I've got to clean up, get into this monkey suit, and watch my friends get hitched on the beach. What a beautiful day.

Paradise Found

Arrived in Noosa with Minno, Fiona and Patrick just in time for the Sunset Calypso Cruise on the Noosa River. As cheesy as it sounds, the calypso music was great, the sunset was beautiful, and - of course - the company was top notch.

The cruise ended just as Kellie, a Brisbane native whom I'd met in Ireland, got into town, and the stage was set for yet another reunion. It's been so great seeing so many faces I haven't seen in years, I feel less like I'm in another country and more like a never-ending party.

The lot of us had a fancy dinner at Ivory Bar. It's pretty hard not to go wrong eating out in Noosa, as it's one of Australia's culinary hot spots. It isn't, however, renowned for its nightlife, so we had to move around a bit before winding up at The Reef, a bar/club on top of the big hill in town. We whooped it up to yet another cover band playing just about the same songs every other cover band in Australia plays, but no matter, it was a good time.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Midday Mug

Ok, some joker set this PC at the hostel to Chinese, so I don't know what's where...

Brisbane is hot and muggy yet again, so after walking down to the Queensland Performing Arts Center to check out the Kylie (yes, Kylie Minogue) museum exhibit and the artificial beach at the park, I took the City Cat ferry back to Riverside. Taking a ferry up and down the river is a great way to see Brisbane, not to mention it's a cool and breezy alternative to walking.

Lunchtime came around, which is my favorite time in Australia. Everyone dresses up for work, and everyone takes a leisurely lunch outdoors, so there's no better time to see throngs of cuuute Aussie girls in hot little business suits. I chose the popular Pig & Whistle, a "traditional English pub" - and the fare is far from traditional, nor is it priced like a pub. That said, it was nice to get a fresh pint of Kronenbourg to go with my mushroom and green peppercorn soup.

It's about time for Minno and Fiona to pick me up for my ride to sunny Noosa, about an hour and a half north. Can't wait!


Bunk is not boring.

Sure, I felt like an 80 year-old playing bingo last night but the number caller was awfully cute and the jugs were plentiful. (Jugs of beer, that is...) I didn't win anything, but I sure felt like a winner. Something about a few jugs of beer can do that to you.

I decided to make an early night of it and went to bed by 9:00... but then the band started up at the bar and I couldn't sleep. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em, right? Join 'em I did, for another few litres of beer, bad cover songs, and plenty of dancing - all with a band that looked like it had Kid Rock in a kilt for a lead singer. Umm, yeah.

I need to rehydrate.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Marsupial Heaven

It's official. Bunk is boring. I've been to countless hostels, and despite the fact that it's the nicest I've ever been to, Bunk has to be one of the most lifeless places I've stayed at in ages. My quiet beer at its bar, Birdee Num Num, was truly quiet. What's up with that? There's supposed to be a live band and - get this - bingo tonight. Maybe things will get wild when the pensioners rock up. Until then, I'm biding my time at the internet cafe.

So flashing back to last night, it seems what most of the Brisbane lads remember from their time hanging out in California was my curry. I make a mean-ass Japanese curry that's apparently world-renowned. Wouldn't you know it? I was walking around Brisbane's Central Business District today and found a place that serves the same stuff. Yum.

I was sated, so it was time to hop on a bus through the suburbs of Brisbane to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. The first and biggest of its kind, Lone Pine boasts not only 130 koala bears, but kangaroos, echidnas, wombats - all those crazy animals you read about in grade school but don't often get to see. I can safely say I got my fill of marsupials. I checked out the wombats, which are bigger and fatter than you'd think. I fed and laid down in the sun with kangaroos, which are a bit smaller than you might think, but oh so charming. But the main reason to come to Lone Pine is - duh - the koalas. They're so unbelievably cute, you just want to gather them up and take them home. Watching a baby go around piggy-back on top of momma bear could make a 'roid-raging Uzbekhistani weight lifter gush. I couldn't get enough of the little buggers, so I spent tons of time cooing, as it's sort of illegal to put them under your shirt and take them home with you.

The bus ride back unveiled more of residential Brisbane to me. There's nothing notable about the place, but it seems awfully livable. The people are nice, things are cheaper than in Sydney, and other than the occasional storm (none today, thank god) the weather is beautiful.


I'm happy to report that there isn't an infestation of flies in Brisbane.

Here, it's ants.

Ants aren't nearly as annoying as flies, but it really does suck when you wake up, look for the $4 Cadbury bar you tucked next to your bed as a hangover cure, and find it covered in tiny little picnic pirates.

Oh well. It's probably for the best. I really should not be eating a Cadbury bar for breakfast.

In other, happier news, I slept in for the first time today. Beeeaauuuuty!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

A Legend of a Night

I arrived in hot, muggy Brisbane late this afternoon and after a quick ride on the AirTrain checked into Bunk, a very swanky hostel in hip Fortitude Valley. I chose this location because it's close to ground zero for the evening's main event: Damian's bachelor party.

I met up with some of the boys at a nearby bar called Mango's, then we moved on to the official start at Luxe, a restaurant rated by Wine Spectator as one of the best in Queensland. The food was brilliant, but nothing compared to the reunion of friends I haven't seen in years. The reunion was nothing short of fantastic, an evening that made the preceding week's events seem insignificant in comparison.

That's the beauty of a wedding - people you love but haven't seen in years all come out of the woodworks to celebrate together, and it's probably the one aspect I most appreciate of friends' nuptuals over the past few years.

Anyway, I won't reveal any sordid details of Bucks' Night, simply because there aren't any. Ok, some very well-endowed blonde kept rubbing her endowments all over me as we talked at the bar. I love Australia...

Moving on... we shifted the party to Cru, Brisbane's finest wine bar, and not long after, the bachelorette party ran into us. We were pissing and moaning about the violation of the rules, but Damian made a good point - how often does he have all his friends in one place to party? We saw the reason there and decided to all join forces and party together.

We ended up drinking and dancing all night at the Press Club, and it simply rocked. It was like a pre-wedding reception, with plenty of funk, Bundaberg rum, and more funk. And for one shining moment on the dancefloor, I was Rick James, bitch.

The party thinned out not long ago, and several of us hung out and danced a bit longer. When we emerged from the club, we were in the midst of a harsh tropical downpour, as in droplets the size of watermelons.

Ok, not quite watermelons, but they came down huge and fast. It made for a very sticky goodbye as hugs were exchanged through soaked clothes, and I'm still wet as I sit here at Bunk's internet terminal. Despite my clothes clinging to me and my head dripping water, I have to say, it was a truly beautiful night. The music could've sucked, the drinks could've been weak, and I could've been even more tired - but none of those could ruin the joy of being reunited with friends.

We Are Family

I'm really stupid sometimes. After much-needed rest yesterday afternoon, I went shopping in uber-posh Bondi Junction with Sebastian, Chris and Jen. Besides picking up the necessary souvenirs, I did a bit of shopping for myself, mostly buying Australian surf brand stuff that I could just as easily picked up at home - only they were on sale. Not once did I consider that luggage space is worth more than money when you're just traveling with one backpack. Oops.

Being in their neighborhood, I met up with Ciara and Elaine from the surf camp for a drink before heading back to Kings Cross for my final night at the Pink House. I figured on a quiet night where I could pack and get some rest before the next day's trip to Brisbane, but there's no such thing as a quiet last night when you're at a hostel that quickly becomes your family. Although I was only there a week, I knew I'd really miss my new Pink House family. You spend so much time with these fellow travelers that you want to savor and squeeze every last minute of time out of the night. In this case, it meant staying in the living room 'til 7am, drinking wine and talking the kind of deep crap that you talk at such times. It was actually very mellow, relaxing, and nice, with the exception of learning how to play the didgeridoo using vacuum cleaner tubes. That was anything but mellow, but a memory I'll treasure forever, nonetheless. I bid adieu to the whacky residents of the House and walked out the door with a heavy backpack and heavy heart.

But family time wasn't over. I'd gotten a surprise call from Vince's cousin Mai, a Sydneysider whom I thought was overseas during my visit. I was really hoping to catch up with Mai, as Vince is like family, and hence, she's family. It turned out she was in town, so she picked me up after I checked out of the hostel and we went out for lunch and coffee one last time at the Opera House. It was great to catch up, and the Chinese food was wonderful, but the weather took a turn for the worse and the scenic outlook over the harbour quickly turned into a stormy afternoon.

And thus, here I am pumping $2 coins into the internet kiosk at Sydney Airport, waiting for clearance to board my flight for Brisbane when the weather clears. My fingers are firmly crossed. At least I can finally say goodbye to the flies once and for all.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Observations About Sydney

It's my last day in Sydney, but instead of getting whistful, I figured I'd just jot down some observations I've made over the last week.

1. People here are really f-ing nice. Like, out-of-their-way nice. Sure, you have a handful of jackasses (see: fat wannabe pimp guy from earlier entry), but overall, I've been floored by the openness, hospitality, and easy-going nature of Australian folk. Unfortunately, this leads to false hopes for people who come from less friendly countries. When the super-hot girl at the shop (and there are many of them) asks how your day's been, tells you she likes your shirt, or compliments your eyes, that's all it is. Keep it in your pants and remember you're not in the US.

2. Nothing is ever on time. No one's in a hurry. The only time you see Sydneysiders scrambling for something is the train station at rush hour, or if you have the guts to yell "Free beer!" at a pub. And if you do try the latter, prepare for them to hold you to it.

3. Shit's expensive.

4. Everyone really is called "mate" by one another. This is probably because no one can remember anyone's name after enough Toohey's.

5. Folks in Sydney seem to hate their jackass president, too. Must be an educated, cosmopolitan thing.

6. Japanese tourists really like Akubra hats. European tourists really like football/rugby gear. American tourists really like to loudly squawk about passing girls, forgetting they speak the same language here.

A Pain That I'm Used To

I went to bed with aspirations to go to the beach and veg out today. I woke up in intense pain. My rib hurts, my muscles are sore, my nose is sunburned, and my left foot is swollen up like a rump roast due to some sort of bug bite. None of this is really new, but having been hit with all of these before, I know better than to go put myself out.

No, no, today is laundry day. And for some reason, I'm excited about it.

I think it's the domestic feeling of doing laundry at the house - not the full-service laundrette down the street - that feels so nice. I feel like less of a tourist and more like I'm living here a (very) short while, and it brings some sense of normalcy to what has otherwise been a fairly hectic trip.

My load is in the dryer, I don't have anywhere to be, and - best of all - the damn flies have gone. Now if only I could kill this pain. Hmm, I think I have a six-pack of Toohey's in the fridge.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Standing Tall

I've been incommunicado for a few days, as I've been off to surf camp. I'm glad to say I'm still alive, although I'm in pain, tired, and about ready to fall asleep for two days.

There were so many bad omens to start with. We were supposed to depart Scubar in Sydney at 6:15. We didn't get going until 7:30. We arrived in Gerroa, a small town two hours south of Sydney on Seven Mile Beach, and got settled into our bunks before our guides were to bus us to a pub. About 50 metres out of the driveway, the bus broke down. We ended up walking a steep hill to the only pub within Gerroa - the Gerroa Boat Fishermen's Club - only to find it closed. We did, however, luck out when the pub managers agreed to sell us several cases of Victoria Bitter, Carlton Cold, and Toohey's New. 72 beers for 24 of us to drink in the "party park" nearby. Not a bad deal.

Everyone took it easy on the beers (more leftovers for me!) as we had to be up and at'em at 7:00 the next morning. This was easy, as thanks to the storm in the evening, our cabins' temperature was down to an arctic chill. By 8:30, we were all in our highly unflattering wet suits and ready for our first lesson. By 9:30, I achieved something I simply could not before: I was standing. Brilli-fucking-ant.

Within the first hour of lessons, I'd already achieved the grandest goal of my whole trip. Now everything is icing. Mind you, despite the speed of the success, it didn't come easy. After innumerable falls, gallons of ingested saltwater, and numerous bangs and bruises, our inflated egos and hearty lunch were well deserved.

The second lesson continued on from our successes, and with the pleasure of high tide we had deeper water, larger waves, and a whole lot of fun. Unfortunately, at one point I fell on my board with my ribs, breaking one of them in the process. Now, I've done this a couple of times before on a snowboard and a mountain bike, and each time I got up and kept going. This was no different, as I wasn't going to allow a damn rib to impede my progress. And I didn't. It still rocked. We then went back to camp to analyze our photos and get further coaching on our technique and stance, and we were all very happy with our results. The following barbecue and beers were highly necessary, and despite the pain, I felt great. Pain trumped by success... It certainly felt weird that I was happy despite the breakage, but not as weird as our evening.

We walked up the hill again to the Boat Fisherman's Club, got our temporary memberships, and were overjoyed to find that drinks were cheap and strong. But that's not the great part. No, the joy of the evening came from watching old people dance to Missy Elliot and the likes. I mean, really old people. One of my camp roommates, Justin (from Kentucky), decided to ham it up and dance with them. Did I mention the drinks were cheap? He then went up with Ciara (from Ireland) to perform "Twist and Shout." Hilarity ensued.

Being a 550-person town with one pub and a lot of old folks, it wasn't surprising that we were shut down at midnight. No worries. After everyone else went to bed, Justin, Tom (from Yorkshire) and I decided to take a stroll to the party park to settle down enough to go to sleep. On our way back, a car pulled up and out walked a fat, drunk Aussie gal named Katrina with no shoes and a bottle of Jack Daniel's. We gladly shared this bottle, and reluctantly entire too much stupid conversation with "Treen" and her brother Adam, learning that she's a receptionist in a brothel, that her familly hates and wants to kill all "Wogs" (Arab immigrants) and that there is a Jerry Springer constituency in Australia. Lovely. Treen then asked me to walk her to the park bathroom (I guess a big girl like her doesn't feel safe in the dark) and subsequently cornered me and started the flattery... which wasn't very flattering coming from a girl a blind man wouldn't touch with the proverbial 10-foot pole. I somehow changed the topic of conversation, which led to her telling me that her uncle is in prison for raping his daughter. I kept pressing the imaginary panic button in my pocket, and my prayer was answered when Adam honked the horn as a plea to go. I later found out this honk was initiated by Justin and Tom, who figured what was up and needed to save my ass. Now those, I say, are good mates.

The ordeal (and the JD) that evening took it out of us the next day, but we were still out on the waves bright and early for lesson 3. I wasn't so bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, so I wound up with a board a foot shorter than the day before. If you're unfamiliar with surfing, this means less buoyancy, less stability, and more falling over. It was like day one all over again, maybe worse. But by the time the lesson was over, I was standing and riding. Although I know I'm not a good surfer yet, I will indulge my ego and say that progressing down one foot in board size is pretty damn good for one weekend's work. Lesson 4, on the other hand, sucked as we were dealing with low tide and crossing currents on the shore, that were making everything a big old mess. I called it a day. You always get hurt when you try to pull a last wave, a last ski run, or whatever - you're tired and you screw up. I was already beaten, battered, and bruised. No reason to push my luck.

On the way out of town, we stopped at a surf shop in Gellengong, which is basically surrounded by cow pastures. I'm assuming that no matter where you go in Australia, whether it's to a farming community or the outback, there isn't a surf shop far away. I took the opportunity to make an investment in my first piece of surf equipment (a rash shirt) to ensure that I commit - at least a little bit - to the sport.

Hopefully I'll catch a few waves in Queensland.

'Til I get there, I'll be recovering with a mellow night and a few cold beers here in Sydney.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Everything is Beachy

Taking advantage of my transit pass, I hopped on a Bondi Explorer bus today, taking in the sights of Sydney's south head. My first proper stop was Gap National Park, an area full of limestone cliffs overlooking the mouth of Sydney Harbour. The giant bluffs are a popular spot for suicides, although I can't imagine why anyone lucky enough to live here would off themselves. Maybe after sticker shock... or the bloody flies.

Then it was off to world-famous (and super crowded) Bondi Beach. Luckily, it isn't too crowded at 11:30 am on a Friday, so I got to lay on the beach and watch the awesome surf in relative peace. Lots of topless ogling to do, but that's always balanced out by entirely too many dudes in Speedos. Yin and yang can be a bitch. The water is really damn blue, with a nice hint of green, hence why the original iMac color was called "Bondi Blue."

There's a coastal walk that winds south from Bondi, ending at Bronte Beach. Over this walk, there are several beaches to check out, and right now, the Sculptures by the Sea exhibit, featuring some great (and some not-so-great) modern sculpture. I hate to sound cheesy, but it's just about the best thing in the world to walk along pristine blue and white beaches and check out an art exhibit at the same time. Now that's a museum, Sydney style.

Went back into town via Coogee (another beach town) and Hyde Park (named after the one in London) and met Ludmilla - whom I know from the states - for an espresso. I've never been on a trip so far away where I keep meeting up with people I know. I guess everyone winds up in Australia eventually. Catching up over coffee was wonderful, as it was an opportunity to see Sydney work culture in action. Tons of people from the nearby financial and tech offices were out in the cafes, swilling beer or coffee, going about their regular business, unconfined by the cubicle farm mentality we hold so dear at home. Sure, everyone's got their mobile phones and Blackberries and other electronic leashes, but the fact that so many people are out enjoying the sunshine while getting work done is a concept we need to introduce to Workaholics Anonymous, AKA the US of A.

I'm off to a weekend surf camp in a couple of hours. Can't wait! Anyone with religious inclinations, please pray that I don't become sharkbait.

Burping in British

I just realized what an Englishman's mouth might taste like.


It's occured to me that I have funky morning burps as a result of starting each day with Weetabix and drinking so much milky tea. They may as well plant a Union Jack on my ass and make me part of the Commonwealth. My digestive tract is being colonized by the English.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Get Your Kicks...

When you're traveling alone, you're never alone. I've always used this maxim to describe the joy of solo travel. It seems to apply manifold in Australia. There are so many solo travelers here, you're that much more likely to have instant friends to hang out with, as everyone's in the same situation.

So it wasn't much of a surprise when I came back to Pink House that a few people were rounding up a group to have an early evening drink at the World Bar. Who am I to say no? Naturally, the moment we left, the sky opened up and pissed on us. It's always fun walking to a bar looking like you'd just had a shower in your clothes.

My schooner of Toohey's wasn't cheap, but the pool was free. Sinead, from Cork, challenged me to a game and I handily defeated her. I'd have celebrated, but really, who hasn't been victorious over the Irish? (I hope my boss isn't reading this...)

Got back to the house to change and was off to Darling Harbour to kick off the evening's festivities. The Route 69 pub crawl was the way to go, getting me out of Kings Cross and on to a bus full of loud music and craziness.

We started off at Pontoon, a posh Darling Harbour venue with stainless steel everything and lots of little black dresses. Something seemed a bit amiss with our motley crew in this environment, but before long, we were headed to Side Bar, a more backpacker-oriented basement establishment. The lack of music seemed a bit odd as we downed our 150% sugar butterscotch shots, then we knew what was up: karaoke. Uh oh. The shot must have hit me quickly, as I signed up to do my traditional rendition of "Friends in Low Places," but as luck would have it, we were running out of time and instead did an everybody-get-on-stage version of "Like a Virgin." Yikes.

The bus then took us to the Cock and Bull, an Irish pub not unlike any other. It was nice to be able to get a proper pint instead of a schooner. I really don't get the lack of pints in this country. Weak.

Our next stop was in Bondi, at a super-sized bar/club/lounge called Aquarium. This is where the pub crawl turned into a meat market, albeit a fun one. We had all sorts of people, guys and girls, getting up and dancing on us, posing for photos, and generally being nutty. Not bad for a Thursday night in the suburbs.

The final destination was back in (booooo) King's Cross, at the been-there-done-that bar known as Empire. We heard "Billie Jean," "500 Miles" and "Shook Me All Night Long" for about the 40th time in the night, and at that point, I'd had about enough. Laura (from Rotterdam) and I headed down to the corner for a bit of kebab, then back to the tired scene until it was time for the bus to head back. Luckily, I was a block away from the house, so I could easily stagger home and sleep.

Route 69 actually was a really good time, and the company was great. The guides were very conducive to getting people to mix together and bond, and you can't complain about a party bus that takes you all over the city. But like other large-scale pub crawls in other cities, you don't get a full feel of the nightlife in the city, just the backpacker side of it. It's good fun, but never feels like a genuine experience.

One of the perils of backpacking, I suppose, is that you get to know people from all over the world, except for the locals. Time to dig deeper.


Keeping up with my self-abusive ritual of trying McDonald's in every country, I picked up a McOz burger. Basically, this is a Quarter Pounder, Australian style - with a few chunks of beet root on it. The verdict? Tasty. It's still Mickey D's nastiness, but the beet makes it infinitely more palatable. Whoodathunkit?

I also had to have a McDonald's apple pie, since they still fry the suckers here. Remember that? The crispy, crunchy delight of an apple pie fried in french fry oil? Ooooh, yeah, baby!

My mouth is happy. My stomach, on the other hand...

Dreary Days

It's muggy and dreary out. The perfect day to just laze around and not be a tourist. List of accomplishments today: Ate Weetabix; watched The Wedding Singer on glorious VHS; got tons of Oz/NZ travel tips from people at the end of their journey. Some days you just need to chill.

Last night, however, was pretty great. I rang up Andrew, an Aussie whom I'd made friends with in Paris a couple of years ago. As luck would have it, he's currently working in Sydney so he popped by the Pink House for a drink before we went out to a nearby bar/restaurant called The Bourbon and had $10 T-bone steaks. That's $7.50 US. And it wasn't shite.

It was great to catch up with an old travel pal, talking about our old hostel roomies, further travel plans, and just having a nice evening in general. It's a good tearaway from the usual touristy-sightseeing-followed-by-partying routine typical of these trips.

That said, after Andrew made his way home, it was back to the ol' PH for a living room piss-up. Copious amounts of wine. A decent amount of singing and dancing. Bottles of Toohey's New, which is actually pretty tasty. A silly card game called Assassin, during which I zonked out and snored to everyone's amusement. The beanbag chair sucking the soul out of me. It's only been 2 nights and I've already fallen into a rut of coming back to the hostel and drinking wine. The upside is that I haven't been spending a lot of cash. Can't say it's a bad life, but I think it's time to shake things up tonight. Kings Cross is already getting old, and the backdrop of a red light district is not as interesting as it would sound. I think it may be appropriate to hit the city.

I'm bringing my fly repellent.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Greetings from... work

So I met up with Damon of 4D Australia today when he picked me up from the Gordon train station in the northern suburbs. This allowed us the opportunity to go somewhere tourists seldom go - Whale Beach. A gorgeous place northwest of Sydney proper, the place is nearly empty, with the beach dotted by dedicated surfers who must get in their weekday quote.

Lunch at the Beach House overlooking the, umm, beach was spectacular. Heaps of seafood punctuated by a shark alarm. Bodes well for this weekend's surf camp, doesn't it? Anyway, I think today we finished off whatever seafood was left in Sydney Harbour. I'm pretty sure between yesterday and today, I've consumed all the aquatic fauna Sydney has to offer. Maybe even that shark, too. At one point, the waiter brought out some avocado-topped seafood morsels of goodness, "compliments of the house." Alright, maybe it was salmon cake, but who knows?? It could've been that shark.

A stop for espresso at a nearby Marina capped off a great midday escape from the metropolitan bustle of Sydney. The route back to Gordon went through Ku-Ring-Gai National Park, one of about 450,000 national parks in the immediate area. I didn't see any wildlife, unless you count all the schoolkids jaywalking across the roads with a surfboard under their arm... Why couldn't I have grown up here?

So now I'm in Gordon at the 4D office, taking advantage of some free internet action. It seems no matter where I go, I can't get away from 4D. We're worldwide, baby.

Ok, time to get back outdoors. I think the flies are starting to miss me.

Ode to Corn Flakes

Oh, Corn Flakes, how I love thee;
The perfect complement to milky tea.
Capped off with a dessert of PB&J,
You really know how to start my day.

Having already spent half my annual salary just by stepping off the plane, I was going to make it a cheap day. I'd blown a chunk of change on a Sydney Pass, so I figured I'd use it to get to places I wouldn't want to walk to, nor did I want to walk in the rain. So I got on the included hop-on/hop-off bus and decided I should track down the best bargain I'd heard of: The Sydney Fish Market.

Now I'm not one to frequent fish markets. First off, I wouldn't know how to gut and prepare a fish for cooking, and secondly, they smell. BUT, Christie's at the Fish Market is the only place in town where you can get a half dozen top-notch oysters for $8. And damn, they are goooood. I feasted on some oysters and roasted octopus, ready to take on the day. I'd just wolfed down half the seafood output of Sydney Harbor, and the sun decided to come out, so it seemed a better idea to walk the rest of the day.

God bless these Keen sandals. That was a long walk. From the Fish Market to uber-touristy Darling Harbour and King Street Wharf, it's not so bad. The walk to the base of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and up the Pylon Lookout, on the other hand, wasn't so breezy, but the climb up was worthwhile, just for the views.

Sydney is a truly beautiful city. At first, I felt like it was London with a little more space and a lot more sun. Then I realized, no, I was wrong. There are a hell of a lot more flies. But the view from the Pylon, with its panoramic view of the shimmering blue inlet that Sydney surrounds, reminded me why it's worth coming halfway around the world to see it. It's freakin' beautiful.

Walking from the bridge to Circular Quay and, naturally, the Opera House revealed more of the beauty. Even the throngs of tourists aren't all that annoying. It's just too happy and nice around here. Just east of the Opera House, in the Royal Botannical Gardens, it looks like every other Sydneysider has taken the day off to go sun themselves. Even the seagulls were laying about in the grass catching some rays. I may have been on my feet all day, but it was blissful.

By evening, I made it back to the Pink House at Kings Cross in time for some traditional Aussie tucker: A barbecue. For $5, our hosteliers fed us to the gills with sausages, steak, salads. I guess there are bargains to be found in Sydney.

I rallied up with some Brits in the house - Becky, Jen and Tom - and we went out to the World Bar for a few "Long Island Iced Teas" that we had free coupons for. I use the quotations because there was about as much alcohol in these as you'd find in a Mormon temple. The pissed-on drinks called for a change of venue.

To O'Malley's Irish Pub it was, where we saw this former Navy Seal-turned-bar-act singing Barry White tunes to a T. Scary. The Walrus of Love lives. In Sydney.

The bar hop continued to the backpacker-oriented Empire, although I can hardly see how $5 glasses of beer are anything remotely backpackerlike. A fat, old wannabe pimp with a grey ponytail and a 96" waistline started ripping into Becky and Jen ("Go home, Poms!") but they wouldn't take it. They called it like they saw it, calling the guy a fat bastard, old sleaze who hangs out in backpacker bars, you get the picture. Security came to break it up and there was no incident, other than tears of ironic laughter when Mr. Rotundo called Becky a "fat bitch" as he left.

Overall, Kings Cross nightlife has been less than impressive. Hence why we ended back up at the lounge at the Pink House, polishing off a 4L box of wine. And, having not been to bed for 2 days, it's at that point I became intimately acquainted with my bean bag chair.

And that's why I'm singing the praises of Corn Flakes this morning. They re-nourished me, re-vitalized me, and now it's off to meet Damon, my 4D counterpart from Sydney. Gotta mix business with pleasure, sometimes.