Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Outback and some Travel Advice from the Unprepared

I wrote a post in a park across the street from the Opera house a while back, it was lost unfortunently because I have no idea what program I used to type it, such is the internetless and new laptop times. I start fresh from my Virgin Airlines flight to Ayers Rock an equally if not more interesting sight. The past 2 months or so have been a challange in practically every way emotionally, mentally and physically. From what I had previously considered to be the worst luck in the world I fell quite a bit farther not only developing gallstones but leaving work early due to the father of the children turning out to be a full on sociopath. I could write a book about pathological liars at this point to be honest; but things arent all bad now I'm crashing at my host moms apartment in North Sydney which is a nice change of pace from the early retirement that was Brooklyn. The situation past the 19th is unpredictable all I know is im headed to Uluru, Tasmania, Melbourne up the Great Ocean Rd to Adelaide and back. My brother will be joining me for the last two weeks of this insane journey and I'll spend the winter working in New York to save up, hopefully get surgery and catch my return flight to Auckland in May with quite a bit more cash than originally anticipated.
 


Its a plan and I hope a good one, over these last few months especially I've found making plans to be more of an inconvenience, though I'm happy to have some semblance of my venture set in stone.

I got no sleep before the flight to the red Center of Australia because I hyped myself up on way too much caffeine the day before. I attempted to write more than the words above on the plane but ended up falling in a semi-sleep state that mainly consisted of my being abruptly woken up by my own drooping head I think I startled the woman sitting next to me when I jerked up pretending I was awake and working.

It takes just over 3 hours to reach the spiritual center of the country from Sydney and if you have the patience and eye ability to stare out the window the views are quite spectacular. Flying from the city over the Blue Mountains and into rural country just goes to show how heavily populated the coastal areas really are. I watched the change from blue to green to eventual red till my eyes felt like sizzling out of my head and closed for a very un-restful nap.

As the three hour flight came to an end Uluru appeared in the distance a massive red mark on the vast empty landscape, it looked like what was to be expected a big red rock, with my little research into the area I was surprised to see other rocks of size dotting the landscape, Kata Tjuta being the other predominant one. As we descended below the clouds this new land took on a new appearance; I hear a lot about the sun set casting an orange glow on the Uluru but what I havent heard about is the purple daily glow against the red sand, it really was beautiful. 

Kata Tjuta

The airport was tiny and about a 15 min drive from the hostel (only one in the area) I was staying at, free shuttle buses take you right to accommodation so its a stress free landing. As we drove it became apparent this really was the middle of nowhere and except for tourism there is nothing more here, it is a resort built community. I checked in at a busy lobby at the Outback Pioneer a hotel/hostel mix, school holidays were packing the place in to the brim, as I questioned reception I discovered the only way car-less to get to the rocks was by tour company or a shuttle at the min cost (off times) of around $60 plus a $25 park entry fee. I knew coming here would be expensive but holy shit. Good news though poor travelers, there are great views to be found all over from various lookouts or hills but don't expect to spend a lot of time here unless you were planning on dropping some major cash; 3 days should suit perfectly if you've got an exploration budget.

The town center boasts some tourist shops an IGA and a few overpriced restaurants as well as a particularly nasty bird that decided to swoop on my head twice before I used my bag as protection. Aboriginal artist paint and sell their work in the courtyard and have various native wares such as the iconic boomerang, its run by a non profit Maruku Arts. Free activities were held daily.



 Overall the trip was worth it although really nothing of much interest happened it was a visual trip and learning experience of Aboriginal culture, its an unmissable part of visiting Australia I'd say personally.



To those looking to go into the outback I would strongly suggest a tour to get the full experience, its not meant to be experienced in one spot. 

Wish I had more exciting things to report but it was a mellow trip spent reading for the most part, sometimes when you find yourself in the desert heat surrounded by the most irritating flies you just run out of things to say. My adventurous nature is coming back to me bit by bit it took a bit of beating, best way to get back on track is to start moving.



Since this is a more lackluster post I thought id share some options of getting out here I encountered on my exhaustive search to get west.

Tours

The Rock Tour - Cheapest tour I found online $355 and a decent itinerary lots of people in the hostel had booked it.

Groovy Grape - Saw their little buses come through quite often at the camel farm, pricey but a pretty full on experiences lined up very backpacker geared.

AAT Kings - Not sure their pricing I believe its expensive but they picked up a roommate from Ayers Rock for a day trip to Kings Canyon, I was very jealous, not seeing Kings Canyon is a bit of a regret; their buses are all over Ayers Rock and are also the shuttles that get you to the Airport.

Transport into the Outback

Car Rental - The more people the cheaper! I'll always consider this the best option for travel in groups, most companies will charge an extra rate for the Outback or a one-way fee if your planning on driving through to another location but for the freedom its worth it 100%.
 Juicy
Wicked Campers (got some heat recently for inappropriate sayings on their cars, some were actually covered by concerned citizens)

Also to note car relocation is a good option, rentals can be as cheap as $1, however they require a bond often of $1000+ and have fairly decent time constraints; for that price I'd rush.
Imoova

Flying - Jetstar, Virgin Australia & Quantas
Dependant on time of travel could be extremely expensive, my round trip cost $375 during school holidays (+$$$) when I snagged Virgin Australia happy hour price (Thursdays starting @4:00).

Train -
I really would have loved to do this but time and expense of hostels for layovers restrained me. $495pp for 2 months unlimited travel, you could get from Sydney to Adelaide inland to the red center over to Perth then turn around and end in Melbourne. Pretty good option.

Bus -
Greyhound I thought was the way to go South to North if you could stand the hellish transit times but I haven't been able to find the hop off hop on pass for the center of the country up from I believe was from Adelaide to Darwin, they might have done away with it. That'd be a shame if they did but do a bit of searching I have limited wifi time so maybe I just missed it or maybe I imagined it who knows...

That's the extent of my knowledge hope it helps all you travelers out because I sure as hell wished someone told me all this.


Monday, August 11, 2014

Operas and Laptops

Excellent news! 
I am the proud owner of a new shiny not Apple and not 2nd hand laptop! Its a Dell Inspiron 11 3000 and will suit my needs just fine if I can figure out Windows 8. I'm now remastering the art of the left click which I once missed but now find incredibly annoying, it is a touch screen though so all is not lost on the frustration front. My bank account is low once more signaling all is well with the world. 

Photos will take a while to get figured out I need to download a few programs because lord knows Microsoft paint and I wont get along, I'll be diligently working on getting back in my old ways soon. Since when did all computers stop having cd drives as well? I've been out of the market for a while now... 
Its seems exploring this new system that Macs are the computer equivalent of a paint by numbers and Pcs made for those who like torture and unfathomable matrix-esque folders everywhere. (I'm not very computer savvy)

To hold you over here is the first photo I put on the pc taken during the dark times of no laptops past, I hate the editor so I'm gonna wait on doing more work.
I call it plant in sink

The kick starters still up and going to recoup the loss of my Outback bus money so if you like what you see feel free to send a few (or a heap) of singles my way I'll have stories to share that I can guarantee. Kickstarter

This past weekend I attended Don Giovanni at the Iconic Sydney Opera house. Mozart is my 2nd favorite composer and 1st favorite t-shirt until it was lost to bleach. If you have this shirt in medium please send it to me I need it back in my life.
 Part missing, Decomposing since 1791
Anyways, I had shoved a notebook into a small bag I was taking in lieu of my giant backpack but had forgotten a pen; I scored myself a cheap overpriced plastic one from the gift shop. The wait was mainly uneventful I was crazy early having gone looking at computers before hand and spent far less time than I imagined I would. Pretty much I sat by the water, drank beer, ate some soup and was cold for about an hour all while writing about it in unnecessary detail which I omit for the sake of your sanity. I did see a woman reading an article on How to Be Alone however and felt an overwhelming urge to tell her to go home go in her room and lock the door.

Show time grew closer as I scribble nonsense and baby stepped my way over towards the Joan Sutherland Theater.  

The Opera.

Ahh the Opera a timeless art that has transcended the years since its prime becoming the muse of the elderly and rich in the minds of many generations of younger persons. I had a great night and it certainly was a night of observation as I drank my $10.50 glass of wine on the Opera house balcony. If you want to see a diverse group of people of all cultures and social classes see an Opera. I promise you glam and glitz from the wealthy, some tourist assholes in jeans (last opera I saw), the casual local show goer in black and the elderly in styles, well, only your grandma would wear. As I sat in my last row seats I admired the atmosphere of subdued excitement an easy relaxed vibe of anticipation. The lights dimmed and the numerous bald heads of the crowd glowed fainter and fainter. 


Music drifted from the orchestra pit and it was almost immediately apparent far removed from its creation this show would be captivating. The thing about Opera is everything is explained as if to a foreigner with no grasp of the language, takes 30 minutes to explain Don Givonni is an asshole and another 40 to show how sad Donna Anna is at the death of her father, but the tedium is surprisingly minimal for my young technology impaired brain. The vocal range of the singers was incredible as women threw themselves to the floor yelling out in the throes of emotional distress, it was nice to see someone more over dramatic than me last week to be quite honest.

At over three hours the Opera went surprisingly quickly, I have tons of respect for the actors I cant imagine how they feel towards the end of a run but I can imagine exhausted its a long show, they're built of tough stuff. A young European couple in the mid to late 20s didn't make it past intermission and in front of me a greasy headed man with his cougar companion let his head flop in various directions as he was awoken by the orchestra. Don Giovanni was eventually pulled into hell as ripples of consciousness came to life in the audience, we watched engulfed; this was immediately followed by uneasy shifting in seats at the prospect of standing up and stretching, only a warning to the sinners of the world that this would be their fate for their wicked ways left to get through.

I cant recommend seeing a show at the Opera House more highly and I would strongly encourage you to take out the nicest pants you own and dress up for the occasion. It's the icon of Sydney and has numerous productions for all tastes from Opera to the Symphony and theater productions; coming up shortly the Bob Dylan formerly known as a singer will be performing as well.

It may have taken 15 years to build, been 14x over budget caused many people heaps of grief and been a general pain in the ass to build but the Opera House is beautiful and absolutely worth the price of a ticket to have the honor of seeing a show in.

Its with a heavy heart I read this morning about the death of Robin Williams, there are certain celebrities that you don't realize impacted your life so much until they die. I never quite noticed just how many movies in my childhood starred him and the countless laughs I got since then from his films and stand-up. Comedy can be a terribly depressing business, to be funny you need to be observant and find in your particular way the humor in everyday life no matter how mundane. That same astute observational skill isn't turned off on yourself and unfortunately as with many greats before him it seems finding a way to dull a lively mind becomes stronger than the desire to live. RIP.



Thursday, August 7, 2014

From the Mind to Print and Back Again

I've listed my kickstarter and hope with all my heart it will be sucessful so I can get back on track with my work. I thought intensely about it over the past day, half of me was excited to get my photos and writing out there and get people as excited as I am to continue and the other half was saying this is just a hobby and you really don't deserve help. I'm glad I heard that horrible voice because my photography is not a hobby its actually what I live for; I devote all free time joyfully to it and quite honestly feel a bit depressed not having the ability to share the photos I've taken post computer capable of RAW format. Before leaving New York I was always intending on creating a book, I didn't expect to be back home right after the 3 months in Hawaii I wanted to get away long term. At the time I didn't connect photography to the idea but that is a huge bonus in my life and even more reason to get started. I'm ready to commit myself to that original goal of a travel book because if I've learned anything recently its that I've got plenty to say. Sometimes its really easy to discount your work as much as it means to you and realizing you do is the first step to creative freedom, my photography means so much that I'm willing to take a chance at failing to raising enough money.

For those new to the blog check out Victoriafennell.com for my photography, I hope to find a raw converter capable with this computer to put up some of the newer photos over the past week but I'm using my host moms old work laptop and it limits updates and new program downloads.

The link to my kickstarter page is, https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/toritakesphotos/the-pursuit-of-travel

Au-pairing is a lonely job, life revolves around the kids needs and school schedule, my free time had been revolving around my photography and writing for months now and the absence of access to photos has been sorely missed. 

So a brief update on the laptop situation.

I went to the Apple store yesterday to have my laptop checked out; I ordered a screwdriver last week to have a peek inside and allow little in depth drying before handing it over. It didn't look good. Bits of what looked like pet hair and fuzz were caked onto the components which were themselves a distorted and a clearly corroded color. I knew it was over and probably could have skipped the torment I put myself through getting it looked at but I dragged my feet to the train with a heart of heavy hope to make the 12:45 appointment.

I walked down the long hallway of the mall towards the Apple store with the look of a deer in the headlights standing in a cold doctors office with dozens of needles pointed at various parts of my body. I felt I had lost my social confidence and was genuinely nervous about going in. I was only a few minutes early and sat next to a woman getting her two laptops checked out, I couldn't sit still. A greasy looking teenager slid over towards me after helping the older woman, his name tag said genius on it and although he was really very nice I cant remember his name. I smiled trying to look alright, I explained my situation quickly and in much less detail than I had run through over and over again in my head about how to explain my stupidity. The real conversation was not even close to what I had imagined. The employees here must be used to people on the verge of breaking down in tears I figured, its so stressful. He explained he'd be taking the laptop to the backroom, I listened not hearing anything engulfed in a swirl of thoughts I cant even remember. I sat rubbing my hands together fidgeting unconsciously trying to look comfortable and okay. A woman sat to the right of me with a faulty iPhone, she smiled. I felt my shoulders hunched over and my face unnaturally long, I straightened up and smiled back. She knew my deal she heard my sputtering and half mumbling shameful explanation. She was so kind and for a few minutes took my mind off the man in the back who would momentarily tell me my computer could be replaced for the fee of a mere 1500 dollars. I wish I could remember what we spoke about, I remember her iPhone was broken but it was new so she'd be getting a new one free for sure; her daughters Mac was trashed as well but I think she was trying to make me feel better. I could have hugged her thinking back now but I find when nervous my mind does not like to process or save any information.

She motioned her head towards the door, wide eyed and in slow motion I looked to see the boy carrying my laptop looking glum. I seriously was trying not to cry, thats what my energy was focused on. I pride myself in being tough but I'm terrible at stopping myself from shedding tears in distressing moments. My mind remembers the diagnosis as,
Dead 
Repair not worth it. Are you a student? 
I asked with my hand over my mouth if anything was salvageable, he said something along the lines of, a few keys might work.

I said a few okays and then knowing full well if I didn't get out of there fast I would start leaking, I thanked him as best I could and said "I gotta go." I turned back quickly to wave goodbye to the woman to the right of me but I'm not sure she saw, I 'm so happy she grounded me during that wait.

In actual fact I'm glad I know the drama is over, there is no more maybe it will come on it and hesitant plugging in. It is now a nice extremely expensive paperweight for the piles of notes I have accumulated since its departure. My writings are lost to the infosphere very sadly, the big black box in the electromagnetic waves. In another form they still live in my mind and one day I'll sort through and decide what deserves to be brought back to print. Such is life, its only a possession and I will bounce back eventually with a ton of photos to share.


Monday, August 4, 2014

Erasing the Week from Memory


Its really amazing how last week was the complete opposite of the prior, I hope that means good things are about to happpen... so far so good. I decided to try something new on Sunday, writing my post whilst traveling, the result is not 100% in the moment however its pretty true to form where I did minus some obscenities.

I decided to continue the week from hell by going to Kiama and seeing how things went. Staying in I figured wouldn't be very beneficial to my overall worldly view I needed to stretch my legs and enjoy my cheap travel Sunday of which I will soon be running low on. I'm now on the train on the way to Kiama and my reserve of fucks to give is running alarmingly low, my tank of optimism almost drained I feel the look of indifference plague my face.

I woke up late Sunday morning forgetting that my alarm only went off on weekdays, I moved slowly this particular Sunday not entirely sure how much I actually cared about going anywhere. After some coffee and delaying, I accepted the fact that I needed a change of pace and went to the station ready to try and switch my luck around. I arrived at central station and found the connecting train to Kiama pretty quickly for you know being me; it left in about 30 minutes. I walked a long hallway and rode down one of the longest escalators of my life, gusts of wind blew fiercly from the vents to make it all the more unpleasent. 

I was spit out on an underground platform, one of the few i've seen in Sydney Central Station. The stop reminded me of a NYC subway minus the rats (just because you don't see them doesn't mean they aren't there) and psychopaths. The air smelled like a moist old book and the walls ran with discolored water stains of unknown origin.  Ads lined the opposing wall for go figure, laptops; people looked gleefully at pie charts ignoring the beautiful sunny park day just past their screens. If your job requires you to be looking at pie charts in a park on what is obviously your time off, you need a new job.

I soon grew bored narrating my own life as there was absolutely nothing going on, I began doodling in my book drawing on level with the artistic talents of an 8 year old. I scribbled away the time glancing up periodically to watch the minutes dwindle. I thought about how when something is on your mind you're haunted by it. Computers were on my mind and I felt like every coffee shop i'd passed had folks smiling illuminated smiles as they watched their cat videos, every train car had the tap, tap tap, tap of fingers with a little something to say. I grew cynical in my artwork and was for a time absorbed.  

At last glance of the clock it was 1min till departure, I started gathering my things and stood up waiting for the train untangling myself from headphones and various pens. The minute turned to nothing as I walked towards the yellow line. A train started passing slowly by picking up speed as it moved, it did not stop. I stood there stupefied and walked towards the edge, I had apparently been sitting beyond the trains stopping point. This was news to me as all the others had reached this far, I knew because I'd just watched them. I then realized the express train might be smaller and I would be getting no breaks today. I sucked it up and pretended to be okay with the set back but knew the next train was an hour away and was not an express. 

I didn't believe in ghosts till my Mac died
I couldn't handle watching all the same trains pass again so I boarded the first train to Bondi Junction figuring moving would be better than just sitting idly in a smelly dark tunnel. I continued my pissed off art as I traveled the same path I would shortly have to take back. I arrived at another underground station with 30 mins to spare again. I looked around noticing I was about the only person around; I searched for some form of amusement, all I could see to entertain myself were ads for alcoholism.

See whats on your mind huh? Wino.

This was the result of the passing 30 minutes of waiting and the ad that sparked my imagination.


Finally I was off again it may have been the same direction but any was better than none. I watched the list of stops pass by, it was the first time I had paid attention and was shocked at the amount. I wasn't sure at this rate if I'd even make it to Kiama by sunset. I made a pact there with myself that if that was the case wherever I was at the time I would get off the train and take pictures. 

Time passed... Slowly. There was a place called Waterfall I thought if it actually had waterfalls I would have gotten out but I wasn't convinced and rightly so. It became apparent this was not only not the express it was bound to be the longest mentally challenging train ride of my life dwarfing even the 11 hour trip to Byron Bay. I looked out the window cursing my decision to leave the house, I dont know how stared into the trees but about an hour into the trip a flash of blue broke through the trees. I perked up, What did I just see? Another line of blue another flashed by when suddenly the landscape opened up to that spectacular Australian coast I love so much. For about 30mins in this tiring day I felt a little bit of weight life off my shoulders as I allowed myself to get lost in the view.


Unfortunately it didn't last too long but was replaced by some rather lovely country on the opposite side. Some obnoxiously loud Aussie teen girls had gotten on the train at a place I wrote down as Underwearra, I refused to move behind them; I can only take so much squawking and cockatoos already took care of that for the day. 

Eventually we arrived at Kiama I walked off the train to a chill I was unprepared for and headed in the direction of the town. Everything was shut down on Sunday evening around 5:30, with the exception of one was bar that I could see. I made a mental note just in case I'd need to stop in there but thought more along the lines of the soonest train back. 

Kiama is a quaint town undoubtedly lively with tourists on the weekend days. The Kiama blowhole is the main attraction, its apparently the worlds largest. Water goes in the bottom and water sprays out the top, thats about it. Its not something that will make or break your vacation certainly but fun I'm sure on a hot summers day with some friends if your looking to possibly and unexpectedly be drenched in water. I saw, I snapped photos and I left knowing deep down I would be unable to do anything with them at the moment. I walked back to the train station as it started getting cold and found my train leaving in go figure 27 minutes. 

Its okay not to be happy all the time, if we were we wouldn't be human. Rough weeks end and we hope for the best next time around. Overall I probably should have stayed home but I got some nice sunset photos so I cant complain, I did enough during the trip as you can tell. Those photos will be added here later I've been told by an unreliable source I can borrow a less ancient laptop and post them. If that unreliable source reliably falls through I'll do my best to get around the limits of this beast im typing on.

Updates on laptop... I opened it up and it looked like a swamp bits of dust and fuzz and dirt caked on the discolored electronics. Not good, tomorrow is D-day I've got an appointment with a professional heart breaker at Apple and will find out if my future holds Mac or PC in store. 

Kick Starter was approved but I haven't listed it yet because, sure, I want a new computer to do my blogging and photography and yes im poor but, I'm also wondering besides trying to get you all off your butts to explore the world, what is my mission and what more can I do? I'm having a meaningful moment and will take a night to explore what besides the idea of a book and digital copies of photos I can offer in return for financial help.

Opera and Bondi beach this weekend, till next time.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Not quite sure what the universe is playing at but last night my computer tragically got to know water a little too well. We had a good run these short 2 (?) months and now I find myself utterly confused on how to replace it. A new even new used Macbook air will set me back some serious travel funds, it seems just too much. Unfortunately for a bit photos with blog posts will be out of the question as the dinosaur I borrowed to look up laptop life saving techniques cant handle the RAW and can only just down load JPEG if you have the whole day to waste. Im considering starting a kick starter to try and get a new laptop, waiting on verification though may take a few days. If I decide to go through with it I would very much appreciate any support you can offer. In return of donations I can offer digital prints of my photos.

Hope to have better news next time

Update: Computers still not working but I thought I'd just tack new details to this post, I don't like how small and sad it is. This week in many ways is turning out to be the exact opposite of the last. It tempts me to cancel my trip to Kiama tomorrow for fear the largest blowhole in the world may decided to take my camera somehow. I'll go anyway because I need a break from the house and worse my thoughts about the pieces of writing possibly lost to oblivion. Im feeling very over dramatic lately and find myself wanting to stare off indifferently into the distance. I just did with my hand on my chin, I feel a bit better... Maybe ill stand by the water later and say woe is me.
Back to the art of iPod photography

 Honestly though it sucks majorly it could be worse. On the list of life problems mine are very fixable all it'll take is a wad of cash and bucket of tears, unless of course Apple raised their tear requirements which upon hearing the price of a new computer will be very easy to procure. The fact remains I'm in Australia a laptop cant take that experience from me and i'll get a new one no matter what it takes to raise the money.
(Kick starter is in approval stages)

On a happier note, im getting used to Australia, I noticed this when I was taking garbage up the road on Thursday. I no longer cared about the tons of Spider Webs on the handle of the bins. That is a huge step, when I first got here if my hand even brushed a web I would flip a minor shit, now I couldn't be bothered I got 2 problems and a spider ain't one.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Mellow in the best of ways




 Have you ever had a day where everything goes spectacularly right? I just have and let me tell you it can equally be as much of a mind fuck as the day that goes entirely wrong. These rare occasions seem to come around just when you need them giving you a well needed boost and spring in your step.  Lumbering about gets tiresome and an unexpected refresher from the everyday comes as a well needed surprise.

I had booked a cruse about a month and a half ago for whale watching outside of Sydney, the weather at the start of the week had predicted the Saturday of departure as beautifully sunny, clear and warm; however as the day crept closer so did the clouds and that sunny glorious forecast turned treacherous. My weather app displayed pictures of ominous clouds before turning into emoticons of lightening, exactly what I most dreaded seeing. I’ve never been on a boat in the open ocean, I have no idea if I’d get sea sick on a good day; boat in a storm is a disaster waiting to happen.

At the time of this specific word its Saturday night, let me take you back to Friday 2 am….

I wake up to the sound to a downpour, my hand out of habit jumps to grab my ipod. In a bit of a haze I check the weather report again seeing nothing but endless rain in the forecast, I'm never one to believe the weather app on Apple however as they are wrong about 50% of the time but the pouring rain wasn't doing anything to ease my mind. I felt like turning off my alarm and sleeping in, I decided against it I didn't really have to be up particularly early anyways. I went back to sleep awakening periodically throughout the early morning glancing at the clouds hoping at one point in waking up they’d be gone.

Now whales don’t care about the rain but I did, I of course would not be leaving home without my camera. I had the protection on that covered with my waterproof backpack but my notebooks and laptop couldn’t be risked. I had planned on visiting the Opera bar after the cruse for what I expected would be a well needed drink and some blogging, I'm becoming a huge fan of leaving the house for my writing I find myself to be far more productive with a beer and change of scenery, but that now seemed unlikely.

I made my way out of bed quickly seeing a text from my host mom asking if i’d like a ride to the shopping complex at Hornsby to catch an earlier and closer train. I had 30 minutes. It was still raining and I was beginning to wonder if I should try and reschedule the trip. I figured it was too late and despite no longer being excited I packed my things and got ready to go in the laziest way possible by throwing on leggings, boots and a hoodie.

I arrived at the train station unsurprised to see a sign for track work on my line I looked around, no listing for trains headed to the city. It cant be, I followed the signs for buses estimating in my mind the amount of time it would take to get there, prospects didn't look too good. I walked up to the first neon vest I saw and asked if I needed to grab a bus to get to central, the man responded by pointing in the direction of the stop then graciously added it’d be much quicker to catch the Gordon line instead since with the buses you’d have to switch in Epping. I stared at him utterly confused but pretended to understand nodding and stroking my chin, yes yes; I thanked him and started walking back to the track signs. I noticed one sign had changed with the departure of the train before, Gordon something something 2 mins, I didn't have time to read it because my eyes flashed to 2 mins and my legs propelled me towards the gate. Where is Gordon? Is it going North or South? I have no idea what I’m doing but there is a train there so here I go. I jumped through the doors with a few seconds to save, I glance at the list of stops seeing a dozen I didn’t recognise. Just as I was considering jumping out to look at the sign outside (smart idea right?) the doors shut. The train started inching forward in the general city direction, good, then North Sydney flashes past on the screen and the city stops follow. Thank goodness I had asked that guy and just went for it, often when I get too confused my mind shuts down and I stall making bad calls. A bus would have been an enormous waste of time and likely would have caused me missing the boat I needed all the time I could get, I still didn't really know where I was going in Darling Harbor to board.



The track work couldn't have been better I ended up getting there earlier than expected at a stop even closer to my destination giving me time for coffee and proper map examining trying to figure out where I was. I wandered around walking unsurely in the correct direction, there were no signs of any sort but the instructions were so self explanatory I doubted them. I noticed small groups of equally as confused looking people arriving around where the paper said I should be and figured I must be doing something right. Made it with about 30 mins to spare, I snapped a few photos looking to kill time.

Off in the distance soon after I began taking photos I saw a bit of blue creep through the clouds, could it be? I watched the spot grow as the mass of grey began to clear, would this be a sunny day after all? I had only been making jokes the night before with my host mom how i’d be fine with rain as long as it was enough to cancel soccer and stop in time for the boat ride.


Time dragged and people shuffled from one leg to the other staring off into the water and talking to each other, this was one of those occasions where being a lone traveler weighs a bit heavy; I'm a social person when I’m forced to be when I'm not I couldn't be bothered with small talk. I spent a bit of time in a line not my own before moving over to the correct ramp. It was a pretty small boat considering the amount of people on it, comfortable but when the time came for whales I knew it'd be a mashing of folks on all sides. As we pulled away from the dock the sky was looking promising and only improving each minute. I felt lucky hoping that it wasn't just a fluke with a storm hiding just beyond my zone of sight or worse out at sea. We pulled out of Darling Harbor and took the familiar scenic city scape path under the Harbor Bridge and past the Opera House, pristine skies. I had been on the boat to Manly multiple times and had seen these views enough not to be immersed completely in them but found myself in awe inspired at the fortuitous turn of weather.



We cruised past a huge cluster of sailboats, a race was scheduled for that day and amongst the hordes of bobbing boats I wondered how they could get into anything resembling order. We turned towards the Manly cliffs, gateway to the open ocean, I had never journeyed past them and was surprised to almost immediately go past a fur seal regulating ins temperature in the brisk waters. It was waving fins in the air floating leisurely so non chalant about being alone this far out in the water, I know they're marine life and all but its hard to imagine considering they're the preferred meal of so many predators… Its pretty amazing to see that this close outside of such a populated harbor marine life is just floating about relaxing in the waves, you forget growing up with New Jersey beaches things actually live in the water. Apparently according to the man with the mic on the ship the waves this day was one of the calmest of the year, for that I was thankful and now positive I would have been sea sick otherwise. Birds flew about and sat on the surface bobbing up and down with the current, it may have been calm but it still was powerful. Off in the distance clouds were sitting like a wall above the water, the sign of the EAC (East Australian Current, dude). People had now crowded outside onto the front of the boat, myself included staring out into the waves looking for anything living. The ocean is so tremulous that really telling anything from a distance is a task, I now have significantly less hope for survival if I ever get lost at sea. 



Eyes scanned the horizon, someone yelled out every time they saw something that resembled what they thought a whale would look like. For about 40 mins we stood there squinting against the bright blue. Finally someone with far sharper eyes than myself called it right, a water plume rose above the surface and a faint glimmer of silver breached the waves in an arch, the first of the sightings. By this point I was trying to distract myself from the sickness feelings I either had or imagined I had; I propped my leg up on a box and pretending I was a captain of an old fashioned ship looking for land after being at sea for ages. When I saw the plume and wanted to point and yell, “therrr she blows!” I didn't to my eternal regret, maybe next time. 




We had found a group of 5 humpback whales, a competition pod according to the mic guy. This sent a noticeable wave of excitement throughout the crowd as if we were possibly about to witness some aqua WWE. We didn’t, and a good thing for that if you ask me, from what I understand whales fight nasty using the barnacles under their chins to scrape each others eyes out, vicious stuff that. We followed them for quite a while and they even decided to come close to the boat for a minute or two. There was no leaps, no fights and no ramming of the boat it was however amazing in every way to see these beauties of the deep. I’ve always felt very bad the only whale I’ve seen is an Orca at Sea World, Florida... I was always pretty obsessed with Free Willy.



It ended up taking so long to find the whales we had to head back after what felt like a short amount of time, it was a lot longer than it felt however the 4 hours passing like nothing. On the ride back to the city the storm I had been taunted with raged north of Sydney a fair distance from the the boat, it could have even possibly been over Brooklyn but distance was hard to gauge from that far out. The rain looked thick and I was once again reminded how lucky we were to have gotten this unbelievable day.

I was getting dizzy, I held strong eager not to make sea sickness part of my life and luckily got back in to the harbor before I felt any worse. With in the hour I was wobbly and back on land never prouder to have not been sick and attempting to walk in the least drunk looking manner possible.


My plans to get a few drinks at the Opera Bar were thwarted by lack of seating, a common problem and my indifference to actually finding a place to set up writing camp. I had wanted Indian food specifically Vindaloo and a spicy one at that so I decided to set off an find that instead. I quickly grew tired of looking , I don't think my heart was really in the actual finding of a restaurant I instead stopped in Woolworths to get Siracha to slather on something at home. Alas the scourge of my shopping here no siracha to be found. I walked defeated towards the train stain outside, there was nothing going direct to my stop i’d have to get off at Hornsby and switch if I wanted to leave anytime soon. Fine I can go to Coles and try again for my precious red spicy sauce. I was beat and tempted to sleep but I kept up with music and thoughts of going to the atm and getting what I need at the shops.

Hornsby was shockingly closed up at 8:00 on a Saturday night most stores save a few restaurants, ice cream shop and the grocery/liquor store had the gates down. That's always one thing that surprises me having left the USA stores actually close at a reasonable hour, had I been employed in my usual choice of shit jobs I’d be very happy for it. I waltzed into the store and stared at the signs looking for sauces. No siracha, I could have sworn I bought it here once, shit. I went to international foods nope but wait! Vindaloo whoop whoop, it was bought and for that I may one day be sorry but not yet. I figured for this celebratory feast i should grab a good drink as well. Red wine is my go to because its delicious but mainly because its cheap. I looked around pondering like a wine connoisseur, hmmm interesting I thought as I mentally red X’ed anything over 10 bucks. I eventually settled or Yellow Tail Sangria, I think I may have really might have been getting a bit delirious because I got really excited. I left hoping a train would arrive to take me home asap, 55 mins was the closest train. Shit, I was hungry and so excited to get home. I saw a Vietnamese restaurant right across the street and figured if anything I could get a few rice paper rolls to hold me over. I stood watching two women blatantly ignore me for a few minutes, got all the time in the world I though smiling. When finally one approached me and listened to my apparently uninterpretable accent I managed to get my order in after floating in a sea of what’s? 10 mins down I thought, I walked to the platform and started eating. A train stopped going towards central the next was headed towards Gosford. Gosford I thought, the familiar north or south question hit me. It left in 20 mins and as the sign changed I saw Hawkesby River flash by and found my journey cut by 20 minutes.

We so easily see the days where everything just goes wrong so its a nice change of pace to notice one where everything happens for the best consistently. I got home cooked up my tasty feast that if you ask me could have been spicier, drank my sangria and watched my first ever episode of Geordie Shore, its the worst.

I woke up on Sunday unsure of the time, it really didn't even matter anyways. I got out of bed pining for that first cup of coffee. I had a ton of photo editing to get through from the day before, I had gotten a bit trigger happy with all the excitement. I curled back up into bed with my hot joe and jumped onto the mac scanning the editing and photo choices. About 25% of the work was done for me from last night, not too shabby. I spent a few hours working as the photo life generally goes and debated returning to Sydney for the Aroma Festival a gathering of coffee and chocolate alike, very tempting indeed. Laziness threatened my day as I ate my breakfast, I had excuses galore for sitting on my ass all day, I could write my blog post I thought. My writing self and I are good friends, we tolerate each other most times and can agree on certain times to actually sit down and work but I'm so easily distracted at home therefore I’ve found public transportation and comfortable chairs outside the house to be a good place to work. After a bit of back and forth I figured i’d be trapped in the house all week anyways might as well escape while I can. I got dressed with an hour to go before the train dragging my feet the whole way somewhat unsure of why exactly I was so opposed to leaving the house. I needed energy, energy only a coffee festival could supply. 


A bit of eye candy for you, I dont like too many words either.

Leaving from the home station cut down on confusion as the train went straight to the city with less stops. I spent that time writing and working on my unfinished tasks from The Artists Way a book I highly recommend to the struggling creative. As we pulled into Central I promptly went down the wrong stairs going in a circle before ending up on the same platform directly across where I had just arrived. The inner city train filled up as it generally does and I was off to Circular Quay, which I pronounced kway for way too long, it actually sounds like key… As I walked off the train I was engulfed in a thick mass of humanity a free for all of sporadic movement. One thing i’ve found out about Aus is there seems to be no proper walking direction, city streets are just a giant game of frogger with other people. I figured drive on the left walk on the left however people who think that sensibly are the minority, I've seen too many old people get knocked into one old guy in particular even hit a middle age woman back when she crashed into him.

I tried to escape the station as quickly as possible hating every moment of forced interaction and could have ran spinning into the open spaces like the sound of music. I saw the tents of the coffee festival and walked over excited to get a cup of something special.




The coffee was aromatic, the chocolate mouth watering and the lines enormous. I couldn't be bothered to wait for any of it. Sydney throws a great many cultural and culinary festivals but they are always packed to the brim. It was a mouse step at a time to get anywhere. I crawled the entire thing taking in all the different tents, mainly tourist goods. Not wanting to just walk through and take no part of the festivities I entered the Rocks pop up bar. The Rocks Brewery needs a shout out because they make a pretty fine Porter, I would have tried more if I had gotten there earlier however downing beers in an hour would have left me in a bad spot. They are some of the first people i’ve seen to admit to being the relatives of convicts which I find very admirable. The convict history overly denied, I don't believe there should be any shame in that history many were the victim of hard times, resorting to petty crime and punished severely by British policy. I bet they're a cool bunch of brewers.

I walked over to the Opera Bar ready to set up for some writing, work time by the water very serene. No seats were available so I wandered eventually just going to the bar figuring i’d find something. I felt an urge to order onion rings but decided to hold off until I was really hungry. I had my drink in hand and spied an open table. I dashed in that direction but it was swooped upon by a woman before I could get to it. I made a unintentional crushed face and quickly spun full circle looking for another. The woman who took the seat smiled and waved me over asking if I’d like to share it, it was only her and her husband. I made a few polite no, that's alrights before accepting her offer. I took out my notebook and explained I was writing a blog and made brief small talk, she was a very friendly Australian as they all seem to be; her and her husband were off to the West Coast in a few weeks funny enough. I wrote and we chatted on and off, her husband did a motorcycle trip across the USA, very easy rider like i’d imagine. They ordered onion rings and insisted I have some, it was a great day.


Monday, July 14, 2014

Riding the Greyhound

I'm happy to say I survived the 17 hour travel day and am now back and showered in Brooklyn. I would have loved to keep moving but work funds my adventures and had I not returned I wouldn't have made it very much further.


Travel by greyhound gets a real bad rep in America. The image taking a long journey brings up a sense of dread and images of terrifyingly sticky surfaces, people crammed overflowing in their seats, strange folks sitting in the seat directly besides yours despite the bus being half empty and shadowy figures in the back brown bag in hand and empties littered on the floor. This may not be fair but I haven't the experience to say otherwise, this is the widespread myth of USA bus travel and it holds grip today. Buses can can however say with experience here in Australia are very different than that image, in fact I would argue they are almost pleasant experiences. On most rides I would say it is 50-75% backpackers in the early to late 20's range; it is by far one of the cheapest and most accessible ways to get around the country, and if your lucky you may catch one of the coaches with working wifi (1/4 for me this trip). Staring off into the new and diverse landscape over those hours on the road gave me a deeper appreciation of the beauty of this country I surely would not have experienced flying over head and as an added bonus you don't even have to worry about being early to check in or go through security.

These 5 days away was a short excursion, it could have been longer had I relied on myself for the planning but sometimes it just doesn't work like that. Although im satisfied with the journey and elated I had it, the problem with only spending one day in a place is you don't get to know it very well and always end up missing something. Byron I found out on the way home is a hub of activity more so than I realized, tours depart around the whole area for hiking in the mountains and visiting hippie towns; I very much hope to get back there for the writers festival in August. 

Surfers Paradise is a suburb of Gold Coast City its home to a mass amount of tall apartments and hotels which for the amount of things to do in the area its seems an excessive spread. Its far too easy to get lost in the sky line and miss the spots of interest tucked away somewhere I couldn't quite locate. My hostel was a bit aways from the town center so I stuck to the beach to start, walking a few blocks towards the coast. I was pretty amazed to see the longest stretch of beach I've yet encountered in the country. Generally the beaches are broken up into smaller sections, here the sand went as far as you could see. The waves were quite rough, great for surfers though because there were a good amount of people on boards riding the waves with more skill than I've seen around the Sydney. I attempted a few photos in the water being careful not to get pummeled into the sand. Of all things I had forgotten to pack sunscreen was the biggest and I began feeling the sides of my face burning; the sun was beating down intensely that day and the breeze created a chill factor that was the only thing in the way of making it feel like a summer day in New York. I walked over to my sweater and put it on picking up my new snorkel gear unusabe here, had I not paid attention to the waves all I'd be looking at would be a close up of the sand rubbing off layers of my face. 



 As I walked back to the hostel I noticed the roads were not the most pedestrian friendly considering the amount of tourism they claim to get. The crosswalks were a fair distance apart on a busy road, this however is not a problem if you run for it. I was booked for one night at Budds a smallish hostel located in what seems to be the residential area between the river and ocean. Weirdly everything by the river is a more neighborhoodly atmosphere than the street across where the high rises start, you could almost think of it being the other side of the train tracks. Budds was homey place motel style with 2 floors of rooms and a few modest buildings. They had pretty much everything you could desire out of a hostel a cheap bar, a swimming pool and free wifi. Those are the types of places I strive to find and I was overall happy with the experience there. I had little desire to explore Surfers which for me is unusual, I was taken back with the atmosphere and emptiness in what looks like a city but knew I couldn't leave without at least seeing what was in the center. I made my way down to the lobby where the guests were drinking and playing pool. It was a Thursday night and a group from the Hostel was heading into town to get drinks at a pretty nice bar the name of which escapes me now. We all started walking out except for two New Zealanders who had pre-gamed just a little too hard. The bar wasn't too far away but I was tired and it was slow, I ended up leaving after one drink and looked around to see if there was anything of interest nearby gave up and decided to call it a night. 

The next day I was not entirely upset to be heading out to Brisbane, I had a ticket to the Australia Zoo the following day and had been planning to get there since looking it up at the bar I worked in back home. Once more surrounded by backpackers and the odd Aussie traveler I boarded the bus for the two hour journey North.

Brisbane is a lovely city, more inland than I realized at the time of booking it sits on a river cutting the city into a cultural half and cbd business and shopping district. Its home to various Art galleries and Museums that to my joy are free of charge. Overall I found it a very low key and relaxing atmosphere, on the main pedestrian strip were countless talented artists and bands performing at various eateries. After dark the city lights up beautifully and looks spectacular from either side of the river, I lucked out to stumble on some live music in a park by the museum to add to the chilled out vibe.

I stayed at Brisbane City Backpackers a pretty typical big hostel with a pool and great rooftop views. To my delight the 14 girls dorm I booked was actually a whole floor spread out into rooms of 4 bunks, I worried it was one giant room and remembered with guilt how early I had to wake up for the Zoo and bus.

I wandered the city taking in its music and cultural scene, they had a bigger range of exhibits at the museum than I expected, it looked so small from the outside. From dinosaurs and war memorials to the deep sea, snakes in jars and dried insects it can keep you occupied for quite a bit of time. Walking along Southbank at night was a great feeling it was chilly but not overly cold, Queensland is a bit warmer than New South Wales thankfully because I packed horribly for cold weather. I could have stared at the lights for a long time but I had places to be couldn't dawdle around too much.

I retired early and had a restless night of sleep waking up constantly from about 3 am to 5. I woke for the final time with a start, I knew it was late. I grabbed for my ipod finding instead a strange iPhone in my bed, at some point it must have slipped down from the bunk above. 7 am thank goodness, not too late I need to be there by 7:40 latest and the station was 10 mins leisurely walk away. I grabbed clothes off the floor attempting pathetically to be as quiet as possible. I sounded like a freight train to myself, tripping over everything withing a 5ft vicinity and practically falling out the door over my unzipped backpack. With some effort I got everything together save of course that one vital possession forgotten in the rush. I ran upstairs and ate a few scoops of hummus, no time to cook and left by 7:25. I needed to stop at an ATM and get some cash in case I needed to pay for anything extra at the zoo. I got to the terminal at 7:35 and went to the atm practically swimming though my bag looking for my card. No wallet. I had taken it out the night before to get some cash for the bar upstairs and likely as usual dropped it on the floor instead of my bag in a derp moment. No time to go back, thank goodness at least I had bought my ticket with the greyhound pass, but my id. I rummaged again though the bag hoping I had the good sense to not take my passport out at some point, it was there all was good. I walked upstairs disappointed with myself but relieved I had at least done one thing right by the passport.


Australia Zoo is about an hour away from Brisbane not far from a town so beautifully named Beerwah. Along the way you pass the unbelievable Glasshouse Mountains, the solitary standing remnants of ancient volcanoes. Much to my disappointment we couldn't stop and I wasn't able to snap any usable photos but they were spectacular and I very much hope to go back before leaving the country. 



The Australia Zoo itself is quite something, its got everything to appease any travelers obsessions of seeing native creatures. The zoo as part of admission has an exciting amount of hands on experiences and more even better ones for a fee. As part of admission you are able to walk amongst Kangaroos and Koalas petting and feeding them freely (approved food of course). For me and many others being located mainly in populated areas this was exactly what I had been waiting for. The zoo is over 100 acres and has the indigenous wildlife of Australia, various crocodiles and alligators as well as Tigers, Cheetahs and critters from all over Asia and Africa. Unfortunately the Elephants passed away last year but hopefully one day they'll get more. The staff of the zoo are obviously passionate about their jobs, they are conservationists with Wildlife Warriors as well and do a lot of educational speaking in all their presentations. At their crocesium show you find no shenanigans like the croc wrestlers of Florida they respect the wildlife and genuinely wish to educate the public, especially the northern territory on the dangers of swimming with saltwater crocodiles. I would say supporting the Australia Zoo by visiting is a must for travelers from overseas, I found the atmosphere to be invigorating and as animal lover myself this was by far the most comfortable I have been seeing animals in a zoo setting. The tribute to the late Steve Irwin is also heartwarming, they very much keep his message and mission alive. 


Returning to Brisbane I was hungry and exhausted, most of the day had been spent walking, there is always something to see at the zoo the 6 hrs there was filled easily. I grabbed my wallet and went out to pick up some Indian food, vindaloo and not spicy enough, then had a few beers wrote in my diary and promptly passed out in anticipation of my 7:00 am start time for the 16 hr bus ride to Sydney.


The tips I gave you for trains are equally true for buses, except the shoes, don't take them off the space is too small wear flip flops (thongs in Aus funny enough, the first time I heard this caused a bit of surprise as a girl announced before going out she needed to change out of her thongs). Time dragged at points absolutely but never once was I bored out of my mind or ready to throw myself onto the highway at the rest stops. The wifi was broken but I managed reading and writing away the time as crazy as that seems now thinking about it. I'm dead set on greyhound busing it through the outback come October with a hop on hop off pass. 

This is an incredible country.