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Mike's FINAL Around-The-World Trip Update #17 - 4.12.2005
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it's time to wrap this up.

the yapping about myself, that is, not the traveling.
the traveling i just can't stop. no telling when i'll
be back...

for over a year now (i left chicago on march 16, 2004)
i have been blabbing about myself and my trip. i've
preached about things, i've philosophized about
things, i've complained, i've shouted about how great
the world is, i've described my travels and wrote
about the people i've met.

i've used the word "i" 180,000 times.

so although i am traveling on from here (australia) to
new zealand to ski for 4 months and then sailing
across the pacific on a sailboat to south america to
study spanish and ride motorcycles, i am no longer
going to dump my life into your inbox. i guess i'm a
little sick of writing about myself.

HOWEVER, i will update my website
(www.michaelkivisto.com) when i can. i will continue
to blab, preach, philosophize, complain, shout,
describe, and talk about myself and others there. i
will post photos and keep my current location
up-to-date when i can. this is pretty cool what i am
doing so i guess i need to write about it somewhere.
i'll just put the choice of whether you read it and
when in your hands.

thanks very much for coming along with me. i
appreciate your reading about my trip and your
encouraging responses. thanks especially to the
people who wrote to say i inspired you in some way;
that means the world to me. it's what we are here for
and if i've done that by living my dreams and sharing
the results with others then, well, that's just pretty
cool.

so, from down under, here's mike's final
around-the-world trip update e-mail:

andrew and i flew into darwin, australia from dili,
east timor. i was frustrated that i could make it all
the way from london to east timor without flying but
couldn't make it across the thin strip of water that
separates east timor from oz. oh well, keep on
keepin' on, i turned my attention to buying a car for
the first in my life to tour oz in.

within 3 hours i was the owner of a 1981 ford transit
van (photo #1). andrew and i named it petter. that's
petter with two t's, named after a cool norwegian we
met in bali, indonesia. my license was stolen in indo
so i was hoping to not get pulled over on the 4000 km
drive to sydney.

i got pulled over on the second night.

i also got the first breathalyzer of my life in hay,
australia at 3 in the morning. when the officer asked
me if i had been drinking, (his suspicion aroused no
doubt by the fact i had no idea what i was doing
driving on the left-side of the road and on the
right-side of the car), i honestly answered with a
laugh that i hadn't had a drink in 3 days.

"it will taste that much better when you finally get
one," he replied as i blew into a white plastic tube.
the results must have flashed on his screen telling
him to escort me immediately to a bar. he and his
partner lead andrew and i to a place where we could
pull over and sleep in the van. the two beds in the
back helped us save on accommodation costs.

by the way, when the cop asked i told him i couldn't
find my license in my backpack. i showed him my
passport instead. he accepted it. what a cool guy.
the officer who pulled me over 4 weeks later in broken
hill wasn't nearly as cool.

when i got to oz, mary, a traveler i met in ireland,
invited me over and her roommates cooked up some
kangaroo. good stuff.

jordan, my good pal from chicago, came to visit me for
2 weeks. he landed on march 6th and i picked him (and
the girl he scored on the plane) up from the airport.
i proudly escorted them to my van which didn't start.
dead battery. an hour and a half later we left,
without jordan's girl, to the hostel. sorry jordan.

we not only saw sydney's world famous opera house
(photo #2), we attended an opera in it. carmen -
first opera for me. before the show we drank
champagne on a cool sharp night outside under patio
umbrellas while facing the illuminated harbor bridge,
rubbing wallets with the aristocracy of sydney.
backpacking's not always so tough and grimy.

after a few days in sydney, we, (andrew, jordan's
buddy brian, jordan, and i), headed to byron bay, up
the east coast from sydney. i outfitted the van with
a bean bag, two coolers, an ipod adapter, and a
plastic elvis so we were all set for the 8 hour drive
to byron. two passengers in the back drinking beer,
one riding shotgun playing dj and drinking beer, one
driving, not drinking, just white-knuckling it
wondering what in hell he was doing driving an old van
without power steering or power brakes on the WRONG
SIDE OF A HIGHWAY HE'S NEVER BEEN ON IN A COUNTRY HE'S
NEVER SEEN?!?!?!?!

actually the driving isn't too bad: just do the exact
opposite of everything you've been doing for 17 years
back home.

in byron, we sat on the beach, celebrated andrew's
birthday, walked to the lighthouse on the cliff
overlooking the ocean, drank beer, listened to great
live music, ate good food, and, hmmmm, what else?

oh yeah: jordan and i threw ourselves out of a plane
at 14,000 feet (4242 meters.)

when we were discussing his visit to oz i brought up
sky-diving, a subject we basically avoided talking
about after the first mention of it. we both wanted
to do it but were terrified. it had been hanging over
my head for years, like a paper you are supposed to
write for class that you keep blowing off. the
gorgeous coast of byron seemed like a great place to
plummet to so i called byron bay skydiving and booked
it. the next day they picked us up in a van at our
hostel. we expected hours of training and instruction
before we got to jump but we were literally in the
plane taking off 10 minutes after scribbling our
signatures on a single form. i got in the plane last
and therefore was the first to be chucked out. the
plane climbed and climbed and the grassy hills and
ocean grew smaller and smaller as i looked out the
clear plastic door of the pink plane. top of the
world, ma. if you are watching me take a good look
because it's going to be one hell of a view.

"put on your goggles, mate," my instructor who was
strapped to my back said. it was time. i slid them
down over my eyes as he slid the door open. "now
swing your legs out," he said.

whoa.

i swung them out over the edge and felt the wind
sucking me out into the sky. he started pushing
forward which dangled me out of the speeding plane. i
was hanging there in mid-air when he told me to cross
my arms, hook my legs under the plane, and throw my
head back. no 1-2-3 go!, no are you ready?, he just
suddenly threw us out. gravity violently ripped us
from the plane and we twisted, and somersaulted
through the blue. we twirled and spun, up and down
became indescernible. after several seconds we
straightened out and i felt like i was laying on my
stomach on a bed. the force of the wind pushing up as
you fall at 120 mph (193 km/hr) eliminates the feeling
of falling. my mouth dried out as the air contorted
my facial skin like silly putty. i had wondered if
when falling your heart lurched in your chest,
panicking at what you had just done, but i felt
completely calm. i felt no fear whatsoever at that
point. i looked out at the ocean, australia's
eastern-most point pointing out to sea like a
flattened volcano peak toppled on it's side (photo #3
- jordan, not me.) i saw the lighthouse where i had
been walking the day before. i saw a line of cars
crawling along on a thin strip of highway. i saw
green hills rising and falling. i saw farms. i saw
it all rapidly getting closer and closer. wow man.
what a feeling that was. i never noticed the guy
strapped to my back unless he was jamming his
thumbs-up in front of my face. i forgot about opening
the chute, didn't even consider that it wouldn't open,
and then suddenly, after 60 seconds of free-falling, i
was jerked backwards and everything stopped. under
canopy all the noise stops and you feel as if you are
floating on nothing. we did some twists and turns and
enjoyed the slow ride back to earth. about 100 meters
from the ground he pointed us straight down and we
quickly descended. at the last moment he pulled up
and we calmly set down on the soft grass. he
disconnected from me and i sat on the earth in stunned
amazement. a lot of people jump up and holler; not
me. i quietly contemplated what i had just done. i
felt like i could do anything in the world. after a
few minutes i looked up and saw jordan floating down
under his chute. perfect landing. i ran up and
hugged him. we had faced our fears and experienced
one of the greatest moments of our lives because of
it.

we hung around the airport for a while, jordan got a
video made, and then we headed home, both feeling like
kings of the world. we went out that night and drank
a few beers to being alive.

after celebrating st. patricks day and my one-year
anniversary, jordan left from sydney on march 20th and
stephanie came in on march 21st.

stephanie visited me for 3 weeks. after spending two
days seeing the main sites of sydney, we loaded up
petter for a road trip to uluru, a.k.a. ayer's rock,
in the red center of oz. we set out to the blue
mountains west of sydney, then to wine country, and
then to broken hill, a small western town on the edge
of the outback.

broken hill cops don't appreciate my kind in their
fine town. fortunately i had a temporary driver's
license sent to mary's place and was able to pick it
before we set out because i was about to need it. i
was driving slowly down main street looking for the
local youth hostel when a cop came scorching up the
street behind me, sirens wailing. i waited for him to
pass me by but instead i looked around and noticed i
was the only one on the street - he was pulling me
over. for what? i had no idea. he had a whole host
of (bullsh*t) reasons for me.

1. i pulled you over for a breathalyzer. at noon?
2. your tow-bar (trailer hitch) is obscuring your
number plate (license plate.) huh? i looked at it and
had no idea what he was talking about.
3. your front right tire's tread is worn. ok, i can
see that a bit. but how in hell did you see that
while it was rolling down the road?

he looked at my license, my passport, and even my
visa. a cop looking at my visa?!?!? he asked me what
i was doing there? i told him i was looking for the
hostel - he told me there wasn't one in town (it was
right across the street from us.) he then hassled me
into a breathalyzer which i later learned was actually
a pot-detecting device. i felt like john rambo in
first blood, getting driven out of town because of my
appearance; long hair and facial hair and i'm suddenly
a criminal. i respected the officer like i always do
but he was really a discriminating b*stard. the good
thing is that when he made me pull the wrong way into
an alley to change the tire an old man said "you're
all right cobber."

i always wanted to be called a cobber in australia
ever since michael caine used the word at the end of
dirty rotten scoundrels.

we went out into the red sands of the desert the next
day to see a rock sculpture garden (photo #4.) from
there we headed to adelaide. steph has a couple
friends there who picked us up one day, the entire
family, and took us into the barossa valley for
wine-tasting (photo #5), and then back to their house
for a barbecue and some cooper's pale ale.

they didn't "throw some shrimp on the barbie" -
because they call shrimp prawns like almost the entire
world besides us americans. and we didn't drink
foster's because no one drinks it here. it's like
pabst blue ribbon back in america (sorry rob.)

petter was having some trouble (if you consider smoke
pouring into the cabin trouble) and i had him checked
out the next day. turned out the guy who sold it to
me had no idea what he was doing when he rebuilt the
engine - he hooked up everything incorrectly. petter
was about to die. so i shopped him around to used car
dealerships without luck and eventually took him to a
wrecker who gave me nothing for him. steph rented us
a car and we drove off to uluru leaving the hunk of
junk in south australia.

we camped 20km (12 miles) from the red rock (photo
#6), a sacred site to the aborigines of australia.
they ask you not to climb it so instead stephanie and
i walked around it, marveling at the paintings in it's
caves and the natural formations which the aborigines
consider holy (photo #7.) on the second night as we
drank some victoria bitters while sitting outside our
tent in our camping chairs admiring the night sky, i
told stephanie about a story idea i have about all the
stars in the sky getting sucked into a black-hole
while everyone on earth looked up in horror. just
then, a large shining, fiery object came streaking
across the sky, below the southern cross
constellation. my jaw fell open. someone at another
site said it was a rocket. the long, silvery object
erupted dusty, spitting sparks behind it as it hurtled
through earth's atmosphere. it then started breaking
apart and each new piece shot flames as the whole
group separated like fingers from a hand. it crossed
the entire sky soundlessly from right to left. i was
as silent as the streaking mass. no one knew what to
make of it as we watched it being pulled apart and
toward earth, wondering where it would land.

the next day in alice springs we read that it was a
russian satellite that died and was sucked back to
earth. it landed somewhere out in the empty middle of
oz. almost everyone in oz lives 100km from the coast.
the country is about the same size as the united
states and the entire middle is relatively empty.

steph and i drove through all that emptiness toward
the coast a few days later, dodging kangaroos that
hurl themselves at your headlights. we stayed at a
resort on the whitsunday islands in the great barrier
reef. brilliantly colored flocks of parrots, giant
angel fish, and a massive sea turtle livened up the
quiet island during the off-season, autumn, in oz. we
sipped boat-drinks and played trivial pursuit (i won.)

we ended up back in byron bay and walked up to the
lighthouse which sits on the rocky cliff edge over the
pacific. i saw a handglider floating above us,
looking down upon the dolphins and schools of tuna in
the azure violent sea. i had to do it and the next
morning i did. it wasn't as thrilling as the
sky-diving but was a nice chilled out float through
the sky getting a new perspective on the spectacular
oz coast (photo #8 and #9 - snapped from the
handglider.)

we made our way back to sydney and i dropped steph at
the airport the next day. i headed back to a hostel
and checked in for a week, exhausted from slashing
around oz for 5 straight weeks.

so i am in my room now sitting on my beanbag writing
this out and hoping you will enjoy this last e-mail.
i am continuing this amazing journey and will jot down
my experiences so please check my website
(www.michaelkivisto.com) for photos, random thoughts,
current location, and updates. i will be here in oz
for another 1.5 months hanging out with local friends,
surfing, drinking, and occasionally looking to the
stars, remembering crosby, stills, and nash's claim:

"when you see the southern cross for the first time,
you understand now why you came this way."

g'day mates - see you online.

keep on keepin' on,
michael


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