once the last of my visitors said goodbye, i checked into a sydney hostel and did nothing. i was exhausted and needed a break. for a week i sat on my beanbag in my second floor room of the railway square hostel and read, wrote, and thought what next? it was april 10 and a month and a half remained on my australian visa, the 3 months expiring on may 28.
my leisurely lifestyle caused me to gain a bit of weight so i started jogging, taking a nightly run from the hostel, past central station, through leafy hyde park and the sweet-scented botanical gardens to the illuminated opera house, where i would finish my run with a sprint up the steps to touch the creamy-white tiled shell of the magnificent building. from the top of the steps, i would catch my breath while looking at the harbor bridge which stretches across the boat-choked harbor. so cool to do something normal, something routine in an amazing location like sydney.
after a quiet, solitary week, i called my local friend, jamie, whom i had met in morocco, and made arrangements to meet over the weekend. jamie is an amazing surfer and we decided to have drinks on friday and then surf on saturday (photo #1.) i had taken up surfing in bali, indonesia and thought id be able to handle the waves in oz no problem.
i thought wrong. real, real wrong. i nearly drowned about a half-dozen times before i quit for the day. i struggled to even get out of the surf but eventually made it to shore where i sat on the beach and watched the people who actually know what they are doing. the australian water is out to kill, man.
the next day i hung out with another local friend, michael, whom i had met in helsinki, finland. michael tried to poison me with vegemite in russia, but i called him anyway. we had a few beers on a sunday night in a small local pub. of course a blues band set their stuff up and started rocking - australia is the kingdom of live music. its everywhere, all the time. that night i convinced michael to try a sky-dive and so he went a couple weeks later - he lived (thank god) and has found a new hobby. he changed my entire trip/life once so i am hopeful ive returned the favor.
the next weekend was ANZAC day, a memorial day for the veterans in australia and new zealand. a game the troops played (two-up) is legalized throughout australia on ANZAC day so i participated. it is played at all the pubs in a giant square inside of which someone continually tosses three coins into the air with a wooden stick. whatever face the majority of the coins shows is the winner: tails or heads. you place your bet by yelling out 5 on tails or 20 on heads to someone in the raucous, drunken crowd that surges, yells, and cheers outside the square. some shouting, swaying ozzie eventually accepts your bet and grabs your money. if he wins, he keeps it, if he loses, he hands back your cash and some of his own. i lost $5 on heads and won $5 on tails. always bet on tails.
mary from sydney, whom i had met in ireland, invited me up to her parents farm in gloucester for ANZAC weekend and since my schedule was free of meetings i accepted. i jumped in the car with her three roommates for the 3 hour ride north of sydney. we had a great time in her parents beautiful house which overlooked green hills, a winding slow river, and a lush valley (photo #2.) we enjoyed the requisite barbecue and drinks, and also drove through the lovely countryside in a ute (ozzie for a car or truck with a bed), often crossing the river on a road that went right through it. we hung out, ate steaks at the marble kitchen island, listened to ella fitzgerald from the stereo in the wooden-floored living room, and heard the story of a happy, thick python that lives in a backyard tree.
back in sydney, i searched for a boat to new zealand. i put my name on websites, i visited harbors, i called people - nothing. every time i went to a harbor they sent me to another one. eventually i went around in a big circle with no luck. sydney is too far inland for international traffic they said.
but then i found one. except it wasnt going to new zealand, it was going to new caledonia.
i had never heard of it either.
its a tropical island about a thousand kilometers east of oz. they speak french there. an israeli couple was sailing their 39 foot yacht to new caledonia over a months time and wanted me to join them as a crew member. it sounded like a good idea - until i met them. i rode out to their bay-anchored boat in a small rubber raft to get a look at my potential home for a month. the yacht was cool but the owners sure werent; despite being pregnant, the woman drank a big glass of wine. ok, i thought, expecting-mothers in france continue to do that so its not really a big deal. a glass of wine now and then surely wouldnt adversely affect the baby.
but cigarettes probably would. i watched with concern as she set down her wine glass and rolled a fat cigarette. i figured it was for her husband until she fired it up and took a thick drag. oh, shit. thats bad.
but she wasnt done.
i looked away from her and toward the water as some guy rode toward us in a small inflatable boat. he climbed aboard carrying a bag of pot. i swear to you that the womans eyes lit up as she anticipated getting stoned. that was too much for me.
i got out of there and decided that if she treated her own (unborn) child that poorly she probably wouldnt care if i fell off the boat and was gnawed to death by great white sharks.
so i rented a car and took off for melbourne instead.
i drove down the coast from sydney and then inland through the so-called snowy mountains. i stayed in thredbo for a few days, writing and relaxing. one day i hiked up mt. kosciusko, the tallest mountain in australia (photo #3.) it was nice to be in the mountains for a while - the people there were so incredibly nice, much like the folks in colorado. lead me to believe that there is something good for the human soul in the mountains. mountains make people happy. they make me happy. i want to live in telluride, colorado someday and write books.
i made my way to the western end of the great ocean road which snakes along the southern coast of oz for about 100 kilometers, just west of melbourne. in the town of warrnambool, i got pulled over for not indicating in a round-a-bout. i hit the windshield wipers instead of the turn signal, which is to the right of the steering wheel in a right-side driving car. after 20,000 kilometers i was still not used to it. the cop pulled up behind me as i was parking on the street. of course he gave me a breathalyzer - the third of my trip. fortunately i hadnt had a drink before taking the test (or before any of them for that matter.) the cop spared me a ticket but warned me that my offense normally carried a $165 fine. he instructed me to buy some flowers for my mother when i returned home. will do, officer.
the great ocean road was spectacular. all along it are small areas to pull off and park. you can then walk to the edge of sandstone cliffs that tower above the voilent ocean water. the 12 apostles is the highlight of the road (photo #4.) 15 (dont know why they call it the 12 apostles) or so rockstacks stand tall in a dispersed group just off the coast from rocky cliffs. quite a site. thunder cave, where the ocean continually chews a hole deep inland, was an amazing place too. hearing waves crashing into rocks in an enclosed space is awesome.
i stopped in the sleepy coastal town of apollo bay one night and stayed at a hostel. for $18, the manager let me have my own cabin which overlooked the ocean; a great place to do some writing, so i did. later that night i joined him and the three other guests for some pool and some beers in a ramshackle room. the manager bought all the beers. radiohead was playing on the stereo as we drank coopers sparkling ale and shot pool on a crooked table.
i completed the ocean road the next day and drove into melbourne. i instantly loved the place. trams criss-crossed the city, hip cafes were tucked into narrow dark alleys. it had a very european feel to it, much different than the american vibe of sydney. i met a great group of people in the greenhouse hostel and stayed out almost every night until 5am for 3 weeks.
mary came down from sydney to melbourne to visit me for a long weekend and we stayed with her godparents in port melbourne. always nice to hang in a house away from the hostels dormitories and community showers for a bit. on one chilly night, i hooked my ipod up to the houses stereo and we sat outside in the hottub sipping white russians as good music poured out of the outdoor speakers. on the weekend, she and i strolled through the quaint, edgy streets under the sunny skies of melbourne and enjoyed the eclectic bars, cafes, and music venues of fitzroy and st. kilda. melbourne is my favorite place in australia, indeed one of my favorite cities in the world (photo #5.)
i also have some local friends in melbourne including ryan, whom i had met in helsinki, finland. he picked me up at my hostel one night and drove us down the coast for a seafood meal at a restaurant right on a pier. for a few hours we discussed the most important subject in the world: women. he also told me about all the great outdoor activities we could do on my next visit, including prawn fishing and catamaraning. there are so many things to do, so many great people to hang out with that if i always said yes i wouldnt get home to the u.s. until i was 75 years old. next time ryan, next time.
speaking of boats and the sea, i had given up on finding a boat to new zealand but then one day, during my last week in oz, i got an e-mail about crewing on a boat to auckland. come up to brisbane (about 24 hours away by car) and crew on a sailboat for a 10 day sail to new zealand it said. wow. perfect, i thought. i began to make arrangements to get to brisbane. i called australian immigration to ask how much trouble id be in if i overstayed my visa by 2 days; my visa was set to expire on the 28th but the boat wasnt leaving until the 30th. they told me i wouldnt get arrested but i might be banished from the country for 6 years - fair enough i said. it would be worth it.
but then i talked to the skipper on the phone and everything changed. i was no longer welcome. why? could it be my accent, i thought? my american accent? everything was perfectly fine when we discussed the trip over e-mail; it didnt fall apart until after he heard me speak.
am i just paranoid? i dont think so - ive seen this sort of thing before. i wont for a second claim that i totally understand the weight of discrimination that black people have felt in america, but this trip has at least introduced me to that shitty feeling firsthand. there are a lot of people out here who dislike me instantly because of where i am from. instantly, without getting to know anything about me. there are a few times i have been reluctant to open my mouth, prefering to avoid the anticipated criticism that i felt would follow. i cannot believe what that feels like. yeah, of course, screw those discriminating people, i dont need them in my life, of course, of course, but its a sad feeling anyway.
i havent enjoyed it but i am actually glad it has happened - i understand something now (racism, sexism, bigotry) at a level i never had before. as a white, protestant, male, i experience absolutely no discrimination in my home country - i am the king, the privledged one, the chosen color, religion, and sex. but out here, as an american, i personally experience discrimination and i realize now more than ever how god damn fucking stupid it is.
to quote the gospel singers from new orleans who sang at the jazz festival in melbourne: what the world needs now, is love, sweet love. no not just for some, but for everyone.
tell all the people.
SO, i let the boat-thing bother me for about one hour and then i refocused. i had to fly again it seemed so i bought a one-way ticket to new zealand. the night before my flight i went out on the hostels pub crawl and celebrated my oz experience with my great english pal ollie (photo #6.) of course i drank too much and after only two hours of sleep i jumped from bed and rushed to the airport for an international flight on a foreign passport arriving a mere twenty minutes before the plane took off.
they let me on anyway.
and so here i am in new zealand. i am writing this from wellington, the capital of this amazing, friendly, welcoming, beautiful, fun country. i will tell you all about it when i update you again. photo #7 is a little teaser of whats to come in the new zealand photos.
but before i leave, back to that discrimination comment for a moment: it is frustrating but its all part of the trip, its just another challenge, another opportunity to learn and, really, it does occur infrequently. its all about the people you meet out here and 99% of them are great - i am meeting many new life-long friends. this trip is still the greatest thing ive ever done and i dont regret a thing, including where i come from.
and besides, when those 1% decide to spew out their stupidity, you know i will always just...
keep on keepin on,
p.s. go explore this site - its for you.
p.p.s. ill be home in january 2006. see you soon.