Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Party Bus & Hot Air Balloon

So the Contiki Tour was basically just one big party when we weren't hiking through the scorching sun or going up in a hot air balloon as stupid o'clock in the morning. Yes, I forgot to mention that I took a hot air balloon ride at 4am and didn't go to sleep from being out on the town the night before. Got back from the bar/club at around 3:30am and the bus arrived ten minutes later to take me and two others (no one else was willing to wake up at stupid o'clock in the morning to go ballooning). And then at the champagne breakfast after the balloon ride the two Irish people I met on the balloon kept trying to get me to drink champagne while I was still trying to sober up and even the people serving the breakfast were trying to tell me I really should keep on the booze! No rest for the wicked in Australia.

Pixagogo direct photo link

Sunrise after the hot air balloon landed.
Pixagogo direct photo link

Anyway so as I was saying, at times things got a little out of hand during our nights out as seen here with the bus driver and a person we shall leave anonymous from the tour. This picture was of a competition where a group of people had to get various things from the crowd and whoever came back last with whatever was called out (lit cigarette, 50 cent coin, bra etc...) got eliminated. The showdown for the competition was two teams of two where each team had to do lap dances and then the audience had to cheer on who they thought put on a better performance. I think the picture makes it clear which team won.

Pixagogo direct photo link

Monday, December 26, 2005

Of Rocks, Canyons and Crocs [UPDATED]

So my camera broke and other than that been enjoying Australia just famously. After ridiculously hot weather we have arrived in the extreme north of Australia where if you go swimming in the ocean there are a handful or two of ways you can get killed and you're likely to be, so our guide warns us, so no swimming in the ocean up here. The tour ends soon, just two more days. Hopefully I will get a chance to upload pics.

Kings Canyon That isn't me but it might as well be. This is a picture I found on Google. Eventually I will have photos up on here from the other members of the tour. The tour ended today. But with the ending of one thing comes the start of something new. Tomorrow morning I fly from here, Darwin, to Cairns on the east coast of Australia where I will be celebrating New Years. Conveniently I have the same flight as two people from the tour so we will be travelling together from Darwin to Cairns.

Pixagogo direct photo link

Haven't seen any Kangaroos yet but have seen some Wallabies (similar to a 'roo but smaller) and some crocs and tons of amazing birds. And bats. Lots of giant bats that hang upside down from trees.

Uluru or Ayers Rock is a sacred site to the Aboriginals and it isn't hard to understand after climbing it. It is a dangerous climb as the rock is completely bare, the largest bare rock in the world, and it is very steep. There is a small chain fence installed in places to aid you but I opted to not use the chain but nearly lost my footing on the way down and was about to dive for the fence when I manage to gain control of my feet in the nick of time. Lost my hat on the way up to the hot wind that was billowing over the rock from the other side. A strong wind from the early morning sun that was already hot before 7am was blowing up and over the rock and down the other side where we were climbing up. We had to leave extremely early in the morning to catch the sunrise before commencing the climb. We were not allowed to commence the climb of the rock after 8am due to the forecasted heat for the day. So we climbed up in shadow with the sun behind the rock climbing in the east. I found my hat near the base of the rock when I came down again. The aboriginals ask that people do not climb the rock due to its ominous nature: they believe it brings bad omens when people get injured or killed from climbing on it and you totally feel that ominous threat while climbing it. It feels very baren and alien when you're on that rock. Very eerie and quite an awesome experience. It commands a lot of respect and I sort of felt bad for disrespecting their wishes. But everyone climbs it. 16 people have died climbing it since it's been open to the public. It was a very unique experience, though, not a climb you can compare to any other climb. Unfortunately because of the time restrictions of the tour I still have no time to upload pictures.

We visited some canyons as well which were awesome. Hard to describe but basically it was made up of layers and layers of red rock forming all these unique shapes all around the giant chasm that is the canyon. We walked around the canyon's edge through a seemingly endless network of layered rock creating a sort of alien world of unique and strange shaped rocks making it feel very much like walking through another world in a video game. Very cool.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Disappearing off the map

I'll prolly won't be able to post an update for awhile as I'll be out in the middle of nowhere for the next 10 days. I arrived in Alice Springs today and got a ride from some locals to the hotel where I sorted out the tour business and had lunch with the tour guides and so I only missed 3 hours of the tour which apparently was really boring because it was a debriefing on safety in the Outback, something I prolly wouldn't have been so bad off having heard.... Basically have plenty of water on you at all times and wear a big brimmed hat.

There is a medical service for those needing medical assistance out in the Outback called the Royal Flying Doctor Service that is free. So if I get stung by a scorpion or break my leg falling off of Ayers Rock a plane will fly in to the nearest approved airstrip (a dirt strip suitable for landing) and fly me out at no cost. Quite comforting indeed.

Sorry, still no pics. No time to do it, had to let me feet recover. My feet hurt bad from wearing these terrible plastic thongs (flip flops) that cost a rip off $9.50 and couldn't have cost more than $0.25 to make. And my too small sneakers are making them worse.

Saw more exotic looking birds today walking to this internet outpost. Drove around the city again last night. Still can't believe how incredible sippage that little Corolla does. Well, adventures await. What exciting stories await at the other end of my tour? You'll just have to wait and see.... Expect another update by the 28th or 29th of December with a small chance of a small update on Christmas Day.

Everyone have a Merry Christmas and happy Chanukah.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Another day in Sydney. Oops...

Well, well, WELL...

heh-- heh-- heh-- ... ahem... well not so funny actually. I missed my flight! Yes, yes I somehow managed to read the arrival time as the departure time.

Last night we went for a night on the town after drinking beer and wine in the hostel first. "Merry", a girl from Edinburgh named Amy, and a couple others. Amy and I go to this club near by and Amy somehow manages to get rejected entry from the club AFTER we had already paid the $5 cover charge and had been inside the club. We left because she needed to go the ATM. After we came back to the club the bouncer wouldn't let her in for being too intoxicated. We argued a bit about the absurdity of not being let in after having just been in and showing our stamps and finally the bouncers conceded our reasoning that they either have to give us our money back or let us back in the club. The bouncers said I could go back in but Amy couldn't. Finally they agreed to give us our money back and we left. [insert picture of room 103]

Didn't get to sleep until after dawn and then woke up at 9am and made a mad scramble to get ready. My shuttle was coming somteimte between 9am and 9:30am. Ran to the Avis few hundred meters away and told them about the difficulty getting the car back to the place and how I had no time to catch the shuttle to the airport and they infromed me that they had closed at 7pm, so it wouldn't have made a difference if I hadn't had the trouble getting on the right road, we didn't get back into the city limits until after 7pm last night anyway. But, they told me I had until 11am to return the car. The people at the other Avis office where I got info about the rental of the car did not mention this. They said to return the car before 9pm. So I run back to the Hostel and ask "Merry" to return it for me before 11am since I still felt a little wobbly and woebegoned from the still very recent night and didn't feel up for fumbling about in the city streets trying to find the right way to return the car and didn't have time to ask for proper directions. Meanwhile the shuttle has arrived and is waiting for me to gather my things. Luckily a guy from Melbourne was also holding up the bus. Finally I'm on the bus and realize I don't have my yellow daypack. I explain to the driver that I left it at the Avis and he stopped on the side of the street and gave me a minute to run back and fetch the bag which was in fact still at Avis. We get to the airport and I am soon informed that my flight has already left. They tell me there is one other flight available tomorrow same time but my Contiki Bus tour leaves at 9am and the flight only gets me into Alice Springs, the start of my tour, by 11:15am. To further compound matters, I discover my New Zealand phone card does not work outside of New Zealand. Who would have thought. Apparently not I.

Finally after bothering a passerby of my plight, a woman told me to use the reverse charge. I didn't realize what that meant but I tried and was soon talking to an operator to my great delight. It was only after I was connected with the Flight Center where I had made all the bookings for my Australian adventure and plunked down $2500 that I realized that it was a collect call on my behalf to be billed to the travel agency. Luckily they accepted the call and I was informed that I'd be reimbursed half of the Contiki Tour price if I canceled. She said she'd call me back at the hostel in a few hours to see if it could somehow be possible for me to meet up with the bus after I arrive in Alice Springs tomorrow. As the realitiy of the situation slowly sinks in I get a shuttle back to the hostel and at least I get to spend another day in Sydney. I walk back to Avis and find out from them that if I return the car right then I'll get 1/3 of the day refunded. So Amy and I decide tooling around the city in the comfort of A/C is a good way to weather the hangovers. I'm glad I got to see more of the city as viewing from the car is the best way to see it. Really beautiful architecture and there was a massive thunderhead billowing over the harbor. Australia, or at least Sydney, is very much like America. Just cooler and more laid back. The guy from Melbourne on the bus this morning (the last 36 hours feels like 3 days) was that really just this morning? was curious about my thoughts on the differences between America and Australia and I said that I thought they were pretty similar. He expressed concern that Australia was losing its culture or identity and I had to agree that growing up I remember having the impression through movies that Australia had a really unique and distinguished identity but I really couldn't tell him any differences I noticed between Sydney and American cities other than that I was surprised at the lack of honking of horns and the sheer number of beautiful, beautiful women.

It was very hot today so after we had enough of my terrible driving we went to the outdoor salt water swimming pools by the harbor where the giant battle ships sit, but as soon as we got to the pool, the sun retreated, but I did a few laps in the long laps pool. This is why I didn't drive this morning; I half-ran a red light today and had to back up to get out of the way of the oncoming cars and then started driving down the right side of the road to name just a couple of the boneheaded things I did today. Once again, made it through the day with no horns honked. Before I left today I got clear directions on how to get to the return garage so we get back to Avis at about 6:10pm and they're closed! So we might get a couple people to go get clogged in traffic with us inin the rental -- love that little car -- since we both agreed we won't be drinking tonight. I booked the flight for tomorrow morning for 9:25am which set me back $220 since I won't be getting any refund for my missed flight. Returning the car tomorrow morning and waking up in time to get to the airport by 8:30pm is not gonna be fun. Might have to pull an all nighter like I should have last night. Sorry for the long blog, internet is much cheaper on the other side of the Tasman Sea.

I just realized something, it's completley dark at 8:30pm whereas in New Zealand 10:30pm - 11:00pm it's dark.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Car Rental Confustications

So I rented a car today and drove to the Blue Mountains national park with a guy from Puerto Rico who looks like Dominic Monaghan who played Merriadock TOok in Lord of the Rings. The car was so good on gas we thought the gas guage was broken because for the entire trip it did not budge, 170 miles. When we were back in the city at the end of the day it finally dropped a smidge and we were so surprised to that it wasn't actually broken. Gas for the whole trip cost $12 total; and it was an automatic. It was one car class higher than their smallest, but I got it for the cheapest fare since they were out of the 2 doors, only $40 for the day. I figure we got over 60 miles to the gallon. It was a 5 door Toyota Corolla hatchback, a model non existent in the U.S. [Insert picture of "Merry" here]

When we got back in the city we found the Avis place and had about 20 minutes to spare but we were on the wrong side of the divided boulevard. So we drove down the street and turned right at the next available place to see if we couldn't get going the other way down the street to return the car. It took us under a long tunnel and way out of the city. Several very illegal u-turns later we find our way back to the boulevard again going the wrong way again and for the life of us we cannot see how to get going the other way down the boulevard. We pass the turn that took us under the tunnel and the the next turn goes over a bridge; not much better. So right before the bridge I pull another U-turn where the median ends briefly before the big intersection and I end up having to do a 3 point turn in the middle of the street, luckily before the traffic came. The little car's maneuvarability is great, though. Drove up to Avis to find out it's closed. We're about 15 minutes late. No way to return the car after hours. So we find a parking place on a side street not too terribly far from Avis. I'm so tired and stressed from driving all day and not being able to go the right way down that boulevard that it takes me three tries to parallel park and the cars collecting behind me never even beeped. In fact I didn't hear one beep the whole time in the city. People are very well mannered for such a full on city. And Sydney is a real thriving metropolis. Sort of a cross between New York and LA. I really like it and early in the evening (8:30pm) on a Friday night it is teaming with talent as it were -- eye candy galore. Beautiful people, beauitful buildings, beautiful parks and beautiful harbor. That is Sydney Australia for you.

Yesterday went to the Operah House which was pretty cool and then the beach was was really cool. The water was perfect temperature. Right after I entered the water I found myself body surfing a sizeable wave in and then three more waves one after another. That was really cool because I hadn't been in the ocean in a long time and never found body surfing very easy and then to just catch wave after wave like that was great, although I swallowed a bunch of salt water again being that I tried to catch my breath while I was still riding the wave in. I need to stop doing that. Couple Irish guys lent me their boogie board for awhile, too, and not to brag even more but I seemed to be the only one who was actually riding the waves all the way in proper like, beaching on the sand, although I saw one guy ride a wave diagonally like surfers do which I wasn't able to figure out how to do.
[insert picture of surfers at Bondi Beach here] [insert picture of Operah House here]

I wish I was staying in Sydney longer. It just seems like a great place to hang out for a good chunk of time. The weather has been terrific except for a brief spate of thunder and rain this afternoon at the Three Sisters but it was a welcomed summer feature which I had been missing in New Zealand. [Insert picture of Three Sisters here]

I saw more birds today. Some really cool birds. Big birds and dramatic flight pattern birds and brightly colored birds. Dunno why New Zealand is known for its birds. Much more cool birds to be seen in Sydney and environs in two days than in all of New Zealand for seven weeks. Oh, I know why, because New Zealand has nothing else going for it except pretty scenery. There are no land mammals to be enrigued by. I sorta feel like New Zealand is overrated but I think that's mostly because I went there with such lofty excpectations of what it would be like. I actually have no perspective on my travels and the places I've been to right now as far as how my experience of New Zealand and now my experience of Sydney and Australia go. It's kinda weird; I'm curious to what I'm gonna think of all this in a few months or a year. It's been such a whirlwind of varied sights, sounds and people. I think if I was travelling with a friend it would be much different. Definiately glad I went solo. I think it allows for a much richer experience.

Sorry for the lack of pix - hopefully soon I'll be able to upload.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


Sydney is a really cool town, although the weather prolly is having a big influence on my first impression of Australia. It's... warm! ...and sunny! ...and normal summer weather with warm summer breezes! New Zealand is beautiful and magestic and fun and the people are great but the weather is pants. When I stepped outside of the airport this evening into the glow and lingering warmth from the setting sun I was just like "wow, I almost forgot what summer is supposed to feel like."

No pictures yet. Keep your shorts on and check back tomorrow. I rented a car for Friday to explore the parks and beaches outside of the city and tomorrow I'm gonna buy some thongs (Aussie lingo for sandals) and try to rent a bike or use the public transport system to tour the sites.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Outback, Northern Territory and the Queensland Coast

Australia Trip Itinerary

Pixagogo direct photo link

So after seven weeks in New Zealand ( I think it's time to broaden my horizons once again. I'm off to Sydney tomorrow, the 14th, where I'll be spending a few days exploring what is actually not the capital of australia as I had just assumed. Some small unheard of city called Canberra is. On the 17th I catch a flight to Alice Springs to land smack dab in the middle of Australia right in the center of the outback where I'll be starting an eleven day guided bus tour. My Contiki tour kicks off in Alice Springs near Ayers rock Pixagogo direct photo link on the 18th and heads north to finish in Darwin, the most northern city in Australia, on the 28th. On the 29th I catch another flight bright and early after no doubt partying it up on the last day of the tour to arrive bleary eyed in Cairns where I'll be spending New Years and from there embarking on part two of my Australia trip which might start off with a spate of snorkling in the Great Barrier reef. Then it's down the coast stopping at Fraser Island, which is a giant sand island and supposed to be great. Not sure how I will travel down the coast. I fly back to Christchurch from Brisbane on the 15th of January so that only gives me two weeks to cover over 800 miles, more distance than all of New Zealand. Prolly will be on another bus rather than hitchhiking.