June 2003

Cup of Soup

Mon, Jun 2, 2003

The Dating Game

Have I been wearing a big sign around my neck that reads "Desperately Seeking" or something of the like? Over the past two days I've had people try to set me up with three different girls. Not that I'm complaining about the attention, but what's with the sudden interest in my dating status?

Thurs, Jun 5, 2003

Variable Itineraries

Airlines threatening to go bankrupt worry me. Long after my trip has been booked and paid, it's still changing. Originally, I was to have a two-hour transit stop in Los Angelas on the way home, but due to Air Canada's latest money troubles, that flight has been cancelled and I am now scheduled on the following red-eye flight. This extends my sleepless flight travel by another half-day or so, but on the bright side, I will have about 10 hours to spend wandering LA, and thus I can add another destination to visit on my trip.

My trip now involves the following:

  • Fly Toronto to Los Angeles to Fiji
  • Fiji for five days
  • Fly Fiji to Auckland to Sydney
  • Sydney for seven days (four visiting a friend, three on my own)
  • Fly Sydney to Cairns
  • 18 days touring the east coast from Cairns back down to Sydney, visiting 22 different cities along the way
  • Fly Sydney to Singapore, spending a half-day there (8 hours)
  • Fly Singapore to Tokyo, spending another half-day there (11 hours)
  • Fly Tokyo to Los Angeles, again spending a half-day at that location (10 hours)
  • Fly Los Angeles to Toronto, collapsing on the tarmac after having not slept for three days.

Please express your jealousies now, as I will be so stricken with jet-lag-induced insanity when I get back that I will not be able to appreciate it.

Mon, Jun 9, 2003


Ow, my freakin' leg...

I got stitches. Stitches add character. Assuming the excruciating pain subsides before my trip, I can then use the wound to impress bikini-clad girls on Fijian beaches with tales of rescuing nuns and orphans from burning buildings. Heroic tales of rescue also add character.

Wed, Jun 11, 2003

Eco-Challenge Fiji

I think about my upcoming trip to Fiji, and then I look at my newly acquired wound, with it's stitches doing a poor job of holding myself together. Then I think of Eco-Challenge Fiji from a couple of months ago, and recall one of the Brazillians and the infection that caused her hand to swell to twice it's size. Then I look back to my wound and it's poorly stitched state.

Oh boy.

Sun, Jun 15, 2003

Leaving On A Jet Plane

Well, off I go... 5 weeks in the South Pacific, and what a time it will be!

The Noodles will be dormant while I am away, but I return on the 21st of July, and rest assured that soon after I will be posting vivid details of the entire trip.

All my bags are packed, I'm ready to go... I'm standing here outside your door... I hate to wake you up to say good-bye...

Mon, Jun 16, 2003

Toronto to Fiji

It seems like only yesterday I was thinking that this trip was eons away. Then, suddenly, I was frantically planning the whole thing as complications arose and schedules changed, and even more suddenly I was on a plane and on my way. The first leg of the trip involved two flights, one from Toronto to Los Angeles, and then a connecting 11-hour flight to Nadi, Fiji. The first flight was typical of airlines; two bad movies and rubber food. The scenery was mostly desert, though I believe I saw the Grand Canyon along the way.

I was really worried about the second flight; I can never sleep on planes, and the thought of 11 hours in that little uncomfortable seat was gnawing at my mind like a dentist polishing his drill bits while the patient sits strapped in his chair awaiting his root canal. I was prepared for this, though; I bought an MP3/CD player to drown out the plane noise and one of those silly looking neck pillows to give me a little more comfort. I was ready for this one. I was exhausted. I was comfortable...

I didn't sleep a wink. 12 hours from gate to gate and I didn't miss a moment of it. I was lying in a half daze for most of the trip, and when I was startled by some turbulence, I checked the time hoping I had slept the flight away only to find it wasn't even half over. I spent the rest of the time chatting with the surfing South Africans next to me and ignoring the movies being played, too tired to pay attention, but still unable to drift off to dreamland.

We crossed the international date line just before reaching Fiji, and it was an odd feeling to lose an entire day just like that. When I left home, it was Monday, and suddenly it was Wednesday.

At long last we arrived at the island paradise. I stepped off the plane onto the outdoor deck and took my first breath of the thick, humid, warm tropical air. From the second breath I knew this was going to be heaven. (On the first breath, the air was thicker than I had expected, and I almost choked, but the second breath onward was wonderful.) I stepped through the terminal at the ungodly hour of 3:30 in the morning, ready for my adventure to begin.

Tue, Jun 17, 2003

International Date Line

Tuesday's gone! Where did Tuesday go?!

Wed, Jun 18, 2003

Fiji Day 1

The first order of business at the airport, of course, was to take care of the whole SARS issue. Stay back people! I'm contagious! I filled out the standard issue form, the first of many I would have to repeat throughout the trip. No, I don't have a fever. No, I don't have a cough. No, I have not shook hands, shared drinks, had sex with, or otherwise been in any sort of contact with a SARS-affected individual.

Next order of business was actually figuring out where I was supposed to go from there. I asked some under-slept airport staff, found the desk I needed, and was put on a shuttle with three girls from Manchester that sat in front of me on the flight. "Oh, you're taking the Feejee Experience tour as well?" I said. "That's great; it should be a wonderful time!" Three cute English girls on the same tour as me? This trip is starting off well.

We were taken to our hostel, which was a somewhat lengthy drive that ended up simply being on the other end of the runway, and I got placed in a dorm room and attempted to sleep for the four hours I had until I needed to get up to start my trip. Oddly enough, I still didn't sleep a wink. Maybe I was too excited about the trip ahead. Maybe it was the inordinate number of birds outside making strange and unusual noises. Maybe it was the airplanes landing on the runway right next to the hostel. In any case, I pulled myself up out of bed when the sun rose and discovered I was in a 10-person dorm with 9 girls. 'This trip is starting off really well, indeed' I thought.

Unfortunately, it would turn out that I was simply being teased, as the English girls were starting the tour on Saturday, whereas I was starting immediately. Ooo, that fate, always pulling my chain! No matter, I would enjoy the tropical paradise without them!

The bus drove off, and first took us for a glimpse of Dandenau, one of the most exclusive resorts in Fiji. The point of the quick visit was to be told that this is the sort of place we will avoid. "People come here so they can play and say they've been to Fiji," our guide, John, told us. "But they don't see or do anything they can't do at home. We're going to show you the real Fiji, go where real Fijians go and do what real Fijians do."

That's exactly what I wanted to hear, and they made good on that promise with our lunchtime stop. We drove up to Natadola Beach, a lovely secluded beach with 5-foot waves crashing onto the shore, palm trees swaying in the wind, and not a soul to be seen except for a few riding horses along the beach. "This is where the locals come on holidays," we were told. "Other days it's empty and peaceful like this." I listened to the sound of the waves, smelled the ocean air, and felt the sand between my toes. This was paradise; I could stay here forever. I stepped to the shore and looked out at the water. The endless Pacific lay before me, majestic in it's blue horizon. I had never swam in an ocean, and I couldn't think of a better spot. We spent the afternoon tumbling with the crashing waves, and feasting on barbecue and fresh tropical fruit.

We continued on our way and stopped in a tiny little village called Mamanuto. This was a traditional self-sufficient village where the outside world had no relevance. The villagers gathered their own food, built their own shelters, and taught their own children. This was a spot that politics never touched; that business never plundered; that progress - either good or bad - never passed through. Except for the "Vancouver, Canada" T-shirt the chief was wearing, you would have no way of knowing if it was the 21st century or the 11th.

One of the activities we were supposed to enjoy on this first day was sandboarding at the Sigatoka Sand Dunes. It looked like tons of fun, but unfortunately for us, they have recently discovered that the sand dunes were used as an ancient burial ground, and sandboarders were digging up skeletons and hurting themselves. So, as of about a week ago, the Fijian government no longer allows sandboarding at Sigatoka. That's a shame; we could have been amateur archeologists! Go sandboarding and dig up a skeleton at the same time! How cool would that be?

As we drove off to the Coral Coast, we pondered the simple-life happiness these people enjoy. As we passed people on the small highway, our driver would honk, and everyone would wave as we passed by. It's a very basic content-with-life-in-general sort of disposition that's abundant in this land, something that oft goes missing in first-world countries.

We made our way to the Coral Coast and stopped at the famous Beach House hostel, the accommodations at which turned out to be little more than a barn. Some of our dormmates that night were the ultra-backpacker types; the kind with funny hair, smell of weed, and have spent a month in the jungles of Cambodia because, as they put it, "It's, like, so... out there, dude, and so, like, real, you know? You gotta go, man!"

With sundown passed hours before, and the rain coming down, there was little to do but turn in early, and rest up for day number two.

Thu, Jun 19, 2003

Fiji Day 2

This morning I finally successfully used a telephone. I had not been able to call home to notify my family that I had landed safely and was doing fine. I think it must be that Fijians dislike the concept of the telephone in general, and only have them to satisfy a certain expectation that they be available. That doesn't mean they actually work, of course. Consider the public telephones you find on the street. Several measures have been taken to ensure that these phones never get used, the first of which is their intimidating appearance. They come in big yellow boxes with a pair of spear-like rods protruding from the top in an offensive posture. They have hooked ends that could easily disembowel someone unfortunate enough to come into closer contact with them. If the intimidation approach doesn't work, then the number you attempt to dial may simply not connect. This was the case for both numbers available for me to use my calling card. Then, if by chance, you happened to connect to the desired destination, the sound quality will be so terrible you will not be able to distinguish between the phrases "Hello" and "The fingers you have used to dial are too fat; to order a special dialling wand, please bash the dial pad with your palm.". If, then, in the unlikely event that you would actually be able to connect a call and interpret what was being said, then someone will conveniently remove the phone entirely, leaving nothing but two wires protruding from the empty booth. This was the case with about half the telephone booths I found, and is likely the fate of any telephone in the country that has the audacity to actually connect a call.

At breakfast we realised why the Beach House was so popular. I walked to the beach and instantly thought of that gorgeous little scene from the movie Contact. A quiet beach plentiful in seashells, waves lapping calmly on the shore, and a pair of coconut trees with their trunks curved toward the shore, stretching out as if they yearn to go for a quick dip under the morning sun.

I pulled myself away from the tranquil scene and we drove on down to our next stop. We piled into a set of 4WD trucks and headed up a steep mud road. At one point, we needed everyone to sit at the back and have one guy hanging perilously on the back bumper bouncing around trying to give the back wheels enough weight to pull the truck through the mud. We then went for an adventurous 3-hour rainforest trek. We saw some marvellous scenery, but I made one mistake: I wore hiking shoes. Normally, you would think this would be the right course of action, however, this trek involved walking knee-deep in mud, then knee-deep in a river, then knee-deep in mud again, and a river again and so on. My shoes and socks continuously got soiled and drenched and would take three days to dry off. Oh, and it was a rainforest, so naturally it rained on us. Twice.

Otherwise, the hike was great. The trails were barely beaten and had rudimentary steps, usually simply carved out of the mud, which wouldn't hold their form for anything heavier than, say, a tea leaf, a dung beetle, or a runway model. At the end of our hike, we all splashed into the Navua river and floated downstream in inner tubes until we reached a small little waterfall. We climbed the rocks up to a little hidden pool and relaxed with a little dip and dive. We took motor boats the rest of the way down the river back to our bus. We sped down the winding river, twisting our way through forest so thick it looked as if the whole landscape were covered in moss; just a small group of us crawling our way through the thick wild jungle. Too surreal.

We hopped back on the bus and headed for the capital city, Suva. While the city seems nice enough, it didn't seem to fit with what we had done for the past two days. At this point, I wanted to see more beaches, more jungle, more village folk and their content-with-life-in-general dispositions. We went to an Irish pub for dinner and drinks, and filled ourselves up on Fiji Bitter, since it seemed to be the only economical beer available.

When we eventually retired for the night, I found that our attempts at drying our shoes were futile. Nothing ever dries in this country; it's so humid that when something gets wet, it stays wet forever. So, I went to bed with my wet shoes still sitting in the corner, my wet socks still hanging by the window, and my wet self lying in what was now a damp bed.

Fri, Jun 20, 2003

Fiji Day 3

My alarm clock has so far been completely useless. It must be the lack-of-civilization lifestyle of the past few days; we retire soon after sunset, and wake up at sunrise. I have yet to actually hear my alarm go off because I have awoke well before the time at which it had been set. It's odd that here on vacation I am wide awake well before my alarm, yet if I have to get up to go to work I need to press the snooze button for nearly an hour before I can drag myself out of bed, pulling myself across the floor with my fingernails.

We headed for breakfast noting with a complete lack of surprise that all of our items were still wet, and proceeded to get thoroughly ripped off by being charged $6.00 for "extra" toast for which we did not ask.

We had an early start today since we had a long drive over poorly-maintained roads en route to our most authentic Fijian experience yet. We eventually ended up in a typical village to be treated to a traditional kava ceremony. We were introduced to the chief of the village and partook in several bowls of the kava they prepared for us on the spot. Kava is a drink made from the root of the kava plant, and serves the purpose of an occasional drink, much like wine would be for Westerners. It is not alcoholic, but it certainly does something to you, as most of us felt a wee bit dizzy after a few helpings.

The villagers took us on a mini tour of the village and showed us the mouth of a tremendous cave, which apparently has a cavern the size of three football fields deep within it's tunnels. We then drove down the road for a special visit to one of the local primary schools. We got to meet the principal, some of the teachers, and several classes of kids ranging in age from 4 to 14. They asked us questions and sang us traditional songs as they inquisitively ogled the strange, thin white people visiting their little neck of the wilderness. It was a very touching experience, though admittedly, I sort of felt like I was intruding on their daily routine; interrupting their studies so they can entertain the bothersome tourists.

We continued down the road a bit to the banks of the Wainabuka River, and got a short bilibili raft a bit downstream, where we stopped for a swim and some splashing wars. John claims that we tried to kill him, but he is exaggerating; we had no intention of killing him, only of putting the fear of God into him for a while.

After swimming back to the river bank, we continued up the coast to Ellington Wharf for the trip to Nananu-i-ra. We had the option of taking the ferry out to the island, or enjoying a scenic sunset kayak. Despite several pleas and prods, I was the only one that opted for the kayak. My guide and I set off to battle the waves and enjoyed some absolutely marvellous scenery, and got a healthy workout at the same time; we finished the hour and a half route in only about 45 minutes. We reached the island's shore soon after the ferry and I made sure to passionately profess what a wonderful experience the kayak was, and how everybody missed out on a spiritual experience.

Then I had the audacity to claim the double bed in the dorm lodge, claiming the sudden onset of extremely soar muscles.

We had dinner at the island resort, which was family run, complete with home cooked meals and a young kid that pestered guests with his plush lizard, which we could not touch, lest it bite us.

The Sun had set and we were about to prepare a beach bonfire. It was at this point that I actually looked upwards at the night sky. It was the first time I had seen the southern sky, and while I knew the stars would be different, I never expected that I would really notice; it's not as if I know all the constellations and major stars in the northern sky anyway. However, the moment I saw it, I stopped immediately in my tracks, shocked with awe at the sight. The Milky Way was bright and visible, the Southern Cross shone brightly, the North Star and the Big Dipper were nowhere to be found. Everything I had taken for granted about the northern sky was suddenly removed and I stood and stared in wonder at the panoramic view above me. It was the first time that the distance really hit me. I wasn't just in another country; I was on the other side of the world. Everything I knew and to which I was accustomed was so far away, I could not possibly be any further without leaving the planet itself. It was a mixture of senses, from isolation and loneliness, to adventure and freedom. I must have stood there staring for ten or fifteen minutes, ignoring the painful kink developing in my neck, and soaking in the beauty of God's creation. If ever I was to have a true spiritual moment, that was it.

We spent a relatively quiet night by our bonfire, chatting about the adventure we've had over the past few days and life back at home, feeding our fire with coconuts and stolen sections of fence. The tide creeped closer in to us, yet we stayed to the late hours of the night, enjoying the moment as a group. I looked up to the sky once again, the silhouette of a palm tree visible directly above me through the sea of stars, the sound of the surf creeping closer, a cool ocean breeze sending licks of flame in my direction. Wednesday's beach was lovely, but this scene surpassed it easily. This was paradise, and must be the greatest spot on Earth.

Sat, Jun 21, 2003

Fiji Day 4

I awoke in the morning with my shoulders feeling not nearly as sore as I had expected them to be, but I did have a rather large blister from the kayak paddle. We had breakfast and, since we had some time before the boat back to Viti Levu, three of us decided to take a hike along the walking path up the hill. The path led us up to a lookout of the gorgeous scenery around us, and then along further down the island through various pastures, complete with horses and menacing-looking cows that eyed us strangely as we trespassed through their territory.

The path ended at the shore 20 minutes from our departure point, and the definition of paradise was thrown out the window. The local beach was nice; the nighttime bonfire was OK; this beach was absolute paradise, and I am convinced there is no lovelier place in all the world. The beach surrounded a crescent bay, entirely lined by palm trees and completely isolated from everything else on the island. Tiny sand crabs scuttled across the beach. The water was crystal clear; the ocean floor visible as far out as I was willing to go, the sands broken only by the occasional set of rocks laid out in fanciful patterns. The horizon view was unbroken, suggesting the timeless, endless expanse of the deep Pacific blue. The Sun beat down upon the three of us as we took in the view, alone on the beach, with an exclusive claim to this protected little paradise. If God has a backyard, this was definitely it.

After a short little swim, we made the hike back to the resort and reported our findings to some of the others, who then became intent on seeing it as well. I yearned for a second look, so I accompanied them back for the hike, passed the menacing cows, and onto the crescent beach. We eventually made our way back to catch the boat back to the main island. I wished I could have stayed, but there was much more left to see and my schedule unfortunately would not allow it.

We began the final leg of our island tour, driving back toward Nadi, with a little tutorial on the Indian population of Fiji courtesy of our driver, Arvin. Along the way, we passed a few sights such as the tomb of one of Fiji's old cannibal chiefs, who supposedly ate 999 people during his rule. With that thought stuck in our minds, we stopped for a curry lunch. I'll stick to white meat today, thanks.

Our final scenic stop was at a set of volcanic hot pools. We enjoyed a fine warm mud bath, and a few mud fights to go with it. It's good for the skin, but I soon found that it is rather bad for contact lenses. It also ended up being bad for my clothes, as everything was caked in mud. I desperately needed laundry.

Our Feejee Experience tour concluded, and we were dropped off at our various hostels. Most of us agreed to meet later that evening to watch the England vs Australia rugby match. Considering most of the group came from the British Isles, it was clear which team was the favourite for the night. We chatted as the night drew on, and finally said our good byes as the hostel staff attempted to lock us in. I meandered back to my hostel, waking the security guard to let me in. It was a great little tour, and I was sad to see it end. I can certainly now say that I have seen the best of Fiji, the true Fiji, and experienced an adventure like no other.

Sun, Jun 22, 2003

Fiji Day 5

My last day in this island paradise, and it was time to see what the rich tourists see. I booked an island cruise with South Sea Cruises and headed out early in the morning. I boarded the catamaran, and enjoyed the cool breeze as the ship took us through the Mamanucas. We stopped at South Sea Island, a tiny sand island that housed a small resort and backpacker's lodge. I boarded a semi-submersible boat and witnessed the sea life among the coral through the glass observation deck. I saw numerous fish, starfish, and jellyfish as we calmly sailed by.

The next activity was my first experience at snorkeling. Being the poor and panicky swimmer that I am, I opted to use a life jacket to ensure my survival. While it hindered my mobility a great deal, it still offered some fantastic views, as snorkeling brings you up close and personal to some vibrant looking fish. We swam back to the beach, which was covered in chunks of coral and shell; very interesting to look at, but very painful to walk on. We were then provided a barbecue lunch, where I met a few backpackers, including the first American I had met on the whole trip. So far, it seemed that nearly every visitor to this country was British, with a few token Irish and Danish along the way. I have yet to meet up with another Canadian. Perhaps I'm unique in this visit; I like that.

Our cruise continued through the various islands, including some rather famous ones, like Treasure Island, and in the distance the island on which the movie Castaway was filmed. I made a note to watch it again when I returned home, and also to refrain from yelling "Wilson!" at any point during the trip.

I took note of my company on the cruise. Aside from the friendly pair of Scottish girls with whom I was chatting, the entire ship was populated with retired seniors on their see-the-world-before-we-die trips, and families on expensive vacations, complete with fat uncles, bratty kids with lisps begging for ice cream, and adolescent teens who would be strutting their stuff attempting to impress the other adolescent teens if not for the presence of their parents. It made me very glad I took the real-life adventure tour instead of the resort-style phoniness.

I made my way back to the hostel in mid-afternoon, with little to do but sit the day away and wait for my flight at the god-awful hour of 3:45 AM. I sat on the beach, wrote this journal, wrote a couple of postcards for my sisters, and enjoyed a beach-front dinner at sunset. I sat thinking about the tour I just had, and one of the peculiarities that struck me was how the English members of our group conversed with each other. Many of them referred to each other by the city in which they lived. There was a Newcastle, a Cambridge, a London, and a Birmingham. I didn't believe anyone had ever referred to me as "Toronto", and wondered why.

Coincidentally, it was at that point that I saw someone approach out of the corner of my eye and say "Hey, it's Toronto!"

Startled at the mind-reading capability of my acquaintance, I turned to find it was the American I met on South Sea Island, and she had brought along a lovely friend of hers, whom she introduced as Jemma. We all chatted the evening away, and wondered how long our American friend had stayed at this hostel, since she seemed to know everyone else around and managed to get us all a free round of drinks courtesy of the owner. Jemma would turn out to be a wonderful conversationalist, with an adorable English accent to go with it, and she invited me out for drinks at another hostel that evening with some friends of hers. I was rather intent on going until the rest of my evening was ruined by a nasty receptionist that obviously wasn't aware of what a good time I was having.

Apparently, reception at the hostel would close at 10:30, and I would need to catch my taxi to the airport by that time. Note that my flight was not scheduled until 3:45 AM. My pleas and bargains went unheard, and I was forced to abandon my company and leave for the airport 5 hours early, with no sleep, nothing to do, and no Jemma.

So, there I lay, on a table in the departure lounge of Nadi airport, hours before my flight, trying to catch a wink of sleep, knowing the effort would be futile. I collapsed with my giant heavy bag in an awkward and painful position. The expression on the face of the yearning-to-slumber mass was a three-fold mix of disdain for the world in general for making me travel at god-awful hours of the night, sweet yearning for the island paradise I was soon to leave behind, and exuberant excitement in anticipation of seeing my dear friend Carla again in the Land Down Under.

Mon, Jun 23, 2003

Sydney Day 1

A pair of flights this morning took me from the warm climates of Fiji to the slightly chilly winter of Sydney, Australia. My old roommate Carla had spent the past five months in Canberra on exchange, and she was going to be my lovely tour guide for the next while. Way back in January, I told her about my fortunate contest prize, and promised that I would go and visit her in the Land Down Under as part of my new trip. I may only be catching her during her last three days in Oz, but I'll be damned if I fail on a promise. I hopped on the train to Central Station and wound my way through the twisting passages of the station in search of platform 1, our prearranged meeting spot.

There's a certain strange feeling you get when you meet a good friend far away from home. In this case, it was a mixture of three. One was satisfaction and relief, a shout of "I made it! I'm good on my word!" The second was a startled confusion, because even though I perfectly knew Carla was going to be there, and meeting her was a major purpose of this trip, you still get a strange sort of shock when you see someone you know. You think "I'm on the other side of the world; what are you doing here?" Of course, the biggest sensation is simply the joy you get when you see the face and the big bright smile of that great friend you haven't seen in the longest time.

When I saw Carla's big bright smile running toward me, I gave her the world's biggest bear hug, as if I hadn't seen her in five years, rather than five months.

I helped her with her bags and went down the street to our selected hostel, which turned out to be by far the nicest one I had seen yet. I was ecstatic simply to have a warm shower; I had had nothing but cold showers for the past week. Since I was staying there seven nights, I got a rather good deal: a per-night discount, one free night's stay, a free T-shirt, and a pair of two-for-one drink coupons for the bar downstairs. We got cleaned up after our long travels, and set out on a little city walking tour. Carla showed me the busy George St and the Queen Victoria Mall, before ending up at Circular Quay for the ferry to Manly Beach.

Normally, you trust your tour guide to take you to the right places and the exciting spots, relying on their previous experience to know what's where. So, when Carla led us to the wrong ferry wharf, I had to hesitate a bit. Oh well, it just adds to the adventure; I'll just attribute it to the overwhelming excitement of my long-haul visit. Yes, that will be our excuse and move on.

We found the right wharf and started the sail over toward Manly Beach. We got a lovely view of Sydney Harbour, including the Opera House and Harbour Bridge along the way, as well as the numerous harbour-side shops and residences. I figured I should get a few snapshots of the scenery around us, and a picture of the two of us as well. There were a group of hippies sitting in front of us, and I tapped one on the shoulder to ask if she would please take a picture of us. I handed her the camera and both Carla and I gasped. Now, I'm a man of Mediterranean descent, so I've got a significant amount of hair on my body, but I would not even come close to the jungle this girl had in her armpits. We were so surprised that we had difficulty holding our smiles for the camera. She handed back the camera and Carla and I exchanged shocked glances. We wondered if she styled the hair on special occasions, or if small animals got lost in there from time to time.

The ferry reached Manly Beach, and we walked the main street, examining the shops. Carla showed me the strange 1980's style of clothing that seemed to be popular in Australia, from one-shouldered sweaters, to mohawk hair, to fishnet gloves. We got a bit of ice cream and sat on the edge of the beach, watching the surfers tumble to and fro, and chatted the afternoon away. We took a pleasant little stroll along the beach shore and caught up on old times and current state of affairs. It soon felt very much like the cozy old days, just with slightly different scenery. We nearly got caught by some incoming waves whilst trying to put our shoes back on, and made our way back to the ferry for the trip back to the city by sunset.

Throughout the day, Carla had been noting the Australian phrases she had been picking up over her stay in Oz, and I'm sure I will be picking them up in no time as well. Phrases like "no worries", "fair enough", and "good on ya" already go by without a blip. One phrase however - "how do you go?" - I doubt I will ever get used to. It sounds like someone is asking for my mode of transportation rather than my state of health; I'm tempted to respond with "I walked here" every time I hear it.

We decided to go to Chinatown for dinner, and brought one of our dormmates along as well. When we sat for our meal, it didn't take long to discover that I was the only one who actually had any real experience using chopsticks, and despite my best efforts at trying to teach the others how it's done, there were many humorous mishaps and accidents, which led to a very interesting, if not messy, meal.

After dinner we took a stroll over to one of Carla's favourite spots in Sydney - Darling Harbour. We soaked in the atmosphere and checked out one of the bars for a drink. It was quiet for a Monday night, and considering I had no sleep the night before, we decided to turn in relatively early and headed back to the hostel for a good night's rest. There was too much to see in too little time, so tomorrow was going to be busy day.

Tue, Jun 24, 2003

Sydney Day 2

We planned to be up by 10:00 this morning, but both of us woke up well before that time. However, we were each too polite to go and wake the other, not knowing we were both already up anyway. It wasn't until Carla looked down to my bunk and saw me writing yesterday's log that we got our asses in gear and got a move on. We got our breakfast in the cafe downstairs and ate outside on the patio. After freezing ourselves during the meal, we decided it would be a good idea to head back up and change into something warmer.

We set out for more of a city walking tour, and after deciding that Sydney Tower was a little on the pricey side, we headed down to The Rocks and Harbour Bridge. Despite the immense size of the bridge, we still somehow managed to nearly get lost trying to get up to it. We walked along the edge of the bridge to its centre and scanned the view it afforded us. After a few scenic pictures and a silly snapshot of me attempting to climb the fence, we headed back and stopped in the bridge museum for some interesting information on how the historic structure was built, and a higher view of the city's skyline.

We walked through The Rocks - the old part of Sydney - which, for some reason, had odd pieces of furniture strewn about it. We picked up some lunch and continued our walk around Circular Quay, past the Opera House, to the Botanic Gardens, where we found a bench to seat ourselves with a view of the harbour, local joggers, and many strange sounding birds. A few of the birds, we could tell, were just aching to get a piece of our lunches, and there was even a little scuffle between a group of small birds and one big one who thought he could just barge in and push the others away. He was wrong, it turned out, and it appeared he lost a few feathers learning that important life lesson. We talked the afternoon away, reminiscing about old stories from Waterloo, and catching up on the gossip and stories we each missed over the past few months.

We continued our city walk by heading to Hyde Park, the Australian Museum, and then the always amusing King's Cross. King's Cross is Sydney's red-light district; it's definitely shady, and I expect the only reason I wasn't harassed by hordes of hookers was because a girl was walking with me. We went for dinner at a food court and enjoyed some crepes and sports talk, notably the triumph of our Toronto Rock, and the sorry state of affairs of our Toronto Maple Leafs.

We headed back to the hostel to look at a few pictures and rest our aching feet. The rain began to pour down outside, so we opted to stay at the hostel bar downstairs, rather than bar hop along George St. We chatted with a few lone travellers we encountered at the bar, but spent most of the night having one of those deep personal conversations I haven't had since, well, since the last time I was able to spend a good amount of time with Carla. We talked about various relationships, past and present, even the role I played when she got together with her current boyfriend. It was one of those satisfying conversations that reaffirmed why I came halfway across the world to visit her; she's one of my favourite people on the planet, and I always want to make sure she's in good health, good hands, and high spirits.

Wed, Jun 25, 2003

Sydney Day 3

Just as an aside, I would never survive in prison; I keep dropping the soap. It's a slippery little bugger.

Today was the "big events" day, and it started out with a matinee show at the famed Sydney Opera House. We got dressed in our best; I in my best shirt and tie, and Carla in her skirt and sexy boots. We headed out to Circular Quay and had lunch in a nice little Italian bistro, and followed it with a tasty cup of gelati. We then walked over to the Opera House, snapped some photos of the two of us on our high class outing, and noted that the Opera House always looks much more gleaming white in pictures than it does in real life.

We saw a play called Proof, which, oddly enough, was a romantic movie about math. Carla selected it because it had gotten the best reviews out of the available options, and figured that I might enjoy it since I have a degree in mathematics. It turned out to be quite good; much better than either of us had expected. It was about a mathematician's daughter coping with her father's death, and one of his students sorting through his work in search of anything complete. Of course, they fall in love; isn't it cute when math geeks get lucky? Carla shied away from the kissing scenes. We were in the second row; I guess it was a little too close for comfort. We quite enjoyed the play, and headed back to the hostel after its completion, as the weather lightly rained down upon us.

It turned out to be a lovely little date: dressed in our best, leisurely stroll downtown, meal at an Italian bistro, gelati desert, romantic play, and then a playful walk home in the rain. Where's Norman Rockwell when you need him?

The next big event was one for which Carla had been waiting for weeks. She was the founder of the ladies rugby team at her university, so the chance to watch a professional match in Australia is a big event. Now, make it the biggest and most popular match of the entire year, and it becomes an extraordinarily huge event. Carla had somehow been able to get a pair of tickets to game two of the State of Origin series, an annual best-of-three tournament between all-stars from Queensland and New South Wales. NSW had won game one, so another victory tonight would secure them this year's crown.

We donned our NSW blue, hopped on the train to Olympic Park, and joined the 79,132 people in attendance at the former Olympic venue. I had never been to anything with a crowd that size before. Our seats were waaaay up high such that the players on the field were mere specks, but it was an experience just to be there in the first place.

The game finished with a 27 - 4 blowout in favour of New South Wales, and they successfully won the series. We flowed with the happy crowd out of the stadium and back onto the jam-packed train headed for home.

Unfortunately, Carla had an early flight in the morning, and we turned in a little early, thus ending the guided tour portion of my trip to Sydney. I had a wonderful time, and will be forever grateful for Carla's Big Plan o' Fun. It's always a treat to see that special familiar face in a far away place, and I couldn't imagine having a better time.

Thu, Jun 26, 2003

Sydney Day 4

Carla packed up and left at 7:00 this morning to catch her flight back home, after her five-month stay in the Land Down Under. We said our teary good-byes, and she departed, leaving me to fend for myself. I miss her already; it seems as if Sydney's lost a bit of its charm with her departure.

I slept a few hours more and got a lazy start to the day. I finally sent my sisters' postcards and did a bit of shopping at Paddy's Market, a flea market kind of place, where you can find nearly anything at pretty cheap prices. I managed to get nearly all the cheesy souvenir gifts I needed for my family, and then wondered how I was going to carry it all around for the next three and a half weeks.

Next, I went to Sydney Tower to get the high view of the city. It turned out to be more than I expected, as the admission included the "Sky Tour", which was a little set of audio and video presentations about Australian history, culture, and attractions. The observation deck provided a great 360-degree view of the city, and commentary was provided by Tower staff. It was also at this venue that I first encountered the People to People student ambassador group. They filled the tower with their huge group, and I had to weave around them to get around.

I continued my lone tour by returning to Darling Harbour, to see it at daytime. I walked around the harbour, examined the numerous shops including the official Rugby World Cup tent, and then went to the Outback and Northern Territory Centre to see the Sounds of the Outback - a half-hour one-man digeridoo concert, set along contemporary music and a slide-show of Australian scenes. He was extraordinarily good, and provided some history on the instrument, and instructions on how to play it.

I headed to the Harbourside food court for dinner, and decided to try a Turkish pide. Unfortunately, my eyes were more hungry than my stomach, and I was already stuffed after eating only half of it. Oh, so full.

The aquarium was closed for a private function, so I made the long walk back to the hostel on aching feet as it started to rain. Touring a strange land on your own is a lot fun, but I miss the conversation and insider info of a personal tour guide. I went to the hostel bar downstairs for the evening and found Jasper and Casper, two of my dormmates since I arrived on Monday. They were also with another pair of dormmates that arrived earlier that day. It was the hostel's first birthday, so the place was littered with streamers and balloons, and people enjoying a great amount of champagne. At one point, a bar-hopping tour called Route 69 dropped by, and you could sense the skankiness metre rise considerably, and drop back down after they left.

Before long, people began playing with the helium balloons, and the rest of the evening was spent with a couple of Danish guys and a couple of Brits reciting catch phrases and recalling old German lessons in helium voices. When we finally retired back to the room and went to bed, I fell asleep to the shouts of "Das ist mein hamburger!" and numerous drunken giggles.

Fri, Jun 27, 2003

Sydney Day 5

I did some sorting of mess this morning, discovered that I somehow acquired a coin from Zimbabwe, and dismissed the idea of buying a digeridoo - at least for the time being - because I didn't want to carry it around for the next three weeks or pay $91 to have it shipped home.

I went back up to Circular Quay and caught the ferry over to Taronga Zoo. I think that what makes this particular zoo so famous isn't it's vast collection of animals, but it's spectacular view of the city from across the harbour. A cable car ride is required to enter the zoo, and the top of the hill provides a magnificent lookout to downtown Sydney across the water.

I spent most of the day wandering each pavilion of the zoo, intent on seeing all the Australian animals you normally don't find in North American zoos. I got a close view of the famed Komodo Dragon, which - according to Douglas Adams' book Last Chance To See - has the worst breath of any living creature. I also got a good view of my favourite Aussie animal, the platypus. As you watch it playfully waddle through the water, digging through the sand with it's beak, you can't help but laugh at it's cute silliness, and at the same time wonder how a creature like that could come to be, taking the best features of mammals, birds, fish, and reptiles, and forming itself into a cute, fuzzy, duck-billed, venomous fur ball.

I grabbed the ferry back to the city and found a small cafe in The Rocks to have dinner. I then headed off to Sydney Aquarium, and discovered my old University of Waterloo student card was accepted for a student discount. I saw lots more animals, including more of my good friend the platypus. Above the crocodile tank was a mezzanine with information about jellyfish and other dangerous creatures of the sea, and by the railing was one of the best warning signs I've ever seen. It was attached to the railing and read "If the fall doesn't kill you, the crocodile will".

The last sections of the aquarium housed huge water tanks, and the shark tank had a glass tunnel through which you could walk, so the turtles, rays, and sharks would swim around, above, and below you. It's eerie to think of what strange and dangerous creatures live in the planet's waters, completely out of sight in everyday human life. The last section had a tank with hundreds of fanciful fish, with relaxing music playing, and I just sat on a step for a while and watched them play.

I headed back to the hostel, and thank goodness for the train; my feet hurt more than yesterday. Not only that, I think one of my dormmates has given me her cold. Bloody sniffles.

Sat, Jun 28, 2003

Sydney Day 6

Bloody sniffles. They're worse than yesterday. When you're in close contact with people like the environment at a hostel, it's to be expected that a cold will spread, and I'm sure I'll get one or two more after the Contiki tour begins in Cairns. Last year on my European tour, I was able to kill my cold with beer, so perhaps I can try that again.

I woke up late and went out to the Chinese food court for lunch, which Carla had suggested to me as the world's greatest food court. I arrived and was overwhelmed by the choice. All the walls were plastered in pictures of the various dishes sold at each booth; I didn't know what to choose. Before long, I was being solicited by one of the chefs; he was so intent on making a sale that he even showed me the big pot of prawns he was going to use for my meal, just to convince me of their quality. I eventually picked a dish, and when I got it, I noticed it wasn't quite what I ordered, and didn't come with any rice despite the sign above the booth that read "All dishes are served with soup and rice".

I took the train and bus to the famed Bondi Beach to relax the afternoon away. I lied down, listened to some music, and read a good chunk of my book. I watched the surfers get tossed and tumbled, and got annoyed by a trio of Japanese girls that spent a good two hours giggling and taking an inordinate number of pictures of themselves, all in the same spot. One shot of two of them, then another of a different combination, then one of all three, then all three standing in a different order, and so on and so forth. How many pictures of the exact same thing could they possibly need? I was irritated and curiously perplexed at the same time.

I walked a bit around the town until later in the afternoon, and then began the Coogee Bay walk. Carla had told me to do the walk, and then go to the Coogee Bay Hotel for drinks. Unfortunately, the end of the walk was off of my map, so I would have to guess where to go. As well, the walk involved going through a cemetery, which would have not been a problem, except it was dark by the time I got there, and the cemetery had winding paths and no lights. I did not care to get impaled by a gravestone on my way to the bar, so I had to detour around the whole thing, a trip which added about an hour to my travel time and got me lost in an area where I had no detailed map; just a vague sense that the shore was somewhere to my left, so just try to walk that way.

I finally made it in the evening, and found the hotel; it seemed pretty small from where I sat. There was a rugby match on the tele, so I figured I'd just have a drink, watch the game, and then go home. While I was there, another lone backpacker came in, sat with me and introduced himself as Simon. That was great, someone to talk to, so we split a few jugs and chatted about this and that. He eventually suggested we move outside, and that is when I discovered that this was actually one of the largest pubs in Sydney, if not the whole country; the patio was massive, and there was so much more indoor pub behind it. We split jug after jug after jug and watched the girls go by. At one point, a trio of Irish girls came and sat with us, and talked to us for a while. I decided that they had to be the skankiest trio of people I had seen since arriving in Australia, and that was even after walking through King's Cross. Simon and I were both kind of surprised when they left for another bar to meet some other people, but to be honest, they're skankiness was too much for me; I could imagine a layer of slime building around us the longer they sat there.

As the night wore on, we decided to depart, and it wasn't until I stood up that I realised how many jugs we had gone through. I wasn't just drunk; I wasn't even just plastered. I do believe the only appropriate adjective for my state was "shitfaced". I weaved and wobbled my way out of the bar and caught a taxi to Bondi junction. I somehow made my way onto the train and amazingly got off at the correct stop, and found my way back to the hostel. I fumbled with my key card, got into the room, "whispered" a big loud "Good Morning!" to my dormmates and then tossed my cookies.

Yes, it was a good night.

Sun, Jun 29, 2003

Sydney Day 7

I was still very drunk when I got up at 6:30 the morning, and carefully made my way across the street to the big green bus that would take me to the Blue Mountains for the day.

There was some lovely landscape as we drove and hiked through the eucalyptus forests, and learned about some of the aboriginal stories and early settler history associated with the area. We saw the famed Three Sisters rock formation from a dozen different angles, got a demonstration of an echo chamber, and rode the world's steepest train, which climbed the mountainside at 52 degrees.

It was a pretty calm and relaxing trip, and I think the fresh chilly air prevented any hangover that threatened to show itself.

On the way back to Sydney, we made a stop at Featherdale Wildlife Park, where we got to walk freely amongst the kangaroos and wallabies, and pet them as they got annoyed with the numerous tourists. We saw some koalas, wombats, and Tasmanian devils, and like any good nature show, we witnessed some wallaby sex.

I returned to the hostel early in the evening to hear questions from my dormmates about my state of health the night before. I went out to Hungry Jack's for dinner with Jasper and Casper, and then handled a few necessities like laundry. Just to illustrate how drunk I still was in the morning, when I went to shower that evening I had discovered I had been wearing my underpants inside out all day.

We went down to the bar for a few drinks, and watched Die Another Day on their big screen. I turned in a little early, as I had an early flight out; it was time to say good night to Sydney.

Mon, Jun 30, 2003

Cairns Day 1

I pulled myself out of bed at 5:30 in the morning to pack up and head out to catch my 8:30 flight out of town. My bag has gotten so full I need to sit on it in order to zip it up. When I start the Contiki tour, I am only allowed one checked bag and one carry-on, neither of which can exceed 20kg. When I got to the airport, I found I would just barely make that restriction, as my big bag came in at 19kg. Thank goodness these Mountain Equipment Co-op bags are excellent quality, otherwise I'd have a broken back and torn shoulder straps by now. The security guard at the hostel even recognised me as Canadian because I had MEC on my bag; it's a sure way to pick a real Canadian out of the crowd amongst the American pretenders.

I had a cozy three-hour flight into Cairns, as the seat next to me was empty, and gave me a bit more room to stretch out and try to sleep (unsuccessfully, of course; I still can't sleep on planes). I hopped a taxi to my next hostel and enjoyed the tropical climate of Cairns. The city isn't much of a destination itself, but more of a departure point, either for the rainforest or the Great Barrier Reef. There isn't much of a beach, but instead they have a lovely man-made lagoon with a lawn on which people relax and sunbathe.

I decided to hang about and read by the lagoon for a while, and I wasn't there thirty seconds before I saw a topless girl sunbathing on her back. It wasn't much longer before I saw another, and another. It was a nice spot.

I did a bit of shopping for items I had lost or broken so far during the trip, and then went to dinner with one of my dormmates to a place called The Woolshed. I wouldn't get the full Woolshed experience until several days later, but it was certainly a big backpacker destination. We had dinner downstairs, watched The Simpsons, and had a few jugs of beer upstairs. I noticed that there were quite a few skanky people in there, and the bar looked very much like a meat rack. We didn't stay too long, leaving sometime after midnight, not quite realising what we were about to miss.

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