July 2003

Cup of Soup

Tue, Jul 1, 2003

Cairns Day 2

Happy Canada Day from Cairns! What better way to celebrate my nation's birth than by hanging out at the lagoon among a bunch of topless women?

I checked out of the hostel in the morning and locked my bags away for the day, and decided to laze the morning away at the lagoon. I wrote out the previous two days' logs, and as I write this one, there are four - no, make that five - topless girls sitting around me; Three of them are playing cards.

I noticed that I had forgotten my suntan lotion, and debated going back to get it. It was locked away deep in one of my bags so I decided not to bother, but that would later prove to be the wrong choice.

I took a swim in the lagoon. I'm a rather poor swimmer, so if I want to go snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef, I'll need to practice. I seem to do OK in salt water, but fresh water is giving me some problems; I don't float quite as well.

Later in the afternoon, I gathered my bags and tried to walk down to the uptown hotel where my Contiki tour was going to start. I could already feel the burn on my back, and with a combined 26kg load, I decided it would be better to hail a cab the rest of the way. The hotel proved to be really nice. It was huge, and had some nice lagoon-like pools. I got some more practice in the chilly pool for an hour or so, and then later went to the poolside cafe for our pre-tour meeting. It would turn out that there were only three guys and nine girls in the Reefs and Rainforests portion of the tour, though only one of the girls made it out to the meeting that night.

We met our tour manager, Kylie, had some dinner, watched some cheesy cane toad races, and talked about the upcoming tour. I was attempting to meet another of my old roommates - Angela - in Cairns the next day, but after discovering that our itinerary involved dirt roads, a ferry, and no civilization, I determined that it was quite impossible. It was a shame, too; she left Cairns mere hours before I arrived, and she would be returning mere hours after I would leave.

I shared some drinks with the other guys for the rest of the night until we all turned in to prepare for the beginning of our rainforest adventure in the morning.

Wed, Jul 2, 2003

Contiki Day 1 - Cairns to Cape Tribulation

We woke up, packed up, and loaded the 4WD truck for the start of the tour. We met the remaining eight members of our group, and our driver, Dave. We took off for our first highlight, the Kuranda SkyRail. We saw some big trees, big spiders, and a lot of mistletoe. I wondered what great Christmas parties they must have over there. Silly me, I forgot my camera in my bag, so I had to buy a few postcards as mementos of that first stop.

After lunch and a brief wander around the small town of Kuranda, we reboarded the truck and headed over to Mossman Gorge. We swam in a scenic - but bloody cold - little river with some perilous rocks, and being the not-so-agile swimmer that I am, I had a difficult time staying alive, and nearly lost a sandal in the process. On the upside, the girls donned their bikinis, so it was an enjoyable stay. On the downside, Dave the driver wore skimpy Speedos, so it was an enjoyable stay as long as I wasn't looking in his direction.

This was the point where the story of Dave and Laura begin. Laura, the Colombian princess, was a - how shall I put it - girl with particular assets. She stood out in the crowd. She was very good at getting people's attention. Ah, heck, she had a rack the size of Colombia itself and she was darn proud of it, too. She preferred to spend the time lying on the rocks catching some Sun rather than getting wet, but this apparently did not satisfy Dave the Driver. He decided that nobody should leave the river dry, particularly not a Colombian princess. Through some sinister splashing and well-calculated dives, he managed to get her up and running, shrieking, and jumping from the cold water, which I believe is exactly what he wanted. And so the courtship began...

After a stop in Mossman town where we loaded up on beer, we hopped back on the truck and continued our way to Cape Tribulation, the only place where two World Heritage areas meet: the rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef. Getting there was an adventure however, as it involved long unpaved roads, and a simple car ferry that took us across the Daintree River.

All along the way we were being tutored on the wildlife found in the rainforest, from Cassowaries to tree kangaroos, and the numerous spiders indigenous to the area, including the golden orb. Its webbing is the strongest material known to man, and its bite, while poisonous, is not fatal - only strong enough to make you mildly ill. However, it does something worse if you are unfortunate enough to walk into it's web: It will tend to land on your chest, walk up over your face, and stand on your head. This will more often than not give you a heart attack, which is worse than being bitten.

We arrived at the resort and scoped out the pool area to see what was around, and guess what we found had made a nice cozy home right next to the pool: A big healthy golden orb spider. This thing was the size of my head, and looked like a badass mofo. This was the pimp of spiders, complete with golden rings around its legs, ready to whoop anyone's ass if anyone so much as dared to look at it funny.

We gathered for our first meal as a group at the restaurant. The group was small enough that everyone was able to talk to everyone else, and we all seemed to get off to a good start. After the meal, some people went off to various rooms to get ready for the evening, and four of us - myself, Sam, Katy, and Anja - remained at the table, chatting away; a group that would remain rather close-knit for the remainder of the rainforest adventure.

After a few drinks back in the room, we headed off to PK's, which was essentially the only accessible bar in the area. We joined the rest of the group, many of whom had already enjoyed a fair amount of tequila, more of which was consumed as soon as we arrived at the bar.

Last week, Carla had told me that Aussies seemed to listen to slightly different music than we were used to at home. In particular, a lot of retro and even more Michael Jackson. Little time passed at the bar before I had to agree with her conclusion.

Much beer was consumed, and much dancing was done, but the highlight sight of the night had to be Dave, down on one knee, apparently begging to Laura. I don't want to ask what it was about, but it was quite the conversation topic the next morning.

We left the bar and returned to the resort. Katy joined us in the guys room for some more drinks, and ended up taking the extra bed when we all eventually passed out. And so we slumbered until Day 2...

Thu, Jul 3, 2003

Contiki Day 2 - Cape Tribulation

This morning we took a beach walk at Cape Tribulation, where Captain Cook crashed his ship into the reef and began a long and painful journey to repair his lot and return home. We encountered several crocodile-infested waters, and signs warning us of such dangers. Following that little trek, we hopped back onto the 4WD for a long ride through Bloomfield Track, which was a rugged and rocky dirt road, and our path involved crossing through a pair of small rivers. When this track was built, it came under protest from a group of environmentalists who chained themselves to trees and blocked the paths of the bulldozers. The government used a clever ploy to continue their work by maintaining a skeleton crew where the protesters were, and continuing construction in the opposite direction. How shocked they must have felt when they found themselves chained to a tree blocking a bulldozer for six months, just to have another one pull up behind them, its work complete.

We eventually ended up at Bloomfield Falls, where we stopped for lunch and a few photographs. We then continued on to the Imogen River, where we swam in the cold waters, tried some water massage, and I demonstrated my well-trained stone-skipping ability. Kylie found some ochre and gave Katy and I some aboriginal tattoos. We got a couple of photos of our bad-to-the-bone body carvings, which promptly washed away during the next swim.

When all of our nipples had turned blue from the cold water, we dried off and head back to the 4WD and back to the hotel, once again through the rivers and over the rocks on the bumpy and winding path. I went off to the pool, said hello to the spider, and went for another practice swim. I was briefly joined by Alice before we head out again to a twilight rainforest trek.

It was on this hike where we were introduced to most of the life in the rainforest: ancient trees, peculiar plants, and nocturnal animals. We spotted a pair of tree kangaroos, and licked an ant's butt for it's unique minty flavour. The highlight of the trek was our near-find of a cassowary, an endangered bird that is our closest link to the dinosaurs. Kylie spotted a huge pile of cassowary poo on the path and simply freaked. "It's steaming!" she cried with excitement. "Feel that, it's still warm!" I had never seen anyone get so excited over poo before. Dave ran into the forest with his torch hoping the bird was still in the vicinity, but nothing was found. Still, Kylie stared at the pile of poo as if she had just found a secret treasure.

After that close encounter with poo, we were all certainly ready for dinner. We went to Cow Bay for an Indonesian meal, and then headed to PK's again for another night on the town... err... village. We drank jugs of beer from tiny glasses served by waitresses using black straws as microphone pieces; you couldn't order a drink unless you used one. The dance floor was a little bare, so I decided to get things started by going out by myself. To my surprise, it actually worked, and a group of other people hit the dance floor as well.

At the end of the night we walked back to the resort, and I attempted to sing Home For a Rest to the night sky. Once again, our room seemed to be the popular spot, as a bunch of people hung out there as I desperately tried to stay awake and not doing a very good job of it. Jacelyn decided it would be a good idea to give everyone nicknames. I became Spud because of her insistent mispronunciation of this website's name. Geoff became Xena the Gadget Princess because of his affection for gadgets and his skill at the warrior princess yoga pose. Sam, to his shock and despair, became Dicky, and spent much of the rest of the time trying to rid himself of that moniker.

Eventually, people filtered out, and I passed out moments before the door was finally closed.

Fri, Jul 4, 2003

Contiki Day 3 - Cape Tribulation to Fitzroy Island

Early in the morning we took the 4WD out of Cape Tribulation back to Cairns and hopped on the ferry to Fitzroy Island. We said goodbye to Dave the Driver, and wondered what Laura would do with him away. After some confusion about which pier 6 was the correct pier 6, we sailed over to Fitzroy. We got ourselves booked in and then took a walk over to Nudey Beach. There ended up being no nudes except for one stranger, and that was someone that really shouldn't have been nude if she cared at all about the well-being of other people on the beach.

I had rented some snorkeling gear and was intent on snorkeling properly in order to get the full experience of the Great Barrier Reef in two days' time. Geoff was an avid snorkeler, so he gave me the basic run-through on how it's done, which basically was simply "breathe". With no panicking over drowning, you just sort of float with your face in the water and watch the fishes go by. I had some issues diving, but practice makes perfect. Unless the saltwater was causing me to imagine things, I did manage to see a manta ray, and then nearly choked trying to tell someone about it.

After a bit more snorkeling, and some plain old-fashioned swimming, some of us returned to the resort and began the lighthouse hike. Kylie told us it was a nice pleasant walk, but with a lot of steps. That wasn't nearly enough warning. The climb was torturous, with big leaping steps and twisting vertical climbs. Occasionally, we would reach what we thought was the summit, just to find that there was another, bigger hill before us. Sane people would have stopped after they had enough, turned around and made there way back for a nice hot cup of tea and perhaps a back massage, but we were beyond that stage. We were determined to finish this bloody hike; we had made it this far, and we would be damned if we couldn't finish it.

Geoff be nimble, Geoff be quick, Geoff went off ahead with bounds of energy and was likely mapping out a more efficient path to the summit by the time we were halfway up. That left Sam, Katy, Anja, and I to trek the treacherous way up ourselves, and by the time we got there, it was as if we had conquered the world itself. The dragon had been slain, and the island had become our kingdom. We just had to wait for the group of Japanese tourists ahead of us to finish taking their pictures before we could go and make our claim.

To our dismay, while we were patiently waiting our turn, a pair of rude German tourists butt in front of us and climbed the summit rock as if the only reason were waiting by the edge was to congratulate everyone that finished the trek. Of course, we were too polite to protest (not that they would have understood us anyway), and even hung precariously over the edge of the cliff so they could take their pictures. After leaving, there was no end to the grumbles and complaints about them. Nevertheless, we reached the top and took some fabulous triumphant pictures. Then I got my sandal caught in the rock trying to get down and nearly killed myself.

The lighthouse was well off into the distance, but we decided it could go and screw in its own light bulb, if you know what I mean, and we headed back down the mountain to the resort in time for dinner. We were supposed to have a big buffet dinner ready for us, but apparently the restaurant had forgotten about our little arrangement and scrambled to come up with an alternative. Kylie was rather upset. However, she tends to relieve stress by offering shoulder massages, and everyone was treated to one, so all was not lost. In the meantime, we got some free drinks, and Geoff decided to become an amateur reporter, conducting interviews for Jacelyn's video camera.

When dinner was complete, we were essentially the only ones around, and had the dance floor to ourselves. The music was pretty much exactly the same as we had heard the previous two days - videos were even provided by the same company - and we stuck around until Jacelyn finally got her request for Tequila played. Then it was off to bed to write out the day's notes and get some shut eye. Sam stayed out a bit later, and when he finally returned to the room, he just dropped straight into bed and passed out instantly; he barely had time to take off his shoes.

Sat, Jul 5, 2003

Contiki Day 4 - Fitzroy Island to Cairns

Happy Birthday Anja! Today she would be treated and pampered, but unfortunately not at breakfast, as the resort seemed to be a little off the ball with their meals. First there were no bowls for the cereal, then no milk to pour in the cereal, then no utensils with which to eat the cereal. It was a rather frustrating meal, which drew on everyone's creative limits to find ways of actually eating it.

We caught the ferry back to Cairns, and some of us were silly enough to ride up top. It was cold, windy, and waves would occasionally drench us. But, much like finishing the summit climb the day before, we started the ride on top of the boat, and we were damn well going to finish it up there. Anja was freezing in her shorts and chattering like an electric nut cracker, so I gave her my towel to protect her from the oncoming splashes of water. I soon became envious of her cozy protection as it wasn't long before I was dripping wet and chattering as much as she was.

We returned to the hotel in Cairns with a mostly-free day on our hands. Jacelyn and I decided to rent some bikes and ride around town. We went to the Botanic Gardens and saw their mini rainforest and vast collection of unidentifiable plants. We then continued on to the Esplanade and lagoon where we saw a couple more topless sunbathers, and refreshed memories of the sunburn I got four days earlier, which was already peeling it's way down my back and across my shoulders.

We stopped for a bit of ice cream, bumped into Katy and Anja, had some lunch, and did a bit of shopping. We headed back to the hotel and made a few wrong turns along the way as I tried to figure out how to use a left-side roundabout on a bicycle. I tried to go for a swim when we got back, but the water was too bloody cold; it just wasn't worth it.

Tonight our tour was merging with the Aussie Adventure and Beaches and Reefs tours, so our little twelve-person clique was suddenly going to expand to 50. They were starting to filter in, and from the giggly girly noise coming from next door, I could tell some of them were excited to be there. On the way in to the hotel, Jacelyn and I bumped into three of the new members. As coincidence would have it, they happened to be three attractive girls from Manchester. Fancy that! Perhaps fate was trying to atone for previous ills. In any case, they seemed very sweet, and we were happy to have them aboard. Everyone met at the poolside cafe that evening before dinner, we got introduced to 39 new people, and forgot most of their names within ten minutes. It's going to take a while to get all of these names memorised.

We went off for dinner, meeting our new coach driver Alex, and served numerous drinks to the birthday girl, who had previously never had more than two or three in a night. We headed out for PJ O'Brian's pub after the meal, where we discovered Dave the Driver had come to meet Laura. We drank, we danced, I attempted to remember some more names, and Anja broke out of her shell, suddenly changing from a quiet shy girl to a wild dancing machine! Geoff had been showing off his salsa skills all tour, and continued more of the same tonight.

The night wore on with more dancing and more name-forgetting, and I left the bar wondering how the newly merged group would mix together. Would our original little clique stick together, would new subgroups mix and form, or would there just be one big mass of party people? Time will tell, but early signs indicate a much more spirited group than mine last year, and I'm certain we'll have a blast in any case.

Sun, Jul 6, 2003

Contiki Day 5 - Cairns

Geoff and I decided that, rather than joining the expensive Contiki optional Quicksilver reef cruise, we would find an alternate company with which to explore the Great Barrier Reef. We opted for a Compass Cruise, which was half the cost. We rose early to catch the boat and off we went for the long sail out to the reef. The weather was rainy and caused for a bumpy ride, but as long as conditions were nice below the water, I had no problem with what the sky felt like doing for the day.

When we got to Hastings Reef, Geoff and I - as well as a pair of girls we met on the boat - were the first group to go SCUBA diving. They strapped us in to all the gear, I jumped into the water, and died a horrible death, drowning as I fought to stay afloat. At least, that's what I was expecting until I realised I was actually breathing in that strange getup. I got used to the strange underwater sensations, and eventually became somewhat comfortable. The guide took us down, and floated around the masses of coral, and hundreds of tiny fish that became as fascinated about us as we were about them, and followed us around for the entire swim. We explored the wonder of the ocean deep, felt the velvety insides of a giant clam, held a sea cucumber, and dodged huge outcrops of coral surrounded by hordes of various fish.

The highlight of the dive was right at the end, when we encountered Wally, the Giant Wrasse. This blue-green fish is almost as big as I am, and loves divers. He swam around staring at us with an inquisitive eye until our diving guide called him over. He swam through us and we got to pet the giant cod. The guide even grabbed him by the mouth and tail and spun him around in a barrel roll. He keeps coming back, so he must like it. After the dive, we donned the snorkel gear and head back into the water for some more views of the numerous fish, and ran into some bright, vibrant rainbow fish. I had a noodle to help me stay afloat since the waves were pretty strong, but I lost it as I was trying to get back onto the boat. You'd think someone like me would take better care of his noodles, no matter what form they took, but everyone makes mistakes.

We were treated to a hefty lunch and then head off to our next spot, the Breaking Patches. When we arrived, we opted for a second dive (the combined cost was still less than one dive with Quicksilver), and saw even more fish than before. We were followed by schools of big yellow fish and small blue ones, and our guide pointed out to us many various "things", which I would find very difficult to describe. Some were big, some were small, most felt pretty slimy, and they all wriggled and jiggled. After the dive, we went for another snorkel, but the current was pretty strong this time, and I didn't stay out for long. We didn't get to see any sharks or turtles, but the experience was pretty incredible.

We sailed back to Cairns and rejoined the rest of the group. We went out for dinner at the night market, and groups of us went out to various spots for the evening. I joined Sam at a pub for a pint or two before meeting up with some of the other Reefs and Rainforests people, as well as some of the newcomers for a night at The Sportsbar. It was a standard spot, with the same music as all the previous places. I decided to make it a light night, as people were leaving in small chunks anyway, and eventually I left myself for a nice long sleep.

Mon, Jul 7, 2003

Contiki Day 6 - Cairns

Today we were supposed to go white water rafting on the Tulley River, but due to some bad luck, the hydroelectric dam was undergoing repairs that week, and the river was closed. We instead went for a half-day rafting trip on the calmer Barron River. The bright side of this rearrangement was that we didn't have to leave until 11:30, and therefore got lots of sleep.

We got to the site, formed our boats, and hit the rapids. I was on a boat with Geoff, John, Troy, and the ever-inseperable Manchester Girls. We had some fun paddling away, working our way around the rocks, and splashing other boats as we passed them by. I didn't fall out, but got very very wet nonetheless. Our only mishap was that Joanne hit her knee on a rock and got a big, nasty bruise. Otherwise, the trip was a lot of fun, and by the end of it, everyone agreed that it should have been a full-day event, rather than a half-day.

We lunched on a big juicy barbecue, and then head back to the hotel with lots of time on our hands before dinner. I used that time by doing my laundry. Not exactly exciting, but necessary.

For dinner, we followed a Cairns tradition and went to the Woolshed. Having been there a week before, I somewhat knew what we were getting into, but had no idea to what extent.

We all ordered our dinners, and went upstairs to squeeze into the tables allocated for us, which ended up being about half of what we needed, and invaded some other tables around the area. When we were all finished our meals, we hopped from table to table getting to know everyone else in our tour.

Soon enough, the games began, and the first was "Battle of the Sexes". Three guys vs three girls, mostly answering silly trivia questions and collecting people's underwear. Getting a question wrong meant losing a piece of clothing, and there was one extra-attractive girl on the ladies team that the audience liked to pick on. At the end of the game, the guys had won, and that poor girl was down to next to nothing, but with some creative postures managed to satisfy the losers' forfeit while technically maintaining a PG rating.

From there, however, PG would pretty much get thrown out the window. One of the amusing things about the Woolshed is that there is no dance floor, so everyone is expected to dance on the tables, which tends to be happily done. This loose, wild sort of atmosphere leads to some other things, like the Mr and Miss Backpacker competitions. For Mr Backpacker, they cleared the tables and invited all the competitors to strut their stuff in the spotlight, with the audience narrowing the competition as they saw fit. As ambitions increased, the clothing decreased, and Sam managed to claim the runner-up prize by dancing in his tighty whities.

An hour later came the Miss Backpacker competition, which I must say that - as a guy - I enjoyed very much. By this point, the levels of ambition had reached a climax, and a dozen girls - all in short jean skirts and bras - took the stage... err... tables. Halfway through the song, half of those bras were lying somewhere on the floor, and we were all being treated to a very enjoyable show.

Now, it should be noted that, since last night was a light night, tonight was a heavy one, and I was on what must have been my sixth or seventh jug. I was pretty tipsy, and if it wasn't for all the dancing during the night, I expect I wouldn't have been able to stand. While the Miss Backpacker competition was going on, one of the girls was dancing right in front of me. That's when I got an idea that certainly wouldn't be put on the list of classiest things I've ever done. Out came a $10 note, and her attention was all mine. A bit of a dance later, she walked off with the $10 note stuffed in her bra cup, and I sat down knowing I would never hear the end of that stunt the next morning. As embarrassing as it was, it was $10 well spent.

The night continued, and Katy joined me on one of the tables to enjoy the music. Many songs later we noticed that everyone else in our group had left and it was already after 3:00 in the morning. We had to be up in four hours, so we decided it would be best to head back. We caught a cab, chatted on the way back, and bid each other good night.

Tue, Jul 8, 2003

Contiki Day 7 - Cairns to Long Island

I had less than three hours of sleep last night, and the only reason I got that much was because my roommates had a lot of difficulty waking me up. I still managed to shower and pack up and made it to the coach in time. As I boarded, I got a lot of people asking me how I felt, to which I replied "Oh, dandy, thank's for asking!" I found a seat, and collapsed comatose until our breakfast stop.

We were on a long coach ride to Townsville, and ran through the standard Contiki introductions. Everyone came up to the front of the coach, gave us their name and home town, and told their most embarrassing moment. Most of my friends know my "Big Badass Bong" story, so I decided to use that one. We stopped for lunch in Townsville, and then continued our coach ride toward Airlee Beach and the Whitsundays.

Now, Kylie has this silly notion that I look like Jason Biggs, an actor whom I find to be quite annoying. So, when she started playing American Pie on the coach VCR, I did not hear the end of it. We finally got to Airlee Beach by sunset, and hopped on the ferry to the Whitsundays. We walked along the boardwalk over to the Club Crocodile Resort, and checked into our rooms exhausted, despite not having done anything much all day. Two and a half hours of sleep and a day spent on a stuffy bus will tend to do that to you, I suppose.

We were provided a buffet dinner, which was OK, but the highlight of the meal was the soft serve ice cream. There was also some brownie dessert, but it was better suited as a medium for sculpting than as something edible. This is what happens when parents aren't around: people start playing with their food, because there's nobody around to tell them not to. It got so far that a liquid concoction was created by mixing a little bit of everything on the table. Nate, celebrating his "birthday" (he would have about six or seven of them throughout the trip) actually drank it, but had to chase it with mounds of food lest it find its way back up.

We went to the resort bar, where a solo performer was singing some classic songs, and demonstrating a bit of digeridoo. We sat as a group, danced, drank, and conversed the evening away. For a while I seemed to be the night's photographer, having camera after camera handed to me to take photographs. After the one-man-band called it a night, the place suddenly turned disco. A new room was opened up with a light setup and sound system. Nate and Troy, however, decided to play bouncer and only let in those people they deemed to be worthy of entry. The people let in, however, often weren't worthy of being let back out again, which led to no end to the laughs from our group, but distressed some of the other guests.

A lot of us called it a night around 1:00, and we went off to bed. We discovered a wallaby grazing in the grass next to our lodges, which was a unique sight. Nate was in my room that, and - considering his intoxicated state - I am shocked he didn't wake me when he finally returned to the room.

Wed, Jul 9, 2003

Contiki Day 8 - Long Island

Today was an entirely free day, so I didn't get out of bed until 11:00. I headed out to the beach where most of the others were sitting, and joined them for some quiet time in the sunshine, doing some reading, and listening to some tunes. Some of us ordered lunch at the cafe, and I made the mistake of getting the chicken burger, which took an awfully long time to arrive. When I did finally get it, it turned out to be not very good anyway.

Most of us went on a little island hike that afternoon, but didn't see much more than a wallaby. At one point, we crammed as many people as we could into a giant bunyan tree for a photo, but otherwise just kept walking. We returned to the beach and started a big beach volleyball game. Jody seemed to be the only member of our team with prior volleyball experience, while the other team got the surprising skill of Henk the Tank. I spent most of the time cursing the ball for not behaving whenever I bumped it. I was just pleased I didn't get a sunburn like the last time I spent most of the day on the beach. We got beaten pretty thoroughly, at least we would have if we were keeping score.

There was a beach party at the resort that night, but it was full of kids to start. The music was run off of a laptop, and we were questioning their selections. The mood was kind of quiet and mellow, good for a lot of conversation. The resort did, however organise limbo and tug-of-war contests. I did much better at limbo than I had expected, and our Contiki tug-of-war team was rock solid, winning both contests against a larger opponent.

Larissa tried to scam some drinks off of me, but recalling the teachings of Richard Feynman, I deflected such requests. She soon discussed with me her strategies for acquiring drinks out of some of the other guys, some successful, some not. When the rare case would arise that a good song came on, we would find a spot to dance and try to get some others to join us, but most of the night was spent moving from group to group chatting the evening away.

Thu, Jul 10, 2003

Contiki Day 9 - Long Island

A chunk of our group was on a two-day sailing trip, and for those of us who went to the resort instead, today was our chance to get a bit of sailing in ourselves. We walked out to the jetty and boarded a boat for a day sail around the Whitsundays.

Unfortunately, the weather was not cooperating with us, and the trip up was pretty miserable. It was cold, windy, and rainy, and at one point it was actually hailing on us. We huddled together in our rain coats like penguins sheltering from the winter chill, as large waves occasionally drenched us along the way.

Luckily, the weather cleared by the time we reached our beach stop. We arrived at Whitehaven beach to beautiful sunny skies, and relaxed on it's fine, white, silica sands. Whitehaven has been voted the most beautiful beach in the world, and with its white sands, forest, and blue waters, you can see why. The sand is so fine you can polish your jewellery with it; just be careful not to get it inside any electronic equipment, or it will never work again. We enjoyed the new-found Sun, played some cricket and touch-rugby, and then returned to the boat for lunch.

We were treated to some huge salads and loads of tasty prawns, which got a ceremonious burial at sea after the meal was complete. The sail back was far more pleasant, as the Sun stayed out and we enjoyed the warm weather. I was still covered in Whitehaven sand, so as soon as we returned to Long Island, I headed straight for the shower, just as the weather started to shower as well.

That evening at the beach, I heard one of the strangest comments taken out of context. John had said to Larissa "You didn't get to experience my kingdom today", a line that we were both rather stunned to hear. Apparently, while swimming at the beach the other day, John decided to claim the island as his kingdom, and was supposed to give Larissa a tour. However, without that prior knowledge - or even with it - an island tour was not the first thing that came to mind when I heard that line.

We had dinner at the cafe, and then went to the resort bar, much the same as the first night. A different one-man-band was playing, but this guy's timing was a little off, so it was hard to sing along. He did take requests, however, so Nate got him to introduce us to the Gum Tree song. We took some more photos, more chats, more dancing, and I still didn't buy Larissa a drink, but she was sure to notify me when somebody else did.

When the disco opened this time, we managed to avoid any bouncers and we filled the room. John even entertained us with his Irish dancing, a move that afforded him the nickname "Riverdance" for the rest of the tour.

Fri, Jul 11, 2003

Contiki Day 10 - Long Island to Rockhampton

We got an early start and a hot breakfast before hitting the road to the Capricorn Coast. For the long bus ride, Kylie introduced a game called "Slaughter Bus". One person on the bus plays a murderer, and one person plays a cop. The job of the murderer is to "kill" everyone on the bus (by touching them on the head and saying "you're dead") without being caught. It's everyone else's job to try to find out who the murderer is and get the cop to accuse them. I drew the cop card, so I got to play Mountie Dave for the day.

We were supposed to head into Mackay, but we hit a slight problem. The brakes on one of the wheels on the bus broke, and stranded us in the middle of a cane field for three hours while we waited for a replacement bus to show up. We sat in the field, read for a while, and sampled some sugar cane. Meanwhile, the murderer decided to go on a rampage and killed four or five people before being found out because one of his victims screamed.

After a long wait, our replacement bus finally arrived and we were on our way again, three hours behind schedule. We stopped at a grungy little rest stop for lunch, which also happened to sell tropical birds. We quickly ate and then continued on our way. It was a long drive to Kooranda for our visit to the Crocodile Farm, and we passed the time by watching Swordfish and filling out some crosswords.

Alex had to stay with the coach, and by the evening we had received a call from him claiming that he was a legend. He had apparently been told to sleep in the coach for the night, and someone would fix it in the morning. He did not like that idea so he instead went to the nearest pub, found a mechanic at one of the tables, and paid him $15 to weld a five cent piece to a nut, which temporarily sealed the leak in the air brakes and allowed him to drive to the hotel. A clever and resourceful plan, hence his repeated shouts of "I'm a legend! I'm a legend!"

We arrived in Kooranda well after our usual dinner time to find our destination was full of People to People people. These bloody kids just won't go away; they're everywhere! Many people had P2Ps invading their flights in. I ran into them at the Sydney tower. They've been around at every major (and some minor) spots in the country, and frankly, it's pissing us off. Luckily, they were having dessert by the time we arrived, so they wouldn't be around much longer.

We had a good steak dinner with crocodile chowder, croc kebabs, and we were given tours of the pens where they breed crocs on the farm. Some of those guys were bloody huge, and you definitely would not want to run into them in the wild. We even got to hold a baby crocodile; it's mouth was taped shut so it couldn't bite us, but we were warned that they are very good head-butters, so don't get too cozy with them.

After our meal, we drove into Rockhampton - the beef capital of Australia - very late into the evening and arrived at our hotel exhausted. A few people went out for the night, and I was planning on going with them, but as soon as I sat on the bed in our room, all my remaining energy just drained away and I fell sound asleep.

Sat, Jul 12, 2003

Contiki Day 11 - Rockhampton to Fraser Island

Again we had to get up far too early for my own good. We had our breakfast and went off to board the coach. Our usual coach was still broken and whining, so another replacement was there waiting for us. This one, however, made us all hesitate before boarding. Imagine how people on your street would look at you if they saw you pass by riding a bus that read "Beef City" in big brown letters along the front. We ducked our heads as we drove off.

We stopped at the Aboriginal Cultural Centre for a dose of native culture. We got to toss a boomerang, listened to a digeridoo, and witnessed a few aboriginal dances. At the conclusion of the show, several members of our group got to go up on stage and try it out for themselves.

We hit the bus again and began the long drive to Hervey Bay. We had to be there before the 4:30 ferry to Fraser Island or we would be stuck there for six hours. We told Leo, our temporary driver, to boot it along, so he increased his speed from snail to turtle. With some heckling, not too many wrong turns, and a bit of luck, we just reached the ferry on time. We rode the ferry to Fraser Island, the world's largest sand island, and got treated to the sight of a trio of dolphins jumping and frolicking near the pier.

We got transported to our rooms, and found we were all in three lodges, each with about eight rooms and a big common area. We all had a few drinks from the stash we brought with us and headed to the Dingo Bar for our buffet dinner. We noticed that there was a pyjama party at the bar that night, so I made sure to wear my pyjama boxers underneath my shorts in case I wanted to join in on the fun. No one was in their PJs for dinner, but soon afterward the Manchester girls left and returned in full pyjama gear, so Geoff and I decided that we shouldn't let them feel lonely and did the same. Several of the girls in our group now have pictures of me stripping down to my boxer shorts. We got to dance on stage and get a free chug of liquor for our spirit.

The Manchester girls left early - perhaps my pyjama physique didn't impress them as much as I had hoped - so I got redressed and hung about with the remaining crowd. One of my cousins back home was getting married later that day, so I had to make sure I stayed up late enough (and remained sober enough) to be able to call her at a reasonable Toronto hour. I played a bit of pool, witnessed an incredibly drunk Sam, and had an ethics discussion with Geoff before 1:30 AM rolled around and I gave my cousin a ring. She seemed a bit confused that I was calling since I was supposed to be a half-world away, but she seemed to take it in stride when I told her I was still in Australia and just calling to congratulate her. You get bombarded with a lot of stuff on the day of your wedding, so it took a while to sink in that she just got a call from Oz, and I would eventually find out that she later went around to everyone in a frenzy saying that she just got a call from Australia.

I then finally went to bed and apparently slept through a lot of craziness that followed. Sam, in his intoxicated state, decided it would be a good idea to walk around the lodge nearly naked and bang on Kylie's door (she was sick with a cold and asleep), claiming that it was yet again Nate's birthday and everyone needed to celebrate. I don't know how I slept through it all, but I did.

Sun, Jul 13, 2003

Contiki Day 12 - Fraser Island

Today we had a 4WD tour of most of the island, and gathered outside the lodges to wait for our shuttle to take us to reception, which was rather late. When Geoff walked by, what transpired was a very confusing and peculiar little scene that I'm sure left several people rather curious. He walked up to me and said in a pseudo-serious tone of voice "Dave, tell me we didn't do that last night."

I scanned my memory to figure out to what he was referring, and determined he must have meant dancing around the Dingo Bar in our boxer shorts, and he was too hungover to recall clearly if it really happened or not. "I'm sorry, Geoff," I said with a smile. "But we did."

His response to that shocked me quite a bit, and caught the attention of everyone around us. He raised his hands in the air and said "No! Dave! How could you do that!" and stomped around a bit while I stood flummoxed, quite certain we weren't thinking along the same lines.

"I'm assuming your talking about the pyjama dance" I risked.

He stopped his tirade and thought for a second. "No!" he exclaimed with relief. "Not that... The other thing we talked about last night" he hazarded.

It then struck me as to what he was actually talking about, and I eased his nerves. "No," I said. "No, that didn't happen. No worries."

He expressed his relief and the others looked on with curiosity, not the slightest clue as to what we were talking about. We left them guessing, and I'll leave you guessing as well. Whatever story you can invent might be more interesting than the real story anyway.

Eventually our shuttle arrived and took us to reception where we boarded the 4WD for the tour. It turned out we were sharing a truck with an Italian seniors group, and their tour manager had to repeat everything that the driver said to us in Italian for her group. So, we got a tour of the island and an Italian lesson at the same time. The tour took us along lots of bumpy trails through the forest, and along the island's main highway, which was simply the beach. We walked along a crystal clear creek with extremely cold water, and took a flying tour of the island. Most of the flight was spent whale-watching, but we were out of luck on that trip, and ended up being the only flight that day not to see the two whales in the area. As we drove away, however, we could see the spray from one of the whale's blowhole; very bad timing, I suppose.

We then stopped at a WWI shipwreck and wandered through it before seeing the sign prohibiting entrance; oops. We ran into the other 4WD group at lunch, and then head off for a nice walk along a river with some of the clearest water you'll ever see. The tour finished with a dip at Lake Mackenzie, a giant rainwater lake that was, again, very very cold.

We headed to the Sand Bar for drinks and dinner and I enjoyed a Serious Carnivore pizza. Every time someone asked me what it was, I felt compelled to respond in a deep manly grunt and shout "Serious Carnivore! Arr!" It had lots of meat; Dennis Leary would approve. Nate showed off the fish he caught that afternoon, and Kim and Henk started on the wine, and it looked like they would continue with it for a while.

The shuttles always seem to be late and slow, so it took a long time to finally get back to the lodges to shower and change for another night at the Dingo Bar. We drank a bit at our lodge and then head out to the bar, where they were hosting a karaoke contest. The wails and cries that were coming out of there were torturous. I cringed in pain as somebody slaughtered With or Without You, just to find out that it was Henk singing it. Remind me not to let him sing ever again. The best performance came from one of our German members, Christian, but he got jipped out of winning, much to our displeasure.

The stories of the night belonged to Kim and Henk, though. Kim was so smashed from the wine that she was hanging off of everybody, dancing on her own on the balcony, and at one point was using the projector screen to keep herself standing on stage. She eventually started using Mike as a pillow until Alice grabbed her and took her away to walk off the wine. I was giving Larissa pool lessons when Kim returned and started dancing perilously on tables with Geoff. Luckily, there were no casualties, but there were a few moments when I thought it was close.

We eventually left the bar and found a party going on in lodge number two. We were having a rowdy good time, snacking on junk food and getting a few rudimentary German lessons, when Henk - his hand genetically mutated into a jug of beer - came in, drunk as... well... I don't think anything gets more drunk than Henk. It wasn't long before some of the girls - along with a couple of the guys for some unknown godforsaken reason - egged him to start stripping. This he did with glee, right down to his tighty whities. He then demanded tanning oil before going any further, but the best the girls could find was sun block. Henk went off to the bathroom and - with the help of Troy and Sam - returned five minutes later lathered in sun block, streamers tight to his arms, and a garbage lid around his waist like a tutu. He performed a personal dance for Jenn, much to her fright, and then tried to remove the garbage bin lid. He spent the next few minutes hopping around the lodge, face red as a cherry, trying to remove the lid that was stuck around his waist, while the rest of us rolled on the floor, laughing so hard our ribs hurt.

The rest of Henk's show involved some powder and an empty glass, much of which I am trying to wipe from my memory. I spent the whole time with an empty back of crisps in front of my face so as not to damage my fragile senses with the sight before me, and occasionally curling up into a ball and repeating the phrase "happy place, happy place..."

Eventually, a staff member knocked on the lodge door and he entered to find about thirty rowdy people in the room and one naked man behind the waist-high wall along the stairs. Surprisingly, he seemed unphased by the sight. "Hey, guys," he said. "Would you mind keeping it down? There are staff members trying to sleep on the island, and we can hear you from over the hill."

The next morning Kylie would tell us that we managed to wake up the Island managers over a kilometre away, and congratulated us on that feat.

We offered our apologies and tried to keep it down, though I don't think we were that successful. I retired back to my own lodge before I got sick of seeing Henk's naked butt strutting around, and went to bed fearing the nightmares I was certain I was going to have that night.

Mon, Jul 14, 2003

Contiki Day 13 - Fraser Island to Adora Downs

A lot of us slept through our alarms, but most of us managed to get to the shuttle on time, though a few got some strong words for being late again. We caught the ferry back to the mainland and happily boarded our home sweet home original coach, all fixed and good as new.

We drove off to Noosa Beach, where the rich people play, and wandered around for lunch, a bit of a stroll, and a bit of shopping. We took in the trendy atmosphere and then continued on our way to Forest Glen Wildlife Park, where we got to cuddle a koala and feed the kangaroos. One of the koalas had a baby on its back, and one of the kangaroos even had a cute little baby joey in its pouch.

The rest of the daylight hours were spent on the coach for the long drive inland to our farm stay at Adora Downs. There was a beautiful orange moon rising, and I noticed that, since we're on the underside of the planet, the moon is actually upside down here. We watched a cheesy cult Australian movie called The Castle on the coach before finally reaching our stop at the quaint little farm.

All the guys were in one big room, and we soon discovered that we had to share it with a great big spider that had camped out on the ceiling. It was kind of freaky, but as long as it stayed up there and didn't try to come down, then we'd be fine.

We went to the main house and got treated to the best meal of the whole tour, home-cooked by the family that runs the farm. We also got some of the cheapest drinks of the tour that night, but that wasn't entirely a good thing. Larissa had gotten some bad news that morning, and I had spent a chunk of the day talking to her about it and trying to make her feel better. She started drinking wine, and despite complaining about how awful it was, she finished three glasses before asking me not let her have any more. She was getting a bit abusive, so I happily agreed. However, she got more abusive for not letting her have any more, and - when she went and got another drink anyway - making her give it away. I was getting a little tired of the abuse, so I was glad when the bush dance started.

The ranch owner's son led us in the dancing, which was much like a polka or a square dance. I had two dances with Helen and two with Kim, and then we had a set of group dances, including the hokey pokey and the ever-popular gum tree song. Everyone joined in except for Kylie and Nisha, who were sick and dozing peacefully on the couch. The festivities ended somewhat early (it was a farm after all), so Geoff hooked up his laptop and provided the music for us for the rest of the night. I cleverly hid Larissa's wallet so she couldn't get any more of that awful wine, and put up with the abuse because she had a bad day and I'm a nice guy.

When the night wound down, I walked Larissa back to her room, said our goodnights, and then retired to the guys' room to go to bed. It was getting awfully chilly in the night, and we spent a while trying to see if the electric blankets actually worked or not. We bid the spider good night and went to sleep.

Tue, Jul 15, 2003

Contiki Day 14 - Adora Downs to Surfers' Paradise

We awoke bright and early at 6:30 AM to go horseback riding. It was still bloody cold, so I was all bundled up in my sweater and jacket as I rode my temperamental horse along the track. I also got to drive the hay tractor around for a while, just for fun. After the ride, we rushed a quick breakfast, shower, and pack to get on the coach in time for the haul into Brisbane. A lot of music was played on the coach on the way in, but it seemed that most of it was Yellow Submarine. Alex played it over and over and over again until he was satisfied we were singing the chorus loud enough. The loudest part of it was the groan coming from the entire coach whenever the song was restarted.

Our stop in Brisbane was short and uneventful. We started with a short presentation on Australian opal - again running another ever-imposing group of People to People people - and then wandered freely. I had a sushi lunch and wandered around with Larissa - last night's abuse forgiven - aimlessly shopping for a couple of hours. We nearly got lost, but quickly found our way back successfully.

We continued on our way to Surfers' Paradise, dropping off a set of people who were going on a biplane ride. Whilst waiting for them, Alex taught us a fun game. We all jumped into the aisle and rocked back and forth. As our momentum grew, the whole bus rocked back and forth, drawing a surprised look from Kylie. As we passed through the posh town, examining the nubiles with mobiles on school holiday, we rocked the bus again, seriously freaking out a seniors tour in the lane next to us.

We had a lot of time before dinner, so once again I filled the void with some necessary laundry. Smelling fresh and clean again, we all gathered for the ride into town for dinner. The idea was to go wherever we felt like going, but instead decided to stay as a group and try to get 50 people into one restaurant without reservations. Kylie had apparently done this before, and so we all piled into an Italian restaurant, where we proceeded to wait eons for our food to be presented. While we waited, however, we were treated to shots of 151-proof rum, and some green concoction we couldn't quite identify.

Larissa and I finished off with some ice cream, and then we all head out to Melba's bar for some drinks. The atmosphere wasn't too hot and the music uninspiring, so we ended up leaving relatively early.

Wed, Jul 16, 2003

Contiki Day 15 - Surfers' Paradise

I arose this morning to go and check off another item on my list of "Things to Do Before I Die": Learn to surf.

We were scooted away to a beach in town where the breaking waves were good for beginners, and got our basic lessons on how to surf. We only had about two or three hours for the whole thing, so time was tight. I seemed to have trouble catching a wave in the first place; either my weight is off-balance or I can't paddle fast enough with my arms to catch the wave. I almost got it once, as I had caught the wave and was standing up, but just as I was about to let my hands go of the rails of the board, the wave went right under me and I ended up standing on still water, which didn't last for long. Splash!

We rushed out and four of us quickly headed for our next activity, a sea-kayaking safari. Gert, Jody, Kim, and I slid ourselves into two-person boats and paddled away out to sea, making a stop on a little sand island where we were treated to some exotic tropical fruit and pastries, met a friendly wild wallaby, and hiked down to a marvellous deserted beach. We headed back to the boats and paddled to another spot where we got to don some snorkeling gear and, with a hand full of fish food, got to watch the fish swarm us nibbling away at the goodies floating all around us. After that surreal little scene, we hit the boats again and finished our 7km trip.

After double-timing the kayak route in Fiji, I was determined to do well here too, and power-paddled most of the way. Kim and I were the first to reach each stop, some of the time with me paddling for both of us. I'm a kayaking machine!

It ended up being one of the most enjoyable activities of the whole tour, and when we returned to the hotel, we made sure to tell everyone about it, and recommended to Kylie that she suggest that excursion to all her tours. We felt like we found a gem of an activity, and only four of us got to share it.

We were on our own for organising dinner that night, so a group of ten or so of us decided to find a Thai restaurant. The meal was great, but the lighting was low and I found myself fighting to stay awake at the end of it. After dinner we headed to Shooters, a rowdy meat rack of a bar where we met the rest of the group. Within half an hour, two of the girls had already met some very affectionate guys; some people work quickly, I guess.

We drank and danced the night away, and finally split at 1:00 AM or so. Sam got caught trying to sneak a martini shaker out of the bar, and then complained about it with the cab driver on the way back to the hotel. When we returned, we discovered a small group of people camped out in the hallway. We chatted with them for a while before finally retiring for the night, exhausted after an eventful day.

Thu, Jul 17, 2003

Contiki Day 16 - Surfers' Paradise to Coff's Harbour

Our first stops today were at Byron Bay and Cape Byron, the most easterly point of Australia. It was a lovely little cliff-side spot overlooking the ocean, and we finally got to see a pair of whales. We went into the expensive little town and a few of us had lunch at a breakfast cafe, where we they messed up our bill and only charged something like 95 cents for a $9 dish. We walked around the quaint little town, made use of some free Internet, and then hopped back on the coach for the ride to Coff's Harbour.

It was a long trip, and along the way we passed by a restaurant with a giant prawn on its roof. While Kylie was explaining the importance of the prawn industry in Oz, Alex continually muttered Forrest Gump lines. Shrimp burgers... shrimp kebabs... shrimp steaks... shrimp cookies... shrimp... shrimp... shrimp...

We arrived at the hotel and a bunch of us headed for the spa. To our despair, we once again found our location infested with People to People people. We went to the "adults only" indoor spa to find it still overrun with kids, but after squeezing about 9 or 10 of us in there, we soon overpowered the little rug rats and they scampered out, neglecting to close the door behind them. We enjoyed the bubbles in the privacy of our own spa and sauna.

Several groups went to various spots for dinner, and I joined a small group with Kylie and Alex for dinner at the hotel. Afterwards, we all went to the Shamrock Bar at Coff's Hotel, where we discovered that once again, we had encountered a karaoke night. As drunk after drunk belted songs out of key, I decided to risk my own embarrassment and got up to sing Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong's What a Wonderful World. I had the whole bar singing along with me, and when the song was over they were giving me an ovation and chanting my name. Yes, yes, I do indeed rock. I doubt I was that good really, just in comparison to all of the drunks belching out other tunes, I was a superstar, and won a beer cozy for my performance.

We had a couple of songs as a group, and I was supposed to have a duet with Jody, but someone went and stole our song, and we got skipped. After karaoke had finished, we got shoved to a different section of the bar, where a selection of us hung about for the remainder of the night, having a few more drinks, and enjoying some dirty dancing. There was only a small group of us left when we finally departed and headed back to the hotel. Not particularly tired, we tried to see if we could get back into the spa, but it had closed long ago.

A few more gossip stories later we had little left to do but go to sleep before the final day on the tour and our sad departure.

Fri, Jul 18, 2003

Contiki Day 17 - Coff's Harbour to Sydney

I slept through my alarm this morning and missed breakfast entirely. I still made it to the coach on time for the long drive to our final stop, snacking on Pringles and Tim Tams along the way. Over lunch, someone at the back of the coach apparently bought a pack of balloons and began blowing them up and filling the coach with them. Party bus! We enjoyed the time lobbing balloons back and forth along the coach. It was one of those bittersweet moments for me, because as I looked around at the all the happy people slapping balloons to and fro, I thought about how great this group was. While last year's trip had a lot of couples and people that kept to themselves, this was more of a complete group. Lots of individuals all gathered together to have the greatest time of their lives, and I think most of them did exactly that. With a sigh, I thought about the end of the day fast approaching, and having to say our sad good byes, as I would likely never see any of these people again.

As we pulled closer to Sydney, Kylie made her closing speeches, labelling us as the best group she had ever had. It seemed more than just something she'd say to every group, citing specific examples and comments from outsiders. It really was a shame the trip was ending so soon. Seventeen days seemed not nearly long enough; I would gladly have stayed for a few weeks longer.

We eventually arrived in Sydney and took a quick driving tour of downtown. We stopped in the Botanic Gardens for our group photo and a visit to Mrs Macquarie's Chair. We went to the hotel, and unloaded the coach for the last time. Not everyone was staying at that location - I myself was going back to the WakeUp! a few blocks away - so we had to make our first set of good byes.

As people began to clear out, I dashed for the hostel, stashed my bags, and head out to finish off those last bits of souvenir shopping. I reached Paddy's Market just as the shops were closing and managed to get myself a digeridoo, and then wandered around getting some photo books, Tim Tams, and Vegemite as well. I stopped at an Internet cafe and happened to run into Katy and Anja again. I finished my business there, dashed back to the hostel, and then returned to the other hotel where the remaining group of us were going to meet for a last meal.

We headed across the street for dinner at a pub, took lots of pictures, and made another set of sad good byes. We then took a pleasant night walk through Hyde Park and Circular Quay to the Cruise bar on the harbour front. It was an artsy rich place, with its own video broadcast. We sat outside for a few hours, slowly sipping our ultra-expensive drinks, most of us exhausted but unwilling to let the evening end.

Slowly, people began to bid themselves adieu, and a few got rather teary-eyed at the departure. It was especially tough to say good bye to some of the original Reefs and Rainforests members, as we had all been together and pretty close-knit since the start of the tour back in the rainforest. Eventually, there were only five of us left, and as we hailed a cab to head home, Jody and I decided that we weren't about to call it quits just yet. I had the fortune of seeing Sydney for a week before this tour, but most people had not, and some were flying out early the next morning, as was Jody's case. So, we decided we would walk back, just the two of us, taking a few scenic detours along the way.

We first stopped at the Orient Hotel, a bar jam-packed with people. We went inside for a few moments just so we could say we went in, and we left with both of our asses grabbed several times, unfortunately all by the same guy. Ew ew ew! We continued our walk intending on returning to Hyde Park so Jody could see the cathedral, but my sense of direction was a little off and I led us in the opposite direction, eventually reaching Darling Harbour. We didn't consider that a problem since it was a lovely spot at night, so we walked around, took a few pictures, noted some of the hip and happening places along the harbour like the Coocoo Club with it's lineup extending for blocks, and then headed back to where we believed the park lay.

We took a few twisting turns as it seemed we got lost along the night streets, and I nearly broke into song, belting Blue Rodeo into the quiet Sydney night. We eventually found Hyde Park again, played with a possum, awed the lovely tree-lined lit walkway, and then reached the elusive cathedral. We stood by the steps and talked, seemingly forever, about a variety of topics, like Catholicism, travelling with friends, the expectations people have when they join a tour like ours, relationships back home, and the speculation on the reasons why some people broke those relationships whilst away. It really was a lovely night, and I wish we had more of them earlier in the tour. Nevertheless, it was a great way to spend our final night in Australia.

I escorted Jody back to her hotel, and we happened to run into Kim out front returning from a friend's party. We each bid our final sad good byes, I saw them inside, and then walked back to my hostel alone in the chilly night, with a mixed sense of satisfaction for a great trip and memories gained, and a bit of emptiness for the people and events left behind.

Sat, Jul 19, 2003


After only two hours of sleep, I arose and rushed to get ready, heading off to the airport for my 8:20 AM flight to Singapore. I checked in, picked up a final souvenir gift for a friend back home, boarded the plane, and bid Australia adieu. This flight was on Singapore Airlines, and I was glad I flew with them. A wide selection of movies, games, and decent food led to one of the most comfortable flights I have had.

I landed in Singapore and immediately ran into trouble at customs. I was worried that my passport would cause me problems because it had fallen into a pool in Cairns, gotten soaked, and was now considerably damaged. However, that turned out not to be the problem. The problem was that it was set to expire in two months, and the immigration official claimed some strange worry about being turned back by Japan - my next stop - and being sent back here. Apparently, I would not have this problem if I didn't leave the airport. Not quite understanding what the problem was, she directed me to the free city tour operated by the airport, which was fine, since I was intending to take that tour anyway.

The tour turned out to be merely a quick drive-by with a 15-minute beach stop on Sentosa Island. It was lovely highway, lined with blossoming trees, and we could see the city skyline right before us, but I was hoping to be able to actually get into the city and look around. It had been suggested to me by two different people back home to eat a meal at the Hawker Centres, but I would be unable to do that on this tour.

We returned to the airport still several hours before my departing flight, but unfortunately not enough time to clear customs, catch the subway into the city, walk around, and come back. So, I had to kill time at the airport. While it was a lovely airport, there's only so much fun you can have at one. I ate a Malaysian meal, and enjoyed a Singapore Sling. I figured that would be necessary since I was in Singapore after all; it's like having New York steak in New York, or French Toast in France.

There was no actual "experience" to this portion of the trip, however, since I didn't really get the chance to go anywhere. I only "saw" portions of Singapore. It felt akin to simply collecting pieces of a set simply so I could have the whole collection; going just so I could say I had gone, rather than exploring and enjoying the city itself.

I found myself falling asleep in the terminal, and hoped I would be able to sleep on the plane. I would be in transit for about 60 hours in total on my roundabout route home, so getting some sleep will be a necessity. Eventually, it was time to board my next flight, and I hoped my next stop would be more successful than this one.

Sun, Jul 20, 2003

Tokyo and Los Angeles

The overnight flight to Tokyo included a dinner, and I decided a few glasses of wine would be a good idea since I really needed to get some sleep, lest I pass out on the subway in a foreign country with a different language and alphabet and get completely lost. It wouldn't be the first time, of course, but it is always best to try to avoid that sort of situation. I believe I did manage to get at least a little bit of sleep on the flight, but the only evidence of that was the small pool of drool on my shirt.

I landed in Japan and - contrary to the Singapore immigration official's worry - I had no problem clearing customs. I did, however, have problems getting out of the airport. My guide book said I could purchase a day pass for the subway and, looking at the subway map, I saw which line to take to get into the city. The ticket machines didn't seem to have the right button, so I went to several clerks trying to figure out where to go. With their limited English, none of them seemed to know what I was talking about. It took about an hour to realise that the subway itself didn't go to the airport; it was actually a separate train that happened to follow the same line as the subway within the city.

Once that was finally cleared up, I caught a train and rode the hour and a half into Tokyo, passing some quaint and lovely Japanese countryside on the way. Once in the city, I figured out how to use the subway system (luckily there was English on some of the signs and kiosks), and made my way to Ginza. I wandered around the town for a while, looking at the inordinate number of billboards and TV screens bombarding the area. It was incredibly flashy and ad-intensive, with music and loudspeakers all over. I went to the Sony building to ogle the super cool TVs and digital cameras, and then walked along a few side streets seeing the seemingly run-down little restaurant shacks. Naturally, I sat confused at the strange "Engrish" t-shirts many of the youths were wearing, with their indecipherable catch phrases. Images of The Simpsons' "Mr Sparkle" flashed through my head. "For lucky best wash, use Mr Sparkle! I am disrespectful to dirt! Can you see I am serious?"

My time was limited, so I hopped back on the subway and head for Shinjoku. I tried to follow my guide book's directions for a walking tour, but couldn't follow them at all. I just picked a direction I thought was the right one until I reached a street I recognized on the map. Oddly enough, though, not all the streets in Tokyo are named, so finding a specific one can be a chore. I walked about some of the skyscrapers in the commercial area and found the monstrous Metropolitan Government Office building. I found a restaurant downstairs with pictures on the menu and ordered a sushi dish by pointing at the one I wanted. I've never been too crazy about sushi, but I was quite surprised at the difference between sushi here, which must have been removed from the ocean not two hours earlier, and sushi back home that had been on ice for a week. It was actually tender and tasty; not that rubbery icky stuff you get back home.

I went up to the observation deck of the building and witnessed the huge expanse of Tokyo. It was too foggy to see Mount Fuji in the distance, or even the ends of the city. It just seemed to stretch on forever; an endless concrete jungle stretching to the ends of the Earth.

I was running out of time, so I rushed back to the subway into central Tokyo and caught the train back to the airport. As I passed the countryside and rice patty fields, I noted a few of the many peculiarities of Tokyo. For one, I am tall here. I am usually average height back home - maybe slightly shorter - but here I am a giant. Another, there is an abundance of cutesy cartoon characters; not just Hello Kitty, but anything and everything of every shape and form is portrayed in cutesy cartoon form on everything from telephone ads, to food outlets, to bus stop markers.

Already up for 39 hours with only 2 hours of sleep before this trip home began, I boarded the cross-Pacific flight to Los Angeles, bidding the Eastern hemisphere good bye.

A third consecutive flight with Singapore Airlines, saving the longest for last. I was getting tired of watching the same set of movies over and over again, and a bratty little kid was wailing his lungs out at the start of the flight, much to the despair of everyone else on the plane. We crossed the International Date Line on the flight and suddenly it was Sunday all over again, making up for that lost Tuesday way back when en route to Fiji.

I landed in Los Angeles and dealt with the long and tedious security set up there. There was an Indian couple shifting from line to line, butting in front of people, and in my disgruntled, under-slept, and under-showered state, I wanted nothing more than for that rude annoying pair to be the last ones through customs. As it turned out, they were; butting in line got them absolutely nowhere. I picked up my luggage to find that it hadn't been lost yet, thankfully. I checked them in with Air Canada to witness a LAX security guard mishandle my digeridoo despite the big "FRAGILE" tag tied to it.

I didn't lose my luggage, but I did somehow lose my watch, so I had to wander Los Angeles carrying my alarm clock to keep time. I caught the shuttle to the metro, and discovered how shady it was. Transfers between lines cost extra, there were no day passes, and the machines only accepted coins and $1 bills.

I had walked Sydney in the middle of the night, and the Tokyo streets completely alone, but nowhere did I feel more in danger than the Los Angeles metro. Shady, scary, ghetto people, and run down slums were the view to which I was treated on the way downtown. When I finally got there, I discovered that the city was essentially deserted. Nobody was around downtown, and almost no shops were open. I had to wander quite a while before I found an open Burger King and had to buy a milkshake just so I could use the bathroom and get change for the next metro ride.

I hopped back on the train and head for the ultimate in cheesy tackiness: Hollywood. I walked up and down Hollywood Boulevard, weaving through the nutty tourists taking pictures with smelly strangers dressed like super heroes. I took pictures of the Chinese Theatre, Kodak Theatre, the Hollywood sign, and the Walk of Fame, and then rushed back to catch my flight. At one of the metro transfers, the train was forty minutes late, and I was very afraid of missing my flight altogether. If there was one place I did not want to get stuck, it was suburban Los Angeles. Fortunately, the train eventually arrived, I got to the airport, and caught my flight out.

The ninth flight of the trip (tenth if you include the Fraser Island tour) and I finally landed back home in Toronto early Monday morning. I gathered my belongings, met my parents - who had gone psycho over my absence and completely embarrassed me at the airport - and drove home, feeling a little bit uneasy about driving on the right side of the road again after being on the left for so long. I finally arrived back home, and showered for the first time in three days, and boy did it feel good. I then climbed into my cozy little bed and slept the whole day long, recovering from my 60-hour little transit adventure.

I may have been smelly and exhausted when I got home, but it was definitely worth it. The odds of me returning to that side of the planet ever again are remote, so I'm very glad I tried to take as much advantage of it as possible. I fell asleep relieved to be home, but already longing to return to the wondrous places I had seen over the past five weeks. This was the greatest vacation I could imagine, and I didn't want it to end.

Mon, Jul 21, 2003

Back in Toronto

Finally back home to sleep the jet lag away and dream of the lands I've left behind.

Give me a home among the gum trees
With lots of plum trees
A sheep or two and a kangaroo
A clothes-line out the back
Veranda out the front
And an old rocking chair...

Thurs, Jul 24, 2003

Jet Lag

It's amazing how jet lag can affect you when you return home from afar after not sleeping much for three or four days and not particularly looking forward to returning to work. I returned home at 7:30 Monday morning, slept until 8:00 at night, and stayed up until the following evening in an attempt to readjust to the time change. I went to bed at 10:00 PM and slept for 14 hours straight, rising at noon. Four hours later I took a short nap and returned to bed again at midnight. I woke up at 5:00 AM well before my alarm and left for work early knowing I would likely need to hit the sack again by mid-afternoon.

So, if I fall asleep during my soccer games today, you'll know why.

Sun, Jul 27, 2003

Slowly Readjusting

Returning to work was a painful experience, but I've been to two barbecues and the Beaches International Jazz Festival (actually, we were drinking on the patio most of the night, and by the time we went to the festival, it had just ended, but we were close), so summer fun is numbing the return-to-work experience.

Since returning, I've been trying to get people to come up with ideas on how to make world travelling my next career. Kishara seems to have an equally ideallic view: "Would anyone like to employ me to drive up and down the highway and save turtles in the rain?"

If I could, I would. I'd even lend a hand from time to time.

Tues, Jul 29, 2003

Vroom Vroom

I am now a soon-to-be car owner. I ordered my brand new 2004 Saturn ION.3 Quad Coupe last night, and it should be sitting in my driveway soon after they come into production a month from now. It's odd to spend a whole ton of cash and walk away with a yellow piece of paper, but the hardware will eventually be on its way. My parents' old rustbucket of a Ford Escort will just have to survive until then.

The South Pacific page and logs are coming, slowly but surely. I know you're all anxious to hear how we awoke the Fraser Island managers over a kilometre away, but patience is a virtue, and you'll just have to wait.

Thurs, Jul 31, 2003

A Rolling Stone Gathers Lots of Marijuana

In Sydney, I went to the State of Origin rugby match among over 79,000 other spectators. It was the most crowded event I had ever been to.

Yesterday I went to the SARS benefit concert (dubbed SARStock by many) featuring The Rolling Stones, AC/DC, The Guess Who, Rush, Blue Rodeo, and a host of others. The crowd totalled around 450,000 people. That's a bloody huge smorgasborg of people.

The show was great, AC/DC's Angus Young is a riot, and the atmosphere was eclectic, but I never want to smell another cigarette or joint again.

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