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April 25, 2010

I know, I’ve been back for 3 weeks and I’m just now posting about the last few days of my trip. The physical and mental jetlag took a little longer to overcome than I thought it would. The mental jetlag might still be hanging around. Anyway, I checked into Funkhouse Backpackers in Sydney late in the afternoon. It was an interesting hostel, to say the least. Every inch of every hallway and door was painted in bright, fun colors, each door with a different icon on it. For example, the bathrooms on my floor had He-Man and She-Ra on them to indicate male and female. I was disappointed to find out that this hostel did not provide towels, not even for a fee. This meant for my final days of travel I had to go buy a towel, which clearly I would not be bringing home with me. There was also the added bonus of the new towel fuzzies since I couldn’t pre-wash it. But you just go with the flow when you’re on the road, it’s all part of the journey.

After purchasing the cheapest towel I could find, I walked through a neighborhood I could picture myself living in and eventually made my way to the recommended look-out spot to take pictures of the Opera House and Bridge.  I didn’t plan it, but I ended up getting there just in time for sunset and wound up with some great pictures (see previous post for one of them). I walked back to the hostel with bats flying overhead as my company. My first full day in Sydney I spent wandering around, soaking up as much of the city as I could. I walked a TON. I’m not sure how many miles I clocked, but I was on my feet walking at varying paces for about 7 hours that day. I did decide to take a break and ride a commuter ferry (the tourist ones were 3 or 4 times the price, but all I wanted was a boat ride) from the Circular Quay to Manly and back. It made for a relaxing end to the afternoon.

On my last day in Sydney before going home, I had signed up for a tour to the Blue Mountains, about 2 hours outside of the city. While the scenery was gorgeous, this tour was so lacking in comparison with the Uncle Brian’s rainforest tour I took in Cairns. The tour guide didn’t seem to care too much about being there and didn’t provide too much information. It felt more like having a driver instead of a guide. But at least I got some more good pictures.

That day thoughts of work and returning home also started creeping back into my mind, and it actually put me in a bad mood. I know most people would rather stay on vacation than go back to work, but it’s much deeper than that for me. Like traveling is just where I belong. It was more than not wanting to leave Australia (though I did love Australia), it was something I still can’t quite describe, this deep need I have to see the world, as much as possible, as often as possible. But responsibilities, my job, my mortgage and other bills called me back. I set two alarms for the next day because daylight savings time was ending that night, and I wasn’t sure if my phone was going to adjust itself or not. I still somehow managed to screw up the clock on my phone, in addition to my regular alarm clock not working, and I miraculously woke up 15 minutes before the shuttle was to arrive to take me to the airport. Subconscious mistake on my part? Who knows. I made it on the shuttle and to my flight with no more than a strange look from the ticketing agent who seemed to want to question me about the size and/or weight of my carry-on only backpack, but he was too slow.

So like I said, I’ve been home now for 3 weeks. I enjoy having my own bed and my own home comforts, I like not having to wear shower shoes and it’s great to have my hairdryer.  But in the grand scheme of things, I would gladly give all that up to hit the road again. I already have the next 3-4 trips loosely planned in my head. The thrill of the unknown, exploring new places, meeting new people, tasting new foods, the person I become when I travel, the confidence I gain with each new adventure… It’s a wonderful high, an addiction I have no intention of ever breaking free from.



April 13, 2010

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April 10, 2010

On Monday, March 29th, I was leaving Ayers Rock to go to Cairns.  The ticketing agent at the Ayers Rock airport made me weigh my backpack, and it turned out to be 12 kilos, 5 heavier than the allowable 7 kilos apparently.  I really don’t like to check luggage, not only because of the extra cost, but mostly because of the extra hassle.  So I rearranged and redistributed the contents of my backpack into my new knock-off Jimmy Choo purse to get the weight down to 7 kilos.  Success!  Once I got through security, I started putting everything I had taken out back into my backpack, because my purse with all its contents spilling out was not easy to manage.  While I was doing that, the ticketing agent came through security to hand me a tank top I had accidentally dropped.  She must have noticed what I was doing and told some other employees because when it was time to board, one of those agents stopped me to weigh my bag again.  Not satisfied with my reply that it had already been weighed, I had to rearrange again.  The excuses I was given were 1) from the ticketing agent – that my “heavy” bag could fall out of the overhead compartment and injure someone (I don’t think 5 kilos makes much difference in this scenario), and 2) from the boarding agent – that it was a weight and balance issue.  I had to bite my tongue to stop from telling her that I have taken ground school, and I know that 5 kilos in the overhead or 5 kilos on the floor makes no difference to the weight and balance of the plane. 

I finally arrived in Cairns a few hours later.  Castaway’s Backpackers, the hostel I stayed at, was a breath of fresh air, by far the best hostel of the entire trip.  The staff helped me choose Passions of Paradise to go snorkeling with the next day, which I was really excited about since my main reason for coming to Cairns was to see the Great Barrier Reef.  As I mentioned in earlier posts, I attempted scuba diving in February but was not successful due to sinus issues.  However, where they took us to snorkel was shallow enough to see the beautiful reef and a wide variety of fish, and I didn’t feel like I was missing out be not being able to dive.  I was shocked to find how quickly time flew by while I swam around looking at the underwater world. 

Great Barrier Reef, Hillman Wonder #13

I decided not to spend an additional AU$50 on an underwater camera, but above is the first place we snorkeled.  One of the boat’s crew members also fed some fish that were swimming next to the boat, and I just happened to have a front row seat.

Fish Feeding, Great Barrier Reef

I still had one day left in Cairns, so I decided to sign up for Uncle Brian’s rainforest tour.  A friend of mine from work took the tour when he was in Cairns a few years ago and loved it, and the staff at the hostel just raved about it.  Signing up was probably the best decision I made on my trip.  It was led by Cousin Brad (apparently all their guides go by “cousin”) and he kept us entertained non-stop aboard Gus the Wonder Bus.  We hiked through the rainforest, saw beautiful waterfalls, swam in an extinct volcano, got bruised and scraped up, ate great food, sang songs, and had an all-around wonderful, silly, fun day. 

Millaa Millaa Falls

While packing to leave Cairns, I took everything heavy and put it in my purse in preparation for any potential resistance when checking in at the airport.  I was asked again to weigh my bag, and found it was 11.5 kilos, but the limit this time was 10 kilos.  I pulled out a few things, got it down to 10.5 and was allowed on my way to board for Sydney.

Perth & Ayers Rock

April 2, 2010

On Friday, March 26th around 11PM I landed in Perth, Australia.  I had officially stepped foot on all 7 continents.  Though I was excited, I was also exhausted from a long, hot day in Singapore and a 5 hour flight to Perth.  I arrived at the hostel around midnight and was pleasantly surprised to find that I had booked a room with a private bathroom.  (With rooms booked in 7 different cities, I couldn’t keep track of the differing amenities.)  I found out the next morning that the shower went from burning hot to freezing cold with no middle ground, but at least I wasn’t sharing it with anyone or getting the toilet wet in the process of showering.

Last August I met Simone on an overnight ferry from Bari, Italy to Dubrovnik, Croatia.  Since she lives in Perth, she agreed to show me around while  I was there.  We saw parks, a good view of the city skyline, the town of Fremantle, and the beach, but the highlight of my day was a national park Simone took me to.  The scenery was beautiful, and after wandering around for awhile, we came to a little tavern and went around to the back porch.   There were a dozen or so kangaroos sitting there.  Apparently the woman who runs the tavern feeds them, but they live in the wild.  Seeing them there was so much better than seeing them in an artificial environment of a zoo.

On Sunday I finished packing and called a taxi to pick me up a little after 8AM so I could catch my flight to Ayers Rock.  But when I went to check out, I discovered that "check-out 9:30AM" meant AFTER 9:30AM.  I waited for the caretaker to come so I could get my $20 key deposit back, and started talking to a backpacker from Alaska who just showed up hoping to check in.  His ATM card had been cancelled and he couldn’t get to his money until Monday.  After 15 minutes, and my taxi driver waiting patiently, I had to leave.  So I told the guy from Alaska my first name and that I had been staying in room #5, and told him he could have my key deposit.  I figured it couldn’t hurt to pass along some backpacker karma.

I landed in the tiny town of Yulara in the red center of Australia Sunday afternoon.  A free shuttle bus took us from the airport to the various lodging options on the resort, and there ended all things reasonably priced.  While my room was only $44, it was $44 for a bed in a room that contained 4 beds, plus sharing a huge dorm-style bathroom in separate building.  I lucked out and only had one roommate who checked in after me, was asleep before I got in for the night, and checked out before me.  I never really even saw her.  I decided I didn’t want an overpriced tour, so I reserved a spot on both the sunset and the sunrise shuttle buses.  They were $45 each just to be driven from the resort to the rock.   While looking at the rock, I had to constantly swat flies away from myself; they were relentless.  For dinner, I opted for an authentic, or at least stereotypical, Aussie meal of kangaroo and crocodile.  Except it wasn’t a normal restaurant; we were given our food raw to take over to the BBQ to grill ourselves.  Sounds like fun, until you realized you just spent $30 or more to stand over a hot grill for 20-30 minutes and cook your own dinner.  The kangaroo was good, and the crocodile was ok but a little tough.  I spent the last couple hours of the night drinking $6 beers with some guys who turned out to be school teachers from Melbourne.  They were on a 12 day trip with 8 teachers to about 100 15-16 year olds.  Yikes!  In the end, I’m glad I went because the rock was amazing, even though I spent about $200 in 24 hours.  You just can’t imagine or understand how big Ayers Rock is until you’re standing in front of it.

I’m going to have to post pictures later.  Also, this will most likely be my last post until I get back home in a few days, when I will tell you all about the rest of my trip, including my days in Cairns and Sydney.

Speed Asia

March 29, 2010

After a few days in Hong Kong, I headed to the ferry terminal to go to Macau. Despite two separate ports with frequent sailings, The ticket issued to me was for the noon sailing, almost two hours after I got there. I tried getting on standby but no luck. So I sailed at noon, arriving in Macau at 1:00. It took almost a half hour to get through the passport check. Realizing I didn’t have much time until my flight, I grabbed a taxi and went to see one of the temples. The main reason I wanted to go to Macau was the food; the Portugese-Chinese mix intrigued me. But I could only find really expensive restaurants in my vacinity. Frustrated, hungry and running out of time, I left for the airport and bought a sandwich there. Macau didn’t work out as well as I’d hoped but at least I got to see a little of the city.

My flight to Kuala Lumpur arrived around 9pm and I ended up with the friendliest taxi driver for the one hour journey to the city. I was curious to see what the US$10 hostel I booked would look like. Maybe my expectations were low, but I was pleasantly surprised to find a clean room and a very sweet woman running the place. The bathroom, although clean, was set up in a way that it was impossible to shower without getting the toilet wet. But hey, how much could I really expect for US$10? In the morning I started walking towards the Petronas Towers which used to be the tallest buildings in the world. I believe they’re number 3 or 4 now. I ended up running into a couple from Melbourne, always nice to meet someone new along the way. After taking some pictures of the gorgeous towers, a few guys from Bangladesh came over and wanted their picture taken with me. Suddenly a few turned into an entire tour group of about 30, each sitting next to me one at a time while their friends took turns snapping away. Ken from Melbourne and I just laughed while this went on for about 10 minutes. Apparently a white girl in a tank top was a bit of a novelty to a group of guys from a country where women cover up. So let me know if you see me on Facebook profiles in Bangladesh.

After wandering the city for a few hours and eating amazing Indian food for lunch at a little whole in the wall place, I hopped on a one hour flight to Singapore. The hostel there was better in that I had air conditioning instead of just a ceiling fan, but the bathroom was even more cramped and a little dingy. But I had a clean room, a/c, a comfy bed, and free breakfast for about US$40. It was also about 2 blocks from a big food court type place with 20 or 30 different vendors to choose from. For dinner I had rice and what I think was sweet and sour chicken with a soda. Total cost: just under US$3. Can’t beat that! I spent the next day walking through the city to see the famous Raffles Hotel. I was feeling a little burnt out so I decided to splurge on an overpriced lunch and piña colada in the tropical courtyard of the hotel. That recharged me. Before I knew it I was on my way back to the airport to board a flight to Perth, Australia.

Even though I didn’t spend too much time in Malaysia and Singapore, I really enjoyed what I did get to experience in both countries. The mix of people and cultures in both places kept things interesting. I had never been that close to the equator (Singapore is only one degree north of the equator) so the heat and humidity were overwhelming, but the scenery was stunning. Kuala Lumpur was a little more run down, dirtier and more gritty than Singapore, but still a very modern city. My expectations of Singapore were of a clean, sterile city. While it was much more pristine than Kuala Lumpur, I still saw litter and people smoking despite what I had heard about the strict laws. Another thing I noticed about both places was the smaller number of tourists in comparison to what I saw in Hong Kong, and definitely less than what I’m used to seeing in Europe. It kind of made me feel like I was seeing more reality and less of a tourist trap, which was nice.

Coming soon…Australia! Also, sorry if the pictures all end up at the bottom instead of in the middle near the appropriate text. I’m using the wordpress app on my iPhone and it’s not as user-friendly as the real website. But the first picture is of the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, the second is the Raffles Hotel in Singapore, and the third is the remains of my wonderful piña colada.

Po Lin Monastery

March 22, 2010

Today I went to the Po Lin Monastery and to see the world’s largest outdoor seated Buddha. I successfully navigated the MTR (subway) including changing trains to get to a cablecar in order to get here. I climbed the 260 steps to get to the Buddha (I’m sure my legs will hate me tomorrow) and the view was calming. Despite the overabundance of souvenir shops and stands selling overpriced drinks and ice cream, it’s really gorgeous and peaceful here. Even the loud gong someone is banging as I type adds to the peaceful atmosphere. However I sort of feel like I shouldn’t be here. Most of us who have come here did so as just another touristy thing to see and to take pictures. But I’ve seen dozens of Chinese people bowing, praying and lighting incense. Clearly they’ve come here as more of a religious experience and it almost makes me feel rude for being here and taking pictures. It’s a strange struggle I feel a lot when I travel because I do want to see the attractions, but I also feel like I’m contributing to the demise of what makes them special. Although I’m sure the ice cream stands are doing more damage than I am.

Travel Day

March 22, 2010

I’ve arrived in Hong Kong and I’m sitting on a bus in traffic trying to get to Victoria Peak. I just wanted to share a few random thoughts about my journey across the ocean.

I love the expert traveler line at the Atlanta airport. Hardly anyone uses it and those who do get through quickly. However on occasion, like on Saturday, some family with little kids and strollers decide to use that line. They must’ve used 10 bins to get their stuff through the x-ray. This is not what the expert traveler line is for and it just annoys everyone else.

People on planes pass gas. I guess they feel like they can get away with it because no one can hear them so no one knows who did it. So don’t you think the airlines would refrain from serving food that would add to this situation? As a midflight snack, we were served a cucumber and hard boiled egg sandwich. Breakfast was scambled eggs. I don’t think two servings of eggs was really good for the air quality in the confined space of a plane.

Also while I’m on the topic of airline food, we’re all in agreement that it’s never really anything great, right? In fact sometimes it’s even a little scary. But shrimp cocktail on a plane? No. Why even go there?

Well I’ve finally reached Victoria Peak and I’m about to have some dim sum for a late lunch before looking down at to city through the smog.