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The State We’re In » Adventures

Archive for the ‘Adventures’ Category

Cairns by name, “Cans” by pronunciation (and, by the looks of things, by content)

Friday, July 6th, 2007

Richard Branson. Visionary, Mogul, Titan of Industy. Raving Lunatic.

Apparently Richard Branson, on-again-off-again CEO of Virgin Global, has launched a back to basics airline serving the Aussie Outback. Branson has embraced the golden age of flying with…okay, not really the golden age of flying, but it seems that he has made it a point of hiring only the creme de la creme of “In-flight Courtesy Personnel.” Stewardesses who, I’m sure, would make sure that the closing credits of the in-flight movie was not the only Happy Ending to be had on board.
{civil war}
Regardless, Virgin Blue saves a ton of time at the gate by loading the aircraft from the front and the rear doors. Matt Staum, fatefully seated in seat 1A, did not realize this. When we walked up the gang-way at the back of the plane, Matt showed the stewardess his ticket and I swear that I heard her gasp. I’m sure that Matt’s trip up to the front of the plane was delightful. I guess he knows what a salmon feels like.
{/civil war}
We arrived last night in Cairns. As the title might imply, things look pretty good here, there might be some nice beaches, somewhere, and we might find them.
Matt and I will be diving the Great Barrier Reef one of these days, swimming with sea turtles, and with any luck, not losing any limbs to marauding Reef Sharks. Here’s to Hoping.
In the meantime, our hostel might have kangaroo burgers for lunch. I call dibs on Pouch.

Cairns, Aus.

One of these days we’ll get another slug of pictures up. I promise.

[EDIT: Also, a bird shit on me last night as we were walking back from dinner. Someone was telling me that this is good luck, right?]

Civil War

Tuesday, July 5th, 2005

As long as John is intent on starting a war, I should point out that, as with Iraq II, the motives for John’s have been misrepresented. In my defense, the conversation at the Opera House went more like:

“Matt, wanna get a picture here?”
“Nah, there are a ton of people swarming the steps now, it’s ok.”
“You sure? How will you remember Sydney without a picture of you at the Opera House.”
“I don’t need a picture to prove I was here, that’s not really why I travel.”

If that still makes me an arrogant ass or a travel snob, oh well, I stand by it. And I still don’t think it justified John cutting me out of all the group photos for the rest of the day.

Secondly, John’s actions at the bar occured on the night of the 3rd, so if John was infused with anything prompting him to make <i>extremely</i> questionable decisions concerning the locals, it certainly wasn’t “the domineering spirit of The Fourth Of July.” Whatever it was, at least it didn’t stop him from demanding to see this poor girl’s license. If she hadn’t proven to him that she was indeed 20, I think Joe and I would have had an apoplectic John on our hands when the girl’s father came to pick her up at midnight. (Louis had gone home earlier, after John’s girl attempted to hook him up with her 15 year old friend. Seriously, 15 year olds at bars, not cool) As it was, I think it still may have scared some sense into the kid. On second thought, probably not.

On a less antagonistic note: We’d all like to see some more comments up here. We’d love to know who’s actually reading this.

“Travel only with thy equals or thy betters; if there are none, travel alone.” -The Dhammapada

Monday, July 4th, 2005

Well, John managed to finally get me in front of the computer screen to write an entry…Here goes.
I start with a quote not because thats how I usually do things (in fact, its deffinantly not my style…), but because I am deathly afraid of the comparisons that will be made between this work and the others on this site. So if those of you out there who know me think all of this is a little highfalutin, that would be the reason why.
This entry is coming to you from the internet cafe next door to our hostel (”The Maze Hostel”, which would more appropriatly be named “The Shitty But Yet Somehow Still Highly Rated On The Internet Hostel With Bathrooms That Compare Favorably Only To Those Whose Foundations Include A Large Collection Facility Containing A Even Larger Amount Of …..” and so on) here in Sydney. After finding this place on the internet, and paying for four nights up front, we are now stuck. Luckily we have been incredibly busy the entire time we’ve been here in Sydney, so our exposure to the pestilence that is our hostel has been minimal.
Despite the motivation for a quote, I could not imagine a better sentiment for my feelings of the trip thus far. The group that ended up falling together for this trip couldnot be any better. With each day I find I respect each one of my travel mates more (they are also a lot of fun to get drunk with). Anyway, enough drivel…
My mind has been going through a slow but exciting process for the last few days. Memories of my study abroad time here in Sydney have slowly been surfacing through the wreckage that was once my brain. As these memories have come to light, I have been dragging our little cadre on increasingly more random and farfetched adventures through the back alleys of what is once again becoming one of my favorite cities in the world.
Sydney is a place that has it all, and we’ve found most of it. After getting up at 5 in the morning on Saterday to get our flight out of Auckland, a nap was the first priority once we were all checked in here in Oz Land. Then it was right out on the town to enjoy an evening of rugby followed by a night of carrousing. The second NZ All Blacks vs. the British and Irish Lions game was quickly followed by a match between the Australian Wallabies and the French Tri-colors.
While we were all jazzed up for the NZ-Lions game, we felt the second match was of less interest. Just to keep our attention peaked we decided a little additional motivation would be a good idea. Thus Matt, John and I (not Louis, since he’s smart…) found ourselves in possesion of little slips of paper that would be good for $60 each if the heavy underdog Tri-colors pulled out a victory. Besides motivating us to match the game, this allowed us to drink away our sorrows for the rest of the night as the Tri-colors sucked as much as Pentagon empoyees slurping down Freedom Toast.
The next day was filled with all the predictable big city activities which Matt covered so well in his earlier post. We got a little of everything, from a street fair to a nuclear power aircraft carrier.
Today was again dominatedby my obsession with reliving my study abroad days (if I laid down on a couch and worked all this out I’m sure it would be much scarrier and not nearly as much fun…). So off to the Bondi-Coogee cliff walk it was. This runs down the coast of the city between the country’s two most famous beaches. The walk varries from a hundred feet above the beakers to right down on the sand of the incredible Sydney sand. This was followed by a few of the world famous Flavors of Northern India Spicy Potatoe Balls (a addiction I have yet to kick even after not exercizing it for 2 years! Even heroin ain’t that good). To round out another day on the wrong side of the globe we went for a sunset ferry ride accross the Sydney harbor and yet again John did his best to get us beat up (need it be said that having Matt’s 200+ pounds with us everywhere we go is the only thing that has kept us from various calcium related injuries?). Then it was back to our shithole hostel for a nice dinner washed down with G+Ts.
Ahhhhhhhhhh, another day in paradise…

p.s. I know it got a little episodic there at the end, I’ll try and do better next time!

The Sydney Opera House, and Matt’s Travel Predilections

Monday, July 4th, 2005

I asked Matt if he wanted to get a picture of the four of us in front of Sydney’s most iconic (and played out?) edifice.
he said, and now I’m not even kidding, “a picture? nah…that’s not really why I travel.” In the inimitable words of Gob Bluth, “COME ON.”

While I see that I might be starting a war here, I should for the least admit that I may or may not have taken a buck-toothed native home from a bar last night.  I didn’t <i>want</i> to do it, but I suppose I was infused with the domineering spirit of The Fourth Of July.

Stars and Strips FOREVER, motherf**kers.

Sydney, Aus.

Bats are Bugs

Monday, July 4th, 2005

Joe has called dibs on the Sydney post, but I am exercising sovereignty over my birthday and recounting the festivities here:

After enjoying our first opportunity to sleep in since Fiji, we headed to tour downtown and see the opera house, which is much less white than it always seems in pictures. John and I agreed that it looks like a jumble of conquistador helmets left behind by a race of 250ft tall Spaniards. From the opera house we spotted a battleship coming into the harbor that we thought was flying the stars and stripes, but wasn’t. We debated its nationality for a good 30 minutes before deciding to follow the coastline through the botanical gardens towards the naval yard to get a better look. After a bit, we rounded a point and found not only the battleship, but an aircraft carrier bristling in the slanted tails of F/A-18s. We are the only country that flies F/A-18s, so that settled it. All told, there were 4 American ships in harbor. It looked like Bush may have been planning to make Australia the next US colony for a big Independence Day surprise.

On the walk back through the gardens, Joe regaled us with tales of giant bats terrorizing the skies of the gardens. Of course, none of us believed him until suddenly, there was a terrible roar all around us, and the sky was full with what looked like huge bats. (EDIT: “and the sky was full of what looked like giant bats.” Venerable Hunter S. Thompson didn’t blowhis brains out in front of his kids to be misquoted by some punk-ass twenty-somethings. -JF-) One nearly carried off Louis’s head. It weighed at least 20 pounds. Louis was a bit shaken up after that and wouldn’t even let Joe and I suspend him upside down in front of a tree full of hundreds of them for a photo op.

In the evening we went out to dinner in an area that Joe neglected to tell us was essentially Sydney’s red light district, and was crawling with sailors on shore leave. After dinner we were a little unnerved by the whole scene and all for heading back downtown on the double. All of us, that is, except Louis who suggested we “hook up with some Navy guys.” (Disclaimer: That quote is woefully out of context, but that hasn’t stopped us from making fun of Louis for his poor word choice all the same.) After getting back downtown we finished the evening with some barhopping that produced some spectacular stories I am not at liberty to put down here. The paragon of virtue I am, none of these stories involved me, I assure you. All in all, Sydney is a great place to kick off my 22nd year.

Happy 4th, and here’s to hoping Bush doesn’t replace O’Connor with a Tomas de Torquemada.

“I must uneasy make lest too light winning/make the prize light.” -The Tempest I.ii

Saturday, July 2nd, 2005

Frustration is such a dastardly word. It is not nearly as bad as, say, disappointment, anger, misery or failure, but a dastardly word all the same. Frustration is the feeling which creeps up on you from behind when you realize that sometimes there is a far better solution to your problems than can be readily offered to you because your achievement of your goals is blocked by stupidity, callousness, inefficiency, or in our case, a seven hundred acre glacier.

While our time in New Zealand has been flecked with myriad trivial frustrations, finding that your hostel offers free internet access only during their busiest hours of the day, that a particularly desirable rafting excursion carries a $450 price tag, that a lone police-man with a radar gun and a ticket pad waits on the country’s single stretch of straight-to-the-horizon desert road, that your booking for a private four bed hostel room has been “lost” by management who, instead, have placed you in a six-person room with a mute Japanese student and a Consumptive Dutch work-transfer applicant, these trifles seem to be mere ripples in the calm teal waters of Milford Sound. Well, perhaps that’s a bit of a falsity. The Sound itself is one of the great natural gems of the earth, but, like Prospero in the quote above, God has clearly seen fit to assure that the travelers who venture out to seek it appreciate it that much more for the journey. Frustration then, is embodied by the ten-hour 600km trip out and back, only to look at a map realizing that you have traveled no more than 50 km as the crow flies.

The onerous task of getting to the Sound was allayed only by the professed natural and unique beauty of New Zealand’s Fiordland National Park, a jagged and wrinkly frosting of glaciers and mountains coating the west coast of South Island. And this came to be true. Words and pictures can do little to do the Park justice. Mile-high peaks jut forth from pristinely calm, cold waters. Milford Sound, originally called Milford Haven by its discoverer (I only have “Vasco da Milford ????” written down in my notes. I’m pretty sure that wasn’t his name), was named because it offered respite from a hellacious rainstorm out in the Tasman Sea in 1780-something. And to this day that remains true. A large mountainous outcropping called Abel’s Rock protects the sound from the sea, and has since created several fascinating phenomena within. The preternaturally calm waters have created a 3m deep reservoir of fresh water which rests upon the sea in the Sound for many days following any rain shower. Rare black-speckled bottle nosed dolphins have migrated from out in the open seas to the calmer fresh waters in the Sound, and following them have come intrepid sea-kayakers who, drawn by the chance to play with the dolphins, all too often take their rickety fiberglass and plastic contraptions out beyond Abel’s Rock and into the 3-5m swells of the furious Tasman Sea beyond. It should come as no surprise that the voracious sea has developed quite an appetite for petulant sea-kayakers to the tune of several per year. Finally, there are the tourists who sally forth from lumbering coach buses onto the waiting sight-seeing cruises.

Meanwhile they were discussing the pressing philosophical issues of the day: the shocking differences between the McDonald’s restaurants in Auckland and Topeka, the quaint and floral characteristics of New Zealand’s plastic currency, and comparisons of their greenstone faux-Maori tribal necklaces. The four of us gushed at the 80m high glacial waterfalls (they gushed about the free coffee and tea below-decks), and asked one of our crew-members about the likelihood of spotting any yellow-banded penguins–the 2nd most rare species of bird in the world.

The views were spectacular, and the trip was once-in-a-lifetime. Can any one of us say that we regretted the trip? I doubt it. Despite its frustrations, our journey was such a success that we completely forgot about our 5 hour trip home. And that we had almost completely run out of gasoline.

Queenstown, NZ

Impeccable Beauty or New Zealand by the Numbers

Sunday, June 26th, 2005

The 6 hour drive from Auckland to Wellington is wracked with beauty and fraught with peril. Gandalf must have had balls of steel to make the ride such as he did, white steed notwithstanding.

The Middle section of New Zealand’s North Island while picturesque is pretty boring. Joe cut his teeth behind the wheel of our Holden Acclaim station wagon proving conclusively that driving on the wrong side of the road is a dangerous but surmountable test of mental strength. (NB: British cars mirror American cars exactly so here the turn signals are on the right of the steering wheel and the windshield wiper controls are on the left. Muscle memory has set so strong that out first several hundred kilometers of lane changes were accompanied by the dulcet tones of our wipers on a dry windshield)

Three hours and a quick lunch at Lake Taupo launched us into the second leg of our journey. Stalwart moron that I am, I volunteered to take over for Joe behind the wheel. The Southern half of New Zealand’s North Island is the natural majesty of the Southern Hemisphere incarnate (or inmundate? Latin scholars can laugh at that one). Our precious rolling hills gave way to glacieresque cliff drops and craggy rock formations as our two-lane superhighway subtly disappeared into Lake Taupo 30m below. To put things in perspective, the 1 Highway which runs from north to south of the country, is a road no wider than one side of the Merritt Parkway in CT (or any standard two-lane road in your hometown) upon which the better part of the country’s overland transport and shipping takes place. Take a single hair-pin turns at 100km/hr with a semi-truck bearing down on you at speed. Red Bull, Coffee, Cocaine and methamphetamines pale in comparison.

Below the lake the 1 opens up into the ominously named “Desert Road.” A 200km stretch of open road which has an unpalatable tendency to get shut down in inclement weather. As luck would have it, the Maori gods of travel saw fit to grant us passage. Louis said that he sacrificed a virgin before he left Providence. The Sci-Li is no Tarpeian Rock, but good luck is good luck so we patted him on the back and went on our way. These pictures will attest to the natural beauty of New Zealand’s lowlands, what they call the “central plateau.” Scrubland streching out to the horizon is majestically and surprisingly only broken by the sharp appearance of several picture-book snow capped mountains.

The sun went down by the time we had gotten out from below the central plateau, but not before we managed to snap several pics of the hills, dales (what is a dale anyway?), valleys, gorges and canyons that inexplicably dot the Kiwi country-side. Matt also convinced us to leave Louis by the side of the road where he had gone to answer one of his ::ahem:: natural imperatives. We just rolled the car forward a couple feet to hide it behind a tree, but the look on his face was priceless to say the least.

Our lengthy trip gave us time to ponder some of the following facts and figures from the Lonely Planet guidebook:

    The population of New Zealand is 3.88 Million. (compare that to New York City’s 8.1M, or the state of Massachusetts’ 6.3M)
    New Zealand’s Sheep population, however, is nearly 48 Million (12.5 per person), and it’s cattle population nearly 8M (around 2 per person)….maybe those lonely shepherds aren’t quite so lonely after all?
    Kiwi voter turn-out comes in at about 80%. Take that,
    While Auckland is the coutry’s largest city at 1.2M people, it’s capital is the much smaller port city of Wellington. The home of il Patrone Nuovo Zealomundo, Peter Jackson. Director, Iconoclast, treeBeard lookalike himself.

This seems to be a fair amount of info and exposition for one day.
Special props to the lone computer geek upstairs in the hostel who helped me gerry-rig my laptop to leech off the front office’s wireless. You are truly a god among men.

Wellington, NZ

EDIT: By some demonic pact or some dreary scientific embargo , the great nation of New Zealand seems IMMUNE to the coriolis effect, that delicious wonder of nature that makes our precious toilets flush clockwise around the bowl. Here, as if by horrible witchcraft, the water does not spin counter-clockwise as expected. Rather, it melts away down the drain, commanded by some unnatural invisible force. Fie, I say. Fie.

The Beachouse

Tuesday, June 21st, 2005

I would never presume to attempt a post as entertaining as John’s, but the task of relating the wonders of Fiji has fallen upon me, so I will do my best.

I began composing this update lounging in a hammock on the beach of our second residence in Fiji, a “luxury backpacker’s resort” called The Beachouse. As I swing here bathed in the glow of the setting sun and cooled by a gentle island breeze, the only blemish on an otherwise perfect moment is the incessant barking of Molly, the local dog. Compared to our first hotel, near the Nadi airport, this place is paradise, and I suspect it will compare favorably to everywhere else we visit on this trip as well.

For F$25/night (approx $15US) we are sleeping in a 5 person room in a little beachfront bungalow. The Ritz this isn’t, but it has decent beds and a private beach. The resort is packed, so we are sharing our room with a kid from Colorado on his way back from study abroad in New Zealand. Everyone here is under 30, and the environment is that of a perpetual, but incredibly laid back, spring break. That kind of thinking is certainly fostered by the F$2.75 (~$1.25US) beers during happy hour.

We have spent the majority of our time during the day basking in the sun, reading, and throwing a frisbee around on the beach. At night (the sun goes down around 6pm) we move to the Coconut Cafe (the social hub of the resort) for dinner, drinks, card games, and conversation with the Aussies, Kiwis and Brits who have us far outnumbered here. Surprisingly, we have not been made pariahs, and apart from two unprovoked attacks on John and I on two separate occasions for “bastardizing the English language,” it has been great to spend time with non-Americans and get inundated with advice from fellow travelers on what we need to do for the rest of our journey. For more on that, see John’s earlier post about advice… It’s all the same.

Highlights of The Beachouse so far:
1) I am finally (for the second time) a certified diver! The diving here is not as good as in Hawaii or the Bahamas, but I did see a pod of dolphins today, which was great.
2) The other guys went on a hike to a waterfall further inland that they really enjoyed, but I was diving so I missed out.
3) For the first time in the lifetime of our friendship, I have seen John actually apalled by something. For any of you who may need to upset him in the future, just bring up the use of dead babies in drug smuggling, he was on the verge of tears. (Disclaimer: This conversation was initiated and perpetuated by a group of Brits sitting near us at the bar. I swear it did not originate in any of our imaginations.)

Honorable Mention: Kava was a disappointment, but I feel like I should mention it. Imagine drinking muddy water mixed with lidocaine out of half a coconut and you have a good idea what kava was like.

Pictures will follow as soon as we get to Auckland. Fiji (the entire country) is only allocated 6Mbits of throughput (probably less than that of Ketchum, ID), so internet here is painfully slow and makes even checking email an arduous task, and posting any sort of pictures an impossibility.

Fiji Time

Sunday, June 19th, 2005

There is certainly something to be said for living life at one’s own pace.  The entire island of Fiji is not only enamored of this concept, but is, more accurately tied to it in profound and existential ways.
To wit: jet lag, such as it is found me up and out of bed at 5:30 this morning.  In the dead of winter, in a country with no Daylight Savings time, meant that it was of course, still in the dead of night.
I sat on the beach to watch the sun rise, and was shocked to see it hang on the horizon line for what was no fewer than 45 minutes.  Maybe the Sun was spending some leisure time in yesterday, uninterested, just as the Fijians seem to be about the pressing concerns of the near and distant future.
Kava, the natural and indigenous Narcotic beverage may be partially to blame.  The Four of us are being welcomed into a local village for an intricate, and unsurprisingly legthy Kava ceremony complete with ceremonial tribal gifts to boot.  More details after the jump.
I used my precious four hours of pre-day today to finish <i> High Fidelity</i>, nick Horby’s masterwork of over-wrought prose. Over-wrought prose. ha, who am I kidding.  Anyway, I spent the better part of today putting together my Top Ten Songs to Travel Around the World.  Here they are in no particular order:
1. Red Hot Chili Peppers - around the World
2. The doors - People Are Strange
3. The offspring - Gone Away
4. Led Zeppelin - Ramble On
5. Jackson Browne - Stay/ The Road
6. Simon and Garfunkle - Homeward Bound
7. Grateful Dead - Truckin’
8. 311 - Don’t Stay Home
9. They Might Be Giants - The World’s Address
10. Social Distortion - So Far away.

With a special Mention going to Pink Floyd - Us and Them, and <i> On the Road Again </i> by…Johnny Cash? Someone correct me on that one.  Feel free to add your own.  Matt, Joe and Louis are putting their lists together.

We have a ton of pictures but, surprise surprise, Fiji has yet to meet the high-speed internet Revolution.  Pictures to follow when we hit Auckland.

Kava not all it was cracked up to be.  Think of waiting all afternoon to ride Batman: The Ride at Six Flags, and coming to the front only to find yourself on line for the spinning swing-set on the cover of that awful DMB album.

As far as travel songs go, Mikey seems to be spot-on.

I should have known better than to have brought the music thing up, but my mother makes a good point, and PP&M does belong on the list. Whether it takes spot eleven or knocks an incumbent out is anyone’s guess.

Defining Moments

Friday, June 17th, 2005

There’s a moment on every trip when you recognize the tone that your travels will take. Fortunately (unfortunately?) we’ve been on the ground in Fiji for no more than five hours and already we’ve had 4.

Number One:
As you disembark from a Boeing 747-400, an airplane that could easily and comfortably house your entire freshman-year dorm, their families and their pets, you are greeted first not by immigration and customs agents, not by airline personnel, not by baggage handlers, but by a non-sectarian, yet vaguely religious string and kettle drum quartet singing songs of what we are convinced is the only native Fijian word necessary to become a citizen, or indeed to hold public office. “Bula,” the catch-all phrase for hello, goodbye, well wishes and “of course I’ll marry your daughter” has so pervaded society and street life here that it has sprouted its own cult of personality religion.

Number Two: Well against the judgement of our collective common sense, we four Ivy League graduates sought a trip into town on board island Viti Levu’s jewel of public transportation Fleet, The Westbus.

When pressed for comment, Joe could only use the words “ramshackle, death trap, like a one-way rocketship to Purgatory” to describe this heap. Bear in mind that Joe has an ScB in Mechanical Engineering. He’s an expert. Naught but by the grace of God did we bustle into Cosmopolitan downtown Nadi, the transportation capital of the Fiji islands.

Number Three:
Flights which touch down at 5:30 AM (2PM yesterday in body-time) have a naughty habit of playing havok with one’s appetite. We marched the main drag of Nadi-Town, willing to embrace anything that we could embrace as Fijian (pronounced Fee-GENE) national cuisine. Alas, we were bested by our hunger and stumbled into an unnamed curry shop. [[NB: There is a very strong Indian influence in Fiji and much of the South Pacific accounting for the pervasive cuisine and Bhangra radio programming.]]

We later found out that the courtyard which housed our curry shop was also the HQ for Fiji’s Surgeon General. Go figure.
$7 and four 9AM curry dinners later we looked at eachother and said “welcome.”

Number Four:
At the bottom of some unnamed alley we crouched up next to a fence of razor-wire to watch a Fijian pick-up soccer match. Somehow, the city-dwellers have mastered the subtle art of the silent walk, because from directly behind us came a hale and hearty “BULA! Yu like to watch football?”
A lesser man would have turned-tail and fled.
He was a teacher. It turns out that we were watching his students practice. Before long he was leading us along a rotting drainage ditch to an unmended hole in the razor-wire, and with it field level access. As we walked out to the field it was all that the players could have done to keep from stoppign their game to welcome us into the stands.

It is now quarter to Twelve in the morning. We have been here for five Hours. My ATM card doesn’t work, and the weather is going to top 100 degrees today.