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.
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.
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.
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?]]]>
“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.]]>
p.s. I know it got a little episodic there at the end, I’ll try and do better next time!]]>
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.
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.]]>
You see, Coca Cola is piloting their raspberry flavor line in New Zealand right now. It is going to replace Coke with Lime. I know this because I researched it on the internet, desperately seeking news that it would be available anywhere outside of New Zealand. I didn’t find any, which was tragic, because only 3 days away from the Kiwis it has become evident that this is a craving that mere Diet Coke, Pepsi Max, or Regal Diet Cola can never satisfy. I hope my withdrawal is quick and painless.]]>
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.
Auckland Int’l Airport, NZ]]>
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:
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.
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.]]>