Saturday, October 30, 2010

two roads diverged in the west

After Melbourne, I enjoyed some lovely visits with long-lost and new friends in Tasmania and then Adelaide (both of which ended with some very difficult goodbyes!) before getting to Western Australia.  Priscilla and I arrived in Broome a couple weeks ago, and headed our separate ways the following day.  Back when we were in Melbourne, it became clear to me that Priscilla and I needed to split up.  We had different timelines and priorities for the last part of our trip.  I wanted to incorporate time to do absolutely nothing into my schedule - this was very important to me, and not something I was willing to negotiate on!  On top of that, I felt the need to spend some time by myself, so I suggested we each do our own thing on the west coast.  (There’s little space to have your own day when you’re on the same tour or sharing the same rental car.  Despite my best efforts, my dreams of having separate days in Melbourne didn’t really materialize as our similar interests got in the way.)  I even suggested a transition strategy of staying in separate places in Adelaide to help us adjust from constant togetherness to complete independence.  The four and a half months we travelled together were great - I’ve been grateful to have someone to share the ride with - but I really felt the need to be on my own... and so far I’m really enjoying it :)

After getting to the west, I spent a few days camping in the Kimberley and have been back in Broome for a week now.  It's hot here - the kind of heat that leaves you with elbow sweat if you leave your arm bent for just a couple of seconds, and makes finding shelter from the sun make you feel like you've hit the jackpot.  I've seen some pretty amazing things though, and that makes it all worthwhile.

It's hard to believe I arrived in Australia exactly 5 months ago today.  I wouldn't say the whole thing has gone by quickly, but the days certainly seem to have piled up.  Travel is a roller coaster of emotions, finances and circumstances.  (Side note: I say finances because my credit card keeps getting put on hold due to "suspicious foreign activity" despite the fact that I've informed them on five separate occasions of my travel plans.  I keep finding out that the card is not usable at the most inopportune times - like when I'm trying to book a multi-day tour that I need to pay for and have already exhausted my bank card's cash withdrawal limit.  Customer service is not an optional thing for me, so I'm going to have to switch banks when I get home... right after I figure out what to do with my PC points... :) )  It's also like therapy - there's this instantaneous level of conversational intimacy that you automatically have with fellow travelers.  Typical conversation starters like name and occupation are not important and seldom used.  The focus instead is on where you've been and where you're going - both geographically and in life.  Geographically, I still have a lot of Western Australia to explore before I leave the country.  And in life?  I'm still figuring that one out - luckily I have another month and a half of total freedom to think about it... :)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

on the road again

Moving on from Melbourne began with a bit of a false start.  The airport shuttle was over an hour late for our scheduled pick-up, so I began to wonder if Priscilla and I would make our check-in cutoff time.  We had the kind of ticket where you forfeit the fare if you miss your flight, so I was pretty happy and relieved when I inquired about getting a taxi to the airport and managed to find out that our airline's computer system had crashed, resulting in stranded passengers, delayed flights and utter confusion at the airport.
When we finally got to the airport, we got to personally experience the chaos...  There were people everywhere - you couldn’t even identify what was a line and what wasn’t!  We arrived half an hour before our scheduled departure time - exactly at our check-in cutoff time - and our flight wasn’t on the departures board.  I asked an airline staff member what was happening with our flight.  He managed to find out that it would be leaving at some point that day, but that was about all the info we could get.  Standing in the airport, watching masses of people waiting around with their baggage, listening for flight numbers to be yelled out by airline staff so that would-be passengers could raise their hands to identify themselves, I couldn’t help but find the whole thing pretty entertaining - the airport was humming more than the Melbourne casino had been on a recent Friday night!  There was excitement in the crowd when one of the self-check-in kiosks started functioning :)  An hour and a half after we were supposed to take off, our flight number was called...  It was our turn!  We raised our hands... got ushered towards the check-in counters and put into one line... then another line... then yet another... only to find out that there were no seats left on our flight!  It had been oversold and filled with passengers stranded from the previous day, so we were re-booked for a flight the following night.  
I've been meaning to go to the tulip festival in Ottawa for years.  It's funny, but every year I seem to think of it a month or two after it's finished.  When Priscilla and I were on the east coast, a retired Dutch couple who'd been living near Melbourne for over 20 years informed us that the city also had a tulip festival, and it was going to coincide with the time we were going to be in town.  They even offered to take us there!  But the month in Melbourne went by quickly - we ran out of time and didn't manage to take them up on their generous offer.  One of my first thoughts when I found out that we were going to be delayed by a day was that we could go to the tulip festival.  Dianne - who graciously offered to save us from the travel chaos with food and shelter - had the same idea.  The extra day in Melbourne gave us the perfect opportunity to go, so we did!  The tulips were lovely although I have to admit, the festival aspect of it was lacking.  Even though it was raining off and on, I enjoyed it.
The next day, we managed to confirm our flight out in the evening before going to the airport.  When we finally boarded the plane, I had an aisle seat.  The guy across the aisle one row up was reading a newspaper that had a big article about the airline fiasco I'd just experienced.  I skimmed the first paragraph over his shoulder.  My eyes grew wide and I almost started laughing.  I leaned forward in disbelief, trying to get a better look and had to ask the guy if I could borrow his paper when he was done with it.  He was kind enough to oblige and when he did, closer inspection confirmed what I thought I'd read: The airline's statement claimed that a technology giant was responsible for what had happened, because its contracts should have guaranteed back-up systems kicked in when the airline's boarding systems crashed - and that technology giant just happened to be the same company I'm on a leave of absence from!  This might just be the first time ever that a work-related glitch has provided me with the opportunity to stop and smell the roses see the tulips :)

The day we were supposed to leave...
...and the exact same spot 24 hours later.

What a difference a day can make! 

Monday, October 18, 2010

you live, you learn 4

- Reciprocity is a beautiful thing.  And minimum requirement.
- It's easier to ice a cake before cutting it.
- It costs $2.20 to mail a regular letter from Australia to Canada.  In comparison, mailing a card costs only $1.45 and involves writing "card only" in the bottom left hand corner of the envelope to identify that no letter is enclosed.
- Paw paw is what Australians call papaya...  This one took several months to figure out!  And I can't even take the credit for it :)
- Some movie theatres here have reserved seating.  And use bean bags as seats.
- When you go with the flow, it's easy to get caught up in the current.
- It takes approximately 20 hours of labour to handcraft a ukulele.
- Frozen peas taste better frozen.
- The swipe on my emergency replacement credit card finally worked somewhere!... at one of those vending machines that you can rent movies from.  The only form of payment accepted is a credit card so that they can charge you for the full amount in case you don't return it.  (The swipe on my card still doesn't work anywhere else.)
- Even though the temperature is higher here, Melbourne winter can feel colder than Canadian winter because a lot of places don't have central heating.
- You can make a drink that tastes like a Snickers bar using beer.
- In Michael Jackson's song Smooth Criminal, the name repeated over and over in the song is Annie.  (All these years I thought it was Eddie, but was confused because the rest of the lyrics sound like they reference a woman...  Now it all makes sense :) )
- For some species of turtles, the temperature of the sand around the nest determines whether the egg develops into a male or a female.
- Some bank cards have weekly cash withdrawal limits that are less than 7 times the daily limit.
- Today's my 3rd consecutive day at McDonald's because they have free wifi for customers :)
- An air freight copy of O, the Oprah magazine, costs $21.50 AUD.  The sea freight one is a month out-of-date and costs $13.50 AUD.
- You can never see too many sunsets.
- Timing is everything in life.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

and i quote 4

"Ok, so you're from the middle east?" - Random traveller who was trying to understand where in Canada I'm from, after I explained that Toronto is not on either coast as they'd guessed, but east of the centre of the country, close to the US border.

"You want fresh water?" - A puzzled convenience store clerk to me, while glancing at the display of bottled water in the refrigerator, after I asked him if he knew where the nearby address of 1 Freshwater Place was located.

"It depends on which instructor we have!" - Me, laughing, to Simon, our bartending course instructor, after he asked the class which end of the American-style Boston shaker should be used to gather ingredients for a cocktail.  Simon was standing right next to one of our other instructors, Jim, and the two of them had given us conflicting instructions!

And now, for a bit of a series...

"You can go visit Arch and Gaylene!" - My dad's excited first reaction to my travel plans back in March.  Arch used to work with my father years ago, when he and his wife Gaylene temporarily relocated from Australia to Toronto.

"Eww!!  You eat sponge?!?" - My sister Kersti-Li in 1989, in response to Gaylene's explanation of the ingredients in lamingtons - an Australian dessert that includes sponge (cake) - as re-told to me by both Gaylene and her sister Dianne independently.  Kersti and I were both apparently squirming a bit at the thought!

"Actually, it's my birthday today as well." - Gaylene's sister Dianne as she was driving Priscilla and I to Philip Island to see the penguin parade, after I told her that day was my mom's birthday so I was going to call her later to wish her well.

"No, not with me around!" - Me to Gaylene, in response to her question about whether or not the peanut butter cookies I was baking would last.  It took a few seconds for me to realize she meant as in 'not go bad'...  I never get to that point at home and didn't here either - I ended up making a second batch a couple of days later :)

"OMG, that's crazy!!  That means it's been... almost 20 years!" - Me to Gaylene, after establishing that the last time I'd seen her and Arch was in the early 90s.  She has just informed me that they moved back to Australia in 1991 and last visited Canada in 1993.

"How do you think we feel?" - Gaylene to me, in response to my shock and disbelief above.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

a month in Melbourne

After we finished the east coast and got back to Sydney, Priscilla and I started looking online for an apartment in Melbourne, our next planned stop.  The options were limited - some required longer term stays, some were too expensive, some were in undesirable locations...  The selection was looking pretty grim.  We began to wonder if we should cut our stay in Melbourne short to be able to afford a decent place for a shorter period of time.  Just as we were starting to lose hope, an ad came up that was ideal given our timing, location and price criteria - Leyla was looking to sublet her place while she went on vacation for a month.  A few emails and phone calls later, we'd managed to confirm that we would take it!  The deal was going to start in a few short days so we rented a car and spent the weekend driving from Sydney to Melbourne.

We also spent the weekend doing something you shouldn't normally do while traveling - hoarding money - since we knew that payment for the apartment would be a bit of a challenge.  The options available to us were bank transfer or cash, and since neither Priscilla nor I have an Australian bank account we opted to go with the cash option.  Since we both also have bank recommended withdrawal limits, this meant that we had to start stockpiling cash a few days in advance to make sure we'd have enough by the time we got to Melbourne.  We met up with Leyla on Sunday afternoon to check out the place and close the deal.  Sitting in Leyla's apartment, counting out bill after bill after bill to cover a month's rent plus a security deposit, it felt (and probably would've looked, to any outsider) like we were doing a drug deal!  But instead of drugs, we got keys to Leyla's apartment and her promise to vacate it by noon the next day.  I was excited!  It had been over a year since the last time I'd stayed in one place for an entire month... and the prospect of not moving around for a bit had left me dreaming about some of the luxuries an apartment would provide - things like unpacking and being able to buy a normal-sized bottle of shampoo without having to carry it around at its full weight.  :)

Melbourne has a lot to offer and some of the things I enjoyed there included great food and drink (sometimes in hard to find places!), the nearby Yarra Valley wine region, and the opportunity to connect with old friends as well as make some new ones.  Part of my original plan was to spend several months in Melbourne and get a job bartending or in a cafĂ©.  After I got to Australia, my travel timelines shifted such that the working part of my working holiday visa is no longer part of the plan, since I won't be anywhere long enough to get hired.  Even so, I was still interested in learning how to make espresso-based beverages and a proper cocktail, so I signed up for a barista course and bartending school.  I really enjoyed both of these - there's something very satisfying about being able to make drinks properly.  An added perk of bartending school was being able to enjoy a cocktail at any time of day with zero judgment :)  The most challenging part of all of this was learning how to froth milk properly... it took some practice, but I got it. Never would I have guessed that I'd want to hear the compliment "nice milk!" - but I did.  In fact, it left me beaming :)

One of the highlights for me was definitely the trip to Philip Island.  I'd heard of this place before we arrived and it seemed a bit surreal - stadium seating on a beach to watch penguins come in from the ocean at dusk?  How exactly did this whole thing work?  When someone I hadn't seen since 1989 offered to take us there on a day trip, I was excited and curious to find out.  Turns out everything I heard is true - every night penguins swim in from the ocean, coming back from their multi-day fish trip feasts.  They gather in teams near the water's edge before finding enough group courage to waddle across the beach to their homes.  The ones who've been home come out excitedly to meet them - especially the hungry young ones who've been waiting for food for days, and who can't identify their parents so they approach everyone who goes by!  These penguins are tiny (~30 cm tall) and so cute to watch.  Some of them are so full that they fall over!  Cameras aren't allowed to protect the little creatures so you'll just have to see it for yourself.

Some other images:

A typical alleyway in Melbourne where you
might find popular bars and restaurants...

...some of my attempts at free-pour latte art :) ...
...and my first creation in bartending school:
A pina colada!