A Travellerspoint blog

Suburbia, Beyond

(...or "Sea to Sky, Sydney Edition")

sunny 19 °C
View The Longest Road To Queensland on stevecrow's travel map.

I wake up to this:

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The enormous girth of this vessel should be impressive but I am, to put it bluntly, quite pissed off this monstrosity is blocking my view of part of the Rocks. I regard cruise ships as simply being gigantic, drawn-out and rigidly mandated tour groups. So this thing, no matter how grand and imposing, never stood a chance with me.

The previous day's trek of 10kms plus overhead has left my legs understandably taxed but otherwise usable - I think. Thankfully, because they are about to be put through the wringer.

On the suggestion of the cordial bartended at Rockpool I set my sights on Centennial Park, an extensive spread of protected wetlands that represent a fundamental natural water catchment for Botany Bay and the surrounding watershed. It waits a paltry 5.3Kms to the south-east of Circular Quay which should provide ample time to forget about the offensive suck-liner in my harbour.

Soundtrack: Warm by Claire Voyant

The brisk and refreshing morning is surpassingly more agreeable than yesterday, even from the onset. I hike lackadaisically down McQuarrie Street and through Hyde Park, very gently steering away from the downtown core. The imposing monoliths of the city concede to humble spans of civilization intended for a more modest suburban lifestyle; although still saturated with countless cafes, bars and other nooks ready to pour, the neighbourhood is also peppered with laundromats, grocers and second-hand clothing stores. There is also ample representation from the curio shop, used book store and tattoo parlour contingent. Every power pole and building wall lacking windows or an entrance is painted in swaths of often homemade posters slinging amateur live music. Very excellent, I thoroughly approve.

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My journey takes me through the sprawling suburbs, past the city Cricket Oval and Fox Studios Australia, along wide tree-adorned pedestrian walkways and eventually foot first into a pile of horseshit. It seems I have found the Equestrian Centre on the edge of Centennial Park.

The park features lagoons decorated in reeds and various other water-born shrubbery; and islands teeming with birds of all shapes, sizes, colours and calls ranging from the charming to the obnoxious.

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I stop for an Indian Spice Chai at a food stand called the Spruce Goose, modelled from an aluminum-sided trailer. Gazing through the crowds and over the fowl-infested waters I admire the entire set-piece with a deeply grounded serenity, save for the brief time I find myself biting my tongue to avoid lecturing some of the families that have brought with them entire loaves of cheap store-bought bread so that their children can feed the potentially aggressive black swans. My inkling to educate them on what a profoundly stupid idea this is - for both the bird and the kid - remains muffled, my sentiment best kept to myself.

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I happen upon a thick copse of trees growing from a dense underbrush, the trail leading into the murk past a sign that proclaims this area to be a swamp of sorts - I didn't really read the sign but rather took a picture to look at later as I am apt to do with signboards. Navigating the moist boardwalks and muddy pathways, I can't help but admire the fact that one would have no idea they were in the heart of a major city, as no real evidence is apparent beyond the thick greenery in any given direction. The incessant bird noises and alien vegetation provide the sensation of being lost in the middle of some tropical rainforest, precluding the moment just before one is pounced on by hungry tiger or speared haplessly and cooked by the local natives. As I progress, I notice the smell...swamps are often pungent of course but this stench has more in common with that of a zoo than of a marsh.

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I stop to take pictures and look up. High up at the top of the trees I observe what appear to be some kind of large blossoms or growths sprouting from the lofty branches. Curious, I look around on the ground trying to locate a previously fallen specimen so that I can get a better first-hand look. I see none - there is nothing on the ground other than mud and plant leaves. I look back up, and only when I see the unexpected movement do I clue in.

I drop my camera bag and quickly swap to a telephoto lens and aim it straight up to confirm my discovery.

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Their wingspans, if what I see is to be taken as an accurate sample, probably average 3 to 4 feet across, on these massive bats I now take childish glee in having found. There are dozens, nay hundreds of these creatures dozing amongst the tree tops, and on occasion I am treated to one deciding it isn't comfortable enough and flying a few metres over to another tree. Simply spectacular! Only when I lift my camera bag off the ground do I realize that this explains the zooish funk, finding I had managed to place it directly in a fresh pile of guano.

On the way out of the swamp I take a closer look at the sign, and there it is, clear as day, on a diagram designed so that the most illiterate small toddler would understand - a section of the crude map featuring happy cartoonish bats, an area known as the "Bat Colony".

It takes a while to wipe the dried bat shit off my camera bag using cold water and my bare hands (I wonder later if I should worry about having contracted some exotic life-threatening, or at least trip-halting, disease) and as much as this should spoil my appetite for the foreseeable future I do notice the time and make the decision that I should move along to my next destination - lunch.

I turn predominantly west with just a smattering of north. The next part of my excursion takes me through Surry Hills, a suburb no less characteristic than many of the others but outwardly a bit worse for wear. The blocks of small and evidently quite old (though still likely prohibitively expensive) apartments are inhabited but showing their age, every one of them - regardless of how well the owners have maintained or upkept - appear ostensibly haunted. I want one.

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I trudge along for kilometres more until I reach Spice Alley - an attraction (?) that has shown up on more than one "to-do-in-Sydney" list - which reveals itself to be little more than an eclectic outdoor Asian food-court. I'm not sure, given the descriptions I have read of the place, exactly what I expected. I resolve that I'm simply famished would not have been very much impressed if the place had been 100ft underground on a floating island in the centre of a subterranean lake lit up with Hydra-fire. The bothersome icing-on-the-cake, if you will, is that none of the food stands accept cash or traditional credit card, instead only allowing payment via a proprietary prepaid card that must be pre-purchased and preloaded. This means I have to visit each stand to peruse their selection (my already thoroughly defunct decision making now impeded by low blood sugar), eventually decide what I want, add up the cost for an exact total, go purchase one of these magic cards, and finally return to the vendor or vendors to order and wait for my selections - and hope that along the way I did not fuck up the math.

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The Singapore chilli chicken is good, if not overpriced for a generous but ultimately food-court quality meal. And now I have an empty Spice Alley prepaid card as a sub-par bonus souvenir.

Some quick calculations and I find I've walked a measly 9Kms and although I had pondered earlier in the throws of self-induced starvation prior to lunch that I might catch a train from Central Station across the street back to Circular Quay, I instead develop some unexplained bravado and head up George Street on foot and walk back to the Pullman, adding another 3.3Kms to my tally.

In my hotel room, I spend as long as possible resting my feet before I have to leave again in order to reach my next stop before it closes for the evening.

I head for the Pylon Bridge Climb, a poor-man's (read: cheap) version of the full Harbour Bridge Climb, but at $15 is less than ten percent of the cost of it's grown-up sibling. I risk missing the 4:45pm final entry time by overshooting the staircase that climbs out of the Rocks onto the Harbour Bridge by a reasonable distance (only adding yet more unnecessary clicks on my day's odometer) and only just reach the entrance platform in time. After paying and climbing the further 200 stairs (this on top of the substantial flight leading from the streets below the bridge, or so it seemed in my current condition) I'm rewarded with a complete panorama of Sydney in all directions...

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...except to the immediate west where the pillar on the opposite side of the road refuses to get out of the way...

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...and that loathsome cruise ship soiling some of the view.

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As the sun marches on towards the horizon I snap bunch of pictures, and then put the camera away and just stand there absorbing the entire experience.

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I only get a few minutes to meditate before everyone is politely ejected for the evening. I head back down into the Rocks and weave through the maze of cobblestone roads, intentionally attempting to find routes I had not yet, to memory, taken. Along the way I smile to myself as I hear the loud blast signalling the departure of my nemesis from the harbour...thank god! My exploring pays out when I find the Argyle, a brick pub distinctively festooned with lofty paper lamps and parasols and a dazzling array of multi-coloured led lights; with a cavernous theme-park-esc ambience inside, and a rugby match on the 'tele' and some live reggae music outside.

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I enjoy a glass or two of house red while absorbing the music and to a lesser extent the rugby (I cannot pretend to know who was playing or any of the rules with which the game is played, but to the outsider I reckon I appeared sufficiently engaged); and after a spell reluctantly return to my room to give my feet and legs some further respite. This go-around tossed a few more (3-ish)kms onto the pile, and this does not include all the stairs.

At this point a wizened man or woman would endorse the virtues of pizza delivery or perhaps justify the breaking of the bank on the laughably overpriced room-service. At the very least, give some leniency to the idea of waiting on a table at one of the crowded cafes within a few paces of my hotel door. Key word: wizened.

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A couple hours later I've walked several more kilometres to Darling Harbour. It isn't much less busy here than at Circular Quay but there appears to be more choice, and besides I love it here and did not want to miss it. I'm saddened to find that the south end of the harbour has been walled off evidently in favour of some condo project or something, and this means several restaurants and the carousel now appear to be hopelessly lost to development. Some brainiac geo-engineering-drop-out decided to make up for this by plunking a tacky Ferris Wheel down on the west side of the harbour, partially blocking the view of the hourly light show from some of the water-side cafes. Grr.

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So many eating choices, and it makes no difference, I don't even look. As the choreographed fountains weave their watery silver screens for the light projections (accompanied by hilariously bombastic classical music pumped through loudspeakers around the harbour - think Apocalypse Now with fountain spray instead of napalm) I head straight to Crinti's (for those who have not subjected themselves to my previous ramblings, Crinti's is a chain "Italian" restaurant on the second level of the building complex on the west side of the harbour. And, well...read on). With all the alluring morbidity of car wrecks or American news headlines, I find myself unable to resist returning here, this now part of my Sydney ritual (please don't ask why). It is of little surprise that the food is debatably acceptable but the service is appalling to the degree that it becomes something of legend. I am almost embarrassed for these servers to observe how under-trained they appear to be (ex. I am offered water, and on agreeing I am then further quizzed on exactly what kind of water: sparkling, spring, tap, etc. Whatever I decided doesn't matter, the water never arrives). The final kick to the nether-region, if you will, is that I have to pay an extra 10% for the privilege of having indulged in this catastrophe of modern dining, simply because it is Sunday (I learn later about Sunday Penalty rates, meaning businesses in Australia are forced to pay more to operate on Sunday, an arguably archaic and out-of-date hold-over of times long past in my opinion...and this modern-day tithe is payed forward to you, the consumer). In conclusion, if you're reading this Criniti's: don't change a thing, you are a wealth of writing material and a goldmine of amusement.

By the time I am hit bed, factoring in the additional 5kms to Darling and back, I gather I've seen about 21Kms of this city today on foot - I should have collected pledges and raised money for something more worthwhile than my own indulgent touristing. Thankfully all the deep-fried delicacies and red meat and mouth-watering artisan bread (oh yeah, and Aussie red) are preventing anything unexpected - like weight-loss, for example - from coming close to bothering my vacation.

My legs are still wobbling...and I'm laying down.

Another morning, another cruise ship, this one older, uglier and somehow more reprehensible than the one the day before.

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It is early still, I intend on walking into the hotel restaurant as it opens. I have plans.

Ok, fine, I confess: if I run the numbers, I've been on, let's see...one...two...-zero- prearranged tours. None. So, I suppose I'm being a touch unfair in my discrimination of tour groups. The point is, one of the items on my to-do list whist in Sydney is to see the Blue Mountains - a massive and iconic national park about a hundred kilometres to the west of the city. You can take a dedicated train there, but as my travel agent pointed out once I reach the main village it could be challenging reaching all the various attractions and viewpoints. My agent recommended some reasonable and *almost* attractive selections of day tours from the city to the area.

To the point: I did not opt for the tour group, mainly because the Blue Mountains have a terrible habit at this time of year of developing an awful case of thicker-than-shit fog, the likes of which would reduce visibility to barely an arms length and render the entire trip a complete waste of time (unless you *love* fog)...and the tour fee is non-refundable in the case of "inclement weathah!"

What to do?

Roadtrip!!!

Soundtrack: Delay by Chiasm

Ok, I confess this was not completely impulsive (really, Steve?) - I had researched car hire companies in the area and the routes to take out of town, I just wanted to wait until I knew the weather would be good enough to risk the trip (if the weather turns out poor, at least I'm on an "adventah").

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(Stock photo, honest...I would not operate my phone whilst driving!)

On this gorgeous morning, I pull away from the Avis in Pyrmont, a suburb just west of Darling Harbour, in a small black Corolla. I preordained this location to avoid having to drive through the downtown core proper and because it was one of the only companies in the downtown area that did not get an absurdly negative customer rating - in fact, the service was quite excellent.

That giddiness I always feel the first time (per trip, of course) I find myself driving on the left side of the road washes over me as the cool breeze carrying the sounds of traffic and the smells of oil-soaked city pavement flow through the open windows of the modest hatchback. This will never get old.

Soundtrack: One Little Victory by Rush (yes, my iPod *went* there)

Fats-forward a hundred or so kilometres west and up - to the small village of Wentworth Falls where I pause for a long black before steering towards my first view point. The moment I step onto the viewing platform into plain view of the heavens I know I made the right choice.

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This is Wentworth Falls, the first of several viewpoints I plan on absorbing today.

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I head back to the highway and proceed to Katoomba, the small (and fantastically named) main hub of the park. From there I proceed a few kms south to Echo Point.

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And on foot down to the legendary Three Sisters rock formations.

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By the way, if you are wondering as I was about the name "Blue Mountains", if you look at these pictures very carefully you will notice the distant forests are not actually engulfed in a haze, as it may appear at first, but rather radiate a natural silvery-blue hue on their own.

My first choice for lunch, a mysteriously named establishment called the Solitary Cafe resting on the scenic Blue Mountains drive, is today feeling much more solitary than usual...and is closed. Slightly discouraged, I head back to Katoomba for food and after enjoying an extremely messy Texan pulled pork sandwich I question the server on other viewpoints to take in around the area, emphasising the fact I was not looking for theme parks (yes there are some here) or blatantly obvious tourist stops (which is most of them).

The cook (not the server, as it turns out she was new to the area) points me out to a few places, one of which I choose because it is technically on my way back towards Sydney (despite my new-found ambition to "live it loose" I am not completely brain-dead and know that if I do not get the peppy little Corolla back by 6pm when the Avis depot closes, I am to put it bluntly "a bit fucked").

The suggestion pans out, the (and I still have no idea how this is actually pronounced) Leora Cascades a peaceful and Zen-filled canyon whose resident brook steps down a natural staircase of a creek bed to eventually cascade over a towering waterfall aptly - though not by any means originally - named Bridal Veil Falls. The land below disappears and I find myself following trails hugging the cliffs.

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All worth every ounce of effort it took to get here.

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There is not much else to tell, trying to do so would almost be a disservice. This place defies both description and photograph (unfortunately for you folks back home).

Soundtrack: Night Still Comes by Neko Case

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Skip to a few hours later and I'm wandering back to the hotel, having made the drop-off time comfortably and with time to spare. The remainder of the evening is unremarkable despite being turned away from my first choice of dining options (the Sydney Cafe in the Customs Building claiming to be 'closed' at least 30 minutes before their advertised shut-down time) and ending up in the Meat and Wine Co. at the Intercontinental Hotel where, I later learned, was mostly enveloped by police barricades due to the presence of certain Trump administration - uh - guys (e.g. Rex Tillerson, for starters). What a downer.

I just finished a single scoop of delicious but disproportionately expensive green tea ice cream I paid $6.90 for at the Quay before retiring to my room for the last time. The second cruise ship has sailed, Vivid is continuing to pound away with spot lights and light projections, and I am thoroughly pooped.

This evening caps off the longest consecutive time I've spent in Sydney, and I feel like I know the city substantially more than ever, but still left lots on the table. Watson's Bay or Manly Beach - in the *sunshine* - for starters. I'd like to say I'm saving it all for next time, but I'm not going to fool myself - there very well may not be a next time. I breathe in, step off the balcony back into my room, and hesitantly close the door. It's time to let go.

Tomorrow I fly to Perth. And if I thought I've done and seen some incredible things, well...I haven't seen anything yet.

Posted by stevecrow 17:30 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

Urban Walkabout, Redux

(...or "The Splendor of the Exeloo")

overcast 16 °C
View The Longest Road To Queensland on stevecrow's travel map.

I wake in a panic. What happened? I'm not completely disoriented, I know where I am, but everything else is up for debate. I remember finishing my last travel blog entry on the balcony and then coming in to prepare for exploring the Vivid light festival and to eventually hunt down some dinner. I suppose I must have laid down for a moment, just a brief moment, but that was enough time for the lights to go out - the already frayed plug powering my brain yanked violently from the socket. I frantically look at the clock radio beside the bed - it reads 10:58. And this is Australia and ergo the clocks are in 24-hour format...so is it 10:58...am???
It's dark outside...and noisy. I reach for my phone to find it is in truth just approaching 8pm. Later I will determine the clock radio is abysmally inaccurate, and can't be changed because a security tether that prevents theft is bolted over the time adjustment buttons (odd that an adequately expensive five-star hotel feels obliged to bolt down their cheap and ultimately ineffectual clock). The oblique time will continue to irritate me, very likely until I leave the room for the last time.
My involuntary nap was perhaps an hour or so. I get up to a Lynchian dream-sequence sensation. My internal time-keeping that I have been intentionally abusing for the last four or five days has been rendered useless. And I can't stop shivering for some reason, the type of shivering that comes with a high fever. It would seem my body has taken this brief window of time to launch a full-on counter-attack for all the shit it's been taking.
A Nespresso shot and hot shower aren't enough to completely alleviate the peculiar cold sensation, I just have to ride it out, and even as I step out into the Vivid crowds right outside my hotel entrance, my overall cognition is still a bit dubious.

Soundtrack: The Same Deep Water As You by The Cure

Vivid is always a somewhat euphoric experience for me; indeed, when you boil it down it's just a big light show, but the ambiance and electricity underscore the elation of being here - I gather this is tapping into the memories of my first trip. Nostalgia often evokes powerful affections of being and place.

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I'm starting to find my pace - and centre of gravity (finally) - and I meander casually up to the opera house, which does not disappoint.

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From the top of the stairs I admire, from a distance, a group of inebriated under-agers sharing a foil bag of cask wine like juvenile hobos. My knee-jerk middle-aged tsk-tsk reaction is quickly replaced by a scathing internal voice that sneers "really...*you're* going to judge?"

I swim through Disney-parade-thick crowds absorbing sights, sounds and smells - the quay-side cafes are deliciously tempting and quaint...and overflowing - and after a reasonable amount of time taking this all in I decide to find food. Not here however, I'd like to eat some time this month.

I head towards one of the restaurants I had earmarked - one that happens to be close by...I'm still just a touch woozy.

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This is the "David Blackmore's Full Blood Wagyu Burger with Bacon, Gruyere Cheese and Zuni Pickle" from the Rockpool near Chiefly Square, an moderately upscale and trendy eatery. Luckily the burger is served in the bar so I do not have to explain my lack of reservation - on a Friday night during Vivid - and be shamed back out onto the street. The burger is $26. And that is without any sides - the fries are another $6 just for the cheap shoestrings (and by the way are totally unnecessary with this burger). And yes, I would pay $26 for another one...it is heavenly; cooked to order, composed of ingredients that were almost all created here, and messier than hell. On a related note, I understand that in Australia red meat isn't actually bad for you. An interesting fact...that I just made up (another comedian quote, I can't take credit).

I interrogate the bartender on places to see and things to do that a local wouldn't lift their nose at - and I do get a few ideas...we'll see if they lead anywhere. I head back to the hotel and climb into bed, wondering if after that unintentional nap earlier if I would be able to actually fall asleep in any reasonable amou-

Soundtrack: One by The Birthday Massacre (I gave the new album a few listens now and can name at least this song when it shows up in the playlist. You needed to know none of this.)

If you find yourself in a strange new place, far away from any familiarity, try to take the bus somewhere. Admittedly, the bus is usually the last resort...for pretty much anything. But without knowing the transit routes, and relying solely on Google Maps for (hopefully) current information, there is something to be said about handing a stranger a handful of change and placing your life in her/his hands, because (s)he is going to strand you somewhere you've never been before. And you need to find your way back.
The following day I do just this to reach a place called the Spit Bridge - this is the starting place for a popular Sydney coastal walk aptly (and blandly) titled the "Spit to Manly Coastal Walk".

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In the past I've walked the Coogie to Bondi coastal walk as well as the Balmoral Head walk, so this just seems like the right thing to do on a beautiful day like today.

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Ok, formally beautiful. It was nice when I left the hotel.

The walk is, much like the Balmoral Head walk, one of contrast and juxtaposition. The forested trails and beachfront paths don't necessarily clash with the recurring spans of exorbitantly posh and unquestionably very expensive houses clinging to the waterfront cliffs so much as they flaunt a real effort made to demonstrate that unbridled nature can peacefully coexist with the lifestyles of a very select few and the pipe-dreams of a great many others.

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A point-by-point commentary on the complete walk - a surprisingly lengthy 10kms - would grow tiresome very quick, and pictures are far better equipped to carry the narrative this time. So here's a whack of them.

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Suffice to say the trek is pieced together with corridors of lush green rainforest, stretches of beach comprised of a characteristically orange-yellow sand, residential sections ranging from “dream on” to “release the hounds!”, eventually elevating up to epic vistas of the harbour in all its grandiose spectacle.

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As much as I would love to delight you with one or more flimsy excuses as to why I predominantly wear black (spoiler: you would not be at all incorrect to venture a guess that it's mainly because I'm a miserable klutz), I'll spare you the tedium and instead just point out that on this day I made the decision to wear instead a light grey stretch t-shirt. My point?

I begin the walk in what felt like a comfortable 16 degree overcast day but by the time I'm a few kilometres into the walk, and despite the fact that I have already had a few episodes of very light rain, I feel that the jetlag is still lingering and I don't know about you, but when I'm physically exhausted...I sweat for no good reason. Combine this with the fact that I've been wearing my (black) backpack laden with extra camera lenses and water. So, when I take the backpack off for a rest I find that my entire back is one big gross wet mess.
And then at one of the lookouts I lean over a metal rail to get a better angle on a picture, and without thinking I hang my arm over this rail. Remember, its been raining. And the rail is soaked. And now so is my armpit. There is no explaining this properly to anyone bereft of context...it would be as useless as trying to explain a soaked crotch as the consequence of a direct hit to the groin with a water balloon. No one will listen.
I should point out; this trail is very busy. I guess I'm wearing my backpack and keeping my arm down for a while.

Ok, yes; the walk is amazing, but I think the real highlight of the walk, an unspoken attraction if you will, is a remarkable monument to human technological achievement at the Forty Baskets Beach. It is called "the Exeloo". This astonishing advancement in elimination-on-the-go is a testament to what we as a species can do when we truly find a calling or purpose.

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After three and a half hours I'm slightly bummed to find that I'm not even two thirds along the walk, and so when I see a public toilet I know to take advantage of opportunities when the present themselves. I head up the walk to find a dilapidated park toilet shack. And attached to it is a strange metal...closet (a time machine? Suicide booth?). There is a flashing green light next to the open door that invites me in. Inside, it appears like any other ugly dull-steel adorned toilet. There is no handle on the door though, instead beside it a small button. I press it.

The door slides closed as a commanding voice announces "THANK YOU FOR USING EXELOO. YOUR MAXIMUM ALOTTED TIME IS 10 MINUTES." And I shit you not, as the door slides shut it plays the Star Trek door sound effect. I'm then treated to a jazzy elevator-music rendition of Dionne Warwick's "What the World Needs Now".

Once I'm done I notice that the only way to flush the toilet...is to wash my hands. So, this contraption is also well-equipped to enforce good bathroom hygiene as well.

On my way out I'm amused to read that after 10 minutes if you're still in there, an alarm will go off.

I try to contain myself as I continue my journey, a better person now for having partaken in the ritual of the Exeloo.

I should mention that for most of the walk I have been pretty much outrunning a mild storm that keeps showing up overhead and splattering me with a hazy rain but lingering in place long enough for me to emerge from it before it can do any serious damage to my morale. I chuckle a bit to myself on more than one occasion, thinking there was no way I'd get rained out of Manly Beach again, would I?

Fast-forward to me finally stepping foot on the Manly Corso, sore and a bit worn down but otherwise satisfied with the accomplishment. The wind has kicked up but the dark clouds have remained back a safe distance away over the inner harbour.

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I reward myself by locating a cozy - and quiet - wine bar called Good Hope and indulge in a glass of Cabernet and tapas (in presentation at least, in price we could argue for or against) of trout pastrami with creamed horseradish, apple shavings, and citrus jelly. I'm thoroughly enjoying my spoils when...and I can't explain this...the back of what I took initially to be a bar filled with what appeared to be some little-league team; a small army of six-to-seven-year-olds and their gaggle of obviously alcoholic parents (perhaps an ignorant assessment, but why else would you bring a kid’s sports team *here* after a match...I mean, one -entire- wall of this place is -wine-!!!). As the little vermin break into loud song, the bartender puts a failing effort into hiding what can only be construed as abject horror on her face. I most assuredly mirror her expression. So clearly this is my cue to move along.

I'm putting my jacket on and look outside...

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to find it *pissing* rain. Please pardon my colourful parlance, but fuck you Manly Beach.

Really this should be funnier (and to be fair, Manly Beach is not at fault here), had it not been for my safe-place being invaded by the Village of the Damned. And as I find a seat on the outside front of the ferry that will take me back to Circular Quay I'm already finding the humour in the situation. It helps that the rain has had its fun with me and vanished into the black recesses of the horizon - it stayed just long enough to adequately wet me down somewhat on the walk from Good Hope to the wharf. After departing, the ferry becomes an amusement ride of sorts - I'm convinced that the driver is intentionally sailing head-first into the waves - and with each list forward, each violent slam into water, and each brief launch back upwards - the crowd on the bow (mostly teenagers) erupts into a squeal of shrieks and laughter. And I confess, it is pretty fun. I record some of the audio on my phone so that later I can recall how with no real context it sounds very much like dozens of people being tortured to death in most profoundly terrible ways.

Dolphin-duty has been taken up by seagulls here, the sleek and noble birds (I type with dripping sarcasm) flying in perfect lock-step with the vessel. I'm venturing there were union troubles and let's face it, seagulls have been rightly referred to as worse things than 'scabs'.

As we steer towards Circular Quay it becomes apparent why so many people have packed onto the small deck in the wet and the cold (well cold to them...I'm fine). As we sail around one of the points the Harbour Bridge comes into full view, and there is a collective gasp. The light display on the bridge is a brilliant beacon of light and colour in the distance, emphasized by the spot-lights coming off the cruise ship terminal on the west side of the quay. As we get closer you can see the flashing displays of Vivid on the otherwise shadowy buildings of the city centre. It is such a different angle to see it all from; and as the water becomes calmer, the crowd grows quieter, the overall atmosphere not dissimilar to that of a Disney fireworks display (second Disney comparison…interesting).

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As we pull into the harbour the Vivid displays are now the focus of all attention, the opera house swirling with sophisticated cartoonish art. The culmination of everything from the moment I clambered onto the bus this morning to the instant I walk off this ferry is now a sum of all parts, the day now a new facet of my character (well perhaps that is a bit much but you get my drift). Reflecting on everything that has happened today, I could not have planned for - nor wanted - anything different. Except perhaps less rain. And fewer sweat stains. And, like, way fewer children in my wine bar. #stevesydneyproblems.

It is bizarre to consider that the well-earned feast of medium-rare Kangaroo at the historical Rocks Cafe across the quay is by all accounts the denouement for day two. Indeed, those who know me, or have at minimum perused my previous Aussie ramblings at least once, would be quick to point out - though perhaps not out loud in fear of encouraging my evangelical love of this dish - that this should have been the highlight. But alas the luscious beasty had stiff competition today, and further more although the meal is magnificent in its own right it is simply not the best Roo I've had. To be fair I feel that I've had it enough now to be able to judge.

I drift for a bit through the Saturday night hooliganism that downtown Sydney has contracted as a result of the immense crowds of Vivid mixing with the staggering number of bars, pubs, patios and restaurants that adorn every street block, alleyway and arcade of the CBD. Even large swaths of normally functional sidewalks have been annexed with temporary outdoor watering holes. There simply is no shortage places you can stand more than a few paces away from some establishment whose signage not-so-subtly begs the question "why are you not in here getting drunk?"

Even from the relative comfort of my room the distant screeching, whooping, hollering and occasional cacophony of what sounds like something that sounds quite smash-able irrevocably being smashed suggest the tolerance level of otherwise abhorrent behaviour has been artificially lifted a touch, if for no other reason than what is assuredly thinly-stretched resources. That, or maybe this is what a "fun" city is supposed to sound like in the throws of nightly celebration.

I'm really not the right person to ask. I'm too busy finishing my laundry.

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Posted by stevecrow 03:40 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

Moment to Moment

(...or "No Sleep 'Till Sydney")

sunny 10 °C
View The Longest Road To Queensland on stevecrow's travel map.

===Part I: South by Southeast.===

Soundtrack: The Devil's Back by The Pretty Reckless.

The day is muted, sunny without being bright, cloud-mottled but without any real hint of gloom. The daytime shadows of the street lamps and other vehicles on the road are unusually well defined.
On my last trip to Australia (or was it India?) I felt obliged to justify why I was going back again, to myself, my family, whoever; it's not that Oz isn't an amazing place that doesn't already demand multiple return visits in one's lifetime (if you aren't lucky enough to live there already). But to keep going back alone, without family or friends, not even a single tour group. Well, the former is explained well enough by simple logistics: costs, jobs, school, spending too much time with me etc. And I think I have made clear my position on exploring Australia from the 'comfort' of a bus - that I'm not driving and hence have no control over - with a bunch of people that I don't know that have cameras nailed to their faces. Okay, that was a touch cynical, but you get it.
No, for some reason there is that lingering compulsion to attach some meaning to it all, to find some unresolved facet of my personality hidden deep in the nether of my psyche that, given the ideal conditions - a vast and savage landscape, a seemingly endless road stretching to both horizons, total perfect solitude - will come bursting into my consciousness and Eureka! I finally understand! I get it! I am now a much better person...and I can go home now.
Driving to the airport, I make a promise to myself. Stop looking for the meaning. Instead, pay attention to each and every moment as it's happening. Try to stop always thinking about the next destination, the next moment, the next major event. Stop over planning everything...because that incessant mental fast-forward isn't helping to experience life as you might think, it's more like just binge-watching all the trailers.
It's difficult though. Travelling for me is a series of habits, rituals, and checkpoints. To me it really is about the journey, but I often find myself playing the journey out like a coach in the dying moments of a championship match. I suppose there is benefit in this approach; for example, I'm rarely taken by surprise by anything (at least anything in my control), because every moment has often been preconceived in some way, and many of the possible outcomes already accounted for. But perhaps that's where I'm missing some of the fun. Or doom...who knows.
Already the rituals are shifting, evolving. For the first time (when travelling to Australia anyway) I'll be flying out of Vancouver International Airport instead of SeaTac. I was initially a bit disappointed that this turned out to be cheaper (like *way* cheaper) than skipping down to my second home Seattle for an extra night, but in the long run this is, I suppose, far more convenient - particularly for the return trip. Getting to YVR from my home in Maple Ridge however is no less maddening than travelling down the I5 to SeaTac, it's just a shorter slice of time.
One ritual sure is sticking though: the first real entry in my travel blog being a barely coherent ramble about pretty much nothing at all. Happy to see some things don't change. You're welcome.

An uneventful flight from Vancouver is greeted with a Los Angeles that, for whatever reason, is dressed up as the apocalypse this evening. A thick sheet of marine cloud has swallowed the entire Greater Los Angeles area, except just over downtown where the buildings would be almost high enough to scrape the underside of the murky blanket; instead the clouds have parted around the city core, bathing the skyscrapers in bright white and yellow sunlight and swirling vapours of white cloud. From a distance, the city looks like it is burning in a fire not of this earth. A super cheery thought, but it is really the best way to describe it; unfortunately my camera isn't able to really capture what I saw, not from the airplane window. This pic gives you a hint, so I guess the scene was for me alone to appreciate.

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And...it happened already. I have made an ass of myself. There were lots of folks from Australia on my Vancouver to LA connecting WestJet flight (I guess Wednesdays is when everyone from Oz goes home from abroad!) and as I was getting up to leave I was inquiring with the couple behind me if they were headed home. They said yes, Australia. I nodded yes, but where abouts. They replied Brisbane, and I of course then had to tell them I was heading to Sydney...and despite my ill-placed I'm-part-of-your-club-enthusiasm this of course had as much relevant importance really as mentioning to them that just like them, I also wear shoes. Their mostly unimpressed (and justifiably so) response soaked in that dead-pan Aussie wit was simply "well, I guess we won't be seeing you then, aye?"
But that wasn't the ass-making - as I was having this quick and pointless chat it turns out I was holding up the line to leave the plane and when noticing this I quickly reached up into the overhead bin and grabbed for my black bag and in the same motion started quickly walking down the aisle. Several raised voices behind me, and then "Hey mate! That's *our* bag!". Yes, I had grabbed someone else's bag and was stealing it like the most incompetent thief imaginable - not just because I took it right in front of them, but also because the bag I left them with - my bag - well, I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest it was probably worth far more than their bag as it contained all my camera equipment...and all my Australian money - and let's just say lots of it.

But sometimes good planning can pay off, right? After two trips to Australia totaling four long-haul flights accompanied by restless sleep, bursting bladders and never finding the comfortable spot to shove my blood-swelled feet under the seat, I got wise. I spent extra money on one of those "extra leg room" seats, but unlike what this would mean on a domestic Canadian or American flight (possibly giving you 4 to 5 extra inches) my seat instead has not only no seat in front, such that I can stretch my legs as far as they will go; but I can also get up any time I want without interrupting anyone. Brilliant, right? And it doesn't end there - this time I remembered ear plugs and one of those sleep mask thingies. I'm all set, right? I just need to push myself until exhaustion simply whips me out of this world, soothed by the vibration of this still seemingly impossible machine soaring more than 10 kilometres above the Pacific Ocean. I'll finally get some sleep on one of these damned flights.

I'm writing this now around 4am Sydney time after possibly squeezing out a total of maybe 2 to 3 hours sleep total in the last 10 hours of the flight, in small increments of at best 30 seconds at a time. I guess it wasn't meant to be. You see, there was a catch with this seat. Not only is it right beside the galley, but it's also right beside the "baby" seats that have little fold-down bassinets on the wall in front of them. They are kind of adorable. Almost as adorable as the perhaps 4-or-5-month-old little girl who cried and complained and screeched like a plastered uncle at an already awkward family reunion that's taken a turn for the worse.
All...night.

Soundtrack: Nothing. I'll explain.

My 'knife trick' breezes me through quarantine at Sydney Airport again (I declare my camping knife as a possible illegal weapon on the customs form, and I end up in a separate line and proceed to explain to the nice customs gentleman I was "just playing it safe". A sideways and somewhat disparaging look later and I'm skipping most of the line and leaving the terminal without my bags having been x-rayed. Not that I'm against that, but hell this is way faster. (I'm not playing the system, promise - please don't flag me!)
I step out into what us Canadians would call a brisk fall sunshine, or refreshing spring morning hinting at an early summer but what most Sydney denizens simply refer to as "fucking cold". Perhaps it's the exhaustion turning to delirium, but I'm now totally into this whole "suck in every moment" thing. I stand outside the international terminal, breathing in the chilly morning breeze (which is, in retrospect, probably mostly composed of taxi exhaust) just being thankful for every decision (and let's be fair - these could have been good *or* bad) that led me here again. As I'm waiting for the train to take me into the city centre I'm tempted to grab my headphones and add some appropriate background music to this epiphany, but I stop myself. For some reason I think, if I'm going to really take this all in, I need to have all my senses embellishing and firing on all cylinders. Yup...complete exhaustion, now perhaps bordering on mania.
I make my way to Circular Quay - which this time, really *is* my stop (P.S. I'll be making lots of references to my previous blogs to compensate for a general lack of original content - you've been warned and I make no apologies!). Again, I move slow, gazing stupidly at every building and every highlight off the water and every dirty seagull scrounging for whatever (and I'm not sure if I've mentioned this previously, but seagulls here sound different, more abrasive and demanding...yes, they have their own Aussie accent...shit, I don't mean Aussies sound demanding and abrasive...I think...just, never mind).

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I'm not surprised to find my hotel - the opulent waterfront Pullman Grand Quay (yes, I'm spoiling myself, considering what I'll be putting myself through starting in about a week's time) - does not have a room ready. And I'm happy, but again not surprised when they graciously allow me the use of the pool shower to refresh after the flight. I am, however, a bit stopped in my tracks to find the pool shower is simply an open-air shower beside the pool...in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows facing Circular Quay. I guess I'm showering in my bathing suit to avoid another Broome situation (see note above about previous blogs).
A shower...a swim...some time in the jacuzzi…and one more swim later, and I'm let loose on Friday Morning Sydney. My new-found approach to travelling does something to the effect of thinking "I should head towards the Telstra store on George Street to get sim cards for my cell phone and tablet", and then promptly heading in the opposite direction for no real reason to instead indulge in some gluten and dairy and sugar free pancakes at a small outdoor cafe in the Rocks. And to paraphrase a comedian (I cannot remember who it was at the moment) you know what these pancakes could have used? Gluten. (And I will also add that they could have used milk and sugar). I'm not knocking the thought, but those weren't pancakes, no matter what the laid-back Aussie beatniks running that place might tell you. The bacon was freaking awesome though.
Let's just summarize my first day in Sydney as wandering without real purpose or destination; simply sucking in the sounds, the sights, the smells - many familiar in a such a way as I felt as if I had arrived home.
And I ran into this guy.
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It all culminated with a late lunch on the quay at the foot of my hotel watching the sun slowly set behind the harbour bridge (silhouetting the bridge climbing group on top of the arch) and me thinking: this is your reward for whatever it is that you have contributed to this world.

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Of course, the footnote (or punchline if you will) on this is that if I have not actually contributed anything really good to this world, things might go straight south sooner than later and when I least expect it.

Soundtrack: Some song from the new Birthday Massacre album - I have no idea which one, it just came out today.

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I watched the last of the sun set and the beginning of the Vivid light festival from the twilight from the balcony of my waterfront suite.

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As I finish this entry the light festival is getting into full swing: the Museum of Contemporary Art has been transformed into a huge animated sentient being, the bridge alight in rapidly changing colours, and I'm guessing the opera house is strutting its own incredible exposition - I don't know because I can't quite see it from here. So, I'll sign off for now and go wander through the crowds and the light and appreciate the good fortune that has led me here...and relish in the fact...this is only day one.

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Posted by stevecrow 18:24 Archived in Australia Comments (3)

Prologue

(...or "Trying To Adjust Your Sleep Schedule Before Travel By Staying Up Until 4am Nurtures Weird Thoughts...")

sunny 16 °C

Previous blogs from Australia:
The Crow Down-Under, 2012
The Crow Down-Under Again, 2014

(This is a test...)

June 18, 2014; Melbourne, Victoria, Australia...
"...Good on ya, mate!" the man, a tall rugged Outback character named Mick, genuinely complimented me as we rode the elevator up together after spending the evening in the hotel bar yammering on about travelling throughout Australia...while politely acknowledging the argument put forth by the gentleman from New Zealand regarding the superiority of their white wines...and simultaneously torturing some poor fellow from Minnesota who had spent a bit too much time double-fisting the Jameson that evening. This Outbacker (is that a word?) Mick was sincerely happy that someone from almost half a world away made such a trek to explore and cherish the land he was born in, grew up in, and spent his life roaming; someone that figured out that seeing Australia from the window of a tour bus would have been barely scratching the surface of what this country was. Someone who "got it".
Yet even then I was still haunted a bit by a question he had put to me earlier in the evening; the exact words are long gone now, but essentially he asked if I would have enjoyed my trek through the remote Outback of Western Australia more had I had been with other people, or even just another person. Not alone, in so many words.

That was three years ago, and I still don't have a good answer to that question. To this day I still believe the experience of travelling through the heart of a remote country with other people would be no less rewarding than a lonely solo trek...but neither would it be any better. Just...different.

And I suppose it's a moot point anyway, because I'm doing it all over again. I suppose this is my Hangover Part 3 (with fewer giraffes...maybe).

The Longest Road To Queensland

The Longest Road To Queensland

I'm treating this as (...possibly?) my final solo trip to the Outback, and as such...this will be a big one ;) I'll be revisiting a few places I loved from my first two trips, as well as exploring a bunch of new places. If the plan sticks (and that is always a shaky assumption) I'll be *almost* circling the country - flying into Sydney as usual, then hopping over to Perth. From there it will be a long five weeks of 4WD camping, through the remote desert heart of Western Australia to the exotic gorges of the Kimberly, across the vastness of the Top End and finally along the tropical frontiers of northern Queensland. The road trip end in Cairns with a scuba tour of the Great Barrier Reef (or what's left of it), and finally the trip finishes off in Brisbane because...well, why not?

All in, this will be about 46 days in Oz, and although I can't promise that I won't be recycling lame jokes, using too many run-on sentences (and brackets), not proofe reeding properly, or otherwise really writing anything meaningful or interesting at all...I can promise that if traditions are upheld, I *will* make an ass of myself at least once. And really...that's what it's all about.

If you want to follow along, I'd love to have you.

We take of in about 39 hours. Talk to you then!

Posted by stevecrow 00:41 Archived in Canada Comments (2)

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