Australia

Can I just say,  that despite being half determined not to, I seriously like Australia. I can say with 99% certainty I will at some point in my life come back here. It’s not that ridiculous kind of ‘love/lust’ for a place like Fiji – where deep down it’s an amazing fling but you know it’s not forever. It’s a slow burner, where you’re happy and content in a place, and you know you guys have a future together.  Insert love heart here.

Let this be lesson to my much naive self. Only 6 weeks ago Andreas, Thea and I sat on Mana Beach Fiji, BITCHING away about Australia. She’d lived here, and Andi and I just presumed it would be like NZ. Yuk. I vividly remember Thea flinging a $50p piece into the ocean in a joking rage, just to get it out of her purse. We all laughed. We all changed our flights to get out of here sooner. Oh ye of little faith. Some of my all time best memories have been here, travel and otherwise.

Maybe it’s moving at supersonic speed through the big wild world, or hitting the 6 month mark (15th Sept, woop/sob) but my short term memory is starting to blur. I feel like Drew Barrymore in 50 First Dates (watched it on the 12h Rainbow to Cairns bus this week). Where you have so many amazing memories you can’t cling onto them all. (I know this wasn’t the premise of the film, but it’s kind of the same.)

I’m being strict with myself and sticking with the formula. Having just clicked back to South America I see I narrowed it down to five ‘loves/hates’ so painful as it is:

Loved:

1)      The kindness of strangers –  From chicks in bars being super chatty, to randoms on trams helping you the second you get a map out, to Ebony/Tim/Brett’s hospitality and opening up their beautiful homes. (And Joe/Dan & Dana but technically you two aren’t Ozzy.) So many people here are genuinely super friendly, and in such a chilled way it’s not too keen or loaded, it’s just, you know, nice?! Ozzy’s love to show off their country.

2)      Tattoos & general eye candy  – My theory on tattoos it really suits some people, and Ozzies are those people. It helps when you parade round in singlets and wetsuits pulled down to the waist I guess, or surf, sail, generally strut around looking fit. I challenge you to find any single oz (girl or guy) anywhere in the world that doesn’t have a tattoo. There’s no prize. It’s merely for fun.

3)      Clothes – Oh my god the clothes. Never have there been so many gorgeous shops filled with exactly my taste. It’s like a fantasy world in which I would look this good, if only I had money to burn, and not living out of a backpack.  I can’t even talk about Sydney’s Glebe vintage markets again. I can’t, it’s just too painful.

4)      This is an odd one, as in it’s a perfectly reasonable thing to like, but it’s not the most obviously place for an epiphany, (I’ve had a few here). Sydney Fish Markets. What can I say, I visited Leeds markets almost every week for a year, yet it didn’t do much for me. However strolling through this place with my one Oyster in the mid-day sunshine, made me completely visualise coming shopping for dinner on a weekend and living here. In that moment I fell a little bit in love.

5)      (Ok, I’m going to cheat.) I fell a little in love in all of these places; Brunswick Street Melbourne, Walking over Ebony’s bridge in the twinkly 4am Melbourne lights, star gazing on The Great Ocean Road Yanapay road trip, sharing seafood & red wine on a warm Bondi evening, Sydney’s Hyde Park fountain, Sydney Botanical Gardens, Sydney Opera house (so basically every last inch of Sydney. I’ll move on, you get it.)That day kite surfing and chilling on the beach in Surfers, cruising Frasers wild coasts, diving on the Reef.

6)      (Ok, I’m breaking my own rules completely, there are 6 ‘likes’) But as most of the above are all place related, I just want to add a few that are people related too; Sky’s touching soliloquy on love in the crazy Melbourne play, Jen& Emma’s friendship waiting 90 mins in the dark/cold with me for a bus they weren’t even catching . Matt/Mark/Emily’s continuing love, and what’s bound to be a highlight of my life; the fact if we can’t all stay in Surfers Paradise forever we can sure as hell can take Surfers to Thailand. Full Moon Party Oct 12thpeople!

I could take or leave (Ok just leave):

1)      Yes it’s expensive if you aren’t earning Ozzy wages. Although, TBF it’s nowhere near as bad as everyone makes out. People try and put the fear of god into you, banging on about how bananas cost $17 a kilo. This is true, but only because of the droughts/bush fires that shortened stock supplies this summer. Just live without bananas then, you silly whingeing backpackers. Go crazy, eat an apple or something. Here’s the deal. Lots of stuff is exactly England’s prices. Pub grub is £8-10, trains/buses the same, sushi is actually probably cheaper. Win. The thing is that unless you hunt out bargains at superhuman effort (which for me lasted about a day) then it’s kind of easy to spend a fortune. You can’t/shouldn’t put a price on fun though can you.

2)      Working holiday visas and such talk. This goes for New Zealand too. (Poor NZ, I’m still hating on it 2 months later.) God the hostel kids are all over this here. No I am not planning to work. (They look at you like you are the Sultan of Brunei when you reveal this and then presume you are super-loaded.) I have no desire to stand in a field and pick fruit for 10p a week, so please stop trying to brainwash me into the idea. Misc Essex 18-30 holiday types keep bragging how they earned a few grand picking peas (not sure how many years it took um.) Then they blew the lot partying up the East Coast? It’s exactly like people that live in Ibiza handing out club flyers in exchange for a free shot every fortnight. You are being had mate. They all do it of course as it’s a requirement of your second year visa. I get it. And I should have pre-empted this rant by saying I haven’t turned into an elitist job-snob. I’m lucky enough to have saved enough to not have to work, I know. But GOD do they like talking about it. A girl actually spent an hour explaining the crisis of bruised grapes and their journey to our supermarket shelves. Step away from the production line lady. Someone give this chick a day off.

3)      Boganism – So the TV is completely dumbed down and catered for the lowest common denominator. But it’s no wonder. Pretty much anyone over the age of 30 here is a bit like one of  the characters from ‘The Castle.’ (NZ film that rips into chavy backwards Australians) Most bus drivers or anyone in customer services have an attitude that make you eternally grateful for being English and from a (slightly) more liberal/culturally evolved society. You do have to actually question whether it’s really 2011 most days with some Ozzy’s moronic attitudes towards race/sexuality/women/immigration/politics, I could do on. And this was in the cities, I didn’t even venture into the outback. A huge downside, but perhaps in 50 years or so they might have caught up to the political correctness bandwagon. Here’s hoping.

4)      Box jellyfish, dingoes, blue bottle jellyfish, sharks, snakes, spiders and generally anything/everything else out to kill you (red goon?) in this bad land. God, what’s your problem Australia. Why so hostile.

5)      The fact that I had to rush up the coast so fast that I had to bump off Magnetic Island (Wildlife Mecca) from my plans. I really wanted to go there and cuddle a Koala. Where else am I going to be able to go that? China – I thought to myself before realising I’m stupid and that they were in fact Panda’s. Upps. Although I wonder which hugs better? Either way, both are going straight on my new ever evolving to do list.

6)      So finally, if there’s one thing I hate about Australia, it’s myself for changing my flights to leave earlier L However I can’t take it back. I have myself a Singapore Grand Prix to get to!

Where I stayed:

Ches Motley, Melbourne (aka Joe’s house)
Ches Thomas summer house (aka MTV cribs) Great Ocean Road
Noah Hostel, Bondi Beach (Accidently, mid-key gate)
Ches Dan and Dana, Bondi Beach
Aquarius Backpackers, Byron Bay
Couple O’Days, Surfers Paradise (Heart it)
Brisbane City Backpackers
Mooloolaba Beach Backpackers
Pippies Backpackers, Rainbow Beach
Magnum Backpackers, Airlie Beach
Globetrotter Backpackers, Cairns

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Cairns & The Great Barrier Reef, QLD, Australia

Cairns and GBR 045Dam you Australia and yet another totally lovable city. I feel like I’m cheating on Sydney/Melbourne et al, but Cairns is pretty dam fine.  Big backpacker scene, nice lagoon (if you don’t mind the crocodiles,) tropical weather, Rusty’s Asian market. What’s not to like.

Let’s cut to the chase though however.

The Great Barrier Reef.

Wow. No, like seriously, wow.

Not the reef itself per say. One reef is much like the other – bits of underwater fossils/rock really aint it. (Sorry Geology Rocks (Nikk) don’t shout at me.) The wow is reserved the most awesome tick box of a pretty jam packed week; scuba diving. (It’s been a good one for things to do before you die: Fraser, Whitsunday’s, now this.)

I’m not sure how it happened, maybe seeing Callum and Andreas do their PADI Open Water course(diving qualification) in Fiji. Or possibly my new found love for snorkelling.  Either way a seed was planted.

Brochure talk alert: “Sail to Michaelmas Cay; a picturesque reef sand island home to over 20,000 seabirds (mores’ the pity the little sods). It’s one of the most important beautiful spots in the Southern Hemisphere….” Yes please.

The morning was dreamy. I led up on deck in the blazing sun with my new yacht friends, Joanna (Poland) and Eleanor (UK). Elaine – is was so like the Girlicious video! Then we anchored and the nerves kicked in.

Here’s what we learnt in our 10 min ‘how to deep sea dive’ briefing. I’m happy to pass on this vast knowledge. You’re welcome.

1)      Don’t forget to ‘equalise’ as you go down. AKA pop your ears.

2)      A round A-OK sign means S’all good. Thumbs up means ahh I want a cuddle, get me up and out of here! Important not to confuse the two, despite them defying all logic and your natural instincts.

3)      Try to keep calm & remember to breath. Possibly the most ridiculous advice since ‘Don’t run at the Dingo’s’ earlier this week.

Apparently that’s all there is to it?!

Flippers – check, wet suit – check, tank that’s heavier than me on my back on – check. Ready to hit the open ocean then. Here goes.  The plan is you hold onto a metal bar just off the boat and practice your ‘skills’ i.e. clearing your mask underwater (snort through your nose like a walrus in case you were wondering). The other is what to do if you lose your air breathy thing (yep, I really should have been paying more attention, I’m sure this isn’t the technical term.)

It’s hard to accurately remember my real stream of consciousness, but it was something along the lines of:

“WTF, like WT actual F! To hell with diving – I want to pop my head above water, I to breathe through my nose! I don’t even like fish! I’m not sure I want hundreds of massive Nemos touching me! I hate being cooooold.” I could go on.

 Actually it was cold, but my adrenalin was kicking in to such an extent that this was the least of my problems. Kelly (the instructor) then comes along, presses some red button (never good is it) that deflates your life jacket and (literally) prises your hands off the bar to drags you to stage two. Downwards. The next bar you hold is 5 meters under. Sounds like nothing, but it’s the make or break bit.

It was by far the most bizarre sensation of my entire life. Breathing underwater; it’s not right is it. And breath you do, 100 times the rate of normal, thinking to yourself, ‘I know they’ve accounted for this and given us all extra oxygen, but how much extra, how much breathing is too much breathing???’

Physically it wasn’t that that demanding. It’s more mind of matter.  All you have to do is not bottle it.

The following got me through:

1)      What would I have to blog about, the fact that I nearly went diving on the GBR? I don’t think so. Anyway, Traveller Kim is made of tougher stuff.

2)      Don’t for one second allow yourself to think too hard about all spooky stuff that’s down there. Don’t think it, I said don’t think it! Or similarly how inconceivably insignificant you are in the vastness of it all. (Get me, I’m talking like it’s the first NASA space mission, aren’t I.)

Internal angst completed, eventually all of the panic subsides. You calm the hell down. You remember to breath (not as silly advice as I first thought) and you open your eyes.

It was totally like opening bit of Titanic; the creepy/shaky underwater bit, where they’re looking for that Heart of the Ocean bling. Apart from instead of the little robot-cam, you realise it’s actually you down there!

We’re under about 30 minutes in total. And just to clarify there’s no third bar, you let go completely and off you go (following Kelly) into the big wide fish tank that is the Coral Sea.

 At first you see the same stuff you do when you snorkel; giant clams, huge psychedelic schools of fish, hundreds of crabs fellas that poke their heads out of tiny rock and sand crevices. My favourite was Mr giant turtle who sauntered past minding his own business. I swear he looked magical.

Obviously it’s a hugely visual experience, but surprisingly your lesser used senses do all kick in. You can feel the presence of things around you before you see them, and you become develop a special awareness for how deep you are based on the popping in your ear cavities and the changes in temperature. And now i’m talking like I was morphing into Echo the Dolphin. But honestly as the pressure engulfs you and it it’s just utter stillness/silence it’s, perversely, utterly calming.

Let’s keep it real though, it wouldn’t be a funny story unless there was some kind of drama. Plus I already trailed it on facebook; The shark. Yes, I’ll repeat it; The Shark. A baby white tip hiding in his little coral cave he was. I looked at him, he at I. We had an understanding….

Like hell we did! I squealed of course and tried to run (although swimming might have been more productive) then remembered I was underwater. Then laughed at my own silliness. Which believe me is not a good idea with a regulator (ooh yeay I remember what it was called!) in your mouth. I had to put to use my extensive training – desperately blowing out air to clear it. Keep calm carry on and all that.   

So, yeah. I’m now a diver (well, introductory diver at a baby 10 – 15 meters) but hey I have a certificate and everything.

Us girls were pretty much hysterical with giddiness for the rest of the afternoon, and reiterated the words ‘amazing’ & ‘out of this world’ to anyone that would listen.  Incidentally, another cool interlude of the day was riding in a submarine. Worth a mention I thought, any normal day that would be big news, but today it’s a bit of an anti-climax. Worth adding to my James Bond repertoire mind you.

Funny how something you swore you would never do becomes one of the best things you could ever do. I seriously hope I’m not linking back to this post in 6 months raving about sky diving/bungee jumping. Although travel does funny things to you. *Note Appendix A:  My ‘Never say never’ disclaimer.

Oh, and the ‘funniest’ bit (I use the word, err wrongly? – is it is no laughing matter) was the following conversation that I had with a French travel agent girl when I booked it all:

Me: (Reading the health and safety waver that they make you sign) “Oh, I see you’re not really meant to fly 24h after diving?” (The drastic messing with pressure can give you the bends & you end being airlifted away to a decompression tank, forever bankrupt as it’s not covered on travel insurance.)

Her: “Yes, It’s dangerous, but it’s only an Intro dive so you should be ok as long as it’s not within 12 hours.”

Me: “Sure that’s fine. It’s my flights tomorrow evening” (I lied, it was at midday). “Out of interest, what might happen….”

Her:  “Well it’s your head really. It might…..(Searching for the word/translation)….It might……explode!?

All time best sentence that you never want to hear!

(I’m drafting this mid-air Cairns to Singapore. So if you’re reading it, was alive enough to post it during my 3 hour transfer at Darwin International, brain intact and not splattered all over a JetStar 747. Fingers crossed! )

An.an.tas.in : The Anantasin is the name of a shipwreck just of the coast of the Sensi Parasise, Mae Haad Bay, Koh Tao, Thailand. It’s one of my many favorite places.

Lit.tle: Just because it’s cute.

Blasts From The Past…

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