Sunday, February 27, 2005

New Zealand

Tooling around New Zealand’s south island with Jason. The car has treated us well and we’ve logged many kilometers since leaving Christchurch five days ago. The scenery is amazing. I’ll let the photos below and your Lord of the Rings DVD collection certify that.

I’m in Queenstown now, which is known as the adrenaline capital of the world or something like that. I don’t feel like skydiving, rafting, or bungee jumping right now though because I can barely tie my shoes due to a badly infected left thumb. It’s blown up to twice its normal size and looks a bit like a balloon has been inflated inside it. The shape reminds me of those giant long-haul planes with the rounded nose and over-sized belly. I tried popping it today (a couple British doctors I met recommended that) but when I jabbed it with a sewing needle nothing happened (besides me grunting a fair deal). I’ve started antibiotics.

It doesn’t hurt too much right now because it’s frozen. It must be 10 degrees here (oh, you want it in Fahrenheit? Then it’s about 45). It was warmer on the damn glacier we hiked a few days ago. That’s right, we hiked a glacier. Pretty cool to walk around the ice and through the crevasses with those spiky shoes you always see the Everest folk wearing.

Have a week more with Jason in the car before getting back up to Christchurch and touring the north part of the south island. This is as cold as my trip will get (at least until Oktoberfest) so I can deal with a little chill before the Thai beaches.

This is Jason. He delivered his best line of the trip when I showed him pictures of Sabrina and me: "She's not bad for a blind girl."

A glacier

The bridge was dodgier than it looks due to intense wind

Australia in Pictures

Cruising from Sydney to Melbourne

BBQ in Melbourne

Jens with "Leyton Hewitt"

Beach posters/blankets with Johann and Jens

Aussie Open

Our messy room in Sydney

I'm still getting the sand out

Last night in Byron Bay

Fraser Island

Fraser Island, the world’s largest sand island, is a 20-something playground off the east coast of Australia. I spent two nights camping on its beaches with ten other backpackers crowded into a nine person-truck. Fraser’s giant sand dunes, sapphire clear lakes, and endless beaches (which serve as 4x4 highways) made it my favorite spot in Australia. The pictures can do the talking.

That little dot is me

Friday, February 25, 2005


(February 21)
What will I remember in 20 years about my five weeks in Australia? Probably what I write here to remind me.

Right now, I remember landing in Sydney and being freaked out by the scope of my trip; remember walking out of the terminal to the shuttle bus and feeling how warm the sun felt. I remember walking around the city until my legs hurt. It felt like I had been there a week by the second day. It all went so fast at first and then it all slowed down.

I remember good friends in Sydney and too many nights at the World Bar.

I spent too much time in cities and not enough in between them, so I treasure that night in Jens’ van pushing south from Sydney to Melbourne with Sabrina and Bea. I remember Australia Day in Melbourne, which ended with Sabrina and my first fight. I remember watching Federer-Safin with Jens and going to St. Kilda beach with Jens and Johann and lying on those funny glossy posters.

I remember saying goodbye in Melbourne to all those good friends and wondering if there were many hard goodbyes to come or few friends so close.

I remember the rain in Brisbane. I remember flirting with a floor mate all night at the Downunder Bar, then dropping her off at her room without incident. I remember coming out of the bathroom 10 minutes later after brushing my teeth and finding her walking down the hall as well in her sleeping clothes. I remember us turning to each other as we walked and suddenly kissing without breaking stride all the way down
the hall and then going separately to our rooms.

I remember going to Byron Bay and waiting for company. By the time they came I was ready to leave but stayed of course. I remember the waves, the magical color of the water, the low white clouds in the rich blue sky, the yellow-green grass and the hard green trees. There were palm trees and kebab shops and meat pies and Toohey’s. Everyone drove on the wrong side.

I remember being with Sabrina again and busing to Noosa with her on Valentines Day. I remember being amazed at how often her feelings and plans changed. I’ll always remember, I hope, our Valentines’ dinner at the silly Chinese restaurant. I’ll always remember, I hope, spending our last sunset together on Sunrise Beach on the endless, empty sand. We took pictures of each other and she took a video of me at the shoreline and I turned to her camera and said “Hello Hezinger family, I’m the boy your daughter/sister/friend/ex-girlfriend has been spending time with the last couple weeks….”

I remember leaving her at the bus stop to head to Fraser Island and feeling almost okay about it. I remember trudging up and somersaulting down the giant Fraser sand dunes. I remember mentally pinching myself as the sun went down on our beachside campsite.

I remember getting on New Zealand Airlines flight 260 for Christchurch and being more appreciative of a coach seat than I’d been in a long time.

And it still hasn’t sunk in I’ve left Australia.

Coming soon...Australia in pictures.

A Day in the Life

(February 21)
Backpacking means something different each day. But if you followed me around just yesterday, you’d get a better sense of it than any other day I’ve spent so far. (If you followed me around yesterday with a video camera shooting in 24P then we should talk.)

By cab, bus, and train I was making the trip from Hervey Bay, Australia to Christchurch, New Zealand. My watch beeped at 5:50am but I was already up. Jason, a tent mate on Fraser Island and roommate this night, had set his alarm an hour earlier and I was too worried about sleeping through my bus to really get back to sleep.

The bus left Hervey Bay for Brisbane and we cruised in the early morning down the lovely east coast. I was collecting my baggage at the Brisbane station when the girl across the row from me for the last four hours finally spoke. “That’s my bag.”

It was the same design as mine but in a woman’s size. Amy was traveling with Nabia, both were from the northeast U.S., and they had a couple hours to kill before their connecting service to Byron Bay. We chatted in the terminal on our way to storing our bags in the bus station lockers and there came that awkward moment where someone needs to make a move. “Well it was nice meeting you,” Amy or Nabia said.

“Yes it was nice meeting you,” I agreed. “Are you guys going to get
lunch or anything?”

So we headed into the city for lunch and I tried to be upfront about my limited Brisbane knowledge despite spending four days here. Finally we found a food court and then I bought a New Zealand guidebook. They had just been there and were happy to have an interested party to share their stories with. We walked back to the bus station and they gave me advice on where to go and what to do.

“Hey man,” came the voice from behind. It was Jason, whose alarm sounded an hour before mine but whose bus arrived almost two hours later. After the ladies left and I did some internet surfing, I called Jason’s cell from a payphone (a staggeringly expensive proposition) and just before the money ran out and the line went dead we arranged to meet.

We walked around town a bit, spent the best $.30 possible (on ice cream cones at Hungry Jacks), and sat in a public square to eavesdrop on a passionate street preacher. As the shadows got long we grabbed seats on the sidewalk and shared a quick jug of XXXX (the locally brewed beer). We finished just in time to catch the Aviator; movie tickets are AUS$14 (about $12) so you can’t complain back home.

We were walking out of the theater after the movie. “Hey,” came the voice from the side. It was Eric, a roommate my first night in Harvey Bay. He had just seen the Aviator too. That’s backpacking. It’s a small, small world.

I wished Jason and Eric well and headed to the bus station to catch the shuttle train to the airport. It had stopped running four hours earlier and I had to get a taxi. It cost AUS$25 (as a refresher my daily budget is about AUS$60), and it was worth every penny.

My diver was a Kurdish Iraqi. He’d snuck out through the Turkish border after the first Gulf War. He spent two weeks at the border before he made it through and in that time he saw a lot of countrymen with the same hopes shot dead for their efforts. He illegally hid out in Turkey for three years, rarely leaving the home of the man who hid him. He washed cars at his house. For three years.

Then he came to Australia somehow. That was six years ago. I think he’s the first Iraqi I’ve ever spoken to who was in the country up through the first Gulf War and I wanted to know what he thought. Saddam was very evil, he said, but the situation now was worse. In the future, he predicted, it would get much worse or stay the same. “Too many religions,” he said. “They can’t be one country, it will be a Civil
War. It’s stupid because they all believe in God, they all believe in Muhammad but still they hate eachother. Religion is bad.”

But are the Iraqis better off now than under Saddam? “People when they go to cafés or on the street they’re scared. They’re scarred to leave their homes. 100,000 (Iraqi civilians) have died just to get rid of one man. If they’re scarred because of Saddam or because of this, what difference is it?”

Could Iraqis have overthrown Saddam themselves? “No.”

But he saw the U.S. perspective as well, and thought it was all quite simple. “The U.S. has trouble with their economy so they need a war, a big war. This is the same with all countries, when they have problem with their economy they go to war. Hitler was the same.” (I'll soon post a quote I read recently from the 1930's that's related to this topic).

“But I feel very sad for the American soldiers who die. I feel very sad for the Iraqis who die. They all die for what? For politics and money. Its all politics and money.”

“What happened on 11 September was awful, but I think it was good for Bush because it let him start the war. I think the U.S. knew about [the attack] but wanted it to happen.”

This is a sentiment I’ve heard over and over again from people from all over the world, they truly believe the U.S. government allowed the 9/11 attack to happen. (P.S., plenty of people still say the same thing about Pearl Harbor).

But anyway we’d been parked on the curb at the international terminal for a while and I could tell he was ready for his next fare and we weren’t going to sort out the politics of the Iraqi war or the Trade Center attack in the next few moments. But at an airport in Australia an American and an Iraqi had a chance to learn something about what the other thought and that seemed like a really special thing.

“We just talk,”he said as I grabbed my bag and he pulled away.

That’s backpacking.

Valentine's Day

In a couple years or maybe even a couple months February 14, 2005 will become romantic, bohemian, unique, and memorable. At the time it was mainly hilarious.

Sabrina and I were together again, and alone together for the first time. We had taken an all day bus from Byron Bay to Noosa because I had to get out of Byron and make progress towards Fraser Island for my trip there in a couple days. Noosa Heads was rainy, somewhat unremarkable, and quite far from the only hostel we could find a private room at.

From Noosa Junction we walked “up the hill and down the hill” to Noosa Heads and strolled down Hastings Street as the evening got darker and hungrier. The shops were wet and closed and it hardly seemed like the hot spot we’d heard about. The trendiest thing we found on Hastings Street on that rainy Valentine’s Day were the prices of the food.

We scanned each AUS$25-40 menu before moving on to the next. I was ready to pay for some place nice but I don’t think Sabrina understood that that and she suggested we go back up the hill and down the hill to a Chinese place we passed. “I want Chinese,” she said, I believed her. That is how we ended up at the Noosa Garden for Valentine’s Day dinner.

There are many, many fine Chinese restaurants around the world but the restaurant you want to picture is that big suburban Chinese factory with the sterile dinning room that does all its business by take-out. The walls are white and the carpet a muddy green. There are 120 chairs covered in a vaguely African print that reminds you strongly of 1990. To break up the white walls there’re bamboo and birds painted right onto giant lightboxes. The musical selection suggest the Twilight Zone: a constant stream of 1950’s covers. Sabrina insists these American songs are “very famous” but I don’t recognize them. Apparently she’s memorized her parents’ old LPs chorus and verse.

You are backpackers on a budget with no working knowledge of the town, no effective means of transportation, and no meaningful romantic bond to commemorate. It’s okay to be here. I guess.

But what makes it all so funny is that there are other people here. Not many others, but others. There are middle-aged mutes staring holes into their plates and you wonder what condition it is exactly that compels you to a) decide to go out, b) go to a place like this, and c) not have a word to share. There’s a couple seemingly just out of high school all dressed up for their night out; her in a sexy black dress and him with his pink hair spiking up just so. There’s an elderly couple sitting with another older man who might have lost his date; they’re at least talking.

A man comes in selling roses and while my mouth is full Sabrina tells him we don’t need any. I chew a couple more bites and realize I can’t stand being the guy who doesn’t get a rose. I find the rose man at the door.

“How much for a rose.”

“Seven dollars.”

“Seven dollars!?” The roses look half dead.

“How ‘bout $5.”

“No, seven sounds about right. What, you can’t afford $7”

“Apparently you couldn’t afford decent looking roses.”

I dig into my pocket and find a $5 bill but no dollar coins.

“I don’t have any change so it’ll have to be $5 or nothing.”

“Okay. But if you’re supposed to make $700 and at the end of the week your boss gives you $500, what would you do?”

“I’d find another job. Thanks for the rose, have a good night.”

At least we’re having a real meal. A typical dinner costs AUS$10 or less but this one will be more than $50 for the two of us. The spring rolls are disappointing but we hold out hope for the mains. We’re sharing chicken chow mien and sweet and sour chicken. We both try the chow mien.

“I think the sweet and sour is better,” Sabrina says.

“Oh, I haven’t had any.”

“Me neither.”

It isn’t good either and we should have known better than to order dessert but Sabrina has never had fried ice cream and I’m in the mood for it. When we put our forks through the hot outside we quickly hit the rock hard center. They aren’t doing any frying back there and even the fried ice cream virgin can tell.

“I think it was already finished,” Sabrina says.

The waitress collects the check and asks how it was. We lie, leave, and cross the street for a beer.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

60 seconds to write an entry

Leaving Christchurch now to drive with Brit, Jason, around south island for 12 days. Should be fun, will update when possible.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Middle Earth and all of that

I'm in New Zealand. Christchurch to be exact. The X base Backpackers in Cathedral Square to be more so. The city feels and looks like Europe in April and even with my new jeans (a Brisbane Target special), my body is getting the chance to feel a bit cool instead of a bit hot; its a nice break from all the sun.
As soon as I can find a ride out around the south island I'll be doing that.
Final thoughts on Australia to come...hasn't hit me that I've left.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Sand, Scams, Food and the Lost & Found

On the beach
When people rave about Australian beaches what they’re probably thinking of is the color of the water. The shimmering teal deepens in shade and depth until it’s a dark, rich blue. Seaweed is usually a rumor so the water is clear enough to see the fine, light sand encircling your toes when you stand at waist depth.

At the half dozen beaches I’ve visited here (Bondi, Manley, Coogee, Crunella, Anglesea, and Byron Bay) the shape of the shore is different than I’ve found anywhere else. There’s no shelf where all the waves break and the depth suddenly increases. Instead the sandy bottom recedes gradually and the waves break in a dozen different places. The waves are truly wonderful and it’s in the ocean, riding the five foot surf that I feel most like I’m in Australia.

My day at Bondi was the best body surfing I’ve ever found, with rides as long and varied as good boogie boarding. The waves drove to the shore from chest depth all the way to knee level. Remarkably, they allowed you to get on top of them and ride the break crashing down; usually such a vertical decent without a board will send you crashing to the sea bottom but somehow here you keep sailing along towards the shore.

You can’t ever tell the wave’s power by its size and sometimes fairly small breaks will bowl you over and send you hurling through the spin cycle for a few long seconds. One such wave sent me on an unintentional summer salt; another I accidentally rode in a standing position and when I came crashing down with it there was a moment when I was sure I’d break my legs.

The beaches around Sydney are a bit over-crowded but the eye-numbing scenery makes that okay. Yellow and red flags mark the acceptable swimming area and mercy be to those who disregard the lifeguards. Every half hour or so a Jaws-like warning will come over the PA, usually a reminder to watch out for the rip tide or keep an eye on your belongings. At Manley they kept a jet ski permanently patrolling back and forth just past the swimmers, making sure no one got swept out. When the tide got especially dangerous they closed the swimming area all together. On the few occasions I’ve found myself pulled out past my head, there’s always been a readily available wave to blow me back towards shore.

There’s a big ozone hole above Australia and a burn is easy to come by. Supposedly the country leads the world in skin cancer, but that could have a lot to do with all the warm weather and all the blonde hair. My crispy back notwithstanding I’ve been pretty diligent about the SPF-30, figuring I have a year to build my tan.

On Food, Eating, and Money
There are four types of expenses when backpacking: accommodations, food, travel, and everything else. Food is probably the most variable and the one that forces you to make the most decisions each day.

Cooking is a necessity if you’re going to make the money last. This is a bit strange for me since I probably cooked 20 meals in my seven years living in New York. Now I’m traveling and forced to cook. Breakfast for me consists of either eggs or cereal (Euros eat their cereal with yogurt instead of milk, which I’ve started doing as well). Eggs are a good choice because they provide protein. Unlike at home, every meal doesn’t involve chicken and you have to give some thought to whether you’re getting the nutrition you need. Instead of worrying about eating too much food and getting fat I worry if I’m eating enough; cooking is a hassle and eating out is expensive.

When you’re accustom to constantly eating there’s a vague, constant sense of hunger that you get used to after a while. If you ever plan to backpack for a long while go ahead and gorge yourself before you leave because you’ll lose all the weight you want while you’re away. I haven’t weighed myself but I have worn my belt and it’s two notches tighter than when I left (each notch is an inch). I figure my waist has gone from a 33 to a 31; my shorts don’t really fit anymore.

If I had a bit of a gut when I left its gone now. It’s made me realize how easy it is to lose weight: eat half as much food as you do now and walk 20-30 miles a week, that’s what I’m doing. I do notice I’m losing some muscle mass, I think because I’m not working out much and my protein intake is way down. I eat meat (I’m counting chicken as meat) three times a week instead of ten.

The kitchen around 6pm is the social center of the hostel. Everyone is cooking pasta and stir-frying veggies and usually someone offers to cut you into their meal for $5 or so. If you don’t figure out your dinner until late you can peak around the kitchen and inevitably find some free leftovers.

Food (and everything else) in Australia is expensive because it’s an island and virtually everything has to be shipped here. A US dollar is worth about AUS$1.25 which helps. I was hoping to get by on about $1000 a month here but that hasn’t been possible. I’ve kept a detailed record of my expenses and for the 22 days I spent here in January I spent US$1512. That’s an average of $69/day, which for a whole month would be about $2000, which is too much.

Here’s where the money has gone:
Hostels: $20/day
Food (and beer): $18
Travel : $13
Internet & phone: $3
Other: $15

Breaking down the food and beer total could make me feel guilty about going out too much so I’m not going to do it. By comparison during the same period Sabrina spent nearly $3000! I’m not too worried about the money situation because I can afford to spend more than $1000/month and from March 15 to July 15 the trip will get very cheap when I’m in Asia and then meet my family in Europe.

No One Pays in Melbourne
Everyone is always looking to save a buck here and Melbourne offered us some great opportunities. They have an extensive tram system in Melbourne but it’s basically on the honor system so we sailed all around the city without paying, but always looking a bit over our shoulders. Johann and I amused ourselves by complaining about very minor flaws in the service we weren’t paying for.

Our better money saving scam involved our hostel accommodations. It started innocently enough: Jens planned to sleep in his van one night but was locked out by the garage he parked in at midnight. We snuck him into our room and he crashed on an open bed. Then it dawned on us…why are we all paying for our beds? Instead we decided about half of us should pay and the rest would just sneak in and find an open bed or space on the floor.
One big hostel even offered a free breakfast, which was pretty easy to sneak everyone into. The brekky only included toast and cereal, which Johann and I complained about too.

After Sabrina, Johann and Jens split from me and returned to Sydney they upped the hostel crashing by several notches. The bookkeeping at our old hostel in Sydney was quite shoddy and Johann didn’t pay for his last three nights there. The only downside of slipping under the radar was he didn’t get his $20 key deposit back. That meant he still had his key. So a couple nights ago the three of them slipped into the hostel and poked their heads into room #3. Sure enough there were three open beds.

There are several dangers involved in this sort of thing and Johann knows them well. He and I crashed in Sabrina’s room in Melbourne and we were awoken around 10am the next morning by an arriving backpacker looking for an available bed in the room he’d been assigned. The beds were all full with sleeping bodies and he turned back towards reception. Johann sprung to his feet as if he smelled smoke, threw on his jeans and ran out the door like a camper caught on the girls’ side of the lake.

On Losing Stuff
Every day I lose something. The other day I lost my passport for five heart wrenching minutes. Almost always I end up finding whatever has disappeared.

I figure there are about 10 things that if I lost would ruin my month, about 30 things that would ruin my week and a hundred that would ruin my day. In short, there are far too many things to constantly keep track of. Two factors make it especially easy to lose stuff: 1) Sometimes you go days or weeks without using an important item and therefore aren’t thinking about it and 2) You’re constantly moving out of a very messy room, in the dark, with half a dozen people trying to sleep a few feet away.

So far I’ve lost two things to ruin my day and one to ruin my week. As loyal readers know, I lost my day bag (including digital camera) on Day 2. That’s the worst loss to date. Two recent disappearances are also very annoying. Somewhere between Melbourne and Brisbane I lost my jeans. Jeans are pretty hard to lose since they should always be either in your bag or on your legs but I managed to do it. They were my only long pants. I am a couple sizes thinner now though so maybe a new pair is okay.

The other item I lost is the windscreen for my boom microphone which wouldn’t be on the top of the Bad Things to Lose list but is still a frustrating loss because it compromises the sound of everything I shoot and will be really hard to replace.

When the passport, laptop, camera, Ipod, credit card, debt card, or license goes missing that windscreen will seem like a very, very small loss.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

From Byron, With Love

In Byron Bay since yesterday, quite the headache finding a bed here (walked to six places, then called another 12). I almost had to get a cabin for $55 with a two night minimum because everything else was booked...ended up 3km out of town at the Rainforest Lodge with other poor planners. Moving tomorrow to the Cape Byron YHA (1800 652 627 or 6685 8788). So the lesson is book ahead!
Hope to see some of you in Byron soon...

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

How I Spent January

February 1
I can’t seem to sum up the last three weeks. What’s happened is I’ve discovered in large part what it is my trip will be. It is not the trip I prepared for. The trip I planned was hard and heavy and strange. My trip is none of those things. I knew traveling alone would involve “many highs and lows,” but I think I imagined I would only feel the highs. You feel both. In fact, it’s the lows that allow you to feel the highs so powerfully.

Lows are the product of loneliness and inactivity and the highs by their inverse. Being active can still feel lousy (my first trip to Bondi became a low when I realized there was no one to put sunscreen on my back) and so can having friends (some days I languish at the hostel because I don’t want to do anything alone and no one else is motivated to go out). But perfect days aren’t hard to come by and twice a week or so you’ll sit down at dusk, tan and tired, and realize you’ve had a truly great day.

The first act of my trip is complete. It begins and ends in lonliness made more stark by how wonderfully un-alone I felt all the days in between.

I’ve done something I don’t plan to do too often and made a sketch of each day. First though a “Who’s Who in the Cast.”

Jens – German, 27. Left job to travel for a while, mainly in Australia. When he left home his sister gave him a t-shirt she made with a phrase that has become a favorite of mine: “You can choose the color of your life.”

Sabrina – German, 23. Recently had very rough break-up with very long-term boyfriend. Has graphic design company back near Munich, which is still making her money while she travels Australia for eight months.

Johann – English, 19. Spending month in Australia before six months in South America.

Hitch – Swiss, 36. Recently divorced and traveling in Australia for several months. Into skydiving and S&M. Has taken a girlfriend recently but asked me one night, seriously and drunkenly, if I’d like to go back to the hostel “and have gay sex.”

Bea – German, 27?. Traveling in Australia for half a year or so.

The Philipps, 26 & 27?. Big Philipp is traveling here for several months, Little Philipp is visiting him for a month.

Day 5 – January 14
Went to famous Bondi beach by myself. Felt very alone when I needed someone to put sunscreen on my back and nearby solo girl refused. Some English guy ended up doing the honors.

That night my trip began. The hostel held a BBQ and I met a bunch of cool Germans, Swiss, and Swedes. We went out drinking most of the night and by morning I had a half dozen friends.

Day 6 – January 15
Was supposed to go to zoo with Jens but when we were finally ready he decided it was too late to make the trip. Instead I walked througho the Botanic Gardens, which are fairly similar to Central Park. It was another beautiful sunny day.
At night we went to a big Jazz concert in the park (“Wait, isn’t this Blues?”), there must have been 40,000 people there. A day after meeting each other our group of eight or so already felt like real friends.

Day 7 – January 16
A great day. Jens, Hitch, Sabrina, Marsel, Philipp and I went to the zoo. All are German except Hitch and Marsel who are Swiss and speak German. Almost everyone we hang out with speaks German so I often sit there not understanding a word. It’s nice just to have people around. When they do speak English I know it’s largely for my benefit so I feel obligated to be involved in the conversation. They all want to get better at English though so they like speaking it and constantly pepper me with vocab and grammar questions.

Our nights usually start with a couple six packs out in the back, then the hostel kicks us out at 10pm for quiet hours and we go to a bar or out onto the street. Our core group is all guys except Sabrina and everyone is making a play for her, especially Marsel and Hitch. I’m not sure if she doesn’t like me or is just uncomfortable speaking English, or both. She has the greenest eyes you’ll ever see though, so it’s too bad.

Day 8 – January 17
A successful day involves one activity (the beach, the zoo, etc) so in that respect today wasn’t successful because I didn’t really do anything. I stayed at the hostel, did some computer work, and shot a couple interviews for the documentary. It rained part of the day anyway.
If every night sounds like a weekend that’s because it is. Hitch was upset that his ex-wife had forgotten his birthday and decided he needed to get drunk. He bought a bottle of Absolut and we got hammered. After finishing the vodka on the giant staircase across from the hostel we were at the World Bar again. The lower level is half lounge and half mini-club; the upper level is half poolroom and half outdoor porch. I like the outdoor porch best and a bunch of us were out there. Then it was just me and Sabrina and I guess I was feeling lonely because I asked her for a hug. She gave me this strange sad look then held me tight against her and kissed my neck. Exactly how you go home with someone when you share a bedroom with seven other people is a story for another time.

Day 9 – January 18
The hostel was buzzing with morning after gossip but I was oblivious. I had successfully cast the first part of my pipe-dream dramatic film and spent the day shooting it. The leads for part one are Ethan, an American from LA, and Eva, who is German. The story called for them to meet at the hostel, tool around scenic Sydney, then part ways. We shot for about eight hours and got everything we needed. Not sure how it will cut together but I’m fairly pleased.

At night it was back to the World Bar. Tonight it was Sabrina who needed to get drunk. She had been dating a guy for four years when he broke up with her in October to travel to South America. Heart broken, she eventually decided to come to Australia for eight months to get away from it. Today he e-mailed her saying he wanted her back and was coming to Australia to get her. She doesn’t know what to do about it all. Anyway, everything happens so damn fast around here and Sabrina thinks she’s falling in love with me (you really can’t make this stuff up) and wants to stop hanging out before it goes too far. So I left the World Bar less than 24 hours after the hug, apparently “breaking up” with her.

Day 10 – January 19
As I left for Manley beach, Eva told me that Sabrina had left a message: She waited for me but didn’t see me around the hostel and had gone to Manley with Marsel and Philipp. I had asked Sabrina to go to Manley with me the previous night but her ‘We shouldn’t hang out anymore’ drama seemed to squash those plans.
As I transferred trains on my way to the Manley ferry someone kicked me in the butt. It was Sabrina. Her and the boys were also transferring trains and we all joined up. It was a really nice surprise. Sabrina didn’t remember much of the previous night’s drama but with a clearer head decided we should just stop talking about it and let whatever happens happen. The application of sunscreen was a considerable upgrade from the English chap five days before.
For a couple days Sabrina has been begging for us to sing karaoke and tonight it happened. I found a place bordering Hide Park with Village Karaoke-style rooms (though they’re a bit nicer here). Our group of nine was floored by the private-karaoke experience and really got into it. The two-hour session began with Phillip and I trading verses of Ice Ice Baby. If you’ve never rapped or sang with a group on non-native-English speakers you really need to make that happen. The combination of general ineptitude and passionate commitment to the performance can’t be topped.

Day 11 – January 20
I spent the day waiting to pick up my computer from the Apple store. It had some sort of problem and wasn’t booting up. I’m really very ready to leave Sydney and waiting for my computer to get fixed was the last real thing holding me here. Now it’s just a matter of figuring out how and where I’m going to go. Jens is buying a car and we may travel on together. Everyone is going to Melbourne but my plan was to go north to Byron Bay. I leave for New Zealand in a month so I need to start sorting things out.

Day 12 – January 21
Sabrina and I try to give each other space but it’s hard because we have all the same friends. Today while she went to book her skydiving trip I went to the beach with Eva and Johann. The three of us are a bit of an unlikely group but knowing each other and having a common goal for the day is plenty to hang out with someone here. We went to Bondi and then Johann and I made the popular walk to Coogee (say “Cudgy”) beach, which is a scenic hour stroll along the shore. It was “speak real English” day for the Brit and the American; it’s a bit strange speaking to a native English speaker now. I’m used to speaking slowly and simply. It’s actually an interesting challenge to communicate in simple non-colloquial language. Ironically, I have nearly as much trouble understanding Johann’s English accent as the Germans.
Sabrina and I got our own room, which might be dumb but whatever.

Day 13 – January 22
The streak of great weather has ended and the clouds and rain are here. Did little today but had a fun night. We went out for dinner, which was a first. Usually we cook or get cheap take-out (more on food and money to come). This guy who has been traveling for 20 years (20 years!) suggested a “funky local place” down the road a bit and we went there. It was well hidden, tucked up some stairs above an ice cream shop and without a sign on the street. The whole menu was scrawled on a chalkboard. The family crowd and bare chairs and tables were reminiscent of a suburban pizza joint. “It’s like a restaurant in a hospital,” Sabrina observed.
“Yes,” I said smiling, “it’s called a cafeteria”

We found a cafe on the street below and had coffee and wine. I’m a Hemingway fan and it seems his characters are always drinking wine in a cafe somewhere with a bunch of international friends who all have nothing to do in the morning. I’ve always thought that was a great way to live and tonight it felt so much like that.

Day 14 – January 23
Tomorrow we drive to Melbourne so I tied up some loose ends in Sydney today. Sabrina and I are getting coupley and went out to dinner together tonight.

Day 15 - January 24
Driving into the sunset in a sleeper van from Sydney to Melbourne. Didn’t plan to go to Melby now but everyone is headed there and the growing crowd has a kind of gravity on the rest of us. Jens is driving, Sabrina riding shotgun and Bea and I are on the “beds” in back.

Get away from the costal cities and Australia is a great empty expanse with dark green trees dotting the endless sepia grass. Just now at 7:30pm, the light is hitting the rolling hills just so and you’d get out and take a picture but there’s seven hour’s drive in front of you. It is a great, giant empty expanse.

The van has a stove and a fridge and the beds I mentioned. There are even curtains on the windows. Judging by their design and color scheme the curtains were factory installed back in ’79; the van is as old as I am.

If you want to feel like you’re traveling, hop in a 25 year old sleeper van and start driving along the coast on Highway 1, pop out the Dylan disk for some Marley and catch Hwy 31 south, look out through the wide windows into the warm evening and watch the lonely trees cast longer shadows.Day 16 - January 25
If you want to feel like you’re traveling arrive in Melbourne a little after three in the morning but refuse to shack up in a hostel. Instead drive through the empty city in search of a beach to sleep on. With frayed, exhausted nerves give up looking for the beach a kilometer too soon and end up instead in Victoria Park.

Lay out some sleeping bags on the grass and arrange the cushions in the back of the van to make a bed. Three hours later the rangers will come. “You are illegally camping in a public park, move along!”
No matter. Squeeze all four of you into the van because that’s legal. Sleep a couple more hours and drive the van into town. All the oil has drained out of the engine and 24 hours after purchase the old beast needs a mechanic.

Day 17 - January 26
Australia Day is sort of like Fourth of July. Unfortunately, like Fourth of July, most people spend it at a backyard party so the city is less of playground than we hoped. It’s still a good time. Lunch was at Hungry Jacks. Apparently someone bought the Australian copyright to “Burger King” so when they started building the fast food joints here they had to come up with a new name and so “Hungry Jacks” (complete with the red type inside the orange hamburger bun) was born.

It’s hard moving seven backpackers in one direction because we’re such an independent and laidback lot. We were eating cheap Chinese food a half hour before the fireworks were set to go off. Jens was very late and ended up eating somewhere else without telling us. Sabrina and Bea were speaking entirely in German, freezing me out of the conversation for the whole meal. Annoyed, I went back to the hostel and got my IPod. Our big group was walking to Federation Square when the fireworks started firing and we got there just in time to clap. Now more German and all of a sudden the girls are heading back towards the hostel, apparently to find a bottle shop. I don’t know what’s happening and don’t need to hear anymore plans I don’t understand and leave the rest of the group to do my own thing.
An hour later I bump into Sabrina who is equally annoyed with me for leaving the group. I explain my frustration. “I’ll translate every word,” she promises unnecessarily and emptily.

Day 18 - January 27
Got up fairly early and took the train to St. Kilda with Jens and Johann. Jens didn’t bring beach stuff so even though Johann and I were prepared Jens kept to referring to how “we” don’t have a towel so we should lay on the grass instead of the sand. On the way to the beach we found some free posters of some girl and used them as beach blankets. We were quite a sight lying on the grass just up from the sand on our glossy posters.
Jens phone rang and it was Sabrina. He got up and spoke for a while, all in German of course. “This is very hard for me,” Jens said after hanging up. “I can just say this one sentence to you: ‘She moved out of the hostel. Her feelings for you are too strong and she is very confused so she needs be alone.’ I asked her if she wanted to talk to you but she told me just to say this one sentence.”
In the evening Jens and I went to the Australian Open and it was too perfect a thing to worry about some girl. Jens had come to Melbourne just for the Open but couldn’t get tickets. I was able to get a pair (thanks Dave) but insisted jokingly that I’d take Johann unless Jens gave me good reason (read: free beer) to invite him instead.
The sun was setting on another gorgeous 80-degree day, Roger Federer and Morat Safin were playing the men’s semi-final and we were in the ninth row, just above Federer’s box. The match took four and a half hours, Safin finally winning the fifth set 8-6. Historic, memorable stuff.

Day 19 - January 28
Our big happy family of seven hopped in the repaired camper van and headed southeast for one of the best days of the trip so far. It was Jens, Johann, Bea, Sabrina, the two Phillips and I. Jens thinks I should leave fragile Sabrina alone and insisted I sit upfront, away from her. It gave me a front row seat for Jen’s “unique driving technique,” as Johann dubbed it. (Basically it involves very occasional glances at the road).
We drove for an hour or so down the coast, then turned down a side street and found a wonderful, sandy, sunny beach. We made up some crazy Frisbee game and went swimming and had an impossibly good time.

After a short rain shower we kept cruising south to Phillip Island for the famous “Penguin Parade.” No one was really aware it would cost AUS$16 but after driving three hours it seemed fairly mandatory so we laid our hard earned down with many complaints and snide remarks. Once it gets dark (at 9pm!) the world’s smallest penguins come waddling up from the shore into their nighttime homes. There are hundreds of them but still “more tourists than penguins” as Big Philipp pointed out in his Hans and Frans accent. The group never got over paying $16 to see the stupid penguins and the constant stream of complaints was the most entertaining part of the night.
On the drive back Sabrina and I drifted back together, falling asleep entwined in the back of the van.Day 20 - January 29 “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.” Our group splinters soon but first an evening to remember. We spend a ridiculous amount at the market and find a place to BBQ back in Victoria Park, just steps from where we slept unlawfully that first night. All over down here they have these big public barbeques where you can sit at a table, turn on an available grill and have a hell of a time. We watched the sun dip under the cloudy sky and shimmer on the river a few steps away. We ate chewy steak, tender chicken, and half cooked potatoes. We gave bad directions to the others trying to meet us. We drank plenty of Tooheys. It felt so good to be together and so sad to know it was ending soon.

Day 21 - January 30
“It’s a backpackers life,” Bea said as Jens, Johann, and Sabrina motored off to Sydney. It was a teary goodbye and Jens wondered aloud if any of us would find such a big, happy group during the rest of our travels. We had all met in Sydney, having started our trips within a few days of each other. Now we all had to be somewhere else.
Bea, the two Philipps and I went to Federation Square and joined the mob watching the men’s final of the Aussie Open. It was much better than being alone and much worse than the night before.

Day 22 - January 31
The Phillips were heading south down the Great Ocean Road in a rental car and Bea and I hitched a ride down a ways. We got to Anglesea just after 1pm only to learn the last bus back north came through at 3:45. That was long enough to get good and red on the hot, sunny Anglesea beach. Big Philipp has a paddleball (beachball, he calls it) set and we played until our hands were sore, ripping off good, lively rallies.
Bea and I stopped off in Geelong for a beer on the wharf there, then slid back into Melbourne. My room had an empty bed and she crashed there for a couple hours until it was time for her to go to the airport and leave me alone in Melbourne. It was much better than being alone on Day 1 in Sydney and much worse than the night before.

Day 23 – February 1
After picking up my computer from another repair, I hopped on my first flight since arriving here. The plan is to spend a day or two in Brisbane, then head down to Byron Bay for some beaching. It’s weird to be in a new place, totally alone again. I’ve spoken to some people but don’t feel motivated to make friends with them. Maybe it’s because I don’t want to have to say goodbye again in a couple days but I don’t think that’s it. I think its because each new person you meet calls for a different version of yourself. (Certainly each person you date brings about a new version of you). Right now I like being the person I’ve been these last couple weeks and adjusting to these new people with different nationalities and personalities doesn’t seem so great.
Tomorrow, you can be sure, things will be different.

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