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.


At 8:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hoss..... losing your bluejeans is one thing, but when you lose your underwear then we have problems. All that is protecting us is a thib layer of gaberdine. K-Mac

At 8:09 PM, Blogger Art Vandelay said...

Hoss..... losing your bluejeans is one thing, but when you lose your underwear then we have problems. All that is protecting us is a thin layer of gaberdine. K-Mac

At 9:29 PM, Anonymous arlene and kim said...

The Vegas Clan is living vicariously through you on this great adventure.

At 10:40 PM, Anonymous Lassetters said...

Enough about your lost articles. Where are the pictures of babes you promised? Roseville CA Clan

At 4:15 AM, Blogger *BITCHES* said...

yeah where ARE those 'babe' pics you promised? i hope some are nudes...

the uh 'wine country' clan...?


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