A Travellerspoint blog

Australia: Uluṟu and Kata Tjuta

semi-overcast 18 °C
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From Sydney airport we flew off on our Virgin Australia flight to another new state - Northern Territory. Our destination; Uluṟu, also known as Ayers Rock. Most of the 3.5 hour flight (yes Australia is THAT big) was wholly uneventful until we started our descent. Uluṟu and its surrounding area was unusually cloudy thus we hadn't seen much out of the aeroplane window. All of a sudden we could see a vast wash of red ground only a 100 metres below us; a crazy sight for usually grey eyes - landing was imminent we thought. Then, all of a sudden we accelerated back up and the aircrew came over the PA to say "please remain seated, we are not yet landing" followed by the pilot "we are just heading to our waiting place where we will receive instructions from air traffic control as to what to do next. Please know that we do have enough fuel to divert to another airport if necessary". By this point Lauren isn't quite freaking out but her anxiety has certainly spiked. After about half an hour the pilot attempted the landing again and this time, we made it. It was only after we arrived that my friend Loz (another one) that we were staying with told us she'd heard the airport staff talking about a possible diversion to Adelaide and that the pilot had been too brazen with the first landing and so had to abort. Anyway no harm done and we'd made it to Uluṟu only an hour or so late.

So my friend Loz (who is also known as Ren and that is what I will refer to her as to minimise confusion) is an environmental scientist and works as a ranger at the Uluṟu national park. We felt very lucky to be getting such an amazing insight that other tourists wouldn't enjoy. We first drove in Ren's big old ute to Yalara (the resort at the park) to do some shopping. There was a blanket of cloud covering a lot of the desert but the landscape was still spectacular - so uniquely Australian. On our way back from the shop we spotted a man pulling some sort of animal to the side of the road. Ren jumped out to help and discovered that a euro wallaby (like a small kangaroo) had been hit (most likely by a tourist driving too fast) and seemed to have broken its legs and/or back as it couldn't move, but was still very much alive. Being a ranger (and a good person), Ren thanked the man for helping, sent him on his way and called the office for assistance. Ren told us that there wasn't very much wildlife at Uluṟu so it's always very sad when something gets injured or killed in an accident. After a short while one of Ren's colleagues turned up and was able to put the poor little thing out of its misery. Ren told us that the carcass would be given to the indigenous community (Mutitjulu) and that the Pitjantjatjara people would make a load of meals out of it. So at least its death wasn't totally in vain.
Lauren and I couldn't believe just how Australian our first hour in Uluṟu had been - against the backdrop of both 'the bush' and one of the oldest and most recognisable natural monoliths in the world, we had witnessed (from a ute) a wild, Australia-specific marsupial dying on the side of the road. All we needed next was a crocodile to crawl out of the spinifex and gobble the little wallaroo up. But apparently crocodiles don't hang out in the desert - shame.

We eventually got to Ren's house - Uluṟu Lodge - which is situated within Mutitjulu (the indigenous community), outside of the resort. As expected the house is ace; it sits on a large bit of land which Ren, her boyfriend Matt and her housemate Rachel have cultivated into a veggie patch, small pool and lovely garden with cacti, trees and many plants - all frequented by birds we've never seen or heard before. Two dogs are also residents; Millie - a gorgeous and playful little jack-russell dog and, a new addition, Ninti the semi-domesticated dingo who Ren is looking after for some friends. Ninti was run over a few years ago so her hips and back legs just aren't quite right. This makes her very wonky - she has a funny walk and when you give her a good scratch she just can't take it and falls over. She's naturally a little timid and lives outside but she will come up for a sniff and stroke and is as sweet as anything.
That night Ren cooked us an amazing Laksa soup and for pudding we bombarded her with questions about the big rock and the community. How lucky we are to get an insight that most tourists would never experience.

The next day we drove in Ren's ute (a fun experience in itself) to the cultural centre. It being national reconciliation week - a time "dedicated to growing respectful relationships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other Australians" - there was a cultural talk led by the Anangu (indigenous Mutitjulu people). We sat with a load of other (mainly white Australian) tourists and learned about some traditional homemade tools, food and hunting and cooking methods. The presenter spoke in Pitjantjatjara and another guy translated into English. Two of the elders were also sat watching; one of whom is called Mr. Uluṟu - the rock allegedly named after his ancestors. As clichéd as it sounds, it was fascinating and reminded us (Lauren and I) just how disconnected we are from the earth we inhabit. At the end of the presentation I ate a freshly barbecued wichetty grub, which tasted a bit eggy and was quite tasty.

Well and truly captivated, after the talk we spent an hour in the visitor centre reading more about the history and culture of the Anangu and their relationship with Uluṟu and Kata Tjuta. We then did a short walk to one of the watering holes which was breath-taking, and along the way we even saw a small snake slither along the path in front of us.
For dinner we went to Gecko's café which is next to the brilliantly named Ayers Wok and then toddled off to the mini stadium where we sat under the astonishing night's sky and watched the film Mabo (which I'd highly recommend).
Ren told us that in Uluṟu, you're closer to the stars than you are to the nearest McDonald's.
Back at the house Ren started a fire and we sat with cups of tea looking up. The night's sky is so clear you can see the milky way. In all honesty it blew my mind.

The next day Ren had a day off so the three of us went on the Mala walk led by James. The Mala is a small hare-like marsupial that is an integral part of the history, stories, learning and rituals of the Anangu. We walked around the rock looking at specific caves and gorges that are or were used for men's and women's business.
For lunch Ren made us an amazing salad with veggies from the garden and homemade dressings and condiments. We sat outside and the weather was perfect; sunny but not too hot or humid. We then drove 1hr out to the other rock (or more accurately rocks) - Kata Tjuta, aka the Olgas.
As we were getting close to sunset we only hiked halfway to the 2nd lookout but along the way we absorbed the awe-inspiring sights of the ancient, colossal rocks, against the piercing blue sky with only the sounds of birds to be heard. It's enough to make you feel incredibly insignificant; a mere (very temporary) dot on the landscape. Ren told us all about the plants and flowers that are blossoming at the moment due to last week's rain. We found a dead micro-bat in a small crook and had a look at his little wings. It's the closest to Steve Irwin I'll ever get.

We climbed back to the ute and parked up to watch the sunset over Kara Tjuta. We sat in the back of the pick-up and observed the sky turning all the colours of the rainbow. With the silvery thin clouds, glowing sunset and tree silhouettes it looked just like an oil painting.
As darkness consumed we all quickly got changed on the side of the road as we were booked into the posh Anali restaurant for our last dinner (generously paid for by Ren's mum Cheryl). There we indulged in some cocktails and yummy gourmet food while conversing about or lives. The beautiful sunset must have made us go all philosophical. I chose kangaroo steak (rare), which was very nice - when in Rome and all that.

The next morning we discovered our early afternoon flight had been delayed so Ren took the extra time as an opportunity to show us around her old place of employment - the camel farm. Naturally we met lots of the camels as well as jumping in the most Australian animal playpen you'll ever see. In it was an emu, a few kangaroos (one of which was pregnant), a huge buffalo (called Buffy) and some ducks. We had some cuddles and strokes and watched some Chinese tourists squirming and screaming with laughter while trying to feed the pecky emu.

The flight kept getting delayed so we then fit in a lunch and some window-shopping at the resort before finally making it to the airport. In the end we were only 3hrs delayed. We soon discovered that everyone's flights has been delayed meaning the tiny airport was chock-a-block.
Eventually we got up in the air and we watched out of the window as we flew over Uluṟu. We said goodbye to what I felt was 'real' Australia and we will always be grateful to Ren for giving us a view that very few would have the privilege of encountering.

Posted by advensha 22:54 Archived in Australia Tagged uluru fauna australia adventure kata_tjuta ayers_rock rock ancient flora rights dingo indigenous aboriginal olga mala monolith spinifex mabo anangu terra_nullius anali the_bush watering_hole Comments (0)

Australia: Melbourne (and on the way)

rain 14 °C
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First visit (Mon 6th June - Tues 14th June)

We spent Monday morning getting everything packed up ready for our relocation campervan adventure to Melbourne. For the benefit of those who don't know about 'relocations' the idea is that a car or camper-van hire company (of which there are many in Australia) need a vehicle relocating from one place to another. Picture this scenario; Tristan and Brittany are archetypal American backpackers and have hired a funky 4-berth Jucy camper-van from Cairns and have driven south to Sydney and left it at an office there. Jucy Campers in Sydney already have their own fleet and so need to get this camper back to the Cairns depot. This is when they'll advertise on various relocation websites for some stingy, flexible sods (that's us) to drive said camper back to its hometown for not a lot of money (often $1 per day). Sound too good to be true? Well the cons are that you have to rely entirely on what trips come up on the websites and so must be very flexible with your dates. The other thing is that you are restricted by both a kilometre and duration allowance. So if you want to relocate the camper but fancy going on a bit of a detour for a week to Alice Springs - you can't. Overall though for us, the cost is benefit enough - we only have to pay for fuel and an 'admin' fee to cover tolls and linens etc. For those of you interested, during our time in Australia we have used 3 different relocation websites and had only positive experiences; Apollo, imoova and transfercar.

Anyway, back to the blog in hand...

To get to the Apollo camper depot from Coogee we had to get 2 buses and a train, a 90 minute journey. This wasn’t all bad as it gave me the opportunity for a few cat naps. I also managed to fit in a steak and onion pie from a Vietnamese-owned bakery while waiting for our last bus.
We finally made it to the arse-end of Sydney were our modern Toyota camper-van awaited. After finishing the formalities Lauren climbed up to the driver’s seat and tried to figure out the pull/push hand-brake and two pedals. Navigating Sydney’s foreign roads was a little scary but we did make it back to Coogee and even managed to find a parking spot outside the house. We had a cup of tea and chucked our bags in the van along with some carrot cake made by Jeanette. We set off from Sydney much later than we wanted to, mainly due to us not realising how far away the camper depot was. After only an hour of driving it started to go dark and the weather-front we’d been hearing about began to move in. One monster of a storm was about to annihilate the east coast with high winds and torrential rain. A few people had suggested taking the coastal roads to Melbourne as they were apparently very beautiful but, because of said storm, they were closed. Plus it was dark anyway.

While driving 3 hours along the Hume highway Lauren battled to stop the 2.6m high camper-van from blowing into the other lanes. Our windscreen wipers were on high and the roads were very badly lit so overall it wasn’t the smoothest of journeys. Soon enough though we landed at Yass Caravan Park where we would stop for the night. Yass town is a strange, sleepy place that looks like it’s stuck in the 1950s. The town has little to no television reception and the first sign we saw said “beware of falling limbs”. I thought this was some sort of pun until Lauren explained that limbs mean tree branches.

We parked up and ran to the toilet block where I suffered a sudden and nasty bout of diarrhoea. While I shivered on the toilet for 20 minutes Lauren plugged us in to the electricity, sorted out our bed and made us some toast and tea. Anyone would think my gastric troubles were a ploy to avoid doing chores. I eventually made it back to our mobile home and wrapped myself in a hundred layers. We were actually very cosy on our foam mattress with only the rain and wind to be heard outside.

The next morning we made the most of the hot showers and got off nice and early on our way to the funkily named Tocumwal (pronounced toe-come-wall). There we were meeting Peter and Sandra; our new friends that we met in Vientiane, Laos. The 3.5 hour drive was much more scenic than the night before; farms, forests and blue skies with lots of amazing colourful feathered creatures to be spotted.

We parked up on Peter and Sandra's drive and remarked at how much their neighbourhood looked like Ramsey street; large, fairly new spread-out bungalows and big gardens. We chatted for a while before Peter and Sandra drove us around the town. We saw the Murray river which was unusually low, where lots of people go to free bush-camp, canoe, swim and fish for Tocumwal's famous spotted Murray cod. There was a sweet old disused mill, a train station now only frequented by the occasional freight train. We even saw some wild kangaroos hopping around. It felt a bit like the wild west. Apparently what puts Tocumwal on the map is that it's a hotspot for gliders - glider planes than is. The famous four time world championship winning German glider Ingo Renner moved to and became naturalised in Tocumwal. He even has a street named after him (where he still lives to this day at age 77).
After sampling the sights we were then treated to a long dip in Peter and Sandra's hot tub along with an ice cold bottle of cider while a roast was being cooked on the BBQ. It was pretty delightful. We filled up on roasted goodies and wine while waxing lyrical about Australia and travel destinations before retiring to a proper bed with a proper mattress and everything. Needless to say we slept like babies.

The next morning we were on our way again, headed to our next state - Victoria. We made it to Melbourne in just less than 4 hours and dropped our camper-van off at an industrial estate miles away from anywhere. Luckily, Lauren's old friend Janya (whom she met 8 years ago when she herself lived in Melbourne) and her boyfriend Dan very kindly drove 40 minutes to collect us. Unfortunately, our welcoming weather in Melbourne was grey, rainy and generally miserable. Reminiscent of good old Blighty actually.

We spent our first evening in Melbourne chilling out and catching up with Janya and crew at her home in Balaclava. We sat in their lovely boho garden under the stars with Mollie the dog, a few chickens, a couple of sneaky possums and some drinks. Janya and her cousin Tom are kiwi and her boyfriend Dan is from Kentucky, USA.
The next day Janya took us on a pub crawl around St. Kilda; Lauren's old stomping ground - to both reminisce and introduce the area. We met a few of her eccentric friends; Tripper - an elderly guy who rides around on a chopper style bicycle wearing all leather with no teeth and comedy spring-eyes glasses and, most notably, Ray - an old, wise and very interesting aboriginal guy who calls Janya his daughter. What struck me about St. Kilda was the prevalence of many more old and interesting buildings than Coogee and also a completely different set of residents. Compared with Sydney, St. Kilda seemed to be brimming with (for want of a better word) 'riff-raff' - there were homeless people, drunkards, drug addicts wandering around begging for change or a light and in certain areas, sex-workers. As well as this there were also many more native Australians. Despite the very noticeable presence of the undesirables - the area didn't feel remotely unsafe, in fact it felt welcoming - to all people, hard-up or not.
That night, after a brief rest from beer-drinking, we went out again to a local bar called Lost where a live rock band was playing. Janya, Lauren, Ray and I enjoyed the music and chatted away putting the world to rights. When the band had finished we proceeded to dance around like idiots to our own music choices that we played through Youtube (a bit of Where's Me Jumper never hurt anyone).

For the next two days at Janya's we did next to nothing - a bit of shopping, a bit of reading and mindless telly-watching and a lot of sleeping. Such is the joy of not having an itinerary.
We then made our way to another one of Lauren's old friends from the same era; Claire. Claire lives right on Fitzroy street in the heart of St. Kilda in a lovely art deco style apartment with a cute courtyard in the middle. We met Claire's huge man-cat Ezra and got ready for a nearby house-party for another one of Lauren's buddies Bower. The party house was very modern and huge and right on the sea-front. We mingled, drank Passion Pop (like Lambrini) and managed to find the dog of the house (as we do)- a huge soft golden retriever. We spent the last hour drunkenly playing fuse-ball in the garage at the back before we sneaked out and on the way back to Claire's, ate a cheeky Coneheads (chips).

All hungover the next morning, we had big breakfasts at Miss Jackson café where a really weird Canadian waitress was awkwardly oversharing to all of the customers while getting everyone's orders wrong. We then walked around a cold but bright St. Kilda - along the pier to where the fairy penguins live in the rocks. The water at Port Phillip Bay glistened in the winter sun and all was calm.

The next day Claire took us on a nice long walk around Albert Park where we saw plenty of wonderful wild Australian birds. That evening we partook in our first pub quiz (which they call trivia night in Aus) since Thailand at The Local Taphouse pub. We met Claire's friend Emily and her boyfriend Brian who joined our team (Quiz on your face was our name - original I know). The pub specialises in craft ale which is great or most people but for a non-beer drinker like myself it can be tricky to get hydrated. At one point Lauren was getting a round in and after being turned down for about 5 different spirits she knows I like, she settled on a recommendation from the barmaid - Campari. The barmaid told Lauren it was orange flavoured, and, knowing I enjoying a Cointreau, Lauren bought it over for me. As you may already know, Campari is actually hell-flavoured (grapefruit). She couldn't have picked a worse tipple for my awkward taste-buds. The Campari stayed put on our table for the rest of the evening.
Unfortunately we didn't win the quiz but we had a lot of fun nonetheless dancing to the 90s classics the cool quiz-master lady was playing.

The following day we left for our ride-share to Adelaide along the Great Ocean Road (see Adelaide blog post).

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Second visit (Mon 20th June - Fri 24th June)

We travelled back to Melbourne in a really great little Hyundai i20 car that we were relocating through Europcar. We collected the car from Adelaide airport where we were met with some very rude and condescending looks and grunts from the manager. Clearly he didn't like the idea of two unkempt backpacker females driving his spotless hire car the 725km to Melbourne. Little did he know I drive like a grandma not a boy-racer. This time we took the inland route along the National Highway A8 as we'd already done the Great Ocean Road on the way there.
As per our usual luck, the weather for the first hour of the 8hr drive was incredibly foggy and drizzly. I couldn't quite figure out how to put my fog lights on so I just used my dipped headlights and drove very slowly. The visibility couldn't have been more than a couple of metres ahead. I managed 4 straight hours of driving on what's an almost perfect straight, unchanging road. I was quite proud of myself. Lauren then covered the last 4 hours. Along the way we marvelled at the funny little towns; namely the inventively named 'Border town' and the mad looking Old Tailem Town - Australia's largest Pioneer village, complete with stables, a hydroplane and plenty of barns.
We arrived at Claire's in really good time at around 6pm and head straight off to another quiz night - this time at the Elsternwick Hotel pub. We met Claire's other friends Emily, Cat, Hannah and her boyfriend Alex. This time we called ourselves 6 girls and 1 cup, because we're classy like that. Again we didn't win but Emily DID win a jug of beer so that's pretty good.

Lauren dropped our favourite little car off the next day and then we spent the day doing some wandering and shopping at my favourite 'Op shop' Sacred Heart, followed by Aldi. Another quiz was awaiting that night at Windsor Ale House (aka Pint on't Punt) where Lauren managed to get a vegetarian parma made from aubergine. Thanks to our well-rounded genius, this time we actually won the quiz with first prize being an $100 bar tab. Fuck yeah! With a name like 'Get your Schnitz out for the dykes' of course we were going to destroy the competition!

The next morning while Claire was in work we had a mini disaster in the form of the shower not turning off. The crisis was averted quite quickly with the consultation of an emergency plumber and we eventually made it out to Melbourne centre where amazingly we'd not yet visited. We checked out the impressive and widespread street-art, perused the art gallery and ate curry from an amazing tiny Indian shop/café.
That night we went to Janya's to meet Roger (another one of Lauren's old friends from Liverpool) and his girlfriend Tara. I brought along a really cheap tawny port I'd bought from Aldi and pretty much polished the whole bottle off. It was an interesting 30 minute walk back to Claire's.

Our last day in Melbourne consisted of drinks in an Irish pub with Janya and some of her friends followed by a cosy night in with Vietnamese takeaway in Claire's with her friends. A fitting end to an indulgent and fun-filled week and a half in St. Kilda. Now back to Sydney to meet a certain new addition to the Jones family...

Posted by advensha 20:35 Archived in Australia Tagged melbourne rain road_trip storm highway st_kilda camping scary street_art gliding wind drunk campervan caravan jacuzzi cider pub_quiz relocation hot_tub tocumwal yass st._kilda trivia_night lesbians Comments (1)

Australia: Canberra

overcast 8 °C
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The morning we left for Canberra from Sydney's Central Station was a little bit of a frantic one. We had been working to a departure time of 11:30am so we got ourselves together and loaded up with our bags, walked to the bus stop to head into town to catch our coach. As we were waiting for the bus something (let's call it my intuition) urged me to ask Lauren to check the coach times again. It turns out that the coach was leaving at 11am and, it already being 10:15 we realised we probably wouldn't make it to the station in time. The next 10 minutes involved us hysterically flapping around trying to figure out how to order or flag a taxi. Luckily we managed to get in one and $40 later we were at our coach just before it set off on its way.

After 3 or so hours we arrived in Australia's not so well-loved capital; Canberra. Vanhie was there and greeted us with a huge smile and big hug.. We stopped for lunch at a local shopping centre where we had a very delicious Malaysian soup and caught up. Immediately we noticed an aesthetic difference with the inhabitants of Canberra; there were people walking around with piercings, brightly coloured hair and tattoos, there were fat people and there were people with skin colours darker than beige. In fact, Canberra was the first place we had seen native Australians - a bunch of aboriginal kids were on a school trip.
Vanhie took us to her family's home where we hung out and chatted about Laos (where Vanhie's parents are from). Soon after we made it to Zoe's (where we were staying) and met her cute, tiny little dogs. Stinky is Zoe's long-serving, ball-loving little dog who's very friendly and playful. Poppy is the new addition to the family; a rescued (from euthanasia) chihuahua-cross with one eye and 5 teeth. Unlike Stinky, Poppy isn't so friendly; in fact she's downright hostile to anyone other than Zoe and her partner Ash. Even Zoe's long-time housemate and friend Marty isn't safe from the onslaught of angry barks, growls and bites (albeit gummy bites). It took us a day but eventually Poppy took to Lauren and I and would even come and sit on our laps. The funny this is that if we left the room, say to go to the toilet, and came back into the room, Poppy would treat us as new and dangerous strangers and try and attack us all over again until she eventually calms down. Amazingly though, Poppy and Stinky get on really well - Poppy follows Stinky around and tries to hump her all of the time. Here they are in all their glory;

That evening we all went out to the Hellenic club - a weird complex that encompasses a bizarre amalgamation of business and pleasure. It's a members-only club (so Zoe had to sign us in as guests) with a bar (that's really cheap) and dance-floor with regular live music performances. There's also a 'pokie' (electronic gambling) machine area, a restaurant and office and conference spaces. Apparently there are a lot of 'comprehensive' clubs like this in Australia and they nearly always serves booze much cheaper than standard bars. It was a strange environment because there was an element of exclusivity; there was a dress-code (which we didn't really abide by) and the average age was probably around 35-40 - you could definitely sense the intent of keeping the 'riff-raff' out. But, the inexpensive alcohol, scruffy gambling addicts and at-best dated at-worst run-down interior suggested a blue-collar, average-Joe sort of clientèle. We hung out for a while taking full advantage of the $7 cocktails and voyeuring at the glamorous elderly couples jiving on the dance-floor.
We then head out to Cube club - a gay club with a neon night on in the CBD of Canberra. We managed only one drink before we grew tired of the bangy dance music, very young punters and expensive wrist-band policy. We tried out another bar for an hour but it became quickly clear that we'd all already had enough and so after stopping at a chicken-shop for a schnitzel burger and chips with chicken-salt, we went home. As much as we try we just can't seem to stomach a full night-out.

The following day we had a lovely lie in with a late breakfast before visiting a David Jones department store (much like a John Lewis) to buy a birthday present for a one year old whose party we were gate-crashing later on in the day. We then indulged in some extravagant milkshakes at a place called Pâtissez that had been lauded all over Facebook before arriving at little Aari's party. Now I don't know if this particular 1st birthday party was representative of Australian children's parties as a whole but boy did the family go all out. As we parked up we noticed a petting zoo packing up, a bouncy castle and a face-painting stand, and that was just outside. Inside the hall was a huge buffet with all sorts of foods ranging from mini-pasties to sushi. Everyone who attended (which must have been over 50 or more) was given a sweets bag (they call them lollies) and a raffle gift. There were balloons, beers and a basketball game to boot. It was impressive. And when we arrived the birthday boy was fast asleep.
Because of my limited clothing and footwear I had tried my best to 'dress-up' but ended up in a cow-print dress, a large woolly cardigan (it's cold in Canberra) orange socks and my multi-coloured fluorescent trainers. As I was making the most of the nibbles on offer, my lovely comrades starting pissing themselves laughing. Apparently I looked like a crazy bag-lady who'd wandered off the street into the party to eat the free food.

Later on Zoe drove us to an area of Canberra (that's still residential) where mobs of wild kangaroos hang out. It was amazing and weird to see the animals up-close in the middle of a metropolitan city. They were much more still and timid than I'd imagined and also smaller than I'd expected. It seems the reddy-orange, huge muscular roos aren't the most common and only really exist up north in Queensland.
We spent that evening playing the lively board game Articulate with Vanhie's family which was hilariously good fun. We drank some beers, ate some freshly made Laotian spring rolls as well as Vanhie's homemade cheese and laughed at our inability to describe things cross-culturally.

For our final day we went to Kingston old bus depot market where we of course sampled ALL of the tasters. It was a really nice market with lots of homemade crafts, clothes and food. There was also a really good band playing;

After getting a free feed by feigning interest in all of the food stalls we popped to a craft ale place called BentSpoke in an area called Braddon which is probably the nearest thing to a trendy / hipster zone that Canberra's gonna get to. Zoe treated us to the most delicious alcoholic ginger beer we've ever had. Refreshed and ready for a proper lunch we then walked around the corner to a street food square where we got a Broddogs hot dog each for lunch.
We drove up Mount Ainslie for an impressive panoramic view of the whole o Canberra. I remarked that it looked as well-planned and symmetrical as Washington DC when Ash then told me it was in fact based around DC's design. On the way down we had another mini-tour and saw some of the embassy's, offices and the Parliament House. We also saw the aboriginal 'tent-embassy' as it's known which is located on the lawn outside of Parliament House. It's a collection of tents and semi-permanent structures that represents the aboriginal community and has been there on and off for over thirty years but is not recognised as an official embassy.
For our last night in Australia's capital we ordered in from a noodle chain called Wokitup. Vanhie came round (and was savaged by Poppy) and we watched and critiqued The Voice Australia. I then played my first game of Yahtzee which surprisingly turned out quite successful despite my butterscotch liqueur intoxication.

Canberra itself is a nice city but there isn't an awful lot to it. We did however have lots of good old fashioned fun thanks to the company we kept and were really glad we made the trip to the most-mistaken capital city in the developed world. Even if it was fucking freezing.

Posted by advensha 18:42 Archived in Australia Tagged children australia market laos party kangaroos buffet canberra birthday_party schnitzel laotian spring_rolls hellenic_club articulate games_night gay_club cube_club laksa homemade_brie chicken_salt 1_year_old Comments (0)

Australia: Sydney

sunny 24 °C
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After our thirst-quenching flight on budget airline Scoot from Singapore, we arrived to azure blue skies in Sydney - which was nice. Being a big fan of the TV show Border Security: Australia, I was expecting (and hoping for) a dramatic welcome to the country involving dogs and swabs and aggressive pat-downs. I had some oats and chia seeds that I've been hoarding for months and of course had to declare them. Lauren was concerned that this might hold us up and so wanted me to throw them away but I, ever the attention-seeker, wanted a suspicious fanfare. My hopes were artificially built when I saw signs proclaiming "BORDER SECURITY AUSTRALIA IS FILMING IN THIS AIRPORT. IF YOU DO NOT WISH TO BE FILMED PLEASE INFORM A MEMBER OF STAFF". After collecting our bags we walked underneath the 'Something to Declare' arch and found we were the only ones there. I plonked the oats and seeds on the table in front of the lady in uniform and she took one look and sent us on our way. It was all over in seconds. The biggest anticlimax in history. Next time I'll have to pull a Johnny Depp and bring a Yorkshire terrier in.

We were collected by Lauren's 'little' brother Nick, who took us to his home in Coogee (Kuj-ee) - in the 'Eastern suburbs' of Sydney as they're known. The Eastern suburbs house some of the most well-known Aussie places; Bondi, Botany Bay, Darling Point and the hilariously named Woolloomooloo. They also house the most successful Australians with the nation's top-earners living within the suburbs. It turns out little bro Nick from Irlam is doing pretty well for himself.
Driving from the airport to Coogee I firstly noticed the ugly buildings - both residential and otherwise. Everything looked to have been either built in the seventies or constructed out of huge, utilitarian, grey breeze blocks. My second observation was how hilly the land was on our approach to Coogee. Granted I know very little about the Australian landscape but I really did expect it to be flat all over. On the contrary, you can't travel around Coogee without navigating either a steep incline or decline. It actually reminded me a little of residential areas of Edinburgh.
Nick and Nicole's 'unit' (aka apartment) was actually very attractive; large bay windows, a small front garden and a proper sloping tile roof. It looked like a house and not a Grand Designs project gone wrong like a lot of the other examples. We were warmly welcomed by our new best-friend; Einstein the cavoodle (cavalier poodle cross). Our first Australian feeding was at a little burger joint that was entirely vegetarian. The yummy and indulgent burgers and fries we tucked into paved the way for what has become a rather greedy few weeks in Australia. It turns out the western world just isn't good for our waistlines.
Coogee town is delightfully punctuated with independent little shops and eateries; plenty of hairdressers, clothes boutiques, Asian restaurants, health food shops and smoothie bars. When walking around you see young mums in leisure-wear jogging with their prams, muscular young men jogging, lean young women jogging and pedigree dogs jogging. OK so maybe I'm exaggerating, not everyone's jogging, but there are a hell of a lot of fit people around with the occasional well-dressed business person.
The miserable judgemental bastard in me wants to grunt phrases like hipster, trust-funds, middle-class metropolis, white-washed and privilege, but thankfully the happy-go-lucky me looked upon it all with interest and smiles. This may have something to do with the fact we've been in Asia for almost 5 months and so I'm quite happy to be back in a familiar civilisation.

We had a delicious and somewhat nostalgic Thai meal at a local restaurant on our first evening getting to know Nicole and her mum Jeanette.
I had made a well-intentioned plan (as I always do) to do some sort of consistent exercising in Australia, and, spurred on by the Coogee joggers I was determined to go for a run the next morning. Lauren's brother Nick said he'd come with me which only added to my motivation. Off we went running up and down the many hills, surveying the amazing coastline. Nick gave me a great orientation of the area, including the likes of Gordon's Bay where a load of crazy kayakers were preparing to brave the MASSIVE waves. We ran about 3km which I was pleasantly surprised with considering I hadn't done any formal exercise in months. Shame I haven't kept it up...

That day Nicole dropped us off at Vinnie's the 'Op Shop' (charity shop) so we could buy some warm jumpers and trousers for the imminent wintery weather. It wasn't the treasure trove we were hoping for but we managed to pick up a few bits that would serve a warming purpose. All 5 of us (plus Einstein the dog) went to the beautiful park to enjoy the last of the sunny weather and have a picnic. This was my first introduction to the awesome wildlife that exists in great volume in Australia. We shared the grass with a whole host of amazing birds I'd never seen before; white ibis, black swans, Australian ravens, pelicans, magpies and pigeons (the Australian magpies and pigeons are much prettier than the ones we know).

On our third day we got the bus into central Sydney (known as the CBD - central business district) to meet our old tour-mate from India - Mona who's been living and working at a hostel for a few months. We caught up while walking around circular quay staring at the Opera House and Harbour Bridge; both sparkling in the sunshine. We also walked around the wonderful botanical gardens; taking in the vast greenness and winding paths alongside a towering cityscape. We had lunch at a crap and overpriced pancake joint within The Rocks area as it's known and finished the reunion off by wandering around Westfield shopping mall and gawping at the crazily priced clothes and tat. We noticed that everyone walking around Sydney's CBD blended into one chic, professional entity; all wearing smart black/grey/navy/white tailored outfits. We tried our best to pick out an 'alternative' from the crowd - perhaps a goth, a punk, even a hipster or bloody lesbian would have been nice. But no, it seems the central business district is home to business-looking people. I suppose it was a weekday lunchtime - perhaps the subcultures weren't up yet.
We did however see a very talented young man playing 'drums' on the street;

The next day, taking advantage of a Living Social offer we took a trip to Featherdale wildlife park. Using our Opal cards (just like an Oyster card) we found our way to the park via two buses and a train. The Australian trains are quite amazing actually; first of all they are double decked - there's an upstairs and downstairs and secondly, the chairs can be swung around so they face either forwards or backwards depending on your preference. I was really impressed.
We eventually made it to Featherdale which was weirdly situated within a rough-ish residential neighbourhood. We saw lots of animals; Australian natives and otherwise. I was particularly happy to see some quokkas as we'd decided not to go over to WA and to Rottnest island where they're from.

To top off a fun-filled day we stopped at another, bigger Vinnie's Op shop to buy some more winter-suitable clothes. We came out with bags full of jumpers, jeans and even a pair of trainers for Lauren. All for $30. Good job really as we were heading for Canberra where the temperature was sub 10°!

Making the most of the last bit of sun in Sydney the next day we took ourselves and Einstein the dog for a long walk along the coastal road from Coogee to Bondi beach. A 12km round trip we got some much needed exercise and saw some truly magnificent sights; the scary crashing waves of the Tasman sea, numerous volcanic rock formations, Waverley graveyard with the best views of the sea reserved for the dead, multi-million dollar mansions and the famous Bondi beach - lifeguards and all. On the walk back Einstein dragged his little paws a little but thankfully we evaded the rain for another day. What an amazing coastline.

Posted by advensha 04:26 Archived in Australia Tagged sydney flying wildlife dog australia border seeds coogee opal declare scoot einstein dreamliner featherdale middle_class Comments (0)

South East Asian Curiosities

The almost 4 months we've spent in South-east Asia have been absolutely wonderful. Along the way, I noted down some things that I found unusual or interesting. Below I've listed said things and by means of a preface I want to state that these are only observations and that what I spotted may not be native to the region at all.

Well-loved products;

  • Pond's (the toiletry brand).

You can pick up this quintessential brand with its cold cream along with lots of other products almost everywhere in SE Asia, particularly Thailand.

  • Ovaltine and Milo.

Chocolate and chocolate malt drinks are very popular in SE Asia, Ovaltine especially in Indochina. They are drunk both hot and cold and are considered a 'healthy' beverage for children and adults despite their very high sugar content.

  • Oreos.

This American biscuit is pervasive and a go-to for many backpackers at truck-stops when you're weary, tired and not feeling up to eating a 'pork' stir-fry that's been sitting out all day.

  • Choco-Pie.

This is essentially a mini cake sold in packages of 6. It's like a deep wagon wheel with marshmallow in the middle and chocolate either side. We haven't actually had any while we've been away (I'm pretty sure I'd love 'em) but we did notice them EVERYWHERE in SE Asia.

  • Maggi noodles.

There isn't a hawker/street food stall, café, buffet or low-key restaurant in SE Asia where you can't find Maggi noodles on the menu somewhere. In case you don't know, Maggi (Nestlé) noodles are a thin, MSG-laden, cheap, flavoured packet noodle that are considered a staple food in a lot of Asia (particularly developing countries). It was a little annoying being presented with Maggi when we ordered noodle dishes, especially considering they cost a few pence but we were bring charged at a standard main course price. It seemed though that they weren't seen as low-quality and cheap by local punters, but rather a preference over and above home-made or 'proper' noodles.

'Basics' (to us) that are VERY expensive

  • Dental floss.

After a month in India with all manner of curries wedged in-between each tooth cavity I was desperate to give my mouth a good flossing when we got to Thailand. Unfortunately, it turns out that dental floss doesn't appear to be in such high demand as on average in SE Asia it cost around £4.

  • Deodorant.

This staple was another steep purchase. Often the cheapest mini roll-on I could find was over £2. Perhaps I'm just used to buying my toiletries at B & M... Also, as I'll discuss shortly, the majority of the antiperspirant/deodorants had whitening properties in them so I didn't have much to choose from. I did ponder whether my underarm hair might go blonde.

  • Alcohol.

Now I must be clear here, by alcohol I mean everything but beer. Bottles and cans of beer were often cheaper than water in restaurants and even some newsagents. Spirits and in particular, wine, were really expensive. I wasn't too surprised by this as I imagine the majority of it is imported but we were a little shocked that the so-called 'tax-havens' such as Langkawi, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore didn't have alcohol at all cheaper than what we'd get back home in an off licence.

  • Milk.

Milk isn't expensive everywhere in SE Asia but it is in most places. It's almost always UHT carton milk and usefully for us, soya milk is often cheaper and sometimes easier to get hold of.

Miscellaneous

  • When in Laos, our Mekong river tour guide told us that Laotians HATE Indian food. Apparently they just don't enjoy the flavours. When we spent a night in the Mekong river-town of Pak Beng, we had to persuade Ka our guide to eat in the Indian restaurant where he ordered only Lao food.
  • Hand soap in bathrooms is ALWAYS watered down.

If you're lucky enough to find some liquid hand soap in the bathroom (or even a sink for that matter) then expect it to be very diluted. This means that there isn't any lathering and instead you just feel like you've washed your hands with slightly perfumed tap-water.

  • People just don't have road rage.

I can only think of one occasion where a driver shouted and gesticulated at another driver and considering we've been in hundreds of vehicles over 4 months on all sorts of roads is pretty amazing. In addition, the roads in most of SE Asia are very congested and/or in bad condition with most drivers seemingly following little if any road-rules as we'd know them.

  • 'Hocking up' phlegm is a popular pastime.

Men, women, boys and girls of all ages and backgrounds have a penchant for aggressively clearing their throat and then expelling their sputum. They have no concern for how loud and nauseating they may be and which pavement they litter their phlegm with. This is one of the only things that I struggled to look past - my sensibilities were just offended and I couldn't help but feel a little ill when I saw and/or heard it.

  • 'Motorbikes and mopeds/scooters are the primary vehicles on the road.

This one is fairly well-known but I just didn't realise the sheer volume and universality of it. Everyone rides on two-wheels; whether old or young, poor or wealthy, male or female. And don't think that the number of passengers affects the mode of transport - there could be one or five people needing a lift somewhere and a motorbike/scooter would still be utilised.

  • The majority of petrol stations have servers.

I always envisage rural 'gas stations' in the deepest depths of the USA as the ones with pump attendants. But in SE Asia, fuel is almost always dispensed by an individual who usually has a decent-sized wad of cash in their back pocket for change.

  • There was a distinct lack of 'Engrish'.

Much to my disappointment there were hardly any examples of nonsensical or badly translated English. In fact I saw more correct usage of the apostrophe and 'there, their and they're' in SE Asia than in Harpurhey, Manchester.

  • Pyjamas are a popular outfit.

Just like Edge Hill, Kensington or Belle Vale (Liverpool reference), you would often see women walking around carrying out their day-to-day activities in their pyjamas. Said pyjamas are usually a matching top and bottoms with some sort of children's print like Mickey Mouse, Hello Kitty or Spongebob Squarepants. We couldn't figure out if the pyjamas were sold and worn as 'normal' clothes or whether their categorisation just didn't matter to anyone.

  • Mobile street-vendors would record themselves on an old hifi, strap it to their vehicle (usually a pulling cart or bicycle) and play out their recordings.

An ingenious sales technique if you ask me. Obviously we didn't know what the recordings were saying as they weren't in English but I reckon it would be something along the lines of "come and get your tasty snails/nuts/random metal bits".

  • Germans are everywhere.

German travellers seemed almost omnipresent in and around SE Asia. We met more Deutsch-landers than any other nationality,

  • Plastic is EVERYWHERE.

Without even considering the mounds and mounds of plastic bottles we've sent to landfills during our time away, Southeast Asia is a plastic-lovers paradise. With every purchase at a 7/11 or equivalent, you're presented with a plastic bag for all your items, including separate smaller plastic bags for anything cold, as well as a few plastic spoons, forks and straws - just in case.
In addition, a lot of drinks (hot and cold) from street stalls are served in small plastic bags - much like the ones we might use for sandwiches back home. We'd often see bags of drinks hung off railings, tree branches and handlebars - awaiting the return of their guzzlers.

  • Bob Marley songs are often heard.

If you pass any bar or pub catering to backpackers you're highly likely to hear one of a handful of Bob Marley classics. Usually Three Little Birds, No Woman No Cry or Jammin' would be blasting out onto the street. Of course everybody enjoys a bit of Bob Marley from time to time but when you're hearing the same three songs on repeat day after day, night after night it does get a little annoying. I felt sorry for the modest little workshops and cafés often next-door.

  • My name is a good ice-breaker.

This applied to India too but having a name like Aisha certainly served me well in SE Asia. Whether it be in a tuk tuk or hostel or street-food stall, my name was always a conversation starter. Thanks Mum and Dad!

Posted by advensha 04:02 Tagged unique eccentricities unusual weird south_east_asia curiosities idiosyncrasies Comments (1)

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