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Sightsydneying!

Published on 09/11/2010 By Fabio

G’daay, maates!

After the Fraser Island Fun, at 6:45 in the morning I took a plane for the most iconic Australian destination: Sydney! The birthplace of a nation and its missed capital, I couldn’t pass by the Eastern Coast of the continent and miss it.

…and actually, my stay begun with some trouble: accomodation! Being cut out of the world (again!) on Fraser Island, I couldn’t sort it out before, except a couple of couchsurf requests that I sent from Harvey Bay and which received firm denial. I ended up spending the first night in a 19$, 18-bed dorm, directly above the cheapest bar in Sydney, where a beer costs only 3 dollars. The feeling of sleeping in barracks rather than a hostel was very strong. Fortuntately I was so tired that I fell asleep very early and slept like a rock. The next day I reserved four more nights in another building belonging to the same hostel, this time a 28$, four-bed dorm, which would be supposedly quieter. There is a very interesting story about that room, but I’ll keep it for the end of the post.

On my first sightseeing day I took one of those free tours that are a trend nowadays, and here you find one of the first and funniest things that the guy showed us – it’s a hint on how much Aussies know and respect their history. There is this place where the nation was born. you would expect a monument or something, but it is instead… a bus stop! Awesome.

Then some remarkable things, among which the parks and the botanical garden, where signs encourage people to walk on the grass, speak to the plants and hug the trees. “Is it rape if the tree doesn’t want to be hugged?”, I asked the guide, but he was only able to reply with a gay-unfriendly joke.

Everybody knows the iconic silhouette of Opera House, fewer have seen it from closer; that’s why I’ll put this pic with a detail on some sails (yeah, that’s what they are officially supposed to be, and not a snail shell or a mussel). There is also a Japanese taking other pictures, try to spot it!

The best days I’ve spent in Sydney have actually been the first two, mostly because the Sun shined! I was able to hike the 10 km Manly Scenic Walk, a great way to discover both the rich harbor (rich in terms of villas and fancy boats) than the Sydney Harbor National Park. Most of the walk is indeed in the bushes, with great views on the water.

I also got to see the (un)usual lot of animals and plants. Unfortunately it’s impossible to render here on the blogs the smells and the noises, but they are maybe the most striking difference. Especially birds, some of their sounds are something I’d never heard before! Maybe that’s good stuff for a future video. For now, enjoy a weird plant and a lizard closeup!

Alright (with one “L”), I said I wouldn’t put on a cliché image of the Opera House, but I changed my mind when I saw it at night. It’s really special, no wonders it’s probably the most famous Australian landmark.

The last three days the weather turned actually bad. It became grey, coldish and rainy, and I ended up spending a lot of time in the public library, where I could sit in a quiet spot and enjoy a decent, free Internet connection. That was good as among other things I worked on the blog, which is not finished yet btw.

There’s one more story waiting to be told. The second room I got in Sydney wasn’t very welcoming either. I entered and found a total mess, stuff was everywhere and a girl was sleeping in her night club clothes. She turned out to be a rather hot French girl who was all but respectful: she would get up at 4 at night, turn on the massive neon light and start making noise in the room, with a great deal of noise. She would smoke in the room, and use all the electric plugs all the time for herself. Another person, I found out, had to leave the room because she would have sex at all times with another guy and leave used condoms on the ground. Ok, I said to myself, no big deal, it’s only 4 nights… and so it went, till the fourth night.

I came back to the room and found this English guy who was playing guitar, and the French girl joined shortly after. It became a pleasant night, we sang a few tunes along and had a nice chat. At some point I went to bed; the two kept playing and singing, but at a “lower volume” and again it was no big deal. But then they also went to bed, and that’s when the girl began to cry. A quiet weeping, that 10 sigarettes later had become a sobbing scream! We obviously couldn’t sleep, so I walked outside with her and tried to cheer her up a bit. The only thing that seemed to help though was calling her mum and talking to her while I went back to bed. She told her that “here it’s better than in France, here I have my job while there I would only drink and get wasted” and so on, keeping us all still awake. It was very late when I finally fell asleep. It was already 3 and she should have woken up at 5 to go to work, which she didn’t. Here’s a picture of her in the morning, exhausted in bed, sheltering her face from the daylight.

To be fully honest, Sydney hasn’t conquered my heart. There are a few remarkable spots, but the rest? It’s a big, expensive city, and that’s not the category that I fancy the most, lately – indeed, my favourite part of the stay was the nature, as in the parks or the Manly walk.

These posts are a bit too much of a chronicle than a real “life trace” as I would like them to be, with feelings and impressions and stuff. Let’s see if I can do better in the next ones!

Sandy Fun on Fraser Island

Published on 07/11/2010 By Fabio

Howdy mates!

The Greyhound bus took me and two very nice Dutch guys from Brisbane to Hervey Bay, up along the Sunshine Coast. During the shopping frenzy I talked about in the previous post I had also booked a 4-night tour of Hervey Bay and Fraser Island, which is the biggest sand island in the world.
I was in a quite appropriate mood for it, as after all the diverse traveling you’ve been reading about, I felt actually ready for an easy, laid back, lazy touristic experience. Still, this wasn’t the “resort” tourism, as sleeping bags and dune camping were on schedule. A good compromise.

As I got to Hervey Bay, I met the crowd that was going to share the adventure with me. We’ll be a team of 24 people plus the most crazy, real guide you’ll ever meet, called Worm (which I thought be “wArm”, thanks Karen for the hint!). The vast majority was English, then a Scottish, two Irish, a couple of Canadians, a few Germans and I. A rather low average age (as low as 19, hey Saskia!) was the perfect premise for a fun, boozy time on a remote island!
After buying all the necessary food and alcol – which took me very long time, as Sean and Jack will remember – we got divided in three teams and three 4WD vans. Yeah, that’s the only way to move around on the island, forget about asphalt: only sand and bumpy unpaved roads! A ferry took us there, and this would be a common view for the next days: riding on the beach, ocean on one side and forested hills on the other side.

We spent 3 days on the island, driving up and down to see fantastic spots, do whale watching or swim in some beautiful, fresh water lake. And play a lot! Jumping pictures, running and diving, hands walking and so forth, a total party atmosphere! We went along well, which is an important prerequisite for three intense days every minute together.

Swimming in the ocean was unfortunately too dangerous, due to strong currents but also to sharks and other nice pets: on the first night, four of us were on the shore, 20 meters away from our tents, and a fisherwoman a bit further down was fighting to pull out of the water what she believed was a very big fish. It turned out it was a big stingray! On the sand, the thing kept flapping his wings and his poisonous spiky tail! Using the fishrods, the woman and I pushed it back towards the water, being uncomfortably close to the tail in doing so, till a wave seemed to claim it back.

Nature wise we could also spot some Dingoes (the slim, wild dogs living on the island). The next pic shows you yet another example of different nature, that I mentioned in (Down) Under an Ozzie Sky: a kind of crossover between an ant and a spider that I’d never seen before!

During the second day, just after the lunch break, one of the vans broke down. This because the driver forgot to switch back to High Range from Low Range driving (Ben, please comment if I’m wrong), which took a few hours to sort out.
Just before, we had attended a fantastic didgeridoo show, kindly offered by a friend of our guide. In Europe, usually you see that instrument played in squats, in the street or similar; here, it felt completely different and somehow more meaningful.
The next morning, I woke up at 4:30 and dragged Karen (the Scottish of the crew) out of her tent to go witness the sunrise. Tough luck, it was cloudy all the way to the horizon. Still we had a nice chat and the show wasn’t too bad after all, with those beautiful warm colors projected on water and clouds.

On the last night we spent all together some time on the beach. Finally, for the first time in Australia and therefore in my life, I could admire the night sky of the Southern Emisphere. What a gift! Imagine completely new constellations, including the Southern Cross and a few falling stars.
The last night was a true festive one: we played a game that involved a pink vest, downing something, singing a song of choice and choose the next victim. I was the first one, chosen directly by Worm. Maybe due to the harmonica, I became actually quite central in the group’s dynamics: we would yell my name for group photos, and there was this kind of stadium jingle  with my name that the others would sing all the time!

Once got back to the hostel in Hervey Bay, we had the opportunity for a last dinner and club night together. This is the pic we took when I left earlier and announced that we wouldn’t meet the next morning due to my plane at 6:45am. I’m more and more glad that Facebook exists.