Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Island Tour

I picked up a sandwich at the supermarket yesterday, then prepared to go on the round-the-island trip with the tour operator, a local guy named Dave who was originally from Hawaii.

His van was full, and as a bonus, I got a tour of some expensive hotels as he went around and picked up other clients.

Of course, most hotels here are expensive, so it's not like the people staying in them are particularly well-off. They just didn't find any other options when they were looking for a place to stay. I'd found my pension in Lonely Planet, and had chosen it over backpacker digs because it was in Papeete, and I'm a city-dweller who likes to walk or take buses.

Oh. Mr. "I'm Here to Buy A Yacht" was on the same tour.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Papeete Likes You Too

"Where the hell am I?"

I woke up and saw crisp, white sheets. An air-con remote control. White, fluffy pillows. Wha..?

Nothing sprung to mind.

I started to panic, then woke up enough to remember I was traveling.

But where? 

Tahiti. I was in Fare-Suisse, a great-value small guesthouse in the land of French and high costs, Papeete.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

On to Tahiti

I twisted around to get a look at my back. Ugh. A linear bruise where I'd hit the hotel shuttle door as I dramatically exited it on my ass at Auckland's airport.

"I think your shoes are slippery," offered the driver.

"I think I was stepping over the luggage you just piled in the doorway," I shot back.

Stupid, I thought. Should have waited for him to move the bag, but more interestingly, what was up with all this immediate blame-volley of the last few days? At the Air New Zealand counter yesterday—after the first of two incredibly long hellish waits unlike any I'd seen since they invented online check-in, take the hint Air New Zealand—the check-in clerk had said she couldn't check me in without a paper printout  of my ticket.

"Can't I just show you my receipt number on my phone," I'd asked, perplexed. Clearly, I was in the computer and she had my name up on the screen. I'd been around the whole world without showing paper to the airlines. E-tickets are supposed to stop all that paper.

"It's New Zealand," she'd explained. "You need a paper printout of your ongoing ticket to enter the country."

Preparing for the Pacific

Using my Australian Vodafone SIM card instructions and a water glass, I carefully removed the giant brown spider from my shower this morning. I temporarily left him in the trash, where he hung out until I finished showering. I then placed him back where I'd found him, leaving the decision on what to do with the spider up to the hotel.

Or maybe he just crawled back down the drain he'd presumably come up from.

I didn't want to smush him. For one thing, he'd leave a huge gooey blob. But for another, in Australia, you're supposed to stand back and admire scary animals. Put a snake in between an American and an Australian, and the American will be searching for a shovel to decapitate the snake while the Australian says "Crikey, that's a beautiful incredibly poisonous snake" while looking for a camera.

I headed out to the front of the hotel five minutes before my airport shuttle was due, and there it was, ready to spirit me off to the Sydney Airport's international terminal.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Parting Gift

I've been out and about for four days here in Sydney, and I've just ended up wondering how people with social lives aren't completely exhausted all the time.

This morning I got up to shower before flying to Auckland, where I'll stay one night in an airport hotel before heading to Tahiti.

And found this. Yikes.

Friday, November 25, 2011


Remember the penguin tour I mentioned that I went on in Bicheno, Tasmania? I didn't dwell on it because we weren't allowed to take cameras along.

The little penguins don't have eyelids and are genuinely harmed by camera flashes. Now, I know how to turn my flash off and so my first instinct was to demand to take my camera along anyway. But they said that too many people think they know and screw up, causing permanent damage to wee penguin eyeballs. But they'd send us jpegs if we requested them by email.

I requested the jpegs as soon as I got off the bus.

And heard nothing back.

A few days later, I sent a second email. And again heard nothing.

I was pretty sure this wasn't a diabolical plot—though their website is all in annoying Flash which leads me to believe that maybe it IS a conspiracy—and that my emails were hanging out in some spam filter. So I telephoned.

And got these photos ten minutes later.

Here they are, the little blue(ish) fairy penguins of Bicheno.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


How did this happen? I only took off a few days, and now I'm a deadline nightmare.

The tour guide had dropped me off at my Hobart hostel on Monday night. I'd immediately raced out for Thai food and a walk around the harbor at Salamanca before falling asleep early. On Tuesday, I'd done laundry, gotten my hair roots colored (well done, Anarchy Hair in Hobart!), gone to the post office, sought out a replacement for my ten-year-old mini Mag-lite which I'd somehow misplaced between Bali and Perth, and eaten more Thai food. On Wednesday, I'd caught the Virgin Blue flight from Hobart to Sydney, hurried over to King's Cross to my budget hotel, and met my former near-in-laws for a dinner cruise around Sydney Harbor.

On Thursday, I met Amanda and D early—they'd flown from Seattle to Sydney with my Marquesas freighter cruise ticket. I'd handed off my camping gear to them for a trip to the Blue Mountains.

We wandered about Sydney in the rain, took the Manly ferry, got pedicures (D sat that one out), met my old pal Sean for dinner, and then I raced off to see Cate Blanchett perform in a completely weird German play, before getting lost trying to find my way out of The Rocks area of Sydney.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Leaving Tassie

I'm leaving Tasmania for Sydney, but we can still look at all the photos.

Here are photo galleries of the last week in Tasmania on this group tour. 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Day Six: Tasmanian Tour

Part of our group had been chastised for lateness yesterday morning, and so everyone was up early today in Strahan, ready to go well ahead of our six a.m. departure for Hobart.

I couldn't wait to get back to Hobart. I'd booked my own room at the hostel there—the one I was staying at was as ordinary as the others we'd been to but had free wifi. And I'd booked an en suite, so I wouldn't have to traipse around the halls in my pajamas.

Plus, I really needed to do laundry.

We made stops en route to Hobart, seeing waterfalls and chilly beaches. By the time we turned off to the last stop, I wanted to say "Do we have to?

Our driver let us off at something called the Tall Trees Walk.

"Walk down and I'll meet you at Russell Falls."

Obligingly, we all started hiking into the rainforest.

And were glad we did. This forest turned out to be stunning, moss-covered, and grand.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Nearing the Finish Line

On Sunday afternoon, we'd headed to the small town of Strahan after leaving Cradle Mountain.

That's pronounced "Strawn" in these parts.

We looked for some whales that had beached themselves, but didn't find anything aside from a really windy, cold beach, and so headed to town to a mediocre backpackers lodge. None of the backpackers/hostels in Tasmania have been particularly noteworthy, though some have been better than others. The Bicheno one was the worst, with only two old, chilly showers and toilets for 16-or-more women. I don't know what the situation was in the men's room. But the Bicheno lodge had been spitting distance from a delicious bakery that opened at stupid-o'clock and was near a caravan park that featured wifi, so even that hadn't been so bad.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Tales(ils) of Tassie Tigers

On Sunday, I headed to a resort to something called the "Wilderness Gallery." I'd seen billboards and brochures advertising a Tasmanian tiger exhibit.

And I love me some Tasmanian tigers.

The first time Turbo the Aussie told me about Tasmanian tigers, I accused him of bullshitting me. He was always saying silly things, and I barely believed him about the giant-sized kangaroos and emus that had once inhabited Australia (these mega-fauna were confirmed by a museum in Queensland within the month). Why would I believe there had been a tiger in Tasmania?

Because there wasn't, not really. The Tassie tiger wasn't really a tiger, not like the tigers in Nepal or India. They were more like lean dogs, or small marsupial wolves, but with striped lower backs.

I remember going to the slow, rural dial-up Internet in Crystal Creek, NSW, to search for proof that Turbo wasn't putting me on.

On to Cradle Mountain

Our driver and guide, Ian, has left us, and a madman has taken over.

The new guy has a few nice touches of his own—this morning, for example, at Cradle Mountain, he got up at six and laid out our breakfast foods for us. But then he also provides constant commentary on the PA in the bus, yakking on about whatever crosses his mind while interspersing this with actual details we need. The chatter goes something like this:

"The man who owns that farms still makes those Dutch shoes, what are they called, clogs, today. Does anyone here wear clogs? Oh look, the sky ahead is blue. So maybe it isn't snowing tomorrow. We need to leave at eight but just to go down to the visitor's center where you can catch the shuttle bus. You know, no one can make you feel inferior. It's your own choice to feel inferior. Think about that."

Friday, November 18, 2011

Tasmania Tour

I signed up for a six-day Tasmania tour when heading down here, because I was afraid it would be too cold to camp. Plus, Intrepid had a 15 percent off sale on an already cheap trip, so by going with them, I'd actually save money over going alone with a rental car or with buses and local day trips.

Of course, it's cheap because you have to sleep in dorms. Ick. I really really hate dorms. I have serious problems with other people in my space, and if you've read for a while, you've probably laughed at me on more than one occasion when I was wigging out that someone was in my apartment. Well, I'm no better at being a guest than at having guests, and sharing with 6-7 others *really* makes me crazy.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Me and Abby

I'm having a tough time getting online in rural Tasmania, but here's a teaser.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Moody Marsupial

Here's how the Tasmanian devil sounds.



The devil made me do it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Landing in Tasmania

I'm in Hobart, Tasmania, where eating out is one helluva lot more reasonable than it was in Western Australia. But I couldn't tell you much about Hobart yet. I can barely keep my eyes open.

The red eye flight took about three hours from Perth to Melbourne, and we changed time zones as well. So while I was in the terminal at Melbourne at six in the morning, it sure didn't feel like six to me. I was so tired that I nearly missed my connecting flight while typing an email to Roberta—the entire plane had loaded and I hadn't even noticed. I was the last one to board the Virgin Blue flight and the door was closed behind me.

Once in Hobart, I collected my tent, sleeping bag, mat, and backpack and caught a shuttle to Hobart Hostel. My room wasn't ready for an hour, so I ate at the cafe across the street.

The real challenge came with keeping my eyes open in my room while doing laundry nearby. I seemed to do laundry the entire day, but that's not right, is it? I also went through all my possessions—I'd lost my mini MagLite, which I bought in Singapore in 2001. Where did I lost it? Bangkok? Bali?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Paring Down

My palatial estate a/k/a roughing it
I peeked out of my tent at six...drizzly day.

Hell. I don't need that. I need a dry tent that I can pack. 

I jumped up and got to work to beat the rain. I had a 23-kilo luggage allowance. I knew I had under 15 kilos in my regular pack, but how much would all this stuff add? Anyway, how much is a kilo? I know how much a pound is but what the hell is a kilo anyway?

Yeah, I know mathematically what a kilo is. But I wish my instincts could measure one the way they can measure pounds.

My original plan had been to stop by a secondhand store and donate the entire lot of camping gear, but then my writer/journalist friend Amanda was coming to Oz with her BF, and they were going to camp in the Blue Mountains. Why bother lugging a tent over when they can just as easily donate mine to the charity shop after they've used it?

So I'd carry all that I could to Sydney and hand it off to her there.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Winding Down

I drove north back to Fremantle on Saturday morning, arriving in late afternoon. 

I hurried my tent up and rushed out—I had to pick up some things at the store and parts of Australia have a habit of closing at five or six on Saturdays and sometimes not opening at all on Sundays. 

But I needn't have worried. After shopping, I headed to the center of Fremantle.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Map's End

"Can you fix it?" I had handed over my broken tent pole to the cashier at Ray's Outdoors where I'd bought my tent a week ago.

"Sure, but the question is do we have it in stock."

We checked. They didn't. I was hoping they'd just take it back and give me a new one, but apparently torrential rain and wind isn't covered in my purchase agreement.

"We have these." She showed me some spare rods, the same diameter as mine but longer. "But they're too long."

I didn't really want to try to sort out how to take apart the poles and re-string them anyway.

She made some phone calls.

"They have them across the road. Here, I'll show you where to drive."

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Humpback Highway

I had chosen to go whale-watching with Mills Charters because I could drive from my campground to their departure point at Hillarys Port in about 20 minutes (including stop to put air in my flat tire), and there was plenty of parking. Plus, their Wednesday trips include free admission to the Western Australia aquarium, which is also located at the port.

I used to get direly seasick back in the nineties. The worst time was off San Diego, when I was bobbing alone in the ocean while my dive buddies were wandering around chasing fins or throwing up. The bobbing got to me as I waited and by the time Jon Babcock hauled me back up onto the boat, I was too weak to even take care of myself. He had to haul me over to the side and put my head over the water so I could vomit into the Pacific, then he had to remove my dive gear and drag me to a bench, where I remained until we got back to port. Somehow, none of this stopped me from going on the Marvel dinner that night, but I probably didn't eat that much.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Whale of a Day

So the flat tire and busted tent pole didn't exactly spoil my morning.

A Few Misfortunes

I wandered back to the Perth train station after my day at "the office." I bought a two-zone ticket from a vending machine, showed it to a guard, walked to the platform and got on a train just as it pulled in, and twelve minutes later disembarked, showed my ticket again at the exit, and found the #424 bus stop back to Karrinyup Waters Resort.

The bus pulled up shortly, and my ticket included a free transfer.

"Do you know Karrinyup Campground?" I asked the driver.

He nodded, and ten minutes later, he dropped me off right in front of the campground.

I was pretty satisfied with myself as I walked through the gate and towards my tent site behind the camper's kitchen.

And then I remembered—the wind! The wind had been hellacious today. I hadn't felt it high in my office tower, but the weather reports had been scary enough that both whale-watching outfitters I'd contacted had cancelled today's trips—that was why I'd booked for tomorrow and worked today.

From the 29th Floor in a Perth Office Building

"So my tent does leak," I thought, staring at the roof late last night. I thought briefly about rushing into the car with my sleeping bag, mat, and pillow, but the outside between me and the car was a lot wetter than the inside.

Fortunately, the rain stopped a minute later. But the wind howled all night. 

I'd made it all the way back to suburban Perth over the course of the day, starting in Jurien Bay and visiting Pinnacles, the Benedictine monastery town of New Norcia, then stopping at Yanchep National Park to see a cave and go on a koala information walk before I drove back to Perth where I ended up sitting in the parking lot of a shopping center, watching the rain come down.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Pinnacles in Nambung National Park

Here are some photos from my first stop on Monday morning, the Pinnacles in Nambung National Park. This is near Cervantes, which is about 20 minutes south of Jurien Bay where I stayed the night.

Turning Around to Head Back South

After watching the dolphins at Monkey Mia, I jumped in the car and headed down a scenic route past the small town of Denham, then back out to the main highway—two lanes with three-section "road trains," massive trucks that nearly blow little Hyundais clear off the road when they pass at the overtaking section.

Yes, that was a bit scary.

I drove for hours—Highway 1 in the middle of Australia's west coast is straight and desolate, slicing through a beautiful but brutal hot, dry, and sunny environment. I was glad to have a brand-new zippy rental car instead of one of those dilapidated rental camper vans. Plus, gas prices were nuts—at $5.69 a gallon, I'll take a Hyundai over a van any day.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Dolphins at Monkey Mia

Driving Along the Coral Coast

As usual, I got a late start. Constant reorganizing hasn't helped my natural inclination to putter in the mornings.

But there's breakfast to make and camp to break down. I caught on to get just-add-hot-water breakfasts for camping as there's always a camping kitchen at the caravan parks I'm frequenting, and I have my cheap IKEA pot for heating up water. I have instant oatmeal, a coffee press, banana bread, and strawberries. And then I get to take apart my house after doing my dishes and showering. I remember Turbo used to get frustrated with how long I took when we'd break down camp. Maybe that's why he made my coffee every morning though he didn't drink it himself, because he was bored while waiting for me.

The campground staff was already doing their daily cleaning by the time I left, sweeping off the nice green mats that we camp on and taking out the trash. I pulled out and stopped by the town information center to buy my Australia national parks pass. For $40, I got one good for a month. Would I be visiting four national parks in my little blue Hyundai? Maybe.

I headed up the coast and turned right, out of Kalbarri the town and into Kalbarri National Park. This is known for scenic river gorges—I'd just left the cliff gorges of the coast. I'd pull down little access roads and stop, follow a trail while being hounded by evil Aussie persistent flies, take in the view, then go back to the car and drive to the next cool panorama.


After a long day's drive, I stopped in Kalbarri. 

Which looks like this. 

The last photo is how I charge my laptop.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Car Wheels on a Gravel Road

I'd been so tired on Thursday night that I'd been fast asleep, in my little orange and olive-green tent, by 10 p.m.

Which was good, since the sun is up early here in Western Australia. I was out of bed and in the camp showers by six a.m.

Mmmm, warm private showers. The ablution block didn't have women's and men's rooms. They had eight little cubicles, each of which of had a shower and toilet.

The rain was still on and off, so I broke down camp quickly, like it wasn't my first time with this tent.

But I'd forgotten one problem with camping in the rain.

Wet tent.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Whirlwind Tour of Suburban Perth

This zebra was in a bra store in Perth.
I caught a free local bus from my Perth hotel to Europcar at 2:30 on Thursday.

In the rain. 

Rain's not good for camping, is it? 

I had a $34 faux Thermarest as well as my regular luggage. I'd picked it up yesterday at a surplus store. I'm not a fan of fake Thermarests as they lack the insulating layer, but given that this wasn't going home with me and I already have two Thermarests in my Jersey City garage, this didn't seem like the place for a splurge. And during the camping trip Turbo the Aussie and I had taken across the States in 2002, his cheapie had held up well. Until it melted one day. But I only needed mine to hold up for 11 days and then through Amanda's trip in December. (We're doing tag-team Oz and she's taking my camping gear.) 

The guy at the rental car agency tried not to laugh at me when I asked him a dozen questions about how to not hit kangaroos on the road. I was only joking, of course. I lived in Australia on and off for two years. I know I'm as likely to hit a 'roo here as I am a deer at home. That is to say, likely.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Moving Continents

My airport shuttle didn't show up at 3 p.m. yesterday in Bangkok.

Fortunately, the travel agent was aware of it and at five past three, she was on the phone with the shuttle, demanding to know why they hadn't arrived yet.

The shuttle had been cancelled as no one else had booked. They'd just forgotten to tell her.

I was lucky—there was a meter taxi looking for a fare right outside the travel agent's office. He zipped me over to Phayathai Skytrain station where I jumped on the airport train, making it to Bangkok's airport in no time.

The Thai Airways flight was amazing for an economy flight. I kept thinking they'd bumped me up to Business Class—that's how much leg room I had.

Unfortunately, due to a blip in the Star Alliance round-the-world ticket, I had to fly to Sydney and then take Virgin Blue (which is red, due to a blip in Australian culture) back to Perth, which isn't really all that far from Bangkok. But there was nothing the alliance could do get me from Perth to Sydney, so I would have had to fly back to Asia then back to Australia to get from Perth to Sydney.

But Who Would Hamburglar Support?

So who would win in a fair fight? Thai Ronald or Bangkok Leprechaun?

Both of these guys live on Khao San Road.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Leaving Asia

I've packed up and left my bags at Sakul House hotel reception. I had a last pad thai—a disappointing one—and will get one last Thai massage before heading to the airport on the 3 p.m. shuttle.

The tourist bus doesn't run anymore from Khao San Road to the airport, but the shuttles are only 130 baht door-to-door. Unfortunately, I couldn't figure out how to use them FROM the airport, so for that I've been taking the airport train to Phayathai and catching a meter taxi from there.

The unusual here is normal now and I am not phased by much in Bangkok. When I think back to when I first arrived in June and remember how excited I was by a modern, clean room and sticky rice, I have to laugh. Small things struck me as delightful on my first day in after four months in Africa. I'd been excited by free bottled water and iced coffee. And of course, the chance to get my parasites seriously checked out.