Back to the future! No plutonium required. .

WEEK 7

My early morning walk from the hostel to the bus stop was really nice. Despite the weight of my backpack during the hour long trek, I really enjoyed watching and hearing Australia wake up. Part of the walk took me along side some bush and the sounds were incredible. There was one bird song that was particularly enchanting, I’ve heard it since and still have no idea who is singing the song!

Byron Bay is definitely somewhere I could live. The place has such a cool, relaxed vibe to it. I know I sound like some washed out 70’s hippie but I don’t care. That’s kind of what Byron is anyway! There are so many cool little stores, most locally owned. I loved all the art galleries and bohemian shops. And, NO McDonalds. The locals campaigned against it opening, and won! Amazing. Although, there is a Subway there. Yes to global baguettes, No to global burgers (or something). I found a really nice little second hand bookstore. I must’ve spent an hour in there, but I did eventually buy a couple of books. I still have the brown paper bag they came in, although it’s a bit tattered now!
There is also a local brewery which is attached to a pub, producing some fantastic beers. It’s all ‘open plan’ so you can watch it being brewed. It’s even better between 5-7pm. Yep, happy hour!!
That’s a lot of words and I still haven’t mentioned the SURF and SUN! I’d love to show you some pics but, I HAVE NONE!! Haha, not sure what that says but I’ll settle for ‘having too much fun‘.

The hostel I stayed at, The Arts Factory, is totally my kind of place. I knew as soon as I saw the flyer for it that I wanted to stay there. It’s very alternative and so attracts the same kind of people I guess. Well, I’m far from alternative but the mindset is the same. I just don’t have any hemp clothing or rainbow jogging pants. Don’t mention dreadlocks. I do walk barefoot a lot though!

Linked in to this ‘alternative’ world is a local village called Nimbin. I’m being pretty crass, but if I told you it’s a mini Amsterdam without the canals then you might just get the point. They grow and sell cannabis in an almost ‘legal’ environment. Local guys run trips out there as it’s around 40mins or so from Byron. I’d heard good things about the trips and so booked on to one. Just to have a look, you understand. Bad move! I’ve really avoided the organised tours and things, but this one looked kind of fun. Some crazy colourful retro bus picks you up, takes you to a watering hole for a swim before stopping off at a park for a BBQ. The day ends with an hour and a half free time around Nimbin before heading back to Byron. Sounds fun? For me, it sucked. I forgot my boardies so the watering hole was a non-event. Even still, the fact that there were 30-odd others there at the same time kind of took the sheen of what was a really cool place.

A very crowded, very pretty, watering hole

The BBQ was a bit of a bun fight and Nimbin itself was a damp squib. Sure, there were a few rough looking characters out on the street selling hash cakes and in most shops you could buy papers and grinders. I guess, if you’re 18 and travelling abroad with your mates then this place will be like some kind of mecca. I’ve been there, done that and the place really didn’t interest me at all. I needed to see it the way Tommo did and really get involved with the locals. He ended up staying out on some guys farm and had a real blast! But, I didn’t have the freedom of my own transport. The time to leave slowly rolled around, as the heavens opened and really compounded what had been a washout day. No more trips. My promise to me.

A rather large Guana added little excitement to the BBQ
Nimbin town
Nimbin school. Far out man!
Get me OUT OF HERE!

In stark contrast, the night of the washout day was brilliant! The 6 bed dorm I was staying in consisted of me, and 5 girls. That’s the first and only time (to date) that I have been the only guy in the dorm (VERY careful with the spelling there). In amongst these dreadfully lucky lay-dees was Sabine. I’d met her the previous night when we shared some drinks with a few others in the hostel, including a chap named Jim who I really need to blog about. Jim is at the wrong end of 40 and has been travelling (according to his self publicity) for 19 years since winning a huge court case. He was not the defendant, nor the prosecution. Our Jim, from Liverpool, is a lawyer. I would have liked to have chatted a bit more with our Jim as he seemed very interesting and has been to a lot of places, but he was such a cock. Sorry, but no other way to describe him with my limited grasp of English vulgarities (haha!). His self-confidence was unbearable and his opinion of women, even worse. We were having fun sharing some real cheesy chat up lines, when I asked Jim about his. “Don’t use them” he said. I said “yeah, I don’t either but everybody knows some”. But no, not our Jim. I promise you, this is what he said. “I just stand there in a club. If a girl wants to talk to me, then she’ll come over and talk to me. I’m happy to listen. I’ve never had to approach a girl yet”’. Well, Jimbo, I doth my cap of disbelief in your general direction. Anyway I digress too much about him, back to Sabine. So Sabine is a very interesting, very pretty and very funny German. Yeah, it’s true, they do make them! She works as a film set designer and has worked on Mission Impossible and Inglorious Bastards.

After my crap day, I really wanted to go out for a drink. We went to the Byron Brewery and had a couple of beers and something to eat with an English guy Sabine had met. At some point, we lost him so decided to head in to town. We found a bar called The Beach Hotel playing some live music. The band was incredible! I described the music as a kind of ska/funk/jazz. Our Jim, who we spotted standing, alone, at the bar all night later corrected me that it was in fact New Orleans?! Whatever their style, they rocked. Sabine and I danced the night away before another HUGE storm hit Byron and totally soaked us on the way back to the hostel.

There was one last bottle of red in the stash when we arrived back that we teamed up on and soon demolished before retiring. All in all, a very pleasant and fun evening.

After the late night/early morning I slept in and almost missed my bus to Surfers Paradise. In hindsight, that would have been a much more acceptable outcome. It’s more commonly known as just Surfers, which makes way more sense as I’m not sure where the Paradise bit fits in? Sure, if skyscrapers on the beach and pink garish Hummers and Limo’s cruising around is your paradise then you’re in business. If more nightclubs then you can shake a cocktail at makes your feet dance, then book your ticket. If you’d like to go to Vegas but would rather go to Australia, then you get the picture. After my love affair with Byron, my heart was truly broken by Surfers. Haha, that’s a bit harsh. It wasn’t quite so bad, just not for me.

Paradise! (If you’re a builder perhaps)
Get ‘hummered’. I didn’t make that up, it says it on the pink one.

The only thing Surfers had going for it was it’s proximity to Southport. I had received communication from Woollacott HQ that a distant relative was looking forward to my imminent arrival and that I was to make sure I paid a visit. The said distant relative is a very special lady called Cathy Arbuckle. Now, here’s the science bit. She is my Papa’s cousin (or my Grandpa/Granddad if you prefer). I’m still not entirely sure what that makes her to me but as soon as I arrived we were like old pals! It was a mission to get there though. Opting to walk, I was soon regretting it as the heavens split wide open and poured down with some of the southern hemispheres finest. I could have jumped in the estuary I was walking beside and I would not be any wetter! Add to this the fact that I really didn’t know where I was going, except the general direction of Southport, and you might agree on the mission! I got to the CBD and managed to find some temporary shelter. Luckily, I’d made some sandwiches so was able to feed my rapidly developed hunger. Albeit with damp bread and soggy cheese – mmmmmm!!

With renewed energy, I wandered through the shopping precinct and came across a barbers shop. I had been looking out for one for a while as my ’hair’ was getting long (no sniggering at the back please!). I checked my watch, 7.30pm – damn, the sign on the door informed me they close at 7pm although there still seemed to be some life inside. I tentatively pushed the door, and it opened. Popping my bushy mane of hair inside, “are you still open?” I comically asked. “Sure” said the receptionist, “we’re open until 7pm tonight”. I double checked my watch, which by now was showing 7.32pm due to time never standing still. “But it’s 7.30” I half asked, half stated. “No, no” said receptionist, pointing at the MASSIVE clock above her head showing 6.30pm. “Have you arrived from the south” she enquired half friendly, half mockingly. “Yes” I exclaimed!! (haha, it’s like a play). “Well, we are 1 hour behind New South Wales in Queensland”. “Oh, I forgot” I said, lyingly. Anyway, thankfully caught up (or down?) with time the going rate for a simple no.1 all over was $20 – no thanks!! A student could have done it for less but they all went home an hour ago. For 10 bonus points, what time did the students go home at? 😉

I carried on and checked out 2 more places, getting as low as $15 before I found a gents only barber run by a British ex-pat. She agreed a fee of $10 for her services and commenced the chop! This was only after some banter with a lady who was leaving about something called ‘meter-maids’. In Surfers Paradise, young girls run around in gold hot pants and bikini tops dropping coins in the meters that are about to run out to save people getting fines. Such a brilliant service, and so well delivered too!

So, all this has happened and I still haven’t even made it to Cathy Arbuckle’s place! Nobody had heard of the address. My barber didn’t know either, but was able to point me towards the taxi rank. I was going to try the same trick as I did in Newcastle. I asked the first cabbie, and discovered it was quite a way out of town. In fact, had I taken a different route from Surfers I would have been there by now – and probably dry – but with long hair – and an hour ahead!! Anyway, he told me he could take me for $14. I asked if he could do it for $10 and he told me to get in. Sweet. I haven’t had much success bartering in Australia but that was two results in quick succession!

The area Cathy lives in would have been pretty tricky to navigate on foot so I was thankful for the taxi. The numbers don’t seem to have any pattern to them, it’s all very random! The taxi had a funky light on the roof that he could turn from inside the cab and point at the houses, illuminating the numbers as we went – genius! Eventually, we came to the right number. I gave him the 10 bucks and knocked on Cathy’s door. I have to admit slight apprehension, especially when she seemed very confused when I introduced myself. But then a huge smile broke out across her face as she said, “come in son, come in”. Her features reflect my Papa in many ways, and her cheeky personality did to. My family often say I’m a ‘Rae’ so maybe that’s another reason how we got on so well.

We chatted for a few hours, and looked through some old photographs before Cathy revealed that in fact she had no idea that I was coming until that morning. She had only just received a letter in the post from Scotland telling her that I was in the country and would stop by! She kindly invited me to stay, but I had already paid for my hostel back in Sufferers Paradise. We went next door to meet the rest of the family, including her daughter Carolyn, son-in-law Derek and their 3 children. She also has a son who works as a flying Doctor, just like in that Aussie soap The Flying Doctors. How cool? She’s been out there for 15 years and loves it. Inspirational. Derek kindly gave me a lift back to my hostel and I left promising to try my best to stop by on my way back south so we could go out for a meal.

Me with Cathy Arbuckle. A truly lovely lady!

My bus was booked for the following day to take me up to Maroochydore. This was something I’d been looking forward to since Sydney. Whilst staying at the Palmer Palace I had sent a speculative email to friends I had met whilst travelling Europe in 2005. Jason and Mel Zerner live in Bli Bli which is on the Sunshine coast not far from Noosa. Mel had replied with an open invitation to come and stay! We planned it for the weekend as Jason works during the week so this coming Friday was the day. I had to take the bus to Brisbane, which at this point was still struggling from the massive flooding suffered over huge parts of Queensland. The same floods that had convinced my friends back in Port Macquarie to abandon their plans. From Brisbane, I caught a connecting bus out to Maroochydore passing the Steve Irwin Australia zoo en route.

Jason met me at the bus stop with his two adorable children, Eva and Finlay. Back at the Zerner place it wasn’t long before Jason dusted down the Steins he’d bought back in Munich where we met and began to fill them with his home brew – laaavley! Mel had prepared a delicious curry and we reminisced into the wee hours. A wine bottle or two fell prey to Mrs Zerner if I remember correctly!

Getting on the steins – Bli Bli, Australia (January 2011)
Getting on the steins – Munich, Germany (May 2005)

The next day after some awesome bacon and eggs we headed of to try our hand at wakeboarding. Some of you may remember the video I posted on facebook portraying my failed attempt (one of many) that day. In my defence I did manage one lap of the lake, although one lap during a 5 hour session is probably not much to shout about! Jason fared much better than I did!

Preparing for first kneeboard session – nailed it easy!

That afternoon we had a BBQ at the park at one of the free grills that are provided by the local councils. I’ve seen these in use all over the place and they look great. I was loving hanging with the locals and cooking up some snags, bonza mate!

The ‘free-to-use’ BBQ stations – sweet!
Cooking up a storm!
Back at Jason and Mel’s place

In the evening we hired out Inglorious Bastards so I could check out Sabine’s work. It was ace just chilling with snacks and some of Jason’s home brewed ginger beer. They have a really cool TV room, just for the adults. A little sanctuary, I love it!

Next day we hit Mudjimba beach for a play in the sea before heading to Mooloolaba Surf club for some tea. That has to be my favourite place name so far, it’s just fun to say it! Moo-loo-la-ba!!

Moo-loo-la-ba, LOVE IT!
Thanks you guys for a lovely meal and top weekend!

I said my goodbyes that night as Jason was going to be up around 4.30am for work! We arranged to meet up the following weekend if I was still in the area. In the morning, long after 4.30am, Mel dropped me at the bus stop before taking a very excited Eva to her first ever day at Kindergarten. I made my way to Noosa.
I only planned a couple of nights there, but you know what happens with plans around here!

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These places have kitchens??

Week 6

There’s a worrying thing developing here – as I’m writing about places I visited a few weeks ago (ok, months) I’m realising that, already, I miss them!  Just thinking back to the bright lights, sunshine and party of Sydney makes me want to go back (if only to catch a bus to Melbourne, a city I sadly missed out). Perhaps the fact that I’m now well and truly into the New Zealand autumn and it’s raining outside, is also bringing a longing for sun!

Anyway, back to the plot. I was really looking forward to my first journey onboard the Greyhound bus. Pretty sad I know, but having watched one too many movies, the image of the sprinting greyhound logo has a kind of mystical ’other world’ quality to it for me.

Mystical and ‘other worldly’, apparently!

At the end of my last blog I casually mention the fact that ‘I made a note of a couple of hostels in Newcastle and headed in to Sydney to catch the bus’. This is probably not a bad thing to do if, say, you’re arriving into your destination at 9.20am – but 9.20pm? Yeah, it’s pretty bad!

I wandered the streets for a while and noticed very quickly that, the abundance of hostels I’d experienced in Sydney was clearly not replicated in a town such as Newcastle. Fortunately, I’d made a note of a couple of hostels and the street names. I found a taxi rank and got directions from a cabbie – is this the height of cheek or common sense? He directed me on what was only a short 5 minute walk so he wouldn’t have made much money out of me anyway! I found the YHA and they literally had one bed left! Result. The guy said someone had called but didn’t actually reserve it so, seeing as I was standing in front of him I could have it. BUT, it was only for one night as they were fully booked the next night. Well, at that moment, that’s all I needed in my world.

Next day, I walked down to Backpackers By The Beach (one of only 2 other hostels in town!) and they had bed in a dorm of 8. I booked in for two nights then headed back up to the YHA to have a play on the piano I’d clocked. Turns out it was royally out of tune, but I had a little blast nonetheless!

After some beach time during the day, (no swimming due to poisonous blue bottle jelly fish in the water!) I hit Newcastle town to find some nightlife and ended up in a bar called Great Northern Hotel where I found some live music. I’m so used to going out on my own now, but back then it still felt really weird. It’s such a fun thing though, you never know what’s gonna happen (if anything!). On this occasion, I got talking to some locals which resulted in me being invited into a private party in an adjoining bar for some guy who was leaving for 2 years in Scotland! They ran out of music at one point and my ipod came off the subs bench to keep the party going, very random. Turned out to be a great night, with a final fling down on the beach!

Not what you want to see when you fancy a dip!

I woke up the next morning with a slight headache and checked my emails. A time bomb I’d left, ticking away at home, had gone off. This is gonna seem pretty cryptic to most but that’s just the way it is. It wasn’t an unexpected turn of events, but still it hit me pretty hard. I spiralled into a real state of sadness and just kind of wandered off aimlessly towards the town. I sat on a bench and tried to collect my thoughts. I must have sat there for maybe an hour as the world just passed me by. Eventually, I decided this was doing no good whatsoever. I dragged my lame ass back to the hostel, grabbed my bag, bought some lunch and headed off on a coastal walk.

The scenery was fantastic and the weather, even better! It was really hot and, once I’d reached the top of a seemingly endless hill, I took a break on a bench overlooking the sea for some lunch.

Was the sky REALLY that blue?
Hunters Bay

As I sat there enjoying the view, and giving myself the faintest slap on the back for having ‘man’d up a bit’ a car pulled up behind me. It seemed to have the noisiest, rattle-iest engine known to man. My serene contemplation was smashed. I heard the door slam, yet the engine was still offending my ears. Then came the question “is there any surf out there?”. I turned around to meet ‘Angel Alex’. I don’t know much about this girl other than her name is Alex, she is an awesome surfer and has a tattoo that says ‘Follow your heart‘. She goes to a church near Bondi beach in Sydney and, for some reason, she had decided to take a ride out to Newcastle (around 120km’s) that day to catch some waves. She sat down next to me on the bench and I offered her some of my crisps (Burger Rings!), which happened to be her favourite. She asked if she could join me and then, thankfully, turned off the engine! We sat and had some lunch, after which she asked me what I was doing (which was nothing much!) and invited me to join her for a surf. She even had a spare wetsuit and board. Even writing this down, I’m starting to wonder if it actually happened but I have a picture of her and also, she wrote in my journal so I’m confident this was not a psychotic episode triggered by emotion and the searing Australian sun!

‘Alex Angel’ – Follow Your Heart

We headed to a beach called Hunters and got in the water. The wet suit was a shorty and the board had no leash. The waves were pretty blown out and the blue bottle warning sign was up. But, I had a blast! Eventually we gave up on the whole surfing thing and just messed about in the white water. When the guy next to me got stung by a blue bottle, I decided that was my cue to lay on the beach and dry off. After the surf we took a short drive back towards town and stopped for some food. The waiter recommended the Kingfish that had been caught locally that day. It has to be the most delicious fish I ever ate! It was soooo good. Alex invited me back to Sydney with her but I didn’t want to back track. I thanked ’Angel Alex’ for everything she did that day (she even paid for the meal and wouldn’t take a penny from me!) and let her get on her way as I walked back to my hostel. She drove past me towards the highway, slowed the car and threw a bag of lollies (sweets!) for me, beeped her horn and drove off. I swear, it was like something from a movie!!!

Back at the hostel I met Ross, his girlfriend Jakki (both Englanders) and Dimitri (Belgianite). We shared a few drinks in the common area during which I was continually ribbed for being a ’flashpacker’. The only grounds for this abuse was the fact that, up until this point, I hadn’t actually used a hostel kitchen! (In all honesty, I didn’t even know they HAD these kind of facilities until I arrived in Newcastle. It turns out there was a whole other area of my hostel back in Sydney that I hadn’t even discovered!) I’d been eating out the whole time. Not as grand as it might sound, but I was yet to experience a true backpacker’s life of noodles and pasta (I‘m well versed now, no fear!). Ross, on the other hand, had an iPhone with FULL internet access at his disposal – YUPPY!

The following day I had sorted myself out and, full of beans, caught the free bus to the Blackbutt Nature Reserve. I had an awesome time hanging with the locals including kangaroos, koalas and wallabies. Seeing these guys at such close proximity only made me more determined to witness them in the wild in their natural habitat. The highlight was having an actual cuddle with an actual koala, even if it met queuing up with all the kids and their actual parents!


Following the stick I received the previous night, I decided it was perhaps time I started to cater for myself. If only to give the budget some respite as Australia was really dining out on my sterling. I ventured into the local supermarket and bought. . . . . Super Noodles!! Well, it’s a start. I also got some stuff for lunch, real showboating! I am pleased to report that the noodles were a resounding success. I expertly boiled the kettle and poured the water in to the marker line. Mamma would be proud! The evening was rounded off with a viewing of Anchorman then a dip in the ocean baths at around midnight with Ross and co, as you do. Not as daft as it might sound though as we discovered two female natives also taking a dip that night, having been out for a jog!

Next stop was Port Macquarie. Ross and Jakki were on the same bus and we’d also booked into the same hostel to continue the party! Yeah, I booked the hostel this time. No more chancing it during the high season, especially having witnessed someone sleeping with backpack in a bus stop that morning! (My mind did wonder if he was the guy who called the YHA that day but didn’t book?!!) We met up with a cute English girl on the bus, Belinda, who also happened to be booked in to the same hostel – Ozzie Pozzie.  As soon as we arrived, the place felt like home. It was nice to have friends around from before, which also helped in making more friends. Soon, we had pretty much the whole hostel chatting which resulted in a damn fine party that night! I think I will stay in touch with people I met here for a long time. There’s one couple in particular, Paul and Joanne, who I should have no excuse in losing touch with – they’re from Corby! Can you believe it? My Dad always says “you can go anywhere in the world and meet people from Corby”. I remember feeling pretty stunned when we bumped into some people from Corby during a holiday to Spain, just walking down the street! But this time, I’m halfway round the world. It was pretty incredible.

There were some real characters at that hostel, including one American who claimed to be the son of Tim Allen. We had no reason to doubt him, until a couple of days after when Inspector Joanne Forbes of Corby did some Google research and outed this guy as a fraud!! Also, a special blog mention for ‘Dangerous Double Decks’ Dave the Gooner. He was your typical ‘been there done that, better than you’ type of guy. I helped shut him down a bit by kicking his ass at ping pong (one tale of his was he’d beaten the no.3 seed from the UK who was out in Aus, does that make me no.1 then?? Haha!). He was also some kind of ‘MC’, although not the hammer type. During the ‘hostel party’ he turned on some beats and started to MC over the top. To be fair to the guy, he was pretty good but everyone was making that noise you make when you’re trying to stifle a laugh – he didn’t notice cause he was ‘in the zone’. What a ledg’!

Belinda presenting Ross licking another man’s nipple. Why??
Tommo playing the UK No.3 seed killer – Dangerous Dave
Do you have the number for the RSPCA? There’s a SWAN on the lose!
There’s two things I’m not sure of here. Why he’s Santa, and why he’s hugging me?

 

Breaking out the 'bricklayer' move - copyright Richie Vids!

Over the next few days we played the tourist part quite well, taking in the Koala Hospital where they care for injured and sick Koalas from across Queensland and a bike ride along the Port Macquarie costal track. The bike ride didn’t last as long as we thought it might, lets just say Belinda and bikes didn’t mix.

 

Take your medicine little dude!

Hell's Angels stopping for a sausage roll!

Some of the Port Mcquarie coast line

Little fella hanging out in the Port Mcquarie bush

With some time to kill after the shortened bike ride I ‘almost’ had a tattoo done! I think I will get one (I know what I want and where) but once it’s done I can’t go in the water for at least 2 weeks. In which case, Australia in the summer is NOT the place to have it done. Somehow, the failed tattoo attempt ended up in a successful back waxing event!! What is it with the holiday brain? Anyway, it hurt like HELL getting it done but I feel better on the beach now and slightly less ape like (although the chest wig survived)! I shall spare you the pictures, just in case you’re killing some moments on your lunch break!

 

You really don't wanna see or hear what happened beyond these doors!

During this lot, my mate Tommo arrived (you might remember from the cricket match?) and joined us for some party! He was ‘flashpacking’ around in a rented camper so was very welcome as head chauffeur for the gang!

We rounded off Port Macquarie with a ride out in some kayaks to try and find dolphins. It was a failed mission, but we had some fun riding the waves in the kayaks (during which I lost my flip-flops overboard!). I’d have LOVED to have seen some dolphins but as the saying goes, you can’t have your kayak and eat it – or something.

 

Ross, Jakki, Belinda and Planet of the Apes

Belinda jumpin' in't water while I took pickcha wi't cam'ra!

Word on the street was that some bad weather was due up north, exactly the direction we were heading. Brisbane was already suffering from flooding and Queensland in general seemed to be getting worse, not better. Most of the gang decided to abort their Aussie east coast mission. Ross and Jakki headed off to NZ, whilst Belinda flew off to meet up with friends in Tasmania. Paul and Joanne braved it though, in proper Corby tradition, as did I! It was really sad when they all left, but that’s another part of travel that I’ve gotten used to. They come, and they go. The good ones will stay in touch.

Next day I was bound for Coffs Harbour (fnarr! fnarr!). I had booked into a hostel called Hooey Mooey. I figured, I’d had such a good time at Ozzie Pozzie, that if it rhymes then I’m in! It turns out Hooey Mooey, is slang for Hotel Motel and Australian for ‘this place sucks‘. The place really DID suck. At this point, it was the worst hostel I had stayed in. It was a Motel style place, really like the ones you see in American films. It reminded me of ‘My Name is Earl’! Anyway, the pub joined on to the motel was gearing up for a serious party that night for the ‘kids’. You know, the 18-21 year old lot. I think I got old that night. Seriously, the bass was so intense that the windows of my room rattled constantly. Practically impossible to sleep. The next night was no better as my neighbours preferred sitting outside my room instead of theirs after they got back from the club.

Coffs Harbour itself was really nice but I think a mixture of the shit hostel, and being back on my own again after such a good time with friends all meant I didn’t really enjoy my time there. I had a really nice time just relaxing on the beach the first day, and there was a really cool farmers market the next day. It was nice chatting to the locals about all their stuff, although my sum total purchase was. . . . a banana!!! Haha, very nice though.

 

Coffs Harbour, er, harbour I guess!

Coffs Harbour bay

Coffs Harbour beach - just me and a couple of fishermen!

It wasn’t a hard decision to move on from Coffs. Notwithstanding the fact that the next destination was Byron Bay! I checked the Greyhound website and found I had two options, 6.25am or 5.20pm. The early option was a bit ‘ouch’ and the later one wouldn’t get me there until after 9pm. I did what any self respecting, hardened decision maker would do. I tossed a coin. Fate had a little chuckle and turned up 6.25am. I duly obliged, booked my pass and also a couple of nights in a funky looking hippy hostel called The Arts Factory. I set my alarm and hit my bunk. We continue. . . . .

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He bowls to the left. . . he bowls to the riiiight!

Week 5

After 10 nights at the Jackaroo hostel in Sydney, I was sooooo ready to move on. But, not before one final fling on the cross which culminated in this rather random facebook status – Just watched Spurs complete a 9 point Christmas full house. The downside? It’s now 5am and I have to check out in 5 hours! The famous ‘night before’ trick strikes again. Highlights include the Tottenham win, Matteo from Italy always on the phone to Mama, a stack from Pie Face (steak pie, gravy, mash potato and mushy peas at 4am, wow!) and a girl from England called Panda. Really? Night.

The ‘stack’ from Pie Face deserves a posthumous mention. It was a taste sensation!!!  England needs Pie Face in its’ life.

Miss dish delish!

Iain had put me in touch with his old ’panel beating’ boss, Cindy, in Cronulla who kindly invited me to stay. It seemed the perfect opportunity for a detox after the madness of Kings Cross. I was packing my stuff ready to leave Jackaroo the next morning when I realised I hadn’t confirmed to Cindy when I would be arriving! Luckily she is a very cool lady. I text her pretty late on 1st January saying I was hoping to arrive 2nd January! The text she sent back could not have been any nicer “That’s cool with me. I was getting worried about u, just let me know were u r and we can meet up or I will pick u up somewhere”.

Cindy met me at Cronulla train station next day and we went for some breakfast. It was cool to meet up having heard all about her from Iain. The flat is just a short walk from the station, and when I tell you it was on the beach then take it literally. Iain and Rozz were fortunate enough to call this place home for 6 months whilst they were here in 2005 and I was cruising Europe in my Camper.

The view from Chez Cindy

Cindy was an amazing hostess with the mostess and made me feel at home instantly. So much so, I fell asleep after we’d chatted for a while on the balcony! This became quite a habit in the relaxed surroundings of Chez Cindy and soon earned me the nickname of ‘Noddie’ – how endearing? Haha! But hey, it was great recovery from Christmas and New Year.

Cindy cooked for me the whole time I was there and even did some washing, truly spoiled! The first evening she cooked some steak and prawns on the BBQ – proper Aussie! The prawns were amazing – another first for me. That night it was really nice just to chill and watch some news and a couple of films. Oh, and hear some of the tales of the time Iain (or Tangles as she liked to call him!) worked for her.

I slept in until midday, something I really can’t remember having done for years. I’ve had some nice lay-ins but not actually slept until the afternoon! I got up and went to have some breakfast on the balcony. This is a pretty mundane thing to blog about, but when I turned the key in the door to go out I snapped it!! After everything Cindy had done for me so far, I felt so bad! Iain and Rozz were still in town and we’d planned to meet up that afternoon. They arrived at the flat and I quickly employed Iain and his dexterous hands to try and remove the chunk of key that remained inside the lock. I had visions of huge bills from the locksmith running through my head, but Iain saved the day! I picked up the spare key and had a new one made that afternoon – total cost $3, phew! I fessed up to Cindy when she got home, and she told me off for messing about getting a new key!!

View from inside (just to remind me it was real!)

I had planned a surf that afternoon with Iain, but the weather decided otherwise so we grabbed a beer instead before meeting up with Rozz for lunch. Next day was slightly better and we at least managed to get in the water but it was still pretty blown out. My pop-up is getting MUCH better though, especially after some pointers from the pros during the surfari.

I was heading off the next morning so, as a way of showing some gratitude, I bought dinner for me and Cindy that night. Even THAT was pretty hard to get her to accept but in the end I won! I’d love to show you a picture of her, but she was not playing so you just need to use your imagination (or ask Iain!). (Dinner was fish n chips by the way, yummy!)

Next morning, bright and early, Darren picked me up along with Luke (faaamily) and Scott (friend and neighbour) and we headed off to the Sydney Cricket Ground to see the third day of the fifth and final test of The Ashes. I’ve never been to a cricket match before, and what a way to break that duck! I was expecting some pretty boring moments at some point through out the day seeing as we got there before 10am and were not likely to leave until around 6pm. But, the day flew by! The weather was awesome, and England were smashing the Aussies all over the ground.

Sydney Cricket Ground
View from the ‘dear’ seats!

We couldn’t have picked a better day to go and the Barmy Army really got the atmosphere going. It was as much as the Aussie fans could do to just laugh along with/at the English, they really need to sort their banter out! They truly have ’only got one song!’.

The Barmy Army!
Vic Flowers – The ring leader of the party!

Bearing in mind I was half way around the world, it was cool to meet up with a few familiar faces at the match – two of them VERY familiar. First of all, I bumped in to Matt who served in the Armed Forces with Garry, my brother-in-law (incidentally, not long before I left England I dj’d at his Wife’s 30th party!). Sometime in the afternoon after sinking a few more ‘low alcohol’ VB beers (damn Aussie drinking laws) I met up with Bingo and Tommo, two of my Volkswagen geek brigade!

Ma boyzzzzz!

Most people had some form of pink about their person (granted, not as much as Bingo and Tommo had!) as this day of The Ashes is known as ‘pink day’ and is a charity fund raiser for the McGrath Cancer Foundation (www.mcgrathfoundation.com.au). Jane McGrath was the English wife of Aussie cricketer Glenn McGrath. Sadly, she died in 2008 from complications following treatment for breast cancer. She started the foundation in 2007 and Glenn has carried it on in her memory. Everybody gets involved right down to the players, the sponsors and even the stumps!

Ian Bell, celebrating his century in front of the pink stumps!

We gave the Aussies one ‘helluva’ beating that day and finished on 488/7, with The Ashes pretty much in the bag.  It was a truly historic match, as well as Series. The score was the highest England have ever achieved in Australia. We also witnessed a  test match first worldwide as it was the first time in history that the 6th, 7th and 8th wicket partnerships all made 100! And the cherry on this particular statistic pie is the fact that it was 24 years ago when England last won The Ashes on Australian soil – sweet! Maybe they should sponsor me to come back for the next one? 😉
We headed back to Palmer Palace and ordered a takeaway to celebrate, with a few more renditions of ‘the Mitchell Johnson chant’ thrown in for good measure!

The next morning I woke up at 7am to watch Spurs play live against Everton. They really have it sweet in the rest of the World when it comes to Premier League football. Pretty much EVERY game is available, you just choose which one you want to watch. Rip off Britain! Unfortunately, this was vintage Spurs. On a high after an awesome Christmas period, only to come crashing down to earth with a 2-1 reverse to Everton. Damn those toffees!
I cheered up with a Skype session with my nephew William on his birthday, followed by a day on Cronulla beach with Darren and his family.

I stayed a couple of nights with Darren and Nicola, again being looked after so fantastically that I was beginning to wonder if I would ever survive hostel life again! But, I obviously couldn’t stay forever so I got on to Greyhound buses and booked the first stage of my journey up the east coast; destination Newcastle.

Libbo and Sammo!

I tried to book in to a cool looking little hostel near Lake McQuarie but, seeing as it was cool AND little, they had no room at such short notice. I made a note of a couple of hostels in Newcastle and headed into Sydney to catch the bus. Darren dropped me at the train station and, for now, I was riding solo again.

Posted in Australia | 1 Comment

Burning the candle at both ends!

Blogging from 30,000ft? Why not! My mission is to get up to date before I leave New Zealand, so the flight there is as good a place to start as any right?

So, with Christmas done and in the bag I had New Year to look forward to. Not just any New Year, but a Sydney Harbour New Year. Arguably the most iconic place on earth to celebrate it.

The time spent between Christmas and New Year up on ‘the cross’, as the locals affectionately refer to it, was just one big party. The place never stops and so, consequently neither do you! I was regularly getting to bed at 5am and later but, because I’m old I never slept in much past 9am either. Mum and Dad used to tell me off for ‘burning the candle at both ends’. Well, I think I even burned the middle during this week!
Most of the time was spent with Koen, and probably the best place we found was World Bar. One night in particular we had a great system going. We were sitting outside on a bench and people would come out for some fresh air or a ciggie (whichever was their want!) and join us at the bench. It was such a simple and easy way of chatting to people. Eventually, we named it the ‘magic chair’ and anyone who sat down got hit with some English/Dutch banter whether they were boy or girl. There was one particular girl, only about 21 or so who was intrigued to learn about Holland. She had no idea where it was, although she DID know that they wear clogs there ALL the time! She asked Koen ‘do they have night clubs in Holland’? Bless!
Koen played his cards right though, and the magic chair produced a Princess. Literally, her name was Princess and love was in the air! 1-0 to Holland.

Me and Koen, the flying Dutchman!

Mixed in with the clubbing, we also managed to get a game of football! It was sooooo good to have a kick about. The hostel I was staying at (Jackaroo) play another hostel called Blue Parrot once a week. I got involved and also managed to get Koen a game even though he was staying at another place. Football in 30c+ is different, I setup camp at the heart of the defence and tried to do as little running as possible (some might say no change!).
We also watched Tron at the World’s largest IMAX 3D Cinema down at Darling Harbour, paying almost $30 in the process for the pleasure!. Add to that a one day ‘Surfari’ at Boat Harbour, Sydney and it’s fair to say me and the Dutchman had quite an eventful week leading up to New Years Eve.

The largest IMAX. . . . in the World!

Another special night during my Sydney stay was spent with the Palmers. I used to work with Darren at Duravit in the UK before he packed up his troubles and jetted off for a new life in Aus, with Nicola (the Wife!) and two kids Libby who is 8 now and Sam who is 4 (I think I got the ages right!). We had been in touch via the magical medium of facebook and arranged to meet up for a meal. Darren also made a fantastical suggestion that we go to see The Ashes as the fifth test was due to take place at the Sydney Cricket Ground during my stay.

Darling Harbour with the Darling Palmers, darling!

It was nice to see a familiar face and I had a really nice meal out at Darling Harbour (posh fish and chips!) which is something that would certainly not have been part of my budget. Darren and Nicola treated me which was awesome, and I’m very grateful! Not only was it great company, but it was also great to get some delicious food and not have to battle my way through a kitchen full of hungry backpackers to make it! We made plans for The Ashes on Jan 5th and I was also invited to stay at Palmers Palace after the game, which was cool.  Dangerously, a bit of a plan forming for the next few weeks!

In amongst all these happenings, Mr Iain Strachan and his lovely wife Rozzo had boarded a plane bound for the United States of Americaaaaa. After a short stay stateside they were heading down under as part of their delayed honeymoon and were due to arrive just before New Years eve. Proper exciting as we had arranged a while ago to meet up at Sydney Harbour for the big party. I couldnae wait!!

So, to the main event. I started the day by going to the barbers, haha!! First time in probably 5 years. The first, and last as at $22 a go that’s certainly not in the budget. I also got him to trim my beard just to get my money’s worth. I kinda liked that tho, he did a good job of it!
I met up with Iain down at Circular Quay (proper exciting, lots of back slapping and man hugging!!) and we headed for the bar.

 

Brits Abroad!

Now, Australia is a place that I understood to be famous for drinking and partying amongst other things. I was pretty sure they could give us Brits a run for our money when it comes to beer drinking. Seems I was mistaken! They have some of the most strict drinking laws I have come across. It also seems that, rather than having an issue with drink driving, the primary concern of the Government for its citizens safety lies in the arena of drink WALKING. It appears our Aussie cousins have difficulty with this normally highly entertaining after-effect of one too many sherberts.

Don’t drink and walk and step in black paint!

Anyway, as a result of all these laws Sydney Harbour was declared an alcohol free zone from around 4pm on New Years eve. Completely.  Once you passed through security (seriously!?) into the Harbour then that was that as far as getting on the beers was concerned. Cleverly (!), we did some olympic power drinking before passing through the gates so the first few hours we were good to go! Koen also met up with us for the party. Once inside we realised there was myriad ways of smuggling some grog in but in all the excitement I didn’t think about it. I’ll know for next time 😉
As part of the ‘festivities’ I printed out a sign so we could take some ‘funny’ pics in front of some of the amazing scenery. This started off fine, but quickly descended into just trying to get into as many tourist pics as we could. It when down well as the whole place was in party mode, although there was one security guard jobsworth in particular who wasn’t feeling the vibe! She threatened to confiscate the camera if we took her photo, HUMBUG!

She was lighting a cigarette. I swear.
Koen caught short!
The local plod, doing his bit for care in the community!
BEER GOGGLES!
Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!

From this point, we took the train over the famous Harbour Bridge to meet up with Rozz who had set up camp with the rest of her family over on the North shore. On the way to our ‘camp’ I spotted a bar serving beer, at first I thought it was a mirage! I raced over a green and into the bar and ordered 3 beers – beauty! It was only when I came out and sat down with the lads that we realised we’d gatecrashed an Indian Wedding!! The people there were really friendly though and found it funny, but they did ask us to move from the family table though to finish our beers!

The Gatecrasher!

We got to Rozz a little later than advertised (I’ll take the blame!) and settled in for the duration. It was around about 9pm I think when we got there so we still had some time to go, and not very much to do! But the time seemed to go by really quickly. There is an early display for the children so that Parents can head off before the masses and get their kids safely home to bed, so that also helped break up the time until midnight. But, with everyone in the same boat the party atmosphere is brilliant and everyone was chatting. I got talking to a guy next to me, Mark, who Iain believed to be gay. Iain is clearly better as spotting this kind of thing than I am. I’m not sure he was gay, he even shared his Rose wine with me. What?? Koen had the brie and crackers (and an apple?) so we were really living it up by this point!

The apple, and the ‘Mark’ in the background

And so, to midnight. I will let the pictures do the talking, along with the fact that Sydney reportedly spend around $7m on this event. You can tell!

Hello 2011, please be nice!

THIS IS NOT MY PHOTO!!! I ‘borrowed’ it – but it IS from NYE 2010!
Posted in Australia | 4 Comments

A Sunny Christmas, Like.No.Other

Arriving at Sydney airport on Christmas Eve was quite an experience. Heading down towards customs, all the huge posters on the walls basically said “Welcome to Australia, oh and here are pictures of all the stuff that wants to kill you. Be careful. Have fun!!”  Coming through arrivals, it was like the pictures you see of when the England team arrives back at Heathrow! The waiting crowd was about 6 rows deep, packed with friends and family eagerly awaiting love and hugs. And there was me. One man, and his bag (.com) – haha!
Within minutes of arrival I quickly learned how much of a ‘budget buster’ Australia is. Thirsty from the flight, I headed to a kiosk and got a bottle of water.
“$4.60 please!”
“Er, sorry, just one bottle thanks.”
“Yeah, $4.60”
With the current exchange rate, that worked out at over £3 just for a small bottle of water! My previous night’s accommodation in Bangkok had only cost me £2.50! Bye, bye budget.

Driving through the city on the airport shuttle bus en route to my hostel, Jackaroo, it felt like coming home! It was a bizarre feeling to be half way around the world and yet feel totally at home. Check in at Jackaroo was pretty straight forward, and after all the changes with the flight I only ended up losing one night accommodation (but still, that was $60 down the drain!)

My room for Christmas and New Year was a 4 bed dorm, with en suite! When I arrived there was only one other person in the room, a guy called Jack from Bourne in Lincolnshire so just down the road from me! He’s 18 and on a year trip to Aus, working while he goes. We didn’t have heaps in common, but he was a nice enough chap and we chatted whenever we were in the room together.

Between Bangkok and Sydney, you lose 4 hours. The jet lag wasn’t as bad as London to Bangkok, but due to lack of sleep on the plane I was pretty tired. Still, I had a buzz about being in Sydney and, knowing my hostel was only a 20 minute walk from the Opera House, I couldn’t wait. I took a shower, grabbed a map and headed off on the walk around Macquarie point.
It’s difficult to describe how I felt when I finally turned the last corner on the Macquarie headland and caught my first glimpse of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. I think the first thought was “hmm, smaller than I thought!”

Only 2 hours after my 9 hour flight! Awesome. .

There was a Dutch couple taking pics of each other, so I offered to take a pic of them together in exchange for them taking one of me! Like everything in life, travelling solo has positives and negatives.  I knew there would be moments on my travels when, being on my own would be weird. This was one of the first moments that this was true. Standing in front of one of the world’s most famous scenes, and no one to say “well, would you look at that!” to. This boy from Corby on the Sydney Harbour, halfway round the world on his jack! Weird. After all the excitement I lay down in the botanic gardens overlooking the harbour and must have fallen asleep, really unlike me! I’m not sure how long I’d been asleep, but when I woke up there was an army of huge ants marching over my tummy in a line about 2″ thick!! Unfortunately, my first instinct was to brush them all off otherwise it would have made a cracking picture!

Before I’d set off on my trip I’d tracked down the Sydney Salvation Army website and discovered that they hold an open air Christmas Eve service at Martins Place in the Sydney CBD. After a proper sleep back at the hostel, this time thankfully without the ant parade, I headed off in to the city in search of the giant Christmas tree under which the service was held.
It didn’t take too long to find and what a great event the Salvos’ put on! It was still pretty weird thinking it was Christmas yet it was something like 20c at 7.30pm and everyone was in shorts and flip-flops (or thongs as the Aussies prefer to call them!).

Open air christmas, Sydney style

It was so nice to hear the brass band and to sing along with the carols. During a brief break the bandmaster stepped away from the band and I took my chance! I approached him, and told him that normally at this time of year I’m wrapped up in all my woolly clothes and going round the streets of Corby playing carols. I cheekily asked if there was any chance I could have a play in the band, even for just one carol. He was a really lovely bloke, called Ben and he told me that a guy who plays 2nd cornet hadn’t showed up. If I kept my eye on him, they were going to play a march at the end and he’d give me a nod and I could come over and join in! I was made up!! They sorted a chair out and as promised, he called me over at the end and I got to play. I’d asked one of the collectors to take a pic so I could look back on this moment, as it was pretty special and really made my Christmas!

Half way round the world, and I still got to go caroling on Christmas eve!!

I spoke to the officer in charge and found out about the carol service which was to be held Christmas day at the Sydney Congress Hall starting at 9.30am. I got some directions and headed off to find it, ready for the morning. But, not before I got a pic of me in front of the famous Martins Place Christmas tree. It’s a bit like watching Neighbours at home with my blog, slightly behind the times and you’re getting the Christmas stuff at the wrong time of year! Haha!

Christmas tree at Martins Place, Sydney

As it’s all in the past now and I’ve moved on, I don’t mind letting you know that Christmas Eve was a pretty tough time overall, as you could probably imagine. Home sickness truly reared its ugly head and I didn’t have a great sleep that night.

Next morning, bright and early I headed off to the Salvos. It was a really nice service, and I even got a small present! The officer was talking about how her husband hadn’t bought her anything for Christmas; she asked a general question to the congregation if there was anyone else out there who hadn’t got a present yet. I kept quiet!! However, we’d already had a discussion before the meeting so she knew my story. As she walked around the hall handing out gifts, she called out to me “Gordie, I bet you didn’t get anything did you? Here ya go mate!” and she threw me a sweetie (or a lolly as they’re known here!). Woo hoo!! I kept the wrapper for my picture I will make when this is all done. I also got a Christmas card from Tracey which was lovely, delivered to the Salvos. My parents had also sent something, but in true Woollacott style sent it late and it didn’t arrive in time! Haha! I’ve since had an email from the Salvos to say it’s there so maybe I’ll pick it up before my flight.

Salvation Army, down under HQ

Away in a manager and a glorious blue sky!

Christmas in bloom - weird beard!

The rest of Christmas day was spent with about 5,000 other people on Bondi Beach! It was proper hot, and I now know how the turkey feels at Christmas. My first experience of the searingly hot Aussie sun left me slightly red faced! As this was a Christmas like.no.other (don’t sue me Sony!) I decided that my Christmas dinner would also be like.no.other. FISH n CHIPS!! Top drawer, followed by a mint feast. Man, I know how to live!

Bondi beach, baby!! HOT! HOT! HOT!

The following pic was a random event! I’d asked a couple of girls to take the pic of me at the beach, and then also asked if I could borrow the santa hat for that magical Christmas effect! They thought this was hilarious and gave me some sparkly sunnies aswell. After they’d taken the pic, one of the girls ran up and asked to have her pic with me. So, I also got her friend to take one of us. Basically, about 20mins after having asked them to take my pic I was on my way again, haha!

 

To me, to you, to me, to you!

It was a bit of a mad scramble for the bus back in to town but, having got back I logged on to facebook to send a few messages and that’s when I picked up the video message sent by my family and friends. I’m man enough to admit that it made my eyes really wet, and it was most probably not hay fever this time. It’s the most beautiful present I ever had. Thank you SOOOOO much for doing that guys, I LOVED IT!

So, here I was on Christmas night. As I’d arrived halfway through Christmas Eve I hadn’t really had the chance to meet anyone so initially, Christmas night was not looking good. I’d had a really nice day though so took a shower, rolled out the glad rags and found a bar. This was another budget shock as I ordered a bottle of beer that will go down in my history as the most expensive I have ever ordered!

 

Most expensive beer - EVER!

That equates to £6.46 for a standard bottle of beer, so something like £12 a pint! But, as it turned out it was more than worth it. As I sat there, hardly wetting my lips with each sip, a girl leaned over and asked if I was on my own. I guess, on Christmas night more than any other night, someone sitting on their own is a pretty obvious and possibly quite sad sight! I really didn’t want her to take pity on me, but then again I didn’t much wanna sit on my own and I had come out to try and meet people. She was with her boyfriend too so I just said, “No, it’s cool. I don’t want to interrupt you and your boyfriend”. I genuinely didn’t! But, she said “oh, he’s not my boyfriend. I’m a prostitute”. I wish I could write how a record sounds when it suddenly comes to a stop, but imagine it and that’s the sound I heard. Here I was, thinking wow another travel angel and she turns out to be a hooker! Oh well, why the hell not I thought and joined them. Michaela, as I soon discovered, then proceeded to order the drinks (and did so for the rest of the evening!)  I got chatting to her ‘boyfriend’ Barry and eventually found out that Michaela has a very wicked sense of humour and is, in fact, not a prostitute at all! Sitting a few tables away I spotted another ‘Christmas loner’ and suggested to Michaela that perhaps she might like to invite this chap to join us too! Which she promptly did, and that’s how I met Koen the Dutchman. This is when Michaela cracked open the Bundaberg rum, and this is when things get hazy! That stuff is lethal, I had a Bundy and coke and every sip was like a shot. I can’t imagine how much she was spending on the rounds, but I was very grateful!! Koen and I got on great and eventually Michaela and Barry had moved on leaving Koen and me with a Swedish guy and an Aussie couple. Was Michaela another travel angel?
The Aussie couple were great fun and eventually convinced me and Koen to join them at a club they knew of. The hostels me and Koen were staying at are in a place called Kings Cross in Sydney. Unlike London, where its namesake is full of red lights stopping trains, the Sydney version is full of red lights stopping ‘gentlemen’. You get my drift? So, this ‘club’ our new Aussies friends took us to wasn’t really a club for dancing. Well, it was, but just for one girl. You get my drift? Haha, anyway, we didn’t stay long as the standard was pretty low. Obviously, had it been higher we would have had to endure the rest of the show totally against our will you understand.
My Christmas wasn’t quite over yet. As Koen and I swapped contact info and agreed to meet up next day, I headed back to the hostel where Christmas was still in full swing! I logged on to Skype and got hold of my family and they got to witness the full effects of a Gordie on Bundy! I must admit, most of that conversation is lost but by all accounts it was worth seeing.
So, what did YOU get for Christmas? I got a sweetie from the Salvos; a card from Tracey; sunburn from the er, sun; a video message from home; drinks from Michaela and a Koen from Holland. Not bad! All that remained was for me to throw up in the en-suite, clamber into bed and fall asleep.
Christmas, done.

Posted in Australia | 3 Comments

Life is a rollercoaster baby!

Week 3, December 19th – 24th
Hey, look, it’s the blog! I found it hiding under a pile of Australian sand in the bottom of my bag. Oops, real time is January 25th and I’m writing about 19th December!! Thank goodness for the journal from Neil and Joanne where all the gems are stored. It’s the most valuable thing I’m carrying at the moment, I cannot bear to think about losing it! It’s full of my notes, poems (yes!), my fledgling beer label collection and messages from other travellers I’ve met. It’s gonna need more paper very soon!

Well, the last few days in Bangkok were an emotional rollercoaster (and that doesn’t mean the Nemisis broke up with Oblivion and felt sad). Back in Koh Tao I was tempted to move on to Koh Pangan with Seija to go to the Full Moon party (google it if you wanna see what that is, it is the craziest party ever!). If I had, then I would have been travelling back up to Bangkok on the same day as my flight, a bit risky even by my standards! So, I did the ‘sensible’ thing and travelled up the day before.

After I left my ‘prison cell’ in Bangkok, as featured at the end of the last blog, I found a nice guest house on a road parallel to Koa San Road near where I’d been out with Topsi and Chantel, called Tuptim. It was a cosy little room and had free wifi and free breakfast (coffee and toast!). I logged on to the Qantas website ready to check in for my flight and got hit with the news that, to all intent and purpose, my Christmas was cancelled due to bad weather. . . . . . . IN ENGLAND!!!

The only part of my trip that had any kind of real plan about it, and it goes tits up!! Christmas and NYE in Sydney was something I was really looking forward to. My thoughts were spinning, and one downside to solo travelling – no-one to talk it through with! It’s amazingly character building when you have to ‘have a word with yourself’! In the end, I did what any other self respecting Englishman would do in the same position. I headed for the pub.
I wasn’t actually planning on drinking through it, I was just looking for some inspiration. And it came. Well, not exactly inspiration, but something to take my mind off my crashed and burned christmas plans. Sitting in the bar, I asked a guy near me if he knew where the travellers bar was. I mentioned it in one of my earlier blogs and said something like ‘this place was awesome, and every traveller to Bangkok needs the details. I’ll look it up’. Which I didn’t. Well, it’s called ‘Travellers’ and it’s opposite the airport pick up point just off Khao San Road for future reference. Anyway, the guy didn’t know but invited me to join him for a beer. He was one of my travellers angels. I know, sounds a bit mental, but too much stuff has happened for me to ignore it now. I’ll come back to that later.

So, I spent the next few hours with my new found Dutch friend – Sido. I can’t remember his exact title (blame the Chang) but it was something to do with International sales for a company called Thermomix (www.thermomix.de). They make this great device that basically cooks what you tell it to, in the way it should be cooked. Each one costs around 1000 euros though!  He was in the middle of setting up their Austria operation (or maybe Switzerland – Chang!!) and was taking a vacation. We had a great chat, some of it business related which felt weird to be taking about volume sales and market share after so many weeks of these things being of no concern to me anymore! I really think his product would sell well in the UK, I even started thinking of people I could take it to back home. They are pretty strict on their business model though, and would only operate on a direct sales basis which is why they will never get big numbers in the UK. Haha, anyway, now I’ve bored you back to the tale.

Sido was a great guy, he even bought me a few beers and was very interested in my ‘story’. We couldn’t have been coming from two more different directions. His vacation consisted of 5 star hotels and gourmet meals whilst I’d just come from my prison cell and was feeling pretty pleased with my ‘free coffee and toast’ for breakfast deal! He certainly helped take my mind off things before he headed off to meet a girl he’d become friendly with whilst in Bangkok. Fair play to the Dutch man!

The night finished late after I met a few more people, including a couple of crazy Israelis! I got back to the room at around 3am and skyped a while with home. Ended up not sleeping until 6am, too much going on in my mind. Also, a fight outside my window with some drunken english fools and a few locals didn’t help. I’d received an email from Topsi during the day, inviting me for Christmas with her on a trip to the Mekon River which sounded ace. I had narrowed it down to 3 options – North to Chiang Mai with me, South to Koh Pangan with Seija or North East to Mekon with Topsi.
I didn’t sleep long and, after my free breakfast, I emailed my travel agents STA to see if they could help me out. I also called in to a local travel agent to ask about a flight to Sydney. The best price was £600. Plan shelved! STA got back to me, bascially saying that nothing could be done (it’s the weather you see) and that I’d just have to wait for my rescheduled flight. It’s down to the airline and is completely out of their hands. Makes me wonder what is in their hands, apart from my money, as all I booked with them was the flights! They also helpfully pointed me away from them and towards my insurer regarding any kind of recompense for lost accomodation already booked in Sydney.

Having finally found the Travellers bar thanks to a travel angel (haha!) I met the previous night, I sat down to research Chiang Mai. I kind of decided I didn’t want to back track to Koh Pangan (although it was very tempting), and also that I didn’t really want to gatecrash Topsi’s vacation (although it too was very tempting!). Chiang Mai looked great, loads of things to do and also a 14 hour train adventure up through the country. (It’s unavoidable, but when you travel everything is an adventure! At home, a 14 hour train journey would NOT be described as an adventure. Nevermind the fact that if you actually went for 14 hours on a train at home, unless you took the channel tunnel, you’d end up very wet! haha!)  I made a load of notes in the famous journal and headed out to grab a taxi to the train station. The taxi driver wanted 200bht to take me. Way over the top. I said meter please, he said no. I said bye. He called after me ‘too far to walk’. I carried on walking. I’m British, Mister, I’m walking!

After about 1 hour in the Bangkok heat and smog, 200bht didn’t seem so bad after all!! But, I’d navigated this far and knew I was on the right track (having had a stealth look at my map whilst hiding under a bridge, haha!) so I carried on. The sight of the train station was a welcome one. A couple of other things happened on this little walk, I’ll tell you about it when I’m home! (come on, I have to have SOMETHING to talk about when I’m back!)

The station was immense! One thing that sticks in my mind was the Monks Only area. There was this little sea of orange amongst the masses where the monks were hanging out in reserved seating! Interestingly, a monk is not allowed to pass anything to a girl. If he wants to, he must give it to a man first to pass to her. Interesting monk fact #7. Stay tuned for more!

I approached the ticket counter and asked for a single to Chiang Mai. The guy tippy tapped on his retro looking computer, looked up, coughed and said – computer says no! Thailand might not celebrate Christmas, but New Year is a big deal and all the trains were fully booked up until 29th December which was when my rescheduled flight was due to leave anyway. He tippy tapped some more and then said he could get me on the train tomorrow (23rd Dec) but it would be in 3rd class which basically means 14 hours in a seat. No bed. No reclining seat. No air con. No fan. NO CHANCE!

I left the station and sat outside for a while. How many times was I supposed to rethink my plans?!! I am quickly adapting a real sense of ‘meant to be’ about life. So, I tried hard not to feel too despondant and went to find a taxi. Having saved money on the taxi ride to the station, I decided just to pay the guy what he wanted and get back to my room. But this is Bangkok. And this was also Bangkok rush hour. I hailed 3 taxis, and none were willing to make the journey across town to Khao san Road at that time of day. They would stop, I’d ask for K S Road and they would literally just drive off shaking their hands in the internationally recognised sign language for “you must be joking mate, have you seen the traffic??”.

I recalled some of my local knowledge garnered from my day with Topsi and found the Taxi bike guys hanging out on a street corner. Bingo! After a brief discussion amongst themselves, a willing contender for the journey stepped forward, handed me a crash helmet (there’s a first!) and said 100THB. B-E-A-UTIFUL!

This is getting a bit wordy, not many pics of all this stuff so here’s a pic of one of my bathrooms from Koh Tao. Literally outside, it even had a tree in it!

So, back at base I headed to one of the many places touting joint bus and boat tickets to Koh Pangan. Before I did, I had sent a text to my nephew Neil asking him to see if he could maybe get in touch with my airline, Qantas, directly to see if anything could be done. The Lomprayah bus/boat ticket was available and would get me to Koh Pangan just in time to witness the world’s biggest hangover after the Full Moon party! Not ideal, but preferable to hanging around in Bangkok just waiting.

Armed with this info, I went to a bar playing some live music ordered a Chang and sat down to make my final decision. I was kind of hanging out for some news from Neil and Qantas. My Chang was interupted by the DING of a text to my phone. It was Neil. He’d spoken to Qantas (who infact, called him back as he was calling from overseas – nice touch). The news was this – flights were again leaving Heathrow and they fully expected the Heathrow-Bangkok-Sydney flight to leave the next day and a seat was available if I wanted it.  I immediatley sent back the response that first came to mind – DO IT!!! Seriously, what a day! But, it all fell in to place perfectly. Someone was watching out for me, as much as I tried to derail the plan by attempting to book a train north or a bus south! Neil (and Qantas!) had saved the day. My ire turned to STA at this point and I mailed them stating in no uncertain terms how disappointed I was with their seemingly total lack of service or compassion to the situation. The guys at the Leicester office are supposedly all travellers themselves and surely, had they put themselves in my position, would have at least lifted the phone to Qantas on behalf of one of their paying customers. Anyway, that’s forgotten now and I just hope I don’t need too much assistance from them during the rest of my trip.

So, Christmas was quite literally saved and I was all set to arrive in Sydney on Christmas eve! I told you before, my life is lastminute.com!

My departure from Bangkok was far more swift than the arrival, although they still took their time through the boarding process. I did have one typically ‘Gordie’ moment though! Waiting patiently in the queue through to departures I spotted one of the airport staff walking up and down the line ahead of me, waving a boarding pass and calling out a name I couldn’t quite make out. Haha, muppet I thought, someone has dropped their boarding pass. I casually checked inside my passport where I’d safely stored mine. Ok, don’t get ahead of me here. That’s right. Gone. I had my baggage label but the boarding pass was nowhere to be seen! I leaned over the rope to try and hear better and could just make out something sounding like “Mr Wooracott, Mr Wooracott”. What a killer! I had no choice but to make myself known and shamefully, but gratefully, have my boarding pass returned to me. She even kindly pointed out the passenger who had found it and handed it in! I smiled at the guy and gave the internationally recognised hand gesture for ‘yes sir, I am and idiot and you have saved the day’. If nothing else, it was something to write about in the blog eh?! Haha! It made getting through the departures all the more sweeter and, don’t tell the cabin crew who greeted me on to the plane, but I stored my pass just inside my boxer shorts until I was safely on board!

Now, here’s something you don’t expect to see when walking through the duty free area of Bangkok International Airport. I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

It would appear that Leicester played Thailand in a friendly and they were still trying their best to flog Leicester City FC shirts – don’t they know they have a hard enough time doing that in Leicester? (just kidding Ash!)

I managed to get some pics of my 747 this time as it was a daytime flight. I’m still amazed by it, and probably always will be! It such a beast of a plane.

The flight to Sydney was interesting, if not a little uncomfortable!  We got some good turbulence on the way. I don’t know if this is the norm as it’s the first time I’ve experienced some real turbulence in a 747 but it felt like we dropped about 2 miles out of the sky every now and then during the worst part! Very weird feeling. But that aside the flight itself was perfect, they even brought round something that resembled a Magnum (although it was about 3am in the morning!). Due to being unable to check in online I didn’t get to choose my seat. I ended up with the 2nd one in on the row of four in the middle. Not ideal. I had some big ass Ukranian guy next to me on the left wearing boots more suited for the Himalayas than a flight to Sydney. You might think that’s a weird thing to notice, but when you are wearing only your feet and then these himalyan boots rake down your leg and crush your toes everytime dude gets back in his seat, you kind of notice it. The seat in front of me was fully reclined, and there was another big ass Ukranian behind me meaning I could not recline my seat! Mr and Mrs fully-in-love were sat next to me, and Mrs fully-in-love was keen to cuddle up to Mr fully-in-love meaning her butt was underneath her armrest and nestling into my thigh. Normally, not a problem, but with all the other elements to my situation it was not welcome. Add to that, my media thingymejig on the screen stopped working meaning I couldn’t select what to watch and just had to do with whatever was on, and you’ve got yourself a fairly uncomfortable 10 hour flight. That probably sounds like I’m complaining, but I’m not. I think I was still in a state of elation at actually being on the thing! But, them’s the facts. That is what happened, and let the blog show that. I think, amongst it all, I did manage a short period of sleep so it wasn’t all bad! Note to self – make sure you are able to check in online for flight to NZ!

So, here we are. The blog has finally caught up and touched down in Sydney! Well, at least we are in the same country now. Up until this point we were in different Continents!

I mentioned the travel angels thing earlier on. There are more to come in future episodes, so stay tuned! As I write this I am actually on day 51 of my journey. People say they are going travelling to ‘find themselves’. I always thought that was a bit twee. I know myself. Come on, I’m 33 years old!! These kids who go to ‘find themselves’ are like 18, 19, something like that. Well, maybe I do know myself but there have certainly been some revelations. One of them has been a bit of poetry coming out! I know, I’m purely open to ridicule here from some but you know, it doesn’t matter! This is how it is. Some of the stuff I’ve written is most definitely not for public consumption and is very personal, but it’s developing on now. So, here comes the first effort to be made ‘public’ if you like. And, it’s about the travel angels. Hold tight, here goes. . . .

ANGELS
Must angels have wings,
And floating rings
of gold above their heads.

Must trumpets sound,
and light abound
to signal their presence is found.

Or can it just be
that the angels we see,
are people like you
and people like me?

A kind word.
Friendship.
A smile,
Advice.
The angels who brighten up life.

Posted in Thailand | 9 Comments

All Thai’d up in Koh Tao

Week 2, December 13th – 20th

I’m ditching the day to day format.  It’s too time consuming!  So much happens and I end up writing extended highlights that take far too long.  So, I’m moving to a weekly update to see how that goes.
If week 1 was head first in to the brightlights and bustle of Bangkok, then week 2 was more like head whenever in to the power cuts and paradise of Koh Tao.  The last day of Bangkok and the first day of Koh Tao kind of merged into one, mainly due to the overnight bus journey and lack of sleep.  I even made a mistake in the journal with the dates and it was only a couple of days later I realised I was out of sync!
As I mentioned in the last blog, it was great to meet Seije from Finland at the train station.  We were both really tired but managed to have some sort of conversation and ended up sitting together on the catamaran for the 1 hour 30 min trip to the island.  Not that it made much difference as, once we headed away from the dock we both fell asleep!  We arrived in Koh Tao bang on time which is something very unusual in Thailand, they have a special saying ‘Thai time’.  I like it.  It suits my world!
As we arrived at Mae Haad, I looked across to the right to spot Master Divers.  I had received a message from them via Twitter after I had tweeted saying I was heading to Koh Tao.  They had kindly offered to help me out with anything I needed whilst on the island.  You learn pretty quickly when travelling that ANY kind of local advice is a sure fire way to making your visit much more enjoyable, and definitely less ‘touristy’.
It was still pretty early and neither me or Seije had enjoyed much sleep over the last 24 hours so we decided to join forces and find a place to share.  Another great move when travelling.  If you can find someone you feel you can get along with, sharing costs is, well, priceless!  Plus, the company is always welcome too!  We found a room pretty quickly after first of all being offered a double!  A half decent room on Mae Haad with shower and air con for 250thb each, happy days.  We checked in and promptly fell asleep.  A long sleep.  Until 3pm, lovely!  Fairly unusual for me, but as I came to learn, not for Seije – she can sleep for Finland!

Koh Tao

After a  quick bite to eat, we headed off to explore the ‘main drag’ of Koh Tao; Sairee Beach.  Amongst the first things you cannot fail to notice on Koh Tao are the motorbikes.  Other than boat, the only way to get around the island is by bike or 4×4.  The ‘roads’ are little more than dirt tracks and, if there was an emergency pothole number here like we have in England well, they’d need an army of a thousand people to take the calls (that’s if the Thai’s could be bothered to make the call, they’d probably just fill it themselves with sand and newspaper and get on with it!).  The other thing is the wildlife, it’s a cocophony of noise from the cicadas, to the frogs and the geckos.  It’s the soundtrack to paradise, not to everyones taste but I loved it! Especially the geckos – I WANT ONE! GECK-OOO, GECK-OOO!  Mind you, the first time I stepped into a room with a gecko hanging out on the ceiling, I can’t say it was love at first sight!

GECK-OOO!

Then finally there is the power, or lack of.  The government provided power is at best, intermittent. If you are not fortunate enough to be one of those on the island with a private back up generator then, it’s lights out I’m afraid! That is, until such time that the boys find a few baht to chuck back in the meter.  We experienced quite a few during the week.  At one place, electricity was only provided from 7pm -12am. Imagine that on the Costa Del Sol, haha!

Koh Tao during a power cut

On the first full day I headed off to explore, and catch some rays on the beautiful beaches.  Seije was dead to the world so I just left a note in case she wanted to meet up for something to eat later on. Another thing I love about meeting other travellers. If you wanna spend some time alone, you just do it. There’s no hang ups, no dramas just – whatever!
I had to take a shower in the dark as, yep, the power was out. It was also scorchio in the room as, of course, the air con was not running. I took my laundry to get done but was told ‘come back tomorrow, no power’. Hmmm, there is definitely something romantic in this electricity lottery but like any romance, it has it’s ups and downs!
I paid a visit to the Master Divers and met Aeysha (I think that’s how you spell it!). She provided me with a map of the island and marked out some good spots, including a few secluded bays. This time the help given was honest, unlike my ‘friendly monk’ back in Bangkok and his mate in the tuktuk! The main thing that caught my eye was a bay called Aow Leuk. Aeysha said she could get me a 4×4 taxi to pick me up at her place and take me over, although he would have to drop me at the top of the bay as the roads were too bad! Perfect, only accesible by foot or boat – I’m in.

Sunset on Sairee Beach

The rest of the day was spent blogging and sunning. After the sunset (which was awesome) I headed up to the Fishbowl where I was going to have tea, which I’d told Seije on the note incase she wanted to join me. Seije arrived just after 7pm. We swapped stories from the day, both having found out info on different places so we decided to check them out over the next few days. After tea we headed down to the Lotus bar which I’d read about, and also been told about by Aeysha. It’s one of the main party spots on the island, and party it was! A free fire poi show was held on the beach and those guys were amazing. Even coming into the crowd and spinning flaming balls of fire over the heads of the customers, pure class! From there we hit the dance floor, one too many Changs meant the lawnmower was broken down so could not be deployed on to Koh Tao. We did manage to rock out some other interesting moves though, in the sea! Another first on my world adventure!

Gordie sea dance

Seije sea dance

Next morning, the guys at Master Divers kindly organised us a 4×4 taxi and we headed to Aow Leuk. The road down to the bay was certainly an interesting one, especially with the backpacks in 30c+ heat!

The top of the road to Aow Leuk

In to the wild?

The bay was stunning, and aside from the few bungalows scattered around, only had one restaurant. It closed at 9pm. This place is clearly one for the honeymooners, or couples! We had a good joke about ‘what should we do now’? Haha!

Aow Leuk bay

It was here that I experienced my first proper Thai food, and it was here that I felt a fool that I had not tried it sooner. It is dee-lish-us! I had Thai red curry, and also tried out a coconut. I loved it. I was bounty. (Sorry, this ‘Dad’ style joke only works in a Scottish accent and then only if you’ve heard the original, which I won’t bore you with now!).

Red Thai curry

It didn't taste like Bounty!

Some other things I indulged in on the island were Pad Thai curry (with Tuna) YUMMY, and also something called No Name. Genuinely. This was another tip from Aeysha, and a very good one at that! Although, I have to say, I couldn’t finish the portion I was served and would probably only ever eat it perhaps once a month! I can only describe it as a deep fried vegetable and chicken party.

Pad Thai with Tuna at Banana Rock - my fave dish!

Really, No Name!

No name - with Chicken

I didn’t have a great night sleep in Aow Leuk as this was my first night sans air-con, with fan only. Cheaper price, but very hot! Over the next few days I got used to it, but that first night was bad!
Next morning, due to the total lack of evening entertainment we headed back down to Mae Haad. This time we hiked across the island. With the backpacks. And the searing sun. A great adventure, but probably something you would only do once!
As I had choosen Aow Leuk, it was Seije’s turn to choose the next destination. On the first day she had discovered a jungle path that led off to some nice looking bays. As we’d spent the morning hiking in the heat, we decided to make use of the taxi-boats. We met a guy at Mae Haad whose price started at 400thb, but eventually we paid 200thb. Nice. He took us round to a bay called Siam Nuan. We found a bungalow, complete with live in gecko (huge), left our stuff and headed off to explore the bay. It was pretty overcast when we came across a VERY cool bar called Banana Rock, totally made from wood and overlooking the sea. We found some seats and spent the rest of the afternoon there, avoiding the rain.

Banana Rock - my fave place on the island

Later in the evening we were joined by a lovely Finnish couple, Patrick and Jemina, and an Austrian guy called Uma.  The guy who runs the bar, ‘Joey’, is very cool. VERY cool! I can only describe him as some kind of ‘Thai hippy’.  He came and joined us for the night along with his guitar and some interesting smokes. It was a top night, really laid back. Great company, great tunes and some wise words of wisdom from Joey. My favourite being one relating to karma -:
“If you be good, Jonny be good. If you be bad, Jonny be bad”.

Joey - Thai Legend

He had a great attitude to life. His home was destroyed in the Tsunami and he said with the biggest smile you’ve ever seen ‘I don’t have a bungalow anymore, I only have sand’. I won’t forget this guy.
The next few days were spent checking out the island, including a very interesting walk we took into Mae Haad from Siam Nuan through the jungle path! It was pretty hairy in the day, but when we walked back through it at night after a couple of sherberts it was even more interesting! Particularly on the last night when we’d been drinking in a bar called Karma, downing the evil Changs with little regard for the trips we were both taking the next day.  Seije spent most of the time peeling the labels from her bottle.  Me and some other guys in the bar had great fun telling her what that was a sign of!  At that point, she made a phone call to her boyfriend – haha! Poor guy!

What does it mean? Haha!

The next day I was due to head back up to Bangkok (around a 10 hour journey) and Seije was heading on to Koh Pangan for the Full Moon party. A taxi boat was picking us up at 8.30am! There seems to be a malfunction in my matrix that convinces me it’s a good idea to go out drinking the night before something big.  It could be a flight home, or even a wedding (!!) but it’s a classic trick of mine that never fails to get me in trouble.
On that particular walk back we decided to head into a resort we’d passed on the jungle path as they had a rather lush looking pool. It was all Seije’s idea, I was completely led astray honest, but we got inside pretty easily and went for a swim at about 3am! And no, if you’re wondering. We did not skinny dip.
Next morning was not good. The ‘Changover’ kicked in big style. Apparently, it’s sold as 6.4% but is unregulated meaning your beer could be as much as 10% sometimes! It’s like a chang lottery. I said goodbye to Seije and headed off to the pier. The sea was rough. Very rough. The catamaran was all over the place, and so was I! I took up a perfect position, just in front of the toilet door and prayed for dry land. It’s a lonely feeling miles from home, with no one around to give me sympathy (who am I kidding? Like I would get any!! Haha!)
I arrived in Bangkok, having had one more ‘drama’ on the coach journey (luckily, the WC was vacant!). It was late at night, but this time I was prepared! I dodged all the taxi guys, and tuktuk terrorists and made my own way on foot to the Khao San Road area which is littered with hostels. I didn’t want to stay directly on KS Road, bit too lairy, so I found a place around 2 blocks away. It was very cheap, around £3 a night but was like a prison cell! One single bed, shower/wc room and no window. I only stayed there for one night before moving on. It’s the way of my world now, and I kinda like it.



Posted in Thailand | 6 Comments