Monthly Archives: January 2010

Happy Australia Day!

Surf Camp – Byron Bay January 25th – 28th

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Having access to the hostel van in Yamba really spoiled us. In Byron Bay we had to trek about 30 minutes each way to Tallow Beach, in the sun, carrying 8’6″ surfboards. Ouch.

We had big waves on the first day, and not much to speak of for the rest of our stay. Lame. I’m getting a bit frustrated with how dependent surfing is on the weather. Hopefully Coolangatta has better surf for us to close out our trip.

Byron Bay is home to the easternmost point in all of Australia, and features an odd mix of poor backpackers, dirty hippies, and well-off yuppies. Most backpackers I talked to went on day trips to Nimbin, where the hardcore hippies live, and marijuana rains from the heavens. Seeing the stoned looks on the faces of everyone disembarking the Nimbin shuttle bus was highly amusing.

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Australia Day was on Tuesday. It’s the same concept as the 4th of July, but without any of the pride associated with fighting back against your oppressor. To celebrate we painted our faces with green and yellow, went surfing, and then spent the day drinking in the pool with everyone else in the hostel.

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This country seems rather liberal about drinking in public. Occasionally you’ll see signs indicating alcohol-free zones, but for the most part nobody will say anything if you walk down the street with a beer in your hand. The hostel has signs indicating that alcohol is only to be consumed on the premises between 4-10pm, but on Australia Day this was relaxed. Lots of beer cans were at the bottom of the pool before noon. The goon bags started being passed around shortly thereafter. It was quite the national holiday.

Despite drinking being incredibly popular here, alcohol is VERY expensive due to some big taxes. In Los Angeles you can often find 12-packs of good beer on sale for $12-15. Here you’re looking at $40-50 for 24-packs when things go on sale. I heard someone describing a $70 24-pack of Peroni as a “great deal”.

Chris-o isn’t coming with us up to Coolangatta — he’s due back at the four day surf camp on Monday morning. Josephine’s beach towel is a giant Swedish flag, so we wrote all of our inside jokes and catchphrases from the past week on it, and gave it to him as a farewell gift.

It’s the middle of Summer, and we keep traveling further north into warmer and more humid parts of the country. I think I’m going to fly to Melbourne soon and tackle the rest of the east coast of the country at a later date, once things start to cool down in the south.

Random:

– I showed a well-read Dutch girl my Amazon Kindle, which caused her to lecture me about how I should delete my Ayn Rand books before I read them and become a huge asshole.

Little Creatures Pale Ale is the best Australian beer I have discovered so far.

– Met a Canadian girl named Yoda. Awesome.

– Surfboards and ceiling fans do NOT mix.

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Oi! That wave was heaps good, mate!

Week One of Surf Camp
January 18th – 24th

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My first week at Surf Camp Australia was an absolute blast. I had originally signed up for a four day adventure, but quickly upgraded to the 14 day package after being given the option.

Four days in Gerroa

Last Monday around 30 backpackers caught a two hour bus from Sydney to Gerroa, a tiny beachfront village with a permanent population of around 500. Gerroa is the home of Seven Mile Beach (yes, the name explains it quite well). Due to the nice temperatures, decent waves and a complete lack of other surfers, Surf Camp Australia decided that this would be the perfect place to train beginning surfers.

The camp itself sits on the edge of a trailer park for holidaymakers (vacationers), and consists of a handful of cabins all opening up to a central courtyard area with hammocks and picnic tables. A big TV shows surfing DVDs all day long, and a speaker system with an iPod jack is available for people to put on their favorite tunes.

Of the 30 or so people at the camp, the memorable ones included around 10 Danes, five Dutch, four Swedes, four Canadians, an Australian dad and his two teenaged kids, and a few American girls from San Diego. Everyone spoke English, but the bigger groups of Europeans tended to stick together and chat with each other in their own languages, especially once beers entered the equation.

In the four days in Gerroa, there were only three things to do (officially):

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– Surfing: Two hour surf lessons twice daily, always preceded by beach yoga. By the end of the camp we learned how to catch waves, stand up, move our weight around to pick up speed, and make turns. We got to try surfing on boards of different materials and lengths, which made things tricky. As soon as I’d get decent with a longer foam board, I’d be given a shorter epoxy board at my next lesson and experience some epic failure.

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– Eating: Cereal and toast for breakfast, and decent prepared meals for lunches and dinners (sandwiches, pasta, chicken, steak, etc.). Always enough food for seconds, and sometimes thirds. It takes a ridiculous amount of food to keep 40 kilojoule-burning machines well fed (or “calorie-burning”, if you prefer). I’m not sure I’ve ever been in a situation where I’m stuffing myself at sitting, and then starving at the next one. All of the food was prepared by volunteers who cook in exchange for being allowed to live at surf camp as long as they want.

– Sleeping: Like a baby.

The unofficial fourth activity would be:

– Hurting (yourself and others): The Australian sun is a big asshole. I didn’t put any sunblock on the tops of my feet on the very first day, and I’ve been paying for it ever since. My wetsuit had a patch of rough material that gave me a nasty rash on my neck. Plus an assortment of cuts, scrapes, and bruises from making stupid mistakes, and running over other surfers in the water. Pleasure and pain. Funny and sad.

Random stuff:

– We broke out into smaller groups for lessons. My group was called “Vicious Razor Crabs”. The girls from San Diego were on “Whales’ Vaginas”.

– “Fashionable” cloth flip-flops were not meant for the life aquatic. Thanks for shredding my sunburned feet, you Simple jerks.

– Anytime someone would plug in their iPod to play some music, one of the Danes would end up swapping it out to play some of their terrible techno music. Eventually I found some stuff that they didn’t object to: Vampire Weekend, Bob Marley, and The Best of Bootie 2009 (an awesome mashup collection — check it out).

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– Despite being the only person who actually knew how to play dominos prior to camp, I managed to teach a lot of people how to play, and then lost every game.

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After our last surf in Gerroa we headed back to Sydney for an end-of-camp party at Scubar. Most people were only one the four day trip, so they were able to party all night and then go sleep in a comfortable hostel bed. For the rest of us on the longer trips, we got to drink for three hours and then feign sobriety and board a Greyhound bus to sit still for 11 hours.

Around 10am the next day we arrived in Yamba — our home for the next three days!

Three days in Yamba

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The original four day surf camp had over 30 people involved. For the rest of our fourteen day trip, we’re down to:

– The Swedish girls: Alex, Lisa, Lena and Josephine
– Liz from Germany
– Ian from Tasmania
– “Chris-o”, our guide

Yamba was a rather quiet beachside town until a few years ago, when it was voted to be the #1 place to live in New South Wales, and the #2 place in all of Australia.

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It’s easy to understand why — the place is beautiful, and since it’s on a peninsula it has multiple beaches to choose from, all facing different directions. If the waves are pumping at one beach, one of the others may have moderate waves and yet another may be completely still. There’s always a beach option that’ll work for you, whether you want to sunbathe, swim, or surf.

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A giant clock on the main stretch of downtown says “Yamba Time” and was stuck at 1:35 for our entire three days. Perhaps it was broken, but I’d like to believe that Yamba is a magical place where it always feels like 1:35pm.

We stayed at the Yamba YHA, which is an amazing, brand new hostel. Highly recommended. Chris-o had the keys to the hostel van, so we were usually able to load up the surfboards and cruise the various beaches looking for the best one to surf at. Driving sure beats walking — especially when we were waking up at 5am for some dawn patrol sunrise surfing.

The waves weren’t too good in Yamba. I had a lot of trouble catching any for the first two days, but I think I’m out of my slump after lots of praying to Huey, the surf god. All I had to do was sacrifice one of my friends — my board got away from me at one point on a big wave and hit Liz in the knee, taking her out of commission for 30 minutes. Oops. Not as bad as the time I sledded into a girl at winter church camp 14 years ago and turned her face into a bloody mess, but still…

The highlight of Yamba was “Shane-o’s Ten Dollar Tour”. Shane owns the hostel, and likes to show people around Yamba. We spent four hours driving around looking at some of Yamba’s prettiest views and offbeat attractions:

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– Beaches
– Nature reserves
– Freshwater springs with cliff jumping (10+ meter jump!)
– Feeding the pelicans
– Feeding the “piranhas” (not actually piranhas)

Random:

– Chris had his wallet and phone stolen out of the hostel room. Ian had $70 taken from his wallet. One of the other guys in our room disappeared from the hostel without checking out the same morning. Sketchy. Nothing of mine appears to have been stolen
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– Vodka slushies + fishing. We didn’t have any bait. Epic failure when we tried to use bread and salami.

– Dolphins everywhere. Curious, too. They came right up to us as we surfed, and hung around the entire time we fished.

– I still haven’t figured out what the Aussie understanding of the word “sushi” is. Every time I order it I get something unexpected. Not necessarily *bad*, just strange, and not what I thought I’d be getting.

– I’m still losing at dominos.

Language:

Heaps is the new hella. Example: “This blog post is heaps long.”

All-time means excellent. Example: “The steak, bacon and cheese pie I had for brekky was all-time.”

Top tucker is great food. Example: “Ian’s pan-fried snapper looked like top tucker.”

Frothing means excited for.  Example:  “Oi man, I’m frothing for a drink right now!”

– One of the Swedish girls trying to ask me what time it was: “How much is the clock?”. Adorable.

– We’re teaching the Swedes to curse like sailors. In return, I can now say “shit sandwich” in Swedish.

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Surf Camp Update

In four days at surf camp I’ve logged 16 hours in the water. I have cuts, scrapes, rashes, bruises, sunburned feet and other random ailments from being out in the sun all day getting pounded by the waves.

That said… I LOVE THIS. All we do is surf, eat and sleep. If we’re not completely wiped out from a long day we might play some cards and have a beer before passing out for the night.

I’m getting better with every two hour session, and the thought of stopping now that the four day camp is over makes me sad… so I upgraded to the 14-day program!

Four Swedish girls, a German girl, an English guy and myself will spend the next 10 days traveling up the east coast of Australia with our Aussie guide — hitting up the best spots for surfing and partying.

Sniff you jerks later!

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I hate you, Scary Canary

January 15-16, 2010
Days 3-4
Sydney

Friday

Those hard-earned vodka tonics from the night before did me no favors this morning.  I slept in as long as I could, then hit the city in search of something to help my stomach.  A pork and rice platter from a place in Chinatown called BBQ King did the trick.
All I wanted to do was read, so I hopped between various city parks and coffee shops to get my Tom Wolfe fix.  I will finish this 700 page beast so that I can give it away and rely solely on my convenient Amazon Kindle for reading material!
After starting another night at Scary Canary I realized how much I dislike the place.  They play the exact same crappy dance songs every night, and it’s way too loud to hold a conversation.  I did a quick Google search for “best dive bar sydney” and discovered The Gaslight Inn in Darlinghurst.  I finished my meal and walked the 2km over to the Gaslight.
I walked in the door and was happy to discover a few things I like in a bar: a complete lack of screaming German backpackers, cheap beer, and a good jukebox.  I ordered a Toohey’s New, sat down at the bar, and within two minutes a group of Aussie girls came up to chat with me.  One named Kat had a calculator watch that I immediately started making fun of.  Dork alert!  We got along, so they took me over to their table to meet the rest of their friends.
The group of people were coworkers at an internet company down the street.  Programmers, artists, project managers — the usual.  All young and attractive, lots of girls — unusual.  What’s up Sydney?  Even your computer nerds are hot?
Saturday

The first day that the sun really came out!  My first sunburn!  My first day of taking pictures!
I took the ferry from Circular Quay over to Manly and spent the day moseying along the beach, taking pictures and checking out the various scenic nature walks.  Should have put suntan lotion on my arms and face.
Finished The Bonfire of the Vanities — finally!  After reading A Man in Full and this one, I have really come to appreciate Tom Wolfe’s work.  No detail is superfluous.  Like a good Tarantino movie, or a Dasariski show at iO West, the most random little things end up having huge significance.  Styrofoam peanuts!
As usual, Scary Canary was a hot mess.  Another hostel was doing a pub crawl, so there were even more screaming backpackers to deal with than usual — the guys were all dressed up like Tarzan, and the girls all had those strap-on angel wings and fairy wands.  Ugh.  Went to the Gaslight again, to escape.
After walking all day, a few drinks with the locals made me sleepy, so I headed back to the room to call it a night, only to find my roommates (minus the creepy tattooed old guy who never talks) and some random German guy playing drinking games with a box of goon (cheap box wine, for the uninitiated).  This seemed like a good idea at the time (protip: it wasn’t).  They finally scampered off to find food, and I tried to go to bed.

“Tried” being the key word here, because at that very moment I was treated to the sweet sounds of the FIRE ALARM going off.  The entire hostel had to clear out to the street at 2am — a strange mix of sleepy nerds in their pajamas, and people whose party evenings were still going strong.  Since I was still in my going out clothes I was able to pretend to be part of the latter crowd, and pass judgement on the sleepers.  No calculator watches to make fun of, though.

On meat pies:

WHY DON’T WE HAVE THESE IN AMERICA?  Amazingly tasty street food.  Hot, savory meat… in a pie crust.  I’m excited to try all of the flavors I’ve seen: Mince meat, chicken & mushroom, spicy thai chicken, mashed potato and bacon… the list goes on!

Future plans:

I need to get out of Sydney — or at the very least, find a hostel with better options for socializing.  Surf camp should be an excellent adventure.  I’m itching to head to Tasmania, but I’ve been told that spending Australia Day in Sydney is a great experience.  Then again, it’s probably great in Hobart too!

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Now that I’m not completely jetlagged…

Day 2: Sydney, Australia

Woke up at 8am and went for a 10km run through Darling Harbour, The Rocks, Circular Quay and the Royal Botanical Gardens. I hurt my knee a bit last week in LA, and it started acting up again near the end of this run, so maybe I’ll play it cool for a few days.

On McDonalds:

For breakfast I went to McDonalds of all places. They don’t call it “Mickey D’s” — instead it’s “Macca’s”. The food wasn’t the draw — Macca’s has pretty decent coffee and offers free wifi with purchase (but it’s slow and cuts you off after 50MB of traffic, so it’s no good for important stuff).

On meals:

To save money and eat less I’m considering going down to breakfast and dinner, and stocking up on fruit and energy bars for afternoon snacks.

On banking:

I showed up to Westpac to prove my identity and finish opening my bank account. When setting up my online banking the lady explained the rules regarding passwords to me: all passwords must be EXACTLY six characters long, but must contain at least one letter and at least one number. No uppercase letters allowed. No punctuation allowed.

NERD MATH RANT

Any other computer geeks getting a case of nerd rage? I normally don’t care too much about computer security (I’ll leave my wifi router unlocked), but passwords that protect MY FREAKING MONEY should be more complex than this. If a bank allows me to choose my own password, it’s always over ten characters long and includes a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, includes numbers, and punctuation symbols.

For people who have no idea why this is important, I’ll just say that if I got to choose my own password, it’d be over 100 billion times more resistant to random guesses than the one I ended up choosing. Just saying’.

/NERD MATH RANT

On Starbucks:

A venti drip coffee costs over $3AUD.

Went back to Scary Canary for cheap eats, and Ladies Night: drink specials for ANYONE wearing a dress. To encourage participation they were handing out dresses to the guys… they gave me a hideous blue thing you’d expect a fat grandma to wear. I wore it with pride until I’d had my fill of $4 vodka tonics (regular price $6 — win!)

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First day in Australia

Day 1: Sydney, Australia, NSW

I eventually arrived in Sydney and checked into Base. Seemed decent, if not a bit generic. Calypso Backpackers is still the best hostel I’ve ever stayed in, and I’m excited to stay there again once I hit Cairns.

I went to a local shopping center and compared cell phone plans. I ended up getting a pre-paid SIM card to pop into my unlocked iPhone 3GS from Optus. For $50AUD I charged the account with more minutes and texts than I need, and 500MB of data — all of which expires after 30 days. I have the iPhone linked to my laptop so I can use the phone’s connection to give internet to the laptop, which comes in handy. ~15MB of data per day is a decent quota, as long as I’m just doing quick browsing/email/Facebook/Twitter/etc.

When I need to upload pictures and video I’ll have to pay to use the connection at one of the nearly infinite internet cafes in the neighborhood.

After shopping I was exhausted and jet lagged, took a nap, and was woken up by two of my roommates returning from their day out shopping. A South Korean girl with a name I don’t remember, and Kimmy from Holland. I figured I should wake up and try to get on local time, so I went downstairs for dinner and drinks.

Base has a pretty lively bar attached to it called Scary Canary. Like so many places in Australia, the food and drink aren’t cheap, but luckily there are specials every night. I made friends with the bartender (Mary, cute little American blonde from Washington state) For $10AUD I went with the bacon cheeseburger, fries and a schooner of Toohey’s New.

After dinner I hung out with a Canadian girl, an English girl, and a group of Ozzie guys. I forget everyone’s name and don’t expect to ever see any of them again. Fun people, though.

Around 9pm they removed some of the tables from the bar to make a dance floor. A shirtless American guy started to DJ, and for some reason he was only allowed to play songs that he had the music videos for, so that every flat-screen TV in the bar was showing what we were listening to. Every popular song from the past 5 years was played over the course of the night. Backpackers love Black Eyed Peas — fact.

Scary Canary has a theme every night of the week, and the night’s drink specials are only valid for people who dress up according to whatever the night’s specialty is. Luckily, they seem to realize that most backpackers didn’t pack their Halloween costumes with them, so they actually provide people with themed gear for the evening. For instance, tonight was a glow-in-the-dark theme, so they handed out tubes of suntan lotion you could paint yourself with that glowed under backlight.

This post is getting long and stupid, so I’ll bullet-point the rest of the night’s highlights:

  • Australian guy telling me about all the times he’s been deported from America
  • Watching creepy old guys trying to pick up the young backpacker ladies
  • Getting a wicked nosebleed and going to bed

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Bula, Fiji!

Day 0.5: Nandi, Fiji

Layover!  I wrote the earlier entry, and SLEPT for a few hours. A very enjoyable 4 hours in Fiji.

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