More Marvelous Melbourne

I’m holding down the fort here in Melbourne for a few more days.

Things are good, but there’s not much to report.  All I do is sleep in, do a bit of exploring by day, and go out socializing every night.  Not very “wild”, compared to my surf trip up the east coast, or my upcoming road trip.  I figure I should hit the road and enjoy the country while it’s still warm.  I can come back and enjoy the city when winter comes.

On Tuesday I start my big adventure over to Perth via the Great Ocean Road, Grampians National Park, Adelaide, Kangaroo Island and the Nullarbor Plain.  A little over two weeks to travel a distance roughly equal to that between New Orleans and Los Angeles.

Missing Kindle:

My Amazon Kindle is missing, and I’m pretty sure it was stolen.  I either left it in the shared bathroom (setting it on top of the urinal and forgetting about it) and someone made off with it, or it was taken from my room by the guy who checked out on the day I noticed it missing.

I really have no idea which scenario is more likely. The guy seemed trustworthy, but at the same time I’ve never misplaced valuable electronic equipment before.

The people at the front desk say that something similar to what I described may have been turned in to the Lost+Found, but is now missing.  Unfortunately they can’t verify that they ever actually had it.  If it doesn’t turn up I’ll have to buy a new one and guard it with my life.

Back to paper books for now, which is a pain in the ass since I’m halfway done with Infinite Jest and would rather finish it than start something new.

Nights out:

I’m still shocked by how nice people are here.

Almost every time I suspect someone is being sarcastic, they aren’t:  I walked up to a group of girls at The Carlton and one immediately says something along the lines of “Oh, so you think you’re just going to walk up here and we’re going to become good friends and exchange phone numbers just like that?”, which I took as some sort of sarcastic, bitchy, “go away” line.  But no, she was legitimately interested in becoming friends and exchanging numbers right off the bat.  And that’s how my phone met “steph wants to show u melbourne”.

Steph’s friend Alice was drunk as a skunk and felt it necessary to vehemently list all of her grievances with the United States.  The girl said she normally hates Americans (her only exposure being the numerous US military guys who come to Australia on leave from Iraq), but that I was cool and worth buying drinks for (I’d like to think so).  Also worth noting that Alice is taller than me and could probably kick my ass.  And that’s how my phone met “alice anti-america”

Random:

– I ran into two Danish guys from surf camp (Martin and “quiet tall guy”) at the St. Kilda music festival.  Completely random, since the last place I saw them was in Byron Bay — over 1000 miles away.  They spent a few weeks working as roofers in Queensland in the brutal heat before saying “fuck this” and flying to Melbourne.

– I finally memorized all of the street names that make up the grid in the Central Business District.

– Current favorite bar at the moment is The Carlton.  Open “late” (2am?) Monday-Wednesday, “very late” (3am?) on Thursday and Sunday, and “very, very late” (after 4am) on Friday and Saturday.  Honorable mention may go to Pony which is open until 7am and has live music.

Language:

– A person that sells fruit is a fruiterer.  Yes, three syllables are apparently necessary for this.

Pashing is what couples do on couches in dimly lit areas of bars and clubs.  Pashing is the new snogging.  Abbreviated from “passionate kiss”, apparently.

Heaps remains to be heaps popular wherever I go. By far the most useful Aussie slang so far.

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Melbourne, Part One

Melbourne
February 7nd – 14th

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Melbourne was the highlight of my whirlwind trip to Australia two years ago, and once again it’s making me very happy. The Economist recently declared it the world’s 3rd most livable city (behind Vancouver and Vienna), and I’m not surprised — this place is fantastic. Excellent food, public transport, nightlife, and a great arts scene.

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You can go out anywhere in the city, have a wonderful night, and walk home alone through empty streets with no worries about your safety… that’s pretty wonderful, coming from Los Angeles.

I’m going to stay here for another ten days or so before I hit the road again. I have every intention of coming back here a few months from now, finding work and getting a proper apartment. It’s the only place I’ve been so far that clicks in terms of actually LIVING!

Superbowl Monday:

Due to the time difference, the Superbowl kicked off at 10:30am on Monday morning. I went down to The Turf Bar in the CBD to catch the game, and showed up a bit early to try to get a seat. Even showing up before 10am, the place was already packed full of people with pint glasses in hand. No seat for me.

Standing up for a few hours wasn’t the most fun thing in the world, but the game was great (woo Saints) and I met a bunch of nice American and Canadian folks.

It was easy to spot the Australians in the crowd — they were the ones wearing NFL jerseys for teams not in the game. Lots of San Diego and New England jerseys.

I met even MORE Americans that night at the hostel’s free Monday BBQ — students from Cal Poly SLO who were spending a semester in Adelaide to study wineries from a business perspective. It sounded like an awesome program, spending all day “working” with wine and having it count for school.

We put our heads together and won a round of pub trivia in the hostel bar for free drinks, but only came in 2nd place overall due to our lack of soccer knowledge. I’m pretty sure most teams were cheating using iPhones, including ours — it’s just that my Google-fu is stronger than average. There is no honor between backpackers, and I’m OK with that.

The Hostel:

I’ve been staying at a place called Urban Central. The name describes it pretty well. Nice, clean, new digs, relatively close to the center of the city. Maximum four people to a room (most places offer 4/6/8/10-bed dorms, sometimes 12-bed dorms, and one place I saw in Hobart had a 20-bed dorm), with comfortable beds and air conditioning that actually works. Lovely.

The only thing I don’t like is that it’s a very large place. Just like the place I stayed in Sydney, hundreds of people are staying here, and it’s a bit sterile and impersonal. In most of the resort towns the hostels are smaller, and full of people who are on holiday and interested in having a good time. In the cities you have more people who are staying in hostels in order to save money while going to work every day… plenty of people have no interest in having fun.

There’s free continental breakfast from 7:30-9:30am (which I’m never awake for), and free rice/pasta for people who elect to cook in the kitchen (which I have never done, and have no intention of doing), so poor backpackers love it here.

My roommates have included a French guy with a drinking problem, an Englishman-turned-Australian with a snoring problem, and an American guy with a gambling problem.

The hostel bar is big and reasonably easy to make friends in, but it seems to exist solely for the guests here. There is no way to get into the bar without walking through the hostel, so there’s a complete lack of people who wander in off of the street. In contrast, a lot of hostels around have bars which operate like separate businesses that just happen to be next door to each another. I much prefer normal-looking bars that just happen to have a ton of travelers in them, instead of weird little rooms off of the kitchen that only serve booze to hostel guests. People act a lot stupider when they feel like they aren’t in a proper bar (e.g. bringing a sack full of McDonald’s cheeseburgers into the bar, eating them with one hand while drinking Jagermeister with the other, then puking everywhere)

Melbourne Aquarium:

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Decent, but not in my Top 5. In Australia, the Sydney one is definitely better. In Los Angeles, the Long Beach one is better. Save your money — just go Scuba diving.

Fitzroy:

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Fitzroy is a suburb of the city, just northeast of the CBD. If we’re talking in terms of Los Angeles, it may be like the Silverlake / Echo Park of Melbourne. Hipster girls with cute accents! Art galleries! Music venues! Craft beer!

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Little Creatures is my favorite Australian brewery, and they have a restaurant/bar on Brunswick St. They offer free internet which is actually blazing fast (most places with “free wifi” have a slow connection and 30 poor backpackers trying to share it), and free bicycle rentals for patrons who have knocked a few back. I could see myself spending a lot of time here, even if a pint of beer is $8.50AUD.

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I’ve been advised that when I come back here to live, I’ll probably end up living in the Fitzroy area or the St. Kilda area (a Venice Beach-y suburb southeast of the city, with a beach). I’ll be spending a few days in St. Kilda next week in order to do my due diligence.

Crown Casino:

At first I thought that Urban Central was dangerously close to the Crown Casino complex for someone who enjoys Las Vegas as much as I do. Luckily for me, casinos in Australia are a pale imitation of Vegas and I don’t feel any real desire to spend an extra time there.

No free drinks. People lining up to play the shit show that is Casino War. Weird games I’ve never heard of. No blackjack tables that pay 3-to-2, only 6-to-5. Limited odds at the craps table.

I went there on Thursday night with Sean, my American roommate from Chicago. He had been drinking all day, and kept telling me to keep an eye on his spending while at the tables. When we tried to get into the casino, I was ushered right in, but he was tossed out on the spot: “Sir, you’ve had too many”. This was probably a good call on the part of security, but who am I to judge? I shrugged, and said “Sorry man, I’m going in”, and didn’t see him until the next day.

What happened to me:

I sat down at a blackjack table with some older Australian guys and an Asian mother and daughter with fat stacks of $100 chips and extremely limited English skills. Rather than playing their own hands, the Asian ladies preferred to sit out of the game but place bets on the hands of everyone else at the table.

Having someone else betting on your hand tends to make things very uncomfortable, because all of a sudden I’m betting $15 on a hand that some mean old dragon lady has $200 on, and she’s yelling at me to hit on things you’re really not supposed to hit on. When I win she’d grunt in something close to approval, but when I’d lose I’d have to listen to a nonsensical lecture: “YOU HIT WHEN I SAY!”

After donating $150 to the casino over the course of two hours, I decided to head home and call it a night.

What happened to Sean:

He tried three different casino entrances before he found one that didn’t bounce him immediately. He says he made it to a roulette table and was up around $1100 before someone recognized him as the drunk guy who had been denied entry. They started to make him leave, but after realizing that he was up over a thousand dollars, they invited him to move to a higher stakes table. After losing all of his $1100 and $400 of his own money, they finally “suggested” that he go home.

Nights out:

Believe it or not, once in awhile I get bored spending my evenings listening to backpackers trying to one-up each other with stories about how poor they are. When that happens, and I’m actually somewhere with nightlife, it’s a sign that it’s time to hit the city and meet some locals.

The only question is “Do I invite people from the hostel to come with me?”, and after some experimentation I’ve decided that the answer is a definite “no way”. Going out with friends would be great, but going out as a loosely-knit international group of strangers is just weird, and the locals don’t take you seriously.

In Melbourne there are no laws mandating that the bars and clubs shut down at a certain time. Some places are open until 1am. Some places don’t get any business until 1am. Some places are open until 7am. This makes for an incredible opportunity for shenanigans, should you fall in with a fun crowd.

I did some research online and found a few wonderful bars. In the CBD they’re all hidden in basements or up flights of stairs, perhaps in sub-alleys off of main-alleys, occasionally behind doors with no signage. Finding the places is half the fun. Everyone is always genuinely impressed that I managed to find the places, although it’s not too hard with a little determination, a good ear for muffled music, and an iPhone.

The Ding Dong Lounge in Chinatown might be my favorite place so far — I saw a great local band called Fearless Vampire Killers, and enjoyed a DJ who played classic Kinks and Pixies, as well as recent indie stuff like Animal Collective and Deerhoof, with a packed dance floor.

People are friendly, and as soon as they hear my accent the game is on. Minor celebrity status is granted, friends are made, and good times are had. On Friday night I got a bunch of phone numbers and invitations to do things later in the week. New friends Sarah and Natalie dragged me around town until 6am, and I’ll probably be meeting up with them today at a music festival. I could get used to this!

Upcoming plans:

In Melbourne until 2/23.  Let’s see how much trouble I can get into.

2/23 – 2/26: Tour from Melbourne to Adelaide via the Great Ocean Road and the Grampian National Park.
2/26 – 2/28: Tour of Kangaroo Island
3/1 – 3/2: Exploring Adelaide
3/3 – 3/12: Ten Day Tour from Adelaide to Perth. Empty beaches. Sleeping under the stars in the middle of nowhere. Swimming with sea lions.

Random:

– Some of the nicest, most wonderful girls I’ve met here have been Irish. Some of the trashiest, bitchiest girls I’ve met here have been Irish. I don’t think this is a coincidence. Irish girls are the new Gremlins. You start out with a cute little pet that you want to carry around with you everywhere, but if you get it wet or feed it after midnight all hell breaks loose.

– In the hostel bar here there are a few pool tables and arcade games. Different groups of guys have their own special ways to drink and completely ignore the women — the most ridiculous by far is the “sock a punching bag as hard as you can so a computer can assign an arbitrary score to your manliness” game. Guys come down to the bar without shirts on to flex and drink and punch a machine while the girls yawn and wait for someone to talk to them.

– It’s weird when Bar A shuts down at 1am, and you hoof it a mile down the road to Bar B, only to find that almost the entire set of people from Bar A is there too.

– I was against the idea of using a travel agency to book my upcoming tours, until I found out that it’s actually far cheaper to use one than to try to book everything yourself. Not only did the people at Peterpans Adventure Travel save me a ton of money and handle all of the logistics for me, they also gave me free beer (good), educated me about the current state of Australian rap music (bad), and acted out their favorite Will Ferrell sketches and scenes from Eastbound and Down for me (so bad it was good).

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The sights, sounds and smells of Hobart

Hobart, Tasmania
February 2nd – 6th

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My Tasmania experience is not quite what I expected, but I’m enjoying myself. The original plan was to get out of Hobart to travel the island and see some nature, but after weeks of surfing I was a bit sick of the outdoors and craving the comforts of city life.

I guess I traded the chance to see platypi in their native habitat to meet some local transvestites in theirs.

Hobart Buildings

Salamanca Place

Hobart has around 200k residents, and has a busy but compact CBD (Central Business District — Aussie for “downtown”). Tons of Indian and Thai places, with little pubs scattered around. The CBD pretty much shuts down at night, and most of the evening action being constrained to the Salamanca waterfront district.

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It took me a few days to get used to the sheer quantity of daylight they have here — it’s the middle of summer, daylight saving time is in effect, and we’re pretty far south. It’s possible to walk out in search of dinner with the sun still up and have all of the nearby restaurants be closed for the evening. Not as wild as Scandinavian summers, but still…

By day I walked down to the waterfront every day, did some reading, scoped the babes, caught up on TV shows, researched the differences between ice cream and gelato, and sampled the local beers.

On my first evening I spent about 30 minutes wandering the streets with the sun up, looking for an open restaurant. Before finding a hole-in-the-wall Thai place, I passed by a guy warning two cops about a ridiculously drunk man in the area. I continued along and eventually spotted Drunk Guy, stumbling away from me down the street with a can of Rum & Cola in his hand (this is another Aussie thing I’m not used to — you can buy pre-made bottles of Gin & Tonic or Jack & Coke).

Eventually a guy on a bike starts coming down the street, and Drunk Guy decides that Bike Guy Must Die. Drunk Guy waits for Bike Guy to come close, and without warning tackles the bike, knocking both guys and the bike to the pavement. Drunk Guy is short, out of shape, and well… Drunk. Bike Guy is tall, in shape, sober, and angry. Bike Guy starts to kick the shit out of Drunk Guy, until the cops show up to haul Drunky McDrunkerson away.

Pickled Frog Hostel

The hostel I’m staying at, The Pickled Frog, is a mixed bag. It’s big and old — wood-paneled everything, small holes in walls, creaky floors, and floors/ceilings/walls that don’t always meet at right angles. It feels like a run-down fraternity house, for a few main reasons:

– Extremely loud drinking games all night. Good assuming you are interested in staying up and screaming at people to drink more goon. Bad if you are someone interested in, you know, actually sleeping.

– The dorm rooms are stuffy and smell like feet and farts, even while empty. Bad if you are someone who doesn’t enjoy these smells. Good if you smell like footfarts, because people will assume it’s just the room — a free pass!

– The common room is huge and has 10 different groups of people each trying to do something different at the same time, as loudly as possible. Good if you are a social butterfly with a short attention span. Bad if you’d like to watch a DVD on the big TV without turning on the subtitles, or hold a conversation without hearing one of the acoustic guitar guys trying to impress the German girls with his rendition of Wonderwall.

Tasmanian Devil at the Pickled Frog

The staff are pretty cool, and the beer prices at the in-house bar are non-extortionate: $3.80AUD for a bottle of my new favorite, Cascade Pale Ale.

I can overlook a lot of the run-down crappiness when I’m out in the common areas being social, talking shit on the place with my fellow travelers. But when I’m actually in my room choking on mystery footfarts, or waiting in line for one of the two toilets that probably don’t have any TP, I’m anxious to move on.

Friday night was Goon Night for some of my amigos at the Frog. The boxed wine flowed heavily for a lot of people, while I diligently continued my quest to taste all of the local beers.

By 11pm, the goonheads were silly. By midnight they were stupid. Around 1am, the darling Sarah from Wales decided that we all needed to go out — but not to any of the cool Waterfront places with bouncers that frown upon letting in goonheads. The only option, she explained, was the local transvestite bar around the corner. Another test of my “Always Say Yes (to any reasonable request)” policy for this year. We got in without a hitch.

Now, I’m not a bad looking guy, but I’m no Adonis. Some girls allegedly find me attractive (granted, most of them are bat-shit insane, but that’s another story). Once in awhile I’ll get a genuine compliment from a female stranger that will make my day. But never in my life have I felt so appreciated as when I held court with the he/shes in that tranny bar.

There was a stage, and every few minutes we’d see a glammed out lip-synching performance by a different character straight out of the Aussie classic The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Our pre-op hosts treated us to an evening of Abba, showtunes, catty humor, and liberal use of that four-letter “see you next Tuesday” c-bomb.


Some “girls” looked more put together than others, but nobody was pulling the wool over my eyes. One reminded me of my stepfather dressed up as Mimi from The Drew Carey Show. Another unfortunate soul was a dead ringer for Anjelica Huston’s character in The Witches.

At any rate, the girls bought free drinks for us breeders after a strange round of Breeder Q&A, with “Linda”, the alpha tranny:

“Hello lovely, who are you and where ya from?”
“Adam. Los Angeles.”
“Adam, from L.A.! Tell me hon, are you enjoying Hobart?”
“Yeah, I’m having a good time.”
“I could tell. Ladies, I saw our boy Adam this afternoon down by the waterfront, hiding his beautiful eyes behind a pair of sunnies and carrying a red bag.”

This was accurate. A bit odd since Linda was probably Larry or Lucas when he/she spied me earlier. I guess you never know who is watching you.

We downed our drinks and got out of there while we could still tell our boys from girls.

Random:

– A lot of the drinking games that people like to play are basically just improv warmup exercises with drinking penalties. Once I started approaching them from that frame of mind, I started mopping the floor with other people.

– If you go to the pharmacy here and complain about anything pain related, the pharmacist will give you painkillers with codeine and other fun stuff that is a bit harder to come by in the States.

– Some girls can pull off looking attractive while wearing a men’s hat. SOME.

– The little clique I fell in with here calls me “L.A.”, and demands my opinion on the latest celebrity gossip.

– There’s a Tasmanian Beer War. Before coming to Hobart I was a Boags man. Now I’m a Cascade man. Oh, how things change.

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– The weekly Salamanca markets are a lot of fun. Good food, and extremely talented buskers. Ate a lamb burger and listened to some live blues.

– “I’ve been eating so much Indian food, my asshole looks like a blood orange” – Linda, the aforementioned alpha transvestite

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On Stewardesses

I wasn’t around during the rumored golden age of American air travel, when stewardesses were lored to be perma-smiling, lithe, young creatures — the type of girls you’d actually be interested in hanging out with after a day in cattle class: “Which hotel are you ladies booked at for the weekend?”. And once at that hotel you’d wine and dine them like Don Draper, take them back to your room for a bit of fun until the hotel fire alarm went off, forcing you to scramble down a fire escape and discover  your coworker’s homosexual tendencies as you gazed through an open window (by some accounts this chain of events took place approximately once every 36 minutes in the 1960s).

As a somewhat well-traveled young man who grew up in a Northwest Airlines hub city (DTW), my experience with flight attendants has been roughly 2/3 Midwestern heifers (usually of the soccer mom or soon-to-be soccer mom variety), and 1/3 gay guys (usually of the extremely pleasant but occasionally of the “I can’t believe the company makes us wear these stupid fucking colors” variety). The situation doesn’t seem too much different around LAX/BUR.

I came to terms with the cold, hard reality that I’d be more likely to find myself in a grassy field full of leprechauns, than on a Airbus A330 with a genuinely attractive flight crew. I wouldn’t even need to catch the leprechauns and force them to take me to their pots of gold (as that would be tantamount to rape in this metaphor). Simply noting their existence and telling my friends would be sufficient.

So, friends, this is me informing you that attractive stewardesses are alive and well in Australia. Perhaps not as head-turning as the ones surrounding Leonardo DiCaprio in Catch Me If You Can, but still… good times! I’ve been stuck in a few domestic terminals as I travel from Coolangatta to Hobart, and on two JetStar flights, and I give this country a big thumbs up!

While in Sydney, I posted about the attractiveness of Australian computer nerds. To further my research I think my next stop will be to a meth den, to count the number of Australian addicts with flawless porcelain veneers.

Bonus fact: stewardesses is the longest word you can type with your left hand in a standard keyboard configuration.

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Wasting away in UnCoolangatta

Surf Camp – Coolangatta
January 28th – February 1st

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This place sucks. I am excited to leave.

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OK, I’ll elaborate: there is nothing to do in Coolangatta, and in a bad way. “But Adam, there was nothing to do in Yamba, and you loved it there!” — Yamba is charming because it was willing to admit and embrace its sleepy surf town vibe. Coolangatta tries to be the coolest kid in school, and fails rather miserably.

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Too many depressing surf shops. A few interesting looking music venues that are never actually open. Restaurants that are open for lunch but closed when I try to show up for dinner. Rain when I want to go to the beach. The much larger and busier Surfers Paradise is an easy bus ride up the coast, and would probably have been a much better place to stay.

The Coolangatta Sands Hotel hostel (weird, I know — hotel here may describe a place to eat and drink, and not a traditional hotel. Plenty of hotels here don’t offer lodging. Here we have a hotel which offers hostel accommodation — hence “Hotel hostel”) is brand new, and has air conditioning in the rooms and a nice balcony with swanky sun beds — but THERE IS NOTHING TO DO. We were supposed to be surfing, but the waves are non-existent. They’re supposed to be fantastic when they’re on. Boo.

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This city is full of old people, who come to the hotel for the early bird specials and to stuff coins into the pokies in the back room. Every old person seems to have the same plan: (a) gamble, (b) gamble, (c) gamble, (d) die. I have seen the same silver fox of a man here every lunchtime and dinnertime, and the asshole won the giant crab I was also betting for during Friday night crab racing. [I actually see him walking into the hotel while I am typing this on the balcony.]

Also, I’ve had a bit of the flu the entire time I’ve been here. This probably isn’t doing Coolangatta any favors during my review — just sayin’.

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Surf camp is officially over. We made the best of our final days by going to a nearby park and drinking a lot of goon. The whole 14-day experience was a lot of fun overall, but by the end I was getting bored of eating meals and hanging out with the same people every single day. I suppose that’s one of the risks to committing to a lengthy guided tour with a bunch of strangers!

A few weeks as a lone wolf should help balance things out. Next stop: Hobart, Tasmania! Alone! I would have left here on the 31st, but it was a few hundred dollars cheaper to endure a few more days of boredom.

Random:

– The manager here, Adam, asked me if I’d be interested in staying on for an extra two weeks as a part-time cleaner in return for free lodging. No way, buddy!

– I think I’ve now been in Australia for longer than my entire Spring 2008 vacation. And I haven’t even started my adventure!

– There are a ton of Mexican restaurants here. They all look horrible.

– After surf camp ended I had one night as the only occupant of a four-bed dorm room. Privacy is heavenly.

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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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