It happened again!
5 weeks of australiana have flashed by like a dream - the one that you don't really know how long it actually lasted - and I wish I had more, again! The truth is, now it happens to me in every country - the time I initially allow it seems like forever on the first day or two. 5 weeks ago, in tropical Cairns I was calming myself with the thought that if Australia gets too long and boring I will rent an apartment in Sydney or Melbourne, settle down, have long breakfasts, read morning papers, water flowers, watch TV and otherwise fill this imagined eternity with little routines of normal stationary life. Ha! It is 5 weeks later, and I have not slept in the same bed more than 2 nights. I am swinging my legs over cliff edge overlooking the Southern Ocean, smelling cool air off antarctic icefields, and wish I had couple more months here.
Australia has been very different from all other countries I visited so far on my hitchhike. The first couple of days passed in torturous attempts to re-adjust to the reality of a non-3rd-world country: prices seemed mind-blowing, people seemed too big, too fat, too loud and too direct (and these were Aussies - probably the nicest gentlest lads in the world!). There were night security codes at hotels, shops closed at 6pm and the whole place was just too big, too hot and too weird. But as time went by, it slowly started to make sense:
Australians (or, as they passionately call themselves - 'Aussies') are one weird but lovable folk. Just like Eskimos have 40 words for snow, Aussies have 40 words for beachware, which also is their understanding of "smart casual" and is worn at all times (incl night sleep) and venues (beach, bar, restaurant, new year's party, etc). They play strange sports, like Aussie-rule football (because no-one else understands the rules; needless to say it's not played by foot), cricket (in which they always lose and feel awful about it, sort of like Latvians and ice hockey), they love their beach, bush and outback, and invent dozens of things to do in a huge hot open space. And, finally, they party and drink like there is no tomorrow. The latter means that they intake mind-blowing volumes of beer, behave like apes, pass out in the sun (sometimes for many hours) and get roasted. I have finally understood why a typical Aussie in Bali was ever dressed in nothing but swimshorts, was ever-wasted, had red eyes and back, and looked and behaved otherwise strange. That said, sober Aussies are generally laid-back, cool, helpful and unagressive: something like Canadians, but without parkas. The key phrases to remember and use in EVERY conversation are:
-Mate (you call that absolutely everyone)
-Awesome! (pronounced 'uoooosam')
If you say "Phew!" you must shake shoulders, raise your arms palms-up and roll your eyes. This means: "Something got (or will get) screwed up, but no worries, it may as well go right again somehow." Practice this in your home or office and see how well it works on your family members and co-workers!
OZ was also the first country on my way with the real backpacker scene: there were thousands of them, explaining why countries like Germany, UK, France, Holland have only old and uncool people left there. They carried real backpacks, traveled by all means and in every direction, filled countless backpacker buses, hostels, bars, Internet cafes, consuming megatons of cereal, toasts, beer and goon (tetrapacked wine). I did that, too, and found it fun, economical, and socially engaging. I got to understate my age by a few years, though, and still were taken for a live fossil that knows the tales of days long gone. Many backpackers do the "working holiday"- that is when you arrive with $200, party a week, run out of cash, go work on a farm, in a bar or a hostel, travel some more, run out of cash, etc, etc. Feel free to take it as a free advice on how to survive financial crunch. :)
Things to see and do in OZ?
-Anything to do with sun, sea, open spaces and functioning body motorics. The beaches are stunning. They have many thousands (!) of km of them, too! You can lull in the surf for days, months or years, time allowing. Diving at the Great Barrier Reef, or to numerous shipwrecks scattered along rocky coast felt like flying between coral mountains in warm and transparent air (minding that stinging jellyfish, sharks and other nasty things are flying by, too). If you can tear yourself off the coast, the outback is vast, majestic and unexplored. They call it "The Big Empty," and there are rumors that it has its own astral mass that sucks in people and objects. You can meet weird creatures there: hedgehogs with trunks (echidnas), pocket-size kangaroos (wallabies), badger-beavers (wombats), not to mention platypus (beaver with the beak) and road trains (post-apocalyptic trucks, pulling 3 or 4 trailers through desert dirt-tracks at speeds over 120km/h and stopping for nothing). Some of these are portrayed in the "Wild things!" album at Picasa.
On the other hand, Aussie cities are fine and sophisticated. They look and feel like a blend of London and New York moved to a tropical setting. There, the most important body motoric is bicep curl for lifting glasses and tableware, and legwork for moving yourself between galleries, clubs, museums and restaurants. I saw some of the best art exhibitions in my life there! I even had to buy an actual shirt! (I just couldn't do it all in surfshorts)
One epic event that stands out in OZland is the new year's eve. That is when everyone gets nuts about going to Sydney to pack onto the city quays and watch midnight fireworks over Sydney harbour. To get some space you must go to a quay at 10am, lay there all day like a comatose seal, getting inevitably wasted and roasted (see above). "Not me!" - I thought and bought a ticket to the NYE gala at Sydney's opera, thus enraging fellow backpackers, who consequently expelled me from goon drinking. To fully experience the grand spirit of the moment, I also purchased a Cuban cigar, and puffed it away with a glass of wine (well, maybe two or three) from the opera's balcony just before the concert. Too bad I totally forgot that this combination usually gives me bad irresistible hickups. Now picture this:
it is The New Year's Eve Gala Concert at Sydney Opera. The house is packed. The air is thick and important. The singers make long well-timed pauses (as they do in operas), when it gets totally quiet. And in the midst of this silent splendor your humble author is hicking it up from the very back row. I don't think I was ever so popular in my entire life!
Happy New Year, everyone!
8 OZ galleries are uploaded to http://picasaweb.google.com/dmy2008 for your viewing pleasure.
For those of you still deliberating at my standing invitation to join the hitchhike, here comes updated tentative itinerary:
-January: looking for Kiwi-the-bird in New Zealand
-February: trying to forget all about Kiwi at the carnival in Rio
-March: cooling off after Rio on polar expedition Patagonia-Antarctica
-April: Spanish, steak and tango (pick two) in Buenos Aires
-May: God only knows
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