Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Why I hate peanut butter

A happy new year to you all! I trust it was a good one?

This post comes to you from the turquoise waters of Monkey Mia at the western most point of the Australian mainland. Monkey Mia is located in the world heritage listed Shark Bay is home to a number of dolphins that come up to the shoreline every morning to hang out with the tourists – me being one of them!

As I write this I am staring out over the ocean with an emu strolling around behind me, I kid you not. Oh, and it is 40 degrees in the shade.

I am undecided as to how up to date I will bring you with this blog post. Once again I have left it a while between posts and there is a lot to tell, so I will see how I far I get today. I am currently 2 weeks into my 8,000-ish km road trip through Western and Southern Australia in the shit-heap vehicle, that myself and Arancha bought, we call home. It has been pretty epic so far: a near miss with a cyclone, a delay because of bush fires, close encounters with nesting turtles and numerous other wildlife sightings. However, before I get onto those stories I need to talk about my last couple of weeks in Melbourne and my xmas and new year adventures.

So, after getting back from the east coast road trip with the lads I spent a few days in Melbourne relaxing at my mate Nick’s place just wasting time. Needless to say that after a few days I was hanging to get out and do something a little more exciting, so I did.
On the Sunday afternoon at about 3pm I decided that I would do the Great Ocean Walk, a 90-ish km bush and beach trek along some of the coast line of Victoria. At 7pm that day I was on a train heading down to the coast with my backpack and my tent.
The reason for the hasty departure was that I needed to head down to the ‘finish’ line and walk back to the ‘beginning’ in 4 days because I was to attend Arancha’s work xmas do on the Friday and the booze was free – I say no more.
The reason for doing it back to front is that the ‘finish’ line only had one bus per day and if I missed it I was buggered, the ‘start’ trebled my chances of getting back with 3 buses per day.
I actually found out whilst on the trek that you aren’t allowed to do it backwards and you also need a permit to camp along the way. It is a good job that I cannot stand rules and regulations and give them no regard. Australia has far too many of them, it is a true nanny state and far worse than the UK in that regard.

I arrived in Wanambool on the south coast at 10pm and checked into a hostel. An early start followed to catch the bus for 2.5hrs to the 12 Apostels, my start point. The 12 Apostels is one of the ‘must see’ things whilst in Australia – 7 rock towers (there were once 12) out in the ocean viewed from the edge of huge cliffs. The bus journey there was the best public bus service that I have ever been on – it stopped for 5 mins at every sightseeing spot and I had a helpful elderly couple sat near to me that gave me some tit-bits of info about each one.
They were a really sweet old couple that still held hands as they walked around. But why is it when an elderly person asks you a question, in my case, where are you from, that the standard answer given is always, “How lovely”?
Once at the 12 Apostels I loaded up on chocolate bars and water, took the obligatory tourist photos and set off on my way. My first target was 6kms to Prince Town to get some supplies as there would not be another shop for about 60kms – I was really going off into the wilderness.
The walk for that day was great. One minute I would find myself fighting through thick bush (I am a sure a few of you have been there!!) and the next I would be walking along the edge of high cliffs looking out over the bluest of oceans.
All in all I walked 15kms to a camp area called Devils Kitchen and it was a basic as could be. A food preparation area consisting of a table, 8 cleared spaces for tents, a water tank and a loo.
As always I was fully prepared for 4 days in the middle of nowhere. At Prince Town I brought a loaf of bread, 2 apples, some peanut butter and some crisps to go with my snickers and boost bars. Did I not think to myself that in 30 degree heat the last thing I would want to feast on for breakfast, lunch and dinner was dry and stodgy peanut butter on dry brown bread? What was I thinking?
After one day of trekking I was over my gourmet sandwiches with 3 long days of walking to go.
There were 5 very well organised campers at the campsite with me that night on the last leg of their trek. They looked at me with a mixture of pity and contempt as I munched on my dry sandwich, told them of my plans to do the walk backwards in 4 days and my complete lack of bush/snake safety knowledge – they did in the recommended 8, in the right direction and with a paid for permit!
I did not even have a charged phone to call for help if it was needed.

They were all really nice though and we told various travel stories as we waited for and watched the sunset over the ocean from a top of our cliff-top forest retreat.
I also showed them my photos from the day especially the snake that was sunbathing right in my path that I had to coax out of the way with a stick. They looked at it and told me it was a blue-tongued lizard and sure enough when I looked close enough I could see a leg! Not sure how I missed the leg as I crapped myself trying to move it out of my way.

I was up bright and early the next morning knowing that I had 30kms to get through including 2 beach walks.
The first section of that days walk was along the beach and it is very hard work walking along a beach in your boots with a 15kg bag on your back. Like the majority of my walk I had everything as far as I could see to myself, there was absolutely nobody around. This beach also had 2 anchors embedded into it where there were 2 separate shipwrecks back in the late 1800’s.

There was another beach walk that I had to complete in the mid-afternoon sun and it was a killer. It is all worth it though as you cannot drive to these beaches, the only way to get to them is to trek. They are little pristine lost worlds that only the trekkers get to experience.
The days trek itself was gruelling. I managed to go the wrong way on 2 occasions and I reckon that added an extra 5kms onto my day. Once again the scenery was amazing, blue skies, green cliffs, blue ocean and the red hot sun.
I also came across a house that was selling homemade marmalade to the trekkers. This may not sound like much but when you are 25kms into a walk, you are hurting and you want to stop, the thought of not having to have peanut butter on bread for dinner again is enough to push you on to your camp.
Just in case you were wondering, the marmalade was lemon, lime and orange. Yum yum!
Just before getting to my campsite I walked into a kangaroo colony. At that point I hadn’t seen many wild roos so this was quite a buzz.

I finally got to my campsite, located on a cliff edge at 6pm and by 7:30pm I was asleep because the pain was too much and all I wanted was for the day to end. I didn’t even have my dinner of marmalade on bread like Paddington Bear.

The next morning I was still in a good deal of pain but knew that I had no choice but to get walking. There was a lighthouse with a shop 10kms away and that meant some decent food, so that was the target.
Unfortunately the first 5kms of the walk were along a beach and it completely took it out of me, I was done. My muscles ached, my feet had split and one of the harnesses of my backpack was about to tear away from the bag, which would really put me in trouble.
I walked another 3kms and managed to get to the only point of the trek that meets a road.
At that point I chucked my bag down and for the first time hitchhiked!

Randomly enough the people that were kind enough to stop and pick me up were a married couple who work for National Geographic and are currently being paid to circumnavigate Australia in their camper with their new born baby and write/photograph about the trip to be featured in Australian Geographic magazine later this year – what a job!
They were both really sound people and I spent the next 2 hours in their company which was a pleasure hearing about all the great stuff they get to do for their jobs. They were good enough to take me to the lighthouse shop so that I could arrange a lift out but not before they took me on a little detour to show me a koala colony – my first wild koalas.
As they dropped me off they took a few photos of me and took my details, so fingers crossed my mug shot may appear in the travel blog/article in July’s version of Aus Geographic. How very random.

Once at the Cape Otway lighthouse I managed to sort out a lift to Apollo Bay, which in turn would allow me to catch a bus to Geelong to then get a train back to Melbourne.
I am gutted that I did not complete the walk but I got within 30kms of the finish line. I will return and do it again one day but I will do it with more than bread and peanut butter and over more than 4 days!!

Once back in Melbourne I spent the next 3 days living it up in a hotel in the city with Arancha. We attended her xmas bash and got suitably smashed and also caught up with one of her best mates who happens to be dating some super rich guy and lives in London.
Guess who has been asked to stay at his plush gaff in central London whilst we get ourselves sorted once Arancha and I return home to the UK in May? Nice!

The next week was to be my last in Melbourne which I spent living at Nat’s place out in the sticks. It was nice to be out in the countryside relaxing and doing not a lot.
I did venture into the city to watch a football match, Melbourne Victory vs Adelaide with Winslow and the standard was poor. Even Harry Kewell did not improve the quality on show.
I was also in the city to try and sort out our visas for China, my post Oz destination – a challenging task if ever there was one and I will have to try again once I am back from this road trip.

One other thing that I did in Melbourne before I left was the one thing all backpackers must do when in town – visit Ramsay St!
I made the pilgrimage with Winslow and as we walked into the street (a real suburban street with real residents) I couldn’t believe how small it is in real life. As we walked past all of those famous houses – The Ramsay’s, The Robinson’s, The Mangel’s, a guy got out of his security car and I feared he would tell us to do one. It turns out the street has 24hr security to keep the residents safe from mentalists and he was more than happy to actually talk to someone as he was bored shitless. In fact he even told me the best place to stand to get a good photo in front of The Kennedy household!

That was it for my stint in Melbourne. I will be returning for a few days at the end on Feb for Arancha and Nadia’s birthday bash but that’s it.
On Friday 16th Dec Arancha and I picked up a relocation camper van and set out for Sydney where we would be spending xmas day at her mother’s house. We spent 3 days getting to Sydney, 1 night free camping at the road side outside of Canberra, 1 night by the ocean in Jervis Bay and the last just south of the city in Sydney.
Once the van was returned we then hired a car so that we could get around for the next 6 days in Sydney.
The first thing that we did was head up to the Blue Mountains for 3 days.
For the majority of those 3 days it rained which is not ideal when you are camping in a crappy $40 tent but it kept us dry, if not completely warm.
The weather did clear for long enough to allow me to take Arancha on the same walk that I did back in March, the one where I was attacked by leeches. We had a good day out in the rainforest but Arancha wasn’t overly keen on the leeches although was more of a man about it than Egg was in Nimbin!

After the Blue Mountains it was back to Sydney to spend the next few days with Arancha’s mother. Arancha’s mum is very nice and tells it how it is. She is a little Spanish lady with a lot of life in her who told Arancha that I had nice eyes but was short – fair enough! She was also not content unless she was force-feeding me to make sure that I was full. She was a very accommodating woman and this extended to her being pretty chilled when I walked in on her on the loo!!

Xmas eve was spent at Wollongong beach getting sunburnt followed by a few beers at the local working men’s club near to Arancha’s mum’s house. It was odd walking home afterwards seeing midnight mass taking place outdoors for all to see and hear, but that’s the advantage of having xmas in the southern hemisphere where it is summer.
Xmas day was a very relaxed affair. Up at about 10am, start dinner at about 1pm and after many courses and glasses of wine, finish about 4pm.
It passed like any other xmas day, food followed by shit movies on the tv. The difference being that it was very warm outside.
In the evening I skyped the folks and wished them a very happy xmas from far away for the second year in a row – I promise I will be at the dinner table in person next year Mum.

By the way I got another awesome present from Arancha. This time I got tickets to go and see England vs Ukraine at the Euro’s next June – I can’t wait. The bonus is that this will involve some more travel!!
Cheers AJ, you’re the best!

Boxing day was to be another day of travel. This time we were off to spend 4 days in Tasmania.
We arrived in Hobart mid afternoon and were greeted by my ice-cream uncle, Mr John Whippy.
It was good to catch up again as I hadn’t seen him since July and the day was spent eating lunch out, sipping wine within his beautiful domestic surroundings and then eating out again for dinner.

Our timing in Tasmania was perfect, the Taste of Tasmania Food and Drink Festival was to start on the 28th Dec and then the Falls Music Festival would start on the 29th.
John was supplying 3 stalls with his goods at the Taste Festival so I spent some time on the 27th giving him a hand delivering the ice cream in return for being able to take Arancha on a small taster session at the factory afterwards. A sound deal if ever there was one.

On the day on the Taste we first ventured over to the MONA Museum (mentioned in my previous blog post about Tasmania) so I could show Arancha the poo machine and someone pooing on a camera etc. Don’t ever say that I don’t know how to show a girl a good time!

From the museum we took a boat back to the harbour to attend the Taste.
The Taste festival is a chance for Tasmania to promote its local produce meaning that there are dozens of food and drink stalls all set up around the harbour with live music to assist the enjoyable atmosphere.
Whilst at the festival we met up with some of Arancha’s friends who happened to be over from Melbourne and we all set about getting quite intoxicated.
It was a thoroughly good day we were both well gone by the time John arrived from work.
This day of the festival also coincided with the finish of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race – quite a big deal down here. So whilst sipping wine and eating fine food we stood on the pier watching the boats come in.
Not much more to say on that except that the winner didn’t win because they cheated by having a helicopter fly back to the yacht in second place to check what sails they were using so that they could match them to stay ahead.

Still, you have to take in these experiences if they are presented to you and you are there.

The next morning we rose early to take a bus to the Fall Music Festival. It is fair to say that I was still drunk due to the triple whisky and coke that John treated me to as a nightcap back at his place.
By the way, thanks again John for letting us stay and for being so generous, especially the bone china Tasmanian Devil mugs, which you will be pleased to hear that we always use to drink our wine out of at dinner time – no lie!
At least you let us pay for some stuff this time – a minor victory on my part.

On to the Falls Festival.
We got there mid morning on the Thursday and were then left with nothing much to do. Nothing was to really get going until 3pm and the bars did not open until 1pm – what a joke!
We did have fun that day though supping a few lagers and dancing around in the soul tent seeing who could do the spazziest dance. I think I won quite easily.
We also tried to get into the 10 minute rave party held in a shipping container but the crowds were verging on Hillsborough so we ducked out.
I have to say that doing blind piggy back rides to the loos was great fun but the people around us didn’t seem to get it.
By the time we got back to the tent it has taken on the form of a tee-pee. Someone has clearly taken a fall onto our tent and this had snapped the tent frame. We spent 2 nights sleeping with the tent lining threatening to smother us in our sleep.
That evening they also showed some movies by the main stage and Back to the Future was advertised as the first one. I was quite upset that The Breakfast Club was shown as I was well up for Marty, Doc and Einstein.
The next 2 days were all about the music but we would only get to experience 1 of them. I cannot stand missing an ‘experience’ so we would be leaving on NYE in order to get back to Sydney for the Harbour Bridge fireworks.

The first day of the music was the one I wanted to be at anyway as the Arctic Monkeys were headlining. There were some good bands on during the day but it was all about the Arctic’s for me. I have to say that I was a little deflated by their performance, they just didn’t look like they could be arsed and were just going through the motions, although it was funny hearing them shout out “’Ow ya doin’ Tasseh”.
They also missed out some classic songs so I went to bed disappointed. But not to worry, there are plenty more gigs to be seen over the years, like the Red Hot Chilli Peppers in June – it’s all about keeping it real my friends and having some good days lined up!
By the way Lats/Moggy, get yourselves a ticket for Knebworth and come with us!

Our trip to Tasmania was good but on this trip I could see why the rest of Aus refers to it as an incestuous place – a bit like how the English think of Norwich and people from Leicester think of Ibstock.
There were so many people walking around with bad looks and missing limbs – too many to be pure coincidence. It is actually said that there are parts of Tassie that to this day have limited access with the rest of the island and the world.
I think there are a lot of sons whose mother is also their sister and father is also their grandfather etc. Fritzel stylee!!

NYE morning saw me up very early once again and still pissed once again. We packed up and trudged for 2kms along a country road to meet our lift.
Wazza, the brother of one of Arancha’s mates, who we met at the Taste had agreed to come well out of his way to pick us up and drop us at the airport.
This is what can be achieved when you have had a few vinos and will ask anyone anything like, “you used to take the acts to the Falls Festival did you? Cool, do you fancy picking us up for a small fee?”
This is what Dutch courage can achieve – I say drink up people!
Cheers for the lift Waz, you are a dreadlocked legend and I salute you.

We got up in a field at 6am in Tasmania and by 11:30am we were sitting in Shahn’s Sydney garden near to Bondi Beach.
Shahn is one of the girls who I met in Nepal along with Arancha. I stayed with her when I first arrived in Aus last March and had not seen her since then.
That afternoon we went over to a waterside bar in Double Bay with Shahn and her bloke and had a few beverages. Shahn’s bloke is a proper Aussie male and a really nice guy. He reminds me of a young version of my dad, he likes a beer or 8 but you can put him in to any social situation and he will just talk to people and make them laugh. He was good company and I look forward to catching up with them both when we make it around to Adelaide where Shahn has just moved.

We arrive at NYE evening. One of the gifts I brought for Arancha for xmas were tickets to ‘Lawn with a View’ – a limited ticket entry to a raised lawn in the Botanical Gardens opposite the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge.
The location was perfect for viewing the fireworks.
The best part about it was that we could arrive at 7:30pm and not queue to get a view like everybody else had to by arriving at 11am-ish. Sod that, I will pay for the privilege, not queue and get a gourmet picnic thrown in as well.

There was a small display at 9pm and quick blast at 10pm and 11pm, followed by a quick blast every 15 mins between 11pm and midnight.
In between we were treated to an acoustic guitar session whilst sitting having our picnic on our blankets.
At the midnight it all went off. Never before have I seen fireworks like these – the display lasted for about 20 minutes and lit up the night sky. The fireworks erupted from the Bridge, behind the Opera House, from the tops of the city skyscrapers behind us and from 2 other locations over the harbour.
I am not sure why but I got very choked up watching it all and thinking about it is giving me goose pimples now. I think it in part to do with the fact that after such a mammoth travelling stint (well it seemed it when I left) I am now in the year when I will be returning home and have to leave Aus. Of course I want to see family and friends but no way do I want to come home, I am just not ready.

The actual ending of the fireworks was like nothing I have ever seen, multiple simultaneous explosions lit up the night sky so brightly that it really seemed like it was daytime.
It was fantastic and I definitely plan to spend another NYE in Sydney in the future, it was that good.

Keeping to our busy schedule we found ourselves back at the airport the next morning to fly off to Uluru (Ayres Rock) and the red centre of Australia.
The tales of this trip around central Aus and then onto our Western Aus road trip can wait until next time.
I can assure you that it will be a good post and in the past few days I have never seen as much wildlife in front of me – dead or alive, and the dead ones stink so bad!

Before I leave you, do you know why Aussie’s where hats with corks on them?
Arancha informed me that they all wear them as the swinging corks keep the flies off your face. Did you all know this or am I only the only one who thought that Aussie’s wore them just because that what Aussie’s did?

One last thing, please think of me in the 40+ degree heat just about to get up and explore the dolphin infested waters.

Catch you later!