An audio and video podcast of my trip hitchhiking around the world by sea.
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Posts from — June 2009

Ride or Reef

Aussie Word of the Day:
The Dunnie (n.):  Australian for toilet.  Unless referring to a porta-potty, in which case you would use the term Drop-Dunnie or Long Drop.

I woke up to the pittering of rain off the tin awning of my hostel. Generally the sound of rain falling is a nice ingredient for sleep, but when accompanied by squawking parrots it becomes less soothing and more, say… annoying. That is until you realize you are waking up in Australia, Cairns to be exact.

Cairns is one of the most northerly towns on the east coast of Australia. It’s is known for things like the saltwater croc, or the cassowary (an ostrich-like rainforest bird with a colorful scalp and a massive block on it’s head), but mostly it’s known for the Great Barrier Reef. You’ve maybe heard of it—that little World Heritage Site stretching almost 350,000 square kilometers and home to 2,900 reefs, 918 islands, 2,800 kinds of fish, 215 kinds of sea snake and 6 kinds of turtle… Yeah that’s the one.

You’d think a place known to be one of the seven natural wonders of the world might have some pull on a guy with basically no plans. But I’ve always been kind of a sucker for cheap transportation. So when, the first morning in Cairns, I noticed a paper dangling from the hostel bulletin board my wheels started turning. It read something like this:

I am a 22-year German guy. I will be driving to from Cairns to Melbourne on Thursday morning. Have space for 1-3 people looking to go to Brisbane, Sydney or anywhere along the way.

Now look, before you start judging, let me defend my logic. Traveling around the world for 18 months can get expensive, even after you’ve sold your house and lived as frugally as possible. Second, although the US dollar is worth more than the Aussie dollar, it doesn’t go as far down here. Finally, the Great Barrier Reef is always going to be there, but this ride-this ride was leaving in two days! See what I mean? Makes sense, right?

Well it made sense to me; however, I wasn’t traveling alone at the moment. Mandi is a good friend, and a flight attendant. She also has a big heart and the superpower of discounted tickets—except not in Australia. It has always been a dream of hers to see Australia, and she was taking some vacation time to start my trip with me. I showed her the flyer, bat my puppy eyes, and agreed to spend the day exploring our options.

I looked at flights—expensive. I looked at car rentals—expensive. I looked into bus, train, even into buying a junker car which I would sell (hopefully) at the end of my trip—all expensive. All day I looked but just as the rain fell from the sky, so did our options for cheap transport. I mean yes, it is the Great Barrier Reef. But this… This is opportunity. This is a free ride down the coast of Australia!!

That night I called Henning. We would leave the following morning.

June 28, 2009   No Comments

The Beginning of Oz

Aussie Word of the Day:
Cuppa (n.):  Australian for drink (usually hot in nature). Most likely rooted in English term “Cup of (something)” Can be used at any time of the day, but is most often heard in after a meal when the host asks, “Would anyone like a cuppa?”

Concerning the above:
I realized while writing my previous two blogs there are lots of tidbits that would be terribly useful when visiting Australia, especially in the area of language. Imagine, for instance, if one night after “tea” (dinner) with your “mates” (friends) you were offered a “cuppa”, but not knowing what it was you respectfully decline. Moments later, all your friends are sitting around sipping tea and coffee, gleefully enjoying each other’s company all the while you linger on the outskirts fighting off your meal-coma. Then for the next several weeks you’re greeted with smirks of pity, and hear people refer to you as “the yobbo who fell asleep at the party.” We’re talking social suicide, simply because you didn’t know what a “cuppa” was!

Not on my watch. No sir. That’s why I’ve decided to start every Australian blog with a helpful word, phrase, or fun fact of the day. You’ve been plenty entertained, and a little education never hurt nobody.

Now let’s get back to bloggin.

When I arrived Australia, I arrived in Cairns and as usual I had no idea what my plan was. I de-planed around 11:00 pm, a bit groggy from my whirlwind 15-hour tour of Tokyo, flight to Guam, 3-hour layover and walk to the beach, then final leg to Australia. Myself and the other international zombies file down terminal to customs. The lovely customs officer then takes my passport and flips through the pages. Naturally she is admiring my impressive resume of travel. I humbly lean forward and watch. She looks back.

“Do you know you don’t have any space in your passport?” Bloodshot, I return her stare… blink. “You have no space to stamp your passport.” She repeats. “Huh?” I reply-blink, blink. “We can’t stamp on top of another stamp,” she raises her voice slightly in irritation. It was probably obvious that I spoke English based on the American passport, but I’ll be honest, I had no intent of returning to America for some fresh passport pages for her to stamp, so I did what I could: Blink, blink…blink…“Huh?” She rolled her eyes, stamped my passport, and called for the next in line.

Mission accomplished. There was some resistance, but I made it. Now I just needed to figure out what to do.

June 15, 2009   No Comments

A Beginner’s Guide to Oz: Part II

Welcome back to the second edition of The World By Sea’s: Beginner’s Guide to Oz. In this entry, we’ll continue to explore several random facts that may or may not be of any use. Please enjoy…

6.    The cute and the deadly. No doubt, Australia has the best of both. What’s more adorable than a little sleepy cuddle bear that carries it’s young in a pouch, lives in treetops, eating leaves and its mother’s poo to survive? Probably nothing, except maybe the lovable kangaroo-who also carries its young in a pouch and loves life so much it can’t help but jump everywhere. On the other hand, to balance out all that cuteness, Australia has developed some of the nastiest (in terms of death) creatures on earth. To list a few: funnel web and red back spiders (the Australian black widow); taipan, brown, python and red bellied black snakes; box and Irukandji jelly fish; and of course the prehistoric croc and great white shark. However, the winner of my personal “Bad-Ace Award” goes to the charming blue ringed octopus, who though full grown is about the size of golf ball, it still carries enough venom to kill 26 adults within minutes. Pretty bad-ace, huh?

7.    Two for Forty. There are two things down here that will cost you around 40 Australian Dollars. The first is a case of beer. That’s right, for just shy of 40 bones you can treat yourself to a dozen cold mediocre brewskies! I probably had the same initial reaction you are having right now, the first time I walked into a “bottle-o” (Oz for liquor shop) and stared for minutes at the price tag, trying to remember just what the conversion rate was from US to OZ. Eventually it sunk in that yes, the 6-pack of beer really was $18.
Luckily, if you decide to sober up and stop drinking, there’s another way to spend money–you can buy a cattle ranch. Just drive several hours from the coast and an entire plot of land also run you about $40 Australian (per acre). This sweet  fun fact surfaced the other day whilst standing around with a group of cattle ranchers shootin’ the bull. That said, I went ahead and bought the beer… What– it was a hot day.
8.    Ketchup, water and refills. Maybe it is because I’m American but there are few things I feel are the right of every human being. First, ketchup (which is referred to as “sauce” in Oz) should be a free accompaniment to French fries (which are referred to as “chips”). It should never be an additional cost of $.20 to $1… EVER. Second, if tap water is drinkable, it should be provided with a meal, or at very least not frowned upon on request. Third, and I’ll admit this is a little more flexible—soda and coffee should be assumed to have free refills. That’s all I have to say on this.
9.    Flying Foxes. Just after the sun sets there are certain areas where the sky turns dark with waves of black. At first you think crows but they are bigger. Then you realize they’re not birds at all. “Flying foxes”, otherwise known as fruit bats, by the thousand. I imagine if you owned a fruit tree you would be real annoyed. But to the tourist and young-boy-at-heart, they’re awesome.  I mean, a bat the size of a fox that will dive and swerve to avoid the sound of your clap which fires through the air like an invisible missile? Yeah, that’s awesome.

10.    Dishes or Toads. I couldn’t decide which insignificant fact to use for number 10, so I just going to list them both. They are in no way related.
A.    First, an observation: Once you’ve eaten your dinner in Australia, simply proceed to the kitchen, suds up your dishes and rack em. Because, down under, there’s no need to rinse. That may disturb some people, but I guess for a kid who always had a bar of soap in his mouth growing up, it sort of feels right.
B.    Second, an observation: If ever a pack of beetles are eating your crops, you would think all you need to do is introduce a pack of toads–right? WRONG! Australia tried it once. Not only did the beetles stick around, the cane toads became one of the most invasive species of all time. In other words, if you come to Australia, be ready for some sweet toad action. On a positive note, the ever resourceful Australians have taken a negative gone worse into an opportunity. You can now have for a souvenir a real life-less cane toad figurine or key chain.

Naturally there are million things to see and learn down here, but that should get you started.

June 7, 2009   3 Comments

A Beginner’s Guide to Oz: Part I


Australia… you can’t even say the name without saying “Ahhh”. White sandy beaches, the crisp smell of Eucalyptus, sunshine and a coral reef that stretches over 2000 kilometers… it’s an enchanting land, unlike anywhere else. Which is probably why it tops so many people’s places to visit list. So for those of you who haven’t yet been able to fulfill that dream, I have compiled the following list of 10 random facts you might find useful for your future trip:
(*Note: Due to the witty nature (aka-long windedness) of the following post I have decided to split this entry into two parts: Part I and Part II.)

1.    Plastic money. Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant! I would kiss the man that figured this no-brainer out. If there is anything you don’t ever want to decompose, it’s your currency. Furthermore, it doesn’t rip (honestly, I’ve really tried). Finally, and most practically, when your country is an island filled with beach and surf, why not have a currency that doesn’t get soggy when you swim. Bravo, Australia.
2.    Meat pies. I’m still trying to figure why this hasn’t made it across the pond yet. Finally, someone figured out a legit way to eat pie for dinner: take the fruit out and stuff that delicious pastry with steak, chicken, peas, potato, or anything else you can dream of. Again…Bravo!
3.    Australianese. In passing, it can be mistaken for English, and while the language of Oz does share similar phrases, Australia has definitely developed it’s own tongue. At least 73% of sentences end with the phonetic emphasis of a question, where the tailing syllable raises significantly causing an English speaker to pause, review, and wonder just what the Aussie is asking. If that weren’t confusing enough they also have their own special code-talk where in every long word must be shortened, then once shortened extended with something like an “o” or “y”. There will be more lessons to follow on this subject.
4.    Travel pox. Here’s something you should be ready for: Within days of arriving on the island, you will most definitely notice a difference in your complexion. Flashbacks of puberty may rush your mind before realizing it’s not just your face… it’s everywhere. Don’t worry, it’s not an outbreak, it’s a bug—or lot’s of them. Mosquito, gnat, no-see-em, sand fly- it could be anything really and half the time you don’t notice it until you look in the mirror or something brushes against your calf and makes you want to scratch your leg off.
5.    Cockatoodle-doo. The rooster has long been labeled the animal kingdom’s alarm clock, faithfully declaring the approaching day at obnoxiously early hours. Well Australia’s got it’s own cock, who though a bit more rare, is every bit as annoying when screeching the sun up: the magnificent cockatoo. However, I will admit, once you have grumbled out of bed, to see just what might dying outside your window in the morning, it’s hard to not to appreciate such a beautiful bird as the white or black cockatoo. Also cool and obnoxious are the parrots that squawk by the hundreds as the sun sets.

…to be continued.

June 4, 2009   No Comments

Don’t Get Mad, Get Even


Ok, remember that “Best Job in the World” thing, the one where 34,000 people applied from all over the world to live on an island and blog about it? In case you hadn’t heard, here’s a quick update.

Several months ago, a group known as Tourism Queensland organized the most ingenious public relations plot I’ve ever seen. They created a 6-month position for one person to live in a beautiful house on a stunning island in the Great Barrier Reef. They would call the position “Island Caretaker”, and for $150,000 Australian Dollars the stated responsibilities would include little more than swimming, exploring, and blogging. Anyone who could make a 60 second video could apply… so more than 34,000 from all over the world did, including one small town boy from Northern Arizona.

I’ll admit, I thought the stars had aligned. I heard about the job from several of you who had emailed. I got the wheels turning, made a kickin’ video (see video above), and sent it in with hours to spare. I would be perfect (or at least I thought). Not only did I have experience, I would donate half of my salary to The World By Sea.

Well, I didn’t get it. And since we’re getting things off our chests, I didn’t even make the first cut. I know… I know. I couldn’t believe it either. In fact, for the next week or two I wallowed around in self-pity, like a little snot-nosed brat who got the wrong bee-bee gun on Christmas. Finally, after plenty of feeling sorry for myself, and questioning my existence, I decided it was time to dust myself off. Don’t get mad, get even…

That’s right–even. I didn’t need some “Tourism Queensland” to go to Australia, I could do it myself. There is an ancient proverb that when translated reads something like: “You can’t keep good man down.” Granted this is more up than down, and I suppose one could argue I don’t actually qualify a “good man,” but if you don’t mind I’m a little bit vulnerable right now. So if we could all just support me right now, that’d be great. Thanks.

Now I know what you’re thinking, “Just how is going to Australia on your own dollar, blogging and giving Tourism Queensland even more free publicity “getting even”?” That’s a good question… and I haven’t exactly worked it out yet. Maybe I’ll sabotage the whole thing. Sell sponsorships, tattoo my body, and streak through the island, drawing attention away from their little island and putting it on my…website. I don’t know, but I’ll think of something.

Watch out Australia, the D-man cometh!

June 1, 2009   3 Comments