I don't really know how I'd even begin to go about summarizing the past two weeks in an interesting narrative (probably not a good sign for my writing aspirations), but I figure I need to post something about Australia, so here we are. 6:00 am is never a reasonable time to wake up, but it was necessary to catch our bus to Christchurch, where we'd then fly to Sydney. My traveling companions were Sarah and Shannon (my flatmate). We were traveling on Emirates, which is an Arabic airline. Nothing printed inside the plane was legible, the flight attendants all wore small red hats and white shawls, and the ceiling of the cabin was decked out in thousands of little LED lights that twinkled like stars in the dark. Crazy. Also, their entertainment package was really good, and I watched episodes of "Arrested Development" for the entire three-hour flight.
Arriving in Sydney was like experiencing the culture shock that I'd been saving for America a few weeks early. As mentioned previously, I've grown accustomed to New Zealand's way of living without even realizing it, and returning to the scene of a bustling metropolis on a mass of land roughly the same size as the continental United States was overwhelming. So many people! And buildings! And 7-11s! I don't even want to get into my trip to the supermarket (labeled Woolworth's in OZ), which provided me for 13 short days with all the bunches of Cilantro I could ask for, cheap meat, wholewheat pasta, regular sandwich mustard, stick deodorant, and grapes. Withdrawals have already set in... again.
Anyway, Sydney was pretty much exactly how one would imagine Sydney, with architecturally sound buildings (all tinted a reddish color... but again, isn't that how you imagine buildings in Australia?), kebab shops everywhere, and the Opera House jutting authoritatively into a Harbour filled with sharks and dolphins. An interesting note on the Opera House: in pictures, its roof looks like a white, shiny shell, but in reality there is an intricately detailed mess of black lines that criss-crosses its tiled bulk repeatedly, and the color of the whole contraption is more like a cream or something (I don't know my colors). There was more than enough stuff to do for a few days, and we hit up the city's aquarium (#1 worldwide) and Museum of Contemporary Art for like a day apiece. Sydney was also where we met Stephen, a twenty-year-old on leave from Iraq for three weeks. His presence was interesting (mostly because I don't know any other soldiers in Iraq), and since we ended up spending about a third of our time with him, I now have a completely new insight into what's going on in that crazy desert on the other side of the world. Needless to say, we left him yesterday with me feeling very, very sorry for the guy.
Seeing as we were only stationed in a hostel for three out of our thirteen nights in Australia, I suppose it's time for me to illustrate our Wicked van. Wicked Travel is a company that rents out campervans to unsuspecting tourists looking for a cheap ride. They come equipped with front seats, a steering wheel, a bed/table contraption in the middle, and a rudimentary kitchen in back (complete with a hand-pump sink). The icing on these ancient Wicked cakes, though, is that each van sports a unique illustration on both sides to help give one's road trip some character. Ours featured the giant mug of a clearly shady (did I just discover a new oxymoron?!) man with the words "Jim's Muff Management" printed in enormous black letters. Below, Jim's various services were listed: laser hair removal, electrolysis, plucking, cutting and styling, and permanent hair removal. Needless to say, we attracted many stares, incited numerous remarks, and provided a backdrop for many hasty photos.
We would park to sleep in national forests, residential neighborhoods, information center parking lots, and along the beach whenever possible. Our first four days behind the wheel saw nothing but blinding rain, so the beach was avoided in favor of forests (and their accompanying spiders), the tallest tree in New South Whales, and a lot of card playing (by candle light, which induced 10 pm bedtimes and 6:55 am wake-ups... my biological clock right now is all kinds of messed up), which quickly escalated from games like "Asshole" and "Spoons" to "Flaming Asshole" (as tempers flared) and "Poons" (in Honor of Jim and our muff-mobile). I was eaten alive by mosquitos (which have an unmistakable burn to their bite overseas) and pestered by Shannon, who is the single biggest negative force I've ever encountered in my life, and who brought down the "cool factor" that Sarah and I were trying so hard for by, like, ninety percent. I'd fall asleep at night enraged by her idiocy, wake up at dawn even more upset (as she'd taken to ruining my dreams, as well), and then have to deal with the real-life version all day long in a terribly confined space. The next time any of you see me and want a better explanation, I'll be more than happy to divulge the details. For now, here's a picture of her stupid face:
And she wants to be a heart surgeon?!?!
The sun finally came out at Byron Bay, a gloriously attractive, alternative community on a beautiful stretch of beach surrounded by tropical vegetation. It was there that we paid for our only night of legal sleeping ($12 each), and I took the first of three showers during my entire OZ stay. I also burned myself stupid, and spent the next four nights sleeping semi-upright to avoid even slightly touching my purple (yes, purple) sides. They're just now beginning to peel (blistering came first), and they added a whole new dimension of misery to sleeping long-ways in a stuffy European van (after the first night, of course, when Shannon had the brilliant idea to make us all sleep SHORT-ways, which she loudly pawned off on Sarah the next day as our legs, backs, and necks agonized). Our 900-kilometer trek ended at Gold Coast (Surfer's Paradise, specifically), which was seeing up to four-hour traffic delays due to the city's transformation into an Indy raceway. Highlights of the region included Movie World (I successfully resisted the urge to make Disneyland comparisons until leaving the park, but Shannon adopted a heavy frown and called everything "really stupid" from Batman: The Ride 2 [rides can have sequels?!?] to Lethal Weapon: The Roller Coaster). We returned the van in downdown Brisbane dirty, tired, aggravated, and having had an incredible time.
In terms of wildlife, I saw kangaroos (of both the living and roadkill variety), koalas (only roadkill variety), terrifying spiders (one had spun a thick white "X" into the middle of its web), and enormous fruit bats (they kept us up all night during a massive thunderstorm as they swooped and shrieked over unsuspecting prey). With the help of a Diggery Doo CD purchased at a massive TurkFest in downtown Sydney, our adventure took on a serious Australian theme, and I feel as if I've thoroughly explored a small fraction of the country.
This whole post has been kind of a broad generalization about everything that went down, which makes me regret delivering a relatively unauthentic description of it. Time, however, is short. I have TEN DAYS (holy balls!) left in New Zealand before beginning my return journey to the US, and I don't really know what's going on. Never before has uncertainty been so marvelous and terrifying at the same time. I've reached a point where I'm going to be sad to leave New Zealand no matter how much longer I stay, so it might as well be now when I'm still excited to come home. I used to think getting older would solve all of life's issues, but now I know (or I'm fairly sure I know...?) that maturity only reveals our existence for the chaotic, barely-held-together-by-reason jumble that it is (and that's not supposed to come across as negative as it sounds). If my perceptions of the world, myself, and my friends and family were clarified and strengthened before Australia, coming back to New Zealand after being abroad in yet another country has tweaked them even more. I don't know how it's going to be possible to return to Oregon the same person I was when I left, because life is so much more fun (and rewarding) if I treat it like a grand experience that I'm indescribably (and improbably) lucky to be having. With such an outlook, playing the quiet kid in class who disdains everyone else is harder, if only because it's such a waste of time (unless one is productive with the observations it yields). I want to try being the crazy one now, dammit! I'm only young once, and I only have like 2 more years to do whatever I want (as long as I get good grades, of course) before some amount of acquiesence to the routine world of grown-ups becomes mandatory. Ahhhhh.
So that about covers it. I might post one more time right before I leave. If not, I'll see you all soon. Thanks for sticking with me.
Narrator's Voice: And so it was... the end of his Great New Zealand Adventure.