A bit like home but with more joggers
12.02.2013 - 14.02.2013 24 °C
At Bali airport I was surprised to find that not only had they charged me $25 to enter the country, they also intended to charge me $20 to leave the island as well! Completely cleared of cash I waited for my flight to Sydney passing the time by Aussie watching. Whilst I may not have encountered many Australians on my trip there were undoubtably a lot of them on the island - my plane had over 400 seats and was just one of many going to Australia each day.
The flight was from 10pm to 7am. I had no idea what the time difference was and so no idea how long the flight was but somewhere between five and seven hours and I slept badly through most of it seated beside a leathery woman with a severe cold. When we landed in Sydney it was, at least by Indonesian time, a rare antisocial hour and, feeling rough, I prayed for an easy border entry. I was particularly worried about customs, having heard stories of them being particularly strict in Sydney airport, as I was carrying several 'food items' namely teas and spices from previous destinations as gifts. Having discarded the more sketchy looking amongst them, I declared the rest to a customs official and was allowed to pass without a search. All was well so far.
I took the train into town, an easy journey but one that cost me $16. I knew that Australia was going to be expensive, particularly as I'd spent the last three months enjoying Asian prices but I would continue to be shocked at just how expensive it was over the next few days. Whilst Sarah and I had paid $8 for a double room I many parts of South East Asia, I was now paying $30 for a dorm bed.
Over a free breakfast of vegemite on toast (yum) I met an Austrian couple and after eating the three of us headed into the city. As a former tour guide I'm still a big fan of a walking tour however when we arrived I was surprised to discover I knew the tour guide - Gregg had also previously worked for New London Tours back in 2008 before starting a rival company in London and then seemingly returning to his home town of Sydney to set up his own 'free tour' company there. He didn't seem to recognise me, perhaps because the three of us were speaking German, and I didn't bother to re-introduce myself. I'd never particularly got along with Gregg and he seemed as obnoxious as ever but his tour was still interesting especially as I knew so little about any Australian history.
It was a grey day and I'm disappointed to say that, without the postcard-blue-sky, Sydney didn't blow me away and the famous Opera House looked underwhelming. But I liked the city, it had a nice feel to it. I was also surprised by how active everyone was - perhaps it was coming from Asia where the national passtimes of most countries I'd visited seemed to be sitting by the side of the road but in Sydney every other person was in sports kit jogging or doing circuits in the park. And despite Sydney being an undulating city, the joggers really seemed to bounce up the hills.
I felt quite at home in Sydney, I guess it was quite like London (but warmer and with bouncier joggers). Perhaps it was just being back in a county with non-squat toilets, pavements used for walking not moped parking, commuters, high prices and English. In the evening I went out for a drink with a couple of Dutch girls I'd met and was pleased to find that a proper bottle of wine cost $23 in a nice bar (shocking given that I'd earlier paid $7.50 for a cereal bar and an iced coffee in a convenience store!).
Inspired by such an active population, the next day I decided to combine sightseeing with some exercise of my own. With only one day left in the city itself I took a ferry out of the harbour to Manly Beach, 17km to the north of town. The weather there was much warmer and less overcast and beach was full of surfers and seaweed and I was very glad I'd decided to get my surfing in in Bali. And they're not lying about that hole in the ozone layer - after just a short while I had a nose Rudolph would be proud of.
But the main reason I'd gone to Manly was for a 10km walk I'd seen marked on my map that the hostel staff had described as difficult and 'bushy'. I didn't really know what bushy meant so I decided to go and find out. For the first couple of kilometres, the path wound around a cove but was paved and easy going. But it became an uneven track, hilly with lots of steps and relatively sweat inducing after a short while. And given that I can (could?) run 10km in well under an hour, I was surprised that the walk took three hours - perhaps not helped that there was a fearless 'guard lizard' on the path at one point and I spent ten minutes waiting for him to leave. So I concluded that 'bushy' meant countryside, just like at home, but with lizards and more colourful birds.
I reached the end of the walk tired and hot and took a bus back to Manly where I found an Aldi and stocked up on food for the next few days - so from eating out 2-3 times a day Asia it seemed that now I'd been relegated to a diet of instant noodles and tuna.
The following day was my last day in Sydney before travelling north. I was actually quite disappointed by this as the longer I spent in the city the more things I found to do and the longer I wanted to stay. But I'd booked a surf trip heading up to the beaches and so I used my last day to visit the Blue Mountains. I joined a trip with a guide called 'Smokey' and seventeen of us drove off into the mountains. First stop was to watch some wild kangaroos. I'm not sure if I've ever seen kangaroos before in a zoo but watching them hop along with their little arms dangling in front of them was quite fun. Smokey told us lots of facts about kangaroos (most of which I already knew having googled them extensively after my friend Sally and I for some reason got into a long discussion about their gestation period whilst watching the swimming marathon at the London Olympics).
Next we headed further into the mountains for more 'bush walking' climbing down hundreds and hundreds of stairs (and then back up again unfortunately) down the biggest waterfall in the area. It was another strenuous day and by lunch time, having missed breakfast, I ate almost twice as much as everyone else (and it was free). We did another walk in the afternoon and Smokey was a great guide telling us about the history of the area, the local landscapes and the aboriginal peoples. By the time we arrived back in town I was exhausted. On the walk back to the hostel I passed many more bouncy joggers and several girls carrying flowers - I realised it was valentines day. And unlike valentines day at home it was sunny and warm. The restaurants were full and spilling onto the streets. For the first time I felt a little bit homesick. I bought a couple of beers from the 'bottle shop' (can't buy beer in tesco equivalent in Australia!) and headed back to the hostel for a 75cent Aldi pot noodle and an early night before leaving for surf camp the next day.