Friday, January 7, 2011

Inspired by Thailand

The rooftop garden and view at my favorite guesthouse in Krabi - Smile!

My first night here in Thailand I met a Swedish gentleman who has been traveling the region since the 1980s, he has also worked here for a large portion of that time in a role that required him to make visits to many of the small (and beautiful) places around the country.  I had made the voyage from Lankawi with a young American bloke and the older Swede gave us some absolute gold tips, platinum, even.  One of these we executed the very next day.  This was to find our way to the Floating Village in Kaoh Sok National park.  The tricky parts were that in order to get there we had to go not to the main gates of the park, but instead to a side gate where the Rachaprapah dam was.  When getting bus tickets the vendors all told us that we couldn't do this, that we should hire a taxi for 1500baht to go, because the town where we change has no guesthouse and maybe there is no more bus going the way we want.  We stuck to our guns and had an adventure anyways it was not that different from some of the wayfinding I had to do in Borneo, though my friend Patrick was much more stunned.  We took 2 buses and a motor-taxi costing 265baht total, a much nicer price than a private car.  We did have to charter a boat to ourselves from the dam to the village, for 2000, but sometimes there's a price to pay to do something amazing.  The setting there was very dramatic, limestone karsts dropping directly into reflective green water.
turned out in the morning this is where the swede sent us.
  Some of these cliff walls we would pass within meters of as the boat rounded a point.  We arrived after dark at the village and nobody at all was there, the staff couple proceeded to get us settled and cook us dinner.  It seemed within minutes that a virtual feast was laid out before us,  a whole fried fish, a green curry, two different vegetable dishes, and all of it tasting divine.

I had an early night, and was suprised when we had some late arrivals, especially because I never heard the boat.  I must have still been knocked out from the all nighter I pulled in Langkawi the evening before I got to Krabi.  I also had a nightmare about being trapped in a subway with thousands of people, unable to escape.  Imagine my relief when I woke to find myself miles from any type of crowd and that as a bonus the sky had cleared.  I took a moment to go outside and look up at the stars in the virgin black canvas of the night, no matter where I go in the world, you always have the stars above me.

The terrible view I woke up to :D
In the morning we took a leisurely breakfast, and then, advantage of the free kayaks for a leisurely paddle.  When we got back around noon the staff had us hurriedly pack our bags back up in order to move rooms.  There was a large group of Thais arriving for a company retreat.  So we were moved off the floating village and high up into the hills.  We first had to walk past the kitchen and staff quarters, then onto a bridge made of bamboo (takes some getting used to to walk on especially with a pack!).  Up a massive steep flight of stairs.  Through the forest and around the point to a cabin built into the hill over looking the water.
Picture I took of Patrick for posterity

Picture he took of me for posterity.  I think I win the photographer prize this time

 That night the large Thai group had a bit of a party.  We had been lazing about up in our penthouse so the party was in full swing when we came down.

Patrick and I with a Thai who wanted to hang out with us
So we had a bit of dinner a bit of drink and a bit of dancing.  As none of these people worked in the tourism industry there was very little English being spoken.  We got by with gestures, ad libs and dancing when there were people singing.  There was one song that was so popular several people sang it (of course Karaoke was the entertainment of choice) so Pat and I had an idea of its chorus by the end of the night.

Our road home the next day was even more interesting than the trip out.  There wasn't a proper bus station so we waited near the police station hoping to figure out which bus we wanted to flag down to get to Thub Put so we could get a bus from there back to Krabi.  A Thai man decided to come and look after us, he spoke very little English and we spoke no Thai, but we still managed to figure out a bit about each other.  He said "Me, Protect." and gestured to the village when I asked his job.  I figured this meant he was a police officer of some description, but with further gesturing and by showing me his card where he had a very fancy dress uniform.  Looking at this I understood that he was some sort of boss to which he replied enthusiastically "Yes, yes - big boss man!"  He then pulled his truck up so we could sit on the tail gate, and showed us the shotgun in his back seat (and shells he was carrying in his pocket).  Definitely the boss!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Road Adventures of Malaysia

I have been trying to mostly travel overland, since I have the time, and the only exception I have made since leaving Australia has been to get to and from Borneo.  I think I have after three weeks in Malaysia taken nearly every form of road transit the country has on offer, except trishaw which they only have here in Penang, but I think I will remedy that tomorrow.

The first adventure was after completing my hike at Mt Kinubalu.  I opted to travel onwards from the park gates rather than return to KK and do a couple hours backtracking each way.  I had been told by numerous people, my guide included that I could stand at this particular spot and the bus would stop for me and I could get to the next town for 5 Ringgit.  What I didn't pick up on was how to tell what bus to get.  I was under the naive impression that they would just stop.  In reality if they have space, they honk at you to ask you if you want a ride, in response you need to flag them down.  Simple, right?  Well I managed not to understand why all these vehicles would honk as they went by but nobody was stopping.  Fortunately a taxi driver decided to take pity on me after I turned him down for a lift into Ranau at 50 ringgit, and flagged a minibus down for me.

The minibus drivers are extremely economical, if they happen to need to do an errand along the route they are driving it doesn't matter if their van is chock'a'block (that is to say full) they will stop for it.  This took me aback slightly when my driver stopped for fuel and then made another stop to attempt to get oil - made me hope the van didn't break down.  Leaving the Kinabatangan with two Swedish guys they were outright shocked when the driver stopped to buy groceries, and maybe even more stunned when several passengers did the same (well snacks at least).  These minibuses are cut from the same cloth as my Wicked Camper was only the drivers don't seem to mind the bumps and I don't think I've seen a working speedometer in anything but a taxi here (teksi in the local spelling).  We spent about 5 hrs total in one of two mini buses with nearly no breaks, getting stuck behind a garbage truck was the worst part - we joined all the locals in funny faces and nose hiding and gagging.  The worst part was that due to the mini bus stopped to let people on and off our driver had to get around this thing more than once!

The Ekspres Bas (Express Bus) is a bit more conventional, in Sabah it was a straight forward point to point with a single stop at a roadside restaurant and random shops.  On the way back to Kota Kinubalu from Semporna (all day bus) there was a German couple who didn't eat the whole day, when I told them I haven't known how to figure out what I'm eating they replied "You ate at the bus stop, didn't you?"  Turns out they were impressed I managed to order food there, and had the guts to eat it.  The taxi we shared from the bus station to the hostel they wanted didn't speak any English, at all - a rarity in my experience of Malaysia.  He also didn't seem to know the name of the place we wanted to go and I ended up having to give him directions from the couple's travel guide book. lucky I know how to read a map.

On the Mainland the Ekspres Bas was a bit more exciting.  Not only was the original bus terminal under construction or rather recently moved, so I hopped on what seemed to be a shuttle bus and hoped it would take me to where the long distance buses were (success), but instead of the conventional 4across seating they had these massive seats like lounge chairs.  They were only 3 across, and you had a fold out leg rest, no joke.  We also had a roof problem, so the bus stopped under a random bridge for an interval, I don't think they fixed the problem they just didn't want to drive in the heaviest rain.  After that we stopped at a truck stop type area and I grabbed some food, I thought we would be getting underway again when the driver shouted something - a place name - and the gentleman next to me jumped up said goodbye and got on a different bus.  Apparently not everyone who got on the bus was headed to the same destination of Penang.  I chatted a bit with the older gentleman the next seat over, who was also going to Penang, so when the next place name came he told me it was the one we wanted and I had to hurriedly stuff my belongings into my bag as I was not expecting to vacate the bus until my destination.

Upon arrival at the Penang bus station there was a man who offered me 15RM as a fare to the town proper.  He was a private taxi, it was a good rate I knew by the distance he told me it was to ride.  The whole time I kept thinking okay what is his angle?  He actually gave me a lot of good information about Penang, took me to the street where the cheap hostels are and made a little detour to show me where to catch a bus to go to the good places on the island. I still had my guard up and opted not to share my e-mail address with him. At the moment Penang has my back up a bit, though when I go inside a restaurant here it does a lot to soothe my nerves about the town.

From guiding a teksi, to eating malay truckstop food, to learning the proper way to hail a ride, to jumping rides when a stranger tell you to jump and paying for a ride with a stranger with no proper credentials.  I think I've done enough to worry my mother about my travel habits for one day!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Mabul Village Escapade!

Beach at the resort

The first night I was on Pulau Mabul I ended up having a few drinks with a group that included a couple of guys who were working on the island as divemasters.  They were mixing their own drinks after purchasing the vitals from the bar.  Tanduay rum, ice and coke.  They said you can buy the bottle from the bar, once the bartender gets to know you, or from a guy in the village you just have to ask around.  The next day after my three dives around Mabul armed with a bit of curiosity and a small sense of adventure I go for a wander around the village with the vague hope of finding the man who sells a bottle of rum for the same price as I could buy beer for.  Doubtful that I would find my target I was inspecting all the fruit and coconut trees and trying to determine if they were cultivated and the fruit sold or if they just happened to be there.  Upon passing a house the owner asked me if I would like to have a young coconut, and his daughter said "special price 5 ringgit for you".  I think to myself, okay 5RM not much compared to what I'm spending here anyway, why not?  So I agree and the man sends his son up the tree to retrieve a coconut.  Despite the tree being notched in a couple spots the climb still looked difficult and was impressive, just the show was worth 5 ringgit I thought.  While I was drinking this juice, 3 or 4 cupfuls I of course made conversation.  His name was Dennis, he was born in 1951, his daughter said she likes my tall nose and thinks I'm very handsome, he is a carpenter, his son is also 24 and an electrician.  They asked about my home, I told them how cold it can be and how far from the ocean I live, these are two facts that I find amaze people the most, because they truly are the most striking differences between Canada and a tiny tropical island.  Even though nobody I had asked so far knew what I was talking about to help find the Tanduay Rum I thought it couldn't hurt to ask once more.  Not only did he know where I should go, right next door, but he also wouldn't accept any money for the coconut milk. 
Resort's Jetty one of my best dives was off the end of it

I bid Dennis and his family farewell and tentatively approached the next house.  I was shown in and asked about the Tanduay, the man of the house sent a girl to get a bottle, opened one that had been sitting on the table, poured a measure into a glass and gestured for me to sit.  This was all done on less than a dozen words between us.  After I tested a bit of the rum straight a bottle of water was produced to mix with the rum, my question of how much I should put in was met with silence.  I nearly filled the rest of the glass and this produced a chuckle, apparently more water than I should have used.  I struggled to make conversation, and was met mostly with minimal answers and no questions in return although their english seemed quite good.  After asking at what age people usually start to drink or be allowed to drink, it occurred to me to tell a story, even though I was unsure of how much they understood of my english so far.  The story that occurred to me is how grandpa taught us to drink, or more accurately appreciate, Scotch Whiskey. It went something like this.

"When I was very young, only 12 or 13, my grandpa taught us to drink Scotch, Whiskey, you know?" (nods)  "One bottle, very old, very nice, one bottle regular, my grandpa drink all the time like this. (gesture to rum) - First he gives old, nice one.  Small sip. YUCK! bleh and a funny face.  Next he gives regular, Yeck, bleh, wooooooooblooohooohoohoo ten times worse faces than before.  Then old, good one again, hmmm okay not bad."
This is Sea Ventures ex-oil rig turned dive resort

Since the story is essentially Good whiskey, regular whiskey, good whiskey and lots of funny faces I fancy it was a bit of a hit.  After this they asked me more questions and also said more about themselves too.  Sarim was the one who was selling me the rum, the other two men I have forgotten their names.  One told me that he comes to drink at Sarim's every day after work until he sleeps, he told me he was an engineer with one of the resorts - he tells people how to build things so they don't fall down, he told me his sister thinks I'm handsome - I thought I should get out of the village before my ego got too big.  The other was a carpenter who works with Dennis, and Sarim works on a seaweed farm - aquaculture.  He told me these farms are usually near mangroves where the waters are usually calm and less than 10m deep.  He also told me that he sometimes plays his guitar on the beach in front of the Scuba Junkie resort.  When I told him I am learning the harmonica he got very excited.  Since I am in the habit of carrying one everywhere I happened to have it with me and since we were already on the third round of generous measures I was just drunk enough to be coaxed into a small performance.  I performed my entire repertoire of "Lavender's Blue" (from my learn to play book), Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind" and my adaptation of Great Big Sea's "Boston and St. John's" for an extremely appreciative audience - the biggest I've allowed to date.  Sarim tried to get me to stay for dinner, insisted I sample some of the soup, which seemed to be either lamb or pork seasoned beautifully with ginger, lemongrass and garlic.  He also tried to purchase my harmonica from me as they are hard to come by on Mabul and even in Semporna, I told him I had two at the moment, one being the one I played the most the other having sentimental value due to being a gift from a friend.  I couldn't make up my mind at the moment so I told him I would have to come back.  I finally managed to take my leave shortly after seven o'clock as dinner would have already been served at the resort.  Slightly stumbling through the dark on uneven paths I managed to find the main bulk of the village and from there the beach in front of the resort.  I was amazed by my fortune at having met these people and received their hospitality.  I later found it very odd how when I told this story to other travellers at the resort they found it to sound very adventurous.  I just went for a walk, looked around and then was friendly when someone started talking to me.

The day before I left the island I managed to find my way back to Sarim's place, unfortunately he wasn't home, but I hope he was excited when he returned to find he had a new instrument to learn.  It was easy as I thought it would be to replace the device when I was in Kota Kinabalu as I found a music shop by accident while I was walking around.

Sunset - the west side of the island was chock-a-block with village and resort huts
I was a bit surprised by the fact that most of the other tourists at the resort didn't go out and explore the village.  I suppose I only did because I didn't have anyone to hang out with in the time between the last dives and dinner (4-7pm) for the first few days.  My single venture turned into a great story!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Mt Kinubalu

The Mountain from across the valley
 Mt Kinubalu stands as a lonely spire on the island of Borneo, no other mountain comes close to it's 4095.2m peak until you reach the Himalayas.  No, it is not a volcano, nor has it ever been it was formed through geological uplift and is believed to be growing approximately 5cm per year.  In order to climb it you are required to have a guide and special climbing permit and jump through a bunch of hoops.  Rather than try to do this myself and mess it up I opted to do the easy thing and pay extra for somebody else to straighten it out.  Even more than that I decided that the Mountain Torq via Ferratta sounded like the cool thing to do.  A Via Ferratta is when iron holds are cemented into the rock in order to make a route possible or easier to climb.  In this case it turned a steep slab into a virtual walkway.  Anyways that comes later.  The company picked me up from my accomodation in the morning and drove me, not only to the entrance of the park, but right to the official start of the trail after picking up my guide and sorting out all my papers.  The trailhead started at 1866m and our destination for the day was Laban Rata, a collection of huts and a restaurant at the 6km and 3200m mark.  My guide's name was Stephen, he lives in the village just outside the park entrance, he isn't married yet but I think he has a woman in mind and they will marry within one year.  He told me that he usually takes people up the mountain two times in a week and the rest of the time he grows his own vegetables for food, though not to sell.  He is the youngest in his family and has 8 older brothers and one sister, a very large family.  While conversation was difficult for him, and sometimes we didn't understand each other's questions at first it was nice at least to have somebody to hike with, and he knew all the names of the plants in his native Dusun and the Latin although not always the English names.  More often I found conversation difficult due to the steepness of the climb, steeper than the path up to Rawson Lake, and even longer to boot.  The weather was mostly cooperative for me.  I got a nice picture of the mountain from across the valley while driving up, when I passed the same place two weeks later there was nothing but clouds everywhere.
The stream, err path during rain

Most of my first day's climb was clear, but rain started when I was about 1.5km from the top.  Since I just had an overnight bag my pack cover that is designed for my big bag didn't exactly fit the best.  When the rain really got going the trail up started to look more like a riverbed than a hiking trail.  I also found a giant worm on the trail and had to make sure I could show the scale, it was half a meter long!  We reached Laban Rata around 3pm and Stephen dropped me at the Mountain Torq hut and we parted ways untill 3am the next morning to catch the sunrise from the peak.  There were 6 other people doing the same route as me the next day, a Dutch couple, an American couple and an Australian couple.  We had a safety briefing on how the safety equipment works.  We were roped together, and we had what they called a scorpion.  The scorpion was a double carrabiner with locking backs, the rope was threaded through "pig-tails" an open looped anchors that were every 2-5m and the scorpion was clipped to the steel cable that ran the length of the route.  Satisfied we knew how to work the safety system we were sent down to the main hut for dinner at the restaurant there.  I forgot my meal ticket so I thought I would quickly run back up to our hut.  It was not much more than a flight of stairs but I was winded before I got halfway up, reminding me first hand why high altitude starts at 3000m in physiology.  While we were getting our safety briefing the weather had started to clear so by the end of dinner a beautiful sunset was shaping up.
View of the sunset, all the pics were out this window

It is possible that this was the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen in in my life.  The setting was dramatic the colours explosive and the result legen - wait for it - dary.

Tired at the top


The hike up to the top wasn't too difficult, despite leaving 30mins behind the majority of people and feeling like I really took my time I was up at the peak for 5am, and before the bulk of people, just before the sun started to peek up from behind the ocean then the clouds and then finally the peaks.  After a short descent we met up with our Via Ferrata trainers and said so long to our guides.  

I defied mother nature to make this sunrise better than the sunset.
About to start the Via Ferratta with Joep and Marjan

Being the Dutch magnet that I am I was paired up with the couple from the Netherlands, Joep and Marjan.  It was a beautiful scene, to me very easy climbing, and I think the pictures can speak for themselves.  

When we got back to Laban Rata it was 11am, we had all been hiking for over eight hours on a breakfast of toast and snacks of chocolate.  I love how hiking makes it so I don't feel guilty about eating loads of chocolate, the original energy bar.  We had a second breakfast and then headed down the mountain.  It took only a bit over two hours to go down when it had taken six to come up, this was still taking time and making sure I didn't slip and kill myself since my legs were numb before I even left Laban Rata.
My guide Stephen presenting me with my completion certificates.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Chris, Kirra and Moose

Last time I stayed with Chris and Kirra they had just adopted a puppy and named him moose.  Although he is only around 8 months old he is still just a puppy despite being massive.  He is also the most spoiled dog in all of history.  He goes everywhere with them and has a bed that takes up the entire back of the range rover and still insists on sitting on your lap, not the most comfortable situation for any significant length of time.  As you should be able to see in the  picture we settled on a compromise after much bargaining.  For Halloween we decorated their house better than any other Halloween decorations I have been involved in and we made them all ourselves, under Kirra's supervision of course.  I also spent a couple of days helping Kirra fix up her mom's garden.  It was amazing how much progress we made in just a couple days and I look forward to seeing pictures of the finished product (and maybe one day in person).
Moose meets the Pacific Ocean.   Not sure what to do with them waves

Moose's Pillow on car trips.

New style of clothes dryer. Think it'll catch on?

Out of time and out of place

Hello there all my faithful readers.  This entry is out of order in my timeline and I have since left Western Australia very far behind me.  I struggled writing this in how to capture the vast amount of fun I had just driving around with Cat and I also enjoy telling some of these stories personally rather than in writing so I have opted to censor out the most exciting event.

Cat and I decided to rent a camper to tour the South West region of WA together.  A Company called "Wicked Campers" rents them fairly cheap and they have crazy paint jobs, ours was the Harry Potter van, with his name blazoned across one side and the boy sorcerer casting a spell on the other.  On our first day we wanted to drive from the city to the Stirling Range national park camp sites.  Unfortunately our van wasn't able to go much over 80km/h so we managed to be late, driving at dusk, in a national park.  Since it was dark and we were hoping to rely on signage we also were unable to find the campsite within the national park so we ended up driving for 2 more hours after the sun went down through a national park in pitch darkness.  We found our way back to the main highway and pulled off in the first picnic area we found, cooked some dinner by flashlight and then I discovered that we had forgotten to buy me a sleeping bag in our rush to get out of the city.  Even though we had stopped at an op shop to pick up some cheap extra blankets because we knew it would be really cold I managed to forget the sleeping bag.  It was a cold night.

Cooking dinner our first night, at a rest stop on the side of the highway in very cold weather

The next day I got up at dawn because I was so cold, and started driving, we opted to give the Stirling national park a miss because we didn't want to backtrack and went hiking in another national park, after having some breakfast, instead.  Even though we did the longest hiking loop the park had to offer we were back to the van for lunch.  That afternoon we made it to Albany where I promptly bought a sleeping bag.  Cat had been stressing all day, about what she was going to do next so she spent some time figuring on that, and using the internet while I had a coffee.  This went on for most of the rest of the trip and she kept apologizing.  I mostly laughed about it and tried to help her because I went through the same process a dozen times and I’m sure I’ll go through it a few dozen more before I make it home.  We opted to stay at a Caravan park rather than freecamp somewhere.  The major benefits that swayed us were the hot showers and woodstove for less than a hostel between us.  The warmth of the fire was a blessing after the chilly night previous.

What I did the second I got the new sleeping bag...
The next morning we rented a canoe from the camp and paddled up the river that ran down behind it.  It was a very peaceful and relaxing, especially all the breaks I took while Cat continued to paddle.  We stopped in a town called Denmark to sample some of their award winning pies.  Apparently the bakery from this little town often wins the top honours at the Perth Royal Show (not unlike the Stampede).  There was a man playing a recorder, or similar instrument and had two little dogs running around, one that seemed very old and the other just a puppy.  Upon hearing my accent he struck into “Stars and Stripes Forever” to rankle me.  After he came over to let me know he was teasing me and he also told us that he had previously performed with his old dog in one of the Cirque du Soleil shows.  I forget which one he said because I was distracted by his pirouette.  Apparently he plans to train the pup to appear in a future show with Cirque du Soleil.  I’m doubtful, but we’ll see.  We proceeded to the treetop walk in ???.  It was rather unspectacular despite being an impressive design, definitely more of a tourist trap than anything.  The trees that were hollowed out by fire were much cooler, I think we spent more time on the grounded portion of the walk than the tree top even though it was shorter.

Mandatory picture with the van

The next day we went to check out the Millenium Tree.  No it is not 1000 years old.  In fact I forget why it is named as such.  The reason we went there is because they used to use it as a fire watch tower.  Originally this meant someone would climb up a very tall tree that would reach above the canopy to check for fire.  To make this easier, steel rods, 4cm thick, were drilled into the trunk in a spiral that is climbed like a ladder.  The last 15 meters up there is a series of platforms and ladders.  There was no safety gear, no cost, nothing but you, the tree and the steel.  This was my favorite activity of the trip, and best value for money to boot! 
Climbing down the Millennium Tree

Unsure what to do with the rest of our day we plotted a course to the coast.  Upon arriving we headed straight to the beach, unfortunately we were a bit out of season and it was still unpleasantly cold and windy for bumming around on the beach.  I was so dejected I even started complaining about the trip.  Lucky for me Cat is awesome and recognized I was just sick of the rainy and cold weather.  She managed to cheer me up and immortalize our friendship (whether she likes it or not) with the classic line
“Well there’s nothing for it, we’ll just have to get drunk then!”

We found a caravan park on the map that was located conveniently close to the Margaret River Chocolate Factory.  While it couldn’t hold a candle to Willy Wonka’s they did have free chocolate to sample and we even bought some truffles (also Royal show award winners) to savour.
A lunch stop we made - Maiden Bush

That night we had a ball just sitting about chatting and somehow finishing off the booze we had brought on the trip. 

After a good night’s rest we arrived back to Perth, dropped off our van and then Dazz and Sharon the one legged wonder came, to meet us for a joyful reunion at the casino (it was right next to the Wicked office, I haven't developed a gambling habit just yet).

Endnote – Even though I had a solid selection of CDs to rotate through we mostly listened to the Jimmy Eat World album “Bleed American” since we both loved it and could sing along to virtually the whole album.  This led to the trip slogan being decided as “Every good roadtrip needs a little JEW”.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Making it to Woodford

Shortly after Parklife I put in with Dexter and another Dan to rent a car to drive down the great ocean road on the southern coast of Victoria.  There are a couple portions of the road where you are on the side of a sea cliff similar to the way the Trans Canada highway used to be coming into Golden.  Only instead of a mountain valley you would plummet straight into the southern sea.  We also managed to find some koala's, a few cool birds that landed on our car and the other Dan's first Kangaroo/wallaby ever!  I had fun on the roadtrip, good company goes a long way on the road, even though the weather was cold, windy and rainy.  The major highlight of the road is the 12 Apostles, there never really were 12 but somebody just figured it would be a good name.  The pictures we took were definitely no match for the brochures as we didn't have the helicopter angle they much all use.  The view point is actually in the middle of them, so you can't get them all in one picture.

After this trip I got my first taste of full on couch surfing, though since I didn't have any plans left for Melbourne I ended up bumming around their place for the most part, lucky for me they were really laid back and happy to let me help with errands and a bit of light gardening.  I took off for Sydney after a few days and then discovered that I didn't really have any plans for Sydney either so I ended up only staying a week.  The highlight of Sydney for me was getting to meet up again with other people I had met on my travels.  I met up with Arjen and Ankie who lived with Sharon and I in Karratha for two months for a drink the first day I got there.  This one drink turned into three or four and then dinner and a few more.  I decided that day you can determine how much you like people by how many rounds you end up having when you just meet up for a drink.  I also would have been really bored most the week were it not for another reunion with Cat who was looking for work in Sydney at the time and plans to stay there a while.  We went on a "free" walking tour of Sydney (not the whole city obviously just the center, the whole limits you would be hard pressed to walk in a week I think).  The tour was given by a University of Sydney Architecture student, reminds me of a Victoria tour guide I know, who founded the company with her boyfriend on the basis that people pay what they think the tour was worth at the end (kind of like a tip I suppose).  I felt like a super nerd when she showed us one of the sites where they filmed "The Matrix" and I was able to come up with the scene, almost immediately.  Hey, it's a good movie ok?  I also caught up with my friend Lewis who I met and worked with in Mooloolaba.  On Sunday we were hanging out at his place in Manly, and four sulphur crested cockatoos rocked up onto the balcony, while his roommate was sitting out there!  Turns out that they feed them, sunflower seeds, and the occasional treat of almonds.  Since they don't have any predators, and prefer not to hop down to the ground, they would rather eat right out of your hand, even if this means climbing onto your arm or up your shoulder.  I was pretty excited and impressed with all this, and amazed with how gently they would grasp your arm.  I had bare sleeves and didn't get a single scratch. 

The next day I took care of a lot of organizing and hopped an overnight bus up to Brisbane, apparently we had some mechanical troubles en route and almost got T-boned by a roadtrain when the bus stalled at an intersection.  I was of course sleeping soundly through all this and was blissfully ignorant of my possibly impending doom.  I also had a large layover so I didn't have to worry about the fact we were really late, it was just less time for me to kill when I did get to the destination.  From Brisbane I took a train out to one of the suburbs to meet up with my friend Chris again, I began and finished my time in Australia staying with him and have never had better hospitality.  I can only hope I get the chance to provide the same.