Month: August 2007

Christchurch, New Zealand: Mental Note — Need To Start Making Friends Immediately After Customs

On the plane from Sydney, I struck up a conversation with a fellow passenger, a British gentleman who owned property near Christchurch, the South Island’s largest city. As we approached the airport, he told me that the flight into Chch (as it is affectionately shorthanded) is one of the most picturesque airplane-portal-window views you can get. Sadly, it was late at night and there was nothing to see.

New Zealand customs is very strict: similar to Australia’s policy on interstate travel, there is a fruit, nut, produce and meat quarantine on all items coming into the country. Fortunately, I had no offending articles. Furthermore, they ask if you have any items that have been used for camping, hiking or other bush activities — unfortunately, I had my tent, sleeping bag and hiking shoes. A refreshingly friendly customs agent (yeah, i know, friendly customs agent? But it’s true!) told me she needed to check my tent and told me that she’d bring it back to me after her friends x-rayed my bags. She brought it back properly re-packaged and even chatted with me for a few minutes about good hiking and camping areas!

There is a shuttle that takes you to your appropriate hostel which costs $20. However, if you are part of a group, there’s a base rate of $20, plus $5 per each additional person. Therefore, if you have a big group, the price is only a fraction. I was informed of this after my driver collected money from two girls after having already taken mine. I filed that one under “Good To Know When Flying Into Christchurch.”

I reached my hostel, Stonehurst, and was happy to see clean, though traveler-sparse, facilities. I hadn’t eaten in a while, so I inquired about late-night eating and made my way to a 24-hour mart to dig something up. I settled for some kind of greasy, egg-pastry concoction and ate it on a lonely bench in Cathedral Square, Chch’s cultural center.

I didn’t know it then, but the next few days would change the course of my life and travels for the next 8 months. Life on the road can zig and zag that quickly and dramatically, if you’re willing to let it.

Header Picture Change #6: Busselton Jetty, Busselton, West Australia

Busselton is a small town south of Perth, along the coast of West Australia. The area is known for its dive, snorkel, swim spots, but Busselton is especially known for this jetty. Evidently, the pier is the longest wooden pier in the southern hemisphere. Go figure. The strong currents and weather against the aging platform has closed much of the jetty to the public, but for a small fee you are welcome to explore the museum describing the jetty’s history. Of course, we declined.

Incidentally, Busselton was also home that day to a delightful outdoor market. Everything from arts and crafts, clothing, produce and baked goods were for sale. I purchased some figs and later cursed myself for not buying some honey too.

In Memoriam: Eric C. Hendrickson

A few days after I arrived in Sydney my friend Noah emailed me with the sad news that a good friend of mine passed away. Eric had died of a heart attack over the weekend in Huntsville, Alabama.

Eric and I had been working closely together for the three years that I was with Boeing. He was excellent at his job and even better at removing himself from that role and just becoming a friend. Though we worked at two separate control centers, I looked forward to the frequent chats we would have over the phone and on the radio loops. During his trips to Houston, he would always make time to come and see me at my lab. I’d roll out the red carpet for him every time.

Our friendship only grew when I talked to him about my travels. When I decided to leave Boeing, he was the first person I told. I caught him on the last day of his trip to Houston, the morning he was leaving to go back home. I found him at breakfast in his hotel, took him aside and broke the news. Eric relied on me heavily and I knew that my departure would affect our projects and his job significantly. He told me how much it meant to him that I would talk to him so personally, and then we spent the rest of the time talking about my future travels. Eric was in the Navy and he told me about all the ports he visited, and how much fun it was to see the world. He told me how jealous he was that I would do something like this, wishing he could come with me and do it all over again.

When I was heading towards San Francisco, Eric would sit and tell me about the time he spent there, especially visiting the In-N-Out burger chains on the west coast. On one of the days in the city, I walked from downtown to Fisherman’s Wharf to eat at the In-N-Out there. I took a picture of my meal, a burger and fries, and sent it to him. He told me how he took his wife on their first date to a place called Tommy’s Original Burger, in an LA neighborhood. His second date with her was at an In-N-Out burger near her house.

It seems in the Navy, when you cross the equator for the first time, you go from being a ‘Pollywog’ to becoming a ‘Shellback’. When I crossed the equator on my way to Sydney, I took out my camera on the plane and snapped a picture of the flight path map, to show Eric that I was a ‘Wog no more. He responded with a hefty “CONGRATULATIONS!” and pictures of his new grandson.

Eric was one of the most avid readers of this blog. He would tell me how much he enjoyed the stories and pictures and how much he laughed about it all. Often I would write entries knowing that he’d be reading them. When I reached Brisbane, after returning from my trip to the States for Laura’s funeral, I sent him an email to check up on him. Included in his response, “Family is doing well … Grandson getting bigger ever day. Sons and spouses doing well. Wife and I still love everyday together.” He died that weekend.

I sent a card to his wife expressing my condolences. Since I had no return address I wrote down my email, but I have not heard if she received it.

I am intensely grateful for the friendship Eric gave me, I believe everyone should have such a friend. From him I learned to appreciate my travels and the finer things in life (like an In-N-Out burger), and the lesson that the world will keep spinning even if you sit down to take a break, so go ahead and grab a seat with a good view.

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Sydney, NSW: Part 5.0

I got back into Australia on St. Patrick’s Day; It would’ve been Laura’s 26th birthday. My brother was in town on business, so I headed for the Shangri-La Hotel in The Rocks area of the city to drop off my stuff before meeting him at a pub. He was in town for a week, so before I headed to NZ I thought I’d spend some time with him. We met up at a bar near King’s Wharf, in Darling Harbour. Sadly, they didn’t have any Guiness there, neither on tap nor in bottles. I really wanted to do a Irish Car Bomb (a shot of half Jameson’s Irish Whiskey, half Baileys Irish Cream dropped into a half-pint of Guiness) in memory of Laura — it was her favorite — but these Aussies were really testing me. Dash, Angela and I finally found an Irish pub. They HAD to have Guiness.

“You probably don’t want to go in there and ask for an ‘Irish Car Bomb'”, my brother said as we were walking towards the pub. “Why not??” “Because you might end up offending him if he’s Irish. Just explain what’s in it and let him call it whatever he wants.” Hm. Didn’t think of it that way, good point.

Turns out the guy didn’t know what an Irish Car Bomb was, so the explanation was necessary anyway. My brother and I did one — it was his first — then another since he actually liked it. After a couple drinks we headed back to the hotel and called it a night.

There’s No Pollution In This Major Waterway, Right?
Angela had organized a Sunday out on the harbor for the 75th Anniversary of the Sydney Harbor Bridge (also known as “The Coathanger”). That day, the city had closed the bridge to traffic and opened it up to pedestrians who wanted to walk across it (walking across the harbor bridge is something every Aussie takes great pride in).

We met up with her, some of her friends, and Dash’s friend Matt. Everyone had brought either food or booze, and we immediately tore into both. We comfortably cruised around the harbor on the large cat and made our way towards Manly. Just off the Manly port, we stopped so that Matt, my brother and I could dive off the boat and have a swim.

The skipper took the boat to another part of the harbor and we jumped off again and climbed some rocks.

We took turns diving off the boat, until the captain decided that we had had enough … to drink, that is. While we were swimming around, one of Ange’s friends lost control of his cellphone and it went sliding off the boat and into the harbor. I did a reconnaissance dive down to see if I could find it, but gave up when it felt like my head was in a vice.

We made our way back to the bridge and anchored just beside it for the fireworks. The light show was mediocre at best, a significant disappointment compared to the one I saw during New Year’s.

A little grainy, but you know what it is, one of the most recognizable buildings in the world. I like to think they blurry version is how I was seeing it that night.

After the boat trip, we all found a pub and enjoyed a few drinks before retreating to our hotel.

An action shot — me looking at one of the most recognizable buildings in the world. Note the earphones, it is not required to listen to the building, only to take many pictures of it.

And So On, And So Forth
The rest of the time in Sydney was basically spent finding different places to drink. We got together with my brother’s friend Matt and explored some bars and restaurants near Coogee beach, as well as wandering around The Rocks, home to some of the best restaurants in the city. While he worked at the Sydney Yahoo office, I walked around the city as usual and planned my trip to New Zealand.

My brother leans on the wall between the beach and the boardwalk at Coogee.

Angela (center), her friends and the Gopinath boys at a pub in the Rocks.

One night, Matt booked a table at a Brazilian-style steakhouse for what would become an onslaught of meat. The idea is simple: they serve meat. Meaning, they bring plates of meat around to each table and as long as a small painted wooden block has the ‘green side’ facing up, you get a few pieces of whatever is on the plate. When you’ve had enough, flip the block so they know that you are a girly-man who can’t handle his carne. Many times Matt, my brother and I considered flipping the block, but we powered through and ate a small herd. We switched to a fruit diet the next day to compensate for the dip in animal population. By the way, the food was fantastic.

Post-animal feast, note the healthy meaty glow seeping out of all of us.

Drinks at Coogee Beach hotel with Matt and Friends. My brother shows us how close he is to falling over.

The Festival Gets A D-, The Baklava Gets An A+
A few days after the boat trip was the Greek festival at Darling Harbor. Angela, my brother and I walked from stall to stall looking at the typical wares found at most international festivals. One newcomer, however, was a Greek dating service that was recruiting socially inept Spartans.

This picture of shade-seeking Aussies made me laugh: it reminded me of cattle herds on a farm gather around the sole tree.

My goal was simple: good, Greek food. If it was anything like Houston’s annual Greek festival, the food, drink and atmosphere would be spectacular. I’ll attribute some of the sucky-ness of Sydney’s attempt to the fact that we got there at the opening on the first day. Most of the activities and events occurred that night or on the following days. However, the quality and price of the food were inexcusable. Ange got a bowl of octopus which was deplorable, and my brother and I tackled the souvlaki, which, though tasty, was grossly overpriced. The saving grace was this elderly, grandmother-looking person slinging baklava and other desserts. It was crispy, yet gooey, and perfectly sweet. It was also a fraction of the price at any shop or restaurant in town (and Sydney has a surprising number of places that sell the delicacy).

On Sunday the 25th I left Sydney for Christchurch, New Zealand. It was great to see my brother and live in the lap of luxury for a while, but after nearly 3 weeks of being away from backpacking, I had an intense desire to get back on the road. I realized then that I hadn’t actually traveled alone in about 2 – 3 months. Since Tasmania, I had Steffen with me every step of the way. It was at the same time daunting and exciting, and I was eager to get on that plane.