Month: July 2008

Flashback: Perth, WA, Australia: Ummm … I Had Some Bad Sushi

When I flew out from Adelaide I left Steffen behind to find a new passenger for the nearly 3,000 km drive from Adelaide to Perth. He finally reached Perth and at long last, Steffen, Jake and I were reunited. The three of them had always planned on doing a road trip around the WA coast. I had held out some crazy notion of finding a job in Perth, so I was never sure that I’d go with them. Then one day, on a whim, I decided to pack it up and join the ride. We set a date for leaving, one Sunday morning. Saturday night, the Melbourne crew was brought back together for one last night out before we went our separate ways.

You remember Ray, Owen, Kieran, Jimmy and Ross Gaylor … they were the boys from the UK who stayed at the Manor in St. Kilda in Melbourne. I knew Ray, Owen and Kieran, but only finally met Jimmy and Ross in Perth, after hearing many stories about them.

But before we get to Saturday night, we need to set up the days leading up to it. You see, after I decided to go with Steffen on the road trip, I realized I hadn’t booked enough hostel accomodation to shelter me until Sunday. The OFS (Old Firestation Backpackers), was booked and the only room I could find was in the city, at Globe Backpackers. With my incredibly uncomfortable pack cutting through my shoulders, I trudged to the Fremantle train station and set myself up in the train to the city. And then I realized I left my laptop charger in the hostel. So after walking all the way to the hostel and back again, I was tired and sore as I rode the train to the city.

The hostel was only a short walk away, but when I got there the woman behind the counter delivered some disappointing news: they were out of rooms. “But, I called and reserved a room just a couple hours ago”. Which I actually did. You see, I spoke to a woman on the phone who said that she could get me in for a couple nights. She asked for a credit card to hold the reservation, which I gave her. But I asked if I could pay in cash when I got there, which of course would be possible. But as I explained that to the woman at the front desk, she showed me the ticket the receptionist had filled out, clearing noting that it was an unconfirmed booking. I tried to make it clear to her that I had specifically told the other worker that I wanted to reserve the room but pay in cash, but there was nothing they could do. Two other groups of backpackers were at the desk, arguing over fouled-up bookings and unavailable rooms. I exchanged rolled eyes with a couple girls and flipped open the LP to find some more numbers. So word of advice: if you’re ever in Perth, don’t stay at Globe.

Luckily, I found a room at a hostel a couple doors down. I can’t remember the name of the place anymore, it doesn’t really matter either: this was, without question, without competition, and without equal, the W-O-R-S-T. Hostel. Ever.

It was dingy, run-down and dark. The kitchen would’ve sent Gordon Ramsay out the back door and hurling into the bin. The bathroom. Oh the bathroom. It sends shivers up my spine even today. The room wasn’t as bad as I expected, but it was still pretty bad. I dropped my stuff off and got the hell out of there.

So now we come back to Saturday night. We met up at a pub in Northbridge. Now, I still don’t quite get how this worked but apparently one of the guys had worked out some kind of deal between the hostel where he was staying and the pub. The way it was advertised was simple: we all give him $10 each, and we get jugs at a discount until the pool of money runs out.

As you could expect, it was a sausage fest. It was like the Mardi Gras of sausage fests. I wasn’t surprised, since girls aren’t usually keen on large quantities of jugs of beer. So we had a decision to make: stay at the pub and hang out with the boys … and a lot of other boys, or head out and find another bar. In the end, of course, we chose to stay.

We all got these bracelets and soon the jugs started rolling out. The organizer — I cant remember his name — stayed by the bar and made sure the bartop was covered with jugs of beer. Now, again, I still don’t know how it worked out this way, but we each ended up drinking about 6 jugs of beer each. They never seemed to stop. Just when you thought, “there’s no way we have any money in the pool left,” out would come another round of jugs. Some guys had a jug in each hand. We stood on bar stools and yelled gibberish at each other. We threw our arms around complete strangers and sang songs. It was the most cliche night of drinking I’ve ever had.

At the end of the night we almost had to carry Ross out of the bar. I carefully made my way out of Northbridge (on previous nights I had seen gangs throwing bottles, and people running around screaming at strangers) and back to my hostel.

The next morning I woke up feeling horrible. The only reason I got out of bed was because the 10-o’clock checkout was swiftly approaching and I hadn’t packed yet. There were two other guys staying in the room. One was quiet and about my age, I had met him when I first moved into the room. The other was an older gentleman. Both seemed friendly and accommodating. I ran into the younger one as he came into the room after taking a shower. “Big night last night, huh,” he said, with a sly smile across his face. “Yeah,” I said, “it was.” … how’d he know I had a big night last night?

As I was slowly gathering my clothes, careful not to disturb the delicate balance of the contents of my head, the older guy came in. “Not feeling too good this morning?”, he said, again with a amused expression on his face. “No, I’m not.” … how’d he know I’m not feeling too good this morning?

I had just finished up packing when I reached down to one corner of the bed that lay against the wall. And then I understood why my roommates knew so much more about last night than I did. In the middle of the night I had crawled over to the edge of the bed and hurled the contents of my stomach onto the ground.

Given the state the hostel was in, it would have probably gone unnoticed if I left the room the way it was. But I felt bad for my roommates, so I did a quick cleanup job and shamefully fled the scene.

I walked over to Northbridge to Jake and John’s hostel and we waited for Steffen. When the Toyota Lexcen arrived, after more than a week’s hiatus, I took my old postion in the shotgun seat. Jake and John filled the back seats, and as we set off South, I could tell even Steffen felt the excitement of being back on the road with the crew.

Header Picture Change #10: Margaret River, WA, Australia

I was sitting here trying to figure out what to write next. I mean, I’ve pretty much covered everything. Even though I’ve been living in Brisbane for 6 months, I spend most of my time at work, at the gym, or sitting on my couch. Well … Beth’s couch.

When I visited the site I saw the Churro Guy and suddenly got tired of the header picture. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Churro Guy, I love everything he’s about, I think if we were all more like the Churro Guy, this world would be a friendlier, tastier place. But looking at a picture of a man in front of a picture of the very same man gets old pretty quick.

As I was flipping through my photos to replace it, I stumbled on this one I took at a beach near the hostel where we stayed in Margaret River, Western Australia (… Where Steffen and I stayed, Jake and John slept in the car).

And THEN I realized I completely skipped over the week-long road trip Steffen, Jake, John and I took around the WA coast. There were a lot of good times on that trip, so I figured why not do some Flashback ™ posts on that?

So here we go.

Header Picture Change #9: The Churro Guy, South Bank, Brisbane, QLD, Australia

You’re probably thinking right now, ‘What’s with the churro guy??’

Located in the Southbank Parklands in Brisbane are some of the cities most interesting venues and activities. There’s the Cultural Center, which is home to the Gallery of Modern Art, the Museum of Science and the Performing Arts Center and Convention Centers. You can also chill out on Streets Beach, a man-made beach, and a host of cafes and restaurants.

On Saturday and Sunday stalls are set up selling everything from dried fruit and nuts to arts and crafts to wine. I even bought a new pair of earrings there. During my first trip to the markets, I reached the end of a line of stalls and before my eyes lay one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.

Marvel at the beauty that is the Churro Guy: He’s slinging churros in front of a poster of himself holding the very same churros. Note the handy Churro-pack, $49.99 from LL Bean. I wanted to ask him to get rid of the light beard and bring back the ‘stache.

Flashback: Wanaka, New Zealand: The Birthday That Rocked The World

Early last October, Garth received word that his stepmom was in the hospital, fighting the last battle in her long war with cancer. He left for Rotorua the next day and put me in charge of the bar for an indefinite amount of time. By then Garth treated me (and paid me) as his second-in-charge, the assistant manager. Not only could I run the day-to-day operations, but I knew how to generate all the reports and track all the invoices to send to the head office in Queenstown. It was hard work to keep the bar running and with only two other bartenders on staff, it meant a lot of hours.

As October 15th rolled around, it became clear that I’d have to work on my birthday. I didn’t make a big deal out of it; I certainly didn’t tell Garth for fear that he would feel bad, but many people found out and decided to come down to the bar and have a few drinks with me in celebration.

They got me drunk. Really drunk. Fortunately it was a Monday, which meant I didn’t have the pesky responsibility of dealing with too many customers, so my friends bought me shots and drinks until midnight. Phil and I made fools out of ourselves stumbling around the bar and inhaling pies. And then they all left.

Sometime soon after midnight I was sitting by myself in front of the outside fire, listening to the music that was quietly drifting out of the bar. My elbows were on my knees and my face wore a gaping stare towards the ground, struggling to quantify just how drunk I was, and fearful of all the work I’d have to do when the bar closed. Suddenly things went all wobbly and shaky and I muttered to myself, Man, I’m really wasted …

But when I looked inside the bar I noticed the lights that hung down from the ceiling were also shaking. Wait a second, maybe it’s not me.

I started to walk next door to Woody’s to see if anyone else felt it, or if someone could take me to the hopital because I was clearly having some sort of concussion. The ground was moving so much it felt funny to walk and the lights that hung over the pool tables in Woody’s were swinging wildly. I screamed inside, “So it’s not me, right?”

I can’t remember what that earthquake registered on the Richter scale, but it happened just off the coast of Milford Sound, only a two hour drive south from Wanaka. The next morning I felt some aftershocks as I sat in the living room trying to focus all my energy in bringing the coffee to my lips.

I like to think that my birth was so historically significant the whole Earth shook in celebration of that momentous day. What? No, you’re delusional!

Brisbane, QLD, Australia: The Motorcycle Story

As Beth mentioned, I had a little run-in with a queen-size a few years back in Austin, Texas. Long story — there are little green worms, a lost cell phone and a poorly secured mattress involved — but funny nonetheless … even though it ends with me having a crook back.

This motorcycle story isn’t as flash as a freeway accident, but everyone I tell it to has a good chuckle. I’ll begin with one weekend when I decided to take the old boy out for a trip down the coast to Byron Bay. To listen to most people talk about Byron is like listening to the stories of El Dorado, the City of Gold. “Ohh man, you’ll never want to leave …” Even Lonely Planet goes as far as to call it a paradise, though they at least allow the caveat of calling it overcrowded at times. Point is, I had some pretty high expectations as I rode down on Saturday morning.

I’m gonna break for a second to give you necessary backstory on the condition of the bike. You see, the previous owner had removed the pillion seat on the back of the bike and replaced it with some aftermarket turn signals and a couple fancy chromes plate that attached to and ran along the rear mudguard. Problem was, however, that the pillion seat and its associated braces/supports actually held the rear mudguard up, at a point just above the very top of the rear tire. Imagine sitting on the end of a diving board. All the weight of your body is being supported at the other end of the board, where it attaches to the side of the pool. Fortunately the board and its mounting points are strong enough to hold your weight, or else it would snap off and you’d end up in the water. The opposite was happening to the mudguard: without the additional support midway along the guard, the weight of the license plate, turn signals, brake light and the guard itself were breaking the mudguard off the brackets that attached it to the frame under the rider’s seat. Everyone understand? OK, back to the story.

The mudguard situation was so bad I had purchased a replacement off a wrecker and was having it painted to match the colour of my bike. I wasn’t gonna let a silly thing like the rear end of my bike falling off stop me from enjoying the beautiful weather, so I decided that as long as I stayed off rough roads, I’d be OK. And I was, the highway down to Byron was quite smooth. Nevertheless it was a worry that weighed constantly on my mind.

When I finally reached Byron, I readied myself to be dazzled by its surf-side splendor. But … well, it was … so plain. I mean, other than a ridiculous number of people crowding the sidewalks and stores, there wasn’t much separating Byron from your average beach town. I stopped at a Woolies and bought some lunch. After checking the map I headed out to one of the many beaches and ate my lunch on the sand, trying to plan the rest of the day. I don’t know what I expected to do in Byron. I guess in a way I envisioned being taken in by the beauty, originality and uniqueness of the town, convinced to stay for at least a night, and entertained long into the wee hours of the morning by friendly locals, crazy foreigners and spaced out hippies.

Byron was none of that, it seemed. And after lunch I sat at a picnic table contemplating my next move. It was still early in the afternoon and I certainly wasn’t going to spend the rest of the day in Byron. I texted my friend Jen who lived in Broadbeach, next door to the famous Surfers Paradise beach city and about an hour north. Her brother was in town and I didn’t want to impose, so that option was off the table. Over the previous couple months I had made tracks on the majority of the best Gold Coast roads, but there were still some roads that I hadn’t tackled, around the city of Lismore and up towards Nimbin. I figured I’d get some of those out of the way and spend the night in Nimbin.

Now I definitely need to pause for a moment and talk about Nimbin. Thirty-five years ago a group of University students and hippies staged the Aquarius festival and transformed a small, secluded dairy town into a marijuana commune. Some of those alternative lifestylers stayed behind and built Nimbin up into a bustling … village. Even though marijuana is illegal in New South Wales, it’s openly used and sold around the town, and the police usually turn a blind eye.

Despite its reputation, Nimbin is the center of some of the areas best riding roads, and most of them were of acceptable quality. Faced with the prospect of having to sit around Byron for the rest of the day or tour the area, I quickly decided to get back on the bike and keep going.

The ride west from Byron Bay to Lismore was great. Quiet farmland bordered the gentle hills and sweeping S-curves. It was a warm day and the wind felt good against my body. And there weren’t too mny other drivers on the road; the total combination proved to be a motorcyclist’s paradise. I was only about 10 km from Nimbin when I saw the police roadblock.

A few patrol cars had blocked the way past an intersection, and a large coach bus was parked off to the side. At first I thought the cops had pulled the bus over, or they were just checking cars for alcohol/escaped prisoners/donuts, but then I saw them directing cars down the road that turned off from the intersection.

In hindsight, I should have asked him why they blocked the road. Makes sense, right? To ask why they were closing down a road? If I had, my life for the rest of that day and the next would’ve turned out much different. But as I told the cop where I was headed and if the detour to the left would take me there, I cared more about getting moving than the reason for having been stopped.

The first thing I noticed was that the road was *considerably* worse than any the one that had brought me so far. There were a few other cars in front of me, which was interesting because we were in the middle of nowhere, and these areas are typically deserted. Then the road disappeared, and suddenly I was riding on gravel. To those of you who haven’t ridden a motorcycle before, riding on gravel is like driving your car on an ice rink. Even worse, the dirt kicked up by the cars in front of me made it virtually impossible to see any more than a few feet in front of me. I figured it couldn’t last much longer, so I didn’t turn back.

Ten minutes and several near falls later, I still didn’t want to turn back … I mean, it’s gotta end soon, right?

Finally I reached paved road and found I was only a couple kilometers outside town. The funny thing was that there were alot of cars full of young, seemingly intoxicated people. Strange…

As I rode into town, things only got weirder. Cars lined the sides of the streets and there were police cars everywhere. People were walking along the side of the road into town, many of them carrying alcoholic drinks. The town was supposed to have a population of only about 320, but there were at least 3 times that many. Every available New South Wales police officer was there, wandering around the throngs of hippies, alcoholics, stoners, drum circle enthusiasts and hacky-sack-athletes. This can’t be what the town is like …

I made it to the other end of town (a short 100m ride) and parked along the side of the main road next to a few other bikes. It occurred to me that the number of people in town didn’t bode well for available accommodation.

I walked into the information center and approached the counter. I looked around and finally asked the man and woman, ‘Listen, this is gonna be a stupid question … but what the hell is going on here??!’ They laughed loudly and in unison said, ‘IT’S MARDI GRASS!!!! The pro-marijuana festival held on the first weekend in May every year.’

Only me, I thought as I walked back onto the street, only I would inadvertently stumble onto Australia’s pro-marijuana legislation rally the one and only weekend it’s being held in search of accommodation. Of course, there weren’t any rooms available anywhere in town. There was plenty of camping space, but unless I wanted to whore myself out to the nearest hippie chick with a sleeping bag, it wouldn’t do.

I wandered through town and took in the merriment. It was weird. Ages ranged from late teens to early 70s, and there was a woman on a PA system talking about where certain events where going on, and how at 4:20 (yeah, that’s right, I got to Nimbin right around 4:20 … go figure) everyone was asked to smoke something. There were a lot of food stands to handle the collective munchies outbreak, as well as the expected bead, hemp clothing and art shops,  and … more drum circles.

On a large showground down a short hill from the town centre was some large festival going on with a ridiculous name like the Weed-O-lympics, or something similar to that. It was around $10 to get in, and from what I could see the festival consisted of bad reggae music and alot of dirty people, so I decided to pass. Plus, with no accomodation available in town, I had to keep moving to find a bed. I decided to go back to Brisbane that night, disappointed at the day’s offerings. I would’ve loved to stick around Nimbin for the night, to see just how freaky things got — plus, how many times could you say that you accidentally arrived at an annual marijuana festival? — but it simply wasn’t going to work out.

I picked up a snack from the grocery store and ate it while sitting next to my bike. A tall, gaunt and unwashed man walked by, but unlike the others who passed me, he stopped briefly and mumbled something. I had to ask him to repeat himself, and even then I didn’t quite get it, but it was something along the lines of ‘D’ya need … ?’

I declined and thought to myself ‘I can’t believe I was at Mardi Grass for almost 45 minutes before someone offerred me some weed.’

I got back on the bike and set off from town. I was not more than a kilometre outside Nimbin when the bike suddenly slowed down and there was a grating sound coming from behind me. Oh no, for the love of God, not now …

I pulled over and confirmed what I feared: the mudguard had finally broken off the mounting points and was laying flush against the top of the rear tire. The bike had just slid off the diving board and into the deep end.

I stood on the side of the road going over my options. Plans A and B immediately formed: first, I took the seat off with the tools I was smart enough to keep in my backpack and examined the damage. There was no way to reconnect the guard to the bike frame. Plan A failed. Suddenly, I had a stroke of ingenuity and desperately channeled my inner MacGyver. And I’m not even kidding here — I took the shoelaces off my shoes and tried to string the mudguard up, at least enough that it wasn’t rubbing against the tire. Of course, Plan B failed.

There were only two options left: the first was to go back to Nimbin and try to organize a tow for my bike to the nearest town, Murwillumbah. This of course would be nearly impossible given the condition the town was in, so it would come to finding somewhere to stay until I could deal with it the next morning. My last option was to remove the mudguard completely, stuff it into my backpack and keep riding. I only had about an hour of daylight left (remember, the mudguard is also keeper of my rear brakelight), and driving all the way to Brisbane would be immensely dangerous in the dark. I had a chance to make it to Broadbeach and crash at Jen’s.

But here’s the kicker: my phone had run out of batteries (this is the part of the story where you would roll your eyes if you knew the other motorcycle story). So instead of texting Jen and explaining the situation to her, I’d have to tell her in person.

I quickly diassembled the mudguard and crammed it into my backpack, though the end with the license plate and brake light stuck out the top, right behind my head (see, at least I was displaying the license plate, right?). At around 4:45 I got back on the road and did not hold back on the throttle. Without a wobbly mudguard worrying me, I sailed over potholes and bumps with reckless abandon.

But despite my haste, the sun had set by the time I hit the M1, at least 30 minutes away from Broadbeach. Once it got dark, I played it very safe, stayed in the slow lane and stuck close to cars in front of me, parasitically using their rear lights.

I finally got to Jen’s place and awkwardly introduced myself to her brother over the front door intercom. Jen got back from work soon after I arrived and I apologized and asked if I could stay the night. We went out and had a nice dinner at a nearby Thai restaurant.

The next morning I set off early and made a speedy retreat back to Brisbane. I did pass one cop, though he was aiming his speed gun at the front of vehicles, thankfully ignoring the back of mine.

After such a chaotic day, I welcomed the slow pace of a Sunday in West End. I had made it back home safe without any damage to myself or the bike that I didn’t already expect, so I allowed myself a little laugh. I mean, in the end, at least I had a good story to tell.