My life took a turn this past month. A drastic turn.
It was with sadness and remorse that I had to downgrade my standard of living. While in
Oz, I officially became…
And now it is time for a segment I will call: 'You know you're a backpacker when…'
You know you're a backpacker when…
Upon checking in, you are handed a folded set of sheets. It is up to you to make your bed.
Upon entering the room, you scope out the different beds that are available (no doubt,
these are bunk beds). You consider yourself lucky when there is a bottom bunk that doesn't
have linens on it because that means you don't need to maneuver your way around making
up a top bunk (quite a pain in the butt).
You end up caving in on Day #3 and buy a 'Youth Hostel Member' card because you have
finally admitted to yourself that you are a backpacker and will be calling these places 'home'
for the majority of the time that you are in the country. Being a member means that you
don't have to pay the $3.50 fee per night of staying at the hostel. The card pays for itself
after 11 stays. You have accepted that you will be using it far more than that.
You must walk down a hallway to brush your teeth, go to the bathroom or take a shower.
You share this bathroom with up to fifty complete strangers.
You spend time in rooms with other individuals where sometimes not even one word is
uttered between each other.
Check-out time is 10am at which point you give the keycard back to the front desk and
throw your sheets in a laundry bag. Bags tend to spend more time in luggage rooms than
they seem to in the actual room you just slept in.
Your roommates come and go everyday. When you get back in the afternoon, there are
completely different people in the room than were there in the morning when you woke up.
Most of the time at home, three people in a kitchen feels cramped. Try having about twenty
in one at a time.
You inquire upon checking in about where the closest grocery stores are. Restaurants?
Yeah, right. Backpackers don't do restaurants. We eat cereal for breakfast while watching
whatever show the person with the remote has chosen to put on. Dinner? Now it's time to
find a saucepan in the kitchen in order to heat up the soup that was just purchased…
As you can tell, I have had quite a shock to the system. You might recall an email you
received less than one month ago about the extreme pampering I was doing for myself a la
spa treatments, massages, cooking classes and shopping to my heart's content. Those days
came to a crashing halt the moment I stepped foot in Sydney.
The first shock I experienced was how expensive everything was. And I'm not even talking
about expensive next to the developing world. I'm just talking plain expensive. More
expensive than back in San Francisco, in fact! Where was my warning??? I was not
prepared for this.
The next shock that I experienced was something I call the 'non-culture shock'. Everything
was so…easy. So simple. Too simple. I craved a challenge. I craved being able to use my
negotiation skills. I craved the feeling of triumph that came along with 'winning' a
negotiation process. None of that would be happening in Oz. The major culture shocks
came in the form of: raisins being called 'sultanas', people having insane cricket fever (a
game I don't think I will ever understand), and seeing kangaroo on menus throughout the
country. My main communication barrier would come when asking about how much a
'soda' was. I got a puzzled look. I quickly corrected myself and asked how much 'cool drinks'
Another change I had to brace myself for was that I wouldn't be able to be as independent
as I would have liked in Oz. The main sights were really only possible to see via 1-, 2-, or 3-
day tours. And all of these tours came at a price. Different excursions cost me anywhere
from $100 up to $400 depending on what it was. Yowzas!
I am not going to lie. It was an adjustment my first week out here. I was having a wonderful
time with Ari and Monique (two of my friends that met me in Sydney) and I was loving
Sydney… but 'Australia' was lacking that certain appeal to me that everybody told me I was
going to adore. I realized this was due to the combination of not feeling a big cultural
difference from home and the high prices. By Week #2, my mind was changing and did a
big overhaul. I found myself loving it out here and upset that there was not nearly enough
time to do all of the things I wanted to do in the one month of time that I had. I knew there
would have to be another trip out to this country/continent in the future.
And now for a re-cap of what I did while I was Down Under…
How great it was to hang out with a couple of friends from home in a city like this! We
climbed the Harbour Bridge during sunset and got to be up there to see the city lights. We
wine tasted in the Hunter Valley, toured the Opera House (let me put it out there that it
looks much better from the outside than from the inside – 70s architecture is not timeless,
to say the least) and had a big night out which turned into a night of shenanigans which
came complete with one of our friends not being allowed back into two of the three bars we
went to. In a country with so many people who love to be inebriated, I saw this as quite an
The only problem with Sydney was that I wanted to stay longer. I thought I would have two
more days there at the end of my time in Oz but it didn't work out that way. I will just have
to come back some other time.
This city served as a hub to see the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest. We did a
day trip out to the Great Barrier Reef - I did a couple dives and while the reef was
wonderful, I was a bit disappointed because I came up shark-less and turtle-less both times.
I went to the Cape Tribulation section of the rainforest. My main excitement was playing
with a little 'roo. He was so soft. I wonder if anybody has ever smuggled one of these little
guys out of the country? It's tempting, I tell ya! During my one night in the rainforest, I had
a Christmas Beetle decide to attach itself to my pants during dinner, a toad staring at me as
I finished dinner and…the crème de le crème…another beetle deciding to cling itself into my
ponytail (I only noticed this as I went to run my hand through my ponytail). I think it goes
without saying that one night in the rainforest was all this girl would be able to handle.
I spent three days and nights on a boat cruising around these islands. It was such a
fabulous time and the scenery was amazing – from the clearest aqua blue waters to the
white sands. Snorkeling gave a great view of the fringing coral, tons of fishies of all varieties
and massive turtles (some were swimming, others were just hanging out in the coral). And
to cap it off, I made a new Swiss 'friend'. I must say that I did a great job of maintaining
good relations between American and Switzerland. The things I do for my country…
This was the dark horse of the places I visited. I had never even heard of it. I stopped there
on the advice that it was a 'nice town'. I didn't even know what I was going to do when I got
there. It ended up being one of my favorite places that I went to in Australia. It reminded
me of a modernized Carmel (which only means something to people who live in California).
The Noosa National Park had a 'coastal trail' which took me around the coastline (I'm sure
that didn't take a genius to figure out). Beautiful! There were also ferries that ran down the
river to the marina. This gave a glimpse of the multi-million dollar homes in this area (just
to clarify, 'multi-million' in American dollars).
This was the city I was flying out of. Sadly, there isn't too much to report on. Since I was
there during the week, all I can tell you is that it is a city filled with Aussie guys that look
great in their business suits. The South Bank was also very nice. Just not as nice as the guys
I was torn between coming here or going to Fraser Island on the east coast. The problem
with Fraser Island is that the trip is a total crapshoot. It is unguided and it seems more like
an MTV Road Rules adventure where they put eight random people together and give them
a map and send them on their way for three days. Although everyone was telling me I 'had'
to do Fraser Island, I didn't hear one single story where the entire group got along well.
Only one girl along the way told me that I wouldn't be missing much by not going. She said
it was really only a lot of fun for the people driving the vehicle. As I have absolutely no idea
how to drive a 4WD vehicle, I would have surely been one of the people whose head was
hitting the top of the van while sitting in the back. It was official. This trip was getting a
'pass' and I was going to head to Adelaide.
This city is most famous for being in close proximity to the Barossa Valley. Hello, vino! I
spent one wonderful day in this region. Because there was still more wine to be had, I spent
another day in the Adelaide Hills and McLaren Vale where the wine and wineries, in my
opinion, was just as good. These two days might have been a couple of my best wine-tasting
experiences ever. The only thing that would have made them better was if I was with
friends. While in Adelaide, I also made my way to the Central Market (which was second to
none), I took a tour of the Haigh's Chocolate Factory (an incredible rather high-end
chocolate company out here) and took the public bus out to the Penfold's Magill Estate to
do some wine tasting. As someone who loves wine, food and chocolate, life was good out
here (as I was told by Adelaidians that it is the 'food and wine capital' of Australia).
I was also coming to this city in order to go along the Great Ocean Road that would take me
to Melbourne. As I told you all in my holiday email, I pulled 'a Jen' and procrastinated with
making my plans and ended up having to change my plans a bit. Christmas was now going
to be on the Great Ocean Road instead of in Melbourne. I couldn't find a tour that began
any earlier. In the end it worked out as I used the extra day in Adelaide to do the wine
tasting in the other region and the holidays on the road weren't half-bad. I need to debunk
a myth though.
The myth: Spending Christmas during the summer along the southern coast of Australia
will give you a hot, sunny holiday.
The truth: Spending Christmas during the summer along the southern coast of Australia
will give you a windy, cold, wet holiday.
I can say with near-certainty that it was most likely warmer in San Francisco than where I
was. Weather-wise, it felt like a normal holiday season. We were also lucky because our
guide was all about having us feel the holiday spirit. He bought all of us Santa hats that he
gave to us on Christmas Eve. He pulled out a little tree from the side of the road. Our
vehicle was converted into the 'Christmas-mobile' with the help of garland, ornaments and
our little tree (that was complete with an angel on top). I actually got the biggest kick out of
seeing Ronen, our Israeli fellow traveler, in his Santa hat - surely a first for him. A first for
me was seeing kangaroos, emus and koalas in the wild on Christmas. I also wish I could put
into words the types of establishments we dined in for both Christmas Eve dinner and
Christmas dinner. The word 'dive' does neither of them justice. Definitely an experience.
But an experience I'm not rushing to repeat next year.
All in all, the Great Ocean Road was brilliant (I'm sure my English friends are appreciating
my new linguistics). I capped it off with a Christmas present to myself of taking a helicopter
ride over the Twelve Apostles (of which there are actually only eight survivors) on
And I finished my time in Oz in Melbourne. A great city. I wish I got to spend a bit more
time here but I made the most of what I had.
And now for some of my favorite things out here…
Favorite wine: Sparkling red wine! Who knew this existed??? And it was incredible! I
bought two different bottles from different wineries to ring in the New Year with. If you
ever find this, TRY IT!
Favorite food that I had: It sounds weird but they have incredible fresh yogurt with
different toppings. The shops look like gelato shops but they actually sell yogurt. It was one
of the best tasting things I had ever had. I got it for breakfast every morning in Adelaide.
They claim it's healthy and good-for-you but it seriously tastes as sinful as the richest
desserts. I tried different flavors such as passionfruit, mango, caramel crunch, cappuccino
and mixed berry.
Favorite name of a boat that I saw: 'Elegantly Wasted'. How perfect is this name? I loved it.
It reminds me of all the times that I have said 'Drinking wine is the sophisticated way to get
Favorite name of a town: Gympie. What's not to love about it???
Favorite name of a fish: Blubberlips
Favorite song: Duncan by Slim Dusty. Download it! However, there is a small chance that I
took such a liking to this song because I was listening to it in a dive bar on Christmas Eve. I
think the ambience made it that much better.
Favorite random thing I experienced: Arriving back at my hostel in Adelaide to find news
reporters and police had blocked off the road. I asked a reporter what was going on. It turns
out that the 'madam' from the brothel next-door to my hostel (yes, I was apparently staying
next-door to a brothel) was getting evicted. She and her husband were not budging though.
In fact, to try to get the police away, the husband was throwing things through the windows.
Note that these were not windows that opened (as the building was made of glass) so he
was literally throwing things through the windows. An example of an item that was thrown
was a fire extinguisher. I just love getting proof that there are crazy people world-wide.
As always, sorry for the length. I just wanted to leave you with my month-in-review. It is
now time for me to get ready to say good-bye to Oz. It's very difficult as there is still so much
left that I want to see and do. Next time, right???
I am ringing in the New Year in Fiji and will then be spending the following four weeks
traveling through the land of Kiwis. Till then…
Happy New Year!