Monday, 29 December 2014

Trouble with a Securidad in La Serena Bus Stop

Hopped off the bus at 5am in the morning from Valparaiso to La Serena and I was contemplating if I should just stay here or move on to Pisco Elqui as suggested by fellow travellers. Hanging around waiting for sunrise I was undecided with both options keep playing around my mind. My urge to smoke while thinking finally kicked in when day break and I walk outside to roll a cigarette.
Pisco Elqui

A piece of rolling paper, some tobacco and a filter …. While twirling the tobacco around two security guards for the bus station walked up to me, their backs label Securidad in Spanish. One pointed to the cigarette I was rolling and rumble off in Spanish while I just shrug and gave him by dumbest look.
Ma ri ju a na ? The security guard asked pointing to my half rolled cigarette?

Apparently rolling a cigarette is not common in Chile and I was going to be in trouble for a misunderstanding. I said NO … cigarraggio, cigarette, cigarros ….. trying to get him to understand.
Ma ri ju a na ? The security guard said again with a big grin on his face with full confident that I was guilty

I said no and push the pack of tobacco to his hand and gestured the sign for smell for yourself. The tobacco was mint flavoured so it had a minty smell which was even rarer and confused the shit out of the guard. Roll one I said offering him paper and filter. He seem to understand and slowly rolled one pondering if this was a cigarette or a joint. “Fumar?” I offered my lighter.
First puff and his had a deep appreciation on his face of the cigarette that he just rolled but all doubts of it being marijuana has vanish. 

“Equisito” he said …
Huh ???? after a few round of repeating the words again and again I understood … exquisite …. The cigarette was exquisite for it was not common. But then I bought it in Chile, Santiago for way too cheap.

We became friends after that I think with him providing me his personal protection while trying to communicate such as where I was from where I am going, whats my name, what the fuck am I doing in Chile …. He even went to as far to act out an action with another guy just to show me how a greeting is done in Spanish.
He ended up helping me find the bus to Pisco Elqui which was the first bus at 830 am and send me off with a big grin …. Dumb Malaysian who can’t speak Spanish rolling an exquisite cigarette

To Pisco Elqui on a microbus for 3500 peso

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Making Friends & Meeting up On the Road

Sending Danny and Mary off at night as they head back to Santiago from their Valparaiso day trip I was a bit sad knowing I would be alone again and company in a country where I was a dumb mute was hard to come by. Going back to the hostel it was an early night and the first rest since nearly 2 weeks. Morning breakfast and I bump into the two friendly German Couple from Santiago walking tour. PeeWee and Bro. From across the living room while checking in they yelled HEY …. And I just had the dumbest Grin on my face.

I thought that the Santiago Walking Tour people was haunting me …..
Still I left them after breakfast since they went for the Valparaiso walking tour that I had already done. The little Lithuanian girl which was below my bunk was laughing her ass off seeing me wake up in the morning. I did not wake up till 1130 am and still was moody as well. It was my first good rest in weeks anyway and everyone was already out of the dorm.
What are you doing today?
Now if you have been a traveller long enough, this question shall not be asked simply especially to someone that genuinely look like he had no plans. This is because the question is also a kind of invitation to join in another’s persons plan. I had no plans and that’s what I told her … first try to wake up then breakfast then …. Sniff the wind
Well I am planning to …… bla bla bla
If the first question and answer may get one away from an uninvited invitation the second phrase I see it as open invitation. I jumped at it of course and thus made a new friend with a little Lithuanian girl name Vio.
That Monday was a holiday so although we walked to many places everything was close. The view point at #Funicular Accessor Palanco was amazing. Tucked at the far left corner high up in Valparaiso it gave the best view we ever saw from anywhere. Nothing much there other than the view and loads and loads of graffiti in every nook and corner. I bought the cheapest lunch I had in Chile for 600 peso a huge hotdog stuffed with things I do not dwell on. Best part to the view was there was a bench so we sat there had lunch a couple smokes and started heading back walking slowly through the non-touristy neighbourhood of Valparaiso.
View from Acessor Palanco
Violet was a craving seafood so we hunted for a seafood restaurant near the port. Things really close early in Chile but we saw a huge fish sign and a pirate hanging outside one shop. Going in I think we got cursed but we had no idea. Apparently the shop was close and we just walked in while the owners and friends was having a drinking session. They offered so many things for us to try while we were having dinner I was wondering if we should join their drinking session. 2 shots of Pisco sour, a shot of minty alcohol and another that I think tasted like plum whisky. The seafood was a bit pricy but fantastic.

Getting back to the hostel walking into the dorm a girl jumped Vio grabbed her and asked :
Do you remember me?
Girls with their squeals jumping and laughing and screaming. That’s when I met Dio.
Dio and Viol travelled together or at lease party together somewhere in South America but never manage to exchange contact so the chance coincidence of meeting someone you had fun with before by pure chance in the same hostel and the same dorm in fact was amazing as if the stars aligned themselves.
BBQ that night and it was like a nice cocktail party with churasso which is tiny hot dogs. Vino was poured freely with the hostel staff keeping tabs. We drank and smoke mingling with everyone in the hostel and talk of all the useless stuff everyone had experience before such as …
“I bought a AK-47 in Lithuania” – Dio
“I got to know my wife, fucked her, had a baby, got married and now I am saving up for a ring – in that order” - Santiago
“Anything can happen in South America” – Wink
Next day Dio left for the walking tour in the morning without Vio. Never make plans and arrangement when you are drinking …. Someone will probably get a wrong message or forgotten about it and that was what exactly happen. I was the grumpy boy again in the morning trying my best to wake up.
Checked out and now what …. I had a whole day in Valparaiso before the bus leave at 1130pm
Vio had some plans to visit some museum or something and I was dragged into it eventually since I manage to woken up. Halfway walking there I decided to detour and bring Violet to the slide I first saw on the first day. Along the way we saw a group which was the walking tour. Pausing I saw Dio and waved ….. and between me and Vio stole her away from the walking tour.
You falling asleep yet ??(From the walking tour)?? Just ditch and come with us …. We are going to a slide ….
Slide ???
Yea it was an awesome slide and we were kids again for a moment.

The Slide

Monday, 22 December 2014

Following Good Advice Valparaiso

Valparaiso was a place not on my radar due to lack of research of South America. I guess I am just winging it and would probably be so close to an awesome place and miss it because I had no idea. The hostel staff at Maoi Vejero Santiago was so friendly and always chatted with me in perfect English.

Where are you going next ?
I dunnu, where do you think I should go ?
Mosaic Graffiti in Valparaiso
That’s how I found out about Valparaiso and thinking I would read up the city from the old lonely planet book I borrowed from the hostel, I was shocks when there was no entry for Valparaiso. Must be an old book but the newer version had like only half a page long about it. Seems like a passing by town so I decided always follow local knowledge and just give it a go.
Funicular
New friends from the last night partying in Santiago contacted me and ended up going to Valparaiso together. Danny and Mary. First stop we hit there and we decided to track my hostel down to relive me of the heavy load. Walking around looking for the bus we bump into another guy (Tall German Guy) who was also on the Santiago walking tour. Hi and Bye and on our way to the hostel.
Valparaiso has a flavour to its city. Even without the graffiti to add spice to it the city has a charm of its own that few others can trump it. Winding path snaking up hills and cutting at ridicules corners. Roads that do not makes sense, café or shops where you don’t expect them to be. Architecture of the poor using metal sheet and camouflage it to looks like a renascence style porch building. Funiculars that squeaks and cranks like it’s about to fall apart and tuck in between building give the city a pulsing heart. It was a wonder of wonders that this city was granted UNESCO Heritage so late.
Valparaiso was also the first danger I came across in Chile. A friendly kind of danger that one would have thought everything was safe. Apparently there was this neighbourhood just beside the touristic area that the people were very protective and would not even allow other neighbourhood people to enter let alone tourist. Danny, Mary and me took the funicular into that district and was immediately warned by the attendant in full vigour but since we could not understand her Spanish we understood it as to beware of pickpockets.
Half way up the hill two girls whistle at us and waved their hand and tried to tell us something. We had no idea what it was but when the hand signal of cutting one's throat came out and pointing towards the direction we were heading we finally understood that it was dangerous not in the sense of pickpocket but you could get into serious trouble. In a way the whole experience was so friendly that although we almost walk into a pit it did not feel like it. It’s as if the internal scuffle does not include dumb tourist unless the tourist decide to ignore all the warnings and proceed anyway.
Still the city of Valparaiso has lot to offer with hidden Gems that no books can capture entirely.
Valparaiso - Chile
 
 

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Walking Tour Santiago and ending up Drunk

It was day two in Santiago and also day two in Latin America. I still haven’t learn much Spanish but that was not about to stop me from exploring. Hostel can be too comfortable sometimes, when everyone does not speak English in the country, in the hostel there are bound to be English speaking travellers.  So I was out the door as early as 12pm. It’s been two months traveling and I am starting to finally slow down.

Armed with a borrowed lonely planet guide from the hostel I started walking heading towards the city centre aiming for tourist information to get better maps and recommendation.
Traffic Light Red …. So do I walk and ignore the signs like in Malaysia or do I wait … I decided to take out the guide book and check my bearings while silently observing the road crossing culture of Chile. A pretty girl was looking at me with wide eyed ….. ‘smile’ ……. Couldn’t be more than 24 I reckon and I smiled back with a polite nod. Back to my book and stole a glance …. She was still staring like I was a delicious candy mouth slightly open drooling …..Ok maybe that was my imagination but she was definitely curious and finally mustered up the courage to speak to me.
I haven’t even started asking the locals for direction help yet and here is a Chile Girl trying to talk to me. I could not understand a word though.
Smile, raise shoulder, look blur, look more blur, swing eyeball left and right …. I had no idea if I was going to be scammed on the second day in Chile. Pretty girls can be dangerous.  
First wavering words of English after many pause came from her ….. “Tourist?”
Art Sculpture at Plaza Del Arms Santiago
Yes I said and I now know she was a kind and curious soul that always help blur travellers like me showing them her lovely city. That was my first teacher and as she walked me to the city centre I got a crash course of the Spanish Language. With every try the conversation or meme got better and she was slowly remembering more and more words in English.
I would love to tell stories that the first Spanish word I learned in Latin America is : -
“Uno Cerveza Por Favor” …… One Beer Please
But that was not really the case. With so many words being thought while I walked with Stephanie (Yep we manage to exchange name by pointing and pointing) the very first Spanish word that stuck in my head after a drunk night was
“Disculpe” ……. Excuse me
She showed me a quick glimpse of Santiago and soon her mother phoned and we parted ways. I was left at the Plaza del Arms, Tourist information centre watching her go finding Chile a very friendly country.
Santiago Free Walking Tour
Push Cart Street Food
Just in time after Stephanie left I joined the free walking tour at 3pm just outside the Plaza. Introduce Felipe our Free tour guide for the day which earns his living through tips. He gave such a nice flare and speech it was like a presentation in a theatre throughout the walking tour. People, travellers like me were very friendly and soon I was chatting in and out of the whole group within the walking tour. Mostly Germans, a few Swiss, Finish and Swedish.
Felipe brought us to all the main building in Santiago and gave us a history with a flare trying his best to keep the tourist interested in Chilean History. In between even all the small push cart food along the streets was given its brief history of how the dishes came about and we got to try the nuts, sweet drinks, and finally took a break in a café. A walking tour with a break in between. I got the first taste of empanada and the first beer in South America.
Coffee With Legs
Of all the stories Felipe told of course the weirdest one would stuck in my head. It was the “Coffee with Legs” type of establishment which somehow became a tradition. According to Felipe, back then all the office workers along the office blocks would come downstairs during breaks to buy coffee and there was this café that only sells coffee with nothing else but legs.
Girls would dress up nice and formal like suits or uniform but always, always with miniskirts to show off those damn legs. Hence the term coffee with legs outlet. They would not sell beer, nor food or anything else but back in the days says Felipe, every day at a time unknown to the customer the owner will come out and ring a bell. The shop would close shut with all its customer in it and the girls would start to strip and dance. And after an hour when everyone was dress again the shop would open and NOTHING ever happened inside the café.
End of the tour, 4 hours and all I could say is that the Free walking tour was worth it and as the suggested tip amount I gave Felipe his CLP5000.
Then Came the After Party
The Beginning of the End
Some went their separate ways while others suggested going for a beer. I joined in caught in the flow of things and did not think too much of it since it was a nice group. Beers in pub must be bought in 1 litre volume. You can’t buy a 375ml nor can you buy a pint. Big group of 10 ish we drank quite a bit till the sun set at 9pm and Felipe suggested going for a couch surfing event. I was tipsy even then and had no idea how to get back to the hostel. Follow on … to the next venue
The Couch surfing Event Party
So next up was a couch surfing event which I just followed blindly or rather all of us followed blindly with many wrong turns and finally ended up in an apartment neighbourhood. I was totally lost. Met more people and had lots of deep conversation about culture and people and politics comparing all the countries and just exchanging stories while drinking Pisco & cola a national Chilean drink. Everyone was getting drunker and drunker. Then when 1 am came naturally we could not party all night at the host place so someone suggested going to a dancing club.
Dancing Club Party
I was half hearted at this point for I have no idea how I would be able to get back to the hostel which was across the city. Felipe pointed out where we are at the map and I was guessing nearly an hour plus walk so it was basically ignore the problem for now and continue on to the club. Dancing club …was interesting. It was not a salsa dancing club but more retro dancing with many many English songs played. More Pisco Please.
Observing was fun for I do not dance but the club had a huge amount of girls that comes there single and I felt for a moment glazed passing over the men. I was not sure who was being hunted at this stage, they sure know how to party in Chile. Somewhere between drinking and observing the girls shake that ass I needed a smoke and started rolling a cigarette. People suddenly started walking up and was observing what I was doing. When they determined it was not a joint of weed but just pure tobacco they left as fast as they came. One guy lingered longer and asked if he could try one.

Separated with the group …. I was alone with the locals …
The guy needed a light and so did I and was too lazy get it out from my jacket which was rolled up in my bag so (I didn’t tell him that) so we went outside looking for a light. Two girls sitting alone just being quiet and the guy asked them if they have a light. The girl had and entertained us with her humongous flame lighter. It was nearly 4 inch tall when lighted up. Naturally all general chatter was in Spanish and soon my skin colour attracted questions. Spanish talking question address to me. I put on my biggest smile, shake my head and wave my hand around ….. No espanol I said.
One of the girl Antonia could speak English and hola I had a conversation. The other two girls barely speak with me but entertained the Spanish guy instead. Standard questions was fired away to me such as where I was from, what I was doing in Chile and with each answer Anto eyes got bigger and bigger. I guess she could not believe an idiot is visiting Chile from so far away with no plans and speaks not a word of Spanish. I slowly got to know about her, just turned 18 yesterday …. OMG …. First legal outing in a club and she wants to be a doctor.
The group found me back eventually outside just smoking and we left for food. No lunch, no dinner and it was 2 am … everyone was starving for who knew a walking tour can last so long. Charly Dog we settle on for supper and boy does Chile knows how to make a hotdog. Layer upon layer of dressing and top of with tiny fried French fries.
After that it was back to hostel and I was convince at 3 am with all the drunkards around smashing bottles and being rowdy that I will take a taxi back to the hostel. Cost me CLP5000 but it was an honest taxi although I could not speak a word of Spanish I manage to work out the place for him to drop me off. He drove straight …. Never once tried to detour a longer route.
Just the 2nd Day in South America ….. oh Boy …

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Touchdown Santiago, Chile …. With not a word of Spanish

Cool Sculpture in the Hostel
Felt like myself .. an idiot Gringo
When I first planned to go to South America as part of the larger portion of RTW travel I did realized that most people do not speak English in this country. I started thinking back on all my travels and realized that if you could survived Greece with no Greek travelling the suburbs then Spanish speaking country was not going to be much harder.

At lease the language is in alphabets that could still be read although it makes no sense yet. Flying into Santiago, Chile was my first stop in Latin America. Almost immediately everything was in Spanish even at the airport and I could slowly see the English language vanishing away as I step outside the departure gate.
“Where do you want to go?” asked the taxi man
Frowning I felt that these Great Taxi man that could speak marvellous English and was so friendly was bound to rip me off if not bring me to somewhere I would need to surrender everything I had. I spend the most time at the airport getting my nerve adjusted, getting money out of ATM, going to toilet to reshuffle everything, bombarding the information counter with question which responded with bare minimum English.
I forgotten how long ago since I visited Greece but was slowly gaining back the survivor instinct. Looking at signs, I found the bus stop, and with just one word ‘Santiago’ I boarded the bus paying the same fare everyone did. I was standing aside for a while to observe what local people do and how much they pay. I could hear the word Santiago and I carefully observed how much they paid.  
Getting off the bus at the large bus stop which I guess was the last stop since everyone departed. I slowly scanned the area. Signpost of ‘Metro’ caught my eye and true enough it was the subway. Hostel world guide to the hostel was working well now since I got the metro.
Republica ….. Re pla bli ca …. Ri pub bli ca ….. the ticket counter scratched her head ….
I was gathering a crowd now with more station warden trying to help make sense what I was saying. Loads of questions in Spanish which I just put on my dumbest look and shrug. I copy down the station name onto a paper and showed her on the window and suddenly they understood and said together with a huge grin …..
Ri Bu Li Ca …. Oh ….so that’s how it is pronounce … fuck me …   
Immediately out came the calculator knowing I have no idea how much it is in Spanish and I paid what was shown. Off the platform and looking at the local map inside the metro I located the Hostel location and started walking. With every street name passed accordingly to what I expect it to be I knew it was just around the corner.
As I neared the hostel a guy carrying rubbish called out to me.
“ Son? Son? “ he said ….
I said no shaking my head at the same time
“Hostel? Hostel?” he asked
Yes, I said
“Maio Vijero” he said and pointed onwards ….
I was so focus on getting to the hostel I did not bothered to remember the hostel name but only the directions.
I said no to the guy and shake my head, smile, shrug and started walking
Two minutes later I was standing in front of the hostel …. Street Toesca, Number 2335 and I saw the Hostel sign painted on the wall …. “Maoi Vijero” …. The door opened and immediately the new guy said “Son ? Son?” ….
I finally got it …. They were trying to call my name … Soon. .... as in Soon Heng.
They get so few Asian travellers here that I was like an exquisite cuisine, and made me feel welcome that they were looking out for me, expecting me …. Awaiting the new spice ….
“Espanol” the new guy who opened the door asked
No …. English ??? I asked back
“Welcome”, he said.
The guy whom I met earlier throwing away rubbish entered the door soon after and seeing me, gave me his biggest grin and said “son?”
 I laughed so hard …… No …. Soon ….call me Edwin please …..

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Favourite Place in Auckland

Auckland. There are many things to do in the city and tons of things to distract you and confuse you by the tourist information centre but my favourite time was walking up One Tree Hill amid all the crazy chaos.

Written in guide books and when researched in Wikipedia it was well known that the volcanic crater is at One Tree Hill with spectacular view of greater Auckland. Still when I arrive in Auckland all the map I got was partial, compacted into only downtown Auckland and all the information was to bring you elsewhere, skydiving, quad biking, island hopping, whale watching, anything but telling you about One Tree Hill.
One Tree Hill is a in between everything and high up where one can see the Greater Auckland. I could also see both sides of the sea (east and west) and it was a perfect place for a picnic. Most guide book will tell you to rent a car to get there but I would advise for savvy travellers with plenty of time to get the proper map from the big tourist information centre downtown. Ask for the big one greater Auckland and the bus route will show that for an easy NZD 4 from downtown one can take it all the way to the foot of the hill and thereafter a nice stroll/hike to the top.


Saturday, 13 December 2014

Road Trip & Camping in New Zealand

I only manage to do a small part of New Zealand which was the northern tip of Auckland and Coromendel peninsular. Thou a small country on a small island New Zealand is a unique backpacking experience whereby the tracks and trials are such that it is almost more suited for road trips rather than backpacking on a bus. I travelled with random people meeting up from the internet thanks to gumtree and ended up camping all over the place.

Thou it is said camping, there was still a price to be paid. I thought camping was supposed to be free but another country another context. So there was a few difference. You needed to get to a campsite which is regulated. You can’t just camp on the streets or a patch of grass like a homeless for if the Ranger gets you then a heavy fine would be issued. 
Cheap Tent Bought in New Zealand for NZD16
There are the absolute dirt free camping site where you don’t have to pay for it but there is absolutely nothing other than a toilet which is a hut, a toilet bowl with a very deep hole in it. Then there is the honesty box camping which is like the free one, sometimes with water and you have to put money in a box as per the stated price. No one to man the campsite and just a box to put your money in. How Honest are you?? Then there is the paid campsite which is like camping at someone back garden usually a hostel or a caravan park and there you have all the modern facilities, a power source, hot shower, wifi, kitchen, depending on campsite facilities defers but you get the picture.
Thou one have to pay for camping it was still much much cheaper than getting a bed in a hostel.
Going up the northern tip of New Zealand coast was a crazy road trip. Not the slow drive and stop that you would expect for even on single roads the speed limit was 100 and the drivers was determine to hit that mark. So we flew no stop. Of cause the landscape was a beauty looking out the window but even when we reach a town somehow we still flew through it pretty fast. 
Waterfall at Matakana
First stop was Matakana. Camp for the night in an YHA hostel. Still had to pay a NZD18 per person so I was shocked that camping was that costly. The cheapest way of travel was camping, pitching a tent and not campervans. For campervans cost more to rent and even more for gas. For a NZD16 tent alternating between free sites and paid sites I say we really knew what we were doing money wise.
Matakana campsite was next to a very nice waterfall which I and Mat took a quick dip in it. It was a long swim to the waterfall and deep waters too that there was no resting point. I almost drown swimming up to the waterfall as the water was so cold I was having difficulty breathing and at a point almost could not feel my legs. The splash thundering of the waterfall to the bottom cause a spray of mist which blew heavily onto us while we swim up making it harder to breath. I knew my limits … turn around and headed back … still it was cool.
First night at camp was good since it was paid so we had hot showers, proper kitchen, reading area, power to charge batteries and limited wifi of only 50mb per person.
Next day the long journey all the way to Cape Reinga the northern most tip of New Zealand brought us almost a whole day of driving with little stops. Some stops here and there but it was mostly driving and Chel did a good job getting us there. Bay of island which was supposed to be the highlight of the day turn out a bluff. There was no way to see the bay of island other than getting a boat which cost at least NZD100 per person and that would be 2 hours. We ended up taking the cheap ferry to Russells a walk around town and to the top of the hill for the viewpoint and moved on
We got to the campsite after dark. With the mist and fog and poor lighting it’s a wonder we made it in one piece let alone found the place. Camping grounds was an honesty system where you just drop your money into a box. We camped and by daybreak left without putting in any money. There wasn’t much at the camp grounds other than a toilet ….
Cape Reinga
Cape Reinga in the morning and to our disappointment the fog or mist was so think we could barely see 10 meters in front. By luck wandering the walking tracks we manage to locate the lighthouse before banging our heads onto it. Heading back down south we stop by the largest Kuari Tree in one of the national parks and it was magnificent. It reminded me of the tree in Malaysia where it just grow way bigger than the rest of the forest and even 10 people joining hand could not go around it. This tree was big and grand but still not that big
Final day was driving day again with few stops …. In a way I would say we did not do much in terms of activities but we see a great deal of the landscape of the north. That part of the journey I would not repeat in future for I think I had given it more than its fair share of travel.
Part Two of Road Trip - Coromendal Peninsular
We dropped off Chel and pick up another girl May which was from France as well. 2nd part of the travel to Coromendal peninsular we had in total nearly 4 long walks during the 5 days which took nearly 3 hours every day. I was super exhausted by the end for the shoes I wore was not meant to do hiking and I was not fit of course. Weather turned out to be sucky with rainy and cold draft always so I was just in a daze all the way. In fact I fell sick towards the end due to always being cold and damp due to the rain. NZD 16 tent is useless when it’s raining.
Hence if you ask me about Coromendel Peninsular I would not remember much of it other than one forest is not much different from the other in New Zealand. If you love nature then New Zealand is a good place to visit where there is no predators or poisoned insect that may kill you.
I will need to redo New Zealand for although I visited many rural places … it was not the heart and soul of New Zealand.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Traveling with Random Strangers - Road trip North of Auckland and Coromandel peninsular

Picture of an House on A Truck at Orewa
So this was new even for me. Sending emails to random strangers to meet up and travel together splitting all the cost was something I had never tried before. The fears I had was various and ridicules at the same time and it’s worth a list below … 
In No particular order
Rob the poor bastards!
The one is a real worry. You never know who lurks at the internet seeking new victims. Travel buddy, sure lets go …. Rent a car so and so and after three days when everyone is comfortable with each other that’s when you hit em.
Could you look after this bag for me while I go to the toilet?
Sure …. I’ll look after it for you …. Maybe drive the car away as well just to get a head start and screw your life up.
Live in a Scary Movie
This may seem paranoid but I did consider this for a moment. If I were to claim a new name, no credit cards, no ID but have cash to travel with …. Maybe just maybe in the Quinten woods free campsite a serial murder / kidnapper / rape / torture / ( put in worst nightmare ) may come to life
Seriously … Travellers is the best victims ….
Who The Fuck You think you are
The people you travel with are random so you never know if you get a racist, homosexual, stuck up, kind, whiny, bitchy, arrogant, happy go lucky, high, or whatever sort of weirdos out there. Things I know for sure …. Most times it won’t be your best travel mate. If it were that easy I wouldn’t be travelling solo. But although not the best, should be ok enough to travel with for a week.
If it doesn’t works out just split up ….
Meet me Here Stupid ….
Now if your own friends back home can leave you hanging at the bar or an appointment and never show up, then there is 99% the random stranger will ditch you the first moment he has a better deal. Especially when offered a better deal. Sends two request for traveling buddy. One says splits cars 50/50 while the other is free.
Good bye suckers …. I won’t even bother telling you I’ll ditch and since you don’t know my face and my email is specifically annoyoumously set up for travel there is no way you can get back at me.
I was a little worried I’ll be stud up …. And suddenly a last minute plan will have to kick in.
The Rules
Let’s set something clear …. I snore …. I’m vegetarian .... I need a proper toilet everyday …. I need internet everyday …. I wanna go here and you guys are gonna follow else out of the car with you …. I don’t like paying for anything more than 10 bucks …. I have no money …. I only speak French …. Fuck me ….
Sitting down at that table listening to the newly form group listing down the rules and picks and fancy … I silently told myself …. It’s only a week … it’s only a week ….
Still it was an interesting way of travel. The only thing I could say is that travelling cheap is alright but travelling dirt cheap …. Is pointless …. Go earn your money and travel …. Skipping things just because of a few dollars makes no sense …. A quote I remember below which just blew my mind away ….
“In America all museums are free so why do I need to pay to enter a museum overseas?? It’s insane ” 
I SAY .... Travel with an open mind …. Else you never leave your home ….
 

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Sleeping in Sydney Airport

Sleeping in Sydney airport wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. I almost thought I would have to sneak around the airport hiding from the guards and keep finding a windbreak or someplace warm and somehow safe at the same time.

Sleeping at Sydney Airport
So they lock down the airport or shut down which is weird for I have never heard of an airport closing before especially one in a big city like Sydney. From 1130 pm till 3 am they close the airport and all of us overnighters were technically outside the airport between the link from the airport to the train station. They did however designate the place as a waiting area and by 1 am a guard would come around and ask people for their passport for checking. I guess they just don’t want any homeless people loitering around. 
Charging Stations
Why would they close the airport for 4 hours is beyond me but apparently Sydney airport only have flights till 1030 pm which is last flight in and out of the airport and the next was 6 am in the morning. Thanks to the 6 am flight, check in counters are force to be opened 3 hours in advance hence the airport reopens at 3 am.
The waiting area had a huge toilet which was good and drinking water the essentials when you are stuck outside. Chairs are available thou due to armrest, one cannot sleep on the chairs flat. Power points are a few around and I guess it’s the first person to camp there gets to monopolized it for the whole night. Wifi thankfully was free and on throughout the night but so is the lights as well. Even internet stations were available.
What may be a little bit scary but rarely noticed by people waiting for the next flight is that we were actually locked in between the airport and the train stations. All doors were locked so we couldn’t get into the airport nor could we go to the train station but a door is still open for smokers and in the case of emergency to run out of the building as well.
Still I now know it’s doable … and my next flight from Auckland-Sydney-Santiago I would definitely do it again to save some money. Train to town cost AUD 17 one way and then one would need to check into a hostel, get up super early and still feel tired anyway. The airport do have free showers available when it’s open and it’s on the opposite ends of the waiting area at the departure.
This time I would be armed with a sleeping bag thou to make things more comfy.

 

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Long Journey & Airport Trouble

Whenever it comes the time that I need to make that long journey I always gets nervous. It’s like murphy law … whatever can go wrong will go wrong. I was bound to travel from Cairns to Sydney via Tiger Airways, then had a super long layover but not long enough to justify a trip into the city hence needed to sleep like a homeless at the airport and then fly out to Auckland on Qantas. 

Still travelling from Cairns to Auckland was pretty smooth sailing with tiny little adventures.
The hostel Asylum supposedly booked for me the shuttle bus which cost AUD 12 did not show up at 8am as it was supposed to. Hostel guy gave the most relax explanation like any Auzzie will tell you,
“No worries it will come, maybe it’s just picking up some passengers and will reach here in 20 minutes” says the guy behind the desk.
Cairns Airport
It’s always no worries until something happen and then the shoulder shrugs kicks in and you are still left stuck with your own problem. I for one having miss planes before know how painful it can get decided the price is not worth risking it and flag down a taxi instead. Airport ….. and the fare was AUD 15.
So reaching the airport an hour and half before departure on a domestic flight, anyone would think that would be more than enough time right? Sometimes I forget how efficient Singapore and Malaysia airports are …. The queue for getting boarding pass was ridiculously long and they combined multiple destination and the next queue for clearing security checks was even longer. Judging by the time left I would have to run once I cleared security since budget airlines can be a pain in the ass sometime and leave without you.
Then something happen. All the lines in the security check point went stop and nothing moved for a while. Someone whispered, security breach. We all thought someone brought something dangerous pass the x-ray machine or make a stupid joke or pulled a prank. The guy beside me started cursing the random person that cause the delay and disturbance.
“Some people should just be banned from flying” he said
More waiting and we then realized the airport was locked up. No one could get in or out. Everyone that was inside the airport (waiting area) was being brought back outside the security check point. Planes were disembarked and even the staff inside the airport was evacuated. WTF just happen and at this point we were beginning to think it was something really serious.
First announcement – Apology due to technical error, assure us all plane will not leave any man behind.
Second announcement – Apology again due to SECURITY BREACH …..
WTF happened ….
The guy next to me was suddenly reminded by his wife to check his blood sugar. Out came the diabetic kit and as he struggle to get the blood onto the machine. I could tell he needed something in him soon. Shaky hands were not good signs for diabetic …. True enough and airport crew was asked for help. We were stuck in the line …. Can’t go anywhere and they rushed to grab any food they could find. A mars bar did the trick and after 15 minutes he was good as new. As if the Security Breach was not a scare enough the guy next to me had to almost go into a fit.
He asked what the security breach is about and finally we got the answer …. One of the X-Ray machine was not working properly so for a period of time a lot of people was entering the waiting area without being scanned properly. So they had to lock up the airport, get everyone re scanned just to make sure.
I was glad I had an 18 hours transit connection …. 2 hours delay … some poor guy’s and girls must have missed their connecting flight …. And someone just claimed his insurance that he luckily brought …..

And the long journey was just beginning ….

Monday, 1 December 2014

Swimming With A Turtle at Great Barrier Reef - Cairns

The Great Barrier Reef is really something. Problem was that it’s so greatly big that most times any tours you take will only scratch the outer edge of the reef. So it’s still best viewed in National Geographic.

I once heard a story from another backpacker, not the best source I know but the story seems plausible enough; so he said that due to the huge amount of tourism Cairns gets for the Great Barrier Reef most tour operators only get licence to certain parts of the reef, the more dead one so that if by chance some stupid tourist like us do stupid things at lease the greater part of the reef will be spared and will still be preserved.
I kinda agree with his sentiment that it should be that way since most of us are ignorant to nature but in a way but it was not so awe awesome struck that I thought it would be. I have seen the reef in Malaysia and judging by the sparing part of the Great Barrier Reef they show us it was not much more magnificent than back home. It is however huge and that itself is undeniable and amazing in its own way.
The fact that we have to travel nearly 40 miles offshore just to see the reef in the middle of the ocean is mind-bogging. Out of nowhere surrounded by deep waters, suddenly a shallow reef appears. Yet the reef itself is not really shallow if one would look closely for it was a reef on top another reef. Swimming along the edge that was what I saw … depth I could not see beyond and reef going deeper and deeper.
Last but not lease is turtle sighting. Somehow everyone is crazy about turtles.
Let’s say if you swim with a turtle at the great barrier reef those that didn’t get that lucky chance will be envying you for a long long time despite visiting one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World
Turtles are just special ….
 

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Buying a New Phone on the Road

Townsville is the largest town in northern Queensland and yet no one mention about it other than it’s a town and the gateway to Magnetic Island. I decided to give Magnetic Island a miss and stay in Townsville instead for 2 night and explore something that is not sold to me by hungry travel agency.

Townsville reminded me of the dead city I stumble a lot across USA. Large but empty where you barely see anyone around and yet all the shops are standing there with a lady inside smacking a mosquito. The place itself was rather nice with a few nice walks. If it was any cheaper and I had more time in hand I would consider Townsville a good pit stop to just rest and write, plan and get away from all the crowded places.
Townsville was also where I decided it’s time to get a phone since I would need one the coming week to pay bills. A long long walk under the hot sun, Noah and I finally reach Castletown the largest shopping centre in Townsville. Thinking there would be loads of food we starve ourselves going there only to find the good cheap thing to eat was McDonald.
Back to my phone problem …. I had a broken phone … not working …. And I had bill to pay that require a working phone …. Dilemma Dilemma …. Not much choice really … just have to buy a new phone and hope it last and not burn a hole into my pocket
There was three giant hypermart in Castle Town which were Woolsworth, Target and Big W. Checking prices in Target I almost, almost bought the Nokia 208 for AUD 59. Simple phone, a camera and able to play music. Just to be sure I had to check out how much the same phone cost at Big W. Here I was looking at the dirt cheap phone resigning myself to not having a smartphone for the entire 1 year backpacking trip when Noah said the words ….
“Look this one really cheap”
A Nokia Lumia 625 was being slash half price selling at AUD 148. It had a decent camera that I could finally take photos with, a smartphone meaning I get to use almost all the function again, and a huge memory too. Just for a little more money less than 100 and I would get a smartphone instead of a simple one.
Damm You Noah.
So I reluctantly parted with what little remaining money I had which was just enough to get me to the end of Australia trip to buy a smartphone. Now I just hope it last till the end of the trip …. Fingers crossed .  

Saturday, 22 November 2014

The Hunt for a Taste of Kangaroo

One of my to-do list ever since I decided to visit Australia was to hunt down a place where I could order and try the mystical Kangaroo meet. Of course I visited the zoo first to see how cute they were and every time I spot one in the while I would awe and shout like a little boy KANGAROO, and a small part of me will wonder …. How do you taste like …..

Sad to say I thought it would be as easy as walking into any pub / restaurant and just ordering it off the menu. That was the plan, for the locals to prepare it for you best the way it should be. Apparently Kangaroo is considered as Gourmet dish hence it could be quite pricy and only expensive type restaurant would serve it.
Of my whole month in Australia traveling the east coast between Sydney and Cairns I have only saw one restaurant which had Kangaroo on their menu. That was in Sydney and it was priced at a crazy AUD 40. I did not try it then thinking countryside would be cheaper and better but alas that was the first and the last that I saw Kangaroo on a menu.

So it was in Airlie beach that I got to hunt down and taste that Kangaroo, sort of. I was chatting up Noah and for the last few days I had told him of my curiosity craving of trying Kangaroo meet. Getting back from the sailing tour we decided to give cooking a go since cooking for 2 was much easier than for one. The plan was for spaghetti with sausage and pasta sauce. Simple enough so shopping was next.
We got some mushrooms, yellow pepper, two very small chilli padi (I was going to cook that spaghetti Ed-Malaysian style) and all that was left was the sausages. I already had the sauce and the rest from previous purchase.

“Wow the sausages are really pricy” I said
“Look its Skippy and its only AUD 5 for 10pcs” Noah said

Skippy was Noah name for the Kangaroo sausage we were about to buy and cook. Do you know how to cook it I asked Noah and he said he have no idea as well. The first taste and who knows if we cooked it right or wrong. We both survive the bathroom test so it was cook proper that’s all I could say.
Skippy with spaghetti, a pinch of chilli padi, some yellow pepper and mushroom too, tomato basil pasta sauce, salt and pepper from McDonald and a generous pouring of olive oil. It was awesome. How does the Kangaroo taste like ….. I can’t describe it … you just have to hunt down Skippy on your own.  

Friday, 21 November 2014

Last Minute Hostels & Wit-Sundays Island on Condor Boat – Airlie Beach

Wit-Sundays of the Airlie Beach. I hate to be on one of the pre-packaged guided or herded tours where all the tourist despite having no booking with any tour agency ended up being softly but undeniably herded along the tourist path. Somehow without knowing I was on the guided path. Backpackers please fall in line and next stop shall be Airlie beach. Locals are spared our plague as we are silently guided by an invisible hand through the east coast of Australia.

All I could do is just be a tourist at this point and might as well enjoy it while I am here and hopefully once a while just go to someplace no one at the tour agency nor any backpacker’s mentions.
Have you heard of xxx ???
Nope … wheres that ???
That’s where I will be going next. Alas that’s what I hope to do but with time running out in Australia it was safer to stick to the well-trodden path.
When Hostels are Fully Booked ….
So Airlie beach was fun since I had Noah as company. It’s amazing how the simple things can be more exiting with a little company especially company that you have been through the formalities of asking where you are from , what you do, what you plan to do, where are you going, bla bla …. More substance and idiotic conversation please.
I almost panicked for Airlie beach but decided to rely on my instinct instead. Well the night before reading Airlie Beach, Noah and me was drinking away at Agnes Waters waiting for the 9pm bus and while waiting decided to check out hostelworld for hostels in Airlie Beach. Apparently most of the hostel that I saw a few days earlier was now off the list since they were fully booked. Most hostel that was still on the list had only one night left for maybe one person. Deciding to abuse my free skype power I called a few hostel and the horror reply of FULLY BOOKED was rendered upon us.
Sometimes you just have to trust that everything will turn out well ….. else just sleep on the footpath like a homeless hobo
Waking up at Airlie beach at 730 as the greyhound bus pulled to a stop Noah and I had a long wait and walk before we could check in the hostel. For me I still needed to find a hostel. As we started walking towards town a nice old Irish Guy stopped his car and asked us where we were going and also gestured us to hop on before we could say anything. His car did have large banners of Waterfront Backpackers but he was not really concern if we stayed there or not. 7.30am in the morning and he was a kind soul.
I told him I did not know where I was staying and would not mind staying at waterfront if they still had space for I remembered in the hostelworld website it was fully booked. Walking up the reception it was AUD 20 a night with free wifi (although the wifi was broken the entire time I was there). I booked my stay for the night and with Noah accompany me trying to find a cheap boat to hop onto for wit-Sundays, so in the end I succumbed into a 2 days 2 nights boat as value for money goes it just makes no sense. The Waterfront hostel also threw in a free night accommodation and free luggage storage if I booked with them so I reluctantly parted with AUD 350 for a sailing tour hoping I would keep my guts for that 2 nights and not puking away from the seasickness …
I have just locked myself onto a boat … The Condor ...
(Noah was on another boat so we parted ways for a while on separate Sailing Tours)
Wit-Sundays - CONDOR
Wit-Sunday 2days 2 Nights on the Condor boat is a large Maxi kind of sailing boat and was surprisingly nice. Almost everything was manual on this sailing boat save for the fact the boat was fitted with an engine and motor if one decided the wind is not good enough. Still it goes to say that if the captain really wanted this boat could do without an engine and sail like the good old days.

There was only 3 crew member and a captain but there was nearly 28 of us on board the ship. Sailing time we were to help with hoisting the sail which was basically the brute force work while all the preparation, knot tying laying of rope and positioning was done by the crew. Still it was an insight on how sailing is like. Most of the time thou we just lay on the boat sun bathing as the ship cruise by to the next anchor destination.
Wit-Sunday was a pleasant difference from all the party tours I had gone over the years. This was a relaxing one although judging by the alcohol people brought I could tell they wanted a party. I on the other hand brought no alcohol for the fear of seasickness was enough to intoxicating oneself. Snorkel, Sunbath, Sail, EAT …. Boat food was awesome where the crew made all our lunch dinner and breakfast. We were fed the best 3 days of my journey. It’s nice not having to worry about food. It’s one of the downside of traveling, always thinking where is the next place to stay and what to eat.
The main attraction of course was White haven beach where the sand was 99.9 % silica making it pure white and so fine that even under the hot sun it would not burn up and stayed cool. The view itself was magnificent but I had no camera. (Sorry … you can Google it thou)
We saw loads of turtles, humongous fishes, two dolphins, reefs, loads and load of stingrays and the best star gazing spots at night where out in the open sea no lights was there to contaminate the sky.
Sometimes you just got to do the tours ….

Monday, 17 November 2014

Riding a Scooter in Agnes Waters Town of 1770

Agnes Waters is a small town with barely anything to do. With a little history of captain cook second landing it was a tough sold tourist destination as it felt the place had more backpackers than local residence. The beach is beautiful, and the quiet nature around even more but if you were planning to come to see some history and culture like me you would be fully disappointed. History wise, Agnes Waters / Town of 1770 is where Captain Cook first landed in Queensland, but 2nd landing in Australia. The end.

Still good tourist is good business and tour agency always find you something to do. Two main thing or rather the only two things you can do in Agnes Waters/1770 …. Surfing and Scooteroo. For those who are learning to surf you could not find a cheaper place to learn surfing than Agnes Waters. For as low as AUD 17 one can get 3hrs of surfing lesson. The tour agency Joe was so damn proud of it when he told me that nowhere in east coast of Australia can anyone beat that price.  Sorry to break his bubble but I got it for AUD 10 in Yamba, board, wet suit and all.
Still it was a pretty good deal. Some even had an AUD 22 deal with GoPro Camera mounted on the surfboard to capture that magical moment just before you fall. It looks as if the person a first timer had manage to learn how to surf. Impressive but how else could you take a photo of that 2 second that you are standing on the surf board for the first time.
The second best activity to do and the most cheesy tour I had ever done is the Scooteroo tour.

Sooteroo Tours

Trust Australia to always make something simple into something adventurous, unique and of course one of a kind. That’s how you can sell tours. By not renting the scooter or normal bikes and instead making the rental into a tour by giving out fake tattoos and painting cheap bikes to look like Harley and some fancy jackets one can always overcharge dumb gullible tourist especially when there is no competition to boot. I guess I was one of those gullible tourist but who could you blame for I could not find any sort of self rental motorbikes in Agnes Waters
 
The tour itself is priced at AUD 75 for 3 hours which I was screaming expensive to boot since I know you can get rental in Thailand a ugly scooter for 30 a day and in Vietnam 10 a day. Still it’s the cheesy tour so once you pay up might as well get into the groove and tattoo up and look ‘born to be wild’ rider. The tats didin even last an hour but for still it was fun to just stick as much as you can and take cheesy photograph.
The ride was on a chopper bike, small engine that could go fastest 80 km/hr but nice modification to the handle bars, good big fat rear tyres and nice body works makes the bike looks like any antique classic. The ride was guided so there were point rider, the rear guard van, and a few riders that rides ups ahead to stop traffic or guide us when to stop and when to speed up. This makes it much safer although there was barely any cars in agnes waters.
In a way I could understand their precautions since they allow anyone to practically go on the tour. You only need a driving licence. Driving licence did not even have to be motorbike qualified i.e you could ride a bike with even an automatic car licence. Imagine some that have never ever ridden a bicycle but has a driving licence and suddenly you are riding a motorcycle. These group would need all the help they can get in junctions I guess.
 
The tour brought us to all the backwaters road which have country side house and woods and barely any people. There was though lots and lots of wild kangaroos that was just hopping away while we ride alongside them. It was a glimpse of the actual Australian lifestyle living where a kangaroo just roam around and skip hop across your garden. Imagine going outside with a shot gun and shooting your dinner ….
The tour also brings us to the Town of 1770 where Captain Cook second sail brought him to port for the first time in Queensland. But that was about it. There was a few boat a restaurant or tavern and lots and lots of trees. The guide just said … welcome to 1770 … 30 minute break guys and we will be heading back.

For the cheesy fun and wild kangaroos … I gladly part with AUD 75 with a smile ….
Town of 1770