Sunday, October 25, 2009

getting settled

Hey folks. Glad to see so many of you are checking in on me. My first week here was a fair balance of productivity and recreation. I found an apartment, became a certified bartender, got a job, submitted for a tax file number, and opened a bank account. It’s amazing what a bumbling backpacker can accomplish here in a week with a fresh haircut, a stick of deodorant, and a healthy pair of legs.

I got a job as a bartender at a somewhat shady bar in town with a strictly locals clientele and a reputation for being rough. Fine by me. I figure if I will be dealing with sloppy drunks, they might as well have character. Besides, I have been told that finding work as a bartender in Cairns without experience or lying on your resume is an accomplishment roughly equivalent to finding work on the lunar surface. So either the manager was taken aback by an applicant whose honesty equaled his stupidity, or he needed a bartender who weighed more than 95 pounds. Either way, fate was with me.

My apartment is within a short walk of downtown. I live with a fellow Colby alum, Kendra King. Now Colby has a fairly good reputation for a strong alumni base around the world, but imagine my surprise when I learned an old classmate worked as a dive instructor in my first planned stop, and that one of her roommates had just moved out. I’m not sure if this is a good omen or if I just used up all my luck in one fell swoop.

We share the apartment with a young Belgian couple who can speak more languages between the two of them than most college language departments. They have both been overly polite and friendly, but sometimes I wonder what they are saying to each other when they speak Flemish in hushed tones.

Kendra has done her best to integrate me into her circle of friends, but they have seen enough backpackers in Cairns to know that I won’t be around for long. She will also punch my ticket to the Great Barrier Reef. I’ll get a free diving certification (provided I am not prone to swallowing dangerous amounts of water upon submersion) and will benefit from a generous discount on her dive boat.

Sniffing out these sorts of discounts has become a routine in my travels, mostly because I am my mother’s son, but also because Australia is an alarmingly expensive continent. Dinner entrees range between $20-30, going to the movies is $16, and a 30-rack is usually just over $40. With the Australian dollar nearly equaling the American dollar, those figures are a bit troubling. That said, there is free coffee at the local casino, I got a haircut from hairdressing students for $10, and Tuesday is a terrific day to go to the video store. At least there are a few things in this strange place that remind me of home.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

arrival, hanging curves, and dragons

Arrived in Cairns! Sitting outside a McDonald's right now, Bogarting some wireless. The area is for patrons only, so I'm sure in a few moments someone will come over and shuffle me off onto the sidewalk.

The trip here was a bit long.

I left from Boston to LA at 7:30am Monday, connecting in Denver. I checked my bag in Boston and knew I wouldn't see it again for weeks. It would have to go to Denver, LA, Sydney, Brisbane, then Cairns. It was going to get lost. I had never been so sure of any other gut feeling in my life.

Arriving in Sydney a few hours later, I was thrown a bit of a curve. I found out I wouldn't make my connection to Brisbane. This was less than exciting. After a 15 hour plane ride and hustling through a foreign airport, receiving this sort of news does not improve one's mood. But my luck changed. I was able to book a direct flight to Cairns, and would arrive an hour earlier. When I got on the plane, I enjoyed an aisle seat and a free beer. There were two blondes sitting next to me. I guess sometimes god's curveball hangs a bit.

To top things off, my bag was waiting for me in Cairns. Shame on me for doubting the competence of airline bag handlers.

Here are some random thoughts from my first few hours in Australia:

--I've been here three hours, and someone has already picked me up hitch-hiking (ironically, the guy who picked me up owns the shuttle business that I decided not to purchase at the airport) and two bartenders have told me to apply for a job at their bar. They also watched my backpack while I went for a much needed swim. Australia is a friendly place.

--Australians do not mess around with their coffee. I feel like I received an adrenaline shot to the heart from John Travolta.

--According to a couple I sat next to on the plane, ordering a Foster's or a Lite beer of any kind is grounds for rescinding one's Visa.

--Watched Brothers Bloom on the plane. Best plane movie I've seen in a while.

--Captain Planet is pretty big down here. I'm not sure yet whether their entertainment programming for children is eco-friendly, or if their TV shows are just 15 years behind. While swimming, I overheard four kids singing the Captain Planet theme song, then they put their hands together and shouted, "Earth, Wind, Fire... Dragons!" Apparently water has taken a back seat to dragons in the elemental hierarchy over here. Australia is a funny place.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

from the start

I was four years old when I knew I was restless. I couldn't sleep at night because my legs ached. I would whine and cry until my mother would come to my room and gently massage my legs. But the aching remained. I discovered that only constant walking could dull the sensation. So at night, after tossing and turning in my bed for what seemed like hours, I would get up and pace the length of my room. I was too scared to travel far from my bed in the middle of the night, but after a while I would get bored with my room and venture out into the hallway. I would always slowly peek around the doorway first, just to be sure. Even with my eyes adjusted to the dark, I couldn't see very far. The unknown was always a bit frightening.

The hallway led to other rooms, and soon I was wandering through most of the upstairs, constantly walking until my eyes grew heavier than my feet. My parents took me to a doctor and she asked me to describe the feeling in my legs. I told her it was just "the moving way." She smiled and seemed to know exactly what I meant. She said not to worry, I would eventually grow out of it. Sure enough, as I got older, the uncomfortable feeling in my legs disappeared, but my desire to wander did not.

In a few hours I leave for Australia. First stop is Cairns, and it's south from there. I started this blog to give my trip a hint of purpose. I've always thought people who spend their time constantly updating others of their activities and whereabouts are a little too self-absorbed. Maybe I am, I don't know. But I think in the end this site is for me. I enjoy writing and traveling. Combining the two seems like a good idea. And besides, a trip without a record just doesn't feel right. So check in from time to time if you'd like. You're more than welcome. I know my mom will.