Thursday, December 29, 2011

Departure of the Fam

The last few days we had been working our way back towards Sydney, making an overnight stop at Port Macquarie to break up the journey. Fortunately the looming threat of storms due to the cyclones in the north held off until the evening, allowing us to go to a Koala Bear Hospital on the edge of town. Danelle finally got to see her Koala's, and plenty of them. We spent about an hour and a half waking around the outdoor pens that held various Koala's with various injuries, some being rehabilitated and prepared to return to the wild, and some being too severely injured to ever leave the hospital.

We returned to Sydney to make a frustrating navigation of the city, to a hotel we had found near the airport. I must once again reiterate how F'd up Sydney's roads are. If you haven't drove on them before, don't. We arrived at the hotel to realize there was really nothing around, so after a couple hours of lazing in the room we caught the train to Darling Harbour to have a few drinks and some dinner. Thankfully for Danelle we didn't encounter any more large insects of arachnids during her last two days in Australia.

And that brings us to yesterday. We checked out of the hotel and said our goodbyes, the end of a great visit and great trip around Australia. It was great to see Mom and Danelle again, and it being the Christmas season made the visit so much better. Being away from family for one Christmas is enough for this guy, I don't think I would have done two in a row. Family is too important to not spend the holiday season with. I am sad that their gone and will miss them dearly, especially since the prospect of another year without seeing them lies ahead, but the powers of Skype and email will keep us close. Love you guys!

Last night was my first night in my new pad. I won't go into much detail, instead I'll do up a post about it in the New Year, complete with pictures. I'll just say that so far my roomates seem cool, and it should turn out to be a good place to live.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas

Best wishes to all my followers, straight from Australia! Thanks for taking the time to follow my adventures while a galavant around the globe. May you have have a Merry Christmas and happy holidays!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Time Is Here!

Ok I know this post is a little overdue, but here it is:

Our last two days in Sydney were packed with beer and food in Darling Harbour, followed by fireworks, shopping for the women (I split off and took a walk), and the Sydney Aquarium. One day we did a trip to the Blue Mountains, about two hours by train from Sydney. It turned out to be a great day despite the overcast weather. The mountains themselves are more like plateaus that drop down to a narrow valley below (they call it a canyon). We checked out the Three Sisters viewpoint and walked on to one of the Sisters (three rock spires). The town of Katoomba was really picturesque and cozy, with a main, cafe lined street that lead to the viewpoint. I thought at some point I would like to spend some time in that town.

On Sunday we rented a car and headed out for the town of Black Head, where the parents of my Mom's co-worker Allison kindly let us use their beach house. I'll start this off by ranting about Australian roads, just so we can get this out of the way. I didn't have much of a problem with the other side of the road thing, well except for hitting the curb and scraping up the hub cap the first time parking the car (I can feel a comment from Uncle Richard coming). Sydney's roads are complete chaos. Lane's end and form everywhere, light systems and unpredictable, and you constantly have to be vigilant due to the lack of signs. The highways are even worse. The main highway of the country, highway 1, is only divided double lane for half the way towards Brisbane, and is frequently punctuated by traffic circles and towns that bring the speed limit down to 50. The weirdest thing in the passing lanes. Of course since you drive on the left you keep left except to pass, but the passing lane doesn't end, the slow lane does! The left lane is forced to merge into the passing lane. Does this make sense to anyone? Because it doesn't to me. Ok I'm done.

The beach house was amazing. One hundred feet from the beach, it was a quaint cabin style beach house that has been in their family for seventy five years. The town itself is small and quiet, a perfect place to kick back and decompress from the hustle and bustle of Sydney. On Tuesday we were invited by Allison's parents, Errol and Pauline, to be shown around Forster/Tuncurry. A small beach side city who's mainstay is oyster farming and retirement, it's beaches were incredible. We would have never seen a fraction of what we saw if it hadn't been for those very pleasant people. Add another place where I would like to spend some time.

A couple more days at the beach house were spent doing exactly that: the beach. One of the most hilarious things was the nightly freak outs from the girls about the semi-outside bathroom. Not quite an outhouse, it was a fully plumbed and tiled bathroom, but a backyard stairway journey from the house, which becomes full of insects by nightfall if the light is left on. I became the Orkin man for the bathroom, having to kill bathroom cockroaches nightly.

And now we are in Byron Bay after a long, tired, frustrating car ride in the sweltering heat and humidity, trying to avoid using the air conditioning due to sore throats that Mom and I have had the past few days. The hotel we are staying at is pretty nice, a little ways away from the turmoil of Byron Bay. Danelle and Mom were very happy to have an attached bathroom. That night we had a good meal and beers at a local pub, and retired early. Danelle's bathroom rejoicing was quickly dashed. I got up in the middle of the night to take a leak, and in the process of turning on the light, triggered the need for her to do the same. I climbed back in bed only to hear a heart stopping gasp from the washroom, and Danelle's "holy fucking shit! Kyle! Kyle! Come here!". Not quite Huntsman size, it was one of the bigger spiders I've seen on my trip, about the size of the mouth of a coffee mug. It was time for Mom and I to swap bug killing duties, due to my dislike and fear of spiders. She did a hell of a job, first inhibiting it's mobility (partly) with hair spray then mashing it with the toilet brush. She instantly became our new hero. Now Danelle is completely on edge, and just about lost her shit when she opened the curtains and saw a spider on a web outside the window.

Today is Christmas Eve! We're not sure what we're going to do today, but tomorrow is going to be all about a huge seafood dinner. If I don't make it online tomorrow, Merry Christmas everyone!!!!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Fam

I awoke early on Sunday morning and caught the shuttle to the airport arriving just before my Mom and Danelle's flight. I took my spot at gate D in the arrival hall, where they would be exiting from, and waited. And waited. After an hour and watching a couple thousand people walk by, I was tapped on the shoulder. I turned around to see: Danelle! And Mom! Hugs followed.

After that we took the shuttle back into the city, to the apartment that Mom had booked for us to stay in. It was a shared accommodation type deal, where the owner of the apartment rents out rooms for people to stay in. So far the guy has been nice, but is obviously a reclusive nerd since he has hardly left his room for the three days we've been here, and isn't anything remotely close to social. Fine by me though, we can enjoy his very nice apartment in peace!

The past few days I've been showing Mom and Danelle around Sydney, being the valuable guide I am. And that's not an understatement, I (and they) can't imagine them(selves) negotiating the Sydney public transport system alone. Fortunately I am experienced with this system and can use it quite proficiently to my advantage. The first day we trained it to the Rocks, where we had a couple beers and walked around the outdoor markets, circling around below the bridge back to Circular Quay, and then down George Street.

The second day we headed back along George Street, mainly to the Queen Victoria Building, where Danelle had become mesmerized by the amount of shopping to be done there, and to Myer so they could buy an umbrella for the crappy amount of rain that had been coming down. After the shopping spree, we walked along Hyde Park and had a coffee, before returning to the apartment and heading out for some delicious Thai food.

Today the weather finally broke, allowing us to head to Manly after a walk around Chinatown and a meal of Dim Sim. The ferry to Manly was a little chilly but otherwise the weather was warm and the sun was shining. Unfortunately upon departing the apartment we didn't think the weather would have been this nice, and didn't don our swimwear, so we had to sit on the steps of the Manly Beach instead. After that we had a pint on the wharf, caught the ferry back, and wandered around until we had some pizza and called it a night!

As today exceeded our expectations in weather terms, hopefully tomorrow will as well. Bondi awaits!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Up Date

Less than twenty four hours until my Mom and Sister arrive! Yesterday was my last day of work for three weeks, and I did it on a hangover and two hours of sleep. Fuck I make bad decisions when I drink. Thankfully I still have some scrap of my youth that allows me to pull through these heavy sessions. As far as work goes, things look good on that front. I was invited to come work there after the New Year, which I will most likely do simply for the paycheck. An update on the TasRail job: after I was called by the lawyer saying that their calls to TasRail had not been returned, I lit a fire under they're asses and now the visa application has been filed, one month behind schedule. Hopefully next week I should find out if the first step is approved and if the next five month step will go ahead.

One more update: I got an apartment! Not one of my own, Sydney is too damn expensive for that, but as long as it's not a hostel, it's all good. It's a new, modern apartment in Waterloo that has a massive balcony and amazing views of Sydney. I will be sharing a room with one other guy, and there's six other people in the large, three bedroom apartment. The complex has a fitness club-sized gym with a large pool, sauna, and hot tub, which I think will be a great place to meet new people.

Tomorrow I go to meet my Mom and Sister at the airport, and from there we will head to an apartment in downtown Sydney to spend a week at, touring around Sydney and hopefully making a trip to the Blue Mountains. On the 18th we head up to Blackhead to stay at a beach house that is owned by the parents of my Mom's coworker. On the 22nd we head up to the famed Byron Bay to spend Christmas!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

More Sydney

Things in Sydney are still progressing in the right direction. I scored a full time job through a labour agency, doing manufacturing work, finishing tables and chairs that are used in private schools. Mostly I do powder coating, which is spraying powdered paint that turns into gloss when baked in an oven. I did find out the other day that powder coating works by sticking to the surface by static electricity, electricity being the prime word here. So basically DO NOT touch the metal object you are spraying. You will get electricuted. I found this out the hard way. It's paying the bills, and that makes me happy.

As far as life at the hostel goes, I'm beginning to realize that the crowd here is not the same as it was the last time I was here, instead there are a bunch of snobby Brits that seem to think they're better than anyone not British. I heard that the Empire had been dissolved a long time ago, but I guess they still have the Falklands. I'm starting to feel like I should find a real house soon, maybe for the new year. The backpacker scene here is much different from anywhere I've been, and it's time I should try to make my original plan of settling down in Australia for a bit come true. That and staying in the hostel for a week over New Years Eve would cost me $990 for accommodation. I'd rather fly to Indonesia for a week than pay that, and I'm sure I would spend less...

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Chi

Things are finally coming together! My work situation has been great; I worked yesterday, half a day today, have work on Monday, possibly Tuesday, and for sure on Wednesday and Thursday. And if that's not enough, last night at Tranny Bingo (an event the hostel goes to; bingo hosted by transvestites) I won $150!!! Needless to say I'm going out for some well earned beers tonight. I think beer pong is going on tonight...

My chi is slowly being re-aligned. Being back at the Blue Parrot and among friends has been great so far, and is exactly what I needed. And word from my Mom and Sister today is that they're going to be here for three weeks in December. Life is great once again.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Back To Square One

Square one being Sydney. My yesterday evening flight became more delayed, and more delayed, until it was finally cancelled outright at the airport. Bad weather (because of the crazy humidity and heat here) made the flight late getting into Hobart, then unable to fly to Sydney due to the Sydney Airport not accepting flight between 23:00 and 05:00. We were then shuttled back to Hobart where Jetstar put us up in a hotel for the night. Since I had no plans and didn't need to be in Sydney right away, this worked out great for me. In addition to a free breakfast I also received a fifty dollar credit from Jetstar, which will definitely come in handy at some point on my trip.

So now I'm back in the city I started in, back in the hostel I had a great time in, and back among friends. The biggest difference is that it's hot here. I have landscaping work lined up for tomorrow and Friday, and I think I'm going to sweat like crazy.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Back to the Main Land

The past few days I've had to make some adjustments to attempt to straighten out my situation for the next month. This new job of mine turned out to be a false hope; I was scheduled for a whopping four hours next week, and was told it would be like that the following week, then it would be increased to a mind blowing twelve hours! I'm not sure how they figured a person could survive on that, but this guy obviously can't, and won't. I walked in there today and quit. After that I returned to the hostel where I booked a flight back to Sydney. And back to the Blue Parrot I go, the awesome hostel where I had a great five weeks, and hopefully another five. I figure I should be able to score some more labour work while I'm there and hopefully come out a little ahead for when my Mom and Sister arrive in December. After that I plan to bear down and work work work, and hopefully turn the tables of a trip to Australia that right now is looking like a mistake. Four thousand dollars and my best photographic work down from where I was before I came here goes completely against my 'forward only' philosophy, and this frustrates me to a severe degree.

Fingers crossed. That's all I can do right now.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


This hostel is bizarre. Two old people are watching Christmas songs off a DVD in the common room, an older bald guy that must have Tourettes (his head shakes violently when he has his face pressed up to his computer screen) just walked around the kitchen in his underwear and a jean shirt. This place is fucking weird...

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Wine Glasses and Dissenting

On Thursday I rented a car with a Dutch girl I met at the hostel and took off to Wine Glass Bay, a scenic area north of Hobart. The drive was very scenic, and the day was clear and beautiful. It felt good just to drive a car again. It was my first time driving a car on the left side of the road; the driving part wasn't really the problem, it was the orientation of everything inside the car. I kept on turning on the windshield wipers when I wanted to signal, and I kept on reaching over my left shoulder to fasten my seatbelt, only to be swatting at thin air.

Wine Glass Bay was very beautiful. We started by wandering around Coles Bay, on the other side of the mountain, first, then heading up to the viewpoint over Wine Glass Bay. I found the viewpoint to mediocre, but when we headed down the mountain and hit the beach, it was far from mediocrity. The white sand was fine, much like a Thai beach. The water was cold as balls, however. My feet were more than I wanted to immerse in it. We took another way back to the parking lot, which lead around the mountain we crossed to get to the beach. The path wasn't very exciting, the highlight of it a pleasant beach that had a mother Wallaby with a Joey.

On Friday I started my new job at the Kathmandu outdoor gear store. I was really thrown to the wolves this first time round by being put on the sales floor without knowing anything about the store or it's products, but simply telling people I didn't really know much but would help them out was a more than adequate response for them. One kick ass part of the day was when I received a voucher for an employee discount of 70% off for anything in the store. Time to buy some new gear!

Yesterday I braved the soggy, shit ass weather and headed out to the Parliament Grounds to take part in the Occupy Movement, a worldwide protest that's been ongoing around the world, aimed at stopping corporate greed. It started out well, but seemed to lose it's steam quickly. The message started to get blurred when everyone split off into groups to talk about different aspects of civil liberties, workers rights, etc. It slowly became more of a forum than a protest, like there was no fight in anyone. However, it was good to see the Australian point of view on the matter, and the fact that the crowd was diverse, a bold sign that more and more people are taking notice of this world problem.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Plugging the Money Drain

I can finally stop the steady drain of funds from my back account, now that I have a job! On Monday I got hired on at a local outdoor gear store, doing retail work. It's not many hours right now, but hopefully that will change within the next month. On the TasRail job front, I had an interview with an immigration lawyer they hired for me on Tuesday, and she told me that with my qualifications, I had a good chance of getting a work residence visa. The only downside to this is that it might take up to six months to process the visa. I can only hope that the paperwork goes through quickly enough to trim some time off this. Although it's not totally bad, if I have to wait that long then in the New Year I'll spend it doing some farm or winery work to build up funds, then travel with the time I have left. I do still want to do Indonesia...

Sunday, October 23, 2011

To Prison and Back

On Tuesday the Dad and I took a day tour to Port Arthur. The first half of the tour was a speedboat ride around the peninsula to see the spectacular coastal cliffs around Port Arthur. They were exactly that, spectacular. The maneuverable little boat took us right into coastal caves and to the open ocean to view some feeding dolphins. We cruised along the coast sighting seals and enjoying the views. Apparently we had hit this on an absolutely perfect day; calm seas and completely sunny skies are somewhat of a rarity around there. Four hours later we were back in Port Arthur to tour around the Port Arthur Prison, an old penal colony built by the British hundreds of years ago. It was a great historical site in terms of beauty and substance alike. We toured around for a couple hours, checking out the crumbling buildings that once housed some of the most dangerous criminals in the British Empire.

Wednesday was spent drinking beer on a patio under the warm sun, a good end to my Dad's trip in Australia. And the next day he was off to Sydney bright and early, spending a day there before heading back to Canada. It was good to see him again, it had been so long since I've seen any of the family I miss dearly. Now I'm back on my own again, back to my own devices. I checked into a small hostel again, another cozy, friendly one, the type I prefer to the larger ones. The only drawback is that it is quiet here, and lots of people tend to keep to themselves. Maybe I'll just have to wander the halls singing to break the ice.

On Friday I headed out to the local Exhibition with a couple girls from the hostel. Much like Capital Ex back home (but on a small scale), it really showed how farm-oriented and redneck Tasmania really is. We watched a wood chopping competition, laughed our asses off at pig racing, and strolled through markets full of Affliction T-shirts and Southern American rebel trucking carpets, you know, the ones with the American Flag and Eagle and shit on them. It was a pretty good time though, and a good way to spend an afternoon in the sun.

The weekend wasn't too eventful, mainly just handing out resumes in an effort to plug the drain of funds from my bank account, and rugby. The New Zealand/France game was a hell of a game, with the All Blacks winning by one point! The game also put in perspective the rivalry between Australia and New Zealand, and just how disrespectful they can be towards each other. The bar we were at was ignorant enough to have a live band playing during the World Cup final, and at the end, instead of showing New Zealand receiving the trophy, the program immediately changed to some shitty Vampire show. I find this absolutely fucking disgusting. Even though there's a huge rivalry between Canada and the USA, we still keep the channel on when they hoist the Stanley Cup in the air, for god sakes. GOOD ON YOU NEW ZEALAND!!!

Tomorrow I meet with the immigration lawyer to discuss my visa issues, hopefully so I can get that job at TasRail

Monday, October 17, 2011

Welcome To Da Island

The last day in Melbourne was spent searching for a new netbook to replace my tragic loss, and getting high above Melbourne itself. We took an elevator to the eighty eighth floor of the Eureka Tower, where the observation deck (the highest in the Southern Hemisphere) gives amazing views of urban Melbourne. It was a good thing we waiting until that day, because it turned out to be the nicest in terms of weather and visibility.

The next day we had a hard landing in Hobart. Hard due to the crazy wind shear that was throwing our plane around the runway like it had no business being there. And so started the legacy of the weather in Hobart. It definitely isn't the highlight of this city so far; The first two days were windy and rainy. However, it was nice today and is supposed to be really nice tomorrow, but locals tell is it truly is a four season day around here.

I was pleasantly pleased with Hobart. I had expectations of a quiet, low key city, but the city surpassed that. For all you who have been to British Columbia, Canada, it is like a cross between Nelson and Vancouver, combining old colonial architecture and vibrancy with a modern seaside city full of culture.

Mainly we've been walking around, checking out the streets of the city. It really is a beautiful place; the old stone architecture and the shop lined streets give it the feel of a small town in a big city. The people seem to fit that stigma, too. We've met a few that seem very nice and have that isolated, townie attitude; old school and content with their surroundings. I haven't picked up a clique feeling from them yet, which makes me happy. There are tons of small cafes and restaurants here, many of them built into old, converted brick and stone homes. Tomorrow we head to Port Arthur to see the sight of the original penal colony, where convicts were brought from Britain over two hundred years ago.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The past 24 hours have been a roller coaster, to say the least. We've done two tours the past couple days, one a day trip down the Great Ocean Road, the other a a day trip to Phillip Island, site of a penguin march. The Great Ocean Road trip was pretty good. The weather could have been better, but the Australian coastline is amazing. I'm really looking forward to exploring the rest of the coast of this country after seeing this chunk. The high ocean bluffs present amazing views of the turbulent seas below, some of the beaches offering some of the best surfing in the country.

The next day (yesterday) is where things get interesting. The weather was amazing and the group was friendly. We started the tour off at a Wallabee sanctuary where we got to feed some, and then to a sheep farm to learn about sheep shearing. After that we stopped off at a Koala sanctuary to see some of the furry critters. They lazily lounge in the tree tops, making themselves easy photographic subjects for the gawky tourists below. They turned out to be a lot bigger than I thought! I figured they might weigh around twenty pounds, but they grow up to a lofty one hundred pounds! I guess it's easy to put on weight when you sleep twenty hours a day.

The next sights were the pinnacle of the tour. We stopped off at Woolamai Beach, a huge beach that seemed to stretch for miles. Arriving there at 5pm made for perfect late afternoon photographs. After that we went to the Nobbies, a peninsula where thousands of gulls nest on it's hills. The views of the setting sun along the coastline were some of the best I've seen in my entire trip. Unfortunately it was at this point my camera battery decided to die. Not to worry, though, I will be back there at some point. After the sun set we headed to a nearby beach where the penguins emerge from the ocean to return to their nest at night. This was actually a big tourist trap, with bleachers built into the shoreline, chalk full of Chinese tourists who constantly stand up in front of you, blocking your view. It was still cool to see the little penguins cautiously emerge from the waves and wait by the rocks, making a mad dash up the sand when they think it's safe.

When we returned to the hotel is when my luck turned to shit. After one year of traveling in some of the poorest countries in the world, thinking for sure either my netbook or my camera would be stolen in PNG, instead my netbook gets stolen in Australia, a country where I should feel more at ease from these worries. During the time we were at the tour, somebody had broken in through the window of our room and swiped my computer. And nearly all my pictures from Papua New Guinea and the Philippines. I don't even care about the computer, but losing the thousands of a amazing photos from the most photographically magical places and festivals a person can see is heartbreaking. I just wish that person knew really how much they've stolen from me. And I wish I had caught and beat the living shit out of them, too. Fortunately they didn't get my external hard drive, so with that and one last SD card with PNG pics, I still have a few days worth, but only a small fraction of what I had. It's funny, as I was preparing an SD card full of pictures from the Mt Hagen Festival in PNG to shoot for the tour, I hesitated before deleting them. Lesson learned: trust the gut. After that, I needed a few beers. Conveniently, that day was the last day of my month challenge of not drinking. After midnight, I got drunk. Very drunk.

The next day seemed to lift my spirits, if only for a brief moment. I received a call from TasRail, with the news I got the train driver job I had been hoping for. My worries were mostly lifted, I had a great paying job that guaranteed my goals would be accomplished. I headed to a local computer store to get a new case for my hard drive and look at net books. And that's when I got the call from TasRail saying there would be a problem sponsoring me for a work visa. Apparently the only way it can be done is for the company to nominate me, which will only be accepted if there is a listed shortage of Australian workers for that field. And for train drivers, there apparently isn't one, even though TasRail could only find three qualified drivers (including me) to fill seven positions. Australia is the worst bureaucratically bullshit country I've ever seen. So now my future at TasRail is in the hands of a immigration worker that said I have a ten percent chance of being approved. Not favorable odds. Understandably, TasRail wont hire me for six months, only to spend two training me. I have been brought up and torn down hard twice in twenty four hours, of which have been some of the worst of my life. I hope karma will bring some good my way soon, because I know I have some saved up, and right now I need it more than ever.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Going Nationally Geographic

In my attempt to turn my photography hobby into some of a career, I've entered a photo into the National Geographic 2011 Photography Contest. If any of you that read this would like to support me in my endeavor, please follow the link, if you have Facebook, click the "like" button below my picture.

My National Geographic Photo Entry

A little background on the photo in case you're wondering: it was taken on the summit of Kala Pattar, a peak that affords views of Mt. Everest. It was a beautiful day on the way up the mountain, with the exception of the stinging wind that howled around us. My friend, Emin, climbed up on the edge of the cliff and I managed to snap a few shots of him, capturing his figure in the top left corner of this amazing vista. Right after that was taken we quickly had to descend as a huge cloud bank was blowing in from the South, and it would have been dangerous to be exposed on that mountain in a storm.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Arrival of the Father Unit

It's been about five days since my Dad arrived in Melbourne, and it was damn good to see him again. I checked out of my hostel to go meet him at the airport and move to a nicer guest house, taking the airport shuttle. I arrived there about an hour before his flight was due to arrive, and upon grabbing a coffee, got a call from him telling me he missed his connecting flight and wouldn't be getting to Melbourne for another four hours. I caught the shuttle back into the city and checked into the hotel. After a while I headed up to the rooftop patio to enjoy the beautiful weather and make a call to the HR lady at TasRail about my upcoming interview. I walk onto the roof, my face pointed down toward my phone as I'm walking. As I walk around the corner I look to the right and there, sitting on one of the couches, is a woman sunning herself, completely naked as the day she was born. She sees me and blurts out an "Oh my God!". I stand there for a second or two processing how to react to this; she's shocked yet she's sitting on a rooftop with half of downtown Melbourne in big, windowed offices above and around her. I blurt out a half assed apology and walk away smiling from a big breasted introduction to this new hotel.

When Dad shows up he's brought my resupply of Kraft Dinner, which I desperately needed a fix of. KD in Australia sucks, the cheese comes in a tin can and looks like a cross between Cheez Whiz and Jello, and it's gooey as fuck when you mix it in. And he brought me a Canadian Rugby Jersey that I had been searching for here, but unfortunately the medium size in a rugby jersey is anything but medium. Hopefully it will be an easy fix to get a different size. I exchanged some gifts with him as well; a shirt and a hat I bought from Papua New Guinea.

The past few days we've been sightseeing around Melbourne, making good use of the free tourist bus that stops at various tourist locations around the city. We've wandered through the unique cafe-lined narrow alleyways in downtown Melbourne, seen the Botanical Gardens, done some shopping in the Central Market, and wandered around the boring Harbor Town, which turned out to be a giant shopping center. We've been sampling the great food selection that Melbourne has to offer, so far dumplings, Mexican, Greek and Italian food have been some highlights. We've been hoping to go check out the 88th floor skydeck above Melbourne's downtown, but yesterday, the day we wanted to go, turned out to be the haziest day so far, and today isn't much better. Though we do have time. On Tuesday we'll be setting off on a two day tour of the Great Ocean Road, a stretch of highway supposedly scenicly comparable to California's Route 101.

I had my second interview for the train driver job in Tasmania, and it went really well. The people that interviewed me bragged up Tasmania quite well, I'm hoping a move formulated to make me want to stay there. I was told I'll hear back from them by next Thursday at the latest, so until then, my fingers are crossed!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Follow Thy Gut

I’ve been here a couple days in Melbourne, and I can definitely say it’s been different than Sydney. First off, Melbourne itself seems much different. It’s more calm here, there’s less hustle and bustle than there is in Sydney, you feel the rush around mentality much less here. Melbourne is a beautiful city, a nice mix of modern and colonial architecture. The downtown core nicely straddles the Yarra River, making for a nice stroll. And I must say the weather is definitely different. Sydney seems to stay pretty constant for the whole day, while Melbourne will fluctuate in temperature and conditions throughout the day. Take today for instance. It started out a nice, warm, sunny day that invited me out for a walk, only to finish two hours later in a cold breeze with threatening rain clouds overhead. And it’s been raining for the past three hours. The rain has been keeping me inside most of my time here, but I have managed to get out and do some walking around. I’m pretty familiar with the riverside area and some of the downtown core, and today I discovered a nice open market about five minutes from my hostel, with a great selection of deli’s, fish, coffee and vegetables.

And on to my hostel. This has been the biggest contrast of all. Coming from a fifty bed, low key hostel to the gong showed monstrosity that I’m in now has been quite the shock to the balls, so to speak. It really puts in perspective how great life in the Blue Parrot Hostel was. I was able to chill out on the back patio every day and socialize with the group that because of the size of the hostel, becomes quite tight knit. This place I’m in now is nothing short of insane, there’s so many people here, it’s almost overwhelming. I’ve been cooking in the afternoon and storing leftovers for the night simply because I don’t want to venture into the insanity den of a kitchen, packed with more people than it was designed for. I think from now on I’ll try to stick to the more low key, smaller hostels. Though for the next couple weeks I won’t have to worry about that; I’ll be splitting a room with my Dad when he gets in on Monday.

On the job front, things aren’t progressing, yet they are. I wasn’t able to land any work in Melbourne this week, BUT I did get a call today from TasRail for a second interview next week. And lone behold, they wanted to fly me to Melbourne for it! It looks as if following my gut instinct has proven correct after all.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Rainy Sunday Sydney Finale

In the spirit of a crappy, rainy day in Sydney, an American, Andrew, and I decided to try and spend the afternoon at a local strip club, which are basically everywhere in Kings Cross. Upon arriving inside one, it instantly turned weird. Instead of the basic setup of a North American strip club with a runway and a bar-like setup, we instead found ourselves in a dark room with nobody else, with some folding chairs in front of an empty stage. We turned to leave but were intercepted by a dirty old Italian man who asked us if we wanted to see a show. I replied that we were just looking to chill out and have a couple drinks and watch a dance or two. "Do you want sex?" was the reply. "No", I said. He told us to wait and disappeared into a back room, our cue for a rapid exit. While half jogging down the stairs a woman who, from her attire, was clearly a stripper stopped us and asked us if we wanted a dance. I repeated my original response, and was informed that no other place has shows before 9pm, and that a show for us would cost two hundred and fifty dollars. Dollars, not Yen. I indicated this was much more than we were looking to spend, and in turn received a rude response about here in Australia Australians have to work for their money, which I have yet to see put into action. I looked at her beer gut and gave her a well-wished "good luck".

On that note I'm glad I'm moving on from Sydney, and more importantly King's Cross. I'm hoping my bus ride to Melbourne tomorrow takes me to the place I've heard so many positive things about. I know that wherever I end up, I'll make the most out of it and still have a good time. My philosophy these days. And with the thought of seeing my Dad in one week, who I haven't seen in over a year, all I can be is happy.

Monday, September 19, 2011


Unfortunately there was no success with the railroad job. Fortunately I have a phone interview on Friday for a train driver job in Tasmania. Hopefully this bears fruit, because after being here for a month I'm in the position where the realization that I'm not accomplishing my goal of saving money is starting to hit home. I think I'll give Sydney another week before I head somewhere else to try and find some work. I can't help but hope that coming to Australia won't set me back in the long run.

Still going strong with the thirty day challenge. Six days in and not a drop consumed.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The One Month Challenge

Last night was the final bender for this guy for a while. One of the managers from the hostel was leaving after working here for many months, so for his departure a local night club threw him a Disney themed party. Everyone from the hostel dressed up as a Disney character. Naturally, due to my impressive facial hair I was nominated to dress up as Jafar from the movie Aladdin (picture to follow). Armed with a giant towel on my head and a cobra staff made from a broom handle and a goon box (goon is the shit boxed wine), I rocked it hard and got plenty of compliments on my attire.

Due to this heavy session I am now challenging myself not to drink for thirty days, starting today. Mark the day, I cannot consume a drop of alcohol until October 13th. I figure this is going to quite difficult due to the abundance of microbreweries and hostel drinking events that are constantly in my face. Wish me luck!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

I'm A Working Man Doing the Best I Can

This post is being typed from the inter city train from Newcastle to Sydney, returning from an interview for a Railway Network Controller, which I am confident I aced. The whole idea of coming to Australia was to make money to travel further. Pure and simple. I figured taking a job as a train driver would be a quick and easy way to make more than enough money to accomplish that, but as far as things were looking that wasn’t going to be as easily attainable as I had previously thought. So I basically threw out resumes for any railway job I could find, and lone behold I get a call back for this position. The opportunity being clear to me, I jumped on the three hour train ride to Newcastle with haste. The interview went smoothly, and now I return to the hustle and bustle of Sydney.

For a while I had been contemplating moving to Newcastle anyways, and today was a good opportunity to scout out a future home for myself. From what I saw during a quick stroll around the city centre, it could be good and it could be bad. It definitely has that low key feeling down, sort of like a small town in a decent sized city. It was funny to see people walking around downtown in bikini’s and board shorts (downtown is right on the beach). The bad is that it could be possibly white trashish. I did see some quite hickish looking people, which is always a presence in a strictly blue collar city that Newcastle is. It sort of reminded me of pictures of the old neighbourhoods in the American port cities like Baltimore or Boston. Either way it remains to be seen how I’ll actually like Newcastle, but I know whatever my situation turns out to be, I’ll make the best of it.

On the work note, I have managed to get a couple shifts of labour work. Last Friday I did some landscaping work for cash in hand, and on Monday I was called for a shift unloading twenty five kilo sacks of potato starch from sea cans onto pallets. I calculated that I lifted roughly ten tons that day. And I get to do it all over again tomorrow! As ball busting as that manual labour is, it’s money in the bank. And if I do that regularly, I definitely won’t need to be hitting up a gym!

I managed to do some more sightseeing the other day as well. A bunch of us from the hostel donned our beach wear and took the ferry to Manly Beach for the afternoon. Apparently we were a day late. It was not a hot day by any means. Not even warm for that matter. I sat on the beach in board shorts and a hoodie and didn't dare jump in the freezing cold water. All in all it was a nice beach that will turn out to be a great spot in summertime if I'm still in Sydney.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Are You Looking for Work?

I put up an add on Gumtree a couple days ago advertising myself as available for labour work. The next two out of three responses were a little strange. The first one went like this:
Person "Hi, I saw your add on Gumtree for labour work. Are you looking for construction work?"
Kyle the Great "Yes I am."
Person "When are you available?"
Kyle the Great "Tomorrow if you have some work."
Person "Ok, what pay rate do you ask for?"
Kyle the Great "I don't know, what are you offering?"
Person "$350 a day cash in hand."
Kyle the Suspicious "What kind of work is it?"
Person "Well basically I'm looking for men with good bodies to show them off."
Kyle the Creeped Out "Ummm I'm not really looking for that kind of work."
Creeper Delux "Ok thank you."

I know I sound very masculine and sexy on the phone, but after losing nearly thirty pounds in one year, I am no longer stripper material, or material for whatever that supercreep had in mind. The next response was a text offering a job cleaning or massaging, which is quite the odd combination. I declined. Finally a legit one came in, a guy looking for a labourer for a day to do some landscaping work. The downer to it was I had to wake up at 4:30am to catch the first train out of Sydney to the location over an hour away. The day was filled with a ton of shoveling work, moving heavy wheel barrows and planting plants. It was tough, and my muscles are already sore, but it feels good to have to done a solid day of hard work. And the one hundred and fifty straight up dollars I earned sings from my pocket. And the labour agency I was hired at gave me some work for Monday! The ball is rolling, however slowly, it is rolling.

Now I'm going to take the weekend off and finally do some sightseeing!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Week 1.5

I'm sitting here typing this post with eyes as red as strawberries from the foam party I went to last night. Moans of agony can be heard from nearly everyone in the hostel, and eye drops are in short supply and high demand. It was a great time, a whirlwind of music and bubbles. You basically go like this: stand in the middle of the dance floor and dance your ass off while mounds of foam get doused on you from the canon above, then wander off the dance floor half blind as the foam starts seeping into your eyes. The turned into my favorite part of the night. As I reached the bar area, looking like the abominable soapman, I would try my best to rub against all the uptight losers who were trying to stay out of the a foam party.

After hearing this I'm sure you're thinking I'm not doing a very good job of staying out of the party scene. And you would be half right. It is difficult when you don't have a job and everyone is going out every night. I've booked a room in the hostel until next Thursday, and after that it's go time. If I don't have a job by then, it will be time to make a move to another place or accommodation. Yesterday things started to come together: I got my White Card and my Tax File Number, and had a job interview. It turned out to be for a labour agency instead of a real job, but I guess it's something. We'll see if it bears any fruit.

I've been wrestling with wear to head next, and the two choices are Newcastle or Melbourne. Newcastle is a smaller city on the edge of a mining region (which could mean lots of work), but everyone says go to Melbourne. Apparently it's been voted one of the most liveable cities in the world. I'll figure it out next week.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Great Experiment: Kyle In the West

It has officially begun. The experiment of Kyle's return to Western society. So far, meh. I've found myself checked into a hostel in the backpackers area of Sydney, immersed again in the "backpacking" scene full of travelers who are here chasing a party, thinking this is traveling. I've been doing my damnedest to keep myself out of this scene. I went out two nights when I first arrived, simply to blow of some steam. The first night turned out to be pretty lame, except for placing third in a pool competition. The second night was a little cooler. I went to a silent disco, which is basically a club where there's no music played except through the headphones every person is given. Two DJ's play on separate channels, so you could end up dancing with a bunch of people, grooving to a wicked track, and discover the confusion that arises when they start singing a totally different one.

Anyways, my desire to be in a night club ends there. The past couple nights I've abstained from going out with the usual crowd, only to here phrases like "you're not coming out?" or "don't you like girls?". Hearing the latter makes it hard for me to not say things like "I'm better than you". I don't think it's possible to tell people here that that's not what I came to Australia for, I did the party thing for four months straight in SE Asia, and now the objective is to work, make money and get the fuck out of the West again.

Being back in the city again is different. In some ways it's good, but in others it's bad. It's nice to have the amenities, but being back in the plastic society (especially because I'm downtown) makes me want to leave. Basically the past five days have been spent situating myself for Australia, getting my OH&S White Card, opening a bank account, getting a tax file number, etc. When I receive these things I'm thinking I'll bail out of Sydney (or opt for a non-backpacker suburb if I get a job here) in favor of a smaller setting.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Touchdown Sydney

Where have I landed? Aspects of this place seem hazy but have a glimmer of memory to me. Where is this place where cars stop to let me cross the road? The buildings look modern here. Taxi’s use meters? Pizza is actually served by an Italian guy! Hot water comes out of the tap so quickly here. I wasn’t expecting it, I almost scalded myself. Rules of the road? There are rules? Seatbelts? They don’t make you safe, they just make it hard to bail out of the car. People don’t pronounce L’s as R’s, weird. Jeans are supposed to cost $20, not $200! I think somebody put the decimal point in the wrong place on the beer flyers. Why is it so cold here? I can’t wear flip flops without looking like an asshole? Where am I? What is this place? WHERE THE FUCK IS KYLE!!???

End of the First Leg

It’s been nearly one year since I left home. What a year it has been. I hope these words come to me easily, there’s so much to write on here. It seems overwhelming to think about how long I’ve been gone for and how much territory I’ve covered. I’ve seen so many amazing things and met so many amazing people. I’ve hiked the highest mountains in the world, roamed a desert on a camel and scuba dived amazing reefs.

What should I say here? Have traveling changed me? You bet it has. I can definitely say I have a new way of thinking and looking at the world. I’ve really come to see how trivial and superficial life can be in the West. Get a good career, buy a house and fill it full of Ikea, Martha Stewart and Japanese electronics. Become a slave. I’ve come to realize how much more enriching it is to experience life through yourself instead of through a television. Seeing a nice beach or mountain scene on the TV can look amazing, but you can never soak it in like you can while standing in that same spot. Breath in the air, take that moment of tranquility and it will be the best thing you’ve ever done. Quit that job or take a leave of absence and travel, it will be the most rewarding experience you’ve ever had.

They say traveling broadens the mind, and I agree, it does. Being completely willing to break out of the comfort zone, drop the guard and open the mind brings in a tsunami of experiences that will enrich life. Don’t be afraid of the bad experiences, they make for some of the best stories. Being pick pocketed by Cambodian hookers made for one of the funniest stories of my trip. Nobody will care when you describe how amazing the room in your resort was or how many pina coladas you drank, but they’ll listen when you say how a Rajasthani sand dune blew in through the window of your train compartment or how you had to flush cockroaches down the shower drain of your shitty guest house. I did that numerous times.

Now that this leg of my trip is over, I can take my experiences back to the West and hopefully cast my worldly mind on it, maybe even make a difference. I’m going to make a valiant attempt at not getting sucked back into the monotonous life I was leading back home. Now begins the great experiment: Kyle’s return to the Western Society.

Combination Wrap-Up

Combination. That’s the word of the day today. My bus to the airport stopped for half an hour to await a connection with another bus, making me nervously close to the check in cutoff time for my flight. Only when I arrived there did I find out they pushed the flight back from 7:30am to 10:30am. The reason was they had combined two flights that day into one. It turned out to be not such a bad thing, however, I had free wifi to keep me busy for the three hours, then also the forth when the flight was delayed. Again I was nervous, this time about my 2:30pm connection out of Port Moresby. The plane was delayed no further and I was able to board. Thankfully I wasn’t last in line. An unlucky couple that were last in line were turned away from the plane on the tarmac when the plane turned out to be overbooked. I’ve heard of hotels being overbooked, but a plane? Anyways, I arrived in Port Moresby at 1pm and queued into the check in line, about a mile long due to another combination of two Air Niugini flights. I finished checking in ten minutes before the boarding time and finished my customs process and security check, arriving at the gate with barely enough time for a quick pre-flight piss.

So here’s the Papua New Guinea wrap up. During the whole ten months of traveling I had been looking forward to traveling this country, thinking of it as my pinnacle destination. It sure lived up to it. Although it’s still hard to pick a favourite out of Nepal, the Philippines and PNG, I can definitely say I had the richest experiences of my trip here. Never before have I felt so welcomed to a country by the locals, who seemed only too eager to show us their culture and customs. I’ve seen some incredible displays of culture and scenery, ranging from a jungle engulfed river to a breathtaking coastline to a high altitude mountain peak. I’ve checked a couple life goals off my list by seeing the Baining Fire Dance and climbing an active volcano. PNG truly is the land of the unexpected, a true treasure chest of adventure for those willing to open it for themselves. The whole time building up to this country all I heard was negative things about it: it’s unsafe, you’ll get eaten by cannibals, you’ll get killed by a tribe, bla bla bla. The lesson learned from traveling here: when you hear anything from an Australian about PNG, don’t fucking listen to them. If you have no business interests or aren’t a member of a clan, you’ll be fine. Don’t flash money and don’t wander around at night. You wouldn’t have any reason to do the latter in this country anyways, there’s simply nothing to do at night.

The good: The people. You’ll never find so many friendly people in the West as I’ve met in PNG. I can guarantee that, stamped, signed and sealed. Every stroll around town we were greeted with smiles and handshakes. Numerous people invited us to stay with them, and the ones that we did stay with completely surrendered themselves to giving us the most enjoyable experience we could possibly have. Notably among these are Augustine from New Ireland, Jonathan and his family from Bangus, and Cliff from the village outside of Mt. Hagen who’s name escapes me. The wilderness. It’s hard to find truly untouched wilderness like you can find in Papua New Guinea. Being in the jungle there makes it easy to believe that they are constantly discovering new species every year, as does it when you’re diving the pristine reefs of New Ireland. The culture. Some of the strongest I’ve seen in my travels. It was incredible to see people still living as they have done for the past hundreds of years, possibly thousands. I must also include the food here too. Not so much the meals themselves, but the fresh vegetables and fruit. The biggest and tastiest bananas, amazing sweet potatoes, fresh coconuts, exotic tropical fruit, and the freshest and tastiest vegetables I’ve ever had were some of things I got to enjoy.

The bad. The costs. I spent easily twice what I have in every other month of my travels. Thankfully traveling with Matt and being hosted in villages managed to cut the costs down substantially, as well as our breaks we caught with the Tourism PNG people in the Sepik. Flights were what killed us. They cost more per kilometre than they do in Canada, and often you have no choice but to take them due to the lack of road infrastructure in PNG. There’s hardly any tourism infrastructure in place for backpackers, the majority of it being geared towards corporate tourism, which is another reason hotels can charge the outrageous amounts they do. One thing I hate seeing is the way people are treated here. Abandoned is a good word. Abandoned by a government who’s officials are only concerned with lining their own pockets, stealing money from the future generations who have no choice but to tolerate the deteriorating education, health care and infrastructure systems. The violence here is also a major eyesore. It was hard to comprehend and accept how the local clans can war with each other over such petty things. The amount of alcohol abuse here is disturbing as well. Like I’ve said before, it’s common to see many young men pissed drunk in the morning or early afternoon, and it’s a given that they’ll be all over the streets at night (the chief reason you don’t wander around at night). Amazing as the culture is here, it’s dying quickly. It was sad to see that the young generation has no desire to continue the traditions of their fathers and grandfathers, instead opting to move towards the modern world which is leaving theirs behind quickly. Many times we were told there’s a story to this or that, only to inquire and be told they can’t tell us the story because it would take a whole day to explain. An obvious excuse for not being privy to the story.

The costs: PNG is EXPENSIVE. I spent more than double than what I would have in any other Asian country, and we did it very cheaply in comparison to most tourists here. I won’t break it up completely this time, but I spent a total of roughly $3900, onward flight included.

All in all I’m so glad I was able to visit this country and see the wonders it contains. Because of the culture death that is taking place, I feel very lucky to have had the means to come see these things before all that remains of them is pages in a history book. Apo sin! (middle Sepik greeting/farewell)

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Lifting Me Highlands and Higher

The jolt of the airplane hitting the runway announced our arrival into the highlands, one of the most unpredictable places in Papua New Guinea. We collected our luggage and jumped into a PMV with some other tourists, among them a Romanian named Horia, who we had met in the Sepik, and his friend Cliff, a local who was hosting Horia through Couch Surfing. We had managed to secure a reservation at the Goldline Lodge by calling from the Sepik a week prior, a necessity during the time of the Mt. Hagen Cultural Show, one of the two most important Highland festivals. Unfortunately for us, we arrived at the hotel to find out the owner had died two days earlier and the hotel was being occupied by family who were in town for the funeral the following day. The manager was kind enough to offer us a room, but we took his insistence about being disturbed by wailing family members as a subtle hint that we should look elsewhere for accommodation. He and some of the staff were even more kind enough to drive us around to look for another place to stay. After looking at a hotel where a stay there would guarantee us annoyance by drunks, we called Horia to ask Cliff for advice.

After talking to Cliff we met up with them at his office and were invited to stay with them at Cliff’s traditional village just outside of Mt. Hagen. Despite being a little weathered from the Sepik, we took the invitation. While wandering around the market looking for food that evening we discovered that staying at the Goldline would have been a mistake. Across the street a funeral was in procession. By comparison, Westerners mourn quietly at funerals. Here the wails could be easily heard down the block. It’s easily discerned that people here feel loss very deeply and emotionally. The funerals can carry on for a few days, until all of the family has arrived from various parts of the country and has had their chance to mourn the deceased.

The night at Cliff’s village was spent in the cooking hut around the fire, baking potatoes and watching Horia prepare a large pot of delicious vegetable soup. It was a great forum, where we traded stories and facts about each other’s cultures and expanded our worldly minds. The only unwanted guest was the smoke from the fire, which due to lack of a chimney, sits at head level in the hut, making your eyes burn and water. Contrary my great engineering ability, Cliff wouldn’t let me smash a hole in the ceiling. Although the smoke was annoying, the heat of the fire made up for it by leaps and bounds. The cool air of the highlands was a shock to our systems, which had become used to the warm and humid oceanic and jungle weather we had been immersed in the past few weeks.

The next day we woke early and headed down to a large waterfall for a wash. It being a cold morning and I choosing to be a pussy, I declined to jump in and not subject myself to wet underwear for the rest of the day. After a quick stop and breakfast and Cliff’s office we jumped in with his staff and headed for the Cultural Show Grounds. Cliff is the director for the Mt. Hagen NGO for AIDS awareness and prevention which has a number of offices throughout PNG. The festival had two options for patrons: pay four Kina and sit in the outer ring to watch the show, or pay three hundred Kina and be front and center for the show, then have the ability to mingle with the cultural groups. After doing the latter at the Crocodile Festival in Ambunti, and due to the cost, we decided to pay the four Kina and stick with the NGO staff. One dick head security staff had another idea. He claimed to be on the organizing committee. I think he was lying and was just some random goof. His opinion was that because we were white, we had to pay the three hundred Kina to enter. “You can’t see our culture for free, you have to pay to see it. And if you can’t afford it, you leave here and go home” was his line, an ignorant attitude for an ignorant person expecting us to cave and pay him a bribe.

Fuck that, we weren’t going to satisfy him with a cent of our money. Instead we decided we’d had enough of fighting for the right to be in a festival that wasn’t a huge loss to miss, and walked off, intending to head back to Hagen and grab our belongings to start an early journey to Mt. Wilhelm. After waiting for half an hour, some security guards escorted us into the festival free of charge, obviously embarrassed and ashamed about the jackass misrepresenting them and the festival. We headed inside and took a position on the outer hill surrounding the rugby field where the sing sing groups were performing. The long distance views were unimpressive, so we made our way over to the gate where the sing sing groups were entering the field. There turned to be the absolute prime spot, where I was able to get a ton of close up snapshots of the performers as they danced into the grounds. The last group marched through the gate, the security staff scrambling to get it closed in time to stop the mad rush that attempted to break through. We were right there with the rush. It closed in the nick of time, shouts being exchanged from both sides of the fence. Spotting the two white heads in the crowd, a couple security guards called us over, inviting us to pay a “late fee” of twenty Kina to enter. Obviously a bribe, we decided these guys were much more deserving of it, and we paid. We were unleashed into the grounds, running around in front of all the tourists who had paid three hundred to get in. HA HA HA. It’s time like these I relish being an opportunistic backpacker in a country that only hosts luxury tourists that arrive on expensive pre paid tours and hide away in their hotels. Again, we mingled with the cultural groups, exchanging laughs and handshakes and taking a bunch of goofy photos.

The next day we departed Mt. Hagen on a PMV bound for Kundiawa, where we would catch another ride up the mountain to Kegesuglo, the base for the trek up the highest mountain in PNG, Mt. Wilhelm. We arrived there and found out catching a ride up the mountain was not going to be as easy as we had originally thought. The road up the mountain is notoriously rough, so only 4x4 vehicles are suitable, and with a bi-election going on, many of the trucks were being used for campaigning. As the day wore on, the son of a family that ran a guest house in Kegesuglo insisted that we be off the streets by 3pm, the time that election violence is likely to start. Elections in PNG are serious business, and people will resort to violence to support their political candidate. Not something you want to be caught in the middle of. As luck would have it, a pickup truck loaded with cargo arrived offering a ride up the mountain. It turned out to be not such good luck.

Riding around in the back of pickup trucks has become commonplace in my year of traveling, and that day it became apparent that I had been complacent towards the dangers that exist with this type of travel, dangers that have caused this activity to become outlawed back home. Wedged in the back of the truck between a load of tied down cargo and a tire sat upright against the tail gate, this day became the first time I’ve literally feared for my life. The truck bounced and bucked around on the road, hitting ruts half a foot deep, lifting us out of our seats. With my feet wedged between the tire and the cargo, I had no chance of bailing if things turned ugly. Hanging on for dear life, all I could do was look over the side of the box at the canyon inches away from our tire, a canyon that would surely spell my death if I was launched out of the box or if the truck rolled. The driver kept the gas pinned to keep the momentum through the muddy patches, sending the truck fishtailing dangerously towards deep ruts and giving his passengers a ride similar to a trampoline.
Eventually the truck was stopped by wet rocks that wouldn’t give the tires hope of a grip on their slippery surfaces. Deciding this was a good time to engage the four wheel drive (why the fuck he hadn’t done that at the start, I don’t know), we took a break to put on our rain jackets. This was the point where we discovered the driver was pissed drunk, staggering around and slurring his words. It was also at this point where it happened to be past the point of no return. We were committed. Our lives were in the hands of this drunk. Helplessness is not an enjoyable feeling.

The ride continued on as usual, being slammed around in the back of the truck on a road perched precariously high above a canyon. After a while it wasn’t that I felt safer and more comfortable, I just became used to being scared. All I could do was shake my head as one, two, and three SP beer bottles were discarded from the driver’s window. All this time the locals in the back with us, not sitting with us but hanging on to the sides of the cargo pile above the box line, had not a worry in the world. This was simply a way of life for them, the apparent risk to their lives unacknowledged.

Obviously because I’m writing this means I lived through this escapade. I can look back on this as a learning experience. Not all experiences of living like the locals are positive, it’s inevitable that you’ll end up immersed in the negative aspects at some point, and all you can do is hope that you come out of it unscathed. Sorry family, I know you’re probably shaking your heads at this post, but trust me when I say I’ll never be put in this situation again as long as I have something to say about it.

On the positive note, the mountain scenery of PNG is nothing short of beautiful. The lush valleys and mountains surround the classic, humble villages. The guest house we checked into was set among a beautiful, well manicured yard complete with flowers and stone walkways. Run by a lovely couple, we were treated and fed well. One of the biggest highlights of the region is the fresh vegetables that have one of the most suitable climates on Earth to grow in. They are the pure definition of organic, not a drop of chemical every touches them. And they are the best tasting veggies I’ve ever had in my life.

The soreness in our muscles convinced us to take a rest day in Kegesuglo and prepare for the trek up Mt. Wilhelm the following day. We wandered about the village, guided by a young boy who toured us through the gardens and showed us the various vegetables and fruits that they grow and forage from the wild. We attempted to acclimatize ourselves to the noticeably colder weather, which lowered into the single digits at night. It was this day that we received a text and subsequently called Horia, who had some crazy news to share. Apparently we had left Mt. Hagen in the nick of time. The evening after we left Horia had been waiting for Cliff at his office. Cliff entered around 6pm wearing war paint on his face. Tribal warfare had ignited with his enemy tribe, supposedly over the beating and mutilation of a woman (I’m not sure on which side), and now revenge was being called for. Cliff and Horia spent the whole night running around Mt. Hagen, hiding and attempting to find his family who was also in hiding. The entire village was on red alert, men patrolling the roads and trails armed with machetes and who knows what else. Horia eventually ended up making it to a guest house and to safety, but to this day we don’t know what came of Cliff, I can just hope he and his family are ok. It was unsettling to think that some of the friendly people that we had exchanged laughs and handshakes with could be dead right now. It goes to show that nobody in this country is untouchable from tribal warfare, even a person running an NGO for AIDS awareness. That being said, being educated paints a target as your back, as the enemy will see that person as valuable to the opposing clan, somebody that can bring in money. This is life in the Highlands. Tribal warfare is brutal and common, and can sometimes be fought over something as simple as a tiny strip of land to grow coffee beans.

After our rest day we started our trek up towards Mt. Wilhelm. We set out in the morning for the guest house, located at an alpine lake at the foot of the rocky mountain range. It was necessary to stay the night there acclimatize to the high altitude and because the trek up the mountain must be started at 2am to reach the summit by daybreak, after which the clouds will roll in and make the views totally obscured. The trek to the guest house was uneventful, a quick two hour hike through a moss covered forest. We arrived at the guest house to a cold wind and rain, dropping our bags and quickly lighting a fire in the small shelter. Our guide, Johnny ran out to the bus with his sling shot and quickly came back with a small bird he had killed, a green snow parrot. The man is a crack shot with his sling shot, nailing this one square in its thumb sized head. I can’t say it tasted great, more or less like overcooked chicken. That night we cooked a quick meal and hit the fart sack by 6pm to get all the rest we could for the very, very early hike the next day.

Enter 2am. We wake up to shivering cold and darkness. Working up the motivation we climb out of our sleeping bags and don our meagre layers that afford us a small amount of protection from the cold that I’ve become unaccustomed to the past year. That’s the thing about traveling light, being prepared for cold climates doesn’t go hand in hand with that doctrine. With flashlights in hand (Matt’s being a single LED on his cell phone) we started the slog up the mountain. Immediately stepping down the trail from the guest house, I don’t see and dunk my foot right into a mud hole. Now my right foot is soaked. The rest of the trail isn’t much better, the rain the previous evening has created runoff that is making its way down the mountain, lubricating the clay based mud on the slopes, making footing difficult.

By 5:30 am we were just below the col that signalled the approach to the summit. The first light of the day was just starting to show itself on the horizon, telling us we were a little being schedule for the sunrise. This was fine with me, the wind was cold and was also not something I wanted to be sitting in on top of the summit. Climbing further up the mountain marked the first time in a year and a half that I’ve slipped on ice. Matt and I left Johnny at the foot of the summit and scrambled up the rock chute, the last obstacle facing us. We reached the top, sitting on the rocks in the howling wind, quickly soaking up the amazing views and pain from our freezing hands. Should have kept those gloves from China. The sun was blazing on the horizon, illuminating this amazing shapes of the clouds that were creeping up from the valley below. Even though freezing cold, it was incredible to stand at the top of PNG and view the incredible landscape, on terrain I would have never imagined this country contained.

We made the long descent all the way back to Kegesuglo, where we arrived exhausted and sore. We also arrived to news that the guest house owners were gone due to their mother’s death and the funeral that was happening a few villages down, but we were still able to have a good meal and a good night’s sleep. At this point death was starting to become too commonplace around us and it was time to get out of the highlands. The next day we caught a ride in a truck back down the mountain. This time the driver was very sober and we rode in the front. This still did not stop us from getting stuck in the mud. It took us and the seven other locals to push it up the muddy slope. This marks the last adventure in PNG. Afterwards it was a simple PMV ride to Madang where we chilled out and did much of nothing for a couple days, and another PMV ride to Lae, where I sit in the airport at the moment typing the last of this post, waiting for my flight to Port Moresby that has been pushed back three hours. After all this time in PNG, I just realized all I had to do to get free wifi was come to the Lae airport!

The Sepik

The first stage of the Sepik adventure was a gruelling forty eight hours of hard traveling. My birthday was spent on a boat from Madang to Wewak, crammed on the deck with a hundred other Papuan’s, armed with a case of SP beer. As night time fell the conditions slowly became more and more cramped as people settled into their sleeping positions, occupying every inch of deck space. Sleeping with some persons feet or ass in your face became something you were forced to endure. Taking the inevitable piss after a number of beers became an ever harder affair. An obstacle course of bodies had to be negotiated, climbing over chairs and railings while trying to maintain a delicate balance amidst the rocking of the ship, all in the name of finding a clear path to the toilet on the deck below.

We arrived in Wewak around eight in the morning, tired from the fitful sleep on the boat. We caught a PMV to the market and connected on another one into the hills and towards Ralf Stuttgen’s house. A crusty old German expat, we read in the guidebook he had rooms he hosted travelers in, but on arrival we were shown an old, dirty room in a cobweb and spider infested home that hadn’t hosted a traveler in years. There in his toilet I saw the biggest spider I’ve seen on this trip so far, a creepy ground crawling monster the size of my hand. After seeing the conditions, the spider, and Ralf’s reluctance to host, we decided to find accommodation in Wewak town. Ralf was kind enough to offer us a ride and a lot of useful information about our upcoming Sepik River tour.

Ralf dropped us at an old, run down guest house run by an old Yugoslavian lady. Upon finding out we were backpackers, she lowered the rate of the room from one hundred Kina to a budget happy thirty five Kina, the first discount I’ve ever received for simply being a backpacker. There we met a guy, Roy, who was from the Middle Sepik and the son and brother of professional guides. We discovered our original plan of taking a PMV to Pagwi (the jump off point for the river) on Friday was flawed, as public river boats do not operate Friday through Saturday, and we would have been stuck in Pagwi, which is known for its roughness and not a place to hang around in. Now, after hardly any sleep or a decent meal, we were going to have to spend the whole night in a truck and then more subsequent hours in a canoe up the Sepik river. This triggered my grouch button with force.

Simply jumping into two weeks in a very remote area of Papua New Guinea with a guide we hardly knew and no food for the trip (it was too late by then to buy some) gave me a bad feeling, as if we were heading into hardship. With no other options present, we jumped on the PMV. The driver was kind enough to spare us from another cramped night in the back of an open air truck jammed full of cargo for the river villages, instead putting us up front with him. His name was Richard, an expert on negotiating a highway that looked like it had been bombed by fighter jets, and at avoiding dogs humping in the middle of the road. The system they have figured out is to leave at night and time the ride so they arrive at the river at the crack of dawn, just as the river canoes arrive from various points on the river. This makes for a lot of stops in the middle of the night, where to try to find a comfortable position to grab an hour of sleep, including laying on the highway.

We arrived in Pagwi just as the first light of the day made its appearance. Roy immediately found us a public canoe heading the Ambunti, our destination where we would base ourselves for the next two weeks and home to the Crocodile Festival that was scheduled for the 9th and 10th. We jumped in the dugout canoe, a long, black fifty foot spear shaped vessel carved out of an Erema tree and powered by a forty five horse outboard motor. Loaded chalk full of people and cargo and experiencing problems with water in the fuel pump, the trip up the river that was supposed to take two hours doubled into four. The sun shone down on us and the birds flew overhead, giving a visually pleasing ride. It felt like a scene from Apocalypse Now, cruising up a muddy river that snaked through the jungle with no idea what laid in wait for us upstream.

After arriving in Ambunti we checked into a lodge there and started to devise a plan for our near future. Another bout of bad news was what came. It would be difficult to catch both days at the Crocodile Festival and make it back to Wewak in time for out flight to Mt. Hagen on the 11th. It was obvious we would have to fly out, the two options being either fly out mid day on the 10th and missing some of the most important day of the festival, or fly out on the morning of the 11th and risk a very tight schedule to make our flight at 12:40 to Mt. Hagen the same day. We left our money with the flight operator with a promise of finding out within a few days our flight date, which in reality we would not find out until two days before the actual flight.

That day Roy met an old man, Jonathan, a clan chief in the neighbouring village of Bangus, just across the mountain from Ambunti. With an invitation to stay at his home, we departed Ambunti the next day to trek to the village. It became a steep mountain climb in oppressive jungle temperatures, making my body temperature climb to near heat exhaustion levels, triggering my body to sweat buckets, sweat like I’ve never sweat before. After descending from the peak we then had to negotiate the muddy and water logged trails of the jungle swamps. A walk that normally takes two hours took us four and a half. We arrived in the village with warm welcomes and a refreshing coconut, fell from the tree right before our eyes. We spent the rest of the day meeting the many members of Jonathan’s family and sharing stories.

The next few days were spent being toured around the village, meeting and talking with other residents. We were well treated to hearty meals of yams, sweet potatoes, jungle greens, fish, and infamous sago. Sago is the staple diet of the Sepik River Region. The process of harvesting sago starts with cutting down the tree and stripping off the bark and the vicious thorns that defend its resourceful insides. With the bark removed, the pulp is shaved off with the precise swings of an inverted club-like tool made specifically for the task. The finely mashed pulp is then put into an angled chute made out of a hollowed palm trunk, where it is soaked with water and squeezed through a screen that strains the flour into a another horizontally placed trunk, where the flour settles to the bottom and the water drains. The refuse is then thrown into a pile where sago mushrooms will grow to become the tastiest mushrooms I’ve ever eaten. Even the grubs that eat the sago trees are harvested and eaten for protein. They tasted much like sago but the texture is undesirable.

Much of the ten days also included walks around the jungle, all done barefoot in the spirit of living like a local. The trails there are some of the worst I’ve ever hiked. The dense, clay based mud creates slippery conditions comparable to ice, and lubricates the feet even after you’ve passed through. Some sections are completely underwater, making foot placement a precarious affair. Sago thorns present another hazard, waiting in the mud to bury itself in the foot of a poor sap who happens to step in that area. They are a bitch to dig out of your foot, too, and often result in an infection. Luckily I never had one that made it to that stage, unlike Matt who had a couple infections in his foot that plagued him even after we left the area.

After a few days in village we were starting to be treated more like family than guests. We worked with the boys, hauling logs out of the jungle to be used for building a house for Rex, one of the young sons of Jonathan. Every day we bathed and washed our clothes in the cool, fresh jungle river just down the hill from the village. Three times a day we ate what the locals ate: sweet potato, sago, bananas, and some form of protein, usually fish. One day we were served bandicoot, which one of the ladies killed in the garden that morning. I have to say it was pretty tasty. I’ve also eaten more bananas in those ten days than I have my entire life. On the Sunday we joined teams and played soccer with the locals, doing the same thing the following Sunday, that time slightly intoxicated from the home jungle brew we drank that afternoon. I’ll address that in the next paragraph.

One aspect of life in Papua New Guinea is home brew. Many people brew it and everyone drinks it as a very cheap alternative to beer. It’s usually brewed out of coconut, banana, sugar cane, papaya, sugar, and yeast. Even though it’s a jail sentence if you’re caught brewing, most people have the equipment and know how to brew their own. Rex and Simion, the two young men we spent the most time with, had a “kit” which includes a two gallon gas tank, a hose, the brew mix, and several empty Coca-Cola bottles. They set up in a homemade fortress in the swamp, a hideaway protected by a grove of thorny sago trees. While brewing it’s necessary to hide, not from the police, but from the rest of the village members, who if are made aware of steam, will show up in large numbers to drink it. This is an apparent problem in PNG, much like the problem that was introduced to Native Americans hundreds of years ago. Until white men showed up, nobody in PNG had ever tasted alcohol, and now it’s an epidemic. It’s common to see many drunks on the street during the day, and a lot at night (one of the reasons not to go out at night in this country). And when people here drink, they drink hard. A bottle of steam is not sipped causally. Instead it is passed around in shots and doesn’t stop until the supply is exhausted, usually ending up in everyone getting really, really drunk. Due to everyone wanting alcohol so badly, there are many fights over it, a lot of them very, very violent. So after brewing steam that morning, by 2pm we were pissed and entered in a soccer game, this time playing for the local Bangus teams. Matt became the first white man to score a goal in Bangus.

After the ten days were up we departed the village, headed for Ambunti and the Crocodile Festival that was taking place the next day. Our walk out of the village was through a mud hole of a swamp with many members of the family. And that’s not an understatement either, I sank past my knee a few times. Thankfully the village women carried our backpacks for us. I felt like a pussy compared to these village women, but after seeing that, I’ve concluded they’re stronger than most Western men. After negotiating that hell hole we arrived at the lake to catch a motorised canoe. We cruised the lake under sunny skies, soaking up the rays and taking in the beautiful scenery around us. After a quick stop off in Maruwai, a lakeside village, we arrived in Ambunti where we stayed with at a house owned by Paco, who’s wife is from Bangus.

The next day we sorted out our flight and waited for the festival to start. And waited. And waited. Another classic example of things running on PNG time. Purely by dumb luck we happened to meet some people from the PNG Tourism Agency while looking for a phone book in the Ambunti Lodge, and were invited to come along on a canoe trip to see some other villages along the river. It was another sunny day on the canoe, enjoying yet more amazing river and lake scenery. One highlight was taking a river shortcut through a narrow, jungle lined canal, chasing Heron’s out of their resting places and marvelling at the canoe handling skills of the guide.

If a free canoe trip wasn’t enough, the PNG Tourism people invited us to hitch a ride with them back to Wewak after the festival the next day, which allowed us to cancel our flight and ended up saving us over a hundred dollars. The first day of the festival not much went on, and by the morning of the next day the rain was pouring and the hopes were looking grim. However, by 11am the rain stopped and things started rolling. We were front and center by the time the sing sing groups started marching in, me snapping away with my camera as always. The groups consisted of people from many villages from all over the Sepik, all decorated and coloured in different designs. After the main march we wandered around the grounds, viewing the still performing groups. Instead of just walking around like every other tourist, we did as we always do and jumped right in to interact with the groups, Matt kicking it off by jumping into a sing sing group and becoming furnished with a palm frond and a live baby crocodile slung over his chest. We took many more pictures of us goofing off with the groups, making a rainy day into a great experience. We departed Ambunti after a sad and happy goodbye with the family, all of us feeling rewarded by our time together.

The journey back to Wewak really isn’t worth talking about in detail. An ok boat ride, followed by a turbulent and stomach wrenching drive back to Wewak. The steak dinner (another gift from the PNG Tourism people) was definitely a nice bonus. All in all, my experience in the Sepik was nothing short of amazing. We were taken in by a family of village people and treated like one of their own. I have never in my life seen hospitality like we were treated to in those ten days, and I shall never forget it or them.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Still Alive

I'm sure you all worry for my safety and wonder why I haven't posted
in over two weeks, so here's why: I just spent two kick ass weeks in
the jungle in the Sepik River region! Nine days until Australia, where
internet is cheap and regular and I'll be able to write up some
awesome posts, so stay tuned!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Rain. Rain. Rain. Repeat.

So much for experiencing the great scuba and snorkeling opportunities that are present in Madang. The past few days have been completely shit as far as the weather goes. Every day it has rained, putting us under guest house arrest for the time being. The other day we attempted to check out an old Japanese air base north of here, apparently an easy bus ride away. We boarded a bus where four of the staff told us they were headed there, only for us to pay them right outside of town and be informed ten minutes later that they're not going that way, and we had to pay to go back into town. While it only ended up being less than two Kina, it was still annoying to be blatantly ripped off. And to add insult to injury they even had the audacity to ask us if we wanted to charter the bus for one hundred Kina. The good part of it all was we met an old lady, Mary, who tried to help us find another bus to the airfield (which we gave up on after an hour). She offered us to stay at her place if we make it to Vanimo; another example of how friendly Papua New Guineans can be.

And tomorrow, the birthday boat to Wewak! Yes, that's right, it's my birthday in PNG tomorrow. South Pacific beers on the South Pacific sounds like a right way to spend the anniversary of your birth...

Thursday, July 21, 2011


Immediately after my onslaught of improperly oriented blog posts we jumped on a PMV from Kokopo to the Submarine Base we had visited a couple weeks prior. The old man that runs the place, George, had told us we could camp there the last time we visited him. We headed there and by mid afternoon the tents were set up just above the seashore and we were out snorkeling the pristine reef on the edge of a three hundred meter drop off to the depths below, only twenty meters from the shore. It was the best snorkeling I've ever done, with tons of marine life that ranged from anemones to sea cucumbers to tropical fish of all sorts of dazzling and radiant colours. The most amazing part of it all was the next day when I was out snorkeling around again and had the privelidge of being passed by a school of dolphins. They were too far away for me to see, but simply hearing the clicks and whistles of their sonar was awe-inspiring enough.

Now we are in Madang after a quick flight yesterday. The first impression of this place was positive; it seems like a nice seaside town, and actually has the only gardens I've seen in any PNG city so far. We wandered around for a couple hours looking for accommodation with the help of a couple friendly locals, but soon realized that we were going to have to pay handsomely for the beauty of this town. The cheapest one was sixty Kina each person (roughly twenty five dollars), and when the owner informed us the kitchen had been shut down by health officials due to a Cholera scare, we declined to stay there and opted for the ninety-five Kina guest house run by the Lutheran Church. I hope accommodation prices aren't going to be like this throughout the mainland, because my wallet hurts. We just booked a boat ticket for Tuesday to the town of Wewak, gateway to the Sepik river, where we'll hopefully be canoeing down in a week or so. Now the battle is to figure out if we can hit up the Crocodile Festival on the 9th and the Mt. Hagen Cultural Show on the 12th...

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Dancing With Fire

Ok I fucked the order up and did it backwards, so this is the oldest backed up post.

I’m totally beaming right now. I just got back from seeing one of the coolest, if not the coolest thing on my trip so far. Matt and I jumped on a tour heading up to a village back in mountains, where the Baining people live. There they were putting on one of their local ritual dances, which takes place at night around a roaring bonfire. I had seen this before on a travel show, but it seeing it on tv could not be compared to seeing it in real life. We arrived to a steady downpour, which ended up lasting the entire dance. Rain couldn’t stop the party though, and the dance and subsequent photography started in full force.

Once the coals of the bonfire were red hot and the flames sky high, the dancers started appearing out of the black jungle, their white ceremonial masks contrasting against the palm leaves that cover their bodies. The mask themselves are made from banana wood, taking four months to carve and decorate. They feature two giant white and red painted eyes set above a white beak, and below it a white and red neck. The dancers head fits into the beak of the mask, giving the masks a tall and imposing stature. The dancers dance between the fire and a group of singers who fill the air with the beat of hollow bamboo poles against a wooden floor, and a constant singing and chanting. As the pace of the dancing increases, the dancers run towards the fire and with a great kick, send the hot coals flying through the darkness, showering themselves in sparks embers, giving them a demonic look. No matter how hard they kick the logs or embers, they keep on dancing, sometimes emerging from the fire with smoke trailing from their palm coverings. The whole spectacle is surreal, what I saw with my eyes is something I cannot fully put into words.

These people have been doing this dance for hundreds, possibly thousands of years, and I feel so lucky to have seen this, just as it was done in the past. That really is the magic of this place. The archaic nature of this country holds many treasures, rituals that haven’t changed or been influenced by the modern world, and are still here waiting to be discovered. We were also lucky to see another ritual this morning, a ritual where spirits are called on and emerge from the water, heading up the beach and into the forest. Local tribesmen in canoes chant and sing brining out two spirits (tribesmen dressed in a dome of palm leaves with a painted mask on top) It was a great spectacle, but not nearly as amazing as the Baining Fire Dance.

Alas, these wonders do come at a cost. I knew that PNG was expensive compared to the countries I’ve been traveling on this trip, but being here is slowly starting to sink the reality of the costs into us. Nothing here is cheap, and yesterday things became even more costly for us when we realized that the three Kina to the Dollar exchange rate turned out to be just less than two and half Kina to the Dollar. To give you an example of the costs, thirty megabites of internet usage costs twenty two Kina. A flight from Rabaul to Madang (just over an hour long) cost us about seven hundred and fifty Kina each. And then problem is it’s hard to avoid the costs and keep things cheap. We’ve managed to avoid food costs a little by buying and cooking our own food (which I’ve enjoyed), but flights must be taken due to the lack of roads, and it seems like everything here must be done with a guide.
We will overcome and keep on rocking PNG, hopefully discovering more wonders as we go.

Becoming New Irish

And now for the backed up blog posts:

The island scenery has been changed. On Friday we took a banana boat, aka a speedboat, to New Ireland, the next island over from New Britain. Original names, huh? The boat ride over was excellent, taking a little less than two hours. We even got to see some whales that are still unknown to us, I thought they looked like Killer Whales but their presence in the South Pacific seems unlikely, especially given the time of year. The wildlife we saw the most were flying fish. Until seeing them in the Philippines, I had no idea there was such a thing as flying fish, I thought they were just a thing dreamt up by Nintendo to kill Mario and Luigi. I was amazed by how far they can fly above the water for. Cruising along at sixty kilometres an hour, some of the fish hovered alongside us for up to five seconds.

We arrived in the village of Namatinai a little too late to catch the PMV to anywhere else, so we stayed the night at a local guest house and played cards with the family that ran it. The next day we headed down to the bus stop outside of the local market to wait for a PMV to our next destination. This is a fitting time to introduce the notorious betelnut. It’s a fruit kind of thing that the locals here chew. Basically it resembles a lime on the outside, but once you peel the outer husk off of it, there’s a bean-like substance in the middle, which is eaten with mustard plant and a little lime powder. The combination of all those turns the mixture red, and a deeper red the more it is chewed. Essentially it’s a different form of chewing tobacco, you spit the juice out instead of swallowing it. The only problem with this kind is that it will stain your teeth red, then after enough years of chewing it, it stains your teeth black. Basically everyone in the country has nasty teeth. And at this bus stop not a square inch of land was free of betel nut husks or spit juice.

We finally jumped on the PMV around 2:30, bound for the Dalom village guest house. We arrived two hours later to a beautiful guest house on the beach, right beside a fresh mountain water river. The river is so fresh that there’s no shower here, you simply bathe in the river with the locals. On Sunday we attended a mass at the church on the same property as the guest house. I was honestly expecting a pretty upscale mass, something with lots of singing and rhythm, but that wasn’t the case. It was more like bible school, and given my strong atheism, I found myself quickly bored. Later we took a walk up the beach to a point in the distance, which turned out to be way in the distance. The coastal landscape here on the east side of New Ireland is amazing. We walked over nice white sand, over hardened coral slabs, across the trunks of huge trees that extend over the surf, around the bases of huge cliffs, and through many cool freshwater streams. And of course past a ton of friendly locals.

Monday was another easy going day, spent on the beach and behind a book. I also befriended one of the dogs, Audi, that belongs to the owners of the guesthouse. A wire haired pointer mixed with possibly some German Shepherd, he’s a dog I would love to have back at home, a medium sized, well behaved dog. He followed me on a long walk down the other end of the beach, not having to be called once. The next day he also accompanied us on a walk to the local canteen. It was pretty hard to leave the comfort and peace of the beach life, so we stayed another day.

On Wednesday we headed out to the village of Lambuso to stay with a friend, Augustine, that we met on the boat ride over from Kokopo. He lives in Rabaul but was going back to Lambuso to visit his family at their home village for a few weeks, and kindly invited us to stay with him. It turned out to be some of the best days of my vacation, and some of the greatest hospitality I’ve ever been shown before. We arrived there thinking we would stay a night or two and just see the village, but it turned out to be so much more than that. When we arrived in the morning we were taken to his home and introduced to the family. Calling Lambuso a village is a loose term, it’s more like a community of homes spread amongst the forest and seaside, mainly centered around the local Catholic Church. Augustine’s home is just off the main highway on the jungle side, and has four dwellings on it. One is under construction and will house a brother that is currently working in Australia, another is for the women, a small hut houses the boys while Augustine is away, and a fourth house in tucked back in the trees. The first three homes are centered around a fire pit and courtyard, and back further into the bush is the jungle garden.

It’s incredible how much the forest provides for the people here in New Ireland. Immediately after arriving, the oldest boy, Isaiha, expertly scaled a palm tree and knocked down some coconuts for us to drink and eat. We were also treated to guava and passion fruit, which I fell in love with. The garden and fruit foraged from the bush provides enough food to feed over twelve people in that home, totally dispelling the need to rely on buying food from a market. We were also treated to oranges, grapefruits, yams, sweet potatos and greens, all picked from the garden. It’s truly amazing to see people survive off the land like this, something nearly impossible to do year round in Canada.

That afternoon we headed out to the beach with over twenty kids from the local village in tow, all eager to see and be around a white person, something that doesn’t happen for them. We snorkled around a pristine reef, watching the boys provide for the family by catching fish with homemade harpoon guns they rig up from wood, thick rubber banding and a long metal spike. For being so young, they sure were great fishermen, catching about six fish off the reef until handing over the harpoons to us clumsy, untrained white men, who couldn’t catch a damn thing. After a quick fish fry on the beach, we headed to the local river, in a quiet spot in the jungle, and rinsed off in the cool, pristine jungle water, loving every minute of the day so far. That night we sat around the fire pit, which they keep burning all night as a sign of light to let the spirits know people are alive in the home. We were lucky enough to have three nights of full and nearly full moon, giving us clear views of the giant fruit bats cruising around the trees. I’m not understating them being giant; they are fucking huge! Their wing span must be around six feet, and when one flies over you, the sound of the wings flapping makes you feel like they’re flying inches over your head.

The next day Augustine took us out for a trek in the jungle to a remote swimming hole up a small stream from the trail that cut through a palm nut plantation. Walking back that far in the jungle I got a quick, brutal feel for the amount of misquitos the jungle produces. It was fucking retarded. Completely unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, I was being bit in six different places at once. Thankfully we didn’t hang around their long. Instead we opted for the trail through the grass, which contains tons of thorn bearing grasses that ripped apart my unprotected, flip flopped feet. Note to self: next time while trekking in the jungle, wear shoes and pants. That night we went back to the reef to do some night fishing under the now full moon. One of the local villagers guided us out into the inky water, armed with an underwater flashlight, a spear gun, and his wits. We hovered above, watching him dive down the reef to spot the colourful fish below, then harpooning them for the feast that was about to come. Apparently the catch we got is unusual for a moonlit night, when the fish tend to still be awake and more wily. In the end he bagged ten fish, a squid and a lobster. The feast that night was nothing short of amazing.

We had planned to leave in the morning to Kavieng, but Augustine had persuaded us to stay (as if we needed to be persuaded) one more day to see a local sing sing that was happening a few villages down, something that is very rare and even more rare for a white man to see. When he said sing sing I was thinking it would be something like some local school kids performing some songs or something like that, but I was in for a major surprise. The sing sing turned out to be a huge local festival, with different villages putting on their own traditional dances, and a giant feast for everyone to enjoy. The festival itself is based around honouring the dead, but without knowing the local language it was hard to detect that aura at all. We sat back and I snapped away with my camera at the amazing dance rituals that were performed, all with different styles and bright colours.

The first group to perform was a group of orange skirted girls with orange and baby-blue head dresses. They performed a choir-like slower paced dance. The second group was made up of men dressed in red skirts, grass necklaces, each man armed with two decorative wooden paddles carved in various designs and colours. The beat and rhythym of the music was hypnotic, and I was lucky enough to have a great spot on the front line to snap some great photos. I don’t think I can come close to capturing the spirit of these dances though, it would be impossible for an electronic device to do so. While these dances are going on, village people will run up with a handful of ash and slap it over the backs of the dancers as a way of showing how much they enjoy the show, of course with a few laughs from everyone.
The next group has an amazing and tragic story behind it. A month before the sing sing, these group of men venture up into the jungle to fast for a month, drinking only water. They then perform an incredibly fast paced dance, the rythym set to bamboo cane drums. A few of the dancers hold leaves wrapped around ground up human bone, channelling spiritual power through them that makes them shake and convulse during the dance. It is truly awe inspiring to see these men, who must have hardly any energy at all, perform this dance with such intensity and devotion. The tragic part of the story is that while walking along the highway from their village to the sing sing, one of the younger men was struck and killed by a vehicle. Yet they still performed. After telling that story I’m not sure if I can make the next group sound cool, but trust m in saying that they were just as good as the others, but this one seemed to involve the crowd more, with people running up to and throughout the group, adding to the joy of the occasion. To even further spoil us, Augustine got his hands on a pair of decorative paddles the second group of dancers used, one for Matt and I to each take home.

Another great thing about the festival was the feast that was in the middle of it. The villages all put money and resources together to provide a ton of food to feed the hundreds of people that attend the sing sing, all in all amounting to a couple pigs and about a thousand potatoes and bananas. The pigs and potatoes are wrapped in banana leaf and cooked in what is called a momo, basically a pit of stones heated red hot from a fire. The food is placed on the stones, more stones are piled on top and the whole thing is covered in dirt, creating a simple but amazingly effective oven. After two hours, the momo is dug out and the perfectly cooked food is distributed to the crowd. The way it’s distributed is the coolest part. Every man in the village the sing sing is hosted in runs up to the pits, grabbing a handful of food to run back to the crowd with, all the while obeying the shouts and gestures of the village elders, who direct the men like traffic on a busy street. Then when all the food is distributed to the crowd everyone digs into an amazing feast.

That night we sat around the fire again, chatting with Augustine while the boys sat around my laptop watching the Dark Knight, I’m sure their first viewing of the infamous Batman movies. We got to have a deep conversation with Augustine about their beliefs and customs over a few South Pacifc Lagers. One of the most interesting parts of the conversation was about Black Magic and Witchcraft, which is still recognized in the PNG culture. Rarely does this ever have a negative connotation attached to it, especially so in the islands where people are less volatile, but the people of PNG do still believe that sorcery is practiced. He even told us of villages still having Witch Doctors who provide spiritual and medicinal healing to the local populace. This further heightens my marvel at the culture of PNG, which sometimes seems so primitive but yet maintains a harmonious balance with the people.

The next day we took our leave of Augustine and his family, and jumped on a PMV bound for Kavieng. The whole family and some of the villagers came to the road to say their goodbyes and see us off. I was pretty sad leaving these people who for the past few days took us in as family members and showed us the most hospitality I’ve ever felt. The saddest thing about saying goodbye to them is the nagging thought in the back of my head that I may never see these people, who are now like family, again. I do hope that at some point in the future I’ll be able to work around the geographical and financial barriers and make a return to PNG, because I feel so happy, lucky and fortunate that we met Augustine. He showed us the village life that we could never see on a tour or simply a walk around the jungle, and was so enthusiastic to show us his culture and customs. The people here are truly magical and every day turns out to be a truly greater adventure in this country.