Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Unfortunate Part of Traveling

Is that sometimes people get sick when you're gone. My grandpa has become just that, and doesn't have long. When I left home, and even more so when I left Australia, I knew it was possible that he might pass, as his health was slowly failing him. Prepared for this, I had it in my head that if someone passed, it wouldn't necessarily change my trip. However, it's hard to think like that when it actually goes down, so tomorrow I'm on my way home.

This won't be the end of my trip though, just an interruption. I was about to start seeing the highlights of Alaska tomorrow trekking around Kachemak Park, and knowing that, I must return and finish what I started. I'm not done with Alaska yet, and Alaska isn't done with me.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

On the Spit

Homer, Alaska. I caught a ride here with a middle aged woman (Evelyn) from California yesterday. We split the driving in her rented Jeep, my first time driving on the right side of the road in over a year. The Seward Highway is incredible! Nearly the entire drive is full of head turning scenery, a real view of Alaska's beauty. And it helped that the weather turned out to be clear and sunny. I think on the way back I'm going to try and rent a car one way to Anchorage so I can do things at my own pace and stop for the crazy amount of photo opportunities.

Evelyn was aiming to camp on the Homer Spit in the back of her Jeep, so I tagged along and set up my tent on the on the shore of the Kachemak Bay. The Homer Spit is basically a ten mile or so long naturally formed narrow island that sticks out form the peninsula like a nail, and all along it are seafood restaurants, pubs, hotels, campgrounds, and the harbour. We ended up eating a great seafood dinner and hit the Salty Dog Tavern for what turned out to be quite a few beers.

In the morning Evelyn left early for her flight to Anchorage. I chose to sleep in knowing that checking into an Alaskan hostel at 6am is virtually impossible. I woke up and packed my stuff up around 10:30am, in need of water and with the bad taste of hangover in my mouth. I hoofed it the mile or so into town and grabbed a bottle of water form a cafe, along with directions to the hostel. The girl that worked there told me it would take around twenty minutes to walk there.

So an hour later I arrive at the hostel after walking for about four miles up a long fucking hill that I didn't really need to climb because the girls directions took me the longer way. Fortunately the guy that runs the hostel let me check in early so I could shower and go grab some food. The hostel is pretty comical. It's an old, very oddly designed house that has been converted into a hostel. It's clean, but it's the kind of place where nearly every sliding door, faucet or window is in need of some degree or repair. It's pretty dead here right now too, I'm hoping some people worthy of hanging out with me will show up soon.

So the next couple days I'll be hanging around the Homer Spit, snapping away with my camera at the various Eagles, Otters, Moose, and whatever other creatures I happen to come across.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Hanging With the Locals

So far, Anchorage as a city is unimpressive. There's really not much to see or do here, and the weather situation definitely isn't helping. I have managed to keep myself busy, however. I had a plan to pick up some gear for my upcoming hiking and camping, and had even picked out what I had wanted on the REI (basically like Mountain Equipment Co-op) website when I was in Australia. Luck would have it that they were having a sale when I got there! Pretty decent for me, I ended up saving about $75 from what I thought I would spend.

On Friday I headed out with a guy from the hostel to Humpy's Tap House, where I tried several local beers out of their fifty-something they have on tap. After that I ended up at some local dive bar that had $3.50 pints, not too bad for the wallet. I ended up hanging with a local and cruised around to a couple bars. The next day my head hurt. A lot.

Last night I called a couple friends I had met at a hostel in the North Shore who had been on vacation there. We ended up cooking over the fire a wicked shish kabob meal of steak bits and vegetables, kicked off with some rice, salad, and smores. It was awesome having a bonfire again, the second time in almost two years for me, which is very out of the ordinary. This was the first night that the abundance of sunlight had a noticeable effect on me. It was around 1 am when the sun finally set, and up until that point I hadn't really realized what time it was or how tired I was. As soon as that sun went down, it hit me pretty quickly.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Back On the Home Continent

I learned a new lesson about taking flights: don't eat greasy Chinese take out at the airport prior to getting on a six hour flight. While you sleep, your muscles will relax, the Chinese food will start brewing evil gases inside your guts, and will proceed to escape your butt, waking you up and making it awkward between you and the two other people sitting next to you.

Other than learning that lesson the hard way, my flight was still shit. I didn't sleep much, and the lady sitting in the isle seat gave me bitchy looks when I wanted to use the toilet. The best part of the flight was the last part. At 4am the sun started rising, giving a great view of the mountains and coastline below, and silhouetting Mt. McKinley in the distance. And when we landed I was greeted by a big misquito banging up against my window, screaming you'll be seeing lots of me!

I arrived at my hostel around 5:30, but was told I wouldn't be able to check in until the afternoon. The guy recommended a cafe fifteen minutes away, so I started to hoof it with breakfast on my mind. Unfortunately the cafe wasn't open until 7am, so I spent over an hour strolling around the parks along the shore of the Cook Inlet. The best part of this was the smell. I never realized how much I missed that fresh, mountain forest smell of North America. That smell hit me the most: I am home. Back on the soil of my home continent. Ironically, Anchorage actually reminds me a lot of Edmonton, but in the mountains.

Today was a write off, I managed to sweet talk the staff into checking me in early, and I spent the afternoon catching up on the sleep I lost on the flight. The weather turned out to be pretty crappy when I woke up, so I strolled to the grocery store, did some Skyping with the fam, cooked dinner, and here I am. Tomorrow I have to hit up REI to purchase some gear, and after that I'll find a few sights to see.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Last Days of Hawaii

I'm writing this from my pimp ass condo in Kona. I normally wouldn't brag about how nice the place I'm staying is (it usually isn't at all), but this place is pretty awesome. I screwed up and didn't book a hostel ahead of time, and consequently they were booked up. I had to settle for a resort condo I booked off of I got it for a hell of a deal, $75 for one night, but that's still way ahead of the $60 daily budget I set for myself (which includes food, accommodation and fun). As awesome as this place is, it's not the place to be by yourself. This condo is way too nice to be solo; it's a place to stay with a girlfriend or wife. Therefore it's somewhat lonesome to be in here alone, but fortunately I'm only here for one night. And being that this place is full of old people and couples, it's guaranteed I'll be hanging solo tonight.

Yesterday Isaac and I loaded up his truck with his camping gear and set out for the Kona side of the island, two hours from where he lives in Hilo. The South Coast highway was pretty awesome, taking us through the two hundred years worth of lava flows that have expanded the island. It was a pretty crazy landscape, something between the moon and temperate desert. We ended up camping Ho'Okena beach park, about half and hour south of Kona. It was a really cool camping, just off the beach in the trees. We did some awesome snorkeling (I swam with two sea turtles) drank a lot of beers, had a fire, and hung out with some girls from New Yawk. The next day we went cruised around Kona and checked myself into this pad I'm currently in.

Tomorrow I am bound for Alaska. Kona chose to bled my funds a little more with a $36 shuttle ride, but fuck it, I just found out my Canadian tax refund was WAY more than I thought it would be!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Da Big Island

So I ended up having to take the Loser Cruiser to the airport the other day. It turned out ok though, the trip wasn't too long and the busy was air conditioned and not too busy. I ended up getting to the airport early, and after a sweaty walk from the street to the other end of the terminal, I kicked back with some nachos and a very large beer. I can't really tell you much about the flight; it was the first time I'd ever seen first come, first served seating on an airplane. Other than that, I slept the entire way.

My buddy Isaac picked me up at the airport upon touchdown, and within ten minutes we had beers in hand. We picked up some beers and food and headed to his place, where I met his girlfriend, Emma. The next day we headed out to an unofficial camping spot outside of Hilo, where his friends were camping for the weekend. It was an awesome spot, perched on cliffs of lava rocks about twenty feet above the ocean surf. All of his friends are involved with Marine Biology or related fields, and subsequently are avid free divers and fisherman.

I haven't fished since I was a teenager, so needless to say I was as rusty as old Klondike mining equipment. After a few hours, I was tying special knots and casting my own lines. I ended up only catching one Saddlewrasse, not big enough to be worth keeping, but one is better than none! Isaac caught a few fish, including a Moano that was big enough to keep. It was a great day that I would have never been able to spend had I not had a local connection, which makes having friends around the world all the better. 

Today Isaac had to work at the local Farmer's Market, so I took the time to do a quick workout and walk around town a little. I hoofed it a couple kilometers in the crazy heat to the local YMCA, where the cool staff let me work out for free. It was an open air gym, and I'll tell you that working out in that heat drains you FAST. I did a lot less than I should have, but at least it was progress towards my goal of not repeating my muscle loss that I incurred at the beginning of this trip. After that I walked around town, putting a lot of k's on my feet, and sweating out more than one bucket. Hilo is a pretty bland city; in fact, it reminds me a lot of Kokopo in Papua New Guinea, but much clearer. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Last Day On the Shore

Today was my last day on the North Shore, very unfortunately. This place is awesome, and I would love to have pulled a long term (say month long) stay in this place, but time and money do not warrant it. The last two days have been serious beach days, laying in the sun working on tanning my bod. Unfortunately I didn't get a chance to photograph surfers on the pipeline, today being the only day that has had decent waves. However, I am certain this is not the last time I'll be in Hawaii. A wicked piece of good news arrived via email yesterday: my tax rebate from my work in Australia is almost $1700! Should have that wad of cash in six to eight weeks!

Tomorrow I head back to Honolulu to catch my flight to the Big Island, where I'll be staying with my friend Issac, who I met in Thailand just over a year ago. He recently moved to the Big Island to live with his girlfriend who is studying in Hilo. That's one of the best parts of traveling, you make those friends and connections all over the world, and sometimes fate works its magic and schedules a meet for you. I'm hoping the hostel shuttle is running, or else I'll be taking a three hour ride on the loser cruiser (aka the public bus system) bound for Honolulu.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Turtles Turtles Turtles

Ok so turtles are becoming an integral part of this trip, in more than one way.

Yesterday I tried coordinating with a friend, Chris, I was hanging with in Honolulu to meet up on the North Shore. He had planned to drive up in a rental in the early afternoon, so I left a note with the hostel office after I did a short but sweet snorkel in Shark Cove. In the note I told him I would be at Banzai Beach, clearly written on the map as such. I started hoofing it from the hostel, but could not find a sign to tell me what beach I was on. I finally reached a sign that told me what beach it was (I can't remember the name, it's just before Sunset Beach) and walked up to investigate. Clearly confused, I walk up to a lifeguard station and ask him where Banzai Beach his. He tells me there's no Banzai Beach, but there is a Banzai pipeline just back from where I came. At this point the situation is not looking good; it's a massive beach and I'm not in the place I said I'd be. But I was at the entrance to the only parking lot I passed, so I figured it was the best bet. I lay out my towel and wait.

As I'm taking pictures, Chris walks up with two Swedish women. Fate has delivered and then some. We chill out on the beach for another hour, then jump in Chris' rental, which is a convertible (Holy Santa Claus Shit), bound for the Waimea Valley, site of a waterfall where we could take a swim. After a short, scenic walk from the parking lot we dive in the waterfall and get some quick pictures. By the time we leave, it's past 5:00, and the sun is starting to set. What's the best way to enjoy a sunset? With beer, of course! We do a quick Iphone search and jet towards the nearest place.


Here's where the next Turtle portion comes in: we crashed the beach bar at the Turtle Bay Resort. Nobody asked us any questions, so we thoroughly enjoyed our beer, the sunset, our meal, and the complimentary Hawaiian Fire Show. And that isn't even the best part of it.....We got to cook smores over a fire. That's right, cook smores over a fire. Chocolate, roasted marshmallows, and graham crackers, all together. How fucking awesome is that?

Today I cruised over to a nearby beach for another turtle related adventure. At Kawaiola Beach, sea turtles will come on shore to rest, giving everyone great photo opportunities. There were about six of them when I was there, and I managed to get some great photos. They truly are magnificent creatures, seemingly even more so when they're out of the sea and in my element. After that I got to photograph some more wildlife on the porch of my cabin. Little green Gecko's run around the wooden telephone pole that sits against the front railing, and make great photo subjects. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

North to the Shore

I definitely made a good call ditching Honolulu for the North Shore. So far I am loving it. I was not looking forward to catching the public bus up here this morning due to a slight hangover, but my situation improved greatly when I called the hostel here and they told me the shuttle was running and would pick me up in just over an hour. By 1:30pm I was checked into my hostel and heading to the beach!

The hostel is basically a row of cabins just off the main highway, six people to a cabin. Pretty basic but all that I need right now. The beach in front of my hostel is eons ahead of Waikiki. The sand is better, the water is clearer, it's not crammed with resort people, and there's a choice of many others if I get bored of this one. And beer is cheaper! There's so many choices of what to do around here that I can't settle on one, but snorkelling in Shark Cove sounds pretty good. Or maybe hiking into the jungle to swim at a waterfall...

Friday, May 11, 2012

Mr. Turtle

Yesterday was a chill out day for me. I spent some time on Waikiki beach, soaking up some sun but keeping it off my head due to a bad sunburn I acquired from my time in Pearl. Even today my head is still red. Waikiki beach is not too shabby, but not too great. There's not much in terms of waves, and the sand is kind of dirty. But the water is a great temperature, and there's a lot going on. Later on that day I sat on the end of the pier and took photos of some people surfing against the sunset, which produced some amazing shots (I'll upload one soon). Due to my coming scuba dive the next morning, I just hung around the hostel and traded stories with Aussies and Americans over some beers.


Now for my scuba dive: Incredible! I was picked up at 6:30am by a dive shop I had booked with, and we jumped on the boat and were at the dive site at 7:15am. The first dive was a wreck that was sunk years ago to create an artificial reef. I've never dived a wreck before, so I was apprehensive about entering it when the other two did, but after being beckoned in by the dive master, I relented. It was basically a hollow tub of a ship, something similar to an old WWII landing craft. On that dive we saw a three foot White Tip Reef Shark and a Moray Eel.

The next dive was the incredible one. We did a roll in off the boat and immediately went negatively buoyant, free-falling into the depths below. Five minutes in we spotted another four foot White Tip Reef Shark, this one swimming within meters of us. The pinnacle of the dive came when I was drifting along the reef wall towards a protrusion of rock ahead of me. Above it I saw a giant Sea Turtle, the first I've ever seen in the wild. Amazed, I swam towards it, coming up to the crest of the rock protrusion. Just as I peered over the edge, another large Sea Turtle rose out of a well in the rocks right before my eyes, maybe a meter away! It was absolutely breathtaking to see these beautiful creatures so close up. At one point we had eight of them around us! The most intriguing thing about them is their docility. They lumbered by us, not a speck of fear towards us. One of them even lay on the bottom resting while we swam just feet over it's shell. All in all I couldn't be more happy with the way those dives went, and I wish I had the money to do more.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Breaking Out the Big Guns

I'll start from the beginning with the flight. I had a preliminary scare when I get to the check in desk. The lady asks me if I had applied for my visa exemption. I reply "huh?". She looks at me with a half oh shit/what do you mean huh? expession. I reply "I'm Canadian". She looks relieved. I did too. Later, I was waiting in the terminal crying from listening to a comedy skit by Doug Stanhope. I then hear my name over the intercom, paging me to come to the bording desk. Uh-oh. I get there and am informed that they are changing my seat, but I still get to keep my isle seat. I instantly imagine being seated next to a four hundred pound alcoholic with a peanut sized bladder, and a woman with a collachy babynext to him. Fortunately, there was no woman or baby, and the guy was only two hundred and fifty pounds, and had to piss twice. Instead he took up the entire fucking armrest the whole flight, and by touchdown my arm was ready to grow legs and rip itself off my body in order to get some movement.

Running on three hours of sleep, I file into the customs line with all the inbound Aussies. The border official was friendly, and processed me quickly. I go to the end of the hall to where another official is collection the customs slips, and upon looking at mine informs me I need to report for bag inspection. Great, I thought. My initial hope that my luck with the American border fuzz was improving was dashed. I go up the kiosk and report to an older female border guard. She checks my passport and asks me to open my bags. And then she proceeds to look through everything. I mean EVERYTHING.

She finds a folder that I keep my documents in (travel documents, tax stuff from Aus, etc.) and starts salivating. Then the questions come. I think she asked me every question in a border pigs reperatoire (note my increasing hostility). Where have you been traveling? How long did you work in Australia for? How long did you work in India for? What were you doing in China? Are you presently employed? What was your employment in Australia? What kind of factory was it? What are these railway documents? Have you worked for a railroad before? 

This woman did not miss a detail. She even found a shipping receipt from a package I'd shipped home from Australia the day before. Who's Doug? Fuck sakes, lady, I thought. The weirdest part of it all was when she found my books. Found is an understatement, she honed in on them like a fat kid on a Smartee. The first one is a book I bought in Papua New Guinea, and is about a British Field Marshall in WWII Burma, and is not a well known piece of literature. What's this? That question was repeated five times throughout the interrogation. The other book was by Dan Brown, a well known author, so she didn't spend so much time on that one. It was very strange though, and not genuine interest (the I'd like to read this sometime sort), but more like she was looking for subversive literature. I hadn't even had that happen when I went to Communist China! It just shows how Orwellian this country is becoming.

The shit ended there, however, and I was permitted to enter America. I get to my hostel at 8:30am, but my hopes of sleep are dashed when I'm informed I can't check in until 4pm. It was a nice day though, so I took advantage of it and made a move for Pearl Harbour, catching the local bus after a giant breakfast and much needed coffee at Denny's. The ride took almost an hour one way, and I arrived at Pearl under the noon sun. I caught a shuttle right away to the Missouri Battleship Monument, and wandered around there for two hours. I am a war buff, and that battleship is the pinnacle of what gets a war buff hard. It was pure awesome seeing the gigantic sixteen inch guns and various Tomahawk and Harpoon missile launchers. My only beef was that I couldn't see the Operations Room. After that I caught the boat over to the Arizona Memorial, which is the sunken ruin of the Battleship USS Arizona, which remains just below the surface to see, after she was sunk by the Japanese in WWII. One other awesome part of that trip was when I got to see a couple of F-22 Raports flying around the harbour.

After that I caught the bus back to Waikiki and checked into my room to catch an hour of sleep. The jet lag was still with me so one hour was all I could manage. I got up, grabbed some food and a twenty four ounce beer for $3.19! I love alcohol prices in the US! I hung around with some people from the hostel for the rest of the night and crashed for eleven hours. Now here I am. I booked a hostel on the North Shore this Saturday for four nights and confirmed a dive for tomorrow. Now to the beach I go!!!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Goodbye Australia!

How can I sum up my time here? Australia was like a mediocre date; she was average looking, you took her to Montana's for dinner, got slightly tipsy, didn't get laid, but hey, second base will do. It's obvious to say that things didn't go according to the plan I had prior to arriving here. The railroad job never materialized, and neither did the big amount of money I had counted on for another two years of traveling. Instead, I'm taking lemons and making lemonade. A little less cash, but still armed with a great plan, I'll make my way back home to make a much needed visit to family and friends, and hopefully make some more money to continue my journeys.

The past few days have been quite chaotic, trying to run around and get all my errands done before I left that I didn't really have any time to reflect, and it wasn't until this morning that it really hit me that I'm leaving. I did enjoy most of my time here. I rode in on an emotional high and unfortunately the crash of my plan also crashed that high, but I have since rebounded back and am ready to bring on the good times again. I'm leaving with the same amount of money I arrived with, in good spirits, and the physically strongest I've ever been. I'm sad to be leaving my friends here, but that's life on the road; goodbye's are inevitable.

Australia did have some amazing travels in store for me. Tazmania, Melbourne and the Central Coast of New South Wales were all incredible in terms of scenery and experience. Fortunately for all of those, I had family along with me. I do wish I had a little more time and money to catch a glimpse of the Outback and the Great Barrier Reef, but there's always the future. I didn't really care too much for the culture here, the only real pronounced difference is the heavy emphasis on sports, and being I'm not much of a sports guy, it didn't impact me very hard. I did like the pub culture though, I wish we had as much variety at home as they do here.

Will I return? It is still a possibility that I might head back to Tazmania if that visa issue ever gets resolved and TasRail calls me. How strong a possibility I don't know, from the way things have been I would guess very small, but I can't discount it entirely. For another vacation, Australia will rank very low on my list. I feel there's simply too many other countries on my list that would trump it without a thought. I'm still in the East > West mode, but with the money I have left and my urge to see mountains again, Hawaii and Alaska seem like the best route home.

Next stop: Honolulu!!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Last 7

Seven more days to go! I'll be finished work in a day and a half, exactly at the right time, too. One can only stand in one spot and paint shit for so long. I'm so anxious I can barely stand it. I've recently upgraded my camera equipment once again on this trip, the upgrade being a new Canon L 70-200mm telephoto lens, a fine piece of hardware for shooting the multitude of wildlife I'm bound to see in Alaska. The internal flights are booked, one week in Oahu and one week on the Big Island to see an old travel buddy. I've just booked a two tank scuba dive on May 13th in Honolulu, which includes a deep wreck dive! I've booked a hostel, so all that's left as far as Hawaii goes is to fly in and buy a beer.

As far as the next week goes, it's going to be a busy one. I have a few hundred photos of Australia to filter through, edit and upload before I leave. I need to submit my tax return and hopefully get my Australian tax money back, which might turn out to be a good chunk of change. On Saturday I'll have a good going away bash with the roomates, and Friday will include a few after work beers with the workmates. Sunday I'll be recovering my ass from the massive hangover I'm sure to inflict on myself. After all that's done, I have to pack my backpack and leave!