(...or "A Tale of Winners and Losers")
04.06.2014 - 04.06.2014 13 °C
(Circular Quay at late afternoon)
I am unable to resist the temptation of Chaos. On the advice of a friend, I leave the Sydney CBD and take the train to King's Cross to find the King's Cross Hotel, not really a hotel but a five storey bar. In fact as a general rule of thumb, if a place is called a 'hotel' here it is really a bar. you can't sleep there. Not really. The evening is pleasantly warm (for a Canadian), the train-station uncomfortably more so. A brief ride, I emerge into the, ahem, depravity of King's Cross, the true spirit of whom has quietly retired for a night off. Case in point: the lowest level of the King's Cross Hotel, the self-proclaimed "Dive Bar", is closed and will not be enlightening me with it's dank underbelly and reptilian taxidermy.
Winner: pub food at King's Cross Hotel, cheap, plentiful, and good. Accompanied by the the ambiance that is King's Cross this evening, this was well worth the short trip.
Loser: me, as I am not propositioned by any prostitutes this time...which is...good? Also, I didn't bring a camera again (which is...good?) so I have to steal my own crappy iPhone picture from Facebook so I have something to show.
I am sitting on my hotel balcony enjoying my last night here, bathing in the sounds and smells of the city night, flashes of the light festival over the water of the harbour bouncing off the sides of the aquarium across the lane from me. A brief stay that came and went before I could properly introduce myself. This was expected, one of the trade-offs of a trip-of-a-lifetime part the second so soon after the pilot episode was to trim time and money off the endeavour. So far Australia is 'easier' this time, or at least Sydney is. Familiarity nurtures forthwith-ness, and wearing a smile for the sake of doing so makes it easier for those you meet to return the gesture. As it turns out a frown born of self-consciousness and nerves, for those you meet who cannot know, is to them simply a frown.
Winner: the sunset over Darling Harbour from my balcony on my last night here, the lights and sounds of the Vivid Light Festival and the heavenly smells of charbroiled everything all around, so potent it even sticks to my clothes.
Loser: me, because now I have to leave the relative comfort of Sydney. I want to stay and just keep eating. Also, I can't sleep worth shit.
A minor footnote-slash-advice if I may, because it doesn't really belong anywhere so I'll put it here:
Winner: Telstra. If you come here, bring an unlocked smartphone (at least) and better yet, also an unlocked tablet. $30 on the phone gets you $0.15/minute to call back to North America, $0.10 outgoing texts (free incoming), and data charged at $0.10/MB. And the same $30 on the tablet gets you 3GB of data. By my math, this makes these prepaid offers about 10% of the cost of my monthly Rogers plan back home. And as I learned last time, it is a mistake to rely on hotel or caravan park wifi, as it can be expensive, flaky with tablets, or simply non-existent.
Loser: me...clearly so strapped for blog ideas I let it briefly deteriorate into an advert for a cell phone company.
My second night's rest is not as productive as my first. I believe my body has not adjusted to the time yet, and I spend most of the night tossing and rippling between a light schizophrenic sleep and full miserable wakefulness. But as it turns out, there is perhaps a bit more of an explanation behind my restlessness. As many of the momentary flash-in-pan dreams I had might suggest, it could very well be nerves about where I might be headed. But there may be another, far more unpleasant reason...
Winner: the beautiful clear Sydney morning as I walk back to the train station to head into the airport, jacket off enjoying the fresh cool air, slowly and with much resistance realizing that...
Loser: ...me, because I'm developing a chest cold.
I'm getting sick.
I employ self-denial, and instead focus on the flight to Alice Springs. The flight itself is quiet and uneventful, apart from my shunning a mild panic at this recent development, instead convincing myself that it is the lack of sleep that is really making me feel this shitty. And the sell-job kind of works, at least for now. I'm able to relax and enjoy the flight, catch up on a Tom Robbins book I've been working on for the better part of a year, and enjoy my small in-flight snack: a not-quite meatpie, not-quite quiche. Basically just ham, cheese, and butter baked into a shell. I am surprised at my own resolve being able to munch it down without regretting it in one way or another. Even the young Aussie fellow next to me appeared unimpressed with the dish.
Winner: seeing the clouds below the plane give way to reveal the barren and pitted red land, brown and endless plains and empty salt lakes of interior Australia, and later the massive sand tides of the Simpson Desert, forcing the apprehension to move over to elation, because whatever happens, whereever my travels take me, I'm traveling through freakin' Australia!
Loser: me, I left my camera in my bag and have only shitty iPhone pictures to share with you.
Upon first arriving, I am waging a full-blown internal battle - on one side telling myself that I am tired and nervous, and that after a good night sleep I will feel better...and on the other side, me being realistic and trying to admit that I may be running a mild fever and should probably take precautions. Ultimately I turn away from the melee and let it rage on inside as I walk into town to start supplying myself for the road trip that, no matter what, I have to take. I need to be in Perth in two weeks, and there is really only one method to getting there - at least one that would not cause me to lose a fortune and ruin this trip beyond repair. The sun having finally emerged I wander along the beautiful, though empty, Todd River bed and arrive into town, little glints of familiarity entertaining me. For example I now remember that in Sydney, at least in the CBD, pedestrians pretty much have the right-of-way. In Alice Springs (and possibly everywhere else) it is the complete opposite to the point that I'm sure those Roo-bars on the front of vehicles here are probably meant for more than just dumb road-dwelling Roos.
Wandering through the grocery store I hear an INXS song over the pa speakers and simultaneously think of both my wife and my trip to Michael Hutchence's memorial on my first trip. By the time the song is done, I miraculously feel better. Much, much better. But still I will take precautions.
Winner: the porter house steak from the hotel bar (the bar in the hotel that I swore in my first blog I wouldn't return to because 'it was expensive', only to realize that first, I obviously had not adjusted to Australian pricing the first time, and second, the hotel is really nice.) And the sunset reflecting off the MacDonnell Range outside my room.
Loser: me, the 'cold and flu' relief I purchased, upon further inspection now, is some kind of funky 'natural' relief. Instead of acetaminophen there is "White Willow Bark", instead of Ibuprofen there's "Elderberry", instead of menthol, "Horseradish", and no antihistamine...and..."Valerian Root". My mistake, I clearly missed the "Elvish Medicine" section sign.
Sleep last night was better though still mis-programmed. I will shortly be packing everything and heading to Britz to pick up my mobile hotel room for the next 13 nights, and at that point I will have a much better idea where I will be headed. Despite the anxiety and less-than-perfect health I am still hoping I will get permission to drive the Gunbarrel...at least leaving the decision in my hands, one I will make once I get closer to the turn-off of the Great Central Road by influence of both health and weather. I am not sure exactly when I will get a chance to update this blog again for a while, but it should be within about 3 or 4 days. Three out of my four possible routes has me at Yulara (Uluru) on Friday whereby I should be able to check in. The last, northerly route, could be less predictable, because I will not subject myself to that 12-hour, 800km Tanami Marathon again. I got lucky the first time, I know when to not push said luck.
Thanks for reading.
Winner: the sunrise over the MacDonnell Range mountains outside my room. And the awesome resident hotel peacock who is endlessly grooming itself. Much be hard to be a local celebrity.
Loser: my ghost, sitting back at the hotel bar, sipping Merlot and whining about the menu prices. However he is also shaking in his socks because he is terrified: the next day he will be going to Britz to find out if he is able to take the Tanami Road and Gibb River Road and stick to his original travel plans. He is still feeling way out of place here, shy and unsure of himself, unclear how to act, how to greet people. He is scared shitless of what will happen when he has to drive on the left side of the road, and on the right side of the truck. He is nervous about bush-camping on the side of the Tanami. And even now, he has no idea what to expect from this country and what will happen next.
What a noob.