…roundtripper

This will be a blomit and I’ll fix it later.

Read at own risk as this is a brain dump from the past 2 weeks at sea during the Macquarie Island resupply (v4)

Well this trip is certainly a very different journey so far … what is this ‘work’ thing that I’m expected to do?

Ha 🙂

The last 4 weeks ( v1 and v3) on the Aurora Australis were as an Expeditioner – so my actual job started when I got to the research station and my days on the ship were filled with endless free time.

This short trip so far ?

Flat out. So busy! 12 hours days (7am-7pm) so far and so much to learn. I expected as much and I’m loving it.

We had dolphins again escort us out of Hobart, and I barely got up into the fresh air ( 4 hours after leaving) before the ship did an handbrake turn and headed back towards Hobart. There had been a critical piece of scientific equipment left on the docks, and it couldn’t be left behind. It would be loaded on a fast boat 🚤 and we would steam back to meet the boat somewhere off Hobart.

An almost 8 hour exercise in backtracking. The unexpected bonus being we all got cell service ( and Internet) back on the ship – so some frantic last minute app updating and software download occurred.

Was actually a lucky 🍀 break that we turned back as it proved useful to solve many IT issues that would not have been resolved otherwise ( no internet on the ship, you see)

So we rinse and repeated – did a ship to ship transfer of the kit, rechecked the manifests, and turned once again towards Macquarie Island. The dolphins rested us a little less enthusiastically this time, but we were finally on our way.

The ocean was like a barely stirring millpond – barely a swell nor roll to be felt onboard, and the night brought overcast skies and a promising sunset.

Saturday was a long day – 12 hours of drills, briefings, and IT problem solving. It vanished in a haze of weariness by 7pm, and I decided to put on an Oscars themed movie night for this voyage in the cinema onboard – all the top nominated pics from this year’s Oscars. (yes I got fast internet in Hobart and abused it completely)

Let’s see how the movie night goes over the next few weeks… tonight I’m starting with The Shape Of Water , which is my new favourite film for several reasons, only one of which is related to the film.

It’s Sunday now, and the seas have decided to challenge us as we approach Macquarie Island, only 24 hours away.

The Southern Ocean is not happy to be woken so early on a Sunday and I’m not thrilled about it either.

Monstrous grey waves 🌊 angrily pound and crash across our portholes; wind-whipped white capped 6 metre waves , driven mercilessly by a 35 knot wind, have finally started to make this trip interesting and the bulk of the passengers are hiding in their cabins (seasick or watching movies on their laptops)

All my morning tasks are complete and I’ve just flicked in our vhf repeater in preparation for the boating operation tomorrow.

Let’s see what today brings 🙂

… more of the same.

Fleet broadband communication issues outgoing from the ship to station was a headache as was getting support out of Kingston ( being a weekend and a public holiday, key support personnel were uncontactable – which always sucks). Best efforts were made but issues and workarounds are the order of the day here so we did the best we could.

The seas are calming also, which is a good sign for the operations ahead.

So now it’s Monday, and the Groundhog Day feeling was just starting to kick in again as a shadowy cloud front on the horizon slowly revealed itself to be Macquarie Island.

The upper bridge was packed as word spread around the ship : we were here.

For the incoming Winterers, this was to be their new home for 6 to 12 months. For the roundtripper, this was where the next 10 days would be spent frantically trying to complete projects and objectives before the weather turned it they ran out of time.

Science and logistics in competition with the plant and its elements in a race against the clock.

Today, Team Science is a clear winner, as the waves calm and the winds drop.

Boating operations with the IRBs ( zodiacs) and the LARCs ( repurposed military DUCKS) commenced and the passengers and equipments started to flow.

King penguin flocks (?) escort the IRBs to and from the ship, their curiosity drawing them closer and closer. More and more animals are visible in the beach but we are just a little too far away to see clearly what they are.

I’m on Bunker Door duty today – a special door usually reserved for pilot transfer in the side of the ship – the three of us being team leads for the next 10 days. Day 1 we are learning the ropes – literally.

It’s a great gig – and we are close (15 feet or so) to the waterline. We will be controlling the passengers and their baggage on and off the ship – passenger processing basically : biosecurity checks and boot baths, PPE and life jacket checks, carry on luggage transfer and of course, helping people climb up and down the long swaying rope and timber ladder slung out over the side of the ship – the only was passengers can get in or off the ship here.

It’s fun to do something different and not IT related. Plus am getting some great photos from this perspective.

Tonight I’m putting on Blade Runner 2049 in the theatre here – continuing the Oscars 2018 theme 😉

Tuesday and our Phone issues seem to have finally been sorted out by head office. Having a long weekend back home makes support difficult and frustrating but luckily there are some talented people that know what they are doing.

The ship is deserted as most of the expedition era are leaving this morning to commence their operations on the island.

I have a shirt 3 hour shift in bunker door today, and then am helping out where I can. I have to stay on the ship – Comms Officer and all that – in case they have to haul ass outta here.

Hopefully when the returning Comms guy get on board later in the week I’ll get a chance to go ashore.

**also met Emily coming out of Macca – a friend of Ashley’s (my old housemate) and Kim (summering Bio at Davis with me). It’s a small world indeed.

A little extra duty today as I’ve been tapped in the shoulder to assist the DVL with cargo and manifest duties in deck – helping with the logistics of moving hundreds of pallets/cages of equipment off the ship and into station. We are boating everything across using the ducks ( LARCs) and IRB for passenger tender. It’s certainly a change of pace for me and it’s great to be up on deck where the action is 🙂

I’m a little ill today I think… tired and flat. There’s been a virus getting around on board and I think I’m coming down with something. It’s always seems to happen with an influx of new expeditioners. Some bug ran rampant – an early night for me I think 🙂

Tonight’s movie is Lady Bird.

Wednesday : this place looks like the Island from Jurassic Park. I’m not convinced that there aren’t dinosaurs there. It looks…cinematic.

We circle the island at night and come up close to the station during the day, waiting for the weather window to start ops.

Waiting, waiting, waiting…

The winds have come up and although the oceans are smooth, SOPs won’t allow boating operations until the winds drop below a certain speed. The remaining 15 or so personnel waiting to go ashore are in hourly standby but at this stage it look that best case we’ll get refuelling some but that’s it.

Looking for work onboard today – digging in corners for things to fix so I don’t have to update documentation (ugh). Save that for the trip back.

So tired today I just want to sleep.

Lates, my peeps.

Tonight’s movie is I, Tonya.

Thursday now, and the last of the day trippers have gone ashore. There are three expeditioners left on the ship and it’s eerily quiet.

I’m stuck on board and today is the first day I’ve been bored. There’s nothing to help out with and no tasking from the Div. I might help out in the kitchen.

The island is a 15 minute swim away 😦 but the weather changes every 5 minutes from sun to rain to sleet to snow and then back again

Monday 19th – has it really only been a week???

Feels like an eternity now.

There’s only three of us that haven’t gone ashore yet, and it looks like we won’t. The weather is our enemy here and every window of opportunity is focused on cargo and projects.

Since Friday we have done nothing by dodge the weather and stooge up and down the coast, hiding from the swell, swooping in to anchor quickly to put whatever we could ashore whenever we can.

We may we’ll be late back to Hobart but at this stage it’s all a big ? – completely dependent on the wind, waves and swell. The uncertainty is fucking annoying to be honest – you can’t plan anything and have to be prepared at a moments notice to move.

For the past week or so I’ve been team lead on our bunker door team – basically passenger control and quarantine for peeps getting on or off the ship – and that’s been fun. Hanging out a door in the side of the ship helping people up and down the ladder only a few metres above the water gives you a new perspective on the ocean and the island . **I cracked the viewfinder glass on my good camera (grrr) on some dangling metal fitting on the harness we have to wear. Hope it’s a cheap replacement :/

Finally saw The Last Jedi – Sunday night movie 🍿 here and what a beautifully shot piece of shit that was. Such a stupid movie with stupid characters making stupid decisions and stupid speeches. And the stupid attempts at comedy. And Frozen Space Leia. And that whole stupid lame casino caper fucktarded thing. And Porgs. And mincing villains with Family Guy- type humour. And Phasmas big moment. AAARGH FFKS. My God, Disney are killing Star Wars already. So disappointed 😢… ut it was absolutely beautifully shot and designed though…kudos for that but the whole story was a b grade stinker.

Monday 19th and nothing has changed. We are advised to bunker down and burn the day. Great. Movies, read my books and the odd IT job to do. Yawn. Another 12 hour shift on call.

Tuesday 20th and we’re still here.

No cargo ops today although they are going to try after lunch. The weather is improving as is the ocean conditions – still a day and a half of cargo ops that they need to do so it looks like we are staying out til it’s done…

I’ve started a midday movie and afternoon tv session in the theatre and as boredom kicks in on board, I’m getting quite a few people in 🙂

Today it’s a 12.30pm matinee of “The Shape of Water” , then at 3pm my “Stranger Things” marathon finally starts 🙂 … tonight it’s “Bone Tomahawk” at 7.30 for some Western action.

Tomorrow is another ” maybe you can go ashore depending on the weather” day but I’m not holding my breath. It’d be nice to get into the island for a while and explore but my world won’t end if I don’t . I’m getting a bit sick of being on the ship to be honest – it has been almost a month at sea now if you don’t count the 3 days alongside between voyages – cooped up inside isn’t a lot of fun.

Im running out of things to do so to stay productive I’m starting on documentation.

DOCUMENTATION!!!

That’s how bored it’s getting now it’s not that busy. I keep asking myself (and everyone else in my chain of command) “is there anything I should be doing that I’m not?”. The answer seems to be “as long as you keep the punters happy”.

So far so good.

This post is too long and boring

To be continued.

…moments

9am Sunday, Portland Oregon. Downtown.

…a gaunt bearded man in sandals, torn black pleather and dirty grey tracksuit pants shuffles by the corner window of Powells Bookstore cafe, wheeling a wobbling red Zimmer frame overflowing with glistening black garbage bags filled with everything he owns in this world.  He doesn’t look up, doesnt see me.  I see him through the aromatic steam of a scalding black Americano.

Sip.

A tanned young woman in blue jean shorts , oversized sunglasses, rainbow tshirt and California halo of beach-blonde curly hair struts past, a look of disgust on her face. 

So close they almost touch, but not quite.

Completely engaged with a shiny red apple taken from a Whole Foods bag, she scowls and rubs it on her spectacular breast, trying to remove a spot of wax or a blemish, or maybe just as an excuse to turn away. She curses silently, tosses the apple into a bin without breaking stride and then rummages in her bag.  

She looks up but doesn’t see me quietly judging them both, invisible through the glass.

He sees only his filthy feet and she only sees her reflection.

They don’t see each other. They’ll never see each other. The moment slides away.

Sip.

The man with a map walks to the corner, never looks up, walks to one corner, then another, checks his map. Scratches his head and checks his watch. He is late or lost or both.

A confused indecisiveness surrounds him. He stops again as the pretty girl on the pink bicycle runs the “don’t walk” sign and cruises diagonally through the crosswalk, instantly blinded by the sun.

I wait for it but the man spins right in a pirouette of fortunate confusion, the pretty girl on the pink bike glides past, legs still pumping on the pedals but squinting into the glare.

So close they almost touch, but not quite.

They don’t see each other. The moment slides away.

Sip

I am my cup today.

…care factor

Last night I saw one of my teenage idols – Pat Benatar – live in a small Indian Casino close to here (SO good), then met a friend at a local bar to catch up after.

That turned into another post 3am night out. As a result I am slightly hung over today and my thought processes aren’t quite firing so this could be a total waffle – bear with me.

My drinking bud told me last night that one of the things she likes about me is that I don’t give a shit (in context the conversation was about toned cute-as-a-button PT instructors getting constantly hit on/competed with by guys in bars <or at least I think it was – things get hazy after 2am>

Yo Hayley.

I hadn’t thought much about it until my second coffee this morning to clear my foggy head.

Replaying last night as best as I could, this little thing stood out.

When did I stop giving a shit? 

More importantly how come people can see it? What’s happened to my masks? Hmmm…

There was a time where the thought of sitting in a bar and talking to people frightened the Hell outta me (that was a while ago admittedly), but these days – pffft – easy peasy Japanesey (sorry about the casual racism – its a generational thing).

Now I comfortably jump onto a plane, live in a foreign country for months, make new friends and form connections almost as a byproduct of just being there.  (ok so its not beer and skittles all the time but generally its pretty good)

So WTF? When did that happen?

I guess quitting work and striking out in a new direction has really been the last bullet in the head for my care factor levels and it must be showing.

Warning : Overshare.

This social anxiety thing that I’m hoping most of us feel in a strange situation was really amplified when I was a kid. Super shy and quiet,  I would rather read, wander or talk to my horses than interact with people.

You can imagine how that went down once I hit school. 

Overwhelmed, I ran away on my first day of Primary School and climbed up high into a tall tree out the front of the school – the Year 6 boys had to climb it and get me down. That happened more than once and the tree’s still there I think, at Wombat Public School.

*my sister and I back in Ye Olden Times.

High School wasn’t much better (less tree climbing though) and opened a whole new can of worms. Who exactly was I? How to fit into this micro-society, an odd shape that didn’t quite belong anywhere (at least in my head that’s how it seemed).

So I settled on being ‘clown’ : a funny/smartass camouflage developed as a survival mechanism at school, a sarcastic shield of protection and emotional armor, a way to overcome paralysing shyness and low self esteem – a product of many factors that I’m not going into. Today.

Girls? Not a chance. Baffled. Clueless. Completely oblivious (well at least ’til High School). Embarrassingly so. Head up my ass introverted.

Looking back, so many “Ohhhh so THATS what that was about” moments that I had no clue about at the time.

*my favourite school Photo – the last one I ever smiled in.

So anyway it’s taken a while to overcome all that – remember my ‘fake it till you make it’ motto?

So whats changed lately?

Well many things, but I think its basically the “care factor” – caring about how you look, how you dress, what you say, what the future holds, whats happened in the past, what people think of you (that’s the killer one). Money, career, marriage, houses, fancy cars, stability, conforming, fitting in, following the rules. It’s all a trap.

So the lower the care factor, the freer you become. So simple! 

Is it the same as confidence? I don’t think so but perhaps it can be mistaken for it.

Maybe reducing the care factor brings you closer to the actual person that’s buried underneath all the layers of bullshit – letting go of the emotional armor, masks and defence mechanisms that keep us emotionally separated from other people, that stop us creating actual real soul-to-soul connections instead of only temporary insubstantial surface level encounters.

Derrr… of course it is. You know this already. Everyone knows this, right? Feel free to bail out.

But I’ll continue my thought regardless…

Let the ‘this is me’ of you peek out from behind the curtain and take a tentative step forward and be. To the ‘real’ if it.

Other real people will respond. They’re hungry for it just like you are.

(All this is assuming you aren’t really an asshole underneath and in that case, all bets are off)

There’s to much bullshit in this world already. Why contribute to it? That’s just sad.

We saw a lot of masks at the BroHo last night. More in the late night diner after, even more outside the clubs and bars in downtown Olympia as the 2am crowd oozed out into the chill air, hunting for the next club or burger. 

Reality and bullshit clash after 2am, hungry for a fight or a fuck or a hotdog in the dim alleys or neon lit streets, queuing in club doorways and dark places smelling of urine and dogshit where the hopeless homeless live, hidden in the clouds of cinnamon vape smoke or in the pungent wafts of weed enveloping like warm spots in a cold swimming pool as you dodge through the crowded sidewalks milling with circus freaks and pretty party people .

An unrehearsed ballet of bullshit – all pretenders and posers, creeps and creepers, homeless and hopeless, the lit up and the hyperactive, the happy and clueless all lipstick, glitter and laughter, or the sobbing high heeled dripping mascara tears, tattooed with torn black stockings , cats eyes and smeared facepaint. Everyone masked up and parading at the Ball. This is who I want you to think I am.

It sounds like I think I’m different from them but I’m no better or no worse – definitely less fake than I used to be and still a work in progress.

The realest person I met was a dog that some dude brought into the bar. He was just happy to be there.

Anyway, my meandering point is that I think my care factor has finally dropped to a level that can set me free.

Care Factor Zero achieved and I’m just happy to be here.

 

Wow this coffees kicked in I think. thank God. That was quite a rant.

Sorry about that! 

Still here? Here’s a pic of a cute chipmunk on Mt Rainier as a reward.

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…rebooted

I resigned from my job with the NSW Police just now, after a restless night marred by forgotten nightmares and a solid day of jitters, uncertainty and indecision. 

My nice, safe, well paid and relatively secure government job. 

It’s done. I’m done. They denied my secondment to the Antarctic Division so my only option was to quit.

I took the moral high ground and made my resignation letter polite and professional (naturally having an honest first draft and then taking out all the “fuck you all this is why I’m really leaving” elements in version 2)

“Thank you, you are all great, how privileged I feel blah blah blah”.  Meh. You know the drill.

The cushy job was a comfortable cage quickly sucking the life out of me and trapping me professionally in small town Australia. 

It really was that bad – a shitty thankless IT job in remote Australia, no career progression or development possible, alone most of the time, constantly travelling,  with ‘technical’ colleagues who I wouldn’t trust to install OSX on a MacBook (most wouldn’t have be able to) and largely ineffective Managers that were only interested if you were in Sydney or were a uniformed officer.

If I was a uniformed Police officer I’d be on the cover of the Police Monthly for this Antarctic role – because I’m a civilian tech no one gives a shit. 

Yeah I know that just my ego, but jeez man, a congrats from my manager at least would have been nice.  Anyway….

5 years seems to be the limit with me with many a things: if I’m not challenged, I’m out. 

In hindsight I should have been outta there 2 years ago.

Anyway, I’ve blitzed my medicals and psych (fittest and more balanced than I’ve ever been) , signed my contract with the Antarctic Division and head South on the 1st October, locked and loaded for what the future will bring but more than a little shitscared. 

Still in Olympia, Washington at this stage: hiking these beautiful mountains and forests pretty much every day, waiting for the eclipse  to pass, and assuming there isn’t a zombie apocalypse or a race war then I’m off road tripping across the USA for the next month.

That’s all the words I can summon today : moderately emotionally exhausted at the moment. 

It’s cloudy and dull so a good day to catch up on some movies at the multiplex.

I need to regroup.

Later.

…f5

One week in already!

Despite a few early teething issues (specifically jetlag, accommodation falling through, and an unnecessarily nasty message from an ex’s sister here) the process of refreshing my memories of this marvelous state is working a treat.

Still in Washington at this stage, I rented a car and then settled into my temporary home in Olympia up near the Capitol Building. Got real lucky with this one and my 3 night Airbnb has now turned into something more long term with a super cool Californian family (zoologist and graphic artist) , their 2 year old son and their houseful of one-eyed and ragged rescue cats (plus Riley the dog).

**More on Amber and her Animal Rescue non-profit to come – living in a cathouse is awesome and Ive never seen such a variety of one eyed rescues in once place  🙂

Slipping back into the familiar territory around Olympia here was a good idea and getting tuned into the weirdness of American life was much easier than I expected.

Day 1 was a tired, confusing tangle of getting shit done, tip calculation and left handed “uh oh” moments, but after a good nights sleep and a few hours walking around, I was back in business.

Day 2 was much better. Rent a car. Get some jerky at the Markets, see the last day of the Olympia Lakefair. Time to explore.

It literally took only 10 minutes for me to adjust to right hand driving again. After the sweaty palms and abject fear of learning to drive here last year it was a welcome change.

So where to start?

Well of course I have to go back out to Union Deli for my usual. 

Heading out to Union again to catch up with my friends felt like I’d never left and the last year hadn’t happened. It was like driving into my home town (which was totally weird) and I don’t think that I’ve ever been made to feel so welcome than here (well…apart from the initial hiccup with J’s sister – although it upset my apple cart briefly, the wheels straightened, springs settled and the horse trotted on).

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Holly remembered my Americano and honey after a year or more away and the coffee was as good as ever. Bless you, Holly Jean.

Anyway my point here is that I’m here for a few reasons.
Firstly, and foremost Ive fallen deeply in love with the mountains, waters and forests of Western Washington. Something about this place vibrates at the same frequency as I do. I feel at peace here and this place has been calling me back from the moment I left. 

I dream about the woods here.

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Secondly, there’s a need to overwrite some of the bad memories from last year and replace them with good ones.  I kinda got the idea from watching a film – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – a while back. While erasing memories is beyond me at the moment (red wine aside), I thought that an enforced refresh might work – overwriting old with new memories would be just as good. It seems to be working well so far.

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…so just calm the heck down, Sarah.

 **Maybe don’t read/follow/report on my doings if its going to ‘upset’ certain peeps.

I wasn’t going to mention that but hey it’s my blog so I guess I am, huh. Whomsoever actually reads my social media/blomit now interests me and wtf should people care what I do anyway. 

One last passive-aggressive thing: there’s an unfriend/unfollow button there if you don’t want to be friends with me. I get it – it’s cool. Its not you, its me. Global peace etc. The unfriend button is really easy to use and I don’t really mind either way ( well I do actually but for the point of this argument I don’t).
Personally, I love to stay in touch with people and I definitely stay in touch with people I care about.

Like you kind folks. You are awesome.

Feel free to stay friends.

You’re welcome.

So…just to clarify.
What am I NOT here for?

Chasing ghosts and dwelling on the past. I am here to exorcise them for good and move forward.

As of today, after a week? Same sights, sounds and places, no triggers. No negative reaction whatsoever, so a perfect result as far as I’m concerned.

Mission almost accomplished.

It’s been fun to reconnect with my actual in-person friends here and experiencing this beautiful American summer for the first time is recharging batteries that I didn’t know I had.

So  – what else has been happening?

Hmmm…

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Well exploring Olympia in the sunshine is a treat, but summer nights are a different story all together. For example the Capitol building is simply stunning by night. The views from the Police Memorial over the South Puget Sound in the evenings are breathtaking, taking in the distant Olympic mountains over the water as the sunset purples into clear starry night and the lazy mosquitos fly into every hole you have.

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Ive only done some minor shopping so far (staying in the “keep it light and carryon on only” rule) – updated my worn out Merrel barefoot shoes (they lasted over a year but the superglue is failing and the soles are micro thin). Bought a tshirt and some used Levis at a thrift shop. Saw a movie! Got a mall haircut! Had the best coffee I’ve had for ages. Walked a lot.

Basically haunted the streets of Olympia until I can walk them with my eyes closed (not that you’d want to as you have to dodge the tweekers, beggers and other various loonies)

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A few days back I headed up around the Peninsula – all forests and ocean and Indian reservations and movie sets and isolated beaches..like Forks and La Push beach…(Forks is a dump but La Push area is beautiful)

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Driving around the whole Olypmic Peninsula is always fun…oh and Port Angeles also…

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Its not just going over old ground here. Just for a change Im throwing in some new experiences as well.

Slacklining (thanks Guru Shay, rocking the 1″) is going to be my new thing and so far I suck pretty badly but I’m getting there. Bought my 2″ kit from REI and it’s going to come with me everywhere I can take it.


This weekend we drove up into the mountains past North Bend, dug for quartz crystals and amethysts on the side of a deeply wooded mountain, got real dirty crawling under tree roots and digging deep into the earth (the holes in the pic are from peeps digging into the hillside with small shovels and/or garden tools – sometimes the holes go in 12-15 feet)

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** here’s where we met friendly weed-smoking crystal hunting John and his blue heeler dog (such a cool dude).

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Had lunch at the RR Cafe (Twin Peaks fans will get the significance), and just relaxed and breathed in the fresh clear mountain air.

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Whats to come? This week I’m up to Mt Rainier for a bit (i5 traffic pending), then make my way up to Seattle and see the things that I missed last time. Then driving down to Los Angeles to see my sister Martha (hopefully if shes around) and a few friends i met during my travels last year. Then I’m heading off to get Lost…no fixed itinerary – Glacier National Park, Yellowstone next month (maybe), anywhere the road leads me…

Also I want to see a bear, and a cougar, and some goddamned raccoons this time.

C’mon America – how hard can that be?

The adventure continues…

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**And also a huge thanks to my Cambodia travel buddy and good friend Shay for bailing me out and putting me up here when my accommodation fell through for a few days.

Shes a talented emerging local potter/ceramicist and artist so I’ll point you to her web store when she gets it up. Buy a lot of her stuff.

 

 

 

 

…ker-chunk

I almost didn’t make it to Seattle.

Flying into Sydney early on Saturday morning, I gave my self plenty of time to catch up with people (which didn’t happen) and to do some last minute shopping (which didn’t happen).

I did manage to catch “The Beguiled” in a decent cinema which was a perfect way to spend the afternoon. Great film. Sophia Coppola is a wonderful filmmaker.

Spent the day wandering around Sydney City and Circular Quay for the Bastille day Celebrations. Then, as the day closed out, finally heading out to the airport with 4 hours to spare.

10th in line at the check in counter. 1 carry on bag, no checked luggage. Short queues. Perfect.

The check-in lady was enthusiastic, a smiling young Wonder Woman look alike. She scanned my passport, checked my booking and tapped away busily on the small beige keyboard.

I smiled and finally relaxed, taking in the sights and sounds of Sydney Airport (which I generally despise)

My boarding passes printed out with a ‘phhhht’ and she bundled them up ready to hand back. She looked at my passport again. Frowned. Flicked through the pages. Looked at me. Looked back at my passport.

Her smile widened but I saw it instantly drain from her eyes.

Uh oh.

Looking up with that same dead smile she said “Excuse me Sir, I just have to check with my Manager about something.”

Then she was gone, along with my passport and boarding passes – all whisked away along with my newfound peace of mind and possibly my hopes and dreams as well.

WTF?

Mentally I was buzzing –  ticking off in my head all of the dodgy countries I’d visited lately (surely not), did I owe anyone money? (no), expired? (no way), US visa? (yep full 5 year B2).

Be cool cool cool. Nothing to see here.

I could see her talking to a few people up the end of the counter and they were flicking through my passport with a mix of curiosity and concern.

A few minutes later she returned.

“I’m sorry Sir, but your passport is damaged and we have to check with Border Security if we can let you fly.”

‘NOOOOOOOOOOOO!’ echoed through my mind as I plastered what was hopefully a relaxed accepting smile on my face.

“Yeah sure, no problems…” I said, leaning casually on the countertop as once again my passport and travel documents vanished into the system.

Fuckitty fuck fuck fuck. Internally I was  cursing the carelessly casual Jetstar check-in lady that whipped the damp passport through a scanner a year and a half ago, ripping half a page in it.

Sticky tape in a passport is a bad thing apparently.

The slick cross-fit toned and sunbed-tanned Manager, all crisp suit and buzz- cut hair came over and pulled me aside. He explained “your Passport has a torn page and looks like its been water damaged…it’s in pretty poor shape”.

A heavily sarcastic “Seriously?” escaped my lips before I could stop it.

Ok damage control mode – activate!

“But it works right? It’s just a torn page and some sticky tape. The electronics and the chips work fine. Ive traveled all over Asia and Europe, even the US last year with it in this condition!!” I whined despite my best intentions not to.

“Its not as simple as that…” said the guy, and proceeded to give me the polite but firm lowdown on what could happen with my passport if I tried to travel into the US of A – everything from being turned back AND not allowed entry, held in custody, banned from reentry, fines to the airline that they would pass on to me ($5000 AUD), and the apparent end of my travel world.

Then it took a turn for the worse. A black clad Nazi gentleman from Border Security came over, with my passport in hand, and started to give me the same story but with much less humanity. He was also English, which actually bugged me a little. 

No Australian likes being lectured by an Englishman – it got my back up. 

I interrupted at one stage, and he did the aggressive “stop talking” thing to me, so I shut off my “annoyed as hell” switch, bit my tongue and let him finish his piece.

“If it was up to me, I would seize the passport blah blah blah. Its the property of the Australian Government blah blah blah. I tested the electronics and it scans perfectly ( God knows how)  but the torn page and the sticky tape makes it legally unusable. If it didn’t have a US Visa in it I’d confiscate it” he said. “You have 2 options – take your chances or rebook your travel and get a new passport”.

“How much time do I have to decide?” I asked politely, mentally rescheduling my trips as he continued.

“Under an hour” he said, checking his watch.

At this stage my head was swimming.  Sensing a victory, the Border nazi’s manner softened once he realised I wasn’t going to be a pain in the ass about it. “It’s up to you: travel at your own risk or rebook” he said, handing me back my passport and briskly walking away.

Recalculating and recalibration, I sat down and madly googled alternate flights, costed accommodation changes, weighed up the possible risks, messaged some friends ” what should I do?…” “does this sound right?” etc etc.

Running out of time, I decided to risk it. My rationale was that well I either get in or I don’t and if I don’t, then I’ve never been deported before and it might be an interesting experience at the least.

I spoke to the Service Manager and told him i was going to give it a try. He wasn’t happy about it and that’s when the threat of a $5000+ fine came at me – but regardless he handed back my boarding passes and wished me luck.

I checked in, went to the gate, and quietly balanced my unmentionables on a razor blade of tension for the next 10 hours.

*I did meet Kim though so it wasn’t all bad. More on that later.

CUT TO HONOLULU AIRPORT

My sphincter about the size of a pinhead, I lined up at US Customs and Border Control in Hawaii. Scanned my passport in the machines, scanned my Visa. Took my ticket to the guy at the Counter. He checked my passport, Visa and paperwork with barely a grunt or a smile.

“Yes Sir, No Sir, Thank you Sir.” said I.

Ker-chunk. 6 Months entry stamp.

“Have a nice day, Sir”

Perfect.

Day 1 – this is why I love travelling 🙂 

These stories write themselves sometimes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

time machine 2…

… it seemed a hundred years had passed since I’d heard the first whale blow and every nerve ending in my body was sparkling. Soaked in adrenaline, buzzed on nicotine and cocooned in a humming halo of nervous energy, my monkey brain overloaded – ‘eeeep!’ – then shut down.

Fight, flight or freeze.

I froze: hands glued to the rail, body completely locked in place, scanning the deep night for any signs of movement. Anything at all. Nothing stirred. Nothing.

The world held its breath.

‘WHOoosh’… 

This was really happening!

The forgotten cigarette burned my fingers, shifting focus. Suddenly free, I flicked the butt into the Canal (sorry guys) turned and bolted into the cabin like a wild-eyed child on Christmas morning. Knocking frantically on the bathroom door…”Jen,Jen,Jen,Jen,Jen….the whales are back!….the whales are back!…”. Running back out onto the deck.

She followed me out a thousand years later, wrapped up in pyjamas and towel against the cold. We stood together close by the low deck rail, staring out into the night.

More whales sounded, much closer than before.

At least 4, scattered out across the entrance to our little cove no more than a few hundred meters away.

But weird behavior. What’s going on here? They weren’t just on the way through. Something was up.

We could clearly hear their vocalisations as the Orca spoke to each other: the ‘whapping’ of finslaps, high pitched warbling whistles and deep rumbling vibrations.

They seemed to be coordinating and changing their locations, out in the black water no more than 100 meters away.

“A little bit to the left, a little bit to the right…come closer…yeah that’s it” in Orca-talk.

It finally dawned on us what was happening.

‘My God, they’re hunting!’

It made sense. There were several harbor seals that lived in and around our little Calm Cove. At night they slept on the floating pontoons and under the docks that were scattered around the canal. 

The whales hunted these seals, and years before had wiped out most of the local seal population in a destructive orgy of blood, guts and fur close to Robin Hood resort in Union. Herded them into shore and massacred them all. It is spoken of in awed whispers by the locals apparently.

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The few seals left were the smart ones.

I moved over and put my arms around Jen, lost in the moment, forgetting. When the whales were whistling to each other, I whistled back, trying to emulate the sound.

“If you must hold me, at least be quiet”.

Ouch.

The pod had positioned themselves around the entrance to the tiny cove.  It seemed they were forming a loose cordon  – a net – with the aim of driving whatever prey out of their hiding places and close to shore.

Once in place, the 4 whales began to close up  – sonic ghosts, the only sign of their presence now being finslap splashes and their haunting vocalisations as they maneuvered out in the black.

Then they stopped, falling silent again.

For a minute or so, all was quiet save for the soft lapping of the wavelets against the deck supports below.

We looked to each other. “Now what?”

Then, far out towards the middle of the canal…

…’WHOoosh’

There was a 5th whale.

It passed through the cordon of Orca and entered the cove. The only physical sign a subtle warping of the reflected streetlights – a swell and surge breaking the amber ripples of light as something massive but invisible passed silently beneath. It began to slowly sweep across the cove from one side to the other and then back.

A sudden dread enveloped me. Gone was the wonder, replaced by a primitive irrational fearfulness. I knew it was larger than the others by the sheer menace of the thing. It radiated danger.

Now it was coming closer to us and the deep waters edge. Unseen. Impossibly close. Once, twice, three times it moved across the cove, closer and closer with each pass.

Directly below us lay black, freezing water that at high tide we could bend down and touch at arms length. Just ahead, barely illuminated by the low voltage Christmas lights on the cabin, bobbed a series of buoys about 20 meters out – where the neighbor usually moors his jetskis and canoes.

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Halfway to the closest buoy in the rusty pool of light, the black surface surged upwards.

Completely silent save for tiny tinkling splashes of water, the tip of a black curved fin broke the surface with barely a ripple  – up and up and up it came. Massively tall. Improbably close. A gleaming obsidian blade followed in slow motion by the glistening head and curved back of this enormous predator.

I felt my heart tear as this wonder emerged from the invisible, rising silently in the semicircle of light before us.

“WHOooosh”… a shower of misty silver, tinkling tiny splashes.

It checked us out. I’m sure I felt its dismissive gaze pass over us – the boring little monkeys standing huddled and frozen up on the deck.

And then it was simply gone. Slipping quietly back under the surface with nothing to mark its passing but the oilslick swirl of the icy water.

It was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my life.

…………………….

After the bull had swept the cove, the pod became chatty again, and one by one moved off around the point to the next cove along. It was obvious now that they were systematically working their way down though each cove searching for food.

We never saw the other Orca – only what I’m assuming was the big male.

As they moved around the point to the left, their slaps, blows, chirps and whistles became fainter and fainter until finally we couldn’t hear them any more.

After a few minutes, the world around us exhaled and came back to life.

A seal barked loudly just off to our right, scaring the crap out of us both and breaking the spell. We jumped and laughed – that was the luckiest seal in the world tonight.

It splashed into the water and got the Hell out of there as fast as it could swim, heading in the opposite direction to the pod.

……………………

So why am I sharing this…

Well for one thing, these stories would eventually be lost unless I write them down.

I spend a lot of time in this memory and I love the physical and emotional sensations it evokes. Even writing this today has the hairs on my neck standing up and I’m buzzing. 

Secondly, one simple comment recalled now speaks volumes.

“If you must hold me, at least be quiet”.

Who says something like that?

Seriously.

That shitty recollection popped randomly into my head the other day as I was going through some pictures from last year. 

This time it didn’t sting – it just made me a little sad.

Scientists and Romantics simply don’t play well together I guess.