…blur

Its easy to lose track of time when there is no discernible difference between day and night – its all the same here. Just a small variation in the quality of the light. Bright midday sun all day long heightened by the constant blazing glare off the snowcover and the glistening ice, softening to a false dusk and then shortly after its sunrise again.

Good Morning means nothing here – it’s just Good Day. Every day.

I can’t sleep so I’m blogging. It is Sunday after all.

The biggest surprise of today is that the snow here is very very dry – the driest I’ve ever seen but that’s not saying much since I’ve seen so little – like when melting water from fresh snow apparently its take almost twice as much snow to make half the amount of water…or something like that…math was never my thing.

You can pick it up in your hand and your hand doesn’t even get wet – so weird. It feels…chalky.

IMG_5258.JPG

Black ice is everywhere (I know what that is now, as Ive never really seen it or understood what it was before) and several people have slipped and hurt themselves already – its treacherous and tricky to walk around outside especially as the rocky landscape is angular and unstable at the best of times. Add crusty honeycombed snow cover and black ice everywhere, its a real gamble just walking about. There’s a a chance that if you slip and break your arm/leg  before the ship leave that you have to go home, so people are walking on eggshells outdoors just in case.

The environment down here is magical and the record 22 winter blizzards have left their mark. Rapidly melting snowdrifts and crystal clear icicles form random art installations sculpted by the summer sun – this place is almost a natural modern art gallery now. In a month or two it’ll all be gone though – even the sea ice. The curiosity of a endless static snowfield replaced by the open ocean, returning penguin colonies and the local elephant seal population roaring away in a nearby wallow. Unless a summer blizzard comes 🙂 I kind hope it does.

How fortunate do I feel to have this unique opportunity? – very.

I’m starting to go out more and more to explore the station limits on my own (its been too busy otherwise). Tomorrow I’m going to walk out on the sea ice, head out to the ship before she sails on Tuesday. It’ll be odd to see the Aurora Australis sail away as this means I’m an definitely stuck here for the duration – its a very final feeling. But then the real expedition starts, and the specialist science and engineering teams will head out into the field and do their thing. The real work begins.

You can see everyone bonding already here – most people seem to know each other from previous expeditions – but its a place that really fosters mateship and everyone is very open and friendly, at least so far. I can see how people keep trying to come back time and time again. I’m trying to make friends but I’m a team of one and a feel a bit like the last one picked at soccer practice at the moment. It’s my school formal all over again. Being super friendly and uncomfortably sociable so hopefully that’s gonna help break in.

I sent some postcards today – the last post went at 7.30pm from the old Post Office here at Davis – a small round red and white building that used to be one of the original huts build on Heard Island in 1957. It was decommissioned and transported here back in the day, and rescued as the new Post Office – we also have a Postmaster – an official Government role with official stamps and everything. Very weird.

After that I wandered over to the Music Hut / Band Room that they have here to suss out the musical intruments – no left handed guitars as I’d hoped (knew I should have brought one with me) but loads of acoustic, electric, drums, and piano/keyboards. I was hanging in the band room last night doodling around on a guitar and a few of the other guys came in and we stated chatting. There quite a few musicians here this year and If i can restring a guitar lefty-style then I can join in and jam. Should be fun! 🙂

The accommodation here is really cosy and cute – small but comfortable single rooms – I lucked out and got a room with a second bunk so I have a little more storage than most. There’s not enough room to swing a cat but there is just enough for a quiet meditation in the morning and even a little yoga practice!

Where I live is a red two story building about 50 metres from where I work and about 50 metres from where the coffee is, so its pretty damn ideal apart from the massive GODDAMNED GENERATOR next door – lucky my ear plugs are holding up.

*Just now the guy next door is snoring his head off – his time on Earth is short.

The shutters automatically close and lock at 10pm and can’t open til 6am – it scared the crap out of me the first time. There’s a Lidar dome and light sensitive scientific experiments nearby to any ambient light in the evenings if a no-no. Hence the lockdown. It’s a bit like a horror movie when they come down though – feels a bit ‘trappy’.

This week has been a blur really. We are still balls deep into the Resupply operation and been working around the clock – 12 hour rotating shifts to get all of the cargo unloaded, the fuel and water transfer completed, and the Personnel handovers  finished. Ive been really lucky in that I didn’t have duty on resupply ( yay) it that I got flown over. It was so much fun and such a thrill to be flying over the endless ice. As the only IT dude I qualified as critical – I got flown off the ship by chopper days ahead of the bulk of personnel – tickled my ego immensely .

The reality though is that almost EVERYONE that has arrived has had IT issues and that’s been my constant role for the past 3 weeks almost – while cleaning my teeth, while I’m getting dressed, making a coffee, in my room, and even while I’m trying to put a fork full of pasta in my mouth – to sort everyone out immediately and get them operational. Or at least get their Facebook and email to work . Its always fun but as the Internet here is a bare trickle over a heavily oversubscribed satellite link, its now very frustrating – especially constantly explaining to people about procedures and rule while they complain about their Facebook isn’t loading like back home, or instant messaging and Snapchat doesn’t work ( its blocked) or the 200Meg video of a seal they are trying to send to their kids isn’t going through (but why can’t I send it?)

Because we’re in fucking Antarctica.

*i was going to delete this but that didn’t seem honest plus it’s a nice indicator of how tired I was yesterday… enjoy my vitriolic rant. Feel free to skip it though.

Grr <rant begins>

So I explain time and time again – over and over and over “But this is a government network with internet proxies and rules and shit”.

And we’re in fuckin Antarctica.

Meh noone cares and just wants their video to upload. Who cares where we are. Screw corporate data. Fuck meteorological and scientific data upload requirements, I just want my MTV. Where’s my Netflix?

“Why did you block my iphone from the wifi?”.

“Well because you downloaded 4.5 GIG of itunes crap/pirated movies/tv shows over our tax payer funded satellite link in 48 hours during which noone else could use the Internet, dumbass”

“Oh Really? I had no idea”

Yeah right.

Ahh in the good old days of 90’s IT I could get away with telling it like it is . HA!

Now it just becomes “hmmm really?” and then its now my problem to find out why your damn phone/laptop/tablet is doing it, quietly knobble it and not rock the boat.

That’s the public face of what I do here – Phone bitch and Internet wrangler.

That bugs me a little  – yes I know its just ego – but man it REALLY IRKS ME now I think about it.

In an environment full of tradies, Managers and scientists, most people here have two or 3 personal devices (tablet, phone, laptop) and rarely does anyone actually have a clue how to set them up.  Its just “my personal phone/laptop/PC doesn’t work – that’s now your problem Jamie – I don’t need to know how to use something or that I created this issue by ignorance – you just make it work how I want it to IMMEDIATELY).

Behind the scenes I’m looking after systems that everyone relies on but people rarely see or even think about; network administration, managing switches and routers and satellite links, server and systems maintenance, managing active directory, email groups and operations, system integrity, backups, printers, voip and telephone systems, data security, redundancy and disaster recovery – but none ever sees all that . Its the curse that comes with any IT role – you only become visible when something breaks and only important for the time it takes you to fix it, and then back into your little cupboard you go.

<rant ends>

Grrr. This is why I dislike IT work now – it also irks me and makes me curse a lot. I’ve tried to get out but it just keeps dragging me back in. Like the freakin mafia.

Maybe next year, eh?

ANYWAY the long voyage and then working 10 days straight is making me cranky and its a bit like groundhog day at the moment here. Work/sleep/work. The ship leaves on Tuesday and then (rumor has it) well get 3 days off and the bar will be open.

Well deserved beers for all AND hopefully none will ask me to fix their phone when the bar opens, cos after a few beers it’ll probably end up lodged in a penguins arse. Or theirs.

Tomorrow is another day…maybe a more positive post then, but remember this blog is also for my benefit as well.

But til then, raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens … I’ll simply remember my favourite things and then I won’t feeeel so baaaaaad!

See i feel better already.

🙂

…so long

…and thanks for the 11-20 metre waves ahead. 

**This is a placeholder post in case I lose service. If I do then it’s 2 weeks of no internet and social media blackout. This may be brief but I’ll try to update throughout the day – it is a little hectic. So far so good.

The Comms ladies just messaged me and said “omg the weather ahead looks crap – don’t forget to sit down in the shower” – this does not bode well.

Apparently there are massive seas and rough weather in the Southern Ocean at the moment so we will be spinning our maritime wheels a bit before actually heading due South.

Swells this bad can actually damage the ship and pretty much render everyone on board seasick as heck almost instantly.

So here’s the blow by blow for today. So to speak.

8:00am – I’m volun-told that I check in last and instead help people with their super important IT issues that they couldn’t be assed taking care of prior to lining up at a wharf. Ah the joy of IT Support work.

11:45am – Heading out of harbour at 3pm today, we’ve just been given another “do this and you will die” briefing, a last guided tour and then kicked off the ship for our last 2 hours ashore.

The Aurora Australis captain has decided to weather out the rotten Southern Ocean Weather by hiding in the lee of Bruny Island til this wave pattern passes, then plans to duck out quickly in the relatively benign swells before the next series of 11-20 metre waves comes along and knocks the shit out of us.

*This isn’t our ship but a rather large cruise liner that quietly put in overnight.

Although it would be nice, our accommodation is a little more spartan. We are taking the orange one below.

Our ship is an icebreaker, and so has a rounded hull (much like a bathtub) and apparently rides waves in much the same way. 

Slices through ice like a hot knife through … ice.

Anyhoo, the Doctors recommendation is for everyone to take anti seasickness  medication regardless of experience so I think I might heed the advice.

12:41pm  – Just back from lunch and Wharf 2 is packed with wellwishers and seeofferers, kids and mums and dads and grandparents. Theres a general hubbub of nervous excitement and more than few teary farewells as loved ones and Expeditioners, a mix of summerers and winterers, part ways for up to a year.

Isabel is pissed at me. One word responses to my messages and won’t/can’t answer her phone. I couldn’t make it up to see her in Hervey Bay – the flight schedules from Hobart just make it impossible to do it without taking 4 days off and I just couldnt get the time off with the training schedule and timeframe in Hobart. 

It’s my fault as I didn’t leave enough time from getting back from the US to get everything sorted out before heading down here and once I got here, not enough time off. Nothing I can do now. Sorry Bella.

Shit. I just realised my passport is on the ship – might be able to sneak on and grab it before Customs come aboard. I’ll continue this a bit later – more to come while I have internet…

2pm – made it aboard, cleared Customs with my  water damaged passport ( the Border Force guy went “ Shit this has been through the Wars” but luckily the electronics are still ok) . We just had our first drill – all hands muster with kit and rollcall in the heli deck.

Then back to the cabin to de-kit.

The 4 berth cabin I’m sharing is comfy but close – the next hour or so is stowing gear and settling in before the sendoff. One of the guys has an electric sleep apnia machine that he needs to be able to sleep and live –  freakin yay.

Anyway, lucky I brought ear plugs so all is well. It’s only for a few weeks.

We have a view!!! So posh ! This single porthole that should provide an excellent view of the icy green rolling seas that await us outside the protection of Macquarie Point (providing no one spews on it in the meantime).

2.30pm – engines are started and the whole ship is vibrating nicely. It’s a comforting sensation and wholly familiar. Time to explore the ship and get my bearings across the 5 or more decks – like any large vessel it’s a veritable maze of corridors and heavy watertight doors that all look the same.

Best to figure out escape routes early. The shortest route to the lifeboats is always a personal favourite.

**We were all herded aboard a lifeboat during the tour for familiarisation and continually hearing the words sink, drown, hypothermia, die sorta makes you put some contingencies in place in relation to survival at sea.

The lifeboat was good for 6 days for 70 people – it was squeeze with 35.

I’d much prefer it over the immersion suits that we also had to put on – these are thick fully body heavy wetsuit like beasties that will apparently extend our life expectancy in the icy oceans from about 20 minutes to up to 20 hours or so. Yay.

3pm – Just got trained on the nice coffee machine in the galley – now I can make a good espresso on the way down thank God!! Riding a heady caffeine buzz and watching the world go by outside . The Captain just called over the PA “All ashore who aren’t going to Antarctica”, which sent a small cheer through the galley. Outside the porthole, hi-viz oompaloompas are swarming – taking down the gangway.

Almost time!!!!

3.30pm sharp . We are off!! Catch you later folks.

Catch us all on the Aurora Australis webcam at http://www.antarctica.gov.au/webcams/aurora –

Mainly we hang out on the Helo (aft) deck so check it our – pics updated regularly and my plan is to update the blog as often as I can (dependent on access to internet services once I get down South)

​​

Dinner was amazing and the food hearty and healthy rosy pork and vegetable followed by icecream and a chocolate pudding thing…then off to the helicopter deck again to watch the albatrosses swooping and skimming alongside  the ship – as the evening fell we had 3 dark skinned mottle-brown dolphins racing us to Bruny Island. 

It’s been a long few weeks here and I think it was watching them being simply joyous and alive that finally made me smile.

I’m finally on the way.

** And actually still have 4G phone service so another 3 Gig of TV shows to download thank YOU very much!!! 🙂

…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.

Back to the present…

I’m travelling overseas more and more frequently now as my last real anchor to a conventional life was buried with Mum in February. 

All that remains now is a need to keep moving, and the notion of settling down and making do is vanishing behind me.

So… this ‘Travel’ thing eh? 

I’m totally lost to the addiction and it seems to be the only way to stay really connected to the present.  

When I’m “home” I’m unsatisfied/unsettled and constantly planning an escape but when travelling I can easily slip into the “now” of things. It effortlessly brings me back to the moment. 

Travel-based yogic mindfulness, maybe.

So another quick catch up – after 2 weeks of Svastha Yoga Therapy training in Bali, I came home and felt the familiar dip begin.

Luckily a good friend Shay was travelling into South East Asia for the first time (we’d talked about it for ages whilst I was in the US last year) , and she was so close to Australia – I made the call to take some leave (yes somehow I still have a job), bought my one way ticket to Chiang Mai, booked some dental work at my favourite dentist (is that a thing?), counted the hours, and then after several weeks of listlessness, finally left. 

Chiang Mai was instantly welcoming, smoky and hot – but no more so than a Dubbo summer. I caught up with a few friends here and settled in. Walked the familiar streets, caught a First Class movie ( Ghost in the Shell – really good actually),  found my fave coffee shops and vegetarian eateries, took a breath and finally relaxed. 

There was a brief window of opportunity to fly to Cambodia and meet Shay there instead – she had a girlfriend leaving and her partner coming over but there was a 10 day period in between that we could reconnect. 

So…easiest decision ever.

A quick flight to Siem Reap via Bangkok , and voila! 

Hello Cambodia!


What a fascinating place. 

I won’t go into the politics: Pol Pot, the genocide, Killing Fields, land mines and cluster bombs or the aftermath  of it all – it’s relatively fresh and has scarred this country deeply. I’d recommend you do some Googling before visiting if you aren’t familiar with these terms and get a solid dose of perspective on the horrors that occurred here in the 70’s. 

At first glance,  it’s an unusually weird amalgam of American icons and SE Asia. The US dollar rules the streets, prices are high (this is a real tourist town), scarred and limbless land mine victims haunt the tourist areas, cars drive on the right hand side of the dusty roads, tuk tuks and scooters “meep meep” and dash madly around confused pedestrians, trash and plastics cover the roadsides and floats along the sludgy surface of the Siem Reap river, mingling with the rainbow coloured oil slicked algae and water weeds. 

Parts of the city are charming but a lot of it is not. The amount of garbage is surprising, as is the dust and spotty internet. Neither the Hard Rock Cafe, Palacial 5 star resorts with plastic bag shanty towns, or the ubiquitous McDonalds and Starbucks improve things much, but the more you explore away from the tourist traps the more interesting it gets. I’d love to head to Phnom Penh, but Siem Reap is it for me this trip.

Someone asked me today about the food there and how was it different to Thai, but to be honest I couldn’t answer the question. I can say generally it is EXPENSIVE (all in USD$) and that the markets have a massive variety of dried, fried, fresh and absolutely toxic foods available – (like deep fried spiders, crickets and snakes). There are plenty of Western style coffee shops, quite a few French Boulangeries, and plenty of other upmarket options. 

We were railroaded into a small cafe at Angkor Wat for a $1USD soda and a $5USD fried rice with vegetables/Khmer sausage which we only survived by ditching the gelatinous weird pale red sausage pieces (whew!) but was otherwise yum. $1USD Draught Cambodia Beer was the drink of choice and wasn’t a bad drop at all. 

I tried a few traditional Khmer dishes at The Peace Cafe  (http://www.peacecafeangkor.org/ – an awesome vegan and vegetarian spot in Siem Reap ) that were amazing but I can’t recall their names…damn Draught Beer again. 

At dinner in the second night , there was a mango-like fruit that dropped from a tall tree with a SPLAT just near our table  – the waitress picked up the split pale yellow/orange splatted fruit but when Shay asked what is was, it didn’t have a English name but she kindly  offered us some to eat…it was yellow/orange flesh – sweet but chalky and totally delicious.  

The nicest food I’ve had so far : a simple stir fried Morning Glory Salad with some boiled rice. Next time I’ll explore the food side more for sure.

We’ve been travel buddying around for the past few days now though  –  Shay, Dick, Puk and myself – Angkor Wat at dawn, tuk tuk rides, Dr Fish Massages, Siem Reap arts, crafts and shitty tourist markets, off track Hare Krishna compound, smiling kids – always wandering and discovering, roaming the back alleys and secret nooks of this dusty city.

… and the temples. My God – the temples.  Stunning ancient ruins and a history lesson in one, swarming with tourists but somehow still accessible – allowing space and time to find a quiet corner and experience their ruined beauty.

*ditch the shoes and flip flops – climbing the treacherous steps and exploring the temples barefoot is both safer/easier plus the feel of the sandstone is incredibly grounding and connecting.


It’s not hard to connect to the places and the people here in this busy tourist spot, even though this city is a revolving door for tourists – the hostels turn over backpackers of all ages every few days. Last night was games night at the bar, which was a great way to meet and greet – then most people went out for a big night. I stayed in – boring but I don’t like to fly hungover.  The parade of arguing couples and loud rambunctious drunks returning at 5 am is always a bit of fun to watch though.

I’ve made many new friends in the hostel here and as usual HostelWorld recommendations are proving the best way to find a bed. (The Living Quarters in Wat Bo Road is excellent – No. 543, Wat Bo Road, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia )

Anyway I’m back to Chiang Mai today for the next week of two. Getting a wisdom tooth pulled and a crown done tomorrow so that should be a lot of fun.

Shay and her partner are coming up to Chiang Mai in a week or so – itll be cool to explore northern Thailand again, especially Pai.

Then I have to think about booking a flight back at some stage.

Oh !!! I’ve been fortunate enough to get shortlisted for an IT job working in Antarctica next season (with the Australian Antarctic Division) – interviews, psych tests and medical are in May. 

I hope I’m the right kind of crazy . Wish me luck!  

If that comes through for me, then I think I’ve finally won the Oscar for best  “Get Me The Hell Out Of Here” performance for 2017. 

I’ll keep you posted.

…time

My mother died today.

She was a complicated woman, who found a strong quiet man that loved her completely.

The best thing about today is that they are together again.

We all seem to think we have enough time.

We don’t.

249219_108687829221498_4498708_n

1924074_38282823884_942_n

11032712_10153209935983885_1212822827412375851_o11011472_10153582957348885_1737907720550537122_o

homecoming…

I’m back where I started 11 months ago and the only thing that’s changed is me.

Leaving Chiang Mai on Monday was just another flight, just another airport and I guess didn’t really even register as a “this is over” moment as far as my travels for 2016 was concerned. I’d tried not to dwell on it but the shadow of real life was a threatening figure looming over my sometimes forced positivity.

Fake it til you make it, remember?

So my AirAsia X plane out of Chiang Mai was 3.5 hours late, which gave me about 15 minutes to make my connection to Sydney at Kuala Lumpur International – just enough time to run to thru the transfer hall, 2 security checkpoints, and quite literally to the opposite end of the terminal. I made it without breaking a sweat. Settling into my economy seat, surrounded by young families and crying babies, it occurred to me how lucky that I made the plane. It also dawned that there was no way my bag would and so I had a 7 hour flight to prepare myself for the inevitable.

Arrival in Australia was a bleary, early morning red-eye experience as I was jolted awake by a dazzling dawn over Lake Ayre and its tributaries, which was either full of water or deathly dry (I couldn’t tell), reflecting the early morning sunlight and melting my corneas as I yawned and glanced out the window.

img_6977

Drifting in and out of snooze mode, I was aware of the aircraft coming to life around me but tried to imagine I was elsewhere – back in Chiang Dao listening to the morning rain, or in Tunis listening to the 5am call to prayer. Here the 5am call was a crying baby and a hawking cough from my neighbor. 

Something inside me was off but I didn’t catch it at the time. 

Flying in over Sydney I usually get a patriotic buzz about seeing tiny Botany Bay, the miniature Harbour Bridge and the toy Opera House sweeping by, but this time it left me cold. Flat. Nothing was coming through and I was completely numb. 

“Weird” I thought, gazing out at the city below and wrote it off to lack of sleep. Sydney grew larger and more substantial, until finally the wheels hit tarmac and with an anticlimactic puff of smoke I was back.

Sydney Airport was as bad as I’d remembered – expansive, crowded, unfriendly; efficient but largely uninteresting. Smiling photoshopped Australians glared at me from the advertising posters, inviting me to come and swim with dolphins, or climb a mountain. Customer service, politeness and good manners vanished. Anonymous Uniforms yelled rudely at people.  Airport security, black domed cameras and warning signs were everywhere. “Don’t do this – Don’t do that. Don’t stand here. Warning Warning Warning. Fear, Fear, Fear…The terrorists are coming”.  I could already feel the doeskin jackboots of fear and oppression that New South Wales wears proudly pressing down on my throat and chest.

Why so much paranoia? So many rules and regulations? After the freedoms of the road, this was becoming stifling already.

As some aussie ex-pat army guy told me in a dentists waiting room in Thailand a while back,  “We are a nation of laws and need all this to safeguard ourselves from the terrorists.”

No dude sorry Australia isn’t a “nation of laws”, that’s stolen from America and you are confused. Australia seems to becoming a backward nation of ignorant, drunken, racist fools masquerading as “aussie larrikins”, of slow expensive internet, extraordinary taxation, human rights abuses, poverty, homelessness, corruption,  overpriced real estate, and rubbish overrated food. Of course I didn’t actually SAY this to him – but I thought it at him real hard while smiling politely and trying to disengage.

Fingers crossed, I waited in the baggage area for my backpack. Who knew? I might have gotten lucky and the bag made it. A waify Japanese lady had the gall to take out her phone in the baggage claim area and a pompous slicked-back-hair uniformed guy (who could’nt even be bothered to go over to her or check that she spoke English) screamed at her across the hall to “put the phone down” like it was an automatic weapon or a knife and he was Supercop. She of course ignored him which further fueled his rage, and so the saga continued.So rude and unnecessary.  The carousel stopped, the passengers for the next flight started arriving. Still my bag didn’t appear.

Dang it.

Naturally the airline had lost my bag somewhere between Chiang Mai and Sydney.

After 11 months of travel through countless dodgy airports and several dangerous countries, it took an Australian crew to lose my bag.

Coming in through Immigration/Customs was easy (electronic passports make it a 5 minute thing) after which I had to do the mandatory “lost my bag” reporting at a desk where the Aussie “larrikin” (who couldn’t be bothered to tuck in his shirt or brush his hair) barely smiled, nor glanced at me or even said “G’day Mate”.

So feeling strangely calm – numb – I wandered through the airport, caught a train into Central Station, and listened to the sudden clutter of English conversation that invaded my headspace. It’s amazing how much you tune in and out to other peoples conversations. The luxury of not hearing English spoken everywhere was gone and the Aussie accent was like a powerdrill boring painfully into my brain.

It still didn’t feel real. I was in a homecoming state of denial and culture shock.

Of course Sydney started picking my pockets immediately : $20 for an Opel card, $4 train fares, $3 for bottled water, 2 bananas and a takeaway coffee $10. My last $100 was disappearing fast. 

I picked a dirty cheaparse hostel ($34 a night) close to Central, went into Police Headquarters in Parramatta to pick up some gear for work next week (meeting my new managers and doing some schmooze groundwork for my return to work)  and then wandered into the city to meet my good friend Kate for a drink at some inner city bars.

Walking between the bars I realised how pretty Sydney can be, especially at night. This time of year is lovely and for a change the city didn’t disgust me. It was a fun way to end the evening but after 3 drinks  ( $30+ – thanks Kate) I was slightly hammered.

The next morning, after stepping over a few random backpackers on the hostel floor, a 7.18am (what an odd time) train to Dubbo – 6 hours – would give me time to reframe all the negativity that I’d been projecting over the last 24 hours. It was time well spent.

Some meditation, reframing, read my books, peace. ahhh.

6 hours later.

Alighting from the train at Dubbo train station just after lunch was very, very strange.

As I walked down to Church Street Cafe to get my regular Americano, nothing had changed:  the streets, the smells, the sounds –  all instantly familiar. Little gangs of aboriginal kids roamed the streets on bikes and scooters, a few scattered drunks were camped under the shady trees in Victora Park, a young kid called me a “white cunt” before I’d even made it to the main street.

Ahhh. Now it felt real. Too real.

It was like the past year hadn’t happened.

I bumped into many people I knew and they seemed genuinely happy to see me, which was a welcome surprise and helped. But I’m struggling. Everything reminds me of Jen here. So far, at least. I wasn’t expecting it to hurt so much. The last few years came flooding back. The house, walking past Jens old work, then my workplace, my normal walking path home. Magpies. Jasmine. Hayfever. Cats Eye burrs and stickers, familiar and painful. Sorting through all this and discarding what will hurt the most is going to be hard. It was good to see the housemates though and the weather is great.

I went to see Mum in the Hi Care facility and she recognised me at least, but the dementia now has upped its game and robbed her of coherent speech – her tongue is constantly flicking in and our making everything messy – communication is hard but I think she understood I was back.

Coming back has been harder than I’d imagined and I’d drank myself to sleep last night with the last of my duty free Jamesons, feeling adrift in the world.

This feeling is still with me today, and its Thursday. A deep detachment and numbness that I can’t shake. I don’t belong here.

I know now that this place isn’t my home, Dubbo and Australia.

I am not where I’m supposed to be.

This isn’t a homecoming: its just another stage of a larger journey I’d never realised I was on.

Early days yet I guess. Lets see how work goes on Monday.

 

**airline found my bag!!!!! shipping it to Dubbo from KL “in a few days”. Fingers crossed eh?

 

 

…Far far away!

I’m at a turning point in this trip. Bingo funds.

Push on or turn back but as my Dad always said “It’s bad luck to turn back”.

Leaving the chaos of Cairo far behind, I was heading for Morocco for my birthday. Megan was staying in Cairo, D’ had gone home and it was time to go.

Iris my Californian patents lawyer/Star Wars geek travel bud had just visited some original sets in Tunisia before heading off with her Tinder “boys” into the Balkans. She had planted the seed in my brain however for a small detour on the way to Marrakech.

So I booked the flight and landed in Tunisia – a place apparently scary and very dangerous according to our governments website.

Firstly – what a load of fear mongering crap.  I’ve felt more in danger walking down the Main Street of Dubbo at 3am.

FU travel warnings.

*there ARE a shit ton of heavily armed police, national guard and take-no-bullshit military units around with full body armor, big arse truck mounted machine guns, and tanks but hey…that only spells security to me.

Landing in Tunis a few weeks ago was like emerging into a virtual paradise.

Immigration? Smashed it.  Pssst… you are Australian… NO VISA! Welcome!! Wtf?…then 3 steps out of immigration … Pssst… wanna free Orange SIM card? HERE!…just 20 dinar ($11AUD) gets 3gig data and unlimited calls for 30 days…want to top it up now?… Hell YEAH 🙂

Then I stepped outside. Huh? No scammers or sellers? No garbage? Fresh air? No pollution? No crowds? No traffic?

So this is Tunis? But its all so…so clean and so…so quiet? Am I really in North Africa?

Am I lucid dreaming?

Ok the airport taxis were tricky and I only got a tiny bit ripped off  but lesson learned. The lesson is ignore the taxis and the predatory taxi touts, walk out of the airport case park to the road and hail a cab off the street (with a red window light – green means booked), check he turns the meter on and the rate is correct  (1 usually, after 9pm the rate 2 surcharge starts). Typically airport to the French Embassy in town is under 5 dinars as a benchmark…and off you go.

I’d “Plan B”‘d (yes go on…giggle those that know me) the accommodation as the hostel appeared to vanish after my booking and never returned any calls, answered emails or even their phone. Even by their own admission were hard to find AND they advised never walk in the Medina after dark as it was too dangerous.  So in the 11th hour with not even a booking response I went to Plan B.

Plan B was the best thing ever – an Airbnb with a lovely local lady with some amazing housemates – staying up and letting me in after wandering around the Medina at midnight like a lost lamb.

And so, disheveled and slightly in shock, I met Hasna (eventually), Arianna (+ Dino), and Diana – three amazing Tunisian, Italian and Moldovan women studying and working in Tunis that allowed me to share their home for the initial 3 day trip that’s turned into 3 weeks so far and counting.

Arianna was studying Law here for a little while, and Diana had just arrived a few days earlier but was itching to explore the city.  Day 1 was explore day for me so Diana and I set off and began losing ourselves first in the Medina, then Carthage, swimming in the Mediterranean, then the city at large.

Here to study Arabic and already fluent in several languages (including French and Arabic), she was awaiting her partner to arrive and was the perfect travelling companion to ease me into a completely alien Arabic/french speaking Muslim country. I unashamedly picked her brain to help me get oriented and comfortable with some basic French and Arabic.

We also accidentally broke into the Carthage site via “a secret way” but that’s another story.

**note : ALWAYS explore a hole in a fence, especially the one near the roundabout overlook at the base of the site…shhh

We dove into a local Couchsurfing group meeting and met so many friendly and open people who just welcomed us into their fold.

So much so we ended up on a 2 day camping and hiking weekend with about 30 of them way out west near the Algerian border where we endured endless border patrol and police checkpoints but man oh man, was it worth it.

Best birthday memories made so far in Tunisia:

  • spending my birthday weekend hiking into incredible terrain and traveling with a joyous bunch of Tunisian/Egyptian people:  campfires, singing folk songs, dancing and enjoying life well into the night
  • getting more than a little paranoid by being mega close to the Algerian border then getting surrounded and followed in a dodgy border town by the ubiquitous white Toyota trucks that we know all the terrorists drive.
  • driving through each border town with M.I.A “Paper Planes” on repeat,  blaring out the windows and laughing our heads off at all the white trucks. It became our anthem for the trip
  • Meeting and making many new friends.

But SO much better then sitting alone in a bar in Casablanca and proceeding like I’d originally planned.

*Plus waking up with sticky notes all over the house just totally made my day 🙂

There’s so much to see and do in this small but historically rich country.

It’s been a wild few weeks so far.

*breaking in to and exploring historical archaeological sites at Carthage and Sidi Bousaid.

* wandering the Bardo Museum marveling at the mosaics and weeping at the bullet holes.

*spending days wandering through Punic, Roman and even older ruins.

(I MAY have also snuck into the Les Villa Romaines via the paddock and the thorny hedge next to the large Mosque – hey I was exploring!!! )

*wandering lost for hours in the massive Medina.  (dangerous? …pffffft… night is awesome in there)

*Spending an afternoon at beautiful Sidi Bousaid and relaxing by the Mediterranean.

*a 7 hour bus ride to Tozeur and visiting Star Wars and Raiders movie sets.

(I look smug for a reason – I’m on a freakin Star Wars set!!!)


* the 4wd drive through the Sahara that was incredible.

*a virus/food poisoning that laid me so low in Tozeur I missed Star Wars Canyon and had to fly home. Slept for 2 days and have just now gotten over it.
*the possible source of the camel tagine that brought me undone … Dear God the humanity 😦

*and the general weirdness of being in a completely ancient and totally foreign culture.

I’ve also learned that no matter where I go, people seem to generally like me. Perhaps I’m not as awful a human being as I’d convinced myself I was.

To be continued …