Roam-ania…

Yep there’s a good reason I haven’t been writing lately: too many Dad jokes and awful puns bouncing around in my brain.

I’ll quietly get them out of the way while I check out a coffee shop Oana recommended – OVRIDE coffee in the Timişoara City Centre. It’s buzzing here, almost as much as my caffeine high – their La Encanta Peruvian blend is making my brain sparkle.

I like this spot. Great coffee and super friendly. The boss is passionate about his coffee – if only the owners wife would let him buy a coffee roaster (no, it will take up too much of his time from his other job) 🙂

Wait what? Romania? …I’d better bring you up to date.

Anyhoo, I hadn’t been traveling all that much since March – well, at least compared to usual, anyway. Some time in Canberra and Melbourne, a few weeks in Thailand – barely enough to feed the ravenous travel beast that howls within.

Waiting on the next contract to go down South again for the 2018/2019 summer had me frustrated and spinning my wheels back in Dubbo (ugh) – medicals done, and no psych testing required this year I was just waiting waiting waiting and walking walking walking.

*Selling my car a few years back may not have been the best move as it kinda screws you when you live in regional Australia.

It also meant that I had nothing but time on my hands – a luxury that I hadn’t placed much value in until only recently. SO…what to do with this time?

Well cleaning out the family storage shed was something that needed to be done, so my sister arranged for a garbage skip, and I set to work over the course of a week or so going over the poorly boxed contents of our parents house – the result of 60 years of marriage and a lifetime together – and figuring out what to keep and what to discard.

Every book, box, envelope and slip of paper had to be examined to determine worth, and then either kept or chucked out. It was surprisingly tough to revisit the memory of my parents, especially all the photographs and hand written notes, personal letters and cards that they kept.

Some of the small things stirred powerful emotions. Dad’ s old California crutches – the ‘clickey clack’ sound they make evokes memories of him. His 4 pairs of hearing aids, his 3 pairs of glasses, his pocket knife and the other little things he kept on his person at all time in his bulging shirt pockets.  I gave them all to the Salvos (except his pocket knife – I kept that)

All the little items that they’d scrimped and planned and saved for, the minutiae of their everyday life that was mostly only valuable now as a historical reference and a curiosity for later generations. What wasn’t thrown out was all neatly boxed and packed up – an entire lifetime in a dozen boxes.

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The whole ‘clean up the shed’ exercise showed exactly how much I’d been avoiding their deaths however and was a chance to acknowledge that. To linger with their memory and say goodbye.

What about my own crap! I started on my own stuff. The remaining physical baggage , boxes and reminders of things from my past best cut away and left far behind. Hoarded for almost 30 years. I could be more ruthless with this.

Keeping photographs and some old primary school books (covered with comic book covers, full of mopey teenage letters, short stories and self indulgent writings from when I was a little kid right through to High School), it was fun to read through them all, get a glimpse myself before: a good kid but a little too serious. Most everything else went in the bin.

In hindsight this ‘cleansing’ was important though, decluttering and simplifying my life even further than I had before.

And then it was done. Shed cleaned, decluttering complete.

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I was a little bit empowered.

Next…

Training? Sure! There was a Data Cabling certification that I needed to get for this summer to be considered for the Antarctica role – easy peasy! A week in Canberra (thanks Lou) , a 2 week vacay in Chiang Mai that I’ve told you about already, then another week in Melbourne (thanks Steve) and the certification was done.

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Qualified Data Cabler? Check.

Now what?

I scored another day as an extra on a TV show over in Mudgee, which was great fun as usual and I got to see the crew that I’d gotten to know of the last year or so.

**On a side note, the series is Doctor Doctor – its actually a decent show! I finally watched a few seasons on the flight here.

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Next…

Shit. It’s winter. Even the kangaroos were wondering why I was still here.

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WTF dude.

The prospect of spending a few more months in a wintry Dubbo was not filling me with boundless joy, and due to my general uselessness I’d stuffed up the dates for attending a friend’s birthday in Spain by almost a whole month  (Sorry CB).

All was not lost!

Chatting to another yoga buddy from a Svastha course last year, I’d been promising to come visit in her home city of Timisoara, Romania for a while.

So I thought, why not? I’ve never been to Romania and it would be only my second time in Europe. Another glass of wine, and ticket booked! I’d arrive the week after my friends birthday (see, told you – shitty timing) and right in the middle of their summer.

So I hit the airways again…

Travelling lighter and lighter these days and am getting a little too used to this lifestyle I think. 7.1kg of carry-on luggage for 3 months travel. Who does that. Jeez.

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Dubbo>Sydney>>Hong Kong>Frankfurt>Timisoara – just on 30 hours with short layovers.

So here I am – enjoying sunny 30+ degree days in Timisoara Romania – an elegant, modern and vibrant city: a restoration ‘work in progress’ in parts but with such beautiful bones.

The old Roman era and later versions of Timisoara are still here once you dig deeper or get outside the city centre, but the new?

It’s a University city and a Tech hub, with a healthy Cafe and budding Coffee scene, a decent Theatre and Arts community and a politically engaged younger population – not so long removed from the stifling effects of Communism – angry at the corruption issues plaguing the country today.

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I’ve been here for about 10 days now and have spent the bulk of it roaming around the city exploring every nook and alley, meeting some lovely people, failing a lot at Romanian, but generally trying to immerse myself in the day to day of life here – yes, largely just an observer but I’m so very keen to learn more.

It’s absolutely fascinating here – my first experience in an ex-communist country and I’m loving at least this part of Romania so far…

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So with the roaming come the words apparently!

All this walking is shaking something loose and I’ll be telling you all about it very soon.

Stay tuned…I’m reinstating my rule of once a week posts again.

This writing thing is good for the soul.

🙂

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…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.

…back

We just rounded the lighthouse at the tip of Tasmania and got cell service! Guess that means I’m back, at least for a little while.

Mixed feelings today, but the dolphins that surfed our wake and escorted us in definitely put a smile on my dial.

Will be in our berth by 2pm, hotel by 4pm and in the pub by 6pm (hopefully) for final drinks and lots of farewells.

Warning : This will be a blomit of thoughts from the past 2 weeks at sea. Reading it is up to u. Pics and vids later as I edit for clarity.

It’s Wednesday after my last post and the second day at sea, aboard the Aurora Australia bound for Hobart … it’s just on dinner time – 5.30pm – and I’m in my top bunk just staring out the porthole at the rolling grey seas outside. Just thought I’d try to write something to capture some moments on the trip home.

What happened yesterday?

Well not much and I slept for most of it. The first night out was typical – 1 snorer in a 3 berth cabin makes for shitty sleep. I haven’t suffocated him in his sleep yet but it’s still early in the trip and I have a spare pillow.

Accidents happen at sea.

Joking!

Or am I …

Probably not.

*The snoring gene needs to be wiped from the gene pool sometime and I’m happy to do my bit.

The ocean is beautiful tonight.

Anyway I slept most of Tuesday and spent the afternoon catching up with the other returning expeditioners. Brendan the ITO at Mawson is aboard and we chatted briefly about our experiences and the ups and down of station life.

There was an aurora rumoured to be visible around 2am and I tried to stay up for it – reading in bed – but fell asleep and was awoken 10 hours later by the ships emergency alarm and a Muster.

(Picture a sleeping cat suddenly thrown into a bathtub. That’s me)

Falling elegantly out of a top bunk is a skill that I’m still developing.

After the throwing on the emergency survival gear and tromping up to the freezing helicopter deck for a Muster and Emergency drill, it was time for a quick coffee to defrost before grabbing my camera and spending the next 7 hours happily shutterbugging away on the freezing decks.

We punched our way through the seaice all last night and for most of today, the ship weaving around the larger bergs and crunching through the ice floes, scattering more seals that I’ve seen in the past 3 months.

On the gently undulating icepack, rhythmically pulsing with the ocean swell below, the number of seals was astonishing – family groups of Weddells, Crabeater, and fur seals were lounging around wherever you looked.

**I saw my first leopard seal this morning about 10 metres from the ship but my damn camera card screwed up (flaky write protect) and wouldn’t write. Camera locked up as the perfect leopard seal photo vanished in my viewfinder.

Naturally I had a mini tantrum – stress does weird things to people and I definitely qualify as that now.

Stomped my foot, swore viciously, loudly, profusely and (much to my embarrassment) was overheard by someone that hadn’t heard me swear ever. 😬 🙊 I do have a talent for it.

They were a little shocked. I was a little embarrassed. Awesome.

Anyhoo the bird life was also crazy : giant Petrels, Albatross, snow Petrels and several other kinds I’ve not seen yet.

We punched slowly past massive icebergs carved into art by the churning grey-green ocean; then even larger bergs covered in vast colonies of sea birds.

At one point the sky was swarming with several wheeling masses. Disturbed by the ships passage they flocked in flowing feathery swirls inked black against the fading greys and icy whites of the Southern ocean.

Tens of thousands of birds covering icebergs hundreds of miles from land. Mesmerising to watch and it even surprised the biologists among us.

I’ve had to defrost my hands several times today (despite the gloves) and it’s the first time they’ve been painfully numb from the cold…a hot water defrost causing actual pain. oops again.

It is below freezing still.

Anyway after a few hours of editing and sorting my photos and videos, I adjourned to the cabin for a snooze.

**just been told I snoozed through a whale alert – pod of whales 🐋 sighted … dammit :/

I’m going to skip dinner and go back to 1 meal a day I think. Put on 6 kilos since October and it’s not from exercise, I can tell you 🙂

So as of now, there’s a swell and we’ve broke free of the pack ice into the open ocean. The ship is rocking and a rolling and I’m in heaven again. I’ve been wandering around this afternoon whistling and singing to myself like a crazy person.

It’s so good to be back on the ship though – I think I love being at sea 🙂

** so much for skipping dinner …chicken schnitzel and veges mmmmmmm .. best sit up in the bridge for a while and check out the views while dinner settles.

Thursday morning was hard to take as from late Wednesday evening the ship began its trademark wallowing in the east swells.

For some reason it was impossible to sleep as the unusual action combined with shoddy bunks to produce a deafening groan and creak every time the ship rolled.

Let’s not forget 2am also brings the snorer into play. Fkn awesome and I left my earplugs in Antarctica.

About 4am sleep finally came for me so when the sun streamed in about 11.30pm ( the start of lunch) my first thought was to stagger up in deck for some fresh air and wake up before diving into the bowels of the ship to find the Mess.

Up one ladder and a flight of stairs into the Helicopter deck and I stepped out into a warm cloudy but yet sunshiney morning.

Stifling a yawn I wandered over to the starboard side and glanced out as the sun cleared the clouds.

There was a commotion below.

My ears almost touched behind my head, so wide was my smile.

Humpbacks!

We had stopped to recover and redeploy a whale mooring – a underwater bouy that helped track and record the migratory movements of whales.

We were in the middle of a whale migration freeway, and we’d be here for hours.

🙂 hee heee!!

I flew downstairs to grab my camera.

The pair circled the ship once, twice – a little wary but not afraid. One of the crew said that usually a pod that’s been hunted will scatter but these guys were just super curious and probably hadn’t come across humans before. Lucky for them.

This was the first time in my life I’ve seen humpbacks and they were virtually in my lap!

A small group of us stood out on the helo deck and watched the whales wander off into the distance…a clinking and clunking from below from the recovery of the whale mooring equipment (an underwater satellite of electronics in a sealed unit about the size and shape of a 44 gallon drum). The device (2000 metres or so below) had responded to its radio signal from the ship, released its ballast and after a 20 minute ascent from the bottom of the ocean, bobbed to the surface for recovery. The replacement device was already prepped and the operation was then repeated in reverse, the experiment was reset for the next 12 months, and we were on our way again.

… skip to Tuesday 27th. 5 days later and all of them Groundhog Days.

Driven slightly mad by lack of deep sleep – thanks 2am snorer – life became very simple. Eat, sleep, read, repeat.

*the snoring starts every single night at 2am ish and goes til 4am ish – like clockwork. I woke out of a short sleep last night, threw my top bunk mattress into the floor and slept on the floor of the cabin to escape the groaning bunk beds -when the deep gurgling snoring began, I started awake and yelled out “choke already you bastard” before I was awake – not my finest moment*

The routine aboard the AA can become extremely so. After settling in, the 90 or so passengers aboard vanished into their own rooms and worlds of report writing, watching movies on their laptops, or reading. Social time was mealtimes, and napping 💤 was the second most popular pastime. Breakfast 7.30-8.30, lunch 11.30-12.20, dinner 5.30-6.30. Outside of those times the ship was a ghost ship as the station based social habits ebbed away.

Everyone has become introverted to a degree, for a little while at least – cocooned in this big orange chrysalis while we transition to whatever our evolved forms will be.

There was a small core of hardy gym enthusiasts, card players and readers that hung in there but the bulk of the passengers were in hibernation.

None for me, thanks 🙏🏻

So the past few days highlights included :

AURORA!! a few clear nights and a few short partial deep green banded auroras lighting up the sky for the briefest of moments through a rare hole in the clouds. Another first for me 🙂

RAIN! I felt the rain on my face again for the first time since October last year and it was good.

HUMIDITY! The abnormal dryness of the Antarctic air is gone, replaced with a blessed moisture.

HEAT! It’s consistently above 3 degrees now, 5 degrees as I type this; shorts and t-shirt weather for us all in the rare sun breaks that we are starting to have.

TIME! We had a 4 hour time change just now – so are now aligned with Mainland Australia again.

CALM OCEANS! Under 5 metre swell and 30 Knott winds all the way. This equals a good nights sleep 😴 for a change and we’ve been making almost 14 knots instead of 10/11 which means…

EARLY ARRIVAL! So as of today, we have 5 days to go and should get in to port around midday on Sunday – almost 3 days earlier than expected.

Wednesday 28th: post 4 hour time warp. Weather is almost 8 degrees but cloudy and rainy with a 5 metre swell and light winds. Stayed up talking til the wee hours. Late dinner at 6pm/10pm. No sleep last night – finally drifted off at 4am/8am and woke a few hours later … crawled out of bed for lunch at 7am/11am and it’s a ghost ship again. My body clock is so broken my eyes hurt… Everyone is suffering today. Hanging out in my rack watching Californication and trying to reset .💤

OMG – the snorer must die.

Skip to Friday 1st March, after everyone recovered from the time change and the routine kicked back in.

The weather is hovering around sunny and 10 degrees. It’s barely raining now. People are out on the helo deck in shorts and t shirts getting some rays.

**Had my Comms Officer briefing today. One of my roles on V4 is to manage Emergency Satellite and Radio Comms if there is a critical event. Like the radio operator on the Titanic I’ll be tap tap tapping away when the ship sinks – or catches 🔥 or pirates attack – something like that 🙂 Was shown all the radio and satellite gear and procedures so let’s hope I never have to use them!

We are all anxious to get back to Hobart now – only a few days to go. Saturday will see a final emergency drill, cleaning our cabins and getting our gear ready to go through Customs etc in Sunday afternoon.

There’s not much happening today but a formalish dinner tomorrow night really underlines that this current chapter is over.

Skip to Sunday – we just rounded the lighthouse at the tip of Tasmania and are in the final run to Hobart.

This morning the ships was abuzz with cabin cleaning and last minute packing. Getting our Customs and quarantine stuff in a pile and filling in paperwork.

The first views of land at dawn was a final confirmation that this part of our journey is over.

All that remains now is to get into port ( around 2pm), clear Customs (3pm) and then get through the official welcome home ceremony and have a few well earned red 🍷.

Then a debrief at the Division headquarter Monday, a few meetings and I’ll have a few days free before sailing off to Macquarie Island in Friday for another 2 week voyage and the station resupply.

I could get used to this kind of life.

🙂

Out.

Day 2 and still here …

Well after the best damn nights sleep I’ve had in ages, we are still anchored just off Port Arthur, sheltering from the massive waves that stopped us leaving yesterday.


Waking up late (9.00am) and having no formal duties aboard (my actual work starts at Davis station ), a cooked breakfast (food here is amazing) and a brewed coffee (did my coffee machine induction yesterday) today was looking pretty damn sweet.

Fed and caffeinated. Weather calm, suns out, guns out !

Still have mobile service so yay for that. They had Sharknado on last night in the little cinema here so that was fun 🙂 

But today has been slooooooow – downloaded more TV shows while waiting for the 12.00 briefing and lunch.

I did volunteer for the phytoplankton sampling project so I’m getting my lab coat on during the voyage and helping out in the science labs, taking seawater samples, filtering, freezing ( woohoo liquid nitrogen) and bottling for return to the boffoms at Kingston. Wohooo SCIENCE !!

So then what to do? 

Thank God there’s a decent library aboard and loads of board games !!! At least learning cribbage wasn’t a total waste of time. Thanks JK.

Also there’s a group of yoga peeps here so I’m going to join them for a daily 4pm informal class. And the small gym is getting hammered so no luck there as far as access.

Lack of physical activity will be an issue so I have to figure out ways to address that. No more 12 km walks per day. Already stacked on too much weight from the US.

Hmmm.

As for meeting new people – it’s been like the first day of high school – a NEW High School where 60 % of the people know each other and you are the new kid in town. There’s a few of us in that same boat but luckily everyone is super friendly so far.

Plenty of time to make new friends and it’s eyes open mouth shut for me at this stage. Learning the ropes here is important and every person here is exceptional in their field. Best I just shut the Heck up and learn.

Tonight is Halloween and they have “the hit mans bodyguard” on in the cinema – I’m downloading a bloody horror movie to get in the Halloween spirit a bit 🙂 House of the Devil – cool cool cool cool.

Awesome sunset tonight. Shame I just missed it.


But for now it’s 7.00pm relax time … read a book, watch a movie, haunt the helo deck. There’s simply nothing else to do.

Aw Damn

😉

*im keying these boring short barely readable entries on my phone and I HATE typing on this Fkn iphone. Drives me insane. Might clean it up later. Might not. Apologies.

re-entry…

So I’m back at work now. You can imagine my excitement.

Back in Dubbo, Australia now for 10 days, spending the last 5 days locked in an office, glued to a phone and computer, staring out a distant window at the sunlight, wishing I was somewhere else. Its ‘Luke Skywalker Syndrome’ at its worst and it’s easy as my office walls are now lined with new travel photos – a quick glance left takes me away to the forests of Olympic National Park and a distant view of Mt Rainier, a bit further takes me diving in Koh Phangan, to my teacher training class in Bali, or the Giza pyramids, or to Carthage.

I’ve led a charmed life this year no doubt about it.

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Now that’s in the past.

Settling back into Dubbo hasn’t been a lot of fun – the numbness and “dead inside” feeling has persisted and the episodic disconnection (almost disassociative at times) is still present but slowly waning. I’m getting out and about, getting as physical as I can on my current prepayday budget. I haven’t wanted to settle back in though, avoiding people and doing my own thing as usual. Walking a lot as I can’t sit still (the restlessness persists and as you know stillness is always an issue). There’s like a constant pressure in my head that I’m attributing to the instant onset of extreme hayfever (yes that a real thing  – there have been people dropping dead of asthma in Melbourne over the past few weeks).

The water here tastes like mud (algae in the river water we drink apparently), the dry heat and hard water has turned my skin to flaky crap and my hair to a dandruffy hair helmet, but the clear blue skies and sunsets in the evenings have made everything worth it.

Almost.

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In the grand scheme of things though, I can’t complain. Decent job, great money, good conditions, new work car (hopefully flame proof after the last one), semi-autonomous and self managing to a large degree. I work alone in a regional area of New South Wales, my immediate supervisor (now retired) is a 3 hour drive away, my team Manager 6 hours, the remainder of my team spread all over New South Wales. Perfect.

Almost.

You might recall that I mentioned that nothing had changed here in the past year. Well that holds true for work as well.

Starting back last Monday, a few people were surprised but most were welcoming (It was a sad day as a colleagues’ son had committed suicide over the weekend so the mood was low). I wasn’t expecting a parade but people passed by in the corridor, a few remarked that they hadn’t even realised I’d been gone.

Nice.

Walking back into my office after 11 months I expected at least SOMETHING to be different. But nothing was (except someone had stolen my 2 x new 22″ monitors and had replaced them with shitty old ones).

I settled back in, checked the few emails filtering in from colleagues who finally realised I was back, and then started catching up on mandatory training that been missed  – online talking head videos about terrorism or radicalisation or somesuch “fear fear fear warning warning warning’ nonsense –  (I suppose to be fair one of our own colleagues had been assassinated/shot point blank right outside the front door of Headquarters last year so a little paranoia is to be expected).

After a few calls from my colleagues, I was again getting drawn into the same corporate bullshit, the infighting and office politics that I’d been happy to leave in the dust. All the same personalities involved, their low morale, negativity and backstabbing once again hurled at me as the corporate factions struggled to find support and numbers. Tiresome and sickening but not entirely unexpected. I usually try to stay above it but sometimes its hard when it catches you off guard and it finds a way in.

It was then I started to feel the psychological load building again as all these familiar things reasserted control over my mind and began manifesting in my body. Pain free for the past 12 months, in this 2 day period things started to happen again. The crunchy shoulder muscles, the hypertension, irritability and anxiety. The shoulder and neck pain came back in 1 day. By Day 2, the tingling in the fingertips and wrists started up again, and lower back pain started to fire up. These things had spilled over and caused Hell  in my personal life and even in the first few weeks of my holiday, had caused aching pain and a lot of discomfort from sitting (especially touring around in Jen’s little 4WD for 3 weeks)

Usually I’d just go and stretch, chillax for a bit but ultimately put up with it. But “Bugger this” I thought – my health is important to me now – and got the local Workplace Health and Safety manager to come in and check out my office equipment. Sure enough, he measured and tested and moved things around, eventually ruling that every single piece of office furniture and equipment I’d been using for the past 4 years was totally unsuitable, too small , or needed changing out.

SO – now I have a standup desk! (at least temporarily)  – IT’S THE BEST THING EVER…and it’s gone a long way already to stop the aches and pains.

Short story is I’m doing ok. It’s not all doom and gloom.

Daily, I’m examining and reframing all the negative thinking, watching my mind, meditating and breathing purposefully. Flicking my gaze to next year while staying rooted in the present. Its a skill for life : less crystal ball gazing and more staying open to opportunity, but luckily I have some amazing friends in other countries that are still traveling and they are keeping me level – <Shaye, Megan, Kate, Anna, Megs, Christina, Connie, Bronnie especially> – if it wasn’t for the support of these guys (albeit remotely) I’d be a real mess.

The tiny OCD part of me still needs a plan ABC to settle down though.

So plan B is off to Bali in February to complete another 2 modules in the Svastha Yoga Therapy program. It’s something I really want to finish and after Bali there’s only 2 more modules to go and I’m certified.

Oh and I’m learning French! – met with a local tutor and shes going to help me over the next 5 months. There’s a plan bubbling away in my head to use Language study to travel the world – get an education visa for a year, study at a language school, move on. French first, then Thai in Thailand or Arabic in Tunisia at Bourguiba Language School.

It’s my plan C if the USA goes up in flames with Trump in control. (Did I mention I’m moving to the US next year?)

Next week brings Doctors visits, assessments and some work related travel to Bourke, Brewarrina, and probably Walgett. Today, I’m enjoying the Sunday sunshine, a decent coffee or two at Dahab Cafe, my new Jack Reacher novel and then who knows what the future may bring.

 

checkout time…

It’s 11.45am on Sunday, Islamic New Years Day.  As I sit here at Kafein editing the crazy out of this post, the call to prayer is echoing around the city from every mosque in town. The blend of calls, all slightly out of time and with different tones and voices, create a dull but powerful roar when heard from outside the city but from the inside it feels comforting and warm.

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There is a particular vocalist who’s voice is absolutely beautiful and it literally moves me to tears every time I hear him.

(I recorded a bit on my Instagram so check it out there as I’m only on the tightarse WordPress plan).

It’ll be a bit hard to leave this time as (per usual) in my last few days  I’ve met some fascinating people and just as we are getting to know each other, its time to go.

Megan, Ollie, D’e, Ilva, Iris, Ahmed – uniquely talented individuals : photographers, artists, performers, businessmen. All travelers like myself on various personal journeys and battling their own demons. Despite my best intentions I still seem to collect people.

Letting go is a skill for life – whether its a partner or a friend, or just personal baggage or belongings. It gets easier as you go along I think but the sooner you get used to it the better. Its the whole impermanence thing.

Its almost time for me to check out and move on…next stop Tunisia on Monday for a little while. Going to work my way across the top of Northern Africa and see whats what.

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So some entertaining stories for you. How about the nightclub hostage thing. 🙂

Lets start here.

I met Megan  at my hostel, (we were roomies there) and she’d been her a week already when I first arrived. An American girl on her first trip to Egypt but this wasn’t her first rodeo. Here long enough to make friends with the locals and have some insight into where to go/what to do. We went to a film at a local mega mall (Magnificent Seven – so good!!) and the next night decided to go out to a local bar with some of her Egyptian friends. Met up at a local joint, drank beers and smoked many exotic things, and eventually ended up going to a seedy belly dancing place downtown.

You know the type of place – dark stairs leading up to a black door and doorman on the desk. Tinny arabic dance music blaring, serious sweaty men leaning in shadows.

I let my guard down for a time and relaxed into the evening.

We got to the place, and the sting began.

We had to pay a ‘foreigner’ charge to get in the door. OK, fair enough i guess (entry was free to locals).

So in we walked like hammered lambs to the slaughter, our local friend getting an earful from the host, us largely oblivious and my spider sense chemically dulled. We were guided carefully to a ratty table near the centre of a space where a terrible 3 piece electro-arabic band were belting out belly dance music on a small stage. Fog machines and cheap disco lights. You know what I’m talking about.

The place was a joint. Filled to the roof with a thick layer of smoky haze, tacky tables filled with swarthy men, my friend the only woman save for the dancer on stage weaving through the swirls of fog and spinning disco lights.

At this stage I’d like to paint an exotic picture of your idyllic bellydancer but the reality was closer to a tired old stripper going through the motions, in costume but barely moving at times, stopping occasionally to take a drag of a cigarette or have a brief chat to her thickset handler lurking off to the side of the stage. She coughed heavily several times in the middle of the routine. Possibly spat the phlegm out discreetly into the stage. Bored. Barely there. On autopilot.

The men, all smoking and drinking, never looked directly at her. Eyes to the floor, or ceiling, or each other.

Now for some reason all the lounge singers here appear to be men. The dude on the mike was giving it his all but the incompetence of the band was exceeded only by the shrillness of this guys voice. Using tinny speakers with the treble jacked up to 11, his performance was both interesting as a cultural phenomenon and in the way it made your nose bleed when he hit the high notes – like a slightly blunt dentists drill the ululations made your eyes water.

The drinks started coming immediately – unasked for and unendling. A large silver alfoil swan appeared filled with exotic dried fruits and sliced dates – again unasked for.

Our local friend leaned in “no matter what happens, do not give anyone money. Under any circumstances, ok?

Yeah sure I mumbled, soaking it all in. 

Still no spidey-sense tingle.

Then the dancer seemed to notice us for the first time. She  spun closer and closer and closer, working her way down the tables of now demure men who refused to make eye contact with her.

She got to our table, shimmied up to me and held out her hand… “Hello, where are you from?” she said in perfect English.

Now me, being the canny traveler that I am, immediately smiled my biggest, drunkest smile, shook her hand and said “Hi, my names Jamie. I’m from Australia!”

Snap…and the trap was sprung.

So she smiled and danced on, shimmying her bits,  refusing to let go of my hand, all the while shaking her thang right in my face while I was trying desperately to maintain eye contact. The music played on, her dancing got a little more urgent, her handler came over, and the creepy men around us looked on expectantly.

Then she leaned in and whispered those magical words…

“Money…money?”

huh? (what was that tingling down the back of my neck?)

“you give me money now…”

I looked to my friend quizzically. He was looking at the floor.

Ahh sorry I don’t have any money on me. (the tingling became more urgent)

Her black rimmed eyes hardened. I wouldn’t have thought it possible.

The dancer got closer.  She leaned in and this time practically hissed in my ear.

“money…you give me money. Money.”

The handler put his hand on my shoulder.

Ruh roh.

I looked around nervously – my ‘friends’ were all staring at the floor or off into space, every other eye in the club was on us.

In an unintentional Hugh Grant impression, I tried to bumble my way out of it…lots of umms and ahhs, “sorrys”, “you are lovely but no”, “you danced really well” and such.

With a disgusted snort she eventually turned away and moved on to the next table.

I turned to my ‘friend’ – WTF? Did I do something wrong? You said no money!!!

He just said “No don’t worry about it”. But he looked worried.

But from that moment on I was suddenly sober and on high alert. The club had taken on a sinister tone and I could sense the attitudes towards us foreigners had changed. We weren’t the ATMs that they were hoping for and as such our value had diminished.

I’d completely relaxed my guard and look where it had gotten me. No more beers (I’d only had 2), no more food, no more drinks at all. It was 3am.

Megan had had enough of it all, got up and left, ostensibly for the loo.  One of the local guys at our table left to follow her and they didn’t come back. That’s when I knew we were screwed.

I stayed there with the 2 local guys left at the table and waited for them to finish their drinks – my plan to pay the bill and get the Hell out. My share should have been about 150 Egyptian pounds which was good as that’s all the cash money I had on me (at the last place the beers were 20 Egyptian pounds each and here I’d only had 2)

We asked for the bill.

550 Egyptian pounds.

Fuck.

Explaining that Megan had left and I didn’t have enough money to pay the whole bill, the mood changed. The minders put a hand on each shoulder and guided me back to the table, telling me politely to ‘sit down’ while we waited. And waited . And waited.

I knew shed gone home, but just played dumb.

The locals tried to call Megan and she had gone home, driven home by the other guy as it turned out. She wasn’t in the loo. The local guys tried to call their friends to borrow money (as they had none either but for some reason I was the one being held accountable).

The general atmosphere worsened, the smiles disappeared completely,  and I desperately faked a loo visit to see if there was a way out.

2 guys followed me – 1 stayed at the door, 1 came in and stood next to me.

Damn.

By this stage I was thinking of an emergency exit strategy and whether I outrun and evade 3 tattooed bouncers in their own city.

2 flights of steep stairs, 2 guys at my elbow, one guys at the top of the stair blocking one guy at the door below. I did the math and came up really short.

Anyway, long story short, the local guys finally got a friend to go see Megan, she gave him cash money, we paid the bill at 5am and they finally let me go.

So that’s the story.

People may think that I’m uptight and serious all the time but in truth I’m just as capable of letting my guard down, being stupid, and getting into jams as anyone else.

I’d just prefer not to most of the time.

That’s just one of many tales of this trip though. Its been a buzz.

There’s the hair raising car trip up to Alexandria with Megan and Ollie, the Nile River cruise and the buffet from Hell with Iris, sitting on balconies and talking about life with D and Ilya. To many to elaborate on but they’ll stick with me forever.

The scene here in Cairo is relentless – all-nighters are the norm and the local watering holes are open ’til practically dawn (For a muslim country there sure is a lot of alcohol and weed here).

So my time in Egypt has been enlightening in so many ways. Apart from the massive changes in this countries economy post-revolution, there is a resilience to the general population that is amazing – they just gets on with the job of living, loving, walking their dogs, hugging their children and earning a living. Just like us all in times of adversity.

Much of what happens here stays here and isn’t even reported in the West. We had a car bomb here on Thursday afternoon in New Cairo, locals trying to assassinate the Minister of the Interior – heard the ‘boom’ from here but apart from sirens the locals didn’t even bat an eye. This happens a lot and people get on with life.

Anyway, Ive haunted the streets here for almost 2 weeks, getting to know the city on foot and seeing how people live at ground level.

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I went out to the pyramids a while back – caught an Uber out from my downtown hostel (33 Pounds) and spent the day out there virtually alone for most of it. Explored the entire complex, sat and  rested in the shade with the hawkers out there, who welcomed a chat after realising that they couldn’t sell me anything. As Muhommed said to me after selling me a bottle of water at 1000% the street price “Tell your friends in Australia to come to Egypt. We need you”.

Then I walked back to downtown. 15kms. Took me 4 hours as i wandered and got lost in the alleys and fringes of Cairo. It was the Cairo that you see in the old movies, all alleys and tenements, bumper to bumber traffic mingle with donkey carts and camels, street urchins and marketplaces, all dirty and dusty yet vibrant and alive. Buzzing with energy that I drank deeply of.

If you come here, take time and get out on foot. try not to just do the tourist things and leave as it wont do the city justice.

It is tourist-safe here on the streets and out in the desert, even wandering the alleys and streets at 4am alone  (unless you are an idiot then Darwinism will apply). Ive never felt threatened or anxious about my personal security and literally everyone Ive met has been extremely friendly and welcoming.

If you are thinking about going to Egypt – just do it. they need you.

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Plus the pyramids are nice.

Watch out for dodgy belly dance clubs though.

 

 

 

 

nothing is something…2

Yesterdays post was a blomit, (apologies) but today’s will be a little more considered, interesting and hopefully not so meandering.

After Chiang Dao, we decided to head up towards the Golden Triangle – that opium soaked corner of Thailand where Laos, Burma and Thailand meet. It seemed suitable remote and mountainous enough to satisfy our call of the wild.

We’d need to head up though Fang via Thaton, but I also wanted to go via Mae Sai and Tachilek  – to cross into Burma via the land crossing there – and then head across to The Golden triangle and back down to Chiang Rai before heading down again to Chiang Mai.

Its basically a big Northern loop and we only had a few days to get back before heading down to the Gulf of Thailand for Meg’s birthday scuba experience.

Before we’d left Fang for Thaton though, we wanted to do a day trip and get out of the city . Again the guidebooks weren’t a lot of help, but we’d zeroed in on some interesting things nonetheless.

We decided on a day trip to the Royal Agricultural Project at Ankhang. It sounded interesting as it wasn’t a Westerner tourist spot but extremely popular with Thais.

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Set up by Royal decree by the King, and used as a training facility for local Thai and Burmese farmers to develop modern agricultural techniques and practices. The primary aim being to move away from slash and burn land clearing, and to reduce their reliance on growing opium poppies (and hence reduce the drug trade that has historically ran rampant in the area).

I thought it sounded a little bit shit.

It wasn’t.

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Taking a “special tour” arranged through our hotel (which turned out to be a red taxi truck and a driver that cost a stupid amount for the day) this was easily one of the most interesting things I’ve seen in Thailand. A social experiment and research station set right up alongside the Burmese border, we wandered virtually alone through the massive site, through orchards and lush farmlands, greenhouses and gardens, all immaculately set up and maintained.

Burmese workers picking chrysanthemums or poppies.

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We wandered around for hours, taking in the silence of the hills and the beautiful countryside. Then our driver gave us the hurry up as the rains were coming and we quickly moved on up to the nearby border crossing at Ban Nor Lae to look over the battlements, as it were, into Burma.

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Borders make me nervous. Bad shit happens at borders. Border guards with dirty great machine guns also make me nervous.

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It appeared to be closed at this point, and standing at the border gazing across I couldn’t help but wonder if some bored Burmese border guard was sighting in on my face as I gazed absently across no mans land.

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The best thing about this visit was the small Hilltribe market there – a group of wonderful little ladies in traditional Akha dress that were expert weavers, ruthless marketers and consummate professionals. We ran the gauntlet  – a row of stalls piled high with clothes and trinkets and whatnots, both of us slowly being passed of to each successive lady as we were moved along the market rows (make no mistake, we we being expertly handled) politely looking but refusing each offer (strangely enough EVERYTHING seemed to be 100 baht here).

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(not my photo – i wasn’t game to take a photo as it would have cost me a fortune)

Then as we neared the last stall, they delivered their coup de grâce. The last stall was owned by a teeny tiny grey haired old lady, dressed to the nines in traditional Akha dress with an enormous toothless smile and a personality larger than Tony Robbins.

I never had a chance.

Quickly convinced to buy a 100 baht handwoven scarf each (it was 34 degrees and 90 percent humidity), she turned the charm up to 11 and like a grandmotherly black hole, began to hoover the money our of our wallets.

I managed a brief hug and got the Hell out, but not before almost buying several bags of fruit. Pulling out a massive pair of rusty dressmaking scissors, she insisted on hand peeling the raw fruit and then practically forced it into our hands. We had to eat it or appear rude. Mmmm dirty potentially fatal raw fruit.

Time was against us though and the sun was getting low, so we jumped back into the back of the truck and headed back down the mountain (narrowly missing herds of mules that seemed to roam free along these steep curvy mountain roads). We headed back into town as the road became treacherous at night and our driver was getting anxious.

Settling in for dinner and an early night, after fixing yet another flaky shower heater, it was welcome to hear the rain on the roof, the barking geckoes on the ceiling, and to sleep in a comfortable bed.

And so another day ended, but from the next day onwards, the mood changed slightly.

After week or so schlumping along together in cramped overheated buses, tuktuks and taxis, sharing shitty hotels and run down resorts, shonky meals and bad coffee,  despite the beauty and wonder of this amazing country, there were small hairline cracks starting to appear in our merry traveling twosome. It was only a matter of time really and to be completely honest I’m not the easiest person to travel with (I can almost hear the nodding of heads).

We developed a case of the niggles.

Long silences. Many “Hmmm” moments. Lots of staring off into the distance. There may have been some frowns at times and possibly more than a little frustration. Mostly from me as I tend to project my own issues onto others, then provoke a discussion but hey – its that restless mind of mine creating its own faulty reality again.

It was easily fixed though – after a few days of an odd growing discomfort, she basically called me on it – several times. Kudos actually as its the perfect way to snap me out of this – a quick slap and I’m back in the room. So after an open and honest chat (or two) and some alone time, we established some groundrules, fell back into the rhythm of travel and got on with having fun.

So early the next morning we headed for the bus station, with a relatively short but interesting journey ahead of us up into the mountains again, this time staying at a traditional Akha village in a adobe mud house high in the mountains.

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To be continued…