Chapter 1: Beginnings Start at the Beginning: A Land Down Under
What are the first things that come to mind when you think Australia? Come on, give it a try. Put this down, close your eyes and try to think of five things that are distinctly Australian.
My five things?
1) The Platypus
2) Beer, Beer, Beer
3) Ayers Rock
5) Poisonous and disgusting things: snakes, spiders, blue ring octopus … vegemite
I never thought about the people or the sheer amount of land in Australia. Granted, coming from Canada, large open spaces aren’t really that unusual.
I always had a very specific image of Australia before my trip. To me Australia was fantasy. Now, I don’t mean fantasy in the sense that I dreamed about it. No, what I mean is that, to me, Australia was more of a different earth (as opposed to Middle Earth, my second destination … ba-dum-ch!)
Considering the amount of thought I have put into trips since, it is appalling how little preparation I made before leaving for Oz. I researched my trip by listening to the Waltzing Matilda and watching Crocodile Dundee religiously. To prepare myself for the Outback I watched episodes of Crocodile Hunter and practiced saying “Crikey!”
I really knew nothing about the Land Down Under before leaving, beyond what I’d heard from popular culture (and I was very interested in trying a Vegemite sandwich … in retrospect, not one of my greater goals).
You see, originally I had wanted to go visit a friend of mine in Japan. I was planning on going to Tokyo for two weeks, ready to return home with the arrogance of a ‘seasoned’ traveler. Obviously this did not happen.
I will not bore you with the details of how this plan evolved into FANZ. It’s not an interesting story and there is no real way for me to make it sound interesting without lying outright. So, rather than perjure myself, I will just gloss over the entire “before” and get right to the “during”.
Julia, my sister, and I left Victoria two days after my last exam of grade 11, which really didn’t leave me much time to process the fear. It really wasn’t until the night before I left I realized I was leaving the country. Underage. Without any real supervision. And with a $20,000 limit credit card.
Do I really need to tell you how little sleep I got that night?
Panic doesn’t even come close to describing what I was feeling.
Every memory from my last exam to the moment I arrived in Sydney is a blur. The only distinct impressions I have from those days are more the feelings of sheer terror than actual memories. It took us two flights to get to LAX (one from Victoria to Vancouver and then one from Vancouver to LA). Julia was able to switch seats with a student traveler on the fourteen hour flight to Sydney so that we could stay together. Her name was Amanda (“but, like, everyone calls me Mandy!”) and she was oh so very excited! She was, in fact, so excited you could hear the exclamation points at the end of each sentence.
Luckily Mandy managed to knock herself out with gravol and a rum and coke pretty early on in the flight.
I remember thinking I was the only person on the plane unable to sleep. The charming woman in front of me spent the entire fourteen hours with her seat extended as far back as possible and at this point in my life I was far too timid to do the same to the person sitting behind me.
The only thing I really remember from that flight? Watching the SNL episode guest starring Britney Spears four times in a row. Each time, as the sleep deprivation set in, the episode became funnier. By the time we arrived in Sydney I was sure Britney was a comic genius.
I’ve managed to resist re-watching that episode in the ten years since my trip. Why mess with a good thing?
The real adventure began when we arrived in Sydney. We were both miserable. Julia was still groggy from her drug induced sleep on the flight and me? Well, I was running off zero sleep in what had now reached 30 hours. (30 hours you ask? 23 hours of transit time, and 7 hours of panicking before we left). I had literally flown past exhausted (about 6 hours over the pacific) and had now reached a degree of perky rarely seen outside of pep squad.
Sorry Canada, but we didn’t exactly give off the greatest first impression.
We had just over an hour to get our luggage, catch the shuttle bus, and to travel from the International Airport to the Domestic Airport. Easy, right?
No. No it was not.
Our luggage hadn’t arrived. It was not still at LAX. In fact, our luggage was not even in transit. Somehow one of the lovely ladies of airport employ had coded our luggage as YQY instead of SYD. Our luggage was safely set aside at an airport in Nova Scotia. How they managed to get the two mixed up is beyond me … the two Sydney’s aren’t even spelled the same: Sidney versus Sydney.
They say adversity builds character.
To those people, I say “$@*& off”.
Four drops of Rescue Remedy, a promise that our bags would arrive in Perth in two days, and two very irate Porter girls and we were on our way.
Next on our list? Engine trouble.
We made it to the gate with 15 minutes until boarding only to find out the flight was delayed. You’d think that 4 hours of Crazy Eights would make you sick of the card game but you would be wrong.
Crazy Eights Countdown (from Kings) is the only thing that got me through those 4 hours. Julia, who is terrified of flying, nearly had an aneurysm when they told us our flight was delayed due to an engine breakdown. Add 3 more drops of Rescue Remedy.
(As an aside, for those of you who have never heard of Rescue Remedy: Rescue Remedy is an herbal “calming agent” that has the same ingredients as Horse Tranquilizer.)
The plane was disgustingly hot by time we were finally able to board (the air conditioning had to be turned off while they had “performed routine maintenance” on the broken engine). While this created an incredibly uncomfortable environment, it also led to our first taste of Australian hospitality.
Free drinks for “mature” passengers!
Three XXXX Beer combined with the lack of sleep and the rescue remedy made for an extremely pleasant journey. Even my sister enjoyed the flight and we moved from crazy eights to Egyptian War and a few hands of Golf (the card game, no putters involved).
We arrived in Perth without further incident, meeting up with our Aussie Mom and her son and just generally and genuinely having a good time.
And so begins our two and a half month journey.
Now, rather than bore you with the details of our time in Australia sight-seeing (a park! a parrot! the ocean!) I will just continue on with the highlights and have you fill in the blanks however you want.
To fully understand where I am going with this you first need to know what makes a trip truly epic.
The Seven Features of a Successful Trip:
Recognize those? Than you must be a seasoned traveler (or a staunch Catholic).
Have I offended you? Then stop reading. I don’t mind, honest.
Are you curious? Good. Read on.