Saturday, January 31, 2015

Down Under Bird Watching

All right, I will admit that I am not a laid-back traveller.  I tend to over thing a lot of things, and when it comes to airline schedules and customs regulations, I always fear the worst.  Either I will sleep through my alarms, or there will be some mistake on my part that leaves me standing, stranded in the Airport, or worse-yet, shackled and behind bars for being a travel noob...

I had purposively gone to the Vancouver International Airport to check that my helmet would be able to be part of my carry on gear, as I was allowed two checked bags as part of my gear.  I carried a Value-Village gear bag which just fit my helmet and visor.  I found the Air China people, and talked to two nice ladies, who both assured me that the bag was too big, and that the only way I was going to get that helmet onboard their jet was to wear it on my head!  Ha-Ha, giggle giggle.

So, when I joined my son and nephew at the Vancouver Motorcycle show in Abbotsford, a suggestions was made to send the helmet via FedX from Calgary to Oz, as my nephew was heading that way.  I didn't ask how my well-organizes and travel savvy nephew managed to get the helmet onboard the Westjet flight, but he did, without issue.

 He sure likes those Orange ones...

 A very cool Scrambler, with a wooden fender...

This little tyke was only 6 years old, and she had been riding since she was three.  I know a couple of towheads who would enjoy riding track bikes at this age....

These folks could clearly use their bikes with great agility and skill

We had a good day kicking tires at the bike show.  I was a wee bit anxious about sleeping through my alarm for the flight the next day , and increasingly worried about a growing cough and a threat of getting the local bronchitis which seemed to be making the rounds. Thanks to my Son, he delivered me to Vancouver International Airport with enough time to get my gear organized, and find the correct departure lounge.  I had arranged for flight which was broken down into two parts: a 12 hour flight to mainland China, a 3 hour layover, and then another 9 hours to Sydney.

This was my first international flight, and by far the longest time that I had spent in the air.  I had been warned by more seasoned travellers to make sure that I exercised my legs. I had also been warned that the jets were crowded, with very little legroom.  The huge jets had 10 of us spread across the breadth of the jet, and it was true that even with a aisle seat, I felt hemmed in.  I had elected to wear my motorcycle riding boots, and there was no way I could remove them to give my feet some relief.  In spite of the squeezed nature of the seating, the food was plentiful, somewhat oriental, and actually quite good.

 The attendants were accommodating, and the young ladies very attractive and professional.  I was grateful that the mickey-sized bottle of cough syrup which I had downed the night prior seemed to have knocked down my persistent cough, and I slept on an off throughout the flights.  On the Sydney leg, my two seat mates were two young girls from Grande Prairie, in Alberta.

My only complaint about the flight is that I could have clearly brought on board my helmet, as I saw people bringing on all sorts of big bags and boxes.  The overhead lockers were large and could have easily managed my helmet.

As part of my packing regime, I had all of my gear dry-cleaned, and I washed my tent twice. My sleeping bag was dry-cleaned, and I took great care to clean my boots of all dirt and residue of past rides. When I arrived in Sydney, the in-plane document had an item which asked if I had come from a rural area.

I assumed that daffodils growing in January on the wet coast of Vancouver Island meant "rural", so I checked that box, which immediately triggered me into the quarantine and inspection lineup.  I dreaded the thought of breaking out all of my gear, and particularly hated the idea of repacking my gear, which I had agonized over every nook and crevice of my two bags.  When my turn came, a very nice Aussie gent gave me a quizzical look, said something about "dirty boots?" and passed me through without having to break a sweat.  All of my fears about Australian border inspections were gone with a "Welcome to Australia, mate!"  

I soon found the meeting place for the hostel bus, and managed to get a seat at the front, with the driver.  I asked the dude, who seemed to be Somali or Ethiopian, if he had any tips about driving on 
the left.  He laughed and whispered that he did not have a license.  The remainder of the shuttle bus passengers chimed in with all sorts of tips and advice.  A great introduction to Australian rules of traffic and driving! 

I found the hostel to be better than some I have stayed in, with a constant ebb and flow of young people using a polyglot of languages to get by and arrange their trips and tours.  My roomate is a young fellow from Seattle. I bought a mobile phone the other day, and as I struggled to activate it, and learn how to turn it on, the young guy offered to help me.  He said: " I have to help my grandparents all the time with gadgets, they are really clutzy. My grandmother is getting on: she is 67."  I laughed to myself and thought of my eldest grandson saying exactly the same thing to some poor senior..  

I have managed to acquire an Australian bank account and hopefully my fax to my Campbell River bank will have wired some money to this account.  I am hoping to save some money by not using my Canadian credit card, as I did in South America. 

I am really glad that English is the predominant language here, as I enjoy chatting up the locals and becoming part of the landscape.  I always felt that I was missing so much in SA because of the language differences.  The Australians have been extremely helpful and open, and I have a deeper understanding of their concept of "mateship".     There are a couple of rounders who hang out on the streets nearby, and as I have been about my errands, their familiar faces give me a nodding acknowledgement.  One fellow spent an hour with me telling me where all the cheap meals were.  When I see him on the street, he asks if everything is good.   I met some local bikers who are members of the Kings' Cross Motorcycle Club.  There are some real characters in this tight-nit group of guys, all seeming to be in their fifties and sixties.  They meet every day at a roadside cafe, have a coffee, and watch the birds.  

 An Eucalyptus tree on the cafe site has a chain wrapped around one of the huge branches.  On the chain are the dogtags of members of their club who have passed away. A simple but effective reminder of the comradeship of the riders.

These are not the birds that the guys whistle and hoot at, but for me, these long beaks  are my first introduction to the 400 or more species of birds about Oz.  I have heard what I think is a Kookaborra, and it is the most strangest bird call I have ever heard: a cross between a hyena and a disemboweled monkey. 

As I attend to business, I have been walking about the local area, and clearly Sydney is a mix of the old and the new.

I can't seem to get away from  Captain George Cook.  When I think about this explorer, I have more respect for his travels and adventures, but not necessarily for the Imperialism which he represented.  I wonder what the Aborigines think of the statue, which says he "discovered" Australia....

What would a city be without Queen Victoria overseeing a Scots bagpiper?  His tunes bounced off the sandstone buildings surrounding the square and his pipes evoked memories for me of marching to the pipes, as an Army Cadet.

As I listened to his pipes, I tried to imagine what it would be like to be in Scotland, and hear the pipes bouncing from the walls of Edinburgh castle.  Some food for thought and for helmet time as I ride across the Nullabor....

I saw a building advertising opals and pearls.  I went in, and explained to the very nice shop girl that I had wanted to buy emeralds in Colombia, but I didn't know  an emerald from a broken beer bottle.  She immediately took out a variety of samples, and very carefully demonstrated the different varieties of opals found within Australia.  It was an excellent presentation, and for a few minutes I was  able to tell the difference between a $200.00 opal, and a $6000.00 opal.  

She told me how the Aborigines believed that opals form part of the Rainbow Serpent, and she demonstrated the undulating rythm of the Snake, as it represented the up and down seams of sandstone and veins of opals found in Mother Earth.  I told her that I wished she was with me in Cartegena, and she said that she always wanted to learn more about emeralds.  Did I mention that Aussies are great hosts?