Thursday, August 20, 2009

My Outstanding Odyssey to Oz, Part 2: In and About Sydney

I started the day off right with a hearty Aussie Brekky. That’s what they call a breakfast for those wondering. In fact at tourist shops you can buy a whole book full of Aussie slang, like how a BBQ is a “Barbie” and so on. In this brekky was practically a loaf of break the toast was so thick, beans, hash browns, poached eggs, fried tomato, bacon, sausage, butter, orange juice and coffee.

There wasn’t much variety for the eggs like back home, and it seems like ketchup isn’t too popular there. The one time I did ask for ketchup to go with my Australian burger, they charged me like 30 cents extra. Australian burgers are cool too, they have beet (that purple vegetable) in the middle, and egg. But egg isn’t so strange to me on a burger anymore after all those delicious Brazilian burgers I’ve munched on in Japan.

I couldn’t finish the brekky thanks to my Japan-sized stomach and made my way downtown. I took the train there, and was somewhat unimpressed with it compared to other countries thus far. It was quite expensive (over $3 to save a 15 min walk), and the cops walking around everywhere coupled with warning signs and “night safe spot” being clearly marked on the ground didn’t make me feel very safe (although it’s suppose to have the opposite effect right?) One time I was waiting for the train, and it simply didn’t come, and everyone had to wait for the next one; it took about ½ hour. Well, more on the trains later.

I may have had plans again, but threw them out on the whim of doing other stuff. I went up the Sydney tower that morning while it was still cool and clear outside for optimal viewing. Before we went in, you could take a “virtual tour” of Australia in a theater with those hydraulic chairs meant to toss you around so you feel like you’re in the video. It was neat I suppose, with the aerial views and things you saw, but what caught my attention was a “space race” show being advertised. I knew I’d have to make a special detour to see that attraction, and got all excited, imagining the cool CG close-ups of planets and crazy celestial adventures it would take you on.

Luckily (?) the second part of the Virtual Australia Tour wasn’t working, so to make up for it they showed us the space race for free! I was excited, even if everyone in the theater couldn’t understand the announcer’s thick Asian accent explaining how the next ride would be a lot rougher. My finely tuned accent-understander made the most of it and I helped out others around me who didn’t know what the hell the guy in the front was saying to us all.

That aside, I got all excited when we loaded up into our future space craft, blasted off to the stars, got sucked into a wormhole… then somehow got stuck in this stupid space nascar track. My heart sank. So this was the space “race”. Such potential… ruined. The pilot suddenly seemed to degrade to a redneck nascar announcer, and I suffered through some annoying and pointless “racing” while the chairs angrily bounced us around. As angry and upset as I was, I found solace in that at least I didn’t go out of my way, wasting my time and paying good money to see this bile on the screen.

Disgusted, I couldn’t leave the theater fast enough when we predictably won the race (yay) and it was all over (thank god). I went up the tower after that, and basked in the beautiful surroundings. I’m not a fan of heights, but I love being up high for spectacular sights like this. That would explain why I always get window seats on the airplane and then proceed to take around a hundred photos each and every time. I should become a pilot maybe.

I was up there about an hour maybe. I lazily walked around, soaking up the surroundings. I just can’t do this city justice by saying it’s beautiful; there are no words for how I feel for what I saw. Later I bought an Aussie beer to compliment my relaxing on a chair, staring out onto the astounding world below me.

Since it was nearby, I made my way down to the IMAX. It has been years since I’ve been there, and I was hoping to see a movie. The Internet’s show listings were less than helpful, but I found a confusing schedule inside to help clear it up somewhat. Since I slept in, I missed an awesome movie documenting the space station, but there were still some cool shows playing. I ended up going to see “Under the Sea 3D”. All my experiences with 3D thus far have been poor attempts to scare you, and I hated those shows. Although skeptical, and was happily surprised when I went in, and it was definitely worth the $18 or so I paid for the hour.

I was sad I forgot my scuba license at home, but this easily made up for it. I can’t believe how awesome it was and how much potential 3D movies have. The fish were as large as buses and you felt you could touch them they were so close to you. They had volume, and schools of fish had dimensions. The only thing off, was if you tried to move your head to see different views of these incredible things coming out at you. Then the immersion was ruined because you were still staring at the same 3D picture. I ended up bracing my head, and grinned like a maniac for practically and hour I was so blown away. It was so good, and it didn’t do anything dumb to try and scare you and wreck the experience.

I wanted to see another show after, “The Alps” played, but I don’t think anything could top that 3D underwater adventure I just had. It followed some guy climbing some mountain; a near vertical cliff one mile straight up where his dad died when he was younger and took over 3 days to scale. It was kind of interesting I guess for the visuals alone, but I still think they’re a bunch of crazy idiots risking their life over something so small and trivial just to be able to say to their friends that they’ve done it. If there was some purpose to it, let’s say exploring new worlds, then I could support them.

But no, once you’re finished foolishly risking your life, the only thing left to do is go back down. Their over 3 days of climbing was so boring apparently, they only showed 10 minutes of footage of it: the “stress time” which included a slight slip of one foot and some snow that fell down. You know if something bad truly was going to happen, then the movie would get axed, so you kind of roll your eyes when they try to build tension. But everyone’s a critic. At least the visuals were good like I said, showing Swiss countryside from a helicopter and wonder waterfalls and so on. What a beautiful country.

It seemed most museums and stuff closed at 5, so I rushed on down to the Observatory near the center of the huge metropolis (odd to put it there when you consider the light pollution; but it is quite old and awesome) The view from the hill where it was perched was quite cool, as the picture can attest.

It wasn’t quite what I expected: a small/free museum, although there were movies showing. I was just in time and got in, and got my own private screening since I was alone. I got talking with the dude running the place, and we got into some awesome discussions about space and the exploration there of. Unfortunately the talks turned a bit political and he was happy I wasn’t American for that part: criticizing how people get angry with NASA for spending “too much money” when they hardly get a fraction of the defense budget for example.

Since I had taken an Astrology class and knew the basics that seem to get repeated over and over no matter where you go and try to do, he showed me some of the cooler videos like how space robotics are manufactured and the harsh extraterrestrial conditions they are forced to endure. Then there was another one trying to put into perspective just how big the universe is. I don’t think any human mind can fully comprehend it, no matter how good and startling these videos are made. It was still cool though. He then took me to the observatory.

Although the sun was shining, the telescope was strong enough to pierce the blue sky. I ended up seeing a close up of the sun, moon, Jupiter, and our closest neighbor: Alpha Centauri. I didn’t know it was a strange binary star system; that kind of kills the chances of planets being out there, with all the funky gravity stuff going on. Who knows though right? It was cool how he just punched into a keypad what he wanted to see, and the telescope automatically moved around to find it. If I have a ton of money and build my own house some day, it will definitely have an observatory.

I don’t remember what I did that night, and I don’t have pictures. I think I had a submarine sandwich and took it easy as I had a big tour the next day. Maybe this was the night the hostel had a party I wanted to go to, so I waited for it, but the departure time kept getting pushed back until I gave up and fell asleep. In retrospect it’s good that it was “cold” outside given how many kilometers I traversed. There is no way I could have done or seen as much if it was hot out; not to mention how much less I would have seen if I had spent some time on some of those famous beaches. Australia is a destination I definitely need to return to someday.

The next day, Friday the 31st, I went on a daylong tour outside of the city to see the Blue Mountains. Apparently there was a mountain range out there that I didn’t know about, and it was really pretty, with some amazing history. Sydney was expanding but didn’t have the needed farmland. These mountainous cliffs proved to be impassable for decades, until finally an exploration group learnt from the natives what they did, and they offered some 60 convicts freedom if they could construct a road through them in 6 months. Australia was a nation built on convicts exported from Britain after all. Oh and they look blue because of something in the air. I didn’t notice it too much when I was there, but there is a strong tint on my pictures that turned out of the area.

Our tour guide was a cool Aussie and a Biologist, so he had all kinds of cool insight for us. But the best part was they tried to give us a real experience, and pointed out the tourist traps and their tricks. For example when we got to massive, colossal gorge, he pointed out a couple rock formations called “the 3 sisters” or something, and the tourist-trap park behind them.

First we went down into the valley to have tea and biscuits while watching wild Kangaroos bounce by. This was my first time to see them in the wild; they’re such peaceful creatures. Their legs are freakishly huge and out of proportion with their bodies, but they’re cute and friendly enough to overlook that. We saw two adults and a joey. And watched them gracefully and quietly bounce and graze.

Our tour split into two shortly after. There was something of an “advanced” and “easy” hike offered. One was a 3-hour hike through the valley, and the other had the bus ferry you around to points of interest for 10-minute stints. I went on the advanced tour and enjoyed an amazing nature hike.

There was surprisingly little wild life on the path that we took, but we enjoyed the foliage and the experience immensely. He talked a lot about the many eucalypti trees and how they populate the continent. They’re the only things Koalas will eat, and incidentally makes their meat somewhat toxic, as Koala’s spend a lot of their time sleeping and being high on drugs. When Australia was first discovered by Captain Cook, the whole continent seemed to be on fire, as the natives would make controlled fires regularly so that they wouldn’t get caught up in a big one and die.

These trees love fire. It’s so odd; I never would have thought that of flammable organisms, or anything living for that matter. They grow their bark so it’s thick, dry and flammable, and the major way for them to spread their seeds is during a fire, when their huge acorn pod things retract from the heat, opening so the seeds can fly out. We were shown multiple patches where fires came through and sure enough the trees were all very much alive, even if they were heavily scarred by black ashes. Talk about having an evil neighbor; these things were everywhere.

We learnt about community fire halls and how they bring people together. It’s somewhat ironic huge communities grow together through something so horrible, but nice at the same time to share such a deep bond. Massive deadly fires are a big part of the Australian culture I have learnt.

While walking through the cavern, it was really beautiful. I of course took too many photos, but I couldn’t help it. Many parts had fantastic stone staircases, and one crevice was spotted with circular scars. What would happen, was rocks would fall down into the deep crack, where it would stir and stir in the water between the two walls; incidentally carving these large round holes. The mountains are mostly sandstone, so it’s not too strong, and lets water filter through it like a sponge. When you see cross sections that have broken away, you could tell the paths that water would take with a flurry of colours and designs as the water would be filtered in the sandstone; leaving its sediment and whatever behind.

Because we were a young, strong group, the tour guide was able to push us even further until we got to see a lovely little waterfall built into the enclave. It was a real treat having him show us around. To finish, we went to the tourist trap spot and like I said, many of us rolled our eyes at what some other people were unfortunate to pay money to see, and thanked him for the experience we all shared.

I love going on little tour groups like this now. Sure there is a lot to take away when you travel by yourself, but it’s also nice to have a van pick you up and take you an hour or two out of the city for a guided tour of something interesting and then take you back that night. You can do it yourself but maybe you won’t learn as much and the hassle and transportation involved to make the trip out yourself there almost costs as much as the guided tour.

Not to mention you meet an eclectic group of people whom are all traveling just like you. You can spot the couples immediately, and many of them unfortunately shun the rest of the group on many occasions. There is value in traveling alone, and you can spot those people right away. They’re friendly, ready to talk, and ready to share life stories with you while you experience something new and fun together.

"The problem in my life and other people's lives is not the absence of knowing what to do, but the absence of doing it." -Peter Drucker


No comments: