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An exercise in excess

AUSTRALIA | Saturday, 24 November 2007 | Views [930]

Me looking triumphant (as triumphant as I ever look) after walking the Grand Canyon walk in the Blue Mountains. The orange hat is not as practical as it looks.

Me looking triumphant (as triumphant as I ever look) after walking the Grand Canyon walk in the Blue Mountains. The orange hat is not as practical as it looks.

I am currently finding the old adage "everything in moderation" to be particularly appropriate.

If you get excited by airports (as I do) try not to spend too much time in them lest your excitement become diluted.

If you squirm with delight at the prospect of a two hour train journey through pretty landscapes (as I do) try not to make that same journey four times in two days because the scenery will lose its appeal.

If you find that small children bring a smile to your face (as I do) don't let your smile turn down at the edges by sitting yourself near screaming toddlers for four of those aforementioned two-hour journeys.

And if, for some strange reason, you enjoy running around trying to locate your misplaced documents and negotiating the befuddling conglomeration of non-communicating departments at the airport (umm) by all means indulge in this bizarre fancy. But don't drag it out over two days or you'll find that the novelty begins to wear thin.

I am currently sitting on my flight from Sydney to Bangkok. I have my passport(s). I have my ticket(s). I have my sentimental (and legendary) packet(s) of onion soup. As I suspected, I had left everything at Customs when I entered Australia. They took their sweet time informing anyone, completely bypassing Lost Property and sending my passport direct to Immigration. As it transpires.

My phonecall to Immigration ($1.50) yielded a tremendous YAY! and was closely followed by a quiet BOO. Yay they had my passport. Boo they would not hold it until I came back to the airport the next day. As it also transpires, Wednesday is the day the GUY from the consulate comes to get the lost passports and whisk them away to bureaucratic purgatory for seven days worth of "processing", with no way of arresting this process.

My choice, if you can call it that, was to have my passport sent to the consulate for processing (purgatory) and eventual destroying (since I was leaving the country in two days and wouldn't be here to see it when it eventually emerged from purgatory), or to make the trip from Katoomba back down to Sydney (2 hours). I could then pick up my passport and then return to Katoomba (2 hours) for a short sleep before heading back down to Sydney in the morning (2 hours) to catch my plane.

So that's how I ended up making four trips between Sydney and Katoomba in two days. A grand total of over 8 hours staring out a window. That was not an exercise in moderation.

The best part of events was, however, what was involved in retrieving my travel wallet which contained my tickets and sentimental soup. As it was explained to me by the charming man in Immigration: They had my passport. They did not have my travel wallet. That wallet was at Lost Property. That's just the way they roll.

So when I'd ventured down to Sydney to pick up my passport, I also made a hurried trip to Lost Property to pick up the travel wallet.

Understand now that this was at 9pm. My lovely man from Couchsurfing had picked me up at the train station, and we were racing against the parking meter to get in and out of the airport within a 30 minute time window (before they charged us a MILLION dollars for parking). Understand also that the Lost Property office is at the far far end of a veritable rabbit warren of corridors, at the complete opposite end of the terminal from whichever entrance you come in by.

This is a fact.

So this was like a scene from The Amazing Race. We were sprinting along corridors, asking directions of every airport worker we encountered, splitting up and hollering at each other when we found something promising, sprinting sprinting. We eventually found the Lost Property office which is a trap door in a dark cupboard underneath a stairwell with a sign on the wall saying "toilets closed until further notice".

That's also a fact.

We shine our torches down this dark hole and enquire of the gnome with no eyes whether it would be possible to pick up an item in Lost Property. He coughs, scratches, and then says no. They close at 5pm.

Fastforward 18 hours, until when I show up at the airport at check in time. I check my bags in, which I can do without my tickets because I have an e-ticket for this leg of the journey. Ahh the conveniences of the modern age. I then hotfoot it back up to the lost property office (which has now moved to the other end of the terminal, at the opposite end to the entrance I came in by) and talk to the eyeless gnome in the hole. He says he doesn't have my ticket wallet and he doesn't know where it might be.

An urgent phonecall to Immigration reveals that my passport was handed in by Customs, and that my ticket wallet could probably be found at the Customs office. Understand now that I sat in the Customs office for a good ten minutes the night before waiting for my passport to come down from Immigration. At no point did they mention that they had my travel wallet.

Following the directions from the gnome in the Lost Property hole, I sprinted down a bunch of stairs, expecting to emerge (as directed by the gnome) directly in front of the Customs office. Unfortunately I failed to account for the physics of the Lost Property office, and emerged at the opposite end of the terminal to what I was expecting.

Cue more Amazing Race scenes, except this time I'm alone, I'm dripping sweat, I'm panting with a slight wheeze, I have thirty minutes until my flight boards and I haven't even been through customs or security yet. I run backwards and forwards, up and down stairs. I ask every airport worker I come across. After ten minutes of sweating, sprinting, sweating, wheezing, a little bit of crying, I find the customs office. Please, I plead. Please please please. Do you have my travel wallet?


Might I point out that at this point I did not cry. But many scenarios played through my head over the next ten seconds. None of them involved relaxed sitting on beaches. Then another man emerged from the back room and walked to the counter.

"Is this what you're looking for?" He pulls my travel wallet from under the lip of the counter, where it had been sitting in plain view of the guy who'd told me "nope".

Might I point out that I didn't cry at this point either. I must have exhausted my supply of available liquids during all this sweating business.


So now we're soaring somewhere over the middle of Australia. It's asshole middle-of-nowhere land down there. The earth is red. It's covered in scrub stuff that's desperately trying to have itself taken seriously as vegetation. The only signs of human hand are incredibly long, impossibly straight roads that criss-cross the big flat red and wannabe vegetation. Redness, roadness, occasional saltlakeness. Rinse, repeat.

Hey, as it turns out, I miss Australia like a bigass knife in the gut. (Not "I miss it like I MISS a knife in the gut" -- and not to say that I've ever had a knife in the gut to compare with my longing for Australia.) I really, honestly, overwhelmingly to the point of tears love her ridiculous landscapes and flamboyant creatures and broad-faced, broad-voweled inhabitants. I was on the verge of considering this "lost stuff" business as a sign that I was meant to stick around and enjoy those broad vowels for a little longer. But sensibility won out in the end. Stupid sensibility.

As involved as all this business sounds, I did actually find some time to get out and see some of those rocks, cliffs and forest that I was so excited about. After a rough start (catching wrong bus, being dropped at wrong stop by well-meaning driver, being told wrong time for bus that would take me back to where I was supposed to be, being unable to hitchhike convincingly and having to have the lovely lady at the visitor centre collar an old couple with extraordinarily dry sense of humour to give me a ride to the right place) I eventually got to do my quintessential Australian bushwalk.

It's the same walk I did back when I was a solitary harmonica playing mountain woman: The Grand Canyon. It descends from Evans Lookout near Blackheath, down through eucalyptus forest, skirting ridges with impressive views over the Grose Valley, down into a ferny, rocky, watery canyon before going back up again in a wonderful experiment in up.

It takes about 3 hours. it is awesome.

The heat, the buzz of sticky bush flies, the chirping of cicadas, the smell of hot eucalyptus, the red sparkly earth, the bizarre birds with seemingly no fear of humans, the big lizards who scuttle across rocks then freeze to give you a challenging, cock-headed stare, the alternating heat and cool, big ants, ferns, mosses, precipices... I'm such a fan.

Not wishing to risk this bus business again, I elected to walk back to Blackheath down a broad dirt road. This is what I consider Australia to be really about: Long roads bordered on either side with sparse vegetation offering very little shade, flies that cling to your back, and no apparent end in sight. I love it. I rewarded myself with a mango at the end of the road: Forgoing all dignity and ripping into it with my teeth while hiding in some long grass. Hah! There was only one witness to my exhausted mango frenzy: A small boy sitting in the back of a van who, as he passed by, waved to the crazy lady sitting in the grass surrounded by mango peel.

I arrived back in Blackheath in time to engage in witty banter with the very tanned men in the bar at Gardners Inn as I purchased my schooner of Tooheys New. In the time it took to I quaff my beverage I learn that Charles Darwin stayed at Gardners Inn once upon a time. This delights me. I'm a fan of him too.

Necessity then required that I make friends with another group of pub-goers: My cellphone made a well-timed exit from the land of the living and I needed someone's cellphone to contact Mr Couchsurfing and inform him of when I'd be arriving in Sydney for passport procurement. I had a lovely chat with a man with bad teeth, who told me how he had to go to classes to learn about "databases and stuff" because he'd done his back in. He also said that he didn't mind the way Kiwi chicks pronounce "head" so long as they have no problem giving it. Hah!

Seriously, that's the thing I love about Australians. They can make a joke about giving head to a chick they've just met and have it not seem seedy or sifty at all. It's familiar, it's disarming, my mother would not approve but I find it charming.

The sun is going down. "Dinner" was a while ago, even though it was at 2pm Thailand time. My row companions are a couple of incomprehensible French guys. One of them sucks his teeth. The other one sniffs. I don't think I'm going to get any sleep on this flight. That's ok, because Mr Michael Palin is in the Himalayas on the inflight entertainment, we have some catching up to do.

Tags: Misadventures


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