Monday, 31 October 2011

Bryon Bay to Sydney - days 51 - 54

Day #51
Got up early, packed the rucksack, and was on a Greyhound to Byron bay (via Brisbane). Again, it was relatively empty and was an easy journey. Stopped in Brisbane for a two hour stop over (after a 4 hour drive), so popped into the nearest pub for lunch, had a couple of beers and a wicked steak, and stole some wi-fi from somewhere. Then it was back on the bus for the 5 hour trip to Byron. By the time I got there, it was dark and in the middle of a torrential downpour. Realising there was not much I could do, I quickly grabbed a cab to the B&B - the Byron Springs Guest House - I was staying at.

The place was really nice – I had a huge bedroom, and access to a couple of really nice clean and modern shared bathrooms. But as it was raining heavily and I had no idea where I was, all I could do was watch a film on the laptop then go to bed – and hope it stopped raining tomorrow.

Day #52

Luckily it had stopped raining! Got up early, had breakfast, met the B&B owner (who was really helpful and f
riendly), then wandered into Byron Bay town. Had a mooch round the shops and kinda noticed there was lots of hippy types and tattooed people here. Walked past a barbers shop and ran in for a well needed head shave. I didn’t bother trying to attempt it myself this time. After that, I had a massive walk along the beach and up to the lighthouse. The beach, was incredible, massive and sparsely populated as usual, apart from a few surfers. Wandered through a bush/rainforest walk up to the lighthouse, which was thoroughly knackering, especially as it was an incredibly hot day. The walk to the lighthouse took me past some amazing cliff views, looking out at more surfers and empty beaches. Got to the lighthouse, took some photos, found out I was covered in bites (and hadn’t realised earlier), then took the long walk back to town.

Popped into the main pub in Byron, the Great Northern Hotel. Part of the pub is used as a venue, and looking at the list of bands that h
ave played and are due to play there, it seems it’s a major place. Had a massive fish’n’chips, and a few Coopers Pale Ales, served by a thoroughly miserable barmaid! The Coopers was awesome though – the best beer I’d had since arriving in Aus.

Feeling sweaty from the walk, and dirty from all the bites, I decided to head back to the B&B and have a well needed shower. Grabbed some food and beers on the way and spent the evening chilling at the B&B, drinking Coopers and updating the blog. I thought I’d meet some other people that were staying at the place, but it was pretty quiet. Everyone that appeared seemed put off by my music and ran away pretty quickly. Although I was playing it quietly, obviously there aren’t many Refused fans in Aus. Later in the eve, one of the other residents joined me for a beer and a chat. She was an underwater photographer and was pretty interesting – but after an hour or so, I started feeling a bit tiddly, tired and unsociable. So I excused myself and went to bed (after covering myself in insect repellent)!

Day #53
Aaaaaaaand – it pissed down again with rain the previous night and morning! Luckily it cleared up by mid morning so popped out to the Arakwal National Park, which was behind the B&B. Walked though another bush/rainforest trail out to a huge deserted beach and took some photos of the Tern that were hanging around there. Then watched a Sea-Eagle circle round the beach for 20 minutes – these things are MASSIVE, and its an awesome sight just watching him swooping around. Unfotunately he was too quick to take any pictures of! On the way back to the B&B, I got harassed by a couple of Masked Lapwings who had a couple of babies with them. The closer I got, the more these things squawked at me, but they eventually backed away and let me past. Mental.

In the afternoon, I popped to the cinema to watch the new Kevin Smith film “Red State”. I quite enjoyed it, but definitely think Kev isn’t cut out for horror films. I stopped to watch a bunch of hippies in the park shouting about stuff, who then gave way to a dreadlocked girl singer with an acoustic guitar. Watched her for a few songs, then headed to the Great Northern for a couple more Coopers and a rather wicked pizza, when it started to piss down with rain again. Great. I still had to go back to the B&B to get my rucksack and get back to town to catch the Greyhound. Eventually it calmed down enough for me to catch a cab and get my bag. By the time I got back to the Bus Pickup, it was obviously nearing crazy time for all the local drunks, as the area was flooded with the biggest bunch of drunk wankers ever. One guy chased his mate around everyones backpacks, while he had his willy out, ready to pee over his mate (and everyone else). Luckily the Greyhound turned up in good time, and they all buggered off. Said he
llo to the Greyhound man (who was the same guy that had dropped me at Hervey Bay), and settled down at the front of the bus for my 13 hour night trip to Sydney!

I quite liked Byron Bay, but the insect bites and town drunks had reduced my appreciation of this little hippy town. I’m glad I stopped here a couple of days and briefly saw the place. But I was glad to be on my way to Sydney and my final stop before Perth.

Day #54
The thirteen hour drive was pretty uneventful, and luckily found I slept for most of the journey. And apart from a grumpy bus driver that took over halfway through, it was a relatively straight forward experience. Woke up as we passed Port MacQuarie and stayed awake to witness our arrival in Sydney. Was pretty cool realising we were driving over the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and seeing the Opera House come into view. Arrived at the main station at 9.30am, said goodbye to Grumpy Bus Man, and jumped in a cab to my hotel (The Pensione) – which was in bloody Chinatown AGAIN!

Couldn’t check in so early, so left my gear and was directed up George Street towards Circular Quay and Darling Harbour. Realised once again that I was in an area surrounded by Chinese restaurants and supermarkets (and weirdly enough, sex shops), but I eventually found a bar that was open and that was doing breakfast, so stopped for some food and a tomato juice.

Got back on my walk and 20 mins later reached Circular Quay. Saw the bridge, the opera house and took loads of photos. It was cool seeing such well known places in real life, and although I was pleased to be back in a bustling big city again, I kinda had a big sense of déjà vu. City with a harbour/bay/waterfront – check (see NY and San Francisco), city with an iconic bridge – check, again NY and SF, and finally, city with something iconic in the harbour – see Alcatraz and the Statue Of Liberty! I figured I’d need to see much more of Sydney to get a better feel of the place, so headed back to the hotel to see if I could check in, via a couple of pubs (and some Coopers) on the way.

Checked into my room and was delighted to find it was almost as small as my Brisbane cell, except with a bathroom. The hotel itself was ace – modern, clean, all mod cons etc. However, my room was small and coffin-like. And I’m not exaggerating. I couldn’t spin round in the room with my backpack on, and the main room was literally the width of the bed. When I was lying on the bed, it was like sleeping in a grave! The joke was, the bathroom was very spacious – couldn’t work out why the room wwasn’t reversed. Anyway, it was clean and groovy, and I was relatively happy (apart from the fact I had nowhere to put my gear).

Head out later afternoon/early eve and try and find somewhere to eat – which was pretty difficult considering A) I had done no research at all on Sydney and had no idea where I was and B) was in an area of town populated by Chinese restaurants and/or massive hostels! Eventually I stumped for an evening meal at the local food hall – a thoroughly enjoyable chicken curry and a VB. After that, I popped into the nearest pub, The Yardhouse, discovered an awesome new beer (James Squires One Fifty Lashes PA) and watched the rugby (Australia Vs NZ I think). The James Squire beer was incredible, and spent the rest of three days in Sydney drinking it wherever i could find it! Pub was empty apart from a drunk dude that attached himself to my table later on in the evening. Once I finished my third beer (and watched Australia lose), I managed to escape the drunk guy to a Karaoke bar across the road. Had another One Fifty and watched drunk people sing very badly. Then gave in and went back to the hotel.

I needed some help. I’d gone through my guide book and a local guide I’d picked up but not really come up with anything, and I still wasn’t really sure where I was in the city and what was local to my location. I certainly didn’t fancy heading to Kings Cross to hang out with drunk backpackers. So I figured I’d post a “So I think Sydney is overrated – what am I missing, people?” status on Facebook, hoping people could send me some ideas. Thanks to the people that gave me great ideas for the following two days. No thanks to the people that just left (continued) sarcastic snotty comments about how great Sydney was, but offered no ideas whatsoever – cheers!

As it happens – things got better and I was a bit gutted I’d only booked three days here. But more of that later!

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Fraser Island - days 47 - 50

On arrival at Fraser Island we were immediately met by our insane Cool Dingos guide/ranger, Kirsty. She was an absolute nutcase that drove her massive 4WD, 40 seater army truck like a pro, and within minutes of arrival, we were on our coach and on our way. I had no clue, but apparently Fraser Island had been shut due to an out of control bush fire, and we were one of the first batch of tours since the island re-opened. Good job I hadn’t planned this trip for a few days earlier. But as we were one of the first, our 40 seater bus only had 12 people on it. Result!

For the first two days, we were up early and on our way by 7.45am in the army truck. By the third day, there was three of us left (the others had done a 2 day tour), so we were taken around the island in a 4WD Toyota Prado.

Every evening we’d be dropped back at the Kingfisher resort, and the Wilderness Lodges, which had our accommodation for the two nights, and access to the Cool Dingos bar, where we’d have dinner, have a few beers, listen to music and play giant Jenga. The lodges were amazing. I was expecting a total shit-pit, but they were clean and modern – and empty! There were four 4 bed rooms in each lodge, and ours had the three day tour people in it – so there were 16 beds between 3 people! Awesome!

The tour consisted of Kirsty driving like a lunatic over dust and sand roads, through rain forest and at one point, along the beach. She managed to take us to loads of different locations, including ones not in the main itinerary, especially on the third day of the tour.

Rain Forest Walks
We did a few of these. The first walk was a 45 minute trek through the rain forest Basin Lake, then another 45 minute from Basin Lake to Central Station for lunch. After lunch we then walked along a creek for another 30 minutes to get to the coach. The crazy thing about the forest here is the way the environment changes. One minute it just seems to be a scrubby forest with some big trees in it; then next it’ll be full of MASSIVE gum trees, huge Satinay trees with ferns all over the place. It was also pretty hot on Fraser Island, so the walks, however gentle they appeared at first, were pretty hard work. By the third day, the hour long walk to and from Lake Wabby had pretty much got the better of me and was over the rain forest walk – although Lake Wabby more than made up for it (see below)..

Basin Lake and Central Station
Basin Lake was our first experience of a fresh water lake on Fraser. It was pretty small compared to the others, but was crystal clear and surrounded by forest. We didn’t swim in this one, as Kirsty was hurrying us onto the next stop, but was a cool thing to see on the first day. However, the lakes got more stunning throughout the three days, so this was definitely the one to see first. We then wandered down to Central Station for lunch. Fraser Island had a huge logging community on it years before, and the buildings were left behind when the logging stopped. Now it’s a picnic area. Kirsty took the opportunity to make everyone introduce themselves, which was great fun. We had a good crew of people with us – apart from the know-it-all hipster chick from London that was with us. I’d already taken a dislike to her and her smart-arsery when we’d first got on the bus. The funniest thing was, I wasn’t the only one apparently. Ahem.

Lake McKenzie
The most photographed place on Fraser Island, the most beautiful lake, blah blah. I’d been told about this place well before I’d got here, and on arrival, I felt a bit left down. I liked Lake McKenzie. It was ok. White sandy beach, clear blue water. Odd random trees growing out of the lake. It was cool, but not as impressived as I’d expected. Maybe it was because of the huge amount of tourists there – obviously this is the place EVERYONE goes to on Fraser! We found a spot for us to drop our gear and everyone gingerly started going in the water, as it was bloody cold in there. Then Kirsty appeared in her swimming costume, ran into the lake, and then gave everyone shit for not going in. So we all ended up in the lake, and it was fab. I’m glad she was such a lunatic – none of the other Dingos guides we saw got so involved like she did, and in doing so, it made you want to get involved too, rather than sit out like a dumbass. The water was awesome once we got in, and was great to have a swim and cool down. I’d also like to thank Jon Doses at this point, as it was the first time I’d broken out my travel towel. The best thing he made me buy for this trip, thank Jon!

75 Mile Beach
One of the “highways” we took was along the eastern beach. 75 mile beach is exactly what it says on the tin, and I was amazed how busy it was with traffic. You had to be really careful when wandering around on the beach in case you got run over! The sea was really inviting, but unfortunately you couldn’t go in for a swim – it was far too rough and the tides were too strong, plus it was full of sharks and rays that got quite close to the beach. Eek! The beach was also used as a runway – and we had a chance to go up in the little planes to view the island. The plane company is run by a father and son (who I nicknamed Big and Little Enus). The dad was a total bonkers aussie redneck – he kind of reminded me of a Paul Hogan character! He managed to convince the whole tour group to go up in the plane, and off we went in their little 8 seaters. Got great views of the island, took some awesome photos, and saw rays and sharks swimming close to the shore – and a few whales as well. Wicked.

Champagne Pools and Ely Creek
More water for Kirsty to make us go in. Champagne Pools is the only safe place to swim in salt water on Fraser Island (apparently). It a bunch of small salt water pools protected from the sea by a rock barrier. Once again, we were all dragged in for a swim, and any that didn’t got abuse for the rest of the day. If you didn’t get in the water quick enough, you got splashed. YES OK – I’M SWIMMING!!! Was great fun though – just not a fan of salt water, especially when you have to sit on a bus all day afterwards!
Ely Creek was bonkers, but again slightly hampered by loads of other people being there and generally getting in the way. It’s a freshwater creek that runs out onto the beach. Again, its crystal clear water, but its absolutely freezing. But once you get in it doesn’t matter. The creek has a strong current that drags you out to the beach, so you lie down in the water and float out to the beach – trying to avoid the retards that are walking the other direction UP the creek. Didn’t matter though – by the third trip down the creek, Kirsty needed us to leave to take us to the next place. I could have stayed there all day.

Maheno Shipwreck
It’s a shipwreck on the beach. Took wicked photos.

Indian Head
A very high rocky outcrop on the beach alongside Champagne Pools. It’s a pretty brutal climb, especially with the heat, and theres no shade once you get up there. The view is incredible though. We sat there for half an hour, getting burnt, watching dolphins and whales. Utterly awesome.

We managed to see two, and they were incredible. Both were on the beach just minding their own business. The first one was a female Dingo having a good chew on a massive fish head, and didn’t take a blind bit of notice of the bus and the other 4WDs circling it. Got some incredible photos – we were about 5 foot away from it, safely in the bus. I just couldn’t believe it was just doing its thing, and couldn’t care less about us.
The second one was later in the day, and was just having a rest keeping cool in the sand. Again we drove pretty close to it and got a great look at it. However, a Japanese tourist in a 4WD drove between the buses and started taking loads of pictures. Not content with doing from the car, he decided he’d open the door to get out. Mr Dingo looked very happy when he realised lunch had come early and leapt up to have a look. Tourist got back in the car pretty bloody quickly.
The dingos weren’t the only wildlife – we saw a dizzying amount of birds, but it was especially cool to see a few Sea Eagles flying about. They’re absolutely huge creatures! We also had the company of a few reptiles – we were always coming across Goanas lounging around somewhere, and on the first day, we were treated to a nice close up view of a rather large carpet python. Wicked!

Lake Birrabeen
On the final tour day, Kirsty took us off itinerary and took us to places she liked. Lake Birrabeen I guess is comparable to Lake McKenzie, but I much preferred it. It had the same fine white sand and clear fresh water – but no tourists! We were the only ones there, and was ace just wandering around the beach and having a swim without trying to avoid other tourists. This place beat Lake McKenzie hands down, and because we weren’t in a rush, we hung around here for an hour, chilling out and cooling off in the lake. However…

Lake Wabby
…is hands down THE lake of Fraser Island! We’d seen it from the air, and it looks kinda cool, as its bright green. However, getting there was gobsmacking. Its situated at the bottom of a massive sandblow, that was like standing in the desert. There was nothing for miles, just sand dunes surrounding the lake on one side. Lake Wabby itself is amazing though. It really is bright green! Although its full of very inquisitive catfish, which put me off going for a swim unfortunately – Kirsty didn’t brow beat us to go in this time. It was definitely the most bizarre place I’ve seen on this trip and I couldn’t get enough of the place – I’d have stayed there if I could have.

McKenzie Jetty and the Western Beach
I can’t really remember the reason or details about this place, but this was the final place Kirsty dropped us off at. From here, we’d walk back to the main jetty to catch our boat back to River Head on the mainland – via a cheeky final beer at the Sand Bar restaurant. McKenzie Jetty is obviously an original jetty the loggers used, but is now just an old wreck. This along with the strange environment of the west beach made me feel like I was in the TV series Lost. It’s the closest way of describing it. Walking away from this unused ruined jetty, we wandered along a massive empty beach kept separate from the rest of the island by a ragged cliff, full of weird mangrove trees sticking randomly out of the sand. Every so often you see a black mass ahead of you moving in the sand – when you reached the mass, hundreds of tiny soldier crabs would run for cover and disappear into the sand. It was incredible, and it made my head hurt trying to take it in. Along with Lake Wabby, Kirsty had left the best till last – and by the time I’d got to the Sand Bar, my brain was coming out of my eyes (like at the Grand Canyon). I had to have a beer, and sit down quietly to take it all in!

Fraser Island had been INCREDIBLE. I’m so pleased I got to do this, and that it had been recommended by so many people before I took the trip. Along with the Grand Canyon and some of the mad things in Fiji, this was among one of the best things I’d done these past two months – and we’d had a great time doing it, with the help of Kirsty and the great group of people that were on the tour. The only way to really describe Fraser Island is it really is just like being on the island in Lost. If you didn’t know otherwise, you’d swear they’d filmed it here!

Eventually we caught they ferry back to the mainland (with us witnessing some mega sunsets), and back to our various hostels. I was a bit gutted to find my empty 4 bed dorm was now populated by 5 of us. Flashpackers is a really awesome little hostel, run by excellent people – but I really hope they don’t get downhearted and let the place go to the dogs, just cos some of the kids that stay here treat the place like shit. The next morning, I went to grab a shower and found our bathroom had been wrecked the night before – I’m assuming by the “couple” staying in one of the bunks. I’m guessing they hadn’t wanted to get down to it in a full dorm, so had prob been carrying on in the bathroom instead. They’d certainly been in there a while, and had manage to break the bench that was attached to the wall in the shower. Nice.

Anyway, once I arrived back and repacked my pesky rucksack, I popped out for the evening to the local bar and met up with one of my lodge mates from Fraser Island. Had a few beers, some decent steaks, got some advice about places to see in Aus, then he was off back to his hostel, and onto Cairns the next day. Tomorrow, I was off to Byron Bay - and after some more contradictory advice from my lodgemate, i really was beginning to think this backpacker/hostel thing wasn't really for me...

Thursday, 20 October 2011

On To Australia - days 45 - 47

Flight from Fiji was an hour late, so arrive in Brisbane after 1am. Jump in a cab to the city centre and have the pleasure of seeing Brisbane in full swing – Fortitude Valley (where the clubs are) is like a bad night out in Croydon, pumping poser clubs line the streets, with people staggering in the road, puking up on the pavement etc. Not a great start. By the time I arrive at Base (my hostel), I’m even less convinced. There’s two bars under the hostel, and there’s drunk and passed out people everywhere, sitting on the doorway and staggering up and down the road outside. Get into the hostel, and a retarded-and-surly reception guy eventually manages to book me in for two nights. My room is on the 4th floor of a dilapidated old building (looks like some kind of old warehouse), and is basically an 8ft by 5ft room with a bed in it. Apart from the fact its high enough away from the bars that there’s no noise, I’m not entirely impressed. Dump my stuff and crash out, as I’m not fit to do anything else.

Wake up early, and Base is kicking off. All I can hear is people yelling and running up and down the hallways. It sounds like the final night of Reading Festival. I get dressed and get out of the hostel, decide to check out the town , get an Australian SIM for my phone, and get my Greyhound bus sorted.

Brisbane town centre does kinda remind me of Croydon. Its that kinda place, shops-wise, totally nothing earth shattering. I wander round the shops for a bit, managing to sort the phone pretty quickly. I also manage to get a long sought after flat cap, which I’ve been after for ages. This one is black and a perfect fit – who’da thunk I’d got one of these in Brisbane after searching loads of shops in London and Brighton and not finding any! Then I spot a Nandos. I don’t care how ridiculous it seems, I immediately felt homesick for my fave place to eat, so in I went and had my usual half chicken. Was wicked.

I hadn’t had much chance to research Brisbane, and considering I knew I’d only have one day here, I had no clue what I should be checking out. So I went to the cinema to see “Crazy, Stupid, Love” – which I really enjoyed!

The evening consisted of going to the Down Under Bar (under the hostel) for a $10 steak and some beer, and to watch the rugby (I think the UK were playing). I figured this would be the place to meet other “backpackers”, but it wasn’t the case. The place was full of locals, drunken boisterous rugby fan types, so didn’t feel partically comfortable. A quick chat to the barmaid revealed that nowhere in Brisbane would likely be quiet, so I didn’t even bother trying to find a quiet place to have a beer. Had my steak and decided to have a few more beers and join in with the rugby watching. I finally did get wind of a few backpacker types there – but they were definitely the kind of people that would do my head in after 3 minutes. I spend my life in the UK avoiding 18 year old drunken posers (or wankers as I call them) – I didn’t wanna start having to hang out with them just cos I was in another country. Sorry if I sound like a snob – or an old fart. I’m pretty sure most of my friends would think exactly the same thing.

I kinda fell in that to meet likeminded travellers like myself in a big city is gonna be a lot harder than somewhere smaller, especially when I’m not hanging out in the communal area in the hostel (I didn’t need to hang out in the hostels kitchen – I had money to eat out every night). After 4 pints of XXXX Gold, I decided to call it a night, especially as I had to repack my pesky rucksack and get an early Greyhound in the morning. So I went back to my cell and tried to get some sleep, while the kids at the hostel ran up and down the corridors yelling at the top of their voices.
I’d tried to make the best of the day from my limited knowledge of the area, but at this point, I wasn’t entirely happy with my first experience of an Australian hostel, and was pretty unsure of what was to come – and not in a good way! My initial thought was – if I’m not gonna meet anyone, then why should I spend all my time in a crappy hostel? I may as well get hotels – at least they’ll be more comfortable!

Next morning I caught my Greyhound Bus to Hervey Bay. And it was pretty cool actually. The journey was straight forward and the bus was half empty so had a row to myself. After we took the route out of the city along the river (and realised I prob could have hung out along there the previous day), the first stop was Australia Zoo – another place I probably should have organised to check out! GUTTED!

Got to Hervey Bay 5 hours later, and was totally shocked to find the Flashpackers Hostel bus waiting at the bustop for me! Impressed! The guys that ran the place were really friendly and helpful, and I checked into an immaculate 4 bed dorm – of which I was the only occupant. RESULT! Bumped into a few of the other residents while checking out the kitchen/common room area, but most of them were grunty 18 year olds – I’d say hello an that to them, but they’d barely look me in the eye and answer me. Whatever. With that I took myself off to the beach, and had a wander around for a while before I went to the pub. From my memory of Aussie beaches, this was no different – clear blue sea, massive sandy beach, with barely any people on it! Had a wander down the beach, walked along the front and checked out the shops, then stopped at the Torquay Hotel for some beers, had fish’n’chips (barramundi), and watched a cheesy cover band while sitting in the sun. Lovely. By the time I got back to the hostel I'd had 4 VBs and was a bit tiddly – but seeing as I’d had such a lukewarm reception earlier, I didn’t bother making an effort to meet anyone else, and kept to myself, messing with the PC. Which as it turned out was a bit daft, as amongst the monosyllabic retards were a couple of people that I’d meet the following day on my three day Fraser Island trip. Oh well, they could have made the effort as well!

Next morning, early start, packed a smaller bag (left my main rucksack at the hostel), and got my coach to Riverhead for the ferry to Fraser Island and my “Cool Dingos” Fraser Island trip. Must say, I was pretty excited as this was the main reason why I’d flown into Brisbane. HELL YEAH!!

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Fiji Waya Lai Lai - days 40 - 44

Days #40 - #44

We get on the boat to take us to the next resort and head to the upper deck, when we’re joined a by a Fijian band. Theres about 10 of them, and they sit on the floor and pull out massive containers full of food. They then proceed to invite the whole deck to join them for lunch! Everyone declines politely at first, but they keep on at everyone to join them. Once I saw the huge fish being handed around, I didn’t need to be asked twice! They spent the rest of the journey playing guitars and playing current music that’s been following me around the last two months – namely that horrendous Bruno Mars track, and Jessie Js “Price Tag”. Was kinda fun to have a soundtrack while we were driving through the islands in the blistering heat.

We get to Waya Lai Lai and almost immediately you can tell the difference in operation. The resort is run by the village, the boat that picks us up is tatty and old, and the organisation getting checked in is pretty vague to say the least. But the setting of the resort is pretty incredible. Again it’s set right against the beach, but behind the resort is a massive rock outcrop that looks like something out of Close Encounters. I get on the boat, meet a young British couple (chatted to the girl while the boyfriend sat in silence – typical young british dude!), and a group of Aussie girls (with a Brit guy in tow) that I met on the cave dive a few days earlier! On arrival at the island, I get a “HELLO!” shouted at me from a beach hammock – turns out its Redhill Girl from the boat three days earlier.

We check in, and my room definitely isn’t up to the high standard of Blue Lagoons – although it does have its own shower and toilet. I ask someone why all the dorm bedding next door is out on the lawn. Apparently they have bed bugs. Great. I spend the next three nights sleeping on top of the sheets, sweating like a pig (cos the generator goes off at midnight, so the fan stops working) being kept awake by lizards in the room. As the Americans say – “eeewww”! As it turns out every day the dorms get turned out and people are moved cos of the bed bugs. By the time I leave three days later, I’m totally paranoid I’ve caught them too!

Once I’ve checked the resort out, I decide to grab a beer and watch the rugby. The whole village has turned out to watch the Fiji game against Wales, so decide to join them. Apart from myself and one other british dude from the boat, were the only non-Fijians, so we stand at the back and have a quiet chat. Some old Fijian dude decides he’s going to hang out with me, and spends the whole time he’s in the room hugging me. To be honest, it gets a bit much after a while, but don’t know whether I should tell him to bugger off or not. The other fella with me keeps turning round and laughing – it’s all a little uncomfortable, but he disappears after a while. I spot him later wandering round the resort smacking the girls bums!

Activity-wise, we did a summit walk to the rock outcrop behind the resort and a shark dive. The summit walk was hardcore (for me). It was a good hour long hike through rainforest, climbing up massive roots and rocks to get the top of the outcrop. When we got there, you had to clamber over a 10 foot ledge to get to the very top summit. It was pretty hairy, but everyone managed to do it, and the view from the top was incredible. We sat there for a while taking photos and checking out the surrounding islands, then we took the easy walk back to the resort around the back of the island. Was sweating and knackered when I arrived back at my room.

The shark dive (or shark snorkelling) was another pretty full on activity. The boat basically took us 30 minutes out to the middle of the sea. Was a fairly windy day, so there was a nice swell going on, which meant the boat ride was pretty uncomfortable (I ended up with bruises all over my bum where the boat would slam down after hitting another wave). Once we got to the reef, we all jumped over the side of the boat. The view under the water was a total shock – the visibility was crystal clear and the amount of coral took your breath away. I had no idea I was gonna be seeing this when I jumped in, and was pretty gobsmacking. Bobbed around with my snorkel for about a minute when I spotted the first shark. Ok, to get this straight, this was a white tipped shark, billed as “friendly reef shark” and were only about 4 foot long. But it was still a shark. It still had teeth and the “cold dead eyes”! Once we hit the main reef, we were joined by about 5 others, and the Fijian guides swam to the bottom of the reef and started feeding these dudes, which made them swim around the area and gave us all a good view. I’m not ashamed to say it was pretty freaky stuff, and really didn’t like them getting too close. Then one of the divers grabbed a shark and started tormenting the thing, dragging it to the surface and throwing it about. Not cool!!! It didn’t look friendly anymore, that’s all I can say. Once they started pissing about, I just wanted to get out of the water, as did a few other people in the group. Was funny watching Will and Carole though – they had a video camera and spent most of the dive swimming down to the bottom of the reef, getting as close to the sharks as possible. Rather them than me! Was still a brilliant experience though, and was another thing I’d never have seen myself doing. Oh, and halfway through the swim, a face popped up out of the water and said hello – it was the british girl I’d met on the boat the first day arriving at Waya Lai Lai. How random.

On the last afternoon, I arrived back at the resort to bump into Jenny (the LAX girl) and Jeannie from my first day in Fiji. Hung out with them most of the afternoon seeing what they got up to, and was cool to randomly bump into people I’d already met. They stayed for one night, as did most people. Waya was a strange place, because people seemed to only stay for one night, so the vibe of the place changed daily depending on who was there. You never really got to know anyone as they would be gone the next day. However, if you were with a good bunch of people, then you generally had a better time and weren’t too worried about how naff the place you were staying at was. Luckily for me, Will and Carole stayed the entire time (although we wished we’d moved on elsewhere by day 3), and we had a fun time and made the best of Waya. Most afternoons we mooched around the beach then headed for Happy Hour as soon as it was time. On our final days here we were joined by another couple of single travellers – Rachel from the Lake District and Guro from Norway. Rachel was pretty quiet, but she got on well with the three of us and soon came out of her shell. Guro was nuts. Another single traveller who wasn’t entirely sure she was doing the right thing, she had me laughing most of the time she was on the island. Another European who wasn’t afraid to speak her mind and didn’t care what she said – I wonder if this is a trait that Europeans have? I know the dutch can be pretty direct, so maybe.

The last day at Waya seemed to go on forever. We’d all basically had enough of the place, and we definitely outstayed our welcome by a day too many. Unfortunately the boat doesn’t turn up to pick us up until 3.30pm. Even worse, its an hour and a half late. Between torrential downpours and watching the locals take apart their boat engines (and wondering if we’ll ever get off the island), we never really get to do much, apart from hang around, and it’s a total waste of a day. Guro had left the island to go north earlier at 10am, to head up the coast to the Korovou resort, another place on my list. She’d asked me to go along too (it was everyone elses last day, but I had one more day to go), as she’d basically been doing her tour on her own and was sick of missing all the other tours by one day (she’d arrive at an island as the tour ahead of her was leaving). I must admit, I thought about it for 30 seconds, even though I had one more night booked at Bounty (which was south). I guess this is the beauty of being a single backpacker/traveller – you can go where you want, when you want. However, I did really want to go to an island I could walk around in 20 minutes so I declined. In hindsight, I probably should have gone.

We finally get on the Flyer, and head south, into what looks like the worst storm EVER. Will, Carole and Rachel are going to Smugglers for a couple of nights before heading off to NZ, and I’m going to Bounty Island for one night. But the weather is horrendous and it’s getting worse. Eventually I change my mind and switch my booking from Bounty back to Smugglers. There’s no point spending one night on an island that’ll be dark when I get there with the bad weather we’re having. Would much rather hang out with people I’ve met in a comfortable environment for my last two days. Turns out this was the best decision, as the dark clouds didn’t move from Bounty for the two days I was on the mainland.

A woman also gave birth on the boat, and the baby was shown around the passengers like some kind of prize. You don’t see that everyday!

Spend my final two days in Fiji back at Smugglers Cove in a wicked double room in the posh part of the resort. Was so happy with my room, and was great to be able to unpack properly, sort all my stuff out and get some washing done. I also did some work on this blog, sorted out my photos and booked some accommodation for Australia. Took it easy for the two days. Would spend the eves with Will, Carole and Rachel, having a decent meal and a few beers. Didn’t do much else during the day as it rained on and off the whole time. First night back we got to see some fire dancers, which was pretty cool. We’d been threatened with this a few times on the resorts, but this was the first time we’d seen some guys do it. I guess the resorts are worried about setting the thatched bures alight!

My final day arrived, and I was ready to go to Australia and hopefully say goodbye to the vagueness of Fiji. It had been brilliant, but the whole “Fiji Time” thing had got the better of me by the last few days. Was looking forward to a bit of normality. That was only a minor thing though. Fiji had been brilliant, I’d met some ace people and I’d definitely love to come back to Blue Lagoon, and check out some other resorts that I missed, like Manta Ray and Octopus. And I still want to stay on an island I can walk round in 20 minutes.

Got a cab to the airport and boy, was I glad to get there. It was the scariest cab ride ever. The cab dude kept falling asleep and skidding across the road!! He didn’t even quote me a price for the ride. I gave him 10 dollars, no way was I paying more for that death trap. Got through security at the airport quickly (its Fiji, they don’t really have security), got quizzed about my tattoos and my favourite music by the immigration guy, then had a beer while I waited for the plane. And randomly bumped into Redhill Girl – who’s name is Gemma and shes ridiculously chatty. Turns out shes going to Brisbane as well, but to catch a connecting flight to Cairns. This travelling thing is nuts. Its so bizarre meeting these random people in random places.

Next stop – Brisbane!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Fiji Blue Lagoon - days 37 - 40

So as it turns out, next morning I go see Reception and I can stay at Blue Lagoon for four nights. This is what I wanted to do from the beginning, although it’s a shame I can’t get my final days at Octopus.

The days turn very lazy, and the same thing happens pretty much every day. I get up around 7am and go and have breakfast, usually with Will & Carole or Patricia & Ladi. Then “something” will happen for the morning (to follow). Once we arrive back from whatever trip or activity, its hammock time, and I’ll doze and chill out for a couple of hours. We’ll hit lunchtime, and me and John will go for lunch, joined by whoever is around. Then the afternoon session starts – I’ll watch John, Dom, Patricia and Ladi play volleyball with the staff, or play cards with Will and Carole until happy hour – then we have a cheeky beer. Then it’s an hour till the evening meal and whatever event the staff have lined up for us.

The morning “something” comprised the following. On day #37 we had our champagne breakfast (full English on the beach, with champers), followed by Johns promised hill walk. Me and Dom joined him, although I didn’t realise it would be as hardcore as it was. Halfway up, my back is killing me and I feel sick, like I’ve been through a personal training session. Doesn’t help that John and Dom are over 6 foot tall and are covering ground faster than me. I’ve got a great view halfway up anyway, so leave them to complete the walk, while I take photos and admire the view. Then I meander back down to the resort and go snorkelling for the first time ever. Which is a bit freaky when you don’t expect fish to be THAT CLOSE TO YOU! I hadn’t been in the sea for years, so figured I should get used to swimming in it. The coral is amazing, and theres loads of mental fish, even this close to the shore (I don’t go very far on my first trip out).

Day #38 is the cave trip at Sawa-i-Lau, a massive rock formation north of Nacula. The boat journey there is very scenic and theres about 20 of us on the trip. The thought of the trip was pretty nerve racking, esp considering how claustrophobic I’ve become. It consists of diving into one cave pool, swimming under an underwater ledge into a dark cave, then swimming through dark tunnels to a smaller cave – and back again. As it turned out, diving into the main cave pool was fine, and nowhere near as cold as I was told. I bobbed and swam around happily while the guide split us into 2 groups – I ended up in the second group, which I was quite happy with. This meant I could watch everyone swimming under the ledge to see how hairy it was. As it turned out, it didn’t seem that bad, and the guides had torches and helped you swim through. Swam about for 15 mins chatting to the others in our group, and then it was time to go. In reality it was all pretty easy, and very cool. The ledge dive wasn’t scary at all (it was less than 5 foot long), and the dark caverns afterwards were lit either by torchlight or peoples camera flashes. You were never in the dark for long. The tunnel swim was wicked and the final cavern was open to the sky, so you didn’t feel enclosed. Was an absolutely amazing experience. When we came back into the cavern, there was a new group waiting to go in. Had a bit of banter with those guys while the Fijian kids jumped off ledges in the main cave, then went back to Blue Lagoon. This was something I never thought I’d even do, and was so happy I’d bitten the bullet and actually done it. The trip back included meeting a cool retired couple – the wife happily spent the entire journey quizzing me about my tattoos!

Day #39, and after breakfast was taken snorkelling by Ladi and Patricia. Ladi took photos, which was great, and he led me along the reef for a good hour. Was shocked how far we’d swam. Patricia joined us 10 minutes behind, and she swam back to the shore with me. On the entire route I managed to see loads of insane looking coral, different species of Trigger Fish, Parrot Fish, Angel fish, shoals of shiney blue fish that wouldn’t get out of the way, squid that changed colour (pointed out by Ladi) and a Pufferfish (spotted by Patricia). Highlight was seeing a clown fish in the wild, and some massive miserable looking Grouper fish. Was gobsmacking, and we only came back in because you could feel the sun burning your back. Otherwise I’d have stayed out there. Was also a bonus that the tide was out, and there wasn’t any wind, so the sea was calm and the visibility underwater was incredibly clear. Went snorkelling a few times on my own after that.

On day #40 it was my last day. After breakfast I stood in the sea for what seemed like hours. The Manageress of the resort came up to me with the kids and said “We’re gonna feed the fish!” and handed me a handful of bread. Once we started chucking the bread in the water, it was like a feeding frenzy in a koi carp pond. All these mad silver fish went mental, shooting into the shore eating the bread, whizzing round your ankles. Was a stunning sight, and the kids loved it (as did I – probably more than they did!).

The evenings are just as brilliant fun. After me and Will catch a cheeky beer during happy hour, everyone slowly joins us and we head to the first table for the evening meal. Which never disappoints. Every night consists of a starter, main and pudding, and always includes some kind of fish and loads of sides. On the Fijian night, we have a ground cooked meat and fish buffet, which includes the best pork I’ve ever eaten. I don’t really think about the fact Will saw the pig being dragged onto the beach the previous day. It was absolutely meat-tastic, and we all had the meat sweats afterwards. After dinner, the staff hold events for everyone. One night they have crab racing, where everyone picks a hermit crab and whoever wins gets money taken off the bar tab. This night was hysterical, although it ended early and everyone buggered off to bed once it finished. The Fijian night was a highlight, where all the staff got together and performed traditional Fijian songs and dancing. It was the happiest thing ever, with the staffs lunacy and sheer positivity rubbing off on everyone watching. No way could you ever be depressed in Fiji!

On the final night we’re all together (Dom, Emma, Patricia and Ladi leave one day early), we play Jenga – but don’t realise that its two Jenga kits in one. Man, it’s a difficult couple of games!

On the eve of day #39, the table dynamic changes as we’ve lost four of the group. Me, John, Will and Carole meet a bunch of new people, including an SF couple who think my name is “Timony” (I thought Tyrone was bad enough), an Aussie nurse, and a young posh hipster couple from East Dulwich. Everyone eventually goes to bed, as its pretty quiet, and Me, Will and Carole have a few more cheeky beers and get a bit tiddly. Was weird to see the vibe of the place change, esp when Patricia and Ladi left – we’d had a good laugh over the last few days, Ladi had me in tears on numerous occasions (cos he was amusingly rude), and they’d both looked after me in terms of keeping me company at breakfast and taking me snorkelling. Awesome couple.

Day #40 is the final day at Blue Lagoon, and at lunchtime me, Will and Carole say goodbye to John (and the staff!) and jump on the boat to the Yasawa Flyer. I’m kinda sad to go, as its been absolutely brilliant. This was the reason I came to Fiji, and Blue Lagoon exceeded all expectations. I definitely want to come back here one day. Anyway, it’s off to the next island. We’re heading to Waya Lai Lai resort two hours away, and we don’t have a clue what’s instore for us.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

LA to Fiji - days 33 - 36


Days #33 - #35
Get up, pack and get to SF airport for my flight to LA. I get to stop here for a couple of days before my flight to Fiji. Get through security pretty quickly and chill out with a beer and a Mexican snack before my flight. Flight to LA is an hour long!

Arrive at LAX, grab my stuff, and meet Jonathon who is waiting for me outside. I was looking forward to LA as I was gonna be hanging out with a couple of mates from London who I haven’t properly seen since 2005. Jon was the chef at The Ship in Soho, and since moving back, now works for Gordon Ramsey! Jon takes us to Santa Monica and on a tour of a few bars and restaurants. The great thing about knowing Jon is he knows all the chefs – so every place we eat over the next few days, we get lots of extra free food! Eventually, we hear from my other mate Jeff and his wife Nicole, who invites us over to theirs for dinner. This was an added bonus, so we headed over to Venice Beach and Jeffs apartment.

The weekend pretty much flys by. Many beers are drunk, and I crash over at Jeffs for two nights. We go to a couple of cool restaurants for lunch in Venice Beach – Larrys and Cabo Cantina (which does bottomless bloody marys!). Venice Beach is a bit of a shithole to be honest, and kinda reminds me of Camden. But the beach is huge, and when the sun comes out its awesome.

Jon takes me out in Hollywood one night, we see High Voltage Tattoo, but not the Hollywood sign, as its too foggy. Check out another amazing burger joint called Stout Burgers (where they suggest a specific beer for each burger), and get taken to a mad Mexican bar in downtown LA.

On the Saturday night, we all head to the legendary Troubadour to see D-Generation, a band that Jeff has been raving about for years. The venue is pretty cool, fairly small, big stage, nice low balcony, and the band are entertaining enough. They play that glammy pop punk type thing – kinda like Social Distortion doing Johnny Thunders via Hanoi Rocks. It’s a great show and its cool to see another band before I leave the States. After the show, we try and grab a beer, but its heaving with people in the surrounding area, which also appears to be populated with gay bars. We convince Jeff not to go for a beer in a bar packed with guys, that has big muscle dudes dancing in red trunks in the window!

The guys drop me off at the airport on the Sunday (which is well handy), and I’m off to Fiji. I had a brilliant time seeing these guys again, it definitely didn’t feel like we hadn’t seen each other for 6 years or so, and was great to catch up and chill out for a few days. I really appreciated the lifts and crash space offered by the guys, and made this part of the trip a total no-brainer.

Got to LAX, checked in, got through security and was disappointed to find LAX is a terrible airport. Theres no shops and 1 bar, and no free wifi (or any wifi that I can tell!).

It’s a 10 hour flight to Fiji, and Air Pacific are a pretty low key airline. The tvs in the seats are the old school, wait-till-the-film finishes before you can watch them again type sets, and the decent films are reserved for first class! Watch Doctor Who on my laptop, then sleep for the rest of the flight. Or as much as I can sleep, as the guy next to me and the girl behind me are the most annoying space invaders ever. The aussie girl behind me keeps sticking her feet so far under my seat I can see them sticking out the other side (so I keep treading on them by accident), and the retard next to me obviously felt one seat wasn’t enough, as he spent the entire flight on my side as well. The plonker.

Arrive in Fiji at 5.30am, absolutely knackered, and its already hot as hell as I get out the plane. Get through immigration and am met at arrivals by the Awesome Fiji people, who take me to Smugglers Cove on the coast in Nadi. Luckily the hotel has a room available, so I get some well needed rest once I check in. One thing that smacks you in the face on arrival is how friendly the Fijian people are. Its almost overpowering at first. Everyone says hello (whoever they are), all the hotel staff want to know your name and where you are from, and they all want to shake your hand. Coming from the UK, it feels very intrusive at first, but after a while you get used to it. I don’t miss much of the day while I’m sleeping, as its absolutely pissing with rain for the most part. The room is small, clean and basic, with decent aircon and a fairly nice bathroom.

Once I wake up, I have a shower and check stuff online before I go downstairs to see what Fiji has instore for me. I’m feeling pretty apprehensive at this point. I feel well out of my comfort zone and don’t really know what to expect for the next month. Maybe this is an exciting thing to be feeling? Into the unknown and all that. Its stopped raining by the eve and has brightened up, so I bite the bullet and head downstairs. I’m pleased to see the bar is now busy, theres plenty of people, the rugby is on and theres a nice chilled atmosphere. I take a seat by the veranda and am leapt on by the nearest waitress, who wants to know who I am, where I’m from etc. I get a beer and start updating my journal. By the end of the evening, I’ve had 5 beers (she keeps making me get another!), an awesome plate of fish’n’chips (I didn’t have much fish while I’ve been Stateside!), and met an aussie couple who had just finished their island trip. They told me a lot about where they went and what to expect, and I felt a lot happier about stuff by the time I got to bed.

Day #36
get up at 6am to catch my bus to Denerau Marina. Get to reception of the hotel and the place is FULL of backpackers. I’m earwigging while I’m waiting for the bus, and its apparent theres quite a few single travellers, who immediately start talking to whoever is nearest, and by the time they’ve got on the bus, have more or less decided to travel together. Its pretty intense. One girl from the hotel sits behind me and is rabbiting ten to the dozen to a kiwi girl shes just met. Turns out shes from Redhill, and I basically listen to her life story from the hotel to the port.

Get to Denerau and its utter chaos. The Awesome Fiji people try and explain what’s going on, but they can never seem to make up their minds on what’s properly happening. All I know is, theres a massive yellow boat on the port that I need to catch to the island. As I’m asking the AF person for more details, someone else comes up and is as lost as me. Random meet up #1 – this is Jenny, a girl I briefly bumped into at LAX while we were changing money. Turns out she’s as confused as me. Eventually we work out what’s going on, get checked in and wait to board the boat. Its about 7.30am now, and I’m sweating like a pig.

Get on the boat, and relax. Got a 5 hour trip to my island. Redhill Girl sits behind us with her gang of travellers. Throughout the course of the journey (which is incredible, even when the weather goes a bit shitty), me and Jenny meet various different people and find out whos going where. Jenny meets a French girl called Jeannie and they decide to go to the same islands together (they are doing the cheapo backpacker thing). I get my photo forcibly taken with a huge tattooed Japanese tourist who likes my tattoos! I stand on the front of the boat for an hour while its bashing through the sea, and pretend to be Leo Di Caprio from Titanic (or maybe its Kate Winslet).

As it turns out, you book where you are staying on the boat at the AF travel desk. This is where I realise my “highly recommended” Bula Pass is pretty much a waste of time (thanks STA!). The resorts I want to stay at are fully booked (or so they say to the AF people). Blue Lagoon was a place I definitely wanted to go to and was the main reason I came to Fiji. I manage to get my first and second nights booked only. I can’t get ANY bookings for Octopus Resort, and I’m gutted.

Eventually the weather clears up again and I’m being dropped off at Blue Lagoon with 6 chinese tourists and one Israeli guy. Met on the beach by the Fijian staff singing and playing guitars. The sea is crystal clear and its flippin HOT. Get checked in, dump my stuff in my wicked little room (massive double bed, ceiling fan), meet two of the happiest hotel staff ever (what’s your name, where are you from, nice tattoos!), and get told to go and get lunch. The restaurant/bar is awesome – a centre square bar surrounded by various sets of tables and chairs set on a sandy floor. Grab myself a coke (after the barman introduces himself and goes through the usual questions), and decide to sit down on the only populated table. Here goes…

Theres a fella about my age sitting opposite me, waiting for his lunch. We get chatting – he’s a scouser called John who’s on a 2 year trip. He’s 3 months in, having done 2 ½ months in the states. Like me, he had a similar type job and decided to call time on it. Has been in Blue Lagoon for two weeks, and he looks as chilled as anything. We chat about the states, he tells me what things you can do at BL, and what everyones like. He does a hill walk every morning and invites me to come along. Food turns up, and its AMAZING. Now, you know how much I hate food right? This place was incredible. If I could eat here forever, I would. I get a massive fish’n’chips (I couldn’t resist it again), and its one of the best meals I’ve had so far. After lunch, leave John to it and go wandering – up and down the beach. Every so often a random Fijian will shout “Bula!” at me, including a couple of little kids who want to know all about my tattoos. Its hilarious. At this point I’m paddling up and down the beachfront and the sea is flippin warm and there’s fish swimming around my feet (which is a bit freaky at first). Eventually decide I need to go and sort my stuff out, so come out of the sea and am confronted with a massive pet hate of mine – wet sandy feet. Decide theres nothing I can do about it (and the rooms have water bowls outside so you can wash your feet anyway) and get on with it. I don’t wear shoes again for the entire week.

Evening comes around, grab myself a Fiji Bitter, am grabbed by a Fijian and told I have to go to the welcome ceremony, which is just outside the bar on the sand. I’m the only one sitting there while three guys play Fijian songs on guitar and ukulele. Its kinda weird, but I quite like the music. Its like the most chilled out Ska ever. Eventually, the Chinese group are dragged over, along with some other randoms who wanna join in, and they get on with singing songs and making us drink Kava, their local drink. The Kava ceremony consists of a confusing amount of claps, weird sayings, more clapping, drinking the Kava, and more clapping. The Kava really isn’t good, like drinking muddy coconut water. Makes my stomach feel weird so don’t drink anymore. The band down the stuff like Ribena, and are dozing and out of it by the time we finish dinner.

As for the evening – were all called to dinner by someone banging a big wooden drum, and 48 people start milling about trying to find somewhere to sit. I spot John sitting on the first table, and theres a spare seat. “So what happens at dinner then? Do I just sit anywhere?”. “Pretty much” comes the reply and plonk myself down with these random strangers, who all turn out to be pretty cool. Introductions happen immediately in a dizzying flurry – the girl next to me is Patricia, from Czech Republic and is on holiday with her boyfriend Ladislav (who is insane). Opposite are Dom and Emma, a couple from Buckinghamshire who’ve been travelling for 10 months. Next to me are Will and Carole, a mid 20s Colorado couple who are just starting a year of travelling. Wills got a bad back and has been doing nothing. Carole is doing her open water PADI course. Chat to these guys a lot, and they are pretty interesting. Will has done some mad stuff over the years, including numerous round the world boat trips. They are both hammered on rum and are pretty funny. Patricia and Ladi are also pretty chatty and promise to take me snorkelling. Ladi is pretty tiddly too, and has a habit of being totalling inappropriate and not giving a shit. I like this guy immediately, he has me in tears.

Dinner consists of a ludicrously massive curry, including a whole fish, tail and head, over a foot long. Its AWESOME, and I eat a shit load. I manage a couple more beers, but the Kava has made me feel weird so I stop drinking, which feels pretty good. After dinner theres a quiz night. Only three tables enter. We win the quiz – the prize is a champagne breakfast on the beach the next day. WTF??? My first night in Fiji, and I win something as random as this with complete strangers. My head is blown and decide I should go to bed. Its 10pm.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

San Francisco continued - days 29 - 32

Day #29
Buggered off to the post office in North Beach for another mammoth posting session – three packages containing CDs, new jeans and unused shirts. As I missed breakfast, I stopped for brunch at the
Burgermeister in North Beach and had a wicked chicken sandwich.

Decided that I hadn’t done enough tourist stuff, so decided to catch the bay cruise ferry, which is always good to pass the time (done this three times already). The fog was interesting this day, obscuring the bottom half of the bridge. Got some very interesting photos. Amongst the plethora of French tourists, I got talking to an American couple. Turns out the wife was an SF native and had bought her husband to see the place, so she wasn’t that bothered by the tourist stuff either. So while he took photos of everything, we just nattered away randomly, completely missing Alcatraz in the process. Turns out the lucky buggers were off to get tattooed at Black Heart Tattoo in the Mission.

Once we docked, I went for a lay down on Maritime Park for an hour. Then decided I was gonna do my own Mission pub crawl after Suzannes on Saturday night. So jumped a cab to my first stop, Dirty Thieves, right down in the Mission at 24th @ Treat. Was a bit wary going in, as it’s a total neighbourhood bar. Its meant to be a “dive bar”, but to be honest, I don’t class any of the SF pubs I’ve been to as dives. Sat down at the bar and was met by the friendliest barmaid ever. Quinn introduced herself, was brilliantly efficient (I was never waiting for another beer), and ridiculously chatty. She didn’t need to make me feel as welcome as she did, but it meant I stayed for three beers, rather than one! Also turned out, shes an old Soho resident. Asked me if I knew the Crown and Two Chairmen, I mentioned the Ship (she worked on Wardour St) and she knew it. She knew too many random details to be faking it. I decide its time to move to the next bar, and she says to pop along to the other bar where she works at on Tues. I end up not taking up the offer unfortunately.

Walk along 24th to Valencia and head to 500 Club and Clares Deli for another meatball sandwich. 500 Club is mental, as they are having an anniversary party for the bar. On walking in, one of Suzannes mates recognises me and starts chatting. I go and get a sandwich (OMG they are AWESOME) then have a beer with Pete. I try and buy a tshirt from the bar (they have an excellent design with an SF Giants logo on the back), but they’ve run out. So the barlady gives me a free beer for the disappointment. WHAT? :-D

Head to Zeigeist for a final Anchor Steam, then leave to take a cab. Before I’ve even waved at one, the door guy has whistled one down for me. Again, incredible. This is the first time a door guy has done something like that.

Get back to the hotel, suitably tiddled and can’t stop grinning about what a fun night I’ve had on my own. Its thanks to Suzanne that I got to know so many great bars. So much so, I emailed Tonio immediately and told him he needs to see these places when he comes to SF next year.

(for links to these bars,
see my previous blog)

Day #30
Took today a bit easier. Headed back down to Union Square to go and see “Drive” at the cinema. I like it a lot. But then I love any film where someone gets their head stamped on until it bursts.

Grab a cable car back to the Wharf and have an Italian meal, then go for a massive walk along the Marina to Chrissy Field. The weather has been amazing today, so everyone is out lying on the beach. The place is overrun with joggers, and I feel bad for not doing any gym or exercise stuff since August. I’m actually slightly jealous of these people!

For the evening, I’ve got tickets for Bob Mould at the Herbst Theatre. It’s a fund raiser/awareness thing for a childrens art/writers program in the Mission, and he was going to be interviewed for most of the event, then play a few songs to end it. It was basically one big promotion for the book, so didn’t really find anything out I didn’t already know, but was cool to see Bob chatting away quite happily. Then he played “I Apologise”, “Hoover Dam” and “See A Little Light”. After the show, he was signing copies of his book, and there wasn’t a massive queue to see him. So I grabbed a Blow Off poster, joined the queue and hoped he’d sign it (as he was signing the book). He was cool about it, and I was incredibly nervous to meet him (again – was just as nervous the first time). I babbled something about the book being great and was great reading the Jon Wurster segment (Superchunks drummer, who played for Bob recently), to which Bob replied “Pffff, forget about it, the guys a demon.” He then asked if I was going to the after show party next door. “We’re playing some records, some rock stuff, and some house stuff if you wanna come along.” Of course I did.

Popped next door to the
Rickshaw Stop, and was pleased to see they had Deliverance on the massive overhead projector. So I grabbed an Anchor and sat down to watch while people arrived. They stopped the film as Ned Beatty got his bumming, and switched it to Logans Run instead. ACE. I get to watch Jenny Agutter naked for a bit now. Bob appears with his bear friends and stands directly in front of me, while the DJ plays weird mashups of Fugazi, Joan Jett, Gang Of Four, Gen X and Ramones. He’s a really shit DJ, but I just enjoy it more because of that. Bob turns round, sees me and goes “Hey, glad to see you came along!”. I just raise my glass at him. The guy rules.

Bob then takes over the DJing duties, and I’m amazed. That big hairy rock dude moonlights as a camp house DJ by night (see his Blowoff nights). He’s playing the gayest house music ever, and he’s dancing around behind his desk, and looks ridiculously happy while he’s doing it. Its incredible, and kinda cool that tonight I saw him do his rock thing and his DJ thing in one night. I finish my beer, grab my signed poster and go home, happy having seen and met one of my heroes.

Cab driver on the way back was awesome. Tattooed punk guy. We compared tattoos and talked SLF. Wicked.

Day #31
Had another tattoo booking with Mary today, but it wasn’t till 4pm. Got up in reasonable time but wasn’t sure what to do to kill some time before the session. So I checked the times and caught a ferry to Saulsalito, across the bay. The fog was mental again. Once we got to Saulsalito, you couldn’t see SF at all, which was a tad disappointing, but whatever. The weather was ace in Saulsalito, as usual! Had a quick mooch around the shops, bought little Jack a pirate tshirt, then had a quick lunch, before catching the ferry back. I like Saulsalito – its very chilled and quiet compared to the city, and its nice to get out on the water. Whats also cool is the random performing bums and/or hippies that line the queue to the ferry. Theres a hippy dude that plays “You Are My Sunshine” to his little mangy dog. I’m sure he’s been here since 2002!

Got to Tattoo City in plenty of time and caught Mary getting her lunch. Doug Hardy was working today so chatted tattoos with him for a couple of minutes, then went into Marys room for the next session. Was cool to see my line drawing of the snakendagger on the wall with all her other work.

This session, she drew straight on my arm, adding NEEDS MORE SNAKES to the snakendagger, and chucking in a mini sugar skull for good measure in the gap between the dagger and my old pinup. Session was ace – was very quick and painless, and we had a good laugh while she did it. The addidtions really add to the original tattoo – it definitely needed the wording! Talked more tattoos after the session, and I definitely need to come back ASAP so she can do my thigh. And another sugar skull in a gap I’ve found since!

Jump a cab and head to Suzanne down at Casanovas. Cabbie is awesome. Turns out he’s an old punk from the
Mabuhay Gardens days, played in bands and supported some cool people there. He told some fun stories. Get to Casanovas, have a beer with Suzanne, then she takes me deeeeeeep into the Mission to Emmys Spagetti Shack. Such a brilliant restaurant, and such a simple idea. They only sold spaghetti, and only in two sauces – one veggie, one not. Its also attached to its own pub, so you can have a been while you wait. The place was packed and there was a 30-40 minute wait. Food was wicked, and so were the mad cocktails they did. Loved this place!

Jumped on the BART and headed back to Hemlock. Suzanne decides to take me on a very sketchy Tenderloin walk to the pub, taking me past loads of homeless people and drug addicts, all selling random shit on the pavement (what looked like stuff stolen from tourists suitcases). Turned a corner and was then treated to all the transvestite prostitutes lining one of the roads. I was well pleased when we got to Hemlock!

Final full day in SF. Really sad to be going, as I was feeling so comfortable here, running around here and there, getting buses, going to fab little delis and stuff. Head out to find an internet café to print off some holiday biz. This takes a couple of hours, and after I find one in North Beach, I have a seat in a little café and have some lunch. Then my old friend Tom calls me. He’s a mate from SF that I don’t see very often, and hadn’t managed to get in contact with him until last night. Head to
Vesuvio and meet up with him and have a few beers and a lot of laughs. I forget Tom is a lot older than the last time I saw him, and I’m pleased to see he can now grow facial hair. We talk about Doctor Who A LOT. After the third beer, he drags me round Chinatown and buys me a pair of orange rubber nunchucks. Then we part ways, as he’s off to another engagement, and I’m having a final beer with Suzanne again. Was so good to see him again after all these years. Man, he makes me laugh.

Go to
Benders and order one of their ridiculous whiskey burgers. Absolutely incredible burger, again in a wicked hard bun, with ground bacon in the burger. Mental. I tell you, Kumas in Chicago is still my fave burger place ever, but I’ve seen some places on this trip that give the place a run for its money for definite. Had some AMAZING burgers on this trip, that’s for sure. I’ll list them at some point…

Suzanne turns up, we have beers, pose with the nunchucks, then we head down to Pops to watch the Giants game. This place is still wicked. Chuck loads of money in the jukebox, so we get a nice punk soundtrack while the game is on, and get served cheap(er) beers by Nikki, the tattooed barmaid (Suzannes mate). I try and buy a tshirt (designed by Lil Tuffy), but as usual, theres none my size. Then some random dude next to me says he has a spare and runs home to get it! WTF??? What a decent fella! He sells it to me for cheap, so I buy him a beer for his trouble.

The Giants lose, everyone poses with the nunchucks, then me and Suzanne head back to Hemlock for a couple more beers. Again, another of Suzannes barlady friends is working so we get free beer. Then its back to the hotel to pack for tomorrows trip to LA.

Once again, Suzanne has been utterly brilliant this trip. She put herself out big time in 2008 and she did it again on this trip. Shes such fun to hang out with and was brilliant to see my mate again. I really did have the best time in SF, and really can’t wait to come again. Its definitely my favourite city, and this feeling hasn’t gone away after 4 trips. I feel so at home here, amongst the bay, the hills, the punk bars and the tattooed people! I really wished I could have stayed another week, but it was time for the next part of my trip. First LA, then Fiji. I must say, I was getting very nervous about Fiji, I just really didn’t know what to expect from it and the so-called "backpacking" experience, esp as I’ll be well out of my comfort zone when I get there, and was already hating having a rucksack. EEK!!