Phuket, April 26-29
A small group of friends saw me off at the airport. I arrived in Phuket physically and emotionally exhausted from the few months before my departure from Perth. Phuket was like an English Bali, with the necessary emphasis on sex and tourism. I managed to do some pleasant things like freak this Thai girl out by helping her carry some buckets up a hill, and I soon learnt not to venture down to Patong beach at night…
Phang Nga, April 28
Not really somewhere I stayed, but certainly worth a mention due to the fact this is where I took all my Phuket photos. I visited Phang Nga on a tour with quite the delightful group, I spent the day talking to a venture capitalist from Edmonton who gave me all kinds of advice about smuggling drugs through South America, like how not to get your thumbs broken as he had. Barely started travelling and the South American horror stories had already begun.
Bangkok, April 29- May 4
Although I had been to Bangkok before I hadn’t really looked around, and I knew with the impending release of ‘Anna and the King’, I had probably ought to do so, so I did. Went to various Buddhas and got enough good karma to last until South America, but I didn’t take any photos.
Alresford, May 5-7
Arriving in England and finding no-one home at the dosser’s centre in London (Ali’s place in Nam) I wasted no time in getting back to the place where everybody knows your name – The Pettmans’ place in my old town of Alresford. I spent a couple of days in Alresford, stopping young Jenna Pettman from studying too hard for her A levels and periodically beating Chris Pettman at Tennis.
London, May 7-8
Getting from Alresford back to London was my first day of Hell. It appears that when things go wrong for me, they do it in bunches. Having placed my train ticket to London in a very safe place I promptly forgot about it and locked it in the Pettman’s house. I went and called Stu the Cream to tell him I would be late before trying to break back in the Pettman’s place and just braking the Pettman’s place instead (there’s now a foot sized whole in Pettman’s pergola). Suitably chastened and still locked out of the house I went to Chris’s school and got the house key. I was now shockingly late to see Stu, but this was more than compounded when I got on the train and realised I had lost my address book (left in the phone booth when I called the Cream earlier). The panic of not knowing where Stu lived, not being able to get in touch with him subsided somewhat when I realised that I could get this information off my e-mail account. Of course then I had to find somewhere to get e-mail. An incredibly helpful woman at Liverpool St. station let me know about 3 different internet cafes, one of which I found in the London rain. Unfortunately it was in Brick Lane, and had just been bombed, so was rather useless. Almost abandoning all hope I finally used my brain and went down to Earls Court. After this horrendous detour the night went fine. I found the address, I found Stu (drunk cause he was waiting for in a bar – for 6 hours) we went to The Fridge in Brixton and danced the night away.
Plymouth, May 8-10
The next day I made my way down to Plymouth for Nicky Pettman’s 21st – catching the bus as I was feeling rich at this stage. I arrived in Plymouth to find Nicky in the bar already, having been there since breakfast. This was fairly indicative of my time spent in Plymouth. Lots of watching Nicky and her friends drink too much, sing ‘Ben’ by Michael Jackson and make sexually revealing comments. My time in Plymouth introduced me to ‘strawpedos’ and ‘Never Ever’
Stony Stratford, May 10-14
Stony Stratford is a small town on the outskirts of Milton Keynes. I went there to visit Gary and Kea Sheppard, old friends from Australia. The town itself was lovely (mentioned in Richard the Third I believe) and proved a lovely place to watch the football, but Milton Keynes itself is what hell will be like. A ‘city designed to work’, it has all the warmth and character of a spitting stoat.
Oxford, May 14-15
My delightful friend Sayaka, who was aupairing in a place named Houghton-cum-Studley then took me to Oxford. We saw Deus at the Zodiac, a club run by Radiohead. It was good.
Cambridge, May 15-17
Sayaka then took me down to Cambridge, just to complete my University tour of England. We went to pubs, went punting, went to a choral service in Kings Chapel and just had a nice time.
Skipton, May 17-18
I was thinking now of going on to Ireland, so I got Sayaka to drop me off in Luton on the way back to Houghton-cum-Studley. My intention was to get a cheap air ticket over to Ireland, but as I got to the airport I realised that just wasn’t going to happen. So instead I gave some friends in Leeds a call to see if I could come and visit them. They said fine, but they didn’t live in Leeds, they lived in Skipton. So I started my hitching in style. Making it up there in 4 lifts and hardly any time. I still had time in the day to go to the pub and listen to ghost stories.
Skipton was fantastic. I stayed with Gal and Ali, who were excellent hosts with a fantastic shower and Skipton itself is quite charming, with a castle, scenery, lots of pubs and brilliant fish and chip shops.
Dublin, May 19-25
After Skipton I went through Leeds and caught an overnight train to Dublin. In Dublin I caught up with Glenn and two of my Irish friends Niamh and Fiona. Everyone showed me a great time, lots of pubs were involved of course as well as a party (thrown by librarians nonetheless) which we emerged from well after the sun had come up, and we were the pikers!
Skipton, May 25-28
About this time I got a little nervous that I was supposed to be heading off to the US soon and I still had no hint of a Camp America placement, let alone a visa. I went back to Leeds to change the date on my plane ticket and not very coincidentally see the glorious Manchester United European victory in Silsden, near Skipton (and Manchester)
Liverpool, May 28- 31
I had to return once again to the Embassie Youth Hostel, and so it was back to Liverpool where I broke the monotony of clubbing with the occasional Beatles indulgence. Tip to other travellers – don’t walk to Penny Lane or Strawberry Fields, catch the bus. It was in Liverpool that I decided that I would bite the bullet, and agree to go
to Trails End Camp, who delicately requested that I cut my hair before even attempting to show my face in America.
Milton Keynes, May 31- June 1
From Liverpool I got a lift with a car full of typical Australian yobos back to Milton Keynes. The guys had been in Liverpool to watch the cricket and soon served to remind me why Australians have a bad rep overseas. Listened to AC/DC all the way down the M56. I stayed a night once again with Gary, then he took me and Kea across to Cambridge for lunch. From there it was a single hitch back to Essex from a fellow named Paul who was having a nefarious relationship with a woman in Colchester.
Alresford, June 1-8
Back at the Pettman’s place I began by far the most annoying part of my trip so far – waiting for my visa papers to arrive. Having been mistakenly sent to Oz by camp America, the courier company sending them back to England misplaced them and I had an agonizing wait in Alresford. I was due to fly out on the June 16th, but as I needed ten working days to get my application processed (when it did arrive from Australia) that was looking rather unlikely. Camp was due to start on the 22nd, until then I had to satisfy myself with fly-fishing and actually beating Chris Pettman at Tennis (once, anyway). A pleasant, but frustrating time, the application didn’t arrive, and I had to change my flight time, so I went into London anyway.
London, June 8-12
Once I arrived in London I got some new visa documents and started all over again. When I arrived at Shannon’s the first thing I heard was that the visa I was waiting for had arrived in Alresford in the post after I left. Luck, huh? I got the wheels underway, and rescheduled my flight for June 23rd . If my visa application was processed in the minimum 10 working days I could make it to camp 2 days late. Not wanting to waste time feeling sorry for myself Shannon managed to take me out and about in London. We went to the movies in Leicester Square, and went to a party in Camden Town full of old Perth friends. Dancing at the Electric Ballroom and all that jazz…
Shrewsbury, June 12-13
My extra time in Britain meant I had the opportunity to visit some more pals, so off I went to Shrewsbury to visit Emma and her family. I must say they went above and beyond in the hospitality stakes, showing me a great time in Shrewsbury, a town with more pubs per capita than any other in Britain.
Anglesey, June 13-14
From Shrewsbury I went on to Anglesey, which involved a lovely hitch through North Wales. I got lifts off a rector, a bridal gown designer and various other peculiar people you always seem to meet in Wales. It’s a lovely place, and a great place to hitch. When I got to Anglesey I found my old friend Naomi and it was off to the pub again and then up all night having a bit of a chat.
London, June 14-15
After Anglesey I thought I better get back to London and try and push my case on the American Embassy. This involved a HUGE hitch from Anglesey to London, which I didn’t even start until after midday. It took me until 5pm to get around Chester due to an old Irish man on the M50 who wouldn’t go above 30mph. It was the best fuel economy see, and he was trying to get from Cork in Ireland to Manchester for 10 pound or something ridiculous. By the time I got near Chester I was fairly sure it would be a night out under the stars for me. Still after walking for about 3 miles out of Chester a man gave me a lift ‘because you looked so sad’ (Chester has always been crap for hitching) and from there on it was greased lightning into London. I got my last lift at about 10pm, from Watford to London (about 20 miles), it was from a group of Irish girls that had driven down from Anglesey; fate has a sense of irony.
Alresford, June 15-22
After going to the U.S. embassy the next morning and being told they couldn’t help me, I headed back to Alresford to make sure Jenna Pettman had something to distract her from studying for her A levels. Being in Alresford generally involved games of tennis, periods of fly-fishing and going out with Jenna and her gorgeous friends. What with all that and endless pampering (I was Australian and therefore considered incapable of looking after myself – a stereotype I didn’t care to challenge) I always have a pretty nice time in Alresford.
London, June 22-23
My flight to New York was leaving on the 23rd, so I went back into London on the 22nd hoping my visa would have come through. Saying goodbye to the Pettmans for now I headed into London and went straight to the Camp America office, arriving about the same time as the visas for the day. They couldn’t find mine at first, but after a painful half an hour of searching they did come up with it. I then headed back to Shannon’s but found that she wasn’t there. On a whim I decided to go to Earl’s Court, as I knew REM were playing there that night. I did and found a guy at the tube station scalping tickets for a whole pound and a half more than the original price! Of course I purchased one and saw REM for the third time in my life. The concert was fantastic, my seat wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad either, and REM played a fantastic show. They even played old favourites like ‘Pilgrimage’ off Murmur! For the first time in weeks I was glad about the visa angst I’d been going through; if it wasn’t for the marvellous ineptitude of certain courier companies, Camp America and the U.S. Government, I certainly wouldn’t have got to see such a great concert. When I got back to Shannon’s I only pretended to be pissed that she wasn’t there for a little while.
New Jersey, NJ June 23-24
Still recovering from REM I managed to pursue another ambition on arriving in America. I got to see the new Star Wars movie!!! Finally, as waiting for visa was essentially waiting for Star Wars. Hell, America wasn’t going anywhere, but I was sick of hearing from friends in Australia talk about Star Wars! Of course there were all kind of things also going on that day. I saw Manhattan and Statue of Liberty etc. for the first time. Met my first Camp America associates, and managed to buddy up with some at the hotel in New Jersey to go and see Star Wars. When we got back to the rather plush hotel we turned on the TV and found Larry King interviewing Hulk Hogan about his future political career. As the hulkster cocked an eyebrow at the camera and issued a challenge for the presidency to Jesse ‘The Body’, I knew I had arrived in America.
Camp June 24-August 19
Trails End Camp, Honesdale, PA.
Camp was a huge experience and as my camp friend Beth says, like a Monet it looks better the further you get away from it. It lasted nine weeks and involved just about every plus or minus about life with kids you could imagine. The Camp itself was in beautiful woods on the border of New York and Pennsylvania, about 2 hours outside of New York City itself. It was basically a camp for rich Jewish kids, parents paying upwards of US$9000 for me to look after their kid for eight weeks. I was supposed to be a tennis instructed, but on arrival I rather naively thought being a general councillor would be more fun. It probably was, but it was a lot more work too. The kids themselves were fairly much what you would expect from rich American kids. Some absolutely amazing kids, some real worries too. I was pretty happy with my bunk though – not quite jocks, but not quite geeks either, they were generally a pretty charismatic bunch. There was Alex (Smudge) the golden boy; his sidekick and AD&D candidate Matt (Cheesy); two very bright kids Michael and Adam, (the former obsequious, the latter obstinate); Jon Bernstein the quiet one (who we called Bernie, despite his intense dislike of the handle I’m afraid); Mark Gurney, a very charismatic fellow who wreaked havoc with practical jokes on the last night of camp, Kevin, talented sportsman; Jon Bachrach, basically Adam Sandler in every sense of the word, and as tall as me at the age of 13 (dammit); Jules, the clown and general troublemaker and finally Josh, who’ll be appearing in a clothing catalogue soon. Where I really got lucky was with the other counsellor in my bunk – Rich who was all charisma and a camp veteran after three years at another camp. He was working waterfront, so he wasn’t about much, but he was a damn good bloke and a great guy to sleep underneath for nine weeks!
Of course all the kids fought/got homesick/wouldn’t listen, but they were quite a lot of fun as well. Every night was a potential raid on the girls dorms, and we often would perform raids when they actually managed to get their butts out of bed at 2 or 3 am. Rich and I soon learned that a raid, or even an attempted raid, could really take the edge off the kids the next day, besides which sneaking around the woods at night was really quite fun.
For me the days were spent accompanying the kids around their activities every day. I was lucky as I was an experienced sailor, so I occasionally got some time off to go sailing with other kids as well. I became incredibly sought after in this regard as I knew exactly how to tip the boat over and had a great sight gag getting the boat back upright. A performance of ‘MMM Bop’ with a Ken, Rich and Po also made me quite famous for a while, as did a later performance of ‘Trails End Blues’ co-written with an amazing kid called Mike Markowitz.
We got to go on a trip to New Hampshire, and various camping trips in the rain. Near the end of camp there was also this event called ‘Olympics’ which was absolutely HUGE news at camp. I got lumped on the team of Singapore, and what can I say, we took it out. Winning Olympics was actually a very intense experience, a lot of cheering, screaming and hoisting people on your shoulders, it was all I could do to stop myself chanting U.S.A! U.S.A!’
But I’m afraid to say that by far the finest thing about camp was the time off. We got from 10pm-12:15pm six nights a week and one day a week for 6 weeks off. These times were generally pure gold. After initial efforts to the nearest big city Scranton and a trip to New York, we formed a posse and spent each day off on a bit of an adventure.
Po, Ben, Jeremey, Ernesto, Pat and I all formed up to take advantage of Jer’s car (he being from Louisiana and all). Generally we would go to a waterfall nearby and spend the day frolicking in the purest sense of the word. Almost always leaving camp to the tunes of ‘Send Me on My Way’ by Rusted Root, a tune that’s indelibly associated with escape now, a car full of us would TOTALLY forget about camp for just one day a week. The peace de resistance of this scheme was when we had a whole NIGHT off right in the middle of camp. Absolutely incredible, we all packed up and headed out to a nearby lake where about 30 of us stayed at the ‘Tuckem Inn’ (get it?). Obviously much merriment was had, and it was just what I needed, having had a rather depressing middle-of-camp period. Of course we all ended up naked in the lake, couldn’t really avoid it.
Nights off were sometimes spent having some more quality time with the kids… yeah, right. Every night it was a five minute drive down the ‘trail’ to The Big Apple, the local drinking establishment. It was your absolutely typical American pub with timber paneling and lots of neon signs and with the added advantage of shuffleboard and ‘wheel of fortune’; two games I managed to master as a result of my rather unique sobriety. At midnight every night the owners of the pub would put everyone on the back of a jeep and send them home, but I preferred to leave a little earlier and walk through the firefly infested woods. I believe I now know why war veterans value their war friendships so much. I feel the same way about a lot of the folk I met at Trails End.
New York, NY August 19-24
After camp Rich and myself were invited to stay with a few of our kids. What can we say but we took them up on their offer? Affectionately referred to as ‘Club Bachrach’, the Bachrach’s had a three story house with a pool and diving board and min-soccer pitch in the backyard. Mine and Rich’s ‘spare room’ had a big screen TV, cable, DVD player and en-suite bathroom. After camp, this was just the trick I tell you!
We spent the days going into the city, Rich blew a lot of money on clothes, and I watched him, blowing my money on an ‘Ameripass’ bus ticket that would give me 60 days of unlimited travel on Greyhound.
New York is an amazing city. Huge and diverse it probably has everything you could want in a city. I spent a lot of time failing to get in to Dave Letterman, but also got to see the sights a bit more. The clothes shopping was brilliant, but the atmosphere was the real clincher. So much energy and difference in the one small city, Greenwich Village became a favourite hangout.
At night we would hang out with Jon in Greatneck, living the Gatsby life and enjoying the Bachrach’s wonderful hospitality. When Rich left to go to Connecticut, I spent one more night with Alex’s family on the south side of Long Island. Once again I was blown away by their hospitality, they even took me surfing – on Long Island, can you believe it? But the dream had to come to an end and I was keen to start traveling so off I went.
Montreal, August 25
I was planning on heading straight to Boston, but as I couldn’t get in touch with a friend there I headed straight up to Montreal instead, sleeping on the bus as it made the 10 hour journey overnight. This was something I would do continuously when I had nowhere to sleep, take a long journey on my pass, sleep on the bus, stow my gear at the bus station in the morning and spend the day exploring. As I was new to this and had been up at 2am for customs I spent the morning in Montreal sleeping in a park, but I was very busy for the rest of the day. It was a beautiful city, located on an island, and once I got my bearings I simply wandered. I picked up free books from the University which was designed by some French Architect. I visited the Latin Quarter and I went up Mount Royal twice, once to see what I could see and again with a good book and a coke to watch the sunset. It was pretty magical.
Boston, MASS., August 26
As I couldn’t get in touch with one of Po’s friends who was going to put me up in Montreal it was back on the bus to go to Boston. I had been particularly looking forward to Boston, but once again I had to sleep in a park until midday to catch my rest. After that I walked the length and breadth of the city seeing all the important things such as the swan boats, Bunker Hill (where the famous battle was fought) and the sight of the Boston Tea Party. It was a nice city, I don’t think it quite compares to Montreal, but it would be a nice place to be on St Patrick’s Day.
Niagara Falls, NY., August 27
After another overnight bus-ride I went on to Niagara Falls, where I took way too many photos. The falls were quite spectacular, and me coming from a place with not much water nor much for it to fall off, I found it absolutely amazing. It has to be said though, the Canadian side of the falls is about 18 times more spectacular than the U’S side.
Madison, WI., August 28-31
From Buffalo I took a long journey through Cleveland and Chicago to Madison, Wisconsin, where I met up with Po from camp. Although Po was from England he had been to camp previously in Wisconsin and had heaps of friends for us to stay with. Madison is a university town, and one renowned for it’s student life, and we certainly saw quite a bit of that. I was there during o-week and therefore got to see all the freshers joining sororities and fraternities etc. Myself, Po and a few of his local friends (Navid, E-Dog and Rob) also made a movie called ‘The Thump Drag Project’, which was a brilliant rip-off of Blair Witch. Generally a lot of fun was had, particularly when Rob’s fresher cousin ‘scored’ with Emily Ardell’s roommate (and senior)Jenny.
Chicago, IL., August 31
After leaving my camera behind along with Wisconsin I spent a day in Chicago and got very lucky to be able to visit the art gallery for free. The art gallery was fabulous (it’s the one out of Ferris Bueler’s Day Off) and had some brilliant impressionist stuff and some modern art that really wasn’t that bad. I also managed to make it to the Train Station that the end of the Untouchables was filmed in, and basically just saw the sights…
Lincoln, NE., September 1-2
Arrived in Nebraska and gave Ken (a fellow Hanson from camp) a call. Spent the night with him and a series of his friends playing porno password and other sordid drinking games. His spunky roommate Jenny took me out the next day for lunch, and then his parents were nice enough to take me out for dinner! Ken is a Pierce Brosnan fan and as Thomas Crown Affair was opening that night we also went to see that. After getting back to Ken’s place and seeing another of his delightful friends Sarah, I was able to get chatted up by a Texan Morrissey fan before getting on the bus to Denver.
Littleton, CO., September 3-10
I spent my time in Denver staying with an old friend Danielle, her new husband Robert, and their bulldog Barney. They lived in a suburb of Denver called Littleton, opposite a certain Columbine High School. I spent a lot of my time at Danielle’s taking it REAL easy, reading by the pool, watching cable, that kind of thing. Robert and Danielle are both fantastic cooks, so I ate very well and had a lovely time in general. As Danielle’s parents were over from England at the same time I also got a tour of Rocky Mountain National Park and a trip down to Colorado Springs to see Danielle’s distant rich relatives. Here I saw my first ever personal bathroom with a microwave. Now I don’t know how anyone can live without one.
Salt Lake City, UT., September 11-12
I passed through Salt Lake City on the way west and got off to have a look round. Unfortunately I was, um, waylaid, and so I missed the bus onto Vegas, and found myself facing a night alone in Salt Lake. As it gets quite cold there at night, I went to a club planning on staying in there for the night. I picked the one called ‘DV8’ out of the two I could find, thinking that place would kick on late into the night. Well, how wrong I was, the place shut at 1:30am! Shockin. So I was thrown out on the street, with nowhere to go. I wandered aimlessly for a while, then bedded down on a freeway on ramp I assumed was under construction. I slept there until about 4 am when it got too cold, then I had to go and hang around in a 24 hour fuel station until sunrise. It was all a lot of fun really.
Tijuana, September 13
Next stop was Tijuana. It was very seedy. Happiest place on earth? I think not. The border at San Diego was amazing though, thousands of people were crossing the border all the time, it was chaos. No-one even checked my passport going into Mexico.
Los Angeles, CA., September13-14
L.A. was about half a level up from Tijuana. I looked around the city, and after not seeing anyone famous I headed for Venice Beach. This was slightly more interesting, and I did see people shooting a Saturday Night Live sketch involving ‘butt-readings’, but I didn’t think too much of the beach and associated markets. Didn’t see any of the red bathing suit lifeguards either, and lets face it, why else come to the U.S?
Las Vegas, NV., September 14-16
If I was sensible at all I would have skipped Vegas. But I’m not, so I didn’t. While there I stayed with Nick and Joyce, friends of Danielle’s. Despite the fact I’d never met them before they were lovely to me, and we fell into the extent that by the end of my first night in Vegas I was seeing Nick knock on doors in his underwear (he lost the pool game). Vegas is like the large breasted transexual I saw in the bar that first night. Aesthetically quite appealing and a lot of fun, but essentially a sham and likely to leave you with a nasty rash. Still, I had a great time with Nick and Joyce. Oh yeah, and I lost a lot of money too.
Logan, UT., September 17
Heading up to Seattle I was passing through Utah again, and it happened that it was Dustin’s birthday (Dustin was the general counsellor from the bunk next door at camp and a very cool customer). So I stopped in Logan, which is Utah’s University town, to wish him well. This was Dustin’s third 21st celebration (Dustin has found people make more of a big deal about 21st parties, a very sensible policy I feel), which involved going to a ‘frat’ party. I caught up with a lot of other people from camp, and had a lovely time partying American style.
Butte, MO., September 18
Ok, I didn’t spend a lot of time in Butte, but you gotta love the name. I found Montana fuel stations to be a cut above.
Seattle, WA., September 18-26
Having spent so long getting to Seattle, I felt I ought to stay a while and I did. Putting me up in Seattle was Beth and her family. Beth was a lovely American girl (that’s not an oxymoron, but it’s a long way from tautology too) from camp and she helped me form a rather positive opinion of Seattle altogether. It is a strange city, with floating bridges, underground buses and the like, but it has a certain ‘je nai sais quoi’. Apart from the city, and a meal in the famous Space Needle, Beth also managed to show me Washington’s more subtle attractions, such as the Puyallup Fair and the Snoqualmie Falls (from Twin Peaks, and amazing). We also saw a fantastic University production of Taming of the Shrew. Lovely place, lovely time, I also bought my ticket to South America, deciding money and health were overrated travelling necessities and going for it anyway.
Crescent City, CA., September 27
I have to say, I LOVED my time in Crescent City. The drive down to there along the Oregon coastline was absolutely breathtaking, and when I got there things just got better. I arrived very early in the morning and basically spent a full day hiking to and around the Californian Redwoods out of Return of the Jedi. I walked many a mile through absolutely amazing forrests, all the while finding clues of Ewok civilisation. The resemblance to the Star Wars universe was at times uncanny, but it was also just a beautiful and amazing p[ace. I walked many a mile, managed to get lost and snuck in a swim in a river. A very, very, very good day.
San Francisco, CA., September 28
Once again I arrived in San Francisco very early, and as I walked something close to 20 miles the day before I managed to catch a small sleep in a car park as the sun rose. San Francisco was a charming city, much nicer than LA, but it was full of joggers and beggars. In fact I would go as far to say if you’re in San Francisco you’re one or the other. I saw some very peculiar people there, and managed to bump into some girls I had met in a bus port in LA. Small world huh? Chinatown was damn impressively Chinese.
Salt Lake City, UT., September 29- October 1
Back in Salt Lake my good friend Nicole Alicia Reynolds (nee Parkes) set about excelling herself in the area of Good Hospitality. She showed me the charming side to Salt Lake that I had earlier missed as well as filling me in on the bizarre history of the place. We saw a lot of movies, including the outstanding American Beauty, and basically had a lot of fun. We even went to ‘Outback Steakhouse’ – an Australian themed restaurant. This was just a laugh. I think I had some ‘Bonzer French Fries’ or something equally amusing. Of course there was no vinegar. The Americans have a lot to learn about politics, sports and condiments. Hell, the Americans just have a lot to learn.
Zion National Park, UT., October 1-4
Nicole insisted on taking me to Zion, and I’m glad she did. It is a really amazing place, incredibly beautiful and just bizarely unique. While we were camping there we walked the Narrows, and also drove down to the Grand Canyon which Nicole and her husband had never seen before. Well the Canyon sure was grand, but it wasn’t quite Zion. I did my bit for Australian Diplomacy by teaching them how to play Euchre, Oh Hell, and how to make real pancakes. I think that just about evens the score.
Denver, CO., October 5-7
Back in Littleton, I basically took the time to relax a little by the pool after a rather wearying fortnight. Of course Danielle and Rob still insisted on taking me out all the time, I swear all of America was competing in a game of ‘spoil Tauel rotten’ but hey, I wasn’t about to rock the boat. I also got a chance to go out and visit Kelsey, Rich’s girl at Camp and an all round lovely trouper, at a town called Boulder.
Santa Fe, NM., October 8
Santa Fe is Mexico north of the border. Straight out of a Western it has a fantastic feel to it, which of course means it’s an overpriced tourist haven. Still, I had to take the left turn at Albuquerque to get there, which is reason enough to go anywhere if you ask me.
Dallas, TX., October 9-12
In Dallas I stayed with a lovely girl called Stephanie, who I had met in England earlier on. She pretty much insisted I watched the Godfather parts I & II before I do anything else in ignorance, and so there went two days. We also got to go see the Texas Book Depository, the grassy knoll and generally have a lot of fun, but I also had to sort out what the hell I was going to do for my last 10 days in the US.
Memphis, TE., October 13
The first stop on my whirlwind tour of ‘The South’ was Memphis. I spent most of my time here indulging my river fixation by paddling around in the muddy Mississippi; although I wasn’t game to go all the way in, something that doesn’t speak volumes for the water quality. Memphis itself is all about Elvis, with a little mention of Beale Street and the legends such as B.B. King. A nice place alright, but it just didn’t compare to New Orleans…
New Orleans, LA., October 14
Passing through Alabama the first thing I saw in New Orleans was a middle aged Californian man with huge glass jewelry complaining that there was ‘too much computerization, man’ at the bus station. Five minutes down the street I bought some fruit from an overly friendly fruit seller who told me to ‘be the best Tauel there ever was, or ever will be’. It’s that kind of place. I headed onto the French Quarter where I spent the rest of the day. I had a fantastic lunch in an old wooden restaurant near the water, wandered through some bizarre cemetery and Louis Armstrong Park, saw a streetcar named ‘Desire’, bizarre sex acts on Bourbon Street and a busker and buggie driver perform an improvised version of ‘Wonderful World’. The history of the city is positively bizarre, filled with pirates, sheiks and vampires. I liked it a lot.
Athens, GA., October 15-16
New Orleans was hard to beat, but Athens may have topped it. A rather unobtrusive University town in Georgia, it would be unremarkable really if it wasn’t the home of REM and gorgeous accents. I spent an entire afternoon just chatting to Mary-Lee in the tourist bureau. Of course I saw all the REM sights, including an almost spiritually pleasant experience at Weaver D’s Fine Foods. I also visited the lovely cemetery and saw a pretty cool live show at Peter Buck’s brother’s 40 Watt Club. I had nowhere to sleep, and spent the early hours of the day nursing a milkshake in a 24 hour diner, but I had a lovely time in Athens.
Washington D.C., October 17
Washington was kinda cool too. After walking by Capitol Hill I visited the Air and Space Smithsonian and that pretty much blew my mind. I wasted a lot of the day trying to vote in the Republic referendum, but I still managed to see the little ol’ White House, Lincoln, Vietnam and Korean War Memorials and the American History Smithsonian as well. That was all pretty cool too, but it was the brilliant trumpet player busking at the front of Union Station in the rain that really made my day.
New York, NY., October 18-20
I had one last visit to New York. Where else could I wake up in the city that never sleeps and get my washing done? I stayed at Club Bachrach once again and had a lovely last visit to the Big Apple.
Philadelphia, PE., October 20
Stories about South America meant that in Philadelphia, for the first time ever, I took out travel insurance. Philadelphia was quite nice too though and I spent quite the time wandering, trying to find a cheap travel guide for South America. I didn’t find one, but I had a lovely time anyway. I saw the liberty bell too, although I’m still unsure of why it’s so damn famous.
Atlanta, GA., October 21
I was in Atlanta for a day, so of course had to go have a look at the Coke Museum. I figured hey, if I don’t support them, they might go out of business. I also took care of last minute travel details like photocopying my passport etc., although I still wasn’t able to vote in the Referendum.
Miami, FL., October 22
My last day in America, and impression of Miami, was drastically soured by the conman who swindled me at the airport. That’s all I have to say about that.
Lima, October 23-25
I arrived in Lima with no guide, no Spanish and no clue. From taking notes from travel guides in bookshops I had found out that Miraflores was a relatively safe suburb, but horror stories about taxi abductions and rapes meant that I paid exorbitant amounts to get there from the airport. I felt quite silly about being so paranoid when the sun came up and Lima seemed quite a nice place really. My stay there was made infinitely more enjoyable by the fact that a lovely Swedish girl called Maria took me under her wing and a charming Irish fellow called Conrad decided to give me his South American Lonely Planet! I also met MarCia at this point and made plans to hike together later on in the piece. I waited around till Monday to vote in the referendum (which Maria helped me out with no end) and I sent an oft-quoted e-mail to mum and dad saying I didn’t know why anyone would say Peru was dangerous…
Arequipa, October 25-30
The next day I wrote to mum and dad to let them know my bankcard had been stolen and I was terribly ill. This was unfortunate. I had about US $50 on me and no other way to get money. I was also seriously ill, coughing all the time, coughing up blood, and with absolutely no energy at all. I’m not sure what happened, but I felt like shit and I ate nothing for four days. I had been fortunate enough to meet a great American traveler named Kip, so I at least had someone to share the cost of the room with, although he had to leave after two days. Meanwhile I had no money to spend on a doctor so when it became obvious this wasn’t going away I started an all-purpose anti-biotic course I had bought from Australia. The problem of no money seemed insurmountable (Peru’s postal system could not be trusted for money or cards, and I’ve sworn off couriers for life after the US Visa disaster, not that we had anywhere to courier it too..) until I remembered the travel insurance. The travel insurance people were able to set up a wire of funds from Mum and Dad, validating my hard thought decision to take it out. Mum called it Harper-Arse.
Puno, October 30
By the time the money came through, I had been delayed on my journey so much that I had to seriously reschedule, and get moving straight away even though I was still sick. I had some hope of finding an English speaking doctor in La Paz, Bolivia, and that where I needed to head to get to the Amazon anyway. Some might say taking a crowded 20 hour bus ride up the Andes to high altitude is not the cleverest thing to do when you’re very ill, but I don’t listen to people like that. The bus ride WAS the stuff of nightmares; if the sickness, crowds and abundance of chicken sucking babies wasn’t enough, we also managed to get stopped for an hour by a drugs patrol at about 3 am. Not that I was sleeping, I was too busy making phlegm. I arrived at Puno looking like death and was immediately taken advantage of by someone who must have thought I had more money than I did. I also must have managed to pick up some counterfeit US money around this time, but I didn’t find out about that until I got to La Paz. But everything wasn’t grim, I managed to eat some breakfast, which was the first time I had eaten since the first night in Arequipa, and I arranged a bus to La Paz.
La Paz, October 30-31
I got seriously lucky in that the bus to La Paz was a tourist bus and one that was actually quite comfortable and little women in pigtails free. On the way past Lake Titicaca my fever broke. I had been going very hot and then very cold for days, but just when I thought I was burning unbearably it suddenly disappeared. By the time we got to Copacabana I was able to eat lunch and was actually feeling better. I was still very weak, but definitely on the way to getting well. After having no luck in finding room in budget accommodation in La Paz, I decided to treat myself to the classy Hosteria Florida. This meant I got to watch Spanish TV!
Rurrenabaque, November 1-5
Still not feeling 100%, but in a hell of a rush I had to head down to the Amazon the next day. The problem with this was I was 4km above the Amazon and the only way to move between the two areas cheaply was via a single lane road cut into a cliff.
Known as the worst road in the world due to it’s fatality record, riding down it was an amazing adrenaline rush. Even the Bolivians took it seriously, and one got the impression they didn’t take much seriously at all. The trip of 120km took 18 hours, most of which I spent in the seat next to the driver, because the bus was oversold and I had just bought my ticket. Still by the time we got to Rurre the Gringos had all become friends united in terror, and I managed to share a room with an English girl. Rurre was a particularly lovely town on a tributary of the Amazon. Quite quiet and very friendly, my blonde hair managed to make me a bit of a star with the locals. But the town itself is simply a jumping off point into the Amazon, and so that’s what I did. I went on a trip three hours up river to a camp-sight in the jungle. I still hadn’t fully recovered from my illness, so I spent a lot of my time sleeping at this camp, but I also got to do quite a bit of jungle walking as well. It was amazing.
La Paz, November 6
My poorness was illustrated by the fact I was the only Gringo to take the bus back up to La Paz, although this time it was in the dark and the only highlight was seeing a blue light disco Amazon style in the town where we stopped for dinner. When I got back to La Paz I was feeling better and actually got to look around what is a pretty amazing city. Some of the architecture was amazing, a personal highlight was watching young boys play soccer at twilight in a city square surrounded by old Spanish cathedrals.
Copacabana, November 7
Copacabana deserves a mention simply because it’s a very nice place. Once again I just passed through on my way to Peru, but I got a chance to wander around a bit. I actually managed to bump into the girl I stayed with in Rurrenabaque, she was making a fruit salad with some bohemian Bolivians (you don’t get many of them to a pound). I also got to model a bit for some Peruvian girls who seemed to think that because I had blonde hair I must know Leonardo diCaprio.
Cuzco, November 8-10
I arrived in Cuzco and managed to find MarCia again and we set about getting ready to hike to Machu Pichu. The original idea was that we would use MarCia’s tent and make the hike ourselves, but we soon found that the cost of going with a group (and getting the added benefit of a guide) was not much more expensive and meant you had your food cooked for you! So after some dilly-dallying we signed up. The day before we left we did a small hike to the Inca Ruin’s around Cuzco with a couple of lovely French men, and MarCia decided to choose then to get very sick altogether. Luckily she knew all about herbal remedies etc. so after eating about 15 cloves of garlic she felt a lot better, can’t say the same about the poor bloke sharing the room with her though…
Inca Trail, November 11-14
So we set off on the Inca Trail with a hiking group. In retrospect this decision is right up there with the choice to get travel insurance in terms of bloody good ones. The group was absolutely full of lovely people. There were three delightful Belgians – Ive, Ilsa and Claudio – three fantastic Irish sisters – Finoulla, Groinne and Oonagh – two other Australian’s Nari and Jenny – then there was MarCia from Canada, Veronique from France and Kev from New Zealand.
The walk itself was fairly straightforward, aside from the second day which involved starting around 2600 meters and crossing ‘Dead Woman’s Pass’ which was at something closer to 4000meters. Some of the Irish girls even did there best impression of dead women when they got to the top. On the way along the trail we saw four sets of Inca Ruins, all of which we were allowed to explore at our leisure, and all of which were quite amazing. The last night we even got to have a little party with the locals before mounting the final assault on Machu Pichu. There was drinking, dancing, and a lot of fun was had by all.
After a sleepless night (I had to see off amorous locals from Jenny’s tent in my underwear, it’s a long story) we got up at 4:30am to get to Machu Pichu for sunrise. We did, and it was raining and cloudy, but hell, we were there.
We then had an incredibly funny old man show us around the ‘Amazing and Astounding Inca Architecture’ he was the most peculiar fellow, spoke rather like a Japenese scholar, but he was a fantastic guide.
After that those of us from the Southern Hemisphere decided to climb Hyuna Pichu, which rises 600 meters above Machu Pichu, while the Northern Hemisphere people caught the bus down to Aguas Caliantes for some food and a rest. From the top of the Hyuna there is supposed to be an amazing view of Machu Pichu. Of course when we got up there was so much cloud we couldn’t see a thing. After an hour or so though the cloud lifted, we took some photos and hiked all the way back to Aguas Caliantes. This made us THE most hardcore people, as everyone else caught the bus.
First thing we did when we got there was to visit the hotsprings from which the town gets its name. After an exhausting walk, and not washing for four days, a bath in the springs was just the ticket. Eventually the northern hemisphere brigade found us and we had a reunion sitting in the lovely hot springs in the misty valleys of the Andes… it was quite serene, but the Irish girls still tried to drown me.
Ollataytambo, November 14-15
On the way back to Cuzco MarCia and I stopped off at Ollataytambo, a small Inca town famous for it’s battlements where the Inca’s actually defeated the Spanish in a battle. Of course their success only lasted until the Spanish came back with bigger swords, but the ruins of the fortress remain along with the Inca layout of the town.
Cuzco, November 15-16
Got back to Cuzco and pretty much ran into the Irish girls straight away. We planned a big night as Veronique and I were leaving the next morning for Lima (long story) and indeed that big night was executed with some success. The Irish girls dressed me up in the shirt, and we hit a restaurant and then onto a club, or a set of clubs called Mama Africa’s. The night only took place at all for me after the Irish Girls went beyond and gave me some money (as, yes, I had run out of what had been sent in Arequipa), so I was in a very good mood. Basically spent the night dancing away to cheesy tunes while everyone got loved up. The shirt was considered the Bomb by locals and travelers alike and I just had a great time. My camera did get stolen, as did Veronique’s handbag, but these were minor details. We all stayed out all night (which was good for me as I avoided paying for a room!) and I imagine there were some sore heads the next day. As it was Veronique and I headed out to the airport and got on our flimsy aircraft that looked like it came straight off the set of ‘Alive’, and we headed to Lima.
Lima, November 16-17
As previously mentioned, I was completely out of money by this point, fully into the reserve emergency money I had hidden all over my body, so I didn’t get up to much in Lima. Staying in the cheaper (and more dangerous) ‘Centro’ district this time, I did manage to meet a lovely American girl called Austin, although I was too tired from the night before to party like it was 1999. I didn’t have the money for the taxi to the airport, so I was glad to find out Austin was heading out around the same time. We got a taxi to the airport together and I bid goodbye to her and South America.
Alresford, November 19-22
After a poor and hungry 24 hours in transit in Miami I arrived in Gatwick early in the morning of the 19th. Having 3 pounds to my name I had not enough to get a bus anywhere, I could barely get out of the airport. After blowing some dough on some calls, it became obvious I would have to hitchhike somewhere, so I chose Alresford. A tortuous hitch ensued, but I got to Alresford before 7pm, having spent only 99p on some chips at a motorway services. My new bankcard still hadn’t arrived in Alresford, but the Pettman’s were nice enough to lend me some money until it did, and I was finally able to relax for a while.
Watford, November 22-24
Having made it to Nicky Pettman’s 18th and 21st Birthdays, I thought I better make it up to Jenna, so I made it down to Watford, and Jenna’s college, for her birthday on the 23rd. This involved nightclubs, and dinners, with a plethora of delightful young ladies. Dammit. I had a lovely time, and have resolved to make it back to Watford sometime when they’re having a Trinian’s Ball.
London, November 24-29
Back to London to stay with Ben and Shannon and wait for my bankcard to arrive from Australia. I also got to see an old friend Jenny Jacobs, and late one night in Leicester Square we actually did the unthinkable and went to the Hippodrome. Can’t believe I’m admitting to that, can you? Also managed to catch up with Ali and a few other friends from Perth, as well as with Fiona, an old friend from Ireland.
Southampton, November 29-30
I had to head down to the provincial backwater of Southampton to catch up with Rich and Po from camp. I got to see the two of them functioning in their natural habitat, and they showed me a great time altogether. We went to the local club – the Academy, visited the kebaby and so on… Rich even managed to beat me in a game of tennis, something he’d only managed to do once before, the bastard.
Milton Keynes, December 1-2
Next stop was Milton Keynes, where I stayed with Gary and Kea again. Gary almost hijacked my plans to go and pick up mum and dad in Dublin by telling me there was a Morrissey tour on. After muck philosophical debate with myself I decided to track Morrissey down near Scotland rather than be at the airport to meet Mum and Dad in Ireland. This meant hitching for two days and sleeping rough in the English winter weather but… Luckily for Mum and Dad Morrissey’s tour had been completely sold out. Unluckily for me though…
Dublin, December 3-7
So I made it to Dublin a whole day before Mum and Dad arrived and I spent the first day finding them somewhere to sleep. Luckily for me Niamh was nice enough to put me up for the night, and managed to take me out partying as well. When I got hold of Mum and Dad we looked about Dublin a bit, I bought some new boots, and then we were off to Galway.
Galway, December 7-9
Well, I was travelling in style now. Instead of the hitching and bedsits I was used to, I got the hire-cars and hostels (and occasionally a Bed and Breakfast!). I even rediscovered that thing they call food. Our first stop on our little tour was Galway, where we soaked up the Craic at The Crane, and toured the Connemarra on what must have been the windiest day ever.
Doolin, December 9-10
Next stop was Doolin, a lovely little Irish town in Clare and the place where I first met Fiona those years ago. We did our duty and marveled at the quaintness of it all, caught some good Irish music (and met some nice Dutch people) and went and took photos of the Cliffs of Moher.
Dingle, December 10-11
The drive from Doolin to Dingle was quite lovely, or at least what we could see of it through all the clouds. When we arrived in Dingle I insanely went to the local movies and saw ‘Closedown Hotel’ or whatever it was called, big mistake.
Kilarney, December 11-12
The last stop for me before parting with mum and dad was Kilarney. Once again the drive was beautiful, around the famous Ring of Kerry, and once again I finished the day by seeing an awful movie – ‘End of Days’.
Holyhead, December 13-14
Then I was all the way back across to Dublin and straight onto Wales, which I arrived at about 11pm, and having nowhere to sleep, I slept in the ferry terminal. The next day I caught up with an old pal Naomi and her crazy friend Ian. Both mad clubbers, watching Human Traffic was high on their agenda, so that’s what we did. We had a ball of a time, Ian able to dance all night like a maniac, and he even started me on the way to Skipton the next day by giving me a lift to Manchester.
Skipton, December 14-16
Back in Skipton at last! Home of Britain’s best fish and chip shops, I immediately set to researching that claim. Of course I caught up with my favourite people, Ali and Gal and even did the English pub quiz night thing, although the questions were definitely favouring the British in attendance. How was Ali and myself supposed to know who won the Milk Cup in 1968? Anyway, apart from Ali and Gal the best thing about Skipton was that it was good enough to be covered in SNOW while I was there – YAY!
Nantwich, December 16-17
Next stop was Nantwich, just outside of Chester, where my camp pal Ben lived in a pub. Through a mysterious coincidence Jeremy (the American at camp whose car we abused) also arrived at Ben’s place the same night. Of course much merriment was had as I showed the poor foreigners how to play pool. I also managed to meet a charming garbage man in a pub in Chester, and of course a New Zealander behind the bar.
London, December 18-21
A horrible day of hitching through Birmingham saw me make it down to London, just. I have to say my last lift into London was made a lot easier by the fact I had a fantastic bloke driving me. He was a young soldier just returned from Kosovo, and he took me all the way into London despite the Friday night traffic that involved. The next day I was off to pick up Jo (another friend from Australia) from Euston, which provided another excuse to catch up with more friends from Australia. We went to Wagamamas and a few pubs (and it snowed the tiniest little bit) and also went to Camden Markets on an extremely cold day. Of course before I left London I also managed to see the Pet Shop Boys at Wembeley with Jenny, which was fantastic!
Alresford, December 22-27
My last visit to Alresford for Christmas, which was delightfully put on by the Pettmans. I was ridiculously spoilt by having both my real and surrogate parents with me for Christmas and obviously had a wonderful time. Of course I had to say goodbye to Alresford, which was quite sad, but happily involved many trips to the pub and seeing just a lot of lovely people.
London, December 27-28
Back in London, busy London, home of the brash, outrageous and free, catch up with one more Australian friend before it’s all about jumping on the bus to France.
Paris, December 29
Arriving in Paris in the middle of the night, I spent the rest of the night/morning doing as much sightseeing as I could. I must say it sounds quite stoopid, especially considering I was dragging about 50 kilos of luggage everywhere I went, but it was actually quite magical walking around Paris before everyone woke up. Of course after they did, it lost a lot of the fun, and I found myself heading to Charles De Gaulle (the airport, not the nose) to head home…