Thursday, 28 June 2012

Kangaroos, Camels, and Savage Wallaby Attacks.

So, before leaving the South Pacific for pastures slightly less green, I decided that in order to capture the true essence of Australia, I would head into the outback and see what the big deal was about thousands of miles of red sand and kangaroos. If you read this blog regularly (and come on, why wouldn't you?) you will remember a girl way back from the start of my Australian adventure who made her blog debut when she got so drunk she stole a Dutch girls sandals and had to be fireman lifted back to the hostel. Remember? Well, she caused such trouble in Cairns that she headed straight to Alice Springs (the smallest town in the world) and has spent the last four months working in the hospital, trying to live down her shame and prevent anyone else from heading down the same path she did. After almost half a year in the outback, she was extremely excited to see me. (Or at least, I think she was - she'd recently indulged in some Botox in honour of her fast approaching 30th birthday and as such it was difficult to fathom her moods from facial expressions alone). If you don't know anything about Alice Springs, it is basically a little town randomly plonked in the middle of the outback which is so small that after three days of being there I was seeing people I knew in the supermarket. However, do not mistake it for a town where nothing happens. On Saturday, Rowena took me to the annual Alice Springs Beanie Festival - it is the only one in the world and consists of hundreds upon hundreds of bizarre beanie hats that would not look out of place at a circus (which, incidentally, Alice Springs does not have). It soon became apparent that this was the only town in the world where you'd look like a knob if you weren't wearing a hat with ears and/or an elephant trunk, and as such we spent at least 12 hours sporting ridiculous headwear and nodding in bona fide respect to anyone with an animal on their head. There was a slight drama when some woman had the audacity to attempt a theft of a beanie Rowena had already claimed, and had the Alice Springs bouncers not been lurking, I'm fairly sure some shit would have gone down.

On Sunday, we joined forces with Rowena's friend Kayla, rented a car, and headed into what can only be described as nothing. We discovered the car had pretty sharp brakes after Rowena gently put her foot down at the traffic lights and almost sent us both through the front windscreen... This was the first of many near death experiences in the car, as I later spent a good hour veering off the road at five minute intervals because I was too busy gaping in wonder at various aspects of outback scenery. Within ten minutes of 'outback driving', we had already come across a dead kangaroo at the side of the road. We pulled over (naturally) for a better look and I performed a quick prayer for the repose of its soul whilst Kayla poked it with a stick.You'd think that as it's so deserted there isn't much wildlife in the outback, but apparently this is not the case. Along with the kangaroos (some of which were actually alive), we saw camels (who knew?) and dingoes. Well, we think we saw dingoes - after noticing some very similar dogs in the carpark wearing collars, there's a slight possibility they were actually labradors... I'm fairly sure that at one point I was being circled by a hawk, too - it must have sensed that I was too unfit to be walking in the outback and started to get excited.

On our way back to civilisation (which in the outback means 4 or more people), we stopped by a wild wallaby habitat and got some feed for the wallabies, and it was then that, for the first time in my life, I came face to face with pure evil. As I held out my handful of feed and gleefully exclaimed at how cute the little critters were, I noticed a slight movement out of the corner of my eye. A member of the gathering was standing a little further back from everyone else, eyeing me with suspicion. His fur was matted and dirty, not clean and silky like that of his brothers and sisters, and, had he been able to talk, I'm fairly confident he would have spoken with a rough, East London accent. Taking pity on him, I edged closer and kindly held out my palm. What happened next played out in my mind as if in slow motion. Upon seeing my generous offer, the creature's eyes reddened and he took a threatening step towards me, raising one of his vicious paws as though to strike. Realising a split second too late that I had made a fatal mistake, I started to back away, but before I was sufficiently distanced, the Ronnie Kray of the marsupial world had lunged forwards and sunk his teeth into my flesh. I snatched my hand away, crying out in pain. I could feel the potential rabies spreading through me and, as Marsupial-Ronnie-Kray turned to limp away, I could have sworn he raised his head, looked me in the eye, and said, "see you around, princess", before disappearing into the night.
N.B. These events may differ slightly from what Rowena claims to have seen, but the truth of that night is known only by myself, Marsupial-Ronnie-Kray, and the infamous, dangerous Australian outback...

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

What Happened In Sixth Form, Stays In Sixth Form

As I'm sure not many of you are aware (because, let's face it, why would you be?), New Zealand is apparently renown for its vineyards as well as rugby, sheep and volcanic "hissy fits". This would, I'm sure, be a lot more beneficial to me were I a wine enthusiast, but I have still managed to procure a slice of enjoyment by mocking those who are - or, at least, those who think they are. I think we all the know the types of people I'm talking about here, my mother being a prime example. She went on a wine tasting course one time (one time) with my friend's mum and for the following months, every time she had a glass, would swill her wine around, take a sniff, and envelope herself in the pretence of being a person who understands what it means to know a "good white wine". My own taste, naturally, is a little less refined as I am still in the adolescent phase of thinking a "good white wine" is something that tastes of neither piss nor vinegar. To be honest, I'm not that much of a wine drinker after a series of particularly unfortunate events following a sixth form party, during which I consumed almost an entire table of complimentary wine and was awoken the following morning by my friends telling me, amongst other things as I sat in bed and mourned the loss of a tooth, that by 10:30pm I was being escorted off the dance floor by not one but two bouncers and paraded past most of my school year, many of my teachers, and, to top it all off, the head of sixth form. In retrospect, it probably was not my finest hour, and as such I have since made a particular effort to avoid wine in large quantities - complimentary or not. In fact, it was this particular trip down Memory Lane that prompted me to really ponder the pros and cons of growing up in a country that treats underage binge drinking as a fragile family heirloom. (In the end, the pros largely outweighed the cons, but nonetheless).

After leaving vineyard county (and a hoard of other less mortifying but still uncomfortable wine related memories that came screaming back) behind, I headed on down to Christchurch where I was met, probably unsurprisingly considering their penchant for natural disaster, by a complete ghost town. I am not exaggerating, as I'm aware I so often do, when I say this - there was literally no one around, no lights in any buildings (or, even, buildings themselves), no people, no form of civilisation at all, and, worst of all, no hostels. Usually when I arrive somewhere new at night I am welcomed into the open arms of drunk pub goers and get to play my favourite game of seeing how many drunkards I can 'accidentally' knock down with my backpack. This was definitely not the case and after a fruitless 45 minute search, I eventually resigned myself to the fact that I may have to sleep outside, an option which was not as appealing given the winter temperatures. Eventually (thank God), I came across a YMCA, which wouldn't have been my first choice but, as at this point I didn't actually seem to have a choice, I wandered in anyway. Now, I cannot be alone in thinking that the YMCA was meant to be a haven for poor, unfortunate souls and the financially crippled (moi), and I was thus shocked to my very core when I found out I had to pay $40 ($40!) for a bed. I thought the least they were going to do was give me somewhere to sleep and some complimentary soup - isn't that what they're for?! However, there was nothing complimentary at all (apart from a basket of free soap, out of which I took as many bars as I could carry) and, just to add insult to injury, it took me nigh on four hours to get to sleep due to having the bloody YMCA stuck in my head, going around on loop until 2am. Contrary to what The Village People may believe, it was not fun.

I left Christchurch roughly eight hours and $40 (forty dollars!) later and soon found myself back in rural New Zealand. After refusing to pay $200 to sit on a boat and watch some whales (this entry has really forced me to face up to some home truths about people from Yorkshire...), I began to appreciate the beauty of the-far-away-fin, as it has now become known. When people told me that Kaikoura was whale country, I'm not going to lie and say I wasn't expecting to head down to the beach, play my harmonica for a bit, and then have an orca named Willy swim up and befriend me. This, obviously, did not happen. This is not the first time in my life that I have been cheated out of meeting an orca. Several years ago, I went to Sea World in California and became incredibly angry (to a degree that I stuck my fingers up at a 10 year old) that some stupid, annoying American kid had been chosen to go and meet Shamu when I was clearly the more enthusiastic of the two of us. He wouldn't even have been old enough to remember it when he was older, and then, if you please, when they asked him if he wanted to pet Shamu's tongue, he refused because he was too scared! I was so angry that I stormed out of the splash zone and up to my mother and sister (who had refused to sit with me, probably more so to do with my embarrassing enthusiasm than their wish to stay dry), spending the rest of the day seething with rage. Obviously, it doesn't bother me anymore as I am older, more mature, and in no way, absolutely not, still bitter... On the plus side, I saw about 20 dolphins all swimming and jumping together on the ferry back to the north island, so I feel that not only did I save $200 on something I got to see anyway, but I have somehow trumped the annoying kid from Sea World by seeing them in their natural environment. Take that, shit head.

Anyway. I'm almost at the end of my trip now, and if there's one thing I'm looking forward to it is being able to finally have a choice of real books to read instead of being limited to whatever is stuck on the book exchange in the hostel, most of which are in German anyway. I made a stand to myself the other day and point blank refused to read yet another pathetic excuse for chick lit after finding myself sobbing into the pages, crying, "no, Katherine, what are you doing, what about Joe?!". In order to avoid premature middle aged woman syndrome, I picked up the only other book available on the shelf - a textbook on domestic violence entitled When Harry Hit Sally. Times are bleak, my friends, times are bleak.