Monday, 22 March 2010

the great australia trip - I

The first time I went to Australia was more than four years ago, when I was at Canberra for one semester. To escape the cold and mind-numbing deadness of the city I would head to Sydney. Canberra is full of people working for the Australian government and the only young people you see would be from my university campus. You can probably guess which of the two cities I preferred. Though Canberra is the capital of the country (no, I’m not kidding), even its miniscule airport was no comparison to the gargantuan Sydney airport, teeming with thousands of people, terminals, shops and some gorgeous Labrador and Beagle sniffer dogs. So this time when I decided to travel around Australia, it wasn’t too difficult to decide where my first destination would be.

I landed in Sydney after two long flights, ruminating over whether Amelia Earhart died of starvation on a lost island or drowned. Three guesses for what I watched on the Bangkok-Sydney flight. When I landed, it was hot and I immediately felt overdressed. Tiny shorts, thongs (read, Bata bathroom chappal lookalikes) and tiny, airy tops were the norm. As for where I would be staying, my friend lives at Bondi Junction, which is walking distance from the very popular Bondi Beach. A posh and very liveable area. Unfortunately for me, it started pouring in Sydney the night after I landed so there wasn’t much I could do. Day one was spent meeting the very friendly French people my friend lived with, watching endless episodes of How I Met Your Mother and walking around the area. If you’re a typical Indian who loves food, Sydney is a great place to be. To say it’s multi-cultural is an understatement. And with several cultures comes several types of cuisine. I have never had the perfect pizza, overflowing with bright, fresh veggies and gorgeous Parmesan on a thin crust, with just the right amount of I don’t know what spices. And in under 15 minutes. Sorry, Dominos.

In between the bouts of rain, I was dragged out of the house and taken on a walk to a nearby “park.” I don’t know if all parks are like the one I saw in Bondi Junction, but this one to me seemed massive and resembled a mini-rainforest. Lush green grass, mammoth trees and rocks all around, running water (thanks to the rain) and little bridges, nothing too hard to climb. A quaint playground and even a couple of tennis courts if admiring nature isn’t your thing. We even found a gorgeous, cosy cave where I’m sure a few kids have been conceived. The strange thing I noticed all throughout Australia is the average size of dogs which people own. The larger the master/mistress, the smaller the dog seemed. Endless terriers and spaniels, a few Daschunds, Pugs, Chihuahuas and miniature breeds. I saw only one Alsation, and that was in Hamilton, which overlooks the port of Brisbane and is one of the most luxurious (read, expensive) places to live.

Another day was spent at Darling Harbour. Though I’ve been there before, it’s always a nice place to visit. Don’t miss the aquarium and also try to catch a movie at the IMAX – it’s supposedly the largest one in the world. If you have enough money, hop on to one of the boats going around the harbour – the view of the bridge and Opera house will leave you speechless. And for some quiet time, to get away from the blazing sun, there are also the Chinese Garden of Friendship*. Note: The Australian sun is not to be underestimated. Yours truly refused to believe than brown Indian skin could be victim to sunburn. I was proved wrong in an hour on the Sunshine Coast.

To make up for her working through the day and for the incessant rain, my friend booked us tickets for Wicked. When I told my sister this, I got shrieks of envy and at the time I knew not why. The tag line for the musical was ‘the untold story of the witches of Oz’. It was pouring, we went late and sat in the rows furthest from the stage, but nevertheless it was completely sensational! What I’ve seen on Chennai stages is really ridiculously incomparable to such shows. You shell out quite a bit for musicals but every cent is worth it, I tell you. The costumes, perfectly synced dance moves, wondrous sets (at one point there was a gigantic dragon’s head which started to glow red above the stage. It had been disguised in the dark so well that nobody noticed it till then despite its size. Pretty neat, huh.), impeccable dialogue and characterisation had me on the edge of my seat for most of the duration of the musical. I didn’t know if one of the main witches has a naturally shrieky voice or put it on for three hours everyday, but she could even sing at that glass-breaking pitch! (Wikipedia tells me the actress was probably Lucy Durack). Add to that, luminous green cocktails which you can buy and take in to the hall. And once the three-hour treat to your senses is over, you want to go back for more. I think I spent the next one week randomly stating things like “green is the new black” and “ohhhh, wicked!” much to my friend’s amusement. (Now seriously, if you don’t get the green connection, you need to revisit your childhood Wizard of Oz memories.) If you’re as mesmerised by the show as most usually are, you could be seriously tempted to buy some overpriced, attractive Wicked merchandise while leaving Capitol Theatre.

Another plus point to being abroad is the easy access to alcohol. And so many different types! Did I mention easy access to it? No creepy men lurking in dark corners around TASMAC bars which smell of… you know. Post Wicked, it was home-cooked Korean food and cheap flavoured wine back at the Bondi house. In my uni days at Canberra I’d had “goon” (as it’s called in Sydney) – casks of dirt-cheap wine – but never the fruity-pop wine I was introduced to that night. Not to forget, the zillion varieties of beer. No, not Fosters. And though I don’t smoke, I discovered that people who do don’t have to shell out as much as I thought one did for smokes. They simply buy their own ‘ingredients’ (think mango smelling tobacco, which was heaven for non-smokers like me) and roll their own nicotine buddies.

After a few days of rain (and some shine) in Sydney, it was time to head to the land of beaches and bikini clad women – the Gold Coast. One thing I hadn’t planned on was living out of a 7-kilo bag for a fortnight. Which wasn’t as hard as living out of 100 ml bottles for that span of time. (Cabin baggage rules are tough there.) After I sampled some Krispy Kreme doughnuts (I was instructed to by a big fan back home) we hopped on to our budget airline seats, half-asleep and ready for some sun. And boy did we get what we asked for.

(to be continued)

Thursday, 11 March 2010


When you’re at a party in Chennai, with loud music and lots of people you don’t know, it’s one thing. When it’s in Cairns, it’s a different ballgame. You’re less aware of whether your underwear is peeping out from somewhere [actually, if it is, then all the better], you don’t know anybody there, and I mean nobody, the weather is nice, the music isn’t bhangra, other girls aren’t checking to see how good/bad you look [or maybe they’re more subtle?], hell, there are women dancing on the bar-table with feathers and fishnet stockings and guys aren’t trying to feel them up! So yes.. Cairns is certainly different from Chennai when it comes to parties.

There was one difference I didn’t realise, however. Men. The mistake I made was to freeze out whichever poor dude tried to hit on me, the way I do when in India. Yes, I’m judgemental and I think all boys are creepy. Sue me. I’ll win.

So here I am, in Cairns [Rhino Bar to be precise] and I meet one of the most “hmmm” people ever when my friend disappears to smoke. I don’t even remember his name, not that it matters. I was tired after walking around Cairns the whole day and it was 1 am and I was a few beers down, so please excuse the lack of precise details. He looked a little older than the other guys at the bar. Slightly mature, not a beach boy type. White shirt and black pants, I think, and dark hair, with a nice smile.

“Why do you look so serious… aren’t you having fun?”

I’ve heard this line before so I must have rolled my eyes and waited for him to go on his way. He didn’t. He repeated the question. So I gave him a perfunctory “Yes, sure I am. I’m just a little tired.”

“Hmm. Where are you from?”


“India?! Wow. You come all the way from India to Cairns and you’re at Rhino Bar saying you’re tired?!”

I had to crack a smile. The man had a point.

“How long are you here for?”

“Another day. I’m travelling with a friend and we’re headed to Cape Tribulation tomorrow.”

“Ah. That’s nice. I don’t get out often so excuse me.”

That’s not a line I hear everyday.

“Why not?”


“Why don’t you get out often?”

“Well I’m busy. I live in Sydney and in Cairns and I have a lot of work in both places.”

“What do you do?”

“I own a bar.”

Now I don’t know if he said he owned that particular bar or a bar in general.. they were playing Ke$ha a little too loudly.

“Seriously. You own one. And you don’t visit a bar often?”

He laughed.

“No. It’s pretty boring actually. I prefer chilling in my big house with my horses. My kids occasionally visit but usually it’s just the horses and me.”

“Horses. And kids. Hmm.”

“I’m pretty much a loner though. So, what do you do?”

“I’m a journalist.”

“Oh! So you’re here for a story?”

“No, I’m here on holiday.”

This went on for a couple of minutes (now I realise that was a pretty long smoke-break my friend was on) before he inevitably asked me to join him at his place, horses et al. I actually grinned when I said no, considering this was the first slightly intellectual conversation I’d had with a male in a bar. “Are you sure?” Perfectly sure. At that point a very drunk friend of his came by to ask him where they were headed next. I was introduced. “Are you joining us?”

“No, she isn’t,” John Doe grinned. The friend disappeared into the vast crowd and loud music. “Sorry about that. I have to go and socialise now. Then I’ll make my escape. It was nice to meet you. Really.” Another grin.

“Have fun.”

And that was that. I finished my beer, looked around at people and the girls dancing on the bar and thought, what are the odds of meeting a bar-owner who loves horses and talks about journalism in India with me? I was only shaken out of my reverie when my friend returned.