Monday, July 14, 2014

Riding the Greyhound

I'm happy to say I survived the 17 hour travel day and am now back and showered in Brooklyn. I would have loved to keep moving but work funds my adventures and had I not returned I wouldn't have made it very much further.

Travel by greyhound gets a real bad rep in America. The image taking a long journey brings up a sense of dread and images of terrifyingly sticky surfaces, people crammed overflowing in their seats, strange folks sitting in the seat directly besides yours despite the bus being half empty and shadowy figures in the back brown bag in hand and empties littered on the floor. This may not be fair but I haven't the experience to say otherwise, this is the widespread myth of USA bus travel and it holds grip today. Buses can can however say with experience here in Australia are very different than that image, in fact I would argue they are almost pleasant experiences. On most rides I would say it is 50-75% backpackers in the early to late 20's range; it is by far one of the cheapest and most accessible ways to get around the country, and if your lucky you may catch one of the coaches with working wifi (1/4 for me this trip). Staring off into the new and diverse landscape over those hours on the road gave me a deeper appreciation of the beauty of this country I surely would not have experienced flying over head and as an added bonus you don't even have to worry about being early to check in or go through security.

These 5 days away was a short excursion, it could have been longer had I relied on myself for the planning but sometimes it just doesn't work like that. Although im satisfied with the journey and elated I had it, the problem with only spending one day in a place is you don't get to know it very well and always end up missing something. Byron I found out on the way home is a hub of activity more so than I realized, tours depart around the whole area for hiking in the mountains and visiting hippie towns; I very much hope to get back there for the writers festival in August. 

Surfers Paradise is a suburb of Gold Coast City its home to a mass amount of tall apartments and hotels which for the amount of things to do in the area its seems an excessive spread. Its far too easy to get lost in the sky line and miss the spots of interest tucked away somewhere I couldn't quite locate. My hostel was a bit aways from the town center so I stuck to the beach to start, walking a few blocks towards the coast. I was pretty amazed to see the longest stretch of beach I've yet encountered in the country. Generally the beaches are broken up into smaller sections, here the sand went as far as you could see. The waves were quite rough, great for surfers though because there were a good amount of people on boards riding the waves with more skill than I've seen around the Sydney. I attempted a few photos in the water being careful not to get pummeled into the sand. Of all things I had forgotten to pack sunscreen was the biggest and I began feeling the sides of my face burning; the sun was beating down intensely that day and the breeze created a chill factor that was the only thing in the way of making it feel like a summer day in New York. I walked over to my sweater and put it on picking up my new snorkel gear unusabe here, had I not paid attention to the waves all I'd be looking at would be a close up of the sand rubbing off layers of my face. 

 As I walked back to the hostel I noticed the roads were not the most pedestrian friendly considering the amount of tourism they claim to get. The crosswalks were a fair distance apart on a busy road, this however is not a problem if you run for it. I was booked for one night at Budds a smallish hostel located in what seems to be the residential area between the river and ocean. Weirdly everything by the river is a more neighborhoodly atmosphere than the street across where the high rises start, you could almost think of it being the other side of the train tracks. Budds was homey place motel style with 2 floors of rooms and a few modest buildings. They had pretty much everything you could desire out of a hostel a cheap bar, a swimming pool and free wifi. Those are the types of places I strive to find and I was overall happy with the experience there. I had little desire to explore Surfers which for me is unusual, I was taken back with the atmosphere and emptiness in what looks like a city but knew I couldn't leave without at least seeing what was in the center. I made my way down to the lobby where the guests were drinking and playing pool. It was a Thursday night and a group from the Hostel was heading into town to get drinks at a pretty nice bar the name of which escapes me now. We all started walking out except for two New Zealanders who had pre-gamed just a little too hard. The bar wasn't too far away but I was tired and it was slow, I ended up leaving after one drink and looked around to see if there was anything of interest nearby gave up and decided to call it a night. 

The next day I was not entirely upset to be heading out to Brisbane, I had a ticket to the Australia Zoo the following day and had been planning to get there since looking it up at the bar I worked in back home. Once more surrounded by backpackers and the odd Aussie traveler I boarded the bus for the two hour journey North.

Brisbane is a lovely city, more inland than I realized at the time of booking it sits on a river cutting the city into a cultural half and cbd business and shopping district. Its home to various Art galleries and Museums that to my joy are free of charge. Overall I found it a very low key and relaxing atmosphere, on the main pedestrian strip were countless talented artists and bands performing at various eateries. After dark the city lights up beautifully and looks spectacular from either side of the river, I lucked out to stumble on some live music in a park by the museum to add to the chilled out vibe.

I stayed at Brisbane City Backpackers a pretty typical big hostel with a pool and great rooftop views. To my delight the 14 girls dorm I booked was actually a whole floor spread out into rooms of 4 bunks, I worried it was one giant room and remembered with guilt how early I had to wake up for the Zoo and bus.

I wandered the city taking in its music and cultural scene, they had a bigger range of exhibits at the museum than I expected, it looked so small from the outside. From dinosaurs and war memorials to the deep sea, snakes in jars and dried insects it can keep you occupied for quite a bit of time. Walking along Southbank at night was a great feeling it was chilly but not overly cold, Queensland is a bit warmer than New South Wales thankfully because I packed horribly for cold weather. I could have stared at the lights for a long time but I had places to be couldn't dawdle around too much.

I retired early and had a restless night of sleep waking up constantly from about 3 am to 5. I woke for the final time with a start, I knew it was late. I grabbed for my ipod finding instead a strange iPhone in my bed, at some point it must have slipped down from the bunk above. 7 am thank goodness, not too late I need to be there by 7:40 latest and the station was 10 mins leisurely walk away. I grabbed clothes off the floor attempting pathetically to be as quiet as possible. I sounded like a freight train to myself, tripping over everything withing a 5ft vicinity and practically falling out the door over my unzipped backpack. With some effort I got everything together save of course that one vital possession forgotten in the rush. I ran upstairs and ate a few scoops of hummus, no time to cook and left by 7:25. I needed to stop at an ATM and get some cash in case I needed to pay for anything extra at the zoo. I got to the terminal at 7:35 and went to the atm practically swimming though my bag looking for my card. No wallet. I had taken it out the night before to get some cash for the bar upstairs and likely as usual dropped it on the floor instead of my bag in a derp moment. No time to go back, thank goodness at least I had bought my ticket with the greyhound pass, but my id. I rummaged again though the bag hoping I had the good sense to not take my passport out at some point, it was there all was good. I walked upstairs disappointed with myself but relieved I had at least done one thing right by the passport.

Australia Zoo is about an hour away from Brisbane not far from a town so beautifully named Beerwah. Along the way you pass the unbelievable Glasshouse Mountains, the solitary standing remnants of ancient volcanoes. Much to my disappointment we couldn't stop and I wasn't able to snap any usable photos but they were spectacular and I very much hope to go back before leaving the country. 

The Australia Zoo itself is quite something, its got everything to appease any travelers obsessions of seeing native creatures. The zoo as part of admission has an exciting amount of hands on experiences and more even better ones for a fee. As part of admission you are able to walk amongst Kangaroos and Koalas petting and feeding them freely (approved food of course). For me and many others being located mainly in populated areas this was exactly what I had been waiting for. The zoo is over 100 acres and has the indigenous wildlife of Australia, various crocodiles and alligators as well as Tigers, Cheetahs and critters from all over Asia and Africa. Unfortunately the Elephants passed away last year but hopefully one day they'll get more. The staff of the zoo are obviously passionate about their jobs, they are conservationists with Wildlife Warriors as well and do a lot of educational speaking in all their presentations. At their crocesium show you find no shenanigans like the croc wrestlers of Florida they respect the wildlife and genuinely wish to educate the public, especially the northern territory on the dangers of swimming with saltwater crocodiles. I would say supporting the Australia Zoo by visiting is a must for travelers from overseas, I found the atmosphere to be invigorating and as animal lover myself this was by far the most comfortable I have been seeing animals in a zoo setting. The tribute to the late Steve Irwin is also heartwarming, they very much keep his message and mission alive. 

Returning to Brisbane I was hungry and exhausted, most of the day had been spent walking, there is always something to see at the zoo the 6 hrs there was filled easily. I grabbed my wallet and went out to pick up some Indian food, vindaloo and not spicy enough, then had a few beers wrote in my diary and promptly passed out in anticipation of my 7:00 am start time for the 16 hr bus ride to Sydney.

The tips I gave you for trains are equally true for buses, except the shoes, don't take them off the space is too small wear flip flops (thongs in Aus funny enough, the first time I heard this caused a bit of surprise as a girl announced before going out she needed to change out of her thongs). Time dragged at points absolutely but never once was I bored out of my mind or ready to throw myself onto the highway at the rest stops. The wifi was broken but I managed reading and writing away the time as crazy as that seems now thinking about it. I'm dead set on greyhound busing it through the outback come October with a hop on hop off pass. 

This is an incredible country.