Thursday, July 10, 2014

On the Road



The plans to rent a car with the French backpackers were unfortunately and unsurprisingly not put together by the day of departure. I waited as long as I could all the while remembering why I prefer traveling solo. After a few hours of patience and poor communication I looked online and bought myself a train ticket to Byron Bay, it left in 4 hours. The timetable looked daunting I boarded the train from Hornsby at 3:20 on Tuesday July 8, I was set to arrive at Byron Bay at 4:20am on July 9. The longest trip I had previously taken on ground oriented transportation was the bus ride to Sydney, 11hrs. Now I know I always say how big Australia is so here's a bit of scale for you a train & bus from Sydney to Byron Bay  takes 14 hours a car takes a bit under 10. Doesn't look that far does it? I packed the essentials I thought i’d need to entertain myself for as long as possible. The long hours are amazing for getting work done I found myself so bored I was catching up on things i’ve meant to do for the longest time. Trains are top notch for lazing back and letting everyone else do the work also its a whole lot easier on the ears than a plane and steadier than a bus.

I wrote for you in real time on the train a small common sense guide of how to maintain your sanity on a long Train journey

Hi, congratulations on your purchase of a train ticket destination, world! You’ve probably had some experience on a train before its a very common method of transportation but you may not have experience riding one for 10+ hours. Fear not, it is possible to avoid being taken off in a straight jacket if you take the proper steps and precautions when packing.  Depending on the hours of travel likely you wont have very much to look at so plan accordingly.

Like traveling on a plane you will probably bring a carry on and a suitcase, unlike a plane your bag gets put in an accessible place however in the event of a packed train getting up on a regular basis to remove things will certainly cause frustration amongst others.

The contents of your bag should contain easy to carry hobbies you genuinely love doing. For me this is writing I brought 2 notebooks and a diary along with me, I got a ton of writing and scribbling done in the first few hours including numerous ideas for future work. You can bring sketch pads if your an artist, sudoku or mind games if your more math and numbers oriented. Don't skimp on the entertainment mad libs yourself if you need too distraction is absolutely necessary for those first few hours especially. Next time i might bring ad libs, I like that idea.

Things to bring in volume.

Books
Paperback or electronic I'm so thankful for books, in fact finished two I was reading simultaneously. If you’re like me sleeping on buses, trains and planes is impossible therefore I always make sure I have a book to read, it mentally exhausts you to the point of passing out if you do it long enough.

Music
Almost everyone has some sort of iPod or phone with music apps so use it. I wouldn't count on it for long term entertainment though. I got sick of my playlist after about an hour and a half but found light music beneficial to sleeping and canceling out the noise of the train.

Snacks
Food on public transportation is pricey. I bought a beer for 6 bucks then found out it was mid strength with an alcohol content of 3%. Its always a good idea to pack some treats but do so with caution when a bag of chips or candy sits at your feet and you’ve got nothing to do the temptation factor is inescapable. I packed healthy snacks and couldn't be bothered to eat them due to the bio garbage that would be left in its wake, nothings worse than a banana peel in sight for more than a few minutes. Had I had some chips knowing myself they’d be gone in a hour making me feel both sick and disgusting for at least another. I’d rather keep these long hours as pleasant as possible in the stomach.

Toiletries
As any traveler knows there is nothing quite like travel grime. Sitting on a seat for an extended period of time can make you quite a bit like the swamp thing. It is necessary for that reason to have the proper toiletries for your sake and that of others around you. Personally I hate the way my face feels after not being washed for an extended period of time so I always have soap, deodorant and a toothbrush minimum my travel survival pack. You can add as you feel necessary but without those three things by the time I hobble off to my destination I feel less than human.

Pillow
Personally I never bring one but I always wish I had one. I don’t sleep well on public transport and maybe not having a pillow is why but I cant myself be bothered to carry one. If your big into the comfort factor don’t forget it.

Take shoes off often and wear clean socks
This is a game changer, as soon as your on the train take your shoes off. The longer they're on the more time to stew and the more disgusted people will be when you realize just how uncomfortable you are with them on. Just get it over with or wear flip flops no one likes the midnight foot stank.

You’ve survived, pat yourself on the back and go to the bar if its still open

Since coming to the country I had heard from various sources that Queensland if full of crazy people, if that's true then the train I was certainly on a Queensland bound train. People watching was incredibly entertaining, one man with a distinctive southern USA accent prowled the aisle occasionally popping a cigarette into his mouth looking like he was about to light it. Every now and again his companion an Australian would appear loudly reminding him if he lit it they would both be thrown off the train. It was like a bogan convention in the back loud chattering and rush as they leapt off the train every stop for a puff of a cigarette before sneaking back to their seats. The conductor came into the car proclaiming that he was unawares if people are just thick but next time you get off the train to smoke bring you bags because you aren’t getting back on. I enjoyed watching a particularly high strung couple pace up and down the aisle huffing in frustration at the inconvenience of not being able to smoke for the eternity that that train takes.
Ill probably be quitting after this pack due to the ridiculousness of the situation, thankfully I can handle a long train ride with out craving one.

I looked out the window for a long while, not entirely sure where we were but seeing enough in the dark to know it was the middle of fucking no where. The landscape rose and fell with a series of small hills. It was farmland as far as you could see by moonlight, only the occasional house light was all that was visible. As we moved farther North fog created pools in the lower areas of the ground wrapping trees in a haunting white glow. The train illuminated small portions of the ground as we took turns I could see down the length to the front of the train. We were in darkness and the only source of artificial light in the area.

I watched the scene to The Flashbulbs album Arboreal which I feel is one of the best albums to accompany any eye candy. Smoking a joint one night back in the New York days I found it the perfect pair to silent Planet Earth Oceans episodes. The 5 hours in darkness was spent staring off at this unusual scene until I began nodding off by the window. Its never really restfully sleeping but drifting off half dreaming to be brought back by any intrusion. The conductor came by around 2:00 waking up the sleeping travelers to get off at Casino where the bus would pick us up for the final stretch.

I couldn't see anything of my stop Casino but the sign proclaimed it to be the Beef Capital. Quite an exciting claim standing outside the station in the cold at 2:20 am. The buses were parked and we were all gathered around waiting patiently to get out of the nipping breeze. The driver was a short fat and happily passive aggressive man that took his time allowing us to hand over our bags, or in my case not at all before being allowed to get on the bus. I sat towards the back and promptly passed out again woken by every stop to Byron. When arriving there I was of course sleeping as well as I had the whole night it took two announcements to get me up.

I left the bus thanking the unsettling happy man and walked out into what had to be the coldest weather i’ve experienced to date in Australia. I had no idea where the hostel was all I knew was it'd be at least 3 hours before I could get there. I went into the first bathroom I could see and piled on clothes. 2 shirts, 2 sweaters, a scarf, hat and gloves. It wasn't great but the best I could do. I walked towards the direction I thought the beach was it was no considerable distance and easy to find considering it was roaring like trucks on the highway. I wandered a bit more than necessary but found the bay, trade mark lighthouse on the hill and all. It was too dark to see what anything really looked like and it was only about 445, sunrise was still a ways away. I set up my tripod and started fiddling with the camera.

I'm likely a strange sight to see on the beach early mornings, I need to move around while taking pictures so generally ill sing songs and do a bit of a dance, noting fancy pretty stupid in fact but who gives a shit when I’m alone (or think I am)  on the beach. I sang Frozen because that's basically what I was becoming and created variations on Mr. Sun excited beyond belief to see little by little the sky change color with its rising.

I needed coffee, badly. I made a pact with myself when traveling I will not skimp on coffee anymore. The instant that a lot of Australians drink is garbage, I love coffee with such a passion its worth the money. At 7am I left the beach to search for a cuppa. I found a small cafe not too far away with booths that I desperately wanted to park my butt on and ordered a long back. Australians despite having good tasting coffee believe less is more on the actual coffee amount, most drinks contain more milk. I struggle to find a place that will pour me a heart attack inducing mug of pure caffeine. I can say sipping out of a tiny cup is very enjoyable and quite relaxing but sometimes I just need a big old cup of American joe, it was that kind of day. I sipped the coffee restraining myself from boorishly sucking it down and remarked at the fact they were playing classical music. I love classical music but not here and not now, I needed pumped up music or to get to the hostel.

Finishing up writing in my notebook I downed the rest of my drink as elegantly as possible and wandered off looking for any sign of Nomads Hostel. After a bit of walking in the wrong direction I entirely by accident stumbled on it. They had just opened and weren't sure if they could yet accommodate me, I was so early. I didn't care about the room quite yet a shower was calling my name, no screaming it. I dropping off my stuff in the storage closet and practically ran up stairs to take one of the longest showers of my life.

After cooking a brekkie of two eggs I had packed in a plastic container with amazing foresight I went back down to reception where I got my room. Going upstairs I turned on my computer and attempted to fight my the system to download some photos to my filled up drive. I layed down for a half a second and fell asleep till 12.

Not one to ever waste a day when I have limited time I set off immediately to find a dive shop that sells snorkels. I packed my camera in the waterproof case and walked towards the beach to see it in all its bright warm glory. The waves were rough I watched them slam down and imagined myself camera in hand being rubbed raw against the sand. I went in the water, it was murky and filled with sea weed. The photographs were meh and the current made me aware that likely I would need a set of fins as well to be comfortable being dragged around. I left unsatisfied but aware that more opportunities this week would be coming my way. I went back to the hostel and got dressed it was around 3:00 and I wanted to take a walk to the lighthouse which seemed about an hour away.

The path to the lighthouse followed the dramatic coast so distinctive to this country as I walked up and down the path. Passing small beaches and walking along the cliff side I got there in time to see the sun set behind the distant mountains creating a golden glow over the shadowed landscape. Snapping photos I met an older gentleman who asked me what kind of lens I was using, I had my new Tokina 11-16 mm out and in action. He remarked he had just bought a Nikon D5100, the same model as mine and was looking to expand his knowledge of photography. We ended up talking for a long time maybe about an hour about photos and his desire to go to the USA and find work. He like I had months ago was unhappy with the same thing and wanted desperately to travel. I was so happy to encourage it, wander lust it seems never really leaves. By the time we finished talking he biked off into the darkness and I set off along the path through the trees. I became aware I was walking on the side of a cliff and couldn't see I promptly took out my ipod flashlight. Walking through the bush after dark is an eerie experience, bush turkeys loomed in the trees making sure at every opportunity to scare the shit out of me as I passed by rustling and flying into the branches in the loudest way possible.

I wandered for about 30 mins on this new path unawares of where it would lead, lights were only sometimes noticeable however the area wasn't big enough to really get lost I thought mainly of woods people and with some amusement drop bears. If was a good walk back and on the way I though of the beers I would reward myself with. For the most part being of very modest income I generally spend the least amount of money possible, lately however I’ve been finding those little things like going to a bar for a beer after a good adventure is whats missing in my travels. The little things are a big deal so I'm now taking the opportunity to enjoy them more thoroughly. Whats the point of traveling if all I do is worry about money anyways.

I had two craft beers at a place called The Balcony, very fancy it made me miss the micro brews of NY. Australia from what I understand is starting to develop more craft breweries its relatively her there aren’t way too many I've seen yet but I was impressed with White Rabbit Dark ale and Knappstein Lager especially. I sat drinking writing in my diary quietly giggling at my own jokes and good wit generally just looking a bit crazy, there was a silent couple sat at the table next to me probably wondering what exactly I was drinking. I left the bar and went back to the hostel parking myself on a bean bag to go through photos, ended up skipping da club all the others were going to in favor of an early nights sleep. Wanted to be as well rested as possible for the greyhound journey to Surfers Paradise.

I'm on the greyhound now, well not this second I’m in a rest stop now drinking coffee as quickly as the heat will allow. I’ve been writing since the going to the stop at 9, its now 1130. I haven’t gotten car sick in years but typing on a bus is not nearly as comfortable as on a train, I think a motion sickness pill might be necessary for the 16 hour journey to Sydney on Sunday. A little over an hour to go till surfers paradise, I think I’ve assaulted your eyes with enough words for one day. One more amusing thing however we passed by a building on the side of the road I thought a cloud of dust was coming off the ground from cars and though dirt road how quaint, the building was Mecca Crematorium. Awkward. Back to the bus, so happy not to need to type anymore its hard writing not looking at the screen.

Sorry for no photos, its quite hard to find the time to do all this things I normally do when writing a blog post. Also sorry for the rushed editing I sat for 2 hours going over it before realizing oh my god I'm in Surfers Paradise and I'm on the computer haha. As usual all photos I've taken that I like can be found at victoriafennell.com. PS. got a twitter see what I'm up too in 140 words or less! @torifennell

(SPOILER: Drinking and taking photos)