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An overnight bus trip down to Sydney, which arrived two hours early, and an hour and half train ride up to Woy Woy, followed by a half hour car ride with Nakita landed us at her family’s house in Macmaster Beach. It was good to see her; I hadn’t in about 8 months. We were very happy to be in a real home with a room to ourselves and endless good food. I put on a bunch of weight while we were there from constantly eating meals of meat and snacks of cookies and cupcakes and leftover desserts. It was amazing staying with them though. They were the best hosts we could have ever had. Her mom Amilia and step-dad Bevan were great to hang out with and very accomodating. The first night we ate almost an entire lamb, the next night we had steak, pizza after that, etc. Nakita was constantly baking treats for us as well. One day she took us for a walk up the highlands, which is a trail along a massive fjord that is one side of the bay that is Macmaster Beach. It gave us a great view of the beach and the ocean. The other side of the bay, a high fjord covered in houses, looked like Italy. She also took us on a walk to her family’s 9-acre block where their future home will be. The area they live in is gorgeous. The houses are in a forest of tropical trees, which leads to an abundance of spiders and dangers during high winds, and only a few minute walk to the beach. Nakita broke her mom’s salad bowl and Bevan made fun of her by telling her that he almost broke it once and her mother burst into tears.

The weather was back and forth so we spent equal time on our laptops and at the beach. We also went into Sydney for a day. We met up with Nakita’s sister Petea on her lunch break and after she got off work. We had lunch and some chocolate at a very fancy chocolatier restaurant. I trained down to Mascot Station and got a shirt for Dad at the Harley-Davidson dealership down there. We had planned to meet at the Sydney Opera House but we apparently communicated wrong because I sat there for an hour after we were supposed to meet and then left and walked partway over the bridge and then back through The Rocks. I eventually ran into them at 6 p.m., we were supposed to meet at four, outside of the Circle Quay train station, where they thought we were supposed to meet. Peta came shortly after and we walked over to a restaurant in Darling harbour; which has a very posh club scene. We had a nice dinner. I had a lamb burger while Alex had a kangaroo steak. Afterwards we walked back through town and went up the Sydney version of the CN Tower and took in a great night time view of Sydney. The downtown core is nestled in quite a small rectangle. We also got a look over at King’s Cross, where we would be going the next night clubbing. Apparently it’s got a bad reputation for prostitution and drive-by shootings. The police presence there is quite heavy in response to this well-earned reputation. We then walked back to the station along George Street and then arrived back home sometime later that night. Sydney kind of reminds me of a cross between Vancouver and San Fransisco with a bit of San Diego thrown in… It’s very Westcoast.

The next night we took the train into Sydney, with a $4 bottle of wine each in hand to meet Suz from Bali & Ko Phangan at a nightclub in King’s Cross. We met her perfectly outside a club called Sugarmill after taking quite a bit of asking to find it; almost as much as it took to find a pay phone that was 20 feet away from us. It was good to see her. We hung out in the bar/club and had a few pitchers with her, her and her friends, one of which we called fat Cashmore. Afterwards we went to another club in King’s Cross, and then apparently another very posh one on George Street called the Ivy which we weren’t even supposed to be in due to our dress and that it was a private function; and which I have no recollection of going to. Peta was surprised that we went there because of how posh it is apparently. We ended up traking the 7 a.m. train back to Woy Woy and were picked up by Nakita. I don’t remember anything between leaving the second club and driving back to the house in Nakita’s car. Alex said I was fine until we were leaving the last club when I was falling all over the place from being so tired. Alex kept talking about how it was light out when we left the club and how we had never done that before. I think I have a small recollection of that first glimpse of sunlight. I caught a lot of flack from the family that morning for still being drunk while I was eating my breakfast before going to bed.

The next night we were supposed to go to a rubics cube party with Peta but we were in no condition to. I had slept until 5 p.m. that evening and was still out of it. On our last day we had a nice barbeque out in a park with some nice steaks and then proceeded on to the Reptile Park. There we saw all kinds of Aussie wildlife, including kangaroos, koalas, and crocodiles. It was a good day. We also met Nakita’s brother who had just returned home from Schoolies the day before rocking a fohawk that his family beaked him pretty bad for. I also got to tell the whole family what sizzurp is.

We endured our 30 hours of travelling with the patience we have created in ourselves from all the travelling we have done in the past couple years. The plane rides were a piece of cake; what with the food, alcohol, movies, blankets, and sleeping pills. Sydney to Beijing was 11 hours and Beijing to Vancouver was 10.5 hours. The nine hours in the Beijing airport, atleast the first half, was the worst. I hadn’t brought any clothes besides a t-shirt and shorts and was shaking I was so cold. We ended up taking refuge in the airport Pizza Hut for 4 hours because it was about 15 degrees warmer than the rest of the airport. Arriving home was strange; two days later it stills feels like a dream.

Steeves

Byron Bay

Getting to Byron Bay from Surfer’s proved to be a hassle. The government Translink website gave us a route to follow by public bus down the Gold Coast, but apparently it was incorrect. We ended up getting dropped in Nusa Heads and found that no public buses went any closer to Byron than that. So we were forced to wait around until three that day for a private bus down. We spent the four hours waiting in a Mcdonalds on the internet after being denied wi-fi for most of our time in Surfer’s.

We eventually made it down to Surfer’s and were accosted by a number of hostel-pushers as we got off the bus; albeit in a very lazy manner. We took a bus to one but it turned out to be much more expensive than the one we ultimately chose for $22 per night: Main Beach Backpackers. We got lucky there by getting one of the six-bed dorms. The people we talked to who stayed in the sixteen-bed dorms hated it and got little or no sleep. The hostel was nice and had free wi-fi. The people there were mostly great as well. Flow, a guy who worked and lived at the hostel, apparently was the source of much drama. We met up with Tom from Surfer’s once again and had some drinks with him a few nights. In the two weeks we were there we probably had 8 boxes of goon. On separate nights we each had a bit too much and weren’t allow into the bar. We got lucky most times with the people we ended up rooming with in our dorm; lots of people from all over the world. Most nights we would drink out on the patio of the hostel on one of three long picnic tables with whoever was out there. We hung out a bunch with a couple girls from Ottawa. We also hung out a couple times with a British guy who was a Russel Brand look alike as a profession. He looked and acted the part very well. We spent a lot of nights at Cheeky Monkey’s which was bumpin’ every night. Cocomangas was brutal. Beaches was good the one night we went. The only thing wrong with the town was that we were there during Schoolies, so it was packed with 18 year olds who had just finished high school. But we usually got lucky and had a crew from the hostel to go out to the bar with.

The beach there is amazing. It rained a lot but we did get a few great days out there. I spent a few days walking it trying to get in some kind of exercise. I never made it to the lighthouse, as much as people always talked about how they were going there all the time. We met a guy there who looked exactly like Jin from Lost and surfed eight hours a day. He lived to surf and snowboard and would follow the seasons around the world. One day we had a good soccer game going on the beach with a crew from the hostel.

We ate a lot of the same food just like in Surfer’s. When the two weeks was up we were ready to head down to Nakita’s for some good food and shelter.

Steeves

Surfer’s Paradise

Although we landed in Brisbane we heard it was lame; so upon landing we hopped on a train immediately for Surfer’s Paradise. It felt weird being back in a developed country where everyone speaks English. It was like a different planet after being in Asia for so long. It was nice. The only thing that wasn’t nice was the cost of travelling there. Everyone told us to be ready to break down and cry when we were forced to start paying $25 a night to sleep instead of the usual $3-$5. It did hit our budgets pretty hard, but we took comfort in knowing we would be staying with friends for the last week of our trip.

A short train ride landed us in Surfer’s and we made out way across town to our pre-booked hostel, Cheers Backpackers. It’s a nice enough place, especially on the first night when we were the only ones in our four-bed dorm, but the fact that they don’t let you bring your own alcohol in is annoying. We only ended up getting caught once though; the manager seemed to be the only one who really cared. We did end up rooming with a couple random guys, including one who was a proffesional poker player, and complained frequently about how bad the dealers were in Surfer’s.

Surfer’s Paradise is relatively small in square mileage, but is full of massive residential towers, including the tallest one in the Southern Hemisphere. The first couple of days it felt strange walking around the city in just shorts until we realized everyone else was. We kept expecting to see men in suits going to work in a nearby office tower, but they were all just residential ones filled with vacationers like us. It’s long expanse of beach is gorgeous, but the water was about 15 degrees colder than in Bali. I would never have thought of Australia as being cold ever, but as they were still in their Spring at the time I guess it’s reasonable. The Coles was great there to. We started on our regular diet of toast, eggs, and peanut butter in the morning followed by pasta meals later in the day pretty quick and stuck to it. Eating all Coles brand items helped with the budget as well.

We met a few good people at the hostel and went out a couple nights with them, including a young German guy who had just finished high school, Tom, a Brit, and a 33 year-old Swedish bartender who traveled frequently and lived and acted like he was still 25. Our first night out we were shocked that everyone was wearing jeans, dress shirts, shoes, and heels, and that we weren’t going to get in the bar with shorts and flip flops on. Also having to pay cover wasn’t too fun either. The goon kept us happy though at $10 for 4.5 litres of 12% wine; even though it tasted so awful.

On the one Saturday we were there we did a pub crawl with all the hostels in town. We got loaded up on a bus and ushered around to a few different clubs on Orchard Avenue. I had a good time at several different bars, but it was so disorganized that I got lost a bunch of times, and Alex actually got left at the first bar and just went home after we realized everyone had left but him.

In all Surfer’s was fun, but we missed Asia. People were more stationary in there travelling here; getting jobs and such. We missed having new people and new destinations every few days. We kind of missed the ghetto feel of everything as well. One thing in Surfer’s that did make me laugh was this meat head who annoyed everyone at the hostel. It was funny to see him in the morning eating his eggs and rice immediately after arriving home from his daily gym session. I don’t think he ever really had anything to say besides the simple single lines from popular techno songs like ‘Barbara Streisand’. Alas we would make our way further south down the coast to the backpacker haven of Byron Bay.

Steeves

Kuta Beach II

After almost a week in Gili T we took the boat back to Kuta for a couple days before we would head down to Australia. We took the boat over with Chris, Suzanne, Claire, and Katie; Ben stayed behind one extra day to finish his PADI. We each had four breakfast boxes on the way. We stayed back at the same hotel and had a nice relaxing time. We went to Skygarden one last time and spent a couple more long hot days on the beach. Nothing else too exciting happened. We did some swimming in the pool which was much more refreshing than sitting in the heat on the beach.

We left for Australia leaving Suzanne, Ben, and Chris behind and headed to the airport. After a long walk down the road talking to dozens of cabbies we finally got a ride there for 25,000. We hit a roadblock when we tried to check in though. We didn’t know it but we needed a tourist visa to get into Australia. Fortunately the people at the airport were really nice and let us use a computer and printer in the back of the airport to print off our visas; which took about five minutes. We eventually made our way through check in and through to the bus shuttle to the airplane across the tarmac. As we were getting on the bus a drunk Aussie guy was getting off to use the washroom but ended up getting in an argument with airport officials and didn’t get on the plane afterwards. We did though, and so made our way down to Brisbane.

Steeves

Gili Islands

5:45 a.m. came fast, especially since I had a rough sleep all night while my body was metabolizing the deep-fried tapas I had been eating the night before. We took a small mini-bus with Chris and Ben to the east coast of Bali where we hung out in a restaurant until 8:00 a.m. when our speed boat, apparently the fastest in Bali, arrived to take us to Gili Trawangen, the biggest of the three main Gili Islands. On the way we each got a small water and a breakfast box, which included a tiny banana-bread pastry thing, three pieces of fruit, and a strawberry hard candy.

We arrived on Gili T at about 10:30 and were immediately accosted on the beach by guesthouse propietors. We almost decided on one but but ended up walking down the one main road to find our own. After a few looks we stopped at Rudy’s, a nightclub that had guestrooms in the back for 100,000, although every price everywhere is always negotiable. They were decently sized and clean but extremely drab. Also there was no wifi, but apparently wifi had just come to the island one month before and was to be found at four places on the island. We did little that day but eat, I don’t think we even went to the beach. That night was Friday night though, which was the big night of the week at the Irish bar on Gili T; apparently Gili T is the smallest island in the world to have an Irish bar on it. It was a good night as always.

The next day, not being satisfied with our room or it’s price, we found a new guesthouse a few streets back of the waterfront in the village for 70,000 a night. The manager would get extremely mad at us on the day we left because we would tell Suzanne, who also randomly ended up staying there, that we were paying 70,000 while she was paying 80,000; she wasn’t too upset though, it’s all in the game there. In the next few days we would met up with the British couples from before, Suzanne, and two Canadian girls, Claire and Katie. These people made up the best crew of the entire trip for us. We hung out at the beach and drank together multiple nights. We were planning on going snorkelling with Chris and Ben one day but had to postpone due to me getting a fever the night before; easily the worst night of the trip. We ended up going a couple days later fortunately. We saw some cool fish and turtles around the three main islands of Gili.

I did hike up the hill in the middle of the island one day and watch a bit of the sunrise from the Western, and mostly unpopulated, side of the island. Other than that not much happened. There was a night market with some great food we ate a bunch, and a good all day restaurant beside it as well that we ate at most days. There was not boiling water to be had on the island so my noodle diet stopped for a bit. I got talking a bit to a guy from California who told me that most of the locals made their own rice wine and would sell you a 1.5 litre bottle for 50,000, a very good price. We ended up having some a couple times and found it palatable.

Although we heard a lot about it we didn’t have much Arak, the locally produced alcohol. Apparently a few years back tourists were constantly dieing from the high levels of ethanol in the alcohol, from the high levels of gasoline being put into it. Fortunately though the government stepped in and executed the people making the alcohol and now it is much safer.

One of the coolest things I saw was the beginning of the Sunday afternoon, night/morning in Gili, English Premier League games one night. All the British guys we were with told us that on Sundays in England everybody is at the pub and completely wasted all day on Sundays. That Sunday night from midnight to 6 a.m. they were playing all of the usual games; which brought out every English guy on the island. Apparently by the end of the night is was getting pretty rowdy ( I only stayed for the first half of the first game). That night was our last on the Island and we were forced to say farewell to all the Brits save for Chris and Ben; whom we would see back in Kuta.

Steeves

Bali: Kuta Beach

At 12:30 a.m. we arrived in Bali. We had planned on sleeping in the airport until morning before finding a guesthouse, but the airport is too small for that. Arrivals is literally a single hallway leading to baggage claim, and then another short one  lined with money changers that takes you out of the airport. The most annoying thing is the overly aggressive porters who will literally rip your bag out of your hands and carry it the 100 feet through check out to get a tip from you; and there are like 20 of these guys standing around, it’s ridiculous.

We set out looking for cabs and almost headed out in one but jumped out after it started feeling a bit too shady. We took cover in the closing Starbucks outside the airport to browse our lonely planets and the internet. We met some guys inside who had missed their flight out. When the Starbucks closed we expected to get kicked out, but actually were invited in to hang out by the workers who had just finished their shift. They gave us some food that was leftover from the day, and even a beer each after they went out and got some and were drinking it in the Starbucks. The boss was even smoking at a table with a blatant ‘no smoking’ sign on it. We ended up staying until 2:30, which was too late because by then all of the cabs had packed up and left for the night. We had heard that we should only be spending 20,000 to get to Kuta, so we balked at offers of 50,000 from some random guys with cars on the road. We started out walking to Kuta for a few hundred meters before a passing cab agreed to take us for 30,000. We were especially lucky because it turned out that we were walking in the wrong direction anyway.

Driving into Kuta we saw a lot more Western businesses than we were used to in the rest of Asia, mostly due to Kuta being a surfing mecca. We got dropped off at the end of Poppies II and set out looking for a place to stay. We didn’t have much luck for the first while, but ended up running into two girls from Vancouver who walked us over to where they were staying on Poppies I. We checked in for two nights at Arena Hotel for 180,000 per night; not a bad deal for a last resort. The room and hotel were actually the nicest we’ve probably stayed in on our entire trip; we even had cable T.V., as well as a pool we never used.

The next day we browsed around our immediate surroundings. Our hotel was situated on the long alleyway that connects Poppies I and II. Poppies I is a small single lane road bursting with small shops selling all manner of counterfeit goods. It also has a number of convenience stores, but no 7-11. The Mcdonalds at the end of the road was great as it had free wi-fi and 25 cent ice cream cones. We ate our first meal at Sultan Kebab, a food court with ten identical little stands aggressively selling all types of Asian food. I think that they’re all owned by the same person though, as every 10 seconds one person or another would come up to the boss in the middle of the court for change. Nobody has change for any note over $2.

We made our way to the beach shortly after, where we would spend most of our days. The beach is amazing. The sand and the water are perfect. The plentiful waves were always packed full of surfers. We ran into Ross and Kirsty from Singapore after only a few minutes on the first day. They were also with a few friends of theirs from back home who had come to Bali for a couple weeks. That day we were given passes for a club called Sky Garden that night which advertised unlimited Heineken from 9-12 for $6.

It happened to be Halloween that night so we improvised costumes out of markers from a Circle K. I was David Bowie and Alex was Zorro. The British girls were pirates. We hit Sky Garden with a group of 9 and got a table upstairs playing drinking games for a couple hours. Then 11 p.m. hit and we went upstairs where girls were getting free drinks. It was a mad rush at the bar for the entire hour with many girls coming out with drinks spilled all over them. Eventually the free drinks ended though so we made out way back to Arena Hotel.

The next day we moved slightly down the road to a cheaper, 120,000 per night, accommodation. Walking down Poppies I that day I ran into Chris and Ben, two of the British guys that Suzanne had brought with her to the Full Moon party from Ko Samui. They became elated at the unlimited Heineken idea and we made plans to go out that night. Unfortunately we got a little mixed up on the meeting place, but eventually saw them at the bar later that night. Also that night they had free tapas at 11 p.m. to go along with free drinks for guys and girls at the same time. The bar that night was a free-for-all. While standing in the mob Alex had two girls trying to squeeze by him so he stuck out his elbows to block their path. It was a fun night nonetheless.

We had been thinking a bit about going to the Gili Islands so when Chris and Ben told us they were going two days later we made plans to jump on the same boat. We didn’t drink the night before, as we were getting picked up at 6 a.m. We did however go back to the bar at 11 p.m. that night for free tapas.

Steeves

Singapore

After spending an extra day lying on the beach in Ko Phangan we embarked on our longest single journey of our trip down to Singapore. At 6 a.m. we were picked up from out bungalow and driven in the back of a pick-up to the port. We then took a boat over to Surat Thani. Several mini-buses later we were down to the border and over into Malaysia. We made it down to Kuala Lumpur in the final mini-bus, I think three in total, and we were on a sleeper bus to take us to the end of the line in Malaysia. We got dropped a few kilometers away from Singapore at a massive bus station and were given tickets for a city bus that would come at 9:00 a.m.; we were dropped off at 8:00 a.m. We took the city bus to the border and tried to rush along with the mad scramble of people through customs. We came out last and realized that people were rushing this time purely to catch the bus which waited for about ten minutes for us; and we missed. We eventually caught the subsequent bus and rode to Singapore; that last part was simply Malaysian departure customs. We went through the same ordeal with the buses again before taking the final massive viaduct into Singapore.

We landed there, 28 hours after we left, with two young British couples that we had spent most of the trip with: Ross and Kirsty and Julian and Mandy. We had heard from Shawn, who had been there only a few weeks before, that the cheapest hostels were in Little India, so we took the very efficient metro over there with the Brits. After a short walk on one of the cramped streets of Little India, which to me seemed like a much cleaner version of what India must be like, we found The Prince of Wales, which had six beds available at $18 each including breakfast. Even though the hostel was one big room, it was partitioned into small eight-bed sections with low walls so that the six of us had our own space for the first few days.

I was looking forward to some real sleep after all the bus rides, especially after 11 hours of freezing cold on the sleeper bus with extreme air conditioning, but some wanted to go tour the city so we headed out. Singapore is a truly ultra-modern city. The skyscrapers are amazing and the city is both clean and efficient. The only thing that I didn’t like was that I had to wear a shirt and sweat all day. We had dinner, or tea as the British call it, at a food court in Chinatown. It was the back home food court Chinese food that we had been looking for all over Asia. I had some ramen noodle soup which was delicious. At about 7:30 it became dark and the city around the marina light up. There are about a dozen light art installations around the marina which are cool, but the buildings themselves are all light up different colours creating an amazing nighttime skyline. After enough browsing we hopped back on the metro and headed back to the hostel in Little India.

The next day we found a restaurant across the street called Apu’s. For $4 we got a massive spread of chicken, potatoes and vegetables, all in different sauces, rice, and a crisp kind of bread for scooping. We found that we were the only people in the restaurant using cutlery not getting our hands covered in sauce. That day we found that the hostel had wicked fast wi-fi, so coupled with us being tired from the past two days we spent all day in bed streaming video on the internet.

The next day Alex and I did the South Ridge Walk; a beautiful walk through raised and non-raised paths through some of the last pieces of forest in Singapore. We started too far north unfortunately though and had to bus to the far edge of Kent Park. We walked through several parks and over several small mountains on the continuous path. The view of Singapore is wicked, and the path itself is gorgeous. On the way home we stopped in Chinatown and found a massive food market just outside the metro stop. We had duck. It was delicious.

The day after we walked along Orchard Avenue, basically the Singapore equivalent of Rodeo Drive, and took in the architecture and early Christmas decorations. On our final full day I walked through Singapore by myself and took in the massive skyscrapers and the downtown core. I loved it. I think it’s what Vancouver is going to look like in the near future. I also ended up walking all the way home for the first time. The three tower building with the boat on top will probably never be popular enough to build in the West though.

On our final day we were flying out to Bali at 9:30. Other than leaving for the airport we left the room one other time to get food in Chinatown. After eating several times at Apu’s we had to stop. The plates were just too filling and would sit in our stomachs like rocks. The Brits had all left for Bali previously and we were looking forward to seeing them again. Ross introduced me to dubstep which is wicked. The dubstep scene in Manchester is massive apparently. He also told me about Project Warehouse, which is a multi-level car park where world-famous dj’s perform, even though the venue only holds a couple thousand people. The Singapore airport is just as big and new as the one in Beijing. It’s like another massive soccer stadium.

Steeves

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