Monday morning I filed for an expedited replacement, overnighting the form (and $100) to Seattle. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday give the State Department their 36 hours. So now, in the middle of the night on Thursday, my new passport should be winging its way overnight to Boulder.
Unfortunately there is no sign of it in the USPS's web tracking system, so I go to bed not knowing if tomorrow will be spent on a plane to Australia or working on my final project for my Science Writing class.
It turns out to be both. At 8 a.m. the phone rings and it's the worlds most helpful postal employee. She has my passport and the flight doesn't leave till 1 p.m. Plenty of time.
My driving is suspect at the best of times, but in a foreign country, driving on the left for the first time, and with a non-driver navigating its a miracle we survive the egress from Melbourne.
Things I now know about driving in Australia:
Our mountain of gear contains neither a tent or a stove, so our days start with us rising from bivy sacks and begging coffee from a kind neighbor. After breakfast we do a few routes until the sun chases us into Natimuk(5 min) for a siesta and ice cream (daytime highs were close to 40C while we were there). In the evenings we usually do a few more routes before driving into Horsham(15 min) for dinner at the Baghdad Cafe, a funky little gourmet place we both loved.
The Australian ratings incorporate endurance, technical difficulty, and sparseness of protection into a single number on an open ended scale. The technical climbing starts around 10 and today the top of the scale is around 32. Grades 17-18 are 5.9ish, 20 is supposed to be mid to low 5.10, and 22 gets you to 5.11a.
I found the ratings pretty inconsistent though and under grade 15 they seemed completely random. While having one number sounds like a nice simple idea, in practice it's bad. A climb labeled 20 can be a few difficult moves, sustained climbing at grade 18, or an unprotectable grade 16. We got fully stuffed a few times picking climbs by numbers.
Some notable ticks (length, grade):
Christmas day we tick Debutante(115m 15) before a big storm rolls in. For Christmas dinner we grill veggie burgers on a coin-op barbie and sip champagne out of yogurt cups. At dark we drive the micro rental car up a deserted dirt road and crash in the front seats as we watch the lightning lash the hilltops. Not everyones idea of a perfect Christmas, but we nod off with smiles on our faces.
With no sign of the storm clearing the day after Christmas we decide to drive The Great Ocean Road (Australia's equivalent of California's Hwy 1). Lots of blurry pictures of Jenny and I pitched over at 45 degrees as the wind howls over the spectacular ocean scenery. These are the same winds that reeked havoc on the yachts in the Sydney to Hobart race.
December 28, Jenny and I part company in Melbourne. She returns to Hong Kong in search of a job, I am off to Cairns in search of more adventure. So far Jenny and I have traveled to five different countries together. Who knows where will be next?
I'm in Cairns to scuba dive, but of course there is a problem. In the commotion with my passport I left my dive card sitting on my bedroom floor. Doh! It takes several trips to the public access internet place to straighten it all out. I email Robert my housemates phone number, he calls them up, goes over and gets my card, takes it to Kinko's and faxes it to Australia. The result in an incomprehensible smudge, but the dive folks seem content. On with the show!
I spend New Years Eve at the travelers bar in Cairns dancing to '80s euro-pop hits. Mercifully, the Dutch bikini team has other plans.
I'll be on the boat for 4 days, so I lock my stuff in the Hostel's storage closet. Actually the dive folks aren't picking me up till 3, so I lock everything except my laptop in the storage closet and go off to do some reading and writing.
When I show up at 3 my ride is promptly there. Unfortunately, the office staff for the hostel is not. There is no way to retrieve my dive gear. Rats! I set off for a 4 day dive trip with nothing but my laptop. In case you are curious, no, its not water proof.
At the dive shop I buy shorts, a shirt, some sunblock and a few paperbacks. Luckily they have all the dive gear I will need on the boat. My roommate wants to know when I'm going to unpack. "Ummm, I already did"
We spend the rest of the day snorkling and I make my best sighting of the trip. A manta ray that is close to 2 meters wide. It is chillingly beautiful as it flutters along, just a few meters below me. It has the powerful grace of a dance, but something in its form just screams menace.
The diving is good, but not great. We see sharks, sea turtles, giant clams and plenty of big fish. While there are lots of interesting things to see, there aren't the huge schools of colorful fish that I saw diving in Cabo San Lucas.
The days pass easily on the boat though. We are 100 miles off shore in the Coral Sea, and our days have a simple pattern: wake, eat, dive, eat, dive, eat, dive, sleep. The crew and other passengers are huge amount of fun and we are up to all hours trading stories. There is something profoundly relaxing about being at sea.
Not just a few sharks, more like 20 or 30 sharks, and not all small sharks, they ranged in length from a meter to more like four meters. The sharks would swim up to the chain, bite off a hunk of fish and then swim right up into my face. They'd stare me down, waving their tasty treat in my general direction, then give a head fake and go whipping by. I nearly wet myself. Thankfully I have it all on video so there is no need to do it again.
We 1-hour her photos and head to the dock where the crushee is preparing for the next trip. He is supremely uninterested in her photos and tampax-woman has a hard time accepting that this isn't going her way. We retire to a bar above the dock and drink down a chain of beers waiting for the moment where I get to photograph her looking on forlornly as the the boat with the crushee sails off into the sunset. Not satisfied with her effort, she pens a letter to him on the back of a photo and we slip it under the door of the dive shop.
I'm highly amused. It isn't often I get to see someone who isn't me act this looney. Of course, being amused doesn't do wonders for my karma and at the blackjack table I lose a $100 while tampax-woman rakes in $500.
There is one last dinner with tampax-woman, a cozy outdoor place with a harbor view, before she needs to start casting for her shoot. I'm on my own again and go on the tourist war path. The opera house, Sydney tower, the red-light district, Bondi beach, I tour them all.
While I'm eating I notice a guy having dessert and reading a paper. We make eye contact and I wave him over to my table. He turns out to be an ex-pat pommie who has lived in Australia for 25 years. We have a great chat about different cultures. He hadn't had dinner, just pie and cappuccino so, I pick up his tab figuring I'm doing my part to encourage Aussies to befriend lonely tourists.
The guy wants to return the favor and offers to buy me a drink. He says he knows a great little place nearby and I have no other plans, so what the heck. As we are walking to the place I notice he has an annoying habit of grabbing my elbow as we cross streets. What's up with that I wonder? But hey, I'm in a foreign country so I play along.
The place of course turns out to be a full on flamer fest complete with transvestite cabaret singers.
Airborne, the purser proudly announces that the flight crew got on the plane only 5 minutes before us, but still managed to get us off the ground. I decide it's a really good time for a nap.
Now I'm back and beginning my second semester. But of course, dreams of escalation are floating through my sun soaked mind. I'd love to do a year or two world wide trip. See it all, climb it all, do it all. Unfortunately most of my friends seem emotionally attached to their careers lately. Oh well, some day soon...