Posts Tagged Squatter

Highs and Lows Come and Go

On our 30/40 World Tour, we would typically book our accommodation before we arrived in a new location. However, on the Oz Experience bus tour, we didn’t have much downtime to do research online. Because of the mechanical problems, we usually arrived at our hotel/hostel late and were so excited to have a bed for stretched out sleep. (Sleeping on a bus can get a bit cramped.) We also had to wake up early to cover the mileage the next morning, so neither the evenings or mornings gave us much time to surf.

Melbourne

Ms. HalfEmpty & Mr. HalfFull in downtown Melbourne

Everyone else on the bus tour had a reservation in Melbourne – even the backpacker teenagers! (I wonder if their moms booked it.) So Squatter made the rounds through Melbourne dropping people off at their various hostels. After my two nights on the tour, I knew I wanted a nicer place to stay. So we got off at the last stop and started walking toward St. Kilda.

We were tired and hungry at this point, which is not a great combo for a traveler with no idea where she is going and a heavy pack on her back. I don’t do so well with the unknown, especially under those circumstances. Mr. HalfFull often reminds me to live my way into the answers and embrace the unknown. But it’s so hard! I like to have a plan and direction.

Our goal was to find a restaurant with free wifi where we could eat and book a hotel like hobos with all our luggage. Even though we traveled light, I still found it a little embarrassing to have so much stuff at a nice restaurant. But they were super gracious at Phamish café and didn’t seem to mind. We were “phamished” so we ordered the sampler appetizer, which turned out to be a huge platter with all sorts of foodie deliciousness. It was quite a contrast from eating powdered eggs.

We didn’t find a lot of reasonable accommodation options in St. Kilda. There were a couple of fancy hotels, but they were rather pricey. I was leery of sketchy places after our last two nights, but reluctantly I consented to a hostel called The Coffee Place. I think its name and color scheme was the only reason I thought it might be okay.

When we arrived, I wasn’t so sure. It was basically run by kids playing video games. In other words, it could have been a frat house. I’m too old for this!

We went up to our room by climbing several flights of stairs. The door wasn’t secure like a front door; it was more like a lightweight bedroom door. Inside everything was clean, but very sparse. There was almost no furniture aside from the bed. However, there was one small built-in shelf with a coffee maker – after all, it was The Coffee Palace.

After seeing the room, I lost it. This was no palace. The tears streamed down my cheeks. There was really nothing wrong with the room; it was fully functional, clean, and spacious. I think I was just exhausted from the bus tour; I didn’t get my afternoon naps or sleep-in time in the mornings! Plus, I was an introvert on a bus full of people for three days. I was drained from all the interaction. I guess six weeks of being on the move left me feeling rather half empty – maybe even completely empty.

Phamish cafe

Ms. HalfEmpty enjoying cappuccino at Phamish café

We enjoyed Phamish café so much that we went back there for breakfast the next morning. I had a cappuccino and internet time…I was back baby! Plus, we were staying at The Coffee Palace for two nights, so I wasn’t lugging my bag around this time, and knew where I would be sleeping that night.

Mr. HalfFull loves sports; I become a football widow during the NFL season. We actually got married on a bye weekend for his football team! He also loves college basketball, and once again goes missing during March Madness. So he was super excited to have the opportunity to witness Aussie rules football in person.

It was game day, so we walked to the train station and were surprised that there were no ticket kiosks. A person on the platform informed us that you could buy tickets on the train. This seemed strange to us, but obviously we knew nothing about public transportation in Melbourne. So we boarded the train and found the ticket machine. We soon learned that the ticket machine only takes coins. What does an ATM not give you? Coins!

So we had no coins and couldn’t buy tickets; I felt like a fugitive. Hopefully, they would let us play the dumb American card. We really did have the best of intentions!

Melbourne Cricket Ground

Mr. HalfFull looking for tickets outside the Melbourne Cricket Ground

Finally, we arrived downtown at the enormous stadium that seats over 100,000 people. We were about to engage in some more illegal activity. We didn’t have tickets and were scouring the crowd outside the stadium looking for scalpers. We knew the game was a huge local rivalry between Carlton and Collingwood and thus, was sold out.

We didn’t find the shady people Mr. HalfFull was seeking, so we headed to the club ticket counter. The woman informed us that indeed the game was sold out, but she told us to look for scalpers and warned us not to pay more than face value. An employee advised us to seek out scalpers! Is scalping not illegal in Melbourne?

We walked all the way around the stadium with no luck. Mr. HalfFull didn’t seem so half full and resigned himself to the fact that we weren’t getting into the game. Then he spotted a guy with long hair, facial hair, tattoos, and rings on every finger. He looked like the type of guy you didn’t want to fight. Mr. HalfFull thought he might be a scalper. We hung around to listen to his conversation and learned that he too was looking for tickets.

Stadium Family

Ms. HalfEmpty in the MCG stadium with the side of the family who supports the Carlton Blues

Our chances seemed pretty much exhausted when I overheard the conversation of a family nearby. They were talking about how it was too bad that “those two” couldn’t come. What? Two tickets?

So I butted into their circle and asked if they had two extra tickets. They did, but they were tickets for children. Bummer!

Stadium Family

Mr. HalfFull with the other brother who's a fan of the Collingwood Magpies

We started walking away when they said, “But we aren’t going to use them, so you’re welcome to try. Just walk in with us and be our kids for the day! There’s no harm in trying.” I didn’t know what the penalty was for using the wrong age-group ticket, but we had already ridden the train illegally, so what the heck! Weren’t the Australians descendants of criminals anyway? (Kids, this is why they tell you not to smoke because it’s just a gateway to more and more.)

The tickets worked and we all got in! The introvert had accosted strangers in a foreign country to fulfill Mr. HalfFull’s dream. It was amazing.

Inside MCG

Watching Aussie football inside MCG stadium

The stadium was huge and circular, unlike our oblong stadiums. It was impressive to watch these super fit athletes play with no padding. There was a lot of leg to tantalize the ladies. Plus, there were no big bellies like in the NFL. Even the referees were super fit.

The family we sat with explained the rules to us; they were so much fun. We tried to pay them for the tickets and buy them beers, but they didn’t want anything. They even emailed us a few days later to ask if we wanted to grab “a pot.” After looking that up online, I learned that it’s beer, not tea.

Meat Pie

Sampling meat pie at the stadium

We knew that meat pies are an Aussie football stadium staple. Even after our disappointment with pies in Sydney, we tried the stadium fare. It was okay. I guess they can’t make them like the flaky pastries in New Zealand because it needs to be self-contained and more spill-proof for the stadium.

Red Stitch Theater

Ms. HalfEmpty at Red Stitch Theater

That evening we had tickets to see a play called My Romantic History at Red Stitch theater. It was a super cute playhouse. Much of the play took place in the bathroom and the set consisted of three bathroom stalls. That brought our live theater count to six on the 30/40 World Tour.

Mr. HalfFull got his football and I got my theater. It was a good day all around, especially considering the tears the night before.

  • Do you make reservations before you arrive or wing it?
  • How do you handle the unknown? Are you able to relax and let things unfold?
  • Did you have a breaking point while traveling? What helped you get over it?
  • Have you broken the rules while traveling?
  • If you are not normally a sports fan, do you still think it would be interesting to witness in a foreign country?
  • Have you been surprised by the kindness of strangers?

Related:  All posts in the 30/40 World Tour series

Ms. HalfEmpty is a 30-something introverted realist, perhaps a pessimist. But she’s trying to see the world half full on halfempty4now.com, which she started in February 2011. Her worldview may not be all bad, as it probably helps keep her husband, Mr. HalfFull, grounded and out of trouble!

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1 Bus, 3 Days, 1000 Kilometers

Oz Experience Bus

Squatter walking back to the Oz Experience bus, which acquired quite a bit of dirt along the journey

Australia is a big country.  We knew we couldn’t see it all on our schedule, so we chose a small part.  We flew into Sydney, and knew we were flying out of Melbourne.  So Mr. HalfFull decided that it would be fun to see the part in between from the ground, and booked us on an Oz Experience bus tour.

Squatter

Squatter breaking for lunch after our hike to the summit on the final day

Our driver was an ex-military officer named Squatter.  Even though he currently owns his own house, I think he got the name from squatting at his mom’s house too long.  Anyway, he was a great storyteller and made the ride a lot of fun.

We arrived early at the meeting point in Sydney.  Everyone was just hanging around outside the bus, so we decided to get coffee.  It turned out to be a fairly complicated street to cross with inconvenient crosswalks and fast traffic.  By the time we got back, everyone had selected their seats on the bus.  One side had double seats and the other side had single seats.  Of course, most of the singles had reserved double seats for themselves in the front of the bus.  Mr. HalfFull and I wanted to sit together, so we were relegated to a double all the way in the back.  This was not a good start!

Australian Capital Territory road sign

Our whole bus group posing for a photo on the side of the highway

One of the first stops was on the side of the highway.  I was quite confused.  Was the bus broken?  Did someone need to pee?  No, Squatter thought it was a good photo-op with the Australian Captial Territory sign.  He gathered all our cameras as we huddled and shivered behind the sign.

Oz Experience bus on highway

Walking back down the hill to the bus on the side of the highway

Then he commenced talking about Australian war history. I suppose this was interesting to him because of his military background, but I was beginning to wonder if he ever talked about anything else.

As we slowed down in the capital city of Canberra, the bus repeatedly stalled at low speeds in traffic circles.  I was not impressed.  Already I was in the last seat listening to war stories… and now the bus didn’t even work properly!

War Memorial

Red flowers next to the names of the fallen at the War Memorial in Canberra

I soon learned why Squatter was telling us so much about wars.  Our first stop in Canberra was the Australian War Memorial, which is also a museum inside.  Mr. HalfFull enjoyed the exhibits, but I’m not a huge fan of museums.  So a museum about war wasn’t my cup of joe, but I could appreciate that it was a beautiful memorial building.

Canberra

View of a Canberra promenade from the War Memorial

Canberra was a strange city.  Apparently the citizens in Sydney and Melbourne couldn’t agree on which city would be the capital, so they created Canberra as the capital in between.  Canberra is a planned city (actually designed by Americans).  Rather than the usual grid of streets, Canberra follows a wheel and spoke model, so all the main promenades flow into the center of town.  These wide streets are huge and seemed strangely empty.  But Squatter said they were designed for the influx of millions of people for celebrations.  The normal population is much smaller; plus many of the ministers of Parliament don’t even live there full time.

Old Parliament

Old Parliament House with Aboriginal Embassy on the lawn including the word "SOVEREIGNTY"

Our next destination was the Old Parliament House.  When Parliament was in session here, the Aboriginals set up a tent city on the lawn across the street to demand their own embassy.  The tent city has become their embassy, but must be manned to remain so.  Squatter warned us not to take photos of them because it might start a fight.  I didn’t actually see any people at the camp and we took our photos from across the lawn, so I guess that’s okay.  It reminds me a bit of the Occupy DC camps that were recently dismantled.  However, the Aboriginal Embassy had a lot more green space and fewer tents (and no expensive name-brand camping gear; it was pretty decrepit).

Australian Parliament

Ms. HalfEmpty sips coffee in front of Parliament House in Canberra

Queen at Parliament House

British lad on our tour kissing the statue of the queen at Parliament House

After seeing the Old Parliament, we were off to the current Parliament building.  Squatter gave us a tour of the inside and made sure to add a lurid detail about each political figure as we passed his/her portrait.  The design for the building was selected through a worldwide architecture contest.  While the final result is impressive, it’s not terribly practical.  The flag that flies 81 meters high gets so tattered in the wind that it must be replaced every 2 or 3 weeks at great expense.  On our tour, Squatter dared the 18-year-old lad from the UK to cross the ropes and kiss the statue of the queen.  As he knew (and Michelle Obama learned), you can’t touch the queen!  Shortly thereafter, our group was reprimanded by a security guard.

Australia

View from the bus

The rest of our day was spent driving to our overnight accommodation.  After the decrepit nature of the bus, I was rather worried about where we would be staying.  But as we pulled up, I saw the word “hotel” and was relieved it wasn’t a hostel.  I already knew that we paid extra to have a private room, rather than be in a dorm-style hostel.  But if they had both types of accommodations at the same location, I figured I would be roughing it a bit.

Snowy River

At least the hotel had a nice view of Snowy River

I was right.  This was unlike any “hotel” I’ve ever encountered. We did have a private room, but it was so tiny.  It was basically just big enough for the bed and to swing the door open.  At the foot of the bed was a bookcase.  When I say at the foot of the bed, I mean touching the mattress so that the lower shelves were inaccessible.  This also made the far side of the bed inaccessible without crawling over your companion.  There was a small TV on top of the tall bookcase — far too high to watch.  It was plugged into the cable outlet, but not electricity.  So I brought it down and looked for an outlet.  There was only one, but the cord didn’t reach that far.  I had no idea why they had this TV in the room since it was unusable in the current setup.  We also shared a bathroom with the other room in our block.  Unfortunately for us, it was a dorm style room with 10 people!  The bathroom was a single toilet, single sink, and single shower all behind a single door — such a poor design for so many people.  Our dinner and breakfast were included in the “hotel” dining room mess hall.  Dinner wasn’t so bad, but breakfast was terrible.  They served military style powder eggs.  I was glad when our night was over!

Remember how I told you that the bus was stalling at low speeds in Canberra?  It continued to do this all day.  There was another Oz Experience busload staying at the same “hotel.”  That group was doing the reverse of our trip and would end up in Sydney, the location of the fleet’s mechanic.  So we switched buses with them and were on our way.  I wonder how they fared with the stalling bus.  I didn’t know it at the time, but it would become very important for us to have an operable bus for the terrain we would encounter the next day.

Toboggan Hike

Mr. HalfFull with his toboggan in search of a sledding hill

The “hotel” was mostly inhabited by skiers and boarders since it was at the base of a mountain.  We drove up to the ski area, but only had an hour, so it wasn’t enough time to actually ski — super disappointing!  Instead, we rented toboggans and practiced our most daring sledding moves.

Sledding

Looks like Mr. HalfFull found some snow. Did he leave any for the other kids???

We were a little out of control standing on the toboggans.  But it’s not our fault they don’t steer well!  There were only a few close calls with small children, but we didn’t take any out.  Although, we did see some of them take their friends out.  The real problem was that no one was telling the children not to walk up the middle of the hill where the sledders should be.  We tried to set a good example by walking up the sides, but the children never followed us.

Weighing Options

Mr. HalfFull weighs his options (with two rocks) in the wilderness. Don't fall in!

Back on the bus, our next adventure led us to remote mountainous roads that require a special driver’s license.  These are narrow dirt roads with curves and cliffs — no guard rails.  It was rather exciting at times.  (My mom would have been screaming.)

Squatter & Friends

A koala and other furry friends help Squatter drive the bus through harsh terrain

We stopped periodically to admire the landscape and take photos.  After one such stop, we all piled back on the bus.  But the bus wouldn’t go.

Apparently, there is a safety feature that if the door is ajar, you can’t accelerate.  So Squatter asked the person near the door to shut it.  This shutting process went on for minutes.  There were gentle closes and hard slams, but nothing seemed to allow the bus to accelerate.  Squatter was able to override this safety feature by using the hand brake.  But he knew he couldn’t drive like that for hours on these roads.

Tinkle Tour

Mr. HalfFull goes in search of a tree to tinkle behind

This location was so remote that there is no cell phone service.  So in addition to requiring a special driver’s license, you are also required to carry a satellite phone.  Squatter set up the satellite phone and called the mechanic, who conveniently never answered.  Fortunately, a Mexican girl in her early 20s had similar problems with her old car back home.  She suggested that we remove the fuse to disable the door safety feature.  It worked!

After getting back on the road, the microphone started acting up.  Squatter spent much of the trip telling us great stories about what we were seeing, and also about his experiences working with Aboriginal kids.  So the microphone was essential.

Fixing the Microphone

Squatter breaks out the toolbox to fix the microphone

The microphone was also essential for another reason — making sure all parties were on the bus.  Squatter told us a story about a previous trip where  a guy went into the woods to “hide an Easter egg.”  This trip included two buses with every seat filled, but no one bothered to do an actual count of passengers when they departed that particular stop.  The guy in the woods had been sitting in the back of the bus (I feel his pain) and no one alerted the driver that he was missing.  Apparently, this guy heard the bus engines start, which made him start running with his pants around his ankles and “Easter egg” all over.  He did not catch the bus, and the drivers didn’t realize he was gone until much later.

So on our trip, we would check in on the teams from each country.  Squatter, would ask for Team Germany and the two German girls would respond.  Team Mexico consisted of one girl.  Team Canada sat directly in front of us on the bus and consisted of a 30-something woman, her boyfriend, and her parents.  Team America was me and Mr. HalfFull.  When Squatter would call out, “Team America?” the Canadians thought it was hilarious to scream, “F*@# yeah!” in response.

For a while, Mr. HalfFull abandoned me to go sit up front and hold the microphone wire for Squatter so it wouldn’t be jostled on the rough roads.  Eventually that workaround was no longer effective and Squatter broke out the toolbox, and I got my husband back as a travel companion and seat pillow.

Remember that I told you about my applicator-less tampon experience?  It happened on this day of the journey out there in the middle of nowhere.  But at least there was a port-a-potty with toilet paper, and I didn’t have to use a tree for cover like Mr. HalfFull.

Dirty Bus

Ms. HalfEmpty is incredulous reading the message on the back window of the bus: "I wish my girlfriend was this dirty!!"

It was a dusty, bumpy journey and the bus certainly looked like it.  Remember the British bloke from above who kissed the queen?  He also decided to leave a note in the back window of our bus.  (See photo at left.)

Kangaroo & Joey

A kangaroo with a joey in her pouch

The next day was the final leg of the bus tour and included my favorite part — kangaroos!  I had seen kangaroos twice on the trip so far, but those were only in passing as we drove by.  This time we were in a field of kangaroos.  We were so close; some people in our group even touched the tail of a kangaroo.  It was amazing to watch them spring into the air in person.

Emu

The emu posed for a photo

We also saw an emu in the same field.  It was impressively large, but at least it wasn’t so close that it towered over us.  It fled pretty quickly and I never saw another one, unlike the swarms of kangaroos that allowed us to close in.

Our final adventure of the bus trip was a hike in Wilsons Promontory.  At the summit, we had a picnic lunch on the rocks and enjoyed the view.  From our vantage point, we could see two oceans!

Australian Poop

Can you guess which is emu poop and which is kangaroo dung?

I complain a lot about conditions like the bus and the accommodations.  I’m just not that rugged, and I do enjoy my creature comforts.  But I know we couldn’t have done all of that on our own.  The number of hours behind the wheel was insane; I don’t know how Squatter does it.  But that also meant that we had to wake up early, so he could cover lots of territory.

Kangaroo & Emu Crossing

Ms. HalfEmpty & Mr. HalfFull pose with the quintessential Australian roadsign

Three days was certainly enough for me, but there are people who take a series of these trips all the way across Australia and back.  In fact, the British lad did a 31 day tour across the United States!  I know that’s not my half empty cup of coffee, but we did have some great experiences and meet interesting people during our Oz Experience.

 

 

 

 

 

  • Where do you prefer to sit on the bus?
  • Do you ever stop on the side of the highway to take photos?
  • Do you enjoy war history?
  • Are you a fan of museums?
  • What do you think of the Aboriginal Embassy?  Does it remind you of Occupy DC?
  • Do you enjoy sledding as an adult?
  • Have you had vehicle issues while traveling?
  • What wildlife did you see while traveling?

Related:  All posts in the 30/40 World Tour series

Ms. HalfEmpty is a 30-something introverted realist, perhaps a pessimist. But she’s trying to see the world half full on halfempty4now.com, which she started in February 2011. Her worldview may not be all bad, as it probably helps keep her husband, Mr. HalfFull, grounded and out of trouble!

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