10 – 13. December
We had a late evening flight to Sydney, from Auckland, so we knew we would probably not see much of Sydney until the morning. We arrived with much ease because I had learned my lessons about filling in customs forms. Patrick had managed to book a room at the YMCA in downtown Sydney, in a central location. It was easy enough to take the underground there and after a few wrong turns, we finally ended up in the lobby. Our room was small and we had to get used to shared toilets again, but an ample breakfast was included, it was clean and had wireless in the room - what more could you want.
Early the next morning, after filling our bellies at breakfast we headed out to the German consulate. In Miami, almost 6 months ago, Patrick had applied for a new German passport. He knew we would get to Sydney regardless of our plans so he had the passport sent there, instead of San Francisco. A bit of a walk later, through some beautiful residential neighborhoods, we were buzzed into the front gate, he said who he was and without needing to show ID had the new passport in his hands within minutes. German efficiency is so good in situations like this. Inside we met a guy from Ireland who was hoping to gain some information about working in Germany but the consulate was not able to provide much. Patrick helped him out and bit and soon thereafter we ready to explore the rest of Sydney.
Sydney feels very much like home - or any other cosmopolitan city. Besides an unfamiliar accent, the way of life is not distinguishable from perhaps life in New York or London. People are business oriented, well dressed and international. The city is clean and approachable, though the people are less so. We marveled at the shopping opportunities and the Internet super cafes that can be found almost everywhere. Global Gossip is one of the bigger chains with cafes that have over 50 computers and 10 international phones. We strolled George Street, Patrick found a mini-technology heaven and we took in an afternoon movie, which felt decadent. Though the city is considered to one of the most expensive, we found a saloon serving $7AUS steaks and it was just the perfect place to rest our tired feet.
The next day we went to check out Darling Harbour. A stroll around Darling Harbour is indeed a rather delightful way to spend the afternoon. The boats that are docked there kept Patrick fascinated a while before we stopped to enjoy a beer in the afternoon sun. Sydney's weather was just showing the signs of Spring and we were happy to be sitting outside and enjoying the view. It made us realize that we wished that San Francisco had more outside seating opportunities - but I suppose you need the good weather for that. We took one of the bridges across the Harbor and walked towards the Opera House.
We arrived at the Opera House and joined the many folks just free from work for an afternoon drink. On the way, we found a cinematic arthouse and decided to indulge our cravings for a movie. We bought our tickets and had plenty of time, so we kept on walking. The bar along the Quay offers an incredible view of the Opera House and the harbour. A few groups lingered for cocktails, dressed for the Opera, so we assumed there was a performance or gala. We watched the colors of dusk change in the sky and watched as the Opera House illuminated its white sleeves. We had the perfect seat to watch Sydney at night come to life. Gently buzzing, we walked through the crowds back to the arthouse. Sean Penn's movie "Into the Wild" (really nice movie, worth watching if you can) is the story of a young man's travelling journey. Quite a different story than ours, it still reflected to us how travel and transformation go hand in hand. After the film, we stepped out onto the boardwalk and loved the beautiful atmosphere. It looked something like this...
14 – 19. December
In opposite directions
We arrived at the train station by 7am, though my train left shortly after Patrick's It was strange to be parting ways - we had not officially done that yet and here were on the platform of the station, saying farewell. I would go north and he south. We would see each other again in 5 days at the Sydney Airport and the get on a plane bound for Indonesia.
Written by Alex
As part of my graduate work I had stumbled upon a woman in Byron Bay, who ran a pregnancy retreats. Curious about her and her work, I was determined to visit Byron Bay on this 10 month trip. In fact, it was one of my necessities. I knew little about the area, only that it was closer to Brisbane than Sydney and that it was the hippy capital of Australia. Go figure. Before visiting I also learned that Olivia Newton John has retreat center there and that it is actually a magically in tune sort of place. I was not willing to cancel my visit there, no matter what.
I arrived very late in Byron - a bus had picked me from the train station and dropped me in the middle of town. The place I picked to stay was the Arts Factory, a funky commune style - party hostel that promised yoga and organic food. When the shuttle bus did not show, 2 girls and I simply asked for directions and started to walk. Ambiguous nods in that direction were indeed right, but the route was dark and party unpaved. I was glad I was not walking alone. Arrival at the Arts Factory was culture shock - young, free, lively, stoned, jazzed and happy. Does that make sense? My bed was still reserved for me and when I walked into my bunk room, the reality of what I had just signed up for hit me. What the hell was I doing? Where is Patrick? The bathroom counter tops were full of curling irons and eye lash curlers and the mini skirts in the room couldn't have gotten any shorter. I tried to fit, but I just didn't. I went downstairs, ordered a smoothie, played on the Internet and then went back to my top bunk. The girls in my room were sweet and we did spend some time talking before most of them left for the evening. One sweet girl from Holland was unimpressed by the partying and stayed behind as well - I think we were asleep before the lights even went off.
The next morning I knew I couldn't stay here - especially not for 4 more nights. And I needed quiet and space, to allow for the introspective state I was finding myself in. I called Belongil Beachouse, reserved a bunk and headed back to the road to catch the shuttle. When I arrived at the beach and knew this is where I needed to be. This new room had the same amount of bunks but the room was 3 times as big and only 4 of the bunks were being used. It was basic, but it would do. And, I was just feet away from the ocean.
One door down I had an organic cafe and 5 doors down was a yoga studio that was offering free classes for the week before Christmas. The cafe of the hostel had chai with soymilk and Eggs Benedict with salmon and spinach and wheat/gluten free bread. Where had I landed? I couldn't create a more perfect location if I had tried. And it gave me the space to be quiet, to think and reflect. I ventured into town a few times to explore the shop windows selling crystals and tarot cards but also the chic boutiques selling gorgeous clothes from Bali and India. I spent hours at an Internet Cafe, writing for our website, when the weather turned cold and rainy and there was no point being outside.
Byron Bay is a funny place: a blend of extremes perhaps. Young people come for the beach and the party scene, hippies migrate in for any wealth of alternative healing modalities and organic potions and the wealthy elite come to indulge in the health spas, inclusive resorts and golf. Weird mixture, but somehow it just totally works. All of these flavors came together in a Sunday fair that took place the day before I left. I had walked to a yoga class, that I thought was much closer than it actually was, and the teacher told me that they would be selling at the market after class. I hitched a ride with her after the class and indeed ended up at a fair similar to the Himalayan Fair that takes place in Berkeley. Booths of organic food, fair trade products, hand made clothes and alternative therapies now lined the otherwise deserted lawn across from the center of town. A band playing New Age beats entertained the crowd of spectators, while some ladies gyrated with the rhythm. I felt very much at home. I bought a bowl of salad and a fresh squeezed juice and plopped myself on the lawn and watched the world go by.
I made one full circle around the booths, treated myself to a 30 minute massage, met a chiropractor and made an appointment for an adjustment and the followed the path towards the exit. As I rounded the corner, I realized for the first time that I was really in Australia. Sitting amongst each other was a group of Aborigines. The was a depth to their faces that caught me off guard and I found myself staring. I wanted to talk with them and somehow transport myself into their world. They did not seem to integrate with the locals around, but instead stayed amongst themselves. I learned later that they come from the countryside, to the market on the weekends. And as I dug a bit deeper, I began to realize the story of Australia's native people is full of sadness, despair, alcoholism and anger. I realized that there was so much that I needed and wanted to learn.
My reason for actually coming to Byron, was to meet with a childbirth educator who creates personal retreats for pregnant women. My afternoon with her was inspiring and insightful. She reminded me of the importance of this work and if any of your heart and soul is drawn to be with women during this time of their lives, it is one's duty to be there. I don't know what my work back in the United States will be, but I can guarantee that my afternoon with Anna is always close by.
While Alex was near the beach in Byron Bay and Patrick was playing legos with Aaron in Melbourne, in San Francisco our friends welcomed...
niko takeshi nachbar
december 16, 2007
monica & erich nachbar
and on 17. December in Sacramento...
Clara Sinead Hildreth
monday, december 17, 2007
born at 10:56 am
8lbs, 9 ozs 19 inches
Carrie & Brian Hildreth
The passing of time
Written by Alex
At one point you run out of q-tips. It is only relevant the first time it happens to you because these are the q-tips that you packed at home and then one day, they are gone. And then you realize that q-tips are not created equally but you have bought this replacement pack and don't want to waste it. And that is how I measured time. Without cellphones, appointments and calendars, time because less structured and more fluid. Weekends no longer hold the same significance they once did, because life no longer evolves around the structure of the typical work day or the constraints put on us by obligation's and expectations. I have thought about measuring time with the rising and the setting of the sun -never by q-tips, but there is always room for new ways of thinking.
This passing of time happens too when you run out of shampoo and you realize you have to make a similar decision. When you travel on vacation for 2 or 3 weeks, you usually travel with the perfect amount of personal hygiene products, so you are never forced to explore how people in our other countries take care of themselves. It is almost like seeing into the private lives of people when you enter a pharmacy or drugstore - and you realize that somehow we are not all that different.