Electronic Postcard From Down Under #6

As a break from the day to day travelogue, I thought you'd like to get a feel for one of our typical days:

We've been waking up 6:30 to 7:00 a.m. most mornings (can you believe it? Tim has become a morning person!). A shower and then out to the communal kitchen for breakfast. That usually consists of muesli (a kind of granola) with fresh fruit and yogurt. All the yogurt here is very pourable. The muesli has all sorts of grains and dried fruit in it...at least I think I recognize the stuff in it, hmmm..these little grainy things remind me of what we would feed the deer in the children's zoo...well, the bag claims its 100% natural so I guess it's okay to eat! Common boxed cereals here are corn flakes, rice bubbles (rice krispies), wheat-bix (shredded wheat) and (for the kids) the yummy Bugs-and-Mud (like cocoa krispies, I think).

At this point we are either heading out for a day of sightseeing and tourist activities on foot, packing the car to head to our next destination, or repacking the packs for a train/plane trip. Lunch is generally on the road or we pack sandwiches (it's hard to pack your lunch when you can get a custom-made sandwich for about $3). Lots of places here to stop and have a quick bite. In the larger towns are food courts where you can order from several fast food places (Chinese, Greek, salad bar, Vietnamese noodles, etc.) and mix/match lunch. Di usually orders something vegetarian, which has been extremely easy everywhere we go. All the cafes, restaurants, and take out places have several innovative and great tasting vege (that's how they spell it) options. Of course, sometimes you just gotta have a burger. Our last experience was at Hungry Jacks (actually it's a Burger King) where we had an Aussie Burger combo: fries, cola and a very strange burger (one all-beef patty, tomato sauce, fried egg, canadian bacon, lettuce, tomato, and beets on a non-sesame seed bun).

Since we're not beach people by nature, we usually are walking to, driving to, or taking mass transit to the museums, gardens, zoos, aquariums, nature trails, waterfalls, swinging bridges, and other suggested tourist sights in the town or on route. By five p.m. we're at the hostel, foot-weary and loaded down with used film, brochures, and some souvenirs. It only took three weeks for us to use up all the film we brought with us.

Some of you have seen the very complete photo/travel books Tim makes up after our trips. For them, we collect any free maps, brochures, travel literature, placemats, matchbooks, receipts, and beer coasters and send them home every couple of weeks along with collected souvenirs and used film. We've become quite adept at stuffing things into boxes, going to the post office and unpacking just enough to slide under the weight limit. It isn't cheap to send the stuff home but I can't imagine carrying any more in our packs. Hopefully, the boxes will arrive safely. However, in the case of the Fiji post, we aren't sure exactly how the box was shipped so we may beat it home by June..we did however, have to lick so many stamps there that our tongues stuck to the roof of our mouths.

We grocery shop every day or two. There is usually a market nearby with fresh fruit/veges. Dinner is generally at the hostel and some soup or ramen noodle or salad mixed with little shrimp or chicken. Some of the combinations have been kind of weird (like ramen noodles with pineapple) but pretty tasty and cheap. Occasionally we will splurge on fish and chips at the local pub (complete with microbrewed stout or ginger beer) or seafood if we are in a coastal town. Or a burger fix (Tim) or espresso (Di). It's always interesting to see what other people are cooking...the kitchen has aromas from world cuisines.

Shopping has been an experience. Since NZ and Oz are on the metric system (just about everyone but us is), you can't go in and buy a pound of something. So you either ask for some amount (like 100 grams of whatever) and hope it's enough or point to the small/medium/large plastic containers and ask them to fill it. When cooking, we've been using old pop bottles at 500 milliliters and 650 ml to measure ingredients.

Cooking is done in the communal kitchen with a menagerie of pots, pans, utensils, and dishes. You walk into the kitchen, claim a workspace and burner, then hunt down needed pots and dishes (which are sometimes dirty....people are supposed to clean up as they go but not everyone does). Three things you can depend on in a hostel kitchen. First, no pot has a matching lid and vice-versa. I am convinced that the hostels get together and have a pot/lid swap to keep us on our toes. Second, all frying pans have rounded bottoms (from non-cooks attempting to fry something) and the nonstick pans haven't seen their original coating for years. Third, there is no such thing as a sharp knife. Even the wicked-looking large chopping knives only bend the tomatoes...an attempt, I think, to protect us from ourselves. (I've heard that a dull knife is dangerous...yeah, only because you want to stab someone after trying to slice a carrot with it). Food is stored in our room or in the common fridge (although Tim hides the Coca-Cola). Sometimes someone steals another's food but generally things are safe.

After dinner we are usually pooped so we do e-mail, plan the next day, update our expense accounts and are in bed by 10. Laundry is almost a daily task..washing stuff out by hand and drying on our portable clothesline. The hostels all have a laundry and we do all the clothes in the machines once a week or so but when underwear is limited, you do handwash or everyone suffers. I will probably get very tired of wearing the same five shirts but more clothes means heavier packs. (Just a thought, we are buying all these T-shirts as souvenirs...you guys wouldn't mind getting a previously worn and handwashed T-shirt, would you?)

I know that some of you cringe at the thought of communal bathrooms. Well, they are separate for each gender, and showers each have individual stalls with dressing rooms. They are cleaned by the staff each day and generally people are pretty tidy. Since your room is inevitably the furthest possible distance from the bathroom, you must display some sense of decency when making that 2 a.m. visit. However, people glide in and out in various states of dress/undress and no one really much cares. In the morning, we all look equally bad anyway.

We have been pleased with the hostels. Some (like Sydney and Auckland) have been large hotels, others (like Mt. Cook) are quite small. We have been staying in twin/double rooms but there are dorm rooms (4-8 beds used by unrelated people of the same gender), and family rooms with several beds. All hostels have laundry, kitchens, commons rooms with TV, pop machines, basic supplies, and a book exchange. At the book exchange you leave a book and take one -- I've been able to reduce book costs with this but then you get to places where the only books are the ones on Australian primary curriculum development, an Italian novel with a racy cover (darn), and some Chinese book (subject unknown). Some hostels have bistros, swimming pools, pool tables, and other necessities of life. Lots of families here...saw a mother schooling her two young sons (Danish, I think) after dinner. Seen people from South Africa, Canada, Europe, Japan, and all over. Today Tim sat in the sauna with a grad student from Britain and a radiology oncologist from India. So its not just poor student types or cheap US tourists here. Especially in the big cities, the rates are so reasonable (compared to hotels) and having cooking facilities is a plus. Besides, there are no Motel 6 or Super 8 motels here.

We rarely see TV and don't get to read the papers much. American sports don't even make the sports page here unless a local figure is involved (much to Tim's dismay). As a result, Tim appreciates the e-mail updates from back home. I haven't seen X-files for a month and am suffering far less withdrawal pains than I thought. Here, the Clinton stuff is on page 4 (needless to say we don't miss U.S. politics at all). By the way, most people we talk to are very aware of what is happening in Washington, D.C. They think us (the U.S.) to be rather foolish to waste so much time and money on activities that seem to have nothing to do with governing a country. We tend to agree.

That's it for now. Tonight is our last one in Sydney for a while and we are on to Melbourne (pronounced Melbun) tomorrow. Next time will be our first official report from Oz.

Keep in touch.

Di and Tim

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Tim and Diane's email address is ttdk@aol.com