Saturday, July 2, 2011

Getting to Townsville + Day One

I'm sitting here in Townsville, Australia in my hostel room trying to wrap my head around all the amazing stuff we've done so far in Australia!

On Thursday morning, I tied up some loose ends at home, packed, and started walking with my luggage to the local Iwakuni train station at 1pm. Arrived in Hiroshima about a half hour later. Bought my ticket for Osaka on the shinkansen, the high-speed train that goes about 400 km/hr. The tickets are really expensive, but worth it to not be switching trains for half a day. I made a few mistakes with payment and seating on my trip, and was overwhelmed as usual by the lack of English spoken. I certainly don't expect them to know English, it's just another reminder why I need to start taking Japanese classes soon!

I finally arrived at the Kansai International Airport (KIX) at 6pm, so luckily I made it with over two hours to check in for my flight. I wandered around the airport, dealt with difficult JetStar employees who had apparently never seen an American passport (by the way, don't mind me when I come back to the states pronouncing it "pasaportu") and thought I was a military member trying to flee without orders. Look at my ID, y'all! Ugh.

So I felt like I needed to sit down and relax for a bit. I hadn't eaten since about 10am, so it was definitely time for a meal. The only thing that looked appealing at the airport was Starbucks, so I ended up spending about $12 for a hilarious sandwich and sample-size cup of coffee. Check out the packaging on the right here. The text reads, : 

"On a faraway hillside, Manolo rakes his coffee beans in the sun. He is preparing them for their pilgramage north, a journey where they will be refined by fire."  

The rest of the package is even better. It's weird because I don't think this packaging would be considered politically correct in America, but maybe Japanese people like imagining Manolo roasting beans for them in a faraway hillside.

This next part of the wrapper might have something to do with the fact that Japanese traditionally say a few words of thanks to the food giving them nourishment and the people who harvested the food before they eat. The packaging reads,  

"Each morning I am greeted by coffee from a land I have never seen, but I have tasted its beauty, thanks to Manolo." Is that only soap opera-esque to me?
I think I'm becoming a little less shocked by the differences between traveling in western countries, where things are basically all the same but have a different name, and getting around in Japan, where nothing is anything like how you expect it to be. I'd been trying to find a good way to wrap my head around the differences and found the book American Fuji by Sara Backer on Amazon. I find that reading fiction about another culture is an easy way to discover cultural subtleties without having to endure every embarrassing misstep on my own. 

So, with that in mind, I dove into the book on this trip and tried to process some new vocabulary and the ways this American author saw Japan in the 1990s. It was a little outdated and featured both an irritable bowel disorder and a middle-aged romance that were grossly unappealing to me, but it was definitely worth the time investment. It was a fast-paced mystery and a good vacation read, along with being educational. Win, win, win!

I finally landed in Cairns at 4:30am after the 7 or 8 hour flight. It was dark and rather chilly at the airport, but I found a bus that would take me downtown to the Greyhound station. The plan was for me to take a bus to Townsville (where Joe is working) and for both of us to stay in his hotel and use his government rental car. Oops! We changed plans when I called Joe using Skype with the wi-fi in a McDonald's at 5am. He didn't have a car, so I decided to rent a car and take a drive up the coast to Townsville. I negotiated a special long-term rate at East Coast Car Rentals in the city (not the airport - it's always more expensive there!) and was on my way within a half hour of their opening time.

The drive along the coast was magnificent! I was really tired from my long day the day before and extremely limited sleep on the plane, so I stocked up on road trip fuel (soy chicken potato chips, cherry and dark chocolate granola, and Diet Pepsi) and got rolling. I saw so many signs for attractions that I would've loved to check out, like historical museums, animal sanctuaries, waterfalls, beaches and all the other Australian curiosities along the way. I tried to keep my blinders on so I could make it to Townsville in a decent time period, but was waylaid by a trip to tourist information center, taking pictures of the gorgeous landscapes, a walk on the beach to stretch my unfortunate muscles, and a stop at another McDonald's to steal wi-fi and let Joe know I was okay. I've been really surprised at how infrequently I find wi-fi provided by cafes here in Australia. I guess it hasn't caught on as much as it has in the U.S. and Japan. 

Pics from the drive:

Sometimes you need to pull off the road and take in the magic.
View from - seriously - a gas station.
I pulled off the main highway to see waterfalls and realized they were a lot farther than I thought. So, you get a majestic pic of a brush pile and a mountain from when I turned around. Fair deal?
This was a gorgeous sight to behold after hours of driving. The land mass on the right is Hitchinbrook Island and I'm hoping to go hiking there before I leave. It's so serious that you need to obtain a permit before going over.

So finally I arrived in Townsville. Joe had a room at the Holiday Inn on the 16th floor with a view of both Magnetic Island and Castle Rock from the balcony! We stayed there for a few nights until there was room in the barracks and the powers that be decided that putting Marines in the barracks was a little more fiscally responsible than luxury suites downtown. So, there went my ticket to paradise! Luckily, I knew there was a pretty big chance that would happen, and I'd been researching good places to stay. 

Pro tip (ha): when searching for a accommodations in Australia, beware of hotels. A hotel is also another word for casino and won't necessarily have rooms. 

We ended up here at the Civic Guest House downtown because it's in a great location at a great price, and those were really the only things I needed for week one of three in Australia. They also offer free wi-fi, parking, bikes, aircon and a fan in the room, a personal fridge, coffee and tea, and a full kitchen so you don't have to waste all your money on meals in town.

Anyway, back to our adventures! On my first full day in Australia, we decided to walk around, check out the beaches, and have a milkshake with a view of Magnetic Island. Romantique
Being turtle-y enough.
Awesome day in Townsville! You can see Magnetic Island in the distance!
How does the ocean make everything look so perfect?
We had dinner at Cactus Jacks where I had an Australian steak, a baked potato, and a salad. Nothing too outrageous. Joe, much to my dismay, had an appetizer of crocodile and kangaroo skewers and a barrimundi (fish) burger. Ugh! This was totally inappropriate because we were going to an animal sanctuary the next day where there would be actual crocodiles and 'roos! Joe claims it's unfair to make a difference between eating one kind of animal and another. He has a point: I saw my fair share of dead 'roos on the side of the road, just like you see deer in Michigan. My problem with them was that they are adorable and seem endangered and exotic, but they are basically just another wild beast here in Australia. Le sigh.


Next post: Billabong Sanctuary! We had a chance to hang out with cassowaries, turtles, a wombat, and koalas galore! Bonus: We have pics to prove it.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! What a busy adventure you are having! So glad you had a Plan B and it is working out.