August 18, 2010
Rijk and I dropped Tiny off at his Sydney home, unpacked 3 weeks worth of living into Rob’s station wagon and set off on an unintentional tour of Sydney’s Industria in an attempt to hunt down some kangaroo fillets, which, when eaten a few days later at Rob & Nad’s apartment, were well worth the effort! Rob & Nadine had graciously invited all 3 of us to stay in their beautiful apartment in Bondi, perfectly situated in one of Australia’s most famous suburbs and only a few minutes walk from the beach and the absolutely magnificent cliff paths that run along the jagged coves. First things first though! After months of trying to make plans for my dad to join us on the boat, with our dates changing every week, we finally managed to pinpoint 1 weekend when we would all be in Sydney for a reunion. Dad arrived with James, who had been staying with friends in Melbourne for 5 weeks, and when we went for dinner with my dad and Liz on Friday night, we were all talking nineteen to the dozen, catching up on a long time apart apart and being generally thrilled to see each other.
We decided to, of all things, go to the Zoo the next day, which, with it’s spectacular views over the harbour, was a great way to get to grips with the city, as well as see some seriously impressive animals. The snow leopard, the tree kangaroos and the red pandas were magnificent and while zoos are not normally my thing, the Sydney Zoo seemed like more of a sanctuary than captivity for these endangered creatures. To top it all off, the water ferry from the Zoo into the city was the perfect viewing platform for the soaring bridge and extraordinarily photogenic Opera House. I had forgotten what an exciting thing is a city.
The change of energy thrilled through me as we wandered into the city. We passed joggers running in the Botanical Gardens, ipods pumping different tunes, making the easy Sydney transition from concrete jungle to lush green spaces. From the Botanical Gardens to the train station, people in bars and houses spilled laughingly into the street, grooving to the late Saturday afternoon beat. The evening saw us watching the pretty disastrous rugby with Rob, Nadine and friends of theirs, and then going out to Kings Cross. Wow! Talk about culture shock. The road was a crazy throng of people, the girls mostly decked out in the tiniest skirts I’ve ever seen, the guys in everything from super smart to seriously scaffy. Police wandered up and down in huddles, keeping an eye on everything while food shops selling pizzas, pies and hot chips did a roaring trade. All in all, it felt like a massive carnival. And this, according to the taxi driver, was a quiet night on the Kings Cross! I think it was the ceaseless barrage of people walking back and forward, bumping past us, talking on mobiles, calling across the street, laughing and stumbling drunkenly into taxis that amazed me. It was, after all, the first big city in 16 months and probably the most people that I had seen in one place in all that time!
We had a decidedly chilled Sunday drive with Liz, who as an ex-Sydneysider, was an awesome taxi driver, patiently driving us through every nook and cranny of that glorious city. I can absolutely see why so many South Africans choose to make Sydney their home- its glorious proximity to the sea and harbour is one thing, but what I loved most is that the crenellations of the waterline, as well as all the hills, give so many houses amazing sea views and so many areas water access. We whiled away a few hours in Nielsen’s Park, watching a regatta coming round the headland, wind catching the spinnakers and sun reflecting off the sea. It was a beautiful sight, and wonderful to be appreciating it from land! Later, eating a late lunch at the yacht club, I watched the yachts coming in and felt lucky to experience a sense of belonging with these wind swept, sun burnt people, their faces filled with the exhilaration of being on the water on a beautiful day, of harnessing the wind, and of being back on dry land having a strong drink.
There are a few things about Sydney that I really took note of- the delis for example- the delicious foods, chocolaterias, heavenly pastries and always, always, the coffee. Columbian, organic, mocha, flat white, soya frappe and skinny French roast are amongst the dizzying selection that make buying a coffee in Sydney a very complicated business! And always outside the delis were the dogs. This other strata of society kept me highly entertained. Maybe it is because I am missing my furry friends so much, and would gleefully jump into a warm basket for a cuddle that I was so aware of the hilarious interactions of dogs with their owners, the film-worthy conversations between owner and dog, the lectures of walker to dog, the ensuing criss-crossing leads of naughty charges and of course, the always amusing humiliated owner and the public poo clean up. Most delis had dog bowls filled with fresh water outside and I saw as many boutique dog clothing stores with clever names and expensive lighting as luxurious looking dog pampering parlours. It’s a dog’s life indeed!
As a South African, coming from a land where someone’s trash is always another’s treasure, it was strange to see the piles of unwanted couches, carpets, luggage, lamps and bar stools, all in excellent condition, lying on the side of the road. Associated with this, and as noteworthy to me, were the regular Saturday garage sales that take place in gardens and on front lawns all over Australia. What an excellent idea! How sensible to be able to browse the streets of your neighbourhood on a Saturday morning, meeting new neighbours, chatting to old ones and buying great stuff at good prices. Waste not, want not! And if you can’t spare the time to man your garden stall, you can do what we saw along our road trip- have an honesty box. This, also as a South African, totally blew my mind. We saw signs advertising fresh veggies and fruit along the road and pulled over when we saw the wooden stall laden with goodies. There was a car there already and a woman handing fruit through the window. We walked over and stood waiting for her to be done with the other car. After waiting for a while, I said, “You don’t mind if I help myself”, to her totally uncomprehending glance. I piled up our bags, opened my wallet and looked at her expectantly. Imagine my surprise when at that point she got into the car and drove away! Looking around, bewildered, we saw the price list, a money box, and a sign saying “DON’T STEAL, locals talk, this is an honesty box. Unbelievable.” You choose your produce, tally it up, put your money in a box and drive away. How many countries in the world could this be a way to buy fresh produce?
Rijk and I took ourselves off on a walking tour of the business district and the Rocks en route to meeting Gary and Lindsey for after-work dinner and drinks. By the time we were looking for a bar it was pouring with rain, the slick wet streets reflecting the neon lights that bathed everything in pink and blues. A frisson of excitement swept through me as we thread our way through the somberly dressed, high-heeled, tie & suit brigade, clutching expensive handbags and weighty briefcases. These people had things to do, places to go, people to see. Restaurants beckoned, bars called and shops glimmered, huge bunches of fragrant flowers displayed themselves gaudily outside grocers and trays of perfect luxury chocolates threatened to convert the disbelievers. There were a thousand unnecessary ways to spend money in the pursuit of pleasure. It was awesome to be in a city again. Ah, the choice of food and drink in Sydney! We poked our heads into a baroque wine bar, peered into an Italian joint, lingered outside a Thai place, wandered past the oldest pub in Sydney, stopped briefly at an Irish pub, and finally found ourselves being served huge pitchers of German beers by frauleins in frilly tops. Cue much revelry, many refills of the delicious beer, catching up with old friends, Spatzle, crispy pork knuckle and a drunken taxi home.
We had the next day to recover from our hangovers before we hit the town again with Rob & Nadine- this time to a wonderful theatre/restaurant bar where they had a pizza special and karaoke! This, worryingly, seems to be becoming a habit- last time we had seen Rob and Nad was in Pohnpei, where we had given" Fading like a Flower" a run for it’s money! However, the standard in Sydney seems to be somewhat higher! Granted, I think that one of the tables was filled with drama students (they are SO easy to spot!) which would have accounted for most of the album quality crooning, but even the randoms were unbelievable, hitting every note, every line, every word, perfectly. The highlight of the evening was definitely not when Nad & I got up, red wine fuelled, to take the mic, but rather when someone mooned the crowd, mid-song, and to huge applause and whistling, got man-handled out by the bouncers. Got to love the Aussie bouncers! It really is amazing- I was talking to someone in a bar, and although he really didn’t seem that drunk, the bouncer came up to him and politely asked him to leave as he was “too inebriated”. Which he did! Later that evening buying a drink, the guy next to me was served a glass of water instead of the beer he asked for and told to “drink that and come back in 20 minutes, mate”. Two thirds of our group (no names mentioned) have even been refused entry to a club on the grounds that they are “too drunk”. Which they weren’t. Another thing that I can’t imagine happening in SA.
City time moves faster than boat time and in just a blink it was our last weekend in Sydney and time for the boys to find some uncrowded surf. We drove up to Manyana, which is 3 hrs south of Sydney and stayed in a big rented house close to the beach with a group of Rob’s mates. It was great to be part of a group rough and tumble, with jokes flying around, food being cooked and shared, the 10 second rule on chairs creating havoc around the fire, animated faces being lit up by firelight and finally, waking up smelling of wood smoke the next morning. The girls also managed to fit in a totally decadent lunch at a winery, where we drank delicious wine and had good girly chats, which I have so missed! It made me miss my group of friends more, and I can’t wait to be back, part of our group dynamic. Nothing beats old friends! And so back to Darwin!
Well, it was certainly not as simple as that! Bad weather in Sydney delayed our 7pm departure, which in turn made us miss our connecting flight in Brisbane. So from Brisbane we were put on the next flight to Melbourne. Which landed in Darwin exactly 6 hours later than should have landed. Got to love flying! But I sure was glad to be back in Darwin. As much as I loved places on our travels, I think that I have to admit to loving Darwin the best. Darwin feels somehow raw and untamed, an older version of an Australia that hasn’t yet been polished. It does not twinkle with the homogeneous luster of the rest of Australia’s cities, it gleams with its own rough, outpost magic. The sunsets are magnificent over the flat sea, a feast of magenta, pink, oranges and purples. The Darwin hippies that live out of their vans in the parking lots, bare footed and dreaded, make the night come alive with their fire sticks, magic shows and circus acts at Mindil Market. Wonderful fireworks bursting over the little city are an almost nightly celebration of the Dry season and the early morning light threading through the mangroves bring daily promise of another perfectly lovely, hot day.
On our last night in Darwin, we decided to go to the East Point Reserve for a sundowner picnic dinner. When we got there, we heard the very distinctive sound of EmDee’s high energy didge and drums, tunes familiar to us from watching the band play live at the market. The sound carried on the breeze from somewhere in the mangroves and acted as the foot stomping soundtrack for our scrumptious fillet and garlic mushroom braai. The reverberating beat finally pulled the blazing sun down through the purple streaked sky and into the smooth waters of the bay. As night fell, we saw the flickering lights of an aboriginal fisherman moving over the water towards the shore. Two enchanting little children waited for his return, keeping themselves occupied with showing us their best jumps and tricks. The fisherman waded onto the shore laden with his catch- 4 rays for dinner, which he proudly showed to an admiring Brisbane couple by torchlight, the women talking about cooking and babies, the men about fishing. We heard the Brisbane man exclaiming how good the fisherman must be and that if he wanted to, he bet he could just wander in and catch a mud crab. No sooner said than done, the fisherman waded in and reappeared 10 minutes later with a gift for the couple- a huge mud crab. It was a beautiful interaction to watch, and for me, sums up my feelings about Darwin- that if you look for it, magic is just around the corner, waiting to be found.