Entry #044: Tuesday, December 3, 2013 (Sydney, Australia)

Ah, Sydney. It seems like just a week ago I arrived. In fact, it was eight days, and I'm just about ready to head on to new and different places...in Australia, still...but it's been quite eventful, has it not? And the time I spent in the Blue Mountains, don't you remember when...oh, wait, I haven't talked about that part yet, have I? Well, as it turns out, that just happened, so let's have a look. I'll give you a spoiler: I probably should have died! But before I go on, I will quickly note that today, for maybe the sixth time on this trip, I have been told (in various ways) that I have an almost quintessential American accent. So keep that in mind: my voice is representing you and everything your nation stands for. (Unless you're not from the US. In which case, um, ignore that last sentence.)

On Saturday, I got up, and after washing up and prepping myself for the day, I checked what the situation for the WiFi was. Nope, the service I was using was still not up. But then I saw something interesting: there was another, password-protected connection which shared the same name as the provider I was using before, sans the word "Free." Now, this may have easily been there the whole time, with me not noticing it before because, well, why would I? But it also got me wondering: could I have broken them? Did my usage of their free, and good, service seem exploitative in their eyes, so much so that they cancelled the free and open service in favor of a password-protected one? ...Probably not, but I do like the notion that I can wield that much influence. Anyway, I went downstairs to have a slice of toast, a small handful of cereal, and some chicken breast meant that I still had available (seriously, full pre-cooked chickens are the gift that keeps on giving). In fact, I still couldn't finish it, so I wrapped the remainder up and put it into my pocket to snack on as the day went by. I quickly stopped back in the room, to see that all of my roommates were also just about to head out: the Germans to visit Chinatown, and Kiet to just wander around town. We all left at the same time (using our solidarity to avoid a small pod of crack heads just outside the hostel door) and went in different directions.

I took the train to the Circular Quay (docks) area, with the intention of walking over to the bridge. Along the way, I was surprised to see a street market filling a couple of the roads (not sure why I was surprised, as it's a Saturday mid-to-late morning in an artsy part of a big town; I guess I just didn't really think about it). I decided to walk up and down and look at the various stands. There was your typical street market fare - a couple specialty food stands, some homemade wooden toys, "upcycled" goods, steampunk jewelry, the lot. It all was enjoyable to look at, but in truth, I had my eye specifically out for some leather stands, to see what could be done with my Kilimanjaro bracelet (which I love except for the too light-colored, stiff, and big leather band). I didn't find anything in the street market, but I did meet a guy in a leather store, who suggested I go to a different guy (and interestingly, neither guy was a native Aussie; one was French, the other...Israeli, maybe?) to just put another clasp stud in the current band, which would help with the size at least. However, this other guy said that he wouldn't be in his shop until Monday night, and that I could pick it up on Tuesday. I considered it, but it would be a tricky affair to make sure I had the time to pick it up before my flight out of Sydney, and I'd still have the two other concerns with the band to worry about, and it was just such a tight turnaround that I wasn't comfortable with it all, so I just decided to hold off for now.

I continued on my way, happily munching on my chicken until I finally found my way to the entry point of the bridge. I walked up and went to the Pylon Lookout. This wouldn't be as high, or as "exciting", as the fabled Bridge Climb, but considering it cost 6.5% the price of the Bridge Climb, and let you use your camera, I wasn't going to complain. It was also nice for learning about the history of the bridge, which is admittedly more interesting than you'd probably think at first. (Most interesting anecdote - some disgruntled former army officer rode through on a horse during the opening ceremony, and used his saber to cut the ribbon before it could officially be cut, earning him a £5 fine.) And of course, once you got to the top of the pylon, you had some really great views of the city and the harbors. I got out of the pylon, and then decided to continue the mini tour the most logical way possible - crossing the bridge. It was a nice little walk, and it was cool to look out and see the ferries shuttling around the harbor like insects. I genuinely enjoy that the bridge has a walking section; I feel that all bridges should; it gives them a sense of life and character they wouldn't have otherwise. Even long bridges - I think it'd be pretty nifty to walk the seven-mile San Mateo Bridge.

When I got to the other side, I stopped at a place to have some fish and chips and salad for lunch, at which point I was able to say that I am done with fish and chips; they were good, but I just can't handle them more than sporadically. The salad was excellent, though - there were about eight really good looking salads on display. There was even a quinoa salad (as I guess quinoa has finally made its way to Australia), but it also looked like it had eggplant in it (which I've tried so many times to enjoy, but simply cannot), so I passed. But after pushing forward the rest of the oily fish, I decided to continue my walking and undo some of the damage it had done. I walked back to the harbor, passing by an in-progress wedding reception (which I briefly and genuinely considered crashing until I realized that everyone in the audience was fancily dressed and Asian, so I'd probably stand out), and looked for a ferry to take me back to my side. Along the way, I found myself going into a theme park called Luna Park. I had a passing interest in walking through (as the park itself is free; you have to pay for ride tickets), but since I was here, I figured, Why not? Well, I can give you one reason: the decor is horrifying. You start out by entering the place in the mouth of a giant smiling face, and it only gets worse from there. It seems that grotesquely large smiles are the main motif at the place, smiles that look like they were caused by the Joker's laughing gas. All. Over. I have to imagine they were 100% aware of how unsettling the decoration is, and are using it almost ironically. I mean, I guess I would recommend taking a walking visit of the place despite the decor, or maybe even because of it. Odd how things can work that way.

Anyway, after leaving that nightmarish place, I hopped on board a ferry just seconds before it took off, and we made our way back to the Circular Quay. (I was quite impressed with how speedy and efficient the ferry was.) I considered going into the Contemporary Art Museum (which had a special exhibit from Yoko Ono, incidentally), but then remembered, I don't like modern art. I almost never really enjoy modern art museums. Chances are, I probably won't like this one. Yes, that's a bit narrow, but whatever. I got back on the train and rode back to the hostel, hoping to have some time to myself. That wasn't the case, as the Germans arrived within five minutes, as Chinatown was apparently a bit boring. I stayed in the hostel for a while, and actually did a bit of productive work, like sending some emails and payments and junk for some of my future travels, as well as for life-after-returning. On the whole, it was a well-spent couple of hours. Then, after Kiet got back into the room, I figured I'd do some of my initial packing, to make it easier for myself the next morning.

At 6pm, I decided to head out for my evening activities. I first took a train to go back to that Scubar place, because I was thinking of getting kangaroo pizza for dinner, and I knew it was open this time. Indeed it was...and it wasn't very nice. It really was a bar environment - dark and dank, with very few people around so early in the evening. Like, aside from employees, I think there was only a single other person in there. I doubted they had any pizza available at that time. As someone who doesn't drink and didn't have anyone with me, I didn't really care for the vibe, and figured I'd try elsewhere, if indeed God will ever allow me to eat kangaroo. So, I looked around the area for something small, and ended up going into, of all places, a Panda Express for a small value meal. Considering how tired of Chinese/Asian I have become, even I was surprised at this. But it was westernized Chinese, so I ended up enjoying it just fine. I then made my way back to the Circular Quay, where I also stopped into the local Starbucks. I had just gotten an email saying that I had earned a free drink reward, so I went in and got a Green Tea Frappuccino, which is my favorite drink, and oddly enough, one of the most expensive items on the menu here. So imagine my disheartened-ness when I found out that they don't do rewards stuff here, and so I had to pay full price on the drink. What a gaffe!

At least the drink was as good as ever, and I enjoyed it whilst walking to the Opera House, enjoying the pre-sunset harbor views and the fantastic, almost unreal, summer clouds in the area. I got the Opera House with about twenty minutes to spare, so I walked to my seat. It was an odd case; it was the cheapest seat available, so it was behind the orchestra. But despite my seat also being in the last row of this section, it really wasn't bad at all. I was still much closer than people who had paid more to sit in front of the orchestra, and I was able to see the conductor head-on, which was a treat all its own. I don't know if his behavior was standard, but the man was absolutely goofy, making faces as he waved his little wand around. It was much more animated than I had ever imagined the role to be. The only thing I enjoyed watching more than him were the guys with extremely specific instruments, the poster boy of which would have to be the old man who stood up every five minutes or so, slammed two cymbals together, and sat down. But on the whole, it was an absolutely fantastic performance, a treat for the senses. In case you're wondering, these were the pieces performed:
  • Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Conductor Mariss Janson ("Arguably the greatest orchestra in the world today.")
    • Program 1 - "Legendary"
      • WAGENAAR Overture: The Taming of the Shrew, Op.25 (1909)
      • STRAVINSKY The Firebird: Suite (1919(
      • TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony No.5 in E minor, Op.64
    • Program 2 - Heroic
      • BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No.3 in C minor, Op.37
      • R STRAUSS A Hero's Life, Op.40

I much preferred the second half to the first - the songs had a lot more life to them, and the first act had, I felt, too much of a focus around their pianist, who was good, no doubt, but didn't really seem solo-worthy. I actually felt bad for the old couple next to me; they became confused at the intermission, thinking it was the end, and left. Whoops! In addition to them missing out, their leaving actually made it more difficult for me to be covert in my photo-taking. I understand why they don't want people taking pictures, but I figured that since I turned off my flash, turned off my auto-focus light, had all sounds turned off, and had nobody behind me, I wouldn't be bothering anybody. But still, it was an exercise in discretion, as I could usually only take pictures when the usher was busy helping someone out the door. They weren't ever really good pictures, but hey, I was literally the only person using a camera who was never caught and scolded by the usher. I was happy, though, that I managed to get a video of the finale, pressing the camera to my chest as though I was overcome with emotion, and somehow managed to get the conductor in view. It's the little victories, isn't it?

Anyway, it was an overall great performance and great experience. (My only gripe, if you want to call it that, was surrounding the shenanigans that took place during applause. Like, there's applause, and the conductor & soloist leave, then they come back to more applause, point out a few performers to get applause, leave again, come back to more applause, and maybe repeat this once more. Is there some sort of precedent behind this? I give people the applause I think they deserve; I ain't going to give more every time they walk in and out. But still, it was all in good fun.) I then got back on the train to head to King's Cross. For 10:45, it seemed really crowded, but when I realized that the majority of folk were either drunk or streetwalkers, it made a bit more sense. I got back to the hostel, showered, did a little bit of work, and went to bed.

On Sunday, I woke up a bit earlier than I think I would have liked, but sleeping in wasn't much of an option, as I had to check out. I got up, finished all my packing, and said my goodbyes to all my roommates. I went downstairs, turned in my keys (and got a $20 as key deposit return, which was wholly unexpected and wholly welcome. I then stopped in the kitchen to have some of the famous Sunday pancake breakfast I read about. It indeed was there (and was apparently being made by the hostel owners' dad, which is pretty sweet), but the pancakes would be more accurately described as crepes. I had one, and it was good, but when you were looking forward to some flapjacks with maple syrup, nothing else can fill that itch. Well, maybe waffles...maybe. I then headed out. As it turned out, I had absolutely perfect timing with regards to getting on the trains. When I got to the King's Cross station, I waited for less than one minute for the train to take me to the Central station. And once I got there, it was only three minutes before the Blue Mountains train departed. Basically, if I had not been where I was exactly when I was, I would have had to wait for another two hours for the next train. And that would have been no fun. The train ride itself went smoothly, except that I was sharing the car with a gassy dog for about half the trip. But the views were nice, the weather and clouds were great, and I was able to get a bit of writing done.

Through impeccable timing (really, that seems to be a theme running so far, I managed to finish up to that last paragraph when the train arrived in Katoomba. I grabbed my stuff and got out. To my amazement, there was no exit ticket gate here, meaning I never had to actually relinquish my one-way train ticket, meaning I could have gotten away with using my MyMulti pass to get into my first station and never bother with it again, meaning I could have saved out on $8.40. Yes, I would have been cheating the system, but hey, who knows what saintly thing I could have done with that $8.40? Anyhoo, Katoomba is the main town in the Blue Mountains, but it definitely had that smallish suburb feel to it. The houses were all nice and pleasant, there was plenty of fresh air and green grass, and it seemed like a good place to raise a family. (Though I've also heard that everyone who lives there gets hammered all the time, so maybe looks are deceiving.) I walked down the main road for about ten minutes before I got to my hostel, which was really more of an over-sized cottage than anything. I was expecting that I'd have to continue walking, since it wasn't even 12:30, but to my complete surprise, they allowed me to check in. Well, "allowed" may not be the right term; the owner wasn't there, and one of the other tenants took me back and found an envelope with my name on it, which contained my keys.

The hostel, called No.14 (as that's its street address), was a breath of fresh air compared to the HumpBackPackers in Sydney. And I think that could be at least partially attributed to the fact that this is more of a outdoorsy area, and not so much a party area, so you're not going to get so many hostelers. Instead, this place was run by a social justice-focused old lady, so there are peaceful quote stickers scattered throughout, and if you wanted to buy water or washing powder, the proceeds went to a Peruvian charity. (I'm assuming the lady has been to Peru, because she has Peruvian/Bolivian wall carpet decorations.) And a good majority of the people were very friendly, but still completely mellow. I could easily get in conversations with everyone, then leave, not knowing their name but still completely satisfied with the conversation. So, laid back, friendly, and quiet: a winning combination. (The only downside I can think of is that you only get 60mb of WiFi a day, which is garbage.)

Anyway, I got into my room, where I met some Irish dude (named Colin, obviously), who had apparently been living in the hostel for two weeks. It looked like it, too - not only was all his stuff strewn about, but he had an entire gaming setup next to his bed, with a monitor, a PS3, and a copy of Batman: Arkham Origins. To my surprise, even though he's been working in Katoomba this entire time, he's not gone exploring in the wilderness (read: the main attraction of the Blue Mountains) even once. Now, I will defend video games quite a bit, but Christ, dude, put the controller down and take a walk! Anyway, after setting my stuff down, I decided to go into town to get some lunch. After walking by place after place, and grimacing at the prices, I just decided I'd get some food at the local Coles, since I'd probably want some food for walking anyway. It was a scientific process; every single purchase decision was made on a price-to-weight ratio. And I spared no expense...well, I spared every expense...to make sure I got the best deals. I ended up getting some sandwich supplies, a bag of bite-sized Snickers ripoffs, a four pack of frozen pot pies, and a set of new Ziploc bags.

I'm going to make a brief aside to talk about Ziploc bags (or other zipper bags of your choosing). A lesson I've learned, and one you should learn: if you're traveling, invest in Ziploc bags! And I really mean that. Get high-quality ones, because they will last you longer than the generic brands. But they will become your best friends, for storing foods, small items, everything you need. And, unless they're absolutely filthy or trashed, reuse them! There's no reason not to. I can't think of an easier, more compact thing to carry than a small handful of Ziploc bags, and they will repay you tenfold. Trust me, you'll thank me later.

Anyway, yeah, I was excited to get some good quality bags (30 of them!). I was also happy to discover after leaving the store that the buns I was using for my sandwiches were not properly scanned, and so I didn't pay for them. I went back to the town center to get some information and a map (and a sales pitch for their bus system), and then went back to the hostel, where I ate one of the chicken pies. Back in the room, I sat down for a bit and got some of my stuff organized, watching Colin play his game out of the corner of my eye (and I will say, the Arkham games, while fun to play [well, I don't know if this new one is], are not that fun to watch). But I figured that it would be in my best interest to do some walking today, since I had the time and wanted to explore more than one part of the area.

I looked at the guide book that Teresa had given me, and decided to start with a route called the Cascades, Amphitheater and Fern Bower. Unfortunately, I got lost on my way to the starting point. And that's not even me in the wilderness; I was still on the roads and I got lost. I'll take full blame for this, as I thought I'd be clever and cut across an area that Google Maps noted as a park. Turns out, it was a park, but a very undeveloped one, with no paths to get, well, anywhere. I trudged my way through the bush until I decided that there was no point in continuing, as I'd already lost good time. In fact, my little escapade doubled how long it should have taken me to get there. But got there I did, and I started on the walk. I really don't know what to say about the walk: I walked, and there was lots of beautiful scenery. In particular, there were spectacular views of the valleys below, there were cascades and waterfalls, and I walked through what could probably be described as a rain forest (completely covered, filled with ferns, coated in mosses).

What was also pretty nice was that for portions of the trip, I was listening to music that really...really made it all seem like an adventure. Namely, I was listening to the soundtrack of a video game called Trine, and this soundtrack (and to a much lesser extent, its sequel's) may very well be the single most whimsical set of audio ever created. You can listen to it online here (I particularly like "Dragon Graveyard," "Crypt of the Damned," and "Ruins of the Perished", all of which sound much more pleasant than their names would imply). Listening to this soundtrack, walking through green, mossy covered rocks and high cliffs, makes me feel like Bilbo Baggins, crying out "I'm going on an adventure!" It's a really nice way to really expand the experience.

Anyway, I was a bit worried going into the walk that I wasn't going to be able to finish before dark, but this concern was a bit invalid, as a) it's well into summer here, and the sun doesn't set until, like, 7:30, and b) I am the fastest walker. The guide book I was given said I'd complete this circuit in about 1 hour 45 minutes. I did it in an hour flat. And that was with me stopping for photos and talking to people. In fact, I might have been even faster than that, except that I had a pinched nerve in my foot (which I would bet dollars to donuts came about as a result of me walking all day, and then running, in flip flops in Sydney). That definitely hurt, but thankfully was never debilitating. In any case, I made it out with plenty of light to spare, and walked back to the hostel. Amazingly, despite the fact that I checked Google Maps every three minutes, I still kept getting lost. This time, I'll place blame on the fact that there aren't street signs at a number of intersections and turnoffs, and that a lot of these unmarked streets don't actually look like streets, so you could walk by them and not notice...like I did.

Anyhoo, I eventually made my way back to the hostel, where I sat down for a bit, relaxed, and then cooked my dinner, which was just some more chicken pot pies, some halfway guacamole, and a salad (well, a big handful of a bagged four-leaf mix). When someone told me to enjoy my meal, I had to comment that it was too kind of them to call that poor combination a "meal". But I sat and ate, and as others sat down to eat, we got to talking. They were all nice and easy-going, so it was enjoyable. It became obvious very quickly that I was That Guy. I've talked about this before - I've always said that I'm forever going to be that guy who's been everywhere. And since I'm 2/3 done with my trip now, with a lot of the major pillars hit, I'm kind of that now, especially with these 20-somethings who are just visiting a few different countries. It's going to be a balancing act, talking about everything without coming off as conceited. (Though I do enjoy talking about it, so it's gonna be tricky.)

After I finished dinner, washed up, and talked for a little longer, I went into my room and met my other roommate, Johannes (from Germany, in case you couldn't tell by the name). He seemed nice, though I honestly can't tell for the life of me how old he is; he seems 17. I then organized some stuff into my new Ziploc bags (so nice!), and began going through some of the many photos I had taken during the day. I later took a shower (and was very pleased with the bathroom arrangement here - it's very similar to the dorm bathrooms at UC Berkeley, but even when there's other people in there, you always feel like you have your own space. I then tried doing my nightly stuff (and making the most out of my daily mobile data limit), but found that I became incredibly tired at midnight, and so put my stuff away and fell asleep while the lights were still on.

One of the issues with going to bed early - and screw the lot of ya, midnight is early - is that you wake up early. Additionally, I find that when you're in a hostel, you're either with people who wake up quite early, or people who sleep in quite late. Never people who wake up at the same time as you. In this case, the others in the room were late sleepers, and so I quietly got ready in bed for a little while before going to the kitchen to have breakfast. The kitchen was quite crowded, with people cooking eggs and pancakes and what-have-you, but it was still mellow. I looked at the cereals on offer, and didn't really feel too hot on any of them, so I filled a bowl with some of my own cereal, and since the only milk available was "Whole Cream" (Lord God Almighty, why?!), I instead used some yogurt that I had bought at the store. It was good. After I finished, I decided to make my lunch for the day. In addition to the little candies and cereal you use for energy, I made myself two sandwiches, which each consisted of a bun, a slathering of that guacamole-ish stuff, a slathering of Laughing Cow cheese, a slathering few slice of turkey breast, and a handful of that bagged salad. While making them, I had a nice little conversation with a Canadian and American, and I thought it was funny that the American, who had just come from Asia, had come to the same conclusions I had about appreciating home.

I packed everything away in my backpack (stupidly forgetting to bring apples), filled up my Camelback and water bottle, and headed out. I just walked on the streets, following road signs directing me to the various attractions. I was beginning to feel a bit worried, as the pinched nerve in my foot was feeling a lot worse, so much so that I had to stop every ten minutes or so just to stretch it out. By the time I got to the edge of the wild, I told myself to give it one last good stretch and then rough it out. I then went and made my way to the Katoomba Falls. I had originally thought to go to an area called the Grand Canyon (no relation to Arizona), but this would have required me to take a bus or a train, and I didn't want to pay more than necessary. While walking, I managed to see a number of awesome sights, including the Katoomba Falls themselves, the Three Sisters (a series of three peaks from a jutting cliff), and this thing called the Furber Steps. Thank the Lord I was going down these steps, because there were a lot of them, and they were steep. I have done more, and steeper, but I didn't want to tackle this first thing in the day, especially when watching people coming up, breathless and with a look of desperation on their faces.

At about noontime, I got to a nice lookout point for the Three Sisters (and, really, the rest of the valley), where there was a bench, so I took the opportunity to sit and eat one of my sandwiches. You have no idea how good that sandwich tasted, and I don't even mean that from a "I-was-so-hungry-anything-would-be-good" kind of perspective: it was legitimately good, and would have easily cost a good $8 if I bought it from a cafe somewhere. While eating, I spoke with an Australian couple who, able to pinpoint my accent immediately, kept saying how lucky we were that the States has these kinds of spots all over. Considering how much I've vouched for California having so much natural diversity, I couldn't really say anything to the contrary.

I continued my way down the stairs and through a forested pass until I got to some old coal mines, which also happened to be where the patronizingly named "Scenic World" was. This place offered a skycar, a train, a walkway, and something else, for really high prices to see what you want to see in relative comfort. I didn't really have much interest in this, except perhaps for the train, which took you back up the cliff - the only other means was via those steep Furber Steps. I looked at some of the signs around, and one of them was pointing to the "Ruined Castle", which they said was a 2-3 hour walk one-way. I remembered reading about this in the guide book I had, and I just liked the name of the thing, despite it just being a large rock and not anything even resembling a castle. So I decided that would be my destination for the day.

The path started off relatively straightforward enough, though there were a number of times I had to climb over fallen trees. However, I should have become a bit weary when the signs noted I was coming up to a place called the "Great Landslide". Turns out, this was in fact the site of a really big landslide in 1931. And when you get to that point, you lose almost any semblance of a path. There are a few trail-like things going here and there, but these could have been formed by lost explorers going the wrong way, or hell, maybe from lesser landslides. The only way to know the right path was via these little yellow poles that were stuck in the ground. However, this proved to be a fallible system, because at this one critical point, there wasn't one. You could look in all directions, but not see anything. If I were to guess, I would say that it had gotten loose and fallen down. So, I looked around for anything that even remotely resembled an actual path. There was only one.

And it went down.

I don't mean it angled down a bit. This was perpendicular to the path I had previously been walking, and cut straight down the cliff. I scratched my head under the summer sun. This seems like it would be a landslide route, I thought, But there's no other clearly visible path. So, I went down. I had to stay low, keep light on my feet, and not make any false movements, because any loose rocks would mean I could easily tumble to a quick death. This is kinda sketchy, I thought. I continued, further down, looking for any kind of yellow pole, but not seeing any. The drops became a bit higher. This is pretty sketchy, I thought. But still, I went a bit further down, until I hopped down a drop which was clearly, very clearly, not meant to be hiked back up. This is super sketchy, I decided. I checked all maps available to me, including the GPS on Google Maps, and realized I had just went way off the designated, down the landslide path into nothingness. Now, in hindsight, I would have been well-served to have recorded a short video of myself, saying my goodbyes in case I did end up falling and dying down there, and somehow managed to have my body (and camera) recovered. But I didn't really think about that at the moment. I just did what I seem to do every time I feel like my life is in danger: I began laughing.

After getting my bearings, I planned my way back up. The hardest part may well have been the first part, as this was the steep drop that made it clear this wasn't an actual path. I had to do some legit rock climbing here, which I should mention, I'm no expert at. I then continued my way back up, hand-over-foot, wondering why I didn't realize my mistake sooner, as it was pretty freakin' obvious. Still, after clambering my way up, I made it back to where I started. And while I could have decided to call it a day, I actually decided to press on, because on my way back up, I had actually seen the yellow pole I was supposed to reach, so I actually knew where to go now. So, I said a quick word of thanks to my guardian angel (again, the hardest working in the industry!) and continued along.

The rest of the way to the Ruined Castle was fairly uneventful. It also became quite clear that this was not a popular path: on my entire trip to the Ruined Castle and back, I only came across five people. So probably if I did die, it'd be some time before I was discovered. I went through some more forested regions until I got to a sign pointing out the last 600 meters of the way to the Ruined Castle, which were up a very steep hill ("For Experienced Hikers Only"). Excited by the prospect of being there, I hurried my way up this hill, which did no favors for my lungs. After a short while, I reached the Castle itself, which as previously mentioned, was just a big rock. Now, it was already past 2:30 at this point, and I wanted to see if I could make it back to the Scenic Train, which closed at 4:50. I figured I shouldn't spend too long there. The rock itself also didn't have a clear way up, so I initially thought not to climb it. But then I was like, What are you doing? You just came all this way, and you're not going up it? So I listened to the voice in my head and climbed up the rock. And I was quite glad I did; the 360-degree panoramic view of the whole area was spectacular.

Still, I felt I didn't have time to dally; I got down the rock (which was actually much trickier than going up). Had a couple small pieces of candy for an immediate sugar boost, then grabbed my second sandwich and started walking. I would have liked to eat it on top of the rock, but I felt like I didn't want to miss the train because of that. Now, I should note that I didn't need to catch that train, because there were other ways back to the top. The only thing was, I wanted to do it, both because it might be an interesting experience, and because those other ways involved lots and lots of stairs. So I ate while walking, and made a promise to myself not to linger and take pictures. I broke this promise the moment anything even remotely interesting came into view, most notably some manner of two-tailed bird, the likes of which I've never seen before, though I lost it when a couple of loud guys came walking through.

Then I got back to the Great Landslide. And would you know it, I got lost again. I'm not joking. I knew not to go down, but I again couldn't see any kind of yellow poles, nor could I see any kind of discernible trail. So this time I went up. First of all, there was a single man-made step there. Second, there was an area that had a short metal cable put up as a makeshift handrail over a particular treacherous area. Signs of human intervention had to be a good sign, right? Well, once I got to the end of the handrail, that path stopped, literally dropping 20 feet into a chasm. So, I climbed up higher. If nothing else, this would give me a better vantage point. In fact, that's all it gave me, because there sure wasn't any path, just more chasm. I did see the yellow pole, about 100 feet away and 50 feet down, so I made my way back down and followed what could only be described by the world's most generous person as a trail to the yellow pole. But not before a branch I was holding onto broke, almost sending me plummeting downwards. (Spoilers: I regained my balance.)

Once finding that yellow pole, I was all good, and managed to stay on the path pretty much all the way back. Except at one point, where a low-hanging branch tore my hat off from atop my head and flung it over the edge of the path. Thankfully, this was in a heavily forested area, and the drawstring, bless its existence, caught on an exposed root. So, I sat down, took hold of a couple nearby trees, and scooted down the slope, until I could hook the drawstring with my foot. I then hauled myself back up - making me really regret not doing any pull-up training recently - and managed to ask a couple who were serendipitous passing by to grab the hat so it didn't fall off whilst I righted myself. I thanked them and continued to the Scenic Train. Looking at my watch, it was only 4:35. Even taking pictures, getting lost and wasting time on the landslide again, and having to take a time-out to retrieve my hat, I still managed to make it in 70% of the time all the guides said I should. Yeesh.

I was a bit dismayed by the fact that the train cost $14 for a single trip, but I was pretty beat by this point, so I decided to swallow my pride. I got in, adjusted my seat angle so I had the best view (the train itself, incidentally, went up at an incline of 52 degrees, or something similar). It was pretty need going up the side of the cliff, but seeing as it only lasted, maybe, 50 seconds, I felt it a tad overpriced. Still, I got a kick when the lady taking payment seemed shocked when I told her about all my misadventures. I then left and, not wanting to pay any more for transportation, walked another 45 minutes back to the hostel. It was only at this point that I realized that my foot hadn't bothered me all day. And I'm happy about that, because that would be the last thing I'd need when trying to climb my way out of a landslide area.

When I got back to the hostel, I found that Colin had left (I guess his work found him an apartment?), and there were two new backpacks in the room, which I later found out belonged to two Brits. I also noticed my towel was missing, but this was just a misunderstanding by the hostel owner, who mistook it for a blanket and washed it. So, hey, it's clean now! I took off my shoes (which was a blessed relief after, what, seven hours of near-continuous walking), and rested for a bit. I then went to have dinner, which was made up of my last chicken pot pie,  another turkey sandwich (with another turkey sandwich prepped for the next day - I'm making this shopping thing work in my favor), what was left of the salad, and an apple. While eating, I spoke with another group of people, and yet again, I was That Guy. Maybe that's going to be the case in every hostel I'm going to be in (and between here and especially New Zealand, it will be quite a few). But at least this time I could mix it up with my adventures on the trail, which made everyone else's trips to Echo Point seem tame by comparison. I then went back to my room, where I mainly just wrote for a while, and then chilled out for the remainder of the night.

I actually woke up earlier than I was expecting, mainly because there was a lot of light coming into the room. I had thought that we had left the window shades open, but no, it was just a really bright morning. I managed to get some morning half-sleep (you know, when you're just lying in bed in the morning, drifting in and out of sleep to pass the time) until the two Brits got up and about. (Johannes, for his part, was still in bed, fully covered by blankets until three minutes before I left.) I got up, made myself another breakfast, and sat down at the table with some other folks, none of whom I had really conversed with before. In fact, I didn't converse with them this time either; I remained perfectly silent, except for a few polite laughs here and there. They may have thought I was shy or antisocial, partially because I didn't participate in some birthday festivities the night before (like, after-midnight activities), but I didn't mind. After all, I had nothing to contribute to their conversation. Actually, no, I did - they were having one of those sanctimonious chats where they talked about visiting villages in developing nations ("I could have stayed there for two weeks") and then talked about how sickening it was to see developed areas. Basically, the kind of "These people shouldn't improve their infrastructure; I want a quaint vacation" attitude that has come to perturb me. I briefly considered opening by asking if they'd want to stay in that quaint village for 50 years, but I figured it was too early in the morning to have such debates, so I just excused myself with a smile, washed my dishes, and went back to my room.

Giving into my consumerist/frugal nature, I spent a brief time browsing Cyber Monday deals (it's still odd how far ahead of the US I am), though I couldn't find anything that really made me say, "Yeah, I'm willing to spend my money now on something I won't see for months!" So, I just packed up all my stuff. I got my food from the kitchen, made sure everything was out of my bed, and checked out. On my way out, I saw the American girl I talked to the previous morning. "Where you off to?" she asked, and seemed genuinely surprised when I said I was heading out for good. I wished her well, and she began to say goodbye, but stopped and said, "Wait a minute; I don't think I ever got your name." "Nor I yours," I responded, "But we got along just fine, donchathink?" With that, I gave her a small salute and headed out the door. I wasn't on a horse and there was no sunset, but I enjoyed that moment all the same.

(I was also extremely happy that I didn't forget anything, because it would have been really embarrassing to have had to come back in, sheepishly grab my stuff, and leave again.)

I walked my way to the train station, bought a ticket, and immediately kicked myself for using cash instead of my credit card (no reward points, plus I like to only use cash when I can only use cash). I then sat down at the station, waiting for maybe a half-hour. The train arrived at 11:15 or so, and I made my long way back to the Sydney central station. I ate some of my leftover food on the way, and otherwise occupied myself by filtering through photos, reading, and scenery watching. Before I knew it, we had arrived at the Central Sydney Train station (seriously, I didn't realize it until I was practically kicked out). I grabbed my stuff, hopped off the train, and left the station. I walked around to where the bus station was, got a ticket at the local 7-Eleven (as well as a Slurpee, which I somehow both enjoyed and regretted), and stepping outside, saw the exact bus I was supposed to take, ready to depart (again, good timing). I got on, and rode it across the bridge into North Sydney. I walked the rest of the way to Teresa's house and texted her that I was there. She sent me a reply saying that she'd be leaving work soon. Oh. I had somehow thought that she had said she worked from home, but I guess not. So, I decided to walk around while waiting, and did so, though aside from some large spiders and a dead squirrel, the suburban neighborhood wasn't terribly interesting. I then got another text saying that she was on her way home, so I walked to a central area and sat down on a bench, and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Turns out, she worked just a street down from her home, and had gotten back within minutes of texting me. But, silly me, I had not sent her a "Let me know when you arrive" response, and so she thought I was still out and about. All told, there was about two hours between the time I first arrived at her door, and when I finally arrived to go in that door. Probably could have planned that bit better, but oh, well.

I got in, was immediately impressed by the house (very big and nice, with fancy things like a heated towel rack in the bathroom to keep towels warm in the winter), and we sat down to chat. I also took the opportunity to do what laundry was needed, which wasn't terribly much, mainly because I'd been reusing the clothing I'd been wearing. But yeah, there's really not too much to say about the day: we talked, I went on about my Blue Mountains misadventures, showed some pictures, and then we went out to dinner at a small Indian place nearby. It was actually pretty funny; I had gotten Chicken Vindaloo (vindaloo being the spicy kind of curry), which was very tasty, but which I immediately dismissed as not spicy. A few minutes after Teresa began eating, she was sweating.

(Also during this dinner, she brought up a topic that she had been asked by some South American friends: why, when people say "Americans", do they just mean North Americans, and not South Americans? My off-the-cuff response was actually as much a sensible revelation to me as it was to her. First of all, neither Canadians nor Mexicans call themselves Americans. They call themselves Canadians and Mexicans. Only people from the US say they are Americans. And the reasoning is: what else are we going to call ourselves, when our country doesn't so much have a name as a description? United States of Americans? US Citizens? United Statesians? "Americans" is the only title that makes sense, and the only reason it's associated more with the US than the rest of the two continents is due to the significant influence the country has had since the 1920s.)

After dinner, I asked to see if we could find a nearby frozen yogurt shop. Unfortunately, the only one in the area had apparently close down, so we just went to a local grocery store, where Teresa got an ice cream and I a pack of Mentos (these were $1.20, but I had to bite the bullet). We then got back to the house and chatted some more, which had me continuing my explanations of why things are the way they are in the US. I really have become an ambassador for my country, something I never thought would happen on this trip. At least I feel I'm doing a pretty good job at representing Americans as something other than a Tea Party gun nut.

Before long, it was already time to start packing it up. So, we did just that, and after taking my shower, I got to where I am now, writing.

So, tomorrow morning, I'm off to Alice Springs, in the "Red Center" of Australia. Sydney's been fun; more fun than a lot of the Melbourne folks made it out to be, that's for sure. I'm glad I stayed as long as I did and did as much as I did, even if I did almost end up getting killed. But now it's time to head into a more genuine Outback environment, which I'm looking forward to.

And maybe I'll actually be able to eat some kangaroo there, dammit!

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