Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Melbourne Nadir

How do I pick up after such a long hiatus?

It's been a long break. In my last post I explained why I wouldn't write for a while, but said I'd pick it up soon after coming home. So why didn't I write sooner? Well, in many ways coming home to Denmark was a lot scarier than than I'd thought. Scarier even than leaving, which surprised me. Second, I've been reluctant to write about Melbourne, as I don't like thinking about it. But here, at long last, is the next chapter of my story.

Now where was I. Ahh. Melbourne. What was it about Melbourne that was so horrible that it took me three full months to gather enough courage to write about it? What was it that broke this otherwise infallible and god-like man of steel? Did his heart get broken? Well, almost. It was a motorbike. Again. But let me start where I left off.

In tasmania I'd been thinking a lot about the Roskilde festival, and how sad I was to miss it. Eventually I took the decision to cut my trip short so I could get home in time for the event. Renée knew I'd do it long before I knew. She's clever like that.

I figured I could do without the ten days in Singapore easily enogh, and the fourteen days I'd lose in Australia wasn't much when balanced against such a perfect opportunity to ease back into Denmark, averting the worst of the inevitable culture shock. So I changed my ticket.

However, one night in Melbourne - while trying to sleep - I almost panicked. It was an odd, out-of-place sensation. A real, horrifying, end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it kind of panic. I panicked about Hedda, and whether she'd be expecting something from me when we met again. About going home. About meeting that girl from that other festival again, and what would happen when I did. By then I didn't think of her as often as I used to, but she was still poking around in my thoughts sometimes. I panicked about whether I'd miss great experiences in Australia, and trade it for something mundane.

I suppose I was just scared shitless that I'd miss out on stuff or regret my decision. I spent some time focusing on how much fun I'd have still in Australia. All the adventures. All the fun I'd had on the festival before. All the fun I'd have with my friends back home. At last, I fell asleep knowing that everything would be alright.

Diary entry:
Tuesday the 28th of April '09. Melbourne, Australia

I'm on my way to Epping to fetch the motorbike I've bought. A Honda XR 600R. It seems to be in good condition, so I think it'll go the distance. After getting burned twice I'm a little apprehensive about buying a new bike. We'll see.

I've stayed with Grant and Kristen since I arrived in Melbourne. They're two very friendly metal-heads. They're both gamers, and I've sated my hunger for Fallout 3 for now. I've gotten a helluva lot of blogging done which feels really good. I went to town with Grant and Kirsten a couple of nights, and they have some hot friends who's unfortunately all spoken for.

Friday night one of the clubs had a viking theme going, and everybody dressed as a viking got in for free. I showed them my passport and said "hey, I AM a viking!". The doorman didn't buy it, but the bartender did.

I met Grant and Kristen through CouchSurfing. Great people both. they were planning a trip to Europe and wanted to go through Denmark up to Norway (I think), which means I'll be able to return the favor next year. Yay! They were awesome hosts, and theirs is the comfiest couch I've ever slept on.

At 600cc, this XR was the most powerful bike I've ridden to date (you can stop laughing now), but on my way back from Epping it stalled. My breath stopped, fearing another 3000,- AUD out the window. I quickly realized what was wrong though. I'd accidentally pulled the decompression lever while engaging the clutch. The two were mounted curiously close together. I made a mental note to mind my finger placement and carried on home.

Originally, my plan was to start the Australian leg of the journey in Adelaide as I had a thing or two I wanted to do there: 1) Drive the Great Ocean Road and 2) dive with Great White Sharks. But since I found myself in Melbourne already and didn't care to drive all the way to adelaide and back just for the sharks (a journey of almost 1000km each way. Besides, cage-diving was outrageously expensive), I decided to drive up the Great Ocean Road as far as Port Campbell, see the twelve apostles, spend the night, and drive back the next morning.

...In case you were wondering.

The XR600. Notice how I didn't melt any plastic on it...

If mars had water, this is what it'd look like.
I used my sunglasses as a filter. People were looking at me funny, but I think it worked out pretty well.

That sunset was one of the best I've ever seen.

Driving to Port Campbell I had the setting sun directly in my eyes and couldn't see a thing. Scary!

There's a place there called the Shipwreck coast which I was very excited about. My imagination was swimming with images of sandy, rotting and rusting shipwrecks, all exposed at low tide, old pirate treasures waiting to be plundered. Dissapointingly, it's just a name. No wrecks.

The whole trip, I was a bit paranoid about the sound of the bike. I thought it sounded clangy, but reminded myself that I had to get to know it. Still, I couldn't shake a feeling of doom. Well back in Melbourne I had it checked through by a mechanic for the compulsory road-worthiness checkout, and he told me it wasn't road-legal due to several shortcomings, including a worn out rear tyre and a weird sound from the engine.
I was devastated. I had been an utter fool going 800kms on it before getting it checked. Now there was no way of telling whether the fault was mine or the sellers. The repairs could be anything between 500 and 1500 AUD, and at the time I was sure I'd been sold a shitty bike. So I called up the seller.

I'm none too proud of the things I said, or the way I handled the matter. I tried to hold him responsible as I was terrified of facing such a loss. I knew I had a weak case, and I had no idea how I could get it off my hands in a short time. Being stuck with a busted bike in a city I'd rather have left behind days ago made me act like a dickhead. The magnitude of my selfishness hit me a week later in Sydney when the mechanic called me and asked whether I'd ever pulled the decompression lever while the engine was running. I had. Thrice. It had busted up the exhaust valves.

The fault was mine, and I'd tried blaming it on the seller, eventually getting half the price back and handing the bike back to him by using all my pathos to convince him, even though I could feel he wasn't at all happy with the deal. I felt really shitty about how I'd treated him and how stupid I'd been. I had bought the bike even as my gut feeling was screaming at me to say no and buy a bus ticket instead. I was blinded by the dream of that Big Motorcycle Adventure, and felt I had to get a bike quickly if I was going to make it all the way to Cairns. I had let my dream get in the way of reality.
By then I had no inclination to go looking for another bike. Even if I'd had the money.

I went back to Grant and Kirsten's place, cooked them dinner (a pasta salad which was making me quite famous through the south pacific), and bought a Greyhound ticket for Sydney for that evening. It would be a thirteen hour drive and I had nothing I wanted to see between Melbourne and Sydney. Maybe I felt the east coast had something in store for me. Maybe I felt time pressing (I'd been in Melbourne for more than a week. Maybe I just wanted to distance myself from the guilt. Either way, the next morning I found myself in Sydney, reunited with an old friend.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Oh my god, he's blogging in real-time!

Disclaimer: By reading this post through, you agree to complete the homework assignment put forth at the end of this post. No excuses! It isn't dangerous. You have the time. Your life will be richer for it. You'll have a story for your grandchildren. And no peeking!

Country-men, foreigners. Dignitaries, royals and usurpers. Priests and paupers. Ladies and gentlemen. Friends.

It is to you I now speak. For behold, I am blogging! 'Nay!', I hear you cry, 'it cannot be!' But I say to you; believe it. It is so.

It'll only be a short one though. The last post covered the first ten days in Australia. I've been here for two months. I'm slightly behind schedule. I have two weeks left in this beautiful country, and honestly, I'd rather spend them diving, river rafting, swimming, and a whole swathe of other ways than in front of a computer to keep up the blog.
So: Don't expect new posts for the next two weeks. In fact, make that 3-4 weeks, as the Roskilde festival will consume me mere hours after I touch down in Copenhagen.After that, however, I promise you inspired, witty, poignant, personal, honest and regular updates, covering these last two months of my trip. Followed by thoughts on coming home, and concluded with hilarious appendixes like packing lists, bank statements, and the like.

The bright side: Since my blog won't sate your appetite for adventure for the next couple of weeks, you'll have to go do some adventuring for yourself. Do something unexpected. Surprise people. Surprise yourself!

Which leads me to the homework: Before you read my next post, you will create an adventure for yourself. The rules are as follows:
You will want to make a day where you go to sleep in a place you didn't expect to be when you woke up that same morning. (it can't be the same residence)
You have to CREATE that day, don't just expect it to happen.
You are not allowed to plan where you sleep until two hours after leaving the place you woke up.
You are not allowed to plan ahead! Be spontaneous!

You know when you are cheating. Don't cheat yourself.
If you dare, get out of town!

pack a day-pack.
Bring a sleeping bag.
Safety first. Use your common sense.
The further you go, the better! Stretch beyond what you thought possible.
It's okay to be afraid, in fact, that's great! But do it anyway. That's what being courageous is all about! In that respect, it's not much different to sky-diving!

A wise man once said: It's dangerous stepping out your front door. If you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you'll be swept off to!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Tasmania and a Friendly Face

Covering April 12th to 23rd

Before I went to bed sunday, I checked my ticket to find out what time I needed to be at the airport monday. My blood froze. The ticket was for saturday the 11th, not monday the thirteenth. I hadn't looked at it for three months, but remembered having planned to be in New Zealand for three months exactly. Turns out I'd calculated three months from the date of departure from Denmark, Not the arrival in NZ!
All I could do was buy a new ticket for monday. The cheapest one available was 400$, bitter money, but it could be worse. I was unsure whether my visa had run out, which scared the shit out of me. What would the consequences be? The airport staff didn't mention it, so I assume it hadn't expired.

Arriving in Melbourne I checked in to what turned out to be an expensive and crowded hostel. In New Zealand I'd been spoiled for choice of awesome, cheap, homely hostels and I'd expected the same from Australia. Unfortunately, this doesn't seem to be the case. Not in the cities anyway.

The next day I woke up to find that a solid fever had taken up residence in my body. It'd probably been stowing away there since the airplane the day before. I was already in a rotten mood because of the hostel and leaving beautiful NZ, but as I went to the library to blog I called up Renée from Tasmania. Turns out she had a few weeks off work, and I booked a plane ticket for tasmania leaving that same afternoon. It's funny how, with some people, it feels like you've known them forever the first time you meet. That's what it felt like with Renée. After my introduction in Dunedin some three months prior, Renée forever referred to me as Socks. I countered by naming her Thunder. I would tell you why, but she'd kill me with that big machete of hers.

You call that a knife?

I spent around 10 days in Tasmania, laughing all the way. Renée showed me Devonport, the Cradle Mountain, and Triwunna Wildlife park where we fed kangaroos.

I'm gonna try and jam my thumb into its butthole, that should really piss him off!

Returning to Launceston (where Renée lives) the fever was clearing. I felt drugged and infinitely happy about the state of things. The road home was beautiful, but I took no pictures as Kings of Leon were on the stereo and I couldn't stop air-drumming.

Saturday, after a little walk around Launceston, we started out on a two day roadtrip. First stop was Hobart where we got uncharmingly drunk and slept in the car.

Renée was driving, so I never really bothered getting out of bed.

Renée's endless fascination with seaweed
I never figured out what this was. I think it was alive. That sounds like a job for, dundunDUNNN. Biophysics!

The next day we went to Port Arthur.

Port arthur is a sobering experience. It's the restorated ruins of an old prison, way out on a peninsula. There's heaps of stories about how bad prison life was, but the worst was about two young boys in the boy's prison. Both aged 12, they were best of friends. One day, when out chopping wood, only one came back. He wouldn't tell where the other had gone. Three days later, a guard found the boy leaning against a tree. His head had been bashed in with a rock, and in his neck was a knife, four inches deep. Now, the blade of said knife was only three inches long, but it had been thrust with such force that one inch of handle had embedded itself too. His mouth was full of maggots, but the worst part is that he was still alive. He was taken back to the infirmary where he only had strength to name his killer before he died. His friend was tried as an adult (as was british custom at the time) and hung by the neck until death.

More than a thousand people, most of them prisoners, were buried on this tiny island.
I don't believe in ghosts so I took this picture in mock terror. Funny thing is, I have no idea what that white smear in the corner is...

That evening we parked the car in a graveyard and slept. It was a bit cold, but otherwise surprisingly comfortable to sleep in the car.
Since the Port Arthur ticket was valid for two days, we went back the next morning to see some of the things we'd missed. As if the whole having-been-a-horrible-prison thing wasn't enough, the old cafeteria had been hit by a killing spree just a decade back, with dousins of people shot dead. My lonely planet book adviced us not to ask the staff about the incident.

Around midday, we arrived at the Freycinet peninsula where we took a swim. The water must have been less than ten degrees, but it was the closest thing to a bath we'd had for days. We took a look at the Grampians, but didn't feel like hiking so we drove back to Launceston.

milliseconds later, this kid was soaked. Nyah nyah nyah hahah!
Armand, the only dog I've ever loved. Looks possessed doesn't he? Well, that's what you get for naming your dog after a vampire!

The next evening Renée had some friends over, which resulted in heavy drinking and sleeping most of the next day away.

Thursday I was bound for Melbourne. Before I left though, we took a walk up the Gorge in Launceston. What a quaint old place that was! It felt a century removed and even in the bleak weather it was very beautiful.
What do you say at goodbyes? I guess Armand got it right. There's nothing to do but stare into the water and maybe chase some geese.

Renée drove me to the airport, and well back in Melbourne I hooked up with some couchsurfers I'd made an appointment with. I'd decided to buy another motorbike, but that's a different story and will have to wait until next time.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Four dives, one parrot, and a life changing toilet.

Covering april 5th to april 12th

Northland offers a couple of awesome dive-sites. One of them is the Rainbow Warrior, the greenpeace flagship that was bombed by the french government. This is probably the best dive I've done so far in my life. Visibility was 20-25m, the wreck was at a depth of 25 meters, and the wreck itself is out of this world.

Poking my head through the bomb hole I was greeted with the most beautiful sight I've ever seen on a dive as the engine room was lit by a hole in the deck, and in the shadows, thousands and thousands of fish were swimming about.

We followed up with a reef dive. On descend, we were right on top of two big eagle rays, one of which were pregnant. If I'd hit the bottom I would have been standing on them. Beautiful! There were heaps of surge, which caused me to use more air than usual, but it made for a fun dive. Again, the place was teeming with life, and we were constantly being followed by big curious fish. They'd even let us pet them if we were quick enough. We caught a crayfish which they cooked for me afterwards.

I took the crayfish back home to the hostel where I shared it with Kelly who I'd met two nights previous. It tasted good, but I had a hard time getting over the whole snapping off of limbs and sucking out the meat thing. I guess I'm still a city slicker. Besides, it was staring at me.
I filled out my log-book with Kelly besides me and taught her all there is to know about diving in the process. Honest!

The next day I spent chilling in Paihia with Kelly. We had a good breakfast and I checked in at the Pickled Parrot where she was staying.

Meet Rocky!
Meet Kelly! Rocky goes for the throat.
Cautiously getting to know each other.
The first scare turned into an uneasy truce, and eventually, mutual respect. I quicly learned not to wear shirts, necklaces, or anything else he could bite.

I spent another two days chilling and booked my diving at the Poor Knight's Island for friday, spending thursday night in Tutukaka.

The Poor Knight's, according to Jaques Cousteau who has a thing or two to say on the matter, is one of the top ten dive sites in the world. My day here wasn't the best conditions, but we had two good dives none-the-less.

My first buddy only had 11 dives and it'd been 1½ years since his last so he went through his air twice as fast as I did. We'd agreed on a max depth of 25m, but he didn't look at his depth-gauge so I had to fish him up from 27m. There wasn't any danger, but I didn't care to spend my second dive looking after him (that's not what I pay for) and I'd like to spend all my air in the water so I hitched onto another pair.

The second dive was far more interesting, with a small cave-chamber, an arch, rays, and depths to make you dizzy. We didn't exceed 28m, but even at that depth I could see rays on the bottom 15-20 meters below me. That's when you need to keep a close eye on the depth gauge!
One of my buddies on this dive, a girl called Gayle, was just as inexperienced as my former buddy, but far more secure and skilled. All three of us emerged with 50bars on the tank. Perfect!

Inside the cave:

One of the other divers was driving back to Auckland and gave me a ride. All the way we were talking about diving and, in particular, irresponsible instructors. We had a very enlightening chat about the differences between PADI and CMAS certifications. She was very knowledgeable and had very healthy attitudes towards diving and teaching. If you ever feel like taking a PADI certificate in NZ, she'd be the one to look up!
She is: Bianca Stevens at

That night was the first time I called my parents since I left home. It was good to hear their voices again. I hadn't even realized three months had gone by!

The first night in Auckland I stayed in a backpackers, and saturday I had to kill some time until Bojana got off work. Normally, I like to have my breakfeast before turning hookers down, but this morning I had to brush them off as soon as I got out on the street. Did I really look that desperate?

Sunday I spent at Bojana's place. A funny thing happened when I was on the toilet. For years I've been wondering what I wanted to do with my life, but there, on the can in Auckland, everything became clear. Perhaps it was the high ceiling, that loo had room for ambition!

I've long been fascinated with science, but physics and biology have always stood out. There's something about studying life, and there's something about studying the structure of our cosmos. At the same time I've been afraid of starting to study either. Mostly, I couldn't decide if I'd rather play music for a living, if physics would be too hard (and abstract. Visualization is important for my enjoyment of physics, and enjoyment is the deciding factor in wether I'll be any good in my field), and if biology would be too boring (I couldn't see myself staying awake through lecture after lecture on memorizing bones and muscle names).

All morning I'd been surfing Wikipedia. It went something like this: The Sun => Planet => Natural satellite => Europa (moon) => Possibility of life on Europa => Life => Entropy => Entropy of life
All are very interesting articles and definitely worth a read, even if you don't catch it all (entropy, I thought, was a mind-boggling subject and I never got more than a fuzzy idea about it - even with the less technical articles available (look near the top)).
I'm intrigued of how nobody can really agree on how to define life. 'It has DNA' one person says. 'Then how about viruses' says another 'That's just a molecule, yet it adapts to its environment'. 'Life has negative entropy' says a third. 'Yes, but isn't that a bit too abstract?' came the answer.

The universe is a unity. Physics and biology are not two separate phenomena, just terms we concocted to split the universe into smaller, easier-to-understand chunks. Life is not a "mystical force", but an entirely natural consecuence of the physical laws. I want to study, in particular, that specific "event horizon" where "dead matter" turns to "life". I want to study... dundunDUN! Biophysics!

Now that I have something like this to look forward to, I'm no longer afraid of coming home. This adventure doesn't stop when I leave Australia. It's my life!

'But what about music?'
Good question my young padawan. I'll continue to make music, but I'll emphasize having fun with it. Just like with my studies. If that means that nobody but me cares for it, then so be it!

So, next time you feel a rumble in your tummy, be sure you seat yourself comfortably. It might change your life!

Editor's note: Many years later, when Jophiel had been awarded a combined nobel prize for physics and biology (they threw in chemistry and peace as well for good measure), Bojana started renting out the lavatorial facilities of her Auckland home. Before long, when rumors of the miracle powers of the "Auck-loo" were circled on the internet, Bojana became the world's most wealthy woman.