in Checking In

Sydney, Day 1

I just awoke from my first real night of sleep in two days. I’ve been going more or less nonstop since Friday morning. I estimated I snoozed about six hours total on the flight over. Not too bad if you consider it. I’m still marveling at how much easier it was than I expected, though I’m sure the prize waiting at the end of my journey was a big incentive.

I wrote the last post about twenty minutes before I landed, finishing it up right as the crew was preparing the cabin for arrival. I then struck up a conversation with the mate next to me (hey, I’m getting into this) for the first time, a guy who looked like Kevin Costner in a rugby shirt. I’d heard an Aussie accent the few times I’d ask to get by him but one time he responded “no problem” rather than the typical Aussie “no worries.” Hmm, I thought, wonder what his story is.

It turns out he lives in San Francisco, working as the head of staff for Brian Tracy, a motivational speaker of some sort. He was from Melbourne but lived now in the States, traveling all over the world to set up these speaking engagements for his boss. He laughed when I told him the trip seemed easy. He’d done the LA-Sydney thing fourteen times last year! “Believe me, mate, it always seems long,” he said with a grin.

Walking through the jetway, I was struck again at how jet travel has shrunken the world. In fourteen hours I completed a journey which would have taken a year not too long ago. I then thought that no matter how long the journey to Australia, once you arrive the sheer distance you traveled will make you damn happy to be here!

Going through immigration and customs was a breeze. Very organized. Australia screens your bags when you enter the country, looking for “alien” plants or animals. I was glad to see that effort, since the books I’m reading about Australia (“In a Sunburned Country” by Bill Bryson, namely) tell of foolish Australian settlers who introduced European plants and animals to make it seem more like home. After fifty million years of isolation, Australian plant and animal life had no defenses against rabbits, foxes, blackberry bushes, and a number of other devastating invaders. Now the country takes a more defensive stance, though much damage has already been done. Still, so much of Australia’s life remains undiscovered, so its wise to be protective.

I thought it ironic that customs was using beagles to inspect baggage, since beagles are themselves not native to Australia. Why not use dingos, mate? The poor native dogs have lost that prestigous job to illegal immigrants of the beagle variety.

Two American ladies behind me giggled at the customs agent’s instruction to “form queues, please.” The good-natured agent asked with smile “what, you don’t say ‘queue’ in America?” When the ladies shook their heads the agent called out “form lines, please” for the benefit of the Yankees.

Americans. Can’t take ’em anywhere . . .

I had my bags and was waiting for Clinton in about 30 minutes of landing – quite impressive. He showed up a bit later and took me to my hotel, where we stored my bags and looked for some breakfast. On the way he took me to the “office” in Sydney. It was in a residential apartment building. Clinton says its because commercial real estate is so expensive in Sydney. I found it funny that in a massive continent of 18 million people that any real estate would be expensive. But that’s how it is. Fortunately, the company is moving into nicer digs next month.

Once I was free of bags, we set out get breakfast. We stopped into a pierside restaurant at Darling Harbour, eating at a table overlooking the beautiful sun-drenched harbour. As I ate, Clinton spoke to our colleagues on his mobile phone, occasionally looking at me and remarking “yeah, he is actually still awake, believe it or not.” The meal was all I was missing as far as how I felt, so once it was done we walked around the harbour area, snapping pictures of everything, moving or not.

We passed a Saint Patrick’s Day parade on the way to breakfast, so we circled back to watch it after breakfast. The festivities were impressive, all the more so when I considered the absurdity of a St. Patty’s Day parade taking place in the middle of summer. Its those little things that reminded me I’m “not in Kansas anymore.”

After the parade, we hopped onto the tram on the way to Circular Quay, the orgininal landing spot of Australia’s first European explorer, Captain James Cook. The Quay features the Sydney Opera House on one side and the famous Harbour Bridge on the other. We snapped dozens more pictures at this scenic spot before I called Kelly to brag about where I was. The best, though, was yet to come.

We bought tickets for the jetcat ferry to take us to Manly, where we could walk to Bondi Beach. The ferry provided gorgeous views of the Opera House, the Harbour Bridge, and my personal favorite: the sailboats racing through the harbor! It was cruel to pass these beautiful sailboats as they raced across the water, all the time knowing I didn’t have time to join them! I can’t remember a harborside city I’ve visited that had more sailboats in the water.

Clinton was amused at my happy trigger finger. “Settle, nettle!” he chided me as my camera whipped around this way and that. With a grin he reported eleven shots taken of a passing sailboat.

“Cut me some slack,” I said in defense. “You gotta understand. Not only can I not believe I’m here, it’s been winter for me for the past few months. I’m soaking all of this up!”

I didn’t tell him it was an 80-degree winter, but it certainly hasn’t been this nice at home!

Bondi Beach was a bit of a disappointment. “Too crowded,” Clinton remarked, and I agreed. It reminded me of San Diego’s Mission Beach: a lot of people crammed onto a not so large space. There’s no doubt I’m spoiled by the beaches of my home, Panama City. PC’s claim to being the “world’s most beautiful beaches” has held up, in my opinion anyway.

We took another ferry back to the city, burning through pictures along the way. What a beautiful city Sydney is from the water. I began to scheme a way to take the helm of my own sailboat, though I don’t know if I’ll realistically get the chance.

After Bondi, we went back to the hotel to check in and allow me to grab my shoes. Then it was off in Clinton’s car to see the Blue Mountains, an hour and a half outside of the city. We made it an hour before sundown, taking in the gorgeous scenery of the area and walking down a few select trails. The fading light made us unable to hike them all (“bushhiking” as its called here), but given enough time I would have. Still, the fraction we explored made me declare it worth the trip out of town to see them.

We ate dinner at a Thai restaurant in Katoomba, a cozy mountain town. Neither one of us said much at dinner. I was feeling somewhat brain-dead by that time. The food was good, however, and soon we were heading down the mountains with the windows down, enjoying the cool mountain air.

Clinton laughed when at one point I rolled down my window. “Trying to keep awake, eh?”

“Yeah, I won’t lie to you.” That is a ton of stuff to do after 22 total hours of travel.

I did manage to stay awake all the way back to the hotel. When I got there, I immediately began uploading the day’s pictures: two hundred eighty five of them. I left them going overnight and they still haven’t finished.

I took a shower and went to bed at 11PM Sydney time, which is 7 AM Raleigh time. I was unsuccessful in getting my VoIP connection back to my home server for some reason, so I slept instead.

Now its time to get ready for my first customer meetings of the week. It’s going to be a busy schedule from here on out. Sunburned and sore isn’t the best way to start out, but then again that’s probably how a lot of Australian’s prefer to be.