When I told various friends that I was going to Australia for July the most frequent response was “Why?” The answer being: “duh, nature” and also because my best friend had been wanting to go there as well. Samara and I grew up together, we were born on the same day in the same year and our families lived on the same street. When my sister was little she would get the two names confused and call Sam “Saramara” The name stuck and eventually was used to refer to both of us. Twenty-something years later we called each other one night and booked round trip flights to Sydney for a month. And that is how Saramara came to take Australia.
While planning the trip I read about poisonous spiders, vicious marsupials, stabby jellyfish, toxic flora, dangerous hikes and epic weather that would all threaten my life. None of this frightened me as much as the claustrophobia of the actual flight: five hours to Los Angeles and then another fifteen to Sydney. Turns out the flight is totally bearable when you accept that this place is your new home with worse food but plenty of booze, which is a good thing considering how many teenagers were on that god forsaken plane.
To my surprise I slept like a princess baby on a cloud of feathers, thanks to a magical combination of Benadryl and Modest Mouse. I woke up here and there, when the flight attendants smashed carts into my elbow and one time while being straddled by an Australian motorcyclist, but these things happen.
Before I knew it we landed and it’s a good thing I got loads of sleep because escaping that airport is no small task. Aside from the usual customs protocol, Sydney has a fun bit where you go and put all your belongings on the floor while a dog comes over and sniffs them. Of course, Fido went straight for my bag that was chock full of lovely vegan treats I made for the plane. A customs official rifled through my bag and pulled out a banana that I meant to eat about twenty hours earlier. My stomach sank, I’d barely gotten over my trauma (let alone black mark on my passport) from the Great Dragon Fruit Episode of 2007. I fully expected to be detained for the rest of the afternoon at best, with the Thai prison scene from Bridget Jones running through my mind. But this was a banana, not cocaine, and I’m in friendly Australia. The officials gave the dog a treat and basically laughed it off.
After the customs episode all we needed to do was find the free shuttle provided by our hostel to take us into the city. I really hope that at some point I get on Jeopardy and the category for the final question is “Sydney International Airport” which I am now far too familiar with. It took us the better part of an hour to find the driver of the shuttle, then he disappeared while we gathered our bags, twenty minutes later and on my seventieth trip around the terminal I found him in McDonald’s glued to some World Cup footage which was fine because I’d already lost an entire day on the flight, so what’s another half hour?
We spent our first day walking around Sydney for hours. Our hostel was a fifteen-minute walk away from some botanical gardens with views of the Opera House and the bridge.
With those two sites out of the way there wasn’t a whole lot left to do so we wandered around the city and eventually headed back to the hostel. When we got into our room we realized something was terribly wrong.
“Is it… did it just get dark out?”
“Shit. It’s winter!”
You’d think with the amount of planning that went into this trip one of us highly educated educators would have realized the sun would set early in Australian winter, even if the temperature remained pleasant. Quite a depressing realization when you’ve just left peak New York summer with its 9pm sunsets. By five o’clock the east coast of Australia is pitch dark.
Since there are precious few hours of sunlight everyday we began maximizing our time by getting up and out first thing and going to sleep obscenely, embarrassingly early. I’m not completely at the end of my hostel-staying days, and my bank account is nowhere close. Still, certain things are starting to feel silly, like when I wake up early to do a workout in the park and bump into Swedish teenagers just getting home from some sketchy club, smelling like cheap liquor and even cheaper cologne. Yeah we’ve still got some edge though, we both swiped blankets from the Qantas flight to use as yoga mats.
But this is hostel life at twenty-eight: staring at the nutrition facts on the quinoa-chia seed milk you just bought to make sure the sugar to protein ratio is acceptable.
It’s delicious, by the way.