Arrived in New Zealand yesterday morning after a way too long transpacific flight--over 12 hours in the air. Spending the first couple of days of my journey with my friend Rae. We're staying at her stepbrother's well-appointed home in the center of Auckland...
Yesterday Rae took me around Auckland--went to a local flea market/swap meet.. The prices are lots cheaper here than in the states! But mostly a lot of junkola! Anyways I got a couple of lap laps (e.g. sarongs for like $4 each) and some wacky hair clips. Then we went to the harbor and walked and took pics... Had some lemon pancakes in a cafe (more like crepes than what we call pancakes) and went up to the highest volcano in the city (there are several). Grass covered with trails and a crater. We then went to an underground aquarium with sharks, stingrays and penguins. In some moments it one has the feeling of being totally surrounded by deep-sea life--very cool. Then we attempted to have lunch in a cafe and I basically couldn't keep track of what I was saying and sleep-deprived jet lag got the most of me.
Just got up from sleeping something like 13 hours. It's raining (remember its winter here) and we're going to check out some exhibits on the Maori at the Auckland Museum and then head up the coast to her home/farm. Not feeling so anxious... and am slowly recovering from the malaria pill. Yuck, I hope some authoritative person could assure me that I don't need to take any more!!!!
Very different for me to travel so far and arrive in such a familiar feeling city. (When I get to Papua New Guinea next week, I should be feeling all of that culture shock...) Anyways, the phones work, food is great, city is clean, altogether kind of a feeling of casual efficiency. Whole different ethnic mix than what I know in LA--beyond the many whites there are Tongans, Samoans, and Asians from all over the Pacific. The British came to New Zealand for much the same reasons they came to America--so that men, other than from wealthy land owning families could have farms and families of their own. Very much looking forward to staying on Rae's farm for the next couple of nights.
I've stepped into a whole other world ... and I'm not in New Guinea yet! You remember I was visiting with Rae, my adventurous friend who had lived in LA for about 5 years in the mid-90s. I knew her when she was trying to figure out who she was meant to be by taking growth workshops in LA and living with my long time friend Warren. Being so far from New Zealand and without a green card, she quietly made a life for herself as a private cook and then a fiction writer. I had no idea who else she aspired to be! She'd
grown up in a small town north of Auckland and eventually made her way into the city and joined what she'd considered the corporate fast track. Living in LA became her escape from a life she wasn't sure she wanted... I knew her to be contemplative and quite insightful about herself and others. Not in my wildest imaginings would I have believed that she would have chosen the life of a beef farmers lady.
Yesterday we took a long drive out of Auckland--after surveying as much as I could take in at the Auckland museum. We learned about the European settlers efforts to acclimatize the region by importing proper animals and plants and doing their best to exterminate all that was native and wild. The Maori (they are the first peoples of New Zealand) wood carvings were amazing as well as a most compelling exhibit on their body decoration/ tattoo practices. Tattoos were entered into the entire face, the subjects were then fed liquids by a funnel so that the designs could properly heal. BTW the Auckland New Age has rediscovered Maori spirituality in recent years! On the drive we surveyed numerous green hillsides, vacation towns, and opportunities for "lifestyle living." Here, lifestyle has nothing to do with swinging, but rather acquiring a 10 acre parcel to enjoy the feel of a farm -- something Auckland yuppies might do. And when I'd heard that Rae had moved to a farm, that's pretty much what I'd thought she'd done. Met a member of the Auckland literati and bought a parcel to enjoy while they continued to work in urban-based professions. As we drove further, it became clear that we were headed to a real farm. A farm replete with hills and hills of bright green pasture, loads of cows, some sheep, and a couple of chickens. My introduction to Rex (Rae's guy) was witnessing him feed some 50 odd calves ranging from 4 days to a month in age. (They were darling as we let them suck our fingers in anticipation of getting calf-formula from the group feeders.) He was definitely a country guy -- solid, not terribly verbal with strangers such as myself -- and on a mission to grow these small calves into the beef products that are regularly
imported into the U.S.
That evening we drove down the dirt road a couple of minutes to join Rex's parents as well as his sister and her husband for dinner. And then I became witness to the Rae I'd never known. The meal consisted of freshly caught snapper (they all live on a promontory surrounded by sea water), fresh scallops cooked in a rich sauce, smoked fish and roe, a sweet potato casserole, salad and lemon sponge pudding dessert. It was the kind of meal that 1950s American housewives with many hours to cook dinner might make. The talk was filled with country humor...and the contemplative Rae that I knew became as boisterous as the rest of them! The only equivalent that I could imagine for myself would have been to frequent a shit kicker bar in LA's inland empire, take up with a guy who lived in a San Bernardino trailer park, and hoot up a storm with his family and friends! Being Rae, she's fashioned a life that does go beyond the local scene.
She's a reporter for a regional newspaper, does freelance writing, and is working to have her and Rex's home as a stop over for tour boats seeking afternoon tea. If I hadn't already booked myself to go to New Guinea later this week, I would definitely consider spending the next couple of weeks savoring the colors of Rae and Rex's life here in Batley, NZ.
Yesterday I left the idyllic New Zealand countryside where one of the most sensual experiences was to let the young calves on Rex and Rae's farm suck my fingers. At one point I had three calves on one hand!
Australia, as far as I can tell, from being here a bit over 24 hours is more like America than any overseas country I've ever been to. The people are bold, brazen, friendly and bursting with initiative. Other than an occasional expression like car park (rather than parking lot), I feel just about no culture shock.
My arrival port was Cairns which is a bustling seaside resort filled with Aussie and international tourists. I'm staying in the downtown area where Internet cafes are all over the place, overseas calls can be made for 8 cents a minute, and the food ranges from McDonalds to specialty restaurants serving kangaroo meat.
Today I went white water rafting on the Tully River which is about 2 hours south of here. I was part of a group of about 55 rafters loaded into 9 boats. Despite being "winter" it was hot enough to get a sunburn on the river which sported both class 3 and class 4 runs. For me it was a total contrast to be thrust into the midst of a tourist mecca. The Aussie guides were hysterically funny and then there was the Japanese guide for the many Japanese rafters that were part of the group...who I gather was appropriately amusing as well. (Apparently in Japan its considered improper to do more than class 3 runs, though all I can say is that the Japanese rafters enjoyed every moment of their perilous class 4 escapades!) My boat gained notoriety for being the only one that flipped completely over (on the last run!!!) We thought we'd been doing really well! One of the rapids was called "double D cup" in supposed memory of a garment left behind--I then questioned whether a subsequent run would be called "jock strap" and my guides agreed that that was only fair! Another series of runs was called foreplay and then moist and tasty--at some point we gleefully plunged through a hole and I was assured that we'd hit the orgasm of that run!
In my rush to get to the Enga Arts Festival which starts the day after tomorrow in New Guinea, I neglected to leave time to visit the Great Barrier Reef which according to all reports in an amazing dive opportunity. And then, too, there are countless hikes, safaris and adventures that depart from Cairns. I'm delighted I relished a small taste of it...who knows some I might return to go back down under. Tomorrow I'm flying into New Guinea to hook up with the Enga tribe outside of Mt. Hagen. Don't know what kind of Internet access there will be from there...but if there is, you'll be hearing about it!
I've just completed the first phase of my New Guinea adventure...and have amazingly accessed a computer, so here goes!
Last Thursday I caught a flight out of Australia and jumped aboard a plane to Port Moresby and then caught another one to Mt. Hagen. All the safety instructions were in Pidgeon-English and passengers were advised that both smoking and beetle nut chewing were prohibited aboard! Beetle nut chewing involves spitting out a nasty looking red substance...regular chewers have missing and blackish red teeth!
When I arrived in Mt. Hagen at the base of the Papua New Guinea (PNG) Highlands, it was clear I'd come to a very different world. The locals had what I'd call a "pungent" smell from bathing infrequently (maybe twice a week) and sitting inside their smokey houses. (They have no aversion to smoke blowing right into their faces and their huts have no chimneys.)
Several members of the Enga Clan came to meet me at the airport and drove me several hours into Wabag. The scenery was spectacular---deep greens, waterfalls, puffy white clouds--and open air markets with local produce and brightly dressed people. Then we headed up a very rocky road and then proceeded to walk on a muddy trail for another half hour until we got to the village. Typically, village members walk to Wabag which is about 5 km from the village.
Most people walk barefoot--with my lug soled Reebocks I slid constantly and had to be steadied by my many guides. I was the first traveler to visit this village--and it was very much an adventure for all of us. They largely eat Kaokao (sweet potatoes) supplemented with greens (edible if broccoli, otherwise too strange for me to swallow)...when there was more inter-village trading, meat (especially pork) was available. I was constantly supplementing my diet with protein bars I'd brought from home in that the canned meat they'd add to their meals was salty and pretty disgusting.
The first night I shared my thatched roof hut with Agnes, a 60-something village woman who sang bible songs at all hours. At one point she produced some rosary beads and really went for it. When I mentioned to some people that she was a bit disturbing, I was informed that no one, including her husband could tolerate her much at night. (Her co-wife died about 8 years ago.) On subsequent nights several of the village mothers shared my hut, keeping a watchful eye out for my every movement. If I tried to make my way out to use the latrine, they'd immediately appear with a kerosene lamp to make sure I didn't lose my way. One night Agnes showed up at 2 am looking for her Kaokao--I guess suddenly hunger had struck!
On Saturday and Sunday we walked down to Wabag to see the Enga Cultural Festival. It was absolutely amazing. Regional tribes compete for prizes in dancing, singing and mythical re-enactments. The costumes put Burning Man to shame--beautiful bare breasts, some with full jiggly bellies, fabulous feather headdresses, black make-up, white make-up, mud decorations, and grass skirts. Sometimes I would just go up to each and every dancer, frame them as best as I could, and take picture upon picture upon picture. For me it was a photographer's paradise!
Coca-cola was major sponsor of the festival so of course I had to capture a couple of very native looking dancers drinking it! Since alcohol is banned in the Enga Province, other than beetle-nut, a six pack of coke can produce a pretty good caffeine high.
The state of village life is pretty dismal. Young people with initiative leave for an education in Port Moresby or to Australia and would be hard-pressed to return to raise families there. The villages feed themselves through basic horticulture--sweet potato, corn, greens, taro, sugar cane. Pigs are prized possessions--used for bride price--and only eaten for special occasions. With so many young men having left, the villages are largely populated by elders, polygynous husbands and their multiple wives and children. Due to the heavy influence of the many missionaries (Lutheran, Catholic, Seventh Day Adventist), polygyny isn't as widely practiced as in Africa. Still, in a conversation with one of the village guys, he proclaimed that he'd like to have six wives (he only has one) because then they could work for him and he could relax. Ultimately, the women do the lion's share of the work--childcare, cooking, laundry, house cleaning and gardening. Imagine how much work six co-wives might accomplish!
The village had no electricity (just dim kerosene lamps) with wood fires for cooking and keeping warm. The huts were spaced quite far apart---one had to amble for several minutes on the muddy trails to visit a neighbor. Nonetheless, hardly anyone (especially me) spent any time alone. There were no fixed meal times--whenever someone came by with food from their garden, or a member of a neighboring clan brought an offering, cooking would begin. Some nights we ate at sunset, other nights we'd eat hours later.
Disputes occur over land claims, unpaid debts, bride price, co-wife competition and power struggles. Seeking revenge over these things can lead to burnt houses, beatings, and death. During one walk through the rain forest we came across a man who was frantically headed to Wabag to protect his brother--due to an attack in his village. Another guy had to divorce both of his wives due to intertribal violence. Traditionally the Enga marry outside of their villages to create alliances, though understandably these marriages may not fare well. Ultimately, people are most reliant on their relatives and clan members, making the long-term duration of marriage not that necessary. In the village a woman and her brother-in-law were living together and raising their kids in that they were both estranged from the spouses.
After five days of slogging through the mud, eating barely palatable food (my jeans that could barely zip up when I left LA are now a bit baggy), sleeping in dark smokey huts, and being constantly watched over by my hosts, I decided I need a break. I made it down to the Haus Poroman lodge in Mt. Hagen--took a hot shower, watched a video (on PNG history), ate a nicely cooked meal, and was offered a computer to compose this letter. My sleeping room is bright and airy and I have a smile on my face.
It's my second day at the Haus Poroman Lodge here in Mt. Hagen. When I slipped out of the village yesterday all I knew is that I needed to feel more a part of things...needed to be able to take a hot shower after trekking in the mud all day and to be able to be part of conversations. Right now I'm sitting around a fire joking around with travelers from Savannah, Sydney and LA. Such a contrast from my Enga village experience where we'd also be sitting around a fire not on comfy lodge couches, but with everyone squatting (w/o chairs) as smoke would fill the whole hut in that chimneys aren't part of the local architecture.
Still, something amazing was happening to me there, that doesn't happen here. In that everyone would be speaking Enga, I was left to think my own thoughts. Rather than being part of the here and now (like all the guests here talking about where to go diving and what to do in Sydney), I'd be thinking over long lost pieces of my life and contemplating the huge divide between my life and my Enga hosts. My hands and feet don't have the tough calluses of people who work in sweet potato gardens and readily walk up muddy rocky trails barefoot. Most of my hosts were fortunate if they'd finished the 6th grade (they were the one's with rudimentary English). Their world-views were so different from mine! Their concerns had to do with inter-tribal conflict, maintaining alliances with neighbors as best as they could and getting little bits of Kina (money). Generally, they were not risk takers--they didn't subject themselves to new and potentially uncomfortable realities...they basically engaged the world of their parents and grandparents.
The few members of their village that had moved on were engaging a world filled with very different stresses...a much more multi-cultural world where everyone isn't a relative. Here they had to forge relationships with people who were not their brothers or cousins or in-laws-- where trust doesn't depend on blood or marriage alliances. Now in the village many people were very warm towards me--they'd hold my hands, look softly in my eyes and smile. But whatever I've come to consider a compelling connection is made of such different stuff. There wasn't that excited feeling when you meet someone whose ideas stimulate your own or whose goals coincide with yours. It was simply an acceptance of our shared humanity. That was an important lesson.
Still, I'm troubled by the state of Enga villages, of African villages, of Mayan villages, of so many of today's third world villages. They are rapidly losing their young people and with that much of their potential imaginations. Sadly here in New Guinea the primary representatives of the first world are missionaries who are most concerned with Christianizing rather than viable innovations that might bring about much needed economic prosperity.
My visit to the Enga village was part of a program to bring tourist money into the hands of local people. While on the surface it's great idea, I can't imagine many tourists who would be willing to sleep in smoky houses on beat up foam mattresses, eat a tasteless no-protein diet, and be surrounded by an unintelligible language. For a couple of days I loved the novelty--how amazing it was that I was sharing those moments with people so different from myself. People who wouldn't send their kids to school because they didn't have anything clean to wear that day because it had been raining so hard that nothing had a chance to dry. Last night I slept in a comfortable bed in a smoke-free room and today I ate delicious food all day and glimpsed a bit at Hagen life. I snapped a couple of shots of the ridges above the city as a local boy guided us around. I slid in the mud and smiled a reserved-tourist smile to the Hagen villagers we met on the trails. Tourism is such a culture in and of itself. Apparently something like 400 tourists will be coming to the Sing-Sing this weekend--such a contrast to last weekend's one in Wabag where I was one of maybe five outsiders. Maybe I'll take pictures of the tourists...
The 2001 Hagen Culture Show is over and I want to take some time to reflect on tourism in today's Papua New Guinea. The show here began 40 years ago and attracts upwards of 90 "cultural groups" from many of New Guinea's provinces. Some groups walk four or more days to get to Hagen. The organizing committee arranges for transport of some of the more distant groups. Groups dance, sing, stage small performances and wear great costumes. The costumes and performances is what drew upwards of 300 tourists from all over the world. Several are guests of Air Niugini, most are on package tours, and some purchase show packages. It's the one weekend where every hotel bed in Hagen is sold, and often for a pretty steep price. My "package" included transportation to the show grounds, a VIP admission badge which allowed access to the tourist only viewing platform, a full meal plan, and a comfy room with a (usually) hot shower. And no tourist seemed to have any less than that.
Many tourists plan their New Guinea vacations around the show causing Mt. Hagen's small airport to be overrun with additional flights as well as harried travelers who get bumped from flights they thought were secure bookings. Having been to the regional Wabag show last weekend, I wasn't as amazed as I otherwise might have been. Many of the costumes and performances were similar--though truly there were many more "culture groups" here. Who joins these groups? Members of a village or clan, sometimes students at a school. The feeling is somewhat like an American Indian pow-wow, with tribes from all over coming to compete over dancing,singing, costumes and to sell crafts. What's different here at the Hagen show is the deep interest in the tourist dollar, yen, lira, franc, mark, and peso. A special (printed) program is created for tourists and special times are allotted for tourists walk up to the performers and take all of the close-up photos they desire. And the performers graciously welcome all the snapping shutters, often shaking the hand of the operator and thanking them for taking their photo. (Ultimately the fees gathered from the 2-day tourist passes are divided amongst the performers, working out to be about 70 Kina ($23) for the weekend.)
And many of the tourist/photographers took their mission very seriously. Some brought huge tripods; one Australian brought a back drop, reflectors, and hired a couple of locals to bring over photographic subjects. In addition to the "professional" tourists, every grandma from Germany brought her point and shoot camera to capture the event. In addition, the Travel Channel and PNG's one TV station, EM-TV sent videographers. Some tourists shot 15 rolls a day--I limited myself to 4 the first day and 1 1/2 the second day. (Fortunately I met a delightful couple from Savannah who generously replenished my waning supply of slide film.)
The spectacle of shutter happy tourists descending upon all of these PNG "culture groups" most captured my imagination. I took pictures of the giddy Japanese tourists as they positioned themselves amongst the "natives" and took pictures of each other. And I of course when the German grannies posed, I did the same. Towards the end of the tourist photo session, my Savannah friends grabbed my camera, placed me amongst a one of the most colorful groups, and snapped my picture. So, yes, I became a silly tourist, too!
What I enjoyed most about the "culture groups" were the ways they invented new costumes. (When I suggested to one serious tourist/photographer from Manhattan they we were weren't necessarily seeing "traditional" costuming, she snarled at me. Rather than explaining, I decided it was best to just back off...) The Mendi invented casowary bird costumes with painted wooden heads, feathers made from leaves that were spray-painted black all mounted on something that appeared to be chicken wire. Another "culture group" painted their bodies with black and grey stripes to become snakes. Some groups used typewriter correction fluid (white-out) to paint even lines on their faces---geez I hope that stuff isn't toxic! Others made headdresses out of yellow and black plastic bags. And of course it was lots of fun to shoot people drinking coca-cola and chewing bubble gum in their "native" costumes.
Traditionally Sing Sings might occur to celebrate a marriage or a pig feast and the dancing would go on for a week. No one expected pay--it was an important rite that was simply an honor to take part in. Dancers would go into trance after hours of repeating simple moves and singing simple chants. Then, it was very much a transcendental experience! Today, motivations are more political as well as economic. A sense of national unity is created when 90+ culture groups gather together on a weekend. Fiercely important in a country plagued by inter-tribal disputes. And then PNG is slowly engaging the 21st century where cash is becoming increasingly important in even the most remote horticulturalist's life. With basically a non-existent economic infrastructure at the village level, tourist cash is being regarded as one panacea.
PNG is certainly not a place that inexperienced travellers flock to. Most tourists I spoke to are well-travelled, having been to Africa, Australia, South America, and of course Europe. And many of them are thoughtful professionals who work in business, science, medicine, and the arts. It's certainly not the Princess Cruise set! Trans New Guinea runs the lions share of the tours, averaging something like $8000 for a 2 week visit. (I pieced together part tour, part village stay plus time in New Zealand and Australia over a 4 week period for about $4500.) And then New Guinea has a reputation for pick-pockets, inter-tribal violence, and malaria.
Tomorrow I'm off to Tari for a trek in the Huli country...probably won't be able to e-mail again until Friday when I get into Sydney.
Hi! Last Tuesday I and three other travelers and a local guide boarded a small missionary plane from Hagen and landed in Tari. Waiting for us at the air strip were about 7 Huli men wearing loin cloths, bunches of leaves that covered their asses, earrings, necklaces, and plenty of face paint. For a moment I thought it might be part of an "act native for the tourists scheme," but very soon I came to realize that unlike the Enga and many of the "culture groups" we photographed at the Hagen Sing-Sing, these people were for real. It's virtually unheard of that any of their young people leave the village to go to universities in Port Moresby or Australia. Rather, when a Huli boy reaches about 15 or 16 he goes to a Huli-run bachelor school where he learns how to be a man. This includes growing three sets of wigs--a mushroom wig, a daily wig, and a ceremonial wig. He is given potentized water to facilitate hair growth. The boys are also put through tests where they might go without food or water for a day...and are also taught about the dangers of unnecessary socializing with women. Typically they spend their days alone in the bush hunting possums and other wild animals. When a Huli man marries he must build a house for his wife...and once its built he never sets foot in it. Men sleep in the mens house which is extremely spare--just a bunch of reed covered planks of wood with a fire burning in the center to keep them all warm. Their only personal possessions appeared to be drums and wigs. Since the basic diet is taro and kaokao (sweet potatoe), men cook for themselves rather than risk "pollution" from a menstruating woman. Women will deliver food to the perimeter of the men's house, but are clearly not allowed inside.
Polygamy is fairly common amongst the Huli--I spoke to one 60 year old man who had two wives and 18 children. When I questioned him about rotating sleep nights he quickly explain that he sleeps in the mens house (as do all village boys over 3 as well as all of the men. He "visits" with his wives during the day, like perhaps when one is tending pigs, he'll meet the other one in her sweet potatoe garden. His wives live in adjacent houses and maintain the family pigs together. When I questioned whether there was any competition between them, he wisely explained that they all do everything they can to make each of their lives great. While the women, like most village women in PNG, tend gardens, raise pigs, care for children, the men concern themselves with politics and dispute settlements.
While I was visiting, the men were negotiating a compensation payment for three men from a neighboring tribe that had helped to defend them in a recent tribal skirmish and were killed. It was decided that each of their families should receive 900 pigs. Altogether with some other additions, the total was proclaimed as 2904 pigs! Since I'd never seen more than many five pigs in a household, I questioned how they were going to come up with so many. Apparently, they had distant relatives and various tribal alliances to tap. The thought of being the group that would be receiving so many pigs, sounded equally overwhelming. How could they possibly care for them all? The only thing I could come up with was they could all buy one or more brides in that the going the bride price in the region is 30 pigs. The other day on the trail I did see 30 pigs being readied to be received by a brides' family.
Being on an organized trek, rather than living in a village as I did with the Enga was certainly a different experience. Here, we stayed in village guest-houses--that are constructed solely for tourist/ visitors. They had separate dorm like sleeping rooms as well as a dining hall with an adjacent kitchen. One of the guest-houses (we stayed at two during the trek) started receiving guests in 1999---and since then only 11 groups had been by. Most PNG tourists stay at the luxurious Ambua Lodge and are bussed around rather than slogging through the mud and living amongst the natives as we did. The guest lodges are male enterprises--adjacent to the mens house with men acting as porters, guides, cooks, and dishwashers. The food wasn't anything to write home about (so I won't), but each of my fellow travelers added new dimensions to the experience. Marie, from Italy, had loads of gifts to dispense, Matt, from England, could juggle and clown around for the kids, and Coleen, from Spain had many thoughtful questions. This morning we woke up at 6 am, drank some tea, walked four hours down muddy paths and roads--often I'd have a guide holding each of my hands to make sure I didn't slip. And then when I seemed to be taking the uphill ascents too slowly, one guide would grab my hand and pace me steadily upwards! When we arrived at the Tari airstrip, I started a slow journey out of PNG. First we flew to Mendi, then to Port Moresby. Then I caught a "real" airplane down to Brisbane Australia and then after catching a hot shower in the Brisbane airport, I arrived here in Sydney. The Australian customs agents hosed down half of my muddy trekking wardrobe, leaving me with drippy plastic bags to drag into town. Luckily my hostel has both 24 hour computer access and a washing machine, so I'm set for the weekend. I'm planning on catching a couple of Sydney's wonderful museums and shopping for digeridoos before I catch my flight out to LA on Monday morning. Due to the international time line, I'll be arriving in LA on Monday morning as well!
It's raining. Not the mud-making overwhelming rain of Papua New Guinea, just wet inconvenient rain. I was checking out Sydney's Toronga Zoo when the clouds started to darken and then buckets began to pour. The kangaroos lost interest in being photographed as did the cozy koalas. There was a mad dash to the ferry (the main way to get to the zoo without driving) and hundreds of kids with twisted animal balloons and their harried parents squeezed aboard. Then it was a huge line to buy tickets to take the very quiet subway back to Kings Cross where I've been staying.
Kings Cross is reminiscent of San Francisco's tenderloin--sleazy places, good hotels, cheap hotels, good restaurants, hole in the wall restaurants... First night I stayed at a backpacker hostel that was highly rated by Lonely Planet. I called them from the airport and they said they'd come get me. I waited and waited and finally called again. They said they couldn't reach any of their drivers and to go take a shuttle bus. It was already 10 pm and by that time the shuttles had stopped running. I wasn't impressed. I called back the hostel and they told me they'd reimburse me for a cab. The cab cost $30 (Australian), while the bed in the hostel cost just $20. (They made no money on me that night!) And truthfully, the moment I walked in the hostel (The Jolly Swagman), I felt about 25 years too old for the place. That night I slept on the top bunk of a room filled with snoring coughing travelers. The nearest bathroom was up some stairs and down a long hall. The first thing I did the next morning was move! I settled on the Springfield Lodge which was close enough I could walk my bags over. Here I have a comfy double bed, private bath, TV, and IT'S QUIET. I got my first luxurious night of sleep in clean white sheets in awhile.
Yesterday I saw a fabulous exhibit on Australia's Indigenous Peoples. Such a contrast to how "culture" was presented in New Guinea. Great mix of plastic arts, video, still photography, etc. Topics included dream-time, art, politics, the Aborigine civil rights movement. and how it interfaced with the US civil rights movement., the justice system, etc. I felt very full when I left. Then wandered down to the Harbor and took a cruise around the Bay. Such beautiful light and views! Since the Sydneysiders looked so familiar, I found myself wanting to take pictures of the skyscrapers and how they reflected light. I photographed the bridge and a space-needle type building from many angles.
Today I went to the barracks where the prisoners were kept. Fascinating history -- detailing their crimes that caused them to be deported from England (bigamy, adultery, horse thieves, pickpockets, abandonment, and a couple of murderers...) The barracks were created to house them while serving their terms... There were rooms filled with sleeping hammocks--and details of how they would be flogged with nasty whips. Immigrant women were housed there as well--Australia had a huge gender imbalance that took until 1921 to rectify. Women were offered incentives to come and work as domestics--though for most of them, marriage was their ultimate objective. Before there were enough women to go around apparently homosexuality and bigamy were quite the norm. The place also housed lunatics -- my favorite lunatic was a guy who was a vegetarian nudist who had a small following. There was certainly no Elysium/Harbin Hot Springs in those days!
What's the Sydney I'm seeing like? Lots of immigrants who are drawn here for economic opportunities...people from India, the Middle East, all over the Pacific...and New Zealand Kiwis come for the milder weather. There are tons of Japanese tourists, too. People on the subway seem to be reading lots of interesting and esoteric things (a far cry from PNG where local women were seen reading grade school primers!) I'm going to go get some dinner, catch a movie, and then pack for tomorrow's flight.