With the end of A Great Journey on the horizon, I was unsure about where to go after New Zealand. I was of two minds:
- Hit Australia briefly to check out a couple cities and say hello to friends.
- Get out of my English-speaking comfort zone/expensive countries and into some Seoul food.
Alas, the proximity, ease of entry, and prospects of seeing friends old and new in Oz won out over the potential costs (Australia ain’t cheap). So, Auckland to Melbourne on Emirates it was, which meant I finally got to see La La Land. Loved it.
As a testament to how deeply travel is ingrained in Aussie culture, my visit to Australia included several reunions with locals I’d met on A Great Journey.
Reunion #1 was with Michael – whom I’d met at the Rayuela, er, Rashuela, Hostel in Buenos Aires in March 2016. My Australia 101 class began less than 24 hours after touching down in Melbourne.
Of course, after grabbing a one-week Myki card that fine Thursday morning (good on all trams and trains; a must when in Melbourne!), I regretfully left it at home. Luckily, Michael had an extra and off we went on a very Australian excursion to the legendary Melbourne Cricket Ground.
It started with randomly running into his parents on the train, a smartly-dressed couple who shared that a coat and tie is required to get into the MCG’s Members Dining Room area. We soon parted ways and Michael and I got into a pot & parma – a traditional working-class meal consisting of chicken parmigiana and a pot of beer (285 ml in Victoria; 585 ml in Western Australia, apparently). Afterward, the night culminated at the MCG with an Australian rules football match between Richmond and Collingwood. A proper good time, mate!
Aussie rules football turned out to be a better spectacle than rugby (sorry, South Africa, New Zealand). The sport is an Australian original, and really big in Melbourne and the surrounding area. A fast-moving, very physical game with quirky ball movement on a huge, oval-shaped field, and a raucous crowd in the stands, I enjoyed it very much.
So much so, in fact, that after playing tourist in the city center the following day and running into a bunch of people going to an AFL game on the train, I decided to go, too. This one at was at Etihad Stadium, and the quality of football and crowd was even better than the day before.
Really grainy video due to crap phone I bought in Melbourne, but good example of the fluidity, scoring, and energy of the AFL.
The travel gods smiled upon me once again the following day, as I entered The Book of Mormon ticket lottery and won the right to purchase a pair of tickets for $40 each. Maureen, my AirBnB host, joined me for the absolutely hilarious show (although Uganda, sadly, took a worse beating than Utah), and kindly showed me around some locals bars afterward.
Reunion #2 took place on Sunday funday, with my friend Steph. The good Doctor and I had a great time in Rwanda, drinking Virungas, listening to a terribly choppy DJ, and watching a couple ladies of the night rob an absolutely shmammered muzungu.
We settled on tiny Batch Espresso in St. Kilda soon after meeting. As a millenial in Melbourne, I ordered the avo mash. Hey, some demographers include 1980 in the generation, so I’m going with it. After feasting on that generous pile of, surprise, mashed avocado + feta crumbles on sourdough, we hit the Sunday Market.
I planned on leaving for Sydney the next day, but Steph suggested I stick around. So I did, primarily because Melbourne is better than Sydney, I kept hearing. Besides, I had nowhere to be and nothing beats seeing a new place with a local.
I joined the Sims for a few days at their amazing home; their warm hospitality won’t soon be forgotten. Nor will my first vegemite experience or the many kangaroos I saw just hopping about their ‘hood. That was really, really cool and so very Australian. Yet I felt like a total tourist getting giddy over seeing kangaroos bouncing about in a city.
Over the next few days, I got a good look at Melbourne’s city core: the State Library Victoria, Old Treasury, Parliament House, University of Melbourne, etc. Sometimes solo, other times with Steph and Vic, her brother. We ate Mexican food (and kangaroo; it’s so good/lean!), hit a few cool bars, and even a rooftop movie. Definitely glad I stayed and got to know Melbourne better.
Albeit brief, I was able to have reunion #3, with Lauren, whom I met in Argentina and went hiking with in Chile. It was good to reminisce about the awesomeness of Patagonia (don’t miss Torres del Paine) and catch up on life.
Before long, I hopped on the train from the Sim’s and into the city one last time, backpack in tow. A nice walk and a couple of hours later, I went to pick up my Spaceship, which I’d booked on Transfercar.com.au and would be driving to Sydney. It was another fortuitous booking, where their needs matched my dates and route, so I got around for free. Can’t say enough good things about Transfercar, which worked like a charm in NZ and Oz.
Because my sweet ride wasn’t quite ready, they let me use the washer and dryer – two machines I desperately needed – while I waited, so it really was a good little morning. I dug into some more Explorers of the Nile, one of the books I liked most on A Great Journey; it made me miss Africa, for sure.
When the repairs on the van were done, I hit the road to Wollongong. My friends Tim and Beth live in this idyllic little surfing town an hour south of Sydney. En route, I stopped at Glenrowan, where infamous Australian outlaw Ned Kelly had his last stand in 1880. Reunion #4 awaited, almost exactly a year after I’d met the dynamic duo in Argentina. More on that another day.