Wednesday, May 14, 2008


I took the shortish flight from Sydney to Adelaide to meet up with Richie and Vicky. I first met these guys when I was living in Sydney 10 years ago. They're both from the UK but have recently emigrated to Australia. Due to the vagaries of the Australian immigration rules they've found themselves in Adelaide as the points entry system here makes it easier to come to Oz if you're prepared to live in somewhere like Adelaide rather than Sydney or Melbourne.

Richie picked me up from the airport and drove me back to their place. They'd just moved house and were trying to fend off an ant infestation. It was a sunny afternoon so we had a relaxing sit down in the garden. Our peace was soon invaded when one of Rich and Vik's old neighbours who had helped them move turned up. He sat down, demanded beer, swore a lot and told stories of his time of the army then eventually left again. Richie apologised for his presence and said we would make our excuses if he turned up again.

Vicky turned up a little later once she'd finished work and we all caught up on old times. Viks cooked up a rather tasty curry - the first of many top dishes she would cook for me while I was there.

Rich and Viks both had work the next day so it was up to me to entertain myself. There had been some discussions the previous evening as to whether there was actually anything to do Adelaide. Neither of them, Richie particularly, seemed to hold Adelaide in high regard.

I hopped on a bus and took it into the town centre. I made a quick visit to the tourist centre and picked a pile of leaflets on places to go by public transport - which I didn't have much intention of reading at any point. I bought myself a sandwich and a drink, took it to the the Botanical Gardens and had a mini-picnic. After a fairly pleasant walk round the gardens I paid a visit to the State Art Gallery. There were a few pics here I quite liked. After walking round there for an hour or so I'd really had enough excitement for one day. Richie was on his way home from work so he picked me up and we went home.

While we were waiting for Viks to finish work I got roped into the task of helping fill in the inventory form for their new house. This involved going from room to room scrutinising walls, carpets, fixtures and fittings for any wear and tear. Viks got back cooked up some Mexican food and we sat down to a controversial game of Monopoly.

I was left to my own devices again the next day. The weather was pretty miserable so I hopped on a bus to a nearby shopping mall. I killed a little time there then retreated back home in the pouring rain and sat on the net until Rich and Vik got home. It was a Friday so as well as being served up more tasty food we had a few beers and more contentious games of Monopoly.

The next day hailed the start of the weekend. There had been some heated discussions as to what we were going to do over the weekend - most of which I stayed out of. In the end Richie drove me to a big hill to get a good view of Adelaide and the surrounding area. It was grey and cloudy so the views weren't that great - but at least it wasn't raining. In the evening we went round to their friends place for a bit of a party. Their friends were staying in their uncle's rather plush house on the outskirts of Adelaide. The place had a pool table and the biggest flat-screen TV I have ever seen.

The party really was a lot of fun. We all laughed a lot. Richie downloaded a song called 'Hide the Sausage' to play to everyone. I'm not sure what happened next but for some reason we started downloading Chas and Dave's back catalogue. We had all the classics blaring out - 'Snooker Loopy', 'Rabbit Rabbit'... The unquestionable highlight of the evening was the spy toy - a little gadget for the Playstaion 2 console. You fix a camera up above the TV screen then can play lots of games and appear on the TV screen. Who would of thought making cocktails, smashing up tomatoes, doing the 100 yards dash and heading footballs in a virtual environment could be so much fun. We were all rolling round the floor in hysterics.

We crashed on the sofas in the early hours of the morning. When we woke up we were all treated to a cracking cooked breakfast then wasted away the afternoon nursing hangovers and watching movies on the massive TV.

I had a couple more days to kill in Adelaide while Rich and Viks were at work. The weather was wet and grey so I spent them pottering round the house, fixing up their laptop and net surfing.

On my last evening Richie got a bit of a sulk on. "You lucky bastard, Marcus. You're leaving Adelaide." he kept saying. It's probably fair to say I haven't painted a great picture of the place in this entry. I'm sure the Adelaide has a lot more to offer than the few places I visited. Despite that I did have a great time here. My main reason for coming here was to catch with two good friends and that I did do. I was well fed, laughed a lot and thoroughly enjoyed their company.

Richie dropped me at the airport early the following morning. I was heading to Darwin to catch up with yet more old acquaintances.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


I hadn't been back in Beirut long when myself and Nia decided to take a trip to Australia. We had been toying with idea of going to UK and even started applying for Nia's visa but then her Australian visa came through - which she had already applied for - and her aunt in Sydney was insisting that she go. So to Sydney it was.

I was in Oz over ten years ago on a one work visa and spent a good ten months of that time living in Sydney where I had a whale of a time so I was very much looking forward to going back and checking out my old haunts. On top of that a good uni friend of mine lives in Sydney, I have two friends in Adelaide who I met last time I was in Oz and another uni mate living in Darwin. So I had plenty of people to catch up while I was there.

After a mammoth 22 hour journey we arrived exhausted at Sydney. Nia was staying with her aunt, but that wasn't really an option for me since as far as her family new we weren't seeing each other so instead I was staying with my old university mate Mark. Mark came and met me at the airport which I thought was pretty good of him considering it was the early hours of the morning. I said a temporary goodbye to Nia and headed out with Mark. It was grey, cold and drizzling - maybe we have should of gone to the UK instead.

Mark dropped me at the flat and went off to work; because our trip had been organised at such short notice Mark hadn't been able to get any time off work. I decided that I wasn't that jet lagged and could probably stay awake for the day. I lay down on the sofa put the TV and promptly went to sleep for five hours. I woke up at 2:30 in the afternoon but according to my body clock it was the middle of night. I knew if I went back to sleep now it would be fatal and I'd be awake all night so I forced myself to stay awake, got out of the flat and wandered down to the beach. Mark lives in Coogee about a ten minute walk from beach, which is one of the nicest beaches in central Sydney. It is also the location of the Coogee Bay Hotel (or CBH) which was the site of many an all night drinking session last time I was here. It was great to see the beach again - it hadn't really changed at all. The CBH meanwhile had had a refurb in the back bar and was looking very bright and clean - not the dark, dingy drinking den I remembered.

My first few days in Sydney were spent taking it easy walking around town and visiting some familiar places. I saw the house I used to live in. My local pub which was in staggering distance from the house and Charcoal Chicken - my favourite eating establishment. In the evening I would go out for a few beers and food with Mark somewhere either in Coogee or nearby Randwick. My stay in Sydney would involve an awful lot of drinking and eating out. I put on a fair bit of weight whilst I was here.

The weekend came and Friday was ANZAC day - a bank holiday in the Australia. I suppose it is a bit like Remembrance Sunday in the UK except here it is another excuse for a almighty piss up - not that the Ozzies really need an excuse. Myself, Mark, Nia and her cousins had some food in the Rocks - a quite funky part of central Sydney up near the harbour bridge. After the food the girls went home to get changed so myself and Mark headed to the Australian pub for a game of 'Two-Up'.

The Australian was ram-packed and had a great atmosphere. There were a few games of two-up going on. This game by law can only be played in pubs on ANZAC day. A referee stands up on a raised platform and someone from the crowd, usually a good-looking girl is called up to toss two coins. Before the toss you can make a bet with anyone in the pub for any amount of money and go with either heads or tails. If two heads come up heads win and if two tails come tails wins. If a head and a tail come up it's a no result and another toss of the coins is required. I took a twenty dollar bet on heads with a guy next me and after four re-tosses I came out victorious. Rather amusingly if the person tossing the coins gets three no results in a row they have to do ten press-ups in front of everyone in the pub. The game is a lot of fun and made for an amazing atmosphere in the pub. Two guys had a 200 dollar bet going on. I was pretty happy with my winnings and we had to move to another pub before I had the chance to squander them which was probably a good thing.

We met up with the girls who tried to get us in into a rather swish drinking establishment. The girls choice of bar was somewhat different to mine and Mark's. The place was for some reason closed on one of the busiest nights of the year so we settled on another bar in Darling Harbour where we drank and danced the evening away. At the end of the evening we made to an establishment called Harry's Cafe de Wheels for the greatest pie experience known to man.

Royal National Park
The next day Nia had some family commitments so after a late start and a hearty English breakfast Mark drove me down to the Royal National Park in his souped up boy racer Ford Fiesta. It was really beautiful here and very peaceful there. We found a pretty secluded beach and had a quick dip. It was really tranquil here. I couldn't believe such a beautiful place so close to Sydney was so quiet on a bank holiday weekend. In the UK a place this would be crammed. The roads in the park were narrow and twisty with little traffic and Mark had a lot of fun driving me round them. We went to a lookout point and I bought myself a nice ice cream then Mark took us back to Sydney.

In the evening we went to Nia's aunt house for a barbeque. Now this was a Lebanese barbeque so I was expecting a fairly grand affair but I was not prepared for the full lamb on spit roast. I was soon put to work oiling the lamb so it didn't dry out with Nia taking lots of photos. After a little while I managed to pass my oiling duties onto someone else and could sit down and enjoy a nice cold beer. The food came out and it was all very delicious and of course there was lots of it. Meat kept getting dumped on our plates. I had been expecting this and paced myself very cunningly. Mark on the other hand was unaccustomed to Lebanese hospitality and was struggling with numerous morsels arriving on his plate much to my amusement.

The following week Mark was at work so I had to amuse myself. Mark was however kind enough to lend me his car on the proviso that I get my arse out of bed in the morning and drive him to work. Having a car at my disposal was a real boon giving me a lot more freedom to visit places that otherwise would have been very difficult to get to. My first use of it was to pick Nia and her younger cousin Rawan up and take them to Manly for a surfing lesson. It was pretty overcast miserable day but at least the were waves small - perfect for learning on. Despite the cold conditions the girls seemed keen and we were soon wet-suited up and ready to go. I assumed the rule of surfing teacher and passed my somewhat limited surfing knowledge onto the girls then we took to the waves. It was pretty cold but we all stayed in for a good couple of hours and had a lot of fun even if we weren't particularly good at it. Once out of the water Rawan was so numb she couldn't pick her board up or hardly even walk. We got changed, had a nice cup of tea and a burger and to warm ourselves up and headed back to Sydney.

The following day myself and Nia did the Harbour Bridge climb. The whole affair is extremely convoluted and takes much longer than it need do. There are loads of health and safety issues to make sure people don't throw themselves off the bridge or drop stuff out their pockets onto the cars and people below. We had to get decked out in very sexy boiler-suits and had to remove anything from our pockets. About the only thing we could take with us was our sunglasses and a handkerchief issued by the people organising the climb, both of which were tied onto our bodies so we couldn't drop them. We weren't allowed cameras even though I'm sure we could have tied these to ourselves - which meant they could then take photos of us and sell them back to us for an extortionate price. Next we were hooked up into harnesses which we would be able to clip onto a railing so we couldn't kill ourselves by taking a jump off the bridge. We then got a lesson in how to climb up ladders. After what seemed like an inordinate amount of time we were finally let loose on the bridge. Our guide Shamus was a wealth of information and told us a good deal about the construction of the bridge. Two teams of construction worker built it starting from opposite ends. The ends were suspended by cables. When the two ends were complete they were lowered till they met and then riveted together - and so they have remained joined together ever since. Apparently there about six million rivets in the bridge. Shamus also had plenty of non-bridge trivia to bombard us with as we made our way up the bridge such as telling us that glacial ice melts at a slower rate than normal ice. I'm glad to say the view from the top was worth the long drawn out affair of getting there. Our descent was a much a swifter affair. All in all the whole bridge climb experience took a good three to four hours and I'm sure we could have done in about twenty minutes. Nevertheless the climb was definitely one of the highlights of my time in Sydney and comes highly recommended. One final nugget of information passed onto us by Shamus was a list of where to go for a drink after the climb we took this advice on board and went to a lovely pub with a roof terrace overlooking the bridge and the opera house.

We went to the opera house the following evening to see some classical music. I believe it was some Schubert and Tchaikovsky. Not something I would normally do but when traveling you seem quite often to do things you wouldn't normally bother to do at home. It was well worth doing. The opera house looked just as awesome from the inside as from the out and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Afterwards we went to the Opera Bar for a few drinks. It's a lovely outside bar on the harbour overlooking the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge.

I continued to make good use of Mark's car and took Nia back to the Royal National Park. This time we hired a canoe and made our way along the river. It was so secluded and tranquil. The waters were absolutely still and reflections of it were just totally amazing. I've never seen anything like it. We also used the car for a visit to the blue mountains. We were a bit pushed for time but still managed to see a few sites.

Randwick Races
The other big highlight of Sydney was our visit to the Randwick races. Nia and her cousins were very much looking forward to this event and had got themselves hats and were planning on getting dressed to the nines. So Mark and myself felt we ought to make the effort as well. Now being a backpacker meant my wardrobe consisted of very little in the way of anything that could be described as smart. Luckily Mark was able to lend me a smart pair of trousers and shoes and Nia bought me a tie so I managed to cobble together a vaguely presentable outfit to deck myself out in. Suitably attired we made our way to the racecourse. Being avid race fans me and Mark were there by 11:30am in time for the first race and immediately started on the beers. The girls of course took a lot longer to get ready and didn't turn for a couple more hours. But all the time they spent getting ready most certainly paid off - they all looked tremendous.

I've only been to the races a couple of times and have tried employing a number of different gambling strategies all of which have been equally unsuccessful. I left Mark studiously perusing the form guide and just went on the horses names to pick my winners with the predictable result of me becoming parted with my hard earned aussie dollars. I got bored of losing my money and stopped gambling about four races in. I then started making bets with Mark on the races - the loser having to get the next set of beers in. This was a much more fun way to bet on the races. It was a gloriously sunny day and we all had a great time. After the last race the girls made their way back home and Mark and myself wandered back towards Coogee stopping for a curry along the way and then carried on drinking into the early hours. At about 1am we tried to get into the Coogee Bay Hotel. The bouncer decided to ask me how many drinks I had had - I was obviously looking the worse for wear. I had no idea how many I'd had (counting back the following morning I think I must been about 16 beers to the good by that point) so I cautiously ventured "Errr... three or four?". "Now come on, how many have you really had?" the bouncer replied. "Ooooh about six or seven I suppose". That seemed to satisfy him and I was let in albeit on a warning not to get drunk while in the pub. I took that admonishment on board and promptly went to the bar and ordered two more beers.

The next day Nia flew home so I went to airport to see her off. I was staying in Australia for a couple more weeks to visit other friends I had out here. Having seen her off I retreated back to Mark's to spend the of the day on the sofa with a hangover watching DVDs and playing on the PS3.

I had another week in Sydney and spent it walking around the coastline and went surfing a couple of times. I had a particularly scary incident surfing at Bondi when I caught a wave that was a lot bigger than I had initially thought. In fact the wave was huge and I was plumetting vertically downwards clinging to the board for dear life. There was no way I was going to try and stand on the board. Somehow I managed to ride it out without dieing and made it to shore. An Irish guy had seen this all take place. He came over to me said "Jaysus, what happened there. You were upside down at one point!". I had no idea what happened, I was just happy to have survived.

I borrowed Mark's car again while he was at work and took it up to the Hunter Valley - a famous wine region just outside of Sydney. I had a nice drive round the quiet twisty roads and bought a couple of bottles of nice wine to give to Ben our friend in Darwin whom me and Mark were planning to visit. People round here also have this strange habit of putting scarecrows up outside their houses. It's all rather unsettling. I kept the car windows closed, the doors locked and was stopping for no one.

Thanks to the joys of facebook I got contacted by an old school friend whom I hadn't seen or heard of since leaving school. He's now living in Manly - probably the nicest place to live in Sydney. I caught up with him one evening for a few beers. It was a lot of fun to reminisce on school days and catch up on the gossip about what every is up to nowadays.

On my last weekend in Sydney we went to the Royal National Park again and hired out mountain bikes. We started off up a very steep hill and nearly killed ourselves. Once up the hill though it was a much easier affair and we had quite a pleasant ride, stopping off by a little river for lunch. We even found time to hire a canoe and went a little way down the river before heading back to Sydney.

I had a great time in Sydney and if it wasn't so far away from friends and family I could seriously consider moving here. But my time here was at an end and I had friends whom I had first met here in Sydney ten years ago to visit down in Adelaide.

Sunday, April 20, 2008


I just discovered that I can put slideshows from smugmug in my blog and I wanted to test it out.

Royal National Park Sydney

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


And so it was time to leave Kamshet and carry on traveling. I’d had a great time here, learning to fly and spending time chilling out on the roof top overlooking the lake, but after three weeks here and with it being so quiet during the weekdays I was happy enough to be on my way.

My original plan had been to catch up with Phil and Merryl and celebrate Phil’s birthday. But with my paragliding course over running I now only had a few days left on my visa and Phil and Merryl were in the north of India. I didn’t really have enough time to get up north so decided instead to spend my last couple of days checking out Mumbai or Bombay or whatever you want to call it.

The traffic was terrible getting into Mumbai and it was certainly a lot hotter here than in Kamshet which was at a higher elevation. After being dropped off in Colaba – the main tourist area in Mumbai - I wandered around to find a hotel. The place recommended in the lonely planet was full so I looked at another place which was a bit shabby so carried on my search. By now a local had attached himself to me in the hope that he could take me to a hotel and get commission. He was pretty annoying and I couldn’t shake him off. Luckily I found a nice enough place and the staff there knew this guy was trying it on and told him to leave.

Having got a room, I dropped my bags, had a cool shower and with night closing went off in search food. It was still very hot and muggy. It’s the main tourist centre in Mumbai and there are loads guys hassling you. I found a nice restaurant and had some pasta – my first European food in three weeks. Afterwards I ducked into an Internet cafĂ© to avoid the heat and hassle. I had a mail from Phil telling me about Mumbai; he said it’s hot, hassly and I probably wouldn’t enjoy it. That was a fairly accurate assessment.

I was due to fly from here in a couple days and didn’t really have

Elephanta Island
time to go elsewhere so decided to stick it out here and make the most of my time. I took the ferry to Elephanta Island the following morning. I met a Dutch guy on the ferry over called Martin and we explored the island together. There are a load of tombs and rock carvings on the island that were fairly interesting. There was aslo a baby monkey playing with a puppy that I found far more interesting. We got back to the mainland and Martin decided to do a city walk in the afternoon but I was tired so went back my hotel for a nice lie down. I did meet up with Martin again in the evening for a few beers. We got quite pissed and talked about Philosophy and whether god existed and other such weighty subjects. Later in evening in the same bar there was a local couple having a rather amorous snog. They tried to sneak into the toilets, presumably to get even more amorous, but another guy spotted them and was having none of it and stopped them going in. I got talking to this guy and it turns out that the girl in question was his girlfriend and the guy she was snogging was his best mate. He wasn’t very happy so I bought him a beer and commiserated with him.

I woke up the following morning with quite a hangover and that combined with a hot humid climate inspired me to spend the day in bed under the ceiling fan. The next day was my last in India. My flight was in the evening so I had time to walk round the city, see some of the colonial buildings and spent a pleasant few hours sitting in a park watching the locals play cricket.

I’ve spent two months India. My time has mainly been spent lounging around on the beaches in the south of the country and paragliding. I’ve had a wonderful time here but at same feel like I’ve hardly scratched the surface of the place. I haven’t visited any of the spiritual places in the north of the country or seen the most famous sights. I’ll surely come back here at some point to see some more of this amazing place.

But I am booked on flight to return to Lebanon. I met a girl called Nia last time I was here and have been quite taken with her. So now I am going back to Beirut to spend some more time with her...