Friday, November 19, 2010

The Aussie Diary, Day 6

Its a travel day.

We have to be up early to catch the 645am shuttle to the airport in time for our 915 flight to Cairns (it pronounced: Cans). The only notable thing about the trip this morning was our shuttle driver was the spitting image of Big Pussy from the Sopranos. He is a Russian immigrant who has been down under for 25 years but he doesn't have one trace of an Australian accent. Strange.

I'll take this opportunity to document a couple of interesting anecdotes that I have yet to mention. One of the first people we met in the airport in Brisbane was a gentlemen who was returning from NYC where his daughter had run in the New York Marathon, as I mentioned before, our bags took forever to come, so, as he and I waited we had a lot of time to talk. We talked politics for a while and its always fun to learn about the politics of a new place and to get an outsiders view of our own political game. The interesting thing he said is that in Australia, voting is compulsory. Everyone is required by law to do it. My first thought is probably the same as yours: wouldn't that just lead to a lot of uneducated voters? He said that does happen. everyone treats their vote differently. I then started thinking on the effect this would have on American politics if everyone showed up. There are certain groups that would fight that decision tooth and nail. Many people benefit from the fact that not everyone participates. I'm not sure which of us is doing it right, but it was interesting to think about. Is it better to be apathetic and vote or to be apathetic and not vote?

Another funny story happened on our first full day in Sydney. While walking back from the aquarium to the hotel we popped into a convenience store to buy something to drink. As I presented the credit card to pay, the nice Pakistani fellow behind the counter asked me "what is your account?". I took a moment to consider his question, then, stumped, I said "I don't understand the question.". I'm not sure if he took this to mean that I hadn't heard him so he repeated himself: "what is your account?". This time, having not acquired any new information, I decide to employ the "look confused" tactic. This is beginning to visibly annoy him, so he decides to repeat his question over and over, never changing the phrasing I might add. He just says it louder and more rapidly, then switching it up and saying it slower, maybe hoping the variety in pitch and speed will unjam the obvious blockage in my mind. He was wrong. I decide to attempt to break the stalemate and I offer a " my account is on the card." Then a breakthrough: "Is there a PIN? Do you sign?" Ah! This was a "debit/credit" question. I say "Sign". And the problem was solved. It was a great reminder that, although you may be in an English speaking country, there are still language barriers. Now, whenever Steph and I want to laugh, we just look at the other, open your eyes as wide as possible and scream: "WHAT IS YOUR ACCOUNT!?!?!" It gets a chuckle every time.

OK, off to Cairns. When I planned this trip I took a bit of a gamble. I didn't want to lose the whole day traveling, so, I planned a white water rafting excursion for 145pm. The flight was scheduled to arrive at 1115am and the hotel is only 3 miles away. I figured even if there is a delay, as long as we're there by 1230, we'll have time to get our bags and catch a cab to the hotel where they're going to pick up up from. A lot of people wouldn't have risked it, but I'm not most people. We take off and land on-time, life is good. We get to the hotel by 12pm, we're in the room by 1230 and we have an hour before we're to be picked up, I'm feeling like a genius. The pickup is for 145 and they ask that you're ready 10 minutes early just in case. Well, this hotel is shaped strangely, so, the room is about a 5 minute walk from the lobby. So, we don't get to the front of the building until about 140p. Normally this wouldn't worry me, but after our experience at the zoo ferry yesterday, I've lost all confidence. We had only been sitting there 3-4 minutes, but my heart is racing within me. "I hope I didn't screw this up too." my suddenly insecure psyche says to itself. But the bus arrives shortly thereafter and we're off.

Australia receives a lot of Asian tourists given its proximity to the continent. Therefore, our rafting group was composed of half English-speakers and half Japanese-speakers. Its actually a requirement of the job that everyone be able to communicate a few basic things in Japanese. I feel a bit left out as everyone was spitting out cool-sounding phrases around me. After we pick everyone up from their hotels we're off up into the mountains. The guides give us the safety talk and the step-by-step as we drive along, everything then has to be translated into Japanese by the girl who seems to be employed strictly for this purpose. Once we get to the river we get suited up into our gear and we're on our way. Our guides name is Hosannah, but he goes by Hoss. (I like the name a lot, actually. I like it more as a girl's name, though. So, if we have another daughter it'll be on the short list for sure.) So, we get on the river and he gives us a quick tutorial on how he'll run the boat, we're taught a few commands and how to perform them as a unit. There are about 4 other rafts going down the river and we take our time going down together always making sure the boats behind us make it through the rapids ok. It was a lot of fun and slightly dangerous, which gives you a sense of accomplishment when you make it through unscathed. This is my favorite picture from the trip:

There are some calm sections on the river and we get out and swim those, we even are able to swim a rapid. It was a baby one, grade 1, but still, never done that before.

After the trip the tour operator takes you to a local bar/restaurant where they have set up complimentary coffee/tea and potato wedges (a winning combination if I ever saw one) while they attempt to sell you the pics from your trip. As you can see from the picture above, their pitch was effective.

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