Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Australia 2015


On November 29, I got engaged to Dr C. Technically, this happened before the Australia trip, but it will help to contextualise some (but only some) of the following shenanigans.

Because direct flights are super expensive and because this trip also included a side trip to India, Thailand, and Shanghai, I booked three return flights through Bangkok to get from LAX to Sydney, etc etc etc. The short of it is that on December 3, 2015 I boarded a China East Air flight to Shanghai. The seats had large excellent screens on which I watched Avengers: Age of Ultron, Theory of Everything (cried) and Real Steel (also cried). I napped and spent time thinking about friction, which was ideal given my experience after landing in Shanghai.

5am, 4 degrees C, bus dropped us at the terminal. I was transiting for a flight to Bangkok, but the reasonably well designed interior spaces had been sliced and diced with crowd control rope generating giant queues and ensuring complete mayhem. Within minutes the atmosphere had gone from freezing to stifling and from nowhere mosquitoes were biting my ankles. A few wrong (and completely unsigned) queues and I eventually stumbled out of the airport, only to turn around and check back in for the connecting flight. That flight was uneventful save for moderate chop and at least two people chain smoking.

In Bangkok I mosied between couches for 7 hours until my connecting flight was to leave for Sydney, occasionally getting lucky with free wifi. My aviation headset worked wonders on all flights, shutting out all manner of annoying noises and delivering mostly clear audio at a sensible volume. I also worked out the numbers for the Blue Origin launch vehicle, with a T/O weight no more than 50% fuel by weight, I think. Security on the Bangkok originating flight was interesting - they had about 6 people checking carry on baggage before the gate, but they spent most of their time working out how to open my bag - putting the entertainment back into security theatre. Watched MI5: Rogue Nation, which didn't stick much, but then what does at 35,000 feet?

At last, Australia! C's direct flight left 24 hours after but landed 15 minutes before me, so I was faced with an odd conundrum - who to hug first at the greeting area? Answer: Everyone. We had already had a tiny, inconsequentially easy day, so we drove to the central coast to hang out with various grandparents, went for a long hike on Killcare Beach, announced our engagement, and had an excellent dinner. I attempted to play piano and failed dismally - I was so tired I couldn't eve remotely coordinate my hands!

For the following days we ate fine food, saw R, R, M, T, went sailing, before eventually dropping C at the train station (to go to Melbourne) and heading for the local aerodrome. The runway had been redone but was still fiendishly short and narrow. For my brother and my first flight we headed south to Wollongong, as seen on this video The flight took us past the cliff waterfalls of the Royal National Park.

At the Gong we picked up my friend B and took him for a quick spin, which was fun. The last flight of the day was north, around Sydney harbour, and then to Port Macquarie via Warnervale (for more fuel): Endless beaches, islands, mountains, waves, shipwrecks, perpetually sliding by. We checked out the local beaches, ate more excellent food, examined the weather forecast, and eventually passed out.

The following day, Tuesday, we took the plane up the coast towards Nymboida, a vanishing slip of a town from which one branch of our family originates. A small valley sandwiched between incredibly rough country to the southwest through which the eponymous river flows, one of the best whitewater kayaking locations in New South Wales. We avoided oncoming traffic and clouds to return to Port Mac in time for the afternoon Nor-Easter, which, gusting to 24kts, made landing quite exciting. At this point we discovered that fuel could not be bought for love or money, despite the existence of an automated pump. Well, Australia is the North Korea of general aviation. That afternoon we found someone flying a radio-controlled glider with dynamic lift at 200mph, ate a sushi boat with H, and examined some more beaches. 

Wednesday was poor weather for flying - even the ducks were walking. We drove to a nearby mountain and had a look at the view, ate food, and collected C from the airport. That seemed like an accomplishment, so early on Thursday we raced the storms back to the central coast, dodged some whales (, ate yet more food, spent some QT with the family, before heading back to Sydney the following day. 

In Sydney we spent some time with N, B's mother, and prepared for A's 21st birthday party, held on the restored tall ship the James Craig. I was tapped to give a speech and did my best to avoid too much embarrassment, for anyone present! A ship is a pretty cool place for a party and it was nice of A to collate all the more distant relatives and old friends in one place - saved me the trouble of finding them all on my own.

The following day we met friends for brunch, went for a sail in the afternoon on the harbour, and in the evening went on a mystery trip in The Rocks, which turned out to be a Bridgeclimb. Which was also pretty awesome. At 147m above the water just after sunset, the wind blows quite a lot. 

On Monday morning we were woken at 4:15am by a faulty air mattress, which was quite a let down. This was okay, however, as we were leaving early for the train to get to the Royal National Park. Together with fellow masochists S and C', C and I did the 28km (18m) walk from Bundeena to Otford. It was, as usual, spectacular. We did the full Slot of Doom and Figure 8 pool variations, though Wedding Cake Rock was now fenced off, after numerous falls and imminent collapse. One highlight was that I got to (re)propose  to C at the pool at Curracurrang. Fortunately she said yes! Back home that evening my mother had baked an awesome pie and set the table for a feast, which we got to at about 10:30pm. Somewhat surprised by this timely attention, it dawned on me that she was convinced that a 28km hike would destroy our relationship forever, and that pie would mend the gap. Well, everyone had done extraordinarily, but the pie was nevertheless well received!

Tuesday morning alas C had to go to the airport, but not before we took tea at Google and visited L's living data kitchen! I took the remainder of the week at a slower pace, catching a few straggler friends, exploring some museums, eating Thai food on King St, renewing my license, watching Star Wars, and repacking my bag. We spent much quality time watching the boats go back and forth on the harbour. 

On Saturday I took my stuff to the airport and thence out of the country, thus ending an all too short but nonetheless rewarding trip to the old country. I would like to say that I spent the following days in rest and recuperation, but that would be a complete lie. Stay tuned for future blogs on India(!) and Ohio(!).