Melbourne Identity

My old chum Marlon Williams has released a self-titled album and it’s superb. All at once haunting and chipper and mournful and hopeful, I listened to it on the shuttle bus to LAX, concrete and tarmac whizzing by the window while I came across an odd thought. Here I was reminiscing about Lyttelton where I’d met Marlon in 2008-2010, after a morning of hanging out with my old friend Erin from two summers of Camp America (2005-06)

 and a previous evening of eating BBQ food with Danny – a guy I worked with in Shanghai (2010 – 11). A whole bunch of previous adventures to call upon, yet here I was sitting next to Catriona facing down the barrel of a whole new escapade – Australia in 2015. It was like a massive “Previously on 24…” but instead of Jack Bauer with his gun it’s me looking puzzled at a Lonely Planet. Of course, it’s taken us a bit longer than 24 hours to get to Australia, quite a lot longer indeed…

On the 21st April, we caught our first flight from Managua, the hodge-podge capital of Nicaragua after 3 blissful days at a hostel called the Surfing Turtle on the Pacific coast. The waves were so ridiculous here it should have really been called the Drowning Turtle, or the Turtle in the Washing Machine.

 We discovered a whole new extreme sport of just trying to survive in the sea, as great walls of water threw us back on to the beach like aggressive bouncers to a particularly wet nightclub. Despite the tempest we were very well relaxed and had the chance to reconvene with Catriona’s sister Ellen, who is still marching southwards towards Panama and we made some new pals in the form of Anya (Canada), Tom (England), Minako (Japan) and Damon (USA). Damon had the endearing trait of including Spanish phrases into his English sentences, such as – “how long you been aqui?” And – “Are we going ahorita?” It speaks volumes on the calming effects of travelling that I actually found this affliction quite charming. To add some tenuous symmetry to the trip, Tom and Anya were a couple based in Whitehorse in the Yukon, which was where G and I had accidentally stolen a Korean girl’s backpack back in October. They were also awesome. Relaxation over, we took the aforementioned flight from Managua to Fort Lauderdale in Florida.

 With an 18-hour layover until our next plane we decided to jump on the bus into town and see what Fort Laudes had to offer. Ah the bus. Public transport in America. What a laugh. After a long wait we spotted one of these rare elongated beasts and hailed it confidently. I slipped a $20 bill into the machine next to the driver. He looked at me incredulously. “Did you just put $20 in the machine?” I nodded sagely, awaiting two tickets and $16.50 of change to appear any second. “That doesn’t give any change!” He had adopted a look you save for old people using their mobility scooters on the motorway. We took our now very expensive bus to downtown and happened upon a great art gallery doing a Frida Kahlo and Diego Riviera retrospective. Even more symmetry to the trip considering our previous trips to both their houses in Mexico. Fort Lauderdale was eerily quiet on the pedestrian front, with only homeless people populating the sidewalks. Quite the contrast from any town or city south of the border. We caught the next flight to LA for another showcase in sidewalk aversion.

With Gina, back in 2014, we had circumnavigated LA, but now with 2 days until our next cheap flight, we found ourselves on Sunset Boulevard, filled with tramps dressed as Spiderman and people selling tours to see where celebrities died. We walked to Paramount Studios and managed to bag the last spots on a tour.

 We saw props from Interstellar and Transformers, sets being built (and partially destroyed for a fire scene) and loads of extras milling about. Our guide Richard was a bit of an idiot though. With some of the greatest movies ever made at his fingertips (minus Transformers) he opted to ask us if there were any castles in Scotland and if he could wear a crown when he visited. He then asked the couple from New York if they were ‘there’ on 9/11. Hey Richard, how about you talk about the Godfather and leave the questions for the people who HAVE PAID FOR THIS TOUR.

Our brief sojourn to the States confirmed a few suspicions I had on the last tour – life is tough here. Nowhere I’ve been to has had a sense of community (apart from perhaps Portland) and there seems to be an undercurrent of not just dissatisfaction, but tangible rage at the way things are going. On the surreally empty underground train in LA, a girl slumped down on her chair and declared loudly, “Fuck! Is it Friday yet?” On another bus a lady ranted at us passengers about the inequality of America. As we alighted at our stop with our bags she said, “Welcome to California, enjoy spring break, trust no-one.”

Our next flight was to Fiji, which took a while. I watched ‘Kingsman’ which was enjoyable rubbish and ‘American Sniper’ which was enjoyable Bradley Cooper time. We only had a paltry 8 hours in Fiji but managed to squeeze in a trip to the beach, the pool, the bar and a stir-fry place. Very brief but I can conclude – Fiji is nice.

 It was finally time for the final flight, taking us to Melbourne on the 26th April, concluding our 6-day wander west. Catriona’s already spent the best part of a year here already so her excitement levels were high despite the mammoth jet-lag. I’d been here back in 2008 and remembered quite a high propensity for hipsters and gentrifying old industrial spaces into coffee houses and vintage denim shops. We made our way to her mate’s Steve’s place, who very kindly agreed to put us up for a week. His apartment is in a converted chocolate factory. It resembles something out of an Audi advert. However, like the rest of Melbourne, it is incredible. The city is somewhere between the best of an American city (leafy avenues, groovy shops) and a British city (you know, public transport, people not in cars). It’s so nice that we’ve booked flights to Alice Springs for next week to get bar work for a few months. Go figure.

As a final bit of symmetry, I met up with Alicia the other night, the seventh Camp America reunion I’ve had in the past seven months. As with the whole trip it’s been people that have made it so memorable and enjoyable. There’s been too many highlights to speak of but I’ll give it a go shortly and do a bunch of ‘Top 5’s.’ However, my motto at his juncture would be, “trust everyone and everything. Unless it’s a ticket machine on a bus.”   Here’s a list I kept up of the whole trip:

        PS – you can listen to Marlon Williams’ album on spotify or buy the thing in a shop!

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