Weeks 35 to 36 - Australia, Chile & Easter Island
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We arrived at Mission Beach in the evening with the one and only purpose of jumping out of a plane to our death, with someone qualified (and hopefully a parachute) strapped to our back - yes we were going skydiving! The jump was to take us up to 14,000 feet and we would free fall for a whole minute, which in falling terms is enormous!
We were booked in to do our jump the following day, with Mike & Rod from Canada (who we met on Fraser Island), with the thinking that we would each make sure the other jumped. We woke up the morning of our jump to torrential rains. Secretly we were pleased as it meant it may be cancelled and we would not have to jump to our death. It may have been a sign that we were not meant to jump. I also had another sign that morning when I tred to light the camp stove and it turned into a flame thrower.
I have always wanted to do a sky dive so I was quite surprised at how relieved I was that we couldn´t jump. James on the other hand wasn´t really that keen on the whole affair, but in true James style he couldn´t let a girl beat him, so he was jumping too.
However, while we were having lunch the same day the girl who arranges the jumps informed us we could still jump today as the weather has cleared, but if we were to go we had to go IMMEDIATELY! Oh my god, our stomaches did somersaults, but we said OK, let´s go now so we have less time to worry.
So Mike jumped first, then Rod and everything looked fine. Then I inched my way to the open door of the plane (I am actually feeling a bit nervous again writing this - mad). I hung my legs over the edge of the doorway and all I could see was blue sky straight ahead and cloud below. Oh my god I was going to have to fall through cloud. All I knew was there was no way I wasn´t jumping, and then I was falling through the sky, so unbelievably fast. At first I actually didn´t like it. I had so much air being pumped into my lungs I could not breath out normally. I had to literally blow out really hard which was wierd and a bit scary.
Then Egor pulled the chute and we were floating, floating, floating. My immediate thought was ' I hope James is alive' and then I was screaming again at how amazing it was. We were floating over the ocean, doing turns and generally loving it. We landed on the beach, nice and gently. I was completely high on adrenaline for about the next 2 hours. I would recommend it to everyone it was superb!
So to celebrate still being alive we got the champagne in for the rest of the afternoon - a bloody brilliant day!
Pam has always wanted to do a skydive for as long as she can remember, whereas to be honest I was pretty non-plus about the whole affair.
When the big day arrived, I was more than a little relieved to discover that the rain clouds had set in and the chances of jumoing that day were, at the time, next to nothing. I was saved. Upon arrival at the hostel, our suspicions were confirmed and we were left to enjoy the rest of the day. However, my peace and tranquility was shattered, when, at 13:30, 1/2 hour after we were originally due to jump, we received a phonecall from the skydive company proclaiming that the weather had cleared sufficiently in order for us to jump.
We were whisked away to the aerodrome, where we were quickly paired up with our instructors ( we were jumping tandem), harnesses were put on and a brief ´throw your body and make like a banana when you jump (get pushed) out of the plane´ what-to-do talk was given.
Four of us were jumping, in the following order: Mike was to go first (he had jumped before), followed by Rod, then Pam and finally myself bringing up the rear. The upside of this was that none of the other 3 would know if I bottled it. The downside was that I had to listen to their screams as they fell out of the perfectly adequate aircraft.
By this time everyone were now very quiet. I was sure I must have looked ashen, but even though I was completely scared, I was also remarkably calm about the whole thing. The plane quickly made it up to the jump height of 14,000 feet, then the door was open, Mike went, Rod followed, and then Pam had disappeared into the abyss.
What I do remember as I looked out at the nothingness below is thinking, "I wonder what it would be like to jump out of this plane". Completely stupid as I was to find out very quickly.
The first thing that hits you as you tumble out is the rush of air. The initial feeling was of my stomach rising up to my mouth, much akin to the feeling you get on Oblivion at Alton Towers. However, thi sfeeliong soon subsided, and all of a sudden we are falling in the correct position and my instructor is turning us laterally this way-and-that so that I can enjoy the view.
It was incredible. I found myself with a huge smile on my face, screaming my head off out of sheer exhileration. It was such a rush. Being the last one out I could see the other 3 hurtling down below me. I had been told that on your first jump, the 60 second freefall will feel as if it was merely a second or two as the mind cannot cope with the sensory overload. I did not finmd this to be the case and can clearly remember the whole mind-blowing trip down.
Then I was watching the other 3 open up their chutes, automatically counting out all 3 so that I knew that everyone else had got down safely. That just left me. There was no sudden jolt as the parachute opened, but rather a more slowing down effect, before there suddenly being complete silence (and one very relieved me).
The next 5 minutes was s`pent enjoying a rollercoaster ride down with my instructor pulling tight, fast turns which I was surprised to find I loved. To top the whole experience off, we then landed on the beach. Awesome!
To put it in a nutshell, the whole experience was an incredible, mind-blowing, adrenaline charged rush that I would repeat at the drop of a hat. Everyone should try it. It makes you feel good to be alive.
The next day we drove up to Cairns and handed back the Kampa Sutra. It was very sad to lose our little home as we´d gotten quite attached to it, and it now meant we had to go back to smelly, icky hostels.
We arrived in Sydney and were booked into a hostel called Maze, which is a zillion times nearer to the city than the last time we were there, so bonus! The place was totally geared to 18 year olds looking for work and cheap, cheap beer - hmmm, not quite our thing. The decor of the place totally reminded me of Uni. In fact, Amanda, Sarah, Rory, think of the colours of our lounge in final year - nice! But it was clean. I won´t complain. We moochied around the city for the day. First stop Opera House and Bridge, which are still amazing. But as we were on a budget, we were not doing the day as well as before so it wasn´t quite as much fun.
The following day I scowered the shops for birthday pressies for James and collected all the cards you sent for him - thank you everyone! We then met up with Bex - hurray! She had reluctantly arrived from Asia that morning. I say relucantly because she, like us, loved Asia and Oz meant she had to work - shame! We were pleased to see she hadn´t changed. While we´d been apart she had lost and replaced yet another camera (her third in 8 months) but still had her diamond necklace, which is super impressive for Bex :-). That evening we all met up with James´sister´s friend, Dawson, who has been living in Sydney for nearly two years and she showed up the non-touristy night life.
We dragged ourselves out of bed the following lunch time in search of hangover munchies. Whilst I was eating my tomato pasta for ´breakfast´ I saw this rather overweight girl staggering down the hallway in a far to short ra, ra skirt and fat white belly hanging out (I was glad I wasn´t feeling nauseous). She looked like she was still in last night clothes (good girl). She then went into the fridge and poured herself a mug of white wine from a box. She was still blatantly hammered, so I figured that her and her mates were still going strong from the night before (good girl). We returned to the hostel that evening to discover that the girl was still on it, very drunk, and had no friends (poor girl).
Anyway, back to us! With the pasta in me and the MacDonalds in James the three of us (Bex included) headed off to meet James´ best mate from Uni´s sister - Faye and her two boys Matthew and Johnathon, who have been living in Sydney for 10 years. We caught a ferry, which gave us fab views of the Opera House, and made our way to Watsons Bay.
The following day we met Faye and the boys again to go and see the actual ´Home & Away, Summer Bay Beach and Surf Club´. The filming is done at Palm Beach, so that was where we were headed. It´s about an hour out of Sydney, and as this was our last full day in Australia we decided to have a beach BBQ with the obligatory wine. We took our shots of the Summer Bay Surf Club and then got the barbie going and the wine flowing.
So that was Australia. It was loads of fun, sun and wine, like any great holiday, but we were really ready to be travellers again and although we weren´t relishing the 16 hour flight across the Pacific Ocean we couldn´t wait to get to South America - Hola!
We arrived in Santiago, Chile with swollen ankles, feeling grubby and on a completely different time zone. We had been travelling for 16 hours but arrived 3 hours after we left (with the time changes), so as you can imagine we were a bit of a wreck.
The next day we had a wonder around the city, which doesn´t have much to offer to a tourist, and decided to try the Meñu del Dia at a local restaurant, which is a good value way of eating, and how the locals do it, so why not.
Starter: a watery Chinese-style soup with rice in it
Main course: James - half a chicken in a tomato sauce and roast potatoes, and Pam - a slab of meat with roast potatoes
Pudding: we thought we were ordering fruit salad, but ended up with fruit in jelly, not bad! This was followed by coffee
So a surprise every time! But 4 courses for two for a tenner is fantastic! But I realised at this point that my Spanish really did need to improve, and quickly!
We continued to wonder around the city, but by 5pm I wanted to go to sleep (jet lag), but we continued in order to try and get our bodies back to normal.
Easter Island is the most remote, inhabited island in the world (apparently) and is a 5 hour flight from Santiago, out into the Southern Pacific Ocean. The flight is full of Chileans who are videoing and photographing the entire flight, like it´s the first flight they have ever been on.
The following day we hired a car to explore what the island is famous for; Moai (sounds like toy), which are basically huge stone heads that were made and positioned all around the island, many years ago. There are literally hundreds of them all over the place. We are still no wiser as to why they are there, but they were cool to look at. The island also has a few dormant volcanoes so our trip took us on a hike up one of them for superb views over the Pacific and the Island. We finished the day at the biggest beach on the island, where James took the first dip in the Pacific but it was a bit chilly for me! We had the car the following day aswell, so discovered a bit more and decided that the island, although not your typical tropical paradise is really, really beautiful.
The following day was 4th November and James´ 30th Birthday! And I´ll let James tell you all about it.
Thanks, Pam. Well, as you already know it was the day that all sane people dread, the day that I left my 20´s behind and entered the Dirty 30´s. Even as I am writing this it still hasn´t sunk in that I am officially old, no longer the innocent (?) twenty-something that I still like to think I am. Still, if the phrase, "you´re only as old as the girl you are feeling" is anything to go by, I am safe for another 11 months.
My birthday was kicked off by Pam performing wonders in the camp kitchen and creating a culinary masterpiece of rubberised pancakes.
I was presented with a number of (hand-made) cards which had miraculously been whisked across the Pacific seas, before receiving my first presents of the day, a much needed key lanyard and a new belt. It´s amazing what becomes important when you are travelling.
It´s actually just occurred to me that I have now celebrated both of my landmark birthdays (21st and 30th) away from home.
For the first time we were diving with full wetsuits, jackets, boots and hoods due to the Southern Pacific being a little bit chillier than the warmer Asian seas we had grown used to. This actually affects your bouyancy so made the task of descending a laboured affair. However, once done, we were treated to amazing corals and visibility of up to 60m. This is possible due to the lack of sediment/garbage/general pollution of this part of the ocean. Fantastic!
The trip was topped off with a lovely birthday serenade from our dive master, before we headed to a restaurant of my choice for a light lunch (tuna carpaccio once again.
For surprise number 3, Pam had followed my lead from her birthday in getting everyone to send birthday cards to a Post Restante address in Sydney. Therefore, for an hour or so, Pam drip-fed me cards from friends and family alike, although I do have to say that people´s sense of humour is questionable .
The highlight of the presents was the electronic drumkit that I will be purchasing with supplied funds on our return to England, so if anyone needs an aspiring drummer for parties/weddings/barmitzvas I am probably not going to be your man.
Almost unbelievably, given the remoteness of the island, we were able to find an internet cafe that had a half-decent connection that enabled us to Skype everyone back home. It was great to talk to everyone (except my absent darling sister - love you), even if I was so far from home.
After trawling a number of bars in the bay, we made our way to ´the best restaurant on the island´. Without mixing my words the restaurant is owned by a very pompous, English-hating Frenchman. Firstly, we arrived 10 minutes later than our booking, to find that the table had been given away (according to the owner we were 1/2 an hour late and therefore what could we expect ... his clock was a convenient 20 minutes fast which I was quick to point out). To be fair, we did get a free glass of wine whilst we waited 5 (30) minutes for a table to be made ready.
Secondly, Pam had been in earlier in the day to ask if a) whether the restaurant sold champagne, and b) on being told a resounding no, if she could bring some to help the celebrations along.
"You cannot drink zat in ere! I will not av that rubbish in ere! If it had been a bottle of ze best champagne maybe I say ´yes´, but zat iz rubbish. Zis is ze best restaurant on ze Island. You cannot drink zat in ere!"
Pam duly informed him of the conversation that she had had with his wife earlier in the day, only for him to exclaim, "she does not understand English". At this point Pam and I were pretty much ready to walk out, but then the table was ready so we ignored the ignomonious old git and enjoyed what was (unfortunately to say) a very, very good meal.
Meal completed, we made our exit and headed for the nightclub as recommended by the Lonely Planet. We got there only to find it completely empty, so rather than propping up the empty bar, we made our way east and hit a bar that looked a lot more lively. A few more beers, some cocktails and a few tears later (I think I may have been a little drunk by this stage), we discovered that the aforementioned nightclub was now out of favour and that the place to be was just a few doors down.
Armed with this new information, we made our way to the hippest place in town, where we danced the night away, and made lots of new friends even though I don´t speak Spanish and they didn´t speak English, thanks not in small part to the electronic translator that my sister had sent.
The following day was spent recovering from our hangovers, via a long walk in the hot sunshine up to one of the volcano craters, before we packed up ready for our flight out and the beginning of our adventures in Argentina...