CHOOSING A DESTINATION
My job requires me to work from 9am to 7pm, Mondays to Saturdays. When I get too tired and busy, instead of complaining, I remind myself that when I die, I’m going to have a lot of rest anyway so might as well be awake for most parts. Crazy logic, I know! 🙂 But don’t get me wrong, just like any other living thing, I do feel the need to recharge. So whenever I do, it’s always a much-deserved and well-thought-out LONG one.
Money is always an issue when taking vacations though. Aside from the fact that a long vacation means days without pay, it also means spending more than the usual. It’s twice as hard for a Filipino employee like me, I guess. The peso has long been devalued and I feel its impact most when I go out of the Philippines. It’s sad and challenging at the same time. I always pray for the day the peso will be strong again. I have a theory but let’s reserve that for another post. Anyway, point is, I don’t have a lot of money so I choose a destination based on whether or not I have favorable answers to these questions:
1) Are there cheap flights going to my chosen destination?
2) Are hotel rates affordable? If not, do I have family and friends who can adopt me for days?
3) Will I have a grand time even if I don’t spend a lot?
YES, YES, YES. Three YESes for this year’s chosen country: AUSTRALIA!
Air Asia now has cheap fares from Singapore or Malaysia to Australian Destinations (Melbourne/Sydney/Brisbane/Perth). To get to either Singapore or Malaysia, Filipinos may now avail of cheap flights via TigerAirways and Cebu Pacific. Instead of the usual 2,000AUD for a round-trip ticket, I got mine for just about 500AUD. Not bad at all.
Hotel prices in Australia are quite steep though. Good thing I have family and friends scattered around the world willing to babysit me for a few days.
My grandfather was right when he said that “a man’s wealth is not measured by money but by the quality of relationships he can foster.” I’m glad I created strong friendships growing up that my high school friends still want to see me to this day. LOL.
I’m also thankful for the fact that my mom hails from a huge clan and most of them are now living abroad. It also doesn’t hurt that people from our hometown Cabiao, Nueva Ecija, have moved to different parts of the globe and have always been so welcoming when it comes to kababayan-visitors.
I toured the U.S.A. last 2004 alone and I stayed at 10 different houses from California to New York to Chicago. Majority of the people who accommodated me there, I’ve only met for the first time, and our only connection was that they also came from Cabiao!
Currency: Australian Dollar
Exchange Rate: 1AUD = 44.33PHP
Airport: Sydney International Airport
Hotel we stayed at: Cambridge Hotel (Riley St.) (150AUD per night)
SWINGING TO SYDNEY
Since the promo ticket I booked flew me directly to Melbourne, I had to get a connecting flight that will swing me to Sydney on the same day. My friend Rhona, who had an earlier tour to Australia, got to extend her stay in Sydney so she can meet-up with me. For the cheapest inter-territory flights in Australia, book JetStar. (JetStar is Qantas‘ low-cost sister.)
The flight to Sydney was the second out of seven airplane rides in 11 days. That meant enduring seven check-in counter lines, immigration check-points, baggage claim waits in less than 2 weeks. I don’t know what I was thinking when I fixed my itinerary. All I know is that I had to overdose on Pharmaton vitamins just to keep my energy level up for the duration of the trip! 🙂
Autumn, they say, is the best time to go to Australia. It’s when the wind is already cool but you can still feel the heat of the summer sun on your skin. Only downside is you have to employ layering tactics when dressing up which means bringing more clothes and carrying heavier luggage.
I brought the basic tanks that can be layered with button down polos and topped with lightweight safari jackets with detachable hoods, just in case it rains. Scarves were a must. I also brought flipflops, beige wedges and a pair of bright colored Chucks. I threw in a fedora hat for the beach and I was all set! All 20 kilos of baggage, with some more space for shopping.
I arrived in Sydney on a breezy afternoon. I was fetched at the airport by my aunt Juvie with her husband and 2 kids. She’s been a nurse in Australia for 16 years already. Her 2 year old daughter warmed up to me quickly. She would excitedly try to catch my attention, “Ate!Look!”, then she would point at the imposing Sydney Opera House, calm lake, expansive Harbour Bridge, and all other cool stuff not just for a kid but for an adult like me as well. She was just like a professional tour guide in a 2 year old body! 🙂 The older brother, on the other hand, wanted me to speak with a British Accent like his. “It’s Har-reh Pow-tah, Ate. Not Har-rie Pot-er.” Ye? Yeeeeeh. 😛
With no time to waste, I spent my first day driving with the Montano family around Sydney Harbour. I also met-up with my dear cousin Tracy who’s taking-up her PhD on scholarship in Australia. Can I get a woot-woot for her?!!! Tracy graduated Summa Cum Laude in UST. She’s not the nerdy type though. In fact, she maintains a makeup blog, together with her artistic sister Dawn. Yes, artistry runs in the family.
The Montano family left me with Tracy and Kelly (Tracy’s classmate who’s originally from Johannesburg, Africa) at Bondi Beach. First thing I spotted at the beach was a couple making-out in the middle of the shoreline for everyone to see. Amazing. Do that in Boracay and you’ll end up explaining yourself at the town hall. 🙂 It was quite a liberating feeling. At that moment, I knew my vacation had started and I was in for one good ride (7 for that matter!ha!).
I celebrated Easter in Australia, first time away from my family. Before I left, I passed by the Church to thank God for the opportunity to travel. In Sydney, I saw these signs in the sky, on the pavements, on trees, etc.–“Cross equals heart”. It could only signify one thing: The Crucifixion. Jesus Christ was crucified because of His love for humanity. It was the ultimate sacrifice. That day, even though away from family, I felt very much connected with everyone around me who share the same faith and the same human hope that makes us root for something and pushes us to always move forward.
The next day, I had to call Legion Cabs, one of the most trusted taxi companies in Australia, to take me from my high school classmate Cha’s house to Cambridge Hotel.
I arrived an hour before check-in so I roamed around the area, at Riley St. to be exact.
As soon as I stepped out of the hotel, I saw a couple of shirtless good-looking men jogging. Then I noticed the big Fitness First gym across our hotel. What health buffs, I thought, impressed. A few more blocks and my smile had turned into a big silly grin. It was raining men! Literally. On a hot fine day in Sydney! Lucky me!
But then something strange happened, like that freeze scene in a movie when the main character suddenly experiences a thaumazein moment–I saw a billboard of two men kissing. Then I began to realize that the row of bars I passed by were actually gay bars. And the men that I found cute and thought I had a chance with, would not be interested in me! Not in a million years! Like a snowball’s chance in hell! Hahahahaha!
Yes, it turned out that our hotel was right smack in the middle of Sydney’s gay community! I laughed at myself for thinking I had a chance with those uber cute hunks! Disappointing for me but I felt a surge of happiness for them. It’s such a nice feeling to know that you’re living in a country that understands. All out for equality! 🙂
A DAY OF EXTREMES
My day started as a 5th wheel to two couples. We spent the day riding buses and ferries, shopping at flea markets, and trying out games at Luna Park. It was all very wholesome. As our day progressed, however, we found ourselves in Sydney’s Red Light District, drinking Tooheys New, Hahn, and shots of this sweet concoction that I can’t get enough of (kahlua with sugar bits). King’s Cross, baby! Thanks to Rye for bringing us there with my newest pal, Richard! Needless to say, the boys overdosed on cleavage exposure and skimpy skirts while the girls feasted on the mere sight of straight men with nice bods and pretty faces. It was a good, good night! Badabing-badaboom! 🙂
DON’T JUMP OFF THE CLIFF
Friends. They keep you sane. I don’t have a lot but the few that I’ve got are worth more than a thousand acquaintances. My friend Cha is one of them. She’s been my friend since high school. We were part of the same crew–the baggy clothes-wearing, short-haired yet girly deep inside group of talented artists and athletes. (I had to redeem the first part of that sentence, obviously.)
Cha is now married and has a baby on the way! Yey! I was excited to meet her again and catch-up on gossip and funny stories! We decided to meet at Watsons Bay. How very apt. I work for Watsons Your Personal Care Stores now. 🙂
Watsons Bay in New South Wales is essentially a harbourside that features The Gap, an ocean cliff that gives you the view of Manly Beach and the Pacific Ocean. The view was breath-taking. Sad though coz along the cliff, you’d see posters that remind people that “they can call a friend” and “jumping off the cliff” is not the solution to any of their problems. It gives you the idea that people have actually committed suicide there. As I’ve said, we need hope and something to root for in our lives in order to move on from any unfortunate situation. Hug a friend today, please!
UNDER THE SEA
My favorite Disney character is Ariel from The Little Mermaid. “Look at this stuff, isn’t it neat? Wouldn’t you think my collection’s complete? Wouldn’t you think I’m the girl, the girl who has… everythiiiing!” I must have sang this in the bathroom a million times as a kid. So imagine my joy when I entered the Sydney Aquarium and saw Ariel’s dad Theeee King Triton made up of Lego blocks!!! I was in complete awe.
OF KOALAS AND KANGAROOS
The highlight of my Sydney trip? Seeing the koalas and kangaroos and holding a python for the first time! Not to mention that it was the same day we had a wine, beer, and cheese tour at Hunter Valley! We booked via Kangarrific and paid 100AUD each.
Next stop, BRISBANE!