… and (lack of) exercise

My one night in Brisbane was merely a stopover before starting my proper journey along Australia’s East coast in Cairns; I figured I’d begin in the north and make my way down towards Sydney and Melbourne where I would catch up with some friends over here. This time of year I’d also be enjoying the sun, but keeping one step ahead of it as it got hotter and brighter. Although I was heading south for the winter as far as not being in Britain was concerned, I also wanted to make sure I wouldn’t overdo it in the Australian summer. As much as this plan is still pretty much in tact, and although I had booked a full week in Cairns to begin with, my southbound plans took a while longer to get off the ground than I had expected.

I booked a package deal which included membership to Job Search Australia along with several other benefits, one of which was an Australian bank account. Arriving at the Calypso, the Base associated hostel in Cairns, early on a friday evening meant I had the weekend to relax after my flights, which I thoroughly took advantage of. I went to the Job Search desk early monday morning, where my induction to the world of job seeking in Australia was unhindered by the Labour Day public holiday. Thanks to things like data protection however, I had to sort out my bank account myself, although was told how to do this. Thanks to the holiday, I also had to wait until the next day to sort this out.

Tuesday morning though I went to the Cairns branch of the Commonwealth bank, and also opened a savings, and superannuation accounts alongside the general current account into which I deposited my travellers cheques. Old fashioned I know, but online transfers weren’t really the thing last time I went travelling, and at least the cheques didn’t come with transfer and/or currency conversion fees. But one thing they did come with, was a three business day clearing period, and I was also told my debit card would take seven to 10 days to arrive. Despite this however, I’d done more to plan for a pension in a long weekend in Australia than I had in 29 years back in Britain. As much as I had to wait to get to the money in this account, I did still have a British debit card, and also an STA travel card, so wasn’t completely without access to any money, just limited as to how much I could spend. Time to get comfy, and enjoy Cairns for a while.

Cairns Lagoon.

Cairns Lagoon.

In Down Under, Bill Bryson describes Cairns as having a “devotion to the tourist dollar”, which is pretty accurate. “Every second business offered reef cruises or snorkeling expeditions, and most of the rest sold T-shirts and postcards” sums up the centre almost perfectly, although whether they are merely a new addition or Bryson chose not to mention them, there are also a number of adult shops and dancing establishments. I saw one particular climbing frame and slide in the street just in front of a store with a large “erotica” advertisement, and thought about taking a photo of this strange juxtaposition. Aussie laid back nature notwithstanding, getting noticed with a camera in a children’s play area before my trip even began probably wasn’t worth the risk though, and so I decided against it.

Having to survive on my own rather limited supply of tourist dollars, I instead spent my time in Cairns doing not much other than relaxing in the hostel, chilling by the lagoon, and dining on $5 pizzas from the Pizza Hut across the road. Needless to say, it probably wasn’t the best week in terms of working on my beach body, but then it’s not like I had one to begin with anyway.

Notice the tape round his mouth. And the blood.

Notice the tape round his mouth. And the blood.

The Calypso, like many hostels over here, has its own swimming pool, and also arranged different activities and entertainment during the evenings. These included bar pong tournaments and lizard, snake, & crocodile handling, all of which were in the open air bar/communal area which was also just a great place to meet and chat with other backpackers. Although this technically included people from all over the world, I think everyone except one girl from Canada was from Europe, and 90% of which came from either Britain or Germany. Not that I minded, as despite everyone’s ability to speak great English, it also gave me a rare opportunity to practice and show off my A level German.

For a city (not much more than a town really, just the biggest place for hundreds of miles) famous for its opportunities to do everything from riding classic steam trains to skydiving, there are certainly worse places to spend a week doing next to nothing.

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Fear and loafing in Kuala Lumpur

If there’s one way to describe Kuala Lumpur, at least from my perspective, its extremes. My first experience of Kuala Lumpur was of flying low and coming in over green shrubs which I soon noticed were easily as tall as the people tending to them. This soon gave way to a bustling city that was in places either shabby, or extravagant. My hotel, naturally, was in the shabbier part.

Petaling Street Market

Petaling Street Market.

Not that this was a bad thing however, a little rough round the edges and big cracks in the pavement, but everything was clean enough and nothing that jumped out as alarming or dangerous. I got to my hotel when the market sellers were setting up their stalls in Petaling Street, the main market thoroughfare through Chinatown. But whilst everyone else was setting up for the morning, I had already been up for what had pretty much been a full day; it wasn’t much later than four am that morning back in Britain, but I didn’t actually seem that tired. Although I’d managed some rather light on and off dozing on the plane, it was most likely because you don’t really use that much energy sat in one place for nearly 13 hours.

Either way, I eventually managed to figure out the rather unique payment on KL’s metro system that I needed to get me there (rather than single tickets they use plastic tokens that I can only compare to the fairground variety, although they do also have MyRapid, an Oystercard equivalent), and soon found the door I was looking for. In front of this door were three ladies who I have to admit were wearing quite possibly the brightest and shiniest dresses, and had the most dolled up faces I saw throughout my entire time in Kuala Lumpur. Needless to say they stood out from their surroundings (especially considering the time of day), and the few reviews I had read about the hotel also having rooms booked by the hour didn’t seem that far-fetched. It was the sign above that said “Alamanda Hotel” which assured me I had the right place, however.

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Who says men can’t multitask?

Much like on the outside it had everything that was needed to serve its purpose, but just wasn’t very glamorous (I’m talking about the general area again, not the ladies). My room had a double bed and a TV, but that was about it. There was just enough room on the floor for my backpack, and despite not having a window, the walls were decorated with a stylishly ornate picture, and several smears I couldn’t recognise. I did have my own bathroom however, although this had only enough space to stand and face one of two directions; either towards the sink with a mirror attached to the wall above it, or the toilet and shower that were arranged in much the same way. It also came furnished with what’s known as a hand bidet. Despite this being the subject of possibly the first conversation I ever had with a good friend from Indonesia, and essentially being in essentially a tiled wetroom, I have to say curiosity didn’t get the better of me.

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The Supersonic Odyssey.

Finding myself in a strange new city however, and pleased with myself at having finally mastered the short Kelana Jaya LRT journey from KL Sentral to Pasar Seni station, literally just the next stop, I went out for a bit of an explore. I headed out on the monorail to Berjaya Times Square, a massive shopping mall to ease myself in gently, but one filled with small vendor stalls rather than the big international chains that would be found in the others. I also chose this particular mall as it had a small indoor theme park complete with roller coaster, although my need for speed was overcome by that for food, and I soon found a good compromise between Asian cuisine in a familiar style: the Chicken Rice Shop.

Stifling a few yawns I made my way back to the hotel in full expectation of my head hitting the pillow and falling straight to sleep, although I kept myself busy until the (very) early evening so as to sleep through the night rather than wake up fully refreshed in the middle of it. Despite my planning however, this wasn’t to be the case, and I instead spent the night awake until half 6 the following morning, in what was probably the most delirious night of my life. Jet lag is quite possibly the strangest sensation I have experienced; a lack of sleep when I was expecting it to be over abundant, something made even worse by the fact that throughout the past days travelling I hadn’t actually felt that hungry (I only had my small lunch at the Chicken Rice Shop after realising how long it had been since I’d last eaten), and remembered that although two meals were served on the plane, over such a long journey it was as in short supply as a decent kip.

Lying in bed spending several hours always expecting to fall to sleep but not quite managing it, I at least had Bill Bryson, wifi, and decent enough friends to put up with my ramblings on the other end of it to keep me company. By half 11 I ventured downstairs to see if the bar/fridge in an alcove area had anything to eat, and was served by the same man who earlier was at reception, and had to fix my room’s air con. He was also the same man who had pointed to his kicking foot saying “Ah, Rooney” when I told him I was from England.

Their selection hardly rated any Michelin stars, but far too hungry to be picky, I figured that if there’s anywhere I can get away with scoffing down a pot noodle as a midnight feast, it’s in the middle of Asia. This at least kept me going until six, when I figured there would now be somewhere I could get something a little more substantial, and on advice from a friend, filled myself up on stodge from the corner shop I found less than 100 metres away. A corner shop which happened to be a 7-11, known to those in countries which have them, as being open 24 hours. Far too hungry and tired to be annoyed however, after a breakfast of muffins and cream buns, I was finally able to get some proper, actual sleep.

Throughout that sleepless night though I was having visions of changing my next flight to an earlier one in order to escape, or even flying straight back to England, as I felt it was all too much for me. Luckily this was only symptoms of my brain being just as confused as my body, and I soon came to enjoy a place which only those not in their right mind I (trust me, I know!) could dislike or consider alien and unfriendly, and the three days I spent in this glorious city just weren’t enough.

Three nights in the Alamanda was pushing it though…