This week I went from reclining on the beach all day to possibly the most adventurous 7 days of my entire life.
On Monday I went on a trip to the Blue Mountains where, unfortunately due to the worst fog seen in 5 years, I saw little else other than my cup of tea in the dreary tourist centre. We then moved on to the Jenolan caves which more than made up for our irritating guide who kept providing us with useless information such as, ‘Most people in our city take the bus to work, if you look to your right you will see some people on the public bus to work,’ narrated in a very thick Yorkshire accent.
The caves were spectacular limestone formations with ancient stalagmites, precious sparkling gems in some rocks and million year old fossils in others. The entire circuit was tricky to navigate and required you to scurry along on all fours in parts. It was hard to imagine how the gentry of the 1800s used to manage in their Sunday best of petticoats and tails holding candles as they went. However, it was all the more surprising to watch the ease with which our septuagenarian 5ft2 guide casually made his way through after having held the rope for all 5 of us to abseil 10 feet into the cave. Over the course of about 1.5 hours we scrambled and squeezed our way through various gaps in the rocks. One was called the s-bend and it could only be navigated head first lying on your side whilst wriggling like a worm. Another required a blind drop feet first down a shaft as wide as my hips in the hope that your feet would find the right rocks as you came in to land. Another still required you to slide down on your back and follow the curve of the rock with your spine in order to come out on another level of the caves. It was all a bit Super Mario but without the cool costume, I looked more like this:
The next day Doreen and I had a pampah! (pamper) day as she had managed to wrangle the day off work. Forget a lie-in; we started our day early doors with an aqua zumba class taught by a tiny Asian-Aussie with heaps of energy and incongruously large lungs. Despite being grumpy to begin with as I had dragged her out of bed, Doreen was soon leading the charge. She was front and centre, pumping underwater (foam) iron to Staying Alive whilst I was laughing with the old dears of Sydney at the back of the class, trying my best not to drown when one of them sarcastically muttered; “Forget Staying Alive, we’ll barely be breathing after this!” We then went for a spot of successful vintage shopping in Newtown and got the loser cruiser back into town to finish our day in what was quickly becoming my local; Orbit bar
The next day it became apparent that the syndrome TMB (Too Much Beach) had got to my head when I found myself rethinking my snap-purchase as I dangled out of a helicopter at 14,000 feet strapped to a burly Irishman. All this evaporated when I felt an incredible sense of weightlessness because for a split second we seemed to defy gravity as we barrel rolled in the air. Then came the breathlessness as we plummeted back to earth through the clouds at breakneck speed for the longest minute of my life. This was replaced by raucous laughter as the parachute thankfully jerked us back upwards. Landing back on earth I could not contain myself, jumping around and excitedly exchanging stories with those who had jumped in the same load. We all wore grins from ear to ear as we waded back triumphantly like veterans, our instructors leading us across the field parachutes in hand. It was simply one of the most incredible experiences of my life.
I spent the rest of the day with Melpo and Chiara who had come to visit for a couple of days on their OZ and NZ backpacking adventure. As we lay on Manly beach in the afternoon sun, we recalled the last time we had all been together was during the dark period of revision for finals in Warwick University library. If only we could have seen then what life had in store a mere 7 months down the line! The next day we made a trip up to the Blue Mountains and this time it was a great success! It’s a mountain rage divided by rainforest filled gorges. The way the sun reflects off the mountains gives the entire area a hypnotic blue haze. We did the typical touristy strike-a-pose take a photo and were mortally embarrassed when a Japanese couple, who were taking our photo in front of The Three Sisters, complimented us on our matching blue outfits for our day at the Blue Mountains. Somehow we had failed to notice our poor wardrobe choice until that moment.
We then descended the Giant Stairway into the gorge, a rickety staircase of 900 steps embedded into the side of the mountain which became treacherously slippery when the heavens decided to open as we were two thirds of the way down. At the bottom we sought shelter under a rock and shared a small tupperware box of pasta for lunch between the three of us like true backpackers. Deciding we would be there all night if we waited in the rainforest for the rain to ease up, we made the climb back up. Chiara, fresh from climbing Mount Kilimanjaro the month before was striding ahead as Melpo and I brought up the rear, panting and shaky legged. Looking like drowned rats, we made our way back to the train station where we were told it was to be another hour until the next train by a man who looked at us ‘city types’ like idiots for expecting a regular train service! We hung out in a dreary pub and bought souvenirs from a shop that was just as weird as Snooper’s Paradise in Brighton, run by a man who was the spitting image of Leo from That 70s Show. Katoomba was an odd and eerie place that we were glad to escape from as night began to fall!
The next day we had a relaxing coffee in Badde Manors home to the only good cup of coffee I had in Syndey before perusing the Glebe Saturday Market. We strolled the shores of Bondi, chatting to the lifeguards and darting between the hundreds of blue bottle jelly fish that had washed up onto the shore during a storm as the loud speaker explained how to deal with a sting with the same casual tones one would adopt when telling someone how to crack an egg! We met Doreen, Malky and some more of their pals in The Forresters – a kooky, hotchpotch maze of a pub – before the backpackers caught the Greyhound up the coast for their next adventure.
My last few days in Sydney were bittersweet. I was coming to the end of what had been one of the best holidays of my life keenly conscious of the fact that life back in the shack awaited me. I finally made it along the Bondi to Coogee walk – a walk along the coastline that passes beautiful beach after beautiful beach. The blazing sun shone hard upon the dancing sea whose waters were bluer than any I had ever seen. With the help of yet another old man, I found my way to Watson’s Bay which gave photogenic views over the iconic Sydney skyline. I sat in the sand and watched the sun go down feeling blissfully content for the first time in many, many months.
Needless to say, that was one depressing 9.5 hour flight back to Asia. I am already counting down the days until I return Down Under.