Sunday, May 11, 2008

I Finish This Trip

May 6th 2008

I Finish This Trip

I have been home for two weeks at my Albuquerque home with my parents as we wait for my younger brother Douglas to graduate. I have not spent much time at home over the past few years and despite missing my home in Seattle, it is energizing to spend time with my family. There is nothing quite like having those you love pick you up at the airport. It does not matter if you have been gone a weekend, three and a half months, or a year. My brother and Mom were waiting, and as is our custom when I come home, we headed to the Frontier restaurant. This diner-like egalitarian institution across from the University of New Mexico serves New Mexican green chili on just about everything - a taste I can find no where else, and crave mightily when I travel.

This past weekend I drove down to visit my family in the southen half of the state in Las Cruces. It was here where I realized that this particular trip now ended for me. It was where it began. If you have been following this blog the whole time, you will know my grandfather died on December 30th 2007. He had been sick over Christmas and that was my last physical memory of him. I had planned on heading out to Australia earlier in that week, but there was no way I would not come to Las Cruces with the rest of my family to pay our last respects. We did so on Picacho Peak, the well-shaped mountain behind his and my grandmother’s house. We all climbed the 1000ft peak, even my grandmother. On the summit we scattered his ashes, and drank red wine in his honor. A hawk appeared, rode the thermals for nearly a minute, and flew off into the distance. Before I left I took his passport with me. It never left my side.

That was three and a half months ago. I knew that this trip and any subsequent trip to Las Cruces would involve climbing the Peak. My grandmother’s house sits on a ridge below the mountain. The house and those around it are xeroscaped into the desert surroundings and are in the adobe style typical of the area. I woke early to avoid the heat and snakes that would follow a later start. Besides, my grandmother was an early riser and I did not want to miss her classic pancakes she had promised me. Despite being among many deserts over the past few months, I was happy to be in the desert of my childhood. I love the smell of the gum trees, but the smell that rises to my nose when I crush the creosote between my fingers reminds me of a home I can never recapture. Like Australia's, this is a harsh landscape. The bright green leaves of the mesquite hide the inch long spikes. On the other hand, the slim fingers of the Ocatillo make no bones about the gauntlet of spikes that run from the base to the top ceasing only at the delicate clusters of bell-shaped flame-red flowers that crown it. I hiked through the sand, bathing in the rich smells of the Chihuahua Desert and thinking to myself what a good idea it was to have waited a little after dawn broke as the mountain was spectacular in the first rays of light. My route was directly up the mountain in a straight line. The rocks were slick against each other and I took my time so as not to fall on the abundant spiky things that grew around me. The mountain has two summits connected by a short ridge. My path took me to the shorter one. As I topped it, I looked out over the rolling fabric of shallow hills, the early shadows enunciated their shapes. The wind was light but it was enough at least for the hawk that greeted me. It looked like the same hawk that greeted us after our toast to Grumpa Stan on January 5. Grumpa's passport was in my backpack. The hawk rode the thermals for several seconds and then leaned away from Picacho Peak until his molted brown wings disappeared into the landscape. I smiled and walked to the powder coated cross on top of the small cairn on the higher summit. I noticed with renewed interest the lime green lichen on the several of the rocks. Combined with the cross, it reminded me of the Wilson’s Prom cross and the equally spectacular orange lichen. I pulled out Grumpa's passport and looked at it. His eyes were bright and his head slightly cocked to the side with a smile. As with any long trip, what it ends up really meaning takes time. The morning sun was bright. This was a good place to finish.

I don’t really know how many people actually read this blog. If you got this far I truly hoped you enjoyed my observations and like to think that I could perhaps take you some place a little different for a few minutes every time you dropped in. This is by no means my last trip. If you want to keep informed of my next travels check My movements will be there. I also understand a few of my readers were not privy to the pictures I took. Those are avalable at

A quick thank you to my parents who checked the majority of my blogs and kept my website updated when I could not get to it. I could not have posted a blog a day (which was my goal) without them. Thank you for your time. Goodbye for now, and as a lovely woman I met in Darwin on one warm wet tropical downpour of a night said to me: "Enjoy Safe Travels."

-Jordan Hanssen

The Long Flight Home

April 22nd

The Long Flight Home.

I bid adieu to the Emmetts. Anthony dropped me at the airport. There is a chance I may see him later this summer. I know I will see Banksy, but the plans are not quite set. I find a lot of satisfaction in having friends in different countries and, in those countries, friends who travel. On the odd occasions they come through my neck of the woods, it's good and refreshing to repay the kindness shown as a traveler by being a good host. I find a guest in my house brings the same kind of energy I enjoy as a traveler.

I enjoyed one last well-crafted cappuccino; even at the airport it was good. I had an odd premonition I would soon be drinking a certain brand of crappy coffee that spends more on pithy aphorisms and inspirational quotes on their cups than on decent brewing techniques. Lucky for me, I now packed my mini-espresso machine from Melbourne.

I had psyched myself up for the painful 14-hour flight. I got a book about the ANZACs and was looking forward to free drinks on the international flights. After finding my seat well in the back of the plane, one of the stewards came up to me and asked if I was Mr. Hanssen. I replied I was, and he told me that they had been instructed to take very good care of me on this flight. Apparently a friend of mine, a certain stewardess I had met at the very start of my trip from Seattle to LA, had caught my flight number and called in a favor for me - of which I was eternally grateful. They asked me to discretely move myself up to the economy-plus seats where my legs enjoyed a luxurious six extra inches. In addition to that, the row they put me in was all to myself. During the flight they continued to ask me if I was being taken care of. For as many times they asked me, I really don’t know what else I could have asked for. The fact was that with all this room and ample drink service (didn’t even have to ask), I was cruising at 35,000 feet. I try not to sleep on a long-haul flight. I find that I would rather be tired the whole day that I land than deal with jet lag the next day. Usually I am uncomfortable enough to pull this off, but I managed a solid five hours stretched out in the most blissful sleep I have ever enjoyed on a plane.

Downtown coffee snobbing

April 21st

Downtown coffee snobbing

It was Monday, and Anthony had the interview downtown. With his new haircut he shined-up like a new penny and was certainly dressed to impress. As he got out of the car, he blended well with the other suited young professionals on their way to work - a huge change from the unshaven grimy companion from the Nullarbor. I caught a ride with him and his dad, squeezing my long frame into the small back of his BMW. I was heading back to the Di Croco to buy some gifts for my family. I figured I could do that while Anthony made his first impression to his potential employer. Heather was happy to see me again; I think she thought I might be coming back for the 650$AUD belly skin dress belt, and I no doubt disappointed her with my smaller purchases of leather clad pen, change purse and credit card wallet for my Father, Mother and Brother respectively.

Anthony’s father was quite keen to hear how his son faired and had us meet him at his local coffee shop below his office. It had an upscale counterculture feel to it. In the same breath incongruent and completely at home with the well-dressed businessmen who clearly favored its brew. Mr. Emmett treated us to a few cups of coffee as Anthony related how he thought he faired. I had two cappuccinos and looked happily at them as they were set down in front of me. The coffee and foam were mixed in such a way to create a remarkably smooth image of a heart with dark sprinkles of chocolate on top. In the cities at least, this was pretty typical of any coffee shop I went to. Coffee here is in the Italian tradition where it ceases to be a vehicle of caffeine and becomes a work of art. I am a firm believer that presentation makes food taste better, and thus really savored what I knew to be some of the last physically attractive cappuccinos I would have in a while. Even in Seattle, despite the heavy volume of coffee consumed per capita I have come across far too few baristas that really take the time to create a consumable work of art.
I listened to Anthony relate his story while silently lamenting my lot as a coffee snob and was pleased to hear that our three-week trip on the Nullarbor had made his resume or curriculum vitae (CV). Until Australia, I had never heard this term. It is clearly Latin and translates to the course of life. This sounds much more interesting than resume, and I added my lack of Latin knowledge to things I was lamenting about.

After giving his dad a report, (it was clear Mr. Emmett was very proud of him) we caught the bus back to Middle Harbor. I headed down to the Fish Camp to finish up my packing. That night was my last night out, and it was hard not to have high expectations. However, the reality was that it was a Monday night and despite the bustle of the restaurant that Anthony, Dave and I went to, the city was pretty dead. We headed to the Scubar, the local backpackers haunt. Even its small size (greatly enhanced by a wall-wide mirror) could not hide the fact that it was at about half its capacity. Despite this, the slimjim bouncer made us wait outside. Dave, in typical Aussie fashion, started taking the piss out of him, citing heavily the real lack of action around the place. Our bouncer gave us a nasty look and commented that "everyone’s a joker." I reserved a comment that if he were this grumpy on a dead Monday night that he might circulate his CV elsewhere to find a job that would complement his sensitive humors. If two nights ago stepped it up a notch, then this one stepped it down - no girls of particular note, or particular antics worth writing. The fact is that if you go out with too much of an expectation to find a good time, you are inevitably disappointed. Better plan to take that good time with you, thus where ever you end up, it ends up being a ball. It was good to spend the time with Anthony and great to spend one last night in the relaxing atmosphere of the Fish Camp, with all doors and windows open, and the Sydney breeze blowing over me.

Morning After

April 19th

Morning After

I awoke most pleasantly to the masts in the bay in front of the Fish Camp leaning back and forth in a light early morning breeze. I gave Anthony a text and asked him to join me at the Fish Camp for some coffee on the deck. He wandered down in a controlled stumble in a jumper (hoodie), asked for a cuppa tea, and lay down on the couch. I think we talked about some surpassingly complex world issues, but I really can’t be sure. At eleven the Manly Daily, the local paper, was sending someone to take some pictures. This came rather quickly, and Anthony and I made our way upstairs to meet him. Our bikes, now unloaded of their gear, just looked like road bikes and it was a stretch to make a suitably adventuresome looking picture. We told him we had a ton of great shots from the bush, but he did not seem convinced.

The rest of the day was a great effort at relaxation. Anthony had to rest up for another mate’s 21st Birthday party, and I was quite happy to stay at the house with Mr. and Mrs. Emmett. We had a great evening eating curry and drinking some of the Margaret River wines that I sent to them months before. I was even more pleased that they were as good as I remembered and that both Mr. and Mrs. Emmett liked them. It was refreshing to go to bed with nothing to do.

April 20th

More of the same

Today was more of the same - relaxing at the Emmett household, which, with its inclinator that served that garage, main house, pool and fish camp reminds me a whole lot of Fantasy Island. Anthony and I went to the mall. He had an interview the next day and needed a hair cut, and I needed my bike box. Our trip proved successful. That afternoon Anthony worked on his resume and prepped for the interview. I packed, watched some AFL (Australian Rules Football), and pulled an erg.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Peanut Butter Jelly Time

April 18th

Peanut Butter Jelly Time.

High on the elation of my new purchase, I made my way back to Circular Quay to take the ferry to Manly Beach. It was cloudy and threatened of rain - as of late quite typical weather for Sydney. If I had not made my way through the country and seen the arid evidence, I would not have believed the country to be in a drought. Even on the grayest of days, Sydney Harbor is spectacular. No other harbor in the world has such recognizable character. I met a Canadian from Winnipeg who had been on the road for eight months, and chatting with her passed the time. After the ferry docked in Manly, I walked the 500 meters to the Pacific Ocean and stared out at the edge of the continent and thought briefly of Forrest Gump as he stared out over the oceans on either side of the US. I had no intention of turning around and heading back to Perth. I felt contacting Anthony for a ride and getting a fed was a much better idea. Anthony had just finished his exam and felt pretty average about it. However, he was done with mid-terms, and it really felt like it was going to turn into a night of celebrating endings. We went to his local with several of his friends, ate a meal, generally caught up with Anthony, Banks and Hamish (the guys from the fishing at the start of the trip). Turns out Banks will make it to Seattle this summer. I think we’ll have a good time. Most of the lads went home after this, leaving Anthony, Banks and I.

It was that point in every evening where you either head home or continue to go out. Having had a nice chunk of sleep the night before, a croc skin belt, and not yet having suitably celebrated the end of the trip, it was easy to predict my vote. Anthony and Banks were just as keen. We headed to the Rocks and a bar set inside one of the old stone buildings of the area. It was packed with the typical twenty-somethings of the city. Banks called some attractive American exchange students that he knew. I felt it strange my last few nights in Australia that I would hang out with the 7th and 8th yanks that I had met over the past three and a half months. Their names were Kelly and Courtney, and they were at the New School in Sydney; I think both for design. It was strange hearing the American accents. Banks and Anthony knew someone behind the bar, and we got our drinks for the reasonable price of free. This facilitated a night of dancing. Large, white men that we are, this went as well as you could expect. Later that evening we found real, but overpriced, American pancakes at a 24-hour pancake spot on the Rocks. I had crepes. It was a bad choice. Around the table, Banks and Anthony were the only Australians in a group of myself and the American exchange students. At this point in the trip, I really didn't feel like I was either.

Turns out that the cab's switch over around 3 or 4 in the morning, and this was about the time we all stumbled out of the pancake parlor. On our way to the cabs, Banks, Anthony, I and a yank named Scottie, who was willingly tormented the entire night by randomly shouted banal phases of "Scottie do!" or "Scottie doesn't know," began to sing the oddly catchy ballad of "Peanut Butter Jelly Time," while Kelly filmed it on her phone, much to Anthonys chagrin as he is rather phobic about being caught doing stupid things on film. For some reason, I don’t have this phobia. I do not know if "Peanut Butter Jelly Time" was ever a good idea. But at 3:30 am on the Rocks, it seemed like a bright, energy-saving lightbulb of an idea. We got the girls soundly off to their place on Bondi Beach, and we wandered the winding streets of Sydney until we finally found another cab willing to take us back to Anthony’s place at Middle Harbor. I was quite happy to find my soft bed in the loft of the fish camp.

I Gain My Reward

April 18th

I gain my reward.

I awoke in a railroad car. This sounds much worse than it was. The YHA I stayed at was an old railroad depot, and several cars had been turned into eight-person dorms. As usual, I was the one American among a smorgasbord of European and Asian travelers. The night before, I had been treated to three dollar snags (hot dog/ braut) and beer. I had three snags, but gave two beers away, as it was some pretty average Portuguese swill. However, the snags were of higher quality than expected. A German girl was handing out buns and cheese. She was pretty damn cute, but I was too tired to make the effort with anyone. I stank and so did my clothing. Washing both and going to bed was foremost in my mind.

The morning came with hard rain on the corrugated roof. At least it sounded hard; all rain sounds hard on a corrugated roof. I was excited. No, I was bloody ecstatic. Today was the day. Sure, getting to Sydney was great and all, but today was the reward. I had for the past several weeks been in correspondence with Heather of Di Croco. Di Croco is the homegrown couture creator of Saltwater Crocodiles skin products. Since my last trip to Australia, I had wanted, nay - coveted, no…. needed a croc belt to complete myself. Five long years I had waited for this moment. I eagerly got on my bike and wound my way through Sydney to number 7 Double Bay, critically aware of the traffic, as I did not want anything to interfere with my mission. The store opened at nine, and I grabbed a cup off coffee to kill time. I also made sure my credit card was in order, not wanting to suffer the embarrassment of a declined card with a woman I had already exchanged roughly a dozen emails. I also went to the facilities. Nothing was going to interfere with my extravagance that morning.

For those of you who are concerned, salt-water croc is not an endangered species - however, some populations in Asia are certainly at risk. In a sick twist of irony Australian Saltwater Crocs were rescued from extinction by their lovely, lovely skin. They are the top predator in their environment and were nearly hunted to extinction because they were both a pest and in high demand for their skin. Once they became scarce, the local government woke up and realized that they were destroying a lucrative resource with bad management, and they protected the animals. In Australia, they are almost up to pre-colonial levels. Any croc that is used for its skin is bred at a croc farm - one of which I had the pleasure of going to on my last trip to Darwin. In this croc compound, crocs are bred. Problem crocs are found in the wild and taken to the farm as studs. A few of these animals are in solitary confinement, having become far too cantankerous to even breed with the females. Thus, due to the virtue of its skin’s use as a leather, the 'saltie' has saved its collective species' skin. Incidentally, as the planet gets warmer, its possible habitat will increase.

Thus I have no moral dilemma with wearing one of these old dinosaurs. I was the first customer of the day, and Heather addressed me by name as she swiped her security card and let me in. It was a very fine store with several croc products of her design all around it. She only had third and fourth generation leather workers touch her skins. She lay out the belts she had set aside for me. I was enthralled. For a young (and still) lover of everything dinosaur, it was hard not to make the comparison of wearing a bit of Tyrannosaurus Rex. The belt of back-strap was what I wanted most. The dual ridges of the scales were stiff with character. I chose the silver belt buckle. Gold and brass do not suite me as well. Wrapping it around me, I felt absolutely complete - completely at home with my shallow side. My jeans were well worn, and my shirt was old, but at least they were clean. More importantly, with this belt on they were very much improved.
The belt was the whopping sum of 400AUD - double the price it was 5 years ago. I know it's a lot. In fact I would agree with you and state that it was far too much to ever pay for a belt. Yet, I could not let it go this time around. I needed it, and while a huge lump in my throat formed when she gave me the bill, I did not and still do not have a gram of buyer’s regret.

While the credit card ran, a sizable gray-topped gentleman in fine casual clothing walked in with what I first mistook to be his daughter, until I noticed the considerably-sized diamond on her hand, as well as other Cleopatrian style adornments, that led me to believe she must be his wife, and not Daddy's little girl. They were an interesting couple. He assumed the belts on the table had been set out for him. It turns out that this gent is also a fan of the croc belt, and every time he heads to Australia, he buys a belt for one of his friends as a souvenir. I judged from the casual way he picked out the belt that we were most likely not in the same tax bracket. They were quite kind. He told me how much they loved Sydney and how much they wished they had the choice of living here; this was followed by a quick pause and followed with the afterthought: "I suppose we do have the choice, we just love Dallas!"

I was confused. The man had what I believed to have once been a queen’s English accent, but it was very subtle. The revelation of his Texan home cleared this up. He then proceeded to tell me about the racehorse that he bought the last time he was here. Unfortunately, despite the young stallion’s quality bloodlines, he was not performing and was quite rambunctious - going as far as to actually have bitten the hand (well at least that hand that wrote the checks) that fed him. I really did empathize with him best I could. I bid them all adieu with the devil on my shoulder telling me to buy the 650AUD dress belt and the angel telling me to get the hell out of that place before I bought something that might give me buyers remorse.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Suburban Walls of Sydney

April 17th

The suburban walls of Sydney.

I had 80 km to go till the Harbor Bridge and Opera House. The first 50 km on the highway went without any drama. Towards the end the traffic piled up, and I was tickled that I was passing cars on the way into the city. However, gridlock quickly piled up, and I was detoured off the highway to the suburb of Liverpool. Unfortunately, I have had the following impressions of the city suburbs:

In the city and in the country cyclists are recognized and, I have found that if polite and law abiding, are generally respected by both city and country drivers. In the 5000 km of cycling on this trip, the only places I have gotten dirty looks, heckling and close calls has been in the burbs. I don't know what it is about this eco-tone of civilization that buffers the city from the country, but it seems to breed some malice towards those inclined to ride bikes. This is perhaps because the burbs were built at a time when gas and cars were cheap, and thus the infrastructure was created only to accommodate cars. However, this does not explain the heckling.

I dodged traffic, changed two flats, generally made up my mind to be patient and took it as safely and as easily as I could, mainly riding the curb. My round-about route did take me through one of the industrial parks of Sydney where I stopped for lunch. It was a large complex with a deli and large portions. Having only eaten spartanly since breakfast, I was eager for a large meal and a respite from dogging traffic. It gave me both.

My trip through industry proved the final hump into the city. Half an hour later, I was in sight of the magnificent harbor and soon after that the Harbor Bridge. I took it slow, still quite aware I did not want to make it this far only to become a tragic asterisk in the back pages of the Sydney Morning Herald. Sydney, as I was now quite aware, was a sprawling city. As I approached the CBD, it was clear that, despite the masses of people and housing that now covered the every inch of the harbor, when this colony was first established ease of docking and defense were first on the city father's minds. From the base of the bridge and the old quarter of town called the "Rocks," the sandstone cliffs upon which the city was built are still quite visible. I rode under the Harbor Bridge; a smile appeared that grew broader as I realized where I was. Above me the pylons of the bridge stood like massive sentinels. Around the west pylon and directly in front of me was the Circular Quay. Across the water was the iconic Sydney Opera House; its sail-shaped edifice doing its best to shine in the waning cloudy sun.

I rolled casually along The Rocks, looking for a bar to fit my celebratory mood. I settled on one that made up for its lack of personality with its grand view. I had Coopers and shot the breeze with the bartender. He asked me if I had been biking. An obvious question from the way I looked, so I told him - nothing flashy, just the start and finish point. I walked to a seat with a fine view and sat down with my beer and studied the pale golden liquid with the Opera House in the background. It had not yet settled in, but I was slowly starting to grasp the distance I had covered. What was here in Sydney was pretty much what I expected. I thought back to before the start of my trip when Melbourne and Sydney were really the only two places I could visualize. Now, roughly three and a half months later, I had filled in a fair amount of the blanks with some pretty rich memories. I drained my beer and ordered another. It tasted just as good as the first. It was getting late, and I was staying at one of the two YHA's in town. Anthony’s place was across the harbor, and I had some business in the city that I wanted to take care of first thing the next day. With a regretful last swig, I set the empty glass down. The bartender came around, picked up the glass, and sat another full one in front of me. "We talked it over and figured your effort deserved a beer." I laughed and thanked him.

Hell, my effort did deserve a beer.