Do you remember when I was reading this book on Day 3 of my recent trip to Saint Lucia? It was an advanced copy. The publisher needed quotes for the back cover. And look! Three months later, my name is now on it:
The book is called I Don’t Care If We Never Get Back: 30 Games in 30 Days on the Best Worst Baseball Road Trip Ever, and I have to say that that’s an accurate title. Here’s the link on Amazon in case you want to check it out. I recommend it. It’s highly entertaining.
Camden Yards is 194 miles from my home in New York City, but in this case, the distance meant nothing. I had three big reasons for skipping work and driving down for the day. First, I’d heard that the Orioles were using special baseballs to commemorate their 60th anniversary, and I *really* wanted to snag one. Second, the Tampa Bay Rays were going to be there, and I wanted to catch up with Heath Bell. And third, my girlfriend, Hayley, had a rare day off and was willing to tag along because she’d never been to Maryland. We made it to Baltimore more than four hours before the stadium was going to open, but I’ll spare you the details of how we spent it. Instead I’ll cut to the chase — here we are outside the gates:
That photo was taken by my friend and fellow ballhawk Tim Anderson. In the following photo, Tim is wearing the white t-shirt, and you can see Hayley waving in the background:
You can also see my first baseball of the day, which, disappointingly, was not commemorative. It was a batting practice homer by J.J. Hardy, which landed in the seats, took a series of wild ricochets, narrowly eluded Tim, and eventually trickled to me.
Meanwhile this was Hayley’s view:
I had told her to sit all the way back there so that she wouldn’t get drilled by any baseballs. I had also asked her to try to get a few action shots of me.
This is not what I had in mind:
I don’t know why I was making that horrified face (on the left) or prancing around like a complete tool (on the right), but hey, anyone can look stupid for an instant, right?
Thankfully there were moments when I looked a bit better, and Hayley captured those too. Although the following photo is blurry, it’s my favorite because it shows me jumping high for my second ball of the day — a J.J. Hardy homer that I caught on the fly. Check it out:
The left field seats were crowded. Look how much competition there was just on my staircase:
When the Rays started warming up, I was glad to see Heath Bell:
After a few minutes, I changed into my Rays gear and headed to the seats along the left field foul line:
That’s where I got my third ball — a softly-thrown one-hop knuckler from Jake McGee that I trapped against the wall after lunging out of the stands.
Eventually Heath came over to say hello, and we chatted for a few minutes:
He noticed Hayley taking photos nearby and asked, “Is that your girl?”
I waved her down and introduced them. (It felt weird to say, “Hayley, this is Heath. Heath, this is Hayley.”) He asked how we met (heh), and we all chatted briefly.
Toward the end of BP, I got a toss-up from Grant Balfour in straight-away left field. Then, at the end of BP, I hurried to this spot behind the 3rd base dugout . . .
. . . and got my fifth ball of the day from Rays coach Tom Foley. He’s always been generous.
In the 1st inning, I led Hayley out to the Flag Court:
My plan was to hang out there for all left-handed batters and to go for foul balls from righties behind the plate.
So much for that.
The stadium was too crowded for me to run back and forth through the cross-aisle, and on top of that, I wanted a commemorative ball more than I wanted a home run. All five of my pre-game balls had the regular MLB logo, so I pretty much *had* to snag one during the game. Therefore I went for foul balls all night. Whenever a righty was at bat, I stood in a tunnel on the 1st base side of home plate, and whenever a lefty was hitting, I hung out here:
The only exception was when the Rays were in the field with two outs. That’s when I tried to work my way down behind their dugout in the hopes of getting a 3rd-out ball.
Long story short: TOTAL FAILURE. There was a shocking lack of foul balls, and I kept having bad luck at the dugout.
As the Orioles were about to wrap up their 7-1 win, I knew that my only remaining chance was to get a ball from the home plate umpire after the final out. I looked up the box score to find out who it was, and when I saw the name, I was like, “Huh?”
I’d never heard of him before, so obviously he was a rookie. Was he cool? Was he a jerk? I had no idea what to expect, but my strategy remained the same.
As he walked quickly off the field and out through the tunnel, he only gave away one ball. Somehow I was the lucky recipient and . . . just LOOK at this thing of beauty:
THAT is a gorgeous logo.
Moments later, I noticed three guys walking across the field from the Rays’ bullpen:
It just so happened that Heath Bell was in the middle. I waved him over as he approached the dugout, and we chatted for a minute. Before we said goodbye, I showed him the commemorative ball, figuring he might be mildly interested, but as it turned out, he liked it so much that he said he was gonna try to get one for himself. I’m calling it now: after he retires, we’re going to attend a game and ballhawk together.
On the way out, I gave away two BP balls to random kids, and I got someone to take my photo with Hayley:
Even though the paid attendance was only 15,799 at this game, the stadium felt MUCH more crowded than it used to be. Not too many years ago, I would expect to snag 10 to 15 balls per game here. On September 14, 2009, I snagged 22 balls, and the next day I got 25. Those days are loooooong gone, but it’s still an amazing ballpark, and I’m always glad to make the trip.
Here are the four balls that I kept . . .
. . . and here are some numbers for ya:
• 6 baseballs at this game
• 58 baseballs in 7 games this season = 8.29 balls per game.
• 973 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 63 different commemorative balls; click here to see my entire collection
• 7,234 total balls
(I’m raising money again this season for Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. Click here to learn about my fundraiser, and if you donate money, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.)
• 16 donors for my fundraiser
• $1.37 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $8.22 raised at this game
• $79.46 raised this season
• $38,743.46 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009
SPECIAL BONUS SECTION — some words from Hayley herself:
Baltimore’s a cute town. I’ve been to four different stadiums now, so, in my highly expert opinion, I thought Camden Yards was pretty nice. It was cool being able to walk around the whole place easily via the cross-aisle without having my view obstructed, or feeling like an usher was going to demand my ticket at any second. I ended up just sitting in my seat and letting Zack do his thing for the final third of the game, but it was a good time nonetheless. Also, the crowds were bigger than I expected — who are all these people staying out at a baseball game until 10pm on a Monday night?
Normally I wouldn’t post a separate entry about my trip back home, but this one took FORTY-THREE hours! Here’s a quick rundown, and then I’ll share some photos:
1) Getting to the Alice Springs airport and sitting around (1.5 hours)
2) Flight from Alice Springs to Sydney (3 hours)
3) Layover in the Sydney airport (5 hours)
4) Flight from Sydney to Dubai (14 hours)
5) Layover in the Dubai airport (3 hours)
6) Flight from Dubai to New York (13.5 hours)
7) Baggage, customs, long taxi line, insane traffic from JFK Airport (3 hours)
Now that you know that, here I am on a bus to the airport in Alice Springs:
Boo-hoo. It was time to go back home.
On the way to the airport, the bus stopped at a golf resort/casino to pick up two dozen passengers. This is what I saw out the window:
In the photo above, did you notice the birds perched under the corner of the awning?
Here’s a closer look at them:
I’m not a bird connoisseur, but c’mon, those little guys are beautiful.
Wanna see something that wasn’t beautiful? Here you go:
Why was I making that stupid face? Here’s a closeup with the answer:
As you can see, there was a fly on my face. (Do you remember all the flies that prompted me to wear a net over my face on Day 10?) No matter how many times I shooed it away, it came back and crawled on me, often with several of its friends. Yuck.
This was my skimpy meal on the Qantas flight to Sydney:
After the flight landed, I made sure to buy some Tim Tams:
Here’s where I sat for the entire five-hour layover:
I spent most of that time working on a blog entry about the first game of the Opening Series at the Sydney Cricket Ground. I also spent a little time eating this:
That was my second of what felt like eight thousand meals on the way home. Here are the two main courses I ate on the 14-hour Emirates flight to Dubai:
The flight was awful because there was an infant sitting two rows behind me, who wasn’t just crying. It was WAILING. And. It. Kept. Doing. It. For. Fourteen. Hours. The baby made it hard for me to sleep, and when I decided to stay awake, it made it hard for me to enjoy my music or focus on my writing or do anything worth a damn.
I took a photo of the flight tracker as the plane approached Dubai:
Here’s what I ate at the Dubai airport:
That was a hummus and falafel wrap, and it sucked. The airport was super clean and fancy, but the food options were crap.
You can imagine how tired I was by the time I got on my next flight — a nice little 13-and-a-half-hour jaunt. And guess what? There were crying babies EVERYWHERE. I’m not kidding. There was one in the row in front of me, another close behind, and another on my left. I was surrounded! Here’s how I was feeling:
I suppose I shouldn’t go on the record publicly as wanting to punch a baby, so let’s pretend I didn’t say that. Let’s just say that I was very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very VERY annoyed. And that I now officially hate babies.
Here are two more meals that I ate on the flight:
Now, obviously I couldn’t take a selfie while I was sleeping, so here’s my attempt at staging the scene:
Did I sleep?
Did I sleep well?
Yes . . . briefly.
I had an aisle seat, so before I planned to attempt to fall asleep, I made a point of getting up and walking around for about 20 minutes. (This was a huge plane with more than 500 people, so there was lots of space.) I figured that the folks on the inside of my row would take advantage of my not being there by getting up and using the bathroom and stretching their own legs for a bit. I had it all planned out perfectly. I was going to sleep for the final six hours of the flight, and when the plane landed in the early afternoon in New York, I would magically be back on track with my sleep schedule. Jet-lag is for babies, I thought. And speaking of babies, I was so damn tired that the whole plane could’ve been filled with them, and I still would’ve fallen asleep.
I managed to fall asleep fairly easily, and let me tell you, I was OUT. I normally can’t sleep on planes (or anywhere that isn’t a very comfortable bed), yet somehow I fell into a *deep* sleep with full-on dreams and no tossing or turning. And then I felt someone tap my shoulder. I was so out of it that it took me a while to wake up and realize what was happening. The woman on my right, evidently, hadn’t used the bathroom earlier, and NOW she had to go. Unreal. I looked at the flight tracker. I’d only been sleeping for two hours. There were still four more hours to go, and I was never able to fall back asleep.
But you know what? It was worth it. Being inconvenienced on a luxurious plane is not so bad in the grand scheme of things. And this really *was* the trip of a lifetime.
This was the final full day of my trip, and I went on a guided tour of the MacDonnell Ranges — a famous mountainous region of the outback in the Northern Territory of Central Australia. Look how gorgeous the scenery was on the way to the first stop:
The view out the back window was also spectacular:
The first stop was a place called Standley Chasm. Here are some of the other people on the tour, following the guide along a path to get there:
Take another look at the photo above. Do you see the guy wearing a bug net over his head? Don’t laugh at him for looking silly. It was a genius move. See the guy whose back is facing the camera? Do you see anything *on* his back?
Here’s a closeup:
All those little specks are bugs! They were EVERYWHERE. Thankfully they didn’t bite, but they were incredibly annoying. Every few seconds, one of them would land on some portion of my body, often my face and crawl/buzz around my nose and eyes and ears. I seriously thought I was going to lose my mind, but what could I do? We were in the middle of nowhere, so I just dealt with it and tried to enjoy the day.
Here’s a photo of me at the chasm:
On the way back to the bus, I wandered inside a gift shop for no other purpose than to escape the bugs for a couple of minutes. I didn’t plan to buy anything until I saw this:
It was $9, but for all I cared, it could’ve cost $99. I handed over the money, tore open the package, threw that damn fly-net over my head, and stepped back outside:
Suck it, flies!
I was brand new man.
Meanwhile, my tour guide, Clive, didn’t seem to be the least bit bothered by the flies. Here he is setting up some tea for us near the bus:
Eventually we got back in the bus and headed to our next stop. When we got out, I took a photo of the license plate, just because I thought it was cool:
Our next stop was at a place called the ochre pits. Here I am posing there:
The fly-net, I realized, was great for keeping the flies away, but lousy for being photographed.
Clive set up a nice little lunch for us at our next stop . . .
. . . and then we wandered off yet again to another scenic spot — easily one of THE most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Have a look for yourself:
Yes, the flies were just as bad in this spot (which was called Ormiston Gorge), but whatever. I couldn’t bear the thought of being photographed anymore wearing the net.
We had to walk a bit at our next stop . . .
. . . but it was worth it:
The place pictured above is called Glen Helen Gorge.
All of the stops featured signs like this:
I didn’t bother reading the signs while I was there; I simply photographed them all so I could educate myself later.
Here I am at Ellery Creek . . .
. . . and here’s a cute tree I noticed atop the rocks:
On the way to our next and final stop, we passed a cattle crossing:
We were heading to a place called Simpsons Gap, and from the moment we stepped out of the bus in the parking lot, I knew it was going to be magnificent:
Here I am jumping off a small rock:
Here I am crouching beneath some huge rocks:
Here’s one more photo of me at Simpsons Gap:
In case you’re wondering, I had a tripod with me and took all these photos of myself with a 10-second timer.
All the rocks were pretty much the same color, but the sunlight and shadows created a heavy contrast:
And finally, here’s something I’m sure you want to see:
Those are wallaby turds. Yummy.
Now . . . as I said at the top, this was my final full day in Australia, but I still have one more entry coming about my 43-hour trip back home. Then I’ll get back to more baseball-y things.
It’s amazing how much the scenery can change in two hours. This was my view as I flew out of Cairns . . .
. . . and here’s what I saw before the plane landed in Alice Springs:
That might not look like much, but I was excited because my opportunity to experience the outback had finally arrived.
While waiting for my luggage in the Alice Springs airport, I took a peek at this:
Why? Because I’d just been informed that the bike tour I’d booked weeks in advance had been cancelled, and I needed to find something else to do. (The tour was supposed to be with a company called Experience Oz, so here’s some friendly advice: don’t book anything with them. They suck.)
As it turned out, there *was* nothing else to do that would fit into my limited time frame, but in a way that was good. It meant I could relax and check out the actual town of Alice Springs.
On the way to my hotel, I took a bunch of photos of the landscape, including this dried-up riverbed:
In case you can’t tell, it was HOT. And I was glad. This winter in New York City had been brutal.
At the hotel, I got a map of Alice Springs and headed out on foot for the afternoon:
I had to walk about a mile to get into town. Here’s a residential side street I passed along the way:
Here’s what the town itself looked like . . .
. . . and OH, look — there was a mall:
I headed inside (because what else was there to do?) and bought a few snacks, including this:
That’s a dessert called a lamington. My friend Ray Burton had recommended that I try one, and I have to say it was disappointing, although I don’t blame him. Some lamingtons are filled with cream, but as you can see, the one I got had nothing but generic sponge cake in the middle.
Several people (and websites) had warned me about Alice Springs after sundown. They said it gets pretty sketchy and that the whole town basically shuts down, and I could see what they meant, even in the mid-afternoon. Some of the “main” streets were desolate . . .
. . . but whatever. It was only 4pm, and c’mon, if I can deal with 1,000 sketchy New Yorkers per day back at home, I could certainly handle whatever Alice Springs had to offer.
I kept wandering and eventually found myself standing here:
I didn’t realize it until I walked closer, but that hill had a path toward the top. I headed up and took the following photo (of myself!) on the way:
Nothing sketchy about THAT.
At the top of the hill (which is called Anzac Hill), there was a memorial . . .
. . . but I was more interested in the natural beauty.
In the late afternoon, I headed back into the middle of Alice Springs:
The shadows were getting long, and suddenly everywhere I went, the locals were glaring at me:
Yup, it was definitely time to get moving.
I found a Thai restaurant, got some food to go, and took a taxi back to my hotel.
. . . but once we got out on the water, it turned out to be really nice:
After 45 minutes, we reached the reef and docked here:
Here’s a closer look at it:
The people running the cruise had informed everyone that there might be jellyfish in the water, and then, of course, they said we could rent wetsuits which would prevent us from getting stung.
“Will a wetsuit prevent me from getting bitten by a shark?” I asked.
The answer was no, but I got one anyway. It was only $7, and I didn’t want to take a chance.
BRING IT ON, JELLYFISH!!!
Here I am in the water . . .
. . . and look! Here’s a photo of some fish that I took underwater:
The people running the cruise, OF COURSE, had disposable/waterproof cameras for sale, and like a sucker, I bought one.
Actually, I’m glad I did. My pictures weren’t terribly exciting, but it’s nice to have a visual record of what I saw. Here’s what some of the coral looked like . . .
. . . and here’s some more:
This might be weird, but I enjoyed looking at the coral more than the fish. And no, there weren’t any jellyfish. Of course.
Here’s where I ate lunch:
(There was a buffet on the lower deck, and I brought my food up top.)
In the previous photo, did you notice the two women wrapped in pink towels? That’s who I ate lunch with. I had met them earlier in the day, and we ended up talking quite a bit, mostly about baseball after they commented on my umpire cap and asked if I’d attended the Opening Series in Sydney. They were from Los Angeles and had been at the series too. One of them, a *huge* Dodgers fan, is trying to visit as many stadiums as possible, but get this — she only counts a stadium if she sees the Dodgers win there. (Good thing the Dodgers didn’t get swept in Sydney, huh?)
On the way back to Cairns in the late afternoon, I asked my new friends to take a photo of me on the top deck of the boat. Here’s how it turned out:
Did you notice the folks staring at me in the background? Well, apparently I inspired them to strike a similar pose of their own:
The ride back was beautiful. Here’s a look at Green Island way off in the distance . . .
. . . and here are some mountains:
After the boat docked in Cairns, I walked along this street to my hotel . . .
. . . and enjoyed a little computer time on my room’s balcony:
The highlight of my evening was going to a nearby casino:
I’m not a gambler. I’ve only been to a few casinos ever. In fact, I hate casinos, but there was nothing else to do, so here I was:
I wasn’t allowed to take photos inside the casino, so here’s a quick recap of what happened: I stood around and watched people lose money at various games for two hours. Then I decided to play black jack, won my first hand, lost the next two, found myself $30 in the hole, and got the hell out.
This was the Phillies’ home opener, and I drove down from New York City for ONE reason: to snag a commemorative “Opening Day” baseball.
Before the stadium opened, I enjoyed a few moments of solitude — here in the parking lot, for example . . .
. . . and here outside the left field gate . . .
. . . but don’t be fooled. This game was sold out, and it got awfully crowded. This was the scene behind me just before I ran inside:
I headed for the left field seats, and within the first few minutes, I snagged a pair of Phillies home run balls — no idea who hit ‘em. The first was hit one section to my right. The second landed one section to my left. I out-scrambled several other fans and grabbed both baseballs off the ground.
During the next group of hitters, I jumped as high as I could to catch a John Mayberry homer on the fly. Then, moments later, I caught another homer on the fly (possibly off the bat of Carlos Ruiz) by carefully drifting down the steps and reaching a bit higher than everyone else. And then this happened:
1) A big guy standing five rows back scolded me for bumping into another fan.
2) I assured him that I hadn’t bumped anyone, but he insisted that he saw me do it.
3) The fan he accused me of bumping said I hadn’t bumped anyone.
4) The big guy apologized to me.
With two groups of Phillies batters remaining, I headed to right field and picked a spot in the emptiest row:
I ended up catching three home runs on the fly in that section. My left arm got bumped on the first one, I gave the second one to the nearest kid, and I caught the third one (hit by Cesar Hernandez) on my palm. It stung quite a bit, but I held onto it, so whatever. And by the way, the reason I caught it awkwardly is that it was coming in low toward some gloveless fans in front of me. I wasn’t sure if they’d duck or try to catch it (and possibly deflect it into my face), so I half-lunged for the ball and half-flinched from it.
I moved back to left field when the Brewers came out, and I caught two more home runs. The first was hit by Ryan Braun (BOOOOO!!!) and had a magic-marker streak on the sweet spot:
I have no idea who hit the other one, but I can tell you this: it was the ninth BP homer I’d snagged, including seven that I caught on the fly. These were the only nine balls I got before the game started — no Easter eggs, no toss-ups, nothing with the glove trick, and none of them were commemorative.
Here’s a cool thing that the Phillies did before the game:
In case you can’t tell, those are Phillies players and coaches passing through the crowd and heading down the steps toward a long red carpet, which was lined with fans.
Nice job, Phillies!
THAT is how to kick off a season.
Check out my view for the player introductions:
Did you notice the three guys standing on the top edge of the upper deck? I would love to go up there sometime, in Philly or anywhere. I wonder how I’d go about making it happen. Hmm.
Anyway, when the game was about to begin, I headed to the 1st base side. I wanted to maximize my chances of snagging a gamer, so why not take a shot at getting a 3rd-out ball from the Phillies after the top of the 1st inning, right?
Well, with two outs, Ryan Braun (BOOOOO!!!) hit a routine grounder to shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who fired it over to 1st baseman Ryan Howard. I was already crouching in the front row by the time Howard caught it, and it’s a good thing because he took one step into foul territory and lobbed the ball in my direction. Everyone around me reached for it, but I reached a little higher, and I caught it! As eager as I was to look at it and take a photo, I decided to wait until I made it back to the concourse, and when that moment arrived, my heart sank. This is what I saw:
What the hell?!
The ball *was* commemorative, but the logo was crap. How was that even possible? This was a gamer! Right? Howard could not have possibly switched balls and thrown me the infield warm-up ball because . . . like I mentioned above, he tossed me this one the moment he started walking off the field. I mean, he basically took his foot off the bag, turned toward the dugout, and let it fly.
I hurried to the 3rd base side and tried to get a 3rd-out ball from the Brewers. I settled into a spot behind the outfield end of the dugout, so basically I needed each inning *not* to end with a strikeout. If Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy ended up with the ball, there was no chance I’d get it.
That said, wanna guess how the first inning ended? Yup, with a strikeout. But there was no need to worry yet. The day was still young.
The 2nd inning ended when Ryan Braun (BOOOOO!!!) made a diving catch in right field, and wouldn’t you know it, he ended up keeping the ball.
The 3rd inning was a different story. Once again, Braun (BOOOOO!!!) caught the final out, but this time it was a routine play, and when he jogged all the way back to the dugout, he tossed me the ball! And the logo was in great shape:
On the way back to my seat, I gave one of my BP balls to a little kid — and then there was NO action for the next three innings.
The bottom of the 7th ended with a line-out to Brewers 3rd baseman Aramis Ramirez. On his way in, he tossed me the ball, and the logo was perfect.
Then I moved to the home-plate end of the dugout, and in the middle of the 8th inning, I got a commemorative “Opening Day” infield warm-up ball from coach Garth Iorg.
The Brewers won the game, 10-4, thanks to Ryan Braun (BOOOOO!!!) who hit three home runs and had seven RBIs. After the final out, I got another commemorative ball from coach Mike Guerrero — my 14th and final ball of the day.
Here are the 12 that I kept:
Given how badly I was treated on 8/3/13 at Citizens Bank Park, it felt great to have a fun day there and get things back on track.
• 14 baseballs at this game
• 35 baseballs in 4 games this season = 8.75 balls per game.
• 970 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 62 different commemorative balls; click here to see my entire collection
• 7,211 total balls
(I’m raising money again this season for Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. Click here to learn about my fundraiser, and if you donate money, you’ll be eligible to win one of these prizes.)
• 14 donors for my fundraiser
• $1.22 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $17.08 raised at this game
• $38,706.70 raised since I started my fundraiser in 2009
At around 6am, I checked out of my hotel in Sydney and headed to the airport for a two-hour flight to Cairns. Here’s what the terminal looked like:
Yes, I flew on Qantas, which was pretty nice. Look what was in the pouch of my seat:
Every passenger got one of those to play with during the flight, but I passed the time by working on my blog — what else?
For some reason, the woman sitting next to me was using her iPad to watch a movie . . . with the volume playing aloud! At first I thought she was just checking the volume level to make sure it was working, but nope, she sat back and let it play. After a couple minutes, I asked her politely if she could use earphones.
“Oh, I don’t have the right earphones for it,” she said unapologetically — and then she kept playing it. Thankfully a flight attendant passed by soon after and offered her THE RIGHT earphones. Unbelievable.
Now, I don’t make a habit of pulling out my camera in bathrooms, but there was a funny sign in the Cairns airport that I *had* to photograph:
My first thought was, “Who the hell would possibly use a toilet that way?”
My next thought was, “This is a popular tourist destination, so anything’s possible.”
Anyway, the most stressful part of my entire vacation was about to begin. Based on the itinerary that I’d booked, I was supposed to have two hours from the time the plane landed until I was going to be picked up at my hotel for a rain forest tour. Of course, that’s not how things went. My flight was delayed by about 75 minutes, which meant I only had 45 minutes to get off the plane, get my luggage, find my pre-paid shuttle bus to my hotel, check in, change my clothes, gather up my stuff for the afternoon, and hurry back down to the lobby. Somehow I barely made it, and at the end of the travel frenzy, I found myself in the back of a Land Rover with a tour guide and four other passengers:
The guide was very Australian, and he was cool from the moment he said hello. Unlike the crowded tour of the Blue Mountains that I’d done the day before, this one was personal and cozy. I got to know my fellow tourists during the half-hour drive and had a feeling that the entire afternoon was going to be great.
Here’s what I saw when we got out of the vehicle at our first stop:
It was perfect. There weren’t any other people. There weren’t any gift shops. It was just us surrounded by nature. Look at this beauty:
That’s me at the bottom of a huge waterfall — and the best was yet to come.
Our next stop was a place called Wrights Lookout. As we made the short walk from the vehicle, I noticed one of my fellow tourists photographing something on the ground:
Naturally I went over to see what the fuss was about, and when I was sure that nothing was going to jump or slither out of the bushes and bite me, I took a closer look.
Get ready for it . . .
Be prepared to smile . . .
I don’t know what the hell that is, but it’s my new favorite plant.
Here I am at Wrights Lookout:
After that, we got back in the Land Rover, drove to the next spot, and headed into the forest. Here’s our tour guide, Jason, telling us about the plants along the way:
Here’s what greeted us at the end of the walkway:
I was LOVING this tour, in large part because of Jason who knew everything about nature. On our way to the next stop, he pulled off on the side of the road to talk about this:
That’s a termite mound! Holy crap! I was glad to see it from the safe confines of my ride, but wouldn’t have wanted to get any closer.
The drive, by the way, was gorgeous. Check it out:
Over the course of the afternoon, Jason drove us through seven streams, occasionally stopping to give us a chance to get out. Here I am walking barefoot through one of them:
A minute or two later when I was back in the car, it felt like something was ticking my left foot, so I took a quick glance at it and noticed a small, black speck. I figured it was a piece of a leaf or some other random particle from the stream, and I flicked it off. No big deal, right? Well, a minute after that, my foot was itching so I took another look at it and was surprised to see that I was bleeding:
I thought I must’ve scraped it on something underwater, but no, when I mentioned it to Jason and then described everything in detail, he told me I’d been bitten by a leech.
I fruck out for a moment, convinced that I now had some type of rare blood disease, but Jason assured me that it was no big deal.
“I had three of them on me earlier this morning,” he said. “They just like to drink your blood. No worries, mate!”
(I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea, and yes, Australian people really do use the word “mate” in regular conversation. It always made me smile.)
Here’s something else that made me uneasy:
That’s a spider cocoon, which, according to Jason, was capable of producing 10,000 spiders. When he said that, I was standing about three feet away from it, and before I had a chance to light it on fire, he was like, “Look how sturdy it is!” and he grabbed a pen and tapped it.
What is the purpose of doing that?
Of all the stuff I saw over the course of the afternoon, this was my favorite:
It looks fake, right? A prop from “The Princess Bride,” perhaps?
Well, it was real — a “tree system” that’s 800 years old! The original tree was long dead, but vines crawled up it and supported other plants, and new trees grew out of it, and as you can see above, it’s now massive.
Here’s another interesting plant:
Our final/main stop was at a place called Lake Morris. Here’s a group photo (that I took with my tripod and 10-second timer):
I gave contact cards to all the other people and told them to get in touch if they wanted that photo. As it turned out, I never heard from any of them, but hey, it was fun while we were together.
On our way back down the mountain, we stopped here for a peek at Cairns from above:
Jason dropped us all off at our respective hotels.
Then, after changing my clothes yet again, I headed back out to make the most of the final hour of daylight. I walked along the waterfront . . .
. . . and passed lots of stores and restaurants:
I also walked past a huge public swimming pool . . .
. . . and then went looking for a place to eat:
Eventually I picked a Thai restaurant and ordered “takeaway,” as Australians call it. Here’s what I got:
Chicken satay and coconut rice. Yessir! Eating alone while browsing Reddit on my laptop is one of the simplest and greatest pleasures in my life.
This was my final day in Sydney, and it began with a sad goodbye. At around 7am, I headed up to the Burtons’ hotel room to say farewell. Here they all are:
They were soon going to be checking out and driving back to their home in Newcastle.
Meanwhile, I had to rush to this bus terminal . . .
. . . to catch my ride for an all-day tour to the Blue Mountains.
The journey started by crossing the Sydney Harbour Bridge . . .
. . . and continued for 45 minutes on various highways. I happened to be sitting in the front passenger seat, and on the way, I noticed this:
In case you can’t tell, that’s the tour guide/driver READING HIS NOTES WHILE DRIVING.
Our first stop was in a town called Leura. It was rainy and dreary and quaint, and I didn’t do much. I wandered into a few stores, collected some business cards, got some food, and eventually made my way back to the bus.
The next stop was better . . . in theory. We went to a place called Scenic World, but the weather kinda wrecked it. Here’s what it looked like as I headed toward a cable car . . .
. . . and this was the view from the cable car itself:
I could tell that it was supposed to be spectacular, so it was annoying not to be able to experience it at its best.
Next up, I waited on this line . . .
. . . for a ride on one of the world’s steepest railways. Once again, it had great potential, but the weather wasn’t cooperating. This was the lame view:
After that, I took a stroll on a walkway in the forest.
What was the weather doing?
But there were still some glimpses of the natural beauty:
Then I rode another cable car back up the mountain . . .
. . . and had a pretty good lunch in the food court:
That’s fish and chips, but more importantly, take a look at the ketchup:
Ha ha ha.
After Scenic World, I got back on the bus and headed with my tour group to the most scenic lookout spot of all. The next photo, taken in a nearby gift shop, shows what the Blue Mountains are *supposed* to look like:
As you can imagine, I wasn’t too happy when I made it to that exact spot, only to see the valley smothered with fog.
Here’s how I was feeling at that point:
By the time I left, the view had improved a bit . . .
. . . but the whole tour was feeling like a big waste of time.
Here’s where we went next:
Great . . . another effin’ zoo. Just what I needed.
It was raining so hard that even the kangaroos were taking shelter wherever they could find it:
I did enjoy watching some teeny penguins scurry around:
I also enjoyed getting to hold an owl . . .
. . . and bonding with a koala . . .
. . . so the zoo actually turned out to be pretty good.
Back on the bus, I got a quick glimpse of Sydney Olympic Park . . .
. . . on the way to this wharf:
Twenty minutes later, I was on a boat . . .
. . . heading to downtown Sydney.
The boat passed some gorgeous waterfront homes:
I wonder how much those places are worth — several million dollars apiece?
This was the view from the back of the boat:
Eventually we approached the Sydney Harbour Bridge and opera house:
Check out this humongous cruise ship that was docked nearby:
When I got off the boat, my plan was simple: walk and walk and then walk some more. My shoes were soggy, but at least it wasn’t raining, and since this was going to be my last night in Sydney, I wanted to see as much of it as possible. And yes, I know I didn’t really “experience” it any more than tourists who experience New York City by wandering around Times Square for an hour, but whatever. I did what I could.
I had heard that George Street was THE street, so here’s where I started:
I decided to walk toward Sydney University, which was several miles away, because it was near my hotel. I figured I’d walk for a while and then jump in a cab to make it the rest of way.
I saw some pretty architecture, like the Queen Victoria Building:
I also saw (and loved seeing) some mundane stuff, like this subway station:
I liked NOT knowing anyone or anything — being halfway across the world and on my own to do whatever the hell I wanted.
Here’s something I didn’t want:
A little while later, I passed some sort of weapon store:
I guess those were antiques — but good luck getting one on an airplane.
Here’s the coolest thing I saw all day:
That apartment building has the world’s tallest vertical garden, and as for that crazy-looking illuminated square sticking out to the side . . . that’s some sort of art/light installation, which just so happens to create shade during the day.
(But Australia still has bad pizza!)
I kept walking . . .
. . . and eventually found myself here:
I had no idea how far I’d walked, but it must’ve been quite far because I’d been on the move for hours. I finally made it back to my hotel, feeling somewhat disappointed and yet satisfied with how my day had turned out. I had awful luck with the weather, but still managed to have a pretty interesting time.
My day started with Game 2 of MLB’s Opening Series at the Sydney Cricket Ground. I’ve already written a long/separate blog entry about that, which you can read here.
After the game, I joined Ray and his family for a fancy buffet dinner in a revolving restaurant at the top of Sydney Tower. This is what it looked like from street level:
Here’s what the interior of the restaurant looked like . . .
. . . and this was the view:
Sydney Tower is 309 meters (1,014 feet) tall, so it figures that the view would be spectacular. And by the way, in the photo above, you can see the Sydney Cricket Ground. It’s the biggest, brightest spot far off in the distance.
The food was very good, but rather than showing you everything I ate, I’ll just share a few photos of the more unusual items.
Wanna guess what this was?
Here’s the answer:
Yum! Kangaroo rump! My favorite!
This was the second time I ate kangaroo on this trip (Remember the first?) and it was pretty good. Not great. You know . . . whatever.
Here are two other things I ate:
As you can see on the little food signs that I’ve photoshopped in there, the orange stuff is crocodile, and the brown stuff is buffalo.
Here’s some proof that I actually ate these things — a bite of kangaroo on the left and a mouthful of crocodile on the right:
The crocodile tasted like tangy, spicy seafood, and it had the consistency of a sausage. Again, it wasn’t great. It wasn’t bad. It just . . . was.
Still, I needed to get rid of all that weird meat flavor, and obviously the best way to do it was with a bunch of desserts:
Yes, I ate all of those. And then I went back for more. (The key to a successful dessert run at a buffet is to grab a dinner-sized plate *before* you reach the dessert area, where there are usually smaller plates.)
Here’s another photo of the view, but since the restaurant was turning (very slowly), it was a different view from before:
Here’s a group photo that was taken during dessert . . .
. . . and here’s one final shot of me in the restaurant:
That’s it for Day 5 — baseball and a buffet with great friends. It doesn’t get much better than that.