I was once told by an old and wise Australian man that a rough measure of how well someone was traveled was to compare the number of countries they had visited to the number of years that they had lived on this planet; anyone who has visited more countries than the number of their years was considered to be “well traveled.” Well, at the ripe old age of 41, I’m on my way to country number 67. Aside from my “year off” in 2002, I have more time for this trip than I’ve had ever – a total of 6 months. And that’s paid vacation – oh, how I love my job!
And so, at least the first two months of this holiday will be in Australia beginning in Perth. I hope to get to Alice Springs to see Ayer’s Rock and then over to Sydney, up the coast to finish off in the north of the continent down under. I flew with Qantas and it was my first time flying with them. I am usually not worried about airline safety; being a pilot I know how safe it is. Really, the most dangerous part of your journey is the drive to the airport. But I remember a random factoid that I’d heard on the Tom Cruise/Dustin Hoffman movie Rain Man wherein Cruise explains to Hoffman that all airlines have crashed at one point or another to which Hoffman replies that Qantas has never crashed. So, I suppose that I felt doubly safe. But as it would turn out, I would be less than enthused with Qantas as the plane was quite old, didn’t have in-flight power for my computer and the staff was a bit blasé about the whole idea of customer service. They weren’t rude and the service wasn’t bad, but – when compared to Virgin or Emirates – it was just “sub-par.”
It wasn’t until the very end of the flight that I could see land below the airplane. The Pacific is so vast and it took nearly 13 ½ hours to cross it flying non-stop. When I could finally see down to the southwest coast of the continent I could see that the landscape was covered with trees and was quite green in color. Some patches were clear cut lending evidence of lumber activities and renewable forestry.
We touched down in Melbourne and worked our way through the customs process. For whatever reason, I was singled out for “extra” security and had to go through 3 interviews. The interviews were quite in depth and they wanted to know where I was staying, how I was financing my trip, who I knew in the country, my itinerary, what type of work I did and several dozen other questions. Looking through my passport (it is quite full) seemed to pique their interest even more. One of the border agents looked at me skeptically when I said six months paid leave. As soon as I would finish talking to one agent and walk 3 meters, I would be intercepted by another and the questioning would begin anew.
After disembarking, we were sent to a screening area where a dog sniffed our luggage. My first “mission” was to find a SIM card for my phone. I found that I could get a pre-paid SIM card for $2 per day with unlimited calls and texts. To add a data plan was only $3 per day. Not bad considering that there are no contracts and sign-up fees. Unfortunately I could not use my new iPhone; those bastards at Apple and ATT have blocked the phone so that I can only use it on their system. Really? They expect me to pay $2.39 per minute roaming while overseas? I bought my prepaid service through OPTUS, an Australian carrier. Unlike American companies, OPTUS will give you your “crack code” so that you can use your phone on any system. I called ATT and they practically laughed me off the phone. To be able to use my iPhone on another system I have to pay $39.95 to “jailbreak” my phone. This is a complicated process and 12 hours later my phone would still not work with my OPTUS SIM card.
I suppose that I will write a letter to my elected representatives – this seems like an unfair and anti-competitive practice and I don’t think that it should be legal. Can you imagine if Ford had their own gas stations and made the gas tank opening such that you could only pump gas from their gas stations? No one would tolerate that. Once again, the American consumer getting shafted by big business. And we don’t even seem to mind it. Give us our fast food and video entertainment and you can pretty much sell us any load of crap and we’ll fall for it.
I slowly watched the ground under us turn from dark green to light green to brown and then finally tan. I could see how arid the southwest of Australia is and later I would see advertisements all over Perth extolling everyone to save water: the plan was the “60” something plan – everyone resident should strive to save 60 liters of water each day.
When I finally got off of the airplane I had a bit of nervous excitement as I began to explore a new world. I always have a restless feeling when I travel to a new place and even though Australia is about as close to American culture as you can get, I still felt my legs full of adrenaline as I drove into Perth.
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