Wednesday, October 06, 2010
So, here we go again, another big birding trip for the old Rambler.† Australia.† It feels great to be here.
I was all ready to go, an hour or two early this time.† Bags packed, all plans made, ready to play the airport game.† C took me to the airport, and I was on my way.
The flight on Alaska Airlines to L.A was fine.† I left Seattle at 7:30 in the evening on Monday, and my flight to Sydney left LAX at 1150 PM, so I had already had a full day when my 13 hour flight to Sydney started at midnight.
The flight was great.† As on each of my previous Australia trips, I flew business class, and that makes a huge difference.† I canít imagine paying the approximately $24,000 (not a typo, that is 24 THOUSAND dollars) to fly business class round trip from Seattle to Australia (and the flight was full in business class), but since I use Alaska Airlines frequent flyer miles (which I mostly get by using their affiliated Visa card), I go for business class.† For those of you who havenít done it, international business class is much better than domestic US first class. ††The meals are excellent and the seats are really great.† The seats not only give you tons of room, they adjust with about a dozen different controls, and lay out completely flat, for sleeping.† I managed to sleep for 5 or 6 hours on this flight, and this is the first time I have ever been able to sleep on a plane, other than a little dozing from time to time.† The fact that I weigh about 70 pounds less than the last time I flew to Australia did contribute to my comfort on the flight, too.
So, the 13 hours was long and boring, but I was comfortable and I actually got some sleep for a change.† The movie system is ďon demandĒ these days, so I watched a couple of documentaries and a TV show or two.† None of the movies appealed to me.† I availed myself of the free booze, too.† I canít really resist when the scotch they serve is a single malt (Glenlivet) and their bourbon is Wild Turkey.† The Sauvignon Blanc I had with my dinner was excellent, and the dessert wine that my seatmate recommended was outstanding.†† If you have to spend 13 hours on an airplane, this is the way to do it.
So, when we landed in Sydney it was about 9 AM local time, on Wednesday.† We had crossed the International Date Line.† By the time I got through immigration and customs and got a taxi to my hotel, it was about 10 AM.† My room wasnít ready, so I left my bags and went down the street and got a SIM card for my mobile phone and bought some air time.† Iím still trying to figure out if that really worked or not, but at least I have a phone now (I think).† It is absurdly expensive to actually call anyone with a prepaid account like I have (about Au$1.30 for the first minute), but it costs me nothing for people to call me, so I will try to use it that way as much as I can.† I really only need a phone for emergencies and perhaps to make contact once in a while with one of the local birders I have set things up with.† I spent $22 and I have a local mobile phone number now.
I got into my room about 11, after having a Subway sandwich (toasted tuna and cheese) in the park across the street.† I got on the highest floor, the 15th, as I had requested, and I have a very nice view.† The room has a queen bed and a single bed, along with a desk, a couple of easy chairs, and a little kitchen table with two more chairs.† There is a little efficiency kitchen with a microwave, a two burner stove top, and an under-counter fridge.† It has cutlery, dishes, and pots and pans, so I have everything I need.† I took some pictures and they should go up in a Photos tomorrow night, if I can get to it.† There is even a small balcony.
Internet access is very expensive here at this hotel, and I am paying $66 for a weekís access, although I will only be here for four days.† I could have done it for less than a third of that cost with a prepaid dialup account, but this will be much more convenient, assuming it works.† When I got here, it wasnít working, and I spent a good half hour futzing with it, trying to figure out what was wrong.† It turned out that the whole hotelís internet access was down.† It finally got restored about 4 PM.† To make matters worse, my AOL software doesnít seem to like the internet connection provided, and it refuses to recognize it for some reason I canít figure out.† I wasted another hour trying to make it work, even downloading a newer version of AOL, but it just canít ďseeĒ the internet connection I have here, which is an Ethernet cable connection, not even a wireless one.† All my other programs can see it fine, but not AOL.† Go figure.
I got unpacked and organized, and I went out to a local supermarket and laid in some supplies.† It was very disappointing to find that they donít have cooked chicken breast over here, like they did in Britain, so I guess I will be eating more ham and cheese than ever.† Maybe some other stores will offer the chicken, but this was a good size supermarket, and they didnít, or I couldnít find it, at least.† There were none of the refrigerated prepared meals that I found everywhere in Britain, either, and that is a real shame.† They were a great resource for me.† I donít really ďcookĒ, but I do like to prepare (meaning heat in the microwave) my own meals in my room.† I have a kitchen a lot of the places I plan to stay, and I have microwaves in my room in even more places.† If I canít buy prepared meals, that will be a problem.† I guess I can buy frozen meals and heat them, but then I will have to be buying them each day, as I wonít have much freezer space anywhere, I donít imagine.† I certainly have only a tiny freezer space here.† The good news is that my fridge here had a smallish ice tray in it and it was already filled with water.† I have ice for my Bundeburg rum and orange mango juice drinkies tonight!† Halleluiah!† My readers who followed me in 2006 and 2008 might remember what a challenge it was to get ice in Australia.
There was another good development, too.† I was able to get a couple of bottles (large bottles, 1.125 liters each) of my favorite ďoverproofĒ Bundeburg rum at the Duty Free store at the Sydney airport today for Au$35 a bottle (by the way, the Aussie dollar has been strong lately, and it is almost equal to the American dollar now, so Aussie dollars are almost the same as USA dollars).† I looked in a discount liquor store today, and that same rum was selling for Au$59 a bottle, and the bottle was only 700 ml.† That makes my duty free rum about 1/3 the cost.† Yay for frugality and yay for Australia allowing me to bring in 2.25 liters of hard liquor duty free!† Iím enjoying my Bundy rum tonight, for the first time in almost two years.† It isnít imported into the US.
So, that is a pretty short report and nothing very interesting, but I am here, and I am getting organized.† Oh yes, somehow my glasses disappeared between the airport, where I repacked my bags a little after coming out of customs, and the hotel.† They are bifocals, but I only wear them to read.† My distance vision is excellent, and the lost glasses had only a tiny correction for distance.† I can read using my computer glasses, which are also bifocals, and I do have a cheap pair of cheaters from the dollar store, so I can use those for reading, too.† I canít really figure out what happened to my bifocals, unless they just fell on the floor when I was repacking stuff at the airport (mainly putting my rum into one of the bags, along with a pair of pajamas they gave me in business class that I didnít wear).† Maybe they will turn up here, somewhere in all my crap that is now spread all over my room, but I think they are gone.
Tomorrow I am set up to bird with a local birder by the name of Melissa.† She responded to a post I put on my Aussie birding mailing list, offering to take me birding.† We plan to go to the Royal National Park, south of Sydney.† Iím very pleased to be going there and very grateful to have a local birder to take me and show me around.† I have great hopes to see some good birds, as it is an excellent place to bird.† The Royal National Park is the first place I ever birded in Australia.† I stopped there on my first trip, back in 2002, on the same day I picked up my rental car and started the birding part of that first trip.† I have learned a lot about Aussie birding since then, and I am really looking forward to returning to the Royal National Park.† The plan is for me to take a commuter train out to a suburb to meet Melissa, saving her the time and nuisance driving into central Sydney and back out again.† Riding the local train should be fun in itself, and Iím looking forward to it.
Iíve seen five species so far, on the way from the airport and across the street in Hyde Park.† All common birds, of course.† Tomorrow should add substantially to that, and there is the possibility of one or more lifers as well.† My ďdream birdsĒ for tomorrow are Southern Emu-wren and Beautiful Firetail.† Neither is likely, but either is possible.† That is one of the attractions of birding, the chance at seeing something new or interesting.
Iíll see if I can remember how to put this up on the website now.† The trip is on!