Today I embarked on a long adventure that came with free foot blisters. I know I sound cynical, but I really enjoyed it.
I woke up really early to catch the sunrise on the beach today (it rose at 6:50am). I got to the beach in time, but there were clouds blanketing the sky so I saw no sun, just a bit of a glow coming from behind the clouds. I kicked a bit of sand in disgust and thought, I got up for this? Then it occurred to me that clouds might make a trip up the mountain a bit more pleasant, so I set off towards it.
First let me explain about the path I need to take if I want to walk to campus, which is directly west of me. I have two choices. My first choice is to go south past a boring industrial area forever in the beating sun, cross 2 highways, cross the railroad, go north, take a bridge back over one of the highways, go north through 3 roundabouts, then walk into campus. My second choice is to go one block north, walk west across the highway and the tracks all at once via bridge, walk south for EVER, turn right, cut through the Illawara Institute's campus, walk around an oval (like a football field for cricket), cross a busy street, walk into campus. Both take about 40 minutes. Neither are attractive. This morning, I chose to go the north-first route. When I got to the campus I had to cut through, the gate was locked and so I was deftly turned away. I retreated to a McDonalds I had passed earlier, and grabbed a very big latte (yeah, McCafe). I backtracked a bit and took a very long detour *around* the Illawara campus, through some random residential community and then finally arrived at the office. There are five sets of doors I can go into to access our office. Only one of them works with my key, of course, and it is the fifth one I try. Additionally, one of my keys (they gave me three) gets me in that door, in the suite door, and into my office. I have no clue what the others (or the RFID card they gave me) is for... none of those worked.
Anyhow, I took a breather at campus, then began the trek to the Mount Kiera trails. In order to get to the official trails, I took a 2km trail up a steep embankment. It was a pleasant walk, complete with stairs and peoples' backyards. Finally, my easy-to-follow trail ended at some gravel service road that went left and right. Left was down, right was up, so naturally I went right -- and after 200m, it started going down... and kept going down... so I went back and took the left path which led me to the park entrance.
Once there, I watched a couple of older women (probably in their sixties) deliberating about which trail to take. The women went off in one direction, and I thought I would take the other one so I could have a nice quiet walk. I did, and it was beautiful. Along the way, there were many different plants that were fascinating, a few dripping rocks, lots of ups and downs, and it ended at a road. I looked left and right then crossed. There I saw a sign for a trail I had seen on the map: this one should lead me to the top! I looked around by the sign, but could not find a trail. Behind the sign was a vast field of ferns (about armpit high) and after staring for a while a slight indentation in the foliage showed up; sure enough, the sign had a little yellow arrow pointing right at the dent. I shrugged and plowed into the field. So I guess that the trails here are not really trails -- they are just suggestions. "You might want to go some way in this direction" arrows, which eventually, beyond the ferns and back in the woods, turned into white dots. Dots don't point. I had to follow a long series of connect-the-dots scanning all the big trees for white paint in hopes I would be able to somehow meander to the top.
Hot footed, I finally popped through the forest and saw the valley. Amazing. And all this view from a rock that ... holy crap. There was nothing on the other side of the rock, just a sheer 100m drop. I backed off and soaked up the view, surprised that nobody else had stopped here. Maybe they were scared of wind -- rightfully so. I sat and ate lunch (an old soggy leftover sandwich that in hunger tasted amazing), and decided that this would be called My Favorite Spot™. I would eat lunch here again. It was quiet -- birds chirped, leaves fell off the trees every once in a while -- the wind must've been broken by the other mountains and trees. Quite serene.
Finished with lunch, I backed through a massive spiderweb and freaked out for a moment. Once that had cleared, even though every tingle on my body was greeted as an indication that a redback might be looking for a nice juicy chunk of flesh to sink its jaws, or whatever it has, into. My freaking out stopped a few hundred meters later when a few noisy people passed me. They smelled like cigarette smoke -- that means one of two things: they are hard-core climbers, or there was an easier way to get to this spot. Quickly I found out (as I soon passed a woman with a baby in a stroller) that you can drive all the way to the top and then walk down as far as you want.
Lame. Oh well, I don't have a car anyway.
In fact, I met up with the two ladies I had seen down near the "bottom" of the trails. Let me stop here briefly to rant about how damn lazy Americans are. In the US you would never find two ladies of their age and build, who were talking about yesterday's nice tea and how well Evelyn looked, all the while climbing over huge boulders and up and down steep moss-covered sandy slopes. No way. These people are hardcore over here.
When I did eventually get to the top, my legs were worn (from a bit of pretty serious rock hopping I had to do) and I sat in a nice wooden bench on a tiled and railed terrace and enjoyed the view. After a short breather, I walked into a cafe (that was setting up for some wedding -- very nice) and ordered a white coffee for takeaway. I love this country: coffee doesn't suck. I haven't found a place to get drip coffee yet. Either places don't serve it, or they have an espresso machine that they use to make a long black (espresso+water), flat white (espresso+milk) or any other Starbucks-sounding beverages you can imagine. Hell, even McDonalds will make you a cappuccino.
I sat and drank my coffee out of a paper mug with neat little paper-folded mug ring (like the cheap kind you'd get at a really bad gas station) and although the espresso was not that good, the coffee still tasted great. I looked around and decided that I was enjoying the best view of any other spectators. I had walked from the very bottom. I had conquered this mountain (and much of the town on my way to campus). With that, I left.
The way back down was much faster, so I will not belabor this monologue any more than I need to, but I should add that it entailed the discovery of a few geckos that I thought were snakes, the discovery of a yellow flower that made the forest smell VERY GOOD, and an event with a very stubborn bug and my tonsils.
As I was plodding down a hill, I must have been halfway down one of the paths, and I left my mouth open at just the wrong time because something large and moving ended up affixed solidly to one of my tonsils. After long fits of coughing (usually bugs will come back out) it moved to the back of my tongue. I started to worry a bit since there are so many deadly insects in this country, and I had just swallowed what might very well be a tick infested with Lyme's disease. My nose started running furiously, probably as some reflex to a stubborn foreign particle that won't move out of my mouth with all the coughing. I gargled a few times with water I had brought with, but the bug stayed latched on.
At this point I had accepted the fact that I may very well need a pair of long tweezers to detach the bug, and perhaps lots of medication to cure me of whatever the bug infects me with -- venom or disease. The whole time I'm coughing and spitting and gargling (making an enormous racket), I'm walking down the trail towards a road. I figured that if my throat starts closing or my vision goes fuzzy, I could collapse along the road and hope for a car to pick me up.
The bug must've crawled further down my tongue, because my gag reflexes started kicking in. More gargling and spitting and coughing, but the bug was hanging on for dear life. If it was a tick, its head must be buried deep in my tongue by now. My thoughts flashed to an ad for a tick remover I had seen in the Sky Mall magazine on the plane. There was no way that remover device was going to reach all the way back to my throat. Anyway, I decided that it can't do much more harm in my stomach than it is in the back of my throat (what with acid down there), so I decided to force it down. First I tried to wash it with a tide of water, but that did nothing, so between coughing and gagging fits I pulled an apple from my backpack and went to town. Seemed to do the trick -- after about fifteen minutes of hacking, the apple was soothing my throat, or so I thought. Once I had decided everything was fine, the bug feeling came back. I coughed a few times and it wiggled loose, so I spit it out. Very small little beetle thing; not a tick, longer and thinner -- pretty nondescript. I think I will call this species the "esophogus clingica" beetle.
The rest of my walk was uneventful, except I got lost trying to take the south route home. I ended up almost all the way down to Wollongong (5km from home) before I realized how lost I was. Blister-footed, I stumbled into my room at three and took off my shoes. Beach. Beach was all I could think of. I took out my huge towel, slapped on some sunscreen, and went to the beach. If my feet were killing me after almost 20 miles of walking today, another 5 minutes would not make them much worse. I laid on the beach for a while, walked in the surf, got in a good mood, then came back and went to eat.
Looking back on my mountain journey, I have decided a few things: my memory card in my camera filled up on 48 pictures. Most of them are low quality (640x480), and an 8mb flash card just isn't cutting it. My camera sucks too because it is slow and has no zoom. I should just get a new one. Anyhow, you can see all of today's pictures by clicking on any of the photos in this post, or by clicking this Link.