Sunday, October 11, 2009

Arequipa to La Paz - via Colca Canyon, Copacobana, Isla Del Sol and Deep Fried Guinea Pig!


I am in La Paz right now...time to rest for 5 days. Was only planning to stay for 3 days, but I found out about a World Cup Qualifier Football match between Bolivia and Brazil on Sunday (tomorrow) and simply could not miss it!! Muy Bien, Very excited!!

From Arequipa I booked a 3 day/ 2 night trek through the Colca Canyon, dubbed the world deepest canyon. The "group" turned out to be just myself, A Belgian named Kevin, and our guide, Juan.

A 3am start, with a pick up from my hostel, had then crammed into a mini-bus with 3 other tour groups for 5 hours to small town Chivay to organise our permits, and then on to Condor Lookout for a 1hour stop. Giant Condor birds frequent this part of the Canyon, gliding gracefully throught the skies looking for prey. A fantastic, but extremely touristy spot, with some wonderful photography at 9am in the morning.

From there to Cobanaconde, the starting point for the mindly strenuous 3 day, 20-odd kilometre hike down, through, and up out of the Colca Canyon. Cobanaconde is a very small village, and has a definite Wild West frontier feel about it...bleak and forbidding, with dusty gravel and dirt lined streets stretching from the main Plaza De Armas, local folk slowly going about thier business with nary a need to rush, dressed in traditional brightly coloured outfits and hats. After a brief lunch there, we set out in bright sunlight and mild temperatures across fields of corn to edge of the canyon itself, and descended, for the next 3 hours, along narrow, gravelly paths and switchbacks to the canyon floor, crossing a rickety suspension bridge over the Rio Colca. A brief 30 minute uphill stretch on the other side and we stopped at San Juan De Chucco, a local Quechuan village, where we would spend the night.

From here we could see the path we took on the opposite side of the canyon. Impressive stuff.

When I booked the tour, I was promised an English-speaking guide. While Juan was a fantastic guy, his English was actually negligible....but in this case here, it became irrelevant as Kevin was pretty well fluent in both English and Spanish, so acted as translator and teacher for the whole trip. It was a blessing in disguise as I pretty much had a free Spanish language session for 3 days, which has since proved very helpful indeed.

After a Cervesa or two and a home cooked meal of Alpaca stew with rice and chips, it was most definitely time for bed. Accommodations, while extremly basic, were perfectly fine, and I was well impressed with the Solar Powered hot water system, which gave us a hot showers inside a tiny little bamboo stall. Senorita Gloria, who ran the Pousada Gloria was a most genial host, always with a smile and a laugh, except for when I asked her to pose for a photograph...everyone here always seems to go po-faced serious when a camera is pointed towards them...its not a grumpy, displeasure thing, it just seems to be a cultural thing. Five seconds after the photo, she was all smiles and giggles again!

The next day, setting off at a leisurely 9am, was another brief 3 1/2 hour hike across, up and down and over the ridges of the canyon wall, passing through numerous villages, each as impressively self-sufficient as San Juan, with Solar Power, satellite dishes and general ingenuity, contrasted with terraces of corn fields and coca fields dug into the side of the canyon, giving us a glimpse of both how hard the life is here, and hoe they are trying the darned best to modernise and use technology to their best advantage.

The "money shot" of this trek was at the bottom of the canyon at a natural oasis called Sangalle, which has been developed over the past 10 years as a major tourist destination. Set amongst the tough, dry and dusty and forbidding granite and gravel of the canyon is a gorgeous splash of green, supplied by some internal, underground natural aquifier. Several resorts have been set up here, with pools and palms dotting the canyon floor.

We arrived just on Midday, and upon arrival, immediately slipped into relaxation maode, soaking up the salubrious surrounds, taking a dip in the pool, sunning ourselves, and swaying in hammocks with a cervasa in hand. Bliss.

Again, accommodation was still very basic, with bamboo beds on dirt floors under thatched roof huts, but still perfectly adequate.

Upon nightfall, it was Full Moon, and the moon lit up the night sky and canyon walls, and as the night progressed we had out own mini-light show as the shadows of the ridges moved along with the movement of the moon.

I had an early night, 8.30 to bed, while Juan and Kevin stayed up with the other guides and staff of the resort until 1am. Not really a smart move, given out 5am start the next morning.

We finally set foot on our way at 5.30am, with the sun already risen, blue sky, but with the canyon floor still in full shade - a godsend given that we had a tough 3 - 4 hour climb up out of the canyon to the top and back to Cobanaconde.

Locals also use this trail, and we often had to stop and let pass several mule-trains, at least 4 or 5 donkeys and mules carrying supplies up and down to and from the villages in the canyon. Trying to keep up with one of them as a personal test, I failed dismally, as a local 50-something year old guy skipped nimbly up the rocky path, put me to shame.

We were told 3 to 4 hours...I, hangover free and generally adjusted to the altitude conditons, did it in 2hrs, 20minutes. The record for the climb, by a local is reputedly 45 minutes!

Back in Cobanadconde, breakfast was had, and back on the mini-bus, we headed for la Calera, a hot springs town, for an hour, to give our weary, aching bones a nice treat.

It was a long drive back to Arequipa, arriving back at about 6pm. I then had a bus ride to catch to Puno at 10.30pm, and then on across the border to Bolivia, to Copacobana, which gave me just enough time to search out a restaurant serving the local Peruvian delicacy of Cuy...also known in English as Guinea Pig! I kid you not. It was something I had seen on the menu several times in Lima and Cuzco, but was kinda expensive. After eating Alpaca steak, another local delicacy, I just had to try the Dinner Pig, as I nicknamed it, before I left Peru.

Let me just say, MIssion Accomplished, and I have the pics to prove it. Fried Guinea Pig!! This was prepared with the whole animal splayed across the plate, head, feet, tail and all, and on abed of garden salad and chips. The meat was great, a strong, rich, chicken flavour...but actually getting to the flesh, through the deep fried skin, and multiple tiny bones, was quite a trying effort. Ultimately, not all that satisfying for the effort involved, but hey, worth the effort just for the experience.

Onwards to the bus station, and uneventful 6 hour bus ride overnight had me arrive at Puno Bus Station at 4am.....only 3 1/2 hours to kill for the next bus to the border and onwards to, yawn.

The time duly passed, we finally reached the frontier between Peru and Bolivia, and formalities completed, I had another stamp in my passport, and country #51 entered.

3hrs to Copacobana, and sleep was required. Not wanting the day to wasted completely, I was up at 1pm to wander the small, heavily tourist-oriented town. Another dusty, dry, but quaint South American town, every shop front was either selling handicrafts, a travel agency, restaurant or bar. Not incredibly attractive, but not too shabby either.

The reason being is that it is the Bolivian jumping off point for Lake Titicaca, an incredibly large (230 Km Long by 97 Km wide)and very beautiful spot, reputedly the worlds highest navigable lake, at altitude of 3820m above sea level. In the centre of the lake are Isla Del Sol (Island of the Sun) and Isla De La Luna (Island of the Moon), said to be the cradle of the Incan civilisation, and a major tourist attraction for the ruins to be seeen, and hiking available.

I was planning an overnight stay on the island, but realising that I was rapidly running out of time, already about 5 days behind my initial "plan", i just went for a day trip. For a measly 20 Boliviano´s (A$3.50), I had a return day trip to the island booked.

I had some dinner at a local bar that night, joining a table of other tourists who were already well on the way to getting blind drunk. While there, I met a Chileno artist who was sketching with pencil various scenes going on in the bar. When he´d finished a drawing of our table, I was most impressed with the detail he had put down on paper in under an hour. 25 Boliviano´s later (about A$4) I had my very own original pencil sketch of my first night out in Bolivia....that´s gonna get framed when I get home!!

Next day, kicking off at 8am, I was on a small boat headed to the North side of Isla Del Sol, 2 hours across azure blue waters with the snow-capped mountains of Cordillera Real in the background.

It was turning into a rather warm day, and the 4 hour hike across the islands ridge was, while on a well trodden and easily navigable path, a mild challenge given the altitude and heat. but more than making up for this was the views, the barren rocky island set against a backdrop of clear blue skies, and the afore mentioned azure waters and snow capped mountains.

Tired and sunburnt, but well and truly satisfied and happy, I returned to Copa, with enough time to get ready for another 4 hour bus ride to La Paz, the Bolivian capital.

Resting nicely on the local bus I had booked, with 80% locals and 20% tourists aboard, we were all ordered off the bus at one point at around 8pm for reasons not immediately clear. Once off the bus, it became apparently clear.....there was a big lake that needed to be crossed, and rather than spend money building a bridge, the government had set up a ferry/barge system, whereby the passengers board a small ferry and all vehicles (buses, trucks, vans etc) are driven onto barges to be ferredi across the lake. once other other side, it´s all aboard on your way.....Nothing surprises me anymore!!

At La Paz bus station it was pushing 10pm. La Paz has a reputation of being slightly seedyb and dangerous at night, especially for tourists, and so a taxi to your hostel is recommended...only problem being in my place was that I was following a recommendation from another tourist, an "X marks the spot" on my Lonely Planet map, and on booking it online, forgot to write down the address...and i had no cash on me!

My poor taxi driver. 1st stop was to find an ATM...Mission Accomplished, but it only issued 100 SB notes, large currency here, so then we needed to find somewhere to change it for smaller bills...DONE... 2nd was to find my X on the map....this proved to be impossible, as my friend had labelled the wrong spot on my map!!, so then 3rd stop was to find an internet cafe that was open at 10.30 at that we were on the right track, it should be smooth sailing. But the taxi wouldn´t start! Hailing a local to assist we tried to push start it by rolling down a slight hill around the corner. No Luck. Worse for the driver was that it was a one-way street in the main plaza outside a heavily fortified and policed Government building!! The driver was ordered to stop by local Policia, and was now begging and pleading to let off, given the situation. Thankfully, the cop let him off, i think after seeing me and realizing I was a gringo, and then actually assisted in push starting the car.

By this point, I had been in the cab almost an hour, and i was feeling incredibly sorry for my driver, but he was all smiles when we finally got the right street, and dropped me off....all for 30Bs!! (A$6)!!

Finally, reaching my hostel, an Irish Backpackers called The Wild Rover, at 11pm, and immediately crashed...what a ride, what a night.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Another New Day, Another New Town, Another New Trek


Well, I've left Cuzco now, but not before experiencing one more surreal moment in a million surreal moments in my travels.

The day after we got back from the trek, I was taking myself on a tour of the city, wandering the lanes and alleys again, this time without the burden of altitude sickness upon me....fully acclimatised now.

Mid-afternoon, making my way back towards Plaza De Armas, the main square, I noticed a massive throng of people gathered outside the cathedral, spilling onto the streets and everything. Literally minutes later, I hear the distictive sounds of V8 Rally cars approaching the square from the surrounding streets. Burning around the corner comes the leader of the pack, pulling up outside a sponsors banner, immediately swamped by media, the ubiquitous glamour-model grid girl types, and fans and on-lookers. I got caught up in the moment, and NOT being a motor-sports fan, i found myself, camera in hand, trying to get up close for a decent snap of whoever the hell it was that was driving.

After 10 minutes of obligatory interviews and media ops, rally-car dude revs his engine, takes off and heads out the opposite end of the square...Cuzco must have been a completion stage point for some cross-South-American rally of some description.

So, with the clamour over with for the moment, I continue on my walk around the city. Periodically, another car or batch of 3 or 4 come racing through the tiny side streets of Cuzco, curiously along the same streets that I am exploring. I managed some more 'action' shots with iconic Cuzco background, until it got too dark, and headed back to my new hostel.

I had one last day in Cuzco before I had booked on an overnight bus to where I am now, Arequipa. This was to be my 'shopping' days, taking care of souvenirs and gifts. Only it decided to piss down rain all day, so much so that it wasn't worth leaving the hostel. So a day of internet and DVD´s it was then.

Last night, I had one of THE most comfortable bus journeys I have ever had in my life. The South American bus system is pretty good, so far...given that I´ve only had one journey, that may be an early call, but so far, so good.

I had booked an overnight ride, and was advised that being an overnight-er, it was best that i paid a bit extra and got a decent bus company, rather than the local buses with the chickens, sacks of rice and screaming vomit spewing babies taking up all the room.

I took that advice, and boy am i glad i did.

Double decker bus, with seats that recline almost to horizontal - known as 'semi-cama', with a bus-hostess providing you with a meal and complimentary blanket!, DVD playing on the TV screen, in English (with Spanish sub-titles) was better than some airlines i have flown!

Another reason for choosing the higher confort level was that I had eaten some dodgy Peruvian street food the previous day - the first time i had given it a shot - and i´d developed a mild case of the squirts...the on-board el-bano (toilet) proved to be a god-send!!

Right now, I´m in Arequipa, Peru´s 2nd largest city (approx 1 million population), upon a recommendation from several other backpackers i´d met so far. An unscheduled stop for me, I´ll now no doubt need to drop something later on in the journey.

It is dubbed the White City, having been built from a light coloured volcanic rock called "sillar" that dazzles in the sun. The city is surrounded by 3 active volcanoes, El Misti (5822m), Chachani (6075m), and Pichu Pichu (5571m), as well as high altitude deserts and thermal hot springs.

The big attraction here is the Colca Canyon, dubbed here "The Worlds Deepest Canyon", rivaling the Grand Canyon in Arizona for the title. I´ve booked on a 3 day 2 night trekking tour of the canyon starting tomorrow if I haven´t had enough already!!!....well I suppose I am a glutton for punishment.

I´ll check in again in 3 days when i return from this latest trekking adventure!

Friday, October 02, 2009

Lima to Cuzco and Machu Picchu

Hola Amigos,

Am currently ensconsed in Cuzco, Peru...relaxing after completing my Lares Trek and Machu Picchu visit.

I met up with my fellow travellers at Los Girasoles Hotel in Lima, a posse of 14 including 5 Canadians, 3 Irish girls, 4 Latvians, and 1 one other Aussie from Melbourne.

Our flight with local airline "Taca" was an uneventful 90 minutes, but saved us a 20 hour bus journey over the Andean Mountains.

Arriving in Cuzco, at an altitude of 3400m above sea level really affected me though, and while walking around the city, catching the sites, I was decidedly woozy with light-headed-ness and breathing problems. Even climbing a set of stairs to a 2-nd floor restaurant overlooking the Plaza De Armas took the wind out of me.

Anyway, after spending the day wandering the 15th Century era city streets, laneways and markets, it was early to bed as we had an early start to out tour.

Ostensibly, my original plan was to trek the Inca Trail all the way to Machu Picchu, but only a certain number of permits are issued for each day, and despite putting in for one 3months in advance i missed out. My consolation was to book on another tour for 7 days, encompassing what´s called "The Lares Trek", a 2 and a 1/2 days, 35Kilometre trek through the Andes.

The first real day of travel is Day 3 of the tour (Day 1 - Lima, Day 2 - Cuzco). This took us through "The Sacred Valley", taking in local communities, markets, and important and impressive Incan ruins from the 15th Century, Pisac and Ollantaytambo. The 2nd site is known as the best surviving example of Incan urban planning and engineering, with steep terraces guarding the Incan Fortress, and one of the few places where the Spanish lost a major battle during their conquest.

Day 4 began the actual trek. An early start of 6am had us in a mini-bus to the beginning of a 2 and a 1/2 day hike through the steep terrain of the Andes. If I thought my altitude sickness affected me at 3400metres, well then taking in mountain passes at 4400m and 4500m, and camping on the 2nd night at 4200m certainly had me struggling. Existing fitness levels aside, trekking at this altitude can certainly take your breath away (in more ways than one).

Our trek took us through the Cuncani Valley and over the Cuncani Pass (4440m), around Sondor Mountain, past Huacahuasi Lake, over the Ipasayqocha Pass (4550m), and thought the Patachanka Valley. At each pass, we celebrated by making an offering of Coca Leaves to the Andean Gods. This land is home to the indigenous Quechuan people, direct descendants of those who fled to the mountains during the Spanish rule to avoid being enslaved into working the salt mines of the day, a certain early death. How they manage to live here, with so little, and in such harsh conditions, boggled our minds.

Each morning, we were up at the crack of dawn or before, generally about 5am. The sun rises very early here, and also sets very early. The 2nd morning, after camping in freezing conditions at 4200metres, I woke up with the ground completely frosted over, and icicles forming on our tents...bloody cold!

The scenery was phenomenal. Glacial covered mountain peaks, jagged ranges, ice-cold streams, and terrain that varied from grassy plains to rocky plateaus that reminded me in parts of the Scottish Highlands and the west coast of Ireland. Me being the photographic nut that I am, was in 7th heaven. I had just bough a brand new digital SLR too, and boy did it get a work out. Check out my facebook link for a sample.

Every where we went, we met up with members of the local Incan communities, including numerous cute little kiddies. Each one of us had little gifts to pass on to them, from pencils and sticker books, to candy, and in my case, little toy Koalas holding onto a boomerang. Kitschy I know, but the kids loved it!. Also, for the adults, we made offerings of coca leaves, which they thrive on and love, and could be bought at a local market for 1 soles (local currency - about 40cents) a bag.

At the end of each day, I was sorely feeling the affects of the altitude. My head felt like it was going to explode. It was all I could do to just clamber into my tent, get changed into my warmest clothes and try to doze off. Some of the local women from the surrounding communities would set up little blanket stalls with trinkets and rtugs and scarves, etc, as well as bottles of water, sports drinks and beer....not one of us took up the option of a beer, it was the last thing on our minds.

Along with out two guides, Abel and Carlos, we had an additional team of 6 porters and 2 cooks, and mules and llamas carrying our gear, and full credit must be given to the team that set up our campsite, cooked us breakfast, lunch and dinner each day.

At the end of Day 6 we ended up, via bus to Ollantaytambo, and train to a town called Aguas Calientes (Spanish for Hot Waters), where a hot springs pool was located - just the thing at the end of a tough 35 Km trek. Pity they were kinda shit, and not that hot at all.

Aguas Calientes is also the jumping of point for an assault on Machu Picchu, the final stage on the Inca Trail. In our case it was an assualt by tour bus up to the entrance...not exactly how i pictured approaching Machu Picchu in the many, many dreams I have had about visiting this Ancient Wonder Of The World, but that´s how it was to be.

Up at 4.30am for a quick brekky before heading off, the day began shrouded in thick fog and mist....and it didn´t lift for the whole day. On arrival at the entrance gates at 7am, it turned out was pretty much my best photo opportunity for the whole day. Our guide Abel was full of promises that the cloud would life giving us a clear view of the ancient city of Machu Picchu and the overlooking mountains of Wayna Picchu, the iconic "money shot" that no doubt you have seen before. It wasn´t to be. After a 2 hour guided tour of the site, explaining the history and significance for the Incan Empire, we were left to our own devices. A trek up to the Guard House at the very top and a very patient wait while wave after wave of fog drifted across, above and below was almost completely in vain. Just when we were about to give up, suddenly the clouds did lift and gave a clear shot of the city and a partially obscured Wayna Picchu.

But despite the disappointment the cloudy day gave us, it was also spectacularly eerie to watch just how quickly and thoroughly the fog came in, and how all-encompassing it was. When it was at its thickest, it was as if Machu Picchu was not even there. Pea-soup winters days in Melbourne or Edinburgh or anywhere else had nothing on this display.

Nevertheless, I had been to Machu Picchu, one of the many dreams I´ve had since I started travelling 11 years ago. A day to remember.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

New Day, New Age, New Continent, New Friends

Hola Amigos,

Well, I've arrived in South America for the first time, and am currently writing from Lima, Peru.

It was a rather harrowing journey too, but nothing i cant handle.


Sept 18th - fly to Sydney, spend the weekend there.
Sept 21st 4am - wake up and head to airport for a 6.15am flight to Auckland. I dont sleep.

3hr flight, Arrive Auckland 11am-ish local time. 5ish hr layover at Auckland airport. No sleep.

Sept 21st 4.40pm local time - depart Auckland, 11hr flight, heating on full blast, too hot to sleep, watch 3movies straight, no sleep.

Sept 21st 11.30am local time....arrive SAntiago, Chile...i have travelled backwards in time!!. i arrived here 5 hrs earlier than i left Auckland! cool is that!


Make my way by Public Transport to the city. Meet up with random Irish backpacker, James, whose birthday is the day before mine (ie: today). still no sleep. i dont want to sleep in the middle of the day and keep the body clock in ruins.

we walk around the city for a few hours, beautiful, but not so good in the rain.

3pm - Return to hostel...plans are to hit the town tonight for James and my birthday with some other backpackers...decide to finally get some sleep - a 3hr power nap should do it....

it has been about 28hrs since i last slept, i have time travelled backwards and covered some 11000 Km's.

6pm - wake up, contemplate, but never actually get to dinner. all i have eaten since Sydney is airline food and a Burger King at Auckland airport.

10pm - FREE BEER!!! - the hostel puts out a slab every night at 10 for the guests. AWESOME!!!

Midnight of 22nd Sept, my birthday - time to hit the town: a coupla bars and a nightclub.

5am - return to the hostel, hammered drunk, no time for sleep. need to get to the airport for a 7.30am flight to Lima. Taxi is ordered.

7.30am - on board the plane, pass out, dont remember take-off, wake up mid flight for brekky, back to sleep. In "real time" i have had the sum total of 3hrs sleep out of 36hrs.

10.30am - arrive Lima, thankfully i had pre-arranged an airport pick-up from my hostel....there was no way I was gonna be able to deal with Peruvian public transport or taxis, suffering from mass sleep deprivation and a raging hangover.

11am - arrive at my hostel, crash out, remainder of daylight hours a write-off.


6PM - wake up, get chatting to Aussie girl in bunk next to mine...Amelia lives in a neighbouring suburb to me, Northcote, in the same street that once lived in back at Uni, Clarke Street...she also has the exact same backpack as me and also has a penchant for sewing flag patches on to it.

We go out to dinner with a friend of first real meal since Sydney 48hrs ago.

Back at the hostel...crash out, soooo super tired now...i think jet-lag still has a hold on me

Sept 23rd *today*

Light brekky at the hostel...have to check out and move across town to another hotel where my Macchu Picchu Inca Trail group is meeting

Midday: arrive at new hotel...decide to have a quick kip before having a wander around Miraflores, the suburb i am in......6hrs later i wake up from my comatose state, light-headed and woozy...

....maybe i should slow down???...nah, its the evening, gotta check out this place before i leave tomorrow morn for one last flight to Cuzco..wake up call will be at 6.30am.




Monday, November 10, 2008

travelling again - for a short while

I'm back on the road again...but this time for a, by my standards, very short trip - 5 weeks. I'll be doing the Trans-Siberian Railway from St. Petersburg, Russia to Beijing, China, via Mongolia, with a tour group called "Vodka-Train", and then back on the train solo to complete the Trans-Sib route to Vladivostok, then back home via Seoul, Korea.

I've got a few days beforehand tho...

I left Melbourne on Thursday morning, flying Korean Air to Seoul, a lazy 9 hour flight. With my next stop being Moscow, and the next flight not for 16 hours, Korean Air kindly put me up overnight at the Hyatt Regency (if you don't mind!! :-) - very happy 'bout that!)...and arranged for dinner and brekky the next morning to be 'on the house'. Eating buffet-style for free at a 4-5 star hotel...I could get used to this....big kudos to Korean Air. I'd fly them again anytime.

After another 10 hours to Moscow, I arrived at around 7pm, I then had to endure another hour of queueing to get thru Russian immigration....very officious mob these guys. I guess it harks back to the Soviet Communist days. Once I got thru that, I decided to opt out of the potential rip-off of a Russian taxi into downtown Moscow, and caught the local bus. Over an hour later, crammed in like sardines, we trundled slowly along the motorway in Moscuvite peak-hour traffic (it seems peak hour lasts until after 9pm at least here!). This took me as far as the outer edges of the Moscow Metro, and then I had to catch two Metro trains, changing lines after a few stops. All this after the afore-mentioned 10hour flight and hour long queue....wish I had've gotten the cab, hey!!.

Trying to figure all this out with only written instructions, no maps to work from (my Lonely Planet didn't have a Moscow Metro map in it), how to buy/ask for the right ticket, while jet-lagged up to the eyeballs, well it was some challenge!

By this stage its 9pm. Still haven't made it to my hostel either. it was supposed to be "5minutes walk". Could not find it. In the end, I borrowed a phone from a stranger and rang them for directions, and finally lobbed in at "Godzilla's Hostel" at sometime after 10pm.

Tired? Betchya arse I was!

I flopped into my bed and passed out instantly, not opening my eyes again til 8am next morning.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006



Man, I just can’t seem to take a trick at the moment…and forgive me if I sound like a whingeing bastard. Let me just run you thru what’s happened in the month of December for me – possibly the most frustrating and demoralising month for me in a long time.

Okay, #1 –

You may remember me mentioning that I was applying for a job with Flight Centre Travel Agency, basically for me an entry into an industry that I had decided I wanted to pursue a career in after not knowing what I wanted to do during my entire adult life. I didn’t get it. In Australia, this is the one and only Travel Industry company that advertises its positions as ‘no experience required’. All other travel agencies require at least 1-2 years industry experience. As a result, Flight Centre is recognized as the main ‘foot in the door’ to this industry. It seems as though if you can’t get in here, then the rest of your opportunities are incredible limited. As I say, I didn’t get the job, and I was well f**ked over in the way it all happened.

After getting thru most of the rather gruelling interview process, including an interview with an Area manager (which went very, very well in my opinion), I was granted the opportunity for an in-store assessment, and at this stage I thought it was a mere formality that I’d be hired, it was in the bag, it was a done deal. I was very, very excited, and anxious to get moving on this fantastic new role. They said that they would ‘get back to me’ regards an opening. After a week and a ½, I was told that they’d ‘get back to me in another week’ with some news. A further 10 days after that I contacted them again, only to be told that suddenly no place could be found, and that my application would be placed ‘on hold’. It remained that way for almost a month.

Any communication with the HR folks only occurred when I chased them with a phone call – very frustrating, as they were hardly forthcoming with any news themselves.

I then finally received a call suggesting another interview with another Area Manager – which I readily accepted. Another week after that passed with no word. I finally called them again, only to be told that “my application was unsuccessful” – the 2nd Area Manager interview was given the thumbs down, and that they would not be pursuing any positions for me…despite the first Area Manager willing to place me as soon as a position became available.

I was asked if I would like any ‘feedback’ on why I was not successful - of course I would!! – but it’s been another two weeks and I’ve heard nought back. A very disappointing outcome, and a very disappointing way in which Flight Centre have handled my application. I honestly get the feeling that had I not chased them on any news, I would have died waiting. Very unprofessional. It doesn’t take much to make a phone call in the timeframe you promise to.

Right now then #2

Leading up to Christmas I was looking for some extra work to bolster my cash supplies and help pay off my Credit Card debt. I happened upon a potential mini-goldmine doing a 3-day temping gig for Telstra on Dec 24, 25, 26 – that’s right Christmas Eve, Day, and Boxing Day – doing Inbound Call Centre mobile phone activations. At close to $40 per hour, it was simple work and easy, easy money. I would earn close to $1000 after tax! Or so I thought. After having this work guaranteed and booked in for almost a month, Telstra pulled the pin on it on December 23rd – they hadn’t sold enough pre-pay phones and had over-estimated the number of Call Centre staff they would need. I was one of the crew that got cut. Bummer. I was soooo looking forward to that little bonanza.

And finally, #3

I did manage to snaffle a little bit of extra work on New Years Eve, working as a Crowd Marshall in the City, helping to direct foot traffic around the city to the various celebratory locations and fireworks viewing points – a 13 hour shift earning close to $300. I almost wish I hadn’t taken it. At the close of the shift at 2am, with nothing else to do (after trying to contact 4 of my friends to hook up with for NYE drinks), a co-worker invited me to a house party she was attending in St. Kilda.

Kate and I arrived at around 3.30am, stone cold sober. She only knew one other person there – it was a pretty open party – and we sat down with her mate Gareth at the rear of the enormous backyard. It was pretty happening, despite the late hour. There were still at least 40-odd folks dancing around to the music, and everyone was very, very drunk…mostly paraletic in fact. The hour being what it was, there was almost no booze left…except - there was a cask of (very bad – as we would find out later) cask red wine untouched, and we were invited to drink that. It was horrible, but at least we were getting a drink in on New Years Eve.

About an hour and 2-3 polystyrene cups of wine later, we spot Gareth stumbling in the backyard holding a massive wad of tissue paper to his head drenched in blood. He had tripped over and face-planted to the concrete, cracking his head open. Everyone else was like “oh my God, what do we do” – so drunk they couldn’t function. I decided to play Good Samaritan and call the Ambulance and make sure this guy gets help. I’m on the phone to 000 and waiting out the front to flag the ambulance down, but them I’m told “Cancel it – he can’t afford the fee, we’ll take him to hospital in a cab”. The cab arrives, he and Kate and another guy get in and head off. I head back in to the backyard, back to where we were sitting…..AND MY BACKPACK I WAS CARRYING IS GONE!!! MISSING??? STOLEN???? I have no idea. It had my ipod (!!), sunnies, clothes, shoes, a notebook/diary with about 100 numbers and addresses in it, and assorted other valuables and kick-knacks in it. About $800 worth all together. Some f**king prick took my bag while I was helping out a guy - a total stranger no less - in serious trouble, severely injured – a guy I had known for only 2 hours. What a f**king bastard!!!

I was furious and frantic at the same time. I spent the next hour searching around and asking everyone around if they had seen it, but nada. By this stage the party numbers had dwindled quite considerably, and daylight was coming. Even with the help of the light, I had no luck. My bag was gone. When I realised this, I felt demoralized, dejected, deflated and flattened, and purely downright beat. I almost wanted to slit a wrist.

All there was left to do was to go home. Which I did, alone and depressed, along with the last of the New Years revelers and stragglers, and on the train with ½ a dozen arrogant, arsehole Macedonian teenagers – who heckled, harassed and harangued everyone they laid eyes on. Finally, I got home to bed, but then to make matters worse, after I woke up, that 4 or 5 cups of cheap nasty cask red I’d had came back to haunt me with the most severe hangover I’d had in ages, rendering me couch-ridden, vomiting pure stomach bile into the bathroom sink all afternoon

Over the next few days I lodged police reports, tried filing an insurance claim, and attempted to contact a couple of people whose numbers I got from the party to no avail…it was, gone.

So, my unlucky three – missing out on a dream job, missing out on an easy $1000 work, and losing $800 of personal belongings – all in the space of about 10 days. When the last of these happened, I was honestly thinking “what in the world have I done to offend the Gods, Why me???” I honestly have no idea as to why this run of luck has happened to me, it seems I can’t take a frigging trick at the moment. It’s like a kick in the guts, a blow that has really sat me on my arse and left me feeling at a truly low ebb. Here I am trying to get my life back in order, making a go of things to live the kind of life I want to live, working hard, and all this shit happened to me.

I really feel in a bad place right now. Again, I just needed to get this off my chest, so that I can move on and try and put it behind me.

Cheers, Tony