Nepal to Australia: It’s Time For Friends

Leaving Nepal was not an easy thing to do.  After all, we had volunteered with the Nepal Volunteers Council, Trekked the Annapurna Circuit, Kayaked Lake Phewa and caught up on lost time in Pokhara, Launched the OnlyABuck: Notebooks for Nepal Campaign, stretched, meditated and cleansed at Sadhana Yoga Ashram, and Cared for Elephants in Chitwan.  Considering our dream list going in, we had more than accomplished our goals but knew deep down we would be returning.  OnlyaBuck™: Free Health Clinic, anyone?  (It’s OnlyaBuck™ now by the way…long story.)

Hong Kong Sickboy

Our intention was to fly from Kathmandu to Hong Kong and spend a few days with my old friend from high school (and Penn State), Chi Tsang.  Arriving in Hong Kong, we were both ill and completely wiped from, well, travel we guess.  We just needed  rest and weren’t in top form.  We emailed Chi and broke the bad news, switched our flight to Sydney (for free, thanks OneWorld!) and after 40 hours of travel, landed in Australia’s beautiful city that we had left behind in 2008.  This time, however, we had some friends from San Francisco waiting, Chris Piro and Claire Fabricante, and were hell bent on arriving early, and giving them a surprise.  Yes, I am my father’s son.

Checking into our hostel, we knocked on Chris and Claire’s door and as expected, they were out and about exploring.  This gave us the perfect opportunity to dive head first into our pillows, get caught up on some

Sydney Food Fest Under Jack O'Randa Trees

quality sleep and try to shake the bug.  Nine hours later, we felt great, left a note for Chris and Claire to meet us at the Sydney Food Festival in nearby Hyde Park and most importantly, to bring wine.

The food festival was hopping, and would ultimately begin our foray into the food scene of Australia.  From $2 salmon and avocado sushi rolls to $20 all you can eat seafood smorgasbords, we arrived with one mission in Australia:  eat what we missed most and eat well.  And boy, we were hungry!  We opted for steamed duck and BBQ pork buns and roasted chicken and sage pot stickers.  Laughing at ourselves for selecting Asian as our first meal after having just left Asia, we sprawled out, enjoyed the meal and cracked into some goon, Oceania’s word for bagged wine.  The food was delicious, albeit overpriced, but we’ve become experts in finding value on any menu worldwide.  And we realized, just like the USA, Asian food IS part of the Australian food culture.  Unless you’re from Europe, Asia, or Africa, we are all just immigrants after all, right?

Catching Up
Erin in Awe at Sydney Fish Market

Soon enough, Chris and Claire showed up to triumphant cheers, enormous bear hugs, and heaps (an Australianism for lots) of kisses.  It was so great to reminisce with our friends and until about 3 am we got partially caught up over several bottles of wine, and some Talisker Scotch I had gotten for Chris, carrying on the tradition of “learning about Scotch” from the previous winter spent in Tahoe enjoying over 720 inches of snowfall.  We made plans to hit the beach the following morning and hit the sack.  17 hours of sleep in one day would surely get us back in top form.

Bad weather prevented us from getting sand between our toes, so we opted for a workout through Darling Point complete with views of the always-magnificent Sydney Opera House and Harbor Bridge.  Afterward, we took the short

walk to Kings Cross for Harry’s Famous Pies and woofed down bacon ‘n egg rolls with hot sauce, washing it all down with a perfect cappuccino.  All for $5, too.

The afternoon approached rapidly and we met up with Schneids who was wrapping up “going-back-to-school” stuff and we we began walking west toward the Sydney Fish Market for a late lunch.  Stall after stall of fresh seafood vendors, cheeseries, wineries, bakeries and all other good things in life made up the indoor market.  Following Piro’s lead (after all, this is where he and Claire visited the day prior while we napped/slept and he is the best untrained chef I know), we went big and set the budget at $20/head, ordered fresh sashimi: salmon, octopus and tuna, for good measure.  It was hard to contain our pleasure.  Next up was a full filet of

The $40 Seafood Smorgasbord

barbecued eel and chilied fresh baby squid.  Both incredible and both well suited with the Pinot Gris with which we insisted on washing everything down.  And finally, a full kilo of crystal bay prawns, head on, of course.  Snapping, slurping and sucking sounds emerged and we enjoyed every last morsel.  Comparing these meaty bad boys to lobster tail only all agreeing, they were better.  Our afternoon gorge wouldn’t be complete without buttered fresh baked ciabatta bread from the bakery to soak up all the protein and alcohol our bodies so desperately needed.  Keeping the “slap the goon” tradition alive and well, the sound reminiscent of slapping bootay,  I somehow managed to back-slap the goon right out of Piro’s hands and over the railing.  Fortunately, it was low tide and our beloved bag landed on soggy land, saving me from a chilly dip in order to continue the fun.  The walk home was merry and we sang classic songs such

Not Claire's Stanky Face

as “Monorail” and “Who got da Stanky Face (Claire do)” to much lauded public pleasure.  Barring any incidents with the authorities surrounding Kings Cross’ night clubs, Sydney was officially a wrap, and we were off to Bondi the following day.

Bondi Beach, the glorious sweeping bay that is somehow metropolitan Sydney’s suburb, is only a short 15 minute bus ride away.  A great beginner’s surf break and all-around “cool” place to be, with hip bars, clubs, restaurants and relaxed beach scene, we traded our jackets and closed-toe shoes (except for Claire who refuses to wear closed-toes much to the chagrin of over-steroided nightclub bouncers) for flip-flops and wet suits and hit the beach and surf running.  “Surf’s up,” Piro and I would declare at every turn of the clock, and find ourselves in the water enjoying the waves as much as the views.  Both were plentiful.  The water was cold though and we’d often have to hurry back to the beach to our hot mamas to keep warm.  For $2, you can grab a salmon and avocado sushi roll right on the main street, packed and ready to go with single-serve soy and a pouch of wasabi, and over the course of the following month, we must’ve spent at least

Surf's Up at Bondi Beach

$40 indulging on these perfect, healthy, grab-n-go snacks to tide us over to dinner.  Between the beach, teaching Aussies how to play California-style beer pong (with goon, of course), Fish ‘n Chips dinners, and just kickin’ it around town, we relaxed and lazed around for the entire weekend.  That last night, we all threw down a whopping $10 on a world famous Piro BBQ for dinner.  The menu:

Grilled Lamb Chops with a Shallot and Shiraz Wine Reduction Sauce
Sauteed Crimini Mushrooms
Crispy Buttered Greens
Fresh Salad served last (Italian style)

From friends to food, we were off to a good start but we had a flight to catch up north to Cairns for some unfinished business from the Great ’08.  I had been itching to scuba dive the Great Barrier Reef ever since I learned how to dive in Belize 10 years ago, Claire wanted a memorable place for her Scuba Cert, and the time was now.  Everyone was on board, a liveaboard that is, and the next morning we boarded our flight for the short 2.5 hour jaunt up to the northern end of the Gold Coast, checked into our hotel, and prepared for what would be one incredible underwater experience.

Retrieving the Goon
One Lucky Guy

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