Day 724: Mandy’s Pressie from PNG

Xmas Day 2010:

After a couple of hours kip I was up an’ at ’em, ready to TAKE ON THE WORLD!!! My only problem was that I had spend the few remaining dollars I had on beer last night (you WOULD NOT BELIEVE how expensive Australia has suddenly just become: we’re talking a UK fiver for HALF a pint… seriously!!).

I scraped together what I had and hoped it would be enough for a taxi to the airport. I would be taking the 11.30am flight from Cairns to Melbourne. I didn’t quite have enough to pay the full fare, but my lovely taxi driver (from my fav Indian state of Kerala) let me off a couple of dollars – hell, it was Christmas day and I did spend the entire journey telling him how cool I thought his hometown was!

So in the airport I changed my left over PNG dollars (which I was planning to keep for when I went back, but when readies are short…) into Aussie dollars.  They’re both made of that weird plasticy material.  So are the new Bangladesh Taka, incidentally.  I’m a luddite when it comes to money – I like the paper stuff, it feels more real.  Although to have a paper note worth less than a fiver is just bloomin’ stupid.  As such, some of the money I’ve collected on my travels is breathtakingly filthy.

With my ill-gotten gains I bought a copy of Australian Empire Magazine (half the size and twice the price) and while I waited for the boarding queue to die down I indulged my baser instincts with a real Christmas treat – a Burger King Whopper Meal.

Yum yum!

Happy to have a window seat, and even happier that nobody sat next to me (three seats just for my fat ass! Yey!) the plane journey passed in a sleepy haze – a haze in which the contrast levels of my life had just been turned up a notch.  Or maybe that was the bright midsummer sunshine streaming through the window.

The plane touched down in Melbourne at 4pm.  While the other passengers were fannying about waiting for their luggage, I went outside and bought a bus ticket to the city centre.  I then went to the carousel, picked up my backpack, laughed at the massive queue which had just formed for bus tickets and jumped on the waiting bus which promptly departed leaving my fellow travellers behind.  Experience baby, that’s what I’m talking about YEAH!!

The bus slid into Spencer Street Station in just twenty minutes (take THAT, Heathrow!) and there was a little bit of a worry caused by the fact that Mandy was not in Melbourne today, but in her home town of Ballarat, a 112 kilometres to the north-west.  Would I have the money to get the train, or would I have to hitch-hike.

As if to prove that, if not Poseidon, then at least Santa was fighting my corner, I was told by a wonderfully cheery Aussie lady that all the trains across the state of Victoria were free today (it being Christmas an’ all).

Wow!

Australia, you ROCK!!

So I boarded the 5pm train to Ballarat: with any luck I’d be back in Mandy’s loving arms before 7.

The Train To Ballarat
The Train To Ballarat

I arrived at the lovely old station of Ballarat at 6.30pm.  Brilliantly enough, Mandy and her sister Tam had spent the afternoon at their auntie’s place, and I arrived JUST AS they were jumping in their separate cars and heading back to their mum’s.  So Tam, her husband Ian and their three month old son William came to pick me up from the station: shh… not a word to Mandy…

It was great to see them again and to meet little William, the newest edition to our clan.  Mandy drove back to her mum’s in her own car and didn’t suspect a thing.  Around the corner from the house, I got Tam to stop the car and she and Ian to bundle me into the boot (the trunk) and covered me in towels and blankets: all wrapped up for the surprise.

When Tam arrived at her mum’s place, she went to get Mandy.  “Your Christmas present has arrived from PNG” she told her.  Mandy wasn’t interested – she was too busy trying to get me on Skype(!)  Tam practically had to drag her out to the car.  And then…

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE AND ALL THE BEST FOR 2011 FROM MYSELF AND EVERYBODY AT TEAM ODYSSEY!!