Thursday, 1 September 2011

DIY... we trust you.

Every city and town in the world has a mix of honest and dishonest people. I'm not sure about you but I have dealt with my fair share of sneaky Russians in my life and have been left with a cautious attitude, especially towards strangers. Perhaps it is because of this cautious attitude that I have been absolutely amazed at how trustworthy these Australians are.

You are probably expecting me to talk about the fact that few houses here have fences and burglar guards and this is because it is a relatively safe country to live in. While this is great to see, my point is actually elsewhere.

Lets start with the trams that are found in Melbourne. These trams are run on a kind of trust system. You can purchase a ticket either on the tram or from one of the various stores around the city. Once you've boarded with your ticket, at some point during your trip you are supposed to feed it into a machine to date stamp it. Your daily, weekly or monthly ticket is then valid on or from that date for the specified duration. I usually buy a week ticket, stamp it when I first use it and, as long as its on me, never have to produce it again unless I'm asked to. There are the occasional ticket inspectors who ride the trams once in a blue moon but even then, they barely ask to check your ticket. If you are caught you'll be slapped with $180 fine and many a dirty look from your fellow passengers. Trust me, the dirty looks are worse than the dent to your pocket.

I have been on the receiving end of those dirty looks when I made the catastrophic mistake of boarding a rather full tram and standing on the steps as opposed to on the main floor. I waited blissfully for the tram to go and then, nothing. The tram did not budge. One by one my fellow passengers turned and began to glare at me as if I was pedalling drugs to 5 year old children. With the reaction speed of a Manatee it eventually dawned on me that I was at fault. I took one step up onto the main level and with that universe was returned back to normal. As I hung my head in shame and the Gov distanced herself from me, the tram rolled on.

Note to self: Dont stand on the tram steps.

Coles is to Australia what Checkers and Spar is to South Africa. We had taken a whirl around the shop to stock up on supplies and then joined one of the lines to pay. The line next to us was a little shorter and the Gov mentioned that we should join it. I explained that we couldn't as that line was for self payment or self check out or whatever you want to call it. The blank look on the Gov's face prompted further elaboration. The trusting people who run the trams must also work for Coles. If you have cash on you when you are checking out you can head to one of the self service tills, scan your products, pop your money in and leave. Clearly I am not the only person in this relationship with a little criminal side to them as the Gov, who's jaw was now slack, said "imagine the possibilities".

So there you have it. Apart from the Gov and I you will mostly find honest, law abiding and trustworthy people in Australia.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

The Australian Museum - a prerequisite

Firstly, I would like to apologies to my two loyal fans, namely my wife and my mother for not having written for so long. A move to a new country will put most things on the back burner for a few months.

The Australian Museum is not exactly the hippest or most trendy place to visit in Sydney. With the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Opera House, the beautiful Royal Botanical Gardens and the Sydney Tower, just to name a few, the museum is not the normal port of call for people who are new to the city. Unless of course you are a senior citizen and someone left the gates open at the nearby old age home.  However, if you'll bare with me you shall see that there is method to my madness.

To be honest, the Gov and I stumbled across the museum quite by chance as we were strolling through Hyde Park on our way to the Royal Botanical Gardens. There are many well kept old buildings flanking the park and you would think the museum would be just another. It would be if it weren't for the head and tail of a dinosaur sticking out opposite ends of the building. This clever little marketing trick did its job and the Gov and I plodded across the road to investigate further.

Rexy was rubbish at Hide and Seek.

We forked out $14 each at the front desk which included a limited tour of the Birds of Paradise exhibit. Again, this may not sound like an interesting idea but if you think the Australians are a unique bunch then check out their exotic birds and to be more precise, their mating dances. Special indeed.

The rest of the museum proved to be a labyrinth of buildings, rooms, hallways, staircases and lifts. If the museum shop stocked Satellite Navigation devices they would make an absolute killing. After a series of u-turns, wild guesses and pure blind luck we managed to get through all of the exhibits. We visited the Aborigines exhibit, Australias first people...
The Skeleton exhibit...
Because every skeleton, and his dog, deserve some quiet time.

The Dinosaur exhibit...

The unsuspecting tourist never saw Rexy coming.

Finally we reached the reason for this post. We found the "Surviving Australia" section. A shiver shot down my back as I read the sign and found myself wandering what kind of country has to devote an entire exhibit, and a large one at that, to creatures that can kill you in under 10 minutes! There is even a smaller exhibit within that shows you what to expect in your very own back yard. It crossed my mind then and there that this could be seen as a form of population control and a highly effective one at that.

There are too many villains of the animal kingdom to mention them all so I will focus on the meanest. Lets start with the sea and the Box Jellyfish. This nasty son of a gun is found between the months of October and April predominantly along the shores of Northern Australia, Northern Western Australia and Northern Queensland. Keep in mind that the North is the hottest part of Australia, especially in the Summer months and that's exactly when these nasty little critters arrive. Someone is laughing somewhere. Its body is box shaped and is roughly 20cm by 20cm. Its tentacles can number up to 15 in total and can stretch up to 3 metres in length. These tentacles possess some of the most dangerous venom on the planet. You have virtually no chance of surviving the venomous sting. The pain is so excruciating and overwhelming that you will most likely go into shock before reaching the shore.

Then there are the Blue Ringed Octopus. This little ninja is the size of a golf ball and as cute as a button but its beak is strong enough to bite through a wetsuit and kill an adult in minutes. Best of all, there is no known antidote.

Sea snakes, Saltwater Crocodiles, Cone shells, Scorpion Fish, Lion fish, Stone fish, Sharks and Stingrays are the other killers found in the waters of Australia. You have to ask yourself - how is it that there are so many Australia surfers out there?

On land Australia has 20 of the 25 most venomous snakes in the world. The most poisonous snake in the world is called the Taipan who's venom is strong enough to kill about 100 adults with just a single bite. Are you kidding me???? When this creature was thought up by the powers that be they must have been thinking of making humans the size of a small mountain range. The Brown Snake and the Tiger Snake follow just as behind and the locals reckon you don't need to put the siren on while you drive to the hospital.

The Funnel Web, Redback (cousin of the Black Widow) and White Tail are all spiders found pretty much throughout Australia. The Redback particularly is said to be in every back yard. All three of these bad boys will kill you if you do not get immediate medical attention after being bitten.

Spidey bought his friends along.

Last but not least I come to a bird. Not just any bird mind you but a bird that was described in the museum as ill-tempered and aggressive.

One of these two birds is ill-tempered.

A Cassowary is a large flightless bird that is similar to an Ostrich but slightly smaller. Found in North Eastern Australia they possess a dagger like claw on each of their three toes. The centre claw can measure up to 12,5 cm in length and was described by Ornithologist Thomas E. Gilliard, in his book Living Birds of the World, as a murderous nail that can sever an arm or eviscerate an abdomen with ease. Even though the Cassowary sounds like it has been pulled off the pages of a Stephen King novel, there has only ever been one reported death from the hundreds of Cassowary attacks. The report, however, failed to mentioned how many one armed or one legged men the Cassowaries were responsible for so I have decided to steer clear of North Eastern Australia altogether.

If for some reason you are contemplating a move to Australia please ensure that you stop by the Australian Museum in Sydney first to see what you are in for. If the little museum shop sold return flights and a taxi cab to the airport along with the satellite navigation devices, they'd be millionaires.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Alpine Heath

Our favourite local holiday destination is the Drakensberg. This can be anywhere from an hours drive to 5 hours drive, depending on which parts you go too. Generally, the further you go from Durban, the more impressive the mountains become.

A few months back we snuck off to Alpine Heath with some friends for a long weekend. The plan was simple, lots of exercise during the day by way of hiking, swimming, tennis, fly fishing and squash followed by beers and a braai each night. No complaints there.

Alpine Heath nestled in the mountain.

Four of us arrived before the rest of the group and as the day was a postcard of bright sun and blue sky, we decided to dump the bags, take a hike and unpack when we got back.

Fairly open...

...and easy most of the way...

...with a sprinkling of rock jumping here and there.

Mother nature decided that it was time for a curve ball. What started out as a picture perfect day soon had us holding onto our hats and other body parts as some of the strongest winds I've felt in a while decided to pay us a visit.

The slicked back look sans gel.

The only part of the trip that left us scratching our head was the "No open fire" rule at Alpine Heath. This was a bit of a problem as all we had brought with us for supper was braaivleis. We were then told that we could hire a gas braai from them at a cost of R50 a night so we could at least cook our meat. Now, I'm not sure about you but having to braai on a gas braai is about as manly as going for a facial. Needless to say, our idea of a perfect night around a large open fire with guitars playing and sharing wild stories of our bravery during our hikes was reduced to 8 people crowded around a small plastic table with a candle as our only source of warmth.

The following day the eight of us set off to investigate the opposite mountains. I should have guessed something would go wrong due to the fact that Jimmy was on the hike with us. Picture a guy well over 6 foot who weighs over 100kgs and has more energy than a six year old toddler on a sugar high. A recipe for trouble indeed. What started out as a gentle stroll soon turned into a cross country sprint that would have made Gebrselassie proud. Luckily, my athletic, racing snake physique kept me just ahead of the big lug which was a good thing until I came across a snake on the path. I pulled up the proverbial handbrake and stopped just in time only to have Jimmy run straight into the back of me and edge me even closer to the savage beast. Fortunately it was only a Spotted Skaapsteker and apart from a sore bite did not pose too much of a threat. The ironic thing about this little incident is that it is usually the Gov who is like catnip for snakes as she has encountered snakes on our last 3 visits to the berg. At least I kept the tradition going.

Alpine is a pleasant spot to go to and has all the necessary bits and pieces for a decent family getaway but as the name of this blog suggests, I am a pyromaniac and a cold night in the berg without a wood fire just doesn't seem right and I'm sure it is actually illegal in some far off country somewhere.

Friday, 8 April 2011

The worm wins... so far.

In my previous blog, I mentioned that a few lunatics at the Govs work decided to take on my bottle of Mezcal with the intention of finishing off the worm.

Alas, I have no pictures to show you as the boys, as hard as they did try, polished off  most of the Mezcal but couldn't bring themselves to eat the worm. The Gov, who was also spotted enjoy a sneaky tot, has said that the bottle is still in the hands of the mad men who, if they ever find the courage, will finish the bottle AND the worm.

Until then....

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Mezcal explained.

Tequila. Mexican tequila, to be exact. Apparently the drink of choice when in Mexico. If the world went by what Hollywood and the marketing giants portrayed, we'd all picture a typical Mexican as a sombrero wearing, guitar tickling, tequila drinking person. But are we right?

Sombrero's, as popular as they were way back when, are definitely out nowadays and only the educated few have caught on to the fact that playing a guitar is the quickest way to a woman's heart. When it comes to tequila as the drink of choice, this is almost true.

Introducing: Mezcal

Mezcal is a close second to Tequila when it comes to popularity and is the drink you are generally thinking of that has a worm inside the bottle. Made in Oaxaca from the Maguey plant, mezcal has a strong smokey flavour and is drunk straight without any salt or lemon. Its 38% alcohol content is certainly not the strongest alcohol around but is still a force to be reckoned with.

The Gov had received a few requests for souvenirs from the lads at her work and made the mistake of bringing back a few single-shot bottles of mezcal containing mini worms from Cancun. Not content with their minuscule rations the guys were soon begging for more like a bunch of modern day Oliver Twists. Not one to disappoint, the Gov commandeered a super sized bottle from yours truly. After convincing me that it was in the interests of science, I gave in under one condition.... "I want pictures of someone eating the worm!"

The worm of the hour.

It turns out that the scientific experiment is to see whether these certifiable people can survive a dance with the worm tomorrow night at a drinks evening.

Tune in tomorrow.