Travel

Who does not love exploring?

Paragliding Torquay – what a day!

If you were to ask an Aussie “What do you do in Torquay, Geelong?”  most likely you will hear breathless talk of Bells surf beach where the Rip Curl Pro, the worlds longest running surf competition, is held. You will also hear many familiar surf brand names bandied about, names like Rip Curl, Piping Hot and Quiksilver all call this sea side town their home. Torquay is also rather infamous as a favourite ‘Schoolies’ week destination. Schoolies week is an annual debacle where the kids finishing year 12 all meet up to camp, relax, drink and in some cases void the warranty on their political aspirations. Big waves, bikini clad women flaunting their silicone and wetsuit-clad muscle men with bleach blond hair…y’know, basically the perfect Australia stereotype. However, there is another thing to do here, something which is way more fun than getting sand in your speedos…Paragliding

“3, 2, 1, we got a lift off…”

This text message on Saturday morning from my good mate Fabio sends me into a sandwich-making-gear-sorting frenzy of don’t forget the sunscreen and “I love you babe, yeah I’ll be safe…”

I shove my big paraglider bag into the back of Fabio’s car and jump in the front to my customary welcome, “Hi Kakadu face, right to go” Fabio is an exceptional pilot who has just moved here from Switzerland, he is revelling in everything Australia. Leaving Melbourne behind we drive through Torquay, past all the surf shops and soon are standing on a cliff beside a “BEWARE! crumbling edges” sign.

The wind is too strong for my experience and I am not one to push it too hard. I watch a fellow ‘restricted pilot’ launch with help from his friends, they encourage him to go despite his pale face and knocking knees. The pilot looks uncomfortable throughout the launch.

 

I am extremely glad that Fab is a zero pressure mate. He never, ever puts any kind of pressure on me to fly if I am not ‘feeling it’ as he puts it.

“Mate, this is above my pay grade, I’ll hang here and do some ground practice.” I say, not displeased for the chance to practice this critical skill.

“No dramas, you can never have too much of that. I think I’ll get out the small acro wing for a play” Fab says with a wide grin. After an hour working on smoothly rising and lowering my wing I pack up and sit on the edge of the cliff to watch Fabio play. Fabio’s flying resume reads like an old school encyclopaedia. He is a member of the ‘U-Turn Swiss Acrobatics team’, a professional flight instructor and a very well respected tandem pilot. No doubt his biggest achievement in the sport  was being one of the crazy bastards who played Tandem Paintball Paragliding with me in Chile a few years back. Watching him play in the strong wind is no chore whatsoever.

 

Two hours later almost all the other pilots have worn themselves out and gone home. Fabio is still going hard at it on the small wing, while I chat to a friendly pilot (whose name sadly went in one ear and out the other…thankfully in Australia everyone calls each other ‘mate’ so any awkwardness was avoided). The wind drops to around my comfort level so friendly  pilot offers to stand nearby, watch and give help if needed. My launch is really good but my harness definitely not. Currently I am using an old borrowed harness with adjustable straps that hold up the seat plate. This allows you to adjust the pitch of the seat for comfort, much like a lazy-boy recliner. I didn’t think to check the straps prior to launch and they are fully released. This leaves the seat flapping against my ass like a doggy door in a hurricane and me hanging uncomfortably from leg straps that are trying to pinch my scrotum out of existence (hence the language warning on this next video). I let go of the brakes numerous times to try and get seated but give up in the name of safety and fly down to the beach to land and be greeted by a friendly surfer.

 

Immediately I pack my wing and run back up the hill. After ensuring my testicles still have a home and adjusting that bloody seat I launch again, . It is simply amazing to be flying around with one friend in a silky smooth afternoon breeze. I am grinning like a madman and thinking that this day could not get any better.

 

Fab flys close by and yells at me “Want to go paragliding on the other side Ben?” I yell back, “YUP” . Turning away he says to follow his line closely along the ridge. Leaving familiar ground and, feeling like a duckling following mum, I trust my leader despite a rapidly closing gap between feet and treetops. If I was alone I would have turned back long ago. The trees are getting closer and closer but I hang in there following my silhouetted leader. Trusting Fab pays off as I knew it would and soon we are back over a line of small red cliffs which are producing spectacularly reliable lift.

On the way to the big cliffs Fabio flips himself upside down to check on me and wave. We soon make the 2km trip to the big cliffs and spend a long time paragliding higher and increasingly closer to a setting sun. The breeze has settled and we are playing in a silky, laminar 3D river of air. This is higher and further than I have ever flown before and I am beside myself with excitement. The views are breathtaking. Below my feet are waves which once seemed so big and powerful, now they are simply small folds in the ocean’s azure fabric. My cheeks start to ache and I realise that I have been grinning widely for over forty minutes.

 

Much, much later we decide to make the long commute home into the headwind. It is almost surreal to be paragliding gently forward high over the world suspended by nothing more that glorified clothes line. Back at the familiar cliff where we started we fly a few times over the launch area, mucking about and delaying the end of this incredible day. I decide to be bold and try my first ever top landing. I know that the approach is crucial, coming in too high is not such an issue as you just overshoot the landing and try again. However if you come in too low there is a risk of being blown into rotoring air or back into the trees. I line myself up  and apply smooth brake pressure. The wind is holding me exactly where I want to be and soon I am gently reunited with earth. Fabio comes over to celebrate, he knows how excited I will be with this flight. I love the fact that, despite his vast experience, Fab is as excited as I am about our jaunt.

I live for moments like this, perfect conditions, great company and the universe conspiring in my favour.

 

Happy feet and blue skies to you.

The Blogging Charity Calendar boy

“YOU LOOK TOO SERIOUS B, IT’S A PISS-TAKE REMEMBER,” Mel yells over the running water as I stand ankle-deep in a flooded creek wearing only my mountaineering pants. It is dusk and my sister Melanie is chuckling gleefully whilst wielding a camera, “Surely a Blogging Charity Calendar is not going to be that serious!”

“I AM BLOODY CONCENTRATING ON NOT FALLING OVER” I yell at my grinning sister, continuing with a muttered, “….and sucking my gut in” My words are lost to the babbling creek. I am unsure who is more disturbed right now, myself or  Melanie, a great amateur photographer who generously offered to do my ‘shoot’.

Before we manage a good shot the light fails and we decide to wind up the shoot. Mel speaks to my back as I frantically throw on warm clothes “Maybe we can get a good one tomorrow at Cradle Mountain?”

“Yeah maybe, but bloody hell it is cold!” I reply while frantically rubbing my numb toes.

Why am I dancing about half naked in front of my sister you may well ask. Some weird Tasmanian ritual maybe? A lost dare perhaps?

No, not a drunken dare or pagan rite, I am trying to get a nice photo for a calendar in which I am Mr January.

“WAIT WHAT? You…you with the joined up eyebrows and shaggy hair, YOU in a calendar, but you don’t even come close to having a six pack…” I hear you scream. Calm down people, it is all for a good cause. Some months prior, my mate Chris Walker-Bush from Aussie on the Road had the great idea to compile a ‘Travel bloggers charity calendar’. Like a polite cough setting off an avalanche the idea quickly gained momentum (read the full genesis here). Without even considering the consequences, for example my naked ass haunting some hapless housewives fridge, I threw my name into the mix and was promptly given a spot. The brief was loose; ‘Risque, fun, no frontal nudity below the waist, relevant to your blog’

The day after our abortive photo shoot in the creek my sister, brother-in-law and I drive to Cradle Mountain National Park in Tasmania. ‘Cradle’ as it is affectionately known is my favourite place in the world, it is part of Tasmania’s pristine World Heritage Area and one of Australia’s oldest national parks. I cannot overstate the importance of this area to me, it is my church. Whenever I return from abroad, after re-introducing myself to parents and friends I pack my bag and scuttle off for a few days of silent, solitary mass here. This area is so important to me that soon, very soon my fiancée and I are going to climb the hill in the photo to the left and get married, anyway enough of this tree hugging, back to my modelling efforts…

We arrive early the next morning to find the mountain itself is covered in snow, the path is slippery with ice and our car thermometer shows a brisk 2 degrees celsius. I mentally prepare myself to jump into the frigid melt water. Beating the crowds we race to the boat shed to find perfect photography conditions. Dove lake is a mirror.

grey The Blogging Charity Calendar boy

grey The Blogging Charity Calendar boy

I strip and wade into the water. It is hard to put into words just how bitterly cold the water is. Immediately my lower legs go numb, I constantly stub my toes on hidden rocks and struggle to maintain balance.

“Ok, get in properly and do a sexy shampoo ad Ben,” big sister’s joking mood is infectious.

“You’re enjoying this a little bit too much sis…” I laugh through chattering teeth. Continuing (and not without a touch of whinge to my voice) “Okay guys I am only doing this once so take heaps of photos. Lots of photos, I bloody mean it!”

Dipping my head into the lake I fling my hair back, icicles of cold water sting my once warm back. I am starting to get dizzy and tired with the cold, my toes no longer belong to me.

“Again, I missed it sorry, haha!” Mel laughs as a crowd of curious daywalkers gather on shore.

“Oh, c’mon…” I  almost plead, feeling the need to be inside my sleeping bag (which we put on shore in case of a hypothermic crisis).

“Ooh, no I have an idea, come here and lie down in the shallow bit” Mel continues inspired no doubt by my obvious suffering.

I am now just looking at Mel with big pleading puppy dog eyes, “Get the shot Mel, I am frikking cold” mumbling now “fo’ fucks sake…”

“Yeah, lie there and stay still for the ripples to go, we’ll get the reflections” Mel ignores my suffering determined to get the perfect calendar shot, I play along.

grey The Blogging Charity Calendar boy

I lie down in the shallows and force my shaking body to still, the water feels like razor blades all over my trembling body. (note if you will the snow on the mountain, where do you think that melts to?)

“Stay still, a little longer….” Snapping away furiously Mel’s eye is glued to her camera lens.

“Fuc-ffaaar out Mel!” I growl through gritted teeth.

“Got it, this is your shot…now one more shampoo ad just to be sure…gotta get it right” Mel says with a determined look.

Ignoring her I wade towards my sleeping bag, by now there is a hefty crowd watching. They are all clad in beanies and warm gloves. I see a man self-consciously remove a heavy down jacket as he watches. I manage to stumble out of the water just as I begin to slur my words and feel warm, not a good sign. It was definitely time for me to get out before ‘funny cold’ became ‘serious cold’.

grey The Blogging Charity Calendar boy

Under close scrutiny I manage to dress without revealing any secrets…in truth the cold water made hiding my secrets pretty easy.

A brisk walk around the lake returns feeling to my extremities but I am sure it will be days before I am reunited with my testicles. Back in the car we go through the photos and am impressed with what we have got. Beautiful scenery reflected on a dark mysterious lake is ruined by a near nude interloper.

As I warm I think it was all worth it, we had better choose a well deserving charity for this one.

 

 

 

 

 

POST NOTE: We let the public vote through our website on which charity was to receive the proceeds. Everything we make apart from shipping costs will benefit Mitrata Home which is an orphanage in Nepal (Mitrata means friendship in Nepalese) and VSO Bahaginan, a volunteer organisation which fights poverty in developing countries.

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MASSIVE thanks to the awesome team at Uprinting who are very generously providing free printing for this project, if it is flat these guys can print on it and at a good price…check them out and tell them I sent you!

For more information on the travel blogging calendar and to check out the very cool people involved go to this link:

grey The Blogging Charity Calendar boy

 

 

Or you can check out our Facebook page here: Travel Blogging Calendar on Facebook

Big thanks goes to my wonderful sister Mel and brother-in-law Win for helping me to get that one decent shot.

grey The Blogging Charity Calendar boy

 

grey The Blogging Charity Calendar boy

 

Crown Casino urban legends, a reality check and a souvlaki

grey Crown Casino urban legends, a reality check and a souvlakiBeing a caring, loving fiancee *patting self on back* come friday night I take my lovely fiancee out for dinner and introduce her to our rather (in)famous neighbor. As well as wanting Jette to meet our neighbor I want to see if the lamb souvlaki tastes as good to a sober palatte as it did the previous weekend at 5am. Spanning two whole city blocks the Crown Casino complex is the largest casino in the Southern Hemisphere. Flashing her lights just across from our front door she gobbles up people’s money at a breathtaking rate. Through all hours of the day and night we hear people commiserating losses or celebrating wins outside this beehive of greed. it is also the mekka of Crown Casino urban legends.

We start by walking along the foreshore where innocent looking gelato and coffee shops line the Yarra river, I tell Jette some urban myths about the place, “I heard that every bathroom is designed with a back door to sneak out suicide corpses”

“Rubbish” Jette replies unconvinced. grey Crown Casino urban legends, a reality check and a souvlaki

“Yeah, this is what my mate told me, it would look bad to be wheeling stiffs through the main gambling floor…people get desperate, gamble their last then top themselves in the bathroom…” I explain.

“Sounds almost plausible” Jette replies with a bemused look.

“Yeah, and do you know their biggest expense is replacing carpet, the tile carpet that can be replaced a square at a time” I forge on with my unqualified rambling.

“Why the carpet, drunk people vomiting?” Jette asks,

“Nope, when people spend a long time feeding a pokie machine they don’t want to leave so they just piss on the carpet….costs heaps more than renting the land, the council only charges them $1 per year.” I continue as we walk inside and past a serious looking security guard frowning in his suit.

“Now the others I could believe but not the rent, $1 a year for two city blocks, ridiculous…” Jette decides.

The most crazy sounding myth is the only true one, Crown Casino is leasing its land under a 99 year lease granted by the Melbourne council. Despite making $370 million dollars profit last financial year they will pay only $1 per year for the first forty years of this lease, thereafter they will pay market value.

grey Crown Casino urban legends, a reality check and a souvlakiThis sounds absolutely insane, but consider this:

  1. Crown payed $200 million dollars to initially license their 500 gaming tables and 2500 pokie machines
  2. Currently 6500 people are employed there.
  3. Since moving from its initial location across the Yarra in ‘97 Crown Casino has payed over 2.7 Billion dollars in taxes.
  4. God only knows how much the building cost to construct and how many people were employed during this time.

All things being equal I think the Melbourne council has made a smart choice in looking after this cash cow.

Reaching the main gambling hall Jette and I walk past a lady asleep at a pokie machine while trying not to stare at a man shaking invisible flys from his hair. Another man is sitting entranced by a machine, he takes out his frustrations by bashing the buttons at a furious pace. Despite everyone knowing that the odds always favor the house, punters are enticed to believe they can win by loudspeakers announcing a win, lights flashing and the sounds of coins falling noisily onto tin trays.

Everyone feels surrounded by luck.

No natural light enters this place and looking around I notice that there are no clocks anywhere to been seen. For all we know we could be 100 storeys down a nuclear bunker in Nebraska. grey Crown Casino urban legends, a reality check and a souvlaki

“Lets get back amongst the living, this place is giving me the creeps” Jette says just before I voice similar thoughts.

We wade through a mass of zombies and stumble upon a touch screen displaying our entertainment options (3 hotels catering to various demographics, 40 restaurants including the food court, 11 bars, bowling alley, village cinema, laser tag….) we decide to simply find our way to the food court to test out a sober souvlaki.

As we wait for our order I watch people leaving half eaten meals to scurry back towards the lights and noise of the gambling area. My mind wanders, ‘Why not set up a food court out the back serving half eaten meals to homeless people…I wonder if the casino donates much money to charities?…do people come to Melbourne for the casino alone?…How many ambulance callouts would they get?’

I later found the answer to my last question in an online version of The Age;

‘881 callouts in a 12 month period between August 07- august ’09…over one call out a day to paramedic services, Among call-outs were overdoses, sex assaults, gun and knife fights, a drowning and several emergencies for pregnant women’

Crown sure employs a lot of people and draws a significant tourist dollar but can the people providing the majority of this money truly afford it?

Now I am more conflicted about this place than ever.

Evil corporation feeding on the desperate and greedy or useful revinue raiser and employer?

I cannot decide…at lest the souvlaki was as good as I remember.

The key to happiness is when you have gotten really good at being you

grey The key to happiness is when you have gotten really good at being you
The Jade Willow Chinese restaurant in Ulverstone is abandoned apart from two beer bellied men gorging on fried rice and Boags Draught in a corner, not somewhere you would expect to find the key to happiness. They scoff and swill frantically like prison inmates at the bottom of the pecking order. Occasional sounds from outside waft in from the main street; cars with oversized mufflers rev over the sound of “Party Rock Anthem” played on expensive twelve volt stereos, rattling the aged boots (trucks in American). Young people yell extroverted greetings to each other to hide their shyness. I am home and I really do like it here, mostly.

I sit across from a mate who I have not seen for over two years. Sascha and I worked together in an Italian restaurant throughout our studies, using the term ‘study’ generously. Nowadays Sascha is a very successful business man and a deep thinker, he wears a neat shirt and looks well pressed, most impressively he wears a shroud of self confidence comfortably, I envy him this coat. I wear a crumpled bright orange top bought in Kathmandu for $2 (when I couldn’t be bothered washing clothes), my messy Hasselhoff-from-nightrider hair is somewhat contained by a bandana. Outside appearances suggest that Sascha has evolved significantly over the years whilst I’ve been regressing, soon to crawl back into the swamp. Impressively though Sascha seems very excited and somewhat awed by my recent adventuring.

“You really went into the Andes with a donkey?”

“Yup”

“I respect that mate, I could do a day walk but I like staying clean”

“Yeah well, horses for courses”

“And you did that paintball paragliding thing?”

“Yeah man I loved that, happy days”

About thirty-seconds of quiet contemplation follows, I busy myself with my spring rolls as Sascha studies me, a changed creature sits in front of him, one which he used to understand. Sascha dislikes not understanding things.

“So mate, with all this trekking, climbing, diving, jumping, bussing, flying and exploring you have done in these last two years, do you think it has changed you as a person? Or are you the same person and this is just something you like to do?”

“Well…that’s a hard one, let me think for a while”

Both of us eat crispy spring rolls in contemplative silence.

“Dunno, really”

“Go on, have you changed?”

“Well I am more relaxed, I can now sit on a rock for hours without squirming. Have always loved mountains, and…stuff, God that’s a hard one mate”

This conversation really gets me thinking, have I changed? Am I the same person? Later that night after I have put out the dog and crawled into bed with a book, (written by my best mates grandfather about his time as a prisoner of war, The Long Way Home, look it up) the answer hits me like a falling roof beam;

“OPTIONS”

Two years ago I was living with a girl and her daughter, I had numerous loans, internet bills, water bills, electricity bills, a car, obligations, nursing homes to medicate, work, responsibility, thing to buy and pay for. I did not give credit to the options I had in my life and did not admit that – at that stage – I was not ready for all this grown up behaviour. However, I envied how this life seemed to be working so well for my friends and blithely forged on. I thought that this was going to be the Ben-story, the end.

Now I have more options and less stuff, this is the main difference, I now realise just how many options are available to me. I could keep traveling, work a bit, write or live very cheaply in my tent on a grassy hill talking to mountains. So many people just numbly go through the motions, like I was, without sitting back and truly realising that they have options, this makes me sad.

Everyone has many, many options but only one crack at life, think about it.

Now kids, if that is all too philosophical for you on a school night I am going to throw in some weird sex facts to tone down the hugging-around-a-camp-fire kind of mood I have set here:

500 Americans die from self asphyxiation annually.

1 out of 17 people worldwide have sex on any given day, what are the other 16 up to?

A dork is the actual name of a whales penis, the biggest dorks in the world are the ten foot long members of the blue whale.

The dragonfly has a shovel shaped penis which scoops out the semen of previous suitors.

Australian echidnas have four headed penises but only ejaculate from two at a time, they save the other two for next time.

Female monkeys raise their asses into the air, complete with dilated blood vessels causing a flushed cheek effect, and waft female hormones around the place as a sign that they are ready to mate. The males stop throwing poo at each other and pause to note the plumpness of the bum cheeks. A plump bottom shows that the female is well fed and able to support an infant. If the girl-monkey is sufficiently plump they will mate, if not, the male goes back to his poo slinging. (Type 1 fun for the thrower, type 3 for the recipient)

Now, some monkeys started standing on two legs and ass raising was no longer viable. Evolution sorted this problem by increasing fatty deposits around the mammary glands to mimic a plump bum attached to a healthy specimen.

Basically what I am saying is that bum-men are less evolved than boob-men.

Oh, and girls think about what you are mimicking when you put rouge on your cheeks and perfume on your neck…

Hostel people

Picture this, we walk through the front door of a great looking hostel located in. How do you know how to speak with, who to avoid and who to chat up? Below are some pointers to surviving hostel people.

Reception staff

Generally good looking females in their mid to late twenties. There are two reasons a good looking twenty-ish year old lady will find herself behind the chipped counter with check-in forms photocopied beyond recognition;

  1. She needs to the money to be here
  2. She is in love with a local

The lady who needs money to be here will hate you on principal as you are just bumming about. The lady who is in love with a local does not find it endearing that you wrote “Yes please” instead of male or female and that your job is apparently “Exotic dancer”. She will just want to finish her shift then hustle over to Juan’s place forsex. Despite neither receptionists being friend material be polite…be very polite. These ladies hover their fingers over that door buzzer as you frantically dial the intercom at 3am and watch as a lynch mob of unhappy husbands or wives close in. Be polite.

You get to your room and carefully try to fit your valuables into  locker the size of a postage stamp, on the bottom bunk seemingly dead is

Catatonic person

Two reasons can explain this catatonia. Either this person is a hard core solo traveler, they will ghost themselves away in the early hours and explore more of this country before breakfast than you will in three months. Not friend material. Even if they are lovely people, you would never keep up. The other explanation is that this bag of meat on the bed imbibed too much last night, no bother, you will meet them when the bar opens.

You have a shower, pick month old hair from your toenails, dress in your traveling best and go to the bar. Look around but don’t rush to sit down, a mistake here could be fatal to your friend mission. Leaning against the bar are two seasoned

Hostel hoppers

Don’t go there. These guys can travel for months or even years without seeing the outside of seedy hostel bars. I once stayed in a Peruvian hostel for one night before embarking on an epic two week trek in the Andes. Upon my return I saw the same two people guys holding up the same bit of bar and having the same generic “My what a cute accent, Annie was it…” conversation as when I left them. They will most definitely want to be your friend, that is until a cute German girl is in range, then they will just mock your Australian-isms and shun you in a feeble attempt to look cool.

Keep looking, oh those guys at the pool table seem to be having fun.

Pool table jocks

Pool tables are to bar conversation what internet dating is to awkward people breeding. Pool table jocks are neither interesting nor engaging. They use pool as a lubricant to try to hide the fact that they have nothing interesting to say about, well anything. Keep it in your back pocket though. You notice that hanging around the bar are some locals

Local lurkers

A risk, sometimes a risk worth taking. Generally locals come to hostels for one of two reasons; Shag a backpacker or to sell drugs, sometimes both. They ingratiate themselves with the pool table jocks in the vague hope that the pool table jocks will draw some good looking, fun girls into their net.

What about the bar tenders they look friendly, clean….

Bar staff

Bar staff are the male equivalent of the reception staff with a much higher sex drive, they would root their awkward auntie patsy if she put on a nice frock. Bar staff are great to chat to for the first few drinks but invariably the conversation will quickly descend to a one sided discussion about which girl in the room looks to be a sure bet. Get in, learn the cheap tours and sightseeing tricks and get out.

God, this is looking grim, what about that gaggle of good looking girls sitting apart from everyone else?

Pretty girl table

Now this pretty table of girls invariably will have inherited a male guard dog at some point in their trip. The girls keep him around in a hope that he could provide some protection from the pool table jocks, the guy hangs around in the hope that at some point he could get laid. In nature this is called a symbiotic relationship. If there is no guard dog go for it, have a chat. If there is, steer clear, generally guard dogs take their duty very seriously.

Janitor

Well the dusty old mexican looking dude pushing the broom. Always a sure bet for some stimulating conversation, try to see him looking for a cigarette then whip in with one before he can say “Hola”. Locals working in hostels are always a sure fire bet for a good yarn, local intelligence and a laugh. You will not regret spending that $1.50 shouting any of them a drink, usually. But he finishes work and goes home too quickly. Look around the bar, what about that weird, lonely looking dude staring at his laptop?

Guy sitting by himself on computer writing about people in hostel – Hi, what took you so long?

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This business partnership has expired.” Ben has no idea what adventures are in store when he sets out to discover what lies over that next mountain.

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