With a one-way ticket and a surfboard underarm my first overseas trip strove to experience the world. Over two years I surfed my way through Indonesia and Hawaii, drove a kombi around the USA, and lived the snowboarders dream in Canada. These are the early letters home.

Letters Home from 1992

Kuta, Bali, Indonesia

October 15, 1992

Well I've been gone a month now which is, and isn't, hard to believe - if that makes any sense. Work at Ampol is a block of life forgotten. Feels like that was just a month in total, not twelve.

I've spent the first two weeks in Kuta trying to find my feet, and then the last two weeks on an island off the coast called Nusa Lembongan. Things have been rolling along fairly sedately with only one major hiccup which I will come to later. Said incident was the reason for my sudden return to "civilisation", but I was getting bored anyway.

Ok, going chronologically... I left Sydney in what felt like a total panic, with multitudes of loose ends and too much junk. As it turns out I've found that I am very well prepared and organised - at least that's how it feels from this end. My sister at the other end may feel different.

Walking through the terminal after going through customs felt like the loneliest, scariest time of my life. But thankfully that ended as soon as I stepped on the plane. I sat next to a large Australian of similar age who works on an intensive cattle farm in Sumatra. Dad would have been fascinated.

The flight makes you realise how big Australia is. It took 6 hours of flying over oz, then 1 hour over the ocean and hey presto - Bali!

great views of the Kimberleys Bali internation airport looking north over Kuta-Legian

Coming into land, looking at the mish-mash of low buildings, I was scared and started to wonder what the hell I was doing. I consoled myself by thinking that this is a perfectly natural reaction.

Going through customs it was easy to team up with an equally bewildered Australian surfer and to get ourselves from the airport to Kuta proper (two boards, luggage and us in a taxi of Ford Laser proportions - yes we just put the boards through the window, no problem). I was expecting to be attacked by hawkers and fleecers of all shapes and sizes, but in reality we were only approached by one balo offering accomodation. The taxi is fixed price: pay first to an office at the airport. The place was closer to deserted than the army of people wanting my money as everyone had told me to expect.

This is probably too late to describe Kuta since I'm used to it now, but anyway. The place at first is a maze of back alleys. Its seems there are no proper "streets". Y'know like with bitumen, footpaths, two lanes, gutters etc. On the roads that do slightly resemble this the traffic is generally one way - although one way streets often change during the day to two way, or even reverse direction. Traffic is also a misleading word, since it resembles nothing like in Australia, since 90% of vehicles are little motorbikes, which flow all over the road, beeping buzzing and pouring smoke. Typically a woman balances on the back of these motor-scooters - sidesaddle of course - and breastfeeds the baby on the way.

Getting back to streets, it is a surprise to discover that many main roads are just one way lanes just wide enough to fit one vechicle - if one comes the other way, you or them must reverse until there is somewhere to pass. The surface is a mixture of bitumen, rocks or dirt and is very potholed. When it rains the streets become large puddles. This is all quite claustrophobic at first because you feel like you are lost in the deepest darkest back alleys of Redfern with no way out. It is difficult to navigate since main streets are easy to miss - being only 4 feet wide - and straight roads on the map usually aren't, new roads are added all the time, so the maps are never up to date.

Once you get things into your head that yes this 2 foot dark alleyway is in fact the eqivalent of Castlereagh St then things go smoothly.

Ok, so there is the layout of the land. Kuta/Legian (the two have merged into one) IS tourism. Everything here is for tourism and everyone is involved in tourism. All of Bali has been hit by tourism to some degree (its not that big an island) but nothing like Kuta. There are no houses where regular people live, just losmens, hotels, warungs (restaurants) and shops to spend money. There are cheap places $3/night and expensive places > $600/night. Most people come on package tours for 1-2 weeks, the rapid turnover of new faces is astonishing, but it is not too hard to find plenty of others sitting around for 2 months (The maximum length tourist visa). I had expected tourism (kind-of, well really, I hadn't thought about it at all) but not on this scale. I was expecting more along the lines of what I saw going around Australia. i.e. there's only a few places for backpackers to stay so its all one happy family as you exchange experiences, cook and generally travel together, bumping into the same faces over and over again as you all head for the same spots, with the same plans in mind.

Instead everyone has different ideas, times, plans, places to stay, so you don't really get to know anyone for more than a week. The locals are as friendly as can be, but their English is limited and feet planeted. Its different to expectations, but then I haven't really left Kuta.

The mish-mash of Kuta/Legian looking from Poppies Lane II toward the beach

October 19, 1992

Ok well after reading over that lot of waffle I realise that I was about to launch into a detailed approximation of the balinese people & culture. Pretty boring really and hard to give an accurate impression so I might as well get on with it and tell you what I've been up to.

Yeh, Yeh flew into Kuta flustered and insecure, had no trouble finding a cheap, trustworthy, safe place to stay. I've found that there is virtually no dishonesty in Bali. Since they are hindu they all believe in "Karma", so they don't dare do anything evil. They blame any theft or dishonesty on the Javanese. The Javanese, of course blame the Madurans, and I've yet to discover who they blame.

Anyway this guy I met at customs - who had never even left NSW before - and I cling together for security the first few days. We got a bemo (read taxi) out to a few well know surf spots (Uluwatu, Nusa Dua, Cunggu) and had some either poor or overcrowded waves.

Since the surf was relatively poor, we met up with a couple of girls from England and together we rented a car for 3 days and drove around for some sight-seeing. I did most of the driving and had whale of a time. (1) If there's nothing in front of you put your foot flat to the floor. (2) If there is something in front of you, put one hand on the horn, change down gears and pullover to the other side of the road. Simple really. The same rules apply no matter which side of the road you are on. Believe it or not there is the occasional spot with things vaguely resembling traffic lights. Only the particularly conscientious bother about them, and only saints bother to indicate; left, right or hazards for straight ahead. They drive, predominantly, on the left (correct) side of the road so right hand turns are the fun ones. The procedure here, is to laugh at the tourists who stop and wait for a break in the traffic, just go where you want to go, observing the two golden rules outline above.

As you might guess I thoroughly enjoyed driving in Bali, and the howls of delight from my passengers will hold testimony to how good it was. They each had a go and each relinquished in turn, within minutes, back to my capable hands, each perplexed as to where I found joy in watching two buses come toward us at 100 km/hr side by side on a one land road, with 8ft deep drains (for the wet season) on either side and an army of Wayne Gardners buzzing around you like the proverbial bees and honeypot. It was great.

Where did we go is rather secondary to the joys of getting there. Ummm, one day we went surfing, one day we went to Ubud, which is supposed to be the cultural centre of Bali, full of peace, beauty, and inspiration. All we found was a few Byron Bay type hippies reminiscing on the lost Bali of old, countless crappy mass produced artworks (read souvenirs for the uncultured, ignorant tourists), and an army of local's trying to sell overpriced tickets to a "cultural festival" - a quick hodge-podge of balinese dances, squashed into one hour for a thousand odd tourists. One everynight and a special 3 hour gala if you go on Saturdays. This is what I saw in a quick 4 hour stopever, so either I missed the true Ubud or the hippies are right and the real Bali has been crushed by the hordes that arrive, a plane load every ten minutes, 6 planes an hour, 24 hours, 365 days.

The next day we went up to Lake Batur, which is a lake in a dead volcano. There is a road over the lava flows which was pretty wild, hard to describe. Use your imagination - molten rock flowing down the side of a mountain, which cools, goes hard, then some more molten rock rolls over the top, ad infinitum - and hey presto - a mess of very hard stuff. The only other redeeming feature of the place was the best fish I've ever eaten at a restaurant by the lake. Other than that it was dry, dusty, not fertile, and generally dirty. A bit of a disappointment if you're expecting rainforest.

Making a home in Lake Batur Doing the dishes in Lake Batur Luxury boat shed in Lake Batur

Whew 7 pages and I've only covered one week...

Second week... Scott went off on his surf boat tour to Lombok & Sumbawa, so I hung around Kuta at a loose end. The girls flew out, there was no surf anywhere, so I just sort of hung around - down to the beach, out to eat, look at shops, talk to tourists - yep... hanging around. A few days of this I got bored, so I (mum & dad shut your eyes) rented a motor scooter and ventured out on the roads, with surfboard, in search of swell. Down to Ulu, up to Chungu, not that great. Except one surf at Kuta reef (I finally worked out how to get a boat out there) which finally put a huge grin on my face. Phil would have been delirious. A powerful left with a workable wall that just grinds on down the line, never losing its power, never ending, and never too fast to crank off (or attempt) a roundhouse cutback. It was perfect - for half an hour - then about another 30 surfers joined us 6 and it became drop-in city. Bliss is never eternal.

October 20, 1992

Teamed up with a kiwi guy who has no money. He came over with about $1000 for 5 weeks and spent $500 in the first 3 days on booze & rip-offs, so was looking to find somewhere to sit, surf, and not spend any more money. So we got a quick (2 1/2 hour) ferry ride over to Nusa Lembongan and paid $2/day to stay at a homestay on this very small island.

The catch of course is that it is only surfable at high tide - at low tide the reef becomes exposed and the sea goes flat. So if the tides co-operate you can get a morning surf and an evening surf and sit around doing nothing all day, or go for two surfs on the one tide in the middle of the day. When we arrived the surf was pretty small but picking up (about 2ft at Kuta & 3ft out on the reef). When we got to Lembongan Shipwrecks was 6ft! Its a right hander that winds off a reef about a 15 minute paddle off the beach. As the name suggests there's a shipwreck there. The second day was about 3ft. There was only more than 6 people in the water when the Surf Travel Co tours stopped by.

For surfers out there heres the set up...

The surf breaks of Nusa Lembongan Nusa Lembongan from the air

The swell hit on the third day. There were about 10 surfers on the island 5 of which had a very big night. It was the day after the new moon. At no mans land it was over 12ft, the reef about 2ft deep. I went out to lacerations. It was 6-8ft and really, really sucky. It was barrelling like you would never believe over about 3 ft of water, then one of the sharpest lumpiest bits of coral you've ever seen. Needless to say I was scared shitless and sitting way waaaaay waay out on the shoulder. There were about 6 guys out and it was perfect. This was what I came to Indo for. Huge filthy barrels. The trouble was that with so few people out you had to go for one, no excuses that there was always someone on the inside. The first one was scary. You saw one that you would have to catch - since you were in the right spot and there was no-one else around you did have to catch it. And started paddling, paddling as hard and fast as you could. The faster you could paddle the more likely you would live. With your heart in your mouth you paddle past the point where there is no turning back - to stop now means getting dragged over the falls, the only way out is to get on your feet and ride this thing. You pray that you have timed the paddle right and are not too far inside when it breaks. The first one I got this far, slipped getting to my feet, fell, body surfed to the bottom, then got dragged up and over. After a savage workover I kicked off the bottom and paddle back out. That wasn't so bad, I'm still alive! So from then on I wasn't so nervous and didn't fall again. The ride itself was awesome. You drop down this huge face and bottom turn. A wall of about a million tons forms up. There are two options (1) go straight and get a millions tons on your head or (2) PULL IN!! for the fastest most powerful barrel ever. As you go it gets smaller, tighter, faster and shallower. As soon as you get on all you want to do is get off. To get off you have to somehow get going even faster so you can get out of the jaws of death, past the wall, onto the shoulder and off the back. The alternative is getting drilled on the reef. That morning about ten people went out, one board was broken, two legropes snapped, one guy got a big chunk taken out of his back by the reef (he didn't have a wetsuit on) and Tim, the guy I was with, took a chunk out of his foot - despite wearing booties - after catching four waves and getting drilled four times. Its called lacerations for a reason.

Over the next couple of days I had 3 sessions at lacerations each relatively quick - I preferred to quit while I was ahead after I'd caught a few without injury. I got dragged over the reef on my back one time but my wetsuit saved me. Just a few cuts on my hand. Booties are essential, I initially balked at the price in Australia ($56) but ened up having to buy some here for $70!

The swell dropped progressively over the next two weeks till the last day back at shipwrecks 2-3ft and onshore. That was the day I caught a shitty 3 ft onshore wave, dove off the front and caught the nose of the board on my cheek - yes missing my eye by an inch. I paddled all the way in swearing and cursing and thinking how this was my worst fear realised. I checked it out, not bleeding too much and holding closed pretty well. But yes it was quite deep. I wandered off and thought, well yes I'll see what the village doctor says. He wanted to put 2 stiches in, but I wasn't too keen about that at all and barred it. He put betadine on it and a bandage over it. I was worried about the scar and his stitching ability/equipment. I suggested he put steristrips on it to keep it closed tight but I guess he didn't understand bacause he said the bandage was just as good. I had steristrips in my medical kit (they are butterfly clips - just special bits of sticky-tape for open wounds) but didn't know how to use them and didn't have them with me to show him. I had my own antibiotics and started taking them and waited for the next ferry back to Kuta - the next morning.

The next morning I got back and went to the Kuta Clinic which I was told was reliable - and was - and they told me yes I should have put the steristrips on and it was too late to stitch now. The scar will depend upon how my body tends to scar. They gave me some cream to put on it to soften the scar tissue. Its about an inch long on my right cheek. I was really worried about the scar first couple of days since everyone was grimacing and going tsk, tsk. But its been nearly a week now and I don't think it will end up too noticeable. Mum I'd send you a photo to put your mind at ease but there's only slide film in the camera at the moment so you'll have to wait. Sorry.

Just a couple of notes about Nusa Lembongan. It was costing us about $9/day for accomodation and all we could eat. Mind you, banana pancakes, jaffles and fried rice get pretty boring after a while. A couple of times they caught some fish which was superb. A whole tuna with a stick shoved through it lengthwise and grilled is heaven. It was caught an hour before.

The day before I left they had a temple festival on. Now the island has a stray dog problem. Revolting ugly mutts are everywhere and the balo's don't like dogs much anyway - they carry evil spirits. So over a couple of days they wandered around poisoning them all. They fed them little balls of rice and fish laced with something so lethal they only handled it with plastic gloves on. That night walking down the village street there were piles of dead and dying dogs - about 50 plus pups. The locals all stood around laughing about "suckling, suckling dog" being on the menu tonight. But no, they don't eat the poisoned dogs - they put them on a boat, dump them out to sea, where they get chunks taken out of them by the sharks, then wash up bloated on the beach. Which reminds me. The balinese aren't real big on litter reduction. The world is just one big garbage bin. Street scene of a village around Mt Bromo

Poisoned and dumped at sea, stray dogs wash back up on the beach Cock fights Noise makers on Gemelan at the Temple Festival

Phew, well that was Bali and the first month. Since I can't surf for a week or two I've come to Java and have been taking it real hard in this insanely picturesque, peaceful paradise in the highlands around Mt Bromo. The walks around here are incredible - mum would be [enjoying herself] just walking around here. The views and greenery are fantastic. A couple of days ago I walked through the forest and hour or so and saw a waterfall that would blow your mind (200m drop). The temperate is quite cool too. Need two blankets at night and a thick T-shirt/shorts during the day. In the afternoon the clouds roll in and just drift around the top of the mountains. Its very picturesque. I came to stay 2 nights/1 day but have been here 4 nights. I'm moving on to Malang today. Mt Bromo and Mt Semeru at dawn

I've been in a dilemma since day 1, trying to work out if I'm surfing or touring. If the rest of Java is like this I think I'll tour for a while.

P.S. There's always a P.S.

PPS. I haven't mentioned the food. The food in Kuta is incredible - the best ever. I've eaten everything and anything and haven't had any trouble with my bowels at all. In fact on Lembongan Tim got constipation - have I already said all this? Western food is expensive, local food is filling - they eat rice for breakfast. That plus unprecedented amounts of chocolate and ice-cream & I'll leave here a good 5 kgs heavier.

PPPS. What a boring letter. I think I should just quit this one and start a more interesting one right now. Sorry Guys.

Surabaya, Java, Indonesia

October 23, 1992

Every day I tell myself I should start filling in my diary. Every day I decide to do it tomorrow because I have to catch up on the days I've missed. Then I start thinking that I've got to get onto this letter writing business. I think I'll cut my losses and do both at once and see if that works.

Well it doesn't work. Its now about 1 1/2 hours since I wrote that. I've been talking to a group of Brits who've spent 7 months in Hawaii.

October 25, 1992

Ok, yesterday I walked around the city. My initial impression upon arrival was that this filthy dirty city wasn't as bad as they said. But after a walk around its not so good. The river is basically an open sewer that people shit, wash and possibly even drink from! I stood on a bridge and watched a few turds float by, saw someone having a crap and - twenty metres downstream - someone else was having a wash. Needless to say it stinks. A bit further downstream another person was catching fish and crabs. One street away there were huge mansions with immaculate gardens and a BMW next to the two huge german shepherds.

Just for something different to do a kiwi - another one with no money; he's waiting here for a money order to come through... It's been 3 weeks - and I went with 3 good moslem boys who learn English here. There is an english school attached to the hostel, they charge the Indo's 50,000 rp ($35)/month to come here for conversation classes, and charge us to stay here and rope us into teaching English - pretty good scam really. We went on the back of their bikes to where one of them live. We're a real hit with the locals. We sat down and were instant celebrities - surrounded by dozens of kids and adults alike. We didn't speak their language, and they don't speak English, so we just smiled, guestured and stared at each other.

They live in narrow streets in tiny houses about 5 meters wide, right next to each other. They say there are no fights or domestics. They all know each other, like in a little village. Amongst the labyrinth of little streets we found a little courtyard with all washing across it and the homes facing inwards.

After that we went of to "Dolly" the red light district. Honest we just went window shopping. The kiwi had a go two weeks before and picked up "dribble dick" (gonorrhea). He paid $15 for the girl then another $100 for the doctor/medication. Lets hope he didn't pick anything else up.

There were two streets full of brothels, complete with red lights. A big window where the girls are all sitting on a couch. The guys go in and sit on the opposite side and survey, over a beer. There are girls of all ages for all tastes, the youngest probably 16, the oldest maybe 40. We only saw 2 that were probably blokes once. I've got to admit some were very good looking - some ugly as sin. All along the street are vendors selling condoms and aphrodesiacs.

I think the story goes along the lines of, the moslem guys can't get married until they are 25, the girls 22. Of course there is no sex before marriage. So apparently, from the age of about 17 they start going to the prostitutes. One of the guys we were with admitted that he was a regular visitor, the other wouldn't say and the third was willing to pay for us to have a go, so long as he could watch! There were plenty of customers - and no shortage of girls.

After that we went to a nightclub, there's not many around, a lot of the locals don't drink, so its $2 for a coke, $6 to get in (we were exempt since we were white and the owner of the hostel has an uncle? who runs the place). Beers are double the street price. It was quite a good club as far as clubs go. A big dance floor with lounges all around. If you're not dancing you just lie back in your couch and watch. Most surprising was that there were more guys dancing than girls. Something unheard of in Oz. Great lighting. Everyone smokes - everyone (except maybe the odd girl). There is cigarette advertising everywhere, particularly the Marlboro Man.

I drove the becak to the club and back. It was great. A bit of exercise at last.

No wonder I never write. If I write, I want to write everything. If I write everything I'll spend more time writing than doing. Arrrrgh.

October 26, 1992

Umm, yesterday. I slept, sat, wrote, went to McDonalds. Shock horror. The meat was pretty thin - there's no such thing as a quarter pounder. And the indonesians love it. Apparently Macca's chicken is real good. There is a big plaza here that is real expensive, full of plush shops that the rich chinese go to. They seemed very excited over a huge television display of big screens and surround sound. Hideously expensive stuff. They seem to place more importance on a great T.V. and video than having a clean toilet. Twisted priorities if you ask me. There are heaps of Kentucky/California Fried Chicken places that get good patronage.

Went to the movies next. Liz would love this place. $4 is the most expensive movie theatre I've been. For that you get air-conditioned smoke free comfort. The seats are like lounge chairs, big soft and very comfortable, with armrests for both sides, no fighting the person next to you. Its great.

The television on the other hand is terrible, full of the worst american trash.

Last of all I went and played video games. You just have to sit down to draw a crowd. I guess they all want to see how good you are. They all took turns to challenge me on Street Fighter II. At only 14c a game for the expensive ones (7c for the cheapies) I was pretty happy I beat 6 of them in a row.

Mt Bromo Sunrise Cloud rolling into Mt Bromo Mt Bromo from the rim Mt Bromo at the bottom of the crater

Jogjakata, Java, Indonesia

October 27, 1992

Left Surabuya for Jogjakata. Was told the train left at 1pm but it eventually left at 3pm arriving at 10:30. Only cost 2600rp ($1.70) to go 400 kms. There were some pretty sus looking characters on the train but I got lucky and was adopted by a carriage-load of school children (primary). One of the teachers spoke english and sat me down with the school principal, fed me, introduced all the children (who walked back and forth pretending to be just passing by so they could get a look at me). Even had a policeman come and sit next to me for an hour or so, working on his English. I was very grateful for the security they gave me. I think I'll pay the extra and go business class next time - to get away from the riff-raff.

Walked around Jogja trying to get my bearings, sat in restaurants talking to people. Basically did nothing but walk aimlessly and lounge about.

October 28, 1992

Yesterday I spent 10,000 for a tourist bus out to the main attractions of Yogya. The Borobuduhr - an 8th century Buddist temple - and another big old Hindu timple. Both were big old piles of worn rocks - rather exciting - not. They both have picture stories that go right around them - carved in the stone which made things a bit more interesting - if you could decipher the guide's english explanation of the story. View from atop Borobuduhr

I went into the museum at the Budda place, which was more interesting - to see how it was before restoration - and how they've restored it so that hopfully if won't need another restoration (bacially by effective water drainage). To do the restoration they pulled the whole thing apart stone by stone, then put them all back together.

Both temples have an example of the Indonesians ability to piss tourists off. Not only do they hit you for admission they charge you for taking in your camera. Both charges are only minor so why they don't just combine the two is beyond me. There would be a lot less irritation.

Met an Australian girl who is cycling across the world - sort of. She landed in Bali and is cycling to Bangkok alone, then flying to Copenhagen. I was suitably impressed.

Borobudur Temple Prambanan Temple

Kuta, Bali, Indonesia

November 2, 1992

Ok, so the Melbourne Cup should be tomorrow and the US elections the same day I'm told. I can buy one paper instead of two! Oops my morning banana jaffle has arrived. Banana jaffle? Yes I must be back in Kuta. Got the overnight bus from Jogja the night before last, and it was terrible. It was full, so no lounging and the air-con was either too hot or too cold. The road was like a mad one lane version of George St the whole way - there's no such thing as the "open road". I lost count of the number of bridges under repair - which is no surprise, their construction methods seem primitive - bamboo scafolding, no power tools and stretch each bag of cement too far by diluting it with 10 or 20 times the recommended amount of sand.

This all might have been ok, but for the throat infection I have. Very irritating since I had one before on Lembongan. That one I kicked by consuming copious amounts of water. This one is not being quite so co-operative. I've been on Strepsils and water 4 or 5 days now and am sick of it. No toilet on the bus trip so I went 12 hours without water - it was agony. A sore throat is bad enough, but a dry sore throat...

I decided last night that if it wasn't better this morning I'd start the antibiotics - I'm pretty sure thats the right thing to take. All I can remember is that last time I had this, the doctor put me on erythromycin, which I reacted to, so he gave me something else. I think the something else was what I have with me, but can't be certain. Anyway its a little better this morning so I'll soldier on - but if it gets any worse I'll pull out the pills.

Yesterday, 1/11/92 I slept most of the day (and drank water and sucked strepsils and went to the toilet often) recovering from the bus trip (left at 3pm, arriving Denpassar 8am).

The day before, 31/10/92 I bought a batic painting for 35,000rp. Problem is it will cost double that to frame. The idea was to give it to Phil and Gail for Christmas, but I'm not sure they'll like it and not sure they'd pay to frame it. They wanted 50,000 for a monkey art one that I liked most but I couldn't find someone to haggle with and what am I going to do with a painting anyway?

In the afternoon I caught the bus.

The day before, 30/10/92. I met an english guy and we climbed up to the Mt Merapi lookout point. As expected it was clouded over - we knew it would be so why did we do it? He desperately wanted to get close to some molten lava, and I wanted to see Merapi - a really active volcano - and maybe some lava. As it was all we saw was a white cloud. On the way back it rained very heavily for about 2 hours - like a particularly heavy summer storm in Sydney - but not so windy. It did the same the next day. Is this start of the wet? I'll never know.

Well that was all a long time ago. Same story as always. In the end the sore throat went away, but made a comeback after a big night on the piss a week later. But I managed to kick it again with water.

That night, after sleeping most the day I went off and booked a trip to Lombok. And thence begins another chapter...

After sleeping shiftily I woke at 4:15 and thinking there was plenty of time till the bus at 5:30am I could go back to sleep. Then, of course, I missed the alarm and woke at 5:25. In a mad panic, figuring they might actually leave on time (it did when I went to Java) I got up there at 5:35. Yes it was gone. And a blank wall of help. No you can't go tomorrow, no, can't have a refund. No discount for a ticket tomorrow - basically bad luck whitey. You can get a taxi and catch up for maybe 20,000. I call one over and with no trouble all he say 15,000 - beauty - I catch up to the bus and use my ticket. We didn't catch the bus till Padangbai - where the ferry is. On the way I'm thinking 15,000 that a bit fucking cheap for a 2hr drive, so I ask him on the way 15,000 right? "oh, yes, 15,000". Of course when we get there I give him 20,000 and he looks at me and goes, "no, 50,000". Now he spoke good English and I'm pretty sure he knew there was going to be some confusion. After a bit of a scene and refusal to take 35,000 he convinced me to get back in the car, he said we'd go back to Kuta - no pay. As soon as we're going out come the threats - we go to my boss, the police, whatever. Figuring that will only end up costing me even more money I wave 40,000 ($30) under his nose and he lets me out 1/2km up the road. I walk back. The bus is stull there and everyone is waiting around. Its now 7:30 - the ferry is broken down; no 8:00am ferry, next ferry is 12noon. Great. Still I saved a day in Kuta and didn't have to buy another ticket (10,000 + 19,000) So it really cost me 11,000. Best if I hadn't missed the bus by 5 lousy minutes but never mind the day had only just begun.

What else happened that day. After waiting till 12noon for the ferry, we boarded, it stank, was crowded - Indo style and generally filthy. After 3 hours crossing we spent a further 1hr 50m from the dock waiting for the other ferry to leave going the other way. It left at 4pm. We then got on the bus and the tour people told us we had missed the bus down to Kuta [Lombok]. Which was utter crap they just wanted us to pay to spend a night at the buddy's losmen. They said they'd take us down in the morning.

Well there was an english guy with us who just wasn't taking any of that and insisted they take us today or give a full refund - because we'd paid for a hassle free trip in one day. They gave us the usual indo stalling tactics. They wanted us to stay at their losmen for the night and eat at their restaurant. Anyway to cut a long story, he insisted on seeing the manager or whatever - somebody who didn't give us the old "don't look at me I just work here". So we were taken off to the office to see the boss after a big fuss. This english guy was getting pretty worked up by now - mainly because it was such an obvious scam.

So, I let him have a go at the boss - not a particularly impressive figure - and after a heated exchange he eventually conceded to give a partial refund for the trip down to Kuta Beach on Lombok. But wasn't good enough for our British friend (who we later decided to call - Jesus - but thats another whole story) he wanted a full refund or free accomodation for the night. Then things deteriorated into cold stares and threats to call the police.

By this stage the guy at least knew that we weren't going to play his game. He had to do something - but negotiations weren't getting any further. So I managed to step in and suggest he refund our trip to Kuta and use the money to get us a bemo down to Kuta at Indo prices - not tourist prices. Having been given the stern, we mean business approach, followed by my polite, lets be reasonable approach he was willing to agree to anything to get rid of us - and got his brother to drive us down - which was what he'd contracted to do anyway.

When we eventually got there we were still stuck in the tourist trap. They took us to a line of hotel/losmen places, miles away from the villages - on the beach though - which all offered the same thing for the same inflated tourist prices. At one place where I found the local indonesian menu - and having been around long enough now to be able to read it. I tried to order the same things from that (I don't know why they even had one since the only indo's there were the ones that worked there), same thing, half the price. I was flatly refused.

    "That's indonesian food.  You won't like that"
    "I've had it before, I know what it is, that's what I want."
    "You can't have it."

For example on the tourist menu it has "Fried Rice....2000rp". On the other menu "Nasi goreng....1000rp" Same thing, twice the price for ordering in English.

I know enough Indonesian now to order in Indonesian, but it made no difference. We had the worst skin disease in Indonesia - we were white.

Needless to say we weren't too impressed with Kute Beach, Lombok. Aside from the tourist trap, the surf was lousy and the scenery not at all picturesque. It was very dry - but still had palm trees.

Went for a couple of small (3-4ft) surfs with Neil at a very lonely rocky reef/beach. The wave had a punchy peak and a short right hand break, but I don't think it could handle any size. The locals insisted that there were much better breaks around, if only we'd pay them to take us there. They claimed it was perfect there everyday but we knew it was crap.

After two nights there, we bailed and went to find a place a friend had written to me and insisted I go to. We found a place that sounded like it but was out of our price range - so maybe they've moved upmarket since he was there. We ended up going to Gili Trewagan. There are 3 very small islands just off the coast. Half an hour by runabout to the furthest one. Apparently the Javanese have just bought all three and will build a golf course on one, a Hilton on another and the third as an "isolated deserted island."

The room at Gili Trewagan

This place was pretty perfect once we got there. White sandy beach, beautiful coral, laid back atmosphere, good cheap accomodation, but still no surf. Couple of nights there and it was back to Bali.

Getting on the boat across was another scam (YES another one). This time they say you'll have to wait till the boat is full (20 people) unless you want to charter the whole boat. Put your name on a blank form with positions for 20 names. If you turn up after 8:00am they say you've missed the last boat will have to charter one. I'd seen it all before and managed eventually to calm everyone and get them to wait it out. After an hour the price finally reached the correct 1000rp instead of 7500 they asked for at the start.

Lombok Taxi's Medewi Bali

By this time it was me, Neil - West Australian surfer - and a swiss guy who was learning to surf. I don't believe I can't remember his name!

We went straight up to Medewi. A well-known spot but not surfed so often since its a pain to get to. For us, it was a very weak beginners wave. Either the swell wasn't the right direction or the sand was wrong, but it looked unreal. Very long wave but just had no push - even when the swell picked up to 4-5ft it was gutless. Two nights there and back to Kuta. Which brings us up to where I went and stayed out at Uluwatu, which I've already written about [see below].

The only bit I've missed writing about (I think) is a few days in Malang on Java. In between Mt Bromo and Surabuya. Whilst it was just a city with no appeal to the tourist - unless you are a connoissour of Dutch Architecture - that was the best thing about it. There weren't many tourists. Getting there was a bit scary since I had no traveller guide and no map and no idea where to go. The bus just dumped me at the terminal way out on the outskirts of town and I had to work out how to get to town and find somewhere cheap to stay. I managed to do that with a few events which hopefully I'll remember because I can't be bothered writing them down.

Whilst there I gave an english lesson, and visited a guy (australian) in prison.

So there you go, thats enough on Indonesia, especially since I'm now 2 weeks into Hawaii. I think I'll send this much off and fill you in on Hawaii next letter.

Bye Love John

Uluwatu, Bali, Indonesia

November 13, 1992

Dear Phil,

Its black friday and if you were here you would be looking at an extrememly happy chappy.

Let's see if I can fill you in. I'm sitting high on a cliff watching an incredible orange sunset - a big orange orb like in all the photos. Below me is Uluwatu - the famed break is fucking GOING OFF!!!! Its fully PUMPING! AWESOME spitting hideous barrels, and the most incredible thing is - THERE'S NO-ONE OUT!!

I've just come in from one of those all time surfs. I'm staying here at Uluwatu in one of the warungs here. This morning it looked pretty lousy so I went off and met a friend and we cruised around on the bikes finding not much worth surfing. I got back here at 3:00pm and found it was going off! It was flat and f**ked everywhere else. It came good just after I left of course. To us its about 6ft, to the legends here 4ft. But its a hideous barrel all the way, 2ft of water over the coral behind you. Its so easy to get into the barrel its ridiculous. Getting out is harder but can be done. I got some of the best hackhand waves ever. I was too gutless to go for the full backhand barrel but sitting in the doorway was enough. Had a go at it and just got nailed badly - barrel landed on my head as always. The whole time there was only one other guy surfing - two others just floating around and one guy taking photos. (The bastard was gone before I came in so I could get some copies - reckons he got some real good ones of me) - Oh and one of the guys was an american who wanted to know "Where is the mellower part of wave?" What mellow part! I was scared shitless myself. Its a top to bottom hell ride - not nearly as bad as Lacerations on Lembongan, but pretty gnarly. Eventually he decided he wanted to know how to get in (not an easy task if you don't catch anything)!

Anyway the swells building still - one more day then Hawaii.

The warungs at Uluwatu in 1992

November 15, 1992

Wow man! Aeroplanes are incredible! I'm now on a 747-200 cruising over a place I spent 2 months getting the little picture. I'm sitting here going - wow that's Nusa Lembongan, wow there's Uluwatu, shit it took me 2 days to go from there to there and now I can see both at once!

Gosh its hard to get a pen that works.

Let's try some thoughts on Indonesia.

It took me 2 months to find out the best way to do it. It was right in front of my nose all the time - but then if I'd gone straight to it I wouldn't be satisfied that I'd seen the real Indonesia. I'm still not sure that I have but I've got a pretty solid impression.

I reckon just go to Kuta, rent a bike for as long as you intend to stay (about $3/day max) and stay down at Uluwatu or Bingin. You can sleep out there for free, as long as you eat the food which you have to do anyway - noodles, rice, jaffles, banana pancakes and bread are whats on offer. You stay there with a view from the cliff that you would never believe. You know exactly whats happening with the surf and wind and a perfect uncrowded break is easily fround within 30 mins by bike if the one in front of you is unsatisfactory. I did this for the last 4-5 days and had the bast time of my whole stay for less than 15,000rp ($10/day).

Now I must mention the surf on the last day.

I woke up at dawn after listening to the surf pounding all night to find it was HUGE!! (I'll try not to rave too much this time). There were two other guys staying out at Ulu's with me but they were in no hurry to get out there - had to have a coffee first. So I was the only one out at Uluwatu, again, in perfect big surf - on my gun 6'5 1/2" which is a superb board but still not big enough. I paddled way way out to the main peak - not wanting to get caught by a set, and ended up catching two 10ft waves - about the same size as that day I called 15ft at Newport Reef.

About 1/2 hour later the other two came out and I joined them at outside corner where we surfed for 2 hours by ourselves before two others came out. We surfed the racetrack at 6ft, which is not the sort of 6ft we call 6ft at home. At home, in comparison 6ft is not that big - more of a really enjoyable size, challenging but not huge. This 6 ft was huge. The soft of 6 ft that is double or even triple overhead and you just hope to live. My board was not big enough for this kind of six foot.

It was too big to barrel hideously like the evening before, instead of hurling itself at the reef it was more spilling heavily for a long long way. One wave meant about a 15 minute paddle back out. If you went all the way you could go for 700m or so. Lets do another map.

Handdrawn Map of Uluwatu

That afternoon I went back down the road to Bingin. Now that was incredible. Here it was a bit smaller. 6ft, but more the 6ft we know, but the wave - I've run out of superlatives. Its very short, insanely tubular and very dangerous. Looks a lot like Hawaiian pipeling. It was amazing. The swell just soft of hits this reef and jacks from about 1ft to 6ft instantly. The paddle out is easy, you just paddle out at the bit 5 metres away where it is 1ft. Don't understand? Neither did I. From the cliff above Bingin you can see the whole setup.

Handdrawn Map of Southern Bali

Ok its not to scale. Impossibles is the longest wave on the coast. I watched one guy surf for about a kilometre at Impossibles. Its a very fast down the line wave - not impossible though.

The worst thing about all this is that I have absolutely no photos of it! I left my camera in Kuta, thinking that I already had enough photots of Uluwatu and I wouldn't have to worry about losing/damaging it.

Let's see if I can think of something other than surfing to talk about.

Indonesia is not dangerous. On Bali there is almost no theft. The only trouble I had was when a bemo conductor tried to pick my pocket, but knew that he was going to and caught him at it. The only stories of theft I heard were all of cameras.

Lots of Indonesians smoke. Its rare to find any male that does not smoke. Its also rare to find Indo girls that do smoke. Ads for the Marlboro man are everywhere.

The Balinese are rich. They pretend to be "bankrupt" but many are filthy rich - all from tourism. Many Indo's are still poor, but they are not in Bali. If you want to see poverty go to Flores or Timor. I wasn't there but the two other guys at Ulu's were. They were taking vitamin pills. The locals have tea for breakfast, a banana for lunch, plain rice for dinner. 75% infant mortality rate and a 35 year old is a very old man.

North Shore, Oahu, Hawaii

December 30, 1992

Fifteen foot swell at Waimea Bay

Hi Guys,

I suppose its about time I got around to writing about Hawaii. Especially now that I've decided when I'm leaving. The weirdest thing here is that I keep having to remind myself that I'm having great fun. It doesn't always feel like it, but I know I'll look back and say "those were the days". It hadn't occured to me before but now that I think about it, its not all that different to when I was living in Newport. The surf is better, but still just across the road; the surf is crowded; the supermarket is just down the road; I share a room with some-one not entirely unlike Rhonda. The only problem is the expense.

I booked a ticket today which should see me fly to Seattle on Jan 7th. That means I'll have spent 7 weeks here. I've done that by working here at the backpackers. The routine is to get up about 8am. I have one building to clean so I usually start about 8:30. What I do is change sheets, sweep and mop the floors, clean the bathrooms, take out the garbage, and chase people up to do their dishes - that sort of thing. If you do it all properly it does take a good 3 hours, so I can usually be finished by about 11:30. In return I get to stay in the staff hut for nothing. If I work extra hours then they pay me $5/hr. I've been a little slow to catch on, but apparently the go is to claim a few extra hours every week, regardless of whether you did them or not, which provides a little extra spending money.

A much easier way to make money is to use the vans to take trips. The one's I've been doing is in to Rosie's - a mexican restaurant in Haleiwa, the nearest town, Pizza Hut or down to the Turtle Bay Hilton - the only hotel on the North Shore. This surprised me, but the North Shore is really just a country town. Foodland is the only supermarket - and alledgedly the most expensive supermarket in the U.S. aside from two small ones in Haleiwa. Haleiwa is just a spread out collection of small shops - nothing over one story high. Paradoxically whilst its pretty much unpopulated and not touristy, its still pretty hard to find locals - or rather people who have been here since birth. No shortage of people here for a year or two.

As I was saying by charging people for a lift in the "all-you-can-eats" at Rosies or Pizza Hut or whatever, provided you put petrol in the van the driver keeps the money paid for transport somewhere between $10-$50. Other ways to make money are to feed people. For a while there I was having all-you-can-eat pancake breakfasts where I charged $2 and made people pancakes. Unfortunately another guy here already has a monopoly on the best money maker here. For about 3 hours work Pete does an all-you-can-eat spagetti night. At $4 each he can profit about $50-$60 every week. He's even got it down to a fine art of running out at strategic times and making more, then people have to wait for more spagetti to cook. Whilst waiting they get distracted, or think that maybe they don't really want that 3rd plate, or just can't be bothered waiting and all generally loose their appetite. He's also found the perfect plates - small but don't look too small. All terribly devious and don't worry there'll be a new batch of turkeys here next week.

It's difficult to remain friendly towards everyone. There are so many slobs, whingers, and freeloaders come through it gives you the shits. I imagine most of the compaining comes from people travelling from Australia/New Zealand, where everything was a third the price and double the standard. The slobs are mainly people who've lived at home with parents and haven't had to clean up after themselves. The rest of the distastefuls are just people who don't care. They know they won't be here very long and don't care what mess or attitude they leave behind. You get the impression they do it constantly, always moving on just in time. Still there's a few very pleasant people come through but they never stay very long.

Going back to money. Over in Kauai people are making their fortunes in the rebuilding after Hurricane Iniki. Apparently its not quite as flat as Darwin was, but pretty close to it. Streams of guys are going over for labouring, roofing, plumbing, electricians - all the trades, even if you don't have one appartently you learn it quick enough. People with no experience are getting $18/hr. Generally they live in the house they are working on, or in a tent, and have nothing to spend their money on. US$400/day is common. Saving well over $1500/week is normal. Guys who are going over on their last pennies without a care in the world are coming back talking about putting a deposit on a house.

The surf. It was only a matter of time wasn't it. Well I've been waiting all this time for some REAL hawaiian surf, but it has never arrived. In the first month somewhere there was 12-15ft Waimea. Big, but nothing more impressive than I've seen before. In the Honolulu papers they were calling it 20ft, but no-one here believes that. In general the surf has been lousy, totally lousy. At first it was good. 6-8ft and offshore, not as good as Uluwatu was when I left Indonesia, but still excellent. Since then we had 2 north swells which are the wrong direction, and almost dead flat. To top it off the last week it has been onshore wind. For non-surfers it has rained every day, with little exception. Still its never cold and since its winter here, never too hot.

Whilst talking about waves I can see the difference now that a continental shelf makes. At home a 2 metre swell at sea means maybe 1/2m surf at the beach. Here a 2 metre swell is 2 metre surf. At first I couldn't really notice the difference in the speed the waves come in, but I realise now how much harder you do have to paddle. I guess I just thought it was the extra crowds before. And yes you do need a bigger board - mainly just to paddle on, beat the rest of the crowd and manage that first bottom turn. I bought a 6'8 from a guy who was leaving for $50 - great board - and was using it always when the surf was good. When the contests were on, you couldn't even look at the surf without seeing countless pro surfers. They might still be around, but the surf has been shit for weeks now so I don't know.

My favourite spots would be:

  1. Rocky Point - a long shallow right hand barrel (Yes I pulled in and made it out)
  2. Sunset - which is always bigger than anywhere else, very crowded, but bearable, and not as dangerous (shallow)
  3. Velzyland - supposedly a heavy local spot, but there were always plenty of "haoles" around, and it was always pretty obvious who to avoid.

The staff at Mark Foo's Backpackers on the North Shore of Oahu. Christmas 1992 The fun crowd in Hawaii

January 7, 1993

Hey, I'm at the airport again. Flying to Seattle with Northwest on a ticket that cost me AU$150!!! At home the travel agent tried to convince me to buy a ticket there for US$500. I got this one through the paper. Its someone else's ticket of course, but I've checked in with no problems so far (my name is Chris Donnelly).

What was I rambling on about? I suppose I'll get right to it again and get on with the highlights and major embarassments of Hawaii. In short Hawaii was fun but I'm relieved to be going. The surf was not up to expectations, I had my surfboard taken by a local, and a brazilian guy at the hostel wants to beat the crap out of me. The surf was not up to expectations, but I've covered that. Ohhh, while I think of it.

I went out on a large catermaran sail just before sunset and we saw a whale. It just stuck its head up and said hello for about a minute then sank away. It was a humpback I think and blew its spout and all. On another day, while I was watching the Pipeline Masters, I saw a whale do a full leap out of the water. It was pretty good.

Big event #1 that I'm glad to get away from.

Since the surf was so poor on the North Shore I eventually sucumbed to the plea's of surfers staying without transport and organised a trip to the east side of the island where the surf was better. So off we went. It was not that much better but we went out anyway. There were a number of big local dudes out there, and as I paddled out last I didn't notice that they were alone before our busload of tourists turned up - about 10, half of them boogey-boarders. I guess they weren't too happy. After about 1/2hr in the water, I was thinking - its too crowded and moved to the shoulder and started picking off the leftovers. In short I took off on one wave I could see that the two guys paddling on the other side of a 20m section where not going to make it. Since you have to paddle so hard, I never looked to confirm my assumption and just put my head down.Phil can guess where this story is leading. I dropped in on a local hawaiian - an extremely dangerous thing to do.

He came around the section, saw me, saw red, and deliberately rammed me. He ended up getting a small fin chop on his rail, and I came off unscathed - so far. The ensuing verbal exchange, his part not fit for mothers ears, my part being a pathetic display of pleas not to get beaten up, was a little tense. After much discussion, threatening, and begging, an unsatisfactory agreement was reached - he keeps my board in payment for the small ding he received, and he won't beat the shit out of me. In truth I thought he would just take my board to the beach and jump up and down on it and leave it. But I guess he could see it was a good board, and I a complete wimp. He walked up the beach with both boards and drove off. I thought this arrangement a trifle unfair and rumbled off to the police to file a robbery report so I can claim it back on insurance. Luckily this happened only a week ago, the surf has been totally forgettable, and I had another board (which I've sold along with my board bags). Hopefully the insurance co. will pay up - Liz did you ever get that receipt sent to you for my surfboard? I think I'm going to need it.This incident was/is mainly embarassing, but I didn't end up in hospital and it means I don't have to lug a board around now, so no big deal.

Incident #2 that I am running away from happened on New Years Eve.

Everyone was very drunk and there were various other drugs floating around. There was a brazilian guy and his not that good-looking girlfriend here. At some point during the night some guy tried to kiss her or something not particularly serious. So the brazilian guy - blind drunk whilst on anti-biotics (and possibly LSD) got in a fight with the offender. "So what" you say?

Well two days later somehow he's decided that the offender was me. I remember the whole night and know what happened - but try to tell him that. Sure this guy looked a lot like me, but he was a good 6" taller! So, being an arrogant bastard who doesn't listen to what anybody says, he threatens to beat me up ("But I can't because you are so small") and for the past week whenever he see's me he yells abuse until I disappear from view. To make matters worse he is the guy replacing me in my little cleaning job! Luckily I also met some more reasonable Brazilians so I won't write off the entire race yet. As for the surfing incident I was taking particular pride in not having gotten in anyone's way at all, and being particularly gracious to those who got in mine. That was a real blow, not to mention a real surprise. I'd forgotten all about localism, having been on the North Shore for so long - where everyone's a tourist and and drop-ins are generally ignored, cause no-one knows who the offender is. The rest of the staff at Backpackers weren't a bad lot, although mostly aussies, but I'm thinking that there's going to be aussies no matter where I go. There were a couple of South Africans, Americans and a german but we all got on reasonably well.

That's enough on Hawaii - I'm getting lazy but too bad.

'Small' Off-The-Wall (next peak up west from Pipeline)

January 15, 1993

Well I made it here. Michael met me at the airport and has found me a place to sleep in the basement. Meredith (my cousin) is here also so we've been using Michael's car to tour the sights while he goes to work on the bus. As you might expect, the first thing I noticed about Seattle was the temperature change. We had a cold snap in Hawaii the couple of days before I left and it got down to about 17C. Of course here the temperature sits around 0C. Its always below freezing at night and it not at all uncommon to find patches of snow lying around.I arrived having no idea what Seattle was like. I only knew Michael was here, so I've been very surprised to find how spectacular it is.

A VW Golf in the snow.  I don't know why I like this photo, but I do.

The city doesn't usually have snow itself but is surrounded all around by snow-capped mountains. It looks unreal! Especially since we've had such good weather since I arrived. Its only been overcast two days, the rest with spectacular sunshine on the mountains.Since its the only other cold place I've been it feels like I'm in Cooma. Downhill skiing is only an hour away. Theres about 13 different resorts within 2 hours drive! We went downhill a couple of days ago and it was pretty good. There are absolutely no crowds. Certainly no queues. In fact most of the time you could even be the only ones on the entire life. This was midweek. Mondays and Tuesdays most resorts have a cheap all day lift pass for about US$8-10 but weekend passes the prices double and get up to $26 (AUS$40). Most resorts also have night skiing where they light up some runs.The snow was excellent by Australian standards, but not insanely perfect. It was hard packed witha light dusting of powder. I was pretty happy, but the moguls here are murder. Plus I was skiing with Meredith, who is competant but not particularly daring or fast. It was good though going through the snow covered fir trees. Sadly on the easy runs there were no jumps or variations to keep me entertained. Whatsmore there is no-one around so I tended to ski rather conservatively. There's no chance of meeting people on the lifts.

Another couple of days we went cross-country skiing, which I had never done before. I've decided that its really just a way to go jogging when there's snow around. Something to give you some exercise but its only the scenery that keeps me from getting bored. On another day we hiked up a trail to one of the snow covered peaks around here. We never made it to the top since we have yet to come to grips with the fact that the sun sets at about 4:30pm! But nonetheless got some incredible views. I slipped and bumped all the way down since the track was a bit icy.Speaking of ice, in Australia they have this big thing when you go skiing about chains and putting them on when there's even the slightest hint of snow on the road. Here, I haven't seen anyone with chains whilst the road is covered by an inch of snow over an inch of ice. Everyone just drives right over it without even slowing down!

Cross-country skiiing turned out to be simply the thing that joggers do because they can't jog in snow

Seattle city strikes me as a rather wealthy place to live (although Michael does live in the North Shore type area). Haven't found any slums yet and everyone is well-dressed and appear pretty affluent. The shops in the city are all very swish. The streets are unusually deserted. There are bookstores everywhere which gives the impression everyone is educated and well-off. Not very surprising when you consider how many top campanies are based here. Namely Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, and a bunch of others. Seattle does pretty well. We went and visited the Boeing factory yesterday. Saw a bunch of 747-400's being made like giant model aeroplanes. The hanger is so big they have blowers at the top of the building to stop rain-clouds forming inside!!!

Michael is still working weekends - but seems to be enjoying it at least. He'll be going to Australia in March for work. He's put back on a little bit of weight again. He lives with 3 other Microsoft people, which makes for a very happy household when Microsoft shares go up. Work conditions are pretty rough. Everyone gets their own office equipped with the best money can buy. The buildings are quite plush - fields and walks all over "campus". Free drinks (anything!) and nice kitchen. Free membership to the most exclusive gym I've ever seen plus medical insurance, shares and God knows what other perks.

We did a little bit of hiking around Seattle, and discovered it gets dark quite early in winter

When I arrived there was only Michael here. There rest of the household had all been flown somewhere on a business trip! There's two other guys and a girl. Nerandra is an Indian with a very australian humour and sense of sarcasm. Phebos is greek and has a playful character. I can't say anything about Alison since she came straight back from somewhere to fly someplace else. Eating arrangements are ad-lib, and since its about the same price to buy fast food as to cook, there doesn't seem to be much cooking. It's very hard to eat properly here....blah blah blah...Meredith is leaving early next week from Vancouver so my movements will hopefully be to use Michael's car to drive her up there and to visit Whistler Resort while I'm up there to sound out a job. I'll then return and go into Canada under my own steam. It's a bit late in the season, but better late than never huh? Bye All

Love John.

Big White, British Columbia, Canada

March 23, 1993

Well yes I've been extremely slack with my letter writing lately haven't I. I sent mum a little update on Seattle via the computer so I haven't been that bad, only 5-6 weeks out of date.

Eventually I got both bored and organised enough to leave Seattle. Plus I felt I'd imposed myself on the household for long enough. The finalities all involved spending lots of money - in between "Star Trek - The Next Generation" episodes. I bought ski's and gear, a "North Face" shell (japara-type jacket) and some waterproof boots. Not to mention buying Michael an MX-5 (with his money). I went skiing with Michael's friends while he went to work.

And I bought my brother a Miata so he could get around whilst I drove off into the sunrise with his car.

He was enourmously generous which was greatly appreciated, except that I think I'll feel guilty for the rest of my life - probably an excellent investment from his point of view. The car, as Michael will probably have told you, is great to drive. You can go into any corner at almost any unreasonable speed and it will just slot around it with deceptive ease.

Leaving Seattle I went to Red Mountain. I went up to Whistler/Blackcomb when I dropped Meredith at Vancouver airport and found it swarming with Aussies looking for work. Hence I decided that since I have transport I might try something a little further afield.

April 1, 1993

First up I went to Red Mountain. The poor ski legends paradise - complete with quadruple black diamond runs (over 80° slope). Skied some hell runs then moved up to Kelowna to try my luck at the more commercial Big White. After waiting a week downtown at a sordid excuse for a backpackers - full of unemployed Canadians who just sat around and smoked all day in front of the T.V. - all the windows shut because its 10 below outside. I managed to hound the poor receptionist enough to get work as a cook (read burger and fries man).

Bottom of the chair at Big White Ski resort

During that week I went up to another resort nearby, called Silver Star, and skiied a couple of days. Since there were no hostels around I figured I'd find out what sleeping in the car was like. First night was fine. After putting on loads of clothes and crawling into my you-beaut sleeping bag I spent all night taking clothes off.

The second night was more interesting. The cloud cover was gone. After skiing I snuck into the hotel's pool and spa no probs and after a couple of hours splashing, and a sit in the pub I headed off with a very comfortable arrangement of the seats. This time started with no clothes and spent all night putting more clothes on. I still slept ok, and not cold, but was a little disconcerted to find 2mm of ice on the inside of the windows in the morning, and a sheet of ice about 30 cm long running down the front of my sleeping bag, where my mouth-hold was. I didn't think much of it until I found out that it had been -18C!! Wow that's COLD!! It was bright sunshine skiing all day. Superb snow, but it didn't get over -12C all day. Welcome to Canada.

I'm sure it was just chance but driving into Canada it seemed that the snow cover started exactly at the border. Canada - all of it, now the largest country in the world (USSR is defunct) - is entirely covered in snow in winter. And I'm only in the very southern-most part.

Dad its a curious note that there are no farms that I have seen yet. Everywhere there are forests of fir trees. Logging is the only industry in British Columbia (this province). In the Okanagan valley around Big White there are loads of orchards which are bare now, but nothing compares with the logging - of the clear cut variety - so the clearings are pretty ugly. I lie of course, tourism abounds in summer.

Speaking of which, I have a whole new appreciation of the Northern Hemisphere's preoccupation with the seasons. Everyone thinks in terms of winter/summer, spring/fall. Its always "What are you doing for the summer?" and "I remember one winter...", or "Only x days till Spring!"

So I got work on the mountain. I'd usually get the chairlift down to work, but could ski down if wanted. Typically I'd ski 2 full days and 2 3/4 days. The menu at the daylodge was burgers, fries, sausages, soup and sandwiches. So opening meant heating soups and making sandwiches. Closing means cleaning and dishwashing. Serving means making hamburgers, fries, and sausages as fast as possible. Luckily I got a few days up in the kitchen, and under the chef learnt how to use a knife and do prep-work (and dishwashing) so now I'm passing myself off as a prep-cook.

Top of the Bullet chair at Big White

Needless to say my skiing has improved. I'm still having a lot of trouble on the steep, heavy powder tree runs, and the big moguls - but if I can just get those jump turns mastered and mybe some bigger skis I'll be right. There was a double black run at Big White which I was having fun on - mind, that run is more steep than bumps.

The people. I moved into staff accom and shared a tiny box with a local guy. A whole bunch of staff were all snowboarders - complete with skatehead attitudes, of which he was a leader. He'd had the room all to himself all season, so wasn't overjoyed to have me arrive. So whilst he certainly wasn't hostile, I wasn't entirely comfortable. Luckily he was a janitor and worked opposite shifts to me so we rarely saw each other.

Staff accommodation at Big White

It took about 3 weeks to find some friends and settle. I was hanging with three english guys mainly, a canadian girl and an australian. There were plenty of Australians around, presumably because the mountain was owned by the same guy who owns Mt Hotham in Victoria. Some english lads who kindly befriended me at Big White

Friendly english lads

So just as I've settled a bit and found friends, gotten myself known, it was time for the end of season lay off. Last-in, first-out. I'm out.

So after a week of nothing but skiing - I got to keep my pass - I'm now in Banff, Alberta. I think I'll stay here a while. The scenery is breathtaking, even moreso than all the other breathtaking scenery I've described. I can point the camera in any direction and get a great photo.

Banff, Alberta, Canada

April 13, 1993

Banff township

Oops, amazing how time slips by. I'm still living at the youth hostel, and working at a restaurant called "The Keg". Its part of an international chain. Apparently there's even one in Australia. I'm doing prep cook, which involves chopping and portioning everything from escargot to potatoes. Its not a bad job, the people aren't bad - but then time will test these first impressions. Been there two weeks now, without chopping my fingers off. Meanwhile I'm just hanging for that first paycheck. I burned through the money left over from Big White pretty quickly, and alas had to draw on the old Visa card again (which expires soon - July so I might need someone to forward the new one on for me - Warning). Apparently its a good idea to avoid using mastercard because they convert to US currency then Oz dollars and take the commision twice!

The Mount Sulphur chairlift in Banff

Anyway life in Banff is looking like life in the life in the fast lane. I've been out nearly every night since I got here - though am start to tone things down. It seems everyone here is out for a good time. Nearly everyone is under 30, most people under 25, so the atmosphere's pretty fun. Three hours sleep is pretty much the norm, but I can't hack the pace and am wimping out increasingly often, trying to get on the original plan, involved more skiing (season ends in June!), walking, camping etc. There's people arriving "for the summer" everyday. So hopefully I can get set up with somewhere to stay soon. It looks like I'll sign a six month lease with some others in a unit or something.

A few of the crew in Banff—no that's not 'the girl'

I've fallen into a little crowd of Aussie's I work with, two english brothers and most importantly a canadian girl. There's countless other familiar faces that are "here for summer", so it looks like it'll be a good summer. Interesting to read this in 6 months and see how things turned out.

Hmmm. I've just sat back and taken an eyeful of snow-capped rugged mountains. Fir-trees and the odd squirrel hopping about, there's elk wandering around everywhere, spring is on the way - there's no snow on the ground - although it still snows every 2-3 days - it melts pretty quickly. The night life is great, its easy to make friends. I can confidently say that I'm enjoying myself. There's a million things I could write about. I was thinking about how the subject about what I'm writing can change so quickly. Today the focus is on getting accommodation, and getting into an outdoors fitness routine. A few days ago the focus might've been women (Jasmine is the current heartthrob). What's going on at work, the night life, other people, the hostel itself is curious, the scenery, the skiing, etc, etc. I worry about how much of it I'll remember. Jasmine in Banff

A 3 point elk just walked by the window!!

Not a three pointer, but all I have on film

What else can I say. I think I'll send everyone a personal letter.

Banff Mount Rundle