Are you ready to step through the rabbit hole of my unpredictable mind & my backpacking Australia journey?
Welcome to Episode 1 of Season 1 My backpacking Australia Journey: Sydney; Am I really here?
Season 1: Backpacking Australia: Australia was where it all started, back in 2010, where my nomadic backpacking life was born and continues to this day. For the first time I chronicle those first two years, going into detail, covering the ups, the highs, the adventures, the lows, and the hard times. I go deep into the emotional states, fuckups, misfortunes and mishaps which helped shape my backpacking life.
That very first day in Sydney showed just how naive I was to everything, the location, the heat, to backpacking life It just didn’t go down like I had imagined it to.
Sit back, relax and enjoy my first day in Sydney…
Welcome to ‘Straya
“Welcome to ‘Straya, enjoy your stay in Sydney.” It took a second or two for his thick Australian accent to filter through but it echoed between my ears as it hit me. My inner voice had to coerce me into what to do next, ‘walk idiot, walk through.’
‘I’m in – fuck! – Nah it can’t be, I’m still dreaming no way this was real – It didn’t feel real – but it is, we’re really here … Are you sure? …Yes we’re in Sydney?’ With my internal voice trying to convince me this was not a dream, my eyes clasped down on the two fresh stamps sitting inside the passport; the only two stamps in the entire thing.
Although I could hear voices and all kinds of accents it felt like I was encapsulated in a bubble; nothing but muffled sounds were getting through, almost like a daze. I didn’t even know where I was going I just followed other travelers. ‘If this is really real why didn’t he check anything? Why didn’t he check if I had the correct funds for my Working holiday visa? If I had travel insurance, Or if I had a return flight back home to England? – It was too easy & nothing is ever easy for me.’
My other internal voice woke from It’s slumber, ‘Who the fuck cares! Does it matter, We’re in Sydney, that’s all that matters. We’re here and gonna be backpacking Australia – stop questioning it!’
The abruptness was enough for a childish grin to spread across my cheeks it was right, who cares how I got in, I was here…I was actually here. With my backpack on my back, a fuzzy feeling rushed through my body. I’m sure if I flapped my arms I’d just float away through the exit doors.
What the fuck is that thing!
Along with what seemed like hundreds of other travelers from all over the world, I floated through Sydney’s well Air-conditioned Kingsford-smith airport. But while others carried on walking I froze. My fingers clutched the straps of the backpack tighter, blood raced through my body at a stupidly fast rate. There was just a glass door standing in the way of a lifelong dream coming true. Dreams don’t come true for me, something was bound to fuck up in the next few steps, this was way too easy so far.
‘Shit on a fucking stick!’- A blast of what felt like hell’s furnace pummeled me like a heavy weight boxer landing a knockout blow. So much so it knocked me back into the icy Air-conditioned airport, “Fuck that!”
Evidently I didn’t use either of my inside voices. A older gentleman pushing his trolley out of the airport laughed, “First time in Australia mate?”
His question was met by a startled nod while pointing outside, “Yeah, I’m from England I’m not used to that.”
The silver haired man in his loosely fit shirt and board shorts laughed back, while casually walking out the doors like it was nothing, “Ah mate, you’ll be right, just a bit of sun, have fun in Sydney.”
I can do this
‘Bollox was it just a bit of sun! No, in England we get just a bit of sun, that thing out there is a giant ball of fire wanting to incinerate me!’ I might have brown skin but I’m born and bred in England that type of heat is unnatural, and I was only exposed to it for a few seconds how am I going to survive this on a regular basis?’
‘Stop being such a wimp, what the fuck did you expect, this is Australia of course It’s fucking hot! We knew it was going to be hot like this – Grow a pair and get out there, just step out there, do it.‘ Just a little while ago I thought this was a dream, but that sun on the other side of the door was proving this was very real. My eyes surveyed and scanned the scene outside, there was some shade, ‘There you go, just make a dive for it.‘ – I leapt out the doors for the shade…well my mind did, but my feet remained firmly planted in the airport.
More psyching up was needed, I hadn’t come all this way just to be scared off by a bit of heat.
Finally I bolted.
Out the doors like a ninja, my heavy backpack clung to my back like it was glued on, and in an instant I was under the shade. It wasn’t enough though, within seconds, It felt like I just walked into the shower fully clothed.
Never been this far way from home
The shade did nothing for the heat but masked the brightness, the Sydney heat wrapped tight like a python wrapping tight around it’s prey. It literally felt like I’d suffocate or melt if I stepped out of the shade in full view of that giant ball of fire in the sky.
The heat loosened It’s grip just slightly, enough to allow a chuckle to escape, “I’m not dreaming, I’m fucking here on the other side of the fucking world!”
Just like back at Heathrow Airport in London, tourists, travelers, backpackers stepped in and out of the airport. A constant flow of taxi’s arrived and departed, others like me, trying to get used to the heat, some desperate for a smoke. The only difference was in London it was snowing, and in Sydney a giant ball of fire was burning down. Talk about going from one extreme to the other.
A welcoming cigarette finally pursed between my dry lips, as if it was a celebratory cigar. ‘Welcome to Australia Amit, welcome to fucking Australia. I’m actually going to be backpacking Australia.’ – I was here, I was standing in Sydney and nothing had gone wrong which was the most unexpected part and not what I was used to.
Dreams do come true
Just this, standing outside the airport getting suffocated by the heat was the biggest accomplishment of my life. That’s how shit my life’s been.
This had always been the fantasy, the unrealistic dream to escape England, to get away from it and my demons and somehow I’ve turned into a reality. I’m about to start a backpacking Australia adventure for the next year. – ‘Yeah sure, that’s if that measly £600 we have stretches long enough to stay here, but can we get out of this heat?‘ – Way to burst my bubble, I really didn’t need that internal voice reminding me of my funds; well lack of them right now.
But it was right I have a horrible record with money, It’s like I’m not allowed to have any, it just evaporates. And I know I’ve arrived with well below the required $3000. Thank fuck he didn’t check my funds but that’s all I could save and all I have to my name. And yes, I did need to get out of here, I needed to find the shuttle bus to get to my hostel.
Like a wide eyed kid in a sweet shop
Everything just felt new as my eyes stayed glued to the window, the sights of Sydney passed by but nothing really sank in. The small shuttle bus blasted out some 90’s rock tunes, but the driver wasn’t in a talking mood as he wound through suburbs, streets, buildings and past countless people. It was only until the huge Coca-Cola billboard came into view that he uttered the words, “Nearly there mate.”
The internal voices had remained quiet all the way, but as the butterflies started to flitter in the pit of my stomach one perked up, ‘Shit, we’re here.’
The hostel was nestled in the heart of Sydney’s King’s Cross area. An area known as the golden mile and the Coca Cola billboard signalled the start of it. This area was infamous for it row up rows of bars, nightclubs, cafes and strip clubs. It was apparently vice city, a seedy underbelly; controlled and ran by gangsters and biker gangs. Sydney’s King Cross was also a main tourist area and one of the main backpacker hubs. It seemed like the stories were a little exaggerated, gangsters and biker gangs running the place? That’s more akin to a hollywood movie not real life.
My eyes bulged in shock at first sight, this was no movie, it was reality and it seemed worse than what I’d read. Not because of the hordes of tourists taking snaps of everything in sight or the streams of sunburnt backpackers in vest tops and flip flops crawling all over the street.
As the shuttle bus crawled at a snail’s pace through the crammed street, passing strip clubs, bars, cafes, and a Mcdonald’s all I could focus on was the skant hookers, crackheads, and homeless meshed in with the tourists. Some propped up against the curb, others passed out on the street, beggars desperately asking for money, people rummaging through trash for scraps. ‘Where the fuck are we? This isn’t what I expected. I don’t want to be here, this place looks fuckin’ rancid.’
The butterflies were replaced with heavy rocks sinking deeper into the pit of my stomach. There was a huge problem, I couldn’t just leave, I was stuck here. Because it was nearly Christmas, there was a Christmas lockdown in hostels which meant nobody could check in or out for a certain amount of time. I’d paid in advance for my full stay, I was going to be stuck in this shithole.
Funkhouse backpacker hostel
I kept willing the driver to just keep going, hoping I’d be in a quieter area but I don’t have luck like that. It came to a halt, outside a tour operator called PeterPans; this was far from neverland. This was right in the belly of the beast. The look on the drivers face said it all as he confirmed, “Here we are, this is you mate.”
He hopped out and carefully trudged to another building across the wide busy alley. The sign was in clear view ‘FUNKHOUSE BACKPACKER HOSTEL’ – That was it. The hostel I had carefully chosen after weeks of researching between booking.com and Hostelworld.com but right now it felt like a huge mistake. I didn’t want to get out, ‘Why the fuck did I choose a hostel in crackhead central?’
With no help from the internal voices, it was up to me to will myself out, ‘come on time to bite the bullet, I’ve seen shit like this before where I live‘. It took a few deep breaths before my feet cautiously felt the litter laden concrete. Instantly I was confronted by not just that giant ball of fire in the sky, but a symphony of noise. My ears were consumed in a ball of music, chatter, arguments, laughter, and traffic from every which way. Like a pinball machine my eyes jolted from one noise to another trying to figure out the source while my fingers desperately tried pull a smoke out from my satchel.
But one sight, something I’d never seen in my life made me jump out of my skin, shrieking, “What the fuck is that?”
The baby dinosaur looking thing with feathers and a huge beak got closer. But why was nobody else as freaked out about it. What was it?
“It’s harmless, It’s just an Ibis, you’ll get used to them.”
Instantly my eyes shot up towards the easily recognisable English accent, sounded like it was from Lancashire. A guy casually stood in the hostel doorway and pointed towards the sky, “You can smoke on the rooftop terrace.”
The cigarette rose higher to show it was already lit, but my concern was this thing, ‘ What the fuck is an Ibis? I thought that was the name of the hotel chain.’ Thankfully this time I did use my inside voice not wanting to sound like an idiot. My instinct was to shift towards him and the hostel door, making sure I stayed clear of the baby dinosaur.
My attention shifted away from it and onto a couple of crackheads stumbling by, instinctively hiding my bags from them. The English guy didn’t seemed bothered, as they passed with their wrench of piss and alcohol hovering around them, The English guy introduced himself as the hostel manger before asking, “You’re here for Christmas right?”
My internal voices were screaming for me to say no but the opposite words came out, “Yeah, all the way through.”
The check in was painless, once he handed my passport back, he explained a few things, places to go, easiest routes, where to eat and drink, some banking information and how to get a sim card but my attention was on the sign behind him, “BEST PUB CRAWL IN SYDNEY! which prompted me to ask “What’s that about then?”
Once he explained about the nightly pub crawl (which I signed up for) he took the lead up the stairs to the main part of the hostel.
The hostel, like the name suggested was pretty funky. Bright colourful murals covered every inch of the walls including one which was like a 3D cartoon map of Sydney. Every door was painted with a famous cartoon character.
The tour was brief, the kitchen, living room, TV area, were all in one open space on the first floor, there were a few dorm rooms and the owners office across the hall but my dorm was on the second floor. There didn’t seem to be a lot of people around, either they were out exploring the city or got scared of the area. ‘This place is dead, have I been duped and sold a nightmare here?’
The hostel manager opened the door to my dorm, in turn making me freeze a little, not as much as the airport but just slightly. I’d never had to share a room before let alone with three other strangers. All kinds of thoughts darted through my mind before I could step in, ‘What will my roommates be like?, What if they smell?, Will I get along with them?, What do I say?, What if they snore?, Are there special rules within the dorm?, Will it be safe?, What if they steal from me?, I hope I’m sharing with three girls’ –
To my relief though it was empty, just one other bed seemed occupied but there was nobody here. The light blue room was small and basic filled with two sets of bunk beds, a wall mounted fan and locker space. The iron bars on the other side of the window overlooking the noisy street below was more proof and a reminder this was a dodgy area.
As soon as he left, my body slumped onto the free bottom bunk, sinking into the mattress. It wasn’t a luxury mattress by any means but in comparison the plane seat I’d sat on for 26 hours it felt like a soft fluffy cloud.
The symphony of noise outside filtered through to the room from the open window, reminding me of where I was, ‘What the fuck do I do, I can’t leave but the place is a shithole’The other internal voice chimed in, ‘And why is nobody around, is this place that bad? ‘I might be from the streets and know how to handle myself but this felt like something else. ‘Fuck it, just get through Christmas and New years, we’re leaving once the lockdown is over, we don’t have to ever come back, we can stay in another part of the city if we ever return to Sydney’. The debate in my head continued for quite some time.
Time to explore Sydney
The debate was over, I had to suck it up for a few weeks, I wasn’t just going to mope around, this was my first day in Sydney. So, caked in sun protector, I was ready to tackle the outside, to escape this shithole area and explore Sydney. The jet lag hadn’t kicked in yet but from my research I knew the best thing was to ride it out even if it did.
There were two things on the list today, The two most famous Sydney landmarks, the Sydney opera house and Sydney Bridge. I’d marked the best route on the map to avoid the crackheads outside; hopefully the rest of Sydney wasn’t like this area.
Even though nobody else was in the room yet, it was my first day in Sydney and I made sure everything I didn’t need was locked up, out of sight and ruffled my bed up so people know It’s occupied. I had everything I needed; camera, walet, map, phone, bottle of water, sunglasses; I knew I looked like a grade A tourist but I didn’t care. Just as I was about to leave a thought popped into my head, ‘Just go and check the rooftop out, have a smoke, leave and explore Sydney. Simple.’
Music filtered down as I made my way up to the rooftop terrace. For some unbeineghn reason I stepped out and exposed myself to the full brunt of that giant ball of fire on the right instead of diving to safety of the shade on the left.
Why did I do that?
‘Why the fuck did you do that? Get under the shade idiot!‘ I had no idea why I did that, the rooftop was empty, well apart from one other person. The music I heard was getting pumped out the wall mounted speaker connected to his laptop. This skinny shirtless guy with a handlebar moustache sipped his beer and danced around enjoying the full force of the fan next to the speaker. He was there, I was here – Why was I here, ‘Get under the shade, go over, talk to him, get out of this fire!’
Almost instantly it felt like the sun protector started to melt, my face felt like it was about to burst into flames exposed to the dominant rays. all I had to do was jump under the shade to enjoy the fan and say hello. Just as one foot stepped forward, two girls stepped out onto the terrace, looked around, saw him, saw me, turned around and walked straight back down. ‘What was that all about?, oh fuck this I need shade’.
I could see the guy looking, almost laughing presumingly knowing how uncomfortable it was under the sun. In what was great timing a song I recognised burst through the speakers and with the pleasant breeze of the fan hitting my face I professed, “Good tune.”
The large wall mounted fan was bliss, instantly my face started to cool I didn’t burst into flames, but my comment was met with just an arrogant nod. I took the hint and lit up another smoke in silence.
A hostel resident
‘Smoke this and leave, he clearly doesn’t want to speak to me.’ Just as I was about to put the smoke out and leave to explore Sydney, without warning words blurted out of my mouth, “You been here long mate?”, “How long you backpacking Australia for?”
Where did that come from, why did I just regurgitate those words like that. I expected to be ignored, but he replied with a snigger, “Too fucking long and I ain’t a backpacker…not anymore.”
Two out of two, I’m on the other side of the world and the two people I’ve said more than two words to are English. This guys accent was different to the first, his seemed southern coast; Cornwall or something. Another question shot out of my mouth, “You here for the Christmas lockdown too?”
It was the wrong assumption, like a duracell battery he hadn’t stopped bouncing around in front of his laptop, “Christmas? Lockdown? What? fuck off! – I’ve been here about a year, I live ‘ere.
‘Bit harsh, why’s he telling me to fuck off, dickhead doesn’t know me’, is what I thought but instead I asked, “What in Australia?”
His snigger got louder almost crackling, “In Australia, in Sydney, in this fucking place.”
My neck snapped back in shock, “What you mean in this place, what in this hostel – How?”
“Just happens, got comfortable, run out of money, got everything I need ‘ere. There’s a bunch of us, we live ‘ere, you might be here for a couple of weeks for lockdown, but this is our home.”
I couldn’t comprehend it, how could anybody live in a backpacker hostel, this wasn’t a hostel for the homeless. People come here for a few days or weeks and move onto the next place not live in them.
Silly naive newbie
He popped open another beer, “Fucking newbies, so naive. You first timers don’t have a clue what you’re getting into!”
How did he know I was a first timer, for all he knew I could have been on loads of trips before but curiosity got the better of me, “How d’you know It’s my first trip?”
He chuckled and broke me down, “Look at you, all clean cut, fresh faced, wide eyed. You don’t know how things work, obviously no clue about hostel life. You’re dressed like a tourist, there’s no wear and tear on you and you’re carrying a fucking map. The hobo’s outside will eat you alive! Want me to keep going?”
Of course I was fresh and clean cut, I had a shave and a haircut before I left england. What was he expecting, for me to have dreadlocks, wristbands up to my shoulders, ankle bracelets wearing a vest top and cotton pants with a shark tooth hanging around my neck? But then again he didn’t look like that either. He did have wear and tear on him and definitely wasn’t fresh faced. However not wanting any confrontation on my first day in Sydney I just gave him a nod at his assessment.
Another familiar song came on, and judging from his taste in music it seemed like he was of a similar age. I moved away from the previous questions and started to talk more about the music. However, like a magpie getting distracted by something shiny, my eyes were doing the same to his beer. My internal voices practically started drooling, ‘I wanna beer, we haven’t had one since we left England. Come lets go, we’re in Australia. We’ve made it to Sydney without anything fucking up, we deserve one….Let’s fucking go’
I was ready go but I asked him one last question, “What beers are decent out here?..I got warned not to ever ask for a Fosters”
He scoffed nearly choking on his beer and nodded in agreement, but he must have seen my eyes, and lifted a bottle towards me, “This ones ok, It’s cheap, does the job”.
You never look a gift horse in the mouth is the saying and I couldn’t refuse his offer but he was also offering me my Kryptonite. Within seconds of feeling the cold tingle of beer trickle down my throat quenching my thirst in this heat all thoughts of exploring Sydney started to evaporate in the slightest of breezes.
Little did I know back then if it wasn’t for how that first day in Sydney played out my backpacking life may have shaped out completely different. As insignificant as that day first day in Sydney may sound right now, through this journey you’ll see how important it actually was.
Look out for episode 2 to find how that first day in Sydney impacted my time over the Christmas lockdown.
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