Monday, March 18, 2013

Down, down, to Australia Towne

Sydney the land of the Aussies.  Up until a few days before leaving I had no idea where I would be staying.  Luckily at the last minute I got a couchsurfing offer in downtown Sydney right where I needed to be.  His name was Kevin Chen and he would prove to be one of the best guides Sydney would have to offer.  He was very friendly and gracious with his home and spent many days trying to help me find a boat and make a bit of side cash busking for money.  He is a frequenter on couchsurfing and almost always has people staying at his apartment, even if there is not enough room!  He says he is running the coolest and cheapest hostel in all of Australia and its quite true.  With his help I've gotten to see most of the important parts of Sydney and even get a great look at the night life and other fun things to do. 

He knows I am on a super tight budget and is trying his best to help me get the cheapest options I can on things.  I won't give the number but I certainly could not rent any flat in Sydney for more than two weeks!  That does not necessarily mean I have no money... but it does mean that Australia is expensive.  Which mean its tough to find cheap food in particular.  However it does mean people have a lot of money and to work here would bring in a great amount of cash.  So far I have been busking three days for a few hours and made AU $75.  Not bad in my opinion.  As someone who I consider to be a master-in-training when it comes to living cheap and reusing what others consider waste, I might be able to make Australia work out for a little while.  One thing that has occurred to me is that a work visa might be a good idea.  I can get one in a week and then work wherever I want for a minimum of about AU $20.  That is a kings wage to most Americans I know.  Its even better that the Aussie dollar is stronger than the American.

Sydney after a while got very dull since there is not too much to do other then drink and go to the beach.  Drinking costs money and the beach gets old as my light skin burns fast.  I did see most of what Sydney had to offer including some beautiful nature walks and ocean cliff adventures.  Probably the most exciting was sleeping in Bondi after I missed the last train (again) and stayed in a small cliffside cave 20 meters above the ocean!  The waves crashed below me and five steps forward was certain death, very peacful though and the stars were beautiful that night.  I finally had plans to leave Sydney as an old friend and ex girlfriend came to visit me from Perth to road trip up north to Cairns. 

We left Sydney in a car she rented and drove north hitting as many cool spots along the way as possible.  Byron Bay, Surfers Paradise, Brisbane, Fraser Island and the Whitsundays!  We did tours, bush walks, water adventures and slept in the car almost the whole way up.  The Cairns plan is to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef.  Certainly the most amazing road trip of my life and the most adventurous as we didn't have any real plan other than go to Cairns and see as much as we can along the way. 

Now all this is super fun and beautiful but she is flying back to Perth out of Cairns and I am stuck there.  With no place to stay, go, or do.  Not a big problem to me but I am really getting restless to get to NZ before winter...its coming.  I lined up a sailing job once in NZ but that does not get me there.  I have considered flying and breaking my rule but the captain of the boat I am going to sail with inspired me not to give up.  He told me I would find my ship.  Now I just have to find it.

Cal-if-ornia girls

So I think a brief summary of the month I spent in California is required.  I was treated with the greatest hospitality in LA by both my aunt Debbie and my cousin Eve and her fiance Dave, an up and coming actor.  They were very genuine and giving, especially with food, and I was very appreciative.  After a few days a took a bus up to San Francisco where, allegedly, it was easy to find work on a freight ship. 

While staying with an old friend, I met another traveling girl on the street playing fiddle.  She was from Florida and we got a long pretty well bonding over beers and punk rock.  I showed her SFTD and she is still very interested in participating, which I hope she does.  Her name was Kylee and she was really interested in alternative living and traveling.  We had great fun especially in the redwood forest just outside of Oakland where I stood in what felt like a place where time had stopped.  It was ancient and full of memory.  Every moment seemed like you might take one step and see Haldir or Galadriel.  As magical as it was, I hope for more stunning works of nature in more distant lands. 

Kylee left after a few days to handle business in Colorado and we have yet to see each other again although I am sure that day will come.  By now I had moved my business to Oakland were I was offered a living room to occupy by the master of all American bladesmiths, Jeff Pringle!  Perhaps one of the tallest and largest folks I have met he was certainly an ent, as Dave once put it.  His most impressive feature was however his mind, which was filled with more information on bladesmithing I could ever hope to obtain.  I asked as many questions as I thought he would answer.  Mostly about creating steel and smelts of all kinds. 

One of his niches in the market was that he smelted his own wootz or crucible steel and forged stunning blades of great integrity.  Lately his projects have been three swords for auction and commission for the release of a sword themed video game.  He even hosted a great crucible melt in the back yard where a gathering of friends arrived to have sausages and watch the furnace burn.  During this of course I watched intently and took notes of the entire process asking questions as needed.  My intention is to try and translate an ore smelt (which is what Jeff did) to an Aristotle smelt where iron is recycled into steel for use in tools. 

I spent the majority of my time staying at Jeff's place, where he even loaned me a bike, but I also made some good friends.  By this time I had met up with Serena and she had finally gotten the car shipped to her address in Oakland where she was moving with her partner Austin.  I had only met Austin once before and a few months ago actually did a knife commission for the two of them.  I helped them out in both moving from San Francisco to Oakland and building out part of their live/work studio apartment.  In return they let me stay at their place for a few nights and fed me often enough to keep me happy.  I also got the chance to work on a pair of boots I was really into making after finding a HUGE stash of leather scraps in a waste bin. 

The greatest opportunity of all in California was working in Jim Austins blacksmith shop.  As one of the leading smiths in California and certainly the Bay Area it was a pleasure to work with him a bit and use his facility for some of my own projects.  He held open forges every Wednesday which I eagerly awaited and spent as much time as he would allow there.  During these times I forged a few billets of wrought and high carbon steel folding them multiple times to increase the pattern and refine the old iron.  Hopefully in the end these will become pieces to a sword project I have in mind.  Hopefully I will be forging swords in full in New Zealand. 

Jim's shop was based in an old warehouse building (similar to The Shop in Worcester)  but was exclusively dedicated to metalwork.  He also lived there in a sweet little house space built inside the front of the building.  Jim was middle aged but wise and often young at heart.  He brewed great beer, was an incredible craftsman and one of the most precise people I have ever met.  The only project I managed to finish in complete was a Roman Utility belt.  It was really a legionary belt with all the decorated brass fittings that I used as sturdy belt to hold my packs and such.

Probably the most important person I met for the first time, (other than Jim) was a girl I met at a discount fabric store named Alina.  She was a dark frizzy haired herbalist girl who very much understood fun alternative lifestyles which I admired.  We got along famously and quickly developed a great friendship.  I spent  lot of time with her and it felt really nice again to have a close friend who I could share things that I don't normally talk about.  Namely my concerns with how I was going to get to New Zealand.  In the end it was support from her that really got me through some frustrating times in Oakland; not to mention all the delicious food we made almost every day!

The Results:
In the end I soon realized planning a trip across the Pacific was one hell of a mess.  It either required money, good connections, or time.  I had none, so I finally broke down and bought a one way ticket.  However I was not flying to New Zealand, I still have some dignity to my plan, I was flying to the land down under where I would be only 1,500 miles in Sydney Australia.