Fat Tuesday

Trip Start Aug 16, 2005
Trip End Apr 14, 2006

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Where I stayed
Funk House Backpackers, Kings Cross, Sydney

Flag of Australia  , New South Wales,
Thursday, March 2, 2006

We completed our circuit and arrived back in Sydney for our last few days in Australia, timed especially to correspond with the Mardi Gras parade.

We decided to stay in Kings Cross - the red light district of Sydney - because it would be convenient for the parade, and because it's such an iconic part of the city that we didn't really spend much time in when we were here over Christmas. Most backpackers end up here along with the other dregs of society. It's quite disturbing seeing some of the characters on the street, but it's also extremely vibrant and funky. We watched an old man dancing away on the pavement to some buskers playing jazz, while his wife looked after the shopping bags.

The small, quiet, tucked away hostel we wanted to stay in was full, so we ended up at a big brash backpackers slap bang in the centre of the strip. On the first night, the hostel put $100 behind the bar at the pub across the road for guests. Darren grumbled a bit about having to miss the brit TV that night, but Angie thought we should at least pretend to be sociable. We ended up bagging a bottle of sparkling wine to ourselves but resisted the temptation to buy more once the bar tab had run out.

The next evening we spent with Steve and Bernie, Angie's friends whose flat we rented over Christmas. We met their cute and curious 8 month-old girl Leila, and did lots of catching up. We also said 'it's a small world' a lot as Darren and Bernie discovered some mutual friends in the UK.

We went to see 'The Amazing Human Body' Exhibition at the Sydney Olympic Park. The park, built for the 2000 Olympics is vast and it was a long walk from the dedicated train station to the building housing the exhibition. However, we got to see the main stadium, various scultptures and watch kids at a state-of-the-art skate park.

The exhibition displays real bodies that have been plastinated (similar to Body Works that was in London a few years ago) a process that replaces fat and water with silicon. There were 18 whole male bodies dissected in various ways to illustrate parts of the body - skeleton, muscles, arteries etc. Needless to say there was a gory element to the experience but most of it was fascinating. Most of the bodies still had their lips, eyeballs, eyelashes, eyebrows and even pubic hair on some, eeugh!

There were also lots of individual body parts that you can see close up, including a smoker's lungs (which were still oozing out tar) and the arteries of a human arm which was very pretty - a delicate, almost lacy, highly intricate bright red structure. Some of the internal organs looked decidely like some of the coral we have seen. Three bodies had been sliced into 1-2cm wide sections (one horizontally, the second from front to back and the third from left to right) and spread out so you could see the body in different cross sections. Did you know that the human thigh looks identical to a pork chop?

There was only one female body on show, opened up to show the reproductive organs. We were told the reason for the gender inbalance was that the curators did not want to exploit the female form. It seems a bit of a strange explanation, but what was even more strange was that 2 men were thrown out of the exhibition the previous week for 'inappropriate behaviour'. What on earth could they have been doing? Take that as a rhetorical question!

So, to the main event itself - the culmination of the month long festival - the Mardi Gras parade. Although its a free event, we decided we couldn't be bothered to stand on the pavement for hours to get a good spot, so bought tickets in a members area. It was a great decision - we got seats right on the parade route, just down from where the judges sit and got entertained by drag queens while we waited for it to start.

The parade is traditionally started by the revving and honking of the 'Dykes on Bikes', a succession of lesbians on Harley Davisons and other cool motorcycles. We were particularly looking forward to them and they didn't disappoint, and they kept on coming - we expected a couple of dozen and got a couple of hundred. This year, for the first time, the 'Gays on Bikes' followed behind. We both felt quite emotional when the next section was parents with their children walking beside and in push chairs. The cause has come a long way since the days when Pride marchers got spat on and verbally abused.

The parade was huge - it went on forever. Well, two hours, but it seemed like forever. It is the world's largest night-time costume parade. Most of the floats were surprisingly low-tech. We'd seen bigger floats and better sound systems at the Brighton Pride parade, but there was definitely more flesh on show here. And because it was night the lighting was great, the costumes shimmered and fireworks were let off from a nearby building. The atmosphere was amazing and we blew on our whistles with verve when we saw a float we liked. As well as all the LGBTQ organistions, most of the major political parties, lots of churches, the police, the fire brigade and even Sydney zoo (including a wolf with a big hairy knob!) took part.

After it was all over, it was a bit of an anti-climax and we wandered around aimlessly for a while jealously watching people head off to the offical after-party. There were huge queues at all the nearby bars and clubs, so eventually we decided to get some alcohol from a bottle shop. We actually thought it was a club at first - it had disco lights, a smoke machine and pumping music. We got a cheap bottle of sparkling wine and after unsuccessfully trying to gatecrash a house party (Darren seems to have lost his touch!), sat on the side of the road doing some great people watching.

In our few days back in hostels, we've been watching a lot of Australian TV - which actually means watching a lot of old English TV. A Saturday night line-up on their BBC equivalent includes The Bill, Parkinson and Agatha Christie's Poirot.

The next day, hung over, we left Sydney and boarded our long haul flight to India. We stopped in Darwin, so got to see this surprisingly small city from the air and fully appreciated the size of Australia - it took us over 4 hours to fly there from Sydney.

Catering on the flight was clearly preparing us for what was to come - we got served curry twice. We also experienced 'the world's longest sunset' according to the pilot as we followed the setting sun across the globe. As darkness finally fell, we flew over Singapore and watched lightning flashing and illuminating the clouds behind us as the sky turned a blood red ahead.

I (Angie) had been getting very apprehensive about landing in India during the flight. I keep momentarily forgetting where we were heading, suddenly remembering with a jolt of shock, and feeling like I wanted to just stay safely on the plane!

Towards the end of the flight, we were sujected to insecticide being sprayed all over the cabin. The announcement told us that the pesticide was harmless but we may want to cover our mouths! We were unprepared for this chemical battering and it felt like we'd been timewarped into a distopian future.

Losing height over Mumbai, we saw the lights sprawling out along the peninsula and appreciated the size of this city which is home to over 16 million people. The moment could be put off no longer. We were about to experience India.
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