*My Travel Log series describes various past travel adventures and provides perspective about living and traveling in different countries. This particular segment covers a trip to Australia and Hawaii in 2014.
I just got back from spending two weeks in Australia with a couple days on either end of the trip in Honolulu to reduce the jet lag. 22 hour flights just plain (plane?) suck and it’s nice when I can break that long flight in half.
Australia was a strange trip for me. It’s long been on my list to visit, but it had never been at the top of the list…it just seemed a bit too tame. I scheduled this trip with my girlfriend. She has a goal to see all seven continents before she turns 35 years old. So I jumped on board to help her achieve her goal. It was a horrible sacrifice!
I’m a pretty veteran traveler. I usually spend six to eight weeks a year traveling outside the country. My girl took a look through my passport and made a pretty telling statement…
“You know this will be the first international trip you’ve taken in the last 10 years where you will actually be able to drink the water for the entire holiday.”
Shockingly, she was right. I’ve been to a few places in South America where the water was potable, but that was only for a day or two. I’ve spent time in the Netherlands, Spain, and Switzerland, but those were just stopovers on the way to or from some third world hellhole.
It was quite a strange sensation to actually visit someplace “civilized.”
In Australia, we spent most of our time in the cities of Cairns and Sydney. We spent two days in the Outback visiting Uluru Park (Ayers Rock), rafted the Tully River, hiked in the rainforest of Kuranda, and snorkeled and dived the great barrier reef. It was a relaxing get away and I found the Australians to be quite friendly and inquisitive.
What was truly shocking to me was how expensive everything was in the land “down under.” My friends warned me, but I had no idea how bad it was going to be. It seems that Australia has the highest minimum wage in the world (at just under $17 an hour.) That inflated wage is reflected in the pricing of every item sold. Gasoline was around $6 a gallon. Two burgers and fries for lunch at any restaurant other than a mall food court would cost between $40 and $50. The cheapest local beer was $21.99 A SIX PACK! It was crazy!
On another economic note, I had a long conversation with a local tour bus operator as we rode to the rain forest. He has been involved in Australia’s tourism industry for more than 30 years. I started talking to him about the relatively small number of American tourists we had seen (only two couples in two weeks). He said he just doesn’t see many American tourists anymore.
He went on to propose that he could judge the economic health of a country by how many of its residents had the disposable cash to visit a far off and expensive place like Australia. He told me that there were tons of Americans in OZ before the 2008 recession, but they haven’t been back since. He said it was similar for most of Europe as well. The countries that sent the most tourists? Germany, China, and India. My bus driving economist found an easy way to figure out the world’s economic powerhouses by merely looking at tourist numbers. I found it quite intriguing.
We didn’t have any real crime problems. I carried a Spyderco Salt knife (the best knife ever for salt water resistance) and Sabre’s Spitfire pepper spray. I have no idea if either was legal…and don’t really care. I’m a big boy and am willing to accept the consequences of a fine or arrest if I was caught in exchange for having the ability to defend myself and girlfriend from a life threatening attack.
Walking around Australia, I was quick to note that I did not see ANY clip knives sticking out of people’s pockets. I elected to stay low profile and not attract undue attention by carrying my Spyderco clipped in the appendix position inside the waistband of my pants. It’s handy to access with either hand and relatively quick to get into action. No one saw it, nor did it cause me any problems. I added the pepper spray to my pocket when going out late at night or when walking through “dodgy” parts of town.
The knife did come out on one occasion…
It seems that we were targeted by what I think were a group of bag thieves while walking in Sydney. I noticed a guy on an opposite street corner talking on a cell phone. He caught my attention when he seemed to be pointing us out to some unseen other person. As soon as he pointed at us we picked up a tail. Two guys appeared out of nowhere and started following us very closely. The dude on the cell phone supervised from a distance.
I slowed down our walking pace. So did our followers….not a good sign. The man on the phone paralleled us from across the street. Pre-assault indicators are universal. It doesn’t matter what country you are visiting. Always be alert for any predatory movement patterns or deliberate approaches in a crowd. I made a quick stop and forced our followers to walk past. They didn’t like that at all.
It was quite the study in the criminal assault paradigm. The two men were obviously together, but walking a half step apart to seem separate. They weren’t talking. One guy was pretending to look at a cell phone in a very unnatural posture (trying to look inconspicuous.) The other was giving off constant “grooming cues”…touching his face, neck, and hair as he nervously kept looking over his shoulder to check our position.
They were obviously up to something. I warned my girlfriend and slowed the pace even more. The two guys slowed down as well, keeping the same distance between us. In between nervous strokes of his neck, I saw one of the men dart his hand into his pocket. He pulled it out and had something gold and metallic-colored in his palm. I couldn’t tell what it was, but it looked like brass knuckles of some sort. Go time.
I maneuvered aggressively between my girlfriend and the two men so that I could give her a chance to get away as I accessed my knife. She saw what I was doing (without knowing what had prompted my draw) and was astute enough to say “Hey! Let’s check out this restaurant!” as she pulled me into an eatery we were passing. Smart girl. The crooks kept walking and I didn’t have to stab anyone. I still don’t know what they were up to, but I think we handled the problem pretty well. Sorry to disappoint you all, but it was an uneventful trip with regards to crime or criminal attacks.
There isn’t much of gun culture in Australia. Since their 1997 gun ban, it seems that not many people use guns and no one but police (and criminals) carry guns in public. It was interesting to note that in the Outback there is quite a feral hog hunting culture. In every convenience store there would be half a dozen glossy magazines devoted to the sport. Most of the hunters appeared to be using red dot equipped .30-.30 or .44 magnum lever action rifles. I suppose if I had to move down there, I wouldn’t feel too badly armed for home protection purposes with an Aimpoint equipped lever gun. Even though it doesn’t have the cool factor of our AR-15s, realistically there aren’t too many tactical problems that can’t be solved with six rounds of .30-30 ammo.
I spoke to a few of the local cops. They carried 1st Generation Glock 22 .40 pistols in basket weave leather Safariland 6280 duty holsters with two spare magazines. They used First Defense pepper spray and only a few had Tasers. None wore body armor. I spoke to one police weapons instructor who told me that second handguns were prohibited and that regular patrol officers had no access to long guns. He privately expressed fears of an active killer event that the cops would be unable to stop with their pistols. He also told me of a new ruling that limited the use of Tasers to cases where there was a risk of “serious bodily harm.” After a highly publicized death following a Taser application, the cops are no longer allowed to use it unless someone is likely to be very seriously injured or killed.
The cops said they very rarely encountered guns on the street. The weapons arrests they made came from the drug dealers who are usually armed with either knives or brass knuckles. Methamphetamine (Ice) is their biggest drug problem and it wasn’t unusual to see people walking down the street in Sydney who were obviously under the influence of the drug.
One other interesting gun-related experience on my trip occurred in Hawaii on my layover. Because it is such a popular destination for Japanese tourists, all the public shooting ranges in the city had men on the street passing out flyers to the tourists. Apparently renting and shooting guns is a huge draw for the completely disarmed Japanese population.
Ranges sold packages allowing the Asian tourists to fire one or several different weapons. Take a look at the flyer below for the prices. What a business opportunity!
That about covers all of the gun/crime/police aspects of my trip. Back to regularly scheduled programming tomorrow!