Across Australia in 4 Days – Part 1: Before the Journey

Originally posted October 22, 2009 ¬ 1:25 AM on previous web server

Previously on Across Australia in 4 Days – Part 0: An Adventure About to Unfold

In the scheme of things that I was accustomed to, the journey was hastily planned. I had the opportunity to fly from Kuala Lumpur to anywhere in Australia and return, for the same airfare. I could even fly into one Australian city and depart from a different one, thousands of kilometers apart, and still pay the same price.

The timing of the journey, October, even though hurriedly planned, could not have been better.

October was a slack period at my workplace. The big transoceanic submarine cable project I was involved in was in extended initial stages and there were big time gaps in between activities. And better still, in October, Australia would be in pleasant spring weather. Not much of the blistering summer heat, and none of the ever present pesky flies. Add to that, images of colorful and beautiful flowers blooming in meadows all over the countryside filled my mind. So, October it was.

That left the other question – where in Australia to go?

I had always wanted another return to Perth, the city where I spent 6 years of my life in the early 1980′s. It was one of the most meaningful and defining times of my life. I went there a teenager. I returned an adult. I went there a hesitant kampung (village) boy. I returned a confident young man.

The first time I returned to Perth was in 2006, some 21 years after I left in 1985. It was a straight forward flight from Kuala Lumpur to Perth and back. So this time around I wanted to be a little bit different. And a little bit more adventurous.

Sydney seemed a good choice. I had been to Brisbane, Melbourne and Adelaide before, but never to Sydney. And it was one of the furthest Australian city on the Malaysia Airlines network. To me the further the better.

OK, Sydney it was. But then after arriving there, how do I go to Perth?

Taking a domestic Sydney-Perth flight would be plain boring. That left only land transport. I searched the internet for public transport, especially long-distance buses that go from from Sydney to Perth. No joy. Maybe the distance of over 4,300 kilometers was too great for an express bus service. And too taxing for the bus passengers.

Then I remembered the Indian Pacific, a train service that connects Western Australia with the eastern Australian states. I searched the internet and got more details. The train service departs two times a week in both directions – on Saturday and Wednesday out of Sydney, and on Sunday and Wednesday out of Perth. All trips go via Adelaide.

An Indian Pacific train journey from Australia’s Pacific Ocean city of Sydney to the Indian Ocean city of Perth sounded fascinating. And thoughts of crossing the Nullarbor Plain, the hundreds of kilometers of no-tree desert, for a second time in my life, added more spice to the idea.

I chose Saturday 3rd October, noted the date down, then opened up Malaysia Airlines website.

To arrive in Sydney in good time to board Saturday’s 2.55 p.m. Indian Pacific, I decided to take Malaysia Airlines’ Friday 2nd October flight, which departed Kuala Lumpur at 9.00 a.m. and arrived in Sydney at 6.50 p.m. I would then spend the night in Sydney and in the morning of the next day would explore the city before making my way to the train station.

But that was not meant to be. The day’s flight was full, and so I was left with only the night’s flight which left Kuala Lumpur at 10.10 p.m. and arrived Sydney at 8.00 a.m. on Saturday, the same day as the Indian Pacific’s departure to Perth.

A little tight timing, with barely 6 hours’ gap between landing at the airport and getting on board the train. But I believed the risk was manageable – in my experience using the airline all these years, Malaysia Airlines were good at keeping to their flight schedules.

I booked the flights via phone. Kuala Lumpur to Sydney on 2nd October, Perth to Kuala Lumpur on 9th October. That done, I reopened the web page of Great Southern Railway, the operator of Indian Pacific.

There were 3 types of Indian Pacific service. The premier one was called the Gold Service where one could choose a single sleeper cabin or a twin-sharing one, with all meals included. This, to my mind, was no good. Apart from the premium (expensive) price, the meals would be of no use to me because there was no mention of their halal or kosher status.

Next was the Red Sleeper Service, with a twin-sharing sleeper cabin, and meals not included. That was better, but I read something elsewhere on the internet that made me discard it and chose the remaining service, the Red Daynighter Seat Service.

As the name implied, the service offered a seat, for day and night, for the whole duration of the journey. The price fit my budget, but the thought of spending 4 days and 3 nights in the train seat admittedly sounded rather challenging and back-breaking.

But then I thought – the service might not be that bad, it might even be in demand, otherwise Indian Pacific would have done away with the service long time ago. Another thought, or wishful thinking – the carriage might not be full that I could sleep flat on two seats, even though I might have to curl myself into a semi-fetal position.

After many hours’ contemplations, I finally decided. Via the internet on my laptop, I chose the Red Daynighter Seat Service. I was pleasantly surprised that the price was only one-third of what I had been expecting based on openly published prices.

In the week preceding my flight to Sydney, my life took a tumble. Not an earth-shattering one, but a tumble nonetheless. It might be mundane, but to me it was quite a big deal. On Monday, I sent my 535 c.c. bike to my usual bike shop where I told Ah Hoi, the owner, that the bike sounded very noisy and the twin-cylinder V engine tended to suddenly sputter and die every time I braked.

Ah Hoi told me that I needed to leave the bike overnight. OK, no big deal. I could take the Toyota MPV to work. The only sacrifice I needed to make was to skip my daily morning jog around the neighborhood playground, so that I could race to the office to chase after one of the 500 free first-come-first-served parking lots at my office building.

Tuesday came and gone. Then Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. No news from Ah Hoi. That gave me the creeps. What was he doing to the bike – completely overhauling it?

Then mid-morning on Friday, Ah Kian, Ah Hoi’s brother, phoned me that the bike was ready, it was perfect he said, the noise that I was complaining about was gone. The engine sputtering and dying was caused by an electrical short circuit, which had since been fixed.

He went on telling me items on the bike that had been replaced – the twin timing chains, the magnet coil (alternator) immersed in engine oil that generated electricity for the engine and battery, the rectifier that converted the alternating current from the magnet coil into direct current, engine oil, gasket, and spark plugs. And the price? Quite substantial – about the same price as the premium Gold Service on Sydney to Perth Indian Pacific!

At home on the Friday afternoon I phoned for a Comfort taxi , went to Ah Hoi’s place at Bandar Sunway and collected my bike.

In the taxi from home to Ah Hoi’s I struck a conversation with Mahadi the driver, decided that he was a dependable guy, and booked his taxi for the night’s ride to Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Then I rocketed the bike at warp speed all the way down the New Pantai Expressway Highway to the center of Kuala Lumpur to my favorite money changer, and exchanged some Ringgits for A$500.00 in small notes.

That done, I rushed back home, still at warp speed, to settle my credit card payments, as well as stopping by the neighborhood hardware store to get a couple of Australian electricity adapters.

I also went into the Guardian pharmacy to stock up on some paracetamol tablets and other emergency medicine for the Australian trip.

Ah Kian was true to his words – the bike, after spending 4 days at the shop and after costing me a bundle, was really in top form for its age. It could still do warp speed in a very smooth manner, worthy of its status as a classic Yamaha cruiser of its time.

I was prepared and ready for the journey. I was calm. Everything was in place. Earlier in the morning, Malaysia Airlines texted me on the mobile phone that the night’s flight to Sydney would be delayed by 1 hour due to some operational reasons. That gave me an additional hour to tidy everything up before Mahadi showed up on the dot at 8.15 p.m. to take me to the airport.

Next on Across Australia in 4 Days – Part 2: Kuala Lumpur International Airport


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