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by Alyssa Ramos
Everything seemed like it was in slow motion. The cool, crisp airport air stung my eyes as I squinted around to see where the slow-clap had started from. I had made it. I had flown Malaysia Airlines, and made it to Sydney without going missing. Just kidding. That was actually pretty messed up, but it really was a miracle that I had finally gotten there.
After the ongoing obstacle course that was my week in Thailand, things immediately started getting better as soon as I landed in Sydney. I found a Western Union at the airport, so was able to get cash out, which was fantastic considering the fact that my debit and credit cards were stolen and I had about $80 AUD left, and my mom was able to convince the short-term apartments I was supposed to be staying at in Bondi Beach to let her pay for it via email with her credit card since they don’t accept cash.
Of course I had chosen the few days of the year that it rains in Sydney to go there, but I was so happy to have made it there in general that I really did not give two shits. It sucked a little that I couldn’t check in yet when I finally got to Bondi Beach Apartments since it was only 8am, but at least they let me store my luggage, although showering off the stench of Thailand and Malaysia Airlines would have been amazing.
So off into the freezing cold, dreary morning I went, wearing the same outfit I had worn almost every day while volunteering in similar weather in South Africa. First I went to go see the famed Bondi Beach, which was only a few blocks from where I was staying. It was completely empty. So I kept moving. I bought an umbrella, which inverted within ten minutes, so bought another one, along with some Red Bull.
Suddenly, a giant red double-decker City Sightseeing tour bus rolled up to a stop outside of the shop I was exiting. ‘Perfect!’ I thought triumphantly, deciding it was a genius idea to ride around the bus for a few hours to get the touristy stuff out of the way. I sat on the open-upper level so I could get good pictures, which, would have worked had I not been so freezing that I couldn’t even hold my phone. But I saw all of the major sites and noted what I wanted to go back to later after I became human again.
“Do I need to change buses to go to the Opera House?” I stuttered through chattering teeth to the jolly-looking bus driver downstairs. He seemed to be evaluating me for a moment, which I automatically assumed was due to my disheveled, zombie-like appearance.
“Yes, you’ll get off and in ten minutes get on the next bus, there will be a guy named Tom at the stop, he’ll help you, he loovvesss the young blonde girls.” He snickered, revealing an English accent. Great.
The bus pulled to a stop and I hopped off, trying to quickly walk in the opposite direction to avoid whoever this creepy Tom person was. I spotted a young, fairly good-looking guy standing near the back of the bus, but before I could register anything, jolly man shouted, “Hey Tom! This young lady was some questions for you!” Awkward.
Turns out Tom was cool. He was around my age and lived just outside of the main area of Sydney. He even wrote me a list of non-touristy, local things to do and we exchanged Whatsapp‘s in case I wanted to meet up for drinks later since I was by myself and didn’t know anyone else in Sydney. Totally safe.
The entire bus tour ended up taking about five hours from Bondi Beach to Sydney and back, so it was more than passed the check in time when I got back. My room was cute; it looked like a small studio with a kitchenette, and little living room nook. The sign on the shower said to limit water usage but screw that, it took me a good twenty minutes just to defrost and scrub all of the accumulated international grime off of me.
When I was finally re-grouped and wearing the only outfit I could pull together that was both appropriate for the trendiness of Sydney and the forty-degree weather, it was already 4:30pm. Since I only had three days in Sydney, I had to get everything out of the way as quickly as possible, so decided to ride the tour bus back into town to knock out the indoorsy touristy things then check out some nightlife.
Tom had been Whatsapping me non-stop about things to do, tour times and prices, and in general to get my ass moving since I didn’t have much time, which I appreciated, since my ADD is equivalent to a Koala Bear’s. I had thirty minutes until the next bus so searched the main street in Bondi Beach for something quick to eat.
‘Happy Hour Special – 1 Slice of Pizza and 1 Wine $9AUD’ …JACKPOT! It was at that very moment that I decided I should move to Bondi Beach. It was a small little café in a nook one block from the beach, and the owner/only staff there was a very attractive man in his late 30’s. I couldn’t tell if he was shocked or impressed that I ate my pizza and drank my wine in 7 minutes, but was too shy and awkward to stick around to find out.
I ran to catch the bus just in time, which was now packed with people doing touristy things like standing up to take pictures on a moving bus. I reveled in the moment when they finally got whacked in the head with low tree branches. I had somehow memorized the bus route and the city layout, so knew to get off at Central Park and walk the six blocks to Darling Harbor instead of having to change buses.
It was starting to get dark, so I walked quickly, noticing the uncanny amount of young, attractive, men in suits walking importantly in every direction. I immediately regretted not bringing any sort of heeled shoe. I kept my focus on my pre-determined path, since if I took one wrong turn it would result in me having to pull out my map and look like a tourist.
I finally made it to Darling Harbor, exasperated and aching from the walk and carrying around my ten pound Harvey’s travel bag for the last twelve or so hours. It was around 6pm which was perfect since the website said the Sydney Aquarium closes at 8pm, and I had pre-bought my ticket on the bus.
The doors to the aquarium were open, and there was a boisterous family of like twelve sitting around a table in the concession area, and another approaching the ticketing desk. However there was no one there to sell or take tickets. Being as impatient and practical-minded as I am, I decided it would be fine if I just slipped through the rotating metal entrance bar since I could just show someone my ticket if they asked me inside.
The place was completely empty! It was amazing! Kind of boring, but still better than pushing through a bunch of annoying tourists. Hypocritical, I know. Suddenly I saw a worker cleaning one of the tanks and froze, fearing that I’d get in trouble. By the fish police?
“Sorry ma’am!” He said, as if he were in my way. Now I felt all VIP and badass, like I owned the aquarium or something, and carried on my merry little way through the rest of the exhibits. I passed another aquarium keeper, who just smiled and nodded at me as she continued in the opposite direction, until I finally got to the exhibit I wanted to see the most, the sharks.
The exhibit required me to go outside the main area, up a ramp, and into a glass tunnel where a bunch of terrifying sharks were swimming. Since my great white shark-diving excursion had gotten canceled in South Africa, I figured taking safe selfies with these sharks would be the next best thing. Except I may have gotten a little carried away with the selfies.
It suddenly dawned on me that I had been taking shark selfies for about ten minutes, and was in a separate part of the aquarium where no one could see or hear me. I started speed walking back to the ramp, and may or may not have even started to run a little bit, half expecting to be locked out of the main hall.
The doors were still open. Obviously, they have to check to make sure no one’s still inside. My anxiety subsided as I followed the remaining “Exit” signs through the rest of the last exhibit.
“No!” I literally gasped out loud as the last “Exit” sign pointed to a padlocked metal gate. “No, no, no!” I whimpered to the fish, who now all seemed to be jeering at me.
I spotted another Exit sign above two double doors and ran to push them open, begging the universe to let them be an exit. But the blinding white tile hallway behind the doors only led to the “behind the scenes” area of the giant fish tanks for employees only. There was another set of double doors at the opposite end, I ran over to them and pushed them open, but only to reveal an even shorter hallway and a second pair of double doors that said “EMERGENCY EXIT ONLY, ALARM WILL SOUND”.
‘I’ll just go back the way I came and leave through the front.” I told myself, trying to be reasonable. As I retraced my steps, I turned on my data roaming so that I could Whatsapp the only person I had contact with in Sydney, Tom. After sending about five texts with no responses, I suddenly looked up to discover that I had walked in a circle and was back at the Exit signed doors that led to no exits.
At this point…I started to full on panic. “HELLO?!” I shouted as I started to run through the dark, empty, extremely eerie aquarium. But again, it somehow led me in another circle. Tom had finally written back, confused by “what I meant by being locked in the aquarium”, but I had no time to explain since I was about to have a heart attack and die.
I ran back to the double doors that led to the emergency exit and popped them open. ‘Just do it.’ I thought to myself, imagining the entire aquarium erupting with sirens and flashing lights, likely killing all of the fish. It was only about a ten-foot distance between the two doors, but as I was half way to the emergency exit doors, panic struck again as I heard the first set of doors clank shut.
“Shit!!!” I huffed, spinning around to confirm the thought that the first set of doors would be locked from the outside. They had no press bar, no handle, nothing. I turned back to the emergency exit and disregarding its warning sign, went in for the push. “No, no, no, no, no!” I said out loud to the empty ten foot by seven-foot hallway. It didn’t open. I thought for sure I was going to have to sleep in the hallway.
‘Maybe Tom can call someone!’ I suddenly thought, unlocking my phone. No service. I was literally about to start crying. It was my first night in Sydney, with only two nights left, and I was going to have to spend it locked in a hallway with no phone service. Could be worse, the plane could have gone missing.
In one final fit of anger, anguish, and adrenaline, I launched my shoulder into the metal rod-handle of the heavy door, and gasped as it flew open and sent me tumbling down onto the hard wet asphalt. I’d never been so happy to be lying on the disgusting floor of an alley in Australia in my life. I almost didn’t notice the loud alarm that had immediately started going off as soon as the door opened.
Although I had a perfectly legitimate reason for setting it off, I also didn’t want to take my chances with the law, so got up and started running down the dark alley to the metal stairs that led up to the street. I was immediately back in the bustling blocks of business professionals, locals, and tourists, blending in like nothing had happened aside from my lack of breath and flushed cheeks.
Exasperated, and annoyed that no one understood why I was so upset, I started walking towards my next intended destination, the Sydney Opera House, for my one glass of wine (because it was all I could afford) at the Sydney Opera Bar.
There was a live band playing inside, but I couldn’t pry myself away from the iconic view of the Sydney Harbor Bridge across the bay, and the smooth white sails of the Opera House that were jutting out into the dark night sky right in front of me. I got my one glass of Pinot Grigio from the bar, and went outside to stand at a table next to a heat lamp.
Since no one was that close to me, I discretely slipped my tour guidebooks that I had picked up on the bus out of my bag and started flipping through them for the tenth time. But of course the second I try to be discreet about anything, someone notices.
“Excuse me? Sorry to bother you, but would you mind taking a photo for us? My friends don’t know how to use a camera.” The cutest guy of the group finally asked with an Australian accent. I had been watching them in my peripheral vision as they attempted to take a photo in front of the bridge with a regular camera whose flash was way to bright to capture anything in the background.
“Sure, but I think you should use your phone’s camera, otherwise you won’t be able to see the bridge.” I smirked, watching all of their eyes widen as they considered my suggestion. It worked, obviously, and for that I was rewarded with my second glass of wine!
The guys were from Tazmania…as in, where the Tazmanian Devil lives, and yes it’s a real thing. They were visiting the younger, cute one, who lives in Sydney, and who was overbearingly interested in knowing everything about me. So much so that the rest of his “mates” left him to go to the seedy nightlife area in Kings Cross, while he stayed behind and blindly committed to doing anything that I wanted to do.
I wasn’t in love, but at least I had someone to hang out with. He on the other hand, was very in love. He reminded me of a little puppy…I guess that’s why they call it puppy love? Either way the term is appropriate because I found out he was about as young as a puppy. We went to a local bar in Surry Hills where everyone stared at me like I was an alien. Tazmania boy later admitted that it was because I was American and Aussies love Americans and all want to go there.
It took me a while to detach him from my hip, but I finally was able to slip into a taxi and take a painful $30AUD ride back to Bondi Beach.