Monthly Archives: March 2007

Gee’s Brazilian Adventures – Days 4 to 6

14 March 2007

With a large contingent of our travelling party looking decidedly ill and suffering the effects from the night before, 2 full vans set off for Ilha Bela from Mercure Jardins São Paulo at 10.30am.

The journey to Ilha Bela took around 3 hours, through some gorgeous countryside and along some windy roads hugging the coastline. We arrived at the wharf to catch the ferry across to the island in good time (my van mates either slept or talked quietly amongst themselves throughout the journey) and once on board, we piled out to stretch our legs. 30 minutes after the crossing, we arrived at Hotel Itapemar, our home for the rest of the week (albeit feeling a little queasy after a very bumpy ride along the very unevenly paved road).

We checked into our rooms – my roomy Gauri and I found ourselves in tight quarters but still looked forward to getting to know each other better – before heading down to the bar for a cool beer with the rest of the group. By this point, Patrick and Dean (best man) had also arrived at the Hotel – Patrick hired a car and drove from São Paulo to Ilha Bela, and they soon joined us for some beverages.

3 beers later, and the group went in search of some lunch. It was around 3pm by this point, and most of us were starving. We headed in the direction of the wedding venue (away from the ferry wharf to the mainland) and found ourselves in a little village with a few boutique shops, restaurants and bars. After some aimless wandering, we eventually settled at a bar at the front of the village square. Caipirinhas were ordered, along with more beers, before someone in the group wised up and ordered much needed food to soak up the alcohol.

My memory becomes a little hazy from this point onwards – I recall a lot more caipirinhas and beers being ordered, a thunderstorm bringing some cleansing rain before blindly stumbling back to the hotel with a jetlagged best man in tow. I was reliably told the following day that I made my staggering exit around the 9pm mark, although it did feel a lot later at the time.

15 March 2007

Due to the early exit from the night before, I was one of the early risers the next day, minus the pounding hangover. My roomy was a little dusty (having returned around midnight after bar hopping through Ilha Bela with the rest of the crew) and we made our way down to the restaurant for some breakfast. The weather was turning on another scorcher for us, and by 10am, we had migrated back to the pool for a cooling dip.

Julie still had some errands to run before the wedding day, and she needed to head into town for these errands. I offered to keep Julie company as I needed to get more cash from an ATM that recognised my card. In the end, Gauri and Patricia came along for the ride as well. The original plan was to walk into town (it would have been a 30 minute walk) but the heat became too much for us, and I was treated to my first bus ride on a Brazilian bus. To say the least, the bus drivers were even more kamikaze than the taxi drivers and by the time we reached town, I was grateful to be on solid ground.

An idea was floated by Julie that the evening’s festivities should commence in the lovely outdoor area outside the Bridal Suite. We all agreed it would be lovely to have everyone gather in the one place before we set off for the bars, and set off in the supermarket in search of provisions for the function. Beers and snacks were purchased, as well as my private stash of Red Bull, before we headed back to the hotel to notify the others.

After unpacking all the provisions in the Bridal Suite, Julie, Gauri and I sat down to a well deserved beer and relaxing spa and spent some quality time chatting away. All too soon, it was time to get ready for the evening’s festivities and Gauri and I headed back to our room to shower and change.

By the time we arrived at the Bridal Suite again, almost all of the wedding guests were already there and the party was well underway. I made plenty of new friends that evening with the London-based crew, and demolished the better part of a litre of Baileys before heading out to the bars. Plans were made by some of the group to hire a cruiser the following day to take in some sights, which my very limited budget was unable to be stretched to accommodate. I would have definitely loved to have gone, and wished them all the best day on the water.

As we headed out, Gauri chose to have an early night, and we left her at the hotel to recharge for the boating expedition the following day. The rest of the group headed out to a few bars, including a revisit to a great little place much further into the village. The bar was tiny but cosy, with an outdoor area that had large swings hanging from the trees and the beams of the pergola. I met Thati and Marco, Julie’s long time friends and fellow wedding guests, who were at the bar enjoying a few drinks when we arrived. I spent the rest of the evening chatting with them and drinking copious amounts of caprioskas (my system was beginning to reject the cachaça in the caipirinhas) and mojitos, before doing the usual stumble back towards the hotel at around 1am.

A quick dip in the hotel pool to cool down after a hot and humid day, and it was off to bed for the tired and weary souls.

16 March 2007

Twas the day before the wedding, and more wedding guests were expected to arrive in Ilha Bela today. A dozen or so of the wedding guests set off for a day on the water after breakfast, but the day was already too hot for me, and I chose to stay behind and snoozed the morning away to the sounds of Brazilian chat shows in my air conditioned room.

I woke around lunch time, well rested but famished, and headed to the restaurant for a bite to eat. The only thing I recognised on the menu was a Caesar salad, which I ordered by pointing and smiling and repeating “obrigada”. I managed to order a bottle of “água sem gás” (a bottle of still water) in Brazilian, before retreating into a corner to read my book and wait for my salad.

10 minutes later, the world’s biggest salad arrived – served in a terrine! I was so impressed by the size of this salad that I was completely speechless for a few minutes before heartily tucking into my lunch. I was about half way through when Julie and Anthony spotted me on their return from the beach.

The bride and groom were originally set to join the boat trip, but chose to stay behind at the last minute to have some down time to themselves and to greet the soon to arrive guests. As I was finishing my lunch, Anthony recited the names of the guests who had just arrived and laid out their plans for the afternoon – to go to the best seafood restaurant on the island (well past the village) to have a sumptuous lunch.

I joined the group – the soon-to-be Williamses (Ant and Julie), the Denoons (Alex and Rachel), the Franklins (James and Heather), the Wongs (David and Viri), Gaynore and Sandor for the bus ride to the restaurant, where we were joined by Eric and Will. More travel “disasters” were relayed: David and Viri’s luggage were enjoying their own holiday in Madrid, and Gaynore’s hotel rooms in both São Paulo and Ilha Bela were cancelled, but not by Gaynore. David and Viri borrowed some fresh clothes from Ant and Julie when they arrived at the hotel, and Julie managed to find a hotel room for Gaynore at a nearby hotel just down the road from where we were all staying.

The rain had just started when we arrived at the restaurant, and it fell steadily throughout the afternoon. We ordered plenty of good wines and loads of yummy dishes and ate and drank and ate some more. With so many of us on the island (with only Jason to arrive), by the end of our lazy late lunch, we agreed to meet in the hotel bar for a few drinks before heading out for the evening.

By the time we got back to the hotel, the “cruisers” had completed their trip and were back at the hotel awaiting further instructions for the evening’s activities. As we were getting ready, the skies opened and down came the rain. Most of us had made it to the hotel bar by the time sheets of rain were being poured all over the island – the road had turned into rivers and you couldn’t see more than a couple of feet in front of you.

Drinks in the tiny hotel bar were loud and crowded, until a few of us found the pool table in another part of the hotel. A couple of games ensued before we headed back to the main group. Time ticked on as the downpour continued, and a small group of us decided to try the food at the hotel restaurant. I had decided not to head out with the bulk of the group by this point and the Denoons and the Wongs were of the same opinion. The main group headed out to the village bars around 10pm, and after our meals, the diners retreated to our respective rooms to rest up for the big day.


Gee’s Brazilian Adventures – Day 3

13 March 2007

Day 3, and after a leisurely lie in, I was off to breakfast with Anthony and Julie. I had grown quite accustomed to the lifestyle of the vacationer – nothing but eat, relax, sleep, rinse and repeat.

We found a nice little place to settle down for breakfast, and with my body hunkering for some eggs, I ordered an omelette with ham from the not so extensive menu. The chef was less than impressed that between the 3 of us, we wanted 2 omelettes and a ham, cheese & tomato roll, and stomped off to the grill to prepare our breakfast. I looked up at one point to see the chef flick through his recipe book to check on how to make the omelettes – not a good sign. When the food finally arrived, it wasn’t too bad – edible but nothing to rave about. After breakfast, we headed back to the hotel where Anthony and Julie were meeting with their wedding planner and DJ to go over some final arrangements for their wedding.

I sat in the lobby for a while – a change of scenery from my hotel room – and was greeted by an old friend Simon P, who had flown in from Boston for the wedding. Sime had literally just landed and had checked in and showered and was ready to see São Paulo. We moved into easy conversation and caught up on news and gossip. After some time, we meandered to find Anthony and Julie still meeting with their wedding planner and DJ – a meeting that Anthony had predicted would last 30 minutes had now stretched beyond 90 minutes and there were still so much to discuss. By now, Neil and Jane had joined us and we sat at the bar and had a beer while Julie wrapped things up.

The rest of the day was spent at the big shopping centre that Anthony and I had failed to locate on Day 1. We continued the mission of finding Anthony some shoes and cufflinks. Julie also had a wishlist of items to buy, one of which was a new bikini having left hers in London. We had a quick lunch before the group split into 3 and we each went in different directions to pursue our purchases. Anthony and Sime took off in search of shoes and cufflinks, Julie and I for a bikini and whatever else took our fancy, and Neil and Jane to wander the shops until the agreed meeting time at the agreed meeting place.

By 4pm, my head was filled with a splitting headache – the humid weather, coupled with jetlag and the airconditioning had fired up the jack hammer in my head and I was grateful to sit down for a coffee and some water. Neither helped with the headache, and I was silently praying that someone would soon be heading back to the hotel so I could following them and lay down in my bed. By this time, Anthony’s mission was still incomplete, and we were getting down to crunch time for him to make a purchase or go without. Julie’s mother and aunt were also due to meet us at the shopping centre and when they finally arrived, they had their own agenda to take care of – a number of items on their list were still to be purchased and they set off for the shops, leaving Sime, Neil, Jane and me sitting in the café to wait for their return.

Julie took off with her mother and aunt for a while, before Anthony strode into the café with a resigned look on his face that read “I give up”. Julie returned, and her and Anthony set off for one last try for shoes, which proved to be a successful mission after all when they returned 30 minutes later with shoes in tow. Anthony had resigned himself to borrowing some cufflinks from Sime or Adrian – the ones he had been looking to buy were way too expensive, and there was absolutely nothing wrong with borrowing cufflinks from his mates. Mission finally accomplished, Anthony tucked into a well deserved caipirinha.

Before long, the clock on the wall read 6.30pm, and as we were due to go out again at 7pm, Neil and Jane decided to head back to the hotel for a quick nap and a change of clothing. I thankfully followed them back to the hotel, to be greeted by Adrian who had returned from Iguazu Falls earlier in the day. I pleaded a headache and told him that I was unlikely to go out with the group to meet Julie’s friends (I’d already apologised to Julie at the shopping centre and although she was a little miffed, she understood). Adrian was at first insistent that I go out, but soon retracted his pleas when I told him in no uncertain terms that I was staying put for the evening.

We caught up for a little while – he told me about his trip to Iguazu Falls and I told him about my 2 days in São Paulo. Adrian got ready to go out for the night and eventually left to join the group for a big night out.

I tried to rest and relax while the others partied, but sleep eluded me for most of the night. Adrian returned to the room twice – hilariously, once at 1.30am to announce that he was back in the hotel but he needed to make a brief appearance at a nearby pub with the others, but that he would be back in 5 minutes. He returned to the room at 4am, rampantly inebriated and trying his desperate best to be quiet as a mouse. Sadly, for me, I woke up as the door was closing quietly behind Adrian, and once I woke, it was impossible to return to sleep, and I spent the next 2 hours waiting for 6am to arrive so I could head for a shower and some breakfast.

As I type this, it is the beginning of Day 4 – the day we are due to leave São Paulo for Ilha Bela. Will continue the travel tales when I get to Ilha Bela!

Gee’s Brazilian Adventures – Day 2

12 March 2007

Day 2 dawned bright and early – a 7.30am alarm was set so that I could wake up in time for a shower before breakfast with Anthony and Julie. It took me 20 minutes to work out the water mixing mechanism – the water to either too cold or too hot for ages before some careful tweaking had the water at a perfect temperature. Another 10 minutes was spent scrubbing the remnants of the plane from my skin before I emerged feeling like a human again.

In the 40 minutes it took me to work out the shower situation, I had lost Anthony and Julie. I tried calling them in their room at 8.10am, only to find there was no one there. They had assumed that I had slept through their 3 attempts to wake me and went to breakfast without me. When we finally located each other at 8.45am, Julie was in the process of dashing off to her appointments for the day, leaving me in the capable hands of Anthony to take me for a tour around the “posh” parts of São Paulo and for some much needed coffee and breakfast.

Over the delights of some Brazilian cheesy bread and good strong coffee, Anthony told me that our friend Jason was in a spot of bother in Sydney, and there was a good chance he was not able to make it to the wedding. Jase’s good travel agents had forgotten to inform him that he needed a visa to come to Brazil, and with only 10 hours to spare before his intended flight took off without him, Jase was frantic. A few ideas were voiced, including Jase flying to Chile and trying to get a visa through the Brazilian consulate in Chile. We found out much later that day that Jase would still be able to attend the wedding, albeit a few days late after some choice words with his travel people who sought an emergency issue of a visa.

After breakfast, Anthony took me on a long walk in search of the nearest shopping centre. It appeared that in the rush of leaving London, Anthony had forgotten to pack his shoes and cufflinks for the wedding, and needed to purchase these items before we left São Paulo for Ilha Bela. We found the steepest possibly route to the main streets of São Paulo, which took us through an amazing park that housed a spider per square inch. Once on the main street, we continued our search for another 20 minutes before wondering if we had in fact walked in the right direction.

Before long, Anthony received a text message from his friends Neil and Jane announcing their arrival at the hotel. We turned back towards the hotel, and were told much later that we were only 2 minutes away from the shopping centre when we stopped searching. Neil and Jane met us in the lobby, and we headed out again for a few drinks and a bite to eat.

Anthony found a lovely bar and we spent the next hour relaxing with some caipirinhas and beers and watching the world go by. 3 caipirinhas later and it was time for some lunch. But first, we needed to stop at a boutique book shop to purchase a wedding book for Anthony and Julie’s guests to write their best wishes in on the day. Once this task was completed, we set off and found a lovely restaurant for a light lunch.

2 glasses of wine with my niçoise salad and I was ready for some shut eye before the evening’s activities. The others ordered dessert and it would have been rude to not order something else, so I chose a Bloody Mary to finish off my meal. The walk back to the hotel was a bit of a blur, and into my bed I crashed for the next 6 hours where jetlag and a boozy lunch enveloped me like a warm blanket.

Julie was finally done with her appointments by 8pm and we set off for more drinks and some bar snacks in this quaint country and western style bar at the end of our street. The bar snacks (yummy deep fried cassava and lush codfish balls) were a good start to the evening, and after a couple of beers, we again set off in search of something more substantial. The taxis took us through the “posher” part of São Paulo – the streets were littered with mansions with 24-hour guards and electric fences – and eventually dropped us at a bar called Boteco São Bento.

This expansive bar is like The Oaks at Neutral Bay, Sydney, only with a roof. One could smoke where one felt like with no restrictions, and we sat down at a table surrounded by smokers. Menus were handed out and perused before one of us spotted the house specialty – Grelhados da Vila Picanha Mourato Coelho – which roughly translates to From The Grill Tender Beef Slices (I think). At least that was what was presented to us 10 minutes later.

A huge side of beef, thinly sliced but still holding its shape, sat searing on a hot plate that was brought to us by a very efficient waiter to be kept sizzling on top of a small cast iron cooking tripod. The object of the game was to peel off the slices of beef and cook the slices on the hot plate to your own liking. The beef was so tender and so flavoursome that only the sounds of “oooh” and “aaahh” were heard from our table for quite some time.

By the time we got through the side of cow, Neil and Jane were ready to retire for the evening, as was Julie, who was exhausted from her day of appointments. Taxis took us back to our hotel, and Neil and Jane bade us a good night and retreated to their room. Anthony and Julie dropped into my room for a nightcap, which resulted in all 3 of us falling asleep in my bed for the next few hours before they too retired to their room.

Day 3 sees my “husband” Adrian returning from his trip to the famous Iguazu Falls, and the mission to find a pair of suitable shoes and cufflinks for Anthony continues.

Gee’s Brazilian Adventures – Day 1

11-12 March 2007

30 hours from bed to bed, I finally arrived safely in my hotel room in São Paulo. The trip has been an eye opening experience thus far – this little girl has been too spoilt by the creature comforts of Qantas and was slightly mortified by the age of the Aerolinas Argentinas planes and the less than tempting food proffered by this lovely airline.

The flight from Sydney to Auckland (the first transit point) was thankfully short – a little snooze and the first of many stale bread rolls later, we rolled off the plane and headed for the transit lounge. The next leg – the long haul from Auckland to Buenos Aires was hard. The turbulence we experienced an hour out of Auckland was frightening – like a roller coaster without the safety harness which sent chills down my spine. A number of passengers were genuinely scared and let out a few cries of anguish. However, within minutes, all was smooth sailing again and we all breathed a sigh of relief.

Buenos Aires airport was welcoming, and I took myself to their transit lounge to await my connecting flight in 3 hours time. As I was pretty exhausted by this point, I sat down near the boarding gate and caught some shut eye. With no foreign language aids (which country was I in again??) I soon found myself following the crowd that was hurtling towards the gate to embark on my final leg from Buenos Aires to São Paulo.

Once on the plane, squeezed into my tiny window seat on the tiny plane, I along with the rest of the plane sat impatiently waiting for the plane to pull away from the gate. More than 2 hours later, an announcement was made to the annoyance of most of the passengers on board. Not understanding a word of the announcement, I noticed people getting up and retrieving their bags from the overhead compartments with raised voices, and I frantically looked to my neighbours for an explanation. It appeared there was something wrong with the plane and we were to disembark and wait for further instructions. So back to the transit lounge we went – it was to be another 3 hours before we were to finally leave the airport.

Mercifully, the final leg of my journey was without incident. I landed in São Paulo to be greeted with a massive line to clear customs. Another 40 minutes of waiting and I was finally accepted into the country. Armed with my very limited Portuguese (courtesy of a fairly drunk Suz from Saturday evening), I was able to locate a taxi to take me to the hotel.

Oh, and Suz, you were right about the taxi drivers – thanks for the heads up – we flew down the highway at 120km/hr!

Just before midnight, the Mercure Jardins loomed in front of me, and I checked in to a room with a king sized bed, all ready to be Mrs Adrian Howick for a week – I’ll explain this one later.

At the time of handwriting this episode, it was well past midnight and I was awaiting Room Service to deliver a grilled rump to my room – anything that did not resemble stale and soggy bread rolls would be enticing. My Brazilian adventures have begun.

Brazil, Here I Come!

The Brazilian government finally saw fit to grant me a visa yesterday (Friday), so I will be leaving on Sunday for my Brazilian odyssey.

Nothing like the 11th hour though – at 11.30am on Friday morning, I was informed that all was in place and I will finally be able to get on the plane and legally travel around São Paulo and Ilha Bela.

It took another 3 hours after that phone call for my passport to arrive, but even this wasn’t without hassles.

The passport arrived – sure enough – but where was my booklet confirming my vaccinations? It was still with my idiot travel agents, who did not submit the booklet with my passport in my visa application process.

3 more phone calls, another 30 minutes of high levels of stress and plenty of convincing that they had the booklet, my travel agents finally located my little yellow book (which basically cost me $400 – if nothing else, I wanted the booklet as a memento) and promised to deliver the booklet to my home.

Now all I have to do is pack, and remember to bring all my pieces of paper with me!

Brazilians & The Sticky Red Tape

Red tape sucks.

And it sucks even more when you are pitted against time.

I’ve had to deal with lots of sticky pieces of red tape all week this week with the Brazilian consulate, and all for a holiday that I very much wanted to take but really couldn’t afford. And now it looks like I might get my warped wish to stay in Sydney for work reasons after all. With a departure date on Sunday, my stress levels are singing that horrid little ditty “The Only Way Is Up”.

Months and months ago, my dear friends Julie and Anthony announced their wedding plans – in Brazil. I had known about this for some time and had been trying my best to save and get my butt to the wedding; after all, how many times have I ever been or will I ever be invited to my mates’ wedding, in Brazil?

So a plan was hatched – but with Christmas and birthdays and a bunch of bills in between, it was hard, very hard. And my nest egg was not getting any bigger.

The official wedding invitation arrived in the post earlier this year, and after weeks of scrimping and saving, I was still a long way off. I hummed and harred for the longest time, before more or less making up my mind to forego this once in a lifetime opportunity. Never again will my mates get married in Brazil, so it was with a heavy heart that I made the decision to tell them – well, Julie anyway.

As I was about to write my very sad email to Julie informing her of my decision, a knight in shining armour rode into view. Adrian, a good mate, generously offered to privately and quietly fund my entire expedition. The offer, like the wedding, was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and had an effect on me that not much else on Earth would – it rendered me completely speechless.

The deal Adrian offered was to pay for everything now, and for me to repay him in amounts that I could afford in a time period of between now and forever. My mind boggled with the offer – I’d spent many nights dreaming about it, lapping it up, wanting to jump at the chance, and thanking my lucky stars I had such a good friend who was willing to do something so extraordinary and generous for me. But after much deliberation, it was an offer I really could not accept.

I was preparing to decline Adrian’s offer when I receive an email from Julie. So it came to light that she was aware of Adrian’s offer, reminded me how lucky I was to have good and generous friends and asked me to consider accepting the offer so I could share in her special day.

Adrian quickly followed with an email of his own, apologising profusely for discussing our private and quiet potential arrangement with Julie, and again asking me to consider accepting his offer.

What more did a girl with a rubber arm need to get to Brazil, you ask?

A fucking visa, that’s what.

After more emails to Julie and Adrian, and checking and rechecking my finances, I went forth and purchased a return ticket to Brazil – 10 glorious days for the bargain basement price of $3,300. I went about getting travel insurance and vaccinations (who’d have thought 4 little jabs in the arm would cost me $400??), and finally, a visa to enter Brazil for my holiday.

Here’s where my nightmare begins. After filling out the application form, getting passport photos taken and purchasing a $90 Money Order, I forwarded enough information for identity theft to my travel agents to take care of the visa application, naively thinking my application would be approved without fuss. I’d never had any problems with previous visa applications for any other countries, so I thought this would be a walk in the park.

Yeah … wrong.

My visa application was initially rejected – the Brazilian government refused to believe I was travelling to their country for recreational purposes – they were of the mindset that I was there to do business, and should have applied for a business visa. Oh, but of course I’m there to work – I’m there to check on the live organ trade scheme I set up via the internet and to attend the big drug cartel meeting in São Paolo. Jeepers.

My travel agent rang in a state of panic, which fuelled my already high stress levels, and left me in tears by the time I got off the phone to dummy up a letter on company letterhead to state that I was travelling to Brazil for a holiday.

The application was then resubmitted with this dummy letter and some other doctored documentation, and I was told to wait and see.

That was Monday. It’s now Wednesday night and I am still waiting for some positive news.

The good news is that the Brazilian consulate was more than happy to accept my $90 – they rubbed their hands with glee and banked the money immediately, but they are still making up their mind as to whether to allow me into their country to spend my hard earned cash.

The speculations and scenarios I’ve been given as to why my application was initially rejected are quite interesting:

* I may have the same name as someone else who has tried to pull a swiftie on the Brazilian government.
* My Australian nationality may have led to the Brazilian government to force me to jump through hoops, in the same way the Australian government makes Brazilian visitors jump through hoops and produce reams of paperwork before they are allowed into our country.
* My application may have landed on the desk of someone who was having a bad day and decided to take it out on me.
* The Brazilian government does not want my tourist dollars.

Cross your fingers, kids. After everything that’s been said and done, I need to get to Brazil, legally. Here’s hoping the Brazilians sort their shit out and grant me a visa.

The 2007 Company Conference

The original plan was to set off at 7.30am, but as with every other well laid plan, the departure time was pushed back to 8.30am.

I arrived at the North Sydney office at 7.15am, armed with the first of 10 cans of Red Bull to be consumed over the next few days. Tracy, the chair of the Conference committee, was printing some final papers and sent me on a wild goose chase to find a case of bubbly that had been left somewhere in our offices. I found Richard, another member of the committee wandering around, and the two of us set off to scour all three floors to find the case of bubbly. Eventually located, we placed the case in my car, and made final checks before setting off for Leura.

The drive to Leura was picturesque and free flowing, which was terrific as I was at wits’ end from the long drive by the time we arrived at the Fairmont Resort. The other members of the Conference committee were already there, having arrived the night before to finalise everything at the venue. We set out all the name tags and prepared ourselves for the onslaught of colleagues arriving from all over the country.

As my colleagues trickled into the Resort’s lobby, I recognised a lot of faces and met a lot of others who I’ve had phone contact with but never met in person. It was lovely to see so many faces, new and familiar, all keen and eager to experience the Conference that the committee had spent the last 6 months putting together.

My tasks for the Conference were to source the gifts to be included in the Welcome Pack as well as organising the entertainment for the Friday evening. The gifts were quite easy – after much discussion amongst the committee members, I was given a miniscule budget to purchase 200 USB keys and printed lanyards, and found a supplier who was more than happy to assist. The entertainment was a little harder, but after it was agreed the evening should be a trivia night, I was given another miniscule budget to book an MC to host the evening, and found an experienced trivia quizmaster to host the night.

Just before Christmas last year, I was asked if the Trivia Night could be used to showcase the talented musicians within the company who had formed a band. After much ado, the Burnt Pizzas were adamant about performing on the night, and I was then tasked with ensuring maximum exposure for these brave slices.

The gifts were very well received – everyone was thrilled with their new USB keys and printed lanyards, which even my critical eyes could not fault. But my second task was not for another 36 hours, and I was left to gnaw on my fingernails for the time being.

Four weeks ago, I was asked to take on the role of Sergeant At Arms for the Conference. The role is to dish out fines to my colleagues for any and all memorable moments throughout the Conference, be they memorable for good reasons or otherwise. All monies raised over the course of the Conference would be donated to the company’s chosen charity, Redkite. Whilst bad behaviour was not encouraged nor condoned by my company, 200 people + 3 days away from home = good times ahead; just add alcohol to make it even more funny.

I was to share my role with Stephen, and we put our heads together just as the Conference was about to kick off to try and come up with a script for our first outing. We saw our CEO Nick being wheeled into the Resort – he had broken both his tibia and fibula in a skiing accident only a month ago and was still in a lot of pain, yet he braved the 2-hour long drive from his home in Balmain to Leura to open the Conference.

And so the much anticipated Conference was opened. Nick spoke eloquently about the future of the company, and told of some of the new and exciting initiatives that lay ahead for the company. He then introduced Ken Wall who was to run workshops for us for the next 2 days. I well remember the previous Conference – my first – where the first speaker of the Conference was a complete bore, and I was a little apprehensive about Ken. But my fears were allayed immediately as Ken brought energy and vitality into the room immediately. His interactive exercises and engaging presence captured our attention and imagination, and the first workshop was soon over.

At this point, Stephen and I made our first appearance. Contentiously, the role was filled by Captain Kenny at the previous Conference and at 2 earlier Conferences as well, and he was rumoured to be a little miffed about not being asked to play the role again. Secretly, I was thrilled to be asked and even more thrilled to be working with Stephen. We explained the rules, and asked if anyone would like to pay for immunity – a $20 one-off upfront fee – which cannot be revoked and leaves the payee free to play up. Stephen and I immediately placed our $20 each into the hat and for the next couple of hours, more and more money started pouring in as my colleagues prepared themselves for the opening night’s dinner.

A mini sports carnival was then held before everyone retired to their rooms and freshened up for dinner. My roomy Kylie and I took to the bar to relax with a couple of beers before getting changed, and I was stopped midway through my second beer by Crooky from the WA office, who would become my new best friend by the end of the Conference. Crooky needed to get to the nearest bottle shop to stock up for the Conference, and needed a car to help him. I offered to drive him, and after a false start (and finding all the dead end roads in Leura and ending up at the end of Sublime Point Road overlooking the beautiful gorge), we found ourselves in Leura village, pillaging the only bottle shop in town. We only just made it back to the Resort in time for a short shower before the festivities kicked off.

The entertainment for the Thursday night was home grown – all staff were encouraged to put talent acts together to be performed in front of the company. For months, the talented people in our offices have been preparing their acts – singing, dancing, acting, etc – and it all unfolded in front of us to everyone’s amusement and amazement. Again, comparing the acts from this Conference to the previous one, the acts last week walked all over the ones in 2005. The MC was also home grown – Tim did a fantastic job and was well chosen for the role.

Some of the highlights included:

* The WA office performing the Lumberjack Song, with the entire office involved and complete in their various costumes.
* The division I belong to singing Britney’s “Oops I Did It Again…” with reworked lyrics and back up singers / dancers dressed in school uniforms.
* Simon performing a solo act as Elvis in the white rhinestone jumpsuit.
* The ACT office’s music video to the tune of James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful” with reworked lyrics to encapsulate cramped office environment.
* The QLD office’s take on Flashdance.

The eventual winner was the QLD office – a popular choice. Simon / Elvis was awarded 2nd place and the ACT office’s music video was played twice more before the night’s end. Simon / Elvis was demanded an encore performance and he did not disappoint – I even rushed the stage at one point!

At the “official” conclusion of the evening, the party moved into the Tavern where more drinking and dancing ensued. I don’t recall too much more, other than how late it was by the time I hit the sack. The clock read “04:07” as I laid my head on my pillow – only 2 hours of sleep would be had before I had to start again for Friday.

Stephen and I handed out a myriad of fines first thing in the morning for a large number of indiscretions that were committed the night before. All fines were incurred and doled out in good humour, and we had plenty of dobbers as well. The biggest fine of all would go to Kimberley, who missed her 8.30am time slot for her presentation to the company after being seen heading away from the dregs of the party at 3.45am – she had slept through her alarm and did not surface until closer to lunch time. Dusty and rough, most of the crew dragged themselves back into the conference room for more of the learning part of the Conference. Ken Wall continued his workshop, and made sure there were more interactive exercises to sustain our interest. Thankfully, the morning flew by and after 6 cups of coffee, I too was flying.

The afternoon was to be filled with fun outdoor activities, with the company splitting up into 8 groups to partake in various pre-arranged activities including white water rafting, abseiling, golf and horse riding. I stayed behind to change the conference room into a more festive ballroom for the Friday night entertainment. Stephen had to leave the Conference at this point due to family commitments, and I sadly waved him off and wished him well.

My stress levels were rising by the minute as time ticked on – as the night was my “baby”, I just wanted everything to go perfectly. The decorations were laid out on the tables, and the balloons with their long metallic ribbons twinkled in the high ceiling. The room looked superb.

On Thursday evening during the talent show, I was approached by Phillip who was very firm in wanting to incorporate a surprise act at the beginning of the Trivia Night. Too tired to fight, I rejigged my runsheet to allow time for this surprise act, and ran around arranging props for the act at the last minute.

All that remained was for the crew to enjoy the night as much as I had hoped they would.

Sure enough, I was not to be disappointed. The surprise act was an all fire eating, all fire breathing act by Martin. He amazed the crowds with his fire handling prowess before everyone moved inside for dinner. The Burnt Pizzas opened the night with pizzazz – they started with a few slow numbers to tempt the audience with more delicious morsels to follow. Timothy Hyde and The Amazing Lynda hosted the evening flawlessly, with energy and enthusiasm and a professional polished act. Ever so accommodating, Timothy did not bat an eyelid when the evening was already 30 minutes behind schedule before the first question was even asked.

Everything else went off without a hitch – the teams were very competitive and had a lot of fun answering the questions, and the eventual winners were rewarded with bottles of champagne. My emceeing was well received (aided ably by a few glasses of bubbly). The Burnt Pizzas returned for their second set, and wowed the audience with some popular choices in rocking style.

With my official duties over, I was free to have a few celebratory drinks and dance the night away. I wound up having a number of very interesting conversations along the way and eventually made my way to bed at 4am (again). Another early start was facing me, and my body was just about ready to cave in.

A mountain of bacon and eggs and I was rearing to go just 3 hours after laying down. Traditionally, attendance on the Saturday of any Conference was always lacklustre, so it was a pleasant surprise to see the room at 80% capacity. More fines were handed out for various misdemeanours, and we were then treated to some short and interesting presentations by senior members of staff. By 11am, everyone was itching to leave the Resort and return home. Only two more workshops to go and we would be dismissed.

The low point of the entire Conference came in the form of the branding presentation. Branding is important to our company, and the company has spent a lot of money in this exercise. It was such a pity then that the person giving the presentation was so terrible. She spoke too fast and tried to cram in too much in too short a timeframe, and all to an audience who had worked hard and played even harder for 2 days already. The timing of this presentation was not the best, and most people tuned out during the presentation, secretly praying for her to finish up quickly.

Thankfully, the closing speaker Simon Hammond was engaging and energetic, and regained and retained the interest of the room until the very end. Simon even managed some interaction with a very weary audience before the Conference was officially closed.

The end came swiftly. Everyone dashed out the doors as soon as they were thrown open – the proceedings were running about 30 minutes behind schedule, and the buses taking interstate colleagues to the airport were itching to leave Leura. Even though we were running behind, there was no guarantee the airlines were also running behind, and it would be dreadful if anyone was to miss their flights home. Others who had driven to the Conference ran to put their bags in their cars and tore away from Leura like bats out of hell.

I managed to say goodbye to a few people before I too ran to my car with Crooky and took off for Bondi, where Crooky was staying for the weekend. Crooky and I had spent almost the entire Conference joined at the hip – wherever I went, you’d be sure to find Crooky and vice versa. We became fast mates over the three days and enjoyed each other’s company immensely.

As much as I have bitched and moaned about the Conference and how much hard work it has been for me and all the other members of the committee, the reward was in the pudding – the Conference was deemed a huge success by senior management and judging by all the positive feedback we had received over the course of the Conference (and via emails since Saturday), everyone else had a great time as well.

I have gained so much from the Conference and learned so much from being part of the committee. I have enjoyed every minute of the Conference – the role of Sergeant, the emceeing, being one of the “faces” of the Conference. I can’t wait to experience the next Conference – this time, as a veteran and participant only!

At some point, there will be photos – I just need to track down the photographers to get my hands on the pics.

Incidentally, we raised nearly $1,000 for Redkite through immunity payments and fines. Funny stuff indeed.