Apr 30, 2015

Brisbane -> Adelaide: Part 2

Sydney (and the drive down the coast):

Picking up our rental car, Nick and I sized it up immediately for sleeping comfort. As sleeping in cars goes, I was wishing for our great little New Zealand camper, but this one seemed decent enough. We slept in it that night just off a beach on our way down to Byron Bay. The sky was still dark, but a grey instead of black when Nick gently shook me awake. "The sun rises is 8 minutes, do you want to go to the beach and watch it?!" I groggily declined. I have seen sunsets plenty, but sun rise has never really been a draw for me. Nick seemed happy to have gone out there for it though, and even went for a run along the beach after. (I also declined that invitation.)

Byron Bay was great, we met lots of people, went to the beach, ate conveyor belt sushi, and visited a lighthouse at the eastern most point of Australia.

There was a nice beach, cool restaurants and bars, and the window shopping was fun too in such a vibrant town (although everything was cost prohibitive).

Hanging out on the sandbar.

But my favorite memory was walking around the town one night, eating gelato and wandering vaguely toward the beach when we came across a man who had set up a telescope by the sidewalk. As Nick peered through the eyepiece, the man pointed up and with my naked eye saw a very bright point. It seemed too bright to be a star, so I asked him if it was a planet, Venus, maybe. He smiled, "Jupiter, with all 4 moons visible!" I took my turn at the telescope and sure enough, all 4 moons were there around the large planet. It was amazing. I was transported back to my childhood when my dad would set up his telescope and we would stargaze together. My emotions were quite fragile from that surge of memory, and I almost cried, but the night moved on and I got a hold of myself before we got back to the backpackers to hang out with our roommates.

One of our roommates, Ash, was kind enough to help me with a collection that I've been making here in Australia. I present: "The Signs You See in Australia" - a work in progress.

We see this one all the time!

Lots of signs for them, haven't seen one yet, though.

This horse looks like a Dressage horse to me.


Courtesy of Ash, our Byron Bay roommate. Haven't seen this sign myself (yet.)

After Byron bay we had a couple more days with the car to get down to Sydney. We puttered our way down there, staying another night in the car and then at a hotel which had the most haunted feel of anywhere I've ever stayed.

I guess they agree, because this was their picture on a poster for a ghost tour.

Sydney was fantastic! We had an appointment with the Australian office of World Education, known here primarily as Good Return. We were able to be in town for their monthly progress meeting, and were kindly invited to join them as they gave updates and showed photographs from their current projects. Everyone at the office was kind and encouraging, and it was a pleasure to meet all of them. The program director there who is actually based in Melbourne even offered us a place to stay in our next city!!

The Good Return team :)

We stayed most of the time in Sydney with Sage, a woman we had met in the Sunshine Coast. She was a wonderful hostess, and a pleasure to spend time with in Sydney. We went to a few beaches, wandered around the city, and of course saw the Sydney Opera House.

I think the premier of the new season of Game of Thrones was happening that night, because the opera house was being guarded by a fearsome dragon. I want to make some sort of connection with House Targaryen and Sydney Opera House, but Nick said people might not get it.

Because we will have a wedding to go to in Melbourne, Nick and I went to a Salvation Army here and kitted ourselves out with some nice clothes to wear. We got to wear them out in Sydney as well, and for the first time in a while I actually felt well dressed.

An absinthe bar in Sydney with a friend of Nick's from grad school.

One evening as I was preparing to go to bed, I pushed back my chair from a table and stood up, forgetting that I had moved our laptop out of the way by putting it under my chair. I stood up and felt a crunch under my foot, and immediately knew what had happened. I was pretty upset at myself, but Nick was very understanding. We've ordered a new screen and he'll try his hand at replacing this when we get to Darwin.

Stay tuned for next time, in which Nick and Elizabeth attend a wedding!

Apr 29, 2015

Brisbane -> Adelaide: Part 1

Time has been stopped and time has been flowing swiftly here in Australia. Some days I can't believe we've fit in as much as we have and other days I can't believe we've been here a month already.

Our time here has been spent almost exclusively staying with friends of Nick's. His grad school in Cambridge, summer camps growing up, and studying abroad in Japan have provided us with a steady stream of accommodation and even an impromptu wedding invitation! There is a very large disparity in the number of friends with babies in Australia. Nearly all his friends here have kids, compared to hardly any of our friends back home. I have been in heaven, staying in houses with small children and ignoring Nick's incredulous looks as I slowly sound out simple words and make funny faces. I can only imagine what he was thinking the morning I had a 10 month old on my shoulders walking around the house making various "boop" noises with every step. The little girl was laughing though, so that's what matters. As I write this, my scribbling is punctuated by a 3 year old who approaches me every few minutes to show me what he's drawn. I compliment him on a "big bus" he's made. A few minutes later he returns, proudly gesturing at another drawing. Also a "big bus." I no longer need to ask, but he loudly declares each time anyway, and yet again I tell him what a great "big bus" that is, or remind him that buses usually have windows, which he diligently adds.

But this is in Adelaide and my woefully empty notebook reminds me that I'm ahead of myself. Side note: I don't want to entirely blame G.R.R. Martin for my neglect of my journal, but the Song of Ice and Fire (colloquially known as the Game of Thrones) books are amazing and I invariably pick up my kindle instead of a pen.

To combat this neglect of our readers, I present: 4 cities in 4 days!
I will update here every day for 4 days with a blog about the 4 cities we've been to so far. Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide.

Without further ado: Brisbane (and the Sunshine Coast)

We were only in Brisbane city for a couple days, and I was still feeling a but shell shocked from leaving New Zealand. I don't think anyone can leave New Zealand without feeling...regret isn't the right word, but...feeling like something has gone wrong in the vast scheme of things. What sort of scheme involves leaving such a paradise? Sigh-worthy though our departure was, however, I came to appreciate Australia while we were in Brisbane. Nothing killed me there, so already we were ahead of expectations. The public barbecues, parks, the (free!) museum there, the new styles of wine to try, there was much to like about this new country.

Public barbecue! (To cook kangaroo on!)

Gorgeous views!

An old friend (hadn't seen him in 12 years) of Nick's picked us up from Brisbane and took us to the Sunshine Coast. He and his fiance are the proud parents of the 10 month old I enjoyed making laugh. Owen took us to the beach and after being assured (multiple times) that the Sunshine Coast doesn't have shark attacks, I agreed to go in the water. After a few days with them we got to see another old friend of Nick's, Elischa, (likewise 12 years since seeing her). She is the proud mother of a 5 year old and the adorably 5 month old below.

Staying with Elischa we saw even more old friends and met new ones, even one visiting who gave us a place to stay in Sydney! Elischa's parents greeted Nick and invited us to come to their farm for a bit. Time on the farm was otherworldly. Living in New York City only 2 months before made the farm a place of wonder for me. Days didn't pass normally. Before I knew it the 3 days we intended to stay were gone. It felt like we had been there weeks and at the same time felt like I had only just arrived and taken one deep, relaxing breath. Easter was coming up in a few days, but Nick and I would definitely be gone by then.

A picture of me at the farm on Easter, with Elischa and her beautiful baby boy.

Nick and I helped build a shelf in the new shed there, moved a water tank that was up on a hill into position, and made some dinners with tomatoes, lettuce, and basil straight from the garden. I felt more in tune with everything there than I have in a while. They had horses there, and an electric fence which I discovered in the best possible way.

I'm surprised my hair isn't standing on end.

We did leave eventually, after spending a week there. The fords flooded and we had great fun watching the cars go through. We went for a walk in the woods and each got a few leeches. I am slightly ashamed of how freaked out I was by seeing them on my legs. Only slightly ashamed, though...they are leeches after all. I was pleased that I remembered that salt or fire would get them off, and then immediately displeased because we had neither on our hike with us. From now on I will be carrying a small salt shaker with us when we hike. (I didn't even know they could live on forest floors!!)

Hiking: pre leeches.

Hiking: post leeches. "Quick take the picture, quick so we can get out of here!"

Stay tuned for tomorrow's episode, in which Nick wakes up for a sunrise run and Elizabeth breaks a laptop.

Ships in the night

We drove down the east coast of Australia. Leaving my friends on the sunshine coast, we bombed straight into Byron Bay, that quintessence of modern backpacking culture in the whole world’s Australia. After two days of more-or-less clothed beaches and partying with the endemic Mancunians (people from Manchester), we moved on toward the bustling metropolis of Sydney.

Sydney icon

The harbour bridge

The biggest waves I've ever seen at Bondai Beach!

Catching up with old friends in Sydney; In 2010 Sydney created a new type of ‘small bar’ license that has created a veritable renaissance of classy gin joints and tippler temples throughout the city. 

Each row house with it's victorian-style balcony!

The aboriginal tent embassy in Redfern seeks to influence the use of the land on which it has been erected

We traded our car in for a train, a paper ticket promise of two rails stretching into the western sunset. On to cosmopolitan Melbourne!

Bendigo sunset

Or more precisely the nearby gold mining hub of yesteryear, Bendigo, where a good mate of mine from years gone by happened to be getting married this 18th of May.

Jacqui and I had been best mates back on the heady adolescent days of my student exchange in Nagoya, Japan (circa 2001). I remember the two of us exploring the alleyways of the city of Nagoya, finding hidden patches of green paradise and shinto temples nestled among the urban labyrinthe, practicing acrobatics, and snowboarding in the middle of subway cars. We kept in touch (writing actual, paper letters!) for years after the continents pulled us back into our respective places, but gradually life grew full of more immediate diversions and even (gasp!) responsibilities. University, new friends, lovers, vocations, and travels… I first time I saw Jacqui in over thirteen years she was in her wedding dress, walking down the aisle toward one of those few pivotal moments that she will remember all her life. I felt deeply privileged to be able to add it to those we had shared in the parks of Nagoya.

Jacq and Troy sharing the moment before

On this ocean of human experience our meetings are so circumstantial. So often those other vessels pass us by in the night, with no touch, no interaction, no communication of the vast richness of ideas and dreams sailing within each. Those other sailors we meet by day may become a companion or a wife, they my save your life. But, to drive this metaphor recklessly onward, sometimes the twilight falls.. and the currents of the the world separate us into diverging streams of infinite possibility.

But sometimes, someplaces, you can catch a glimpse of those lights on the horizon and set a course for a warm welcome from an old friend.

Apr 7, 2015

Top 3 things that will BLOW YOUR MIND about Australia

Our trip through Australia thus far has been filled with an expansive array of interesting characters and experiences.

"The name is Dave, Dangerous Dave, an' there i'nt a horse or a woman I couldn't ride." ~ Introduction from Dangerous Dave of Australia

We have spent the first two weeks largely catching up with old friends whom I have been promising to visit for the past several decades.

View from the top of Mount Coolum 

In Brisbane we ate Cairns crocodile, Tasmanian possum, seared kangaroo, and Marburg emu. Further north we headed into the forest west of the Sunshine Coast and amidst the spectacular rain forest scenery and bounding wallabies we also discovered a ground-dwelling leech that lies in wait to spring upon your leg and the slightest provocation. E and I spent a good deal of our trek that day inspecting our shoes in paranoid fashion and trying to flick them off before that were able to propel themselves up onto tender flesh. The hardier of our walking party weren't bothered in the least. Later, I tried to make conversation while fixated on a blob of partially coagulated blood, rife with hirudin, swinging precipitously from one of their toes, and I questioned for the first time whether I had what it takes to live through this country.

We also encountered the surprisingly more amiable strangler fig, which wraps itself around a living tree, eventually killing it and allowing its trunk to rot away leaving only a cylindrical web of tangled vines.

The Strangler's Cairn will eventually be overtaken by the vine planted atop 

The rains came down in a torrent and flooded the fords that we had to cross to progress on our quest. For some this was just an opportunity for extra excitement in a bit of canoe paddling!

Massive flooding just adds a bit of excitement to the trip

Without further ado, here are the three things of which I have taken note in Australia in order that you, our dear reader, may have your mind sufficiently blown:

1. Embracing the danger! - I'm sure you've heard tales about how everything in Australia can, and will kill you. The continent is home to the ultra-deadliest species of snakes, spiders, crocodiles, jellyfish, sharks, and chain mail-clad manifestations of Tina Turner ever encountered by humans. Perhaps because of this in some respects, there is a stronger sense of personal responsibility in taking risks. For example, on the rock cliffs of urban Kangaroo Point in Brisbane, any climbers are welcome the scale the face of stone, but are only gently reminded to wear their hard hats as they do so.

This cliff-side sign at Noosa National Park is advocating for personal responsibility

2. Public BBQs - In many of the scenic places we visited the local councils were good enough to provide barbecuing areas for public use. I'm not talking about some lowly charcoal pit in the dank corner of a park. These are shining, stainless-steel alters to the glory of grilled meat with free, push-button electric heating and integrated grease traps! Thanks to these I've been able to successfully eat kangaroo (the land-lobster) on the majority of our days in Australia so far.

Elizabeth at a public BBQ in Brisbane

 We took advantage with a full-on kangaroo barbecue!

3. Superfun water parks/playgrounds - In addition barbecuing, there are equally impressive public areas for swimming and children's playgrounds. In Brisbane's South Bank Lagoon & Aquativity area, the kids can play on a giant map that will at intervals shoot geysers of water out of the ground, then wait as they drain through a vast network of intertwined topographical streams and rivers into the main bathing pool. My words cannot do justice to how awesome of a place this would be for me to play in 20 years ago.

South Bank Lagoon in Brisbane (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Now we continue our journey driving down the east coast of the island-continent of Australia.

Dawn at Kingscliff Beach sees this fisherman reeling in a catch from where the Coral and Tasman seas meet