We had been looking forward to this day for months. As we got out of the camper and approached the grocery store, our mouths watered and our excitement became palpable. To cook for oneself. To choose exactly what went into every meal. To eat on our own schedule. To know what each dish is. We were stoked.
And $276 later we were two of the happiest people in Australia. Refrigerator full of salad fixings, fresh vegetables, orange juice, and meat with no gristle or bones in sight. It was heaven.
After eight months in the developing world (and granted some of the best food we had ever eaten), we were very ready to be in control of our own destiny. Our own kitchen, the same sheets every night, and our own transportation – not to mention our own language and a culture that we (mostly) understood.
We flew into Brisbane the day the river crested in the worst flood they've had in 40 years. The view from the plane as we flew over the city on a gloriously sunny afternoon with clear, blue skies was surreal. Thousands of homes lost and most of downtown submerged. But Aussies are a hardy bunch and the following day the clean-up had begun. We went to volunteer, shoveling mud and scrubbing walls, but they had more people than they could use and we were soon told to go home and come back in a month when all the enthusiasm had subsided.
So instead we set about preparing our “home” for the arrival of our California friends, Soltz and CarolAnn. And in this case “home” was a seven-meter long, two-and-a-half meter wide, six-berth, turbo-deisel “CheapaCampa” motorhome with the steering wheel inexplicably located on the passenger side. The six-month pregnant Soltzes were going to join us for two weeks of beaches, mountains, and cities from Brisbane to Sydney.
And it was glorious! Enjoying gifts of Stone Imperial Stout and a 1000 IBU IPA, barbequing and playing football on the beach, riding beach cruisers and sea kayaking, and spending long evenings deep in conversation, we wended our way down the eastern seaboard from the Gold Coast and Byron Bay, through the farmland of northern New South Wales, to Nelson Bay, the Blue Mountains, and finally Manly Beach and Sydney. We hiked in misty mountains and strolled along secluded beaches at sunset. We fed insistent kangaroos and spotted lazy koala bears. We learned the secrets of marsupials and marveled at the songs of tropical birds. We celebrated “Australia Day” and toured the iconic Sydney Opera House. We floated in sensory deprivation tanks and went scuba diving with 8-foot sharks. We even bought didgeridoos and had late night jam sessions in the back of the RV after Jenny and CarolAnn led us on the giggling tour of historic Miller Street in Sydney. But the common thread that tied all of these experiences together – that made this part of our trip so amazingly special – was the companionship of little Annabelle growing each day in CarolAnn's belly. It was magical. Watching these two friends embark on this fantastic journey was one of the most rewarding experiences of the trip for me. Jenny and I listened and asked questions and sat in awe as these two soon-to-be parents shared their fears and their dreams, described their hopes and their plans, and demonstrated a thoughtfulness about bringing this new life into the world that gives me a new respect for two of my closest friends. Little Annabelle will be joining us at the end of May and I know for a fact that she could not have chosen two more loving and wonderful parents.
But time, and this journey, continue on. We hugged tearful goodbyes to the Soltzes in Sydney and Jenny and I were once again on our own. We were lucky enough to have scored tickets to Madame Butterfly and put on our best clothes (hmm, flip-flops or running shoes?) for a night at the Sydney Opera House before heading down the coast for some surfing and more camping on the beach. We eventually cut inland and crossed the Great Snowy Range, climbing Mt. Koziasco (the highest point in Australia) on our way to the Yarra Valley, one of Australia's premier wine regions. Two days of wine tasting (thanks to our Scottish driver, Alistar, and his 1990 Ford LTD limousine) in Healsville and Rutherglenn kept us quite happy on our journey towards Melbourne (pronounced “melbin” for all those dumb Yankees like us). We even managed to fit in the Beechworth Honey Experience – tasting about 20 very unique honey flavors and learning how honeybees actually do what they do (another mystery solved!).
The view from Louise and Clive's house
And finally it was on to another plane for the ends of the earth and the island of Tasmania, 200 kilometers off the southern coast of Australia. Tasmania is a wild and rugged place and truly feels like the end of nowhere. Our amazing Vail, Colorado friends Louise and Clive (a Tazzy native) picked us up at the airport and proceeded to pamper us for a solid week. To date we had slept in 128 different places and I am quite certain not a single one of them had a bed this comfortable. Louise and Clive split their time between Vail and Tasmania and have just finished building their dream home on the wild, rugged coast on this lost island. Waking every morning to the gray, menacing ocean crashing on the rocks below the house made one want to snuggle deeper under the covers. But the sun did shine and we managed to get in some sailing, sea kayaking, running, and skinny dipping (Brrrr!!!). Most of the week was spent preparing for our upcoming volunteer work in Samoa, but every evening was passed in wonderful conversation over sensational food, often prepared in Clive's outdoor man-kitchen (of which I am jealous). For the first time in nine months we had a real home. Thank you Louise and Clive. You will never know how much that meant to us.
We had just spent a whole month back in the “developed” world and it was wonderful and strange. Gone were the $5 beach cottages, replaced by $60 tourist park campsites. Palate searing Jeow Mak Keua was replaced by barbequed burgers and fries. “Namaste” was replaced with “G'Day Mate!” And our position in society as revered “Americans” was replaced by our position in society as “stupid Americans”. As much as we needed the familiarity of the West and a respite from the difficulties of travel in a foreign land, we were sad to have left exotic Asia and be back in the world of SUVs and processed food. But before heading to New Zealand we had one more foray left into the unknown. So we boarded a plane headed for Samoa and were once again thrust into an unfamiliar culture full of new smells, new friends, new foods, a new language, and the stark realization that five more months of 3rd world travel in South America just wasn't going to happen.