Out of the Outback (Into the Unknown)
“In Australia alone is to be found the Grotesque, the Weird, the strange scribblings of nature learning how to write. Some see no beauty in our trees without shade, our flowers without perfume, our birds who cannot fly, and our beasts who have not yet learned to walk on all fours. But the dweller in the wilderness acknowledges the subtle charm of this fantastic land.”
– Marcus Clarke
I love that quote. It sums up Australia for me.
I like Australian cities, but they are not Australia for me: the bush is. Cities are manmade and planned; the bush is nature-made and unlimited. I will no longer see the night sky quite as vividly as I did when I was in the NT and WA. I am in civilized Australia now.
I still dwell in the wilderness.
We made it through the Nullarbor and into Adelaide on a rainy day. I honestly thought that it barely rained in Australia. I was beginning to get some of Tony’s whiningness (I was warned by Tristan, who traveled with us to Ayers Rock, that I am to refrain from any future English-bashing. All right, Tristan. That’s no fun, but I’ll try. Promise). I was beginning to pine for some sun and warmth! Just like in… England! (Oh, another promise down the drain). The journey to Adelaide was lovely though: rolling hills and bright purple wildflowers.
The Sun Buddha
I wasn’t really impressed with Adelaide. It is difficult to come into a city after being in remote areas for a while – it is a shock to the system. I found it architecturally interesting – very big-city European looking – and oddly suited for the Aussie continent.
I returned Vicki, our Teutonic rental van, to the rental company. She did suffer a small scrape on her topside by going under a low hanging underpass – oops. But it was barely noticeable. After giving up Vick, we were once again carless. Auf Wiedersehen, Frau Vicki.
Tony looked in the papers and found an ad that was particularly promising: “1980 Honda Accord. $500. Looks like a bomb but it runs and is cheaper than a washing machine”. How could we pass up that? Tony bought the bomb for AU$300, which works out to US$150. Can’t beat it. It looks like it is about to fall apart with a good southwesterly breeze, but it runs although it sounds like a tank. An added bonus is that on her dashboard there’s a light that says “Trunk Open”, when the ‘trunk’ (not the ‘boot’) is open. I delighted in pointing that out to Tony, who had already noticed and was hoping that I would not.
Hannah the Bomb
After purchasing the Honda, which we called Hannah (I wanted to call her Hiroshima), we headed out of South Australia and Adelaide in direction of Victoria and Melbourne along the Great Ocean Road.
Welcome to Victoria
The Great Ocean Road lives up to its name. Truly great and fantastic! Winding coastal road along steep escarpments. Stopped every few miles to take pictures so the progress was a bit slow.
The 12 Apostles along the Great Ocean Road
We made it to Melbourne and after reaching the city realized that we were a long way from the Outback. No longer would we be in wide-open spaces nor see the night sky as vividly. From now on we would have to share the open spaces with the millions from Melbourne and the millions from Sydney and Brisbane.
Even though big cities offer an interesting array of entertainment opportunities, I truly think they are contrary to the way humans should live (I could lose my New York City citizenship for that comment).
A view that rivals any skyscraper
Out in the bush, people take their time. There’s no rush; no worries, mate. They seem, for the most part, to be happy. But in the cities you get the impatient, the mean and the stressed (which I have been guilty as charged on all accounts many a time in my life).
In the cities you are out of tune with the rhythm of nature. When I camp, I am usually asleep by 9 pm (ain’t no TV or Caffrey’s Irish Cream Ale) and up with the birds at sunrise. In the cities, I go to bed late and drink too much beer. I take back what I said last travelogue, that Caffrey’s Irish Cream Ale is the best in the world. Oops, I erred. I found the true Elixir of the Gods: Kilkenny. It tastes just like Caffrey’s but without the bitter aftertaste (I sound like a beer commercial – just ignore me).
Driving in Melbourne has got to be experienced, but preferably in a car which you don’t have to fear it falling completely apart if you get in a teeny, tiny fender bender. Thank God I was the passenger and Tony was driving (I have refused to drive in big Aussie cities anymore). First off, in Melbourne there are the trams, which are everywhere, and cars share the roads with them. Then there is the most bizarre thing I have seen in my life: the right turn from the far left lane. I don’t know if I am using the correct right-left terminology (I still look right when crossing the streets when I should be looking left. Almost been turned into Aussie roadkill a few times). Yes, right-hand turns from the far left lane, folks. Bizarre.
After making it through the minefield that is the horror of driving in Melbourne, we made it to St. Kilda and found a good place right on the beach. St. Kilda is just a few miles out of the city and is a nice blend of the new, the art deco, the trendy and the seedy. I liked it. We decided to park Hannah the Bomb of a Honda and tram it to see the sites in Melbourne.
I love Melbourne. I love the Melbourne trams – they go everywhere and are cheap! All cities should build tramlines. They are way cheaper than building subway lines and can probably be finished in less than half the time. And an added bonus is that it takes away a few driving lanes and it might encourage people to give up their cars. Trams rock!
We stayed in Melbourne for a few days (and drank a fair few pints of Kilkenny) and then packed up and went down south.
We saw the Penguin Parade at Phillip Island. Oh jeez, how can I explain this? The Penguin Parade has the tacky feel of dolphin viewing at Monkey Mia times 7,000 (they had seats along the coast that sat about 1,000 people). Here we were, freezing our butts off waiting for dark so the penguins would begin their march home. I was beginning to get annoyed: the penguins were late (I know, pretty rude of them), and there were probably 2,000 people trying to cram into the bleachers built to hold 1,000. The penguins finally made trepid little moves from the beach and waddled their way onto shore. I loved it. But right after the first few waddled onto shore, I said to Tony “I’m outta here, I’ll wait in the visitors center, you stay and enjoy yourself”. I was upset that I had to pay good money to watch them turn penguins into the latest freak show (Well, I should be honest: I was more annoyed at being treated like cattle).
View of Norman Bay at Wilson’s Promontory.
After the freakishness of the penguins, we traveled down to Wilson’s Promontory, the most southerly tip in mainland Australia. Beautiful! Although it is conducive to tourism (reference the fact that I had to wait in line at the General Store behind a busload of Germans that all ordered cappuccinos and cake. Oh, I was just as happy as a lark), it has many wilderness hiking treks. I could have spent a whole month there.
At Wilson’s Promontory, wildlife was everywhere. The wombats came out at night to feed. Wombats are big rodent-like creatures and hence aren’t too cuddly-looking, like say qoukkas. But they do have a somewhat mild disposition. Except the one Tony decided to pet.
Bitey the Wombat
Tony found a wombat and petted it, and it responded by climbing up on his leg and biting his knee. It didn’t break the skin, but it did break Tony of the habit of petting wombats. Wombats don’t rock.
Also at the Prom, they had these birds called Crimson Rosellas. I want 30, please, along with a slew of qoukkas. Rosellas are brightly-colored parrots, and I guess the ones in the prom have gotten used to humans. I was eating my daily peanut butter sandwich (I thought I would never say this… but I HATE freakin’ peanut butter sandwiches now!!) and one flew on my shoulder. I laughed and gave it some bread. Then another landed on my opposite shoulder, then two on my head, a few on my arms and a whole gaggle near my feet. I loved it!
Bill the Rosella on the left and his other brother Bill on the right at Wilson’s Prom.
After the Prom, we traveled back up to Melbourne and went through the Southern Alps. I was expecting Julie Andrews to come waltzing down the mountainside in her dirndl. I was like a little kid when we used to go up to my Grandpa’s cabin in the mountains of Los Angeles: it is so different from what I have known. Snow even! In OZ? Yup.
Final Words (Or Are They?)
If I were to give a word to this leg of the journey I would say ‘indecision’. I think. Oh jeez, I just don’t know. I used to be indecisive but now I just don’t know.
Me with Bill, the Snowman
When I got to Melbourne, I was going to go to New Zealand or Tasmania. I didn’t want to go because it would be going off into the ‘unknown’ once again, and I was still suffering the affects of traveler’s overload. I stated I wanted to be stirred vigorously from time to time, but I should have stated ‘stirred vigorously only when it suits me’. I guess you can’t pick life’s detours.
When I was in Melbourne, I decided definitely New Zealand (sort of) and went to the travel agent. Well, I guess I have been successful in my attempts to not anal-retentively plan life because I needed to book a 21-day advance to get anything resembling a good fare. I nixed that idea. Then I went onto the Tasmania tangent. Well, it ain’t cheap getting to Tasmania either, and the boat takes 15 hours – I thought one could wade across the water to Tasmania. Plus I would have to go out on my own again, the weather was icky, and I was just tired. So I decided to put off me making a decision and let the decision make itself, so I traveled down to the wilderness south of Melbourne for a week.
When I got back to Melbourne, life finally got off the pot and made a decision (Jeez, about time, Life!). I got an email from a TV show in the US that is doing a program on people who leave their careers and travel for a while. They liked my travel articles and want to interview me in Brisbane in November. Cool McGool. Decision made, up the coast direction Brisbane.
I quite like surrendering the life analysis and just let it be. I do plan (not ‘I plan’ as in ‘I will’ but more like ‘I hope’) on doing New Zealand and Tasmania in the future. My game plan now is to travel up the East Coast and fly back to California in December. That feels right for some reason. Then, who knows?
I acknowledge the subtle charm of this fantastic land. I would love to get residency and live in OZ and then do Tasmania and New Zealand. But I ain’t going to ponder the thought of living in OZ until I implode. It might happen, it might not. Who knows what life will throw at me next. No decisions, no worries, mate.
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