I'm back and better than ever, fresh from the road and full of beautiful images and stories. Bear with me: to properly chronicle the past two weeks, I'm going to have to use a very fancy device, the sub-heading.
What did you do on Christmas day? I bet it was cold. I shiver every time I think of all the people i England, the last place I had my foot down in Europe, bundled up in their cookie-cutter Harry Potter suburb houses in weather that is apparently only two degrees warmer than the North Pole. Santa must have loved delivering presents this year.
I spent Christmas eating prawns the size of my hand, drinking wonderful beer held in little beer cosies (everyone uses them..the proper term escapes me), sitting in a cold hot tub, and eating my very first Christmas pudding. For those not familiar, it' kind of like dense fruit cake with rum, covered in ice cream and whipped cream. Absolutely delightful.
This way of doing Christmas is highly recommended. You eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner all day with your family. You listen to music, have a dunk in the cold spa, exchange a few presents (I had a UNICEF chicken purchased in my name - just like Mom does with Heifer International), watch a movie, drink a LOT of champagne and beer, and make silly home videos.
What do you think, family? Sound like a plan?
The initial plan was the hoof it down to Victoria, Australia, to go wine tasting on my birthday. To get a sense of the distance, it is 22 hours non-stop, no traffic from Brisbane to Melbourne (so, from about halfway up the East Coast to the bottom of the East Coast, plus over a bit). Of course, for anyone who has ever gone on a road trip, this is a virtually impossible non-stop distance, especially for someone as curious as me. There are simply too many weird and interesting and beautiful things to see.
The most constantly fascinating observation for me is how different the flora and fauna are here. There I go, using odd terms like flora and fauna. But saying "plants" and "animals" is just too plain. They aren't just plants and animals. It's things like...the particularly stunning moss growing on a rock, or the oddly colored blue mosquitoes (oh, the mosquitoes). Or it's seeing cockatoos flying along the side of the road like we would see turkey vultures on the way to Tahoe - they are simply everywhere, even though in my slowly-expanding mind those birds should definitely be overly expensive and caged. And loud. Oh boy, do those things make NOISE.
Then there are the road signs. Australia is really, really committed to reminding you to try to be a better driver. Every minute or so you will see "How Fast Are You Going?" or "Stop Every Two Hours" or "Even A Roadside Nap Is Better Than No Sleep." Some nearly yell at you about drunk driving. I think this is particularly brilliant, but I have no idea if it actually works. Australia is also really committed to having the weirdest city names in the world. Wagga Wagga? Condong? Toowoomba? I felt a bit rude for laughing when I found out that most of the names are Aboriginal words. But really. Maybe the Aboriginals just have a really good sense of humor.
Back To The Learner's Permit
James gets the "Most Tolerant Passenger Seat Companion of the Year" award. He let me drive. Well, he let me drive sometimes. And sometimes I simply elected not to drive. We would generally try to swap every 2-3 hours, just for change of stimulation and a stretch of the legs. James' mom told me cute story that reminds me, when driving on the Australia side of the world, "Passenger in the ditch!" meaning, keep the passenger in the gutter. Oh boy, do I know how to keep the passenger in the gutter. A bit too much, perhaps. My left arm likes to pull the car left...into the ditch. Sometimes this results in the white line making that noise at me. Sometimes there is gravel in the ditch. In city driving, there are always other cars parked in the ditch.
The worst was driving through Sydney. We accidentally took the route that put us directly into urban traffic and ran us straight through the city. The lanes are made for clown cars and people drive like they are all driving their urgently water-popped wives to the hospital. Well, they aren't. They are just speedy and the lanes are just tiny. Needless to say, there was some yelling. Do you remember the scene in Ferris Bueller's Day Off when jennifer Grey is driving with her mom and she is pounding on the steering wheel yelling "I CAN'T DRIVE WHEN YOU'RE YELLING AT ME STOP IT!!!!" Yeah, it was something like that.
But I am improving. I avoided hitting an echidna taking its sweet time crossing a rural highway. I drove in the pouring tropical rains. Of course, I took an opportunity to stop at every Driver Reviver stop on my shift. The government pays for volunteers to give out free coffee, tea, lemonade, and cookies about every 100k down the major highways during the holidays. BEST. IDEA. EVER. Thank you, OZ government, for all the bickies. Oh yeah, bicky=cookie. Short for biscuit. Biscuit is both a cookie and cracker. They do not have biscuit biscuits. But that is another story for another time.
In short, we drove a LOT. And we read a lot of maps. And sometimes, car tension rode high. But at the end of the day, after you pitch the tiny tent and set up the chair and pull out the box of wine, there really can be no complaints.
Making My Father Proud
My dad's idea of camping was never like other families. No caravan, no Colman stove (well, hardly ever). No blow-up mattresses and no multi-room tents. God, I always wanted a multi-room tent so big you could stand in it.
My dad would be ultra-proud to learn that I went camping for nearly 11 days in a tiny two-person (one and a half is more like it) tent, using only a tiny backpacking stove, two tiny ground mats, a plastic knife, and no pillows. We forgot the pillows. We bought some at Woolworths...
And boy is camping here variable. We had at least two nights of torrential rain. It was MISERABLE, mostly because it was so loud and right above your head. We had at least two nights of miserable sub-tropical heat. We ALSO had a few nights of bizarre freezing temperatures. Oh yes, and at least two nights, there were awful colicky babies right next to our tent. And at the end of every hardly-slept night, we would roll everything up, throw it back in the car, and do it all over again.
Actually, I really liked it. It was pretty much as roughing it as you can get when you're in the car every day. Toward the end, we stopped caring if the campsites had showers. We cooked pasta and thai food and we barbecued (because everyone knows that's what the Aussies do) on this tiny pot stove thing and hey, we drank a smidge of wine. The Aussies love that too. But more about wine later, I think. A LOT more.