Week Twenty Eight - Perth 02/13/2011
I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know,
- Irving Berlin, via Bing Crosby 1942
Day One Hundred Ninety December 25th
Santa found us! He ate our cookies, drank some milk, answered our letters and left all kinds of gifts! Adele got her cross on a silver chain and a wolf plush. Vince got his remote control motorcycle, mom her wallet and dad his surf shirt. We made it until 7a before Vince bounded in to our room: he was beyond excited, wide-eyed and full of wonder. Adele was a close second right behind him.
It seems the thing to do here on Christmas Day is to go swimming and hang out at the beach. With opposite seasons from home and record snow falling on the high Sierras, it all takes some getting used to. Mammoth is getting more snow than we can imagine yet the temp here is bordering on one hundred.
The beach is great fun. We spend the morning playing in the waves, eat fish and chips “take away” at the main food stand for lunch, head back for more wave time in the afternoon and then finally head home for burgers and corn on the cob as our Christmas feast.
Late in the day the winds pick up and the kite sailors and wind surfers come out in full force. We watch another sunset and head off to bed, exhausted from the sand and surf. Unfortunately the kids are having all sorts of issues going to sleep lately and the eight o’clock bedtime slips to well past eleven. All this change and excitement does take its toll.
Day One Hundred and Ninety One December 26th
Another day, another city, another aquarium. We are aquarium experts. As a family I would wager to say that we have been to more aquariums than any other. Name a city and chances are really good we have seen the marine life they have to offer.
The best ones have a unique local perspective. With proximity to key whale migration routes, great white sharks up and down the coast, uber dangerous jellies, all kinds stingrays, deadly sea creatures, salt crocs, and the like, this one has to be seen. It is small but packed with fun stuff.
The highlight is a moving glass tube that you stand in and it runs in a circle though a giant saltwater tank filled with all kinds of sea life. It is great fun standing under sharks and rays.
We learn not to pickup seashells since they may contain crabs that will inject venom into your finger and do serious damage. Apparently the box jellies can come close to killing you if you end up like Dore in the Nemo movie and “go messing with the jellies”. Thrill issues, dude, some serious thrill issues.
Vince is sick on the way back so he stays home with Teri while Adele and I spend the rest of the afternoon at the beach catching waves. It’s just another lazy day in Perth.
Day One Hundred and Ninety Tow December 27th
Each territory here in Australia has its own museum. The one up in Darwin was excellent so we head to downtown Perth with high expectations.
Downtown Perth is empty. I can’t tell if it is just because we are here during the holiday season or if it is always this way but the place is really, really empty. It is kind of weird, like they built all these building and no one came. Back home cities like New York or Chicago might empty out a bit in the summer but there are still plenty of people left behind. Here you can walk right down the middle of the streets and no one would notice.
We have the museum to ourselves. It’s a nice one with a bunch of stuff on the Aborigines, a great gem and rock section, a few dinosaurs and some space objects. Apparently Australia gets hit by a lot of space debris. Luckily it falls into the middle and no one notices. With so few people and so much space chances are good it will land with out incident.
For lunch we end up in a hamburger place, one of the few things open, sitting in the heat and trying to figure out where everyone is. Since this is the only place open, everyone I there so it takes some time to get our burgers and fries. The kids are increasing picky eaters and feeding Vince has become a chore. We struggle for a while then give up and head back home. On the way we stop by blockbuster for a movie.
Adele and I planned to go to the beach until we hear on the radio that they have closed the beach due to the sighting three sharks about thirty meters off shore. How crazy is that? The beach is closed. You would think that everyone would go home and consider them selves lucky but the ones they interview on the radio say they are all going to wait around until the ban is lifted. These Australians are very tough people. “Ok, mate, just wait a pinch till the shaaaak, swims away then, it’s a big ocean mate, no worries, back in the swim in no time.” Falling for this logic I suggest we head down and wait it out. The family looks at me like I have lost my mind, which may be true, in this unrelenting one hundred and five degree heat.
I have started training again and this afternoon Vince and I get into our running gear and “run” to the local park and do our push ups and sit ups together. He may the most enthusiastic training partner I have ever had. It’s not lost on me that in a flash I will be struggling to keep up with him.
Day One Hundred and Ninety Three December 28th
The shark thing is bumming us out so we head back in to Perth to spend the day at Kings Park away from the sharks and safe on land or as safe as you can be here with all of the spiders, snakes and the lot.
It is a nice city park. There is a ring road around the outside and an incredible play area for families with kids. They have all sorts of climbing things, great lawns, trees to lounge under, fountains, barbeques, all of it in full use with folks out enjoying the day. Again I don’t know why this sort of thing isn’t available in the States. I think it is that we are nowhere near as sociable as the Aussies. There seems to be more time spent here hanging out with larger groups. It seems more communal on some level. That and the place is spotless, back home it would be littered with McDonalds wrappers and Big Gulp cups.
We wind our way all the way to the end for an over look of the city and the harbor. The area at the point is a large grassy knoll shaded by big old growth trees. The grass is like a golf coarse fairway and we end up napping on the ground for an hour or so enjoying the sea breeze.
When we re-group from our naps we head back to the house to change and try the beach. The winds are blowing unbelievably hard. To my dismay the kids want to try and swim so we leave Teri and head to the waters edge next to the only other people on the entire stretch of beach. It is much too rough.
In retreat we find a playground and spend sometime on the swings and climbing ropes to try and burn off some energy before bedtime.
Day One Hundred and Ninety Four December 29th
“One of the highlights of a visit to Perth.”
“A must do experience!”
“Beautiful and Amazing!”
A total waste of time and money!!
A huge disappointment!!!
Do not go to Rottsnest Island. Everything about it was a waste of time and energy. The ferry ride from Fremantle was over crowded, the town over run with people, the prices outrageous (two Subway veggie delights and four drinks for $50US), I had to carry Vince almost 2K to the beach, the one that was tiny and crammed with people, the water park for Adele for half and hour cost $25US, it was over a hundred degrees and the place has this weird vibe to it. I am not kidding, don’t go, you will be disappointed no matter where you’re from or what your perspective.
When we get home after a long day I get to go for a run. Finally after a few weeks back in the saddle my legs and lungs have returned and I can go for an hour or so without keeling over. It goes fast I tell you. After running the LA Marathon in March and going long through June it is shocking how fast the distance goes out from under you. Six months of travel takes its toll. After dinner we wind down the day watching Notting Hill, probably my favorite Julia Roberts movie of all time. Luckily Teri bought it for me so I can have Julia sign a copy next time I see her.
Day One Hundred and Ninety Five December 30th
Today we return to the city we sailed from yesterday to explore an area called Fremantle. We are in search of the Little Creatures Brewery for lunch and an Aboriginal art gallery that comes highly recommended. Both are worth the time it takes to find parking.
Little Creatures is rocking. There must be two hundred tables set in a huge warehouse right on the water. It bet there are five or six hundred people here. The place is a working brewery so it smells of hops and grains. Big aluminum vats hover over everyone.
It feels like one big party. Kids are running around, they have a big sandbox set up with digging toys to keep them busy while the parents belly up for a few pints. Table competition is fierce and Teri manages to muscle out some others but it costs us a round to suggest they hold “no worries”.
As you would expect the food is marginal at best, but the beer is cold and fresh and the atmosphere begs you to sit around and stay a while. Many of the people seem to be regulars and the tourist trade seems to be minimal.
From there we walk across the park to find the gallery. It has incredible works by artists from all over Australia. We spend a bit of time looking through the enormous volume of works but end up empty handed. It is hard to find a piece that we both agree on. It’s also tough with the kids who are rapidly losing control so we end up moving on earlier than we would like.
Looking at all of the work reminds me that there really aren’t “original” people in many other places. The American Indians are probably the closest thing I know of. Europe and Asia seems to have been conquered and then settled by people from other places. Maybe Africa and the Middle East have initial starting points. I make a note to check on the migration patterns of early man. I ask you, would that be something that would have even occurred to me six months ago? I think not.
Day One Hundred and Ninety Six New Years eve
Adele: Where’s Mom.
Dad: She’s on the phone.
Adele: With her sidekick?
Dad with raised eyebrows: Err, yes, with her sidekick, she needs to check in for the New Year.
Apparently 2011 is to be excellent. Teri’s sidekick (also know as a clairvoyant I believe) has only positive things to stay about our journey and the pending stay in NZ. How she can tell over phone lines and across how ever many thousands of miles is not for me to question. After all she is the one that predicted much of what has happen this past year. If even half of the stuff comes through it will be another incredible time.
Teri takes the kids to the zoo and I spend the day writing up notes for the past few weeks. It’s funny. Even though we feel we have moved into slow motion and are generally rested and relaxed compared to the last few months, the journal notes show that we still manage to do something almost every day. Under “normal” circumstances we would be burnt out from all of the activity.
Somewhere along the line Adele loses a tooth. It’s been on the cusp for a few days: I am glad that it finally decided to come out on its own. We were close to tying a string around it and giving a good pull. Actually I think Vince was the one pulling for that, the rest of us showed more restraint.
There is much discussion on the ability of the tooth fairy to find us here in Australia. The kids are concerned that she may not know where we are or how to find us. Always willing to give it a try we seal the tooth in an envelope and hide it under Adele’s pillow. Now only time will tell.
New Years eve comes early over here. We are in one of the first time zones that welcomes in the New Year. At home we usually spend the evening watching the balls drop around the world then waiting first for Times Square and finally for LA. Here they don’t have any coverage because we are so early in the cycle. We all make it to 9p hoping they will cover the fireworks in Sydney on one of the national channels but they don’t and it comes and goes with out much fanfare.
Shortly thereafter we all head off to bed hoping the tooth fairy can find her way.
Happy New Year from the other side of the world…
Week Twenty Seven - SWA 02/13/2011
Well, it’s one for the money,
Two for the show,
Three to get ready,
Now go, cat, go!
Blue Suede Shoes – Carl Perkins via Elvis, 1960
Day One Hundred and Eight Three December 18th
Today is glorious with a touch of clouds. Perhaps they don’t want us to forget about them. It is almost as if they just want to show up for an hour or so to make an appearance.
Vince and I head to the beach for a morning of sand castles, trucks and jumping in the waves.
This is really the first day we notice the flies. The guidebooks leave this part out with good reason. Apparently the black flies are particularly bad this year because there is a problem with dung beetles in this part of the woods. Fly larvae live in dung. In good years dung beetles happily eat the fly larvae and everything stays in check. However, we are at the tail end of a drought that has somehow impacted the beetles so, fewer beetles means more of flies.
To give some perspective, Vince and I walk from the car to the beach covered head to toe with blankets, t-shirts, hats and anything else we can patch together. We have our heads completely covered and leave just enough room around our eyes to peer out at the path in front of us.
Flies cloud around as we walk. It is like some kind of Australian torture technique. Here we are on one of the most beautiful beach on earth and you almost break down walking from the parking area to the shoreline. The bussing is enough to push you over the edge. Once you get there all is well, as long as you stay in the water. If you sit in the sand you suffer. Insanity lurks close by.
We spend the morning building sand castles, playing trucks and swimming in the “big ones”. Vince runs up and down as the waves come and go, squealing with delight and excitement. It is fun to watch his comfort zone increase day-by-day, the more time we spend in the ocean, the more he loves it.
In the afternoon we switch it up and Adele and I had beach side for some boogie boarding. The waves here are big. They are like a good day at Jones Beach except the break is much closer to shore: here the ride in is short, steep and very fast. We manage. Adele is swimming so well that she can run down, dive in, dive under the break and pop up on the other side. The small stuff in Malaysia was great prep for the real McCoy.
The only issues here are the undertow (always think of “under toad” from the World According to Garp) and riptide. Once we get out beyond the break it is hard to get back in. The ocean is funny that way, it lulls you into thinking everything is going your way and then you slowly begin to realize just where you are and what you are doing. The waves are very strong, rolling in sets of threes and fours and they are clearly in control, not us. It is hard sometimes to teach a nine year old that you need to surrender to nature and go with the grain not against it. Their instinct is to mold the world around them, not be molded by it. Wait maybe that’s mine, so hard to un-learn all those years of schooling.
That’s how we find ourselves on the front end of a double set with legs being pulled hard left, a wave breaking right, Adele clutching her board with a flash of real fear in her eyes and me pushing her up so her head stays above water. The moment the second wave crashes into my back on an angle that somehow pushes my mid section towards shore while my upper body goes right and my legs move out towards sea I can feel the full force of the oceans fury. It is there in an instant and then gone just as fast. The impact however, will be felt for some time.
Adele takes no notice as somehow we manage to keep her head above water and she keeps her hands on her boogie board. I know that something is tweaked out immediately. Each step confirms that the bones got rattled at bit.
It’s a small price to pay for swimming with your daughter beyond the break. She doesn’t miss a beat.
Day One Hundred and Eighty Four December 19th
It is cloudy this morning. I must say it is a welcome relief from the endless sunshine. Clouds bring cooler temperatures and a gentle breeze changing the look and feel of the coastline. Today the water looks darker and cold giving us a glimpse of another side, the one responsible for the shipwrecks that line the coast.
We decide to go inland and check out a play area / coffee shop designed for families. They do this kind of thing over hear. Land is plentiful and they can build out big open spaces. This one has a hedge maze designated “kids only” as well as a large warehouse type structure with tables and educational toys set out and organized by age group. The patio looks over a giant climbing tree and a play set big enough for hoards of kids. The “coffee” shop sells beer and has nice tables and umbrellas for the parents to hang and waste away an afternoon. We should do more of this back home.
The interesting thing is that it is a totally safe environment. Parents can actually look at each other and converse instead the usual half focus, one eye on the conversation, the other on the kids. Here the environment is comfortable and safe for kids and you know others will watch out for them if need be. People let their guard down, though I am not sure it was ever up to begin with. The comparison to South Africa, where you never take an eye off your kids, ever, is striking.
The fly issue has us searching for an alternative beach venue so we head off to the other side of our peninsula to see if the winds are more favorable and strong enough to keep them at bay. The area we drive through all looks very “beach” with low lying scrub trees and a sandy base. The drive covers twisting two lane roads with sparse traffic. We are still getting used to the lack of people here compared to the rest of world.
The other beach is full of flies as well. The water is beautiful and the beach perfect for the kids but the flies drive us all crazy and we need to leave. I have no idea how or why these people sit there all day long swatting at flies. Perhaps it’s the endless flow of beer.
The son of a local winery owner owns the house we are staying at so we head over to Wise wines to check out his dad’s vineyard. The place is something. It is set on a small hilltop. The property spills out in all directions with rolling hills filled with vines, huge ancient oak trees and fields of grass. The main building houses a restaurant and shop selling wine and local items from the region. There are sculptures on the main lawn and small places to sit and sip tucked about here and there.
You get the sense that this is a fine life that folks are living here in SWA. It almost seems like a well-kept secret that they have no interest in sharing with the rest of the world. They have excellent beaches, incredible surfing and fishing, great wines, olives and fruits, blistering sunny days, a moderate climate and a safe family oriented environment.
Now if they can just import some more dung beetles to take care of the flies.
Day One Hundred and Eight Five December 20th
Can it be raining? Believe it or not after all of the sunny days a rest day comes at just the right time. The rain sounds nice on the roof as it wakes us up to start the day. It is a glorious rainy day!
Sheep. Not just one or two, here and there, but zillions of them pretty much everywhere. Today we are going to see how they shear them and process the raw wool at a real sheep-shearing shed just down the road.
Typical of this neck of the woods we pull into a dirt parking lot and wander in to buy tickets at a little shop selling stuff made from authentic “Australian” wool. Naturally, they claim this to be the best wool in the world. Not sure I can agree until we get to New Zealand (where they have 30 sheep for each person) but we can confirm that it is certainly some of the most expensive!
An old guy welcomes us into the “back room”. There are probably seventy-five of us all in, mostly families with little kids. There is a mix of local Aussies a few Asians and a token European traveler. We seem to be the only Americans.
The crusty old guy in charge of the shearing looks like he walked off a movie set. He is leathery and tan, nicked and cut, quick with subtle inside jokes for the parents, patient with the kids and full of information on running a sheep farm.
We learn all about sheep and farming. When we lose power for a bit, a common experience out here, he improvises with a “field trip” out to the herding pen where the sheep dogs put on a show. They have one dog to bring the sheep into the pen and another to walk on top of them to keep them moving through the gates. No joke, one of the dogs walks on the backs of the sheep to keep them in line. It is amazing to see how well trained the dogs are and how responsive the sheep seem to be.
We learn about herd management, who they are tagged and identified by age and sex, when they are “retired” to the table and why, how often they are sheared, etc. It’s so different from home. This is a network of small farmers feeding in to cooperatives. The concept of corporate mega farms has not yet taken hold and the family run business is still alive and well.
Eventually we get around to the main event where he actually shears a sheep. They have a machine they use that has not changed in almost a hundred years. In fact it seems not much at all has changed here in the past hundred years. The barn is well worn and full of history. Years of “fixes” are evident everywhere, old signs hang here and there.
The sheep is incredible docile and sits there without any fuss as the shearer shaves the wool off in one piece.
We learn about sorting and bailing. How the different parts of the wool are used for different things and worth different amounts at market. This farm sells to middlemen who then sell to production houses for processing. Adele gets to push a button and start the bailing machine!
Our lunch stop is a German brewery stuck right dab in the middle of wine country. A prime example of counter programming: the Aussies love beer so the place is crowded. We sit inside and let the kids play outside in the rain. It is strange to be eating sausages and sauerkraut after the real deal in Germany. It can’t compare and disappoints, though we should have known better.
Later afternoon finds Teri out Christmas shopping in town and the rest of us home watching a Stuart Little movie marathon. No better way to spend a rainy day at the beach.
Day One Hundred and Eight Six December 21st
More rain. It is a slow, lazy day around the house while we get ready to transition up to Perth tomorrow. Adele is under the weather again and she spends pretty much the entire day on the couch. I try and catch up on the journal and pay bills while Teri and Vince head out to Christmas shop.
In mid-afternoon, Ron the owner of the winery and Tim the brother of Daniel the one who owns the house, stop by for a visit. They do things like that here. People stop by and hang out. I have no idea why we don’t do more of this at home. Maybe some do some where but not in Malibu.
They come strolling up the steps in board shorts, bare feet and tee shirts. We have a great few hours hanging out, popping a few tops and chatting about life and travels. It turns out they are an old Perth family with strong ties to the US. One of the kids is an actress living in West Hollywood. The wine business gets them out and about and Tim is starting several online ventures, some based back in the states. It is nice to visit with such positive and upbeat people. They have a dry sense of humor and appear interested and fully engaged in life.
Maybe it reflects the upswing that this area is experiencing overall with the explosive growth in minerals and mining. All the money flowing from the record growth of the past few decades is spilling into all corners of everyday live and everyone appears to be profiting. Housing is up, unemployment is nearly nil and you sense that there is generally an opportunistic outlook here. The future is bright and the landscape wide open.
I know it is not that easy but if you could figure out something to bring to market it feels like the money is here to support it. A good pretzel comes to mind. Since they don’t have pretzels I may become the first “Pretzel King” of Australia. With twenty million beer drinkers, how hard could it be?
Day One Hundred and Eight Seven December 22nd
This is a transition day. We are moving from the beach house in Yallingup to the beach house in Cottesloe, Perth. In Australia something like ninety percent of the people live by the water. Beaches and beach neighborhoods are life here. The ocean is warm, the waves big, the winds are calm in the morning and whip up to small gale in late afternoon and the sun always shines.
We drive mid-day and arrive at another beautiful modern home in late afternoon. We could be in Manhattan Beach, twenty years ago. Settling in is easy as it all feels familiar, very much like home.
A few random thoughts/observations that I missed earlier and that I keep coming back to and churning over:
In Laos we saw a crazy game that they should import to the States. It is played on a badminton court (people play badminton everywhere in Vietnam and Laos) only with three people per side and they use a small soccer ball. The same rules as soccer apply: no hands, feet and head only. The serve is an overhead or sideways scissors kick and returns can be chest trapped but must not touch the ground. We saw a group of young guys playing late into the night by our hotel in Luang Prabang, the pace is really fast and it is exciting to watch.
Uluru, the most sacred of all Aboriginal sites is one hundred and seventy kilometers from the exact middle of Australia. That’s nutty when you think about it, one hundred and seventy eight kilometers is a rounding error out here. In the forty thousand years that folks have been here the rounding error is probably due to natural movement of the land. How did they know that the center of their belief system stems from a rock in the very center of the land they are one with? It’s beyond my realm of understanding. Something is happening at the rock.
The river system that flows through the town of Alice Springs is part of the oldest uninterrupted river system in the world. It is part of a broader natural, symbiotic relationship between the elements. I would say it is between man and nature but I am coming to understand that is a misrepresentation of what is going on out here. In this world man is nature so it simply is, with out division or separation. Everything learned and known stems directly from the greater whole. I have no idea what any of this means but I do have strong desire to become a Park Ranger.
Day One Hundred and Eighty Eight December 23rd
Elvis’s car is parked in our garage. It’s a convertible, probably late 1960s, dark bluish black with a tan interior, a gift from Elis to Pricilla. It is one of those times in life when you wonder how and why thing happen to you the way they do. I have the keys but don’t dare to drive it. Instead the kids pose for a few pics and I sit in The Kings seat and hum a few bars of Blue Suede Shoes.
Perth is a pleasure. It reminds us of Southern California down San Diego way. BRUCE! Our little town could easily be Carlsbad or Encinitas. It’s the same kind of vibe. Very beach: with flip-flops and board shorts as the uniform.
With Christmas two days away we head to the mall. Everyone is there and it feels like we are in the Valley. This year we drew names out of a hat and we each get to buy one present for our person. I have Teri and Adele has Vince so the two of us head off in search of gifts. We settle on pajamas and a hat for mom and a Lego RV for Vin.
The place is hot and crowded with last minute shoppers. Turns out we are not alone in waiting until the last minute. After an hour or two we are exhausted and decide to head back home to recoup: its all too much interaction with the masses for one day. Best to go to the beach.
Day One Hundred and Eighty Nine December 24th
Our new routine is to head to the beach mid-morning while the wind is still calm and the waves manageable. The kids and I head over for a few hours of boogie boarding and sand castle building. It is very hot here in Perth.
Teri heads back to town once again for last minute shopping and supplies. Christmas is difficult when travelling. Getting time to pull it all together is not easy when you are together twenty-four-seven.
When we return from the beach we wrap gifts and put out our stockings. The air is festive and we are all in the holiday spirit.
As tradition holds in our family we each open one gift on Christmas Eve. We have a little party and snack on crackers and cheese. NORAD is tracking Santa online again and it is fun to see that we are one of the first stops he makes instead of being one on the last back home. Apparently he is stopped in Fiji for a while, and why not?
Adele has asked for a silver cross on a chain from Santa which gets us thinking about going to a church service which is how we ended up in the WSA cathedral in downtown Perth at 7p.
The place rocks. It is like the larger cathedrals we saw in Europe only filled to the brim and with a choir that makes the place reverb with sound. It is a classic Christmas service with ten lessons and hymns, all read by prominent members of the city: the Governor, ambassadors in residence (including one from the US), the Rugby team manager, a TV news caster. We sit by a side door so we can escape with Vince when he starts to melt down: Adele sits fascinated with it all the entire time.
Full of the Christmas spirit we say our prayers, head home to set out cookies and milk and try and sleep some which is very difficult to do when you are nine and four and wondering if Santa knows where you are.
Week Twenty Six - Uluru 12/30/2010
I was watching
with one eye on the other side
I had fifteen people telling me to move
I got moving on my mind
I found shelter
In some thoughts turning wheels around
I said 39 times that I love you
to the beauty I had found
- White Strips, Hotel Yorba, White Blood Cells, 2001
Day One Hundred and Seventy Six December 11th
There’s not a lot to do in Darwin. You can walk all of downtown in about twenty minutes. The main site is the Museum we saw yesterday, a Woolworths were they sell food and all the rest is just filler. That’s OK though since we are leaving today to fly to the middle of the Red Centre. We are all glad to be moving on and hopefully out of the rain and humidity. It is still really hot.
We are flying to Alice Springs, The Middle of Nowhere Australia. It is hard to believe the airlines have flight service in and out of here, but then again the drive is over 1,400K so they need an alternative for the tourist trade. And the tourist trade needs to get to Alice Springs as it is the only springboard to Ayers Rock or Uluru.
We get up fairly early for us these days to re-pack our clean laundry and head to the airport for our flight. It’s pouring rain on and off: good to be leaving with the storms threatening the way they are. At check out we learn the Internet service is based on the amount of data we use as well as the amount of time we are logged on. Surprise! So a $1.99 episode on iTunes actually costs another $30 to download. Someone is making a fortune on this Internet access thing.
We have another box that we need to send back home so we stop by the post office thinking Australia is a solid option for mail and that it is probably a good bet that a box will make the trip in one piece. $80 to mail the box. It’s a small box mind you and we don’t care when it actually arrives (as long as it does) and the cheapest option is still $80. $80! For a box (small). Someone out there needs to create a company that can disintermediate the shipping value chain. A fortune is sitting there for a reliable, low-cost provider. This is a global problem, I mean opportunity, and ripe for the picking.
At the airport a nice couple takes one look at us and promptly hands us a $30 travel voucher that they are not using so we can feed the kids. We are a bit thin these days. Excellent, play it forward, naturally we load up on coffee and water pre-flight. This is all a good thing since we are cash strapped at the moment waiting for accounts to clear. Moving money electronically has been great but you need to remember to top off the tank now and again. Already Australia is much more expensive than we thought it would be.
We are flying Qantas, so I keep snickering since all I can think of is Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man. The flight is very nice and surprisingly full. Must be the Oprah effect. It is amazing to look out the plane window for an hour and see no signs of life below. And to think some nutty people make the drive just for the experience of all that nothingness. It looks insane from 30,000 feet.
When we land it is well over a thousand degrees. The walk from the plane to the terminal all but zaps the life out of us. It is a slog to get our bags and find the rental car counter.
The guidebooks said that the “Red Centre” is hot but nothing really prepares you for this. With all the red dirt, blue sky and intense sunshine it all looks so inviting but as soon as you step foot outside the heat just overpowers you. For the first time I have a real sense of how people can die out here from the heat. It’s beyond Africa and Jordan. Actually, this is way beyond anything we have ever experienced.
The people are very friendly. Our rental car lady checks us in for half and hour chatting away about this and that, suggesting places to go and things to do in town. One of “the guys” comes back after leaving for the day to track down a booster seat for Vince and then hand delivers it to us in the parking lot. That’s not happening in LA I assure you. Her last piece of advice and a rule of the rental car companies actually is not driving after dusk. “That’s when the really big stuff comes out to lie on the roads seeking warmth” Big stuff? “Oh, mostly roos and lizards, that kind of thing, no worries though.” Lizards? “Bigger than the car. Do all kinds of damage. Best to wrap up by sundown.” No worries.
Our apartment is in town and part of a complex that appears to be a mix of short term and long-term rentals. It is perfect for us with two big bedrooms, a nice kitchen and sitting area all with glorious air conditioning. It is a self-cater set up so we grab some food at the local Woolworth, dine in and call it a night.
In the evening it cools down to nine hundred and ninety nine degrees before bedtime.
Day One Hundred and Seventy Seven December 12th
Alice Springs is a stop over point between everywhere else and Uluru so you don’t really expect much of the place. We have a day here to see what there is to see and check out life in the Red Centre. It is hotter than yesterday to add some perspective.
There is a living desert museum here, The Alice Springs Desert Park, with an outdoor exhibit of three climate zones common out in the middle of nowhere. How exciting does that sound? We pretty much have the place to ourselves.
It turns out to be a great stop. It is a living museum in the sense that each region has plants and animals found in the given zone. Some are just growing wild while others are set in large enclosed areas. It is amazing to see how everything adapts to the two things you must have out here (1) water and (2) a way to deal with the heat.
The highlight is a Ranger talk by a local guide descended from the Aboriginal tribes that live in the area. He discusses tribal life and the differences between “men’s” and “women’s” business. There are spears and shields and cooking items and food sources. The items are passed around to give you a sense of weight and feel. This hour spent and the understanding we get about the area and the people make all of the travel to Alice Springs worthwhile.
The Aboriginal people have been here for 30-40,000 years. It is the oldest continual line of people/culture in the world. We learn all sorts of things about the way they pass down information between generations. That the young never ask why of an Elder: because the Elders speak for all that have come before them. That marriages are set up between distant clans to preserve bloodlines and make sure the gene pool is solid. That the maximum number of people per living section of land is known and strictly adhered to in order to preserve food and water sources. It is all fascinating.
Today, the Aborigines are having a tough go of things. The parallels to the American Indians are uncanny. Pushed off the native land, corralled into cramped, unnatural space. They are lost and feeling the effects in every way. Interestingly, our guide is very hopeful and he firmly believes that in two or three generation they will figure out how to be survive in the new world and once again thrive in the new environment. The fact that he is taking a “two of three generation” view of it all speaks volumes.
One of best exhibits in the Museum is a big building they have out in the middle of the park with a night exhibit. As you walk in from the blaring sun and oppressive heat, the areas gets gradually darker and cooler until you are under the night sky. All of the animals are exhibited in darkness so that the night creatures are comfortable being active. It’s wild. All kinds of things are wandering around after dark. Trust me if you come to the Red Centre stay inside when the sun goes down. Here, what you don’t know can definitely kill you.
A quick note about the people that live here: they all look hung over. Pretty much everyone is a bit bleary. I can only imagine how bad the drinking problem is here. When Teri bought a bottle of wine she noticed that there are restrictions on how much alcohol you can by in a 24-hour period and it seem it’s with good reason.
The Aborigines look completely lost and out of place. There is no connection between people what so ever and no attempt is made to interact. There is no eye contact. No one is smiling. And they all look hung over too.
There is a really sense of survival about the place but its mixed with enough creature comfort to deaden the senses. Here is seems the modern world is not necessarily a good thing.
Day One Hundred and Seventy Eight December 13th
Uluru is three hundred miles from Alice Springs. This is a “short” drive here in Australia. We would agree except that Teri kept telling us all it was three hundred kilometers and we are all geared up for a two hour drive that turns into four and change. Plus, the heat is just ridicules.
Over three hundred miles we pass: ten trucks (all train trucks three cars long), twenty-four cars, one bike and twenty-seven hawks circling above. That is over three hundred miles and includes coming out of Alice Springs and coming into Uluru. The place is empty and fascinating.
At one point we stop for gas and the guy in the store tells me this is a cool day. That a hot day is in the low fifties and flies cover you head to toe. The “fifties” are anywhere from 122 to 140 degrees in our world. This could be one of the most intense environments on the planet. Thank goodness they have cold Diet Coke!
The drive is odd in that it is unremarkable in most ways but the solitude is hard to grasp and shake. You begin to get just a small taste of what life beyond the small towns is really like out here. A lot of it is still uncharted, undiscovered. They keep finding new things here: animals, plants, stuff from space, all kinds of things. Imagine finding anything new in the States; probably not going to happen. Here it seems that something like eighty percent of the place is uninhabited and still open for discovery and interpretation. It is appealing in an add sort of way.
The town, I use town loosely here, of Uluru is set up for tourists coming to see the rock. There are five hotels ranging from camping on the low end to a plush hotel on the very high end, all built around a circular drive with the rest of the infrastructure tucked in between them. There is a gas station, a guide shop, and the small square where you can buy stuff, a grocery store, a few restaurants and a manageable number of cars and people.
We are staying mid-range at the Lost Camel Resort. It is very nice and has a pool so all is well. We drop our bags. Grab a quick bite and then head over to the Visitors Center to get our bearings for our less than twenty-four hour stay.
As soon as you see the rock it sort of pulls you in. Nothing else matters: it dominates the horizon. The thing is huge. I thought it would be smooth for some reason but its not. It has pockmarks and indentations and stains down the sides from rainfall. It definitely has an impact.
There is not much at the Cultural Center. We use it as a background check and a warm up for tomorrow. There are a few exhibitions and some information about the management board made up of both natives and Australians. You get the impression all is working well between them but it is hard to tell. The best news is that they have a suitable Ranger walk at 8a that we can aim for.
The kids are cranked up so on the way back to the hotel we stop and have them run around the parking lot at one of the sunset overlooks. When I suggest they do laps Vince dutifully takes off with Adele on his heels. It is a crazy and hilarious scene. If only the heat and sun would wear them down!
When we get back to the hotel everyone is tense from the long travel day in the heat. Since the energy levels are still running high we opt for our last hope to cool down and relax. When all else fails, go for a swim. This turns out to be a good fit. We spend and hour or so after dinner at the pool regrouping from the long day. The sun sets and leaves a burnt orange glow over everything. From the pool you can float on your back and watch the colors change on the trees.
Vince and I are in the Chico room and Teri and Adele share one for the Chicas. As soon as heads hit pillows we are all out like lights.
Lost Camel Resort room note left on the bed: “Due to unseasonal rain and flooding which appears to have dramatically altered the lifecycle of much of the desert flora and fauna, insects are in plague proportions. We apologize for any inconvenience.”
They actually say “plague”…
Day One Hundred and Seventy Nine December 14th
We start the day with an 8a hike from the base of the rock with one of the guides from the Park Ranger Service. Once again we get someone that truly loves their job. I overhear him telling some young kids with the group that he has been training to do this all his life and can think of nothing else he would rather be doing. It shows in his work. The two-hour walk is one of the best we have had in a National Park.
He is full of stories and information about the rock and the Aboriginal tribes that have lived here. The big take away for me is just how interconnected everything is here and how in tune the people are with the land. Clearly there is something going on and it is happening on more levels than I can understand. It makes you feel completely out of touch with what ever it is yet at some base level very much at home and a part of something all around you. I have no idea how to describe it: I am not sure what it is exactly. But it is something and it is meaningful. Maybe it’s the heat.
By noon we are checked out of the hotel and are bound for the airport. We decided to fly out of here instead of driving back to Alice Springs (a great decision in retrospect) so we are due to drop off the car and catch a 1:30p flight to Perth. Logistics are easy and the flight painless. As we climb off the desert floor, seeing Uluru from the air, it standing there all alone, in the vast emptiness, is really something.
Landing in Perth is like coming back to the real world. The airport is big and bustling. People are moving to and fro and moving in all directions. It feels odd to be with so many people again after being so isolated in Darwin and Uluru.
I will say again that I feel totally comfortable here in Australia. I like everything about it. The people seem positive and upbeat and there is a palpable energy in the air. It feels alive.
For the next two weeks we have arranged for a home exchange with our house in Malibu. This means we stay here and the family we are exchanging with stays in our place, though in this case they are not coming until the summer or 2012. Fortunately they have a few homes and we get to do one week down on the beach in a small town in the southwest corner and another up in the city of Perth. Unfortunately, we still have a 300K drive to Yallingup.
So, about Yallingup. It is a tiny town (not really, its more like a community) on the ocean about three hours south of Perth. It easily has one of the best beaches in the world. It must be one of the best surf spots on the coast with breaks coming in left, right and center. The reef stretches along the beach to break the really big waves though they are still on the high side by our standards.
It feels like the Hamptons when I was a kid. At night everyone goes to sleep and you can’t see any lights. During the day you notice when people drive by. We walk down to the water. There is a small playground and a place to shower up after a swim. At the base by the parking lot is a camping spot for a dozen of so luck campers.
Our house sits just up the hill, set back a bit from the road and high enough for full on ocean views from the decks. There is one big room downstairs, bedrooms up top and an office out back. The family has small kids so there are three big toy chests and a bunch of kids stuff. It is perfect for a week of rest and relaxation.
We arrive late. On the way into the house we stop by for take out Thai food and some basic supplies. Then we find our way and begin to settle in. All in all today was a long travel day but the bookends of the early morning hike and the late night arrival at the beach make it all worthwhile.
Day One Hundred and Eighty December 15th
Up to a glorious day. The sun is shining and the beach is calling. We spend the entire day there, in the morning I head down with Vince to play in the surf and sand. Then we head back to the house for lunch and then return with Adele for more of the same all afternoon. It is fantastic.
Day One Hundred and Eighty One December 16th
Up to a glorious day, again! You can get used to this kind of lifestyle. The sky is a deep blue and the sun is shining, the salt air crisp and clean.
Today we decide to journey down to Margaret River. This is the central town on the wine circuit and billed as the place to be in this neck of the woods. I guess it is if you like that kind of thing. To us it seems like any other small town. It is a bit odd to see a Target here on the other side of the world but other than that is a sleepy, somewhat downscale version of the Cape.
Vince isn’t feeling well today. He has been off lately and today it seems to finally be taking its toll on him. Since the temperature is really high in the sun and the main street doesn’t really have that much to offer we do one quick loop, stop by a pharmacy for some meds and call it an afternoon.
Though not before buying two boogie boards and checking out the surf shops for my eco-friendly board short project. It seems the big surf wear houses are offering some form of RPET poly shorts but not up to par with what we intend to do with VinniVooms. To further test the concept and pick up Vin’s spirits we get matching board shorts to celebrate the pending launch of the new company. The world needs eco-friendly board shorts for fathers and sons! At least this world does.
We need gas so we pull into a BP station. One of the things about the Australians is that they love to tell jokes and they don’t seem to care what they say in front of children. The gas station guy leans into the car and says, “This guy walks into a psychiatrist stark naked, wrapped in plastic wrap and asks, Doc what’s wrong with me? And the psychiatrist says, well sir I can see you nuts!” Ok, so it’s funny. Which prompts Adele to say, “What’s so funny?” And Vince so start yelling, “Nuts, that guy said nuts!” in his Tylenol induced delirium. Ah, what happened to the chicken crossing the road? Got to love these Australians.
Day One Hundred and Eighty Two December 17th
Yet another glorious day. These skies have possibly the most beautiful and bluest hue we have seen to date. They look fake. Actually, it is hard not to be shocked each time you walk out the door into the sunshine. And it’s hot. Really, really hot. Again.
It is Adele’s turn to be under the weather today. She wakes up with the same thing Vince has been fighting for the past few days. It was a tough night with both kids down for the count. Not a lot of sleep for the parents.
We decide to lay low and recoup as we celebrate our halfway point in our years long journey. This is day one hundred and eighty two, the mid-year point in terms of days. If you had asked me a year ago where I would be today I would have been hard pressed to say Perth Australia. It has been one incredible ride.
And to think we are only half way there…