The Red Centre

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All I do is drink water and sweat now (part 2)

Hello again! This post is so terribly late and three countries behind. Whoops! I think I left off at my sweating profusely and popping rehydration tablets like candy. I honestly think I lost two kgs in about two days when we were out in Coober Pedy. This is only a positive if you like your face hollowed out though, hmmm gross. Anyhow, cold dark places and six litres of hydrolyte water made me much better and ready to take on another hot dry place. Alice Springs! We were so fortunate to be able to stay with someone we met though a Couchsurfing connection.  He was the most gracious host, driving us around to beautiful things on every single one of his work breaks, which included a really neat trip to the Tropic of Capricorn for night time photography and pavement-lying. Even at 1am the pavement is still warm from the day’s sun. He also took us for a drive around the Aboriginal camp areas which was, eye-opening, for lack of a better word. The Aboriginals’ story in Oz very much mirrors the one of Canada and all countries with indigenous populations. The issues are just as complex. Opinions about such issues are definitely contentious and often times quite…overt, especially in the centre of the country. For me, it is clear that this is a people of amazing knowledge and resources that, in my opinion, have been left the middle of Australia because no one else seems to want it. For a more articulate (though certainly opinionated) vision of this ongoing issue, I strongly suggest you try to find the documentary “Utopia” by documentary film-maker John Pilger. It will upset you, but that’s good; I think that’s the point.

From Alice Springs we continued our journey in the red centre and made our way, officially, to the Outback. This was definitely the highlight of the trip for me, and I think for Curtis too. It’s just so remarkably different from anywhere else we’ve ever been, including coastal Australia. We did a three day, two night tour with a really great guide who sincerely seemed to enjoy being covered in red dust and sweat all day long. His enthusiasm was infectious, and as he blasted some of my favourite 90s tunes, we drove and drove and drove. We arrived first at Kata Tjuta, a grouping of giant conglomerate rocks covered in iron oxide to give them that deep red hue I love so much. We didn’t even know this rock formation existed, so it was a welcome surprise! Necessities for hiking here included: one litre of water for every hour you hike, fly net for your face, giant hat, probably more water. You’re not even allowed to start a hike after 11 am as it’s just too stinking hot and you’ll probably get the aforementioned hollowed-out death face….or heat stroke…or death. Cheerful stuff, but they had rangers out and about to make sure you abide by these sensible rules. That evening we unwrapped our swags (flat open-air tent type things), scattered them across the dusty ground and enjoyed the most beautiful starry sky I have seen in a very long time. With nothing around us for miles, save the wildlife, it was a very special experience. The only thing more special would be seeing Uluru (Ayers Rock) at sunrise and sunset. I’ll let Curtis’ photos explain why.

All I do is avoid death and other backpackers now

The last leg of our tour was to jump on the famous Ghan train and ride 24 hours up to Darwin at the “Top End” of the Northern Territory. The trip was really fun and surprisingly affordable as long as you’re willing to sleep in chairs. We made some nice train friends and overall the 24 hours was not too bad at all. Arriving into 86% humidity was a smack in the face though. As soon as you get used to one kind of heat, Australia will blast you with another! My body showed its displeasure by constantly feeling lethargic and generally like it was full of bowling balls. The Northern Territory is beautiful though, once I actually went outside. This region is home to some of the world’s most famous waterfalls and unique flora and fauna. All of which want to murder you, but they’re still lovely to look at. The most well-known danger is of course the salt water crocodile. These prehistoric scaly beasts are a huge boon to their tourism industry as well as NT’s export demands. If you’ve ever bought a crocodile purse or belt or shoes, chances are the Northern Territory is where it came from. The “salties” are the reason no one goes in the ocean, or rivers, or any body of water with the exception of a few swimming holes in Litchfield National Park. The saying is “if it’s sign posted that there’s crocs, don’t’ go swimming; if it’s sign posted that it’s safe, don’t go swimming; if there’s no sign about safety, don’t go swimming”.  Watching crocs jump for raw meat from the safety of a tour boat though, totally cool. And it was actually, as much as they scare the heck out of me, it’s crazy to see them in the wild. The males get up to 10 metres long and their jaw pressure is officially the strongest of any modern animal. They’re bonkers!

As much as I did like the Northern Territory, I didn’t love its capital city Darwin as much as other places in Australia. In short, I think the city is perhaps ironically named, as I would say that some natural selection still needs to occur. Or maybe it already has! Thus leaving the city plagued with terrible humans. I mean I’m sure there are very nice people that actually live there, but unfortunately many people we met were awful backpackers bored out of their minds due to aforementioned imminent death which apparently limits the activities to: drinking; waking up at 2 pm and proceeding to drink; maybe throwing garbage at strangers; showering in Axe body spray; using loud racist, sexist, generally ignorant language all day long. Barf. I retract my earlier statement that there is “no wrong way to travel, and its all part of a spectrum.” Sometimes, you should just be terrible in your own country and leave us all alone. Anyway, rant over. It was definitely worth ending our trip up there and I’ll miss Australia as a whole very much. From Darwin to Hong Kong, we’re off to Asia!

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Through the middle

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Country two on the backpack list: Australia. Yes, again. Fourteen months living in the joint and we barely cracked the surface! However, I reckon we saw a lot of variety this time around, even in our few short weeks. The trip seemed to naturally break into three main themes, which are as follows:

All I do is eat cheese and avoid road kill now

We flew from New Zealand into Hobart, Tasmania which was actually the worst (self-inflicted) flight layover experience. To save some cash we slept overnight on the cold, hard benches of the McDonalds in the Auckland International Airport. The experience wasn’t really sleeping; it was more pushing your face into stale hamburger smell while listening to constant announcements and loud (cranky) children at forever am. Bleariness made the five hour drive from Hobart to Launceston, our first stop in Tasmania, a bit dodgy but once we got there all was well.

Tasmania was connected to the rest of Australia via a land bridge until about 10 000 years ago when the rising sea levels separated the two land masses. Thus Tasmania feels Australian but is also quite unique. It’s given its name to the devil and the (now extinct) tiger; it’s been the destination of boat loads of prisoners; it’s only a six hour drive from one end to the other; and we thought it was beautiful. In certain places Tasmania is wet with ancient rainforest. In others it’s jagged with buttongrass-filled heathland and mountains. Either way, the landscapes are always wild….and full of wildlife.

Incidentally, most of the wildlife we saw was dead on the highway. Devils, wallabies, pademelons, wombats, kangaroos, and I’m not sure why! We did enjoy driving through the rural areas though, which most of Tas is. From Launceston we went to Cradle Mountain National Park, and after a night spent in a pub hotel, we arrived back in the capital city of Hobart. This is where the “eat all the cheese” began. Tasmania is known for its fantastic food and drink! Wine tasting, beer tasting, whisky tasting, cheese and spreads were all enjoyed as much as possible. Basically, that’s where all our time went in Hobart, with the exception of MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art. I’m not really sure how to describe our experience there. It is a weird and wonderful place. If you gave one thousand art monkeys one thoussand art supplies you might come close to the bizarreness. These art supplies would include computerized nozzles to make “rain paintings” of the daily news or perhaps test tubes and pumps to create a room-sized digestive system (that poops twice a day…yes, really). The themes are clearly sex and death but I will say; besides being shocking I did find the whole thing entertaining and educational.

To wrap up the cheese-specific food awesomeness we spent a few days in Melbourne on our way to Adelaide. It was really lovely to pass through one more time and say hello/goodbye to some great pals. This trip we didn’t even leave Brunswick Street as all the hipster smugness and hipster nonsense cafes and restos you could possibly need are there. Melbourne, you are tied for number one in my heart with Sydney.

All I do is drink water and sweat now (part 1)

From Melbourne we rented our last car for this trip, most likely, and drove the Great Ocean Road to Adelaide. I wouldn’t say it was “great” mind you, I would say it was “perfectly fine”. Most likely I would have enjoyed it more had it not been freezing cold and pissing rain. Alas. It was a nice drive though, and it was neat to see the gradual change of scenery from Victoria through to South Australia.

And then things got quite hot. We took the overnight Greyhound bus from Adelaide and arrived in a little town called Coober Pedy at 5am. At 5am it was 29 degrees Celsius. This is why 60% of the residents of Coober Pedy live underground with new homes being dug out all the time. Home owners hire opal miners to dig out their houses and besides the fact that they are underground, they are surprisingly normal minus the whole no windows thing. Our hostel was underground and I was so grateful for the reprieve from the heat…and the ten billion flies. Flies, heat, and warning signs for open abandoned opal mines aside, it was a neat little town. It was effectively only opal shops and churches, but close by you can see the world’s largest manmade structure: The Dingo Fence. It’s longer than even the Great Wall of China! Apparently it does keep the dingos away from farmland, but feral camels not so much. For more on camels in the desert, you should watch the movie Tracks. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6-DiOyxCQQI
I plan on reading the book as well, as it’s based on a true story of a woman who is far more badarsed than I will ever be. Also she doesn’t seem to get dehydrated and icky as easily, which is a helpful trait in the desert. I’m such a feather weight.

I’m going to leave part 2 of the desert and my final theme for the next post as this is feeling long.

G’day for now!

Also, Curtis’ freckle “tan” is looking rather dapper. He never seems to get dehydrated. I think he’s a camel, but I’m too scared to ask.

Back to the Backpack

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Kia Ora and G’Day mates! The dual backpacking trip has begun; wherein I stop to use the toilet/buy groceries every twelve minutes and Curtis seeks the shade like a vampire. It’s a fool-proof plan! We’re six days in already, I cannot believe it. We left the shoebox with a view behind to jump over the Tasman Sea to New Zealand. This country is Oz 2.0: everything I love about Australia, which is a lot, minus everything I don’t like, namely its slithery fauna. And arachnids. And occasionally oppressive sun.  That being said I am missing Sydney very much at the moment; it was a wonderful temporary home. I’m so thankful for the people we met there, the experiences we had (job, scenic and otherwise), and our time together as a two-person milk crate bed family. Minus a few tough job periods, it was an easy, positive lifestyle. Well, ridiculously expensive, like bonkers, but so worth it. I’d like to go back to visit again! There are a few beaches and secret bars left to discover with pals in tow.

But so, moving forward. Curtis and I discussed our goals for this trip as it’s the first time we’ve ever really traveled long-term with each other, or otherwise. Curtis’ goals (in descending order) are: to enjoy quality time with me; explore new places and cultures; be healthful while doing so (i.e. don’t get malaria, eat simple local foods); and take bad arse photos the whole time. Mine (in descending order) are: to enjoy quality time with Curtis; travel as actively as possible; eat all the SE Asian food/drink all the Kiwi and Oz wine; and use this as an opportunity to find some clarity in what I want to do moving forward.

That about takes us up to tonight, with C & I spending the night in a jail cell. Quite literally! We’re in a repurposed jail house in Christchurch tonight and tomorrow we will be having our first Couchsurfing experience. Here’s to successful interactions with strangers! As well a few photos of Wellington and the South Island thus far.

Much love from afar.

Merry Merry

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Merry Christmas!

Friend Family Christmas is in full swing down here and it is most excellent. Beaches, hiking to the ear-bursting songs of cicadas, shark-avoidance, pool parties. Plus also lego building, movies, great dinners, Radiolabs and Vinyl Cafes. Even though it doesn’t feel overly Christmasy it is wonderful having friends around to share in holiday traditions. Tim’s kaiser card game, Curtis’ birthday ice cream cake, and Christmas dinner with fish on the 24th for Jo and I (much to the chagrin of everyone else….Christmas clearly happens on Christmas Eve).

Today is Skype conference day, tomorrow it’s back to hiking and then we’re off to Melbourne for penguins, cricket and New Years. I’m actually really excited for the Ashes, even though none of us know anything about cricket, at all. We hear the key is in beer drinking though, so I think it will be a manageable affair.

And since my dad is quick to remind me that the blog has been terribly out of date, here’s a quick general life update: Curtis is done work and is now a man of leisure! He is going to go WWOOFing post friend-visit pre-Canada trip (which FYI is January 18th-February 6th) and then we’re packing up our backpacks for New Zealand and beyond! I bought Curtis a SE Asia Lonely Planet for his birthday so I am looking forward to him adding his thoughts to my list. Which is surprisingly short at this point. I’m still trying out this laissez-faire lifestyle. It is dubious. My job is going really well though, and I’ll be working there until we leave for New Zealand mid-February. There are whispers of a Lindamood-Bell popping up in Tokyo or Singapore later this year, so there are tentative plans to go there. It would be a short-term job, if it happens, but I think it’d be pretty rad!

We hope everyone is warm and cozy at home. Very merry Christmas wishes from Curtis, Jo, Tim, the nameless bunny, and myself. Thanks again to Brad and Laurie for a fantastic home to holiday in! It is literally a castle in comparison to our shoe box and we are very grateful.

Time for pumpkin pancakes and shortbread baking.

Much love.

Feast of Photos

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Hi again!

Happy Thanksgiving! We are so missing the celebration of harvest this year! When we try to explain the concept of “harvest” to Aussies they just look confused. “Frost?” they say. “Canning fruit for the winter?” they gasp. “Why would you do that?” So yeah, it is not quite the same. We did have two very delicious dinners with fellow Canadians though, which we enjoyed in the 32 degree heat.

I don’t think I need to write an essay this time, I will just post a few photos from our latest adventures. Bees, bikes, head shaving, hiking in the Royal National Park, etc. Oh, I will mention diving though. For my birthday we finally made it under the ocean! This turned out to be a bit of a mixed bag unfortunately. Anxiety in the open water, a killer migraine and a sore ankle left me not feeling great after the first day of our PADI dive course. So, much to my own disappointment, I decided not to finish the course. Boo unfinished goals! Boo body limitations!But yay for trying something new I suppose. We knew this was going to be a stretch, and it was. Curtis is the best though, and we did see some cool wildlife…5 metres under the surface. It was a great way to bring on 29. Mostly.

Also, if you’re curious, here’s a few of my favourite songs from my Thanksgiving Canadiana mix. Canadian music, you warm my heart!
https://8tracks.com/hni13/oh-canada

Pedals to the Pavement

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G’Day!

Heck, it’s been a month since my dad left Australia and I am pretty sure I am still sore from all the activity. What I love about my dad is that he is a things-doer. Thus we did lots of things! All of which targeted my thighs and calves and sleeping muscles, ha. We hit the ground running (well, biking) as soon as he got here. No time for jet lag, must find the steepest hills immediately! This was followed by more hills the next day as we meandered through side streets to the Taronga Zoo with stops in Sydney Harbour National Park. And since neither of us can admit when we’re tired we just kept on biking. Downtown on an “installation art” tour with my friend Peter; to movies at Town Hall and Circular Quay; to every conceivable angle of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House; and my personal favourite, down Four Mile Beach in Port Douglas in Far North Queensland. We’d never ridden on a beach before, and it was pretty darn cool. It was also pretty darn windy! Like 100 kilometres an hour winds. Con: some light exfoliating occurred. Pro: these more than zephyr winds were perfect for kite boarding. I so want to take lessons, but obviously that day was not the day to do it. My dad will just have to come back so we can try it out another time.

To space out the activity (i.e. mentally prepare for the next hill to summit) we also did heaps of sight-seeing. I must say it is great to have a guest around to remind me that Sydney is a beautiful city. (Not that I really need much reminding.) We crammed as much into each day as possible and still there were things we had to leave out. Though I think we definitely would win the “German Efficiency Badge of Honour”, assuming this is a real thing. If it isn’t I am sure a German will politely inform me of my error and make a mental note that I play fast and loose with the truth. Ha.

So yes, all the things! After watching Tosca at the Opera House we went on a backstage tour to see the mayhem that is three opera sets for three separate operas crammed into the smallest area imaginable and experience the bedlam that is the world’s tiniest orchestra pit. It was so cramped that musicians have to monitor the decibels of their instruments to make sure they don’t damage their ears. It was interesting to see that such an iconic building still hasits limitations for those who actually have to use it! Then maybe we’d catch the ferry up the Parramatta river to zip around on a segway in Sydney Olympic Park. Which, I must admit, was not lame but actually totally awesome. Or maybe we’d catch a ferry in the other direction to Watson’s Bay and serendipitously find beautiful local beaches filled with beautiful Eastern Suburbs dwellers. Honestly, those who live out there must sweat diamonds they are so bling! But good for them. Or maybe we would climb 1302 steps up and down the Harbour Bridge and then spend an hour trying to decide what movie to watch while our muscles seize up on the couch. Apparently our movie tastes are still not perfectly aligned 🙂

We did take a few mini-trips as well, out to the Blue Mountains and up to Cairns and Port Douglas in Queensland. I was glad my dad got to see the variety of landscapes here as even the Blue Mountains, which are only a few hours inland from Sydney, are noticeably different from the coast. Being one for the facts he would always look up every discernible item of interest and fill me in the following morning. Which is another reason he is a pretty rad dad. I know I wrote about the Daintree and the Great Barrier Reef already but I will say it again: what a powerful and humbling reminder that nature is amazing. Truly. This trip up to Queensland was just as excellent as my trip with the Winters back in March. With the aforementioned winds we were a bit landlocked though, so we delved a bit deeper into the Daintree Rainforest. Want to know what it was like when Gondwana was being a big ol’ landmass? Then visit the Daintree, it is beautiful in its old age. The highlight of my time there was getting to see where the rainforest meets the reef in the ocean. The rainforest vegetation has adapted to the salt-water conditions and that is pretty bad-ass.

So basically, I had a fantastic time with my dad. It’s been 20 years since we took a trip just the two of us and I think we did pretty darn well. I was sad to see him go but will be so excited to hit the bike trails with him again when I get back home.

Much love to everyone,
Heather

P.S. Curtis is still alive. His job was bonkers crazy while my dad was here but he has since resurfaced to a world of normal work hours. He spent this past weekend being lovely and patient with me while we went diving for my birthday. He’s read like six books this week. He has discovered a new UK comedy panel show starring David Mitchell (how many programs is that guy on!? Not that I’m complaining…) He dressed up like John Lennon from Abbey Road for a 60s party and was very cute. He is not liking the sudden surge on our local thermometer. He is still liking Sunday night chicken dinner after dancing. He bought another fountain pen, much to my chagrin. He is pretty swell overall. He sends his love as well.

Human Friction

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It is officially nine days until my dad arrives in ‘Straya so I thought I had better post something before he and I bike and hike and sail and snorkel ourselves into a comatose state. I am pre-emptively getting a massage in preparation for sore muscles to come. This is most excellent.

I have been feeling restless lately as it has almost been a year since I’ve been away from Canada. 288 days to be precise! It’s been long enough now that the line graph inside my head entitled Sydney: a rope of sand (to draw the reader in without giving too much away, ha) has had a few peaks and valleys, and patterns that have developed as well. When I picture the July/August section of this graph I see an undulating line settled somewhere between “constantly quasi-sick from wet kid hand syndrome” and “enjoying the routine of going to things”. I guess the restlessness comes in when I think about all the places I still want to go, in Oz and in everywhere. Which is silly really, because while the “wet hand” situation is not ideal it stems from a job that is totally awesome and fulfilling. And the “going to things” is also really great! So this restlessness should not be confused with some sort of Weltschmerz-y weariness, it’s just a driving force of my current list making frenzy. Today’s list includes: doing taxes like an adult, budgeting for our Asia travels, blowing my nose a lot, making chicken soup.

As a partial side note, I have been thinking a lot about this related quote: “A successful life requires living with the tension between the fear of the unknown and the guilt of the status quo. This tension presents itself in both macro life decisions and also in choices about each moment of life.” I take this to mean a balance of the unknown and the familiar is necessary and so basically I should just enjoy the familiar and stop feeling so antsy all the time.

The familiar lately has been enjoying the creativity and innovation that Sydney has to offer. I love living in a city where people are constantly crossing paths to create new ideas with new perspectives. I was listening to a great Radiolab the other day on cities and the notion that “human friction” is what creates the feeling of a place. Well Sydney’s community is rubbing up against each other to make all kinds of cool sparks! 20 piece big bands in a basement; sci-fi themed burlesque; interactive theatre pieces in giant warehouses filled with mock crime show behind-the-scenes scenarios (this one is rather hard to explain actually); art show exhibits on abandoned military bases; concerts in dilapidated art deco venues. It’s also been really lovely to spend time with our community of friends here that have been so welcoming to the loony Canucks that kept popping up at dances and articulating all their vowels properly. Sunday jazz followed by Sunday night chicken dinners, Christmas in July parties and a super fun road rip to Canberra for a dance exchange to name a few. Oh, and discovering where you have to go to get decent Yum Cha (Dim Sum) in this joint. And where to practice archery skills with ‘tweener girls who are obviously excited for the second Hunger Games movie to come out. Keep being badass little ladies. You are so ready for a dystopian society!

Soup’s ready to eat. Curtis makes the best chicken noodle around! He is of course doing all these things as well, just feeling less antsy as his natural state is calm optimism. He says “missing everyone in all the places.”

Love!

And a few related links:

http://vimeo.com/68118976

Bingo Unit show

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vli4cgZ4URM
Sketch a Rhyme (some hip hop language included)

http://www.ted.com/talks/candy_chang_before_i_die_i_want_to.html

To redirect the restlessness